Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#27 High Noon (1952)

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

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

Stars: Three and a half out of five.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#28 All About Eve (1950)

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

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

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

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

Stars: One and a half out of five.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

#29 Double Indemnity (1944)

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

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

Stars: Two out of five.

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

#30 Apocalypse Now (1979)

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

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

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

Stars: Five out of five.

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

#31 The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Brick is better.

Plot summary (with spoilers): Private dick Sam Spade and his partner Miles Archer work in their agency in San Francisco and spend the day smoking and wearing nice suits and speaking unnaturally and having their Gal Friday run errands and such.
Into the office walks Ruth Wonderly, a ritzy dame with gams that go all the way up to her unmentionables. She's got an assignment for them. Her sister's missing, see. She's been seeing this man Floyd Thursby, see,  and suddenly she's gone like the Lindbergh Baby. Ruth wants Sam and Miles to track her down. She gives 'em a hundred clams and Archer says he'll tail Thursby that night.
Later, at home, Sam gets a call from the black and whites. They say Archer's been killed, and his body's in some alleyway. Sam goes to the location and gets some heat from the fuzz, who wonder if he's involved. There's been rumors, see. Rumors that Sam's sweet on Archer's broad, Iva. They also tell Sam that nearby another nogoodnick by the name of Floyd Thursby has been found dead, too. Shot, just like Archer. Sam makes like he knows nothing, and when they finally tell him to scram, he rings up Ruth at her hotel, but they say she's checked out. (Of the hotel. Not like, dead or anything).
The next morning, Sam's back at his office, and in walks Ruth Wonderly again. Except now she says her name's Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Sam says he knew her first story was nothing but a boondoggle, and she better fess up now. Brigid says there's no sister, and Floyd was her partner. They're tracking down something. Some MacGuffin type thing, and she thought maybe Floyd got it already, because he disappeared without so much as a how's-your-father a few weeks back. She thinks Floyd probably spotted Archer and killed him, but has no idea who killed Floyd. She gives Sam another 100 greenbacks to take on the case.
She makes like a pier and leafs, and right away in walks some nelly with scented business cards and a phallic cane that he shoves in his mouth mid-conversation. His name's Cairo, and he pulls a gun on Sam and tells him to empty his pockets, and open all his desk drawers. But Sam gets the drop on him, and punches him in the mug and knocks him out cold. He goes through Cairo's stuff and then Cairo wakes up and tries another way to skin a cat. He offers Sam 5,000 to help him find a fake "black bird". Sam says he'll take the job.
That night, Brigid shows up at his house and Sam tells her about Cairo's visit. She claims she doesn't know nothin' about that, but soon after Cairo shows up too, and the two fight like a couple of hens. Brigid tells Cairo that the "Fat Man" is here in San Francisco, too. Then the fuzz show up, but Sam manages to give'em the brush off.
When they're alone, Sam tells Brigid he's on her side and playing Cairo for a sap, then later tells Cairo the same about Brigid.
The next day, he goes to Cairo's hotel, and is held up by a mook named Wilmer. Sam disarms the chump pretty easy, but instead of getting while the getting's good, Sam follows him anyway. He finds Gutman, the Fat Man. The Fat Man offers Sam a drink, then gives him the crib notes straight up. They're looking for a gold falcon statue that was made in the 1500's for the Duke of Malta and stolen by some pirates and probably magic wizards. At some point, someone French put black paint on it to disguise its value, and then it got lost for a time in Middle Earth, and now the Fat Man has tracked it to San Francisco. Cairo, Floyd, and Brigid O'Shaughnessy are all competing with The Fat Man to get their hands on the precious bird. He offers Sam 250,000 to help him find it. Sam sits a bit and tries to make sense of all the tales he's been told, when suddenly things go tits up, and he goes under. Fat Man slipped him a mickey, see. Then Cairo and Wilmer come out of the side room and they take off.
Sam wakes up a bit later, and goes searching through the room. He finds a newspaper with the name of a freighter circled. He makes tracks to the docks finds the arriving boat on fire. The firemen tell him everyone got out okay.
He goes back to his office and asks his Gal Friday if she's heard from anyone. She tells him no dice. But then some man carrying a brown paper package staggers in and then immediately bites the big one. Sam takes the package and skips, and tells his gal he's going to put the package in a safe deposit box and to bring it to him only if he calls her and asks her for it. Oh yeah, and to report the dead body to the coppers, but don't mention the package.
He goes home and finds Brigid standing in his doorway. He takes her upstairs and inside his place is the Fat Man, Wilmer, and Cairo. He tells them all that he's got the falcon. But he won't share until he gets his cheddar. The Fat Man offers him 10 grand now, and Sam says the offer was 250 before, but the Fat Man says they need to sell it first. Sam has another condition. They need a rube to take the fall. Someone has to go down for the murders of Floyd and Archer and that other guy in his office. The Fat Man explains that the other guy was the boat captain who showed up that day with the falcon on his freighter. Wilmer plugged him, but he got away from them. Then when they tried to search the boat, Wilmer tried to light a candle and accidentally burned the boat up. (Um...okay).
Sam says Wilmer should take the fall for all three murders, because he's not gonna get jammed up by the coppers for this. Cairo and The Fat Man say deal, then Sam punches Wilmer out. He calls his Gal Friday, who real quick-like brings the package. They open it up, and it's the black Maltese falcon. Everybody grins like a shyster lawyer on payday, and the Fat Man scrapes at the black paint to see the gold underneath. And he scrapes. And he scrapes.
But it's a phony. A three dollar bill. Cairo screams like a fruit and the Fat Man sulks. Wilmer wakes up, and the Fat Man says they're taking heel to toe to Istanbul, their next lead. Everyone scrams but Brigid and Sam.
When they go, Sam calls the coppers and says the plan worked. He tells them where to arrest the others. Then, since the movie's almost over, he tells dollface a thing or three. He knows she's the one who killed his partner Archer. She confesses, says that she hired them to follow Floyd and scare him away. She wanted the falcon all to herself. But things went sideways and Floyd wasn't scared of Archer, so she iced  Floyd, but Archer saw her, so she had to do him too. She begs Sam not to turn stool pigeon. He tells her no dice. Even though she's a swell dame and they're in love (WHAT?!) he won't be played for a fool like those other chumps. The cops show up and Sam tells them she's confessed. They take her away.
A detective sees the black bird and asks Sam what it is.
"Frankly my dear, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, stinking badges".

Review:  It's not my favorite genre, but it has its charms. The writing is all plotplotplottyplot and you really need to engage to keep track of all the twists and turns and deceptions and absurd convolutions, many many of which I left out above and were total red herrings. That's fun for awhile, but at a certain point what tends to happen in con movies is that you shutdown and refuse to believe anything that's happening onscreen, not willing to trust that it's real. I was pretty engaged until about the forty-five minute mark, then started to zone out a bit. The ending was pretty strong, though. Although it was ridiculous that suddenly we were expected to believe Sam and Brigid were in love and he was greatly conflicted and in pain over turning her in. There was none of that onscreen. None. Also, Sam just totally randomly figures everything out at the end for no reason other than the running time was almost up. The movie was basically a glorified, especially twisty episode of Law and Order. And while Law and Order is entertaining and basically the TV equivalent of chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers on a rainy day, no one puts chicken noodle soup on their Top 100 Foods List. Did I just brutally leave that metaphor for dead? Perhaps.
A much much better take on the noir film is Brick, with stronger writing and a story that simultaneously takes its characters seriously and pokes fun at the noir genre. It's really pretty great. Stream it.

Stars: Three and a half out of five.

Next, "Apocalypse Now", and then "Double Indemnity", which is about contract fraud, maybe?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

#32 The Godfather: Part II (1974)

On the last episode of The Godfather: 
At his daughter's wedding, Don Vito Corleone did a favor for Johnny Fontane involving a horse's head. The Sollorozo family tries to kill Don Vito and his son Sonny. Don Vito almost gets killed but survives. Younger brother Michael meets with Sollorozzo and his henchman and kills'em both after fishing a gun out of the toilet. He's the hero. Don Vito dies of a heart attack in a tomato garden. Sonny gets gunned down. Fredo's a pussy. Micheal has his enemies killed including his sister Connie's husband, and ascends to power, closing a literal and metaphorical door in girlfriend Kay's face. Also, Kurt and Blaine finally did it. 
And that's what you missed!

Plot summary (with spoilers): In 1901, in the town of Corleone in Sicily, Don Cicco kills a local named Anthony Andolini for some sort of mob-related slight. Anthony's son Paolo goes into hiding, vowing revenge, but he's quickly killed as well. Anthony's wife takes her youngest son Vito to see Don Cicco and beg for her other son's life to be spared.
"Please-a, he's just a boy-a." she speaks in their native tongue.
But Don Cicco is unmoved. He's convinced one day Vito will grow up big and strong and take his revenge. Vito's mother pulls a knife on Don Cicco and tells Vito to run away as fast as he can!
She's immediately shot, but Vito manages to get away. Some neighbors put him on a boat headed for the New World. He shows up alone, a nine year old in a foreign country, but somehow manages to time-lapse into Robert DeNiro. Twentysomething Vito hangs out with his friends, gets involved in low-level crime, marries a girl, has a son imaginatively named Sonny. But there's a mob boss in the neighborhood named Don Fanucci, who squeezes all the legit businesses for extra dough. He tells Vito and his friends that they owe him six hundred bucks, but Vito offers only 100, and then sweetens the deal by offering him a bullet in the mouth. Don Vito rises to power, flexing his muscles in the neighborhood, gaining the respect and fear of everyone. After Sonny comes Fredo, then Connie, and then finally little Michael. Don Vito takes the family on a vacation to Sicily. They go to the old town of Corleone, and Don Vito visits Don Cicco, now an old and infirm man. Don Vito believes that revenge is a dish best served to the really old and defenseless, and slices Cicco's chest open, then he and his men flee, one of them getting shot in the process.
The family Corleone leave the town Corleone that day by train. Don Vito holds little Michael and tells him to wave bye-bye.
In 1959, Don Michael Corleone holds a communion for his eldest son Anthony. People stand in line to meet with Michael and his consigliere Tom Hagen to request favors. "Consigliere" just might be the best word in the history of words. Certainly the best word for an occupation. Sister Connie wants Michael to meet her new boyfriend, some WASP prick with no job or future. Michael orders his sister to dump her, and she does. Senator Geary meets with Michael and demands high kickbacks and bribe money and stuff in order to get him to allow Michael to purchase another casino in Las Vegas. He asks for a huge sum of money, but Michael tells him he gets nothing. Johnny Olaf, right hand man to another gangster named Hyman Roth, meets with Michael and tells him Hyman looks forward to doing business with him. And family friend Frank Pentangeli meets with Michael and asks for permission to kill the Rosato brothers, who are infringing on Frank's territory. But Hyman Roth is friends with the Rostao brothers, so Michael says no.
At the party, Fredo's there, lurking around the edges, a total waste and embarrassment. His wife gets super drunk and Michael's men drag her out of the party. Micheal dances with his wife Kay. As in the last movie, she's still surprised he's a mobster and his family and friends are all murderers. She reminds him that he said he would go legit in five years and that was seven years ago. Michael reminds her that he's a mobster, and that his family and friends are all murderers. No actually, he just mumbles reassuring platitudes that he hopes will buy him another seven years. Also, Kay's pregnant again. It will be their third child after Anthony and little Mary. (Fucking little Mary. She's just there, lying in wait, ready and willing to kill The Godfather III as viciously as any other mob hit). 
That night, as Michael and Kay prepare for bed, automatic machine-gun fire explodes the room in a hail of bullets. Michael and Kay crash to the floor, unharmed. Tom Hagen and the other men try to find the would-be assassins, but only discover to dead bodies. Michael knows someone close to him betrayed him.
He travels to Miami to see Roth, and tells him that he believes Pentangeli tried to kill him. Then he sees Pentageli and says that Roth tried to kill him. Michael believes in covering his bases. He tells Pentageli to make nice with the Rosato brothers, so that Roth doesn't suspect they're on to him, and Pentageli agrees. He meets with the brothers, but they claim to be sent by Michael to kill him. One tries to garrote him in a bar, but a cop walks in and interrupts them. They flee, and Pentageli is brought to the hospital, still alive.
Meanwhile, Senator Geary innocently goes to a whorehouse that happens to be Corleone-owned and wakes up with a live boy in his bed and no memory of how he got there. No, wait. It was a dead hooker. Tom Hagen shows up and tells Geary that he'll hide the evidence of this now that he and Michael are such great friends.
So then Michael goes to Cuba to hide out and meet with Roth and other Big Time mobster goombas. Their plan is to make major investments in Cuba together and live there permanently, but Michael sees some suicide-bombing rebels blow up a cop and thinks that this Castro guy might be a bigger threat than the current Cuban government realizes. He wants out of the deal, but Roth begs him to reconsider. Michael decides to give dopey Fredo an assignment, and asks him to fly down to Cuba with 2 million dollars to give to Roth as a respectful parting gift before he backs out of the deal. Fredo shows up, and meets Roth and his underling Johnny Olaf for the very first time.
They all go out partying that night, and encounter a live sex show. A goomba asks Fredo how he knows about this place and Fredo, not knowing Michael is about five feet away in the crowded room, says that Johnny Olaf told him about it awhile back.
It all comes together for Michael. Fredo knows Olaf which means he knows Roth which means Roth and Fredo betrayed him.
That night, there's a big ol' Cuban New Years Eve party, and not nearly enough of them are smoking Cuban cigars, considering.
At the stroke of midnight, everyone's hugging and kissing and Fredo goes to hug little brother Mike, and Michael grabs him and kisses him hard on the mouth. "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart". Fredo backs away, terrified.
Meanwhile, one of Michael's goombas sneaks into Roth's place and strangles Olaf to death, then goes to Roth's room, but paramedics and police are already there. He had a stroke and they discuss taking him to the hospital.
Back at the party, the rebels pick this time to invade. Some poor chump goes up front and tells the party-goers that the government was just officially toppled and they don't have to go home, but they can't stay here. And by "here", I mean "Cuba".
All the rich white one-percenters flee the party, boarding into their private jets and whatnot. Michael sees Fredo leaving and shouts to him to get in the limo. "You're still my brother, Fredo!". But Fredo doesn't trust him, and runs away. Maybe Michael should've waited until after they got back to the states before that kiss.
When they get back to the states, Hagen tells Michael that Kay had a miscarriage while he was gone. Michael can't bring himself to even visit her. He instructs Hagen to reach out to Fredo and tell him all is forgiven.
Meanwhile, out of nowhere, there's a low-level mobster dude testifying before Congress about the Corleone family. He says Michael's a mobster who regularly orders murders. He admits that he never received any orders directly from Michael, though. Michael testifies that he's not a mobster at all, and he's totally just a stand-up businessman. Senator Geary, who is on the panel, hilariously gets up and says he has a prior engagement, but not before falling all over himself to talk about how Italians are the bestest people in the whole wide world. The other Congressmen say that they'll provide a witness tomorrow who will state that he received direct orders from Michael to kill people, and that Michael will be charged with perjury. (And presumably also murder, but they weirdly don't say that).
The witness they have is Pentageli, who the Rostao brothers failed to kill in the beginning of the movie. Pentageli believes Michael tried to kill him, because that's what the Rostao brothers told him right before they garroted him, because it's totally normal to lie to someone for no reason right before you kill them. So Pentageli intends to blab everything. The next day at the hearing, Pentageli sees Hagen and Michael enter the building with another older man. It's Pentageli's brother, who is not a mobster and lives quietly in Italy, making pizza pies or whatever. Pentageli understands the implicit threat against his brother's life and refuses to testify against Michael.
Fredo returns and begs Michael's forgiveness, saying he didn't know Roth has going to try to kill him. Michael says they're not family anymore and to stay out of his life forever. He tells his main goomba Neri to leave Fredo alone until their mother dies.
Kay, in the meantime, announces to Michael her intention to leave him and take the kids with her. Michael says there's no way he'll ever let her take the kids. (Take Mary!  Fucking take Mary far far away!) Kay says that when she married a mobster who kills people she didn't know he was going to be a mobster who kills people, and she wants out! Michael says stop being so irrational, are you on the rag or something? I know you're upset about the miscarriage, but go to bed, things will look better in the morning.
Kay tearfully and angrily confesses that there was no miscarriage. It was an abortion. Because she wants out and there was no way she was going to let another child into this abortion of a family.
Michael's eyes get wider and angrier and she goes on, twisting the knife.
And it was a boy, and I'm glad he's gone!
He lunges at her with a powerful slap, and knocks her down. Divorce granted.
Then Mama Corleone dies, and Michael waits in the boathouse while Fredo, Connie, and the rest of the family gather to grieve. Connie goes to visit Michael and begs him to forgive Fredo. They're all the family they have left. Michael leaves the boathouse and enters the main room, hugging Fredo. It's a beautiful moment, utterly undermined a moment later when he stares meaningfully at Neri.
Meanwhile, Roth is denied asylum in Israel and other countries, and is forced to go back to America where he's arrested. Michael wants him dead, Pantageli dead, and Fredo dead.
Hagen tries to be the voice of reason and point out that none of these people constitute a real threat. "Do you want to kill everyone?"
"Not everyone. Just my enemies."
So Hagen visits Pantageli in protective custody and tells him that his brother is back in Italy and totally safe...for now.
Another goomba approaches Roth giving a press conference in Miami and shoots him dead, before being brought down himself by the FBI.
Pantageli slits his writs in the bathtub.
Fredo tries to take Neri and little Anthony out fishing, telling Anthony that he always prays before fishing because it helps him catch more fish. As they start to set off, Connie tells Anthony that Michael wants him to skip fishing that day. Anthony says goodbye to Uncle Fredo and runs off.
Fredo and Neri sail out onto the lake, and Fredo says his final prayers.
In 1941, the Corleone family prepare to surprise their father on his birthday. They've sent him out on a silly errand while they set up the decorations and cake. Sonny says he can't believe those dirty Japs attacked Pearl Harbor on Pop's birthday. Fredo says they probably didn't know it was Pop's birthday. Michael says he's dropping out of school to join the army and fight the Nazis and the Japs. Sonny, Tom, and Connie are appalled, saying he's wasting his future for no good reason. Only Fredo is supportive. Don Vito shows up at the door, and the others race to greet him, leaving Michael alone at the kitchen table. 
In 1959, Michael's enemies are all vanquished, and he's still very much alone.

Review: My first time watching this movie--in fact the whole trilogy--wasn't that long ago, about four or five years. I'm glad I saw it then, so I was able to see it now without first having to watch The Godfather, which would've thrown the whole list in disarray and possibly given me an OCD-related coronary. I have to admit, I expected to just rubber-stamp this with a five star rating, going along with the general consensus that it's an even better movie than the first one. But I don't think I believe that. I'll have to see when I watch the first one again, Make no mistake, it's a really great movie, but I just don't think it's a perfect one.
The wide, sweeping epic shots are all great, and the acting is uniformly wonderful, to be sure. This was Al Pacino's sweet spot, before he went off the HOO-AH deep end and became mostly a cartoon. It's great how the majority of the time, Michael is incredibly quiet and almost minimalist, a sharp contrast to Brando's showy Vito, but at the same time the rage is underneath it all, lying in wait, ready to strike at any moment. The best parts of the movie are when Pacino lets that monster out, just briefly, like the kiss with Fredo or the slap with Kay. It's a stellar performance.
John Cazale, gone before his time, is also excellent as the wormy Fredo. Cazle appeared in five movies, three of which are on this list (Godfather, Godfather II, The Deer Hunter) and the other two are also classics. (Dog Day Afternoon, The Conversation). Talk about the world's most impressive resume. I don't think any other actor can top that. Of course, had he lived, he probably would've made plenty of stinkers.
Full disclosure: Haven't seen The Conversation, but I've heard it's great. I freaking loved Dog Day Afternoon. It's ridiculous that it's not on this list.
DeNiro is also excellent, natch, doing a great impression of Brando and also being totally awesome in his own interpretation of the character. BTW, according to Wiki, Brando agreed to appear in the ending flashback, but didn't show up for the one day of filming and the scene had to be rewritten on the fly. You suck, Brando.
The movie has some flaws though, mainly weird plot stuff. The Congressional hearings come totally out of nowhere, and are not even hinted at before we're thrown right in the middle of them. And Michael was incredibly stupid and acted out of character, letting Fredo know that he knew about the betrayal and giving Fredo the opportunity to run. Also, as I alluded to upfront, it's just bizarre for the guys trying to kill Pentageli to lie to him and say they were sent by Michael. There's no reason to lie to someone you're about to kill, and the fact that Pentageli lives and that unnecessary lie drives the plot of the second half of the movie is weak.
Minor nits, really. It's a great movie and a sweeping epic and a wonderful sequel. And the parallel Vito/Michael stories work great, both of them highlighting the futility and emptiness of a living your life obsessed with vengeance. I'm glad these two great movies exist. We'll not discuss number three.

Stars: Four and a half out of five.

Next, "The Maltese Falcon" and then more Brando in "Apocalypse Now".

#33 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Randall Patrick McMurphy was imprisoned and sentenced to do hard labor on a work farm in Oregon for five counts of assault and the statutory rape of a 15 year-old girl. He decided that hard labor was for suckers and he would pretend to be crazy. Though the doctors doubted his story, he said all the right things and got himself transferred to a mental institution for the rest of his sentence.
On his first day, the woman who runs the ward, Nurse Ratched, conducts a group therapy meeting with the other patients. She sits them in a circle, and begins with Mr. Harding.
 Last time in group, Mr. Harding was discussing his marital problems. Would you like to discuss them further, Mr. Harding?
No thank you.
McMurphy sits; arms crossed, bored as hell.
Nurse Ratched flashes Harding an irritated look. She presses, goads him into speaking. Harding's very verbose, an educated fop. He begins speaking at length about his wife, using vocabulary beyond the comprehension of most present. Another patient, Taber, calls him out on it. Says he's full of shit!  Says he's a homo. Harding lashes back. Cheswick doesn't want anyone to fight, and he almost cries. Billy Babbit sits, curled up in a ball, not wanting engage.
To McMurphy, this is the best show in town. He smiles and leans back, taking it all in, laughing with delight.
The rooms dissolves into chaos. Nurse Ratched allows herself a hint of a smile before telling her orderlies to jump in there and maintain order. The beatings are swift and soon order is maintained. Nurse Ratched adjourns the group.
McMurhpy meets Chief, a huge American Indian and a "chronic", meaning he can't speak or understand English and is barely aware of his surroundings. McMurphy tries to get him to raise his arms and stand underneath a basketball hoop and help get rebounds. It doesn't work too well, though Chief does raise his arms.
At the next group meeting, McMurphy wants to change the group's schedule temporarily to let everyone watch the World Series. Nurse Ratched thinks that will confuse and alienate the older patients. McMurphy counters that Christ, it's the World Series. Nurse Ratched allows a vote, but of the nine in group, only Cheswick and Taber vote with McMurphy. Furious, McMurphy bawls out the others later. He's sick of these crazies. I'm getting out of here!  How?
He goes into the washroom. There's a large marble sink in the middle of the room. I'm gonna lift this and throw it through the window and escape! The others laugh, call him crazy, bet against him. McMurphy breathes in and out, grabs both sides and lifts with all his might, turning bright purple. Gasping, lifting again. Nothing happens. The others are amused.
Well at least I tried, goddammit.
Another day, another group session, another Series game, another demand for a vote. Nurse Ratched stares, implacable as ever. Fine, Mr. McMurphy. Let's have another vote. All nine in group raise their hands. McMurphy's delighted. Well, there we go.
But Mr. McMurphy, there are eighteen members in the ward. She's referring to the chronics. They don't even know what's going on! They're still members of the ward, Mr. McMurphy.
McMurphy just needs one vote. He scampers around to each of them, trying to get them to raise their hands, but none can even acknowledge him. Nurse Ratched gets up, meeting's over. But McMurphy reaches the Chief, encourages him to raise his hand, just like on the basketball court, and the Chief does it!  Victory!
Sorry Mr. McMurphy, the meeting's over. You can try again tomorrow.
McMurphy's pissed. He rants and rails, and Nurse Ratched just stares. But her eyes are smiling with a sadist's delight.
McMurphy goes back over to the couch in the main room and stares bitterly at the off TV. But suddenly, something wonderful starts to happen. He sees the game. It's on. He narrates what he sees, loudly. The others are curious. They walk over to him as he begins to call the plays. "And the pitcher throws a curveball, a little on the outside, but he gets a piece of it, it's going it's going it's gone!  HOME RUN!!"
Everyone gathers around the magic TV and cheers. Nurse Ratched tries in vain to get them to settle down.
McMurphy begins calling the next play, chomps down on an invisible hot dog. It's the best game they've ever seen.
Next on the docket, the patients are meant to ride a bus to another facility for the day, but McMurphy manages to commandeer it before the orderlies get on, and drives everyone to a fishing dock. He picks up his two best girls, Candy and Sandy, and they sail all day on the boat. Martini and Harding even manage to catch a fish, a big one. When the police finally arrive by helicopter to take them back to the institution, the men care about none of it other than the big fish they caught.
It's then that one of the orderlies breaks the news to McMurphy. You still don't know where you are, do you? Your prison sentence is over in 63 days, but you're here until Nurse Ratched says you're better. Period.
At the next group meeting, McMurphy lashes out at his new friends. Why did you guys let me give Nurse Ratched such a hard time, knowing what it would cost me? He's fucking pissed. Nurse Ratched says that's an excellent question. She has more info to give him. Did he know that most of the patients here are not committed? With very few exceptions, almost all the men are here voluntarily. McMurphy can't believe it. These people really are crazy! Cheswick wants his cigarettes, but Nurse Ratched has confiscated them and is rationing them because McMurphy has won of of theirs gambling. Cheswick wants his cigarettes now! McMurphy takes the one out of Harding's mouth and gives it to Cheswick, but Cheswick bats it away. Harding crawls around looking for it, but Taber sneaks it and puts it in his rolled-up pantleg. Cheswick continues to rant and rail and the group dissolves again into chaos, but it's no longer fucking funny to McMurphy at all. He bursts through the glass at the nurse's station, grabs Cheswick's carton of cigs and throws it at him. The orderlies jump on him, try to restrain him. Chief sees this and lumbers over, attacking the orderlies. A total melee breaks out.
Cheswick, McMurphy, and Chief are taken "upstairs", where they endure terrifying electroshock therapy. While Cheswick's inside, Chief reveals to McMurphy that he can talk and understand everyone. McMurphy's thrilled. You fooled 'em all, Chief! You did it!
After the shock therapy, McMurphy knows he's got to get out. He asks the Chief to come with him, but the Chief just can't do it. McMurphy sneaks into the nurses office and calls Sandy and Candy, inviting them over that night. They'll have some fun, and then escape.
The night orderly, Turkle, sees the women arrive but is bribed by McMurphy to let them in. Twenty dollars and some time with Sandy keeps his mouth shut. But once McMurphy wakes up all the others, and everyone starts drinking it up, Turkle knows he's screwed. So he just drinks more. Heh. The night goes on for awhile, and finally McMurphy tells everyone he's leaving. He steals the keys from a passed out Turkle. Billy doesn't want him to go. McMurphy says he should come with, they'll escape to Canada. But Billy's too terrified to leave. He just wants McMurphy to stay. He inquires about Candy. McMurphy smiles that big beautiful Jack smile, says you want some time with Candy? Fine, but make it quick, we've got to get out of here.
So Billy and Candy go into one of the rooms, and McMurphy and the rest sit outside and drink and wait. And drink. And wait.
Morning. The three orderlies and Nurse Ratched march into the room, mouths agape. McMurphy lies passed out on the floor by the open window. Everyone one is splayed throughout the room, in a hilarious tableau of decadent sin. Nurse Ratched orders the window locked, everyone gathered up, the girl kicked out. She wants to know if everyone is accounted for. An orderly reports Billy is missing.
Where's Billy? Did he sneak out through the window last night?
The men don't answer her. Some are defiantly grinning. She's losing her grip on all of them.
The other nurse finds Billy in one of the rooms. Nurse Ratched runs over. He's naked in a bed with Candy. Nurse Ratched stomps off, Billy chases after her. The room erupts into applause.
Nurse Ratched tries to shame and humiliate Billy. It doesn't work. He stands his ground and all the men love it. Finally, she goes in for the kill.
I just don't know how I'm going to tell your mother about this.
Billy falters. Y-Y-You don't h-h-have to tell her.
Oh, but I do. We're friends. I can't keep this from her. Unless someone forced you to be with that woman. Did anyone force you?
M-M-M(don't say it)M-McMurphy(shit).
Nurse Ratched's triumphant. Please wait for me in the room, Billy. She orders her men to start cleaning up. McMurphy still has Turkle's key. He goes to the window and unlocks it, Chief standing guard. The girls wait outside, signalling him to hurry.
A nurse screams. McMurphy looks back at the scream, then to the open window, then back again. Everyone runs towards the screaming. McMurphy follows.
It's Billy, lying in a pool of blood with a shard of glass gripped in his hand, his neck slashed open.
A doctor hovers over him, while Nurse Ratched pushes everybody back into the hallway. McMurphy seethes at her, murder in his eyes.
Okay everyone, the important thing is to keep to our regular rout--
He lunges at her fucking stupid face and wraps his hands around her neck, squeezing with all his might. He drives her to the floor as she struggles in vain. Suddenly, an orderly bashes him on the head with a baton, and he's out. Nurse Ratched gasps for air and coughs and coughs desperately.
Some time later, the men are playing cards while Chief wanders aimlessly. Nurse Ratched wears a neck brace and her voice is thin and scratchy, but she's in remarkably high spirits regardless. The men tell rumors about McMurphy. He's upstairs. He's dead. He beat up three orderlies and escaped. Chief doesn't know what's true and what's not.
Finally, one night, McMurphy is led back downstairs and put in bed. Chief excitedly runs over to him. I knew you were okay, I just knew it. Come on, let's go. I'm ready to get out of here. I was waiting for you.
But McMurphy doesn't respond. Chief grabs his shoulders and lifts his torso and sees McMurphy's eyes are lifeless and uncomprehending. He hugs him. Weeps. Then puts a pillow over his face. He gets up. Casually lumbers over to the giant marble sink and pulls it out of the ground. He staggers over to the window and hurls it through, blowing it apart. He's gone.
Taber sits up in his bed and cheers, just like the rest of us.

Review: Loved it the first time I saw it, love it now, love it forever. The story's amazing, first and foremost, but the acting and directing is what really makes it sing. I love Milos Foreman's style. The staging is pretty minimalist and the music soundtrack is pretty sparse, giving the whole thing a very realistic feel. I love the extreme closeups on the actors, and the fact they often talk over and interrupt each other in a very realistic way. It's reminiscent of Robert Altman, but Altman usually makes the camera hang way back, which makes us feel like we're definitely separate and away from the action, while Foreman makes us a member of the group. He's also clearly capable of inspiring great performances. Everyone onscreen gives probably the performance of their careers. I've never been particularly impressed by Danny DeVito or Christopher Lloyd for example, but both of them are amazing here, completely believable in their small parts despite being so recognizable in other things. The other actors playing patients are lesser known, but equally as good. Louise Fletcher took home a much deserved Oscar here, and yet she never really did anything very impressive ever again. Us Star Trek nerds also know her as the villainous Kai Wynn on Deep Space Nine, and she was fine there, but hardly great or notable. Even Jack, my precious Jack who I love so very much, probably peaked here. Or at least gave a performance that ties anything else he's ever done.
It's one of three movies that have won all five major Oscar awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay) and fully deserves all five of them. The other two movies, by the way, are It Happened One Night and Silence of the Lambs. American Beauty won four out of five, but unfortunately Annette Bening lost to Hillary Swank in the actress category.
I wouldn't be doing my unpaid job though, if I didn't bring up another thing. While I choose to interpret this story as the classic "little guy standing up to The Man" trope, I do think it's potentially...troubling that it's not really "The Man" that's the oppressor, here. It's a woman, and her three black male underlings. I've read interpretations that the story is sexist and racist, and represent the growing anxiety of the straight white male in a changing world that no longer gives them exclusive power. Even today, some conservative white males absurdly claims that they're really the oppressed ones, and this movie sort of plays into that. There are some who say it's Ken Kesey's response to the (at the time) just blossoming Women's Liberation and black Civil Rights movements. I do think there's some credence to that interpretation, though by all accounts Kesey was a Nixon-hating beatnik hippie (and also unfortunately homophobic, but that's another thing) so I'm not sure if it's accurate.
At any rate, I love this movie so much that I'm willfully choosing to reject that interpretation, though I don't blame those who may subscribe to it.

Stars: Five out of five.

Next, the only AFI sequel, "The Godfather Part II", and then "The Maltese Falcon".

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

#34 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Once Upon A Time: 
The Fairy Princess Snow White lived in an empty castle with her Evil Stepmother, The Queen. The Evil Queen had a Magic Mirror, whose power included the ability to definitively rate chicks' hotness according to a complicated algorithm that only he could properly interpret. Every day, The Evil Queen would ask the Magic Mirror, "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" and every day the Mirror would respond that she was the fairest of them all, until Snow White woke up looking particularly fair one morning, and just managed to tip the scales in her favor.
When The Mirror breaks the bad news to the Evil Queen, she flips out and hires a hit man to stalk Snow White in the woods and kill her.
The hunter follows Snow White into the woods, and sees her chatting earnestly with a baby bird who fell out of its nest. He realizes she's insane, and can't bring himself to kill her. He tells her the Queen wants her dead, and that she should run away, far far away, and she does. She runs and runs and runs all night and finally crashes in some bushes and sleeps the sleep of the damned.
When she wakes, about fifty deer, rabbits, squirrels, and birds surround her and fret visibly about her well-being. Snow White explains the situation to the most sentient-looking deer in the bunch, and asks it if it knows of a place where she can live. The animals excitedly lead her to a house in the woods that Snow White insensitively refers to as a "doll house". They go inside, and it's a mess. Snow White sees seven little beds and decides seven children live here and that she could be their mother. She declares she'll clean the house and forces her new animal friends to submit to slave labor, washing the clothes and dishes and making the beds, while she sweeps the floor and whistles.
Meanwhile, the "little children" who live in the house are actually seven dwarfs: Doc, Dopey, Happy, Sneezy...um...Sleepy....how many is that?  Wait...Doc, Happy, Dopey....Bashful!  I always forget Bashful.  Uh...Bashful...Sneezy, Grumpy...did I say Dopey? Hold on...is there a Vanity?
Anyway, the dwarfs dig up millions of dollars with of precious jewels on a daily basis, and as a consequence are quite cheerful about it. Their leader, the near-sighted one with speech problems, declares that it's quitting time, so they all march in a line and sing "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho". Once they get back to the house, they see a candle on in the living room and the chimney smoking, and they freak. They get inside and see that someone is upstairs asleep on the bed. They elect the mildly retarded mute one with alopecia to go upstairs and confront the intruder. Classy, guys. But he chickens out, so they all go up and Snow White wakes up and everybody screams, then she tells them she's a Princess and she needs to hide out for a while because the Queen's trying to kill her because she's so pretty. Wow, ego much, Snow White? The chronically depressed one says it's a terrible idea, but the rest of the dwarfs are down with it.
So Snow White cooks them dinner, but won't serve it to them unless they wash their hands, and I think the dwarfs are giving their new houseguest too much power. But they wash their hands and then eat and then dance and frolic with Snow White and the woodland animals all night long. The one with severe allergies keeps trying to sneeze, but the others cruelly won't let him, and the narcoleptic one bows out early and goes to bed in a shelf. It's pretty much the worst kegger ever.
Meanwhile, The Evil Queen wants to know who's the fairest now, bitch?, but the Mirror still says it's Snow White. The Evil Queen says but that's like, just your opinion, man, and besides, I've got her heart. The Mirror says the hunter tricked her and that's a pig's heart (and the pig's family is shattered beyond repair). The Queen decides she'll kill Snow White herself with a poison apple, and then concocts a magic spell that that turns her into an old crone, which should really hurt her standings in the "fairest" rankings, but she doesn't seem to get those implications. Then she reads the instructions on the back of the apple and sees that the one who bites it won't really be dead dead and will wake up if kissed by a random bland white guy. She heads off into the woods.
The next morning, Snow White sends her men off to work, kissing the one with crippling social anxieties on his bald head, and causing him to turn purple with shame and humiliation.
The Queen shows up in disguise and tries for half an hour to get her to eat the damn apple while the woodland animals race to the mines and get the dwarfs. They run back to the cabin, just in time to see Snow White fall to the ground. They angrily chase the Queen through the woods and up a cliffside, where two evil looking vultures wait. The Queen tries to push a rock on them, but is struck by lightning and falls off the cliff.
But all the dwarfs think Snow White's dead, so they do the logical thing and build a glass casket for her so they can watch her decompose.
But then a random guy happens by and kisses her and she says see ya suckers, and rides away.

Review: So as I sat watching ten minutes of footage dwarfs scrubbing each other in a large troth, I came to a realization. There's a lot of talk nowadays about how modern MTV audiences have short attention spans and need everything to move quickly and how that's an indication of the dumbing down of society and I think that's bunk. I think we're smarter now, not dumber. I think the fact that a modern audience wouldn't sit still watching three or four minutes of dwarfs sleeping reflects well on us. This movie is 83 minutes and a good 40 of it is filler. And not even good filler. Really boring filler.
And the other thing that occurred to me, is maybe old audiences didn't necessarily have better attention spans, maybe they just hadn't seen this stuff before, so watching the dwarfs putter around and do nothing for huge blocks of time didn't feel like "nothing" because everything they did was entertaining, just by virtue of existing. I've used the Avatar comparison before, but I think it really applies well here. At no point while watching that movie did I think it was a good movie. And yet I loved it, because it was visually the most stimulating movie I've ever seen. There's no doubt in my mind that fifty years from now, someone my age now will think it's boring as hell, because the effects will be outdated and the story itself is terrible.
Anyway, what's especially annoying about this movie's inclusion in the list is that some of the other classics around the same era are far far better. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Jungle Book just to name three all have better developed characters, more interesting sub-plots, scarier villains, and far better sense of "world-building". And then of course The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King blow the old ones out of the water. Even Robin Hood and Alice in Wonderland are better than Snow White. But much as Toy Story is in the bottom tier of Pixar films, it gets AFI inclusion based on being first, so we give it to Snow White here.
But to be fair (or perhaps even the fairest), there are a couple good moments. Snow White, the Queen, and the Prince are mind-numblingly boring, but the dwarfs are fun and have some good moments. The songs are catchy. And the Queen's death scene was very creepy and well-done, easily the movie's highlight.

Stars: Two out of five.

Next, one of my Very Favorite Movies, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (spoiler: five stars), and then "The Godfather: Part II" (ditto).

#35 Annie Hall (1977)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Alvy Singer is a neurotic stand-up comedian of indeterminate religious background who lives in New York City. He talks to the camera, and has many grievances about his life. He tells us that he recently broke up with Annie Hall, the most fetching boy-woman in all of New York. He starts by telling us how he grew up under a roller coaster in Coney Island and then admits he exaggerates and sometimes can't tell what's real. In line at the movies, Alvy fumes at the bloviating pontificating man behind him and fantasizes about confronting him. He remembers when he first met Annie, at a tennis match with friends. She hit on him clumsily, then drove him to her apartment. They hung out on the rooftop, and Alvy pontificated about art and worried she could see he didn't know what he was talking about, and she worried he would think she was too superficial. Eventually, they fell in love. He encouraged her to pursue her dream to be a singer, and she in turn tolerated his incessant whining. She took him on a virtual tour of her past boyfriends, whom they viewed invisibly in the same way Scrooge and the Ghosts look on past events. He then took her on a tour of his childhood, and his screeching Constanza-esq parents. He complains that she always wants to smoke pot first before sex. I would've required something significantly stronger. They break up and then make up and declare their love to each other on the boardwalk.
One day, Annie finally decides to take Alvy home to meet her family. Her parents are WASP-y and cold, her grandmother a racist, and her brother is super weird and awesome. He delivers a movie-stopping hilarious monologue about how sometimes he has an undeniable urge to swerve into oncoming traffic, while Alvy looks on in agony. All I can say is, I envy the 1977 audiences who got to be introduced the beautifully bizarre Christopher Walken this way.
(Okay, would Being Christopher Walken have been an even better movie than Being John Malkovich? Discuss.)
Annie becomes a popular night club singer, and some people invite her to see some agents in Los Angeles. They both go, and Alvy whines about how it's hot and sunny in December and how everyone drives everywhere and there's no culture. He's exactly right, of course. Except the sunny part is awesome. Of course, I romanticize New York City based on my eleven days there in 1999, and sit in two hours of traffic everyday in Los Angeles in 2011, so I can't really be trusted to be objective.
By the end of the trip, Annie has made new friends while Alvy has sulked and so she wants to live there. They agree to break up again, quite amicably.
But very quickly, shocker of shockers, Alvy decides he's miserable again, and wants her back. He flies to Los Angeles. He rents a car. He goes to a restaurant and orders wheat grass, because those stupid hippies in L.A. eat nothing but, and when Annie arrives for a friendly lunch, he begs her to come back. But she won't, because he's so damn miserable and physically nauseating. (She doesn't actually say that last part).
He goes back to New York, and writes a play about his relationship with her, but in the play, she leaves California and goes back with him to New York.
Then sometime later, he does find her in New York. She's moved back. They have a friendly, bittersweet lunch and then hug and part ways.
And then my review goes up one star because of this final monologue:
"I thought of that old joke, you know...this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken", and the psychiatrist says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?", and the guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs". Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships, you know; they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and...but I guess we keep going through it, because uh, most of us...need the eggs."

Review: Let me start by fully acknowledging that my review might be a tad biased based on my general dislike of Woody Allen due to his personal life and his myriad of endlessly crappy recent movies, most of which put him opposite increasingly hot women who would never speak to him in real life. I don't think it's possible for me to be 100% objective. That being said, I've heard this movie is a classic, and I went into watching it with an open a mind as possible. And...it wasn't bad. There are some beautiful patches of dialog, and that last monologue was fantastic, and Woody and Diane Keaton have tons of chemistry, but for me it just wasn't all that funny, ultimately. There's no question that Larry David modeled his Curb character very heavily on Woody's persona, and throughout this movie I tried to figure out why I find Larry so funny and Woody not nearly as much. I think it's because Woody's a victim, always whining about how the world is so cruel, and Larry actively tries to fix what he sees as life's great injustices, despite the fact that they're really life's pettiest inconveniences. Woody fantasizes about confronting the jerk in line at the movies, but Larry really would. Also, Larry's almost always right but lacks perspective and tact, while Woody just whines some more. Plus, Woody ruined those people's cocaine, and that's just wrong.

But it's not a bad movie. It's sweet, it's mildly funny, and it's only ninety minutes.

Stars: Three out of five.

Next, more mismatched lovers with "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", and then my man Jack is back in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

Sunday, November 6, 2011

#36 The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

An epic, nearly three hour war movie from the 50's? Bleah. What's next, a John Wayne movie? All right, let's get this over with.

Plot summary (with spoilers): Western Thailand, in a prison camp run by Japanese Colonel Saito. Two prisoners, an American and and Australian, are digging a grave for a fellow departed prisoner. The American, Commander Shears, says a few respectful words after being reminded of his name, and then they finish the burial. Shears bribes the guard with a lighter he found on the deceased, and begs the guard to let him stay in the "sick tent" for the next few days, and get off work duty. The guard allows it.
From the tent, Shears and the others hear a procession of new prisoners being brought in. They're marching, proudly, with their shoulders up and their backs straight, like they're in a parade. And even stranger: they're whistling. Whistling that camp tune that's in every third movie about either camp or the army. That tune that I thought came from The Parent Trap. They're being led by Lt. Colonol Nicholson, marching in front. They stop in front of Saito and the other guards at attention, and as one, salute. There are about a hundred and fifty or so of them. It's exhilarating.
Saito tells them all they're under his charge now, and that starting tomorrow they'll be used as slave labor to build a bridge.  Where, you might ask? On that river over there. What's the river called, you might then say? Why, it's called Kwai.
Saito dismisses the men, but Nicholson stays behind. He politely and respectfully tells Saito that the Geneva Convention strictly prohibits captors from forcing officers to do manual labor. Saito sarcastically says he'll look into it, but Nicholson has no sarcasm meter, and just salutes.
Later that night, in the prisoner tent, Shears tells Nicholson and some of the other officers about his intention to escape the next day. Nicholson says no thank you, they were ordered by his superiors to surrender, so escape would be tantamount to treason. Um...not sure if I agree with your math there, Nicholson.
The next day, Saito orders the British soldiers again to start working on the bridge. Nicholson reminds him again that the officers can't do manual labor and provides him a copy of the Geneva Convention rules. Saito takes the copy and swats Nicholson's  face with it. He orders Nicholson and the other officers to join the regular soldiers. Nicholson refuses and tells his fellow officers to stand at attention. Saito sends the enlisted men away, so that it's only him and Nicholson and the other 10 or so officers. Shears watches from his sick tent in horror as Saito signals a truck with a machine gun in it to pull up. He tells Nicholson he has until the count of three to start working. Nicholson stands his ground.
Another British solider, a doctor named Clipton who had been in the sick tent, runs forward. He tells Saito that everyone in the sick tent is witnessing this, and it's murder, and he'll never get away with it. Saito stares him down for a moment, then tells his guards to grab Nicholson. They put him in a small wooden box in the sun that Shears refers to as the "oven". The other officers continue to stand at attention.
In all the distraction, Shears and two others suddenly race off, attempting their escape. The other two are gunned down, but Shears manages to jump off a cliff The Fugitive style, and into a raging river floating downstream to apparent safety.
Weeks go by. The men continue working on the bridge, though pieces of it break and fall into the water periodically. Saito is apoplectic. He has the British doctor Clipton visit Nicholson in his makeshift prison. Clipton begs Nicholson to agree to let the officers work. He tells him that he'll die in the oven if it goes on much longer, and every day the officers stand at attention all day long in the sun, and one of them has heatstroke and will likely die soon, too. They frankly could use the exercise of working on the bridge. But Nicholson holds his ground. Finally, Saito pulls him out for a late night visit, and Nicholson's gaunt and pale and can barely walk. Saito tells him that if the bridge isn't completed by May 1st, his superiors will force him to commit seppuku. Nicholson is unsurprisingly unmoved. He offers to allow his officers to oversee the bridge construction and make sure it's done properly, so long as they don't have to actually do any manual labor. Only the Brits can simultaneously be so brave and so prissy.
Saito again puts him back in the oven, but after another week or so, finally gives into his demands. He frees Nicholson from the oven, and the men cheer and hold him above their heads like he's a rock star.
The next day, Nicholson holds a meeting with his officers, and one reveals that the location of the bridge makes it impossible to build, because the ground is too soft. Nicholson holds a meeting with Saito and his men and tells him of their new plan to scrap the current bridge and start over a half mile away. He has new plans, and a new tougher work schedule for the men and by God and by the Queen, they'll get this bridge done by May 1st no matter what, proving the worth of the British military. The other officers look askance at Nicholson apparently heading to some creepy level beyond Stockholm Syndrome, but say nothing.
So finally, we get back to Shears. Turns out, he got picked up by some Thai natives and then rescued by some British troops. He's recovering in a British-run hospital in Thailand, eating fruits and berries and hitting on a Brit nurse. But then a British Major named Warren wants to see him. Turns out Shears isn't a Commander after all, but rather an enlisted man. When he was taken prisoner by the Japs, he switched outfits with his deceased commanding officer, hoping to get better treatment as a prisoner. Warren found this out and blackmails Shears with it. He wants Shears to accompany him and lead him back to where he was imprisoned. You see, there's a bridge that's being built there. A bridge on a river. Named Kwai. And that bridge will allow the enemy to easily transfer weapons and men by train to key battleground areas or something. And it needs to be blown up. Accompanying Shears and Warren is a cute little Canadian named Lt. Joyce, who is asked if he ever killed anyone in battle, and would he be capable of it? Joyce says he hasn't and isn't sure if he would be able to, because it feels like murder to him. Fucking Canadians.
Warren says he'll get over it.
So they fly over the site and parachute down and encounter several Siamese women and one man who will help them on their mission. All the other men in the area have already been imprisoned by the Japanese. At one point, they're discovered by three Japanese scouts. Shears and Warren shoot two of them, but the third runs off. The men pursue, and Joyce discovers him by accident about a foot away from him. He can't bring himself to kill the him, so the scout raises his weapon, but just then Warren comes rushing forward and stabs the scout in the gut, just as he fires his gun, hitting Warren in the foot.
As they continue marching on, Warren eventually can no longer walk, and tells the others to go on without him. But Shears refuses. They make a cot for him and carry him.
And back at the prison camp, Nicholson frets openly about completing the bridge on time. Clipton suggests that maybe that really shouldn't be their main goal, and then Nicholson tosses off the info that even though the officers are working on the bridge now, it might not get done in time. I'm sorry, what? The officers---you mean, the people who you spent a month in a tiny box just to keep them from getting their prissy little hands dirty, those officers?  Nicholson you fucking suck, sir. Jolly well suck. Then Nicholson goes to the sick tent and starts cajoling fevered and injured prisoners that they're not that sick, and surely they can to some "light" labor to help things along? Several soldiers unsteadily rise to their feet and follow Nicholson out the door.
And finally, after some more time and a fade out, the bridge is complete. Nicholson and Saito walk along it, Nicholson gently touching the railing. He says they did it, dammit, on time, proving the resilience and capability of the British army. And I'm guessing also proving something to daddy?
They have a big homoerotic party that night, completely with shirtless soldiers in hulu dresses, dancing with one another and pretending to kiss, while the rest of the men hoot and holler. Now that's the England I know and love. Good show, old chaps.
Meanwhile, Warren, Shears and the others arrive in camp the same night. Through intel, they've learned that the bridge was just completed and an enemy train with supplies is coming through on it tomorrow morning. They quietly string up explosives underwater, connecting them with a wire hidden in the sand and a plunger thingie hidden behind a rock. They'll wait until morning, and then Joyce, also hidden at the rock, will set off the explosion just as the train starts on the bridge, thereby getting them two birds with one stone. The quietly swim in the water and set everything up, then proceed to sleep until morning. The next morning, they wake up and see the river water has receded. The wires connected to the bridge are exposed. Shears and Warren are separated from Joyce, and unable to tell him to just blow up the bridge now, forget the stupid train, before they're discovered! But Joyce doesn't notice their frantic signaling. And then Saito and the guards stand on the bridge at the ready. Blow it up, Joyce!  Blow it up now!  God, this is worse than Breaking Bad!  Then Nicholson and the Brits come marching onto the bridge. Whistling again. That fucking whistling. Joyce can't blow it up, now. But the Brits thankfully march to the other side, with only Nicholson staying behind. Nicholson lovingly brushes his hands on the railing of the bridge one last time, then leans on it, looking into the water. He sees the wires. He's confused. We walks a few dozen feet, then looks down again. More wires.
Blow it up, JOYCE!  GOD DAMN IT!
Nicholson: Saito. Something's wrong. You gotta take a look at this.
And he and Saito get down from the bridge, just as finally, finally,  a train whistle can be heard in the distance. Nicholson discovers the wires under the sand. He pulls on them, following them towards Joyce. He and Saito keep walking.
The train approaches.
Nicholson and Saito are about twenty feet away from Joyce and his TNT plunger.
Shears and Warren keep gawking like they're in their living room on Sunday night in 2011.
Finally, Joyce rushes out with a knife, and stabs Saito before he can turn around. "We're gonna blow up the bridge, sir!" he hisses to Nicholson.
Blow it up?  Guards, help! Nicholson signals to the other Japanese guards on the bridge. They start running down. Joyce tries to run back to the plunger, but Nicholson tackles him. Please sir, let me go!  But he can't bring himself to attack an ally.
Shears finally breaks out of his hiding place and makes a mad dash across the sand, determined to kill Nicholson's fucking face off. Just as he reaches them, a Japanese guard shoots him in the back, and then kills Joyce for good measure. Nicholson sees Shears as he dies, staring into his eyes. He remembers that American. The one who escaped before...everything happened.
My God, what have I done?  
He runs towards the plunger.
The train starts to go on the bridge.
Just then Warren fires some huge explosive gun that blows up right behind Nicholson. Nicholson stops in his tracks then falls over dead, right onto the plunger.
The bridge explodes fantastically, and the train crashes down into the river below.
Mission Accomplished.

Review: WOW!  Wowee wowee wow! That was fantastic!  And all the more so, for being completely unexpected!  Thank you AFI. Never in a million years did I expect to find this movie any more than okay at best, but it was amazing. Starting with the beautiful lush scenery that really established a foreign location and continuing with great performance by all the actors. Each character had a function in the story and influenced the way the plot unfolded. I love that when stories do that. No superflous characters. And Alec Guiness was amazing. He had such a tricky part, this stubborn brave and heroic man who is undone by his own sense of self worth and value. To him, finishing the bridge was no longer about helping the enemy, but about proving that he could. And the way his belief system gets warped by his torture and then victory over Saito after the torture (which functions as a validation of all his actions thus far) is completely believable, even if it was pretty maddening. Shears, Warren, and Joyce were all fully developed characters too, who each had a satisfying and entertaining arc. The movie cover bills this as Shears vs. Nicholson, but that's not it at all. It's Nicholson vs himself and his sanity, and Shears, Warren, Joyce, Clipton, and Saito are just supporting players. Also, lots and lots of shirtless dudes building shit. You can't go wrong with that. Anyway, pretty great. Kudos all around, fifty four years later.

Stars: Five out of five.

Next, another tough-guy movie, "Annie Hall", and then "Snow White and the Von Trapp Children".