Episode 153: The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

From white people playing Chicanos, we wind our way back to white people playing Asian people here in our penultimate “Whitewashing” episode with Tony Randall as the inscrutable, many-faced, many-accented Dr. Lao.  Yes, THAT Tony Randall, of “Odd Couple” fame.  Just the guy to play an aged Chinese gentleman, wouldn’t you say? This movie is a bit of a strange case, a cross-genre film that starts out looking like a Western and ends up as a fantasy/morality play.  The small town of Abalone (where they’ve probably never seen a shellfish) is languishing while an Evil Rich Guy wants to buy out the town, because he secretly knows that the railroad is coming through and he’s itching to tie all the women of the town to the newly-installed railroad tracks while twirling his moustache.  When suddenly who should show up, riding on a yellow donkey, but the mysterious Dr. Lao, who alternates between some attrocious “Me so solly” pidgin English and sounding like, well, Tony Randall (he also does a terrible French accent and a possibly worse Scottish accent).  Will the wonders of his circus make the townsfolk realize what’s really important in life? Will the one Native American character in this movie get any actual lines? Give a listen and find out!

Poll question: who is the most famous movie actor that you, personally, have ever met? Not just seen across a room or in an elevator but someone you actually spoke to (even if it was just “Hey, that’s my wallet!!”)

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 152: Walk Proud (1979)

Wilkomen, meine Freundinnen und Freunde, to another edition of “Hollywood, What Were You Thinking?” also known as “Whitewashing,” where we watch white actors embarrass themselves, and us, as they try to play non-white characters.  This week, we move to an example of the “gang movie” oeuvre of the 70’s, with Robby “Sure, I Can Play That” Benson playing a Chicano gang member from 1970’s East L.A.  Because sure, if he can play a Native American, a Hassic Jew, and a Disney animated Beast, why can’t he play a Mexican-American? Just slap some skin-darkening makeup on him, shove some brown contact lenses into his eyes and have him do an accent that would make Speedy Gonzalez wince and Robby’s good to go! Not that this movie is devoid of Mexican-American actors! It’s just that nobody thought that the lead should be played by one of them.  Meet Emilio, a member of the Aztecas gang, navigating his way through the world, trying to figure out who he is, all while falling for an Anglo girl who is desperately looking for a personality.  Does Robby rise above this incredibly awkward casting? Is the story enough to make you stop wondering why Robby has blue eyes in one movie and brown eyes in this one? Hop into your big car, low to the ground, and drive up and down the boulevard with us, all day and all night!

Poll question: actually, this is a compound question, containing several sub-questions, because we don’t take the easy way here at Max, Mike; Movies! When you go to the movies, in actual theater (remember those?), do you get snacks or no snacks? Booze or no booze? Do you run for a bathroom break in the middle, or wait? We need to know!

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 151: Tropic Thunder (2008)

Welcome to another episode of “Whitewashing”! Kind of surprising how many of the movies we’ve discussed are comparatively recent, hm? Might make one question how much progress we’ve made.  But this one is . . . a bit odd.  We’re talking about “Tropic Thunder,” a comedy about how hard it is to make movies.  Sure, that’s something we can all sympathize with.  Much of this movie is a series of inside jokes for Hollywood folks and Hollywood obsessives but there’s some actual humor here, and a very interesting cast.  Why is this movie part of this particular series? Uh, well, it’s a bit complicated, very nuanced, it would take a scientist to explain . . . look Robert Downey Jr. spends nearly all of this movie in what is effectively blackface.  His character, an obsessive method actor, is cast as a black character in this movie-within-the-movie and to get into the part, he undergoes a controversial “skin darkening” process.  So the movie seems at least somewhat aware of how problematic that is.  Does it take the opportunity to address the issue? Is it the major focus of the movie? Well, if I tell you that, you wouldn’t need to listen, would you? Sheesh, what were you thinking, asking questions like that . . . Give a listen!

Poll question: Is there any movie that has ever made you laugh so hard that your face hurt? If so, which one?

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 150: The Lone Ranger (2013)

Welcome to our sesquicentennial episode! We know big words! And for our 150th, we have a very special episode.  That’s right, this time it’s Mike who’s not wearing any pants! Wait, no, please come back! Kidding! Kidding! No, we really do have something special for our latest episode of “Whitewashing,” we have a super-special-awesome seriously-very-cool guest, Dr. Rebecca Pelky of Clarkson University, professor of film studies, author, poet, and member of the Brothertown Indian Nation of Wisconsin.  Professor Pelky brings her insights and sharp observations to this movie, particularly to the portrayal of the already-problematic character of Tonto by the VERY problematic Johnny Depp.  Give a listen and see what an actual smart person has to say about this movie! Mike and I will be there too.  Hi-ho Bumpy! Away!

[please note: we had some problems with the audio in this episode but thanks to Mike’s masterful sound engineering, they shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  Also, that’s not Max at the end but an incredible simulation]

Poll question: what is the first movie you remember seeing in an actual movie theater?

Some special bonus material: if you are interested in reading some of Dr. Pelky’s works, and you should be, please check out these links:

Hiking Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 3rd Edition:  https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781493053452/Hiking-Michigan’s-Upper-Peninsula-A-Guide-to-the-Area’s-Greatest-Hikes-Third-Edition

Horizon of the Dog Woman:

https://bookshop.org/books/horizon-of-the-dog-woman/9781732054264

Through a Red Place (forthcoming September 2021):

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 149: The Conqueror (1956)

Tighten your shorts, Pilgrim, and get ready for another episode of “Whitewashing” here at Max, Mike; Movies.  Genghis Khan: when you think of him, what do you see? Close your eyes and think of the first Great Khan of the Mongols, a man who created an empire over half the world, a man who is widely acclaimed as one of the most brilliant and brutal masters of war in human history.  When you see that mighty Mongol warlord, born to the saddle, master of strategy, whose face do you see? What man could possibly portray such a controversial and influential figure? Well, if you said “John Wayne,” then the creators of “The Conqueror” agree with you and you should all seek serious help. Yes, we’ve got The Duke himself striding across the tumbling tumbleweeds of . . . the Gobi Desert.  Sure, why not.  This movie . . . hoo boy.  Never mind the fact that out of a cast of about 200, there’s only a sprinkling of Asian actors, most of whom have no lines.  Never mind that we’ve got people like Agnes Moorehead, William Conrad, and Lee Van Cleef portraying Mongols.  Never mind that the Gobi Desert and Mongolia look an awful lot like Utah. Yes, set all that aside: this movie holds the distinction of being responsible for striking down nearly half its cast and crew with cancer.  How, you ask? Give a listen and we’ll clue you in! You’ll also get a fascinating historical lesson as to how 13th Century Mongols spoke! No really! I’m absolutely sure that’s what they sounded like! Hollywood wouldn’t lie . . . would they?

Poll question: When watching a movie in a language you don’t know, do you prefer subtitles or that it be dubbed? Subs or Dubs? Leave a comment below!

 George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 148: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Just in case you’re feeling too comfortable, we’re hitting you with another episode of “Whitewashing,” the series where two white guys talk about replacing non-white characters with white actors. Sure, we’re qualified for that. But who’s going to stop us? (checks behind door) Oh good, nobody’s here to stop us.
So anyway, this week we’re discussing an uncomfortably recent film, the 2017 live-action adaptation of an iconic anime from 1995, “Ghost in the Shell.” Personally, I like my ghosts deep fried with tartar sauce but if you’re the sort who likes them fresh in the shell, I say go for it! Or am I confusing ghosts with oysters? Happens so often . . . I can’t be the only one who makes this mistake . . . No, the classic anime, which inspired such films as the Matrix and many, many others, deals with the complex and fascinating concept of the blurring of the line between human beings and machines. This live-action version? Well, tune in and see. When it was announced that distinctly non-Asian actor Scarlett Johannsson was going to play the lead role, a character who was originally Japanese, there was quite a backlash. Many people were upset. Join us and learn exactly who was upset . . . and more interestingly, who was NOT upset. You may be surprised; I can tell you right now that I certainly was. Give a listen and enjoy our surprised-ness!

Poll question: What was a movie you saw that had a “big twist” that you totally saw coming, or conversely, what is a movie with a “big twist” that totally worked on you?

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 147: A Majority of One (1961)

Welcome, welcome to a brand spanking new series (no, no, this isn’t a series about BDSM; the only one getting spanked around here is Bumpy and that’s with a two by four) which we’re calling “Hooray for White People! Yay! They’re The Best! Who Needs Anyone Else?” Man, that’d generate some interesting comments, wouldn’t it? In all seriousness (or as much seriousness as we get to around here), our new series is called “Whitewashing” and we’re dealing with one of the more uncomfortable topics we’ve tackled: the long, embarrassing, and continuing-to-this-day bad habit that Hollywood has of having white people play people of color, often through the use of truly cringe-worth makeup, bad speech imitations, and more.  There’s another particularly insidious variant of whitewashing as well, where stories with characters of rich and varied racial backgrounds are rewritten so that the characters become white.  We’ll be dealing with this and other types in the weeks to come, starting with a particularly uncomfortable one for me personally, as I loved this movie growing up: 1961’s “A Majority of One.” Starring Rosalind Russell as a Brooklyn-based Russian Jewish immigrant (because, sure) and Alec Guinness as . . . a Japanese businessman.  Yup. Not kidding.  Clench your teeth, hold your nose and dive right in with us, won’t you?

Poll question: do you have a favorite location for films to take place? Some country, some city? What place would you like to see featured in films more often?

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 146: Pollock (2000)

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the episodes of “Semi-Real People” and this last grain is “Pollock.”  Note that this movie is NOT about the tasty fish, as many of us, I mean, many of you might think but rather about the turbulent later life of one of the most famous, if not the most famous, American painters, Jackson Pollock (note: not only are no fish involved but this was NOT the original name of the Jackson Five.  I’m sure some of me, I mean, some of you were very confused by this. Happy to clear that up).  Jackson Pollock, the man who redefined surrealism and gave rise to the comment heard in many an art gallery: “Huh. My kid could just drip paint on a canvas like that.” Spoiler alert: no, they really couldn’t.  Tortured by mental illness, alcoholism, and his desperate need for acceptance of his work, Jackson Pollock may not make for the cheeriest of subjects but he’s certainly not boring.  Give a listen and learn the answer to the ancient question: how many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: two. One to hold the giraffe and the other to fill the bathtub with brightly colored machine parts.  Thank you! I’ll be here all week! Try the roast pony!

Poll question: Is there a movie that you think loses impact by being seen on the small screen? Is there a movie you’re really glad you saw in the theater or you wish you had seen there?

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 145: Persepolis (2007)

So, our series “Semi-Real People” has been held over by popular demand (meaning Mike and I both demanded it and that’s one hundred percent of our staff, so that’s pretty popular) for a couple more episodes and here is one of them! Guess what’s coming next week? That’s right, the other one! Oh, I guess you think you’re pretty smart, figuring that out. You think you’re better than me, is that it? College has changed you, man! Ahem. Anyway. This week’s entry is “Persepolis,” our first animated biopic; actually it’s an animated autobiographical pic, as this movie tells the story of Marjane Satrapi and her life growing up in Iran during the turbulent times of the 1970’s through the 1990’s, with the overthrow of the Shah, the bloody war with Iraq, and the rise of religious extremism. Yes, it’s a laugh-riot the whole way. Yes, I’m lying but it’s actually a really interesting story. Is it grim and disturbing the whole way though? Are there amusing moments? Why are you expecting me to answer these questions here? Listen to the podcast, smarty-pants!

Poll question: Is there a book you love, which you would really like to see made into a movie but which has not yet been made into one? Please answer in the comment field below.

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/

Episode 144: Houdini (1953)

Gather round, ladies and gents, gather round! Hear the most amazing podcast ever seen on stage! Thrill to the death defying escapes from logic and narrative flow that Max and Mike will astound you with! Quake with fear as Bumpy the Wonder Pony hangs suspended over a tank filled with truly cranky piranha . . . and then is promptly eaten to the delight of the children! Tremble with ontological doubt as we continue our interest-defying series “Semi-Real People” with this week’s astounding entry “Houdini”! Gasp as you see Tony Curtis try to convince you he’s a Hungarian-American legend of escape artistry! Puzzle, if your heart can stand it, over what Janet Leigh is doing in this movie! Search, if you dare, for any actual nuggets of biographical facts in this most Hollywood of biopics! Quiver at the sight of costumes by Edith Head! Nod thoughtfully at the razor-sharp arguments marshalled before you! Without the use of a net! Or Frankie! Step right up, don’t be shy! Free chunks of piranha-chewed pony for the kiddies! And by the way … is THIS your card?

Poll question: Has a movie adapted from another source (be it book, video game, theme park ride or breakfast cereal) ever EXCEEDED your expectations? If so, what movie?

George Floyd Memorial Fund:  https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd

ACLU: https://www.aclu.org/

Black Lives Matter: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

Southern Poverty Law Center: https://donate.splcenter.org/