Monday, June 18, 2018

Mexican Getaway

The Getaway (1972) is a Paul Newman vehicle. Ms. Spenser took a pass, so I figured I'd watch, and if there were a lot of hot muscle cars, I'd watch it with her later.

It starts with Newman in prison, going crazy. He is denied parole. His girl Ali McGraw visits him, and he tells her he wants to get out. She goes to a connected business man and boom, his parole comes through. Now he is out, but he owes the boss a job - knock over a little bank in Texas. Of course, that goes wrong, someone gets shot, but McGraw and Newman get away with half a million.

When they take it to the businessman to get their cut, he tells Newman that it was a setup from the start, and tells McGraw to go ahead and shoot Newman. But she shoots the businessman - which Newman likes better than the alternative, but still thinks is pretty troublesome. So now they are running from the police and the mob.

They steal a car, then find out that their names and faces are all over the news. All hands are against them, their old friends want them or the money, and they need to get to Mexico.

Now, this is a Sam Peckinpah movie, with a script by Walter Hill from a story by Jim Thompson. So you can imagine how grim and tough this is. Also, it's kind of aimless - at one point, McGraw is putting the money in a train station locker and a random grifter boosts it. Newman spots him, and chases him to a train, then loses him, then finds him again, etc. This turns out to be just a tense digression, when Newman comes back to McGraw with the money.

Also, there weren't a lot of hot car chases, mostly just wrecks involving wrecks. And most disappointingly - SPOILER - they get to Mexico safely. For such a gritty, violent, downbeat movie, this just seems weird.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Middling Michelle

The martial arts fest continues with Magnificent Warriors (1987), starring my favorite female martial arts star, Michelle Yeoh.

The time is during the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Yeoh is a pilot and adventurer, who flies into a remote town to extract the headman, who is fighting for the resistance. She quickly runs into Richard Ng, a comic relief character actor seen in the Lucky Stars movies. He is a drifter and a grifter, but she thinks he is her contact. We eventually meet her contact, a real secret agent. When they find the headman, he doesn't want to be extracted - he wants to make sure the Japanese don't build the poison gas factory they have planned for the town.

Because of her period flight jacket and bullwhip weapon, you will see Yeoh as something of an Indiana Jones figure. But mostly, she is just herself - a beautiful, kickass woman. The action is pretty much the whole story, with bullwhip, rope dagger, machine gun, and dynamite.

But this is pretty middling Michelle Yeoh - only her fifth role, five years before Heroic Trio. Also, the sets burned down before shooting, so the look was quite a bit cheaper than planned. But it has Yeoh, and that makes up for a lot.

Mid-level Chan

Ms. Spenser is off for a little while, so I'm watching "guy" movies, mostly martial arts flicks, because she doesn't care for them. First up, a Jackie Chan racing movie, Thunderbolt (1995).

Jackie is a junkyard mechanic and racecar driver who commandeers a reporter's car (with her in it) to help the Hong Kong police catch a street racer. It turns out that the driver is a Euro-trash criminal, but his crooked lawyer gets him sprung. He revenges himself on Jackie by trashing his junkyard and kidnapping his two sisters. Then he offers to release them if Jackie will race him in Japan.

This is not one of his best, or worst, films. He was nursing an injury from Rumble in the Bronx, so the fighting is a little lower key, with racing filling in. Also, when the bad guys come to wreck the junkyard, Jackie does all right at first, but really gets put through the wringer. I don't think I like seeing him beaten so badly - it's almost realistic.

What I do like about Jackie Chan fights is that there is always something more than the fight moves - a theme, a style, a statement. There is a fight in a pachinko parlor that has the theme of Verticality - Jackie is always moving up a level, or feinting up and dropping down a level. He goes on top of the pachinko machines, goes up and down stairs, and finally uses some decorative ceiling thingies as trampolines. I don't know if he says, let's do something with level, or if it just flows like that, but I love it.

The racing isn't bad either. There starting chase at night in Hong Kong is pretty thrilling. The final race, maybe not so much. But there was a nice touch when Jackie crashes his car before the big race and Mitsubishi, his long time partner, comes through with a hot car and a supply of tires. It's just kinds of sweet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Greatest Show on Fire

You know, Ms. Spenser (I can't get used to calling her Dr.) says that I am evil and love making her watch terrible movies. But I like musicals, and I wanted to see Hugh Jackman sing and dance, so I queued up The Greatest Showman (2017).

It stars Jackman as P.T. Barnum, as he rises from orphaned tailor's apprentice to the greatest showman, by empowering/exploiting freaks. We were about 3-4 songs in when Ms. Spenser asked me again "Why do you hate me so much?" and my evil laughter rang hollow. Because as much as I was torturing her, I was only torturing myself. Because, aside from anything else you can say about this movie, the songs are TERRIBLE.

I don't know what this genre of music is called - it seems rooted on Broadway, but has just a touch of hip-hop and modern pop. It is everything I despise about Katy Perry, and Les Miz, and America's Got Talent, and Disney musicals not involving Lin Manuel Miranda, and I don't know what all, because I avoid it whenever I can. So I came to my senses, and we turned it off. The first movie we didn't watch all the way through since we started Netflix, I think.

Instead, we put on our new disk of Streets of Fire, the Walter Hill rock dystopia, starring Michael Pare (Eddie and the Cruisers) as the guy who comes to town because his ex-girl friend, rock singer Diane Lane, has been kidnapped by Willem Dafoe - wearing yellow rubber waders and wielding a sledgehammer. We also have Rick Moranis as the obnoxious agent who thinks he is Lane's boyfriend, and singer Amy Madigan as a soldier of fortune who just needed a job.

I had remembered Streets of Fire as kind of a misfire - also really confusing. It seems to be set in the 1950s or maybe the dystopian future, where it's always raining and nighttime. But this time through it seemed pretty straightforward. Also, I had remembered there being music, but I hadn't remembered how great it was - Ry Cooder doing the score, the Blasters doing 2 numbers on stage, and a fictional doo-wop group doing the hit, "I Can Dream About You." Ok, Michael Pare isn't that great a hero, but I can live with that.

So, about The Greatest Disappointment - it didn't seem like a bad movie. I felt something for Keala Settle, the bearded lady, who has a song about acceptance for freaks. But I just can't take that style of music. Also, the dancing was crap, mostly just wandering around. If you like it, I apologize. But mostly I apologize to Ms. Spenser, and hope she someday forgives me.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Roughnecks and Wildcats

Boom Town (1940) is a pleasant old movie, with battling co-stars Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, plus Claudette Colbert and a pinch of Hedy Lamarr.

It starts in an oil boom town in Texas. The town is a mud pit, with horses mired up to their withers in the streets, and a guy who will lower a plank walkway for two bits so you can cross the street dry. Gable and Tracy meet up in the middle of the walkway - neither will give way, so they both end up in the mud. And so they become friends.

Gable is a bit of a playboy, palling around with chorus girl Whitey (platinum blonde Marion Martin), while Tracy can only talk about his girl back home. As wildcatters, they borrow/steal some equipment from Frank Morgan and - go bust. But they finally make a strike and pay back Morgan, as well as making him their partner.

One day, Claudette Colbert pulls into town and she and Tracy start flirting. But it turns out she is Tracy's girl, the one he is true and loyal to. The problem is, she doesn't feel the same way.

So Tracy does the right thing and steps back, letting Gable get the girl. But he does dissolve the partnership. They flip a coin for control of the company and Gable loses, putting him back on the skids. But Colbert doesn't mind - she doesn't want money, she wants her man.

And so it goes, back and forth, one ex-friend up, one down. Colbert doesn't like the way Gable looks at outside women, and Tracy doesn't like that, either, but through it all, Colbert stays loyal to Gable and Tracy stays loyal to Colbert.

When he gets rich, Gable moves to the city and hires Hedy Lamarr to be his Mata Hari industrial spy - and maybe more. To take her out of circulation, Tracy tries to get Lamarr to marry him, to protect Colbert. But she's too smart for that.

And that's the movie, except when Tracy gets Gable brought up on anti-trust charges and then gets him off. Because vertical monopolists are heroes, damnit! It's rather sweet, Tracy's unwavering love for Colbert, and her devotion to Gable (and Gable's to her, in his own way). Gable and Tracy are great - it seems that Gable actually worked in the oil fields. Colbert is wonderful, but I'm not sure this is the role for her. She's a bit to high-class to be Tracy's childhood sweetheart. Lamarr is quite slinky, and not evil at all, which is nice.

It has a sort of happy ending too.


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Wonder Woman

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is an odd little movie. It would make a good double bill with The Company of Wolves. Both are sort of surreal, non-linear fairy tales about girls entering womanhood. But Valerie mainly deals with vampire stories, not werewolves.

It starts in a dream, like Wolves. Valerie, played by 13-year old Jaroslava Schallerova, is drowsing in the greenhouse of her grandmother's house, when a boy lowers himself down through a skylight to steal her earrings. When she tries to get them back, she finds a horrible old man in a Nosferatu mask. Under that mask, his face is creepy and ugly - or is it another mask? The old man is known as the Constable, and the boy, Eaglet, is is nephew and ward, and possibly thrall.

Later, Valerie's grandmother tells her that the earrings were given to her by her mother, who left to join a convent. She also tells her that they were just some junk she found in the house when she bought it from the Constable. We hear a lot of stories, and see things that contradict each other. The Constable takes Valerie to a crypt and makes her look through a crack in the wall, where she sees her grandmother beg a priest to take her back as her lover, and whip herself. The priest may be the Constable, under his masks.

Or are the Constable and his Eaglet part of the troupe of actors and mountebanks travelling through town? Is the priest the same as the one who leads the nuns through the country, where the grown up woman sport with men?

The Constable agrees to make Grandmother young again in exchange for his old house - by turning her into a vampire! Grandmother then starts to suck the life force from a young married couple - the same who were playing in the fields? Valerie sleeps with the bride and restores her health, but the people brand her a witch and burn her at the stake! But she swallows one of her earrings, and the flames don't hurt her - she just laughs and sticks out her tongue at them.

It all ends with everyone dancing in the woods around Valerie as she sleeps, and then they depart, leaving her alone.

Czech director Jaromil Jires weaves fairytales, horror stories, and a girl's awakening womanhood into a dreamlike tale. I feel like Wolves does this a little more successfully, possibly because it is written by an actual woman.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Flat Line Fever

Ms. Spenser saw the previews for Flatliners (2017) and asked me to queue it up. I remember seeing the original 1990 movie in theaters, but I can't remember much. Anyway, remake was terrible and a lot of fun.

It has a great little cast, including Ellen Page and Diego Luna, of medical interns. Page, who is haunted by the death of her little sister, which she caused - drove off a bridge in what looked to me to be an homage to Carnival of Souls. She has found an unused CAT scanner and some resuscitation equipment, and gets some of her fellow students to kill her. And, of course, bring her back to life.

This works fine - Diego Luna doesn't agree to this project, but makes sure her resurrection goes as planned. Page comes back to life full of energy and mysteriously possessing all knowledge of medicine. This convinces insecure intern Kiersey Clemons to die. Her poor mother forced her into med school to make something of herself, and she's afraid of failing. But dying gives her a new lease on life. Pretty soon, everyone but Luna has flatlined.

But along with the thrill and the knowledge, everyone begins to have visions of the their worst guilt. Page's visions of her sister kill her, or at least cause her to commit suicide. But Clemons is able to find the girl she had wronged, apologize, and be forgiven - her visions stop. But what if you were guilty over someone who is dead, and can't forgive you?

Here comes the worst thing of all: It turns out that you don't need to be forgiven - you have to forgive yourself. Oh, really. An entitled, privileged, over-educated embryonic doctor just has to forgive herself. Whoopedy-doo.

To sum up:
  • Cast good
  • Acting bad
  • Not very scary
  • Silly plot resolution
Yet, we enjoyed it a lot. Maybe because it wasn't that disturbing, and the actors were all very CW TV pretty.

In conclusion. Kiefer Sutherland, who had the Diego Luna role in the original, has a small role here, but is not a flatliner.