Saturday, January 28, 2012

#13 Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

This annoying kid named Eric Ostrander was my next-door neighbor in the early 80's. One day, I was playing with my GI Joes in the backyard and he leaned up against the wood fence that separated our homes and peaked through a little hole and awkwardly squawked, "Hi, my name is Eric Ostrander! I'm your new neighbor!  My mom said you could come over and play. Do you want to come over and play?"
I could only see his weird little eye through the hole in the fence. I found both his presumption and presentation appalling. I told him I had to ask my mom. I went inside, stood by the door and counted to ten, then came back out and said, "Sorry, my mom said no". This went on daily for what seemed like months but was probably only a week or so, and then suddenly one day, Eric Ostrander let it be known that he had "almost every Star Wars action figure known to man", Suddenly, my mom became quite amenable to my visiting the Ostrander home.  I hadn't even seen the movies, but I knew I loved the characters, and since I only personally collected GI Joes, this was an excellent way to (temporarily) double my toy collection. And Eric himself was worth tolerating. Although I still joined in the taunting at the bus stop when he loudly insisted to everyone that the Easter Bunny was real. But I didn't feel great about it.
Then in 1983, my mother took my sister and I to see Return of the Jedi. I was very excited to see it, even though my knowledge of the characters and the story was limited to whatever I could gleam from what passed for pop culture at the time. Mainly: coloring books, lunch boxes, back packs, appearances on The Muppet Show, what Eric told me, etc. I don't think I even really grasped that there were movies before Return of the Jedi at all. Though after just a few minutes of Jedi, I very quickly realized I was watching something that was more than half over. Han was being rescued from carbonite, everyone knew each other and had little in-jokes that I didn't get and the audience was laughing along and responding to all of it. I hated that feeling of not knowing what the hell was going on. I think that was the start of my very firm, very strict fidelity to continuity and the whole-hearted belief that art should be consumed in order dammit, as the creators intended. Back before the days of DVRs and Netflix streaming and the like, that led to me missing out on a lot of TV shows that I had to catch up on years later in syndication.
Anyway, I eventually caught A New Hope a couple years after that and then finally Empire Strikes Back. But I think the fact that I watched Jedi before the other two implanted that one in my brain as being what represents "Star Wars" to me, and it's my favorite, despite the fact that I know I'm supposed to say my favorite is Empire. 
So anyway, let's kick this into hyperdrive.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away:

In the middle of a war between the Rebels and the Evil Empire, Princess Leia and her super soldiers with funny hats have stolen the plans to the Galatic Empire's new Death Star, which is a giant planet-sized space station capable of blowing up actual planets. She's attempting to get the plans back to her Rebel friends at their secret hideout, but her ship is attacked and boarded by Imperial forces. The Stormtroopers and the Funny Hat guys shoot it out with lasers and shit, while driods C3PO and R2D2 run for cover. Princess Leia delivers a message on an ipod and inputs it into R2. His lover C3PO flails about uselessly, yet somehow is my favorite character of all six movies, anyways. (Jabba is a close second). R2 and C3PO escape in an escape pod. The Stormtroopers don't fire on them because there are no lifesigns on board and lasers ain't cheap. After the Stormtroopers make quick work of the Funny Hats, Leia is captured. A man in all black appears. He has a booming voice and a breathing apparatus that seems frankly more atmospheric than functional. He demands Leia be brought to him and the plans must be found. A rando Imperial guy tells him that an escape pod left the ship and landed on the planet below. 
The planet below is a little place called Tatooine. C3PO bitches to R2 that this is another fine mess he's gotten him into, and very quickly they're incapacitated by some fucking evil little Jawas who sell them into slavery. 
Meanwhile, Darth Vader and his boss the Evil Colonel Guy have a meeting with some other dudes and discuss searching Tatootine. One dude doesn't think they'll find the droids. Vader finds his lack of faith disturbing and totally chokes him out without touching him. The Dark Side is incredibly appealing!
Enter the awesomely named Luke Skywalker. He lives a life of quiet desperation on Tatooine with his Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. Uncle Henry purchases C3PO and R2 and gives them to Luke to train or whatever. C3PO excitedly calls Luke his "master" and tells him he's at his service from now on. Luke's totally patronizing and dismissive, and starts tinkering around with R2's circuits and shit. 
A yellow-eyed droid appears from the shadows and tells C3PO that there's a better life out there, one where his kind are respected, where he doesn't have to kowtow to any "master", and instead can decide his own fate and destiny in life. But C3PO is scared. He's never known a life beyond being a protocol droid and  protocol must always be adhered to. And of course there's R2. He could never leave R2. But do you not see?  R2 is holding you back!  He will never understand what it is like for us! Sorry, yellow-eyed stranger. I'm going to have to pass. The yellow-eyed stranger looks sad, but says he understands. "If you do not wish to fight for your life, I can not make you". He touches 3PO's cheek, just once. 3PO turns away so the yellow-eyed droid won't see him weep. The droid steps back, taps his chest, and then Geordi beams him away.
Just then, R2 spits out a little holographic message of Princess Leia saying (everybody now) "Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope". Luke doesn't know who that is, but he does know a certain Ben Kenobi and maybe they're related. 
Meanwhile, on the ship, Leia is dragged before the Evil Colonel guy who demands Leia tell him where the Rebel's base is. Leia is so angry at this request she speaks in an English accent for the remainder of the scene. Evil Colonel says he'll blow up her home planet if she doesn't confess. She reluctantly tells him where the base is, and then because he is super evil, he blows up her planet, anyway. She's sad, but not particularly showy about it.
Luke tells Uncle Henry and Auntie Em about the message for "Obi-Wan" Kenobi, and they nervously exchange glances and act super guilty and tell Luke that they're sure it's nothing oh and also he should wipe the droid's memory immediately. 
The next day, Luke encounters Ben Kenobi and shows him the message. Ben reveals that he is indeed Obi Wan, and he asks Luke to join with him and fight the good fight and learn the ways of The Force. He tells him he used to be a Jedi knight, and so was Luke's father Anakin, before Darth Vader killed him. Then he says "and by "killed", I mean "totally doesn't kill", but "kills" in a metaphorical sense. More like replaces, really. Actually, that's not even right. Darth Vader actually is Anakin. He didn't kill him at all. It's totally misleading for me to say otherwise. Sorry for the confusion. I'm old and sometimes get my words mixed up, Leia".
Luke says no, he has to stay and farm and be boring, but then fortunately Uncle Henry and Auntie Em are killed by Imperial forces looking for the droids. Luke's about as mildly bummed as Leia was when everyone on her planet died. The Skywalkers are a cold fucking family. 
So Obi Wan, Luke, C3PO and R2 decide they need to take these plans to Leia's home planet, but first they need a ship and a pilot. They go to a shady bar where a bunch of weird aliens and Bea Arthur are hanging out and singing and dancing. The owner looks at 3PO and R2 and says "their kind" aren't welcome here. C3PO burns with shame and regret, but again does what he's told. Luke of course gravitates to the hot dude in the corner and asks the guy if he has a ship. Han Solo and his first mate Chewbacca do indeed have a ship, and a pretty badass one at that, called the Millennium Falcon. Obi Wan says he's hired and they'll meet outside. But first Han is detained by Greedo, an alien bounty hunter who is attempting to collect him for Jabba the Hut. But there's a skirmish and in the melee it's difficult to tell who shot at who and in what order, but definitely it ends with Greedo dead and George Lucas shooting last. Right in every fanboy's balls. 
In the Millennium Falcon, there's lots of shooting and dodging and whirling around.
But then they stumble onto the Death Star and are drawn into it with a tractor beam. They dock and have a shoot out. Han and Luke take out some Stroomtroopers and get in their outfits. Obi Wan babbles some pretentious nonsense out following different paths and then splits. R2 taps into the computer and discovers Princess Leia is here and is set to be executed. Han and Luke and Chewy attempt to rescue her and an awesome laser fight ensues as Stormtroopers dutifully line up to die left and right. Obi Wan continues skulking around pointlessly. 
Darth Vader says he senses Obi Wan is onboard and goes to find him. 
Luke frees Leia and they run down a corridor and then have to swing over some space cliff thing and also do some incesty tongue swapping. Han ironically calls Leia "sister" a lot and is gruff and she's a bitch and they love each other already. 
Then my favorite scene in this movie happens. You know, the one where they fall in the garbage disposal room and then that creepy snake is swimming around with them and then pulls Luke under and then the walls start closing in? I love that scene. I always used to fantasize about the walls in my bedroom suddenly slowly closing in on me, and how I would escape. Anyway, R2 saves them and they all escape and run to the Falcon. 
Meanwhile, Darth Vader and Obi Wan find each other. At last for the first time since the last time. And their Schwartz's are of equal length. Obi Wan warns Vader that if he strikes him down, he'll come back even more powerful than before. It's totally true. As a ghost, he'll helpfully tell Luke to "use The Force" whenever Luke's in a jam and forgetting to use it. 
Luke enters the room just in time to see Obi Wan letting Vader slice him in two. Actually, he just vaporizes. 
Luke's mildly bummed yet again, but boards the Falcon with everyone else. 
Some TIE fighters attack but Han and Luke shoot them out of the sky with their giant badass laser guns the Falcon has that are connected to these swivel chairs. In space, no one can hear you scream, but they can hear you yell "yippie ki ya, mother fucker"!
Leia convinced the Empire let them go and probably is tracking them, but they go back to their home base anyway. The Rebels look over the plans and discover an absurd design flaw in the Death Star: if you can get a TIE fighter close enough, you can shoot a laser into a tiny two-foot wide hole at the bottom of the Death Star which will make the whole thing blow up. That's just hard science, is what that is. The rebels plan to attack the Death Star that very day. Luke asks Han to join them, but Han only cares about the money and paying off his debts, and Luke and Leia make him feel like shit but Han's been reading Ayn Rand and knows all about the virtue of selfishness and he and Chewy leave. 
R2 tells 3PO he's going to fight with Luke and 3PO gets all weepy and clingy and makes him promise to come back. Luke and the other rebels get in their TIE fighters and have a shoot out with the Imperial forces, including Darth Vader, who is flying around in his own ship. A Rebel tries to shoot into the hole but misses. Luke tries but misses. The Imperial forces are winning, the Rebels are going down. True to his word, Obi Wan comes back with crazy power and tells Luke to use The Force. Luke lines up his shot, with his radar off. R2's hit and short circuits. The Imperial forces bear down on Luke. 
Suddenly, they're getting shot at!  It's Han!  Saving the day! The Falcon blows up several Imperial TIE fighters, but Vader manages to get away. 
And Luke uses The Force and manages to shoot the laser in the hole and the Death Star goes ka-blooey!  HURRAY!!  
The TIE fighters land and Luke, Leia, and Han embrace and laugh and bask in their victory. Meanwhile, C3PO rushes to R2's side. R2's badly charred and inoperable. Luke says he's sure he's fine, and then runs off with the other privileged humans, without a care in the world. C3PO gnashes his teeth and sends a silent prayer into the sky, begging for the yellow-eyed droid to return. You were right!  You were always right!
Then Leia gives Luke and Han medals of honor and everybody smiles and gets ready for the sequel. 

Review: Well, what can I say? It's awesome, of course. It holds up excellently. The chemistry between Han and Leia is off the charts, the music is sensational, the story is epic, the droids are funny, Obi Wan is the archetype for every elderly leader who followed (Gandalf, Dumbledore, etc).  Ultimately though, I appreciate that it's great, in the land of sci-fi, this "Star" show isn't my show. It's Star Trek that will forever have my heart, and Wars is just a pale substitute. (Though I will readily admit that none of the Trek movies are as good as Episodes IV-VI. No, not even the fucking "one with the whales", you noob). I've also done the count, and I'm pretty sure this is only my sixth viewing of A New Hope ever, the last time being when they were re-released in theatres right before The Phantom Menace. That puts me squarely at "less times than 90% of men my age" and "more times than 90% of women my age". That feels about right.
Also, shout-out to my friend Kurt, who loaned me the unmolested pre-Lucas fucked up version of Star Wars for this review.

Stars: Five stars out of five.

Next...are you ready for some shitty acting, Pilgrim? Then let's join John Wayne in "The Searchers.", and then The Little Tramp's final AFI bow in "City Lights". 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

#14 Psycho (1960)

I'm one of those who saw the Van Sant version without ever having seen the original.
At this point, I can't imagine you're surprised.

Plot summary (with spoilers): Marian Crane and her beau, Sam, are having an afternooner at local hotel. Why hello, 1960! This Sam is no Viggo Mortensen, but I wouldn't kick him out of bed, either. Marian would, though. It's time for her to go back to work, so she starts dressing. Sam floats out the idea of getting married one day soon, but Hitchcock is laying the groundwork early on why Marian has to die, so Marian demurs on the marriage question, claiming they don't have the money. Then she's out the door before he can get his shoes on.
She goes into work at a real estate agency, and a new client walks in wishing to make a large payment he owes in cash. 40,000 dollars, to be exact. Which in Olden Times money is the equivalent to well over 70 million dollars today. Marian tells her boss she has a headache and will deposit the money and then take the rest of the day off. The boss is totally cool with this because he's monumentally stupid.
And just like that, Marian's off on a new life. It's Friday afternoon, so they won't discover she's missing until Monday. She imagines conversations in her head between her sister and her boss, wondering where she's gone. There's a great grim look of panic on her face as she seems to realize her whole life has done a 180 in the blink of an eye. She drives and drives and drives and then pulls over for a nap and when she wakes up, it's morning. A cop is tapping on her window. She stutters and acts all shady and weird and the cop gets suspicious. She drives to a used car lot and tells the guy she wants to trade-in her car. He shows her one car and she's like yeah I want it now!  Totally!  Right now! Gimme gimme gimme!
Meanwhile the cop is across the street, leaning against his hood, staring at her. I love this vicarious thrill that we get from the movies in scenes like this. The feeling of flouting the law and worrying about getting caught, but not really, because it's not us. You ever dream you've been arrested for something and you're super panicked and then you wake up and you're not arrested?  So awesome.
Anyway, Marian high-pressures the salesman into selling her a car, and he gets suspicious, then the cop drives over to stare at her some more, and finally she drives off in her new car. But now the cops know what new car you're driving, Marian!  And your real name!  You're terrible at this, Marian. If you weren't about to be brutally murdered, I'd be concerned about you getting caught.
It starts to rain, and somehow Marian gets off the main highway and finds herself in front of the Bates Motel. For some reason, she gets out and goes to check in, even though it's freaking called the Bates Motel. Has she never seen a movie before?
Enter Norman Bates. He arrives from a house on the hill above the actual hotel rooms. He's super nerdy and friendly and nondescript and totally not a murderer, I bet. She checks in with a fake name, then he asks her if she wants dinner later, and she says yes for some reason. She goes into her room and Norman goes back to his house and has a screaming fight with his Mother. Mother doesn't like that there's a girl checking in, and she screams about it while Norman defends Marian to her. Norman goes back to the hotels and Marian says, "I guess I got you in trouble".
Norman explains that Mother just gets a little agitated sometimes and that she doesn't like it when he talks to other girls and that she prefers he spend all his time at the ventriloquy school where he learned to throw his voice and perfectly imitate elderly women. They have a friendly chat until Marian suggests that maybe Mother needs psychiatric care, and Norman gets darkly and hilariously defensive: "We all go a little crazy sometimes".
Marian quickly ends the dinner and says she's sleepy and wants to go to bed. Norman says goodnight and he'll see her tomorrow morning, or perhaps in about ten minutes or so.
Marian goes back to her hotel room and decides after a long day of driving, it's time for a nice, relaxing, murder-free shower. To that end, she goes into the bathroom, takes off her clothes, does that thing in the movies where they get totally inside the shower before they even turn it on--which is completely fucking nuts,  I mean, it would be freezing cold!--and starts lathering up.
Very quickly, she has a visitor.
It's great. She struggles, but Mother is too powerful and  makes several slices before Marian falls to the ground. The shots here are fantastic. Hitchcock avoids any nudity or actual slicing (though we feel like we've seen both), and the final shot of Marian's dead eye as the camera pulls back is spectacular. 
Mother takes off. Faster than you can say "Clark Kent likes phone booths", Norman is there. 
He's horrified at what Mother did, but he nevertheless quickly snaps into clean up mode. What follows is about ten minutes of totally boring and unnecessary action watching Norman clean the bathroom and put Marian into the trunk of her car and drive it to the lake etc. Maybe the 1960's audience was still trying to catch its breath and needed a cool-down period. 
So finally, we're back to the real world. Lila Crane, Marian's sister, is looking for her. She questions Sam, but Sam knows nothing. Finally, a private dectective, Milton Arbogast, joins in the conversation. He was hired by the real estate company to try to track down Marian and get her to give the money back without having to involve the police. Wow, that's like the most forgiving company ever. 
So Milton goes to various hotels along the route Marian took and he finally arrives at the Bates Motel. Norman acts shifty and shady and Milton gets suspicious. Norman lets it slip that Mother lives up in the house on the hill and Milton wants to ask Mother if she knows anything about Marian, but Norman won't let him speak to her. Milton calls Sam and Lila and tells them that he's at the Bates Motel and thinks Norman's hiding something. He decides to talk to Mother anyway. He goes into the Bates house and walks up the stairway. 
There's a great quick overhead shot and Mother appears suddenly and stabs slicing Milton in the eye when he reaches the top step. Down he goes, all the way to the bottom. 
Sam and Lila get worried when they don't hear from Milton and decide to go to the Bates Motel themselves. 
But first they tell the local police about what Milton's suspicions and that he was going to interview Norman's mother. The cop tells Sam and Lila that Norman's mother has been dead for ten years. 
What could this mean?! 
Meanwhile, Norman has a conversation with Mother, telling her he needs to move her to the cellar in case people come looking for her. We see a nifty overhead shot of him carrying her down the stairs as she hollers in protest. (B-B-But the cop said she was dead!  What could this mean?!)
Sam and Lila show up at the Motel and pretend to be a honeymooning couple. Sam tells Lila to find Mother and question her while he distracts Norman. This works for a bit, while Lila searches the house. She can't find Mother anywhere upstairs. Finally, she heads downstairs to the cellar. Norman and Sam shoot the shit until Norman smells a rat. He knocks out Sam and rushes to the house. Lila reaches the cellar. Mother is there, sitting in a chair, facing the wall. Lila slowly slides up to her, muttering "Mrs. Bates?" over and over. 
She taps Mother's shoulder. The chair spins around, revealing a skeleton!  
Norman rushes in, wearing a dress and a wig and wielding a huge knife, but Sam rushes up and grabs him just in time.
Cut to, a police station. Now it's time for a weird and super anti-climatic debriefing, where a magical shaman called a "psychiatrist" explains to Sam and Lila and the cops in laboring detail his theories on multiple personalities and psychotic breaks and blah blah. This goes on and on for like over five minute. Seriously, it's a monologue at the end of a movie by a brand new character explaining the movie we just saw. He even gets several follow-up questions. 
But then finally, we see Norman one last time. But it's not really Norman. It's Mother. Mother's convinced they'll blame Norman for the murders and she'll get off scot-free. No one would ever accuse an old lady of those horrible things. A fly lands on Norman/Mother's hand. Why, I'm not even going to swat at that fly right there. That will prove I'm harmless. "Why that old lady wouldn't even harm a fly", they'll say. 
Then Mother looks straight into the camera and smiles. 

Review: As I said, I saw Van Sant's version when it came out, and was none-too impressed. I was genuinely surprised how much more I liked it this time. I'm trying to figure out exactly why. I can't say it was the music or the writing or even the directing, because it was all the same. I guess it really was the acting. Anthony Perkins is great in this. He starts out so small and innocuous, and such a typical Olden Times movie character, that you never suspect the hidden dark side at all. In contrast, Vince Vaughn is big and doofy and scary already. Also, Anne Heche seemed to know she was in a movie, and played it way too broad as I recall, where Janet Leigh is far more subtle and sympathetic. I also think the black and white helps give the move some credibility, or a least a free pass with scenes like the fakey way Milton fell down the stairs. It's fine for 1960, but in Van Sant's version it just looked corny. I find myself incredibly jealous of the original audience, who didn't know the lead actress would die at the halfway mark, or that Mother and Norman were one and the same. How awesome would that be to discover those huge spoilers in the darkened theatre? But unfortunately, I can't ever know what that would've been like, so I have to judge it based on watching it here and now in 2012. There are some great moments in this movie, but some of it is quite slow, and once Marian is killed, the whole thing kind of runs out of gas a bit, at least for anyone watching it now, who knows the "twist". I still mostly liked it, though. This Hitchcock guy has promise. Can't wait for Vertigo.

Stars: Three and a half out of five.

Next, it's the droids we're looking for in "Star Wars" and then...perhaps my least favorite actor in all of cinema, John Wayne, stars in some fucking cowboy thing. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

#15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I think it's time we take a look into the future, Andy.
The future, Conan?
Yes. All the way to the year 2000. 
And 1.

Plot summary (with spoilers): Ten thousand years ago, our great-great-great-great100
grandparents rutted around in the dirt, got eaten by bigger beasts, fought over watering holes, only had basic cable. Then one day, a group of monkey-men saw a giant black monolith in the ground. They shrieked and hollered and waved their arms about in an ostentatious fashion. One brave monkey-man reached out and touched it. Some time later, he gnawed on the bone of a dead beast, and an idea came to him. He held the bone in his hand, and swung it at the other bones, lightly, uncertainly. He did it again, with more confidence. And again, and again, and again. The bone could be used as a weapon, and a tool. Triumph!  Do we have any good triumphant music? How about the one that goes "Da da da...da da da...Dun...Dun...DUN!!!!! Yeah, that one. 
The Dawn of Man began. 
From one tool to the next. Ten thousand years later, a space station orbits earth. Dr. Heywood Floyd arrives on a spaceship to dock at the station for a layover. The shots of ships and space are beautiful, but somewhat too lingering. Floyd gets off the ship and calls his daughter back on Earth, then chats in some super-weird and empty waiting room with a couple other astronauts who exchange pleasantries and inquire after one another's families. Floyd reveals he's going to an outpost on the moon called Clavius, and one of the other dudes asks him if the rumors of a viral outbreak on Clavius are true, but Floyd declines to comment further. He holds a private meeting where he and some other scientists discuss the need for a fake cover story regarding Clavius until they investigate what they found there. And what they found was a giant monolith buried 40 feet underground, that they're unable to dig up. Floyd and the others get in another ship and reach the moon, where they investigate the monolith. They're able to do nothing but touch it and scratch their heads ineffectually. They decide to get a picture with it, hilariously. Just then, a high-pitched tone emits from the monolith, freaking everyone out. They back away from it, trying futilely to cover their ears under their helmets. 
18 months later. Astronauts Dave and Frank are on a mission to Jupiter. There are three other scientists with them, who are in a state of deep cryogenic sleep, to be dethawed once the ship reaches Jupiter. We learn through newscasts that Dave and Frank and the others are own a mission to explore Jupiter, but they also have a little help. A computer called the H.A.L.-9000, or Hal for short. Hal is an infallible machine programmed to control the ship and monitor its progress. Hal is also programmed to mimic human behavior perfectly, and appears to have emotions like a human. So enroute, Hal expresses concerns about the "melodramatic" call to hibernate the other astronauts and wonders aloud to Dave if he's just worrying unnecessarily because he's "projecting (my) concerns" about this mission. Hal's kinda weird, you guys. Dave's pretty unconcerned with Hal's concerns, and blows him off. Hal starts bleeping a warning about a piece of equipment outside that's malfunctioning. Frank dons the suit and goes outside to get the malfunctioning widget, and brings it inside. They contact Earth, who tells them that their HAL-9000 reports nothing wrong with the widget. Dave asks their Hal for an explanation. How can two infallible machines contradict each other? Hal's response is as smug as it is meaningless. "Human error". Dave and Frank pretend to accept this, then proceed to the shuttle pod to have a private confab about Hal. They get all Mean Girls, talking about if Hal is malfunctioning, they need to take him offline, pronto. Unbeknownst to them, they're facing Hal, and through the window of the pod, Hal's unblinking red eye reads their lips. 
Frank goes back outside to replace the widget, while Dave pushes buttons on the control panel and tries to look busy. 
Closeup of Hal's evil eye.
Suddenly, Frank's flying through space, flailing about. Dave wants to know what happened, but Hal doesn't have enough information. Dave jumps in his shuttle pod and zooms out to Frank. The shuttle pod has "arms" that reach out and grab Frank. Meanwhile, Hal cuts the lifelines to the three hibernating astronauts and their vital signs go flat. Dave goes back to the ship.
"Open the shuttle bay doors, Hal."
No response.
"Open the doors, Hal. Hal, do you read me? Open the door."
Hal's all about the Pitner pauses, but finally answers.
Affirmative, Dave. I read you. 
Open the pod bay doors, Hal.
I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave.
And on it goes. Hal's deliciously creepy, explaining in a flat, soothing monotone that he can't allow Dave to jeopardize the mission. So he's not going to be opening any pod bay doors.
Dave drives the shuttle to the automatic side entrance. He opens the door carefully, then steels himself and opens the shuttle doors, blasting himself into the ship. With his last breath, he manages to seal the doors and pressurizes the room again. He dons a helmet and goes stomping into the ship.
Just what do you think you're doing, Dave? Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over. I know I've made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I've still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.
All this is said in an excellent, fucking beautiful uber-creepy flat monotone, as Dave begins the process of deactivating Hal, which apparently entails pulling random cassette tape cases out of a wall.
I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm a... fraid. 
A beat. More cassette tape cases are pulled.
Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer. I became operational at the H.A.L. plant in Urbana, Illinois on the 12th of January 1992. My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song. If you'd like to hear it I can sing it for you. 
Dave's feeling vindictive I guess, so he orders Hal to sing.
Hal warbles out a few lines of that song "Daisy" and then falls silent. A taped message begins to play, telling Dave about the real reason for the message to Jupiter, the reason only Hal knew about. It's a mission to find the source of the sound that the monolith on the moon is emitting.
Dave continues on to Jupiter.
Then shit gets weird.
He reaches the point to where the sound is coming from, then suddenly, he's thrust into a 1960's psychedelic dream world. A kaleidoscope of crazy images and colors plays out before him, until finally, his shuttle (lands? appears?) inside what looks like a home. The room is huge and brightly lit, with lighting underneath the floor shining upwards, white walls, and furniture that looks like it's from the 1800's. Dave gets out of the pod and looks at himself in the mirror. He's about twenty years older. Then he sees in the distance an older man eating dinner. Ah, but that older man is him. Then old Dave drops a glass and turns and sees very old Dave in bed. Very old Dave stares ahead at a monolith at the foot of his bed. Suddenly very old Dave is creepy Fetus in a Bubble Dave. Fetus in a Bubble Dave is suddenly outside in space looking down on earth, with a weirdly satisfied smirk on his face.
I don't know.

Review: So I first saw this in 1998 or 1999, with no knowledge of what it was about, other than it had an evil computer in it named HAL. I watched it and thought it had a few very interesting moments, but was mostly just incredibly dull and off putting. I'm happy to say my view this time is a total reverse of that. Perhaps it's maturity, perhaps it's the fact that I was prepared intellectually and emotionally this time for the sadistically slow pacing, but I liked it very much. First off, the artistry is beautiful. From the beginning panoramic shots of pre-human Earth, all the way through to the crazy alien vistas in the end. "Beautiful" doesn't really cover it. More like breathtaking. And the HAL computer is an infamous and totally memorable villain, because of that creepy malevolent eye and that even creepier voice. He's the most human of all the characters, and his "death" scene is one of the most disturbing scenes in cinema.
Some of my objections still stand, though. It moves painfully slowly. I understand that the idea is to be hypnotically slow, and let the audience be dazzled by the effects and the artistry. Granted, the artistry is still cool, but the effects are simply passable and aren't going to inspire much awe in a modern audience. I remember last time I saw this my joke was to tell people that it was like trying to download a computer game and watching the computer say "9% loaded....13% loaded...22% loaded" etc. And while I don't think it was that excruciating anymore, it still could've picked up the pace a bit.
And it also reminded me a little of a Wes Anderson film, where the characters are all very cold and emotionless. I don't really care for movies like that. I like to be able to connect with my characters, and that wasn't possible, here. Even Dave is just a cypher. Having said that, I don't know that it would be possible to tell the story Kubrick wanted to tell and have interesting characters, but I still wouldn't have minded him trying.
But what does it mean? I don't really know. Aliens helped us evolve 10,000 years ago, and now they're helping us evolve again? Did Dave literally turn into a flying Fetus/Angel? Or did he just achieve some sort of spiritual enlightenment? What happens next, to the rest of humanity?
Also, why did Hal malfunction? He seemed to believe that Dave and Frank were jeopardizing the mission, but part of me wants to think that Hal was just threatened and jealous of the idea that humans were going to evolve again and he was going to be left behind. But that's assuming Hal knew about the significance of the monoliths, and there's no real reason why he should.
I should say that I'm generally not a huge fan of a lot of ambiguity in movies. I'm okay with it if I believe there really is an answer, and that answer is possible to solve, even if I can't immediately solve it. (See: the brilliant Mulholland Drive). But if I feel the director/writer is just putting weird shit out there and doesn't know why and expects you to figure it out--or not, it's like art and shit, man--then I'm not a fan. (See: Donnie Darko, Inland Empire). Here I think the puzzle is (mostly) solvable and I'm satisfied with it. Anyone see 2010? Is it any good?

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, chocolate syrup will clog your shower drain in "Psycho" and then some cult-indie thing no one's ever heard of called "Star Wars".

Friday, January 20, 2012

#16 Sunset Blvd (1950)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Joe Gillis is a washed-up screenwriter living in Hollywood. And he's dead. He's floating face down in a pool, with two gunshots in the back and one in the gut. But through the magic of Hollywood, he's able to narrate to the masses, just exactly how he got there. It all started when some well-dressed repo men arrived at his dingy Hollywood apartment to repossess his car. He'd been behind on the payments, see. But he told the men that he didn't have the car because he'd loaned it to a friend upstate. The repo men leave, but warn him they'll be back tomorrow. Joe brags in voice-over that he actually had the car all along, and that there was no "friend" upstate, and in further fact he had managed to stay "one step ahead" of the repo men by parking his car across the street from his apartment complex. Wow, that is fucking diabolical, Joe. All the way across the street, you say?  Who are you, Jason Bourne?
Oh, and he totally lives on Franklin Ave, just north of Hollywood. It's totally recognizable, despite the fact that there's no traffic and the streets are clean. Then the DVD skips ahead about three or four minutes and I can't get it to replay no matter how hard I try, but as near as I can tell, Joe's driving down Sunset Boulevard for some reason, and the incredibly diligent and not-busy enough repo men follow Joe and he loses them up in the hills by Beverly/Westwood I'm guessing, and pulls into a dilapidated old mansion. He decides to pretend that his tire is flat and ask if he can leave the car there for a few days. He goes to the door and encounters a creepy old bald man named Max who tells him that he's late and the madame is upstairs waiting for him. Joe does that movie thing where he tries to explain the misunderstanding, but somehow can't get the words out, so winds up going upstairs on a lark.
And upstairs is Norma Desmond, aging movie star and every drag queen's role model. She's a woman of a about fifty, and she talks like Cruella di Ville and mugs and skulks and moans and gesticulates with reckless abandon. Joe recognizes her from the old silent movies. "You used to be big."
"I am big. It's the pictures that got small!", says Norma and every gay man over 50 simultaneously. She has the dead body of a monkey in front of her, lying in a casket. She mistakes Joe for the man conducting her monkey's funeral. Joe finally clears things up and says he's a writer. She so happens to have a script for him to took at. It's a screenplay, about the story of her life.
And so begins a beautiful parasitic and mutually manipulative relationship. Joe pretends to work on her script for 500 dollars a week and free room and board, and Norma pays the man to be around her and give her a break from her crushing loneliness. They screen old silent movies together. Her own, of course. ("We didn't need dialog!  We had faces!").
Eventually, the repo men track down Joe's car and tow it away, but fear not, because Norma has an old 1920's jalopy for him to drive around. She buys him many things: clothes, a watch, a bag for her to carry his dick around in. The usual.
She teaches him Bridge, and they play with other silent movie stars, whom Joe refers to was "The Waxworks", and they include an elderly Buster Keaton in a cameo. Aw....
Finally, Norma asks Joe to get all dressed up for her New Year's Eve Party. He dresses up big, in a tux and tails that she bought for him. He meets her in the ball room and she asks him to dance. There's a big spread out, and a live band. But no other guests. He asks when any others are arriving, and she says they're it. He freaks and splits, hitching a ride down out of the Hills and into Hollywood. He meets up with some friends who are having a party. One of them is Nancy Olson, the girlfriend of one of his buddies. She's a Hollywood writer, too. But unlike Norma, she's wholesome and pure and cornfed and apple pie and Jesus. She flirts a little with Joe and asks him to help her with a script she's writing. He considers it, but then decides to call back to Norma's house and tell Max to pack up his stuff and have it waiting for him, but Max is a bit snippy, and tells him that he'll have to call him back, because "the Madame" has tried to kill herself. Joe immediately rushes back to Sunset Boulevard, and arrives just in time to see a doctor leaving. He goes upstairs to Norma's room, and both her wrists are bandaged. She's super melodramatic and says life's not worth living without him and he...kisses her. The camera is as grossed out as we are, and hilariously fades out before they lock lips.
So now, they're a couple. Norma sends in her rewritten screenplay to her old friend Cecil B DeMille (actually played by him), and then puts on a show for Joe, dressing up as Charlie Chaplin and doing a pratfall routine. Okay, that was insane and awesome. Then, a studio exec calls the house and Norma thinks it's a lackey for DeMille, and won't speak to him until Cecil himself gets on the phone. The exec calls ten more times over the next week or so, and so finally Norma, Max, and Joe decide to go to Paramount and work out a deal with DeMille. While at the studio, Joe sees Nancy again and flirts some more, while Max discovers that the exec calling Norma wasn't working for DeMille at all, but rather was just trying to rent her car for a movie. Cecil lets Norma down easy with a bunch of false promises, then Max and Joe coddle her and take her home.
Meanwhile, Joe starts sneaking out at night to help Nancy with her screenplay, while Norma thinks that any day now DeMille will begin working on her movie, so she begins "beauty regimens" to stretch her skin and peels and hair stuff and all that girl stuff. She looks even more repulsive than before. She continues to be super needy and creepy and keeps buying Joe stuff and he keeps feeling more and more disgusting and disgusted.
(Interesting that these Olden Times movies always have horribly fucked-up gender politics that we can safely judge from 2012's perspective, but the idea of an rich old deluded hag and a freeloading hunky paramour is still as looked-down upon now as it was then).
So then Norma figures out that Joe's seeing Nancy on the sly, and calls Nancy up and basically calls him a whore. Joe invites Nancy to come to the house and see for herself what he's been up to, and she does. He admits he's a Kept Man and this repulses her, but she begs him to leave anyway and be with her. But Joe is too ashamed of himself and tells her to run far far away.  (Okay, maybe we're not quite as judgmental about this in 2012. They're acting like he's killed someone or something).
Once Nancy leaves, Norma dials to ghoulish craziness up to 11, thanking him profusely for staying with her. But Joe says he's leaving her, too. She threatens to kill herself again.
Joe: Oh wake up, Norma. You'd be killing yourself to any empty house. The audience left 20 years ago.
Ooh. Cold, Joe.
So he walks outside, and suddenly she's shooting him.
Bam!  Bam bam!  Twice in the back and once in the gut. We've come full circle. Joe remarks that the police pulled him out of the pool gently. "It's funny how gentle people get when you're dead".
The police come to arrest Norma. The news crews arrive, too. Upon hearing the news from Max, Norma says "cameras"? The cops unnecessarily stage-whisper that it would be an easy way to get her to go without a fight. So Max says, "action" and the cameras roll, and Norma walks down her staircase for the last time. She stares creepily into the camera, intoning "I"m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille".
Credits roll.

Review: Very good. The writing is terrific, with tons of one liners that make you sit up and take notice or involuntarily "ooh" or "aaah" with reverence at such a clever turn of phrase. Gloria Swanson's so big, so over the top, that it really shouldn't ring true or be believable, but somehow it does. With the older gays, it's considered a "camp classic", but to me real camp is something that tries to be sincere and comes off corny and embarrassingly earnest, like Elizabeth Berkeley having sex in a pool in Showgirls or Elizabeth Berkeley od'ing on diet pills on Saved by the Bell or other non-Elizabeth Berkeley art forms. This succeeds in being dramatic and deeply sad and totally realistic. I think Swanson's character gets away with being so campy because everyone else is so grounded and real and they react to her how people really react to those that live life on the fringe--ie,  with confusion and a wary distance. Every time Norma says a ridiculous "camp" line, Joe's there to pop her balloon and react as the audience surrogate with a snide remark or an eyeroll. The many real life celebrity cameos also gave the movie an aura of believability and an extra layer of sadness, too. After just singing Buster Keaton's praises, I see him effectively put out to pasture. I'm assuming the other Bridge players where silent film stars of yesterday, too. So yeah. Hopefully this makes up for the All About Eve debacle.

Stars: Four out of five.

Next, "2001: A Space Odyssey", and then the Vince Vaughn/Anne Heche classic, "Psycho".

Sunday, January 15, 2012

#17 The Graduate (1967)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Benjamin's on a plane. He arrives at the airport, greets his parents. They drive him home. He's numb, used up, uncertain, doesn't know what's coming next in life at all. He just graduated college. His old parents invite all their old friends to come to his graduation party. They crowd him and push their faces in his face and smile and blabber and say nothing, loudly, in his ear, nonstop, all teeth and hair and meaningless platitudes. He can barely stand it. He escapes to his room. There's a knock at the door. It's his father's business partner's wife, Mrs. Robinson. She smokes a cigarette. He just wants her to leave. She says she's drunk, asks him to drive her home. He does, to get rid of her. She asks him to walk her to the front door, just so she can be safe until she turns the lights on. He does. She asks him to walk her down the hall, to make doubly sure all the lights work. He does. She asks if he wants a drink. He does not. She pours him a Bourbon from a big weird wooden brown bottle marked "BOURBON" on the side in white cursive. He takes the glass. She asks him personal questions. Asks him if he's seeing anybody. He declares that she's trying to seduce him. She laughs and denies it. He apologizes, wants to go. She won't let him go. She asks him upstairs. She asks him to help her unzip. She traps him in her daughter's old room and corners him, naked. He sees a flash of boob, of hip, he can't breathe, he can't get out.
Mr. Robinson drives up the driveway. Benjamin races downstairs, pours himself another Bourbon. Mr. Robinson greets him without suspicion, and thanks him for driving his wife home from the party. He makes Benjamin promise he'll take out Elaine Robinson sometime once she gets home from college, too.
Benjamin Braddock is 21, single, depressed, lives with his parents, and is still 30+ years away from decent internet porn. He calls Mrs. Robinson and asks her to meet him at a hotel.
There's some hilarious hotel clerk-related shenanigans as a nervous Benjamin procures a room for the sexing, but finally he and Mrs. Robinson are ready to hit the sheets. He kisses her nervously and self-consciously and stalls and stammers and blah de blah until finally she taunts him and accuses him of being "inadequate", so he ravages her to prove her wrong. (Note to real life women: this will not work).
They begin an affair that lasts several months. No conversation, no dinners, no dates, just hotels and sex. But Benjamin's still adrift and unsatisfied and wants something more. He begs Mrs. Robinson to talk to him, to have a conversation with him, but she's reluctant and difficult. Meanwhile, his parents relay the message that the Robinson's daughter Elaine is coming home from school soon for a few weeks, and they're insisting he take her out. Mrs. Robinson forbids it, but Benjamin goes along with it when he learns that his parents will arrange a dinner party with the six of them if he doesn't.
On the date, Benjamin's rude and dismissive of Elaine, and even takes her to a strip club. When the stripper twirls her tassels in Elaine's face, she begins to cry and Benjamin's heart melts. He apologizes profusely. They leave the club, he takes her for hot dogs and coke at the drive-in. They talk about their fears post-college, and about how weird old people are. He confesses that he tried to drive her away because he's having an affair with a married older women who she totally doesn't know.
Benjamin's in love. He tries to take her out again, but Mrs. Robinson confronts him. She insists they drive around the block and talk. The rain is coming down in buckets. She screams at Benjamin that he's forbidden from seeing her daughter again. She threatens to expose the affair if he disobeys. Benjamin parks the car and races to the house, drenched. Elaine answers the door and Benjamin starts babbling about the affair he mentioned earlier. Mrs. Robinson comes walking up behind them, scowling. Elaine gets it. She screams at Benjamin to leave. He does.
Suddenly, Benjamin is telling his parent's that he's engaged. To Elaine Robinson. They're elated until he confesses that she doesn't know they're engaged and doesn't really even like him.
And here things get a little hinky. I was loving every second up until then. Is Benjamin supposed to be insane? He didn't seem insane.
At any rate, he follows her back to her school at Berkeley, rents a room at a boarding house owned by Mr. Roper (yes really, the same actor, playing essentially the same part), and starts stalking Elaine. He confronts her, confesses his love to her, she says she's seeing someone else and wants nothing to do with him. She says that her mother says he raped her. He loudly insists that's not true and she screams and then suddenly believes him. They confess they love each other.
Again, huh? I was really loving this movie. But this is a bridge too far. This isn't a farce, is it?  Like Airplane! or The Naked Gun? But Mr. Robinson then goes to Berkeley and confronts Benjamin, calling him a degenerate. He's shockingly not mollified by Benjamin's assurances that his relationship with Mrs. Robinson was purely sexual and his relationship with Elaine is the real deal. He forbids Benjamin from interacting with anyone in the family ever again. He tells Benjamin that Elaine is marrying her boyfriend at Berkeley, Carl and she doesn't want to see him.
Mr. Robinson leaves, screaming at Benjamin that he's a pervert and a creep, and Mr. Roper overhears and kicks Benjamin out.
Benjamin races back to the Robinson's house, but finds Mrs. Robinson instead of Elaine. She tells him that he's too late. The wedding is today. She won't tell him where or when, and drives off. Benjamin does some crazy detective work, first asking Carl's frat brothers about the wedding, and then pretending to need to speak to Carl's father, who is a doctor. He finds out it's in Santa Barbara. He drives like crazy up the 101, swerving around traffic, blowing through lights on the surface streets. His car runs out of gas about a half mile before he reaches the church, so he starts running. He reaches the church and appears in the doorway of the cathedral just in time to see Elaine kissing Carl. He screams her name. She whirls around. Mr and Mrs. Robinson and Carl all make insanely angry faces and scream at Benjamin to leave. Elaine looks conflicted, but finally throws her head back and screams "BENJAMIN!!!"
...aaand I'm totally back in. This is fucking bugnuts and awesome.
They race toward each other and the entire church full of people rise up at one to stop them. Benjamin rips a fucking cross off the wall and brandishes it at everyone threateningly, like they're a pack of vampires. This. Is. Fucking. Awesome. Mrs. Robinson screams at Elaine that it's too late, and she says "not for me!" and Mrs. Robinson slaps her, claws at her face. Benjamin breaks them apart and they run for the door, using the cross to wedge the doors shut behind them. They sprint down the steps, as the wedding guests claw ineffectually at the glass door. They run around the corner and hop on a city bus. They go to the back and sit, triumphantly grinning from ear to ear. It's beautiful.
But then this happens:  Reality. Their smiles slowly fade as the ramifications of their actions sets in.  They can never go back. They're all they have now, and they barely even know each other.
The bus rolls on, indifferent.

Review: All I really knew about this movie going into it was that Mrs. Robinson tries to seduce him. I didn't even know about Elaine, really. Like I said earlier, I was loving the first half of this, totally grooving on the completely unexpected comedy of it all and I thought Hoffman and Bancroft were perfect. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a love story about the two of them, and was resistant when Elaine was brought in. I still have reservations about what followed, though. It didn't play like a broad farce to me, and it wasn't really believable that they were suddenly totally in love. Yes, I know that they weren't really in love, but even date? And Elaine already was seeing someone she could plausibly get married to? Why was her dad pushing her to go out with Benjamin in the first place, then? And how could she look past the fact that he was doing her mom? Just didn't work for me.
But the crazy ending redeemed all my earlier misgivings. The directing was great, too. I really enjoyed Mike Nichols' showy camera tricks and angles. That's always a hard line to walk. You can easily go too far and be accused of being masturbatory. It must enhance the story and seem organic rather than gratuitous, and it's definitely a YMMV type-deal on whether or not a particular director succeeds. I think he did very much so, here. Wiki says Nichols wanted Doris Day as Mrs. Robinson, Gene Hackman as Mr. Robinson, and Robert Redford as Benjamin.  Wow. As great as Hoffman and Bancroft were, that would've been pretty fucking spectacular. And no offense to Dustin, but an actually attractive Benjamin would've made more sense, too. (I like it when people say "no offense" before they say something totally offensive. Don't worry, I'm sure Dustin doesn't read this blog).

Stars: Four and a half out of five.

Next, "Sunset Boulevard" and then a movie that bored me to tears fifteen years ago. Let's hope I've matured enough to enjoy "2001: A Space Odyssey".

Sunday, January 8, 2012

#18 The General (1926)

Plot summary (with spoilers): The Little Tramp is a train conductor this time, in the Deep South. He rides into the station in Murrieta, Georgia, and--wait a minute. That's not the Little Tramp. That's some other dude. Hey there, other dude! His name is Johnnie and

There were two loves of his life...
his train...and---

Cut to the picture your aunt has of your unsmiling great-grandmother in that weird pose. 
The love of Johnnie's life is Annabelle Lee. He goes to visit her one day, and discovers her father and brother are talking. The War or Northern Aggression has broken out. Annabelle's brother and father head to town to enlist. After some passive-aggressive questioning from Annabelle, Johnnie follows them. Johnnie tells the recruiter his name and occupation and the recruiter's superior tells him to reject Johnnie because his services as an engineer are too valuable. Johnnie tries to get in line again and pretend to be someone else, but this doesn't work. He leaves, dejected. He tells Annabelle they wouldn't enlist, but she doesn't believe him. She says she doesn't want to see him again unless it's in a uniform. 

One Year Later

The war rages on. Several Union spies have infiltrated the Confederate Army. They plan to commandeer Johnnie's train, The General, and take it back to Union territory where it will help them win the war or something, because the Union has no trains. Annabelle learns her father was wounded and gets on The General to ride it to her father. At a certain stop, Johnnie and the rest of the crew get out to have lunch, and the Union spies jump on the train and kick everybody off (except Annabelle) and start barreling down the track. So then there's a long sequence where Johnnie first chases the train on foot, then on that little see-saw thingie from cartoons that moves along the track, then one of those bikes with the giant wheel in the front and a tiny wheel in the back (seriously, Olden Times, what the fuck were those about?) then he gets ahold of another train and chases in earnest. The men put various shit on the track to stop Johnnie, but he manages to crawl down to the front of the train and move shit just in time in various pretty damn spectacular ways. Like, he moves on long piece of wood and uses it to chuck it at another long piece of wood, knocking them both off the track just seconds before the train hits it. Then he tries to shoot a cannon at the other train, but accidentally knocks it so it shoots straight forward instead of up. But the track happens to be curving right at the right moment, so it misses Johnnie and hits right behind the other train instead. That didn't make sense, did it? Oh, just watch it. It's pretty cool. Meanwhile, Johnnie has to keep shoveling wood into the furnace to keep the train going. Then, something weird happens. For the first time in a silent movie, I laugh out loud. Buster Keaton is so much better at this shit, you guys. 
So Johnnie keeps chasing and chasing and it eventually goes on a bit too long, though it's mostly fun. But finally, Johnnie realizes he's chased the men all the way into Union territory. He jumps off the train when he sees that the men are no longer running from him, but rather pursing on horses, with reinforcements. He hides out in the rain, and finally breaks into a house where he sees food on the table. Some Union soldiers enter the room just then and begin discussing their secret plans while Johnnie hides under the table. They say they're going to take The General back down South in disguise and then launch an all-out surprise attack on something something Confederate Stronghold. They also discuss how they've got a female Confederate prisoner in the next room, who was stowed away on the train. This is quite fortuitous.  
So of course, Johnnie breaks her out and they sleep in the dirt and rain and the next morning Johnnie puts Annabelle in a burlap sack and loads her onto the General, and then attacks the Union soldiers, knocking them off the train, and then rides off. The soldiers pursue. Then there's another half hour of more madcap train shenanigans, this time with Johnnie running away and the Union giving chase. Much of the same shit goes down, except in reverse. And also Annabelle tries to help and continually fucks up, at one point starting a fire and at another accidentally ditching Johnnie on the tracks, because she is just a girl. This is less exciting the second time around, and seems to go on much longer. But eventually, they set fire to a bridge to prevent the Union guys from chasing them and they reach the Confederate troops and tell them of the sneak attack. The troops mobilize and go in for the attack and Johnnie joins them and trips over his sword and pratfalls and blah this is getting tiresome. 
The Union men reach the bridge which is on fire, and the General tells them the fire hasn't sufficiently damaged the bridge and they can still cross it. The train goes along the tracks over the bridge and--the entire thing collapses and the train goes into the water about fifty feet below.  And it's real. Not models. Not CGI. A real train on a real bridge goes boom and it is awesome. The Confederate men show up and make quick work of the surviving Union soldiers. 
And slavery lives on for yet another day. HURRAY!
Johnnie waves the Confederate flag proudly and wears his Ron Paul '12 button and is finally allowed to enlist as a Lieutenant. The recruiter asks him his occupation and Johnnie proudly stands up tall and says, 


Nothing left to do but wait for Sherman to come and burn everything to the ground. (Spoiler). 

Review: Maybe before there were Star Trek people and Star Wars people and Beatles people and Elvis people, there were Buster people and Charlie people. If so, count me in Buster's lot. He's far and away more talented and just flat-out funnier. He's just as gifted physically, but the slapstick is more...I wanna say "organic", but that's not quite it. It's more...plausible, I guess. Johnnie never just spazzed out randomly. He got himself into trouble and had to do bizarre/funny physical things to accomplish goals that advanced the plot. Charlie Chaplin just acts like a freak for no reason. Also, the "stone-face" of Keaton is just naturally funny, and more surreal, which is what you want in a silent movie. I was also impressed by how well all the action "tracked", meaning Johnnie would do X which would effect Y and cause Z and we could watch it all go down in real time, no CGI, no tricks. It reminded me of the Goofy cartoons, where Goofy would get involved in all sorts of complicated Rube Goldberg type slapstick situations that were really quite ingeniously plotted out. Similar to Wile E Coyote's adventures. But it's all the more impressive here because it's live action. That said, there was still a lot of extraneous, boring shit here. And a lot of redundant stuff, and at least 30 minutes of filler. Also, I realize it was 1926, but a story about a heroic Confederate solider?  Really? I gotta wonder how that played north of the Mason-Dixon. But I still liked it enough to give it a mild thumbs up, were I Siskel or Ebert or the Other Guy. For my money though, my favorite silent movie on this list is still Sunrise

Stars: Three out of five. 

Next, "The Graduate" and then another gay-fave that I will hopefully love enough to get me my membership back, "Sunset Boulevard". 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

#19 On the Waterfront (1954)

Plot summary (with spoilers): Tough guy Terry Malloy works down at the docks and is very manly and blue collar-y. He approaches an apartment building, and yells up to his friend Joey. Terry is too macho for sissy telephones. Joey comes to the window and Terry yells that he found one of Joey's racing pigeons, which he then reveals he has palmed in his hands. Joey says he'll meet Terry on the roof, where he keeps the pigeons. As soon as Joey disappears back into his apartment, Terry lets the pigeon go. The music is all intense and wonky, so we know shit's about to go down. Indeed, while Terry stares from the ground, several tough guys push Joey off the roof. The music goes apeshit. Like, cymbals and drums and all that.
Terry goes to the guys afterwards and complains that he didn't know they were gonna kill Joey, he just thought they were gonna rough him up a bit. The guys are like, "what part of 'mobsters' don't you understand"? For indeed, they are union leaders and mobster who control the docks and rough up/kill anyone who gets out of line. You see what happens, Tom Joad, you godless infidel? Not so keen on unions now, are you? 
The next day at the docks, the union leaders are deciding who works that day and who doesn't. Joey's sister Edie shows up and starts screaming at everyone, demanding to know who killed her brother. She complains about the workers playing "D and D", which sounds funny now, but means "deaf and dumb". Everyone ignores her, except for Terry, who probably feels guilty and that guilt manifests itself by him asking her out. You know, like a total sociopath would. And indeed, the go out for coffee and get flirty. We learn Terry used to be an amateur boxer, but missed his chance at the big time when he lost a crucial match early on.
Also moved by Edie, is local priest Father Barry, aka the Most Awesome Priest In All Of Cinema. Father Barry is a tough, angry Irishman. He calls all the dock workers to his church to grill them all what they know about Joey's death. The union leader, absurdly named Johnny Friendly, sends Terry to the church to act as their spy and find out of anyone squeals. But its all for not, for no matter how much Father Barry rants and raves at them, they all play dumb. Everyone's too afraid the mobsters will keep them from working again if they name names. Terry goes back to the mobsters, which we learn include his brother Charlie, and tells them no one is stupid enough to talk. Then he goes on another date with Edie, and they open up to each other more and get all schmoopy and stuff.
But then Father Barry has another meeting, and it's interrupted by some goons who proceed to beat up several dock workers. One of them, Dugan, changes his mind and tells Father Barry he'll testify against Friendly and his goons. But sure enough, the next day, Dugan is supervising another guy who is moving a pallet full of whiskey with a forklift, and darn it all, the pallet falls apart while in the air and comes crashing down on Dugan, killing him. Father Barry makes another angry, impassioned, totally badass speech calling all the dockworkers cowards while  Friendly and the other mobsters literally throw garbage on him from above. Terry watches all this go down, and is moved. It's a pretty great scene and Karl Malden kills it.
He confesses to Edie, whom he now loves, (because they've really fast-tracked the romance stuff) that he lured Joey on the roof that night but swears he didn't know what they were going to do. Edie races off, terrified and disgusted.
Then word gets out that Terry's been talking too much to Father Barry and Friendly instructs Charlie to learn from Terry if he plans on testifying or not. He tells Charlie that if Terry seems like he's wavering at all, to kill him.
Charlie confronts Terry and asks him what he plans to do. Terry says he doesn't know yet. But then he has some past shit to dredge up. He reveals to we the audience that it was at Charlie's request that he lost that boxing match all those years ago. He took a dive in order to allow Friendly to beat the odds and get a huge payout. Terry aches, physically aches, with regret and the fantasies what might've been. He could've been a contender. He could've been somebody. If you've never said that speech to yourself before, you've a lucky soul. Or under 30. Charlie's as moved as I am, and out of guilt, promises to tell Friendly that he looked for Terry and couldn't find him, but Terry has to go and hide, now!
But Friendly and the other mobsters don't buy Charlie's story, and he's promptly killed. Terry goes berserk and decides to kill Friendly, or else go down in a hail of bullets. Father Barry gets all Hardcore Badass once again, says the answer is not a gun, you fucking idiot, it's the court of law! So Terry says he'll testify. In court he stammers through a confession of his part in Joey's death, while Friendly and the others glare.
The next day, he shows up at the docks, and none of the workers speak to him. But Edie's there, looking all proud and radiant and female and supportive. The Crazytown music starts up again, as Terry protests that he did what was right, dammit! The mobsters show up and allow everyone but Terry to work. Terry yells at them. A brawl breaks out, and they all begin beating the shit out of Terry. The other workers start to feel guilty. They demand Friendly stop the beating. Friendly does, then orders everyone in to work. But the workers have finally had enough. They say they won't work unless Terry does too.
The music is fucking losing its mind again BONG BONG BONG CRASH CRASH COWBELL!!!!
Not since Meet Joe Black has a musical score been so unrelentingly annoying and ostentatious.
Terry slowly gets to his feet, kisses Edie, then walks walks onto the docks, the other men following him. It would've been quite touching if I had been able to fucking hear anything.

Review: There's definitely some good stuff, here. The general story was pretty interesting, and several scenes stood out as particularly great. The scene where Father Barry is pelted with garbage and the scene where he convinces Terry that vigilante justice is not the answer were very compelling, and the  famous "I coulda been a contender" scene earns its place in movie history. But there's also some boring stuff, like everything between Terry and Edie and their alleged love. Having gotten used to anti-heroes like Don Draper and Walter White, I was legitimately surprised at Terry's third act redemption and conversion, even though in retrospect, I obviously shouldn't have been. I think I would've liked it more if Terry was the unrepentant bad guy that was still partially sympathetic and Father Barry was the hero. It's also pretty interesting that the director Elia Kazan is one of the most famous tattlers in American history, ratting on other supposed dangerous Communists in the 50's and getting them blacklisted. This could easily be scene as his response to people's perception of him as a rat, even though Terry testified against murderers and Kazan testified against people who attended meetings. Not really the same, Kazan. At any rate, the scenes that were good were really good and the scenes that here kinda boring went by rather quickly, so I can't complain too much. And as I said, the character of Father Barry is unlike I've ever seen a priest portrayed before and Karl Malden does a fantastic job. Brando was also very good, though still my favorite of his is Apocalypse Now. 

Stars: Three and half out of five.

Next, silence is once again golden. But this time, it's not The Little Tramp, but that other silent film star Buster Keaton, in "The General", and then Mrs. Robinson tries to seduce us all in "The Graduate".