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Thelma & Louise (1991)
Not enough of the spectacular desert scenery was shown
I saw the movie ages ago, enjoyed it, and forgot about it. Years later, after I had visited Moab, Utah and learned that some movie scenes were filmed near there, I viewed the movie a second time to see if I could recognize any filming locations. My fascination with place recognition and spatial orientation was the driving force behind this second viewing. A few scenes were familiar, but overall I was disappointed with the way the physical scenery was handled: the movie is filled with close-up shots that usually omit the scenery.
One familiar scene was the one in which a policeman stops the fleeing women to give them a ticket and ends up in their car's trunk. That was shot in the Courthouse Towers area of Arches National Park, on the main park road. I wonder how much inconvenience to the public was created by this filming.
Another familiar place appeared in the scene in which the two main characters are driving along a dirt road, surrounded by reddish rock terrain. A pipeline of some type lies on the ground next to the road. That road is on the private property of the potash mine (near Moab) owned by Intrepid Potash. The rusty pipe line has something to do with the mine's operation.
The third familiar scene was the very last one: Thelma and Louise are trapped, with police on their back side, preventing escape, and a deep river canyon in front of them. I have read that the movie gave the impression that this was shot at the Grand Canyon. It actually took place at a turn-out on a rough dirt road that runs parallel to the Colorado River southwest of the city of Moab. The road leading to the turn-out is San Juan County Road 142, sometimes erroneously called Potash Road or Shafer Trail. The area of the turn-out has the traditional name of Fossil Point and is located southeast of and 1600 feet below Dead Horse Point State Park. It is on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, not in Canyonlands National Park, as one reviewer says. (The park is about two miles to the west.) Because of the movie's notoriety, Fossil Point is often called "Thelma and Louise Point."
Having been to this area several times, I consider the scenery there to be "mind-blowing." I was sad that so little of the terrain was shown in the movie. But showing lots of beautiful scenery might have distracted from the plot, which concerned personal interaction and friendship under trying circumstances.
Fascinating exteriors shot in desert landscapes near Moab, Utah
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to stand in the spot where a movie crew had once worked, making a film? My watching "Spacehunter" led, over a period of about 15 years, to that sense of wonder. Here's the story...
Around 1990, I stumbled upon "Spacehunter," possibly while watching TV to kill time. The acting was not especially good and plot elements were goofy. To be diplomatic, I would classify it as "light entertainment." Its only redeeming social value was the presence of actress Andrea Marcovicci, who played Chalmers, the protagonist's android assistant: she was a vision of beauty. Sadly, her part was brief, as she was killed off during a battle near the beginning of the story.
That early-on battle scene interested me because it involved a long, sail-powered railcar (I like railroads). The thing was bizarre-looking and reminded me of the movie "Mad Max." Not only was the railcar cool, the desert environment surrounding the scene was fascinating. But in short order the movie faded from my memory.
The movie returned to my consciousness in 2004, during my first visit to Moab, Utah. Just north of Moab there is a railroad track that runs parallel to US Highway 191. Upon seeing it I thought of "Spacehunter" right away: the environment looked much like that of the battle scene mentioned above. I figured that the battle scene had been filmed on that track but wasn't sure just where.
Later I rented the movie to see the battle scene again and determine just where it had been filmed. Surprise!: the place I saw north of Moab was not the place used in the movie. However, the site of the battle scene was recognizable because I had driven right past it a few times. The scene was filmed at Potash, Utah, which is the site of a potash mine. It is about 20 miles from Moab, at the south end of State Highway 279 (also called Potash Road). In 2006 the mine was owned and operated by Intrepid Potash. It turns out that many (most?) of the exterior scenes of the film were shot on the private property of the mine.
With this knowledge I wanted to visit those sites and take pictures that attempted to duplicate camera angles used in the film. Why?---who knows? Armed with numerous poor-quality photos of TV screen shots of the movie, I returned to Moab in late 2006 and visited three places that were used in filming; this required getting permission from the mining company. Standing in those places where movie crews had once worked, I tried to imagine the presence of a lot of people and equipment and sounds like "Action!" and "Cut!" It was great fun. The result is here: http://www.pbase.com/listorama/movie_spacehunter .
The Last Run (1971)
Attracted to the attitudes, not the action
Possible spoiler about the ending
Others have adequately described the plot. I saw this movie shortly after it came out and loved it. Being able to see it again was a treat---like visiting a friend one hasn't seen in years (in this case, 34 years). The best aspect of the movie is that it respects the act of thinking and portrays it with pauses, facial expressions, and moments of no dialog.
Underlying the main character's actions and attitudes was a bleak, fatalistic view of life (existentialism?). While I dislike "action" for action's sake, I enjoyed the car chase sequences because they served to define the main character's profession and mental state. And in spite of the well-shot car chases, this is not an action movie. Rather, it is about the actions that people take and the reasons for their doing so.
Though the main character was a retired crook, I liked him, and felt sorry for him because he was double-crossed by his employers. It hurt me to see him discover that his fisherman friend Miguel had been killed. The young woman's cynical manipulation angered me but I felt sorry for her because she was making choices about life that were guaranteed to make it a miserable one. The Tony Musante character was immature, heartless, and despicable: I hated him. That he seemed to get away in the end was a letdown.
Just before the end there is a pair of camera shots that reek of symbolism and were my favorite moments: when the policeman turns off the ignition of the battered car, the main character, who is elsewhere, dies. This understated and underrated film was a delight.
Confusing and frightening for a young kid
I was perhaps seven or eight years old when I saw "Gog" in the 1950s. The story was only somewhat comprehensible to me; although I understood that the laboratory was some type of research facility, it was unclear to me why things were going haywire. The jet flying overhead was a mystery: where did it come from, who was in it, and what was it doing?
The scientific devices were fun to watch, especially the "ray" weapon. Being unable to grasp the concept of sabotage, I didn't appreciate why the device was not operating as designed. But what had the biggest effect on me was the action of the robots. Their running amok in the lab scared me to death. Maybe I picked up on the terror of the lab's occupants.
The combination of confusion and fear made watching the movie (on TV) unpleasant but fascinating. It would be fun to see "Gog" now, knowing what I do about the plot, the actors, and the Cold War era in which it was made.
Captain Midnight (1954)
Memories of Captain Midnight
For a kid in the 1950s, this show was cool. Over the passage of 50 years, only a few general images have endured, hopefully unaffected by the nasty tricks that memory plays on a person! Captain Midnight's base of operations was perched atop a mountain or plateau and included a landing strip that extended over a precipice. His jet plane, with the short, straight wings, might have been modeled after one of the Bell "X" planes (such as the ones flown by test pilot Chuck Yeager). I think there were circles on the plane's wings, and they reminded me of the popular breakfast cereal "Cheerios." Captain Midnight's goofy sidekick, Ichabod Mudd, was an idiot, but his white-coated laboratory technician/inventor, played by Olan Soule, was a technical genius.
Yes, I proudly wore my secret decoder ring---ordered by mail, perhaps with coupons obtained from jars of "choclaty" Ovaltine---but it disappeared long ago. I wonder how many messages I decoded with it. Ovaltine, a drink powder resembling the kind used to make hot chocolate, was sold in a dark brown glass jar with a yellow label and a wide opening (for easy spooning of its contents). Its flavor was unlike that of any other drink and I never enjoyed it much.
The "Jet Jackson" dubbing later on amused and confused me but I took it in stride, not having a clue as to the legal requirement for the name change.
When I was a kid watching this show, the names of the actors meant little to me. Today, though, I like to see who played what on the shows I enjoyed as a kid and try to see the context of their careers at that time. Although it's interesting to see what Richard Webb did before the show, it is simply amazing to see all the movie and TV work that Olan Soule did over the years---he was everywhere! No doubt I saw him back then in other shows, but I can't remember if I recognized him as Captain Midnight's lab person.
Opening scene was priceless (spoiler)
I was a college student when I saw this movie in 1967 and again in 1968. Its irreverent and crazy look at male-female relationships was intoxicating. Aside from the general theme about "getting the girl," the only thing I remember is the hilarious opening scene in which hundreds of pretty girls, all dressed alike, are standing in a long line, waiting for the opportunity to interact with the guy who "had the knack (with women)." As the camera follows the long line of beauties around the block, into an apartment building, and up the stairs, the viewer wonders what's going on. Finally the camera reaches the head of the line, and we see what every girl has waited hours for: meeting the cool guy and signing his guest book. Priceless!
You Bet Your Life (1950)
Fun show, even for a kid
Groucho sat behind a high desk or lectern, talking to his announcer, the contestants, and the audience, raising his eyebrows or grinning slyly to make or emphasize a joke. He often fiddled with his ever-present cigar. I can't remember if he actually smoked the cigar on the show, but it would not surprise me if he did, as smoking was pervasive in those days.
"You Bet Your Life" was probably shot on a theater stage, as I remember curtains behind the performers. The announcer/straight man George Fenneman, stood nearby (left side of TV screen), his dark hair lying tight against his scalp, perhaps slicked down with Brylcreem or something similar. (To see Fenneman in a dramatic role, watch the original version of the movie "The Thing.") When this show aired on TV in the 1950s, I was in grade school so the verbal humor, aimed at adults, usually went over my head. From a kid's perspective the best part of the show was the institution of the "secret word," announced to the audience (but not the contestants) before contestants appeared on the stage. If a contestant uttered the secret word during the show, he or she would win extra money. Groucho mentioned this concept when introducing the guests at the start of their appearance ("Say the secret word and win $100.") If a contestant said the secret word, it was acknowledged with the appearance of a puppet-type duck that was lowered from above on a string or wire. The duck's mouth held an envelope containing the money and its face was modeled after Groucho's: mustache, thick eyebrows, and (I think) a cigar in its mouth. Great fun!
El Dorado (1967)
Being with old friends
What makes a movie attractive? For me and "El Dorado," the attraction is being with old friends. That's how I look at the characters in this movie. Having seen the film several times, I'm so familiar with the plot and the characters that every new viewing is like visiting people I know and like.
So what if "El Dorado" is based on, modeled after, lifted from, or a copy of, "Rio Bravo"? I let the movie stand on its own. Yes, there are weaknesses: poor continuity, characters that seem out of place or poorly developed, and a scene that today would be considered politically incorrect. What movie doesn't have flaws? One aspect of the film that impressed me is the notion of "professional courtesy" as espoused by the bad gunman Nelse McLeod, played by Christopher George. The character is a thinking man's bad guy, one who is smart enough to know his limitations and respect another man's ability, even if (especially if?) that man is his enemy. McLeod's ability to look beyond the job at hand reminds me of the philosophical killer in "Pulp Fiction." It's akin to the respect that opposing military officers have of each other in war.
Every time I see "El Dorado" I enjoy it. Part of my enjoyment comes from thinking about what I was doing when this movie was made (1965-6). While I struggled with my first year of college, many film industry people were making this film, doing location shooting in the southwest.
I would love to visit certain places that were used: the stream crossing where Johnny Crawford (Luke MacDonald) and John Wayne (Cole Thornton) were shot; the place where Wayne fell off his horse after suffering a muscle spasm; the ranches of Bart Jason (Ed Asner) and Kevin MacDonald (R. G. Armstrong). I'd love to walk through the gate of the MacDonald ranch, approach the house, and say, "MacDonald, Kevin MacDonald, come out and get your boy." I wouldn't mind exploring the movie set used for the town, either.
After watching the film last night, I researched the poem "El Dorado" and discovered it was written by Edgar Allen Poe. Seeing this movie broadened my horizons a bit.
The Thing (1982)
Spellbinding story of isolation, distrust, and fear
Last night I watched John Carpenter's version of "The Thing" for the first time. It was very good. Gore and scenes of suffering repel me, so I was reluctant to watch it. But I wanted to compare Carpenter's work to the 1951 movie, which I had seen earlier this year (and found much less satisfying).
The main themes of the 1982 movie were isolation, fear, distrust, hopelessness, and bafflement, and how these emotions affect otherwise stable human beings. People change from being "scientific" to being undisciplined from fear. A feeling of doom steadily grows. As for the gory scenes, they are much less frequent than some reviews would have you believe. However, they are horrific (I had to look away once, and I'm 57). The special effects were a tribute to the human imagination: what causes a person to conceive of a head's stretching from its torso, falling off of an examination table (to avoid being burned up by a flame-thrower), and sending out tentacles that lash onto objects and pull itself across the floor? Other effects were equally creative. Some aspects of the "Thing" reminded me of the creature in "Alien." The opening scene, involving the hunting of a dog by men in a helicopter, was troubling for me because I hate to see animals suffer. To me a dog that is being hunted is suffering (from fear). Once I overcame my bad feelings about the scene, I gave some thought to its details, and I became puzzled. It should have been fairly easy for the men in the helicopter to kill the dog, so why were they unable to do so? They had a machine that could fly much faster than any dog could run, and flew a zigzag path to repeatedly take aim at the fleeing animal. But no bullet from the rifle hit the dog. Later it became clear: shortly before the hunt, the men in the chopper had seen their comrades---at another scientific outpost---perish in a most gruesome manner. Those scenes of death, and the experiences that led up to them, undoubtedly made these men almost insane with fear and desperation. No wonder the pilot flew erratically and the gunner never hit the dog! I have two complaints: staffing and armaments. The staffing of the research station was implausible. Some characters seemed to be too casual or unprofessional to have been stationed at a scientific outpost, where---I assume---only the cream of the crop are sent in order to get the "biggest bang from the buck." Yeah, scientists are people too, and the outposts in Antarctica surely have social problems. I just think that people at remote science stations are more serious, more mature, and have more to do than some characters depicted here. And so few people at a station? Survival in the extreme winter conditions would seem to require a bigger outpost and many more people: cooks, medical team, maintenance people, etc.
The other weakness was the presence of the armaments and flame-throwers. Since the station's mission was never explained, I was forced to assume that these things were necessary. But I don't like that type of story-telling. If there are devices present that would seem out of place to the average person, the story-tellers have an obligation to explain the situation. Was an "explaining" scene deleted during the editing process, or was this a case of lazy writing? Some commenters have theorized that flame-throwers are used to melt snow, but that's unlikely. As I understand it, flame-throwers are not merely super hair dryers with flames, but squirt guns that propel a napalm-like substance onto things. That burning medium would be all over anything that had been sprayed---not a nice residue to leave in the snow. Aside from the staffing and armaments themes, I could believe the movie. Maybe I need to go back to school and take a remedial course in "Management of Small Scientific Stations in Ice-bound Environments." On the plus side, as others have mentioned, there were not any extraneous elements such as romance or earthquakes to keep viewers interested. (Aside from the fact that there were no women in the movie, romance would have been laughably out of place here---when people experience an increasing state of terror, they aren't likely to linger in the lab to kiss.) The development of suspense, based on the disintegration of trust among the characters, kept me spellbound. The soundtrack helped sustain a creepy, foreboding atmosphere; I don't care who created or manipulated it. Partially filmed in or near Stewart, British Columbia---get out the atlas! For a guy who hates scenes depicting horror or bad things happening to animals, I liked this movie. It was much, much better than the 1951 version, not because of the special effects, which were excellent, but because of the development of suspense and the style of acting. After reading so much praise for the DVD version of this movie, I just might rent it.
Forty-four pages of comments!---impressive.
Two Mothers for Zachary (1996)
What are the interests of the State?
This sad story about who should have custody of a little boy brings up two interesting subjects: 1) Why is the State interested in family matters? and
2) How should the State legislate that interest?
In this age of discussion about creating an amendment to the constitution which defines the concept of marriage (as excluding same-sex couples), the movie provides the viewer with a taste for how the State involves itself in family affairs. In spite of the sadness of this story, one has to agree that the State does have an interest in these matters as they relate to the State's continued existence.
Governmental bodies are correct to pass laws that support the State---otherwise anarchy would ensue. The difficult part of such legislating is deciding where and to what extent the State should exert its influence. That is the often thankless job of elected officials, who usually do not possess any more insight into such matters than do we citizens. American society is faced with social ideas (such as homosexual parents) that have not been accepted by all, and friction and disappointment are the result. Enlightened laws take time to be enacted.
I applaud the producers of this film for combining social drama with real-life legal issues in a sober manner. Yes, I was saddened by the situation of the young mother. But I was also aware---especially in the courtroom scenes---that there is more than one way to look at her situation.
One gripe---a minor one---I couldn't figure out when and where the photo of the boy standing in the corner (punishment) was taken. This photo bolstered the prosecutor's argument that the boy was not being treated well by his mother and her lover. Maybe I missed something when I switched to another channel during a commercial break, or maybe editing eliminated a scene which explained it. When the photo showed up in court, I was perplexed.
Big Bad Love (2001)
A 55-gallon drum, stuffed mailbox, and trains, but not much else
The acting was good but the travails of an alcoholic would-be writer didn't do much for me. Yes, it was nice to see Debra Winger again and a surprise to see Angie Dickinson, but the movie bored me to tears. Only the little touches were pleasing: the 55-gallon oil drum acting as a wastebasket; the repeated stuffing of the mailbox with outgoing book manuscripts; the presence of trains (especially the "boxcar as mural"); the kudzu growing everywhere (that WAS kudzu, wasn't it?). I knew nothing about the protagonist/director before seeing the movie, but while watching it I noticed that he looked a lot like the musician Stephen Stills. I was sad to see the mural boxcar taken away at the end---its presence on the siding next to the main character's yard was reassuring.
So-so western with interesting themes
Guy Madison plays Frank Madden, a man who is half-Indian and half-white and who hides his Indian heritage in order to fit into white society. He's sick of the way Indians have been treated, banished to reservations and not having the same rights as the conquering white men. His goal is to be somebody by owning something of his own---in this case, land.
After much effort he buys an old ranch outside of town, and problems begin. His neighbors---the nasty Shipley brothers---don't take kindly to the fact that he is fencing off his property. They have been using it as grazing land for free since the previous owners abandoned it.
The rest of the movie is about his dealings with Neil, Bert, and Tom Shipley, his denial of his Indian heritage, and his relationship (poorly developed) with an attractive white woman in town. Prejudice, tyranny, fear, stubbornness, and insecurity are constant themes. So is poor acting. Madden acts as if he were mad at everyone, including Indians, and speaks mostly in anger. OK, he has a chip on his shoulder, but it's way overdone here, seeming laughable at times. Maybe in the mid-1950s that counted as drama.
A scene near the end that made me wince. It was one of those improbable 'one man against the town' scenes that appear in a lot of westerns. In this case the one man is the sheriff. Madden has been jailed for his own protection after the evil Bert and Neil Shipley claim that he killed their brother Tom (he didn't). A mob led by Bert and Neil arrives at the jail and demands that the sheriff hand over Madden so it can administer its own justice: a rope. Not a single man of the town offers to help the sheriff quell the mob. He has at least one deputy, but I didn't see or hear him in that scene. If he were there and I missed him, so be it, but I think he was down in the saloon thinking about his insignificant part in the movie.
Another scene was a pleasant curiosity. Two men are riding horses along a street in the town, and as the camera pans to the right to follow them, you can see that they are riding downhill. In almost every western I've seen, the town streets were flat as a squashed rattlesnake---no hills. This was a refreshing change from the norm, although it was probably an accident of choice of movie set rather than a conscious effort to insert a slope into a plot.
To the credit of the writers and director, I have to say that the movie treats Indians as human beings, rather than taking the low road and using the stereotype of bloodthirsty savages. Too bad the protagonist couldn't relate to them---or to most people for that matter---until a tragedy near end of the story.
Balancing the portrayal of Indians against my disappointments, I'll give it a 5.
A Certain Kind of Death (2003)
Off-beat subject handled in a fitting manner (with "spoiler")
This film, about an off-beat subject, captivated me from start to finish. It describes what the County of Los Angeles does with corpses and personal property when a person dies without any next of kin. The filming style is strictly business with no frills, which lets the viewer concentrate on the often sad subject matter. Employees in office settings talk to the film crew in a natural, no-nonsense manner about the work they do. Some scenes have no dialog or narration and feel just right that way. Nothing seemed staged.
Before seeing this film, I had never thought about the subject matter of this film---who has? That's why it appealed to me: it exposes an aspect of society that lurks beneath the surface of our awareness. I love to learn about such obscure activities.
The amount of effort put into the county's process was amazing and showed concern for people who are 'all alone at the end.' I saw the employees as performers of an honorable task in the name of people who had no one else to speak for them. Their work probably goes unnoticed by the majority of the public and is therefore thankless. I appreciated that the filmmakers did not try to make the subject more exciting than it was or to gloss over ugly aspects of the process.
It's definitely not for the faint of heart. It shows corpses---sometimes naked---lying on floors, and one of them is obviously decomposing. Plastic-wrapped bodies are casually handled in various stages of the process. Crematory employees break up, then grind, the bones that are left over after fire has done its work. There are plenty of disturbing images.
One scene haunted me: the county's property people are cleaning out the apartment or house of someone who recently died. The goods will be held for a while, then auctioned off to pay debts and county costs. After the last picture has been removed from the living room wall, all that remains on the wall is the set of picture hangers and the dirty outlines where the pictures used to be. For me that scene said, 'The meaning of Life X has been lost.'
The slow pace of the credits at the end seemed a fitting tribute to the people---living and dead---who had been documented. A film definitely worth watching. My thanks to the people who made it and to the Sundance Channel for exposing me to it.