Tuesday, December 31, 2013

year 5 wrap-up / year 6 preview

Another year gone, and I'd honestly hoped to be done with this project by now.  Or at least to have under 200 films left on the list - I came close, the number's at 205, which is well under the number of days in a year, but to help me out Hollywood's going to have to stop making new movies that I want to see.  I went to the theater 5 or 6 times in 2013, which for me is a lot. Seeing "Life of Pi", "Star Trek Into Darkness", "Iron Man 3", "The Wolverine" and "Man of Steel" on the big screen gave me a big head-start on the movies of 2013, and represent my best hope for making some progress.

Oh, and let's not forget "Les Miserables", the first film of the year that sort of set the tone - so many films this year that were either classic literary stories ("The Three Musketeers", "Mutiny on the Bounty", "Jane Eyre", "Vanity Fair", "Little Women", "Tom Jones") or were just generally downbeat stories about the human condition ("The Lost Weekend", "Blue Valentine", "Once Around", "The Descendants", "50/50", "The Sessions", "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Precious").   And riffing off the theme of revolution and war, that was fertile territory as well ("Marie Antoinette", "Joyeux Noel", "War Horse", "The Patriot", "Troy", "Zero Dark Thirty", "The Thin Red Line", "Red Tails", "U-571", "The Alamo" and "Cold Mountain").

I also got WAY too bogged down in crime films ("Collateral", "Miami Blues". "China Moon", "Stone", "The Brave One", "Billy Bathgate"), and serial killer films ("Summer of Sam", "Zodiac", "Natural Born Killers", "American Psycho", "Taking Lives", "The Bone Collector").  There were more of those than I thought, and it's a really dark subject, it turns out.   Having also covered politics, racism, 9/11, school shootings, epidemics, alien invasions and apes taking over the world, I'm anxious to move on to other topics.

On the positive side, I finished off a fair number of franchises ("Harry Potter 7 Pt. 2", "Rocky Balboa", "The X-Files", Ace Ventura, Dirty Harry and all the James Bonds) and got to some films that have been on the list for what feels like forever ("Gone With the Wind", "C.S.A", "Kill Bill").  I also completed what I think will be my last sports chain ("The Fighter", "The Boxer", "Tin Cup", "Hardball", "Goon", "The Mighty Ducks" and "Slapshot") and my last Western chain ("The Claim", "Tombstone", "Wyatt Earp", "Open Range", "Heaven's Gate" and "The Missouri Breaks").  Really, in both cases, if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all.

The best film of the year, according to my highly unscientific rating system, was "The Dark Knight Rises".  I was as nitpicky as I could be, but still could find nothing wrong with it, so I gave it a "10".  A brilliant fusing of three recent comic-book storylines, action-packed and full of nice surprises.  Considering that this year's runners-up with scores of "8" were "Iron Man 3", "The Wolverine", "Kick-Ass" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" - yeah, I may have a favorite type of film.  Seeing the films on the big screen may skew the results, because I also gave "Les Miserables" an "8".

Speaking of "Les Mis", most of the principal cast showed up again and again throughout the year - Anne Hathaway came back in February for a 4-pack of dark romance films ("Brokeback Mountain", "Love & Other Drugs", "One Day" and "Rachel Getting Married") and then topped all that by playing Catwoman in "The Dark Knight Rises".  Hugh Jackman fought giant robots in "Real Steel" and ninjas in "The Wolverine", and Russell Crowe followed up his failure to catch Jean Valjean with his failure to prevent Krypton from blowing up in "Man of Steel".  Helena Bonham Carter showed up in "Dark Shadows", but Sacha Baron Cohen was never heard from again, since no channel ran "Hugo" or "The Dictator".  As I said, it was a tough year. 

So now I have to deal with the 205 movies left on the list, and I've already torn the order apart and re-structured it for the new year.  I found some new acting connections between films, and I'm ready to go.  I'm going to finally get to the Woody Allen films I haven't seen, and if I can add films at a somewhat slower rate, I may get to the Hitchcock films also.  Still, even with blocks set aside for animated films, kiddie literature films, and February romances, the schedule's only good until April or May, then I'll probably want to reorganize the whole thing again.

Turner Classic Movies ran an interesting block of movies last night - "Beach Party", "The Cheap Detective" and "The Loved One", followed by "East of Eden".  I eventually figured out they were doing tributes to Annette Funicello, Eileen Brennan, Jonathan Winters and Julie Harris, all actors who passed away in 2013.  Damn, that's a good idea, and I wish I could do something like that, having covered actors' birthdays it would be another good bit of symmetry.  But's it's also sort of downbeat, and I've already stolen at least two organizational ideas from TCM.

While I'm thinking about endings, how do I end this project?  When do I end this project?  Can I get my list down to zero films, or even close?  Do I stop at 1,900 films or an even 2,000?  What should the last film be?  Can I keep it going until the new "Star Wars" film in Dec. 2015?  Because I started with a "Star Wars" film, and again, symmetry.  I just have to keep going until I can figure out a way to make it stop.  My list is only down 8 films from last year at this time, so at this rate, finishing will only take another...crap, 25 years.

And with that, I'm on to 2014's movies...

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Eve

Year 5, Day 364 - 12/30/13 - Movie #1,600

BEFORE: Well, the plan almost worked.  Limiting contact with my niece and nephew delayed my getting sick, but apparently didn't prevent it entirely.  I thought I had just a head cold over the weekend, but now it's morphed into some kind of flu.  So no food for 24 hours, and lots of sleep - I was supposed to go back to work today, but that would have been a terrible idea.  I got this film watched before the fatigue hit - or maybe this film made me sick, who's to say?

Linking from "Love Actually", Billy Bob Thornton was also in "Monster's Ball" with Halle Berry (last seen in "Die Another Day") - you didn't think I'd leave the last film of the year hanging, did you?

THE PLOT:  The lives of several couples and singles in New York intertwine over the course of New Year's Eve.

AFTER: Very similar in style to "Love Actually", this film cross-cuts between four or five running plots, some of whose characters have connections to each other, and some of those are revealed only near the end of the film.  So there are one or two "fake-outs" when we think we know who's going to end up with who, and then we are surprised (or perhaps not, if you're expecting the fake-out).

The last time I was watching films this late in the year was 2010 - I could have wrapped up the year earlier, but then I would have missed the connection to the two holidays.  But there's a sort of symmetry involved here - my first film in 2013 was "Les Miserables", so I started with a crowd of people in the streets of Paris for a revolt, and I'm ending with a crowd of people in the streets of New York for revelry.   (or, from one of the best films of 2012 to what I assume was one of the worst of 2011...)  More symmetry and synergy in tomorrow's wrap-up.

For now, I have to judge this film on its own merits, such as they are - we've got a man and woman trapped in an elevator, a rock-star trying to reconcile with his caterer ex-girlfriend, a bike messenger helping an older woman cross items off her life list, a man trying to get to a party to deliver a speech, a single mother whose daughter sneaks out to go to Times Square, a couple about to have a baby, a man dying in a hospital, and it's all framed by the dropping of the ball and the woman in charge of making that happen.  That seems like 8 separate storylines, except that it's not - it's more like 5 or 6 once you know what the connections are. 

But if "Love Actually" had any message, and I'm not saying it did, it's that British people all need to get over their shyness and awkwardness and open themselves to the opportunity of love - but the point here seems to be that love is mainly based on proximity.  All you have to do is get stuck in an elevator with someone, or be standing next to them on New Year's Eve, and love, or at least a kiss, will inevitably follow.  I'm not sure I can endorse that message - but of course, that's what happens every Dec. 31.

Let me say, as a resident of NYC, the city that adopted me, I would never attend the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square.  There's like, a few million people there, and people get put into holding pens, treated worse than farm animals, and you have to get a good spot at, what, 9 am?  Which knocks out your whole day, and what if you need to eat or use the restroom?  I'm guessing you lose your spot.  So that's a whole lot of inconvenience for a few seconds of party - you know that they show the whole thing on TV and you can watch it from the comfort of your own bed, right? 

I suppose that if I was so inclined, I could point out that the older man dying symbolizes Father Time, and the baby being born represents the New Year - but I think that's a bit of a stretch, no?  And there are several instances where forgiveness and reconciliation come into the picture, like the fired electrician who needs to fix the ball, or the rock-star who wants to get back with his ex, but it kind of seems like if you load up a movie with enough plotlines, you're bound to see a connection or two.  People make resolutions, people kiss each other, people reflect, so let's just throw a bunch of that stuff together, who cares if it all makes sense, because the human condition rarely does.

Which leads me to wonder - if there were a technical problem with the ball dropping and it didn't work, would you say that the people in charge of dropping the ball really dropped the ball?  So in a sense, they would have succeeded.

NITPICK POINT: It's the first baby born in New York City each year that wins something, and I think it's like free diapers for a year.  It's not the first baby born in each hospital, and it's certainly not the amount of money portrayed here.  Creative license perhaps, but a flawed message to send to the public.

Also starring Michelle Pfeiffer (last seen in "Dark Shadows"), Robert De Niro (last seen in "Limitless"), Hilary Swank (last seen in "The Next Karate Kid"), Ashton Kutcher (last seen in "Valentine's Day"), Lea Michele, Sarah Jessica Parker (last seen in "Striking Distance"), Josh Duhamel, Abigail Breslin (last seen in "Signs"), Zac Efron (last seen in "Hairspray"), Jessica Biel (last seen in "Total Recall"), Seth Meyers (last seen in "American Dreamz"), Katherine Heigl (last seen in "Knocked Up"), Jon Bon Jovi (last seen in "U-571"), Carla Gugino (last heard in "Man of Steel"), Sofia Vergara (last seen in "The Smurfs"), Hector Elizondo (last seen in "Leviathan"), Ludacris, Ryan Seacrest, Yeardley Smith, Til Schweiger (last seen in "This Means War"), with cameos from Matthew Broderick (last seen in "Tower Heist"), Cary Elwes (last heard in "A Christmas Carol"), Alyssa Milano (last seen in "Commando"), Larry Miller (last seen in "10 Things I Hate About You"), Common, James Belushi (last seen in "The Ghost Writer"), Jack McGee (last seen in "The Fighter"), Penny Marshall, Cherry Jones, and soon-to-be-ex mayor Michael "Benito" Bloomberg

RATING: 3 out of 10 pedicabs

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Love Actually

Year 5, Day 363 - 12/29/13 - Movie #1,599

BEFORE: Back from Christmas break, I hope your holiday (or non-holiday, or Solstice celebration, or whatever...) was enjoyable and peaceful and not as frantic and drama-filled as ours.  The casino stop on Christmas Eve (which we were JUST shy of telling my family about this year...) was a wash, I lost just $6.75 on the slots after winnings were calculated, but I probably gained that back at the buffet (Hey, Mom did say she'd be busy with church, so we should find some food on the way...).  Then we had to assist my parents with a difficult decision - my niece and nephew had been sick in the weeks before Christmas, and needed an extra day to recuperate.  Nobody wants to tell kids they can't celebrate Christmas, but nobody wants to catch stomach flu either - my Mom was all raw emotion about it, my Dad was more logical, and we had to mediate.  In the end, Christmas just sort of went into overtime, and got extended to 4 get-togethers with different family members over 3 days.

I left this film out of my annual romance chain back in February, after asking around to determine if this was best treated as a romance or a Christmas film - with the acknowledgement that it could conceivably be both.  However, co-workers who had seen the film recommended it for Christmastime viewing, so while we're still within sight of the holiday, let's cross it off the list.

Now you see why I ended the Christmas animation chain with "Arthur Christmas" - Bill Nighy, voice of GrandSanta in that film, carries over (as does an actress, the voice of Santa's North Pole computer system).  You do see it, right?

THE PLOT: Follows the lives of eight very different couples in dealing with their love lives in various loosely and interrelated tales all set during a frantic month before Christmas in London.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Valentine's Day" (Movie #775), "New York, I Love You" (Movie #782)

AFTER: I can sort of see where this film sort of spun out of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" - it opens with just one of each type of service - and together both films perhaps kicked off the genre of the meta-romance, jam-packed with stars and interlinked characters, pitched to the public with the philosophy that "more is more".  The problem, however, is that sometimes more ISN'T more - some of these romances could/should have been complete developed movies on their own (the Prime Minister storyline, for example, could have been the U.K.'s version of "The American President") but just weren't fleshed out far enough.

As I've discovered by programming movies for February, love is a valid theme, but it's a loose theme.  What kind of love?  Young love, lost love, long-lasting committed love, love with temptation, love triangles, etc.  There are as many types of love as there are types of people - it almost feels like this film is trying to pack as many different types in to cover all of the bases, or appeal to the largest number of people - but in trying to be everything to everybody, it risks having no point when all is said and done.

And some of the romances weren't given the time here to really even count as plots, so in essence they're more like subplots.  The couple that meets on the set of a movie - are they actors, or just stand-ins?  They get naked together, but is it soft-core, or hard-core?  Are they candid with friends about their profession and how they met?  Did they both quit the business when they found they were attracted to each other, or did they carry on with their "acting"?  I've got so many questions about this, and zero answers.  Do they regard their attraction as any less valid than that of other couples, because it had its genesis in stage directions?  (I don't mean to belittle the off-camera romances between actors, which do take place, but you kind of see where I'm going with this, right?  Love sometimes follows participation in a love scene, which seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse...)

The opening songs of the film tell us that "Love is All Around" (though this is quickly amended to remind us that in fact, it's Christmas that is all around...) and then "All You Need Is Love".  Barring the Beatles' attempt to ignore the fact that people also need food and shelter, the film goes on to contradict itself by showing that relationships are a lot more complex than that song title suggests.  Love is no good without opportunity, or at least proper timing, and even then, a fair amount of self-confidence and communication skills are also required to act on said love and make the connection with another human.  Love is great, but by itself, it only gets you halfway there. 

Since the characters here are British (mostly), this is a valid concern - they've got to overcome the stereotypical shyness and reserve associated with being British, along with an apparent ability to screw things up just by speaking their minds.  NOTE: I base much of what I know about British relationships from sitcoms like "Fawlty Towers", where miscommunications always make things worse before they get better, but the situations portrayed here just seem to back all that up.

Though it's not revealed at first, all of the people in the 8 relationship situations are connected, they are part of an extended circle of friends and family.  By the time of the Christmas pageant most of the connections have been revealed (though not all?) - but still, finding out at the last minute that two apparently unconnected characters are friends seemed like a bit of a stretch.  It was like an afterthought, like someone realized that one plotline wasn't intertwined enough with the others, so they'd better make this guy wave knowingly at THAT guy.

By focusing on so many characters, there's also a lack of focus in the romantic theme, no coherent message about the meaning of love.  So we're left to make our own decisions about who belongs with which partner, in an attempt to guess or second-guess the filmmakers' choices.  Characters with more screen time definitely have an advantage, but what about the minor characters left out in the cold?  Are their desires and attractions somehow less valid just because the storyline denies them?  Why is a husband with a eye for one of his co-workers somehow "wrong" for pursuing the object of his desire, when a man in love with his best friend's wife is somehow "right" for pursuing his?  Perhaps I'm oversimplifying both situations, but the implied judgment still seems rather arbitrary.

This film might have been at the forefront of the modern romance film, but you can still feel that it's become a bit dated, even though it's only 10 years old.  Twice it looked like the storylines were going to feature a same-sex attraction, but it wasn't the case.  So in the end, it didn't become as unconventional as it could have been, it just relied on many of the same old dated sterotypes about love and attraction, mixed together in a different way, and didn't break much new ground at all.

NITPICK POINT: By way of confirming who does end up with who, there's a scene at the end where every major character happens to be at the airport at the same time.  But this takes place a month after Christmas, so why are they all there together?  I could maybe see it if it were a week after Christmas and everyone was coming back from holiday, but as it is, it strains credulity.  Unless there's some weird British holiday on January 25 that involves picking up loved ones at the airport...

NITPICK POINT #2: There it is again, a scene where a modern writer uses an old-fashioned typewriter, rather than a laptop or word processor. (How does he do a second draft, does he retype the whole damn thing?)  I realize it's a plot point that the manuscript has not been saved or backed up, and is therefore at risk, but any writer not using proper technology in this millennium deserves to lose his work.  Unforgivable, and not realistic.

Now, as for the actual word "actually" - its use has grown exponentially over the last few years, and thanks to reality TV and teen slang, it's now used way too much, and often incorrectly (it does NOT mean the same thing as the casual form of "really").  I found it on a list of "crutch" words a year or two ago (along with the similarly over- and misused "basically", "technically" and "literally") so I made an effort to eliminate it from my vocabulary altogether.  I heard it misused no less than four times during a newscast the other night (to be fair, it was not spoken by the anchors, but by the interviewed masses).  The reason it's a "crutch" word is that people use it for emphasis when they don't know what else to say - somehow it feels more powerful to say "I actually need to go to the store after work" than "I need to go to the store after work", when those two sentences have the same meaning.  If you can remove the word and the sentence means the same, then you don't ACTUALLY need that word.  The only use of the word I will allow is when someone is being corrected, or information is being supplied that contradicts previous information.  Example: "You thought I was working for the CIA, but I'm actually working for the KGB." When I hear a teen talk and misuse "actually" three times in a minute, it's like a knife in my brain.  Literally.  No, not literally, not actually, but figuratively.

I think someone (actually) uses the word in each segment of this film, but (actually) I couldn't be bothered to (actually) find out if that was (actually) true, or for that matter if it was (actually) used correctly or not.  Do you see what overusing the word does?  It makes it (actually) meaningless.  So let's all just cut it out.

Also starring Colin Firth (last heard in "A Christmas Carol"), Hugh Grant (last seen in "American Dreamz"), Liam Neeson (last seen in "Wrath of the Titans"), Emma Thompson (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"), Alan Rickman (ditto), Martin Freeman (last seen in "Shaun of the Dead"), Keira Knightley (last seen in "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"), Andrew Lincoln, Chiwetel Ejiofor (last seen in "2012"), Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thornton (last seen in "Tombstone"), Martine McCutcheon, Kris Marshall, Rodrigo Santoro, with cameos from Rowan Atkinson (last seen in "Johnny English Reborn"), Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards (last seen in "The World Is Not Enough"), Shannon Elizabeth, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert.

RATING: 5 out of 10 office parties

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Arthur Christmas

Year 5, Day 356 - 12/22/13 - Movie #1,598

BEFORE: This is my last film before Christmas break - neatly finishing off the Christmas section.  Linking from "A Christmas Carol", Colin Firth was also in "Love, Actually" with Bill Nighy, who provides a voice in tonight's film.

THE PLOT: On Christmas night at the North Pole, Santa's youngest son looks to use his father's high-tech operation for an urgent mission.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Fred Claus" (Movie #722)

AFTER: I'm glad I referenced the song "Father Christmas" yesterday, because this title then makes a lot more sense.  If Santa is called "Father Christmas" in the U.K., it follows that his sons would have Christmas as their last name.  Yes, Santa has sons, which is a rather neat way of explaining how Santa's been around so long without growing old.  Err, older.  We're on Santa #17 or 18 by now, since each one takes over the job for 70 or so years before retiring.  (If you carry this thought process through to its logical conclusion, this means that Santa is mortal, but we won't be seeing any Santa take a dirt-nap in a kid's film - so in a way he kinda is immortal).

But each Santa in turn takes his opportunity to modernize the process - which also makes sense, because if you asked a kid in the early 1900's what Santa's workshop looks like, you'd hear about a log cabin, with elves toiling away with hammers and nails and such - then a couple decades later, that workshop would probably be described as something like a factory with an assembly line, and today's kid would probably picture something that looks like a N.O.R.A.D. base, with lots of screens and ways to tap into security camera footage like that guy on "Person of Interest", and robots making the toys, etc.

The folks at Aardman Animations picked up this ball and ran with it - while still keeping the comic sensibility of their famous "Wallace & Gromit" series.  In those films, Gromit the dog is really the "smart" one in the pair, but Wallace gets all the credit.  Here the elves do about 90% of the processing, manufacturing and stealth work, and the doddering Santa makes a few ceremonial placements of toys under trees, while his modern spaceship sleigh hovers over a city like the UFO from "Independence Day".

The high-tech stuff just makes sense, when you consider they'd need a database of millions of kids with their "naughty" and "nice" levels, plus they'd have to keep track of each country's Santa-related customs.  In some countries kids leave Santa milk and cookies, but in others they leave carrots for his reindeer, and so on.  (I forgot to mention this the other night, but for extra fun read up on Dutch customs, where Santa keeps black slaves called "SchwarzePeeten" and they help whip naughty kids and pelt them with hard candy.  Good times.)

Back at the North Pole, the operation is controlled by Santa's older son, Steve, with military-like precision, while his younger son, Arthur, works in the mailroom answering letters.  (This is probably a make-work job, since thousands of kids write letters to Santa, but I'm not sure I've heard of Santa ever writing back.  Who has that kind of time?)  Steve is quite obviously and defiantly next in line to wear the red suit (but the way these films go, he probably won't) and Arthur is clearly out of the running (but the way these films go, well, you can probably guess the outcome).

The other thing that carries over from the "Wallace & Gromit" films is the distinct probably that things will get all cocked up (British term) before they're all sorted out (ditto).  This involves a fair amount of slapstick, people falling out of sleighs and dropping things and generally stumbling around.  Things get thrown out of whack when a single present is not delivered, and of all the once-and-future Santas, only Arthur understands the importance of making sure that it gets delivered.

I wish the characters could have just agreed to disagree, and moved on - instead there's just too much bickering over the consequences of taking action or not taking action, whether one mistake is statistically worth ignoring, or whether the single present is a metaphor for complete failure.  It felt like half an hour of film was wasted on this debate, which means they could have solved the problem three times over in the time it took to figure out whether this was really a problem or not.  But the Santas are a family, and families don't always agree -

So Arthur sets out with the "Grand-Santa" (again, old retired Santas don't die, they just hang around and cause trouble) on the old-fashioned but still-magic early 1900's-type sleigh, to deliver the last package before sunrise hits that part of the world.  It sounds simple, but between the young Arthur, the old Grand-Santa and a fastidious wrapping elf, there are plenty of mistakes made that make the delivery almost, but not quite, impossible.

All told, it's an enjoyable romp, and my only complaints are that a blind man could see the ending coming a mile away, and the elves (particularly the one traveling with Arthur) were nearly impossible to understand.  I realize you have to speed up their voices to make them sound like elves, but their words still need to be clear - I guess British voices don't work well in my ear-holes when they're sped up and high-pitched.

Yep, Santa is British here, so forget all that stuff about Santa being Russian, or Turkish, or even Canadian.  If British people are making the film, then he's British.  And I only just now realized the similarities between the Santa succession process depicted here and the line of succession to the British throne - the oldest child gets the position next, unless he abdicates...

Well, I'm off to wrap gifts until the wee hours of the morning, then one more day of work - on Tuesday I'll be appearing at the Foxwoods Casino Buffet on my way up to see my parents, and then I'm on kitchen detail on Christmas Day, assuming the ghosts all appear to me in one night.  Back in a few days to wrap up the last two slots of the year, then I'll write the annual wrap-up and start organizing the films for 2014.

Also starring the voices of James McAvoy (last heard in "Gnomeo & Juliet"), Jim Broadbent (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Hugh Laurie (last heard in "Hop"), Imelda Staunton, Laura Linney (last seen in "Hyde Park on Hudson"), Eva Longoria (last seen in "The Heartbreak Kid"), Michael Palin, with elf cameos from Robbie Coltrane (last seen in "The World Is Not Enough"), Joan Cusack (last heard in "Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil"), Andy Serkis (last not-seen in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), Dominic West.

RATING: 6 out of 10 time zones

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Christmas Carol (2009)

Year 5, Day 355 - 12/21/13 - Movie #1,597

BEFORE:  Happy Festivus to all!  I've declared that today I celebrate Festivus, which usually involves me going on a walking tour of NYC's holiday markets and picking up those last-minute Christmas gifts.  But because of the shortened season, I wasn't able to take a day off from work, so this year Festivus happens to fall on a Saturday.  It would have been last Saturday, but it snowed, so today it is - that's the great thing about Festivus, it takes place when I say it does.  My wife joined me for the first time, but still I truncated the tour down to just a pizza place, the Union Square holiday market, the big 5-floor Barnes & Noble, and the Heartland Brewery.  Oh, and the liquor store on the way home.  Christmas shopping is DONE.

Linking from "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas", Patton Oswalt was also in "Man on the Moon" with Jim Carrey (last seen in "The Dead Pool").  And thanks to that claymation sequence, my Christmas films this year are all at least partially animated. 

THE PLOT:  An animated retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel about a Victorian-era miser taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions.

AFTER: Two things have to happen for me to really feel like it's Christmas - and neither of them is watching Paul Schaffer's impression of Cher singing "Oh, Holy Night" or Darlene Love singing "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)", though those are both great traditions.  I need to go on the Festivus walking tour, and I need to watch some version of "A Christmas Carol".  It can be the Patrick Stewart version, or Bill Murray's "Scrooged", and perhaps next year it will be the Muppets' turn, but this year the spotlight falls on the 2009 mo-cap version, directed by Robert Zemeckis.

NOTE: I'm not calling it "Disney's A Christmas Carol", because I don't acknowledge that as a valid title format.  It's CHARLES DICKENS' "A Christmas Carol", goddammit, just as it's really Victor Hugo's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Tarzan".   Once you allow Disney to start adding possessives, where do you stop?  Will it someday be "Disney's The Muppets' A Christmas Carol"?  Or "Disney's Marvel's The Avengers' Christmas Special"?  I'm drawing a line right here, right now.  Too many apostrophes.

Anyway, I'm drawn to some version of this story each year (which is my favorite?  more on that later) because it's a GOOD story, and good stories are timeless.  There are no doubt hundreds of variations on this story, dozens of which air on the Lifetime Network, but the fact that it crosses all ethnic and age barriers just emphasizes how adaptable it is.  Sure, you can take it as an examination of Victorian money-lending procedures, but you'd be missing the point.  It's really about self-reflection and redemption.  Plus, though "The Time Machine" usually gets credit as the first time-travel story, Dickens really beat it to the punch by about 50 years - so suck on that, H.G. Wells.

The story works for the one-percenters who may identify with Scrooge, or more likely appeals to the other 99% of adults who identify with Bob Crachit - who among us hasn't at least looked into the cost of hiring 3 actors in ghost costumes to visit their boss late at night?  OK, maybe that's just me.  But I'm telling you, it can work if you don't mind a little breaking and entering...

This version is told via CGI and motion-capture, which has its advantages and disadvantages.  This allowed the filmmakers to make just about anything mentioned in Dickens' book appear on the screen. If the floor of the room is meant to disappear and create the illusion that the room is soaring over Victorian London, well give some nerds enough computing power, and they can get that on the screen.  Jacob Marley's jaw can become unhinged and flap around wildly, without an actor having to work with some weird prosthetic.

The downside, however, is that when all things are possible, there is a temptation to go too far.  To have Scrooge's character shrunk down to mouse-size so he can hide in a drainpipe is an odd idea, plus it's not in the book.  And he doesn't need to hide from the other characters, since they can't see him anyway.  These are just shadows of things to come, remember?

But the process does allow for actors to play multiple characters - which almost hearkens back to the stage productions of "Peter Pan", where the same actor usually played Mr. Darling and Captain Hook (how Freudian for young Wendy!).  Carrey's features can be seen not only in Scrooge, but in two of the three ghostly visitors, which would be quite difficult to achieve in live-action (too many split-screens) - and this also reinforces the dream-like nature of Scrooge's visions, since I've heard that in your dreams, all the other characters are really just other aspects of yourself.   (Wouldn't it have been great if the Ghost of Christmas Past ended up looking like Fire Marshall Bill from "In Living Color"?)

That's right, I'm going on record as saying that Scrooge's experience is a dream - you can really interpret it either way, ghost story or dream.  (I used to wonder about that line in the song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", where it mentions "scary ghost stories" - what kind of a nutty family tells ghost stories at Christmas?  Then I remembered, "Oh yeah, Dickens.")   But if you think about it, the only helpful ghost is really the second one.  Scrooge knows all too well what happened to him in the past (but he needs to be reminded), and he has to know that he's going to die some time in the future, right?  The only real insight to be gained is getting that fly-on-the-wall look at how his nephew and the Cratchits celebrate the holiday.  Rich or poor, when the day comes, you've got to pull out all the stops.

Scrooge's dream (or spiritual experience, or whatever) follows the simple Rule of Three, and as such contains a message that represents Dickens' formula for redemption/happiness: face your past, enjoy the present, and try not to be such a dick to people in the future.  And that's what's universal, almost completely non-denominational, and works whether it's Christmastime or not.

My only other complaint about this version is that we don't get to see enough of Scrooge interacting with the townspeople, most of whom have borrowed money from him.  Admittedly it's been a long time since I read the book, so I don't know if this was just a stylistic choice, but I think the story is stronger the more he's depicted as a usurer in the beginning, and the more he's seen forgiving debts at the end.  This is something well represented in my favorite version of the story, which is:

The 1970 Albert Finney vehicle "Scrooge".  I will defend this version over any other, for a number of reasons.  First, it's got great musical numbers, especially "Father Christmas" and "Thank You Very Much", the latter of which is first sung ironically at Scrooge's funeral, and then sincerely at the end once all debts have been cleared.  This film was made just 2 years after the Best Picture winner "Oliver!", based on another Dickens classic, and shares some of the same DNA.  I just learned they were both filmed at Shepparton Studios, which explains a lot - they probably used some of the same Victorian sets and costumes. 

In a casting twist, whereas Ebenezer Scrooge was usually played by an older actor, requiring the casting of a believable younger look-a-like for the flashbacks, Albert Finney was a relatively young man who played the past Scrooge with no make-up, and then they olded him up to play him in the present-day sequences, and he was very believable.  (though he's now an older man, and his character in "Skyfall" looked completely different...)  Finney was younger than the actor playing his nephew, a fact which oddly enough is repeated here in the Jim Carrey version.

Plus you've got Alec Guinness as Marley, and he does a hell of a job too - jeez, the man incurred a double hernia from wearing the apparatus needed to carry his chains.  That's commitment.

NITPICK POINT: (And this refers to all versions of the story, even the original) Marley tells Scrooge he will be visited by three ghosts - but Marley himself is a ghost - so shouldn't it be FOUR ghosts?  Or shouldn't Marley at least say "You will be visited by three MORE ghosts, not including myself?"

Marley also says that the ghosts will arrive on successive nights, but then when Scrooge wakes up, he realizes that they got it all done in one night.  That's why he's so surprised - but since the story was originally written in serialized chapters, my guess is that halfway through, Dickens realized that Scrooge's redemption would be more powerful if it occured in time to celebrate Christmas, and not Boxing Day.

Also starring the voices of Gary Oldman (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises"), Colin Firth (last seen in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), Bob Hoskins (last seen in "The Wind in the Willows"), Robin Wright Penn (last seen in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Cary Elwes (last seen in "Days of Thunder")

RATING: 5 out of 10 street urchins

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

Year 5, Day 353 - 12/19/13 - Movie #1,596

BEFORE:  Will get back to the Santa Claus story in a few days.  I would think the linking would be quite obvious here - Chris Pine from "Rise of the Guardians" was also in the last 2 "Star Trek" films with John Cho.

THE PLOT:  Stoner buds Harold Lee and Kumar Patel cause a holiday fracas by inadvertently burning down Harold's father-in-law's prize Christmas tree.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" (Movie #9), "Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay" (Movie #234)

AFTER: Like the "Tyler Perry's Madea" films (a Tyler Perry production, directed by Tyler Perry), at least this franchise respects the Rules of Ernest - first your character has to go to jail, and only THEN do they get to "save Christmas".  At some point they need to go to camp as well, but I guess we'll deal with that when the time comes.

NOTE: These musings will no doubt be repeated when my University lesson plan is approved, and I teach my proposed class on modern history as seen through "buddy" films.  We'll start the course with Arbuckle & Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, then it's on to Abbott & Costello, Hope & Crosby, and eventually we'll end on "Dumb & Dumber", Jay & Silent Bob films, and this franchise.  It should be a scathing review on the decline of U.S. culture...

It's been 3 years since the last "Harold & Kumar" film was released, but in the stoner-verse, 6 years have somehow passed - and we find the two main characters in completely different places.  Harold has a respectable job and has married into a stereotypically terrifying Latino family, and Kumar has quit medical school and become an aimless stoner slob.  As such, they've ceased interacting and even communicating with each other, and each has picked up a substitute friend.  Harold appears to be living drug-free, and has even given up eating those wonderful White Castle belly-bombs.

But fate throws them together again ("through the years...we all will be together...") and the MacGuffin this time is the perfectly-shaped balsam fir Christmas tree - the quest for said item once again takes them across late-night New York City, this time filled with Christmas parties, Ukranian gangsters, stoner Santas, waffle-dispensing robots and dick jokes. 

There's even a clay-mation sequence that riffs on the old Rankin-Bass holiday specials, but since it's included as part of a drug-fueled hallucination, it can't possibly be taken seriously.  Then again, I suppose nothing included here is meant to be taken seriously, which is a shame.  What am I supposed to do with a nerd pursuing sex with a virgin (this was "Superbad" territory, no?) a baby constantly exposed to drugs (come on! a BABY?) and a riff on the "tongue stuck to a frozen pole" sequence from "A Christmas Story" (only that's, umm, not his tongue).

I guess I missed the cue in the film for when I was supposed to light up (thinking back on it, it was probably when the clock radio read 4:20...).  That would have made things more enjoyable, no doubt.  Actually I haven't done anything like that since 1988, unless you count morphine and painkillers when I had the kidney stones.  But I have a number of friends who do partake (shout-out to the Tumblr Wake 'N Bakers!) and I do approve of the M.J. becoming more acceptable, and in some states even legal. 

So, the franchise had a chance to portray toking up in a more positive light, and they blew it - sacrificing any social commentary to fit in more off-color humor.  Though I suppose if I think back on the events of the film, the "problem drugs" were cocaine and ecstasy, and marijuana leads only to good times and wild adventures.  Makes sense - why can't we make a similar distinction between a natural herb organically grown and something synthesized in a lab from cold medicine and cleaning products?

We live in confusing times.  Smoking pot is legal in some states (next movie: Harold & Kumar Go to Colorado?) and approved for medicinal uses in others (Harold & Kumar Open a Pharmacy?) and in most states, still illegal.  Some people are serving time for possession, but others are let go if the quantity was less then 4 oz. - can we all get together here and agree whether this thing is OK or not?  It's easy to make the connection to same-sex marriage - gay people can get married in one state, but not another, and "border-crossing" weddings will soon be commonplace - but how do we get one state to recognize a marriage that took place in another?  I love consistency much more than the thought of people enforcing their outdated belief systems on others.

My drug of choice is still beer.  Good beer, not that shit that most Americans drink.  If the ability to savor different flavors of beer and pair them with food got taken away from me, I'd be rightfully pissed.  At the office Christmas party on Monday, I brought in 5 bottles of Stone Brewery's "Vertical Epic" series, dated 2008-2012.  They were meant to be enjoyed in sequence on 12/12/12, and I missed that opportunity.  The series was released on 2/2/02, 3/3/03, and so on, and the vintages were designed to age together, and present a sort of "flavor narrative", with each year representing a twist in the story.  But this was simply too much beer to enjoy alone, so I shared.  I don't know if much inspiration was gained through this radical approach to storytelling, but we had a good time, and the 2009 Vertical Epic paired very well with chocolate cupcakes.  The 2012 was a Christmas ale, with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and clove, so I felt the beers were appropriate for the occasion.

So, when I hear people talk about varieties of pot like "Winter Wonderweed", I get it.  I don't smoke it, but I get it.  However, just once I'd like to see this film franchise take the high road and not just try to appeal to the lowest common denominators of comedy each time.  I will, however, happily support the real-life invention of the WaffleBot.  You may not realize you need this product, but you do.

Also starring Kal Penn (last seen in "Superman Returns"), Thomas Lennon (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises"), Amir Blumenfeld, Neil Patrick Harris (last seen in "The Muppets"), Danny Trejo (ditto), Elias Koteas (last seen in "The Thin Red Line"), Patton Oswalt (last seen in "Seeking a Friend For the End of the World"), with cameos from Bobby Lee, Eddie Kaye Thomas, David Krumholtz (last seen in "10 Things I Hate About You").

NOTE: Christopher Meloni had an uncredited appearance in both previous "Harold & Kumar" films - and there was a perfect part for him in this one.  I can only assume he wasn't available, and the actor who most closely resembles him, and is probably often confused with him, was cast.  What a shame.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Rockettes

UPDATE: Shortly after going to press I was saddened to learn of the death of men's magazine publisher Al Goldstein. This may seem odd at first, but I can't think of a better place to mention the man, because he also catered to the lowest common denominator - but he was damn good at it, and proud of it.  I met him a couple times at parties, and I recommend viewing any of his interview sessions with filmmakers where he dared to ask the tough questions about their sexual habits, or reading any of his many missives against his ex-wives and their money-grubbing bastard lawyers.  I never got to say, "Thanks for the box of porn, Al."

I'd say that Al was the poor man's Hugh Hefner, but that was really Bob Guccione's job.  I'd say he was the poor man's Larry Flynt, but that was Larry Flynt's job.  Al was just Al, ruling over his porn empire like Jabba the Hutt, laughing boldly while flipping the world the middle finger, no doubt surrounded by many unsavory characters. After the fall of Screw magazine, Al worked as a greeter at the 2nd Ave. Deli for a while, and I'm also sorry I never got to see him holding court there.   Maybe he never got around to effecting lasting change, but the world's a little less raunchy tonight, and that's too darn bad.  I'll give Al a mention here because I would hate for his passing to be overshadowed by that of Joan Fontaine, Peter O'Toole and Nelson Mandela, who all never even had the courtesy to meet me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rise of the Guardians

Year 5, Day 352 - 12/18/13 - Movie #1,595

BEFORE: Well, I've been away for 2 weeks but it's been a very busy time.  Most of my Christmas cards and CDs have gone out, about half of the requisite presents have been purchased (I'm hoping for some last-minute inspiration) and I've attended three office Christmas parties (two at companies I work for, I must be slipping).  The only thing I haven't done yet is go on my annual "Festivus" walking tour of the NYC holiday markets, but really, there's almost no time for that.  This past weekend I was sidelined by a snowstorm and a big blister on my foot, so the tour has been rescheduled for this coming Saturday, when the weather should be nicer.

But it's just one week until Christmas, and I've only got to slot in four films, and then two after Christmas to finish out the year.  No problem, piece of cake, I got this.  Linking from "Joyeux Noel", an actor from that film named Christopher Fulford was also in "Scoop" with Hugh Jackman (last seen in "Real Steel").

THE PLOT:  When the evil spirit Pitch launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world.

AFTER: While Christmas movies come and go (usually around this time of year...) superhero movies are hot hot HOT!  And essentially, that's what this is, a superhero movie where the superheroes are classic children's characters all known for sneaking around at night without being seen.  That's what unites Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy, other than the fact that they're all metaphors for different aspects of childhood.

So somebody got the idea to do a superhero spin on these characters, putting them together in a "Justice League" sort of organization, a type of an X-Men-ification if you will.   In fact the basic plot follows the open of the first "X-Men" film quite closely, with an amnesiac Jack Frost in the Wolverine role, ambling through the countryside until he meets the other members of the team.  After that Jack sort of fills the "Iceman" role from the X-Men, and the Easter Bunny takes over more of the Wolverine role (I don't think it's a coincidence that E.B. is voiced by Hugh Jackman...so I see what you did there...).  The Tooth Fairy, as a goddess-type is sort of Storm-like, though I suppose the relatively new X-Men character Pixie is a closer analogue.  And Santa Claus is big, imposing and high-tech, so he's a bit of Professor X meets Magneto meets Bruce Wayne.

The coincidences / comic-book ripoffs continue - Santa's got a big holographic map of the globe that highlights the children who truly believe, and it looks an awful lot like the X-Men's Cerebro device.  The high-tech sleigh leaves Santa's workshop through a tunnel that calls to mind the way the Batmobile leaves the Batcave, and so on.  The villain, Pitch (aka the Boogeyman), seems like a cross between Marvel's Nightmare character and DC/Vertigo's Sandman (Morpheus).  In fact, it's hard to find any element of this film that doesn't call to mind something similar from Marvel, DC or Vertigo.

ASIDE: The Sandman seen in this film is, however, not directly based on the Vertigo Sandman.  This one's more of a happy roly-poly sort, who is non-voiced by Teller from the comedy/magic duo Penn & Teller (I assume - though this doesn't really make sense, it's a fun factoid I just made up.) End of ASIDE.

That being said, if I compare this film to your average comic-book team-up, or a film like, say "The Avengers", there are a few places where it seems to fall short.  What, exactly, is the villain's plan to take over the world - how is he going to accomplish this?  This seemed very nebulous here, and his plan involved getting kids to fear him, but NOT believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny.  Which seems a bit self-defeatist, because if kids mature and learn to not believe in fairy stories, that could also involve him, because he's perceived as a similarly imaginary character.  It's all or nothing with the fairy tales - they're either all true, or all fantasy.  The more exact elements of his plan seem to involve turning dream horses into night mares (get it?) but I'm not seeing his endgame here.  Once all the kids in the world are scared of the Boogeyman - then what?  He signs a book deal and stars in a TV biopic?  

But, on the upside, it's a step toward advancing/updating the Santa Claus mythos, which quite honestly sometimes seems very mired in the past.  How many homes even HAVE a working chimney these days, thanks to central heating?  And what kid hasn't done the math to try and calculate the time it would take Santa to visit EVERY home on Christmas Eve, and determined that even if you discount the non-Christian households, it still seems a tall order for him to get into each house, deliver gifts, eat cookies, drink milk, shout "Ho Ho Ho!" and go back up the chimney in under 0.00001 seconds?  I know, I know, time zones, magic reindeer and the curvature of the earth - and then Lois Lane comes back to life for good measure.  My kid would be questioning the whole thing from the get-go, which is one more reason why I don't have a kid.

Recent debate over the exact location of the North Pole seems to place it in Canadian territory - but Santa Claus is Russian here for some reason, wielding sabers and wearing a Cossack-style hat.  I'm guessing the ability of the voice actor to do a Russian accent and an inability to speak in a Canadian style had a lot to do with that.  And the recent Fox News report about Santa Claus' race (Spoiler alert: He's WHITE) sort of demonstrated the ability that myths have to change over time.  The original Saint Nicholas was Greek, but lived in a section of the world that is now Turkey, so he probably was more brown than some people today might be comfortable with.  (Same goes for Jesus, despite the whiteness of his skin as depicted in most Renaissance artwork, people seem to forget that he was born in Israel, so was probably more of an olive-skinned gentleman.)

NITPICK POINT: On the same track as the Fox News "Christmas racism" scandal, despite a nod to the European version of the Tooth Fairy (Ratoncito Perez), this film is mostly based on American versions of these characters - how do these characters play overseas?  We are shown Santa and the Easter Bunny visiting desert huts and Chinese pagodas, but are they even known in those regions?  If a country doesn't celebrate Easter, why would they know the Easter Bunny?  And putting kids' teeth under their pillows, is that even a thing in most other countries?  I'll research when I have some more time...

NITPICK POINT #2: It's a valiant effort to come up with a reason WHY the Tooth Fairy collects teeth, even those with a little bit of gum attached, but still...eww.  The whole practice seems rather barbaric.  I like to challenge my friends with small kids by asking them what they're going to tell their kids about Santa, maybe I need to start asking them how they're going to handle the whole Tooth Fairy thing too - because that's just the kind of skutch I am.

But if the stories change over time, who's to say they shouldn't?  Why shouldn't Santa have a high-tech workshop with high-speed internet access and lots of flashing lights, dials and switches?  Why wouldn't he use a roomful of servers to keep track of the naughtiness of millions, if not billions, of children?  Why can't he be Russian, or Canadian, or Hispanic, or look different to everyone who (almost) sees him?  Why does the magic automatically stop when it comes to Santa's skin color?

Of course, there are many different forms of magic.  I saw a recent news report where a plane full of kids who had battled cancer were taken on a plane ride to the North Pole (and I'm resisting the use of sarcastic quotation marks here...).  The windows of the plane needed to be kept closed the entire time, because you can't risk kids seeing how the magic happens, and at the end of the plane ride, the kids landed at Santa's Workshop, which looked exactly like they hoped it would, and nothing at all like hangar B-3 at L.A.X.  And somehow the same reporters who saw the plane take-off also found a way to report from the North Pole itself - again, it's all part of the magic. 

I may be getting older and finding myself to be more and more cynical about Christmas tales, but I'm not one to reveal how magic tricks are done.   Not to sick KIDS, anyway.  Jeez, is that what you think of me?   I thought we had a real relationship here, and then you pull this on me...

Also starring the voices of Chris Pine (last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Rock of Ages"), Jude Law (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Isla Fisher.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Russian composers

Monday, December 2, 2013

Joyeux Noel

Year 5, Day 335 - 12/1/13 - Movie #1,594

BEFORE:  I found time on the night of Thanksgiving to assemble my annual Christmas mix CD.  This tradition started about two decades ago, when I put some of my favorite classic Xmas songs (Elvis Presley, Leon Redbone and Bing Crosby were probably mainstays then) on to a 90-minute cassette (yeah...) and gave it to probably about 10 people.  Reactions were good, so I did it again, and bought more Christmas music CDs the next year, and more the year after that, and it was feeding my typical obsession to collect things AND organize them, but it also started to serve as an all-purpose Christmas gift for family, friends, co-workers and even the UPS guy and the postal clerks.  People ask me if I'm going to run out of songs, and I've determined that's mathematically impossible, I could probably continue this process for the rest of my natural lifespan and never run out of versions of "Silent Night" (plus, if I pull songs from the CDs once a year, then technically I can't be called a "hoarder").

But as with everything I do, there needs to be a process.  There is a certain art, science and logic to creating a Christmas mix, plus I need to feel inspired.  I don't allow the process to guide me, even though the process could be more or less on auto-pilot at this point - just pick a bunch of good songs, make sure no two artists are singing the same song, the length is just under the 80-minute CD limit, and hit "Burn CD", right?  Not so fast.  I simply must have a theme, and that theme could be 80's rock, or jazz, or a cappella, or even Christmas music in the style of famous classic rock songs (one of my more difficult mixes to put together).  This year I had a rough idea for a theme, and it just wasn't coming together as fast as I would have liked, but I realized the clock was ticking.  So I sat down to log in the CDs I bought last year, and I realized I had put a bunch of post-it notes on the CDs, marking songs that I thought would fit in with a theme I've used before - and when I put this together with the songs that didn't make the cut in a previous year, for one reason or another, within a couple of hours I had a mix that was just a few minutes over the legal limit.

This is the best place for a mix of songs to be in - I know I need to cut just one song, and I'm golden.  But which one?  Well, when I pick songs I'm usually drawn to songs that show creativity or are different in some way - I'm most impressed by new arrangements, or singers that change the melody up a little, or stand out in some perhaps undefinable way.  Some versions that aren't just "the same old thing".  Then I'll listen to the mix, and choose the one that perhaps went a little too far (this year it was a very angry-ish version of "Carol of the Bells") and then what's left is usually the final group of songs.

Then it's just a matter of putting them in the "right" order, which is important.  I try to include 6 or 7 traditional Nativity-oriented carols, so that's a section, but I don't want so many that the mix gets bogged down in religious dogma.  Then there's usually a group of the weather- or party-related songs, like "Winter Wonderland", "Let It Snow", "White Christmas", and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".  Any songs related to Santa / Rudolph / Frosty the Snowman usually constitute a third section, and then there are usually a few songs that are relationship-based, like "Blue Christmas", "Last Christmas" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".  Then there are generic well-wishing songs like "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and other songs that I can take or leave, like "Feliz Navidad" and "12 Days of Christmas" - it has to be a really great version of one of those songs for me to even consider using it.  Plus I like to throw in one or two original songs, just to keep things fresh and maybe move the genre forward a bit.  Sometimes I like to challenge people's perceptions of what a holiday song sounds like, but I don't want to go too far.

Then, after a rough order is established, I have to listen through it one more time.  At this point I ask myself a number of questions, such as "Do I have too many female artists in a row?"  "Are the songs that mention God or Jesus too preachy?"  "Do I really want to alternate like this, fast song then slow song then fast song, or does that seem to bi-polar?"  "What's the overall tone of the compilation?"  Too many slow songs or songs in minor keys can potentially drag the whole thing down, and make it sound like a funeral dirge for Prancer & Vixen.  But too many loud or fast numbers could alienate the older relatives.  Usually cutting out the most egregious offenders in Step 2 takes care of this, and the rest can be smoothed over by just not putting too many downbeat songs together. 

I've got something now that I think is entertaining and even better, interesting.  And by that I mean it's got MY interest right now, and it represents where my head is at, and that's what I want to share with people.  There are a couple sad songs, perhaps "wistful" is a better word, and that's OK.  The mix made me sort of tear up in two spots, and that's a good sign.  But I don't want to depress people, so the cheer comes back to (hopefully) pull people back to a celebratory mood, and I think after a few more listens I'll be ready to mail it out with my Christmas cards.  An even better sign is the fact that right after listening through it, I want to hear it again.

But that's not why you called - so on with the countdown.  Linking from "The Patriot", an actor from that film named Peter Woodward was also in "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" with Diane Kruger (last seen in "Troy").

THE PLOT:  On Christmas Eve during world War I, the Germans, French, and Scottish fraternize and get to know the men who live on the opposite side of a brutal war, in what became a true lesson of humanity.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "War Horse" (Movie #1,585), "Paths of Glory" (Movie #1,180)

AFTER:   Well, this goes right along with what I was just talking about.  Music is the initial thing that draws the French and German soldiers together on Christmas Eve.  Music, then alcohol.  Both are sort of universal languages (along with food, I suppose) and to a lesser extent here, religion.  The soldiers from France, Germany and Scotland end up having a mass together, which was easier back then because all of their masses were spoken in Latin.  

But let's start with music.  "Stille Nacht", or as you may know it, "Silent Night", was composed in German and just plain sounds better sung in that language (as does "O Tannenbaum"), but of course it's also recognizable in other languages.  "O Come All Ye Faithful" is shown here as a crossover too (sung as "Adeste Fideles", again, Latin).  I'm sure there are other Christmas songs that are uniquely German, or French, or English, but some of these are just plain universal.  I'm spoiled by the fact that 99% of my Christmas CD's recipients live in English-speaking countries, so I can worry about the theme and the tone and not worry if the messages are being understood or not. 

Speaking of messages, it's a little tough to land on just exactly what the message of this film is.  It's clearly anti-war, but it was a little hard to get much clearer than that.  Obviously it's much harder to shoot your enemy once you've shared a drink with him, and it shows that people on both sides of World War I were "dehumanizing" their enemy in order to make war acceptable in the minds of their countrymen.  It also highlights the difference in attitudes held by the people in government, and those held by the people in the trenches.

But it's tough to say whether this was meant to be seen as a sane moment in an insane war, or perhaps a more insane moment.  Putting Christmas aside, what happened still constituted fraternization with the enemy, and it was perhaps naive to think that their superior officers would never find out, or that there would be no repercussions.  The goals of war are to stay alive and kill the other guy, and however you feel about Christmas, celebrating it ended up interfering with the aforementioned other goals.  Besides, if celebrating with the enemy gets your unit disbanded or gets you transferred to the more dangerous Russian Front, then in the end it hardly seems worth it.

This is the end of the war chain, which began with "Red Tails" back on November 7.  Actually, it sort of began with "Gone With the Wind" in late September, or really you could say it kind of started with "Les Miserables" back on Jan. 1.  Whatever.  Now that peace has broken out, I need to step away and get my Christmas CDs made, my Christmas cards mailed out, the outdoor lights put up, and then I really should think about buying some gifts for people.  Damn, I've got just three weeks until Christmas, so this is going to be tight, and it's my own damn fault.   I'll meet you back here in about two weeks, hopefully, to knock off the last few films of the year, which are mainly holiday-based.

Also starring Benno Fürmann, Gary Lewis, Daniel Brühl, Steven Robertson, Guillaume Canet, Frank Witter, Ian Richardson, Thomas Schmauser.

RATING: 6 out of 10 bagpipes

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Patriot

Year 5, Day 334 - 11/30/13 - Movie #1,593

BEFORE: Happy Thanksgivukkah!  I wish I'd known months ago that the two holidays were going to coincide, I could have transitioned from "Pocahontas" to something like "8 Crazy Nights" - but I didn't.  Instead I went with a Mel Gibson linking, and as a result the war category is almost completely cleared.  I know it seems like July 4 would be a more appropriate date to watch this, and I agree, but I've covered just about every American (and Greek) conflict, except this one.  (OK, so I skipped the Spanish-American War, Korea and Vietnam this time.  You know what I mean.)

The truth is, I don't know what kind of chain I'll be involved in come July, and even though I have a couple other Mel Gibson films left on the list, sandwiching this film between "Payback" and "Bird on a Wire" didn't make much sense to me.  I don't even know for sure if I want to link with actors next year, we'll see. 

THE PLOT:  Peaceful farmer Benjamin Martin is driven to lead the Colonial Militia during the American Revolution when a sadistic British officer murders his son.

AFTER:  This is another war film that felt maybe too long by 25% or so - does any film really need to be 2 hours, 45 minutes long?  Couldn't some editing have been applied to cut out at LEAST 15 minutes, while maintaining the same storyline?  I mean, if we see Gibson's character saying goodbye to his children three times instead of four, isn't that enough?  There are some other redundancies in the plot as well, but I'm not going to mention major plot points for fear of spoilage.  But seeing the same thing happen again and again means that the story could have easily been simplified a little. 

Old Mel shows a bit of the "Mad Max" psycho here (or maybe it's the "Lethal Weapon" psycho) as his character is a pacifist at first, but then gets dragged into the conflict of the American Revolution.  I'm sure there must have been some people who voted against taking up arms, but according to this film, with the way that the British army treated even the Americans who were loyalists, by commandeering their slaves, land and supplies, they created more dissent wherever they went.  Which means that the U.S. might have remained colonies if the Brits hadn't been such royal dicks.

But when his family is threatened, and his son is in danger, Benjamin recalls his fighting days from the French-Indian War - there's a backstory which eventually gets told - and takes on a squadron of Redcoats thanks to a few well-placed already-loaded muskets and his trusty tomahawk.  It's only believable because of how long it took to reload a gun back in those days.  Seriously, it took like 5 minutes at best, and even then you weren't sure you did it correctly until you pulled the trigger and it didn't blow your own face off. 

What you see in the early battles of the war is a lot of gentleman-like behavior - you guys line up over there, and we'll line up over here, and you fire your weapons, and we'll get hit, then we'll take our turn.  Were things really like that?  Men were expected to just stand there and anticipate getting shot?  With the Brits' superior numbers, there was no way for the Colonials to win - until they started "fighting dirty", hiding in fields and forests and shooting without warning.  Yeah, they broke the rules but the rules sucked to begin with.  And isn't that what rebels do, break the rules?

I remember learning this sort of thing in U.S. History class, but I think it's probably an oversimplification to suggest this idea came from ONE guy, or was a practice used just by the South Carolina militia, for that matter.  But I suppose it makes it more dramatic to show the scrappy bunch of farmers, not professional soldiers, coming together to create more underhanded but efficient tactics. 

There are also some insights into the proper methods of courtship in the 1700's, and they sort of nailed how formal people acted back then - plus I think there are some keen insights into the motivations of the colonists, the reasons for the Revolution.  But there's also a large amount of melodrama here - like the young daughter who can't (or won't) speak.  Seems sort of a cop-out to explain why she wasn't given any lines, or if not that, then the use of a disabled character to wring more suffering out of this family's situation.

We also see Gibson's character melt down his tin soldiers to make his own musket balls.  Which was very effective since it turned out the British had no defense against irony.  You think that a gunshot hurts?  These also sting...

Also starring Heath Ledger (last seen in "10 Things I Hate About You"), Joely Richardson (last seen in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Tom Wilkinson (last seen in "Recount"), Jason Isaacs (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"), Chris Cooper (last seen in "The Horse Whisperer"), Rene Auberjonois (last seen in "Where the Buffalo Roam"), Donal Logue (last seen in "The Thin Red Line"), Adam Baldwin, Leon Rippy, Logan Lerman (last seen in "The Three Musketeers").

RATING: 5 out of 10 rocking chairs

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Year 5, Day 331 - 11/27/13 - Movie #1,592

BEFORE:  It's raining today in NYC, which would only be a problem if it were a big travel day or something.  I'm fortunate that I still live within driving distance of my parents, relatively speaking, so we don't have to drive anywhere until tomorrow morning.  I spent about a decade meeting up with my parents on Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle's house in Rockland County, and I feel that all those years of holiday travel have given me something of a pass - now for Thanksgiving I can choose where I want to go, or to choose nowhere if I want.  But after another three years of driving out to Long Island to spend the day with my wife's brother's in-laws, this time we're going to drive up to New Haven, which had the foresight to position itself roughly halfway between NYC and Boston, and meet up with my parents for lunch tomorrow.  One of New Haven's finer restaurants (I hope) will be providing the food, my mother and I can always cook a turkey together for Christmas.

I had the foresight about 6 months ago to buy two pairs of sneakers instead of one, which came in quite handy when the weather forced me to admit that I've worn some considerable holes in the first pair.  It's like I bought myself a gift on layaway.  Speaking of gifts, I've got to get moving on Christmas stuff.  This Friday simply MUST be the day where I pick the tracks for my Christmas mix CD, and then comes the dubbing and the labelling and the mailing of cards and CDs.  Then I've got to make lists (I love lists...) of gifts and where to look for them, and then there will be a flurry of internet ordering - you won't catch me at the mall on Black Friday, I assure you.  But after one more film I've got to put movies on hold to catch up on holiday preparations.

Linking from "The New World", two actors carry over - Christian Bale and Irene Bedard, which is kind of amazing considering that both movies cover almost exactly the same material.

THE PLOT:  An English soldier and the daughter of an Algonquin chief share a romance when English colonists invade seventeenth-century Virginia.

AFTER: Once again, DisneyCorp. has seen fit to whitewash history.  Of course, with any life portrayed on screen, there are decisions to be made about what to leave in and what to take out, so no biopic can ever be considered complete, unless the running time matches the person's natural lifetime.  But with the story of Pocahontas it's pretty telling what was depicted, and what wasn't.

First off, even though it was the first Disney animated feature to be based on a real person, being the chief's daughter made her technically a princess, so you just know that's why DisneyCorp. was eager to tell her story.  Nothing like holding up another princess for little girls to aspire becoming someday...  OK, so she's not Caucasian, which makes it seem like a step forward, but is it really?  She is depicted as a woman who is unable to define herself other than through her future husband, so to me that's a big red flag, and a sign that we haven't really progressed as fast and as far as one might think.  Some stories maintained that she had a husband in the tribe before she fell in with John Smith, but of course they're going to just sweep that under the rug for a kid's story.  Additionally, history estimates her age as 12 or 13, not as an older teen as depicted here - we can't show cradle-robbing, now can we?  (also, she probably would have walked around topless, but I understand some concessions must be made for a kiddie film...)

Similarly, this story only covers the period that includes Pocahontas meeting Smith, their romance and tours through the animated Virginia countryside, and then their parting after Smith is injured and forced to return to England.  Man, that's a hell of a long ambulance ride.  At least in this version Smith doesn't feed her the "I couldn't call you, I was dead" line.  But there's no mention of the love triangle that includes John Rolfe - because god forbid that a kid's film suggest that relationships are at all complicated.  Nope, you meet your true love, and if you screw it up, you don't get another shot.  That ship has sailed - literally, it's leaving with the tide.

The relationship between Pocahontas and Rolfe constitutes the first interracial marriage in American history.  Doesn't it seem like that might be the more powerful story?  Shouldn't that be celebrated and depicted, instead of her dalliance with John Smith?  Although it was the first interracial romance seen in a Disney film, I guess that's something.  (Ah, I'm being told that Disney did produce a sequel, in which Pocahontas meets Rolfe and subsequently travels to London.  Never mind.  Carry on.)

Honestly, though, no one really knows the true nature of the relationship between Pocahontas and Smith.  Smith wrote his journals in the third person, so we don't get a lot of insight into where his head was at.  Seems like he was kind of ambivalent about it, if you ask me.  You'd think if he was tapping that, he'd at least brag about it.  But it was a different time, when some men were gentlemen, I guess.  The first account of their romance didn't appear until 1803, and that's quite a distance to be speculating from. 

As for Smith, "The New World" made allusions to his mutinous behavior on the way to the New World, but this film depicts him jumping overboard to save a comrade.  That's quite a discrepancy - but everything's conjecture, really.  However, it's just so blatant that everything was made to fit a particular formula, one where heroes are good and villains are bad and there are no gray areas in-between.

The other obvious complaint is that there are too many sidekicks - about three too many - but that's pretty standard for a modern Disney film.  Really, everything they do is a distraction, which means that DisneyCo. considers kids to be about as intelligent as a housepet.  "Hey, look over here!" is the overall effect, because we don't believe in the ability of youngsters to pay proper attention to the main storyline.  And they wonder why so many kids have HDAD these days - can anyone tie the growth of this condition to the increase in animated sidekicks?   There was even supposed to be a fourth sidekick, a turkey named Redfeather, voiced by John Candy, but when he passed away the role was not recast, and in fact all of the animals lost the ability to speak English at that point.

Yes, the original plan was to have the cutesy raccoon, pug dog AND the hummingbird speak English, which would have made "Pocahontas" just as non-sensical as "Madagascar" or "The Little Mermaid" or any of the others - I suppose it's a step forward that they merely make animal noises here, but I think it would have been a bigger step if their roles were reduced or even eliminated entirely. 

On top of that, the name "Pocahontas" is spoken way too many times.  After a character is introduced, there's not usually much reason for stating their name over and over - it almost seems like time-filler here, or an admission that most characters don't have anything else constructive to say.  Pocahontas herself even starts sentences with it, which seemed quite odd because why would she address herself before speaking to another person? 

Also starring the voices of Mel Gibson (last seen in "The Bounty"), David Ogden Stiers (last heard in "Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil"), Russell Means, Linda Hunt (last seen in "She-Devil"), Billy Connolly (last seen in "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"), Gordon Tootoosis (last seen in "Legends of the Fall").

RATING:  4 out of 10 shovels

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The New World

Year 5, Day 329 - 11/25/13 - Movie #1,591

BEFORE: My on-and-off feud with the cable company is back ON (I won't say their name, but their initials are Time Warner Cable).  Every single time that my cable box switches off and reboots at 4 am (yeah, I'm awake, I notice...) it means they're downloading a software "upgrade" to my DVR, and every single time, that makes my system worse.  Forget the fact that the guide to recorded shows looks like ass now, and live TV is reduced to a small postage-stamp sized corner of the screen while I'm searching for shows - every time this occurs, I lose some feature.

I used to be able to type an actor's name and find all movies and shows he's in, but I lost that feature about two years ago.  Now I seem to have lost the ability to watch one recorded show while recording two others - but that's how I usually spend my entire weekend.  What's the deal, Time Warner?  Why does my service keep getting worse and worse while the bill keeps going up?  Why can't you test the software before uploading it to my DVR (and by extension, to millions of others, although mine is really the only one that matters...)

To make things worse, on Sunday my DVR went from being 11% full to 91% full, after recording two hours of a non-HD football game, which is mathematically impossible.  The last time this happened, I called the cable company and their suggestion was to unplug the cable box and do a hard reboot, after which I lost ALL of my recorded shows.  This time I called and was given the same advice, so I said "no dice".  I then located which recorded show was taking up 1100 hours of space (again, shouldn't be possible), and deleted it, and my service improved.  Why does the technician's advice always represent a "scorched earth" mentality?  Why can't they be trained to try to save the shows I've recorded and want to watch? 

Linking from "Immortals", John Hurt was also in "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (a war film I have no desire to watch) with Christian Bale (last seen in "The Fighter")

THE PLOT:  The story of the English exploration of Virginia, and of the changing world and loves of Pocahontas.

AFTER: Speaking of first-world problems, I've got to find a way to link the last few films, which were all about armies invading foreign lands, and somehow tie that in with the European settlers coming to America.  Where's the link there?  JK.

I didn't feel comfortable commenting on the work of Terrence Malick after seeing just one film ("The Thin Red Line"), but noting the similarities between that film and this one, I can start to see some common themes - like a ton of internal monologues, and these random beauty shots of nature.  I know it's only two films, but if I were to watch "The Tree of Life" now, I think I'd know a bit more about what to expect.

But tonight it's a look inside Pocahontas' head as she meets Capt. John Smith, intervenes and spares his life (every schoolchild in America is taught this story) and they learn to speak each other's language - so together they represent what the relationship between the Native Americans and the European settlers could have been, but ultimately was not.  When Smith is recalled to England to lead a new expedition, he pulls the old "tell her I died" routine, and after a prolonged depression, she eventually forms a new relationship with John Rolfe.  See, love triangles are nothing new, they've been a part of our country's heritage from the beginning.

Rolfe is offered an opportunity to visit London (though I suspect the King wanted to meet Pocahontas more than him...) and Pocahontas gets to meet Smith again while in England.  Will she once again choose the man who rejected her, or remain with the faithful father of her child? 

It's obvious why I chose to watch this film this week, two days before Thanksgiving.  It's not only a celebration of the harvest, it's a reminder that the European settlers were really crappy farmers.  There's a bit here where the settlers are saved by food and clothing from the Native Americans (called "naturals" by the Jamestown residents) - and look how that led to such a long, healthy relationship.  The new world also represents a fresh start, as seen in Smith's pardon for his mutinous ways (we don't know what happened on the trip over, but there must have been trouble).

And we've got the contrast between the two societies - Smith regards his time spent among the naturals as a "dream", then later regards it as "the only truth", and it's with great regret that he looks back on his rejection of Pocahontas.  I'm still not sure what the overall lesson is, because the film seemed to go out of its way to be oblique, unless the contrast is the whole message.

Also starring Colin Farrell (last seen in "Fright Night"), Christopher Plummer (last seen in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Q'orianka Kilcher, David Thewlis (last seen in "War Horse"), Eddie Marsan (ditto), Wes Studi, Ben Chaplin (last seen in "The Thin Red Line"), Noah Taylor (last seen in "The Proposition"), Brian O'Byrne (last seen in "Season of the Witch"), Irene Bedard, August Schellenberg, with a cameo from Jonathan Pryce (last seen in "Tomorrow Never Dies").

RATING:  3 out of 10 tobacco plants

Monday, November 25, 2013


Year 5, Day 328 - 11/24/13 - Movie #1,590

BEFORE:  I've had my eye out for this film, due to its similar mythological theme, but no pay TV channel has run it yet, it must be under their radar for some reason.  But I kept a slot open for it, so my next option was to watch it on iTunes, or better yet Amazon, which turned out to be a buck cheaper, or else I'd had to find another film to take its place.  This is also the first time I've watched a film on my iPad, which I'm starting to get more and more use out of to play games and check my e-mail, since the screen is larger than the one on my phone.  Better for the old eyesight. 

Linking from "Wrath of the Titans", once again I fall back on the Harry Potter films, which starred just about every British actor at one point or another.  Ralph Fiennes was also in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" with John Hurt (last seen in "Heaven's Gate").

THE PLOT:  Theseus is a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion, who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity.

AFTER: It's another "Greek salad" tonight, by that I mean a lot of the elements from the last two films are re-surfacing here.  The plot tonight combines some of the elements of "Troy" (large army trying to break down an enormous wall) and some of the elements of "Wrath of the Titans" (releasing the titans from Tartarus, Gods aiding humans, plus there's a minotaur).  The central plot is SO similar to that of last night's film that it leads one to wonder who copied who.  Sure, this film was released first, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the rip-off - it could have sped through production to hit the market first.

They just replaced Perseus with Theseus - and changed his story quite a bit.  Theseus was the man who, according to the myth, traveled through the Cretan labyrinth with the aid of a ball of string, and successfully slew the Minotaur within.  He had other adventures, too, possibly as one of the Argonauts, and eventually became the king that united Athens.  But none of that is here in this film, which concentrates only on his struggles against the invading King Hyperion.  Ironically, in mythology, Hyperion was the name of one of the Titans, but here he's just a human king, leading an army of soldiers who like wearing fetish-style leather masks.

And once again everyone is looking for a fantastic weapon, in this case it's the Epirus Bow, which shoots these magic arrows that just appear as needed, so an archer would never run out.  And these arrows can apparently kill Titans, and the bow never misses.  Let's hope the bow doesn't fall into the wrong hands...whoops, too late.

NITPICK POINT: Let's talk about these "Titans", who by the definition of their name, are supposed to be giants.  Literally "titanic", so that's one thing that "Wrath of the Titans" did better.  But here "Titans" just seems to mean "regular-sized evil guys who lost to the Greek Gods eons ago".  For this all 16 of them (they all look alike, so forget about naming them...) were imprisoned in a small cell in Tartarus, standing up with big bars through their mouths, making them collectively look like a giant foosball team, but standing still for all eternity.  Or at least until some idiot fires a magic arrow at their cell.

NITPICK POINT #2: This then puts them into a battle with the Greek Gods.  But again we wonder, can the Gods be killed?  Apparently so - because if not, what's the point in fighting with them?  But if they can be killed, then how the heck are they God-like?  And if the Titans get killed, do they go to hell?  (They were JUST there!)  Apparently not, because the battle is shown to continue, in heaven, for all eternity.  So the good guys AND the bad guys go to heaven?  And if they live on in heaven forever, then what's the point of continuing to fight?  I'm going around and around on this and it's just not making any sense. 

NITPICK POINT #3: I'm not even going to get into how Theseus knew where to find the bow.  They didn't bother to explain this one at ALL.

Also starring Henry Cavill (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Mickey Rourke (last seen in "The Expendables"), Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto (last seen in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), Luke Evans (last seen in "The Raven", but he was also in "Clash of the Titans", hmmm...), Kellan Lutz, Isabel Lucas, Steve Byers, Joseph Morgan, Mark Margolis (last seen in "Hardball").

RATING: 4 out of 10 oiled-up ab shots

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wrath of the Titans

Year 5, Day 327 - 11/23/13 - Movie #1,589

BEFORE:  More Greek stuff tonight, and tomorrow night too, then I can kick off the Thanksgiving films.  After this, four more films before I take a break.  Linking from "Troy", Brendan Gleeson was also in "In Bruges" with Ralph Fiennes.

THE PLOT:  Perseus braves the treacherous underworld to rescue his father, Zeus, captured by his son, Ares, and brother Hades who unleash the ancient Titans upon the world.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Clash of the Titans" (Movie #923)
AFTER: Now, this is more of what I think of when I think about Greek mythology.  Unfortunately, it's also patently ridiculous, especially when compared with "Troy".  To be fair, no one really knows what happened in the Trojan War, so anyone complaining that Hollywood wasn't "faithful" to the Homeric epic is really wasting their time - Homer wasn't even telling the exact story, unless the Greek Gods did look down from Mount Olympus and influence the events below.

Now, as for this sequel to a remake (yes, I remember the early 1980's original...) I have to wonder if it was at all influenced by the "Percy Jackson" films - here Perseus, the son of Zeus, has to team up with the son of Poseidon (man, these Gods got around...) and defeat Hades and Ares (Perseus' uncle and half-brother, it's complicated...) who's trying to restore Kronos, Zeus's father (and therefore his own grandfather, though there's not really any resemblance).

To do this, Hades siphons off power from Zeus, which means that Gods are like batteries.  Also we learn that Gods can die, which seems a little odd, especially since they can go to Hell and still be alive somehow.  I thought Zeus killed his father, but I guess he just imprisoned him in Hell, which is not really the same thing.  So how come Gods like Poseidon can die, but the Titans can't?  And if Kronos leaves Hell and attacks Earth, can he be defeated - and if he's killed, does he just go back to Hell, where he just came from?

Come to think of it, why is Kronos a giant, and his children like Zeus and Hades are regular-sized gods, who just look like old men?  What's the rate of mutation among Titans, or did his power get divided among his kids?  But the children of Zeus were also gods, unless he slept with a human woman, which made demi-gods.  

There's some reference to the Gods losing their power because people are not showing devotion to them.  Maybe if the Gods would stop resurrecting old flaming giants to come step on their village, people might be a little more inclined to come worship at the temple once in a while, but what the heck do I know?  Maybe people are trying hard not to believe in the Gods so they can have a peaceful rest-of-their-lives and not incur the wrath spoken of in the title.  (And why don't the religious nuts condemn this film for showing Gods other than the Christian one?)

In the same way that "Clash of the Titans" threw a lot of mythological elements together (the Kraken isn't even Greek, it's from, like, Norse mythology or something) this one throws a similar bunch of characters and things together.  Hephaestus, the Minotaur, Cyclopses, chimerae, they're all tossed into the blender.  It's kind of like putting a salad together, you gotta start with a lettuce base, but then you can put in just about anything - I've been partial to beets lately, but once you put beets in a salad they kind of limit your dressing options because they'll turn any dressing purple.  And then I can put turkey in the salad, but not tuna.  What I'm saying is, you put in too many weird elements and they're going to start conflicting with each other.

Anyway, Perseus finally figures out that they've got to get Poseidon's trident, Zeus thunder-thingy, Hades's umm, staff? and a few of the Horcruxes together to defeat the evil power before he rises up and slowly tramples everybody.  I'd say they set themselves up for another sequel, but they're probably running out of mythological beasties to defeat.

Also starring Sam Worthington (last seen in "Clash of the Titans"), Liam Neeson (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises"), Danny Huston (last seen in "Marie Antoinette"), Edgar Ramirez (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Rosamund Pike (last seen in "Die Another Day"), Bill Nighy (last seen in "Shaun of the Dead"), John Bell, Alejandro Naranjo.

RATING: 5 out of 10 British accents (dear God, why?)