Marching Penguins and Swashbuckling Shaw

It was a two movie day yesterday. (this entry copied from my blogspot blog) I had my kids to entertain last night, and they’ve been begging to see March of the Penguins (Which sounds way cooler in the french, la Marche de l’empereur.) So off to the mall we did go. It’s funny, you avoid […]

It was a two movie day yesterday.

(this entry copied from my blogspot blog)

I had my kids to entertain last night, and they’ve been begging to see March of the Penguins (Which sounds way cooler in the french, la Marche de l’empereur.) So off to the mall we did go.

It’s funny, you avoid a corner of town for a decade, it goes away and a new corner grows. And when I say corner, in fact I mean mall. This particular mall was always one of the sad, low-rent malls with no good stores and half the businesses closed at any time, all through my childhood. Only, about ten, eleven years ago, a new freeway (highway 85) went through, right past this mall.

Sometime in the last ten years, this went from shitty backwoods mall to seriously upscale. Top stores. An very good set of restaurants, including a decent sushi boat joint, a cheesecake factory, pf chang’s, buca di beppo, bj’s brewpub, and more. And that’s just what I could see from the outside. When did decent restaurants start opening in big malls? The theater, always one that I avoided as a too many too small screen place, is now deluxe.

Dinner? Hot Dog on a Stick! You know, sometimes ya gotta have deep-fat-fried weenies. You got to. Plus, you know, the girls in the hats. I want to take one home so she can ride on me, still wearing the goddamned hat.

March of the Penguins in interesting. I don’t know how a french documentary about penguins got into major american theatrical distribution. I dunno who paid whom, who made some deal somewhere. But I can’t recall the last time something like this happened.

It’s a beautiful film. Stunning footage, simply stunning, rivaling the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s obviously not american, we’d have worked too hard to anthropomorphise the penguins (there’s some of that, but not much), and would never have simply let slow, steady shots tell the story.

I can’t say it’s the best documentary I’ve ever seen. But it held the complete interest if my eleven and seven year old daughters. There are a few scary or sad moments (it’s a nature documentary, there have to be), but it’s low key, letting us know nature’s brutal without a pounding the message in.

I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, and maybe I have a weakness for penguins because my brother was so into them when he was a kid. But seeing the father penguins suffer these absolutely impossible conditions, thankless and quietly heroic, to cradle and protect an egg and a helpless baby, speaks to me about fatherhood. There were moments when, sitting between my little girls, and watching these absurdly dignified birds, when I just felt, that’s it, that’s what being a daddy is about.

We all walked out of the theater making penguin sounds and doing a chilly-willy walk, and I’m still calling them my little chicks today, with a touch of irony they don’t yet understand.

My second movie, an netflix DVD rental, was a different experience.

Ever have those movies you loved, loved, loved when you were a kid or teenager? I’ve got a lot of them.

Some of them hold up. Holy Grail, Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Mister Limpet, 20,000 Leagues, Wizard of Oz, Yellow Submarine.

Some, not so much, though examples slip my mind just now of movies I liked then but didn’t enjoy so much on a re-view.

But I just dug one up – a 1975 film called Swashbuckler, starring a delightfully rougish Robert Shaw, an impossibly young James Earl Jones, Peter Boyle in a long wig as the creepy villain, and a little biscuit named Geneviève Bujold.

Now, when I saw this as a teenager, it pretty much instantly became one of my favorite movies. Robert Shaw as Red Ned Lynch. I wanted to be him. He sails a bitchin’ ship called the Blarney Cock, swaggers about in a blood-red outfit, drinks, whores, steals, sword-fights. He’s of the captain blood school of honorable pirates, surely a rogue, but of the won’t-kill-an-annocent-man kind, the won’t-rape-the-captive kind. But he recites dirty limericks, and isn’t afraid to run a wagon off a cliff at full speed.

I wanted to be Red Ned Lynch.

     I’m not a gentleman; I’m an Irishman!   

I also wanted Geneviève Bujold. Wow, did I want her. She could fight with a sword, she could cat-fight with whores, she could throw a punch. She wasn’t afraid to dive naked off the side of a pirate ship into jamaican waters and show her pretty ass to the camera. I thought she was about as sexy as a woman got, back then, short only of Jenny Agutter on my top list of movie-stars-I-wanted-to-fuck (but we’ll talk about my deep and abiding love for miss Agutter later).

Alas, the film turns out to be a complete B movie. The plot’s muddled, the acting turns out to have been some quite amazing over-acting by almost everyone involved. The sword fighting, while entertaining, could not be much less authentic; the ship, played by the Golden Hind, looks great but isn’t a pirate ship.

Almost none of it makes any sense.

Worse is the music. Whomever wrote it must surely lie in davy jones locker, keel-hauled or made to walk the plank. At it’s best, it sounds like 70’s teevee show theme songs, wildly inappropriate to setting and style. At worst, in the action scenes, it inexplicably becomes circus music, ‘dee-dee-deedle-deedle-dee-dee, dee-dee‘. It’s like someone was kidding when they turned in this sound track and the poor director didn’t know to toss it and start over. It’s truly some of the worst music I’ve ever heard in a theatrical film.

I got all the way through it. It’s not horrific. There’s actually plenty to enjoy; Shaw’s performance as Lynch is all sneering, laughing piracy, and in a better film would have been truly memorable. Bujold’s pure eye candy, and while I can’t say I fell in love the way I did back when I first saw the film, had I been Lynch, I would not have spared her my foul attentions, nor did I do so last night in my head after the movie was over. the other star turns, Jones and Boyle and Beau Bridges, and an unspeaking but young and stunning Anjelica Huston (credited evocatively as Woman of Dark Visage) are all entertaining. The trouble is they’ve got nothing to do, no real script to work with, and ham-fisted direction. It wants to be a decent movie, with the cast and the setting, and the characters; with a script, a director, and god, please, better music, it could have been Pirates of the Caribbean 25 years earlier.

But you know, I still want to be Red Ned Lynch. Because certainly, I’m not a gentleman, even if I’m not exactly an irishman.

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