Saturday, May 4, 2013

American Psycho

Year 5, Day 124 - 5/4/13 - Movie #1,415

BEFORE: I would like to amend my advice from yesterday - I recommend that you chase your dream, be it a record contract, novel, Oscar nomination, whatever.  Unless that dream involves hurting others, or yourself, or animals.  Because that would mean that we're at an impasse, simply because you're a sick f*ck, and you should be on somebody's watchlist. 

I picked up a copy of the book "American Psycho" sometime in 1991 or so, read two paragraphs, and quickly determined that the author was a sick f*ck, so I had no desire to read any more.  Which is why I delayed adding this film to the list until the very last minute.  It was scheduled for next week, but then I saw that Chloe Sevigny was also in "Zodiac", and would carry over to this film.

THE PLOT: A wealthy New York investment banking executive hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he escalates deeper into his illogical, gratuitous fantasies.

AFTER: As with every night, a movie presents me with a collection of images and sounds, and I'm allowed to have whatever reaction I have.  I was told by a co-worker earlier in the day that the film would be very ironic from a feminist perspective, and I'm not sure I picked up on that.  There's plenty of irony, but mostly from the way that Bateman conducts himself during the day at work and his nighttime activities, killing homeless people, hookers, and countless others.

It's a rare peek inside a troubled mind, to be sure - Bateman claims to not even BE there, to just be sort of a shell of a man.  We never see him do anything meaningful at the office, after all.  Life is a series of lunch dates, dinner dates, social functions, and killings.  Oh, and he does have a hobby, he's like SO into pop music.  So he's got that going for him, appreciating the cultural significance of Genesis and Huey Lewis & The News.  (Jeez, did we ever listen to "Hip to Be Square" un-ironically?  Or "Walkin' on Sunshine"?)

But then there's something of an enigmatic turn, where Bateman's not sure if he's really a killer, or if those are just his fantasies.  And if he's not sure, then neither are we.  What am I supposed to do with that knowledge?  There's a killing spree through lower Manhattan that rivals some of the fantasy sequences from "Brazil" - what is this crazy thing called "reality", anyway?

So I'm left scratching my head, unsure of what I just saw take place, not knowing who the main character really is.  Is he insane because he kills people, or insane because he imagines that he does?  I think the violence from the book got really toned down - if they had kept it all, the movie never would have been made.  Still, it works as a satirical commentary on the 1980's in general ("Die, yuppie scum!") but if this is your idea of a good time, I can't help but worry about you.

Also starring Christian Bale (last seen in "Little Women"), Willem Dafoe (last seen in "The Clearing"), Reese Witherspoon (last seen in "Water for Elephants"), Jared Leto (last seen in "How to Make an American Quilt"), Samantha Mathis (ditto), Josh Lucas (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Justin Theroux (last seen in "Wanderlust").

RATING: 4 out of 10 business cards

Friday, May 3, 2013


Year 5, Day 123 - 5/3/13 - Movie #1,414

BEFORE: OK, let's put the last two stinkers aside, and try to start up the serial killer chain again, for reals this time.  I have a feeling I'll be sleeping with light on a lot this month, or perhaps waiting for the sun to rise before grabbing a few hours of sleep each morning.  It's safer that way, don't you know.

Linking from "The Long Kiss Goodnight", Brian Cox carries over.

THE PLOT:  A San Francisco cartoonist becomes an amateur detective obsessed with tracking down the Zodiac killer.

AFTER: Best film of the week so far, I rather enjoyed this one, even though it was very long (2 hr. 37 min.), but hey, so was the Zodiac investigation.  You can't expect them to trim that story down to fit into a 90-minute narrative.  Besides the length, the only major problem with the film was the shift in central characters - the first third of the film focuses on reporters, the middle part focuses on policemen, and the final act goes back to the reporters, or at least one cartoonist-turned-novelist.  At first this seemed disjointed, I kind of wish it had maintained one P.O.V., but I'm going to absolve the film of this sin by treating it like a three-act narrative.

I still endeavor to maintain a spoiler-free zone, so I won't comment on the end of the film - but it did send me to Wikipedia to check out the facts of the real Zodiac killer case.  Those are public knowledge, and you're free to look those up as extra bonus content.  With any film based on historical events, I tend to check the Wiki after to see in what ways a film might have tried to bamboozle me.

This much is fact: the Zodiac claimed 37 murders, but investigators only confirmed 7 as his kills.  I guess with the other killings, Zodiac could have claimed them falsely, peppering his ciphers with information available from newspapers.  Combine this with copycat killings, false leads and everyone in the San Francisco area suspecting their neighbors of being "the guy", and you can see how extensive such an investigation was forced to become.  The S.F. police investigated more than 2,500 suspects over the years - so yeah, there might be a few creepy weirdos in the Bay Area.

I think this film may have appealed to me because it's about an obsessed cartoonist (hey, I know a few of those...) but also because it focuses so much on compulsion, and not just the kind that forces some people to kill.  There's also the compulsion to solve a crime, to figure things out, to see what happens when you organize the data in a new way.  One of the taglines for this film said, "There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer." - and I think that's the deeper lesson here.  Whatever your "white whale" is, whether it's a criminal, or a record deal, or that novel or screenplay you want to write, it's all too easy to let that thing take over your life.  Same goes for your career, or your hobby - especially if you collect rare mustard bottles or Barbie dolls.  Don't forget to take some time off, go on vacation once in a while, read a book or just go to the park once a month. 

Seeing two of the actors who appeared in "The Avengers" makes me want to shift over to superhero films - this would have been a great time to schedule a trip to the theater to see "Iron Man 3".  But no, I'm playing the long game here, and my own particular compulsion demands that I stay on topic.  Once I've finished with serial killers, hit-men and spies, I've got a sci-fi chain scheduled that should end neatly around the time of the new Superman film, and I'll pick up "Iron Man 3" then, along with the Batman and Spider-Man films that came out last year.  (Arrgh - I could have connected back to serial killers through Christian, no, I must be strong...)  Two months away. 

Also starring Jake Gyllenhaal (last seen in "Love and Other Drugs"), Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Charlie Bartlett"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "All the King's Men"), Anthony Edwards, Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "All Good Things"), John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Crazy, Stupid, Love."), Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Donal Logue (last seen in "Little Women"), with cameos from James Le Gros, Adam Goldberg, Clea Duvall, Charles Fleischer, and Jimmi "Kyle the Intern" Simpson.

RATING: 7 out of 10 late-night phone calls

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Long Kiss Goodnight

Year 5, Day 122 - 5/2/13 - Movie #1,413

BEFORE: I hate to veer off-course after just barely starting the serial-killer chain, but the actor linking demanded that this film comes next - Samuel L. Jackson carries over from "Twisted".  I can cover by saying that last night's film exposed the fine line between cop and serial killer, and this one covers the similarly ridiculous fine line between covert assassin and, umm, housewife?  Though this really belongs in the "spy" category, I'll get back on track tomorrow, and I'm planning on splitting up the serial killer chain into two parts anyway.

THE PLOT:  A women suffering from amnesia begins to recover her memories after trouble from her past finds her again.

AFTER: Oh, this was just dreadful.  And ridiculous.  Dreadfully ridiculous.  I could not fathom a film suggesting that a cop was committing murders while drunk, and similarly I cannot believe that an assassin's programming can be subverted, either by accident or design, to where she cannot remember any of it - and then, suddenly she can.

There's regular amnesia - people who have been injured in an accident and cannot remember parts of their life, despite desperately wanting to do so - and then there's "soap opera" amnesia, which seems to work like an on/off switch.  The character needs to go away for a while (actor in rehab/working on a film) so a car crash is hastily inserted to the plot, and they spend a few months "recuperating" at a hospital, unable to remember their names.  Then, when circumstances dictate, they recall everything about their lives, just in time to disrupt the wedding of their spouse to someone else.

This film's scenario is equally laughable - an assassin is injured and forgets everything about her life and training, and establishes a new life as a housewife.  (Her new name is "Sam Caine", an anagram for "amnesiac".) But a car accident jars her memories loose, and suddenly she's chopping vegetables with incredible skill (first thing they teach you in spy school, chopping carrots) and remembering how to assemble a giant gun (where did THAT come from, if she had amnesia?).

A trip to New Jersey to find her ex-fiancĂ© puts her in the crosshairs of her old spymasters, and the only hope is for her full training to return in time for her to fight back in full-force.  Guess what happens? 

The problem is, this is portrayed with a serious tone, and the skills she demonstrates are superhuman, as evidenced by stunts that even James Bond would find ridiculous.  At least Bond acts like he's in on the joke.  Example: ice-skating across a frozen lake with a rifle strapped to her back, shooting at a moving car with a pistol from, say, 500 yards away, and managing to shoot out one of the tires.  Or using a dead body as a counterweight to lift herself up in the air via a cord to shoot at someone in a helicopter, and grabbing the gun from the dead body as it passes to shoot with.  That's, like, a one-in-a-quadrillion move to make.  And I'm supposed to take that seriously?

NITPICK POINT: Her memory starts to come back, yet she needs to hire a low-rent detective to track down someone in New Jersey?  So her shooting skills come back, but not her tracking skills?  Seems rather arbitrary.

There's also a very reprehensible suggestion that will please the 9/11 conspiracy theorists - the fact that this film was made in 1996 should only add fuel to THAT fire.  And a spectacular ending that fails to make sense on any level - in the midst of trying to save her daughter, she puts her in incredible jeopardy, and instead of preventing a huge disaster, she just causes it to happen in a different place.  How does THAT help anybody? 

Oh, good, the screenwriter of this turkey is also the director of the upcoming "Iron Man 3", so I've got that to look forward to.

Also starring Geena Davis (last seen in "Quick Change"), Craig Bierko (last seen in "Superhero Movie"), Brian Cox (last seen in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), David Morse, Melina Kanakaredes (last seen in "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief"), G.D. Spradlin.

RATING: 3 out of 10 snowmobiles

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Year 5, Day 121 - 5/1/13 - Movie #1,412

BEFORE: "Dexter", "The Killing", "Bates Motel", "The Following", "Hannibal", "Criminal Minds".  You see where I'm going with this?  There's simply no hotter trend on TV right now than serial killers.  I guess serial killing kind of lends itself to serialized episodic drama - homicide investigations tend to take a long time after all.  But what about serial killers in movies?  What sort of insights will I gain by watching a bunch of films about them this month?

Linking from "The River Wild, David Strathairn carries over.

THE PLOT:  Jessica, whose father was a serial killer, is a female police officer. While investigating a murder, she finds herself in the center of her own investigation when her former lovers start dying around her at a furious pace.

AFTER: There's a lot going on in this film, I'd venture to say almost too much.  The lead character is a detective who's got a lot of issues - she tends to drink too much and black out, and she enjoys having nearly anonymous sex with random men.  You'd think those two hobbies would be in conflict with each other, but maybe she alternates nights or something.  Or maybe it's kind of like she ruffies herself and then things get out of control, night after night.  Still, it's weird to have a central character who's acting both morally and immorally at the same time.

Anyway, it's apparently in her genes, since her father was both a policeman AND a serial killer, which leads to the possibility that she takes after her Pops.  The other possibility is that someone close to her is doing the killings, but it seems like everyone she knows is a cop - so somebody else may be playing both sides of the law.

What's the implication here - that there's a fine line between a policeman and a serial killer?  I'm not sure I see the logic in that.  Are we supposed to believe that a policeman who has to kill someone in the line of duty can get hooked on the adrenaline rush, and then have the urge to kill again and again?

NITPICK POINT: Am I also supposed to believe that someone who appears too drunk to get off the couch would suddenly gain the ability to get up, drive to another location, track down a former lover, kill them, and then not remember anything about it?  So, she's conscious and unconscious at the same time?  How does she make it down the stairs?  What if the person she's trying to kill isn't home?  Wouldn't she at some point wake up in an alley or something, instead of returning to exactly the same spot on the couch where she blacked out?  It's like some screenwriter doesn't know how drinking works.

This is a less-than-auspicious start for the topic, because this film starts out ridiculously and ends the same way.  Once the truth is revealed about who's been committing the killings, it changes everything, and nothing.  Jeez, has anyone learned any lesson at all?

Lots of good San Francisco scenery, though - from Alcatraz and the Palace of the Arts to AT&T Park, to Pier 24 and the Hyde Street Pier, with the Balclutha ship (last seen in "Mutiny on the Bounty") seen in the background.  Lots more San Francisco-based films coming up in the next couple of weeks.

Also starring Ashley Judd (last seen in "A Time to Kill"), Samuel L. Jackson (last seen in "Kill Bill: Vol. 2", Andy Garcia (last seen in "Internal Affairs"), Camryn Manheim (last seen in "Mercury Rising"), Mark Pellegrino, Titus Welliver (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Leland Orser (last seen in "Taken").

RATING: 3 out of 10 sea lions

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The River Wild

Year 5, Day 120 - 4/30/13 - Movie #1,411

BEFORE:  And it's an easy leap to link from "The Clearing", since Robert Redford was also in "Out of Africa" with Meryl Streep (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate".  I did a large chain of Streep films two years ago, so it's not too surprising that this is the first film of 2013 to feature her.

THE PLOT:  A rafting expert takes on a pair of armed killers while navigating a spectacularly violent river.

AFTER: A pretty exciting one tonight, my rating is mostly based on the amount of action, which I was quite satisfied with.  I'm not really an outdoorsy kind of guy - my two experiences camping were complete disasters.  Plus I wasn't encouraged (allowed) to play sports as a kid, since my mother is one of those "worst-case scenario" types.  If I played football, I was going to break my glasses or an arm or something - Mom was always vague on specifics but just knew no good could come of it.  She also praised me for having flat feet, since she thought that would keep me out of military service - she was probably correct, at least according to the standards of the 1940's.

Anyway, white-water rafting is something I would never consider doing, because eventually I learned to predict worst-case scenarios too, so if I went rafting I'm quite sure I would drown or hit my head on a rock.  On our recent cruise, my wife and I went on excursions at the various ports of call, most of which involved getting on a bus and being shown around a market.  Ziplining over the jungles of Costa Rica?  No thanks.  I couldn't even go too far into a limestone cave in Curacao, because I was convinced that even though the cave had been solid for thousands of years, today was going to be the day they decided to collapse.  So I excused myself from the tour while I could still see daylight, and went down to the snack bar.  And the other people on the tour had no idea I had just saved their lives by removing myself from the scenario.

It's not that I consider myself unlucky, it's just that once I envision the worst thing that could happen, I tend to focus on it, and start looking for a way to prevent it, even if that means missing out on a unique experience.  (What if there HAD been a cave-in?  Wouldn't I have looked really smart?)

Right, the film.  It's not really a heist film, but it depicts a group of robbers who figured out a way to elude the law - instead of escaping by plane or train or fast car, they chose to hire a rafting guide, and flee the scene real slow-like.  After a few days of rafting, they'd surface a few hundred miles away, and make off with the loot.  I like the reasoning.  But things go wrong, as they tend to do, and they're forced to terrorize the family of a rafting guide, the only person who's successfully navigated a bad stretch of river known as "the gauntlet".

It's gripping and all, but I think it perhaps should have come with a warning - I'm home sick today with either the stomach flu or mild food poisoning, and watching the rafts bob up and down on the water sure didn't help me out.  Today I watched a bunch of episodes of a new show, "My Crazy Obsession" on TLC.  These are people who have strange collections, like large amounts of mannequins, or enjoy dressing up like a merman.  My crazy obsession, however, deals with organizing, so I'm wondering why they would put the guy who collects mustard on the same show with the guy who collects ketchup, but not put the Barbie doll collector on the same show with the Raggedy Ann collector, or the woman with the pet rats on the same show with the woman who has a pet squirrel.  That boggles my mind.

That wraps up April movies, which stretched from "Mulholland Falls" to "The River Wild" (nice!) and it sets me up perfectly for the new chain, which concerns serial killers.  Funny how there's a new show about them that also stars one of tonight's actors.

Also starring Kevin Bacon (last seen in "Crazy, Stupid, Love."), David Strathairn (last seen in "Memphis Belle"), John C. Reilly (last seen in "Cedar Rapids"), Benjamin Bratt (last seen in "Red Planet").

RATING: 6 out of 10 lifejackets

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Clearing

Year 5, Day 119 - 4/29/13 - Movie #1,410

BEFORE: Willem Dafoe carries over from "Wild at Heart", moving from playing a hitman to playing a kidnapper.

THE PLOT:  As an executive is held captive by an employee, it's up to his wife to deliver the ransom.

AFTER: This sort of feels like a film that was a bit ahead of its time, released in 2004, just a few years before the Great Recession.  One would expect to see more of this thing after large corporate layoffs, with disgruntled employees seeking some form of payback from executives.

Regarding the character of the wife, tonight the pendulum swings back the other way - almost all of the women in "Wild at Heart" were portrayed as emotional wrecks, always one bad circumstance away from screaming hysterically at full volume.  One could watch the portrayal of the wife here and think that she doesn't show nearly enough emotion for someone whose husband has been kidnapped.  I can choose to view this as a stylistic choice, or as an insight into her character.  After all, there is no default level of grief or remorse, it's different for everyone.  It could give a clue to the nature of their relationship, a long-term marriage that has seen its share of trials over the years, or could be in decline.

The film consists to two almost-separate storylines, one with the kidnapper and executive, and the other with the wife and the FBI agents.  They can't possibly be occuring simultaneously, because we see the wife after the first night the husband doesn't come home, and after that we see the kidnapping take place, which logically must have happened prior.  The film proceeds to cut between the two storylines, which again suggests a similar time-frame.  But this doesn't make sense either.

ASIDE:  There could be a lot of reasons why a man doesn't make it home from the office.  He could have fallen asleep at his desk, or gone out for a few drinks with co-workers and then was too buzzed to drive home safely.  He could have worked late and then encountered car trouble - any of these scenarios are possible, as are countless others.  And he might not want to call home because doing so would wake up his wife.  Still, you'd think that she would have called him when he missed dinner and then not showed up at home by, say, 11 pm.  The fact that she didn't either shows that he's done this before, or they're at a point in their relationship where she just doesn't care.   End of ASIDE.

The mere suggestion, however, that the storylines are not concurrent is what preserves the element of suspense.  The tense situation between the kidnapper and his victim might be already over, with a good or bad result, before the wife is instructed to deliver the ransom.  And while I'm a big fan of telling a story with a beginning, middle and end in that order, I realize that it wouldn't have made sense here to arrange the scenes chronologically, which would have dispelled much of the suspense.

A relatively short film today, but at least it didn't over-reach itself or try to be anything other than what it was. 

Also starring Robert Redford (last seen in "The Horse Whisperer"), Helen Mirren (last seen in "Red"), Matt Craven (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), Wendy Crewson.

RATING:  4 out of 10 classified ads

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wild at Heart

Year 5, Day 118 - 4/28/13 - Movie #1,409

BEFORE: Linking from "China Moon", an actor named Pruitt Taylor Vince carries over, playing minor roles in both films.

THE PLOT:  Young lovers Sailor and Lula run from the variety of weirdos that Lula's mom has hired to kill Sailor.

AFTER: I'd thought this was a film about people running from a hit-man, but after watching it I'm not sure who the hit-man was.  Heck, I'm not sure who anybody really was - that's the chance you take with a David Lynch film, I guess.  Sailor did kill a guy, and Lula's mother wanted him dead, but after that things got very unclear.

I'm not sure if this was the right place to schedule this film - for that matter, I'm not sure if any place would be the right place, that's how weird the film is.  There is a basic plot - Sailor gets out of jail, picks up Lula and they head for California - but that's too easy somehow, and doesn't begin to explain all the ultra-weird things that happen along the way.  First off, they only get as far as a town in Texas, which seems to be filled with people that Sailor knows, and other unsavory types.

Lula's mother hires a detective, but also contacts the mob - very little of what she does makes sense, like covering her entire face with lipstick for some reason.  She also drinks a lot and screams a lot.  Her daughter is very emotional too, so pretty much every woman in the film is either crying, screaming or in some form of ecstasy at any given moment.

Mostly everyone just seems sort of aimless.  There's a robbery that goes bad, Sailor only seems to get involved because he's got nothing better to do - he knows you can say "no", right?  There's an alarming number of car accidents - or car accident scenes, I suppose, seen after the accident has occurred, plus a lot of references to "The Wizard of Oz", for some reason.  Or no reason.

It's frustrating because there seem to be a lot of pieces here, and nobody took the time to stitch them together, or felt it wasn't important to do so.  Around the same time, David Lynch was producing (and directing the best episodes of) a TV series called "Twin Peaks", which was just as enigmatic in its own way.  As an FBI agent teamed up with local Washington state law enforcement to solve the murder of a teen girl named Laura Palmer, elements of mysticism surfaced, suggesting there was more to the town than there seemed to be.  There was a spirit that inhabited human hosts and made them kill, and other spirits represented by a dwarf and a giant seemed to fighting for good.

In an average episode, not much happened - there were enough local oddballs to entertain and distract from the central plotline, but Lynch would direct the first and last episode of each season, and somehow this would tie everything together, while being completely symbolic and obtuse and still making perfect sense if you were willing to buy into it.

Half of the cast of "Twin Peaks" also appears in this film, but that's not enough to save it.  The pieces didn't come together for me, and without any attempt to explain anything that's happening, I'm just left with random bits of weirdness.

EDIT: Upon further review, the plot makes a little bit more sense than I first thought.  I checked a few plot summaries online, which suggested that the hit-man sent after Sailor was the same guy who planned the botched robbery.  This is a clever way to try and kill someone, I'll admit.  That being said, however, leads me to a NITPICK POINT: If the hit-man's preferred way of killing people was to stage car accidents (which sort of explains why there were so many in that part of the world), then why change up his modus operandi just to kill one guy?  This again doesn't seem to make much sense, so the rating stands.

Also starring Nicolas Cage (last seen in "Windtalkers"), Laura Dern (last seen in "Recount"), Willem Dafoe (last seen in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico"), Diane Ladd (last seen in "Chinatown"), Harry Dean Stanton (last seen in "The Avengers"), Isabella Rossellini, J.E. Freeman, with cameos from Crispin Glover (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine"), Sherilyn Fenn, Grace Zabriskie (last seen in "License to Wed"), Jack Nance, David Patrick Kelly, Sheryl Lee, John Lurie, KoKo Taylor.

RATING: 2 out of 10 silver dollars