Saturday, February 17, 2018

Annie Get Your Gun

Year 10, Day 48 - 2/17/18 - Movie #2,849

BEFORE: Keenan Wynn carries over from "Royal Wedding", one of several choices I had to link between the Fred Astaire films and the Howard Keel films - Keenan also appears in "Kiss Me Kate", and Jane Powell is also in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers".  The actor who played the bartender in "Easter Parade" is also in tonight's film, plus Ann Miller's in "Kiss Me Kate", so I could have flipped the last two Astaire films and still found my way in to this set of five films, and I could have watched them in just about any order - I'm going with (mostly) chronological.

Here's the schedule for tomorrow, February 18, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", featuring nominees and winners for Best Supporting Actor.

6:00 am "The Westerner" (1940) - Walter Brennan, winner
7:45 am "Crossfire" (1947) - Robert Ryan
9:15 am "Johnny Eager" (1942) - Van Heflin, winner
11:15 am "Topper" (1937) - Roland Young
1:00 pm "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945) - James Dunn, winner
3:30 pm "Rebel Without a Cause" (1955) - Sal Mineo
5:30 pm "Cool Hand Luke" (1967) - George Kennedy, winner
8:00 pm "Being There" (1979) - Melvyn Douglas, winner
10:30 pm "Mister Roberts" (1955) - Jack Lemmon, winner
12:45 am "Stagecoach" (1939) - Thomas Mitchell, winner
2:30 am "Twelve O'Clock High" (1949) - Dean Jagger, winner
5:00 am "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937) - Joseph Schildkraut, winner

Hmm, they aired a film with Barbara Bel Geddes yesterday, and today it's one with George Kennedy. Combine that with my Howard Keel films, and it's something of a "Dallas" reunion.  (It's too bad Larry Hagman was in "Ensign Pulver", and not "Mister Roberts".)

I'm going to count this as 6 out of 12, because "Topper" is on my list, I'll get to that in a bit, and I'm fairly sure they showed us "Stagecoach" in film school.  I've also seen "Rebel Without a Cause", "Cool Hand Luke", "Being There" and "Mister Roberts". Another 6 out of 12 brings my total up to 75 out of 199.  Up to 37.6%

THE PLOT: The story of the great sharpshooter Annie Oakley, who rose to fame while dealing with her love for professional rival Frank Butler

AFTER: Full disclosure: I've never seen the film before, but I was in a high-school production of the stage musical, where I played Chief Sitting Bull.  So I'm familiar with the plot and the songs, plus watching this will probably bring back some flashbacks to my theater days.  I do remember on the night of the performance, someone in Act 2 missed their cue and failed to come in, leaving me alone on stage with the actress playing Annie, and I had to think fast and come up with something to ad-lib with, so we wouldn't be standing there saying nothing for 5 minutes.  I crafted a very quick origin for the "teeth of many bears" necklace, and riffed for what was probably just a couple minutes, but was told later that I kind of saved the show.

So I don't think I can be impartial tonight, just as I can't when I review a film that I had a hand in making, it's too relevant to my life, but in this case, maybe not in a good way.  I had to wear a big Indian headdress as Sitting Bull, and I couldn't wear my glasses in character, so I was half-blind during the show, but fortunately the role didn't require too much moving around.  I didn't think much about how bad it was that the show reduced Native Americans to a bunch of stereotypes, based on the way they dance, they don't talk much, but they make that whooping "war cry" noise - it kind of makes me sick to think about all that.

The actor playing Sitting Bull in this film was actually of Irish descent, and was born in New York.  But according to his IMDB bio, his complexion and gift for doing different accents meant that he often played Italians, Mexicans, Arabs and Italians in movies.  Still, there's no valid reason why a Native American wasn't hired - if they tried to pull this today, like they did when they cast Johnny Depp as Tonto, you'd never hear the end of it.  The fact that his dialogue here is mostly broken English with the occasional "Ugh!" thrown in seems very racially insensitive in retrospect.  Not to mention Annie Oakley's song "I'm an Indian, Too", with her Indian dialogue basically being "Ooo-Ooo", as if "Indian" and "caveman" were interchangeable.

Then there's Betty Hutton as Annie - replacing Ethel Merman, who made the role famous on Broadway.  For the latter half of the picture, she's got this "Aw, shucks!" attitude that shines pretty well, but at the start of the picture, when she's covered in dirt make-up, and sings "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" with her brothers and sisters, and speaking in "Redneck English", that's pretty cringe-worthy, too.  Was it OK back then to make fun of country folk from Ohio?  (I guess she was from the part of Ohio that's closest to West Virginia?)

Howard Keel (in his first movie role here) has a similar folksy sincerity, but on him somehow it works.  Before this film, he had played on stage as the lead in both "Carousel" and "Oklahoma", so it made sense that he'd transition to a film based on another Rodgers and Hammerstein production.  (But the songs in this musical are not by R & H, they're from Irving Berlin, so there's another connection to "Easter Parade"...). Originally this film was going to star Judy Garland as Annie and Frank Morgan as Col. Buffalo Bill, but Garland was unavailable due to "exhaustion" and dealing with her divorce, so there would be no "Wizard of Oz" reunion here.  Morgan, meanwhile, filmed the opening number for this film, then died of a heart attack.

But this is still where several famous songs came from, most notably "There's No Business Like Show Business", but also "Anything You Can Do".  So it's got that going for it, plus it's right on point with the love theme for February, with the on-again, off-again shooting match rivalry between Annie and Frank.  And since it's a 1950's representation of the 1880's, Annie learns that there's nothing more important than becoming a pretty girl, and that she has to lose in order to win.  Another thing you probably couldn't get away with today.

Also starring Betty Hutton, Howard Keel, Louis Calhern (last seen in "The Band Wagon"), J. Carrol Naish (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), Edward Arnold (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Clinton Sundberg (last seen in "Easter Parade"), Benay Venuta (ditto), Brad Morrow, Evelyn Beresford.

RATING: 5 out of 10 clay targets

Friday, February 16, 2018

Royal Wedding

Year 10, Day 47 - 2/16/18 - Movie #2,848

BEFORE: Now I've come to the end of Phase 2 of Fred Astaire's movies - Phase 1 ended last year right after St. Patrick's Day with "Funny Face", and with 14 films in 2017 and now another 5, I've just about seen it all.  Umm, except for "Ghost Story" and "Holiday Inn", which I'll try to get to in Phase 3. 

Tomorrow, February 17, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", they're finally reaching the acting categories, with the nominees and winners for Best Supporting Actress.  Here's the line-up:

6:00 am "I Remember Mama" (1948) - Barbara Bel Geddes
8:30 am "All This, and Heaven Too" (1940) - Barbara O'Neil
11:00 am "A Patch of Blue" (1965) - Shelley Winters, winner
1:00 pm "Cactus Flower" (1969) - Goldie Hawn, winner
3:00 pm "Sayonara" (1957) - Miyoshi Umeki, winner
5:45 pm "East of Eden" (1955) - Jo Van Fleet, winner
8:00 pm "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1943) - Katina Paxinou, winner
11:00 pm "A Passage to India" (1984) - Peggy Ashcroft, winner
2:00 am "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) - Estelle Parsons, winner
4:00 am "Shampoo" (1975) - Lee Grant, winner

I think I'll start doing better, now that we're into the acting categories.  I've seen 6 of these: "Cactus Flower", "East of Eden", "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "A Passage to India", "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Shampoo". So another 6 out of 10 brings my total up to 69 out of 187.  Back up to 36.8%

THE PLOT: Tom and Ellen Bowen are a brother and sister dance act whose agent books them in London for the same period as the Royal Wedding.  Each develops a British love interest. 

AFTER: Wow, what a way to go out, with Astaire's famous "dancing on the ceiling" routine, which probably blew a lot of people's minds back in 1951.  And the walls, I think he doesn't get enough credit for dancing on the walls, which is also no easy feet, unless you've got a special effects team that can create a rotating room.  Any magic trick seems impossible until you know how it's done, and since earlier in the film there was a lot of tilting camera work as Tom and Ellen danced on the cruise ship.  I would have predicted that they used the same low-rent trick they did on the first "Star Trek" series, with every actor just leaning one way, then the other when the ship was attacked, except that we see fruit bouncing across the tilted floor, and then a couch that moves in the direction of the lean.  So the simplest explanation is that they built a giant room that could be tilted hydraulically in one direction, even though that's not exactly how ocean liners lean.  (I've been on a cruise ship during rough seas, it doesn't just lean to one side and stay there, it's more of a back-and-forth...)

It's still an amazing achievement, when you figure that somebody had to build a room that looked like a hotel room, but with all the furniture bolted down, and unable to move an inch.  Then of course, the camera had to be bolted to the floor so that it would rotate with the room, and give a constant view from one angle, even though it was rotating.  Simple to conceive, really, but I bet there was nothing simple about the execution.  They didn't just cut to him on the wall, because that wouldn't give the same effect.  But there's definitely a sort of "pause" in the action, when Fred is sort of deciding between the wall and the ceiling, for example, and that's obviously when the room is being rotated - but they did their best to make it as seamless as possible, and he even goes around the horn twice for good measure. 

Astaire also dances with a hatrack as a partner earlier in the film - this is also aboard the ship going from New York to London, and here the seas appear to be much calmer, the "ship" isn't leaning to one side. (Why, it's almost as if they weren't on a real ship, go figure...)  But I'm assuming that hatrack had to be custom-made and perfectly balanced for him to manipulate it like that, roll it around, kick it over and then kick it back upright.  This takes place in the ship's gym, (because don't all cruise ships have gymnasiums?) and then he dances with some parallel bars and a pommel horse, so we get a glimpse of what the Olympics might look like if they let professional dancers compete in the gymnastics section to musical numbers. 

Oh, yeah, the story - apparently this was set during the wedding of Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth, although that happened in 1947 and this film came out four years later.  Tom Bowen and his sister, Ellen, have a dance act, and are asked to come over for some kind of command performance, or maybe it's just that their agent wants to do a tie-in show?  This is a little unclear.  But at least there are no love triangles, and no chance of the dance partners falling in love with each other, this brother-sister thing ends up making a much simpler story. 

Or does it?  The course of true love never did run smooth, and there are still bumps on the road to love for both of them.  Ellen's the kind of girl who'll juggle two or three boyfriends at once, never getting serious about any of them, and on the ship she meets her male counterpart, who also happens to be a British Lord, and also happens to be headed back home for the wedding.  Tom starts a relationship with one of the showgirls (who he happens to meet accidentally on the street first) but she's in love with a man in Chicago who she hasn't seen in two years. 

Keenan Wynn gets to play two roles, as their agent in New York and his twin brother in London, and Astaire's romantic partner is played by the daughter of Winston Churchill.  Lots of good trivia bits surrounding this film.  Partially based on real-life events, too, since Fred Astaire danced for many years with his own sister, Adele, who left the act to marry a British Lord.  And apparently they once danced together on a ship, which inspired the "Open Your Eyes" number.

Also starring Jane Powell, Peter Lawford (also carrying over from "Easter Parade"), Sarah Churchill, Keenan Wynn (last seen in "Nashville"), Albert Sharpe, Viola Roache, John R. Reilly

RATING: 6 out of 10 Union Jack flags

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Easter Parade

Year 10, Day 46 - 2/15/18 - Movie #2,847

BEFORE: First I have to apologize for watching "Leap Year" in 2018, which is NOT a leap year, and now I'm watching "Easter Parade" when that holiday doesn't occur until April 1.  Clearly this is not a normal calendar year, with Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday coinciding, and then Easter's going to share a calendar square with April Fool's Day.  Has this ever happened before?  I know that occasionally Easter can take place in March, not April, but I don't ever remember it coinciding with another holiday like this.  Last year I was able to tie-in the Fred Astaire chain with St. Patrick's Day when TCM ran "Finian's Rainbow" (I only had to skip a few days to make things line up right) but I guess I can't be that fortunate two years in a row.

Sure, I could sit on this film until April 1, but my possibility of linking to it then becomes quite remote - I got really lucky with the Leslie Caron link to "Daddy Long Legs", how can I possibly link back to Fred Astaire again?  As it is, I also have Astaire scheduled to appear in "Ghost Story" and "Holiday Inn", but those seem more like Halloween-y and Christmas films, and currently I have no way to link to them, but maybe I can figure something out before October or December.  Then again, my whole linking process might be outdated or impossible by then, you never know.  But I refuse to watch those films so very out-of-season.

Because it's bad enough that I have to watch an Easter-themed film here, at the START of Easter season, the second day of Lent for chris'sakes, just because I've got other Easter movie plans, and I don't think I can circle back around to Fred Astaire again.  (Then I thought, maybe flip this film with tomorrow's, so that I can at least say it's on the first Friday of Lent, which is a thing, and I could do it, just use a different entry to the Howard Keel chain.  But then I reconsidered and flipped it back again, I suppose it doesn't really matter in the end, I'm still staring down a break in the chain next week.)

Tomorrow, February 16, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", it's the nominees and winners for Best Original Story.  What?  How is that a category, Best Story?  That's certainly not a category now, but apparently it was a category between 1928 and 1956, which must have morphed into Best Original Screenplay.  So I guess it's just old-time films today on TCM, which is fine, because I'm doing the classic Hollywood musicals thing myself now, with Fred Astaire and Howard Keel coming up.

Other discontinued Oscar categories include: Best Assistant Director, Best Dance Direction, and (I assume) Best Blackface Make-Up.

6:00 am "Manhattan Melodrama" (1934)
8:00 am "One Way Passage" (1932)
9:30 am "A Guy Named Joe" (1943)
11:45 am "My Favorite Wife" (1940)
1:30 pm "Mystery Street" (1950)
3:30 pm "White Heat" (1949)
5:45 pm "Action in the North Atlantic" (1943)
8:00 pm "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939)
10:30 pm "The Champ" (1931)
12:15 am "A Star Is Born" (1937)
2:15 am "Boys Town" (1938)
4:00 am "Vacation From Marriage" (1945)

Another tough category for me, perhaps because of the date limitations on this category.  I've only seen three: "My Favorite Wife", "White Heat" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".  I watched the 1979 film titled "The Champ", but not the 1931 film,  and I watched the 1954 and 1979 versions of "A Star Is Born", but not the 1937 version.  Another 3 out of 12 brings my total up to 63 out of 177.  Back down to 35.6%

THE PLOT: A nightclub performer hires a naive chorus girl to become his new dance partner, to make his former partner jealous and to prove he can make any partner a star.

AFTER: I think I made the right call, this film is not as Easter-based as I thought it might be.  There are two Easters seen in the film, and two Easter Parades, but they book-end the film and the main story is really about the time BETWEEN the two Easters, as hoofer Don Hewes (Astaire) trains a new dance partner (Garland).  Whew, what a relief - I thought if this whole film was about Easter then I was really screwing myself by watching it here.  But it's about getting READY for Easter, the two leads have a standing date for the Easter Parade, about two people coming together and learning to work together (and become a couple!) in time for their Easter date.  So, the film does belong in February after all.

There was still a 23-year age difference between Astaire and Garland, presumably between their characters as well, therefore - but for the whole film, he's the senior member of the dance team, the 49-year old professional training the 26-year old newcomer.  Who's to say love can't blossom under those circumstances?  Right now the Winter Olympics are going on, my wife's watching a lot of figure skating, and with all those skating teams, you kind of can't help but wonder - are the teams only partners on the ice, or are they romantic partners in real life as well?  I guess some are and some aren't, and the same goes for dance partners.  Any two people who spend so much time together, engaging in a physical activity where they have to touch each other a lot, certain things are likely to happen, assuming they're both straight.

But that means that dancing is a metaphor for sex, right?  I think I came to the same conclusion last year after my 10th or 12th Fred Astaire film in a row.  When two people are dancing on-screen, and we're admiring their dance moves or appreciating how well they move together, in the back of our minds, they're doing a different kind of dance, the horizontal mambo.  But I don't want to make this tawdry, to some people dancing is just dancing.  And we're back in 1948 tonight, which in many ways was a more conservative time - not like "Flying Down to Rio" back in 1933, those people were out of control!  (Actually, "Easter Parade" was released in 1948, but takes place in 1912 for some reason.  I guess back then you could write a sonnet about a bonnet and not seem out of place.)

The opening number has Fred Astaire trying to buy a stuffed bunny in a toy store, but first he has to get it away from a kid who grabbed it, so he does a number with a drum set that's really great, and now I see tap-dancing in a whole new light.  By playing drums with sticks, his feet, his head WHILE tap-dancing, I realize that tap-dancing is another form of percussion - so mixing it with drums somehow makes complete sense!  And then more complicated rhythms are possible when he starts to mix the drumbeats and the tap beats.

Then Nadine, Don's dance partner, breaks up with him - and this seems like it was a purely professional dance-based relationship, with no hanky-panky, because it seems like she's dating his best friend, Jonathan (but we never really know for sure, do we?) - Don takes on a new dance partner, plucking her out of the chorus girl line-up at a bar, no less.  He does this JUST to prove that he could make a great dance partner out of anyone.  Gee, it sure seems like this is a rebound relationship of sorts - so maybe there was some attraction between Don and Nadine after all.  After you break up with someone, isn't the temptation there to go out and date someone right away, just to prove you can?

This sets up two love triangles of sorts, the Don-Nadine-Jonathan one, and then later Jonathan's attached to Hannah, but Hannah only has eyes for Don.  So the second triangle is Jonathan-Hannan-Don, but it only works if each person is after someone who's after someone else.  Aw heck, let's just call it a love quadrangle and be done with it.  This way each person has a back-up partner in case things don't work out with the partner they're pursuing.

Nadine moves on to the Ziegfeld Follies, while Don trains Hannah.  And this means Garland and Astaire have to do something very difficult, which is to dance poorly while rehearsing.  (Again, I know nearly nothing about dancing, but I'm going to assume it was hard for Astaire to work what looked like dancing mistakes into his routines.)  The goal is to put a show together with the rather arbitrary deadline of the following Easter.  And Astaire's character acts professionally, doesn't put any moves on the younger Hannah - which, of course, ends up making him the irresistible father figure to her, something we also saw in "Daddy Long Legs".

It turns out the easiest and best thing to do with Fred Astaire was to make his character a dancer putting a show together, this was done time and time again, like in "The Band Wagon" and "Second Chorus", etc.  When his character had another profession, like business millionaire or film producer, it just wasn't as believable, and it was harder to justify the inclusion of so many dance sequences.

And we've got music from Irving Berlin tonight, not Cole Porter like last night, and I think this is a step up.  "Easter Parade" is obviously the headliner tune, but "A Fella With an Umbrella" isn't bad, and neither is "It Only Happens When I Dance With You", if you can avoid adding extra innuendo to that title.  Heck, "I Want to Go Back to Michigan" is also a clever tune, and then near the end, we get "Steppin' Out With My Baby", which of course was another big hit for Berlin.

There's one point during the "Steppin' Out" number that's very memorable - Astaire's dancing in the foreground and he starts moving in slow-motion, but the chorus in the background keeps moving at regular speed.  God, I'd love to know how they did this with 1948 technology, it couldn't have been green-screened, was it rear-projection?  Was the camera sped up to film Astaire, or slowed down to film the background performers?  Was this filmed as one shot, or as some kind of combination?  Must research this...

There's a great deal of behind-the-scenes injury and drama associated with this film.  First off, it was originally going to star Gene Kelly, but he broke his ankle after a volleyball game.  And Cyd Charisse was going to play the role of Nadine, then dropped out due to a torn knee ligament.  Her role went to Ann Miller, who had to perform her numbers in a back brace, since her husband Reese Milner had (allegedly) thrown her down the stairs.  And finally the film was originally going to be directed by Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland's husband, only they were fighting too, and her psychiatrist strongly recommended that they not work together any more, and then they divorced three years later.

Also starring Judy Garland (last heard in "Gay Purr-ee"), Peter Lawford (last seen in "Mrs. Miniver"), Ann Miller (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Jules Munshin (also carrying over from "Silk Stockings"), Clinton Sundberg (last seen in "The Barkleys of Broadway"), Richard Beavers, Jeni Le Gon.

RATING: 6 out of 10 talkative waiters

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Silk Stockings

Year 10, Day 45 - 2/14/18 - Movie #2,846

BEFORE:  Happy Valentine's Day!  While I can't say yet whether this film will be the most romantic movie of the week (because apparently it's about a stern Russian woman) it's at least got a title that evokes the holiday - candy, flowers, and some lingerie, right?  Ooh la la...

Tomorrow, February 15, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", it's the nominees and winners for Best Original Screenplay.  Why they stopped giving out awards for Best UN-original Screenplay, I have no idea.  Here's the schedule:

6:15 am "Interrupted Melody" (1955)
8:15 am "The Naked Spur" (1953)
10:00 am "It's Always Fair Weather" (1955)
12:00 pm "Titanic" (1953)
2:00 pm "Designing Woman" (1957)
4:00 pm "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer" (1947)
6:00 pm "Woman of the Year" (1942)
8:00 pm "Splendor in the Grass" (1961)
10:15 pm "Pillow Talk" (1959)
12:15 am "The Candidate" (1972)
2:15 am "The Producers" (1967)
4:00 am "Citizen Kane" (1941)

Hmm, still working on a Valentine's Day theme, it seems, at least until midnight rolls around.  I'm getting better numbers today, with 7 out of 12 seen: "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer", "Woman of the Year", "Splendor in the Grass", "Pillow Talk", "The Candidate", "The Producers" and of course, "Citizen Kane".  Another 7 out of 12 brings my total up to 60 out of 165.  Up again to 36.4%

And if I'm scoring these February films by wins and losses (based on whether love wins out in the end, in some form) then I think that after the first half of the month, the score is 9 wins to 3 losses with 2 ties.  I expect another win tonight as Fred Astaire carries over from "Flying Down to Rio".  

THE PLOT: After three bumbling Soviet agents fail in their mission to retrieve a straying Soviet composer from Paris, the beautiful, ultra-serious Ninotchka is sent to complete their mission and bring them back.  She starts out condemning the decadent West, but gradually falls under its spell with the help of an American movie producer.

AFTER: Eh, this one was just all right for me.  Maybe I'm just burned out on Fred Astaire after watching 14 of his films last year, and another two already this week.  I'm just not a big dance fan, though I still recognize that he was a hell of a dancer - it's still not my thing though.  But I'm going to soldier on through, two more Astaire films this week and then I'm on to Howard Keel - and that dreaded stop in the chain is just looming at the end of that.  Maybe it won't be so bad, I just have to consider that the end of one chain means I get to start up another one, right?  Still, it doesn't feel right somehow.

I never saw "Ninotchka", and maybe now I don't have to...?  It seems that "Silk Stockings" changed quite a bit of the original story, they really just kept the fact that three Soviet agents didn't want to return to Moscow and then a female agent is sent to get them back.  And then in the 1970's, I think they re-made this again as "The Spy Who Loved Me", adding James Bond into the mix.  Just kidding - they really remade this again into "Rocky IV". 

It's clear that the writer here knew very little about what went on behind the Iron Curtain, and next to nothing about communism and socialism - someone thought that there would be a "Commissar of Art", like that was a thing!  How romance worked in Soviet Russia seemed even more of a mystery, according to this film, a Soviet man would say "Hey, you, come here." to a Soviet woman, and that would be enough for them to make out.  Somehow I doubt that's how it worked, not even in the 1950's.

Of course, we know that eventually Astaire's character is going to wear Ninotchka down, despite her lack of emotion, and he's going to do it through the power of dance.  But why is he playing a film producer at the start of the film, and then he's a featured dancer in a stage production at the end?  This doesn't seem to follow logically, those are two very different skill sets and I don't know of any Hollywood producers who are also professional dancers.  Obviously they had to work in one more dance number, but you just can't throw the facts of the story out the window to do that. 

The songs here was composed by Cole Porter, and I'm a little hit-or-miss with Cole Porter, once you get past "It's De-Lovely", "You're the Top" and "I Get a Kick Out of You".  I mean, who goes around today singing "Begin the Beguine", really?  This film has such "catchy" Cole Porter numbers as "Stereophonic Sound", "Fated to be Mated" and "It's a Chemical Reaction, That's All".  Not exactly songs that were number one with a bullet.  Then there's a song that rhymes "Siberia" with "hysteria", "diptheria" and "superia", and I can't even.  And the last number told us that rock and roll was dead, and would be replaced with "The Ritz Roll and Rock".  I don't know what made Cole Porter think in 1954 that rock & roll wouldn't last, but it sure lasted longer than he did. 

Also starring Cyd Charisse (last seen in "The Band Wagon"), Janis Paige, Peter Lorre (last seen in "Arsenic and Old Lace"), George Tobias (last seen in "Sergeant York"), Jules Munshin (last seen in "On the Town"), Joseph Buloff (last seen in "Reds"), Wim Sonneveld. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 capitalist oppressors

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Flying Down to Rio

Year 10, Day 44 - 2/13/18 - Movie #2,845

BEFORE: Let's play two today, since I want to hit Valentine's Day tomorrow with the right film, and I want to squeeze an extra film into February, so I don't have to double-up as often in March (I want to hit the right film on Easter, also...)  Fred Astaire carries over from "Daddy Long Legs".

Also, today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, an official holiday in both New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro - so tomorrow's also Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, and I want to get this Rio-based film in today and not tomorrow.  I had to stay up very late to get another movie in, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

THE PLOT: An aviator and band leader who's always getting his group fired for his flirtatious behavior soon finds himself falling for an engaged woman.

AFTER: We're going way back tonight - back to 1933, which is ALMOST the oldest film on my watchlist.  This is so far back that Fred and Ginger were not the lead actors in this film, they play sort of the secondary characters.  The lead male is Roger Bond, the bandleader for the Yankee Clippers (Astaire just plays accordion and conducts when Roger's not available) and he falls for the Brazilian beauty, Belinha, while she's visiting the Miami hotel, where the band is playing, with her over-protective aunt.  The band is under STRICT orders to not interact with the hotel's guests, that just wouldn't be proper - so, guess what happens?  All the women wanted to be with bandleaders back in the 1930's, I guess, that was a thing, so what was he supposed to do, NOT dance with the guests?

Roger gets the band a new gig at a new hotel, only it's down in Rio de Janeiro.  The whole band presumably flies coach down there, but Roger's got his own plane with room for another passenger (even though he's somehow got a piano on board, and also some kind of bed?)  Wouldn't you know it, the lovely Belinha needs to return to Rio, and he maneuvers her onto his plane, then attempts to invent the "Mile-High Club".  And when that doesn't work, he pulls the old "There's something wrong with the plane" trick and lands on a deserted island.  (Yes, he says "deserted", not "desert", which is more correct, because you can't survive at all on a desert island, which would have no trees or water or food.  But somehow over time "deserted" (no people) got corrupted to "desert" (no water)).

The two struggle with their consciences for a bit (represented by ghostly images of themselves) but they're kissing in the plane before long, and presumably huddled together for warmth to make it through the, umm, frigid tropical night.  But it turns out they weren't as "stranded" as they thought they were, so the trip to Rio is back on.  Let's just hope that another crazy coincidence won't get in the way of these two kids falling in love...

The Hays code was introduced in 1930, so I don't know how they got some of this film's material past the censorship board.  (EDIT: Ah, it seems the Code wasn't fully enforced until 1934.)  I'm thinking here about the hotel maid in the first scene, with ample cleavage making eyes at the hotel manager.  (I didn't really understand this sequence, the maids are lined up for inspection by the manager, and after she makes eyes at him, he makes all the maids turn around and he looks at her shoes, or perhaps her stockings, sees something he doesn't like, but then he doesn't discipline her for it?  I was very confused.)  EDIT: Ah, apparently her heels were oddly rounded, and back in the 1930's, a "round-heeled" woman was slang for a prostitute, someone who could tilt from standing to being on her back very easily...

Then there was the line about the appeal of South Americans, when they visit the U.S.  One of Belinha's friends wonders, "What do they have below the Equator that we haven't?"  And if you take "below the Equator" to be a reference to "below the belt", this line is very racy indeed.  At another point, the bandleader is mistaken for a drummer, then a piccolo player, and Belinha's aunt mishears this and thinks she's with a "gigolo" - could you even depict a gigolo in a 1933 movie?  I guess so!  Then we have Ginger Rogers singing a song about how music makes her lose her dignity, to do the things she never should do.  Well, OK, thanks for the tip.

At this point, I wondered if even the line "see that the boys all have a dill pickle with their box lunch" was some kind of sex reference...

What Ginger Rogers will do, apparently, after she loses her dignity, is fly on the outside of a plane, in order to direct a bunch of dancers who are strapped to the outside of OTHER planes, to conduct some kind of aerial biplane ballet, that somehow entertains the patrons of a Brazilian casino/hotel, which prevents it from being taken over by a mysterious syndicate of rich monocled guys in tuxedos (they'd be holding giant bags of money with dollar signs on them, only that would be TOO obvious...)

I know that they didn't REALLY strap a bunch of dancers onto planes to make this film - the special effects are obviously just a bunch of rear-projection footage of Brazil behind the prop planes, because that would be WAY too many people to fit on a biplane - too much weight on the wings - and because often the plane is supposedly moving in a different direction from that implied by the movement of the background footage.  Plus, how would they even get that shot, have another camera in another plane flying perfectly in sync?

What's really scandalous is the throwaway comments by those dancers (they say things like "I'll try anything once!") and the fact that at one point, some of their dresses are removed via parachutes, leaving them strapped to the biplane wings wearing very little - well, it is Brazil, after all - and some of them were wearing see-through blouses to begin with!  That's a few more nipples than I thought I'd see in a black and white film from 1933, for sure.  Too bad all of the hotel guests were on the ground, and the planes were much too high for the guests to even see the dancers.

In addition to introducing the team of Fred & Ginger to the world, this film also popularized the Carioca, a Brazilian dance where a man and woman scandalously touch their foreheads together while dancing.  (Forehead-on-forehead action?  How gauche!)  And the lines of the song ask, "Say, have you seen the Carioca?  It's not a foxtrot or a polka."  Umm, thanks, I kind of figured out that it wasn't a polka - but you know that doesn't really rhyme, right?  The song continues: "It has a meter that is tricky, a bit of wicked wacky-wicky..."  Nope, you just can't make up words when you need something in a song to rhyme!

The singer here is Etta Moten, credited in the role of "The Colored Singer" (again, it was a different time) and she is seen wearing a basket on her head with fruit in it.  Last year I watched "Scared Stiff" with Carmen Miranda in it, and I wondered about where her act came from, with the big hat full of fruit.  I learned that this trend of trimming hats with fresh fruit went all the way back to 1918, but it caught on again when Carmen Miranda did a number called "The Girl in the Tutti Frutti Hat" in a 1943 film called "The Gang's All Here".  But apparently she wasn't the first woman in film with a fruit basket hat, because Etta Moten did it in "Flying Down to Rio" ten years earlier!

The "Carioca" song was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar. but it lost to a song from another Fred Astaire film - "The Continental", from the movie "The Gay Divorcee".  And then many years later a comical version of the song played during the closing credits of "The Kentucky Fried Movie", with Jo Stafford singing off-key (under the pseudonym of Darlene Edwards).

Also starring Gene Raymond (last seen in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"), Dolores del Rio, Ginger Rogers (last seen in "The Barkleys of Broadway"), Raul Roulien, Blanche Friderici (last seen in "It Happened One Night"), Walter Walker (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Etta Moten, Paul Porcasi (last seen in "The Gay Divorcee"), Franklin Pangborn (last seen in "Carefree"), Eric Blore (last seen in "Shall We Dance"), Reginald Barlow, (last seen in "Horse Feathers") Roy D'Arcy, Maurice Black, Armand Kaliz, Clarence Muse, Eddie Borden (last seen in "Monkey Business"), Betty Furness (last seen in "Swing Time")

RATING: 4 out of 10 bellhops

Daddy Long Legs

Year 10, Day 44 - 2/13/18 - Movie #2,844

BEFORE: I'm always on the look-out for actors and actresses with very long careers, because they help me link between newer films and the classic ones - anyone who appeared in films during the 1950's or 1960's and still was acting after 2000 is of great use to me, especially if I'm going to link back and pick up some of the older films that I haven't seen yet.  I've used Michael Caine as a bridge back to the 1960's several times, anyone like Warren Beatty or Goldie Hawn or Diane Keaton could easily link back to the 1970's, and so on.

Now, last year I watched a ton of Fred Astaire movies.  OK, 14 of them, but that's nearly a ton.  Since then another 5 or 6 have aired, and when I was putting together this year's February chain (assuming most classic Hollywood song + dance films are romantic in nature) I didn't know if I'd be able to find a link back to those early days, Hollywood's "Golden Years", because I've just about used them all up.  But then I saw Leslie Caron was in the 2003 film "Le Divorce", and there it was, my link to tonight's film from 1955, and therefore the other 4 Astaire films.  I can get back to the 1950's, and that sets me up for the next 10 days or so - only I can't link back.  So at the end of this run, I'm going to hit a dead stop, and no amount of shifting films around is going to help with that.  I followed every lead, checked out every obscure actor appearing in the next 10 films, and nobody links back to a modern-day movie with a romance theme.

So, it is what it is, but at least with 5 Fred Astaire films, followed by 5 Howard Keel films, I'm going to clear away some of the classic films and still stay on my theme.

Tomorrow, February 14, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", it's Valentine's Day!  Also, the nominees and winners for Best Adapted Screenplay.  But again, I can see the scheduling genius behind putting these love-based films (some of them, anyway) here on this day.  Also, two films with Leslie Caron, and I'm watching two different films with Leslie Caron!  So clearly, TCM and I are on the same page.

6:45 am "Random Harvest" (1942)
9:00 am "Great Expectations" (1946)
11:00 am "Brief Encounter" (1945)
12:30 pm "Lili" (1953)
2:00 pm "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (1941)
4:00 pm "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944)
6:00 pm "Wuthering Heights" (1939)
8:00 pm "Gigi" (1958)
10:15 pm "Little Women" (1933)
12:30 am "Doctor Zhivago" (1965)
4:00 am "Tom Jones" (1963)

I've only seen 4 out of these, but hey, that's better than yesterday.  I've watched "Meet Me in St. Louis", "Gigi", "Doctor Zhivago" and "Tom Jones", so another 4 out of 11 brings my total up to 53 out of 153.  Up just a bit to 34.6%

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Funny Face" (Movie #2,571)

THE PLOT: On a trip to France, millionaire Jervis Pendleton sees an 18-year old girl in an orphanage.  Enchanted with her, but mindful of the difference in their ages, he sponsors her to college.  She writes him letters, which he doesn't read - after three years, he goes to visit her at a dance, not telling her he is her benefactor, and they fall in love.

AFTER: I just have to keep reminding myself, this film was made during a different time.  1955 was so long ago, that a millionaire was considered very, very rich.  Who had a million damn dollars back then?  Thanks to all the inflation over the last 6 decades, the average suburban American today would probably be worth at least a million if he or she sold the house and all their possessions and cashed in their 401K.  (But then, where would they live?)  Or if someone told you back then that you inherited a million dollars, man, you'd be set for life.  These days, if someone told you about a million-dollar inheritance, while it would still be nothing to sneeze at, it might keep you afloat for a couple of years, but then what would you do when the money ran out?

It was also a different time where relationships were concerned - Jervis Pendleton is told here that he just can't travel from country to country adopting orphans whenever he wants.  (That would become acceptable later on with Madonna and Tom Cruise...)  Because the U.S. Ambassador has a feeling that Pendleton's motives are less than honorable (which they kind of are, I mean, he's smitten with Leslie Caron as an 18-year old orphan...) so Pendleton sets up an anonymous scholarship for her to attend the fictional Walston College, where he also happens to be a benefactor.  And he makes sure that her roommate is his own niece, so he's got a built-in excuse to come and visit her.

I remember what I learned from watching all those Fred Astaire movies last year - nearly all of them had some kind of mistaken identity or identity deception in them, and this one's no different.  When he visits as "Uncle Jervis", he dances with young Julie Andre and asks questions about her progress, but does not reveal his identity as her benefactor.   Because the situation's already pretty creepy and stalker-ish as it is.  This guy basically BOUGHT a French orphan, sent her to school to be educated and made her write letters to him once a month, so he'd be the unattainable mysterious father figure that she'd hopefully crush on via the Elektra Complex.

(There used to be a thing called "dance cards", at a formal dance party each girl would have an index card or something, and it would get filled with the names of the eligible men in the room, or at least those that wanted to dance with her, and then she HAD TO DANCE with those men, she couldn't say no.  It sounds innocent enough, except that the whole situation favored the men, and the girl's consent wasn't even anywhere in the picture.  Clearly part of the unfair patriarchal system.)

(Oh yeah, there used to be another thing called "dance crazes", back before everyone was popping and locking, or doing the "Running Man" or twerking it, every few months there would be a new dance that simply everyone had to learn how to do, because it looked really cool in a movie that everyone knew the same dance step.  This film featured "The Sluefoot", and I know even less about dancing than I do about boxing, but this was a ballroom dance that featured a fan step back, then a step-step in place, then this was repeated on the other foot.  Astaire added some shuffling and some arm jabbing, or so I'm told.)

This segment of the film produces what's probably the film's best/funniest moment, with the older Astaire (32 years older than the female lead here) attending the college dance, and none of the college-age boys think of him as competition, and the young women don't expect him to dance very well.  OK, but dancing against Fred Astaire is a bit like challenging Mike Tyson to a fight, or going up against Tom Brady in a backyard football game.  Astaire might have been 56 at the time, but he smoked these college kids at dancing...

Pendleton later invites both his niece and her roommate (his sponsored orphan) on an all-expense paid tour of New York City - and when his niece fails to show, he instead escorts Julie, his orphan, to every dance club in town.  They totally connect on the dance floor, however coincidence demands that their conversation in the hotel room about "having the best night of her life" would then be overheard and taken out of context.  For fear of the relationship seeming tawdry or inappropriate (umm, which it kind of happens to BE...) Pendleton breaks off the budding relationship and breaks Julie's heart.  Fortunately, this leads her to seek romantic advice from her benefactor, not knowing that her dancing partner crush and her benefactor crush are in fact the same person.

Yeah, romance may win out in the end in this one, but the way we got there stills feels a little icky.  The rich American man in power ends up getting what he wants, and the young French girl comes to America and learns that nothing moves you forward in society faster than being a pretty girl and a good dancer.

Also starring Fred Astaire (last seen in "Funny Face"), Terry Moore (last seen in "Gaslight"), Fred Clark (last seen in "Bells Are Ringing"), Thelma Ritter (last seen in "Rear Window"), Charlotte Austin, Larry Keating (last seen in "Who Was That Lady?"), Kathryn Givney, Kelly Brown, Ray Anthony, Ann Codee.

RATING: 5 out of 10 tour guides

Monday, February 12, 2018

Le Divorce

Year 10, Day 43 - 2/12/18 - Movie #2,843

BEFORE: Attempts to improve my hearing are just not working - I tried the ear drops that the doctor suggested, only the instructions were to rinse my ears with warm water a few minutes after applying the drops, and I managed to clog my left ear with the water.  So now both of my ears are functioning at about half capacity, and everything sort of sounds like it would if I were under water.  Which would only be a problem if I watch a movie every night after my wife goes to sleep.  Tonight I'm afraid that I'll have to turn up the volume very loud, or else move closer to the TV. 

Tomorrow, February 13, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", it's nominees and winners in the Best Foreign Film category:

6:00 am "My Night at Maud's" (1969)
8:00 am "Immortal Love" (1961)
10:00 am "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" (1963)
12:00 pm "Kapo" (1959)
2:00 pm "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964)
4:00 pm "Day for Night" (1973)
6:00 pm "Babette's Feast" (1987)
8:00 pm "La Strada" (1954)
10:00 pm "Mon Oncle" (1958)
12:15 am "Antonia's Line" (1995)
2:15 am "Black Orpheus" (1959)
4:15 am "Dersu Uzala" (1975)

A big goose egg tonight, I've seen none of these, but I didn't expect to do well in this category. Another 0 out of 12 brings my total up to 49 out of 142.  Down to 34.5%

I was thinking the other day that it was weird that TCM would get to the "Best Director" category before some of the smaller award categories, but now I see the genius behind the plan, with "Black Orpheus" scheduled for tomorrow, since that film is set during Brazil's Carnival, and tomorrow is Mardi Gras, aka the last day of Carnival.  Pretty slick - I was thinking along those same lines, and I've got a similar film programmed for Tuesday.  But before that, I've got my own "foreign" film to watch tonight, this one's set in France, as evidenced by the title - and Naomi Watts carries over from "I Heart Huckabees".

THE PLOT: French vs. American social customs and behaviors are observed in a story about an American visiting her sister in Paris. 

AFTER: The first half of this film works OK, but then I think I can point to where it goes completely off the rails.  I'll explain.  We're introduced to a pair of sisters, Isabel and Roxanne, one visiting the other in France, and Isabel's arrival coincides exactly with the Roxanne's husband moving out quite suddenly.  It's a little bit convenient for the sake of telling a story, but hold on, you ain't seen nothing yet.  It turns out the husband is in love with someone else, and he decided that the best way to handle this situation was to just pack 2 bags and leave, with no explanation, no attempt at reconciliation, and by barely saying, "I'm sorry" to his wife and daughter.

But what we're dealing with tonight is a culture clash, the difference between the way that American and French people approach relationships.  The French husband files for "Le Divorce", but his American wife does not consent to one - it seems we Americans are raised in a culture of therapy and couseling, and the stereotype here is that we only favor divorce when there is no other alternative.  But since the husband won't talk about the situation, or admit that he's having an affair, the wife doesn't realize that essentially, he's already gone.  It's time for paperwork, even if she won't admit it.
Of course, she's got a young daughter and there's a second child on the way, so who can really blame her for wanting things to back to the way they were?

Meanwhile, Isabel finds work helping an author (a friend of Roxanne's, another coincidence) organize her papers before they're donated to a college in the U.S., and she manages to start relationships with both a co-worker at that job AND an older relative of her sister's husband (yet another convenience).  She's told that this is the way it works in France, a man can take a young girlfriend and still remain married, it's just part of the culture.  Umm, really?  Then why didn't Roxanne's husband just do that?  And if it's truly not frowned upon, then why do his relatives, and his wife, frown upon the affair later in the film when they find out about it?  I guess the screenwriter couldn't really decide if having an affair counts as "acceptable behavior" or not - first it isn't, then it is, then it isn't again.

Much of the plot, however, concerns a painting that hangs in Roxanne's apartment, except it belongs to her family and it's something she brought with her to France, on a whim.  OK, a couple of things - the painting is huge, so it's not really something she could have put in a carry-on bag, it HAD to be shipped to France, and that means it was NOT done on a whim.  Secondly, her family seems fine with the fact that the painting's not hanging in their house in California, except then it seems like they're NOT fine with it, so which is it?  Obviously they're concerned about such a valuable painting being far from home, only it doesn't seem like they KNEW it might be valuable until it went to France - huh?  How did shipping it to France bring the true potential value of the painting to their attention?  And if they're not sure of the artist, how can they be sure of the value?  Again, facts seem to be very elusive in this film.

The attempt, of course, is to tie the value of the painting to the divorce, as if the future ex-husband might have a claim on the value of the painting, thanks to French community property laws.  Again, a couple of flaws here - first, it's stated clearly that the painting belongs to Roxanne's FAMILY, not her.  So it's doubtful that her ex would have any claim on it at all - so why bring that up at all?  Ah, but the courts might decide that since she may inherit it one day, that she is part owner.  Yeah, that's not the way that property works AND the husband said he wanted no part of the painting AND the lawyers assessed the painting and deemed that it was not worth much.  So why, one hour into the film, are we still talking about the damn painting?

Seriously, the rest of the family even comes over from California, and they have lunch, have dinner, have another lunch with an art expert, and 4 or 5 times over, it's the same damn conversation - what if the painting is worth something?  What if the ex-husband files a claim for it?  What if the French courts decide it's an original?  What are we going to do with the money if we sell it?  And at no time is the plot advanced by any of this back-and-forth, it's just a bunch of filler.  And the film's called "Le Divorce", not "What Should We Do With This Damn Painting?"

Things get even worse (and this is where it goes off the rails, I think) when Roxanne's husband's girlfriend's husband (yeah, I think that's right) shows up and he wants to get his wife back.  For some reason, he blames Roxanne for his marriage's break-up, which makes no sense.  Why would she encourage her husband to date Magda, when she doesn't even want to grant him a divorce?  How would it benefit her to have her husband sleeping with someone else?  (Unless she's looking for an excuse to divorce him, which she isn't...)  I can see why this unhinged husband might not want to blame himself, or his wife if he still loves her, but why not blame the man she's sleeping with?   It makes no sense to go and bully that man's wife. 

But what we have here is another French stereotype about Americans, that we're hotheads, and we easily look to violence and aggression to solve our problems.  This leads, in a way, to the biggest "deus ex machina" seen in this film's plot, an event that manages to not only see the cheating people get punished, but it also resolves the issue of the claim on the painting AND "Le Divorce" at the same time.  Which is definitely a resolution of sorts, but again, it's one that seems all too convenient, and therefore a little hard to believe. 

Also starring Kate Hudson (last seen in "Deepwater Horizon"), Glenn Close (last seen in "Albert Nobbs"), Thierry Lhermitte (last seen in "An American Werewolf in Paris"), Melvil Poupaud (last seen in "By the Sea"), Sam Waterston (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Stockard Channing (last seen in "Heartburn"), Matthew Modine (last heard in "The Brainwashing of My Dad"), Thomas Lennon (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Leslie Caron (last seen in "Father Goose"), Bebe Neuwirth (last seen in "The Faculty"), Marie-Christine Adam (last seen in "French Kiss"), Jean-Marc Barr, Romain Duris, Catherine Samie, Nathalie Richard, Stephen Fry (last seen in "The Man Who Knew Infinity"), Rona Hartner. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 Chanel scarves

Sunday, February 11, 2018

I Heart Huckabees

Year 10, Day 42 - 2/11/18 - Movie #2,842

BEFORE: I know this film may not be a romance film in the traditional sense of the word, or maybe in any sense of the word, but I'm hoping there's some relationship stuff in it.  Even if not, it's got the word "Heart" in the title (or at least the symbol for a heart) and we are getting close to Valentine's Day...

OK, I realize that's a bit of a stretch.  The truth is that when I was putting my February list together, things weren't really connecting completely, especially since I had a mix of newer films and classic ones to get to.  But tomorrow's film is one of those that could serve as a bridge between old and new, and then I just had to figure out how to link to THAT one.  And both that film and this one were currently running on cable, AND they share an actress, and so it seemed like it was meant to be, even if this one isn't a romantic comedy or a dark treatise on break-ups.  Seeing as it enables me to connect to the other films, with Jason Schwartzman carrying over from "The Overnight", sometimes I have to bend my own rules a little bit, just to make things work out.

Plus I think I tried to watch this movie once before, and failed - maybe I lost interest in it?  That counts a a "movie sin", and I have to deal with those, even if after 9 years of focusing on movies, I don't think I have too many sins left to purge.

Tomorrow, February 12, on TCM's "31 Days of Oscar", it's more Best Director nominees and winners:

6:00 am "The Informer" (1935) dir: John Ford
7:45 am "You Can't Take It With You" (1938) dir: Frank Capra
10:00 am "The Front Page" (1931) dir: Lewis Milestone
12:00 pm "Dodsworth" (1936) dir: William Wyler
2:00 pm "David and Lisa" (1962) dir: Frank Perry
4:00 pm "The Southerner" (1945) dir: Jean Renoir
5:45 pm "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966) dir: Mike Nichols
8:00 pm "Cabaret" (1972) dir: Bob Fosse
10:15 pm "Giant" (1956) dir: George Stevens
1:45 am "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" (1948) dir: John Huston
4:00 am "The Divine Lady" (1929) dir: Frank Lloyd

Another 5 of these have already been seen: "You Can't Take It With You", "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", "Cabaret", "Giant" and "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and another 5 out of 11 brings my total up to 49 out of 130.  37.6%

THE PLOT: A husband-and-wife team play detective, but not in the traditional sense.  Instead, they help others solve their existential issues, the kind that keep you up all night, wondering what it all means.

AFTER: If ever there was a movie with a bad reputation, this would be it.  It's famous for a couple of videos that were released to YouTube featuring director David O. Russell and Lily Tomlin arguing, during which a lot of hurtful name-calling took place.  People were reminded that a movie set is clearly a high-pressure situation, and that you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, so to speak.

But there is a germ of an idea to be found in this story, the problem is that it's covered up with so much random nonsense that it's almost impossible to locate it.  It reminds me mostly of "The Royal Tenenbaums", where there were similarly a ton of characters who were all white and privileged and they all had so much time on their hands that they couldn't help but spend it all navel-gazing and wondering what it all MEANS at the end of the day, which is just about the most counter-productive way to be.  (Finally Gene Hackman's character figures it out, oh, you're supposed to get up and go to work and care about your family and LIVE instead of just sitting around moping and thinking.). So if "Nocturnal Animals" was an attempt to make a David Lynch-style film, maybe this one was an attempt to make a Wes Anderson-type film - only in both cases, you can't top the masters.  Nobody can be as enigmatic as Lynch, and nobody can be as "twee" as Wes Anderson.

This film's director went on to make the films "The Fighter", "Joy" and "Silver Linings Playbook" - and those seem more grounded in reality, because being a boxer or an inventor selling products on QVC are real things that some real people do.  "I Heart Huckabees" is a film about existential detectives and the people who hire them, and that's not even a real thing.  So the film is not grounded in reality, it's got no foundation, nothing for the audience to latch on to, and that's a fatal mistake.

So I guess you have to take everything in this film as a metaphor, since the situations as presented are just impossible.  Over the course of the film four characters hire these existential detectives to spy on them, I guess to figure out what's going wrong in their lives, or what it all means at the end of the day, because I guess they're just too close to their own lives to figure that out for themselves?  Most people are scared off by "existentialism", but really it's just theories about the meaning of life, assuming that there is one.  My takeaway is that these detectives represent the theory that there IS order to the universe, not necessarily in a religious way, but a belief that there is a point to what happens, that maybe we're each here for a purpose, and during those times when life seems against us or things aren't going our way, it just means that we've temporarily forgotten that fact.

These detectives have a counterpart in the film, a French woman who steals their clients, in order to convince them that there is NO order to the universe, no meaning of life, there's only chaos and deceit and people killing time by hurting each other until we're all consumed by the grave and then there's just a big void.  Which is nihilism, and it's another way to go.  Although it's an opposing philosophy, it's possible that many people use this in a similar fashion to get through the day - because if you're on the fence about this, you'll probably just sit around and wonder what it all means, or if there's any meaning at all, because between order and chaos lies randomness and madness.

Specifically, a man leading a coalition to fight urban sprawl and save the wetlands keeps seeing a tall African man everywhere he goes, and he wonders what this coincidence means.  (I think the answer to this one is simple - it's a very white city, so a tall black man just tends to stand out.  It's the old "that yellow van is always on the corner" problem, you notice the van enough times that you tend to thin it's always there.). His rival is a sales executive for Huckabee's, which is a big chain of stores that wants to build just about everywhere.  The executive's girlfriend is a swimsuit/underwear model for the store, but she wonders if he loves her just because of her beauty, so she starts wearing frumpy dresses to test his love.  And then there's a firefighter who believes that petroleum is evil and poisoning the world, so after his wife leaves him, he starts riding a bike everywhere, including to go fight fires.

These four people are the clients of the existential detectives, who believe that sooner or later, everyone will come to see how everything is connected, that you have to step back and look at the big picture in order to understand the universe.  But two of them come under the influence of the rival philosophy, and they learn that by distracting themselves in the proper ways (having sex works, or getting hit in the face repeatedly by a big red ball) they can stop thinking so much and start just being in the moment.  I guess the detectives are proven correct, because the plot does bring all the threads together in the end, and everything IS connected, but really, that's because that's what movies do, not because life works that way.

Philosophically, I prefer something of a middle ground, like believing that life has no meaning other than that we choose to impart upon it.  I agree that the universe is a chaotic place, but I spend both my workdays AND my free time trying to organize it according to my rules, and that's what both makes me happy and gets me through to the next day.  Destiny is nothing more than sticking to a somewhat flexible plan, and since I haven't seen any proof of God, I have to conclude that either he doesn't exist, or he created the universe and then walked away from it, which was probably the smart move to make.

I'm going to let this stay here in the February chain because there is a little bit of relationship-y stuff here, like the married detectives who work together, and then among the other characters, there's one relationship that ends and another one that starts.  So it's a "push" in the contest between love winning and love losing, really.  It's still not a great movie, not by any stretch of the imagination, but my reasons for declaring it to be terrible might be vastly different from yours.

Also starring Dustin Hoffman (last seen in "Chef"), Lily Tomlin (last seen in "Orange County"), Jude Law (last seen in "Enemy at the Gates"), Mark Wahlberg (last seen in "Patriots Day"), Isabelle Huppert (last seen in "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them"), Naomi Watts (last seen in "Demolition"), Isla Fisher (last seen in "Nocturnal Animals"), Ger Duany, Jonah Hill (last seen in "War Dogs"), Richard Jenkins (last heard in "Spotlight"), Kevin Dunn (last seen in "Keeping Up with the Joneses"), Jean Smart (last seen in "The Accountant"), Talia Shire, Bob Gunton (last seen in "Runner Runner"), Tippi Hedren (last seen in "Pacific Heights"), Darlene Hunt, Jake Muxworthy, Richard Appel, Benjamin Nurick, Sydney Zarp, Kamala Lopez, with cameos from John Rothman (last seen in "Heartburn"), Shania Twain.

RATING: 3 out of 10 non-hidden microphones