Friday, September 28, 2018

Popeye: The Apology

This is my entry for the Popeye Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog

From the Robin Williams comedy film An Evening with Robin Williams:

(the setting is Robin talking with his son who doesn't want to do comedy)
Robin:  "What's the matter? 'Ninny ninny ' wasn't good enough for you?  Popeye wasn't good enough for you?"
Robin (as his son): "Popeye wasn't good enough for anybody.  Who are you kidding?"

A confession:  I went to see Popeye in the theater.  I wasn't very impressed. Why?  At that point I had seen Mork and Mindy and had seen Williams guest on late night TV shows like The Tonight Show, and I also had his first album Reality.. What a Concept.  I was expecting something of the same manic performance that I was used to seeing, and it was something of a letdown.

But Popeye is a movie that grows on you after repeated viewings.  I watched it again a few years later, after I had seen The World According to Garp and Moscow on the Hudson, after I had grown to see Williams as a fairly consummate actor who could break out of that mold of manic uncontrolled comedy, and it turned out that Popeye wasn't all that bad,  It's a movie that can be entertaining in it's own right.

Especially if you can get past that squeaky singing voice of Shelley Duvall...  Either Duvall can't sing, or maybe she is the greatest singer of all time.  After all, you have to realize she was playing Olive Oyl, and did the role almost exactly like Mae Questal and Marge Hines had voiced her in the Popeye cartoons. So maybe Olive's singing voice is the consummate translation of the character by Duvall into the singing...

The Robert Altman directed film was not exactly a box-office success.  It made money, to be sure, but not the kind of money that Paramount was expecting.  It also was a bomb according to critics.  With the exception of Roger Ebert who gave it 3½ stars, most critics were either mediocre or lambasted it.  The songs had something to do with it, if you ask me.  Only one song, done by Bluto , is really all that good ("I'm Mean").

(BTW:  The reason for the title:  One of Olive Oyl's father, Cole Oyl's (McIntyre Dixon), lines, oft repeated, in the film is "You owe me an apology.")

Popeye (1980):

Sailing in to the port town of Sweethaven is a lone sailor. Popeye (Robin Williams) is immediately treated like an outsider (which he is, but this town really is suspicious of newbies...)  Popeye is on a search for his long lost father, a man who abandoned him as a child.

Popeye is rebuffed by nearly everyone, but he manages to find a room to rent from the Oyl family.  Olive (Shelley Duvall), the daughter, is engaged to marry Bluto (Paul L. Smith), but she is having second thoughts.  Probably because the marriage is just a matter of convenience.  Bluto is a bully and a mean-spirited cad, but he is also the big man on campus, in more ways than one.

Bluto is the top man and in charge of the towns operations as the liaison for a mysterious man only known as "The Commodore".  Bluto and Popeye immediately take a disliking for each other.  Although Popeye can kick the ass of an entire platoon of bullies in a bar fight, he can't handle Bluto.  Apparently carrots just don't do the trick.  (Popeye hates spinach and will NOT eat it under any circumstances.)

Things deteriorate as Bluto becomes convinced that Popeye is muscling in on his betrothed.  Which is exactly what's happening.

Although Olive and Popeye don't hit it off initially, a gradual respect and then love blossoms, especially after Popeye and Olive happen upon an abandoned baby, which Popeye promptly names Swee'pea.

Swee'pea has his own special ability, which is discovered by Wimpy (Paul Dooley).   It seems Swee'pea can pick the horses and Wimpy takes him to the horse races to start to win a stash (so he won't have to beg for hamburgers anymore).

When Bluto discovers Swee'pea's special ability, he kidnaps the tyke and takes him to the Commodore (Ray Walston).  (Guess who the Commodore really is... Hmmm.  Did you guess it was somebody Popeye has been searching for his whole life?  You win the hamburger...)

The music of this movie is only so-so as I said before.  Especially grating is Shelley Duvall's singing of "He's Large" in the opening part of the movie.  One of the problems I had with the songs was they seem to have not taken much effort to try to sync the songs with the actors singing the songs.  The aforementioned "I'm Mean", in particular, although i really liked the song, has a discombobulated synchronicity with the action going on on screen.

Still, all in all, it is not nearly as bad a movie as I initially thought.  Sure, Robin Williams isn't the manic character like he would play in Good Morning, Vietnam or Aladdin, but then I've seen him in several less manic roles and have grown to appreciate the film on those merits.

Well, folks, time to sail the old Plymouth back to home port.  Drive safely.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Birds of a Feather

This is my second entry in the Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon hosted by Angelman's Place and ME

In 1978, an hilarious French farce, La Cage aux Folles appeared on theater screens.  The plot revolved around a gay couple, Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin (Michel Serrault), who are living together.  Renato's son, from a one-time encounter with a woman before he and Albin became lovers, has come to him because the son is to be married to a girl and the girl's father a conservative politician desires to met her beau's parents.  Chaos ensues.

In 1996, Mike Nichols bestowed upon the unsuspecting public an American remake of the classic French film.  And although the French film is funny in it's own way, The Birdcage surpasses it.  This is due primarily on the performance of Nathan Lane, who took on the Michel Serrault role to even more exquisite flamboyance.  The remake was a huge hit.  Possibly in part due to the presence of Robin Williams, but I personally think it made money on it's own merits, too.

The Birdcage (1996):

There is a problem at "the Birdcage", a gay cabaret owned by Armand Goldman (Robin Williams).  The star of the show, Albert, who is also Armand's lover,  is refusing to go onstage.  Albert (Nathan Lane), who performs a drag show for the cabaret as "Starina" is in the middle of a mid-life crisis, coupled with the fact that he thinks that Armand is fooling around while he is onstage as Starina.

This early tête-à-tête is one of the funniest scenes.

Albert: "Don't give me that tone!"
Armand: "What tone?"
Albert: "That sarcastic contemptuous tone that means you know everything because you're a man, and I know nothing because I'm a woman!"
Armand: "You're not a woman..."
Albert "Oh, you BASTARD!"

Albert: "Whatever I am, he made me.  I was adorable once.  Young and full of hope.  Now look at me! I'm this short, fat, insecure middle-aged THING!"
Armand: "I made you short...?"

Armand is able to get Starina on stage by appealing to Albert's ego.  He threatens to put what Albert considers an inferior substitute on stage in his stead.  While Starina is on stage, it appears that Armand is definitely seeing someone on the side, but it is really Val (Dan Futterman), Armand's son.  See, Armand had a liaison with a woman once while still in college, just to see what it was like to have sex with a woman.  And got her pregnant. (And how many couples actually  wanting children would give their right arms for his kind of success...?)

Albert and Armand raised him and he has since gone on to college, and now he has shown up to tell Armand the news that he is getting married to a girl he met in college, Barbara Keeley (Callista Flockhart).  The really tricky part of the situation is that Barbara's father is Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman), a conservative senator.  And one who is on a Congressional committee for morality.  A committee that already has a scandal on it's hands due to the fact that Keeley's co-chair has died.  In bed.  With a prostitute.  Who was underage.  And black.  (OK, at this point you have to accept the parody of conservative politics, which may or may not be based entirely on fact.)

The other problem is that Val and Barabara have not been entirely forthright with her Senator father and his wife, Louise (Dianne Wiest).  Barbara has told her parents that Val's father is a cultural attache to Greece and that he is married to a housewife.  Keeley insists upon meeting the parents, mostly as a political expedient, to get away from the press which is hounding him about the scandal surrounding his partner on the committee.

When Val tries to explain the situation of course Armand is offended, but he is willing to make some sacrifices for the good of the future of his son.  The fly in the ointment is what to do with Albert.  And what to do about a woman to pose as Armand's wife.  The second part is easily expedited because Armand still has contact with Val's real mother, Katherine (Christine Baranski), and gets her to agree to show up for the dinner.

But Albert is unwilling to go gently into that good night.  When it is certain that he cannot pose as Armand's lover, he still insists on trying to be present and pass as Val's uncle.  But attempts to try to get him to appear more masculine (did I mention Albert is flamboyant as all get out?), it appears that this idea would be folly.  So instead it is arranged that Albert will dress up in his drag costume and be Armand's "wife".  Only nobody tells Katherine....

With Hank Azaria appearing as the riotously hilarious house man Agador, who is also pretty flamboyant himself, the film was a huge hit at the box office.  And should have garnered more that one measly Oscar nom (that for Best Art Direction).  Nathan Lane is the star attraction here, and at least the Golden Globes got it right for nominating him for Best Actor (although he lost to Tom Cruise gak!), and he won the award at the American Comedy Awards.  Oh, and the whole cast was awarded the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.

This is one of those movies that will stick with you for years to come.  In truth I could have written this review entirely from memory.  I watched it again for this review, but I remembered most of it from that one time I saw it in theater when it first came out.  It is truly a wonderful comedy.

Well, that wraps up my tour for this blogathon.  Drive home safely, folks.


Friday, September 21, 2018

The Gender Bending the Rules Blogathon is Here!

Now is the time for all good men and woman (and vice versa) to come to the aid of their blogathon.

Yes, that's right folks.   The long wait for the "Gender Bending the Rules" Blogathon is over.  Over the coming weekend many intrepid bloggers will be coming to the fore with their take on some of the classic films in which the gender line is not so defined.   This page will serve as your guide to find these reviews, as well, my co-host Angelman, will also be helping you to keep up to date.  Keep coming back over the weekend to see who else is joining our fun trip.  And if you are a participant, you can leave your links in the comments below and we will get them up as soon as possible to the roster.

The Roster:

My co-host beat me to the punch for being our first entrant.

Angelman's Place gives us a view of an intrepid  teenage journalist in "Just One of the Guys".

But I did manage to be second!! :-)
The Midnite Drive-In delves into the dramatics around "Kiss of the Spider Woman"

Caftan Woman surveys the romantic comedy/musical "First a Girl"

Great Old Movies tells us about an exquisite black comedy, "The Belles of St. Trinian's"

Movie Rob waxes poetic on "Yentl".

Realweegiemideget Reviews enlightens us on the cast of "Tootsie"

Another Movie Rob entry, this time on the Oscar nominated "Albert Nobbs".

My partner in crime, Angelman's Place, dwells ecstacly on "Tales of the City".

The Midnite Drive-In talks about a funny comedy "The Birdcage"

Wide Screen World goes all out with a piece on "Twelfth Night".

MovieRob makes it a triple play for the blogathon with a piece on "Victor/Victoria"

Crítica Retrô presents an early Ernst Lubitsch film "I Don't Want to be a Man".

Top 10 Film Lists  looks at "some Like it Hot"

Love and Politics

This is my first entry in the Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon hosted by Angelman's Place and ME

Manuel Puig's novel, El beso de la mujer araña (Kiss of the Spider Woman), had a long and storied career.  It was published in 1976, just after Puig had left his native Argentina for political reasons.  Originally the only country that would even publish it was Spain.  It was banned by the Argentine government immediately after its publication (you think Puig was right in leaving the country prior?)

The novel was published in English in 1979 and Puig himself adapted the novel into a stage play in 1983, first being staged in London.  Later Héctor Babenco, a Brazilian director, set his sights on developing it as a movie.  He initially ran in to some roadblocks due to he nature of the film, and most Hollywood studios were reluctant to back it.  It was filmed independently and this movie is probably the starting point for the so-called "independent film" (although, to be sure, there had been a smattering of films before this that were not originally backed by big studio money).

An interesting note I found:  Burt Lancaster was originally going to play the part of Molina in the movie.  According to an article I read on, Lancaster was very interested in the character, but it was  the one that he saw in the novel.  He raised objections as to how the character was panning out in the Leonard Schrader script, and the deal fell through.  Good news for William Hurt, who was eventually cast in the role and won an Oscar for his portrayal (the first gay character to win the award).

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985):

In a South American prison are two men.  One, Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia), is a political prisoner, imprisoned for his left-wing political views by the right wing government.  He is constantly being tortured and interrogated by he prison officials trying to get to who is at the core of his faction, so they can arrest his confidantes.

The other prisoner in his cell is Luis Molina, a homosexual.  He is not imprisoned for his homosexuality so much as for the fact that he had sexual relations with a minor.  At least that is the reason that is stated.  To be sure he has homosexual friends, and none of them are imprisoned (at least we don't find out that any of hem are), so maybe homosexuality is tolerated, even if it is not condoned by the government.

Luis passes the time with Valentin by relating the story of his favorite movie, one which Luis regards as a beautiful love story, but one that, to Valentin's disgust, is obviously a Nazi propaganda film. In it, the main character, played by Sonia Braga, is hopelessly in love with a member of the Nazi occupation force.  At the same time she is being pressured by the resistance to use her position to get information from her lover.

Although the plot of the film within the film is related by Luis, The vision we get of the woman must be from Valentin's mind because it is the same woman who is his lover in the outside world.   Valentin is dual-minded in this regard.  He truly loves his bourgeoisie lover, but he feels guilty because she is of the rich elite.  Therefore he also has a girlfriend in the resistance, seeming to assuage his feelings of guilt.

Luis' main goal at the outset is to try to get on the good side of Valentin.  It seems he has been promised an early release from prison if he can somehow wangle from Valentin information on the political prisoner's core rebel group.  Which Luis does for a while, but he has fallen in love with Valentin, despite Valentin's disgust with Luis' lack of interest in the socio-political world outside his own private world.

Eventually Luis starts to work contrary to his purpose for the prison, extracting gifts from the prison officials, ostensibly from Luis' mother, in an effort to try to bring Valentin to good health.  He becomes emotional at one point and expresses his love for Valentin, and Valentin himself becomes more accepting of his cellmate.

The movie is not your typical drama, but it is engrossing to say the very least.  You find yourself even becoming hopeful for a happy ending for the both of them.  And when that happy ending doesn't materialize forthwith, even then you may find yourself satisfied with having watched the film, even if not entirely happy with the way it turns out for everybody.

As stated above, William Hurt won the Oscar for his portrayal, one that could be seen forthcoming after such bravura performances in Altered States (his first movie) and The Big Chill and even to some extent in Body Heat, all made prior to this movie.  Hurt went on to great roles and further Oscar noms in such movies as Children of a Lesser God, Broadcast News and A History of Violence.

Raul Julia also could have been nominated for Best Actor, but wasn't.  Personally I would have put him ahead of James Garner (for Murphy's Romance) in the list for voting, but I would probably have voted for Hurt anyway if I had been in the voting queue.

Both actors make this a very good film to watch, but be forewarned it may not be good for the kiddos.  Unless you are trying to give them an insight into the repressive side of politics, but even then I would suggest waiting until they are at least high school age.

Drive home safely, folks.   Be sure to tune in tomorrow for my second review for the blogathon, of The Birdcage.


Friday, September 14, 2018

Slow Boat from China

This is my entry in the Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

It's a given that Lauren Bacall had some real sex appeal, especially in her early years with her onscreen presence with Humphrey Bogart.  Blood Alley teams her up with John Wayne, and that chemistry seems to dissipate immensely.  One wonders how much better it would have been with Robert Mitchum (the original star of the picture), or for that matter, Bogart, who was approached to do the film after Mitchum got canned from the flick, but wanted too much money to do it. 

Blood Alley (1955):

The movie begins with Captain Tom Wilder (John Wayne), a seaman in the Merchant Marines, in prison in Communist China.  He has been under interogation by the Communists during this time, but he has kept his sanity because he has a guardian angel of sorts, named "Baby", whom he talks to and confides in when the going gets rough. (Must be a new definition of "sanity", if you ask me...)

The circumstances change when he is helped to escape.  He doesn't initially know why his secret benefactors have conspired to get him out until he arrives at the town of Chiku Shan.  There he mets a Mr. Tso (Paul Fix, entirely unrecognizable in make up, at least to me, but if you close your eyes, you will hear the voice of the Marshall from The Rifleman, the part he was most famous for playing).  Tso tells him the reason.  He is wanted to pilot a ferryboat the town has commandeered and take the entire city of Chiku Shan out of Communist China territory to freedom in Hong Kong.

Also on hand in Chiku Shan is Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall), the daughter of a medical missionary.  Cathy is waiting for the return of her father, who has gone to do some surgery on one of the Communist leaders.  Unbeknownst to Cathy, or anyone else at the beginning, Cathy's father's surgery failed, and he was killed by the Communists in revenge.

So Wilder has to get the village to safety, but he has no real chance.  The ferryboat is a wreck, the trip is full of dangers, hampered by the fact that Wilder has to go only by his memory of the area since he has no viable map, and the escape vehicle can't really outdistance any ships the Communists could use to chase them.  They must rely on a little subterfuge to even get out of Chiku Shan so that the enemy doesn't realize what is going on right away.

The trip is hampered by the fact that the village has to take the resident family of Communist loyalists, the Fengs, with them.  Ostensibly because the Fengs would be blamed, persecuted and probably executed for allowing the village to escape.  But the Fengs prove to be a hazard to the trip in a couple of ways, including the poisoning of the food supply onboard.

The one thing that kept coming to my mind in this movie is how the film seems to teeter on the edge of being either late 19th century/early 20th century and "modern" (or modern in terms of the time of the movie).  It seems to me that it avoids some seemingly obvious options on the part of the Communists.  Why, if they were so intent on preventing the defection, didn't they just put a couple of airplanes in the air to bomb the derelict ferryboat?

Given Wayne's virulent anti-communist stance in politics, the film does come off a bit jingoistic.  And the Chinese characters are, admittedly typical of the era, a bit of a parody.  I cringed every time Joy Kim, who plays Cathy's maidservant, Susu, spoke. But not all are such annoyances.  Wilder's main man on the boat, Big Han (Mike Mazurski) is pretty good, as well as Henry Nakamura, who plays a cigar loving engineer, Tack.

The movie is not one of Wayne's best, nor is it one of Bacall's best, but it is entertaining on most levels.  After all he Wayne movies I've seen, this one only ranks in the middle of the list, but I would recommend it to anyone who wants to watch a non-Western Wayne film.