Saturday, May 17, 2014

even cowgirls get the blues

As the dog days of Summer are almost upon us, here's a tribute to some of my favorite gun totin' gals from classic Westerns.

in no particular order:

Barbara Stanwyck in The Furies (1950) and The Maverick Queen (1956)

Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar (1954)

Raquel Welch in Bandolero! (1968) and Hannie Caulder (1971)

Betty Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Carla Balenda in Outlaw Women (1952)

Joan Leslie and Audrey Totter in Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

Ella Raines in Tall in the Saddle (1944)

Joan Bennett in The Texans (1938)

Kim Darby in True Grit (1969)

Jayne Mansfield in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958)

Dorothy Malone studio publicity still circa 1948

Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory (1949) and Fort Dobbs (1958)

Gene Tierney in Belle Starr (1941)

Anne Baxter in Yellow Sky (1948)

Rosalba Neri in Johnny Yuma (1966)

Rosanna Schiaffino and Patty Shepard in The Man Called Noon (1973)

Brigitte Bardot in Shalako (1968)

Claudia Cardinale and Brigitte Bardot in The Legend of Frenchie King (1971)

Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953)

Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (1946)

Jane Russell in The Outlaw (1943) and The Paleface (1948)

Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939)

Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou (1965)

Grace Kelly in High Noon (1952)

Friday, May 16, 2014

time for a rant

     It's a well known fact that every generation thinks it's greater than the one before or after it (their parents and kids generations). This is usually accomplished by a childish act called generational bashing. The current record holders for this petty practice are the baby boomers, or the people born post-WWII through the early '60s.

This is the generation that produced not only Steve Jobs but also Jimi Hendrix (as they are so fond of reminding everyone) while branding their descendants "generation x" and chastising them for never leaving the nest or family basement. Of course, what they always conveniently forget to mention is that their esteemed generation made it virtually impossible for a single young person to survive on their own in this Country having a car, dwelling and gargantuan student loan debt.

The boomers were able to stay in college for eight years while working part time as a waitress or shop boy and still make it on their own; the generation before theirs had yet to run the economy into the ground and destroy the middle class. Then the boomers told their spawn how awful it is out there in the real world (they should know) and encouraged them to work as baristas despite having earned that degree in art history.

Funny isn't it? The boomers will also tell you that their generation was directly responsible for the new direction films began to take in Hollywood toward the end of the '60s and into the '70s (arguably the greatest decade for mainstream American film). Movies like The Graduate, 2001: A Space Odyssey and MASH were all products of their collective brilliance.

Hmmm. Well, let's look at those three revolutionary films for just a moment. The Graduate (1967) was written by Buck Henry (born 1930) and directed by Mike Nichols (born 1931). 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was co-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick (born 1928). MASH (1970) was directed by Robert Altman (born 1925).

Those films may be products of the boomer era, but they were not conceived by baby boomers. 

Come to think of it, Hendrix was born in 1942, just before the Second World War ended. Exactly how are these cultural pioneers baby boomers again? When listing their various accomplishments, they also tend to throw in the whole Civil Rights Movement as well. Most of them were 2 at the time.

Ah, it's nice to see that good ol' cognitive distortion isn't just a byproduct of all the antibiotics and antidepressants the boomer generation is responsible for doling out. It's true, by the way, that their parents and their parent's parents (the "Greatest Generation" and the babies of the depression) did have it harder. And for the most part, they were harder on them as a result.

Still, it was the boomers who virtually created this culture of materialism that we find ourselves drowning in today. It's the boomers who crippled the very thought of our basic institutions (Wall Street; government) and let the environment go to shit. I doubt the real reason is because they simply refused to grow up (Peter Pan syndrome).

I guess as long as we have Purple Haze to jam to and our iPhones to fart with as we're stuck in rush hour traffic due to urban sprawl and that new casino being built next to the gym & racquet club, everything is gonna work out fine in the end.

If the boomers have taught me anything it's that life, after all, is a state of mind.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

top five dads in bad movies

Father's Day is exactly one month away. This is probably one of the more subjective lists I've done recently, though all lists are based customarily on opinion. These movie dads neither have to be good nor bad (like my recent movie mom lists here and here) nor from the '80s, they only have to be a dad in a bad movie to qualify. Again, I'd like to apologize in advance if one of these flicks happens to be a favorite of your own (though I wouldn't want to hang out with you if that were the case...only kidding) as I personally get a kick out of watching a flick that doesn't quite know how awful it really is.

no. 5
John Ritter as Ben Healy in Problem Child (1990) and Problem Child 2 (1991)

John Ritter was truly an underrated actor. His unexpectedly genuine performance in Sling Blade (1996) was about as perfect as it gets. I came of age watching his Jack Tripper on TVs Three's Company. You can imagine my surprise (and chagrin) when the Problem Child fiascoes finally rolled around. I'm not sure what to say about these movies. Of course they aren't high art, but they sort of make the Martin Short comedy Clifford (1994) when Short played an actual 10-year-old boy seem like something out of Jean Renoir's oeuvre. I will say this, they are perfectly bad, and Ritter does play a dad in both of them. Two requirements for this list. Ritter played a dad in another '90s comedy, Stay Tuned (1992), but unlike this terrible twosome, that film is actually watchable for me, even with the Salt-n-Pepa musical vignette. What can I say? I have my standards.

no. 4
Ted Danson as Raymond "Ray" Gleason in Getting Even with Dad (1994)

By 1994, Macauley Culkin's cuteness factor had already worn off like a chunk of corroded feces. Let's face it, it was probably over and done by the end credits of Uncle Buck (1989). I'm not going to hate on Culkin. I think he's taken his place as this generations Shirley Temple in stride, and thankfully kept himself out of the pop culture spotlight since his post-teen years (in addition to surviving sleepovers at Neverland Ranch). Ted Danson on the other hand just won't go away. In fact, aside from playing a very funny version of himself as a recurring character on the very funny Curb Your Enthusiasm series (and a great run on HBO's Bored to Death) he just isn't capable of being taken seriously. Here he tried to play a New Yawk-accented wiseguy ex-con with a faux ponytail. Yeah. That's about as believable as Michael J. Fox playing a Serbian gangster. Okay, now that would be something worth sitting through.

no. 3 (tie)
Charles Grodin as George Newton in Beethoven (1992) and Beethoven's 2nd (1993)
Judge Reinhold as Richard Newton in Beethoven's 3rd (2000) and Beethoven's 4th (2001)

With currently more entries than the Rocky franchise, the Beethoven films (with their cutesy insistence on emulating classical music compositions: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, ad nauseam) are to family dog movies what Michael Bay is to the science fiction genre; in a word...pants. Grodin held on for two exasperating paychecks and was replaced by Judge Reinhold (they play brothers), who really hasn't done anything of actual value since Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). It's as if we weren't supposed to notice that they switched dads midstream. I'm not sure who is worse and in which chapter. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I've ever managed to sit through an entire one from start to finish. Not because I don't like kids movies (Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3: Dog Days is really enjoyable, and Steve Zahn plays a great movie dad in that series) but because once they get going I'd much rather watch a Benji movie instead.

no. 2
Tim Allen as Luther Krank in Christmas with the Kranks (2004)

A total pile of crap. It's like the characters don't even live in the same dimension as the rest of us. Jamie Lee Curtis goes mondo bizarro when she finds out her daughter is coming home from college along with some ultra-tanned boy toy she plans to marry. Tim Allen basically plays the same role he plays in every other bad movie he's ever starred in except he's probably the most sympathetic character here; mainly because he's sick and tired of the gregarious effort his psychotic neighbors put into the holidays. There's even a kindly old neighbor suffering from Cancer. To put it another way, this film is about as entertaining as watching a sick, elderly woman die. The movie isn't just bad, it's egregious. I've sat through A LOT of bad Christmas movies in recent years (Surviving Christmas; Deck the Halls) but this one takes the fruit cake.

no. 1
Chevy Chase as Norman Robberson in Cops & Robbersons (1994), as Jack Sturgess in Man of the House (1995) and as Clark Griswold in Vegas Vacation (1997)

A triple threat. Let me just begin by saying that I can always watch Cops & Robbersons. It's a guilty pleasure for me. For starters, it has Jack Palance in a late starring role, so it can't be all bad. I actually hadn't given up on Chase yet either, even though by the mid '90s it was all steadily going downhill. The National Lampoon's Vacation films are an institution, but Vegas was way beneath their collective talents. That brings me to Man of the House. Essentially a vehicle for the up and coming child star of the TV show Home Improvement, Johnathan Taylor Thomas (or JTT to some), the film is an endurance trial to say the least. Chase actually looks like he's in physical pain throughout most of it. The budding teen idol has about all the charm and requisite acting skills of a baked potato, and Chase is morbidly unfunny as a result. This film was purely a marketing ploy aimed at preteen JTT fans. Okay, so The Partridge Family was too in its own day (taking advantage of David Cassidy mania), but at least Reuben Kincaid was actually funny.

honorable mentions:

the fathers of The Twilight Saga

Twilight had lotsa dads. Twilight is lotsa bad.

Steve Martin in ANY remake of a beloved family comedy

Steve Martin always excels at playing the lovable weirdo (Roxanne) or wacky guy (The Jerk) but sucks at playing the schmaltzy father. I know Father of the Bride (1991) has its fans, but Martin is no Spencer Tracy. And Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005) are also gratuitous remakes. I prefer my Martin with a banjo, or slightly nefarious, like in Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and The Spanish Prisoner (1997).

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

favorite songs in movies (non-musicals) cont.

Mandolin Rain by John and Bruce Hornsby; performed by Bruce Hornsby (as himself) in World's Greatest Dad (2009). Robin Williams (giving his best performance since Awakenings) plays a failed writer and single Dad who sired quite possibly the worst child on the face of the Earth. When said bête noire and resident outcast dies as a result of autoerotic asphyxia, Williams (who teaches at the kids school) decides to write his own suicide note which turns the dead teen (and said parent) into a cause célèbre. The beautiful irony of this scene is, in actuality, the dead son despised Bruce Hornsby. It operates on so many levels, succeeding chiefly as black comedy, but ultimately it's a film about how we are all willing participants in whatever shams we choose to believe (whether it's a war in the Middle East or something as equally deceitful as this). Hornsby transforms his own beautiful melody into something truly haunting.

follow the river

      Woke up to some sad news today. Swiss artist H.R. Giger has passed away. His design work on the original Alien (1979 - 1997) film series (not to mention his countless contributions to album art) is ageless and everlasting. He was 74.

In addition, Canadian environmentalist and author Farley Mowat died recently at the ripe old age of 92. His seminal book Never Cry Wolf was turned into a beautiful film of the same name in 1983, directed by the great cinematographer Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion). 

In short, we've lost two great luminaries in the world of film. I've been re-reading Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, and I just came across this particular passage. Perhaps it fills me with the same longing as the death of these two great artists. I don't exactly know why, but it seems relevant to quote at this particular time:

The night was hazy. There was no moon. Farmhouse windows burned with a soft buttery light, as if they were under water. We went from farmland to forest and then picked up the river and followed the river into the mountains. I looked at the country we passed through with a lordly eye, allowing myself small stirrings of fondness for what I thought had failed to hold me. I did not know that the word home would forever after be filled with this place.

Thanks for making this home of ours a far more enchanting place, with your truth and your beauty.

I remember seeing Crocodile Dundee (1986) during its initial run in a movie theater at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I was a bit confused by the theatrical one-sheet poster though. I could never understand why its star Paul Hogan was sandwiched in between what appeared to be two metallic Wurlitzer jukeboxes. When it finally occurred to me that those were skyscrapers he was peeling back (like jungle weeds) I could never comprehend why he was lording over a bustling city street like an ostensible Godzilla.

Nevermind the fact that his torso also appears to be situated in front of a corn field (I've been to Australia and I can attest that they don't grow corn in the bush). All kidding aside, there's still a place for the first Crocodile Dundee; especially for what surely must have been one of the first major thong scenes in a mainstream (family?) film. Before TV crocodile hunters and aptly dubbed steakhouses, this was most everyone's passport to the land down under. Thank God a few drag queens in a pink bus finally came along a decade later -- not to mention The Criterion Collection for giving us Walkabout (1971). Perhaps the tagline for this poster should have read: "If you shuck them, He will come." And by "He" of course I mean a shirtless, jukebox playing bushman. Whatever that is.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

favorite songs in movies (non-musicals) continued

20th Century Boy written by Marc Bolan; covered by The Big Six in The Truman Show (1998). This particular clip has been edited, but the same version of the song plays during the high school dance number and the energy is untarnished. A great scene and one of my all-time fav songs. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

top five (bad) movie moms from the '80s

I couldn't decide whether to put Shirley MacLaine as Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment (1983) on the good movie moms list or the bad. She probably belongs on the good. As does Debra Winger as her long-suffering daughter. As for this list (the bad) there has been some debate going on in the house as to whether Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet (1986) is a good mom or a bad one. Her only crime it would seem is being a sex slave to crazy Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth character, but man does she seem to enjoy the rough stuff. Then again, no one is as bad a mother as Mary Tyler Moore's loveless ice queen in Ordinary People. Too bad Stephen Frears' The Grifters was 1990, or else I'd have put Anjelica Huston on this list in a New York minute. Ditto for Divine as Dawn Davenport in Female Trouble (1974) -- possibly the worst movie mom of all-time. Even worse than Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

no. 5

Rose Ross as Mother in Mother's Day (1980)

no. 4

Catharine O'Hara as Delia Deetz in Beetlejuice (1988)

no. 3 (tie)

Anne Ramsey as Momma Lift in Throw Momma from the Train (1987)
and Mama Fratelli in The Goonies (1985)

no. 2

Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (1981)

no. 1

Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett in Ordinary People (1980)

honorable mentions:

Jacqueline Bisset as Ellen Burroughs in Class (1983)
...well, only bad depending on how you look at it.

Laura Waterbury as Mrs. Smith in Better Off Dead (1985)

Tuesday Weld as Gloria in Author! Author! (1980); read my full review here

Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980) 

Meryl Streep as Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowski in Sophie's Choice (1982)
...sorry, I know. Cheap shot.