Saturday, November 7, 2015

Little Children

Year 7, Day 310 - 11/6/15 - Movie #2,194

BEFORE: Jennifer Connelly carries over from "Noah", and she'll be back in December when I start up again, but after tonight I'm on break for a month.  The next few films are winter-themed or holiday-related, and I'm just not there yet.  It was almost 70 degrees in NYC today - in November, so it's hard to get in a holiday mood just yet. 

THE PLOT:  The lives of two lovelorn spouses from separate marriages, a registered sex offender, and a disgraced ex-police officer intersect as they struggle to resist their vulnerabilities and temptations in suburban Connecticut.

AFTER: If I didn't know any better, I'd think this film was an attempt to make me feel sympathetic for people who have affairs, and also pedophiles.  But that can't be possible, right?  Sure, other movies have explored the domain of cheating spouses, but by showing a sex offender as the target of a bullying campaign, there's an attempt here to make him the victim, almost the protagonist instead of an antagonist.  It almost feels like some screenwriter took this on as a specific challenge, or was trying to win a bet against someone who said he couldn't portray such a character as sympathetic.  

The only thing moderately interesting about this is that it points out a double standard, since we live in a society now where certain sexual practices that were once demonized are now more accepted, but others are not.  I mean, of course, an adult having sex with a minor is wrong wrong wrong, but what about someone's desire to do so?  That's wrong, too, of course - but then society tells these people over there that it's OK to be gay, it's OK for a boy to want to dress like a girl, it's OK to feel like you want to change genders, but then that person over there, his fantasies are not OK.  I just wonder how the thought police determine where to draw the line, and note that the location has changed over time.  

It's unstated if the title refers to the children of the film, or to the object of the pedophile's desires, or even the adults in the film, who tend to act like children.  Perhaps it's all three.  Since I'm not familiar with "Madame Bovary" I have to depend on other sources that tell me that the story here has echoes of that novel, and not just because one character attends a book club meeting where that story is being discussed.  But there is a lot of childish behavior going around in the suburbs of - Boston?  Long Island?  (The fictional town is East Wyndam, with a Massachusetts-style zip code.)

The lives of the main characters intersect and interact, with mostly tragic results.  The simple act of Kate taking her daughter to the park puts her in contact with Brad, the man she ends up having an affair with, and Brad's friend is the ex-cop who's also harassing Ronnie, the sex offender.  By the time Ronnie has an encounter with Kate in the same park late in the film, it feels like the story has come full circle, but it's perhaps a little too coincidental, a little too neat that so many tragic consequences can come from these four people (six or seven if you count their spouses and other close relatives) bouncing off of each other. 

There are, however, several stories that feel abandoned or unfinished.  Kate's husband is addicted to pornography, but even after his habit is disclosed, his wife says they need to talk, but I don't think they ever do - and then the topic never comes up again in the film.  Similarly, Brad's wife figures out the affair (through a combination of intuition and a strange deduction) but we never see the consequences of her knowing.  People eventually come to their senses, or grow up, or start to take responsibility, but we never see the confrontations or the fallout.  

The narration (performed by a man you've probably heard in countless documentaries) is a double-edged sword, because it gives the audience much-needed insight into the characters' states of mind, but it also distances us from them, turning them into something like animals in their natural habitat, being observed and analyzed from afar.  I wonder if the narration was added later when it was determined that the acting alone wasn't providing enough insight, which would signify a problem.  

It feels like this film came out at the tail end of a trend of tragic suburban pictures, which included films like "American Beauty" and "Happiness", but being a late entry in the category gave it a sort of "Been there, done that" quality.  

Also starring Kate Winslet (last seen in "The Life of David Gale"), Patrick Wilson (last seen in "Young Adult"), Jackie Earle Haley (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Noah Emmerich (last seen in "Miracle"), Gregg Edelman (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Phyllis Somerville, Jane Adams (last seen in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), Ty Simpkins, Sadie Goldstein, Trini Alvarado (last seen in "All Good Things") and the voice of Will Lyman.

RATING: 4 out of 10 touch football games

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Year 7, Day 309 - 11/5/15 - Movie #2,193

BEFORE: I'm coming up on a break, which naturally makes me start to think of how I'm going to spend my extra time for the next few weeks.  I've started reading books again, mostly "Star Wars" novels, like "Aftermath", which is supposed to preface the upcoming Episode VII, and also "Tarkin", which is set back between Eps. III and IV.  My 2nd job is a longer commute from my house, so I've now got about 3 hours each day to read on the subway, 90 min. in each direction.  So the first order of business is to catch up on the pile of Star Wars books that have accumulated in the past few years, even if some of them are no longer considered canonical.  

Next I've got some TV to watch.  Normally I'd be about 3 or 4 months behind on episodic TV, but right now I'm only about a month behind on fiction shows like "Gotham", "Heroes Reborn", "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and reality shows like "Face Off", "The Great Food Truck Race", "Mythbusters" and "Storage Wars".  November would be a great time to get more current, with the two hours I usually devote to a film I can probably knock off three hour-long shows.  

Then comes comic books.  Not just reading them, but also logging them in to my collecting database, and also putting a few hundred in sealed bags & boards.  I'm running about 9 months behind on this process, even if I don't re-alphabetize the collection this year, at least I can get some comics in protective bags and longboxes this month.  

And finally, Christmas is not that far off.  After I order some birthday gifts for the niece and nephew, it'll be time to start thinking about Christmas gifts, reading catalogs for ideas, making lists (and checking them twice), and then there's my annual Christmas mix CD.  I haven't even picked a theme for this year yet, then I have to start listening to some tracks, making some choices and playing the mix a few times to see if it meets my standards.  Then comes labeling and mailing out with my holiday cards.  So I think it will be a busy month, even if I'm not watching movies.

Logan Lerman AND Emma Watson carry over from "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", so getting to this film next makes some sense.  And since I've already dealt with a Mexican myth and Greek myths this week, why not get to a Judeo-Christian mythical story as well?

THE PLOT:  A man is chosen by his world's creator to undertake a momentous mission before an apocalyptic flood cleanses the world.

AFTER: Well, I think this film is a clear indication of how a filmmaker can start out with the best intentions, but a film can just sort of get out of control and get away from him in the end.  A conversation about this film with my new employer sort of confirms this, her opinion was that since Darren Aronofsky was coming off of "Black Swan", the temptation was to put the hottest filmmaker at the time on what seemed to be a sure thing, a very hot story (After all, how many copies has the Bible sold?  This thing's got pre-awareness that's off the freakin' charts...) and this was supposed to be a filmmaking slam-dunk.  So, what happened?  

The first problem is that the Noah story never made much sense.  The Old Testament tells us that Noah was 500 at the time of the flood, are we supposed to believe that people in ancient times just lived longer, or that they didn't know how to count?  And Methuselah, Noah's grandfather, reached the age of 969 - WTF?  Then we get to all the logistics of the Great Flood story (and yes, I know it's in the Quran too, and part of the mythology of just about every culture), which don't seem to add up either - where did all the water come from?   Where did it go after?  How was there enough room on the ark for hundreds or thousands of animals?  How did Noah keep the animals from eating each other - or did he?  And what about insects, were they on their own, like the fish were?  

Of course, now that we're living in the End Times, and our weather is all wacky, we understand a little more.  Maybe there was an ice age, and glaciers formed, causing the waters to recede.  And then maybe the Ice Age ended, causing a flood.  But this would have taken place over decades, at least, or possibly eons, so how seriously are we supposed to take this story - is it just a metaphor for a much longer phase in the development of the world?  

But for the moment, let's take the Book of Genesis (or the Quran, or whatever) at face value, and assume for a moment that there was someone named Noah, who had some kind of ark, or raft, or whatever, and that there was a deluge or flood of some degree, which appeared to cover the whole world, even if it was just the known world at the time - which seems at least a bit more plausible. 

To make a film about this, in modern times, you can almost hear the conversation at the pitch meeting - "I want to get inside Noah's head, what did it really MEAN to survive the flood, to watch the rest of humanity drown, to be responsible for saving nature and starting everything over.  What does that DO to a man?"  Unfortunately, this led to a series of decisions by a screenwriter or director that seemed to work on paper, but were still very BAD ideas.  Oh, sure, there are one or two that make sense, like making Noah and his family vegetarians - hey, that solves the problem of how they're going to survive on the boat for 40 days and still have animals left, so let's run with that.  

This concept then got stretched out to another logical, but ill-fated conclusion - in the ancient world depicted here, there are two tribes: the descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth (Cain's younger brother, born after Abel died).  The tribe of Cain is larger, they eat meat and they have technologies of war like metalwork and some rudimentary cannons (here come those bad ideas creeping in...) while the tribe of Seth is smaller (I think just Noah and his family) and they are vegetarian hippies who live in a land that's somehow both barren and self-sustaining.  

But if the land is barren, how the heck can Noah have enough trees to build an ark?  Another narrative problem, which gets solved, I kid you not, by a magic seed given to Noah by Methuselah.  Sure, magic, that's the ticket - a gopherwood forest springs up in an instant.  But then WHY were they living in a barren wasteland, if they had the ability to conjure up a forest?  (Here we go, slipping into a morass of more bad ideas...) 

And the animals more or less assemble themselves - the birds come, then the snakes and then the quadrupeds, and they all know where to go, how to get there, and how to pair up and organize themselves.  It's all God's magic, don't ya know.  And then the animals all agree to be sedated for an indefinite period, which solves another problem, like what did they all eat and why didn't they eat each other?  Oh, sure, they were all sleeping for 40 days straight and somehow they didn't starve.

Other narrative problems needed to be solved - how can one man (OK, one family) build a giant ark? How can they load up all the animals?  How can they prevent other people from the other tribe from getting on board.  Unfortunately, the solution was magic, magic and more magic.  Specifically, the Watchers, who are a race of some kind of angels, but made out of rocks and each having six arms (I swear, I'm not making this up...)  And the Watchers serve all these purposes, stripping magic trees to make logs, and doing the heavy lifting, also serving as a sort of doormen/bodyguards for the ark.  

But it's as if solving one narrative problem here just creates another - the presence of the Watchers as angels, or fallen angels, or some other race besides human that can talk, is really ill-advised.  If they are angels, then they're proof of God, and any student of Douglas Adams' "Hitchiker's" books will tell you that proof denies faith.  Faith is believing in something despite having no hard evidence for it, so specific proof of God's existence would negate any reason for having faith in him.  Plus as other living, thinking beings, this makes humans less unique and special, plus it monkeys with man's Biblical role of being in charge of the Earth and all that lives on it.  So back up, try again.  

Also, if the Watchers are in contact with God, or receiving instructions from him, then why does Noah only receive instructions from his dreams?  Sure, dreams are a part of him, and God works in mysterious ways, but dreams are fairly unreliable and open to interpretation, no?  You'd think that if God were all-powerful he'd find a better way to communicate his instructions.  Some of Noah's theories on God's intent ended up being so off-base here you have to wonder if he was reading them right.  I mean, if you're looking for signs from God, then everything's a sign from God.  And if the dream or the prediction turns out to be wrong, then we must have read it wrong, or perhaps "God changed his mind".  (He can do that, he's God, after all.) But the problem with prophecies is that they're so vague, and if you wait long enough, given enough time, any prophecy can come true, if you choose to interpret it that way.  

In the latter part of the film, Noah is then turned from hippie radical to fatalist doomsday prepper.  I guess watching almost all of civilization perish will do that to a man.  Noah's convinced that humans are God's mistake, and the flood was meant to wipe them clean, so his family should be caretakers of the animals, and then die out and not reproduce.  Conveniently, the film also removes the wives of two of Noah's sons so it can just focus on Shem's wife, Ila, who was barren at the start of the film, but learns she's pregnant while on the ark (again, magic!).  But rather than take this as a sign that God really DOES want humans to reproduce, Noah decides to kill the baby if it turns out to be a girl.  Again, the narrative progresses logically, but results in a really bad plot point.  

Because the baby is born a girl, two girls even, and though Noah eventually comes around on repopulating the planet, who would the father of their children be?  The only people on the planet who survived were on the ark, and they were related to all of them.  Even if Shem and Ila have more children, at some point somebody's going to have to sleep with their mother or sister or cousin if this humanity thing's really going to move forward, and then we're right back where we started, wallowing in sin.  (This is a variation on the old non-believer's Bible conundrum - "Who was Cain's wife?")

So there you go, even when we're trying to do God's will, we keep screwing up.  Everything is OUR fault, not God's.  But if you believe in the Bible, didn't he make us this way?  So ultimately, it's his fault, every last bit of it.  Why did he choose to make a world with war, famine, diseases, and bad people like dictators and pedophiles?  Are we all just one of his cosmic experiments that keeps going horribly wrong?  

Unless there is no God, would that be so bad?  I mean, considering how improbable and impossible these Bible stories are, doesn't it seem like that's the simplest answer?  But I guess then as a species we'd have to start making some changes, nut up and start being responsible for our actions and for the state of the planet.  Geez, how horrible would that be?  No, better to just keep believing that the man upstairs will make everything right somehow at the end.  

See, this is what I'm talking about, a film that started out telling a story from the Bible got so corrupted by bad choices that in the end, it now supports atheism.  Which is funny, because a little research on the IMDB trivia section tells me that Darren Aronofsky is a noted atheist, so that leads me to wonder why he wanted to make this in the first place.  It means that really, this project was doomed from the start.  Much like the ancient world, this film's creator should have, at some point, scrapped the whole thing and started over. 

If you want to watch an entertaining version of the Noah's Ark story, please seek out Ricky Gervais's routine on the topic, readily available on YouTube. 

Also starring Russell Crowe (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Jennifer Connelly (last seen in "The Rocketeer"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Amistad"), Ray Winstone (last seen in "Quadrophenia"), Douglas Booth, Kevin Durand (last seen in "Real Steel"), Leo McHugh Carroll, Marton Csokas (last seen in "Aeon Flux"), Finn Wittrock, Adam Griffith, Ariane Rinehart, with the voices of Nick Nolte (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Frank Langella (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted") and Mark Margolis (last seen in "Jakob the Liar").

RATING: 3 out of 10 cubits

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Year 7, Day 307 - 11/3/15 - Movie #2,192

BEFORE: Today is my (our) 14th wedding anniversary, and we're allowing ourselves a special meal.  We dine out often, but for something really special, there's a Brooklyn steakhouse we like to go to, and we've worked out how to order something like the perfect meal.  It may be on the pricey side, but once a year we try not to worry about the cost.  We start with an order of bacon, not just regular bacon (though that's good, too), this is thick-cut slab bacon, perhaps it's more accurately called pork belly, and they glaze it with some kind of sweet magic so it's ten times better than any other bacon.  I'm not kidding, this stuff tastes like happy and it makes us somewhat mad that all food can't be that good.  Then my wife gets a wedge salad with blue cheese dressing (not my favorite, but she likes it) and I get a crabcake appetizer, with some shaved fennel and a tangy remoulade of some sort.  Surprisingly, we're still hungry after this and she gets a petite filet mignon with a burgundy shallot sauce, and I get the lamb chops with a pistachio nut crust, and we split some garlic mashed potatoes, creamed corn with parmesan cheese, and some maple-glazed carrots that, much like the bacon, taste like the adult candy version of themselves.  Seriously, any other time I can take or leave carrots, not really a fan, but with the maple glaze, damn, they really shine.  Compared with other meals, this dinner sort of feels like it's in Technicolor, and those other versions of lamb, potatoes, bacon and corn feel like they're in black and white.  Jeez, the carrots aren't even ON the menu, you have to know to ask for them - now that's a Brooklyn insider meal. 

This film seems a little out of place in November, because it might be something I should have had in my back-to-school chain in September, or perhaps the romance chain in February.  But the actor linking places it here, it's serving a purpose as Logan Lerman carries over from "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters", and he'll be in tomorrow's film as well.  Anyway, next February's chain is all full up, and there's no room for this one there, I think.  

THE PLOT: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.

AFTER: Yes, it's a film about school, but it's also a film about fitting in by being yourself, and a film about love and attraction, and also a film about recovering from trauma - so it's not JUST a school film. Plus there's some Christmas stuff in there, so I feel justified in placing it here, this whole week is sort of leading up to winter and Christmas films.  Sure, I could have saved this film for next September, but who knows if I'd be able to properly link to it then?  

It took me a little while to determine this film was set in Pittsburgh (seniors discuss how hard it is to get into Penn State, or whether they'll be heading to NYU) but I still can't suss out the year.  Kids in high school make each other mixtapes and dance to 80's music, and I can't tell if they're doing that ironically, but they're also unfamiliar with the David Bowie song "Heroes", which suggests the period covered is more contemporary.  Not that it really matters, because the whole thing has sort of a timeless quality - it could be set in the late 1980's, or the 1990's, or last year.  Though if it were really modern, you'd think the kids would have software on their phones that could help them identify that song they heard that one time.  

Ah, a quick check of Wikipedia tells me this is based on a novel that came out in 1999, but was set in 1991-1992, that makes some sense.  But the kids also perform at a weekly showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and maybe that was still a thing that was happening in Pittsburgh in 1992.  I know there was a theater in NYC that continued to show it at least until the late 80's - nope, turns out they STILL show "Rocky Horror" weekly in Pittsburgh.  Sure, it's an OK movie, and I'll consider watching it once every two or three years, but I just can't imagine people dressing up and going to see it once a week for any length of time.  Doesn't that get boring at some point?  

But of course, there are tie-ins with the sexual preference of several characters here, as the film also explores the pressure on gay teens to act or not act in certain ways, and the extra difficulties they have in fitting in and expressing themselves.  But the main focus is still on Charlie, who's recovering from some tragedy that's unmentioned at the start of the film, then casually mentioned when he's at a party.  But then later we find there's another tragedy he suffered, and then later we find out there's another one, and after a while I just started to wonder if there was any end to his miseries, or if the film was just going to keep piling them on.  

The good news is, he's got aspirations to become a writer, so if he can survive high school, and all of its difficulties and awkwardness and his first relationship, he'll have something to write about.  The bad news is, I'm sick to death of characters who are writers or aspiring writers, who can't wait to get in front of a manual typewriter (Really?  In 1999?) and hammer out stories about their crazy friends, which will turn into THIS movie that you're watching now.  Ho hum, try something new, please. 

But I'm trying to be generous tonight, because some of the issues raised about mental illness and depression among people recovering from tragedy seem like they could be important and helpful to many.

Also starring Emma Watson (last seen in "This Is the End"), Ezra Miller, Dylan McDermott (last seen in "The Campaign"), Kate Walsh (last seen in "Bewitched"), Paul Rudd (last seen in "This Is 40"), Mae Whitman (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Nina Dobrev (last seen in "Let's Be Cops"), Johnny Simmons (last seen in "The To Do List"), Melanie Lynskey (last seen in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"), Joan Cusack (last seen in "Arlington Road"), Reece Thompson (last seen in "Dreamcatcher"), Zane Holtz, Nicholas Braun, Tom Savini.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Secret Santa gifts

Monday, November 2, 2015

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Year 7, Day 306 - 11/2/15 - Movie #2,191

BEFORE:  From one film that referenced Greek myths (sort of, namely Orpheus) to another.  Linking from "The Book of Life", Ron Perlman carries over.  Three more films before I go on hiatus for about a month.

THE PLOT:  In order to restore their dying safe haven, the son of Poseidon and his friends embark on a quest to the Sea of Monsters to find the mythical Golden Fleece while trying to stop an ancient evil from rising.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief"  (Movie #922)

AFTER: This plays as sort of a cross between the famous Greek myths, and a franchise along the lines of "Harry Potter", because there's a school for kids with superpowers, though in this case they're not witches or half-muggles, they're the children of gods, or "half-bloods".  We all know how much those Greek gods got around, they loved to romance humans.  And animals.  And basically anything.  What's really more likely is that Greek men went off to war, and while they were gone their wives were sexually active, and then the husbands came home and wondered how their wives had become pregnant.  Sure, it was the will of the gods - Zeus appeared in the form of a bull, or a swan, or a shower of gold, and it didn't take much for him to impregnate the helpless maid.  Right.  

Really, a film like this should fit right in with the superhero movies that are all the rage these days, because the comic books (Marvel, anyway) borrows liberally from the Greek/Roman pantheon, and also the Norse one.  If Thor is popular, why not Apollo and Poseidon, or even their children?  And I'm all for kids learning about the classic mythological characters, like Dionysus and centaurs and satyrs and such. 

The problem here came whenever there was a need to impart information about Greek myths to the viewer.  Expository information about, say, the Golden Fleece or how do defeat a Cyclops was spoken by characters so quickly that it was usually very hard to understand.  And I can't say that things were 100% faithful to the myths, it seemed more like the rules were always being made up as the film went along, sort of a case of putting the chariot before the horse, to bring about the intended result. 

But there was a lot of action, and the film worked as one of those quest-like stories, where people have to work together to find the object and defeat the evil power, even though that's all a bit formulaic by now.   I don't see a third film scheduled on IMDB, which seems like a bit of a shame - I guess this series doesn't have the juice to go another round, it's probably going to fade out like the "Chronicles of Narnia" series did before they get to adapt all of the books in the series.  Too bad the second film ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Also starring Logan Lerman (last seen in "The Patriot"), Alexandra Daddario (last seen in "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief"), Brandon T. Jackson (ditto), Leven Rambin, Stanley Tucci (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Anthony Head (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), Jake Abel, Nathan Fillion (last heard in "Monsters University"), Missi Pyle (last seen in "The Artist"), Mary Birdsong, Yvette Nicole Brown (last seen in "The Island"), Paloma Kwiatkowski, with the voices of Shohreh Aghdashloo, Craig Robinson (last seen in "This Is the End"), Octavia Spencer (last seen in "The Help").

RATING: 6 out of 10 drachma

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Book of Life

Year 7, Day 305 - 11/1/15 - Movie #2,190

BEFORE: Halloween season is over, all we really did besides handing out candy was to go have a pre-Halloween meal in a diner that was decorated with skeletons and such.  I would have liked it more if they would have taken the time to re-title all the menu items with scary names like "Scream of Turkey soup" and "Fettucini Afraid-o", really, is that too much to ask?  Ghoul-ash, sand-witches, killed cheese, maybe a B-Hell-T, that's all I want.  

After Halloween comes the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is really three days, spanning from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, but because of the Halloween-like tie-in, I'm putting it here.  And linking from "Fun Size", Kerri Kenney-Silver was also in "Reno 911: Miami" with Carlos Alazraqui (last heard in "Planes"), who provides a voice tonight.  

THE PLOT: Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears.

AFTER: It's a riff on the classic Orpheus story, where a man has to descend into the underworld in the name of love, but there's a twist.  Instead of traveling down to Hell to try and bring his lady back, he encounters his family in the Land of the Remembered, and has to atone for their long history of bullfighting in order to gain a second chance at life and love.  This also involves a trip to the Land of the Forgotten - it turns out Mexicans have two hells, run by La Muerte and Xibalba, two spirit entities who have a love/hate relationship.

It all starts with a classic love triangle between Manolo, Joaquin and Maria.  Manolo wants to be a musician and singer, but his father forces him to train as a bullfighter.  Joauqin is raised to be a soldier and protector of the town.  The two rulers of hell each pick one as their champion and make a wager over which one will marry Maria when they grow up.  If Joaquin wins the bet for Xibalba, he gets to swap underworld kingdoms with La Muerte, and if Manolo wins, then Xibalba agrees to stop meddling in human affairs.  

I'm not that familiar with Mexican mythology, so I can't really poke holes in the story, but it seemed pretty solid as a plot.  I think they rode a fine line, however, with the gender politics - they tried to make it clear that Maria didn't belong to anyone, that she was a strong, independent woman.  But still she was encouraged to marry Joaquin so that their town would be protected.  Two steps forward, one step back for women's rights, I guess.  

In the same way, I appreciate a film trying to take a stand against the cruel sport of bullfighting.  But let's be real, if the story is set back in the 1800's or early 1900's, it's doubtful that anyone in Mexico would really care about animal rights.  Plus, wouldn't any bulls not killed in the bullfighting ring end up being killed in some other way, in order to be eaten?  So that's probably a futile effort. 

My only other quibble is the portrayal of the afterlife as a large, city-wide fiesta - well, if it's so great, then why are we all wasting our time on Earth, let's get to the party!  That's maybe a bit of a strange message for a kids' film.  Dying is no big deal, if people can come back as ghosts or make wagers to win their way back to life.  

Other than that, I really enjoyed this animated film - some of the character designs are a bit weird, like Maria just looks like a giant Bratz doll, but that's the style someone really wanted for this, so whatever.

Also starring the voices of Diego Luna (last seen in "Elysium"), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Channing Tatum (last seen in "22 Jump Street"), Ron Perlman (last seen in "Pacific Rim"), Christina Applegate (last seen in "Anchorman 2"), Ice Cube (also last seen in "22 Jump Street"), Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Danny Trejo (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Gabriel Iglesias (also last heard in "Planes"), Cheech Marin (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"),  Miguel Sandoval (last seen in "Up Close & Personal"), Ana de la Reguera.

RATING: 7 out of 10 baby pigs

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fun Size

Year 7, Day 304 - 10/31/15 - Movie #2,189

BEFORE: Now that the scary movies are out of the way, and the horror section of my list contains zero films, there's nothing left to do but hand out the candy.  I bought four jumbo-sized bags a month ago, I just hope that I bought enough.  

I taped this off cable to fill up the DVD with "Trick 'r Treat" and tomorrow's film.  So sometimes I have to put two movies next to each other thematically, and hope that there's an actor link between them.  And there is, Leslie Bibb from "Trick 'r Treat" was also in "Movie 43" with Johnny Knoxville (last seen in "The Dukes of Hazzard"). 

THE PLOT: A teen's Halloween plans go awry when she's made to babysit her brother, who disappears into a sea of trick-or-treaters.  With her best friend and two nerds, she needs to find her brother before her mom finds out he's missing.

AFTER: This film raises one of those philosophical question, like "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" or "If a tree falls in a forest, and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?"  Can you call something a comedy if it is not remotely funny?  Jeez, it's not for lack of trying, someone tried really hard to make a funny film, but every joke or funny situation feels forced, or misguided in some way.  And if I have to explain humor to someone, I just end up killing it.  Maybe I'm just old and cynical, maybe there's a group of young kids out there somewhere who would find this funny, but I just don't know.

The intent was clearly to copy other films that depict nights that go horribly, horribly wrong - like "Date Night" or "Adventures in Babysitting", or any number of Christmas or Valentine's Day-themed comedies.  But humor has to start somewhere real, and then produce something unexpected.  Like, say, "Super Troopers", which probably started with an improv situation of a cop pulling someone over, and then devising ways to make that scene funny.  The same people produced "Beerfest", which is also a funny film, but it suffers from a weak premise, since there are no real underground drinking competitions, at least I don't think so.  Then they made "The Slammin' Salmon", a slightly less funny film with an impossible premise - customers just don't come in to restaurants, order a beverage, and then tip really really well - it just. doesn't. happen.  And waiters don't compete for $10,000 cash prizes offered by their employers.  

That's the common thread running through all of the gags in this film - there had to be a way to depict the potential chaos of Halloween night without constantly, consistently slipping into situations that would never, never happen.  Just beyond farce and slapstick lies complete improbability - and I say this as someone who enjoys films with superheroes flying around, and people battling space aliens.  But if you set your film on Halloween night in the real, practical universe, I'm going to be bothered by unlikely situations, apparently.  

OK, I can believe that a teen girl might misplace her younger brother - a lot of kids might be wearing the same Spider-Man costume, for example.  But why would she approach a (presumably) really short man and take his mask off, assuming that he's her brother?  Even if he were a dwarf-sized man, he wouldn't have the same body type as her brother.  (We'll never know, because they apparently couldn't afford a dwarf actor, they only shot the man from the neck up, ruining the joke.)  Anyway, it doesn't even make sense, because her brother for some reason wanted to be "Spider-Man missing an arm" (which isn't even a thing), so why would she think that this two-armed, stocky man who looked nothing like her brother might have been him?  

Her brother goes on his own Halloween adventure, with a lovelorn convenience-store clerk, then a woman dressed as "Galaxy Scout" going to a party, and then the tough-guy boyfriend of the clerk's ex-girlfriend.  (Already, this situation is over-complicated.)  But why would the convenience store clerk leave his post, on the busiest candy-buying night of the year, no less, to suddenly get revenge on his ex-girlfriend with a kid who he doesn't even know?  For that matter, why would he TP his girlfriend's house, when it's not even a house, it's an apartment building?  That message wouldn't even be clear.  Similarly, why would this 20-something girl take time out of her Halloween night to help out this Spider-Kid that she doesn't even know?  100% of people seeing a random kid on Halloween would just keep going.  

There are, like, a thousand other mistakes and sloppy occurences.  How can a man drive a convertible away and not realize there's a kid in the back seat, who isn't even crouched down?  Who lets a kid into an adult Halloween dance?  Are there nerdy kids anywhere who idolize Aaron Burr and have access to muskets?  Would someone really pretend to have a duel with a chicken leg, instead of throwing a punch, which would be much, much easier?  Does any parent speak ancient Greek with their kid?

No, no, no - it's all forced contrivances, and the end does not justify the means.  I'll bet some writer made the boy mute just so he wouldn't have to write believable dialogue for a kid.  I think the romantic dialogue is the worst, because we all know that the lead girl is going to have a revelation at some point during the night, and will realize that the nerd-friend who helped her is a better love interest than the hot guy at the party.  Sure, nerds are people too, and there's a lid for every pot, but come on, most girls that look like that don't figure this sort of thing out until much later in life.  

I'm going to try and be kind today, because it's a holiday, and giving this film a "2" would put it on a level with "Eraserhead", and this film makes slightly more sense than that one.  The only redeeming message here is that whatever your age, there's a Halloween for you - if you're a kid you can go out and get candy (though, honestly, kids, with less money than you spent on your costume, you can go to the drugstore and get EXACTLY the kind of candy you want, not a mixed bag) or if you're a young adult you can go to a happening party, or if you're a parent, you can watch your kids have fun.  I'm none of those things, so I'm just going to answer the doorbell when it rings.

Also starring Victoria Justice, Chelsea Handler (last seen in "This Means War"), Jackson Nicoll (last seen in "The Fighter"), Jane Levy, Thomas Mann (last seen in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"), Thomas Middleditch (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Kerri Kinney-Silver (last seen in "Wanderlust"), Ana Gasteyer (last seen in "Rapture-Palooza"), Riki Lindhome, Abby Elliott (last seen in "No Strings Attached"), Thomas McDonell, Josh Pence, Holmes Osborne (last seen in "Larry Crowne").

RATING: 3 out of 10 prank phone calls

Friday, October 30, 2015

Trick 'r Treat

Year 7, Day 303 - 10/30/15 - Movie #2,188

BEFORE: An actor named C. Ernst Harth carries over from "Dreamcatcher", and that reminds me why I put my films in this order.   But I think things worked out well, "Dreamcatcher" being the last straight horror film that sort of tied a lot of themes together, and it's left me with three films directly related to Halloween itself, focusing on the celebration of the holiday, that is.  

Now I just need to apply this same organizational technique to my January list, which is still only half full.  I've got 13 films lined up in front of February's romance chain, and 31 after - so maybe I'll flip the whole chain around, and make those 31 films a solid tight January, or no, wait, I think I see a way to cut between the two chains and make something really interesting.  Damn, it all depends on what the first film in January is going to be, and right now I have no idea what that's going to be.  I also need to factor in films I might acquire in the next 2 months, and there's no way to predict that either.  Gah, this is maddening.  It's enough to drive me crazy.  OK, more crazy.

THE PLOT:  Four interwoven stories that occur on Halloween: An everyday high school principal has a secret life; a college virgin might have just met the one guy for her; a group of teenagers pull a mean prank; and a mean old man meets his match.

AFTER: Full disclosure, the director of this film, Michael Dougherty, is an ex-co-worker of mine.  He went to NYU a few years after I did, and came up through the animation program, and this film is loosely based on an animated short that he made in college called "Season's Greetings".  That's where this character with the burlap scarecrow head and the orange pajamas first appeared.  "Sam" is his name, as it turns out, which is short for "Samhain", get it?  

And Sam is sort of the unifying element in these four (or is it 5?) little Halloween stories.  Sam also enforces the "rules" of Halloween - and there ARE rules.  Like, don't extinguish a jack o'lantern before Halloween is over, never go out alone, don't chase kids away from your door without giving them candy, and try not to kill too many people.  You know, don't be a dick, be excellent to each other. 

Wait, what was that about killing people?  Well, you should really only kill people who deserve to die, and that's where the scary part comes in.  You would like to think that karma's a bitch, and what comes around goes around, and tends to come knocking on your door on Halloween night.  

I tried watching parts of this once before, but I found it a little confusing.  Since the film jumps around liberally in time (you know, that old pet peeve of mine) and the movie sort of ends right where it began, the chronology takes a little effort to sort it all out.  But this may be one of the rare cases where it's worth the effort.  Yes, cause should come before effect, but suspense also needs to be maintained.  With repeated viewings this film could easily become the "Pulp Fiction" of Halloween. (Plus I think after you learn the twists the first time, the second time there will probably be a lot of inside jokes that you'll pick up on.)

You might see a character in distress in some way, or someone notable walking by in the background of one scene, and then a later story thread might pick up on who that background person is, and why they were in trouble, or about to be.  Everything is important, so watch carefully, and follow the rules.  Remember, TREAT people the way you want to be TREATED, and then maybe you won't deserve to get TRICKED.

Also starring Dylan Baker (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Anna Paquin (last seen in "Amistad"), Brian Cox (last heard in "Her"), Leslie Bibb (last seen in "Zookeeper"), Tahmoh Penikett (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Lauren Lee Smith (last seen in "Get Carter"), Rochelle Aytes, Moneca Delain, Quinn Lord, Brett Kelly, Britt McKillip, Isabelle Deluce, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Samm Todd,

RATING: 6 out of 10 urban legends