Monthly Archives: June 2014

Insomniac Theatre: Ride Lonesome

Well, now that I’ve gotten a rant out of the way, how about I get back into the business of watching some movies, huh?  It’s not that there haven’t been movies I haven’t seen; it’s just that there’s been so little time for me to watch them.  I mean, when you think about it, the last movie I watched was Dead Poets Society, and that was back in December!

A part of the problem was that Jeremy The TiVo: Episode IV: A New Hope became pretty damned hopeless over the past couple of months.  Meaning I felt like I had almost nothing on my DVR list, and yet my capacity was at 91%.  I had to go through and delete a few movies that I wanted to watch, and there were a couple of TV shows’ pilots I wanted to see if I’d like, but I guess in retrospect Jeremy was trying to tell me something, seeing as how almost all of those shows were canceled.

[Sidenote: You know what wasn’t canceled?  HANNIBAL.  So I would like to preemptively apologize for my behavior from February through May of 2015, because HANNIBAL.  EVERYTHING IS HANNIBAL AND NOTHING HURTS.]

[Note from The Future: I totally wrote that above paragraph before I watched the season finale.  Because now EVERYTHING IS HANNIBAL AND EVERYTHING HURTS.]

So flash-forward to tonight, where the television season is officially over (even Orphan Black HOLY SHIT ORPHAN BLACK YOU GUYS) and I may have taken a nap this evening instead of staying awake and getting other shit done, so since my sleep cycle’s screwed for the weekend, I can reinstate Insomniac Theatre for a night.

I dug out Ye Olde Martini Shaker of Choosing, and tonight’s selection is:


A bounty hunter escorts a killer to town to be hanged, but is allowing the man’s outlaw brother to catch up to him, for a showdown over a shocking previous murder.

At first glance, my readers (all five of you) are probably scratching their heads over the possible reason that this movie would have been recorded off of TCM. This movie doesn’t star Bette Davis, or Barbara Stanwyck, or have a ridiculous premise.  This is also a Western, and Westerns haven’t really come up as a genre on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen.  So what’s up with this?

Well, for the reason I would watch something called Ride Lonesome, you have to go to a barely-watched TV show that aired on ABC Family a few years ago that was canceled after one season, and it was a damn shame that it was canceled, because it is one of my favorite TV shows, and I don’t talk about it much, but I really should:


The Middleman was a crazy sci-fi show about a Middleman (on the left), who was, to quote the Wikipedia article about it, a freelancer who cleans up the earth’s exotic problems, ranging from aliens that love shopping to mad scientists who create gangster gorillas to take over the world.  In the pilot episode, the Middleman hires Wendy (on the right) to be his Middleman-in-Training.  With their snarky android, Ida, they take care of the aforementioned exotic problems.

But that’s not all!  There’s the fact that Wendy is badass and independent and while she gets a boyfriend in the last half of the season, she doesn’t become all goopy about him.  She’s an artist and enjoys playing violent first-person shooter zombie games.  Her roommate, Lacey, is a vegan animal rights spokesperson who is sweet and yet also brings the sass when necessary.

And I didn’t even mention all the pop culture references!  Every episode has a theme – the pilot has overt references to The Godfather and Goodfellas, but also subtle references to the James Bond canon – although that’s nothing like the episode where Kevin Sorbo guest-stars as a former Middleman. There’s also an entire episode devoted to Die Hard.  YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE DIE HARD, YOU GUYS.

So what does this have to do with Ride Lonesome?  In one of the episodes, The Middleman says that he has seen the first act of this movie sixteen times, but due to one thing or another, has never been able to finish watching the movie: he’s always called away to save the world.  There’s a whole sideplot about Lacey meeting up with the Middleman to watch the movie as a date, but that’s not quite germane to why I recorded it.

Basically, I didn’t realize it was a real movie until I saw that TCM was showing it. So I decided to tape it and see if I could watch more of it than The Middleman could.

Also, in a weird twist of fate: a few weeks ago, I had to watch something to get the AWFULNESS of Hannibal (SPOILER: MASON FED HIS OWN FACE TO WILL’S DOGS I. CAN’T. EVEN.) (Note From The Future: ALAINA YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S COMING IN THE SEASON FINALE MASON FEEDING HIS FACE TO WILL’S DOGS IS NOT THE MOST HURT YOUR HEART WILL FEEL), so I put in Blazing Saddles.  And that night, I watched this scene, and I was all, “Who’s Randolph Scott?”  And then I found out that Randolph Scott is the star of Ride Lonesome.  SYNERGY.

So basically, everything was coming up Milhouse.  Also, apparently this movie is only an hour and a half long! Woo hoo!  Good choice, Ye Olde Martini Shaker of Choosing!

Well, the first thing I learned is that The Middleman lied to me – this was filmed in color!  WAIT James Coburn is in this?  That’s a name I recognize!

The credits roll under some music that is both heroic and also incredibly depressing, if that’s possible.  A cowboy comes riding out of some stone formations in what I presume is Arizona, and then there’s another cowboy with his own horse and the guy is drinking some coffee on an overlook.  Pretty far to go for a scenic first cup o’the day, dude.  Dude’s just sipping his coffee, talking to his horse like everything he’s doing is normal.

Coffee Guy greets the first guy and calls him McGee.  Coffee Guy is apparently named Billy.  Apparently McGee is a bounty hunter, and he’s trying to bring Billy back to Santa Cruz to face justice.  McGee’s been tailing Billy for three days. Why’d you sit there, Billy?  If you had a three-day head start, why’d you stop at Starbucks for coffee?

Billy must not ride lonesome, because he’s got a sniper friend up in the rocks above them who takes a shot at McGee.  Billy tries to sell McGee on the fact that there are a ton more sniper friends hiding in the rocks, and if McGee rides away and lets Billy go, Billy won’t go after McGee cuz he don’t have no quarrel with him.  McGee says that if Billy tries to kill him, he’ll take him out with him. Ow – my head hurts from too many similiar pronouns.  Do y’all get that sentence?  Good, because I ain’t going back to fix it.

Oh shit – don’t let me slip into Cowboy parlance.

McGee tells Billy to call his boys off, and basically McGee calls Billy’s bluff because there’s only one dude up there with a BB gun.  Okay – so there’s this hilarious little bit that is played totally straight, I’m the asshole that thinks it’s funny, where Billy straight-up shouts at the mysterious sniper named Charlie, that he has to go find Billy’s brother Frank, and tell Frank that McGee is taking Billy back to Santa Cruz, and apparently Frank will know what to do.  I don’t know what that means, but I’m not even ten minutes in and I remembered why I don’t really like Westerns.

Anyway, Billy and McGee are almost right friendly-like, as McGee handcuffs Billy and makes him get on his horse to take him back to Santa Cruz. There’s some scenery shots, designed to make us all nostalgic for the wild wild west, and guys, time out – it’s no — WHAT IN THE DAMN HELL

Uh, sorry. I’m watching this late at night and I just heard a weird sneeze-slash-growl coming from outside, and when I went out to my deck to investigate (because I live in the woods and my deck is on the second floor and also if Hannibal were to kill me so he could eat me he wouldn’t make noise sneaking up on me [he’d take off his shoes and do it in his stocking feet] [PHRASING]), and lo and behold, I see a freaking raccoon trying to eat the suet out of the landlady’s birdfeeder.

So as I was saying before Meeko so rudely interrupted me – it’s no Anchorman, but I really enjoyed A Million Ways to Die In the West.  Something tells me I’ll probably be making a bunch of references to that movie in this review – especially the part about how the West looks beautiful and brilliant, but really, everything in the West is trying to kill you.

Back to the movie!  McGee and Billy are riding their horses through beautiful scenery that undoubtedly hides rattlesnakes, scorpions, and devastating Native American curses that will all kill you while you sleep.  They end up at an pueblo outpost or something.  McGee asks if anyone’s home, and the person who’s home tells McGee to drop his gun.  He does, and the guy who comes out is apparently someone McGee knows named Bones? And apparently Billy’s full name is Billy-John.  And thanks to a check of the imdb., I’ve gotten a lot of these names wrong.  McGee is actually named Ben Brigade, and Bones is named Boone, and now I just want to hit the sound guy, because he did a shitty job mixing this movie.

Boone and Brigade are talking about Brigade’s plan on traveling to Santa Cruz, and everyone’s being all friendly-like when a woman comes out of the pueblo with a shotgun.  Apparently this is a way-station for a stagecoach and the station-master’s disappeared.  The woman wants everybody gone, but Boone doesn’t want to leave her alone while the station-master’s missing.  I’m sure that’s the reason.  Anyway, Brigade sees that the west-bound stage is coming, so maybe everyone can put down their guns and let’s see what the stagecoach brings.

Boone tells the woman to get back in the kitchen and make everyone on the stagecoach sandwiches, and while he says it rather nicely, the patriarchal sentiment remains.  Brigade just watches the stagecoach come riding in, and Boone wonders aloud if Brigade thinks Boone and his men are just waiting to rob the stagecoach. Boone says Brigade’s wrong about him; Brigade responds “am I?”

And then the stagecoach runs right into the animal pen, because the coach driver has a big fucking spear sticking out of his chest.  The “dried” “blood” painted on his shirt is practically DayGlo orange.  Oh, this budget is bad – can’t even research that dried blood is more brown than red.  Boone and Brigade determine (based on the feathers attached to the spear, maybe?) that the murderers is/are the neighboring Mescalero tribe.  I was gonna say “that’s not … a real place,” but then I googled it and apparently the Mescalero is a tribe within the Apache nation.  Goddamn public school education!

Boone and his man buries the coachman and the dead riders from the coach. Boone’s coworker wonders why the Mescalero attacked; as far as he knew, “we” had a treaty with them.  Boone then likens the Mescalero tribe to a woman who killed her husband because she got mad at him over nothing. I just shake my head.

Later that night, the woman brings something out to the stagecoach where apparently Brigade has decided to spend the night.  There are at least three coyotes singing in the background.  Keep them away from your birdfeeders, lady!

The lady wonders why her husband hasn’t returned.  Brigade doesn’t really care, because either way you slice it, her husband brought her to the West and then left her alone at the way-station.  She proclaims that she can take care of herself, and Brigade says that if she were his she wouldn’t have to. The lady – WHO HAS YET TO BE NAMED, BY THE WAY – asks what he means, and Brigade responds that he wouldn’t have brought her out here to the middle of nowhere and then left her alone.  She says that her husband’s job brought them out here; Brigade answers that he should find a better one. She sarcastically responds “like Bounty Hunting?” and I yell IT WORKED FOR BOBA FETT. Brigade changes the subject by acknowledging that the little woman cooks good coffee.  Oh, brother.  But apparently, her name is Mrs. Lane and if you will excuse me, Meeko’s sneezing again.

Brigade tells Mrs. Lane to get some sleep, he’ll be taking her with them on his way back to Santa Cruz.  Boone comes out to tell Brigade that the reason he and his friend are out in the middle of nowhere is because the good people of Santa Cruz has granted amnesty to anyone who brings Billy-John in. There’s also a line where Boone admits it took them a week to figure out what ‘amnesty’ meant, so I can’t even make a joke here.  Essentially, Boone tells Brigade that he and his man are tagging along with Brigade to swoop Billy-John out from under his nose and turn him in so they can get amnesty for their crimes. Brigade doesn’t say a word besides telling Boone to keep an eye on Billy-John for both their sakes.

The next morning, the boys are planning out their route when a delegate from the Mescalero tribe approaches. He throws his spear into the ground and circles his horse around it three times: apparently this is the Internationally Known Gesture that stands for “he wants to talk.”  Brigade speaks Mescalero (of course he does), so he goes over and finds out what they want.  Apparently, the Mescalero want to trade something for … Mrs. Lane.


Brigade: He’s got a horse, wants to make a trade.
Mrs. Lane: For what?
Brigade: You. He said they’d been seeing you here.  He wants to take you for his squaw.
Boone: So what do we do now?
Brigade: Play along with ’em.
Mrs. Lane: Play along with them?
Brigade: If we don’t, we’re apt to stir up every buck in the country.


Okay.  Now that I’ve got that off my chest (and also rewatched last night’s episode of The Daily Show wherein my new hero, Ms. Jessica Williams, outlined the double standard in college campus safety talks), I can continue with this movie.

Brigade tells Mrs. Lane that he’s not going to go through with the deal (if this were a modern movie, he’d accompany that with an eyeroll and a sarcastic “obvi”), but she’s not supposed to say anything or break down, as saying something or breaking down would bring shame to the Mescaleros, and then they’d attack them later or something.  The Mescalero brings out the horse that apparently they found, and Mrs. Lane takes a look at the horse and starts bawling.  The Mescalero take the horse and … the horses they rode in on, I guess, and run away. Brigade now actually rolls his eyes and asks what the fuck, Mrs. Lane, I thought you said you didn’t break easy?  She coldly replies, “That was my husband’s horse,” and returns to the pueblo.  [*sad trombone noise*]

Later that day, they all mount their horses and ride off towards Santa Cruz.  I don’t know why this movie is called “Ride Lonesome” if it’s a group of five people riding, but whatever.

Boone and Brigade discuss Mrs. Lane and how pretty she is, and how if Boone was wanting to trade, he’d — WHAT IN THE DAMN HELL

… goddammit, Meeko!  Stay out of the effing birdfeeders!

Anyway, for Boone, he’d give up an entire herd of wild horses in trade for Mrs. Lane, because she’s the prettiest thing on two legs with a vagina west of the Pecos, or something equally cowboy-ish and awful.  Brigade’s response?  “She’s not ugly.”  THANKS, BRIGADE.  JESUS.  Then Boone tries to change the subject to Billy-John’s brother Frank, but then Brigade says that they’re in “medicine country,” and the Mescaleros are waiting for them over that ridge.  What — medicine country?  Does that mean that everyone who lives in that area is a doctor?

The Brigade …er, Brigade, I guess, turn their horses up to “gallup” and end up in an even worse shack than the pueblo way-station they were in.  Somebody shoots Mrs. Lane’s horse out from under her, and Brigade tries to hold the Native Americans off while the rest of the group runs into the burnt-out shell of a shack and basically, it’s a gun fight and a whole lotta trick falling on the part of the horses.

At one point, all the men are reloading while a Native American runs up.  Brigade nods at Mrs. Lane, because she’s the only one with bullets in her gun, nods at the advancing Native American, and yells “get ’em!”  Mrs. Lane “fires” her gun (because there is absolutely no recoil on that thing, nor is there even the requisite puff of smoke), and when the bullet “hits” the Native American, he merely grasps his chest like Fred Sanford pretending to go up to see Elizabeth and then falls over.  Mrs. Lane is horrified that she killed a man.  Yay remorse!


Boone: Sure beats all, don’t it?  What a man’ll put himself through to get his hands on a woman.  Can’t say as I blame ’em, though.


Seriously – after the shenanigans with Meeko outside, I’m giving serious thought to canning this and watching Pocahontas.  And I haven’t been able to sit through Pocahontas for about … how long as Mel Gibson been crazy now?  That long.

While I’ve been contemplating quitting this (oh, it’s just an empty threat – I’ve never quit on a movie before), Frank and his boys have arrived somewhere and decided to keep moving.  I’m not sure where they ended up, but they counted five horses.  It can’t be the place where the Brigade Brigade is staying, though, or else they’d have found five people to go along with the five horses.  MYSTERY.

Later that night, Brigade gives Mrs. Lane a blanket and then wanders off to be Batman (I’m guessing; he doesn’t seem able to sleep and he has an overdeveloped sense of justice).  Boone talks with his lackey and proposes that maybe Brigade wants Frank to catch up to their brigade.  Then the two of them reaffirm that they are going to go with Brigade and turn Billy-John in so they can get their precious amnesty.

Oh good, it’s time for another one of Brigade’s day-for-nighttime talks with Mrs. Lane.  She pets her horse that happens to have a broken leg and tells Brigade that her husband wanted her to go home or to a town or something, but she couldn’t leave her husband.  Brigade understands.  Mrs. Lane wants to know if Brigade’s really the type of person who’d hunt a man for money, and Brigade confirms that he is that man.  Then she goes off to bed (“I made a place for you in the wall, for you to sleep” – THE WEST IS ALWAYS TRYING TO KILL YOU SO MUCH THAT SHE HAS TO SLEEP IN THE WALL) while he hunkers down next to the horse he didn’t put out of its misery and goes to sleep.  Billy-John attempts to escape where he’s been handcuffed to a wagon, but I’m not sure he’s successful.

The next morning, Boone’s lackey is holding a mirror up so Boone can shave. Okay, SHENANIGANS. A of all, where’d he get shaving cream in the West?  B of all, with a crazed brother of a con coming after them, why’d he take the time to shave?  Oh, he wants to impress Mrs. Lane.  Jackass.


Boone: She’s sure something, ain’t she?  Said she was married to that station feller about a year.  Can you imagine having her around all that time?  All them days? … Nights?  Just thinking on it gives me a way-down shiver.


Lackey: I wonder what she’ll do now, she’s without a man?
Alaina: Probably the same thing she did at least once a week while her husband was away, no big deal.
Boone: Find another.
Lackey: But if she loved that feller hard enough, she’d stay a widow, wouldn’t she?
Boone: Ain’t the kind.
Alaina: Really?  You can tell that Mrs. Lane, who can shoot straighter than you, is the type who can’t be without a man for too long?  Jesus Chr–
Boone: Not her.Some are; some get along without.  But not her.  She’s the kind that’s got a need.  A deep, lonely need that only a man can get at.
Lackey: But how do you know?
Boone: I’ve seen it in her eyes.
Alaina: …. …. …. he’s going to rape her.

Boone, I will bet you American dollars that what you think is lust is actually hatred.  Because no woman in her right mind should ever want you.

Mrs. Lane’s walking back to her literal hole in the wall, I presume, when Billy-John calls to her from his spot at the wagon.  Billy-John warns her that The Terrible Frank is on his way, and he’d make sure nothing happened to her (“because you’re a woman and all”) if she took pity on him and let him go. Except Billy-John didn’t count on Brigade’s Batman-like sense of hearing, who heard him whispering practically all the way across the desert. Brigade goes to unhitch Billy-John from the wagon but Billy-John pulls a rifle out from under his blanket and points it in Brigade’s gut.  Boone almost just laughs at Billy-John, because that’s Boone’s Winchester rifle, and after he accidentally shot himself in the leg while riding once (*deep breath* HHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA IT’S TOO BAD IT WASN’T YOUR DICK, DIRTBAG), he never carried it loaded after that, so if Billy-John was stupid enough to grab that rifle, then he’s pointing an empty gun at Brigade.  But yeah, go ahead and try it. Billy-John calls Boone’s bluff and drops the gun.  Boone walks over and shoots it, and sure enough, it is loaded.  The shotgun blast makes the horse THAT I THOUGHT HAD A BROKEN LEG jump up, so apparently the shotgun blast healed the horse, just not in the way we all would have thought.

The Brigade Brigade goes riding off into the … sun.  And there’s more long shots of scenery and dust being kicked up by the horses and HOW HAVE I ONLY WATCHED 45 MINUTES OF THIS THING HOLY HELL I’m getting ice cream.

Man, is there anything better than vanilla ice cream with peanut butter swirl? Well, I guess if you’re allergic to peanuts … y’know?  Never mind.

While I was eating peanut butter ice cream straight from the carton (and not a Ben & Jerry’s pint, I’m poor now — poor and experiencing a severe lack of clean bowls, apparently [goddamn, I have got to do the dishes tomorrow.  And by “do the dishes,” I of course mean ‘turn on the damn dishwasher.”]), Boone offered to pay Brigade double Billy-John’s bounty in exchange for letting him and his lackey turn Billy-John in for their precious amnesty.  Brigade doesn’t take him up on it.

Meanwhile, Frank and his goons show up at the place where the Brigade Brigade spent the night last night.  He practically licks the dust and determines that they slept there the night before (I think in actuality he finds the spent shell from when Boone shot the shotgun and cured the horse), and tells one of his minions that he figured out that Brigade is letting him catch up to them, because years ago, Frank “did Brigade a hurt” and now Brigade wants to get even with him for it.  Frank tells the minions to take a load off and let the horses rest, because Brigade will be waiting for them.

The Brigade Brigade comes upon a hanging tree, and for a second I thought it was a people!pole, but that’s because I was just reading an article about how Hannibal is the best, no really, it is, SHUT UP IT IS SO and also I’m tired yet also high on the largest amount of caffeine I’ve had in weeks.  (hooray!)  Boone says that years ago, Brigade would’ve probably strung Billy-John up hisownself, but now Brigade just tells them to move on.

That night, Boone’s Lackey and Billy-John start talking about how Boone and the Lackey will get amnesty (“Oh, that WORD again! I don’t even know what it means!” NAME THAT MOVIE) if they turn Billy-John in at Santa Cruz.  Billy-John’s still angling to escape, so he tries to appeal to the Lackey’s sense of human decency, by saying that if Frank happens to catch up to them, Mrs. Lane might get caught in the crossfire, and he “wouldn’t want to see a woman all shot up and dead, would ya?”  Oh, brother.  Then Boone shows up and stops the Lackey from helping Billy-John, then asks where Mrs. Lane is.  Apparently, she’s down by the riverbank. Alone.

Oh, god.  I do not have a good feeling about this.  I’m going to get pissed off again, aren’t I?

Boone meets up with Mrs. Lane at the riverbank.  Boone offers to “take care of her” when they get to Santa Cruz, and she turns him down.  He doesn’t immediately hate her for friendzoning him, but he does tell her that Brigade won’t be making it to Santa Cruz because Boone’s going to kill him.

Well, that sends Mrs. Lane right off to see Brigade, who is standing and watching the hanging tree (which happens to be the lesser-known, more-depressing sequel to The Giving Tree).  Mrs. Lane tattles on Boone, tells Brigade that Boone plans to kill him, and she jumps to the conclusion that they’re fighting over the measly bounty of Billy-John.  (That’s a good title for a novel: The Measly Bounty of Billy-John. Damn, I’m good sometimes.)  Anyway, FINALLY, Brigade explains to Mrs. Lane what’s actually going on:

Years ago, Brigade was the sheriff of Santa Cruz, and he brought Frank in for murder.  When Frank was shoved off to Yuma, he yelled that he would get even with Brigade for this.  When Frank gets out of jail and returns to Santa Cruz, he doesn’t meet Brigade for a showdown; instead, he kidnaps Brigade’s wife and then hangs her on this here hangin’ tree.  So clearly, this isn’t about Billy-John at all, and Boone was hiding in the bushes listening to everything, because he’s so insecure about his manhood he needs to make sure that the girl won’t end up with Brigade.

Boone sends his Lackey up to the ridge to keep an eye out for Frank.  Boone then repeats his offer to Mrs. Lane, who again politely turns him down.  The Lackey returns to camp and tells them who’s coming for breakfast.  Boone sends his Lackey into the brush to take care of Mrs. Lane, but Boone tells Brigade that he and the Lackey will cover him, even though it doesn’t change anything with regards to Billy-John.

Brigade brings Billy-John out to the Hanging Tree and confronts Frank.  Billy-John’s already got his neck in a noose, and there is the most pitiful shoot-out I’ve ever seen.  Brigade manages to shoot Frank in one, then Boone and the Lackey (opening next month for Lando and the Droids!) almost take out a minion each, but when they see that Frank has fallen they turn tail and run.  In addition, Brigade manages to save Billy-John from dying at the Hanging Tree.

At which point Boone comes out and once more asks Brigade if he and the Lackey can have Billy-John for their precious amnesty (also, the new hit single from Boone & the Lackey).  At this point, I’m really hoping Brigade just gives the dope to the two of them, because he got revenge for his wife and by my count, this should all be over by now.  But instead, Brigade, says “come and get him” to Boone, and DEAR GOD WHY IS THIS MOVIE NOT OVER YET

Oh, it’s all a big fake out, because yes, Brigade doesn’t have any need of Billy-John anymore, so he lets them go ahead and take the idiot to Santa Cruz to get their amnesty.  Mrs. Lane asks Brigade if he’s still going on to Santa Cruz, and he says no.  She understands.  I DON’T

Brigade stays behind to burn the Hanging Tree while the rest of the Brigade goes off to Santa Cruz and HOLY SHIT THE MOVIE IS OVER

Dear Middleman:

You didn’t miss much.  Also, I’m probably going to take 45 minutes and rewatch “The Cursed Tuba Contingency” because I really don’t understand why you want to see this movie so badly.  I mean, sure, Brigade has an overwhelming sense of justice, but THE MISOGYNY IS HORRIFYING.


Okay, so that’s that.  And apparently deleting the movie didn’t remove any percentage from Jeremy the TiVo, so I’m probably going to a couple more of these next week.  Meanwhile, I’m going to — WHAT IN THE DAMN HELL

… *sigh*  Fuck you, Meeko.

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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Insomniac Theatre


Alaina Rants On: Maleficent

My poor, poor neglected movie blog.  I promise, I will soon get back to the Insomniac Theatre routine (although my definition of “insomniac” has changed slightly, seeing as how I rarely stay up past midnight, let alone into the wee hours of the morning anymore) and the List.  But first, there’s been a lot of discussion about this film, and one of my friends (Sarah – YOU GUYS ALL KNOW SARAH) said she would be interested in my take on this topic, and while I admit that I’m now pretty much two weeks behind the curve, I’ve never let an opportunity to rant and/or ramble pass me by.

I saw Maleficent on opening night — Dad and I were supposed to go see The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but when Maleficent opened, Spidey’s evening showings mysteriously disappeared, so he and Mom and I went to see Maleficent instead. I had been wary of seeing Maleficent since I heard of its inception (referenced handily here in the middle of this entry at my reading blog), and I have to say that my gut instinct turned out to be right, because after the first twenty minutes, I realized how the story was gonna end up, and I may have sat through the rest of the film like this:


Backstory time!  I grew up with a lot of Disney movies, many of which were recorded off of our free Disney channel weekends purchased legally at the Disney Store before it went out of the business of Disney memorabilia.  One of my favorites was Sleeping Beauty.  I can’t exactly pinpoint why I watched it over and over — it may have had something to do with being on the same VHS as the Disney-channel-recorded … NO it was on the same VHS as The Great Muppet Caper!  THAT’S why I watched it so much, I freaking love that movie!

Anyway, Reasons Why I Love Sleeping Beauty: Phillip was the first prince to have a personality (and actual dialogue, to my knowledge, though I bet if anyone could confirm that it would be mine and Sarah’s friend Brian [who I follow on Twitter], who watched all of the Disney animated movies in about a year), and his horse had a personality too!  (I suppose one could argue that the friendship between Phillip and Samson was one of the first Bromances I ever encountered). The fairies were both sweet and smart, but Merryweather was the best one, and if you disagree, I will fight you.  (I may still say “I still think what I thunk before” because of this movie, and no, even the grammar nerd in me won’t apologize for that.)  I mean come on — tell me Aurora looks better in the pink than in the blue. I dare you.

But most of all, there was Maleficent.

maleficent1 Disney

Look at her – talk about having grace and beauty; I wish had her posture.  And in this still, she looks like she’s just a normal fairy, showing up to give her present to the baby.  I mean, clearly a woman with that headpiece and letting her raven perch on her walking stick maybe isn’t the nicest person in the world, and sure, when she arrives she shows up in a lightning bolt and a burst of fierce wind, but it’s not like she storms in and starts mowing people down like Voldemort or some other villain that I wish I could think of in this moment.  She’s almost serene in her evil.

Basically, I loved Maleficent.  I loved how delightfully evil she was.  I loved how she stood up for what she believed in, and by gum, she believed that that little baby should die.

… y’know, reading this?  Might make me seem twisted.  I’m kind of okay with that.  I mean, I probably get it from my mother (DON’T WORRY MOM THIS ISN’T A BAD THING), because I can distinctly remember hearing my mother comment once that, while she definitely does not condone her actions, she would have loved to have played Cruella De Vil in something, because playing a character that delightfully evil has to be the most fun thing in the world.

Because to me, what makes Maleficent so amazing and special is not just that she’s evil; it’s that she revels in it.  Check out her gleeful grin at Stefan’s horrified face after she curses Aurora!  After capturing Prince Phillip she tells him a wonderful little fairy tale about true love that, oops, spoiler alert, he’s not going to experience because when he finally goes to save the princess, he’s going to be like a hundred years old, so have fun with that relationship! She’s so happy once everything goes her way that she tells her raven, “For the first time in sixteen years, I shall sleep well.”  I have hungered after that type of sleep my entire life.

So my unconditional love of Maleficent as a character has been with me since childhood.  And when I first heard that Disney was capitalizing on the success of the Tim Burton-helmed Alice in Wonderland by revisiting the origins of Maleficent, I … became wary, to say the least.

What Tim Burton did for the latest Alice in Wonderland wasn’t an origins story: it was a continuation.  And I know that there are people who weren’t a fan of it for whatever reasons, but because it was a new story, built on the foundations of both the 1951 animated movie and the Lewis Carroll novellas, I could separate my enjoyment of both the original movie and the books from my enjoyment of the Tim Burton movie.  Full disclosure: I didn’t hate it.  I didn’t love it and it didn’t become one of my top ten favorite movies of all time (I should really post about that at some point; it would probably explain a lot of things), but I did buy it when I found it for five bucks a couple of years ago.  I’ve even watched the DVD since I bought it, which is fairly high praise.

But I was afraid that by showing us the origins of Maleficent, we would see that there was a reason behind the curse on Aurora, beyond just not being invited to the party.  And I was very afraid that they would humanize Maleficent.  I hoped that the tale would be told in the way that I remembered it: that okay, maybe she has a reason for wanting a baby dead – that will at least get her to the christening to bestow the curse.  But at the end the fairies and Phillip would try to defeat her and she’d turn herself into a dragon and then Phillip would kill the dragon and maybe she’d get redemption through death (which is one of my favorite tropes EVER.  See: Severus Snape; Jack Bristow; Jack Shepherd; possibly some other Jack; and I hope Regina on Once Upon a Time, even though I do NOT want her to die EVER NEVER EVER because that character is amazing, but because that scene will just make me want to claw my eyes out in grief.).

Needless to say, I was disappointed.

In this film, Maleficent starts out as a nice fairy.  And one day, Stefan stumbles into the fairy world and they become friends, which is kind of forbidden because humans and fairies don’t really mix.  Over time, she falls in love with Stefan, and it’s possible that the affection is returned.  However, Stefan’s ambition overpowers his depth of feeling, because when the dying king asks for revenge on the fairy that so handily handed his army’s ass to them on a silver platter, Stefan goes marching into Fairyland, drugs Maleficent, is going to kill her, but instead, decides to just cut off her wings.

And look, pretend you’re me: you’re watching this movie, and it’s starting out kind of slow and sappy, and then – BOOM! – rape metaphor.  If there is ANYTHING that is going to vindicate Maleficent’s downward slide (or upward climb, depending on your perspective) into evil and vengeance, THAT IS IT. So for a brief moment, I actually had some hope that maybe the film wouldn’t completely defame her character by giving her a sappy side.  Because look: if I were a fairy and some … god, I wish the English language had words for the type of awful, horrible human being Stefan was in that instance (bless you Tina Fey/Liz Lemon, but fungdark really doesn’t even come close) drugged me and cut off my wings, leaving me mutilated beyond repair? You can bet your ASS that I’d want to wreak vengeance on him, on his descendants – a pox on his house wouldn’t even begin to cover it.

(And I know that the sins of the father shouldn’t transfer to the children, but seriously: rape metaphor with mutilation. Tell me you wouldn’t at least consider it.)

So I’m sitting there, actually anticipating how this story will go: she’ll get her revenge because Aurora will prick her finger and she’ll die, she’ll cackle, and maybe she’d piss off Phillip’s family, which makes him seek revenge on her, and something would happen to make her redeem herself in death.  (I clearly hadn’t thought that through, but that’s what I wanted.)

Until Maleficent curses Aurora.  Because when she made that curse, I knew that Maleficent would never live up to my expectations.

The curse, as written in the 1959 original, states:

Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel – and DIE.

In Maleficent, she amends the curse to say:

Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep like death!

There is a HUGE difference between those two curses, and it’s not just the words.  In Maleficent‘s version of the curse, she has already softened up compared to her predecessor, because now she’s not killing the kid, she’s just putting her to sleep forever.

And then she amends her own curse, giving it a cure!  She says the equivalent of, “Oh well, okay sure, I’ll give you a curse-breaker: she can only be woken up by True Love’s Kiss.”  And as she leaves, she’s all, “BECAUSE THERE’S NO SUCH THING SUCKA HAHAHAHA”  And then she would flip  the entire gathering of peasants and rabble The Bird as she vanishes in a cloud of green smoke like a motherfucking boss.

Except she can’t stay away from Aurora – I’m still not sure if, initially, she kept watching Aurora and saving her from the fairies’ ineptitude just because she wanted to make sure she (Maleficent) was the one responsible for the girl’s demise (and DON’T get me started on those fucking fairies.  Not one Merryweather in the bunch).  The first line of the curse in both Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent states that Aurora will be beloved by all who know her. Well, in this film, Maleficent falls under her own spell.

To the point that Maleficent tries to break her own curse!  She ends up caring for the princess and tries to take it back!  Except she fooled herself because when she cursed the girl originally, she made sure to say that the curse will be unbroken until True Love’s Kiss – she didn’t even put in a override line or anything reserved for herself.  So then she gets sad because she’s cursed Aurora to this sleep of death, because True Love’s Kiss doesn’t exist.

Well, that’s all well and good, except that anyone who’s ever watched Once Upon a Time knows that the best True Love’s Kisses come from mother to son (both Emma and Regina to Henry, breaking two curses).  So when the fairies force Phillip into kissing a sleeping Aurora and it doesn’t work, Maleficent tries to say goodbye to Aurora by kissing her, and GUESS WHO WAKES UP

In the end, Maleficent gets her wings back, she stops being evil, Stefan dies (as all good Disney villains do) (I actually pointed and shouted DISNEY VILLAIN DEATH in the theatre but no one heard me), Aurora rules the humans in concert with Maleficent not-quite-ruling the fairies because they don’t believe in a system of government, and Alaina does not like the movie because they made Maleficent soft.

Where was my evil queen who ruled all those wonderful, stupid minions?  Where was her outright glee in tormenting others?  You know how much fun Lana Parilla has playing Regina the Evil Queen on Once Upon a Time?  THAT’S WHAT I WANTED FOR MALEFICENT.

(I’m not even going to get into the fact that on Once Upon a Time, Maleficent was played by the awesome Kristin Bauer Von Straten, only to have Regina permanently turn her into her dragon in episode 2, and then have Emma kill her in the season 1 finale.  Why does Maleficent always get short shrift?)

So that’s why I didn’t like the movie: they took one of my favorite childhood antiheroes and made her soft in the heart and gave her a happy ending that was actually happy (versus my other favorite trope, Redemption Through Death).  I would like to point out – before I get into the true impetus of why I’m writing this post – that while I felt the writing did a disservice to Maleficent, Angelina Jolie was phenomenal in the role.  I mean, really: my main problem was the story.  Or the fact that their story deviated from what I wanted the story to be.  My dislike of the movie had nothing to do with the persons involved (unlike when I went to see Mission: Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol because SOMEONE said it was an amazing movie and that Sawyer from Lost was in it but Sawyer died in the first ten minutes of the movie and basically SOMEONE STILL OWES ME NINE BUCKS FOR THAT MOVIE AND ALSO FOR PRISONERS BECAUSE THERE WERE SNAKES IN PRISONERS AND YOU DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT THE SNAKES, BRAD).


So anyway: heaps of praise for Angelina Jolie and the visual effects; bunches of boos for the poor story decisions (my opinion).  Once the movie came out, I was seeing a few articles that praised Maleficent for having such a female-centric storyline, and after careful consideration, I have to agree.  It is amazing that there are five female characters with speaking roles compared to the two male characters (three if you count the king that dies in the beginning).  The movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors; no doubt about that in my mind.  And I applaud the movie for showing us such a positive female relationship between Maleficent and Aurora, regardless of how I felt about the relationship as part of the story.

And then Sarah links me to this article, and says, “I’d be interested to hear your take on this.” So I read it, and I’ve been stewing over it for a couple of weeks now, and I guess my main feeling regarding this article is that I feel the author is nitpicking and reading into a lot of stuff (says the girl who has written nearly 2500 words in the same manner).

The author of the article claims that Disney had the opportunity to create a truly revisionist feminist movie starring Maleficent – show a woman’s agency and the choices she makes and how those choices go against the patriarchy found in that realm, and how grrl!power would triumph over the stupid stupid men. And remember that part where Maleficent was horrifically mutilated by a man and I thought this was going to be the best revenge fantasy movie ever?  I really wanted that, along with the author of the article.

Obviously, my disappointment comes from a deep-rooted nostalgia.  The author of the article traces her disappointment to the fact that the film is not Maleficent’s movie – she is merely a player in Aurora’s movie, remade to look like the main character.  Aurora is the narrator of the movie, and the narration that begins the film tells the audience that we haven’t heard the story told in this way before.  And that’s because for the first time, we’re seeing the story as told from Maleficent’s perspective, and we’re getting backstory on Maleficent’s motivation, but at the end of the film, Aurora still needs to wake up.  We can’t have Maleficent succeed in her original plot (revenge against Stefan = keeping his daughter sleeping like death for eternity) because then we really would be seeing Maleficent win, and the villain winning wouldn’t be a comfortable position for any summer tentpole audience.

What I kind of have to love in an ironic manner is the fact that the author of the article can’t even focus on Maleficent for her entire article.  She ends the article claiming that the Aurora in the 1959 movie is more femme-positive (her words) than the Aurora found in Maleficent:

In Sleeping Beauty, Aurora had a nurturing family and a trio of good fairies who were flighty (yet responsible). She had the gift of song, the man of her dreams, and an iconic, charismatic villain who audiences loved. In Maleficent, Aurora is the product of a cold and loveless marriage and a vengeful, unhinged rapist. Her safety relies on a trio of clueless and dangerously careless fairies, and her Godmother is the woman who cursed her — and who had, in turn, been violated by her own father.

Which sounds more reductive to you?

To be honest, I don’t even know what she’s talking about.  In Maleficent, Aurora doesn’t need a man to save her from her fate – Maleficent saves Aurora with her version of True Love’s Kiss.  When Maleficent is captured by Stefan’s guards, sure, she changes her raven-man into the dragon instead of changing herself into a dragon, but maybe there was a line that was cut that explained that fairies can’t actually turn themselves into other creatures?  And in the end, Aurora helped save Maleficent by returning her wings to her (there has to be a metaphor in there somewhere about a woman returning another woman’s power to her after it had been raped away, but I’ve been working on this essay for about a week and I can’t think too hard about this anymore) – how is that less femme!positive than Sleeping Beauty where the prince kills the female dragon and wakes the heroine up with a kiss and her marriage to Prince Phillip had been arranged before she was born, and they were just lucky that they met in the woods and fell in love immediately without knowing each other was their betrothed whereas in Maleficent Aurora got to choose to marry Phillip and the marriage wasn’t arranged or anything and everyone lives happily ever after, even Phillip, who honestly ended up having less of a personality than this guy:

sleeping beauty jester

So there.  I really don’t think I can analyze this movie anymore.  I was disappointed in the movie, but I’ve got my anger out now so I won’t be talking about it any longer.

I will most likely continue to bring up Mission: Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol and Prisoners when applicable, because I haven’t gotten my refund for either of those movies yet, BRAD.

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Posted by on June 15, 2014 in Alaina Rants On