Saturday, August 31, 2013

Best Picture: "The French Connection," 1971

Movie Stats:
Released 1971 (USA)
American, in English (some subtitled French, a little non-translated French)
Director – William Friedkin
Stars – Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider

Plot Summary:
When NYC cops Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle (Hackman) and Buddy Russo (Scheider) stumble upon a massive drug ring, they discover that it has a French connection.

Violence (although the fake blood is laughable), blue language, and very brief female nudity (butt only).

Bad Stuff:
It was so dull that, at only an hour and forty minutes or so, it felt longer than several of the 3-hour-long movies I’ve seen.

The acting wasn’t especially impressive. At least, I don’t think it takes a whole lot of emoting to convey “tough-guy New York cop.” I feel like practically any grizzled guy in his 30s or 40s could’ve played Doyle or Russo.

The ending was so abrupt that I literally said out loud, “Wait, is it over?”

Good Stuff:
It was refreshing to see old-fashioned police work. There was no CSI. There were no magic leaps in logic. It was all observation, gut feeling, tough talking, ass-kicking, and blind dedication to the job. I think that’s what made people fall in love with this kind of movie to begin with.

I’m not especially enamored of action movies, but it was kind of fun to see one win Best Picture. After lots of dramas, a handful of comedies, a few musicals, and far too many period pieces, I liked that I got to turn my brain off and watch some car chases for once.

The Verdict:
I always thought I’d seen this before, but after watching it now, I realized that what I must have seen previously was the sequel (“The French Connection II”). I didn’t like the sequel, and I didn’t especially like the original either. It just wasn’t very interesting.

I get why this probably appealed to audiences at the time. I think that “gritty crime drama” was fairly new back in the early 1970s. In the ensuing 40 years, the genre has been done to death. Now, what person hasn’t grown up watching them? And these days, they involve a lot more explosions, drama, and good-looking leads. It’s no wonder that an early incarnation of the genre seems a bit ho-hum to me.

Even so, I’ve suffered through far worse in the pursuit of this project. And looking at the 90s, I can see that there is far worse yet to come. So I wouldn’t say that this movie is necessarily bad. It’s simply not remarkable. There aren’t even any great quotes that stood out to me. I don’t think you should see it unless you’re fond of this particular genre.

I give the movie 2.75 stars.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Postcard Project: 1930s, Part 3

As always, any spelling/grammatical mistakes are copied verbatim from the cards.

July 3, 1932
Addressed to Grandma. Text below.

"Just to say Hello and hoping you'll write soon how do you like it? Guess."

My guess is that this is from Grandma's friend Mary, and I'm almost positive my guess is right. This was sent to her during the brief time she lived in Virginia. Also, this card is kind of naughty, haha.

May 19, 1933
Addressed to Grandpa. Text below.

"Dear [redacted]: Could you mail me the name & address of your new President? Was over to [city name redacted] last Saturday. I saw the Parade. It was good. Was that you in the old black ford with white printing on. "WAIT UNTIL I BECOME PRESIDENT." The funniest thing he stoped in front of me & performed then turned & went back towards [city name redacted]. Your guilty! I heard something nice about Fred & not from the preacher either. Will see you at the next business meeting. Sincerely Alice M."

It amuses/baffles/vaguely annoys me that I almost never understand what any of these people are talking about on these cards. Seriously, what is going on here? I have virtually no idea, although I will say that I don't think Alice is referring to the President of the USA here. I gather from the cards that Grandpa knew Alice from church. I think she may be referring to president of the Board of Trustees at church. Or, since Grandpa was a police officer, perhaps the president of his union.

Also, I chuckled at someone from 1933 referring to any car as "old." Hadn't the car really only been a part of the American landscape for about twenty years at this point?

July 11, 1933
Addressed to Grandpa. Text below.

"Dear [nickname redacted]: I bet [location redacted] is running along smoothly by now and that most of your time is spent entertaining the girls. We've had a swell time in spite of our seasickness. The lake was terribly rough when we came over. Minnie."

Although I hardly knew him, it's hard to imagine my grandpa as a ladies' man. He seems to have been running some kind of camp this summer. I find it interesting that, rather than driving to Milwaukee back then, people took a boat across Lake Michigan.

July 21, 1933
Addressed to Grandpa. Text below.

"Dear [redacted]: Assembly is great. I must miss Piggott [?] from your church. Sorry Kelly was sick I couldn't come. There are 15 from Kazoo Asso. that I know of. Did you know Allen W. has gone to North Carolina? As Ever, Alice Moffit."

Maybe it's just Alice Moffit who never makes any sense.

July 27, 1933
Addressed to Grandpa. Text below.

"Dear [redacted] - Just arrived today. We have seen a great deal of Chicago already - not the Fair, yet. There are four other girls in the same room with me and it is a grand room. Wish you were here. We are staying until Sat. nite - Bessie."

Grandpa sure had a lot of lady friends, didn't he? None of them are my grandma. Yet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Best Picture: "Patton," 1970

Movie Stats:
Released 1970 (USA)
American, in English (some subtitled German; minimal non-translated French)
Director – Franklin J. Schaffner
Stars – George C. Scott, Karl Malden

Plot Summary:
Showcases the exploits of George S. Patton, an American general, during his African and European campaigns of WWII. Malden co-stars as General Omar N. Bradley.

The battle scenes (and their aftermaths) are fairly graphic.

Bad Stuff:
I personally didn’t have any trouble following the plot, but if you didn’t pay attention during your American history class in high school, you might find it a little confusing.

The British were portrayed as a bit too incompetent – although, by all accounts, Montgomery was not, in fact, a particularly good general – and the Germans a bit too in awe of/afraid of Patton. It stretched my credulity.

Good Stuff:
It did a really good job of showing the complexities of Patton’s character. Was he likeable? Was he detestable? The answer is yes to both questions. He was a great general but a terrible politician, and in a changing world, that didn’t fly. It was nice that he was portrayed as understanding this himself, and that even though he recognized this he was incapable of changing it. Really, it was a very solid screenplay (written largely by Francis Ford Coppola).

The battle scenes were surprisingly well done.

The Verdict:
This was a very solid movie. It was a lot more engaging than I expected it to be. Scott was great as Patton. I thought he imbued the character with a lot of likeability even when he wasn’t being particularly likeable. At its core, this film is a character study, and it really exceled at its goal: bringing a controversial historical figure to relatable life at a time when people weren’t feeling all that positive about war. My only real problem is that I can’t imagine myself ever wanting to watch it again. It’s good, but not a movie that resonates for me.

For that reason, I give it 4 stars.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On Loneliness: Introduction

I’ve been thinking about writing an essay series on loneliness for a while now. Loneliness is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. It comes and it goes. Being in a relationship and/or having good friends has always been a buffer against it, although not a complete one. Sometimes, in a room full of people, I feel completely alone. Other times, I feel as though my heart could burst with joy because my life is so incredibly full of good people.

My sense of loneliness upon moving to Dallas has been both strong and persistent. Moving to new places and forming new friendships has always been difficult for me. For example, I lived in Portland for more than two years before I felt like I’d made close friends. On Maui it took over a year. Austin was an anomaly; I felt like I made an instant group of friends there. Perhaps that is what has made Dallas seem especially difficult. It’s hard to accept that I have to tap into my reserves of patience and perseverance again.

The decision to blog about it hasn’t been easy though. I’ve never been particularly eager to put my problems on blast. I feel very stoic about it all, if you will. I don’t want to trouble anyone, for goodness’ sake. I don’t want to be anyone’s burden.

But then I thought that maybe talking about it isn’t really about me in the end. Maybe it’s about giving a voice to anyone who’s ever felt lonely. Maybe I have something to say that they’d like to hear, or that they’d like other people to hear.

My other problem with blogging about it is one of organization. I have so much to say. On the other hand, I’m not sure how to say any of it, at least not in a way that’s cohesive or makes sense. So that’s why this is going to be a series, one that has clearly-defined themes for each piece. I believe that the themes will be as follows:

My Upbringing
Broken Friendships
My Personality
Modern American Society

I may add more themes as I proceed and explore. Consider this first piece to be the introduction or, perhaps, overture (hence the title).

I’m not sure yet where this essay journey is going to take me. Perhaps I will have an epiphany or two. Perhaps I will come up with a plan of action to eliminate loneliness from my life. Or perhaps nothing will come of it, or at least nothing more than a few words on a page.

Regardless, I'm taking the journey. This is your formal invitation to take it with me. Let's see where it goes together.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Best Picture: "Midnight Cowboy," 1969

Movie Stats:
Released 1969 (USA)
American, in English
Director – John Schlesinger
Stars – Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

Plot Summary:
When Texas hayseed Joe Buck (Voight) makes his way to New York City, intent on getting by as a gigolo, he ends up falling in with sickly petty crook Ratso (Hoffman).

I feel that I’ve finally reached a time when I need to provide warnings. This movie contains both male and female nudity, sex scenes, and “blue” language (specifically: derogatory language toward homosexuals).

Bad Stuff:
It’s really, really weird. As in, the-way-I-always-expect-1960s-movies-to-be-weird weird (i.e. psychedelic).

I don’t really see the “point” or the “message.” Unless the point was to depress me, or to convince me that moving to NYC to be a prostitute is a bad idea, but I knew that already. I think that I was supposed to connect with these characters, to really feel what they were going through, but I simply didn't. The tragic end didn't surprise me and I also didn't feel particularly upset about it. It was just all very "meh" to me.

Good Stuff:
At least it’s more realistic than that “hooker with a heart of gold” crap like “Pretty Woman.”

Solid acting. Or, I at least found Voight believable as a Texas hayseed (he hails from Yonkers) and Hoffman believable as a rough-edged, tough-talking New Yorker (he hails from L.A.).

The Verdict:
I guess I don’t really have a lot to say. The 1960s have been strange movie-wise because very few of the winners were set in 60s. For that reason, I was excited for this one. I was hoping that it would provide a better insight to the times, a la “The Graduate” (which, unfortunately, didn’t win Best Picture). Instead, I thought it was slow, weird, and, ultimately, forgettable. However, the psychedelic-ness of it did seem like a reasonable way to send off the decade.

I can’t say that I recommend this one. Perhaps you should watch it if you particularly enjoy either of these actors. Otherwise, don’t bother.

I give the movie 2.75 stars.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Postcard Project: 1930s, Part 2

As always, any spelling/grammatical mistakes were were made by card authors & copied verbatim by me.

July 7, 1931
Addressed to Grandma. Text below.

"Dear [redacted]: We got here O.K. Wont to go north tomorrow. Were up to see Ted. [illegible] to-nite. Everything is fine. Good luck till we return. bye [names redacted]."

This card is from Grandma's elder sister & her husband.

August 12, 1931
See below for text.

This card has no postage, so it was never sent. The text on the back is as follows:

On the correspondence side - "Souvenier of Barbar Beach Mich. Aug. 12, 1931."

On the addressee side - "Paul Domke [address follows], John Greszer [address follows]."

I'm under the impression that, as the card indicates, it was purchased as a souvenir from a trip. I believe that the two male names & addresses were gentlemen that the person who bought the card met on the trip & that the card bearer intended to write correspondence to them in the future.

September 18, 1931
Addressed to Grandma. Text below.

"How do you like it. Believe it or not. M.N."

Let's not forget that "M.N." is Mary, Grandma's good friend.

September 21, 1931
Addressed to Grandpa. See text below.

"Dear [nickname redacted]! Am down among the colored folk during Sept. 18, 1920. Its hot as whiz down here. I've been up in my first mountain - 5 1/2 miles high. Some mountains! At least I think so. With friendship - Doris."

I am aware that the date that Doris references in the card makes no sense, unless she held onto the card for 11 years before sending it. I assume that she wrote the wrong date, or that it was some kind of joke that I don't even remotely get.

I don't know who Doris was, but we shall see over the rest of the 1930s that a lot of ladies wrote postcards to my grandpa. Apparently he was popular.

October 9, 1931
Addressed to Grandpa. Text below.

"Hello Big Shot: Im still waiting for a letter & have some good snaps waiting. Tell Nonnie to write to. Billy [address follows]."

Oddly enough, this is the exact same racist postcard that Grandma received earlier in the year. I referred to my decision to censor the picture in my post here. I find it odd and somewhat amusing that both of my grandparents received a copy of this card long before they ever knew each other. I guess it was a popular card in 1931. Or at least, it was amongst the people my grandparents associated with.

I don't know who Billy was, other than obviously a friend of Grandpa's. I'm not even sure if "Billy" was male or female. I assume that "snaps" were pictures? Hmm, I'll have to see if I can find out more about 1930s slang.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Best Picture: "Oliver!," 1968

Movie Stats:
Released 1968 (UK)
British, in English
Director – Carol Reed
Stars – Mark Lester, Jack Wild, Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Shani Wallis

Plot Summary:
Based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, when young orphan Oliver (Lester) is tossed out of his orphanage/workhouse for asking for more gruel, he eventually makes his way to London, where he falls in with young pickpocket The Artful Dodger (Wild) and his equally young band of thieves, who are under the direction of an old man named Fagin (Moody). Reed co-stars as the dastardly Bill Sikes and Wallis as his wife (or maybe girlfriend; it wasn’t clear from the movie & I’ve never read the book) Nancy.

Bad Stuff:
I really disliked Oliver’s singing voice. I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn that the actor had been dubbed over by a girl, although apparently the filmmakers kept that a secret for 20 years.

I felt a little uncomfortable with the plight of an orphan being turned into a comedy. One scene, the boy is abused in a way that is shown as “comical,” the next he’s crying and singing “Where Is Love?” Geez, that’s tragic, not funny.

It’s surprisingly violent – although none of it is graphic – for a G-rated movie.

Good Stuff:
LOVED Moody’s singing voice. I think I could listen to that guy sing all day long.

There was great acting from everybody. I didn’t notice a weak link in the bunch. Child actors in particular can be really hit or miss, but I thought Lester was magnificent. More than once, a simple facial expression of his cut me to the core. I also thought Reed was pretty magnificent – really scary. I found myself wondering if the child actors were genuinely afraid of him during filming because he had some crazy eyes going on.

The big production song-and-dance sequences were great, especially “Consider Yourself.” I’m not surprised that they took weeks to film.

The Verdict:
I had a lot of reservations going in. This is the fourth and final musical to win Best Picture in the 1960s. I have to admit that I’ve gotten pretty burned out on them & have been feeling relieved that I don’t have to watch another musical until 2002’s “Chicago.”

However, despite these reservations, I found myself thoroughly entertained. I don’t think I found it as comical as I was supposed to, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless. There was solid acting, good songs, great dance sequences, lovely costumes, and lots of excitement, adventure & drama. What’s not to like?

I give the movie 4.25 stars.