Monday, October 24, 2011

#39 Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Plot summary (with spoilers): American General Jack D. Ripper gives his executive officer Captain Lionel Mandrake a phone call.
"Captain, we're initiating Wing Attack Plan R. This is not a drill." Repeat, over, roger, ten four.
Mandrake is stunned, and also British so therefore a big pussy. "Not a drill, sir? Are you certain?"
General Ripper is certain. Mandrake enters in the three letter and three number code into the giant computer-like thing,
Up in the sky, several dozen American planes are hovering near Soviet airspace. They see the code and use their decoder booklet to confirm that indeed, Wing Attack Plan R has been initiated. The pilot of one of the planes is Maj TJ "King" Kong, who is Texan and wears a cowboy hat and says yee-haw and stuff.
So, there's a big meeting in the War Room. President Merkin Muffley is there, along with Five Star General Buck Turgidson and dozens of other advisors with no lines.
General Turgidson calmly and somewhat lackadaisically explains the sitch to the room as he chomps his gum:
General Ripper suspects the commies are putting fluoride in our water to poison us. As a result, Gen Ripper initiated Wing Attack Plan R.
President Muffley is not familiar with that plan.
Ah well, that's because it's a secret plan. You see, the plan is an authorization for a dozen planes circling around Soviet airspace to then enter said airspace and drop their cargo on the twelve targets shown here on the Big Board. This plan has been authorized and said planes are now in Russian airspace.
I'm the President!  How come people under me can authorize a nuclear attack without my approval?!
Well, Wing Attack Plan R authorizes any general to initiate it. It's in case the Russians manage to kill you and the other leading members of your cabinet before you can authorize an attack.
But that didn't happen!  I'm fine.
Well, the plan is not without its faults. And no, they can't be recalled. Their radios are off, just in case the Russians try to trick them into not dropping their cargo. A three number and three letter code can be entered as a recall, but only General Ripper knows the code. He's holed-up in his base right now.
Go send in some troops to get him and bring him here.
Yes sir, but that could take awhile, and the bombs are going to drop in 18 minutes or so. Gen Turgidson lays down his plan to turn lemons into lemonade. Since nuclear war is now inevitable, let's attack with all we've got!  We have the element of surprise!  We'll only lose 10-20 million on our side, and we'll be able to wipe them out completely.
President Muffley wants the Soviet Ambassador to join them in the War Room.
But, sir!  He'll know our plans!  He'll see the Big Board!
But President Muffley gets his way. And as General Ripper's base is attacked by American troops, (and defended by other American troops who believe Ripper's lies that the attacking American troops are actually Soviet troops in disguise), the Soviet Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski is ushered into the War Room, where Gen. Turgidson fumes.
Muffley gets the Soviet Premier on the phone, addresses him as "Dmitri", and speaks to him as if they are a long suffering old married couple. "Now then Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb..."  And the line on the page doesn't do justice to how hilarious Peter Sellers' reading is. Muffley goes on to tell the Premier exactly where each plane is going to drop their bombs and their flight plans. He ends the call saying he's sorry, but the Premier says he is even sorrier, and they argue for awhile about who is sorrier, then Dmitri wants to talk to Sadeski, They talk in Russian briefly, then hang up,
Sadeski reveals that the Soviets have a Doomsday Device, which will go off automatically if they're attacked, and it will destroy the entire world. Muffley wonders how such a device is possible.
A new character, a German in a wheelchair named Dr. Strangelove, wheels himself forward and explains that a Doomsday Device is indeed possible and he become giddy with the prospect. He adds that such a device isn't really a deterrent if it's kept a secret, and Sadeski sheepishly reveals that they were going to announce it to the world on Monday, and that the Premier loves surprises.
As this goes on, Maj Kong and his plane are attacked by Soviet missiles. They're hit once, but manage to stay aloft, even though their cockpit is fried and no longer able to receive incoming messages.
At Ripper's base, Lionel Mandrake tries to convince Ripper to give him the recall code, while sounds of a firefight occur outside. Ripper goes on at great length about fluoride and mind control and such and Mandrake realizes it's hopeless. The invading American troops finally take over the base and Ripper shoots himself to avoid being tortured for the codes. Mandrake however, discovers the code on Ripper's desk, but his held at gunpoint by the troops. He manages to get the leader to allow him to make a phone call to the President. The landline is out though, so Mandrake uses a pay phone. He doesn't have enough change, tries for a collect call but it's denied by the White House, so he gets a solider to shoot up a vending machine and grabs the change and finally makes the call.
At the War Room, they celebrate the fact that the recall codes have been transmitted, and all the planes are turning around, except for the four the Soviets shot down. Oh, unfortunately the Soviets lied. They only shot down three planes. One plane was hit, but is still flying, and still headed for its target. Muffley gets on the horn with Dmitri again and tells him where that last plane will drop its bomb and wishes them good luck in shooting it down.
Maj Kong discovers his plane is leaking fuel and won't reach the intended target, so his crew decides to drop it now. But the bomb doors have jammed. Kong leaves the cockpit and crawls down below. He climbs on top of one of the two bombs and takes a screwdriver to the controls. Finally, he manages to open the doors and the bombs drop, with him on top of one of them. He rides it down, waving his cowboy hat and yee-hawing all the way.
Back at the War Room, Dr. Strangelove addresses Muffley as "Mien Fuhrer" and has trouble keeping his right arm from making a Nazi salute as he advises the President that several thousand people should live down in the mineshafts for the next one hundred years until the radiation from the Doomsday Device clears. The men should be chosen for their intelligence and strength and the women should be chosen for their beauty, and should outnumber the men 10-1, to ensure repopulation goes smoothly. DeSadeski holds a spy camera and surreptitiously takes pictures of the Big Board. Turgidson exclaims that the Ruskies can't beat us in the upcoming Mineshaft Race and we've got to get started immediately. Muffley just sits slumped and defeated, taking it all in. Dr. Strangelove excitedly gets up from his wheelchair while discussing the various women he will procreate with, then exclaims, "Mien Fuhrer!  I can walk!" 
And then all over the world, the Doomsday Device goes off, nuclear bomb after nuclear bomb destroying everyone and everything as Till We Meet Again plays.

Review: It's at times weird and dark but not really that funny, and at other times flat-out hysterical. It's amazing how well the movie walks up to the line of farce without ever becoming farce. We know these events are ridiculous, but the characters take it seriously, and respond humorously but also in-character, which is so rare for spoofs and satires. Also, the laws of physics are never broken, we're never in cartoon land. This isn't Naked Gun or Airplane. This is a tiny step above that, and that grounds the material and makes it real and believable and that much funnier. Okay, actually Dr. Strangelove's own hand trying to do a Nazi salute against his will might've gone into flat-out farce territory, but it was the only moment that didn't really work for me. Even Slim Pickens riding the bomb to the ground was great. I had seen that image before, and had kinda rolled my eyes, because it's so on the nose (American cowboy rides a nuclear bomb while waving his cowboy hat around) but I didn't realize how organic it was to the story. He didn't ride it down on purpose, after all.
Turns out, everyone who watches movies is right. Peter Sellers is a fucking genius. All three of his characters are distinct, funny, and real. The one-sided conversations the President has with "Dmitri" are so damn funny they had me laughing out loud multiple times. And the thing is, if you just read it, there aren't really many jokes. It's just all situational.
I would also give George C Scott major props, because he's hysterical as well, but according to wiki, Kubrick tricked Scott into giving this performance by telling him to go "over-the-top" in practice takes that they would never use. And guess what?  They used them. Scott apparently was furious and vowed to never work with Kubrick again.
And another bonus, it's only 95 minutes, which is basically a short film for Kubrick, who for my money, tends to go on way too long in most his movies. This is definitely my favorite Kubrick so far.

Stars: Four and a half out of five.

Next, "The Treasure of Sierra Madre" and then "The Best Years of Our Lives".

Sunday, October 23, 2011

#40 The Sound of Music (1965)

Sometimes, you root for the Nazis.

Plot summary (with spoilers): The panoramic view of the Austrian vista sweeps ithrough the hilltops and centers on Sister Maria, who sings with gusto about how the hills are alive (really?!  Holy shit!) with the sound of music (aw, nuts) and then the clock tolls down below at Hill Valley and Maria knows she's late. She grabs her habit and runs off.
Down below at the nunnery, the nuns talk about how Maria is a problem at the nunnery because she is sometimes late and stuff, and sing about solving a problem like Maria. When Maria shows up, the head nun kicks her out and tells her that "God" (aka her and the other nuns) wants her to work as a governess for Mr. Georg von Trapp and his seven children.
Maria sings about her insecurities at being able to care for so many children, then sings some more about how she has confidence. She goes to the house and Georg von Trapp blows a whistle and introduces her to his seven children. They introduce themselves: Doc, Happy Dopey, Sleepy, Flopsey, Mopsey, and lil' Cottontail.
They're hardcore mean to her and put a frog in her pocket and put a pine cone on her chair. At night, the eldest girl meets her secret boyfriend Rolfe outside and he sings to her all condescending about how she's only 16 going on 17 and is stupid and worthless and has a vagina and at the end of the song he kisses her and then runs away like a lunatic and she twirls around.
At night she sneaks into the house through Maria's window and Maria catches her of course, but doesn't say anything. Then a storm comes and the six younger kids sneak into the room because the thunder scares them and Maria tells them to think about her favorite things like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, which are actually really lame things. Then Georg comes in and he's grumpy and stuff. He tells the kids to go to bed, then tells Maria that he's going away for a month to visit his girlfriend the Baroness.
While he's gone, Maria makes the children play-clothes out of drapes and then takes them picnicing and bicycling and they prance around she teaches them to sing Doe Rey Mi and they get in a canoe and say this is the bestest day ever in the whole wide world.
Then Georg and the Baroness come home with some random third dude named Max and they arrive and see Maria and the kids rowing up in a boat on the lake and when they see their dad they stand up and the boat tips over!  WTFROFL!1!!
Then the children go inside and Georg yells at Maria and she says he needs to be more loving and he tells her to pack her things and go and she says fine, then Georg hears his kids singing "Doe a Deer" to the Baroness and Max and his heart grows threes sizes that day and he sings along with them and loves them again. Phew. Max is some kind of agent or something and he wants to sign the Brady kids as a musical act but Georg refuses to allow them to sing in public.  He asks Maria to stay and she does. The kids and Maria put on a puppet show for Georg, the Baroness and Max, as Maria taught the children advanced puppetry at some point during the day in-between bicycling and singing.
Then they all make cotton candy snowmen in the fields and literal sunshine beams from their asses as they snort dandelions and all get blown by Bambi. Finally, there's some big party at the von Trapp household and the children all do a performance to say goodnight to the guests. So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu. Of course, the movie's only half over, so they're a bunch of fucking liars.
The Baroness is threatened by Maria and tells her that she can tell that she and Georg are in love with each other and Maria should leave because Georg is with her. Maria's all flustered and feels bad and runs back to the convent.
Georg is sad but tells the kids Maria is gone and the Baroness is going to be their new mother and everybody please line up to awkwardly kiss the Baroness on the cheek and run up more screen time. Maria goes back to the nunnery, but the head nun still doesn't want her there, and when Maria says she left because she had feelings for Georg, the nun encourages her to go back and marry him. So Maria does, and the children laugh and sing and crap and then Georg is happy and tells the Baroness to hit the bricks and he tells Maria he wants to marry her. So he does.
Yay!  Happy Ending! Oh, fuck. There's like forty five minutes left. What now? Oh yeah, the Nazis.  Fucking Nazis.
So this is set during the beginning of WWII, did I mention that? And Hitler takes over Austria and the Nazis want to assure the people that nothing will change. They demand all households put up Nazi flags, but Georg rips his up. Max wants the children to put on a show, but Georg still doesn't want them to sing in public, and on the night of some big Talent Show, Georg gets a draft notice from the Nazis to join their army, and he and Maria and the kids try to sneak out of the house at night and flee to Switzerland. But the Nazis catch them pushing the car down the driveway, and Georg quickly says the car wouldn't start and they were actually just going to the Talent Show to perform. The Nazis think this will be a good way to show the Austrian people that nothing has changed during the bloodless takeover of their country and the Talent Show should go as planned. With Georg in it.
Ha ha! He didn't want the kids to sing in public for no reason, and now he's doing it, too!  Oh, the contrived dramatic irony!
So they sing and do "Doe a Deer" and "So Long,  Farewell" again, and then win the contest but don't show up to get their prize because they've fled again. The Nazis drive after them and Maria goes to her old convent and asks the nuns to help them hide. (Psst. Maria. Asking the Catholic Church to help you hide from the Nazis may not be the best course of action. Just sayin'). So they hide among the statues and the  Nazis search with flashlights and lil' Cottontail wants to cheer everyone up by singing about her favorite things again and Maria shushes her and the Nazis search upstairs, but Rolfe, the eldest daughter's old boyfriend, hears something and sees them. He moves to blow his whistle, but Georg tells him he's not one of them, not really, and to join them in fleeing. Rolfe is tempted, but finally sounds the alarm. Georg and the family drive off, and when the Nazis try to pursue, we learn the nuns stole some of their car parts.
The last scene is the von Trapp family in Switzerland hiking some fucking hill and singing some more.

Review: A couple of the songs are mildly entertaining. The last scene at the church was mildly suspenseful. The kids sucked. The story sucked. The running time suuuuucccked. The end was fine.

Stars: One out of five.

Next, "Dr Strangelove" and then "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", both of which will be better than this as long as they're not totally fucking horrible.

Monday, October 17, 2011

#41 King Kong (1933)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Carl Denham makes moving pictures, see. Why, he's one of the best in the business. He's about to film a new top secret film right now.
23 skidoo!  Buy bonds! Flappers! Better dead than red! Four score and twenty years ago! Et tu, Brutus. Etc.
The plan is to hire a ship and have the crew sail him and his movie crew out to a distant island. On the island are natives who maintain a huge wall that surrounds the middle of the island. What's on the other side of that wall? Well, never you mind about that, buckaroo. Never you mind.
But he needs an actress to play the love interest in his film that has no other characters or script. And the movie studios won't let a girl go on a ship to a dangerous island because girls have cooties. So Carl finds a non-actress, a woman at a coffee shop named Ann Darrow (the girl, not the coffee shop)  and offers her the job.
The First Mate, Jack Driscoll, is furious that a girl is on his ship and he yells at her a lot and she tries not to get her girl juice on him, but can't help it.
After six weeks, they reach the island, and Carl's crew sneak off the boat and creep up to see a bunch of natives doing a ritualistic dance. They are actually black actors, to my relief, and not white people with shoe polish. Carl films them from behind the bushes, planning to make them part of the movie...somehow...but they catch him and point their spears at the crew and say "oonga bonga" and Carl's AD fortunately speaks their pretend language and oongas back at them interprets that they want to rape and pillage all over the blonde girl.
Carl says no way, and they leave and go back on the boat. On the deck, Jack tells Ann he's glad she's safe and there's no way she's going back on the island to film anymore, no matter what Carl says. Then they crank the Olden Times WTF meter up to 11 with this exchange:

Ann: You care about me? But Jack, you hate women!

Jack: Yeah, but you ain't 'women'.

I...don't know.

So Jack leaves the deck and the natives appear over the side of the boat and grab Ann and pull her into the water. They go back to shore and tie her up and continue on, chanting and dancing and drafting socialistic health care bills and they tie her up and put her on the other side of the giant wall.
The chanting and dancing stops and they wait. Something approaches. What could it be?
Why it's a giant claymation ape-like thing!  Ann sees it and screams her head off. King Kong grabs her and is magically able to instantly turn her into claymation, too! Amazing! He runs off with her.
Back on the boat, Jack goes to Ann's room too...say goodnight (?)...and knocks on the door. No answer. He discovers she's not on the ship and he Carl, and the movie crew row ashore and to rescue her. They go deep into the jungle and discover several scary dinosaurs who eat several of them. Meanwhile, Kong takes Ann back to his cave atop a cliff for a little private time. He looks in her eyes. Andy Serkis must be having an off day, because his expression is quite unreadable. Finally, he just leaves her there and goes stomping off randomly. He happens upon the men crossing a fallen tree that's made a makeshift bridge. He picks up the tree and flings it. Everyone goes flying and dies horribly, much as my GI Joes often did.  Everyone but Carl and Jack ,that is. They've managed to jump off the tree before Kong threw it.
Carl goes back to the ship to get knockout gas, while Jack follows Kong's trail to try to rescue Ann. Kong fights several dino monsters who try to eat Ann and Ann screams a lot, constantly while he does so. When he's distracted, Jack rescues her and they run off. Kong stomps after them, and even after Jack and Ann run through the door in the wall, Kong busts through it, breaking the native's homes and eating them as spirit moves him.
But Carl saves the day by throwing the knockout gas and putting Kong out.
The ship's crew just want to leave, now, but Carl insists they tie up Kong and put him on the boat so they can make money off him back home. Somehow they do this, despite the logistics being totally impossible.
Back in New York, the elitist liberals all gather in their fancy clothes to come and gawk at the giant ape. Carl bills the show as "Beauty and the Beast" and opens the curtains on the world's biggest stage to reveal Kong all chained up. Don't worry, those chains will hold. Kong sees Ann and freaks out and breaks the chains and everyone runs and screams and Kong goes marching down the street and Jack and Ann run away and I guess go into a random building and talk about how they're totally safe now here on the twentieth floor. And Kong randomly climbs that same building, looking in all the windows for Ann. In one bit of hilarious dark comedy, he sees a woman asleep in her bed, and busts his hand through the window, grabs her, pulls her outside, sees that she's not Ann, and then casually tosses her to her death, screaming all the way. What a way to wake up. But then he finds Ann, and puts his hand through the window again. Jack tries to fight him off with a chair, but the chair breaks harmlessly and Jack goes splat on the floor. Heh. Stupid Jack.
So Kong grabs Ann and naturally climbs the Empire State Building because it's more dramatic than just running away and the planes come and shoot him down and Carl gets to say "it was beauty killed the beast" in a far less melodramatic reading than Jack Black's.

Review: Not anywhere near as bad as I was expecting. Kudos especially to whoever conceived of this now very familiar story. It's really quite fun and (at the time) very original. I had already seen Peter Jackson's movie, and it's a testament to the original story that Jackson basically didn't change anything at all. Although that did make this kind of boring to watch. The effects were...what they were. Not as bad as what I was expecting, either. And many times Kong ate people and picked them up and you could see they really went to the trouble to make a giant Kong head and hand, both of which had to move, and I'm sure that wasn't easy. The acting was a bit dodgy, and Fay Wray's scream was unbelievably annoying, though. It also wouldn't have hurt them to develop any other characters besides Jack, Carl, and Ann. But whatever. It's certainly watchable, over all.

Stars: Three out of five.

Next, "The Sound of Music" and then one I've been waiting for..."Dr. Strangelove".

Sunday, October 16, 2011

#42 Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Plot summary (with spoilers): In the 1930's, during The Great Depression, Clyde Barrow was a small-time bank robbing crook. He wasn't particularly good or memorable as a crook, and history would've long forgotten him, were it not for his choice of partner in crime.
Bonnie Parker was a spoiled, bored child of apathetic parents and had an apparently busted moral compass.
They Meet Cute when Bonnie catches Clyde trying to steal her mother's car. She playfully reproaches him, but isn't really upset, and they go riding off in it together. Clyde tells her he's a bank robber, but she doesn't believe him, so pulls a job in town right in front of her. They go speeding off, fleeing the pursing bank employees.
They pull off into a field to count the loot, and Bonnie's so hot and bothered, she starts making out with Clyde right then and there. He reciprocates begrudgingly, and when it becomes clear she wants to round all the bases he gently and then not-so gently rebuffs her. She's embarrassed, and just wants to go home. He tells her that he doesn't want her to go home. So she doesn't.
They travel the countryside for awhile, stopping off occasionally for money that isn't theirs and swapping cars when it seems like it's time. Once, while robbing a convenience store, Clyde is attacked from behind by a customer, and they barely escape, after Clyde's forced to beat the guy senseless. They're both genuinely confused. They met the man no harm, why'd he have to make it so difficult?
They decide they need to recruit a getaway driver, so they literally take their car in for repairs and tell the car mechanic that they rob banks, and would he like to join them? Yes, he would. That was...remarkably easy.
The mechanic's a youngish 18 or so, named C.W. Moss, and he agrees to wait outside a bank while Bonnie and Clyde enter it. But a car comes up behind C.W., who is blocking the road and honks at him. C.W. is nothing if not a courteous driver, and politely parallel parks about a block away.
In my lifetime, I have driven a getaway car exactly zero times, and yet I can anticipate a problem here.
Sure enough, our "heroes" come tearing out of the bank and there's no car. They run around desperately, then hear C.W. honking. A banker runs out with a gun. Some cops run up. C.W.'s still trying to get out of his spot, wedged between two other cars. Finally, he does so, but not after Clyde winds up shooting and killing a bank employee. They get away, but Clyde declares they need to lay low somewhere out of state until the heat dies down.
They wind up visiting Clyde's brother Buck and his shrill and unlovely wife, Blanche. Buck's a recent parolee and he knows a perfect cabin where they can all hang out for the winter. Blanche is annoying and clingy and hates Bonnie on site, who feels mutually.
They hide out in some cabin in the outskirts of town, but still have groceries delivered. Meanwhile, the radio reports that the bank robber/killer was one Clyde Barrow, and he was with an unidentified blonde and driver. The grocery delivery boy is suspicious when he sees the windows covered with cardboard and when Bonnie won't let him bring the groceries inside.
The next thing you know, a couple of cop cars pull up outside the cabin. Clyde motions for everyone to be quiet and play it cool, but immediately Blanche starts screaming. The cops take that as a sign to start shooting, naturally. Buck, Clyde, C.W., and Bonnie shoot their way out the door, while Blanche literally just runs and screams while flapping her arms around. Buck kills a couple cops. They all jump in the car and speed off, picking up Blanche who has run down the road. Bonnie screams at her and she screams back and Clyde says family doesn't yell at family and Buck says they're all in this now.
After a while on the run and pulling jobs, a Texas lawman tries to ambush them, but is caught by Buck. They tie him up and take pictures with him in ridiculous poses,  with Bonnie pretending to smoke a cigar and stroke his face. Everyone's having a grand old time. They leave him tied up with the roll of film in his pocket.
The papers call them the "Barrow Gang", and give them false credit for many jobs they didn't even pull, and eventually Bonnie is positively identified as well as Buck and Blanche. Only C.W.'s identity is a secret to the public.
Bonnie grows despondent with the new shitty life she's made for herself. She's homesick for her family, and still wonders why Clyde won't have sex with her. In a heartbreaking scene, Bonnie manages to convince Clyde to let her visit her family, so Bonnie's mom and siblings meet her in an open field where Clyde tells Bonnie's mom that he takes real good care of her and won't let her go on any robberies that seem too dangerous and one day they'll retire and she and Bonnie can be neighbors. Mom cuts through the tremendous pile of bullshit Clyde's slinging and says she hopes that Bonnie is never her neighbor, because that would mean the cops could find her and kill her. Then she senses that that's the best exit line possible, and leaves.
One night, they're staying in a cheap motel and Bonnie asks Clyde that if they could wipe the slate clean and start over, would he do it? Clyde says yes, no doubt. First thing he'd do differently, is never commit any robberies in his home state. Always go across the border.  Clyde seems to have missed the point of the question.
That same night, C.W. and Blanche go into town for supplies and the store keeper sees a gun on C.W.'s hip. He narrows his eyes forebodingly.
A bit later, the cops pull up to the motel silently. They knock on Buck and Blanche's door. Everyone panics. Buck and Clyde burst out shooting. There's chaos as everyone races to the car. Several cops are shot. One manages to get Buck in the head. He goes down. Blanche screams even louder. She and Clyde drag him into the car. The window next to Blanche bursts, shattering glass and cutting her face. Bonnie, in the driver's seat, races off.
They drive for a bit and manage to lose the pursing cops. They speed off into the woods. Buck's muttering incoherent nonsense, but still alive. They finally pull off into a field and get out. They bandage up Buck's face the best they can, and Blanche turns her gaze to the heavens and with blood streaming down her face, begs God to save her husband's life. God's response is straight-up Old Testament, as Blanche suddenly begins screaming anew. "I'M BLIND!  I'M BLIND!"
Bonnie crawls over to her and holds her as she weeps.
The next morning, Buck is dead, and Blanche lay curled up in Bonnie's arms, sunglasses on her face.
Aaand the cops are back. They start shooting on site, and Bonnie fully abandons blind Blanche and jumps in the car with Clyde and C.W.
Clyde gets shot in the arm while driving and crashes the car about half a mile away. The three of them jump out and begin running in earnest. They reach a river bank. Bonnie gets shot in the should. She cries out, but they keep going. Eventually, somehow they get away.
After traveling for awhile, they steal another car and C.W. drives them to his father's house. The father is shocked to find two shot up people traveling with his son, but takes them in anyway.
In the meantime, an arrested Blanche is questioned by the very Texas lawman who they tied up months earlier. He asks Blanche the name of the fifth member, the getaway driver, and she gives it up freely, without even realizing the implications.
After more time has passed, Bonnie and Clyde are healed mostly from their gunshot wounds, and agree amongst themselves to quit the life. You know, no harm done and all. They even finally have sex, which was surprising because I figured Clyde was impotent.
They decide to go into town the next day with C.W. and get supplies. C.W.'s dad tells C.W. to ditch them once they get into town. He's made a deal with the police. C.W. will only get a few years if he can bring the cops Bonnie and Clyde. C.W. confidently says that no one will ever get them.
But in town, he follows his father's orders and gets lost. Bonnie and Clyde attempt to search for him, but then see a cop car in town and decide to drive back home to the father's farm and pick C.W. up later.
On the way home, they see C.W.'s father on the side of the road. His hood's up, and he's waving for help. Clyde pulls over and walks over to him. Something wrong with your car?
C.W.'s father nods, then suddenly throws himself on the ground and rolls under his car. Clyde looks confused. A flock of birds suddenly takes flight. He looks up. Sees about twenty lawmen emerge from the bushes. They fire, engulfing both lovers with enough bullets to take out a T-9000.
The end.
Or is it?

Review: There's sort of a crushing, heavy feeling of inevitable shit that's hovering over the entire proceedings. However you feel about these kinds of movies, where there's no real "heroes" and where we're asked to identify with the villains, will obviously influence your enjoyment. This isn't a Walter White type deal either, where our anti-hero becomes a flat-out villain over time; these people are just bad from the start. So you have to look at this as a character study, and it works really well as that. I like these types of movies, where you watch people make bad decisions, one after another in a slow-moving car wreck kind of way. And despite it all, some of the characters do engender a small amount of sympathy, particularly Bonnie and C.W., who both became enamored of Clyde and didn't really understand the implications of the lives they were choosing until it was too late. (And C.W. never really did). And I could definitely see how a character as whiny as Blanche would be off-putting to many, but that's her function in the story. Everything is going pretty okay for the group until she and Buck enter the picture and she winds up ruining everything by screaming and giving them all away. Estelle Parsons (Roseann's mom on Roseanne) really knocks it out of the park in this role, and deserves her Oscar win. The scene where she goes blind is the most chilling in the whole movie.
I was also pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be an ensemble movie, with five gangsters instead of two, like I expected. No particular reason, I just like ensemble movies best. Especially if some monster is killing them off one by one. Those are awesome.

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, "King Kong", and then the hills come alive and I throw myself down them in a vain attempt to avoid "The Sound of Music".

Sunday, October 9, 2011

#43 Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Joe Buck lives in Texas, works at a diner, lives a life of quiet desperation, deserves something more. Joe Buck wants out. He plans to go to New York City and become a hustler, bedding beautiful, older rich women. He dons his cowboy hat and brown leather jacket with those frilly things and his trusty boots. He's got a cowskin suitcase and a small radio and a bus ticket. He's running from his life, fast as he can, but with a smile. The bus ride is long and uncomfortable, and people are sometimes rude to him (in the middle of the night, he sits next to an old lady who has her overhead light on and he reaches up to turn it off and she snaps, "I want it on!" and I laugh so hard I have a coughing fit) but he endures it all because the good life, a life without worries or horrible memories is just around the corner.
He arrives in New York, gets a shitty hotel, unwisely overtips the bellboy, flexes shirtless in the cracked mirror, then goes out on the town. New York is scary and exciting and the chance to start over is real. After several failed attempts to hit on older women, one finally asks him up to her apartment. After sex, she asks for cab fare to get across town. Joe awkwardly says he was kind of hoping she'd be giving him money, on account know...The woman bursts into tears "that's what you think of me?! I'm so ugly I'd have to pay for it?!" and Joe counters no that's not it at all, so sorry, here's cab fare, five bucks okay? Ten? Twenty? Okay, I'll be going now.
Joe goes to a local bar and sits next to an ugly, squirrelly cripple named Rico Rizzo. He tells Rizzo that he's attempting to make a living as a hustler, but has had no luck. Rizzo promises to set him up with a pimp, for a nominal fee. A scuzzy gay guy approaches and calls Rizzo "Ratso", and warns Joe that he's only after his money. Rizzo runs the guy off, complaining loudly at the faggots overrunning the city. Rizzo charges Joe twenty bucks for his services and leads him to an apartment where the pimp lives. "Hey!  I'm walking here!  I'm walking here!" Joe's so excited, he promises to give Rizzo a cut of his future earnings, and wants to know where Rizzo lives. Rizzo gives him the name of a hotel, then splits.
Joe goes inside the apartment, and an earnest bald man tells him he's "perfect" and they're going to achieve a lot together. So let's get on our knees! Knees?
The bald man opens his closet to reveals a gaudy, glittery crucifixion and demands Joe pray with him. Joe finally realizes he's been had, and bolts out of the apartment, but Rizzo is nowhere to be found.
The days turn into weeks and finally Joe's out of money and locked out of his hotel. He roams the streets of New York, unable to find any willing women. He looks into a public bathroom mirror and says, "you know what you have to do".
He finally puts the cowboy outfit to good use and goes trolling into the homosexual neighborhoods. Nearly immediately, a teen with dorky glasses (Bob Balaban! Wow, he's young!) gives him a nod. They go into a movie theatre. The teen nuzzles his neck and puts his arm around Joe, then lowers his head. Joe closes his eyes and thinks of Annie, his one true love and the life they once and together before everything was destroyed.
After it's over, the teen says he has no money. Enraged, Joe throws him against a mirror, threatens to beat him, then takes his watch. The kid says please don't take my watch, my parents will kill me! Joe relents, stomping out of the bathroom with a glare.
Worst. Whore. Ever.
Then one day, Joe happens to see Rizzo in a diner. He grabs him, demands his money back, but of course it's gone now, Joe agrees that Rizzo is a rat like the faggot said, Ratso is your name!
Ratso says he can come home with him, as an apology he can live with him for a while. He leads Joe to an abandoned building, behind a chain link fence. Ratso lives in a squalid, hollowed-out seedy enclave. They're no lights or windows, but there's a hot plate and a bed and Joe just really needs somewhere to sleep.
Over the weeks and months, an uneasy alliance forms. Ratso teaches Joe the fine art of low-level thievery. They pick pockets, steal food from fruit stands and the like. They barely eke out an existence that is focused entirely on the next meal, the next need. Finally, they hatch a plan for Joe to make money hustling. They stand outside an escort service, and when a man receives an assignment on a slip of paper, Ratso steals it from him and sends Joe there instead. Joe excitedly walks into the hotel where the woman is staying, and Ratso believes that this is their ticket to a better life. He imagines building a future and a life with Joe somewhere else, down south, in Florida. They'll run on the beach together, be together forever, leave all this behind. But the lady takes one look at weirdo cowboy Joe and throws him out. Back to square one.
Times get rougher. Winter comes. Ratso's cough gets worse and worse and they get hungrier and hungrier. Ratso's having more trouble walking, standing.
Some weirdos approach Joe in the diner and take his picture. They then give him a piece of paper, which is an invitation to a party in a loft that night. Ratso scoffs that "guys like us" don't get invited places, and Joe reminds him that he wasn't invited. Ratso's wounded, desperate and angrily lashes out. Joe backtracks, apologizes, says they'll go together and if the people don't like it, they'll leave together. Outside the loft, Ratso has trouble making it up the stairs. He's sweating, his hair's mussed. Joe straightens out his hair tenderly. Ratso holds him for balance. Just holds him. They gently ascend the staircase and find themselves at a crazy party filled with the assorted fruits and nuts and Andy Warhol castoffs. There are dozens of people running about snapping pics, taking drugs, looking at art, drinking and eating. Drinking and eating. There's a table out with food. Lots and lots of food. Ratso starts filling his pockets, while Joe begins to socialize. He's given a joint and hilariously doesn't puff puff give, thinking it to be a regular cigarette. Soon Joe is very high, and hits on a woman. Ratso steps in and sets up a fee for Joe's services; she wants to know if they're a couple. Joe goes home with the woman as Ratso slips and falls down the stairs he previously could barely climb. Hey fella, you fell. Ratso, are you all right?  I'm fine. Go. Just go.
Joe can't get it up at first, but when she calls him gay he angrily gets the job done. She gives him twenty and sets him up with another woman on Thursday.
Joe excitedly comes home with food and medicine for Ratso and tells him things are finally taking off! Ratso's sweating and terrified. He tells Joe he can't walk. Joe says he'll get a doctor. No doctors! I need to go down South. Down to Florida! Take me to Florida. Joe complains that just when he's finally starting to make it, things fall apart again.
He goes out that night, finds an old man and they go up to a hotel room. The old man says he can't hurt his wife this way, never mind, but Joe insists that he be paid. The man offers ten bucks, but Joe screams that's not enough!. He beats the man and steals all his money.
He carries Ratso in his arms, and they board the bus together. Through tears, Ratso begs him: when we get to Florida, no one there will know my name's Ratso. No one will call me that. Please don't tell them that name. Tell them Rico. My name is Rico. Joe promises that he'll call him Rico.
They reach Florida, just a few hours away from their final stop in Miami. Joe gets off the bus, and buys some regular clothes. The shopkeeper asks him where he's from and he says New York. He throws away all his cowboy shit, and gets back on the bus.
You know, Ratso? I mean, Rico. I don't want to be a hustler anymore. I can get a regular job. We can have a good life down here.
But Rico's gone.
Joe tells the bus driver, who is less than devastated and says they might as well ride into Miami and handle it there. The other passengers gawk at Rico's body. Joe pushes his eyes closed, then puts his arm around his friend defiantly, proudly. The bus rolls on.

Review: This movie hit me on a number of levels. First, the acting is top notch, but Voight and Hoffman are amazing. Hoffman in particular is entirely sympathetic in a role that might evoke only revulsion in the audience if played wrongly. The entire story is so great! The friendship, or perhaps love, that evolves between the two is natural and organic and utterly engrossing, in part because of their drastic physical and personality differences. The movie's hard to watch a times, you want to step in a grab them and tell them to fucking shape up already, but all you can do is watch in horror and hope that somehow they figure it out. The directing was great too. Throughout the movie, we get rapid flashbacks of the horrible life Joe led, a life that led him to believe that his only real option was to go far away and sell his body for money.  We see how his mother abandoned him and he grandmother had man after man in the house, and later how he and his girlfriend were caught having sex in a car and some thugs beat and raped Joe in front of her. We get glimpses  And he winds up suffering so much, yet somehow is always so optimistic and hopeful. The beginning of the movie with that great theme song "Everybody's Talking At Me" intercut with depressing images of Joe's home life was a great ironic juxtaposition that set the tone for this weird, off kilter and very daring for its time movie. It's rated X, but it's really only an R by our standards. The gay content is what put it over the top back then.
And talking about that part. Though by today's standards, the movie can hardly be seen as gay friendly, I think Rizzo was pretty clearly gay and while we're meant to pity him and be disgusted by him to some degree, there's no denying his basic humanity, which was a pretty radical idea to mainstream America in 1969. Though I doubt mainstream America saw this freaky movie.

Stars: Five out of five.

Next, "Bonnie and Clyde", which I'm pretty excited about and then 1933's "King Kong", which I'm not.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

#44 The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Plot summary (with spoilers): We start our screwball comedy with the unhappily married C.K Dexter Haven and his wife, Tracy Lord. They're fighting. She breaks his golf club. He palms her face and slams her into the ground. No, really. He does. And the music does this sad trombone noise. Wocka Wocka!
Two years later, Dexter and Tracy are divorced, and Tracy's getting remarried to George Kittredge. It's two days before the wedding, and Tracy's mother and much younger sister are helping her get everything ready. Tracy's sister hates George and wants Tracy to remarry Dexter. Tracy's sister is like eight and totally precocious and says grown up things, like half of movie children and none of actual children.  The Lords are super-uber rich, and the tabloids are interested in their wedding. Why rumor has it, an equally rich friend of theirs got married recently, and some tabloid photogs snuck into the wedding and snapped some pictures. Tracy's appalled that such a breach of etiquette would occur. I mean, really!  Could you imagine living in such a world?!
Cut to the tabloid offices of Harvey Levin and associates. Macaulay Connor and his gal Liz are the top tabloid photographers, and their boss Mr. Kidd wants them to sneak into Tracy's wedding somehow and get some good shots. They say there's no way they'll be able to get in, but Mr. Kidd has their ace in the hole. C.K. Dexter Haven will introduce them as friends of the family and get the Lords to allow them to stay in the home over the weekend. 
They show up, and Dexter flirts with Tracy and disparages the new husband and the repartee is witty. Tracy doesn't believe the cover story, and threatens to throw Mac and Liz out, so Dexter blackmails her instead. He says he has info that proves her father is cheating on her mother with a dancer in New York, and he'll publish that story unless she lets Mac and Liz cover the wedding for the magazine. So, all three Lords women go along with this, making nice with Mac and Liz, pretending to believe their cover story and Liz keeps snapping pics (winding the camera after every shot. Remember that?  Winding?), infuriating Tracy. 
They decide to go swimming, and Tracy and Mac flirt after she reads some of his poetry, until Dexter shows up again and she and Dexter fight the fight of two people who truly have some issues to work through and the upshot is, Dexter is resentful at Tracy for being a cold bitch and Tracy is resentful at Dexter for being such a drunken loser that he forced her to be a cold bitch. It's a pretty cool conversation, and at this point in the movie I honestly didn't know which guy she'd end up with.
The next day, the father Lord shows up and says enough of this balderdash, we're telling them the truth, and Tracy says well you're the reason we're in this mess and these are the things her father says:
1) I love your mother, because unlike most women, she understands that when a man is a philanderer, it's not a reflection on how he feels about her
2) The reason why I've sought the affections of a younger woman is because you, my daughter, are so unaffectionate
3) When you chastise me for cheating on your mother, you sound like a jealous wife
4) You're a perfectly lovely women, but you lack an understanding heart.
And Tracy takes this in and has tears in her eyes and feels bad because his words struck a chord.
Yes, that's right. The movie is not making the case that Papa Lord is a sick fuck, it is saying that he has a point.
Wow, Olden Times. Wow.
Anyway, moving on. That night, there's a rehearsal dinner for the wedding, and Mac and Liz are there and Liz is still getting shots, and Tracy decides to get sloppy drunk. She slobbers all over George, who is disgusted and wants to leave. Then Tracy starts slow dancing with Mac and says she feels so free in his arms and begs him to tell her that she has an understanding heart. Run, Mac!  Run like the wind!
But he doesn't run, and he gets drunk, too, and finally George drags her away, and Mac decides to go to Dexter's house. He shows up shitfaced and Dexter answers in his robe, and dare I hope this love triangle becomes truly three-sided? Alas no, Mac just gets drunker and stupider and then confesses that he has blackmail info on Mr. Kidd and spills it to Dexter and Dexter says he'll blackmail Kidd and then he won't be able to blackmail Tracy with the info about her wonderful father and then Mac and Liz won't have to cover the wedding. Mac is down with this because he likes Tracy, now. 
Then Liz shows up looking for Mac.  Dexter wants her to type up the blackmail info on Kidd. Liz says she can't right now, because she's got Tracy in the car and she's drunk and has to go home. Mac says he'll take her home. 
So they get back to the Lord house, and Tracy reveals she and George fought and then she and Mac slow dance, and eventually kiss and then run off to the changing rooms to go swimming. Or "swimming".  Or perhaps just swimming. It's unclear.
The next morning, the day of the wedding, George comes to find her and sees two champagne glasses and clothes strewn about and then Dexter shows up and they're both confused, and then see Mac and Tracy approaching. Mac is carrying Tracy in his arms and she's passed out and he's singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Wizard of Oz! AFI #10!  Can't wait!). She nuzzles his neck and Dexter's smirking while George is fuming and then Mac carries her upstairs to her room and when he comes back down, George goes to punch him, but Dexter steps in and says he's still technically the keeper of Tracy's honor/vagina and punches Mac instead. George stomps off, and Dexter says he did it because he'd hit a lot lighter than George. 
So, later in the day, Tracy wakes up and they're prepping the backyard for the reception and everyone's there for some reason, and Tracy has no memory of the night before until her little sister says she saw her swimming with Mac and Tracy then thinks she slept with Mac and George comes in and says the wedding's off and then Mac says he only kissed her and swam with her and George says okay that's fine then, and Tracy says no, you thought I wasn't virtuous and you obviously don't think much of me so hit the bricks. And George points out that she also thought that she slept with Mac, but Tracy comes back with "you should've thought more of me than even I thought of me", which is a pretty good one, really. So George leaves. 
Tracy realizes the house is filled with guests expecting a wedding and she's mortified and Mac says, "I'll marry you!" and she turns him down and says Liz would feel bad. Did I mention Liz is standing right there? Because she is. So Tracy literally grabs Mac by the shoulders and kind of pushes him towards Liz and he goes willingly and Liz hugs him and smiles, thrilled that the one he wanted has literally pushed him into her arms. I think my brain is breaking.
So Tracy says still though, it's really embarrassing because all these people are expecting a wedding, and Dexter says why don't we give them one and they ask Mac and Liz to be the Maid of Honor and Best Man. They go inside and tell the preacher to marry them. He does, and man that must've been really shitty and confusing for George's family and friends sitting there. 

Review: Wow, I don't know. On the one hand, the writing's very clever, there's some great one-liners, and Hepburn and Stewart in particular are really great. There's some fun stuff they explore with class differences, and how Mac and Liz are jealous of the decadent lifestyle the Lords live, and the movie is careful to have both Tracy and Dexter point out how class differences matter less nowadays than a person's character. I'm assuming this talk had some sort of cultural relevance in 1940 and it's cool that they put it in there. Tracy's character arc is strong, too, and her journey towards becoming a more affectionate person is believable. 
BUT-there's some serious WTF stuff in here, stuff that I don't think can all be chalked up to the Olden Times way of thinking. I get that female chastity was romanticized to the point of fetishism back then and I can roll with that. But the father's comments bordered on incestual, and were fucking creepy. And both Mac's reaction to Tracy rejecting him was totally blase, and even worse, Liz's reaction to Mac proposing to Tracy in front of her was just plain dumb. It would be fine if this were balls-out farce, but it's not at all. There are silly, light moments, but just as many serious, character-driven ones. The way the characters acted in the third act made no sense at all. Even Tracy ending up back with Dexter was wrong. She had all the chemistry with Mac, and her marriage was over. But I guess the movie was saying she had to better herself before she was "worthy" of remarrying Dexter, and Mac was part of that process. Again, that's not wrong, not really, but it was done in a very weird and off-putting way. It just doesn't always work tonally. 

Stars: Three out of five.

Next, "Midnight Cowboy", and then "Bonnie and Clyde". 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

#45 Shane (1953)

So...I weirdly remember reading this book and watching the movie in Mr. Seaman's class in 8th Grade. (Mr. Seaman was probably my favorite teacher ever, a real stand on the desk and say, 'O, Captain , My Captain' kind of guy. He was so awesome, no one even made fun of his name.) But the problem is, Mr. Seaman was my History teacher. So, why would we be studying this in History? I must be getting some memory wires crossed. At any rate, that little boy yelling, "Shane! Come back, Shane!" made such an incredible impression on me, that every single time without fail, every Shane I've ever met since then has reminded me of that movie, and given me no choice but to scream at them in falsetto, "Shane, come back!", and every single time, every Shane A) knows the reference immediately, and B) is thoroughly unimpressed. 
But I shall not be swayed.

Plot summary (with spoilers): It's the late 1800's in Wyoming. Joe and his wife Marian and their little boy Joey live on a farm and raise pigs and cows and cut logs and such. One day, whilst Marian makes pies in the kitchen and little Joey plays with rocks and Joe chews on straw and..let's say whittles, a stranger comes riding up. He's just passing through, his name is Shane, his clothes are reminiscent of Marty McFly's in Back to the Future III, and could he trouble the missus for a glass of shitty water in a tin canister? 
Just then, the evil Ryker brothers show up and start pestering Joe. They call him a dirty no-good pig farmer and say that he's a "squatter" and that his land belongs to them and that he better give it to them at some point in the future or else. Or else what? Well, it's way too early in the movie to get into that now, so we'll just say a few more ominous things and be on our way. 
Joe invites Shane to dinner and then they wind up hiring him as a helper on the farm. Every time there's a noise outside, Shane reaches for his gun like a crazy person, all PTSD from the Civil War, and little Joey lights up every time, thinking Shane is the cat's pajamas, or whatever expression came before that. Then Joe asks Shane to ride into town and pick up some work clothes, and Joey also wants a soda pop, so Shane goes into town and while there he goes into the bar and orders a soda pop, and the Ryker brothers and posse are there and they taunt him and throw whiskey at him because they are just that lazily caricatured, but Shane turns the other cheek and walks out. 
That night, Joe meets with other landowners in the area, all of whom have been harassed lately by the Riker brothers. They try to come up with a plan to fight them off, and agree that the next time they have to go into town, they'll all go together. One mentions he was in town earlier and heard about Joe's new employee Shane, who backed down from a fight with the Rykers. Joe said he did the right thing, but little Joey gets all indignant and squawks to Shane that no way he'd be that yellow and Shane's not scared, right Shane, you wouldn't do that Shane, you wouldn't be scared like that, right Shane, tell me Shane, tell me you wouldn't be that scared, Shane, over and over and over and everyone's just telling the little shit to shut up but he won't and Shane feels emasculated. 
So the next day, when everyone goes into town to buy supplies, Shane goes back into the bar to return the soda pop bottle and sure enough, the Rykers are still there.  Maybe they live there. Anyway, Shane, throws whiskey at one of them and then they fistfight and little Joey watches all wide-eyed and ridiculous and Shane beats the dude up, but now they all want a piece of him, so little Joey runs back and gets his Pa, and Shane and Joe fight off all of them, like real men should and then they eat at Carls Jr and watch Larry the Cable Guy.
Then everyone has a celebratory party, and the Ewoks show up and blink a lot, and Shane and Marian dance together and I guess are supposed to be attracted to each other, but there's nothing there, really. But of course, we're only an hour in, so the Ryker brothers regroup and hire a literally black-hatted Jack Palance to ride into town help them out. Jack Palance is the fastest gun in these parts and one day, one of Joe's neighbors goes into town and Jack Palance, knowing the guy is a former Confederate solider, talks shit about Stonewall Jackson, and the guy calls him a no good Yankee dirtbag and tries to shoot him, but Jack Palance is faster on the draw and shoots him dead. 
They have a funeral, and several ranchers say they're moving out, but Joe says they have to stand their ground, and off in the distance, they see a fire. The Rykers have burned down someone's farm, which is weird because it would require them to leave the bar.  Joe says he has to ride into town and shoot them all dead, but Marian says no don't, think of me and little Joey and this whole fucking thing just writes itself, doesn't it?  
Shane no let Joe go. Shane beat up Joe. Shane go to bar. Little Joey and dog follow. Shane shoot Jack Palance and Old Man Ryker. Ryker brother shoot Shane. Shane shoot Ryker brother. Joey says Shane hurt. Blood on Shane. Blood bad. Shane ride away. Joey says come back. Shane no come back.


Still funny.

Review: Boring, overlong, pretentious, in love with itself. Let's see, what else? Trite, cliched, dumb. No chemistry between Shane and the mom, even though I remember the book making that a big part about why Shane doesn't go back, to avoid temptation. The kid is actually pretty good, he's got the hero worship look down pat, but really this story is boring. And the music soundtrack is re-donk-ulous, all horns and violins and crazy symbol crashes, trying to convince us that Shane riding his horse is the most exciting thing ever!  Anyway.  Time to press forward. 

Stars: One and a half out of five. 

Next, "The Philadelphia Story", and then the X-Rated Oscar winner, "Midnight Cowboy".  Both new to me.