Sunday, May 20, 2018

Wimbledon

Year 10, Day 139 - 5/19/18 - Movie #2,941

BEFORE: This might seem a bit out of place here, as it will end up right between two big sci-fi blockbusters of 2018.  But when I put this chain together, I realized I would have to delay my "Avengers: Infinity War" review because it was one of the very few films on my list that could serve as my lead-in for "Solo: A Star Wars Story", which I'm going to see on its first day of release.  So, yeah, after today I'll be on a five-day break to prepare for "Solo".  At this point it's difficult for me to go more than one day without seeing a new movie, so imagine me after five (or the 10-20 days I take off at the end of the year, but at least then I'm busy with the holidays...).

"Avengers" to "Solo" - as originally planned, those films were supposed to share TWO actors, but then I guess they re-edited "Avengers" and changed the IMDB listings, and there was no room for Happy Hogan in that very loaded comic-book film.  But I had Paul Bettany as a back-up, so the chain kept going.  But both of those "Solo" actors (unless something else has changed) are also in THIS film.  So it fits neatly between the two big blockbusters.

Now, I've got more Kirsten Dunst coming up in June, so I COULD have saved this for next month.  But the real-life Wimbledon Championship is in July, so there was no chance of me hitting that spot-on.  And the whole world's eyes are on the U.K. this weekend, because of the Royal Wedding (I just flew back from there myself...for all you know...) so I thought maybe stick with the original plan and play something set in the U.K. for the occasion.

I don't know much about the new Duchess of Sussex - Meghan Markle just hasn't turned up in my countdown much, except for small roles in "Horrible Bosses" and "Get Him to the Greek" - and maybe I saw her on a couple "CSI" episodes, but that's it.  I certainly couldn't be expected to run a film today with her in it, that wasn't in the cards.  But I wish her well, and with everything I know about the royal family, I think it's another one of those Princess Di situations, where the royalty is getting the better of the deal.  But again, not an expert.


THE PLOT: A pro tennis player who has lost his ambition and fallen in rank meets a young player on the women's circuit who helps him recapture his focus for Wimbledon.

AFTER: I played some tennis when I was a kid, so there's a tiny bit of my brain that still remembers the rules and the weird scoring system.  (And of course, you can count on a tennis-based romance film to point out that "Love means nothing in tennis." Ugh, how predictable.)  But I was still hoping for something here that would give some insight into tennis strategies or gameplay - I assure you that was does come through here is minimal.  Why should a screenwriter's lack of understanding of a sport (or relationships, for that matter) prevent them from writing a script about it?  I don't know, maybe devote a day or two, or even a couple hours, to researching the game?  Just a suggestion.

Instead, we're led to believe that tennis is somehow a mental game, and as long as a player can clear his or her mind of negative thoughts, then he'll keep winning the points.  Which is a way to go, if you can't be bothered to do the research, or if you feel like any physical tips won't translate to the audience.  But I'm left with just as many questions as I have after a typical boxing film.  When should a player charge the net?  When should he hit the ball hard, and when should he just tap it?  Is fifty percent of the game "all mental"?

The bits of technical advice that the film does offer don't seem to be very useful - "Just keep winning!" is the advice that Lizzie Bradbury offers to her boyfriend/casual sex partner Peter Colt, who's rapidly aging out of the program.  Oh, sure, why didn't he think of that, just keep winning...  Care to get a little more specific on how to bring this "winning" about?   Another element is brought over from the boxing films, the debate over whether a player should have sex before a big game.  Most training film say no, but Lizzie clearly believes otherwise, and wants to make this part of her routine, despite her father's best efforts to keep all men away from her - so it seems they disagree about what her training should cover.

I should point out that Peter does determine that one of his opponents has a "tell", where if that guy leans back on his foot a certain way, he's going to hit a serve hard and deep, but this barely qualifies as strategy, because 1) I don't believe that tennis functions like poker, 2) aren't ALL tennis serves made hard and deep? 3) this info comes from Lizzie, who once slept with his opponent and I don't see how you learn this about someone from sleeping with them and 4) if Peter is such a good tennis player, why didn't he ever try analyzing his opponents' serves before?

Another thing we learn about tennis players, they're deeply superstitious, so if they do something and then win the next day, they have to do exactly the same things before the next time they play.  (Apparently this works better than exercise or eating right.). So this perhaps explains why Lizzie wants to have sex with people she barely knows, because she must have done it once and won a game shortly after.  I can't decide if this is a step forward for feminism or not.  Because clearly a woman can be in charge of her sexual history, but this also puts her on a par with men who treat women as disposable sexual objects and avoid long-term relationships.  I guess it's a wash?

Peter Colt, on the other hand, enjoys a fling with Lizzie, but then nearly loses the next day.  So having sex before a match is bad, except then he wins on a DQ, so perhaps it's good?  Clearly more research is required - so he seeks out Lizzie to repeat the "training ritual", and goes on to make the semi-finals. Ah, so he's on to something - but then her father shows up to bring her back to her regular training routine, and then he's got to go to greater "comic" lengths to hook up with her again - tracking down her secret address, climbing up a trellis, and other near-devolutions into slapstick comedy.

Meanwhile, he ignores the other superstitions that usually get him through a match - like keeping his parents and brother from attending.  For most of the film, they stick to this routine, since apparently he's never won with his parents and brother in attendance.  Clearly there are some issues there.  So then WHY would he reverse course and give them tickets to the finals?  You don't follow a superstition 99% of the way to a championship, right?  And the brother's got the best deal of all, betting against his brother - if he wins the bet, he gets paid and if he loses the bet, he gets laid. (Because his brother is a tennis champ, and apparently he can parlay this into some luck with the ladies.). So he's a cagey bettor, but a terrible brother.

Look, there's obviously some connection between an athlete's personal life and how they play on the field, but I just don't think it can be this cut and dry.  Success in one arena can't possibly mean success in the other - the Tiger Woods scandal not withstanding, of course.  Because if the game is all about clearing one's mind of all outside influences in order to perform, then that includes the personal life.  This film wants to have it both ways, and that just can't be.  Surely there have been tennis champions who were able to separate their romantic entanglements, or lack thereof, from their performance on the courts, right?

I've still got "Battle of the Sexes" on my list (as an Academy screener, but I'm sure cable will run it eventually).  Perhaps I'll get some more understanding on the mechanics of tennis then.

Also starring Kirsten Dunst (last seen in "Midnight Special"), Sam Neill (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok"), James McAvoy (last seen in "Atonement"), Bernard Hill (last seen in "True Crime"), Eleanor Born (last seen in "Alfie" (1966)), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (last seen in "Gods of Egypt"), Celia Imrie (last seen in "Bridget Jones's Baby"), Austin Nichols, Jon Favreau (last seen in "People Like Us"), John McGlynn, Jonathan Timmins, Barry Jackson, Robert Lindsay, Martin Wimbush, Cecilia Dazzi, Murphy Jensen, Alun Jones, John McEnroe (last seen in "You Don't Mess With the Zohan"), Chris Evert, Vikas Punna, Mary Carillo, John Barrett.

RATING: 5 out of 10 endorsement deals

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Year 10, Day 138 - 5/18/18 - Movie #2,940 - VIEWED on 5/9/18      

BEFORE: I hate to do it, I really do - move my reviews around.  After all, this "Avengers" film was probably going to be in theaters for several months, so there was no rush for me to go out and see it.  Only there was, I knew the best way for me to link to it was to hold the review until the third week of May, but I'll admit it, I was weak - I couldn't hold out, couldn't stand the idea that millions of people already knew what happened in the new Marvel film, and I wasn't one of those people.  I think I held out as long as I could, maybe even a week past that point, but finally I just had to bite the bullet and head out on a Wednesday night (because, seriously, who goes to the movies on a Monday or a Wednesday, besides me?  Hardly anyone, it turns out...).

Elizabeth Olsen carries over from "Kodachrome, I'm guessing....


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Black Panther" (Movie #2,904), "Thor: Ragnarok" (Movie #2,770)

THE PLOT: The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.

AFTER:  I waited two weeks for the crowds to die down, then went to see this movie on a Wednesday night, when I knew the theater would not be full, and I could have an extra seat for my jacket and shoulder bag.  I was very anxious before seeing this film, not over what would happen, but instead I was nervous overhearing someone in the comic-book store blurting out a spoiler from the film, or even in the popcorn line, maybe someone would be seeing this film for the second or third time, and discussing key plot details.  So I kept my headphones in the entire time, listening to Supertramp.

Then came the previews - SO MANY previews!  There was "Mission: Impossible - Fallout", and "Deadpool 2", "Solo" of course, and not one but TWO previews for "Venom"!  Did I need to see BOTH of those!  Run the damn "Avengers" film already!  Wait, wait, here's "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" again, even though I've seen it so many times I've noticed NITPICK POINTs in the damn preview!  Surely NOW the movie will start, right?  Nuh-uh, because then came a preview for "The Incredibles 2".  God DAMN it!  Every minute wasted on previews is a minute where somebody in this theater could mention the name of an Avenger who bites the big one!  And...wait for it... here it comes... Nope, it's the preview for "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald".  Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT!

Finally, the movie started.  And to calm myself about what was to come, I asked myself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" and also, "If I were a screenwriter, which Avengers would I call upon to make the ultimate sacrifice?"  And so I went in to it thinking that Captain America and Iron Man would die.  Maybe Thor, too, but definitely those first two, who together form the heart of the team.  Also, those actors have been in the most Marvel movies, and might be most interested in taking a break from them.  (This does not constitute a spoiler, because I'm not going to say whether my prediction turned out to be accurate...)  But then surely a fractured team of the leftover Avengers would be able to carry on to face whatever threat would surface in "Avengers 4".

If you're not familiar with Thanos, or you only know him through the cameos his character has made to date in the Marvel movies, here's what you need to know about him:  he's sort of like an intergalactic Hitler (or Stalin or Pol Pot, whichever).  He believes that the universe (and therefore, by extension, Earth) is over-populated and to bring a form of "balance" he's on a personal mission to kill half of the population everywhere.Until now he's been doing this rather laboriously, taking over one planet at a time, killing half of the population, and then moving on.  (And the half that survives, he makes them sign a new licensing agreement, in which the fine print allows him to mine their personal data for marketing purposes.  As I said, he's more evil than Hitler.)  But if he could get his hands on the six Infinity Gems, which each control an aspect of the universe (Time, Space, Power, Mind, Soul, Reality) then he would be all-powerful, and could accomplish this goal just by wishing it to be true.

Of course, this is madness, and only bears some basic in logical thinking if you agree that our planet is over-populated, and humanity will someday use up all of Earth's fossil fuels and other resources, leaving behind a vast wasteland in which everyone will perish.  So, umm, yeah, not to put too fine a point on it, but if we don't solve global warming, eat sustainably, recycle our trash and stop spilling oil into the gulf, Thanos might be on to something.  But of COURSE we shouldn't start killing people so that the rest of the world can have a better life.  That's only something we humans say when we want to hunt deer or catch fish and we don't want to feel guilty about it.  "Oh, I'm helping control the deer population..."  Bullshit, you just like killing animals and eating venison.

Unlike Hitler or other eugenists, however, Thanos doesn't favor any race, religion or sexual orientation, he kills indiscriminately, at random - his only goal is to reduce the population to improve the lives of everyone - though in the comics, he was doing this to win the favor of Death itself, who is either depicted as the Grim Reaper or a beautiful lady in a cape.  In the comics he's infatuated or in love with Death, and he believes that only by killing half of everything he can win her heart.  (And maybe free up some parking spaces.  Again, he's very very evil.)  But thankfully, he's not racist, so that's something?

The comics books that inspired this film are titled "Thanos Quest" and "Infinity Gauntlet" (from the 1990's) along with the "Infinity" series from 2013, where Thanos creates the Black Order (Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive, etc.) to aid him in his efforts.  Believe it or not, for a short time in between these series, Thanos functioned as a sort of hero for a while, joining Adam Warlock's group, The Infinity Watch, which solved various cosmic-level problems in the universe.  But for our purposes, let's stick to the books where Thanos was a mad, serial-killing tyrant.

Thanos gathered all of the 6 Infinity gems in "Thanos Quest", and then faced off against Earth's superheroes in "Infinity Gauntlet" - the most shocking thing was that in the first issue, he accomplished his goal and half of the universe's population blinked out of existence, INCLUDING many of the most powerful heroes.  Half the Avengers - gone.  The Fantastic Four became the Fantastic Two, and so on.  (A more cynical comic book fan might think that the writers only wanted to work with their favorite characters, and this was a cheap trick to narrow Marvel's characters down to just the ones they wanted to use.)  But the remaining Avengers, along with Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and a few others, needed to band together, figure out what was happening, and still find a way to defeat Thanos.  Yeah, it wasn't easy, but then, nothing ever is.

I bring this up because it's possible that we could look to this comic for a hint of how Thanos might be defeated in the next film - the theory goes that deep down, Thanos does not consider himself worthy, so even though he's omnipotent and omniscient, somewhere within his plan lies the seeds of his own destruction.  You're just not going to beat him on the physical plane, you've got to strike at his soul, his sense of self-worth if you really want to hurt him, and the Avengers just haven't figured out how to do that yet.  (Mantis does come close in this film, with some kind of mental attack...)

Also, the majority of the fighting seen in this film is on an individual level - one hero takes his or her shot at Thanos, then the next one, then the next one, with very little effect.  A lot of this is due to the fact that THESE heroes have never worked together as a coherent team, hell, some of these heroes have never been on ANY team before.  (There's one group of heroes that shows a little teamwork, but this doesn't work out either...)  This has to change if the Avengers are going to defeat Thanos in the next film.

Oh, yeah, about that - funny story, originally this was announced as the first of a two-part series, "Infinity War 1" and "Infinity War 2".  Since then, Marvel/Disney has announced that plans changed, and "Infinity War" would be just one film, complete in and of itself - but now I think that's probably a dodge, and the next film will almost certainly be titled "Infinity War Part 2" or some variation on that. Because they're trying to create the ILLUSION that death in a comic-book movie is permanent, and it's just not, any more than death is permanent in the Marvel COMIC Universe, which it most certainly is not.  I've seen just about every major Marvel character die over the years, and come back with a new writer, new back-story and a new attitude.

I've got the benefit of 35 years experience reading comic books.  I've seen Captain America die at least twice, Thor died (went to Valhalla) two or three times, Iron Man's always dying because of some radiation problem or heart problem connected to his armor, but they always come back.  In the DC Universe, we've already seen Superman die (once in the comics, once on film) and also Batman (once in the comics, once on film) so this shouldn't be anything new here, people.  Death is a TEMPORARY condition for superheroes - they're the best of the best, they deserve to live forever (in our stories) and then even if they don't, there's always the chance that another superhero will have a resurrection power, or maybe the whole universe will get destroyed and rebooted, and everyone will be alive again!  If a writer can think it, it can happen in the comics.

So, anything that happens in this film that you may have heard of, involving the death of this character or that one, it's all potentially temporary.  I've determined that I might be able to write a review of THIS film without any spoilers, but I absolutely have to reference what I think will be spoilers for the NEXT Avengers movie.  If you don't want to hear them, please stop reading now. (Ahem...)  The remaining Avengers, plus Hawkeye, Ant-Man and the Wasp, will regroup and defeat Thanos.  This could be as simple as stealing the Infinity Gauntlet while he's in the shower, and then using the time gem + reality gem to go back to a key moment in the previous film, and correcting their mistakes.  (Think "Back to the Future Part 2".)   But then again, I may be completely off-base.  The Disney/Marvel publicity machine has stated that the deaths seen in "Infinity War" are permanent, so therefore we can surmise that they are not.

(If you want any confirmation of my theory, merely visit the IMDB web-site and look at the cast list for the next Avengers movie.  There, see?  Everything's going to be OK.)   Remember what I said earlier about Thanos' plans always carrying within them the seeds of his own destruction?  So there's the possibility that maybe, JUST MAYBE, if a lot of the heroes are suddenly taken off the board, the ones that remain might have the exact mix of powers that could defeat him.  I know, it's a long shot, but I've read a comic book or two...thousand, so maybe just trust me on this point, especially if it helps get you through the next 12 months.

But if I've got an issue here, it's the fact that many of the Avengers fans are KIDS, and asking them to deal with sacrifice and death on this level is a tough one.  A year to a kid is like an eternity, and leading them to believe that their favorite Avenger or Avenger-adjacent hero is permanently DEAD for a period up to a year is a very cruel narrative trick to play on America's youth.  Not cool.  I mean, I'm used to it, three heroes die and come back like every month in the comic books.  They killed off Black Widow at the end of "Secret Empire" last year and I think they brought her back the following month.  Death sells comic books, but you can't keep the characters down for very long, it's not a smart marketing strategy.

NITPICK POINT: Once Thanos gets the Reality gem - isn't that, like, game over?  After that, if he's attacked by, say, Iron Man, can't he just create a reality where Iron Man does not exist?   For that matter, once he gets the Reality gem, why not change reality so that he knows where the remaining stones are?  Or better yet, create a reality where his gauntlet is full?  Boom, problem solved, on to the destruction of half the universe as planned.

NITPICK POINT #2: Back in "Thor: Ragnarok", Thor learned that he could generate the power of lightning without his hammer, so why doesn't he use this power to restart the forge of Eitri?  Surely that would be more efficient than dragging his feet across the rings, while being pulled by Rocket's spaceship, in order to get the rings moving again?  (NITPICK POINT #2.5 - how is the DWARF taller than Thor?  Doesn't that make him, by definition, something other than a dwarf?  I suspect PC culture has gone way too far here.)

NITPICK POINT #3: This is a pacing problem, or rather, a lack of pacing problems, similar to what was seen in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".  Namely that some of the heroes need to travel from one planet to another (Titan, Earth, Nidavellir), and we don't know exactly how long this will take, without the power of teleportation.  How far apart are these places?  How fast does the Guardians' ship travel?  The answer, in all cases, is "things take exactly as long as they need to, in order to advance the plot" and that seems highly unlikely. 

Also starring Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Chris Evans (ditto), Tom Holland (ditto), Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok"), Idris Elba (ditto), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "You Can Count on Me"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "Chef"), Benedict Cumberbatch (last seen in "Atonement"), Don Cheadle (last seen in "Miles Ahead"), Paul Bettany (last seen in "Legend"), Anthony Mackie (last seen in "Runner Runner"), Sebastian Stan (last seen in "I, Tonya"), Tom Hiddleston (last seen in "I Saw the Light"), Peter Dinklage (last seen in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), Benedict Wong (last seen in "Doctor Strange"), Chris Pratt (last seen in "The Magnificent Seven"), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "Live by Night"), Dave Bautista (last seen in "Blade Runner 2049"), Pom Klementieff (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Karen Gillan (ditto), Josh Brolin (last seen in "Labor Day"), Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "Proof"), Benicio Del Toro (last seen in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"), Chadwick Boseman (last seen in "Black Panther"), Letitia Wright (ditto), Danai Gurira (ditto), Florence Kasumba (ditto), Winston Duke (ditto), William Hurt (last seen in "One True Thing"), Jacob Batalon (also last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), with the voices of Bradley Cooper (last seen in "War Dogs"), Terry Notary (last heard in "Warcraft"), Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Carrie Coon (last seen in "The Post"), Michael James Shaw, Kerry Condon (also last seen in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), and cameos from Cobie Smulders (last seen in "They Came Together"), Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children") and Stan Lee (also last seen in "Black Panther")

RATING: 8 out of 10 cell phones (Really? The Avengers don't have special communicator tech?)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Kodachrome

Year 10, Day 137 - 5/17/18 - Movie #2,939

BEFORE: I like to say that I don't take suggestions for what movies to watch and then post about, but when you think about it, nothing could be further from the truth.  Both of my bosses attend Academy screenings, and if they should see a film and then talk about it or blog about it (with me typing it) and I make a mental note to see that film based on their review, isn't that a suggestion?  I read Entertainment Weekly and the Daily News (Sunday only) and if they give a film a great review and I later see it, isn't THAT a suggestion?   Hollywood releases a new Marvel or Star Wars film and tells me I need to see it, am I not taking their suggestion when I plan to see those?

Anyway, I'd seen the posters for this film on the subway, maybe I made a mental note to investigate it, but when my BFF Andy came to stay with us for couple days in mid-April, he mentioned the film and said it was really good, so I added it to my Netflix queue on his recommendation alone.  Then when I saw the cast list, I immediately realized a place it could fit into the list, what with my "Avengers: Infinity War" review expected at a certain point.

Originally I was going to go straight from "I Saw the Light" to "Infinity War", to allow two actors to carry over.  OK, so this spoils that plan a little bit, but with a break coming up in my schedule, adding a film or two will help turn a week-long break into a five-day break, and that's easier for me to take.  Of course, now I realize that if I had linked from "The Post" to "Kodachrome", then I could have flipped this film and yesterday's, and two actors could still carry over into "Avengers".  Oh, well, as long as the chain is maintained, I can't be too picky.  Elizabeth Olsen carries over from "I Saw the Light".


THE PLOT: Set during the final days of the photo development system known as Kodachrome, a father and son hit the road in order to reach a Kansas photo lab before it closes its doors for good.

AFTER: Ugh, there could have been a New York Times connection too, with "The Post" mentioning the Times' coverage of the Pentagon Papers, and the fact that this film was inspired by a Times article about the closing of the last Kodachrome lab in 2010.  Too late, the die is cast.  But this also works as a potential Father's Day film - I know we just had Mothers Day last weekend, but I already had three or films on my schedule about dying or aging fathers, so let's just roll with it, and call this Father's Day Film #1 (of 5?).  Sure, there was a bit about a daughter admiring/hating/reconnecting with her father in "One True Thing", but that film was really more about the mother's illness.  I'm moving on to fathers now...

If I've got a major complaint about this film, it's that it was a bit predictable.  The "Road Trip" format of the film has been done before, in everything from "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" and "Rain Man" right up to "Sideways", "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Due Date".  (By extension, even "The Lord of the Rings" movies qualify...)  And to a certain degree, they're all the same - different people or differing family members are forced to spend time together in a vehicle, and things are bound to start off badly, and go downhill from there.  I think maybe it goes all the way back to "It Happened One Night" in 1934, possibly further.  So once they started out on the road together - father, son and nurse - I could have told you that it wasn't going to go well, but probably ultimately there would be some kind of connection formed, because in movies at least, spending time together on the road and having shared experiences leads to understanding.  Whereas in the real world, it could just as easily only remind these people why they hated each other in the first place.

And the main question we have (other than why these people hated each other in the first place) is: What's on those four rolls of film, that haven't been developed in decades?  (I think there might be a NITPICK POINT over whether these rolls of film could have been properly processed after several decades, but I'll have to check on that.)  Well, I took a guess near the beginning of the film, and it turned out I was right - which didn't necessarily lessen the impact of the reveal, it just means that there was a somewhat obvious direction to take this story, and that's where it went. 

We sort of get an idea about what went wrong between the father and the son, decades ago - the details leak out over the course of the trip.  And many other issues from the past resurface as well.  What we end up with are three people who are simultaneously defensive, broken and also quite vulnerable.  That's a difficult balance of emotions to achieve, but I think these actors were (generally speaking) up to the task.  Sudeikis was essentially playing the same character he played in "We're the Millers", which is half average nice guy and half emotionless lunkhead, but that combination just happens to work here.  I was also trying to figure out if there was some kind of relationship between the father and the nurse, other than the professional one.  I think the film would work either way, but they never really get around to saying whether there was or not - perhaps it's up to the viewer.  It might have made things a little more complicated, and sometimes complicated is good.  The relationships are just like the trip, if we're going to get somewhere, it's boring if it's too easy.

But this is also a film about technology, and how it's used by the different generations.  Photography stands out of course, because I also learned how to use a 35mm camera while in film school, and I resisted the advent of digital cameras, because at the time they didn't produce an image nearly as good as the SLRs, but of course that changed.  Then not long after I learned how to use a digital camera, suddenly everybody had a camera on their phone.  And again, they weren't great at first, but now they're better than ever, and I was forced to relent once again.  My mother, on the other hand, still uses a non-phone camera, and I think she still has to take film down to the drugstore and wait three days.  Unless that service is no longer available, in which case she's probably just stopped taking pictures, because that's easier than learning how a digital camera works.  But this is also reflected in the film when the father rejects the use of a GPS on their trip, preferring to drive with the aid of a fold-out paper map.  And I thought my parents were the only ones still using that method...

In the meantime, I work for an animator who still draws on paper with a pencil, although we're now scanning his drawings so they can be colored or composited on a computer.  Because the man himself became a cartoonist and animator without computers being part of that process, so the tendency is for him to want to continue that way - plus he never learned to type for any reason, which seems weird in today's world, but the good news is that I get to stay employed because I CAN type quickly, and I have job security from typing all his e-mail responses, blog posts, scripts and book proposals.  So now I can say that I "ghost-edited" and typed/corrected two books on animation that he wrote out longhand.  (When learning to text on his phone, he once asked me why the letters were not in proper alphabetical order, and I had to explain that those of us who DO know how to type are more comfortable with the QWERTY keyboard, and that set-up transferred over to the phone.  Still, I think he wondered why the whole universe of texting couldn't be re-arranged to suit his needs.) 

I go through this with my own parents, who had to be dragged (by me) into getting cable TV, even when the local stations stopped transmitting over the airwaves and went all digital, my mother still bought that converter box for her upstairs TV, rather than allowing me to buy them a second cable box.  Meanwhile, my father, raised in the age of FREE TV, refused cable for many years, and only relented when I bought it for their house and offered to pay all the bills (so it would still be FREE for him, I guess).  They now have a large(r) flatscreen, stereo sound, and all-digital picture, and they love it, but they never would have gotten there on their own.  They both have cell phones that they refuse to turn on, except for emergencies, they still have a rotary land-line phone, and my mom still writes letters and not e-mails.  I give up. 

In some ways, the Kodak Corporation is like a senior citizen, both being notoriously slow to adopt digital technology.  Ironically, Kodak introduced the first commercial digital camera in 1991, but didn't promote it heavily to avoid interfering with their own film-based business.  (This may be an over-simplification of their corporate strategy, I'm not an expert...)  After decades of dragging their feet, the company finally announced a shift to digital in 2003-2004, but it was too little, too late.  Before long the company was filing for bankruptcy, and more of its income over the next few years came from filing lawsuits against other camera manufacturers, rather than from selling its own cameras and supplies.  All of the resulting corporate re-structuring and re-organization is what caused the decision to drop things like Kodachrome.  They're still plugging away to date, but you have to wonder how long they'll be able to stave off the inevitable.  How about that, corporations are just like people, after all!

NITPICK POINT #2 - It's great that this famous photographer character was able to connect with so many of his fans, but I found his musings about what photography "means" to be just a little too much.  Something about "stopping time" and "committing moments to eternity" came across a little bit like a Kodak commercial - plus I'm not sure that it fit with his personality.  It might have been a little more refreshing if he just treated photography like a job, something that he was good at that paid the bills. Maybe he did find some greater meaning in the art of photography - but if that's the case, then I would like to have seen this depicted in some other way than just him obsessively cleaning his camera each night.  At another point, he said, "No matter how good something looks, you can't beat the real thing."  Umm, he knows that a photo of something isn't the thing itself, right?

Also starring Ed Harris (last seen in "The Human Stain"), Jason Sudeikis (last seen in "Downsizing"), Bruce Greenwood (last seen in "The Post"), Wendy Crewson (last seen in "Room"), Dennis Haysbert (last seen in "Breach"), Gethin Anthony, Bill Lake (last seen in "Pixels"), Bea Santos.

RATING: 6 out of 10 motel rooms

Thursday, May 17, 2018

I Saw the Light

Year 10, Day 136 - 5/16/18 - Movie #2,938

BEFORE: Bradley Whitford carries over from "The Post", and you can probably tell where I'm going with this by now, since this film shares not one but TWO cast members with a certain comic-book movie that's been killing it at the box office lately.  This was going to be my lead-in to that, but I'm going to sneak just one more in tomorrow, and then one more film before taking a few days off.  I need to catch up on both television and sleep, and organize some comic books if I have some time after all that.


THE PLOT: The story of country-western singer Hank Williams, who in his brief life created one of the greatest bodies of work in American music.  The film chronicles his rise to fame and its tragic effect on his health and personal life.

AFTER: I've got a whole chain of documentaries about musicians on my list, at this point I've watched the biopics about James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson and many others, so a bunch of documentaries about Bowie, The Eagles, The Beatles, the Stones, Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse might be a nice change of pace.  Then again, it might tend to more than a little depressing, considering how many of those people are now deceased.  We'll have to see.

As it is, I didn't know much about Hank Williams going in to this one.  I probably know more about Hank Williams Jr. and Hank Williams III, neither of which is really named "Hank" or "Henry" or even "Hiram", but at the end of the day, there's no law against either one calling himself "Hank" if it puts a few more asses in the seats at their concerts.  What I learned from this film is that Hank Williams was married twice, had a child with a third woman, had numerous other girlfriends while touring, and had alcohol and drug addictions that caused health problems.  So, essentially, he might have been the very first rock star, even though rock and roll hadn't been invented yet.

Throughout his short career, he wrote a lot of number one hits, but also encountered problems when his drinking or health issues caused him to show up late for shows, or sometimes not at all.  After struggling for years to get on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, there eventually came a time where the Opry management had to fire him for being unreliable.  Then there came that time that he showed up dead, which angered the management even more - that's not really proper rock star behavior.  I'm pretty sure that if Keith Richards died tomorrow, he'd probably be able to play at least three more Rolling Stones concerts before anyone noticed.  For Hank Williams, though, it turned out to be a great career move, considering how many posthumous hits he had.

It turns out that I knew more Hank Williams songs than I thought, like "Hey Good Lookin" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".  I mean, I know the SONGS, and didn't know that he wrote those.  I also knew "Move It On Over" because it was covered by George Thorogood, and "Honky Tonk Blues" because it was covered by Huey Lewis & The News.  Hey, knowledge is knowledge, no matter where it comes from.  But since I'm not big on country/western music, I was unfamiliar with "I Saw the Light" and "Lovesick Blues", and anything below that remains under my radar.

I was in Nashville last October on vacation, and my wife and I stopped at the Johnny Cash museum, Patsy Cline museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Ryman Auditorium (original home of the Grand Ole Opry) and we paid admission to enter NONE of those places, because neither of us feels any connection to the world of C&W music.  It's just not our thing - which is a nice way of saying that we feel most of it is terrible.  But most of everything is terrible, really, I think you have to find the 5 or 10% of music or movies or whatever that you DO enjoy and try to focus on that.  Why spend money to visit a country music venue that I don't care about?  However, on the same trip I did visit Graceland and Sun Records in Memphis, because those places do carry some slight significance in my world.

So, I now know a little bit more about Hank Williams, and thus I care about his story slightly more than I did before.  That's about it, the needle moved a little bit, but not significantly.  Sorry, that's just the best I can do.  There's a lot I didn't quite understand here, like why people thought his wife Audrey's voice was so terrible (it was at least decent enough to sing country, I don't think that bar is all that high) and why that guy attacked Hank in that bar near the start of the film.  And yeah, he drank a lot and enjoyed shooting guns off while sitting on the porch, but isn't that true for every country musician?  What was the big deal about that?

Also starring Tom Hiddleston (last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok"), Elizabeth Olsen (last seen in "Godzilla"), Cherry Jones (last seen in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"), Maddie Hasson, Wrenn Schmidt (last seen in "Our Idiot Brother"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "Bobby"), Josh Pais (last seen in "Music of the Heart"), James DuMont (last seen in "Trumbo"), Casey Bond (last seen in "Moneyball"), Michael Rinne, Joshua Brady, Wes Langlois, Von Lewis, Fred Parker Jr., Rob Boltin, Douglas M. Griffin (last seen in "Mr. Right"), Garrett Kruithof, Michael Haskins, Elise Fyke, Joe Chrest (last seen in "Butter"), Deadra Moore, Jayson Warner Smith, Cory Hart, Jeff Pope, John Neisler, Denise Gossett, Rod Hermansen, David Maldonado (also last seen in "Trumbo")

RATING: 4 out of 10 empty beer bottles

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Post

Year 10, Day 135 - 5/15/18 - Movie #2,937

BEFORE: I promise that I'm getting closer to reviewing "Avengers: Infinity War".  I suppose I could have linked there today via William Hurt (just like I could have linked there last week via Samuel L. Jackson or Vin Diesel, or the week before via Gwyneth Paltrow) but I will get there, in just a few days.  But in the meantime, I've circled back to Meryl Streep, who carries over from "One True Thing", so it's a great opportunity to sneak a couple more in before I take a little break between "Avengers" and "Solo".

Another Academy screener tonight (my last screener until early June), but this one's already on Amazon Prime - so I COULD have watched it for $4.99, but I didn't have to pay this way.  Again, I WILL get a permanent copy of this one, as soon as it airs on premium cable. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Spotlight" (Movie #2,688)

THE PLOT: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country's first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government. 

AFTER: You might get a sense of deja vu watching this film, even if you weren't around in 1971.  I was alive, but I was busy being three years old, so I didn't pay much attention to the Pentagon Papers or anything else that was going on in the news.  But here's the background, and stop me if you've heard this one before - the country had a Republican president who was very unpopular with liberals and the press.  He even barred certain reporters and certain newspapers, the ones that didn't say nice things about him, from covering his events or getting the best access during press conferences.  Anything?   How about the fact that he inherited a costly, long-running war in Asia from the previous administration, and in fact the administration before THAT one, and couldn't find a way to end it without losing face.  Vietnam, Afghanistan, it's all the same, really - so Trump's just Nixon with better suits and worse hair, right?  Well, I don't know if it's as simple as all that, but let's roll with it for now.

The important thing is that we have a free press in this country, and if a President is allowed to control what the press can and can't print, then we don't have a democracy, we have a dictatorship.  So when one newspaper got a hold of these documents and photocopied 7,000 pages ONE BY ONE, BY HAND in 1969, Daniel Ellsberg didn't know what to do with it all - mainly because WikiLeaks hadn't been invented yet.  So they started to break all these secrets about the Vietnam War in the pre-failing New York Times.  Problems arose when a federal judge determined that the release of these documents would be harmful to the United States, by making it look really bad, and the American people were already starting to feel that maybe Vietnam was a lost cause, so why confirm this - basically, a judge told the Times that they had to stop publishing these top secret documents, and they did.  Enter the Washington Post, which picked up the ball and got the documents another way, which really was the same way, only they didn't KNOW that, so they began publishing the Vietnam secrets too, risking the same injunctions and legal challenges that were brought down on the NY Times.

It's a very good time in our history right now to remind ourselves that this is what newspapers are for, that they should work for the American people and not the government, and not the Hollywood hype machine.  They should focus their time and efforts on the people in power, finding out what's going on behind the scenes and bringing that information to the public.  It's kind of a big deal, I think there's even something in the Constitution about maintaining a free press, because sometimes that's the last line of defense preventing corruption, collusion and abuse of power.  However, it was a BAD time for the Washington Post to get involved with this, because they were in the middle of taking their company public, buying some TV stations in order to turn their paper into a multimedia empire, and trying to raise some more capital to ensure that they could keep their best reporters on staff and paid well.  But they risked all that in order to get the truth out.

However, as a film these sort of stories always present something of a narrative challenge.  It's not a very visual approach, to show a bunch of reporters and editors having meetings, or talking on the phone, or reading and organizing stacks and stacks of mimeographed sheets.  Film is a visual medium, and I just prefer not to spend my time watching other people doing things like reading and typing.  They try in this film to show some secret meetings in hotel rooms, and people traveling back and forth between Washington and New York, or Washington and Boston, or throwing gala parties in their fancy homes, but all that is not really a substitute for action.  At the end of the day, this will always be a very talky-talky film, and thus it violates the "Show, don't tell" rule again and again. 

But hey, as always, your mileage may vary.  Maybe you're a fan of Supreme Court cases, or the historic moments in journalism really float your boat - to each his own.  The key takeaway here is that we have to remember these pieces of the past, or we will find ourselves repeating them over and over.  At least when Pres. Bush the Lesser started the current unwinnable decades-long war in Asia, the press knew enough to call him out on his B.S. about the lack of WMD's (though I still think the Taliban could have MOVED them, something nobody brought up at the time) and all of that "Mission Accomplished" hoopla from 2003 (Umm, did he know what the word "accomplished" means?).  But really, nothing has changed, because Trump's already repeated those mistakes, and similarly does not want to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, because that would make him look "weak".  So, really, it's same shit, different President, right?

Be SURE to watch this film all the way to the end credits, because there's a teaser for the sequel to this film, which was released back in 1976, if that makes any sense.  I wonder if there was a temptation to put this little scene AFTER the credits, like they do with the Marvel movies. 

Also starring Tom Hanks (last seen in "Inferno"), Sarah Paulson (last seen in "Carol"), Bob Odenkirk (last heard in "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"), Tracy Letts (last seen in "The Big Short"), Bradley Whitford (last seen in "Get Out"), Bruce Greenwood (last seen in "Truth"), Matthew Rhys (last seen in "Burnt"), Alison Brie (last seen in "How to Be Single"), Carrie Coon (last seen in "Gone Girl"), Jesse Plemons (last seen in "Bridge of Spies"), David Cross (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), Michael Stuhlbarg (last seen in "Trumbo"), Zach Woods (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Pat Healy, John Rue (also last seen in "Bridge of Spies"), Rick Holmes, Philip Casnoff, Jessie Mueller, Stark Sands, Michael Cyril Creighton, Brent Langdon, Christopher Innvar, James Riordan, Kelly AuCoin, Cotter Smith, Jennifer Dundas, Will Denton, Deirdre Lovejoy, Austyn Johnson, Deborah Green, Justin Swain, David Aaron Baker, Dan Bucatinsky, David Costabile, Johanna Day.

RATING: 5 out of 10 missing page numbers

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

One True Thing

Year 10, Day 134 - 5/14/18 - Movie #2,936

BEFORE: This is the third film in my Mothers Day trilogy for this year - I want to mention that I TRIED to call my mother on Mother's Day itself, but there was no answer on Sunday afternoon.  Which wasn't that strange at first, sometimes there's a church function in town that runs late, or my parents could have been out for an early dinner to celebrate the day.  But after trying again at 5 pm and again at 6, I was starting to get worried.  Mom doesn't usually miss the new Sunday night dramas on CBS - so when they still didn't answer by 9 pm, I really got concerned.  Eventually I had to text my sister to see if my parents were in transit to visiting her in North Carolina, and I found out they were already there.  (I knew they were going to travel down there, I just thought it was going to be later in the month.)    Whoops.  But I still get credit for trying to make the call, it wasn't my fault that my mother doesn't turn her cell phone ON when she travels - it's apparently only meant to be used in emergencies.

Julianne Nicholson has a small (I'm assuming) role as a college student in this one, and that enables me to stay on topic as she carries over from "Two Weeks".  And if you're keeping track, this is my fifth film this year with Renée Zellweger in it, and I have not used her as a link - all her films have been disconnected from each other.  Hey, that's just the way it works out sometimes.


THE PLOT: A career woman reassesses her parents' lives after she is forced to care for her cancer-stricken mother.

AFTER: This was apparently the greatest fear among career women in the late 1990's - that a family member would get sick or be in some kind of trouble, and they'd be called back home to fill the traditional caregiver role, and that would torpedo their hard-earned professional lifestyle, and all her hard work would be for naught.  "Dolores Claiborne" starts the same way, with a female magazine writer forced to return home to New England, although the circumstances there were different.

There are only two adult children here, as opposed to the four in yesterday's film, but their father is still in the picture here, where last night's film also dealt with divorce, and kids having to deal with mom's new boyfriend (of, like, 13 years).  So it's a bit of a wash, since the idea is the same - adult kids return home, and have to regard their mother in a new light.  Last night it was all about just coming to terms with her having cancer, but the lead character here also has to come to terms with the fact that her mother is very social and domestically-oriented, and she herself just is not like that.  Mom can make a Thanksgiving dinner and then run a meeting of the "Minnies", who decorate their whole town for the holidays, and this just isn't her thing.

In addition, she has to deal with her father in a new way - she's idolized him for years because he's a college lit professor and a published author, then has to deal with the fact that he hasn't published anything in years, his latest proposed novel can't seem to get published, and oh, yeah, he might be cheating on his cancer-stricken wife with one more more of his teaching assistants.

This leads to a TON of avoiding confrontation and the resentment that naturally follows, so at a time when the family should be coming together, instead it starts falling apart.  Nearly everyone here favors the passive-aggressive approach, which is not recommended at all, except in cases where that keeps people from becoming aggressive-aggressive.  But WHY can't she confront her father about his possible affairs?  Maybe there's a rational explanation for everything she's witnessed.  Maybe because this all took place before the #MeToo movement, when people were afraid to confront the sexual predators in positions of power?  Doesn't matter, the father still seems like a fairly horrible person.

He convinces his adult daughter to move back home by offering her a chance to write the introduction to his next book - only, that seems to be to HIS benefit, not hers.  In fact, the whole proposition of taking care of her mother seems to be for HIS benefit, so that his life and routine will stay the same going forward.  Why CAN'T he take a sabbatical from work, when his own wife is ill?  Oh, sure, midterms.  He's definitely the most self-centered person in this family, but the daughter seems to be pulling a close second.  OK, I get that she once admired her father and didn't understand her mother's domestic nature, and over the course of the film we definitely see a shift there, but isn't she really more like her father than her mother?  Being self-centered and passive-aggressive, that is.

And why can't the BROTHER move back home and take care of his mother?  This was made in the late 1990's, people were more progressive over breaking those old gender stereotypes, and not being caught up in what constitutes men's roles or "women's work".  So what gives?  The son failed college and was working a terrible job in Massachusetts, and that's somehow more important than the daughter's job at THE NEW YORKER?  Something just doesn't add up here.  Like if my mother took ill, I would at least consider moving back home to help take care of her.  Sure, I'd hate to take time off from work, but at least I'd get to lord it over my sister that I moved back home to help Mom, and she couldn't because she had to take care of her own kids.

But since the son was afraid to tell his father that he wasn't doing well at school (same NITPICK POINT as in "Proof" here, why didn't the son attend school where his father was a professor, he could have gotten tuition remission, possibly attended for FREE...) but still, why does the daughter have to move back home when she has a good journalism CAREER going?  They never say the name of the university here, but they did film at Princeton.  I would have guessed Connecticut, since we see her riding the Amtrak home from NYC, but Princeton would work too.  If your father teaches at Princeton, why wouldn't you attend there?  A little research on the web tells me that Princeton subsidizes only half the cost of tuition for children of faculty members, but that still seems like a great deal.

But who wore it better?  Dying Sally Field or terminal Meryl Streep?  Field had the advantage of being seen in those flashback interviews, so she got to look good for a longer period of time, while Streep wasn't afraid to be seen with her hair falling out from the chemotherapy, and then she appeared all gaunt while taking a bath.  Streep also got to keep her wits about her longer, and therefore dispense advice to her children longer, and she got to celebrate one last holiday season with her family.  But in the end, I probably have to call it a wash.

There's also some messing with the narrative timeline here due to a framing device, as Kate is interviewed some time after her mother's death about some key details.  No spoilers here, but we're sort of led to believe that some larger point will eventually be made about euthanasia or the right to die movement, and it never really pays off.  I can't say any more, except the film seems afraid to move too far in any one direction in order to make some point.

The whole sequence with Kate writing her article about some Senator sort of went the same way - we never learned any details about this Senator, what he might have been guilty of, or what the article was going to be about.  And then when she "accidentally" bumped into this Senator and finagled her way to the airport in his limo, why did she decide to kill the story after that?  What, exactly, made her throw away her chance at writing this story, after she fought so hard to keep it alive?  A little help here, please.

NITPICK POINT #2: Who has a surprise birthday party where people are expected to wear costumes?  This isn't a thing, as far as I'm aware.  If this was a running custom every year, where people are expected to dress in silly costumes to George's party, then how can it possibly be a surprise?

Also starring Renée Zellweger (last seen in "The Bachelor"), Meryl Streep (last seen in "Florence Foster Jenkins"), William Hurt (last seen in "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them"), Tom Everett Scott (last seen in "Boiler Room"), Lauren Graham (last seen in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas"), Nicky Katt (last seen in "The 'Burbs"), James Eckhouse (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), Patrick Breen, Gerrit Graham, Stephen Peabody, Lizbeth MacKay, David Byron, Todd Cerveris, Hallee Hirsh.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Christmas carolers

Monday, May 14, 2018

Two Weeks

Year 10, Day 133 - 5/13/18 - Movie #2,935

BEFORE: Julianne Nicholson carries over from "I, Tonya", and she'll be here tomorrow, too, for another film on this same topic.  She's in ALL three films in my Mother's Day trilogy.  And since death has been a running theme this year - everything from dead children to dead spouses, and even a dead uncle ("A Good Year"), it seems only fitting that Mother's Day should be devoted to a dying mother.  I don't mean to bring the room down, it's just the way the chain came together this year. 


THE PLOT: Four adult siblings gather at their dying mother's house in North Carolina for what they expect to be a quick, last goodbye.  Instead, they find themselves trapped together for two weeks.

AFTER: It was tough to watch this one at times, and my mother is alive and well.  But there's something universal about realizing that your parents are mortal, and coming together when they're sick to try to help them get well, and if that's not possible, then to somehow make them more comfortable if you can.  (And in the spirit of fairness, I'm going to circle back around to this topic for Father's Day also.)

There's another fractured narrative here, as footage of the family matriarch in the last stage of her life are intermixed with interview footage from a few years previous, as her son, who's some kind of documentary filmmaker, was apparently trying to capture her life and stories on film, possibly while she was in the early stages of her disease, or perhaps just for posterity or to create some kind of family record.  It doesn't really matter, but it does allow us to see this character at her brightest, before the cancer took over.  Otherwise it might be tough to see Sally Field's character just lying in bed, unable to eat food, and gradually losing one motor function after another. 

But death is not the end, not exactly, when there are four children who need to parse through her last requests in order to determine what kind of memorial service would be most appropriate, and also the best way to divide up her belongings.  To do this, they're forced to interact with each other in a new way, and try not to fall back into their childhood patterns, thereby annoying each other and impeding progress. 

This film probably preceded the big family funeral film trend, the one that includes "August: Osage County" and "This Is Where I Leave You", since it came out in 2006.  The three sons here have wives or girlfriends that range from incredibly supportive (taking care of the kids on the other coast while they attend to their dying mother) to incredibly self-centered (one treats this entire process as an inconvenience, and makes it all about HERSELF and her needs...)

Well, it is what it is, I'm going to compare and contrast this one with tomorrow's movie on the same topic, only with Meryl Streep in place of Sally Field.

Also starring Sally Field (last seen in "Hooper"), Ben Chaplin (last seen in "The Legend of Tarzan"), Tom Cavanagh (last seen in "Yogi Bear"), Glenn Howerton (last seen in "Serenity"), Clea Duvall (last seen in "The Faculty"), James Murtaugh (last seen in "Blue Thunder"), Michael Hyatt, Susan Misner, Jenny O'Hara (last seen in "Matchstick Men").

RATING: 5 out of 10 tuna casseroles (made with cream of mushroom soup)