Year 9, Day 80 - 3/21/17 - Movie #2,574
BEFORE: This is the first of about 8 or 10 films that I recently rescued from the "Unlinkables" pile, thanks to my recent linking rampage and subsequent re-organization of the watchlist. It would have been great to save this for some patriotic time like July 4, but if I don't watch it now, between two other Michael Caine films, I don't know if I'll have another chance to link to it, so it's got to get watched now.
It's pretty slick, I know - in just a few simple steps I went from the Fred Astaire chain to Michael Caine week, and those aren't even two actors that I associate with each other, nor have they ever starred in a film together, I think. Yep, I'm right, according to the Oracle of Bacon there's no direct link, I'd have to go through Liz Taylor or Robert Wagner or Burgess Meredith, but instead I accomplished that with two Audrey Hepburn movies.
So Caine carries over from "Alfie" and I've got 4 more of his films on tap.
THE PLOT: An author who was written a scholarly book on the Revolutionary War and sold the film rights has his life disrupted by the arrival of the film crew, and also becomes infatuated with the movie's female lead. He is also fighting with his crazy mother and his girlfriend is talking about commitment.
AFTER: This film has large similarities to "State and Main", written and directed by David Mamet. I would seriously say there's a potential lawsuit - both stories are about big Hollywood productions taking place in small, colonial towns, and in both cases the central figure's a writer who flirts with the star actress and is in a love triangle with the plain, hometown girl who's a better match for him. Meanwhile the lead actor is a horndog who's sleeping with a local woman, the director's a dictator, and the writer goes on to have a crisis of conscience that mirrors the one seen in the film.
Of course, there are differences - in "State and Main" the writer is part of the Hollywood production, and in this film he's a local author. But there's another writer character who IS part of the Hollywood crew. And in "Sweet Liberty" the lead male actor is American, here he's British. But once you get past the Revolutionary War tie-in, it's plain to see that both films are using the same playbook - directors are dicks, actors sleep around, writers are conflicted and angst-y.
But here come my complaints - first of all, the relationship between the author and his co-college professor girlfriend is just all over the place. I mean, there's no rhyme or reason to it - they've both been married before, so maybe that's why neither one is keen on getting married, but neither is against marriage in a consistent way. He wants her to move in, she doesn't want to, but then later he accuses her of being manipulative and trying to angle for marriage. But then SHE turns this back on HIM, saying that this accusation is a reflection of his own fears. Wait, what? At this point I couldn't tell which one of them was for marriage and which was against - and you really kind of need that disagreement in order to have a conflict, because otherwise they're both working toward marriage or they're both fine without it, and then there's no drama for them that brings about their attraction to other people.
Secondly, and this is a major NITPICK POINT, I think - it's too much of a coincidence for the Hollywood film crew to come to the SAME town where the author teaches, in order to make the film. If it's a large, open field you're looking for to host the battle scenes, well, you can find that just about anywhere. "Hey, how about that grassy field about two hours north of Hollywood? We'd save thousands on airfare." "Nah, let's bring everyone across the country so we can shoot in the same town where the author lives..." I'm just not buying that. The primary decision in choosing a location would be how a place looks on camera, not the proximity to the original author of the work.
Another NITPICK POINT - would Hollywood really try to turn a Revolutionary War story into a teen-friendly comedy? Because "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson was such a laugh riot... The closest movies I can think of that tried to find humor in history would be things like "Almost Heroes" or "Wagons East" and those weren't exactly box office successes. For the most part, adding comedy to history would be like putting chocolate sauce on an onion. Maybe something like "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" would count, but that just can't be taken seriously.
Then there are all these threads that never really come together, or add very much to the picture overall. The author's mother is very old, and has some form of dementia that causes her to think her food is being poisoned and that the Devil lives in her kitchen. She also thinks that her old boyfriend (from what, like the 1930's) is going to come back for her someday - even when the author tracks him down, it's a tangential plot point that goes absolutely nowhere. The lead actor being able to fly a helicopter, the side-trip to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park, these are all just time-killers that don't come close to circling back to any larger points.
It's probably worse that the film itself feels the need to mansplain everything to us, including the entire filmmaking process. Wait, you mean that screenwriters are often instructed to change things when they adapt a book into a movie? And movies that show historical events are often not accurate? And writers, actors and actresses sometimes have input that directors don't like or feel free to ignore? We KNOW all of these things, and characters such as Alda's writer who don't seem to understand them just end up looking stupid.
Furthermore, the film states that the director has the final say over what the movie's going to end up looking like, and then can't help but contradict this idea. The simple truth is that anyone who disagrees with the director of a film can be fired, replaced or barred from the set. The author may have "consultation rights" as depicted here, but the director can just later ignore the points he raises, as also depicted here. But continuing to undermine the authority of a film's director just doesn't lead to any good end, and certainly won't have comic consequences such as these.
Also starring Alan Alda (last seen in "What Women Want"), Michelle Pfeiffer (last seen in "The Story of Us"), Bob Hoskins (last seen in "Enemy at the Gates"), Lise Hilboldt, Lillian Gish (last seen in "The Night of the Hunter"), Saul Rubinek (last seen in "Against All Odds"), Lois Chiles (last seen in "The Great Gatsby" (1974)), Linda Thorson, Leo Burmester, Timothy Carhart, Dann Florek (last seen in "The Flintstones"), John C. McGinley (last heard in "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies"), Lynne Thigpen (last seen in "The Warriors").
RATING: 4 out of 10 cannon blasts