Friday, July 21, 2017

The Angry Birds Movie

Year 9, Day 200 - 7/19/17 - Movie 2,694

BEFORE: And now you see why I had to move "Cars 3" to nearly the end of the Animation raid - tonight she carries over to do a voice in this film.  I've made great progress crossing these films off of my list - both my watchlist and my Netflix list, which for the moment remain two separate lists, so I don't lose heart.  (Adding the Netflix films in would nearly DOUBLE my current watchlist, so when I get back from my Comic-Con trip I'm going to work some more on reducing the Netflix list to a more manageable level.)

After I squeeze in this one last film before my trip (and post this probably just before getting into a cab for the airport) I'll have just four animated films left to watch- "Norm of the North", "Despicable Me 3", "Shaun the Sheep" and "Happily N'Ever After 2".  I've got plans to squeeze in the first two of those before the year ends, but the other two are nearly unsinkable - I suppose I could count the animated films that I recently found on Netflix, like "Mulan 2", "Brother Bear 2", "Pocahontas 2" and "Tarzan 2", but honestly those don't feel like they should be high-priority choices.  We'll see.  Maybe next year.


THE PLOT: When an island populated by happy, flightless birds is visited by mysterious green piggies, it's up to three unlikely outcasts - Red, Chuck and Bomb - to figure out what the pigs are up to.

AFTER: I didn't have time to post before I left, so let me get a quick review in from San Diego, so I can move forward from here when I return. This film is just plain nonsense, in fact I think the video game it's based on has a better storyline, and there you merely launch birds at buildings to knock thrm down. To go back and try to explain WHY the birds are angry is quite unnecessary, when it's right there in the title, you could just take it as a given fact and move on. The rest is just window dressing (sending the lead bird to anger management classes, for example) and the jokes just don't land or pay off. I'm only happy to clear this off my list so that I can never speak of it again.

If I think of more to say later I will, now that I know I can post using my phone, but now I've got to take a quick shower and get back to my booth at the convention center.

Also starring the voices of Jason Sudeikis (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Josh Gad (last seen in "Pixels"), Peter Dinklage (ditto), Danny McBride (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Maya Rudolph (last heard in "Strange Magic"), Bill Hader (last heard in "Finding Dory"), Kate McKinnon (ditto), Sean Penn (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Keegan-Michael Key (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Tony Hale (last seen in "American Ultra"), Hannibal Buress (last heard in "The Secret Life of Pets"), Ike Barinholtz (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Titus Burgess, Jillian Bell (last seen in "The Night Before"), Billy Eichner (last seen in "What Happens in Vegas"), Blake Shelton (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Charli XCX, Geoffrey Arend (last seen in "500 Days of Summer"), Catherine Winder, Alex Borstein (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Max Charles (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Fergal Reilly, Kevin Bigley, Ali Wong, Aidan McGraw (last seen in "American Sniper"), Fred Tatasciore (last heard in "The Boxtrolls"), John Lasseter.

RATING: 3 out of 10 stolen eggs

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cars 3

Year 9, Day 199 - 7/18/17 - Movie #2,693 - VIEWED ON 6/26/17

BEFORE:  Yeah, so I watched this one way back in June, about three weeks ago, when I started the whole animation block, but before I realized exactly HOW many films I was missing out on by not watching them on Netflix.  So I added (nearly) everything that was available to me into the plan, whether those films were on Netflix, Amazon or Academy screeners, and that forced a re-organization of the plan.  For linking purposes, this film then got moved to the back end of the pack, but honestly since I'm about 24 hours away from flying to San Diego, it didn't hurt to NOT have to watch a movie last night - instead I could pack, read some comic books and clear some shows off the DVR.  I think I can still squeeze one more film in tonight, since I usually don't sleep the night before I travel - I stay up and leave for the airport around 4 am to catch my 8 am direct flight that gets me in to S.D. around noon.  By the time I get to the convention center tomorrow I'm going to be already exhausted, and then I'll have to carry my merchandise from the UPS store to our booth, set up the booth, and work a 3-hour shift on Preview Night.  But hey, that's the job, and I haven't found a better way to get there and get everything set up.  Now, the rest of this post will continue, mostly as I wrote it, back in late June:

Now I know that programming this week of recent animated films was a good idea - because while at the movie theater to see "Cars 3",  I got to see the previews for the animated films coming out later this year, and I'm only going to fall further and further behind unless I keep crossing the animated films of 2016 and 2017 off my list.  Now, most of them seem really horrible, but before "Cars 3" I was shown clips from: "Despicable Me 3", "The Lego Ninjago Movie", "The Emoji Movie", "Coco" (and the new "Frozen" Christmas-themed short that will precede it), "Ferdinand", and "The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature".  Umm, thanks, but I still haven't seen the first "Nut Job" film yet.

Going to the theater this year so far has been all about choices - do I go see "Wonder Woman" or "The Mummy"?  (Made the right choice there...) Do I go see the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, or just stay home?  Do I go see "Cars 3" or "Despicable Me 3", which opens later this week?  Well, I've landed on "Cars 3" out of those two choices, mostly because one works with my chain, for linking purposes, and the other one doesn't.  (Or does it?  I've got to remember to investigate this - I'm still 3 days short on my chain, it would be great to add in another 1 or 2 films...)

Screw it, I've made my choice, I've landed on a chain of animated films that gets me CLOSE to where I need to be, so all I need to do is take a couple days off in early July, and things will line up like I want them to.  So Bonnie Hunt carries over from "Zootopia", if I've done this correctly.  (EDIT: Nope, after changing things around, now John Ratzenberger carries over from "The Good Dinosaur")

Another Monday night out at the movies (though I'm probably posting this on Wednesday).  Hey, it's OK to have popcorn for dinner, right?  Corn is a vegetable, after all.  And that movie-theater butter is really just hydrogenated soybean oil, but soybeans are vegetables too, right?  So I'm eating healthy!


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Cars 2" (Movie #1,067)

THE PLOT: Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he's still the best race car in the world.

AFTER:  The new Pixar short film "Lou" preceded the feature - I thought this was a cute, touching film set in a schoolyard that also had a pertinent anti-bullying message, but my boss didn't like this short, he thought it was quite forgettable.  I strongly disagree with that.

Welcome back to the world of "Cars", where (as people have speculated) the human race has died out, cars have become sentient, and have found a way to reproduce and repair themselves, despite having no hands or ability to reason.  And if you've been turned off by the horrible aberration that was "Cars 2" - Hey, they're all cars, and spies, too! - this can be seen a return to form for the franchise.

My boss saw the film last week with his 4-year old son, and also posted his review - he said there was way too much talking and philosophizing about racing, and not enough racing. In a sense he's right, because it should be "Show, don't tell", the depiction of action over the describing of it.  But the film can't be just one long race, or even two or three races, there has to be some down-time in between.  Bill also left after the demolition derby sequence, so he missed the final race, and therefore the whole message of the film.

Speaking of messages, the film goes through quite a few of them - at first Lightning has this over-emphasis on winning, so it seems for a while like the message is going to be about winning being everything, or perhaps he'll learn over the course of the film that it isn't, and that will be a form of character growth.  This would echo the learning curve in "Talladega Nights", where Ricky Bobby lives by the mantra "If you're not first, you're last" and then comes to learn that this was a horrible piece of advice his father gave him when he was drunk or stoned - turns out you can finish second or third and that's still a victory of sorts.  Though I have to question the depicted repeated "pranking" of the winner of each race by the second-place finisher - Pixar, is this really a good example to set for the kids?

(And I hate to mention it, but we're not supposed to place too much emphasis on winning where kids are concerned.  We're supposed to make all the kids feel included, from the physically fit ones right on down to the ones with disabilities, and also the hyperactive spazzes who lack the focus to play sports properly.  ALL the kids get participation trophies these days, so maybe an animated film where winning is everything should have a slightly different focus, that's all.  Please continue.)

Then it seemed like the message of the film was going to be something about growing old and retiring gracefully - the next generation of race cars comes along and they're just plain faster, more energy efficient or less wind resistant or something - it's all very technical - but Lightning's top speed is like 195, and the new character, Jackson Storm, can go 207 mph easily.  So Lightning sees a lot of his friends retire from the sport, and figures that he needs to either improve, or go out on top.  Either way, he's got to win this next race in Florida - because if you're not first, you're last - in order to stay in the game.  So it seemed like they were heading toward a message about getting off the stage while you still have some dignity (I wonder if this represents the way that Owen Wilson feels about younger actors like Zac Efron, Channing Tatum and the Hemsworth brothers, who seem to be getting all the male roles he used to be offered...)

Then Lightning goes off to train, and learns that his younger, female, corporate sponsor-appointed trainer always wanted to be a racecar herself, but she walked away from her one chance to do that, due to lack of confidence.  But during the unconventional training process (which involves taking speed trials on the beach, getting involved in a demolition derby, and learning to drift on an old dirt track) it seems like maybe the female racer, Cruz Ramirez, has what it takes, after all.  During the drifting, another weird mantra arises - "you've got to turn right to go left" which was probably deemed to be too confusing to the viewers who are too young to drive.  Then it seems like the message might turn out to be something about how when people try to put you down or say you can't do something, you can turn that around as use it as extra motivation.

There's a lot of time spent in the middle with Lightning trying to re-connect with the memory of his mentor, Doc Hudson.  It's been mentioned that they didn't just re-use lines that Paul Newman recorded for the first "Cars" film - though that would have been totally OK, his character is only seen in flashback (and anyway, Lucasfilm re-used X-Wing fighter footage from "A New Hope" in "Rogue One", I spotted it right away...) they went back to the original recording sessions with Paul Newman and found outtakes that they could use, since Newman was telling racing stories all the time, on the down-time in between takes.  That stuff is probably golden.  They also had to find a sound-alike for the VW bus that was originally voiced by George Carlin, and they re-cast Chick Hicks, the car that was voiced by Michael Keaton in the first film, I guess Keaton wasn't available.

(Some of the voice casting doesn't make much sense to me - I try to identify the actors with distinctive voices whenever I watch an animated film.  Artie Hammer's voice is not very distinct, nor is Nathan Fillion's.  They're both bland, monotone and practically interchangeable.  I can only guess that actors with more distinct voices might have been cast, and then backed out of the project.  I could imagine that the corporate CEO car named "Sterling" could have been played better by, say, Jon Hamm, and considering that on "Mad Men" he worked for the agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, maybe this  was who they had in mind in the first place.)

Finally, with all the back-and-forth over who's training whom - I suppose this is to be expected when the trainer character is younger than the athlete, it's inevitable that in order to show he's got more experience than her, they end up sort of switching places - the real message of the film emerges, which is that there's nothing preventing a girl from being a racer, or being whatever she wants to be.  And that our limitations are mostly self-imposed (umm, except for the ones that aren't).  The audience gets there about 5 minutes before Lightning does, but when he finally sees the light and figures out that he can still race, but also gradually shift himself into more of a training/mentoring position on a race team, it's a brilliant revelation.  It satisfies all of his navel-gazing about whether he can retire on his own terms, it pays tribute to the mentor that he lost, and it helps a younger character find her own way.

Now, the cynical side of me wonders if this was done to get more young girls interested in a movie franchise that was very boy-centric.  Someone at Pixar finally woke up and realized there was a simple way to potentially double their audience - prior to this, girl "Cars" characters only played racers girlfriends or support staff.  Finally a girl racer character appears, and whatever the motivation is behind it, I just want to say that it's about damn time.  

The uplifting nature of the ending really stood out, possibly because I just finished watching three weeks of depressing films mostly about death and destruction.  I still have questions about the "Cars" universe - why are there handles on their doors if there are no humans to ride inside of them?  Why are there eyes on the windshields, but not on the headlights?  And how DO the cars reproduce, anyway?  Scratch that, maybe there are some questions I'd rather not have answered.

Also starring the voices of Owen Wilson (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper (last seen in "Demolition"), Nathan Fillion (last seen in "Serenity"), Armie Hammer (last seen in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."), Larry the Cable Guy (last heard in "Cars 2"), Tony Shalhoub (last seen in "Heartburn"), Kerry Washington (last seen in "Against the Ropes"), Lea DeLaria (last seen in "The First Wives Club"), Margo Martindale (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Paul Newman (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), Cheech Marin (last seen in "Planet Terror"), Katherine Helmond (last seen in "Family Plot"), Paul Dooley (last seen in "Breaking Away"), Bob Costas (last seen in "The Paper"), Darrell Waltrip (last heard in "Cars 2") Bob Peterson (also carrying over from "The Good Dinosaur"), Ray Magliozzi, Tom Magliozzi, Isiah Whitlock Jr. (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Lloyd Sherr, Jenifer Lewis, Jerome Ranft and cameos from Kyle Petty, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Humpy Wheeler, Junior Johnson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., Daniel Suarez, Ray Evernham, Shannon Spake, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Wallis.

RATING: 6 out of 10 endorsement deals

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Good Dinosaur

Year 9, Day 198 - 7/17/17 - Movie #2,692

BEFORE: And now I can reveal the real reason for doing this animated block for the last two weeks - this Pixar film "The Good Dinosaur" has been languishing at the bottom of my list for the last year or so, resisting all my attempts to link to it.  Whenever I found a movie like "Laurel Canyon", let's say, which would share an actress, there would be no second link, so it would essentially be dead-end to the chain.  Jeffrey Wright was also in "The Invasion" last year, that was another possible link, but since this is not a horror film, that didn't work out either.  Steve Zahn was in "Bandidas" last year, but you see what I mean - a film has to link on both sides to something to be part of a chain.

Finally, I remembered that John Ratzenberger does at least a cameo in every Pixar film - so by placing this one between two films with him in it, I can finally get it off of my list.  So Ratzenberger carries over from "Finding Dory", and he's my link to "Cars 3" tomorrow, also.


THE PLOT: In a world where dinosaurs and humans live side-by-side, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.

AFTER: Once again, it's difficult to tell if I'm suffering from "animated feature burnout", or if this film is as lackluster or as by-the-numbers as it seems.  I mean, most people are just not designed to watch THIS many animated films in a row - I guess maybe parents with children might have to watch them more frequently, but you can't take your kids to the movies EVERY day.  So I suppose as a grown adult, with no kids, I'm just not cut out for this relentless assault on my intelligence - movies aimed at 5 to 10-year old - day after day.

And if we're going to get mad at climate change deniers for ignoring what science tells them, then the flip side of that is that I should also get mad at this story, for depicting dinosaurs and (photo-)humans existing at the same time, when science tells us that it just didn't happen.  Cavemen did not ride dinosaurs, perhaps they encountered mammoths because those are also mammals, but dinosaurs?  No way.

I know, this film posits an "alternate history" where the asteroid that cause the extinction-level event that killed the dinosaurs missed the earth - but that divergence, in and of itself, wouldn't have brought about the age of mammals any sooner, and it certainly wouldn't have resulted in anything close to a human, simply because it's that very same extinction-level event that (eventually) brought about the changes in climate that made it possible for mammals to develop in the first place.  Right?  Are we clear?   This would be like if you were to go back in time and kill baby Hitler, and you manage to prevent World War II and the Holocaust, but then somehow in the 1950's Germany would also develop the first flying cars.  One change can lead to other changes, but not ones that it has NOTHING to do with.

So, how do the dinosaurs surviving longer bring about the accelerated development of Neanderthals, or Cro-Magnon man, or whatever is seen here?  Simple, it can't, and that's a huge story problem, if you ask me.  Of course, if you take this movie seriously, even as an alternate history, then you have to believe that dinosaurs could have evolved into language-speaking creatures, discovered agriculture and also raised herds of chicken- and cow-like animals, not to mention built the first simple structures like shacks and silos.  No, no, no!  This is just going to give children bad ideas about what dinosaurs were like - they had walnut-sized brains, for cripes sake!  They never, never would have learned how to farm or build things - most dinosaurs didn't even have arms!  (Except for T. rex, and we all know how small his arms were...)

In its own way, this is JUST as bad as those bible-thumpers that think that dinosaur fossils aren't real, or if they are then Adam and Eve must have named them in the Garden of Eden, and anyway dinos couldn't have lived millions of years ago because the Earth is only about 4,000 years old.  We don't listen to these people because they don't pay attention to the conclusions of scientists, and somehow believe that priests and ministers have better answers.

The IMDB trivia section for this film acknowledges that there were many production problems and story issues during the development of this film, which then resulted in the release date being moved forward several times, and layoffs were made at Pixar's Canada satellite studio as a result.  After one director was removed from the project in 2013 and more delays resulting from that, a new director was named in 2014 and the story was then re-worked once again.  I have to say, this is about what you get when there's so many problems going on behind the scenes, a very mediocre film.   Yes, even Pixar is capable of making one.

Also starring the voices of Jeffrey Wright (last heard in "Ernest & Celestine"), Frances McDormand (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Anna Paquin (last seen in "Trick 'r Treat"), Sam Elliott (last seen in "Tombstone"), Steve Zahn (last seen in "Riding in Cars With Boys"), Marcus Scribner, A.J. Buckley, Peter Sohn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, Jack McGraw, Ryan Teeple, David Boat.

RATING: 4 out of 10 gopher holes

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Finding Dory

Year 9, Day 197 - 7/16/17 - Movie #2,691

BEFORE: You might imagine that it would have made sense to drop in "Despicable Me 3" next, with both Steve Coogan and Jenny Slate carrying over from "The Secret Life of Pets".  I tried very hard to make that work, but that would have led to a dead-end in the chain - even though a lot of voice-over actors have appeared in multiple films since I started my (mostly-)animated chain back on June 28, there just wasn't a way to work that one in.  Originally I had this film up at the start of the chain, but then when I saw the magnitude of the rich tapestry of films available to me via Netflix, I realized I needed to flip things around in order to fit everything in, and also to accommodate "Spider-Man: Homecoming".  So this one got re-located to the end of the chain, along with tomorrow's film and "Cars 3".  I'm still on track to wrap up this subject matter by Wednesday, when I leave for Comic-Con, though.


THE PLOT: The friendly but forgetful blue tang fish, Dory, begins a search for her long-lost parents and learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

AFTER: Maybe I'm suffering from a bit of fatigue where animated films are concerned.  This is my 12th animated feature in about three weeks' time, and honestly I'm burnt out on cute talking animals.  (Just three days to go, two more films with talking animals, and one with talking cars...).  The Hollywood animation machine keeps cranking this stuff out - maybe I'd think of it all differently if I had kids, but I don't, so instead I'm just a sad, aging man watching cartoons by himself, late at night.  But at least I'm a professional sad, aging man watching cartoons.

Where sequels are concerned, of course they should only be done if there is more story to tell, but honestly sometimes it feels like companies are keeping franchises going by answering lingering questions that never needed to be asked in the first place.  (cough....Rogue One...cough). Was anyone staying up nights wondering where Dory, the forgetful fish, grew up?  I doubt it, since she can't be made to remember, why should we even care?  I mean, everyone was born somewhere, everyone grew up somewhere, most people remember even if they might want to forget, and most animals are probably too busy trying not to be eaten to even spare a minute to think about it.   Ah, but there are salmon, which somehow remember where they were born when it's time for them to spawn. (Though, if you think about it, how do we know that each salmon is traveling up the EXACT same river that it came from?  Don't all rivers look alike if you're a fish?  How do we confirm this little factoid, or did this come from another Disney-propaganda documentary, like the one that incorrectly told us that lemmings all jump off cliffs together, when in fact those lemmings were PUSHED off by the documentary filmmakers - it's true, please look it up.).

"Finding Dory" tells us that manta rays migrate, a fact which plays a role in Dory remembering something about her childhood - but this fact is also suspect.  Recent research suggests that manta rays do not, like whales, travel thousands of miles following their food sources, and instead stay within areas of the ocean only around 140 miles across, as confirmed by satellite tags and tests of their muscle samples that demonstrate dietary quirks.  But let's not get bogged down in science, here, because the animators here didn't, either.

This film serves as both the prequel AND sequel to "Finding Nemo", since we see Dory when she's just a baby fish, interacting with her parents who try to help her find ways to cope with her short-term memory loss, and this part of the story takes us right up to the point where she meets Marlin in the first film, then skips ahead to the time later, when her memory gets jogged and she gets flashes of her parents and the location in which they (hopefully) still live.  And so she sets out with the help of her new friends to ride the jetstream across the Pacific and find a specific bay in California, where there happens to be a Marine Institute that rescues and relocates fish.  But apparently not all, because after spending time in quarantine, Dory concludes that this may be where she grew up, and her parents may be part of an ongoing exhibit at the aquarium.

Before re-connecting with her childhood friends, Dory encounters a 7-legged octopus who offers to help her, in exchange for the tag on her fin that will send him to Cleveland, to keep himself from being released back in to the ocean.  The octopus was probably the best character in the whole film, in my opinion, not just because it's a type of sea creature we haven't seen before, but because he was often surly and neurotic, not your typical bright and optimistic Disney creature.  Plus it was cool that he could change his color and camouflage himself, even though another prominent character did that in "The Penguins of Madagascar" - but hey, all of these animated films are drawing from the same playbook, it seems.  Both this film and last night's film "The Secret Life of Pets" had animals escaping from a truck that falls off a bridge, for example.

NITPICK POINT: This one's directed at last night's film also, which fell back on those old tropes about all toilets somehow leading to large communal chambers under NYC, where alligators are allowed to live and grow to massive scale - is that even how sewer pipes work?  I was more under the impression that sewage was a closed system, which would lead to, I don't know, maybe a sewage treatment plant, rather than directly into a river or the ocean, which I think would probably be against all community sanitary standards.  Maybe "Finding Dory" isn't as bad in this regard, but it leads us to believe that all of the tanks in an aquarium would be connected by a series of underground pipes, which I'm not sure would be the case.  Sure, every tank in an aquarium would probably have some kind of drainage system, but wouldn't it be closed most of the time?  Because otherwise any infestation of algae or other unwanted microorganisms would, under an open system, be able to spread across the entire aquarium very easily.  I'm just saying, if you're a screenwriter, maybe stop and do a couple of hours of research into how sewers or drainage systems work, if that happens to be an important element of your story.

Also starring the voices of Ellen Degeneres (last seen in "Edtv"), Ed O'Neill (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph"), Kaitlin Olson (last seen in "Vacation"), Ty Burrell (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Diane Keaton (last seen in "Reds"), Eugene Levy (last seen in "Club Paradise"), Hayden Rolence, Idris Elba (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Dominic West (last seen in "Money Monster"), Bob Peterson, Bill Hader (last heard in "The BFG"), Kate McKinnon (last seen in "Ted 2"), Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Andrew Stanton, with vocal cameos from John Ratzenberger (also last seen in "Reds"), Willem Dafoe (last seen in "Out of the Furnace"), Brad Garrett (last seen in "Music and Lyrics"), Allison Janney (last seen in "The Rewrite"), Austin Pendleton (last seen in "Starting Over'), Stephen Root (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Vicki Lewis (last heard in "Alpha and Omega").

RATING: 5 out of 10 hugging otters

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Secret Life of Pets

Year 9, Day 196 - 7/15/17 - Movie #2,690

BEFORE: I went through my October horror films line-up, to figure out which films will make the cut this year - I've got about 30, but that's too many since I'll need to take a break for New York Comic-Con, and I want to keep more slots open in case I need to add some linking material to make my November/December chain.  Next step - go through the planned November/December movies to try and figure out how much linking material I might need to add.  After that I can get a better idea how many slots there will be to fill in September - right now my chain should last until August 19 before it dead-ends, but maybe with some fill-in material I can get that chain to stretch into September. Either way, I'm close to having a solid plan for the rest of the year that will also allow me to go out and see the new "Blade Runner" film, plus "Justice League", "Thor: Ragnarok" and of course "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", because those are the priorities.

Albert Brooks carries over from "The Little Prince", and he'll be here tomorrow as well - nothing but animated films until I leave for San Diego on Wednesday, so that's like clear sailing.


THE PLOT: The quite life of a terrier named Max is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray whom Max instantly dislikes.

AFTER: I'm back in the "city full of diverse animals" genre, as seen in "Zootopia" and "Sing".  But the animals' positions here are closer to reality, where they're subservient to humans in a real city (NYC).  They do talk to each other, but the humans can't understand their language, it comes out as barks and meows to human ears - creating a situation like the one seen in "Toy Story", where there are two overlapping interpretations of what's going on, or where actions seen through one set of characters' eyes aren't properly seen or understood by people.

The voice-casting is pretty great here, especially in the choice of Louis C.K. to be the "everydog" main character.  His voice has a regular-guy feel, with just enough sarcasm and notes of complaint to be the put-upon dog who has to share his space and owner's affection with a new dog roommate.  And the start of the story is common enough, with two pets getting used to sharing space - we just finished getting two cats to share space without killing each other, the socialization process for us took about a year.  (That was nine months with the new cat in the basement, then three months of supervised interaction before the fighting was under control.).

But there are problems with the narrative here, which essentially turns into just one long chase scene after the character introductions are made (and there are a lot of those).  We know that the two dogs are going to become friends after they endure hardship together, making their way back to their home, but did that have to involve escaping from the Animal Control truck three times?  It might have been better if they faced a lot of different challenges together, rather than the same challenge over and over.

Some of the animal characters live in the sewers, forming an alliance of "Flushed Pets" - so there was perhaps an opportunity here to have a teachable moment, maybe a call to action to get people to stop discarding pets?  Isn't there a problem where whichever animals get featured in a popular children's movie, there's a wave of interest in adopting that specific breed, and then the majority of people find out they're really not cut out to be pet owners, and then they discard those pets?  Like there was a huge run on Dalmatian puppies after "101 Dalmatians", but the interest waned quickly when people found out how much work it is to take care of a dog.  I can only imagine the rush to own Jack Russell terriers and Pomeranians after this film hit.

As sensitive as I am to this issue, and the plight of discarded pets, the stories of some of the "flushed pets" here didn't make much sense.  First off, one was an alligator, and I thought we dispelled those "alligators in the sewers" urban legends years ago.  But let's take the tattooed pig here - he says that tattoo artists practiced on him until his skin was filled up, and then they discarded him.  Where to start with the NITPICK POINTS?  You can't really flush a pig, or any animal besides a fish, really, and have it survive in the sewers after.  And it wouldn't make sense for a tattoo artist to practice on a live pig, because it would squirm around in pain, so assuming this is even a thing, with a pig's body standing in for human skin, then they would practice on a dead pig, because then it would be still.  And even if the workers in a tattoo shop were practicing on a live pig, when they were done they probably wouldn't discard the pig, they'd take it to a butcher and get some ham and pork chops out of the deal.  (Sorry, kids, but I'm keeping it real.)

But it seems like this film made a ton of money, so the sequel is due out in two years.  And as long as they keep making animated films like this, kids will keep going to see them - but unfortunately that means they'll keep wanting pets that they can't care for.  But I guess that's how the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself, down through the generations....

Also starring the voices of Louis C.K. (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), Eric Stonestreet (last seen in "The Island"), Kevin Hart (last seen in "Get Hard"), Jenny Slate (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Ellie Kemper (ditto), Lake Bell (last seen in "What Happens in Vegas"), Dana Carvey (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Hannibal Buress (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Bobby Moynihan (last seen in "Ted 2"), Steve Coogan (last heard in "Ella Enchanted"), Chris Renaud, Michael Beattie, Sandra Echeverria, Jaime Camil.

RATING: 5 out of 10 fire escapes

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Little Prince

Year 9, Day 195 - 7/14/17 - Movie #2,689

BEFORE: I got myself a knee brace at the pharmacy, after visiting my doctor this morning.  The reflexes in my left knee seem to be less responsive, which could mean any of several different things.  I could have a torn ACL, or early osteo-arthritis, but I needed a quick fix to the problem since I leave for San Diego next Wednesday, and I'll be doing a lot of walking there.  While sitting in the exam room, I suddenly remembered the time in February that I slipped on some ice while crossing the street and stepping up on a curb - it's very possible that I landed hard on my knee before my chest hit the ground.  So maybe I just banged it up and it took this long to start acting up - with luck I'll have more time to investigate this when I get back, but in the meantime the doc showed me some exercises I can do to strengthen my quadriceps to compensate.

Rachel McAdams carries over from "Spotlight", and this is another little gem I found on Netflix, I think it was in theaters briefly, but since then it's been hiding there as a Netflix exclusive.

THE PLOT: A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it.  Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.

AFTER: Thankfully I don't end up saying this very often, but I didn't understand this film at all.  I mean, I get that the framing sequence is about over-achieving "helicopter moms", and that sometimes it's best to let kids just be kids and not put too much pressure on them.  If that's the point of the film, then I can get behind that.

But all of the sequences with the Little Prince, I just couldn't tell which end was up, where the story was coming from, or where it was going for that matter, or what it all means in the end.  Why did it have to be so obtuse?  I feel like everything I saw was a metaphor for something else, but the meaning was always just out of my grasp.  I know it's just the story-within-the-story, but this is the part based on the famous children's book, right?  I don't know for sure, I never read it.  I'm assuming that the framing sequence is what's new here, and those sequences are animated in a different style, so it seems fairly straight-forward about which events are "real" and which ones are the fictional story.

Or is it?  Because late in the film the real girl gets into the Aviator's broken-down plane, and flies to another world, where she meets someone who might be the grown-up version of the Little Prince.  Is this part supposed to be real or not?  I honestly have no idea - I mean, in the end NONE of it is real, it's all one big story, but the people from the story aren't supposed to interact with the people from the story-within-the-story, right?  Isn't that against the rules?

I admit it, I fell asleep at some point, and I'm sure that didn't help.  In order to insure that I would get up in time for my doctor's appointment, I avoided my usual caffeinated beverage during this film, thinking that I'd make it through the (relatively) short film, fall asleep right after, and get something close to a good night's rest.  Didn't work out that way - instead I dozed off about a half-hour into the film, slept for an hour, and when I woke up, I was too far away from the PlayStation controller that would rewind the film, so I watched the end of the film, then I figured I'd go back and watch the middle bit that I missed in the morning.  Only by this time I'd forced myself to stay awake, and there was no getting back to sleep, so I got up, rewound the film to where I fell asleep, and watched until the part where I dozed off.

I realize all that makes for a non-ideal way to watch a story - but since then, I've reviewed the entire plot in the right order, and I still don't get it.  Who or what is this Little Prince, who lives on an asteroid, supposed to represent?  Is he God, Jesus or the child that lives within all of us?  And he falls in love with a rose?  How is that a thing, unless the rose represents a young woman somehow, whom he leaves to makes his way in the world, which he regrets later.

The Little Prince then makes his way to a variety of other asteroids or planets, where he meets a King, a Conceited Man, and a Businessman - what the heck is THAT all about?  Who are these people, or what are they supposed to represent?   Then he comes to earth and meets a Fox, whom he tames, and a Snake, who I think kills him earlier in the story, even though that happens later.??  Again, so much is unclear here about what happens when, or whether I'm supposed to take everything in this story literally or symbolically, that in the end I have no idea what's going on.

The Little Girl keeps sneaking out to be with the Aviator, who's the one telling her all these stories about the Little Prince - it seems he once crash-landed his plane in the desert, where he encountered the Prince himself (only, did he?  I can't tell if the Aviator is a reliable narrator, or a senile fool.)  And may I add here that this is a movie for kids, and if I had this much trouble understanding it, then what possible chance does a child have when it comes to figuring out what this story means?

Eventually the Little Girl gets in trouble with her mother for spending so much time with the Aviator and neglecting her studies, which are supposed to be preparing her to enter a very prestigious school.  But then when the Aviator gets sick, she sneaks out of her bedroom, flies off in the Aviator's plane and has her own adventure, where she meets the Little Prince as a man in his twenties, on a world full of workaholic people, run by that Businessman from the story, who grinds up everything that is not essential, and is holding the stars from the sky hostage and using them to power his city.  Again, WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?  I much prefer to interpret this as maybe the girl hit her head when the drainpipe fell down, and she fell into the Aviator's yard next door.  So I think the whole sequence on the workaholic world wasn't real, she was just imagining it while lying unconscious in the yard - that makes sense to me, but I worry that other interpretations are possible too.

OK, I've paused here to look up the storyline of the original children's book "The Little Prince" on Wikipedia, and I think I'm starting to understand the problem.  Much like "The Jungle Book", the book is a series of little vignettes with the prince visiting these different asteroids, and each one contains an irrational adult that's meant to satirize a specific type of person, or a part of society.  (Maybe it's a bit more like "Gulliver's Travels", where Gulliver found differennt illogical people in each land that he visited.)  Like the king who has no subjects, or the vain man who believes he is the best person on his planet when he's the ONLY person there, or the businessman who counts the stars but is blind to their beauty.  I note that the film left out the drunk man who's drinking to forget the fact that he's an alcoholic, understandable because this doesn't belong in a kids' movie, and the lamplighter who wastes his life following orders, because today's kids wouldnt' know what a lamplighter is.

The author of the book, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, did fly airplanes, and did crash a plane in the Sahara in 1935, and while he and a co-pilot survived, four days in the desert led to some very strange mirages, no doubt.  He also saw desert foxes while serving as a mail pilot, so I get where that came from too.  The Prince's rose is thought to symbolize Saint-Exupery's wife (as I figured), and the other roses the Prince encounters on Earth are possibly symbols of his infidelity. 

But it seems that overall, the film retained the events of the book, but in my opinion, made no attempt to even try to state what these events might mean.  If that's what you're going to do, make a really half-hearted effort to tell a story, then why bother?

Also starring the voices of Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Mackenzie Foy (last heard in "Ernest & Celestine"), Marion Cotillard (last seen in "Midnight in Paris"), James Franco (last seen in "Tristan & Isolde"), Riley Osborne, Bud Cort (last seen in "Harold and Maude"), Benicio Del Toro (last seen in "Sicario"), Ricky Gervais (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Albert Brooks (last seen in "Concussion"), Paul Rudd (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Paul Giamatti (also last heard in "Ernest & Celestine").

RATING: 3 out of 10 birthday pancakes

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Spotlight

Year 9, Day 194 - 7/13/17 - Movie #2,688

BEFORE: I'm gearing up for my San Diego trip, yesterday I got my merchandise boxes shipped out via UPS, to my (not-so) secret UPS Store location that's very close to our booth - years ago I would ship to a UPS Store 3 blocks away from the convention center, but since I stayed at a little hostel across the street, it made sense.  Now that I'm staying at an AirBnB location up in Mission Valley, it makes more sense to ship my boxes as close to the convention center as possible - fewer steps to go and get the boxes.

I've got a bad reputation for getting sick on the first day of a Comic-Con - OK, maybe 3 times in 15 years, but I still don't like the odds.  I've had colds (back when the NY Comic-Con used to be in February), kidney stones and 2 years ago I had a UTI on my first day in San Diego.  Right now I've got this weird thing happening with my knee, where it sort of pops while I'm walking, and my leg sort of does this weird kick, which would only be a problem if I were going to a large convention hall next week, where I have to do a lot of walking around...

So I'm going to get a check-up tomorrow morning and see if there's anything I can do before Wednesday, like maybe get a knee brace or something.  I put an ice-pack on it last night, but it's one of those things where I don't know if I should be using an ice-pack or a heat-pack - maybe both?

Liev Schreiber carries over from "The 5th Wave".  My recent forays into Netflix revealed that this film is streaming there, which may explain why it hasn't appeared on premium cable yet, despite winning the Best Picture Oscar TWO years ago.  Why the hold-up?  Anyway, I could have also watched this on an Academy screener, but Netflix is obviously more convenient - and being on Netflix now has forced a re-organization of my priorities, which is still ongoing.  In other words, I still have slots to fill before the year ends, so why not identify the most important films, or the ones I think I will most enjoy, and watch them first?


THE PLOT: The story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

AFTER: I'm almost done now with watching the Best Picture nominees from 2015 - besides "Spotlight", I've seen them all except for "Bridge of Spies", and I have a copy of that, it's on my list.  That was a tough year, I mean, I don't see how "Brooklyn" or "The Big Short" could have won, maybe "Room" or "The Martian" had an outside chance.  Sorry "Mad Max: Fury Road", but you should have been honored just to be nominated.  Clearly I think this is one of those times where the award went to the film that covered the "big issue", with less regard for how the film was made - no doubt it was substance over style.

Because if it were just about style, I don't see how this film deserves the Best Picture Oscar.  It's one of the worst offenders ever when it comes to the "Show, don't tell" rule - nearly everything that these reporters do just isn't cinematic, sure they're doing "actions", but it's not action-oriented, like, say, "The Revenant", which was non-stop action.  What happens here is that reporters have meetings, they interview people, they talk to other people on the phone, they go read files at the courthouse, they file motions to gain evidence, and then they write articles and publish a newspaper.  NONE of that is cinematic at all!  OK, so they have to drive from place to place, but it's all at regular, law-abiding speed - come ON, how about a car chase or two?  Or a reporter speeding to get to his computer to make a deadline?  The closest we get is a reporter trying to get to the courthouse one day before it closes, and even then, we don't see the hustle, we only see him knocking on the door to try and get in.  "What's that?  You close at 4:30?  OK, I guess I'll come back tomorrow morning..."

I'm sort of dancing around the issues here, because the child molestation issue is so sensitive - plus it's nearly impossible for me to crack jokes about.  My parents are still solid church goers up in the Boston Archdiocese, my father was one of the first deacons ordained there in 1976, and my mother played the organ in church for decades - they still go to church in the suburbs a few times each weekend, and then for fun, there's another church group they belong to in downtown Boston.  Plus the deacons all know each other, so when I was a kid my family's idea of fun was to go to a party at another deacon's house, or maybe once in a while their was a church picnic somewhere.

But I broke from the church a long time ago - I stopped attending mass as soon as I got to college, mostly because it's usually boring as hell.  But when I got divorced in 1996, that's when the real break took place - the official church position was that I had to get an annulment if I ever wanted to take communion again, and I figured, "Nah, I'm good."  Why would I want to be part of an organization that won't take me the way I am, that wanted to tell me that a five-year part of my life didn't really happen, when I was trying to learn from all the things that happened to me, even the bad things.  And then once you get clear of the religion, it all seems rather silly from the outside, where they're all bogged down by silly rules like not eating meat on Fridays and going to mass on Halloween.  (OK, All Souls Day, but you know what I mean.)

But when I was a kid, I did my time as an altar boy - I remember you had to be in fourth grade to get the gig, but the first year I qualified there was a big blizzard (1978?) so nobody could make it to the meetings, and everybody of my age had to wait for the next year's tryouts.  (Because they couldn't schedule more training in the spring, for some stupid reason.)  It was a big deal for me, because on Sundays I had to show up early for church, get my vestments on and light the candles.  My mom didn't want me using matches, so she showed me how to use a cigarette lighter - because that's SO much safer...  And I never had any problems with priests trying to get grabby, which years later, after the scandals broke made me wonder why - wasn't I cute enough as a young teen?  (Hey, I said it would be difficult for me to make jokes about this, not impossible...)

I've had real focus on Boston this year - and why not, if I'm originally from there?  Let's see, I watched "Black Mass", "Manchester by the Sea", "Patriots Day" and now this.  (Are there any others?  Let's see, "In the Heart of the Sea" was partially set in Nantucket...) I grew up reading the Boston Globe, and this film focuses on that newspaper's "Spotlight" team, which takes on long-form investigations and which was tasked by the paper's new editor with re-opening the case of Fr. John Geoghan, a priest who'd been arrested for molesting children. And, more importantly, whether Cardinal Bernard Law (who was perhaps ironically named) had known about his actions and tried to cover them up, which is itself a crime.

It seems there was a lawyer who claimed to have documents proving that Law was aware of Geoghan's actions and engaged in cover-up activities like paying off victims, settling cases in order to seal away records, and then moving priests around to different parishes in order to confuse the issue and make it hard for victims to track down their molesters.  The Spotlight team ended up using the Diocese directories (I remember those phone books, my parents always had similar copies...) to look at the over-arching pattern of moving priests around, and determining that phrases like "sick leave" were code for "this priest is a SICK puppy and was forced to LEAVE that parish because he couldn't stop touching kids."  By making a list of all of the priests on "sick leave", and cross-referencing them with legal cases and accusations, the team is able to identify nearly 90 priests who seemed to have been relocated for various reasons.  Now, this is something like backwards logic, in a sense it's a bit like going through a parts junkyard outside a chop shop in order to solve open car theft cases, but it does get them a list to work with.

Meanwhile the team gets advice from a former priest who has worked on the various methods of "reforming" the priests who are the worst offenders, and his personal research places the rate of sexually active Catholic priests at 6% - since this more or less coincides with the number of Boston priests shuffled around or placed on "sick leave", the team feels confident in proceeding.  But doubt begins to creep in when one legal official asks if they've considered the consequences of publishing their findings, and whether the resulting blowback will be worth the effort.  But it seems the consequences of NOT publishing their findings could be even worse - however, it's fitting that this leads to a crisis of conscience for the reporters.  After all, what business are they in, the business of shedding light on the world's injustices, or the business of selling papers?

Further doubt creeps in when the reporters realize that various parties had given them evidence of widespread molestation years ago, and they didn't really follow up to the extent that they could have. Hey, I guess you do what you can, and the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they DO grind.  (The 9/11 terrorist attacks did manage to slow down the Globe's investigation somewhat...)  And the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for the Spotlight team's reporting.  I'm just not sure why this had to be made into a movie, too - I don't think it enhances the story THAT much to have actors re-enacting a newspaper investigation.  OK, so it worked in "All the President's Men", but that was an exception.  I mean, take any historical event, like Vietnam or the Kennedy assassination, is it better to make a movie about the event itself, or just a reporter's actions after the fact?  I'll always favor the former over the latter.

I'm sorry, I know the issue is really important, but I don't see the film being anything more special than the average episode of "Law & Order: SVU".

Also starring Michael Keaton (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Now You See Me 2"), Rachel McAdams (last seen in "Doctor Strange"), John Slattery (last seen in "Ted 2"), Brian d'Arcy James (last seen in "Sisters"), Stanley Tucci (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Jamey Sheridan (last seen in "Syriana"), Billy Crudup (last seen in "Jackie"), Gene Amoroso (last seen in "Mystic Pizza"), Paul Guilfoyle (last seen in "In Dreams"), Len Cariou (last seen in "Prisoners"), Neal Huff (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Maureen Keiller, Michael Cyril Creighton (last seen in "Sleeping With Other People"), Laurie Heineman, Tim Progosh, Elena Wohl, Eileen Padua, Richard O'Rourke, Joe Stapleton (last seen in "Manchester by the Sea") and the voice of Richard Jenkins (last seen in "The Hollars").

RATING: 5 out of 10 cups of behh at Fenway Paak