Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The devil is in the details

Google (spits) informs me that this blog now has four Followers. Welcome. I assume you signed up during the movie restoration event, and I have been meaning to write more about movies. I feel as if I've see far too many lately, and some things about them have been getting under my skin. I wish there were fact-checkers to prevent stupid mistakes from reaching the screen, even if nobody else notices them.

I know, there are entire websites devoted to the mistakes in movies like Titanic, written by people with DVD players and too much time on their hands -- look, there's a Roosevelt dime! in 1912! -- or Saving Private Ryan -- that rifleman is wearing paratrooper insignia! -- but I don't care about tiny goofs and anachronisms. I care about the larger issues of common sense. For example, why is Tarzan always clean-shaven, with no body hair? Is there a salon in the jungle? Staffed by chimps?

The other night I saw a pallid little rom-com called Last Chance Harvey, chiefly for its two stars, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. It's the kind of movie that asks you to believe Emma Thompson can't get a date, which is like asking you to believe Michelle Pfeiffer works in a greasy spoon (Frankie and Johnny). Anyway, at one point, after sitting for a while in a public plaza and thinking she has been stood up, Emma puts down a bag of fruit she has bought for some reason and walks sadly away. If you put down a bag anywhere in London and walk away, a six-block area will instantly be cordoned off, and you will be helping the police with their inquiries, as the British archly put it. This is easily checked. Ask any Londoner.

In Absence of Malice, the character of Jim Quinn is referred to constantly, and exclusively, as the district attorney. At the climax of the film, Quinn wonders if he ought to resign. "The President appointed you, " says the man from the Justice Department. "I ain't the one to be kicking you out." In other words, he's the United States Attorney. Did the writer not know the difference? Did someone think the audience would be confused? Sydney Pollack did not often insult our intelligence this way.

I love Casablanca, but I can't get past one line. Major Strasser dismisses Rick as "just another blundering American," to which Captain Renault responds, "I wouldn't underestimate the Americans. I was with them in 1918 when they blundered into Berlin." I can't find any evidence that American troops got anywhere near Berlin in 1918. Nor French troops, for that matter. This is sloppy even for wartime propaganda.

Don't get me started on The Untouchables.



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