Saturday, December 24, 2011

#20 It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Twas the night before Christmas
and all through Bedford Falls,
George Bailey was stirring,
he was climbing the walls.

He was raving and ranting,
getting sloshed in the bar
and swerving and crying
and crashing his car.

He came to a bridge
and in his miserable state
thought enough was enough
there was too much on his plate.

Is suicide truly painless?
He'll soon find out.
For the end was surely near,
of that there's no doubt.

Sir spoke to the angels,
 told them of George's plight
"Now look here, good Clarence,
you must set things right.

"You must save George Bailey
and make him see good things.
And if you're successful,
you'll  finally get your wings".

But first, some background;
in his past, here's the tale,
He saved his brother from drowning 
and his boss from jail.

All his life he dreamed 
of escaping Bedford Falls
but life got in the way
and kicked him in the...why hello, Mary! 

George liked Mary a lot,
when shove came to push
They went dancing, and swimming 
and she got naked with a bush.

His father asked him to stay
and take over at the  bank.
And protect it from Mean ol Potter,
the town's rich, evil crank.

George said no, 
but then Dad died. 
Potter schemed
and then George sighed.

He took Dad's place
and became a bank tycoon.
He let his brother go to college
and never did lasso that moon.

He married Mary and lived well
and his brother got married too.
I liked it in Cinderella
when she said "Bippity Boppity Boo".

They had three kids
and a wonderful life.
His brother was a war hero
George truly loved his wife.

Then one day George's uncle
went to make a deposit.
He had eight grand
and accidentally lost it. 

Potter found it and hid it
and cackled with glee.
"At last!" he cried.
"George is finished! The town belongs to me!"

George knew the bank auditors
would learn the money was gone.
He screamed at his uncle
at his wife, kids and mom.

That's what put him on that bridge
on that late Christmas Eve.
And that's where Clarence found him
and granted him a reprieve.

George wished he'd never been born
and Clarence made the wish come true.
And when George saw this happen
he became very blue.

His mother was a bitter spinster,
her nerves were frayed
Bedford Falls was named "Pottersville",
and Mary was an old maid.

His old boss was a bum
his kids were gone, too.
And his brother, oh his brother,
was dead.  Yes, it's true.

George wanted his life back
he regretted his words
He begged Clarence to reverse it,
death was for the birds!

Clarence did as he asked
and George whooped with joy
He didn't care about the money,
he was one grateful boy.

He hugged Mary and the kids
and accepted his fate.
He would soon be in jail
it was just too late. 

When suddenly outside,
George heard such a clatter.
He sprang to the door 
to see what was the matter. 

In came Ma and Ernie 
and Burt and Billy
and Violet and Sam 
and Annie and Tilly

The whole town was there 
and they all chipped in
The eight thousand was covered
with a wink and a grin.

"We love you, George, Merry Christmas!"
the town all cheered.
Up in Heaven, Sir smiled
and the dark clouds all cleared.

On the tree, the lights twinkle
and also the bell rings
which everyone knows
 means an angel got his wings. 

Review: Pretty cool timing on this one, no?  Wasn't easy busting out so many reviews to make this one by the 12/24 deadline. But I'm awesome like that. 
No, I hadn't seen this one either. I've got no good excuse, except that I thought I had sort of already seen it without seeing it, you know? As it's been parodied and redone a million times on every TV sitcom from the eighties and beyond. Second only to A Christmas Carol, this movie has been "reimagined" more than any other. But what I didn't know was that I only knew the last half hour. I thought that part was the whole movie, I didn't know it was only the Third Act. I also didn't know how dark and strange this story was going to be, with level of maturity well beyond what I expect to see in an Olden Times movie. 
I knew what was going to happen in the end with the town all giving him the lost money, and I feared very much that it would be a schmaltz-fest, but the movie earns that moment completely, with a deep and fully realized town of supporting characters that truly seem to live real lives separate from just supporting George in this movie, and with a love story that's compelling and realistic and with a great villain in Potter. By the end, not only did I not mind a schmaltz-fest, but I actively craved one. There was no other way to release the tension, to breathe again, and to allow George (and perhaps a viewer or two) to make peace with the fact that life doesn't always go as planned. The movie does such a great job of putting us in George's mindset; experiencing his frustrations at never getting to leave town, and keeping us from seeing what a truly wonderful life George has, just as he can't see it, until the end. It's a great cathartic ending to a truly wonderful and unique movie. 

Stars: Five out of five.

Next, "On the Waterfront" and then, "The General". But those will come next year.  See you then. And, Merry Christmas. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

#21 Chinatown (1974)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Jake Gittes. Private Eye. Los Angeles. 1937. Jake has some pictures to show his client, Curly, who hired Jake because he suspects his wife is having an affair. He's right. Curly leaves the office all broken up and a new client enters, a Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray. Mrs. Mulwray suspects her husband is cheating too, and wants Jake and his partners to find the evidence. Jake takes the case and winds up tailing Mr. Mulwray for a bit. Turns out Mr. Mulwray is the Chief Engineer for the Dept of Water and Power. Turns out he is also cheating on his wife. Jake takes pictures of Mulwray with the girl, and the next day they somehow turn up on the front page of the newspaper. Jake goes back to his office, and his partners do that thing in movies and TV where they try to tell him something and to stop talking, but Jake has a racist Chinese joke to tell, and they let him tell it despite the fact that Faye Dunaway and a Chinese guy are behind him in his office. Faye Dunaway says she's Mrs. Mulwray, the real Mrs. Mulwray, and she'll be seeing him in court!
Jake knows he's been set up. A patsie. A stoolie. He's determined to find out from who. But soon enough, he finds out Mulwray's been murdered. He's called to the scene of the crime by his old partner Escobar, who's now a lieutenant. Escobar's interviewing Evelyn Mulwray. She tells him that she hired Jake to uncover evidence of her husband's affair, and Jake quickly goes along with the lie.
Then Jake goes to the water reservoir where he last saw Mulwray alive to search for any clues. He hops the fence, and starts walking down an empty canal, and is quickly knocked over by a ton of flooding water. He gets out and is cornered by two rough looking goons. One holds him down why the other busts out a knife. He says Jake's too nosy, then cuts his nose with the knife, because goons love puns.
Later that night, Jake has dinner with Evelyn where she thanks him for going along with her lie and offers to send him a check so it will look legit. She also says she'll drop the lawsuit. Jake has a hugely comical and distracting bandage on his nose. They do some noir-ish flirting and he wants to know what she's hiding because dames is always hiding something. She admits she was also cheating on her husband. He tells her he thinks Mulwray was murdered, even though the cops say he was drowned.
Back at the office, Jake gets a call from Ida Sessions, the fake Mrs. Mulwray from before. She says she was hired by someone to fake him out but won't say who. But because she likes riddles, she tells him to look in that day's obituary for a clue.
So, cut to it: The plot is immensely detailed and complex and loops around and around in incredibly satisfying ways and everything fits together perfectly like a thousand-piece puzzle of something blue. Jake learns first that Evelyn's father Noah Cross used to own the Dept of Water and Power along with Mulwray. Cross hires Jake to find the girl Mulwray was cheating on his wife with. Jake learns that someone is using dead people's names to purchase all the land in the valley, which is where the LA water is being rerouted to. He almost gets killed by the goons again, but Evelyn pulls up in her car and saves him. They race off, and wind up making mad passionate noir-sex. Later, Evelyn receives a phone call and scrambles away, asking Jake to stay there. But yeah, he doesn't. He follows her to some hideout where he sees her Chinese assistant and the woman Mulwray was having an affair with. Jake wants to know who she really is. Evelyn says it's her sister, Katherine. (Slap!  No wait, not yet). Then Jake gets a call from Escobar summoning him to a mysterious address. Turns out it's Ida Session's house. She's dead. Escobar thinks Evelyn did it and Jake is protecting her, but Jake laughs in the face of his ignorance. Escobar says Mulwray didn't drown, either. Salt water was found in his lungs. Jake goes back to Evelyn's house and discovers the salt-water pond in her backyard and the broken glasses at the bottom. He confronts Evelyn, accusing her of murder, but she denies it.
Stop lying!  Who's the girl?!
My sister!  (Slap!) My daughter!  (Slap!) My sister!  (Slap!) My daughter! (Slap!)
I really, really like this movie, but this uber-famous scene's a bit hairy for me. I mean, the slapping in time with the sister/daughter stuff skirts the line of ridiculousness. In fact, probably goes over it.
Evelyn admits her father raped her when she was 15 and Katherine was the result. (Wow, only a totally depraved creep would rape an underage girl. Isn't that right, Mr. Polanski?) Jake believes her, but he's already called the cops, thinking she was guilty of murder. He tells them to run they'll meet at Evelyn's assistant's house in two hours. And where does he live? Why, Chinatown, of course. Evelyn also says the glasses aren't her husband's because he didn't wear bifocals.
Then the cops show up and Jake tells Escobar the Evelyn is gone and is probably staying at her maid's in San Pedro. Escobar makes Jake go with them and says he'll arrest Jake for accessory to murder if they don't find Evelyn there. They arrive at what Jake says is the maid's house, and Jake asks for a couple minutes alone with Evelyn first. Escobar relents.
Jake goes up the house, knocks on the door...and Curly answers. You know, from the first scene!  That's fucking ingenious, I'll tell you what. Talk about the economy of characters. Jake sneaks out the back with Curly and asks him to meet Evelyn and Katherine in Chinatown and drive them to safety.
Meanwhile, Jake goes back to confront Cross for murdering his son-in-law and buying up half the valley with fake names, but Cross' goons grab Jake and force him to take them all the Chinatown.
The final confrontation takes place in Chinatown, where Escobar tries again to arrest Jake, while Evelyn tries to drive off with Katherine. Cross tries to stop Evelyn from taking his "granddaughter" (UGH) away from him, but Evelyn shoots him and drives off. Escobar calls at her to halt and shoots at her. He hits her and she crashes. Everyone runs towards the car and sees that Evelyn is clearly dead. Cross comforts a screaming Katherine (UGH UGH) while Jake stares in shock. Escobar barks at Jake to leave, that he's doing him a favor. Jake turns to go, then turns around as if to attack Escobar, but his partner holds him back.
Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown.

Review: So, as I said earlier, the plot twists and turns in dozens of extremely smart and satisfying ways that are basically too numerous to go into detail. I honestly can't remember a smarter script, period. And the best part is, at no point, not ever, did I ask myself, "Now why did Character X do that or go there?", which is basically unheard of for this type of genre. Everything makes perfect sense. No plot holes, no fuss, no muss. No suspension of disbelief required, with the lone exception of the dumb scene where Jake's telling the dumb Chinese joke and none of his partners interrupt him and tell him to shut up and turn around. And despite being extremely plot-heavy and needing a ton of exposition, the script still is able to bring three-dimensional humanity to all the major characters, and have scenes that are thrilling and emotional, as well as informative. The ending is memorably and appropriately bleak, too. There's a reason why "Chinatown" is now just a metaphor for hopelessly corrupt and depraved. Jack of course is great too, but Jack's always great.

Stars: Four and a half out of five.

Friday, December 16, 2011

#22 Some Like It Hot (1959)

Plot summary (with spoilers): It's a period piece. And not just cuz they're dressed like ladies. HEY-O!
It's 1929 and some cops and robbers are having a high speed Untouchables-type shoot out over some bootleg liquor.
Then we go inside a nightclub, where saxophonist Joe and bassist Jerry are playing in a band. They exposit all over each other for a bit while exchanging witty bon mots. The upshot is, they're poor, but they'll be getting paid tomorrow. Joe wants to gamble and double their winnings. Jerry thinks that's crazy, but Joe usually talks him into things. Suddenly, the nightclub gets raided by the cops for selling liquor, and Joe and Jerry barely escape without being arrested. They go to like, a musician's temp agency and ask for a new job. The only thing available is a job in Florida for three weeks, and they need a saxophonist and a bassist. Great! Except that it's an all-girl band. If either one of them played the sad trombone, they would surely play it now. Wah. Wah.
Then they go to some parking garage, and stumble upon a bunch of mobsters. Some mobsters have big machine guns while other mobsters have no machine guns. Very quickly, the only mobsters left are the ones with big machine guns. The mobsters see Joe and Jerry hiding and chase after them, but our heroes manage to comically scramble away. They decide they only have one option left.
Comic smash cut to--dudes looking like ladies. Joe and Jerry are in drag, stumbling on heels, walking to the train station. They sarcastically call each other "Josephine" and "Geraldine" and fret about pulling this off. Soon, they're passed by a sexy blonde with big bazooms and a cute little rear end. Jerry says it's like she runs on a motor and dames are like a whole different sex! They get on the train with the other girls in the band, and introduce themselves as Josephine and Daphne. Tony Curtis does a double take at Jack Lemmon for using a different name than planned. For some reason, that really tickled me.
So "Daphne" goes to the restroom and sees the hot blonde in the back sneaking some liquor. Her name's Sugar, and she sings in the band. She'll even sing to the President if you ask her nice. Sugar says her goal is to bag a rich man once they get to Florida, as a woman should. She complains that in the past she's always dated regular guys and wound up with the "fuzzy end of the lollipop" which is probably a really clever sex pun I can't quite figure out.
Once they arrive at the hotel, a rich man named Osgood Fielding III approaches. (Sidebar: I always wanted to be a "III" growing up. It just seemed so regal). But Osgood wants "Daphne".  D'oh!  Jerry fights off Osgood's advances, and slaps him for trying to get fresh, etc. Meanwhile, "Josephine" befriends Sugar and learns of her plans to snag a rich man. The other girls ask Sugar and Daphne and Josephine to join them at the beach, but Josephine begs off.
Cut to the ladies plus Daphne frolicking in the water and Daphne playfully getting the girls to jump up and down and keeps "accidentally" bumping into Sugar. It's not funny, per se, but it's right on the edge of being funny. Jack Lemmon is certainly trying his damndest. Meanwhile Joe hits the beach dressed as a man in a fancy yachting outfit. He manages to get Sugar's attention and is very rude and dismissive of her while dropping hints that he's a millionaire and owns a yacht. And he's totally doing something weird with his voice.'s a Cary Grant impression!  And I recognized it! This is officially my proudest AFI moment.
So they get back to the hotel room and Osgood calls Daphne asking for a date. Joe answers the phone and Osgood says he'd like to take Daphne out that night on his yacht. Joe says Daphne hates yachts but she'll be happy to meet him on the shore. He then hangs up and tells Jerry his plan, which is this: He'll pretend to be a millionaire and take the hot blonde bombshell onto the yacht all night and Jerry will stay in drag and fight off the advances of a horny old man all night. Jerry says, "Oh no, you don't!  I'll never do that in a million years!"
Jerry's in drag. Osgood takes him by the arm and leads him to his car.
Joe's on the yacht with Sugar. Joe tells Sugar he was hurt by a woman once a long time ago, and since then he is essentially asexual. She takes it upon herself to "cure" him through repeated kisses, and crawling on top of him, etc. "Anything yet?" "Nope. Nothing". This part's mildly amusing. Not laughing, but smiling.
Sugar's seduction attempts are intercut with Osgood and Daphne doing the tango on a ballroom floor. Jack Lemmon's deadpan thousand-yard stare as he's being dipped and twirled around finally gets me to laugh out loud.
Finally, it's the next morning. Joe and Sugar kiss each other goodbye, and Joe goes back to his hotel room. Wait a minute!  That means...oh, Hays Code, you poor thing. You're losing it, buddy.
Joe enters and sees Jerry still in drag lying on the bed and humming the tango and looking deliriously happy. Hmm. Jerry says he's engaged.
"Who's the lucky girl?"
"Me." says Jerry.
WHA????  Joe protests that men can't marry men!  That's just fucking insane. Next will come goats marrying household appliances or something.
Jerry says he plans to marry Osgood and then reveal all for quick annulment and large cash payout. He dances around the room still humming the tango. He reveals the fancy diamond necklace Osgood bought him.  Joe says they'll hock it. Jerry tells Joe that he can't see Sugar again because she'll know he's not rich. Joe says normally he would just hit and quit that, but he feels guilty now. He calls Sugar and tells her that he's been sent to the other side of the world on business and he can't see her anymore. She cries because it's true love or something.
Then the mobsters randomly show up, under the guise of having a "Friends of Italian Opera" convention. Joe and Jerry are all set to leave the hotel, but see the mobsters and go running back into their hotel room and back into drag. But the mobsters recognize them and chase them around comically. Then Jerry and Joe hide under a big table in one of the hotel convention rooms and the mobsters meet there, and different mobsters are mad at the original mobsters for letting two witnesses escape and they shoot the shit out of the original mobsters. Then Jerry and Joe pop back up and run out of the room and the new mobsters chase them.
Jerry calls Osgood and says they'll get married now, tonight, just meet him at the docks. They run around some more, and Joe and Jerry, still in drag, happen upon Sugar singing with the band. She's weeping and inconsolable. Joe approaches and tells her not to let any man make her feel this way. He kisses her. She accepts the kiss, and then leans back, shocked. "Josephine!" Joe and Jerry run away, and Sugar struggles with the fact that she was turned on. Ooh, very cutting edge, movie. Well done.
So Joe and Jerry run to the docks where Osgood is waiting in a little motorboat. Jerry introduces Joe as a bridesmaid. Then Sugar comes running up and gets on as well. The mobsters are left in the dust.
Then on the motorboat, Joe takes off his wig and tells Sugar he's a man. He says he's not rich, either. Sugar totally goes with all of it, and says she loves getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop after all.
(That's gotta be a sex pun, right? Let's workshop this: the "sweet" end of the lollipop is a rich guy, representing the ideal and the "fuzzy" end is a poor guy, representing what you settle for. Hmm. Do you suppose it has something to do with circumcision?)
Then "Daphne" tells Osgood they can't get married.
I'm not a natural blonde. I smoke. I drink like a fish. I can't have children.
Osgood blithely shoots down all these objections with assurances that he loves her still.
Jerry takes off his wig. "I'm a man, dammit."
Osgood doesn't flinch. "Nobody's perfect". Jack Lemmon does a beautiful double take that makes me laugh for probably the third time as credits roll.

Review: Again, we run into my problem with Olden Times comedies, in that they're not really funny. This was made in 1959, so it wasn't all that far back, and indeed it wasn't painfully unfunny, just not terribly funny either. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are fighting tooth and nail through sheer force of will to make me laugh and when it works, it does so despite the painful groaner lines and totally played out scenarios. I mean, there must've been  a dozen iterations of "What kind of woman are you?" "Oh, if you only knew", throughout the thing that I guess was hilarious and edgy at the time, but now is just corny. Plus, it has all the cliche moments of the "dudes look like ladies" genre, which is never as funny or as edgy as the movies think it is. Yes, I know, this movie probably invented most of those cliches, but that doesn't make them any easier to watch now.
However, Lemmon and Curtis are genuinely funny and personable, plus there's a bellboy I forgot to mention, a teen kid who hits on "Josephine" a few times, and he's super cheesy and keeps calling Tony Curtis "doll", and he's pretty good, too. Marilyn is fine, but definitely not at the caliber of the two guys.

Stars: Three out of five.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#23 The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

Better dead than red?

Plot summary (with spoilers): Tom Joad got out of prison. He was put in there for manslaughter. Got seven years, but paroled in four. He hitches a ride home to his family's farm in Oklahoma. He walks the last few miles, and first encounters an old family-friend, a preacher named Jim Casy. Casy has renounced his religion and thinks that labeling actions as "sinful" and "virtuous" are outdated concepts. There's only "nice" and "not-so nice", which sounds kind of weird and vapid, but not when Casy says it. 
Casy says he's broke and homeless. Joad invites him with him to the family's farm, where at least he'll get a nice meal and a roof over his head for one night. They arrive at Joad's house and discover it in a pile on the ground. They find a guy there named Muley, who is hiding out in the hay. He tells the story of how the deed holders of the land came into the fields one day and told everyone to clear out and then promptly bulldozed over everyone's homes. We see the giant Caterpillars from crazy low angles and in shadows as Muley tells his story in flashback, like they're evil monsters in a scary movie. 
Joad, Muley, and Casy continue onward to Joad's uncle's house, where the rest of the family is waiting. Everyone's thrilled to see Joad's out of jail, all 11 of them, especially Ma, who tells him that the bulldozers are coming tomorrow to level Uncle John's house too. The plan is for everyone to go to California and get jobs there. Random Joad family member found a flier that advertised for 800 orange pickers in Southern California, and that's where they can find their footing and start over.  
Why do other people own the deeds to their farms, anyway? Is this an Oklahoma thing? 
Anyway, the next morning, they all pack up their big truck and drive onto Route 66, despite getting a marked lack of  kicks. Grandpa Joad dies nearly immediately while on the road, so they bury him and press onward, kind of like in the first Chevy Chase vacation movie and just as unfunny. 
On the way, they encounter a campsite where a man tells them he just came from California, and it's just a shitty there as it is anyplace else, and he's heading back to Arkansas where he came from. The Joads don't believe him, and Tom shows him the flier. The man scoffs and says that everyone has that flier. Tens of thousands of men applied for the job that only needed 800. The Joads are in full-on "kill the messenger" mode, and tell the man to get lost, but they're privately terrified he's right. 
After much trials and tribulations, including Grandma Joad's death as well, the remaining Joad's arrive in California, where they are promptly told there is no work for them and are directed to the "camps", which are basically slums. When they arrive, they're swamped by children begging them for food, but the Joads insist they only have enough for themselves. After they cook their food, the children fight each other for sips of the broth water while the Joads look on this pathetic display, fearing they're witnessing their future. 
Then Tex Richman comes driving up, offering anyone who wants it a job picking fruit. A man asks for how much. Tex Richman says he doesn't know for sure, but around thirty cents a day. The man wants a contract before he'll agree to work. He says he's been burned in the past, and that the Fat Cats hire too many men for the job and wind up paying them far less than promised. Tex says take it or leave it. He calls the man an "agitator" and motions for the sheriff riding with him to arrest the guy. The guy punches out the sheriff, and then runs away. The sheriff shoots at him, and winds up killing a random woman. Joad jumps in and beats the shit out of the sheriff, and the Joads decide they need to leave before more cops show up.
Eventually, they travel north to another camp. They're offered five cents an hour and lodging in some tiny shack shithole. The Joad men eagerly take the job. After a few days though, the former preacher Casy takes Joad aside late at night and tells him he's met with some other men and they've decided to strike. The men have said the five cent an hour offer is temporary, and as soon as they get more guys, they'll drop it down to 2.5 cents. He says they need to strike and form some sort of united front, like they're all, I dunno, merging or joining together in a more perfect...accord, or agreement or amalgamation of similar goals. And maybe those "unions" let's say, will start out good and pure and save the working man, but then ultimately become just as corrupt as those who came before, leaving no easy answers in the future.  Joad says they're nuts. Last week he had nothing and this week he has a dollar. He's not going to mess with that. But then the cops descend on them and Casy struggles with them and one of them beats Casy with his nightstick to death and then Joad grapples with him and winds up beating and killing the cop.
He runs back to the camp. Ma Joad helps him hide. The family decide to leave that night, knowing that the cops will be looking for Joad. They barely get away.
On the road again, the truck overheats and they stall out and roll down a hill and into another camp. While there, they're offered work as well as a decent place to stay with indoor plumbing. They're told Friday nights are when everyone gathers and has a party and dances after a long week of picking fruit. The Joads are awestruck. How is such a thing possible? Who runs this camp? Why, the government does. 
That bitter laughter you hear is the sound of hundreds of thousands of future citizens of New Orleans, pay it no mind.
The Joads make some sort of home for themselves on the government property. but eventually the cops come sniffing around the place, looking for the man who killed one of their own. They're not allowed to search the camps without a warrant, so they plant interlopers to start a brawl during the Friday night dances. The campers are onto them though, and quietly quell the interlopers without causing any outward signs of fighting. Joad knows that the jig will soon be up, though. He takes Ma aside, and tells her he must go on his own. But he'll be there in spirit, wherever there are injustices in the world. He'll be there. Wherever there's a kitten up a tree, he'll be there. Wherever there's a House of Unamerican Activity Committee, he'll be investigated. And he leaves. 
Later, the rest of the Joad men learn of 22 days worth of work up in Fresno, so off the Joads go on their truck once again. Ma Joad says they were almost beat, but she's hopeful now that one day they'll be able to stop scraping and starving and have a real life. And that the rich folks will all die one day because they're no good and their kids are no good but folks like them, the real people, are the people who will endure. 
It's more than a little ironic that she pretty much looks like Rush Limbaugh. 

Review: Taken just as a story with a strong plot and mood, this is a pretty great flick. They acting is uniformly wonderful, and cinematic shots John Ford takes are haunting and memorable. There's plenty of artsy stuff going on here, from the decision to have almost no score, to the choice to have many of the scenes take place in the shadows, it's all very grim and hypnotic. And most of the actors are, to put it kindly, total uggos, which is also depressing. The black and white helps set the mood, too. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is the first black and white movie I've seen on this list that I'd prefer to not see in color. 
But it's also a message movie, which I was not expecting at all. (No, I never read it in school, College Boy, I had no idea what it was about except poor people). Specifically, it's a Pro-Union, Pro-Communist, Pro-Class Warfare, Anti-Religion, Anti-God message movie, that came out just two short years before the start of our nation's most morally pure and rah rah fun time Capitalist War. There's simply no way this movie would be made today, unless it was some indie thing on a shoestring budget that played for one week at the shitty theatre in the big city next to the Gay Adult bookstore. 
I'm really quite surprised it was made even back then, frankly, and the movie certainly doesn't even pretend to be balanced in its Far Left Agenda, to the point of being a bit off-putting, and I say that as a lefty myself. I have to say, more than any other movie so far, it's made me reevaluate some of my assumptions about the Olden Times and the movies they made and the values they had back then.  
This movie reminds me of Requiem for a Dream in the sense that I can't say I really enjoyed it, as it was so unrelentingly brutal, but I feel better for having endured it. Not all art should be pleasurable, I guess. 

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, the comedy inherent in dudes looking like ladies in "Some Like It Hot", and then it's "Chinatown", Jake.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

#24 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Oh...yeah. Still awesome. Phew!

Plot summary (with spoilers): So an alien spaceship lands on earth, right? And all the Melmacian aliens start scooting around, picking up dirt samples and what not. But then the bad guys come riding in, in their giant metal gas guzzling machines called "cars" and start chasing the aliens!  The Man With The Keys pursues on foot. The aliens get on their ship and blast off...but leave one behind.
Mike's hanging out with with friends at the house. Elliot and Gertie are there, too. And Mary, the mom. They order a pizza and when Elliott goes out to get it from the guy, he hears a strange noise in the shed. He throws in a baseball...and it comes rolling back out.
Everyone thinks it's a coyote. (But they're so wrong, you guys!!)
Later, Elliott goes lurking out into the forest nearby his house, looking around. He deposits little piles of Reese's® Pieces  to use as bait. He stumbles into some tall grass...and sees the alien!  They both scream. Elliott goes running back home, where he tells his mom and big brother Mike, but they won't believe him. Stupid old people.
Maybe it was an alligator in the sewer.
Alligators in the sewer.
Maybe it was a goblin or a leprechaun.
It was nothing like that, penis breath!
HA HA!  Stupid Mike!  (Seriously, why didn't "penis breath" catch on? So much more clinical and nasty than "cock sucker").
Elliott says he can't tell Dad because he's in Mexico and Mom cries and Mike says stupid Elliott and everyone goes to bed.
But then Elliott sneaks out later. Sits on a lounge chair outside the shed with a flashlight, and waits. Eventually, the alien emerges. It approaches Elliott. Elliott's terrified, can't speak or scream.
But it's okay because he's friendly! Phew! He holds out his hand, and drops some Reese's® Pieces on Elliot's chair.
Elliott uses the Reese's® Pieces to lure ET into the house.
The next day, he fakes sick by putting his thermometer next to his lamp and then everyone leaves the house. He shows ET all his cool toys, shows him how Boba Fett fights Han Solo, the fish, the peanut bank, the trains. They're both connected, now.
Mike comes home from school.
I have to show you something. Remember, I have absolute power. Say it!
Don't push it, Elliott.
Mike does a Yoda voice and turns around and sees ET. Then Gertie walks in. She screams. ET screams. Elliott shuffles them all off into the closet. It's so funny! Mom doesn't see or hear anything. Phew!
The three kids stare with total wide-eyed wonder. Why didn't I ever find an alien growing up?  It's just not fair.
They ask ET where he's from, and he makes Elliott's models float in the air. He points out the window. Far off into the sky. The tip of his finger lights up. He makes Gertie's flowers bloom anew.
The next day Elliott goes to school while ET roams around the house. He drinks beer. Elliott gets drunk. He watches a movie. Elliott frees the frogs, stands on the fat kid and kisses the girl. ET discovers my Speak N Spell. I mean, Elliott's Speak N Spell. He needs to phone home.
Then it's Halloween, and the kids sneak ET out of the house as a ghost. Elliott and ET go off into the forest with equipment.
He have to get off and walk now, the path's too bumpy.
No it's not. ET makes Elliott and the bike fly. HOLY CRAP. They land in a meadow and ET goes about setting up his equipment. But he's looking bad, like he's getting sick.
Eventually, mom sits at home getting angrier and angrier. She goes out searching for her kids, but finds only Mike and Gertie.
By the next morning, the police are involved, but Elliott shows up, looking like crap. He begs Mike to find and help ET. Mike rides off into the forest and eventually finds the communication device...and then ET; gray and dying on the ground.
Mike cries out, not even sure how to touch him. He gets him home, and they reveal ET to Mom. She wants everyone out of the house. But just then, the men in masks show up, with plastic and wires and tubes and tests.
This is my house!
Elliott and ET lay sick and dying in matching hospital beds. The scientists question Gertie and Mike. So Elliott knows what it knows? No, Elliott feels what it feels.
The Man With The Keys begs Elliott to tell him how to help ET. Elliott says leave him be. But soon the connection between ET and Elliott breaks. Elliott starts to feel better. They pull him out of the room, as ET flatlines.
(And in 1982, it's at this point that my grandmother hands me some wadded up tissues from her purse and hisses at me, "get a hold of yourself, it's just a movie!")
There's nothing they can do. ET's dead. Elliott stands over his body, which is in a weird cryogenic-type box thing. He says his final goodbyes, and closes the lid, not noticing ET's huge red heart lights up right before the lid closed.
Elliott sees Gertie's flowers bloom again. He runs back to ET. He sees what we already saw!  THIS IS SO AWESOME.
He tells ET to be quiet, just a minute. He runs out and tells Mike. Mike jumps and hits his head. The audience laughs with intense release. I remember the audience specifically laughing there. We were sitting up right, probably the second row. It had been sold out. I remember everything.
Mike and Elliott sneak onto the van in suits while the men load ET. They take off. The men pursue.
Mom and Gertie get in the car.
They drive around into the van to the edge of the forest. Mike's friends meet them with their bikes. The bad men keep chasing.
Everyone pedals like crazy, but the men make a roadblock, blocking the way, holding their walkie-talkies threateningly.
But then...yes, then...ET makes them all fly. They sail over the heads of the bad guys and land safely in the forest. Mom and Gertie drive up, as the spaceship lands.
ET turns back to them, staring. He tells Gertie to be good.
And his finger glows. He point's to Elliott's heart. "I'll be right here".
And then he leaves, no doubt late for a congressional session with Senator Palpatine, and there's a rainbow in the sky.

Review: Yes, it's manipulative. Yes, it's schmaltzy. That ET apparently has to die and resurrect in order to communicate with his homeworld is ridiculously absurd. Yes, it's perhaps sometime a reader of this blog might assume I'd viciously mock. But it damn sure worked for me then, and it even worked for me now. I believe I've said before how Spielberg is a masterful, shameless manipulator, but does it in such an insidious way that the viewer becomes a Stockholm victim.  You know you're being shamelessly manipulated, by the beauty and majesty off it is such that you just don't care. Thank you almost killing and then not killing ET, Mr. Spielberg!  You're so kind! I imagine it's like the old rich man who knows the beautiful young woman isn't flirting with him because she finds him attractive but he finds the experience so pleasurable that he doesn't care.
This movie is expertly crafted, with no slow points or unnecessary scenes. We're put right into the thick of things immediately, and it perfectly captures the wonder and joy of childhood, and how every damn kid in the world would give their very last Atari Cartridge and GI Joe to be in Elliott's shoes. The scenic shots are great, the kid actors are utterly believable. Dee Wallace was pretty great, too. Why wasn't she in more stuff?
Anyways, though Spielberg's star may have gotten less bright in recent years, there's no denying his early genius. And this is probably his best. No, I haven't seen Schindler's List yet. It's coming.

Stars: Five out of five.

Next, "The Grapes of Wrath" and then then Tootsie's grandmothers in "Some Like It Hot".

Friday, December 9, 2011

#25 To Kill a Mockingbird

Racism. It's bad. So, so bad.

Plot summary (with spoilers): It's the 1930's in Maycomb, Alabama. Scout Finch is a young tomboy who lives with her brother Jem, and father Atticus. Atticus Finch lives a life of quiet dignity that comes with being the world's most perfect human. He's a lawyer who accepts food as payment for his services, like a pilgrim or Eskimo or something. He tells his children to never fight, under any circumstances. He abhors guns, but is still the best shot in town, even better than the sheriff. He'll put down a rabid dog for you, sheriff. All you have to do is ask. He's soft-spoken, wise, fair, non-judgmental, and won't even glare if you literally spit on him. Jesus once met Atticus and was like, "I'm out", before getting on His dinosaur and riding away.
So one day, Atticus goes off to work, and his children Scout and Jem play in the trees and dig wells and construct shelters and learn to control fire. They encounter a third child, a boy named Dill, who visits Maycomb in the summertime. Since his name is as equally stupid as theirs, they all become fast friends. Scout and Jem tell Dill all about Boo Radley, the mysterious neighbor who is locked up inside all day by his parents on account of being crazy and violent. They dare each other to run up to his front door and touch it before running away, and other childish pranks. (In my neighborhood, there was an old man whose driveway was on a hill and we would ride our bikes up his driveway and back down again and he would yell at us and tell us to get off his property, so it became a game to see who could quietly carry our bikes up the hill and get on them before the inevitable discovery, whereupon he would hurl open his living room window and scream at us to get out, as we'd jump on our bikes and pedal like crazy down the hill, laughing like maniacs. It was awesome. Hey...we were kind of assholes, weren't we?)  
Meanwhile, the DA asks Atticus to defend the negro Tom Robinson. Tom was accused of assault and attempted rape of a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Atticus agrees to take the case, and is promptly made a pariah in the town. Scout fights with boys in school who call Atticus a nasty racial epithet, and Atticus tells Scout she's wrong to fight, no matter what.
Before the trial, Atticus goes to the courthouse and sits vigil outside the jail. When a lynching party of goons, led by Mayella's father Bob, show up, Atticus tells them to turn around and go home. They're about to beat the hell out of Atticus when Scout, Jem, and Dill show up and shame the would-be lynchers into going home with their cherubic innocence.
Finally, the trial begins. Ooh, movie trials are usually juicy. Let's see how Atticus fucks that up. Atticus first questions Bob, who claimed to have discovered and witnessed Tom beating and attempting to rape Mayella. Atticus first ascertains that Mayella's bruise was on her right eye, which means...wait for it...the assailant was left handed. Even though only 10% of the actual population is left-handed, as we know, a good 80-85% of movie characters are left handed, provided a trial of some sort is involved. Basically, if you want to learn how to get away with any crime, become ambidextrous. Trust me, it will somehow work out for you. So yes, Bob is left handed, just like the assailant would have to be, and Tom not only is right-handed, but injured his left hand in a cotton gin and can't use it at all. When Mayella is questioned about this, she dissolves into screeching and baseless accusations.
Finally, Tom tells his story. He passed by Mayella's every day on his way to work. She would always have some chore for him. He helped her because he felt sorry for her.
At this, the entire courtroom gasps in disbelief and Atticus knows he's sunk.
Then one time, she tried to kiss him, but her father caught her and then beat her up.
Atticus gives his labored, lengthy, and deliberate closing arguments that ends with him basically saying "don't be racist".
To which the jury responds, "this is Alabama in the 1930's. What do you want from us? Guilty."
So, everyone goes home and Atticus is sad but vows to appeal, and Scout says, "Atticus, will you please lecture me for like the thirtieth time about how racism is bad?" and Atticus gladly does so. Then they all take a nap. I think this happens in real time.
Then Atticus learns that Tom was killed trying to escape is despondent.
Then Scout and Jem go trick-or-treating for Halloween, and Bob Ewell attacks them with a knife, as vengeance for Atticus humiliating him at the trial. Scout's knocked down, and Jem's arm is broken, but then they're saved by a Mysterious Man who winds up fighting and then killing Bob.
Later, Doc Old Windmill is finishing up putting a cast on Jem, and the sheriff tells Atticus that he's going to report that Bob fell on his knife. Which is weird, because it was self defense, but whatever. The sheriff says he doesn't want to get Boo Radley in trouble.
Yep, it was Boo who saved the kids. Turns out Boo was a nice guy after all, and the stories about him were based on ignorance and prejudice by people who didn't really know him. Scout wonders if the way they treated Boo could be a metaphor for the way people treated black people, but Jem tells her that's way too on the nose and obvious.
And then I think they take another nap.

Review: I haven't read the book since tenth grade. I remember liking it, but now I'm afraid to go back to it. I couldn't believe how dry and stale this movie was. Every scene is dragged out interminably, the trial in particular was like watching an actual trial in real time, and that is most certainly not a compliment. Of course, the message was probably somewhat radical in 1962, and after sitting through many shucking and jiving black characters in movies on this list, it's nice to see some sort of atonement for that, but man. So much talking about nothing. So much of Atticus patiently explaining the world to Scout, even though we the audience are not actually little girls and don't need to sit through all that. There's also plenty of scenes with the kids just fucking around, that don't advance the plot at all. Stuff like that works in novels, but needs to be streamlined for movies.
On the positive side, I'll say that the acting was very good, particularly the girl who played Scout and Gregory Peck. And I quite liked the scene where the kids shame the bad guys into leaving Tom alone and the scene where Scout and Jem talk about their dead mother while Atticus overhears them. It's also filmed well, with a well-established sense of place and time.  But most of this movie is worse than the actual South in 1930.

Stars: Two out of five.

Next, pure five star joy with "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial", and then, "The Grapes of Wrath".

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#26 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Plot summary (with spoilers): News comes out that the U.S. Senator of...a state...has died. A flurry of phone calls between other senators and the mystery state's governor ensue. Big corporate guy Jim Taylor tells the governor to appoint his favorite stoolie, but the people of the state want a populist reformer. The governor of the state tries to stand up to Taylor, but Taylor reminds him they're all in his pocket. Bwa ha ha. Then the governor and the other Senator, Joseph Paine, and talk about the main plot of the movie, even though they should both know it already. The upshot: Taylor wants the government to pay to build a dam on his property called Willow Creek and pocket all the excess money the job will cost and then eventually wind up selling the land to the government for far less than it's worth. They previously had enough votes to pull this off, but with the Senator dying, they need a new guy in there.
The governor's kids are all horrible child actors, and they squawk at their dad, encouraging him to appoint a "Boy Ranger" leader (like Boy Scout, but fake), Jefferson Smith, as the new senator. Jeff Smith just saved a bunch of kittens from a fire or something and he's a local hero. They say he's the most American man in the whole wide world, and he knows everything about American trivia and history. The governor thinks that his constituents will eat that up, and the naive Smith will still vote how the others want him to.
So Mr. Smith gets the job and goes to...wait for it...Washington. He's super naive and gosh-shucky and he tells Sen. Paine that his father used to work for him and he knows he's a super great guy and totally not corrupt and stuff. Then some staffers pick him up at the train station in DC and tell him to go to his office, but Smith is so in awe of DC that he goes on a tour of the Capitol Building, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, etc and shows up five hours late. What a dick.
So he meets his staff; some guy and also a pretty lady named Claudette Saunders. Saunders is none-too impressed with Smith's golly-gee attitude and says she didn't come to DC to "carry bibs for an infant with little flags in his fists". Heh. Good one, Saunders.
So then Mr. Smith goes to Congress and walks into the floor of the Senate and is totally blown away by how awesome it all is. Yeah, it would be pretty awesome, I must admit.
The press surround him and ask him what he plans to do as Senator, what changes would he like in his state. Smith stutters for a bit in that imitable Jimmy Stewart way, then says he'd like to build a national park for his Boy Rangers. And how much would that cost?  Nothing! We'd just borrow the money from the government and the boys would pay it back week after week, with a dime here and a nickel there.
Then red, white, and blue syrup begins oozing from Smith's every pore and the ghost of George Washington starts frenching him and the press applauds.
Okay, not really. But that's still a more likely scenario than the Boy Rangers paying back the government with nickels and dimes.
So the press gets him to pose for silly photos and then misquotes him and embarrasses him and basically point out that he's a minnow in a sea of sharks. So when the papers come out the next morning, Smith goes running around town punching out reporters. Which was...totally acceptable for a Senator to do in the 30's?
(BTW, I don't know when "senator" is supposed to be capitalized and when it's not. Please forgive me).
Smith goes to his gal Saunders and says he'd like help in drafting a bill to loan the money to the Boy Rangers. He says he wants to skip dinner and get it done tonight. Saunders patronizingly asks Smith if he knows what goes into making a bill a law. He doesn't.
So she tells him to imagine that she's a bill. Yes, only a bill. And she's sitting there on Capitol Hill.
She explains about committees and subcommittees and that the House and Senate need to reconcile the bills and have them voted on again and by the time she's done, he's completely demoralized. She thinks she's talked him out of it, but instead he's like, so we skip dinner then, right?
And just like that, she's smitten.
So the first draft of the bill is done, and Smith presents it on the floor of the Senate and the land he wants to build on is right next to...Willow Creek!  Paine says that they're already building a dam there, but Smith says he's confused. He's been there, and there's no need for a dam, so Paine and a couple other corrupt senators have a private meeting with Smith and Taylor where Taylor basically tells him to do what he says and he'll have a long, prosperous life in the Senate, but if he disobeys, Taylor will "break him". Smith is heartbroken to learn that Paine is bought and paid for.
The next day in the Senate, Paine stands up and says that unfortunately, he's discovered evidence that Smith owns Willow Creek, and he was trying to get the government to buy it and give it to the Boy Rangers so he could make a profit! Smith's flabbergasted. Paine unloads a pile of evidence, including contracts signed by Smith when he supposedly bought the land and when Smith denies the signatures are his, Paine produces signature experts that claim otherwise. All the while, Taylor smokes his cigars and goes bwa ha ha in the background and Paine starts to feel conflicted.
Meanwhile, Smith is disillusioned and heart broken and Saunders comforts him with her womanly sympathy.
About a week later, the Senate reconvenes to vote to expel Smith. But Smith is rejuvenated by Saunders' faith in him, and vows to fight back. He's given the chance to speak in his own defense before his expulsion vote and he begs the Senate to give him a week to find evidence to prove his innocence. The President of the Senate (aka the Vice President of the U.S.) denies him, and so Smith decides to refuse to yield the floor. As long as he's got the floor, no vote can take place. Yes, it's a filibuster. Smith accuses Paine and others of being in Taylor's back pocket and exposes the dam building scheme, and from up in the galley, pretty Saunders cheers him on. Paine affects great outrage and says he refuses to stand for this and walks out. Soon, all the rest of the senators follow him. Then Saunders signals Smith to look at rule no 53 in his Being a Senator for Dummies handbook, and Rule 53 states that if senators walk out, those remaining can vote to compel the others to return. Since Smith is the only one remaining, it's an easy vote. The others are compelled to return.
The media goes wild, but since Taylor/Murdoch owns the media in his state, they're all instructed to paint the story as if Smith is a guilty man desperately trying to stay out of trouble, and none of his accusations about Taylor are being reported. They also explain the filibuster rules: The speaker can't sit. The speaker can't stop talking. The senators compelled to stay can't leave the room. Man, I'd love to see this shit now in real life. Could you imagine?!  So much fun! Saunders encourages Smith to read aloud from the Constitution, which he does. Saunders finds out that no one is Smith's state is getting the real news, so she dispatches the Boy Rangers to print their own flyers and start passing them around all over the state. This state must be Rhode Island or Delaware, because otherwise this doesn't seem like a feasible plan. At Pro-Paine rallies, the Boy Rangers try to rush the stage and speak the truth, but are dragged out by Taylor's goons. A bunch of Boy Rangers in a go cart are throwing flyers out into the wind in town, and are forcibly run off the road by a carload of Taylor guys! Yeesh.
Meanwhile, Smith keeps talking. This goes on for 27 hours. Smith's voice his raw and almost gone. He speaks about truth, justice and the something something something. The other senators are actually listening, now. Some of them wonder why he's fighting so hard if he's guilty. Paine says either they believe this new guy or him! They fall in line, but seem to do so reluctantly.
Finally, Paine interrupts Smith to bring in what he says are 50,000 telegrams from the people of "my state" (sigh. Just name the fucking state already. What is this, The Simpsons?) urging Smith to give up. Smith reads a couple and his face crumples in defeat. But then he sees Saunders smiling at him from up in the galley, and he straightens up, and points his finger at a guilty-looking Paine and correctly guesses that the people in "my state" are not getting the full story. And he'll press on no matter what, until they do.
Then he passes out.
Several senators rush to his aide while Saunders screams and Paine backs out of the room. A senator says he's all right, he's just passed out, but then a gunshot goes off. Everyone runs towards it to discover Paine with a gun fighting of a page who's struggling with him. They wrestle the gun from Paine's hands and he staggers out into the Senate floor and screams that Smith is innocent confesses to everything.
And then we cut to black.

Review: No, really. We cut to black right there. No joyful triumphant reunion between Smith and Saunders, no Taylor getting arrested, nothing. We don't even see Smith regain consciousness. Super strange, but I liked it. In fact, working backwards, the whole last half hour or so, with the filibuster standoff was pretty damn great. Suspenseful and without too much sentiment and really fun to watch and imagine what a real-life scenario like that would be like. I'm quite the political junkie myself, so love political thrillers where everyone is scheming and duplicitous, in real life and in the movies. It's always like heroin to me. I just want more and more! And this version delivered at the end, but we took a long time getting there. The build up is slow, and Smith's naivete was at times too ridiculous to be believed. It was also a bit inconsistent. He's spoken of as a political buff who knows American history inside and out and yet he has no idea how a bill becomes a law. It was also annoying that the words "democrat" or "republican" never passed anyone's lips, which creates an artificial tone to the whole thing, kind of like with the made-up football teams in Any Given Sunday. I get that the movie didn't want to be partisan, but they could've resolved that by making the "bad" senators belong to both parties. And don't get me started on them refusing to name the state Smith is from. Why? What possible reason did they have for that? Is was just clunky and dumb.
Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur (Saunders) were both very good in their roles, as was the guy playing Paine, but many of the supporting characters where still doing the Olden Times acting shtick, with the funny voices and the stylized mannerisms. Not sure why Capra would let them get away with that.
In short, there's a lot to bitch about, but man, that last half hour was dynamite. This is my second Capra film, but already I can see he's a master manipulator of emotion just like Spielberg. And I mean that as a total compliment.

Stars: Three and a half out of five.

Next, is racism good or bad? Find out, with "To Kill a Mockingbird", and then speaking of blatant manipulation, it's "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial". I hope I manage not to cry this time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#27 High Noon (1952)

Plot summary (with spoilers): It's the Way Back Olden Times, like 1853 or so, and the marshall of the little town of Hadleyville, Will Kane, is to be married to his lovely long-time gal Amy. Amy is a pacifist and a Quaker and a helluva dancer when she's acting with Fred Astaire. They get married in the Court House and around about a dozen or so well-wishers, and then they board their horse and wagon, headed off to their honeymoon and then a new life in a new town. Kane feels weird about turning in his badge because the new marshall isn't due to arrive until tomorrow, but his deputy Harvey Pell (Lloyd Bridges, looking reasonably young) will hold down the fort until then. Harvey says, "I'm sure we'll all be just fine without you until tomorrow" and everybody laughs and laughs because movies haven't been invented yet, and they don't know they're not supposed to say shit like that.
But then a dude comes running up and says he's got bad news. The dastardly villain, Frank Miller, just got out of prison due to some technicality thanks to his lawyers Johnnie Cochran and Gloria Allred, and is coming into town on the noon train. His three sidekick henchman are at the train station right now, waiting for him to arrive. They all stare at the clock. It's 10:40. Only eighty minutes until the train arrives.
Everyone stares at Kane. Harvey tells him to leave right now, as fast as he can. Kane gets on his horse and goes "hi-ya" or whatever you do with the lasso thingie and the wagon takes off.
Then we cut to the three henchman at the station, looking sinister and evil.
But Kane doesn't get too far when he pulls on the lasso thingie and tells the horses to whoa. He tells Amy he was to go back and fight Frank. He's the one who arrested Frank and Frank wants revenge. Amy says she's a pacifist and a Quaker and she's against guns and fighting and loves PETA and communist China. She says she'll leave without him if goes back, but he goes back anyway.
He then tries to get his deputy and round up a posse. One dude says he'll join him, and then runs home to get his guns. Then Kane goes wandering around the town. He goes to a saloon and asks for help, but the bartender says he's got "a lot of nerve" asking such a thing because he knows that half the people in the bar are on Frank's side.
Meanwhile, deputy Harvey goes to his girlfriend's house. His girlfriend is a Mexican woman named Helen Ramirez who used to date Kane and before that dated Frank Miller. When she hears Frank is coming back, she packs up all her shit and says she's taking the next train out of town. She asks Harvey to go with her, but he won't. Then Kane shows up to warn her about Frank coming back, and she says she already knows and then it turns out Amy followed Kane to Helen's house and she begs Kane again to come with her and he says no and they look at the clock and there's about an hour now.
Hey, this is in real time, isn't it? Like Nick of Time, with Johnny Depp, and probably other movies.
So then Kane goes to his friend's house and his friend sees him walking up and he goes and hides and tells his wife to say he's not home, which she does. His friend is Harry Morgan aka Colonel Potter. He still looks kinda old.
So then Kane goes to the church and interrupts the sermon and asks people to join him and some are sympathetic but tell him that if he just leaves, Frank will probably not do anything bad. And others say that Frank's mad at him, not them, so why should they help?
This is a town full of assholes.
Then Amy visits Helen and tries to get her to talk to Kane, but Helen says Kane won't listen to her and then they both decide to leave on the train together. It's like Thelma and Louise, but uninteresting.
Then Harvey says he's angry at Kane for not making him the new marshall and outsourcing the job and then he tries to force Kane onto a horse out of town. They get into a fistfight and Kane wins.
The dude from the beginning who volunteered to be part of the posse comes back and when Kane breaks it to him that no one else will be joining them, he says "ah...well..this is awkward", and then bolts. It's pretty funny.
It's now about three minutes to noon. The train whistle can be heard in the distance.
Close ups of all the main characters, looking apprehensive.
The train stops, and Helen and Amy get on, while evil Frank Miller gets off.
One of his men hands him a gun. They go stomping off, looking for trouble.
And they just found it.
(I totally felt like an 80's action movie guy right then. That was fun!)
They're marching through the main street of town and suddenly Kane whips around the corner from behind them, and shoots one of the dudes. He falls over dead.
On the train, Amy hears the gunshot and feels bad for being the world's least supportive wife, and gets off the train.
The men chase Kane through town, firing shot after shot. Kane hides in a barn and they light it on fire,. Kane pokes his head out, and shoots another henchman. Two down, two to go. Inside the barn, Kane sets free a whole bunch of horses, and rides one as well. They all bust out of the barn, but Frank gets one good shot off and hits Kane in the arm. Kane goes down and runs off into hiding.
Amy runs into Kane's office, unseen.
Frank and the last henchman  are behind a house, shooting at Kane. One of them backs up along the side of a building, in full view of a window. He reloads his gun, then aims at Kane, who doesn't see him.
Nope, it's not the henchman shooting Kane, it's Amy shooting the henchman! Go, Amy! Next up, fur coats and veal!
Then Frank runs into the office and grabs Amy. He takes her outside and demands Kane give up or he'll shoot her.
Kane comes out of hiding and says he'll give up, just don't kill the girl. Suddenly, Amy attacks Frank, scratching at his face. He pushes her away, giving Kane his clean shot. Bang. Frank's dead, baby. Frank's dead.
Suddenly, the whole town comes out of hiding, patting Kane on the back, all smiles. Kane throws his badge down on the ground in disgust, glares at them all, then puts his arm around his woman, and gets on a wagon and rides away.
You just got nooned.  High nooned.

Review: Not bad. The real-time aspect added some suspense to things, and the last twenty minutes or so were pretty great. There was some stalling, though, even at 87 minutes, and some padding and unnecessary scenes. But it was was still fun to see Kane get increasingly more frustrated and panicked as more and more of the town turned their backs on him. Gary Cooper did a great job in the role, fully embodying the character of a men who values dignity and standing up and doing the right thing no matter the consequences. Interestingly, there are many who see the movie as an allegory for the McCarthy Hearings, but I didn't see that at all. I mean, who is Frank supposed to represent? The American government, and the cowardly townspeople are the one who named names, and Gary Cooper is the brave one who doesn't?
Okay...but then you could pretty much stretch anything if you're going to be that vague about it. It's like a movie symbolism Rorschach Test.
Anyway, noted douche John Wayne hated the movie and called it "unamerican" because the marshall had the nerve to ask people to help him fight and because his woman saved him in the end. That right there is enough to make me like this movie.

Stars: Three and a half out of five.

Next, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", and then it's 10th Grade English all over again with, "To Kill a Mockingbird".

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#28 All About Eve (1950)

So, in LA, there's a cemetery called Hollywood Forever, where they play old movies.  Every Saturday night, people are encouraged to stand in line for hours, then sit on the grass with a blanket and some wine and crackers and watch an old movie projected onto the side of a giant white wall. It certainly adds something to the movie you're watching if you really luck out and the bodies buried mere yards away are the same ones projected on the wall.
I saw All About Eve for the first time about a year ago, at Hollywood Forever, and I was a bit tipsy on the wine, was incredibly uncomfortable on the grass, and had forgotten a sweater so that by the time the movie actually started, I was shivering and huddled up against my friends for warmth and only occasionally glancing up at the "screen". From what I remember, I wasn't particularly impressed, but who knows, maybe my cozy living room will provide a better environment from which to evaluate:

Plot summary: We open on some sort of acting awards ceremony. It's a tiny room with a pretty small audience, so we're clearly not dealing with the movies here. The camera focuses on one fey dude smoking one of those long thin cigarettes from the movies as VO narration says, "that's me. I'm Addison DeWitt, a theatre critic. But of course you know that if you've read anything or watched anything or are aware of the world at all".
He's a theatre person, all right.
He introduces the rest of the group. There's the writer Lloyd and his wife Karen and the director Bill and his new wife Margo. Margo is Bette Davis, and she's sassy and brassy and Tells It Like It Is and has huge ugly bags under her eyes and tons of gay men love her and I'll never understand the fascination so many of my people have with rude old women. I mean, don't get me wrong. We don't corner the market on the love of ridiculous camp and corniness. The straight guy equivalent is Ahnold and Steven Segal and The Expendables type crap. That's just as camp as Ethel Merman, they just don't admit it. And to straight women who mock, I throw Edward and Jacob and a million shitty romance novels at your feet and shout, "J'Accuse!" And the lesbians like...not really sure what the lesbians like that's crap.  kd Lang? Ellen? Ellen's pretty cool, though. Oh, Rosie!  She sucks, right? But does anyone still like her? Hmm. At any rate, everyone likes some shitty stuff and everyone judges everyone else for liking the shitty stuff that they don't like and that's just how it goes. Except me. I only like quality stuff. Oh, and Tommy Wiseau's The Room. Come on, that shit's fucking awesome. Also Rat Race.

But I digress.
So the award is for Eve Harrington, a bright new theatre star who is about to make the big move to Hollywood and Addison VO's that just one year ago Eve was a nobody, and now she's the biggest star ever.
Flashback. Eve stands outside the theatre, a play that Margo was in, and Karen approaches her. They talk for awhile, and Eve says she has seen every night of the play for the entire run, and that she loves Margo so very much and could she possibly pretty please meet her?
Karen lets her in backstage. Margo is sassy and petulant and bossy to everyone and then Karen walks in with Eve and Eve gushes and curtsies and avoids eye contact and says she first saw Margo in a touring production in San Francisco and she loved her so much she followed her across the country to New York.
Instead of calling the cops, Margo is flattered. Then Eve tells a story about how she's a poor orphan and her husband died in the war and by the end of it, Margo has invited her to live with her and allowed her to work as a stagehand on the play.
So time passes, and at one point Margo's younger boyfriend Bill is away on business in California and it's his birthday and Eve oversteps by sending him a present from Margo and Margo's maid doesn't trust her and finally Margo starts to not trust her, even though everyone else but the maid loves her. Then it's Margo's birthday party and Margo sees Eve talking a lot to Bill and schmoozing with Lloyd the writer and she starts getting jealous. And hey, Marilyn Monroe is there!  You know, she was really quite attractive. Is anyone else aware of this? Then Margo starts drinking and she says the applause line, "fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride!" like she's gonna be so extra sassy tonight, and then she just proceeds to get all drunk and weepy and insecure. She accuses Bill of sleeping with Eve and he says she's crazy, then she makes a big drunken spectacle of herself and then goes to bed.
Eve asks Karen if she could be Margo's understudy, and Karen says yes.
Then a week later, Margo shows up late for the reading of their new play, and Addison tells her that Eve stepped in and was so awesome and everybody loved her and Lloyd in particular was happy to have someone "new" and "fresh" reading his lines. Margo throws another shit fit and Lloyd and Karen get mad at her and walk out of rehearsal. The next day, Margo, Bill, Lloyd, and Karen were all supposed to go out for a day trip in the country, and they go despite the argument, but that night when they head back to the train to get Margo back in town for her show, the car runs out of gas. Margo takes it better than expected, but she doesn't know that Karen for some reason conspired with Eve to make Margo miss the train, because Karen wanted to "teach Margo a lesson" about being so mean all the time.
By the way, all of this is moving at a fucking snail's pace. Every single scene is about twice as long as it needs to be, with pointless, circular dialog and self-indulgent pauses that would make Pinter blush.
So it turns out, Eve called every theatre critic in town to come and see her that night, and they all did, and they all loved it. Bill sees Eve backstage and tells her she did a great job, and she hits on him, but he says his heart belongs to ol' baggy eyes and he walks out. The critic Addison asks Eve to do an interview with him, and she consents.
The next day, the article is filled with quotes from Eve bashing Margo and Addison says she's old and washed up and Eve is the new hotness. Everyone's sad and Bill fires Eve from the play.
Then they all go out to dinner to cheer up Margo, and the waiter passes a note to Karen from Eve who is in the bathroom and wants to speak to her right away. They all talk for probably ten fucking minutes wondering what Eve could possibly want and then finally Karen goes to the bathroom and they talk for ten fucking more minutes until Eve finally gets to the point: she's blackmailing Karen. Either Karen convince Lloyd to cast her as the lead in his next play, or she'll tell Margo that Karen was the one who drained the gas out of the car. Karen goes back to dinner and Margo announces that she and Bill are getting married and she doesn't even want to be in the play because she's found her purpose in the world as a man's appendage. Karen's super relieved that she won't have to screw over Margo because that would be an interesting plot line. Then Lloyd casts Eve and she does really well and then one day she's talking to Addison about how awesome she is and she says Lloyd is leaving his wife for her and Addison says "you belong to me now" and she's like "Whaaaa????" and he says he investigated her and learned that she's not an orphan, and not a widow and her whole backstory is a lie and he threatens to expose her if she doesn't...admit that she belongs to him. Which entails...what? Nothing is explained.
That night, the flashback catches up with the beginning of the movie, and Eve accepts her award and profusely thanks her "friends", Karen, Bill, Lloyd, and Margo who all stare daggers at her, despite the fact that they're all professionals and out in public, and then afterwards Eve is all bitchy and despondent, and then she goes back home and a girl is in her house. She screams and the girl's like, my name's Phoebe, and I'm your biggest fan...
Ah. The circle continues. Got it.
Oh, wait. The movie's not done yet. In case you're not aware that Phoebe is now Old Eve and Eve is now Margo, the movie will hammer that point for another ten minutes with Phoebe saying the same general shit Eve was saying the beginning, and Eve acting like Margo used to, and then Phoebe stands in front of the mirror holding Eve's dress and award and pretending like it's hers and DO YOU GET IT YET?????

Review: I'm sorry, but this is really boring. The pacing is ridiculously slow, the writing is bland, the characters aren't that great. Bette Davis' performance is pretty good, but even she is hobbled and neutered in the end by the love of a good man, and all the rest of her friends were totally boring. There's very little scheming, no real surprises, or sudden fun reversals of fate. It's just bad. I'll be turning in my gay card, now. Which means I can probably stop watching Glee. 

Stars: One and a half out of five.

Next, "High Noon" and then a movie about the goodness and purity of politics, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#29 Double Indemnity (1944)

Plot summary (with spoilers): A man named Walter Neff staggers into an office building. He walks over to a desk and pulls out of the drawer some sort of suitcase-looking thing with what looks like one half of one of those old-timey looking phones coming out of it. I'm usually being sarcastic when I pretend not to know what some bit of technology from the Olden Times is, but this time I'm legitimately flummoxed. Is it some kind of phone? A suitcase phone? He talks into it, all hardboiled and noir-like and says he's recording "what you might say is my last confession".'s like a tape recorder before there were cassettes? Is he recording on a record?  Should I do some fancy google-fu or live in ignorance?'s a fair question. Here's another one: am I stalling because this movie was boring as hell but not bad enough to have fun ripping to shreds like Sound of Music? Hmm.  Another mystery.
Anyway, Walter Neff's recording a message to his boss, Barton Keyes. It's a confession. Neff's an insurance agent. It all started one day on a routine door-to-door visit to a Mr. and Mrs. Dietrichson. Mr. Dietrichson wasn't home so Walter was going to come back later, but the wife Phyllis said she could listen to the pitch herself, kinda like if she were a fully equal adult in a consenting relationship or something. Sheesh. Dames.
The "witty" double and double and half entendres go flying back and forth for awhile and Walter says will she please take the car insurance offer to the man of the house and get back to him and she says do you sell other insurance,
Sure all kinds
Like life insurance?
Yeah sure
I want to buy him life insurance but as a surprise for his birthday and can I forge his name, I don't want him to be bothered with all the details.
He calls her baby like ten thousand times and then says he's wise to her plan and the jig is up and cuckoo-cachoo Mrs. Robinsion blah blah blah and he's out the door. Then I shit you not in the VO he says that he knew she was no good but she smelled like honeysuckle and "how could I know that murder sometimes smells like honeysuckle?"
Well, indeed. A fair point, weirdo. How could you know?
So he goes back home but she shows up a bit later with his hat that he forgot and he says let's talk more about your horrible plan that I'm still totally against and she says "I'm a girl, I have boobies!" And they passionately press their tightly sealed mouths together in an approximation of a kiss and then Walter VO's that the Evil Jezebel had her hooks in him.
So they come up with a plan to sell Mr. Dietrichson 100,000 dollars worth of life insurance with a double indemnity clause that pays double if he is killed on a train, which is just fucking bizarre, but okay. They forge his name. Then Phyllis tells Walter that her husband is going away on a business trip on Friday and that would be the perfect time to enact their plan. The husband's adult daughter from a previous marriage, Lola, lives with the family but Phyllis says she won't be a problem.
So it turns out the day before he's supposed to go on the trip, Mr. Dietrichson broke his leg, so Walter and Phyllis says that makes their still-unrevealed plan even easier to pull off. On Friday, Walter sneaks into the Dietrichson's garage and hides in the backseat of the car. Phyllis sees him and says nothing, and gets in the driver's seat, while Mr. Dietrichson gets into the passenger's. They drive to the train station, but suddenly on an empty road, Phyllis stops driving and when Mr. Dietrichson asks why, Walter sits up and throttles him (off-camera). He makes choking noises as the sweet smell of honeysuckle fills the air.
Then they go to the train station and Walter puts on a fake leg cast and crutches onto the train. Phyllis says, "goodbye, my husband, Mr. Dietrichson!" really loud like twenty times and they kiss goodbye and Walter shows the conductor his ticket and gets on the train. He goes to the caboose, which is an "observation deck" that is outside, which is kinda cool. A man is already out there. He tries to engage in conversation with Walter, but Walter won't look at him. Finally Walter says he's out of cigars and will the men please go to his car and get him one? The man says yes and as soon as he disappears, Walter jumps off the train. He staggers forward and then Phyllis pulls up. They take Mr. Dietrichson out of the backseat and put him on the tracks.
Ah. That's pretty clever, actually.
Fade out. Time passes. The police think Mr. Dietrichson got "tangled up" in his crutches and fell off the train, and they're satisfied all is well. But Barton Keyes, the claims adjuster to whom Walter is currently confessing, was not satisfied. He said the whole thing smelled like honeysuckle and that he suspected Mrs. Dietrichson was hiding something. So he conducts an investigation while Walter sweats it out and feels guilty and gets paranoid and all the typical stuff in this genre. They can't meet because Keyes is having Phyllis  followed. But then they meet anyway in a grocery store but Phyllis is wearing sunglasses so it's okay or something. Phyllis wants to know why they haven't paid out on the claim yet and Walter says it's because his boss suspects something and they have to play it cool.
Then Mr. Dietrichson's daughter Lola shows up at the office and tells Walter that she suspects her stepmom killed her dad, and that Phyllis' previous husband also died mysteriously. Walter realizes that this is a Red Flag and that he's a Stoolie and a Chump but he's In Too Deep now and must Play It Through. Lola says she's going to the police with her suspicions (with certainly make more sense than going to her dad's insurance agent) so Walter takes her on a date an encourages her to tell him all her troubles to distract her from going to the police, which somehow works.
Meanwhile Keyes is like Hank Schrader to Neff's Walter White, and tells Neff about all his suspicions and progress in investigating Phyllis. He says that he has a witness from the train. In walks the guy on the observation deck. Walter freaks, but the guy doesn't recognize him, though he does see pictures of the deceased Mr. Dietrichson and says that that guy definitely wasn't on the train.
Keyes basically figures out the whole thing from that and says that Phyllis must be working with an accomplice who boarded the train. He says that the PI he hired saw Phyllis with a young man at the grocery store. Walter gulps and pulls on his necktie and gets out of there. Then Lola comes to see him and says that her boyfriend is secretly seeing her stepmother on the sly and she suspects they killed her dad together. Walter realizes he's not that young and the PI caught Phyllis with a different guy. Walter goes to Phyllis' house and confronts her with this and sure enough, the plan all along was for Phyllis and her young boyfriend to kill Mr. Dietrichson and run off with the money but they needed a patsy on the inside to help pull it off. Phyllis then shoots Walter in the shoulder. Then she says she can't shoot again because right now at this very minute she realizes that she's in love with him. Sigh. But then Walter shoots her dead. He then staggers back to the office to catch up with the beginning of the movie.
Walter finishes his recording and then Keyes walks in, having been secretly listening. How long had he been standing there? Long enough, natch.
So then as Walter dies he says you figured out everything but me because you were too close to me.
Keyes lights Walter's cigarette and says even closer than that.
And Walter says I love you, too and then dies.
Oh whatever, movie. Don't try to win me over by getting all weirdly gay right at the end.

Review: There's nothing terribly wrong with this movie. It's just very simple and straightforward and by-the-numbers in nearly all of it. The plot is very tame (while embarrassingly presenting itself as hardcore) with precious few noir-like twists and no particularly engaging or memorable characters. I know this is another one of those "first of it's kind" things that AFI likes to honor so much, even if movies that came later are much better. So let's go with that. But Maltese Falcon was a better film in the same genre and it was three years older, so who knows?
It's just lame.

Stars: Two out of five.

Next, we honor our gay forefathers with "All About Eve" and then it's Marty McFly vs. Buford Tannen in "High Noon".

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#30 Apocalypse Now (1979)

Well, Pulp Fiction, I hope you've enjoyed your stay at the top of my modified AFI list. It was a good run.

Plot summary (with spoilers): Capt Benjamin L. Willard, special operations, sits holed-up in a shitty hotel room in Saigon, haunted by demons. He smashes a mirror, does drugs, rages and weeps intermittently.
He's paid a visit by several military higher-ups, including Harrison Ford, who have an assignment for him. He's to track down a Col. Walter E. Kurtz, of the US Army Special Forces, and exterminate his "command" with extreme prejudice. Kurtz has gone rogue, disobeying orders, forming his own army of followers and committing multiple acts of murder. Willard is intrigued. Charging a solider with murder in this war is like charging an Indy 500 driver with speeding. Something doesn't add up. But he takes the assignment, anyway. He has no choice.
He's put on a boat, which will take him to Kurtz's last known location, in Cambodia.
With him is the boat Commander, Chief Phillips, a crewman nicknamed "Chef", a young kid named Tyrone "Mr. Clean" Miller (14 year old Laurence Fishburn who lied about his age to get the job), and a famous surfer-turned draftee named Lance Johnson.
They first need to be escorted to the beach that accesses the Nung River, which will take them to Cambodia. They meet up with Lt. Col Bill Kilgore, who recognizes Lance and takes a shine to him, due to their shared love of surfing. Kilgore says he and his men, all helicopter attack pilots, need to take over a patch of land on the beach first before they can take Willard and his crew to their destination.
What follows is the first of many many mind-blowing spectacles, a true marvel in technique and beauty and horror, as Kilgore and his fellow helicopter pilots fly into the Viet Cong-occupied village at low height and begin bombing the shit out of it, while blasting the Ride of the Valkyres at full volume. VC men women and children run for their lives as the copters circle around and around, the men firing machine guns and dropping grenades. Some choppers land and the firefight continues on the ground, with the Americans taking some losses as well, including a women throwing a grenade into a chopper when they're trying to load up wounded.
Kilgore calls the VC "savages", then asks Lance what he thinks.
"Well, it's pretty exciting sir--"
"No no, about the surfing conditions. Good waves, right?"
They land, and as the firefight continues around them and an occasional mine explodes in the background, Kilgore orders several of his men to start surfing, then tells Lance to do the same. Willard says that due respect sir, maybe it's not safe to do that, but Kilgore insists he's not chickenshit and strips his shirt off, swearing he's going to go surf, too. The Americans drop napalm, the smell of which Kilgore loves in the morning, and probably anytime. (The line reading here is just fantastic. I've heard the line before, but I don't think I ever saw Robert Duvall actually say it, and it's not an evil or ruthless delivery, as I'd expected, but a romantic one. He's...wistful. Wistful about napalm).
After the battle, Willard pours through his dossier about Kurtz. If Kilgore is considered an acceptable leader, then how far around the bend must Kurtz be?
That night, the men enjoy a USO show complete with Playboy bunnies, who dance around in skimpy outfits until they're mobbed by soldiers and have to escape in a helicopter.
The next day, Willard and his men are granted safe passage to the Nung River, and begin their mission proper. Only Willard's privy to the details of the actual mission. After a time, the men begin to forge relationships. The boat captain Chief is suspicious of Willard's motives, but keeps his objections to himself. Chef and Mr. Clean fight a lot, while Lance gets more and more withdrawn. He becomes obsessed with applying camouflage makeup to his face in intricate detail. The come across another boat with an older civilian Vietnamese couple in it. Chief wants to inspect the boat, and does so over Willard's objections.
Chef boards the boat over the couple's foreign-sounding protests, and begins to inspect it. He reaches down to take the lid of a yellow basket and the woman runs forward, screaming. Mr. Clean opens fire with his machine, gun, shooting them both, then just sort of firing a bunch of times afterwards. He finally stops. Chef opens the basket and incredibly pulls out a small puppy, like maybe a golden retriever or something. Lance grabs it from him violently and holds the puppy and begins petting it, creepily whispering in its ear. They notice the Vietnamese woman is still alive, and Chief orders that she be brought onboard the boat and taken to a nearby encampment for medical care. As Chef and Mr. Clean scoop her up, Willard calmly says they don't have time for this, then pulls out his gun and shoots her dead.
"I told you not to stop."
Day turns into night as they sail onward. They encounter what looks like the remains of a fierce battle that took place a half a day or so ago. There's a half destroyed bridge over the river, downed helicopters on both sides, dirty, angry soldiers stranded and lost. The beg Willard and his crew to take them to safety. Occasionally, gunfire can be heard or a flare goes off. Incredibly, what comes to my mind is that it looks like if the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland became real as you were riding your boat through it, and you had to get out and start walking among the pirates.  Then Lance reveals to Chef that he just took a hit of acid. Because things are not fucking crazy enough for ol' Lance right now. Willard says he needs to speak with the commanding officer in the area. He takes Lance along with him (who brings the puppy in his coat) and they get off the boat. They encounter a couple soldiers in a foxhole. One is firing repeatedly at what he says is a VC somewhere off in the dark, taunting him. Willard wants to know who's in command. No one has an answer. He eventually leaves.
They all get back on the boat, and some time later, are ambushed by some natives on land. Mr. Clean is shot and killed. Chef starts weeping. Chief blames Willard and this fucked up secret mission. Lance realizes he's lost the puppy and starts going nuts looking for it. They continue onward, and some other natives start shooting arrows at them. Chef opens fire with his machine gun, until Willard realizes they're toy arrows and tells him to stop shooting. Chief's had it, though, and declares the mission over. He's turning around. Suddenly, a spear goes sailing through his upper chest. He collapses into Willard's arms. Willard lowers him gently to the deck, and with his last breath, Chief struggles in vain to pull Willard onto the spear sticking through his chest.
Afterwards, Lance, in full camo makeup and wearing the toy arrows through his head like Steve Martin, gently kisses Chief on the forehead and lowers him into the water, waving goodbye. Willard tells Chef the real purpose of his mission, and says they need to make it to Cambodia no matter what. They sail on, until they reach a large group of boats in the water, blocking the entire river. On the boats are dozens of Cambodian, American, and Vietnamese men and women, all painted white. As Willard, Chef, and Lance approach, the boats part to give them an opening. Willard stares in mute apprehension as they round a corner and see literally hundreds of white-painted cult members, staring at them from the banks of the river, all carrying guns or spears. There are dead bodies everywhere. Decapitated heads, naked bodies hanging from trees, everyone covered in white paint and dirt and shit and blood. It's fucking terrifying. From the bank, an American calls out to them. He welcomes them vociferously, as they others continue to stare. The American says he's a journalist, a photographer, but now he's a member of Kurtz's Army. And these people here are all his soldiers.
Oh shit.
The photographer says he'll take them to see Kurtz. Willard instructs Chef to remain on the boat. He tells him that if things go bad, to radio headquarters with this location and order an airstrike, obliterating everyone and everything. Willard and Lance walk onto the land and the natives continue to stare in silence as the photographer chats a mile a minute, going on and on about how great Kurtz is. Soon, the cultist goons have surrounded Willard, and they pile on top of him, carrying him upside-down, stripping him and dunking him in the mud. They leave him in a bamboo cage while the photographer gives him water and a cigarette. He tells him Kurtz knows his mission is to kill him. But good news, Kurtz has allowed him to live, for now.
Finally, Willard is brought in to see Kurtz.
In a fantastic moment, Kurtz, mostly concealed in the dark, talks pure fucking insanity about I don't know what and basically invites Willard to join his crew of fucking crazy weirdos. It's like staring into a black hole. Willard's taken away and tied up to a post in the mud and rain. A bit later, Kurtz approaches him and casually drops Chef's head in his lap. Willard screams, weeps, thrashes about and manages knock the head away.
At this point, Lance is seen casually hanging out with the others, fully emerged and integrated.
Some time has passed. Kurtz speaks to Willard again, tells him about what happened. What happened to make him leave the old world behind. He and his men were instructed to inoculate a group of Vietnamese children, but afterwards the VC showed up and chopped off all the children's arms where they had been given the vaccine. Kurtz saw the pile of children's arms and snapped.
Willard is free to go, and seems to be integrated into the cult as well. We see him emerge from the river, naked from the waist up and covered in mud and paint. He approaches Kurtz with a machete. A brief battle ensues, and Kurtz is slain.
The horror...the horror.
Willard leaves the temple and the cultists all lower their spears and bow down to him. Willard slowly walks through them, towards the river. He sees Lance, and takes him gently by the hand and guides him over to their boat. They get on, and sail slowly away, as Army command squawks on the radio, demanding to know Willard's status. Willard shuts the radio off.
He and Lance ride off into the night, but the horrors continue.

Review: This is really something amazing. Looking back, I think I've wasted so many superlatives on other movies, that any words I use to describe this one will seem inadequate. The sheer majesty of this undertaking is what's most enthralling. (Pretty sure I haven't used "majesty" before). The work that went into this production is mind-blowing. We're truly a long way off from CGI ever equaling the gutteral, instinctual reaction you naturally have when watching something "real". The movie would truly be less engaging if the explosions and mass carnage were all glorified cartoons. In fact, the "Redux" version that came out in 2001 has scenes that they didn't have the budget to do properly in the seventies and have been "enhanced" by CGI, which makes me a little reluctant to see it. Kurtz shot first?
Martin Sheen's performance is excellent, and it's almost unreal how much he looks like Emilo Estevez. I'm a little sad he never truly became an A-list actor, though at least he'll always be remembered for this and President Bartlett.
It's funny how the movie is almost a super macbre version of The Wirard of Oz, with Willard and his rag-tag crew as stand-ins for Dorothy and her friends, and Kurtz as the Wizard. Kurtz is the same function as the Wizard, too, he represents Willard's last hope for salvation and escape. And he's just a bunch of smoke and mirrors, ultimately.
Which brings us to Brando. I fully concede he's a fucking weirdo, and I'm aware even without yet seeing Hearts of Darkness that he was incredibly difficult to work with and that the fact that he was grossly overweight impaired his ability to play the part originally as written. The final battle scene between him and Willard was basically cut down to nothing because Brando was too fat to fight.
BUT...much in the same way that problems with the mechanical shark in Jaws led to Spielberg's clever directorial tricks to keep the shark mostly out of sight, the fact that Kurtz is seen mostly in darkness and in close-up really added to his mystique. I didn't care much for Brando in Streetcar, but here the fact that Kurtz is crazy and sick and a giant enigma fits in with Brando's larger than life personality perfectly. I think it was perfect casting. The part I liked about Brando in Streetcar wasn't his line delivery, but his..."essence", or gravitas, if you want to be a pretentious douche about it, is undeniable. And here it works so well because Kurtz is all gravitas. Contrast his extremely over-the-top stuff with Sheen's subtle, nuanced work and you have cinematic gold.
Finally, there was originally a different ending where Willard and Lance sailed away and then there was a overlap scene of Kurtz's camp getting blown up. Apparently, people quite reasonably took that to mean Willard ordered an airstrike of the camp, which was not the interpretation Coppola wanted to give. To him, it was just a scene like the crashed plane at the end of Lost, which was completely separate from the movie. So he pulled that ending and replaced it with the fade to black, which I think was the right call to end things with a sliver of hope for humanity.
Anyway, this was great. Can't wait to see Hearts of Darkness.

Stars: Five out of five.

Next, "Double Indemnity", and then things get gay again with "All About Eve".