Saturday, March 10, 2018

Anne of the Thousand Days

Year 10, Day 69 - 3/10/18 - Movie #2,870

BEFORE: I've reached the end of Richard Burton week, and here's where things stand: Richard Burton's been in 5 films this year, but so have James McAvoy, Fred Astaire and Howard Keel. Renée Zellweger's been in 4, but will be in at least 1 more, and Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, Johnny Depp and Jake Gyllenhaal are all likely to hit at least five each before the year's over.  But it hardly matters, because in a couple day's I'm starting on the old Sherlock Holmes films, and there are 14 of them, so Basil Rathbone will probably be the most-watched actor this year.  I don't think even a pile of Dracula movies with Christopher Lee can beat that.

I'll be on those for nearly 2 weeks.  Then I promise I'm on track for some more films from 2016 and 2017.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Other Boleyn Girl" (Movie #1,120)

THE PLOT: Henry VIII of England discards one wife, Catharine of Aragon, who has failed to produce a male heir, in favor of the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn.

AFTER: You want to talk about V.I.P.s?  They don't come any more important than British kings and queens.  I already saw one film this year about a Royal Wedding, so here's another one in preparation for the one coming up in real life (in May, damn it, why didn't I program for that?).  This is based on a play from 1948, but the story is relatively timeless, detailing the marital troubles of King Henry VIII, the start of the Anglican Church, and the continuing power of the patriarchy.

Things might have gone differently if Henry could have had a son, or been able to get over his obsessive NEED for a son, or his belief that England could not be ruled by a queen.  Ah, history played a cruel joke on Henry, because his daughter, Elizabeth I was one of the greats (not the Queen Elizabeth that's on the throne now, she may be old but she's not THAT old...).

When we first see Henry 8 (or at least at the start of the flashback) he's been married to Katharine for 20 years, which is a super long time for a king to be faithful.  Only he wasn't exactly faithful, he had a child, Henry Fitzroy, with one mistress and possibly a couple with Mary Boleyn, too.  But once his attention fell on to Mary's sister, Anne, all bets were off and Henry was willing to do just about anything, legal or illegal to marry her.  Anne, to her credit, appeared to hold him off until he could get some kind of divorce or deal with wife number 1 before she agreed to become wife number 2.

I'll admit I'm not an expert on British kings and queens - that's a sticking point for me whenever it comes up in trivia competitions.  Some people can name all of Henry VIII's wives in order, I can probably name 5 or 6 of them, but ordering them is always tricky to me.  Same goes for who was king or queen at what time, and in what order - I have better luck with naming the U.S. Presidents in order.  Apparently Henry VIII was succeeded by his son (with Jane Seymour) Edward, who was followed by Lady Jane Grey and then Mary I, Henry's daughter with Catherine of Aragon.  THEN came Queen Elizabeth - OK, I've got it straight now but I'll forget it all in a day or two, I'm sure.

Focus, focus, let's get back to Anne Boleyn.  When Henry couldn't get the Pope to give him a divorce or annulment, that's when Henry decided that as the royal leader of Britain, he could also be the spiritual leader, and hence the split with the Roman Catholic Church.  Suddenly he could grant himself a divorce or annulment, sort of like an executive order.  Catherine was out and banished from the court - hey, it could have been worse, at least she got to live.  According to this film, the marriage was never a great one to begin with, since she married Henry's brother Arthur, the Prince of Wales, and after he died Henry married her to keep the alliance with Spain strong.

A couple of points - in That Other Boleyn Movie, it's Anne's idea to sleep with her brother in order to conceive a son, since Henry's chromosomes are only producing daughters, though they don't actually sleep together.  In this film it's only Henry's accusation that they committed incest, and even then, that's probably just a made-up excuse to give grounds for divorce.  That's what historians now believe, anyway, but who can say for sure?  People back then were into some pretty kinky stuff, and people probably banged their half-sisters and half-brothers all the time without even knowing it, since they didn't have paternity tests.  But getting Anne's FATHER to prove his loyalty to the King by testifying that his son and daughter had sex is still pretty low.

Henry went on to great acclaim and had four more wives - Anne lasted the third longest, with her 1,000 days as queen. (Big deal, I'm getting close to 3,000 days watching movies...).  Spoiler alert, it doesn't end well for Anne Boleyn, but does it end well for anyone, really?

Also starring Genevieve Bujold (last seen in "Tightrope"), Irene Papas (last seen in "Into the Night"), Anthony Quayle (last seen in "Hamlet"), John Colicos (last seen in "The Postman Always Rings Twice"), Michael Hordern (also carrying over from "The V.I.P.s"), Katharine Blake, Valerie Gearon, Michael Johnson, Peter Jeffrey, Joseph O'Conor (last seen in "Elizabeth"), William Squire, Esmond Knight (last seen in "Henry V"), Nora Swinburne, Vernon Dobtcheff (last seen in "The Taming of the Shrew"), Brook Williams (also carrying over from an uncredited role in "The V.I.P.s), Gary Bond, T.P. McKenna, Nicola Pagett, Kate Burton, and an alleged cameo from Elizabeth Taylor (also carrying over from "The V.I.P.s")

RATING: 5 out of 10 ladies in waiting

Friday, March 9, 2018

The V.I.P.s

Year 10, Day 68 - 3/9/18 - Movie #2,869

BEFORE: Day 4 with Richard Burton, re-united with Liz Taylor in this film, the 2nd (?) one they made together, though it was released before "Cleopatra", the first film they made together.
THE PLOT: Weather delays a group of travelers headed for New York.  They wait in the V.I.P. lounge of London's Heathrow airport, each at a moment of crisis in his or her own life.

AFTER: If there's one thing I know about travel - whether business or pleasure - it's that things are bound to go wrong.  This was seen recently by me in the films "My Life in Ruins" and "The Night of the Iguana" - and in Hollywood films, trips tend to feature EVERYTHING going wrong, like in "Just Married" or the "Vacation" films.  This is another film in that vein, or it may also be considered a pre-cursor to the "Airport" movies. 

The famous London fog makes it impossible for any planes at Heathrow to take off - initially for an hour, then later for a whole day.  Which would only be a problem if people didn't have important business contracts to sign in New York, or were leaving their spouses to run off with someone new.  Oh, that's exactly what does happen - you've got to figure that every airport delay is screwing up somebody's life, right?  Statistically, if there are a few thousand people at the airport, a few of them desperately, desperately need to get out on a tight timeframe, and this film is about all of those people. 

It feels like Burton and Taylor were always breaking up with each other or getting back together with each other on screen, and you have to wonder how closely art imitated life, or the other way around.  Were they constantly separating and reuniting in real life, or was is just one or two times?  Or maybe by playing couples that were always separating from each other, that was a form of marriage therapy for them?  It's tough to say. 

There's also a duchess who's flying to America to greet people at some resort so she can save her family's estate (it's so terrible that the aristocracy in the 1960's had to go to - ugh - work...), a tractor company mogul who NEEDS to sign that business deal in New York before somebody finds out that his checks won't clear, and a film producer who's also in some financial trouble until his business manager comes up with an ingenious solution that also gets him some free publicity.  And it's kind of neat that not only do they all have problems that are caused by the airport delay, but hanging out in the VIP lounge with the other characters enables those interactions to help solve some of their problems, too.  A little TOO neat, perhaps.

Behind the scenes, the story is allegedly based on a real incident, with the actress Vivien Leigh trying to leave her husband, Laurence Olivier and fly off with another actor, Peter Finch, only to have their flight delayed by fog at Heathrow.  More behind the scenes stuff - the lead actress role was originally going to feature Sophia Loren, but Liz Taylor was reportedly jealous of Burton acting with Loren, or perhaps afraid that he'd cheat on her, so she persuaded the director to hire her instead. 

This is a film from a different time, when air travel was considered an extravagance, and people who could afford to fly expected a certain level of treatment, like the airline covering bills at expensive hotels if their flights didn't take off on time.  Back when you could get a MEAL on a plane, not just a package of pretzels and half a can of diet ginger ale.  Back before they took out the reclining seats and leg room so they could cram three more rows of cramped passengers on to every flight.  Back when you could SMOKE on a plane, and not be concerned about the other passengers' distaste for that.  Back when there were like 5 airlines that serviced New York, and there was no JetBlue, Priceline, Orbitz or Expedia. 

Same NITPICK POINT as "The Bachelor", though - not everyone waiting for the flight to New York ends up flying to New York, but we never see anyone get a refund for their ticket, or complain about the cost of a non-refundable ticket that they then don't end up using.  But hey, some of these people are so rich that they may not give a crap about the cost of an unused ticket, especially if they're happy to not be flying.  Again, this is back when planes were known to crash, before the airlines solved all of their problems to create the stress-free, no-worries airport environment we all enjoy today...

Also starring Elizabeth Taylor (last seen in "The Sandpiper"), Louis Jourdan (last seen in "The Swan"), Margaret Rutherford, Rod Taylor (last seen in "The Train Robbers"), Maggie Smith (last seen in "From Time to Time"), Orson Welles (last seen in "Start the Revolution Without Me"), Elsa Martinelli, Linda Christian (last seen in "Show Boat"), Dennis Price (last seen in "Ten Little Indians"), Richard Wattis (last seen in "The Prince and the Showgirl"), Ronald Fraser (last seen in "The Flight of the Phoenix"), David Frost (last seen in "A Liar's Autobiography"), Robert Coote (also last seen in "The Swan"), Joan Benham (last seen in "The Grass Is Greener"), Michael Hordern (last seen in "The Taming of the Shrew"), Martin Miller (last seen in "I Was a Male War Bride"), Peter Sallis (last seen in "Anastasia"), Clifton Jones, Moyra Fraser, Richard Briers, Lance Percival, Stringer Davis. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 "pep" pills

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Night of the Iguana

Year 10, Day 67 - 3/8/18 - Movie #2,868

BEFORE: Another one of these "snow-pocalypse" winter storms, only from where I live, it wasn't so bad.  We had about a half-inch of snow, but it sort of melted as it fell, so I didn't see the point of doing any shoveling, since my walk was already a combination of snow and slush.  With the temperature today in the low 40's, I figure it's mostly going to melt in the next day or two, anyway, so why bother?  This is why my neighbors probably all hate me.

It's Day 3 with Richard Burton, and this was going to be my Friday film initially, but noting the subject matter, I've moved it here, to follow "The Sandpiper", which also featured Burton as a minister engaged in a scandal.  His character here is seen in Mexico, post-scandal, so it's almost like one film is a continuation of the other - only this one was made first, but you get the idea.

THE PLOT: A defrocked Episcopal clergyman leads a bus-load of middle-aged Baptist women on a tour of the Mexican coast and comes to terms with the failure haunting his life.

AFTER: I forgot to mention how literary this Richard Burton chain has been - "The Comedians" was based on a novel by Graham Greene, and while "The Sandpiper" wasn't based on a book, the screenplay was co-written by Dalton Trumbo, and now tonight's film is adapted from a Tennessee Williams play.

But it's the same symbolism here, only with an iguana instead of a sandpiper.  Supposedly the locals catch lizards and then fatten them up before eating them, so I guess in some way the iguana represents the preacher stuck in his situation.  Because in some way, aren't we all just tied-up iguanas waiting to be fattened up?  Umm, no.  Ah, Wikipedia suggests that this works because the preacher is at "the end of his rope".  Nice try, but I'm not buying it.

Look, this preacher got in trouble for fooling around with a young girl, so now he's stuck in Mexico as a sort of tour guide - and just like in "My Life in Ruins", everything seems to go wrong on this tour.  The bus gets a flat tire, the tourists aren't interested in watching the Mexican people do their laundry in the river, and this young blonde keeps trying to seduce the preacher.  I mean, what's he supposed to do, NOT go swimming with her?  Then the group's leader, who's also this young girl's chaperone, finds the young girl in his hotel room and flat out accuses him of seducing her.

Desperate to keep his job and not get into trouble, he brings the tour group to a cheap hotel run by his friend, Fred.  Only Fred's dead, baby, and his widow is running the place. The preacher was hoping the hotel didn't have a phone, so he couldn't get reported for being with the young girl, only he's out of luck, they JUST got the phones installed last week or something.

Then a female artist turns up at the hotel with her elderly grandfather, who's a poet, and they've got some kind of deal where they go around the world paying for their hotel rooms by doing caricature sketches and reciting poems.  (Sounds a bit like my boss at Comic-Con.). Surprisingly, they get to stay there too, and for a while it seems like the artist woman is a good match for the preacher, that is, if he could ever stop drinking and chasing young tail.  But why wish for things we can't have?

In the end, the hotel gets a new owner, the preacher gets a new job - because God knows he can't go back to preaching, and not everyone makes it out of Mexico alive.  And, since it's a Tennessee Williams play, everyone's probably gay and not able to discuss it or deal with it.

Also starring Ava Gardner (last seen in "Show Boat"), Deborah Kerr (last seen in "Marriage on the Rocks"), Sue Lyon (last seen in "Lolita"), Skip Ward, Grayson Hall, Cyril Delevanti (last seen in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"), Mary Boylan.

RATING: 4 out of 10 shards of broken glass

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Sandpiper

Year 10, Day 66 - 3/7/18 - Movie #2,867

BEFORE: I'm going to treat this like a Richard Burton section of the chain, though Liz Taylor will be here for most of it, she's not in ALL of the films.  So it's Day 2 of Richard Burton week as he carries over from "The Comedians". 

THE PLOT: A free-spirited single mother forms a connection with the wed headmaster of an Episcopal boarding school in California.  

AFTER: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were quite simply THE biggest stars of the 1960's, and the media attention that focused on their marriages (that's right, plural...) was probably the start of the feeding frenzy that's been taking place ever since, with the personal lives of celebrities supplying constant grist for the publicity mill.  It seems all you had to do in those days was put them in a movie together, put an artistic rendering of them holding each other or making out on the poster, and you'd put asses in the theater seats. How many people went to see "The Comedians" thinking it was a love story, then got hit with a diatribe on the Haitian political scene?

But this one gets into more of the nuts-and-bolts of a love affair, so in a way it reminds me of "Take This Waltz".  How did these two people meet each other, what connects them?  What does he see in her that he doesn't see in his wife?  What's the draw, the attraction, what keeps him coming back to her, even though this relationship is defined as "wrong" by society and the rules of marriage?  And what effect will there be, ultimately, on his marriage and him as a moral person?  It's almost a textbook case when you step back and take a look at it from a distance, and the movie does answer all of these questions.  It's the kind of movie that should be shown in film school to demonstrate proper three-act structure and the anatomy of a relationship film.

In this case, he's a school headmaster and a married minister - for extra drama we've got the religion angle here - and she's the mother of a troubled young boy who's been raised so far without proper schooling or religion, though his mother has apparently been teaching him at home about Chaucer and other classic literature.  She's the new (1960's) modern kind of woman, the Bohemian artist type who chose to live without a husband and be a single parent, live in a shack near the beach and sell a painting every once in a while for grocery money.  Men come and go, obviously, but that's all part of the new (again, 1960's) sexual revolution.  But then a judge decides that her son would be better off in boarding school, with some structure and moral fiber in his life, so he's sent to the Episcopal school, and that puts the headmaster and the artist on a sort of collision course.

He's her polar opposite, with a routine life, marriage and two sons, but on some level, he needs this shake-up - long ago he stopped doing what was "moral" because he's become more fund-raiser than schoolmaster, with high rollers donating to the school and getting some benefit in the form of what, tax write-offs?  This part was a little unclear, but it seems something shady was going on...  Was he enrolling the sons of the wealthy benefactors and giving them passing grades, or looking the other way when they got into trouble?  I must have missed something...

The headmaster's wife is a total blank here, but that works with the formula, because if she were incredibly nice, or very affectionate, or super smart, or anything interesting really, then we really wouldn't understand the need for her husband to have an affair.  That's where "Take This Waltz" sort of screwed up by casting Seth Rogen, who's very likable and funny, and then they made his character have like 1,000 different recipes for cooking delicious chicken.  So why couldn't his wife be happy with him - he sounds like quite a catch!  (Geez, I'd marry that, and I'm straight...JK)

The imagery with the wounded bird, the sandpiper of the title, is a bit much.  Obviously the bird represents the headmaster, who's "broken" in a way, or he's unable to fly free because he's tied down by his marriage and his morals.  Staying with the artist for a while "heals" him, and then he can fly free.  But at what cost?  Yeah, I get it, we all have the power to fly free, we're all just scared of hitting the door or window on our way out - that's a bit heavy-handed, no?

It reminds me of a song called "Like a Parrot" from the a cappella group The Bobs, which goes:
Like a parrot in a picture window
I can see where I'd like to be
But repeated blows to my feathered little head
Have taught me not to fly straight.

Words of wisdom - we're all parrots and can see the outside world with all its opportunities, but getting to where we want to be is rarely a direct route.  And there may be some pain involved, even if we can overcome the obstacles in our way.  And while we figure out our path, we've still got to find a way to get through each day.  OK, so it's hardly the stuff of inspirational posters, but I think it still rings true. 

Also starring Elizabeth Taylor (also carrying over from "The Comedians"), Eva Marie Saint (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), Charles Bronson (last seen in "This Property Is Condemned"), Robert Webber (last seen in "Harper"), James Edwards (last seen in "Patton"), Torin Thatcher (last seen in "The Robe"), Tom Drake, Douglas Henderson (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate"), Morgan Mason, with cameos from Nico (yes, that one, last seen in "Cleopatra") and the voice of Peter O'Toole (last seen in "Club Paradise").

RATING: 4 out of 10 driftwood sculptures

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Comedians (1967)

Year 10, Day 65 - 3/6/18 - Movie #2,866      

BEFORE: Peter Ustinov carries over from "The Bachelor", and that gets me to a set of Richard Burton films, both with and without Elizabeth Taylor.  TCM made Burton their "Artist of the Month" last year around this time, and I knocked off a few films like "Equus" and "The Robe", and squirreled away the rest, because I thought the Burton/Taylor films might be more relationship-oriented and therefore belonged in a February chain.

Now, of course, TCM has an Elizabeth Taylor marathon coming up in just a few days (March 12-16) and I could pick up a few more and work them in, but that would require stopping here and waiting for a few days, and I can't do that, I'll fall even further behind.  But I think that list of 30 films are generally either ones I've already seen ("Giant", "Butterfield 8", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof") or ones that I don't feel the need to add ("Doctor Faustus", "Beau Brummel", "X, Y and Zee") so I think I'll skip it.  But it's weird that TCM and I sort of ended up on the same page again.

THE PLOT: A cynical Welsh hotel owner secretly romances a diplomat's wife in Haiti under the violent reign of despot "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

AFTER: There is something of a romance here, as Burton's character has an affair with the German wife of Uruguay's ambassador to Haiti, but it's buried under so much political drama that it's hard to even recognize it.  I fell asleep after about an hour, why should I care about Haitian politics in the late 1950's?  There's not anything remotely funny about this, so why is this film titled "The Comedians", what am I not understanding here?

It's clear that things are not going well in Haiti as we see four visitors arrive by boat - one is a British businessman and former soldier who's immediately taken into custody and strip-searched, two are an elderly couple there to set up some kind of vegetarian-based education center, and the fourth is the central character, Mr. Brown, who's inherited a hotel in Port-au-Prince, but has been unable to sell it.  Shortly after his arrival, he finds a dead body in the (drained) hotel pool, a victim of Duvalier's police force.  I suppose there was an opportunity for a "Fawlty Towers"-like comedy, with dead bodies turning up here and there, almost being discovered by the other guests, but it's just not that kind of film.

Brown gets some assistance from the local doctor, then manages to fall in with the rebel forces, who are planning an insurrection against Duvalier.  I found this whole long middle part very hard to follow, and even harder to care about.  Then we all get to see Alec Guinness hiding from the Haitian police by donning both drag AND blackface.  That just ain't right...

It's notable, perhaps, to a "Star Wars" fan like myself, that this film features both Guinness, the original Obi-Wan Kenobi, and James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader.  While the two actors might not have met during the production of Episode IV, because Jones' voice was dubbed in later, the two men worked together on this film, released about a decade before.  I made the mistake of watching an episode of "Star Wars: Rebels" right before this film, so my mind was on that track.  At several points in this film the two actors not only discuss rebels but also the Tonton Macoute, which was a special ops unit within the Haitian paramilitary force.  But they usually just called them "Tontons", which is a French nickname for "uncle" - but to me, it tended to sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader discussing Tauntauns, you know, the large beasts that the rebels rode on Hoth in "The Empire Strikes Back".

Also starring Richard Burton (last seen in "Equus"), Elizabeth Taylor (last seen in "The Taming of the Shrew"), Alec Guinness (last seen in "The Swan"), Paul Ford (last seen in "All the King's Men"), Lillian Gish (last seen in "Sweet Liberty"), Roscoe Lee Browne (last seen in "Hard Time: The Premonition"), James Earl Jones (last heard in "Rogue One"), Georg Stanford Brown (last seen in "How to Steal a Million"), Gloria Foster (last seen in "The Matrix Reloaded"), Zakes Mokae (last seen in "Vampire in Brooklyn"), Douta Seck, Raymond St. Jacques, with a cameo from Cicely Tyson (last seen in "Idlewild").

RATING: 3 out of 10 hands of gin rummy

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Bachelor

Year 10, Day 64 - 3/5/18 - Movie #2,865

BEFORE: OK, so Oscars last night - I guess I screwed up by not working "The Shape of Water" in to my February chain between two other films with Michael Shannon.  Of course I regret that choice now, but I'm sure I'll have another chance at linking to it.  Some time right around the first of October would be perfect, and I've got the outro film for it, I just need to work on the intro.

But all things considered, my viewing history fared better than I thought it would - "Blade Runner 2049" picked up a couple of technical awards, and I made sure to see that one in the theater.  "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" had some nominations but didn't win anything, and I think "Logan" was up for a writing award.  Oh, and I saw the animated short "Lou" that preceded "Cars 3", I think.  And "Beauty and the Beast", which I watched last week, was up for Production Design, and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" was a contender for Best Visual Effects.  I took a pass on everything else, because there just wasn't time to work everything in to my jam-packed schedule.

Fear not, all is not lost.  I went into linking overdrive last month, and as things stand right now, during April and May I'm planning on watching nominees "Get Out", "The Florida Project", "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri", "The Greatest Showman", "I, Tonya", "The Post", and "War for the Planet of the Apes" along with non-nominated 2017 films like "Murder on the Orient Express", "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales", "Table 19", "Downsizing" and "Stronger".  Don't even try to figure out the chain, because there's a LOT of connective tissue in-between, including "Black Panther", "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Solo", and tons of other films from this millennium - but first I have to get there through a bunch of classic films from the last one.

For now, Sarah Silverman carries over from "Take This Waltz", and then I'm heading back to the 1960's tomorrow.

THE PLOT: A commitment-phobic man goes in search of a bride, backtracking through his ex-girlfriends, to inherit his grandfather's $100 million fortune.

AFTER: Oh, I'd just HATE to end the romance chain on this one.  That just wouldn't bode well for me, or for you, or romance in general.  It's the sort of film that gives romances a bad name, because it's just made up of a few "Mars vs. Venus" stereotypes about men and women, and the rest is just Hollywood contrivances and coincidences.

Take the initial starting point - all women want to get married.  It's just not true.  On the other side, we've got all men are against commitment.  Again, not true.  There are millions of people with thousands of varying opinions about marriage, and the facts that people continue to get married and/or have committed relationships that do NOT involve marriage tells me that there's a wide spectrum of experiences and lifestyle choices in this great world of ours, and you can't reduce the human condition to just a few simple rules and traditions where romance is concerned.  Answer me this - if all women are commitment-oriented and all men of a certain age are not, how IN THE SAME MOVIE that depicts this, are men shown getting married, one after the other?  Did they all change their minds in a similar fashion? Were they all bewitched or brainwashed by their female life-mates?  Of course not, it's completely silly to think that - but how can a screenwriter put a simple set of rules out there, say women are THIS way and men are THIS way, then some mysterious undefined process happens, and they all get married.  Explain, please.

Of course, this is nonsense, what some writer wanted to do was just put two people together, and then set a number of unlikely obstacles in their way.  Obstacle #1 - a man is afraid of commitment.  It's simple enough, but why did this writer have to paint ALL men with that same brush, when he knows full well that's not true?  Obstacle #2 - once this man does decide to commit, he doesn't know how to propose.  Only he kind of does, because he takes her on their anniversary to this "hot spot" restaurant that seems to cater to couples getting engaged there.  He clearly knew this, but made the reservation there anyway - so is he afraid of commitment, or not?  Apparently the screenwriter was also unable to commit - to a single premise, that is.  So he pops the question, pulls out the ring, and then has no good words to go with it.

The only reason I'm not completely ruling against this premise is that proposing is difficult for some, and so is talking about it beforehand with one's intended.  A man may want to surprise his lady, and talking about it before-hand would ruin the surprise.  So he's GOT to believe that she'll say yes, and if he has any doubt, he's either projecting his own insecurity on her, OR he's reading the situation correctly, and it's not the right time.  And it's impossible to talk about getting engaged beforehand without either telegraphing the fact that you're going to propose, or highlighting the fact that you have no intention of doing so.  Once you start talking about it, you kind of have to do it.

But let's take this as written here, for a moment, because a botched engagement is a relatively novel situation for a Hollywood film.  Naturally Anne, the girlfriend, does not take this well.  So they're over, done, finito - only they're not.  She hints that the door's not entirely closed, and she MIGHT be willing to reconsider his proposal, provided he does it better, with better words, because the fancy dinner, flowers, the ring, just wasn't enough.  I have to conclude here that these are NOT positive characters, because he may be a clueless boyfriend with a fear of commitment and a misunderstanding about what women want BUT she also comes off as a selfish perfectionist, unable to accept her boyfriend as he is, and she also failed to give any clues about what she did want.  How was Jimmie supposed to tell the difference between "everything's going fine in the relationship, so there's no need to talk about getting engaged" from "she really wants to get engaged, but she hasn't brought it up or even hinted about it"?

Then comes the big Hollywood contrivance - Jimmie's grandfather dies, and leaves one of those video wills that will ensure that his bloodline will continue, by offering his grandson the entire fortune if he gets married before his 30th birthday, and has 2 kids before his 35th, or something like that.  This would also somehow lead to Jimmie's company being taken over, and a lot of people being laid off if he doesn't get this money.  Then come more obstacles: Jimmie's 30th birthday is just 2 days away (you'd think the grandfather would have been aware of this, but no...) and Anne is about to leave for Greece on an assignment.

AND since no good ever came out of being open and honest about anything, Jimmie decides to NOT tell Anne about the inheritance, as he rushes to see her before her helicopter (?) leaves, with a limo, priest and best man in tow.  A better effort, she thinks, but whoops, gotta catch my plane, let's talk about this in 2 weeks.  Because of course she said that.  So this leads Jimmie to contact a number of old girlfriends to try them to reconsider him as a husband - so much for romance.  Things get so bad that eventually he has to clue them in about the money, creating a business arrangement instead of a romantic partnership.  Hey, for $100 million I think I'd marry this guy, but unfortunately women have this little thing called self-respect, so he's out of luck.

NITPICK POINT: It's at this point in the film that Anne somehow returns to San Francisco, though she's seen on a plane heading for Greece, and they never say HOW she gets back.  OK, so she saw a couple making out on the plane, so maybe she WANTED to go back, but this is very problematic.  MAYBE she had to transfer in Atlanta or something, but if this was a work assignment (BTW, what was her job?  I don't think they ever said...) then wouldn't she be FIRED for not flying to Greece as planned?  Plus, those tickets were probably NON-refundable, so she just cost her company a lot of money, just so she could see her boyfriend again - so she's out of a job AND she has to eat the cost of those international tickets?  Uh, uh, no way - would never happen.

Things get worse - even though Jimmie spots her in San Francisco (which briefly gives him hope that she's back in town) she heads up to Mendocino by train with her sister to see their parents, so there's yet another inconvenient obstacle.  (Hey, she's out of a job now, might as well move back to her parents' house...). And then Jimmie's best friend places a classified ad for a wife, and the newspaper turns it into a front page story - which, NITPICK POINT #2, sounds like a breach of journalism ethics, plus reporters never report on what's in the classified section, those are usually two separate offices.  But why let reality ruin a story when you need to set up a scene with 100 desperate brides chasing a man down the street?

I can't tell which gender gets stereotyped worse here - probably the women.  Someone thought that portraying all women as desperate, annoying gold-diggers was a good idea?  Are there even that many single women in San Francisco?  Well, there ARE a lot of gay men there, right?  Some of those brides looked like men in drag, too - was this making a social commentary, or were there not enough female extras to fill the scene?

NITPICK POINT #3 - If Anne was very upset just because Jimmie didn't propose well, shouldn't she be even MORE upset that he failed to tell her about the inheritance in an open, honest way?  Really, he sold her short yet again by assuming that she would assume that he was only proposing to get the money.  When the truth is, he should have clued her in on the deal from the start, because a) who makes up a story about an inheritance like that?  So there would be no reason to not believe him and b) why should some other woman get a crack at the money, when if he truly loved her, he would give her the first shot at it?

Nothing really makes sense here - again, just a series of obstacles and contrivances.

Wait, I almost forgot NITPICK POINT #4 - Hollywood movies would have the audience believe that all you need to get married on the fly is to drag a priest around with you.  Wrong!  One of the priest's duties, to make a marriage official, is to sign the marriage license.  (Remember "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2"?)  Too bad nobody in this movie ever took the time to get one - not Jimmie, not Anne, not any of the random brides that showed up at the church.  No license, no marriage, no inheritance.  Therefore, the whole premise of the film is rendered null and void.  Hollywood's been pulling this fast one in movies at least since "The Philadelphia Story", maybe longer.  And I'm looking at you too, "Mamma Mia!", but at least your wedding took place outside the U.S. - the rules might be different in Greece, for all I know.

Also starring Chris O'Donnell (last seen in "Circle of Friends"), Renée Zellweger (last seen in "Bridget Jones's Baby"), Artie Lange, Hal Holbrook (last seen in "Into the Wild"), Ed Asner (last heard in "Superman/Batman: Apocalypse"), Peter Ustinov (last seen in "Spartacus"), James Cromwell (last heard in "Big Hero 6"), Marley Shelton (last seen in "Planet Terror"), Brooke Shields (last seen in "The Muppets Take Manhattan"), Jennifer Esposito (last seen in "Don't Say a Word"), Mariah Carey (last seen in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"), Katharine Towne (last seen in "Town & Country"), Rebecca Cross, Stacy Edwards, Anastasia Horne, Pat Finn, with cameos from Niecy Nash, Nancy O'Dell.

RATING: 2 out of 10 megaphones

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Take This Waltz

Year 10, Day 63 - 3/4/18 - Movie #2,864

BEFORE: It's the big night, Oscar day - I'll definitely finish this film before the Oscars air, but I may not be able to post until after the ceremony ends, that's just the way it goes.  I'll do some kind of Oscars wrap-up tomorrow, but I really haven't had a chance to see most of the nominated films, despite having access to Academy screeners.  I promise to get to them starting in April - which is well after the nomination and awards season is over, so there's no need to prosecute my boss for letting me borrow the screeners.  I'm going to eventually get every film I want to see on either DVD, cable or streaming, so Hollywood's not losing any money from me watching screeners, I'll just be speeding up the viewing timetable - again, starting in April.

I still have to finish the romance chain, but I have to rely on indirect linking tonight.  I know, I feel terrible about it.  Michael Stevens had an uncredited role in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch", and he was also in a film called "Luck" with Luke Kirby, one of the male leads today.  (Alternately, Andrea Martin was also in a film called "Bogus" with Jennifer Podemski.  Either way works.)

I should have found a better way, I know - but I can't change course now.  The only other option to me was to follow the Rosie O'Donnell link and watch a documentary called "Being Elmo", but I'm just not ready for documentaries right now, and that would take me too far away from where I want to go.

THE PLOT: A happily married woman falls for the artists who lives across the street.

AFTER: Now, I could have sworn this film was available on Netflix, but of course, just as I go to sit down and watch it there, it's gone.  I realize all films on that service are there for a particular length of time, but each time I put something on my list, program it, then find it missing a few months later when I genuinely want to watch it, that costs me $2.99 or $3.99 to then watch it on iTunes, assuming that it's available there.  Yep, removed on 11/22/17, that's probably just a couple weeks after I found it there.  This is why I have to keep making films on Netflix a priority...

So here I am, suffering from romance film burnout, and is it fair to take advantage of me for an extra four bucks at this point?  OK, so I paid it and watched the film, now I don't really know what to do with it, because it's a really complex little drama.  This woman Margot works for the Parks Department in Canada, which involves some traveling in order to write about the events at the parks, and on her way back from a trip she meets Daniel, who happens to be her neighbor.  They joke around and flirt a bit, get to know each other on the plane, and there seems to be an attraction forming.  The only problem is, she's married to Lou, a cookbook author.

And there's nothing wrong with Lou, really.  Margot and Lou have their own running jokes, their own ways of expressing affection, their own little routine, but apparently after five years together Margot needs a change of pace.  Or it's more like she found the change of pace in Daniel, and didn't realize that she needed it.  This is just going to happen to some people, meeting the right person - or another right person - at the wrong time.  It's not something that can be controlled, it's not something that she asked for - but trying to put Daniel out of her mind only has the complete opposite effect, because once you try to not think about something, well, guess what, you're thinking about it when you're trying to not think about it.

Again, nothing wrong with Lou, if there were it would make her choice easy, but it's not easy.  She tries a desperate play of scheduling a date with Lou to happen 40 years in the future, figuring by then she'll either forget about Daniel, or things will be over with Lou, one way or the other.  But this would never work, how can you schedule something 40 years down the road and then spend the next 39 years not thinking about that?

You may even develop a preference for what choice Margot should make, which man she should be with, but I think it's so 50/50 here that your preference would end up saying more about you than it would about the situation at hand.  And this shows the terrible truth of a love triangle situation - assuming one person is at the crux of the triangle, it's essentially a no-win situation.  If she tells Lou that she's attracted to Daniel, that's going to ruin the relationship with Lou, and then she'll always wonder how long it could have gone if only she could have stayed faithful.  And if she tells Daniel that she's going to stay with Lou, then she'll always wonder about the road not taken, whether her life could have been better if she made the other choice.

I'm certainly not going to reveal her choice here, because it hardly matters.  What I appreciate here is the acknowledgement that even letting yourself get put in that position, where you have to make a choice between two very different people - it's just not where you want to be.  I think most films romanticize the love triangle, or the quadrangle, but there's nothing positive about it, when you're in it.  Someone's heart is going to get broken, maybe even more than one someone, no matter what happens.  I'll say no more about the plot.

But there's something about Margot, she's a very complex character, with a lot of emotions.  I don't know if she's supposed to be bi-polar or just fickle, but since there were no easy answers here about which path to take, I was hoping for a little more internal information from her, about what led her to consider an affair in the first place.  It can't just all be because she met another cute guy, that's all coincidence and happenstance.  She kept choosing to spend time with another man, and that's not a wise choice, because the more time you spend with another potential partner, the more chance you give for the new relationship to supplant the old one.  Sure, all married people are going to be out in the world, meeting new people at some point, and there's always a chance of recognizing another potential mate that way.  But seeing that person again and again, that's a conscious choice.  It may or may not be a positive choice in the end, but it's a conscious choice.

It's also not 100% your spouse's job to make you happy.  Clearly, on some level, she's not happy but there's no reason to completely blame that on her husband.  Maybe she's just not a happy person, and she needs to work on that herself - because if she doesn't, then changing partners might make her feel happy at first, but if she can't learn to be satisfied, or at least content, then she's likely to end up right back where she started.

Also starring Michelle Williams (last seen in "Manchester by the Sea"), Seth Rogen (last seen in "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"), Sarah Silverman (last seen in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"), Jennifer Podemski, Aaron Abrams, Diane D'Aquila, Graham Abbey.

RATING: 6 out of 10 chicken recipes