These are the days we wait for. The warm days and soft quiet nights, the lush green world enthroned and eternal, the hum of air conditioners and the distant sound of lawn mowers. The kids down the block laughing as they run through the sprinkler. The soft plosh of the water-feature fountain, changing to a strangled gurgle because the hose slipped; the cold water up to your elbows as you reattach it; the gentle hiss of the kitchen-sink hose as you spray off whatever godforsaken stuff dwells in the water; the thrum of the pipes as you refill the water-feature, because if the waterfall portion doesn’t run once a day the water in the side talk goes stagnant and brims with mosquito larvae, which is why you couldn’t sit outside for more than ten minutes because you were slapping yourself like someone who knew he needed to be scourged for his sins, not the least of which was paying for the damned water feature in the first place. Yes, these are the days: your glasses actually slide off your face and fall into the pile of mulch you’re shaking from the bag, the sixth bag of the day, the sixth of ten this weekend, the latest in the series of bags you have shaken out, ten by ten by ten more, yea unto the end of July shall ye fetch the mulch and shake the mulch and curse the vast expanse that must be smothered under the mulch lest the weeds run riot, as is their wont. As you pick up the glasses you realize that last year’s favorite Chuck Taylors have become this year’s yard-work shoes, never to be worn in proper company again. And so you pause to check the website to see if that particular color is still available, which is when your wife shows up after three hours of planting outside and wants to know why you have paused from your labors.
“It’s the blue-bleached ones,” you want to say. “They went with everything,” you want to say.
They don’t make them any more.
Yes, these are the days. I’ve had four days of vacation, more or less. Enough of that. Please, please: back to work.
There are no spoilers or reviews contained in the following observations about World War Z. But I will tell you why it got good reviews from surprised critics and audiences: the former were gratified to see a summer TENTPOLE BLOCKBUSTER that did not end with 39 minutes of computer-generated objects smiting each other in the sky. The latter folk, the audience, realized - perhaps without consciously recognizing it - that a certain sort of quiet intelligence was at work here. No pop-culty references, no grim Marines saying “let’s do this thing,” no swelling heroic military score providing the sole connective tissue between quick-cut action scenes that defied belief. Okay, there were problems; you had to accept things like “they have escaped Philly because someone in the editing room cut to the scene in the countryside,” and the idea that UN had some great overriding moral, political and military reputation was preposterous in a world where the militaries of the world provided the only hardened facilities. The very idea of a guy running around the world trying to cure the Z thing by finding who had Z Fever first was ludicrous in retrospect, but since there was a minimum of glowering authority figures barking orders in unrealistic command-centers with non-standard computer interfaces, it made sense as a Hail Mary.
It’s not a great movie. It didn’t try to be a great movie. It wanted to be an effective movie, and I think it worked - which brings us to the controversial final third. The production was famously troubled, shut down, rewrote, reshot. The original ending was all grim action, and I would have sat in the theater with a mask-face watching impressive things in which I did not believe, happening to people who I knew would all die except for the hero. Apparently the original version, with a downbeat ending that set up a sequel, left the finely calibrated aesthetic sentiments of movie executives cold, and I find that surprising. Isn’t more bombast better? Kaboom and IMAX dazzle and THX gut-punch audio and mayhem, screams, blood, meat-rending wet-stabby FX - isn’t that your golden road into the pocketbook of the desired demographic? But no: the first two acts of WWZ were Wagner, and the last act, as reconstituted after the suits nixed the bombastic conclusion, was chamber music.
I had this revelation at the end, as the movie seemed to be drawing to a close: it was lacking what these movies seem incapable of avoiding: a massive heroic set-piece. Brad Pitt hanging out a helicopter door shirtless firing a chattering machine gun, vanquishing the hordes, except the helicopter crashes but of course he survives and then he’s wounded but gets up and it’s okay, but no, there’s another zombie he has to fight, and maybe he’ll quip. It’d be great if he, like, used a pencil his wife gave him before he went away, and she said “promise you’ll write” and he said “I’m more a text kinda guy,” because that old-fashioned / up-to-date-tech thing was their dynamic, but they loved each other anyway or maybe even more because of that. Anyway he drives the pencil into the King Zombie’s head and says, oh, “Yours TRULY, m-f-er,” and we all say ahhhh, because it’s a callback to the wife and it’s a quip and he totally pwned that zeke. And then he’s reunited with his family on a battleship and everyone salutes and the water’s reflecting sunset and we’re going to win this thing, man. America!
It wasn’t that at all.
Perhaps the only reason I mention this is because I realized I had the “The Avengers” in blu-ray and I watched it over the weekend, and found it mostly annoying and juvenile. Thor’s great. Cap’s great. Hulk’s great. Whoever Samuel L. Jackson is playing, it’s not Nick Fury. And Tony Stark isn’t funny. He’s just a jerk. Until he saves the world! Then all is forgiven. Also, when you see it again, you realize that the entire middle section makes no sense, except to conjure up a reason to have a battle on a airborne aircraft carrier.
Although I did like the third act, which was all CGI ridiculous battle-fun. For some reason, that worked. It made me like the movie for the reasons I wouldn’t have liked if WWZ ended with the same style.
Got that, Hollywood? Really, I’m not that hard to please.
Actually, I am. I have little patience in this genre:
The Bad-Girl movie. Mister, watch out! She’s got a diamond where her heart should be! That’s not the tag line, but it could be. The basic premise concerns a woman who’s unduly mercinary - i.e., ambitious - and plots her rise and fall, or rise and redemption. Cat-fights and snippy jealously and bitchy one-liners. If that’s your thing, this will do. They sold it like this:
Note: she doesn't take any photos no one else dares to take.
First, some inadvertent documentary. A squad car squeals around a corner . . .
And some judicious freeze-framing and sharpening gives us the Town and Country shopping center. The car continues on, and the camera obligingly follows:
If this is the right locale, it’s changed. A bit.
Now, our heroine. Cleo Moore, who had a brief career in the Bombshell Age. She gets caught up in a round-up of bar girls who get drunk men to buy them watered-down champagne. Translation: prostitutes. She’s indignant:
Because she’s not a hooker. She’s just down on her luck. Ordered to leave town, she hides out with a washed-up kindly alcoholic photographer, who teaches her the tricks of the trade, and she realizes a gal could make a living at this. So once she has her f-stops down pat, it’s off to . . .
Times Square! The old International Casino / Bond Clothiers building on the right. What’s playing?
Big Town, a 1947 dud described at imdb thus: “What we see in the opening is a mess of stock footage, balsa wood and cardboard sets and camera setups where the camera is as stationary as any 1950's TV show. It is as if the camera was nailed to the floor pointing straight ahead. Actually, it was nailed to the floor.”
It’s based on a radio show, which ran for most of the 40s. A few surviving episodes can be found here. It's notable for Mason Adams, I think, overacting horribly as a newspaper reporter's favorite cabby.
Anyway, New York’s a tough town:
She’s knocked over coming out of a newspaper office by the love interest:
Richard Crenna. He sees the good in her, despite her effortless ability to get it hidden. Well, turned out of newspapers, she gets a job in a nightclub shooting candids and portraits - of course, it’s mobbed up - and crosses swords with another dame who’s in the same racket:
Now there’s someone I didn’t expect to see. Jeanne Cooper. I had no idea she died last May. (Corbin Benson’s mother, by the way.) She was working up to the time of her death, a long-running fixture on "Young and the Restless" since 1973. She was a minor character in this movie, but while a few went on to greater fame, she probably worked more hours in front of the camera than anyone else.
A TV show does an interview with the up-and-coming photographer, and here’s the set:
It’s a sign how people had a dim grasp of TV, or forgave a movie something that was obviously nonsense. The host calls the interview subject; the TV set shows Cleo the Evil Photographer Dame picking up the phone, surprised! but happy to hear from the show - as if there wasn’t an enormous camera and banks of lights already in her office.
Anyway, her journalist boyfriend wants her to quit the lingerie-photography / portrait business and come with him on a trip around the world reporting on Important Social Things, but she doesn’t want to give up her career. He’s a bit confused, since she’d be taking all the pictures. That is, she’d have a more interesting career. But she won’t give up her career! There’s a murder, and blackmail, and she does the wrong thing, then does the right thing, and etc etc etc. Happy ending and wedding bells and all that.
I watched it out of the corner of my eye while doing other things, so it wasn't a total waste of time.
Matchbooks right now. Strib blog resumes, and of course Tumblr down the road. Have a fine day!