LIFE IN THE REAL DESERT: WESTERNS AND OLD MOVIES

Marilyn Armstrong:

The best affectionate analysis of this genre I have ever read … and I’ve read a lot of them. Beautifully written. If you love Westerns, you’ll love this. Promise!!

Originally posted on Mikes Film Talk:

Town sign outside of Burger King
My life in the real desert thus far has consisted of much more than personal injury and the shock of having no television. It includes the reading of old western favorites and movies that remain in the collection. Split into blu-ray, NTSC, Region 0 and Pal, the DVDs are spread out between RV and 5th wheel. In terms of stimulation, the tales by Louis L’Amour are hard to beat. Each story a sort of male romance novel built around rugged and hard men who must either fight, solve a mystery or puzzle, or defeat a villain who has designs on the girl of the protagonist’s dreams.

It took me awhile to figure out that these adventure stories of the old west were, in fact, the male answer to Harlequin Romance. These gunfighters, gamblers, cowboys, miners, lawmen, soldiers and so on are all just men searching for something. In the books…

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DOC, WYATT, AND BAT

Everyone knows the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the OK Corral. It’s possibly the most iconic story out of the “wild west.” But there are many more stories yet untold. I’ve been following the trail of this one for a while. Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp. Bat Masterson.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

Where did they meet? How did Doc Holliday — legitimately a D.D.S.(doctor of dental surgery) and apparently a good one — wind up best friends with Wyatt Earp and his brothers? How did this polite, educated gentleman become a gunfighter and a gambler? When did Bat Masterson get into the mix?

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) became a gambler and gunman out of necessity.

Not quite the killer his reputation made him out to be, Doc’s reputation was part truth, mixed with a lot rumor and publicity. Often credited with killing people he never met, the rumors were fueled by Holliday’s own publicity.

He wasn’t fond of killing people. Being a notorious gunman made it less likely he’d be challenged. He was famous for shooting opponents in the hand or foot, thus ending a duel without killing anyone.

Stagecoach in Tombstone

Doc Holliday was otherwise known as a mild-mannered, well-bred southerner who would have rather been a dentist. Except for being tubercular. Tuberculosis is a career ender for a dentist.

Exactly how he met the Earp brothers and with which of the many Earps did he connect first? Lots of speculation, but no evidence that can stand up to scrutiny. When and where did Bat Masterson come into the mix?

Bat Masterson is a great character. He pops in and out of the story, shows up in the nick of time to pull someone’s iron out of the fire, then disappears back to his own story. Sounds like a supporting actor Oscar to me.

copy-75-vintage-tombstonenk-005.jpg

The OK Corral has been done to death. Can I convince someone to write this story? No zombies, no werewolves, no vampires. Let’s keep it all human, in the just-before-the-turn-of-the-century west.

Interesting Factoid: Doc Holliday was a cousin by marriage to Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.”


There is history for which the facts are known. We don’t know who said what, but we know the players, dates, locations. Documentation exists.

Much — maybe most — history is not straightforward. There is no evidence. No indisputable documentation or trustworthy testimony. You might as well print the legend because that’s all you’ve got.

Sometimes, you can pick your favorite version of the tale. Or write your own. One is as true as another.

HELL’S COMING WITH ME: A TESTOSTERONE MOMENT – TOMBSTONE, 1993

Tombstone poster

Wyatt Earp: All right, Clanton… you called down the thunder, well now you’ve got it! You see that?
[pulls open his coat, revealing a badge]
Wyatt Earp: It says United States Marshal!
Ike Clanton: [terrified, pleading] Wyatt, please, I …
Wyatt Earp: [referring to Stilwell, laying dead] Take a good look at him, Ike … ’cause that’s how you’re gonna end up!
[shoves Ike down roughly with his boot]
Wyatt Earp: The Cowboys are finished, you understand? I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it!
[lets Ike up to run for his life]
Wyatt Earp: So run, you cur… RUN! Tell all the other curs the law’s comin’!
[shouts]
Wyatt Earp: You tell ’em I’M coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear? …
[louder]
Wyatt Earp: Hell’s coming with me!

STAGE AND SCREEN’S ROYAL FAMILY: THE BARRYMORES

Drew Barrymore by David Shankbone

Drew Barrymore by David Shankbone

Drew Barrymore has been working regularly on Turner Classic movies with Robert Osborne, discussing and introducing classic movies. Her face has changed in recent years. Now she looks like a Barrymore.

John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922

John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922

That’s no small thing because she is this generation’s only representative of what is the longest running act in show business.

Several families have two or three generations of actors and a couple of families have three or more generations of directors. Only one has been on stage and screen for more than 100 years, the royal family of stage and screen, the Barrymores.

As of this writing, Drew Barrymore is her generation’s only working actor. John Drew, Diana, Drew, and John Blyth are the only descendants of John Barrymore who became actors.

Garry and I were trying to guess how many acting dynasties include at least three generations, in which at least one family member in each generation has done something noteworthy as an actor. Not as a director, producer, or writer. Only actors.

dynasties_01

Define “noteworthy” please!

It started when we noticed a Capra listed as a crew member of an NCIS episode. Garry wondered if this was a fourth generation of Capras. There was a Frank Capra I, II and III, so it seemed likely to be members of the same family. The Capras are directors. No actors, so they don’t count for the purposes of this post.

Reality shows do not count. Non-speaking and cameo roles do not count, nor does work as a TV announcer, talk show host, or sportscaster. Mere celebrity does not count. Only acting.

The Barrymore genealogy is complicated because it is extensive. There have many marriages and a slew of children. Most of the men in the family are named John, which doesn’t make it easier to follow the trail.

Other acting families are even more confusing. Actors marry each other, divorce frequently, and have children by many partners. They adopt and raise children from former marriages and from spouses’ former relationships. It’s hard to keep track and sometimes, relationships intertwine to such a degree it’s impossible to say to which family a particular person belongs. Not unlike European royal families.

If you count only acting families — and only family members who have had a real acting careers — the number of entries in the field are manageable. You’ll quite a few 2-generation families. A handful of 3-generation families.

Only one family has four generations of working actors.

The Barrymore family.

Barrymore family tree graphic

A very simplified Barrymore family tree

Drew Barrymore is the family’s current representative.There are many other family members, but none are acting, as of this writing. It doesn’t mean they or their offspring won’t enter the family business in the future. It’s quite a legacy. Talk about family pressure.

If you want to see the other families, or at least most of them, you can look them up. Google “multi-generational acting families“. Wikipedia has a good write-up, but omits significant British families.

This link takes you to an alphabetical list of show business families. The intricacies of the marriages, divorces and resulting complex relationships will make your head spin.

The Barrymore family reigns. No other family comes near the prominence or longevity of this family of actors.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Barrymores includes actors and non-actors. There are quite a few family members who are not in show business. The acting family members are in blue.

JUST PICK ONE

HER: “We always watch the stuff you want to watch. How come we never watch my movies?”

HIM: “That’s not fair. I try to find things I think you’ll like.The other night I recorded ‘The Wind and the Lion.'”

HER: “You like that one too. You always have.”

HIM: “That’s besides the point.”

HER: “No it isn’t. There a pile of DVDs I’ve bought during the past year. Most of them, I bought for you and most of them, have at least been opened. None of mine have even had the cellophane removed. We never watch anything you don’t like.”

HIM: “Well, let’s make tonight different. {pause} You’re still sulking. I can tell by your face.”

HER: “You don’t mean it. As soon as one of those movies goes on, you’re going to start to make faces, or fall asleep. Instantly. You only do that to prove how boring my taste is.”

monty python British comedy movies

HIM: “I promise, I’ll watch. If I really hate it, I’ll tell you.”

HER: {Long Pause} “Okay, but you better mean it. Or …”

HIM: “Just pick a movie.”

HER: {Unwrapping} “It’s ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’ I don’t want to hear how you ‘don’t get’ British humor.”

HIM: “Do they have closed captions? Comedy is hard when you don’t get the words.”

HER: “Lemme see. Well, they have Full Script, English, French, Spanish, German, and Hard of Hearing.”

HIM: “Let’s try ‘Hard of Hearing.’ ”

HER: “It’s probably a goof.”

HIM: “I’m curious.”

HER: “Okay.”

Movie comes on. Someone is shouting loudly over the film. Cute.

HIM: “Okay. English, please.”


That’s how one of the major problems of the world — or our little corner of it — was solved, at least for this particular Saturday night. I guess it depends on ones definition of “divisive issue currently in the news.” A good time with much laughing was had by all. We even watched the accompanying “extra material.” It goes to show you, right? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

A HOUSE DIVIDED: THE DAILY PROMPT

DECEMBER BOYS (2007) DANIEL RADCLIFFE – RICH PASCHALL

DECEMBER BOYS (2007)

Movie Review, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

You probably missed it in the theater.  It stars Daniel Radcliffe at the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon.  The Australian made film also found a big name distributor for the USA and Canada, Warner Brothers.  Yes, the same mega movie studio that distributed Harry Potter.  If you were the producer of this little Australian project, you might expect you would hit the jackpot with Radcliffe’s star power, plus one of the biggest movie distributors in the world.  You’d be wrong.

Distributor: Warner Independent

Distributor: Warner Independent

Filmed down under in 2006, December Boys is based on the novel of the same name.  The setting was moved up from the 1930s to the 1960s and is told as a flashback, as it was in the book.  This allows the ending to be brought up to modern times. The boys are orphans at a Catholic institution.  Four boys (five in the novel) share December birthdays. Each is given a gift of a Christmas holiday at a large beachfront home.

Radcliffe, a teenager at the time, is the oldest of the boys, known as Maps.  The other three, Spit, Spark (or Sparks, the film is unclear) and Misty are younger boys of about the same age.  Misty is the narrator.

For Radcliffe, this is a coming of age story.  He meets a girl who is a bit of a wild child and through the course of the movie you will see Radcliffe smoke, drink and, well, if you don’t know what they were doing in that cave, you were never a teenager.  Later, Maps dismisses an inquiry by one of the younger boys about that mark on his neck.

The home of the older couple who hosts the boys’ holiday introduces the element of health problems of one of the adults.  It’s a bit of a sad sidetrack to a storyline filled with side tracks.  There is also an old fisherman at the sea trying to catch some elusive large fish.  Naturally one of the boys get caught in that story line.

Then there’s the young couple who fail to conceive a child.  When the young husband tells the priest from the orphanage they are having trouble getting pregnant, you know what the priest will suggest.  Misty overhears and determines to be the one adopted. Eventually he tells the priest he was eavesdropping. The other boys force him to spill the story.  The little ones try to be model citizens, while Maps knows an older boy will never be adopted.

There are plenty of hi-jinks for the boys.  The young man pushing the adoption with his wife owns a motorcycle and gives the younger boys rides along the beach.  Misty goes in the water and nearly drowns and our hero comes to the rescue. Do I have to tell you who?  There is disappointment and heartbreak in store.  Throughout, the single thing the boys share is the only family they know are each other.

In addition to various goofs, some of the symbolism is confusing. And unnecessary.  A dark stallion periodically appears, symbolizing something, but I’m not sure what. Misty has “visions” of the future — nuns and the Virgin Mary.  It works having Misty picture the future through an empty frame; the rest doesn’t work.  Boomers may find the out-of-time 1970s songs jarring.

Radcliffe wasn’t paid a big salary to make the movie.  He probably wanted a chance to be someone other than Harry Potter.  The character of Lucy, with whom Maps has a relationship, was not in the novel.  Perhaps this intrigued Radcliffe. Perhaps it worried Warner Brothers.

When the film opened in September of 2007, it had staggered release dates for Sydney, Melbourne, and London, most likely so Radcliffe could attend. When Warner Brother opened it as a “limited release” in the US, it was on four screens the first week, eight the next, and 13 next. After which it more or less disappeared. Not exactly a grand opening for a boy known round the world. Of course, the boy was known for a specific role and Warner Brothers wanted to keep it that way, at least to the degree they could control it.

It didn’t make much money. Of course. In the U.S., it grossed about $100,000 during its three-week release in September 2007. The film cost an estimated $4 million and grossed around a million dollars (U.S. and Australia) during its theatrical release. It’s currently available as a digital download from Amazon, used on DVD.

December Boys got mixed reviews. The confusion of the story lines mixed together was criticized.  Immortal film critic Roger Ebert said, “There seem to be two movies going on here at the same time, and “December Boys” would have been better off going all the way with one of them.”  One thing critics agreed on: young Daniel could play someone other than Harry Potter.

The “coming of age” story with Lucy and Maps was created for the big screen. Perhaps therein lay some of the problem of plot development.  It might have been better to skip the extra plot and have Radcliffe play a boy who everyone looked up to, who came in to save the day when there was trouble for any of the other characters.

Oh wait, he was already doing that. Rather successfully too.

CASABLANCA – OF ALL THE GIN JOINTS, IN ALL THE TOWNS, IN ALL THE WORLD …

Last night, we watched Casablanca. This is the pre-Academy Awards month, when Turner Classic Movies does “31 Days of Oscar.” Every night, they present another great movie. Last night, it was Casablanca, arguably the best of breed. The greatest of the great.

There are other, more exciting movies, more thrilling movies, though I find Casablanca pretty thrilling. What Casablanca gives us is the reality of war that never was, but which we want. Need. The passionately dedicated French underground. The anti-Nazi heroism of ordinary people, willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good.

“What if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.”

Not the way it was, but the way we wanted (maybe needed) it to be. Even now, we want the grandeur of people at their finest. Truth be damned.

And love. Undying love that lasts through war and loss, no matter what the world brings. As we watched — and we know the movie well enough to hear the line coming — Garry looked at me and I grinned back. Wait for it … wait for it … Ah, there..

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

There’s the first of many great lines, There are many more. We went to the movies to see Casablanca on The Big Screen when TCM sponsored a release of the 1943 Oscar-winning classic a few years ago.

“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”

The filming of the movie was a crazy time. The script was written — and it’s a great script — page by page. The actors didn’t know what they’d be doing any day until the pages arrived. The set was chaotic and Ingrid Bergman wasn’t happy. Bogie was underpaid — a bad contract with Warner’s he had signed before he was a big star. Casablanca went a long way to fix that. Claude Rains earned more than Bogie, and he was arguable worth it.

(Standing in front of the plane in the fog.) “I’m saying this because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

“…But what about us?”

However it happened, Casablanca is movie magic. Brilliant, witty script that plays even better on the big screen than it does at home.

“…When I said I would never leave you…”

“And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

(Ilsa lowers her head and begins to cry.)

“Now, now…”

(Rick gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet, and he repeats–)

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Maybe it’s something about how differently we focus when we watch it in a theater than when we see it at home, with the dogs, the refrigerator, and a “pause” button. A difference in the “presence” of the film. The clarity of the visual presentation.

“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

I’m sure it was and somewhere, it still is.


DAILY PROMPT: Silver Screen — Take a quote from your favorite movie — there’s the title of your post.

FILM CRITICS, FLOPS, AND FLYPAPER (2011)

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even for us is not a giant sum of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. In 2013, Storage 24,  the British sci-fi/horror flick grossed just $72 (in the U.S.) after it was released for one day, on one screen. In 2012,  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 — the lowest-grossing film of that year. Still, the all time loser is definitely 2006’s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl which grossed $30. You can look this stuff up. You might be surprised at how many films lose money on initial release, though some make it up later when released to cable and DVD. The bigger the initial budget, the larger the potential for disaster, so despite these horrific numbers, many movies actually lost much more money.

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900. For a Hollywood bomb, that’s small potatoes. The movie was universally panned. It opened in one movie house on two screens, then disappeared until it popped up on cable. Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. A couple of nights ago, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. If Garry thinks its funny, it’s funny. He has a discerning sense of humor.

Flypaper  is a good little comedy. A spoof. A farce. A parody of bank heist movies plus a bit of slapstick, technobabble, and some fine explosions. The dialogue is witty, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies the critics thought were great.

I do not understand critics and often wonder if we saw the same movie they reviewed. Sometimes, I wonder if they actually saw the movie at all or they read someone else’s review and are just repeating what they heard.

Flypaper features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. Okay, it isn’t Blake Edwards, but it’s the same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it is a good one and fun to watch. Certainly worthy of at least a straight to DVD presentation. I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from its studio. Showing it for a week in one theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a grand opening. It deserves better.

The reviews in IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate whoever wrote them never saw the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. I guess anonymity is not always bad. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t review a movie I’d never watched, or a book I haven’t read. Call me old-fashioned.

Critics heap praise on movies that are boring or worse. They pan movies that are creative, unique, and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one will be interested.

Back in 1999, Garry and I were visiting friends in Michigan. Our group consisted of a lawyer, an engineer, a TV journalist, and a writer. We decided to rent the latest movie on which critics were heaping praise. It was the must-see  movie of the year: American Beauty.

Touted as a masterpiece, there were barely enough adjectives in the English language to say how wonderful it was. It was beloved of critics and grossed more than $350 million, won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

I couldn’t figure out what the movie was about and I doubt the critics knew, either. It was too “au courant” for anyone to admit they didn’t get it. After the fad ended, the movie disappeared. No one shows it on cable, no one rents it. It’s out of print. It was crap. Like in the story of the Emperor’s new clothing, no one wanted to be the first to point out the king was bare-ass naked.

About half an hour into the movie, our little group looked at each other and conferred. Was anyone enjoying it? No? We popped the movie out of the machine and moved on. Pop corn goes with conversation, too.

American Beauty reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Hollywood Ending. In it, a formerly prestigious director is broke and desperate for a movie project. He gets an offer to direct a big movie in New York. Because the offer comes from his former wife (Téa Leoni) and her current boyfriend (Treat Williams), he is reluctant to take the assignment, even though he needs the money and something to get his career on track. He finally agrees to do it and is immediately struck blind by some kind of psychosomatic ailment probably induced by anxiety. The production hasn’t even started yet, but he decides to fake it.  It costs $60 million and flops. But, there is a “Hollywood ending.” The movie becomes a huge hit in France. He happily proclaims, “Thank God the French exist.” He knows the movie is awful, the worst thing he’s ever done. He had no idea what he was doing, but the French read all kinds of deep meaning into it.

There will always be people to love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it.  We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does. It’s every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running amok. Everything that can go wrong does. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke.The pacing is appropriately frantic. The cast manages to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative. The more I write know about movies, the less I understand critics.