Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Big Short

Year 9, Day 22 - 1/22/17 - Movie #2,522

BEFORE: What a frustrating day yesterday was - I tagged along when my wife got her car's oil changed, out in Long Island, and the dealer also had to do an inspection, replace the air filter and fix a tire (I admit it, I'm just not a car guy...) and that all took about an hour longer than we expected, so we were starving for the BBQ lunch we had planned.  But then we found out that the nearby BBQ joint, Famous Dave's, had shut down about 6 months ago, so we had to settle for a Carraba's instead.  Italian food is fine, and the place was certainly a step above the Olive Garden, but when you've been thinking of BBQ for a couple days, sometimes that just doesn't cut it.  

Then I got home and started the process of setting up my new iMac, and transferring files over from my old computer to the new one.  But after copying all of my files over to an external hard drive, when I brought the drive over to the new computer, I realized that my drive was so old, it wasn't even using USB cables to connect, and the new iMac has ONLY USB ports.  So there seemed to be no way to hook the drive up, which made it feel like the process was doomed, even before it began.  I was so dejected I felt like throwing the whole brand-new computer out the window.  But at least I could back up my phone to it, and download photos from my phone, which I haven't been able to do for the last month.  

This morning, my wife came to the rescue with a cable that was USB on one side and something else on the other, which was probably better than my plan to connect the two computers with an ethernet cable, and definitely much better than my plan to throw the computer out the window.  I think I got all my photos and music carried over today, but I still have to re-create all of my iTunes playlists, and sync my phone with those. I've been buying music every week to replace my old cassettes, and then re-downloading what I can to my phone, but that doesn't help get the music that I've ripped off my CD collection on the phone. 

I realize I was overdue to update my computer, and I was very close to waiting TOO long - if I skipped over too many system updates, there was a chance that none of my programs would work, or my comic book database, or other things.  I'm sure there are going to be more problems, because I'm just starting to assess what will and won't work, but at least I got the process started.   

Brad Pitt carries over from "By the Sea" for the last time in this chain, and I'll follow a new link to some animated films tomorrow.


THE PLOT: Four denizens in the world of high-finance predict the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s, and decide to take on the big banks for their greed and lack of foresight.

AFTER: On top of everything else frustrating about this weekend, I had meant to order this film via PPV, where it was on sale last week for just $1.99.  The plan had been in place for weeks, as I'd picked this film as a connector between two mini-chains, and there it was on my list - my list of films to ADD to the main list, which is an adjoining list.  But I must have waited a few days too long to order it, because it was no longer available on the DVR at that price - not even at ANY price.  Which usually means that it's about to premiere on the premium channels in a couple of weeks, but I can't wait that long, because I need the connection that I planned.  New computer to the rescue, now that I've upgraded I can finally watch HD films through iTunes.  (Only I didn't, I chose the SD version because it was a buck cheaper.  Hey, I'm not made of money, plus I just laid out money for the new computer...)

Yep, I blew a whopping $2.99 to watch the film about how a few people made millions in the market about a decade ago, because they correctly predicted that the U.S. housing market was going to fail, and take down a couple of banks with it.  Me, I'm no real-estate expert - in 2004 I was trying to sell one property, a condo in Brooklyn, so we could buy a house somewhere that had a driveway, more storage space for comic books, and preferably more than one bathroom.  Because priorities.  And it seemed like a fine time to sell a property, too, because the housing market had been going up in NYC for quite some time, and people were saying things like "The bubble's got to burst sometime."  So with the helpful advice of a real-estate agent, and the scent of some chocolate chip cookies at the open house, I sold the condo for ten times what I had paid for it, and we got a house for about the same price.  A couple years later, when the bubble did burst, we felt like real-estate geniuses, or at least as lucky as that guy who had a ticket for the Titanic, but overslept that day and missed the boat.  

But there's luck, and then there's skill.   The guys who crunched the numbers and figured out that too many sub-prime and adjustable-rate mortgages meant that the U.S. real estate market was nothing but a house of cards ready to crumble, or just a shell game of sorts, those were the real geniuses.  And they used their money to "short", or bet against, the housing market. Which you weren't really supposed to be able to do, except that they found enough banks that were willing to take their investments, collecting collateral payments all the while, until the housing market really DID collapse, and these guys collected on the short bets.  They created a credit-swap default market, and if it sounds shady, it's really nothing compared to what was going in the housing market itself, which involved tons of terrible mortgages that were lumped together into CDO investments, which the banks then paid the rating services to get high ratings, which made more people invest good money into bad mortgages, and then more people betting that THOSE investments would do well, and so on.  

Problem was, if enough people defaulted on their mortgages, and the rate of this had been steadily rising due to unemployment and other factors, then the CDOs would fail, and the ratings scam would be exposed, and the whole thing would fall apart - and these guys bet that it would happen, which in a way is like betting against America.  But they saw that everyone from the real-estate agents on up was just playing cash-and-grab, only interested in how much money they could make from refinancing bad mortgages, and not worrying about the consquences.  

I should point out there that I still only SORT of understand this whole thing, despite the movie's best attempts to explain it all in an interesting way.  They chose to do this kitschy stuff like "Now, here's a woman in a bubble bath to explain sub-prime mortgages..." and "Here's a stripper to explain why refinancing the same property five times over is a bad idea...".  I see what you did there, and I don't approve.  Well, OK, part of me approves, but the rest of me sees that as a cheat.  Did someone steal these ideas from "The Wolf of Wall Street", or what?  

It's all part of this "we know that you know this is a fictionalized version" self-awareness trick.  This film is part drama and part documentary (drama-mentary?), which SHOULD mean that it would fail at both of those things, but somehow it finds a cutesy way to succeed, with some characters breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience, "Oh, by the way, it didn't really happen this way."  Well, that raises the question, then, if you KNOW it didn't happen that way, movie, why don't you show me the way that it DID happen, and why are you messing with reality?   So yeah, I've got issues...

But it's an important subject matter, and it's timely as heck, because nobody really went to jail for any shady business practices, or for breaking the country.  The government bailed out the banks, as I seem to recall, even though a lot of people lost pension funds and their homes, and a few banks paid some fines, maybe.  But in some ways, aren't we right back there?  Wells Fargo got in trouble last year for opening a ton of fake bank accounts in their customers' names, and now I heard about these reverse mortgages, which buy back elderly people's homes a month at a time, but if the homeowner should die, they foreclose immediately, even if that means kicking that person's spouse out of the house.  Not cool.  

Sure, it's the responsibility of every person to read the fine print, and to know what they're getting themselves into, but come ON, you're talking about people kicking old widows out of their homes?  We keep getting offers to refinance, and every instinct I have tells me to throw the offers away, because I'm so cynical that I can't imagine a bank sending me an offer that's ultimately to my benefit and not theirs.  That's just not the way banks tend to work, they're more like casinos in that they eventually end up with your money, no matter what you do.  The only way to beat the house, I think, is to build up a little equity every month, for 30 years, and then cash out and walk away.  Any bank employee who tells you otherwise is probably, no definitely, lying.  

And I hate to bring this around to Trump again (no, wait, I actually enjoy doing that...) but the film is relevant because it shows what happens to a system that is built upon half-truths and scams, where everyone involved is only interested in what they can get out of the system.  My theory is that Trump isn't even a real person, he's just three scams standing on top of each other in a suit, like kids trying to sneak into an adult movie theater.  In addition to every scandal and scam that went before (Trump Steaks, Trump Air, Trump University, Trump Vodka for starters) just this week he held a press conference to display all the "paperwork" he signed to divest himself of his investments, and the news pointed out that all of the folders were unlabeled and looked like they were filled with empty paper.  As a magic trick, that's strictly amateur hour.  Then he sent out the photo of him "writing" his inauguration speech, and once again people noticed that he was using a Sharpie marker, on an unused legal pad, and was probably sitting at the receptionist's desk at his resort, so the entire photo was staged and phony.  

So this is where we are - plus he's got no concrete plan to replace the ACA, every cabinet nominee he appoints is worse than the last, and I can't imagine this administration sponsoring any coherent legislation, because he'll be too focused on "winning" and "making America great", which you have to admit, are just nebulous goals.  He's the ultimate example of "fake it till you make it", so now that the time for faking is over (or, has it just begun?) what will he make of it?  Stay tuned - when people finally realize that there's no THERE there, will the whole system similarly fall apart? 

Also starring Christian Bale (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Steve Carell (last heard in "Despicable Me 2"), Ryan Gosling (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Hamish Linklater (last seen in "Magic in the Moonlight"), Melissa Leo (last seen in "The Equalizer"), Rafe Spall (last seen in "The World's End"), John Magaro, Jeremy Strong (last seen in "The Judge"), Finn Wittrock (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), Marisa Tomei (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Tracy Letts (last seen in "August: Osage County"), Byron Mann, Adepero Oduye, Karen Gillan (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Max Greenfield (last seen in "They Came Together"), Billy Magnussen, with cameos from Margot Robbie (last seen in "Focus"), Anthony Bourdain, Selena Gomez, and stock footage of Ludacris, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 Jenga pieces

Saturday, January 21, 2017

By the Sea

Year 9, Day 21 - 1/21/17 - Movie #2,521

BEFORE: Brad Pitt carries over again from "Kalifornia".  I really added this one as a chain extender, so that certain movies will fall where I want them to in February.  I think this is the last of the relationship-based films until the romance chain starts up for real next week.  



THE PLOT: A couple tries to repair their marriage while staying at a hotel in France.

AFTER: I would recommend this only to someone who wants to know how Brangelina spent their honeymoon - the couple got married in 2014 after nine years together, and then divorced two years later.  Which seems rather pointless, and by itself is not a ringing endorsement for marriage - but before the split, they filmed this movie together while honeymooning.  

It naturally leads one to wonder where the story leaves off and the autobiographical stuff begins, even though the film is set in the mid-1970's, Jolie plays Vanessa, an actress who is no longer being hired due to her age, so there's at least a subtle dig at the Hollywood industry that discards women over 40 (heck, 30 even...) while a lot of complex personal issues between a couple are getting hashed out in an idyllic hotel setting.  

Brad plays Roland, a writer who can't seem to find his next story idea, no matter how many glasses of gin he drinks for breakfast, or how many personal questions he asks the man who runs the café.  All the time he spends in the café, though, helps reduce the standard boring shots of a writer using a manual typewriter, or worse, staring at a blank page that's loaded in to the manual typewriter.  This guy's so far beyond writer's block that he doesn't even bother sitting down to try, which quite honestly seems like a better solution - get out and find that story, don't stare at the page until you have it.  

The couple is great at avoiding each other, whenever one comes into the hotel room the other decides to go out for a walk, or go back to the pub or in Vanessa's case, somehow demean herself to go on a shopping trip for bread and coffee, like she's gone incredibly out of her way.  Most of the rest of the time, she just seems to want to sit in the room, or sit on the balcony, or sit in the tub.  There's a lot of footage of Angelina Jolie sitting, is what I'm trying to say.  And recoiling from her husband's touch.

The only thing she seems interested in doing is spying on the newlywed couple in the next room, but that seems to bring up a lot of issues and feelings, both good and bad.  We the audience can only hope that this will somehow help them get to the bottom of whatever dispute they're having, or what incident in their past they're trying to overcome.  So much for three-act structure, it's really thrown out the (hotel) window here.  And a hat and sunglasses technically don't count as character exposition.

Still, I managed to stay awake for the whole film, and it's good to know that getting all your issues with your wife out in the open seems to be the cure for writer's block...

Also starring Angelina Jolie (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), Melanie Laurent (last seen in "Now You See Me"), Melvil Poupaud, Niels Arestrup.  

RATING: 3 out of 10 fresh lobsters

Friday, January 20, 2017

Kalifornia

Year 9, Day 20 - 1/20/17 - Movie #2,520

BEFORE: Happy (??) Inauguration Day - I decided to celebrate by buying myself a new pair of sneakers and a new iMac.  I hate to participate in stimulating the economy under this new President, but I've got to get my computer and my phone communicating again.  I made the mistake of upgrading my phone just before Christmas, and after that, it couldn't be recognized by either my home computer or my computer at work.  Or course, two months after starting the project of replacing my audio cassettes with digital files and getting more music on my phone, I got totally derailed.  At least this new iMac should connect to the new phone system and I can move forward. 

Brad Pitt carries over from "Seven Years in Tibet" and he'll be around for two more movies after this one.  


THE PLOT: A journalist duo go on a tour of serial killer murder sites with two companions, unaware that one of them is a serial killer himself.

AFTER: A writer and his photographer girlfriend post an ad for someone to carpool with them to murder sites - what could POSSIBLY go wrong?  I mean, people who have fascinations with serial killers are all perfectly normal people, right?  The chance of encountering unbalanced people in that scenario must be really, really low, for sure...

Haven't I seen this before?  When it was called "Natural Born Killers"?  OK, I guess there are some differences, but both films have Juliette Lewis in them.  And in that Oliver Stone film she seems to be really into the killing part of the couple's journey, and here's she's blissfully ignorant about it, to the point of being functionally retarded.  

The casting is very blatant - you can see the theory that by casting the most deadpan actor and actress of all time to be the "norms", it therefore makes the serial killer and his clueless girlfriend that much more vibrant.  In theory, anyway.  

The whole point of the trip is to gain some psychological insight into the minds of serial killers, but I just don't see how one can get that from visiting the murder sites.  I mean, what information do you gain from being in a place where a murder took place?  You know someone probably cleaned the place up, right?  The researcher decides to play audio tapes (which he conveniently somehow has) that were recorded at the time, just to enhance each scene.  Right, because we know for sure that every serial killer records all of his killings on audio tape, just for posterity.

This road trip is just a bad idea all around.  I can think of a hundred better road trips to take, like stopping at every barbecue restaurant between the Carolinas and Texas, passing through Memphis and Kansas City for good measure.  Or trying every diner on Route 66 - let's face it, most of my road trip ideas are food-based, not serial-killing based.

Also starring David Duchovny (last seen in "Return to Me"), Michelle Forbes, Juliette Lewis (last seen in "August: Osage County"), Judson Vaughn (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Brett Rice, Mars Callahan (last seen "That Thing You Do!"), Loanne Bishop. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 gas station restrooms

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Seven Years in Tibet

Year 9, Day 19 - 1/19/17 - Movie #2,519

BEFORE: I already watched "Reds" this year, which had obvious ties to Communism via the Russian Revolution.  Tonight it's a film about a land that got occupied by Communist China - geez, that's an awful big coincidence.  And right about the time that we're wondering whether Russia has been planning to take over America, too...

Look, I don't know where you stand on this whole Russian hacking election scandal, if you're pro-Trump or anti-Trump or worried about what's going to happen after tomorrow's inauguration.  Maybe nothing, maybe all the fears are unwarranted.  But my boss is Latvian, and she's convinced that Trump's election will put a Russian puppet into the Presidency, and that this will lead to her homeland being absorbed back into Russia.  

Me, I've just had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, the kind you get when you've had too much to eat at Taco Bell, just this gnawing ache that whatever's coming, it ain't going to be good.  We've seen too much craziness in the past two weeks alone, let alone the election cycle leading up to tomorrow, for me to be able to relax.  Conflicts of interest, ethics violations, electoral malfeasance, fake news stories, hot microphones, sexual harassment, verbal bullying, mocking of the disabled, non-release of tax returns, deplorable cabinet appointees, do I need to continue?  And the guy's term hasn't even started yet.  It's going to be a long four years - and while I haven't seen much lately about people moving to Canada, I think some people are going to find themselves in self-imposed exile, which means it's a great time to watch this film about the Dalai Lama. 

David Thewlis carries over from "Anomalisa", which I think is very sneaky on my part. 


THE PLOT: True story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China's takeover of Tibet. 

AFTER: The cause of a Free Tibet was all the rage in Hollywood a few years ago, whatever happened to that?  Did it just not seem trendy any more, or did people get involved in other concerns?  I mean, I get it, people got busy with other things, then that person made a sex tape and Britney Spears shaved her head, Justin Bieber egged his neighbor's house, and then Ariana Grande touched a donut in a bakery or something.  So everyone was probably thinking, "Wait, what was that about the Dalai Lama again?  I got distracted by something..."

This is the story of a mountain climber who seemed to have a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He goes off to scale Nanga Parbat, a mountain in British India, just as World War II is declared, and since Austria no longer exists (thanks, Hitler...) he's treated as a German in a British territory, so it's off to a POW camp for him.  After several attempts to break out, he and four others manage to escape in a very non-PC way (it involves darkening their skin and wearing turbans, so as to blend in with the locals).  

He and his mountain-climbing partner, Peter Aufschnaiter, manage to cross the border into Tibet, but make their way to Lhasa, another place that's off-limits to foreigners.  They still manage to avoid being thrown out of the country, but they're reduced to being beggars until they learn that the war is over.  Fortunately the young Dalai Lama takes an interest in Heinrich and his shiny yellow hair, but once again it's WPWT, because Tibet gets invaded by the forces of Communist China in 1950, and all foreigners are once again not welcome.  

I stated that I might have been the only person to note the similarities between "The Hateful Eight" and "The Anniversary Party" - tonight I'm going to draw an analogy between "Seven Years in Tibet" and the boxing film "Creed".  (Kids, don't try this at home.)  Like Rocky Balboa and Adonis Creed, Heinrich ends up bonding with the Dalai Lama because he's a father who has never met his son, and the Dalai is a son who needs a father figure.  And we know that the screenwriter was thinking along these lines too, because they tried to cover it with a line of dialogue, with the young Lama saying, "I don't think of you as my father, Heinrich."  Gosh, what a giveaway that is - nice try.

I'm supposed to applaud the fact that Harrer uses his time in exile to become a better person, to get himself to a place where he's not so self-centered and able to be more than an absent father to his son.  I'm also apparently supposed to overlook that he was a Nazi - sure, they add all this stuff about how he's really Austrian, and bore ill will against the Nazi party, but Wikipedia says otherwise.  How many times are we going to allow old Nazis to say that they only joined the party because they had no choice, or that it was a "youthful indiscretion"?

And I'm not really into the whole Buddhist thing, because when I made my decision to reject the religion I was raised in, I chose to not replace it with anything, to reject all religions equally.  Because they can't all be right, so therefore it's likely that all of them are wrong.  I just can't get behind saving a bunch of earthworms because they may be ascending to a higher order, or the reincarnations of people I know that are now on some lowlier plane.  What a crock.  Like, I can't stand cruelty to cats and dogs, but I'd never extend that courtesy to bugs.  

For whatever reason, this film failed to capture my attention, I fell asleep about halfway through, and woke up during the Battle of Chamdo.  Rewind, try again, fall asleep again.  Repeated this until about 4 am, at which point I had napped enough to finish the film - but then I had to go to bed at 4:30 again, which makes it more difficult to get up for work at a reasonable time.  Sure, my bosses are used to me being consistently late because hey, at least I'm consistent, but I need films that will hold my attention if I'm ever going to break out of this terrible pattern.
In the long run, it may even be comforting to watch a film about Communist China, given our current circumstances.  Why?  Because Chairman Mao is gone, and that's a reminder that no dictator is in power forever.  Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini - they're all gone.  Lenin, Stalin, Kruscvev, Brehznev - all gone.  Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Khadafi - all gone.  Castro held out for a good long while, but he's finally gone.  Sic temper tyrannis.  The Trump era too shall pass, and his days seem numbered even before they begin.  

Also starring Brad Pitt (last seen in "The Mexican"), BD Wong (last seen in "Focus"), Mako (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Danny Denzongpa, Victor Wong, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk, Lhakpa Tsamchoe, Jetsun Pema, Duncan Fraser (last seen in "Unforgettable").

RATING: 4 out of 10 ice skates

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Anomalisa

Year 9, Day 18 - 1/18/17 - Movie #2,518

BEFORE: Jennifer Jason Leigh carries over again from "The Anniversary Party", and I didn't have any way to schedule this for a while, because really the only thing for me to do was to find two films with Jennifer Jason Leigh in them, which wasn't an option until just last week, or find another lead-out for the other main voice actor, which wasn't possible until tomorrow's film got put on the schedule, about a month ago.  All that gives me some options, and pulls this one out of the "Unlinkable" pile at the bottom of the watchlist.  Another one rescued!


THE PLOT: A man crippled by the mundanity of his life experiences something out of the ordinary.

AFTER: My bosses, who are both animators, each had something to say about this film when it was released - they both kind of had to check it out, since it was nominated for Best Animated Feature, and is more adult-themed than your average animated film, which essentially makes it their competition. 

The issues at hand seemed to concern whether it was appropriate to film this story in stop-motion, as opposed to live-action, and whether it was a good idea to cast one actor to voice ALL of the background characters, anyone who was not the lead male or lead female characters, in other words.  Well, one boss is a personal friend of Tom Noonan, so you can guess what his stance was on that - but the other boss had a different opinion, because she thought that his voice was too boring, too drone-like.  I've spent time with Tom myself, but we're more like business acquaintances.

I have to stick up for Mr. Noonan, even though his voice doesn't really convey a lot of excitement and drama, but that seems to be the whole point.  Nearly every character's voice is supposed to be mundane, to reflect what Michael Stone is going through, he's incredibly bored by everything in his life, and all the people that he encounters.  So to have all of those people sounding exactly the same, and mostly expressionless to boot, it's obviously symbolic of that boredom.  We all may have times in our life where we've been doing the same thing, day in and day out, for too long, and we need something, or someone, to shake things up.  

When Michael meets Lisa, there's something different about her, he sees something special, and that's symbolized by the fact that her voice is different.  And this then ties back to why this story needed to be told in animation, because you can do this trick with the voices, and people get what it means.  If you tried this with live-action, dubbing the voices to all sound the same, it just wouldn't work.  

But if you ask me, the down-side is that they didn't do ENOUGH with the animation, for most of the film, the stop-motion people and scenes are just re-creating what are quite ordinary things - people in a hotel, having drinks, having dinner, having sex.  There's one dream sequence that dares to show us a glimpse of the fantastic, but this is where animation really excels, making the impossible possible.  Much like the symbolism in the voices, most of the time the animation here stuck to re-creating the mundane, and it could have been so much more.   

But maybe the theory holds, then - the dream sequence is that much more meaningful because it's so short, I don't know.  If they had done an extended dream sequence, like half an hour, and then showed Michael waking up, like the last 30 minutes didn't really happen, the audience could have felt ripped off.  So that's sort of a double-edged sword, I guess.  But hopefully this is the only time I'll ever type this phrase - after the puppets have sex, then things get really weird.

I thought that maybe "Anomalisa" was a play on "Mona Lisa", but it turns out to be a portmanteau of "anomaly" and "Lisa", since Michael perceives that she is different from everyone else.  Don't worry if you miss it, the film will mansplain it to you several times just to be on the safe side.  However, once Michael makes the decision to be with her, her voice starts to take on the same droning Noonan-like sound as everyone else's.  

Now, perhaps this is just a side-effect of Michael getting used to her voice, familiarity breeding contempt, as he seems to tire of her unusual breakfast-eating habits around the same time.  But perhaps it's a common problem when people are attracted to each other - there's no feeling quite like the one you get from having a new lover, and many people just go from one short-term relationship to another, just to experience it.  It's like a drug in that sense, and chasing that next high is deadly to any long-term relationship.  Some call it limerence, it's a state of euphoria that exists in the early stages of attraction, and there are definite chemical reactions that take place in the brain at this time, which just plain feel good.  Eventually there can be a long-term bond form that rewards a person's brain in a different way, but nothing beats that dopamine rush of new love.  

It's funny, the boss who didn't care for this film as much is now making an animated feature about exactly that, the bio-chemical reactions that take place in a person's brain when they fall in love, form a partnership bond, and then when they have to break that bond for whatever reason.  I'll report more on this as the film goes through production over the next two or three years.  

But maybe I'm way off-base here, with my interpretation of the meaning of the characters' voices being nearly all the same.  The hotel depicted here is called the Fregoli, and that's a reference to the Fregoli Delusion, which is a paranoid psychological belief that different people are in fact the same person, who is able to change their appearance or disguise themselves.  Michael makes several references to being "out of sorts", so perhaps he's just suffering from this mental delusion.  I guess that's up to the viewer to decide, in the end.

So I really don't know which boss is more correct - but my point about animation is that it doesn't have to be limited to depicting the mundane, this could have easily been a story about the first man who gets his brain transplanted into a robot body, and he works in a factory with other robots, but he's the only human/robot hybrid, and he feels out of place because he goes home every night but the other robots just power down and stay at the factory, but one day he falls in love with an attractive female robot and turns her on to things like nightlife and robot sex, and takes her into his world with him, so he's not alone any more.  Like, you can DO that with animation, that's what's great about it. 

And something that is NOT on my bucket list - eating chili in Cincinnati.  Learning that they not only serve it over pasta, and with shredded cheddar on top, but that the chili contains flavors of cinnamon and chocolate.  I'm a foodie and I like trying weird combinations, but that's just too weird, even for me. Chili in general, I think in this country we've got to get our act together.  Some parts of the country say it has to have only beans, others say it's meat and beans, and still others say it should only have meat and no beans.  I promise, if I'm ever elected President, this is the kind of thing I'd work on straightening out, right after abolishing the incredibly useless Daylight Savings Time.

Also starring the voices of David Thewlis (last seen in "The Island of Dr. Moreau"), Tom Noonan (last seen in "The Astronaut's Wife").

RATING: 5 out of 10 sex toys

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Anniversary Party

Year 9, Day 17 - 1/17/17 - Movie #2,517

BEFORE: Too late, I've realized my mistake - I maybe should have linked from "American Ultra" to "Café Society" (both films had Jesse Eisenberg), from there to "Irrational Man", and that would have also linked here, through Parker Posey.  But that would have moved "The Hateful Eight" after tonight's film and put it on a weeknight, which would have been a problem, considering its three-hour length.  On the upside, it would have moved the start of the romance chain 2 days closer to February 1, but it also would have affected which film gets watched on Valentine's Day, and that's something I want to consider as well. 

I just have to hope that I can circle back and pick up those Woody Allen films later, perhaps by going from the new "Blade Runner" film with Ryan Gosling to "La La Land", and use the connection via Emma Stone to the two Woody Allen films, and then use "Now You See Me 2" as a lead-out.  A lot has to fall into place for that to work, and it feels like I'm building a castle on ever-shifting sands. 

For now, though, Jennifer Jason Leigh carries over from "The Hateful Eight" - and I'm guilty of focusing on her connections, to the point where I overlooked other possibilities.  My bad. 


THE PLOT: Sally Nash and Joe Therrian are a Hollywood couple celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary shortly after reconciling following a period of separation.   

AFTER: When I put together the romance films to make the February chain, there were some that just didn't fit in, because they didn't link to anything else - that's my excuse, anyway.  I'm going to deal with a few of these films this week, then I'll be back on to other films, including a few animated ones, before the real romance-themed work begins in late January.  Hey, relationship films are everywhere, they don't have to be confined to the month with Valentine's Day. 

There's no way to track this sort of thing, but I might be the only person to ever follow a viewing of "The Hateful Eight" with this film.  They're aimed at two totally different audiences, they're in two totally different genres, they seem like strange bedfellows, to say the least.  But are they really all that different?  One's set in a remote Wyoming outpost during a blizzard, the other is set at a fashionable Hollywood dinner party.   But here's what they have in common - both stories are set in confined spaces where the characters cannot leave, for the purposes of story. (And I'm sure we've all been to a few parties that we wanted to leave, but couldn't...)  These 8 or 24 people are stuck together for the duration, and as they talk to each other, annoy each other and push each other's buttons, tempers are sure to flare.  Now, one of them's going to end with bodies on the floor (your guess, but the safe money's on the Tarantino film...) and in the other one, the damage is going to be a lot less visible, but it's still there.

Now, I'm not going to say these people are self-obsessed, but they're Hollywood types - actors, writers, filmmakers and such.  So there's a lot of party conversation like, "What about you, I want to hear about you. Do YOU think I'm too self-obsessed?"  And to celebrate the fact that Sally and Joe are back together, in body and spirit, it seems that (after a non-friendly, near-violent game of Charades) every one of their friends needs to stand up and sing a song, or read a poem, or give a testimonial about what it means for the situation to be what it is.  God forbid that anyone at the party stop thinking about Sally and Joe for 30 seconds...  


This extends to everyone's kids, and their pets, who have to be part of these testimonials.  Really?  The problem is that everyone thinks their pets are THE BEST (but of course, they're wrong, because mine are...) and everyone also thinks that their kids are the most adorable, the most precocious - and nearly everyone is wrong.  Your kid sings weird songs, or dances in a not-too-awkward way, fine, but keep it to yourself.  At home.  Though I guess now with Facebook and Instagram that ship has sailed, huh?  Face it, all parents, your kids are weird, and you're not doing them any favors by putting them on the internet, or making them perform for your self-absorbed friends at a party.  

Everyone at a party also thinks they're the best conversationalist, especially after a few drinks, but similarly, that simply can't be true.  And everyone thinks they're the "good neighbor" in the neighborhood, but guess what?  If you don't know who the "bad neighbor" is, the one that everyone makes fun of, the one whose kids and dog everyone hates, it could be you.  

The party, and the film, come to a screeching halt when some form of drug - ecstasy? - is introduced.  Sure, it's a safe space and people should be allowed to expand their minds in a social situation - but for a movie, it's a cinematic non-starter.  It's just not interesting to watch stoned people, because they just swim and look at their hands and wave glowsticks around, and otherwise generally act stupid.  

And much like these partygoers, it seems like the screenwriters were equally distracted, because they resolve almost nothing, and leave a lot of loose ends.  Can Sally and Joe's relationship survive the party?  What's going to happen when Joe goes off to direct his film?  We never even see Sally give Joe his anniversary present, and that seemed rather important at one point.  And what, for God's sake, happened to the dog?  The situation of a couple that got back together had such dramatic promise, but not without any resolution, in this Sundance-y non-ending sort of ending.

Also starring Alan Cumming (last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), Parker Posey (last seen in "Laws of Attraction"), John Benjamin Hickey (last seen in "Get on Up"), Kevin Kline (last seen in "The Pink Panther"), Phoebe Cates (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Jane Adams (last seen in "Little Children"), John C. Reilly (last heard in "Bears"), Denis O'Hare (last seen in "The Judge"), Mina Badie, Jennifer Beals (last seen in "Vampire's Kiss"), Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "A Perfect Murder"), Michael Panes, Mary Lynn Rajskub (last seen in "Safety Not Guaranteed"), Matt Malloy, Matt McGrath.

RATING: 3 out of 10 bottles of water

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Hateful Eight

Year 9, Day 16 - 1/16/17 - Movie #2,516

BEFORE: I've managed to skate by so far this winter without doing any heavy shoveling.  We've had three small snowstorms so far, but each time it was followed by a day with either rain, or temperatures in the 40's, or both.  Why should I throw my back out shoveling, when it's all going to melt the next day?  I have a feeling that eventually this bill will come due, and NYC will get socked with 20 inches of snow all at once.   I learned a few rules about shoveling from my father: 1) lift with the legs, not the back 2) never scrape with the shovel, just get it down to the ice and then use some ice melt and 3) there's simply no point in shoveling until the snow STOPS coming down (my neighbors shovel mid-storm, which is ridiculous).

To these, I've added my own rules which are: 1) never shovel snow into the street, just pile it on your property (a source of much contention between me and the neighbors 2) if it's going to be over 40 degrees the next day, don't even bother, and 3) if you sleep in, and your friendly neighbor does you a favor by shoveling your walk, it's OK, just try and do the same for them on the next snowstorm.     

I had hopes this film would come in to my possession in time for last year's Samuel L. Jackson movie-thon, but it wasn't meant to be.  It's more seasonally appropriate here, anyway.  I've been meaning to add this one to the list for about a month, and I just haven't had the space.  Finally I recorded it last week, and added it to the list a few days ago.  I can't add it AS I watch it, because that doesn't count as progress.

The arrival of a new Tarantino to the film is always met with great anticipation here at the Movie Year, even if the films don't always live up to my expectations, like with "Death Proof".  I've got to give this guy's films a chance, but at some point his good will with me has got to stop being dependent on how great "Pulp Fiction" was. 

Walton Goggins carries over from "American Ultra", and I'll have to follow up on that other Jesse Eisenberg & Kristen Stewart film later.  This chain gets me to where I need to be at the start of February.  


THE PLOT: In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

AFTER: For this one, you've got to think back to a time when our country was politically and physically divided, violently coming to blows over economic and ideological differences - no, not the 2016 election, I'm talking about the Civil War (though I do see some comparisons...).  Most Westerns are set in the decades after the War of Southern Secession (or is it "Northern Agression"?) because that's just when U.S. citizens were making their way out west - and this shows that the very deep racial and political differences between the North and South were reflected out in the new territories, long after the war.  

This makes for a boatload of tension in Tarantino's "locked room" western film, the bulk of which is set in Minnie's Haberdashery, where various people have come for shelter from a blizzard, all on their way to the town of Red Rock, Wyoming.  Oh, there's some set-up on the way to the outpost, as bounty hunter John Ruth and his female fugitive are joined by two men in need of a ride - another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren, and Chris Mannix, who is Red Rock's new sheriff, or so he claims. When they arrive at Minnie's, there are four people there: a cowboy, an old general, an executioner, and a Mexican taking care of the store.  

As the blizzard rages, and the tensions run high, it starts to become clear that maybe not everyone is who they appear to be.  Of course, since John Ruth is bringing his bounty in alive (it seems that most other bounty hunters opt for the "dead" part of "dead or alive", which makes sense, it's just easier...) it's possible that someone has set a trap for him at Minnie's, or is he just being paranoid?  (NITPICK POINT: Did they even have the word "paranoid" back in the Old West?  It seems like something psychiatrists would have come up with in the 1930's.  Let me check - aha, 1921, I was close.  Same with the phrase "pen pal", it wasn't used until 1938.) 

The story is gripping, and there are many turnovers used as plot points, but here are my main complaints.  First off, the film is too violent.  I'm not a big fan of this Peckinpah-style ultra-violence, where you actually see the head explode, or someone ends up covered in gore, splattered from standing too close to someone else's misfortune.  This was my main problem with "Death Proof", which took such glee in presenting the car accidents that they had to be presented in slow-motion, and several times over so we would see EXACTLY how each girl got killed.  And that's something else that troubles me, the violence toward women.  I know, equal rights, some women are just as tough as men, but it's still hard for me to stomach.  Here Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is punched, elbowed, thrown out of a wagon, and has her teeth knocked out - and that's just in Act 1.  Things get worse from there.  There's too much violence overall toward men AND women here, but the stuff directed against women is particularly jarring.  I know, it was a different time, and stuff like this probably did happen, but that doesn't mean we have to celebrate it on film - Tarantino seems to revel in it at times.

Tied in with this is the over-use (my opinion) of the N-word.  I get that the word was more commonly used back then, but I similarly don't see the obsessive need to celebrate that fact.  Weren't there other epithets that could have taken its place, without all of the negative connotations?  It's very clever, Quentin (I can use the familiar name since I did once meet the man at Comic-Con...) to set the film back in the 1800's so you can justify using this word so much, but why is it so important to you?  It was used once in "Pulp Fiction", and then its use was even funny - so maybe less is more?  

Secondly, the film is too long.  With a running time just over three hours, I find it hard to believe that this couldn't have been trimmed down to 2 hr. 40 min., or even 2 hr. 30 min.  There are long stretches where nothing of note happens, and while this might be representative of a night in a cabin during a blizzard, it's not so great for telling a cinematic story.  Or cut a couple of characters, I can't say in which scene without spoilers, but there is definitely at least one that was well-populated. 

Which brings me, in sort of a round-about way, to the non-linear structure that the film engages at one point.  I rant and rail here time and time again against excessive use of flashbackery, because most directors just don't know how to do it right.  Turns out there's an exemption clause, but only if your name is Quentin Tarantino.  "Pulp Fiction" is a tesseract of 5 storylines that intersect and fold in upon themselves, which at one point caused a character we saw die come back to life.  If that compilation of tales had been told completely in a proper timeline, toggling between the 4 or 5 stories as needed, it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting - plus the audience would have narrative whiplash from starting up one story, then cutting to another, then back.  

So it's allowable, if the director knows what he's doing.  Let's say (and this does not happen during "The Hateful Eight") that a story requires that a bomb go off in a room.  Hitchcock showed us all that if the bomb just goes off, surprising everyone, it feels like a cheat, a "deus ex machina", and it's not the best way to tell a story (though it probably best reflects the surprise felt by the people in the room.)  And if you show the person planting the bomb, there's no mystery involved, plus people are going to be on the edge of their seat, wondering when the bomb will go off, and that's not the best way to tell a story either.  The best way he had to create suspense was to show the people in the room, going about their business, and then pan the camera down to the bomb hidden under the desk, or the bed, or whatever.  This also creates dramatic irony, which is when the audience has information that the characters don't have.  

The more modern way of doing this is to present the information when it's relevant, i.e., after the bomb goes off, and then we flashback to someone setting it.  Or this is used for explaining after the fact how someone escaped from a room, or got the thing done in time.  My problem seems to be when directors fall back on it as a crutch, in order to start the story at the most interesting part, which is an admission that the story is too boring when told in a completely linear fashion.

But Tarantino uses the technique well, and I believe that this film is still a masterpiece of storytelling, despite the vulgar parts. I'd love to give it an appropriate "8" but I'm taking a point off for making me hear the N-word so many times (and on MLK day, to boot!)

Also starring Kurt Russell (last seen in "Death Proof"), Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "XXX: State of the Union"), Jennifer Jason Leigh (last seen in "The Big Picture"), Bruce Dern (last seen in "Hard Time: The Premonition"), Demian Bichir (last seen in "Savages"), Tim Roth (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Michael Madsen (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Channing Tatum (last seen in "Foxcatcher"), Zoë Bell (also last seen in "Death Proof"), James Parks (ditto), Dana Gourrier, Lee Horsley (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Keith Jefferson (ditto), Gene Jones (last seen in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas"), Craig Stark, Belinda Owino, with the voice of Quentin Tarantino (last seen in "Planet Terror")

RATING:  7 out of 10 peppermint sticks