Georgia, the Wild West, Idaho and Barcelona: movies

POWER TRIP (2015) is a documentary reminiscent of PBS’ old series Comrades, which looked at life inside the USSR. Here we see how post-Soviet Georgia is literally struggling to keep the lights on as the multinational company that now runs the electrical grid has to cope with customers who can’t or won’t pay, corrupt cashiers pocketing payments and big businesses that get power diverted from homes to factories. This was interesting … but no more than interesting. “Don’t you know you won’t even have these plastic bags?”

My Wild, Wild West DVD set came with two reunion movies that doubled as pilots so after finishing S4, I rewatched WILD, WILD WEST REVISITED (1979). With the original Dr. Loveless, Michael Dunn, dead, this gives us singer/actor Paul Williams as Dr. Loveless Junior, plotting to take over the world with clones, cyborgs (“I call them my $600 people!”) and a new bomb he’s developed that makes this really pretty mushroom shaped-cloud … The head of the Secret Service (Harry Morgan) calls Jim and Artie out of retirement, but it’s been a while and they’re not quite up to their old heroics. By the end of the film, though, they’re back in action just like the old days, helped and hindered by René Auberjonois as a snobbish British agent.

This starts slow, but it ends up being a lot of fun, and Williams perfectly mimics Dunn’s temperamental childish malevolence (“I’ll have you know that in my family, I am considered a giant!”). It did not, however, go to series so instead we got a second attempt, MORE WILD, WILD WEST (1980. Williams was unavailable so the film simply substituted a made-up old foe, Albert Paradine and plugged his evil son (Jonathan Winters) into what would have been the Williams role. Unfortunately this doesn’t work at all — while Loveless Jr. murdering his clones would have made sense, who cares that Paradine is whacking his law-abiding brothers? Even aside from that, the movie’s too much slapstick comedy to work for me. Auberjonois and Morgan return alongside Emma Sams as a British spy and Victor Buono as a diplomat modeled on Henry Kissinger. “I’m the head of the Secret Service, why does nobody tell me anything?”

Gus Van Sant’s MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991) starts as the picaresque tale of narcoleptic gay hustler River Phoenix and his smarter buddy Keanu Reaves, but bizarrely morphs into a riff on Henry IV as Reaves reveals his misbehavior is just to impress everyone when he suddenly straightens up and flies right (I’m honestly not sure that tactic would work in the modern world unless you’re in a community where Sinners Coming To Jesus is a big deal). While I knew that going on, I was still surprised (and not in a good way) to see how Shakespearian this is, from chunks of dialog to a Falstaff figure and a prank that borrows straight from the play. The acting is great but the mash-up does not work at all well.  “Do you remember, she had a gun?”

BIUTIFUL (2010) didn’t work for me either, though Javier Bardem does a great job as a mid-level Barcelona crook struggling to keep all the balls in the air despite his bipolar wife, cops and crooks hassling him, and his terminal cancer. The film seems to want to be tragic, but the film’s arc is less tragedy and more random bad things happening to Bardem (whose character vacillates awkwardly between decent guy and cheap thug). “I knew the heater was no good, but it was cheap.”

#SFWapro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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