Alphabetical Movie – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
I’ll be doing some spoilers about major plot points so if that bothers you, don’t read on.
I’m not sure what The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance has to say about guns solving problems.
Jimmy Stewart is a hero because he killed a man who, based on all evidence, would have killed him first. It was never his goal to kill Liberty Valance but he was pushed to do so because he knew he couldn’t run away.
It complicates things when we learn that Stewart did not, in fact, kill Valance. Given that fact, is the killing of Valance self-defense, murder, or something else?
Valance was shot to save someone’s life. Unlike other Westerns where everyone is a crack shot, the reason Valance is dead is because his killer aimed at the easiest part of the body to hit. Makes sense. He only had one shot.
So where does that leave us? How do we feel about the whole situation? We know that Stewart is conflicted about it. He doesn’t want to be a hero for killing a man. Yet, it is also true that he may be able to do more good for others if he accepts that he is a hero.
To me, Stewart is far more heroic than he believes because he went to face Valance with the knowledge that he was going to be shot to death. Had John Wayne failed to act, the outcome of the duel was unquestionable. Everyone knew that.
The old west that we see in classic films doesn’t exist with the same standards of morality as our world does. Stand your ground laws notwithstanding.
Alphabetical Movie – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Alfred Hitchcock is one of the directors film fans must watch. His worst movies are still crafted well and his best movies are – well – as good as anyone’s best movies. Ever.
I’m a film fan, not a film student. I can recognize why certain movies are shot well and why other movies are shot poorly. If you want me to explain why Hitchcock’s films are film school standards, I’m not going to do a great job. I just know that there is something to like in nearly all of his films.
As I’m going through all of the movies in my collection (oh so slowly at the moment), I’ve gone through many of Hitchock’s early films that are part of a set I own encompassing all of his British work.
Some of the movies in that group are not particularly good. Others, like this one, are considered part of his lasting legacy.
All of them are possibly the shittiest quality film transfers you can ever hope to see.
Here’s the thing – you get what you pay for.
If you pay $40 for a Criterion edition of The Seven Samurai, you are going to expect a really top quality transfer of the film in addition to thoughtful and well produced extras.
If you pay $40 for 30 Hitchcock films, you are aren’t going to get anything that even approaches that level of quality.
Alphabetical Movie – Man on the Moon
I’ve been a fan of R.E.M. since college. They were a college band in the 80’s. I was a college student in the 80’s. It was a match that was simply meant to be.
They are one of the few bands I’ve seen in concert more than once.
What does this have to do with Man on the Moon, you ask?
Because R.E.M. should have an Oscar.
You see, the song “The Great Beyond,” which played over the closing credits of Man on the Moon, was written by the band specifically for the film and was not even nominated for an Oscar.
I bitch about the Oscars a lot but no more than the best song category because it is typically filled with the most idiotic music and at least four out of five years it will recognize a song that nobody will ever listen to again. The year “The Great Beyond” was ignored by the R.E.M. hating academy, they gave an Oscar to a song from “Prince of Persia.”
I presume the award was given because Disney hadn’t released a film with music that year. They had to give it to some animated movie so why not that one, right?
So a song by R.E.M. that was not only a great song but also a perfect song to punctuate the film that had just preceded it was ignored and a song from a crappy animated film got the award instead.
Alphabetical Movie – A Man For All Seasons
A Man For All Seasons is, I think, one of the movies being parodied in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It is filled with English people doing historical English things that are super important if you are Royalty and completely unimportant if you are anyone else.
I enjoy English actors acting the shit out of stuff so watching Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw chomping on the saga of Thomas More entertains me to no end.
As someone who is non religious, the central conflict seems petty to me. Sure, I can respect Thomas More for standing on his principles. You have to stand for something.
What he was standing for, however, was the religious sovereignty of the Pope. My response, of course, is a great big “who cares?”
I understand that More had some deeply held beliefs and Henry VIII was crapping all over those beliefs by trying to get a divorce. I further understand that he must have thought he was carving out a really sweet plot of land in heaven by being the good defender of the Catholic faith.
It totally scored him a sainthood so good on him, I guess.
On the other hand, why did anyone care? He wasn’t making a nuisance of himself. He wasn’t speaking out against the crown. In fact, he was going out of his way to avoid speaking out against the crown. Yet Henry felt some sort of personal slight had been made and as a result, he called for a good old-fashioned trial by rigged jury.
Alphabetical Movie – Mamma Mia!
I’m just going to come right out and admit I love ABBA. It will save a lot of time later. I think I was purchasing cassettes (yes cassettes) of ABBA before any other band. Maybe I had an Andy Gibb record (yes record) before that.
So was I in the theatre opening weekend for Mamma Mia?
I’d rather not say.
Here’s the thing that gets me about this film every time I watch it and yes, I’ve watched it more than once.
Holy shit is Pierce Brosnan a horrible singer. Like embarrassingly bad. I cringe every time he has to sing a solo in the film. I feel bad for him, I feel bad for his fellow performers, and I feel bad for every single person who is watching the film.
Brosnan is an actor I like. I thought he made a very good Bond. I liked The Thomas Crown Affair. I love The Matador.
So I don’t hate Brosnan as an actor. He’s probably a great guy.
But when someone asked him to play the male lead in a musical, didn’t he answer with “have you heard me sing?”
And if that was his answer, why did someone respond “don’t worry Pierce – it’ll be fine?”
I have news for you, folks, IT IS NOT FINE.
Alphabetical Movie – The Maltese Falcon
Alfred Hitchcock always referred to the Maguffin as the thing in a story that everybody wants. What that thing is may not be particularly important. What is important is the lengths your characters will go to in order to get that thing.
The Maltese Falcon revolves around something everyone but the central character wants. He has no interest in the falcon at all. He just feels the need to figure out why someone killed his partner to get it. Sam Spade’s motivation is honor rather than love or money and that, to some men at least, is considered romantic.
I think a lot of guys enjoy the idea that they are they martyrs of society. Could Sam Spade just forget about his partner and try to get himself a few bucks out of the Falcon? Sure he could.
But he’s working towards a higher cause. When someone kills your partner you are supposed to do something about it. You’re a man, dammit, and that’s what men do!
Alphabetical Movie – Major League
When watching Major League, I can’t help but think of a time when Charlie Sheen and Wesley Snipes weren’t punch lines.
I’m not suggesting that this film represented the finest work of their careers. But they sure come off as likable guys, you know? It doesn’t seem like they will just slip into obscurity or insanity. I think they both show a kind of charisma that suggests they are unlikely to burn out.
Snipes was Blade for goodness’ sake! He and Sandra Bullock are the reason that Demolition Man isn’t a complete disaster. Snipes kind of wills his audience to enjoy that movie.
By the time Sheen makes this movie, he’s been in Wall Street and Platoon! For both of these guys, this dopey baseball film should be little more than a speed bump. Sheen ran over it twice because he appeared in Major League II. His career then migrated to Television, where he did very well until – well – we all know what happened.
Snipes, for his part, decided to skip paying taxes for a while. So he spent a little while in jail.
He’s in Expendables 3 so things are looking up for him. Good news there. The Expendables franchise is not at all about featuring action stars past their prime in mediocre films. Should work out great.
Sheen’s got another show on television so I’m pretty sure that he’ll be able to spend another few years swimming in a pool of cocaine on his days off.
Alphabetical Movie – The Majestic
You know, I really loved The Majestic the first time I watched it. Until I watched it for the Alphabetical Movie Project, I hadn’t watched it again. I didn’t really understand why it was considered a bad film.
I don’t think it’s a bad movie. But wow. It is nowhere near as good as I remember.
I generally think I’m a bad judge of movies on a single viewing. I like a lot of films the first time I see them because I’m focused on the stuff that was good. Most films have at least a few parts that are good. It took me a few weeks of thinking about the film before I finally concluded that yes, Man of Steel was pretty dumb.
There was still stuff I liked in the film that I liked. Can’t recall what that stuff was but I remember there were a lot of parts I liked.
When I watch a movie in the theatre, I want it to be a good experience. I like seeing films in the movie theatre but it costs a lot to see go to the theatre. If I’m going to shell out money and time to see a film, I want to find something to enjoy.
A few years later, I’ll go back to a film like The Majestic and realize that my desire to enjoy the film was what made it worthwhile.
I’m not saying that is a bad thing. Unless my goal was to watch a bad film, it is actually a good thing to walk out of the theater feeling like it was time well spent.
Alphabetical Movie – Magnum Force
The first thing I think about every time I hear the name of this movie is how you can conveniently turn it into a porno version without changing the name. Actually, you probably wouldn’t have to change the plot all that much.
Harry Ballahan is a tough cop who doesn’t play by the rules. He and his partner are upset because a gangster beats the rap in court so they double team the court reporter.
At the same time, a cop shows up and kills the gangster and everyone in the car. Then he goes home and his wife gives him a blow job.
Ballahan goes in to talk to his boss, Lieutenant Bangs, who is having sex with his secretary. They talk about the murder of the gangster while Bangs is having sex. Because he can multi task.
Then a couple of female cops have sex. Just because that sort of thing happens all the time during a murder investigation.
We switch to a gigantic orgy. For like fifteen minutes. Just tons of people having sex. They switch partners. They don’t use condoms. It’s just insane. And strangely boring.
Then the party blows up because it turns out all those people having sex were gangsters.
Ballahan is stumped. He has no idea who could be killing all of the gangsters in town. In fact, he delivers this exact line: “Damn! I have no idea who is killing all the gangsters in town!” He pounds his fist on the table and takes a swig of beer for emphasis.
So he orders a pizza. For some reason, it takes two women to deliver a pizza. And Ballahan doesn’t have any cash for a tip…
He goes to a really nice house with a pool in the suburbs to ask some questions. While he’s on his way, one of the killer cops breaks into a prostitutes room. She doesn’t have any information for him so they just have sex. Her pimp breaks in and he shoots the guy while he is still having sex with the prostitute.
The sex scene lasts for another two minutes and the entire time the pimp is lying on the floor dying. He’s still able to masturbate while watching them have sex. He ejaculates and then expires.
Ballahan arrives at the house with the pool and there is a beautiful naked woman swimming in the pool. He asks her if he can ask her a few questions. She unzips his fly and he says he has no time for that right now.
Literally. His line is “I have no time for that right now.”
Turns out he does though, because they have sex in the hot tub.
Cut to Ballahan’s partner, who is having sex with his wife. At least we assume it is his wife because she’s the only other black person in the entire movie.
They have sex for a while and then he goes to the bathroom while she masturbates. As soon as she finishes, there is an explosion and she screams. What I mean is there is an explosion in the bathroom. Like from a bomb.
Cut to Ballahan comforting his partner’s wife (his partner didn’t have a name because he was black). She tells him that she’s so lonely so they have sex. She feels a little better.
Then we cut to Lieutenant Bangs office. Harry tells Bangs that he knows who did it. Bang says really, who?
Again, that is the exact line. “I know who did it.”
“It’s you Bangs.”
“You’ll never catch me!”
“Like hell I won’t.”
Then Ballahan punches Bangs in the face. Actually it looks more like he punches Bangs in the shoulder. But Bangs falls down as if he was punched in the face.
Then the two lesbian cops show up wearing really short skirts, high heels, and shirts unbuttoned to their navels. He tells them to take Bangs away but they say they have a better idea.
The movie ends with Bangs handcuffed to a chair watching Ballahan having sex with the lesbian cops and complaining that he doesn’t have a hand free to masturbate.
After the credits, there is a credit cookie where the two pizza delivery girls show up. Ballahan looks at the camera and says “A cop’s work is never done” and we fade to black as the pizza girls start to take off their pants (but not their shoes).
See? Practically the same movie.
Alphabetical Movie – Magnolia
I don’t really care when a critic savages a movie I love. Critics are paid to write about film and be interesting. As Anton Ego says in Ratatouille, negative reviews are fun to write. Magnolia, however, is the source of the worst negative review I’ve ever read.
My issue with the review (which you can read here) is not that City Pages critic Rob Nelson hated the movie. That’s totally fine. He has the right to hate the movie and it is his job to tell people what the thought.
My biggest issue was that the review, at least in its reference to the character played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is completely misleading. He refers to Hoffman’s character as nurse who “who nervously orders porno mags for home delivery.”
While this statement is true, the statement’s implication of why he is doing this is far different from his actual motivation. We read that line and we conclude that he is probably ordering these magazines for his own personal use. We are given the impression he is some sort of pervert who is reading porn and jerking off while a man lies dying nearby. He clearly doesn’t give a shit about his patient and cares only about his own sexual gratification. Maybe he’s a closeted gay necrophiliac or something.
In fact, Hoffman’s character is the kindest and most compassionate person in the entire film. He treats his dying patient with care and respect and when he is asked to do that patient a favor, he goes far beyond his charge as a nurse.
He orders those magazines as a way to help him search for a man’s estranged son. That is what the review carefully doesn’t tell you.