Thursday, May 12, 2011

Modern Problems

Year 3, Day 131 - 5/11/11 - Movie #861

BEFORE: This title is sort of a misnomer, now that the film is 20 years old. But this will wrap up my chain of films featuring industrial accidents - we had pesticides in "Michael Clayton", hexavalent chromium in "Erin Brockovitch", and plutonium in "Silkwood". Linking from "Silkwood", Craig T. Nelson was in "Private Benjamin" with Goldie Hawn, who of course was in "Foul Play" with Chevy Chase (last seen in "Christmas Vacation").

THE PLOT: Jealous, harried air traffic controller Max Fielder, recently dumped by his girlfriend, comes into contact with nuclear waste and is granted the power of telekinesis.

AFTER: See, I blame Stan Lee - a lot of people of my generation, if they happened to get doused with toxic chemicals or radiation, might be disappointed to learn that they weren't going to get super-powers out of the deal, like the Fantastic Four or the Hulk. Stan Lee made it cool to be bitten by a radioactive spider, or hit by gamma rays, cosmic rays - if you were a nerd like Peter Parker or Bruce Banner, suddenly you'd have super-strength, or the ability to stick to walls, and you wouldn't need those pesky eyeglasses any more...

But this movie doesn't even seem to want to show any wish-fulfillment, or adhere to any internal logic, even comic-book logic. What, exactly, is the main character's flaw at the beginning of the film - the reason why his girlfriend (and previously, his wife) have left him? An answering machine message suggests that he's too jealous - hiring people to spy on her, he put a bug in her purse...but when we get to know him a little better, we realize that he's not aggressive enough, and he tends to let people walk all over him. Which sort of fits with his job - air traffic controller - aren't they all stressed-out, depressed and suicidal?

But he doesn't seem to have any stressed-out behavior, his personality doesn't seem to extend far in ANY direction - and it's unclear how the power of telekinesis ends up helping him with his problem. Even the 80's teen comedy "Zapped" made more sense - teen wants to get laid, teen gets hit on the head and gets telekinetic powers, teen mentally removes girls' clothing. See, very logical, and the audience ends up having a good time.

So, therefore, this film is worse than "Zapped". Which is sad. I also have to factor in that the movie can't seem to make a distinction between someone having mental powers, and demonic possession. I think those might be two different things.

Also starring Patti D'Arbanville, Dabney Coleman (last seen in "The Man With One Red Shoe"), Mary Kay Place (last seen in "New York, New York"), Brian Doyle-Murray (last seen in "Sixteen Candles"), Nell Carter.

RATING: 2 out of 10 ballet dancers

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Year 3, Day 130 - 5/10/11 - Movie #860

BEFORE: Sticking with a theme, though it's not a particularly rosy one. I've got a Meryl Streep marathon planned for June, but I figured this might fit better here. Linking from last night, Julia Roberts was in "Charlie Wilson's War" with Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was in "Doubt" with Streep (last heard in "Fantastic Mr. Fox")

THE PLOT: The story of Karen Silkwood, a metallurgy worker at a plutonium processing plant who was purposefully contaminated to prevent her from exposing worker safety violations at the plant.

AFTER: Again I face a big discrepancy between how "important" the film is, and how entertaining it is. Since it's a serious subject and a film that got rewarded with Oscar nominations, but man, is it boring. Couldn't they have spiced this up with some car chases, or a shoot-out or something? I'm kidding (mostly).

At my family Christmas party last December, my aunts and uncles were swapping stories, and I found out that my great-grandfather died in an industrial accident, and as compensation, his sons were awarded some high-traffic trucking routes, and this led to the formation of the family business. Also, I recently learned that there was a man with my (rather uncommon) last name who was a mechanic on the Hindenburg. While I don't know how exactly I might have been related to him, it got me wondering if my ancestors have a reputation for being present at famous disasters and industrial accidents.

I was about a block away from the World Trade Center bombing - the first one, not the 9/11/2001 one. I was working in an 8th floor office just south of there, and I heard the explosion and saw crowds running from the site. So hopefully that's as close as I ever come to something like that.

Also starring Cher (last seen in "The Witches of Eastwick"), Kurt Russell (last seen in "Sky High"), Craig T. Nelson (last seen in "All the Right Moves"), Ron Silver (last seen in "Blue Steel"), Fred Ward (last seen in "The Right Stuff"), Bruce McGill (last seen in "Shallow Hal"), with cameos from David Strathairn (last seen in "Mother Night"), M. Emmet Walsh (last seen in "A Time to Kill"), James Rebhorn (last seen in "Scent of a Woman").

RATING: 3 out of 10 geiger counters

Monday, May 9, 2011

Erin Brockovich

Year 3, Day 129 - 5/9/11 - Movie #859

BEFORE: Keeping with the business-woman theme, and sending out Birthday SHOUT-out #38 today to my favorite Ebenezer Scrooge, Albert Finney, born 5/9/1936, and last seen in "The Bourne Ultimatum". Happy 75th, Al!

THE PLOT: An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.

AFTER: I don't have much to say tonight, since the plot is so clear-cut. Power company bad, truth and justice good - what, did you think I'd side with the power company?

Always good to cross an Oscar-winning performance off my list - heck, it's good to cross an Oscar-nominated performance off the list. But do I judge the importance of the film, or how entertained I was (or wasn't) by it?

Juggling three kids and working overtime on research for a lawsuit - Erin makes that woman in "Baby Boom" look like a real slacker, doesn't she?

This film sort of covers some of the same ground as "Michael Clayton", and "A Class Action" - yes, I realize it might have been made first, but I'm seeing it after...

Starring Julia Roberts (last seen in "Valentine's Day"), Aaron Eckhart (last seen in "Thank You For Smoking"), Peter Coyote (last seen in "Jagged Edge"), Marg Helgenberger, Conchata Ferrell (last seen in "My Fellow Americans"), and character actor Tracey Walter.

RATING: 6 out of 10 push-up bras

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Baby Boom

Year 3, Day 128 - 5/8/11 - Movie #858

BEFORE: Something for Mother's Day, but still sticking with the business theme. Linking from George Clooney, who was in "Ocean's Thirteen" with Al Pacino, who was in "The Godfather" with Diane Keaton (last seen in "The First Wives Club").

THE PLOT: The life of super-yuppie J.C. is thrown into turmoil when she inherits a baby from a distant relative.

AFTER: Ah, the unexpected baby inherited from a relative. Because it would have been too hard to show a businesswoman with an unplanned pregnancy? That would have actually given her time to arrange maternity leave, and we can't have that...

Diane Keaton played these flustered feminist characters very well, unfortunately I'm not sure that's something to be proud of. Honestly I wasn't sure if she was supposed to be a liberal or a conservative here - she's got a corporate job that she seems to be good at - but her "Tiger Lady" attitude seems to be in conflict with her sensibilities. And later she becomes this corporate-type mogul in a very hippie-granola part of Vermont.

Ah, the New York business-world. If you can't make it there, just move to Vermont! And buy a very overpriced house (sucker!) despite knowing NOTHING about how to maintain it. I just laughed as the various parts of the house fell apart...but it was mean-spirited laughter, not the comedic kind.

And there's nothing more annoying than these type-A mothers who make their own low-sugar organic baby food, and then try to turn that into a viable business. No problem, just head to the library (in a small town?) and do some market-research. (what if your market research tells you it's a BAD idea?) Why can't they just be happy making enough organic baby food to feed their own kids - doesn't that save you enough money, do you have to sink the rest of your money into a small business? I've baked my own bread and brewed my own beer, just for fun - with admittedly mixed results. Why does every mother with a blender think she's the next Martha Stewart, Inc.?

NITPICK POINT: Let's be realistic - that organic baby food probably tastes terrible, since it's low-sugar. And if you're not using preservatives like the big companies, how's it going to ship across the country and have a shelf-life?

NITPICK POINT #2: She suddenly gets the idea to make applesauce during a winter storm - what was she doing with the apples before this? Did they all just fall on the ground and rot? Or did she pick them (by herself?) and not use them? Who the heck buys an orchard without a way (or desire) to sell the apples?

In retrospect, I wonder just what kind of feminist this lead character is. She can't change a tire, she hired burly male movers to move her furniture when her boyfriend didn't want to help raise a baby, she was at the mercy of (incompetent?) workmen when the house in Vermont needed repairs, and she dropped things whenever the hunky town veterinarian was nearby. The worst kind of feminist is a woman who THINKS she's a feminist, but folds whenever things don't go her way. Did she really pick all the apples herself, or did she hire (shudder...) men to do it? Give me a break. Sure, ladies, you can have it all - if you somehow have enough money and can hire nannies to raise your daughter for you.

Also starring Harold Ramis (last seen in "Knocked Up"), Sam Shepard (last seen in "Black Hawk Down"), James Spader (last seen in "Wolf"), Pat Hingle (last seen in "Going Berserk"), with cameos from Mary Gross, Victoria Jackson.

RATING: 4 out of 10 dinner meetings

Up in the Air

Year 3, Day 127 - 5/7/11 - Movie #857

BEFORE: George Clooney carries over, in another business-related film.

THE PLOT: With a job that has him traveling around the country firing people, Ryan Bingham leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: ground him.

AFTER: Another cool character played by Clooney - this time it's a guy who knows all the ins and outs of travel - how to pack, how to get through security screenings quickly, how to take advantage of all the travel rewards programs. He spends 300+ days on the road, so he's got almost no home life, no solid relationship, no children, and that's the way he prefers to live.

Combine this with his job, which is sub-contracted firing of people (I didn't know this was a valid career choice), and he almost comes across as a stoic, unfeeling bastard. But he encounters two women who prove that theory wrong - one is a female version of himself, a professional traveler who he has casual flings with (when their schedules coincide), and a younger woman at his company who's trying to cut costs by implementing a system of firing people by teleconference - as if their job wasn't cold-hearted enough.

So he takes the young woman out on the road to show her the ropes, demonstrate why their job should be done in person - essentially to try and salvage his own job (who fires the people who fire people?) and the lifestyle to which he's become accustomed.

I get the double meaning of the title - he spends a lot of time in the air, but he's also cut off, adrift from most of society. Nice. And just as he realizes that he might want to settle down, something happens that leaves him more detached than ever.

NITPICK POINT: The movie makes a big deal about the number of his frequent-flier miles. But are these unused miles that he's saved in his account (because those do expire at some point, don't they?) or total miles traveled? Because I didn't think they credited you for used miles - maybe I just don't use enough to be at his level, I only make one trip a year...

NITPICK POINT #2: There's some last-minute travel shown in the film, and some of it is business-related, and some of it is personal. Isn't that the most expensive way to travel, booking the same day? Who paid for that travel? Was it paid by frequent-flyer miles? Because technically those belong to the company - you shouldn't use business-accumulated miles for personal travel.

Also starring Vera Farmiga (last seen in "The Departed"), Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman (last seen in "Couples Retreat"), Danny McBride (last seen in "Fanboys"), with cameos from Sam Elliott (last seen in "Thank You For Smoking"), J.K. Simmons (last seen in "I Love You,Man"), Zach Galifianakis (last seen in "G-Force"), and Young MC.

RATING: 8 out of 10 layovers