Saturday, February 23, 2013

Water For Elephants

Year 5, Day 54 - 2/23/13 - Movie #1,355

BEFORE: Reese Witherspoon carries over from "This Means War" - this was another last-minute addition to the list as a substitution.

THE PLOT:  A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet.

AFTER:  Maybe this is just the time of year I start getting cynical about romance, at least movie-based ones, but I wasn't really feeling this one.  The connection between the two leads just felt really phony, or perhaps non-existent.  It might be because Robert Pattinson has that sort of dead expression all the time, which is the same reason people got creeped out by the characters in "The Polar Express" who never blinked.  It makes him an ideal choice to play a vampire, but not a living human character.  And congratulations to me for never including the "Twilight" films in my project.

The circus is supposed to be a place of merriment and wonder, if you can learn to ignore animal abuse, anyway.  But by showing the dark side of roustabouts and side-shows, in addition to inhumane treatments of both animal acts and carnies, this film really takes the fun out of it.  There's exactly one montage of lion tamers, clowns, acrobats and such, and that's it - back to reality.

So congratulations (?) on making the circus boring, and in fact for making illicit romance boring too.  Really, at its core, it's just "Titanic" minus the boat and the iceberg, plus a circus. 

The one thing I drew from the film was a sort of connection to my work in the animation industry, which is a different kind of circus altogether.  The organization depicted here is a sort of mid-level non-Ringling Brothers outfit, and that's sort of where I find myself, working for companies that produce solid work, but will never be on a level with Disney, Dreamworks, etc.  I often equate them to minor-league baseball teams, which suits me fine.

Some players spend their whole careers in the minors and never make it to "the show", but that doesn't mean I'm unhappy.  I get to play "baseball" every day, which is far better than not playing.  The audiences may be smaller, but we still try to put on a good show.  And the individual players still swing for the fences, which is also a good thing.  But it can be a wearying experience.

Also starring Christoph Waltz (last seen in "The Three Musketeers"), Hal Holbrook (last seen in "The Star Chamber"), Paul Schneider.

RATING: 4 out of 10 buckets of fish

Friday, February 22, 2013

This Means War

Year 5, Day 53 - 2/22/13 - Movie #1,354

BEFORE: When I dropped "Love Actually" and "New Year's Eve" from the February roster, I had to replace them with something, so I chose this one.  But this presents another dilemma - is this a romance film or a spy film, or is it both?  And since I'm doing spy movies in about 3-4 months, can I justify watching this one now without tearing my whole chain apart and re-ordering it?  Ah, screw it, I'm probably over-thinking things.  Let's just watch this one for the romance part and get it out of the way.

Linking from "The Five-Year Engagement", Jason Segel was also in a film called "SLC Punk" with Til Schweiger (last seen in "The Three Musketeers", but he was also in "New Year's Eve", damn it!), who plays the villain in this film.

THE PLOT:  Two top CIA operatives wage an epic battle against one another after they discover they are dating the same woman.

AFTER:  They do this funny thing before the 10 pm news on FOX here in NYC - they run a promo with dramatic music and say, "It's 10 pm. Do you know where your children are?"  Which strikes me as kind of funny, because if you didn't know where your children were at 9:59 pm, your parenting skills aren't going to suddenly improve because of a promo on TV.  What does the fact that it's now 10 pm have to do with the behavior of teens?  They can commit crimes or acts of self-destruction at any hour of the day, after all.

It's like they're trying to prompt a reaction from the audience, to make people suddenly think, "That's right, I have children!  Hmm, I wonder where they are?"  Do they think parents were made complacent by prime-time programming, and need to be jolted back to reality?  Of course, the people who designed the promo had the best intentions, but the content of the piece is ridiculous.

Which brings me to tonight's film - well-intentioned but completely ridiculous.  We're meant to believe that a pair of federal agents would jeopardize their careers, and the safety of our nation, to use all of their skills and high-tech equipment to hold a contest as they both romance the same woman.  How many terrorists entered our borders while they planted bugs in this woman's apartment?  How many other agents were removed from high-profile cases to help these two guys win a bet?

Of course, the film just focuses on one main villain, because the only reason that a terrorist would enter the U.S. would be for a personal vendetta - he's not here to blow anything up, or broker a major arms or drug deal, because that would require adding elements of an actual plot.  And don't bother closing the harbor, checking ships, or following any leads, because of course that terrorist is going to stalk the agents that did him wrong.  This is beyond moronic, because a terrorist in the U.S. would do everything possible to AVOID federal agents - am I right?

And really, the needs of our nation pale by comparison to the personal needs of our government employees, when you think about it.  What could be more important or more noble than one of them finding the love of his life, or at least a little personal satisfaction?  Heck, I always thought that the love between two people didn't amount to a hill of beans in the bigger picture, but what do I know?  Maybe once a federal agent gets his personal affairs in order, he'll return to his job with a renewed sense of purpose.

But really this is contrivance after contrivance, from the two bros dating the same girl, to some odd family connection between the two leads, which I don't think it was fully explained - are they cousins?  Stepbrothers?  Adoptive relatives?  How did they have the same grandmother?  Their surveillance also allows them to tailor dates specifically to the likes and reactions of the woman in question, which results in situations ranging from the unlikely to the financially impossible.  Unless, of course, they're misappropriating federal funds for the purpose of getting laid. 

But if the focus is on making a spy film that's also a romance/love triangle and is also a buddy comedy, then there really isn't much of a focus at all, is there?  Then again, this film came from the director of the "Charlie's Angels" revamp, and who remembers the plot to that film?  Then again, who cares?

NITPICK POINT: The film doesn't seem to be able to follow its own internal logic.  When Lauren first meets Tuck, she declares that his accent is "sexy".  But when she's trying to decide between the two men, she labels being British as a flaw - well, which is it?

Also starring Chris Pine (last seen in "Unstoppable"), Tom Hardy (last seen in "Marie Antoinette"), Reese Witherspoon (last seen in "Vanity Fair"), Chelsea Handler (last seen in "Hop"), Angela Bassett (last seen in "Green Lantern"), Abigail Spencer, with cameos from Rosemary Harris (last seen in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"), Laura Vandervoort.

RATING:  4 out of 10 frying pans

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Five-Year Engagement

Year 5, Day 52 - 2/21/13 - Movie #1,353

BEFORE: Linking seemed stalled again - no direct links, but then I found out that Anne Hathaway was in "The Devil Wears Prada" (so far, not on my list) with Emily Blunt (last seen in "The Muppets"), one of tonight's stars.

THE PLOT:  One year after meeting, Tom proposes to his girlfriend, Violet, but unexpected events keep tripping them up as they look to walk down the aisle together.

AFTER:  This film sort of combined elements of the previous two, but in a much better arrangement.  Near the start there were some inappropriate toasts at an engagement party, and I started to worry I'd see something akin to the scene in "Rachel Getting Married".  But the film went in a different direction (actually, a whole bunch of them) and started to more closely resemble "One Day", depicting an on-again, off-again relationship, only with a more humorous tone.

That's right, the emphasis is on the "com" in this rom-com, another slightly-better-than-average joint turned out by the Judd Apatow hit factory.  You can probably guess most of what you need to know (including the ending) from the title - so it comes down to HOW the two people get where they're going, and how twisty the journey is.  Some might feel there were a few too many detours, and maybe a wrong turn or two.

But sweetness wins out over sentimentality, so even though the film isn't perfect, it doesn't need to be.  In fact, that's one of the points made - no person can be perfect, therefore there is no perfect mate, so people should give more credit to the imperfect person they're with.  And even weddings don't need to be perfect, it's more important that they just be.

So people who are waiting for the perfect moment, or the perfect person, or for the person they're with to turn into the perfect person might end up with a very long wait.  You may even find yourself in another part of the world, having followed your spouse to where his or her job is, and have to bide your time there, it happens.  The couple depicted here tries to soldier on, but every time they get close to setting the date or planning the wedding, something happens to prevent it. 

The question then becomes - is it too much?  Are there too many obstacles in the road to the altar?  For me, the answer was "no", but as always, your mileage may vary.

NITPICK POINT: No spoilers, but while I found the ending cute and comedically pleasing, it was also completely unrealistic, with regard to the amount of planning such a situation would require.  I can, however, see a lot of people pointing at the screen and thinking, "Why can't I do THAT?"  Umm, because it would need 8 weeks or more of constant work to set that up, and the people in the film did it all in "off-screen time", presumably just a couple of hours, which is unrealistic.

Also starring Jason Segel (also last seen in "The Muppets"), Chris Pratt (last seen in "Moneyball"), Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans (last seen in "Vanity Fair"), Chris Parnell, Brian Posehn (last seen in "Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer"), Mindy Kaling, Dakota Johnson, with cameos from Molly Shannon (last seen in "Marie Antoinette"), Tim Heidecker (last seen in "Bridesmaids"), Jackie Weaver, David Paymer (last seen in "Searching for Bobby Fischer").

RATING: 6 out of 10 venison tacos

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rachel Getting Married

Year 5, Day 51 - 2/20/13 - Movie #1,352

BEFORE: Final day of the Anne Hathaway chain (Hath-a-thon?) which I think ended up matching the Aniston-a-thon from earlier in the month.  I'm not sure this counts as a full-fledged romance pic, but I assume at least there is a wedding.

THE PLOT:  A young woman who has been in and out from rehab for the past 10 years returns home for the weekend for her sister's wedding.

AFTER: This is essentially what you get out of a wedding/romance comedy when you remove the soundtrack, the slapstick, and the switcheroos.  Oh, and the comedy, too.  So I guess this really isn't a rom-com after all.  It's more of a portrait of a family that's been touched by tragedy, and trying to move forward while putting on a brave face.  The main character, Kym, is a recovering addict, and you see the way that her addiction and her drawn-out recovery has affected the whole family.  When she shows up for her sister's wedding her presence and interactions threaten to torpedo the whole thing.

Perhaps this is the way things like this tend to go, with people in recovery having a tendency to make everything about them and their process, and their surrender to a higher power, and their need to get to a meeting - but the question then becomes, does it make for a film that I want to see?  Mostly, that answer is no.

The bride, Rachel, wonders why she can't just have ONE day, her special day, and it's a valid question.  Everyone says that the wedding is all about the bride, but what they all really mean is, it's all about MY impression of what the bride's day should be, or MY recollection of the bride's history.  The scene at the rehearsal dinner where everyone in the bride or groom's life has to stand up and wish the couple well, or tell a story, or read a poem, or perform a violin concerto, went on WAY too long.  Kym's attempt to make amends and apologize (without really making amends or apologizing) was of course the worst of the lot, but that's not saying much - she wasn't the only self-indulgent one.

Eventually we learn about the family tragedy that's always lurking just under the surface, and every attempt to bring it up or reconcile things turns into another toxic circular argument, with people either losing it or storming off without resolving anything, so the cycle continues.  Again, probably a very real-ish situation, but I'm forced to question whether it has any place in entertainment.

I can see an actress wanting to take on the challenge of playing someone in recovery, getting into the headspace of someone who is caught in a cycle of addiction and remorse, who's still clueless about how her actions impact on others.  Like the extended family members, though, I wondered why we couldn't just have 5 minutes where we're not talking about this stuff.

Also starring Bill Irwin (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate"), Sebastian Stan (last seen in "Black Swan"), Debra Winger, Rosemarie DeWitt, Anna Deavere Smith, with cameos from Tamyra Gray and Robyn Hitchcock.

RATING: 3 out of 10 seating charts

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One Day

Year 5, Day 50 - 2/19/13 - Movie #1,351

BEFORE:  Day 3 of the Anne Hathaway Film Festival, and it looks like this one might have a structure similar to "Same Time, Next Year" - I resisted the urge to put them back-to-back in favor of the actor chain.

THE PLOT:  After spending the night together on the night of their college graduation Dexter and Em are shown each year on the same date to see where they are in their lives. They are sometimes together, sometimes not, on that day.

AFTER:  "Love may not make the world go round, but I admit that it makes the ride worthwhile." -- Sean Connery.

That quote just appeared in a crossword puzzle that ran last Sunday, and I think it's applicable here.  When you think of how much more important it is to have a career, education, a way of procuring food on a daily basis, proper healthcare, etc., you realize that love shouldn't be the engine that drives your car.  It's more like the car radio - it brings you pleasure, motivates you and takes your mind off your troubles, but without the car moving forward, it just won't work.

That's sort of what to keep in mind during this story of two people who meet in college and sort of stumble into an on-again, off-again, will-they-or-won't-they (or is it did-they-or-didn't-they?) relationship. 

The camera is semi-omniscient, and decides to check in on them every July 15, regardless of their circumstance.  Something always seems to be preventing them from committing fully to the relationship, whether it's work or being married to someone else, or the silly fact that they're many miles away from each other.  It's not like they made a pact to always be together on July 15, so it becomes a bit of a gamble.  You get the feeling that major life-changes took place when the camera wasn't looking, so that sort of calls the whole process into question.  We never see how they spend Christmas, for example, or Boxing Day, or whatever weird holidays they've got in the U.K.

She becomes a Mexican restaurant waitress (they have Mexican food in the U.K.?) and also a struggling writer, and he becomes an annoying TV host (they have douchebags in the U.K.?) and then, well, I don't remember what he did after that.   But they always have a few life lessons left to learn, mostly the hard way.  That's got a fair amount of truthiness to it. 

As you might expect, things run hot and cold (sort of like Hathaway's British accent), and many changes are in store, but it becomes sort of like an indie Brit "When Harry Met Sally" - two people who circle each other for many years and try to be best friends, with the sexual attraction being both a motivator and a hindrance at the same time. 

I'd repeat some of the points I made last night, but that would spoil things.  Ditto ditto.  But again we're led to believe that two people's personality strengths and weakness can mesh together, after they've been through some shite and smoothed out any rough patches, maybe worked out some of their issues in other relationships.  Perhaps it's so, but I'd like to see the supporting documentation.

Also starring Jim Sturgess (last seen in "The Other Boleyn Girl"), Rafe Spall (last seen in "Life of Pi"), Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "All the King's Men"), Georgia King, with a cameo from Mike Binder.

RATING:  4 out of 10 parlor games

Monday, February 18, 2013

Love and Other Drugs

Year 5, Day 49 - 2/18/13 - Movie #1,350

BEFORE:  The size of my watch list is finally going down, for the first time this year.  I've found that if I add only 2 or 3 movies a week, instead of 7, the list will get smaller - simple math, really.  But each day of 2013 so far, I've found another movie on a topic coming up, or a new release that just had to be added, so no progress has been made until now.  I'd like to get the list under 200 films, but it looks like it's going to take another couple of months to get there.

Linking picks the next film again - both Jake Gyllenhaal AND Anne Hathaway carry over from "Brokeback Mountain".

THE PLOT:  A woman suffering from Parkinson's befriends a drug rep working for Pfizer against 1990s Pittsburgh backdrop.

AFTER:  There used to be this little one panel cartoon on the comics page, called "Love Is..." - every day there would be these two little naked androgynous figures depicted, with a different definition each day of what it meant for them to be in love.  But with a thousand different definitions and expressions of love, what is it at its core?

Love is a chemical reaction.  Love is a physical act.  Love is sacrifice, putting another person's needs ahead of your own.  Love is never having to say you're sorry.  Scratch that last one, love is saying you're sorry a lot, I don't know what I was thinking.  Love is cooking somebody dinner, love is taking someone out to dinner.  Love is finishing someone else's sentences, or knowing what they're thinking.  Love is chasing after someone, love is letting them go.

Do you see where I'm going with this?  Love is all those things, or perhaps it's none of those things.  Maybe those are just the tangible things we point to in order to understand something that's intangible at best.  But when you depict two characters in love, you can't just be all around it, you've got to nail it down at some point.

This is a film that tries to show love between two imperfect people, hoping that their imperfections will balance each other out somehow, or mesh in some way that's pleasing to the audience, but it's never really going to be a perfect fit, and in fact I'm not sure that it should be.  Really, what are the chances that his overconfidence is going to balance out her insecurity?  That his infidelities will be matched by her casualness toward fidelity?  That her disease and roster of prescriptions will be so easily understood by a drug rep?  It's all just a little too fitting somehow.

If he's so charming, but she sees through it, then how is she charmed by him anyway?  If she's such a free spirit and refuses to be tied down, what makes him want to change his m.o. and do exactly that?  Do we ever REALLY get inside these characters' heads?  Do we want to?  Is love that's initially based on quick sex, pity/self-pity or narcissism any less valid?

A lot of questions tonight, and very few answers.  In fairness, you don't see too many movies that talk about the dangers of love when it goes well - how 30 or 40 years down the road, you might have to clean out your spouse's closet, and that's if you're lucky.  You may end up taking care of a sick person, dressing them and feeding them, etc.  But it sort of felt like the questions about the nature of love were used as sort of a narrative shortcut, in place of actual character development or evolution.  Maybe someone was just using the tangibles of the situation to describe the intangible, but I've got my doubts.

Also starring Oliver Platt (last seen in "The Three Musketeers"), Josh Gad (last heard in "Marmaduke"), Hank Azaria (last seen in "Along Came Polly"), Gabriel Macht, with cameos from George Segal (last seen in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"), Jill Clayburgh (last seen in "Bridesmaids").

RATING: 4 out of 10 sample cases

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Brokeback Mountain

Year 5, Day 48 - 2/17/13 - Movie #1,349

BEFORE: I had a different order in mind, but I'm going to let actor-linking select the next film - Michelle Williams carries over from "Blue Valentine".  Tonight I'm crossing another film off from the list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die" - my count on that list is now 302.

THE PLOT:  The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys and their lives over the years.

AFTER:  I try not to discriminate here at the Movie Year - disfunctional relationships of all kids are welcome this month, even ones between two men.  There's no reason I should treat this film any differently than I did "Same Time, Next Year", right?  Equal rights cuts both ways, no?

Actually a lot of attention was paid to this movie as a groundbreaking gay film, but I'm not sure that's even the right term - isn't "bisexual" more applicable?  Both of the main characters were married to women, but apparently got something out of the relationship that they couldn't get in their marriages. (Keep it clean, keep it clean...)  I'm not sure these characters identified as gay, either - they just kind of made up their own rules for the way they wanted things to be.

Jack and Ennis are two cowboys who meet while tending sheep - funny, they still call them "cowboys" when there are no cows around, shouldn't they be "sheepboys"?  Damn, if only there were a word for people who herd sheep...  But they all ride horses, why aren't they called "horseboys"?

Anyway, they take a job requiring them to work together, eat together, and spend long periods of time with no other human contact - oh, and the boss only gave them one tent.  What did he THINK was going to happen?  Hey, it gets cold (and boring) up there on the mountain at night. 

I don't know what I expected, I thought there'd be more of a build-up - more kissing or something, and less punching.  But what do I know about gay relationships?  I barely understand straight ones...

When the boss finds out about their, umm, horseplay, the cowboys are not welcomed back at that job, so they find new work in different states.  Jack goes back to the rodeo, and Ennis takes on various jobs, plus they both marry.  But they still go on fishing trips together, they're just not the kind of fishing trips where any fish get caught.  Jack's wife wonders why he has to drive 12 hours to go fishing, and Ennis' wife wonders why he makes her wear a cowboy hat in bed.

This goes on for years, the secret relationship that everyone seems to know about, on some level at least.  Again, I've got nothing against gay relationships, as long as no one gets hurt, but I've got a problem with deception, and if you marry one person and sleep with another, someone's bound to get hurt.  Still, back in the 1960's, what choices did a bisexual man have?  Still again, couldn't they have made better choices than the ones that they did?  Aggh, this is a maddening debate.

The scenery is gorgeous, the characters are complex, and the story is emotional, and I'll leave it at that.  But here's the problem with our system, gay or straight - if you make one genuine, honest, loving connection with someone that turns into a long-term relationship, you've beaten the odds.  If you manage during your lifetime to make TWO such genuine connections, you're incredibly lucky.  But if those connections happen at the same time, or the relationships overlap, you're in for trouble.

Also starring Heath Ledger (last seen in "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"), Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Les Miserables"), Randy Quaid, with cameos from Anna Faris, Linda Cardellini, Kate Mara.

RATING: 5 out of 10 campfires