Archive for the 'Movie' Category

Radiator Springs Eternal

26 Nov 2010 by Skyring

Just another kids’ movie. I didn’t watch it when it came out, but then again, I don’t watch that many movies in the cinema nowadays. Nor did I watch it on TV or video. But, again, as a night cabbie, I don’t have that much time for evening television.

Oddly enough, Cars is a movie that I’ve listened to many, many times. Driving down to Charleston in BookCrosser Crrcookie’s awesome van, with the flip-down video screens and the library stowage bins and the wonderful travelling bookcart, and again last year between Kansas City and Oklahoma City, the movie played again and again for the entertainment of Cookie’s son Lilgrovers, who is one of the coolest youngsters I’ve ever met.

He loves this movie!

But I always got to ride in the front seat, whether driving or pretending to navigate, and so I couldn’t see the screen just behind my head, nor hear the movie soundtrack clearly.

Once, we were actually driving along Route 66 through Chandler, Oklahoma while it was playing, and I’m rapidly becoming a Route 66 bore. “It’s about Route 66,” Cookie said, so I mentally made a note that, if I ever had a moment when I wasn’t doing anything useful, I’d watch this kiddie movie about cartoon cars racing along Route 66.

Well, about a month ago, Cars came up on television on one of my rare nights off, and I sat down to watch it. Now, you can count me in with Lilgrovers.

I love this movie!

The plot hits my buzzer. Bad boy becomes good guy – that’s pretty much how it goes. There’s a philosophical lesson here, and I love it. Seeing selfish racecar Lightning McQueen learn how to become a team player and gain friends is heartwarming stuff. His relationship with Mater the tow truck is a stand-out.

The characters. A microcosm of America, each of the cars, from Sarge the army jeep to Sally the retired lawyer, has a distinct personality. Sarge seems to have a thorny relationship with Fillmore the psychedelic VW Kombi – “The ’60s weren’t good to you, were they?” – but they are almost always seen side by side.

The crusty old town judge, Doc Hudson voiced by Paul Newman, turns out to be a fascinating character indeed. He has something that Lightning McQueen craves, but instead of living in a Hollywood mansion surrounded by adoring young sportscars, he is out to pasture in a bypassed town on a deserted highway.

Frank. I just love Frank the harvester, who makes a startling but memorable appearance when Lightning and Mater mount a midnight raid on his harem of tractors.

The whole movie is gently humorous, full of little touches. At the racetrack opening sequence, the stands are full of spectator cars adorned with souvenirs, the washrooms have a queue of female cars while the boy cars whiz in and out. Mack, McQueen’s transporter truck amusing himself on a long cross-country trip by making faces in the reflection from a brightly polished tanker trailer just ahead. Mack, on discovering that the media is focussed on his rear end – “What? Did I forget to wipe my mudflaps?”

The guys obviously had a lot of fun with this movie. Fun and love. There’s affection everywhere for the characters, the story and above all the setting.

The old bypassed Route 66 town of Radiator Springs is first encountered late one sleepy night. Little bugfly cars with wings crawl on the fluorescent lights as Sarge and Fillmore gaze at the blinking amber traffic light. “I’m tellin’ you, man, every third blink is slower.”

The town is slowly dying. No tourist cars stop to browse souvenirs at Radiator Springs Curios, dhop Sarge’s Army Surplus store – “We already have too much surplus!”, says a rare visitor – or buy at Luigi’s “Casa Della Tires”. Sally’s Crazy Cones Motel remains empty. The stretch of Route 66 running through the town is cracking and unmaintained.

The dramatic arrival of Lightning McQueen, lost out of Mack’s transporter in a mishap, changes everything. At first resenting his enforced stay in “Hillbilly Hell”, he gradually develops an affection for the town and its inhabitants, who repaint and restore their shops, turn on their classic neon signs and gain new hope.

Following a climactic final race with a surprise ending, we learn how it all works out for the little town and its loveable residents.

Just like the real Route 66 and its string of decaying towns yearning for the glory days, Radiator Springs symbolises the nostalgia and rebirth of the Mother Road. Adventure travellers motor along the remaining lengths of narrow Portland cement, enjoying the restored diners, motels, bridges and views.

As Mack heads west, carrying McQueen to California along I-40, we see stretches of the old Route 66 winding along beside the new sixlane. The scenery becomes more and more spectacular, with mesas and canyons appearing, jagged peaks on the skyline.

I’ve driven along Route 66 with Discoverylover. Just a half a day in Oklahoma, but we sought out some of the original sections of the road, weeds pushing through the concrete slabs, and drove along winding sections, over picturesque bridges, following the contours, past living rooms and shops and museums.

I loved it. Every mile of the old road. The day was grey, threatening rain, but sparkles happily in my memory. One day soon I’ll drive the whole highway.

Cars has one delightful scene, where McQueen and Sally cruise and race along the highway, through valleys and forests, splashing through rivulets and fallen leaves, over a bridge before a waterfall, eventually exploring an old roadhouse set into one of those spectacular rock outcrops. It’s a dream sequence, and it inspires McQueen to glory.

And me. I love this film. I watch it again and again. It’s not just for kids.

–– Skyring

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The Sterile Cuckoo: going away with Liza Minelli

30 Jun 2010 by Skyring

You want a young Liza Minelli nude? Well, here she is as Pookie Adams, a banana peeled in a tacky cabin in a joint end-of-virginity scene with co-star Wendell Burton playing fellow college freshman Jerry Payne.

Jerry: [seeing Pookie naked for the first time] Gee, Pookie, your body’s just… beautiful.

I have to agree. She’s gorgeous. But you’ve got to wonder why, as he gently removes each item of clothing, he carefully hangs it up to avoid wrinkles. Situations like this, what’s wrong with the floor?

Pookie: Yeah? Well, I’d better get my beautiful ass into this beautiful bed, before it freezes off!


The two are perfect for each other. Pookie’s offbeat behaviour – lying to a nun on a bus so as to sit next to Jerry, her intriguing views on life and happiness, her rambling monologues – are in delightful contrast to Jerry’s deadpan attitude. How these two could manage a romance is part of the interest of this film.

I think it’s safe to say that this is Liza’s film. She sparkles amongst the “weirdos” of a Northeastern college town in the late Sixties. She’s the most eccentric character around, but she sees herself as the voice of sanity.

Perhaps I’m inclined to agree with her. Her lively views on society, romance and cultural expectations are refreshing, opposed to the more conservative attitudes of those around her.

It’s a pleasure to see the young Liza act. She makes the most of her character, she captivates the viewer, she owns the movie. This was acknowledged by the professional critics of the day, even as they panned the movie itself.

At the time, I resented the way they mocked the elements of romance and sentiment that I enjoyed so much. Long walks through meadows with the music swelling, soulful glances, shared joys – these are the things that set me sighing. And above all, that delightful song that made Vincent Canby of the New York Times roll his eyes:

Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend.
We’ll Saturday laugh more than half of the day.
Just I and my friend,
Dressed up in our rings and our Saturday things
And then we’ll move on
But we will remember long after Saturday’s gone.

Liza Minelli scored an Oscar nomination for her role. And three years later, in another movie I love, she pumped up the role and won an Oscar for Best Actress in the fabulous Cabaret. Nobody complained about the music in that one!

I guess I’m just a sentimental old coot, remembering my fumbling first times at love and all the rest of it. This is a movie to cherish, especially since I was in my teens, in my first year of university, when I saw it. I love it.

—Skyring

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Sound of Music: one of my favourite things!

22 Jun 2010 by Skyring

There’s a moment in Kevin Costner’s The Postman that I treasure. The rest of the film is mercifully forgettable, but when Costner, as a self-appointed mailman in a decaying world, is captured by a freebooter army of goons and lunkheads, and made to be the projectionist for their nightly movie show, he is almost stoned to death when he dares screen something other than their favourite: The Sound of Music.

Nearly half a century after its filming in the summer following JFK’s assassination, audiences dress up and sing along at special screenings, guided tours visit the locations of the film, the legend grows and the royalties come rolling in.

It’s a movie I’ve watched again and again, from the enchantment of first seeing it in one of those gorgeous old cinemas in Brisbane, all gold leaf and velvet, uniformed usherettes under a crystal chandelier. Years later, back in the days before DVDs or even video, Mum’s church filled the hall with a rented projector and a hired print. The congregation was enraptured, self included.

It’s just a great good story. Again, one of the classic plots: the poor country girl, after initial difficulties, marries the prince (or in this case the heroic sea captain) and lives happily ever after with a castle full of children.

The scenery is superb, the songs are catchy, the children are cute, the bad guys get outwitted and the loose ends are all tied up as the family hikes over the Alps to freedom.

I know full well that a lot of it is the purest tripe. Maria wed Captain von Trapp ten years before the Nazis invaded Austria, they had three children together, if you hiked over the mountains from Salzburg you’d end up in… Germany, and as the Captain was actually an Italian by birth, the whole family could simply have caught the train over the border.

Which is what they did.

Nevertheless, the story is based, however thinly, on facts, and it is such an excellent story that it overcomes all but the most flinty and skeptical of viewers. It is a film of the heart, not the head, and love shines all the way through it. Liesl (sixteen going on seventeen) falls for the Nazi telegraph boy, and while their romance sparkles initially, you just know it’s going to end in tears. Von Trapp, crusty old sea-captain, starts off on the wrong foot in a lukewarm relationship with a Baroness, but sees the light with young Maria and true love blooms, to the delight of all.

I’m a sucker for a love song, and The Sound of Music has two of the best. Sixteen Going On Seventeen sums up the breathless, rushing whirl of teenage emotions. Rolf and Liesl lay the foundations of the perfect life and love, and when Liesl sneaks back into the house, Maria interrupts her prayers to help and support her, outfoxing the suspicious Captain.

But it is Maria and the Captain who have the best scene and song. In the moonlit gazebo where Rolf and Liesl danced, they declare their love for each other, each hardly daring to believe that the other is …standing there, loving me, whether or not you should. This must be some reward, they must have done something good.

My heart just melts.

A payback for some earlier good deed? Maria has to undergo some serious soul-searching before she accepts her feelings. We see her as a happy-go-lucky postulate nun, planning her life of devotion and duty, despite the misgivings of her seniors. But life gets in the way of the dream when she is sent out on a temporary assignment as governess:

Maria walks out of the Abbey wearing a drab gray dress, baggy burlap jacket, and a wide-brimmed leather hat. She carries a guitar case in one hand and a carpetbag in the other.

Maria stops and looks back with a sad, wistful frown, then continues toward the Abbey’s iron gates.

MARIA When the Lord closes a door… (sighs)… somewhere he opens a window.
(sings) What will this day be like? I wonder.

Maria steps through the gate and out into the sunlight.

And, as the Baroness says to a pensive Captain von Trapp, when she breaks off their engagement,

Now, if, um, if you’ll forgive me, I’ll go inside, pack my little bags, and return to Vienna where I belong. And somewhere out there is a young lady who I think … will never be a nun.

The rest is history. Maria never becomes a nun, but she and the family become a singing group, touring the world and eventually settling in Vermont, safe from the horrors of war, running singing camps, full of praise and happiness.

One detail I love especially. The family farmhouse built by all, with Maria mixing the cement, was named Cor Unum – One Heart.

–Skyring

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Harold and Maude: death by suicide, music by Cat

17 Jun 2010 by Skyring

Brisbane’s West End, mid-70s. Saturday morning and a group of we high school seniors were off on the town to watch a movie under the guidance of our English teacher, Ray Fuary.

Mr Fuary was a ratbag, simple as that. In the largely conservative world of Bjelke-Peterson’s Queensland, he surely voted Labor, smoked dope, and hurled bricks at sacred cows. He was a breath of fresh air, and just a bit scary.

The movie was Harold and Maude, one that had never made the mainstream cinemas in Brisbane, but had somehow attracted Mr Fuary’s ratbag attention to the extent that he thought it worth exposing a class of callow teenagers to. To entertain us, to shock us a little bit, to make us think.

I was a few minutes late and as I sat down beside a schoolmate, I asked him what I had missed. “Not much,” he replied. “The star committed suicide in the first few seconds.”

And so began my love of a bizarre film, where the twenty year old Harold (Bud Cort, fresh from M*A*S*H) does his best to be dead, whilst still maintaining a grip on life. His seventy-nine-and-three-quarters-year-old girlfriend Maude (Ruth Gordon) is pretty much the reverse, and her harum-scarum schemes to enjoy life while she’s got it are in stark contrast to Harold’s inspired attempts to harass his mother by faking his own death.

A black comedy, panned by the New York Times at release, and famously described by Variety as having “all the fun and gaiety of a burning orphanage”, this movie attracted a cult following, who watched it time and time again, loving it more each time. Odd viewers. Like me.

I love Harold and Maude. Offbeat, upbeat, downplayed and replayed. A hundred great lines.

Maude: Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.

Perhaps what attracted Mr Fuary to this film was the way that establishment figures were treated:

Uncle Victor: [attempting to interest Harold in military service] The two best wars this country ever fought were against the Jerries. I say get the Krauts on the other side of the fence where they belong. Let’s get back to the kind of enemy worth killing, and the kind of war this whole country can support.

Priest: I would be remiss in my duty if I did not tell you that the idea of intercourse – the act of your firm, young body… comingling with… withered flesh… sagging breasts… and flabby b-b-buttocks… makes me want… to vomit.

This was an antiwar, antipomp, antiauthority film. And, despite the focus, with scenes set during funeral services, picnics in cemeteries, and the cutest little E-Type hearse you ever laid eyes on, antideath.

Or rather, pro-life. Life to be lived and experienced in full. Every day something different, even after eight decades.

Age is not something that matters a great deal. Maude looks back on her life with fondness, even the parts that can’t have been very pleasant, but she doesn’t dwell on it. Or in it. She lives very much in the present.

As with many of the productions I love, this is something worth returning to again and again, just to capture a few more details. The converted railway carriage that is Maude’s home has some wonderful details that the camera just pans over, leaving you wondering, “just what was that… thing??”

I couldn’t leave without mentioning a superb supporting cast, led by English actress Vivian Pickles as Harold’s long-suffering but determinedly upbeat mother. The scene where she fills out a computer-dating questionnaire on behalf of her son is a gem:

Harold’s Mother: I have here, Harold, the forms sent out by the National Computer Dating Service. It seems to me that as you do not get along with the daughters of my friends this is the best way for you to find a prospective wife. The Computer Dating Service offers you at least three dates on the initial investment. They screen out the fat and ugly so it is obviously a firm of high standards…

Another element that makes this film a hit in my ears is the soundtrack music by Cat Stevens. Don’t Be Shy, If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out, and perhaps best of all, Trouble, masterfully overscoring the twist on a twist that makes the film’s ending one to savour.

Ray Fuary had a lot of great films to show us. Roman Polanski’s Macbeth was another I recall fondly, a world away from pure classical Shakespeare. When I went on to university, I became a film student, and it used to drive my girlfriend nuts that I’d point out arcane production or scriptwriting details when she was trying to enjoy a movie experience.

How I ended up as a night cabbie is another matter, but every day is a chance for a new experience.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are!

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Stardust memories

15 Jun 2010 by Skyring

About time I became a Grumpy Old Geezer again.

I did not love Stardust.

I liked it, to be sure. A clever fantasy, artful plot, great special effects and so on, but it didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

One of the seven great plots. Bastard shopboy weds fair lady, becomes beloved king, lives happily ever after. That’s always a winner. Add in some whimsy, some evil, some magic and a few plot twists, and there’s the icing on the cake and the cherry on top. The good guys triumph, the badduns die in inventive fashion, music swells as the credits roll.

Well, my eyes were rolling in time with the music all the way through. Predictable as the plot was, once the essential elements were known, a good story well told will always lift me. Look at Notting Hill. You know how that’s going to end, almost from the start, and yet it’s a movie to watch time and again. I love it.

This one, it’s too contrived for my taste. The magic isn’t coherent. There are so many loopholes and absurdities that suspension of disbelief is a big ask indeed. A brick wall dividing the magic world from the non-magic, and the portal is guarded day and night. The portal is merely a gap in a stone wall that anyone could clamber over in a jiffy. You’d think the gatekeeper would patch the hole and go home to get some sleep.

Or truth-telling runes that know everything. Throw them up, ask a question, and the truth is revealed in the way they fall. Yeah, right. I know it’s just a device, but when the universe, in the shape of a few stones, becomes a sentient being instantly attuned to the petty questions of random humans, then I find it hard to swallow.

And don’t get me started on Babylon candles…

Yeah, I know. I loved Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and that’s full of magic.

But in that tale, the magic was coherent and limited. The magic toys and the magic store were juvenile. They didn’t have all knowledge and all powers built into them. The mobile made of living seacreatures was something I found difficult, but a poignant sock-puppet or a dancing wood cube, okay, I’ll swallow that.

In Stardust, the only time I felt comfortable was aboard Captain Shakespeare’s wonderful flying ship, with the lightning nets and the tatty gasbag, and the ridiculously camp captain. Not to mention the overblown pirate crew. That was fun.

The magic was too Hollywood for me. Michelle Pfeiffer plays an ancient crone, made temporarily young by arcane magic. She eats a talisman and becomes gorgeous, drops her robe and her fellow crones gash in admiration and jealousy. And then each time she uses a bit of magic, she pays for it in a few instant liver spots. At one point, her breasts suddenly slump – foooomp-fooomp! – as if whatever is controlling the magic has an eye for drama. Good effect, but contrived. Forced. Imposed on the viewer.

Maybe the book is better. Sometimes an author – and Neil Gaiman is a wonderfully inventive storyteller – can hold a corny tale together with his style. Terry Pratchett is another, where the author’s individual style is as much a character as any of the players.*

Maybe I should read the book, hey?

Don’t get me wrong. For all of my carping and grumping, I liked this movie. I almost ordered it from Amazon – a constant temptation for easy wish-fulfilment, especially when they seem to know just what I’d like to buy from them each time I visit – or ducked down to the video store, or the library, or went for a download from iTunes, but my daughter unearthed a pirate copy she’d snapped up for a buck in Shenzen a couple of years back. It skipped and paused a few times when we whacked it in the DVD and hit the go button, but my wife and I had a pleasant couple of hours enjoying the fun and fantasy.

I’d recommend it for people into this sort of thing, but it didn’t have the sort of magic that puts a movie or a book or a place or a person into my heart forever.

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* Especially in the footnotes. Some of Terry Pratchett’s footnotes are pure genius.

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