Monday, January 29, 2018

TCMFF 2018, Top Five So Far

So far the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) has announced 13 films for the festival to be held April 26 to 29, 2018. I thought I would announce my top five picks of the films announced at this point. I'm doing this partly because whenever I do a post like this, TCM usually announces new info that totally negates what I just posted. Thus, in hopes of getting a new announcement about TCMFF that will render this post moot, I give you my top five picks. You're welcome.

Films announced:
  • The Black Stallion (1979)
  • Bullitt (1968)
  • Hamlet (1948)
  • His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
  • Places in the Heart (1984)
  • The Producers (1968)*
  • The Sea Wolf (1941)
  • The Set-Up (1949)
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
  • Throne of Blood (1957)
  • To Have and Have Not (1944)
  • Woman of the Year (1942)
* The Producers is the opening night red carpet screening and my pass doesn't include it, so it's off the table, for me anyway.

5. Bullitt

4. The Black Stallion

3. The Set-Up

2. To Have And Have Not

1. His Girl Friday

My logic is pretty simple. I've seen 10 of the 13 films, but none in the theater. His Girl Friday is a huge favorite of mine, and one of my go to, I'm bored, what am I going to watch now, pop in the VCR movies. To Have and Have Not is just a great movie, and to see Lauren Bacall in her movie debut with Bogart and a great supporting cast including another huge favorite Hoagy Carmichael, that is a must for me. The Set-Up is an outstanding film noir, that I only saw for the first time a few years ago for TCM's Summer of Darkness festival/class. One of my only problems with noir films is that many have similar storylines and themes, and they tend to blend together. The Set-Up is enough different that is stands out from the pack.

Slots 4 and 5 were a lot tougher, as I had a four-way tie among, Woman of the Year, Throne of Blood, Bullitt, and The Black Stallion. Though I love Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, Woman of the Year is probably my least favorite of their pairings, at least of the ones I've seen. Katherine Hepburn's character comes off poorly in the way she treats their adopted son and when she tries to become domestic. I also eliminated Throne of Blood, because the local art theater will sometimes include a Kurasawa film when they do their week of classic films three or four times a year. I hope it shows up there.

This leaves The Black Stallion and Bullitt. Frankly, I think The Black Stallion is a way better movie. Bullitt, though very cool, I have a number of issues with the plot, but the coolness factor is strong enough to just squeak into the top five. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Armegeddon, Not with a Wimper, but Lots and Lots and Lots of Bangs

I don't know how this happened, but I got sucked into watching Armageddon. It's a really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really really stupid movie.

Everything blows up in ArmageddonThe drilling rig blows up. New York blows up. Hong Kong blows up. Paris blows up. The Russian space station blows up. One of the space shuttles blows up. The characters all seem to be blowing up at each other all of the time. When they're drilling the hole in the asteroid, everything is fine until they're almost done. Then all of a sudden, there's a meteor shower, and everything starts blowing up. At one point, Bruce Willis goes into a Starbucks, orders a latte, and it blows up. The only thing in the entire movie that doesn't blow up is the nuclear bomb which was designed to blow up. But when they need the thing to blow up, they have to do it manually.

Could somebody explain why they have miniguns? Were they expecting to run into predators on the asteroid? There's a minigun mounted on Ben Affleck's space drilling rig SUV thingie, so presumably there would be one on Bruce Willis' space drilling rig SUV thingie. I guess that's the one that Steve Buscema fires late in the film because he thinks it would be cool. Maybe, they should have left the miniguns behind and doubled up on the nuclear bomb detonators, so that Bruce Willis didn't have to stay behind to push the button.

Every time, you turn around, there's another Aerosmith song playing for like 15 seconds. I swear the soundtrack could be used as a box set for the band. I'm sure that some record company guy told Micheal Bey that if they used a lot of Aerosmith, the soundtrack would blow up, and he assumed he meant it literally.

Liv Tyler, for some inexplicable reason gets to hang out in the control room the entire movie with Billy Bob Thornton. Oh wait, they explained that. She said, she had nowhere else to go. And I guess Billy Bob Thornton figured, "Okay, that's cool by me. Why not have this woman who's emotionally involved with not one but two of the astronauts when we are trying to save the world." I guess they need to keep her there, so they can have her be at Edwards Air Force Base when the shuttle lands to hug Ben Affleck.

Bear in mind that this is a military installation and a top secret space craft, so sure, while we're at it, let's fly in that one guy's estranged wife and son, because he gave the kid a two-dollar space shuttle toy. And we might as well throw in Steve Buscemi's stripper friend. Now, that's a phone call I want to hear. "Yeah, hi. My name is Molly Mounds." [That was the only name on IMDB that sounded like a stripper name. [She says, snapping her gum.] I'm convinced that all strippers chew gum when they talk on the phone.]  "I'm one of your astronaut's stripper friends. He bought a lap dance from me with $50,000 of a loan shark's money the night before he went up, and I didn't get a chance to finish it, because he got arrested. So anyway I wanted to come out to where they land the space shuttle, you know that top secret one, so I can finish it up right there on that tarmac." Maybe, Harvey Weinstein was one of the producers.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Not on My Beach You Don't

Last week, President Trump and the Department of the Interior proposed the largest ever expansion of off-shore oil and natural gas drilling rights, effecting every coastal state in the continental U.S. The initial plan exempted only Alaska’s Bristol Bay (protected by former President George W. Bush) and existing marine sanctuaries. President Trump claims the plan is necessary to achieve energy independence, but the plan was met with opposition from environmental groups which deemed it a potential environmental disaster and a give-away to the fossil-fuel industry.

Fortunately, the Department of the Interior has granted an exemption for the state of Florida, at the request of Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott. The Interior justified this action by saying Florida is unique and relies on the tourism industry. Now, I live in California, and I seem to remember that we have beaches and a tourism industry here as well. In fact, I'm just guessing here, but I would think that every coastal state has beaches and something of a tourism industry based on access to beaches and the ocean.

Still, there must some reason that Florida is conspicuously excluded from the plan. There must be something that makes Florida more unique than every other state affected by this. Let me think, Rick Scott is contemplating running for the U.S. Senate. This definitely is not going to hurt him in a potential Senate bid at a time when Republicans may be scrambling to maintain control of Congress.

But what else makes Florida unique. Doesn't President Trump have a house in Florida or something? Wait, it's not a house. It's a resort, Mar-a-Lago. Funny, that the Trump administration wants to exempt the one state where the president owns a beach-front resort. This reminds of something else. Before the election, I read the Wikipedia page on Donald Trump. Yes, I know it is not the best source of information, but it is where I usually go. 

In addition to learning of his multiple bankruptcies, his use of illegal immigrant labor in building of Trump Tower, and how in the 1970s, he and his father were accused by the Justice Department of systematically discriminating against African-American who wanted to rent apartments, something else jumped out at me. Donald Trump had previously sued the government of Scotland because the turbines from a windfarm he claims spoiled the view from one of his golf courses. Trump lost this suit.

President Trump is all for energy independence, provided it doesn't affect his political or personal business interests. God forbid that the president or guests at his tremendously expensive resort might have to have their view sullied by an off-shore drilling rig or risk a spill on his pristine beaches. Yet, the rest of the country doesn't get afforded this courtesy. It makes me wonder how Robert Mueller and his FBI investigation are coming. Any chance he could pick up the pace? As much as the thought of a Mike Pence presidency scares me, it's looking better every day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

µ-Blog – Naked Leonard Nimoy First Thing in the Morning

µ-Blog – Too long to tweet, too short to call a real post

I woke up this morning and put on TCM like I do many mornings. The film was the western, Catlow (1971). Yul Brynner played an outlaw. Richard Crenna was his friend whom he served with in the Civil War, now a Marshal bringing him to justice, and Leonard Nimoy played a gunman hired to kill Yul Brynner. They were in a hotel in Mexico, and Nimoy was taking a bath. Yul Brynner burst into the room, and a fight ensued. Leonard Nimoy stood up and sure enough, there was Leonard Nimoy, stark naked. It all happened pretty quick, but we definitely had full monty. Or at least, when his back was turned, you could see monty bits, dangling around. 

I can't say what happened next. Right in the middle of the fight, the screen went black, and my cable company did their weekly test of the Emergency Broadcast System. By the time it came back, it was a completely different scene. I don't know what I expected this morning when I woke up. I only know, I wasn't prepared for naked Leonard Nimoy over coffee.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Clint Eastwood – Man with No Name or Retired Gunfighter

**** This Post Contains Spoilers, a Lot of Them ****

Last week, I was watching Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars and live tweeting on #TCMParty. Someone asked how we thought modern westerns such as Unforgiven and Tombstone stacked up against the Sergio Leone classic. Now, I know I saw Tombstone, but I think what I most remember about it was it being forgettable. I know that with most modern westerns, my big issue is they tend to be like action movies except with six-shooters and horses instead Uzis and car chases or maybe action movies are just a modern version of the western shoot-'em-up. I said something to that effect but  that I was embarrassed to say that I wasn't sure if I'd seen Unforgiven

To be fair, some of Clint Eastwood's Westerns blend together on me. I know I've said to myself, I don't know if The Outlaw Josey Wales or High Plains Drifter, and then I watch them and go, Yeah, I've seen this. Anywho, we had the DVD of Unforgiven, so I popped it in and sure enough, Yeah, I've seen this. Great movie by the way. It's hard to say how Unforgiven compares to the Sergio Leone westerns. It's kind of like comparing apples and oranges. The Leone westerns are just so damn cool, and Clint Eastwood is perfect in them, but you don't get the sense that he is affected by anything in them. That's kind of the point. 

Unforgiven is completely different. In a way, you could look at Unforgiven as a loose sequel to the Leone man with no name films. Clint Eastwood's William Munny in Unforgiven is a farmer trying to raise his family alone after the death of his wife. His wife had married him as known thief and murderer, and as we soon learn an alcoholic as well. Yet she saw something good in him and turned his life around.

William Munny is not the man with no name, but if you think about it, he could be, if the years and a string of bad luck had combined with alcoholism to bring him down. Though the man with no name was a killer, he had a certain morality. Could it be that this was what Munny's wife had seen in him? In Unforgiven, William Munny is not making it on his own, so when a young gunfighter offers to team up with him to kill a couple of men who mutilated a woman, he is tempted.

At first, he turns the gunfighter down, but then realizes that the money he would earn is what he needs to do right by his children. Just one problem he is no longer the killer he used to be. It doesn't matter whether he is the man with no name or not, because he is no longer that man. Nor is he the known thief and murderer that his wife married, and he can't just go back to being a killer. Add to this the subplot of Gene Hackman and the dime novelist, who is learning that the folklore yarns he spins are just that, folklore. it gives Unforgiven a realism that is missing in Fistful of Dollars.

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of westerns just like I'm not a big fan most action movies. The standard shoot-'em-up premise of bad guy does something bad/good gets retribution doesn't hold a lot of interest for me. That said, there are many westerns that are great because of the way they tweak that basic premise. Let's look at some examples: 

**** More Spoilers Here ****

  • Stagecoach (1939) – What makes it unique? The secondary characters, Clare Trevor, a dance hall girl, kicked out a town that no longer allows dance hall girls, Thomas Mitchell, an alcoholic doctor, Louise Platt, the pregnant wife of a cavalry officer, and others. Through the film we learn that the dance hall girl is every bit as moral as the cavalry officer's wife, and the drunk doctor is someone you can depend on in a crisis. Thomas Mitchell won an Oscar for his performance, in a year that is generally considered the greatest year for American film.
  • The Searchers (1956) – John Wayne is out to get the Comanche savages who killed his brother's family and kidnapped his niece. What makes it unique? How about John Wayne being every bit as savage as the Comanches he's chasing.
  • The Big Country (1958) – Gregory Peck is a sea captain who comes to the West to marry the daughter of a cattle baron. Gregory Peck as the fish out of water is what makes this unique, but his strength and integrity make him adaptable to any environment.
  • The Magnificent Seven (1960) – A remake of Akira Kurasawa's, The Seven Samurai (1954), seven gunmen are hired to protect a poor Mexican village from bandits. Sounds like a standard shoot-'em-up and in some respects it is, but all of the gunfighters are fully fleshed out and all have their own compelling reasons for being there.  
  • Fistful of Dollars (1964) – Again an unofficial remake (Leone didn't get permission) of a Kurasawa film (Yojimbo (1961)), Clint Eastwood's man with no name comes to a town where two rival families are fighting for control. Eastwood's character is brilliant in the way he two plays the two sides against each other, all shot with a style and finesse that is so good that you overlook the sometimes goofy overdubbing of the dialogue. The film has has a mix of English- and Italian-speaking actors all speaking their own language, so the Italian speakers were dubbed into English for the English language version, and vice versa for the Italian version.
I mentioned before that comparing Fistful of Dollars to Unforgiven was like apples and oranges. Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars as well as the other two films in the man with no name trilogy, For a Few Dollars More and The Good the Bad and the Ugly, are all done with a style and depth of character that they stand up to any western done before or since. Yet, the violence doesn't affect any of the characters, unless of course if it happening to them.  Unforgiven, though still a well-made movie, doesn't have the style of the Leone's spaghetti westerns, but the violence is real and has a profound effect on the characters, giving it a gravity lacking in Leone's films. Back to the original question, does Unforgiven hold up to Fistful of Dollars. In a completely different way, yes. Yes, it does.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Godzilla vs the American Disaster Movie

Warning: This whole post is riddled with spoilers of Godzilla (1954), Godzilla King of the Monsters (1956), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and Independence Day (1996).

I just caught the tail-end of Godzilla (1954), the original Japanese language version, not to be confused with Godzilla King of the Monsters (1956), the English-dubbed American version with Raymond Burr. The difference between the two is mainly that Godzilla (1954) is a great movie, while Godzilla King of the Monsters (1956) is laughably bad.

Of course, the real difference between the two is what was added and removed between the two versions. Godzilla King of the Monsters (1956) is shorter, and they cut out a half hour of really good stuff to add in Raymond Burr describing what we were already looking at and interacting with characters from the original (or the backs of Asian-American actors). So what did they remove? Well first of all they removed any reference to nuclear weapons, in the original, Godzilla is the result of testing hydrogen bombs in the Pacific. Of course mentioning nuclear weapons or radiation in the 1950s, the middle of the Cold War, would have made America look bad. 

So what else fell by the wayside in the 1956 version? How about politics? There are scenes with the wives of the sailors killed in the ship at the beginning of the movie, demanding information from the government, and saying there is a cover-up, and bureaucrats trying to protect their jobs. What about the scenes of burn wards with scores of injured people from the destruction of Tokyo? Scenes that must have been like rubbing salt in an open wound for Japanese audiences, who would still remember the bombing of their cities in World War II. There is even a short scene with a mother and her two small children watching the city burn and her telling her children that they would soon be with their dead father. All of this was removed to make Godzilla 1956 a sanitary American film. In short, what was removed from Godzilla 1954 to make Godzilla 1956, human suffering. 

I thought about this before but it came to me seeing it again. Godzilla (1954) is a disaster movie, but it is way different than American disaster movies. In American disaster movies human suffering is limited to the loved ones lost to the main characters of the movie, while the wholesale slaughter of hundreds maybe thousands of people is glorified by massive special effects.

Let's look at The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Here you have a cruise ship, I'm just guessing at the capacity of the Poseidon, but the Queen Mary had a passenger capacity of almost 2,000 people and a crew of over a thousand. I would guess that the Poseidon would be comparable, so let's say there were three thousand people on the Poseidon. In the movie, only six people survived, and of those six, three lost loved ones. But if you think about it that means that roughly 3,000 people also died. Yet we don't really see them except for a handful of shots. The focus is on the main characters who lost people. Of the 3,000, many would have died in the first few minutes after that one special effects shot of the ship capsizing. Do we see this? In a rapid montage, yes. Do we feel their deaths? Not so much.

Even the title of the film, The Poseidon Adventure, is a misnomer. Is this really an adventure, 3,000 dead and only six survive? And of those six, half lost close family members. Boy howdy, I'd like to go on an adventure like that.

Now let's look at a more modern film. Independence Day (1996) takes the exact same approach as The Poseidon Adventure. Wholesale slaughter on a huge scale but the human suffering is only what we see through the eyes of the main characters. On top of this, the scale in Independence Day is enormous. The aliens destroy almost every major city before we figure out how to defeat them. Presumably millions have died, but that's okay because the special effects were really cool. All of those great explosions, the capital building being blown up, great stuff. But what's really happening in those massive special effects, thousands people are dying, possibly millions. And that's what we see on the trailer. That's what they used to sell the movie. And the human suffering? Bill Pullman loses his wife. And Randy Quaid's kids have to watch their father die as a hero to save the world.

Back to Godzilla 1954, like in an American film, we still get the human suffering of the main characters losing loved ones. But we also get human suffering on a large scale, hospital burn wards jammed with patients, and on a small scale, a mother telling her children that they will soon be with their dead father, things almost entire absent in an American disaster film.

What about the message of the American films? The capsizing of a cruise ship where thousands died and only half dozen survive is an adventure. And if aliens ever come down here, we're going to kick their ass, thanks to good old American know-how. 

And what is the message of Godzilla 1954? Well obviously Godzilla represents the hydrogen bomb, and the film-makers are warning us of the dangers of the path we are on. A path that it pains me to say we are still on today with our reality-show billionaire president and Rocket Man in North Korea bragging about how big their buttons are like a couple of teenage boys comparing their junk in the showers in gym class.

If all you know of Godzilla is the Raymond Burr sanitized for America version, the campy sequels, or the bad American remakes, you really need to see, Godzilla (1954). Yes, the miniatures and special effects look pretty bad, but there is a night-time attack on Tokyo, where the shadows make the monster look almost decent, I mean, considering it's just a guy in a rubber suit. But more importantly, it gives a sense of the disaster from multiple perspectives and says something about the dangers of nuclear weapons, from a country brought to its knees by those weapons, and to date, the only country to ever feel their wrath first hand. It's a great film.