Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bob Roberts

Year 9, Day 346 - 12/12/17 - Movie #2,794

BEFORE: Tim Robbins carries over from "Tapeheads", and so do two other actors in smaller roles.  Well, I did say I wanted to get more political this year, and I've done that - but this is perhaps my last attempt to add to that topic, with just six more films to watch this year.  Unless Snoke is seen in "The Last Jedi" wearing a red baseball cap and starts talking about "Making Alderaan Great Again".

THE PLOT: A right-wing folk singer becomes a corrupt politician and runs a crooked election campaign.  Only one independent muck-raking reporter is trying to stop him.

AFTER: I'm not the only one who sees the connection here - the internet is now calling this "the 1992 film that predicted Donald Trump", despite some obvious differences.  The character of Bob Roberts was running for U.S. Senator, not President, for just one example.  Also, Roberts used folk music as his platform for becoming famous before launching his political career, not reality TV.  But aside from those things, it's another case where a movie seemed to function a bit like a crystal ball for the election of 2016.

Both Bob Roberts and Trump are rich right-wingers, and both are very willing to talk about their wealth (though Trump seemed to adopt right-wing politics after being a Democrat for a very long time, and still won't release his tax returns, so we don't REALLY know if he's as rich as he claims).  But both used racial divisiveness and catchy slogans to get elected - for Roberts those slogans were in the form of songs, and for Trump they were in the form of three-word phrases ("Build the wall", "Lock her up", and so on...).  And both, of course, would say just about anything to get elected.

Another telling moment is what seems to be a predictor of Trump's appearance on "SNL" during the 2016 campaign.  In this film, Bob Roberts travels to New York City to appear on a comedy show called "Cutting Edge Live" and perform a song.  We see him meeting with a very Lorne Michaels-like producer (named "Michael Janes") and the guest host of the show, John Cusack (possibly playing himself) is not happy about sharing the stage with a right-wing politician - and neither is one of the female staffers, who knocks out the power during Roberts' performance.

Roberts is also a slick businessman, who went to military school as a teen, is a manipulator of the media who displays any negative press as "fake news" and there are rumors of a connection to failed businesses (savings and loans) in his past, while his political opponents all call him a "con man".  Sound familiar?  Bob Roberts might as well have been hash-tagging "MAGA", only we didn't have Twitter back then.  Oh, plus we see him hosting a beauty pageant in Pennsylvania - and as the election draws near, protestors start appearing at Bob Roberts' rallies, only to be roughed up by security and yelled at by the candidate on the stage.  Watch it yourself if you don't believe me, that's all in the film.  The signs were there, we chose to ignore them - I took my time getting to this film, so I take on some of the blame.  But in 1992, this was considered an outrageous satire, and looking back on it in 2017, it's very close to our current reality.

The prophecies only go so far, of course - Roberts chooses to imply that his opponent, incumbent Senator Paiste, had an improper encounter with a 14-year old girl, while the Senator claims she was just a friend of his granddaughter, who was in the back-seat of the car, and he was giving her a ride home.  (If this were truly predictive of Trump, he'd probably support a candidate for dating a 14-year old, like he's doing for Roy Moore, rather than criticizing him for it...)  And in the film there's only one diligent reporter trying to take Bob Roberts down, while in our reality there are probably hundreds of them trying to get the dirt on Trump, and it doesn't seem to be making a difference, at least not yet.

This is a fascinating peek inside the playbook of the things that politicians will do or say to get elected, promising everyone everything while campaigning, while knowing that it will be mathematically impossible to both cut taxes AND increase military spending, to create jobs AND reduce the deficit, to maintain peace AND keep us out of war.  But some people keep believing in those contradictions, don't they?  Last year at Christmas, my (younger) cousin kept telling me what a great President Trump was going to be, and if I see him this year and the FIRST thing he says to me isn't "Boy, was I wrong!" then we've got nothing constructive to talk about.

Also starring Giancarlo Esposito (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Alan Rickman (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Ray Wise (last seen in "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"), Brian Murray, Gore Vidal (last seen in "Gattaca"), Robert Stanton (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Harry Lennix (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Rebecca Jenkins, John Ottavino, Merrilee Dale, Kelly Willis, Tom Atkins, David Strathiirn (last seen in "Godzilla" (2014)), Jack Black (last seen in "Orange County"), John Cusack (also carrying over from "Tapeheads"), Lee Arenberg (ditto), Bob Balaban (last seen in "Catch-22"), Lynne Thigpen (last seen in "Sweet Liberty"), Bingo O'Malley (last seen in "Out of the Furnace"), Kathleen Chalfont (last seen in "Perfect Stranger"), Anita Gillette, Matt McGrath (last seen in "The Anniversary Party"), with cameos from James Spader (last seen in "Supernova"), Pamela Reed (last seen in "Eyewitness"), Helen Hunt (last seen in "Bobby"), Peter Gallagher, Susan Sarandon (last seen in "Moonlight Mile"), Fred Ward (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Fisher Stevens (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Jeremy Piven (last seen in "The Crew"), Robert Hegyes.

RATING: 5 out of 10 local news anchors

Monday, December 11, 2017


Year 9, Day 345 - 12/11/17 - Movie #2,793

BEFORE: Two actors carry over from "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" - they are "Weird Al" Yankovic (big fan, happy to FINALLY use him as a link) and Steve Higgins, who's known now for being Fallon's sidekick on "The Tonight Show", but apparently he's been around for years as a writer on SNL.  Higgins may not have many acting credits, but Weird Al has made a TON of cameos over the years, it's surprising that he hasn't turned up more often here at the Movie Year.  He's only popped up in four films out of nearly 2,800 and three of those were in this calendar year.

I last saw him in concert in San Diego in July 2016, and in-between the songs (while Al was changing costumes, no doubt) they played video montages of Al's cameos from various movies and TV shows over the years, and there really are a lot of them.  Just look on IMDB, the guy has over 100 acting credits (these include his own music videos, though), and almost 200 credits as "Self" (but some of these count as acting, this includes times he played himself in movies as well as talk-show appearances).  The IMDB really needs to break down these categories better - I think many of these listings end up in the wrong section...

 THE PLOT: A couple of creative losers accidentally become big shots in the music video industry.

AFTER: I passed on this film a few times, because like many cult films it comes around on cable every so often - I think I was probably confusing it with the film "Airheads", which I had seen. But it's a different film with a different agenda, and I've just seen it referred to online as "a little film that tried way too hard", and that's as good a description as any.

But let's get the Trump similarities out of the way - part of the plot concerns a rich right-wing Presidential candidate with two useless adult sons, trying to track down an incriminating sex tape of him doing some really kinky things.  Hmm, does that sound familiar?  The character's name is Norman Mart, and that even has the same cadence, two-syllable first name and a one-syllable last name.  There's no way this film from 1988 could have peeked into the future, but maybe this film is  worth another look for its predictive quality alone.

I did a lot of work on music videos myself in the late 1980's, mostly as a production assistant, when I was a recent graduate of NYU film school, and just glad to have a foot, or any other kind of appendage, in the proverbial door.  So I know this world well, for a few years there it seemed like the only money to be made came from music videos, because at least the clients had money to spend, and the alternative was to work on an educational piece, or worse, your own project, both of which were likely to pay a lot less.  I've spoken often about my first day on the job, which was prepping for two music videos being shot back-to-back, one for Rick James and the other for Apollonia - I got to be on set for the Rick James one, I remember holding the cables off the floor as the director moved around with the handheld camera.  I worked in some capacity on other music videos (or Sesame Street segments, we treated them equally) for Leon Redbone, Jeff Healey, En Vogue, Alphaville, and a piece for The Residents.  The directors I was working for were part of the whole downtown art scene, so they knew a bunch of the big names in the video art and dance world - but it was still a rough place to work, never knowing when the next paying gig was going to come in, so we'd spend a lot of time sending out demo reels and taking any job that came in, even if it was just editing stock footage together for a video-game commercial or an in-house corporate promo.

So this film sort of works in that sense, capturing the feeling of owning a tiny video-production company in the late 1980's.  But I have to consider it a NITPICK POINT that characters in this film are just starting to figure out the power and potential of music videos, when the truth is that they'd been prominent since at least 1983 when MTV started, and also before that, so why doesn't anyone in a 1988 film seem to believe in them at first? 

There's another NITPICK POINT in the film where the two video entrepreneurs are hired to tape a man reading his own will, and the gag is that they're acting like auteurs, forcing him to record the thing again and again while he's lying in a hospital bed, because he's not delivering the lines with enough "feeling".  It's supposed to be funny when the guy expires on the 14th take, and it is - but then the director acts like he didn't get the shot, and the implication then is that they won't get paid.  But hey, guys, if it's the 14th take, that means that there are 13 previous takes where the guy read the will, so that means that they DID get the will recorded, and the job was therefore completed - unless they did something incredibly stupid like keep recording over the same piece of tape, and nobody did that back then, because videotape was seemingly infinite, we all just kept buying more and more of it. 

This film also predicted that the best use of music-video imagery would be to sell stuff, the directors make an upgraded commercial for Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles (which is apparently a real restaurant in L.A.!) and it looks and sounds just like a rap video.  There's also a music video they make for a Swedish band called Cube Squared that ends up looking like something that OK GO would make a couple of decades later.

But the main plot (umm, I guess) concerns a plot to sabotage the Menudo concert, which is about to be broadcast around the world, and replace it with a performance by the Swanky Modes, a couple of famous soul singers who have fallen on hard times.  It's a noble enough calling, I suppose - but are the people who tuned in to see Menudo really going to be satisfied if they don't see their favorite boy band, but a couple of old soul singers instead?  Aren't they just going to change the channel when they find out that Menudo isn't going to be performing?

Also starring John Cusack (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Tim Robbins (last seen in "Arlington Road"), Mary Crosby (last seen in "The Legend of Zorro"), Clu Galager (last seen in "Into the Night"), Katy Boyer (last seen in "The Island"), Jessica Walter (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Sam Moore (last seen in "Blues Brothers 2000"), Junior Walker, Susan Tyrrell (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Doug McClure (last seen in "52 Pick-Up"), Connie Stevens (last seen in "Way...Way Out"), King Cotton, Don Cornelius, Lee Arenberg (last seen in "Robocop 3"), with cameos from Lyle Alzado, Xander Berkeley (last seen in "Sid and Nancy"), Coati Mundi (ditto), Bobcat Goldthwait, Ted Nugent, Jello Biafra, Doug E. Fresh, Michael Nesmith, Martha Quinn, Courtney Love (also last seen in "Sid and Nancy"), David Anthony Higgins and the band Fishbone.

RATING: 4 out of 10 limbo dancers

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Year 9, Day 344 - 12/10/17 - Movie #2,792

BEFORE: If this were a typical Movie Year, I'd be closing up shop right about now, so I could focus on getting some Christmas cards mailed out, and some catalog browsing to at least start thinking about gifts for family and friends.  But it's not a typical year - I took time off for a vacation in addition to two Comic-Cons this year, so I've still got another week and a half of movies to hit 300.  With 21 days left in 2017, I'm sure I can make it - the trick will be finishing with enough time to do those other holiday things.

Shorter feature films do help, this one's just under 90 minutes long.  But I'm going to do something I only do a couple of times a year, and watch a short tonight before the feature.  My only rule for this is that the short must be on topic.  It won't increase the count or affect the linking, I'll just mention it here as an extra - but it does star Andy Samberg, who's also in today's feature.  It's "Tour de Pharmacy", a 40-minute mockumentary spoof that's about the Tour de France, only it's set in a year where nearly every cyclist was caught using drugs, so all were banned from the race except for 5 non-dopers.  And this is quite topical, considering the Russians were just banned from the Winter Olympics for a drug scandal.  But this short is all in fun, with tons of guest stars and a bunch of inside jokes about the world of sports and fame.  Check it out on HBO if you get a chance.

Now that's out of the way, and Imogen Poots carries over from "Jimi: All Is By My Side" to another film about a famous music star, only it's another spoof.

THE PLOT: When it becomes clear that his solo album is a failure, a former boy-band member does everything in his power to maintain his celebrity status.

AFTER: I'm sure it was quite easy to take some of these potshots at the world of today's pop music, everything from the ridiculous boy bands of the 90's (the Style Boyz here) to the way that musicians feel the need to reinvent themselves for each new tour - after the band breaks up, the lead renames himself "Conner4Real" to the constant need to over-hype and outdo the last album.  Conner is a pastiche of Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, and let's say Justin Timberlake (who also came out of the boy-band scene, and appears here in a role as Conner's personal chef).

So every aspect of being a pop-music star is taken to its extreme and illogical conclusion - in much the same way that "Tour de Pharmacy" oversold every joke.  A cyclist isn't just doping, he's super-doping, taking every steroid and drug known to man, because a longer list is (theoretically) funnier.  And so Conner's new album can't just do poorly, it's got to do phenomenally horribly just to over-sell the joke.  In reality, you've got to imagine that an album doing slightly worse sales than expected is probably a lot more common.  The concert arena can't just have a few empty seats, it's got to look like there were zero tickets sold, and so on.

I try to follow pop culture, but watching this, I wish I knew a bit more about current pop music, just so I could understand all of the references.  Probably that just means I'm too old to fully enjoy this film.  I sort of got that Conner's song "Equal Rights" was a dig at Macklemore, but if I didn't know that, it could have come off as really homophobic, since Conner drops in the line "I'm not gay" as many times as possible in a song calling for gay marriage rights.  Of course, Conner finds out that his protest anthem hit the stores just a bit too late, after gay marriage became legal, because in this film, everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

Conner owns a large turtle, and I guess this is supposed to a reference to Justin Bieber's pet monkey - the one that he tried to take to Germany, which got confiscated.  Hey, did he ever get that monkey back?  Just wondering, the news doesn't always do proper follow-ups on things like this.  Ah, I guess it lives in a zoo in Germany now, that probably draws a few extra people in, to see a famous person's ex-monkey.

I didn't really get the joke about putting Conner's new album into appliances like refrigerators and microwaves - apparently this was a dig at U2 for having their album installed for free in everyone's phones, which I guess people didn't appreciate.  I knew about the U2 thing, but the joke was too different from reality for me to make the connection.  I would guess it's a lot of work not only to do parody work, but to strike the right balance between reality and fiction - how far into left field should a spoof go?

Also starring Andy Samberg (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Jorma Taccone (last seen in "Neighbors"), Akiva Schaffer (ditto), Tim Meadows (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Sarah Silverman (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Chris Redd, Maya Rudolph (last heard in "The Angry Birds Movie"), Bill Hader (ditto), Joan Cusack (last seen in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"), James Buckley, Edgar Blackmon, Justin Timberlake (last seen in "Runner Runner"), Danny Strong, Kevin Nealon (last seen in "Cecil B. Demented"), Will Arnett (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Mike Birbiglia (last seen in "Don't Think Twice"), Chelsea Peretti, Eric André (last seen in "The Internship"), Paul Scheer (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Will Forte (last seen in "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"), Joanna Newsom (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Derek Mears (last seen in "Live by Night"), with cameos from Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Carrie Underwood, Nas, Usher (last seen in "The Faculty"), 50 Cent (last seen in "Southpaw"), Simon Cowell, Ringo Starr (last seen in "George Harrison: Living in the Material World"), Adam Levine (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Mario Lopez (ditto), Akon, Mariah Carey (last seen in "You Don't Mess with the Zohan"), Pink, DJ Khaled, A$AP Rocky, Danger Mouse, RZA (last seen in "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"), T.I. (last seen in "Get Hard"), Pharrell Williams, Seal, Jimmy Fallon (last seen in "Factory Girl"), Steve Higgins (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Rules Don't Apply"), Emma Stone (last seen in "Irrational Man"), Katy Perry (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Snoop Dogg (also last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Michael Bolton and "Weird Al" Yankovic (last seen in "Sandy Wexler")

RATING: 4 out of 10 quick costume changes

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jimi: All Is By My Side

Year 9, Day 343 - 12/9/17 - Movie #2,791

BEFORE: André Benjamin (André 3000?  Which is it?) carries over from "Idlewild", and this is the film I've been looking forward to, they took their sweet time running this 2013 on premium cable.  I know because I've been waiting for four years, since before there was even a Netflix to check obsessively.  This will also cap off a trilogy of 1970's bio-pics this week, which included Linda Lovelace and John Holmes.  Now, whatever happened to those Janis Joplin movies that competing studios were supposedly developing a few years ago, will any of those ever get produced?

I don't have many films left in this year's chain - and I can't make any changes now, not if I want to link to "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", which is now just five films away.  But if I had an open slot, I could drop in a documentary about Hendrix that I recently taped - maybe I'll watch it anyway as an extra after this to verify the events in this movie.  If needed.

THE PLOT: A drama based on Jimi Hendrix's life as he left New York City for London, where his career took off.

AFTER: It's the stuff of rock and roll legend, how Jimi Hendrix did a show in London with two of the Beatles in the crowd (Paul and George) and happened to have an advance copy of the "Sgt. Pepper" album backstage, so he quickly listened to the title track and went over the chords with the other members of his band, all so he could get ahead of the curve and be the first person to play a song from that upcoming album live in concert.  Now, since that album had only been released three days prior, very few people in that audience were likely to recognize it, but for the few that would, hearing Jimi play it was really going to mess with their heads.  Was Jimi trying to steal the Beatles' thunder, pay homage to their new album, or just blow their minds with a musical magic trick of sorts?  

This did happen, there's a video of it online.  Hendrix didn't get all of the chords right, and added an extended guitar solo, of course.  But that's all we see of this concert in this movie, though Hendrix went on to perform "Foxy Lady", "Manic Depression", "Hey Joe", "Purple Haze", "The Wind Cries Mary" and "Are You Experienced".  That's about when you realize that the filmmakers here weren't able to secure the rights to any of Hendrix's original songs, but they went ahead with the movie anyway.

To pull off their own little magic trick, they had to compose a few song pieces that sounded a bit like early Jimi Hendrix Experience numbers, and they were able to record Hendrix-like versions of "Wild Thing" and "Hound Dog", but other than that, there's a lot of footage of André as Jimi tuning up, or getting ready to play, or stalling within a recording session.  Turns out you really do need some of those songs if you're going to make the point that Hendrix was a great guitarist, if not a great song-writer.  But the film, in this roundabout way, then raises the question about his songwriting - was he just a great guitarist, in the end?

For these purposes, you have to examine his most famous tracks - "All Along the Watchtower" was a Bob Dylan song.  "Hey Joe" goes back to Billy Roberts in 1962, and possibly before that. "Red House" came out of Albert King's 1961 recording "Travelin' to California", and so on.  And the version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" he played at Woodstock would be completely out of copyright, of course.  Rock has undergone a sort of revisionist history in the last few years, with musicologists pointing out that nearly every Led Zeppelin song was just a fresh take on an old blues song by Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, so they've been forced to credit the real songwriters on the new releases of their old albums.  Even "Stairway to Heaven" bears a strong resemblance to a song called "Taurus" from a band called Spirit, which Zeppelin toured with before they released "Stairway".  Hmmmm......

So the film chooses to focus only on Jimi's time in London, which means it conveniently ends as he flies off to play at the Monterey Pop Festival, another iconic performance where he played some songs that he did write, which we'll never get to hear here.  It's kind of similar to how "Wonderland" chose to focus on John Holmes' connection to a murder scene, rather than the x-rated film work that he was more famous for.  And both remind me of Patton Oswalt's routine about "The Passion of the Christ", comparing a film focusing solely on Jesus' torture and crucifixion to an imaginary film about Albert Einstein that would focus solely on those three days where he had really bad stomach flu.

But for the positives, André Benjamin was great at capturing the speech pattern, the look and the FEEL of Jimi Hendrix.  And even though he still had that "too cool" detached manner that was evident yesterday in "Idlewild", here that attitude really works, because I'm guessing that quite often, Hendrix WAS the coolest person in the room, and he knew it.  It's too bad that the narrative and musical constraints here forced the story to add in a bunch of insecurity (to explain the overly-long guitar tuning sessions) and also the times he beat his girlfriend (which she claims never happened).

Also starring Hayley Atwell (last seen in "Cinderella"), Imogen Poots (last seen in "28 Weeks Later"), Ruth Negga (last seen in "World War Z"), Andrew Buckley, Oliver Bennett, Tom Dunlea, Adrian Lester (last seen in "Primary Colors"), Burn Gorman (last seen in "Layer Cake"), Amy de Bhrun (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Clare-Hope Ashitey, Laurence Kinlan, Jade Yourell, Sam McGovern, Robbie Jarvis, Danny McColgan, Sean Duggan, Geoffrey Burton, Richard Lintern (last seen in "Syriana").

RATING: 5 out of 10 hair curlers

Friday, December 8, 2017


Year 9, Day 342 - 12/8/17 - Movie #2,790

BEFORE: Faizon Love carries over from "Wonderland", and this is a film that I recorded months ago, but I kept it down at the bottom of the list, because I was waiting for some channel to run the film I'm going to watch tomorrow.  That took some time, longer than expected.  But eventually it did air, so I'm moving forward with my plan to get this one AND that one off the watchlist before the end of the year.

THE PLOT: A musical set in prohibition-era American South, where Rooster, a speakeasy performer and club manager, must contend with gangsters while his partner, piano player Percival, must choose between his love and his obligations to his father.

AFTER: This sort of fits into that fascination we seem to have as a country with the Jazz Age, the birth of the club scene and a particular style of music, and the gangster lifestyle that went along with the combination of those things and Prohibition.  Just as American culture and nightlife were developing, alcohol happened to be illegal, so naturally crime flourished in the form of bootlegging and other illicit night-time activities.

But I found this film very hard to follow - and very hard to finish, since I kept falling asleep, rewinding back to the last thing I remembered, and falling asleep again.  How did someone make singing, dancing and running hooch so flipping boring?  I had to give up on the film after about an hour, and then get some real sleep.  After work on Friday I had to finish the final hour of the film, but all told, that took way too much time.  If only there had been anything interesting in the plot, maybe I could have stayed awake.

I think the main problem here is that even some of the actors don't seem like they care - and if they don't seem invested in what's going on, then neither do I.  Bear in mind that some of these actors fell backwards into movies through music, so they may not have had formal training in acting, and sometimes that does make a difference.  Terrence Howard, I don't know what his deal is, but he always gives off that air like he doesn't care what's happening.  Acting is about showing emotions, not just being the coolest, most emotionally detached person in the room at any given time.

But there are also parts of the story that don't make any sense.  There's a woman who impersonates a famous singer, just to get into the club - and then when she gets up on stage, she realizes that she can't perform due to stage fright.  Really?  If she can't sing, then what was her big plan, what was the endgame to her little scam?  It just doesn't track.  In another instance, a gangster informs the new owner of the club that the previous owner's debt is now his problem.  Umm, no, pretty much everyone agrees that when someone dies, their debts are wiped clean.  Not even a mobster would go after someone else to collect a debt, or am I way off base here?

Plus, it just didn't work for me to have characters performing in a nightclub in the 1930's, singing what are essentially hip-hop songs.  You can't re-work the historical timeline to put a modern piece of music in a historical setting.  This didn't work in "Moulin Rouge", and it didn't work here.

On top of all that, I didn't even understand the bits with the talking rooster on the flask.  I literally have no idea what that was all about.  Was Rooster insane, hallucinating, or what?  Same goes for the little animated characters on the sheet music - what did that even bring to the table, or was it just a time-killer?   I'm just not following so much of this randomness.  And on top of THAT, it doesn't make any sense for someone to collect cuckoo clocks, to have a whole wall of them.  That's just not a thing - I guarantee that for anyone who owns one of those items, one is plenty, possibly too many.

There are a couple of nice camera tricks in this film, but a movie needs to be about more than just a couple pieces of interesting cinematography and a hokey ending.

Also starring André Benjamin, Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, Paula Patton (last seen in "The Do-Over"), Terrence Howard (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Malinda Williams, Cicely Tyson (last seen in "Alex Cross"), Ving Rhames (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Macy Gray (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Jackie Long, Ben Vereen, Bill Nunn (last seen in "Regarding Henry"), Paula Jai Parker (last seen in "Hustle & Flow"), Bobb'e J. Thompson, Patti Labelle, Karen Dyer (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Oscar Dillon, Esau McGraw, Bruce Bruce, with the voice of Fonzworth Bentley.

RATING: 3 out of 10 tommy guns

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Year 9, Day 341 - 12/7/17 - Movie #2,789

BEFORE: Christina Applegate carries over from "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip", and it's another one of those weeks where I'm absolutely certain that no one ever, besides me, has watched these particular films in this order.  Who watches an animated movie for kids and then follows it up with a film about porn stars and murder?  You really should watch out for someone like that, there's probably something very wrong with them.

Speaking of which, I have heard from a reliable source that there will be no more "Chipmunks" films produced, after "The Road Chip", and it's probably just as well.  It seems like Alvin's really in trouble this time, some of the Chipettes have accused him of sexual harassment, so his Hollywood career is over, unless he goes to sex rehab and then does the apology publicity tour.  It's very sad - but you just can't have someone like that serving as a role model for kids.

THE PLOT: In the investigation of a brutal crime scene, one man was at the center of it all: legendary porn star John Holmes.

AFTER: Way back at the start of this year, I sent out a dedication to Carrie Fisher, who passed away just before Christmas.  It took 11 months to finally get to some films with her in them - she turns up tonight in a small role as a religious L.A. woman trying to help get troubled women off the streets - but I didn't expect her to pop up here.  This is almost too soon - I've got three more films with her scheduled for next week, including a little sci-fi film you might be anticipating, if you're like me.  I'm still 7 films away from linking to "The Last Jedi" - but I'm gonna get back to Carrie in time for next Friday.

This film about John Holmes is a bit of an odd duck - I mean, there's no denying the fact that he was a person of interest in what came to be known as the "Wonderland Murders" (which took place on Wonderland Avenue) and were probably a gangster's retaliation for a robbery by a group of people who were also connected to Holmes.  The connection between all the parties involved seems to be that John Holmes liked to come over to their houses, snort a bunch of cocaine, and then leave.  Holmes also apparently worked out a deal to trade one person's antique guns for a bunch of drugs, and then may have suggested the plan to go steal the guns back, which then in turn precipitated the murders.

The problem is that being involved in both the heist and the murder plot is probably not the most interesting thing about John Holmes, who was much more famous for his x-rated movies, where he was known for, well, let's just say his size and his endurance.  How did he get started in the industry?  Once that happened, how did he become so famous?  And then what effect did this have on his marriage and his personal life?  How did he get addicted to drugs?  All of these things I would be curious about, but this film just doesn't seem interested in them.

Instead we have to just assume that someone working in the porn industry probably made a number of bad life choices, and that's a pattern that seems to continue when we're introduced to Holmes as a character.  He makes a stop at a house on Wonderland, then leaves his girlfriend in a hotel room, disappears for a few hours, and when he comes back, the news comes on with the story about four people killed in that very same house.  Slowly we're shown the events of that night from several different perspectives, and the facts seem to change depending on who's relaying them.  And you know I hate movies where I have to assemble the narrative myself from all the pieces, especially when they're not given out in the proper order.

And even when we do piece everything together, it scarcely matters since nearly everyone connected with the case either died in the house in Wonderland, or died a few years later from other causes.  Also, several people were arrested and tried for the murders, but hardly anyone served any hard time.  Everything about this case just ends up feeling pointless and depressing.  Plus I think the director often lost track of this story, because there were a few times where there were flashbacks within flashbacks, and that's a big narrative no-no...this isn't "Inception".

Also starring Val Kilmer (last seen in "The Island of Dr. Moreau") Kate Bosworth (last seen in "Still Alice"), Lisa Kudrow (last seen in "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"), Dylan McDermott (last seen in "Olympus Has Fallen"), Josh Lucas (last seen in "Stolen"), Ted Levine (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "Fantastic Four"), Faizon Love, M.C. Gainey (also last seen in "Stolen"), Eric Bogosian, Carrie Fisher (last seen in "Maps to the Stars") Janeane Garofalo (last seen in "Sandy Wexler"), Natasha Greyson Wagner (last seen in "Lost Highway"), Louis Lombardi (last seen in "Runner Runner"), Franky G (last seen in "The Italian Job"), Scoot McNairy (last seen in "Bobby"), Joleigh Fioravanti, George Leonardopoulos, Michelle Borth, Chris Ellis, with a cameo from Paris Hilton.

RATING: 4 out of 10 metal pipes

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

Year 9, Day 340 - 12/6/17 - Movie #2,788

BEFORE: OK, this may seem a little weird, because I'm putting a (partially) animated kids movie right in between two films about the porn industry, and another about filmmaking terrorists.  What can I say, my linking makes for some strange neighbors sometimes.  John Waters made a cameo in his own film "Cecil B. Demented", and he carries over to make another cameo in this film.

I guess it's part of a larger theme week about fame - the chipmunks are singing stars in their film series, right?  What's odd is that last night's film had a whole bit about a porn film with a rodent entering a certain body cavity, and now tonight it's a whole bunch of famous singing rats.  (Chipmunks are really rats, right?)

I must confess this is being included just to get it off of the list - this film has been languishing down in the "Unlinkables" section of my list for some time.  It didn't share actors with ANY of the many animated films I watched this year, and that should tell you something right there. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" (Movie #1,324)

THE PLOT: Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore come to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in Miami, and dump them.  They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal, saving themselves from losing Dave and gaining a terrible stepbrother.

AFTER: I know, it's supposed to be a movie for kids, and I'm not a kid - nor do I have any kids.  But I started this damn Chipmunks series, and I'm going to finish it today.  Please PLEASE let this be the last "Chipmunks", movie, OK, Hollywood?  We all have to stop letting people go to the movies to see films like this, or else they're just going to keep barfing out more of the same.   Hey, if your kids like this movie, that's fine, but you may want to think about getting smarter kids in the long run.  If I did have a kid, he or she would probably say something to me like, "How come Alvin, Simon and Theodore can talk and sing, but in their world there are also other animals, including squirrels, that can't?"  That's assuming that I raised that kid correctly, with extra love and attention whenever they prove that they're smarter than the other kids their age.

Does this film series ever address this point?  I doubt it.  Are these 3 (OK, 6) Chipmunks extra special, was there some kind of mutation caused by a radiation leak that granted them intelligence and the power of speech?  Are we as viewers just supposed to ignore this, like the people on screen in this wacko universe that's just like our own, except with 6 talking rodents?  Now my head hurts.

The film itself is not only powered by misunderstandings, but also by the certainty that the three rats-in-sweaters are NOT going to behave.  As soon as Dave, their foster father (apparently) tells them NOT to leave the house, or NOT to leave the hotel room, or NOT to follow him to Florida, you just know that's exactly what they're going to do, right?  This is another very important reason to not let your kids see this - each time, the chipmunks are rewarded for NOT obeying the rules.  It shouldn't matter if they're trying to fix things each time, a rule is a rule, and each time they transgress then they are punished more severely and have to apologize more sincerely, and after three times it just makes you wonder why there are even rules imposed on them in the first place.
"I know you said not to kill anyone, Dave, but we were just trying to fix things!" would be the ultimate illogical extension of this.  I know, it's ridiculous, but that's where my mind tends to go, to take everything to its extreme illogical conclusion.

Part of the plot involves the possibility of Dave getting married, to a woman who has a son, and the first few meetings between the son and the Chipmunks do not go well.  This would have been an excellent opportunity to make a statement about bullying, how wrong that is, and how a bully really only hates himself, or is acting out because of troubles at home, but the film just lets that alone - so there are no consquences for the bully, or motivations for him to change his behavior.  What a shame, from a narrative standpoint. 

And the character who kept getting beaten up by the Chipmunks in the first three films, played by David Cross, did not return - so they had to create a new character, who's an Air Marshal, who follows them and keeps getting injured or falling down or in some other crazy situation.  Kudos to the actor who was smart enough to not take the job, and pity the actor who took his place.

And why was the actress who played the girlfriend delivering all of her lines through clenched teeth?  She didn't seem to want to be there either, or maybe she got lockjaw after being bitten by a rabid CGI chipmunk?  This franchise needs to end ASAP - someone call an exterminator.

Also starring Jason Lee (last seen in "Dreamcatcher"), Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Josh Green, Tony Hale (last heard in "The Angry Birds Movie"), Bella Thorne, Eddie Steeples, Maxie McClintock, Laura Marano, with the voices of Justin Long (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Matthew Gray Gubler (last heard in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked"), Jesse McCartney (ditto), Christina Applegate (last seen in "The Sweetest Thing"), Kaley Cuoco (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Anna Faris (last seen in "Keanu"), and cameos from Jennifer Coolidge (last seen in "A Series of Unfortunate Events"), Uzo Aduba, Retta, Flula Borg (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), RedFoo.

RATING: 2 out of 10 horrible pop songs that sound even worse when "sung" at chipmunk speed.