Saturday, July 28, 2012


Year 4, Day 210 - 7/28/12 - Movie #1,200

BEFORE: The final "road trip" movie for now, and the start of another chain about aliens.  Hey, if Hollywood keeps makin' them, I'll keep watchin' them.   Linking from "Due Date" is simple, since Danny McBride co-starred in several films, like "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" with Seth Rogen (last seen in "The Green Hornet") who voices the titular alien tonight.

THE PLOT: Two British comic-book geeks traveling across the U.S. encounter an alien outside Area 51.

AFTER: Another case of great timing tonight, since the first few scenes are set at the San Diego Comic-Con.  Dude, I was just THERE!  It was awesome!  I suppose the timing would have been even better if this was my first film back, but whatever.  I saw some people watching Morgan Spurlock's documentary ABOUT Comic-Con while they were on the plane going TO Comic-Con.  Umm, you're going to see that all for reals in just a few hours, people...

Anyway, the lead character duo tonight (who co-starred in "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead" - still need to see that last one) are a couple of English sci-fi creators, a writer and an artist, who attend Comic-Con for the first time, then go on a driving tour of America's UFO highways.  Me, I chose to unwind in San Francisco, but hey, different strokes.

Wouldn't you know it, they find an alien (whoops, spoiler alert!) and have to help him get away from the Men in Black.  (Note to self: should I see "Men in Black 3" this weekend?  Is it still playing?)  And again, I don't want to give away too much about what happens along the way, but much like the previous two road films, things get weird, and comic mishaps ensue.  Drugs may be involved, much like in the other road trips - or maybe it's some weird kind of alien mind-meld.

Borrowing liberally from "American Dad" - wait, no, that's totally different since the alien on that show is named Roger, not Paul - there are also a ton of references to Star Wars, Close Encounters, and E.T.  I lost count, that's how many there were - but somebody's got a real appreciation for the genre.  So, in creating a satire of alien films, they sort of made the ultimate alien film anyway.

There's not a lot of character development, and the majority of the film's conflicts and plot points get resolved quickly - the stock move is to jump back in the RV and drive away fast.  That happens a lot.  And while it wasn't exactly Shakespeare, it was a lot of fun to watch.  I had a good time.

Also starring Simon Pegg (last heard in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"), Nick Frost (last seen in "Pirate Radio"), Kristen Wiig (last heard in "Despicable Me"), Jason Bateman (last seen in "The Kingdom"), Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Baby Mama"), John Carroll Lynch, Bill Hader (last heard in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"), Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner (last seen in "Little Fockers"), with cameos from Jane Lynch (last heard in "Shrek Forever After"), Jeffrey Tambor (last seen in "Win Win"), David Koechner (last seen in "The Dukes of Hazzard").

RATING: 8 out of 10 mailboxes

Friday, July 27, 2012

Due Date

Year 4, Day 209 - 7/27/12 - Movie #1,199

BEFORE: This is the 2nd of 3 "road trip" movies this week - this is not part of my around-the-world trip, which will mainly (I think) count each film's city as a stop on the trip, without counting travel seen within the film.  A subtle semantic difference, I suppose.

And Jonah Hill from "Get Him to the Greek" links through "Superbad" to Danny McBride (last seen in "Your Highness") who has a small role tonight.

THE PLOT:  Father-to-be Peter Highman is forced to hitch a ride with aspiring actor Ethan Tremblay on a road trip in order to make it to his child's birth on time.

AFTER:  Like last night's film, this one involves two people who are polar opposites, personality-wise, who are forced to travel together across the U.S., encountering obstacles that are physical, chemical and very personal.  But where last night's film evoked "Midnight Run", this one is more like a descendant of "Planes, Trains & Automobiles".  In that I mean that one character is the straight-laced family man, and the other is the more loud, obnoxious one who's clueless about how his personality may grate on others.

Having just traveled across the country myself, being delayed due to the bad weather hitting New York, and spending an extra three hours in the plane prior to takeoff, I can confirm that in such situations, how you click with the person sitting next to you makes all the difference.  There's that terrible feeling of dread when you first sit down next to a stranger on a plane - what if that person doesn't want to talk?  Worse yet, what if they DO want to talk, and they're super-annoying and say the word "technically" in every sentence?  What if they don't like the fact that I had to raise their armrest, so I can fit in the seat?  Or that I have to climb over them to use the restroom?  Jeez, what if I'm the loud obnoxious one who's clueless about his personality grates on others? 

You can see how this is an ongoing concern.  But when you throw two disparate people together and force them to work toward a common goal, it's a bit like dropping Mentos into Diet Coke - you just sit back and wait for things to explode.  Duck and cover.

This film features Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "The Avengers") and Zach Galifianakis  (last seen in "Youth in Revolt") as the two leads, roughly corresponding to Steve Martin and John Candy, and the film ups the ante by giving them more desperate situations as the film goes on.  A dispute at the airport gets them kicked off of a plane in Atlanta, and another series of contrivances lands them together in a rental car, driving across the South.

The clock is ticking, since the family man wants to make it to L.A. before the birth of his first child, and the other character is a wanna-be actor, who has an interview with an agent.  So it would seem that their goals mesh, but the film keeps putting them at odds with each other, through various slip-ups and mix-ups.  This is in Galifianakis' wheelhouse, essentially the same character he played in "The Hangover" - the person acting as a catalyst while the overall situation keeps getting worse and worse.  Turns out this film is from the same director as "The Hangover", which makes sense.

In terms of tone, I was never sure who to be rooting for here - I mean, you want the characters to succeed, but it's funnier when they don't.  Westward progress has to be made, but the film keeps throwing more and more obstacles in their path.  The pair is constantly fighting and reconciling, because neither can progress without the other, not if they're going to drive in shifts and make it in time.

And because hyperbole is involved, you can sit there and say, "Oh, a character wouldn't be THAT clueless about how annoying he is."  "Oh, that mistake is so stupid, how could anyone DO that?"  Which cuts me off at the knees here, because I can't mention any Nitpick Points tonight without giving away the jokes.  But the same character who seems to be a magnet for trouble also has annoying personal habits, likes to quote wrong trivia facts and verbal malaprops, and also has a number of shady chemical dependencies.  It's a bit much to throw onto one characters.

There's a number of emotional touchstones as well - one character's impending birth of a child, and the other's recent family loss.  I'm forced to question the addition midway through the film of an additional character, his presence seems like a forced way to move the characters forward when progress seemed impossible, plus it also introduces a weird element of doubt into the proceedings.

Overall, the film seems to not have a clear focus - it sets out to do one thing, but ends up doing another.  I'm not sure if that was an intentional metaphor, running concurrently with the changes to their travel plans.

My personal connection to the film is that my boss is awaiting the birth of his first child, due in September.  Fortunately the baby had the foresight to not be due during Comic-Con, or I might have been in a situation similar to the one seen in this film.  I'm afraid to be the obnoxious traveling companion in this situation - sincee I see myself more as the Dr. Gonzo character from "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".  It's my job to make sure we've got enough grapefruit for the San Diego trip.

Also starring Michelle Monaghan (last seen in "Source Code"), Jamie Foxx (last seen in "The Kingdom"), with cameos from Juliette Lewis (last seen in "Mixed Nuts"), Matt Walsh (last seen in "Cyrus"), Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer.

RATING: 5 out of 10 rest stops

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Get Him to the Greek

Year 4, Day 208 - 7/26/12 - Movie #1,198

BEFORE: This time Jonah Hill carries over, kicking off a mini-chain devoted to road trips.  This one's sort of a sequel to "Forgetting Sarah Marshall", right?  Or at least it features some of the characters from that film.  This also looks like it could be sort of a mix between "This Is Spinal Tap" and "Midnight Run", if I'm lucky.

THE PLOT: A record company intern is hired to accompany out-of-control British rock star Aldous Snow to a concert at L.A.'s Greek Theater.

AFTER:  This one turned out to be more entertaining than I thought it would.  On one level, it's just about the problems inherent in getting a rock star to un-retire and perform, and then the actual nuts-and-bolts issued involved in getting him there.  Think about someone like Keith Richards, say, or David Bowie - what's it going to take to get them up and onto a stage?  What does it take to keep them sober, or in whatever condition they best perform in?

On another level, it's a commentary on the cult of celebrity, specifically with regards to rock stars.  People who are worshipped, followed by fans and groupies, constantly told how great they are, and showered with money and gifts.  What does that do to a person?  Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson being two of the more extreme cases - the wealth, the substance abuse, the crazy lifestyles.  That's all represented here in the character of Aldous Snow.

We also get a look here at the people behind the famous people - the handlers who make sure they get from place to place safely, without getting sidetracked or succumbing to temptation (drugs, booze, sex, for starters).  I can relate because I'm still winding down from Comic-Con - while my boss was giving a panel and speaking to fans, I was in the back rooms of the convention center, arguing over inflated storage charges with the people who run the freight warehouse.  I think of these as "Ian Faith" moments, named for the band manager in the Spinal Tap mockumentary.  Ian would complain about having to find guitar strings at 3 am, while the band is partying with a bunch of girls, and I can sort of relate.

(NOTE: I do not work for rock stars, I work for animators, but the principle is occasionally the same)

I don't care much for Russell Brand, who plays the central rock star character, but I found I could tolerate him here, because he wasn't just a parody of some kind of rock icon here - he came across as a very real human who happened to be famous, and also happened to be pretty screwed up, trying (and failing) to stay clean and sober, coming off a failed relationship, lonely and unsure how to proceed with his career and life.  So there was something about him that evoked sympathy, he wasn't just a stumbling, slurring buffoon.

Also starring Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (last seen in "Made"), Colm Meaney (last seen in "Law Abiding Citizen"), Elisabeth Moss (last heard in "Once Upon a Forest"), Rose Byrne (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), with cameos from Aziz Ansari, Nick Kroll, Kirsten Bell, Lars Ulrich, Meredith Vieira, Rick Schroder, Kristen Schaal, T.J. Miller, Carla Gallo,  Tom Felton.

RATING: 6 out of 10 plane tickets

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Year 4, Day 207 - 7/25/12 - Movie #1,197

BEFORE: This time, Catherine Keener carries over from "Friends With Money".  Another relationship picture puts me one step closer to my next chain.

THE PLOT:  A recently divorced guy meets the woman of his dreams. Then he meets her son.

AFTER: This one had some promise, because both main actors play sad-sack roles pretty well.  But my fear was that this would be another depressing film about relationships floundering and failing.

But the main character, a divorced man played by John C. Reilly (last seen in "Casualties of War") manages to fail upwards - hmm, I think that's called "succeeding" - by meeting and dating a beautiful woman who seems to be just who he's looking for to pull him out of his funk. 

The difference here is that by playing a man with low self-esteem, who wants to have a solid relationship but just can't seem to pull it together, though his intentions are good, we the audience are on his side.  At least I was, whereas last night I just wanted the people on the screen to pull their heads out of their asses and either improve their situations, or stop moping about them.

Last night's characters had rich-person problems, like worrying about what the neighbors think of the construction noise while they're remodeling their home.  But the conflict tonight comes from the girlfriend's son, who may or may not be trying to sabotage this new relationship.  It's ambiguous for a while, which seems like a sign of good writing.  If it were too obvious right off, the certainty would get us to the main conflict too quickly - a little doubt, and we've got uncertainty, which becomes a sort of mystery.

Plus, it seems like a fairly common real-world situation, dating someone with a child (an adult child, in this case) who has to be placated, or at least dealt with.  The two men essentially battle for the affections of the woman caught in the middle, though of course she expresses her affections in different ways.  It's a bit too pat to assume that she can't share her love with both her boyfriend and her son, in different ways obviously - and she probably could, but the men engage in a battle of wits anyway.  Because that's what men do.

Also starring Jonah Hill (last seen in "Moneyball"), Marisa Tomei (last heard in "The Wild Thornberrys Movie"), Matt Walsh.

RATING: 5 out of 10 keyboards

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Friends With Money

Year 4, Day 206 - 7/24/12 - Movie #1,196

BEFORE: Here's an obvious connection to last night's film's title - I could even go one more and watch "Friends With Kids" next, but that's on PPV for $4.99 and I'm trying to get to what's on my list first.  I do usually save romantic comedies and ensembles for February, but I'm sort of bridging a gap here - I've got a plan that will link me to the next topic.  Which is aliens (again), so the connection doesn't really seem obvious yet, but we'll get there.

Linking from "Friends with Benefits", Richard Jenkins was also in "Burn After Reading" with Frances McDormand (last seen, briefly, in "Miller's Crossing").

THE PLOT: After she quits her lucrative job, Olivia finds herself unsure about her future and her relationships with her successful and wealthy friends.

AFTER: Pointless, pointless, pointless.  Unless the point was to detail the lives of middle-class Americans and show how unsatisfied, unfulfilled and self-absorbed they all are.  Really, we should all just tear down our society, pull people out of their homes and give them to people who would really appreciate them.  God, is that Occupy Wall Street thing still going on?  Because this makes me want to go yell at rich people or something.  And if I'm siding with the hipsters and the downtrodden, you know I'm at my wit's end.

Would there be anything wrong with showing one person in this film who was happy?  Or, you know, at least content?  In its own quiet way, this is reminiscent of a Darren Aronofsky film, where everyone is doomed by their own vices and metaphorically just circling the drain.  These people are bored with life and are just waiting to die, which could be even worse.

You know what's depressing?  Watching depressed people act depressed.  Not a great topic for a film.  Look, I'm not asking for much, just for one character with a house and a stable marriage and a few extra bucks to display some sense of satisfaction, or at least a feeling of accomplishment.  How many people don't have one or all of those things?

I know, mo' money, mo' problems.  But do we really need to see that in a movie, where some of us go to get away from it all?  In the end it's not your spouse that will make you happy, or your job, or your possessions - it's up to YOU.  Those other things can make you content, or instill you with pride, but you've got to find a way to enjoy your own life.  It's too simple to say "Do what makes you happy", but how about "Be happy about what you do"?  You probably serve a purpose in the grand design, even if you can't see it.

Go on a road trip.  Read a book.  Take joy in the little things in life, like hitting on the slots and eating at the casino buffet.  Look through some family photos and remember the good times.  If all that fails, take some freakin' adult education classes.  Or as Warren Zevon famously said, "Enjoy every sandwich."  If nothing else will drag you out of bed and cheer you up, remember that somewhere out there in the world are delicious sandwiches.

And to Darren Aronofsky, Todd Solondz, Neil Labute and whoever wrote + directed this, that goes double for you guys.  Please, for the love of God, lighten the fuck up.  Have you thought about making light comedies?  People really seem to like them.

Also starring Jennifer Aniston (last seen in "Marley & Me"), Catherine Keener (last seen in "Where the Wild Things Are"), Joan Cusack (last heard in "Toy Story 3"), Jason Isaacs (last seen in "Windtalkers"), Simon McBurney (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate"), Greg Germann (last heard in "Bolt"), Ty Burrell.

 RATING: 3 out of 10 parking spaces

Monday, July 23, 2012

Friends With Benefits

Year 4, Day 205 - 7/23/12 - Movie #1,195

BEFORE: I'm fond of saying that it's impossible for me to make a scheduling mistake - well, this is about as close as I get.  The film that I meant to come after "The Other Woman" was "No Strings Attached", another Natalie Portman film, and when I made the schedule, I meant for that film to be the link to THIS film on the same subject.  I guess I figured some cable channel would be running it by now, but that didn't happen.  I could watch it on iTunes or Amazon, but the cost would be $9.99, and I doubt the film is worth that much.  So I'll have to circle back next year to this topic to do a follow-up - I'm guessing most every film next year will be a follow-up of some kind.

Instead, I'll link from Natalie Portman to Mila Kunis via "The Black Swan".  And I'll have to find another film to add to the upcoming around-the-world chain, but that should be fairly simple to do.  Or, I could go see a current film like "The Amazing Spider-Man" or "Men in Black 3" to make my schedule work out. 

THE PLOT: While trying to avoid the clichés of Hollywood romantic comedies, Dylan and Jamie soon discover however that adding the act of sex to their friendship does lead to complications.

AFTER: This one's extremely "meta" - a romance film about people who try to avoid the types of relationship clichés that one finds in typical romance films.  Any bets on whether the film itself will be able to avoid those clichés, or fall right into them?  Hey, I give it points for trying, but in mentioning other romance films, all they accomplished was reminding me that I was watching a (probably typical) romance film.

I can't yet comment on the similarities to "No Strings Attached", but I can comment on the resemblance to another romance film - "When Harry Met Sally".  In many ways, this is an updated version of that one, they just added references to 90's songs and things like flash mobs and texting.  The characters even name-check Nora Ephron at one point, so her influence is re-confirmed.  The question posed by "When Harry Met Sally" was, "Can men and women be friends, or does the sex always get in the way?"  I suppose you could argue that this film flips that around a bit, asking instead "Can men and women have sex, without the friendship getting in the way?" 

The goal here is to pair two people still reeling from their last relationship, throw them together and watch the relationship evolve, from friendship to dating to sex - but not necessarily in that order.  They attempt to game the system by trying to have a physical relationship and a friendship, without the complications of an emotional attachment.  Raise your hand if you think they'll be successful.  Yeah, I don't see a lot of raised hands.

What develops instead is a type of staring contest - who will be the first to develop an emotional need for the other, or barring that, who will be the first to determine that the experiment has failed, and break it off?

The worthiest addition here is the subplots concerning their family members - her mother and his father.  Her mother is a free-spirit who admires her daughter's outside-the-box thinking on relationships, and his father is a divorced Alzheimer's patient who still has relationship regrets from years past.  Last night's film suggested that women subconsciously seek men who remind them of their fathers, but this film takes things a step further.  I picked up on the suggestion that a lot of young adults today are children of divorce, and/or raised by single parents, so for them the old rules of marriage and monogamy may not apply. 

I have to claim ignorance of a few things tonight - for starters, is this how Gen Y people date?  I might be too old to be familiar with how the kids are hooking up these days.  Also, with the exception of 6 months in 1996, I haven't been single since 1989.  So I'm recusing myself.  Speaking personally on friendship, however, I probably have at least as many female friends now as I do male ones - remember the codicil from "When Harry Met Sally", that men and women CAN be friends as long as they're seeing other people.  I think that if I could speak to my younger self, however, 20-year old me would marvel at how many female friends that I have, but might wonder why I'm not pursuing them.

The fallacy that this film follows, however, is assuming that being in an emotional relationship with someone precludes a friendship, and vice versa.  Don't the two work best together?  Isn't an emotional relationship enhanced by being friends with your partner?  And if you're looking for a long-term relationship, isn't it possible for that to start with a friendship?  Why limit your thinking to one OR the other, when you can shoot for both?

But I applaud the frankness this one operates under - there's a bunch of nuts-and-bolts (so to speak) sex stuff that most movies wouldn't dream of talking about, though I question whether most people want to hear about that sort of thing when they go to the movies.  It's a film that seems to be preoccupied with the details of everything - of conversations, of friendships, and of sex.  It's easy to write in generalities, but sometimes tough to focus on specifics.

I wonder how close the screenwriter is to the subject matter, and I also wonder which 2011 film about non-emotional sex partners was in development first.

Also starring Justin Timberlake (last heard in "Yogi Bear"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "2012"), Jenna Elfman (last seen in "Looney Tunes: Back in Action"), Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "Lars and the Real Girl"), Richard Jenkins (last seen in "The Kingdom"), with cameos from Andy Samberg (last heard in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"), Emma Stone (last seen in "Marmaduke"), Jason Segel (last heard in "Despicable Me"), Rashida Jones (last seen in "Cop Out"), Shaun White, Masi Oka.

RATING: 5 out of 10 photo shoots

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Other Woman

Year 4, Day 204 - 7/22/12 - Movie #1,194

BEFORE: I'm skipping Saturday, and acknowledging that I really watched this one early Sunday morning, so I'm letting another day slide.  (Really, I've been behind in the count ever since my plane was delayed on Wednesday, and I really got home on Thursday.  I'll explain tomorrow night how this won't affect my film schedule.)  We were out late at the new casino at the Aqueduct in Queens last night - I have a system when I play the slot machines that works most of the time (umm, until it doesn't), and last night it worked pretty well.  I mostly bet one credit, but after a certain number of spins I increase my betting - so I maximize my number of spins while (theoretically) increasing the bet in time for a payout.  Plus I start each machine with a new $20 bill and cash out immediately when I'm up.  I never put a payout ticket back into a machine, I only redeem them for cash.  And the system netted a $72 profit, which bought a buffet dinner for me and the wife, so I take that as a win.  Whatever I may lose on the slots, the casino loses more when they let me into the buffet.  Suckers.

Anyway, Natalie Portman carries over again, switching back from comedy to drama.

THE PLOT:  A drama that details the story of a woman's difficult relationship with her stepson.

AFTER: That plot description from the IMDB doesn't really do this film justice, because it's about so much more than that one relationship.  All of the featured relationships are complicated here - the relationship between a husband and his ex-wife, between the husband and his second wife, between the husband and his son, and between the ex-wife and the second wife.  It's all pretty awkward.

Yet, these relationships (and ones even more complex) must be taking place all over the world, all the time, right?  So is it better to watch this film and judge the very specific situations put before us, or take them as a metaphorical composite for all the broken and blended families everywhere?

Two more things (at least) complicate the marriage at the core of this film - the grief over a recently deceased newborn daughter, and the fact that Portman's character is still mad at her own father for cheating on her mother.  Both situations carry unspoken shame, and perceived blame, which leads to anger, hurt feelings, etc.   But I'm a little out of my depth here, since I haven't personally been through those exact flavors of grief.

I'm also calling a mulligan on the step-parent situation, since I've got no experience there either.  Watching parents trying to keep their kids from acting up in restaurants, or on airplanes, etc. - I don't know how they do it.  I don't seem to have the necessary software for it, and I don't know if I ever will.  I used to just talk to kids, like my younger cousin, like they're just tiny adults, but that only gets me so far - plus I know that you can't just act like a kid's friend if you're their parent, because then they don't develop with any discipline.  But I don't want to talk down to kids either, so I guess somewhere there's a happy medium. 

This could have been an interesting portrait of an upper-class Manhattan blended family, with a focus on the entitled sort of kid, the prep schools and the nannies.  But it's a little all over the place, and a bit depressing, with everyone trying to undermine each other, or cut each other down.  It doesn't seem like anyone really cares for anyone else, they'd rather just hash out all their disagreements in front of the kid, without worrying about the affect that will have on him.  In general, none of the characters seem to care about how any of their actions affect others, and no one seems to want to learn any life lessons, either.

I understand that kids don't always have the same mental filters as adults - they can sometimes ask a question or state an opinion that hurts an adult's feelings.  So what are the adults' excuses for doing the exact same thing?  And who thought all this would make an entertaining subject for a film?  I mean, it might be true that bad things happen to good people, and all relationships eventually crumble, and people in general are not always nice to each other - but that doesn't mean I want to watch a film about all that.

As usual, I penalize for excessive use of flashback, and non-linear storytelling.  Please, people, try to assemble all of your film's scenes in the proper chronological order, don't make me have to do all that work for you.

Also starring Scott Cohen, Lisa Kudrow (last seen in "Lucky Numbers"), Charlie Tahan, Debra Monk, Lauren Ambrose (last heard in "Where the Wild Things Are").

RATING: 4 out of 10 banana splits