Friday, September 30, 2011

#46 A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Blanche DuBois arrives from the plantation in Mississippi to the seedy slums of the French Quarter in N'awlins. She arrives on a streetcar, improbably named "Desire", to her sister's doorstep. She's appalled by her sister's living conditions, in squalor and filth and penury, and feels the need to point this out to her dear dear sister Stella. She tells Stella that the plantation they owned in Mississippi is gone, disappeared to creditors and debt collectors and other men of ill repute. Stella commiserates with her sister's troubles and invites her to stay at her home until such time that she can get back on her feet and her affairs in order. Stella also reveals that she is with child.
Stanley Kowalski arrives home from bowling; finds the cheap dizzy broad in his living room sucking on his liquor and spitting out five dollar words and thinks her story is bull. He'll confront her; but first, time to take off his shirt. That's better. The Napoleonic Code says that whatever belongs to the wife also belongs to the husband and vicea versa, so if Stella was swindled by this babe, then so was he. He goes through Blanche's luggage and sees lots of fancy dresses and shiny jewelry and thinks he's been had. Stella says they're all fake, but what does she know?
Blanche comes out of the boudoir, having needed the hot steam to settle her nerves over the long and arduous journey and is confronted by the brute Pollack, accusing her of common thievery and deception. She has all the appropriate papers and is able to prove that her story is true, momentarily throwing Stanley off-guard.
Some time later, Stanley and the boys are playing poker while the crabby neighbor lady upstairs angrily bangs pots and pans around, pissed that they're still up this late. Blanche and Stella arrive home and go off into the separate room. One of Stanley's pals, Mitch, catches Blanche's eye and he goes into the other room to chat with her. Meanwhile, Stanley gets drunker and more brutish, and yells at Mitch to stay in the game. Mitch refuses and he and Blanche talk about fine china and the ballet and how virtuous she is. She turns on the radio, and Stanley loses it. He bursts into the room, grabs the radio, and throws it out the window. He rants and raves and Stella attacks him and rips his shirt and all the men leave and Blanche runs away. It's like Cops, but the trashy guy with no shirt is actually hot. Stella goes upstairs to the neighbor lady's house, and Stanley stands out in the cinematic moonlight, with a soaking wet and ripped shirt and screams her name over and over while holding aloft a giant boombox, and Stella comes back downstairs and they have really hot make-up sex while playing Rhianna songs.
Blanche returns the next morning while Stanley's out getting breakfast and tells Stella that she needs to run away, get away from this common Pollack before it's too late. Stella says she's not going anywhere. She loves his violent outbursts and his passion and he's always really nice later. Blanche insists loudly that he's scum, and Stanley comes home at this time and overhears their conversation. He plays it cool, though. Coming back in and making out with Stella while being polite to Blanche.
Blanche meanwhile gets closer to Mitch, and confesses to him that she was once married and that the boy she married was "soft" and "shy" and she told him one day she didn't like him and he ran off and killed himself. (Actually no, that makes no sense. In the play, he was gay, and she caught him with another man and called him a disgusting pervert and he killed himself. But of course, the Hays Code won't allow that to be stated outright, so it just sounds dumb instead). 
More time has passed, and now Stella's nine months along, ready to blow at any time. Blanche lays in the tub again, getting ready for another date with Mitch, but Stanley tells Stella that Mitch won't be coming. Why not? Because Stanley's done some digging, and it turns out that before Stella arrived from Mississippi, she lived in a town called Auriol and lived at a residential hotel where she earned quite the reputation. What sort of reputation? The whorish one. In fact, it got so bad she was asked to leave the hotel. Stella doesn't believe this story (but really totally believes this story) and is appalled that Stanley told Mitch about it.
But Mitch doesn't arrive and after Stanley and Stella go out, Mitch finally shows up and Blanche pretends to be cross with him for being late and pretends not to notice he disheveled appearance and anger and he confronts her about Stanley's stories and she denies it and he says he googled it and it was true and he calls her a no good whore and then he kisses her and she says "WTF, LOL!" and he says, "well, I don't want to marry you now, but..." and she screams to high hell and kicks him out.
Stanley comes back and sees Blanche in her silly costume gown, fluttering about and dancing to music. He tells her Stella went into labor and he's waiting for the call to return to the hospital. She tells him she received a telegram from an old suitor, Lord Sir Fakey Bullshit, who has a private yacht and has invited Blanche on a cruise. Stanley briefly pretends to believe this while subtly mocking her and then when that doesn't rattle her, he changes tacts to outright mocking her and telling her she's full of it, and no one is coming to get her and she's worthless but still doable and why not right now and he leers over her, all sweat, abs, and intimidation, and she tries to run and defend herself with a broken bottle that he bats away easily and smashes a symbolic mirror with it.
Stella and the neighbor lady pack up Blanche's things while Stanley, Mitch and the rest of the boys play cards. Blanche bathes in the tub and is cuckoo for cocca puffs, now. Stella and the neighbor discuss how sending Blanche "away" is the best thing for everyone, and how her story can't possibly be true, Stanley would never do that, and the men in the white coats come and Blanche thinks it's Lord Sir and his cruise but then realizes it's a stranger which works out because she's always depended on the kindness of strangers. Her exit is so pathetic, that immediately everyone turns on Stanley. Stanley says he didn't touch her, but Mitch takes a swing at him and Stella takes the baby upstairs with the neighbor and says this time she's not coming back no way. Stanley yells out her name again as we leave this white trash tableau as we found it.

Review: For some reason, our Drama teacher in high school had us all study this play and act out scenes from it, so if the internet had existed back then, their might have very well been youtube videos of my obese, pimply, gay self saying "Tiger, tiger, drop the bottle!" while pretending to rape one of my freckle-faced female classmates. Any way, suffice to say that the actors here did a better job. Vivian Leigh was really amazing, coming into the movie playing up the old actors stereotypes; very mannered and encased in glass. But of course, that's all artifice, that's Blanche acting, not Leigh. And when those walls finally come crumbling down and we see the real woman beneath, Leigh is absolutely amazing. Now of course, there's Marlon Brando. On the one hand, the phrase "raw animal magnetism" has never been more apt  (I mean damn), and contrasting his method acting with Leigh's stylish stuff is very interesting. But on the other hand...I know it's sacrilege, but Brando's mumblecore-style delivery does not match at all with Tennessee Williams' purple prose. Not only can you just not understand him half the time, but the words as spoken are rarely convincing, even cringe-worthy sometimes. Stanley is much more raw and convincing when he's not talking. The story is great, though, and the Hollywood ending where Stella leaves (in the play she stood by Stanley, while knowing he was probably guilty) doesn't hurt it too much. Besides, when I watched it now, my cynical grown up self decided she'd probably be back within a day or two anyway.

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, "Shane" and then another Katherine Hepburn movie (yay!), "The Philadelphia Story".

Monday, September 26, 2011

#47 It Happened One Night (1934)

Plot summary (with spoilers): She is Ellie Andrews, famous Paris Hilton-like socialite, whose father is a bajillonaire.  She elopes with a man named Westley against her father's wishes. He and his boy friday kidnap her before she can consummate the marriage (so it doesn't count!) and puts her on a boat headed back to New York. She flips out and stamps her feet and Daddy slaps her face and she jumps off the boat and swims ashore.
     He is Peter Warne, he's a newspaper reporter who just got fired by his boss and is busy getting soused at a bar with his now-former co-workers. He has a creepy John Waters mustache and is aggressively unattractive.
They meet cute on a bus in Georgia headed for New York. They sit on a seat squished next to each other and he pegs her as snob and she pegs him as a ruffian. He smokes a big smelly pipe and she pats her hair. Oh, these two hate each other!  I bet they'll just sit in silence for the whole ride and then never talk to each other or think about each other ever again.
The bus takes a fifteen minute break, so everyone gets off. Ellie puts her suitcase down and turns away, and a man takes off with it. Peter chases after the man, but is unable to catch him. He tells Ellie that they'll report the theft to the bus driver, and the company will replace the bags.  They will?!  Wow, the Olden Times were incredibly accommodating! But Ellie doesn't want to file a report and use her real name, so she refuses. She says she only has four dollars left because all her money was in her suitcase.
They get back on the bus, and Ellie falls asleep on Peter's shoulder and is embarrassed when she wakes up the next morning nuzzling his neck. The driver announces a thirty minute breakfast break, and when Ellie says she'll need an hour, the guy just sneers, "Oh, yeah?" and she doesn't pick up on the sarcasm at all and just says, "yeah" and gets off the bus. Peter knows she'll miss the bus, so he gets off, too. An hour later, the bus is gone, and they're both stranded, with another bus not coming for twelve hours. Ellie offers to pay him Tuesday for a hamburger today, and he instead gets super offended and goes into a "rich, spoiled women like you" speech and says she should've just asked for help instead of offering to pay him back (?) and it's all weird and I can't tell if this is just a rich vs poor thing or a men vs. women thing. Anyway, Ellie runs off, and Peter calls his former boss collect and tells him that he's working on a big scoop. He's on a bus with the famous Ellie Andrews, last seen swimming away from her father.  DUN!
Ellie returns after twelve hours, and they both get back on the bus, but she won't sit with him, and instead sits next to some other annoying dude who starts immediately chatting her up and when she's cold to him, he says something about how he loves cold mammas, "because when they get hot, oh boy do they sizzle", and then he makes sizzle noises and it's really funny. Like, I laughed out loud and shit. So Peter sees she's in agony, so he goes over to the guy and claims they're married and tells the guy to scram, "before I sock you in the nose". Why don't people use "sock" as a verb anymore?
They're on the bus for awhile, and Ellie tries to buy chocolate from a "boy" selling concessions, and Peter takes her purse and says, "this morning you had four dollars, and now you have 1.65.  What happened?" She rightly says that's none of his business and she takes her purse and puts it in his luggage and says, "from now on, you're on a budget" and when she protests, he full-on tells her to "shut up!" and she does, because broads just have to learn their place sometimes.
That night, they stop at a hotel for two dollars a night. Ellie doesn't have enough money and it starts to rain.
So Peter pretends they're married and they get a room together. Ellie says no thank you, she'll sleep on this bus. But she doesn't leave. He tells her that he knows who she is and promises to get her to New York in exchange for an exclusive story. And then this fucking fantastic scene happens: Peter puts up a rope in the middle of the room and drapes a blanket over it. He invites Ellie to go over to her side of the blanket and gives her some of his pajamas to wear. But she doesn't move. So he starts to undress, chattering away about how men undress in different ways. Some guys start with the shirt (he takes off his shirt) and some start with (he grabs his belt) (he takes off his shoes) and then finally they just rip it all off. He starts to pull off his pants, and she races over to the other side. Don't worry, darling. This blanket here. This is the wall of Jericho. There's no way it's coming down because you're lucky I forgot my trumpet. Then she undresses and we see from his point of view as she bumps into the blanket, causing it to move about. She flings her clothes over the top of it like it's a clothesline and he gently asks her to remove them from his view. She gets in bed. He no lie fucking howls like a wolf. And then it's quiet. She realizes she doesn't know his name and asks him and he says "I'm the whippoorwill that cries in the night. I'm the soft morning breeze that caresses your face".  And it's not corny, I swear. It's hot, is what it is, John Waters mustache and all. 
So they go to sleep, after several hours of lying in the dark and staring at the ceiling, I imagine. The next morning, the guy from earlier on the bus sees Ellie's picture in the newspaper and sees a 10,000 dollar reward offered for her return to her father. He plots to turn her in. On the bus, everyone sings and has a great time until the busdriver, also singing, runs off the road and into a ditch. Everybody gets out of the bus, and the guy approaches Peter and tells him he knows who Ellie is and offers to split the reward if they both turn her in. Peter pretends to be a hitman and says they're going to kill the girl and the guy wants no part of that and runs off. But Peter decides it's too dangerous to stay on the bus and he and Ellie go running off. They cross a river and Peter flings Ellie over his shoulder so she won't get wet and she calls this a piggyback ride, and he says she's wrong and she says that's what her dad always called it and he says her dad doesn't know what a piggyback ride is and then he says "Abe Lincoln, now he knew all about piggyback rides" which is either the weirdest non-sequitur ever, or a reference I don't get. They sleep that night in the hay by the moonlight and the next morning they try to hitchhike. No one will stop for Peter, but when Ellie tries, by flashing her gams, a car stops immediately. Peter's pissed and basically calls her a whore and Ellie's contrite. Sigh. You really had me for awhile there, movie. Then the driver stops at a restaurant and gets out and when Peter and Ellie get out too, he jumps back in the car and drives off with Peter's stuff. Peter goes chasing after him and around the corner. Time lapse, Peter comes back with the car, saying since the guy tried to steal his suitcase he feels justified in beating him up and stealing the car. All right then. Ellie is thrilled and they go driving off. That night, Ellie sees a newspaper that says her father has announced that he has officially withdrawn his desire for an annulment, and has welcomed his new son-in-law into the family and just wants his daughter back. She hides the paper from Peter. They get a hotel that night and put up the Wall of Jericho again and then talk to each other from their beds. Ellie asks Peter if he believes in love and he says yes. She suddenly appears on his side of the wall, and tells him she loves him. He reluctantly but firmly tells her to get back on her side of the wall, as she's married. She does, and cries herself to sleep. But the next morning, he changes his mind but decides he needs money to propose to her. He sneaks out of the hotel and goes to his old boss, and offers to sell his story for 1,000 bucks. The boss agrees, but of course then Ellie wakes up and thinks Peter has left her and we do all the third act rom-com beats that apparently haven't changed in 75 years. And it goes on forever. Ellie agrees to remarry her beau in a church ceremony. Peter is petulant and says she's a snob anyway. Then she walks down the aisle...then blah...then blah..then blah...stops the wedding...father pays off the first groom...they get married...and the walls come tumbling down.

Review: There's some great moments of wit in here, and a lot more sophisticated script than I was expecting. The first "Walls of Jericho" scene was some of the best sexual tension I've ever seen in film, right up there with Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight. It was really great, and because of our more liberated times, I don't think will ever be repeated. It's just not plausible nowadays that those two wouldn't have just slept together much, much earlier. The misogynist stuff is pretty hard to take, it's far more blatant here than say, in Bringing Up Baby. I realize it's a losing proposition to judge these movies based on today's values, but it's hard not to. The third act, predicated on Peter not telling Ellie where he was going leading to misunderstandings was a terrible and predictable way to end the story, and I can't believe we're still doing this same shit today. It's why I hate most rom-coms. Even worse, was that it took about half and hour for them to get together after that part, and it really hurt the overall movie. In 1934 it might not have been so tiresome and played out, but I gotta rate them by my own standards today.

Stars: Three out of five.

Next, a character who yells, "STELLLAAAA!" and then a character who yells, "SHANE!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

#48 Rear Window (1954)

Simpsons did it!

Plot summary (with spoilers): Outside L.B. Jeffries' window is a series of apartment buildings, an alleyway leading out into the street, a brick wall surrounding the whole area, and a little garden with pretty flowers. It's quite the Rockwellian view. On one channel, there's the sexpot, dubbed "Miss Torso". She runs around in short-shorts and a tube top and dances and stretches and sunbathes. On another channel, there's an old married couple who sleep on a mattress on the fire escape, because it's so hot outside. The wife has a basket and she puts her dog in it and lowers it down to the courtyard floor to do it's business. Heh. Then there's Piano Man, who sits at his stool all day and composes one classic after another. An older woman lives below him, she sits on her lawnchair and reads. To her right is Miss Lonelyhearts.  She's lonely. Off to the side is a newly married couple. He carries her over the threshold, they kiss...and then they close the drapes. And finally, there's a gray-haired older man and his bedridden wife. They argue and seem not to like each other much.
Jeffries sees it all because he has a broken leg, and is stuck in his little apartment. It's been 7 weeks and the internet is still 40 years off, so there's not much else to do but watch PeopleTV all day. The cast finally comes off next week though, and then Jeffries can get back to his job as a press photographer.
His nurse Stella shows up and she's cantankerous and sexless and is, like any good friend of a main character, over-invested in Jeffries' life to the point of refusing to have a life of her own. She nags at Jeffries that he should marry his hot girlfriend Lisa, but he says he doesn't want to settle down and the boring married life is not for him, and she says well now that we've set up your character arc, I've got to be going now, and then she jets.
Then Lisa comes and makes him dinner and nags him to marry her and they rehash the same stuff he just did with Stella. She says if they get married, she'll go with him on his dangerous globetrotting assignments, but he points out she's just a girl. She leaves, disappointed.
He sits in his chair. He watches Miss Torso entertain four other men who hang on her every word while drinking cocktails. I'm not sure what kind of party that is. He watches Miss Lonelyhearts get all dressed up, go to the door, let no one in, have an imaginary conversation with him, pour him wine, drink a toast, and then collapse into sobs. It's beautiful. He sees Piano Man stumble home drunk. He sees the old couple hurriedly come in from the fire escape when it begins to rain. And then he hears a scream and some broken glass, but doesn't know where it came from. He falls asleep in his chair, wakes up and it's two thirty. He sees the gray haired man leave his apartment with a giant metal suitcase. He falls back asleep. Wakes up thirty minutes later. The gray-haired man reenters his apartment, but shortly after leaves again with the suitcase. He does this one more time.
The next morning, Jeffries is puzzled. The blinds are still down across the street in the bedroom, but in the living room area, he sees the man cleaning a large saw and butcher knife.
When Stella visits for physical therapy, he tells her about what he saw and heard and that he's suspicious because he hasn't seen the wife all day. Stella says it's still too early in the movie for her to believe him yet, and then she jets.
Lisa shows up and declares that she's spending the night and they kiss a few times. But he's distracted. He tells her what he knows, but she also doesn't believe him until they look across the street and see that the man was opened all the curtains and the wife isn't there at all, and there's a big human-sized trunk tied up with rope. Now Lisa's onboard, and Stella too.  They also witness the man going through his wife's purse and laying her jewelry out on the table. They call Jeffries' friend on the police force, Thomas Doyle. Doyle does some investigating and learns several tenants saw the woman and her husband leave that morning. And BTW,  their names are Thornhill. Dr and Mrs. Thornhill. Oh, and he intercepted Thornhill's mail and she sent him a postcard saying she made it safely to her mother's. So there.
He leaves, but then Lisa and Jeffries hear another scream. They go to the window, as do the other neighbors. The older woman upstairs is shrieking because her dog is dead. The woman downstairs runs over to the dead dog and pronounces him dead, his neck broken, and then kindly puts him into the basket so they can pull him back up. The older woman does this whole "WHICH ONE OF YOU DID IT?!  J'ACCUSE!" thing while everyone just gawks at her and then they finally go back into their houses. Jeffries notices that everyone came to the window but Thornhill and is further convinced of his guilt. He decides that the dog must've been digging in the garden too much and perhaps discovered something he shouldn't have. He gets Lisa to go over to Thornhill's and put a note under the door that says "I KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO HER".
She goes over there, in quite the harrowing scene. Once Thornhill reads the note, he races out of the apartment and she just manages to stay out of sight.
The next plan is for Jeffries to call Thornhill and pretend to be a blackmailer and ask him to meet him in the bar on the corner. They do this, and then Lisa and Stella go across the street with a shovel and start digging up the flowers. They find nothing, so Lisa decides to climb the fire escape and search his apartment. Stella comes running back. Jeffries watches in agony as Lisa roots through Thornhill's things and then both he and Stella are distracted by Miss Lonelyhearts downstairs holding a big handful of sleeping pills. Stella says to call the cops and they're watching her instead of Lisa and don't notice Thornhill coming back. He enters the apartment and Lisa hides and Jeffries tells the cops that a man is assaulting a woman across the street and Thornhill proves him right by finding Lisa and grabbing and shaking her. The cops show up like immediately, like they were beamed there or something and they arrest Lisa for breaking and entering. She signals out the window to Jeffries that she's wearing Mrs. Thornhill's wedding ring. Thornhill sees her signal and looks out the window and right at Jeffries, who rolls backwards but..too late.
Stella runs out to bail out Lisa while Jeffries calls Doyle, hurriedly giving him all the new info and triumphantly concluding that the wedding ring is proof that Mrs. Thornhill is dead, which it totally isn't, but whatever. Doyle says he'll get Lisa freed and then be right over. I'm pretty sure she's not even booked yet, but okay.
Jeffries hangs up and then the phone immediately rings again and Jeffries says, "you gotta hurry, Thornhill's gonna get out of there" and then there's silence. D'oh! (This is the movie cliche to end all chiches, the "pick up the phone and assume it's someone else and put your foot in your mouth" thing, but I actually fell for it. So, good job, movie.)
Jeffries sits in the dark, terrified. The phone clicks. He sits some more, looks around for weapons, picks up his camera. He hears footsteps outside. The door opens. Seriously, Jeffries!  You didn't lock the door?!  Thornhill stands there.  He rushes forward, Jeffries flashes the camera in his face, several times. Thornhill pushes it aside and starts strangling him. Jeffries cries out and across the way, Doyle, Lisa, and some cops are trying to get into Thornhill's apartment.  (Oh, come on!  Seriously?  Is the police station across the street?!)
They race over as Thornhill's got Jeffries out of the chair and half out the window. The cops burst in and grab Thornhill, who lets go and Jeffries falls out the rear window and two stories down onto the courtyard with a crash. Lisa rushes over to him while all the neighbors rush to their windows and stare.
In the final scene, we see Miss Lonelyhearts is dating Piano Man, and explaining to him that hearing his beautiful music saved her life. Miss Torso's army sweetheart has come home, and he's a pipsqueak with glasses. The older neighbors have a new puppy. The newlyweds are nagging each other. And Jeffries has two broken legs. Lisa sits on his bed, reading a book about traveling the world. He smiles at her and closes his eyes to rest. That's when she puts down the magazine and picks up a fashion one instead. Oh, Lisa!

Review: So, yeah. This is one of those movies that I feel like I've seen without actually seeing, given the number of parodies and remakes and different versions out there. So of course I knew the main story and where it was going, but what I wasn't really prepared for was all the little mini-stories with the other neighbors and how they all had very satisfying little arcs themselves. It was very cool, especially the way they kept influencing the main plot in little ways, like the dog or Miss Lonelyhearts distracting Jeffries at a key moment. Hitchcock did an amazing job of creating a great little world, here. And it was perfect that every scene that look place outside of Jeffries' apartment was shown as viewed through Jeffries' POV with no cheating with closeups or peeks around the corner. It led to a very claustrophobic feeling, and greatly ratcheted up the suspense in the end when we knew Jeffries was powerless to defend himself. It was also a really neat reversal when Jeffries was literally pushed out of his viewing room and the tables were turned, with everyone now watching him.  The script was tighter than North By Northwest, which I appreciated too, and while there were still some "that would never happen" moments, particularly with the speed at which people moved from Point A to Point B, I didn't mind them much this time. Okay, I still did mind it, though. In some places the writing is really sharp. I just wish Hitchcock cared a little more sometimes about plot mechanics. But all in all, I think I'm becoming quite the fan. There's one with a bunch of people on a boat, right?  I've always heard about that one. Is that one good? Ooh, and I wanna see Birds!  And the Leopold and Lobe one, too.

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, "It Happened One Night" and then one I've seen, wherein some overrated actor yells for Stella. A lot.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

#49 Intolerance (1916)

I would just like to take this time to thank God for allowing me to survive this ordeal, and send a message to my family that I love them.

Plot summary (with spoilers): So around the time your great grandmother was churning butter with a giant wooden stick and your great grandfather was getting a hole drilled into his head to ward off evil spirits, D.W. Griffith, the maker of the KKK-supportive movie Birth of a Nation, was letting the people like you know that intolerance is a very bad thing. To whit, here are four stories intercut a la Altman, reiterating that fact over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Story 1: Aka, the really short story. 27 A.D., Jesus in da house. There's a wedding at Cana, and they run out of wine, so Jesus keeps the party going by turning water into wine so everyone can keep getting faded. Ahh yeah, Jesus.  Thanks, dawg. The evil Pharisees are intolerant of Jesus and his high partying ways and conspire against him. Jesus also saves a adulteress from being stoned to death by quoting the bible, "let he who is without sin, cast the first stone" and all the jerks about to stone her drop their rocks and run off dejected. Then Jesus is crucified.

Story 2: In 1572 in France, Catholic King Charles IX sits upon the throne. His mother, the evil Catherine di Medici and his brother the

Effeminate Monsieur La France
Hobbies: Toys and Pets

hate the Huguenots (French Protestants) and would like them all killed. The King however, only wants everyone to live in peace and prosperity and so does his sister, who is about to marry a Huguenot lord. Catherine glowers evilly while her daughter hugs and cuddles the Huguenot and her effeminate son, Monsieur La France, stands nearby with two little puppies in his front pockets while he coos and another "effeminate" dude saddles up to him and suggestively pets the puppies and makes doe eyes at Monsieur La France. Not making this up. I swear. 
We also meet two Huguenots, Prosper and his girl Brown Eyes. They meet and fall in love and hold hands and stuff. 
So to prevent the marriage, Catherine and La France badger and berate Charles IX, and insist that he launch a preemptive attack and kill all the Huguenots. He protests at first, then finally gives in, while pulling on his hair and flailing around the room like a fucking spaz for like ten minutes. So this leads to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre and both Prosper and Brown Eyes are sadly killed. The King weeps at his horrible act of genocide that he was nagged into committing, and Catherine and La France cackle and are evil and intolerant.

Story 3: Ancient Babylon, 539 BC. We meet Mountain Girl. She is wild and crazy and eats onion stalks that she keeps in her pocket. She was also apparently directed to play to the cheap seats and mug like Jerry Lewis on crack. Mountain Girl's father is tired of her antics and takes her to...I dunno, like a judge or something, and says,

"Please do something about my daughter...
she has become incorrigible!"

Mountain Girl demonstrates said incorrigible activity by shaking, running in place, wildly flinging her arms out to and fro and chewing on her onion stalk. The judge orders her to be immediately married off. Her father takes her to the town square and makes her get up on a block to be viewed before purchase. A man offers 3 silver pieces and tries to grab her, but she threatens to scratch his eyes out. Then, when no one else offers, Mountain Girl gets weirdly offended. Then Prince Belshazzar happens by on a chariot held up by extras who look extremely uncomfortable. He asks the Mountain Girl what's wrong and she says no one will buy her and she's sad, so he declares her free and says she doesn't have to get married if she doesn't want to. Mountain Girl is elated, and promptly falls in love with Belshazzar. Unfortunately, Belshazzar is married so Mountain Girl is SOL.
At this time, the evil Persians led by Cyrus the Great attack the city of Babylon. They have giant mobile towers that are lifted up by guys like how you would lift a coffin, and in the tower are dozens of guys with arrows shooting at the Babylonians and their castle. A very very long battle commences, with mostly wide shots of thousands of extras running around aimlessly shooting arrows and sword fighting. The Babylonians pray to their god statue Ishtar and Ishtar lights up and gives them...extra powers, maybe?...and they manage to fight off the invading forces. Highlights include one Babylonian full-on biting a Persian on the neck, squirting blood (???) and several beheadings, which is to say actors chopping the paper-mache heads off of pinata soldiers strapped precariously to horses. After the battle is over, the Babylonians celebrate with a feast and dancing, and Mountain Girl moons over Belshazzar from afar. There is a long scene of various extras, dancing, laughing, and eating.  Because at 2 hours and 20 minutes in, it's best to grind down the story to a halt and just point the camera and let the movie breathe a bit.
Meanwhile, some evil priests are intolerant of the Babylonians and their wild partying ways. They conspire to leave the gates of the city unlocked to that the Persians can attack again and win. They tell local yokel Rhapsode to deliver this message to the Persians. Mountain Girl sees this conversation but can't hear it, on account of it being the silent film era, and follows Rhapsode, unaware of what he's up to. She follows him all the way back to Persia or wherever, where he delivers the message to Cyrus. Cyrus and his men launch a full scale attack, and Mountain Girl, about five minutes ahead of them, races back to warn everyone. When she gets back to the city, she demands to speak to ol' Bels, but no one will let her into see him. Then, the Persians show up, because they were totally right behind her, and they attack the city and Mountain Girl shoots arrows at them and is killed and then Belshazzar and his wife stab themselves in the chest with daggers. The priests cackle and are intolerant.

Story 4: The "Modern Era". A group of intolerant old maids who call themselves The Uplifters seek to clean up this modern town and get back to our moral roots. To that end, they go to Miss Jenkins, the

Unmarried sister of a wealthy steel mill magnate 

and ask her for funding for their cause. Miss Jenkins, currently at a party and being ignored by all the young people, is jealous and bitter and agrees with them. "We must have laws to make people good". We are helpfully informed that old maids who have failed to get a man become angry at others. Miss Jenkins convinces her brother, who apparently employs the entire town to stop his employees from dancing.  OMG, it's the town from Footloose!  Then, in order to fund the Uplifters, he cuts everyone's pay by 10%.. This causes a riot and the men protest and Jenkins brings in the cops and the protesters are driven out of town. Destitute men are already lined up to take the jobs at lower wages. 
Meanwhile, the Dear One, a woman who lives on a farm with her father and "four hens, ditto ducks" is caught in the crossfire during the protests and her father is hit by a rock or something and dies. She must leave the farm and her four hens and ditto ducks and go to the neighboring town. 
We also meet The Boy, who worked for the steel mill. Broke and desperate, he takes up a life of crime, working for The Musketeer, an evil and probably intolerant crime lord. The Boy meets Dear One by chance, and is immediately smitten. He asks her out and she says yes. At the end of the date, they go back to her apartment and he tries to go in, but she slams the door in his face and weeps. He stands on the other side of the door, not playing it cool at all, and begging to be let in. But Dear One promised her father no man would ever enter into her room. She raises her eyes to Heaven and pleads,

"Dear lord--help me to be a strong-jawed Jane!"

which I guess means I was misreading the whole thing and she's really just concerned about her ability to give a good blow job. Sorry, Dear One. Please, carry on.
The Boy proposes to her so that he can fuck her, like all good religious teens do, and she's onboard. But then The Boy goes to the Musketeer and says he's out of the bidness, and The Musketeer pretends to accept this, but then has some guys rough him up and plant drugs and a gun on him and knock him out. He's found by the cops who arrest him.
Flash forward about a year, Dear One has a kid and is a single mother. The intolerant Uplifters are taking a tour of the neighborhood, looking for people to act intolerant towards. They discover Dear One, who is in the process of giving her child a bit of whiskey to help his colic or consumption or whatever. They're furious and by the authority of the government, take the child away. Dear One is distraught and cries and cries. The Musketeer happens upon her on the street and consoles her. He promises to help her. He doesn't see his girlfriend watching him, biting her lip absurdly over and over to indicate jealousy, I guess. The Musketeer says "let's go up to your room" and discuss the (obviously fake thing) which I know about that will help you get your kid back. Dear One takes him upstairs and he tries to rape her, throwing her on the bed and then trying to kiss her, like a romantic rapist would. His girlfriend spies on him and craws outside on the ledge with a gun. Meanwhile, The Boy gets back from prison, sees this going on, and fights the Musketeer. From outside, the girlfriend shoots the Musketeer and then she jumps down and runs away. The cops show up and arrest The Boy for murder. 
After a trial, he is 

"to be hanged by the neck until dead, dead dead!"

according to the histrionic judge. But then a random beat cop who is Dear One's friend, (despite never having been onscreen before as we reach hour three) is suspicious of the girlfriend, who keeps lingering around looking guilty. He questions her and she admits it was her. They race off in a car to reach the governor who is on a train. They get the train to stop and tell the governor what happened. Fortunately, the governor is not named Rick Perry, and is disinterested in hanging an innocent man. So then they race to the prison where the ropes are being prepared and the priest is giving last rites and it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and then they get there in time!  Horray!  Dear One and The Boy live happily ever after!

Then there's a random battle between random people who are being intolerant and up in the sky, the ghosts of all the dead that came before them look down sadly, which was a pretty cool moment.

Review: It just was SO LONG. Like, I feel like I should be awarded medal or money or something. SO FUCKING LONG. Okay, to be fair and nice, it was obvious how much work went into this, some of the sets were spectacular and huge, like as big as a city block with giant columns and statues, and the battle scenes in Babylon were extremely detailed and ambitious, with literally thousands of extras. There was also a cool thing they did with the "coloring" as it were. In the Modern Story, everything was black and white, but in the French story, it was tinted blue and green and in Babylon it was yellow and purple, and in Jesus's time, it was pink. But it's clear that they were just discovering the medium of film, and cared nothing about pacing, characters, writing, building tension, or storytelling. Also, in the Olden Times apparently everyone had the fucking reading ability of a fifth grader because the title cards would stay onscreen for like 30-40 seconds every fucking time. 
But it's over now.

Stars: I'm going to abstain. I don't think it's possible for a 2011 human to begin to judge this. I should clarify that I didn't hate this movie, not like I have a few others, and that I guess I'm glad I saw it, but it's not so much a movie as a very long thing that happened. 

Next, "Rear Window" and then a 30's screwball comedy that I will hate, "It Happened One Night". 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

#50 Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

So, this is it.  The one movie made in this century that's on AFI's list. To be clear: No other movie made from 2000-2006 is better than the first Lord of the Rings movie, according to the AFI voters.
Well I disagree. Working off of AFI's list of the 400 nominated films
and limiting myself to movies made only in this century (including the year 2000 and don't start in on that "no year zero" shit, nerdlinger), I can come up with some movies that deserve the spot just a little bit more:

1. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003)
3. Lost in Translation (2003)
4. Memento (2001)
5. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
6. Moulin Rogue (2001)
7. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
8. Spiderman 2 (2004)

Both Magnolia and The Truman Show were criminally left off the nomination list entirely. In fact, looking at that whole nominee list is pretty depressing, so many great movies pushed aside for Duck Soup and Swingtime and Easy Rider.  Ugh. How do I become a voter?  I gotta get Rushmore and Stand By Me and American Beauty and Fargo and The Big Lebowski and Election and Kill Bill and The Breakfast Club and Children of Men and Wonder Boys and everything by Charlie Kaufman and so many more in there.

Anyway, onto some Hobbit crap.

Plot summary (with spoilers): In the mystic land of Middle-Earth, the evil Lord Sauron has a magic ring that he uses in a fight against the humans and elves, but then the Prince Human guy slices off his hand that's wearing the ring and renders him powerless. (I would've tied a string around the ring and my waist on the other end, just to be safe). The Prince then becomes evil after refusing to throw the ring into the Magic Volcano of Doom and is super powerful for awhile until he is killed in a fight and the ring gets lost in the River of Lost Trinkets for two thousand years until Andy Serkis finds it.  He has it for 500 years and then somehow loses it and Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit finds it next.
Then Dumbledore Kenobi Gandalf goes to the Hobbit village to hang out with his Hobbit friends and have a party and he learns Bilbo has the ring. He freaks out and says it must be destroyed, but he doesn't want to touch it so he gives it to Bilbo's nephew Frodo. He tells Frodo to destroy it in the Magic Volcano of Doom, and unbeknownst to them, Frodo's lover Rudy is spying on them. So they both go on the adventure together. Meanwhile, Gandalf talks to his friend, another bearded old dude named Saruman, but his friend turns out to be a bad guy and takes him prisoner.
Frodo and Rudy hook up with their two other Hobbit friends, Charlie and The Other One. Then they're playing in the Grassy Field of Impending Danger and Sauron's men attack them. They run and barely get away. Then they meet up with Aragon, a studly prince guy, at a bar, but then the bad monster guys attack again and they run again. Frodo puts on the ring and uses it to disappear, but one of the monster guys still stabs him. Aragon fights the monsters off and then they go the Healing Elvish Sanctuary where a pretty girl elf heals Frodo. After some time, he's fully recovered, and his boyfriend Rudy just wants to go back home to Hobbitland, and Frodo agrees. But then Aragon convenes a meeting with all the dwarfs and elves in the area and they talk about how the ring must be destroyed and their lust for power makes them argue over who should hold it, and finally Frodo says he'll do it because can't we all just get along?  So his loyal BF Rudy also agrees to go, as do Charlie and The Other One. Gandalf, who escaped from Saruman, but won't say how, says he'll go with, as will Aragon, and a dwarf named Gimli, a normal dude and a clone of Aragon named Boromir, and a hot elf named Legolas. They will form "The Fellowship of the Ring", which is also the title.
Then they start on their adventure and CGI monsters chase them.  Then they run and get away. Then more CGI monsters chase them. Then they run and get away. Then more CGI monsters chase them, in the snow. Then they run and get away. In the snow.
Then they're running across a big bridge and a huge scary CGI monster chases them. Gandalf stops halfway across the bridge and waves his giant cane and says, "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!" and blows up the monster and makes him fall off the bridge. But as he does, the monster's Giant Red Hot Tongue of Death grabs Gandalf's ankle and pulls him off as well. As he falls, Gandalf says, "If you strike me down, I will be become more powerful than you caaannn pooossssibbblllllyyyy"--THUD.
Everyone's sad and they weep and rent their clothes and then some CGI monsters chase them and they run and get away.
Then Boromir is corrupted by the ring's siren song, and tries to steal it from Frodo. Frodo disappears. He decides that if he travels with other people, they will just keep trying to steal the ring, so he will continue on to the Magic Volcano of Doom alone. But then some CGI monsters attack. He tries to run away, and Charlie and The Other One act as interference, distracting the monsters. The monsters grab them and carry them away for some reason.  Then some other monsters in a different part of the forest all shoot Boromir with like, twenty five arrows. Then Aragon and the elf and dwarf kill the monsters as Boromir dies. So Frodo gets on a dinky rowboat and rows away and his legally married life partner Rudy sees him from the shore and jumps in to follow, but he can't swim so he basically drowns until Frodo turns around and rescues him. They sail off  together, ready to face whatever new adventures await.
To be continued?  Nope.

Review: The summary is perhaps unnecessarily harsh and snarky, if only because I was so annoyed originally by what I saw as an over-the-top reaction to these movies. I saw this when it first came out, and it's not bad, not really, but it is essentially three hours of time-filling prologue filled with endless, redundant running away from shit. This is like when you were a kid, and you made up adventures with your friends that would invariably devolve into just running away from imaginary predators. This is that movie. And yes, the effects are great, and yes the story is somewhat intriguing, just seems so soulless. When I finished watching this the first time, I was happily dizzy with all the cool effects, and mildly interested in seeing what happens next, and I fully planned to watch the sequel. But for whatever reason I didn't get around to it, and certainly didn't make it a priority, and by the time the third one came out, I was actively anti-Hobbit. Before watching it today, I thought there would be perhaps a chance I would really love it this time, and would finally watch the last two movies. But without the theatre experience awing me with the effects, I was even less interested than I was the first time. I guess if I were at someone's house and they put in the DVD for the second one, I probably would watch it. I've heard they get better, anyway. But I seriously doubt that will happen. (Note to people whose homes I occasionally visit: This is neither a challenge nor a request). 

Stars: Two and a half out of five.

Next, "Intolerance" and then other round with Hitchcock, "Rear Window".

Monday, September 12, 2011

#51 West Side Story (1961)

All my life I wanted to be a gangster, but lacked rhythm.

Plot summary (with spoilers): The Jets don't like the Sharks.  The Sharks don't like the Jets. They fight, as men do.  Snap, snap!  Dance, dance, dance!  Kick and...twirl!  
When you're a Jet/you're a Jet all the way/from your first cigarette/to your last dying day!
There's lots of back and forth. Jets makes kissy noises at the Sharks.  Sharks throw rotten fruit at Jets. Jets add the word "STINK" underneath a graffiti sign saying "SHARKS". Will the cycle of violence never end?!
Finally, some Sharks corner Baby John (the lil'est Jet) and start beating on him. An all-out brawl starts up, but Police Lt Schrank and office Krupke appear and break it up. Schrank doesn't like these crazy kids today and makes the Sharks leave the neighborhood and go back to their own kind. (The Sharks are Puerto Rican). After he leaves, the Jets decide they need a final rumble with The Sharks to decide once and for all who rules the neighborhood.  
The Jets leader Riff goes to see his friend Tony to try to get Tony to come to the school dance tonight and tell the Sharks about their plan for a final rumble. Tony's left the gang, and is trying to go straight, working at Doc's drug store, stacking crates and applying himself. But Riff begs him to come to the dance with him for appearances sake or something, and Tony relents. Riff closes with, "who knows, something great will happen tonight" and cues Tony to sing a ballad about something potentially great happening tonight. It's boring. Moving on.
Prior to the dance, we meet the Sharks leader Bernardo, his wife Anita, and his sister Maria. They set up the exposition that Bernardo wants his sister to marry his friend Chino, but Maria looks at him and feels nothing! Ay-y-yi! 
At the dance, the principal or teacher or whatever tries to get the Sharks and Jets to dance with each other (there are also Jet and Shark girls), but they ignore him and start rocking out on separate sides of the gym. But eventually that sort of turns into a dance off, and finally they're all just pretty much dancing together. Then Tony and Maria catch each other's eye from across the room and everyone else goes blurry. They walk toward each other in a trance and start talking about how they're all twitterpated until Tony says, "wait, you're not joking, are you?" and Maria fully goes, verbatim: "I do not yet know how to joke that way. And now, with you, I will never learn". And we know Tony's in love because he doesn't vomit in her face and then literally die laughing.
So then they kiss, and Bernardo breaks it up all "get away from mi hermana, you hot dancing stud, you!" 
And both gangs rush over to snap and jump and plie. Then they agree to meet up later that night at Doc's and work out the deets on the final rumble.
Back at home, Maria steps out on the fire escape, all "wherefore art thou Jet?" and Tony shows up and it gets super schoompy and they sing and then Bernardo and Anita come home and Anita catches them together and says nothing because love is blind and Bernardo yells at Maria for dating a Jet and a white dude. He insists that she marry Chino and must obey her because he's the man of the house. Then all the Sharks sans Maria gather on the rooftop and sing at each other. The lady Sharks sing that America is great, better than Puerto Rico because women have rights and can choose their own life partners and opportunities to advance and the men Sharks sing that only white Americans have opportunities and the racial caste system keeps the brown man in a subservient role, while the rich and the white are able to thrive, the brown and the poor barely survive. They both make valid points about racial and gender relations here and abroad. Then Bernardo and Anita grab each other and kiss and some of Bernardo's brown face paint gets on her dress. 
At Doc's, all the dudes show up and agree to meet later still that night and rumble one on one, with a representative from both sides. Bernardo wants to fight Tony, but Tony is a lover not a fighter, and another Jet named Ice agrees to fight him. Bernardo calls Ice a "Mick", and Riff calls Bernardo a "Spic", fulfilling MLK Jr's dream that all racial slurs rhyme. They list the various weapons they will use, but Tony performs a Jedi mind trick and convinces them weapons are for cowards and they should use their fists. Then Schrank shows up and they all pretend they're just hanging out together as friends. Schrank gets all super racist and makes the Sharks leave this part of the neighborhood again. Then he tells the Jets he knows they're planning a rumble and just wants to know where it is. He tells them they're on his side, White is right and all that and they're actually pretty disgusted with him to their credit, and tell him nothing. 
Tony shows back up at Maria's and they get all schoompy yet again and even pretend to get married. (This is the part of Romeo and Juliet where they fuck, but here they pretend to get married.  Oh, Hollywood.  You're so quaint). Then Tony tells Maria about the rumble tonight and how they're only fistfighting, but she thinks that's wrong and tells Tony to go and break up the fight. 
The Sharks and Jets sing about "Tonight" and how they're gonna fight fight fight tonight and Tony and Maria sing counterpoint about how they're in love some more. At the rumble, Ice and Bernardo begin circling each other, brandishing their fisticuffs, then goody-goody Tony shows up and keeps trying to break up the fight. They push him away, hold him back, Bernardo calls him a pussy and takes a swing, but misses him and hits Riff. Suddenly, Riff is in this, replacing Ice as the main fighter. But then Bernardo pulls out a knife!  Then so does Riff!  They lunge and twirl and jump and stab. Tony still keeps trying to butt in, pulling on Riff and finally Bernardo stabs Riff when he's spinning around trying to free himself from Tony's grip. Riff has no right to go "a plague on both your houses", so he just immediately dies. Tony grabs Riff's knife in moment of fury, and stabs Bernardo. The cops siren's blare.  Everyone runs but Tony, who's in a state of shock. He hovers over Riff's body and cries unconvincingly. The guy playing Tony's a shit actor, did I mention that?  A really shit actor. 
Then Chino goes to find Maria and tell her the news but he's all stammering and reluctant and she thinks something's happened to Tony.  "What happened?!  Is Tony okay?!" Chino gets to be the super self-righteous uber-bitch and hits back with, "Oh yeah, he's fine, he just killed your brother is all."  Burn!  Score one for Chino. 
He leaves and Tony shows up and Maria's mad for a respectable fifteen seconds or so and then agrees to meet him at Doc's store posthaste. Anita shows up and Tony escapes out the window. But she sees him go and is pissed and sings at Maria about how he's evil and sucks and killed Bernardo and Maria sings that she loves him and Anita totally comes around. The power of music, ladies and gentlemen. Anita tells Maria that Chino is roaming the streets looking for Tony and planning to kill him. Then Schrank shows up to question Maria about Tony and Bernardo's earlier fight at the school gym. Maria asks Anita to go the Doc's to pick up some "medicine" WINK. Anita reluctantly agrees to go get the "medicine" and tell the "medicine" that Maria is talking to a cop and will be briefly delayed, which is entirely unnecessary but whatever.
Then the Jets, led by Ice, sing a momentum-killing song about how they need to stay cool if questioned by the police and they keep jumping and flailing their arms to connote being "uncool" and then crouching and snapping to connote being "cool". It's a complicated system. Then they go to Doc's to protect Tony from being killed by Chino. 
Anita goes to Doc's looking to pass on the message to Tony that Maria will be very briefly delayed and the Jets harass her and call her a spic and literally grab her and throw her on the ground. It's easily the movie's scariest and uncomfortable scene. We fortunately don't know what they were going to do next because Doc shows up and yells at them. Anita rushes out in fury, but first tells them that they suck and that Doc should tell Tony that Maria was just killed by Chino. 
So Doc goes downstairs where Tony is hiding and tells Tony that Maria is dead. Tony weeps unconvincingly some more, then rushes outside, calling Chino's name. "Chino! Kill me, too!  Kill me!" Then he sees Maria on the other side of the street. She's arrived at Docs after her extraordinarily brief delay talking to the cops and Tony rushes to her and BANG.  Chino appears out of nowhere and kills his ass. He falls into Maria's arms and says, "I guess I didn't believe in our love enough" and Maria says, "no, you were just shot, silly" and he dies. All the Sharks and Jets are there now, standing around looking sad. Maria grabs Chino's gun and starts waving it around, threatening to kill them all and then herself. But then she drops the gun and starts crying. Wait. No double suicide?  That's bullshit. The cops show up and arrest Chino, and Maria says they all have Tony and Bernardo and Riff's blood on their hands and then both the Sharks and Jets carry away Tony's body and everyone is sad and dramatic. 

Review: Yeah, it was fun. Some of the songs were really great and the dancing was superb. I imagine the anti-racism angle was pretty daring for the year, and in general it worked. If you're going to have a musical, why not go all the way and have dancing and singing gang members? And yet later, when things got more serious and real, the movie handled that well, too. I was especially impressed with their willingness to go rel dark, especially with the implied threat of sexual violence by the Jets against Anita.  It was cool that they managed to get Tony to believe that Maria was dead without involving any fake magic potions. The central love story was pretty boring, though. And as I said, Tony was a terrible actor and a couple of the songs were unnecessary and went on too long. And it sucks that Maria didn't die. Apparently, the movie wanted Elvis as Tony but it didn't work out which is really too bad. Not much else to say.  Pretty inoffensive and good, though nowhere near as awesome as Baz Luhrman's take with Leo and Claire Danes. 

Stars: Three and a half out of five. 

Next, the newest and oldest AFI entries.  "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the King" (2001) and then "Intolerance" (1916).  I honestly can't say which one I'm going to hate the most.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

#52 Taxi Driver (1976)

Jimmy Fallon is a cop!  Queen Latifah is sassy and black!  Together, they fight crime in a tricked-out cab!
Sorry, wait...wrong movie.  I guess I'll send that disc back, after I max out the fun meter, of course.

Technically, I've seen this movie before.  But not really. Back in the mid 90's, I worked at a movie theatre in San Diego called Hillcrest Cinemas.  It was a Landmark theatre, so we were all hoity-toity and special and shit, and did things like run Il Postino for 13 months straight. Occasionally, on Friday nights, we would wait until midnight and have a movie screening party, and invite our friends and bring lots of pot and booze and watch movies that hadn't been released yet, or perhaps old movies. On one such night, we watched Taxi Driver.  But of course, I was drinking a blue plastic cup filled with Jack Daniels and cranberry juice (don't ask)  and I wasn't paying much attention. Oh, and also about halfway through we realized the red-eyed projectionist had put in the second reel wrong and suddenly we were watching Travis Bickle walking around upside-down and backwards, making alien "yip yip yip" sounds. And the kicker: we all just kept watching, hoping the problem would somehow soon fix itself.  It didn't. So no, I haven't seen this movie before.

Plot summary (with spoilers): Vietnam vet Travis Bickle drives a cab at night in New York City. It's the mid 70's years before sainted hero Guiliani cleaned up the town, and after work, Travis goes to a porno theatre, flirts with a female employee (!) at the concession stand (!!) and then buys some popcorn and soda (!!!) before finding his seat. Jesus, lock him up now.
Travis hates the city he lives in, hates the scum and the whores and the queers and the spooks who lurk about at night. But one day, one beautiful morning, he spots  Betsy, a campaign worker who is attempting to get NY Senator Charles Palantine elected president. Betsy has whimsical, breezy conversations with fellow employee Tom, but there's no chemistry there; Tom's kind of a cold fish, so when Travis enters campaign headquarters under the pretext of becoming a volunteer and winds up asking Betsy out for coffee, she accepts. The coffee date goes okay.  Travis is a bit too eager to unnecessarily slag off Tom, but Betsy's fine with it, and mostly sees Travis as a fun diversion, a walk on the wild side. Of course, Travis is pretty much fully in love and asks her out to dinner in two nights. She accepts.
The night before their second date, a super creepy dude directs himself in a monologue, talking in the back of Travis' cab, telling him eagerly about how he's going to kill his girlfriend for cheating on him with a black guy, but his terminology is less PC than that.
And then Travis meets Betsy at her apartment, and walks her to the movie theatre. The porno movie theatre.  She protests, but he insists that couples come all the time, she'll have a blast, and the popcorn's yummy, what with the extra "butter".  (Sorry).
After a couple minutes of watching the world's creepiest porno, in media res no less, Betsy's had enough and bolts. Travis begs and pleads with her to stay, to give him another chance, but to no avail. He calls her multiple times in the next few days and finally shows up at her work, all nine kinds of yelly and white trashy and gets booted out by Tom. It's a brutally embarrassing scene.
At night, in the cab, Travis sits in total despair. A young girl, all of twelve, jumps in the back seat and begs him to drive away, drive anywhere! Suddenly, a man is opening the door and pulling her out. He gives Travis a rumpled up twenty dollar bill, tells him to forget what he saw. Travis is stunned. He can't even bring himself to touch the money.
Travis decides he needs to be armed and buys some illegal guns and straps them to various parts of his body, including a spring loaded one on his arm. Are you talking to me? Well, you must be, I'm the only one here. Indeed.
On another day, he sees the little girl again, walking down the street. He offers to pay for her services. She tells him to arrange a meeting with Sport over there on the corner. Sport assures Travis she's great. She'll make your cock explode, cum on her tits, cum on her face, whatever. Sport seems to be a not so nice guy.
They go to a nearby hotel, pay another scumbag ten more dollars, and head up to a room. Travis wants to know the girl's name.
No, your real name.
I hate my real name.
But she tells him it's Iris, and she makes a play for his pants, and cripes this is fucking gross.  Travis agrees with me, and pushes her off. He says he'll rescue her, but she says she doesn't need rescuing. He says she tried to escape the other day in his cab, but she waves that off, saying she doesn't remember it, and was probably just stoned. Travis begs Iris to let him help her, send her back home to her folks, but she maintains that her folks hate her and Sport is the only one who loves her.
Travis goes home, dejected, but learns of a rally for Senator Palantine the next day. He takes all his money and puts it in an envelope addressed to Iris. His note encourages her to take the money and run. He shows up at the rally, now with a mohawk. He obviously didn't read Assassination for Dummies, which has like a whole chapter on how to blend in in a crowd. Palantine makes his speech, and comes down from the platform, and Travis charges. But the Secret Service are onto him and move to intercept. He manages to slip away and race down the street.
Frustrated, he goes back to his shitty little apartment, chugs some liquor, practices his draw, and basically tries his hardest to give me the fucking willies. That night he goes out again, and this time goes to the corner where Sport hangs out. After a brief confrontation, where somehow Sport doesn't recognize Travis' psychotic thousand-yard stare as a threat, Travis shoots him in the gut. Then, he goes to the shitbag hotel next door, and shoots the hand off the other dude. The shots are kinetic and washed out, and I do my best not to notice how fakey it all looks. Another guy grazes Travis' neck with a shot and then Sport shows up and shoots him in the arm. Travis' gun runs out of bullets, but the spring-loaded number pops out and he blows Sport away. The last man runs away, into the hotel room where Iris is, and Iris screams at Travis and curls up into a ball and weeps as the man's face is blown off. Then Travis puts the gun under his chin and fires. But the bullets are out. So he sits on the couch and waits to die. Very quickly, the cops show up. Travis lifts his bloody hand to his temple in the shape of a gun and "fires" it twice at his own temple, making those "pow, pow" sounds you make when you pretend to shoot yourself after just killing three people in front of a twelve year old girl. He grins the grin of the truly crazy as we fade out.
...and fade back in. Some time has passed. A bunch of newspaper articles hailing a local hero are cut out and taped onto a wall, as well as a loving thank you letter from Iris' parents, thanking the wonderful hero Travis for rescuing their daughter. Travis gets up and goes to work. The other cabbies talk to him warmly, the whole city seems brighter and cleaner. Travis has a fare. It's Betsy. She saw him in the papers, hopes he's okay, is impressed with his bravery. Travis demurs, says it was nothing. He doesn't charge her a fare. She's smiles and thanks him. He hopes to see her again. As he drives away smiling, he catches sight of something bothersome in the rearview mirror and his face goes cloudy again. It was probably nothing. Hopefully it was nothing.

Review: Okay so, wow. Obviously, one of the best acting performances ever. It's so surprise to anyone, but it bears repeating that Bobby fucking DeNiro is a freaking genius. Some of his facial expressions creeped me out more than any actor I've ever seen in a movie, even more than Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. He's truly a masterful actor, even managing to engender a fair amount of sympathy in the viewer for Travis. It's clear he's screwed up inside, but wants desperately to be a good decent normal guy, and just doesn't know how. And of course Scorsese was robbed at the Oscars. He was robbed for Goodfellas, and he was robbed here. And I say that in full confidence not even knowing what movie won that year. Probably some feel-good period piece bullshit. Also spectacular: Jodie Foster. I mean, you pretty much need a silkwood shower after watching her kneel down in front of DeNiro and unbutton his pants, and that's because she made it convincing. She's right up there with Haley Joel Osmet and Dakota Fanning for me.  Utterly convincing as an old soul in a young body.
But the ending: what does it mean?  Lots of theories out there. Travis' dying dream?  Actual reality? I like the irony of it being real, of Travis being labeled a hero, no one but us knowing the real story. But is it believable? I mean, shouldn't the cops be asking why he didn't just report the child prostitution ring to the cops? And all his guns were purchased illegally, why didn't he get in trouble for that? And is it believable that Betsy would seek him out and flirt with him, knowing full well what a creep he is, just because he helped a little girl? That doesn't seem believable to me. Granted, to whole movie had a surreal, dreamlike quality to it, so why should I expect realism in the end? But doesn't the fact that it was so dreamlike support the theory that it was in fact, a dream of Travis?  Ugh, my head hurts.  Damn you, Marty!

Stars: Four and a half out of five. Ultimately, I can't help but shake the feeling that the ending is a bit too weird and a bit too much of a copout, and can't give it five stars.

Next, "West Side Story" and then...sigh.  It was inevitable. That fucking Hobbit movie.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#53 The Deer Hunter (1978)

Plot summary (with spoilers): In a small town in West Pennsylvania, six friends gather with their families to marry off one of their own. Steven is getting married to Angela tonight, and is going to have a lavish Russian wedding that the whole town seems to be involved in. But first Steven and his pals Michael, Nick, Stanley, John, and Axle head off to the bar after work for a final bout of drinking before the big event. They share a warm and easy camaraderie that comes with years of friendship. They start to play pool, down shots, talk excitedly of their impeding military service in Vietnam. Well, that's just for the lucky three of them; Michael, Nick, and Steven. The other three stand on the opposite side, what with their knee injuries and obesity and what not. The song "You're Just Too Good To Be True" comes on the jukebox and everyone sings loudly and joyously, because this moment, this day, is exactly that. Then Steven's future mother-in-law comes in and grabs him by the ear and hits him with a rolling pin and drags him out and the other guys sing louder.
One of the bridesmaids is Linda, she's exquisitely beautiful and also Nick's girlfriend. She lives at home with her drunken father, who belts her across the face when she tries to help him into bed.
She goes to Nick and Michael's apartment, and asks Nick if she can live there while he and Michael are away in Vietnam. Nick says of course, hugs her tight, Michael looks on inscrutably.
The wedding is a raucous wild time with a live band, boisterous Russian dancing (the kind with endless leg squats)  and lots and lots of booze. Everyone is in a beautiful, drunken frenzy. You know. You've been there. It's so great, isn't it?
Throughout the reception, Michael and Linda exchange looks of Unrequited Longing while Nick's back is turned. They even dance a bit, but are broken apart by Stanley and his date. Then Stanley's date dances with another dude who grabs her ass.  Stanley thinks that's disrespectful so he...punches his girlfriend in the face. Yeah. The other dude splits and the girl stands up, points to her cheek and pouts theatrically and he kisses her boo-boo. A pox on them both. Then the boys see a genuine Vietnam vet at the bar and pepper him with questions, bragging a little, wanting to be accepted into his club, we're shipping out in a few days, what's it like?  The vet sneers, stares straight ahead. Fuck it, he says.
Michael's slipped through the Not Actually Fun Anymore alcohol rabbit hole and is fully on the other side. He drunkenly slurs at the vet's perceived disrespect and tries to start a fight with him, while the others hold him back. "Fuck it" Michael repeats drunkenly, mockingly.  "Fuck it!"  Makes it into a toast. Drinks some more.
Finally, Steven and Angela cut the cake and drink wine from connected goblets, as per tradition, if they drink it all without spilling a drop they'll have good luck in their marriage. No one sees the drop that ruins Angela's white dress.
Steven and Angela drive off in their car, and Michael runs along side them, stripping naked, too drunk to care. Nick chases after him and after awhile, they sit on the ground and Nick makes Michael promise that no matter what, he'll never leave Nick "over there".
The next morning, the guys minus Steven go hunting. Michael expouses his theory that a good hunter kills a deer in "one shot". In the woods that day, he does exactly that, sneaking up on a deer and taking it down. The boys strap it to the hood of their car and drive back home, stopping at the local pub to celebrate. They're the only ones there. Then Axle sits down at the piano and begins to play a beautiful melancholy song. The others listen serenely, caught up in the moment.
And then we're in the middle of Vietnam. Some North Vietnamese are raiding a village, killing women and children. Michael, covered in soot has been playing dead. He suddenly leaps up with a flame thrower and burns one of the Viet Cong alive. Reinforcements arrive, including Steven and Nick. And then just like in a nightmare, we're plunged somewhere else. Michael, Steven, Nick, and some other American and South Vietnamese soldiers are caught, imprisoned in a barbwire cage in about four feet of water. Rats crawl over them impunity. Above the men is a small hut where about half a dozen Viet Cong with guns are forcing their prey to play Russian Roulette. Two South Vietnamese men are "playing" the game, as Michael and the others watch through the slats in their prison ceiling. Steven begins to completely crack up, screaming and making guttural animal noises, and Michael grabs him, holds him, whispers in his ear, does what he can. This works until they hear the shot above them. One prisoner is dead, and the other is put back in the cage. Now, Michael and Steven are playing the game. Steven can't do it. Michael says he must, or they'll kill him. Micheal pulls the trigger. The gun clicks. It's Steven's turn. He holds the gun at his temple, but then at the last second moves it at an angle. It blows a hole in the hut's roof. "You did it, Steven" Michael says proudly. But the Viet Cong aren't impressed and throw him into the penalty box, a completely submerged bamboo cage where dead soldiers are floating. Steven can barely keep his head above the surface and is fading fast. Michael goes back down below while others play. He concocts a plan with Nick; they play the game and insist on three bullets instead of one. Then they'll each play one round and then shoot their captors with the remaining bullets. Nick doesn't know if he can do it, but they have no choice. They play again. Nick fires at his own temple, it clicks. Michael does the same, screaming in fear and rage as he does so. Then he fires at the main Viet Cong and two others.  There's a flurry of Michael Bay style editing here where we can't tell what's going on as Michael and Nick overpower and take out all six men, because of course that's impossible. They stagger over to Steven and free him from his cage, then pretty rudely ignore the rest of the prisoners. They grab onto a tree branch and start floating down the river, seeking to eventually float to American's side of the line. An American chopper spots them and hovers nearby.  They float into a rickety old wooden bridge and climb onto it. The chopper can get close to them and are able to boost Nick up and get him on board. Michael and Steven grab onto the undercarriage part and dangle helplessly and the chopper takes off. They try desperately to pull themselves up, but aren't strong enough. Finally, Steven lets go and falls back into the river and Michael follows him down. Michael pulls Steven out of the river; both of his legs are broken and smashed to hell. He puts Steven on his back and begins resolutely marching them back to safety. Eventually, they reach an American camp where Micheal puts Steven on a medical truck just as it drives off.
Nick recovers in a VA hospital in Saigon. He believes his friends are dead, and is unable to answer any questions about who he is. He tries to call Linda, but hangs up the phone before he can. Sometime later, he wanders the streets of Saigon and encounters an alleyway where a French guy is tossing dead bodies in a pile. The guy tells Nick they're players in a most unusual game. Nick is disgusted, says he's not interested, is interested. He follows the man back inside a building where people are betting on the outcomes of "professional" Russian Roulette matches, sponsored by Home Depot. Michael's there in the crowd, he sees Nick. Nick grabs the gun and pulls the trigger at one of the players. It clicks. Then he pulls the trigger at his own temple, and it clicks again. He runs away, and several members of the crowd pursue him. Michael does as well, but Nick doesn't see or hear him.
Eventually Michael goes back home to PA. He avoids the surprise party everyone has planned for him and hides out a hotel until the next morning when he goes to see Linda. They discuss the fact that Nick is AWOL. Linda laments that he never even called her. Michael walks her to work, she's desperate for him to take her in his arms, and he's desperate for that too, but they know they can't. The guys reveal that Steven's alive. He's at a VA hospital and down to one working limb, his right arm. Michael calls him, and says "how're you doing" and when Steven with answers with a totally transparent "great", my eyes get a little misty.  Steven abruptly hangs up on Michael when the conversation gets too painful.
He greets the other guys but now Michael can't talk to them. They go deer hunting, but when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a beautiful slow-moving buck, Michael can't bring himself to shoot it.
Michael goes to the hospital to take Steven home, but Steven doesn't want to go. He reveals that someone from Saigon has been sending him money every week and Michael knows it must be Nick. He doesn't want to leave him over there.
He flies back to Saigon and finds the Frenchman and pays him thousands of dollars to be in the game as a player. Turns out the American Nick is a famous player, now. Michael insists that they play. Before the game begins, Michael pleads with Nick to leave with him now, but there's no recognition in Nick's eyes, and there are track marks up and down his arm. They play one round. Nick fires the gun. No bullet. It's Michael's turn. Do you really want me to do this, do you?  Nick doesn't react. So Michael fires, and even though I'm not looking at the screen at this point, I hear the telltale safe "click" and exhale. Suddenly, recognition dawn's in Nick's eyes. He stares at Michael. Michael smiles. Nick?
One shot?
Yes Nick, one shot.
Nick fires.  The shot explodes his skull and he falls forward. Michael screams, grabs his head and weeps.
After Nick's funeral, Michael, Steven, Stanley, Linda, Angela, Axle, and John head back to Linda and Michael's apartment. John begins humming "God Bless America" and the others join in, singing along. Fuck it.

Review: But Lord, this was an ambitious flick. So many great set pieces, beautiful landscapes and cinematography. There's so much to love here. The first act with the wedding was so real and so much fun, it was completely believable and practically a movie in its own right. The chemistry that all six men had together was totally real and enhanced the movie and also made it all the more heartbreaking when Michael returned in the second half and no longer could really interact with the three who didn't go. Everyone is great acting-wise, but DeNiro in particular hits it out of the park. I had heard about the nail-biting Russian Roulette scene, and thought I was prepared for it, but I wasn't, really. The intensity of that whole sequence was something I'm not sure I've ever seen equaled in a movie before. I was tearing up watching it, feeling totally helpless and unable to turn away. DiNero and Walken really sold it, and John Savage as Steven did, too. Odd that his career didn't take off like the other two's did.
The jump cut into Vietnam with no explanation was freaking brilliant. The idea I believe was to replicate a living nightmare, and a nightmare has no sense of linear time, and pushes you into the middle of the action without warning.
I feel like I can't say this movie was perfect, though. Like I already said, I knew the Russian Roulette scene was coming, but what I didn't know was that it was going to be the main plotline for the second half of the movie. I thought the idea that Nick was somehow a champion Russian Roulette player, winning often enough to be sending money to Steven for weeks and weeks, possibly months, was too impossible to believe. It think the one scene with the forced Russian Roulette was great and should've stood alone. Showing it over and over again reduces its power. It's also just...well, bizarre. If the movie is trying to be the seminal Vietnam movie, why pick an event that most, maybe even all, Vietnam vets didn't experience and can't identify with? I understand its a metaphor; a pointless and destructive game that represents a pointless and destructive war, but in my view a metaphor only works like that if is used sparingly and doesn't become a major plot point. Nick should've been involved in some other highly illegal and dangerous pursuits, something that was more grounded in reality.
And I'm not sure what to make of the final scene and the final song. They all sing "God Bless America" with total sincerity.  But it's gotta be ironic, right? I just can't say for sure. Maybe its supposed to be vague.
But really, I don't wish to mislead anyone. I loved this movie. It was great. My problems with it are minor, and I'm very glad I saw it.

Stars: Four and a half out of five.

Next, two movies about the mean, gritty streets of New York: "Taxi Driver" and then "West Side Story".

Saturday, September 3, 2011

#54 M*A*S*H* (1970)

So, those who know me now might know that my Very Favorite TV Show Ever is The Wire. This designation was granted sometime in 2010, and is still going strong.  Those same people probably know my prior Very Favorite TV Show was Battlestar Galatica, which had a brilliantly blinding and bright but all-too-brief run at the top of my list from 2009-2010.
Those who've known me awhile know there was another Very Favorite TV Show Ever which had a phenomenally impressive run at the top of the heap.  Cheers, which lasted first in my heart from 1990-2009.
But what few, if any know, is that Cheers wasn't my first Very Favorite TV Show.  Oh, no. That honor belongs to a little show called M*A*S*H*, from 1981-1990.  (There was also a brief several month period where the title almost switched to Soap, but then Elaine Lefkowitz the mobster's daughter died in Danny Dallas' arms and I cried and cried so much my mom wouldn't let me watch the show anymore).
I loved Hawkeye, BJ, Margaret, Trapper, Col Blake, Col Potter, Klinger, Frank, Mulcahey, Radar and especially Charles more than I loved my own family. (Not true, but go with it). I preferred Potter, BJ, and Charles over Blake, Trapper, and Frank, thought Seasons 6-8 (after Charles arrived, before Radar left) were the "Golden Years", liked that the final seasons stopped trying to be funny and just wanted to teach, and bragged to my friend Lynette on the bus that I had seen all the episodes, even though she had too. I bought the Jamie Farr autobiography, Just Farr Fun at the Roseville Square bookstore and read it cover to cover several dozen times, even the boring stuff about when he was on Super Password.  And then one day, when I was 13 or so, while pouring through the back of my cable guide looking for Rated R movies marked with an 'N', and hoping it wouldn't once again be just another movie with boobs, I found out about the M*A*S*H movie, which I had never heard of and thought it was a movie Alan Alda and the gang had made after the show had ended.  I excitedly turned it on...and turned it off after about half an hour.  These people were not my friends.  They had nothing to teach me about the Hell of War. They were weird, cold impostors. Plus the "N" stood for boobs yet again.  Sigh. And so it is with great trepidation that I watch this movie today...

Plot summary (with spoilers): The very familiar music strains begin, this time with lyrics, reassuring us that suicide is painless, as helicopters begin their decent upon the M*A*S*H 4077th, bringing incoming wounded.
But first, we meet a not Alan Alda version of  Capt. Hawkeye Pierce. He's supposed to wait at Jeep in Seoul until another Captain and a driver show up to go the 4077th. Capt Duke Forrest (not in the show) arrives, mistakes Hawkeye for the driver and orders him to drive him into camp. Hawkeye plays the part and the two drive off. The MP's see them go and literally run into each other and fall down trying to run after them. Oh boy. They arrive at camp, Hawkeye reveals his ruse, Duke laughs.  They go into the mess hall where Lt Col Henry Blake (not McLean Stevenson) greets them and his company clerk Radar (still Gary Burgoff!  Yay!) anticipates everything Henry is going to say and says it seconds before Henry does. It's cute.  It was cute for eight seasons. They go to their tent and meet their third bunkmate, Maj Frank Burns (not Larry Linville) who is teaching a Korean teen boy named Ho-Jon how to read the bible. Pierce and Forrest say hello to them both and unfortunately Ho-Jon does not say "annyong" back to them. Frank is deeply religious and reads the bible a lot and prays out loud and Pierce and Forrest can't have that and immediately petition Henry to move him out of "their" tent, which Henry does. Okay.  Were we supposed to side with them?  Because Frank really hadn't done anything wrong.
So then the next surgeon shows up and it's Trapper John of course.  He blows bubbles with his gum over and over and he's a thoracic surgeon and he has anachronistic sideburns and he's wacky like the other two.  They torment Frank, show Ho-Jon porn mags, ignore Henry's commands, act like jackasses, but are good at surgery. At one point, Frank berates an orderly and is a jerk to him and Trapper punches Frank in the face.  Henry orders an MP to put Trapper under arrest and when the MP tries, Trapper just says, "Oh, come off it, George!" and stomps off.  Heh.
Then sexy statuesque Maj Margaret Houlihan (not Loretta Swit) shows up.  She's no-nonsense "regular army" and rubs all the men the wrong away (as opposed to rubbing them in the right way.  Zing!  Up top!) except of course "regular army" cohort Frank Burns. Then Henry goes away to a medical conference or something, and Frank is in charge. Everyone ignores him and Trapper even "jokes" in the mess hall loudly in front of everyone that he'd like to strip Margaret naked and fuck her right then and there. But Margaret totally deserves it because she's kind of uptight.
Margaret and Frank compose a letter to the general, complaining about Henry and the lack of discipline in camp.  Then they get so turned on by the letter that they start making out. Somehow, Radar is just outside with a PA system microphone and sneaks it in the tent with them. The rest of the guys listen to them fucking while hovered around the PA system in main office, and hear Margaret say, "Oh Frank, kiss my lips.  Kiss my hot lips!"  Then they broadcast it to the whole camp, which allows Frank and Margaret to hear themselves, so they freak out and stop.  The next day Margaret is humiliated and forever christened "Hot Lips", and Hawkeye taunts Frank until Frank lunges at him and punches him out.  He gets carted off by the MPs in a straight jacket.  Ha...ha?
Some time later, Father Mulcahey tells Hawkeye that another doctor nicknamed "Painless" is having severe emotional problems that Mulcahey can't talk about because he learned them in confession, but he encourages Hawkeye to talk to him.  Turns out Painless is having trouble getting it up with women, so he decides he's a "fairy" and is going to kill himself, as you do. So Hawkeye and Trapper et al pretend to go along with this and give him a "black pill" with which to kill himself.  But first they have a final meal, or a last supper you might say, creating a mildly amusing but also meaningless tableau. As Painless "dies", a solider sings the beautiful "Suicide is Painless" song again, and I kinda think this should've been the first time we heard this song. The black pill is actually a sleeping pill of course, and when Painless awakens, a friendly nurse named Michelle Bachmann is there to cure him of his impending fairydom.
Later still, the guys are laying out in the sun talking about whether or not they think Hot Lips is a natural blonde. They bet 20 bucks, then all go to the showers.  Hot Lips and the other nurses are about to go into the shower tent, and the guys distract the other nurses so that Hot Lips goes in alone. Then as she's showering, they pull the tent apart. She screams and falls to the ground naked and covered in soap as everyone cheers.  She lies on the ground, screaming and weeping and slithers back to her robe and puts it on. She races to Henry and threatens to resign and Henry says, "fine, whatever" and waves her off. But she totally deserves it because she doesn't get along with everyone that well. I can't wait until they gang rape her for not using the proper utensils in the mess hall.
Then, in the next episode of M*A*S*H, Trapper learns that a congressman's son was shot and he's requested to go to Japan and fix him up. He looks at the X-Rays and lies and says the injuries are more severe than they really are. He insists he needs back up from Hawkeye.  They go to Japan, fix the son, fuck around for a couple days, then help a Japanese-American baby who has colic or something. The evil general catches them using the operating room for non-army personnel and threatens court martial, so they knock him out with anesthesia and take naked pictures of him with a Japanese prostitute for blackmail. It apparently doesn't occur to the general that he could have them arrested for that. Then when Trapper and Hawkeye get back to camp they catch Duke sneaking Margaret out of their tent and laugh at him.
Then finally, another general shows up and challenges the 4077th to a football game. Um...huh? So they agree to it, but Trapper has a plan for Henry to hire a ringer, a black man nicknamed...sigh...Spearchucker Jones who is also a former player for the 49ers as a well as a current neurosurgeon and army captain. In 1951, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a black man named Spearchucker who was a former professional football player as well as a neurosurgeon.
Spearchucker shows up, they all play the game, and Margaret is there as a cheerleader, having had the meanness totally fucked out of her by Duke apparently. But Margaret is really stupid now and Henry keeps calling her a blithering idiot for not knowing how to play football. They play and play and play and there are hijinks and our guys win in the end when there is no time left on the clock and blah blah blah fuck you MASH.  Football?!  Really?!
Then Hawkeye and Duke get their discharge papers and go home, without even having to dress like chicks.

Review: Okay, part of my displeasure with many parts of this movie was the fact that I'd already seen nearly all of it acted out on the TV series in the first three seasons. Other than the football game and stripping Margaret, all the plotlines were covered in the TV show. I realize that the show came after the movie, but in my defense, all of the movie's stories were very "sitcom" ready and had a sitcom feel. There wasn't one cohesive plot or story at all. It was basically a bunch of short stories about the war strung together. To be fair, there were things I liked: the suicide is painless interlude, the guy on the PA always messing up whatever he was supposed to be reading, the Col Blake and Radar banter, the Father Mulcahey character who was allowed to be religious but not mocked, unlike Frank, and I really liked the fact that the camera was unflinching in showing the bloody wounded soldiers all throughout the film. There were many, many realistic operating scenes where the camera would linger on the dead or wounded solider while we would just hear Hawkeye and the gang quip back and forth to each other. That was cool, the way it commented on the horror of the surroundings without making a thing about it. There's also an interesting moment when the southern Duke doesn't want Spearchucker Jones living in their tent, but then Hawkeye and Trapper basically ignore him and the plotline is thrown away. Which brings me to...
Things I hated; Hawkeye, Trapper, and Duke. They were sociopaths and generally shitty people. In the TV show, the guys were crazy because they were lashing out at a crazy war. These movie characters would act exactly the same way if they worked at a pizza joint. Also, Frank had no point, and was totally wasted as a villain. Also, football?  The final half hour of a war satire movie was a "we've got to beat the other team by one touchdown in the last second" sports movie?!  WTF, Robert Altman.  WTF. And finally, the treatment of Margaret was just disgusting. She was a bitch, sure, but she in no way deserved the harsh humiliating treatment she received and it was not at all funny. And even worse, her eleventh hour transformation from bitch to bimbo came out of nowhere, wasn't earned, and somehow degraded her character even more. I actively feel sorry for Sally Kellerman.

Stars: Two out of five.

Next, it's a Bobby-athon with "The Deer Hunter", and then "Taxi Driver".