Flamingo Road (1949)

Flamingo Road (1949) 4

Original plot
Politics makes strange bedfellows for Joan Crawford and a cadre of kingmakers.

Big thoughts
It’s fun when Joan Crawford can vamp it up and come out victorious.

Obligatory bus anecdote
So bus drivers miss stops sometimes, right? Or don’t open the backdoor for some reason. Some people yell to have the bus stop. Me, I just stood there at the backdoor while everyone looked at me and the bus kept moving. It’s too damn early in the morn for me to raise my voice. Besides, the extra half-mile walk probably did me good.

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The Random Remake
Fielding Carlisle (Michael Fassbender!) is a Southern gentlemen, a deputy sheriff, and an all-around OK kind of guy. He knows he’s being taken under the wing of the imposing sheriff Titus Semple (Robert Duvall), but he doesn’t know how far. Fielding is following the script: simple law degree, upstanding job, courting of the lady Titus implores him to marry. Everyone wants him to run for city council, but he says he wants to concentrate on his job. We see Titus doing some corrupt stuff: letting the son of a local business owner out of jail after a DUI, grabbing some free grub from the local diner, meeting in secret backrooms with other dignitaries.

Everything is pretty much on schedule until the carnival comes to town. One of its organizers, a rough lady named Lane Bellamy (Reese Witherspoon) makes a point of skirting the local ordinances for noise, land use, etc., and Fielding is sent to deal with the nuisance. Fielding soon becomes enchanted with Lane, who represents the gruff anarchy he has had to reject to fit in. He tells her that his whole life has been about landing on Flamingo Road, the nicest part of town.

Titus, obviously, doesn’t like Lane interfering with his plans and hatches schemes to get rid of her, including framing her for random crimes – even after Fielding pleads with her to quit the carnie and stay in town. Titus wants Fielding as a US senator, and soon Titus is back-channeling to get his ways. That is, until Fielding has a change of heart about being a stooge and stands up to Titus, who responds by creating a scandal for Fielding involving Lane and destroying his squeaky clean image and career. Fielding is distraught by the lies and his sudden depression alienates Lane. Fielding offs himself in the milieu, and now Lane wages war against Titus, who has decided to appoint himself to the absent senate seat, blackmailing everyone in the state to do so. Lane is up against a powerful adversary, but she has knowledge Titus doesn’t – and soon she’s sown the seeds of a drug scandal, drugging Titus and injecting with enough heroin to stop his aging heart. On her way out of town, she drives by Flamingo Road and bids it farewell.

The pitch
Flamingo Road: When their paths cross, the going gets rough

Next up: Of Human Bondage (1934)

Carmen Jones (1954)

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Original plot
Bizet’s opera gets churned through the society of the early 1950s.

Big thoughts
Mr. Freeze back in the director’s chair again! Also, it took me until the last third of this movie to realize every single person in this movie is black (sometimes it’s fun to be a little clueless). Also, we’re watching this movie on recommendation from the RZA. Also, they hired a stunt voice for Harry Belafonte – what’s that all about? Also, during Pearl Bailey’s “Beat Out That Rhythm on the Drum” (the best part of the movie by far), there seems to be a bunch of dudes twerking (see below).

Obligatory bus anecdote
I watch my movies on the bus on an old, cracked Samsung Galaxy S3. I’ve seen people whip out Kindles, iPads, what have you. But this one time a dude pulled out a full-on MacBook Pro and started working. That TPS report must have been due posthaste.

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The Random Remake
Joe (Donald Glover) is a low-ranked soldier in Afghanistan who is considering signing up to host USO shows and do his spoken-word-rap act that has been popular with his detachment and gotten the attention of show organizers. While checking out a show he watches the flamboyant act of pop star Carmen Jones (Janelle Monae), who does a doo-wop/hip-hop rendition of Habanera. Joe is impressed and joins the show, initially refusing to give in to Carmen’s obvious charms.

A few shows later, however, Joe is smitten and follows Carmen as she heads back stateside for a military recruitment tour of basketball arenas. As they rehearse in Chicago, Joe gets jealous of the immense attention Carmen gets from the high-ranking recruiters. After “defending her honor” (in which Carmen was engaging in innocent flirting) by fighting a ranking officer, Joe is threatened with court martial. He flees, and begs Carmen to come with him but she decides to accept the overtures from lothario professional athlete Henry Miller (Joakim Noah), a featured celebrity on the tour.

Joe is enraged by the betrayal and falls into full madness. He stalks the rehearsals and sneaks into the United Center on the night of the tour’s debut. He seethes watching Carmen perform and then introduce star Henry. As Carmen and Henry leave the stage Joe lunges at them with a gun. He aims for Henry in a jealous rage but is tackled by a bystander as he shoots, missing Henry and fatally hitting Carmen. His mind enters a psychotic world of tragic opera as he sings the lament to Carmen and his own slip into insanity.

The pitch
Carmen Jones: If she loves you, you’d best beware.

Next up: Flamingo Road (1949)

This Gun for Hire (1942)

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Original plot
A killer with a kindness for cats gets double-crossed and ensnarls a cop’s girlfriend to gets his revenge and a confession.

Big thoughts
I’m glad I decided to follow Veronica Lake (after so much Joan Crawford); this movie kills.

Obligatory bus anecdote
Bus driver the other day went nutso. Some woman parked in a bus stop cuz she got into an accident and he straight-up got out of the bus and started berating her. She berated him right back, which was funny cuz the dude looks like Santa Claus.

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The Random Remake
Philip Raven (Matt Damon) is a former Blackwater-type mercenary used for special ops in Afghanistan, Iraq, what have you. He suffered a major arm injury from an IED, but he holds his own as a hired gun. He’s now under the employ of Willard Gates (Cedric the Entertainer), a cowardly energy company executive who, much to his chagrin, must travel to the world’s most treacherous places to do his business for his old, infirmed boss, Alvin Brewster (Bruce Dern). It’s on one of these excursions when they are ambushed and Gates shot, Raven left for dead. In recuperating and looking into what happened, Raven learns he’s being pursued by the local militia. In trying to work his way out of the country, he kidnaps a woman Gates met with early in their trip, Nesreen (Genevieve Nnaji). She helps him escape to America via fake identities – but only because she’s a criminal-turned-secret CIA informant, and she’s been tracking Gates. Gates is dead, but she’s willing to hand over Raven to the feds to fulfill her commitment, and she plans to alert the feds soon after they land.

Back in the states, Raven learns immediately at the airport via a breaking news report that he’s a wanted man: the trip he was providing security for involved bribing warlords in East Africa and furthering atrocities against the citizenry. And not only is Raven implicated, but Nesreen also. Raven takes charge and they strategize their way out of the airport, just as customs officers start turning over men’s arms looking for Raven in disguise. Raven is focused on only one goal: finding Brewster and the answers to the botched trip, but Nesreen wants to get on the good side of the law and leaves clues for her CIA handlers to find them. The two sneak their way into the energy company headquarters, with the CIA agents following behind them.

Storming their way into Brewster’s office, they find him conferring with Gates. Turns out they knew the CIA was getting close, and that Nesreen was an informant. They pinned the bribes they had been making to secure energy contracts on the two to obfuscate their own doings, putting a Kevlar vest on Gates and secreting him out of the country. They dealt with a local warlord to take out Raven. They had hoped Raven would be murdered and Nesreen left to the militia after the CIA abandoned her. The agents are hearing all this courtesy a cell phone Nesreen has been concealing. Raven wants his revenge and he points his gun at Gates, telling Brewster he’s next. Nesreen tries to calm him, and as it looks like it’s working Brewster shoots both Raven and Gates as the agents now bust in. Gates is dead. Raven turns, on the floor bleeding, to shoot Brewster but he passes out instead. He wakes in a hospital bed, the agents there. He asks for Nesreen, and they tell him she’s on her way back to Africa – deported but cleared of charges. As she’s about to board a plane, flanked by agents, Raven appears and tells her he’s coming with her. He has unfinished business in her country.

The pitch
Gun For Hire: No mercy from this mercenary

Next up: Carmen Jones (1954)

Humoresque (1946)

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Original plot
John Garfield fingers his violin a little too much for Joan Crawford’s liking.

Big thoughts
Has there ever been another movie in which the top-billed star doesn’t appear until 33 minutes in? Also, Mommie Dearest throws not one but two (2!) glasses of booze against the wall! Also, this, along with My Man Godfrey, is one of the best I’ve seen since this whole movies-on-the-bus-thing began.

Obligatory bus anecdote
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WTF? How long was your bus ride that you could ignite a seat so much?

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The Random Remake
Paula Boray (Mia Wasikowska) is a young violinist virtuoso prospect looking to get into a fine arts school to further her talents, despite her working-class family urging her to attend college for a “serious” degree. She hooks up with jaded cellist Sidney (Jenna Malone) via an online ad. They play in subway stations, parks, some small gigs, and Sidney quickly realizes that Paula is the real deal. Sid arranges for a dinner party gig at the home of Henry (Rupert Graves) and Victoria (Rosamund Pike) Wright. The Wrights are wealthy patrons of the arts, and Henry takes a particular interest in Paula.

Henry’s advocacy for Paula ignites her career. She gets into the school of her choice and she is soon playing concerts with top orchestras, her family beaming with pride. But her personal life is also rapidly changing. She is growing close to Henry, with whom she shares a fondness for the romantic orchestration known as the humoresque. He represents the world she wants while she represents the life he once had. Seeing their attraction, Victoria leaves and tells Henry he can have a divorce if he likes. Henry is conflicted but tells Paula about the news and, to his relative surprise, she is not as elated as he thought she’d be. She’s getting super-serious about her music, and that takes up most of her time; Henry is taking a back seat. Additionally, Paula’s family isn’t too keen on their relationship, either, telling Paula that Henry is taking advantage of her and that she should live her life free of an older predator.

After a long reunion dinner with Victoria, Henry is late for a new concert performance from Paula. Paula is scornful of Henry, and berates him for not realizing how important her work is to her. Walking along a beach near the restaurant, Henry realizes Paula has grown away from him and he also knows he has pushed Victoria too far away for reconciliation. Alone, Henry drives back into the city toward the opera house where Paula is playing, but he continues past the building and drives off into the night.

The pitch
Humoresque: A classical tale of love and romance

Next up: This Gun for Hire (1942)

I Married a Witch (1942)

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Original plot
Veronica Lake bewitches a gubernatorial candidate to further a Puritanical curse.

Big thoughts
I love how the “curse” is that a dude marries an uppity woman – “we’ll show you!”

Obligatory bus anecdote
Once, I got on a nearly empty bus and made my way to the back to find … someone’s packed-up lunch just sitting there lonely on the seat. If I forgot my lunch on the bus I would sob for half the day.

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The Random Remake
Jonathan Wooley (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a rising-star TV reporter who hopes to be promoted to anchor of a New York City-area morning news show. We see him do gimmicky TV shoots around the city, hamming up with an adoring audience. He’s on assignment covering a fire at the Pilgrim Hotel when he notices a “victim” escaping a side door. He tracks down the woman (Katy Perry) and notices she suffers no burns, no smoke inhalation – she’s perfectly fine, except for being a bit eccentric. She says her name is Jennifer, and Jonathan keeps prompting her to do an interview about the fire and how she survived. She says sure, and Jonathan brings his camera operator to a nearby hotel lobby to set up the interview. But Jennifer starts going on about being a reincarnated witch and she isn’t sure the last time she had corporeal form and also isn’t sure what her mission in this time/place is. Jonathan kills the interview, and tries to bush off Jennifer but she’s interested in him and she appears in his apartment when he gets home. With a few more tricks around the house (enchanting a fire, making a broomstick fly) Jonathan realizes Jennifer might actually be telling the truth.

Jonathan is smitten with Jennifer and his professional life becomes unraveled. He’s engaged to the TV station owner’s daughter, and his erratic behavior and clear affection for Jennifer are threatening both his promotion and his engagement. And there’s another problem: Jennifer’s dad, Daniel (John Noble), appears and tells Jennifer she can’t fall in love with a mortal. Then he hits her with the true intention of why they’ve taken forms: They are part of a long curse put on Jonathan’s family – all the way back to pilgrims, when Jennifer, Daniel and others were hanged for being witches. Jennifer was given a body as Daniel’s plot to ruin Jonathan’s marriage – and he succeeded. But Jennifer isn’t going along with the end of the plan, and she tricks Daniel into becoming a smoky being and she traps him in a wine bottle so she can keep her form and marry Jonathan. Jonathan is still a bit bummed by his job going south, and Jennifer acts surprised. “Oh, I can fix that,” she says and starts chanting. Soon, a promo appears on the TV announcing “NYC’s newest morning show, with Jonathan Wooley.”

The pitch
I Married a Witch: This spells trouble

Next up: Humoresque (1946)

Beat the Devil (1953)

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Original plot
A group of rouges goes hunting for uranium. In Italy, then Africa. I think.

Big thoughts
John Huston, Truman Capote, Humphrey Bogart, and Peter Lorre combined! … can’t save this meandering sinking boat of a narrative.

Obligatory bus anecdote
You can only eat so many things on the bus. A nice granola bar, maybe an apple. But props to the lady chowing on yogurt and granola on a full bus. Women and their yogurt, amirite?

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The Random Remake
A group of scout energy investors is invited to hear a pitch for a vast plot of land in north, north North Dakota that a family has been sitting on forever. The land is rich in shale deposits and the right fracking company could have the largest single spot in the state ready to go, if the price is right. (Yeah, I’m going back to the fracking well, so sue me).

The investors – which include Billy Dannreuther (Michael Fassbender!), Gwen Chelm (Charlize Theron), Peter Morley (Guy Pearce), Julius O’Hara (Paddy Considine), Jack Ross (Tom Hiddleston), and Maria Dannreuther (Cameron Diaz) – are smitten with the place.

See, the last holdout of this family land is a crazy old man (Bruce Dern) who thinks, rightfully so, that everyone is being fake nice to him to get him to sell out. So he finally agrees to part ways with it being he dies – but with a twist! The investors have traveled basically to the middle of nowhere to see this place first-hand, and now they have to travel back to civilization to get their bids in by the end of the day. That gives them just a few hours to get their affairs in order. See, crazy old man wants the first bid; he doesn’t care about the highest. Should be no problem, right? Welp, crazy old man has had their rental cars all sabotaged and he’s forcing them to make their way back to town on their own two feet. And these are ruthless biz folk we’re talking about – even the estranged rich siblings the Dannreuthers are out to snipe each other. So in the ensuing travels back to civilization each tries to undermine the others’ way back. We get attempts to bribe local cattle ranchers, attempts at phoned-in helicopter rides, more sabotage. Hilarity!

The pitch
Beat the Devil: A race against time. And each other.

Next up: I Married a Witch (1942)

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

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Original plot
Mr. Freeze directs a chilly love triangle between careers, war and the law.

Big thoughts
I love how Joan Crawford can get dudes to totally blow up their families and ignore their kids for her. And the hammily random car crash – classic!

Obligatory bus anecdote
I have painstakingly shed bringing anything onto the bus that I have to keep holding in my hands. If it doesn’t go in the backpack it doesn’t go. What if you can’t find a seat and have to stand, right? And then some chick gets on holding a full-on mug of hot coffee. Not a tumbler with a lid – an open mug. Crazy!

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The Random Remake
Dan O’Mara (Andrew Lincoln) is a rising political superstar about to upgrade from his small-town mayoralship to enter the New Jersey governor’s race. Only problem is he’s also in the midst of upgrading his love life, from Rosamund (Rose Byrne) to Daisy Kenyon (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Dan tells Daisy, in one of their rendezvous, that he plans to spill the beans on their secret relationship. He’s told his handlers and advisers about them and he’s been advised to get this news out early ahead of the campaign. He’s got the divorce papers already drawn up. Daisy, who apart from high-profile Dan is pretty secure in her academic research job, is nervous about the high-profile bombshell that’s about to drop, but she consents anyway.

Dan starts to push his divorce on Rosamund, but she isn’t having it. She blackmails him, and says she’ll fight the divorce as hard as she can and ruin his campaign. When Dan brings this news to Daisy, floating the possibility of waiting until after the election, Daisy gets mad and storms out. Soon after, at her university, Daisy meets Peter Lapham (Zachary Quinto), an older student who went back to college after serving in Afghanistan. Peter’s openness and unfettered nature are the complete opposite of controlled and secretive Dan. They hit it off, and to shove it in Dan’s face Daisy dives head-on into her relationship with Peter.

The media sniff out Daisy’s connection to Dan, however, and start slinging mud at the prospective governor. Now Dan pleads with Daisy to take him back, and publicly, too. The only way to save his campaign is to acknowledge the affair and say it’s part of a long-standing separation between Dan and Rosamund. Having been told all about Dan, Peter is gracious and understanding of the situation, but he clearly doesn’t like it. Daisy is torn and her undecidedness leaves Peter to say he won’t stand in the way of her reuniting with Dan. Dan is gloating as if he’s won both her and the election – but that’s when Daisy realizes Peter is her true love.

The pitch
Daisy Kenyon: Only two make a pair

Next up: Beat the Devil (1953)