Hollywood Mysteries

I used to review movies, first for the Daily Bruin when I was attending UCLA, and then for Los Angeles magazine. Even I’m amazed that I could stand to do it for 12 years when, at the end of each year, I was hard-pressed to come up with a list of the 10 Best. To be perfectly frank, my list usually had three or four pretty good ones, another few that were okay, and two or three that were, at most, preferable to undergoing a prostate exam.

Still and all, I will state that I had a far easier task than those who have to sit through movies these days and file reports on the experience. For one thing, people like Billy Wilder, William Wyler, John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock, were still making movies back then. Today, you’ve got James Cameron, Wes Anderson, Tim Burton and Kathryn Bigelow, and Hollywood is actually handing out Oscars to the likes of The Hurt Locker, Forrest Gump, Crash, The English Patient, No Country for Old Men and Titanic.

Another problem with the movies is that apparently inside every funny man is a heartthrob yearning to get out. So it was that Burt Reynolds tried to be Clark Gable, Eddie Murphy decided to quit trying for laughs in his attempt to be Billy Dee Williams, and Ben Stiller, for some really odd reason, apparently had his heart set on being some cadaver-like, hollow-cheeked, fellow. Perhaps a Jewish Richard Widmark. It may have helped these guys get girls, but it only served to remind people how much better the originals were.

Nobody knows better than I that when it comes to movies, only our taste in food and drink tends to be nearly as subjective. For instance, I have no favorites when it comes to war movies. I simply don’t care for them. It’s not that I object to violence in movies, either, because two of my all-time favorite films are Godfather and The Untouchables.

Another genre that rarely holds any appeal for me is westerns. But at least I have enjoyed some of them, although it pains me to confess that none of them were directed by John Ford. The seven I have liked are Destry Rides Again, The Westerner, Red River, High Noon, Shane, Support Your Local Sheriff and Quigley Down Under. I just noticed that although John Wayne only appeared in one of them and Gary Cooper in two, Walter Brennan had feature roles in three of the seven.

This brings us to the last movie I saw, the highly acclaimed Argo. The film deals with the rescue of the six American foreign service employees who evaded capture by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s thugs in Iran, back in 1979, by hiding out in the home of Canada’s ambassador.

It seems that the State Department considered getting them out by smuggling in bicycles and then having them pedal their way to safety through angry mobs to Iraq, a mere 300 miles away. That made about as much sense as donning Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and clicking their heels, while repeating “There’s no place like home.”

The plan the CIA finally put in place didn’t seem a great deal more plausible. It consisted of pretending to scout Iran as the site for a Canadian sci-fi movie called Argo, and smuggling out the six hostages, passing them off as members of the film crew.

The problem for me is that the movie started out pretty funny, thanks to John Goodman and Alan Arkin as the producers of Argo, and it had a pretty exciting conclusion. But in between, the movie was all filler, killing time until the final escape mainly by showing the hostages griping about having to remain indoors and their CIA rescuer, portrayed by the film’s actual director, Ben Affleck, boozing a lot and looking worried. The middle hour of the movie is so boring, it will put your teeth to sleep.

Frankly, I don’t know why anyone sets out to make suspenseful movies based on actual events. I mean, really, how suspenseful can any movie be when you know how everything turns out ahead of time. I would say that Apollo 13 made a pretty good stab at it. But I never understood why the novel Day of the Jackal was so successful or why it led to not one, but two movie versions. Did anyone actually think the Jackal was going to assassinate Charles De Gaulle? Well, maybe Democrats did. For one thing, they don’t know their history. For another, they’ll believe just about anything.

Another thing that annoyed me about Argo is that prior to the closing credits, there was writing on the screen that brought you up to date on some of the characters. One of the things mentioned was that the following year, on January 20, 1980, the remaining hostages were released by Iran after 444 days in captivity.

What it failed to point out was that it was the very day that Jimmy Carter left the White House and Ronald Reagan took up residence. Anybody who believes that was a mere coincidence no doubt believes that Barack Obama is just the guy to stop Iran from getting its dirty mitts on a nuclear bomb.

©2012 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? Write BurtPrelutsky@aol.com.

Author Bio:

Burt Prelutsky, a very nice person once you get to know him, has been a humor columnist for the L.A. Times and a movie critic for Los Angeles magazine. As a freelancer, he has written for the New York Times, Washington Times, TV Guide, Modern Maturity, Emmy, Holiday, American Film, and Sports Illustrated. For television, he has written for Dragnet, McMillan & Wife, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Bob Newhart, Family Ties, Dr. Quinn and Diagnosis Murder. In addition, he has written a batch of terrific TV movies. View Burt’s IMDB profile. Talk about being well-rounded, he plays tennis and poker... and rarely cheats at either. He lives in the San Fernando Valley, where he takes his marching orders from a wife named Yvonne and a dog named Angel.
Author website: http://www.burtprelutsky.com/
  • http://twitter.com/MissoulaHome Kris

    Burt- I liked Apollo 13- though I knew the ending (I sat in front of Walter for what seemed like an eternity!). What I enjoyed was the story in between- though admittedly, they didn’t get ALL the story in there- it was fun to learn more of the internal workings of the event. God works in mysterious ways and Ken Mattingly had to stay behind and work to solve the problem. He was a hero too!

  • FloridaJim

    I do not patronize films I find them to be shallow and agenda driven. Hollywood consists of rich people who work very little and make a fortune living in Utah or other exclusive environments be moaning global warming caused by everyone but themselves. How could anyone not see through these fools they mostly have little talent and god has blessed them extraordinarily with money but few brains and little common sense. They do not miss my attendance nor do I miss their shallowness.

    How many times can Robert Redford whine about conservatives while enriching those who destroy black families with “free stuff”?

    Here is what FDR said about the Obama policy: “”The lessons of history … show conclusively that continued
    dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration
    fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole out relief
    in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the
    human spirit.”

    No of course that wasn’t President Barrack Obama, but in fact it was
    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1935 State of the Union

  • 49corvette

    “Manchurian Candidate” 1962 , “The Train” Burt Lancaster , and “Duel” Dennis Weaver—3 exceptionial films—Good ones in my book—I could go on : “On the Beach” , “Dark at the Top of the Stairs” , and yes , even “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” ( Byron Haskins directed the latter )—but I won’t—BTW—I agree—the only good part of Hanks / Gump was “Turn Turn Turn” by Byrds on the music track—Thank You for allowing me to comment on this Forum—and…my2cents—thanx for reading

  • http://shawmut.blogspot.com/ Dave O’Connor

    Imagine the options if the only choice was between – The “Awards” or “Yawn Along with John Kerry”.

  • sheila0405

    Finally! Someone else who apparently didn’t like “Forrest Gump”. The only bright spot in the film was the gritty acting of Gary Sinise in the hospital scenes, when he was first struggling to cope with his injuries. I found the insertion of Gump into real historic news footage to be a schtick that made me cringe. The movie was way too long, I had no sympathy at all for Jenny, and it mainly was a bunch of folks all around Gump whining about their lives. That whole “life is like a box of chocolates” line was just stupid. All of Gump’s cliches were stupid. One of the most boring films I ever had to sit through.

    • Burt Prelutsky

      sheila: I hated “Gump” for all those reasons. But I also hated it because he was supposed to be a war hero, a billionaire, Fortune’s Man of the Year, an All American football player, etc., etc, and yet he sat on a bus bench and nobody recognized him. I also hated him because he gave half his fortune to the ungrateful black woman, but did nothing for his mother. What’s more, in spite of his mother’s sacrifices having made his life possible, he gave his Medal of Honor to Jenny, who handed it over to her hippy boyfriend, who dropped it in a pail of urine. It also made me hate Americans for being so stupid as to make the movie a big hit and for believing that the line about a box of chocolates was profound. After that, it was almost inevitable they would elect and re-elect Barack Obama.


  • JohnInMA

    I don’t watch movies in the same volume I did, say, ten and twenty years ago (and more….). But it sure feels like I’ve had to adapt to movies that are less about storytelling, requiring I follow plots, subplots, and innuendo, spoken and communicated otherwise. Now, I find the best way to enjoy much of what I see – or in modern parlance, the best way “to be entertained” – is to sort of ratchet my brain down and let it go into the world of fantasy and visual stimulation. Sure, I probably need to be ‘receptive’ to aural stimulation while in my entertainment coma, too. Even Titanic was mediocre at best in acting and dialog, but somewhat captivating through sensations. I do still find some that work for me, like There Will Be Blood. For me it required some character study (meaning thought) and attention to certain details to really grasp some of the messages, for example. Not that I was fully eager about it entirely, once at the end, but it worked overall.

    But the awards ceremonies and the selections themselves are the closest thing to ‘collective masturbation’ you can find in public (not censored or illegal). I predict Argo will win many more awards because, after all, Hollywood is the hero!!!! (well, Hollywood in Canada, but still…) And a fully accepted Hollywood insider will get all the credit – Affleck – so it’s lock in my view. If I bet on things like that instead of sports, I could turn a good profit.

    • Burt Prelutsky

      John: Movies are dumber because audiences are dumber. Hard for a movie, “Argo,” to win when its director didn’t even get nominated. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but I’m still betting on the mediocre “Lincoln.” I hated “Titanic.”
      I hated everything about it, including its story, its dialogue, DiCaprio, its music, its director and its length.

      I also didn’t care for “There Will Be Blood.”


      • JohnInMA

        And yet it won, so I read.

  • gahrump

    Burt, I agree with most of movie examples, although I haven’t seen any of the new ones mentioned. But yes Destry rides again , High Noon, wonderful! but the others? one man’s meat etc. The first Jackal, come on , I knew history and I still enjoyed the filling to get to the fake ending. I imagine half the world would have loved to gotten rid of DeGaulle if only in fantasy. Titanic, I knew the boat sank, I knew James Cameron’s work, I knew who starred in it, didn’t bother to see it. Love your posts, makes me laugh and think, sometimes both at the same time.

    • Burt Prelutsky

      gahrump: Do you recall in the first “Jackal” that we saw the assassin making his own bullets? Do you recall that he filled the bullets with an explosive so that it would explode on contact? Do you recall that when the cop burst into the room at the end, forcing the Jackal’s shot to miss its target, we saw the bullet hit the pavement? Did you notice it didn’t explode?! So, on top of everything else, we had sloppy movie making to deal with.

      But enough about me. What does “gahrump” mean?


      • http://www.facebook.com/bob.forman.1428 Bob Forman

        Burt, It looked to me the bullets did explode. Exploding bullets are not the Hollywood type that have much more force per ounce than Fat Man or Little Boy. We used to fire them from our 50s in Vietnam but only at night where they made a really neat but small blue flame on impact. During the light of day, as in the movie, they made a rather unimpressive puff.

        • Burt Prelutsky

          Bob: I don’t recall a puff of any size. That’s why it grabbed my attention.


      • gahrump

        Burt I have to admit that you are right but it was the end of the movie and ,bottom line, he missed! BTW gahrump means “grumpy in Pahrump” that’s what people around here call me, I don’t know why. But Burt it’s word play I thought you’d like it.