Monday, September 17, 2018

Nerve

Year 10, Day 260 - 9/17/18 - Movie #3,056

BEFORE: You see, everything has a funny way of working out, at least when I invest some time to do some proper planning, that is.  I could have watched this one right after "Now You See Me 2", but my chain went a different way last year, but that one got sandwiched between a Michael Caine film and another Jesse Eisenberg film - "Café Society" was more important to me at the time, so I had to make a choice.  That left this little film with all by itself for well over a year, no way to link to it.  But now that I've seen "Disaster Artist", I was able to rescue it from the Unlinkables section, so Dave Franco carries over.

However, this means that I couldn't follow the James Franco link, so now that leaves films like "The Vault" on Netflix temporarily stranded.  I'm going to watch another James Franco film later this year, as part of the Nicole Kidman chain, but there's no way to both carry on with the chain I have planned, and work in more James Franco, it's one or the other.  I also have never seen "127 Hours", and I have access to an old Academy screener of that, even if it's not available streaming right now.  But I'll have to just try and get to these next year, because I'm rapidly running out of slots for 2018, I have just 44 left after tonight and they're all spoken for. 

But you see how following one thread means that I have to abandon all of the others, at least for the time being.  Still, I need to focus on what I am watching, and not on what I could be watching. 


THE PLOT: A high school senior finds herself immersed in an online game of truth or dare, where her every move starts to become manipulated by an anonymous community of "watchers". 

AFTER: See, it's another film set in high school, even if we never see these kids going to class, because all the action happens overnight, and they apparently never sleep.  But I'm going to count this as part of the back-to-school chain anyway, because I can.  These kids party all night and probably all weekend too, so they're probably a wreck in class on Monday morning, but hey, that's Staten Island for you - the only kids more wasted are probably the ones on the Jersey Shore.

This film's main character, Vee (short for Venus) wants to go to school at Cal Arts, but she's afraid to tell her mother that she was accepted there, because it hasn't been that long since her brother died, and she just doesn't have the self-confidence to bring up this topic, or to move across the country for school, for that matter.  If only there were some kind of convenient online game that she could play that could help her confront her fears and also help her develop a sense of self-worth, while also earning some money for tuition, and maybe meeting a cute guy along the way.  Ha ha, that's so silly, we shouldn't wish for things we can't have.

For this to work, you have to believe that there are two types of people in this world, players and watchers.  Players are the people who take the online dares, while watchers are the people who, well, you can probably guess.  I think this is really overly simplistic, to break down all of humanity into just two types, the doers and the watchers.  Vee is a watcher at heart, but she's sick of being a follower, a hanger-on, a toady, so she pushes herself to become a doer, a player.  We all have that power at any time, but we all can also use it selectively - I can be a doer at my job and get stuff done, and then I can go home and watch TV or a movie, I don't have to think of myself as just the one thing. 

This film so wanted to land somewhere between "Ready Player One" and "The Hunger Games", only it's not set in the future, it's set in NYC, here and now.  And maybe you might think this couldn't happen here and now, but you'd be wrong.  We live in an amazing world of social media, where people are able to connect to each other in ways they never have before - but what do today's teen's use this incredible power for?  Meet-ups like an annual pantsless subway ride, that's what.  Not raising money to cure cancer or some other disease, it's more, hey, let's get together and take our pants off and make everyone else on the train really uncomfortable (and/or turned on) because they didn't get the text like the cool people did.  Way to go, millennials, you're really lowering the bar.

And don't get me started on the various "challenges" that make the rounds.  Let's start with the cinnamon challenge, which is impossible, the milk gallon challenge, which makes EVERYONE who tries it throw up.  But you kids never learn, do you?  Nobody on the internet who challenges you has your best interest at heart - so naturally that led to the Tide Pod challenge, where some mental midgets ended up EATING DETERGENT because someone on the internet told them to.  You know that's poison, right?  Any of you kids die from eating a Tide Pod, you probably deserve it, and we're just thinning out the gene pool, which was pretty shallow to begin with.  The latest one is filming yourself dancing along with some music video while exiting a moving car.  Do you really need me to say it?  Geez, I thought my generation was dumb for cross-dressing in the 80's, playing "Seven Minutes in Heaven" and drinking Crystal Pepsi, but these kids today really found a way to act even stupider.

The ultimate, of course, are these numbskulls who climb up skyscrapers to the very tippy-top, just to get a selfie with the whole city skyline in the background.  I'd say go ahead, climb wherever you want, fall to your death, you'd be doing the world a favor, except I don't want you to take out somebody else on the ground when you land.  That person, at least, would not deserve to die. And I thought base-jumping was the ultimate stupid physical activity, but someone had to go and take it to the next level, didn't they?  All for what, a couple cool Instagram shots?  You know, you could probably create those skyscraper photos in Photoshop and not risk your life, I'm just saying.  Your stupid classmates will never know.

But let's get back to the story seen in "Nerve", which starts out strong, but falls apart about halfway through.  The online dares start out simple enough - kiss this random guy, try on this dress in a fancy department store (which is somehow open late at night, so I'm calling NITPICK POINT on that) but then get tougher, progressing to things like walking across a ladder between two buildings, or trying to grab a cop's gun (umm, not recommended) or jump from one subway platform to another.  The makers of this film do know that teens were ideally going to watch this film, right?  I think they just ended up giving today's kids a whole new bunch of idiotic dares to try out.

So the question that the filmmakers should have asked here was, "Should we make this movie, or are we just going to giving a bunch of new bad ideas to today's teens?"  I don't feel that enough consideration was given to this point, because if it had been, this movie wouldn't exist.  About the only thing that the film gets right is the fact that the makers of this hot, new internet game turn out to be much more interested in taking money OUT of the players' accounts than they are at putting money into them.  Sure, go ahead, sync up your online banking account with your online poker account, what could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Look, I'm not saying that my generation wasn't full of dumb ideas, we certainly were.  How many times did I read a story in the newspaper about some teen that ran up a five-figure bill on a phone sex line?  And his parents would end up on the hook for all those charges - at that point they probably would have preferred him to have real sex with a real hooker, who would charge maybe $100 max, instead of owing tens of thousands to a phone company.  (I bet the teen probably would have preferred the real thing, too...). Also, when I was a teen, people were always talking about backwards messages on record albums, that if you moved your turntable in the other direction, you could hear hidden messages from the band, or perhaps the Dark Lord himself.  Now, some people had turntables that could rotate backwards, and some didn't, but we all tried anyway.  Some of those kids grew up to be DJs, but some of us just ruined our parents' turntables.  Now that I'm older, I see that the rumors were probably spread by Big Stereo (Sony, Pioneer, Aiwa) to maybe sell a few more units.

See, you always have to question where your information is coming from - some of us learned this lesson back in the day, while others got a big wake-up call when they realized that Facebook was using personal data to build consumer profiles and send them targeted ads.  My reaction when the news broke was, "Uh, yeah, DUH, who didn't see that one coming?"  I won't participate in any store club cards, not even at the grocery when getting the store card will get me cheaper orange juice.  If I have to give up my phone number to get the savings, it's just not worth it.  We were buying Christmas cards at Party City when the clerk asked for my phone number, so I said, "Well, I'm flattered, really, but my wife is RIGHT THERE, so I don't think that's appropriate."  Then she said, "No, it's for the purchase."  Oh, well, then you can NOT have my phone number, because you absolutely don't need my phone number for me to buy these greeting cards.  Radio Shack used to pull the same crap when I tried to buy batteries.

Now, I don't believe all of the conspiracy theories out there, I don't wear a tinfoil hat and I don't think 9/11 was an inside job.  But I do believe that companies want to track my purchases, and I'll do whatever I can to stay off their radar.  The kids playing "Nerve" here really should have predicted there would be consequences for signing up, but hey, it's the younger generation, and they just aren't as savvy as some of us.

But the whole film still manages to fall completely apart in the second half.  It feels like someone started the story and just couldn't think of a good way to end it, so they punted.  And bear in mind the whole premise didn't make sense from the START.  Think about it, if you were trying to work up the nerve to answer an acceptance letter from college, and you really wanted to go there, why on earth would you then spend a night doing activities that could get you into trouble, especially when all of those activities were being broadcast over the internet and through all of your social media?  Didn't she think that the college's advisory board might check out the prospective candidates online?  This just doesn't work as a story point.

I'm going to add one more NITPICK POINT, because there's just no way to get from Staten Island into Manhattan by motorcycle in just 15 minutes.  That's across the Verrazano Bridge, through  Brooklyn via the B.Q.E., and over another bridge into Manhattan?  Nope.  Not even on the best day at 3 am, with no traffic.  Ain't gonna happen.  But the whole film treats the distances traveled across NYC as if they don't even exist.  Same goes for the Staten Island Ferry, it's not a short trip, it can take nearly half an hour.

Also starring Emma Roberts (last seen in "We're the Millers"), Emily Meade (last seen in "Money Monster"), Juliette Lewis (last seen in "Janis: Little Girl Blue"), Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly), Miles Heizer (last seen in "Roman J. Israel, Esq."), Kimiko Glenn, Samira Wiley (last seen in "The Sitter"), Ed Squires, Brian Marc, Eric D'Alessandro, Marc John Jefferies (last seen in "The 5th Wave"), Casey Neistat, Josh Ostrovsky (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Jonny Beauchamp.

RATING: 3 out of 10 ski masks

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Disaster Artist

Year 10, Day 259 - 9/16/18 - Movie #3,055

BEFORE: I've heard quite a bit of buzz about this film in the last year or so, so it's finally time to watch it.  It's got a huge cast, so it seems like a bit of a shame to just use it as a link here, with Zoey Deutch carrying over again from "Rebel in the Rye".  She's in tonight's film somewhere, apparently as something of an extra in the background, in an acting class, with no spoken lines, but it still counts for my purposes.  This will allow me to link to tomorrow's film, however, which has been on the list as an unlinkable for some time.  At least the tenuous link today leads to a more solid link tomorrow that helps clear another film from the list.


THE PLOT: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true.

AFTER: This makes some kind of sense to me, going from a film about the writing of a book to a film about the filming of a movie.  And just like I've never read "Catcher in the Rye", I've also never seen "The Room", but it turned out that I didn't have to, in either case.  Instead I can just revel in the meta-ness of watching stories about the other stories being made, reducing "The Room" to the film-within-the-film.  But during the end credits, "The Disaster Artist" ran a number of clips from "The Room", side-by-side with the ones filmed with more famous actors, to demonstrate how close they came to re-creating the look and feel of the original.

I've also read in interviews about how close James Franco came to capturing the spirit of Tommy Wiseau, his strange manner of speech and his unpredictable nature, and the stories were that Franco recorded some messages for the fans of "The Room" - if they should call a certain phone number, perhaps the one depicted in the film, they'd hear a message from Franco speaking AS Wiseau, with most people then being unable to distinguish between them.  And supposedly even the people who end up befriending Wiseau still have questions about where he originally came from, how old he is and where he got the money to make "The Room".  Perhaps some questions are better left unanswered, because for all you know, that's an Eastern European accent and he's connected to the Ukrainian mob or something.

It's estimated that Wiseau spent $6 million of his own money to make the film, which could have been made for less if he had made different decisions along the way, like maybe shooting live on location instead of paying to re-create those same locations on a soundstage.  Or making sure that an actor's shooting schedule was completed before randomly firing him or her, which then necessitated that all of their previous scenes would be re-shot with their replacement.  Hiring better actors who had the ability to remember lines also could have cut down on the number of takes - though Wiseau himself, as director/producer/star of the film probably was the worst offender when it came to being unable to memorize dialogue.

I can confirm first-hand that the process of filmmaking comes down to a huge number of small decisions, which when taken together as a compilation can result in a finished work, which ends up as a sum of its parts, so any small bad decisions along the way can affect the outcome.  I've often told the story about my first day on a professional music video shoot, during which I spent about 10 hours just to purchase a stool for Apollonia (yes, the one from "Purple Rain") to sit on.  This was back in 1988, in the days before cell phones with cameras, so I was sent down to the Bowery district in Manhattan, where many restaurant supplies, including stools, were sold.  The parameters were very vague, I was just given money and a rough sketch of how the stool should look, and each time I found one I had to call the director from a payphone and verbally describe the stool to her, whether it had a flat seat or a padded one, whether the legs were straight or diagonal, etc.  Nothing seemed right, so after a few hours she told me over the phone to come back, as she had found the perfect stool in a store catalog.  I was sent out again, to purchase the right stool from a place called The Door Store, bought the stool, travelled back in a cab to the production office, then had to spend an hour or so assembling the stool.  When it was done, the director determined the stool was too shiny, so I had to go out again to an art store, to get either dulling spray or matte black spray paint.  By the time I got the stool painted everyone else had gone home, it was probably 7 or 8 pm and this stool had cost the production roughly $175, when you added up the cost of the stool, the spray paint, and the cab fares, and my daily rate.  Wait, I was an intern so I might have been working that day for free, I can't remember.  But the punchline is that the stool was in the video for under 5 seconds, and you couldn't even see it, because Apollonia was sitting on it - so it didn't even matter if it was shiny or not.  Those are the kind of days, however, that end up determining if you're cut out for a life in the crazy business of filmmaking - a lesser man would have given up on the process of buying a stool after just a few hours, but I spent ALL DAY on it.

Even on professional shoots, it's possible to spend an entire shooting day on one scene, or even getting one take just right.  It comes down to how badly somebody wants things to be perfect, plus how much money they're willing to spend to get close to that.  Post-production and special effects have become a great help, but there still has to be real humans in front of the camera, and they still need to say their lines in a believable way, you still can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, as they say.  "The Room" was never going to be a great film, because it didn't have any of the necessary basic elements to produce one - not a great story, nor any intelligent dialogue spoken by believable actors, so the result was an unconventional story with threads that went nowhere, many technical flaws, and performances that seemed to come out of left field, to say the least.

But then something happened - people went to see "The Room", and some of them enjoyed it.  (First Wiseau had to buy all the tickets at an L.A. theater for 2 weeks, a procedure called "four-walling", in order to make his film Oscar-eligible.  Been there, done that...). But word spread, and people started telling their friends (or perhaps their enemies...) to go and see the film.  Then it caught on with the late-night crowd, and given the timetable, I suspect that the success of this so-bad-it's-good film may have coincided with California's legalization of marijuana.  Maybe if you're stoned, "The Room" is very funny - and the fact that Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen were early champions of the film probably proves my point, as do on-screen testimonials from people like Kevin Smith.  I rest my case.

I don't think I could stand to watch "The Room" myself, but I'd consider watching "The Disaster Artist" again.  It's weird, but that one degree of separation helps quite a bit.  It's easier to watch a film about a bad movie than to watch the bad movie itself.

Also starring James Franco (last seen in "Lovelace"), Dave Franco (last seen in "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"), Seth Rogen (last heard in "The Spiderwick Chronicles"), Ari Graynor (last seen in "The Guilt Trip"), Alison Brie (last seen in "The Post"), Jacki Weaver (last seen in "Magic in the Moonlight"), Bob Odenkirk (ditto), Paul Scheer (last seen in "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"), Zac Efron (last seen in "The Greatest Showman"), Josh Hutcherson (last seen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"), June Diane Raphael (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Megan Mullally (last heard in "Ernest & Celestine"), Jason Mantzoukas (last seen in "The House"), Andrew Santino, Nathan Fielder (last seen in "The Night Before"), Sharon Stone (last seen in "Alpha Dog"), Melanie Griffith (last seen in "Cecil B. DeMented"), Hannibal Buress (last seen in "The Comedian"), John Early (also last seen in "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"), Jerrod Carmichael (ditto), Megan Ferguson (last seen in "The Fundamentals of Caring"), Charlyne Yi (last heard in "Nerdland"), Joe Mande (last seen in "The Interview"), Kelly Oxford (last seen in "Aloha"), Tom Franco, Lauren Ash, Sugar Lyn Beard, Dylan Minnette (last seen in "Labor Day"), with cameos from J.J. Abrams (last seen in "For the Love of Spock"), Judd Apatow (last seen in "Sandy Weller"), Ike Barinholtz (last seen in "Bright"), Kristen Bell (last heard in "Zootopia"), Zach Braff (last seen in "Wish I Was Here"), Lizzy Caplan (last seen in "Allied"), Bryan Cranston (last heard in "Isle of Dogs"), Brian Huskey (last seen in "Ant-Man and the Wasp"), Randall Park (ditto), Keegan-Michael Key (last seen in "Get Out"), Danny McBride (last seen in "Rock the Kasbah"), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (also last seen in "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"), Adam Scott (last seen in "The Overnight"), Kevin Smith (last seen in "Yoga Hosers"), Kate Upton (last seen in "The Other Woman"), Casey Wilson (also last seen in "Bride Wars"), Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, Angelyne and archive footage of James Dean, Ann Doran, Edward Platt.

RATING: 6 out of 10 promotional postcards

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Rebel in the Rye

Year 10, Day 258 - 9/15/18 - Movie #3,054

BEFORE: Damn, is it me or is September going by very quickly?  I mean, it's half over already!  I'll have a quick break in 10 or 11 days, then jump into my October films, but three weeks into THAT month I'll be going on vacation for a week, and then when I get back and finish the month's horror movies, I'll only have 15 movies to go before Year 10 is over!  Time seems to have sped up somehow, I guess it's because I'm very busy during the week setting up screenings of an animated feature in "select cities" (the ones that request it) around the country, plus trying to get rewards made and sent out for TWO different Kickstarter campaigns!  On top of that, I have to try to qualify a short film for this year's Oscars, so the work days really whiz by, and I never seem to have enough time to get everything done.  You'd think that being around movie production all day long, I wouldn't want to spend my nights watching other movies, but the schedule is the schedule.  As long as there are films coming up on the schedule that I'm excited about, I'll keep on keepin' on.

Zoey Deutch carries over from "Everybody Wants Some!!" and she'll be here tomorrow, too.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "On the Road" (Movie #2,958), "Hemingway & Gellhorn" (Movie #2,965)

THE PLOT: The life of celebrated but reclusive author J.D. Salinger, who gained worldwide fame with the publication of his novel "The Catcher in the Rye".

AFTER: I'm considering this film as the third in a trilogy this year, having watched films about two other prominent male writers, Jack Kerouac in the thinly-veiled autobiographical story "On the Road", and that HBO biopic about Ernest Hemingway.  I'm not exactly sure if all of these writers wrote about the same things - I've read works by Hemingway, but not anything by the other two.  Yep, that's right, I've never read the manifesto for disaffected sullen teens, "The Catcher in the Rye".  But I felt I shouldn't let that stop me from watching a film about Salinger.  I'm going to pause a minute here, after watching the film, and read the Wiki synopsis about the book.

Eh, consider me unimpressed.  It's just a story about a kid that got expelled from his prep school, then spends three days wandering around New York City before going back to his parents' house for Christmas break.  He gets jealous when a dorm-mate dates a girl he was interested in, he checks into an NYC hotel and dances with some tourist women, dates a girl named Sally, goes out for drinks with his friend Carl, and visits his old English teacher before spending time with his young sister.  He takes his sister to the Central Park Zoo and a carousel while dreaming about heading west to work at a gas station.  Big freakin' deal, how is this considered the greatest novel of the 20th century?

Maybe you have to read it to appreciate it.  Maybe it kicked off this whole teen angst and alienation thing, which has pretty much lasted until this day (just look at "The Edge of Seventeen", Nadine shares some DNA with Holden Caufield.  I'm sure Salinger shared even more DNA, since Holden was his creation and no doubt based on himself -  but supposedly the novel is about Salinger's reaction to the trauma of serving in World War II, and I'm just not picking up any of that from the book's plot.

This biopic focuses on how serving in that war changed Salinger's attitude about life, and for a long while after returning home, he found himself unable to write.  But he didn't seem to have any problem writing during college, as seen in the earlier parts of the film.  To this film's credit, it's a full hour or so of screen time before we're subjected to the stupid stereotypical image of a writer sitting at a typewriter, staring at a blank page.  So, he had no idea for a story, but still sat down in front of the typewriter and loaded up a page?  This never makes ANY sense.  A writer would, I'm guessing, probably first formulate an idea, jot down some pencilled notes and maybe write a few sample paragraphs BEFORE sitting down at the typewriter.  Would you start driving your car if you had no idea where you were about to go?  Would you turn your oven on before you knew what you wanted to cook?  Of course not.

Whether it really happened this way or not, at least this film showcases a writer's method for getting over writer's block - because as I've said many times in this space, watching a writer write is barely interesting, and watching a writer NOT able to write is even less so.  But here Salinger investigates Zen meditation with some kind of Buddhist guru, who suggests that if he can't write anything good, he should just type up something bad, and then take comfort in the satisfying act of tearing up the paper.  (Nobody really knows why we tear up papers that we're about to throw away, but for some reason, we just do.). Before long, he's bragging about the previous day, where he tore up a full five pages, and then comes to realize that in order to do that, he managed to WRITE five pages, good or not.  It's a neat trick.

I also noticed that Salinger here faced some of the same problems that I saw, over and over, during the rock music documentary chain.  All of those singers and bands practiced and gigged for years in order to create a hit record, and then when they finally got a hit record, it was the end of one struggle, but also the beginning of another.  Then they had to go on tour, deal with crazy fans, and endure pressure from their record company to promote one hit record and also create more just like it.  And that becomes the big, crazy, hamster-wheel of fame: record, promote, tour, repeat.

So maybe J.D. Salinger was like the first big rock star author.  He certainly endured pressure from his editors to fix THIS here, give THIS story a happy ending, do THIS press interview to sell some more books, and on many levels, this became the antithesis to creativity, rather than the engine driven by it.  He also had more than his share of crazy fans, ones that would turn up at his house claiming to be so moved by his story that they felt THEY were the real Holden Caufield.  Perhaps his story of the detached prep-school kid who hated everyone and everything struck too big of a chord with the audience, or perhaps it just held a certain fascination for the craziest elements of society.  Either way, it drove Salinger into becoming a recluse, living off the grid in New Hampshire - which did remove many distractions in his life enabling him to write more, but it also convinced him to write only for himself in the future, and not for his crazy fans.

The famous expression says that "a writer writes", but it doesn't say anything about a writer getting published.  That's not a given, just as making films comes with no guarantee that they'll get distributed, or playing sports comes with no guarantees of winning any championships.  We all roll the dice with our chosen professions, and hope that somehow the path we choose will lead to success in some way.  But if it does lead to success, that may lead to happiness, or else it may lead one to start to formulate an escape plan.  There's just no telling.

Based on the plot of "Catcher in the Rye", it feels like this film did a lot of reverse-engineering to show elements of Salinger's life that could have inspired the novel.  Whether any of this really happened in Salinger's life is probably a matter of guesswork or interpretation.

Also starring Nicholas Hoult (last seen in "Deadpool 2"), Kevin Spacey (last seen in "Heartburn"), Sarah Paulson (last seen in "The Post"), Brian d'Arcy James (last seen in "Time Out of Mind"), Victor Garber (last seen in "Self/Less"), Hope Davis (last seen in "Proof"), Lucy Boynton (last seen in "Murder on the Orient Express"), James Urbaniak (last heard in "The Boxtrolls"), Adam Busch (last seen in "American Dreamz"), Jefferson Mays (last seen in "Alfie"), Eric Bogosian (last seen in "Dolores Claiborne"), Bernard White, Will Rogers (last seen in "Bridge of Spies"), Caitlin Mehner, Francesca Root-Dodson, Tim Dougherty

RATING: 5 out of 10 rejection letters

Friday, September 14, 2018

Everybody Wants Some!!

Year 10, Day 257 - 9/14/18 - Movie #3,053

BEFORE: This probably is NOT the film that's been on my list the longest (that would be the 1941 version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", but it was starting to feel like it.  It's definitely been on the list for over a year, just because it seemed nearly impossible to link to.  I know I had to pass on it during last year's back-to-school films, because despite having a large cast, it just didn't connect to anything else.

But, I've found that if I wait long enough, and pay attention to the opportunities that come my way, eventually everything seems to find its place.  So Blake Jenner carries over from "The Edge of Seventeen", and I move from a high school film to a college-set film.  Makes sense, right?  (I thought maybe Blake Jenner was part of that famous Jenner/Kardashian family, but he's not.  He's just a guy from Florida who's an actor, and he was on "Glee" for a few seasons.). And then I've got another link lined up to get me to the next set of films - three films with Zoey Deutch, two with Dave Franco, 2 with Juliette Lewis, 3 with Ellen Page, 2 with Sandra Oh, 5 with Samuel L. Jackson and I'll be ready for October to start.  (Umm, those chains all overlap, so really, it's just 12 films left in September, then I should have a 4-day break before horror movies start.)

And this year there are a couple of new school-based films that don't seem to fit, like "Higher Learning" and "Thirteen", but maybe with proper planning I can get to them next year.  I just have to keep my eyes open.


THE PLOT: In 1980, a group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

AFTER: I'm serious about this, this film really resisted all of my attempts to link it into my chain - I know Richard Linklater might like using relatively unknown actors, but this was ridiculously difficult.  I'm starting to wonder why I still bother to do this, I'm the only person I'm aware of who can't seem to watch a film unless it shares an actor with two other films.  I can't seem to stop, it's become a compulsion, but I guess I'll have to stop when (eventually) my linking possibilities dwindle down to nothing, or I run out of movies, or I stop when I can't go any further, or it's no longer fun.  But for now it's still the engine that drives my routine.

I can't say that I know much about college level sports - like I have so many questions about them that I don't know how to answer.  For example, they're already playing college football, and didn't the college year just start?  So how can the teams already be playing?  Did they practice during the summer, and if so, doesn't that kind of suck for the players, since they don't get the summer off?  Then what happens in February after all the bowl games are over, is that when the players go to class?  Because if they're on the road all fall semester, they probably miss a lot of classes - ah, who am I kidding, if they can play football they're probably not taking any serious classes, right?  I don't see how they can practice, play games AND study for exams, it doesn't seem possible.  Or for that matter, fair to the other students who are there to learn.  Then what happens if someone has an athletic scholarship, but then they get injured and can't play any more?  Do they lose their scholarship, and do they then have to start paying tuition, or else leave college?

The college athletes seen in this film are a Texas college baseball team, but their season doesn't start until February, so they take classes (sort of) in the fall, but also do a lot of partying and some practicing, when they can work that around their partying schedule.  (You'd think it would be the other way around, but apparently not.).  I'm going to declare this film serves a dual purpose for me, it's both a college film AND a baseball film.  Though we only see one or two practices and zero ball games, for that matter there's only a few minutes of anyone attending classes.  It's very shrewd to depict the two days BEFORE classes start so we can see a maximum amount of partying, drinking and hooking up in the now-classic year of 1980.

That's got to be an inside joke about older actors appearing in college movies, when it's implied that one of the college ball players might possibly really be in his 30's, right?  Just wondering.

I had a bit of a hard time getting into the rhythm of this film, I think it's because they introduced so many characters so quickly at the start of the film, and initially it's hard to tell them all apart, since they sort of become this endless wave of bad 70's porn-staches and very similar mullets.  But eventually there were enough individual quirks to start telling all these dude-bros apart.  There's the guy that looks like a scruffy McConaughey, the stocky guy, the psycho guy with glasses, and so on.  Wait, they have names, too?  Jeez, that probably would have helped if I could only have cared enough to learn some of them.  (Which leads to a question - can the young actors in a Linklater film be thought of as a bunch of McConaughey wannabes?  or McCon-abees?)

The IMDB has a pretty good list of the 1980's songs and arcade games in the film that didn't really exist in the year this film took place, so there's no reason for me to repeat them here, but the list is quite extensive.  It's called research, people, do your research!

This film reminds me that I'm getting very close to the end of the alphabet in my quest to replace all of my cassette tapes with digital files - I'm still on the letter "T" but right after George Thorogood and just one U2 album, it'll be time to download some Van Halen.  Then all that remains will be Vanilla Fudge, The Who, Warren Zevon and ZZ Top.  I can still finish before the end of the year.

Also starring Zoey Deutch (last seen in "Dirty Grandpa"), Glen Powell (last seen in "Hidden Figures"), Tyler Hoechlin (last seen in "Road to Perdition"), Ryan Guzman, Wyatt Russell (last seen in "Goon: Last of the Enforcers"), Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Juston Street (last seen in "Deepwater Horizon"), Forrest Vickery, Tanner Kalina, Austin Amelio, Michael Monsour, Jonathan Breck (last seen in "W."), Dora Madison Burge, Sophia Ali, Justin Alexio, Tory Taranova, Jessi Mechler, Devine Bonnee, Kaleb King.

RATING: 5 out of 10 episodes of "The Twilight Zone" on Betamax

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Edge of Seventeen

Year 10, Day 256 - 9/13/18 - Movie #3,052

BEFORE: Finally, I made it to my back-to-school films for this year - I'm running a week or two late, I know that.  Usually I'm able to get to them in late August, but this year that wasn't meant to be - too many rock concerts to listen to.  But we're here, school is in session.

It's also time for the annual Toronto International Film Festival, so a lot of new films are making their debut there, and will no doubt be released in theaters over the next few weeks, with whatever festival buzz they're able to carry forward with them - today's film made its debut at that festival two years ago - along with "La La Land", "Lion", "Loving", "Jackie", "Arrival", "A Monster Calls", "Deepwater Horizon", "The Magnificent Seven", "Snowden", "The Birth of a Nation", "Bleed For This", "Manchester By the Sea", "Mascots", "Nocturnal Animals", "Sing", "Moonlight" and "The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé: A Trip Across Latin America".  Wow, that's a lot of important films, and those are just the ones I've seen, there were many others.  Toronto's become a huge part of the festival scene, and I think it's got everything to do with the calendar - a film that's ready for a festival screening in December, if it makes a big splash in Toronto, could then be ready for a release in December and thus qualify for the Oscars.

And if it doesn't do well in Toronto in September, and doesn't secure a release, could still play in Sundance in January.  It's very sneaky that Toronto is the biggest, closest festival to the U.S. that isn't IN the U.S.  I remember driving up to Toronto in 1997 to screen a film I'd produced, and we then screened it a few months later at Sundance.  Both festivals require premiere status, but Toronto requires a world premiere, and Sundance only requires a U.S. premiere.  It's just one of the quirks of the calendar.

Woody Harrelson carries over again from "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio".


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Lady Bird" (Movie #2,953)

THE PLOT: High school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.

AFTER: Ah, if only Hollywood screenwriters could crack the mysteries of the teenage girl's mind.  There are so many questions that need to be answered, like "Why don't they read more comic books?"  "Why don't they just get on board and watch more action movies?" and "What's with all the holes in the knees of their jeans, is that a thing - hey, would you buy a pair of jeans that ALREADY had holes in the jeans, and if not, why not?"  They keep asking these questions but so far, they haven't found a teenage girl that was willing to respond.  It seems that all they ever get in response is "As if..." "Like, sure, not really, JK" and then that eye-rolling thing they do, followed by a disgruntled sigh.

So instead we get a flood of movies like "Lady Bird", "The Diary of a Teenage Girl and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", which feature Hollywood's best guesses on how teenage girls act and think, and who even knows if they're coming anywhere close to the mark?  You have to wonder if things were easier back in the days of "Clueless" and "Mean Girls", when every character could just be a walking stereotype.  These days it's so easy for a film to get accused of gender bias or racially insensitive humor, that it almost feels like every script is written in a very complex way to avoid these things, while still finding a way to be both racially diverse in casting and not offend any one group in any way.  But as a result there becomes this sort of bland sameness to every scene that takes place in front of high-school hallway lockers.

Perhaps today's teens really are this annoying - I wouldn't really know, since I've never raised one, but all of the ones I see out in public certainly are - but that doesn't really justify making such a gripe the focus of a film.  This lead character was much too complain-y for me, like in the scene where she's frustrated because she's noticed a resemblance between herself and Pedro from "Napoleon Dynamite".  Well, OK, but in the time it takes you to complain about this, you can probably come up with a simple solution, like never wear THAT shirt again, or maybe get your hair cut, or straightened or something.  Yeah, thank God we live in a modern age where girls aren't completely obsessed with their looks - oh, wait, some of them genuinely are. But the main character of a thoughtful teen drama (comedy?) probably shouldn't be.

in fact, it's a bad idea to make any reference to "Napoleon Dynamite", because that film was genuinely quirky/funny, and bringing it up just really highlighted the fact that this one wasn't.  It hits some of the same notes - rivalry with an older brother, first awkward attempts at relationships, and a high-school setting where every student is CLEARLY in their mid-to-late twenties - but that's about it.  Napoleon was a really weird character, so over-the-top weird that you just had to root for him, and even when he was alone and down he still sort of had an air of confidence about him, but Nadine here is just the opposite.  Whenever anything happens to her, she just shuts down and complain about how the world is unfair and apparently out to get her, and that's no fun.

I had the same thought as Nadine's mother (only I thought of it earlier) about how some girls might take their best friend dating their brother as a positive, because if that relationship works out, then maybe someday they can be best friends AND sisters-in-law, and if it doesn't work out, well, that's one more person on her side that hates her brother.  Really, it's a win-win, but with Nadine, the glass is always half-empty.  Look, I didn't have the greatest high school experience in the world either, but I just put my head down and got through it by ignoring the haters and focusing on the things I was good at, like taking standardized tests, singing, being a mathlete and reading some life into the morning announcements.

I think that's what high school is really all about, trying a lot of different things, and finding the things that you can excel at or that bring you joy.  But when you hate absolutely everything about it, then it seems like a big waste of four years, or an hour and 45 minutes in the case of this movie.  OK, so finally she learns to get over herself at the end, but I think it's too little, too late.

Also starring Hailee Steinfeld (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Haley Lu Richardson (last seen in "Split"), Blake Jenner, Hayden Szeto, Kyra Sedgwick (last seen in "Time Out of Mind"), Eric Keenleyside (last seen in "Godzilla"), Alexander Calvert, Lina Renna, Ava Grace Cooper, Christian Michael Cooper.

RATING: 4 out of 10 suicide notes

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Year 10, Day 255 - 9/12/18 - Movie #3,051

BEFORE: OK, so I'm still not quite ready for back-to-school, but this movie has a bunch of kids in it, and those kids all go to school, right?  So, really I've been on topic all week long, because nearly every film this week has had kids in it, I'm just not watching them attending class.

Woody Harrelson carries over from "Wilson", and now I'm sort of regretting my choices, because I just found out he's in the upcoming movie "Venom", and I'm wondering if there could have been a way to re-organize things to leave a slot open for that film, but I'm just not seeing a way to do that.  It's bad enough I posted the review for "Ant-Man and the Wasp" 3 weeks after I saw the film, I can't just leave an open slot and fill it later with a review, that seems like a rule violation.  So sorry, "Venom", I'm just not going to be able to watch you this year.

But, Academy screener time is coming up very soon, so maybe in the early days of 2019 I'll have a whole new crop of films that I'll be able to watch improperly.  Of course, the pile of screeners at work (that I haven't seen) has dwindled significantly, so that means that the new ones should be coming in any day now.  It's always two steps forward and one step back, isn't it?

 THE PLOT: In order to support her ten children, Evelyn Ryan enters a number of commercial jingle-writing contests.

AFTER: This seems like a film that just didn't manage to connect with modern audiences, because it's just so rooted in the mentality of the late 1950's and early 1960's, and that seems so long ago that it's probably hard for modern audiences to appreciate what life was like back then.  Millennials just wouldn't understand why a wife was expected to stay home and raise children, instead of getting herself a career and hiring a nanny, like people do today.  Also the fact that men would feel threatened by a working wife, and begrudge her any money that she might earn on the side, whether it come from taking in other people's laundry or winning contests or sweepstakes, because that would be a palpable threat to his manhood.  Yes, things were very binary back then, you were either this thing or the other, a working man or a dutiful wife, and there was no in-between or crossing of gender lines.

(Also, people talked to each other on big, heavy phones that you could probably kill somebody with, and they were attached to the wall by a cord and GOD HELP YOU if you ever tried to walk around while talking on the phone, you could entangle your little brother or sister in the cord and probably kill them.  Oh, and you couldn't do anything with your phone EXCEPT make a phone call - so no Facebook app, no tweeting a photo of your pork belly bahn mi sandwich and NO playing Candy Crush while you're waiting in line at Starbucks.  Also, no Starbucks.)

And if you were expecting a call you had to WAIT ALL DAY at home for it, because there was no way to leave anybody a message or send them a text or poke them on Facebook to find out where they were.  Fortunately, it all worked out because women apparently never left the home for any reason, except to buy groceries of course.  Or to go get fire to bring back to the cave because the torches all needed to be re-lit.  And it seems that generation of women couldn't handle driving a car, either, because it was WAY too complicated, what with first gear, and second gear AND trying to remember what a clutch did.  (I still don't know...)  If you ask me, men back then just kept telling women that they couldn't do things, and it seems like the women were only too happy to believe them, and leave all the driving and the banking and the owning of things to the men.  What the actual hell?  Didn't they ever read "Lysistrata"?

I know there are huge differences between my father (born in 1941) and myself (born in 1968).  When he and my mother go somewhere, it's 100% certain that HE is going to drive.  He still balances their checkbook, he controls the money, he does the taxes - these are all "men things" to him.  He also loses his temper more often, I think I've seen my mother get upset maybe two or three times total, but with my Dad, any time there was a repair project to be done around the house, we learned to duck and cover if anything started to go wrong, because that would put him just one step away from losing it.  So I've tried to be a better person, and part of that was re-defining what it means to be a man.  I learned to cook before I got out of college, and now I cook dinner at home at least 50% of the time, probably more.  I do my own laundry - there's just no reason in this day and age for a man to expect someone else to clean his dirty socks and such.  When my wife and I drive somewhere, it's 100% certain that she's going to drive - mainly because it's her car, I've never owned one, but also because she's more comfortable doing the driving, and that's fine by me.  When it comes to money I try to be equitable about paying for things, but she also earns more money than I do, and that's not a blow to my male ego.  I held on to doing our taxes until two or three years ago, when it became too much for me to understand, with the health plans and the 401Ks, so now we take it all to H&R Block. 

Anyway, there also used to be a time when milk got delivered to people's houses, and I don't know why this wasn't something everyone just bought at the grocery store when they got all their other food, but I promise to look into it.  I remember we had a milkman in Massachusetts when I was a younger kid, but by the time I was a teenager I think they'd gone the way of the dinosaur.  You'd think that with today's interest in locally-sourced hyper-organic food products they'd make some sort of comeback, but maybe they're working on milk and cheese delivery by drone or something.

And it also seems that you could support a family of 10 (plus an alcoholic father) just by entering contests and submitting winning jingles, which I'm not sure that I believe.  I'd like to see the paperwork on this, that's all I'm saying.  Maybe the advertising people back in the 1950's were just very lazy, like they couldn't ever finish a song so they had to open this process up to the public or something?  Or maybe they weren't very creative, or some combination of both?  Or maybe it was all a scam to sell more of their products, because you had to submit proof of purchase with every entry, so that means people were buying THIS brand of cereal or THIS brand of luncheon meat just to enter the contest, and then whatever prize there was given out was probably covered in value by the bump in sales, right?

Supposedly there were bored housewives whose only enjoyment in life came from entering these contests - again, you have to remember that holding down a job JUST wasn't an option without completely emasculating their husbands.  But, really, wouldn't a second income in the family have been a better, more realistic answer to paying for things than mailing in contest entries all day long?  What about the cost of postage, index cards and typewriter ribbons?  Wouldn't that add up after a while?  Wouldn't you have to send in like a thousand entries to each contest just to have a statistical shot at winning a prize?   So that leads me to a NITPICK POINT here: what was draining this family's income more, the father's drinking, or the mother's contest-entering habit?  On stamps and supplies alone, I have to think this was a cost-prohibitive venture, despite all the sleds, snow boots and pogo sticks that she won over the years.  Then in addition to the proof-of-purchases, she had to go out and buy whatever product was sponsoring the contest, and spread it around the house, just to put on a good show for the contest promoters?  What a waste of time and effort - I believe the family would have been better off if she just stopped wasting money on entering all the contests - it was all about her ego, anyway, right?  Just to prove she could write better jingles than anyone else?  For God's sake, if she was a great jingle writer why couldn't she get a job at an advertising agency doing exactly that?  Oh, yeah, right, women didn't work unless there was a war on.  What a crock.

Or, you know, another cost-saving measure, and I'm just putting this out there to consider, maybe DON'T HAVE TEN KIDS!  I think they could have saved a lot of money that way.  Birth control pays for itself in the long run, if you think about it.

Again, this was a different time, when a company could run a creative or skill-based contest, like to write a jingle or compose a poem that could be judged on its merits.  No doubt, someone filed a class-action lawsuit during the 1970's and a judge ruled that all contests needed to be fair to everyone, and that no proof of purchase would be required, and no special skills needed to be displayed.  This, of course, contributed to the dumbing-down of America, and where did it get us?  We ended up with those "Monopoly"-based contests at McDonald's, where all the grand prizes ended up going to the friends and family members of the executives that were running the contest (it's true, look it up if you don't believe me...)  I still can't eat at McDonald's because of this.

Me, I'm holding out for Jeopardy!, if I can ever get on that show I know I can make some serious green.  I've been close a couple of times, passing the on-line test is a breeze for me (not bragging, just stating a fact) and then when I try out in person I've made it to the stage where they take my picture, and tell me that I'm in the contestant pool and I might be contacted some time in the next year to travel to L.A. and appear on the show.  It hasn't happened yet, but I remain hopeful.  The last time I tried out was in October 2017, and it was on the same day that I had to remove everything from our booth at New York Comic-Con, and I was exhausted, plus I had a cold and felt terrible.  I still tried to maintain a positive attitude, look relaxed and happy, but I'm not sure I pulled it off.  I'm going to keep trying, though, because I don't have that many bucket list items left to cross off - just that one, really.

One thing that the movie really nailed, though, was the depiction of life in Ohio.  I spent enough time there during my first marriage, visiting my first wife's family, to know that if you live in Ohio, your number one goal should always be figuring a way to get yourself OUT of Ohio, to live somewhere else, anywhere else.  Unless you happen to like bowling, chili served on top of spaghetti and rooting for perennially-losing sports teams, it's just not a great place to be. 

Also starring Julianne Moore (last seen in "Far From Heaven"), Laura Dern (also carrying over from "Wilson"), Trevor Morgan (last seen in "The Patriot"), Simon Reynolds, Monté Gagné, Ellary Porterfield, Jordan Todosey, Robert Clark, Michael Seater, Erik Knudsen, Jake Scott, Susan Merson (last seen in "Phenomenon"), Martin Doyle, Catherine Fitch, Carolyn Scott, Lindsay Leese (last seen in "Ginger Snaps"), Tracey Hoyt, Dan Lett (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), with a cameo from Nora Dunn (last seen in "The Guilt Trip")

RATING: 5 out of 10 hearts of palm

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wilson

Year 10, Day 254 - 9/11/18 - Movie #3,050

BEFORE: Well, it's not really where I wanted to be on a semi-round number like 3,050 (midway between 3,000 and 3,100), I would have preferred to have the big Marvel movie land on such a round number, but hey, what can I do?

I just figured out how to get an advanced look at TCM's October schedule, so now I know who their "Monster of the Month" is going to be.  Here's an insider's tip - October's monthly highlights are not posted yet, but if you check the DAILY schedule at tcm.com you can advance forward, day by day, and get a pretty good feel for how the next month is going to go.

Now, it happens that I was going to watch three films already with their "Monster of the Month", so what should I do?  I was planning to knock off all the Dracula films left in my collection, and I'd rather not switch gears this late in the game.  So I think I'm going to stay the course, more or less, add just three films featuring this year's profiled monster to my watchlist and cut my 2018 films with that same monster down from three to two - saving one to link up with the three I'm going to record, that should keep the best linking possibilities open for October 2019 with four films, with (I think) four varied casts.  Remember, I now allow myself to link between films with the same character, so if the featured monster was, say, The Phantom of the Opera (it's not, but I don't want to spoil TCM's surprise) then I could link between films from different years starring that character, even if actors don't carry over.

This will also solve my problem over which film to cut from the remaining 51 on my 2018 schedule, which now has just 50 slots to fill.  Still, I should probably take one more look at the cast lists for my October films, maybe there is a way that I can link through them based on actors, rather than characters...I do tend to see the same people over and over again in genre films. Stay tuned for an update, I guess.

For today, Judy Greer carries over from "Ant-Man and the Wasp".


THE PLOT: A lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged man reunites with his estranged wife, and meets his teenage daughter for the first time.

AFTER: Truth be told, I already did one Woody Harrelson chain of three films this year, when "Solo" came out.  But I couldn't do one big chain of six or seven films, because "Solo" was released in May, and one of the films seemed perfect for back-to-school time in September.  So it made sense to split them up into two smaller three-film pieces, especially since those two pieces each could help me link to where I wanted to be, though in two different months.  In a very similar way, I'm also going to have two chains this year with Samuel L. Jackson in them, four films in early may and I've got another 6 coming up at the end of September.  Nicole Kidman's been all over the countdown, too, with 5 non-linked appearances in 2018 so far, and another 6 coming up after October that will be linked.  There was just no way to keep 11 Kidman films together and still honor the calendar, I've just been sort of shearing the films off from the main block, one by one, if they serve another linking purpose for me.

If there's a main theme for this week so far, it's something about families, how they form in unconventional ways and then fracture, only to re-form in another fashion.  Even "Mute" had a divorced father who was raising his daughter, using hookers to baby-sit while he and his non-gay life partner visited the brothels of future Berlin.  Then in "The Fundamentals of Caring" the disabled teen came from a fractured family, but formed another loose one while on a road-trip with his caregiver, a hitchhiker and a pregnant woman.  "Ant-Man and the Wasp" of course featured Paul Rudd as a divorced dad, trying to spend time with his daughter while also superheroing on the side, and forming another de facto family with the Pyms (father, daughter and quantum realm-errant mother).

And now tonight I've got Wilson, a middle-aged man who decides it's time to re-connect with his ex-wife, because his main regret seems to be that she was pregnant when they split, and he's naturally assumed all this time that she had an abortion - but when he tracks her down, she reveals that she decided to have the baby adopted instead.  This might be a common pipe dream among divorced people - I know that it would be nearly impossible for anybody to have or raise a baby in secret, but it could happen, especially if the other parent wasn't inclined to track them them down, or if it was long enough ago that there was no internet to search.  But in a way it's a worn-out stereotype that feels like it belongs in a soap opera, a revelation such as "I never told you, but you've got a child that you never knew about, and that child is now a teenager!"

The problem here, though, is Wilson's personality, or lack thereof.  The film synopsis describes him as "hilariously honest" but I don't think that tells the whole story.  He's obnoxiously honest, in that he doesn't seem to have any conversational filters, no safety check about whether what he wants to say is appropriate, so therefore no barriers, and limited social skills as a result.  Maybe there are people like this out there, certainly these days many people are becoming brutally honest in their political and social opinions (umm, thanks a lot, Facebook) and so we now have to deal with these obnoxious people who don't hold anything back, even when it comes to calling the cops on people of color just for grilling in public, or selling lemonade, or just looking suspicious.

Wilson doesn't seem to be overtly racist, though - but he seems to have a knack for bothering people in public, which some might say is even worse.  Like, if you're on a bus or train and there are dozens of empty seats, he's the kind of person who will sit RIGHT NEXT to you, and try to strike up a conversation, especially if that seems like the very last thing that you'd want him to do.  OK, so he's honest, good for him, but this also makes him an asshole.  We've got a ton of unwritten rules in society, like don't talk to strangers, don't make eye contact in an elevator, don't touch other people without their consent, definitely don't talk to another man while using the urinals - so what do you do with a guy who doesn't know any of the unwritten rules?

As you might expect, someone who doesn't know the rules of conduct, or chooses not to abide by them, is going to get into some form of trouble.  And yes, getting back together with his ex-wife probably counts as a form of trouble.  Tracking down their teen daughter together and contacting her (without first going through proper channels, such as contacting her adoptive parents first) definitely counts as big trouble.  Even though Wilson's intentions are good, his actions are still very wrong.  I personally didn't find that this made him "hilariously honest", in most ways he was anything but hilarious.

But if anything, his character came across here as sort of a modern-day "Candide", in that no matter how much trouble he got into, no matter how much he suffered setbacks from his actions, he still somehow maintained a positive attitude, which then comes across as somewhat delusional - or maybe he's just somewhere on the spectrum, like with Asperger's or autism?  This is never made clear.  Like, he seems to genuinely believe he can mend his old relationships, put the family back together (when it was never together in the first place) and everything's going to work out to be OK.  What a nut.  I mean, points for being an optimist, but it's just not realistic, by any stretch of the imagination.  Once you burn your bridges with your friends and family, isn't it just easier to find new friends or start a new family somewhere else?

Also starring Woody Harrelson (last seen in "North Country"), Laura Dern (last seen in "Downsizing"), Margo Martindale (ditto), Isabella Amara (last seen in "Avengers: Infinity War"), Cheryl Hines (last seen in "Along Came Polly"), David Warshofsky (last seen in "Fair Game"), Brett Gelman (last seen in "Jobs"), Mary Lynn Rajskub (last seen in "The Anniversary Party"), Lauren Weedman (last seen in "The Five-Year Engagement"), Bill McCallum (last seen in "The Straight Story"), Alec George, Tom Proctor (last seen in "The Birth of a Nation").

RATING: 4 out of 10 doggie chew-toys