Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#78 Modern Times (1936)

So finally we meet, Little Tramp.

Plot summary (with spoilers): Factory worker Charlie Chaplin works all day at the Widget Factory, tightening screws with a giant wrench.  He's working so fast, that even when it's time to stop for a break, he keeps swiveling back and forth and tightening widget screws in his mind, to hilarious effect.  Some men come in wanting to talk to The President of the company. They're trying to sell him a new machine that feeds people. They ask The President for a volunteer worker, so they can demonstrate how it works.  Charlie is picked, of course, and he is strapped into this weird thing that has robot arms that feed him a full course meal.  But unfortunately, the machine malfunctions and gets food all over Charlie, to hilarious effect. Then later, when he's tightening widgets again, he accidentally falls onto the conveyor belt and gets sucked into the machine, to hilarious effect. After they pull him out, he goes crazy and starts spraying everyone in the face with oil, but fortunately it's the kind of oil that can be sprayed into your face with no ill effects, only hilarious ones. Eventually they chase him around until they catch him and put him on the paddy wagon headed for Crazyville.

Some time later, our hero is cured...but no longer has a job.

We see ol' Charlie leave the mental hospital and wander around aimlessly, bothering people.  No one can offer him a job. He walks down the road, and sees a truck drive off.  A flag falls off the back of the truck and Charlie grabs it and runs after it, waving the flag back and forth.  Suddenly, a giant crowd of evil communist Clifford Odets reader's spring up around him, waving their flags and holding signs protesting the capitalist regime.  The cops descend upon the crowd, and mistake Charlie for their leader.  He's promptly arrested. In jail, he first keeps bumping into his large inmate, and then knocks shit over. Did I mention the hilarity?  The other inmate growls and acts mad but doesn't give the Tramp the beating he so richly deserves.  Later, they're eating lunch in the prison cafeteria. 

A search for those smuggling the "nose powder".

Then, the Tramp...wait, what?  Nose powder?  Do they mean...?  Is that some sort of old timey slang for make-up?  
No, indeed.  A couple of guards start searching inmates, and the one next to Charlie quickly pours his stash into the salt shaker. Wow. I thought things were supposed to be all innocent and shit in the Olden Times. 
Anyway, the inmate is taken away, and Charlie sprinkles the coke/salt on his meal.  He even wipes his nose and leaves a powdery smudge on his little Hitler mustache. He of course goes all nutty, and starts spazzing out, stealing bread from another inmate, etc. At this point, some other inmates stage a breakout, and overpower a guard and grab his gun, but coked-out Charlie saves the day by disarming them and beating them up. The cops want to reward Charlie by commuting his sentence and letting him go.  Charlie says the world is scary out there, and doesn't want to leave. They make him go anyway.
He tries to get several jobs and fails. 
Meanwhile, we meet a young woman whose parents have died, leaving her in charge of caring for her younger sisters. She can't find work, so out of desperation, steals some bread from an outdoor food stand or whatever.  She's grabbed by the cops, but Charlie happens by right at that point and declares that he was actually the one who stole the bread.  They start to take him away, but then the owner of the food stand emphatically shakes his head and gestures at the woman.  She runs off, and the cops pursue. Charlie's disappointed, but it gives him an idea.  He eats a big meal at a restaurant, then informs the waiter he can't pay by turning out his pockets and doing that pose from Monopoly.  The waiter calls the cop over, and they haul him in.  On the paddywagon to the Big House, Charlie sees the woman from earlier.  She thanks him for trying to take the rap for him earlier.  He smiles and spazzes out and I seriously don't get all the tics and shit at all.  Anyway, suddenly the cop wagon crashes, and they spill out the back.  They go running off, even though Charlie just tried to get himself arrested, so whatever. 
They wind up basically in a suburb in front of someone's yard. They sit in the grass and stare at each other. Inside the house, a man leaves for work and his wife kisses him goodbye and waves.  Charlie and the girl watch this go down, then Charlie mockingly imitates the woman waving goodbye and the girl laughs bitterly.  They then imagine what it would be like to have a home, a job, a good life. After awhile, the fantasy is over and they sit on the grass, miming eating breakfast while smiling sadly.  It's shockingly poignant and moving. In the end, they get up and start walking again.  They pass by a building and are told that the night watchman just got fired for stealing. Charlie applies for the job. That night, he sneaks the girl into the building.  They play for half the night, skating in the toy department, cooking in the kitchen department, and finally Charlie tucks the girl into bed in the bedroom department, while he continues to keep watch over the store.
Some men come in to rob the place.  One of the robbers is Charlie's old co-worker from the factory.  He tells Charlie the factory is closed.  Charlie decides to let them rob the place, but then the cops show up and arrest the robbers.  The manager then fires Charlie.
He and the girl next apply for a job at a restaurant, where Charlie is required to wait table and also sing as the night's entertainment. There's a bunch of crazy wacky shit that goes down as Charlie goes IN the OUT door on his way to the kitchen and OUT the IN door on his way to the dining room, and food gets spilled and none of it is funny, at all.  Ever. Then he's supposed to sing.  He forgets the words to the song, so then sings Italian gibberish (this is all dubbed over, of course). The diners love it. The owner of the restaurant wants to hire Charlie full time.  He and the girl are elated.

Now we can buy a real house!

Suddenly, the cops show up. They have a warrant for the girl's arrest, for vagrancy, larceny, etc. She and Charlie make a break for it and run out of the restaurant. They barely escape after some wacky slapstick involving chairs or whatever. (Don't ask).  Outside, they stare at each other sadly, and then hold hands. They start walking.  We fade out as they march off into the bitter, uncertain sunset. 

Review: It's...interesting.  The pathos and the melancholy are really engaging and personally shocking to me, because I thought the Olden Time movies were usually deliberately light, The fact that this movie came out during the Depression makes it seem particularly counter-intuitive. I thought we go to movies for escapism.  That's why Pirates of the Caribbean outperforms Bridesmaids. So, that stuff is good.  Real good.  The alleged "comedy"...not so much.  In fact, of the Olden Times movies I've seen so far, the only comedy I've liked is Bringing Up Baby, where I've liked all the dramas so far.  Even this movie, I would've loved a 45 minute short film that dropped all the The Little Tramp's tiresome tics and theatrics.  And yes, I realize that's what made him famous, but it does nothing at all for me. The only Olden Time guy left for me to check out is Buster Keaton, so we'll see where it goes from there. 

Stars: Two out of five. 

Next, "All the President's Men" and "Forest Gump", which only succeeds in making me bitter all over again about the 1995 Oscars.

Monday, May 23, 2011

#79 The Wild Bunch (1969)

Welcome to the artsy western.  Think The Thin Red Line or some other bit of art house douchery from Malick crossed some piece of shit redneck thing John Wayne was in. Basically, the worst qualities and stereotypes of the red and blue states, mixed together.
Plot summary (with spoilers): We start out decently enough, with a bunch of children gleefully watching hundreds of red ants overpower and devour a scorpion.  It's 1913, and that was probably the best entertainment back then.
Pike Bishop leads his men into a railroad office.  Their plan is to hold it up, and steal all the silver. Inside, they bust out the guns and make quick work of scooping up the bags of coins. What they don't know is that there are a team of bounty hunters on the roof across the street, waiting for them to exit with the silver, and then they'll start shooting. Pike's buddy and right hand man (and future masturbating bear) Dutch notices one of them peaking out from behind a ledge. He warns Pike.  They decide to push one of the railroad employees out of the building, and hopefully draw fire from the men on the roof, then shoot their way out.  Classy.
The shootout begins.  Townspeople who have been casually strolling down the road are getting shot left and right. Several members of Pike's gang get taken out, as do some men on the roof.   The shootout goes on for awhile, and is pretty well staged and choreographed.  One man gets shot while riding his horse, and does this crazy flip off of it onto the dirt.  Well done, stuntman!  There are lots of shots of children covering their ears and women crying, and it's effective but only because I don't yet know that the whole damn movie is this shit.
Eventually, Pike and about half of his original crew escape.  Turns out the men on the roof were bounty hunters, hired by the railroad.  They're being led by Deke Thornton, a former partner of Pike's who was caught awhile back.  In order to stay out of jail, he must lead the bounty hunters and capture or kill Pike and his gang.
Pike and said gang meet up at the meeting place and decide to split up their bounty.  Besides Pike and Dutch, there are two brothers named Lyle and Tector, a Mexican named Angel, and an old man named Freddy.  Freddy is the guy from Westerns who is that old prospector guy with the long white beard and the high voice who calls people "idjits".  They open their bags of silver and it turns out that there are just useless washers inside. They're super pissed at first and yell at each other.  They yell at each other alot in this damn movie.  Ernest Borgnine and Bill Holden pretty much have one mode, and that's yelly.  This was going to be their Last Job, you see, before they retired in Mexico.  Now, they'll have to do another Last Job. What is it with movie thieves, and their lazy work ethic?
So, they head down to Mexico to hide out in Angel's hometown.  But the revolution has occurred in Mexico, and Angel's old town is being run by an evil generalisimo, named Mapache,  who drinks wine and whores around a lot.  Pike and the gang have no issues with this, and do a lot of drinking and whoring themselves.  Also a lot of endless talking.  And I bet you're wondering if there are any douchey artistic shots in this part, like an extreme closeup of a woman breastfeeding her baby, or a horse surrounded by flies?  The answer is yes. Yes there are.
They're having lunch in the town, and Angel sees the generalisimo making out with a woman who Angel used to date.  Angel shoots the woman dead.  Mapache's men all pull out their guns and surround Pike and his men. They swear that Angel wasn't trying to kill Mapache but just the whore.  That's totally okay with everyone, so the weapons are withdrawn. Remember these are the people we're supposed to like. This Ocean's 11 Rat Pack gone sour. Mapache likes Pike's moxie, so he asks him if he's interested in doing one Last Job for 10,000 dollars.  The plan is to rob a US government train that will be passing through with a ton of rifles.  Mapache wants the rifles to use to fight back the natives, who are planning a revolt. Pike and the others are down with this plan.  Everyone but Angel, that is.  Later, he complains bitterly to Pike and Dutch that Mapache will use the weapons to kill Angel's family and friends, who are fighting the good fight against the gereralisimo and his men.  Dutch responds that if they don't do it, someone else will and Mapache will have the guns anyway.  This is a horrible argument that horrible people use to justify any crime they want.  A better argument would've been to tell Angel that he's a hypocritical piece of shit who just murdered a woman because she wouldn't date him anymore.  I mean, seriously.  Angel puts his foot down and refuses to join the others.  Pike offers a compromise.  They're to steal 16 crates of rifles from the train, and they'll give one to Angel to give to his rebel friends.  Angel finds this compromise acceptable.
Then there's about a half an hour of endless farting around, with artistic shots of the Mexican desert wasteland, lots and lots of closeups of various extras looking authentic, and Bill and Ernest shouting every other line like R Lee Ermey for no goddamn reason. 
Finally, it's time to rob the train.  The next twenty minutes or so are as fun and engaging as the first twenty.  My god, this movie has turned me into a brainless action junkie. What's next, a Bond movie?
Turns out, the train they're going to rob has as its passengers not only Deke and the bounty hunters, but a pack of marshals or sheriffs or whatever as well.  Pike and the gang quietly put their guns on the conductor and a couple marshalls.  The weapons are on the first car, so they attempt to quietly disengage it from the rest of the train and then ride off.  Deke sits with his bounty hunters, only one car back from the rifles. He's suspicious of the noises up ahead.
The men manage to unhook the first car, and then quickly all jump on and drive down the track.  Deke pokes his head out the window and sees him.  Suddenly, he and the other bounty hunters and the marshals all spill out of the train and jump on their horses that were also on the train and begin a hot pursuit.
The guys are far enough ahead to stop the train at a predetermined point and load the rifles onto a covered wagon they had waiting.  The weaponry also includes a rather large machine gun on a tripod. They all get in the wagon and whip the horses, and by now Deke and the others are right behind them. They cross a bridge that they had rigged with explosives.  The bridge partially collapses under the weight of the bridge and the wheel gets stuck.  Freddy unfortunately had already lit the fuse.  Dutch and the brothers push with all their might while Pike and Angel try to hold off Deke and his men.  Finally, they free the wheel and ride off.  Deke and the bounty hunters chase them...and the bridge blows while they're crossing it.  Men and horses alike fall into the river in artistic slo-mo.  I kid, it actually looks pretty awesome.
Pike and the others ride on, but not before Pike looks all sad and conflicted about possibly killing his old partner. Angel's rebel's meet up with the Bunch and take their crate of rifles.
Then later, Machape's men show up, demanding the rest.  There's a tense moment when Pike thinks they'll all be killed and Machape will back out of his end of the bargain, so he threatens to blow up the wagon with the weapons.  Machape's men back down and they agree to make the trade tomorrow.  Really?  Can't do it right now? Um...okay.
That night, Pike tells Dutch that he is in fact responsible for Deke getting caught, because he got sloppy one night and accidentally led the sheriff to them or something.  Pike got away, but Deke was shot in the shoulder and arrested. He feels guilty blah blah blah.
The next day, Pike shows up at Machape's, and says he'll give them directions to find two of the cases of rifles for 1,000 dollars.  Then after he returns back safely to the others, another man will come and give them directions to two more cases for another grand, and so on until the exchange is complete.  They also offer the machine gun as a bonus. They do this without a hitch, until on the last exchange, both Dutch and Angel approach the men, take their last thousand dollars, and Machape asks Dutch how many cases were taken from the train.  Dutch says 16, but one got lost and fell off the wagon while they were escaping.  Machape says that's a lie, and he knows Angel stole it.  The mother of the woman Angel killed came to him last night and told him so. Machape tells Dutch he can go, but Angel stays.  Dutch reluctantly rides away.
Dutch tells Pike and the others what happened.  They decide to try to buy Angel back.  Freddy says to hell with all that and leaves with his share.  The other four go back to Machape and offer to buy Angel back for 1,000.  They see that Angel is currently being dragged around by a horse, while children throw rotten fruit and firecrackers at him and everyone applauds.  Machape says no deal, and he wouldn't be much use to them now, anyways.  Pike says he insists.  Machape tells his men to bring Angel over.  Angel is bloody and can barely stand.  "Levanta, Angel.  Estas libre", Machape says, cutting his ropes.  Then he slits Angel's throat. Dutch and Pike shoot Machape dead.  There's a stunned and pretty cool moment where everybody stares at everyone else, too shocked to move. Then, a firefight breaks out.  It goes on for awhile, and would be cool except by now this movie is dead to me. The upshot it, Pike, Dutch and the brothers put up a helluva fight, especially after Pike commanders the machine gun, but eventually are all killed, though they took out about a hundred or so "bad" guys.  Badder guys, let's say.
After this, Deke and the bounty hunters show up.  The bounty hunters giggle and start looting the bodies, while Deke looks all pensive and conflicted and Stares Meaningfully at Pike's dead body.  Then Freddy shows up with some of Angel's rebels, and asks Deke to join them in fighting the good fight against the federales. Yeah, I don't know.  Deke of course goes with them and then there's an insanely shitty ending montage where he see the smiling, laughing slo-mo faces of The Wild Bunch, one at a time, in earlier clips from the movie.  Bleh. Credits.  Thank God.

Review: I pretty much said it all, already.  Boring.  Overwrought.  Pretentious.  Melodramatic.  Overacting. And normally I like Ernest Borgnine, who was awesome in The Poseidon Adventure.  (I say this even though he explicitly has stated his hatred of Brokeback Mountain and the gays in general.  He's 92, I'll give him a pass). There were a few great scenes that keep this from being a total loss, but mostly I'm less than impressed.

Stars: One and a half out of five.

Next, "Modern Times" and then either "Titanic" or "All The President's Men".

Monday, May 16, 2011

#80 The Apartment (1960)

Hays Code?  I don't care about no stinkin Hays Code! I got your Hays Code right here!

Plot summary (with spoilers): CC Baxter is a youngish cubicle dweller (sans cubicle) who works in New York City.  There are 9 million people in New York City.  If you laid them all end to end, they'd reach Pakistan, and that's with an average height of 5'6'' (my, how we've grown since 1960).  At Baxter's job, Blah Blah Inc, there are over 30,000 employees, and there are several thousand who work on Baxter's floor, in a freaking gigantic room that would give Stanley Kubrick a giant boner, with endless rows of desks and phones, and office drones to man them. Baxter stays late every night at the office, putting in hours of overtime.  Not because he's a good employee, but...how can I put this delicately?  Because his apartment is a block away from the office and his bosses like to use it as a place to bring women to fuck around on their wives with.
On one such night, Baxter's supervisor's special lady is taking her sweet time, and even though they were supposed to be out by nine (!); the light's are still on when Baxter comes walking down the block.
Finally, the pair dance out onto the street, and Baxter slinks up to his apartment.  His neighbors are a lovely couple of Jewish stereotypes who think he's meshuggah, what with all the ladies he brings around!  And drink like a fish, he does.  Oy!  Jewish husband is a doctor and warns Baxter he'll die young with all the drinking and whoring. Of course, Baxter doesn't want the neighbors to know the truth, that his supervisors walk all over him.  He would rather the neighbors think he's a tomcat than a pussy.
Later that night, a phone call wakes Baxter up.  It's two am, and another manager just met a lovely lady in a bar down the block, and does Baxter mind giving up the place for forty five minutes?  The lady does a sexy little dance at the bar.  Make that thirty minutes!  (This manager is played by none other than Ray Walston, aka the great Mr. Hand.  He still looked old in 1960).  Baxter grumbles a bit, but does as he's told, after the manger implies a promotion may be forthcoming.
The next day at work, Baxter juggles appointments with four different supervisors who each have "needs" on different nights and afternoons.  Hey, one of them's Larry Tate!  Hey, Larry!   Baxter gets a message that the big boss man, Mr. Sheldrake, wanting to see him right away.  Baxter thinks that his "roommates" must've put in a good word, so he skeedadles over to the elevators to head up the the top floor.  The elevator operator is Fran Kubelik, a pre-crazy Shirley MacLaine.  They know each other and flirt a bit.

Mr. Sheldrake cuts right to the chase: He knows what's been going on at the apartment, and he's very disappointed.  Baxter fumbles and stutters and says it will never happen again.  But of course, Sheldrake would very much like for it to happen again.  He's a got a girl, you see...  He gives Baxter two tickets to The Music Man and tells him to clear out for the evening. Oh, and also, how would he like the corner office?  Baxter leaves the office and wanders back to the elevator, walking on the clouds.  He asks Ms. Kubelik out for the evening. She says she already has a date.  He tells her to end it quickly, and meet him at 8 for The Music Man. She's charmed by Levine's hard sell, and agrees to meet him.
But first she has that other date. I wonder who with?  I doubt it's anyone import-oh.
Kubelik sits across from Sheldrake, sipping her soup.  She wants to know if the relationship is going anywhere.  She wants to know if he'll ever leave his wife.  She wants to know how someone as ugly as he could get someone like her, anyway.  Oh wait, that's me. Anyways, Sheldrake says all the right things, and they commence to Baxter's apartment for some fucking, while Baxter stands outside the theatre, two tickets in hand. Cue sad trombone.  Nobody has any love for old Gil, dangit!  Hours later, Baxter returns home and sees a compact with a cracked mirror that was left at his apartment by Kubelik.  He brings it to Sheldrake the next day.
Six weeks later, office Christmas party.  Everyone is drinking and carousing and basically reenacting Mad Men's season one finale.  We learn that Baxter has closed off apartment privileges to everyone but Sheldrake.
Baxter's getting pretty loaded at the party, and he sees Kubelik at the elevators and starts chatting her up.  She says she thought he was mad at her for standing him up, but he claims to be over it now.  He drags her over to the main party, runs off to get drinks.  Kubelik's stuck making conversation with Ms. Olson, Sheldrake's secretary.  Olson drunkenly slurs that she knows all about Kubelik's encounters with Sheldrake, and that she's just one girl in a very long line.
Baxter returns with the drinks.  Kubelik is stunned and wants to get out of there. Baxter takes her into his office, where he models for her a new bowler hat he just purchased.  That bowler hat is pretty bitchin.  Isn't it time hats came back for dudes?  I say yes!  Who wants to start?  He wants to know what he looks like in the hat, so Kubelik hands him her compact, and....the synapses start firing for Baxter.  He politely disengages from Kubelik, who of course is totally distracted by this point anyway.
Later that evening, Christmas Eve, Baxter's at a bar getting snokered.  Some weird lady hits on him by asking him what he thinks of Castro.  "What's a Castro?" says Baxter, in a bit of unintentional real-life foreshadowing.
Meanwhile, at Baxter's apartment, Sheldrake and Kubelik are having it out.  She's sobbing uncontrollably and tells him what Olson said, while he says douchey shit like I love you, but now's not the right time, and you've wasted our hour, I've got to go catch the train now and be with my family.  Kubelik says she needs to wash up first.  He leaves. She goes into the bathroom, scrubs her face, then looks in the medicine cabinet.  She sees some prescription sleeping pills.  She grabs the bottle, and gets some scotch as well, and heads into the bedroom.  Whoa.  Hey, wait a minute.  I thought this was some silly comedy.  What's this all about?
Baxter and the lady are dancing around the bar, cheek to cheek. The bartender eventually kicks them out.  Baxter checks his watch and says his apartment is clear now.  They arrive, and the lady starts making drinks, while Baxter puts on a record.  They chat about a bunch of idle nonsense, and the whole time my heart's in my throat.  Finally, Baxter notices a woman's pair of gloves on the table.  He scoops them up, then looks around for a place to hide them.  Finally, he heads to the bedroom, opens the door, and throws them in.  He does a double take after seeing Kubelik on the bed.  He tries to wake her up, sees the empty bottle, then dashes over to the neighbor's. He tells Dr. Jew that his lady next door took too many sleeping pills.  The doctor races over: Baxter immediately kicks the other girl out.
In a rather lengthy and intense scene, with no music on the soundtrack, the doctor forces Kubelik to vomit, then injects her with something, gives her smelling salts, coffee, and slaps her hard about a half a dozen times. Baxter lies and says they had a fight and she went home early and then he found her that way.  Dr. Jew asks why he brought another woman home. Baxter reiterates lamely that they had just had a fight, after all.
"You know, Mr. Baxter.  You're a real sweetheart." Dr. Jew snarls.
Finally, Kubelik is more or less okay, and Dr. Jew says she must have bed rest for 48 hours, and to also grow up and be a mensch already!  Oy!  Baxter wants to know what a mensch is.  "A human being!"
He finally leaves and Baxter makes a "person to person" call to Sheldrake and tells him what happened.  Sheldrake is less than sympathetic and tells Baxter to handle it.
The next day, Kubelik and Baxter bond over gin rummy and stories of depression and unrequited love. By the second day, Kubelik's brother-in-law comes looking for her and takes her back to his place, after making the wrong assumptions about Baxter and popping him in the jaw. Meanwhile, Sheldrake fires Ms. Olson and her big mouth.  Olson and her big mouth make a call to Mrs. Sheldrake before leaving with her things.
The next day, Baxter decides to go into work and tell Sheldrake that he wants Kubelik for himself.  And since Sheldrake clearly doesn't want her himself, it should be fine.  Except that now Sheldrake has changed his tune.  Why?  "Well, if you must know, I fired Ms. Olson, and she saw to it that my wife fired me".  Baxter wearily congratulates Sheldrake on finding love again so quickly.  Sheldrake makes it clear that Kubelik is still for fun, but he needs a date on New Year's Eve, anyway.  He tells Baxter he'll need the apartment that night, as all the great New York hotels are no doubt already booked.  Baxter tells him to cram it.  Sheldrake says who do you think you are?  "I'm a mensch!"  he storms out, and that really fucking cracked me up.
And in the end, on New Year's Eve, Kubelik learns that Baxter quit rather than let Sheldrake take her there, and she ditches Sheldrake right then and there and runs back to the apartment and into Baxter's loving arms.  Of course now that's he's unemployed, he'll be evicted in a month or two, but let's let these two crazy kids have their moment.

Review: First off, totally totally shocked at the subject matter.  Wiki says the Hays Code was enforced from 1934 to 1968, and depictions of adultery were banned during that time. But apparently, there were a few hits like Some Like it Hot and Suddenly Last Summer that came out in the late fifties, that defied the Code and still did gangbusters at the box office, so by the time The Apartment came around, the code was weakened.  Of course, in 1968 it was replaced by its evil younger brother, the MPAA.  Second, the tonal shift from light-hearted sex romp to full-on near-suicide tragedy was completely unexpected, but entirely welcome.  It was almost at the exact half way point, and though I was enjoying the fun dialog and original premise (how has this never been remade?), I still thought I could pretty much predict the rest of the movie and every last beat in it, and was starting to tune out.  The suicide attempt shocked me out of my complacency, and got my attention for the last half of the movie, even though it did ultimately end in more or less a  rom-com cliche.
There was a lot of nuance here, with great performances by everybody, and Jack Lemmon and Shirley are extremely winning and charming. The movie has a message that on paper seems kinda trite (stand up for yourself!) but played out in a very poignant way.  It's one of those chicken or egg things that I'm not versed enough on old movies to know, though:  was the ending a worn-out cliche at the time, or has it just been emulated enough times since then that it seems that way now?  Either way, I was mentally tuning out in the last twenty minutes or so, and half to dock half a star for that.  Rules are rules.  But the fun laughs of the first third and the shock of the second third more than make up for it.  Black and white movies, perhaps I've misjudged you a bit.

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, "The Wild Bunch", and I'm probably going to have to break down and buy "Titanic".  

Saturday, May 14, 2011

#81 Spartacus (1960)

Summary (with spoilers): Voice over narration (that quickly goes away, thankfully) tells us that Rome was a mighty and powerful empire that consolidated its power with slavery.  We see Spartacus, a rebellious slave, who fights back when the guards whip him.  He was born into slavery and apparently is still pretty bitter about it. 
A fop named Batiatus, who owns a Gladiator arena, is making the rounds, scouting out slaves to buy and use in his Gladiator games.  (Batiatus is played by Peter Ustinov, a name I've heard before, but I don't think I've ever seen in a movie.  He's hilarious in this, and won a well deserved Best Supporting Actor statue. Sadly, however, I must acknowledge a truth I had not known until today: one of my favorite shows growing up was MASH, and my favorite character on that show was Charles Winchester, played by David Ogden Stiers.  But now I see that Stiers just completely cribbed the character from Ustinov/Batiatus, right down to the fey quasi-British accent, the snobby demeanor, and condescending tone of voice.  For shame, David Ogden Stiers!  For shame!)  
Anyways, Batiatus buys Spartacus and his training begins.  Spartacus meets other gladiators, like Crixus, who is some ugly balding dude.  As a fan of the Starz TV show, (uh..because of the great writing, I swear), I'm very disappointed with the quality of these alleged "gladiators", most of whom are pretty scrawny and clearly just random cattle-call extras.  Also, Kirk Douglas was already 43 when this movie was made.  Not exactly a spring chicken.  Batiatus tells the new recruits that they will be trained to fight, and then will have battle to the death with other gladiators when the time comes.  They supply the gladiators with women slaves to do with as they will and get their aggressions out. Well, that's certainly thoughtful.  A woman named Varinia is "assigned" to Spartacus, but when they're in the room together, soft lovey-dovey music plays and they instantly fall for each other.  Spartacus refuses to defile her, because everyone knows women only have worth when they're virgins, so the guards take her away. 
Montage of workout scenes.  Eventually, Kirk Douglas has a pretty impressive chest on him. I wonder if they shut down production for awhile, a la Raging Bull? The trainers declare him ready for battle. 
Batiatus gets news that an important Roman Senator, Crassus, is arriving with an entourage.  Batiatus tells his slaves to break out "the second best wine!  Actually, make it the best wine, but...small goblets".  That line doesn't read funny on paper, but trust me, Ustinov nails it. Crassus is played by that super famous actor guy, Sir Lawrence Oliver, whom I've literally never seen in anything before, but have been told he's the greatest actor in the whole wide world forever and ever ahem.  He wishes to see some gladiators fight to the death, and the two women with him pick out Crixus and another slave to fight, as well as Spartacus and an Ethiopian slave named Draba. Batiatus can't refuse a senator, so the battle is planned.  Crassus also takes a liking to Varinia and tells Batiatus to have someone deliver her to Rome the next day.  The four gladiators wait inside the holding area, waiting for their turn.  Crixus fights first and wins.  Then its time for Spartacus and Draba.  They fight while the noblemen watch from up above. Varinia also watches nervously.  The fight goes on for awhile, until Draba gets the better of Spartacus and disarms him.  He puts his sword at Spartacus' neck.  Damn, this is going to be a short movie. But instead of killing Spartacus, Draba angrily looks around at the laughing nobles, who are screaming for blood.  He charges Crassus and his friends, throwing the sword at them.  The guards quickly overcome him and kill him.  (This is the earliest movie I've seen so far where a black character isn't treated as a joke). In the excitement, everyone forgets that Spartacus was supposed to die. 
But Spartacus doesn't.  The next day, after Crassus has left, he charges one of the guards and overpowers him.  Other gladiators join in.  When Batiatus learns his slaves have rebelled, he jumps on the wagon that was just about to take Varinia away and hightails it out of there. 
Very quickly, the gladiators overtake the entire house, and drive out or kill all the guards. 
They frolic and drink and make merry, celebrating their newfound freedom.  But Spartacus has a plan.  He wants them to march to the ocean, and make their escape out of Italy, where they can truly be free. Along the way, they'll free other slaves and let them join in. Everyone thinks this is a swell plan.
Meanwhile, in Rome.  News of Spartacus' uprising has the royals upset, and Senator Gracchus suggests they dispatch the army general guy named Glabrus to lead a small group the squelch the growing Spartacus rebellion.  And who will take Glabrus' place while he's away?  Some dude named Julius Caesar. This is a power play by Gracchus, who is allied with Caesar, while Glabrus is allied with Crassus. Crassus expresses concern that Caesar will not be willing to give up his position as head army guy when Glabrus returns, but obviously that's ridiculous.  Hail Glabrus!
Crassus also purchases for himself a slave "washing boy", named Antoninus.  He sits in a giant tub while Antoninus bathes him. Crassus asks Antoninus if he eats oysters.  Yes, my lord.  Do you eat snails?  No, my lord.  Do you think eating oysters is moral, and snails immoral?  No, my lord. Good. It is simply a matter of taste.  I like oysters and snails.
(Apparently, the studio heads or MPAA or whoever saw through this extremely subtle metaphor and nixed the scene.  It was restored in 1991).
Antoninus dries off Crassus and thinks about what it will be like to eat snails for the first time.  Crassus tells him that Rome is mighty and unstoppable and all should quake in awe of her.  He turns around and sees that Antoninus has run away.  He laughs to himself and then probably goes back to the slave auction for more snail hunting. 
While freeing some slaves and encouraging people to join their army, Spartacus happens across Varinia.  He knows it's her because their lovey-dovey theme music starts playing.  He says he thought Crassus bought her. She explains that she ran away from Batiatus on the way there, and he was too fat to catch her.  Both of them lose their shit laughing at how fat Batiatus is.  (Answer: pretty fat).  Antoninus also joins up with them.
Spartacus' army encounters Glabrus and his men. The battle takes place offscreen (Boo!) and in the end, Glabrus is defeated.  Spartacus sends him back to Rome, and says to tell Rome they won't be defeated. 
The Roman senate demands Glabrus resign in disgrace, and Crassus also resigns, for supporting Glabrus.  The senate don't actually want him to resign, though, as they value his expertise.  Senator Gracchus and Caesar realize that Crassus' resignation is just a ploy to get them to beg him to come back, should the threat of Spartacus' army grow too strong. 
Spartacus makes plans to purchase some boats from some Arab boat-maker guy.  The guy assures them that one they reach the ocean, the boats will be ready. They keep marching on, winning more and more battles until finally the Roman senate is beside themselves, and offer Crassus full dictatorial powers to do with as he pleases, so long as Spartacus is killed. Crassus summons Batatius, who is now a pauper living in Rome.  He asks him to identify Spartacus for him, once they defeat his army.  Batatius reminds Crassus that he already met Spartacus, back in the gladiator house. Crassus can't remember him.  Batiatius says he'll help identify him, if he can be allowed to sell the rest of the gladiators back into slavery once they're recaptured.  Crassus is fine with this. 
Meanwhile, the Arab boat guy tells Spartacus that the deal is off, and that another army, the Cilicians, are approaching from the ocean, per Crassus' request.  Spartacus knows he can't keep running and now must turn around and fight the Roman army directly. 
Okay, here we go!  Battle porn!  
Spartacus' army and Crassus' army meet in the middle of a giant field.  There's no CGI, folks.  And there's got to be a least a thousand extras, on either side, facing each other. All I can think about is how busy craft services must've been that week. They charge each other, and Spartacus' men have these giant rolling logs that are on fire, and they roll them down the hill to smash and burn the advancing Roman army.  Badass!  We basically see a bunch of stuntmen get rolled by a log and lit on fire.  Spartacus' army appears to be winning, but unfortunately, at that moment, the Cilician army arrives and joins up with the Roman one.  They crush Spartacus' men, killing Crixus, as well as most of the others.  Spartacus and Antoninus and a few hundred others are captured alive. 
Crassus approaches them and tells them they will be kept alive if they tell him which one of them is Spartacus.  Otherwise, they will be crucified and hung on crosses.  Spartacus stands up, opens his mouth to call out.  Suddenly, Antoninus leaps to his feet.  "I am Spartacus!" he yells.  Others do the same.  Soon, everyone is yelling "I am Spartacus!" Fuck yeah!  A single manly tear rolls down Sparty's cheek. He's actually the only one who doesn't yell "I am Spartacus!", so that should've been a dead giveaway. 
Batiatus approaches Crassus and says what's all this business about crucifiction?  I thought I was going to sell them back into slavery.  Crassus says the deal's off.  He then sees Varinia, who has survived the battle, and her newborn son, Michael Douglas. She tells them Spartacus is dead. Crassus is taken by her beauty and tells some soldiers to take her back to his place. She will be his new slave. Crassus then looks over the newly reenslaved gladiators, and recognizes his former snail-hating washing boy, Antoninus.  He also finally recognizes Spartacus.  He orders them to fight to the death.  The winner will be crucified. Spartacus and Antoninus try in earnest to kill each other, each one wanting to give the other a quicker, less painful death. Spartacus wins. 
When Graccus learns of Varinia's fate, he bribes Batiatus into kidnapping her and bringing her to him. He wants one last shot at sticking it to Crassus.  Batiatus does as he's told, then Graccus grants Varinia her freedom.  He asks Batiatus to take her out of Rome.  
Batiatus does so, and as they travel down the road, they pass dead gladiator after dead gladiator, all hung on crosses along the road every twenty feet or so, like telephone wires. Well, that's just gross. Finally, they come upon Spartacus, not yet dead.  Varinia tells Spartacus that she and their son are finally free, and then she rides off in the sunset with ol' fatty, while Spartacus slowly dies. All's well that ends well. 

Review: Sweeping epics tend to make me a bit itchy, and this one was no exception.  Something about the grandiose nature of the thing, makes it appear to insist upon itself, (thank you Peter Griffin). That said, there's a lot to like here.  Kurt Douglas, Olivier, and Ustinov are all great.  Most of the cast is, in fact.  Except for the day players.  They're all very "60's".  They have that weird sort tone of voice when they yell that makes them all sound the same. Difficult to explain, but close your eyes and imagine someone in a sixties movie saying "hey!  What's the big idea?" and you'll get the picture. The writing is really sharp.  Lots of great one-liners, especially from Ustinov, and no lines at all that stick out as clunkers. The plot here is far more detailed than I expected, with lots of Senatorial scheming and backstabbing that I mostly skipped over in the summary.  There were a surprising amount of subplots, and nearly every character was nuanced and somewhat sympathetic; even cowardly villains like Batiatus were somewhat redeemed by the end. And the battle scenes were pretty great too, rivaling any CGI thing we'd see nowadays.  I love practical effects, and I wish CGI were only used sparingly, and not as such a crutch.  There are also lots and lots and lots of sweeping, panoramic views of the Italian countryside that look pretty damn spectacular. 
Now: Stanley Kubrick.  Not as big a fan as I feel I probably should be.  Which sucks, because he's one of those "cool" directors you're just supposed to love, and...I really don't. I think he makes interesting films, but his pacing is always problematic for me, as it is here.  The third act always seems to go on for too long.  The climax of the movie is the big battle between the two armies, and yet, when that's over there's still a good thirty minutes left.  I hate that shit. He does it in 2001, too.  Haven't seen Dr. Strangelove, so we'll see about that when the time comes.

Stars: Three and a half out of five. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

#82 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)


Plot summary (with spoilers): Of course, we've all seen this one countless times, so there's no need to really get into it too much.
So, my first ever silent movie starts out with a woman getting dressed up all slutty and wearing black.  She puts on make up and lipstick (WHORE!) and then leaves her home.  She appears to live in a small village community.  The other townspeople are put off by her high-flautin' ways, but she doesn't care. She approaches a home where through the window she sees a man sitting on his couch watching TV.  Or, I guess not.  Listening to the radio, maybe?  Man, what did people do when they were sitting on the couch back then?  There's barely even a reason to have a couch.  Anyway, she whistles to the man and he goes outside to greet her.  They run off together. Back in the house, the man's wife appears, and looks around for him, sad.
We see two gossiping women "talking" about the man and his wife.


Several shots of the wife sad and staying at home and taking care of their baby, while weeping intermittently. The man and the black-dressed bimbo go off into the woods together and engage in several tight hugs and closed-mouth kisses. The taloned temptress asks the man to run away with him to the city. In the sky, we see images of the city they imagine. There's a kaleidoscope of crazy Big City images; a brass band, people dancing in the streets, Model T's roaring by, causal racism, etc.
The man shakes his head, points at his ring. But the heavy-lidded harlot has an answer for that.


Then the words sink into the bottom of the screen and disappear.  Cool.  The man is horrified by the suggestion, and tries to push the evil jinxed Jezebel away, but she persists, showering his face in more closed-mouth kisses, until he's finally won over. Her plan is for him to tell his wife he wants to take her by rowboat to the big city and then when they're halfway there, to dump the boat into the river and let her drown.  He'll save himself from drowning as well by taking a bundle of sticks with him to hold onto and use to stay afloat. He's down with the idea.  They collect a bunch of sticks and tie them together. They promise to meet the next night after the deed is done. 
The man gets home and lies down in his single bed about five feet away from his wife. Perhaps that's why they're having these marital problems. He stares creepily at her, unable to fall asleep.  The next morning, he's finally dozed off.  The woman pulls his blanket up to his chin and then proceeds to churn the butter or maybe do something with a spindle or whatever it is that people did then. Suddenly, the man wakes up and is overcome with self-doubt. He sits up and imagines the evil Eve touching him, caressing him, until he finally gets enough nerve to tell his wife about the big plan to go rowing to the city that day.  She's ecstatic, thrilled that he's finally being nice to her again.  She gives the baby to a neighbor, and they set off rowing for the day.  As they walk down the little trail to the boat, their dog starts barking furiously at the man.  Wow, even in 1927, the "animals are magic" thing was out there. As they row away, the dog jumps into the river and swims up to their boat. The woman lets him on.  The man turns the boat around, rows back to the shore, and walks the dog up to the house, looking super scary and grim.  The woman watches from the boat for a while, until the man slowly walks back down the trail, sans dog.  For the first time, she feels a little uncertain.  The suspense here is actually crazy good, with the symphony soundtrack provided great ominous music. They start to row away again, and the man just looks angry the whole time, clearly trying to work himself up to dumping her.  The woman gets more and more terrified. Finally, he gets up and looms over her, his hands clenched.  He lunges at her. She screams and curls into a ball. He stops, horrified at himself.  He quickly sits back down and rows them to shore.  As soon as they dock, she runs off, terrified. He follows her, calling out apologizes. She gets on a trolley that heads into the city, and he manges to catch it too.  He stands next to her the whole ride, as she cowers in terror.  As soon as they reach the city, she runs off again, into traffic.  Several cars almost hit her, but the man saves her.  He guides her into a restaurant.  They sit down and he offers her bread at the table.  She takes a piece, bites into it, then collapses into tears.  It's really quite moving, surprisingly. They see a wedding taking place across the street and the man takes her inside. They sit in the back and watch a couple get married (the original Wedding Crashers!) and the priest talks about how the man protecting his bride from harm is the most noble thing he can do.  The man is overcome with guilt and begins crying.  They hold each other and cry, and shockingly, no one kicks their rude asses out of the chapel. 
They decide to make a day of it in the city. The man gets a shave and a haircut while the woman watches.  A pretty lady comes up to the man while he's being shaved and offers him a manicure. The woman watches, all scared that he'll start banging her right there in the barber shop, I guess.  But the man screams "NO!" at her and she walks away.  The woman is relived. Another dapper gentleman sits next to the woman and hits on her, and puts his arm around her. She moves away from him, but the man sees this happen and approaches the dapper gentleman.  He pulls a knife and jabs it at the guy's throat, stopping just before hitting him. The music is all dark and scary, but the woman seems unconcerned and they go walking off together, leaving the dapper gentleman to sigh with relief and tell all his friends about the psycho who almost killed him for no reason. 
The rest of the day is filled with fun adventure, carnival games, and dancing. 
That night, they decide to row home.  


No, he doesn't say that unfortunately. So they row home, but halfway there, there's a big storm.  The rowboat is rocked to and fro and the man's oars finally break and when it looks like the boat will soon sink, the man busts out his bundle of sticks and tells his wife to hold onto them for dear life.  Aw...that's really cool and ironic, and unexpected. The boat sinks.  The man tries to hold onto his wife, but they're soon separated by the current. 
The man eventually washes ashore, back at his home village. He looks around desperately for his wife, but can't find her.  He rushes into town, waking everyone up, calling for help. They all run out to the river and get in row boats, looking for her.
Meanwhile, the hard-hearted hussy skulks about in her home, smiling.  She of course thinks that the plan has gone off with out a hitch. 
The man is on a boat with a rescue team, and the discover a broken-up bundle of sticks, but no woman. The man is devastated.  They row ashore, and he goes back home, where the neighbor lady is still taking care of the baby. She weeps and hugs him, and he just stoically stands there in total shock.  Eventually, the neighbor leaves, and immediately, the witchy wench arrives at the house.  She triumphantly throws her arms around the man and starts in with the trademark closed-mouth kisses. But this time, he throws her off and immediately begins choking the shit out of her. 
Meanwhile, other rowers apparently haven't given up so quickly because they find the woman washed ashore, and she's still alive.  They hurriedly carry her into town.
The fornicating floozy is still choking and dying, while she struggles in vain to break free.  But off in the distance, the man hears the villagers' call.  He throws the manipulative minx down and runs out of the house.  He rushes over to his wife, who is coming around.  He scoops her up, and she throws her arms around him and they kiss, while the triumphant symphony music rises.  Fade out.  
Hopefully by the time they get back to the house the other lady has cleared out of there. 

Review: WAY better than I was expecting, though to be fair, my expectations couldn't have been lower. The silent film is truly such a different art form, it almost doesn't really even count as a movie.  The difference between silent movies and "talkies", I think is a much wider gap than between black and white and color. In early talkies, the actors clearly didn't know what they were doing, that's why the voices sounded so artificial and off putting, and that's why I can't really get into those types of movies.  They're too unreal.  However, the silent films are so unreal, it's like they're in a different category altogether.  It's more like a fever dream than a movie.  You can't expect it to be realistic.  It would be like going to a play and saying that the walls on that house don't look stable. And yet, even though the actors played "big", it didn't feel that way, because how else can you play it?  For whatever reason, it's easier to buy this movie as real than it was to buy into movies just ten years later. The music, which was a constant symphony, was also pretty great.  The scary moments were made scarier, the happy moments happier.  It's also cool to hear that kind of music again in a movie.  I don't think we'll ever get back to recording a huge live orchestra in a movie soundtrack again, they're just too cost prohibitive. 
And finally, the story itself was really compelling.  The irony of the sticks being used to save the wife in the end was excellent, and totally something I didn't predict.  There was a lot in the middle I skipped over, though.  A lot of "country rubes in the big city" shtick was not only not that great, but was also a huge digression from the main story. When the man threatened to knife the guy in the barber's shop, I thought the movie was making the case that the man is still a psycho and his wife was better off without him lest he go nuts again one day and try to kill her again, but they never brought it up after that, which seemed like a missed opportunity. 
But I did definitely like it, on the whole.  And my education continues...Can't way to see one with that "Charlie Chaplin" guy I keep hearing so much about. Although I think he stole that character from Maria from Sesame Street.

Stars: Three and a half out of five.

Next, "Spatacus" and then "The Apartment".

Sunday, May 8, 2011

#83 Titanic (1997)

Plot summary (with spoilers): An earring wearing Bill Paxton and his merry men are going on a deep sea expedition to search the sunken ship Titanic. They're looking for a diamond necklace called the "Heart of the Ocean", which was owned by a villainous cartoon character named Cal Hockley.  They locate Cal's safe and bring it up onto their boat, but when they open it, there's no diamond. There is, however, a drawing of a naked woman wearing said diamond.
Said naked woman is Rose Dawson Calvert, and she's 101 years young nowadays.  She was 17 when she boarded the Titanic. She contacts Bill Paxton to tell him the story of the necklace.  Actually, she just jerks him around for three hours and then drops the necklace into the ocean, because old people are mean.
Rose's story:
She's from a wealthy family, but the family is secretly poor now.  She needs to marry a rich man and according to her mother, the only thing she has of value is her family name.  So, she is betrothed in an arranged marriage to Cal Hockley, and she and her mother are heading to America with Cal and a bunch of other rich snooty people for the wedding.  In this movie, James Cameron would like you to know that rich people are evil and poor people are tragically noble.  And then James Cameron will give you a shiny new nickel and a pat on the head before flying to Belize to get a print copy of the latest positive review of Avatar.
Jack and his irrelevant Italian friend (let's say...um, Gino) win tickets to the Titanic at the last minute in a poker game.  They race onto the ship and board it just in time.  Not sure how Rose knows about that part, since she wasn't there, but anyways...
Jack is king of the world!
Rose wants to kill herself. She climbs around to the outside of the bow of the ship, and looks down.  Jack happens upon her and talks her out of it, in part by scaring with her tales of how cold the water will be. He attempts to pull her back over the railing, but she slips and almost falls into the ocean. He holds onto her tight, but her cries alert others including Cal and his evil Henchman Spicer Lovejoy.  Wow, really?  Spicer Lovejoy. Okay, James. Cal and Spicer Lovejoy show up just in time to see Jack pulling Rose back over the railing.  Cal accuses Jack of trying to push her over, but Rose says that she just slipped. As an expression of gratitude, Cal invites Jack to have dinner with them the next night.
At the dinner, Jack is uncomfortable around all the rich people, but Rose and the rootin' tootin Unsinkable Molly Brown put him at ease. After the dinner, Jack passes Rose a note suggesting they meet down in steerage for a "real" party.
Because poor people are awesome and rich people suck, Rose meets Jack down in steerage and all the third-class people  carouse and dance and drink and share stories about how noble and long-suffering they are.
The next day, Cal somehow learns that Rose was down there in steerage and slaps her face.  Hard!  Then he twirls his mustache and looks around in vain for a railroad track to tie her to. Rose's mom gets in on it, telling Rose that they'll be destitute if she doesn't marry Cal.
When Jack encounters Rose the next day, she's conflicted and resists him for twenty seconds or so, before running off with him. Then they run all around the ship from Spicer Lovejoy, because he is crazy or something. Then Rose allows Jack to draw a nudie sketch of her, because there was no TV back then, and then later fucks him in the back seat of a old-timey car. (The sweaty hand print on the window is admittedly pretty awesome). While they're on the deck, the ship sort of barely grazes a giant iceberg. Well, it's about damn time!  What is this, Titanic or The Love Boat?!  Am I right, guys?! High five!
The ship shudders a bit, but mostly seems okay.  People have snowball fights with the snow left by the iceberg. No one is concerned until Rose and Jack overhear the Captain and some crew members talking about the damage down below.
 Finally, Cal and Spicer Lovejoy catch up to the lovebirds and Cal surreptitiously slips the Heart of the Ocean necklace into Jack's pocket and then accuses him of stealing it. They search him and find it, then Spicer Lovejoy "arrests" Jack and handcuffs him to some metal pipe.  Rose is distraught, but goes along with it. She sees the ship's designer on deck looking all distraught. She confronts him and he confesses to her that the ship will sink in about an hour. Unfortunately, this will play out in real time. So, Molly Brown and Rose's mom get on a rescue boat, and Rose herself is about to board when someone tells Cal that there aren't enough lifeboats on the ship and only about half the people will live. "Yeah...the better half," says Cal, because that's how people actually talk.  Rose then realizes that Cal sucks and so therefore Jack must be innocent. She runs off. Cal chases after her, as Molly and mom are lowered into the sea.
Rose goes down to the lower decks and finds Jack handcuffed.  She eventually locates an axe and frees him. The water is high now and they swim around until they reach a higher deck. They come across Gino and the noble poor people in third class, who are locked down below.  Jack frees them and they all run around for awhile, accomplishing little. On deck, chaos reigns as boats are being lowered despite being half full, and a full-blown panic erupts.  All of this still looks pretty cool, and is excellently blocked and directed.
Jack gets Rose to another rescue boat, but she won't board it without him.  Cal shows up and puts his coat around her, and of course the necklace is in the coat.  D'oh!  Cal tells Rose that he's made arrangements for he and Jack to get on another boat, and for some reason Rose believes this and gets on.  As the boat is being lowered, she suddenly realizes that of course Cal wouldn't do that and she jumps off.  Jack runs down to her and is angry at her for not getting on the boat.  Cal sees them embracing and goes into full psycho mode.  He pulls out a gun and starts shooting at them. They run away, going lower into the sinking ship.
More awesome stuff on deck as people start falling to their deaths. Cal kidnaps a kid and tells a crew member it's his, in order to get on a boat.
By the time Jack and Rose get back on deck, the boat starts to break in half.  As it raises up, people die.  As it lowers, people die. Lots of people die, awesomely. Rose and Jack hang on the outside of the railing as the boat is at a ninety degree angle to the sea, and it looks as awesome as you remember. Finally, the whole boat sinks. Jack locates Rose and and puts her on a piece of the boat he found. There's not room enough for two, so he just clings to it beside her.
On one of the survivor boats, Molly Brown shouts that they should row over and start rescuing people. The crew member says that it would be too dangerous. Molly tries to get the other women to rise up against the guy and start saving people, but none of them back her up. She sits down, defeated.
Finally, a rescue boat does move in to get people. Rose sees the boat and tries to get Jack's attention. But he's dead from hypothermia. She tries to call out to them, but can't raise her voice above a whisper.  She lets go of Jack's dead hand and as he sinks into the sea, she jumps over to a dead crew member with a whistle around his neck.  She blows the whistle as hard as she can, and attracts the rescue boat to her.
Back in the present, Bill Paxton and his crew are sad and feel bad about themselves for not caring more about a bunch of strangers who would be dead by now, anyway.
We learn that Rose took Jack's name and created a whole new life in America. She also inexplicably kept the necklace the whole time, even though it had nothing to do with Jack and in fact belonged to a man she hated. She throws it into the ocean so that Bill Paxton will never realize his life's work.
You're up, Celine.  Play us out.

Review: James Cameron does certain things really well.  I watched Avatar.  I enjoyed the hell out of Avatar.  But even as I was watching it, my brain was saying, "you know that writing is terrible, don't you?  You know these characters are cardboard cutouts, don't you?"  "Shut up, brain!  Pretty colors!  3D!! Giant scary monster things that fly!  WHEEEE!!!"
The problem with that is, of course that even the most special of special effects become less special with age. One day, Avatar's effects will look as lame as say, King Kong's do now. The trick in making people forgive that is to have a good story and good writing and good characters.  These are things that James Cameron does not do well.
Titanic is a good example of that. I saw it in the original run, and sat slack-jawed in wonderment with the rest of my theatre-mates went she sank into the sea. Even as I watched it today, I still got goosebumps at the wonderful vertical boat POV with Jack and Rose on the railing.  14 years later, the effects still hold up surprisingly well, so my theory doesn't have to be tested, yet.  But I wonder what will happen 14 years from now.  Because of course, the love story is trite.  The "class warfare" nonsense is simplistic and pandering.  Billy Zane is just flat-out horrible and utterly unconvincing as a human being.  In reality, the real Molly Brown really did commandeer the rescue boat with the help of other women and saved lives that night. Cameron rewrote history...why?  Because somehow making the character utterly useless and pointless was preferable?  Ugh. I really just wish Cameron would have the humility to understand what he does well, and what he doesn't, and just become the world's greatest technical director, and leave the story up to someone who knows what they're doing. I bet a Spielberg/Cameron collaboration would be pretty great, in fact.

Stars: Two and a half out of five.

Up next, we're back on track with "In the Heat of the Night" and "Silence of the Lambs".