Saturday, September 20, 2014


Year 6, Day 263 - 9/20/14 - Movie #1,854

BEFORE: Wrapping up another animation block tonight - I could keep going, but the decisions have already been made about which films will fill the last movie slots of Year 6 and which have to be postponed until Year 7 - which was tough, because the list is always changing, so I never know if I'm leaving myself with a workable chain for 2015 or not.  Linking from "Frozen", Ciaran Hinds was also in "In Bruges" with Colin Farrell. 

THE PLOT:  A teenager finds herself transported to a deep forest setting where a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil is taking place. She bands together with a rag-tag group of characters in order to save their world.

AFTER: This film makes "Frozen" look like a marvel of simplicity - where "Frozen" had four main characters and two sidekicks, this one has at least 5 main characters, 1 villain, and four talking animal sidekicks.  Over-complicated by half, it turns out the forest has all these arcane rules for succession to the queen, and that involves picking the right leaf pod, keeping it moist, and allowing it to bloom under a full moon so that it can pick the next queen, or something like that, and if these rules aren't followed to the letter, the whole forest will DIE.  Or turn to rot, which is apparently even worse.  

Plus there are Boggans, which are grey villain creatures that look like sharks made out of bark (bark sharks?) and their leader uses evil rot magic, and there are hummingbird races and tiny leafman archers and libraries inside of trees.  Who knew all this stuff was going on in a forest, but at such a tiny scale you can't even see it?

Admittedly the scale thing is a little bit weird.  If you think about things like mice and rats, you can identify them by shape no matter how big they are - you can tell from looking at a tiny mouse that it's a mouse.  But somehow when people are tiny mouse-sized, a regular-sized person can't tell they're tiny people, which doesn't really follow.  Plus there's some kind of time-shift, so time passes differently for a tiny person, their actions are all sped up like hummingbirds, and big humans appear to move and talk very slowly.

But if that's the case, then weeks of time would pass for the little people in just one human day, and if our heroine spent two human days (let's assume) in the tiny world, that should feel like months to her, no?  Then their whole scale of time would be off, one human night would be like a period of great darkness to them, like winter in the Arctic Circle, and that's not what goes on, so something's not adding up.  Or am I overthinking it? 

Also starring the voices of Amanda Seyfried (last seen in "Mean Girls"), Josh Hutcherson (last seen in "Zathura: A Space Adventure"), Christoph Waltz (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Beyoncé Knowles, Aziz Ansari (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), Chris O'Dowd (last seen in "This Is 40"), Steven Tyler, Jason Sudeikis (last seen in "We're the Millers"), Pitbull, with cameos from Thomas F. Wilson, Judah Friedlander (last seen in "Along Came Polly"), Blake Anderson, Troy Evans.

RATING: 4 out of 10 acorns

Friday, September 19, 2014


Year 6, Day 262 - 9/19/14 - Movie #1,853

BEFORE: There are still a couple days left in summer, and I'm just starting to grow in my fall facial hair, but a film about winter has bobbed up to the top of the list.  (Or is it set during a summer that turns into winter?  I'm not sure.)  But it got here thematically and through the actor linkings - Toby Jones links to Ciaran Hinds through a film called "The Rite", and Daniel Craig links to the same actor through "Munich".  So that's my justification.

THE PLOT:  When a princess with the power to turn things into ice curses her home in infinite winter, her sister, Anna teams up with a mountain man, his playful reindeer, and a snowman to change the weather condition.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Tangled" (Movie #1,034)

AFTER: The reason I'm referencing "Tangled", and not some other Disney/Pixar film I've seen, like "Brave", is because I've noticed the similarities in the way that they tried to update a famous tale, in this case "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen.  Plus there's a connection in the way that Elsa was isolated from society because of her unusual ability, much in the same way Rapunzel was kept in her high tower.  

Plus there are the prominent horse (and reindeer) characters in both films, and the close connections they seem to have with their male riders.  (No joke, keepin' it clean.  This is a kids' film.)  

So far, the only connection I've had to this film has been buying the Funco giant-headed collectible figures for my niece and nephew - I was able to nab an almost-complete set while at San Diego Comic-Con, a full two weeks before they were available in stores.  Yep, I was going for the "Best Uncle Ever" award.  I've also bought the convention-exclusive versions, and I'm storing those in an archive for the kids when they turn 18. At that point, hopefully the toys will have increased in value enough to help out their college funds.  Oh, and the other connection was that, like you, I had to endure repeating airings of that "Let It Go" song last year, which was just about everywhere.  There was no way to avoid it. 

So finally it comes up on my viewing list, and I didn't mind it as much as I thought I would.  There were some clever bits, particularly when it seemed like it was going to fall back into standard fairy-tale clichĂ©s, and then decided to go in a different direction.  I appreciate that, and I'm betting that all parents who have to show their kids "Cinderella" and "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty" appreciated it as well.  

For me, it comes down to Elsa vs. Anna.  As sisters, they represent two sides of the same coin - the older and the younger.  The pessimist and the optimist.  The powered and the normal.  And just when I thought the film was sending out a strange message by telling girls who feel moody, isolated and disconnected (you know, during those difficult years, between 12 and, let's say, 65) that it's OK to shut everyone out and make the world go away, ignoring one's responsibilities, the film correctly points out that it's just not a workable solution.  

By the same token, the message that optimists also struggle and are more likely to get their hearts broken seemed like an odd one as well, but maybe it's a good idea that young people learn to lead with their heads as well as their hearts.  The era of "free love" is over - think carefully before you commit.  Over-protective parents probably wouldn't mind showing this film to their teen girls who think they know what love is, but really haven't got a clue.  

Like most Disney films, this one suffers from the disease of "One-too-many-sidekicks-itis".  I would have gone with the reindeer OR the snowman, not necessarily both.  But this is a long-standing illness that goes back to "Pocahontas", "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast", so it's not going away any time soon.  Gots to sell those Happy Meal toys, after all, and watch that bottom line.  

For me this puts a spin on Disney's acquisition of Marvel Comics - Elsa's powers seem modeled after Iceman from the X-Men in much the same way that "The Incredibles" were a mixed-up version of the family that is the Fantastic Four.  But if Disney OWNS Marvel, then Marvel can't really sue them, now can they?  There would be no point. 

I didn't find any of the characters here to be particularly annoying, which puts it one step ahead of "Brave", where I couldn't handle Merida's toggling between precocious and pissed off.  There are major communication issues when characters just refuse to listen to each other, but people do that in real life also, so you have to account for it.  The only thing that really bothered me was the shapes of the characters' faces - those ski-slope noses on Elsa and Anna made them look really weird in profile.  Noses are a big part of people's faces, and to design characters in a different fashion is just going to contribute to image-conscious spoiled teens demanding rhinoplasty. 

Also starring the voices of Kristen Bell (last seen in "Get Him to the Greek"), Idina Menzel (last seen in "Enchanted"), Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk (last seen in "Hearts in Atlantis"), Edie McClurg (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph") and Mauriche LaMarche.

RATING: 6 out of 10 carrots

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Adventures of Tintin

Year 6, Day 261 - 9/18/14 - Movie #1,852

BEFORE: Well, what a difference a day makes.  Yesterday I was all stressed out over the job thing, and I still am, but last night I went out with a friend to a 5-course beer dinner, and after the second course the restaurant's kitchen caught on fire.  It seemed at first like a small, easy-to-control grease fire, but it spread to the ceiling or perhaps up the ductwork, to the point where the pub needed to be evacuated.  The fire department showed up right away, and we went across the street to watch black smoke pouring from the roof of the building.  After a while we moved on to a delicatessen to get some pastrami sandwiches and enjoy the fact that we made it out alive. Something like this can really change your outlook on things.  I'm not saying I cheated death, but it's a stroke of good luck that no one was injured, including me.

Linking from "Planes", John Cleese was also in "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" with Toby Jones (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier")

THE PLOT: Intrepid reporter Tintin and Captain Haddock set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock's ancestor.

AFTER: Well, there's a lot to like here if you're a fan of action films, especially non-stop ones like the Indiana Jones films.  Spielberg's influence as a director is evident, because there's that mix of history and fantasy along with the treasure-hunting.  However, even though this is CGI and most action films are live-action, you still might pick up on the vibe that you've seen some elements of this story before.

There's desert stuff, pirate stuff, detective stuff - like if you threw "Sahara", "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "National Treasure" into a blender with the Indiana Jones series, then strained all that through a Belgian comic book.  I don't know much about the Tintin comic series, perhaps that would have helped.

A lot of the animation (and therefore the action) is quite impressive - however, when you factor in that with CGI you can just about make anything happen, that makes me wonder if these feats of movie magic should be regarded as slightly less impressive.  The world of movie magic that used to belong to stunt-men and explosives experts now belongs to a bunch of computer nerds.  Plus, there are some action sequences that made me think, "If you can use CGI to create anything, why the heck would you create THAT?"

I also found much of the action to be repetitive - there are numerous times when people are hit on the head with bottles, for example.  For that matter there's a lot of drinking seen in what should be a film for children, I wonder if there wasn't a better way to portray Haddock than as a constant drinker.  And then when he finally sobers up, the plot demands that he start drinking again, because that's the only way he can remember details about his family history.  That's a questionable message.

I'm also questioning the ending, which felt sort of like a cop-out, and not in step with what we'd been led to believe throughout the film.  There's a difference between supplying a surprising answer to a riddle and just completely disregarding a whole film's set-up.

Also starring the voices of Jamie Bell (last seen in "The Eagle"), Andy Serkis (last heard in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"), Daniel Craig (last seen in "Sylvia"), Simon Pegg (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), Nick Frost (ditto), Cary Elwes (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock").

RATING: 5 out of 10 lifeboats

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Year 6, Day 260 - 9/17/14 - Movie #1,851

BEFORE: I'm stressed out because it's the last week for one of my jobs, so I'll be down to one paycheck for at least a while.  You'd think this would make me less stressed because I'll have more free time and vast new opportunities could be opening up for me, but the feeling is exactly the opposite.  I'm stress-eating and not sleeping well - my sleeping pattern was already pretty bad, now it's just abysmal.  I don't know if this will affect my mood when it comes to reviewing films, but that's certainly possible.

Linking from "Flight" (see what I did there?) John Goodman was also heard in "Monsters University", along with John Ratzenberger, who also does a voice here, as he does for all of the Pixar films.

THE PLOT:  A cropdusting plane with a fear of heights lives his dream of competing in a famous around-the-world aerial race.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Cars 2" (Movie #1,067)

AFTER: Well, it's certainly cut from the same cloth as the "Cars" films, in addition to inhabiting the same world of anthropomorphized vehicles, it feels like the same basic plot - folksy regular vehicle competing in an international series of races.  That makes the series feel very one-note, it's like they couldn't think of anything else to make planes do, except race.  Planes transport people, but there are no people in this world (so who invented cars and planes, then?) so the screenwriters here probably had very limited options.  Maybe in the "Fire & Rescue" sequel they finally thought up some new material.

So...a plane is afraid of heights?  That seems like an odd choice.  Especially when NOT flying high during the races ends up causing more problems than it solves - ice on the wings, danger of crashing into mountains or the ground, etc.  But just fundamentally, depicting a plane who's afraid of heights seems like a mistake to begin with - why not a story about a squirrel with a nut allergy, or a dog who forgot how to bark.  He's a PLANE, flying should be inherent to the foundation of his character, and being afraid of flying high seems both incorrect and tacked-on, like a manufactured road-block.

Beyond that, I don't know if this film sends the right message to kids, either.  It's bad enough we live in the world of "everybody gets a trophy" and non-losers, what does that say about the generation that's currently learning about the way life works? We want to tell kids that they can be anything they want to be, if they just follow their dreams and WANT it hard enough, but that can't possibly be true for everyone, right?  Should we tell the non-athletic kids that they can play in the Olympics, or would it be better to switch to a more believable lesson plan, like "know your limitations"?

When I was in fourth grade, my moronic gym teachers set up an intra-school track event, and since I didn't show much proficiency in the long jump, high jump, or 100-meter dash, I was slotted into the 800-meter race by default.  Never mind the fact that I had never run for 800 yards before in my life.  Not even if you added up all the running I'd done up to that point, cumulatively.  But then race day came and I only made it about halfway around the track before I had to walk - and it was a long, embarrassing walk back to the stands.  I think they even had to start another race while I was still making my way back at a snail's pace.

My point is, if the gym teacher had any sense he would have taken one look at me and said, "Hey, maybe running's not your strong suit.  But you've got some bulk on you, can you throw a shot put?"  Somehow I think shot put wasn't a valid choice at the time - but I knew my limitations, even if the P.E. teacher didn't, and I could have saved some face if I'd only spoken up.

So that leads me back to a cropdusting plane who thinks he can compete with much faster, much more aerodynamic planes.  The script accomplishes this by him first shedding all unnecessary crop-spraying equipment, then getting many of his structural elements and design features upgraded - which means that he's NOT the same plane that he was when he started.  This also sends a weird message out to the kids - "Not right for the job you want?  Just get plastic surgery, or some other body modifications!"

Yes, it's worth noting that our plucky plane hero succeeds because of his good deeds, and his ability to make friends and do favors for them.  This is a slightly better message - but the flip-side of that is, he never would have been able to win on his own, without help or calling in these favors, so then what did he really accomplish?  It seems like getting outside help from naval planes to win the race should constitute cheating, as a form of outside interference.  It certainly doesn't happen just through hard work and practice, coupled with the desire to succeed.

Questionable messages all around, therefore.

Also starring the voices of Dane Cook (last seen in "Dan in Real Life"), Stacy Keach (last seen in "American History X"), Brad Garrett (last seen in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"), Teri Hatcher (last seen in "Tomorrow Never Dies"), Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese (last seen in "The Out of Towners"), Cedric the Entertainer (last seen in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), Carlos Alazraqui, and cameos from Anthony Edwards (last seen in "Zodiac"), Val Kilmer (last seen in "Pollock"), Sinbad, Gabriel Iglesias, Brent Musburger.

RATING: 3 out of 10 forklifts

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Year 6, Day 259 - 9/16/14 - Movie #1,850

BEFORE: Linking from "2 Guns", Denzel Washington carries over, and I've got 50 films to go in 2014.

THE PLOT:  An airline pilot saves almost all his passengers on his malfunctioning airliner which eventually crashed, but an investigation into the accident reveals something troubling.

AFTER: I'm not really spoiling anything by pointing out there's a plane crash in this film, because the film is really about what happened before and after the crash.  Afterwards there are toxicology reports, investigations, legal strategies, accusations and eventually revelations.  

For a while there in the news you'd often see stories about airline pilots spotted drinking in airport lounges before their flights - but not lately.  I wonder if this film set a few people straight, or if pilots just got better at hiding their substance abuse.  

This is a great example of a message film, but before it gets to a positive message, it sends out a number of confusing ones.  For example, the main character drinks to excess before and during his flight, but then performs a move that saves many lives.  Are we to assume that he might not have performed this maneuver if he were sober?  The NTSB later puts 10 (presumably sober) pilots into simulators programmed with the same parameters, and they all crash.  So, is a drunk pilot a good thing or a bad thing?  How can it be a good thing in one specific situation, but bad overall?

The airline and its legal representative are then put into a situation where it benefits them to kill the tox report, or have it ruled inadmissible.  So, telling the truth is a good thing, unless it's to your company's benefit to lie?  Another odd message.  Same goes for the pilot, who's coached to say "I can't recall" whenever the topic of his drinking comes up during the inquiry.

Then we've got the actions of the main character - when he goes to hide out from the press at his father's farm, the first thing he does is dump out all the alcohol in the house.  So, it seems like he's got a handle on his drinking, removing all temptation to drink is the smart move, but then he puts himself into situations where he does drink.  I guess this felt like a disjointed contradiction at first, but upon furthere reflection, this is an accurate depiction of what alcoholics must go through - they can take actions to get through today without a drink, but then tomorrow is another battle.

The problem with A.A. and other treatment programs for many people is the submission to a "higher power".  And it's not just about admitting that they are powerless to control their addiction, it's about putting their lives in the hands of God, or karma, or fate.  And the two issues with this are - 1) it doesn't encourage people to find the power within themselves  and 2) what if someone doesn't believe in God?  I think there's a work-around where you can declare your "higher power" is a tree or something, which fulfills the A.A. requirement, but then you have to do whatever the tree tells you.

They say an addict has to reach rock bottom before he can get better, and in a way that fits with the "always darkest before the dawn" scenarios that a lot of films show before their resolutions.  But there's really only one way to resolve this film, so why does it take so long to get there? 

Also starring Bruce Greenwood (last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Don Cheadle (last seen in "Reign Over Me"), John Goodman (last seen in "The Hangover Part III"), Kelly Reilly, Tamara Tunie (last seen in "Snake Eyes"), Nadine Velazquez, Brian Geraghty, Melissa Leo (last seen in "Oblivion"), Peter Gerety (last seen in "Hollywood Ending").

RATING: 5 out of 10 minibar bottles

Monday, September 15, 2014

2 Guns

Year 6, Day 258 - 9/15/14 - Movie #1,849

BEFORE: Linking from "The Machinist", Christian Bale was also in "The Fighter" with Mark Wahlberg (last seen in "Ted"). 

THE PLOT:  A DEA agent and a naval intelligence officer find themselves on the run after a botched attempt to infiltrate a drug cartel. While fleeing, they learn the secret of their shaky alliance: Neither knew that the other was an undercover agent.

AFTER: This is my third trip across the Mexico border in the last week, and as a plot point, that's wearing a little thin.  Also wearing thin is starting a film with the "splash scene" and then rewinding to show how we got there.  This film does that without any titles like "one week ago" to let you know we've gone back in time, so some people might easily think that the main characters robbed the same bank twice.  

The story is really sketchy, I think the plan was just to cast some charismatic actors in the lead roles, and hope that people would like their characters by extension, without pausing to think about the wrongness of their actions.  Either that, or they just wanted to rip off "The Departed", which also had two undercover operatives who were unaware of each other's status.  

Technically this is another "heist" film, but an attempt to steal money from a drug cartel's bank results in more money than expected, and then every party wants to get its hands on the larger sum.  The problem, as I see it, is that THREE of the four parties involved work for the U.S. government.  And of those three parties, two of those (the U.S. Navy and the D.E.A.) shouldn't be using stolen money to supplement their budgets.  The third is the C.I.A., and who knows what's going on over there.  

It's clear that some screenwriter didn't think too long about this, so maybe I shouldn't either.  But I'd like to think that there's some procedure where different divisions of the U.S. government could talk to each other, instead of shooting first and asking questions later.  Also I kind of doubt that the U.S. Navy, an honorable organization from everything I've seen, wouldn't be interested in stolen money from drug cartels.  But what do I know?

Also starring Denzel Washington (last seen in "Ricochet"), Bill Paxton (last seen in "U-571"), Paula Patton (last seen in "Hitch"), Edward James Olmos (last seen in "The Green Hornet"), James Marsden (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), Robert John Burke (last seen in "Tombstone"), with a cameo from Fred Ward.

RATING: 4 out of 10 safe deposit boxes

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Machinist

Year 6, Day 257 - 9/14/14 - Movie #1,848

BEFORE: I was late posting yesterday because I went to a beer festival, Beer4Beasts, which raises money for animal charities.  I love drinking even better when it's for a good cause.  The food at the event was all vegetarian, because serving meat would seem a little out of step with the cause - but it all tasted so good I hardly noticed that I went for a whole day without eating meat.  Not that I do this a lot, but once in a while it can't hurt. 

Christian Bale carries over from "American Hustle", going from a role where he had to gain a lot of weight to a role where he had to lose a lot of weight.  

THE PLOT:  An industrial worker who hasn't slept in a year begins to doubt his own sanity.

AFTER: This is one of those slow-build films, like "Requiem for a Dream", where things start to get weird and then progressively worse and worse, or at least that's the feeling.  Same cardinal sin as last night, the film starts off with a "shocking" scene and then jumps back to the past to build back up to it.  

There are two hard-to-believe premises here, the first is that someone could go for a year without sleeping.  I could maybe go a day-and-a-half, when I travel to San Diego I usually don't sleep between a Tuesday morning and a Wednesday night, but I try to doze on the plane, and grab a two-hour nap when I reach my hotel.  I have to believe that if I tried to go a week without sleep, at some point my body would just pass out and shut down.  

This is especially hard to swallow when you realize the main character here works in a factory, so there's some labor involved in his routine, plus he's seen drinking coffee, so at some point either his work would exhaust him, or that caffeine train is going to run out of steam.  What's amazing is that it's a full year before his work is affected in any way. 

But let's assume for a second that it's possible, a year without sleep.  What's causing this?  Why does he suddenly feel that his sanity is going, that he's starting to see people who aren't there, or getting messages from himself that he doesn't remember writing?  Eventually we come to realize that either someone is messing with him, or he's got a guilty conscience. 

Which brings me to the second hard-to-believe premise, that someone can do something bad and then forget about it, or make themselves forget about it.  Let's say he stole something from a store - he might think that was no big deal, but he wouldn't necessarily un-remember it.  Look at "Les Miserables" - Jean Valjean is never able to forget his crime, and not just because Javert's always in his face about it, but he won't let himself forget about it, long past the point of reason.  

But I suppose if a person does something really terrible they might try to deny it, in which case it would be the job of their subconscious to remind them of it.  Even still, I don't know if those reminders would take the form of hallucinations, or manifest themselves in the form of non-existent people, or cause a lack of sleep and appetite to this degree.  Assuming that's what is really taking place here, which quite honestly is all still a bit unclear. 

Also starring Jennifer Jason Leigh (last seen in "Miami Blues"), Altana Sanchez-Gijon, Michael Ironside, John Sharian, Anna Massey, Reg E. Cathey.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Post-It notes