Monday, March 26, 2012
Plot summary (with spoilers): In 1945, the Corleone family gathers together for the wedding of Corleone daughter Connie to Carlo Rizzi. Even during the reception, Don Vito Corleone hears requests from various hangers-on who come to bow and scrape and kiss the ring. One such requestee is the famous singer Johnny Sinatra Fontane, who wants to be cast in the big movie studio's latest blockbuster. Don Corleone grants this request by promising to make the studio head Jack Woltz an offer he can't refuse, which is an example of hilarious mob humor through understatement.
Other family members include hothead eldest son Sonny Corleone, pathetic fiveheaded wimpy middle son Fredo Corleone, and quiet, youngest son Michael Corleone, the white sheep of the Corleone family who wants nothing to do with the business. He has a girlfriend named Kay who has a line or two.
Don Vito sends his consigliere Tom Hagen to Hollywood to talk to Jack Woltz and ask him for a favor and to cast Fontane in his movie. Woltz calls him a wop mick dirtbag and sends him packing.
Really awesome scene #1: Jack Woltz in bed. The blood. The horse head.
Virgil Sollozzo of the Famous Amos Tattaglia family comes to Don Vito asking for a favor. He wants Don Vito to use his political connections to help Sollozzo sell heroin. Don Vito mush mouths that he's fine with gambling and prostitution and the occasional beheading of a race horse, but he draws the line at drugs. Sollozzo accepts this answer with grace and equanimity and then promptly leaves, never to be heard from again.
Just kidding, he tries to assassinate Don Vito, shooting him several times in the back while Don Vito was casually walking down the street.
But Don Vito survives. The family gather at the hospital and plan their next move. Sonny manages to get Tattaglia's son Bruno killed in retaliation.
Really awesome scene #2: Michael visits his dad at the hospital and learns the police protection has been sent away. He gets a nurse to help him wheel his dad into another room. He gets another hospital employee to stand outside the hospital and pretend he has a weapon. He confronts the police chief and manages to stall any assassination attempt until Sonny and reinforcements arrive.
Tom and Sonny send Fredo off to Las Vegas under the protection of Jew-y mob associate Moe Green, and they try to get Michael to leave as well. But Michael sees an opportunity to protect his family. He tells Sonny and Tom to set up a meeting with Sollozzo and the police chief at a neutral place, where he'll assassinate them both. Sonny and Tom laugh in his silly face, and tell him the other Five Families will be pissed if they kill a cop, and besides, Michael doesn't have it in him, anyway.
Really awesome scene #3: Michael has it in him. A gun is planted in the restroom. Michael breaks bread with his enemies, makes small talk, agrees to their compromises, excuses himself, grabs the gun, holds his face, catches his breath, walks out, shoots them dead, and exits.
He flees to Sicily, where he meets and falls in love with and marries Apollonia Vitelli, and may their marriage be forever a long and fruitful one whoops she's dead.
Carlo beats the shit out of Connie after a fight, and Sonny leaves the compound to go teach Carlo a lesson he can't refuse or whatever the metaphor.
Really awesome scene #4: Sonny's gunned down.
Don Corleone is on the mend. He meets with the Five Families and agrees to help them smuggle drugs and swears that he won't try to avenge Sonny's death. In exchange, Michael is allowed to return home.
After a year, Michael runs into Kay again by chance. She learns he's acting-Don now, as Vito is in poor health and Fredo is still douching it up in Vegas. Kay asks about Michael's earlier disdain for the Family Business, but Michael has a new attitude and now feels his father acts like any powerful man. He tells Kay he'll be legit in five years. Don Vito and Michael play the long game, phasing out Hagen as consiglierie and pretending to acquiesce to the other Family's demands. Michael tries to buy out Moe Green's casinos in Vegas and Moe derides him as a fading power and Fredo takes his side. Michael angrily warns Fredo to never side against the family. I'm sure Fredo's learned his lesson and will never ever do that again. Don Vito warns Michael that after he dies, the Five Families will try to assassinate Michael and that whoever in Michael's camp who tries to set up a meeting between him and Trattaglia will be a traitor.
Really awesome scene #5: Don Vito and grandson Andy Garcia play in the tomato garden and big puffy Don Vito marble-mouths his last words and gurgles and lurches and falls to the ground dead.
Fish is the Judas, attempting to set up a meeting after Don Vito's funeral.
Really awesome scene #6: Michael is at Connie and Carlo's son's baptism, being made the child's Godfather. The heads of the Five Families and Moe Green and Fish are dead dead dead.
Michael confronts Carlo. He says he knows that Trattaglia paid him to start a fight with Connie so that Sonny would run off and get himself killed. Carlo admits this and is promptly garrotted.
Really awesome scene #7: Connie confronts Michael, screaming at him for killing Carlo. She's dragged away. Kay asks Michael if it's true. Michael says don't ask about the soon-to-be-legit-no-really-any-day-now business. Kay says no for realsies, did you do it? Michael says no, for realsies. Kay believes this. She leaves the room, as some men come in with some news and business for Don Michael Corleone, who sits at the Godfather's chair, as the door closes in Kay's worried face.
Review: There are a tiny handful of movies in which the sequel is better than the original. Empire Strikes Back (and no, Kevin Smith, the fact that it's a trilogy does not negate this). Aliens. The Dark Knight. Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Toy Story 2 and then even better Toy Story 3. Spiderman 2. The third and best Harry Potter movie. Maybe a few more. But no, Godfather II does not belong on that list. It's a great film, to be sure, a wonderful cinematic treat, but Godfather is better, cleaner, more efficient and has more memorably amazing scenes. It occurred to me during this second viewing that Michael's descent into a life of crime isn't really motivated by a lust for power of money, but by a desire to simply protect himself and his family. He kills the men in the restaurant to stop them from killing his dad. He teams up with Vito and Hagen to consolidate power after his wife and brother are killed to keep it from happening to more people he loves. He very much sees himself as the good guy, and for much of this story, he is, relatively speaking of course. It also really informs the sequel and just how deep Fredo's betrayal cuts into Michael's soul; it's his life goal to protect the family and then the family itself becomes the threat? Unforgivable. The two stories work in concert so well, it's one of the only sequels that is not only great, but doesn't seem superfluous. Marlon Brando does great work here, his general weirdness is reigned in and used to good effect, and Al Pacino is fantastic. The scene in the restaurant is so perfect; dripping with tension and anticipation. You can see the panic bubbling up behind Michael's eyes, barely restrained and then the cathartic way be pulls the trigger. You can see how this one moment breaks him forever. It's incredible. What happened, Mr. HOOAH? Seriously.
For that matter, what happened to Coppolla? I guess three amazing movies was all he had in him. I wish he had realized that himself.
Stars: Five out of five.
Next, the greatest film ever in the history of cinema and space and time itself. The "Citizen Kane" of movies, you might say. I'm sure it's not been overhyped.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Plot summary (with spoilers): The setting; the city of Casablanca, in Morocco. It's 1941. Rick Blaine owns and runs Rick's Cafe Americain, a nightclub where everybody knows your name and German Nazi soldiers mingle with European refugees of all stripes, as well as the occasional American like Rick.
Creepy Russian guy Ugarte is a regular at the club, and he corners Rick one day and asks him to hold to some papers for him. They're two "letters of transit" which allow the holders to jump to the head of the line at most Disney rides as well as unfettered access throughout all of occupied Europe, which in turn can allow refugees to escape to Switzerland or Norway or one of those neutral commie places.
Rick takes the papers and suddenly Ugarte is arrested by some French officials, including Captain Louis Renault, a self-confessed corrupt official. Renault and Rick exchange witty banter for a bit, and then Renault lets it drop that the famous Czech resistance leader Victor Lazlo has recently escaped from a Nazi concentration camp and is rumored to be somewhere in Morocco looking for safe passage to America.
So then Nazi solider Major Strausser shows up, looking for Lazlo. Strausser randomly decides to try to get Rick's goat and asks Rick if he cares that the Germans are winning the war. Rick does not. What about the fact that we took over Paris? Doesn't bother you. Nope. What if we take over London? Fine with it. What if we arrive in New York City?
Rick bristles slightly and allows that "some people" would probably have a problem with that, but not him. Strausser smiles triumphantly. Man, Nazis are just dicks.
And then Lazlo and his wife the Norwegian Ilsa Lund show up at Rick's as it is apparently the only nightclub in all of Morocco. Ilsa first notices the black piano player Sam, and is momentarily flustered. Then Strausser immediately recognizes Lazlo and goes over and confronts him. Lazlo admits that he is Victor Lazlo, escaped Nazi prisoner, and Strausser's all like, "you suck", and then he walks away. ?????
(About half an hour later Ilsa exposits that Morocco is neutral territory and Nazis have no authority to make arrests here, but that info would've been useful at the time to ignorant Americans from the future such as myself).
Ilsa has a moment alone at the table and asks Sam to tell her how Rick is doing. Sam says Rick is doing just great, has a girl, has some kids, everything is wonderful for good ol' Rick. Ilsa says he's a terrible liar. Sam confesses that Rick is none of those things and is totally depressed and lonely ever since she left him. Way to be a wingman, Sam.
Ilsa asks Sam to "play it once, Sam. For old times sake. Play 'As Time Goes By'".
Psst. Ms. Bergmann. The line is "Play it again, Sam". Oh, never mind. It's fine. We'll fix it later.
Rick comes running up angrily to Sam saying he told him to never play that song again!. Sam sheepishly points to Ilsa and Rick wobbles and wavers and stutters some more. Then Lazlo and Renault come walking up and Lazlo's like, "you two know each other" and the two of them continue to stare in that unsubtle "we used to fuck" kind of way TV and movie characters stare at each other and then Lazlo and Ilsa leave the club.
That night, Rick's drinking himself into a stupor. Sam tries to get him to stop and go out on the town with him, but Rick's in the mood for a flashback instead.
We see Rick and Ilsa and Sam for some reason, frolicking in pre-occupied Paris, living it up, drinking champagne and pretending to drive a car in front a a green screen. Suddenly, the word gets out that the Nazis are coming and everyone must flee. Rick and Ilsa agree to meet the next morning on the train and make their escape to Morocco.
The next morning comes, and Sam comes up to Rick and says Ilsa gave him this letter. It says she won't be coming with him and will never see him again.
Present day, back at Cafe Americain, Rick continues to mope and drink and orders poor Sam to play As Time Goes By so he can continue wallowing in his sorrow. Ilsa shows up and offers to give him an explanation for what happened in Paris. He basically calls her a whore (in a roundabout, 1940's kind of way) and she storms out.
The next morning, Ilsa's shopping at some outdoor Farmer's Market or something, and Rick approaches her and apologizes for last night. He says it's very hard for him because she's married now. She says she was married then, too.
Rick's eyes bug out and Ilsa sashays away as her exit.
Then she meets up with Lazlo and they start questioning shady people to see if they have any magic Disney transport papers. Someone who was a friend of Ugarte says that Rick is rumored to have them. Ilsa looks like she regrets her most recent moment of triumph and goes a little green. Or, you know. Gray.
Lazlo approaches Rick and asks for the papers, and Rick says NO COMMA HELL TO THE. Why not, says Lazlo. ASK YOUR STUPID WIFE WITH HER STUPID FACE, says Rick and kicks Lazlo out.
So Lazlo goes back to Ilsa and tells her what Rick said and wants to know if she has anything to tell him and she does not.
Then for some reason they go back to Cafe Americain that night and Lazlo leads all the French refugees in a rousing rendition of the French National Anthem, which they sing with great anger and fervor. It's pretty great. Strausser gets scared and orders Renault to shut down the club. Renault says for what reason and Strausser says make one up. Renault blows his whistle and orders everyone to leave the club and tells Rick he's shocked to learn that illegal gambling is taking place and then a busboy runs up to him and hands him his winnings for the night. Heh.
That night Ilsa breaks into the club and into Rick's bedroom and begs him to give her the papers. When he refuses, she pulls a gun on him. He knows she won't shoot him though, and slowly approaches and disarms her. She tells him when they knew each other in Paris she thought Lazlo was dead. She'd only heard of his escape the day before the Nazis invaded. She couldn't tell him the truth. And she couldn't tell Lazlo either because it would upset him and his resistance movement would suffer. But the truth was she was no longer in love with him and instead in love with Rick. They start kissing. Ilsa says she's just a girl and all this is too confusing for her and will Rick please take over? Tell her what to do? Rick wants her to stay with him and they'll give Lazlo the papers to escape. Then suddenly Lazlo shows up downstairs wanting to talk to Rick.
(One of my favorite lines from the show Cheers: "Most people go to their homes at the end of the night. You people come to this bar"). Rick runs downstairs and Lazlo says he knows that he and Ilsa had an affair when she thought he was dead and he begs Rick that if he won't give the papers to him, that at least he'll give them to Ilsa. He says take them and run away with her, I don't care. Just help her escape.
Rick looks conflicted. He tells Lazlo he'll talk to him in the morning.
He then goes to Renault and says that he's going to tell the transport papers to Lazlo in the morning and tells Renault to hide and watch it go down, and as soon as Lazlo gets the papers Renault can arrest him for illegal paper having or whatever and Strausser will give him a promotion and then Rick and Ilsa can use the papers to fly away. Renault's down with this.
But Rick has a super-secret other plan. When Renault tries to arrest Lazlo, Rick pulls a gun on him. He then orders Renault to call the airport and have a plane ready. But in actuality, while on the phone, Renault calls Strausser and pretends it's the airport, and tips Strausser off to the fact that Lazlo's escaping. So they all show up at the airport and then Ilsa thinks that just Lazlo is leaving and Lazlo thinks that Rick and Ilsa are leaving but Rick then reveals that Ilsa and Lazlo are the ones who are leaving. Ilsa protests, but Rick reminds her that she's just a girl and doesn't know what she wants, and that if she doesn't leave with Lazlo she'll regret it at some predetermined time in the future at least two days hence and such regret will be immediate and permanent. He also says something about beans, then says "here's looking at you, kid" and kisses her. Ilsa and Lazlo leave on the plane as Strausser comes rushing up. Renault says Lazlo's plane is taking off, and Strausser runs to a payphone to have the plane stopped and Rick shoots him dead. Some other German soldiers come running up. They look at Renault. Renault pauses dramatically and says "Major Strausser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects" and the soldiers salute and run off. Rick smiles at Renault, and says this is the start of a beautiful friendship and then presumably they do it in the fog.
Review: Pretty darn good. I'm very surprised by how much I liked it. It was quick-moving, densely plotted yarn with lots of characters with conflicting motivations and emotions. Everything I love in a movie, really. I like how Rick accidentally doubles as a metaphor for America's involvement in the war as well. Rick claims neutrality throughout the film and then is finally forced to choose sides and enter the fray. The movie was made before Pearl Harbor happened, and was a play even before that, so they couldn't know how it was all going to shake out, so it's kind of just blind luck that the metaphor works so well. It's a little funny hearing so many lines that are now cliches, I'm wondering if this movie has the most famous lines ever. I'm thinking it does. "Play it again, Sam, "hill of beans in this world...", here's looking a you, kid", "maybe not today, not tomorrow...", "beautiful friendship". That's five, at least, all super-famous lines. Pretty cool.
I also really liked the club and how the camera would cut quickly from one side of the room to the next as we'd follow people walking across it. For the first forty five minutes or so, we never even leave the club and I was kind of hoping it would be that way all the way until the end. I think that would've been a better choice, but I guess they didn't want it to look that claustrophobic.
Anyway, Bogey's definitely an odd choice for a romantic lead, but he makes it work, and Claude Rains is pretty funny as Renault. I'm glad I finally saw this.
Stars: Four out of five.
Next, horse heads and tomato plants in "The Godfather".
Friday, March 16, 2012
What if Rocky was a giant fucking asshole?
Plot summary (with spoilers): Jake LaMotta is a boxer in 1941. He's a gritty black and writer scrapper with little to live for and less to lose. He's got a wife who he screams at and a little brother who he bullies, by badgering him to hit him as hard as he can and then laughing at his efforts. His brother Joey is also his manager, and Joey tries to schmooze the local made men in order to get Jake a shot at the middleweight championship title. Jake sees fifteen-year old Vickie at the neighborhood public pool, and is smitten. He wants to know if Joey's seen her before. Yeah, she's a neighborhood girl. Has she been around? Have you banged her? No, Joey hasn't banged her. He tried, but she wasn't interested.
So Joey sets up an introduction and Jake asks Vickie if she wants to go for a ride in his car and she does indeed want to go for a ride in his car and they ride all the way back to Jake's apartment and then ride some more. It's kind of a hot scene. (And Cathy Moriarty was 19, so it's fine).
Jake eventually leaves his wife and marries Vickie and starts to move up a bit in the boxing world. He beats Sugar Ray Leonard the first time, and in a rematch, the decision goes to Sugar Ray, even though Jake and Joey are convinced they just gave it to him because he's going off to war.
Joey attempts to use his mob contact Salvy to get Jake a meeting with the big mob guy Tommy, who decides who gets to fight for the Middleweight belt.
Then everyone's at some fancy nightclub, and Salvy approaches Vickie and kisses her on the cheek as Jake sits at a table with Joey and glowers. Then Salvy takes Vickie over to meet mob boss Tommy--HOLY SHIT, IT'S COACH! FROM CHEERS! IN A SCORSESE MOVIE! The great Nicholas Colasanto. I've been rewatching Cheers on Netflix, and he's just great. Such a funny, sweet character.
Anyway, where was I?
Oh yeah, Jake sees Vickie talking to Salvy and Coach and gets more and more jealous and pissed off. He harasses her about it later, and slaps her in the face. Joey tries to convince Jake that she's not stepping out on him, but Jake "knows" otherwise. He just needs proof.
Meanwhile, Joey gets him a match with Billy Fox, a match that Coach tells him he's supposed to lose. In the ring, Jake hits the guy once and he almost falls over, causing Jake to comically reach for him to help him up. Then the guy just hits Jake over and over without so much as making Jake flinch, until finally the referee gives the other guy the win on a technical knock-out. But then the board of boxing people or whatever gives Jake a suspension because it's so clear he threw the fight. Now without even boxing to sublimate his anger issues, Jake gets even more jealous and suspicious of Vickie, and smacks her around some more and is even more of a dick. Vickie confronts Joey at the nightclub and says she wants out of the relationship, and Joey tries to defend Jake. Vickie storms out, and Joey confronts Salvy, blaming him for Jake's paranoia about Vickie's infidelity, because that fucking makes sense somehow and Joey beats on Salvy until the goombas tear him away (and we finally get to see a bit of our favorite kind of Joe Pesci, the psycho kind).
Coach calls Joey and Salvy in for a dressing down and writes them up and gives the required paperwork to HR and then tells Joey that his brother's a loose canon and will never achieve the big time if he keeps acting out.
By 1949 though, Jake's been minding his p's and q's, kissing Coach's ass and kowtowing when he needs to, and he gets a shot at the middleweight belt and wins. Afterwards at the house, Coach and Salvy come over to celebrate, and when they leave, Coach kisses Vickie goodbye on the lips, which causes Jake to fly into a rage (after Coach has left, of course). Joey tries to defend Vickie but Jake says he's had it with both of them.
Afterwards, Jake starts eating a lot, getting a pot belly. Joey warns him he won't be able to defend his belt if he gets too out of shape. Suddenly, Jake wants to talk about what happened last year.
What was that?
Oh, you know, when you fought with Salvy. What was that about? What were you fighting about?
The scene is a materclass of great writing and great acting coming together to form one of the most tension-filled scenes in all of cinema. Joey dances around the topic and lies in a totally believable way, evading the main question and using the truth (Jake's paranoid and jealous) to distract from the greater truth (Joey also suspected Vickie at one time). If you've ever had to manipulate someone more powerful than you, you know exactly the dance Joey is dancing, and it's beautiful. Then Jake says he'll believe Joey when he says the fight had nothing to do with Vickie, but if he ever finds out otherwise, he'll kill Salvy. Joey's pissed: Why don't you do that now? Kill Salvy, kill Tommy, kill me, kill everyone!
Jake wants to know why he said "kill me".
You know, because you want to kill everyone! Because you're driving me nuts! Just kill me, put me out of my misery!
But why did you include yourself with Salvy and Tommy?
I don't know!
Did you fuck my wife?
Joey makes the tactical decision to refuse to answer, citing great offense at the question. This is not the tactical decision I would have made.
And the real bitch of it is, did he?
It escalates from there. Joey makes a hasty retreat. Jake goes upstairs, screams at Vickie. He demands to know if she fucked his brother. She makes the tactical decision to sarcastically say yes, she banged everyone on the block. Again, a dubious tactical decision, in my opinion. If there is a raging bull in your bedroom, don't wave a red flag at it. He pushes her down, then stomps downstairs and out the door. She follows, begging him to stop. He storms right into Joey's house, and starts beating the shit out of him, in front of his wife and kids. Vickie and Joey's wife try to pull Jake off of him, and Jake turns around and belts Vickie in the face with a closed fist, then walks back out of the house.
The next morning, Vickie returns home with a giant bruise on her cheek. She makes a big show of packing up her bags. Jake is conciliatory and all weepy and gross and she relents almost immediately and they hug and then they go make an album together.
A few months later, Jake defends his middleweight belt, and is beaten to a bloody pulp. He never goes down, but the ref calls the fight against him on a technical knockout. Jake calls Joey afterwards, but Joey just curses at him and Jake hangs up.
It is now 1964. Jake is big and fat and runs a nightclub downtown. He takes to the stage and does a pathetic stand-up routine that embarrass Larry the Cable Guy with its low-brow pandering, and then proceeds to make the rounds of the club, leering at all the young ladies and basically being that skeezy old fat guy in the bar you hope doesn't hit on you. Some people ask him where his wife is, and Jake "jokes" that he wouldn't let his wife near all these lascivious men. The bartender tells him that several girls are trying to buy liquor even though they don't have ID. Jake asks them how old they are. They say 21. Jake has them "prove" their age by grossly making out with him. He then gives them booze and introduces them to some fellow skeezball older men.
We see him out of the club, approaching Vickie who's in her car. He begs her to let him talk. She says she wants a divorce and they have nothing to talk about, then she drives off. The next morning, Jake's arrested for letting 14 year olds into his bar and serving them drinks and men. The cops hint that a bribe would make this all go away, so Jake takes his middleweight belt, and hammers out all the jewels and gold to hock. The pawn shop guy tells him that the belt itself as a whole would've been worth a hell of a lot more. Jake winds up serving a jail sentence. He punches the jail cell wall, weeping and screaming in fury.
After he's released, he happens upon Joey by chance in New York City. He follows Joey down the street, calling his name, begging him to turn around and talk to him. Joey ignores him at first, then finally turns around and allows Jake to hug and kiss him and beg his forgiveness.
In the final scene, Jake's prepping for another stand-up routine at some lonely club. He's looking into the mirror in the dressing room and proceeds to do the "I coulda been a contendah" scene from On the Waterfront. Then he jumps up and starts to shadowbox, before going out to meet his adoring crowd that consists only of people who don't really know him.
Review: There are certain types of movies that aren't really stories so much as Character Studies, and this is definitely the latter. As far as movie genres go, character studies aren't really my favorite. Give me 10 characters over one or two any day, and give me six complicated plotlines and intersecting stories and motivations rather than one guy doing a ton of emoting and not much else. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good movie, as good a movie as a character study can be, right up there with There Will Be Blood, but there's a ceiling for me on how good these movies can get. Like Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, Jake LaMotta is thoroughly unlikable and even repugnant and yet we can't take our eyes off him. DeNiro gives one of his patented flawless performances, giving Jake a humanity and even a crumb of sympathy where almost any other actor would've stumbled. The scene where he confronts Joey was so damn good, and there are easily half a dozen scenes just like that, brutal and intense and scary and sad all at the same time. It was great to see a subdued and not crazy Joe Pesci for once, too. Plus: Coach!
The movie ends with a quote from the bible, the one that ends with "I once was blind but now I see", which apparently was in reference to Scorsese's film professor, who died during the making of this movie and to whom Scorsese dedicated it. Well, that's sweet and all, but doesn't have fuck all to do with anything we just watched. Jake receives no grace nor redemption, and can't "see" any better in the end of the movie than in the beginning, so I don't know why that was in there, frankly.
Stars: Four out of five.
Next, the two hills of beans play it again and have a beautiful friendship not today or tomorrow but for the rest of their lives.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
At what point does a parody of a thing just become the thing?
Plot summary: It's the swinging 1920's. Power showbiz couple Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are attending the premiere of their latest silent film. A reporter lady asks them how it feels to be so rich and famous and pretty and in love. Don stares directly at the camera with a cheesy grin and proceeds to tell the world his life story.
We think we're headed for a flashback that will encompass the whole movie, but instead it's a super-quick recap of his whole life.
He started out doing and doing vaudeville and all that with his buddy Cosmo Brown, and then he became a stuntman, and then he met Lina and they fell in love and became big movie stars.
Heh. That was kind of awesome, and I want to believe it was a clear parody of Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Then Don and Lina watch their movie with the crowd and when it's over, they come out and take a bow, and every time Lina starts to speak, Don cuts her off.
They bow again, and go backstage and Lina finally speaks. Her voice is comically loud and braying and she has a New Yawk/Bronx-type accent. She throws herself at Don, who is annoyed and lets her know once again that he doesn't really love her and it's all PR for the movies.
He leaves the theatre and gets mobbed by screaming fans and runs out into the street to avoid them and jumps into a car driving by.
The woman driving is Kathy Selden. She recognizes him, but doesn't know from where, and thinks he might be a criminal. She drives up to a cop and the cop recognizes Don and then she relaxes. Don asks her to drive him home. On the way, Kathy says she's sorry she didn't know who he was because she doesn't watch movies. "If you've seen one, you've seen them all". Then she endears herself to me for all time, as she calls out the ridiculous melodramatic acting and mimes the theatrics of a silent movie star, gesturing and mugging like mad. Kathy Selden, teller of truth. God bless you, Kathy.
Don of course gets offended and asks her what she does for a living. Well, she's an actress. Don's confused. No, she's an actual actress. From the stage. Shakespeare. O'Neill. Ibsen.
Don asks her how she likes working in the service industry (good one) and she's offended and they're both all pissy and they hate each other and will never ever feel differently.
A few weeks later, Don's at an industry party with Cosmo and Lina and the head of the studio, etc. Don asks Cosmo if he's a good actor and Cosmo says of course, why's it bothering you what that dame said? (And speaking of mugging, look no further than Donald O'Connor as Cosmo. I've come to realize that there's a reason "smug" and "mug" are spelled so similarly. I mean, O'Connor's not as over-the-top and repugnant as say, Harpo Marx, but they're definitely in the same self-satisfied neighborhood). To that end, Cosmo sings "Make 'Em Laugh", that musical number you've seen before where the guy flips around and stuff. It's a great number. It also has zero to do with anything.
So it turns out Kathy's part of the evening's entertainment hired by the studio, and she busts out of a giant cake and does a sing and dance number with a bunch of other girls. Don revels in her humiliation and openly mocks her. He asks if she learned all that from Shakespeare and she says she learned this from the movies, and picks up a cake and throws it at him. But he ducks and it hits Lina instead.
She runs out as Lina fumes.
Later, Don learns Lina had Kathy fired and banned from the studio, and Don's pissed, even though that seems like a totally justified response, frankly. They act out a lovey-dovey scene for the camera while Don tells her she's shitty and evil and she says the girl was getting too close to him and he to learn her lesson.
A group of people are in a mini-theatre, watching the movie screen. A man is on the screen, talking. He takes careful pains to explain that the sound they hear is coming out of his lips in real time. "Look at my lips. See that the words I speak are in perfect synchronization with the movements of my mouth..." Heh!
Everyone stares blankly and then someone says there's probably someone behind the screen talking.
A studio head assures everyone that it's real and it's the next big thing. Some talkie called The Jazz Singer is coming out next week and it's the latest craze. Everyone pooh-poohs the idea.
Meanwhile, Don finds Kathy and gets her her job back on the sly, saying she has to avoid being seen by Lina. She thanks him, then admits that she's a big poseur and she loves all his movies. Oh, Kathy. I thought you were cool.
The Jazz Singer is a huge hit, and every studio jumps on the bandwagon. The studio head tells Don that he and Lina are to do talkies from now on. Lina screeches out that that's great and everyone looks nervous.
Lina tries to learn proper diction from a speech therapist and fails spectacularly. Don also takes diction lessons, and Cosmo interrupts and mugs and makes faces and then they sing and throw shit at the diction teacher, and then grin and look super-cheesy at the camera.
(See? We're making fun of those old musicals! We know they were super-cheesy, so we're being just as cheesy! Irony!)
So Lina and Don attempt to do their first talkie, but Lina won't talk into the microphone and then she keeps turning her head away from the microphone and back again so the sound goes in and out and it's pretty funny. Jean Hagan is definitely the MVP of this movie. The guy playing director goes a long way towards killing the humor by vastly overplaying the whole thing. The joke is that silent movie actors were hams who chewed the scenery...it muddles the joke for the characters who aren't actors to also be hams. I mean, is that part of the parody? Are they doubling down? Is nothing "real" in this movie? I submit this is a Starship Troopers type of deal. We're a parody, but also please take us seriously. Unless you're not feeling it, then we're a parody again.
So at the premiere of Don and Lina's movie, somehow the mic picks up everything they do, very loudly, including Lina playing with her pearls. The audience laughs at this, and Lina's voice, and Don's bad ad-libs ("I love you I love you I love you"). It's a disaster.
Don, Kathy, and Cosmo hang out at Don's apartment and bemoan the fact that when the movie premieres in six weeks (?!), Don will be ruined. Then they realize it's one o'clock in the morning and sing "Good Morning/good morning" to each other, then collapse on the couch and start laughing for no reason.
Okay, that was just like in the end of Swingtown when they laughed for no reason, right? Or did they just really laugh for no reason? I don't trust you, movie.
Then Cosmo comes up with the idea of converting Don and Lina's movie into a musical, and also having Kathy dub over Lina's squeaky voice and sing for her as well. Don doesn't want Kathy to throw away her career to help Lina, and Kathy says she'd be thrilled to help out, for just one movie.
So Don leaves and sings and dances to "Singing in the Rain". It's pretty great, straight up.
Okay, and then Don goes to the studio head and pitches the idea to him. Then there is, no lie, about twenty minutes of Don dancing around on stage on like a Broadway show. WTF is happening? What is this? There's a story within the story. Don's "character" is a guy who comes to Broadway because he's "gotta dance", then she gets discovered and meets a pretty lady and dances and dances and dances and dances with her and then she leaves him and he's sad and then he sees another guy wanting to get discovered on Broadway and he smiles knowingly or something.
We fade back onto Don talking to the studio head. "And that's my idea".
Studio head: "Well, I can't really picture it, but I trust you".
What? Why did we see that? Just for the "joke" that the studio head said that he can't picture it when we just saw it? Sigh. It was touch and go, but the movie really lost me there.
So they dub over the whole thing and Lina discovers the deception and is pissed until the audiences love it.
She learns that the studio plans to give Kathy credit for her singing, and she points out that her contract allows her to write her own publicity and she puts out a press release saying that she's a singer and dancer. She then demands that Kathy dub for her for all of her movies, or she'll leave the studio.
So the movie premieres and Lina tells everyone that she's the biggest star in the world and Kathy says she won't dub anymore, but Lina says she's under a five year contract and must obey, and then she goes out to make a speech. The audience hears her voice and react with amusement. They then demand she sing. Lina runs off-stage while Don and Cosmo plot. She orders Kathy to get behind the curtain and sing for her while she lip-syncs. Don tells her to do it. Kathy's pissed, but does it.
Lina starts mouthing "Singing in the Rain" while Kathy sings, and then Cosmo and Don pull up the curtain, revealing the ruse. Lina runs off, humiliated.
Then we see a billboard for the new movie starring Don and Kathy.
Well, that was easy.
Review: So...I've been told this makes fun of Olden Times movies, and I see that, but it's really a rather toothless mockery, and mostly a slyly ribbing but loving tribute. There are indeed some funny moments, almost exclusively from Jean Hagen, and the songs are...fine. A couple of them are even very good. But my main beef with 90% of musicals is that they rarely serve to move the story forward, in fact they often do just the opposite and wind up grinding the story to a halt. I guess that's fine if you really love the songs. But again, for me, that's pretty rare. South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, Chicago, and everything from 90's Disney are the only movies that immediately spring to mind as having flat-out great songs. These were not great songs. Some were even quite boring. The weird "Broadway" digression thing was really boring. And fucking long. It was visually pretty and colorful as hell, but really insanely long. And as long as we're being superficial, let's just say that if you want me to sit still for some really long boring songs, at least put in some hot dudes, dammit. But apparently no hot dudes existed in 1952 in the world of musical theatre. So, this movie overall lands right on the line between 2 and a half and three stars, in my mind the dividing line between "kinda good" and "kinda bad". Where does she land?
Stars: Two and a half out of five. Sorry, it's cloudy out today.
Next, Bobby is back in "Raging Bull".
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Plot summary (with spoilers): We are in Tara, Georgia, in 1861, on a cotton plantation just before the beginning of the Civil War. I would literally feel more at home on Mars.
On the O'Hara farm, Miss Scarlett sips her mint julep and wards off the advances of indistinguishable gentlemen callers while hoping to catch the eye of the dashing Mr. Ashley Wilkes. One of the gentleman callers informs Scarlett that Ashley Wilkes is to be married to his cousin (natch), a Miss Melanie Hamilton.
(This was my grandmother's Very Favorite Movie, so much so that she named my mother after Melanie Hamilton. As luck would have it, they have nearly the exact same personalities, and even kind of look alike).
"Fiddle dee dee!" cries Scarlett, despite the fact that she presumably wants to be taken seriously as a human being.
She informs her gentlemen callers that the O'Haras are going to have a Big Cotillion Party Whatever Thing that very night, and she pretends Ashley's engagement doesn't bother her. Her loyal slave, Mammy, calls her bluff. She knows Miss Scarlett is'a gonna be trying to steal ol' Mister Ashley away, and Mammy don't approve! (You'll be shocked to learn that Mammy is both sassy and overweight).
"Yabba Dabba Do!" says Scarlett. "I shall make Ashley mine!"
At the Big Cotillion Party Whatever Thing, the men all dote on Scarlett and feed her grapes and dance for her amusement and sword fight and mud wrestle and leap into volcanoes and such, as men do. But Scarlett just ignores them and stares jealously at Ashley and Melanie as they accept congratulations from the assembled coterie.
"Bibbity Bobbity Boo!" says Scarlett. "My plan isn't working!"
But then she sees a new arrival: handsome, porn 'stached Rhett Butler. She learns from a gentleman caller that Rhett Butler was kicked out of West Point and disowned by his family.
Later, Scarlett steals away a moment in private with Ashley and confesses her love for him. He admits he loves her too, but says he must marry Melanie, because something something Family Duty something.
Scarlett screams and hauls off and slaps him and he leaves the room.
It's then that Rhett pops up in view from behind the couch. He starts laughing as Scarlett rages at him and storms out. Ah, so it's a Moonlighing/Cheers scenario, huh? And we're going to take four hours until these crazy kids get together? Wake me when it's over.
Suddenly, word breaks out that the war has begun. The men all start leaving the Big Cotillion Party Whatever Thing to go off and enlist. Melanie's brother Charles, one of Scarlett's gentlemen callers from earlier, tells her he loves her and wants to marry her. Scarlett full on doesn't even look at him, she just stares at Ashley and Melanie kissing each other goodbye. Then she accepts Charles' proposal, and they marry before he goes off to war.
Cut to--Scarlett receiving a letter from the Confederate Army saying that Charles has died of pneumonia.
She goes into mourning, meaning she literally has to wear all black and a veil for an unspecified amount of time, and then she goes to Atlanta with Mammy and Melanie to cheer up. Mammy tells it like it is and calls her on her falsities, and Mammy noes dat Miss Scarlett ain't upset about Mister Charles, and she's still in love with Mister Ashley!
At a Charity Auction Dance for the war, Mr. Rhett Butler appears and "purchases" Miss Scarlett for the evening. Some weirdo Aunt O'Hara with little girl curls and ribbons in her hair even though she's like, sixty, thinks the idea of "buying" women for the evening is unseemly and she gets the vapors. Mammy is unavailable for comment.
Rhett Butler tells Scarlett he'll one day make her his, and she scoffs at this and tra-la-las and reminds him that she is still very much in love with Ashley. She asks him why he hasn't joined the Confederate Army, and he responds quite matter-of-factly that he's a scoundrel and will only fight in wars if he's getting paid a lot of money.
Then we jump forward in time a bit. The war is getting worse. Some general guy named Sherman is cutting a huge swath down through the South and our noble boys in gray don't seem to be able to stop him. Melanie and Scarlett anxiously wait in town with the rest of the womenfolk and old men and boys, and then messengers show up with copies of the names of the soldiers who've died. They're both really tense and for once Scarlett drops the Southern Belle shit and looks really scared. But Ashley's name is nowhere to be found. Scarlett has the decency to pretend she's relieved for Melanie's sake, rather than her own.
That Christmas, Ashley's granted a three day leave. He has Christmas dinner with Melanie and the O'Hara's in Georgia. Again, Scarlett makes a pathetic play for him. He kisses her, then tells her he can't be with her and then makes her promise she'll watch over Melanie. Fiddle dee fucking dee.
Time passes. The war gets worse, and Atlanta is being evacuated. Scarlett's been drafted as a nurse, trying to care for wounded. Oh, and Melanie's back at the house, nine months preggers. A doctor asks Scarlett to help hold a man down as they cut off his gangrenous leg without anesthesia, and she freaks and bolts. Outside, the townsfolk are in pure panic mode, screaming and running around aimlessly, while the occasional canon goes off and blows something up. Yikes.
Rhett comes riding up on a worse and buggy, and swoops Scarlett into his arms. He drives her back to the house in Atlanta, where the O'Haras are packing up their shit, ready to head back to the farm in Tara. Scarlett's dad tells Scarlett that Melanie is too pregnant to make the trip and begs Scarlett to stay with her. Scarlett does not pout and stomp around and act like her bitchy self for once, and instead remembers her promise and agrees to stay. Another slave, Prissy, stays as well. Prissy has the most squeaky and annoying voice in all of cinema.
So while Sherman's Army advances, Scarlett helps Melanie give birth, then she and Prissy beg Rhett to provide them safe passage out of Atlanta. Rhett, Scarlett, Prissy, Melanie, and the baby boy race out of town as it burns down around them. It's fucking gorgeous, all of it.
Then Rhett says he must go. He tells Scarlett he's going to join the army, after all. He's ashamed of his cowardice and will fight to the death if he must. He tells Scarlett they're both equally selfish, but he's going to do something about it, dammit. Scarlett begs him not to go, to stay and help them reach Tara. He kisses her goodbye and then just up and leaves them. Scarlett drives the buggy the rest of the way home, until the horse literally drops dead from hunger and then they walk the rest of the way to the O'Hara estate. When they reach it, Mammy tells Scarlett that her mother died of scurvy or maybe the consumption or something, and that Daddy has gone crazy, and her sisters are distraught and all the slaves ran away except for her and Polk, and that the crops are gone and the house is in shambles and there's no food and life sucks and Scarlett goes outside and against the violent striking blood-red sky vows to never be hungry again!
(Even though she is currently hungry and will likely be quite hungry for the foreseeable future. But after that! No more hunger!).
Intermission. Time for coffee and a long walk. Go ahead, I'll wait.
We come back to find Mammy, Scarlett, and Scarlett's sister Suellen plowing the fields and picking crops and such. Suellen bitches about how her hands are calloused and ruined but gets no sympathy from the others. Melanie's still sick from the birth and their harrowing journey from Atlanta, and she tries to get up and contribute but Scarlett angrily tells her to just lie down. a lone Union solider happens upon the plantation and confronts Scarlett on the stairway. He gets a rapey glint in his eye and advances on her and she blammo shoots him dead. She and Melanie hide the body and steal his gold, about 150 dollars worth. They're able to feed themselves for the time being. Eventually the war ends and Ashley Wilkes returns. Scarlett immediately throws herself at him again and they kiss again and he says he can't leave her for Melanie again.
"Nanu, nanu!" cries Scarlett! "It's so unfair!"
Then the Reconstructionists come and demand heavy taxes from the poor beleaguered Southerners and Scarlett can't pay it. She learns Rhett is in jail for some reason I missed, and she fashions a dress made from the curtains just like Carol Burnett did, and visits him to try to squeeze some money out of him. He sees that her hands are all calloused which means that she's been working like some common woman. He laughs in her face and says he has no money to give her anyway, all his foreign assets have been frozen. She leaves in a huff.
On their way back from town, they walk past Union businessmen telling former slaves they'll soon be getting 40 acres and a mule (40 acres?! Lawdy, lawdy!) and they hope this act of kindness will be remembered in the voting booth, and then they walk past two rich Northerners in a buggy, one white and one black, who haughtily yell at the poor, dirty Confederate soldiers in their way. I don't really know how to unpack those scenes.
Then Scarlett learns of a white Southern business man in town named Frank who runs a lumber mill and is trying to woo her sister Suellen. Scarlett intercepts him and tells him that Suellen's already married and basically strongarms him into marrying her. She helps him run the mill and enlists Ashley's help as well and they use former white convicts as their low-paid work force. Ashley openly frets about exploiting other people unfairly and Scarlett gives the only line in the whole movie that's vaguely critical of slavery when she points out the South had been exploiting people for quite some time now. Ashley responds that that's different because he treated his slaves nicely and was going to let them free eventually, anyway. Scarlett has no response because he obviously made an excellent point with no conceivable counter-argument.
Then one day Scarlett's riding through the woods after going home from the lumber mill and some Union jerks attack her and try to eat her or turn her into a pumpkin or something and she rides away screaming. Ashley, Frank, and some others from a posse to get revenge and Frank ends up getting killed.
By this time, Rhett's out of jail and rich again, and when the cops come to arrest Ashley, Rhett covers for them by saying they were all visiting a prostitute.
So Scarlett's in mourning a second time and Rhett proposes. Scarlett protests, and Rhett says he can't sit around waiting for the next time she'll be between husbands. Heh. Good one, Rhett!
He says he has a ton of money, which she loves, and she warns him upfront that she still loves Ashley and will never love him. He says he knows he can change her mind and they kiss and get married.
Life goes on. There's some cute scenes where Mammy don't approve of Mr. Butler and then eventually he wins her over. Scarlett buys a huge mansion, the lumber mill is thriving, etc. Finally, Scarlett gets pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl they name Bonnie Blue Butler. It seems even back then the rich celebrities were giving their children ridiculous names. When Scarlett discovers she's permanently gained weight due to childbirth she tells Rhett she doesn't want to have any more children. And to that end...they'll be sleeping in different rooms from now on. Rhett's furious and drinks and throws things.
Late at night at the lumber mill, Scarlett and Ashley wax nostalgic about the good ol' days in Dixie, and then they briefly embrace. This is witnessed by Scarlett's sister, who gleefully tells everyone in town.
Rhett learns of this and drunkenly insists Scarlett go to the Big Party Cotillion Whatever Thing that Melanie is having that very night. Scarlett says she won't go, she'll be ruined if she does!
Rhett grabs her and rips her out of bed and screams at her that she'll definitely be going.
"Schemeel, schmazel, hafenseffer incorporated!" cries Scarlett. "I shan't be humiliated!"
But she goes anyway, and because Melanie is a saint, she greets Scarlett warmly and says she doesn't believe the rumors.
That night Rhett's furious to learn Scarlett wasn't humiliated, and he drunkenly threatens to kill her and even puts his hands on her head and threatens to squeeze until her skull breaks and then drags her upstairs and presumably rapes her. The next morning she's all lovey dovey, because she was treated how women secretly want to be treated of course, but Rhett says he's leaving her and taking Bonnie Blue to London to live. After a brief stint in London, he comes back because Bonnie Blue missed her Mommy. They sit outside on the porch and discuss whether or not to reconcile and then Bonnie Blue comes riding up on her little pony and says "look Mommy, look Daddy! I can jump!" and rides off and they tell her to be careful.
Aw shit, this movie's gonna kill the kid, isn't it? Goddamit so much.
Sure enough, Bonnie Blue is thrown from her horse and breaks her neck.
And then after the funeral, Melanie falls ill from scabies or yellow fever or something, and on her deathbed, she wants to see Scarlett. Scarlett's terrified that Melanie will call her out for wanting her husband all these years, but Melanie just thanks her for saving her life all those years ago, and then she dies.
Scarlett goes back home to find Rhett packing his shit, saying he's gone for good. Inexplicably, Scarlett begs him to stay, to start over, but he won't. She doesn't know what she'll do or how she'll survive without him. But does he give a damn? Frankly, no. He does not.
And all these years I thought that's how the movie ended, with Rhett walking off into the fog.
But no, there's another minute or so of Scarlett weeping on the stairs and then creepily sitting up and swearing that she'll win Rhett back, somehow, some way. After all, tomorrow is another day.
Review: Way, way better than I thought it was gonna be. In fact, I'm completely stunned by how much the writing was and how epic in scope and story it was. It was basically and extremely well-crafted four hour soap opera, and granted, YMMV on whether or not that's an appealing description, but it worked for me. I particularly liked how nuanced and complicated both Scarlett and Rhett were. They both did evil and good, were both caring and selfish, and both likable and admirable and then at times quite hate-able. You know, they were...what's the word? Oh yeah, recognizable human beings, something the movies aren't always concerned with creating.
The views on race relations were probably quite progressive in 1939. Granted the movie was only lightly anti-slavery, and of course we consider it odd that Mammy stayed with Scarlett of her own free will, but there's no way you can watch this movie and say her character was disrespected or looked down upon by the others. It's as good as you can expect, from 1939, to be sure. Especially compared to many of the other Olden Times movies I've seen this year.
Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable were great, too. Lots of chemistry and nuance to their performances, and I liked the way both characters were deceptively shallow and one-note in the first act, and then slowly we got to know them and their motivations better. I was completley wrong when I early on pegged their relationship to be an endless will they/won't they true love scenario. Instead, they were never really in love and a train wreck whenever they were around each other. So unexpected, but awesome.
Complaints, I have a few. But only a few. Still a bit too long, especially in the last act, there was the weird and totally unnecessary detour to London, and maybe a bit too much melodrama overall. Did Melanie have to die, especially within five minutes of Bonnie Blue?
But I mostly loved it. I would go so far as to say that this is by far and away the most sophisticated Olden Times movie I've ever seen, both in story and character development. I hadn't thought that movies were capable of this level of sophistication until at least the 60's.
Stars: Four out of five.
Next, "Singin' in the Rain".