I watched the sequel to one of my least favorite musicals and, wow, this was better.
Meryl Streep is dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever, about that. I considered this a surprise, as I thought she was marketed with the film, but if advertisements were always true indications of a film, I might have liked Suicide Squad.
Yes, Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, is dead and her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), is set to reopen the hotel now under her management. While she is being helped by the manager Mr. Cienfuegos (Andy Garcia) and her father Sam Carmichael (Pierce Brosnan), she is upset that her other fathers, Harry and Bill (Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgård), are not able to make the grand re-opening. This gets even worse when her husband, Sky (Dominic Cooper), reveals that he will not be able to come either. As Donna’s band members Rosie and Tanya (Julie Walters and Christine Baranski) show up, the film flashes back to tell the story of how a young Donna (Lily James) left Rosie and Tanya (Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn) behind to go explore Europe and meeting young Harry, Bill, and Sam (Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan, Jeremy Irvine). Also, we get to see Cher.
So, I saw Mamma Mia after it originally came out and I did not enjoy it. I thought it was an amazing travel commercial for Greece, but in terms of being an effective musical, even a Jukebox Musical, I felt like it fell short. Honestly, I didn’t think Meryl Streep was as focused and flawless as she usually is and I thought that the songs didn’t really add much to the story, a common problem with trying to do a musical based on one band’s catalogue. The film always felt too grounded in reality for a musical, too, which seemed partially because it had to focus on the leads over the spectacle. Moreover, it sometimes felt to me like an example of why you should not cast certain actors (names have been changed for the sake of the victims) like Bierce Prosnan as leads in a movie like this. They’re great performers, but it’s completely different to pull off a musical number.
This movie apparently read the notes from that one, because they fixed almost everything I didn’t like.
First, it is not at all grounded. Scenes in this range from “over-the-top” to “insane” and I mean both of those in the absolute best way. In order to find justifications for some of ABBA’s more outlandish songs, the musical was forced to venture to situations far outside of a Greek hotel. For example, “Waterloo” is set at a Napoleonic themed restaurant in Paris, and all of the wait staff perform elaborate choreography designed to echo famous portrayals of the French Emperor. It starts to feel like you’re really in the kind of world where people are always on the edge of bursting into song. It also helps that more random bystanders get wrapped up in the music, like when a Vice Chancellor (Celia Imrie) goes from “well, I never” to “well, I always” in the middle of “When I Kissed the Teacher.”
Second, the flashback cast is unbelievably good. Lily James really nails being a wild, young Donna, because she captures all of Meryl Streep’s joie de vivre without the regret we see for her circumstances in the first film. Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn (from Ed Wynn’s family, no less) both have the same comedic timing as their modern counterparts, but also have the requisite energy to keep up with Lily James. Hugh Skinner, the one playing young Colin Firth, was so spot on that I realized what character he was supposed to be immediately. Given how good he was on Fleabag, I suppose I should not have been surprised. While the other two young bachelors are also excellent, I will say that they didn’t really come off as young versions of their older counterparts as much as he did. Still, they were solid and believable as people that young Donna would want to have a romantic adventure with. Also, they’re much better singers than their aged counterparts, sparing us some performance issues. It did bother me that Young Stellan was not played by one of his ~25 children, but I got over it.
Third, they added Cher. I didn’t actually list this as a problem in the first movie, but, let’s be honest, every musical that DOESN’T have Cher in it is inherently inferior. While the movie does not have her in a ton of it, when she does show up and perform, it’s a powerful boost to the third act.
Last, they definitely bumped up the dialogue for this film. I’m not saying that it’s deeper or more sincere; in fact, the opposite is true. This movie has more quips and funny one-liners that better suit the nature of a jukebox musical. There are some sincere moments, to be sure, but most of what keeps the film going are humorous interactions between the cast and this movie takes that up a notch. Admittedly, most of the good lines went to Christine Baranski, but she uses them to their fullest.
Overall, I was amazed how good this movie was and how much of an improvement over the last film. I don’t know that you can watch it without having seen the first one, but if you already suffered through the first one, this is a must-see.
I take a look at the movie that started one of the biggest careers in Hollywood.
David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a traveling salesman on the road in the Mojave Desert in the early 1970s. While out on a long stretch of highway, David encounters an old Peterbilt 281 tanker truck driving on the road. Trying to avoid the smoke coming out of it, David passes the truck, only for it to immediately pass him. David finally passes it another time, leading it to honk angrily at him as he leaves it behind. The truck catches up at a gas station, with the driver unseen except for his hands and boots. The attendant tells David he needs a new radiator hose, but David declines, thinking it’s unnecessary. David calls to apologize to his wife for a fight the night before when she was accosted by a “friend” of David’s, before setting off again.
The truck catches up to David, goes around him, then blocks any of David’s attempts to pass. Eventually, the driver waives David past at a curve, only for David to almost hit an oncoming car. David, in a hurry for an appointment, passes the truck using an unpaved turnout, with the driver seemingly giving up. A few minutes later, though, the truck comes roaring back and tailgates David at an absurd speed, eventually causing him to spin out and crash into a fence. He goes into a nearby diner, then sees the truck outside. He tries to figure out which of the people in the diner is the driver, but when he confronts one, they hit him and drive off in a different truck. The Peterbilt 281 then starts up, revealing that the driver was never inside the diner.
David takes off again, now believing that he’s following the truck, only to be flagged down by a stuck school bus asking for a push. He tries to push it, but gets caught underneath just as the truck arrives. David panics, fearing for the school kids, and manages to get the car unstuck, but the truck pushes the kids back on the road. David starts driving, confused, and ends up at a railroad crossing. The truck comes up behind him and tries to push him into the train, but David barely avoids it, letting the truck finally get completely ahead of him. David slows down to let the truck get more distance, but the truck just waits for him beside the road. David stops to call the police and the truck destroys the phone booth just as he gets out of it. David tries to hide, but the truck is again waiting for him. He tries to get help from strangers, but the truck threatens them and they run. The truck starts flat-out chasing David just as his radiator hose finally gives out, overheating the car. He loses speed as the car dies, but manages to coast down a hill in neutral before crashing. He ends up restarting his car and uses his briefcase to send his car into the truck. When they collide, David’s car bursts into flames, blinding the driver, who goes over a cliff, roaring as the truck descends. David sits on the edge as the sun sets and throws rocks into the canyon.
This category was “First Film By A Great Director,” and I knew I was going to pick this film from the start. The only other contenders were Reservoir Dogs, because I love that film, and Piranha II: The Spawning, James Cameron’s first movie, because it’s hilariously bad. However, Duel has the rare distinction of being made at just the right time and for just the right budget that it shows everyone what Steven Spielberg was going to become, rather than just showing Steven Spielberg as we would come to know him. For those of you who would point out that the first “feature-length” thing directed by Spielberg was an episode of The Name of the Game or that, since Duel was made-for-TV, his first “theatrical feature” was The Sugarland Express, I say to you: The former was a TV episode, not a movie, Duel was released in limited theaters both domestic and abroad, and you suck. Sugarland Express is a good movie, though.
The key to Duel, much like Jaws, is in the mystery. You never see the driver of the truck. That was explicitly the intent of the script written by Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend and sixteen episodes of the original The Twilight Zone. Because you never know what the person behind it is thinking or doing, you instead start to fear the truck itself and the honking associated with it. You get the same experience from Jaws when you hear the musical score and see open water. You don’t know where the danger is, but you know it could be there. To emphasize the nature of the truck as the true enemy, Spielberg actually selected the Peterbilt truck seen in the film, because it appeared to have a face. Stephen King would later decide to throw out all subtlety in his directorial debut, Maximum Overdrive, by just putting a face on the truck. There’s a reason Spielberg is the one with the Oscars.
The film has almost no dialogue, with most of the words in the film being David’s “inner voice.” We never hear a single word from the driver, only the honks and the roaring of the engine. The most David speaks to another person is in the diner, and even then much of the dialogue is in his head. What we do here is mostly natural conversation or stream of consciousness. That means that the film relies on a lot of visual storytelling, without much in the way of exposition. This makes us relate very strongly to David throughout, and, by only giving us his thoughts, putting us in a vulnerable position the same way that he is. It makes his ultimate triumph all the greater for the viewer. Dennis Weaver was a great casting choice, because he can play normal and also crazed well, giving us a nice range between how he is at the beginning and how he slowly mentally devolves through the horrible experience of the film.
There is one more major thing in the movie that really, to me, tells of how well Spielberg understands filmmaking, and it’s easy to miss. At the beginning of the film, we’re in a POV shot of a car driving out of a city and random, changing, radio transmissions. Right before David catches up to the truck, however, we hear a radio discussion of a man talking about his insecurities of not being the head of his household. He reveals that he wears a house dress and slippers while his wife is the breadwinner. As David listens to this, he finally decides to pass the truck, setting off the events of the movie. We later find out that David had previously fought with his wife over the fact that David wasn’t willing to stand up for her recently. So, as David hears about this man who is afraid of appearing emasculated, that’s when he, as a man who has also recently been emasculated, tries to reclaim his manhood by passing the truck. As a result, he ends up drawing the eye of an apparent serial killer and being victimized for the rest of the movie. It’s that subtle motivation that most movies would miss, but Spielberg nails.
Overall, you really need to see this movie if you haven’t. It’s a hell of a film and it’s been referenced in video games, other movies, television (including Tiny Toons), music videos, and even anime (Lupin III had a reference to it in the 1970s). All despite originally being a movie of the week on ABC.
I take a look at one of the best entries into the film noir genre. See. This. Movie.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for a movie that is 70 years old)
In post-WWII Vienna, the city has become divided by the four powers currently occupying it: The Americans, the French, the British, and the Soviets. American author Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has been invited to the city by his old friend Harry Lime, who promised him a job opportunity. Unfortunately, when Martins arrives, he finds out that Lime is dead, having just recently been killed in a car accident. At Lime’s funeral, Martins meets two British policemen, Paine and Calloway (Bernard Lee and Trevor Howard), who tell him that Lime was a criminal, though Martins accuses them of just trying to pin unsolved crimes on a dead man. The Brits try to get Martins out of Vienna, but he is invited to stay in the city by a local book club.
Martins goes to meet a friend of Lime’s, Baron Kurtz (Ernst Deutsch), who claims that he and another friend named Popescu (Siegfried Breuer) were present at Lime’s death. However, Kurtz’s account, and Popescu’s, are both contradicted by Lime’s porter, Karl (Paul Hörbiger), who says that he saw a third man near Lime’s body after the accident. Lime’s doctor, Winkel (Erich Ponto), says he only saw two men, but cryptically refuses to say more about the accident. Meanwhile, Martins meets with Lime’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli), who is being investigated by the police. In the process, they find out that she has a fake passport, because she’s really Soviet. Martins starts to become attracted to her.
The porter offers to give Martins more information, but he’s murdered before he can. The crowd believes that Martins murdered him and chases after him. Martins escapes the crowd and ends up at the book club where he is completely unprepared to make a presentation, but when confronted by Popescu, tells him that he’s writing a story called “The Third Man,” about the events. Popescu advises him to stick to fiction and sends two goons after Martins. Martins escapes and sees the British police again. Martins demands they investigate Lime’s murder, but the police reveal that Lime was stealing penicillin and diluting it to re-sell, resulting in a large number of deaths from the tainted medicine. Martins refuses to believe it, but they show him an immense amount of evidence until he is convinced.
Martins goes to visit Anna before she is sent to the Soviet sector, where she reveals that she was told about Lime’s crimes but refuses to believe them. Leaving her apartment, Anna’s cat goes to someone standing in the shadows. Martins, drunk, yells at the figure, assuming it’s one of the locals, only for a light to reveal that it is Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Lime runs away and escapes into the sewer. The police excavate Lime’s coffin and find the hospital orderly who stole the penicillin for Lime. Martins meets with Lime the next day on a Ferris wheel. Lime threatens Martins, but when Martins reveals the police know Lime’s alive, Lime offers Martins a job and leaves. Calloway asks Martins to help catch Lime, and he agrees if they help Anna leave the city without having to go back to the USSR. Anna, however, refuses to leave, believing that Martins is betraying Lime. She warns Lime of the police, so Martins and the officers give chase through the sewers, eventually cornering Lime, who is shot by Calloway and wounded. Lime tries to crawl out, but cannot make it, so he asks Martins to kill him. Martins does. At Lime’s second funeral, Martins risks missing his flight out of Vienna to meet with Anna, but she ignores him completely.
The prompt for this film was “Film with Favorite Last Scene.” There are a number of films I love with iconic last scenes, ranging from Anthony Perkins looking into the camera in Psycho, to the unforgettable fist-pumping of The Breakfast Club, to Casablanca’s start of a beautiful friendship. However, when I thought about it, I had to pick this film, because the last scene is so simple, but so subversive at the same time.
This film is a masterpiece of noir because throughout the first two acts nothing in it ever quite fits. Everything in the film is designed to throw you off just a little bit, from the heavy use of Dutch angles giving the movie an off-kilter look to the zither music that populates the film to the characters. The dialogue was written by Brighton Rock author Graham Greene, adding to its quick and pointed nature. The Baron and the Doctor, who are apparently a couple, both come off as deceptive. If you do read it as them being together romantically, then it adds a layer as to WHY they might seem like they’re trying to hide something, aside from just their work with Lime. The only people who seem to be conveying everything they know are the Porter and Anna’s landlady, both of whom don’t really speak English at all. In fact, much of the film relies on the characters speaking German without translation, leaving the audience, and Martins, completely oblivious to what’s being said. So, you have odd angles, odd sounds, odd performances, and an inability to understand much of the dialogue, all of which starts to correct itself once Harry Lime is revealed and the entire plot is now more clear.
Orson Welles, a huge name at the time of this movie’s premiere, is not featured in the first two acts of this movie. However, despite his limited screen time, he is the perfect villain. He is threatening, he’s always in control, but moreover, he’s very appealing. He takes Martins up on a Ferris wheel and asks him if he’d care if any of the “dots,” the people below, disappeared in exchange for $20,000. “Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.” Moreover, Welles improvised some of the dialogue, including his famous line “in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” It’s that exact justification for horror and violence that makes him such a perfect character.
Throughout the movie, we are shown how much Anna loved Harry Lime. She keeps mementos of him everywhere, she gets sad at the times when he usually would come by, she drinks heavily as she thinks about his passing, and she basically treats his room as a shrine. When told of Lime’s crimes, she doesn’t seem to ever consider whether he’s guilty. Moreover, she might just not care one way or the other. She loves him and she wants to be with him. We’re shown that Lime doesn’t really care about her, something he makes clear to Martins during their conversation when he shows no concern for her deportation. It might be that he’s hiding it a bit, since he nonchalantly draws her name in a window, but Lime’s willingness to let her think he’s dead seems to indicate he doesn’t care. When Martins tries to help Anna, she instead rejects him as a traitor and mocks him. She loves Harry, she doesn’t really care if Harry loves her.
In the final scene of the film, we see Martins getting ready to finally leave the city. Everything is done. However, when he sees Anna, he can’t help but try to talk with her. He wants to connect with her, the way he hoped he had before. But the fact was that she never really saw him that way, as evidenced by the fact that the one time she flirted with him, she called him “Harry.” So, when Martins gets out, we are forced to watch Anna walk directly towards the camera, forcefully, for over a minute, before she just walks past Martins without acknowledging him. Martins, shocked for a moment, then lights a cigarette, realizing his mistake.
Possibly the best thing about this is that it’s the absolute right thing to happen in the scene, but it’s still a subversion. People expect a happy ending for the good guy. Martins worked to help Anna out even when it was risking his own ability to leave the country. At the end, he gives up his other chance to leave (which was tough in 1949) to try and meet with her. Calloway even looks at the scene and drives off, not waiting to see how it plays out, supposedly believing that it will take time. Yet, at the end, she never was interested in him, and nothing about him killing the love of her life has changed that, so she just ignores him. There’s no yelling or screaming at him turning into a kiss, no, it’s just complete disdain. It’s made only the better because we’re forced to wait so long as she walks straight towards the camera in order to find out.
Overall, this is a fantastic movie. Spend the money. See the film.
The final audience selection happens to be one of my favorite movies.
Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) is a professional hitman whose latest job was botched by a rival killer named Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), who wishes to form a hitman’s union. Martin’s assistant, Marcella (Joan Cusack), lets him know that he’s been invited to his 10 year high school reunion, which he rejects. Martin finds out that his next job is going to be in his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, at the same time as the reunion. Martin sees his therapist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), who convinces him to go as a way of dealing with his growing apathy towards contract killing.
In Grosse Pointe, Martin meets his old friend Paul (Jeremy Piven) and his ex-girlfriend Debi (Minnie Driver), who is now the local DJ. Martin had left Debi at the Prom their Senior Year because he freaked out and joined the Army. He goes to visit his mother (Barbara Harris), who is suffering from dementia, and finds that his former home has been bulldozed and replaced by a mini-mart. Grocer discovers that his clients have given the Grosse Pointe job to Martin, so Grocer leaks Martin’s whereabouts to two NSA agents (K. Todd Freeman and Hank Azaria). Also, due to Martin accidentally killing a dog during a previous job, a hitman named LaPoubelle (Benny Urquidez) arrives in town to try and kill Blank. Despite all of this, Martin repeatedly postpones the hit, or even opening the folder to learn his target’s identity. Whenever anyone asks what happened to Martin, he tells them that he’s a hitman. They always believe him to be joking.
Martin meets up with Debi again and asks her to go with him to the reunion. When he picks her up, he meets with her father, Bart (Mitchell Ryan), who mostly ignores Martin. At the reunion, Martin and Debi meet with some old classmates and exchange fun moments. After the pair have sex in a private room at the school, Martin is attacked by LaPoubelle, whom he kills in self-defense. Debi finds Martin with the body and leaves, but Paul helps Martin dispose of the corpse. Debi later confronts Martin, who reveals that when he joined the Army, they said he had a special “moral flexibility” which made him attractive to the CIA. The CIA then made Martin an assassin until he left. Martin’s attempts to rationalize his work only drive her away.
Martin has an emotional breakthrough after talking to Debi and decides to quit, having Marcella destroy the office. He finally opens the target information and is shocked to find that it’s Debi’s father, Bart, who was set to testify against some of Martin’s clients. Grocer tries to kill Martin along with his union assassins, but Martin kills them all, as well as the NSA agents. Martin proposes to Debi, who doesn’t respond. Later, it’s revealed that the two are leaving Grosse Pointe together, trying to give their relationship one last shot.
This was narrowly the most nominated film of the final audience poll, which was also the poll with the most nominations (totalling 140, including duplicates). Unfortunately, Grosse Pointe Blank was also, originally, going to be my choice for Best Soundtrack, so I had to replace that day with Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which worked out fine. This way I got to do two of my favorite films and support democracy in the process.
I consider this film to be one of the pinnacles of dark comedy and it sets that tone immediately. The film opens with the song “I Can See Clearly Now” playing while Martin is having a casual conversation with Marcella, only for him to reveal a sniper rifle. It appears that Martin is supposed to kill a person leaving the building, only for him to actually be protecting that person, having him kill another assassin when the song crescendos to “Bright, Bright Sunshine-y Day.” Immediately after this, Martin, confident that the job is done, turns away from the window, only for Dan Aykroyd to come out and murder the target anyway. It’s a series of humorous, albeit dark, subversions that are only elevated by the soundtrack choice. That’s pretty much the entire movie wrapped up in a nutshell, and it works amazingly well. Later, you get the same feeling from a shootout to “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead.
Because of the tone, this film constantly had to walk a fine line. You had to make Martin Blank simultaneously likable enough that we want to root for him, but also the kind of person that would become a contract killer in the first place. That’s what makes Doctor Oatman such a great element to this movie (aside from giving us an excuse to see Alan Arkin), because it allows Blank to try and speak honestly about how he justifies his career to himself. He tries to constantly talk his way around it, including cliches like “what a person does for a living is not a reflection of who he is,” but Oatman always treats Martin’s job like what it is: Killing people. The fact that Martin keeps going back to him shows that Martin is actually trying to force the reality of what he does onto himself in an attempt to quit. With anyone less charming or less able to deliver the lines with sincerity than John Cusack, this movie would fail completely, but Cusack constantly represents both a cold and calculating murderer and also a sad human being who is wracked with regrets that he covers up with quips.
Minnie Driver’s performance as Debi is almost equally nuanced. She’s the person who has never quite gotten over the one that got away. She’s been hurt, and we find out that she’s even tried to get past it, even being married briefly, but that she never had the connection with anyone else that she had with Martin. When he comes back, she is conflicted between her desire to give him another shot and her undeniable attraction to him. If it weren’t for Driver’s ability to look like she’s always trying to restrain herself throughout the film, it wouldn’t work. Instead, we understand when she gives in and kisses Martin, but also when she’s trying to keep herself from doing so.
The supporting cast is also amazing. Joan Cusack, whose banter with John is colored just a little in just the right way by their real-life familial relationship, plays the perfect assistant, never judging her boss, but always wanting to help him as both a hitman and a person. Dan Aykroyd brings a comic flair to an antagonist, so much that you almost can’t hate him for what he does. The concept of a hitman who wants to unionize the profession seems laughable, but Aykroyd’s off-kilter performance makes you believe that if there was a person who would try it, it’s him. Jeremy Piven’s character almost seems like a predecessor to his role as Ari Gold on Entourage. He’s always trying to make himself seem bigger and more interesting than he is, but when you need someone to help you move a body, he’s there. Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman are great as a pair of Federal agents with differing opinions about how the justice system works, and who also just enjoy messing with Blank. Alan Arkin is a treasure as always.
The script is amazing. Just like with Cusack’s performance, it has to walk a thin line, but it does it beautifully. It’s filled with great lines that reveal more about our characters while also deepening the portrayal. Most of Blank’s lines are dark jokes referencing his past or present, including making quick threats against Doctor Oatman or trying to tell everyone he meets about the truth of his circumstances. The movie trusts its audience to follow along at a fairly rapid pace, but it gives you just enough time to breathe before the gunfights to catch up.
Then there’s the soundtrack. The soundtrack was composed by Joe Strummer from the Clash and includes a great mix of 1980s and 1990s hits. Pretty much the entire movie has some contemporary song playing either in the background or over the scene, resulting in so many songs being featured that there are two soundtrack albums with a full baker’s dozen left unreleased. Throughout much of the film, the music complements the scene, including an amazing use of “99 Red Balloons” during an almost slapstick-esque body disposal. It both evokes the same nostalgia that the characters are feeling throughout the events and also heightens the ironic tone of many of the scenes.
Overall, this film is just brilliant. I recommend seeing it if you haven’t. It’s worth the $3 rental. Or wait for it to come back on Netflix.
I let my “friends” pick a movie from the prompt and, well, they went for it.
BACKGROUND (CW: A LOT OF VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE)
Feast is a movie about a group of people at a bar getting attacked by a group of violent and disgusting monsters. It was notable for its humor, its tendency to subvert tropes, the creature designs, and for its heavy use of gore. Every character is introduced by a bio which typically includes a nickname rather than a real name, some fun fact, and a “life expectancy” that is usually a clever pun. Despite the relatively low production values and the lack of a plot, I have a soft spot for it. Plus, it has Judah Friedlander, Henry Rollins, Jason Mewes, and Sean Penn’s mom Eileen Ryan in it.
The second movie was a bit different. Taking place shortly after the monsters attack, a group of survivors are caught in a town that is now populated almost completely by the creatures. Rather than having to defend a single position, this film mostly deals with the various groups trying to survive until they can find a way to escape. Rather than the bios, each of the characters gets a short intro video. The personalities, gore, and sexuality are even bigger than in the first one, but the budget was definitely not. Surprisingly, or not since they apparently filmed both sequels back to back, Feast II ends on a massive cliffhanger, with several characters in literal mortal peril.
SUMMARY (CW: A LOT MORE SEXUAL VIOLENCE)
Feast III actually starts by replaying the last few minutes of Feast II, then re-introducing us to the characters using the same kind of humorous bios as in the first movie. When we rejoin the story, Honey Pie (Jenny Wade), one of the only characters from the first movies to make it into both sequels, has been injured and is covered in blood, but she starts to rally herself to be a hero. She is promptly beheaded and, just to drive it home, the monster eats her head whole then defecates it out. Nearby, little person luchador Lightning (Juan Longoria Garcia) survives Hobo’s (William Prael) attempt to kill him. Hobo, a local meth dealer, has secured himself inside of the local police station and refuses to help anyone. The remaining survivors are: the Biker Queen (Diane Ayala Goldner), her topless biker associates Tat Girl and Tit Girl (Chelsea Richards and Melissa Reed), car dealer Slasher (Carl Anthony Payne), his cheating wife Secrets (Hanna Putnam), her lover Greg (Tom Gulager), who now has a pole lodged in his head from an explosion, and the Bartender from the first film (Clu Gulager).
The survivors finally make their way into the local jail with the help of the newly arrived and heavily-armed Shitkicker (John Allen Nelson). Shitkicker informs them that the monsters appear to be everywhere and that no one is coming to save them. Greg proposes that they take a bunch of cars from Slasher’s lot. Shitkicker proposes an offensive, but is accidentally killed by Secrets. Slasher quickly abandons the group and tries to hide, but is confronted by a group of other survivors inside of a storage unit. They attack Slasher for his past misdeeds, but when Slasher backs up, a monster rapes him through a hole in the wall. It impregnates him and he immediately gives birth to a Slasher hybrid which kills all of the survivors in the hideout.
The bikers try to make their exit using Hobo’s bus, but it breaks down. The monsters swarm them, but the monsters are suddenly driven back at the command of a mysterious robed figure called “The Prophet.” (Josh Blue) The Prophet reveals that he can command the creatures to leave. He tries to lead them to the nearest big city by way of the sewers, but they are ambushed by a group of infected humans who have been driven mad by the monsters’ vomit, something never seen before. The infected kill Tat Girl and threaten the rest. They’re saved by “John-Claude Segal,” a martial-arts vigilante (Craig Henningsen). He tries to lead the survivors, but, as with all heroes, quickly gets his arm ripped off. While trying to cauterize it, Bartender blows the other arm off.
The survivors find “The Hive,” a giant rave populated by infected townspeople. Biker Queen is infected and Jean-Claude Segal dies fighting off the horde. The Prophet discovers it was his malfunctioning hearing aid that drove off the monsters and is killed. Secrets beats the Slasher hybrid to death with the pipe in Greg’s head, and Biker Queen leads the monsters away to save the rest. The Bartender tells Secrets and Lightning that they need to repopulate the Earth, only for a giant robot to kill Secrets and Lightning. A guitarist sings “the ballad of Feast” through the credits, refusing to explain anything.
The prompt for this day was “Horror Franchise Film.” I interpreted that as excluding the first film, because I don’t think any series really counts as a “franchise” at one. I decided to give two of the members of my bad movie group, with whom I have watched a countless number of horror films, a chance to pick this prompt. They selected this film, so I have come to suspect that my friends hate me.
Actually, I’ll be honest, this movie isn’t that bad once you get numb to the gore and the exploitation. It’s kind of predictable for much of it because the series had established a number of rules at this point that they tended to adhere to strongly. First, heroes are going to die, usually quickly, and always painfully. In the first film, this was kind of funny and a solid subversion, because the character introduced as “hero,” who promises to save the rest of the group, is decapitated immediately. Similarly, in this movie, the character “Shitkicker,” who is supposed to represent the more modern action hero for horror films, dies quickly by complete accident. Second, anyone can die, even the innocent. In the first film, this was cemented when a young child was killed after being found unharmed. In the second, it’s when a baby is used as a distraction by Greg so that he can survive. In this, it’s the developmentally-disabled Prophet. Since we had two movies to get used to this, it really wasn’t as exciting. However, some of the moments were still pretty entertaining when they actually happened, if only for the fact that we finally got to the punchline of the joke we had been waiting for. Perhaps the most ridiculous is the final shot of a giant robot crushing our survivors, which literally comes out of nowhere and makes absolutely no sense, but somehow still felt inevitable.
The blood and gore in this one is pretty huge, but it isn’t any higher than the last two. The sexuality was much higher, though. First, the biker girls are nude throughout the entire film, so you’re never short on breast shots. They barely even count as gratuitous since they’re nearly constant. Even exploitation films would say “maybe hold off a bit.” Second, the monsters and humans have genitals more prominently displayed in this one. In the first film, the monsters mostly wore primitive clothing or were found in darkness, whereas this film has them nude in plain sight. The amount of detail given to them is going to make you uncomfortable, similar to looking at the mouth of the xenomorph from Alien.
The film makes a point of introducing new things and never explaining them, like the infected humans or the giant robot and at the end even makes a point of singing that nothing will ever be satisfactorily explained. That’s always been part of the franchise, but this entry makes it especially obvious. While no one would probably care where the monsters came from if they were just attacking for a night, the longer that they’re on screen, the more we are looking to find out about them and the more obvious it is that no information is going to come out. We only vaguely find out that the rest of the country appears to be destroyed, so apparently there are a lot of these creatures and they came from nowhere, but we don’t really know any details. It’s kind of a joke the film is playing on us by keeping us in the dark.
Overall, this trilogy is pretty much dedicated to being as gross as possible and to avoid traditional horror tropes. Because of that, and the dark humor that persists throughout, these films are actually kind of unique. If you’re a fan of gore, then you’ll probably like these. If not… well, stay the hell away.
Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) are two teenagers who dream of musical success as the band “Wyld Stallyns.” In the first film, Bill and Ted are confronted by a time-traveler named Rufus (George Carlin), who gives them a time machine so that the pair can pass their history final and keep the band together. In the process, they meet a number of historical figures, but also two princesses named Joanna and Elizabeth (Kimberley Kates/Jayma Mays and Diane Franklin/Erinn Hayes). They succeed in passing the exam and, with the help of Rufus, start the band with the princesses. Rufus reveals that Wyld Stallyns’ music will one day turn Earth into a utopia. In the second film, Chuck De Nomolos (Joss Ackland), a villain from the future, kills Bill and Ted using two evil robot copies, forcing them to confront Death (William Sadler) and go through the afterlife in order to defeat the bad robots. At the end, the pair stop De Nomolos, marry the princesses, have two kids, and perform a hit song in front of the entire world.
Well, turns out that the concert was not the act that changed the world into a utopia. Now, almost thirty years later, Bill and Ted are still trying to figure out the song they need to write to create the perfect future while raising their music-enthusiast daughters Billie Logan and Thea Preston (Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving) with their wives. The duo are confronted by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of Rufus, who comes to take them to meet the great leader, her mother (Holland Taylor), who informs the pair that they have only a few hours to perform the song or else the entire universe unravels. Bill and Ted set off to create the single greatest musical hit in the multiverse.
The category for this one was “Film World You Want To Live In,” and this was a tough one. You’d think you want to live in Middle Earth or in Star Wars, but a lot of the time those places are in constant turmoil. If you’re not a chosen one, you’re probably going to get killed. Narnia? You’d better worship Lion Neeson. Harry Potter? Fine if you’re a wizard, but if you’re a muggle somebody might mind-erase you into forgetting your kids. Also, wizard Hitlers abound. So, my finalists were originally Star Trek, because it’s a future in which all of humanity lives in a constant state of self-actualization, and Mirrormask, because the City of Light is amazing as long as you occasionally stop a thief on their way out of the town. However, on August 28th, the universe (and United Artists), gave me a sign by releasing Bill and Ted Face the Music. Not only was it a fantastic third entry to the franchise, but it was a stark reminder of the attitude that made the first two films amazing. Plus, it removed the somewhat cringeworthy-in-hindsight homophobia.
Bill and Ted, the characters, stood out among the litany of similar characters because they were always positive. Despite the fact that Ted’s dad ridiculed the two or that they had absolutely no musical talent, they always had an optimistic outlook towards not just themselves, but the world in general. No matter how much the world threw at them, up to literally sending them to a Tim Burton-esque Hell, the two never surrendered that point of view. It often seemed connected to their valley-boy/stoner personalities and seemingly lower intelligence, but as they constantly prove to be smarter than most people expect, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact, it’s revealed that they seem to instinctively understand the universe better than most people, from time travel to the meaning of life. Instead of just being idiots, it’s that the two have an incredible ability to try and move past any injustice done to them. It’s honestly like a form of enlightenment summarized as “Be excellent to each other” and “Party on, dudes.” The fact that Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves were completely perfect in their portrayals was just the icing on the cake.
A big reason why this universe is so amazing, and why I’d want to live in it, is that these two form the backbone of the future. Not some great orator or a general, but two relaxed guitar dudes who just want everyone to get along and have fun. It’s somehow the most optimistic version of the future I can think of. Almost everyone is happy, the universe is peaceful, and, most amazingly, history and the arts are the most influential subjects. When we see the future of Bill and Ted, it’s not driven just by science or exploration like most sci-fi futures, but by appreciation for the humanities. In fact, when we see the flaws in the future, they’re almost all associated with people who are opposed to music or too dedicated to the sciences to appreciate anything else.
Also, unlike most films depicting a great future, the one presented by Bill and Ted is focused heavily on education reform. While Bill and Ted might be failing history in High School when they’re repeatedly drilled on facts, they manage to learn a great deal in a short period (less than a day) when they start interacting with the historical figures. We then see in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey that, in the future, this is how education works, through interactive learning. Moreover, they constantly find ways to use what they do know (song lyrics and pop culture) and apply it to other situations, something that I, a person who loves to integrate pop culture with everything, really appreciate.
But the biggest reason why I love this universe came in the third movie. So, ****SPOILER ALERT*** if you haven’t seen it. Go buy it now and come back after you’ve enjoyed it. At the end of Bill and Ted Face the Music, it’s revealed that Bill and Ted actually aren’t the key to the universe. While they do play part of the song, and amazingly, it’s their daughters that arrange the music by going through history and combining a number of styles of music into a song that can appeal to anyone. Music is one of the few things that almost every culture has created since the dawn of humanity, so it makes sense that it’s the thing that can unite humanity. Then, the film ends not with a dedication to the song, but with the simple observation that the song wasn’t the important part: it’s that everyone played it together. Everyone managed to just find one thing for one second that they could agree on, and that’s all it took. And I find that hopeful, because even though the world may seem super divided, there is always a chance that someone out there will find that one thing that can bring us together and that it probably won’t be some grand speech or some scholarly lecture. It’ll be something that everyone can appreciate. Maybe it’ll be a drunken blog post, who knows.
Overall, I loved this movie and the two that preceded it. Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes.
This Academy Award-winning documentary shines a powerful light on the people in the shadows.
This is a documentary about famous backup singers, including Darlene Love and her group the Blossoms, Grammy-winner Lisa Fischer, up-and-comer Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Tata Vega, the Waters family, and Jo Lawry, among others. It goes into the careers of these amazing performers who made so many of the iconic songs that we love and yet never got the fame that they deserve. It’s a stunning view of a part of the music industry that people probably never thought about. There are also plenty of big names talking to everyone, like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler, and Sheryl Crow.
This category ended up being “Academy Award Winning Documentary Film,” and my first thought was actually to pick John Ford’s documentary on the Battle of Midway because I had seen the film Midway earlier this year and had selected a John Ford film for Day 17. I also considered amazing films like Man on a Wire or Kon-Tiki, but then I heard The Faceless Old Woman Who Lives on My Sofa tell me that I needed to watch this film, and it turns out that, like most men will eventually learn, listening to my woman was the right decision.
This film isn’t a dark war story or a film about children dying, it’s just a movie about some people that have undoubtedly influenced your life and yet you likely don’t know who they are. Even the ones that had their big moment have fallen into obscurity again. One of the things this film does so well is that it shows us the lives of these artists like you’d expect, but first it shocks us with how many songs we already know their voices from. There’s a single sequence in which we find out that Darlene Love and the Blossoms were the backing voices for songs ranging from “The Monster Mash,” to Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” to the Crystal’s “Da Doo Ron Ron.” Moreover, it turns out that the Blossoms were the actual voices on the song “He’s a Rebel,” a number one hit, but Phil Spector (sorry, CONVICTED MURDERER Phil Spector), instead marketed it as a Crystals recording. That’s just one of the groups whose recordings you’ve undoubtedly heard, but never thought about whose voices were actually telling you “they did the mash.” Oh, and Darlene Love, a black woman, was one of the lead female voices on “Sweet Home Alabama,” something that even she acknowledges was a bit surprising.
One thing the movie mentioned was how different it is for an artist to have to constantly sing together on key and match someone throughout a performance. While my singing abilities are best described as carcinogenic, the way they explain it does succeed in conveying the added difficulty that many singers couldn’t handle. Not coincidentally, most background singers start off singing in church choirs; apparently that’s where you learn to harmonize with a lead. What seems unquestioned throughout the series, by both the lead singers and the backups, is that many of the backup singers are just as talented as most stars, or even moreso, but somehow just don’t get the public’s ear at the right time. It’s honestly sad to hear these great voices and these great talents not get the acclaim they deserve, but most of them made their peace with it and take pride in doing a great job as a backup singer. Others, however, are still trying to get their name out there, so they’re still trying to make that long walk from the background to center stage.
Overall, this was a great film. Unfortunately, it’s leaving Netflix on September 23, so, if you are reading this, watch it now. It’ll change your perspective on music.
This is my third watch-through of a movie I tell everyone should be watched exactly once.
SUMMARY (CW: Children dying horribly)
On September 21, 1945, less than three weeks after WWII ends, a young boy named Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi/Adam Gibbs) starves to death in a train station. As a janitor goes through Seita’s possessions, he finds a tin of Sakuma drops (a hard candy from Japan) and discards it into a field. Several small bones fall out, and, along with some fireflies, the spirit of a small girl, Seita’s younger sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi/ Emily Neves), emerges. Together, Seita and Setsuko’s spirits board an ethereal train.
The film then moves a few months back to the end of WWII. Seita and Setsuko live in Kobe with their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara / Shellee Calene-Black), who dies when the US firebombs the city, getting burned to the point that she is unrecognizable. Seita and Setsuko move in with a distant aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi/Marcy Bannor). The aunt is kind to the children at first, but eventually she convinces Seita to let her sell his mother’s valuable silk kimonos in exchange for rice. Seita also gives his aunt all of their possession, except for a tin of Sakuma drops that he keeps for Setsuko. As the war gets to the final stages, rations start to decrease and the number of people in the house starts to increase. The aunt starts to accuse Seita, whose school has been burned down and who can’t get work due to the factories being destroyed, of being lazy and ungrateful. Seita, who wants independence, buys a stove using his mother’s savings and cooks for just himself and Setsuko. Eventually, he decides that the pair should live in an abandoned bomb shelter.
The pair survive off of the land for a brief period while living in the shelter. When Setsuko gets scared of the dark, Seita catches fireflies and keeps them in the shelter with them. The next morning, all of the insects are dead. Setsuko buries all of them in a grave and starts to ask why everything has to die, like their mother. After their supplies start to run low, Seita tries to trade with the farmers, but is refused. Eventually, he starts stealing from farms and running into houses to steal during bombing raids. Eventually, he’s caught and beaten, but is saved from prosecution by a friend of his father, who is currently in the Japanese Navy.
Setsuko starts to fall ill and a doctor tells Seita that it’s just malnutrition. Seita withdraws the last of the money from their mother’s bank account just as he learns that Japan has surrendered and that his father is probably dead. Seita returns with food for Setsuko, but she dies before he finishes cooking it. Seita cremates her body and stores her remains in the candy tin. In the present, their spirits arrive in modern Kobe, sitting on a hilltop and watching the world happily.
I absolutely hate whoever came up with “Film that Depresses You Horribly” as a prompt, but I hate the fact that I didn’t get rid of it even more. Trying to decide which horribly depressing film you want to watch is like asking what brand of liquid laxative to drink before your colonoscopy. No matter what you pick, it’s a shitty time. Anyway, after nominating Sophie’s Choice, Blue Velvet, Lars Von Trier’s Depression Trilogy, and this film, I picked this one because it seems the most relevant. No, not because we’re fighting a war with Japan right now (we’re not, right?), but because of the actual intended message of the film.
People who watch this movie will almost uniformly declare it to be an anti-war film, something which the late director, Studio Ghibli founder Isao Takahata, would say was incorrect. In fact, he directly opposed the idea that this is an anti-war anime, because he believed that anyone that used the suffering of the citizens as a justification to avoid war could also use it as a justification for just attacking first. After all, if you kill all of their innocent citizens first, then yours get to live. Not hard to imagine why a guy born in Japan in the 1930s and who lived through a 1945 bombing might have some negative opinions about trying to justify starting a war.
However, I think that the film does successfully convey the horror of being a citizen when your country is being attacked. There is one scene in the film in which almost everything on screen is on fire, with the entire block just being erased from existence by the bombers. When we next see the area, it’s now a completely scorched landscape, with factories, homes, and even people rendered into a charred mass. It’s incredibly disturbing, but it’s only compounded when we are shown the image of Seita’s mother burned over her entire body. She’s unrecognizable to almost anyone, and later, her wounds are filled with insects and rot. The movie makes sure that we understand that this was not a pleasant end. The same is true of Seita and Setsuko starving to death. It’s not a fast ending, it’s slow and painful. Moreover, it was easily preventable by any number of people.
That’s apparently closer to the film’s actual aim, at least from what I can find. Obviously, if you’re a fan of ignoring authorial intent, then that’s a completely valid point of view, but I do like to consider it, particularly in films like this. It seems that the intent in this film wasn’t to say that war is terrible, but instead to say that these children died because no one helped them. They were socially isolated because their aunt kept telling them that they were ungrateful, leading them to leave, and she never checked on them again. Children become aware that the two are living there, but no one comes to check on them. Seita takes Setsuko to a doctor who tells him the child is malnourished, but when Seita asks how to feed her, the doctor just ignores him. The farmers don’t offer to help the children. Even the janitor seems unphased by the dead pre-teen in front of him. The society has become cold and insular because of the stresses from the war, rather than working together or trying to help each other. These children die because everyone abandons them.
Overall, this is a great film, but it’s hard to watch. Not just because it revolves around kids dying, but because the message isn’t just about war, but about humanity. People need to care for each other, even more when everything is going badly.
I take a look at a movie that tells us a lot about ourselves, for better or for worse.
Senator Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) and his wife, Hallie (Vera Miles), arrive in the Western town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of a cowboy named Tom Doniphan (John Wayne). While the two arrivals are the talk of the town, almost no one seems to care about the deceased, including the undertaker, who steals the man’s shoes. Hallie rides with an old friend, Pompey (Woody Strode), to see Tom’s home while Ransom talks with local newspaper editor Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) about why he’s at the funeral for a seeming nobody.
25 years prior, Ransom Stoddard is a newly-minted attorney who is heading out West. On his way into town, he is robbed and beaten by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his two henchmen, Floyd and Reese (Strother Martin and Lee Van Cleef). Ranse is rescued by Tom Doniphan, who takes him to Shinbone. Hallie and her parents (Jeanette Nolan and John Qualen) care for Ransom (or “Ranse”) and give him a job in their restaurant. Ranse quickly learns that the local Marshal, Link Appleyard (Andy Devine), won’t do anything against Liberty Valance, even when Ranse finds legal precedent for him to arrest him. Tom Doniphan is the only person that stands up to Valance, with Tom advising Ranse that the only thing Liberty will respect is a gun. An incident in the restaurant between Tom and Liberty proves this. Ranse tries to convince Tom that the justice system can deal with Valance, but he also starts to practice with a gun. He also starts to educate the town in reading, writing, and civics.
Hallie, who Tom has courted for a while, becomes concerned for Ranse and asks Tom to look after him. Tom humiliates Ranse, who punches him, earning some begrudging respect from the cowboy. Tom also shows Ranse the renovations he’s making to the house so that he and Hallie can get married. Ranse acknowledges that everyone in town knows Tom and Hallie are a couple. At the same time, Shinbone, a US territory at this point, elects two delegates to go to the statehood convention. Valance, who works for the cattle barons, nominates himself, but loses the election to Ranse and Dutton Peabody (Edmond O’Brien), the local newspaper editor. In response, Valance beats Peabody mercilessly and challenges Ranse to a gunfight. Ranse refuses to leave town and heads out to meet Valance. Valance toys with Ranse, shooting his arms, but before Valance can kill him, Ranse gets a shot off and Valance falls dead.
Ranse goes back to be treated by Hallie, who admits to having feelings for him. Tom, seeing this, gets drunk and burns down the house he built for Hallie. At the statehood convention, a speaker, Maj. Cassius Starbuckle (John Carradine), mocks Ranse for being famous for killing a man. Ranse resolves to withdraw himself from the delegation, but is talked out of it by Tom. Tom reveals that he is the one who killed Liberty Valance, shooting him from across the street before he could kill Ranse. Tom regrets saving Ranse’s life, because he lost Hallie, but he tells Ranse to take the nomination. Tom also implies that he doesn’t want Ranse to tell anyone about what happened, because Tom technically committed murder. Ranse goes on to be a Senator and a Governor and likely to be the next Vice President of the US if he wishes.
In the present, Ransom finishes his story, but the editor burns the papers, saying “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Ransom sees that Hallie put a cactus blossom, the same thing that Tom grew for her, on his coffin. As they head back to DC, Ransom asks how Hallie would feel if he retired and became a farmer in Shinbone. She responds happily. When a conductor helps the Stoddards with many transfers to ease their journey, Ransom thanks him. The conductor responds with “Nothing’s too good for the man who shot Liberty Valance.” A sad Ransom looks at the ground.
The prompt for this was the fairly vague “A Film That You Think About A Lot.” There are a number of movies I think about frequently for various reasons, but, as I’ve been trying to write a paper about this film off and on for a decade, I think this had to be my choice. This film was one of my father’s favorite movies and has eventually become one of mine. It’s a story that can be dissected in a lot of ways and on a lot of levels, with the focus and message changing for me almost every time I watch it, depending on what I’m going through in my life at the time. It’s the kind of film that acts as both a mirror and a lens, allowing you to see both yourself and the world differently. It does this not through trying to talk about some grand philosophy or a convoluted metaphor, but instead by just telling a traditional Western story with an edge of cynicism and reality.
The film was made by John Ford, the legendary director of Westerns such as The Searchers and Stagecoach, as well as The Grapes of Wrath. During WWII, he filmed the Battle of Midway and was wounded in the process. He directed over 140 films and holds the record for the most wins for Best Director at the Oscars. He pioneered shots that are now industry standards and he made John Wayne a household name. He was a big deal, is what I’m saying. However, this movie always stands out to me because it’s the only Western he made that doesn’t buy into the mythology of the West.
The most important line in this film, and the one which was nominated for the AFI’s greatest quotes of all time, is “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” It’s said at the end of the film. The key to the line is that it’s said after we have spent the entire film knowing how the story ends, but not what the story was. We know that Ransom Stoddard has a wife of many years, that he’s a famous and beloved man, and that he’s respected almost without equal in the US. However, the film reveals that almost everything is based on a lie and that the real hero of the story, the real man who shot Liberty Valance, is the man whose boots are getting stolen off of his corpse. Because that’s the reality of the West: Everything we think we know about it is a lie. While the reality was that the West was dirty, lawless, and cruel, we ignore the murder and the injustice and the greed and just focus on the noble image of the cowboy and the legends of their exploits. This movie is even one of the first Westerns which addresses slavery and racism, including an iconic scene of Pompey reciting the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. However, when he gets to “all men are created equal,” he forgets the line. Ransom responds to Pompey, “a lot of people forget that part.” While Unforgiven would later really take this to another level, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the original anti-Westerns.
The film doesn’t doesn’t try to beat your head in with this message, either. In fact, you could watch the movie and think it’s just a pretty sincere tale of the West. That’s part of the brilliance of this film. It’s got a pessimism about the West, but it has the cast and crew of a traditional Western to draw you in. John Wayne… well, you know who John Wayne is. He was America’s cowboy hero and he always will be. Jimmy Stewart was a different kind of hero, usually an everyman (and, unlike John Wayne, he fought in the War). That put them in perfect contrast from the get-go. Vera Miles was the love interest in both Westerns and Hitchcock films (and would have been with Stewart in Vertigo if she hadn’t been pregnant), meaning that she had associations with both kinds of leads. Lee Marvin wasn’t just a bad guy in this, he was the worst guy. He’ll kill you just as soon as look at you, and he’ll make sure you know it. Just to drive the point home, his henchmen were portrayed by two famous Western actors who were also iconic villains. Strother Martin was the prison captain in Cool Hand Luke and Lee Van Cleef played “the Bad” in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. The rest of the cast were all stock actors playing the same roles that they usually did, which makes this movie feel even more like a legitimate Western.
Another really interesting aspect of the movie which undercuts the typical Western message is the underlying fight for statehood. Here we see that the people who are seeking “independence” and “freedom” within the territories are almost exclusively people like Valance who work for the cattle barons. They’re paid to murder and steal by the cattle barons in order to ensure that they maintain their stranglehold on the industry. In contrast, almost everyone else wants statehood, because that means law and order and democracy. It’s another undercutting of the myth of the West by showing that most of the people didn’t actually benefit from the freedom of the frontier and wanted civilization. Also, it’s a reminder that some people have always been screwing over everyone when they had the chance.
Then there’s Tom, Ranse, and Hallie. When Ranse arrives, everyone in town assumes that Hallie and Tom are eventually going to be married. Tom himself thinks as much and frequently flirts with Hallie and brings her flowers, the traditional way to court women back then. Even Ranse assumes that Tom and Hallie will end up together. However, we see Hallie start to become interested in Ranse after he starts helping her learn to read and write. Tom is interested in her as a woman, but Ransom is interested in her as a person. However, she only ends up really being interested in Ranse after he fights Liberty Valance, something that is distinctly Tom-esque. Later, we see that she has some regrets at her decision and that, on some level, she will always love Tom and his idolization of her.
I think this film is massively underrated and needs to be reevaluated. To give you an idea of how important it is, if you’ve ever heard someone do a John Wayne impression where they say “Pilgrim,” THAT’S FROM THIS MOVIE. This is the only film in which he says that, and only at Jimmy Stewart. It also contains one of my favorite scenes, in which a politician claims he has a written speech, crumples it up, and says he’s going to speak from the heart. Someone uncrumples the paper and we see that it was blank the whole time. The “spontaneous” speech was always planned. It’s a reminder that American Politics really was always largely about spectacle and empty platitudes. A movie in the 1960s talking about a period in the 1880s manages to seem pretty contemporary in that aspect, and that should be disturbing. The only notable thing is that the politician in the movie was a better orator than America has sought in my lifetime.
Honestly, you need to see this movie. It tells you more about the US than most films. This movie mostly talks about the West, but since the West is one of America’s most iconic images, it’s really about America and how much of it is built on trying to remember the Legend of America more than the facts of it. To remember the story rather than the reality. Much like Ransom at the end of the film, while the Legend might get you what you think you want, you can’t move forward until you admit the truth, even if the world doesn’t want to hear it.
I take a look at Mariah Carey’s attempt at feature film stardom.
Billie Frank (Mariah Carey) is the daughter of a 70s nightclub singer who gets put in a foster home after her mom lost her job and burned down their house with a cigarette. She grows up with her friends Louise (Da Brat) and Roxanne (Tia Texada), eventually becoming backup singers and dancers in 1983 for producer Timothy Walker’s (Terrence Howard) new project Sylk (Padma Lakshmi). Due to Sylk’s lack of talent, Timothy uses Billie as the lead vocals on Sylk’s tracks. Soon after, at a nightclub, DJ Julian “Dice” Black (Max Beesley) plays Sylk’s new track, but, when Sylk insults Billie, Billie reveals that she’s the actual singer behind the song. This leads Dice to want to sign her. He approaches Timothy, who agrees to a price of $100,000 for the three girls’ contracts.
Billie and Dice start working on songs and quickly get Billie a contract with a major label. They also start sleeping with each other, then move in together after her first song becomes a hit. After a few months, Dice refuses to pay Timothy the agreed-upon $100,000, leading Timothy to threaten Billie. Dice then gets arrested for attacking Timothy at his studio and starts to become a jerk as Billie becomes more popular, leading Billie to break up with him. Billie collaborates with another artist, Rafael (Eric Benét), and produces another hit. She starts writing another song at the same time that Dice does. When she goes to his apartment while he’s out, she realizes the song she’s writing goes perfectly with his melody. She kisses his music sheet before leaving to sing her big performance at Madison Square Garden. Dice returns home and sees the lipstick, giving him hope that they can work it out. However, while heading to the concert, Timothy shoots Dice and kills him. Billie finds out right before her concert and performs the song she wrote. She also finds a message from Dice saying he loved her and telling her where her mother was.
This was selected at random from the IMDB bottom 100, where it’s listed as number 21. You’d think I’d be happy that there were 20 lower-rated movies on the list, but, having seen many of the bottom 20, I can say that at least most of those films are so bad that they’re usually unintentionally hilarious. This movie wasn’t so bad, it’s good; this movie was so bad, it was stunning. When a film is so bad that it’s good, it’s because someone put a lot of effort into an idea without any kind of talent or knowledge of how to make the idea work. This film does not ever give me the feeling that effort was involved.
Part of it is that this movie seems only interested in hitting specific generic points in the plot, not of making us care about the characters or giving them any kind of personality. It happens right from the beginning and never really deviates. The film starts with a young Billie singing in a club in the 1970s along with her mom. The mom gets fired and goes to Billie’s dad for money, only for him to want nothing to do with Billie. Then her mom falls asleep with a cigarette and burns the house down, leading Billie to go to Foster care, where she meets her future friends. Despite how much of this could easily have been used for emotional development or character development, it feels painfully hollow. It’s not just that the dialogue is almost entirely pointless exposition, it’s that every single scene is short and just trying to hit a beat so they can move on. There’s a poem by Stephen Dobyns that begins “Each thing I do I rush through so I can do something else.” I feel like Vondie Curtis Hall, the director, considered that the motto of shooting this. The movie makes you feel like it just wants to get itself over, and the audience is going to feel likewise.
The dialogue in this movie isn’t just bad, it’s “I forced a bot to watch 10,000 hours of college one-man shows” level incoherent and cliche-laden. They don’t try to be clever, they just say the subtext out loud, ranging from Sylk telling a photographer “they’re just backup, they don’t matter” as a way to establish she’s a diva to a post-coital Billie saying “I don’t ever do this.” There is just absolutely no subtlety to be found in the film.
It doesn’t help that only three people in this movie seem to have any ability to act: Terrence Howard, Da Brat, and Tia Texada. They actually try to give some depth or gravitas or even humor to the terrible lines they’re delivering. Of course, they’re also the three characters that have the least screen-time, making sure that we get plenty of time to hear Max Beesely deliver some cliched tripe in what he thinks is an American accent. Mariah Carey would get a pass for her lackluster performance due to not being an actress if I hadn’t seen other singers manage to bridge the gap in the past. What’s even more shocking is that the two have absolutely no chemistry together, making it even more surprising when, less than five minutes after she’s assuring her friends that she’s only going to a business dinner with him, and less than three minutes after he says it’s not a date, he asks her up to his place. One brief playing of the Marimba later (yeah, that’s his smooth move), and they’re having brief off-screen sex. They’re then implied to be extremely happy until he suddenly goes from zero to jackass in time for the third act conflict, but really, we don’t see anything charming between the two.
It doesn’t help that the tragic ending of the movie is just so stupid. Throughout the entire film, Timothy is shown to be hounding Dice for his money, but… he’s not actually in the wrong. Dice approaches Timothy with both parties knowing that Billie is the real talent. Because of this, Timothy requires the high price of $100,000 to get Billie out of her contract. Later, Dice refuses to pay anything to Timothy because he said the deal was bull. But… he agreed to it. And he’s since made a fortune off of Billie. Also, Dice is consistently shown to be one of, if not the, most famous DJs in the country and he lives in a huge 2-3 story loft in downtown Manhattan. He could easily have paid the money BEFORE Billie got huge, but he refuses to even after Timothy starts to confront Billie over it. Instead, Dice tries to attack him physically. It’s A) insane that Timothy doesn’t just sue him and B) insane that Dice doesn’t just pay him the money, or at least SOME money, that he promised him.
Overall, this movie isn’t just bad, this movie makes Gigli look good. At least that film was trying something different. This one is just trying the same “rags to riches” story without doing anything new. I will say that it probably suffered because it was released 10 days after 9/11, but nothing could have saved this film.