Sunday, January 27, 2008

Juno

Except for the resolution of the plot, I hated it. Hated it.

For one thing, I hated the way the main character (and most of the other characters) talked. I have nothing against stylized dialogue -- two of my favorite movies are O Brother, Where Art Thou and Popeye (which I realize may be reason to discount my opinion), but the wa Juno talked didn't sound "clever" so much as "annoying". And the narration had an odd quirk in the deadpan-ness that had me longing for the naturalistic acting of Daria.

Also, a lot of scenes had extremely annoying music played over them, possibly to disguise the fact that nothing was happening. This was particularly vexing because the characters in the movie got to listen to cool music like Sonic Youth and Mott the Hoople. I mean, I love the Velvet Underground, but "I'm Sticking With You" is hardly the song I'd choose to underscore a scene.

I did like the resolution of everything. I thought people made good decisions. But up until then (and, indeed, after that) I did not care for it. I think it was mostly the script, because the performances all seemed fine.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Bride Walks Out

This movie infuriated me.

Gene Raymond plays a man who essentially bullies Barbara Stanwyck into marrying him and then makes her quit her job. But he doesn't make very much money (possibly because he gets fired all the time) and that means she lives in poverty. All the furniture gets repossessed and he still thinks everything's fine. And whenever she brings up the possibility of getting a job, he laughs at her. He's a huge jerk!

The movie thinks it's a movie about Barbara Stanwyck having to decide between her poor husband and a rich suitor, but the rich guy is always drunk and nearly as big a jerk. It's clear that she needs to get away from both of these guys, but that's not what the movie thinks should happen.

The only part I liked was the cavalcade of character actors, including Billy Gilbert and Hattie McDaniel. And especially Ned Sparks, who chomps a cigar the whole time and says funny things with a sour face. Unfortunately, a lot of the jokes are about wife-beating, which isn't as funny as it was seventy years ago.

At the end of the movie, Barbara Stanwyck tearfully agrees to quit her job and live in poverty. She'll be sad, but at least she knows her place now! Grr.

Stand-In

This is an odd movie, which I realized halfway through that I'd already seen. Leslie Howard plays an "efficiency expert" who works for the bank that owns a movie studio and acts a lot like David Hyde-Pierce crossed with Tim Gunn. He has to go to California and become mixed up with wacky characters including Joan Blondell (as the stand-in) and Humphery Bogart (as a movie producer who carries a Scottish Terrier everywhere he goes -- I suspect this of being Bogart's own dog).

It's mostly a screwball comedy, but the subplot involving a nefarious scheme to buy the studio is kind of tiresome, especially once it degenerates into heartfelt speeches about how the workers need to unite against the capitalists or something.

Persepolis

It's about time this got to Seattle! I've been impatiently waiting, and it was great. I still think Ratatouille is going to win the animation Oscar, but it's good to see a heartfelt movie that looks really good.

I don't have much to say about it, I guess, but I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

This is another of those "last man on Earth" movies. It's actually almost exactly like an I Am Legend adaptation, except that there are no monsters. It's just Harry Belafonte running around a deserted Manhattan shouting for the first hour or so. Actually, the new I Am Legend uses a lot of elements from this, including the art collecting and the talking to mannequins.

About halfway through, a woman shows up, and it's a white woman, which generates a small amount of tension. And then another guy shows up, and there's some by-the-numbers tension, followed by a surprisingly unexciting gunfight in abandoned New York streets. And then there's a fairly random ending.

The parts of the movie where Belafonte is trying to come to terms with everybody on Earth being gone are pretty good. Unfortunately, he takes a really long time to figure out that everybody's really gone. Movie Shorthand for "empty city" is "a bunch of discarded newspapers blowing through the shot like tumbleweeds", so he had plenty of opportunity to pick one up and find out what happened to everyone.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Academy Awards! Let the Brouhaha Begin!

Best Picture (as described by the five Plot Keywords that IMDb lists)

Atonement: "Nurse," "Flashback Sequence," "Falsely Convicted," "Falsely Accused of Rape," "Chocolate"

Hmm. Well, I can see how someone would need chocolate after all that.

Juno: "Unwed Pregnancy," "Teen Pregnancy," "Pregnancy," "Sex," "Dark Comedy"

I would have thought the sex would come before all that pregnancy.

Michael Clayton: "Dark," "Eavesdropper," "Exploding Car," "Loft Apartment," "Crooked Lawyer"

Oh, it's one of those movies.

No Country for Old Men: "Hospital," "Blood," "River," "Gun," "Corpse"

I've seen this movie, and I can affirm that all those things are in there. I don't think I'd give the river such high billing, though.

There Will be Blood: "Beaten to Death," "Oil," "Shot in the Head," "Silver Mine," "Bowling Alley"

These seem more specific than the other movies.

Winner: Atonement, because its keywords sound more classy.

Best Actor (as described by my favorite movie they're in)

George Clooney: O Brother Where Art Thou?
Daniel Day-Lewis: Gangs of New York
Johnny Depp: Cry-Baby
Tommy Lee Jones: Natural Born Killers
Viggo Mortensen: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Clooney and Depp got movies that make them sound either sad or missing. Day-Lewis has a gang, but Jones and Mortensen look like the front-runners. I think I take a King over a Killer, but it's close.

Winner: Viggo Mortensen

Best Actress (as described by my first thought when I see the name of their movie)


Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: the Golden Age): I'm kind of tired of movies about British monarchs named "Elizabeth". How about a Victoria now and then? Or one of the guys?
Julie Christie (Away from Her): Remember when Ripley shouted "Get away from her, you bitch!" in Aliens? That was awesome.
Marion Cotillard (La Môme): I hope there will be some outgrabing.
Laura Linney (The Savages): I have literally no reaction to this movie title.
Ellen Page (Juno): This one either. I regret my choice of gimmick for this category.

Winner: Julie Christie

Best Supporting Actor (as described by whether or not I've seen the movie)

Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford): No
Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men): Yes
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War): No
Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild): No
Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton): Yes

Winner: Javier Bardem

Best Supporting Actress (as described by whether they'd make a good elf/witch)

Cate Blanchett (I'm Not There): Yes
Ruby Dee (American Gangster): No
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement): Yes (for the name)
Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone): No
Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton): Yes

Winner: Cate Blanchett

Best Director (as described by how many people they are)

Paul Thomas Anderson: 1
Ethan and Joel Coen: 2
Tony Gilroy: 1
Jason Reitman: 1
Julien Schnabel: 1

Winner: Ethan and Joel Coen

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cloverfield

I didn't like it. I felt it was gimmicky, and that they used the gimmick to stretch ten minutes of story into eighty minutes of film. The characters, such as they were, ranged from "annoying" to "really annoying), and it's astonishing to me that half an hour goes by before anything happens. That's over a third of the movie!

And why is it that in movies like this, where it's all handheld footage shot by a character, it's never a character who can hold the camera steady? This movie's tiltier than a broken pinball machine! And when you see a giant crazy monster, maybe you should just hold still for a second. I mean, if you're so obsessed with the camera that you're shooting even while running for your life, you'd think you could get better footage. But no; as soon as the monster heaves into view, it's all "Zoom out! Pan left! Zoom in! Tilt it more! Whatever you do, don't look directly at the monster!" The characters get pretty good looks at it, it's just the audience that doesn't get to play. That not only bugs me, it takes me completely out of the movie. Handheld shaky cam is not, for me, remotely immersive. It's whatever the opposite of that is. It makes me sit in the theater and think "Oh, look. They're doing something obnoxous with the camera." I should not be wondering what the cameraman's name is in the middle of a movie.

Kill or be Killed

Okay. This is going to require some setup.

When I was a youth, I was very fond of a movie callde Kill and Kill Again, which is a South African karate movie. You can read my recap here, and you might also want to see what Chris's Invincible Super-Blog says about it, because his screenshots are better than mine. It's a crazy movie full of bizarre characters (Hot Dog!) and a plot lifted directly from Enter the Dragon. And it's a sequel. For the longest time, I hadn't seen the original, which ou will have realized by now was Kill or be Killed.

I eventually saw it, on a crappy VHS, and was somewhat disappointed. Where's Hot Dog? Where's Gypsy Billy? How come The Fly is someone else? How come Steve Chase is called Steve Hunt? This doesn't make sense! I was blinded by my expectations and didn't fully appreciate the foolishness of Kill or be Killed on its own.

Enter the Grand Illusion, a tiny non-profit Seattle theater, which somehow decided to show Kill or be Killed Friday and Saturday nights this week. They're essentially midnight movies, except that they're actually airing at 11:00, which is nice.

So! I got to see an extremely obscure movie (seriously, Kill and Kill Again at least has a DVD release!) in a real theater, on film. Crappy film, as it turns out -- it was all scratched up, and a couple of the reels had faded to where there was almost no color in them and all the whites were a light red. It was exactly how a movie like this should be seen.

The movie itself is not without its charms. It's got a Nazi named Von Rudloff who has a dwarf called Chico and a burning lust for revenge because of what he feels was a rigged karate tournament in the 1936 Olympics. That's a little odd, right? So he has this plan where he challenges the guy who actually won (a Japanese gentleman named Miyagi, so you've got a choide between the WWII-era Germans and Japanese, not that anyone in the movie shows the slightest tinge of uneasiness working for a Nazi -- and he's the kind of Nazi with Swastikas everywhere). After he challenges Miyagi, he sends Chico around the world to hire the Greatest Karate Fighters in the World, but most of them turn out to have just signed up with Miyagi. I think Von Rudloff should probably have assembled his team before the challenge. I also think its weird that of the forty Greatest Karate Fighters in the World (twenty on Von Rudloff's team and twenty on Miyagi's), none of them are Japanese. Doesn't that seem unlikely? In fact, all forty of them appear to be South African. What a coincidence!

Anyway, there's a competition which people keep telling us is To The Death but isn't really, some shenanigans with attempted rape, Chico running around trying to calm everyone down, and a first-person suicide to end the movie. It was good fun!

By the way, I don't know why this would come as a surprise, but karate wasn't even an event at the 1936 Olympics. The whole premise of this movie is flawed!

The Terminator

In the wake of the new Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen a real Terminator movie in a very long time. I mean, I saw Terminator 3: Rise of the Machinesa few years ago, but since I remember absolutely nothing of what happened in it (I think the plot involved computers in some way, and maybe some animal tranquilizers unless I'm thinking of a different movie), I don't think it counts. And anyway, the TV show is supposed to be taking place after the second movie.

Now, I'm pretty familiar with Terminator 2: Judgment Day (although I did have to check IMDB to find out what meaningless phrase comes after the colon) becase I once wrote a recap of it for Mighty Big TV (now Television Without Pity, and my recap isn't there anymore), but I've never really watched the first movie to the degree it deserves. I mean, say what you want about Titanic, but James Cameron made some really good movies back in the mid-80s. I don't know how I can be so obsessed with Aliens and not watch Terminator all the time, considering that they share three actors. Okay, Bill Paxton is only in it briefly, but still.

Obviously, I enjoyed it. Schwarzenegger's great in it, Linda Hamilton's great, Lance Henriksen's great -- everything's great. And I like how the metal skeleton moves around like it's a Ray Harryhausen skeleton. Also, this is the only time that "I'll be back" doesn't sound forced, which is nice.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek

This is a great movie. And it's astonishing that it ever got made, because historically the Hays Office was not keen on plots that revolved around minors getting drunk, marrying an anonymous soldier, forgetting who it was, getting pregnant as part of the same drunken binge, and then running around trying to cover it up the whole movie. It's also a very cynical movie, with everything being hushed up and polished over at the last second by the "miracle".

My favorite character is probably Betty Hutton's little sister, who I suspect of being a trouble-maker. When her father tells her, "Listen, zipper-puss. Someday they're gonna find your hair-ribbon and an axe someplace. Nothin' else!" the audience can kind of see what he means. Still, that's not the sort of line the Hays Office normally allowed in.

It surprises me a little that this movie is so funny, because it relies a lot on cheap gimmicks like pratfalls, wacky names, and stuttering. But for some reason, it's hilarious to watch Norval doing a pratfall while stuttering and trying to spell "Ignatz Ratskiwatski". Some things are just funny.

The Talk of the Town

The weird thing about having a dual-tuner Tivo is that you're never entirely sure what the Tivo's recording. This morning, when I turned on the television and saw TCM showing a Cary Grant/Ronald Colman movie, I naturally assumed it was being recorded, so I wasn't paying too much attention. But it turns out it was actually recording "Bon Jovi Unplugged". Bad Tivo! Wrong!

Anyway, the movie was kind of odd. Cary Grant plays an anarchist (which is already strange, with his accent) hiding from the police in Jean Arthur's house while Ronald Colman is a professor of law or something. Cary was framed for arson and murder, and this sets off any number of debates between the two male leads.

Jean Arthur is allegedly in love with both of them, but honestly, they seem far more interested in each other. There's one shot where they're in a car and there's a vertical bar down the middle of the screen. On the right side, Ronald Colman is driving the car and Cary Grant is in the back seat, leaning forward and hanging over the front seat. So their two faces are right next to each other, then there's a break, then Jean Arthur is wayyyyy over on the left side, all alone.

It's a comedy, but it also wants to be Socially Responsible, in the form of a big speech by Colman that sounds like someone had just watched The Grapes of Wrath. There is a very amusing interrogation scene, where Jean Arthur cheerfully refuses to be bullied or intimidated by the cops, but I don't know if that's enough to recommend the movie. Maybe Tivo was right not to record it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Severance

You might have seen the trailers for this; it's the movie with the office-workers who go on a Corporate Team-Building Retreat and find themselves in a slasher flick. It's kind of a comedy, but not the kind that's funny.

I didn't like it much. The office workers were all annoying and it took way too long for anything to happen. I enjoyed the last half hour of the movie all right, but they should have gotten there much, much faster.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It Happened at the World's Fair

I don't mind Elvis vehicles. I've got kind of a soft spot for Roustabout, for example. And I love World's Fairs. And this Elvis Movie is actually at the World's Fair in Seattle, which means I got to look at the backgrounds and identify which building they were standing in front of. In fact, since the World's Fair is at the base of the Space Needle (the same place they hold Bumbershoot, a yearly music festival), I kept saying things like "Oh, that must be the building where I saw Flogging Molly!" and "Gogol Bordello played on that hill right there!"

The movie itself is largely forgettable, of course. It's kind of interesting that it's Kurt Russell's film debut -- he plays a boy who kicks Elvis in the shins for a quarter. And the little girl apparently grew up to be First Lady of Hawaii, which is fairly interesting. You can't look too closely at the plot, because then you start wondering why Mr. Ling would let his niece spend the day with a random hitchhiker, or when the police started enforcing random poker debts.

I enjoyed it, but more for the scenery than anything else.

Suddenly, Last Summer

Contrary to recent movie-titling trends, Suddenly, Last Summer is not a movie in which teenagers get killed in increasingly unlikely ways. Rather, it is a Tennessee Williams play that has been turned into a movie in which Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor act crazy at each other in increasingly over-the-top fashion. It's a lot of fun, although honestly, it's so over the top that the movie started to remind me of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think it was the way that Hepburn made her appearance in a gaudy elevator that lowered her into the living room.

There was apparently some negotiation with the Breen office over exactly how much this one dead character's homosexuality could be mentioned. The official answer was "not at all", but it's pretty clear that that was the scandal everyone's alluding to. The fact that his bedroom is full of male nudes and a giant painting of Saint Sebastian kind of gives it away. Plus, you know, it's a Tennessee Williams movie (adapted by Williams and, of all people, Gore Vidal!). If you like long monologues by crazy women, this is the movie for you!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Riding the Rails

This is a documentary about hobos, and it's pretty good. For one thing, it's got several interviews with people who actually hopped freight trains and slept in hobo jungles, and it's always nice to get actual participant testimony. And I'm always a sucker for MovieTone newsreels, and they did a lot of coverage of the Hobo Phenomenon. So this turns out to be one of those documentaries that has a lot of information about its subject.

It didn't answer the thing I've always wondered about, which is how you know where your train is headed. I lived for a few months in an apartment right outside a huge train yard, and I often considered hopping a train, but I could never figure out how to get where I wanted to go. I guess if you're a hobo, you're not really on a schedule, but I think you'd want to know which train was going to Los Angeles and which was going to Saskatchewan.

It also helps that hobos are fascinating. I think hobos are poised for a big pop culture resurgence, what with that great John Hodgman book. They could be the pirates of 2008, and I'll be in on the ground floor!

Waiting for Guffman

You know, this isn't even all that exaggerated. I've seen community theaters with exactly this combination of self-delusion and lack of talent. But the final stage show they come up with is actually pretty good, if you ask me. The sets are great, which I assume is because every time you see people making them, they're just getting on with their jobs and not getting immersed in drama like everyone else.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Fountainhead

I've read The Fountainhead, although I didn't like it all that much. It seemed to me to be based on a basically unlikely premise: one man, impossibly noble (except for the scene where he basically rapes the heroine, although I expect Ayn Rand didn't see the scene that way) stubbornly sticks to his ideals while a lot of people desperately try to tear him down at every turn. Even the people who admire him appear to do everything they can to ruin him, possibly out of envy. Or something. My main problem with the book is that it's a million pages long and that the characters' motivations aren't convincing to me. And all the lesser architects who band together and denounce Roark's work just because it's threatening to them also seem very much like a novelist assuring herself that everyone attacking her is just jealous. The line from the movie is "They hate you for the genius of your achievement." Yeah, that's what they all say.

Also, I think it's weird that the noble, iconoclastic architect in the book is devoted to making giant steel-and-glass skyscrapers, while the unimaginative masses insist on faux-classical the whole time. That's just a relic of the time the novel was written, but it's hard to get away from the fact that "giant steel-and-glass skyscraper" is no longer an exciting, iconoclastic notion. You should see the big, mirrored cube I work in. I expect it was an excitingly new idea at one point, but man is it generic now. And you hardly ever see marble columns on a new building these days, so the pages of invective about the ubiquity of classical facades don't ring true anymore.

I do think it's interesting that Ayn Rand uses architecture as her example, since that's not what most people think of when they imagine individualistic artists. I wouldn't be surprised if its popularity brought more attention to architects. Which I guess means I can blame The Fountainhead for the extremel odd shape of the EMP. Personally, I much prefer the Space Needle. As an aside, the EMP also holds a Science Fiction Museum, where you can see a dress worn in The Day the Earth Stood Still by Patricia Neal, who plays Dominique Francon in this movie. Anyway, the novel is set in a world where people are desperately interested in architectural trends.

So when I found out there was a movie, I was curious how it would handle a million-page book, and what it would do with the flaws I perceived. The first thing it did was dispose of about a quarter of the book in the narration at the beginning of the movie, so that the can get to the story. I have no problem with that. After all, it worked for Les Miserables.

It was off to a good start by casting Gary Cooper. Howard Roark in the book is a standoffish jerk who doesn't inspire pity or (from me) awe. But Gary Cooper can play Impossibly Noble in his sleep, so you can easily see why people would look up to him.

The question of why Toohey (the snooty architecture critic) and Francon (the female architecture critic -- incidentally, how many newspapers have two daily architecture columns? There must have been a lot of buildings going up!) both decide to destroy Roark even though they admire him is a little rougher. The movie gives them both speeches to try to justify their motivations, but I think they're still pretty much cardboard characters. Apparently Toohey wants to prove that all men are weak, and Francon needs to destroy anything she loves so she doesn't get attached to it. Or something. Really, they're just there so that there can be characters who know how great Roark is while still trying to destroy him. And "I daresay no one knows what I'm after. They will, though" doesn't really satisfy, you know?

Frankly, the basic flaw in both the book and the movie is that Roark is described as being so great that it takes a concerted effort to destroy him, and the villains are less convincing than the hero. So I come out assuming that Ayn Rand's trying to tell me that geniuses are unstoppable successes and there's no need to worry about them. Well, okay.

The rape scene from the book is still in the movie, which bothers me. Even when it's Gary Cooper, I do not approve of that kind of behavior in my protagonists.

Overall, the movie is about as didactic as you'd expect, which means that it's about as didactic as it can possibly get. The big courtroom speech goes on forever, and yo can practically hear the director asking if there might be anyone else in the cast who could be used for a reaction shot to break up the visuals for a few seconds. Gary Cooper does his best (although he apparently didn't understand a word of it), but it's a chore. It's possible to do big ranty speeches, but this is no Mister Smith Goes to Washington.

There are a couple of things I liked, though. I enjoyed the scene where Francon tells Roark, "You'd better not be insolent" while tapping a riding crop in her hand. Some scenes are hard to screw up. Also, there were a lot of scenes that reminded me of Monty Python's "architect sketch". I'd like Roark more if his designs included rotating knives.

Oh! You know the Plot Keywords in IMDB? The top five for The Fountainhead are "Jackhammer / Phallus Symbol / Self Sacrifice / Kissing / Selfishness". That paints a pretty strange picture.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Skidoo: The Liveblog


Tonight, Turner Classic Movies is showing Skidoo, for reasons only they know. I'm excited, because it's allegedly an "absurdist masterpiece" (translation: probably unwatchable drugged-up gibberish) and it's definitely almost never shown anywhere in any context. So I'm liveblogging it!

The action starts at 11:00 pm Pacific. While we're waiting, why not read Rhias's comments for some historical perspective? Also of interest: Roger Ebert reporting from the set and Paul Krassner takes acid with Groucho Marx (because Groucho wanted to properly prepare for the role, or something).

11:03: Here we go! This is part of "TCM Underground", apparently, which is supposed to be hosted by Rob Zombie. Where's Rob? Also, I see that the movie after Skidoo is The Love-In. Wow.

11:05: Well, it's not widescreen, but it seems to be a pretty good transfer. The opening credits (featuring what might be a cartoon caricature of Otto Preminger) start to be shown on a television (artsy!), but then someone clicks around the channels, getting a bunch of random shows while Carol Channing complains in voiceover.

11:06: So far, we have Carol Channing and Jackie Gleason dueling over remote controls. One of them wants to watch a Senate hearing, and one wants to watch a pill commercial.

11:08: A surprising amount of this movie (which we're watching on a television) is being shown on a television screen inside the movie. And one of the first lines of dialogue was "I hate watching movies on television. They always get cut up". It's kind of complicated.

11:10: So far, I think I understand the plot. Jackie Gleason is an ex-mobster in hiding, and some guys with a 1937 Rolls Royce with a yellow stripe are outside and might be here to get him. They're the "Mallar brothers". Oh, and the music sounds like that lousy Bill Lava music in 1960s Daffy Duck cartoons. And Jackie's daughter is being chatted up by John Phillip Law, who is a hippie. Got it!

11:15: Plot B has started up, featuring Mister Cesar Romero as an actual mobster. I guess the Rolls Royce was the hippie's car?

11:16: Cesar Romero's young assistant is in charge of "Oregon and Idaho". Does the mob do a lot of work in Idaho?

11:18: Okay, now we've got a plot. Cesar wants Jackie to break into prison (?) and kill someone involved with the Senate investigation. Because "God" wants him to. That all seems relatively clear, although it does not explain why the hippie is sitting on top of his Rolls Royce.

11:19: Tom says in the comments that Cesar Romero's young friend was Frankie Avalon. This whole movie is cameos and stuff. There was a squirrely guy hanging out with Jackie and Carol, and now he's dead, and I don't know who played him. I'm sure it was someone, though.

11:21: Someone inside the hippie bus, filled with naked body-painted chicks and singing: "Hey, man, what's happening?"
Rhias: "My worst nightmare."

11:22: Jackie's daughter has gotten body-painted, but they just painted over her underwear. She does not appear to know how to operate a roach clip, either. She's not much of a hippie, if you ask me.

11:24: If this movie were more self-aware, it would be making some kind of clever statement about the hideous hippie clothes and how they're not as bad as the hideous clothes the straights are wearing. Carol Channing in particular is dressed as Big Bird, and nobody seems to have noticed.

11:27: Okay, Carol has invited the whole hippie nation to stay at their place. Excuse me -- I mean "crash" at their "pad". Or something. Anyway, we'll have a bunch of hippies at Jackie Gleason's place soon. This movie makes perfect sense so far!

11:28: I have no idea why the police just loaded a bunch of opera-singing guys on a ferry.

11:29: Sweet! Austin Pendleton, in his first movie role! And he's a prisoner, so I can pretend he's the same character as he was in Oz, since that guy was a lifer who'd been there for longer than anyone. And now Richard Kiel is a prison guard! Man, this movie's going to make those Six Degrees of Whoever games so much easier!

11:32: No, this Austin Pendleton character is a weenie who's in for burning his draft card. His Oz character stabbed someone in the neck and talked to God. I guess if he has a scene with Groucho, I can pretend it's the same guy.

11:33: Carol should be more careful about inviting hippies (and whatever the other people are) over. That's how Charles Manson ended up at the Beach Boys' place.

11:34: Frankie Avalon has a giant round bed and a remote control that hides his barber in a rotating wall. You heard me.

11:35: I don't much care for the foleying in this movie. The background talk in the prison sounds like Grand Central Sta -- hey! It's Frank Gorshin, talking without moving his lips! Who doesn't like Frank Gorshin?

11:37: Frankie Avalon also has a wet bar and a night sky lit up over his silly bed. And his chairs are a cavalcade of terrible furniture. Unfortunately for him, he's six inches shorter than Carol Channing, so she kind of towers over him.

11:39: Carol Channing is transported into ecstasy by playing with his stereo's remote control. I think she's supposed to be frugging.

11:40: Oh god, now Carol Channing is disrobing. And my horror is only mitigated by confusing at the barber-pole way her zipper goes all the way around her torso.

11:43: When Frankie just dropped his champagne bottle into the ice bucket, the foam spurted out in a suspiciously visual way. I think it was in the nature of being some kind of joke by Otto Preming -- oh god it's Carol Channing in a see-through bra.

11:44: So when we say that Groucho plays God, that's just the name of his character, who's head of the mob. I learned that from the convenient chart of the mob's entire personnel structure that Frankie keeps above his bed. That seems like a bad idea to me, but maybe he's assuming that any cops will be blinded by his zebra-print bed.

11:47: This movie isn't that terrible. It ain't great, but it's at least watchable. It's no Sextette.

11:50: The foleying continues to bug me, as Mickey Rooney's prison stock ticker is making enough noise that, combined with the echo effect caused by Jackie Gleason's and Austin Pendleton's makeshift radio, I can't understand all the dialogue about blackjack. That's an odd sentence.

11:52: Austin Pendleton has just asked Jackie, "Have you ever heard of acid?" and it appears that Jackie's accidentally dosed himself. Here we go!

11:53: No, first we've got Groucho on a boat (named "Mother", loaned to Otto Preminger by John Wayne). Groucho's hair and mustache look fake, but that's nothing new. I'd rather talk about his hot assistant with the ludicrous fingernails. Some people say that Groucho phoned in this part, but I think he's more into it than he was in Love Happy.

11:56: The acid trip (by Jackie Gleason in a prison cell) is actually fairly good. I've never actually done acid myself, but from what I understand, this technique of starting with sounds seeming odd and then slowly ramping up the weirdness is a better than the usual technique (which we'll call the "Eas Rider") of just going straight to the kaleidoscope lens and the floating eyeballs.

Hey, wanna hear an acid anecdote? It's not mine, but I like it a lot. In college, I had two friends named Steve and John, and they took acid for the first time. They la on their backs in a darkened room and waited for the effects to kick in. After about ten minutes, John, being a bad, bad person, turned to Steven and said, in a thoughtful voice, "Hey Steve? You ever think about . . . anal sex?" This was later deemed to be an Acid Foul. Anyway, Jackie Gleason's acid trip is still more realistic than Prison Break.

12:02: This acid trip is going on a little long. Just like with every other acid trip in a movie, really.

12:04: Okay, I admit that Groucho is clearly looking offscreen to read the cue cards, to read dialogue which he's obviously never seen before in his life. He's not even paying attention to the girl he's undressing, which is very un-Groucho-like. He's not even looking at her for a moment. Maybe he thought this was a rehearsal?

12:07: Hey, I think John Phillip Law is getting molested by Groucho's hottie assistant. I don't know what he's complaining about; she took off the six-inch fingernails.

12:10: Plot update: Having had his mind expanded by accidentally taking acid, Jackie Gleason no longer wants to kill anyone in prison, which has angered Frank Gorshin. Groucho wants to set up a multi-city drug operation with the hippies. Groucho's girl (who was in Satyricon!) has slept with John Phillip Law and Frankie Avalon. I think that's about it.

12:13: I actually think Jackie Gleason's pretty good in this. He seems to be taking it seriously, even the drug trip scenes.

12:15: Okay, a second ago, Austin Pendleton, Jackie Gleason, and Leech (Michael Constantine) were all locked in the hospital ward. Then Austin snuck through an air duct to the kitchen, where I think he dosed the whole prison food supply, and now they're all out. Only Austin could have gotten through that vent!

12:16: Burgess Meredith! I am required by law to mention that this movie was directed by Otto Preminger (Mr. Freeze from the Adam West "Batman" show) and features Cesar Romero (Joker), Frank Gorshin (Riddler) and Burgess Meredith (Penguin). Some people say that makes this the biggest grouping of Batman villains, but those people appear to have forgotten about Adam West's Batman movie, which has Frank, Cesar, and Burgess. And Lee Meriwether, who isn't the best Catwoman, but she ain't the worst either.

12:19: Welcome to Bat Country. Richard Kiel, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, and everyone else in the prison, all climbing the walls on acid. Also, Austin Pendleton's smile looks kind of like Doug Henning's. I think it's the moustache.

12:20: These switchboard operators are Superman Director Richard Donner and Dr. Strangelove Actor Slim Pickens. And that Senator is Rat Pack B-Teamer Peter Lawford! This is a big IMBD movie. I wish I could identify Leech (Michael Constantine), but his only big movie role appears to have been My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which I did not see. He's got 138 TV roles, so I'm sure I've seen him in something.

12:23: Prison Guard A: You know what? You look like a flower.
Prison Guard B: That's funny. I feel like a flower.

I enjoyed that!

12:25: Harry Nilsson thinks that "asparagus" rhymes with "to marry us".

12:27: This acid-trip dance scene is going on too long, so I'm looking for Michael Constantine roles I might recognize. He was "The Sorcerer" in four episodes of "Electra Woman and Dyna Girl", but that doesn't trigger anything in my brain. I have learned that the Naked Green Bay Packers were played by the Orange County Ramblers, which were in the Continental Football League, whatever that is.

12:29: Okay, Jackie and Austin have escaped from the prison (which I guess was Alcatraz) by dosing the entire prison, hiding in some cans for no reason, and then constructing a hot air balloon. In full dalight. At least when Lex Luthor escaped from prison in a hot air balloon (in the beginning of Superman 2), he did it at night.

12:33: Ah, the climactic shootout, in which Carol Channing, dressed as a pirate, leads a ragtag fleet of hippies against Groucho Marx's boat, while Jackie Gleason lands his hot-air balloon on the deck. Carol's saing some kind of crazy beat poetry, but I think she looks cool. I like her new wig, and pirate coats are always cool.

12:34: However, Carol Channing should not sing rock songs, even ones called "Skidoo".

12:37: Rhias objects to Carol's scatting, but I think I heard a "vo-de-o-do" in there, which I always enjoy.

12:38: Wrap-up: Groucho's crazy mistress married Frankie Avalon and then immediately tried to drag Cesar Romero off. Austin Pendleton and Groucho are floating away on a hippie boat. And Harry Nilsson is insisting on singing every single word of the credits, which is going to take forever.

12:40: Okay, that was Skidoo. It was watchable, although I can see why Preminger might have had second thoughts about letting people see it. It didn't really go anywhere, but I guess the message was that Jackie Gleason (who really was pretty good) got his mind expanded by LSD and Carol Channing loosened up by hanging out with hippies. So go freak out, kids! They never explained why John Phillip Law's hippie had a 1937 Rolls Royce.

12:44: I'm going to bed now.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Tombstone

It's strange that the first time I saw Tombstone, I didn't like it. At this point, I can't imagine not enjoying a movie starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Bill Paxton, and Sam Elliot. And Powers Boothe! And so on. I think what I like the best about it is that it's not really ironic at all. Wyatt Earp is very, very angry and is out to kill people. The only character with a sense of humor about what's happening is Doc Holliday, and he's an enormous amount of fun while at the same time being a cold-blooded killer.

Incidentally, while I was watching the movie, I was aimlessly reading about the actual gunfight at the OK Corral on the internet (because nothing spices up a movie-going experience like research!) and my new favorite gunfight is the Gunfight at Hide Park. Essentially, you've got a saloon where three thugs shoot a guy who shot their friend, and then this kid named James Riley opens fire on the whole crowd. Riley kills four people and wounds three others. It looks like he was just firing randomly into the crowd, since he hit innocent bystanders. And here's the best part: after the shooting, he walked out of the saloon and was never seen again. Isn't that awesome?

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Variety Time

Wow! This was just terrible! I can't imagine what they were thinking in putting this together. It's billed (in the opening credits) as "A revue of specialties and highlights from RKO film hits," but that turns out to mean that they stitched together a bunch of preexisting footage and added a jerk to host.

The host, it turns out, is Jack Paar in his first movie role.. He tells jokes that it's hard to imagine anyone finding amusing.

As far as I can tell, they just looked through their archives and took "I'll Build It Myself" (Edgar Kennedy tries to build a house and whitewash-related hijinks ensue) and "Hired Husband" (almost nothing at all happens), both of which had come out recently, and stitched in a couple of old silent movies and a couple of vaudeville acts. The shorts are "spiced up" by editing in Paar, who sneers at the proceedings. The silents have Paar voiceovers where he does everything he can to convey the idea that what we're watching is stupid and pointless. He sneers about the costuming and makes cracks about "Grandma's bustle". Then it's back to another short, which nnow feels even more dated than the silent movies.

The vaudeville acts were actually kind of interesting. There was a tapdancing duo called "Jesse and James" that did some moves that reminded me of the Nicholas Brothers. All I can find about them is this PDF article about Carnell Lyons, who worked with them a few years after this movie:

When they came back the act broke up and Carnell joined the duo of two successful acrobats, Jesse Franklin and James Hawthorne. The trademark of Jesse and James was the spinning of huge trays. Carnell learned the tray spinning and with “Jesse, James and Carnell” his most successful years in show business followed.

Carnell: “I learned to spin the tray … Jesse and James showed me that a long time ago. I was practicing for years. Now, to turn that tray up and catch it and to dance with it is something else. Me and L.D., we did eight months at the Palladium. When we came back to New York, that’s when we split up
and that’s when I joined Jesse and James, and I didn’t look back. The tray piece. We weren’t just tap dancing, we had a novelty.”


Neat!

Anyway, there's also a xenophobic bit with Hans Conreid where he and Jack make fun of the French. Then, for no reason, a pretty good version of "Babalu", which I've never heard done by anyone who's not Desi Arnaz.

This was not an easy hour-long movie to watch.