PG-13 mostly for being just generally uncomfortable. It's kind of like H.R. Giger stuff. By itself, there's nothing actually wrong with it (okay, I know what it looks like...). But there's something rather unsettling about the world of Dune. And it is all supposed to be pretty uncomfortable. From the Still-Suits to the rather demonic looking Harkonnens. It just is...bleak and scary. But if I had to give a concrete reason for the movie being PG-13, it might be the violence. Dune has a lot of death that is very much in the vein of sci-fi war. There is blood on screen (as far as I remember) and there are genuinely scary moments. But honestly, there's not too much objectionable in it...
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
Shh! Let's keep a secret. Just you and me, okay? If everything goes to plan, this will be one of those rare Saturday blog entries. I have a list a mile long of stuff I have to do and stuff I want to do. While writing my blog definitely falls on the "Stuff I want to do", it is one of those priority "Want to do" things. I fell behind so far this week with writing that I don't want to forget what I watched and the emotional impact that it had on me. So while I was putzing down my giant list (Note: Need to write an actual list), I had the epiphany that no one is watching me right now and that I could at least start writing a blog entry on Dune.
I have a really weird relationship with Dune. For some reason, the David Lynch version was my childhood. I don't think that there are many people who can say that. But I remember that, as a kid, I just watched the movie over-and-over again on repeat. I know that it scared the living daylights out of me and that I rarely ever sat through the whole thing. I remember the big head that reminds me of the Face of Boe and the Patrick Stewart shield fight sequence. But little Tim would just ask his dad to put on this movie and my dad probably was a little weirded out from that. So keep all this in mind when I make the next English teacher confession: I don't really like the novel. See, Dune is a bit too sci-fi for me. I'm a sci-fi nut, but there's the sci-fi I like, which happens to be more like the space opera, and then there's the sci-fi of Dune. I'm the same way about fantasy. I like accessibility in my genre storytelling. The Dune novel, in my reading of it, was all about insane space politics. It involved the past billion years of back history before you even introduce Arakis or spice or anything like that. It's the reason that Dune was always thought to be unfilmable. It just has way too much to explain to do the film justice.
But Henson, my bud from work? He's all about Dune. Every day, Dune update. He had dreams about the movie coming out. When he saw who was going to be directing this movie and the cast involved, he lost his mind. I, too, caught the hype. Let's pretend that I knew nothing about this story and had no history with this film, I would be pretty psyched to see it. The trailers were rad. But Henson came to me, after having dreams about having seen the movie early, and said that it was a really good movie that he was a little let down by. That's pretty impressive for him to say. If I was to say that he was a fanboy for any franchise, it would be Dune for him. (Mind you, like me, he has a billion fandoms. Dune just happens to be his number one.) Most people would have a polarized reaction. It would either be perfect or it would be an abomination. So his reasonable reaction really impressed me.
But what about me? I can talk about all this background stuff, but I'm dancing around what I think of the movie? I think it is the best that anyone can do with the subject matter. I couldn't find a fault to the movie whatsoever. There have been some people complaining that Zendaya's name was all over this movie and almost 100% of her screen time was in the trailers. Okay, I blame the marketing department more for than than anything else. But Denis Villeneuve took what was one of the most dense sci-fi dramas I've ever read and made it really accessible without really sacrificing the tone. That's probably debatable among real Dune nerds. But I am that demographic who at least can comment on both the book and the movie without any kind of bias because nothing here is really all that precious.
What surprised me more than anything else is the Game of Thrones vibe that the movie gave off. Dune is this sprawling epic that just has a lot going on behind the scenes. I normally would take the Game of Thrones vibe and encourage Dune to be a TV show. But I kind of like the idea of the long-haul storytelling that we'll seem to be going. After all, the second chapter was just greenlit. I could find a TV show of this to be criminally boring. Instead, we have TV like storytelling in film form. And golly if I don't think that it really works. Sure, it involves a modicum of patience on the part of the audience. I think I said the same thing when I saw Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve loves the slow burn. He dares his audience to walk out because he's going to take the slow road to get to places. But for things like Dune, there's all of this really complex worldbuilding that we simply need to experience rather than get told about.
That's what kind of fell apart with Lynch's Dune. I know that the studio took the film away from Lynch. Again, my blasphemy is showing because I'm one of the only film nerds on the planet who can't stand David Lynch. But the studio had no faith in Lynch's vision, so they just dropped all this exposition in the film and then cut it into something that was able to attempt to make money. But Villeneuve took this huge risk and said that he was going to make a two-and-a-half hour movie of only the first half of the film without having a guarantee for the second half of the film. I don't know how I would be able to handle it with that kind of stress. After all, Villeneuve is quickly becoming the name to look to for prestige sci-fi like Christopher Nolan. He makes really pretty science fiction that gets nominated for Academy Awards. Imagine if Dune bombed and this sprawling epic only had a part one. I mean, the movie ends on this almost insulting anticlimax. This would be a movie about prophesy without any confirmation that any of it is accurate. There would only be rumors of a Kwitzak Satorak (I'm sorry that I don't have the patience to check the spelling on that.)
The thing that I have to applaud about Dune is that it made me really understand Dune. I know that I might be alone in that read. Knowing my history, a lot of Dune just never made sense to me, even after the reading of the novel and the intimate knowledge of the Lynch version. But watching Villeneuve's version, everything makes sense. My film class, who had all watched it opening night because of the handsomeness of Timothee Chalomet, had so many questions about what was going on (which may defeat my own argument), and I was able to explain everything clearly. Realize, Henson tried explaining so many elements to me before this movie and it all came together watching the film. I know that Henson's concerns involved the fact that a lot wasn't explained. But I argue that Villeneuve knows what to explain and what to leave to the imagination. Like, the cyborg-y guys are in the film without a word about them and why they exist. For guys like Henson, this is probably a real missed opportunity. For people like me who are trying to absorb this massive scope, I think it's genius. I don't need to know that stuff. That can be saved for the HBO Max show about the Bene Gesserett.
So I applaud the heck out of this movie. It was a darned good movie. While it wasn't my wife's favorite movie, she seemed to mostly enjoy it. She was shocked how much the movie grabbed her attention and that she was able to keep up with stuff. The only thing that Villeneuve asks is investment. That means being patient for very slow sequences. He's not being slow for the sake of slowness, but rather for the sake of processing. As Paul is going through the world of Arakis, he serves as our avatar, which is odd because he's this prophesized savior. But everything was simplified with characters that I liked, even if I didn't understand their nuanced roles. It's a very impressive achievement.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Rated G. I know that The Wizard of Oz is one of those movies that, while not scary, scares certain kids. I mean, it technically involves a witch who is very cool with murder and setting people on fire. There's also this really odd casualness with death that the entire land of Oz embraces. But this is a pretty solid G rating, so I'm not going to fight it. It's one of those live action G movies that we no longer see.
DIRECTORS: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, and Mervyn LeRoy
Why haven't I been writing as often? Stress coupled with laziness. On Tuesday, I decided to give myself a break. I said that I had no will to write a blog, so I said that I deserved one day off. Besides, I thought I could only get four movies into a five day work week anyway, so I didn't feel that bad. Then my family went into Covid quarantine, despite the fact that we probably don't have it, and now I'm really far behind. Sorry, Dune and Candyman. I'll have to find some time for you whenever.
I know that The Wizard of Oz has a cult following. I know it, I know it, I know it, I know it. I had a friend from youth group who I lost track of, but know that her adult life involves her obsession with The Wizard of Oz. The love for this movie runs deep. It is so ingrained in our cultural zeitgeist that it is one of the few narratives that I can relate to almost every audience. But it also is a movie that is so commonplace that it is even hard to appreciate from an entertainment level. The thing is, for a film made in 1939, it's really impressive. I mean, I was watching this thing and comparing it to the musicals of the era. It's really next level. Musicals, especially movie musicals during this era, have a strong tie to spectacle. Sure, we have movies that can transcend and really hit the emotional drama and conflict of reality. But most silver screen musicals of this era were meant to be about glitz and glamour. So when I say that The Wizard of Oz is impressive as heck, I don't say it lightly. It's a bananas storyline with ambitions beyond the technology of the era. I have nothing to say about the quality of the movie making behind this movie. Honest to Pete, for visuals and music alone, this film slaps.
But in terms of deeper messaging, I kind of wonder what the heck is going on. When I was a kid, I always had the assumption that everything that happened in Oz was real. I think that's what L. Frank Baum wanted us to believe, especially considering that there's a whole series of Oz stories. But as an adult, the movie really leans heavily on the notion that Dorothy is basically concussed and the Land of Oz was a way for her to deal with all of the garbage in her life. Maybe it's that whole "Trix-are-for-kids" element of the movie, that kids simply believe that Oz is real. But the world of Oz has exaggerated versions of all of the characters in the real world, with the exception of Auntie Em. Because the Oz folks are avatars for real people, we have to assume that those characters are commentaries for how she views their real world counterparts. And for the most part, those stories work. The Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion are kind-hearted-yet-exaggerated versions of the people she knows. The Wicked Witch as Mrs. Gulch works even better. Dorothy, a child about to lose her dog to a economically thriving busy-body, sees this woman as a witch. Makes sense.
But it's Professor Marvel that doesn't make sense to me. We meet Professor Marvel at the beginning of the story. We know that he's a bit of a con man because of the dramatic irony woven through the story. We get that he sees Aunt Em because of the photo he gets. But this man is overall very moral. He is poor, yet never charges Dorothy for his reading. That's the way that he makes his money. And it looks like business is rough. Everything about the sepia tone screams The Grapes of Wrath, yet Professor Marvel still does the right thing. But think about how Professor Marvel is represented by Oz. The con man element is there, but Dorothy didn't know that in reality. She rushes home to see her Aunt Em when Marvel says that her heart is broken. From her perspective, Marvel is a saint who has real world abilities. But Oz is a jerk. He prides himself on being a jerk. He sends these four + Toto to go fight a homicidal witch for almost no reason. He knows that the Witch is a monster who is terrorizing the land, yet Dorothy is expected to kill her? I know that there's no real clarity to the Wizard's directions outside of negligence.
Sure, the Wizard ends up being an okay guy. But he almost has more of a character change than Dorothy. The thing is, Dorothy is the protagonist of the piece, but has very little character or motivation. She runs away from home, which is the moral of story. "There's no place like home" is the theme of the film. Cool. But Dorothy makes that decision in the sepia part of the film. Honestly, her major character change happens in the first twenty minutes of the film. She learns her lesson, that other people love her, really early on. When she goes to Oz, she spends the entire film trying to get back. She's trying from moment one to return back to Oz. She misses her Aunt, so what's the real moral dilemma for Dorothy? If anything, the entire film is begging for her not to return home. She is given this great journey to return home, but she's single-minded in returning. I want to say that she finds strength in her journey, but she honestly starts the film pretty strong and ends the film pretty strong. All of these other characters have these overt, over-the-top flaws. What does Dorothy have? A complete lack of understanding about the laws of this universe. That's it. She even ends basically playing it by ear.
Case in point: the win for the film involves throwing water on the witch by accident. There's zero foreshadowing about the witch having an allergy to water. I mean, Signs pulled the same thing, but at least that was foreshadowed throughout the piece. And people still gave Signs nonsense because the planet was mostly covered with water. There's actually a lot of moments like this throughout the film. Stuff happens...because. For example, the Witch after capturing Dorothy and realizing that she can't get the shoes from her gives Dorothy a timer. She sets this giant hourglass where, credit being due, it builds suspense until Dorothy's death. But...why? Why go through that whole rigmarole? There's no reason for it. It's not like she even has a plan for dawn or something. If there was this great sacrifice or something that would allow Dorothy's ruby slippers to come off at the rising of the moon or whatever, that would make sense. Instead, it's just giant hourglass time. Also, Dorothy should have kept flipping that thing over to give herself more time. It's not like the Witch was wearing a watch.
In terms of storytelling, The Wizard of Oz is a darned goofy movie. Dorothy starts the film as a powerhouse and ends the film as a powerhouse. Nothing makes a lick of sense. But do you know what? I think that none of us really care about that. Instead, The Wizard of Oz is just an impressive musical full of glorious glorious spectacle. Maybe the L. Frank Baum version has a lot more of those moments fleshed out. But why rally against it? Emotionally, it does the job it is supposed to do and I don't hate that at all.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)
PG, but these movies are pushing the line further and further into inappropriate territory. In terms of questioning the PG rating, the sexual content of these movies is becoming a bit of an issue, bordering on sex romp. While there isn't any outright nudity, there's a lot of near nudity and often in a sexual context. Also, there's a lot of silly death. But the most problematic and dated references are the transphobic and xenophobic jokes that don't really hold up. It's 1976 and stereotypes are the bread and butter of comedy during this era. That doesn't mean that they hold up.
DIRECTOR: Blake Edwards
Okay, something is wrong with me. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I was always told that these movies got worse over time, but I found myself laughing more at The Pink Panther Strikes Back more than the previous two entries in the franchise. Sure, the movies are definitely getting dumber. I can't deny that the comparison to The Naked Gun movies is now undeniable. But The Pink Panther Strikes Again, despite having nothing to do with The Pink Panther, this is the movie that strikes a nice balance between silly comedy and...well. Maybe there is no balance. Maybe it's just good silly comedy.
It's so bizarre that The Pink Panther movies and the James Bond movies decided to take the same path. I have been toying with this idea in my previous blog entries, but I can't help but seeing what happens with these movies. In Dr. No, James Bond is compared to "a simple detective." While there is this global scope to Dr. No, it really does come down to a mystery. Sure, James Bond is the centerpiece of the film, but he really could be replaced with any suave character. But as the franchise carried on, James Bond built the archetype of the super spy. The same is true about Inspector Clouseau. Clouseau is the physical butt of the first movie, His only actual personality is tripping over himself. It was a movie that the world was kind of absurd, but Clouseau was the most absurd in this world. People didn't really give Inspector Clouseau's antics any notice because he's simply another character in a bizarre world.
However, as time passes in these sequels, the world somehow gets more bizarre, but notices Clouseau's silliness all that more. It's really weird and it shouldn't work. But like Bond, Clouseau becomes far more than a small time detective. With Bond, he was always part of a global organization. It oddly made sense when the sense of scale increased to accommodate the narrative that needed to be told. But Clouseau, there's this absurd notion that this police detective turned police commissioner would be investigating these international incidents. This is the movie where the world meets Inspector Clouseau. I don't know what it is about escalation that bothers me so much, considering that this is the one that got me laughing the most, but it just seems like the problems that many sequels deal with. But with The Pink Panther movies, it kind of makes sense. A character like Clouseau only works so well on the small scale. It kind of comes down to the nature of physical comedy.
This is going to seem extremely childish to break down, but I'm going to preach why the pratfalls of the sequels make more sense than they do in the smaller movies. It will all seem like a "Well, duh" moment, but there's something going on that kind of just rests in the back of the brain. With the first two films, Clouseau is this guy who trips over his own two feet and smashes his violin. It kind of has this Mr.Bean-aw-shucks attitude to the action. But there's only so much that Peter Sellers can do with that. His pants can only rip so many times. He can only fall into a fountain so many times. There has to be consequences to his buffoonery. When you put a character like this on the global stage and up the stakes of the film --as stupid as it is --other people feel the repercussions of those actions. A Shot in the Dark ups the game from The Pink Panther. In doing so, they create a villain who loathes Clouseau. But looking at the climax of The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Clouseau's clumsiness ultimately saves the world. He's almost murdered dozens of times in this movie, but because he's a buffoon, he survives. Because he launches himself at a building using a catapult by accident, he's able to adjust the angle of the laser, saving London in the process.
And then there's the sex. Bond was always written by Fleming as a Lothario. It was the problematic literature of the '60s, up there with Fifty Shades of Grey today. But that first Bond adventure, it felt like the studio didn't know what they could do with the sex. Similarly, The Pink Panther implies that this absurd character has a charisma to him that is irresistible to women. That first film, he tries to seduce his wife and fails. In this one, women are throwing themselves at him. It's this parallel that I can't ignore. What start as already pretty bizarre worlds become so over-the-top and divorced from reality in the hopes of being the biggest entry yet. But that kind of works with this one. Don't get me wrong. The bottom is going to fall out. There's a reason that we don't consider The Pink Panther as a Clouseau franchise and simply as a mascot for insulation. But for now, the jokes kind of work. It's silly. I don't love the transphobia, but I also acknowledge that there's an expectation for the '70s that might be considered unreasonable. There might even be some respect for the fact that we're supposed to laugh at a proper man in drag, Clouseau himself never looks down on Jarvis for doing what he does.
It's not an amazing movie, but it does the job.
Halloween Kills (2021)
Rated R for all the mass murder going on. There have been criticisms that Michael acts more like Jason with his sheer body count in this one. I never really knew that there was a difference. But there's some pretty gnarly violence in here, bordering on torture. Michael really seems to enjoy what he does on a scope that maybe I forgot about. Of course, there's language and alcohol abuse, but that seems pretty mild if you are okay with watching some pretty brutal gore. R.
DIRECTOR: David Gordon Green
I have to admit, I wasn't in the Halloween spirit this year. I'm not talking about the franchise. For a guy who was pretty aggressively Halloween in the past, this year it just seems like a burden. A lot of that comes from the snob in me. It seems so basic to preach how Halloween is your favorite season. But that was me. How can I throw stones? But I did want to watch Halloween Kills, despite my mildly lackluster reception to David Gordon Green's previous Halloween entry. (Note: It is impossible to call anything just Halloween anymore.) It didn't hurt that it was on Peacock and that went a long way. But it also got lukewarm reviews...
...and that's when I remembered how much I like a good Halloween movie. Halloween Kills might be one of the more undervalued entries in the franchise. I know that people wanted a second reboot and were excited to know that this was going to retcon all of the other movies. It would have gone from the 1978 Halloween to a real-time sequel with David Gordon Green's entry. But I found that movie dull because I didn't do anything all that new and different with the exception of making Michael Myers an octogenarian. It was the old Michael and Laurie dynamic that so many movies in the franchise capitalized on and that Jamie Lee Curtis has made a career out of. But Halloween Kills did something very different for me and I absolutely loved it. I was nervous for a lot of it, so please be patient for trying to explain my thought process about it. But the final result of the film may make Halloween Kills my second favorite Halloween movie.
The thing about the classic slasher movie is that there isn't much that one can do with sequels that doesn't get goofy. These movies become about cults, space, or found footage concepts that completely make these films inaccessible to the average viewer. The protagonist for these films was always meant to be our avatar. Laurie Strode in Halloween was innocent and honest. We wanted to be Laurie, which made her such a powerhouse to root for. But there's only so much good will that an audience can give before there needs to be a change. After all, as much as sequels are supposed to capture the joy of the first film, they are also meant to progress and take chances. Halloween Kills might be the first horror sequel to completely change the formula of the slasher film. While I can't deny that Michael Myers is still the antagonist of the film, the movie cares less about Michael's horror based killing spree. The movie cares more about how we react to tragedy in both healthy and unhealthy ways.
David Gordon Green's Michael, in this movie, is almost a hurricane. He's out there and people feel helpless. Maybe a more apt idea is that Michael is a terrorist action against the United States. Michael has been the source of trauma for the citizens of Haddonfield for 40 years. I often think about 9/11 and how we said that terrorism wasn't going to let it beat us. There was this swell of patriotism that may or may not have devolved into nationalism. It came from this blind anger and this addiction to the notion that we were always morally right, despite the fact that we did these morally abhorrent things both domestically and internationally. When people wanted to find healthy responses to trauma, many people in this country got really angry and decided it was up to mob rule to try to grasp onto that false sense of patriotism. That's what Halloween Kills is. Now, from what I understand, Halloween Kills has been in the can for a while. It was one of those movies that was affected by Covid. But it was also made during the Trump administration, so the seeds of January 6 were there all along.
I was thinking what it must have been like to be Tommy Doyle as a 40-something man. He lived through this traumatic experience and knew people that died absolutely horrific deaths. Then the entire thing started over again and he wanted to grow from his mistakes. There's this line that Tommy tells Laurie about the notion that Laurie protected him and that it was his turn to return the favor. That's an extremely logical and heroic answer. The problem is, that's kind of the view of "The Patriot" in America right now. Tommy had spent the last 40 years in Haddonfield living off of the emotional understanding of what happened to him when he was a kid. He didn't become a Michael Myers expert. He didn't study psychology or work to the betterment of institutionalism. No, he simply wallowed in a trauma that barely affected him. He lived off of that vicarious trauma and manifested it as his own. While Tommy had some kind of right to be outraged, his emotions were contagious. With that, it's haunting how Tommy Doyle stood in for the march on the Capitol on January 6.
It all started with this contagious propaganda. For the case of Tommy Doyle, it was the chants of "Evil Dies Tonight." There's nothing complex in that statements. I'm sure that no one could even slightly disagree with the notion that evil must die. But the notion of evil is such a black-and-white attitude that it rests undefined. Rather than actually making a plan to save people from Myers, it became this bloodlust and a need for satisfaction. It became about doing things the easy way. When the other asylum escapee shows up looking for help at the hospital and the riot that occurred, Tommy ends up leading a lynch mob against a problem that they could handle. In the same way that 9/11 was a geo-political problem that demanded nuance instead of lashing out at Muslims and people from the Middle East, the people of Haddonfield strike out at any perceived threat, even if that threat was laughable. Casting that gentleman as the proxy Michael Myers was a work of genius. He demonstrates how quickly we are to have answers, even if logic is staring us directly in the face.
Now, for a second, I was really concerned about the ending of this movie. Karen (perhaps poorly named) betrays her fundamentals and leads a posse to round up Michael. It seems successful considering that that this happens well into the final act. Considering that the movie rails against mob violence, it's odd to think that this attack on Michael works. I mean, it's cathartic from a horror perspective. The monster needs to get his just desserts. But it is in the notion that Michael gets up because he's something more and something greater kind of solves that story for me. I normally hate when the slasher becomes the monster of myth. Lots of sequels play that card as an excuse to bring back the bad guy who clearly is dead. But David Gordon Green clearly states his thesis in the voiceover. Michael Myers isn't a man. He's our own evil and our worst tendencies brought out. We can't fight that kind of problem with violence. It has to be about something greater. We can't attack terrorism or evil with brute force. Michael is brute force. By becoming the very thing we rally against, that's when we lose. From my perspective, we lost the whole 9/11 thing when we started turning on people and stopped acting as the model for the world of peace and harmony. Attacking the Capitol because an election didn't turn out the way people wanted it to is the end to democracy. It's the stuff that we used to look down in third-world countries.
So Laurie never meets Michael in this one? Good. We've seen that story enough times. Instead, Karen gets herself killed because she betrays her good conscience. Sure, she did it because she's a mother. I respect that. It's plausible. But it also is a commentary on the seduction of evil. Karen, all bedecked in a Christmas sweater, meets her end because, like Moses, she taps on the rock twice. It seems minor, her sin. But she ignored what her better nature told her and I love that. I honestly hope that the final entry in this trilogy is in the far future and we still haven't learned our mistake. Maybe Halloween Ends will be a story about how Michael ended everything. It may not end with the death of Michael Myers, but with Michael left with nothing to kill because we're all Michael Myers.
Cry Macho (2021)
PG-13. This is the stuff that Clint Eastwood lives off of. It's that smoothed over rebelliousness that Boomers consider to be hardcore and edgy. There's a lot of low-key language. But the movie also kind of glosses over the notion that cock-fighting is not okay. Couple this with violence and sex out of wedlock, there's some stuff that gives the film a well-deserved PG-13 rating.
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
I haven't been in this position in a long time. Since starting the blog, there's been this need to watch film with structure and purpose. I watch these movies knowing that I'm going to write with criticism. As such, I never want to bow out of a movie that I started. My thought process is that, even if the movie is godawful, at least it is easy to write about a bad movie. Now, my mentality about this HBOMax direct release model has been one of watching everything that would have been released in theaters. When I saw that Cry Macho, a Clint Eastwood movie, would be on this list, I knew that I had to watch it. But we just haven't been in the mood until I saw that my time to watch the movie was running out. It was the night before it disappeared from HBOMax that I started watching it...
...and I almost didn't finish it. It's not like the movie was so bad that I had to stop. It's just that the movie wasn't grabbing my wife's attention, despite my probing commentary. She just found the movie dull. And when she said that she found that the movie was dull, I had to agree. Now, I don't mind boring movies. I actually do really well with boring movies. But those boring movies always compensate with something of value. Cry Macho is just...boring. It's not like nothing happens in the movie. There's a plot that I very well could summarize. It's just that this is one of those movies that aggressively ticks the formula boxes pretty well. It's actually kind of shocking that this is based on a novel and what might actually be considered a moderately respected novel. But there's nothing really all that special about Cry Macho. It's the bonding story that we see over and over again. I hate that I already threw the word "Boomer" around, but it seems like it is a bit of "Boomer Bait", like Gran Torino. This is what a percentage of the population views cinema to be.
The thing is, now I have to re-evaluate what I think about Clint Eastwood. People lost their minds over Million Dollar Baby. I thought it was fine. But I didn't really consider Eastwood to be this prolific director until Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. I remember when I saw the name Clint Eastwood attached to a directing credit, it was going to be something special. But the last handful of Clint Eastwood movies have been borderline box office failures. And it wasn't like Cry Macho was aggressive with its Republican values. I was going to chalk up his change in quality to his appearance at the Republican National Convention and the fact that he's been celebrating Americana and the American Hero in many of his movies. Now, I'm fairly certain that Clint Eastwood has been the Hollywood face of Republican cinema since before Million Dollar Baby. After all, Dirty Harry carrying that Magnum and taking the law into his own hands is the gun-owner's fantasy personified. So what happened to Clint Eastwood?
Someone told me that Clint Eastwood only did one take. He refused to do multiple takes on films because he always was convinced that he had it. Sometimes, I can see this confidence really paying off. But imagine applying that attitude to every element of the film. What if it wasn't just about performance, but it went down to the edit bay? Everything in this movie feels like a bunch of ingredients thrown into a pot with the hopes of making a soup, but there's no sense of measurement or care put to it. The story of Mike and Rafo, while played out, is something that should be watchable. Well, more watchable. I'm making this movie seem like an abomination when it is just boring. Clint Eastwood's Mike is just his other characters as a 91-year-old. I know that Eastwood has always been that character actor who embraces his Hollywood persona. But Mike's choices in the film are darned weird at times. He goes to Mexico to collect Rafo only to throw him out of the car.
The movie is supposed to be about Mike's character change from broken man into vicarious father, finding love with a woman that he meets in Mexico. Okay, that's understandable. But we never really get to see Mike broken. We're told at the beginning that Mike lost his family in a car accident and that he's been spiraling into booze and self-loathing. It was Howard who pulled him out. But we don't ever really see Mike in that broken state. Instead, we see confident Clint Eastwood go out and get Rafo and then we see confident Clint Eastwood hang out in a small Mexican village with Rafo. And then we see confident Clint Eastwood curse at a bunch of policemen (why is this scene in the movie? I know why. It's false tension because the concept of the film is absolutely silly.) The movie tells us that there is a transition from pain to purpose. But we never actually experience that pain or that purpose. Really, the movie simply allows time to have these two together long enough to feel like a bond has been made. Rafo never really has that growing pains moment. If anything, this rebellious teenager who is running away from his mother and scamming this gringo is too accommodating.
Because we never see or feel those moments, the movie really comes down to an old man hanging out with a kid. Sometimes they fight, but those fights don't have any consequences. Sometimes, those fights come out of nowhere, making it hard to empathize with the character who is emoting. Rafo's criticisms of Mike don't make a lick of sense. To give Eastwood credit, Rafo's frustration lies in the fact that he's a teenager who is dealing with rejection from his father, not the notion that Mike lied to him. But Rafo has this criticism of Mike at the end, swearing that Mike lied to him. Mike tells him in a fairly honest manner. There was nothing really holding him to telling the truth about Rafo's father, but he does tell him anyway. There's a respect there, so to build tension out of this moment kind of lets the emotional core slip away far too easily. Again, this is all chalked up to shoddy work on the moment-to-moment stuff. Maybe a movie shouldn't be one take. The failures of Cry Macho might be a cloister bell to the importance of nuance. We're told that we should feel that bond, but that bond is completely artificial and is built on the notion that these two are in the proximity of each other for a decent amount of time. That's it.
I'm kind of impressed that the movie leaves Rafo with his father. Perhaps the narrative is stating that Rafo isn't a child anymore and it is inconsequential that his father's kind of awful. It might be about his need to get to America and to define himself (which doesn't seem very Republican at all, until I realize that Eastwood was married to a woman from Mexico for a good period of time). His choice to embrace his father's offer is really an interesting one, considering that the movie telegraphs that Mike is Rafo's emotional father. But that doesn't a good movie make. It just leaves me with a non-formulaic ending that I can lightly applaud. I mean, I'm glad I finished the movie. It would have meant that I had a movie that I had only half-watched. That doesn't make me feel good. But, no, you don't need to run out and watch Cry Macho.
Watership Down (1978)
PG, but infamously not PG in content. This is one of those films that was notorious for traumatizing children with its visceral imagery, primarily on the gore that is associated with rabbits mauling each other. It's pretty brutal, despite the fact that I hear that the remake from Netflix is far more tame than this version.
DIRECTOR: Martin Rosen
Oh man, I'm so stressed out in my life right now. I'm not sure if writing blogs right now would make me feel remarkably productive or make me even more stressed out. But for the sake of my memory, I should write this as quickly as I can. I would like to also confess that I'm reading the book while writing this blog. I started reading the book first and then decided to watch the movie simultaneously. I know, many of you may be screaming "Blasphemy." It should be the book first and nothing else for most people out there. But I also wanted to really understand the book and my mind tends to wander. Having a roadmap while reading isn't the worst thing in the world.
This movie has a reputation. I mean, the book also has that reputation, but I think a lot of its horror comes from the film itself. I can't imagine what it would have been like watching this movie in 1978. Animation, as a whole, during the '60s and '70s was far more intense than what we get today. Kids were probably used to a fair share of horrifying imagery. But Watership Down takes it to a new level. Writing this blog has brought to my attention that kids' movies are meant to traumatize before they heal. We think of Disney films as these cute little movies, but they get really dark before anything positive can come of it. Watership Down isn't technically a piece of adults, I guess. Richard Adams swore that this wasn't a work of allegory. It was just a story about rabbits to him. But the structure of Watership Down, if it was analyzed by the books, follows the structure of a children's movie but has the tone of a much more mature work. Perhaps it's because the story is oh-so-very British and stodgy throughout, but the movie never gets beyond its aesthetic choice to be a children's movie. It's gory and raw. It looks like a subgenre of animation that we just don't see anymore.
Maybe I shouldn't have read Adams's comments about Watership Down. The reason I'm all about Watership Down right now is because I'm thinking of adding it to my curriculum. But when I know that there is no deeper meaning to anything I'm watching, Adams's comment about being a story about rabbits is disheartening. There's the philosophy that the author loses ownership of the work once it is out of his hands. I suppose that I'm embracing that statement aggressively at this moment. I can't let Watership Down follow Adams's attitude towards the piece. I have to imagine that Adams, at surface level, is critical of man's dominion over the planet, especially focusing on environmental issues. The men are treated as acts of God, wiping away civilizations without even realizing that they are doing that. I know that Adams holds that attitude. But I don't like the idea of the rabbits just being rabbits. Adams imbues his rabbits with wholly human characteristics. These rabbits are built around archetypes and, as such, should be treated as one would analyze these archetypes.
It's odd to think of this as a story that is fundamentally locked into fauna. I mean, the movie is a bunch of dudes. While reading, I couldn't help but hear "Hazel" and "Fiver" as female, because of their traditionally female names and heteronormative traits. But there is the whole subplot with freeing the does simply for procreation. (It should be pointed out that I'm actively deciding what I think about the story while writing this. If it doesn't come across as cogent in any real way, there's a reason for that.) Without a doubt, Adams portrays the rabbits of Watership Down as heroic. They free themselves from the blindness of their nation, escaping to a world that respects the individual. But by making them all male and thinking only of procreation, there's something remarkably gross about the whole thing. For rabbits, without consciousness or a moral compass, there's nothing wrong with this narrative. But because each character is rooted in his sentience, there has to be some moral element to the decisions being made throughout the tale. Why does Adams save the does for later in the story? Is their plot point exclusively tied to their gender? Why wouldn't Hazel and Bigwig rescue ensnared rabbits that aren't women? That has to be a stronger link to the moral righteousness of a rescue plan.
Hazel is the Chief Rabbit because he sees the evils and blindness of the previous chief that would lead the rabbits to ruin. Because Hazel has the good sense to listen to Fiver, an ignored and traumatized rabbit, he is able to allow the civilization of the warren to continue in Watership Down. There really isn't much of a moral dilemma for Hazel. Bigwig is another story, but I'm talking about Hazel here. The portrayal of the rescue of the does is seen as a heroic act. But I still don't understand why this moral good couldn't have happened at the first warren. Are the women characters unable to make decisions that would benefit themselves and their families? Stemming out of that, are all of the male rabbits that escaped single and without families? We know what happens to all of those rabbits thanks to Captain Holly's report. They all suffocate and die a horrible death. Hazel's gift of prophesy is correct, but that means that every woman and child in the warren is dead. Isn't that kind of on Hazel and Bigwig? Part of me has to be sympathetic. After all, there isn't so much a formal plan as much as there is just a decision to leave.
But Watership Down thrives because of its use of the villain. I'll go beyond saying "antagonist" because these are characters that are evil through and through. Looking at this external conflict, the rabbits are against society. Fiver literally sees bloody shadows creeping in over the horizon and much of it comes from an unfeeling universe, despite having quite the interactive God in this world. But the two villain characters are really effective. I want to start with Cowslip because I understand Cowslip better. Woundwort is a great, great villain. But Woundwort is also very arch. It's in Cowslip and Woundwort that we get the foundation for things like The Walking Dead. Cowslip isn't the villain in the traditional sense because he is simply a coward. He's the world of The Giver. He wants the status quo to continue because he has managed to navigate the waters that have killed the other rabbits. He is someone who has so embraced his own evil that he has rewritten it as the moral good. He knows that the other rabbits die in his warren, but he continues feeding man because it keeps him out of their crosshairs. Taking that element of "The Devil You Know" makes him scary.
But Wormwort, he's Negan and the Governor. I'm about 200 pages into a 480 page Watership Down, so I haven't really met Wormwort yet. The film doesn't give me much to work with in terms of why Wormwort acts the way he does. But there's the sense of totalitarianism. I can see why literary critics get upset with Richard Adams because Wormwort acts as such a lovely dictator character. Sure, his eye is oozing and he elicits disgust from his physique. But it is his quest for power unquestioned is so absolute that he elevates this story about rabbits leaving their bulldozed home into something else. It's not just about man (the rabbits) v. the elements. It's about the cannibalism of a species. It's knowing that the world could be a better place if the big fish in the small ponds would allow it. That's a haunting thought. The movie stresses that the God of Watership Down made the other creatures hungry for the flesh of rabbits, which is why it seems all that much more toxic that the big threat of the story is another rabbit.
I can't wait to find some time to read. I really want to finish the book. But the movie kept me ready for the progression of the book. I already see that there's a lot more that wasn't included, but the movie does an adequate job hitting the major beats.
A Shot in the Dark (1964)
PG and hoo-boy. It's a very pushing-it PG. Knowing all about the history of the MPAA might be explaining a lot of what is going on with this decision. But if we're going by 2021 standards, we can't simply write off this as your standard PG movie. One of the most notable elements of this movie, besides the unusually large body count --used for comedic effect --is the normalization of sexuality and the use of rape for a laugh. Also, one of the scenes takes place at a nudist colony, although there isn't any actual on screen nudity. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Blake Edwards
Now, I have the tendency not to watch franchise entries back-to-back. Well, I still haven't done that. I watched The Big Sick between The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark. But, as the link suggests, I've already written about The Big Sick, which gave me a nice mini-break when it came to writing. So I do have a little distance when writing about A Shot in the Dark.
I suppose I should do some Pink Panther research. There are so many questions that I have about this franchise that need answering. I heard that everyone really liked the first movie and that was about it. But looking at the IMdB culminated score, A Shot in the Dark actually scored higher. I might think that it is a slightly better movie. Remember, I did think that the first movie was genius the first time that I watched it, but the second time didn't do too much for me. A Shot in the Dark has some really good giggles in it. Like, there's one gag in the movie that might be permanently memorable. I'm referring to the running gag of the police car going down the same street carrying a variation of an imprisoned Clouseau. Heck, the movie might be worth it almost entirely on that joke alone. But is the film itself better? There's something in the movie that feels really polished and something that feels really rough. And this is where my next question comes into this blog.
This movie is based on a stage play?
I'm writing against the clock right now, so I don't really have time to read the Wikipedia article. Is Inspector Clouseau the product of a stage play, potentially written by the author of The Exorcist William Peter Blatty? I clearly don't know what is going on here because I really get the vibe that Blatty has nothing to do with Clouseau's origins. But sure enough, the opening credits of the movie say that this was adapted from the stage play and that William Peter Blatty holds a writing credit for the movie with Blake Edwards. But when The Pink Panther came out in 1963, I can see that maybe there might be a weaker script that wasn't exactly airtight for the silver screen. So the movie is more than functional and that could be because it might have been a movie without Clouseau as the protagonist and it was ironed out on the stage. It's kind of like how Die Hard with a Vengeance was a different script without John McClane. (I feel this chaotic energy with what I'm writing today, so if it all comes out as jumbled, I thoroughly apologize.)
A Shot in the Dark is exactly what I was talking about when I wrote about The Pink Panther. Clouseau is now the protagonist of the piece and we know that he's going to win by sheer luck. That's the new formula. It's so confusing when the film doesn't refer to the events of The Pink Panther though. The first movie ends on this note that Clouseau has been framed and is going to prison. It's this chaotic energy that I'm still dealing with. There's the implication that he would be freed in a few months once The Phantom continues to pilfer to his heart's content. But the first movie establishes a really weird precedent by having Clouseau ending up as the fall guy for the events of the film. A Shot in the Dark, in contrast, has Clouseau getting the right answer despite his sheer incompetence. It's very funny because the film decides to subvert the tropes of the murder mystery and makes everyone the killer, including the police commissioner, who becomes a murder in response to Clouseau's incompetence. It's great. It's in this moment that I realize that maybe that the formula isn't Clouseau's success / failure rate, but rather the notion that the film will deliver the unexpected as a curveball. No one expects the hero to go to prison. Similarly, no one expects the entire cast to be the killer.
But there is something that is almost missing from the chaos that Blake Edwards sets up. The movie is funny because, of course, Maria Gambrelli is the killer. It takes that old chestnut of the frame job and takes it to such an extreme result that it becomes laughable that she couldn't have killed anyone. When Clouseau stands by her adamant innocence, it isn't because there's anything that makes him actually believe her. He simply finds her striking. His obsession with her attractiveness is what drives him against all reason to try to defend her. The joke is that "Of course Maria Gambrelli is the killer." So when she's right, that almost feels way too safe. Yeah, the notion that everyone else is the killer is funny, but it almost feels like a second place answer to the hole that the writers have dug themselves into. If the first one is this punk rock movie that lets The Phantom get away with it, the second one has to be "Maria Gambrelli is the murderer." Maybe that's just me. It just feels like Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers want to test the resolve of the audience as much as possible and this one seems to be held back just a little bit. If you wanted to have the joke about everyone being the killer, include Maria Gambrelli and say that "nobody really cares".
I'm going to say something that might rile some feathers. The caveat ahead of time: Peter Sellers is a comedic genius. His use of physical comedy might be one of the greatest in history. There are so many jokes and sight gags that absolutely crush in this movie and I can't deny that. But I will say, there might be too much of that going on, especially in the final act. Clouseau is meant to be completely hapless. But there is also something about the pacing that seems so far off and inorganic that the movie struggles at times. It's a bummer because when you find yourself getting mad at jokes, that is the opposite of what its intent is. It just feels like the script went through a thousand moments of punch-up. The physical jokes should be contribute to the inherent comedy of the moment. It's combining something savory and sweet without considering the result. That can work sometimes, but sometimes you get barbecue ribs-flavored ice cream and that last act screams of that. The joke in the final scene is the complete lack of clock. Great. That is hilarious. It's really funny. But Clouseau falling through the door is a distraction. Clouseau stepping on people's feet, a distraction. Sometimes we want to experience the first joke in its entirety before going beyond that point.
So it's a fine movie. I probably enjoyed it more than The Pink Panther. But I also foresee that this is going to be a franchise of getting in its own way. When a bit is crafted and allows itself to breathe, there's some real genius in the movie. But moments of quiet aren't bad either. It doesn't have to be a gag a minute. It can just rely on good writing.
The Pink Panther (1963)
Approved. It's so odd that I have to keep writing these MPAA Parents' Guides for movies that existed before the MPAA. The Pink Panther is often kind of cheeky and childish, relying a lot on innuendo for its sexual content. One of the running gags that is inappropriate for children is the sheer amount of affairs that Mrs. Clouseau's wife has. It's all very tongue-in-cheek, but it still is in the film. Also, the notion of the sexual conquest is still very present in the film. It's also uncomfortable that Claudia Cardinale is meant to play an Indian princess.
DIRECTOR: Blake Edwards
Guess what the next box set is? (If you haven't, I'm just going to spell it out because I never want to shame anyone.) I got The Pink Panther box set. Okay, I got The Pink Panther box set minus disc three. So if you know where I can buy only disc three, I would be very grateful. I know, the first one is the only truly great one in the series. Do you know how I know that? Because people tell me that far too often. They told me this so often that I haven't even bothered to see the other entries. So I'll come back with my own opinion, once I'm able to get a copy of the third movie.
I remember loving this first movie. I remember thinking that it was a work of genius. It was such a work of genius that I only watched it once. For all intents and purposes, this was a new movie for me, with the caveat that I had pretty high expectations for it. And I'll go as far as to say that there's nothing really wrong with the movie on the whole. It's just something very different from what I remember it being. Like many franchises, some of it can be chalked up to being representative of a series of films that didn't know that they were going to be a series of films. If this was one movie alone, it would be a very different beast. And I don't know the history of Blake Edwards nor of the Pink Panther franchise. I am speculating with everything that I'm about to say. But it really does feel like The Pink Panther was meant to be a one-off movie, a parody of the Inspector Poirot stories.
I say this because Clouseau is not the main character of the movie. If anything, he's the comic relief in a silly caper film. I watched The Pink Panther in two sittings. Those two sittings were drastically different from one another. The first half of the movie is this exposition dump, setting up an oddly complicated plot about this Pink Panther diamond, the Phantom, and how all of the characters were going to converge at this hotel for the caper of the century. Yes, there are jokes, but not a ton of stuff that makes the movie feel like a screwball comedy. The second half of the movie, that's where my emotional memory comes back to me. After a long time of setting up the individual pieces, that's when the film becomes unapologetically a comedy. But the story is about Sir Charles Lytton and how his reputation as the Phantom is at stake over the success of this jewel heist. The Phantom is the one with the jokes. But these jokes are restrained compared to Clouseau's very over-the-top hilarity. It's like someone just let Peter Sellers do whatever he wanted and that he was in a different film.
But Clouseau is the side character in this story. It's only the sequels that would put Clouseau in the protagonist's seat. Edwards pushes and bullies Clouseau around. We're supposed to revel in Clouseau getting stymied left and right in the first film. That's the only way that the end of the movie even makes a remote amount of sense. Simone Clouseau sells her husband down the river to free Sir Charles and George and we're supposed to laugh at that. Do you realize how torn I am about that ending to the movie? The cultural zeitgeist has bred me to believe that Clouseau was like Inspector Gadget. He bumbles and gets everything wrong, only to have his just desserts through the intervention of fate and the calamity of everyone else. When Clouseau actually solves the mystery and has this moment where he's vindicated in this lifelong pursuit of The Phantom, he's put in prison. The insane thing is that I can't even fault Blake Edwards for his lack of foresight with this decision because it's the answer I kind of like...
...if this was a solitary film.
There are many movies where the comic relief becomes the butt of the joke. Often, the protagonists defy the odds and get their happy endings while the comic relief would be the only one with mud on their faces. But we know what this franchise would be. We know that Clouseau would eventually be the mold for the bumbling inspector like Frank Drebin from The Naked Gun / Police Squad. To add to all of this, Inspector Clouseau is so kind-hearted and morally righteous, that his imprisonment at the end is both hilarious and downright depressing. Yeah, Clouseau fills the role of Job, who never really loses his faith in the law. But it also becomes this weird beating up of the moral character of the piece. Yeah, I'm not wrong to say that he might be the only moral character of the story. George is a fink. Sir Charles is the thief whose moral salvation lies in the equivalent of "good intentions". Simone completely betrays her husband and is kind of the mastermind behind the Phantom. The Princess hoards the Pink Panther against the request of her people. It's just a lot.
While I'm less than inclined to stress that this is the work of genius that I remember it being, the second half of the movie is really spectacular. It's when The Pink Panther embraces its overtly silly nature that it shines. Don't get me wrong. I can see that the sequels will probably do this in spades to the detriment of the films. But this one works so well because the jokes feel like the payoff to investment. Lots of movies successfully pull off silly all the way through. But when looking at the works of Blake Edwards coupled with Peter Sellers, I can see this working better as is. It's so funny that there are just so many Pink Panther spin-offs and sequels considering that much of the reason that The Pink Panther works so well is the specific chord that this first movie is striking. I know that it doesn't universally work, as seen with the OG Casino Royale film with David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen. But part of me has no desire whatsoever to watch the Steve Martin entries, despite the fact that I adore Steve Martin. It's just something about 1963 big-budget comedy that really works for me.
Maybe that's why people really like the film. I also might explain the love of James Bond that comes out of movies like The Pink Panther. I can't help but watch the first Pink Panther and see a lot of the foundations that would make Bond so successful. International misogyny in the beatnik era is something to look for. It's kind of why I loved the BBS stuff as well. There's just this class to dumb comedy that works beyond the actual content of the movie. It gets me excited to see A Shot in the Dark, which is something considering what I've heard about the other films. I'm slightly glad that I don't idolize The Pink Panther. As much as I thought it was brilliant the first time I watched it, I haven't been invested in this movie enough to feel like I was let down by a less than stellar viewing of the film. It's a good movie, but it'll never hit a favorites list.
Three Little Words (1950)
Passed, but I will have to comment on the fact that a lot of the music really embraces the uncomfortable casual racism that the music of the 1920s absolutely adored. There's a song about good ol' Dixie and a song about "my little Japanese". Yeah, this is one of those movies that didn't hold up well to history. While none of it seems done with vitriol, I would hold off on the celebration of these two songwriters.
DIRECTOR: Richard Thorpe
Do you know how much time I wasted trying to get the image above? I needed something hi-res for the website. But I also try to get it in the aspect ratio. I'm, like, 60% sure that this movie is 4:3, so I wanted to get the black bars in there. Nope. That doesn't exist. I tried Googling "Three Little Words 1950 aspect ratio". Nothing. So this blog is going swimmingly so far. Let's see how it continues on after this.
This is another pick-up from my in-laws. It's funny. If this was on HBO Max (and for all I know, it is), I probably would have skipped over it. Sure, I really dig Fred Astaire. I tend to watch a lot of forgettable Fred Astaire films and this one is one of those. It's got that title that just seems to bleed into the background, like many of the other movies. I'm probably going to be pretty critical of the movie as a whole, but my main criticism is that there's a lot of "who cares" to the stakes of this movie. Apparently based on the true story of these two songwriters, sometimes history isn't really meant for narrative structure. Sure, there's the element of opposite personalities finding common ground to break through the system and that's a good start. But for much of the film, the same cycle keeps on happening. Once their origin story is out of the way, the film becomes this rotating door of how these guys found inspirations for songs, few of which really penetrated history's cultural zeitgeist in any meaningful way. These songs may have been popular between the 1920s and the 1950s, but 2020 doesn't really lose their minds over "Three Little Words." (Note: They did write "I Want to be Loved by You", which does have that staying power. But the film almost treats this like a minor contribution to the musical canon as opposed to the powerhouse it is.)
But I do want to give it some props. Not all, because there is one major flaw I have with the one moment of grace in the film. It takes a while for the story to find a conflict. However, once the film finds that conflict in the last act, the movie actually becomes really watchable. Harry's sabotage of Bert was bound to come back and bite him. We get Harry's perspective on Bert's play. Because the play is panned before production, we understand his altruistic move to pull funding before Bert's reputation is ruined. Yeah, he does it in a cowardly way, but that's part of life. Harry is in a no-win situation and he rightfully faces the consequences for his decision in the long run. I'm all aboard that. The story becomes interesting in this sequence because it makes sense that Bert feels betrayed by someone who won his friendship over. While I would have moved the conflict to an earlier point in the story, the silver lining is that the movie does really sell that these two opposites become genuine friends by the time that Bert discovers the deception. But I do have a problem with one thing...
Bert is equally --if not more so --manipulative of Harry. I don't know if the filmmakers are aware of the hypocrisy that Bert's indignation seems out of place. Harry once in his career runs into an awkward situation. Knowing that Bert's career is on the line, he makes the choice to sabotage Bert's chances. It's probably not his call, but that's the narrative. However, Harry keeps falling in love with these girls who ultimately are using him. Not once does Bert actually confront Harry about his choice in women. Instead, he sets Bert up to get cheated on and dumped time and again. That whole baseball running gag? That's Bert doing the exact thing to Harry that Harry was doing to Bert. I'd like to think that the filmmakers were aware of this, thus including it in the story. But part of me thinks that there's a degree of ignorance towards these moments. The baseball sequences where Harry is distracted from women are played for laughs. If anything, they're actually a bit drawn out for the silliness factor that is the lifeblood of the film. But Harry's deception is told in this aggressively serious manner. That shift in tone between these two moments almost highlights the fact that the filmmakers really view this as a one sided issue.
Yeah, the movie stresses that Bert is unable to view the sequence objectively. But it also doesn't see Bert as the bad guy at all. We like Harry because he's bumbly and oafish, thanks to the performance of Red Skeleton. But Bert comes out of this as having to be exclusively in a place of forgiveness. That's fine, I guess, but there's never that moment of culpability for him doing the exact same thing. If anything, Bert's deception is almost more problematic. With Harry's deception, there's an element of a peer saving a peer. Any artist is too close to his work to be objective. However, Harry is a grown adult. His relationships need to be handled by him, not by committee. Every time that Harry gets into a relationship, Bert and Jess decide whether or not they need to save Harry from himself. Yeah, those women ended up being extremely toxic. (Okay, we know the first woman was toxic because we saw her cheating. I just think that they didn't like the second woman.) That culpability is central to the story. If we're meant to condemn Bert for his hypocrisy, then the movie works. But without that, the dynamic is all off. We have a very specific narrative that doesn't really play out.
I don't know what I feel about it. I suppose it won't be one of my favorite musicals ever. The songs, although a celebration of these two musicians, don't do much for me. There's something ironic about the fact that the movie showcases these songs that are supposed to make my jaw drop, but really, I eye roll. History has not been kind to Three Little Words. I imagine that some audience in history really digs it. It just does very little for me.
Send Me No Flowers (1964)
Approved. This is the one that is far more acceptable than the other Rock Hudson / Doris Day movies I've been writing about lately. Golly, I'll go as far as to say that this movie is wholesome. There's a lot of alcoholism jokes and there's a bit of morbid humor throughout. Similarly, while there aren't any actual affairs, the jokes often revolve around someone potentially having an affair. Still, genuinely approved.
DIRECTOR: Norman Jewison
See, this is the movie I was looking for. I thought that I would have to write off the whole box set. After Lover Come Back simply duplicated Pillow Talk, I had such criminally low expectations for this movie. Instead, I ended up having a really good time. I will go as far as to say that there's really nothing wrong with this movie. But when there's nothing really wrong with a movie, it makes it really hard to gripe about in any meaningful way, which leaves the future of this blog entry a mystery.
I don't know what flipped in me that required a movie to be so darned wholesome. I suppose it is just the acknowledgement that poor behavior should be somehow punished. Maybe I'm wired to old time rules of unity in theater. I have expectations that probably mirror Aristotle's. But there is something extremely encouraging and wonderful about seeing Rock Hudson and Doris Day married at the beginning of a film. Instead of seeing two people treat each other poorly for the vast majority of a film, starting of the film in defense of marriage is a welcome change. With the films about bachelors acting badly, there aren't exactly stakes to the narrative. Really, the stakes fall upon the audience, who want to leave a movie feeling happy knowing that these two will live happily ever after. But by placing these two characters in a healthy and loving marriage, we now have something to lose. It is doubly more interesting because there really isn't a villain to the piece. The conflict exists in the dramatic irony of the situation.
I actually wanted to show my juniors this movie to teach about the role of dramatic irony. Because we know the situation that George has fundamentally misunderstood, we hold onto a little secret. Like many of Shakespeare's comedies, the film really has to balance what it can and can't do to keep the plates spinning in the air. Sometimes it gets a little thin with the hoops that the characters have to jump through to keep the charade going, but it never really feels belabored. Part of me thinks that it is because Send Me No Flowers is adapted from a stage play. There's something very tightly crafted about the whole thing. I won't say that it is high art. But I will say that the film rarely goes for the cheap laugh. Instead, there's a Rube Goldbergian element to the film that keeps the film super interesting. I actually expected there to be one more Jenga piece pulled out at the end with Judy's discovery of the family plot that George paid for. It's this great moment of revelation for her to realize that her husband is a real mensch, but I thought that the movie was going to take a darker turn when Judy would misunderstand that George was going to have her and her lover killed in a murder / suicide. Maybe if I made the film, I couldn't have gotten it approved.
Like I mentioned (and ideally, you might be reading this from the Collections page) I'm watching these movies from the Rock Hudson / Doris Day Comedy Collection. The funny thing is that Tony Randall doesn't really get his due, does he? As much as we're rooting for the protagonists, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Tony Randall is always third billing in these movies and he kind of deserves a little bit of attention. I could have sworn that he was in something like I Dream of Jeannie with Paul Lynde or something, but I digress. It's so odd that these stories couldn't really exist without the Tony Randall archetype to make them actually pretty darned funny. I have to stress that Tony Randall keeps playing variations on the same character over-and-over. These are characters that don't really exist in the world. Basically, with these situation comedies, we need that character to make things worse and worse. They have to somehow earn the absolute trust of the protagonists, but offer the worst advice time and time again. These are the characters, even when they are being no-goodniks, garner our sympathies. Because as much as we love the comedic timing of Rock Hudson or Doris Day, Tony Randall is where it is at.
Send Me No Flowers is what I hoped the whole box set was going to be. I wanted this box set to be bubble gum wholesomeness. I wanted The Comedy of Errors where things were good until a fundamental element of the plot was misunderstood and then everything spiraled out of control. This is the movie I wanted and I'm glad that I now own it. It almost makes the whole box set worth it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.