Sunday, March 29, 2020

Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood

Year 12, Day 89 - 3/29/20 - Movie #3,492

BEFORE: Here's the one you probably saw coming, with Brad Pitt carrying over from "Ad Astra".  This is the second of the two films this month with enormous cast lists - sure, I could have programmed this one right after "Bombshell" and had Margot Robbie carry over, but then that's six films I would have missed out on!  And similarly, I've got one more film with Brad Pitt in it on my list, but instead of watching that one tomorrow, I can fit another six films in between, so that one comes up via different links next week instead.

When I link out of this one, I've got at least a dozen choices, but I'm going to be smart and circle back to an actor I've already used as a link this year, but I picked up two more films with him JUST a bit too late to be included in January's chain.  So I kind of have to make up for that before March runs out.


THE PLOT: A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry in 1969 Los Angeles, during the final years of Hollywood's Golden Age.

AFTER: Before I begin, giant-sized SPOILER ALERT regarding what follows, if you haven't seen this film yet, either go and watch it now or proceed no further.  I can't possibly talk about this film today without mentioning certain details.

Time for another check-in regarding the 2019 Oscar nominees for Best Picture, I've now seen 5 out of the 9, with another two ("Little Women", "Ford v Ferrari") scheduled for April.  That will just leave me with two to see, "Jojo Rabbit" and "Parasite".  "Jojo Rabbit" fits in thematically with my April Hitler-based chain, only it doesn't link to any of those films by actor - so I'm waiting to hear news about when "Black Widow" will be released, and I'm saving a slot for it in late September, the plan is to link into (or out of) the horror chain via Taika Waititi.  But hey, plans can change, so I'll have to review things in late summer, assuming that we're all still active and alive.  "Parasite" is on the back burner because it's exceptionally hard to link to, and I may have to wait for the next available January 1 in order to program it, unless I relax my own rules.  C'est la vie.  All I can do now is take things one month at a time, that's all that any of us can do.

But let's get to the latest from Tarantino, a film that was a contender for Best Picture less than two months ago, which feels like five years ago now that everyone's life is on some form of pause.  Remember when that was our biggest concern, wondering which film is going to bring home the Oscar?  Now we've got some bigger perspective, but it's too much.  Anyway I had a feeling that "Once Upon a Time..." might win, because I'd seen the other "sure things" like "The Irishman" and "Joker" and found them a bit lacking.  I couldn't quite get to the Tarantino film (only I COULD have, I realized the Pacino connection a bit too late) so logically, therefore, with my luck, the big contender I haven't seen is bound to take home the big prize.  People were buzzing about it, but not as much as they were buzzing about "Parasite", apparently.  Whoever I knew who'd seen "Parasite" was REALLY all in on it, and that should have been an omen.  People who'd seen "Once Upon a Time..." were more like, "Yeah, it's good, a bit long, but, you know, it's Tarantino, and he's an auteur, so it's a good film, I guess..." which by comparison, hardly feels like a ringing endorsement.

Now I've finally seen it, after perhaps learning way too much about it from reviews and press coverage, so now I get my chance to say, "Yeah, it's good, a bit long, but, you know, it's Tarantino, and he's an auteur, so it's a good film, I guess..."  I'll try to get a bit more specific about all that, too.  Let's start with "it's a bit long".  Two hours and 41 minutes?  Damn it, Quentin, I've got other stuff to do, comic books to read and video-games to play!  At least with a heads-up on the length I was able to schedule this for a weekend, but then they went ahead and cancelled the work-days because of the Covid-19 virus, so now it scarcely matters.  Hey, if you're under quarantine or just self-isolating at home, you've got nothing but time now, so watch this film to kill nearly three hours, or hell, find a new series to binge-watch or even go back and watch an old mini-series like "The Stand" - you've got nothing but time now, right?

This leads to the naturally logical question - could this film have been, you know, shorter? SHOULD it have been shorter?  I say yes, but I'm willing to entertain some debate.  Tarantino has a reputation as an auteur, someone who has earned and demands final cut.  On that level, if he says it needs to be 161 minutes, then that's what it's going to be.  But this is the same guy who split "Kill Bill" into two movies when it was running too long.  So that suggests that there should be a limit - how am I going to dub this to DVD if it's too long to fit on an 8-hour VHS tape at SP speed?  (Actually, I think I can JUUUSST fit it...). But if I were a director, and my film was clocking in at 161 minutes, I think that would certainly prompt me to take another pass through it, take a really hard look at some scenes to figure out if there's more stuff that could be excised, or perhaps trimmed.  I'm willing to bet that if I watched the film again with that in mind, I could find a bunch of stuff - like when Rick Dalton is flubbing his lines on the set of the "Lancer" western, do we really need to see him mess it up THAT badly, and then sit through the entire repetition of the same scene, with him saying the lines properly. That felt a little bit like overkill.  Additionally, there are at least a dozen characters and asides introduced that don't feel crucial at all, why is Tim Roth the only actor listed in the credits for having his scenes cut?  There are so many characters here, more non-essential characters could have been cut without affecting the overall structure of the film.

I think there was also an opportunity near the start of the film for some heavy trimming.  The first 10 minutes is all introduction, and Al Pacino's character is blatantly used in a dinner conversation with Rick Dalton that tells us everything we need to know about his career so far and where it's headed - but after that, there's about minutes of downtime, and therefore nothing essentially "happens" for the first half-hour of the film.  But because of his reputation, and because he demands and receives final cut, Tarantino is apparently under no pressure to make tough choices on timing - however, the length of the film could still affect the box office, because it then puts limits on how many times a day each theater can show the film.  Assuming a 12-hour theater day, a venue could screen a film under two hours six times, but a film pushing three hours only four times, and that affects the bottom line when it comes to ticket sales.  Bear in mind, however, that the first cut of the film clocked in at FOUR HOURS and 20 minutes.  So editing work was clearly done at one point, but I think much more could have helped with the film's slow parts.

That being said, with so much screen time to play around with, this is perhaps more linear than most Tarantino films, especially the pretzel-logic plotline that is "Pulp Fiction".  I'm reminded also of "The Hateful Eight", when we're halfway through the film when it jumps back in time to show us something that happened the day before, which is suddenly going to be important NOW, and to be fair, if the film had started with that scene first and progressed in accordance with the timeline, that aside wouldn't have made sense because the audience would have had no frame of reference for it.  So I'll allow Tarantino to mess around with the time-stream, because generally he seems like he knows what he's doing, and only jumps around in time when doing so creates more clarity, and not confusion, generally speaking.  Here there's really only one extended flashback, the sequence with Bruce Lee, but it happens out of sequence to explain why Cliff can't find much work as a stuntman any more, and instead finds himself fixing the TV antenna on Rick's house.  Then there's a part closer to the end where the timeline jumps ahead six months, then later has to go back to show us what happened during those six months, but at least there are title cards that explain why we're jumping around in time.  Rick's been off in Europe making a couple of "spaghetti westerns", and a few other films, and Cliff went with him, and they had a conversation there where they reflect on whether it might be time to terminate their employer-employee relationship.

Now, the thing about this 6-month jump forward in time, is that to me, it's an odd break in the momentum that the film seemed to be building up - Cliff had been out to the Spahn Ranch and learned that there were a bunch of hippies living on the ranch, possibly taking advantage of the ranch owner in order to get a free place to live.  We've also been following the young pregnant actress Sharon Tate as she goes to parties and also to watch herself on-screen in the Dean Martin movie "The Wrecking Crew", and we know that she lives in the house next-door to Rick, along with her husband, director Roman Polanski.  Then this bearded long-hair named "Charlie" shows up at her house, looking for his friends that used to live there.  If you're at all familiar with the history of 1969, and the murders committed by the Manson family, you might be ahead of the game here in figuring out where this is all leading.

That being said, even if you ARE up on your detailed history of serial killers, things here might not progress the way you would expect.  Believe it or not, as soon as this film was over, I tried to catch a little Covid-19 virus update on MSNBC, only they were running an old episode of "Dateline", focusing on the Manson family and their crimes.  Coincidence?  I've sort of learned that there's no such thing.  My movie chain tends to bring me the information I need at critical times, why shouldn't random channel-surfing do the same?

So here's the thing - there's a definite point of deviation between what happened in real-life and what happens in this film.  This threw me for a loop at first, I had to pause the film and say, "OK, what exactly is going on here, and why doesn't it line up with what I know to be true and real?"  I haven't really gotten in to it yet on Wikipedia or the IMDB trivia section, but what I suspect is that Tarantino has turned the real-life Manson Family events into something of a fairy tale - a point bolstered by the use of "Once Upon a Time..." in the title.  What we're witnessing is a story, a fantasy, the way we might have preferred things to happen rather than the way they really did.  This is not uncommon in Tarantino's work, think about "Inglourious Basterds", was there ever really a time when someone locked a bunch of Nazis in a screening room and then set them on fire with flamethrowers?  No, of course not, but clearly somebody WISHES that could have happened.  Was there ever an African-American former slave named Django who got to work as a bounty hunter and then blow up an entire plantation mansion?  Again, it's doubtful.  But in those cases Tarantino put something on film that was stronger than reality, it's reality augmented by our collective sense of justice trying to improve on the past.  My best guess is that's what's up with "Once Upon a Time", the same auteur is looking at incidents in the past and saying, "But what if THIS happened instead, and that would create a stronger story for the film?"  Now I'm going to go check to see if I'm right....

Because it's a long movie, and because Tarantino just couldn't resist, there's SUCH a huge cast list - over 200 people listed on the IMDB!  I had to draw the line somewhere, because just tracking all of these actors for my year-end breakdown would take me HOURS.  I mean, I've got the time right now, but I'm only going to list the crucial roles, and some of the archive footage appearances that the IMDB apparently doesn't count as "appearances".  Looking up some of these actors led me down some really weird pathways - for example, I found out for the first time that Nicholas Hammond, who played Spider-Man on TV in the 1970's, also played one of the Von Trapp children in "The Sound of Music" in the 1960's.  Now I'm not going to be able to forget that.

There's also a fair amount of tunt casting - like in "Bombshell", part of the fun here is seeing which actors of today play the most notable people from real life.  That's Dakota Fanning as "Squeaky" Fromme, who later tried to assassinate Gerald Ford.  Other actors make cameos as Bruce Lee, Mama Cass, Connie Stevens - but I think my personal favorite is seeing Damian Lewis playing Steve McQueen, he had McQueen's cadence and vacant stare DOWN, a very believable portrayal.

NITPICK POINT: Why do we have to see so many bare feet, especially women, and usually with dirt on them?  This must be Tarantino's particular fetish, I also noticed this a lot in "Death Proof", too.  Personally, I don't find feet attractive - I mean, whatever floats your boat, I guess, but even when I see a very beautiful woman with nice legs, it's kind of a bummer to think that there are feet at the end of those legs, and most of them look odd, and most of them probably smell bad.  Who gets turned on by this?  All feet should stay covered up, that's my feeling, with shoes you can't see through and two pairs of socks for good measure.  And if your feet are dirty, maybe wash them?  Walking around barefoot or even in flip-flops, or taking your shoes off in public is just plain disgusting.  Being a big-time director doesn't give you the right to force your kink on me, Quentin.  I mean, you can, but be aware that you're turning off more people than you're turning on.

Also starring Leonardo DiCaprio (last seen in "Body of Lies"), Margot Robbie (last seen in "Bombshell"), Emile Hirsch (last seen in "The Emperor's Club"), Margaret Qualley (last seen in "The Nice Guys"), Timothy Olyphant (last heard in "Missing Link"), Julia Butters (last seen in "13 Hours"), Austin Butler (last seen in "Yoga Hosers"), Dakota Fanning (last seen in "Ocean's Eight"), Bruce Dern (last seen in "Our Souls at Night"), Mike Moh, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis (last seen in "Queen of the Desert"), Al Pacino (last seen in "Stand Up Guys"), Nicholas Hammond, Samantha Robinson, Rafal Zawierucha, Lorenza Izzo, Costa Ronin, Damon Herriman, Lena Dunham, Madisen Beaty, Mikey Madison, James Landry Hebert (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Maya Hawke, Victoria Pedretti, Sydney Sweeney, Harley Quinn Smith (also last seen in "Yoga Hosers"), Dallas Jay Hunter, Kansas Bowling, Parker Love Bowling, Cassidy Vick Hice, Ruby Rose Skotchdopole, Danielle Harris, Josephine Valentina Clark, Scoot McNairy (last seen in "Destroyer"), Clifton Collins Jr. (last seen in "The Mule"), Marco Rodriguez (last seen in "Velvet Buzzsaw"), Ramon Franco, Raul Cardona, Courtney Hoffman, Dreama Walker (last seen in "Compliance"), Rachel Redleaf, Rebecca Rittenhouse (last seen in "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot"), Rumer Willis (last seen in "Hostage"), Spencer Garrett (also last seen in "Bombshell"), Clu Gulager (last seen in "Tapeheads"), Martin Kove, Rebecca Gayheart, Kurt Russell (last seen in "Swing Shift"), Zoë Bell (last seen in "Billy Elliot"), Perla Haney-Jardine (last seen in "Steve Jobs"), Monica Staggs (last seen in "Hesher"), Omar Doom (last seen in "Death Proof"), Kate Berlant (last seen in "DEAN"), Daniella Pick, Tom Hart, David Steen (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Toni Basil (last seen in "David Bowie: The Last Five Years"), Rage Stewart, Maurice Compte (last seen in "A Walk Among the Tombstones"), Ronnie Zappa, with cameos from Michael Madsen (last seen in "The Hateful Eight"), James Remar (last seen in "Drugstore Cowboy"), Brenda Vaccaro (last seen in "The Clapper"), the voices of Quentin Tarantino (last seen in "She's Funny That Way"), Corey Burton (last heard in "Ralph Breaks the Internet"), Burt Ward, and archive footage of James Farentino (last seen in "Ensign Pulver"), Norman Fell (last seen in "Catch-22"), Ann-Margret (last seen in "Going in Style"), Dean Martin (last seen in "Scared Stiff"), Joe Namath.

RATING: 6 out of 10 cans of Wolf's Tooth dog food

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Ad Astra

Year 12, Day 88 - 3/28/20 - Movie #3,491

BEFORE: Today's film is another one, like "Uncut Gems", that had a lot of Oscar buzz at one point, only it all went away, I guess when other films took prominence.  This one ended up with just one nomination, for Sound Mixing.  Ouch.  Still, I'm intensely curious about it, so it's part of my Oscar Hopefuls screener-based round-up.  And I'm only about two months late, thanks to the extended romance chain.

Natasha Lyonne carries over from "Uncut Gems".  If you missed her in that film, she wasn't seen but only heard as the voice of someone from the Boston Celtics organization, speaking to Sandler's character on the phone.  OK, I realize that may not seem like a big role, but her voice appearance counts for my purposes, and it was a role that served a purpose to the plot.  When I make my linked chains, I often don't know how large someone's role is going to be - maybe she'll have a bigger part today?


THE PLOT: Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and a doomed expedition from 30 years before that threatens the universe.

AFTER: I skipped over another film from last year, which is on my secondary list, that has Natasha Lyonne in it - "Honey Boy".  I failed to grab that screener on my last day at the studio, that's one reason I skipped it, but also I didn't have a slot for it in March, I had to cut something or I won't make my (admittedly arbitrary) themes for certain holidays.  For now I'm looking at a film that I think feels appropriate for April 1, and I was over.  Of course, I could have doubled up, but I already doubled up once in March, and I also never know if I'm going to need these slots later in the year, so it comes down to a judgment call based on a feeling.  I can circle back to "Honey Boy" later via Shia LaBoeuf, maybe after the virus lockdown ends.

It turned out Natasha Lyonne had another small role, she just played a person processing astronaut's paperwork when they get to Mars, but again, even that counts for my linking purposes.  Oh, yeah, Brad Pitt goes to Mars. (Did you think he would let Matt Damon have all the fun?). Should probably issue a SPOILER ALERT here before I give away anything else that people might not want to know before watching this film.  And with Brad Pitt front and center here, tomorrow's film is probably very easy to predict.

Here's what I can tell you about the (near?) future seen in this film - the timeline's a little weird because this film's past hasn't really happened yet, so this has to be set at least 30-plus years from now.  We're still a ways away from sending people to Mars, and this story has to happen 30 years after that, so, what, 2055? 2060?  And by that point it's interesting to note that flights to the moon are commercially available, and run by Virgin Air.  It's about as easy for people as flying across the world, I guess, only a pillow and blanket will run you $125 for some reason on that flight.  I'd hate to think how expensive the fruit and cheese plate is.  The moon is also considered free territory, it doesn't belong to any one country, which seems noble until you also realize that means there are also disputed war zones and freelance moon pirates.

From the Moon, astronaut Roy McBride hops aboard another spacecraft bound for Mars, which is where SpaceForce wants him to go to send some kind of message to his father, who decades earlier went out to get cigarettes from Saturn and never came back.  Actually McBride Sr. was part of a mission searching for signs of intelligent life in space (if you ask me, they should try to find some on Earth first) and the theory is that once you get to the outer planets, away from most of the sun's radiation, you can really get a better look at planets in other solar systems.  Roy has long assumed that his father was dead, but SpaceCom suspects that he's alive, and might be responsible for these weird power surges coming from Neptune that are reaching the earth in waves and causing all kinds of destruction.  If that's true, you may notice that one power surge was timed to hit Earth JUST as Roy was outside working on the giant space antenna, so yeah, probably Daddy doesn't care about his now-adult son.

The scripted message is sent, but Roy can't resist also making an emotional appeal to his father - it seems maybe he's had some time to think while on the way to Mars.  This does not please his superiors, and he's scrapped from the mission.  But after meeting someone working on Mars whose parents were also part of his father's LIMA project, he realizes he needs to be on that spacecraft heading to Neptune, so he sneaks on board, and, umm, things don't go so well.  That's really as far as I want to go talking about the plot, but hey, it's a space mission movie.  Things go right and other things go wrong, and the characters have to deal with that as best as they can.

If I'm being honest, I didn't fully understand everything that happened after that point - I had to go to the Wikipedia plot summary to figure out all the details.  Space is also very quiet, and very lonely, and there's not a lot of talking between people about what exactly is going on.  There's also a lot of time for self-reflection and inner monologuing - it takes almost 80 days to get to Neptune, which seems like progress, but also, the ship didn't seem like it was going that fast.  Whatever.  But maybe there's something in here for people who are right now self-isolating because of the Covid-19 virus - I saw one news program interviewing Scott Kelly, who spent like a year in space, to find out how astronauts deal with being in very small spaces for long periods of time.  And then there's a process where they have to re-connect with friends and family after long periods of isolation, and what does it all do to them, physically and mentally?

Obviously, the film doesn't have 79 days of time to completely depict Roy's journey, but his monologues do tell us that he probably does go a little nutso - and in the future, all psycho-analysis is done by talking to computers, so that also means it probably also relies on the honor system.  If you know what the computer wants to hear, it can be easy to want to provide that.  But we also know that Roy's incredibly calm under pressure, unlike some other astronauts I could name - no matter what happens, his vital signs never peak, and emotionally he's a rock, for the most part, anyway.  I guess that fits the profile if Daddy took off when he was a kid, and that toughened him up.  Add this one to the long list of movies I've seen about absent fathers and the grown-up children they create, I guess.

There's a larger question here, which of course concerns whether humans are alone in the universe.  What does that mean if the answer is no - what lengths will we go to in order to find another species on another planet, and are we even looking in the right places?  Will we ever be able to find someone else out there, and when we do, will we be able to communicate with them, or will they be ahead of us or behind in the process of evolution?  Will they eat us, or will we eat them?  And if the answer is yes, we're alone and there's no other intelligent life, what are the implications of that?  Is it up to humans to spread out and populate the universe, or at that point are we considered some kind of fluke, an accident that happened on our planet produced carbon-based life that is somehow unique?  Do we have more right to exist and expand, or none at all?  Even if this film doesn't supply all the answers, I applaud the attempt to raise the questions.

I see a lot of similarities to other films that I've enjoyed over the years - "2001: A Space Odyssey", first and foremost, because of the mission to the outer planets, and its sequel, "2010", for its mission to track down a previous spaceflight and figure out what went wrong.  Then there's "Contact", that film based on a Carl Sagan novel where Jodie Foster played the astronaut with some similar daddy issues.  "Interstellar", of course, raised some of the same questions about man's place in the universe, only it ultimately supplied more answers than "Ad Astra" did (or maybe just the opposite answer) and then throw in a little bit of "A Wrinkle in Time", which also had someone tracking down their absent father out in space.

The ultimate message, one that may be right on point for our current situation, is (I think) that sometimes you have to be alone for a long period of time in order to learn just how valuable your connections to family and friends are.  At the start of the film, Roy says things like "I will make only pragmatic decisions, I will not allow myself to be distracted. I will not relay on anyone or anything, I will not be vulnerable to mistakes."  After the events of the film, he's a changed man, and his final monologue is: "I am looking forward to the day my solitude ends....I'm unsure of the future but I'm not concerned.  I will rely on those closest to me, and I will share their burdens, as they share mine.  I will live and I will love."

If you can put aside the absurdity of this guy flying all the way to Neptune to find himself, I think there's some poignancy there.

Also starring Brad Pitt (last seen in "Exit Through the Gift Shop"), Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Always at the Carlyle"), Ruth Negga (last seen in "Loving"), Liv Tyler (last seen in "Dr. T & the Women"), Donald Sutherland (last seen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"), John Ortiz (last seen in "The Cloverfield Paradox"), Greg Bryk (last seen in "Immortals"), Loren Dean (last seen in "The Mule"), John Finn (last seen in "Gifted"), Kimberly Elise (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate"), Sean Blakemore, Bobby Nish, LisaGay Hamilton (last seen in "Vice"), Donnie Keshawarz, Freda Foh Shen (last heard in "Mulan II"), Ravi Kapoor (last seen in "Book Club"), Daniel Sauli (last seen in "Bleed for This"), Kimmy Shields.

RATING: 6 out of 10 lunar rovers

Friday, March 27, 2020

Uncut Gems

Year 12, Day 87 - 3/27/20 - Movie #3,490

BEFORE: Amid all the devastation, there's a glimmer of hope - it's not being well reported on, not as far as I can tell, but I did find an NPR article that described the fact that biotech companies are already searching for Covid-19 antibodies in the blood of people who have been exposed to the virus and have recovered.  Collectively, we should know by now that this process has worked before on other viruses, like SARS, and unfortunately, even with this plan, it's going to take months to develop proper anti-viral strategies or anything close to a vaccine.  But I'm left wondering why this process didn't start sooner, like if there were people in China who recovered from corona virus in December, couldn't the search through their blood have started in January instead of March?  Maybe it was an access problem, or an inability to find the right healthy people in rural China?  I don't know, you only need a few, I think, and they could have been flown to a lab in another country, right?

Anyway, I've given up on help coming from the President, who was reluctant for nearly a month to admit there even could possibly be a problem looming.  That's always the best way to prepare, right?  No, by all means, go play another round of golf while people are getting on planes in Asia and traveling all over the world spreading an illness.  What could possibly go wrong with that?  So now I'm hoping that science will come through, now I don't think any medicine should be distributed before it's properly tested, but maybe somebody can think of a way to shorten the testing and approval process from months down to weeks, while people are dying in such large numbers.  Just my feeling that this is the way to go.  Money sent to citizens and small business is no doubt appreciated, but I think money will accomplish the most if it's sent to the proper biotech firm.  While we're debating whether every crisis is also an opportunity, there's an opportunity here for somebody to become the next Jonas Salk or Alexander Fleming, and come up with the thing (anti-virus, vaccine, immune system booster) that's going to take down this invisible enemy.  That's what I hope for every morning now when I turn on the news.

Adam Sandler carries over from "Murder Mystery".


THE PLOT: With his debts mounting and angry collectors closing in, a fast-talking New York City jeweler risks everything in hope of staying afloat and alive.

AFTER: Well, leading out of "Murder Mystery", I think my choices were this film or "Dumplin'" with Jennifer Aniston, I think I made the right call.  People were buzzing about this one around Oscar time, mostly about the fact that it got zero nominations, though Sandler won the Best Male Lead from the Independent Spirit Awards.  A co-worker was disappointed that he didn't get an Oscar nom, but hey, comedy people always have an uphill battle where the Oscars are concerned.  (No Golden Globe nominations, either?  That seems a little shocking.).

Two problems where Adam Sandler is concered - first off, he's always going to be seen as Billy Madison, or Happy Gilmore, or that guy from "The Waterboy", no matter how old he ever gets to be. He did that to himself, he did silly characters for so long, a logical continuation of his work on SNL, of course, and nowadays we find Will Ferrell in the same boat.  After "Anchorman" and "Elf", do you think Ferrell will ever be nominated for an Oscar?  Very doubtful.  Steve Carell got an Oscar nom, but he's put in the time doing the transition to serious work in films like "Foxcatcher".  Sandler's been in the world of silly things for far too long to be considered.  Don't get me wrong, I admire the attempt.  But he's played silly characters for so long, I honestly couldn't tell if he was being serious as Howard Ratner, or if he was just playing another silly character, falling back on Jewish mannerisms and speech patterns.

And that's connected to the second problem - at every moment, in every scene, I was never able to forget that I was looking at Adam Sandler.  I've spent too much time watching his movies where he acts that same goofy, clueless way, and in some ways Howard Ratner is just an extension of that, which he's fallen back on so many times before.  Good acting involves making the audience forget, somehow, or at least not be constantly aware, that someone is an actor playing a part, reading written lines.  And because I was aware at every moment I was watching Adam Sandler, because he was so darn Adam Sandler-y, that I was also aware of him being an actor playing a part.  OK, maybe only 99% of the time.

But what really works here is the depiction of the gambler mentality, that feeling that somehow there's a magical combination of moving money (and in this case objects too) around that will produce the ultimate pay-off, the one that will allow him to never need to gamble any more.  Only he won't stop, because he's addicted, he's never going to stop, he's only going to keep going until he's super-rich or flat broke.  The question then becomes, where this film is concerned, which one is he going to be?

When we first meet Howard, it's clear that he's drawn to being on the edge, he must sort of get off on the danger of it all, because he walks around town placing bets, even though he knows (?) he's being followed and watched by people he owes money to.  It turns out that loan sharks you owe money to don't really like it when they see you placing a bet with another bookie - because if you have any money, you should be using it to pay down your debt with them, not making another, larger bet, to maybe get yourself out of the hole.  Which is a great metaphor, if you think about it, we say "being in the hole" when you're in debt.  If you're standing in a hole, and you keep digging, you're only going to make the hole deeper, right?  Keep that up long enough and you're just not going to be able to climb out.  You should be looking for ways to put more dirt back in the hole, even if you fill it up just a little at a time, you're adding dirt that you can eventually stand on to get out.

But Howard keeps on digging - he's made some arrangement to get an uncut opal delivered from Africa, and instead of keeping it hidden, he shows it to a high-profile sports client who wants to borrow it for luck, leaving his championship ring as collateral.  Howard turns right around and pawns that ring (which, umm, is not even his) to get more money to make a bet.  Every logical piece of my mind was screaming for him not to do this, but it's who he is.  Of course, if he loses that bet, then he doesn't have the money to get the ring back, then he can't get his opal back.  So naturally I thought I knew which way the film was heading, but then the deals become so much more complicated.

Generally speaking, Howard does many different things that conventional wisdom says not to do.  It's not really a smart idea to have both a wife and a girlfriend, but if you look around, some people do end up doing that in their lives.  It's not really a good idea to have that girlfriend working in your jewelry shop, or living in the apartment that you maintain in Manhattan in case you work late, but again, Howard seems drawn to the danger of it all somehow.  That creates a sense of building dread throughout the film - which eventually created an edge-of-my-seat reaction, similar to the one in "Marriage Story" during the part when (that thing) happens.

There's no connection to the current pandemic, but the film is all about stress and debt, so in that sense it couldn't be more timely.  I started describing the storyline to my wife today, and she just said, "No way am I watching that, life is stressful enough as it is right now!"

Several climactic scenes were filmed at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, a place I've been a few times.  They name-check the casino, of course, and a character travels there by helicopter to place a bet.  Great advertising for the casino, but factually incorrect, they don't have a sports book desk there, like the Atlantic City casinos do, just slots and table games.  There's a high-roller character in these scenes who nearly steals the whole movie with his smarmy charm - this guy looks and FEELS like someone who would take a helicopter to a casino, rent out the penthouse suite and then part with some serious cash playing poker or blackjack.  The actor's backstory is that he worked in the garment district in New York during the 1970's and 80's, designed dresses for Vanna White to wear on "Wheel of Fortune", and after retiring, happened to meet the directors of "Uncut Gems" at the famous Pete's Tavern in NYC's Greenwich Village.  Talk about a natural - unlike Adam Sandler, I believed 100% that this guy was his character. He came out of nowhere, may never have another part this great in another movie, but who cares?  He sure doesn't, and he looked like he was having fun.

Also starring Lakeith Stanfield (last seen in "Sorry to Bother You"), Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett, Idina Menzel (last seen in "Rent"), Eric Bogosian (last seen in "Rebel in the Rye"), Judd Hirsch (last seen in "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)"), Keith Williams Richards, Jonathan Aranbayev, Noa Fisher, The Weeknd (last seen in "Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall"), Mike Francesca, Jacob Igielski, Wayne Diamond, Josh Ostrovsky (last seen in "Nerve"), Ronald Greenberg, Marshall Greenberg, Hailey Gates (last seen in "Ricki and the Flash"), Benjy Kleiner, Tommy Kominik, Louis Anthony Arias, Keren Shemel, Sahar Bibiyan, Lana Levitin, with cameos from Pom Klementieff (last seen in "Avengers: Endgame"), John Amos, Ca$h Out, Trinidad James, and the voices of Natasha Lyonne (last seen in "Girlfriend's Day"), Tilda Swinton (also last seen in "Avengers: Endgame"), Doc Rivers.

RATING: 7 out of 10 fake Rolex watches

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Murder Mystery

Year 12, Day 86 - 3/26/20 - Movie #3,489

BEFORE: Yesterday I was put in the odd position of having to promote something on social media, in the middle of the Covid-19 virus spreading across America.  I wondered, "Is that even appropriate?"  But the shift has already happened - the car commercials were first, I think, promoting their new car models while at the same time offering incentives like no interest for four months "due to the current crisis".  Umm, gee, thanks, but since we're all homebound and can't go anywhere, who the hell needs a new car right now?  It won't be long before other advertising campaigns also adjust their pitches to take advantage of the crisis - streaming services, delivery services and internet services are already made in the shade, but soon every company will be running ads with heart-warming music and "heartfelt" messages of hope and togetherness.  Some MAYBE because it's the right thing to do, but others probably just don't want to be behind the curve - sending out messages of hope because it's "trendy", though?  That kind of doesn't seem right.

Then I got a text message from the Bernie Sanders campaign, telling me how much better Sanders' Corona virus response plan is than Biden's, how this underscores the need for Medicare for All, and this is what Bernie has been fighting for all his adult life.  OK, first off, screw off and remove me from your list. Secondly, he couldn't have been fighting this virus his whole life, because it's a new virus!  And finally, how dare you use this "crisis-opportunity" to advance your candidate, at a time when he should be considering dropping out of the race so there can be ONE Democrat left to rally all the party's support to defeat Trump!  If he really cared about America, he'd withdraw to increase the chances of Trump losing in November.  And why can't the campaign see that the optics of using the sickness and deaths of Americans to get ahead is absolutely shameless and terrible?

After that, I didn't feel as bad about promoting my boss's short film library, which made the School of Visual Arts' list of things for people to binge while quarantined.  If you want to see the list, it's here:

https://sva.edu/features/sva-watch-list-13-tv-shows-and-movies-to-binge-during-quarantine

And you can binge-watch the short films of animator Bill Plympton here:

http://www.shoutfactorytv.com/series/plymptoons

Also, one of his features, "Revengeance", which I worked on (and reviewed in this space last year) is available for FREE on Tubi, so why not watch it if you're stuck inside and looking for things to help pass the time?  It's here:

https://tubitv.com/movies/506250/revengeance

And here's (part of) what I'm watching to pass the time - last night after my movie, I watched the Netflix comedy special "Marc Maron - End Times Fun" and there were some incredibly dead-on jokes about how humans have broken the planet, trendy dietary supplements, why Iron Man is like nerd Jesus, and the fact we all need to do more than stop using plastic straws and bringing our own bags to the store.  Yes, there were authors who predicted a pandemic in various books - but how many stand-up comics had a themed special ready to go?  Just one anxious, very lucky guy.

I also binge-watched "Kidding" Season 2 on Showtime, and now I've started "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" Season 7 on Disney+.  Thankfully "Top Chef" is back, and "Survivor" and "The Masked Singer" are continuing, both must have shot their whole seasons before the crisis.  The late night shows are either still on break or are now unwatchable with no audience to laugh at the jokes - but hey, there's always "Jeopardy!" and FOX's Sunday animation line-up to distract me from the news.  If I stay up late watching MSNBC or CNN, I just get depressed.  I'm hoping against hope for some better news soon, but I'm not sure when it's going to arrive.

Olafur Darri Olafsson carries over from "The Spy Who Dumped Me", where he played the crucial role of "Finnish backpacker".  In retrospect, maybe this film could have fit somewhere in the romance chain but it didn't - probably for these three reasons: A) I didn't realize it centered on a couple going on a trip to celebrate their anniversary B) that would have made the romance chain longer, and it was already too long and C) if I had, then I wouldn't have had this film here, and I wouldn't be able to link to tomorrow's film.  So there you go.


THE PLOT: A New York cop and his wife go on a European vacation to reinvigorate the spark in their marriage, but end up getting framed for the death of an elderly billionaire and are forced to go on the run.

AFTER: OK, so now for at least an hour and a half every day, my scheduled movie is a time where I get to stop thinking about the pandemic.  Stress can come back during my dreams at night, that's fine, but just leave me alone during movie time, OK?  Look, I don't know when movie theaters are coming back, just tell me that I've got a chance of seeing "Black Widow" and "The New Mutants" before October, and I'll be OK with that.  Or if they get released to Disney+ and I watch them that way, I'm cool with that, too.  In the meantime, I can keep chipping away at the Netflix queue and reducing my watchlist while I'm also "reducing the spread" by not leaving the house.  (It's not really the right term, because thankfully I'm not sick, so by leaving the house I won't spread anything, but then again, I won't catch anything either, and then I can't spread THAT.  But really, I'm staying inside because I don't want to die, or be held responsible for spreading anything to someone who will die.  So how about, "Just stay home and don't be a dick"?)

Tonight we're off again to Europe, virtually, of course, because nobody sane is flying there for real right now.  Like yesterday's film, this is about two normal Americans who get caught up in some intrigue and fly to Europe (umm, only not in the same order).  Here's it's a married couple, Sandler plays a cop who hasn't told his wife that he's failed the detective exam several times, and can't really shoot a gun worth a damn.  Umm, yeah, so not much respect for our first responders today, that's not good.  His wife is a hair stylist who's upset that they've never gotten around to taking that European vacation that was supposed to be their honeymoon, and now 15 years have gone by.  Right, she's never once complained about this in 15 years, or done anything to help make it happen?  That seems a little hard to believe.  OK, so they were busy, it's tough to save up the money, but come on, both of you, do SOMETHING, just put aside $100 a month and then maybe you've got it after like three years...

While on the flight to Italy (?) Mrs. Spitz sneaks in to first class and catches the eye of Lord Cavendish, who seems like one of the bad rich guys in the crime novels that she frequently reads.  He invites them both to his yacht, where his even richer uncle, Malcolm Quince, is throwing a party to celebrate his engagement to his nephew's former girlfriend.  A whole colorful cast of characters is on board the yacht, including Quince's son, an actress, an African colonel, a Maharajah, an Italian racecar driver, the colonel's bodyguard, and Quince's fiancée.  When the lights go out and Quince is killed, which person killed him?  It's a bit like "Clue" or "The Orient Express" with a list of suspects so diverse and colorful.

But when the yacht reaches Monte Carlo, the Inspector on the case interviews everyone, and decides to focus on the two people who weren't supposed to even be there, the Spitzes.  This is a bit illogical, because they have no motive for murder, and the room is otherwise filled with people who could have either inherited Quince's fortune or become dis-inherited if he signed a new will.  But for the purposes of comedy, the Spitzes have to be chased across Europe as they investigate the others and figure out who benefited the most by killing Quince, and having the Americans be blamed for it.

It's a little formulaic to cross off the suspects one by one, and this process is made even easier when a few more get killed, but eventually a cop and a crime-novel fan are able to piece everything together and come up with the solution that makes the most sense.  The cop also gets the chance to prove that he deserves the rank of detective, which I'll admit was a nice touch.  Ending with a car chase is also very formulaic, but it gets the job done.  All in all, it's probably one of the better movies that was released as part of Sandler's Netflix deal.

Also starring Adam Sandler (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation"), Jennifer Aniston (last seen in "She's Funny That Way"), Luke Evans (last seen in "Professor Marston & the Wonder Women"), Terence Stamp (last seen in "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children"), Gemma Arterton (last seen in "The Voices"), David Walliams (last seen in "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"), Dany Boon (last seen in "Joyeux Noel"), John Kani (last seen in "Black Panther"), Adeel Akhtar (last seen in "The Big Sick"), Luis Gerardo Mendez, Shiori Kutsuna (last seen in "Deadpool 2"), Erik Griffin (last seen in "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates"), Sufe Bradshaw, Molly McNearney, Nicole Randall Johnson (last seen in "In Her Shoes"), Andrea Bendewald, Victor Turpin, Simon Sinn (last seen in "Where the Truth Lies"), Jackie Sandler (last seen in "The Week Of"), Allen Covert (last seen in "Sandy Wexler").

RATING: 5 out of 10 smoke rings

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Year 12, Day 85 - 3/25/20 - Movie #3,488

BEFORE: It's only Day 5 or so at home, and already the days are starting to run together - if I didn't have my movies to help me delineate, I don't think I'd even know what day it is.  I think on some level before the virus crisis, if you'd told me I didn't have to go to work, I could sleep late every day, and my main concern each day would be figuring out what to read or watch to entertain myself, that would have sounded pretty good.  But without the main responsibility of getting up and going to work, a strange effect takes over, and it's harder to recognize the preferred, leisurely parts of the day when they take up the whole day.  Add in the stress and anxiety caused by the news, and you get this weird combination of fear, dread, boredom and ennui.  Playing video-games in the early morning hours helps some, but that's like a temporary fix - the larger problems are still there.  I should make a list of things to improve around the house, because without some kind of structure, my days are already starting to seem aimless.  I guess we'll see what kind of news tomorrow brings, and then next week...

It's four in a row for Kate McKinnon as she carries over from "Ferdinand".  She's also in the film "Yesterday", which is on my watchlist, but I'm saving that one, because I may need it in December to connect the Christmas movies on my list.


THE PLOT: Audrey and Morgan are best friends who unwittingly become entangled in an international conspiracy when one of them discovers the boyfriend who dumped her was actually a spy.

AFTER: Maybe it's the isolation affecting me, but this one didn't seem that bad, and honestly I was preparing for the worst.  I guess maybe if you prepare yourself for the worst, sometimes an OK film can then surpass your expectations?  It's a case of aiming really low, I think, which makes it easier to succeed?  I'm not sure.  But I didn't hate this one.

Obviously it's got a (probably) overly simplistic view of intelligence work, but hey, so did "Johnny English Strikes Again".  Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, it just becomes a matter of figuring which is which - when in reality I'm guessing that things are probably more complex.  And no, having double agents or someone who was THOUGHT to be a good guy being revealed as a bad guy doesn't count as more complex, it's just the same simplicity, only doubled.  Think about the CIA, for example, does it do good things for America or bad things?  I don't know, maybe a little bit of both?  Maybe that depends on your nationality or your point of view?  All I'm saying is, if I found out that somebody I knew works for the CIA, I wouldn't automatically mentally picture him wearing a white hat. Real-life situations don't get to be simple, but a film can tell us any potentially inaccurate thing it wants about how spies work.

This film is about two normal American women who run into international intrigue, and aren't sure whom to trust, or believe.  They all want something left behind by Audrey's boyfriend, who gets outed as a CIA agent by other CIA agents, and right there that should be a red flag.  Someone's not who they say they are, or somebody's a double agent, so Audrey and Morgan fly to Europe to make the delivery that Audrey's ex was going to make, and from their they stumble their way through a world of gadgets, weapons, torture and a Cirque du Soleil performance.  (That almost sounds repetitive, isn't a Cirque du Soleil show a form of torture?)

For a minute, I was willing to entertain that Morgan was an embedded Russian agent or something - why did I think this?  Because at one point, just before they fly off to Vienna, she reminds her friend Audrey that their friendship is real, and that she's not some secret agent who befriended her as a teen and has been concealing her true identity for 10 years.  "Hmm," I thought, "what an oddly specific thing to deny in a conversation.  Let's put a pin in that idea and see if it surfaces later as a plot point." Nah, it wasn't to be - but still, why point that out in a bit of dialogue?  Red herring, I guess.

Maybe it's all the Grand Theft Auto I've been playing, but some of the jokes really landed for me - like when the girls jack a car from a well-dressed couple, then get in and realize that it's a stick-shift, and neither one knows how to drive it.  The car sort of rolls away slowly, because they can't get it into gear, and the couple is walking along beside the car, banging on the windows to try to get their car back.  Hilarious, and unexpected - never seen a joke like that in an action film before, not even a parody spy film.  So often a character needs a car, takes one, and everything from there works perfectly, they never even need to adjust the seat or the mirrors, but think about it, all that would probably have to happen when you take someone else's car.

Sure, there are things that seem pretty far-fetched, but for the most part, that's OK, it's a movie, not meant to be any sort of really informative guide on how things like cell phone tracking, code decryption and using stolen passports really works.  I guess go in like I did, not expecting a lot, and maybe then you'll find more entertainment than you planned on.  Just a thought on how to approach it.

Also starring Mila Kunis (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), Sam Heughan, Justin Theroux (last seen in "Joker"), Gillian Anderson (last seen in "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"), Hasan Minhaj (last seen in "Rough Night"), Ivanna Sakhno (last seen in "Pacific Rim: Uprising"), Fred Melamed (last seen in "Lemon"), Jane Curtin (last seen in "Can You Ever Forgive Me?"), Paul Reiser (last seen in "The Little Hours"), Lolly Adefope, Kev Adams, Olafur Darri Olafsson (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World"), Tom Stourton, James Fleet (also last seen in "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"), Carolyn Pickles (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"), Mirjam Novak, Dustin Demri-Burns.

RATING: 6 out of 10 songs on the jukebox

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Ferdinand

Year 12, Day 84 - 3/24/20 - Movie #3,487

BEFORE: I'm doubling up today on animated films - this was always part of the plan, even before I was stuck at home, unable to get on the subway to go to work.  This sheltering-at-home thing is a complete pain, but it at least gives me the opportunity to watch more movies if I want to.  I figured the movies for kids are usually shorter, because of their reduced attention spans, why not turn that to my advantage?  This is also the second of two films that was once part of last October's chain, the plan was to connect a few horror films that couldn't connect any other way, only then I found the other way.  So let's clear "Leap!" and this one off the board today, OK?

Kate McKinnon carries over again from "Leap!" - at least, I think she does, it was honestly hard to get a valid list of credits for that movie.  Why did everything about that production have to be so damn confusing?


THE PLOT: After Ferdinand, a bull with a big heart, is mistaken for a dangerous beast, he is captured and torn from his home.  Determined to return to his family, he rallies a misfit team on the ultimate adventure.

AFTER: Hmm, this is better than "Leap!", that's for sure.  But there are still some strange story choices made here - I'm going to try to be nice because I've got a friend working over at Blue Sky and she's credited as a story editor here, one of many, but still, I don't want to hurt her feelings.

First off, bullfighting?  That's an odd choice for a kids movie - you know that the bulls always die, right?  The matadors always win and every match always ends with a ritual stabbing and the death of the bulls.  That's the sport.  Secondly, why is bullfighting still a thing, in this day and age?  This is set in Spain, and I know old traditions die hard, but come on, already, there's no place for this in the new millennium, who's with me?

To this film's credit, Ferdinand eventually figures out that the bulls never win, and to be sent to the ring is a death sentence - up until this point in the movie, the bulls were competing with each other for the privilege of being in the bullfight, because that's what bulls do, they fight.  And then they just never come back.  The alternative, if not selected for the bullfight, is to be sent to the "chophouse", so on some level, the bulls also know that they're potential food, "chophouse" being a relatively mild way of saying "slaughterhouse".  Again, what is this doing in a movie for kids?  OK, some kids are really hip and vegetarian and take stands against animal cruelty, but I'm thinking only a small percentage of them are that enlightened.  Was this meant to be here to get more kids to come around to that way of thinking?  Because it's all presented here so matter-of-factly that I can't tell.

I guess this is a metaphor for bullying, and I can't quite decide if that's ironic or not.  Because young Ferdinand is on the smaller side, and he likes to smell flowers and not fight, so he and the other smaller bulls get bullied by the larger young bulls.  Then after Ferdinand runs away from the ranch and spends time on a flower farm, he grows to be larger than the other bulls.  This is both a good thing and a bad thing, bad because when he follows his new owners to the flower festival, he ends up causing so much destruction in the town (literally, a bull in a china shop becomes a disaster) that he's mistaken for a dangerous bull, which he isn't, and gets sent back to the ranch where he was born.

At first, he's still bullied by the bull that bullied him when he was a younger bull, but then all the bulls unite against the bigger bully, which is man.  The champion matador comes to the ranch to pick the last bull he will face before he retires, and he also mistakes Ferdinand as the toughest bull, just because he's the biggest - he also catches him knocking the horn off of Valiente, the bully bull.  Ferdinand manages to rescue Valiente and another bull, Guapo, from the "chophouse" before they all take off in a truck with Ferdinand's trainer (a "calming goat" who also happens to be a screaming goat, not sure how to resolve that one) and three hedgehog sidekicks who also helped him.

The bulls take a truck to a train (this whole chase sequence was super-confusing, plus I'd pretty much tuned out by that point) and most escape, but Ferdinand is re-captured and finally sent to the bullfighting ring to face that retiring matador.  Instead of fighting back against the matador, Ferdinand becomes the first bull ever to survive the ring by offering only passive resistance.  I approve of the solution, because fighting back against a bully shouldn't be seen as the answer, but in the real world being passive isn't usually going to work either, but I guess they could only bend the story points so far, and a proper resolution that would also be a workable anti-bullying solution didn't present itself.

If I'm being really nitpicky, I found some of the voices to be very similar, especially John Cena as Ferdinand and Jerrod Carmichael (as Paco, a farm dog).  When those two characters spoke to each other, I couldn't distinguish the two voices, it sounded like someone having a conversation with himself.  Someone should have noticed this during the recording process and asked one of them to change it up a little.  But it seems like John Cena was a replacement for Adam Devine, so perhaps these characters sounded more distinct at one stage of production, then a casting change created this problem.

NITPICK POINT: I didn't quite get why the horses in Spain had German accents - I kind of understood why they danced, because I'm familiar with the famous Lipizzan (or Lipizzaner) horses, which is a breed that actually originated in Slovenia.  A little research into history, however, tells me that the Lipizzans were first bred by the Habsburgs in the 16th century, a time when they ruled both Spain and Austria.  They took Spanish Andalusian horses and cross-bred them with Arabian ones to create the new breed.  The famous training ground for the horses still exists in Vienna, and it's called the Spanish Riding School.  But I'm still scratching my head over this, it seems to me like these horses should be in Austria with Spanish accents, not in Spain with Austrian accents.  Right?

Also starring the voices of John Cena (last seen in "Daddy's Home 2"), Bobby Cannavale (last seen in "Happy Endings"), Peyton Manning, Anthony Anderson (last seen in "Grudge Match"), David Tennant (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World"), Tim Nordquist, Lily Day, Jerrod Carmichael (last seen in "The Meddler"), Miguel Angel Silvestre, Gina Rodriguez (last heard in "Smallfoot"), Daveed Diggs (last seen in "Velvet Buzzsaw"), Gabriel Iglesias (last heard in "The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature"), Flula Borg (last heard in "Ralph Breaks the Internet"), Boris Kodjoe, Sally Phillips (last seen in "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"), Jeremy Sisto (last seen in "Clueless"), Cindy Slattery (last heard in "Rio 2"), Raul Esparza, Colin H. Murphy, Jack Gore, Jet Jurgensmeyer, Nile Diaz, Julia Scarpa Saldanha.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Pitbull remixes

Leap!

Year 12, Day 84 - 3/24/20 - Movie #3,486

BEFORE: Ah, here was the dilemma - how do I follow up "Bombshell", with a cast of hundreds, so many possible paths I could take - as I said yesterday, I first saw the easy path that would take me straight to "Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood" via Margot Robbie.  I didn't want to take that easy path, because that would create too many wasted opportunities.  Even color-mapping out all the possible paths I could take was no help, because I could have followed up today with another film that had Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Alice Eve, Stephen Root - seriously, I had like 25 possible choices other than the one I'm making.  So, what to do?  The only way to figure something like this out, I've learned, is to have a destination in mind - in this case, it's Hitler's birthday  Which path gets me to watch some World War II-related material on April 20?  I played around with a lot of different possibilities before I found a very complicated path through the movies on my watchlist, and eventually found the right path, one that also gets me to where I need to be on Mother's Day, and in a few weeks I'll figure out the path to Father's Day, I've already got something of a rough head-start.

This choice also has another advantage, it gets me to watch two films that had previously been part of last October's schedule, but both got shelved in favor of more appropriate horror-themed material.  So now those two films are back on the schedule, and getting crossed off my list.  Now, the cast list is a bit questionable, because the IMDB and Wikipedia both point out that there are several versions of this film, and in some cases the European version (which is titled "Ballerina") uses different voices than the U.S. release.  I had this same problem with "My Life as a Zucchini" a couple years ago.  So I've got to figure out which version I saw, and whose voices were used.  But one think I think I know for sure is that the voice of Kate McKinnon carries over from "Bombshell"


THE PLOT: An orphan girl dreams of becoming a ballerina and flees her rural Brittany for Paris, where she passes for someone else and accedes to the position of pupil at the Grand Opera House.

AFTER: Look, I'm trying to be kind here, but everything about this film seems like a bit of a mess.  It's got two different titles, different voice casts for releases in different countries, and I haven't even gotten to the story problems yet.  How the hell do you market something that has so many different versions?  When I choose this one on Netflix, or order it on demand, or sit down to watch the DVD, what version am I watching?  If a film is strong enough, it only needs to be made once, and the simple fact that some other actors had to come in and re-voice some characters, that means there were problems.  Maybe some actors didn't sound "European" enough, or "American" enough, but those are problems that should have been solved in advance, at the casting stage.  Or maybe you get a voice actor to record every line twice, once with a strong French accent, and one with no accent - any talented voice actor should be able to handle that.  So it just feels like confusion across the board.

Now, let's get to that story.  An orphaned girl in France has unrealistic dreams about becoming a ballerina.  Yes, I said unrealistic - because I think a big problem with the way that we're raising children these days is that we tell them that they can do anything they want.  Umm, sorry, no, they can't.  A kid can grow up and do almost everything, but you just can't say "anything" - there's always that weird kid who wants to be a tree or an elephant, and come on, you've got to draw the line somewhere.  The classic example is that we say that any kid can grow up to be President, and come on, we all know that's not true.  We've proven over the last few primaries that the odds are stacked against anyone who isn't an old, white male with connections, right?  So why do we give false hopes to inner city minority kids?  Obama, right, but I don't think he's really the exception that proves the rule.

The truth is, kids, you're going to try a few different jobs when you're a teen and you may fail at a couple of them, and then slowly you're going to develop a certain skill set, or realize that you have an affinity for something, be it accounting or gardening or cooking, and then you'll get locked in to a certain dead-end career that you'll probably hate, and then you'll have a mid-life crisis, maybe change careers, there'll be some adjustments made, and then maybe a second career that you might also hate. True happiness comes from within, not from success as a ballerina or four-star chef or rock star or whatever.  Eventually you'll realize that the impossible dream you had as a kid is just that, an impossible dream - someone's going to make it happen, that's a given, but it may not be you.  Then you have to watch as someone else lives out your childhood fantasy, but if you're lucky you've built up the mental capacity to accept that reality, and a support system through which you find some kind of contentment.  Just keeping it real.

Now, I don't really expect a children's film to adopt all that as its mantra, because it's complicated and doesn't really fit in a short synopsis, but all that rings truer to me than any sort of animated fantasy.  "Leap!" ends up being like a Hollywood rom-com, by that I mean it has a "everything's going to work out" turn of events that I think has no reflection of the real world.  I know, I know, let the kids have a few years before their dreams get crushed, but I think if we prepare them early, just maybe we can cushion the blow.

So, anyway, this orphan girl heads off for Paris, along with another orphan, Victor, who wants to become a famous inventor, or engineer, or something.  He's got this set of wings that he built, that he thinks will enable him to fly, and now we're getting close to a metaphor, I think.  Her dreams of being a famous ballet dancer are just as unrealistic as his dream to fly with mechanical wings - only wouldn't you know it, his wings (eventually) work.  But again, I think this is a terrible idea, because personal flying wings DON'T work in the real world, why should we make kids think that they do?  The worst-case scenario here is that a kid will go out and build their own wings, jump off of a roof, then get injured or die.  How did this get approved as a story point?  It's reckless and potentially dangerous!  If that "Peter Rabbit" movie got in trouble for showing the main character attack the farmer with berries that he was allergic to, this film should have also come with a warning label!

I also have to take an issue with the fact that Felicie basically steals another girl's identity, just to get an audition for the ballet school.  I mean, the plot dictates that she has to get into the school, because that will provide the character with a place to live, her meals, etc.  She works her way in at first by helping out the cleaning woman, which is a message I can get behind, that hard work gets your foot in the door, but when she sees the opportunity to steal the "mean" girl's identity and her audition slot, she takes it - what kind of message does that send out to young girls, that's it's OK to step on someone else's dreams in pursuit of your own, especially if they were mean to you?  Not cool.

Another irresponsible thing (apart from telling kids they can fly with mechanical wings, or they can be anything they want to be) is related to the character design.  All of the ballerinas are depicted as very thin, like with very thin limbs, and giant heads.  Really?  Isn't there already enough pressure put on children to conform to some imaginary version of physical perfection, and aren't dancers (like ballerinas) under constant pressure to look thin, and doesn't this cause eating disorders in that line of work?  Jesus, what the heck were they thinking?  And how do these really thin bodies support those giant heads?  Just irresponsible, across the board, I don't know what else to say.

Ah, the IMDB tells me that this movie was originally distributed in the U.S. by the Weinstein Company, and maybe that explains a lot.  Quality control might have been lax, because that company was having a lot of problems relating to its chief executive being sued for sexual harassment?  That explains some of the problems, perhaps, but I think story problems and casting problems run a bit deeper, you have to look back to the original animation company for those.

Also starring the voices of Elle Fanning (last seen in "Mary Shelley"), Nat Wolff (last seen in "Home Again"), Maddie Ziegler (last seen in "The Book of Henry"), Carly Rae Jepsen, Terrence Scammell, Mel Brooks (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation"), Joe Sheridan (last seen in "Moonwalkers"), Elana Dunkelman, Stephanie Sanditz.

RATING: 3 out of 10 pirouettes