Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday's Old Fashioned: Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966)

Cashing in on formula is not and never has been the sole domain of Marvel Comics. Colonel Tom Parker, the real villain of every bad Elvis movie, recognized how a recycled cinematic blueprint could yield box office from the moment he first trotted his Mississippi-born cash cow out in front of the cameras wearing a Hawaiian shirt. “Blue Hawaii” was not Elvis’s finest couple hours on screen, but it was the most successful, and the most pretty to look at, and came equipped with a strong soundtrack. So for much of his remaining acting career, Elvis was forced to star in “Blue Hawaii”-esque re-treads, combining songs with scenery and lilting co-stars. As the quality dipped, his on screen interest waned.

“Paradise, Hawaiian Style” was released in 1966, two years before his mammoth NBC Comeback Special, which naturally meant he needed something from which to come back. There was a whole lotta something, sure, but “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” was as emblematic a reason as any. The man who let loose on Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” only twelve years hence was reduced to rhapsodizing “Queenie Wahine’s Papaya” in a film so slack it practically evaporates right there on the screen. If the King had been a canoe in this exercise of blah, he would have been capsized, floating along with the current, letting it take him wherever, because whatever.

He stars as Rick Richards, the least-inspiring character name in an IMDB profile otherwise littered with inspiring character names, instantly suggesting not so much carefree as I-Don’t-Care. Indeed, Elvis looks like he doesn’t care. The pounds he has accumulated since his svelte “Blue Hawaii” self are noticeable and so are the attempts by director Michael Moore to try and disguise them. When he breaks into song, as he must, there is no cover story given, not even an unconvincing bare bones anecdote, to explain his crooning and hula dancing. We’re past the point, apparently, of “explanation”; “Paradise, Hawaiian Style” simply arrives intact.

Rick Richards actually has moderate gristle on his bones, if only the cocktail napkin on which the so-called screenplay was sketched over guava drinks wanted to do anything with it. Whereas the Chad Gates of “Blue Hawaii” was a G.I. returning home and a young man standing up to his father’s misplaced wishes to join the family business, Rick is less than noble. He is irresponsible, a pugnacious flirt, which he is why he gets fired from his airline job and casts off to the islands. Once there, he concocts a helicopter charter business with his pal Kohana (James Shigeta, whose incessant incredulous looks aimed Elvis’s way are the best thing in the whole movie), a business scheme that hews awful close to his tour guide business in “Blue Hawaii” aside from actual devotion to the job. Every decision Rick makes stems directly from skirt-cashing, and every skirt he chases puts his fledgling company and his pal’s backing in serious danger. Rick hardly cares and that fecklessness matches Elvis’s.

We aren’t supposed to care either. We’re supposed to string up a hammock in our living room and watch with a nary care in the world, imbibing the attractive photography, the sand & the surf, and smiling at the rendition of “Aloha O’e”, which is a pretty tough song to screw up even if you’re one of the Elvis Impersonators from “Honeymoon in Vegas”. But to simply sluff it off is to ignore the idea that moviemaking disasters don’t always have to light up the screen with their wasted money and undercooked “ideas”. No, sometimes a silver screen disaster is glimpsed in nothing more than the painfully bored body language of its star, one who may be in paradise but wishes he was anywhere else in the world.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Requiem for Hollywood's Golden Gate Bridge

“(The Golden Gate Bridge) needs neither praise, eulogy nor encomium,” said Joseph Straus in May 1937 the day the 4200 foot suspension span was officially unveiled to the public. “It speaks for itself.” And he’s totally right. It does. To see it is to understand the awesome sway it holds. And yet, to speak is human, and to see The Golden Gate, shining in the sun or shrouded in the fog, one finds him or herself desperate to verbally convey its majesty, like Herb Caen fifty years later: “The mystical structure, with its perfect amalgam of delicacy and power, exerts an uncanny effect. Its efficiency cannot conceal the artistry. There is heart there, and soul. It is an object to be contemplated for hours.”

In August of 2001, during my solo sojourn through the state of California, I contemplated it for hours. I walked up and down it twice. I leaned on the east railing and gazed at the bay. I leaned on the west railing and gazed at the Pacific. I gazed up at it from a beach to the south. I gazed down at it from a vista on the Marin County side. That, I learned several months later, was the same vantage point from where Freddie Prinze Jr. gave his generally undistinguishable “I love you” speech to Claire Forlani in the wholly disposable “Boys and Girls.” Forlani’s eyes are the most alluring in the business but even I struggled to make contact with them when such striking orange vermillion hovered just over her shoulder.

Films favor staggering backdrops and what could be more staggering? When I saw the Golden Gate in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” on Christmas Day 1986 I couldn’t believe how much sense it made that future Starfleet Federation would have made its headquarters in the city by the bay and, specifically, right by the bridge. What, were they gonna put it in the District of Columbia? Pfffffft. The Washington Monument is swell and the Lincoln Monument is peachy keen and Dumbarton Oaks is exorbitantly underrated but the District’s punching out of its sight-seeing weight class against the GG.

Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and film directors and movie producers often see the Golden Gate less for its eye-popping visuals and more for its ability to get destroyed. It shows up in the trailer for the forthcoming “San Andreas” as getting wiped away. It showed up in last year’s “Godzilla” so that Godzilla could Godzilla it. It showed up in “Pacific Rim” to get stomped to smithereens. It showed up in “Terminator: Salvation” already destroyed. It showed up in “X Men: The Last Stand” to get destroyed because Brett Ratner has no respect for anything good and decent in this world. It showed up in “The Core” to get ripped in half. Etc. Maybe, like the US Capitol getting blown up by aliens or Lady Liberty’s head left to wither away in the sand, destroying the Golden Gate Bridge is Hollywood’s way. Or maybe it speaks to some deep-seated relationship we all carry with it.

My favorite implementation of her land-spanning majesty is in Gore Verbinski’s “The Lone Ranger”, that tepidly received box office failure that is far from perfect but so much more than a Rotten Tomato. It is a story of How the West Was (Actually) Won tucked into something more summer blockbuster-y, an imperfect spectacle, a testament to the excess of both Hollywood and America. And it opens with a shot that will stop your heart – The Golden Gate Bridge under construction. It is CGI’d, of course, because it has to be, but there is something emblematic in that CGI, an unintentional explication of technology betraying the expedient evolution of our society. Look real close and you can essentially see an iPhone cord tethering Silicon Valley to Jamestown.

In discussing The Golden Gate for its seventy-fifth anniversary, California Historical Society executive director Anthea Hartig told The Atlantic: “I've come to see the bridge as a series of moments of remarkable bravery, chutzpah, and hubris. Man over nature, the great crown of the gateway, and the great crown of imperialism after the closing of the American frontier. We are looking to the Pacific. And we are putting a crown at the edge of the continent.” In the context of the colossal movie to come, that’s what this opening shot represents, the crown at the edge of the continent,the architectural exclamation point to a continental colonization. “It seems to be taken from a postapocalyptic political disaster movie,” Richard Brody wrote of the shot, as if its intention was not to herald the future but caution against it.

The film’s chief heavy, Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson), outlines his master plan before a banner reading “A Nation United”, a diabolical ribbing of the notion that this land was made for you and me and everybody else. “The Lone Ranger,” as Andrew O’Hehir wrote, “never lets you forget that the Manifest Destiny that drove Anglo-American society across our continent was a thin veneer pasted across a series of genocidal crimes.” And maybe that’s why every filmmaker wants to destroy the bridge. It might be unrivaled for pictorial marvelousness, yet its very presence embodies the excessive cost of the collectivism of westward expansion. By tearing it down, we can dream of starting again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Theories for Kylie Minogue's Final Line of San Andreas Dialogue

And so the release date of “San Andreas” draws nearer. We here at Cinema Romantico are over-the-moon anticipatory for Brad Peyton’s CGI spectacle of the earthquake to end the Earthquake. Not because of the movie itself, mind you. Ha! That’s kooky talk! No, we are excited to finally find out just who in the hell our beloved Kylie Minogue will be playing. We know she’s playing someone named “Susan Riddick” and that Ioan Gruffudd is playing someone named “Daniel Riddick” because IMDB tells us so, but beyond that……nothing. We have scoured the Internet, believe us, for traces of Susan Riddick’s character DNA and come up empty. And yet, in the wake of the obligatorily glitzy film premiere, one clue trickled in from the Twitters in the form of a Tweet from New Idea Magazine's Associate Editor, Matthew Denby.

. 's final line of dialogue in is the title of one of her songs.

A ha! Well now we're onto something!

5 Theories for Kylie Minogue's Final Line of San Andreas Dialogue

Better the Devil You Know. Susan Riddick, famed seismologist, gives the keynote address at a conference regarding the potential of “an Earthquake Storm.” “This,” she explains, “is a cataclysmic series of earthquakes spread out over many years. Yet our recent models show an increasing likelihood that this storm could, in fact, catastrophically take place over a period of several weeks rather than years, a scientific anomaly not unlike the one featured in Roland Emmerich's The Day After Tomorrow.” Less than 24 hours later, the storm is unleashed. A colleague looks at Susan Riddick in their chic laboratory and remarks, ominously, “It's happening just like you said it would.” Susan Riddick shrugs: “Better the Devil You Know.” The floor collapses and they plummet to their ultimate demise.

Never Too Late. As if trucked in from a bad Hallmark movie, Susan Riddick is a married mother of three who, lately, has been devoting far too much to getting ahead on the corporate ladder, working late and on weekends, forgetting her daughter's recital and her son's track meet. When her husband speaks, her mind drifts to the quarterly financials. Her life, you might say, is in need of a shake-up. She gets it. On the way to her other son's soccer game where she's supposed to have the halftime treats she has forgotten the last 22 soccer games in a row, the great quake hits. Fatally wounded, she still somehow straggles though a decimated city and to the soccer field where she hands out treats to injured kids and parents. “You remembered,” her other son says. “It's never too late,” she says with her final breath.

Go Hard or Go Home. Susan Riddick, three time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion, is in San Francisco for a road race and in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge with her manager when the quake strikes. As the Golden Gate is torn free from the Marin Headlands, thereby leaving nowhere to flee, Susan Riddick guns the engine anyway. Her manager, panicked, screams “There's no way you can make that jump!” to which Susan Riddick replies, grinning, “Go Hard or Go Home.” They don't make it.

Your Disco Needs You. Susan & Daniel Riddick are a faded Disco Power Couple. And with disco having faded from popular consciousness, their marriage has crashed on the rocks along with their love of Donna Summer (their mentor). But, as “San Andreas” opens, they have a chance run-in with nu-disco mogul Hans-Peter Lindstrøm (as himself). Susan feels herself being swayed to the good side of the force. Daniel, not so much. Yet in a moving sequence, as she takes to the dance floor and becomes lost in the rhythm, feeling space, she pleads for Daniel to join her. He resists. “Don't you see?!” she cries. “Your disco needs you!” Alas, the quake strikes, the dance floor collapses and Susan falls into the void. Daniel, after mourning, realizes his disco does need him and teams up with Lindstrøm for an epic album made in Susan's honor. His song bearing her name opens the Earthquake Benefit of 2015. The film bombs in America. It does gangbusters in Berlin.

Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi. In the midst of earthquake chaos, Emma (Carla Gugino) looks to Susan Riddick. Emma: “Do you remember why you wanted to do this movie?” Susan Riddick: “Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi.” A CGI steel beam falls on top of Susan Riddick. Emma looks to the sky and screams: “Take me too! TAKE ME TOO!!!!!!!”

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

License to Boast: Starship Troopers

The venerable Interwebs domain Grantland has a semi-regular series called Bragging Rights wherein they “determine which member of a cast, a team, a band, or a presidential cabinet is killing it the most, years later.” Last week, their resident college football scribe, the wonderful Holly Anderson, examined who was killing it most in Paul Verhoeven’s cult classic “Starship Troopers” (1997). And she did a respectable job. She parsed out a Gold Medal to Neil Patrick Harris, a Silver Medal to Sugar Watkins – er, Seth Gilliam, a Bronze Medal to Dean Norris. You might think, them? But then, the goal of Bragging Rights is to determine who’s killing it most right now; not who was killing it most in that movie. And that’s no fun. So NPH hosted the Oscars? So what? How did he do stacked up against Patrick Muldoon saying “jarheads”? Not too good, I’m afraid, and that’s all we care about here at Cinema Romantico.

So, today Cinema Romantico answers Grantland’s “Starship Troopers” Bragging Rights with “Starship Troopers” License to Boast, a determination of which member of the cast was killing it the most, right then.

Gold Medal: Dina Meyer. “Starship Troopers” is the certified all-time favorite movie of my friend, former roommate and venerated road comic Daryl A. Moon. I once spent a 4th of July with Daryl consuming rum like Captain Jack Sparrow while he showed myself and other (un)willing guests “Starship Troopers” one frame at a time like Roger Ebert at the Conference on World Affairs. Thus, I went straight to the nation’s foremost “Starship Troopers” source in order to properly hail the victor. I asked Daryl why Dina Meyer's Dizzy Flores was awesome. He answered…

“Sometimes a movie character is a great athlete (for example, good enough to play Jumpball professionally for either Rio or Tokyo). Sometimes a character is humble (not jealous that another player makes captain of the team despite the first character’s professional-quality abilities). Sometimes a character is determined to be with the person they love no matter what the cost (abandoning said professional career to follow the object of their affection into the military). Sometimes a character is part of a massive military invasion and, despite the overwhelming victory of the other side, manages to make it back (surviving the invasion of Big K). Sometimes a character finally admits their true feelings to the person they love and doesn’t get upset when the other person doesn’t love them back (making due when he just smiles). Sometimes a character uses their could-have-gone-pro athletic skills to save everyone in their unit (throwing a grenade into the tanker bug’s mouth during the battle on Planet P). Sometimes a character must suffer a major assault in order to stir the sympathies of the audience (the conclusion of the attack on Planet P). Sometimes a character has one of the most preposterous death scenes in film history, yet still breaks your heart by trying to comfort the person they love (in the transport back to the Rodger Young). But only one time has a character made claim to all of these, and that is why Dizzy Flores is awesome.”

Silver Medal: Michael Ironside. Mr. Ironside will always be Jester to me, so it says something that even in a cast of such soaring low-rollers, he ascends to such noteworthy heights. There’s, like, seven actors who could properly annunciate the line “They sucked his brains out.” He’s one.

Bronze Medal: Brenda Strong. Paul Verhoeven might not be a feminist but he's damn sure fair-minded, in his own way. And I think we know this because of Strong's Capt. Deladia. She's just sort of...there. It's not a big deal that she's a Captain; it just is. And in Strong's subtle but strengthened manner you can tell she's grooming Denise Richards' Carmen Ibanez to be her successor. Plus, she's the only “Starship Troopers” character to also appear in the much lamented sequel “Starship Troopers 2: Hero Federation.” Well, not really. Really Capt. Deladia died and Strong is playing a different character called Sgt. Dede Rake. But I don't believe that for a minute. Sgt. Dede Rake is Capt. Deladia reincarnated through some sort of mystical Jainism-like Ed Neumeier-ism. And we all know it.

Val Barker Trophy: Christopher Curry. This is a trophy presented to the one Olympic boxer who during the course of the two week competition most exemplifies “style.” And so, we present the “Starship Troopers” version of the Val Barker Trophy to the one actor who most exemplifies style. And that actor, undoubtedly, is Christopher Curry as Johnny Rico’s dad, the guy who says this: “How ‘bout a trip to the Outer Rings? Zegema Beach…eh?” I know. It reads like nothing here. But that’s the thing, the line reading is straight style. It is an auditory explosion of panache.

Honorary Kylie Minogue in “Moulin Rouge” Award: Hope Sandoval. It warms my heart to think that way out there in the 23rd century moments of such sweet sorrow are still being scored to the dreamy serenade “Fade Into You” and the ravenously forlorn vocals of Ms. Sandoval. She's never seen, yet that irresistible voice still echoes through the centuries. Even if there's giant bugs trying to squash us, so long as Mazzy Star lives on, we'll be all right.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Proustian Moment at Potbelly

A Friday afternoon. Lunch at Potbelly Sandwich Shop. For once, they don’t have the acoustic strummer set up along the wall for musical accompaniment and are just piping in music. You’re eating your sandwich and reading your book. “I’ve Seen All Good People” by Yes comes over the speakers.

Your book vanishes. Your sandwich disappears. You’re no longer in Potbelly. You’ve been transported to the moment in “Almost Famous” when William Miller is granted entrance backstage to the Stillwater concert, the metaphorical curtain drawn as he whisked into the magical kingdom of which he has only dreamt, probably in class with his head buried in his desk when he’s pretended to be asleep so he doesn’t have to sit there silently, not interacting with people he doesn’t like. His own world was in color but this is Kodachrome, motherfucker. It’s the Land of Oz, except instead of munchkins there are roadies and instead of witches there are groupies and instead of The Great and Powerful Oz there’s Russell Hammond. “Don't surround yourself with yourself.” And William’s emitting this unbelieving beam because when a dream comes true you somehow never have time to stop and process that it’s come true. It just moves in one unyielding wave of exultation and it’s like you’re trying to learn how to surf on the fly but you don’t wipe out because some unspoken power of the universe is keeping you upright even as you feel yourself, physically and emotionally, tossing and turning with a joy that’s so forceful you feel nauseous without feeling ill.

And then the businessman yapping loudly on his smartphone about market development strategy and operating leverage awakens you from this involuntary memory and drags you back through the uninviting gates of the real world. You take a bite of your sandwich.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Hurricane (1937)

The last movie I watched before John Ford's “The Hurricane” was “Sunshine Superman”, a documentary about the godfather of BASE jumping, Dan Boenish, who gregariously declared that he and his fellow parachuting adventurers were beholden to the laws of nature, not the laws of man. That’s the sort of line that might make a certain sort of American wretch, but then you watch “The Hurricane” and realize that for all the bitching and bellyaching and filibustering up there on Capitol Hill, and even just down the road from your City Council hearing where everyone takes the previous week’s minutes so very, very seriously, all these regimented policymakers and rule-declaring authoritarians are just spitting in the wind. Every man, woman and child is beholden to the laws of nature first and there ain’t a damn thing any of us can do about it.

At the heart of “The Hurricane” is, of course, The Hurricane, referenced right away in the truly righteous opening sequence setting up the flashback to recount the story. As a passenger ship passes the desolate remnants of a one-time tropical paradise known as Manukura, a naive tourist who believes every word she reads in the travel folders wonders what happened to it. Dr. Kersaint (Thomas Mitchell), requisitely alcoholic on account of his obligatory humane cynicism, responds, wondrously, ominously, “It made the mistake of being born in the hurricane belt.” And when the storm arrives in the third act, Ford, working in conjunction with effects expert James Basevi, does an immaculate job escalating the tension, the wind picking up, the shutters rattling, before unleashing holy hell. Initially you marvel at the filmmaking achievement, the authenticity and audacity with which they concoct a storm onscreen, until eventually you realize the very real terror of the moment has foisted itself upon you. The storm doesn’t just tear down trees and flood beaches, it sends so much water crashing down on the church where natives cower and say their prayers that walls crumble and people are swept away. Even the faithful are not spared. There is no judgment passed. Spiraling tropical storms pay no mind to righteousness or depravity.

The story revolves around Terangi (Jon Hall), a convivial native, marrying Marama (Dorothy Lamour), and despite her obligatory premonition of doom and gloom, he proceeds to board the boat of Captain Nagle (Jerome Cowan) for whom he works as First Mate and sets sail for Tahiti. There, at a seedy watering hole, when a racist old fart taunts him, Terangi throws a punch and sends the racist old fart toppling to the floor. He gets six months in the slammer, a harsh penalty for anyone but particularly for an islander used to wide open spaces. He tries to escape. And he gets caught. He tries to escape. And he gets caught. He tries to escape. And he gets caught. Etc. And each escape attempt results in additional years added to his sentence.

Back on Manukura their imprisoned son’s fate ignites untold conversations regarding the penalty’s fairness; how the law must be upheld regardless; how the law is wielded willy-nilly by men playing god, and so on. In fact, there might be a few too many of these discussions, each one covering the same ground as before, absent fresh insight. Yet this repetitiveness makes its own point, illustrating the expanse of time men and women fritter away squabbling over semantics, trumping themselves up as the arbiters of all what is Right and Wrong.

This, of course, would seem to indicate The Hurricane's inevitable arrival as a harbinger of God’s justice, a Lordly slicing of all the red tape, a Fatherly smack to all the pompous officialdom, like The Great Earthquake in “San Francisco” for which Mr. Basevi also did the magnificently frightening effects. Yet such a viewpoint would discount the otherwise innocent natives of Manukura, those forced to submit to jurisdiction of the French when they turned up and imposed their rules. Right and Wrong and Good and Evil and Everything in-between, it doesn't much matter when the laws of nature choose to cash in.

That’s what makes this film’s happy ending feel less contrived than most. It isn’t the unwavering Laws of Hollywood demanding at least a few smiling faces so much as it is the random luck of the draw. And the concluding shot, a joyous swim into the sunset, takes a time-honored coda and twists it, reminding us that for all the terror nature inevitably unleashes, we cannot help but revel in its beauty.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Emily Blunt's Letter to the Cannes Film Festival

The interwebs are alive with shouts and murmurs of the apparent Cannes Film Festival ordinance that all females must wear high heels on the red carpet, or else. The hella talented Emily Blunt, walking the red carpet on the French Riviera to promote “Sicario”, couldn’t take this footwear B.S. anymore and spoke about it. Twitter erupted. Cannes improbably became more supercilious. And so on. As it happens, Cinema Romantico’s sources were able to track down a letter sent by Emily Blunt’s PR team to the film festival’s directors in advance of her appearance. We have re-printed it below.

Dear Pierre Lescure and The French Association of the International Film Festival,

I hope this letter finds you well. Emily cannot wait to attend Cannes! However, we were hoping you might acquiesce to one minor request. While Ms. Blunt respects your ultra-progressive policy forcing females to wear high heels on the red carpet lest they appear - egads! - un-ladylike, she wondered if you might do her a solid, just this once, and grant her the privilege of wearing flats for the premiere of Sicario. Her back has really been in a lot of pain this last year considering she had to carry Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow.”

Thanks again!

Sincerely, The Artists Partnership