Friday, July 29, 2011
So, we've finally come to AFI's token gay(ish) movie, I guess. Couldn't be Brokeback Mountain, or The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or Philadelphia, or Were the World Mine, or In and Out, or one of the other dozens of good gay movies out there. Actually, I lied. Those are all the good gay movies out there. All right, fine. I guess this is the only one with Liza.
Plot summary (with spoilers): Wilkomen! Bienvenue! Welcome! The Kit Kat Klub is proud to present, Fraulein Sally Bowles! It's Berlin, 1931, a totally safe and uneventful time in Germany's history. American singer Lucille 2 (um..I mean, Sally) performs nightly at the Kit Kat Klub and lives in a little apartment nearby. The Master of Ceremonies welcomes the audience to the Klub, (after the bouncer kicks out a couple of Nazis) and sings as song with the "girls", mostly men in drag, plus Sally, who is also kinda a man in drag.
After work, Englishman Brian Roberts answers Sally's ad for a roommate, and the two hit if off fabulously. Brian is stuffy and British and Sally is wild and impetuous and she makes him do crazy, exhilarating things like scream really loud when a train goes by. I guess there was no TV.
Brian makes a living teaching English to foreigners and his first two students, a German Christian named Fritz and a Jewish woman named Natalia immediately form a bit of a love connection that I'm sure will not lead to any problems in the future. Sally had liked Fritz and is a bit jealous to see him with the other more demure woman, so she aggressively hits on Brian. He puts her off, hilariously complaining that it's a "bit too early in the morning for that sort of thing" until she sarcastically says "maybe you don't like girls" and his reaction is a dead giveaway. She's stunned, which is silly, because it's a scientific fact that 90% of British men are at least bi. (Harry, call me!) He says he's been with only three girls and it was bad every time, and now he's happy being a woman's eunuch gay best friend like on Will and Grace.
So Sally and Brian become besties as any gay man would with Dorothy's daughter, and more songs are sung in the Klub, and the MC does more crazy stuff on stage and I don't mind telling you at the risk of being immodest I would kill as the MC in a stage production. But anyway.
Sally dates another man in the show and he dumps her cruelly. She's crying at home and Brian comforts her, and one thing leads to another and they decide together that those three girls "were the wrong three girls". Uh huh.
Meanwhile. the Nazis begin growing in power, to the point that Natalia says she no longer feels comfortable dating the German Fritz and she leaves him.
Then, Sally meets a rich and handsome playboy named Maximillan, and the twosome expand their world to make room for three. They go for a weekend trip to Max's chateau, and on the way they see a couple of Nazis being arrested by the police. Max says the Nazis are useful thugs because they helpfully beat up dirty communists. At the chateau, everyone drinks a lot and Sally starts dancing around and Max swoops in to dance with her, and just as Brian is about to quietly slip out of the room, they pull him into their embrace and the sexual-confusion tension is so thick you could cut it with a threeway. Oh, to be 19 again. I've said too much.
But Brian can't hold his liquor and he passes out and Sally goes upstairs with Max. The next morning, Max wakes up Brian and tells him Sally's left, but they could totally still hang out. They go to an outdoor park and sit on the grass. A crowd of people are there, hanging out, eating lunch. Suddenly, a beautiful, cherubic young blond man begins to sing the song "Tomorrow Belongs To Me". It's sweet, until the camera pans down to reveals his Nazi uniform. Then, many other young people in the crowd stand up and start singing as well. Turns out, nearly everyone in the park is a Nazi. It's like when you see a couple dozen ants crawling around, and then suddenly your eyes adjust and you realize there's actually a thousand ants. Ants who commit genocide. Max and Brian quickly motor it back to their car. All the scenes with songs are great, though this is easily the movie's best scene. (And can I say how much it sucks that that song is probably my favorite? I always felt guilty singing along when I played the soundtrack).
Some time later, Max drops Brian off back at his apartment. Hmm...I want the deleted scene!
Sally doesn't come home until the next day, and when Brian screams at her, demanding to know where she was, she says she needed to clear her head after spending the weekend with Max, and he lobs her the softball, "Screw Max!" to which she replies, "I do!" and he comes back for the win with "So do I!" They call each other bastards, and she stomps off, feeling whatever the girl version of emasculated is.
She can't stay mad at him though, and soon discovers that she's pregnant. She tells him she wants an abortion, until Brian begs to marry her and pretend they know for certain the baby is his. They get crazy drunk and agree to get married.
But in the cold light of day, Sally remembers the way Brian looked at Max and finally can't bring herself to try to make a family with a man who will never truly be in love with her. She has the abortion and tells Brian about it. He yells impotently at her for a bit, then sees the wisdom in her decision. Unfortunately, once the gay guy makes the girl have to get an abortion, the fun is officially over. He leaves the apartment, heading back to England and probably saving himself from getting fitted for a pink triangle very shortly.
The MC introduces Sally and she sings a final song about life being a silly, carefree cabaret, and on the last note, when the camera swings around to the audience it reveals a packed house of brown shirted goons. And the worst part is, they don't even clap.
Review: The songs are all awesome, top drawer stuff. I like how, unlike the play, all the songs took place in the context of the real world, and no one just upped and started singing randomly. And the songs all reflected what was going on in the character's lives. Liza is a great singer and dancer, and plays the part excellently. Joel Grey as the MC is fine, he definitely can sing, but there's a manic energy that's lacking there. (I stand by my earlier assertion that I could do it better, though the singing might be a problem). The "love" story, such as it is, is a very accurate representation of what it's like to be college aged and stupid and schoompy in all the wrong places, and when I first saw this movie when I was 20, that stuff hit me on an emotional level that it didn't this time. I thought I would definitely give this at least four stars, but as I said, surprisingly, the emotional connection just wasn't there at all this time around. Maybe it was the chasteness of the storyline; no doubt a character even admitting he was gay in 1972 was really shocking, but now in 2011 it's more than a little annoying that Sally and Brian get to roll around in bed together but Brian and Max get the fade out treatment. So instead of being emotionally involved, I was much more about judging these fools for getting caught up in all the 90210 crap when the Nazis slowly but surely taking over all around them. I think that's mostly the point. You could almost look at the Nazis as a metaphor for adulthood, really, the unwanted intruder creeping up when you least want or expect it to. It's time to stop being polite and start getting real. The freaking Nazis are coming.
Stars: Three and a half out of five.
Next, "American Graffiti", and then "Sullivan's Travels", which not only have I not seen, but I've never even heard of. Haven't seen "Graffiti" either, unless you count Happy Days.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
At the time, this was considered a parody.
Plot summary (with spoilers): Howard Beale is the anchor or the nightly news at the realistic sounding "UBS" station. He's just been given his two week notice by his boss and friend, Max Schumacher. That night, while doing the news, he announces to his audience that he'll be gone in two weeks, and since he has nothing but the show to live for, he'll be killing himself the following evening live on television. Hilariously, most people in the crew are barely listening to him, and chatting among themselves, so only a couple people even take note of what he said. But those who do manage to tell the director, who immediately pulls him off the air. Network head and billowy old white guy Nelson Chaney fires Beale on the spot. In the meantime, Schumacher attends a stockholders meeting that night where new network underling Frank Hackett announces that the News Division is going to be broken up and put under the control of the other branches of the network because it's the only part of the network that continually loses money. The next day, Beale asks Schumacher if he can go back on air one last time to say goodbye to his audience and salvage a little dignity, and Schumacher agrees. However, when Beale gets back on the air he loudly declares that life is "bullshit" and all the day-to-day crap is bullshit etc. Instead of cutting him off again, a disillusioned Schumacher lets him speak his mind.
That night, Hackett and the sexy new network gal Diane Christensen think that hiring Beale to rant and rave on TV every night would be an excellent plan, and a sure-fire ratings booster. Schumacher goes along with the plan at first, even after Diane comes to his office late in the evening and informs him of her desire to take over the news portion of the network, and create shows like "The Howard Beale Show" and have a physic try to predict the news every Friday, and report on what he got right on Monday and other such ideas that are obviously supposed to play like broad over-the-top parody in 1976, but sound perfectly run-of-the-mill in 2011. At any rate, Schumacher is disgusted and appalled by Diane's ridiculous attempts to dumb down the news for the sake of ratings and sensationalism (and again...this is supposed to be parody, people) so of course he decides to go out with her that very night and sleep with her, despite being married. He gazes at her romantically throughout the evening, and she admits she's a terrible and selfish lover and that she has ambition and a drive to succeed in her career which has made her miserable and alone because women aren't supposed to want those things. She also talks excitedly of ratings shares and advertising revenue, and expresses her wishes to make a "homosexual evening soap opera" called "Dyke's Lives", so we know she's evil because she's trying to put gays on TV.
So Howard does another broadcast and is so loopy, Schumacher tells him he's not letting him go on TV anymore. Howard freaks out and faints dead away. Schumacher has some co-workers take him back to his (Schumacher's) house for the night, while he yells at Diane and Frank, saying he won't let Howard back on the air. Frank breaks the news the Chaney has had a heart attack, and that now he is the network head. He fires Schumacher immediately, and Schumacher walks out, disgusted with them both.
The next morning, his wife wakes him up and tells him that Beale is gone. Schumacher spends the day looking for him, but can't find him anywhere. But at night, Howard shows up at the studio when he's supposed to, to give his nightly rant. He's soaking wet and crazed looking. He tells the people watching that they're dead inside, all the problems in the country have caused us to not care anymore, and the first step is to shake that off. Get up! Go to your window, open it up and shout, "I"m mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" Schumacher watches with dismay in his living room, with his family. Suddenly, his daughter races to the window and opens it. Over the pouring rain, and thunder and lightning, the voices of the people can be heard. "I'M MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!" More and more people pour out of their apartments and onto the balconies and fire escapes, shouting over over over as lighting blazes through the sky and thunder rolls. Schumacher's heart sinks as he watches in resigned horror. It's easily one of the most hypnotic and thrilling scenes I've ever seen in film.
So Howard's ratings shoot through the roof and the UBS nightly news becomes The Howard Beale Show, with a studio audience and a supporting cast including a psychic and a TMZ-type gossip hound. Man, how did the writers come up with such craziness? Meanwhile, Schumacher leaves his wife to move in with Diane where he can judge her superficiality and immoral behavior from a closer vantage point.
Also, a radical communist Black Panther-ish group called the Ecumenical Liberation Army sends UBS home video of them robbing a bank. Diane manages to meet with them and convince them to basically create a TV show, where they will film themselves committing crimes and UBS will play the film on TV and then actors will dramatize the rest of the story. Once the communists get a taste of ratings success, they hilariously start arguing over ratings points, ad revenues, and syndication rights.
Everything is going swimmingly for the network until one day when another conglomerate called the CAA announces publicly as required by law, that they intend to buy UBS. Howard takes to the airwaves and tells his followers that the CAA is owned by Arabs and that the Arabs are trying to take over the country and everyone must send a telegram to President Ford right away, protesting this buyout. This would kind of be like if Glenn Beck announced to his Fox News viewers that the second largest Fox News shareholder is Prince Ala-weed bin Talal, who helped fund the "Ground Zero Mosque".
This messes up CAA's plan to buy UBS, and Frank fears he'll be fired. Instead, the CEO of CAA wishes to have a private meeting with Beale. At the meeting, the CEO plays Beale like a fiddle, copying his ranting and raving style, and screaming at him that the individual isn't important anymore, and that corporations, not countries are all that matter.
Beale buys this completely, and tells his audience the next day that resisting the buyout is futile, human life is empty, and human beings are worthless. Soon, his ratings begin to slip. This freaks out Diane, and suddenly out of nowhere Schumacher finally realizes what's been painfully obvious all along: Diane is unfeeling and unscrupulous. He leaves her and goes back to his wife, but not before lecturing her at length about how bad she is for being cold and unscrupulous.
Frank and Diane want to take Beale off the air, but the corporate loving CEO demands that he stay, no matter how low his ratings get. So, Frank and Diane plan the next logical step: have the Ecumenical Liberation Army assassinate Beale live on the air. Not only will this end the Beale problem, but it will be an excellent second season premiere for their own show.
And so they do. Beale's dead, the ratings go up, and everyone's happy. Well, maybe not Beale so much.
Review: Really excellent film. A "parody" so dead on, that thirty five years later, there's much of it that doesn't read as parody at all. Paranoid raving loon with delusions of grandeur being manipulated and propped up by his network and then unceremoniously kicked to the curb when the ratings dip? Why hello, Glenn Beck. (Unlike other professional shouting baboons and outrage junkies like Nancy Grace, Keith Olbermann, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly etc, I believe Beck fully believes his own bullshit). "News" that's all flash and no substance? Why hello, Fox, CNN, MSNBC. The only thing they didn't predict was the flashy CGI graphics and crawling text at the bottom of the screen. Even the Black Panther knock off's TV show is basically a proto-reality show. The hypocritical greedy "communists" and the equally greedy and messianic CEO are also great parodies of both the far left and the far right people in politics. In fact, that even though the movie is clearly a parody all the way through, I was shocked when they suggested killing Beale in the end, at first thinking that the film had unfairly switched genres and crossed into broad satire. But that's really where it had been all along.
But I can't give this film a perfect score. The relationship between Schumacher and Diane is dead on arrival. The actors have zero chemistry and Schumacher knows from the very start that Diane is shallow and ridiculous. It would be fine if he simply lusted after her, but the movie makes a point of telling us he's in love with her, and I just don't buy it. And then their breakup scene was equally painful to watch. He sanctimoniously lectures her about being unfeeling and basically evil, as if he's just discovered this, and she just sits there looking chastened instead of calling him out on being the hypocritical ass who cheated on his wife. And it's not like any one event happened to open Schumacher's eyes to Diane's true nature. He knew it all along, and articulated it several times. I don't think any of this is was supposed to be satire, the actors at least play it totally straight and none of it is convincing. But the rest of the movie...perfection.
Stars: Four and a half out of five.
Next, life is a "Cabaret", old chum, and then time for some "American Graffiti".
Friday, July 22, 2011
Plot summary (with spoilers): It's 1914 and we're in Africa. Katharine Hepburn and her fat, bland, brother are in a tiny church, singing a hymnal of some sort. They are missionaries, like you hear about in movies. Katharine on the piano, and her brother behind the pulpit. The entire congregation are African tribesmen and women, in full tribal apparel. The hymn is in English, and only Katharine and her brother are singing, while the rest of the tribesmen just mumble incoherently. Sigh. It's about to get totally racist up in here, isn't it?
Anyway, Humphrey Bogart shows up in a rickety old wooden boat that's about fifteen long or so, called The African Queen. His name is Charlie. Katharine's name is Rose. Her brother's name is irrelevant.
Charlie delivers mail to Rose and her brother, then has a bit of tea and crumpets with them, because she's supposed to be English, then Charlie says he probably won't see them next month on account of the war. They're stunned. What war? Oh, Germany is fighting with France and Russia and a bunch of those little countries are involved, I don't really know all the details, miss. Then he goes. Immediately afterwards, German soldiers show up and invade the village, and bash Rose's irrelevant, fat, bland brother in the head. Then they burn down the village. Sometime later, Rose tends to her bruised, irrelevant, fat, bland brother but he gets a fever and dies. Then Charlie shows back up. He says he'll try to take her to safety on his boat. She goes with him, but right away he tells her that the Germans have every river blocked off and they'll just have to wait here on this boat until the war is over. Rose thinks that's fucking stupid, and insists that they...do something to make the boat a torpedo? She convinces Charlie to make the actual boat a torpedo and then they can ram a German boat called the Louisa that is blocking the river access and then get to freedom. Or something. Charlie lays down some truly impressive Star Trek techno babble about how they can reconstitute the warp core and something something 1.21 jigowatts and make a torpedo. He doesn't want to do it though, would prefer to sit around on the boat for the next several years, drinking his literal crates of gin.
So they're sailing, and she's bitchy and frigid, and he's carousing and alcoholic, but also shockingly deferential to her every whim, which doesn't really fit the 1950's "man" stereotype, but okay. They bathe in the river, and she unswaddles her twenty seven layers of clothing, while still bathing in something most women today would call formal wear. Then one night it rains, and she sleeps under the tarp in dryness and when he tries to join her, she gets all "Well, I never! My vapors!" and forces him back out into the rain. Then she feels guilty for acting like the biggest bitch alive, and graciously allows him to sleep under the tarp on his own boat.
Then he gets super drunk and admits their mission is a suicide one and doomed to failure, so she dumps out all his gin and gives him the silent treatment and says he's not a real man and blah blah until he agrees to do it again. She would've been croc food about a week ago, were this my boat, I'll tell you what.
Then, some Germans on the shore see them sailing by, and start shooting at them. They duck, and then float into a waterfall and get all wet and almost crash, and then once they're safe, start making out. Fade out. What happens during the fade out? Well, that's between Rose, Charlie, Rose's God, and The Hays Code.
So now at least Rose isn't acting like a one-note bitch anymore. They try to row ashore at one point, but a bunch of bugs try to eat them alive. Then they get stuck in the mud. Then Charlie gets a leech and has to take off his shirt, and boy it must of been much easier to be a man in the 1950's, when even a sex symbol movie star like Humphrey Bogart could get away with looking like a more leathery version of Paul Giamatti, with chest hair sprouting randomly like weeds. Then Charlie gets the flu. Then Rose prays for God to help them out of the mud. Then God does His part and makes it rain and the boat lifts. Then they discover the Louisa and attempt to row over there. Then someone comments on my Facebook status, and then I make a pithy and hilarious rejoinder. Then I look up and their boat has sunk and Charlie gets captured by the Germans and he thinks Rose has drowned, because he's unfamiliar with how movies work. The Germans fortunately are the kind who speak English with German accents, so they interrogate Charlie who admits everything because he doesn't care, and then Rose shows up, they've captured her too, and the German captain says they're both to be hung immediately. Now we're getting somewhere!
As the ropes are prepared, we cut back to...The African Queen, having resurfaced upside down, the torpedo still attached. Hmm. Just how stupid is the movie going to be? Let's find out!
They're about to get hung, and Charlie asks the captain for one last request. He wants the captain to marry them. The captain...agrees. Okay. He does the whole spiel, do you take this woman, do you take this man, and we cut back to the overturned Queen about twenty times in case you didn't GET IT, then the captain says the only hilarious/awesome line in the whole movie. Said quickly in one breath, "then by the power invested in me I now pronounce you man and wife you may kiss the bride prepare the ropes". One star, right there. The nooses get slipped around their necks, but of course, the Louisa runs into the overturned African Queen, and blows up. Rose and Charlie jump into the water and escape while the others are distracted. They swim away, laughing at their good fortune, calling each other Mr. and Mrs. Whatever Charlie's Last Name Was, and then they...swim somewhere safe, I guess? Unclear.
The important thing is, because that Nazi guy mumbled a few words right before he was about to kill them, it is now morally okay for them to fuck. YAAAAYYYYYYY!!!!!!
Review: Well...points for the original setting, I guess. Because of that, it took me about half and hour before I realized I was watching a standard boilerplate rom com. I have to say, I'm mostly stunned about Humphrey Bogart's character. Once the Apatow brand of movies got popular, there was a backlash and a lot of hand wringing about the Apatow Alpha Male prototype, the idea that loser schulbs like Rogen and Cera and Hill were the heroes, so unlike the Eastwoods and Bogarts of yesterday. But Bogart's character here is very similar to Rogen's in Knocked Up, and he could easily fit into the Apatow universe. He's an immature manchild who kowtows to beautiful women, and drinks too much and doesn't care about current events, and will basically never amount to anything until the inevitable third act redemption. And Hepburn plays the Apatow-approved Heigel character, a bitch and a shrew until she's softened by the love of a good man. I confess I don't yet know my movie history enough to know whether Bogart and Hepburn were inventing this cliche, or just perpetuating it. Either way, there's nothing new under the sun, I guess. And for that little bit of education, I'm glad I saw this shitty movie.
I also give the movie HUGE credit for not being horribly racist, as I feared they would be in the first scene. True, the Africans are sidelined almost immediately, but I never got the since their clothes or way of speaking was meant to me mocked or belittled in any way. But anyway, moving on. I'll see you next time in The Philadelphia Story, Ms. Hepburn. Don't disappoint me again.
Stars: Two out of five.
Next, the prescient "Network", which should be required viewing for everyone at Fox, and then "Cabaret".
Monday, July 11, 2011
I can't be absolutely certain, but I think this is the first movie I ever saw in the theatre. We weren't exactly rich and didn't make the formidable trek to Greenback Lane very often, but I remember going for this movie. Other early movie memories include a double feature of Tron and Star Trek II, as well as E.T., but all those movies came out in 1982. I didn't see Empire Strikes Back until after it came out on video. So I think this is the first.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to rewatch this today, but luckily I still have my old blog post from 1981, so I'm just going to repost it here. I hope nobody minds. (Spoilers, naturally).
WHAT HAPENED IN THIS MOVIE:
These guys are in the jungle trying to find a gold statue head thing, and Indiana Jones is with them. He has a cool whip and he goes hi-ya! and whips this guy who tries to shoot him and stuff! Then he goes down inside a cave with this other guy, and a bunch of spiders climb on them but Han Solo I mean Indiana Jones gets them off. Then there's a bunch of booby traps and they have to swing across a hole in the ground like on Pitfall and he gets the gold statue but it's booby trapped and a HUGE HUMONGOUS ROCK rolls down and almost squishes him, but he gets away just in time, but then the bad guys take the gold statue from him and they chase him and he runs SUPER FAST and gets away on a plane!
Then there's a bunch of boring stuff when he's a teacher in school and the kids are all grown ups anyway and everybody talks and talks a lot for like ten hours. Some guys tell Indy that he has to go to some jungle place on a plane and find the magic treasure thing so he goes.
Then there's this girl in a bar who is Indiana Joneses girlfriend and I think maybe she's Lois Lane. She drinks apple juice from a little tiny glass and then everybody cheers. Then Indy comes in the bar and she hits him and tells him to get out and he does because girls are lame. Then this mean bad guy with black clothes comes in with some other bad guys and they grab Lois Lane and try to cut her up but Indiana Jones rescues her and burns the whole place down. And the bad guy tries to grab a gold necklace out of the fire, but it's hot like a stove and you're not supposed to touch it and it burns his hand.
Then they go to Aladdin Land, and have a pet monkey just like the Wonder Twins. They talk for a while and it's SUPER BORING again but then they go shopping or something in the town and a bunch of Aladdin guys try to hurt them and Lois Lane hides in a basket. Then these guys try to beat up Indy, but he punches them over and over! Then this one guy has a really big sword and he waves it around and around and Indy just shoots him! Laugh out loud!
But Lois Lane gets carried away in the basket by the bad guys and Indy tries to save her, but a whole bunch of people have the same baskets and he can't find her. I guess in Aladdin Land they all carry around baskets all day. My mom said they don't believe in Jesus so maybe that's related.
Then there's a bunch more talking and Indy is sad because he can't find Lois Lane.
Then a LONG TIME later at nighttime, Indy and his friends try to find the magic treasure thing and the guy with all the black clothes is there too and he's trying to stop them.
So Indy and his friend go down inside a pit where there's a bunch of snakes and Indy says, "I hate snakes!" but he's really just afraid of them. Then they get this treasure, but then the guy with all the black clothes steals the treasure from them and throws Lois Lane down in the pit with Indy and the snakes. The snakes are SCARY. But then they climb out and go past a bunch of skeletons like from Halloween. Then they try to get on a plane but this BIG HUGE guy that I think is Andre the Giant tries to beat up Indy, but then he gets cut up in the plane propeller! SO GROSS!!
Then Indy tells Lois Lane to stay there because she's just a girl and his other friend stays with her. Indy goes after the bad guys who have the treasure and he tries to get it back. He jumps on there car and then climbs into it and punches the guy! And he fights them all and gets the treasure. Then they go on a boat for some reason. Then Lois Lane tries to kiss Indy but he pretends to fall asleep to get out of it. Gross!
But then the bad guys get on the boat and try to get the treasure and Indy hides in a pipe thing or something but they capture Lois Lane again. So Indy follows them to some other place where they take the treasure and then he points a bazooka at them or something and says "GIVE IT UP!" but they capture him. So he gets tied up with Lois Lane and the bad guys put the treasure down in the magic place where it's supposed to go and everything lights up all crazy and ghosts come out and Indy says "SHUT YOUR EYES!" and they do and the ghosts make all the bad guyses faces melt off! SO COOL!!
Then theres more talking but not two much and then I think Indy probably marries Lois Lane.
REVIEW: So awesome! So cool! The talking was boring but it went by fast!
STARS: Twenty infinity plus one!
(Actually, I'd say four stars, here in 2011). Next is, "The African Queen" (with Katherine Hepburn! Yay!) And then "Network".
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Plot summary (with spoilers): A small New England college campus party ends after cocktails and polite conversations and George and his wife Martha head home. Martha wants to know what that movie was where Bette Davis said "what a dump!", but George doesn't know and doesn't care. He never cares. He just wants to have a nightcap and to go to bed, but Martha springs it on him that she's invited people to come over.
But it's after midnight! Why can't they come over some other time? Because Daddy wants us to be friendly with them. Hey, remember tonight? The joke? The elitist college professors literary joke? "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Virginia Woolf? Virginia Woolf?" HA HA HA HA!
Fine, they can come over, but don't start in. Don't mention our son. I'll mention what I want to mention! No games, Martha. SCREW YOU!
FUN AND GAMES
Nick and Honey arrive, they're young and dumb and full of whatever. Martha screeches at George, flirts with Nick, dismisses Honey. They all drink and drink and drink, like on Mad Men. Seriously, the entire 1960's was just one big bottle of Scotch, wasn't it? Martha shows Honey the upstairs, while George talks with Nick. What're your aspirations? How old are you? Are you happy in your marriage? Nick tries his best to bat them away, but is clearly outmatched and ultimately just wants to go home. Honey comes back down and wants another drink.
Your wife mentioned your son.
Yes, it's his birthday tomorrow, and he's coming to visit. Congrats!
Honey starts to slide quickly into Drunkville where she'll remain for the duration. Martha comes back downstairs, gets even more grabby with Nick. George mentions their son, but Martha now doesn't want to talk about it. Him, I mean. She tells Nick a story about how when George met her father he she embarrassed him by sucker punching him in the face. George goes to the closet, takes out a gun, and fires at Martha. Everyone screams, but it's just an umbrella. Martha loves the joke. "I haven't seen that much life in you in years". She wants a kiss, but he's repulsed by her total fucking hideousness. She's pissed and hurt, and starts talking about their son again. She claims he might not be George's, but George is quiet confident that he is. They argue about his basic stats, like eye and hair color. These people do not know how to "yes, and".
Honey gets sick and has to throw up, Martha holds back her hair, or perhaps gives her a swirlie.
Nick and George go outside and get chummy. George tells Nick the sad story of the "friend" he had that accidentally shot his mother when he was a boy and later got in a car accident while learning to drive with his father, and killed him too. He claims the friend is in an asylum, now. Nick confesses he married Honey because she was pregnant, but it turned out to be a hysterical pregnancy, and now he's stuck. They both "joke" about how Nick should sleep with Martha in order to get her to put in a good word with her father.
HUMILIATE THE HOST
Time to drive Nick and Honey home, but Martha wants to go dancing. So they go because obviously they all need to spend more time together. Nick dances sexily with Martha, while Honey drools and drinks some more, and finally Martha tells Nick the story of the "friend" who killed his parents, and reveals that it was George himself. What a twist! George starts choking the shit out of Martha until Nick pulls him off. Nick and Honey decide it's time to leave because they have a really good sense of intuiting these sort of subtle social cues and they walk out of the abandoned bar. Martha berates George for not being present in their marriage and expresses a desire for a more equal partnership. Well, that's the subtext, anyway. It's mostly just a lot of shrieking and calling him a loser and a flop.
George warns her she humiliated him and she had better not go any further. But she doesn't care.
HUMP THE HOSTESS.
Martha drives the car home, leaving George at the bar. She stops about a mile down the road where Nick and Honey are walking, and picks them up. George hangs his head. By the time he arrives home, Honey is passed out in the back seat, and he sees Nick and Martha's silhouettes in the bedroom window. George tries to remain calm, but winds up throwing a rock at their wind chime. Honey springs awake. "Bells! I heard bells! Who's at the door?" George ignores her, then comes up with an idea. "It was the Western Union man. He had a telegram. It was about our son. Our son is dead". Honey sees it as if it's actually happened, and begins to cry.
Martha and Nick come downstairs. She calls him a flop, he blames the booze. George comes in the door with flowers. Flores para los muertos. George asks Martha to talk about their son. She does so. She tells about the day he was born, and when they brought him home. And how he grew to become so ashamed of his father. George mentions the telegram. He asks Honey if she remembers. She does. The telegram said our son is dead, Martha.
No, you can't kill him! YOU CAN'T KILL OUR SON!
Lady, he had nothing to do with it, says Nick, because he's a fucking moron.
Martha weeps. "Please don't kill him." He's dead, Martha.
Nick finally gets it. He and Honey decide to leave for the fiftieth time that evening.
George is left with Martha. He sings for her, "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?" And of course, she is.
Review: Perhaps of all the movies on this whole list, this is the one of which I am most familiar. I've actually only seen it twice, but I've seen a handful of productions, studied the play at length, acted out many scenes, can quote whole swatches of dialog, and plan to perform this puppy with a certain Miss Carla Nell as my Martha once we're old enough one day. And, uh...come to think of it, that day isn't that far away anymore. Sigh. It's like when I used to be Bart's age and now I'm Homer's.
Anyway, the movie is virtually identical to the play, except they don't drive to the bar in the play, and don't go out in the yard. Not sure why those touches were necessary, except just for a change of scenery. But this time around, I finally felt like I understood the motivations of the characters on a level that I never had before. Getting older has its advantages. Or maybe it's a disadvantage to finally really know what Martha is talking about when she's going on about how disappointing life can be. I can't really think of anything to complain about, except to say that as good as the movie is, it really can't compare to the live theatre experience. I don't blame Mike Nichols for making this a movie, I just don't really see the point. But I'm probably too close to it. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are certainly hypnotically good and their chemistry is off the charts. George Segal holds his own, too. It's weird to see him so young and kinda hot even, but don't tell anyone I said that. Anyway, if you've never seen this live, bust out your google and do a search. I think there's always a production in every city in America, by Federal law. And if you can't find one, I guess you can settle for the movie.
Stars: Four out of five.
Next, "Raiders of the Lost Ark", and then "The African Queen", which is not about RuPaul, apparently.
Friday, July 8, 2011
Plot summary (with spoilers): In the Wild Wild West, tales are told and myths are made up out of whole cloth. Munny was a brutal killer, and there were lots of tales told about him. But he eventually married and had two kids and left that life behind and became a pig farmer. His wife's mother couldn't understand why her daughter married such a scoundrel. His wife died shortly after, but Munny stayed a good man, and a good father to his kids, and probably a good farmer to his pigs. (If that sort of thing is quantifiable).
In the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming, a prostitute named Delilah got cut up by an angry john, he slashed her face several times, and the Sheriff Little Bill refused to do anything but charge him and his friend a fee of five horses. This angered the madam, Strawberry Fields, who then got together with the rest of the girls and put up a reward of $1000 for the murder of both the man who cut up Delilah, and his friend.
A youngish boy named The Schofield Kid approaches Munny and offers to split the dough with him if he helps with the killing. Munny wants to know what the men did to deserve killing, and Schofield Kid says they cut up a woman and cut out her eyes and ears. The Schofield Kid was a prototype Fox News reporter, I guess. Munny says he left his killing days behind him years ago, and The Schofield Kid goes ahead without him, but says he can catch up if he changes his mind. Munny takes about a day to consider, then follows behind, after spending about two minutes trying to get on his horse.
Meanwhile, another killer named English Bob and his biographer named Beauchamp show up in Big Whiskey to talk to the prostitutes and get the names of the men that are to be killed. But Sheriff Bill has a strict "no guns" policy and when English Bob won't give his up, he beats the wholly hell out of him and throws him and the biographer in jail. That night in the jail, Bill reads part of the book Beauchamp is writing about English Bob and corrects the many factual errors in the book. Bill exposes many of English Bob's lies and tells Beauchamp that Bob is not the badass killer he's presented himself to be and is actually a coward. The next day, Bob is carted out of town, while Beauchamp chooses to stay behind and record Sheriff Bill's life.
Meanwhile, Munny first goes to his friend Ned and asks him to come along on the killing spree. Ned wants to know what these men did to deserve killing, and Munny says they cut a woman's eyes, ears, breasts and fingers off. Ned is appalled, but not for the right reasons. Ned and Munny catch up with the Schofield Kid and soon Ned discovers that the Kid is severely near-sighted and can only see about ten feet in front of him. He tells Ned it doesn't affect his killing abilities, and he's still killed five men so far in his life.
They get to Big Whiskey, and by now Munny has a major flu. Ned and Shofield go up and visit the whores to get an "advance" on their reward money, and Munny stays down at the bar. Sheriff Bill and his men show up, and harass Munny and beat him up for carrying a weapon. Munny crawls out of the bar on his hands and knees, while the other two escape out the window. Schofield's convinced now that Munny is a fraud and tries to get Ned to abandon him, but Ned won't. They wait outside of town for a couple days until Munny's fever breaks.
Then the three go off again, until they discover both the original cowboys with some other men. Ned tries to shoot and kill one of them, but loses his nerve. Munny does it instead, first shooting his leg, then his gut. He bleeds out slowly, calling to his friends. Ned has had enough and rides away. Munny agrees to meet him at a later time after they collect the reward and still split the money with him. Shofield and Munny stake out the others at a cabin, until the cowboy that did the actual slashing has to use the outhouse. Shofield races up to the door, opens it, and shoots him dead.
Word gets back to Big Whiskey, where the prostitutes are less celebratory than you might imagine, the full weight of having commissioned double murder weighing heavily on their shoulders. Meanwhile, one of Sheriff Bill's men catches Ned riding out of town. Bill strips off his shirt and ties him up and beats him until he gives up Munny and Shofield's names.
Speaking of, Shofield and Munny wait at their appointed place and wait for a prostitute to show up with the 1000 dollars. Shoefield nervously drinks Scotch and confesses to the surprise of exactly zero people that he was lying before and he'd never killed anyone up until now. "But he had it coming, right?"
"We all had it coming."
Damn. Damn damn damn. How dark. And...well...unforgiving.
The whore shows up and gives them the money, and when Munny tells Schofield they're still splitting it with Ned, the whore tells them Ned was captured and then beaten to death by Sheriff Bill.
Sometimes myths are true. The stories about Munny are true. He gives Shofield his share and makes him promise to give it to his kids.
He goes into town. Ned's in an open coffin in front of the saloon, with graffiti and a sign warning about what happens to killers. Munny goes in the saloon and holds a rifle on Bill. It misfires. Bill reaches for his gun, but Munny is too quick and shoots Bill and four others. Beauchamp cowers in the corner and when Munny tells him to go, he doesn't notice that Bill is not yet dead and has drawn another gun. Munny kicks it out of his hand and aims at Bill's face.
"I'll see you in hell".
Munny made it back home and took his kids to start a new life in San Francisco. His wife's mother never did understand why her daughter married him.
Review: There are so many themes and ideas rolling around in this thing, that it's hard to keep it all straight. We have themes about the myths of the Old West, and the way real life people get boiled down to one or two easy to categorize personality traits, and stories get distorted or even deliberately changed. It's easy to call Munny bad and Bill good, until we get to know them and see that Bill has just as much bad and Munny has just as much good. In the beginning of the story, we long to see the prostitutes get revenge on the men who wronged them, but then we see what that revenge really looks like and how hollow a victory it turns out to be. Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie came early on, when I first realized that this movie wasn't going to be like anything I thought it was going in. The man's friend, the one who didn't actually slash anyone, attempts to give the prostitute one of his best horses, as a gesture of contrition, but Strawberry has already sent out the call for a hit man to kill them both, and she can't accept that this man might not be the monster she has already decided he is, so she rejects the horse and throws mud clots at him. It's such a typical human reaction, to refuse new information, to open your mind to new ways at looking at something when your mind is already made up. There's nothing harder than admitting you're wrong, and also nothing more freeing. No one in this movie is ever really free.
We thought the cowboys were evil, we were wrong. We thought the whores would get justice, we were wrong. We thought Bill cared about law and order, we were wrong. We thought English Bob was a bad ass, we were wrong. We thought Munny was washed up. We were wrong over and over.
Clint Eastwood is amazing in this, Gene Hackman is as always, quite perfect. I question a little bit the character of Ned, and the fact that no one ever even comments on the fact that he's black, or treats him differently. I found that a bit hard to believe, but maybe I'm wrong again. It happens.
Stars: Five out of five.
Next, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", and then something called...oh here it is..."Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark". Sounds kinda corny.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Men will make passes at dudes with girl glasses.
Plot Summary (with spoilers): Michael Dorsey is a Struggling New York actor, living in an apartment with his friend Jeff Slater. He teaches acting on the side while going on various audition montages where he is alternatively too old, too young, too short, too tall. He's also argumentative with the directors about blocking and his characters' motivations. It's funny because..well it's not really that funny. But we're just getting started! On his 40th birthday, he begins to question his life choices and inability to "make it" as a big star.
At the party, we also meet Michael's agent George and his feathery friend Sandy. Sandy's an aspiring actress and a bit of a ditz and the funniest thing in the movie. She accidentally locks herself in the bathroom for half an hour and announces that she'll have to remember the sensation if she ever has to do a scene where she's trapped somewhere. Teri Garr just makes me smile. She's more Goldie Hawn than Goldie Hawn.
After the party, Sandy tells Michael that she's auditioning to be on the soap opera Southwest General as a new character, the hospital administrator. He agrees to help her practice, and goes with her to the audition. She's immediately dismissed for looking too feminine. Meanwhile, Michael goes to his agent and pesters him for more auditions. George confesses that his reputation as a trouble maker proceeds him, and that no one in New York or Hollywood wants to hire him. He says he's finished as an actor. But Michael knows of one audition he can still go on...
Cue wacky music. Meet Dorothy Michaels, who is Micheal Dorsey in drag; Tootsie if you're nasty.
"She" auditions for the soap role, but the director Ron Carlisle dismisses "her" out of hand for being too soft and genteel. (Um...). Dorothy stands up for "herself" (fuck it, I'm going to switch pronouns liberally as I see fit; deal) and calls out Ron for wanting to give the role to someone more masculine to make the point that powerful women are ugly and manly. (But um, the joke is that "Dorothy" is pretty ugly and manly, so...what's your point here, movie?)
The upshot is, Dorothy auditions and gets the role, after meeting the lovely actress Julie Nichols and falling for her.
Michael meets George at the Russian Tea Room while in drag and fools him at first, then confesses the truth. He tells George he got the job. He goes back and chats with Jeff, and they agree not to tell Sandy because she'll be crazy jealous and chicks, man, am I right? Michael goes to Sandy's house before they're about to go out for a movie and while she takes a shower, he checks out her wardrobe for clothing ideas. He strips down to his underwear and is about to try on a dress when she gets out of the shower and catches him. His cover is that he's overcome with desire and wants to sleep with her right then and there. This is perhaps the saddest (and pretty funny) seduction scene on film. It works, and Sandy and Michael are now dating.
Michael's first day on set. He learns in his first scene he's to kiss the man playing the head doctor guy, John Van Horn. The other girls call him "The Tongue", because he often prays in an indecipherable language. John Van Horn is Punky Brewster's Uncle Henry! Uncle Henry is senile and doddering and he reads the cue cards obviously. When he and Dorothy are supposed to kiss, Dorothy changes the script and ad-libs that she will not fall for his shenanigans and that's she's a strong independent woman and on and on. She must be on the rag. Ron says that the choice was right for the character, but to run it by him next time, Toots. Julie's impressed by Dorothy's moxie and whatnot. Michael has a crush on her, but is disappointed to see she's dating Ron. In the scene capper, Uncle Henry takes Dorothy by force and kisses him anyway. It's kinda funny.
Another montage. Dorothy is a strong independent woman who doesn't take no guff and gets really popular among the bon-bon eating housewife crowd. She keeps changing the scripts whenever she feels like it so she can keep yelling at the male characters on the show.
Julie asks Dorothy to come over that night and run lines, and Michael treats it like at date, enlisting Jeff into helping him pick out the perfect dress. She goes over, and while there Julie confesses that for once she'd like a man to just approach her and say he's attracted to her and to stop playing games and say he wants to sleep with her. Suddenly, Michael realizes he made a date that night with Sandy and had forgotten. He gets out of there, and meets up with Sandy, three hours late. She apologizes to him for being angry and he lectures her about apologizing for no reason and she apologizes again.
Time for another montage. Dorothy gets photographed for a bunch of magazine covers and becomes a feminist icon. Michael is proud of his ability of inspire women to stand up for themselves. Wow, men are so awesome, they're even better women than women. This movie rocks!
George invites Michael to an industry party, and Ron and Julie show up together. Michael approaches Julie for the first time out of drag, and he tells her he wants to stop playing games and just sleep with her. She throws a drink in his face. Heh.
The next day on the set, Julie invites Dorothy to go away with her and her father to her father's farm in the country. Dorothy agrees, despite Jeff's warnings. At the farmhouse, Julie's dad Les hits on Dorothy awkwardly while Dorothy attempts to get closer to Julie. There's yet another fucking montage as Julie and Dorothy frolic all weekend and cook and sew and menstruate. Les tells Dorothy that he likes her and Dorothy flees.
That night, Dorothy and Julie sleep in the same bed while Julie talks about how much she misses her mother, who died when Julie was still a kid. Dorothy strokes Julie's hair, and Julie says it feels nice, just like when her mother did it. This is moving into a very weird area.
Afterwards, Michael learns that his contract has been extended for a year, but he wants out. He tells George he wants to quit, but George says he can't. Meanwhile, Julie complains about how rudely Ron treats her and that he cheats on her and she wants to break up with him. Dorothy confronts Ron, who says that Julie knows the relationship is casual and that they're just having fun and what she doesn't know won't hurt her, which is what Michael had earlier said about Sandy.
Julie and Dorothy have a heart to heart about breaking up with Ron and Dorothy tells Julie that she's special and she shouldn't let herself be taken for granted and Julie says Dorothy's an inspiration to womyn everywhere and then Dorothy tries to kiss her. Julie backs off and says no offense, but she's not into chicks and to please leave! But just then Les calls and Julie answers and learns he wants to ask out Dorothy. Julie gives the phone to Dorothy and pleads with her to go out with Les and let him down easy. Dorothy does so, and they go dancing, and then Les proposes because he's totally batshit insane. Dorothy takes the ring and says she'll think about it, which makes no sense at all.
Meanwhile, Dorothy goes back to the apartment and Uncle Henry is waiting. He barges into the apartment and basically tries to rape Dorothy/Michael, until Jeff shows up and pretends to be Dorothy's boyfriend. Uncle Henry apologizes and leaves. The scene is both played for laughs and tells us that rape is wrong and it's just weird. Sandy then shows up and confronts Michael for ignoring her, and, inspired by Dorothy of course, breaks up with him.
The next day on the set, Dorothy tries to talk to Julie. She says she's inspired by her and even a little attracted, but 1982 is no time to be a lesbian and if they start dating they won't be able to get married for another 29 years. The actors learn that the tape of the the show they filmed was ruined and they have to perform live. Michael sees his chance. While on live TV, he proceeds to remove his false lashes and make up and wig and exposes himself as a man. Everyone freaks. Women around the country realize their inspiration for being better women was false and they go back into the kitchen where they belong. Julie slaps him and walks out.
Sometime later, there's a weird scene where Michael apologizes to Les for leading him on, even though he didn't, and the movie asks us to feel sorry for Les, even though he's a total weirdo who proposed to someone he didn't even know.
Then Michael approaches Julie and says he's just a girl standing in front of a boy and asking him to love her, and they walk off into the sunset.
Review: Whatever. It's fine. There are some mildly funny moments, and I suppose the feminist themes were more revolutionary at the time, but really it's incredibly condescending when white males in movies disguise themselves as a minority and wind up being the Best Minority Ever. (I know, women aren't "minorities", but you get what I mean). This is really just more of that. 9 to 5 is a much better feminist movie that came out around the same time. The movie also really shit all over Sandy, which is fine in theory, not all characters are created equal, but if at the end we're to treat Les seriously, why does Sandy get the shaft? Michael should be apologizing to her, not Les, who created a whole "relationship" in his mind. Also, Uncle Henry is a pretty funny doddering old fool until he tries to rape someone, but in the final scene, he's back to being a doddering old fool again. That just doesn't work.
I did like some of the jokes, though, and some of the shots, and Dustin Hoffman, Teri Garr and Bill Murray are all quite funny. I hadn't seen this since I was a kid, and hadn't even remembered that Bill Murray was in it, so that was a nice surprise. But only mildly nice. Perhaps this movie is suffering in comparison to a recent spate of great movies I've been watching on this list. Who knows? Who cares? Moving on.
Stars: Three out of five.
Next, a new one for me finally, "Unforgiven", and then "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I am, George. I am.