Saturday, July 6, 2013

In Time

Year 5, Day 187 - 7/6/13 - Movie #1,479

BEFORE: Ah, an unexpected theme has developed - in addition to all being sci-fi based, this week's films all seem to feature people who are on the run.  "Total Recall", "Paycheck" and "Looper" all featured fugitives who were being hunted down by cops, criminals or corporations, and that looks like it will continue tonight.  Linking from "Looper", Joseph Gordon-Levitt was also in "Inception" with Cillian Murphy (last seen in "Tron: Legacy").

THE PLOT:  In a world where time has become the ultimate currency, people stop aging at 25, but there's a catch: they're genetically-engineered to live only one more year, unless they can buy their way out of it.

AFTER: It's another well-meaning high-concept sci-fi film, but once the premise was explained, this became sort of one-note.  They didn't really DO anything with the concept for a long time, and then when it finally started to go somewhere at the end, it was too late, story over. 

The film fell just short of making some kind of larger statement which we could apply to our daily lives in the present, which is often the point of sci-fi, to act as a cautionary tale.  Now, while I'm happy the movie didn't hit me over the head with some kind of social allegory, neither did it put itself out there and offer up some overarching point.  That earns it a very middle-of-the-road score. 

Furthermore, we never learn who set up this crazy system, and how, or why.  This can't have happened overnight, so how did they get there?  Who thought it would be a good idea to terminate people when their clocks ran out?  Who agreed to have these clocks put in their arms in the first place?                   

Besides, a world where the rich get richer and the poor get deader doesn't seem to correlate too much with the world of today, so I'm not sure why the situation got brought up, or how I'm suppose to apply the lesson to my life, whatever the murky lesson happens to be.  Is this meant to show rich people how important poor people are?  Because without poorer people's contributions to the system, there's no system for the rich people to take advantage of.  Is this meant to show poor people that they're suppose to rage against the machine?  If so, that's an odd takeaway.                                                                                                                                                 
Also starring Justin Timberlake (last seen in "Bad Teacher"), Amanda Seyfried (last seen in "Les Miserables"), Olivia Wilde (last seen in "Cowboys & Aliens"), Johnny Galecki, Vincent Kartheiser, Alex Pettyfer, Matt Bomer.

RATING: 5 out of 10 tollbooths

Friday, July 5, 2013


Year 5, Day 186 - 7/5/13 - Movie #1,478

BEFORE:  Sometimes I feel a little bit like the main character in "Paycheck", in that I set up these chains of films to watch, laying out the connections I see between one film and another, and then I sometimes forget why I put this one next to that one.  But I know I had a reason, and I gave myself little clues about it, and I get to discover them again as I go.  Like I led myself here, back to this time-travel topic, and it's my way of telling myself this is exactly where I'm supposed to be right now.  Linking from "Paycheck", Ben Affleck was notably in "Armageddon" with Bruce Willis (last seen in "The Whole Ten Yards".

THE PLOT:  In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to 'close the loop' by transporting back Joe's future self.

AFTER: That plot description was all I knew about this film going in.  Of course, I read reviews but I tried to take away as little additional information from them as possible, because I wanted this one to be really good.  I enjoy time-travel movies, when they get it RIGHT, and I obsess over them when they don't.

So, a hit-man kills people sent from the future, and that's actually an original idea.  Forensics are obviously so good in 2074 that the only way to dispose of evidence is to send it back in time to 2044, because someone in-between chose to invent a time machine instead of a molecular disintegrator.  OK, I'm still with you - the criminals send someone they don't like back to before he was born, back to when he was a non-person, with no fingerprint records to match up to, and he gets killed there.  Even if the body was found, it couldn't be identified.  So far, so good.

And one day, the hit-man, or "looper" will end up killing his older self, and this means his job is over.  The loop is closed in the future, he gets a big payday, and he gains the knowledge that he has exactly 30 years to live before he's sent back to be killed by his younger self.  Still buying the premise, though I don't see exactly why the older self needs to die and the younger self is now out of work.  But I'm still trying to play along.

NITPICK POINT: Well, kinda.  I don't see why someone would take the job as a looper because it means that they WILL definitely die in 30 years' time.  But it seems like this future is a somewhat dystopian one, and maybe the guarantee that they'll be alive for the next 30 years is a selling point.

Joe is a looper, and one day the inevitable (?) happens, his older self blinks back in time, and he has to kill him.  But something's not right, the two have a fight, and I'm thinking I know how it ends.  This is the point where the screenwriter should have stopped writing - I'm hooked, I'm along for the ride, nothing more needs to be added.  It's an intriguing concept, there's conflict, there's time-travel.  Just let their fight play out, close the loop and run the credits. 

Now, when I say I like time-travel stories, I prefer closed loops.  What does that mean?  Guy goes back in time to save JFK, can't do it, history remains the same, guy goes back to the future and on with his life.  Or guy goes back to save JFK, he does it, finds history ended up worse off, goes back again to prevent himself from changing time, succeeds, and history remains the same. Closed loop.

Ironically this film called "Looper" doesn't seem to understand the definition of a loop, or perhaps it does and then rejects it, because so much of what comes next defies logic or seems quite fuzzy.  The older Joe has his memories, but they start to flicker and change if something different happens to young Joe.  We can surmise from this that perhaps the past CAN be changed - certainly if young Joe were to kill old Joe, and then Joe grows older with the memory of killing his other self, once he goes back in time he would expect to die right away, and if this doesn't happen, then somehow time's been put on another track.

So now we've got a paradox, two histories (and the film makes this semi-clear by showing us both of them).  Things have gotten fuzzy, and I'm now frustrated, and slightly intrigued.  OK, film, you've won me back - this would be another good place for the screenwriter to stop, cut his losses, give me some kind of fight and a resolution, and call it a day.

But this didn't happen, either.  The film then wandered through a bunch of other things, not all of which I care to disclose at this time, but they all served to make the timeline fuzzier and fuzzier, and there's that old quandary about killing baby Hitler again, and I was left with a resolution that was anything but resolute.  On the whole, I'd rather watch "12 Monkeys" again, since I so preferred the way that time-travel plotline got resolved.  Or "Frequency", "The Butterfly Effect" or "Back to the Future", three films that got away with changing the timeline, but still managed to entertain me.

Let me clear this up for any budding screenwriters who want to mess with a time-travel story.  Let's say there's this guy, Fred, who had a car accident at age 20 and lost his right leg.  When Fred is 50, he realizes his biggest regret is that he never became a professional dancer, so he invents a time machine, goes back and convinces 20-year-old Fred to ride the bus on that fateful day.  The accident never occurs, Fred never loses his leg.  Some films would show Fred at 50 suddenly gaining his leg back - and this is wrong, because for him, it was now never missing. 

This is a classic paradox - if Fred succeeds in preventing the accident, he gains back his leg at age 20, 30, 40, AND 50, so depicting it suddenly "blinking" back into existence is wrong, and a sloppy shortcut.  But preventing the loss of the leg also removes the desire to invent the time machine and the need to prevent the accident, so therefore Fred does NOT invent the time machine, does NOT prevent the accident, and then the accident happens again.  Closed loop. 

So, does Fred lose his leg, or not?  Yes.  And no.  There are two tracks, one where he does and one where he doesn't (proven by the fact that old Fred doesn't have the memory of being visited by old Fred when he was young Fred), and they're destined to cycle around and around - at least that's the theory.  Now some say this is proof that time travel will never really occur.  I say we're all traveling through time, we just can't change the speed or the direction.  So if you want to communicate with yourself over time, write yourself a note or keep a journal, just be aware it's a one-way conversation.  

Also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "50/50"), Emily Blunt (last seen in "The Five-Year Engagement"), Paul Dano (last seen in "Cowboys & Aliens"), Noah Segan, Jeff Daniels (last seen in "The Hours"), Garret Dillahunt, Piper Perabo.

RATING: 5 out of 10 cornfields

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Year 5, Day 185 - 7/4/13 - Movie #1,477

BEFORE: I don't have any special movie for Independence Day - maybe I should have saved one of those alien flicks that ripped off "Independence Day".  And I realized too late that "Cloverfield" is on the list, and the poster featured a prominent image of a damaged Statue of Liberty - oh, well, I'll get to that film next week.  I got on a sci-fi head-trip chain, and this film is also based on a story by Philip K. Dick, so it shares that with "Total Recall".  Also linking from "Total Recall", Colin Farrell was in "Daredevil" with Ben Affleck (last seen in "Changing Lanes").

THE PLOT:  A mysterious job for an engineer to net him millions of dollars leaves him on the run for his life, trying to piece together why he's being chased.

AFTER: I can only describe this as a high-concept piece, and that concept seemed dumb at first, and then really cool in the middle of the film, and then pretty ridiculous by the end.  Still, I applaud the effort.  That concept is: a man works as a "reverse engineer" - a company gives him an end product, or perhaps the idea of one, he locks himself in a lab for two or three months, and then once the thing is built, his memory is wiped, presumably so he can't market the thing himself or give the idea to a competitor.  In the case where the thing he designed is illegal, the benefit here is that he can't feel guilty, because he doesn't remember a thing.  (NITPICK POINT #1: However, he still could be held responsible, as there still could be evidence that he did that illegal thing, plus he got paid to do so.)

He's given a chance to work a three-year job, essentially losing three years of his life, getting to work on a fabulous piece of mystery technology, and to be paid enough so he'll never need to work again.  Intrigued?  So was he - and there's no possible way this job could go wrong, right?  Wrong.

After his memory gets wiped, his personal items are returned to him (NITPICK POINT #2: He lived in an office building for three years, without any personal stuff?  Seems odd.) but they're NOT the same personal items he surrendered upon entering - they are 20 seemingly random, seemingly useless items.  And they turn out to be exactly the items he needs to get himself out of danger.

I'm tempted to reveal too much here, and I'm going to try and hold myself in check, because this is the part where the concept actually takes off.  What the machine does, who sent him the random items, and how he manages to do what he needs to do, well, that's the whole ball of wax.  But I liked seeing how an envelope of useless junk essentially became a bag of magic tricks.  He is an engineering genius, so that actually does make sense - if you can imagine MacGyver starring in "Memento", you start to see where this could go.  Except he's not piecing together past events, he's trying to piece together future ones.  And that's darn cool.

Let me be clear on one thing - there is NO time travel in this film.  Nobody rewinds time, or changes time ( they?), but it's darn close, because essentially we're dealing with the gift of foresight, or some equivalent of it.  I almost need to use the same language as time travel, when I ask: is there ONE future, or MANY potential futures?  Because the knowledge seems to come from the fact that there are many, and one is clearly better than the others, but then that complex fact sort of pokes a hole in the balloon that's carrying the plot basket, so to speak.  So, which is it?  (Is light a particle or a wave?  Yes.)

NITPICK POINT #3: He KNEW his mind would be wiped after three years - why would he then start a relationship with someone else in the company?  Did he figure the connection was so strong that he'd remember it, no matter what?  Or did he just want to savor it for what it was, knowing it would be taken away?  Either way, it's a distraction, and the whole point was that he would work for a limited time with NO distractions.

NITPICK POINT #4:  This whole concept of "reverse-engineering" is given great weight, it makes all things possible, becoming the magical equivalent of "hacking" in a tech movie made in the 1990's.  But since he loses all that knowledge at the end of each job, why would the next company want to hire him, since he has lost all of the knowledge and experience he's gained in the last few years?  Isn't his tech knowledge constantly outdated, by definition?

NITPICK POINT #5: Redacted because it gives away too much. Let's just say it makes no sense for a character to struggle for 3/4 of the film to do one thing, then turn around and do the opposite.

NITPICK POINT #6: Redacted because of the events in the final scene.  I'm gonna let this one slide.

Also starring Uma Thurman (last seen in "Kill Bill, Vol. 2"), Aaron Eckhart (last seen in "Battle Los Angeles"), Paul Giamatti (last seen in "The Ides of March"), Colm Feore (last seen in "The Chronicles of Riddick"), Joe Morton, Michael C. Hall, Kathryn Morris.

RATING: 6 out of 10 newspaper headlines

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Total Recall (2012)

Year 5, Day 184 - 7/3/13 - Movie #1,476

BEFORE: The great part about working the chain out a few weeks in advance is that I rarely have to stop and ask "What movie should I watch tonight?", I just pick the next film in the chain, unless I see another connection that needs to be made.  But I found two possible paths away from "The X-Files", one filled with monsters, and the other dealing with psychic visions.  Fortunately both are sci-fi paths and will lead me to the same place in about a week's time.  I'm going to face a much more difficult decision in about a month's time when I get to the next break in the chain, and there will be less than 100 slots available to close out the year.  I could link to the Hitchcock films, but there are 50 of them, and that's half of the available slots gone - when I get back from San Diego, I've got to overlay the chain over a calendar to see if it will end in a organizationally pleasing way. If not, I'll delay Hitchcock until next year and follow another track to fill the 2013 slots.

I'm going to follow up "X-Files" with the psychic powers/mental delusion track, because that fits more closely with the plot of the 2nd film.  And because Billy Connolly links so easily through "Still Crazy" to Bill Nighy (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1").

THE PLOT:  Douglas Quaid begins to suspect that he is a spy after a visit to Rekall - a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of a life they would like to have led - goes wrong and he finds himself on the run.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Total Recall" (1990) (Movie #1,207)

AFTER: At one time, I had this film next to "John Carter" because the original "Total Recall" took place on Mars (or, did it?) and something made me move it away - which was a good call, because the remake totally removed Mars from the plot.  There was a brief mention that Rekall can make you false-remember being King of Mars, but that was just a line of dialogue, nobody GOES to Mars here, or is made to think that they do.  Instead they travel back and forth between the British Isles and the "Colony" (Australia) which in the future are the only two inhabitable places left on Earth.

Here's the kicker, they travel THROUGH the planet. (Is that even possible?  I thought the Earth's core was all magma and stuff, which is why we have volcanoes.  Wouldn't the enormous pressure close to the Earth's surface make it impossible to travel through?)  See NITPICK POINT below.

Anyway, we're dealing with memory implants, and memory wipes, and I bet the filmmakers wished they could wipe the Schwarzenegger version from the audience's minds, because then they'd be more likely to pay admission to see the story again.  But honestly there's not too much in common with the old version, except that they're based on the same short story, there's a company that offers to give people their ultimate fantasy vacation through memory implants, and the main character, Quaid, who speaks the line "If I'm not me, then who the hell am I?"  The rest then riffs off in a slightly different direction, which is the thing to do these days, whether you run the Superman, Spider-Man or Wizard of Oz franchise.

After visiting Rekall, Quaid comes to learn that his memories are not real, nor his marriage, and his name might not even be Quaid.  He might be a secret agent who underwent a memory wipe and got new implants, and once you get those, kiss that sweet fake vacation goodbye.  He then has to follow clues, some of which he might have left for himself - it's kind of like when you set your e-mail password and you know you're gonna forget it, so you try and pick something near the computer that will spark your memory every time you want to check your mail.

He's got to decide whether to trust his instincts, or follow the clues he left for himself, in order to determine which side he's going to fight for, the government or the rebels.  And there always seem to be rebels in the future, don't there?  I guess their perfect society isn't so perfect, because somebody's always rebelling against something.  (As James Dean's character once said, "What have you got?")

Unless...unless the whole thing is a dream or a false memory, starting with the moment Quaid sits down in the chair at Rekall.  I thought this about the original movie too, and I sort of hoped that the sequel might follow up on this possibility (and, who's to say it didn't?).  Once you start messing around inside the brain, who's to say what's reality for that person?  

It feels like they took the plot from "Total Recall" and mixed in elements of "Minority Report", "I, Robot", "Brazil", and even "Inception" and "Cube".  Yes, in the future there will be elevators that move horizontally, so that's something to look forward to.  Plus there will be robot cops. And way too many plot reversals.  Oh, and Barack Obama will be depicted on money - British money, so try and figure that one out.

NITPICK POINT: If there really could be a transport that went through Earth, from the U.K. to Australia, from what I know about gravity, it couldn't work like this.  The film depicts an underground spaceship-like transport, with passengers sitting on two sides, like you'd see people sitting on a subway car, and with the front of the ship heading down toward the core.  The key word here is "down", which gravitationally represents all vectors from the Earth's surface to the core - there is no one fixed "down".  And what is depicted here is some kind of gravity reversal, as if the ship has to turn around so its top becomes its bottom as it heads back to the surface - but the top and bottom of the ship as shown are really just left and right, so the switch wouldn't happen this way.

Instead of the bus-like device depicted here, imagine a building elevator that goes below the ground, and keeps on going to the Earth's core (I know, it's impossible, but work with me here...)  You wouldn't sit on a bench on the SIDE of the elevator as you descend, you'd probably stand on the floor, just like you normally do in an elevator, because gravity's pull would be at your feet.  When your elevator car hits the Earth's core (assuming it doesn't burn up, or collapse under the pressure), you'd have a moment of weightlessness as you pass through Earth's chewy caramel center, and then you'd fall to what was the ceiling of the car, which has now become the new floor.  Spinning the car so the left side becomes the right side, as seen here, would be an illogical reaction to the change in gravity's direction.

Jeez, they spend $125 million making a film, and they can't make a call to a science expert, to figure out how something might theoretically work?  

Also starring Colin Farrell (last seen in "The Recruit"), Kate Beckinsale (last seen in "The Aviator"), Jessica Biel (last seen in "The A-Team"), Bokeem Woodbine, Bryan Cranston (last seen in "John Carter"), John Cho (last seen in "Star Trek: Into Darkness").

RATING: 4 out of 10 flying cars

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Year 5, Day 183 - 7/2/13 - Movie #1,475

BEFORE:  OK, I stand corrected.  It turns out the first "X-Files" movie was NOT made after the series was over, it was made to be seen between seasons 5 and 6.  Fans of the show were supposed to head out to the theaters during the summer break, and then come back to a slightly different show in the fall.  This makes a lot more sense now, because Mulder didn't make any references to the events of the season finale.  Obviously, Duchovny and Anderson carry over from last night's film, and they make their return to the FBI and the world of the supernatural after what I assume is a prolonged absence.

THE PLOT:  Mulder and Scully are called back to duty by the FBI when a former priest claims to be receiving psychic visions pertaining to a kidnapped agent.

AFTER: Ah, see now the pieces are coming together.  As I said last night, I never watched the series, not in real time anyway, but I sort of paid attention through reviews and such.  Like with a lot of movies, this leads to me knowing about stuff without really watching it, which is often a huge time saver.  Reading between the lines, there came a time where Mulder and Scully acted on their long-time attraction, and they had a child who didn't live very long, and all this took place between the end of the show and the start of this film.

In many ways this is a return to form, because David Duchovny apparently didn't appear a lot in the last two seasons of the show, as part of a contract dispute.  Oh, there was a narrative reason why he didn't appear, but I'm betting the real-life situation drove that storyline.  So one last appearance of Mulder and Scully working together was probably what the fans were dying to see.

The relationship between the two leads is probably symbolic of every relationship - they go through the same four stages as everyone else, which are (roughly): 1) We are two very different people.  2) We've spent some time together, turns out we have a lot in common.  3) Now that we're living together, I'm noticing some differences in the way we approach things.  4) Turns out, we are two very different people.  The only difference here from regular couples is that those things they have in common in stage 2 include contact with the supernatural and belief in alien invasion conspiracies.

So we see them in Stage 3, and when Mulder gets contacted by the FBI on a new case involving a psychic, he's got to decide whether to return to the X-Files, and if he does, he does so without his foil Scully, who resorts to her skeptical ways regarding psychic abilities.  To be fair, most psychics have little more ability than carnival performers who guess your weight.  They play the odds and say things like "Do you know someone whose name begins with J?"  Well, given that James, Joe and John are very common names, and for that matter many last names begin with J too, you can start to see how the tricks are performed.  And don't even get me started on that Long Island Medium, who forces her version of the afterlife onto complete strangers.

There are deeper questions about science vs. faith here, and the supernatural is depicted as something of a bridge between the two worlds.  A pedophile priest may be an unlikely vessel for superhuman abilities, but results speak for themselves.  Umm, unless he's lying.  I treat psychic tricks the same way I treat magic tricks - I won't rest until I figure out how they're done.  And those psychics who've genuinely tried to help law enforcement with missing person cases - they probably have to be careful to not be TOO knowledgeable, for fear of being accused of committing the crime themselves.  That much rings true.

There are parts to the story I'm not talking about, which range from unlikely to impossible - but Scully faces a few crises of her own, ticked off by the ex-priest psychic, but involving her career as a doctor.  A Catholic hospital is a fertile ground for storylines involving terminal illnesses, the right to die with dignity and the controversy over stem cell research.  It's not exactly supernatural, but it's a gripping story in its own way - and it demands equal attention.

Also starring Billy Connolly (last seen in "Mrs. Brown"), Amanda Peet (last seen in "The Whole Ten Yards"), Mitch Pileggi (also carrying over from "The X-Files"), Xzibit, Adam Godley, Fagin Woodcock.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Rottweilers

Monday, July 1, 2013

The X-Files

Year 5, Day 182 - 7/1/13 - Movie #1,474

BEFORE: I confess that I've never seen the "X-Files" TV show.  Oh, I probably taped it every so often for work, and fast-forwarded through it, but it's one of those corners of the geek universe that I didn't take time to fully explore.  And I sure don't have time to watch the whole series now.  Fortunately this past week on "Jeopardy!", there was a question about what happened in the final episode of the show - so that's really all I need to know, right?  It's not like the show was on for nine seasons and had a really complex mythology to it...

Linking from "Muppets in Space", Josh Charles was also in "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" with David Duchovny (last heard in "Queer Duck").    Nope, haven't seen that film either.

THE PLOT:  Mulder and Scully must fight the government in a conspiracy and find the truth about an alien colonization of Earth.

AFTER: OK, so from watching this film, here's what I deduce about the "X-Files" show - Mulder was the "conspiracy nut", but I'm guessing he usually was right about whatever the Freak of the Week was - and Scully makes reference here about how she was teamed up with him to disprove his theories, so I'm guessing whenever the alien (or Bigfoot, or monster or vampire) showed up, she was in the bathroom or fixing her makeup or something and never saw it.  "But he was RIGHT HERE," Mulder would say, "you JUST missed him!"  Cue the laugh-track, and roll credits. 

Finally, once the movie deal came through, they can finally let Scully see the alien nasties (and after what happens to her in this film, she has to become a believer...) and they can finally get these two crazy kids on the same page, and watch the sparks fly.  Nothing gets a romance going better than working together for nine years and always being at odds with each other - remember "Moonlighting"?  "Remington Steele"?  "Buck Rogers"?  But once you relieve that romantic tension, the rest of the show is like a loose rubber band, it never snaps back to its original shape.  So the makers of "The X-Files" were wise to wait for a feature film.

So the movie explains a lot, about the aliens and the virus and the way it all works - and it ends up being sort of reminiscent of "Prometheus" (or, since this came first, should it be the other way around?).  Black goo is NEVER good - just ask Spider-Man, his alien costume made of black goo seemed like a pretty sweet deal at first, until it started bonding with him and making him go web-swinging at night while he was asleep - who knows WHAT it also made him do?

I can't help but be reminded of "Twin Peaks", which was a TV that ran for just two seasons (and also featured David Duchovny, but as a cross-dressing DEA agent), yet somehow merited its own feature film.  It also had a complicated mythology, with people who talked to owls, people who talked to logs, giants who talked in riddles, and a little person who talked backwards.  It started out as a murder investigation, but ended up being about demonic possession and weird sex stuff, which is not surprising since David Lynch thought up the whole thing.  But he was a busy guy, and only directed about two episodes of the show each season - those were the ones you just HAD to watch, and the rest of the time the characters sort stood around not really knowing what to do, and the plot never really advanced.  In the end everything got explained, provided you paid attention.  For those that didn't, the feature film went back and over-explained the day of the murder, even though most of the details of the victim's death were so unsavory that fans of the show tended to block them out and focus instead on the quirky characters who weren't dead.

So yeah, I admit I'm playing catch-up here without all the possibly necessary background information.  But a feature film should be able to stand on its own - you should be able to watch the new Superman movie without having read the comic books or having watched 11 seasons of "Smallville".  So if I'm judging this film on its own merits, it's entertaining enough, there are enough surprises, and some cool things I haven't seen before in other films.  But on the other hand, there are a few things that I've seen in many other films, so in the end I think it's a wash.

NITPICK POINT: Corn is in the grass family, another factoid I learned from watching Jeopardy! this week.  As such, corn is not pollinated by, or eaten by, bees.  Just thought I'd mention that.  

Also starring Gillian Anderson (last seen in "Johnny English Reborn"), Mitch Pileggi (last seen in "Recount"), Blythe Danner (last seen in "Brighton Beach Memoirs"), Martin Landau (last seen in "They Call Me Mister Tibbs!"), John Neville, Terry O'Quinn, Armin Mueller-Stahl (last seen in "Mission to Mars"), Lucas Black (last seen in "All the Pretty Horses"), William B. Davis, with a cameo from Glenne Headly (last seen in "Mortal Thoughts")

RATING: 5 out of 10 flamethrowers

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Muppets From Space

Year 5, Day 181 - 6/30/13 - Movie #1,473

BEFORE: Oh, sure, I COULD have watched all the Muppets' movies together, but where's the fun in that?  I almost forgot about this one, but it slots in here nicely after another comedy (?) about aliens. Linking from "The Watch", Ben Stiller was also in "There's Something About Mary" with Jeffrey Tambor (last seen in "The Hangover Part II").

THE PLOT:  Gonzo is contacted by his alien family through his breakfast cereal. He is kidnapped and it's up to Kermit and the gang to rescue Gonzo and help reunite him with his long-lost family.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Muppets" (Movie #1,329)

AFTER: I drank the Henson Kool-Aid when I was a kid, raised on Sesame Street, as were many other kids, and I followed the Muppets through their first movie, then I kind of hit the wall with the whole thing.  I think it's too simple to say I grew up, because I know a few adults who are still very into the Muppet thing, but I guess I developed other interests.  You'd think that since Yoda was essentially a Muppet (at first, anyway) that my love for Star Wars would have brought me back, but it didn't work out that way.

So now that I've caught back up with the Muppets, do I feel like I missed out over the years?  Well, not really.  After "The Great Muppet Caper" they sort of went into a phase that wasn't all that creative, re-making "Treasure Island", "The Wizard of Oz" and "A Christmas Carol" with puppets isn't really all that original, it's just re-branding of other people's stories.  Which may explain why the franchise was bought by DisneyCorp, which co-opted "Tarzan", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", "The Little Mermaid" and most of Grimm's fairy tales in order to re-brand them as Disney tales.  It's shameful on one level, but also genius from a marketing standpoint.

The laugh was on the Muppets, however, since it seemed for a while like Disney bought them just to shelve them for a while, essentially removing a bit of the competition for other Disney + Pixar films.  Of course the death of Jim Henson figures heavily into the Muppet timeline, so that might explain why there wasn't much original Muppet material coming out for a while.  This film was the first original script for them in about 15 years, and the last one before they sold out to Disney/ABC/ESPN, aka our future corporate overlords.

So, Gonzo's an alien.  (Sorry, spoiler alert)  Makes some sense, since Kermit's a frog and Fozzie's a bear and they never really could decide what Gonzo was, but as a kid I thought I'd cracked the code.  He had a weird beak-like nose, and was always hanging out with chickens.  So I thought the most ironic thing would be if he turned out to be some kind of chicken-hawk, and he was just really bad at that.  That made sense to me at the time, but the Muppet team went a different way with it.  (What about that weird Rasta Muppet, is he an alien too?  Or just a Jamaican one?)

They also went a different way with the soundtrack, instead of the usual original Muppet-like songs they decided to license a bunch of soul classics, like "Celebration", "Shining Star", "It's Your Thing", and "Brick House".  Some work, some not so much.  "Brick House" is a song about a woman, yet it's sung by all the Muppets in the morning to demonstrate that they all live in the same house.  Umm, no.  Wouldn't something like "We Are Family" make more sense? 

So, yeah, Gonzo finds out he's an alien, Miss Piggy becomes a reporter, and the U.S. government wants to know about aliens.  That's it, that's all that happens.  And no one got hurt in the process of writing an actual story or trying to make stuff happen.  I know you have to keep things simple for the kids, but this is way too simple.

Also starring the Muppet peformers (Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Brian Henson, Bill Barretta), Andie MacDowell, Rob Schneider (last seen in "50 First Dates"), Pat Hingle (last seen in "Sudden Impact"), Kathy Griffin (last seen in "The Muppets"), with cameos from David Arquette, Ray Liotta (last seen in "Wanderlust"), F. Murray Abraham, Josh Charles, Hulk Hogan (last heard in "Gnomeo & Juliet"), Katie Holmes (last seen in "Phone Booth").

RATING: 4 out of 10 cement trucks