Category Archives: Movies

Nostalgia and Slapstick: movies and a play (#SFWApro)

I haven’t been at all impressed by Woody Allen’s 21st century films such as Anything Else or Whatever Works but Midnight in Paris (2011) holds up remarkably well on rewatching (all rights to poster with current holder). Owen Wilson has the Woody Allen role as the nostalgist who falls in love with Paris, then even more in love with Paris in the 1920s, where he gets to hang with Tom Hiddleston’s F. Scott Fitzgerald, Adrien Brodi’s Dali, Kathy Bates’ Gertrude Stein and most especially Marion Cotillard’s sexy couturier. Rewatching I noticed with interest that it’s a pompous ass at the start of the film who delivers the theme message; and of course I do like that Wilson doesn’t end up back in the present with Cotillard’s exact double. There are some minor quibbles (it’s too early for people to refer to “science fiction”) but they’re forgivable. “Is there a difference in beauty between two rhinoceroses?”

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1967) was James Garner’s follow-up to Support Your Local Sheriff in which conman Garner finds himself posing as the front man for a legendary gunfighter who can tilt the balance in a struggle between rival mine owners Harry Morgan and John Dehner. Not as fun as the first film, but certainly entertaining, with a cast including spitfire Suzanne Pleshette, saloon owners Marie Windsor and Joan Blondell, low-life Jack Elam, telegraph operator Henry Jones and Chuck Connors as the real psycho gunfighter. “We share ancestors as far back as Adam and Eve — I desire no further relationship to you than that.”

I suppose the Marvel film DEADPOOL (2016) counts as slapstick of a sort, with all the over-the-top comedic violence, but despite the film’s popularity, I can’t say it clicked with me. Mostly it felt like something that would have been fresh in the 1980s (super hero adventure with boobs! And cussing! And an anti-hero! And look, Deadpool makes fun of the X-Men!) but now kind of stale? And way too much banter—it makes me appreciate Arrow‘s good sense in making Felicity the only one with this kind of patter. Plus for all the comedy, this is still relies on the Cinema of Isolation cliché about the cripple/scarface who must make people PAY for his physical injuries. So color me not impressed (as TYG says, this looks like what a 19 year old would find edgy) “You look like an avocado that just had sex with an older avocado, and not in a gentle way.”

THE SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS is a commedia dell’arte production I caught with friends on my recent trip, wherein a low-comic servant’s plan to double dip by working for two traveling gentlemen at the same time runs afoul of a complicated romantic quadrangle (suffice to say, one “gentleman” is a cross-dressing woman trying to reconnect with the other, and that’s just part of it). Full of energy and slapstick, very entertaining and great costumes to look at. “If I were queen I would make every faithless man carry a branch in one hand — and all the towns would look like forests.”

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A spinster, a drunkard and an African Queen (#SFWApro)

While staying at Cindy’s house during my trip, she and I rewatched the 1951 classic THE AFRICAN QUEEN. It’s a great film but it’s also a great example of an unconventional romance and a very well done “strong female protagonist.” (All rights to image remain with current holder. Source here)

As the movie opens it’s 1914 and the Great War has just broken out. Katherine Hepburn plays Rose, a spinster working in her brother’s (Robert Morley) African mission to convert the natives. Seeing them as an unwanted English intrusion, the Germans show up and torch the place. Morley collapses in shock and dies. Rose might have died too but she’s dragged away by Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a gin-swilling engineer who skippers the African Queen, a mail boat traversing the local rivers. He figures on getting Rose to safety; she over-rules him. Rose insists on heading down river to find the German steamer that dominates the local waters and use some explosives on the Queen to blow it to hell and back. Over the course of the film, Charlie and Rose (surprise!) fall in love.

It’s a remarkable film, not least because more than 75 percent of the time the two stars are the only ones on screen. While finding someone obnoxious and irritating is a classic romance trope, both Bogart and Hepburn are restrained, only occasionally losing their temper. Instead, Charlie cajoles and suggests; Rose issues decrees in the way of strong-minded British spinsters, at least in fiction. Her sheer force of will begins to impress Charlie, as does her excitement when they go over the first in multiple rapids (“I see, Mr. Allnut, why you enjoy boating so much.”). Everything is underplayed, but no less effective for that.

From a writing perspective, Rose’s character is really interesting. Her kind of spinster is a stock type, but Hepburn infuses her with tremendous energy and character. When they make it through the rapids, it’s possibly the first time Rose has ever done anything risky or exciting in her life, and she comes alive. When she falls for Charlie, she doesn’t hold back or make prudish protests, she follows her heart. When the going gets tough, she’s willing to hack at the water weeds or help repair the boat, getting as dirty as she has to. Charlie never argues that it’s not a woman’s place, or tells her she can’t do it. Rose transcends the gender norms, but without any Holy Shit, She’s Transcending Gender Norms—she just does it. And she’d probably insist there’s no big deal, she’s just doing what has to be done.

I’m not sure it would have worked as well with anyone but Hepburn in the role, but she was, and it does.

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12 Monkeys And Third-World Dreams: TV and movies (#SFWApro)

Although TIMELESS has been this season’s hit time travel show (and I like it myself), 12 MONKEYS (all rights to image reside with current holder) is by far the better show. The second season has Cole, Cassie, Jennifer, Katarina and the other players continuing their struggle against the Witness, the sinister prophet who founded the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. The Witness’s goal is the creation of the Red Forest, a strange altered reality in which time shall be no more, and therefore death shall have no power — in timelessness lies immortality.

What makes it great is that it’s well acted (Emily Hampshire’s cuckoo Jennifer is particularly funny), and puts a surprising amount of thought into characterization. Cassie becomes considerably more hardcase after the first episode of S2, often putting her and Cole at odds, but it never feels forced. The struggle against the time paradoxes unleashed by the 12 Monkeys are more interesting than the more Time Tunnel-esque adventures in Timeless.

I’m particularly impressed that just four episodes in, we learn about the significance of the Red Forest. These days it’s a basic principle that (as I’ve complained about Lost) TV shows hide as much of the truth as possible. It’s refreshing to see a show that doesn’t. Not that there aren’t still mysteries, but we learn something of substance too.

My only reservation is the reveal in the final episode. It’s cliched, and could easily reduce Cassie’s role in S3 in sexist ways. But I’m hopeful that won’t happen. “Hello egg — meet the chicken.”

Turning to movies, MARIA, FULL OF GRACE (2004) is a remarkably effective, naturalistic film about a pregnant Columbian teenager who loses her job, then opts for a gig as a drug mule to make ends meet (“We’re sending you to New Jersey, a small town near New York.”). A very good job of making events flow realistically while leaving me completely uncertain what was coming. “Be glad you’re small.”

THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN  (2007) is an award-winning French film that didn’t click with me at all. The story focuses on an Algerian immigrant’s struggle to open a couscous restaurant with the support of his extended family, but it’s much more of a slice of life than I expected — less about the struggle and more about slow, leisurely scenes of his family living their lives. They were well done, but the film didn’t hold my attention, particularly at 2.5 hours. “Wearing diapers at her age!”

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Timeless Women Welcome the Bizarro Justice League: Movies and TV (#SFWApro)

When TIMELESS started out last fall, I wrote it off as a Time Tunnel ripoff with the protagonists jumping to various times to stop the diabolical Flynn from unmaking American history. It started getting interesting when the heroes learned Flynn’s goal was to destroy the sinister Rittenhouse conspiracy that had been manipulating America since 1776, and if tearing down history was what it took … Despite sinister conspiracies being old hat too (I should know, I wrote the book on them), it turned out to be an intriguing, well-executed show. I hope it returns for a second season. “I’m sorry, let me look up on Wikipedia what happens if you take too many people through a black hole!”

I watched WELCOME (2009) under the impression it was a wacky rom-com but figured out fairly fast it was actually a sober drama about a Kurdish refugee in Normandy determined to reach his true love in England; when conventional methods of sneaking don’t cut it, he sets out to swim the distance with the help of a swim coach coping with his own personal crisis. Good, though not great. “They picked him up in England—he washed up on the shore.”

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(Illustration from Movie Web, all rights reside with current holder).

JUSTICE LEAGUE VERSUS BIZARRO LEAGUE (2015) is a Lego follow-up to BATMAN: BE-LEAGUERED in which Superman strands Bizarro on an alien world, getting rid of his imperfect duplicate for good — until Darkseid’s attack forces the JLA and the Bizarro League to join forces. Fun, and deftly skewers how paranoid Batman comes off at times in the comics (“The only place I could trust Superman would be on a reversed planet like this.”). “I swear to you, great Darkseid, they didn’t hear about our plan from me—unless my mother said something.”

THE WOMEN (2008) reworks the classic film to tell how seemingly happy Supermom Meg Ryan discover her husband is cheating on her with perfume salesgirl Eva Mendez; while the updating isn’t smooth (Annette Bening’s efforts to transform women’s magazines feel about 30 years behind the times) it boasts some great lines (“I avoid forming close friendships — that way I don’t have to take people to the airport.”) and a first-rate cast. Candice Bergen plays Ryan’s mom, Jada Pinkett Smith is a lesbian author, Debra Messing is a baby machine and Cloris Leachman is a domestic confusing Status and Contract (“You got involved!”). “I’m going to stop talking because I’m exhausted and I need this baby to come out of me now!”

THE BERLIN WALL (2009) was a short film on the same disc about a grieving elderly widower who finds solace in taking his and his late wife’s treasured piece of the Wall and building a new wall out of it, which provokes assorted responses among the neighbors (“He’s not the only one tired of them mooching off our taxes!”). Not bad, but probably worked better for the original audience.

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Time-travel love stories: some recommedations (#SFWApro)

Continuing with my recommendation for time-travel movies other than the ones every “Best” list recycles. Which is why despite its charms, Somewhere in Time isn’t on this list of love films  — that’s one everyone knows. And yes, I should have written this for Valentine’s Day, my bad.

209007_1020_AQUEST FOR LOVE (1971) is a personal favorite. It’s schmaltzy as hell and has the implausible Exact Double resolution but even so. Brilliant physicist Tom Bell is hurled into a parallel world where he’s a famous playwright (WW II never happened, JFK is alive and running the League of Nations, Everest hasn’t been climbed, to name other divergences). He’s also a complete douchebag whose wife, Joan Collins (and lord, was she gorgeous back then) despises him — can Bell convince her he’s a different man now? And even when he does, all is not well … “If the time we’ve spent together is all there is, it’s been enough.”

Molly Ringwald’s TWICE UPON A TIME (1998) has her as a frustrated business woman — didn’t get the promotion, wishes she’d married her baseball-star ex-boyfriend, tired of her beta-male beau — plunged into an alternate world where women executives bond over power croquet games, her mom is alive (better cancer treatments) and she did marry the ball player. By the end, of course, she realizes where her heart lies and it’s not with him … not an A-lister, but fun, and I like that Ringwald’s selfish parallel-world counterpart wants to get home just as much as Molly-One does.

FAMILY MAN (2000) is an excellent Nicolas Cage film in which angel Don Cheadle shows him the parallel world where he married his college sweetheart (Téa Leoni) and became a tire-store manager and yes, family man, instead of a corporate shark. Well done, charming and extra points for acknowledge the Leoni in the original timeline is not going to be the same person as the alt.version.

ME MYSELF I (1999) is an Aussie movie with Rachel Griffiths going through the Family Man experience. It’s fun too, mostly because of Griffiths’ strong performance in the lead.

11 MINUTES AGO (2009) has a time-traveler from the future (Ian Mauro) crash a wedding party in the course of gathering some samples for his research. Oddly, everyone remembers him from earlier in the evening, but why would he have come back there again when it takes so long to prepare for a time jump? Then he meets Christina Mauro, who remembers him very well indeed, and he starts to understand … I found this charming, but my sister and our best friend hated it, so fair warning.

HAPPY ACCIDENTS (2000) stars Vincent D’Onofrio as a time traveler whose come back from his dystopian future to win the heart of Marisa Tomei. She thinks he’s crazy with all his time-travel talk, but they can make this work, right? She hasn’t just fallen for the wrong guy again … has she? D’Onofrio does a great job as someone just slightly out of synch with the way people are supposed to behave in our time.

IL MARE (2000) is the Korean film remade as the Sandra Bullock/Keanu Reaves The Lake House, and I think I prefer it (though I do like the remake too). As in the later film, two people living in the same house two years apart discover they can send mail to each other, fall in love, and try to arrange a meeting. It appears, at the climax, that everything’s gone horribly wrong, but is it really too late?

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Movies and TV: Librarians to Come (#SFWApro)

thingstocome1024x768-220x162THINGS TO COME (1936) is a classic adaptation of H.G. Wells, opening in 1940 with Raymond Massey as a visionary horrified that Europe is rushing toward war (like a number of pre-WW II movies I’ve seen, it views the coming of another Great War as hell on Earth). When it comes, it’s bad, sending England (and presumably the rest of the world) back to the dark ages, but scientists and aviators unite in a brotherhood to put an end to the dark times. Decades later, Raymond Massey is getting ready to launch the world’s first moonshot, but even in the 21st century, some people are determined to stop progress. A really great-looking film with good effects, and if some details don’t age well (buildings don’t have windows because who needs inefficient glass in the walls with good indoor light?), the movie’s vision still works for me. With Cedric Hardwicke as a local warlord. “Our revolution didn’t eliminate death and danger, it just made death and danger worthwhile.”

The second season of THE LIBRARIANS was almost as much fun as the first, as the agents of the magical library battle the usual array of magical foes and the season’s big bad, a mysteriously brought-to-life Prospero (and his sidekick Moriarty).  Most of the run was just as good as S1, particularly a Northern Exposure parody, but I thought the ending was weak, making me wonder why they even used Moriarty. And I wish they’d given more of the final episode of the season to the junior librarians rather than nominal star Noah Wylie — they’re actually more fun. “Special Agent Ezekiel Jones is a rule-breaking maverick, but he gets results!”

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The end of the world, an arranged marriage and a Communist steel horse! Movies (#SFWApro)

Azalea Films was an obscure company whose main claim to fame is ripping off several of Roger Corman’s AIP films for their even lower-budgeted, lower-quality company. IN THE YEAR 2889 (1968) was a knockoff of Corman’s superior The Day the World Ended, only showing that Corman could make a cheap quickie much better than most people could. In this leaden drama, the Bomb Has Dropped, so a scientist and his daughter are holed up in their country home to see if they can last out until the fallout dies down. Only they hadn’t prepared for the arrival of a Nice Guy and his irradiated brother, a drunken Latino, a thug and his stripper mistress (Quinn O’Hara), or the mutates lurking in the hills in very bad monster makeup … Forgettable except for the name, which makes no sense. It does show how generic, in a way, this kind of apocalypse is, as the cast could just as easily have been hiding out from the Walking Dead. “Once I got my motor running, I didn’t hear nothing but the sound of their breathing.”

220px-jump_tomorrowJUMP TOMORROW (2001) is a charming rom-com of a type familiar to most of us. The protagonist, George (Tunde Adebimpe), is a rather uptight Nigerian American heading to Niagara to meet his Arranged Match (“My parents arranged this, my uncle arranged this — she and I helped a little I think.”). Along the way he finds a traveling buddy in a lovesick, suicidal Frenchman who insists George pursue Alicia (Natalia Verbeke), a young woman he felt an instant connection with … but who’s heading to Canada with her oh-so-perfect boyfriend. Very winning.“It’s very scenic—lots of trees.”

EARTH (1930) is the classic example of the “boy meets tractor” Soviet drama, showing how a tractor enables the protagonist to overthrow the power of his village’s rich farmers, collectivize and feed the people! We see our hero drive the tractor past his father, scything away in the field, then show him how much easier it will be to thresh the wheat with a tractor. Women bind the sheaves with smiles as if they were achieving orgasm, bread rolls out of the village ovens and someone exults that “a communist steel horse has overthrown the thousand-year-old forces!” An interesting, if old-fashioned film, despite its propagandist intentions. “We’ll get tractors and take the earth away from them.”

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