Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rob Roy

Year 3, Day 161 - 6/10/11 - Movie #888

BEFORE: Another longish historical period piece tonight, but at least it's Friday, I can stay up late and sleep in tomorrow. Wrapping up Liam Neeson Week with a film about another national hero (Scottish this time, not Irish) that I know very little about. Looks like another opportunity for some learnin'.

THE PLOT: In the highlands of Scotland in the 1700s, Rob Roy tries to lead his small town to a better future, by borrowing money from the local nobility to buy cattle to herd to market. When the money is stolen, Rob is forced into a Robin Hood lifestyle to defend his family and honor.

AFTER: Liam Neeson is one of the few main Star Wars actors who's not on the convention circuit, or has made his autograph available. I've got a short list of actors who I'd like to get signed 8x10's from before my collection is done. (For the record: Neeson, Ewan MacGregor, Frank Oz, Pernilla August and Denis Lawson. Except for Alec Guinness, I've got autographs from just about everyone else)

But before he played Qui-Gon Jinn in "Phantom Menace", he warmed up by playing Rob Roy. Swords, lightsabers, it's all the same. And the characters are linked by their similar codes of honor, and willingness to fight for what's right.

But come on, Scotland - your national hero is a guy who got burned in a business deal? And then had to fight his way out of debt? His story's not really on a par with "Braveheart", now is it? But there is some interesting stuff here, in the class struggle between the weaselly British nobles and the more honorable...hill people? Commoners? What do they prefer being called - highlanders?

NITPICK POINT: Instead of just raiding cattle, why not fight fire with fire? Steal the marquis' cattle, sell the cattle, and use the proceeds to pay back the debt? Am I missing something, or is stolen money just as good as money honestly earned? The marquis can't prove that you got the money by stealing from him, so he'd have to accept it as repayment, right?

NITPICK POINT #2: And this is a knock against all sword-fighting scenes, not just ones in this film. Why do we hear the sound of metal-on-metal whenever someone in a film draws his sword, from a (most-likely) leather sheath? It shouldn't make any sound at all, but those damn foley artists and sound techs think it's sexy if the sword makes a noise. But it shouldn't, that's very unrealistic.

The last duel in this film is a real doozy - I won't give anything away, but damn! Never seen one that intense before.

Also starring Jessica Lange (last seen WAY back in 2009, in "Night and the City"), Tim Roth (last seen in "Lucky Numbers"), John Hurt (last seen in "King Ralph"), Brian Cox (last seen in "The Bourne Supremacy"), Eric Stoltz (last seen in the regrettable "Lionheart: The Children's Crusade").

RATING: 6 out of 10 claymores

Friday, June 10, 2011

Michael Collins

Year 3, Day 160 - 6/9/11 - Movie #887

BEFORE: Almost done with Liam Neeson Week - I think I'll have to table the "Clash of the Titans" remake until July, but I'm going to work that in with a few similarly-themed blockbusters. I'm going in pretty blind on this one, don't really know who the subject of this film is, or what he accomplished. If only there were a way to look up that sort of thing...

THE PLOT: Michael Collins plays a crucial role in the establishment of the Irish Free State in the 1920s, but becomes vilified by those hoping to create a completely independent Irish republic.

AFTER: Ah, it's one of those historical dramas - but I can learn something from each and every film (except maybe from a stinker like "Stealing Harvard") so tonight's film gives me an opportunity to learn about the Easter Rising, the formation of the IRA and the decades-long dispute between Ireland and England. How come Northern Ireland is considered part of the United Kingdom, but the rest of Ireland isn't? While I knew this fact, I never really thought to research the WHY of it.

I do understand that a movie has to take some liberties, since it's primarily a visual medium. Assassination squads and raids on government buildings are eye-catching, while ratifying treaties and securing funding through bond issues - not so much. I don't expect the movie to be completely historically inaccurate, but Collins was the Finance Minister for the Irish Parliament, not the Minister of Intelligence (that's much sexier on film, though...)

The final (and less cinematic) act of the film comes after the Anglo-Irish treaty, the one that created the Irish Free State, but also gave up Northern Ireland to remain part of the U.K. if it chose to. But the reaction to this, and the debate over whether Collins did a good job negotiating the treaty, or whether he gave up too much, seems to have resulted in a split in Ireland that lasted through the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, and the IRA was active in various forms through World War II and even into the 1970's.

So we take tonight as a history lesson, though the film is a bit dry in places, there are enough explosions and assassinations to make it somewhat visual/action oriented. I'm not sure it's the most ideal subject matter from a narrative standpoint, and some of the acting is WAY over the top (Alan Rickman) and some of it toggles between subdued and confusing (Julia Roberts?). So we end up with something of a mixed bag.

These long historical dramas do play havoc with my schedule, unfortunately. Before starting this project, my typical turn-in time was 2 am - now if I start a long film around 11:45, if I should doze off a time or two when the film gets boring, then I might finish around 3 am, drag myself upstairs, post to the blog and try to read a quick comic book or two - I'm often getting to bed when the sun is starting to rise. I've become a mostly nocturnal creature by now, which makes it harder to maintain 2 jobs - I can't remember when I last showed up for work on time. So I'm anxious to reach my break and get back on a more human-like sleep-cycle.

Also starring Alan Rickman (last seen in "Sweeney Todd"), Aidan Quinn (last seen WAY back in "The Mission"), Julia Roberts (last seen in "Erin Brockovitch"), Ian Hart (last seen in "Finding Neverland"), Brendan Gleeson (last seen in "Green Zone"), Stephen Rea (last seen in "The Company of Wolves", with a cameo from Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (last seen in "August Rush").

RATING: 5 out of 10 car bombs

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Year 3, Day 159 - 6/8/11 - Movie #886

BEFORE: Liam Neeson week continues - I think he plays another researcher in this one. Doesn't he's always playing some kind of researcher or investigator of some kind? I suppose that's a generalization, sometimes he plays a de-facto father figure like Qui-Gon Jinn or Oskar Schindler, so I guess there are a few acting "grooves" that he likes to fit into.

Sometimes I watch a film to absolve myself of past cinematic sins (sin-ema?). In this case we've got a generally well-respected (?) movie that I probably poked fun at over the years, plus I probably skimmed through this one in the past just to see Jodie Foster in the buff. You know, to add to my comprehensive mental database on female celebrity nude scenes. I think this is a selling point for lots of men, I'm just one of the few willing to admit it. I sure didn't go see Demi Moore in "Striptease" because of the sub-plot on migrant farm workers... Anyway, tonight I atone for my sins by actually putting in the time and watching the film.

THE PLOT: Nell is raised in the remote backwoods of North Carolina with her mother, never having met anyone else. After she's discovered by the local doctor, Nell must confront the outside world.

AFTER: My mistake, Neeson played the local doctor in this one, and the part of the researcher was played by his wife, Natasha Richardson. Though the two characters argue quite a bit about whether Nell belongs in a research hospital or in her isolated home, it's no surprise that a romantic relationship develops, as they spend so much time together observing Nell.

It's hard not to regard this film as an obvious piece of Oscar bait - for an actress to take on a character who is developmentally disabled, who cannot speak properly or understand the modern world. Should I applaud her for taking on an unconventional role, or question her motivation in maybe looking for some recognition from the Academy? (see also: Rain Man, My Left Foot, I Am Sam, Forrest Gump, The King's Speech, etc.)

I admit it's somewhat interesting to see a character who has little concept of the "modern" world - like if you took someone from Colonial times into a big city today, what would they think of cars, elevators, rap music, cable TV? In Nell's case, she's never even heard recorded music, and freaks out when she hears Patsy Cline's "Crazy" - funny, I usually have a similar reaction to that song.

So I'm sort of on the fence on this one - I didn't buy into all the nonsense-language stuff - yes, I understand the film gives us a semi-valid reason behind her lack of English skills, but it still feels like an acting dodge. I just didn't go for all the "chick-a-pay" and "gay-in-ja" crap. Mostly, it toggled between ridiculous and pretentious for me.

However, on a hot night, it's kind of nice to watch a film set out in the backwoods of the Carolinas. The scenery sort of matched the weather, so maybe this is a good summer-oriented film. I plan my movie chain about two months in advance, and maybe it's no coincidence that I've scheduled films like "Red Heat", "The Towering Inferno", "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", and "Reign of Fire"... Something tells me its going to be a long hot summer. (Note to self: track down a copy of "The Long, Hot Summer").

Also starring Jodie Foster (last seen in "Inside Man"), Richard Libertini (last seen in "Going Berserk"), Jeremy Davies (last seen in "Twister").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Bible verses

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Year 3, Day 158 - 6/7/11 - Movie #885

BEFORE: Moving from adultery to sex research (which, I'm betting involves some adultery...) as Liam Neeson Week rolls on - and Birthday SHOUT-out #44 to Mr. Neeson tonight, and Laura Linney carries over from "The Other Man" as an added bonus.

THE PLOT: A look at the life of Alfred Kinsey (Neeson), a pioneer in the area of human sexuality research.

AFTER: Yes, there was a time not so long ago, where people had sex but didn't talk about it so much. Before sex (and talking about sex) dominated the airwaves and the interwebs, when pornography came in paper form (and on stone tablets before that, presumably) and people worshipped trees and rode around on dinosaurs.

First off, congratulations to whoever cast the 19-year old Kinsey - he looks just like a young Neeson! But then, I guess that's what good casting agents (and hair/makeup stylists) do. The actor is Benjamin Walker (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers").

Kinsey apparently came into his studies on human sexuality after years of research on insects, and after his honeymoon proved that there was a lot he didn't know about sex. Turns out he wasn't alone, and many of his students demonstrated gaps in their sexual knowledge. This was at a time (early 1920's) when myths about sex and venereal diseases were as common as facts, and people wondered if their sex acts made them "normal". Short answer - no, you're a freak, but fortunately so is everyone else...

SO he set out to chart sexual histories, starting with the student body and then expanding, and expanding. Once he was properly motivated, he began working long and hard, and as the scope of the project kept increasing, he found over time that even though the work was somewhat repetitive, more speed was required to reach a proper conclusion, and the task became more and more urgent, until finally a quick release of his findings exploded into the American consciousness. (OK, I couldn't resist, I'll stop that now...)

All kidding aside, he thrust himself (sorry) into his research - quite literally. If he wanted to know about homosexuality, let's just say he got some hands-on experience. Isn't there some scientific rule about not being one of your own test subjects? Shouldn't he have tried to abstain from um, field research in the interests of remaining impartial? And by studying everyone else's "deviancies", didn't he himself become "deviant" himself? Or at least the ultimate voyeur?

To be fair, in researching what people did sexually (as opposed to what they claimed to do) he did attempt to separate the sexual acts from any moral judgments - which led to some rather unusual opinions about sex offenders. No doubt his work revealed a lot and pushed many boundaries, and of course got people talking - but by studying sex pragmatically, it seems like he also took some of the fun out of it. After all, if it isn't immoral, isn't it less fun?

Also starring Chris O'Donnell (last seen in "Scent of a Woman"), Timothy Hutton (last seen in "Secret Window"), Peter Sarsgaard (last seen in "Dead Man Walking"), John Lithgow (last seen in "Terms of Endearment"), Oliver Platt (last seen in "A Time To Kill"), Tim Curry (last seen in "It"), and Dylan Baker (last seen in "The Last of the Mohicans"), with cameos from William Sadler (last seen in "August Rush"), Julianne Nicholson (last seen in "Snatch"), Veronica Cartwright (last seen in "The Witches of Eastwick"), John Krasinski (last seen in "Away We Go") and Lynn Redgrave.

RATING: 5 out of 10 foundation grants

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Other Man

Year 3, Day 157 - 6/6/11 - Movie #884

BEFORE: Liam Neeson carries over - I almost watched this one in Feb. during the "anti-love movie" chain, but I ran out of days. And since last week I watched "The Other Guys", here's "The Other Man".

Maybe Neeson gets some dialogue in this film...

THE PLOT: The story of a husband who suspects his wife of adultery, and sets out to track down the other man in her life.

AFTER: Again there is some time-jumping tonight, or non-linear storytelling. We see the last days of a marriage, with only some vague implications that the wife might have had an affair (due to the casual questions she asks him during dinner at a restaurant). Then we see Neeson's character after he gets confirmation of the affair (this learning happens off-camera) and sets out to track down his wife's secret lover.

Which isn't easy, since it involves guessing the password for a secret file on her computer, but as we know from Hollywood films, if you just take a minute and think about what you know about the person, you'll probably get it on the third or fourth try. There's no chance that her password was a random string of numbers and letters, after all. (I'll concede the point: the most common passwords tend to be things like "secret" and "password")

Once he's in the file, he uses detective skills to track the man down, and he (for some reason) befriends him. Since he's a rich and connected software designer, he has both the resources to track a man down and the spare time to be away from his office, playing chess for several days with his wife's lover in an Italian cafe.

It seems a little odd at first, he goes from a murderous rage to playing board games, from tantalizing the man with fake e-mails from his wife, to coming to terms with him and accepting what happened. But those ARE the stages of grief - though the movie does a fair amount of jumping around in time, we can see the main character go from anger to bargaining and ultimately, acceptance.

It takes a strong man (I assume) to confront his wife's lover, and logically it would take an even stronger man to forgive and accept his wife's lover. But maybe instead of looking for blame he decided to look inward and try and figure out whether he was responsible for what was missing in the marriage.

And about the time-jumping, a pet peeve of mine. Some very key information is left out due to the jumping around, and once it's revealed, it puts a different spin on everything. So there's a strong possibility that this was done to "trick" the audience, to re-apply sympathy to the main character at a time when our patience with him might be wearing thin.

Or, it was done to cover up a weak story, or a lack of character development. Man tracks down wife's lover, man confronts wife's lover. Taken in linear fashion, there's not a lot to it - it's almost like a tone poem of a film. There were probably just enough scenes of Neeson being angry to make a trailer to fool people into thinking this was an action film like "Taken".

Ultimately it's a very confusing film, and what's worse, it seems like it was made that way intentionally. Or it fell apart during the editing stage.

Also starring Laura Linney (last seen in "Absolute Power"), Antonio Banderas (last heard in "Shrek the Third").

RATING: 3 out of 10 fashion shows

Monday, June 6, 2011


Year 3, Day 156 - 6/5/11 - Movie #883

BEFORE: Last night's film was all about cyber-crime, so I'll switch to regular crime - a legal thriller that came onto the list after my January/February legal chain ended. But I'll use it to kick off Liam Neeson Week. Linking from "Hackers", Angelina Jolie was in "Pushing Tin" with John Cusack, who was in "Say Anything" with John Mahoney (last seen in "Dan in Real Life"), who appears here as a judge.

THE PLOT: A judge commits suicide, and his secretary is found murdered. A homeless deaf-mute man, Carl Anderson, is arrested for her murder.

AFTER: Tonight's film is all about monkeying with due process. Anyone who's ever watched "Law & Order" knows that a lawyer's not supposed to have any outside contact with a jury member - but that's the device used here to move the plot forward. An antsy juror plays detective (hey, we also saw that in "Twelve Angry Men"...) but I wasn't sure if he was trying to solve the case in pursuit of justice, looking to bring about a swift end to his jury duty, or just trying to score with the defense attorney. Maybe all three?

Either way, though, it's grounds for a mistrial. But the defense attorney spends the first half of the film hiding her communication with the juror in order to avoid a mistrial (or being disbarred...) and then later in the film she suddenly argues for one. Why the complete turn-around?

In addition, we've got evidence tampering, shoddy lawyering, red herrings, and a lot of those suspenseful shots in dark alleys and after-hours buildings. But the movie saves the biggest twists (and the biggest legal malfeasances) for last. Seems like the whole movie might have been a bit of a dodge, just to bring about a twist that you probably haven't seen in any other legal thriller.

NITPICK POINT: The movie points out that the parking lot attendant checks the license plates in the lot every two hours. So how likely is it that the victim's car would still be in the lot, untouched, months after the murder? Clearly its location was known, but wouldn't that car have been considered evidence, and moved to a place where it could be examined?

Also starring Cher (last seen in "Silkwood"), Dennis Quaid (last seen in "Great Balls of Fire!"), Joe Mantegna (last seen in "Valentine's Day").

RATING: 4 out of 10 objections

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Year 3, Day 155 - 6/4/11 - Movie #882

BEFORE: We hit the chowderfest today (and I hit it hard - requiring a 3-hour nap afterwards) and then relaxed at Andy's place. I would have offered for Andy to join me watching this film, but he knows so much about computers that I feared for him it would either play as a comedy, or a film full of mistakes.

Linking from "Cop Out", Bruce Willis was in "Bandits" with Billy Bob Thornton, who was in "Pushing Tin" with Angelina Jolie. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that I chose this film tonight to give a birthday SHOUT-out to Ms. Jolie (last seen in "Changeling"), born June 4, 1975.

THE PLOT: A young boy is arrested by the US Secret Service for writing a computer virus and is banned from using a computer until his 18th birthday. Years later, he and his new-found friends discover a plot to unleash a dangerous computer virus.

AFTER: OK, I'm no computer expert, but I do remember the burgeoning internet culture of 1995, and even I can tell this film is full of mistakes.

NITPICK POINT: Computer geeks are solitary by nature (or at least they were in the early days of the internet) so the chances of two or more hackers with solid skills and reputations getting together in the real world, especially all at the same high school, is close to nil. Hackers are also a distinct social group, separate from club kids. I doubt there's much overlap between those two groups. Hackers simply didn't all congregate in a big clubhouse with giant-wall virtual reality games, where they all rollerbladed around. Ridiculous.

NITPICK POINT #2: A hacker taps into a TV network's mainframe, and the only evil thing he wants to do is to make that station play old episodes of "The Outer Limits"? Which are on 3/4 inch tapes that are selected by robotic arms? I don't think that's how TV stations function... Wouldn't it be easier to just watch the old episodes of that show on DVD, or download them from somewhere? (I know, YouTube didn't exist yet...)

NITPICK POINT #3: For experienced hackers, you'd think they'd type a whole lot faster than the "hunt and peck" method, right?

NITPICK POINT #4: Of course, all you need to takedown a corporation's evil plot is to steal a few memos from a company trash bin (don't they all shred their documents?) and make a few phony flower deliveries? Nope, not buying it.

Essentially this film is like what you'd get if "Wargames" and "Tron" had a baby, and that baby was born brain-dead.

Also starring Jonny Lee Miller, Jesse Bradford (last seen in "Flags of Our Fathers"), Matthew Lillard, Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco (last seen in "Switch"), with cameos from Marc Anthony, Penn Gillette, Felicity Huffman, and Dave Stewart (from the Eurhythmics)

RATING: 3 out of 10 dial-up modems

Cop Out

Year 3, Day 154 - 6/5/11 - Movie #881

BEFORE: Took the Amtrak up to the Boston area to visit my friend Andy, we try to get to the Newport Chowderfest every year, though we were both too busy last year. Andy lent me a laptop so I could keep up with my movie schedule. Tracy Morgan carries over, from a cameo in last night's film (seen as himself, attending a Knicks game) to a starring role tonight.

THE PLOT: A comedy about a veteran NYPD cop whose rare baseball card is stolen. Since it's his only hope to pay for his daughter's upcoming wedding, he recruits his partner to track down the thief, a memorabilia-obsessed gangster.

AFTER: Same as with "The Other Guys", there are some funny moments, but I've got major problems with the structure of the story. Early in the film, both of the main characters are suspended from the force, but despite turning in their badges and guns, they mainly just seem to continue doing police work - so what's the point of showing them getting suspended? And where do they get the extra guns (and badges?) from?

Most cops who get suspended might spend some time at home, mow the lawn, take care of some errands, maybe even pick up some part-time work - but these guys just keep on going after perps. I realize that there are extenuating circumstances, but it still seems a little odd. If they're not doing official police work when they track down thieves, rough them up and even shoot them, that makes them vigilantes at best, and possibly criminals at worst.

NITPICK POINT: The house where the thieves hang out looks like a complete shambles, except for one room that contains museum-quality artifacts. Huh?

NITPICK POINT #2: Officer Monroe, played by Bruce Willis (last seen in "Surrogates"), finds himself inside the thieves' house. But then he leaves the house during a shootout, and has to work his way back inside. Why, then, did he leave in the first place? He had a great vantage point, behind enemy lines.

Definitely some head-scratching moments in this one...some of the same gags as in "The Other Guys" too, like the main characters not being able to do a good cop/bad cop routine correctly.

Also starring Kevin Pollak (last seen in "Another You"), Adam Brody (last seen in "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"), Seann William Scott (last seen in "The Dukes of Hazzard"), Rashida Jones (last seen in "I Love You, Man"), with cameos from Jason Lee (last seen in "Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel"), Michelle Trachtenberg, Susie Essman, Fred Armisen (last seen in "Baby Mama"), and Mark Consuelos.

RATING: 4 out of 10 sirens