Sunday, April 30, 2017

Peter Pan (2003)

Year 9, Day 120 - 4/30/17 - Movie #2,615

BEFORE: Before I begin tonight, a shout-out to Steven Mnuchin, who was one of the producers listed on "Pan" - as it turns out, the producer or executive producer of quite a few films that I've watched over the last 2 years.  Sometimes I think producers and EPs just don't get as much credit as they deserve - damn directors hogging the spotlight.  In 2015 I watched 3 films produced by Mnuchin - "The Lego Movie", "This Is Where I Leave You" and "Winter's Tale".  He produced 8 more films I watched in calendar 2016 - "Batman v. Superman", "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", "Edge of Tomorrow", "American Sniper", "Inherent Vice", "Vacation", "Get Hard" and "Run All Night".  And 8 more films in just the first 4 months of 2017: "The Intern", "How to Be Single", "Suicide Squad", "Midnight Special", "Black Mass", "In the Heart of the Sea", "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Pan".  Whew, that's a track record any producer would kill for - but wait, you say, I've heard that name before.  Yes, it's been in the news because he joined Trump's cabinet as the Secretary of the Treasury - why anyone would throw away a promising Hollywood career like that is beyond me.

An optimist might say, "But hey, most of those films seem quite successful, maybe he's the guy that should be in charge of our country's economy..."  But a pessimist might say, "Yeah, but running a country probably is a lot more complicated than financing a movie - and anyway, the shady accounting practices of Hollywood films could probably do more harm than good in Washington."  I guess we'll all find out together.  And I've still got three Mnuchin-produced films to watch: "The Legend of Tarzan", "Keanu" and "Our Brand Is Crisis".

The characters of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and others carry over from "Pan".  I suppose, in retrospect, I probably could have worked out some actor linking, like maybe if I'd put "Australia" at the end of the Hugh Jackman chain, Bruce Spence would have carried over - but that would have split up the 2 Peter Pan films, and that's what I didn't want to do.  Relying on my new rule was a better plan.


THE PLOT: The Darling children receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Never Never Land, where an ongoing war with the evil pirate Captain Hook is taking place.

AFTER: No doubt, the difficult dilemma that any filmmaker faces when making a modern adaptation of a literary classic revolves around questions over what gets kept and what gets jettisoned.  Everyone says they want to be "faithful" to the original, but is that really the best way to go?  Are there certain things that resonated with readers or audiences in, say, 1906 that no longer have that appeal?  What's the best tone to strike that will maintain the spirit of the old story, but also put today's kids' asses in the seats?

This 2003 adaptation stayed about as true to the original J.M. Barrie story as it could, only adding one new character, an Aunt Millicent so that the Darling family could have a naysayer, someone who points out that Wendy's turning into a young woman, while the parents can still maintain that they are all merely children.  Because that's what "Peter Pan" is really about, at its essence, the story of a teen's sexual awakening.  Yep, here's the part where I ruin "Peter Pan" for you, just as I ruined "Moby Dick" and several of Shakespeare's plays.  (Don't listen to me if you're still in high school and you still need to get a good grade from your English teacher...)

Certain conventions came about when "Peter Pan" got adapted into a stage play, and one of those was the dual role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, played by the same actor.  Perhaps this was a cost-cutting move, because Mr. Darling isn't generally seen once the kids go to Never Land, and with the help of a costume change they could put that actor to better use, keeping him busy in the middle part of the play, then using him again as the father when the kids return.  But there's a deeper meaning that results from the dual role (which this film maintains) because of the Elektra complex, the female version of the Oedipus complex, in which a young girl feels some sort of attraction to her own father, before breaking from him (usually in her teens) and forming an adult romance with another male.

So if Captain Hook is the fantasy-world equivalent of Mr. Darling, it's a game-changer.  You'd expect any father of a teen girl to be naturally protective of her, and to be suspicious of teen boys as rivals for her affection.  So, logically, if Captain Hook kidnaps Wendy to keep her away from Peter Pan, let's say, it's done out of some strange combination of malice and protection, and there's a love triangle of sorts that's formed between the three.  Perhaps a father might have a tough time dealing with the fact that his daughter is growing up and becoming sexually active, and take his frustration out on her suitor, who he might perceive as an immature, wild ruffian - and that's Peter Pan.

A different convention came about when "Peter Pan" was turned into a musical, and that's when Peter was traditionally played by a woman, because the composer wrote Peter's songs for an alto part, which would be nearly impossible for a man to sing.  So for decades some androgyny was injected into the role, with everyone from Mary Martin to Sandy Duncan to Cathy Rigby playing this teen boy, and if you ask me, this added nothing but unnecessary confusion to the story.  Finally logic prevailed over silly conventions, and finally in the new Millennium, Peter Pan can be played by boys, in non-musical productions.  (It's a bullshit convention, anyway, I mean, you can always change the key that any song is sung in.  The right male actor could have pulled it off, but Broadway wouldn't have that.).

So kudos to this film adaptation for figuring out what conventions to keep, and which ones to abandon, in order to get the story back to its essence.  The only annoying things about this adaptation were the horrible, overblown pantomiming done by Tinker Bell and the annoying moony grinning done by Wendy.  The emoting could have been dialed back a bit.

Starring Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs (last seen in "Fury"), Rachel Hurd-Wood, Olivia Williams (last seen in "Maps to the Stars"), Lynn Redgrave (last seen in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex"), Richard Briers (last seen in "Cockneys vs. Zombies"), Geoffrey Palmer (last seen in "The Pink Panther 2"), Harry Newell, Freddie Popplewell, Ludivine Sagnier, Carsen Gray, Bruce Spence (last seen in "Australia"), Theodore Chester, Rupert Simonian, George MacKay, Harry Eden, and the voice of Saffron Burrows (last seen in "Frida")

RATING: 5 out of 10 sleeping children

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Pan

Year 9, Day 119 - 4/29/17 - Movie #2,614

BEFORE: Jeez, it's almost the end of another month.  Wait, 30 days has September, April... Yep, it's almost the end of the month and after dealing with Thumbelina and Cinderella already this year, there's just enough time left in April to deal with Peter Pan.  Hugh Jackman carries over for his fifth and final film in this chain.  This would be another potential linking dead-end, if not for my rule change, where characters can carry over.


THE PLOT: 12-year-old orphan Peter is spirited away to the magical world of Neverland, where he finds both fun and danger, and ultimately discovers his destiny - to become the hero known as Peter Pan.

AFTER: Stop me if you've heard this one before - an orphaned young boy finds out that he not only has magical powers, but is also the one who's prophesied to defeat the evil power.  I bet that more than one critic referred to this film as "Potter Pan" when it was released a couple of years ago.  But wait, there's more, because whoever put this prequel together decided to throw in elements of "Star Wars", "Lord of the Rings", "Avatar" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" to create a back-story for Peter Pan that nobody ever needed or even asked for.  (Turns out J.M. Barrie did write an origin story for Peter, and this ain't it.).

When we first meet Peter, he's an orphan in a war-torn London - now, since the original "Peter Pan" was written in 1906, that would suggest this should be World War I, but the planes we see are more like WW2 fighters, if I'm not mistaken - but I'm not an expert on such things.  (Yeah, in a world with flying pirate ships and fairies, I'm upset that they got the planes wrong.  Deal with it.)  Peter and his friend, Nibs, figure out that the nuns in charge are hoarding rations, keeping them from the kids, and also try to solve the mystery of why their fellow orphans keep disappearing.  Aha, if everything in the fantasy world has an origin in the "real" world, then those would be the "Lost Boys", I feel you.

But just as there seemed to be a real mystery to solve in London, one that was starting to intrigue me, we learn that the young boys have been taken to Neverland, to work in the mines for Blackbeard, who promises them a lot of fun and candy.  Right, because swinging a pick-ax in a mine fits with most kids' definition of "fun".  They're mining fairy dust, which also happens to be a substance that Blackbeard is quite addicted to.  (Umm, kids, this is your brain on drugs...).

NITPICK POINT: The kids in the mines chant bits of songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Blitzkrieg Bop".  But wait, you just told me this was around the time of World War 2, how do they know those songs?  Wait, did Baz Luhrmann direct this, is this like "Moulin Rouge" where the people in 1800's France knew all the modern-day pop songs?  At best, this was a distracting reminder that took me out of the fantasy reality.

But it's in the mines that Peter meets James Hook, who we all know is destined to become his great enemy, but first (apparently) they formed an uneasy alliance to take down Blackbeard.  There are all sorts of in-joke references here, like we see James using a curved sharpening tool that looks an awful lot like the hook that will one day replace his hand.  And this explains how he came to work with a low-level mining supervisor named Sam Smiegel (later Smee, no doubt).

There are a couple of nice things that come out of this frenemy relationship, such as a potential love triangle between Peter, Hook and Tiger Lily.  But the film doesn't really go there - in fact, it doesn't go much of anywhere, which makes you wonder if they were intentionally saving the best stuff for "Pan 2" which would edge the story closer to the one we're all used to.  Instead it skips from one plot track to another - Peter's got to find his mother.  No, wait, first we've got to defeat Blackbeard.  No, wait, first we've got to get to Fairy Land.  These different goals don't necessarily dovetail together just because you want them to.

The stage productions of "Peter Pan" are usually full of Freudian elements, which I'll get more in to tomorrow.  But if Wendy Darling had father issues, it turns out that Peter was always yearning for his mother's love, which is also very Freudian/Oedipal.  This explains why he would gravitate toward older women, like Tiger Lily, and also why he has this inner yearning to never grow up.  It's a very odd omission, why doesn't Peter ever ask for more details about his father, hmmm?

Also starring Levi Miller, Garrett Hedlund (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), Rooney Mara (last seen in "Lion"), Adeel Akhtar (last seen in "The Dictator"), Nonso Anozie (last seen in "Cinderella"), Amanda Seyfried (last seen in "Ted 2"), Lewis MacDougall, Cara Delevigne (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Kathy Burke (last seen in "Sid and Nancy"), Jack Charles, Na Tae-joo, Bronson Webb (last seen in "Rogue One"), Paul Kaye.

RATING: 4 out of 10 trampolines

Friday, April 28, 2017

Logan

Year 9, Day 118 - 4/28/17 - Movie #2,613 - viewed on 3/13/17  

BEFORE: I didn't want to let this one slip through the cracks, like I did last year with "Doctor Strange".  As I write this, it's March 13, I just ordered "Doctor Strange" on DVD, and I'll watch it in about 3 weeks.  But I probably won't post this "Logan" review until late April, so by that point "Doctor Strange" will be in my rear-view, and the correct viewing/posting order for Marvel movies will be maintained.

But as I write this I'm on a bit of a break between Fred Astaire movies, waiting for TCM to run "The Barkleys of Broadway" so I can continue where I left off, and then hit St. Patrick's Day on the nose with "Finian's Rainbow".  Once I came up with that bit of synchronicity, my next goal was to find a path to my three Easter movies (done) and then last night I went on a linking tear and figured out where I was probably going to slot "Logan" (since I can't link from "Doctor Strange", apparently...) and then I linked further, all the way to the expected date of "Guardians of the Galaxy 2", or more correctly, the Monday after its release, which is when I'll probably get to the theater.  So I've programmed about two months in advance, and I anticipate my linking will last until May 10 before finally giving out.  Sure, I can always switch over to documentaries for a bit, then start another chain, but let's cross that bridge when I come to it - I'm currently stumped for a Mother's Day tie-in, and by then it will be time to think about Memorial Day.

I've probably got about 20 films at the bottom of the list that just won't link to anything else, but that's not my concern right now.  My bigger problem is deciding what I'm going to watch between May 10 and back-to-school films, but I imagine some more choices will come along.  Tonight, Hugh Jackman carries over from "Chappie", if I've done this correctly.


THE PLOT: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X, somewhere on the Mexican border.  However, Logan's attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, pursued by dark forces.

AFTER: For starters, this is not your typical Marvel superhero film - where you know that the Avengers or X-Men or the Guardians of the Galaxy are going to put aside their differences, band together at the end and somehow defeat the evil power.  There's also no cameo from Stan Lee, and no post-credits sequence teasing the next film in the series (though there's a pre-film built-in trailer for the next "Deadpool" film.).  Oh, and the former Wolverine makes his living as an Uber driver with a Chrysler limousine.

Part of the disjointedness comes from the setting, which is in the future (2029) that's apparently not the future which was seen in "Days of Future Past" - but since Logan helped change the timeline in that film, perhaps it's the  new future that follows many years after that divergence.  But at the end of "X-Men: Apocalypse", we were teased with the promise of Mr. Sinister as the next X-Men villain, and he's nowhere to be seen here - though they may still use him in some future film, you'd think with all the genetic experimentation alluded to here, he'd be a natural fit.

Instead we get Zander Rice, Donald Pierce and the Reavers.  The Reavers are probably the best villains that haven't appeared yet in the X-Men films, in the comics they're a mix of mercenaries and cyborgs, some of them are humans with tank treads or guns for arms, and their leader, Pierce, is mostly robotic, and therefore un-killable.  Here the Reavers are mostly humans, but Pierce has a cyborg hand.  Guess those tank tread effects were a little too difficult to pull off?

But I understand that the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn't have to follow the comic book plots exactly - this film borrows a lot from the first "Old Man Logan" storyline (from "Wolverine" comics #66-72, not the comics titled "Old Man Logan", it's a bit confusing, I know) where Logan is old (duh), most of the other X-Men are dead, and the U.S. is mostly a dystopian desert, divided into territories controlled by the Hulk, Magneto, Red Skull and Doctor Doom.  In this scenario, Logan was married with two kids and lived in Hulkland, but was engaged by an old and blind Hawkeye to drive him across the U.S. to deliver a package.  Also in this storyline, it was revealed that Logan was tricked by an illusion from Spider-Man's enemy, Mysterio, into killing the rest of the X-Men.

Now, since there's conflict between Marvel/Disney and Fox, who has the rights to the X-Men for films, there's no way that Hawkeye or the Hulk's going to appear here, but they did cherry-pick some elements from the first "Old Man Logan" storyline to use here.  Still, I wish we could have seen that U.S.-sized wasteland, and instead we get a future world where triple trailer trucks drive themselves down the highway, and giant harvester-bots reap fields of corn for beverages.  Oh, and true freedom for the few mutants that are left exists in Canada, because if they hang around, they'll be deported to Mexico.  Some of this is starting to sound all too familiar, right?

I'm kind of reminded of the last two Batman films, since both "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" managed to Franken-edit several well-known comic-book storylines together and come out with a coherent whole at the end.  "Logan" incorporates bits of the first "Old Man Logan" run, along with a storyline a few years back where it was determined that long-term exposure to adamantium was messing with Wolverine's mutant healing power, and a third storyline that I can't directly reference for fear of spoilers.  But when Logan and Professor X meet a young girl who needs to be kept safe, her first name alone is enough to inform any true comic fan about where this story is headed.

In addition to probably being the darkest Marvel comic movie so far, in tone and in cinematography, it's somehow one of the most grounded, accessible storylines.  With Logan caring for an aging Professor X who often belittles him or can't even recognize him, that's a storyline that will probably ring true for anyone who's ever had to take care of an ill parent or grandparent.  Similarly, anyone who ever became a parent unexpectedly, or late in their life, could see themselves reflected in Logan acting as a father figure to a young girl.   So, in addition to fighting super-villains and dealing with his own failing health, and growing dependence on alcohol and drugs, Logan has to worry about whether he's capable of being a good son and father.  Is this based on a comic book, or the Book of Job?

It might seem strange to some people that a plot point within a comic-book movie comes from comic books, but it does make some sense.  Back in Marvel's early days, comic-book writers like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby often added themselves to the plot, reasoning that within the world where superheroes exist, there would also be stories written about those real heroes, and they'd probably also take the form of comic books.  (Whereas in "Watchmen" comics, Alan Moore reasoned that in such a world, there would be no need for stories about super-heroes, and people would read pirate-based comics instead.  You be the judge.)

Overall, I felt this had a real art-house feel to it, with a tone that I don't think would be out of place being shown at someplace like the Sundance Film Festival.  I couldn't help but think of "Little Miss Sunshine" when Logan, Xavier and Laura went on their road-trip in a succession of beat-up vehicles, with Xavier in the cranky Alan Arkin role, and Logan acting as the overbearing parent.  According to the IMDB, the director cited that indie film as an influence, along with "Paper Moon" and "The Wrestler".  Along with this, the complicated issues of alcoholism, aging and drug dependency place this firmly as darker fare for the adults, not the kids.

In the sparsely-attended Monday night screening that I went to, I heard someone shout out, "That's a shitty ending!"  Well, sure, if you don't understand that the true essence of a super-hero is sacrifice.  Sure, fighting villains and saving people's lives, but really, it's all sacrifice when you get down to it.  This is part of a trend in comic-book movies lately, but also in comic-books overall - Wolverine died in the comic books about 2 or 3 years ago, but then in the "Secret Wars" storyline of 2015, they messed with reality and found a way to bring Old Man Logan back, because comic books.  One might think that if a younger Wolverine died then there would logically be no older Wolverine, and one would be wrong.  Wolverine sells books, so the Old Logan from the alternate timeline was brought into the main timeline to fill the void.

But NITPICK POINT, it's very hard for me to believe that Logan's never acted as a parent before - according to his origin story, he's been around since some time after the Civil War, fought as a soldier in both World Wars, that's a long time to be alive.  Plus his gametes probably are super-strong, and he's been in love dozens of times, so he's bound to have a lot of children somewhere.  Or is he not the type to form long-term relationships, so he's always on the road before learning that he fathered a child?

Also starring Patrick Stewart (last heard in "Ted 2"), Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook (last seen in "A Walk Among the Tombstones"), Richard E. Grant (last seen in "Hudson Hawk"), Stephen Merchant, Eriq La Salle (last seen in "Jacob's Ladder"), Elise Neal, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Jason Genao, with a cameo from Ryan Reynolds (in a pre-film sequence, and last seen in "Woman in Gold").

RATING: 8 out of 10 f-bombs

Chappie

Year 9, Day 118 - 4/28/17 - Movie #2,612

BEFORE: Now I'm really glad that I switched the order around and moved "Australia" up on the list, and moved this one back - because it puts the three sci-fi/comic/fantasy films with Hugh Jackman all in a row now.  I don't know why I didn't see that when I first put the chain together.  Oh well, I do allow myself a little bit of flexibility for just this reason.  After this I'm going to drop in that extra Hugh Jackman film that I saw earlier this month, since I want to hit Mother's Day on time, and I'm a few days behind in the count for the year anyway.  As a result, I'm going to be counting four movies in three days, and that allows me to make some progress in reducing the watchlist for the first time in about two months.  I'm tentatively back to adding one for every two I watch, so by the start of next week I could get the watchlist from 133 down to 130.  But then, I'm sure that the new month will bring new movies to the pay channels, and that will slow me down again.

We're also going off on another road-trip to Atlantic City on Sunday, so I'll try to watch my Sunday movie before we go and my Tuesday movie when we get back, so I'll only have to watch one movie late at night in our hotel room, on my wife's laptop.


THE PLOT: In the near future, crime is patrolled by a mechanized police force.  When one police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first robot with the ability to think and feel for himself.

AFTER: This one's been on the books for a while, I think I missed my chance to link to it from "X-Men: Apocalypse" so it was down in the unlinkable section of the watchlist for a while, and then along came "Pan" with Hugh Jackman, and with it a renewed sense of hope.  Then of course, "Logan" came along, and "Lion" seemed like a good way to get to Dev Patel, so there you go, it's back on the books.  ("Australia" and "Eddie the Eagle" were last-minute additions, they were airing this month, so they were along for the ride.  1 loss and 1 win from adding them, so really, it's a wash.)

Now that I've seen "Chappie", I don't really know what to make of it.  It wants to badly to be like this modern-day mix of "Frankenstein" and "Robocop", or maybe that's just me.  There's some good metaphorical point to be made about people creating robot life and robot intelligence, which would make people like gods to the robots, and therefore the robot/human relationship would be symbolic of human's belief in a Creator, but the film didn't seem very interested in exploring this.  It came close, but I feel like it dropped this ball, or else it didn't want to play in the first place.  Chappie was created with a bad, non-replaceable battery, so his existence is doomed to end in 5 days, which is a bit like humans wondering why they have to die - that's about it for the symbolism here.

They do sort of draw an analogy to a just-awakened robot to a human baby, who needs to learn language and behavior and, well, just about anything - but that process can't be the same for a silicon-based creature than it is for a carbon-based one, who has to breathe and nurse and be protected from danger, can it?  Thinking that the process is exactly the same would sell the robot experience short, I think - but there's zero explanation here regarding how it might be different.

I also didn't understand how there were two different robot programmers working for the same company, and one works on the successful police robots, and the other keeps pushing for the bigger, more impractical war-type droid, that the South African (?) government doesn't even want.  At first I thought he worked for a rival company but no, he's part of the same corporation, which is somehow competing against itself for the state's contract.  Huh?  Why can't he get on board with the company line, which seems to be what the government is actually interested in buying?  And if he can't, why is he still employed there?  Something's not adding up.

I'm also not exactly sure why Deon, the programmer of the successful police robots, wants to go and spoil everything by continuing to work on creating robot consciousness.  If the robots are working fine without it, why keep trying to crack this problem?  For the good of science, sure, but there's no money in it, and it can only lead to bad things like robot slave revolts and larger questions about whether humans are now gods.  It's better to not even go there.  Especially if your BOSS tells you to drop that project, you'd better drop it if you want to keep your job.  Save the robot consciousness program for 5 or 10 years down the line, when you're out of the militia game and working in the private sector for some company that cares more about artificial intelligence, right?

Chappie might have worked better if he hadn't been corrupted by these Mad Max-style thugs, who want to use him to pull off a heist.  He ended up developing speech patterns and mannerisms that were common to gangsta rap, which then mixed with his innocent sort of baby-talk and the actor's South African accent to make this jumbled-up speech that was quite difficult for me to understand.

I can't really refer to my major NITPICK POINT without giving away the ending, but let's just say that there's a big leap in technology between what we see the neural interface do (allow a human to control a robot remotely) and then what the interface gets used for later.  That's not what the tech was designed to do, it's hard to believe it could be re-purposed like that.

I swear, it's just another coincidence that last week there were news reports out of Russia about a robot that can shoot guns...

Also starring Sharlto Copley (last seen in "Maleficent"), Dev Patel (last seen in "Lion"), Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Ghostbusters" (2016)), Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Castillo, Brandon Auret (last seen in "Elysium"), Johnny Selema, Bill Marchant, Anderson Cooper (last seen in "The 33").

RATING: 4 out of 10 flash drives

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Eddie the Eagle

Year 9, Day 117 - 4/27/17 - Movie #2,611

BEFORE: Day 2 of the Hugh Jackman chain, and the only film this week with a title that's longer than one word.  I've got this annoying feeling that maybe I shouldn't watch this one now, like I might need it later for linking - especially with "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" coming out in September (Taron Egerton would provide a neat link to that) and also Jim Broadbent appears here, and he could provide a link to either "The Legend of Tarzan" or "The Crying Game".

It doesn't matter, especially since there's no possible way to know how my linking's going to work in a few months - I've only got things scheduled through the end of May, after all, and the method I use to find connections can't possibly work with a film until it's ON the list.  I just can't search the casts of films that are NOT on the list, I've got to sort of mentally keep track of the cast of films like "La La Land" and "Spotlight", cross my fingers and hope that it will all work out somehow.

I'm committed to a chain now that gets me to Mother's Day and Memorial Day, and that track involves clearing out all the Hugh Jackman films, so here I go.  For tonight's film and last night's "Australia", I'm watching straight from the DVR, which means that I didn't get a peek at the events in the film while dubbing it to DVD, so anything could happen.  Hey, that was the case for "Lion" too, since I watched an Academy screener.  It's a nice feeling, not knowing what's coming up.


THE PLOT: The story of Eddie Edwards, the notoriously tenacious British underdog ski jumper who charmed the world at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

AFTER: Right now, it seems we'd be about as far as we can be from the Olympics, since they took place last summer - but the next winter Olympics will be February 2018 in Korea, so people are probably training and qualifying somewhere now.  Geez, I remember when they had the winter games and summer games in the same year, so everyone had to wait 4 years for another Olympics, but there's a whole generation now that only has to wait 2 years, and they don't know any other way.

When he couldn't qualify for the British downhill skiing team, Eddie Edwards set his sight on ski jumping, after learning that the U.K. didn't even field a team in the sport.  All he had to do was become a moderately successful jumper, and he figured he'd automatically qualify.  Well, that's not exactly how the process works, but you have to admire not only the dedication but the ability to think of a clever work-around.  But getting to the top of a 70-meter ski ramp, jumping off and, more importantly, surviving the landing at the bottom, all turned out to be more difficult than he figured.  (The most difficult winter sport, by the way, is Uphill Skiing, I don't know why that's not included in the Winter Games - but then, I'm not a sports guy.)

The actor who plays Eddie seemed to land on an odd mix of innocent optimism, unbridled determination, and possible mental impairment - but then when I saw footage of the real Eddie Edwards at the end of the film (in an end-credits sequence similar to "Lion") I thought, "Wow, he really nailed it..."

The "Rocky" formula works, which is why we've seen it again and again.  It worked in "Cool Runnings", another Winter Olympic-based film, and it's probably worked in a dozen other films, from "The Karate Kid" to "Major League" to "Seabiscuit". Take one unlikely contender, get the audience invested in him as a person, and throw in an obscure technicality that gives him a shot at the title.  Find him a crusty, burned-out trainer, who's got some unorthodox training methods that look good in a montage, and then fast-forward to the championship so we can root for the guy as he overcomes both adversity and the critics.

I don't mean to belittle the film by pointing out that it follows a formula - it's a sports movie, and those tend to favor the winners.  It's hard to call Eddie Edwards a "winner" when you look at the scoreboard, but the movie ends up making the point that win or lose, he competed in the Olympics, he achieved his personal best, and that in itself means something.  Taken as a metaphor, the way that the British olympic committee kept changing the rules so that he couldn't qualify can inspire anyone in any walk of life - you show up, you work hard and do your best, and then what's your reward?  You get to show up and do it all again tomorrow - many times, if you can't find your own satisfaction in a job well done, then you're a candidate for depression or at least extreme frustration.

Eddie at least gets a shout-out from the President of the Olympic Committee, who congratulates all of the athletes involved, some of whom managed to "soar like eagles".  And this was before shout-outs were even a thing.  It's refreshing to look back on 1988 and realize it was such a different time - Eddie was criticized for his excessive celebrating after completing a jump, and called a press conference to apologize for flapping his hands a certain way.  Think about the Olympics last year, when a certain swimmer had to apologize to the press for faking a robbery and vandalizing a gas station rest-room.  Times have changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Also starring Taron Egerton (last seen in "Legend"), Christopher Walken (last seen in "Man of the Year"), Iris Berben, Keith Allen (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny (last seen in "102 Dalmatians"), Jim Broadbent (last seen in "Paddington"), Mark Benton, Edvin Endre, Marc Benjamin, Daniel Ings, Rune Temte, Matt Rippy (last seen in "Rogue One").

RATING: 6 out of 10 broken eyeglasses

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Australia

Year 9, Day 116 - 4/26/17 - Movie #2,610

BEFORE: I was all set to watch "Chappie" next, with Dev Patel carrying over from "Lion", but then I realized that if I changed the order of the Hugh Jackman chain just a bit, I could get TWO actors to link - both Nicole Kidman and David Wenham now carry over.  And two is better than one.

It turns out this isn't just the week of (mostly) one-word titles.  I just realize Cate Blanchett is Australian, so between her, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, I've just about given over this whole week to the Aussies.  This is the fifth film in a row with at least one Australian actor, and there are at least four more on the way.


THE PLOT: An English aristocrat who inherits a sprawling ranch in northern Australia reluctantly pacts with a stock-man in order to drive 2,000 head of cattle over an unforgiving landscape.

AFTER: I didn't know what to make of this film at first - the acting at the start is so ridiculous, so over-the-top, with Nicole Kidman acting like this stuck-up heiress who's absolutely SHOCKED at how rude people are in Australia, and how dusty everything seems to be.  Then Jackman comes along acting like a stereotypical meathead brawler and it seems like everyone's going to be a cartoony character of sorts.  Plus even though the scenery looks great, it looks a little TOO good, if you know what I mean, as if it couldn't possibly be real, which it probably isn't.  I didn't pay much attention to who directed the film, but at the end when Baz Luhrmann's name came up, I thought, "Yeah, that makes a lot of sense."  You could watch "Moulin Rouge!", this film, and "The Great Gatsby" in a row as a trilogy (but, why would you?) and probably see a lot of similar stuff.  I'm just surprised that more people here didn't spontaneously break into pop songs that were written 50 years later.

There's definitely a sense of an adventure here, but everything's just so silly and exaggerated, it was hard for me to feel invested.  Perhaps it did capture the spirit of 1939 Australia - I'll never know for sure - but layered under so many special effects and so much art direction that it was hard to notice it.  Then when they succeeded in getting the cattle to the destination port, in my opinion, that's where the movie should have ended.  Congratulations, you won, you did it, now we can all go home - but no, the film persists for another extra hour beyond that, for a total running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes.  I did stay awake for the whole film, but fell asleep immediately after.

I did learn two things, the first was about the Japanese bombing of Darwin, Australia - which took place shortly after Pearl Harbor, but I'd never heard of it before.  It makes sense that Japan would attack there to prevent the UK and its Allies from using Australia as a base.  But you'd never hear about this in an American history class, which might be a shame.  And the other thing I learned was that even though we may have racial problems in America, they're minor compared to what's gone on in Australia over the years.  It seems that mixed-race children had absolutely no social status, and the film shows them being rounded up to be sent to special schools to "breed the black out of them".  And  here they were placed on an island out in the harbor, so if the Japanese planes came, that would be the first place bombed.  Nice going, racist Aussies.

The whole sequence in the early part of the film with Nullah hiding in the water tower, I just didn't understand.  I mean, I get that he and his mother had to hide from the police, and maybe the water tower was a good place to hide and maybe it wasn't, but I didn't understand why it was a bad thing that the police used some of the water, or why they had to keep moving around inside the tower, thus making noise, and then what happened next, just completely illogical.

The tie-in's to "The Wizard of Oz" were also brought up again and again, I just didn't see the point.  Sure, it's an OK film, and it was timely to refer to it in a film set in 1939, but was this just to make the connection between "Oz" meaning "Australia".  Geez, we get it already, there's no reason to hammer this home so many times.

It's a Western, it's a war movie, it's a romance - does this film really know what it wants to be in the end?  In a way, it's like my jury duty - I wonder what the point was, since it feels like just a waste of time that I'll never get back.

Also starring Hugh Jackman (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Bryan Brown (last seen in "Along Came Polly"), Jack Thompson (last seen in "Ruby Cairo"), David Gulpilil, Brandon Walters, Ben Mendelsohn (last seen in "Rogue One"), David Ngoombujarra, Essie Davis, Bruce Spence, Barry Otto (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Ursula Yovich, Yuen Wah, Sandy Gore, Jacek Koman, Tony Barry.

RATING: 4 out of 10 similarly repetitive mentions of "going walkabout"

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Lion

Year 9, Day 115 - 4/25/17 - Movie #2,609

BEFORE: "Carol" was something of a linking dead-end for me, but then a few months ago, I did a little skimming around on IMDB and found out that Rooney Mara was also in this film, and it happened to be in the pile of Academy screeners that my boss had received, so I asked to borrow it.  It provides a neat link to tomorrow's film, which kicks off a string of FIVE Hugh Jackman movies.  Which was only a three-film chain at the time, but two more Jackman films have come into my possession since that point.  So I hate to cheat and rely on an Academy screener, but that's the trick that's keeping my chain going these days.  When I return this one to the pile, I'll allow myself to borrow another.

Yeah, I know that the Academy screeners are for the express use of the registered voters - and you know how much I hate to not follow the rules.  But I've got all of the pay channels at home, I will have access to this film when it airs on one of them, and I'll probably record it at that time - but I need the link now, I can't wait until then.  So I don't think this counts as a movie sin, since I had no plans to see this film in the theater anyway, and I'm not copying it or selling it, I'm just watching it so I can recommend it to other people, who might then buy it.  So, really, I'm helping the film's business by watching the screener for free.

THE PLOT: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta and survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia.  25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

AFTER: I meant to write something yesterday in the "Carol" review about the selfishness of love, but I forgot - basically, I wanted to point out that we think about romantic love as a selfless act, which it certainly can be, but I think more often there's a selfishness involved.  Some people project this image of "Oh, I'm with this person to make their life better," but is that really what happens?  Isn't there usually an underlying follow-up of, "and my life will be better, too, if I can stay with this person."  I guess the best ideal is really a 50/50 sort of thing, because with that type of equality then a relationship has some staying power - a person who's truly selfless in their relationship, all giving and no taking, would probably be perceived as a doormat by other people, who would then wonder why he or she stays in that relationship.

Family relationships tend to work the same way, I think, because (with the exception of parent-infant relationships) if there's only an emotional connection one way, then eventually that situation's going to collapse, either the parent will start to wonder why they bother, or the child will start wondering when they can move away from this relationship that's not benefitting them at all.  Of course, I'm generalizing, people have endured all kinds of family relationships that are out of balance.

And this ties in to the situation in "Lion", where a young man wants to tell his adoptive parents that he is starting to remember his childhood, and the mother he left behind, but he can't find the way to tell them, because he fears it would hurt his adoptive mother's feelings.  Meanwhile his girlfriend is finding him more and more unapproachable once he realizes that a part of his life is missing, that he's not whole.  That's the sort of thing that's going to eat away at someone until they find a way to resolve it.

This story presents a linear narrative, more or less - starting with Saroo as a 5-year old, being looked after by his older brother, Geddu, for most of the day.  And then a particular set of unlikely circumstances cause them to be separated, and Sheru finds himself many miles from home, with no idea how to get back, or whom to trust in a big city.  You can't say this doesn't happen, because thousands of kids do go missing each year - and I guess you have to figure that of all those kids who probably meet untimely ends or fates that we can't even imagine, once in a while there's going to be one that not only manages to survive, but (eventually) is able to remember his past and find his way back to his family.

But there was an opportunity here, that was lost because of the simple trap of wanting to tell the story in order, as it happened.  As we see Saroo start to piece together his past, and he has visions of his mother and brother and the life he left behind, we the audience are familiar with those images (because we've seen them before) and he is not (because he forgot).  How much more powerful could the story have been if it had started with him as a 25-year-old, having lived with his adopted family in Australia for 20 years, and he suddenly sees something that reminds him of being a boy?  Then we could have gone on the journey of remembering with him, we could have gotten a better sense of how it feels to piece together fragments of memory to solve the puzzle.  But instead we knew the answers long before he did, and then it feels like just a matter of time for him to catch up with us.

I know, I'm always the one saying that film stories need to be more linear, and less flashback-y.  But this one ended up using a lot of flashbacks anyway, so if you're going to go that route, you might as well put the audience on the "clean slate" track that the character is on, so we all arrive at the solution at the same time.

I sort of had a problem with the casting of Dev Patel - I mean, there aren't many actors of Indian descent that Hollywood would cast, but he looked nothing like the actor who played Saroo as a young boy.  When I see a character at age 5 and then later at 25, I've got to believe that the young one would turn into the older one, and since certain facial features aren't going to change, such as the size of the character's nose in relation to the rest of the face, then if the two actors are too dissimilar, it's just not going to work.  Maybe they should have looked a bit harder for a 5-year-old that looked like a young Dev Patel, you can't just pick the best acting kid in that situation.

I still think this is a powerful piece of filmmaking, but I'm left wondering if a different approach could have really made it stand out more.   I'm also wondering if technology is being used to help cut down on the number of missing children in the world - yeah, it looks like there are many different kinds of tracking devices available to parents now, but they all seem to be wearable devices, which could fall off or be removed.  Aren't there injectable tracking devices for kids like the ones that pet-owners use to find runaway cats and dogs?

Also starring Dev Patel (last seen in "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), Nicole Kidman (last seen in "The Invasion"), David Denham (last seen in "300: Rise of an Empire"), Sunny Pawar, Divian Ladwa, Abhiskek Bharate, Priyanka Bose, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Deepti Naval, Pallavi Sharda, Sachin Joab, Arka Das, Emilie Cocquerel, with a cameo from the real Saroo Brierley.

RATING: 6 out of 10 lumps of coal