Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Into the Wild

Year 9, Day 228 - 8/16/17 - Movie #2,717

BEFORE: It may seem a bit weird, but I've got the rest of the year pretty well figured out now, the films are locked in and I can take a 3-week break in September, then some time off in October for New York Comic-Con AND a road trip down South if all goes well, and then I can wrap things up in November and December with a little time to spare.  And the path is going to take me through 4 big-ticket films that will be released in theaters: "Blade Runner 2049", "Justice League", "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".  Now to get there, I've got to do a little more bouncing around between the films I've taped off cable (or am planning to), my access to a few key Academy screeners, and a few more films on Netflix.  However, this will only work if I break down and watch the "Hunger Games" films in November at a certain point - right now they don't all seem to be available on any one platform, not at a reasonable price, anyway, so near the end of October I'll have to figure out the best way to see them.  (Man, I sure do miss that $5 DVD store I used to shop at...)

But when I was putting together this chain, maybe about 6 weeks ago, I paused to think if there were any notable films that might also be missing from my plan - films that I've been meaning to see or had some interest in, but that just haven't seemed to be available.  I thought of two films that I've been anxiously waiting for some cable channel to run over the last, say, five years - but they never seem to come around.  One is "Into the Wild" and the other is "Drive" - now it turns out they're both available on iTunes, and I'm willing to lay out the $3.99 for either of them, only that means that I don't get to own a copy or put them in the permanent collection.  I don't feel I can wait any longer, since you never know when a film can disappear from a streaming service, it seems.  So I set out to work these two films into the mix somehow.

Now, since I've got some other Ryan Gosling films coming up ("The Nice Guys", "Blade Runner 2049" and I can borrow the Academy screener of "La La Land") it would seem that November would be an ideal time to watch "Drive" on iTunes.  But since Zach Galifianakis has a small role here, and can carry over from "Keeping Up With the Jones" for his fourth film in a row, there's no time like the present to watch "Into the Wild".  Seriously, why don't certain films that I want to see run on cable?  I've got like, all the channels.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Wild" (Movie #2,581)

THE PLOT: After graduating from college, Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his savings to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness.  Along the way, he encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

AFTER: Now I think I know why this doesn't run on premium cable, it's too damn long.  Two and a half hours?  It probably can't fit into any programming block on HBO or Showtime, or some cable network executives don't believe that a viewer will sit and watch anything of that length.  Meanwhile, the millennials today will binge-watch a new series, maybe 18 episodes all at once, so go figure that one out.

My next issue, and this ties in with it being too long, is that there's a lot of repetitive stuff here - don't get me wrong, the scenery is gorgeous, but how many times can we watch Chris (aka "Alexander Supertramp") hike up a mountain and then be stunned - absolutely awestruck - by the impressive view?  This loses its effectiveness somewhere around the 3rd or 4th time - maybe a few of these could have been cut, and the film's running time could have been brought down under two hours?  Just putting that out there.

Now, my famous pet peeve, Chris' itinerary, his route to Alaska, plays out completely out of order, which is usually a sure sign that someone wrote the screenplay in order, and realized there were long stretches of boring parts.  The easiest solution is to take the most exciting parts, in this case Chris arriving in Alaska and finding the "magic bus" to use as a shelter - from then on, we flashback to him graduating from college, and then burning all his bridges and going walkabout.  From then on, the film sort of toggles between his time in Alaska as an "experienced" outdoorsman, and the period crossing the country, making friends and gaining the skills he's going to eventually need in Alaska.

Really, I don't get it - why not play the film out as a linear narrative, which would not only make it easier for the audience to follow along, but also make it feel like more of a powerful accomplishment when he finally gets there?  Instead, the filmmakers tip their hand, we already KNOW he's going to get to Alaska, so whatever build-up or suspense about whether he may or may not succeed was dispatched within the first 5 minutes of the film.  This would be like a bit starting the first "Lord of the Rings" film with a scene where Frodo and Sam are about to throw the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom, then flashing back to the Shire where Gandalf comes to visit.  It doesn't make sense, but so many films are doing this these days. 

What would be the problem with charting the course that Chris takes across the country, from Atlanta to South Dakota to Colorado, down to Mexico and then north to Los Angeles in the proper order?  Wouldn't we as an audience feel more invested, like we're along for the ride, unsure of whether he's ever going to make it to Alaska?  Again, I can only surmise that someone edited the film this way, and it was as boring as dirt.  Jumbling up the pieces, making me do the work to put the story in proper order, it's an editing crutch.  Going non-linear with the narrative allows for more editing possibilities, and the director then doesn't have to do as much work to set up expectations and then either fulfill or deny them, it's a cheap fix for covering over the boring parts, because he can just cut to some exciting outdoor action whenever things start to slow down.  Why make any attempt to follow classic 6-act structure if we can just jump around in time at will?  Rules were meant to be broken, right?  Sure, if you're OK with subverting reality and making it more difficult for people to follow along. 

I say this as someone who's currently planning a road trip, from Dallas to Memphis to Nashville.  Maybe it's just me, but I want to do things in the most efficient way possible.  I know there are people who do things like driving cross-country, or taking their RV to every state in the lower 48 - and I admire the people who do this in the most efficient way possible.  And those people who try to visit every baseball stadium in the country in the minimum number of days, that's the kind of thing that really impresses me.  Heading out on the road without any sort of plan, to just see where life takes you, I don't think I could do that, it's just not in my nature. 

There's a lot to like about the character of Christopher McCandless, but if I'm being honest, there's a lot I don't like about him too.  I get that he had issues with his family, and then also issues with the materialism of society as a whole, but I'm guessing there's probably a way to appreciate nature without destroying your IDs, giving away all your money and going completely off the grid.  Also, it seems like he did all this not to grow as a person or learn to be self-sufficient, but to lord it over everyone else.  Environmentalists as a whole might find their message travels better if they don't act so damn self-righteous about it. 

Like, take vegetarians - if they convert to a diet of whole grains, fruits and nuts because they want to be healthier, that's fine, I can get behind that.  But if they do it to champion the cause and claim that they're then "better" than everyone else, now we've got a problem.  If you want to drop out of society and live out of a camper and follow Phish around, that's fine if that's the lifestyle you want.  But don't do it so you can live a life where you're constantly patting yourself on the back for being more natural or less wasteful or more liberal or whatever, because there's a really fine line between being a free spirit and being a hobo.  We have people in NYC who live off the grid, we call them "homeless people". 

I'll admit that Chris took a hands-on approach, he made sure that he had the skills to trap and butcher animals, plus he learned things like leatherworking and amateur botany along the way, so that he could survive in the wild (umm, up to a point at least...) but that attitude of self-sufficiency seems to have run counter to things like hitchhiking, or accepting food from strangers.  Or working in a fast-food restaurant in order to get enough money for the next leg of your journey - congratulations, now you're a corporate shill, how does that jibe with your plan to live off the grid? 

Also, was it really the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness that attracted him, based on Jack London's novels, or was that just the farthest place he could think to go, in order to put the most distance between him and his parents?  Perhaps there are many people who fantasize about dropping out of society, not telling friends and family where they're going, and then opening up a little surf shack in Maui or something - but it's just not fair to friends and family, who then won't ever be sure if they're alive or dead.

Since I'll never know the real Chris, maybe it's just an actor's choice in how to play him, but he comes off like a real prick here, someone who threw away his education and instead of getting a job and maybe working for things, he gave everything away and essentially disappeared, just to get back at his parents.  I mean, that's a long way to go to make a point, giving up every bit of opportunity and every relationship you've nurtured, not to mention every modern convenience that was invented to make human life better, just to stick it to Mom and Dad.  Why, because they used to yell at each other?  They didn't tell you the complete truth about the family dynamic?  They didn't hug you enough?  Give me a break. 

And the solution is to divest yourself of any promise of comfort or routine, just to throw yourself into the wind, because you're somehow not cut out for a 9-to-5 job?  And now it's up to every stranger you encounter to give you a ride, or a hot meal, because you're above it all?  This is what's wrong with millennials (Chris was a bit ahead of his time, but work with me here...), they think that the world owes them something, they don't want to work hard for "the man" but still think they deserve to be paid.  For what, carrying your guitar around town?  Falling off your skateboards?  Handing out leaflets about social injustice?  Back in my day, you got out of college and started looking for a job, not a path to go live in the wilderness or a bunch of people to form a drum circle with. 

By the time these social drifters hit 40 and realize that they didn't spend the last 2 decades crawling their way up to middle management, it's going to be too late, they won't have a retirement account or a work history or any accomplishments, really.  Congratulations, you went to Burning Man 8 years in a row, but what skills did you learn there that will help you run this bookstore?  And do you think you could maybe wait on customers without telling them that they're part of the imperialist regime, and that they need to do a juice cleanse? 

Maybe it's just that I've never had a good time camping - both times I went out to sleep in a tent somewhere, the results were disastrous.  Finally I realized that my ancestors invented "indoors" for a reason, and it was probably a good one.  Would I rather go camping or stay in a hotel where I probably won't get rained on or eaten by wild animals?  Which one of us has access to running water and a working toilet?  Sure, when you're out in the middle of the woods and you're having a reaction to some wild berries you ate, suddenly you realize that living in a city, where there are hospitals with emergency rooms, isn't such a bad idea.  Hey, you live by the sword, you die by the sword. 

Also starring Emile Hirsch (last seen in "Savages"), William Hurt (last seen in "Mr. Brooks"), Marcia Gay Harden (last seen in "The Hoax"), Catherine Keener (last heard in "The Croods"), Jena Malone (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Vince Vaughn (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Café Society"), Hal Holbrook (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Brian H. Dierker, Steven Wiig, Thure Lindhardt, Signe Egholm Olsen, Robin Matthews.

RATING: 5 out of 10 freight train cars

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Year 9, Day 227 - 8/15/17 - Movie #2,716

BEFORE: My wife and I have been planning a late October getaway that would take us on a road trip from Dallas to Nashville, hitting the last day of the Texas State Fair, and as many BBQ restaurants along the way as we choose to deem acceptable.  I know there's plenty of great food in Memphis and Little Rock also, thanks to all the BBQ and other food-related shows I watch.  We're just a little short on ideas about fun things to do in Nashville, since neither of us care for country music, but I'm sure something will come up.  By then we should be really close to Halloween, so we could just find a haunted hayride or a spooky pub crawl and be done with it.

But this does affect my plans a little bit - I've got to stay on track now so that I can take the time off.  Plus when early October comes I may have to watch 2 or even 3 films per night for a while so that I can have a free week at the end of the month.  I'd already stripped down my horror-movie plans to allow time off for New York Comic-Con, and I already had a few free October days at the end, so now I just have to make sure that I can clear a whole week.  It should be fine.

Zach Galifianakis carries over again, this makes three in a row for him, and tomorrow I make it four before moving on to other things through another link.

THE PLOT: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

AFTER: I think part of the problem with my last two films was a lack of contrast - if every character in a movie is weird or off in a similar way, it does create a constant tone, but without contrast a story can seem a little flat.  In "Masterminds" every character was bumbling or eccentric, and it's a mistake sometimes in comedy to think that "more is more" when it comes to making things silly.  When you have contrast, there's a greater chance for conflict, and comedy comes from that.  So here we have Zach Galifianakis playing a similar character - he's well-intentioned, naive, bordering on dumb, but essentially just a regular guy with a normal wife.  You put those two up against some super-spies as foil characters, now it sort of feels like we're getting somewhere.  We've got someone to compare the dumb nice guy to, someone suave and slick and deceptive, and we've got a game.

Same goes for the wife, she's nice, simple, attractive but not overwhelmingly so, and you put her up against Gal Gadot, now we've got some compare and contrast, it's just more interesting.  They can now set up a "fish out of water" storyline as the normals get pulled into this world of international intrigue (even though I don't think they ever leave Atlanta, somehow it's still international intrigue).

I feel like I should probably pay more attention to who directed each film I watch - most of the time I don't even bother to look up the director's name, but isn't that vitally important in the end?  It seems like when I was setting up the template for the format I've used for almost 9 years now, it seems like I didn't think this would ever come up.  But knowing that the director of "Masterminds" also directed "Napoleon Dynamite", and the director of today's film also directed "Superbad", "Adventureland" and "Paul" seems rather important in retrospect.  You can't always tell what kind of film you're going to get by considering what that director has made before, but it couldn't hurt to think about that.

In other Jon Hamm news, I'm almost done with the sixth season (out of seven) of "Mad Men".  I've grown tired of waiting for AMC on Demand to post 4 more episodes every 2 weeks - besides, they often skip episodes (the horror) or forget to make them available at all (lazy!) so I'm going to watch the rest of the episodes on Netflix, even though Netflix does that horrible thing where they start playing the next episode before the credits are done on the one I'm currently watching (very annoying!).  But at least this way I can watch them without ads or audio drop-out, there was even one episode on AMC on Demand that put commercial breaks in the MIDDLE of a scene - who the heck edited that?

NITPICK POINT: What person in their right mind, even someone who specializes in Human Resources, have no idea what the company works for even does?  I mean, HR is universal, if you know the rules and systems you could work for just about any company, but still, some time in the first week, you would imagine that question's going to come up.  If he wants to be good at his job, and understand the issues and specific stresses that the employees of the company are going through, he's simply GOT to know what line of work they're in.  For him to be this clueless about it, when he's otherwise capable at his job, just doesn't ring true.

Also starring Isla Fisher (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Jon Hamm (last heard in "Minions"), Gal Gadot (last seen in "Criminal"), Patton Oswalt (last seen in "Calendar Girls"), Matt Walsh (last seen in "The Do-Over"), Kevin Dunn (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Maribeth Monroe, Bobby Lee (last seen in "The Dictator"), Ming Zhao

RATING: 5 out of 10 shots of snake wine

Monday, August 14, 2017

Masterminds (2016)

Year 9, Day 226 - 8/14/17 - Movie #2,715

BEFORE: It's too early to start adding up the total appearances for each actor in Movie Year 9 - but it's going to be hard for any actor to beat Fred Astaire, who appeared in 14 films.  Hey, I said I wanted to finally get around to his films, and this year I did that, big time.  As a by-product of that chain, Ginger Rogers is a strong contender for second place, with 8 appearances.  I still have no idea who will come in third, but anyone who's done a lot of animation voice-work or been interviewed in geek-centric documentaries might have an inside track.  (Harrison Ford could be a contender, especially if I count the archive footage from "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" films seen in those documentaries.)

After this week, Zach Galifianakis (who carries over from "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" today) is going to have 6 appearances under his belt, and that's pretty good.  Tonight's film also marks the 6th appearance for Jason Sudeikis, so he's also having a good year.  They both tie Nick Offerman, who had a 6-film run with the animated movies ("Sing", "Ernest & Celestine", "Ice Age", "My Life as a Zucchini") and also 2 live-action appearances.  So we'll have to play the rest of the games out, since I'm also expecting high numbers from late appearances by Warren Beatty, Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lawrence.

THE PLOT: A guard at an armored car company in the Southern U.S. organizes one of the biggest bank heists in American history.  Based on the October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery.

AFTER: This was another silly film about making money quickly, like yesterday's film, but this one took itself a bit more seriously, which I appreciate.  Not that much, of course, but at least the characters didn't constantly break the fourth wall and giving knowing looks to the audience - but as you might expect from the director of "Napoleon Dynamite", it's filled with strange characters that are just a bit too strange to be realistic.

There's a clueless guy, David Ghantt, who works for an armored car company, and he's easily duped by Kelly, a woman who got fired from that company who hatches a scheme to rob the place, along with her friend Steve, who's the alleged "mastermind" in the title.  Even though David's engaged (to another odd character), he falls for Kelly and is willing to clean out the armored car company's vault, which is a lot easier than robbing a bank, seeing as how the company trusts him with the keys.

David heads straight for Mexico with some of the cash, but most of it is kept by Steve, who keeps David away by having Kelly talk to him on the phone twice a week, constantly promising to join him in Mexico in a short time.  Eventually David figures out that Kelly's not coming, and Steve first tips of his location to Interpol, then sends a hit man to take him out, because dead men can't reveal their co-conspirators.

This is based on a true story, the Loomis Fargo heist in North Carolina, but at some point the comedy deviates from the (I'm assuming) boring way that the FBI connected the dots and got the evidence they needed to indict 8 people for larceny and money laundering.  Turns out that tracing phone calls and following tips probably isn't as cinematic as crashing a swanky party and blowing up some cars.  I'll allow it if it makes for a funny film.  (OK, I guess I'll settle for a partly funny film.)

This film falls apart at some point, and I think it's in Mexico where the hit-man finally tracks down his quarry.  The reason for sparing David's life and then bonding with him is quite fishy, definitely a plot contrivance of questionable nature.  It didn't follow logically, that's for sure.  The same goes for how David learns about Steve's real name.  This is a film that definitely stumbles toward its conclusion.

Hey, whatever happened to that heist film that was going to be set at a Comic convention?  I thought up this idea independently a few years ago, only to learn that someone was already making a film like that.  (It makes sense, the amount of money that these things rake is in quite astonishing...)  It's still listed on the IMDB as being in the post-production phase, under the title "Supercon", but there's no release date scheduled.  They'd better hurry, there aren't many release dates left in 2017 - August is usually Hollywood's dumping ground for bad films, so maybe I should be pleased it's not scheduled for release this month - but when?

Also starring Kristen Wiig (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Owen Wilson (last heard in "Cars 3"), Jason Sudeikis (last heard in "The Angry Birds Movie"), Kate McKinnon (ditto), Leslie Jones (last heard in "Sing"), Jon Daly (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (last seen in "Free State of Jones"), Ken Marino (last seen in "Gattaca"), Ross Kimball, Devin Ratray, Daniel Zacapa, with archive footage of James Coburn (last seen in "Hudson Hawk").

RATING: 4 out of 10 security cameras

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Year 9, Day 225 - 8/13/17 - Movie #2,714

BEFORE: William Atherton played the guy from the E.P.A., Walter "Dickless" Peck in the first "Ghostbusters" film, and since he was interviewed in "Ghostheads" yesterday, he appears again today and acts as my sneaky link back to narrative films.  My other choices were Sigourney Weaver (I'll catch up with her at the end of the month) or...well, that was about it.  Maybe Bill Murray in "Rock the Kasbah" but that's not high on my list of priorities, plus I know that this path gets me to the end of 2017.

Geek Week is over, but there is a Comic-Con connection here - I was in San Diego in 2006, which was maybe my 3rd or 4th year there, and our booth was next to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim booth, which they had decorated with a working fountain and a lot of owl statues, for some reason.  But they weren't selling anything, which struck me as quite odd, because who pays for a booth and then doesn't sell any merchandise?  Turns out they were just using the booth for signings, and each day they had a different show's cast there autographing for an hour or two - then they would re-decorate the whole booth for the next day (different colored owls), which again, I thought was quite crazy.  It defied all the natural logic about how to set-up and run a booth.

One day, a loud noise rang up from halfway across the convention center, and the rumble of a cheering crowd was slowly moving toward us - it was Tim and Eric, plus their entourage of fans, making a grand and loud entrance as they headed toward the booth next door to do a signing session. Later in the day, Tim came over and bought a whole bunch of stuff from us, including a few pieces of signed animation art, and though my boss didn't recognize him, I sure did.  (My other job at the time was tracking TV commercials, and I had to tape a lot of Cartoon Network to cover that demographic.). So I had to let Tim know that I knew who he was, without acting like a fanboy - I've found that's the best way to talk to minor celebrities - they want to be recognized, but they also don't want that recognition to get in the way of buying the thing that they want.

I also happened to catch about 15 minutes of this film, on in the background late one night while I was searching through the cable guide.  Not enough to spoil the whole film, just enough to want to see more of it, though I hope I didn't see the best parts, meaning I'll have to watch the crappy bits tonight just to cross it off my list.

THE PLOT: Two guys get a billion dollars to make a movie, only to watch their dream run off course.  In order to make the money back, they attempt to revitalize a failing shopping mall.

AFTER: Maybe it's just me, because I never got behind their shows "Tom Goes to the Mayor" and "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show...Great Job!" on the Adult Swim, but what the freak did I just watch?  Even with the advance work of having seen about 15 minutes of this before by accident, it still manages to defy all narrative logic.  Like, I can't tell if it's just comedy that's coming at me from a weird angle, or if it's put together poorly and the jokes aren't landing.  There's got to be a difference, right?  I mean, taken one way, there are parts that aren't funny, so comedy fail, but if that was the intention all along, to just be weird and not funny, then they succeeded, because that's what they got.

I get that this film doesn't take itself seriously, so therefore nothing in it can possibly be taken seriously, or even at face value.  It's a silly movie that knows it's a silly movie, but it's not funny enough to be a parody like "Airplane!" was, it's more on the level of something like "Baseketball", which set out to parody every sports movie at once, but was not a serious narrative in any way.  I see Tim & Eric as sort of the new Trey Parker and Matt Stone, following in their footsteps.  Just two creative guys who want to be funny, but they get there by throwing a whole bunch of stuff against the wall, hoping something will stick.  So to speak.

Maybe this whole thing is meant to be a send-up of Hollywood filmmaking, seen at first in the actor characters who get in trouble by wasting a billion dollars of the studio's money making their film (and for hiring a Johnny Depp impersonator instead of the real thing) and then spending the rest of the money on themselves and their guru.  The rest of the film spoofs the corporate world as they transform themselves into phony business types to run a mall in the middle of nowhere - there's a lot of double-speak as they pretend to know about profit/loss statements and the "action steps" they need to take to re-open the mall and make back their billion.

The S'Wallow Valley Mall is in disrepair, and its owner can't wait to hire them and then sneak out the back door, leaving them to deal with the failing businesses, the hobo squatters and one very hungry wolf that roams the premises.  There's an old yogurt shop that has spoiling inventory, and another shop that sells used toilet paper.  (Really?)  I think about 2/3 of the way through the excessive toilet humor really dragged the film down, a succession of poop jokes and masturbation jokes is usually a sign that the story couldn't support itself any longer, so boom, let's go right to the lowest common denominator.

The supporting cast of odd-looking people, some of whom are actors and some who I assume are not, was also a little suspect to me.  I'm reminded of movies like "The Ringer", which mixed in a bunch of mentally-challenged people, and then there sort of becomes this fine line between giving those people a voice and downright exploiting them.  In a weird way the two main actors sort of seem like mentally handicapped people themselves - so I wonder if they surrounded themselves with odder-looking people so they'd look more attractive?

Overall I'd probably be a lot more upset if this film didn't get me out of the "documentaries about geek films" section and link me to (hopefully) better films ahead.

Also starring Tim Heidecker (last seen in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas"), Eric Wareheim, Robert Loggia (last seen in "Hard Time"), Will Ferrell (last seen in "Daddy's Home"), John C. Reilly (last heard in "Sing"), Zach Galifianakis (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Will Forte (last seen in "The Ridiculous 6"), Twink Caplan (last seen in "Clueless"), Ray Wise (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), Matt O'Toole, Ronnie Rodriguez, Mary Bly, Lillian Adams, Howie Slater, Robert Axelrod, Tennessee Winston Luke, James Quall, David Liebe Hart, with cameos from Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Erica Durance and the voices of Bob Odenkirk (last seen in "Nebraska"), Michael Gross.

RATING: 3 out of 10 slices of pizza

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Year 9, Day 224 - 8/12/17 - Movie #2,713

BEFORE: It's finally here, the end of "Geek Week" (which was really 11 days long, in the end) and it comes not a moment too soon.  I'm way over my tolerance level for these talking-heads style documentaries that all feel the need to over-mansplain the concept of people liking stuff just a bit too much.  I'm sure it's not just the fact that I've been to Comic-Con that I'm thinking, "We GET it already, nerdy people are obsessive and like to play dress-up."

Now, I had planned for there to be a linking break between "Back in Time" and this film, the two films are linked so thematically that I was going to let myself slide on this one - it turns out I shouldn't have worried, because even though the two films share no big-name stars in common, there is one interview subject that carries over - former Columbia executive Frank Price carries over.  See, even when I don't plan the linking, it still happens.  Go figure that one out.

THE PLOT: A look at the intense fandom for the "Ghostbusters" franchise.

AFTER: If you follow the news out of Washington, recently that Scaramucci guy made a lewd comment about Steve Bannon, referring to him committing an act of, shall we say, "self-love" that is physically impossible (for most men, anyway).  And every reporter in the country was forced to report this, because it was newsworthy, even though the mere mention of it, in those terms, both disgusted and confused many people.  But there was not ONE reporter who treated it as the metaphor that it was meant to be, meaning that it was symbolic of a form of overblown self-promotion - so way to misinterpret the news, everyone.

Which brings me to movies about how great certain movies are, which is a new way that Hollywood tends to over-gratify itself.   Usually one might include these interviews as extras on an anniversary DVD release, let's say, but now we're making stand-alone movies about how great it is to love each particular movie franchise.  Because there's apparently money being made to cater to the fan clubs that have sprung up since the rise of the internet.  Back in my day, as a fan of "Star Wars" we had the movies and the fan club newsletter, the tie-in novels and comics, and the action figures, and that was it.  OK, so we dressed up as characters for Halloween, but we didn't form clubs to discuss the various ways to build R2D2 models or Stormtrooper armor, if our moms bought us bedsheets with the Star Wars art on them, that was good enough.

(Don't say I didn't warn you here, if people raised money on Kickstarter to make documentaries about how much people love "Back to the Future" and "Ghostbusters", then logically there are a ton more of these films on the way - prepare for docs about the fans of "Harry Potter", "Twilight", "Pirates of the Caribbean", and so on.  They may even exist already, I'm not sure, but if not, I can feel that they're on the way.  I don't understand this constant need to prove that the thing you like is the best thing that could possibly be liked.  Thankfully this is the end of the road for me on this topic, and I'm moving back to narrative material tomorrow.)

Now, don't get me wrong here, if people want to form Ghostbusters clubs in every state in America and every Canadian province, they have every right to do that.  And if some of those clubs want to visit sick kids in the hospital, or raise money for various charities, good for them, really, I want to support that.  But I DON'T NEED to know about it.  A charitable act should be its own reward, and if we glorify these actions too much in print or film, some part of me feels that this negates the good of the act, and then I start to wonder if the people involved are really doing this for the right reasons.

And there's a woman shown here who needed to quit drinking, and when AA wasn't working out for her, she found solace in "Ghostbusters II" (yeah, that's not a typo) and watching that film every day gave her the strength to abstain from alcohol.  OK, in one sense, whatever works for you, but to me that seems like substituting one crutch for another - now she does the cosplay, has her own proton pack and is a member of her local Ghostbusters chapter, and has built her life around the franchise.  One has to wonder what becomes of her, then, when the sequel to the reboot really sucks balls - does she go right back to the bottle?

Other Ghosthead fans try to explain their love of the film here, but they're almost all linked to some family tragedy, and also none of them can really explain things very clearly, so what results is a lot of circular, almost nonsensical explanations.  "Well, I watched the first film with my grandfather, and I liked it, so I guess it reminds me of him, who I liked, and then he died, so when I want to remember him I watch the film, and I like it because it's good and it reminds me of him.  And I like that."  Thanks for clearing that up.

As in "Back in Time", the film explains why you can't find an old ambulance or hearse on the used-car market anymore, because Ghostheads are buying them all to personalize their own "Ecto-Mobiles", because what good is the jumpsuit and a light-up proton pack without your own themed car to drive to conventions in?  These people know there's no "Biggest Fan" award given out at these events, right?

The original Ghosthead was Peter Moser, who also is interviewed here.  This guy made his own costume and started showing up at events before we even had the term "cosplay", and Columbia ended up hiring him to make appearances, thanks to a passing resemblance to Dan Aykroyd, or maybe one of the cartoon characters.  But it seems that unlike today's fans, he found a way over time to separate his costuming life from his personal one, and somehow managed to have a wife and son and a life outside the convention circuit.  These other people take things way too seriously, with their traveling around and collecting patches from all the other clubs.  If you try to take a proton pack through airport security, you deserve whatever results from that.

We saw what can happen with fans who get a little too involved, especially with "Ghostbusters".  Remember all the people with negative reactions to the female reboot last year?  Man, the dark side of sexist sci-fi comedy fans really came out.  So allowing the super-fans to visit the set or attend an early screening of the trailer, while well-intentioned, was also a bit risky.  Who's to say a fan that believes in the integrity of the franchise won't take his love of the films a bit too far, and attend that screening wearing a bomb as a vest?  That would be my concern.

Maybe in these troubled times, people are seeking more and more solace in their favorite movie franchises, I don't know.  But there are plenty of other activities out there that aren't all movie-related, right?  Or maybe these franchises are like sports teams for geeks, giving them something to root for on a daily basis?  Or possibly we're just seeing the result of Hollywood's merchandising efforts, which maybe just worked a bit too well over the last few decades.

Also starring Dan Aykroyd (last seen in "Pixels"), Ernie Hudson (last seen in "Ghostbusters" (2016)), Sigourney Weaver (last heard in "Finding Dory"), Ray Parker Jr., Ivan Reitman, William Atherton (last seen in "The Sugarland Express"), Paul Feig (last seen in "Spy"), Kurt Fuller (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Dave Coulier, Joe Medjuck, Peter Mosen, Matt Cardona, Jennifer Runyon, Steven Tash, Maurice Lamarche (last seen in "Comic Book: The Movie"), Todd Whalen, Tom Gephardt, Alex Newborn, Robin Shelby, Abigail Gardner, Craig Goldberg and archive footage of Bill Murray (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis (last seen in "The Flintstones").

RATING: 3 out of 10 unanswered phone messages for Ray Parker Jr.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Back in Time

Year 9, Day 223 - 8/11/17 - Movie #2,712

BEFORE: I'm nearing the end of "Geek Week", and now you see why I dropped in that documentary on Drew Struzan - Michael J. Fox and Steven Spielberg both carry over as interview subjects.  We're getting down to last few documentaries on Netflix about geek movies - after this there's just one about "Ghostbusters" fandom, then I can get back to my usual narrative business.

THE PLOT: A look at the immense cultural impact of the "Back to the Future" trilogy, 30 years after Marty McFly went on an epic adventure.

AFTER: It all kinds of makes sense, I started with the films with the biggest fans, like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek", and now I'm doing the clean-up work with a profile of the fans of "Back to the Future".  I'm sure they're fine people, they just come to it from a slightly different angle, maybe they're all a bit more low-key or laid-back about it.  After all, the film definitely set its sights on the Gen X crowd, the children of the baby-boomers, and now that Gen X crowd is all grown up with teen children of their own.  And the cast (the ones that saw fit to appear in this documentary, anyway) ar getting up there in age too - Michael J. Fox is 56 now, which means he was 24 when the first "Back to the Future" film came out, even if he was playing 16 or so.

I just wish the crew that got interviewed here was a little more enthusiastic, for the most part it seems they all want to talk about how they got the gig, or how the story or the casting developed, and that's all pretty basic stuff.  I mean, come on, we all know that writers write and directors direct and producers...umm, do whatever it is they do - you don't really need to explain the filmmaking process, that's more suited for the "behind the scenes" extras on the DVD release.  Beyond that, I don't know if there's enough fan-based material to support a whole film on the "BTTF" phenomenon, once you exclude the explicit fan fiction where Marty McFly gets to third base with his own mother.

They spend a lot of time on people who have bought Deloreans and turned them into replicas of the time machine, which seems like a no-brainer.  Yet every single one of them says, "I built a time machine" instead of "I built a replica of the Delorean from the film."  They all know it can't really travel through time, right?  The best of the bunch is probably the couple who built theirs when the husband was given a cancer diagnosis, and after surviving they now travel around the country with it, raising money for Michael J. Fox's charity.  Good for you, guys.  Those other people who modified Deloreans were all just self-serving a-holes, right?  A lot of people were also proud to work on the Delorean that was on display at Universal Studios, which was allowed to fall into disrepair somehow.  Meanwhile a collector in Massachusetts bought TWO that were seen in the sequels and kept them in mint condition...

The doc also mentions the things that "Back to the Future 2" got right when it depicted its "future-verse" of 2015 - stuff like flatscreen TVs, video phone calls (Skype) and drone technology, even hoverboards (not those fake ones with wheels, real ones, which we're now kind of close to.)  But since they released this film on October 21, 2015 (the future date that Marty traveled to) they couldn't have worked in the prediction that the Cubs would win the World Series.  The film's prediction was off by just a year, which you can easily account for by noting the baseball strike of 1994.  So there.

In other news, someone built a mini-golf course with a "Back to the Future" theme - so what?  And a man proposes to his girlfriend at a "Back to the Future" convention, with the actor who played Goldie Wilson in attendance.  Ho hum.  And there's a band called "The Flux Capacitors" that covers the song "The Power of Love".  Wake me when there's footage of ZZ Top from the third film...

There's a whole segment on "Rick and Morty", by the way, without anyone even mentioning what that is, or what its connection to "Back to the Future" is.  Not all of us watch children's animation shows, you know.  OK, I do watch some, but not that one.  And then there's the footage that everyone wants to see, which comes from the six weeks of shooting before Eric Stoltz was replaced by Michael J. Fox in the lead role, and the film comes very close to saying, "Oh, it exists, but we can't show you any of that here, it wouldn't be appropriate."  What a tease.

The most interesting bit of trivia revealed here is the fact that in an early draft of the screenplay, the time-travel device was in a refrigerator, and not a Delorean car.  Getting back to the future involved harnessing the power of a nuclear explosion from a test site, a scene which later found itself worked in to the opening of "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull".  Hollywood recycles everything, it turns out.

They also acknowledge that "Back to the Future" is not a perfect film.  There's no character development for Marty McFly in the first two films, he's just a guy that time travels and meets family members in the past and future.  They needed a THIRD film just so he'd learn some humility in the Old West, and not fight everyone who challenges him.  From a story standpoint, that shouldn't have worked. I do like the films, especially since as screwed up as they are, they make more sense than most other time-travel films, but I don't know if there's enough to build a whole fandom around.  There was even some talk about doing a musical version on Broadway, and that seems like madness to me.

Also starring Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Bob Gale (also carrying over from "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster"), Lea Thompson (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Huey Lewis, Alan Silvestri, Dean Cundey, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan (last seen in "The River"), Donald Fullilove, Jeffrey Weissman, Adam F. Goldberg, Dan Harmon, with archive footage of Crispin Glover (last seen in "Wild at Heart"), Eric Stoltz (last seen in "Little Women"), Danny DeVito (last seen in "The Rainmaker"), Michael Douglas (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Kathleen Turner (last seen in "Dumb and Dumber To"), David Hasselhoff. 

RATING: 3 out of 10 guitar solos

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

Year 9, Day 222 - 8/10/17 - Movie #2,711

BEFORE: I've basically got one rule when it comes to taking recommendations for the Movie Year, and that's "nope".  I program this thing, based on what movies I want to watch, or ones that I discover on my own schedule, or in desperate cases, because I really need a link from one movie to the other. The more someone pushes a movie on to me, the less I want to see it, generally speaking of course.  But I remembered that last year, I think it was at New York Comic-Con, someone came to our booth and mentioned this film, and that stuck with me, being a fan of all things "Star Wars", even down to the posters.  Now I don't know if the person who mentioned the film was connected to it somehow, in a way that's beside the point - but when I was working out the linking for Geek Week I was going through the filmographies of some actors and directors, you know, the ones that have been popping up all week, it seems, I stumbled on this title and I figured I had to work it in somehow.  Even if that means dropping an animated film down the line, or moving a vampire film from this October to next year.

And the connections were there - Harry Jay Knowles is interviewed here, so that's three films in a row for him, but at least two actors also carry over from "Raiders! The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made".  Other interview subjects recur from films seen earlier this week, and I've got like three connections to tomorrow's film as I start to wind down the geek-related documentaries.

THE PLOT: A documentary on legendary movie poster artist Drew Struzan.

AFTER: I watched this one on iTunes, sitting in my upstairs office that just happens to be something of an unintentional shrine to Drew Struzan - behind me I have the three posters that he designed for the "Star Wars" special editions, hanging as a triptych of course, and on the opposite wall are his posters for the prequels, Episodes 1-3.  And just to my left is the Star Wars bookshelf, with all the books I've read, even the ones that are no longer canon - half of those probably have Struzan art on their covers, too, like "The Truce at Bakura" and "Darksaber" and "The Crystal Star", among many others.

God, what I do is so simple here, I just copy and paste someone else's poster art right into my blog post, like that doesn't even mean anything.  Let's face it, I'm a complete fraud, what have I ever created in this world that could possibly even come close to being called art?  This guy is so super-talented, and yet so unassuming at the same time, so generous with his talent, so willing to explain his process, and yet nobody else seems like they can make a poster even half as good, what's up with that?

And it's a dying art, too, which says something about our culture, like the way we collectively can't support locally owned bookstores or hardware stores that aren't big chains, or buy enough newspapers to keep them from being bought up by foreign conglomerates.  Yet nobody's paying attention to what's being lost along the way, as we Crush some more Candy on our phones and kill a few more brain cells every time we watch an episode of "Big Brother" or "The Bachelor".  People used to take pride in their work, like making movie posters that were iconic representations of films, not just push a few buttons on a computer and photoshop random images of a movie's star's heads onto some stock footage bodies.  Remember that flap over the first "Spider-Man: Homecoming" poster?  It looked like it was designed by an 11-year old while sitting in detention!  And every character was on there twice, which meant there were twice as many people on the poster than there needed to be.

What an astonishing career - the very first "Star Wars" poster that there ever was, which came to be known as the "circus" poster, because it looked torn and had fake wood grain running down the side, as if it was an old circus poster that had been hanging on a wall for a while.  Now, it turns out that Drew's collaborator on that poster forgot that they needed to save room for the credits block, so they had to shrink the image and add something on the bottom and the left side so there would be room for the actors' names.  From such happy accidents, a career was born.  Struzan became one of Lucas' favorite artists, and that led to making the posters for all of the "Indiana Jones" films, and all the book covers for the novels featuring THAT character, too.  He probably painted Harrison Ford, as one character or another, at least 100 times - and there's a great moment in this film where he finally meets Harrison, for the first time, and Harrison is so grateful for the work that Struzan did, and the way he was depicted in all of those iconic posters.

I'm tempted to just post a bunch of Struzan's art here instead of a formal review, just to point out how widespread his work was in the 1970's and 80's.  ALL of the posters for the Muppet films, because Jim Henson took a liking to his work also.  The posters for the "Police Academy" films, even though his art style was probably WAY to grand for those silly comedies - yet Struzan claims his poster for "Police Academy 3" is one of his favorites.  There's just no way that those could be as important as, say, his work on the "Star Wars" postage stamps.  But what about "Back to the Future", since he designed that classic poster, too?  Or "Big Trouble in Little China", "E.T.", "The Shawshank Redemption"...the list goes on and on, since he made over 160 movie posters in about 30 years.

Again, I can go on and on here, and I'm not sure where to stop - the Harry-freakin-Potter movies, he made those posters, too.  "Hook" and "The Thing" and "The Goonies" and "Johnny Dangerously" - even when his artwork wasn't used in a movie's official campaign, like with "Blade Runner" or "Hellboy", the director still tended to order a limited run of such a cool poster, even if it was just to give out to select fans.

I like that this documentary is full of film professionals who are like me - a little older, a lot grumpier and all claiming that it's a damn shame that things aren't done the way they used to be.  And kudos to Drew Struzan, who figured out that the way to get treated well at San Diego Comic-Con is to avoid the place entirely for 20 or 30 years, so that when you finally do show up to sign posters or books, they'll give you a freakin' award.  Well-played, Mr. Struzan. (He was given the Inkpot Award in 2010, which means part of this was filmed at the same Con where Morgan Spurlock filmed his doc.  Seems that was a banner year for films crews in San Diego.)

But this is also worth watching for the story of the (un-named here) business partner who stole many many posters from Drew, who always had an excuse for why Drew wasn't getting back his originals.  How Drew managed to get the original pieces back is a story that will make you believe again in a funny thing called karma, or that what comes around, goes around.

Also starring Drew Struzan, Harrison Ford (also carrying over from "Raiders!"), Steven Spielberg (ditto), George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Thomas Jane (ditto), Steve Guttenberg (last seen in "3 Men and a Little Lady"), Frank Darabont, Leonard Maltin (last seen in "Anarchy"), Bob Gale, Greg Hildebrandt, Joanna Cassidy (last seen in "Vampire in Brooklyn"), Alice Cooper, Carroll Spinney, Sam Witwer.

RATING: 6 out of 10 record album covers