Thursday, July 31, 2014

Off Script: Marathon Man

Film: Marathon Man
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Every year, I make a list of suggestions of films that I think should be on the 1001 Movies list. The first time I did that, one of the movies I suggested was Marathon Man. I like ‘70s thrillers, and Marathon Man is one of the best. The surface complexity masks a very simple story, the villain is one of the best in movie history, and the violence is pretty brutal in places without this really going anywhere near horror territory. Put another way, it does a lot right without getting much wrong.

The success of the film, at least to me, is the difference between that surface complexity and the actual story at work. On the surface, we’ve got Nazi doctors, diamond smuggling, conspiracy, murder…it never seems to end. In reality, though, the story is really about one man’s paranoia spiraling out of control and resulting in about a dozen deaths.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Can't Go Left in General Pinochet's Cadillac

Film: Missing
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

You know you’ve made it as an official badass filmmaker when the United States government is forced to make a statement on the film once it is released. Additional street cred is available when your film is temporarily pulled from distribution because the filmmaker and its company are being sued by a former U.S. ambassador for defamation of character. Welcome to the world of Costa-Gavras’s Missing. While Missing never mentions Chile, it is quite obviously about the coup against Salvador Allende. Former ambassador to Chile Nathaniel Davis and others sued director Costa-Gavras, MCA, and Thomas Hauser, author of the book “The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice.” Missing wasn’t re-released on DVD until 2006, meaning that in a lot of ways, we’re lucky to be able to see it.

First, a short and extremely cursory history lesson. Salvador Allende was a democratically elected president of Chile. He also happened to be a Marxist, which immediately made him the enemy of the American government. In 1973, a military coup deposed and killed Allende, putting General Augusto Pinochet in his place, a military junta that ruled in Chile until 1990. Charles Horman was a real person, and he really did disappear in Chile during the Pinochet coup, and as the name of the book indicates, Horman disappeared only in the sense that he was taken and killed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Meals for One

Film: Separate Tables
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I said recently that I’ve been getting a lot of films that are converted from stage dramas lately, and yesterday I got a film written by a stage author that could have easily been a stage play. That trend is continuing tonight with Separate Tables, a film nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, a play of the same name by Terrence Rattigan. This is an interesting film if only for its content; it’s surprisingly sexually charged for 1958, and most of this sexual charge is not of a positive nature.

The story is more or less a story of relationships and how those relationships interconnect at a hotel in Bournemouth. One of the features of this hotel is dining at separate tables, meaning that each of the guests dines alone or with a companion with whom he or she shares a room. At meal time at least, everyone is in his or her own little world. The entire story takes place in the hotel, which is really the main evidence that this comes from a stage play. The most we ever change scenes is room to room, or now and then to an outside porch.

Monday, July 28, 2014

I Looked Around to Find Her but She'd Gone

Film: The Goodbye Girl
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

There’s a huge failing at the heart of The Goodbye Girl. This is a film that tries very hard to be likable, cute, and funny and parts of it are. Parts of it, though, and some of the main pieces that are to be likable, cute, and funny are absolutely the opposite. It takes what could have been a really solid entry into the romantic comedy genre and drops it down a few significant pegs. That’s kind of a shame.

This is not, as it happens, the first time I’ve seen The Goodbye Girl. I remember it as a film that had some things I really liked about it and a few things that I was iffy on. This rewatch has skewed my opinion in both directions. The things I like about this film I like very much; the things I dislike, I dislike far more than I remembered and dislike them almost to the point of distraction.

Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon

I don't do a great number of blogathons, but when they fit into my posting schedule, I like to play along. This time, I was chosen by Jay Cluitt at Life vs. Film to participate in one that I have an interesting connection to. The Six Degrees of Separation Blogathon was started by Nostra at My Film Views. This is a fun one, so I'm happy to jump in with both feet. The idea here is pretty simple: connect one actor to another through six or fewer steps.

I said I have a connection to this, so it's time for a story. Years ago, I worked with a guy named Ted. One day, Ted returned from a vacation back home in Virginia. He said he'd met a guy in a bar who taught him a game where you connect actors to Kevin Bacon through six or fewer steps. About six months later, I was at work and my mom called me and told me to turn on the television. There was a group of guys on the Today Show explaining this book they'd just written about the Six Degrees of Bacon. I flipped on the television and Ted pointed to one of the guys, saying, "That's the guy I met in the bar." I don't claim to have invented this game, but I do claim to have known about it for about six months before almost everyone else.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Despite All My Rage, I'm Still Just a Rat in a Cage

Film: Mon Oncle d’Amerique
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

When a filmmaker does something truly different, it makes the job of a critic (or even someone who plays at criticism like me) much more difficult. On its surface, Mon Oncle d’Amerique is a film very much like any other. Three people have different stories that intersect in places and that are frequently affected by their past and their present. But the film is much more than that, because it is also something of a psychological study of the three people, that study being performed by Henri Laborit, who plays himself in the film as more or less a narrator and explainer of everything we see.

Essentially, the film is an exploration of Laborit’s ideas of how people function in society and what truly motivates us. In Laborit’s world, our higher brain functions exist essentially in service to those instincts that keep us alive. Those basic instincts are the need to survive, basic drives like sex, and the avoidance of pain. Frequently, our characters in the film are compared to rats in cages that elicit electric shock.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gay Paree

Film: Moulin Rouge (1952)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve been public about my dislike of the 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, so I’d be lying if I suggested that I was incredibly excited about seeing the version from 1952. Imagine my relief to discover that the one from a decade or so ago was not in fact a remake of the earlier film. Rather than being a romance that strongly mimicked Titanic, this film is almost a biopic of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. I won’t be lying when I tell you it felt like I’d dodged a bullet.

Anyway, we open at the eponymous Moulin Rouge, a nightclub/dancehall/disreputable bar in Paris. There’s dancing and singing and a lot of infighting between the dancers, especially La Goulue (Katherine Kath) and Aicha (Muriel Smith). We are also introduced to the club’s chanteuse Jane Avril (Zsa Zsa Gabor) and, of course, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec himself (Jose Ferrer). It’s not until the place closes that we really get a look at him, though. When he stands up, we discover that he is terribly short, like 4’6” short, and that this is primarily from a pair of seriously truncated legs.