Monday, January 15, 2018

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Year 10, Day 15 - 1/15/18 - Movie #2,815

BEFORE: Sometimes, once I get on a U.K. theme, it makes sense to stay there for a while, that's just how the linking tends to work.  So "Albert Nobbs" was set in Dublin, Ireland, and "Alice Through the Looking Glass" is based (very loosely) on a British novel.  Tonight's film is set at Trinity College at Cambridge University, in the mathematics department.  Lewis Carroll was also a mathematics professor, but he was an Oxford man.

Stephen Fry carries over from "Alice Through the Looking Glass", where he provided the voice of the Cheshire Cat.

THE PLOT: The story of the life and academic career of the pioneer Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and his friendship with his mentor, Professor G.H. Hardy.

AFTER: It's not easy for the average person to understand complex mathematics - in high-school I sort of got as far as Algebra II before I started to lose track of what I was doing, or perhaps why I was doing it.  I stuck it out for two more years - trigonometry and calculus, but by then the thrill was gone.  What the hell is calculus, anyway, does anybody know?  Something about calculating the area under a curve - who cares?  I still did the work and worked out the derivatives, but that didn't mean I understood it.  I was on my high school's math team, but when it came to trig, I learned how to be a good guesser, after finding out that the more complicated the problem, the more likely the answer was to be "zero".

So I kind of feel for the man portrayed here, Srinivasa Ramanujan, for whom math is more intuitive, he can see the theories in his head, but is unwilling at first to do the work necessary to prove his theories.  (The difference between us, of course, is that I was often guessing at the answers in 12th grade math, and this guy had the right answers, he KNEW he was right, he just couldn't prove it.).

But in a FILM about such a man, I would hope that the filmmakers would be able to properly express to the members of the audience who aren't math experts what it is this man was capable of, and why it was important.  I was left unsure about why his theories were a big deal - I sort of understood what "partitions" were (the partition of the number four is five, because that number can be expressed five ways - 1+1+1+1, 1+1+2, 1+3, 2+2, and 4+0)but had to scratch my head when presented with his formula that, what, estimated the partitions for larger numbers?  Again, who cares, if someone else can get there using simple addition, even if that takes longer?

But this does help give me a rough theme for the week so far, which is something about people who are different and unique, but have to stand out and succeed in a world that doesn't support them - Albert Nobbs had to dress like a man to work and save money for his dreams, Alice was the only human in Wonderland and had to find the Mad Hatter's lost family, and tonight this Indian math expert has to excel at a university of British people who don't want him to succeed.  All of them learned they had to follow the rules - the rules of courtship, the rules of time travel, the rules of submitting math proofs.

Sometimes three films in a row that seem very different turn out to not be so different after all...

NITPICK POINT: How come these brilliant mathematicians, who are supposed to be so smart, all seem to believe that the apple tree in their college square is the same one from which an apple fell and hit Isaac Newton on the head?  There's no way that same tree would be there after 250 years, or if it were the same tree, it would be enormous.  But most likely a tree would not live that long?  For that matter, why do they all regard an apple hitting Newton on the head as being some kind of big deal?  Gravity was a B.S. discovery, because before Newton formulated his theory, everybody already knew that things fall down.  So let's face it, Newton was a hack and a poser.

Also starring Jeremy Irons (last seen in "Justice League"), Dev Patel (last seen in "Chappie"), Toby Jones (last seen in 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"), Jeremy Northam (last seen in "The Invasion"), Devika Bhise, Kevin McNally (last seen in "Legend"), Malcolm Sinclair (last seen in "Casino Royale"), Enzo Cilenti, San Shella, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Arundhati Nag.

RATING: 5 out of 10 positive integers

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Year 10, Day 14 - 1/14/18 - Movie #2,814

BEFORE: I forgot to mention last night that I watched "Albert Nobbs" on an Academy screener left over from 2011's campaigns.  As far as I can tell, the film has not aired on premium cable yet - what's the hold-up?  I mean, it's available on Amazon Video for $3.99 and on iTunes for $5.99 so I saved a couple bucks.  It must still be doing well there, if it hasn't made it to cable yet - but I pay so much for cable each month that I don't think I'm doing anything wrong by watching a screener for free.  That is to say, I will record the film when it inevitably appears on a premium channel, but sometimes that takes too long and my chain needs to be as unbroken as possible.  Like I watched "Into the Wild" last year on iTunes and paid $3.99 or whatever, because it fit perfectly into my chain.  It just aired on TCM yesterday, I've been scanning the listings for it for years - so of course it airs for free a year after I needed to watch it.  OK, whatever.

Today I'm back on Netflix for another film that hasn't made it to cable yet, but I'm just as curious about this one, and it fits into my chain, plus I don't want to wait any longer to watch it, since it could disappear from Netflix at any moment.  Disney's working on their own streaming service, so that clock is ticking.  Mia Wasikowska carries over from "Albert Nobbs".

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Alice in Wonderland" (Movie #1,082)

THE PLOT: Alice returns to the whimsical world of Wonderland and travels back in time to help the Mad Hatter.

AFTER: As prep work for this 2016 sequel, I went back and read both the plot summary and my review of the 2010 film "Alice in Wonderland" - my main complaint seemed to be that the film bore no resemblance to the famous Lewis Carroll work, except that it used the same characters.  Why bother adapting a novel if you're not going to stay true to the story one bit?  Well, the same complaint stands tonight.  While Carroll did write a novel called "Through the Looking Glass", about the only similar story element between that book and this film is the fact that Alice does reach Wonderland by walking through a mirror.

(Carroll stupidly left out the name "Alice" from the title of the second book, because it turns out he knew nothing about "branding".  Possibly because that wasn't a thing back then.  Never fear, Disney Corp is here to put the word "Alice" in the title, right after their own corporate logo.  Thankfully, as much as they wanted this film to be titled "Disney's Alice Through the Looking Glass", cooler heads over at IMDB prevailed.  That way it could be alphabetized "properly", next to "Disney's Tarzan" and "Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame", so that nobody will confuse them with Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan or Victor Hugo's novel of the same name.)

The original novel by Lewis Carroll is a complicated journey, based on a chess game that one could re-enact in real life on a chessboard.  It also features the famous poems "Jabberwocky", and "The Walrus and the Carpenter", the latter of which is recited by Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty, the White Queen and the Red Queen (who is NOT the same character as the Queen of Hearts from the first story).  But since Disney's 2010 movie mixed most of these characters into that film's story, there's really nowhere for them to go here except to make up a completely new story using the same characters.  And since today's kids apparently can't handle something like a chess-based story, there are no puzzles, riddles, chess games, or poems here - just someone going on a random quest through time to try to "fix" things in a nonsense realm.

The story opens in the real world, where Alice is the captain of a sailing vessel - this is more or less where the first film left her, only this is really revisionist history, since I'm fairly sure that there were no women even allowed on British sailing vessels in the 1800's.  We see Alice commanding her father's ship, the Wonder, and escaping from Chinese pirates in a manner that seems even too unbelievable to appear in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.  When she returns to port, she learns that her ex-fiancé has conned her mother out of the family's house (so far this year, the villains seem to be bankers, more often than not) and is leveraging the house against her ship, while offering her a demotion from ship's captain to clerk, but it's the chance to be the first female clerk.  (Hey, it's a job, with a pension, though probably not equal pay to a male clerk.).

As in the first film, Alice's journey to Wonderland (sorry, Underland?) coincides with personal problems in her life - so, is the journey to the fantasy realm real, or just her working out solutions to problems, or trying to avoid those problems?  This is unclear.  But when she reaches Wonderland she learns that the Mad Hatter is even more mad than usual, so she agrees to drop everything to work on his problem.  He somehow believes that his family, believed to be dead, is still alive, so Alice steals a chronosphere from Time himself, to travel back and figure out what happened to them.

Through a few jumps to key moments in Wonderland history, she learns that nearly everything's connected to something that happened between the White Queen and the Red Queen when they were children.  And there's almost a message here for the kids, about how important it is to tell the truth, and forgiving people when they are truly sorry, but unfortunately this gets spoiled when we see that there really is no punishment for lying, and there are also no repercussions for people who do bad things like go on tantrums and imprison people they don't like.

I also don't understand why someone felt the need to give all of the characters proper names. The White Rabbit is now named Nivens McTwisp - who the hell cares?  We all know him as the White Rabbit, why can't that be his name?  Similarly, who cares if the Red Queen is named Iracebeth, the Dormouse is named Mallymkun and the March Hare is Thackery Earwicket?  Why this obsessive need to re-name all of Lewis Carroll's classic characters, these more complicated names just don't add anything to the story.  They all sound like names rejected from the "Harry Potter" series this way.

I do want to get to some more time-travel films this year, that's been on my agenda for a while.  But "Project: Almanac" is a very difficult film to link to, and so is "The Butterfly Effect 2".  There are three more time-travel films on Netflix, maybe I need to just bite the bullet, suspend my linking for a few days and knock them all out.  Perhaps in March, but I need to consider this a bit more.

Also starring Johnny Depp (last seen in "Black Mass"), Helena Bonham Carter (last seen in "Cinderella"), Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Don Jon"), Sacha Baron Cohen (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Rhys Ifans (last seen in "Snowden"), Matt Lucas (last seen in "Paddington"), Lindsay Duncan (last seen in "About Time"), Leo Bill (last seen in "Mr. Turner"), Geraldine James (last seen in "Rogue One"), Richard Armitage (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"), Hattie Morahan, Ed Speleers (last seen in "Eragon"), Andrew Scott (last seen in "Victor Frankenstein"), Joanna Bobin (also last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Simone Kirby, Joe Hurst, Siobhan Redmond, Frederick Warder, Tom Godwin, Eve Hedderwick Turner, Amelia Crouch, Leilah de Meza, with the voices of Alan Rickman (last seen in "Bob Roberts"), Stephen Fry (last heard in "A Liar's Autobiography"), Michael Sheen (last seen in "Passengers"), Timothy Spall (also last seen in "Mr. Turner"), Paul Whitehouse, Barbara Windsor, Matt Vogel, Wally Wingert (last seen in "Starring Adam West"), Meera Syal.

RATING: 5 out of 10 pocket watches

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Albert Nobbs

Year 10, Day 13 - 1/13/18 - Movie #2,813

BEFORE: I spent most of today asleep, it's really the first chance I've had to sleep long and try to shake this cold.  Between work and getting our heat and then a small plumbing leak repaired, I've been either waiting for repairmen or forcing myself through the workday for the last five days.  My wife caught my cold (as always) and she's been asleep most of today as well, but hey, that's what Saturdays are for.

This may seem a little jarring, to go from a part-CGI fantasy epic based on a video-game to a period drama, but that's just the way my linking system works.  The crossover today is Glenn Close, who had an uncredited role in "Warcraft".  But it was her for sure, that's why I spend so much time reviewing the cast lists on the IMDB.

THE PLOT: Posing as a man so she can work as a butler in Dublin's most elegant hotel, Albert Nobbs struggles to survive in late 19th-century Ireland, then meets a handsome painter and looks to escape the lie she has been living.

AFTER: I don't know how often other people play that "Hey, that's the actor from..." game.  For people who don't follow movies that closely, maybe they call it "Hey, where have I seen that guy before?"  Obviously I force myself after watching a film to go through the cast list, so eventually I always know where I've seen that guy (or gal) before, even if it's just when I saw them last.  There are a bunch of people in this cast that you can play this game with - THAT guy played Ron Weasley's dad in 7 out of 8 Harry Potter films, for example, and THAT guy was "Mad-Eye" Moody in the same series.  And THAT guy played both Kick-Ass and Quicksilver from "Avengers: Age of Ultron" (and young John Lennon in "Nowhere Boy").  There's the girl from the latest "Alice in Wonderland", and if you're a fan of British cinema, you'll probably have better luck recognizing the other women here from films like "The Commitments" and "My Left Foot".

But that's exactly the problem with the lead role, if you ask me.  We all recognize Glenn Close's face, we've all just seen her in so many things.  So whenever we see Albert Nobbs, who's supposed to read as male to everyone around him, the audience has the inside track to knowing his secret, that he's really female.  Close developed this character in a stage play, and it's no fault of her acting that this conceit doesn't fully work, it's a side result of her fame in other films, she's a bit too recognizable.  So unfortunately because of this every time I saw her dressed as a man, I still thought of her as a woman.

But, my question then becomes, was I supposed to?  Back when this film was set, people didn't understand gender issues quite as well, which is kind of the point.  We're not sure if Albert Nobbs qualifies or as transgender, because that word didn't exist.  Transvestite is the best word we have, and even that word may not have been a word in the 1800's.  Did Albert identify as male, or female?  As a straight man or a lesbian women?  Even when Albert meets another woman who is passing as a man, this encounter only leads to more uncertainty and more questions, for both him and us.  It seems like once Albert finds out that there's another woman who not only dresses and lives as a man but also has a wife, this awakens something inside him and he starts to have fantasies of owning his own tobacco shop and having a wife of his own to run the sweetmeats counter.  But what was in Albert's heart before this, just an empty void?

The hardest part for me to believe is not that a woman could pass as a man, but that a person who'd been alive for that long would be so clueless about love and romance in general, and specifically the desires of his own heart.  Surely working in a hotel he must have been aware of what people do in hotels, both in public and private - how does he not know the basics of courting, kissing, etc.?  And even if he's been celibate all this time, surely there must have been a curiosity about sex at some point in his life, or something he would have read about it in a book, right?  It's awfully convenient that the character has led a sexless, emotionless life right up until the point that someone shows him there is a way to be happy.  And even then, he develops a fantasy around what he wants, but has no real clue on how to get there.

Still, it's a fascinating look at the gender politics of what, the Victorian era?  Just as "The Finest Hours" gave a look at the "women should not be heard from" attitude of 1950's America.  Was it just SO important to be polite, and not discuss certain matters in conversation, that Albert was even afraid to ask his close friend what sex with her wife was like?

Also starring Mia Wasikowska (last seen in "Maps to the Stars"), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (last seen in "Godzilla"), Janet McTeer (last seen in "Maleficent"), Pauline Collins (last seen in "From Time to Time"), Brenda Fricker (last seen in "My Left Foot"), Jonathan Rhys Myers (last seen in "Alexander"), Brendan Gleeson (last seen in "Live by Night"), Maria Doyle Kennedy (last seen in "The Commitments"), Mark Williams (last seen in "101 Dalmatians"), Michael McElhatton (last seen in "Justice League"), Serena Brabazon, John Light, Kenneth Collard (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Judy Donovan, Bronagh Gallagher (last seen in "Tristan + Isolde"), Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Phyllida Law (last seen in "Copying Beethoven").

RATING: 6 out of 10 serving trays

Friday, January 12, 2018


Year 10, Day 12 - 1/12/18 - Movie #2,812

BEFORE:  Ben Foster carries over from "The Finest Hours" for his third appearance in a row - he and Chris Pine have already made the 2018 year-end countdown by appearing in three films, and we're not even 2 weeks in!  My scheduling for the rest of January is going to be pretty random - a fantasy film could be followed by a Western, which in turn could be followed by a war movie or a boxing film.  By February 1 I'll be back on some thematic as well as actor-based linking.

THE PLOT: As an Orc horde invades the planet Azeroth using a magic portal, a few human heroes and dissenting Orcs must attempt to stop the true evil behind this war.

AFTER: No, no, you can't get me to sympathize with orcs!  You can get me to root for the bank robbers in a heist film, but this is where I draw the line, this is a complete bastardization of everything that J.R.R. Tolkien stood for, where orcs are concerned.  They're nasty, evil creatures and telling me that there are "good" ones is a lot like saying there were "good people on both sides" at a Nazi counter protest.  Oh, yeah, that did happen last year, didn't it?

I've never played the Warcraft game - it's a video game, right?  Geez, remember when video games were based on movies, instead of the other way around?  Maybe that would have helped me to understand this film better, but I just don't have that kind of time.  If I had more time I'd be playing the Lego Marvel Heroes video game, or I'd be trying to finally finish Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which I had to put on hold about 9 or 10 years ago.  So without any of that background, this film is a confusing mess.

Like, just because the Orcs got taken from their ruined world and were sent to Azeroth against their will, I'm supposed to feel sorry for them, and forgive them for killing humans?  It's not going to happen.  They probably destroyed their own world, when they weren't busy being evil and orcs.  And who brought them to Azeroth anyway, was it the Guardian?  And if so, then how come he doesn't remember doing it?  And why is he so bad at being the Guardian?  Can anyone explain anything to me in a coherent manner?

The fact that this is titled "Warcraft: The Beginning" on IMDB is very troubling - this means that there will be more of these films, and just like with the "Underworld" franchise, they will become more elaborate with their own mythology and make less and less sense as the story unfolds.  That whole series was a nightmare, like why should I care if vampires and werewolves are fighting each other?  And why do I have to root for one over the other, when I can choose "neither"? I don't

I'm sorry, but I'm from old-school fantasy gaming, where the only good orc is a dead orc.  That sound you're hearing is J.R.R. Tolkien, spinning in his grave.  But then, I suppose this is the sort of film you get after the "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" franchises wrap up, and dozens of copycat films spring up...

Also starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton (last seen in "Idlewild"), Dominic Cooper (last seen in "Dracula Untold"), Ben Schnetzer (last seen in "Snowden"), Ruth Negga (last seen in "Jimi: All Is by My Side"), Anna Galvin, Callum Keith Rennie (last seen in "Fifty Shades of Grey"), Burkely Duffield, Ryan Robbins, Dean Redman (last seen in "Godzilla"), Glenn Close (last seen in "102 Dalmatians") and the voices of Toby Kebbell, Robert Kazinsky, Clancy Brown, Daniel Wu, Terry Notary, Michael Adamthwaite,

RATING: 3 out of 10 battle-axes

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Finest Hours

Year 10, Day 11 - 1/11/18 - Movie #2,811

BEFORE: After learning that "Hell or High Water" is now on that list of "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", I decided to take a spin through the updated list (on IMDB, not in book form) to see what has changed since the last edition I checked, which was in 2013.  In the first (almost) 800 listings, nothing has changed.  But 22 of the newer (2007 and later) films are gone, replaced in order to keep the list current.

So, the bad news is that 10 films that I've seen are now gone from that list: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "Slumdog Millionaire", "Black Swan", "Drive", "Django Unchained", "Life of Pi", "American Hustle", "Inside Llewyn Davis", "Nebraska" and "The Wolf of Wall Street".  This is confusing on a couple levels - were these films only "Must-See" for a couple of years, like did their relevance expire or something?  Or did was there a sudden influx of super-great movies in 2015 and 2016, and these just had to be jettisoned because they paled in comparison to the new, hipper films?  Hey, if something needed to go, why wasn't it the old foreign films that today's audience has no interest in seeing?  Dropping these 10 films (along with 12 others I haven't seen) brought my total down from 410 to an even 400, as I feared.

However, there is some good news - because I've spent so much time catching up with the films of 2015 and 2016, of the 22 films added since my last check-in, I've seen 13 of them!  So my stats actually went UP when you factor in these newer films: "Boyhood", "Birdman", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", "The Revenant", "Spotlight", "Mad Max: Fury Road", "La La Land", "Hell or High Water", "The Jungle Book (2016)", "Jackie", "Manchester by the Sea" and "Arrival".  So my total viewed jumped back up from 400 to 413.  I made progress after someone else did some list maintenance!

Of course, it's all arbitrary - is "Jackie" a better or more relevant film than "Black Swan"?  In my opinion, no, but it's not up to me.  Is "La La Land" better than "Drive"?  They both got a score of "6" from me.  What about "The Revenant" replacing "The Wolf of Wall Street"?  OK, so I agree with that one.  Is the recent "Jungle Book" remake better than "Life of Pi"?  It's debatable, since I liked a lot of the films that got replaced, but I also liked a lot of the added films, so I guess it's a wash.

Two actors carry over from "Hell or High Water", Chris Pine and Ben Foster.

THE PLOT: The Coast Guard makes a daring rescue attempt off the coast of Cape Cod after a pair of oil tankers are destroyed during a blizzard in 1952.

AFTER: I'm back on Netflix tonight, which of course does not reduce my main watchlist at all, though it does make a dent in the larger list, which is the films available to me on streaming services and Academy screeners.  (The next step is to make a list of the new screeners that came in this January, but there are so many of them, so I've been avoiding this.)  I can't ignore a link that allows TWO actors to carry over between films, that's just too perfect.  And the goal is to get to these films on Netflix before they all start to disappear.

I watched a number of films in 2017 that were set in Massachusetts - see the 2017 wrap-up post for that list, and here's another one.  It's a true story about a Coast Guard (or Coast Gaahd) rescue from 1952, and since it took place during a January blizzard, that couldn't be more timely.  I saw the footage from last week's weather in Massachusetts, where incredibly high waves were causing floods in the coastal towns of Hull and Scituate, and it's not too much of a stretch to get from that to tonight's film.  I think this is a great reminder that while most people have the option to stay home and hunker down during a winter storm, maybe miss a day's work while they watch TV and drink some hot cocoa, there are people who HAVE to go to work, even in the middle of a storm, because other people's lives are on the line.  Doctors, nurses, police, firemen, and yes, the Coast Guard.  Those of us whose jobs are not critical thank you for your service.

(News and weather reporters, I have much less admiration for.  The people who report on the weather should be smart enough to not do so while standing outside, in the thick of it.  They'll tell everyone to stay off the roads unless travel is vital or emergency-based, then they'll head out in the Channel 6 "Mobile Weather Center", which is really just a SUV crossover with cameras in it, just to get some great footage to demonstrate how hard the roads are to navigate.  Does anyone else see the irony here?)

But let's get back to "The Finest Hours".  For the first 1/4 of the film, we see Chris Pine's character doing exactly what his other character did in "People Like Us".  He's supposed to talk to his superior about getting married to his girlfriend (he's under the mistaken belief that he needs "permission" from the Coast Guard to get engaged) and yet time and time again, he can't quite bring himself to say the words.  So it's delay, delay, delay until thankfully there's an emergency at sea and he can head out.  Dude, if you're not ready to SAY the word "marriage", you're really not ready to do it.

Meanwhile, on an oil tanker there's a bunch of manly men who are suddenly wondering what happened to the other half of their ship.  Ah, that propably explains why they haven't heard any orders from the bridge in a while....  But then this leads to other questions, like how long can a half-ship stay afloat, and should they try to leave the half-ship in lifeboats, stare bailing water futilely, or just sit quietly and prepare to drown?  Thankfully the quiet guy who knows the most about the ship has another solution.  And it sounds crazy, but it just might work...

The problem with rescuing these men is two-fold - nobody knows exactly where this half-ship is (it seems that radar was in its infancy back then) and to get there, a ship has to cross the Chatham Bar (pronounced "Chattem Baah" in the local parlance).  This is a series of shoals on the southern part of Cape Cod that is notable for having extremely high waves during a storm - so it's very nearly a suicide mission.  But Bernie Webber ("Webbah") headed out with three other men in a 36-foot wooden lifeboat, which had the advantage of being self-righting, into this wicked winter storm, in the hopes of finding the rapidly-sinking half-tanker and getting any surviving crewmen to safety.

The ending, with the town pulling together to help the lifeboat find its way back to land, is one of those inspiring moments - I haven't seen the film "Dunkirk" yet, but perhaps this is somewhat reminiscent of that event, let's call this one "Dunkirk Lite" for now.  I suppose this is tempered somewhat by the reminder that back in 1952, women's opinions didn't seem to matter much, at least on perceived "manly" things like sailing and military operations.

Also starring Casey Affleck (last seen in "I'm Still Here"), John Ortiz (last seen in "Going in Style"), Holliday Grainger (last seen in "Cinderella"), Eric Bana (last seen in "Lone Survivor"), Graham McTavish (last seen in "Creed"), Kyle Gallner, (last seen in "American Sniper"), Michael Raymond-James (last seen in "Black Snake Moan"), John Magaro (last seen in "Unbroken"), Abraham Benrubi (last heard in "Big Hero 6", Keiynan Lonsdale, Beau Knapp (last seen in "The Nice Guys"), Josh Stewart (last heard in "Interstellar"), Rachel Brosnahan (last seen in "Patriots Day"), Matthew Maher,(also last seen in "I'm Still Here"), Benjamin Koldyke (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Jesse Gabbard, Alexander Cook (last seen in "Black Mass"), Danny Connelly (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Angela Hope Smith,

RATING: 6 out of 10 life-jackets

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hell or High Water

Year 10, Day 10 - 1/10/18 - Movie #2,810

BEFORE: We're just ten days in to the New Year, and here comes my second film about bank robberies - I'm not sure what that means for 2018.  I can only hope that the characters hang out in a few diners, so I can keep that streak going.  Chris Pine carries over from "People Like Us", where he ate in a whole bunch of cafés and restaurants.

THE PLOT: A divorced father and his ex-con older brother resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family's ranch in West Texas.

AFTER:  Well, I guess some ex-cons go work in diners, like in "Frankie and Johnny", and others go right back to committing crimes...

I would love to figure out when, exactly, did the bank robbers in films become the "good guys" and the banks became the "bad guys"?  Was it a subtle shift, or did it happen all at once?  Like in the 1970's, did we suddenly start rooting for the bank robbers in "Dog Day Afternoon" because of Watergate, Vietnam and Attica?  Or were we all seduced by Redford and Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and Jeff Bridges in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"?  (Bridges appears in tonight's film on the other side of the law, playing the grizzled Texas Ranger who's both too old for this shit AND one week away from retirement...).  Was it in the 1980's as a reaction to Reaganomics and corporate greed - and is it suddenly back in vogue now after the recession, the sub-prime mortgage disaster and the ensuing bank bailout?

I've got to assume the latter, because here the family farm is nearly lost due to a "reverse mortgage", and they come right out and use that term, which "Going in Style" avoided.  But this makes more sense this way, while one brother was in jail and the other was distracted by his failing marriage, that the bank would step in and con their dying mother.  So I'm sure they exhausted many other plans and possibilities before falling back on "Hey, let's rob some banks."  Just kidding, that would be silly, why with all the guns available in Texas, it would be stupid of them NOT to rob a bank.  It's an "open-carry" state, so have at it, everyone.  That money ain't gonna rob itself!

This point is addressed, somewhat, within this film.  The theory is that if more people are armed, there would be more "good people" with guns to stop "bad people" with guns.  So why doesn't that happen more often?  How come it's always 12 people dead at the movie theater or 20 kids dead in the classroom before the shooter takes his own life?  Where were the "good people" with guns to kill him sooner?  And why do we still have people robbing banks while using guns?  Our two brothers only get shot at by civilians once or twice during their robbery spree.

The lead Texas Ranger (who's partnered with a half-Native American, leading to a bunch of white man/red man ribbing back and forth) happens to notice that all of these robberies are taking place at different branches of the same bank, and so he starts staking out the branches that haven't been hit yet.  That's smart, trying to get ahead of the game.  And I suppose most robbers do have a pattern, even if they're not aware of it themselves.  You know, get up, grab a bagel and a coffee, rob a bank, be home by 11 to catch "The Price is Right" - that's the kind of pattern that's going to get you caught.

But the idea to take stolen money from the bank and launder it through a casino in the next state over - man, that's smart.  Is that a thing that robbers do?  I don't think a casino cares whether it gets stolen money or not, and they're used to taking in large sums of money for chips, then after a few hours at the poker tables, these guys cash in their chips and get a nice, legal check from the casino.  I think then they turn right around and deposit that check in the same bank they just robbed.  Genius.  But then any criminal activity can be a success, right up until the cops start chasing you.

The IMDB trivia section is telling me that this film is included on that list of "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", but not on my copy of the list.  I guess that's because I'm still working from the version of the list that came out in 2013, and I think they make minor changes to it every year.  I'll have to research what's been added to that list, but I'm afraid that means they've also removed a few films, which means my stats may go down - currently I've seen 410 of the films on the 2013 list, and I'm proud of that.  I would prefer if that didn't change.

Also starring Ben Foster (last seen in "Inferno"), Jeff Bridges (last heard in "The Little Prince"), Gil Birmingham, Marin Ireland (last seen in "Hope Springs"), Katy Mixon (last heard in "Minions"), Dale Dickey (last seen in "Winter's Bone"), Kevin Rankin (last seen in "Wild"), Melanie Papalia, Amber Midthunder, John Paul Howard, Christopher Garcia, Alma Sisneros, Joe Berryman (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Jackamoe Buzzell (ditto), Buck Taylor (last seen in "Hard Time"), Kristin Berg, William Sterchi (last seen in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"), Taylor Sheridan, Paul Howard Smith.

RATING: 5 out of 10 getaway cars

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

People Like Us

Year 10, Day 9 - 1/9/18 - Movie #2,809

BEFORE: This time, Michelle Pfeiffer carries over from "Frankie and Johnny".  I'm going to try my best to be coherent today, through a giant fog of cold medicine brain-haze.

THE PLOT: While settling his deceased father's estate, a salesman discovers he has a sister that he never knew about, leading both siblings to re-examine their perceptions about family and life choices.

AFTER: I'm going to have to charge this film with violation of the classic six-act structure.  There's really just an introduction here, then a VERY long middle period where essentially nothing happens, and then a wrap-up.  By all rights, this should have been a short film, since there's only about 20 minutes of plot to sustain a nearly 2-hour film.  Please note that inactivity is not a proper substitute for character development.

You can easily spot this sort of delaying tactic when there is essentially one crucial piece of information that needs to be relayed from Person A to Person B, and for some reason or a variety of reasons, that information does not get spoken or transmitted in any fashion.  Things keep cropping up - but in the real world, if there is one crucial piece of information that needs to be said, most of the time it gets said, and we deal with it (in either a good or bad way) and we move on.

What's worse is that this film commits the very same plot-non-developmental sin at least THREE times.  Sam tracks down his half-sister, and he can't quite bring himself to tell her that he's her half-brother.  He'll get a phone call, or he'll jump in his car and drive away (running away doesn't count as character development, either) or just change his mind every time an opportunity presents itself.  There are several opportunities to confront his mother with the knowledge of his father's other family, and he can't quite bring himself to pull the trigger on that either.  Meanwhile FTC investigators are leaving messages on his cell phone about the mishap he caused at work (he's employed by some sort of semi-legal bartering company and he found a way to violate some customs laws) and he KNOWS that he has to call these investigators back, yet he never gets around to it.  So, what DOES he do all day?

Because of his inability to act, he finds himself working his way more and more into the life of his new half-sister and her son - but since he doesn't reveal his identity, the sister is slowly coming to depend on him, and the relationship starts to border on attraction.  Soon this starts to have "bad idea" written all over it - plus, anyone can see that the longer he takes to tell her, the worse her reaction is going to be.  So again, why all the delaying, delaying?  It's not like there's some limited window on telling the truth, and if he misses it, he can't go back and make it right.

Beyond that, some pretty big coincidences/contrivances take place - Sam just HAPPENS to go to the one A.A. meeting where his sister discusses her feelings about her father?  (Well, sort of, anyway, she only reveals a little bit, in what's probably the most confusing alcoholic confessional ever, for anyone not following along.)  And NITPICK POINT: How could two people spend so much time together over the course of a few weeks without her ever learning his last name?  Wouldn't that be something you learn about someone on the first day, or in the first couple days?

There is a nice pay-off at the end, but I'm left feeling like it just took too much time to get there.

Also starring Chris Pine (last seen in "For the Love of Spock"), Elizabeth Banks (last seen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"), Olivia Wilde (last seen in "Rush"), Mark Duplass (last seen in "Tammy"), Michael Hall D'Addario, Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "Bad Words"), Jon Favreau (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Sara Mornell,

RATING: 6 out of 10 maraschino cherries