Saturday, May 08, 2004

Pat and I are now working out early Saturday mornings. I never expected to be getting up before the sun but I'm doing it on Saturdays. I'm not a late riser anymore really, but there's usually an eight and some other numbers on my clock when I wake up. Saturdays there's a five and some numbers that are less than five.
The working out is great. I can feel my arm and back muscles which is a pleasant surprise everytime I fold my arms. I look better without a shirt than I did in high school, which isn't saying much. I was a theater geek with a comfy stomach.
But it does screw with me when I get up so early. I crash after lunch and get an hour of napping in, but I usually get crabby around four weather I've napped or not. And my judgement gets kind of screwy on Saturdays too. Andi just borrowed a DVD from me for her and Pat to watch tonight and I sent her away with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I really can't judge if they're going to like it or find it on the wrong side of bawdy for them. Oh well. Last night we watched Big Fish and that was a good choice for them.
It is nice to get up and watch the sun rise as you hurry off to tear your muscles and sweat out all your liquids. Sunrises are nice. Sunsets are nice too, but a sunrise has less people around and there's a kind of holiness to that that's only matched by the most stunning sunsets.

Friday, May 07, 2004

TRUE GRIT

Here's a sacred cow of a western. It's John Wayne's Oscar winning performance. He was 61 at the time and had ten years to live.
True Grit is a great western to be sure, but it's not nearly on the same tier as El Dorado in my opinion. Or maybe it is. It's hard to say because it had all the makings of a luke warm western except that John Wayne pulls off one of the best performances of his career. Turns out Rooster Cogburn was the character he was supposed to have been playing all along. It fits him like a wetsuit.
Ugh. Sorry about that metaphor.
But he made another Rooster Cogburn film with Katherine Hepburn. It's not nearly as interesting a western, but it's still pretty darn good because it's just plain fun to watch John Wayne play that character. Again, too bad he found it so late in his life. And the second film is not based on a Charles Portis novel like True Grit.
And it's kind of neat that there's the double meaning of the title. Is Rooster Cogburn or the girl the one with True Grit? And Robert Duvall plays the... well, he doesn't really play the villian. He plays the guy who employs the villian and therefore gets dragged into a fight that isn't really his. He plays a bad man who pays for associating with a bad man rather than a bad man who is punished for his evil deeds. That was a nice change.
Glenn Campbell is in it if you're into that kind of thing. If you like a rhinestone cowboy. And it's right in his puffy drunk period which is funny because he's playing opposite the drunk character.
I thought the end was a little sloppy though. The shoot out seems to assume we know what's going to happen and so they feel like they have to go for a gimmicky jousting scene. Of course we know what's going to happen and that's the problem that every western director has to deal with. Most of them don't deal with it. If you ever find yourself making a western either as a writer or director, make the hero die in the gunfight or only the person who had a grudge to bear (like the girl in True Grit) or just have everybody die. Or have nobody die. Surprise us.
Other than that people should see True Grit. One of my favorite things about it is that John Wayne has fun and doesn't take himself seriously at all in it.


MASTER AND COMMANDER THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD

Peter Weir wanted to direct a Pat O'Brian novel? What a bizzare concept.
But it's actually a really well made big budget blockbuster film. Pat O'Brian. I can't get over that. Do you know how long Pat O'Brian novels sit on my shelves? They're not exactly hot sellers even with a hit movie out about them. They seem to be regarded as boy's adventure novels by adults and as being too heady for boys to actually read. Their audience is very small.
My brother really liked it. He said that if it hadn't been released in the same year as Return of the King it would have won Best Picture. I think he's probably right about that.
It's got Russell Crowe. I'd only ever seen him in Gladiator before and I wasn't terribly impressed with him in that. In this one he tones it down a lot. He lets thing happen around him and doesn't do as much "Acting" as he did in Gladiator. Works well for a sea captain.
And I learned who Paul Bettany is. Good golly. If you ever want an example of an actor pushing a film over the top.
Hey, it just hit me that I'm reviewing two films like that this time. Okay stories that have a great performance in it.
Oh, and another neat thing is that I'm hard pressed to think of another big Hollywood action film that shot in the Galapagos.
But there was a problem I had with Master and Commander The Far Side Of The World. It's a common problem I have nowadays and keeps me from the theaters. There's a glossy finish to films these days, a kind of super cleanliness, that drives me nuts. It's partially the type of film. Part of it is modern lighting. Part of it is computers wrapping all images in plastic. Big time directors are way too enamored with clear, precise images. There's no shadow, no fog, no grain, no imperfections in the images and therefore takes us out of reality. We may be looking at a crusty sailor with yellow teeth, but it's like looking at him through a brand new pair of glasses. No variety, all sheen. And I find it quite ugly. I don't see things like that. I don't live in a magazine ad world and the contemporaries of Beethoven certainly didn't either. Sometimes I read when it's too dark. Sometimes it's foggy. Sometimes my eyes go buggy from too little sleep. Sometimes I let my eyes go unfocused. Real people squint or go blurry. Real people catch pink eye. People run and jump and climb trees and fall and scrape their eyes. That's the beauty of life.
The fascination with what we can do with the quality of modern film has caused many directors to forget all of this. I look forward to when an intrepid director remembers how we really see things and starts using modern film technology to film same.
Other than that, it's a rip roaring good action film with only the slightest pretense of a "message." If you're in the mood for that. It's a blockbuster, but I kind of liked it. It just made me want to go watch The Third Man again.
I used to have big problems with large scale heroic films. It used to really bother me when a hero was superhuman and much better of a person that you could ever hope to be. But now I've relaxed and it doesn't bother me so much so long as I get to see the other too. So long as there are new myths about people who are geeky or occasionally have bad manners, then I don't mind so much the old fashioned ubermensch myths.
This is an old fashioned myth. The hero does have some flaws, but he's still much larger and greater of a human being than any human being has a right to be. But I didn't mind it so much.
Melodrama isn't dead, folks. That was not just a 19th century form of entertainment. There are still men in capes and black mustaches tying screaming women to train tracks until the dashing blonde mountee on horseback shows up just in time. It's just a matter of how well it's disguised and how new they make the material seem. Some people hate all modern melodrama for just this reason. Personally, how they make it new is what I actually enjoy about it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I didn't know it was Caterpillar Deer Day. I knew it was Cinco de Mayo (so I hope you all remembered to throw a jar of mayonnaise into a body of water today) and my calendar also reminded me that it was the anniversary of the first show The Warlocks ever played.
Today I had a bunch of orders come in but I decided to let them wait so that I have a really big number to ship on Friday. Save a trip to the post office. So, really not having much better to do I walked to Bidwell park and did a three hour hike. What I learned is that there is a time of year when the caterpillars come out and feel the need to move from one place to the other, frequently across a road. I tried hard not to step on any of them, but it soon became obvious that there are less careful people who walk that same road. The caterpillars were black with red markings and much heartier looking that the ones I saw while growing up in Orange County.
Then, on the final part of my hike, I looked to my right and thought, "That's the biggest dog I've ever seen. Wait. By golly that's a deer." And sure enough there were four younger deer off the road and about twenty feet away from me. They watched me, but they didn't seem afraid. I watched them back.

Anyway. That was my afternoon. We had tamales for dinner. I'll have the latest two movie reviews soon and then I'll be all caught up. Right now I'm rewatching Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, so I'll have some catch up time since I've reviewed it already.

Night.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

RIO LOBO

I got a three DVD set of John Wayne films for my birthday. It's Rio Lobo, El Dorado and True Grit. I'd rather it'd been Rio Bravo than Rio Lobo, but you weren't allowed to choose which three John Wayne films you got. That would have been a better set. Then if there was another four DVD set of Donovan's Reef, Sands of Iwo Jima, The Quiet Man, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance I'd have just about all the John Wayne films I need. And maybe one with Big Jake, Sons of Katie Elder, The Searchers, The Wings of Eagles, and gosh he made a lot of films. Some were terrible but some were great and I have a lot of love for them. Did you know he made a movie with Oliver Hardy? The Fighting Kentuckian. Strange film, but pretty good.
I grew up on John Wayne films (as you can see.) He certainly started my love of westerns, although in the last few years I've pretty much only watched Clint Eastwood, Tombstone, and a few Charles Bronson films.
But as a kid I saw a bunch of John Wayne's other films too. The war films are usually harder to swallow because the tone is so macho and the patriotism is heightened far above Mel Gibson's recent nationalistic films. In the war films John Wayne was kind of a superman who would kill the evil enemy and lead his troops with no problems until either he wins the war singlehandedly or he dies in a great tragic scene with rising music. In the westerns though John Wayne would get captured and hogtied, drunk, shot, and occasionally crippled. He was human and kind of a goof ball.
Rio Lobo starts off with a bizarre train robbing plan that certainly hooks you. It'd been about seventeen years since I'd seen this film and I couldn't remember if throwing a hornet's nest into the car with the armed guards really worked or not.
The acting is bad. Not all John Wayne westerns have bad acting. In fact some have some great performances in and sometimes John Wayne gives a performance that knocks your stockings off (as we'll see in our forthcoming third review.) I think that his performance depended a lot on the caliber (as it were) of actor he was working with.
The plot in Rio Lobo is standard too. There's a mean rich guy who's doing bad things and John Wayne has to come in with too few young, green gunfighters and take out a couple dozen bad guys. There's a damsel in distress who falls in love with the dreamy co-star. The canterkerous miner in this film is a rancher, but he's there all the same and gets all the best lines. Get's to act crazy and drinks a lot. And there's a cool and funny dentist scene.
Some might say that the acting isn't the reason we watch a western. We watch westerns because of the action, the shoot outs. But I'll just throw out there that even in the most action oriented western, the acting is what makes the shoot out. First of all it's what makes you care one way or the other who gets shot. Second it's what makes the action exciting and believable.
And John Wayne's there swaggering about in his salmon shirt, brown hat and vest (a signature outfit which, if memory serves, was originally an Edith Head creation.) It's 70's John Wayne and 70's Howard Hawks.
I watched this one first because I knew it would be the least of the three and I was right. It's not a bad film over all, it's just uneven. Okay script, good lead, some interesting ideas, plenty of action, and a funny old rancher but that's pretty much what it has going for it. I think I give it an easy break as a film because of the nostalgia factor for me. It's the first time in a long time I've seen a John Wayne film. But if I really want to have a great time with a John Wayne film, I should just go straight for:

EL DORADO

Howard Hawks starts off his films with an interesting title sequence. It was common at the time for title sequences to be long and out of the story of the film, but Howard Hawks did interesting things with them. I comment on this because so often I watch films from the late 60's and want to fast forward through the titles. I don't want to do that during a Howard Hawks production. He was a great director and his westerns are no exception. Rio Lobo probably isn't his best, but El Dorado very well could be.
First of all it's one of the best casts in any John Wayne film. Robert Mitchum. You don't get better than Robert Mitchum. And he works just as hard in this film as he does in Night of the Hunter or any of his other great works. The man was always a great even when the material wasn't. And the material in El Dorado is great. It's well written. It's once again got the mean, rich guy (Ed Asner) who controls the town and screws with the John Wayne character. The clever thing in this film is that he doesn't do it directly. In lesser films the mean, rich guy tries to run the gunfighter out of town or tries to keep them from getting their melons to market. In El Dorado their presence causes John Wayne to accidentally shoot a boy. There's no damsel in distress. The "damsel" shoots John Wayne in the back and cripples him for the rest of the film in kind of a convenient plot point foreshadowing kind of way. Then on a little rabbit trail digression we're introduced to the bad gunfighter and the James Caan character. This is one of Caan's more even performances and I believe one of his first major roles. They could have had him recite less bad poetry, but otherwise he adds a lot to the film. The cantakerous miner is an old Indian fighter in this film and most subdued and realistic than some in other films.
Robert Mitchum plays a drunken disgraced sheriff. He's sobered up and Mitchum does a wonderful job of playing somebody who has been either drunk or unconcious constantly for many months or years on their first day of sobriety and who has important things they have to do on that day. That was me about five years ago. I think he did a great job at capturing that.
Really, my point is that if you've never seen a John Wayne film before, this is probably the one to see. It's his best work and certainly in my top three greatest westerns ever made. It's funny too.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

It's been an interesting weekend for me. Pat and I built a trellis or tressel or whatever you call it for the garden. You know, one of those archway thingies. I could look it up but that would waste valuable and rare blogging time here.
Moriah had a gym meet. That's where the whole family packs into bleachers with a bunch of other whole families and claps when their kid gets up, then waits twenty five minutes until the kid gets up again for the next event. It's all very long and tedious until the end when the kid runs up with their certificate beaming and proud of the hard work they've done. Gymnastics is a good thing for Moriah. I think she really needs a source of self discipline. As do we all.
Pat and I finally almost have the cement block dug out of the backyard. Mainly because he's been breaking it apart with a sledge hammer.
On Saturday I got up before the sun to go weight lifting with Pat. I thought I'd be okay because I do arm exercises on my own. What I learned is that I don't REALLY do arm exercises on my own. My arms still hurt.
Tonight I got to talk with a lot of people after Worship Generation and I learned a lot about where my time up here could go. One of those cross road nights when you see about four or five groups you could assimilate into. Lots to think on.
Lucky for me I've got three hours of driving tomorrow. I'm going to Roseville. That's an hour and forty minute drive from Chico. That's the closest Border's, which my mom gave me a $25 gift certificate for when I was down south. When I finished uploading my 200 books worth of new inventory I decided that when I was done I'd go spend that certificate to celebrate. I'ma go buy that 2 cd set of Devo.
That's all for tonight. I've got two westerns and a tall ship movie to review, so stay tuned for that. That'll be in the next few days.