Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Year 9, Day 49 - 2/18/17 - Movie #2,549

BEFORE: Day 3 of the Debbie Reynolds chain, tonight we're headed for 1964, but really the story takes place in the late 1800's, and then up on to 1912.

Here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/19, covering the letters N-P:
6:30 AM North by Northwest (1959)
9:00 AM Now, Voyager (1942)
11:00 AM The Nun's Story (1959)
2:00 PM Of Mice and Men (1939)
4:00 PM Oh, God! (1977)
6:00 PM On the Town (1949)
8:00 PM The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
10:30 PM Papillon (1973)
1:15 AM Pat and Mike (1952)
3:00 AM A Patch of Blue (1965)
5:00 AM The Patent Leather Kid (1927)

I'm back on top with this line-up, having seen 6 of them ("North by Northwest", "Now, Voyager", "Oh, God!", "On the Town", "Papillon" and "Pat and Mike") plus I'm going to record "The Outlaw Josey Wales" to pair with "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" from a couple days ago.  So 7 out of 11 brings me up to 81 seen out of 209.  12 more days to go (and 8 days until the Oscars...)


THE PLOT: A poor, uneducated mountain girl leaves her cabin in search of respect, a wealthy husband, and a better life.

AFTER: Surprisingly, this film is NOT part of TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" line-up, despite getting 6 Oscar nominations.  Geez, you'd think they would have needed more films beginning with the later "U", right?

The only thing I really knew about Molly Brown - the real person, anyway - was that she survived the sinking of the Titanic.  (Kathy Bates played her in the 1997 "Titanic" movie.). So I spent most of this movie wondering when she was going to set sail for America on that ship - turns out it doesn't happen until the very end.  

But if you look up the real Molly Brown, and compare her life to the one depicted in the musical, this film's story starts to fall apart.  For starters, when the real Molly moved to Leadville, Colorado, she didn't do so alone, she moved into a log cabin with her brother and his wife.  Then she did marry J.J. Brown (not a rich man at the time, which her father had instructed her to find) and had 2 children, who are not even mentioned in this movie.  And then J.J. did have success with a mining claim, and they did buy a big house and try to become part of Denver's high society, as depicted in the film, but this led to them pursuing different interests.  The film has Molly spending more time in Europe, and J.J. returning to Leadville alone, before they reconciled after Molly's Titanic trip.

The sad truth is that Molly and J.J. never got back together in real life, despite what Broadway and Hollywood had to say about their relationship.  This just seems to make more sense, considering how difficult it probably is for couples to get back together after separations.  Like, if Molly took up with that European Count, and I'm not saying she did (but come on...) would J.J. really want her back after that?  How is she going to be happy, living back in Denver, after time spent in France and Italy?

This is also a film about a married man and woman who just never seem to be on the same page - she's supposed to be finding herself a rich man, but she settles for love with a poor man.  So, she encourages him to work in his mine and BECOME a rich man.  He builds her a better cabin, with everything she said she wanted, and suddenly she wants to move to Denver.  Make up your mind, woman!  J.J. strikes it rich, and they move to a bigger house in Denver, then she gets it in her head that they've got to travel in Europe for a few months and get cultured.

Some people are just never satisfied.  I guess some people would say that Molly Brown was eager and driven, but to me she just seemed like a big pain in the ass.  Because if you can't be satisfied with what you have, getting more is never going to be the answer, because then you won't be satisfied with THAT.  And then where does it end?  Why can't people be more like J.J., who never wanted anything except a simple cabin, a good woman, and a bunch of mountains that he could sing to.  Otherwise, one day you might find yourself on a sinking ship, even if that's just a metaphor for your relationship.  

Also starring Harve Presnell (last seen in "Patch Adams"), Ed Begley (last seen in "12 Angry Men"), Jack Kruschen (last seen in "The Ladies Man"), Hermione Baddeley (last heard in "The Aristocats"), Vassili Lambrinos, Martita Hunt, Audrey Christie (last seen in "Splendor in the Grass"), Hayden Rorke (last seen in "An American in Paris"), Maria Karnilova, Harvey Lembeck, Herb Vigran (last seen in "Support Your Local Gunfighter").

RATING: 4 out of 10 picture postcards

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Mating Game

Year 9, Day 48 - 2/17/17 - Movie #2,548

BEFORE: There's a thing that happened while we were in Atlantic City, I've been sort of sitting on the story, telling it only to co-workers and such, but it may relate to this film, in that we realize there are a lot of different people in the world, and some of them are hard to understand.  Monday night we went out to a restaurant in the Borgata Casino, owned by a very famous celebrity chef. (No plugs here, let's just call him "Schmolfgang Schmuck")  We had an 8 pm reservation, but after a medium-sized win on the slots she wanted to stop gambling, so we hit the restaurant at 7 and asked if they could move our reservation up.  No problem, except it meant we'd need to sit in the front seating area, instead of the back.

After a short time reading our menus, a man was seated at the table next to us.  A normal enough guy, except that he seemed very agitated, and was the kind of guy who never stopped talking, to himself or to everyone around him.  Since this was our pre-Valentine's Day dinner, we didn't really want to talk to any strangers, just to each other.  But this guy, let's call him "Twitchy" for the sake of the story, kept trying to talk to us, and his actions made him difficult to ignore.  He kept saying things like "I have to leave in 5 minutes..." (which seemed like an odd thing to say in a fancy sit-down restaurant) and kept trying to get the attention of every waiter that passed by, so he could place an order for a pizza, because again, he had to leave in 5 minutes, a fact he established several times.

After placing his order, and another few nonsensical attempts to engage both us and the folks sitting on his other side in casually awkward conversation, Twitchy decided he needed to bring some of his bags to his car, since he needed to leave in 5 minutes.  Well, if you've ever been to a casino, you may know that the restaurants are usually located far away from the parking garage, and to get from one to the other, you'll have to walk through the casino.  Actually, to get from any point to another in these places, you have to walk through the casino, it's part of the plan.  So I wondered why, if he had to leave in 5 minutes, Twitchy was going to bring some bags to the car, since that walk alone would probably take 10 minutes.  Why didn't he just get in the car and GO already, if he had to leave?  For that matter, why not grab a slice of pizza in the Food Court, which would take less than 5 minutes, instead waiting for a pizza from the fancy restaurant, which would probably take 15 minutes?

But Twitchy got up, filled with nervous energy, looked down at our table and said, "You guys are going to be here for a while, right?"  Neither my wife and I answered him or even looked at him, because we didn't want to be responsible for his jacket and backpack.  Then he set out for the parking garage, presumably to bring some of his luggage there, leaving the backpack on the chair next to me. By this point, my wife had recognized him as someone she'd seen earlier in the day, similarly talking to strangers in the smoking section while she was having a cigarette.  She had avoided making eye contact then as well, I stress again that there was just something OFF about this guy, you could just feel it.

So now I'm sitting next to a stranger's backpack in a crowded restaurant, and I'm trying not to think about what happened in the Paris bombings, or the 2013 Boston Marathon for that matter, or Manhattan last fall.  What did I really know about Twitchy, apart from the fact that he had to leave in 5 minutes, and was acting erratically?  Did he have some kind of vendetta against the celebrity chef?  Our waiter informed us that Twitchy had seemed weird to him too, and that he hadn't put in his pizza order, and a few minutes later, a security guard came by to take away Twitchy's backpack and jacket.  So we thought we'd never see him again, and figured he'd been caught for something, but we weren't sure what.

But maybe 10 minutes later (I told you it was a long walk to the parking garage), Twitchy showed up again, and the waiter told him he had to go to security to get back the stuff he left unattended in the restaurant.  Amazingly, he persisted (I hope security searched the hell out of that bag...) and he came back to the restaurant, sat down again, saying things like "Can you believe security took my stuff?  I had to go show my ID to get it back..." to no one and everyone around him.  After bothering the waiters again to find out where his pizza was (remember, he's got to leave in 5 minutes...) Twitchy suddenly realized he didn't have his cigarettes, and started checking his pockets, his jacket, his backpack, his fanny pack - nope, they're not anywhere.  Now he's wondering aloud, "Who took my cigarettes?  What did I do with my cigarettes?  They're not ANYwhere!"  Me, I just figured that his smokes were in the bags he took to his car, but I kept my silence.

After some wandering around the restaurant, looking for his smokes, and I think arguing with the restaurant manager, our waiter brought Twitchy a pizza - where it came from, I don't know or care - and Twitchy was finally out of our hair.  But the whole encounter was very strange, and also annoying to the extreme.  It only became funny in retrospect, after we didn't die in a restaurant bombing.  I mean, who leaves a bag unattended, in this day and age?  OK, maybe I did exactly that in San Diego last July, but it was an accident.  We'll never know what Twitchy's deal was, but maybe we'll make something up.

Now here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/18:
7:30 AM The Moon Is Blue (1973)
9:30 AM Morning Glory (1933)
11:00 AM Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)
2:00 PM Mrs. Miniver (1942)
4:30 PM The Music Box (1932)
5:15 PM The Music Man (1962)
8:00 PM Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
10:30 PM Network (1976)
12:45 AM The New Land (1973)
4:30 AM Ninotchka (1939)

TCM is more than halfway through the alphabet - makes sense, we're more than halfway through the 31 days.  I've seen 4 of these 10 films - "Mrs. Miniver", "The Music Man", "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Network", bringing me up to 74 seen out of 198.

And even though the end of February is coming up in just 11 more days, I've got a long way to go before I'm finished with the romance chain - I'm really just hitting my stride.  Debbie Reynolds carries over from "How Sweet It Is!" and we're leaving the swinging 60's, I've set the WABAC machine for 1959 tonight.


THE PLOT: Tax collector Lorenzo Charlton comes to the Larkins' farm to ask why Pop hasn't paid his back taxes.  Charlton has to stay for a day to estimate the income from the farm, but it isn't easy when the farmer has such a lovely daughter, Mariette.

AFTER: And when you travel back to 1959, or at least watch a film from that era, the values and ideology of that time come along with it.  Don't you know that everyone back in that time didn't have sex until they were married (yeah, right...).  That's why it was so important to court and find the right partner, because everyone got married only once, and it was forever (again, as if...).  But Hollywood would have you believe in their version of true love, and marrying for life, and not fooling around before-hand.  It's quite silly in retrospect.

It also strains the bounds of credulity to believe that someone, anyone, who lived in the U.S. in 1959 was unaware that they had a responsibility to pay taxes, or at least to file a tax return.  Our country's first income tax was in 1862, after all - and even if you allow for protests and challenges and temporary suspensions, the U.S. income tax became permanent in 1913.  So no one in this farming family in Maryland bothered to read a newspaper in the last 46 years?  I find that hard to believe.  OK, so maybe the kids were home-schooled, and they lived like hermits, but now essentially I'm writing the story, when the screenwriter should have found a better explanation for this.

Pop Larkin seems to prefer the "barter system", trading things even-steven (or a little bit better) and even borrowing his neighbor's prize boar when he wants to get his sow pregnant.  It's this borrowing (and the comical attempt to return said boar, right through the middle of a fancy dinner party) that tips the neighbor's hand - he alerts the IRS about Larkin's folksy, non-taxpaying ways, in a attempt to get rid of the farming family and buy up the land.

The first time we see the Larkins, and lovely Mariette, she's being chased around the farm, in and out of the barn and hayloft, by three young men.  Sure, it seems playful for young kids to be doing this, but since they appear to be in their early 20's, it seems to swing a little too close to gang rape, in my opinion.  Ma and Pop Larkin determine that their daughter is "ripe" (ugh, that's also a little icky) and determine that the next clean-cut professional man that comes their way should be a good candidate for their daughter's husband.

Enter the clean-cut, professional man from the IRS, right on cue.  But Pop Larkin is so overly friendly and folksy (to a disgusting fault) that I swear the introduction of the tax-man, and the reason for his visit, took up a full 15 minutes of screen time.  It's a bad sign when a character has one simple piece of information to deliver, and circumstances keep conspiring against said delivery.  Just getting the Larkins to understand what taxes ARE took much, much too long.

But what's worse is attempting to ply the tax agent with alcohol (it takes several attempts, again, I can't understand why he can't simply say, "None for me, I'm working."). And then they tell their daughter to go upstairs, put on her prettiest dress and a lot of perfume, to catch the tax-man's eye.  So, you'll pimp your daughter out to distract the man valuing your property - extremely shameful.   It's every bad joke about "the farmer's daughter" manifesting itself in a movie plot.

But the tax-man DOES end up cutting loose - he probably really needed something like this in his life - and the relationship between him and the farmer's daughter seems genuine enough, but that doesn't excuse the intent to distract him with their daughter's virtue, and the vagaries of the barter system.  Once again, I can almost guarantee that very little research was done to determine what the IRS will and won't do when they go after a tax evader.

It almost cribs from "It's a Wonderful Life" at the ending, but to the film's credit, it resists going down that route.  But to come with another solution to the tax problem, the plot has to bend over backwards and allow for one of the greatest plot contrivances ever, one that spans nearly a century.  Come to think of it, the tax-evasion plot seems a lot like it was borrowed from "You Can't Take It With You", which I happened to watch last year.

NITPICK POINT: Why did the twin girls call their father "Mr. Larkin"?  Even in the late 1950's, that seems somewhat out of place.  Why didn't they call him "Pop" or "Dad"?  I mean, this wasn't Victorian England...

Also starring Tony Randall (last heard in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Paul Douglas, Una Merkel, Fred Clark (last seen in "The Caddy"), Philip Ober, Philip Coolidge, Charles Lane (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Trevor Barette, Rickey Murray, Donald Losby (also carrying over from "How Sweet It Is!").

RATING: 4 out of 10 haystacks

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How Sweet It Is!

Year 9, Day 47 - 2/16/17 - Movie #2,547

BEFORE: Italian actor Gino Conforti, the voice of Jacquimo the swallow in "Thumbelina", carries over to tonight's film, which allows me to kick off my 4-film tribute to Debbie Reynolds, about one month after TCM ran their tribute to her.  (Those copycats - and they had the nerve to beat me to the punch!)  For a while it looked like I'd have to watch these in December, after "Star Wars: Episode 8", and then link to them via the documentary "Bright Lights", but I found a way to work them in to the February romance chain, which is really where they belong.

Before I get to Debbie, here's the TCM "31 Days of Oscar" line-up for tomorrow, 2/17:
7:00 AM The Merry Widow (1935)
8:45 AM A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
11:15 AM Mighty Joe Young (1949)
1:00 PM Mildred Pierce (1945)
3:00 PM Million Dollar Mermaid (1952)
5:00 PM Min and Bill (1930)
6:15 PM The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952)
8:00 PM The Miracle Worker (1962)
10:00 PM Mister Roberts (1955)
12:15 AM Mogambo (1953)
2:30 AM Mon Oncle D'Amerique (1980)
5:00 AM Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

It seems like a day for some strange creatures, like Shakespearean fairies (one day after I watched "Thumbelina"...), a giant ape and a mermaid (of sorts).  Plus a couple of miracles, one religious and one with Helen Keller.  I've seen two of these, "Mildred Pierce" and "Mister Roberts", so that brings me up to 70 seen out of 188.  I fear I'm headed from 50% down closer to 33%.


THE PLOT: A photographer is assigned to a photo shoot in Paris.  He decides to take his wife and his hippie son with him on the shoot.  Everything gets mucked up when she rents a house that belongs to a French lawyer, and must fend off his charms and stay true to her husband.

AFTER:  TCM is also running "Mogambo" tomorrow, a film about an African safari, and two films with French titles.  Coincidentally, this film is about a photographer who's just been on safari, and then for his next assignment, goes to France with his wife, son and a bunch of teenage girls.  What could possibly go wrong?  Though the IMDB description isn't really accurate, Grif Henderson doesn't "take" his wife and son with him - his son wants to travel in Europe to follow his girlfriend on a tour, and he's all for letting his son travel alone and "become a man", but his wife Jenny is so over-protective that she pulls some strings with her husband's boss's wife to get him assigned to take photos, then works herself into the plan also.

This is something of a contrivance - it just so happens that their son Davey is dating Bootsy, the daughter of his editor/boss, and it just so happens that Jenny is friends with the mother of her son's girlfriend, who is also her husband's boss's wife.  I'm probably making it sound more unlikely than it is, but since the plot can't move ahead without this coincidence, I'm forced to allow it.

Things start to go wrong when they all take a 10-day boat trip to get to Europe - why they didn't fly there, I have no idea.  The boat is sort of a no-frills cruise, and husband and wife get separated, because the men's cabins and ladies' cabins are separated.  And the women all snore, and the men all burp to entertain themselves.  Let's call that a "push" in the depiction of the different genders.  Still, there appears to be a lot of bed-hopping on the cruise, and the Hendersons try to fool around in a lifeboat, so the comical purser has good reason to think that all teens are "animals" and older married people are "sex maniacs".  I'm not sure why this married couple thought that being the oldest people on this ship would be a good idea - my wife and I prefer to cruise on the line with the most senior citizens, because that helps us feel young.

ASIDE: There used to be a show called "The Love Boat", where each week a bunch of sitcom stars and older movie stars would guest star as people going on a cruise, and it was essentially a bedroom farce on the ocean - the single character would end up married, the married characters would have their relationship tested, but ultimately stay together.  As a kid I probably learned a lot about relationships from this show, but in retrospect I now think that the scripts were probably approved by some conservative marriage-oriented coalition or something.  I'm probably only thinking about it because last night's film had the voice talents of Charo and Carol Channing, two frequent guest stars on that show, and tonight's film has Paul Lynde and Penny Marshall, two other sitcom stars from the same era.

After their time sleeping apart on the cruise, the Hendersons' world is further rocked when Jenny finds out that the man who rented them a villa on the Riviera had no right to do so, but fortunately the lawyer who lives there is willing to let her stay - unfortunately, he's a horny playboy who only does that so he can hit on her for a week.  Hey, at least he's honest about his intentions.  At the same time, Grif is bonding with the female chaperone on the girls' tour, so both are tempted and have to find their way back to each other.

To really understand this film, though, you have to consider the year it was released - 1968.  The world was changing, gender roles were being re-defined, and there were probably thousands of families like this, with "old guard" fathers, neurotic over-protective mothers, and teen sons and daughters who were talking about radical concepts like peace and free love.  And it seems the filmmakers here really wanted to tap into some of that hippie energy, but they just didn't really understand it yet.  For example, the high-school students seen here are protesting - not the war, or for civil rights - they're protesting gym class.  Did someone just want to avoid a real controversial topic? Or are we meant to believe that the students meant to protest for their right to exercise free speech, but accidentally ended up protesting exercise?

And what does this film say about men who go on long work trips, and bring home kinky African fetish-wear for their wives?  Or what can we deduce about French and Italian men, who all lose their self-control when they see Debbie Reynolds in a bikini?  (Of course, this was the generation before mine, the men of MY generation lost self-control when they saw her daughter in a metal bikini...)

This romp all comes to a farcical conclusion in a French whorehouse, which no doubt led to some great family stories to tell when they got home.  But again, it seems like the filmmakers didn't really understand what goes on in a brothel - so by all means, just make some weird stuff up (people wearing baseball equipment?)

Also starring Debbie Reynolds (last seen in "The Catered Affair"), James Garner (last seen in "Maverick"), Maurice Ronet, Terry-Thomas, Paul Lynde (last seen in "Under the Yum Yum Tree"), Marcel Dalio (last seen in "Catch-22'"), Donald Losby, Hilary Thompson, Walter Brooke, Elena Verdugo (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), with cameos from Vito Scotti (last seen in "Made in Paris"), Larry Hankin (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Penny Marshall (ditto), Jack Colvin (last seen in "Jeremiah Johnson"), Erin Moran, and the voice of Garry Marshall.

RATING: 5 out of 10 bunk beds

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Thumbelina

Year 9, Day 46 - 2/15/17 - Movie #2,546

BEFORE: From a dystopian future fascist story to an animated fairy-tale romance - it seems I'm all over the place thematically, I know.  But this film allows John Hurt to carry over from "1984" - he provides the voice of the Mole character tonight - and this film links to a Debbie Reynolds film tomorrow, which allows me to start the 2nd half of my February chain, featuring classic films with not only Debbie, but also Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Fred Astaire, in that order.  I promise this chain will start to make some more sense tomorrow.

I had this film positioned next to a few other fairy-tale based films, some animated and some live-action, but this film just refused to link to any of them, because it has such an eclectic cast.  It's got the same lead voice actress as "The Little Mermaid", so that was probably my best chance to link to it thematically as well, but that chance came and went.  When I saw Kenneth Mars pop up earlier this year in 2 films I had another shot, but dropping a fairy-tale film in the middle of a political chain felt like too much of an interruption.  Fairy-tale films are mostly about love and romance, right?  So this can totally be part of the Valentine's Day chain, and I'll deal with the other fantasy/fairy-tale films later on. 

I was almost on the same page as TCM, they've got a couple films about fairies and mermaids, but that's on Friday.  Here's their "31 Days of Oscar" schedule for tomorrow, 2/16:
6:30 AM Madame Curie (1943)
8:45 AM Madame X (1929)
10:30 AM The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
12:15 PM Magnificent Obsession (1954)
2:15 PM The Magnificent Yankee (1950)
3:45 PM A Majority of One (1961)
6:15 PM The Maltese Falcon (1941)
8:00 PM The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
10:15 PM The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
12:30 AM McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
3:00 AM Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
5:00 AM Merrily We Live (1938)

Since I hit with Warren Beatty three times already this year, I'm going to record "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" - I can probably pair it on a DVD with "The Outlaw Josey Wales", coming up on Sunday.  If I count that one, I'm good for 5 of these films, including "The Magnificent Ambersons", "The Maltese Falcon", "The Man Who Knew too Much" and "Meet Me in St. Louis".  I almost hit for 50% today, and another 5 out of 12 brings me up to 68 seen out of 176. 


THE PLOT: A tiny girl meets a fairy prince who saves her from the creatures of the woods.

AFTER: I kind of don't know what to think about animator Don Bluth - I mean, he's directed some popular films, like "Anastasia", "An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time".  Those were the hits, but his resume is studded with just as many misses - "The Pebble and the Penguin", "A Troll in Central Park" and "Rock-a-Doodle", for example.  And every time I read about him, I find out that he had some dispute with this studio or that distributor, or he quit some film halfway through, and that makes him sound like a difficult person to work with, plus his studios were always shutting down due to bankruptcy or some studio pulling their financing.

The most popular things he ever animated weren't even movies, they were the console video-games "Dragon's Lair" and "Space Ace", which represented a unique interaction between animation and gamers, where the gamers controlled the animation (or was it the other way around?) and anyone with a roll of quarters and about a week to spare could eventually get to the end of the games, if they could memorize all of the moves.

But somewhere between "All Dogs Go to Heaven" and "Anastasia", Bluth animated "Thumbelina", based on Hans Christian Andersen's story of a girl who's very small, and that's about the only notable thing about her.  Well, she was grown from a flower seed, but it's not really clear how that's possible - and like her adult female counterparts of the time, she longed for a fairy prince to come and rescue her from the drudgery of her life.  After all, do you realize how hard it is to work on a farm when you're only a few inches tall?

I suppose her singing voice also helps her stand out - that's what gets her noticed when the fairy prince does ride by on his bumblebee.  His parents, the fairy king and queen, are responsible for turning the season to winter - but I'm not sure what role the prince plays in all of that.  Despite falling in love with the prince, Thumbelina gets kidnapped by a female toad that runs a traveling show, so that she can marry one of her toad sons.  Despite her constant complaining that she needs to return home, she sure seems like she would rather go out on tour with the toads, so there feels like there's some inconsistency there.

Meanwhile, Cornelius, the prince, gets frozen in ice, which keeps him from searching for Thumbelina, who escapes from the toads and then gets drafted by Mr. Beetle to sings at the Beetle Ball (it seems every forest creature wants something from her...) and Jacquimo the swallow isn't much help, because he'll say things like "Come on, I'll help you get home!" but then fly up above the treetops to get a better view, and then not return.  How frustrating.

And when Thumbelina takes refuge from the winter in the home of Mrs. Fieldmouse, she's further waylaid when the mouse brings her to see Mr. Mole, so that she can become the Mole's wife.  Can she find her way back to her home, can the prince get unfrozen and find her, and will the toad find someone else to marry her son?  Well, it's a fairy tale, so what do you think?

Also starring the voices of Jodi Benson (last heard in "The Little Mermaid"), Gary Imhoff, Gino Conforti (last seen in "Angels & Demons"), Kenneth Mars (last seen in "Night Moves"), June Foray (last heard in "Mulan"), Charo (last seen in "Moon Over Parador"), Barbara Cook, Will Ryan (last heard in "The Pebble and the Penguin"), Gilbert Gottfried (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Carol Channing, Joe Lynch, Danny Mann, Loren Lester, Tony Jay.

RATING: 4 out of 10 jitterbugs

1984

Year 9, Day 45 - 2/14/17 - Movie #2,545

BEFORE: I suppose nobody would have faulted me if I had skipped a day, or spread the four-hour film "Cleopatra" over two nights so it would fall on Valentine's Day.  But I pushed myself, because I haven't really blocked out March yet, so I don't know if I'll need the extra day when late March rolls around.  For linking I had a couple of options, including linking from "Cleopatra" to "Camelot" via Laurence Naismith.  I could also have dropped in another film with both Richard Burton and Liz Taylor, such as "The Sandpiper" or "The Taming of the Shrew" (which would have fit with the whole historical progression thing, cavemen to medieval knights to Shakespeare...).

But I don't have those films handy, and I've already seen "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", so I'm fast-forwarding to the dystopian future of "1984", even though that future year is now thirty years in the past, so it's a future that was envisioned by George Orwell in the 1940's, but never really came to pass.  Or...did it?  There are a lot of social media posts going around, suggesting that perhaps Orwell was spot on, just perhaps off by a few years.  More on that later, I think.  And Orwell's book is back on the best-seller list, currently #1 on Amazon.

Richard Burton carries over from "Cleopatra", and here's your TCM "31 Days of Oscar" schedule for tomorrow, February 15:
6:45 AM Little Women (1949)
9:00 AM Logan's Run (1975)
11:15 AM Lolita (1961)
2:15 PM The Long Voyage Home (1940)
4:15 PM Look for the Silver Lining (1949)
6:30 PM The Lost Patrol (1934)
8:00 PM The Lost Weekend (1945)
9:45 PM Love Affair (1939)
11:15 PM Love Me or Leave Me (1955)
1:30 AM Lust for Life (1956)
4:00 AM Madame Bovary (1949)

A little post-Valentine's Day programming, no doubt, with a couple films beginning with "Love", and also the word "Lust", a topic also covered in "Lolita", right?  I'm hitting four out of 11 tonight - "Logan's Run", "Lolita", "The Lost Weekend" and "Lust for Life", bringing my record up to 63 seen out of 164.


THE PLOT: In a totalitarian future society, a man whose daily work is rewriting history.

AFTER: Well, if last night hearkened back to history class, tonight it's English lit - or maybe it's civics?  Either way, I felt it would be relevant this year to explore the concept of love in a fascist society, because I have a feeling this sort of thing could be important over the next few years.  I doubt there are many mixed marriages (Democrat/Republican) taking place in the U.S. these days - and the ones that already exist may not be likely to survive.  We were a divided country before, and now we're split more than ever (and guys, if you went to the Women's March a few weeks ago to meet girls, then you probably missed the whole point...).

If you weren't forced to read "1984" in high-school, and also never got to it on your own, it's about an imagined totalitarian society where any thoughts critical of the government are not allowed - they're called "thoughtcrimes" and while you might think that such crimes would be very difficult to prove, Big Brother has such a hold on the country's citizens ("proles", short for "proletariat") that they usually WANT to dispel their errant thoughts, so that they can feel cleansed afterwards, in a process similar to Catholic confession.  While in modern America, anyone (including the President) is free to use social media to publicly shame anyone who holds a dissenting opinion, on any one of a number of social issues.  Is it really such a leap to go from "If you don't agree with me, you're an IDIOT" to "If you don't agree with the President, you're an enemy of the state"?

The main character, Winston Smith, holds a low-level government job where he rewrites history.  While these days, we have people who put their "spins" on the headlines.  And haven't we noticed in the last few years that numerous members of certain political parties will go on TV in the same week and somehow all use the same phrase as a "talking point"?  Like "Radical Islam" or "traditional marriage" or "immigration reform" - the chances are incredibly against all of these people coming up with the same phrase at the same time, so that means it was handed down by the party leaders.  In Orwell's world they called it "newspeak", meaning a new, reduced way of talking ("good-plus" instead of "better") but we might as well call it "news-speak" in our own present.

The political party in "1984" (and there seems to be only one, so therefore a dictatorship) also sets out to define its own reality - through a process called "doublethink".  Black is white if the government says it's so, and when the war with Eurasia turns into the war with Eastasia instead, the party line becomes "We've always been at war with Eastasia."  Yep, you guessed it, the government is really presenting "alternative facts".

But in the middle of all of this, Winston finds himself attracted to a woman, another Party member who also works at the Ministry of Truth, even though the government is pushing for people to take vows of chastity, or even better, to sterilize themselves.  They go on a field trip outside of London, and then he rents a room above an antique shop where they can meet clandestinely, away from the secret cameras and microphones of Big Brother, or so they think.

A while later, Winston is approached by O'Brien, someone who he believes to be working to take down the government from inside, and O'Brien gives him a pamphlet explaining why Oceania keeps itself in a state of perpetual war, because this allows them to keep the populace afraid all the time, and also to ration all food and supplies. But is the war real?  Is Goldstein, the supposed enemy of the state, real, or just a puppet used to channel and uncover all of the people's wayward thoughts of rebellion?  Since anyone who commits thought-crimes is tortured into confessing, the answers are never clear, and that's the point.

With the emphasis on IngSoc (English Socialism), Orwell was probably most interested in taking the threat of Russian Communism and super-imposing it on the London of his times, but it's possible that he accidentally hit upon some larger truths, like the fact that it's possible to find love during a fascist regime, but it's also very difficult to hang on to it. I think that's the takeaway.

Also starring John Hurt (last seen in "The Elephant Man"), Suzanna Hamilton (last seen in "Out of Africa"), Cyril Cusack (last seen in "King Lear"), Gregor Fisher, James Walker, Andrew Wilde (last seen in "The Bounty"), John Boswell, and the voice of Phyllis Logan.

RATING: 5 out of 10 unpersons

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cleopatra

Year 9, Day 44 - 2/13/17 - Movie #2,544

BEFORE: I forgot to mention that I'd be heading off to Atlantic City for a couple of days, my wife and I like to drive down there every few months, and we get these Groupon deals if we stay Sunday through Thursday, instead of the more popular Friday through Sunday.  She originally wanted to go on the previous weekend, but I requested a raincheck since I didn't want to miss the Super Bowl - though we made the plans a few weeks before, I had a hunch the Patriots would make it.  So I'm glad we pushed the trip forward to pre-Valentine's weekend.

I wasn't sure I'd be able to watch movies there, fortunately my wife brought her laptop and even though it's a PC, it decided to work for me.  My back-up plan was to just skip a day and watch this film after getting back, which would have scheduled it late on Feb. 14 - that would have worked for me, too, because the reasoning here is that Cleopatra is one of history's most famous lovers.  And after studying caveman love, I'm sort of working my forward through history now - next stop, the Roman Empire.

And obviously, Elizabeth Taylor carries over from "The Flintstones" - once again, I feel like I'm the only person who would ever entertain the notion of watching these two very different films back-to-back, just because they share an actor.  But that's where I find myself.

By the time I get back and post this, it will probably be too late to help you, but here's the Valentine's Day line-up for TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" programming:
6:15 AM Kismet (1944)
8:00 AM Kiss Me Kate (1953)
10:00 AM Kisses for My President (1964)
12:00 AM Kitty Foyle (1940)
2:00 PM Knights of the Round Table (1953)
4:00 PM La Ronde (1950)
6:00 PM Lady Be Good (1941)
8:00 PM The Lady Eve (1941)
9:45 PM Libeled Lady (1936)
11:45 PM Lili (1953)
1:15 AM The Little Fugitive (1953)
2:45 AM A Little Romance (1979)
4:45 AM Little Women (1933)

Ah, I see what you did there. Kismet, Kisses, Ladies, Romance - it's very on point.  Someone had fun putting this together.  Unfortunately I've seen none of these films, but I am recording "Knights of the Round Table" to go on a DVD with "Camelot".  If I count that, another 1 out of 13 films leaves me at 59 seen out of 153.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Julius Caesar" (Movie #2,005)

THE PLOT: The triumphs and tragedy of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.

AFTER: It's too bad we're not staying at Caesar's Palace in Atlantic City - I suppose that would be too much to ask, right?  No, Caesar's is on the boardwalk strip, and we're not even headed down that far on this trip.  It's too cold to walk down the boardwalk anyway.  I think we went to the buffet at Caesar's once, it was all right.  This trip we're staying at Harrah's, and after the Sunday night Harrah's buffet (which we nearly missed out on, because the line was so long...) we dined mostly at the Borgata, because their breakfast buffet is spectacular, and then we had dinner reservations at Wolfgang Puck's American Grille - more on that tomorrow.

I should probably read up a bit on the real Cleopatra, and not depend on a Hollywood epic that's also regarded as one of the biggest financial failures in film history to give me a history lesson.  (Hey, already this year I've watched "Reds", "Ishtar" and now this...I spot a theme!)  But let's take a look at Tinseltown's take on this Ptolemaic queen.  She was the last Egyptian pharaoh, the daughter of Ptolemy XII, and the sister of Ptolemy XIV, who she married (according to Wikipedia) and she claimed to be the living incarnation of the goddess Isis.  But then Julius Caesar came along and she married him, and later had a relationship with Marc Antony, who was part of the triumvirate that succeeded Julius.

This film is divided into two parts, neatly covering her two relationships, the one with Julius Caesar and the one with Marc Antony.  IMDB lists the running time as 3 hours and 12 min., but the version I got off of TCM clocked in at just over 4 hours, and the TCM host said that there was also a 6-hour cut, which they considered releasing as two 3-hour films.  Woof.

But let's take the first part first - something odd happened as I was watching, and maybe because it's all this Trump news going around, but I started to notice the similarities during the giant, grand ceremony and parade when Caesar returned to Rome and is made dictator of Rome for life.  You might think of it as Caesar's inauguration day, and perhaps he likewise accused the Roman media of under-reporting the attendance.  And it's also true that Caesar divorced his 2nd wife, Pompeia, and was technically still married to Calipurnia when he presented Cleopatra, a foreigner to Rome as his mistress, basically, and the mother of his son.

(Marriage was apparently a little different in ancient Rome - sometimes these politicians married the sister of an ally or a rival for some kind of political gain, and it's also implied here that many of these marriages were just for show, and that some of the politicians, like Octavian, probably preferred the company of other men.)

And then I couldn't help notice other similarities between Caesar and Trump - trouble getting his agenda approved by the Senate, for example.  And although Rome was a republic, Caesar was able to seize power by swearing to stop political corruption.  I think I even may have heard Caesar refer to Rome as a "swamp" in this film.  But then, of course, he got himself made dictator and could do whatever he wanted.  I bet he went around the Senate and issued a ton of executive orders.  Now, people have been making the easy comparisons between Trump and Hitler, but could it be possible that everyone's been making references to the wrong dictator?  Should we be thinking of him as a Caesar-type instead?

More research is probably required here - but if my analogy holds, it gives me hope, because you may recall that the Roman Senators eventually stood up to Julius Caesar, and in fact it didn't end well for him.  I'd honestly settle for an impeachment, which would be a more metaphoric version of Caesar's fate at the hands of the Senate.

The second half of the film is devoted to Cleo's on-again, off-again relationship with Marc Antony.  He was married at least three times, too, before spending time in Egypt with Cleopatra.  (History says he had three children with Cleopatra, none of which are mentioned in this film...)  But when he returns home to Rome he marries Octavian's sister, and you could say that Cleopatra doesn't take that well - you'd think a queen who married her own brother would understand, but it turns out, not so much.

Octavian, of course, later became known as Augustus Caesar, and considered himself the spiritual heir to Julius, and thus Julius' son with Cleopatra, Caesarion, was not considered in line for the throne, even though he was Caesar's true heir.  This did not go down well with Cleopatra either, and she was forced to flee Rome and return to Egypt.  Eventually Antony did return, and by this time the Roman Empire was so fractured that his troops ended up fighting Octavian's troops at sea during the Battle of Actium.

Though Cleopatra flees the battle, assuming that Marc Antony is dead, she's followed by Antony, who is NOT dead, but shames himself by leaving the battle to pursue Cleopatra.  Damn, what kind of a hold this this Egyptian queen have over Roman leaders?  Eventually Octavian's forces invade Egypt, and that's when good Roman leaders are expected to do the honorable thing and fall on their swords.  And Cleopatra, as you may have heard, famously commits suicide by snake.

The real winner here, though, was Elizabeth Taylor, who got a $1 million salary to play Cleopatra, but after a lawsuit and a counter-suit, ended up earning over $7 million, and that was in 1960's money!  Taylor and Burton ended up getting married, divorced, and re-married, and made 10 more films together after this one.  Perhaps that love story was, in its own way, just as epic as the one between Antony and Cleopatra.

Also starring Rex Harrison (last seen in "Doctor Dolittle"), Richard Burton, Martin Landau (last seen in "Edtv"), George Cole, Hume Cronyn (last seen in "The Parallax View"), Roddy McDowall (last seen in "Macbeth"), Andrew Keir, Cesare Danova, Carroll O'Connor (last seen in "Marlowe"), Gwen Watford, Robert Stephens, Francesca Annis, Richard O'Sullivan, Michael Hordern (last seen in "Barry Lyndon"), John Hoyt (last seen in "Julius Caesar"), Jean Marsh, Gregoire Aslan, Martin Benson, John Cairney, Andrew Faulds, Michael Gwynn, John Doucette, Kenneth Haigh.

RATING: 6 out of 10 dancing slave girls

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Flintstones

Year 9, Day 43 - 2/12/17 - Movie #2,543

BEFORE: If you recall, I instituted a rule change this past January 1 that would allow me to link between two movies that featured the same characters, if played by different actors.  I had the "Flintstones" films in mind (and also two films about Peter Pan coming up) but it turns out that the rule change wasn't that necessary - Rosie O'Donnell supplied the voice of an octopus masseuse in last night's prequel, and she carries over to appear in person tonight.  Also, Harvey Korman did the opposite, he appeared in person in the prequel, and tonight provides the voice of an animal appliance.  (He also was the voice of the Great Gazoo in the original cartoon.). So, linking is maintained. 

Though this film may be off-topic for February, I can't see breaking up the two films in a franchise - so by scheduling it here I'm continuing to celebrate the relationships of the Flintstones and the Rubbles.  What better metaphor for the rocky road of relationships could there be than the married couples of Bedrock, where everything is made out of rocks?  Come on, how many other married caveman couples do we still remember?  OK, so it's a stretch, but I need one of the actors in this film to lead me to tomorrow's very famous classic film about another historical romance. 

And here are the classic films in the line-up for TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" on Monday, 2/13:
5:45 AM Ice Station Zebra (1968)
8:45 AM I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955)
10:45 AM Imitation of Life (1934)
12:45 PM Imitation of Life (1959)
3:00 PM In the Heat of the Night (1967)
5:00 PM Indiscretion of an American Wife (1954)
6:15 PM The Informer (1935)
8:00 PM Inherit the Wind (1960)
10:15 PM Jaws (1975)
12:30 AM Key Largo (1948)
2:30 AM Kind Lady (1951)
4:00 AM Kings Row (1942)

I've only seen 3 out of these 12 - "In the Heat of the Night", "Inherit the Wind" and "Jaws".  It seems a little odd to run two versions of the same film, back-to-back, but I think I know why - by padding the schedule a little, they managed to move a fair number of films about love and romance to the next day, which of course is Valentine's Day.  I go through the same dilemma - which film should I watch on Feb. 14? - so some people at TCM must ask themselves the same question.  My record moves up only slightly once again, to 58 seen out of 140.  


THE PLOT: Fred Flintstone finally gets the job he's always wanted, but it may just come at a price.

AFTER: So after watching the Flintstones prequel, which was made 2nd but took place first, now I'm watching the first film in the series, which took place second, making it a pre-emptive sequel to the prequel that was made later.  Right?  The movie business is a numbers game, that's for sure.  This first film had a $46 million budget and grossed $130 million in the U.S., but the sequel - er, prequel - was made for $83 million, and grossed only $35 million in the U.S., which explains why they never made another one.  John Goodman refused to make another film in this series, which explains why they had to go back in time for the next film, maybe Mr. Goodman was on to something.

The re-casting worked, for the most part - I can buy Jane Krakowski as a young Rosie O'Donnell, and Kristen Johnston maturing into Elizabeth Perkins, but audiences seemed to have a harder time with Mark Addy playing a younger Fred, and then we have Barney Rubble somehow losing a lot of height as he matured from Stephen Baldwin into Rick Moranis.  Maybe there was an accident at the quarry that compressed him down a bit.  And Joan Collins maturing into Elizabeth Taylor - OK, I'll allow that.

The villain in today's film is Cliff Vandercave, a conniving executive at Slate Construction, who embezzles a lot of money from the company, creates a lot of pre-fab sub-standard housing projects, and sets up Fred Flintstone to take the blame.  And last night's villain ran a casino - why didn't Americans learn from these two films before the 2016 election, and realize that you just can't trust people in both the casino and construction businesses?

To find their fall guy, Cliff and his seductive secretary, Sharon Stone, get all of the workers to take a test to determine which of them is worthy of advancement to an executive position.  Fred and Barney both take the test, which seems easy at first - I mean, they only have to be smarter than a bunch of Neanderthals, literally.  But Fred mixes up his days, and fails to study, so he has to take the test cold. Barney, who feels that he owes Fred a debt for loaning him money to adopt a child, switches his test slab with Fred's, giving Fred the highest score.

Now, here's where the plot sort of falls apart, because why would the evil executive promote the man with the highest score?  If he's looking for someone to just sign stone-work and not read it, and not think too much about what he's authorizing, why would he advance the smartest worker?  Shouldn't he offer the position to the dumbest caveman, if he's planning on manipulating him and using him as a puppet?  So there's one too many reversals here, or perhaps it's one too few.  They could just as easily had the executive or the secretary switch the test results, and then just have Barney investigate the test, after being sure that he scored better.

But again, perhaps I shouldn't expect a live-action cartoon to make much logical sense.  Fred's friendship with Barney is tested after he is told to fire him, and his marriage to Wilma is tested when Fred starts acting all uppity and the Rubbles are forced to move in with them, and then out.

I suppose these two Flintstones films could have been a lot worse - and I guess bowling as Fred Flintstone prepared John Goodman for his role in "The Big Lebowski", so there's that.  If you go on IMDB and read about the other actors who could have been cast, or check out the other story ideas that Wikipedia lists, you might come to the same conclusion, that these films turned out fairly all right, by comparision.

Also starring John Goodman (last heard in "Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle"), Elizabeth Perkins (last seen in "Ghostbusters (2016)"), Rick Moranis (last seen in "Club Paradise"), Kyle MacLachlan (last heard in "Inside Out"), Halle Berry (last seen in "The Last Boy Scout"), Elizabeth Taylor, Dann Florek (last seen in "Sunset"), Richard Moll, Jonathan Winters (last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), with cameos from Sheryl Lee Ralph, Laraine Newman, Jay Leno (last seen in "Ted 2"), Sam Raimi and the B-52's (as the BC-52's).

RATING: 4 out of 10 pink slips