Saturday, August 26, 2017

Orange County

Year 9, Day 238 - 8/26/17 - Movie #2,727

BEFORE: Lily Tomlin carries over again from "The Late Show", and gets me to my second of three "back to school" films, the third will be along in just a couple of days.   (Damn, I wish I had seen that Nat Faxon was in two of my school-based films, I could have connected them.  But then I might have missed everything I watched in-between...)

I think I watched 7 films this week from 7 different genres - I had a romance/drama about old Hollywood, a bedroom farce, a Western, a documentary about a horror film, a musical/political ensemble drama, and a 1970's detective spoof.  Finishing with a school-based comedy, there's no clear theme for the week - this has probably happened before, but it's rarely been so noticeable.  This is my fractured process now that I'm picking films just for the linking, my choices are essentially based on whether or not a film can get me to the end of the year.

14 films until I take a break in September, then I've got 22 films on the docket for October (I have to leave time for NY Comic-Con and a real vacation) and by Halloween I'm really going to feel like I'm in the home stretch for 2017, I should only have 37 films left at that point.  I'll watch 19 of them in November and leave 18 for December - still, I've got plans to get out to the movie theater a few more times, to see "Blade Runner 2049", "Thor: Ragnarok", "Justice League" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".  I'm glad that my linking is going to allow all of those, but I've still got to find a way to watch all four "Hunger Games" films, that's connective tissue that makes the rest possible.  There's a DVD set on Amazon for about $23, that's probably the cheapest way for me to make it to the end of Year 9.

THE PLOT: A guidance counselor mistakenly sends out the wrong transcript to Stanford University under the name of an over-achieving high-schooler.

AFTER: I realize this is not the time of year that high-school students find out if they got into the college they wanted, that happens sort of midway through senior year, but work with me, OK?  By now anyone who graduated this past spring should have their ducks in a row and is probably packing up to move into the dorm, but at least right now everyone's focused on the start of the new school year, so that's my tie-in.  And this is the transition film between this year's high-school film ("Hamlet 2") and this year's college film.  I couldn't work in "Everybody Wants Some!" this year, because it links to nothing else on my list.  Hey, those are the risks when you cast a film and forget to put any stars into it, according to my rules.

This one has plenty of stars, lots of comedians that I tend to like.  So many that I'm kicking myself for all the missed linking opportunities that I didn't see.  Doesn't matter, the die is cast, and I know exactly the path I want to take for the rest of 2017.  (Still, why didn't I see that Ben Stiller connection?  Or the Leslie Mann one? That's what I get for not looking at the big picture...).  Anyway, my point was that there were enough great comic actors here to compensate for the presence of Jack Black as a stoner loser mostly walking around in his underwear.

We feel for the central character here, because he figures out what he wants to do with his life ,which is a very powerful feeling.  After connecting with a well-written book, he wants to become a writer himself, and he feels that to accomplish that, he needs to study at Stanford, where the author of that book is a professor.  From that point on, it seems like the deck is stacked against him - even though he's class president and his grades are excellent, his guidance counselor sends in the transcript of a classmate with a similar name, and then refuses to admit her mistake.  From this point, things spiral out of control, a meeting with someone on the admissions board is ruined by his crazy family, and another meeting with the dean of admissions is another disaster.

He can't even get an honest opinion about the story that he has written, because he feels that everyone who comments on it has an agenda, or may just be telling him what he wants to hear.  But in the middle of his disastrous visit to the Stanford campus, he happens upon the writer who inspired him in the first place, and so he finally gets an honest opinion that he believes, and finally feels he could be a good writer (probably poor, but good).  He also learns that since Orange County inspired the story, and is full of the characters that he wants to write about, that he may not need to leave it after all.

I remember back when I figured out that I could pursue filmmaking as a college major, and possibly as a career.  Once you have a direction like that to orient yourself, it's easy to make some concrete plans.  I applied for four colleges, I think, and I wanted to go to NYU but considered Fordham an acceptable safety school.  One visit to the NYU campus and that probably sealed the deal in my mind.  Now, one very important thing I learned in NYU film school was that I might not be cut out to be a director, and I made my peace with that - I felt it took an arrogance to direct a film that I didn't have (or want to have) so I set myself on a producing track instead.  I also remember a time I didn't get the internship that I wanted, and I felt at the time it was a huge setback - but I took a different one,  met a lot of great people, and tried not to look back.  So I think I connected with this film's message - there are always going to be setbacks, and you may find from time to time that the path you thought you wanted to be on isn't all it's cracked up to be, and sometimes you then have to make the best of the path that you do end up on, and that's just how life goes sometimes.

Now, when I look back on 30 years spent in various jobs in film production,  it's hard to imagine things happening in any different way - what if I had gone to Fordham?  What if I had been picked for the internship that I wanted?  What if I had the balls my senior year to direct a thesis film, instead of chickening out and graduating early?  I can't even predict what my life would be like if I had gone down any of those "roads not taken", it's just too weird to consider.

If I've got any NITPICK POINT to make tonight, it's that "all-or-nothing" attitude that the main character has, plus the fact that he resorts immediately to emergency methods to get into Stanford, instead of going through the proper channels to fix the mistake (which, admittedly, would not have been as funny).  Another fix would have been to attend another school while the mistake got corrected, and then transfer to Stanford for sophomore year.  But again, this is a logical solution that probably would have been out of place in a madcap comedy.

There were also some plot threads that went nowhere, like the stray dog or the possible relationship between the main character's best friends, but I'm inclined to let those slide.

Also starring Colin Hanks (last seen in "Vacation"), Jack Black (last seen in "The D Train"), Catherine O'Hara (last seen in "Heartburn"), John Lithgow (last seen in "The Big Fix"), Kevin Kline (last seen in "The Anniversary Party"), Jane Adams (ditto), Harold Ramis (last seen in "Ghostheads"), Garry Marshall (last heard in "How Sweet It Is!"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "I Love You Phillip Morris"), Dana Ivey (also last seen in "Heartburn"), Schuyler Fisk, Kyle Howard, R.J. Knoll, Bret Harrison, Mike White (also last seen in "The D Train"), George Murdock, Carly Pope (last seen in "Two for the Money"), Olivia Rosewood, Monica Keena, Nat Faxon (last seen in "Hamlet 2") with cameos from Chevy Chase (also last seen in "Vacation"), Ben Stiller (last seen in "Don't Think Twice"), Lizzy Caplan (last seen in "Now You See Me 2")

RATING: 6 out of 10 surfboards

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Late Show

Year 9, Day 237 - 8/25/17 - Movie #2,726

BEFORE: Lily Tomlin carries over from "Nashville", and she'll be here tomorrow also.  TCM ran "Nashville" and today's film in conjuction with Tomlin receiving a special honor at the SAG Awards this year, so that must have been around January 29.  At least I seem to be able to watch films more quickly these days, after adding them to the watchlist.  It's a matter of months, not years - of course in some cases a film might only stay on the list for a couple of weeks, or I've been known lately to drop something in at the last minute, avoiding the watchlist altogether.

The film that's been on my watchlist the longest is "Grand Illusion", which I recorded in February, 2014.  There are 6 films that were added in 2015, and I'm planning to watch three of those before the end of this year. Everything else was added in 2016 or 2017, so I don't think I'm that far behind, all things considered.  Having access to the Netflix library, as well as a large pile of Academy screeners has been very helpful this year not only for the linking, but for keeping my viewing current.  But the clock is ticking, because in a couple of months this year's screeners are going to start being mailed out to Academy members, so I've got to make as much progress on 2016's movies as possible, before the 2017 films start arriving.

In a couple days I can get back to some films from 2015 and 2016, I can get about 8 or 9 of those in before I take a break in September and then switch over to classic horror films for October.

THE PLOT: A grumpy semi-retired private investigator partners with a quirky female client to catch the people who murdered his partner.

AFTER: Robert Altman did not direct this film, but he did produce it - which kind of puts it in step with Altman's film "The Long Goodbye", which had Elliott Gould playing Philip Marlowe in an updated 1970's version of L.A.  I can only assume that both films were part of that 50's nostalgia wave that took place in the 1970's, which brought us "Happy Days" and "American Graffiti" and such.  There seemed to be this fascination with those hard-boiled detective stories from the 1950's, and a sense that they needed to be dragged into modern times and updated somewhat.

The difference being, when they updated Philip Marlowe, they kept him relatively young, but the protagonist here, Ira Wells, is a senior citizen.  That greatly impacts his detective skills, if he's not willing to chase a suspect or constantly keeling over due to his perforated ulcer.  He still calls women "Dollies" and even suggests that Lily Tomlin's character should wear a dress once in a while, which only serves to show how out of touch he is with the times.  Her character also sells pot on the side, so he refers to her as a "pusher", a term that fell out of favor in the 1960's, replaced by the softer-sounding "dealer".

But the biggest problem here is that, like many noir-ish detective films, it's mostly talking over action, when it should be "show" over "tell".  The old 1950's films did this via voice-over narration (a cost-cutting measure if ever there was one...) but here it's mainly that the entire crime gets explained in words after the fact, when it would have been so much more interesting to watch even a portion of that taking place.

Once again, I fell asleep about 5 minutes before the film's climax, but this time it wasn't because the film was so long, as "Nashville" was -  it was because the film was so boring, all talk and very little action.  Sure, there's a gunfight every 20 minutes or so, probably to make sure the audience is still awake, but most of them don't amount to much, it's just an old guy firing off into the distance, so he doesn't have to chase someone - after all, he might break a hip or something.

I've seen this film described online as both a tribute to the great detectives of Hollywood films, and as a spoof of those films.  Well, which is it?  Because I don't think it can be both. 

Also starring Art Carney (last seen in "The Muppets Take Manhattan"), Bill Macy (last seen in "The Holiday"), Eugene Roche (last seen in "When a Man Loves a Woman"), Joanna Cassidy (last seen in "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster"), John Considine (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), Ruth Nelson, John Davey, Howard Duff.

RATING:  4 out of 10 stolen dress shirts

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Year 9, Day 236 - 8/24/17 - Movie #2,725

BEFORE:  From Stanley Kubrick back to Robert Altman, with Shelley Duvall carrying over again from the archive footage in "Room 237".  And this is another film that's found on that list of "1,001 Films to See Before You Die" - so scratch another one off that list for me.

By coincidence I happen to be planning a vacation to Nashville, but first we're going to fly to Dallas, then drive to Little Rock, Memphis and Nashville on a tour of some of this country's best BBQ restaurants and other eating establishments.  In Dallas we're going to our first rodeo (it's funny how you never hear anyone say that proudly...) and we'll visit the Texas State Fair and Southfork Ranch - I'd love to see Dealey Plaza, the grassy knoll and the famous book depository if there's time.  In Memphis I figure we've got to go and see Graceland, it being the 40th anniversary of the King's passing and all, but I'd love to see Sun Studios too, and Beale Street, of course.  But we're still quite short on ideas for what to do in Nashville for two days, since we can't stand country music and have no desire to visit the Grand Ole Opry.  Maybe this film will give me some ideas.

THE PLOT: Over the course of a few hectic days, numerous interrelated people prepare for a political convention as secrets surface and lies are revealed.

AFTER: Well, now I know one thing I've simply got to do in Nashville.  Outside of town there's this full-scale replica of the Parthenon - I'd been toying with the idea of visiting it, but since this film held its climactic scene on its grounds, now I really want to go to there, and when I do, I'll remember the closing concert/political rally seen in the final act of Altman's film.  But perhaps I should be concerned, because based on this film alone, the only thing to do in Nashville is to go listen to country music, either in a club or at the Grand Ole Opry.  I've already floated out some ideas for shows to see in town - Penn and Teller happen to be playing Nashville that weekend - but my wife shot those ideas down, so it looks like we'll be taking that side trip to the Jack Daniels Distillery, and then maybe going on a Halloween-themed pub crawl.  Add a few BBQ restaurants, and I'll be fine with that.

The first problem with this film is that it's too long, with a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes.  Even with the aid of Mountain Dew, I fell asleep after about 2 hours and 15 minutes, which of course was right before the most exciting part.  When I woke up at 4 am I had to go back and find where I left off, finish the last of the Dew and then continue.  Since we had to give medicine (eye drops and ear drops) to our cat at 5 am, this meant I was wide awake for that, so maybe it all worked out for the best.  But still, damn, Robert Altman, couldn't you have told this story in 2 hours and 10 minutes?

Of course, what we're dealing with here is Altman's style of telling a complex story with 24 characters, who weave in and out of each other's lives, in varying degrees of importance.  Keith Carradine's character is part of a musical trio, but he's made the decision to become a solo act, and he also has the "Warren Beatty" role, meaning he beds nearly every female character in the film, including the reporter from the BBC, who seems to not know the meaning of journalistic integrity.  She herself later ends up reporting from a junkyard and a school bus parking lot, which seemed a little odd - she's there to report on the music scene, so where does the junkyard fit in?  Did sleeping with Carradine's character mess with her head, or did she take some drugs or drink some weird alcohol that made her act in random ways?

Most of the other characters are similarly in the music business, either established acts that play the different venues in town regularly, or people who have gravitated to Nashville in the hopes of breaking into the music business.  We see one woman who keeps running away from her husband, going from club to club looking for singing work, but often finding her husband in that same bar, so either he's drinking to get over her, or he's guessing where she's going to go and he's always one step ahead of her, I'm not sure.  Shelley Duvall's character is also in town to become a singer (or is it just to sleep with musicians?), though she's pretending to be there in order to visit her sick aunt.  Her uncle keeps waiting for her to show up at the hospital, and by chance this is the same hospital, on the same floor where famous singer Barbara Jean is recuperating, after collapsing at the airport after her return flight to Nashville.

Barbara Jean had previously been rescued from a fire, and the woman who pulled her from the fire was the mother of PFC Kelly, the army man that we see milling around in the hospital, he's a big fan who sneaks in to her room to watch her sleep, because that's not too creepy.  Kelly's the connection between the uncle character and the country music singer in the hospital, but he also plays a vital role in the film's climax.

The characters who aren't part of the music scene are in politics, either local organizers or consultants for a presidential campaign.  (One local organizer is married to the lead singer for a gospel choir, and we've circled back to musicians again...)  This film came out in 1975, and one of the songs mentions the upcoming U.S. Bicentennial, so we can conclude that Hal Phillip Walker is a dark horse candidate for the 1976 Presidential election.  There's a lot of footage of a van driving around with loudspeakers on top, with the candidate's blaring rhetoric about how everyone in Washington DC is corrupt, and an outsider is needed to win the election, go to Washington and get rid of all the corrupt politicians - essentially, he wants to "drain the swamp".  Wow, Altman was about 40 years ahead of the news here.

I did say that I wanted to watch more political films this year, I didn't realize that this was going to be one of them.  What else did Altman get right, politically?  There's violence seen at a campaign rally, I think we saw a lot of that in real life last year.  Another political event features a singer who is then convinced to become a stripper, midway through her act.  Honestly, who knows what kind of shenanigans went on at Trump fundraisers?  I didn't hear about any specific instances like this, but we did have all that leaked audio with Trump talking to Billy Bush about fondling women without consent, and the stories of him sneaking into dressing rooms at the Miss USA pageants - I'm going to say that Altman hit this one pretty close to the mark.

I couldn't help but notice the connections to another film, "The Blues Brothers", which has been running on late-night cable nearly every night (or maybe it just seems like it.)  Both films have Henry Gibson in them, both films feature multi-car pile-up accidents, and of course, both films have country bands in them - "The Gold Old Boys" and "The Misty Mountain Boys".  "The Blues Brothers" also had a scene that ties into current events, by featuring a Nazi rally.  I'd say that Jake and Elwood's solution to what to do when a Nazi rally is blocking traffic - to drive right through it - would be ideal, if not for the fact that the white supremacists in Charlottesville used the same tactic against their protestors.

Also starring Lily Tomlin (last seen in "The Pink Panther 2"), Ned Beatty (last seen in "The Trouble with Spies"), Karen Black (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Keith Carradine (last seen in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"), Michael Murphy (ditto), Bert Remsen (ditto), Allen Garfield (last seen in "The Conversation"), Henry Gibson (last seen in "The Long Goodbye"), Scott Glenn (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"), Barbara Harris (last seen in "Plaza Suite"), Gwen Welles, Keenan Wynn (last seen in "Finian's Rainbow'), Ronee Blakley, Barbara Baxley, Geraldine Chaplin (last seen in "Doctor Zhivago"), David Arkin (also last seen in "The Last Goodbye'), Timothy Brown, Robert DoQui, David Hayward (last seen in "The Big Picture"), Allan F. Nicholls, Dave Peel, Cristina Raines, Thomas Hal Phillips, Richard Baskin, Merle Kilgore with cameos from Elliott Gould (also last seen in "The Big Picture"), Julie Christie (also last seen in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller").

RATING: 5 out of 10 rambling childhood stories

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Room 237

Year 9, Day 235 - 8/23/17 - Movie #2,724

BEFORE: I could continue with the other Robert Altman film, and at least five actors from the cast of "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" would carry over that way, but I left this documentary from my Netflix list out of the "Geek Week" chain because it simply didn't link to any of those films.  I also considered saving it for October, since it's about a horror film, but it doesn't seem to link to anything there, either, despite the large number of actors who appear in film clips.  But since there must be footage from the original film in here, then I can sandwich it between two other films with Shelley Duvall in them, and that seems like the perfect place to deal with it.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Shining" (Movie #640)

THE PLOT: An exploration of various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's horror film "The Shining".

AFTER: So it turns out you can find experts on just about any film - it makes sense, movie reviewers are a dime a dozen, and they all think they've got a unique take on important films, plus then you've got college students taking film criticism courses, plus their professors telling them what to look for, etc. But if I've learned anything from 15 years attending Comic-Cons, I've also learned that EVERY film has a select few hardcore fans (which is of course short for fanatics) that take it upon themselves to re-watch, memorize and catalog everything they see (or imagine) in a film that they really like.  I mean, we're talking about people who will slow it down and watch it frame by frame, and that's the whole film, not just the nude scenes.

"The Shining" is one of those films that has now achieved cult status, partially because it's so filled with symbolism and potential curiosities that it's become the stuff of legend, and we can't ask Kubrick to confirm any of the weird theories surrounding its production - at least, not without a ouija board.  People have analyzed everything from the floor plan of the Overlook Hotel (which was really the Timberline Lodge near Mount Hood in Oregon) to the true meaning of that enigmatic ending, where Nicholson's character somehow appeared in a photograph from 1921, so either he got sucked back in time, or he always was the caretaker, or something else entirely was taking place. But since Kubrick never got around to telling us explicitly what it all MEANS, then other people's brains have stepped in to fill that void.

The film gives voice to 5 interview subjects, each of which has a different theory about what Kubrick was trying to say with his enigmatic symbolism.  One is convinced that the film is really about the genocide of the Native American people, and cites evidence both obvious (the hotel manager mentions the old Indian burial ground, a classic horror film trope) and not so much - namely the can of "Calumet" baking powder seen in the hotel's store room, with an Indian head logo, and the fact that "Calumet" is a type of peace pipe.  Other symbols of Native American culture are seen around the hotel, but this seems only natural for any hotel in the American West, if I'm being honest.  Another interviewed subject thinks that the whole film is a metaphor for the Nazi holocaust, from the blood pouring out of the hotel elevators to the stacks of suitcases seen in the lobby in the film's early scenes (because, you know, there were piles of suitcases seen in photos after the Nazis took the Jews away to camps - this seems like a bit of a stretch.). Plus, in the film the older character with psychic powers tells Danny Torrance that the past is like photos from an old book, and what else could he possibly be referring to but the Holocaust, which is a past event that we have books of photos from? (Umm, no.)

But wait, the crazy conspiracy theories are just getting started.  Since Danny Torrance is seen wearing an "Apollo 11" sweater in one scene, and since that famous hexagonal carpet sort of looks like the landing pads from the film "2001: A Space Odyssey", another theory given here is that the whole film is Kubrick's subtle way of telling the audience that he helped fake the moon landing - or more accurately, he shot the footage that was shown on TV.  This particular apologetic conspiracy nut believe that the U.S. astronauts still went to the moon, but since they couldn't film it for some reason (either because of a technical glitch, or due to national security concerns), it's clear that NASA used rear-screen projection on a soundstage, right?  And therefore Jack Torrance's tirade about how hard it is to be a writer and him going crazy is just a metaphor for Kubrick being unable to tell everyone the truth about the moon landing, and how THAT was driving HIM crazy, right?  Again, this seems like a stretch.

What's clear from an analysis of the film footage from "The Shining" are two things: 1) some people have WAY WAY too much time on their hands, and 2) there's definitely something wacky going on with the geography of the hotel.  Danny's ride on his Big Wheel through the corridors of the hotel doesn't seem to follow a logical path (umm, it's called "film editing"), and furthermore, the exterior shots of the hotel at the start of the film don't show the famous hedge maze, and there's a pyramid formation in the middle of the hotel that doesn't appear in the later shots.  But all of this is easily explained, because according to Wikipedia, the main exterior of the hotel was shot in Oregon, and the interiors were shot in Elstree Studios in London.  So trying to match them up, or creating a map to explain the paths that characters take from room to room would be a fruitless endeavor - directors have been known to flip shots, or move set pieces around to get the perfectly composed shot, figuring that casual audience members won't even notice.  So what if Mrs. Torrance enters the freezer from the left, and then when she exits, she's in a completely different hallway, as long as the director got the shot composed the way he wanted on that day?

(You can see this same phenomenon on most sitcoms - if you try to figure out the layout of a house or apartment seen on a TV show, you might go mad, because they don't exist in real space, they're just sets.  Try to match the interior of say, the house seen on "The Brady Bunch" with the exterior shot, and you'll realize quickly that they couldn't possibly be the same house, based on the rooms' relation to the front door.  It doesn't mean that the Bradys live in a space vortex, it's just that the interior set had to be designed a certain way, and someone else picked stock footage of a nice-looking house, and no one bothered to see if they matched.  As a kid I realized that the interior of my toy Millennium Falcon didn't match what I saw in the film, but that didn't mean that George Lucas was making a film about the Holocaust.)

Similarly, with the disappearing pyramid shape on the hotel, once you realize that a mock-up of the Timberline's exterior (with the added hedge maze) was built in the U.K, it's much easier to imagine that some British set designer either neglected to build the pyramid, or was told not to, in order to cut costs.  (Because what idiot would watch the film frame by frame, looking for these inconsistencies?  In those days there weren't even VCRs to do that with.)  Isn't the simplest explanation the best one? I say Kubrick wasn't making a statement about the plight of vanishing Native American teepees, which are also triangular, he was just trying to get the shot he needed, in the quickest and cheapest possible way.  And that shot where Danny is seen playing on the carpet, and then when he gets up in the next shot, the pattern on the carpet is different?  The easiest answer is that this was a continuity mistake, or perhaps they shot the scene from both angles, as proper coverage might demand, and then edited between the two takes, without thinking about the carpet.  All I'm willing to concede on this point is that carpet designs in the 1970's were absolutely terrible.

See, unlike most reviewers, I've got the benefit of having worked on films, and even someone like Kubrick, with the reputation of being a perfectionist, wouldn't be immune to simple little mistakes creeping in to his film.  I've worked closely with a director/animator for many years, and I've learned that if I happen to notice a mistake (as I did recently, I spotted an improperly drawn treble clef) it's better that I not point it out, because even though he could easily re-draw it, I know that his first reaction will be, "Hey, what's the big deal, it's not like anyone's going to notice..."  Well, I did.  And then his second reaction will be, "You know, I kind of like the mistake.  Nothing's ever going to be perfect."  In other words, many directors are ego-centric, and it takes a lot to get them to admit that they made a mistake, and even more to convince them to fix one.

So tell me, what's easier to believe, that Kubrick went out of his way to design impossibly complicated sets, or make it appear that furniture changed or disappeared from shot to shot,  JUST to mess with the audience's heads, or reach them on some subconscious level - or that the interior scenes were filmed in the easiest, most convenient way to get whatever shot he wanted on that particular day, and nobody on the set worried a bit about minute continuity errors?   I really can't take these people's theories seriously when they don't take the time to properly spell or pronounce "Kubrick", after all.

Some people also believe that extra meaning can be gained by watching the film backwards and forwards at the same time, with the two images superimposed upon each other - right, because that's the way our brain assembles images in order to interpret them...  These are the same people who believe that Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" was designed to go with the filmed images from "The Wizard of Oz", even though the film is 2 1/2 times longer than the album.  (Why didn't Pink Floyd make it a double album, to match the length of the film?)  I'll admit that the famous image of the prism turning white light to color sort of matches a theme in the film (the film turns to Technicolor when Dorothy lands in Oz) but that's about it - all other concurrences are just coincidence. 

For the most part, I think that focusing on these little inconsistencies, and their perceived meanings, suggests that these people who have seen the film again and again are now unable to see the forest for the trees.  I know that I'm that way with the first three "Star Wars" films, I've seen them hundreds of times, and my brain is so full of "Star Wars" trivia and minutia that I have to allow a few years to pass between viewings, just so I can see them as stories again, and not get bogged down in all the extra details that I know.  I'm also very disappointed that this documentary mentioned Room 237 several times (this was the room where Jack Torrance encountered the dead woman in the bathtub) but NOTHING AT ALL about the room down the hall, where we saw that man in a tuxedo about to get oral sex from the guy in the bear costume?  Really?  Nobody wants to mention that little image, because it doesn't fit in with their theories about genocide or the moon landing?

There's a whole theory online about how this image suggests that Danny (symbolized by the bear) has been sexually abused by his father (symbolized by the man in the tux) which is an interesting thing to suggest, but this documentary just didn't come anywhere near that.  Jeez, it's only the weirdest shot in a film full of weird things... Bottom line, if Kubrick changed elements of King's story to make his own film, it doesn't necessarily mean that he was sending the audience coded messages, it just means he was being an asshole.

Also starring (interview subjects) Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, (seen on screen) Stephen Brophy, Ash Brophy, Buddy Black, Buffy Visick, Sam Walton, (archive footage) Jack Nicholson (last seen in "Reds"), Scatman Crothers (last seen in "The Cheap Detective"), Barry Nelson (last seen in "Rio Rita"), Danny Lloyd (last seen in "The Shining"), Joe Turkel (last seen in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue"), Barry Dennen, Tom Cruise (last seen in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Keir Dullea (last seen in "The Good Shepherd"), Kirk Douglas (last seen in "Lust for Life"), Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King (last seen in "Pet Sematary"), Nicole Kidman (last seen in "Australia"), Ben Kingsley (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Thomas Gibson, Ryan O'Neal (last seen in "The Main Event"), Patrick Magee, James Mason (last seen in "Julius Caesar"), Roddy McDowall (last seen in "Cleopatra"), Malcolm McDowell (last seen in "I Am Your Father"), Liam Neeson (last seen in "Ted 2"), Robert Redford (last seen in "Truth"), Peter Sellers (last seen in "What's New Pussycat"), Clive Revill, Matthew Modine (last heard in "The Brainwashing of My Dad"), Vincent D'Onofrio (last seen in "Mystic Pizza"), Steven Weber (last seen in "The Big Year"), Martin Potter, Philip Stone, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin.

RATING: 4 out of 10 containers of Tang (hey, the astronauts drank that!)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Year 9, Day 234 - 8/22/17 - Movie #2,723

BEFORE: Warren Beatty carries over again from "Town & Country", for the first of TWO films this week directed by Robert Altman.  I still don't feel like I have much of a handle on Altman's work, outside of "M*A*S*H", "Short Cuts" and "The Player".  I mean, I did watch "Dr. T & The Women" earlier this year, but that film was terrible.  Last year I did watch "The Long Goodbye", though, and before that I watched "Popeye" and "A Prairie Home Companion", but once again, I'm wishing that I had organized films by director more often, I think that could have given me more insight than linking through actors does.

This one's on the list of the "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", which increases my total of films on that list which I've seen to 404.

THE PLOT: A gambler and a prostitute become business partners in a remote Old West mining town, and their enterprise thrives until a large corporation arrives on the scene.

AFTER: It feels sometimes like there's always another Western on my list - whenever I watch the last one, another one pops up, like now I still have "The Outlaw Josey Wales" to watch, but I guess I'll get to that one next year, along with another Clint Eastwood film.  I also have "Appaloosa", but that links to a different set of films.

This one came into my possession in February, as part of TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" programming, and the host introduced it by talking a bit about Altman's improvisational style - I'm glad he did, because after watching "Town & Country" it probably would have been very easy for me to confuse improvisation, or the lack of writing, with bad writing - there's a very fine line, I think.  Warren Beatty, known for acting in films that were based on plays, reportedly had difficulty working with Altman, since he was used to memorizing dialogue in advance and not coming up with it on the spot.

The IMDB says that after this mock Western town was built outside Vancouver, Altman told his 50 or so extras that they should each decide the type of person they would like to be in that town - a bartender, barber, housewife, etc. - and then they could each pick out their own wardrobe based on that, and to wander around the town as that character for the next three months.  Many of the carpenters on the set were also young American men who were fleeing America so they wouldn't have to serve in the Vietnam War, and one imagines that's another whole set of stories.

Unlike most films, this was allegedly filmed mostly in sequential order, which turned out to be a smart move - it snowed in Vancouver when there were only a few scenes left, but since all of those films were at the conclusion of the film, continuity was maintained.  Otherwise they would have had to reshoot the earlier scenes, or add falling snow to them somehow in post-production.  I thought that the snow at the end looked very fake anyway - I was willing to believe that the snow was an effect added later, but apparently it was all real.

Other than that, it was a little hard for me to tell what was going at any particular point in this film, and I think a lot of that problem stems from the improvisation.  Without an exact script to tell me what exact challenges Mr. McCabe and Mrs. Miller are facing as they set up and run their bordello, I was sort of left to wonder.  Much of the drama stemmed from McCabe's horrible negotiating tactics as the mining corporation from the next town sought to buy him out, and he felt that rejecting their offer would then cause them to increase their offer, when in fact they gave up negotiating and proceeding quickly to Plan B, which was to send three bounty hunters to take him out of the picture.  I think part of this film's status as an "unconventional" Western stems from the resulting scenes, which don't resemble classic Western gunplay at all.

But what was it REALLY like in the Old West?  Do we believe that gunfighters walked out into the middle of the streets to face off against each other, counted to three and shouted, "Draw", or is that really just a Hollywood invention, along with white hats and black hats?  Was there really some kind of code of honor involved with killing, or was there just killing, as in winning a gunfight by any means necessary, like hiding in a building or shooting someone in the back.  I'm willing to entertain that the latter took place much more often than we've been led to believe, and that it was difficult to determine who were the heroes and who were the villains, or at least that those labels depended on who you were and where you stood.

Also starring Julie Christie (last seen in "Reds"), René Auberjonois (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Michael Murphy (last seen in "They Came Together"), Antony Holland (last seen in "Narrow Margin"), Bert Remsen (last seen in "Maverick"), Shelley Duvall (last seen in "Popeye"), Keith Carradine (last seen in "Hard Time: Hostage Hotel"), Corey Fischer, William Devane (last seen in "Interstellar"), John Schuck (last seen in "Midway"), Jace Van Der Veen, Hugh Millais, Manfred Schulz, Elizabeth Murphy, Jackie Crossland, Thomas Hill, Linda Sorenson, Carey Lee McKenzie, Elisabeth Knight, Janet Wright, Maysie Hoy, Linda Kupecek, Wayne Robson, Jack Riley (last seen in "Catch-22"), Rodney Gage, Lili Francks.

RATING: 4 out of 10 town drunks

Monday, August 21, 2017

Town & Country

Year 9, Day 233 - 8/21/17 - Movie #2,722

BEFORE: Today's the big North American eclipse, and of course it was mostly cloudy.  I went out for lunch at the time of the big moment, and thousands of people were looking up at the sky, both with AND without the appropriate eyewear - so I'm guessing this will be big news for optometrists and ophthalmologists, who will be very busy this week fixing everyone's retinas.  I learned long ago to not get too excited about these astronomical events - as a kid I remember my mother was big on annual meteor showers, but the nights we planned to go see them, it was almost always cloudy or rainy.  I saw one spectacular lunar eclipse when I was a teen, and then there was that Hale-Bopp comet a few years back, but for the most part it seems that my luck is terrible when it comes to astronomy.   Y2K, Harmonic Convergence - these sort of things do tend to disappoint.

(Of course, I'm planning a vacation to Nashville, within the zone of totality, but it's not until late October.  That figures.)

Warren Beatty carries over from "Rules Don't Apply", and despite the 15-year gap, this was the last film that Beatty acted in before "Rules".  He sort of took a little break, right?  Tomorrow I'll go back even further to a film from 1971.  Maybe this film genuinely belongs in a February romance-themed chain, but I need the linking now - I can't be sure if this is going to link to anything in next February's schedule.

THE PLOT: A well-known New York architect is at a crossroads, a nexus where twists and turns lead to myriad missteps, some with his wife, others with longtime friends.  Deciding which direction to take often leads to unexpected consequences.

AFTER: I've heard terrible things about this film, but of course I can't just take everyone else's word for it, I have to watch the film and find out exactly what is wrong with it.  First off, this feels like a Woody Allen film without being a real Woody Allen film, so I guess it's a Woody knock-off?  A riff on Woody Allen?  Allen Lite?

What went wrong here, besides the obvious - namely the poster image of Warren Beatty hanging out of a window over the NYC skyline wearing boxers with hearts on them (a scene which, thankfully, does not occur within the film...).  I mean, I guess that image screams "bedroom farce", but it's just so painfully tacky, right?

Of course, the main character isn't self-deprecating enough to be in a Woody Allen film - and Warren Beatty would be a poor stand-in for Woody, a real Woody Allen film would need someone more self-deprecating, like Jason Biggs or Alan Alda, or preferably the Woodman himself.  The plot here seems more designed to cater to Warren Beatty's ego, since his character sleeps with just about every woman in the film, much like his character in, say, "Shampoo".  Even if his character is going through a mid-life crisis, it's a stretch of the imagination to depict an older man having SO many affairs in such a short period of time.  It's almost like the entire plot was designed to set up the scene near the end where all FIVE women that he's been sleeping with (or almost sleeping with) end up in the same restroom at an event at the same time.  Did Beatty really need that much of an ego boost in 2001?  Or was it a situation reminiscent of that scene from "Amadeus", where Mozart tries to get as many opera characters singing all at once, with no recitatives?

In addition to his wife, Beatty's Porter Stoddard sleeps with his best friend (who's going through a divorce, but still, this should be taboo...), a beautiful cellist, and not one but TWO women that he meets while on a trip to Sun Valley.  Well, I guess he almost has sex with those two women, the specifics are somewhat in doubt, but then why does one's father chase him down with a rifle, for NOT sleeping with his daughter?  This was very strange....

I've learned over time to not only spot a bad film, but to be able to carefully analyze WHY it's bad, whether it's from a directing problem, or a writing problem, or an acting problem.  I think in this case the majority of the film's problems come from bad writing, which itself can be broken down into bad plot writing and bad dialogue writing.  Symptoms of bad dialogue writing include too much repetition, characters appearing to constantly be at a loss for words, or not making much sense, which are all signs that actors are being forced to improvise.

But I think most of the problems here stem from bad plot writing - only about half of the elements introduced over the course of this story turn out to be relevant, and the other half go exactly nowhere. Who were all those Asian men being shown around the couple's beach home?  That's one thing that was never explained, for example - the writer or director never took the time to follow up, so we're left to wonder.  There are plenty more of these - what was up with the couple's daughter's Turkish boyfriend?  Or their live-in maid's boyfriend, who liked to walk around their NYC apartment almost naked?  These are like little plot threads that are sticking out, and just like with a sweater, if you pull on one of these threads, the entire story might unravel.

The worst story element is probably Porter's best friend, Griffin, who happens to be gay.  And the implication here is that he might have feelings for Porter, too - another ego boost for Beatty?  But he can't seem to tell everyone that he's gay, not his best friend or his wife.  This is a plot problem, because I'm pretty sure that in 2001, when this film was released, it was OK to be gay - and if you were an antiques dealer in NYC, chances are that people already suspected that to be true.  What's bothersome is that the screenwriter probably never did five minutes of research into what it means to be gay, because instead we see him going to a hotel with a man dressed as a woman, and from what I understand, that's a somewhat different thing.  So either he's got a thing for transvestites, or he's merely TRYING to make his wife think he's having an affair.  That second possibility allowed for better story possibilities, I think, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.

What's more, the pieces just don't fit - either he's gay or he's not, right?  And if he's gay, why do we see him hitting on a woman dressed like a spider at the Halloween party?  Did he suddenly forget that he's not into women?  He makes a joke about being a "leg man", and therefore attracted to the spider with 8 legs, but the joke doesn't land because the wrong character is saying it.  Comedy fail.

NITPICK POINTS abound: Why did Porter's son travel with his wife to Idaho, arriving there to spoil his Dad's vacation - who does that?  Why did someone travel to their cabin in Idaho during winter, and not have enough blankets on hand?  Who brings a moving van to a house, just to remove a couple of suit jackets and a pair of golf shoes?  The main character's mistress was dispatched from the story in a method that I didn't even understand - so was she pregnant, or not?  If so, was it Porter's baby, or not?  It's all quite unclear.

Inconsistencies like this that stretch across the entire film are no doubt caused by the massive re-writes and re-shoots that this film had, reportedly it took over three years to make this film, as the re-shoots were delayed again and again - then it took another two years to release it, probably because the studio knew they had a lemon on their hands. 

Also starring Diane Keaton (last heard in "Finding Dory"), Goldie Hawn (last seen in "Best Friends"), Garry Shandling (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Nastassja Kinski (last seen in "One From the Heart"), Andie MacDowell (last seen in "Hudson Hawk"), Jenna Elfman (last seen in "EdTV"), Josh Hartnett (last seen in "The Faculty"), Charlton Heston (last seen in "The Agony and the Ecstasy"), Marian Seldes (last seen in "Hollywood Ending"), Katharine Towne (last seen in "Mulholland Drive"), Ian McNiece (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), William Hootkins (last seen in "The Island of Dr. Moreau"), Terri Hoyos, Tricia Vessey (last seen in "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"), Marc Casabani, Del Zamora, Buck Henry (last seen in "Catch-22"), Azura Skye, Johnny Brown, with cameos from Holland Taylor (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Scott Adsit (last seen in "The Music Never Stopped").

RATING: 3 out of 10 special clothes hangers

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rules Don't Apply

Year 9, Day 232 - 8/20/17 - Movie #2,721

BEFORE: Steve Coogan carries over from "Despicable Me 3", probably for the last time this year, but he's my link to a few more Warren Beatty films - I started the year with three of those ("Reds", "Ishtar" and "The Parallax View") but at the time I didn't realize I'd be following that up with three more.  None of these three were on the watchlist when I watched the first three - either way, Beatty will probably end up in 6 films this year, in a multi-way tie for, I'm guessing, 5th place.

I borrowed this one on an Academy screener from work, but HBO just started running it a few days ago, so I can watch it today without that annoying "For Your Consideration" subtitle popping up.  I was also going to borrow "Miles Ahead" and "Arrival", but those are showing on premium cable now too, so I can add them to the watchlist for real.

THE PLOT: The unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and their boss, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes.

AFTER: I mentioned a few weeks back that I caught the first two aired episodes of that BBC show "Urban Myths", which re-told the stories about Bob Dylan trying to visit his friend Dave Stewart in London (which probably never happened) and also Adolf Hitler's troubles getting into art school (which probably did).  Turns out they're never going to air that episode with Michael Jackson, Liz Taylor and Marlon Brando going on a road-trip together after 9/11 - since they cast a white actor to play Jacko, it's much too controversial, apparently.

But this film has that same sort of feel about it, being comprised mostly of anecdotes about Howard Hughes and his weird behavior, some of which might be true, and others which might be exaggerated.  Having previously watched THREE other films about Howard Hughes as part of this project ("The Aviator", "Melvin and Howard" and "The Hoax"), it's hard for me to not feel like this film was cobbled together from events seen in those films, or that I've covered all this ground before.  But since this film concentrates mostly on a period in the late 1950's to early 60's, the focus and approach do help to make it unique among the many films about the same man.

(I'm referencing "The Hoax" here, even though that film was set in 1971, not 1964, because there's a very similar plot-line there to something that happens in this film - namely that an author writes a biography of Hughes, which may or may not be factual, and Hughes makes a phone call to the press to denounce that author and his book.  That's an awfully big coincidence, unless it did happen twice in real life, which is a bit unclear.  The author seen in "The Hoax" was Clifford Irving, who I know is real, but in "Rules Don't Apply", this same situation is seen with an author named Richard Miskin, who may be a fabrication, I'm just not sure.).

But at its heart this film wants to be a love story, since two people in Hughes' employ seem to have feelings for each other, but they can never quite get on the same page, and the suggestion may be that this was largely due to Hughes and his eccentricities.  He kept many young actresses in his employ, and had them chauffeured around to acting lessons, dance lessons, screen tests and such, and therefore also needed to employ a large number of drivers whom he could trust around the girls.  The fact that no movie was in production makes this enterprise all rather suspect - and naturally, as one might expect, with so many young men and young women interacting, the chances of two people falling into a relationship were probably quite high.

Reportedly, Hughes had relationships with many young actresses over the years, but the film falls short of suggesting that he kept them on the payroll for just such a purpose.  Since he also reportedly did not like to be touched or wear clothing in private, it's hard to see how he would have many relationships.  This was partially due to injuries sustained in various aviation accidents over the years, which also led to a codeine addiction.  Burn injuries, withdrawing from private life, a number of casual relationships - Hughes starts to sound more and more like Michael Jackson after a while.

But Beatty's portrayal also reminded me of Donald Trump (what doesn't remind us of Trump these days?) because he repeat himself often, was extremely egocentric, felt that everyone was out to get him, and had an obsession with TV dinners and ice cream, which was reminiscent to me of Trump's love for KFC/Taco Bell and flowery descriptions of the chocolate cake served at his resorts.  It's true that Howard Hughes developed a love for Baskin-Robbins' Banana Nut ice cream, so much that he ordered his staff to get as much as possible (350 gallons) shipped from Los Angeles to his suite at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.  The casino made arrangements to store it all in their freezer, and then a few days later Hughes decided he no longer liked that flavor, and demanded French vanilla instead.  The Desert Inn spent a year handing out free banana nut ice cream to its guests, and as late as 1996 the staff reported that they might still have a gallon or two at the back of their deep-freeze.

Maybe this film isn't meant to be taken literally, because they do play fast and loose with Hughes' timeline - the part of the plot concerning his famous "Spruce Goose" plane is off by about 10 years, so maybe Richard Miskin is supposed to be a stand-in for Clifford Irving, which would be off by about 7 years?  It's tough to say.  But at least Warren Beatty resembles Howard Hughes much more than Leonardo DiCaprio did in "The Aviator", and we never see him descend here into full madness, like going months without cutting his hair or nails or saving his urine in jars.  Instead he's just portrayed here as a wildly eccentric rich person who's a bit out of touch with reality, and changed his mind a lot.

Also starring Warren Beatty (last seen in "The Parallax View"), Alden Ehrenreich (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick (last seen in "Manchester By the Sea"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Bobby"), Candice Bergen (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Annette Bening (last seen in "Danny Collins"), Haley Bennett (last seen in "Music and Lyrics"), Dabney Coleman (last seen in "Moonlight Mile"), Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Still Alice"), Paul Schneider (last seen in "Café Society"), Ed Harris (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Amy Madigan (last seen in "Pollock"), Oliver Platt (last seen in "Chef"), Megan Hilty, Paul Sorvino (last seen in "Reds"), Patrick Fischler (also last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Taissa Farmiga, Chace Crawford, Ron Perkins, Peter Mackenzie, Julio Oscar Mechoso (last seen in "The Forger"), Evan O'Toole (last seen in "Wild"), Marshall Bell (last seen in "Hamlet 2"), with cameos from Kyle Bornheimer (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Joshua Malina, Michael Badalucco.

RATING: 4 out of 10 body doubles