Saturday, November 2, 2013


Year 5, Day 306 - 11/2/13 - Movie #1,573

BEFORE: Again, sorry for the thematic whiplash, but like "Lincoln" this is about a Republican President.  I just fast-forwarded about 100 years and moved from drama to comedy.  Linking from "Lincoln", I've got lots of choices - let's go with Joseph Gordon-Levitt through "Halloween H2O" to Michelle Williams (last seen in "Brokeback Mountain").

THE PLOT: The story of two girls who wander away from a White House tour and meet President Nixon.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Nixon" (Movie #1,125), "Elvis Meets Nixon" (Movie #1,126)

AFTER: This is a mostly inoffensive comedy where you really have to be a Watergate buff or a Nixon biographer to get all of the jokes.  I'm thinking I missed quite a few, because once you get past G. Gordon Liddy, I don't know a lot of the players.  The film trades upon people in the audience being familiar with Nixon's dog, and his propensity for taping conversations, as it puts forth a caricature version of Nixon, with "explanations" of the missing 18 1/2 minutes of audio, how Deep Throat got his name, and how Woodward and Bernstein cracked Watergate.

It's all a farce, of course, since everything supposedly ties in to two high-school girls who get lost on a field trip, become dog-walkers for Checkers, and then accidentally open the wrong door and see the shredders in action.  Naturally there's a comic misunderstanding for every historical fact, but that just makes everything a bit too cute and a bit too connected at the same time.

There are some redeemable moments, since the girls are so clueless they think they can ask the President to stop the war, it's almost refreshingly naive for them to think that things could possibly be that simple.   And Woodward and Bernstein are portayed as being even more buffoonish than the teenagers, but I'm guessing they don't give Pulitzers to bumbling idiots. 

Also starring Kirsten Dunst (last seen in "Melancholia"), Dan Hedaya (last seen in "Tightrope"), Will Ferrell (last seen in "The Campaign"), Bruce McCulloch, Dave Foley (last heard in "A Bug's Life"), Jim Breuer (last heard in "Zookeeper"), Teri Garr (last seen in "Oh, God!"), Harry Shearer (last seen in "Speechless"), Saul Rubinek, Ana Gasteyer, Ryan Reynolds (last seen in "Safe House"), with cameos from Ted McGinley, French Stewart.

RATING: 4 out of 10 walnuts

Friday, November 1, 2013


Year 5, Day 305 - 11/1/13 - Movie #1,572

BEFORE: And just like that, Halloween and October are over, and November begins.  November is the month of three occasions to mark: Election Day, Veterans' Day and Thanksgiving.  So it's on to political films, war films and, umm, Thanksgiving films. Don't worry, it'll all make sense when we get there.  I do feel like I'm making progress, since the list is still slowly shrinking (209), and some complete categories are empty -  sports films are played out, Westerns are now a thing of the past, and horror films have faded back into the darkness for another year.

I did warn everyone I'd be making this rather odd transition - I wonder how many other people watched both 2012 films about Abe Lincoln back-to-back.  Linking from "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", Dominic Cooper was also in "Captain America: The First Avenger" with Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Men In Black 3").

THE PLOT:  As the Civil War continues to rage, America's president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.

AFTER: It's strange how there's no mention in this film of Lincoln's past history battling the undead.  One might think that such a thing didn't really happen...  This film instead chooses to concentrate on his attempts to get the 13th Amendment passed.  Er, ratified?  Damn, now I need to read up on my history AND the legislative process vis-a-vis Constitutional amendments.  Apparently in the closing days of the Civil War, Lincoln was pushing for this amendment and trying to negotiate the surrender of the South and the end of the war at the same time.  And the 13th Amendment was extremely important, because it was all about trial by jury.  No, wait, freedom of the press.  Bearing false witness?  Oh, right, slavery.  That was going to be my next guess. 

The way I figure it, the order of these things mattered greatly - because if the Southern states were allowed back into the government, with all of the voting privileges they had before, then this amendment would never have gotten off the ground, what with the economic benefits of using slave labor and all that.  So the amendment HAD to happen before peace broke out, and Lincoln was defiantly adamant on that point.

The Emancipation Proclamation was HUGE, but that's all it was, a proclamation, an executive order.  It was not a law passed by Congress.  This is why we have separate branches of government, so the President can't go around proclaiming this and that, saying we all need to exercise more and putting all naturalized Belgians in camps and such.  And the Proclamation didn't even apply to FIVE slave states that didn't secede.  And some politicians at the time viewed slavery as a way to restore the Union, crazy as that sounds now. 

So we've got a second-term president willing to trade on his political capital in order to pass an unpopular law - but one that will grant rights to the disenfranchised.  The Senate has already voted the law into place, but the opposition in the House, including members of his own party, is willing to postpone or otherwise stonewall the bill rather than let it proceed.  How is this not a giant metaphor for ObamaCare?

The irony lies in how much has changed since 1865 - Lincoln was a Republican, seeking to grant voting rights to the disenfranchised slaves (who were represented, just as 3/5 of a person each) and these days the Republican party is trying to pass voter registration laws in order to re-disenfranchise the very same minority, who largely vote Democrat.  

Beyond the history lesson, the film plays out rather dryly, lots of talkie-talkie.  (Turns out it really could have used at least one good battle scene against a vampire.  Oh, well...)  I think I may have missed quite a bit of the meaning of the political maneuvering, like when a Senator speaks out against a proposed law, when it seems to be in line with the way he's voted for most of his career - did they fail to explain this sufficiently, or is it just me?)

I suppose it is an interesting look at the sort of backroom deals that were made, and still take place, in order to get laws passed in this country.  Political appointments, support from the executive branch, and just plain old CASH are thrown around quite liberally in order to get things done.  I'm sure this stuff all takes place today, to the point of ridiculousness.  Somebody figured out that the recent Republican-arranged shutdown of the government ended up costing so much, it could have funded the Affordable Care Act (the thing they were rallying against) three times over.  What a bunch of whining babies.

Now, for my conundrum - how do I judge the two Lincoln films against each other?  Can I even use the same scale to cover a horror film and a political drama which are sort of linked but vastly different in both intent and execution?  I can because the scale really only reflects MY enjoyment, how I felt at the conclusion of each film, not whether one film is "better" than another for what it was trying to do. (Considering it was 4 am, at the end of "Lincoln" I was mainly just tired...)

Also starring Daniel Day-Lewis (last seen in "The Boxer"), Sally Field (last seen in "The Amazing Spider-Man"), David Strathairn (last seen in "Twisted"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "10 Things I Hate About You"), James Spader (last seen in, umm "Stargate"?), Hal Holbrook (last seen in "Water for Elephants"), John Hawkes (last seen in "Hardball"), Jackie Earle Haley (last seen in "Dark Shadows"), Gulliver McGrath (ditto), Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "O"), Jared Harris (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"), Joseph Cross, Lee Pace, with cameos from Gloria Reuben, Walton Goggins (last seen in "Cowboys & Aliens"), Lukas Haas (last seen in "Inception"), Dane DeHaan (last seen in "Chronicle"), Julie White, S. Epatha Merkerson.

RATING: 5 out of 10 lobbyists

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

Year 5, Day 304 - 10/31/13 - Movie #1,571

BEFORE:  Thankfully the baseball season came to an end last night, with my hoped-for result.  Which is great for the children of Boston, who now don't have to choose between trick-or-treating and going to a World Series game (who drew up that schedule?).  Plus, I can shave off my rally beard and get back to my normal fall facial hair.  And I can get some work done at the office tonight while everyone is out being crazy - I don't really celebrate the Halloween except for a scary movie or two, I just regard it as America's 4th-best candy-themed holiday.  (think about it)  For the other holidays, you get exactly the candy you want, and I don't quite understand the "grab bag" candy mentality.

Linking from "Fright Night", an actor named Will Denton, who had a small role in that film, was also in the film "Kinsey", playing Alfred Kinsey at the age of 10.  Playing Kinsey at age 19 was Benjamin Walker, who's in the title role tonight.

THE PLOT:  When Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States, he makes it his mission to eliminate them.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" (Movie #1,123)

AFTER:  You just know that somewhere there's a history teacher pulling his hair out, because some of his students are convinced that one of our greatest Presidents had a backstory where he battled the undead.  Funny, there's nothing about that on his Wikipedia page...  Rail splitter, riverboat captain, general store clerk, lawyer and vampire killer?  The guy was busy.  (Somebody should totally alter his Wiki page for Halloween with the events seen in this film...)

This is based on a book, which was one of the more successful "mash-ups" of that craze from a few years ago, that included "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" and "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters".  There's also a close similarity to steampunk, which is a movement that assumes that the 1800's were filled with anachronisms and nearly every modern convenience we have now, only powered by coal and steam.  I'm not quite sure what this movement stands for, what modern people gain from re-imagining the past to be more like today.

As a result this film shows us what the Civil War would have been like if vampires fought for the South (they support slavery, after all, because to them, all of humanity are their slaves) and soldiers could turn invisible and heal quickly and drink their enemies' blood.  And again they're playing fast and loose with the vampire rules, because being invisible to mirrors and security cameras is not the same as being invisible to the human eye.  Right?

By logical extension, silver becomes a more valuable resource for the Union army - so important that the President HIMSELF has to leave the White House to make sure the train delivers such an important shipment.  And by illogical extension, our commander-in-chief wields an axe like a ninja master and has moves straight out of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".  You got a better way to fight vampires?

And this leads to some extremely ridiculous situations - like chasing a vampire by leaping across a herd of stampeding horses.  Or running toward the rear of a train whose first few cars are already falling off of a cliff.  In fact the whole train sequence was even more impossible than the one James Bond encountered in "Skyfall" - there's no shortage of wild effects here, but there's also no attempt to have a semblance of reality.  So if you don't mind switching your brain off for a couple hours, give this one a go.  Just don't watch this looking for any real insight into the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

However, to imply that Lincoln's mother and young son were killed by vampires, well that's quite unconscionable.  And to have the Gettysburg address read aloud over footage of vampires being blown up on the fields of battle, well, that's darn near heretical.

Also starring Dominic Cooper (last seen in "Captain America: The First Avenger"), Anthony Mackie (last seen in "Real Steel"), Rufus Sewell (last seen in "The Tourist"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), Jimmi Simpson (last seen in "Zodiac"), Erin Wasson, and an uncredited cameo from Alan Tudyk (last heard in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked").

RATING: 4 out of 10 bayonets

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fright Night (2011)

Year 5, Day 303 - 10/30/13 - Movie #1,570

BEFORE: It's that weird time of year, where it's getting cooler but it's not really cold, but if you wear a heavy jacket you'll be too hot on the subway.  Daylight Saving Time hasn't ended yet, but any mechanical device that was programmed before they stupidly extended DST a couple years ago has already made the switch, so walking around, nobody really knows what time is. (Does anybody really know what time it is?) And weirder days are ahead - Hanukkah is going to be super early this year and Thanksgiving will be late in the month, creating the first Thanksgivukkah holiday mash-up since 1888.  Hope you like your latkes with marshmallows on top.  It's too bad that Hanukkah couldn't come even earlier, allowing for Hannukka-ween.  (Halloweenukkah?  Challah-ween?)

Linking from "Dark Shadows", Chloe Grace Moretz was definitely in "Kick-Ass" with Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

THE PLOT:  A teenager suspects that his new neighbor is a vampire.

AFTER: Well, at least this is a film that respects the rules of vampirism - mostly, anyway.  Like how a vampire can't come into your house, unless he is invited.  Or how he can't be in contact with direct sunlight.  Or garlic, or crosses, wooden stakes or holy water.  Geez, why not poison ivy or bee stings?  These creatures are sensitive to so many things, it's a wonder they consider themselves immortal.  But since they live so long, the smarter ones have plenty of time to figure out ways around the rules.  The lead vampire here makes himself looks like Colin Farrell, so why wouldn't women invite him into their houses?  Probably some men, too...

It also makes perfect sense to set the film in Las Vegas.  Plenty of people work nights in the casinos, so they sleep during the day with the shades drawn, and that seems perfectly normal.  And from watching "CSI", I know that there are plenty of dark crime scenes in town, and nobody ever turns on the lights.  On top of that there's an endless supply of drifters, and people leaving town on short notice when their cash runs out, so who's going to miss a few strippers here and there?

This also provides a perfect foil character, a stage magician with a vampire-themed act, who turns out to be knowledgable about "real" vampires and how to kill them.  (In the original 1980's "Fright Night", this was a TV horror-movie host who similarly turned out to be a vampire expert.) This is a pretty cool update, from a low-rent TV host to a top-billed Vegas act.

Hmm, this sort of reminds me that I've never watched "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", or even "The Lost Boys" for that matter.  I suppose if I'm still doing this next Halloween I'll have to at least consider those.  For now, though, just one more film stands between me and the next topic.

Also starring Anton Yelchin (last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Colin Farrell (last seen in "Total Recall"), Toni Collette (last seen in "Changing Lanes"), David Tennant (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon"), Imogen Poots, Dave Franco (last seen in "21 Jump Street"), with cameos from Chris Sarandon, Lisa Loeb.

RATING:  5 out of 10 cloves of garlic

Monday, October 28, 2013

Dark Shadows

Year 5, Day 301 - 10/28/13 - Movie #1,569

BEFORE: Now that I'm over that stomach bug, I got my final birthday present today from my wife, which was a visit to the German store, where I got a loaf of pumpernickel and a variety of deli meats - head cheese, kassler liverwurst, tongue blutwurst, bierwurst and schinkenspeck (smoked ham).  A few mix-and-match sandwiches with some Muenster cheese and brown mustard or horseradish sauce, and I'm back in my Gram's kitchen.  A nice dark German beer, watch the Red Sox game (something my grandfather was always doing) and it's a recipe for nostalgia. 

Back-to-back Tim Burton, and I start the "vampire trilogy" that will close out my Halloween chain, and I DON'T mean the Twilight franchise.   It's an easy leap from "Frankenweenie", because Christopher Lee made a cameo in both films (OK, one used old movie footage of him, but that counts)

THE PLOT: An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.

AFTER: I think this is another film that just set out to be a bit of fun, with no overarching message attached, or really much of a point at all.  The original "Dark Shadows" was a long-running soap opera that happened to have a vampire in it (speaking of "Twilight"...) but I never followed it.  I'm aware of it, sure, but that's about it.  My geek knowledge does not extend into all corners of sci-fi and fantasy fandom. 

There's something very soap opera-like about this film, for sure - the lead vampire has an witchy ex-lover who imprisoned him for 200 years, and when he gets out, she's still around and putting the screws to his descendants with a rival fishing business.  Barnabas returns and gets the business going again - hey, if Dracula can run a hotel I suppose another vampire can own a few fishing boats.

But I think they bend the rules quite a bit when a vampire is allowed to go outside during the day, with just an umbrella for protection.  OK, maybe it was a cloudy day, those Maine fishing villages probably have more than their share - but I seem to remember that the rules used to be that a vampire had to stay in his coffin all day long, and could only come out at night time.  Jeez, why do we have these rules if the vampires don't seem to follow them?

I almost said "today's vampires", but this film is set in 1972.  There are some fun bits as Barnabas hangs out with a colony of hippies (he probably got super wasted drinking their blood...) and coming to terms with equal rights (he's shocked to learn a woman can also be a doctor).  There's some great classic rock on the soundtrack, like the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" and Donovan's "Season of the Witch".  Good use of costuming too, since there's quite a similarity between some of the "mod" fashions of the early 1970's, and some of the more colonial clothing of the 1700's. 

After Barnabas meets a young governess who looks exactly like his lost true love from the 1700's, he sets out to restore his family's greatness and win her heart, assuming that's she's some kind of reincarnation or is otherwise possessed by the woman he once knew.  And he's determined that this time their relationship will have a better ending.  This is really the only real direction that the film has, everything else just sort of devolves into random fight scenes or sex scenes.

Also starring Johnny Depp (last seen in "21 Jump Street"), Michelle Pfeiffer (last seen in "The Fabulous Baker Boys"), Helena Bonham Carter (last seen in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"), Eva Green (last seen in "Casino Royale"), Jackie Earle Haley (last seen in "All the King's Men"), Jonny Lee Miller (last seen in "Hackers"), Bella Heathcote, Chloe Grace Moretz (last seen in "Kick-Ass"), Gulliver McGrath, with cameo from Alice Cooper.

RATING: 5 out of 10 secret passages

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Year 5, Day 300 - 10/27/13 - Movie #1,568

BEFORE:  I forgot to mention that Tom Kenny was also in the cast list for "Hotel Transylvania", listed as, umm, "other voices", and he carries over into tonight's film, where's he's listed among "angry townspeople".  OK, it's a bit of a cheat since he didn't play a named character either time, but even if you don't allow me that, then Kevin James links through the film "The Dilemma" to Winona Ryder. 

THE PLOT:  Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

AFTER: This is the sort of film that an animation buff would watch, and then immediately wonder which company did the stop-motion animation, since there are probably under a dozen companies on the scene who could do this.  Tim Burton has now directed or produced three animated spooky films, and used a different animation company each time - for "Corpse Bride" he used Laika, a company I've worked for, and this time it was MacKinnon & Saunders.  If their style looks familiar, they've done quite a few commercials for Puffs tissues - and their style sort of replicates the old Rankin-Bass style from the old holiday specials, like "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".  Here, of course, it's used for something more spooky than Christmas-y.

This is the story of Dr. Frankenstein (again, see, it's the SCIENTIST, not the monster) transposed to middle school, where he and his classmates have to compete with science projects.  At the same time, his father wants him to be more involved with sports, so an ill-fated attempt at playing baseball leads to tragic consequences for his pet dog, Sparky.  This has a better message than last night's film, because nearly everyone can sympathize with the loss of a pet.  However, Victor doesn't let go, he uses science to re-animate the corpse of the dog.  I suppose anyone who's lost a loved pet would want to do the same.

All this is fine, until his classmates learn of the feat, starting with Edgar "E" Gore, who looks just like the classic hunchbacked Igor, and they try to replicate his experiment, with more terrible results.  I'm guessing that since this is based on a short Tim Burton made long ago, this is the part of the story that was added on, because it sort of feels like this is where the story takes a right turn.

There are plenty of Easter eggs, visual and verbal shout-outs to classic horror films, like the hairdo from "Bride of Frankenstein", a teacher who resembles Vincent Price, and a giant Gamera-like turtle, named Shelley (as in Mary Shelley).  But the later events in the film also serve to counteract the original message, which should have been about learning to let go.  Victor does not let go, and the film ends up contradicting its own point.

Also starring the voices of Martin Short (last heard in "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil"), Catherine O'Hara (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Martin Landau (last seen in "The X-Files"), Charlie Tahan, Conchata Farrell, with a cameo from Christopher Lee (last seen in "Season of the Witch").

RATING: 6 out of 10 sea monkeys

Hotel Transylvania

Year 5, Day 299 - 10/26/13 - Movie #1,567

BEFORE:  I got a little sick yesterday after breakfast, probably one of those stomach bugs that's going around - I was just glad to know it wasn't the zombie virus.  Best thing I could do was to just not eat anything for 24 hours and clean out the whole system, which was easy to do since I didn't have an appetite anyway.  After doing that, I usually find that any food tastes amazing, no matter what it is. 

Linking from "Shaun of the Dead", Bill Nighy was also in "G-Force" with Steve Buscemi.

THE PLOT: Dracula, who operates a high-end resort away from the human world, goes into overprotective mode when a boy discovers the resort and falls for the count's teen-aged daughter.

AFTER:  This film was mostly fun, a bit too cutesy and completely not scary at all.  I don't know what it is about today's society where people feel that kids can't be "traumatized" by anything scary in a film.  Don't get me wrong, I was an impressionable kid and after seeing "Poltergeist" I had nightmares for a week - and after that I tended to avoid horror films, but that was my choice.  But to protect all children everywhere, they've now taken all the scariness out of vampires, werewolves, mummies, etc.  I suppose the process began with "Count Chocula" and "FrankenBerry" cereals, moved through "Young Frankenstein", and it's just kept rolling.  The scariest movie monsters of the 1930's, like Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster are now, quite literally, cartoonish.

(ASIDE: Yes, I said "Frankenstein's Monster", not "Frankenstein".  Because Frankenstein was the name of the SCIENTIST, not the monster.  The novel made a terrible mistake by not giving the monster a name, and people over time have confused the monster with the man.  But general laziness is not an excuse for continuing the mistake.  How many people worked on this film?  And not one of them could find the time to do a little research and find the correct name for the character?)

When I was a kid, there seemed to be a lot more fear in the Halloween, and not just because of erroneous reports of razor blades in apples and pins in Snickers bars.  For one day a year, we were allowed to believe that the veil between this world and the spirit world was thinner, and perhaps one could commune with spirits.  Fast forward to the present, and Dracula's throwing a birthday party for his daughter.  (OK, I suppose the process really began in the 1960's with the novelty hit "Monster Mash", which riffed off a similar theme.  It's hard to be scared of Dracula and the Wolfman when you think of them as part of a party jam band.)

But geez, what a way to cut all the scariness out of the "new" Dracula.  He a businessman running a hotel, he cares about his daughter, he even drinks a blood substitute - and he's afraid of humans?  What happened to Vlad the Impaler, feeding off of humans, and all that?  In fact all of the movie monsters are afraid of humans, including the Invisible Man, who technically is a human, and the werewolf, who used to be human - so you'd think they would at least know a little bit about human culture, right?

Well, the film doesn't really worry about any of the technicalities.  I admit there's some clever stuff in the hotel set-up, like having zombie bellhops and witches as maids (because they ride brooms, get it?) but nothing else really gets about grade-school humor level - which is their target audience, no doubt, but the best animated films also aim a little higher.  I suppose you can take some of this as a metaphor for parents letting go when their kids want to leave the nest, but this is an odd message in a film otherwise aimed at 8-year-olds.

Another odd message is implying that people will only fall in love once, and if they let that person get away, they'll never be truly happy.  What?  In a film that otherwise Hallmark-ifies classic monsters, why even suggest that people will be miserable when they grow up, and pining over lost loves?  That seems very out of place.

Dracula himself here fights against his own image - even within a cartoon that reduces him to a stereotype, his character complains that the world has reduced him to a stereotype.  The monsters come face to face with a group of fans, a MonsterCon of sorts, and this in itself is a little odd.  Do the monsters want to be loved, or feared?  There doesn't seem to be a clear answer, just contradictory logic.

Also starring the voices of Adam Sandler (last seen in "Reign Over Me"), Andy Samberg (last seen in "The Watch"), Kevin James (last seen in "Here Comes the Boom"), Fran Drescher (last seen in "Jack"), Selena Gomez, David Spade (last seen in "Reality Bites"), Molly Shannon (last seen in "Never Been Kissed"), Cee-Lo Green, Jon Lovitz (last seen in "3000 Miles to Graceland"), Chris Parnell, Rob Riggle. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 flying tables