Thursday, November 7, 2019

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Year 11, Day 311 - 11/7/19 - Movie #3,395

BEFORE: I know November just started three movies ago, but I've reached the end of my November chain.  Weird, huh?  But I've been very diligent this year, more so than most years, and I find myself running out of movie slots before running out of year.  I capped my years at 300 many moons ago, when I realized that 365 movies per year was too much - I need some time for work matters, vacations, comic-cons, chores around the house, and just general mental health.  Interacting with people IRL may be overrated in general, but it's necessary to maintaining some semblance of a normal, non-fictional life. There has to be more to life than watching movies, and over the next month, I'm going to try and get some.

Still, I'll pat myself on the back for maintaining quite a pace this year - 295 movies in 311 days is pretty damn good, and half of those 16 days off were spent in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago.  It felt weird to take a week off, and now I'm staring at over a month off.  I feel like my blog is a seasonal resort in the Catskills or something, once the leaves all drop off the trees and the frost comes, nobody wants to drive up there for the weekend, so the place just sort of shuts down, at least until hunting season and maybe a big Christmas party.

Quickly, here are the stats on November's formats:
2 Movies watched on Cable (not saved): The Portrait of a Lady, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
1 Watched on Netflix: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
3 Total in October

Richard E. Grant carries over from "The Portrait of a Lady", and he's also the link to my next film, which is "Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker".  As a fan I've tried very hard to not learn too much about this film, I've looked at each trailer, but only once, because I just wanted to get an impression, not learn any plot details - but just knowing the cast list, which was necessary to plan the linking, probably gives away too much.  Obviously I had several ways to get here, I'd been stockpiling films with Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac, but once I knew that my path could lead here in another way, I was free to watch (nearly) all of those films.

(You might well ask, why not watch this film with the other Melissa McCarthy films?  Why treat this as a Richard E. Grant film instead?  Looking back, I certainly COULD have included this one with the other McCarthy films - or perhaps it hadn't started airing on premium cable yet, now I'm not sure. I think it had more to do with the count, though, and getting to start horror movies square on October 1.  Sure, this film could have gone THERE instead of HERE, but then my counts would have been off - it would have meant an extra film in September, and so it got moved here into November, where there was much more room.  Capice?)

But damn, December 20 seems like a long ways off, and no movies until then?  That's going to be rough.  You might think that watching 295 films in 311 days is the tougher part, nah, that's quite easy. For me, 42 days WITHOUT watching a new movie is incredibly difficult.  And trying not to let my list get any longer during the break, that's even harder.  We'll see how THAT goes.  I've got my ticket for opening day of "Star Wars" (a tradition for me on all "Star Wars" films going back to "The Empire Strikes Back") and from there, it will be just four more films to close out 2019.  After tonight, it's back to work compiling that list of actors' multiple appearances for the year, so I'll have it for my annual round-up.


THE PLOT: When Lee Israel falls out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception.

AFTER: Eh, I'm not sure about this one, I can't really say I felt sympathetic to the main character in the way that the film clearly WANTED me to. I give props to Melissa McCarthy to trying to stretch herself and do something outside of the inoffensive slapstick comedy of films like "The Boss" and "Life of the Party", and I think she's come a long way from films like "The Heat" and "Identity Thief", but something's just not quite right here.  Maybe it's the character, Lee Israel, somebody who apparently was well-known for writing celebrity biographies, but ended up passing off fake autographed letters when she couldn't cut it as an author any more.

Here's the thing, it's possible to get too comfortable as yourself, to get set in your ways and essentially stuck in your career, not moving forward but just basically treading water.  Look, just trust me on this, OK?  When that happens to you, you've got two choices - either keep treading water for as long as you can, because at least you're not drowning, or get out of the pool, find another job, find another reason for getting up in the morning.  OK, if you want to play armchair analyst then maybe I'm seeing a bit of myself in the character, because I've been at one of my jobs for over 25 years - but at some point I'd like to think I got sort of GOOD at it, and in the end, who's to say how long anybody should stay at a job?  I'm still getting PAID, right?  Not much, like I'll never get rich, but I'm still meeting my monthly expenses most of the time, and I get to take an exhausting vacation every now and again.  And I've achieved a certain level of respect, or at least recognition, for hanging in for so long - plus whenever I do travel or socialize with others, chances are there will be someone there who knows my boss's name, and I can humblebrag just a bit.  So it's not a fantastic life, but it's the one I've built for myself.

But if something changed, like the whole animation industry fell out of favor or became unprofitable, or my boss died or I suddenly forgot how to do payroll or book airline tickets, then I'd HAVE to move on, right?  I can't really say where I'd go or what line of work I'd fall back on, but there's got to be something, right?  I can type very fast, maybe I could caption the news in real time for the hearing-impaired.  Or I could go work at Marvel Comics or the Daily News and fix spelling and grammar mistakes all day long.  I've got tenuous connections at Disney or a couple networks where friends or ex-co-workers are now, maybe I could check around and see what's available.  I don't necessarily feel like I've worn out my welcome at my current jobs, though, so I'm likely to hang tough for as long as I can.  But still, I don't quite understand why Lee Israel stayed for so long in an industry that didn't seem to want her in it.

You lose a job, get a new job.  You lose a pet, get a new pet.  Yeah, the cat thing in this film hit a little too close to home, since our oldest cat took a turn while we were on vacation, he spent the last half of that week at the vet's.  He's back home now, and functioning, but we just don't know for how long.  We had plans to take in the stray cat from our front porch before the weather got cold, so we went ahead and did that, because we figured by now we'd be replacing the older cat - so now we have three, because he's still hanging on.  Yes, it will be sad when he goes, but as a friend reminded me, he was a former stray, so we vastly improved his life by housing and feeding him for 15 years - chances are on the streets he wouldn't have lasted so long.  That's how you have to look at these life changes, focus on the positive, and not get all bogged down in entropy and depression and the endings of things - otherwise they'll drag your spirit down with them.

But even if life sends a couple of shitburgers to eat, that's still no justification for forging letters from famous people like Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward.  I don't care if you can write in their voice or not, typing out a couple of witty letters, forging a signature and then selling the result for top dollar is just NOT O.K., O.K.?  I also have some experience with autograph collecting, my focus of course is actors from the "Star Wars" franchise, and by going out to so many San Diego cons, I've amassed a nice little collection, about 114 and counting.  Many times I've met the actors in person, like Kenny Baker, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew and Mark Hamill, even Jake Lloyd, Daniel Logan, Ray Park and Richard LeParmentier (yep, look him up...)  In the later years I fell back on trusted autograph web-sites so I could build the collection faster - and simply EVERYBODY knows that an autograph is just no good without a COA, certificate of authenticity.  Lately they've added holograms and digital tracking, but for years, it was all about the COA, I wouldn't dream of spending money on a signed 8x10 unless I knew I was getting one.  (I even bugged Carrie Fisher for the COA, even after she signed her photo and then posed for a pic with me, cheek to cheek.)

Of course, as this movie points out, the COA's can be forged too - they're only as reliable as the company that makes them, so in the end, it all comes down to trust.  How well do you trust this company on-line that's selling James Earl Jones' signed photo, or LeBron James' signed basketball, or Alex Rodriguez' autographed baseball card?  Every few years there's an exposĂ© on how corrupt the collectibles market is, and how 80% or so of everything on the market is not legit.  So I know with the large autograph collection I have, there's a chance that there's little resale value there, but I don't care that much, having the collection brings me a measure of joy, and I'm not really in a position to haggle over what's real and what isn't.  So I guess I take it very personally that someone was out there in the 1980's passing off phony letters from famous authors for years, and nobody called her out on it, not for a long time, anyway.

Why couldn't she put that level of creativity, the kind it takes to crack a joke in Noel Coward's or Dorothy Parker's voice, into some sort of work of her own?  Why couldn't she BE the next Dorothy Parker, if she could at least pretend to write like her?  There's doing and there's faking, and this person spent so much time getting good at faking that it seems she forgot about the doing.  Oh, wait, later she wrote a book about her years working as a professional forger, and that book is what this film is based on.  But, that's CHEATING, creating a story about the bad stuff you did when you couldn't create a story - it seems worse than making a movie about a writer with writer's block and what they do when they can't write.  Plus, isn't there some law that says that people can't profit from their crimes?  So how could she write a book about her forgeries and get a check for that?

But, essentially, this is also a film about how we humans form relationships with friends, co-workers, and/or romantic partners, and then often a few months or years later, we often act in ways that are counter-productive and then put barriers up between each other, or act in ways that drive the others away.  It's a form of self-sabotage, and we're all capable of it if we're not cognizant of it.  Neither Lee or her partner-in-crime Jack have many (or any) friends, and Lee makes reference to a female romantic partner in her past, while Jack seems to prefer the free-wheeling lifestyle of the gay scene - so free-wheeling that it's a bit unclear if he even has an apartment of his own at all.

But with two lead characters who happen to be gay, and are either incapable of or unwilling to be in long-term relationships, what message does that send out?  It's almost like the film is suggesting that gay people aren't cut out to be in long-term relationships, and as a point of order, that was something of a stereotype back THEN, which of course has been proven wrong, many many times over, as of NOW.  So I guess back in the late 80's or early 90's it was a prevailing myth, but that didn't make it true, and after reverting to that old tired trope, I'm surprised that there wasn't some kind of backlash from the gay community over the way relationships are portrayed here.  This story is essentially a tragedy, partly because all relationships within are portrayed as doomed to fail.

But it's also a tragedy because it shows that in life people make mistakes, or have a run of bad luck, or miss opportunities to improve their situations, and then find themselves chasing a couple of broken dreams, wondering when it was exactly that they missed the move that they should have made.  But even if all that is the case, committing crimes to get ahead should still never be the solution to one's problems, and any film that even half-glorifies commiting fraud as an option is questionable at best. As seen here, that can tend to make a bad situation even worse, leaving someone with the only goal in life left to get through it, even though we know deep down that nobody ever gets out alive.

And on that cheery note, I'm on break for the next month.  Please meet me back here after December 20 for whatever my take on "Star Wars: Episode IX" turns out to be.

Also starring Melissa McCarthy (last seen in "Central Intelligence"), Dolly Wells (last seen in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"),  Jane Curtin (last seen in "Love, Gilda"), Ben Falcone (last seen in "The Boss"), Anna Deavere Smith (last seen in "The Human Stain"), Stephen Spinella (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Gregory Korostishevsky (last seen in "2 Days in New York"), Christian Navarro, Erik LaRay Harvey (last seen in "Rounders"), Brandon Scott Jones (last seen in "Don't Think Twice"), Shae D'Lyn (last seen in "CafĂ© Society"), Marc Evan Jackson (last seen in "Jumaji: Welcome to the Jungle"), Kevin Carolan, Michael Cyril Creighton (last seen in "Game Night"), Joanna P. Adler, Mary McCann (last seen in "Little Children"), Tim Cummings, Rosal Colon, Ethel Fisher, Michael Laurence, Justin Vivian Bond and archive footage of Bette Davis.

RATING: 4 out of 10 fax machines (kids, ask your parents...)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Portrait of a Lady

Year 11, Day 309 - 11/5/19 - Movie #3,394

BEFORE: A big loss today, I accidentally overwrote a saved file on my Blogger account, which is very easy to do.  Sometimes if you click on a post to open it, but accidentally drag it a little, it's too easy to overwrite one draft with another - and the problem is that the file that I overwrote, essentially deleting it, was the long record of cameos and multiple appearances for the entire year.  It was a rough list, sure, but I relied on that almost every day for quick checks of what each actor's previous appearance was, and at the end of the year, I was going to turn that file into the list of who's been in the most films this year, with at least three appearances and up.

I can't "un-erase" it, so I've got to build it all back up again, and that's a LOT of typing.  A lot of searches with IMDB's advanced search page, and then I have to double-check each one, because the IMDB stupidly doesn't make a distinction between someone appearing in a film as an actor, and appearing in the credits of a film with a "thanks to" credit, or a credit for doing stunts or even writing a song.  Here's where the IMDB and I don't see eye to eye, if an Elton John song is used in a film, that database counts that as an "appearance", and I don't.  Meanwhile, if they use footage of Carl Weathers from a previous "Rocky" movie in "Creed II", I count that as an "appearance", and the IMDB doesn't.  So now I have to back through my notes on EVERY film I watched in 2019 - 294 so far, and count every appearance of people in archive footage that I noted, even when the IMDB didn't list them, and cross-reference the hell out of each actor's filmography.  It's an enormous amount of work, thankfully I've got some down time coming after this week so maybe I can pull a couple of late nights and knock the whole thing out, rebuild the list before the end of the year.

I suppose it's a blessing in disguise, I was going to have to double-check the list I had anyway for any errors or omissions, now I can just work my way from January to November, 10 or 20 films at a time, and just do one solid pass.  I remember quite a bit of it, but still, it's going to be a few days worth of typing before I have anything like the file I just accidentally erased.  I should probably keep a back-up of it in the future, because this has happened before, just not with such a large file.  All my other lists are backed up on a flash drive and three computers, but there was only one copy of this file, and I should know better than that.

John Malkovich carries over again from "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile", and that's it for the Malkovich films for this year - I've got two more films with him, but I've got no room, so I'm saving them for next year, it looks like.


THE PLOT: An American girl inherits a fortune and falls into a misguided relationship with a gentleman confidence artist whose true nature, including a barbed and covetous disposition, turns her life into a nightmare.

AFTER: I watched this film before over-writing that file, so I know it's not my own clumsiness that put me in a bad mood.  I can safely say I didn't like this film because I didn't like the film, not because of any outside influences.  It's based on a classic novel by Henry James, and it really made me not want to read any novels by Henry James.  God, the story was so boring, it's from the 1880's and I really don't give a rat's ass about the relationship politics of Victorian England, even though the story then spilled over to Florence and Rome, following the adventures of ex-pat Brits is almost as boring as following the adventures of homebound ones.

Now I almost understand why somebody tried to spice up "Pride and Prejudice" by adding zombies to it, I know that a zombie attack could maybe have done this storyline a world of good.  Just the sight of a bunch of finely-dressed people at a ball, filling out each other's dance cards (God, was that ever a real thing?) and the men fretting over whether they had enough money to marry the right woman, or the women worrying over if they were attractive enough to marry the right man.  Jeez, was that ALL that people thought about back then, just marrying well to improve their social status?  Didn't they have anything better to do?  Oh, right, they didn't have movies yet or the internet, so it was either attend dances and mingle or go out and shoot themselves, I guess. I doubt I would have lasted a week in British society in the 1880's.

The lead character, Isabel Archer, is an American, but her aunt is married to a rich Brit, so she's got a rich uncle, a sick cousin and the rich uncle has a rich neighbor, Lord Warburton.  Warburton proposes to Isabel, but she turns him down for some reason, and also turns down the heir to a Boston mill fortune shortly after that.  It seems like she might be holding out for her own cousin - this was back in the days when it was somewhat acceptable to marry a cousin, but it's not really mentioned if her cousin Ralph is a blood relative, or just perhaps the son of her uncle.  I guess the latter scenario would be more OK, right?  Like if you get it on with someone you share grandparents with, that's a little nasty, and you'd think that would be improper in high society, too - but hasn't royalty been getting away with that for centuries?

Anyway, Isabel's sick cousin, Ralph, convinces his dying father to leave Isabel a large inheritance, because he wants to see what she'll do with it.  What she does is travel to Florence, where she meets another American, Gilbert Osmond, and marries him.  Osmond has a daughter, Pansy, and Pansy has a boyfriend, Edward Rosier, who's another one of those men who's worrying that he's not rich enough to marry a good woman.  Turns out he's right, because Mr. Osmond doesn't think Edward's wealthy enough, and he wants his daughter Pansy to marry someone more like Lord Warburton.  What a coincidence, Warburton shows up, and shows interest in Pansy, only Mr. Osmond suspects that he's only pretending to be interested in Pansy in order to get closer to Isabel. This drives a wedge between Mr. Osmond and his wife, Isabel, but really, at this point, who cares? And Pansy gets sent to a convent because she would prefer to marry Edward, who loves her, instead of Warbucks - I mean, Warburton.

Isabel gets called away to visit her dying cousin (as one character points out, he's been dying for the last ten years at this point) and this puts her back in touch with that heir to the mill fortune when she returns to the U.K. She brushes him off and returns to Rome, but it's unclear whether Isabel goes back to Rome to save her marriage, or to rescue Pansy from the convent and end the marriage.  This is not a fault of the film, James ended his novel ambiguously, apparently, and my guess is that he couldn't decide on an ending, or else he felt that either possible ending would alienate half of the audience, so he did the old narrative cop-out.  (aka "Choose Your Own Ending"). What a dick move.

I don't know, I've sort of had it with the corseted dramas, even though I didn't watch that many of them this year, I did do a whole British-set chain, including "Mary Queen of Scots" and "W.E.", both of which dealt with royalty debating whom to marry, so I've sort of had my fill of this topic. Then I watched "Bright Star", which dealt with John Keats never having enough money (as a struggling poet) to marry the woman he loved, and just as he was getting close, he died from consumption.  So this is all old hat to me, I've seen this all before and this story just didn't appeal to me.  Why are some people so enamored of this period of human history?  Sure, the fashions were elaborate, but all that upper-crust nonsense over who's good enough to marry whom, PLUS the complete inequality that was built into the whole infrastructure of that society.  Even when Isabel was the one who inherited a fortune, and was therefore the provider for her family, she still didn't have the power in the relationship, which naturally belonged to her husband.  Now, how is that fair?  It's not, so instead of glorifying the patriarchy in films, we should be working on tearing it down, pointing out how unjust the Victorian age really was.

Ah, I just realized that this film has the same director, Jane Campion, as "Bright Star" - so naturally that could explain some of the similarities in subject matter and tone.  But this film was made right after she directed "The Piano", which worked on the same theme of arranged marriage - only that film won three Oscars, and this one didn't.  (Got two nominations, though - only one was for Best Costume Design.).

Anyway, I'm taking a pass on this one.  Didn't get it, it didn't win me over.  Now I'm off to start rebuilding that list so I'll know at the end of the year how many films each actor and actress appeared in.  Nicole Kidman's making the list for sure, only there's just no way she can match some of the politicians who appeared in so many documentaries over the summer.

Also starring Nicole Kidman (last seen in "Dogville"), Barbara Hershey (last seen in "The Stunt Man"), Mary-Louise Parker (last seen in "Red Sparrow"), Martin Donovan (last seen in "Fahrenheit 451"), Shelley Winters (last seen in "Filmworker"), John Gielgud (last seen in "The Elephant Man"), Shelley Duvall (last seen in "Filmworker"), Richard E. Grant (last seen in "The Hitman's Bodyguard"), Viggo Mortensen (last seen in "Green Book"), Christian Bale (last heard in "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle"), Valentina Cervi (last seen in "Jane Eyre"), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (last seen in "Bright Star'), Catherine Zago.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Channel crossings

Monday, November 4, 2019

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

Year 11, Day 308 - 11/4/19 - Movie #3,393

BEFORE: I took some time this weekend and caught up on some TV, I think I've watched nearly all of my shows that got recorded during the week I was away, except for "Survivor" and one episode of "Shark Tank". Now we just need to catch up on "Halloween Wars" and this week's "Masked Singer", then I can start making a list of things to do while I'm not watching movies through most of November and December.  We took in a new cat from outside, the one that's been hanging around on our front porch for the past year, so she'll need to be trained on how to behave as an indoor cat, and then integrated into our brood, so that's probably first priority.  Then I'd like to catch up on reading, cataloguing and organizing some comic books, and taking another four longboxes to my storage unit. After that, I've got to plan for Thanksgiving and start thinking about my Christmas mix CD and maybe make a dent in the holiday shopping.  And then maybe I can think about watching some TV shows that I need to catch up on, now that I finished Season 2 of "The Orville", which was better than expected.  Maybe I can watch one or two of the Marvel Netflix shows, like "Daredevil" or "Punisher", or keep moving forward with Season 1 of "Arrested Development" - but that's assuming that I get to all the other stuff first.

John Malkovich carries over from "Bird Box".  He'll be here tomorrow too, so Malkovich will make it to the year-end countdown, at almost the last minute.


THE PLOT: A chronicle of the crimes of Ted Bundy from the perspective of Liz, his longtime girlfriend, who refused to believe the truth about him for years.

AFTER: The questions you always hear about Ted Bundy are the same, again and again - like "How did he get away with killing so many people, over such a long period of time?" and "How did so many women manage to fall in love with him, even women who he'd never met in person?".  And then there's "Was he related in any way to wrestler King Kong Bundy?"  OK, maybe that last one is just me - but the other two questions seem very relevant.  We often joke about serial killers, how they can walk among us and look just like very normal people.  For many years people who don't want to participate in Halloween shenanigans or dress up in silly or overly sexy costumes could just say, "I'm dressed like a serial killer, because they look just like everyone else."  These days I tend to prefer the costume of "Someone who never lived up to their potential" so when someone says to me, "Hey, what are YOU supposed to be?" I can act dejected, look down at the floor and say, "Well, I was SUPPOSED to be a lot of things..."

This is where casting pretty boy Zac Efron as Ted Bundy offers something close to an explanation - Ted Bundy was an attractive man, and if you Google pictures of the two men, you'll see that Efron wasn't that far off.  Plus Bundy had to be somewhat charismatic, and of top of that, he was studying law - not that all law students or lawyers are guilty of something, but as is shown in the second half of the film, who would know more about the technicalities of beating the rap as a serial killer than a lawyer?  I hate to fall back on current politics, but in the news right now I think we're seeing what happens when we elect (mostly) lawyers to public office.  If you want to create a society where the politicians are JUST barely skirting the edge of legal with all the campaign contributions and collusion deals, and making sure that phone calls and payoffs to porn stars are all TECHNICALLY legal, perhaps, but still, very very shady and mostly indefensible, sure, by all means, keep voting for lawyers for public office.  BUT, if you want to maybe change the system, consider voting for someone without a law degree in 2020.  Just putting that out there.

(ASIDE: Of course, I realize that Donald Trump is not a lawyer, never was one, never claimed to be.  But many of the people he has appointed ARE lawyers, or former lawyers, or future criminals, and that's just never a good thing.  Plus, he surrounded himself with lawyers like Michael Cohen and Rudy Giuliani, and we've seen what a house of cards that turned out to be.  So I maintain that politics should be its own career track, and not just a dumping ground for ex-lawyers or failed lawyers, people who can really parse out the super-fine line between what's legal and illegal, as opposed to electing a regular person as President, who might tend to just stay away from anything that smells even remotely illegal, just to be on the safe side.  Electing a lawyer as a politician is a bit like hiring Jared Fogle to run a day-care center, or putting coal and oil lobbyists in charge of the EPA - which Trump DID.)

My next thought is that Zac Efron is really fit, some good muscle definition, as seen not only here, but also in "Baywatch".  I'm not usually one for admiring men's bodies, but this guy is really in fine shape, a solid human specimen.  This also feels sort of appropriate for the movie, because if you think about it (and I just know when I make this point it's not going to sound like a good thing to say...) a serial killer probably does have to be in great shape.  All that running through the woods, chasing down victims while carrying heavy power tools - it's not a good pastime for people who don't work out regularly.  But I suppose even if you're not in shape when you start killing, then with all that dragging heavy bodies around, and cutting them up with hacksaws or even chainsaws, you may find yourself in better shape in no time flat.  Yeah, I was right, that doesn't sound like a good thing to say at all.  But I bet most people don't even stop to think about the exercise involved in the logistics of killing - digging shallow graves alone is probably great for the arm muscles.

We also have to consider that Ted Bundy operated as a serial killer in the 1970's, and that era had a different set of sexual politics.  I know this sounds crazy, but there was an Equal Rights Amendment proposed in the 1970's, which stated quite simply that men and women have the same rights under the law - that would be a no-brainer today, but it FAILED as legislation in the 1970's - by the end of the decade, only 35 of the required 38 states had ratified it.  So there were enough people alive in the 1970's that still believed that men and women are fundamentally different under the law, for purposes of employment, property, divorce, etc. despite the gains of the women's movement in the U.S. during the 1960's.  (Ever since the men came back from World War II, and Rosie the Riveter was forced out of a job, it was a long road back...)

So even though we look at the past through a modern lens, you still have to stop and remember that in many fundamental ways, the 1970's were a very different time.  Women were an important part of the workplace, but men were still considered the breadwinners, and for women who were single, divorced, or sole parents of children, in many minds there was something "wrong" there, and a woman wasn't complete unless she was a wife and a mother.  And given the opportunity to be a mother, she might be expected to quit her job or put it on hold for years in order to raise her children.  Perhaps this goes a long way toward explaining why Liz Kendall, a divorced single mother, thought she'd hit the jackpot when she started dating Bundy, and why she was willing to ignore the long car trips he took into other states when he went looking for his victims.

Eventually, of course, she couldn't help but notice that after moving to Utah from Seattle, whenever he went for a "ski trip" into Colorado or Idaho, he'd tend to get delayed by some silly charge of attempted kidnapping, and have to spend a few weeks incarcerated or return later for a hearing or two.  But then again, he knew the legal objections to make, and could easily claim that the police had influenced the primary witness, or told her who to pick in the line-up, and he'd skate once again.  And what he told Liz, over and over, was that the police in these different states were all part of some massive conspiracy, that he was on some kind of list ever since an incident back in Seattle.  Which, umm, Liz kind of reported him for in the first place, so yeah, this relationship was really built on a solid foundation.  But hey, better to be in a relationship with a suspected serial killer than to suffer the shame of being a single mother, right?  (Again, it was the 1970's.)

Two other things allowed Bundy's crime spree to continue over the years - first, he was good as escaping from custody.  Acting as his own lawyer gave him certain privileges, like access to legal materials and not having to wear handcuffs or leg cuffs in the law library, and this made jumping out of a second-floor window much easier.  Also, this was in the early days of crime-scene tech, when they were still using fingerprints for ID but not DNA testing.  So a guy who wore gloves and a ski-mask could get away with nearly anything.  Hair tests, fiber analysis, even bite marks didn't have much sway in court, and many could be easily shot down.  Hair found at a crime scene that's consistent with the suspect still could belong to someone else, but a DNA match is a lot harder to dispel.

I'm reading up on Bundy's crimes now on Wikipedia, and I think this film got things mostly right, only a few minor details were changed for dramatic effect - like the jailhouse conversation between Bundy and Kendall that opens the film (but is set years after his convictions) which in reality didn't take place in person, but over the phone instead.  This is apparently my week for "snapbacks", when a movie opens with the most dramatic scene, and then goes back weeks or months or years to explain how we all got to this point.  "Alpha" did this, so did "Let Me In", "Bird Box" and I think maybe "Dark Places" as well.  I fondly remember the days before this trend dominated the structures of modern cinema.

But when Bundy's crimes finally caught up with him - it turns out that wherever he went in the late 1970's, even after escaping from prison, there were murders in whatever state that he happened to be hiding out in, including a Florida State University sorority house just a few blocks from the Holiday Inn he was living in.  Still, he maintained his innocence on all counts, refusing to take a plea deal that would give him 75 years in jail, essentially a life sentence, but avoiding the death penalty.  That takes some stones, or at least enough confidence to believe that he could beat the rap on one technical objection or another.  Finally he decided to leverage the information that he remembered about his murders to postpone his execution, to stay alive a little longer, but this also gave the families of his victims some small bit of closure.  It's very hard to think of that as a decent thing to do, all things considered, but that's how it was pitched at the time.  So let's just agree that the 1970's were a strange time.  Wait, I guess by the time they executed him, it was 1989 - well, the 1980's were a strange decade, too.

Also starring Zac Efron (last seen in "Baywatch"), Lily Collins (last seen in "Rules Don't Apply"), Kaya Scodelario (last seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales"), Jeffrey Donovan (last seen in "Sicario: Day of the Soldado"), Angela Sarafyan (last seen in "Paranoia"), Dylan Baker (last seen in "2 Days in New York"), Brian Geraghty (last seen in "Bobby"), Terry Kinney (last seen in "Promised Land"), Jim Parsons (last seen in "Wish I Was Here"), Haley Joel Osment (last seen in "Yoga Hosers"), Grace Victoria Cox, James Hetfield (last seen in "Metallica; Some Kind of Monster"), Justin McCombs, Forba Shepherd, Ava Inman, Morgan Pyle, Grace Balbo, Leilani Barrett, Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Alan B. Jones (last seen in "White Boy Rick"), Ken Strunk (also last seen in "Promised Land"), James Harper, Barry Mulholland (last seen in "The Old Man & The Gun"), Kevin McClatchy (ditto), with archive footage of Ted Bundy.

RATING: 6 out of 10 fired public defenders

Friday, November 1, 2019

Bird Box

Year 11, Day 304 - 10/31/19 - Movie #3,392

BEFORE: Time for the old Halloween Round-up - I don't know what happened this year, but we only had about 10 trick-or-treaters swing by our house.  Last year we got swamped by many waves of kids in costume, and we ran out of candy, had to turn the porch light off and pretend like we weren't home.  This year I bought three big bulk bags of candy (OK, I know not everybody likes Tootsie Roll Pops, but I'm keeping the classics alive...) and I rushed home to unload it, but after 7 pm, nothing. Maybe it was the weather, it was windy and looked like it might rain, or maybe there was some big school or neighborhood party somewhere.  Maybe parents finally realized that instead of spending $40 on a costume for their own kid and another $30 on candy to hand out at the door, it's cheaper to just give your kid $20 at the drug store and let them buy only candy they like best.  It's safe, it's easy, and you don't have your kid complaining about getting a bunch of Tootsie Roll Pops from some weird rando.

This is the last of my "ShockTober" films, though the theme's going to leak a little in to next week -  but more about next week in a bit.  Sarah Paulson carries over from "Glass", and it's basically the last chance for some people to make my year-end rundown of who was in what - remember, it takes at least 3 films to make it to the countdown.

Here's the format breakdown for October - cable TV is still dominating, supplying more than half of October's films.  But Netflix isn't going anywhere, even though I haven't added anything to my Netflix queue in months - maybe it's a dying platform, it's tough to say.  Maybe they just aren't adding material that I'm interested in, maybe I'm going to turn out to be more of a Disney plus man - or maybe I've had access to so many Academy screeners in the past year that I haven't had to rely on Netflix as much as before.  Wait, I watched NO Academy screeners in October?  That's probably because I caught "Loving Vincent" on Hulu, and also my horror film choices were mostly available at home.  I mostly played catch-up with horror films films from three or four years or ten years ago, with a few notable exceptions.

9 Movies watched on Cable (saved to DVD): Doom, Race to Witch Mountain, The Host, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Mary Shelley, Krampus, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Let Me In, Alpha
3 Movies watched on Cable (not saved): Rampage, The Predator, Glass
6 Watched on Netflix: Coco, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, The Cloverfield Paradox, Velvet Buzzsaw, Dark Places, Bird Box
1 watched on Hulu: Loving Vincent
2 Watched in Theaters: Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Dark Phoenix
21 Total in October

Now, as I'm getting closer to the end of the year, with only eight films left, I'm pretty much on cruise control to get my Perfectly Linked Year.  I'll watch three films next week - but first I'm going to take a couple days just to catch up on some TV, my DVR is still pretty full from me being out of town for all of last week.  Once I get current on some TV, I'll watch only THREE (!!) films in November, and then I'm off for over a MONTH while I wait for "Star Wars: Episode IX".  I've already got my ticket for opening day, which I think is December 20, and then it's just four more films from there to Christmas.  Spending my time between November 6 and December 20 in a constructive manner is both difficult and encouraging - perhaps I should make a list of things I'd like to accomplish.


THE PLOT: Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a mother and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.

AFTER: SPOILER ALERT if you don't have Netflix or haven't seen "Bird Box" at someone else's house - also, SPOILER ALERT for "A Quiet Place", because I can't talk about one without talking about the other.

On one level, this is a fine way to usher out my annual parade of horror films - perhaps it's even the scariest film I watched all month, especially when you consider I watched two animated films for kids, and several with comic or satirical elements, like "Velvet Buzzsaw" or "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse".  Something is affecting the human race, and causing everyone in certain parts of the world to go completely bonkers, and lose all regard for their own safety.  In some cases this means people start to do bodily harm to themselves, like smash their heads into the wall, or lose control while driving, or stand in front of an oncoming vehicle.  One person noticeably loses all self-control and starts supporting Marianne Williamson, but for most people, it's self-harm.

The film manages to be pretty enigmatic about what's happening - is this some kind of plague, or virus?  Mass hysteria?  Is it an attack by another country, like with radiation or chemical warfare?  Or is the simpler answer that it's some kind of alien attack, which of course starts to call "A Quiet Place" to mind.  That other film was fairly straight-forward by comparison - aliens land around the world, we think that maybe they're here "to serve man", but like in that classic Twilight Zone episode, they're only here "to serve man" for dinner!  (Oh, my God, their book is a COOKBOOK!  Who could have seen that twist coming?). Then we sort of flash-forward to months or years down the line, when humans are an endangered species, living out in the woods very quietly, because someone noticed that the aliens don't seem to have EYES and are tracking their food mainly by sound.

Perhaps to cover up the fact that this film is very similar to "A Quiet Place", "Bird Box" is split into two timelines - one that starts just before the mass hysteria/alien attack/bio-warfare/whatever it is, and shows us the first effects on an American city, and the other one is five years later, when one of the survivors from the first timeline is trying to travel to (relative) safety with two young children.  Then it toggles between the two timelines, back and forth, in order to maintain an element of suspense, and to keep the audience from figuring out exactly what's going on, as long as possible.  This could mean that they couldn't come up with a M. Night Shyamalan-worthy twist, so it's delay, delay, delay, and any time it seems like anything concrete is about to be revealed, it's WHOOSH, back over to the other timeline.  That's right, I'm on to your screenwriting tricks...

As a result, we're kept in the dark (literally and figuratively) about whether there are creatures out there, or people have just gone mad, for whatever reason.  Hey, it's possible that global warming, combined with angst over the 2016 election combined with overexposure to social media all mixed somehow with the Zika virus and made something really nasty.  That's not where I think this film was going, I'm just saying it's POSSIBLE.  But at least "A Quiet Place" had the balls to (eventually) show me the aliens.  If you're looking for a definite glimpse of what's really behind all this, you'd better get used to disappointment.  The main conceit here seems to be that if people go outside and SEE the aliens/creatures/demons, or if they make eye contact with someone who's been infected, then they get infected too, and then it's only a matter of time before they bash their own head in or worse, somehow believe that standing in front of oncoming traffic is the place to be.

So, that's why all the blindfolds.  Anyone leaving the house they're holed up in (and come on, really, how long before ALL the food spoils?  I can't seem to keep milk in my own refrigerator longer than five days before it smells bad...) to get more food or supplies has to wear a blindfold, so they don't look at the thing they're not supposed to look at.  So driving a car is a new challenge, you better REALLY trust that GPS.  But seriously, how much protection is the blindfold in the end against the vicious whatever-they-ares?  I was reminded of an alien creature mentioned in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" book called the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, a very vicious creature, but it was so stupid that it assumed that if you couldn't see it, it couldn't see you, so the best defense against it was to close your eyes, so it wouldn't attack you.  But that's meant to be a JOKE.

So there's part of me that says, "Oh, yeah, it's so much better this way, because the menacing creatures are left enigmatic." and "A CGI creature would just give us one artist's interpretation of what the vicious aliens look like, it's better this way because each audience member can imagine their own horrible alien, and that's very powerful."  Those arguments may hold some relevance, but then there's the cynical part of me that says, "You know, it's a lot cheaper to not show the aliens at all.  They probably saved a bundle with this whole blindfold thing, they didn't have to pay for a creature shop, or a bunch of computer geeks to animate the creatures."

And that part of me is ALSO right - narratively and budget-wise, this was a big cop-out.  And I know a "bait-and-switch" when I see one.  I was promised a movie about creatures attacking humanity, and in the end, this just didn't deliver.  You know what film delivered?  "A Quiet Place", which made $188 million domestic and $340 million worldwide with a $17 million budget.  I know box office isn't always a marker of fine storytelling or social importance, but perhaps there's a reason why one movie made so much money in theaters, and the other one premiered on Netflix.  Maybe someone figured there would be angry protests by audiences who paid for tickets and then felt like they didn't get what they paid for? Imagine if you watched a whole season of "Stranger Things" and no Demogorgon, no Mind Flayer ever showed up - you'd be pissed, right?  There simply can't be a build-up without some kind of payoff.

Sure, there are possible narrative explanations - maybe the creatures are invisible, or very tiny.  Maybe this is just how they attack their prey, with psychological attacks that are triggered by sight.  Maybe there are no creatures at all, and another explanation as mentioned above is really at play.  But all of that feels like I'm making excuses for a film that took decided to be overly enigmatic, and then took some perverse pleasure in that.  I'm willing to debate this point or entertain other alternatives, but right now it seems like the simplest explanation is the best, and someone took the easier and cheaper roads.

Also starring Sandra Bullock (last seen in "Ocean's Eight"), Trevante Rhodes (last seen in "The Predator"), Jacki Weaver (last seen in "Life of the Party"), John Malkovich (last seen in "Velvet Buzzaw") Rosa Salazar (last heard in "Epic"), Danielle MacDonald (last seen in "Lady Bird"), Lil Rel Howery (last seen in "Tag"), Tom Hollander (last heard in "Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle"), Machine Gun Kelly (last seen in "Nerve"), B.D. Wong (last heard in "Mulan 2"), Pruitt Taylor Vince (last seen in "Butter"), Vivien Lyra Blair, Julian Edwards, Parminder Nagra (last seen in "Ella Enchanted"), Rebecca Pidgeon (last seen in "RED"), Amy Gumenick, Taylor Handley (last seen in "Battle Los Angeles"), Happy Anderson (last seen in "Bright"), David Dastmalchian (last seen in "Ant-Man and the Wasp"), Keith Jardine (last seen in "Only the Brave".

RATING: 5 out of 10 times that Malorie trips on something in the woods

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Glass

Year 11, Day 303 - 10/30/19 - Movie #3,391

BEFORE: James McAvoy carries over from "Dark Phoenix". Obviously there were other tie-ins to be made here, like "It: Chapter Two", but I wisely decided that didn't fit in with my plans this year after all.  "It" would have required a trip to the theater, and between New York Comic Con and our vacation, I just didn't have the time for that.  So I'm going to drop "It" like it's hot, perhaps an Academy screener will arrive and I can include it next year.  Also, this film could have linked to either "The Witch" or "New Mutants" via Anya Taylor-Joy, but since "New Mutants" is apparently still on hold at Fox thanks to the Disney take-over, that's another film that's getting bumped to 2020 (assuming it ever does get released) so I might as well delay "The Witch" also to keep a linking possibility alive.

Instead, it's one more film tomorrow for Halloween, and then October is over.  And then before long I'll be doing my year-end wrap-up, and then I'll have to find slots in 2020 for all of those films that I've passed on.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Split" (Movie #2,826)

THE PLOT: Security guard David Dunn uses his supernatural abilities to track down Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities.

AFTER: I watched "Split" a year and a half ago, and the thing they didn't announce was that it was a semi-sequel to "Unbreakable", and they teased you just enough at the end that you'd want to come back for the next film to see how both storylines from the two films would tie together in a third film. People are learning that they have to stay in the theater until the very end, and sometimes even beyond that, if they want to get the full effect from certain franchises.  So is M. Night Shyamalan trying to parody the Marvel universe, or is he trying to ride the wave of the Marvelization of cinema?  It's a little tough to tell...

Of course since this was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it's part of the M. Night-iverse, therefore you might expect it to tie several of his other films together.  And when you think of his previous movies, keeping in mind the type of movie he likes to make, you sort of half-expect the big twist ending, the one that somehow tells you that everything you know about what you just saw is also somehow completely wrong. (Think "The Sixth Sense" or "The Village")  He's basically created a world without superheroes that somehow has a couple of super-powered people in it.  So, does the world have superheroes in it or not?  Well, yes - and also no.  These would appear to be the only three people with powers.

But then the question gets raised - do they, in fact, have powers, or have they just been led to believe that they do?  Are they in fact just regular people who are either very disturbed, or delusional about their own abilities?  That's the main question that gets explored here.  Certainly there's a doctor who believes that the three men are delusional, and she's got a staff working for her, and an institute with rooms with padded walls and everything - so maybe?  Then, of course, they place the violent superhero, the criminal mastermind and the killer with a collection of deranged personalities into the same therapy session - what could POSSIBLY go WRONG?

The connections are all there - besides the fact that all of these men are from the greater Philadelphia area.  (So, is it something in the water in Philly that gives people super-powers?  It's unclear.)  We already know that Elijah, aka Mr. Glass, caused a train crash and there was only one survivor, David Dunn, who apparently is impervious to injury.  It's been a long time since I saw "Unbreakable", so I don't remember if Mr. Glass knew that this would happen, or if he was just committing a random act of evil, or if this was also unclear.  But it turns out that there's ANOTHER connection between Mr. Glass and Kevin Crumb (aka The Horde, aka The Beast, aka Patricia, Barry, Dennis, Hedwig, etc.) which I won't reveal here. But it's there.

And then everything sort of comes full circle when David Dunn decides to track down The Horde, because he's also got this innate ability somehow to touch people and have visions of their crimes, which seems just a little bit too convenient perhaps.  So he puts on a green poncho and turns up when people are in danger, and saves them with his super-strength (which again, he either may or may not really have) until people start calling him "The Overseer" in the news.  Meanwhile, Elijah aka Mr. Glass is in the Institute for the Randomly Delusional or Possibly Super-Powered (that sign must have set them back a pretty penny...) and he's completely catatonic.  Or, is he?  His wheelchair keeps turning up in different rooms and nobody's quite sure how he got there.  He couldn't be faking, right? RIGHT?  (Geez, when people start stealing plot points from "Dumb and Dumber To", we're all in some kind of trouble...)

There's another thing that's borrowed from the comics here, the implication that the existence of super-villains might be caused by the existence of super-heroes, or perhaps it's the other way around. I've heard it said many times that if there were no Batman, there wouldn't be a Joker (or a Riddler, or a Penguin...) but is that TRUE?  It's unclear - I haven't seen the latest "Joker" movie which apparently has a new take on his origin, but I think from what I've heard, in that film, the Joker came FIRST and his existence was not a reaction to the appearance of Batman.  (It's still unclear how in the DC universe there can be THREE Jokers, they still haven't answered this question.  Unless they're talking about the Pre-Crisis Joker, the post-Flashpoint Joker and the post-Rebirth Joker - but they haven't clarified yet.)

It all seems like it's leading to a very comic-book like battle in a very comic-book like setting - but then it just...sort of doesn't.  Was this a choice that was made in the name of telling the best possible story, defying our expectations, or was this a choice that was made to help keep the movie's budget down?  This, also, is unclear.  It turns out there's a fine line between "defying the audience's expectations" and "setting up the audience for a big climax, and then letting everyone down".  I'm not prepared to make this call, you'll have to watch the film and judge for yourself.

Something I learned during the production of an animated feature that's currently in progress - according to Screen Actors Guild rules, if an actor plays more than one character during a shoot day, they get paid extra.  I remember back in 2004 when we were recording dialogue for the film "Hair High", which was a SAG production, we'd ask the cast to read random lines of dialogue, as "Student #2" or "Spectator #3" and nobody had a problem with it.  But I guess now, even if it's there's one line of dialogue performed as a different character, that actor gets paid double.  Which leads me to wonder about James McAvoy playing a person with 20 different personalities - did he get paid extra for switching back and forth between them?  From a legal and/or accounting standpoint, does The Horde count as one character, or twenty?

The biggest NITPICK POINT I can muster up here is - why is there even any debate over these three men, regarding whether they have powers or not?  Either way, if they have powers or don't have powers, it seems like that should be relatively easy to determine, thus there should be no confusion.  If they have them, they have them - easy to prove.  And if they don't have them, then they can't do certain things that they think they can - again, very easy to prove.  So wherein lies the confusion?  In order to create some dramatic tension, it seems like things had to be made much, much complicated than they should have been.

But as I always say, your mileage may vary.  I get the same feeling that I got from "Dark Phoenix", which is that this film could have been much better, but then again, I think I rate superhero films on a sliding scale.  So a "bad" superhero film could easily get a higher score than a 'just-OK" non-superhero film.  That's just how my scoring system works.   Extra point for getting back all of the key players from TWO other films made by different studios, and not having to re-cast any of those roles.

Also starring Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "Spider-Man: Far From Home"), Bruce Willis (last seen in "Always at the Carlyle"), Sarah Paulson (last seen in "Ocean's Eight"), Anya Taylor-Joy (last seen in "Split"), Spencer Treat Clark (last seen in "Arlington Road"), Charlayne Woodard (last seen in "He Said, She Said"), Adam David Thompson (last seen in "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)"), Luke Kirby (last seen in "Take This Waltz"), Rosemary Howard (last seen in "The End of the Tour"), Bryan McElroy, Johnny Hiram Jamison, Owen Vitullo, with a cameo from M. Night Shyamalan (also last seen in "Split").

RATING: 6 out of 10 security cameras

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dark Phoenix

Year 11, Day 302 - 10/29/19 - Movie #3,390 - viewed on 6/22/19 and 10/27/19        

BEFORE: See, now I just knew that all roads would lead me here, but that's largely because I'd planned it that way.  I really watched this one back in June, but it shared so many actors in common with this year's horror films - so did "New Mutants" but that failed to get released on time, for like the third time.  So "Dark Phoenix" became a horror film (for my purposes) in addition to being a superhero film - hey, an evil entity from beyond our solar system takes over a hero's body, that's a sci-fi invasion film at least, bordering on horror, maybe?  OK, so it's a bit of a stretch.  I'm doing what I have to do to keep my chain going, and I've only got 10 films to go!

To be fair and give the film a second chance even, I also re-watched it on the plane ride back from Las Vegas.  I re-watched "Avengers: Endgame" on the way there, and this on the way back.  Plus the plane had the first four episodes from season 1 of "Arrested Development", so I may finish binging that show off Netflix during my down time in November.      
             
I had a lot of choices with this linking - I could have linked from "Dark Places", or "The Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" or others, but in the end, after switching things around a bit, Kodi Smit-McPhee carries over from "Alpha".


FOLLOW-UP TO: "X-Men: Apocalypse" (Movie #2,425)

THE PLOT: Jean Grey begins to develop incredible powers that corrupt her and turn her into a Dark Phoenix, forcing the X-Men to decide if the life of a team member is worth more than all of humanity.

AFTER: This is one of those cases where you have to wonder if this film was just doomed from the start, or was originally made with good intentions, only some bad story choices cauesd the court of public opinion to turn against it, and from then on there was no putting the monster back in the box. First off, this was always ever going to be the LAST X-Men movie in the Fox franchise, so a lot of actors' contracts were set to expire, then the rights to the characters were going to revert back to Marvel/Disney and THEN Disney ended up buying of all of Fox's film assets ANYWAY, so there was never going to be another sequel to "X-Men: First Class".  (For the record, "Days of Future Past" was really like "X-Men: Second Class", "Apocalypse" would have been "Third Class", making "Dark Phoenix" essentially "Fourth Class".  Seems about right.)

Next came the decision to adapt (for the second time) the 1980's "Dark Phoenix" storyline from the comic books, which seems like a bad idea from the get-go.  Sure, it's a classic storyline, but how is it going to work as a movie?  One of the original (in the comics, anyway) X-Men gets taken over by a cosmic force and becomes a villain, she battles the X-Men, she eats an entire planet of aliens (umm - wait, what?) and then she puts on a black corset and joins the Hellfire Club.  OK, that last bit wasn't the influence of the Phoenix Force, I think it was a villain called Mastermind messing with her head.  Or maybe she just wanted to get her freak on. (Alternate title for that storyline: Fifty Shades of Jean Grey)

Then (again, in the comics), she and the other X-Men were transported to another galaxy, home of the Shi'ar Empire, to put her on trial for killing all the people on that planet, which she did because it, umm, made her feel good?  See, there are massive, massive story problems here, with a good character doing bad things, and then somehow it's just not her fault.  But it should be, right?  So in a rare moment of clarity she regains control and fires a conveniently placed laser gun at herself, committing cosmic suicide.  YAY?  OK, X-Men, justice has been served, you're free to go.

Only that wasn't the end of the story - it never is where comic book writers are concerned.  Another writer's going to come along in 6 months or a year and bring that character back if he wants to - so another writer said, Wait, maybe Dark Phoenix wasn't Jean Grey after all, maybe Jean Grey "died" from the radiation in space while saving the shuttle astronauts, and the cosmic Phoenix force put her body in a cocoon to heal, and made a clone body that it could walk around in, pretending to be Jean Grey, and continuing to do its cosmic naughty things.  Umm, OK, that's great, but then it doesn't really explain what part of the Phoenix saw the need to sacrifice itself, if Jean Grey wasn't in there at all.

Since then, it's been a series of ups and downs for Jean Grey, since she came back from the not-quite-dead.  She went back to her on-again, off-again relationship with Cyclops, only then he sort of (psychically?) cheated on her, and then she died again.  Then she came back from the dead again, I think with the help of the Phoenix power, only then Cyclops died.  Since no comic book writer apparently knows enough about long-term relationships to get these two back together, that's just the way it's going to be.  At this exact moment in the comics, Cyclops is alive again, but Jean and most of the X-Men are in a simulacrum alternate reality created by Legion (or maybe the character X-Man, it's hard to tell.)  So maybe these crazy kids are just never going to get back on the same page, if they're not alive or around at the same time.  C'est la vie.

Anyway, it's a bad idea to adapt this 80's storyline into a movie - they even tried it once before, with "X-Men: The Last Stand", the worst X-Men movie ever, thanks to director Brett Ratner's help.  In that film, the Phoenix force resurrected Jean Grey. who had died in the previous film, though it somehow also killed Cyclops in the process (see what I mean about these two?) and then it forced her to destroy her childhood home, and then spend the rest of the movie standing still and staring blankly off into space.  Plus there were a bunch of other mutants introduced in that film that were then given exactly nothing to do.

So Mistake #1 was choosing to re-do the Phoenix storyline, which also involves creating a partial re-make of "The Last Stand".  Mistake #2 was removing the word "X-Men" from the title of the film - how are viewers supposed to know this is part of the X-Men franchise without that?  Who's Dark Phoenix, for that matter, who's Phoenix?  It's a lot to take in with the title, there's no explanation available, no way to even connect this film with the very popular X-franchise.  This whole thing is starting to seem like a series of badly-made decisions, each one worse than the last.  Then came the delays in the release date - this film completed shooting in October 2017, and in March 2018 the release date was changed to November, and then to February 2019.  That's not usually a good sign. Re-shoots were needed, and it seems the whole third act of the film wasn't working and needed to be changed.  More bad signs, and then a final delay in the release date from February to June of 2019.

By this time, it's likely that the well had been poisoned, since we all knew that the story didn't work at one time, that re-shoots were needed, and the release date was pushed back three times - why, because the film is just that GOOD?  Unlikely.  And then I have to go and see it, with all that in mind, and TRY to judge it objectively?  Yeah, good luck with that.

Now that I've seen it, it does really feel like one bad decision after another, at least from a story perspective.  Killing off characters isn't something that should be done lightly, but here it feels like they needed to get rid of the actors who definitely, under no circumstances, wanted to make another one of these films.  (Hint - the ones who got really super-famous...)  Then there are so many story elements that go absolutely nowhere - Magneto has an island called Genosha where he runs a community for mutants that don't fit in with human society, and that's a MAJOR story element in some X-Men books, only here it's just a "Eh, whatever" throwaway side-plot.

They go back to when Jean Grey's psychic powers manifested themselves, which should have been a defining moment in her life.  Her parents died, she was brought to the attention of Charles Xavier, he took her in as his first student and helped her use her powers responsibly and effectively.  Only then later the movie tells us that's not what happened at all.  She did a bad thing when she was just a small girl, and instead of helping her deal with that, he put up walls and barriers and I think even a spare bathroom in her brain, so that she'd never have to deal with the truth.  Sure, stamp it down, there's absolutely no way that decision could come back and haunt you someday.  Sweep it all under the carpet, if you can't see it, it's not there.  What could possibly go wrong?

This has always been the problem with the X-Men movies, lack of consistency.  Wolverine is good, no wait, he's out of control, and that's bad.  He can heal himself, only now he can't.  Magneto is the most evil villain in the world.  No, wait, he's Charles Xavier's friend and he helped form the original X-Men.  Wait, Apocalypse is here and Magneto is now evil again.  Make up your god damned minds! Mystique is also a very bad mutant.  No, wait, she was Xavier's childhood friend and now she's on the side of the good guys.  (It gets even worse in the comic books, good luck figuring out if Sabretooth is a hero or a villain this week.  Same goes for Juggernaut, White Queen, Pyro and Angel/Archangel.)

But even so, getting all the X-Men together to fight Dark Phoenix is still a bad, bad idea.  At least in "Civil War" the Avengers were split into two factions, both of which thought they were right.  As Phoenix, Jean wants to do bad things BECAUSE they are bad.  She wants to hurt people because it "feels good".  How am I supposed to like or even understand that character?  Who am I rooting for here?  OK, so they gave me a bunch of aliens who are trying to get hold of the Phoenix power, but it's a case of too little, too late.

Plus, the whole nature of these aliens (D'Bari?) doesn't make any sense.  The Phoenix force, at some point, destroyed their whole planet.  OK, then how did these 10 or 20 D'Bari survive?  Were they off-planet at the time?  It's unclear.  Then they were supposedly hovering in the background while the Phoenix force played a game of spin-the-bottle with the space shuttle.  If they want the Phoenix force, why didn't they take control of it then?  They had plenty of time before the X-Men showed up.  Oh, wait, for some reason Jean Grey was the perfect vessel to absorb the Phoenix force - why?  Was this another one of her mutant powers, the ability to absorb space clouds that are really fire-based aliens?  If there's something unique or special about Jean Grey that allowed her to host this alien force, then why did the D'Bari later try to take it from her?  You just said, she's the only one that can host it, so why try to get it out of her and into one of the D'Bari?  Things are just not adding up here.

The latest news (again, I'm pretending to have written this in June) is that Disney has bought up most of the assets of Fox, except for the highly profitable propaganda division, so the rights to the X-Men are now back with Disney/Marvel, leading to the possibility that the X-Men universe could merge with the Avengers one (MCU) the way that the Spider-Man franchise eventually did.  But it's not going to happen overnight - they still have the "New Mutants" X-Men spin-off that was supposed to be released in spring 2019 that got delayed until October 2019 that then got delayed until 2020.  And it may be years before they decide that it's time to reboot and recast the X-Men.

UPDATE: Then at Comic-Con in July, Marvel unveiled its slate of movies and TV shows for the next couple of years, called "Phase IV", which includes the sequels to "Doctor Strange", another "Thor" film, new films "Blade", "The Eternals", "Shang-Chi", and a bunch of TV shows centered on Hawkeye, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and the Vision and Scarlet Witch.  So the X-Men are, by not being mentioned, clearly on the back burner.  And if you're at all upset that Marvel's put your favorite character in limbo while they promote the characters that THEY want to promote, then welcome to my world.  That's what it means to be a comic-book fan - while you wait for Marvel to make a new comic book or movie with your personal favorites, you may have to endure a period where the company doesn't care about YOUR needs, they've got an entirely different agenda.  And who can say what's driving them - demographics, analysis of the marketplace, or maybe throwing a dart at a board?   Because often it doesn't seem like they're out to tell the BEST stories that they can.  I don't give a damn about the Eternals, just like I didn't care about the Inhumans, but they made the Inhumans into a TV show anyway, and it was terrible.  You just have to wait for them to fail with their new terrible characters before they (eventually) get back to telling decent stories with the older and better ones.  Everything in the proper time period, we hope.

NITPICK POINT: We're STILL not going to address the fact that in the comic books, Mystique is Nightcrawler's mother?  It totally works with the timeline if you allow that she began a relationship with Azazel (who could also teleport) shortly after "X-Men: First Class", and gave birth a few years later.  Well, OK, it doesn't really work because "First Class" was set in 1962, and "Dark Phoenix" is set in 1992, and Nightcrawler's not close to 30 years old, but NONE of the characters have aged properly through the decades.  Still, with Mystique and Nightcrawler on the same frickin' team, why isn't their relationship mentioned in any way?

Also starring James McAvoy (last heard in "Sherlock Gnomes"), Michael Fassbender (last seen in "Alien: Covenant"), Jennifer Lawrence (last seen in "Mother!"), Nicholas Hoult (last seen in "Dark Places"), Tye Sheridan (ditto), Sophie Turner (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Alexandra Shipp (last seen in "Deadpool 2"), Evan Peters (ditto), Jessica Chastain (last seen in "Life Itself"), Ato Essandoh (last seen in "Nights in Rodanthe"), Kota Eberhardt, Andrew Stehlin (last seen in "Ghost in the Shell"), Scott Shepherd (last seen in "Norman"), Hannah Anderson, Brian D'Arcy James (last seen in "Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House"), Lamar Johnson (last seen in "The Hate U Give"), Halston Sage (last seen in "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse"), Summer Fontana, with a cameo from Chris Claremont (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past")

RATING: 6 out of 10 weaponized hair braids (seriously?)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Alpha

Year 11, Day 301 - 10/28/19 - Movie #3,389

BEFORE: This is the second of my not-really-horror films that ended up getting programmed during Shock-tober (the first was "Loving Vincent"), because Kodi Smit-McPhee carries over from "Let Me In", and where the hell else was I going to program this one, if not between two films starring Kodi Smit-McPhee?  The only other actors listed in this movie have really foreign-sounding names, and they don't seem to be in any other movies on my watchlist.  So, it's here or nowhere.


THE PLOT: In the prehistoric past, a young man struggles to return home after being separated from his tribe during a buffalo hunt. He finds a similarly lost wolf companion and starts a friendship that would change humanity.

AFTER: I have to say that they ran this trailer so much last year, at least in the movies that I went to the theater to see, that I felt there was almost no need to go and see it.  They really gave away the WHOLE story in the trailer, so honestly, there was very little suspense here.  I mean, we know from the tagline that the boy gets lost from his clan while hunting, and obviously he's going to survive.  I mean, if get lost during the hunt and then dies alone in the wild, that's like a 10-minute movie, tops.  The big story turning point is that he's injured and bonds with an injured wolf, and they give that up in the trailer, in the poster, everywhere.  You can't even issue a spoiler alert because the tagline on the poster, that's the WHOLE 90-MINUTE MOVIE.

But they clearly set out to appeal to dog lovers, who want to know how primitive mankind went from being afraid of vicious wolves to having domesticated dogs in our houses.  It's a vast over-simplification to say that all dogs could possibly be descended from ONE wolf, right?  It's another even BIGGER over-simplification to say that there was ONE caveman who befriended a wolf, and therefore people today have dogs.  That process of domestication probably took decades, maybe even centuries, because humans just weren't that bright back then, and training one animals takes a long time, so think about how long it takes to train an entire species.  It's all speculative anyway, because there was no recorded history back then, so who the hell knows if this is how it went down?  Notice that the poster says "The incredible story of..." and not "The incredible TRUE story of..."

Plus, this film would have you believe that the bonding between man and wolf/dog took place in about a week and a half, so I have to call B.S. on that.  Sure, and some guy invented farming over the course of an afternoon.  Making buildings out of stone and mud, give that a month.  Right.  For Homo not-so-sapiens?  Progress was probably made painfully slow, like over 10,000 years.  Yet here, shortly after rescuing an injured wolf (which he injured HIMSELF in self-defense, let's not ignore that...) Keda also invents the dog bowl, the muzzle and the game of Fetch.  Suuuurrre....why the hell not?

Let's also not ignore that the hunting party here is made up of manly men, (no women allowed to hunt!) who all have either long hair or man-buns, a fair number of tattoos, and they all look like they stink to high heaven.  Plus they wear fur-lined parkas that look like they came from an L.L. Bean catalog.  They're not just cavemen, they're HIPSTER cavemen!  Or they're millennials, but just from the 20th millennium B.C. Well. they did practically invent the Paleo Diet... The only thing missing is their guitar cases, and the way they find their way back from the hunting grounds by following the leaflets for their next gigs.

NITPICK POINT: Keda is injured and lying on an outcropping of rock, too far down for his father to reach him.  This is the point in time where mankind had spears, methods of starting fire and herbal medicine, but hadn't yet invented ROPE?  I find that hard to believe.

Anyway, I'm more of a cat person.  One thing I didn't mention yesterday about our vacation was that our cat Data is sick, and took a bad turn while we were in Las Vegas.  We had briefly considered cancelling the trip, but it had all been planned months in advance, and our cat's bad health obviously wasn't.  But our cat-sitter called us when he seemed to be in failing health, and took him to the vet for us.  That kind of colored the last half of the trip for us, we felt a bit guilty for going on vacation and also helpless that we couldn't do anything for him from far away.  We just had to hope that he could hang on for a few days so we could see him one last time, or so we figured.

He'd become a picky eater over the last couple of months, which was very unusual for him, and then barely ate anything at all, even after the vet gave him some appetite stimulant.  So he's a bit frail now, well he is 15 years old, but when we showed up at the vet on Sunday, he seemed to perk up, and I was shocked when they said we could take him home, I figured we'd have to say goodbye right there. He's back home, amazingly, and he's eating again, but since there's no chance of a kitty liver transplant or kitty chemo we know that his days are most likely numbered, and we'll have to say goodbye soon.  Which is tough, because he's been my nearly constant movie-watching companion for all this time, and just a great cat all-around.

We're going to give him whatever he wants to eat, and enjoy whatever time we can still spend with him.  Why not a movie about how people came to live with cats, huh?  Why isn't THAT a good story?  Let me point out that if this movie is to be taken at all seriously, that means that ONE WOLF sold out its entire species just to get proximity to fire and a few table scraps from the human's hunt.  What a jerk.  Imagine if an alien species came to Earth and offered ONE GUY a deal, to come and live in captivity with the aliens, perform random tasks relating to hunting and herding in exchange for a small amount of food, and become completely subservient to that alien race, and that guy said, "Well, damn, that sounds like a great deal!  In fact, I think ALL the humans would want to get in on that, so why don't you just beam them all up!"

Also starring Johannes Haukur Johannesson (last seen in "The Sisters Brothers"), Natassia Malthe (last seen in "This Means War"), Leonor Varela, Jens Hulten (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"), Marcin Kowalczyk, Mercedes de la Zerda (last seen in "War for the Planet of the Apes"), Spencer Bogaert.

RATING: 5 out of 10 wild boars