Saturday, January 4, 2014


Year 6, Day 3 - 1/3/14 - Movie #1,602

BEFORE:  Still feeling the effects of the super-bug, but at least I've gone back to work, so I can pretend I'm getting over this thing.  The blizzard kept most people home, so Manhattan would be a winter wonderland if not for the sub-zero temperatures and the black ice.

Tough to link out of "Gay Purr-ee", but since it was a Warner Bros. cartoon, I'll exploit the Mel Blanc connection - noting that June Foray did a voice in tonight's film, and they co-starred in many "Looney Tunes" compilation movies.  I've determined I can link thematically or by actor, but I can no longer do both simultaneously.

THE PLOT:  To save her father from death in the army, a young maiden secretly goes in his place and becomes one of China's greatest heroines in the process.

AFTER: Of course, as part of the process I have to admit that I've never seen "Mulan", a movie most everyone seems familiar with.  I have to fall back on the fact that I was probably quite busy in - what year was this released - 1998?  Yeah, very busy.

Plus I was 35 - and I think most people go through a period of watching Disney films when they're kids, and then sort of re-discover them as adults, when they have kids of their own.  In my case, since Disney has assimilated franchises in Borg-like fashion, I find myself watching "Disney's Muppets", "Disney's Marvel's The Avengers" and "Disney's The Star Wars".

But anyway, "Mulan".  The story of a Chinese girl who dresses as a boy to fight the Huns in her father's place.  Which raises all kinds of questions about gender roles and gender identity, not just in ancient China, but by extension in today's world.  That makes this pretty progressive for a Disney film.  Cel animation just makes it easier for her to be drawn as a boy, but if she fools anyone, then you've got to put this one in the same category as "The Crying Game" and that Glenn Close film.

Perhaps I'm projecting my own experiences onto the movie, but the film makes it clear that Mulan can't seem to follow the tea-pouring and non-speaking rules that society demands of her - she can't cut it as a feminine woman, but by contrast when she dresses as a man she (eventually) succeeds at training camp.  She's also repulsed by the sight of warrior men bathing in the river, so to me, that adds up as Disney's first lesbian hero.  I know, they set her up with a man at the end, but to me that just seems like back-pedalling. 

If you believe in the butch/femme dichotomy, then logically there are girls who can cut their hair and pass as boys and there are those that can't.  And those that can are potentially more sexually ambiguous in nature as well as appearance.  The reverse is also possibly true - men who can dress in drag and pass are often (but not always) more towards the gay end of the scale.  (I'm not making any judgments here, just observations.) 

I know, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.  But we live in a world now where people can change their covers to match the book, either cosmetically or surgically.  So if a woman dresses like a man, or vice versa, we're all supposed to switch pronouns.  Mulan even wonders in song when her reflection will match what she feels inside - so that's telling.  And she (as Ping) ends up succeeding in a man's world better than she ever did in a woman's world.  Is that just society's rigidness and lack of understanding?

Also starring the voices of Ming-Na Wen (last seen in "Push"), Lea Salonga, BD Wong (last seen in "Father of the Bride Part II"), Donny Osmond, Eddie Murphy (last seen in "Tower Heist"), George Takei (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), Miguel Ferrer (last seen in "Iron Man 3"), Pat Morita (last seen in "The Next Karate Kid"), Harvey Fierstein (last seen in "Mrs. Doubtfire"), James Hong, Gedde Watanabe, Freda Foh Shen.

RATING: 5 out of 10 fireworks

Friday, January 3, 2014

Gay Purr-ee

Year 6, Day 2 - 1/2/14 - Movie #1,601

BEFORE: Well, damn, this is not the way the new year was supposed to start.  I've got this crazy notion that as my January 1 goes, so goes my year.  It's a silly superstition, I know.  Last year I kicked things off with "Les Miserables" and it sort of set the tone for a year of dark movies - or maybe I'd already watched most of the fun ones, who can say?  But my wife had been SO looking forward to seeing that film, making her wait until Jan. 1 was the hard part.  Since this year she'd been similarly looking forward to "Anchorman 2" (she's only watched the original, like, a million times...) I thought we'd try to replicate the feat of going out to the theater to start the year.

Then, once we got back from Christmas in Massachusetts, I got sick.  Head cold followed by stomach flu, or perhaps it's some new supervirus that's constantly mutating.  Then, SHE got sick.  And New Year's Day was on a Wednesday, we were exhausted and didn't have the strength to go out, and you get the idea.  So then I thought maybe I'd hold off starting Movie Year 6 until Saturday, we can go out to the movies then - and... cue the blizzard which is about to have the whole tri-state area in its icy grip.  Now I don't know WHEN we'll be able to dig out and go to the theater.  Clearly, a new plan is required before I start falling behind in the count again.

So, cue up the animation and kiddie films.  This one seems to be the hardest to link to, so that's my starting point.  In case you're just joining me, I've also got this silly superstition that films need to be linked by shared actors whenever possible, if no shared actors then I have to name a separate film that connects an actor from one film to an actor in the following film.  OK, it's really not a superstition, it's more of an OCD thing. (The exception - no need to link between the last film of 2013 and the first film of 2014.  A new chain begins tonight.)  I'll start here and see where the linking takes me.

The good news is, there are so many cameos in the "Anchorman" sequel (yes, I peeked) that no matter when we see it, I can link to it from just about any other movie.  So maybe in 2 weeks when the car is unfettered by snow, we can venture out again.  And if I'm housebound for another long weekend, even better, I can watch more movies.

Celebrating symmetry in all of its forms, I realize that last year I began with a film set in France, and I'm doing that again.  Switching to this film also gives me a chance to mention my annual Jan. 1 dedication - we lost our cat Gypsy this year.  (OK, we didn't lose her, she died...we know where she is.)  I didn't get much into the details 6 months ago, but perhaps I will tonight.

THE PLOT:  Mouser Jaune-Tom and housecat Mewsette are living in the French country side, but Mewsette wants to experience the refinement and excitement of the Paris living.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Aristocats" (Movie #1,001)

AFTER: I honestly never even knew this film existed, until TCM ran it a few months back.  Which is odd because I work in the animation industry, and I feel pretty knowledgeable about animated features in general (plus my Mom took me to nearly every Disney film released or re-released during my childhood).  But, this is NOT a Disney film, it's a Warner Bros. film, so the fact that it's not very well-known just demonstrates the type of stranglehold that Disney had on the marketplace in the 1960's.

But let's put all that aside for a second - is the film any good?  The story is really quite basic - a female cat heads for Paris, and a male cat follows.  They both get into some trouble in the big city before they're reunited.  Honestly, this could have been a killer short film, but when you throw in a fair number of rather simplistic songs ("Roses Are Red"? You don't say...), some chase scenes and a few other delaying tactics, you've got yourself a feature.  A lot of the humor also depends on whether you find puns like "Meow-lin Rouge" acceptable.

I thought there was one stand-out song, performed by Thurl Ravenscroft (most known for being the voice of Tony the Tiger, and singing "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in the old TV Christmas special).  But they didn't really know what to do with the evil characters while this song is sung, so they just sort of dance around or walk along the rooftops, so whatever plot there is seems to come to a dead stop during all the musical numbers.

Midway through, there's a listing of French artists and all their different styles - I'm in favor of this on principle, even though it's sort of an over-simplification of the ways that Monet, Van Gogh and Seurat painted.  Monet - "air and space"?  Really?  Was that was he was going for?  And did you know Van Gogh sometimes used paints straight out of the tube?  WOW!  And let's keep an eye on that young upstart, Pablo Picasso - that kid's really going places.  Unfortunately, all of this seemed very disconnected from the main storyline.  Why would cats even be concerned with the great French artists, or art at all for that matter?  It just seemed like more filler.

But the film looks great - the French countryside is often portrayed using designs similar to Monet's work, so that really makes it look like something out of an art museum.  By contrast, the animation of the cats was comparable to the Tom & Jerry cartoons from the same era.  You know, the ones where you don't see any human faces, but you see a lot of people's hands and feet?  But before the Tom & Jerry cartoons got all weird in the 1970's, where the animation was really loose and the sound was all muted, like everyone was underwater.

There's not much of an ending - the film just sort of stops when the main characters reunite.  I guess there was nothing more to say, or the project ran out of money.  Or maybe I just fell asleep, I'm not sure.  If I have time tonight I'll re-watch the last 15 minutes to be sure I didn't miss anything.

Oh, right, Gypsy.  Part Maine Coon cat, the long-haired freak who liked to stick her head under the faucet and also lick the shower.  She was found on the streets of Brooklyn, pregnant and covered in paint, but she cleaned up real good and ended up practically running our house.  We somehow integrated her with my older cat Merlin, but after that she wouldn't let any other cats in the house, or any other humans without her approval, basically.  And she would never let anyone rub her belly, except for me, late at night in those last few months.  I think she liked it, but she found that out way too late.  A very photogenic cat, she liked eating grass the few times I let her into the backyard, but I had to keep her on a leash, because if she saw another cat or a squirrel or something, she'd tear off after it.  And if she saw a bug or mouse inside the house, she stayed focused on it until it was caught or dead.  That was a great cat.

Starring the voices of Judy Garland (last seen in "Meet Me In St. Louis"), Robert Goulet, Red Buttons (last seen in "The Poseidon Adventure"), Paul Frees, Hermione Gingold (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Mel Blanc, Morey Amsterdam.

RATING: 4 out of 10 champignons

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

year 5 wrap-up / year 6 preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 3 out of 10 pedicabs

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Love Actually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RATING: 5 out of 10 office parties