The Ugly American

September 21, 2018

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From the novel of the same name by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick.

Mr. Otter brought this home, and we watched it. He had read the book, which I hadn’t, and I knew nothing about it except the current usage of the phrase, which is Americans going to other countries and behaving like complete assholes.

So this is about a fictitious Southeast Asian country named Sarkan, that has a northern half that has become Communist, and they and the Chinese are trying to take over the rest of the country…sound familiar? Yup, it’s Vietnam; I figured that out after about ten minutes, it’s really obvious. Brando is the new ambassador, sent there to make sure the new road through the country that the Americans are building (“Freedom Road”) goes through, after some sabotage halts construction.

Brando’s character has a close Sarkanese friend who is being led astray by those darn Communists, so that’s a huge plot point with much political talk, and he is also friends with two Americans who run a hospital for children that is much needed and appreciated.

Eventually it all goes pear-shaped, mostly due to misunderstandings and the machinations of those doggone Communists, and the Americans have to leave. Not really a spoiler, it’s obvious where the plot is going.

This was pretty heavy-handed, but since it was made in 1963 about current political events, that’s not surprising. I was surprised, though, when I was talking to Mr. Otter a few days later- he used the phrase Ugly American, and I said, I assume that movie is where the phrase came from, but Brando wasn’t what the phrase means now, he really appreciated the country, tried to follow the customs and respect the people, but was misinformed.

Mr. Otter said no, the eponymous Ugly American was the American doctor, who the local people considered to be ugly although they loved him anyway. Huh? Really, said Mr. Otter, I read the book, it was him.

O-kaaaay. So there you have it.

If you like heavy-handed political drama, or seeing history from the contemporaneous point of view, this is your movie. But be warned, Brando is already in mumble-mode in 1963, it was sometimes very hard to understand him.


The Professionals

September 21, 2018

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From the novel A Mule for the Marquesa by Frank O’Rourke

Four guys who specialize in fighting and weapons are hired by a Very Rich Guy to get his wife back after she’s been kidnaped by Mexican bandits.

I love Las Vegas. I don’t do the usual Vegas stuff, much- I love the bookstores, the Neon Museum, and places like that. I also love the two parks nearby- Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, and Valley of Fire State Park.

Valley of Fire is gorgeous, and many movies have been shot there…but this movie is special to them, because not only did the movie company build a road out to the White Domes, where the did a lot of the shooting, but there are pieces of the set still there that you can hike to.

So Squirrel Lady and I were in Nevada, and stopped at this State Park. We were going to take this hike, but when we got to the Visitor’s Center, on the white board where they list current information it literally said, Hiking: NOT RECOMMENDED. It was over a hundred degrees there at the time, so I can see why they said this…so we drove and looked at stuff, but did not hike.

When I got home from this trip, I had a free evening, so I rented this from Amazon and watched it…and you know, it was pretty good!

The plot is one of those 60s ‘bad guys are good and good guys are bad’ revisionist Western plots…but there were good people in it (Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode actually playing a main character instead of getting killed in the first ten minutes, Ralph Bellamy and- wow, I just saw this- Jack Palance playing the bad-guy Mexican bandit who’s causing all the trouble. And Claudia Cardinale as well. Kind of a 60s Western go-to list of actors.

The story was good, with lots of action and some humor. The ending was predictable but well done. And it was cool to see how much of it they did shoot in VoFSP…I recognized a lot of the landscape.

So go there, then rent this…you’ll be glad you did!

 


Anything Goes

September 21, 2018

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Internet Movie Database         Movie Reviews

Two song-and-dance men on a sea cruise rehearsing a new show with two women, plus gangsters. Hijinks ensue.

This is a pretty badly done remake of a sparking and wonderful Cole Porter musical. Not only did P G Wodehouse co-write it, but Sidney Sheldon, he of Sexy Potboiler Thriller fame, had some kind of hand in it…and the script is just awful, even for a 50s musical.

Plus extra songs were added in, which OF COURSE don’t stand up to the original brilliance of Cole Porter.

Bing Crosby and a VERY young-looking Donald O’Connor (but he always looked young, come to think of it) are mugging their way through this thing, trying to be upbeat and doing what they can to keep up the pace; a woman named Zizi Jeanmaire (and who did very little else in her career) and Mitzi Gaynor are the female leads.

There are a few good moments, but you have to sit through a lot of bad ones to get to them. Give this one a pass.


The Desert Song

July 12, 2018

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Another in the ‘innocuous socialite masquerading as a daring do-gooder’ genre, this time Nelson Eddie is the son of a general in the French Foreign Legion, and they all hang out in the local town. He is also (really not a spoiler) the Red Shadow, who is somehow helping the Rifs rebel against the French.

And The Girl comes to town, engaged to an officer, with Romantic Notions, so of course he decides to kidnap her so that she will fall in love with him…hey, it’s musical comedy, it doesn’t have to be PC or make sense!

This made-for-TV version of the Sigmund Romberg operetta is mostly intact; Mr. Otter checked and they cut out one song which he dismissed as ‘forgettable’. Gale Sherwood is very cute and has a fine voice, and even the aging Nelson Eddy sounds good.

Filmed in black and white, which is probably better than the hideous color mixes that would have been used in the 1950s, this is, with all its flaws, much much much much much better than the hideous 1953 movie version with Gordon MacRae and Kathryn Grayson, which still makes me shudder when I think of it, thirty-some-odd years after I saw it while dating Mr. Otter. (And I hasten to add that I saw it on TV, folks. This otter is not old enough to have seen it in the theater. (Mr. Otter is, but I’m not.))

Anyway. There are some good songs, too many dream ballet sequences (one is too many), some good dancing by Bambi Linn, and a lot of silly drama, as is usual in Romberg’s pieces.

But Mr. Otter wooed me with many of these songs, so I loved watching it with him. Baritones. They’re the BEST.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

July 12, 2018

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A prequel set in the Harry Potter ‘verse. Newt Scamander comes to the United States in the 1920s to help a rare creature, and gets involved with muggles (known as ‘no-maj’-es in the US, where magic is Not Allowed) and, you know, shenanigans. And lots of cute creatures.

I have pretty much given up on the Harry Potter oeuvre; I liked the books, plot holes aside, but by the fourth movie they were just sinking under the weight of having to condense ten hours or more of plot into a bit over two hours. Meh.

But I really like Eddie Redmayne, and this looked interesting, and I was going to be at the Red Cross for three hours with needles in my arms doing apheresis, so why not?

And it was ok verging on good. If this had been written as a standalone, it would have been better, but of course it’s going to have sequels that will set up the Harry Potter series and the political and dark magic underpinnings that preceded those books. So sure, whatever.

I liked the three principal actors- Redmayne, the girl and the no-maj sidekick guy; they worked well together and the sidekick didn’t just come off as an idiot and the butt of all the jokes; he was a pretty cool character in his own right, and I liked him a lot. Serious Honey Johnny Depp shows up briefly, about which I will say no more.

And…the sequel is coming out next year, and I’m sure there will be another one…and it will NEVER END.

So I’m pretty much done with these; not only do I get tired of waiting years to find out how the next installment goes (I’m looking at you here, George R. R. Martin) but the whole PORTENTOUS thing just blows this out of the water for me. It’s not deep. It’s not a huge revelation. It’s just a kids’ fantasy series, guys, so stop taking it all so seriously.

And now I better change my email address before the hate mail starts pouring in…


Money Train

June 7, 2018

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Woody and Wesley are transit cops who have a boss (Robert Blake) who is a bastard and they get back at him by hijacking the subway car that carries all the money for the transit system.

Um, stupid people doing stupid things stupidly.

This is not to say that this movie was not mildly enjoyable; Woody and Wesley are both young and cute (1995) and JLo is ditto. The plot was okay, just unbelieveable enough to make me roll my eyes, which (being in the middle of apheresis at the Red Cross) was about all I could move.

Mildly amusing, a good way to pass the time, no great shakes.


The World’s Greatest Lover

April 26, 2018

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Gene Wilder goes to Hollywood to try to become a star in silent movies. Hijinks ensue.

I remember seeing this movie several times in the movie theater when it came out- I was (and am) a huge Gene Wilder fan, and this was one I remember really liking. This is Wilder’s second or third time writing and/or directing, and although it’s sort of an old-fashioned period piece full of last century’s humor, it’s still funny and charming.

Wilder plays a nebbishy guy who needs to change his life, so he brings his terminally naïve wife (played by a young Carol Kane) to Hollywood, where they enter a competition to become the new hot movie star for Rainbow Pictures, run by a demented Dom DeLuise.

And silliness happens, and charm, and funny stuff, but the ending is touching, and it’s nice to see Wilder just being his own funny self.

Bonus: we were visiting friends, one of whom mentioned that he played one of the legionnaires in this movie, and we did indeed spot his younger self in that scene!