Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flying United

I recently flew back to Pennsylvania with my fiancee (OK, it was Maryland since we flew into BWI) using United. Typically, I fly Southwest because I'm into the low-key nature of the organization. You get to sit where you like, they still bring you snacks, no charges for luggage, etc. We were on United because my parents had some credit on their account for flight issues from their last visit to Portland.

So, we're flying United and there's $25 baggage fee (and an extra $100 if you go over 50 lbs!) and no snacks on the flight and it's generally annoying. I feel it's a big mistake to make people want to bring everything on as carry-ons because it crowds things up and most people's carry-ons are way to big to begin with. But that's not what this is about.

As I said, Southwest does the who festival seating thing. The earlier you check-in (you can start 24-hours before take off), the higher your seating position. Seems reasonable. On United, we were assigned seats, but on none of our four flights were they side-by-side. At first I thought this may have been due to the way tickets were purchased. Perhaps the credit had to be used in separate transactions, or something. We always at opposite windows and either in the same row or a row apart. Not far away, but close enough that it didn't make sense that we should be separated.

The more I observed other passengers, though, the more I thought it was the system was doing it on purpose. Our first flight, a couple sat next to each other, one taking my seat. It worked out well, because their other seat was next to my fiancee. A similar situation occurred on the next flight, but the trade was with a solo flier. On our way back, the trade happened with family and friends spread all around the cabin and finally with a family of three who had been traveling from Ukraine. I couldn't figure out why so many groups of people traveling together would be separated. It didn't make any sense to me...

Until I remembered that, for an extra fee, the flier could change their seating. I have no evidence that this is how they are told to sell plane tickets, but it feels suspiciously like a way for United to squeeze even more money out of its customers. Given how many people I saw sitting away from their travel companions, I can't help but think it's true. Add this on top of the other annoyances of flying United (don't forget Continental!), I'm not inclined to give them another shot.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Where My Scramble Fails and I Wind Up Watching a Bunch of Foreign Films in a Row (also, because I'm classy like that)

I enjoyed pretty much all of the following films. They were good. Mostly, not much more than that, which made me think a lot about why I watch so many movies when the majority are going to fall in the range from "It sucks" to "It's good." There's a lot more I'd like to do with my time that gets push to the side because I'm lazy and it's easier to watch a movie than write or do much of anything to put myself out on a limb. But there's something great that happens when a movie connects with you, unexpectedly or not. It feels like it was made just for you. It may not make you look at the world any differently, but it stirs your emotions in amazing ways, not unlike great music. None of the following did that for me, but I don't see my viewing habits changing because the excitement of discovering something like Hausu or The Fall.

5 Dolls for an August Moon -- Mario Bava
An unexpected realization of watching more of Bava's films is his work is immensely campy and dated. That's not always a bad thing, but it changes the way you watch his films. There's a kind of push away from the action because everything seems so artificial and silly. I've never been fully invested in one of his films (maybe Bay of Blood). That said, 5 Dolls is a pretty fun mystery. The plot doesn't matter at all and I have no idea why the characters are on an island except that it means they can't escape, but the ridiculousness is entertaining. It's like a really easy to solve Agatha Christie story.

Nightmares Come at Night -- Jesus Franco
I just can't help myself. This film was going to be the one that finally ended my masochistic desire to watch Jesus Franco films. If it was good, I'd continue, if not, I'd stop. I picked this film because the title is so ridiculous that I just couldn't not watch it. Unsurprisingly, it sucks. Not even the woman on the cover, who has sort of an Eliza Dushku-thing going on, looked like she did in the movie (I blame Photoshop).

Like every other Franco film, the movie is a mess. Dull to look at (for some reason, he thinks foregrounding objects makes a shot interesting), horribly edited, and a confusing story. Yet, I'm totally at fault because I had to watch this. Not only that, but I couldn't bring myself to eliminate all of Franco's films from my queue. Some just sound so ridiculous to not be fun. I know I'll regret that in this space sometime soon.

Four Times That Night -- Mario Bava
This is Bava's take on both romantic comedies and Rashoman-style story telling. Four different perspectives on the same date are related by various participants. It's entirely possible that the films would have worked better if the first tale didn't have the woman go crying home to her mother that she'd just been raped. Generally not a good way to tell the audience that it's OK to laugh at the movie. Aside from that, the movie is just weird. The stories are all insanely disparate and it doesn't make sense in the context. It would be far more realistic if the various accounts were shades of each other instead of near opposites, but that would make for a redundant film. And by all accounts, the "reality" of the date (in quotes because the film tries to have it both ways, which will makes sense if you see it/have seen it) gives no real reason for the stories to be so different (and when they get to the reason the woman tells her mom she got raped, it's not utterly unbelievable). It's weird watching a Mario Bava romantic comedy in the same way it's weird watching Hitchcock's romantic comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Y Tu Mama Tambien -- Alfonso Cuaron
Sometimes, I think I put a little too much of myself into movies. I cannot relate to the friendship Julio and Tenoch at all. I struggle to believe that there are actual friendships that entail simultaneous masturbation on separate diving boards over the same pool. Maybe I'm wrong about that. However, the film deals with this issue in a way that makes sense. For me, there's a number of these moments of conflicting reactions. I hate the way the narrator continually cuts in with side details, partially because I'm not a huge fan of narration, but also because it's largely secondary to anything happening. But one of the characters wants to be a writer and I interpreted the film as him writing about his experiences and writing is filled with those types of asides. Plus, I loved all of the little background details of the road trip where life goes on as usual for everyone while the three protagonists lives are changing/about to change so dramatically. I'm tired of the "dying person goes on one last adventure" narrative, but the films isn't told through Luisa's eyes but her experience is filtered through these boys, which is a fairly unique take on the subject. It's easy to hate a movie and easy to love one, but the films that are able to bounce around on either side of that line can be frustrating. They're harder to evaluate and require much more thought. Y Tu Mama Tambien is fairing pretty well the more I think about it (unlike Black Swan).

The Fire Within -- Louis Malle
About 40 minutes into The Fire Within, I posted on Facebook, "Existential ennui doesn't make for an interesting main character." That may have been a little flippant since the main character, Alain, is suicidal and on a final trip to Paris to visit friends to see if life is still worth living. Flippant or not, it's still dull to watch a man walk around with a blank expression on his face. The fact that nothing in the world is arguing a case against committing suicide doesn't help Alain or the audience. There's something admirable in the cynicism of The Fire Within, though. It takes guts to make a movie that pretty much says that it's better to kill oneself than to be a part of the bourgeois lifestyle. I'm just predisposed to find a story like that a bit dull, but at this point in my life, I'm tired of existentialism.

Sawdust and Tinsel -- Ingmar Bergman
I run the gamut with Bergman, I hate Cries and Whispers and Persona and love Shame, Wild Strawberries, and The Seventh Seal. Many fall between. He's a director who has created some of the most beautiful images in cinema as well as some of the most irritating scenes. Sawdust and Tinsel doesn't have any of the latter, but it feels a bit like a trifle. There's a lot to like: Harriet Andersson is terrific and stunning and Ake Gronberg, whom I'd never seen or heard of, is great as the Albert the ringmaster. Bergman has just dealt with the subject matter of a struggling marriage in better movies. It's still a very good movie and I love where it ends up, but when you've made several great movies, not all of the others can stand up that tall. Still, if I ever make a movie, I'm stealing the start of the fistfight in the ring. Brilliantly shot (at 5:10).

Surviving the Game -- Ernest R. Dickinson
Take The Most Dangerous Game and add Ice-T and Rutger Hauer. Ice-T clearly hadn't developed his acting chops at this point and it shows. Someone with a little more presence and the ability to deliver lines would have been a huge improvement. The rest of the cast is stacked with ringers: Hauer, Charles S. Dutton, John C. McGinley, F. Murray Abraham, Gary Busey (who delivers and awesome monologue). The film doesn't do much to set up Ice-T as a survivor, which is a mistake because I don't buy that he so easily bests these skilled hunters (I also don't buy that it's possible to chop a tree down by shooting shotgun shells into it at point blank range. Mythbusters, get on it!). The film also cops out at the end by jumping forward three weeks from the middle of nowhere to Seattle. But it was exactly what I was looking for after the string of foreign films. Mindless entertainment. Also, Ernest Dickinson eventually directed episodes of The Wire, Dexter, Treme, and The Walking Dead, so he's doing all right.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil -- Arthur Hiller
Easily my favorite film of the bunch, I watched this only after an aborted attempt to watch the miniseries of The Stand. I made about ten minutes into that, realized I only cared about the plague part of it, didn't want to have to be introduced to the characters I already knew, and don't care much for Mick Garris as a director. Plus, I just didn't dig the novel enough to spend six hours dedicated to watching something that will inevitably be worse. Anyway, I was hooked on See No Evil, Hear No Evil after the first scene:

Make no mistake, the movie is very silly, but it's the kind of silly I love. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor have amazing chemistry, which is probably why they starred in four movies together (almost five since Pryor was supposed to player Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles and co-wrote the script). It's also fun to see Kevin Spacey pop up in an early role. Silver Streak is definitely better, but I had a great time with this one. Incidentally, I watched it on Netflix Instant View and I'm fairly certain some boob shots were eliminated. The framing of a post shower scene seemed weird for a movie that is rated R and already showed boobs from the side. If so, shame on you Netflix! Depriving everyone of a good look at Joan Severance's boobs.