Wednesday, December 30, 2015

year 7 wrap-up / year 8 preview

Year 7, Day 364 - 12/30/15

This week is a pretty dead week for television and movies, but you just know that reporters are going to be having a field day composing their "In and Out" lists, or coming up with snappy commentary like, "This is the year that hoverboards exploded on to the scene, and then exploded for real!"  But I feel like I did a lot of commenting on social issues in the last few posts of 2015, so I'm going to leave most of the analysis to the professionals.

Still, it's time for the annual wrap-up of what I watched this year, and what I learned as well.

1) 2015 began with "Into the Woods", and finished off with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" - really, no better way to book-end things.  I started with the film my wife was most looking forward to, and ended with the one I was most looking forward to.  I'm sorry it wasn't a continuous actor-linked chain that lasted all year, it was more like two or three chains, but that's the nature of my blog these days.  I'm just happy that I was able to link as much as I did, and it's kind of astounding that I got to end the year the way I wanted.  I had a bit of a scare there, when Max Von Sydow didn't show up in the IMDB credits for "Star Wars" for a while, and that made me tear apart the last two months of my chain and rebuild it, but it all worked out for the best.

A lot of "Star Wars" actors had a good year, with Oscar Isaac showing up in "The Bourne Legacy" and "Inside Llewyn Davis", and Adam Driver turning up in that last film too, plus "This Is Where I Leave You".  Simon Pegg also popped up in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol", Domnhall Gleeson was also in "Dredd" and Lupita N'Yongo appeared in "12 Years a Slave".  Anthony Daniels crossed over into "The Lego Movie" and a few "Star Wars" actors were even luckier, showing up four or more times this year (I'll deal with them below).

2) Documentaries - I'd watched a few documentaries over the course of the previous 6 years, but I'd never put so many in a row before.  This was a nice fix when my actor linking ran out, but also, I think I'm proud of covering some classy non-fiction material.  I studied the art world (with "Tim's Vermeer", "My Kid Could Paint That" and "Banksy Does New York"), the natural world (with "Microcosmos", "Bears", and "Grizzly Man") the sports world ("The Armstrong Lie" and "Bobby Fischer Against the World") and the world of technology ("Atari: Game Over" and "Citizenfour").  I feel like I learned a lot, like what Edward Snowden was all about, who this Banksy character is, what happened to the E.T. videogame, and why living among bears is not really a good idea.  Definitely some lessons there.

3) Tied in with these documentaries were films that covered the art world further - I sort of started this in years past with biopics about artists, like "Pollock" and "The Agony and the Ecstasy", and this continued in 2015 with films about artists, like "Lust for Life", "Banksy Does New York" and "Tim's Vermeer" and also films about art theft, like "The Monuments Men" and "Trance".

4) Last year there were also fictional writer-based films like "Midnight in Paris", "Sylvia" and "Shadowlands", this year I followed up with "Henry & June", and where last year was all about Woody Allen, this year I found time for an extended tribute to the works of Neil Simon - "Plaza Suite", "The Odd Couple II", "The Goodbye Girl", "The Out-of Towners", "Barefoot in the Park", "The Heartbreak Kid", "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" and "The Cheap Detective".  I got really good at spotting not only Simon's style, but also at determining just by the staging whether a film had probably originated as a stage play.

5) Musicians - real or fictional - had their day too, in films like "Inside Llewyn Davis", "Not Fade Away", and "Masked and Anonymous".  And for films about actors and wanna-be actors, there was "The Artist", "Stuck on You" and "Where the Truth Lies".

6) I'm proud of February - I had a solid, solid chain of romances where the linking all held up - 28 (OK, 29) films in a row where each one shared an actor with the film before it and after it.  Now, some of these had been on the list for a while ("Random Hearts", "My Big Fat Greek Wedding") some were new arrivals ("Young Adult", "Enough Said", "The Big Wedding") and some I dropped in as last-minute filler ("Two Weeks Notice", "The Wedding Date", "Miami Rhapsody") but in the end, it all came together.  A couple of stray romances popped up later in the year, like "Down With Love" and "Irma La Douce", because that's where the linking said they belonged.

In terms of romantic plots, this was the year that I watched "Hope Springs" and "Hope Floats", so I'm left wondering, which is correct?  I also watched "Something to Talk About" and "Enough Said", so there's a value in both talking and not talking, I guess.  Plus I covered friends in love with "Circle of Friends", "Your Friends & Neighbors", "Friends With Kids" and "My Best Friend's Wedding" - and speaking of weddings, I also watched "The Big Wedding", "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "The Wedding Date".  Plus, I took "A Walk in the Clouds" and also had my "Head in the Clouds". Finally I gave romance some time with "Six Days, Seven Nights" and also "Two Weeks Notice". 

7) Superheroes - this has been a huge category in the last few years, but this year I passed on both "Ant-Man" and "Fantastic Four", and only watched two films that came from comic books - "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Guardians of the Galaxy".  I scored both pretty high, and I have a feeling I might not have been able to say the same about "Fantastic Four", but I'll catch up with it eventually.  Does "Birdman" count as a superhero film?  Not really, I think.  I think both "Judge Dredd" movies counted as superhero films, though - or at least comic-book films.

8) Fantasy and Sci-Fi - another recurring topic for me.  This year on the sci-fi front, in addition to new "Star Wars", I watched "Interstellar", "Her", "Riddick", "Dredd", "Starman", "Aeon Flux", "The Astronaut's Wife" and "Transcendence".  Oh, wait, don't forget "Jurassic World".  And for fantasy films there were the final two "Hobbit" films to watch, plus "Winter's Tale", "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters", "Noah" (trust me, it counts), "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters", "Practical Magic" and both "Wings of Desire" and the U.S. remake, "City of Angels".

Time travel took a bit of a back seat, appearing only in "Safety Not Guaranteed", "Lost Christmas" and (sort of) "The Kid" and "A Muppet Christmas Carol".  But I have a feeling this topic will come back strong next year.

9) Animation - I didn't have time for a lot of animation, but the animated films I watched were some significant ones - "The Lego Movie" was the biggest of the bunch, but I also finally got around to "The Little Mermaid", after avoiding it for a long time.  "The Swan Princess" and "The Pebble and the Penguin" were under-performers, but there was also "A Liar's Autobiography" to cover some more adult animated themes.  Then "Planes: Fire & Rescue", "Rio 2", "The Book of Life" and "Eight Crazy Nights" came along late in the year.

10) There were spies and other agents galore - "RED 2", "Never Say Never Again", "Taken 2", "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol", "The Bourne Legacy", "Alex Cross", "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and "Tequila Sunrise".

11) There were all sorts of criminals, like killers - "Primal Fear", "16 Blocks", "Hostage", "The Chase", "Prisoners", "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot", "Eyewitness", "Copycat", "In the Cut", "Stakeout", "Monster", "Deathtrap", "Murder at 1600" and "Unforgettable".  And then sometimes there were just thieves or petty criminals, like in "25th Hour", "Entrapment", "Flawless" "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "We're No Angels"

12) Then there were the political films - "The Queen", "The Iron Lady", "The Butler", "Syriana", "The Last King of Scotland", "Gandhi", "The Interview", "The Fifth Estate" and films about terrorism ("Non-Stop", "Arlington Road", "White House Down", "The Conspirator", "The Interpreter" and "The Peacemaker") and war ("The Imitation Game", "The Monuments Men", "Fat Man and Little Boy", "Jarhead").

13) Boxing Films - and other random sports. I honestly thought I was done with boxing a couple of years ago, but I was wrong.  I found another 7 films to watch in 2015, well, boxing and wrestling, including "Undisputed", "Play It to the Bone", "Against the Ropes", "Grudge Match", "The Great White Hype", "Ready to Rumble" and "Somebody Up There Likes Me".  By contrast, the only other sports movies I watched this year were the two docs about bike racing and chess, plus one football film ("The Best of Times") and two baseball ones ("Cobb", "42").  Wait, I guess I could count motorcycle racing ("Little Fauss and Big Halsy") and also skiing ("Downhill Racer"), those are sports, too, right?

14) The usual back-to-school chain got shorted a little this year.  Though, college was represented in "Neighbors" and "22 Jump Street", and the troubles of high-school kids were seen in "The To Do List", "The Way Way Back", "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "Not Fade Away", and then some younger kids were seen in the spelling bee in "Bad Words". And "Flatliners" showed people in medical school, no?

15) Halloween came rolling around, and I had a special focus this year - once I got past films like "Flatliners", "Dragonfly" and "White Noise", which were all about contacting the afterlife.  But soon I was on to zombies, gremlins and vampires, in "Zombieland", "Gremlins" and "Let the Right One In".  Then there were the other sorts of creatures, the more invasive ones like aliens and demons, seen in "The Exorcist", "The Thing" (both versions), "Body Snatchers" and "Dreamcatcher".  Earlier in the year I also watched "The Astronaut's Wife", and that also fit right in - beware of things taking over your body, they'll walk and talk like you, but they're not you!

16) Christmas, and Hanukkah too - I hadn't done a winter holiday chain in a while, I'd usually been breaking for the year in November, but this year a few of them had built up, so I dealt with them - from "Eight Crazy Nights" to "The Family Stone", "Lost Christmas" and "The Muppet Christmas Carol".

17) Geez, I almost forgot about hotels, and other various forms of real estate.  I kept noticing this year how many films were set in hotels, like "Four Rooms", "Six Days Seven Nights" and "Love in the Afternoon" and of course, "The Grand Budapest Hotel".  Then later in the year I watched "The Heartbreak Kid", "The Out-of-Towners" and "Plaza Suite", Neil Simon was really big on hotels because they make great places to set plays, all you need is one set.  Tangential to that was the number of notable films (also formerly plays, mostly) that were set in apartments, like "Barefoot in the Park", "The Prisoner of Second Avenue", "Under the Yum Yum Tree", also "Slums of Beverly Hills", "About a Boy".

Lots of other things happened this year, too - this was the year I watched four Shakespeare-based films in a row.  This is the year I finally tackled the Marx Brothers comedies.  Finally got "Harold and Maude" off the list.  Finally watched "Gandhi", and "Melvin and Howard".  And "Eraserhead".  And I even watched a film all about people listing the things they see - OK, so it was bird-watching and not movie-watching, but the principle is the same, right?

18) What was my highest rated film of 2015?  This is a bit of a tough question, because I gave out no "10" scores this year, nor did I award any "9"s.  BUT, I had 9 films that scored "8", and that still signifies an embarrassment of riches.  So it's a nine-way tie between "Into the Woods", "The Monuments Men", "Interstellar", "Moonrise Kingdom", "Avengers: Age of Ultron", "Guardians of the Galaxy", "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  Given the fact that I was probably tougher on the "Star Wars" film than I was on the others, perhaps I should declare that one the winner.

Similarly, I've got an 11-way tie for last place, with that many films scoring a "2" - "Hello Again", "Your Friends & Neighbors", "Henry V", "Unforgettable", "The Iron Lady", "Altered States", "Seven Psychopaths", "Aeon Flux", "Practical Magic", "Judge Dredd" and "Eraserhead".  It's hard to pick the biggest loser of the bunch, but three in particular not only failed to entertain, they made no practical sense - "Altered States", "Aeon Flux" and "Eraserhead" were thus the biggest wastes of my time.

19) Which actor showed up the most?  Had to be Cary Grant - he was in 22 films, in an almost-uninterrupted chain that started in early March and went all the way to mid-April. I called it "(M)Archie Madness", because his real name was Archie Leach, get it?  It was mostly romance/relationship films, which itself was astounding because he appeared early in his career in films with Mae West, and then in his late career he was cast against Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield.  And in-between he was paired with everyone from Myrna Loy and Irene Dunne to Deborah Kerr and Leslie Caron, not to mention both Hepburns, Katharine and Audrey.  And even though I dealt with all his Hitchcock-directed films last year, there was more than enough material for the Cary Grant chain this year - I won't list them all here, but I went from 1933's "She Done Him Wrong" to 1964's "Father Goose", and I still probably only have covered about half of his filmography. 

In 2nd place is Robin Williams, who appeared in 10 films, 9 of them in a row.  This was a bit of a conscious effort to put together something like a tribute, after he appeared in "The Big Wedding", I tracked down copies of "The Butler", "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn", "Shrink", "Jakob the Liar", "Patch Adams", "The Face of Love", "The Night Listener", "Cadillac Man" and "The Best of Times".

Tied for 3rd place are the Marx Brothers, with 9 films - from 1930's "Animal Crackers" to 1940's "Go West".  I didn't get to their earliest film, "The Cocoanuts" or their last one, "The Big Store", but both are on the list for next year.

Also tied for third is Matthew McConnaughey - his nine films were neatly in a row, too.  I started with "Amistad", and then went mostly chronologically, with "EdTV", "Thirteen Conversations About One Thing", "Two for the Money", "Failure to Launch", "Mud", "Dallas Buyers Club", "Interstellar" and "The Wolf of Wall Street".

And then comes Bruce Willis with his 9 films - "RED 2", "Moonrise Kingdom", "The Kid", "16 Blocks", "Hostage", "The Last Boy Scout", "The Story of Us", a cameo in "Four Rooms", plus a late-year appearance in "Nobody's Fool".

Robert Redford's in fourth place, with 8 films - "The Chase", "Barefoot in the Park", "This Property Is Condemned", "The Great Gatsby", "All Is Lost", "Jeremiah Johnson", "Downhill Racer" and "Little Fauss and Big Halsy".  I couldn't go chronologically with these, but together they provided a neat little link between the Marlon Brando films and the Mary Steenburgen films.

Also tied for fourth is Edward Norton, with 8 films - "The Bourne Legacy", "25th Hour", "Keeping the Faith", "Rounders", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", "Birdman", "Primal Fear", and "Moonrise Kingdom". I managed to get 7 of them in a row. 

Meryl Streep takes 5th place, with 7 films, which doesn't seem shocking at all.  After I started the year with "Into the Woods", "Hope Springs", "August: Osage County" and "The Iron Lady", I had to follow-up with another chain later in the year, containing "Stuck on You", "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Prime".

And then also tied for 5th was, surprisingly, Dermot Mulroney, with 7 films - "August: Osage County", "The Wedding Date", "Must Love Dogs", "My Best Friend's Wedding", "Jobs", "Copycat", and "The Family Stone".  That's a lot of Mulroney for one year to hold

I should point out that I devised a new method of tracking how many films each actor has been in this year, using a new list function on the IMDB.  I still have to search on each name, but once I do, the site can tell me how many times each actor appeared, out of the last 300 films viewed.  So I can list the 10 actors + actresses who popped up 6 times in 2015:

Bob Balaban - The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, Girl Most Likely, Jakob the Liar, The Monuments Men, Altered States
Benedict Cumberbatch - August: Osage County, The Fifth Estate, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave
Matt Damon - Rounders, Syriana, The Monuments Men, The Rainmaker, Stuck on You, and Interstellar
Harrison Ford - Random Hearts, Six Days, Seven Nights, Sabrina, 42, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and he even had a cameo in Atari: Game Over
Jamie Foxx - Jarhead, White House Down, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Horrible Bosses 2, The Great White Hype, Rio 2
Kathleen Freeman - Dream Wife, Houseboat, Kiss Them For Me, The Best of Times, Ready to Rumble, Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Morgan Freeman - Last Vegas, Eyewitness, The Lego Movie, Transcendence, Amistad, Dreamcatcher
Jack Lemmon - The Great Race, Irma La Douce, Under the Yum Yum Tree, The Out-of-Towners, The Prisoner of Second Avenue and The Odd Couple II
Charlize Theron - Young Adult, Head in the Clouds, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Monster, Aeon Flux and The Astronaut's Wife.
James Woods - Against All Odds, White House Down, Jobs, True Crime, Eyewitness, Play It to the Bone

That's a strange mix - how did Kathleen Freeman rate so high?  Ah, she had small roles in 4 films that starred Cary Grant, and that puts her on par with big actors like Matt Damon and Harrison Ford.  I can also take things a step further, and list all of the actors who appeared in 5 movies this year:

Alan Arkin - Slums of Beverly Hills, Wait Until Dark, Jakob the Liar, Grudge Match, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing
Becky Ann Baker - Hope Springs, Two Weeks Notice, Sabrina, The Night Listener, Jacob's Ladder
Jeff Bridges - Arlington Road, Against All Odds, Starman, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Masked and Anonymous
Michael Caine - Sleuth, Deathtrap, Flawless, Interstellar, The Muppet Christmas Carol
Margaret Dumont - At the Circus, A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera, Animal Crackers, Duck Soup
John Goodman - The Monuments Men, The Internship, The Artist, Masked and Anonymous, Inside Llewyn Davis
Jake Johnson - Jurassic World, The Lego Movie, Neighbors, Let's Be Cops, Safety Not Guaranteed
Nicole Kidman - The Interpreter, The Peacemaker, Moulin Rouge, Practical Magic, cameo in "The Queen"
Laura Linney - Primal Fear, The Night Listener, The Life of David Gale, A Simple Twist of Fate, The Fifth Estate
Frances McDormand - Primal Fear, Moonrise Kingdom, Laurel Canyon, Something's Gotta Give, Aeon Flux
Ewan McGregor - August: Osage County, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Moulin Rouge!, Down With Love, and a tiny voice cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Chris Pratt - Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy, Her, The Lego Movie, Delivery Man
Jeremy Renner - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Bourne Legacy, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Avengers: Age of Ultron, 28 Weeks Later
Julia Roberts - August: Osage County, Something to Talk About, Notting Hill, My Best Friend's Wedding, Flatliners
Kevin Spacey - Shrink, Henry & June, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Life of David Gale, Horrible Bosses 2
Max von Sydow - Never Say Never Again, Judge Dredd, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, The Exorcist and Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Kristen Wiig 5 - Friends With Kids, Girl Most Likely, Her, Skeleton Twins, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Another list with both heavy hitters and character actors - Margaret Dumont scores here because she appeared in so many Marx Brothers films.  But who's Becky Ann Baker?  I expect Alan Arkin to pop up a lot, and people like Julia Roberts and Kevin Spacey, they're joined by relative newcomers like Chris Pratt and Jake Johnson.  That seems fine, there would be absolutely no reason for me to keep track of how many actors managed to make 4 appearances this year.  Yet, oddly, that's just what I did:

Kevin Bacon - Where the Truth Lies, In the Cut, Novocaine, Flatliners
Antonio Banderas - The Legend of Zorro, Miami Rhapsody, Four Rooms, Play It to the Bone
Michael Buffer - Ready to Rumble, Against the Ropes, Grudge Match, Play It to the Bone
Rose Byrne - The Internship, Neighbors, This Is Where I Leave You, 28 Weeks Later
Toni Collette - About a Boy, Enough Said, The Night Listener, The Way Way Back
Chris Cooper - August: Osage County, Her, Jarhead, Syriana
Brian Cox - RED 2, 25th Hour, Her, Trick 'r Treat
Matt Craven - The Life of David Gale, White House Down, Jacob's Ladder, Dragonfly
John Cusack - Must Love Dogs, The Butler, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Fat Man and Little Boy
Robert De Niro - The Big Wedding, We're No Angels, Last Vegas, Grudge Match
Bruce Dern - The Great Gatsby, Nebraska, Monster, Masked and Anonymous
Peter Falk - The Cheap Detective, Wings of Desire, The Great Race, Undisputed
Colin Firth - Circle of Friends, Where the Truth Lies, The Importance of Being Earnest, Magic in the Moonlight
Jane Fonda - The Chase, Barefoot in the Park, The Butler, This Is Where I Leave You
Ellen Geer - When a Man Loves a Woman, Harold and Maude, Practical Magic, The Odd Couple II
Bill Hader - Her, The Skeleton Twins, The To Do List, 22 Jump Street
Woody Harrelson - Play It to the Bone, EdTV, Seven Psychopaths, Zombieland
Audrey Hepburn - Wait Until Dark, Roman Holiday, Love in the Afternoon, Charade
Philip Seymour Hoffman - 25th Hour, When a Man Loves a Woman, Patch Adams, Nobody's Fool
William Hurt - Syriana, Eyewitness, Altered States, Winter's Tale
Diane Keaton - Crimes of the Heart, Something's Gotta Give, The Big Wedding, The Family Stone
Bill Maher - A Million Ways to Die in the West, Delivery Man, The Interview, EdTV
Margo Martindale - August: Osage County, Sabrina, Practical Magic, Nobody's Fool
James McAvoy - The Conspirator, The Last King of Scotland, Trance, Muppets Most Wanted
Bill Murray - The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, The Monuments Men, Zombieland
Liam Neeson - Taken 2, Non-Stop, The Lego Movie, A Million Ways to Die in the West
Paul Newman - Harper, Nobody's Fool, Fat Man and Little Boy, Somebody Up There Likes Me
Laurence Olivier - The Prince and the Showgirl, Hamlet, Henry V, Othello
Patton Oswalt - Young Adult, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), 22 Jump Street, Failure to Launch
Michelle Pfeiffer - Into the Night, Tequila Sunrise, Dangerous Minds, The Story of Us
Pamela Reed - Melvin and Howard, Cadillac Man, The Best of Times, Eyewitness
Ving Rhames - Entrapment, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Jacob's Ladder, Undisputed
Seth Rogen - Neighbors, The Interview, The Guilt Trip, and a cameo in 22 Jump Street
John Rothman - The Devil Wears Prada, Prime, Copycat, Hello Again
Meg Ryan - When a Man Loves a Woman, City of Angels, In the Cut, Against the Ropes
Andy Serkis - Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Channing Tatum - The Lego Movie, White House Down, 22 Jump Street, The Book of Life
Stanley Tucci - The Devil Wears Prada, The Fifth Estate, Muppets Most Wanted, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
M. Emmet Walsh - My Best Friend's Wedding, Random Hearts, The Best of Times, The Prisoner of Second Avenue
Forest Whitaker - The Butler, The Last King of Scotland, Stakeout, Body Snatchers
Isiah Whitlock, Jr. - 25th Hour, The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, Not Fade Away, Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Mae Whitman - When a Man Loves a Woman, Hope Floats, A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Tom Wilkinson - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Conspirator, The Importance of Being Earnest
Luke Wilson - Stuck on You, The Skeleton Twins, Masked and Anonymous, The Family Stone

See, even more character actors, like Margo Martindale and M. Emmet Walsh - they're right up there with perennials like Stanley Tucci, John Cusack and Diane Keaton.  Michael Buffer obviously benefited from the boxing chain, and Bill Maher was the apparent go-to guy whenever a film needed a comment from a late-night talk show host. And any year with four appearances by both Bill Murray and Patton Oswalt can't be all bad.

It would be really, really stupid and pointless to list all of the actors who appeared three times - at that level, it doesn't mean a thing.   Anyone can be in THREE movies out of 300, and here are the people who did just that:

F. Murray Abraham - The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Inside Llewyn Davis
Eddie Albert - The Heartbreak Kid, Roman Holiday, Every Girl Should Be Married
Dylan Baker - Random Hearts, Disclosure, Trick 'r Treat
Jonathan Banks - The Cheap Detective, Horrible Bosses 2, Gremlins
Robin Bartlett - Dangerous Minds, City of Angels, Inside Llewyn Davis
Jason Bateman - This Is Where I Leave You, Horrible Bosses 2, Bad Words
Corbin Bernsen - The Big Year, Hello Again, The Great White Hype
Cate Blanchett - The Monuments Men, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Hugh Bonneville - Notting Hill, The Monuments Men, Muppets Most Wanted
Marlon Brando - The Wild One, Julius Caesar, The Chase
Amy Brenneman - Your Friends & Neighbors, City of Angels, The Face of Love
Sandra Bullock - Hope Floats, Two Weeks Notice, Practical Magic
Ellen Burstyn - When a Man Loves a Woman, Interstellar, The Exorcist
Scott Caan - Gone in Sixty Seconds, Novocaine, Ready to Rumble
Bill Camp - Birdman, Rounders, 12 Years a Slave
Eloy Casados - The Best of Times, Cobb, Play It to the Bone
Stockard Channing - Must Love Dogs, Practical Magic, The Cheap Detective
Matt Clark - Jeremiah Johnson, 42, A Million Ways to Die in the West
John Cleese - A Liar's Autobiography, The Big Year, The Swan Princess
George Clooney - Monuments Men, Syriana, The Peacemaker
Kim Coates - Hostage, The Last Boy Scout, Unforgettable
Dabney Coleman - This Property Is Condemned, Downhill Racer, Melvin and Howard
Jennifer Connelly - Noah, Little Children, Winter's Tale
Sean Connery - Entrapment, Medicine Man, Never Say Never Again
Rob Corddry - The Way Way Back, Failure to Launch, Muppets Most Wanted
Kevin Corrigan - Slums of Beverly Hills, Seven Psychopaths, Winter's Tale
Kevin Costner - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Play It to the Bone, Dragonfly
Peter Coyote - Random Hearts, Patch Adams, Unforgettable
James Cromwell - The Queen, The Artist, The Cheap Detective
Brett Cullen - Something to Talk About, 42, The Guilt Trip
Johnny Depp - Into the Woods, Transcendence, The Astronaut's Wife
Ellen Albertini Dow - Patch Adams, Ready to Rumble, Eight Crazy Nights
Richard Dreyfuss - The Goodbye Girl, Stakeout, Another Stakeout
Adam Driver - This Is Where I Leave You, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jean Dujardin - The Monuments Men, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Artist
Griffin Dunne - Shrink, Stuck on You, Dallas Buyers Club
Irene Dunne - Penny Serenade, My Favorite Wife, The Awful Truth
Robert Duvall - Something to Talk About, The Chase, Gone in Sixty Seconds
Christine Ebersole - The Big Wedding, True Crime, The Wolf of Wall Street
Fritz Feld - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), At the Circus, Barefoot in the Park
Dave Franco - The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street, Neighbors
Stephen Fry - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, A Liar's Autobiography
Ryan Gage - Judge Dredd, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
James Gandolfini - Enough Said, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Not Fade Away
Andy Garcia - When a Man Loves a Woman, Rio 2, Let's Be Cops
Paul Giamatti - My Best Friend's Wedding, Sabrina, 12 Years a Slave
Jeff Goldblum - The Grand Budapest Hotel, Into the Night, The Great White Hype
Hugh Grant - Notting Hill, About a Boy, Two Weeks Notice
Paul Guilfoyle - Random Hearts, Amistad, Cadillac Man
Kathryn Hahn - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), Bad Words, This Is Where I Leave You
Alan Hale - Destination Tokyo, Stella Dallas, The Inspector General
Ed Harris - The Face of Love, Masked and Anonymous, Planes: Fire & Rescue
Anne Hathaway - The Devil Wears Prada, Interstellar, Rio 2
Jonah Hill - The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street, The Wolf of Wall Street
Anthony Hopkins - RED 2, Noah, Amistad
Brian Huskey - Shrink, Neighbors, The To Do List
Oscar Isaac - The Bourne Legacy, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Dana Ivey - The Kid, Two Weeks Notice, Sabrina
Allison Janney - Six Days Seven Nights, Bad Words, The Way Way Back
Famke Janssen - Taken 2, Rounders, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
Michael Jeter - Jakob the Liar, Patch Adams, True Crime
Stacy Keach - Nebraska, Planes: Fire & Rescue, The Bourne Legacy
Catherine Keener - Enough Said, The Interpreter, Your Friends & Neighbors
Harvey Keitel - The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, In the Cut
Deborah Kerr - The Grass Is Greener, Dream Wife, Julius Caesar
Keegan-Michael Key - The Lego Movie, Let's Be Cops, Horrible Bosses 2
Greg Kinnear - Sabrina, Someone Like You, Stuck on You
Jim Lampley - Grudge Match, Undisputed, Play It to the Bone
Martin Landau - Rounders, Ready to Rumble, EdTV
Diane Lane - Must Love Dogs, Judge Dredd, Murder at 1600
Jude Law - The Grand Budapest Hotel, Sleuth, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Christopher Lee - Hamlet, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Jay Leno - Stuck on You, EdTV, Delivery Man
Logan Lerman - Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Noah
Hamish Linklater - The Angriest Man in Brooklyn, 42, Magic in the Moonlight
Robert Loggia - Shrink, Return to Me, Somebody Up There Likes Me
Cheech Marin - The Great White Hype, Masked and Anonymous, The Book of Life
Steve Martin - The Big Year, Novocaine, A Simple Twist of Fate
Walter Matthau - Charade, Plaza Suite, The Odd Couple II
Frances Lee McCain - True Crime, Patch Adams, Gremlins
Will McCormack - Must Love Dogs, Syriana, Prime
John C. McGinley - 42, Alex Cross, Fat Man and Little Boy
Demi Moore - We're No Angels, Disclosure, Flawless
Joe Morton - The Night Listener, The Astronaut's Wife, Dragonfly
Lupita N'Yongo - Non-Stop, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Nick Offerman - City of Angels, The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street
Timothy Olyphant - Gone in Sixty Seconds, This Is Where I Leave You, Dreamcatcher
David Oyelowo - The Butler, The Last King of Scotland, Interstellar
Lee Pace - Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Anna Paquin - Amistad, 25th Hour, Trick 'r Treat
Sarah Jessica Parker - Miami Rhapsody, Failure to Launch, The Family Stone
Will Patton - Entrapment, Copycat, Gone in Sixty Seconds
Sarah Paulson - Down With Love, 12 Years a Slave, Mud
David Paymer - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Amistad, Unforgettable
Amanda Peet - Something's Gotta Give, Syriana, The Way Way Back
Sean Penn - We're No Angels, The Interpreter, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Chris Pine - Into the Woods, Horrible Bosses 2, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Christopher Plummer - Must Love Dogs, Syriana, Eyewitness
Kevin Pollak - Hostage, The Big Year, Miami Rhapsody
Tony Randall - Down With Love, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Elizabeth Reaser - Young Adult, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, The Family Stone
Keanu Reeves - Something's Gotta Give, My Own Private Idaho, A Walk in the Clouds
John C. Reilly - We're No Angels, Bears, Guardians of the Galaxy
Rob Reiner - The Story of Us, EdTV, The Wolf of Wall Street
Giovanni Ribisi - Gone in Sixty Seconds, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Masked and Anonymous
Rob Riggle - The Internship, Let's Be Cops, 22 Jump Street
Tim Robbins - Cadillac Man, Jacob's Ladder, Arlington Road
Chelcie Ross - My Best Friend's Wedding, The Last Boy Scout, Novocaine
Kurt Russell - Tequila Sunrise, The Best of Times, The Thing (1982)
Steve Schirripa - Must Love Dogs, Play It to the Bone, Planes: Fire & Rescue
Adam Scott - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), Friends With Kids, The Guilt Trip
Terry Serpico - Random Hearts, The Interpreter, The Peacemaker
Sam Shepard - August: Osage County, Crimes of the Heart, Mud
Johnny Simmons - The Conspirator, The To Do List, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Jean Smart - Hope Springs, The Kid, Odd Couple II
Cobie Smulders - Avengers: Age of Ultron, Delivery Man, The Lego Movie
Wesley Snipes - Undisputed, Play It to the Bone, Murder at 1600
Sylvester Stallone - Judge Dredd, Grudge Match, The Prisoner of Second Avenue
Florence Stanley - Down With Love, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Odd Couple II
Mary Steenburgen - Melvin and Howard, Goin' South, Last Vegas
Ben Stiller - Keeping the Faith, Your Friends & Neighbors, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
Emma Stone - Birdman, Magic in the Moonlight, Zombieland
Corey Stoll - Non-Stop, The Bourne Legacy, This Is Where I Leave You
Wes Studi - A Million Ways to Die in the West, Undisputed, Planes: Fire & Rescue
Lynne Thigpen - Hello Again, Random Hearts, Novocaine
Susanna Thompson - When a Man Loves a Woman, Random Hearts, Dragonfly
Marisa Tomei - Someone Like You, Slums of Beverly Hills, Four Rooms
Pruitt Taylor Vince - Jacob's Ladder, Monster, Nobody's Fool
Danny Trejo - Six Days Seven Nights, Muppets Most Wanted, The Book of Life
Goran Visnjic - Rounders, Practical Magic, The Peacemaker
Tim Ware - 42, Monster, A Simple Twist of Fate
Gedde Watanabe - EdTV, Two for the Money, Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Frank Welker - The Little Mermaid, Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Mae West - She Done Him Wrong, I'm No Angel, My Little Chickadee
Owen Wilson - The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Big Year, The Internship
Scott Wilson - Judge Dredd, The Great Gatsby (1974), Monster
Catherine Zeta-Jones - RED 2, The Legend of Zorro, Entrapment
and a special shout-out to the Muppet performers (Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson & co.) for Muppets Most Wanted, Kermit's Swamp Years, and The Muppet Christmas Carol

See, that list serves no practical purpose, it's all over the place.  Someone would have to be a complete nut or suffering from very bad OCD if they took the time to keep track of all that.  Good thing I don't know anybody like that...

Now, with all that out of they way, do I dare to do another Big Year?  Nobody would fault me if I stopped now, and the entire project would both start AND stop with "Star Wars" films - it's a nice symmetry.  And 2,200 is a great number, but 2,500 is a better number, a rounder number.

How many fims are left on the watchlist?  It's 160, which is better than last year at this time (190?) and you'd think that when filling 300 slots with 160 movies that I'd have 140 open slots left over, but that's just not how this works.  When I took a break in early November, the watchlist was down to 130, and it ballooned back up to 160 in under 2 months.  There are still lots of 2015 films to add, plus TCM will be doing their annual "30 Days of Oscar" programming in February, and I may pick up a few classics that have fallen through the cracks.  So with 160 films to fill 300 slots, plus additions, maybe I can hit it just right.

What's ahead for 2016, if I do another "Big Year"?  Well, 2015 was supposed to be the "clean-up" year, and thematically, I was all over the place, as one might expect in the 7th year of this project.  But 2016 is REALLY going to be the clean-up year, at least once I get past March. 

a) What's on the list already, what am I looking forward to most?  A lot of films from 2014 & 2015, like "American Sniper" and "Foxcatcher", "Despicable Me 2" and "Big Hero 6", comic-book flops like "Fantastic Four" and "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For", a neat chain devoted to Angelina Jolie, Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, then at some point I'll open up The Burt Locker (the films of Burt Reynolds), and I'd like to finally watch the films of Cheech & Chong.  There's an action chain connecting Liam Neeson films and Tom Cruise films, for sci-fi there will be "Lucy" and "Serenity" and "Snowpiercer" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes".  And music-based films like "Whiplash", "Idlewild", "Get on Up" and "Sid and Nancy".  A couple Brad Pitt films, "Boyhood", and maybe "Exodus: Gods and Kings" around Passover time.  Three more from Bill Murray, and at least four films about time-travel. 

b) What needs to be added, more films from 2014 & 2015, like "The Martian", "Spectre", "The Hateful Eight", "Krampus""Ant-Man", "The Man From "U.N.C.L.E", "Trainwreck", "Inside Out", "Ted 2", "Southpaw", "Black Mask", "Minions", "Pixels", "Pitch Perfect 2" and "Irrational Man" - that's probably enough of a list to get me started.  But then I also have to consider the 2016 release schedule for new films - like "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice", "Captain America: Civil War", "Deadpool", "X-Men: Apocalypse", the new "Ghostbusters", "Kung Fu Panda 3", "Star Trek Beyond", and GAAAH, what else? 

Anyway, the new year kicks off in 2 days - and I THINK I know where the next chain has to start.  I'll take some time over the next 2 days to play around with it.  Back in 36 hours or so.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Year 7, Day 351 - 12/17/15 - Movie #2,200

BEFORE: It's Sunday night, December 13, as I write this - no, wait, it's really early Monday morning, December 14, and I need to get this intro down to get the thousand or so thoughts about "Star Wars" that are running around in my head OUT of my head, since I've found over the last 7 years that the sooner I can jot thoughts like these down, the sooner I can think about something else.  And the next four days are going to go fast, they may even be a blur of anticipation, but they're also going to feel like they're taking forever.  I feel a bit like a kid at Christmas.

And while I once complained about the fact that Episode VII was going to be released in December, instead of in May like the previous six "Star Wars" films (actually, there were 7 films, don't forget about the animated one, like all the news reporters apparently have) because I hate to break traditions, but now I'm starting to see the reasoning behind it.  Hopefully this film is a big early Christmas gift to the fans, and we get to unwrap it a week early.  Since I've got a ticket for a Thursday night screening, it's like a present I get to open on Christmas Eve, when most people have to wait until the next day.  

Wow, J.J. Abrams, thank you for my Christmas gift - you got me a new "Star Wars" film?  How DID you know?  I hope you didn't spend too much - wait, how much?  With a "B"?  Darn, this is awkward, because I didn't get you anything, I just bought a ticket.  I hope you kept the receipt, because, well, you never know.  It's always a little tricky trying to get the right things for people you don't know that well.  

And now "Star Wars" is here, and Christmas is here, and the two holidays are sort of running together. I hung the lights up early, I got my Christmas cards out, I took a day off to shop at the outlet stores, and that was all good planning, because now I'm all about "Star Wars" 24/7, it seems.  Maybe after I see the new film I can relax and think about Christmas again, but I've got that nervous knotted-up feeling in my stomach, the kind a 9-year old boy would get four days before Christmas.

You see, I was 8 when I saw the first "Star Wars" film, back before we knew it was Episode IV or before we knew there would be any sequels, or prequels, at all.  We had just the one film, and I made as many trips to the theater to see it as I could, and to say it changed my life would be an understatement.  It was also the first film I bought on VHS, back when they priced those tapes so you'd rent them and not buy them, and it was not only my introduction to science-fiction, it was the first time I ever paid attention to how a film was made.  The first time I learned about special effects and models and matte paintings, the first time I wanted to peek behind the curtain and see how the Wizard did his magic tricks.  By 1986 I was in film school at NYU, and I was the only kid in 16mm production class to state openly that I was there because of "Star Wars".  

The saga filled my adolescent years with fantasy, and then gave me a direction for where to go when I became an adult.  Times changed and my situation changed, and ultimately I guess I changed, but the "Star Wars" films were a constant, that universe always welcoming me when I wanted to visit it. Then the prequels rolled around in 1999, I was 30 and working in the film business, and I approached the 2nd trilogy as an adult.  Instead of skipping out of school early to see the films on opening day, I had to take the day off from work.  This turned out to be pretty easy, since one or both of my bosses was always willing to give me the time, as long as I bought them tickets and saved them seats.  

I'd always collected the tie-in comic books and novels, but at some point I started working a booth at San Diego Comic-Con, and I began collecting autographs from Star Wars cast members.  The first year I went, Kenny Baker happened to be there, the year after that I got three more (Ray Park, Jake Lloyd, Peter Mayhew) and once again, the films gave me a direction.  The collection's now up to 94 signed 8x10's - I had a really good 2015, about 10 actors like Ewan MacGregor, Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman, with Frank Oz as the latest addition.  (And just when I had only about a dozen actors left to track down, here comes a whole new cast...)

Now I'm 47, and we're at the start of a third trilogy, and who knows, maybe on Thursday I'll watch Episode VII and I'll feel like a 9-year old kid again - but something tells me that's not possible, in the same way that I can't ever feel like a little kid at Christmas again, can't go back to believing in Santa Claus and flying reindeer.  I've come too far, learned too much - part of me wishes I could wipe the "Star Wars" films from my brain, just to have the joy of experiencing them for the first time all over again.

But maybe there's another way to look at things.  I've been talking in my last few posts about the connections between "A Christmas Carol", "Lost Christmas", even "Eight Crazy Nights", and it all comes down to the karmic lesson of the holidays.  Give people gifts, and get some in return.  Do good things, and good things will come your way.  In my case, watch 299 movies during 2015, keep the actor linking going as long as I can, and there will be a reward for all of my hard work, sleepless nights and constant re-organization of the watchlist.  Well, I must have done something right, because here I am, nearly at the end of the year, and "Star Wars" is the final film of the year, just like I planned it. 

And I'm living the "Star Wars" lifestyle in overdrive now, hoping that it will help make the movie extra good, or enhance my enjoyment of it, at least.  I've read five "Star Wars" novels in the last five weeks, I'm wearing a different "Star Wars" t-shirt every day (I own quite a few) and on Wednesday I went to the Discovery Museum near Times Square to see an exhibit of costumes from the saga, then dropped some money in the gift shop.  Not just for me - I'm buying tie-in merchandise for my niece and nephew, too.  All of this to increase my Force karma.  I'm worse than a football fan whose favorite team is playing in the Super Bowl, who refuses to wear anything but team jerseys.  

This makes me really nervous now, I don't want to jinx anything - I mean, I feel like I deserve a new "Star Wars", but I don't want to get cocky or complacent.  That's when bad things can happen.  I sometimes say I'd like to fly somewhere first class, just once, but then I figure, that will be the time my plane crashes or something.  I try to be a happy person, and I try to allow myself some indulgences, but if I get too lazy or enjoy myself too much, I think karma's going to get me somehow.  It's some weird form of superstition, but it feels like as soon as I stop worrying, as soon as I let my guard down, I'm in for trouble.  This would be a terrible week to get hit by a bus, not that there would ever be a good week for that, but any illness or injury that would keep me from going to the movies on Thursday would be just devastating.  So I just can't relax. 

There's also another problem with the way I based my lifestyle around a science-fiction saga.  Though it's not really the films' fault, because it's the world that changed, if I'm not mistaken.  The documentary "The People vs. George Lucas", released a few years ago, showed how some people who loved the first trilogy as kids hated the prequels, especially the comic relief bits with Jar-Jar Binks.  But they forgot that there were Jawas and Ewoks and other kid-friendly things in Episodes 4-6, and they also forgot to factor in the change in themselves - they grew up, but the films stayed the same.  

In another way the world changed, we've now got terrorism in the news, and that makes it a little more difficult to go out and see a film about war, even one set in a far-off galaxy.  It's too close to the Paris bombings to enjoy a film with a bunch of explosions in it, right?  Too close to the last mass shooting to enjoy a film where everyone has blasters?  And what is a "rebel", anyway - isn't that just another word for "terrorist"?  Who decides when one becomes the other?  Isn't ISIS an alliance of rebels, trying to overthrow what they perceive to be the Evil Empire?  How do I draw a distinction between someone who blows up a building with an airplane and someone who blows up the Death Star with an X-Wing fighter?  Did Kevin Smith get it right when "Clerks" called Luke Skywalker a mass-murderer, because of all the contractors and plumbers that were possibly on the Death Star at the time?

Maybe I'm overthinking things - and maybe all my misgivings are unjustified.  Maybe on Thursday I'll leap out of bed like a kid on Christmas, work a half-day, watch a great film and then be able to relax.  But I still have one quibble with "The Force Awakens", before I even see it.  It has to do with the death of the Expanded Universe - these are the novels that were written during the last two decades, with full authorization from Lucasfilm, that are set after "Return of the Jedi".  The timeline of these novels stretches to around 40-45 years after the destruction of the 2nd Death Star, and some of these books are very good.  Not just that, people like me spent a lot of money on them, and now they've been removed from the official canon.  

A press release from a year or two ago stated that all future book tie-ins would be part of the official canon - meaning that any events in previous books set after Episode VI didn't really happen.  So Luke's Jedi Academy, Han and Leia's three children, the freakin' Yuuzhan Vong War - they didn't happen.  Timothy Zahn's "Heir to the Empire" trilogy, Dark Horse Comics' "Dark Empire" series, "Darksaber", the "Black Fleet Crisis" trilogy, the entire "New Jedi Order" series - just gone.  OK, so I never got around to reading that last series, I still bought the freaking books, can I get a refund or something?  

Sure, Marvel and DC Comics reboot their timelines again and again - but that's comic books, where it's more expected.  Why did someone authorize the publication of these stories, if they weren't meant to last?  If I were an author of one of those books, I'd be pretty upset.  Maybe I'd even look into some legal action, if somebody told me that my hard work now wasn't part of the story.  I'm just saying.  

I'm still pissed that I had a way to link here directly, through a particular actor, who then mysteriously vanished from the IMDB credits for a while, but now is back.  I tore my whole chain apart and rebuilt it, moved things around, because I convinced myself that actor wasn't in this "Star Wars" film after all.  But you know what, it worked out OK because I figured I could link indirectly from Frank Oz, the voice of both Miss Piggy and Yoda - but now it seems that TWO puppeteers from "The Muppet Christmas Carol" also have roles in "The Force Awakens" - Tim Rose and Mike Quinn.  So we're cool.  See, if I just stick to the plan, everything works out in the end.

THE PLOT:   Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a rag-tag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" (Movie #1)
AFTER: Just came back from the screening at the AMC Empire (seemed appropriate).  When tickets first went on sale, an associate scooped up 5 of them for December 17, and we couldn't believe our luck, with the film scheduled to open on December 18.  It's best not to question such things, sometimes you just have to take the opportunities that come your way.  There was a VIP screening there in 70mm IMAX 3-D, but we saw Episode VII in regular - OK, "Prime" format, which meant that our seats got all rumbly every time there was a major explosion.  Which happened often, it's a very explode-y film.  

But in the past few days, leading up to the screening, a couple of new anxieties surfaced.  After dealing with the possibility that I might now be too old to enjoy a new "Star Wars" film, or perhaps there was no place for "Star Wars" in the post-terrorism world we now live in, I started to worry - what if I'm ready for "Star Wars", but it's not ready for me?  What if the film is, like, not so good?  But that's crazy talk, because it just HAS to be good, right?  I mean, it's got Han and Leia in it, and the trailers look really awesome, with the Millennium Falcon flying around, and there's a new guy with a red lightsaber, so that mean's he's evil, so the pieces just have to come together, right?  

A little over four years ago, I made contact with someone at Lucasfilm - my boss was doing a book tour of sorts, and had stopped at Skywalker Ranch to show his films and talk a bit.  I didn't ask to go along, but I told him he HAD to mention that his office manager was, like, the biggest Star Wars fan of all.  They'd had no luck getting copies of his book to sell at the appearance, but I pulled some strings, made the best of a bad situation (the publisher had sent two boxes of the wrong book to us at SDCC) and I got the publisher to make up for it by shipping some books directly there.  This got my foot in the door, and I wrangled an invitation to visit there myself.  So I made plans to come up there in 2012, right after my usual trip to San Diego Comic-Con.  Got all the way up to Marin County, checked into the hotel and called my contact, only to find out that the whole company was on lockdown, and I wouldn't be able to visit.  It seems they were preparing the place for some big event, which turned out to be the announcement of George Lucas's retirement.  

Hey, no big deal, just a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit the studio that makes my favorite films.  I made the best of things, had a killer day in San Francisco, even popped in to the lobby of ILM (it wasn't the Ranch, but it was at least something), got my photo taken in front of the Yoda fountain, thanks to a crazy cab-driver who claimed to have ferried Lucas' daughters home after nights out on the town.  He offered to show me Lucas's home, but I declined.  And the rest of my day in S.F. was killer, but it showed me that sometimes I can be ready for "Star Wars", but it wasn't ready for me.  

Throw in the additional anxietes of the danger of going out to the movies these days (Hey, it happened in Denver, it can happen in Times Square) and this terrible head-cold I was trying to get over, and then the concern over whether a new film could possibly live up to my expectations, and let's just say I've been a walking ball of nerves for the last 48 hours.  BUT I made it to the screening without knowing one bit about the plot that wasn't shown in the trailers, and that's an accomplishment.  I let the new film wash over me, even though it's a little confusing at first, and I think I'm still processing it all.  I'll get a better sense of how "good" the movie is after I see it a second time.  Hey, it's "Star Wars", which is always a great place to start.  

I won't reveal any plot points here - if you really want to, you can read the whole plot on Wikipedia, or even Wookieepedia, but I'd recommend not doing that.  I hate spoilers, and I tried so hard to avoid them, so I'm certainly not going to spoil it for anyone else.  BUT, if you're a "Star Wars" expert like I am, you may have had some nagging questions from watching the trailers, such as "When did stormtroopers go from being identical clones to being non-identical (one presumes) draftees?" "Who's the guy with the red lightsaber?" and "Where the hell is Luke, and why isn't he on the poster?"  Congratulations, those are some really, really good questions.  But please bear in mind that the film is under no obligation to answer them.  

In fact, there's a story or two in this future's past that are left untold, and I have a nagging suspicion that they would be slightly more interesting than the story we're shown in "Episode VII".  Where did the First Order come from?  Why is the Rebellion now the Resistance?  By skipping ahead 30 years, I'm now wondering what got missed.  I mean, some books and comics can now try and tell those stories, and I guess the main reason why they're not getting turned into movies is the simple fact that the main actors are too old.  I mean, Carrie Fisher is almost 60 and Harrison Ford is 73.  

And it turns out I was spot-on in my complaints about the death of the Expanded Universe.  I now understand WHY they had to discredit those books, but I still don't have to like it.  In the novels that were released over the years - and were treated as real stories about real events at the time, as real as any fictional stories can be, that is - there was a New Jedi Order, Luke had a thriving Jedi Academy, and do I even need to point out that a major character "died" at the start of the Yuuzhan Vong war?  All that is now gone gone GONE and it looks like I'll be putting a few boxes of books into storage.  God DAMN it. 

I can bring up one NITPICK POINT without spoiling anything, because a lot of science-fiction movies do this, and I never understand it - they show "star charts" like they're fixed maps.  Many of the "Star Wars" novels feature maps of the galaxy before the story begins, so we can all get a sense of how far Tatooine is from Geonosis (Episode II famously did this) or where Coruscant is in relation to the Outer Rim or the Hydian Way.  But, aren't all these stars constantly moving around?  The galaxy spins, right?  Even that galaxy far, far away?  So any star chart would need to move as well, to show the way that the different star systems move, relative to each other.  So how does anyone plot, say, hyperspace coordinates to jump to a planet or star that certainly does NOT stay in one fixed place?  Oh, sure, it's science-fiction, who cares?  But this could be important if we humans ever travel to another solar system - you can leave the Earth and head in the right direction, but when you get there (depending on how long it takes, I suppose) that THERE is going to be somewhere else.  If you don't factor this in, you're never going to get where you're going, because it will have moved.  

I guess at the end of the day, time marches on, and the "Star Wars" franchise and cast is like one of those rock bands from the 1970's or 80's that's still touring, like Toto or Styx or REO Speedwagon.  They're still selling tickets, but they're doing it on the state fair and small arena circuit, and they probably each still have two or three guys from the original line-up playing in the band.  With the right session guys filling in, the band could probably keep touring forever, or take long breaks and then get back into it whenever they need cash.  But you shouldn't go to one of their shows expecting the type of concert they would have performed in the 1970's or 80's, or else you're bound to be disappointed.  At what point should the band stop calling themselves by their original name, or at least cop to the fact that they're now really just a cover band?

And with enough elements from previous "Star Wars" films carrying over or being repeated, I think that's exactly what this feels like to me - a cover version of other "Star Wars" films, for the most part.  Now, if you really like a song you might like a cover version of it, but then again, you might not.  I see how the backlash against this film has already started in the IMDB forums, and I'm not really that surprised.  After all, how many times have you gotten exactly what you wanted for Christmas?  Sometimes you get what you need, though, even if you didn't know you needed exactly that.  This one may not be the perfect fit, but there's just no WAY I'd consider returning it.

Starring Harrison Ford (last seen in "42"), Carrie Fisher (last seen in "Fanboys"), Mark Hamill (last heard in "Queer Duck"), Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), Adam Driver (ditto), John Boyega, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie (last seen in "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"), Lupita Nyong'o (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Domhnall Gleeson (last seen in "Dredd"), Simon Pegg (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"), Anthony Daniels (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Andy Serkis (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"), Warwick Davis (last seen in "Jack the Giant Slayer"), Max von Sydow (last seen in "The Exorcist"), Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Greg Grunberg (last seen in "The Ladykillers"), with cameos from Ken Leung, Judah Friedlander (last heard in "Epic").

RATING: a tentative 8 out of 10 TIE fighters, with an option to revise after a 2nd viewing

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Year 7, Day 346 - 12/12/15 - Movie #2,199

BEFORE: We're getting down to it now, just one film left after this to watch in 2015, and then it will be time for me to reflect on Movie Year 7, and total up how many times each actor appeared.  And while Michael Caine won't be on top of the leaderboard, he definitely had a good year - with other appearances in "Deathtrap", "Flawless", "Sleuth" and "Interstellar".  I'm not sure where the cut-off will be, but 5 films is probably enough to be significant.  Linking from "Lost Christmas", Steven Mackintosh, who played Goose's parole officer, carries over and plays Scrooge's nephew tonight.  That seems rather helpful.

THE PLOT: The Muppet characters tell their version of the classic tale of an old and bitter miser's redemption on Christmas Eve.

AFTER: This was the year for me to finish off some key movie franchises - I watched the last two films in the "Hobbit" series, I got current with Jack Ryan and for a couple months I was all caught up with "Mission: Impossible" films, stayed on track with the new "Avengers" and "Jurassic World" films, and the new "Star Wars" will finish things off.  And I'm finally, finally done with the Muppets.  I guess I could watch "The Muppet Wizard of Oz", but really, who cares? 

The Muppet franchise is a lot like "Star Wars", there will be a run of new movies, and then it could lie dormant for several years, until Disney buys it and decides to revive it because to NOT do so would be to leave some money on the table.  But "Star Wars" just has to be its own thing, the Muppets had to insert themselves into "Treasure Island" and this Dickens story just to get a movie made.  Clearly there were no more internal stories left in the narrative.  Once you tell the story of how the Muppets came to Hollywood, and once they take Manhattan and go to London, what's left to do?  

You can also see it in the current "Muppets" TV show - while the original "Muppet Show" was set backstage during the production of a variety show, the new one is set backstage during the production of a late night talk show.  Not all that different, although the documentary style reminiscent of "The Office" is a slightly different spin.  Still, most every episode I've seen ultimately goes nowhere.  

But I've learned that there's more than one way to look at things.  After finally watching "The Exorcist" this year, I realized that it could be taken as a tale about demonic possession, or alternately as a warning against dealing with a difficult teen. (The moral of the story: Don't have a kid.)  I wondered whether "Interstellar" had more to teach me about the relative nature of time through actual insights on planetary physics, or just by being over three hours long.  And so, since I already mentioned last night that "A Christmas Carol" was really the first time-travel story, I wonder if there's another way to look at it.   

Isn't it also the story of a one-percenter who gets scared by ghosts into becoming a socialist?  And it's weird how things have changed, because in 1840's London, a fiscal conservative was very against the celebration of Christmas, but in modern-day America, the Republican conservatives are always the ones complaining about the "War on Christmas".  I keep hearing stories about people's elderly parents getting influenced by conservative pundits and become late-stage Republicans, but Scrooge goes the other way, doesn't he?  When faced with his own mortality, he becomes more generous, even though doing so doesn't make him any less dead in the future. 

It makes me wonder if there isn't more to the story.  The big trend among today's billionaires is to set up foundations and donate to charities in massive amounts and while I would like to believe that Bill Gates and George Lucas (sorry, George) and now Zuckerberg have the world's best interests at heart, instead I picture a conversation with an accountant that comes straight out of "The Producers": "You know, it's funny, if you try to hold on to your fortune, it will get eaten away by taxes, but if you donate 60% of it now, you can keep the other 40% and never pay another dime in taxes!"  "Wait, say that last part again, about never paying taxes..."  

And even if Scrooge's transformation is done in time to save his own soul, isn't that still a self-serving motivation?  What about getting him to a place where he can use his wealth to help people, simply because those people need help?  Forget the tax deductions, if he donates to charity so that he can get into heaven, or even so that people won't hate him when he dies, he's still only thinking about himself.  So clearly more work needs to be done, or the transformation really needs to show him enjoying life, and not just going to the big Christmas dinner at his nephew's house, because again, he benefits from that.  

It's weird to have a human take the central role in a Muppet film, but I guess they couldn't have Kermit acting like a miser, for that would damage the character.  Instead Kermit takes the Bob Cratchit role, with Miss Piggy as his wife - and nobody seems to notice that their male children are frogs and their female children are pigs, which doesn't seem biologically possible.  I guess they wouldn't have hybrid pig/frogs either, they just wouldn't be able to have children, but try explaining cross-species sex to a kid.  

And Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker are the charity spokesmen, and Sam the Eagle is young Scrooge's headmaster, but I'm guessing the main reason to make this film was to cast Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig.  The addition of another Marley brother just to shoehorn in Statler and Waldorf seemed odd, especially since they named the extra brother Robert - so, Bob Marley?

Again, I'll say that I prefer the Albert Finney version, with superior acting and songs, like "I Like Life" and "Thank You Very Much".  In the Muppet the song "Marley and Marley" just feels like a temporary song that someone meant to replace later with something better, and "It Feels Like Christmas" has just some of the worst, most pedantic rhyming.  The Muppets tell the whole story in under 90 minutes, and honestly that makes it feel a bit rushed, and maybe that's what makes Scrooge's transformation less believable.  

Also starring Michael Caine (last seen in "Interstellar"), Raymond Coulthard, and the voices of Dave Goelz (last heard in "Kermit's Swamp Years"), Steve Whitmire (ditto), Frank Oz (last heard in "Zathura: A Space Adventure"), Jerry Nelson, David Rudman, and Jessica Fox. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 jellybeans

Friday, December 11, 2015

Lost Christmas

Year 7, Day 345 - 12/11/15 - Movie #2,198

BEFORE: Tonight, get ready for part 2 of my rant about unacceptable human behavior - the holiday edition.  Liberals vs. conservatives, polarized opinions about Muslims and refugees, and furor over mixed-race Santa Clauses - how did everything get so messed up?  How does a country that espouses religious freedom and the separation of church and state also regularly offer community battles over the placement of manger scenes and menorahs?  I want to talk about the so-called " War on Christmas", or what I think should more accurately be described as the "War OVER Christmas".  How did a season that is supposed to be all about peace, love and understanding turn into such a battlefield?  

Perhaps I should back up a bit.  I spent over 15 years analyzing broadcast commercials, and I think you can learn a lot about society through its advertising.  We've had a doozy of a year regarding controversies, and the ad market was no exception.  Christmastime rolled around and immediately people started fighting over the "proper" way to celebrate the holidays.  Things kicked off around Black Friday, a time when some people - those who aren't still sleeping off the Thanksgiving meal - head out to malls at some ungodly hour like 2 am on a Friday, or worse, 10 pm on Thanksgiving itself - for doorbuster deals.  This is another great question - how did we turn the day after a holiday about giving thanks for all of our blessings to being a day for trampling each other in order to save a few bucks?  One notable store chain decided not to open on Black Friday, because they believed that their employees and managers also deserved a day to spend with their families, and that their everyday prices were so low, there was no need for a Black Friday sale.  Great idea, I support this decision.

However, they couldn't just DO that - they had to create a commercial that would not only inform the public of their intent to remain closed, it would get all self-righteous about it, with images that showed families of all races celebrating Turkey Day, and a voiceover that said things like, "What if the holidays were about L-O-V-E, and not S-A-L-E?"  Again, it seems like the intention is mostly good, but apparently there was no way for them to point out what they were doing right, without also pointing out what the other stores were doing "wrong".  And here we start to see the genesis of the problem - we all just can't resist pointing out each other's faults, "I'm better than you are", nana nana poo poo, stick your head in doo doo.  

And then once I started to notice this, I realized it's everywhere these days - the often unspoken "I'm better than you" at the end of every conversation, every difference of opinion.  It's there in every hot-button topic from the past few years, and even if people aren't saying it, believe me, they're wishing they could say it.  Examples:

"I believe in gay marriage (and you don't, therefore I'm better than you.)"  
"I vaccinate my kids (and you don't, therefore I'm better than you.)"  
"I think universal healthcare is a form of socialism (and you don't, therefore I'm better than you.)"

I can name about 100 more examples - and the reverse opinions all intend to say it too, so please don't think I have a liberal bias, even if I do.  There doesn't seem to be any issue that can't be politicized and polarized, and as a result, it seems like there's nothing folks can believe in without being vilified.  It also feels like nearly everyone these days is opinionated, hypsersensitive, and has way too much time on their hands, which creates a sort of tinderbox for political and social argument.   Then the blamestream media comes along and throws a match on the dry grass, turning a flame-war into a raging forest fire. But let me get back to Christmas, and a few more controversies.  

One chain store came under fire for selling a holiday sweater that read, "I have O.C.D. - Obsessive Christmas Disorder."  Now, I love novelty t-shirts, and by extension, novelty sweaters I suppose - here the store was just trying to interject a bit of whimsy into the holiday, but someone said, "No, you can't make fun of the mentally handicapped!"  Umm, why not?  It's OCD!  Those people (myself included) are hilarious!  The way we need to constantly organize things, or agonize over decisions that need to be made according to a set of completely arbitrary criteria!  Go ahead, make fun, I'll be over here taking down notes about it.  

Then there was a Bloomingdale's catalog ad which depicted a man smiling at a woman, with the woman looking away, and copy that read, "Spike your best friend's eggnog when they're not looking."  Some people felt that the ad promoted getting a woman drunk to seduce her - but how do we know that the man was going to spike the woman's drink?  Maybe she was going to spike HIS drink, as soon as he turned the other way.  But here, I suppose I see how people could think it was all just a bit too date-rapey.  (But then why do we still allow "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to play on the radio?)

And of course, we have the grandest ad controversy of the season, the Starbucks cups kerfuffle.  To be fair to the famous coffee chain, I'm willing to accept the possibility that there were meetings and focus groups about the "best" way to celebrate the holiday - and that's not an easy task.  How does a company show its appreciation for Christmas without offending its customers of other denominations?  That's a tricky line to walk, and they hit on what they thought was an elegant answer - make the cups solid red for the season.  No snowflakes, no pine trees, no people in sweaters ice skating - just red.  And if things went well, some people would come into the stores and think, "What a nice, Christmas-y red cup!" and other non-Gentile people would think, "Hey, it's a red cup!" or perhaps nothing at all. 

(It's kind of like how a bunch of recording artists came together in the 1980's to record "Do They Know It's Christmas?" for charity - and their hearts were in the right place, God bless 'em.  But they forgot to mention that those starving people in Africa don't usually celebrate Christmas, because most of them are not Christians, and they're kind of busy starving, so they've got more important concerns.  So no, they don't really know that it's Christmas, and we shouldn't take the opportunity to proselytize.  Can't we just, you know, help them?)

And it would have been a perfect solution, if one douchebag (not hating, just stating...) hadn't made a video about it - allegedly joking, he now says - about how Starbucks had "removed" all the Christmas imagery from their cups, (even though it wasn't there in the first place), and there's no mention of Santa OR Jesus on the cups (umm, there never was...) and how he tells the barista that his name is "Merry Christmas" just to FORCE some holiday cheer on to the cups, and maybe we should all boycott Starbucks until they learn to celebrate Christmas the RIGHT way.  Soon it was all over the news, and it led to Trump on TV saying, "Hey, maybe we should boycott Starbucks" and "When I'm president, we'll all be saying "Merry Christmas" to each other again."  (Really, Donald, how would you enforce that?)

And there it is - collectively, we found a way to turn the season of peace and love into "I celebrate Christmas this way, and you don't, therefore I'm better than you."  Shame on that guy, and shame on us for allowing it to happen.  Because there should be no RIGHT way to celebrate Christmas, since that implies the flip-side, that there is a wrong way.  Some people go to church, some don't.  Some people believe in Santa Claus, some don't.  Some people buy a real tree, some people have a plastic tree or no tree at all.  Some people hang lights outdoors, some people don't.  Some people go to the movies and eat Chinese food on Christmas, and who exactly are they hurting?  The holiday can take it.  My wife and I go to a casino buffet and play the slots on Christmas Eve, and if that's wrong, then I don't want to be right. 

Maybe the internet age is partially to blame.  If you read the comments on any online video, it's not long before things get nasty.  "Hey, I like this Katy Perry song," is often followed by "If u like Katy Perry, then u r an idiot!" and then, "What do u meen, I love her, mebbe u should get ur head out of ur ass!"  We're now putting each other down for the simple crime of having an opinion, and trying to express it.  Last I checked, thinking and having an open exchange of ideas was a good thing, now it just seems to ignite flame-war after flame-war.  Maybe I'm wrong, maybe "I'm better than you" has been around forever, back to the primitive days of "I have fire, and you don't, therefore I'm better than you."  But Kris Kringle on a cracker, where does it end?  

Here's what I propose: For the time being, all internet comments, political statements, opinions on social issues, and the like, need to end with these four words - "And that's OK too".  Because I think that's how we fight back against "I'm better than you."  And if those words don't seem to fit, then you have to rewrite what you're saying so that they fit.  Try it - pick something you feel strongly about, any issue, and state your case, ending your argument with "And that's OK too."  It may not be easy, simply because we've all lived in a polarized world for so long, with the news and pundits telling us that every issue is either black or white, when in fact most things are some shade of grey in-between.  Abortion, gun control, global warming, immigration, whatever - as long as your opinion is 100% right and the opposing view is 100% wrong, we are never going to accomplish anything as a country or as a species, we're going to keep tearing each other apart if we can't work together.  

So I can't wrap it, and I hope you like it, but my gift to everyone this year is "And that's OK too".  Try it on, play with it, and see if it starts to spread a little more acceptance and cheer.  I won't force you to use it, because that would be against the point, but I'm keeping the receipt, so you can't return it.  If it doesn't fit, I suggest you try and make it fit.  Or not, but I'm hoping you can use it.  Use the heck out of it, until you don't need to use it anymore, until it's replaced the unspoken "I'm better than you" at the end of your opinion.  Because, really, no one is better than anyone else.  Someone can be richer, more powerful, have more followers in social media, but not better.   OK, rant over (for now) and I'll be getting down from off of my high horse now.

Linking from "The Family Stone", Luke Wilson was also in "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" with Eddie Izzard (last seen in "Velvet Goldmine").  

THE PLOT:  One Christmas Eve Goose meets Anthony, an enigmatic stranger with apparent psychic powers, able to tell by touching them what people have lost.

AFTER: I really liked this movie, more than will probably be reflected in a numerical rating, and I think it's got a great chance of growing on me.  If you watch only one new Christmas-themed movie this year, I recommend giving "Lost Christmas" a try.  And please, please, stick with it, because it starts out very depressing, very British (which almost seems redundant) but there is a pay-off.  And it wouldn't be the first dark Christmas story to catch on, because if you pick apart fims like "It's a Wonderful Life" (Depression, war, suicide, bankruptcy) and "A Christmas Carol" (regret, the plight of the working class, a crippled boy, general holiday grouchiness) you might wonder how they got made in the first place.  But sometimes we need the darkness to better appreciate the light. 

Actually, I'm bringing up those two films for a very specific reason, which I'm hesitant to even discuss for fear of spoiling the plotline of "Lost Christmas".  Look, just find this one on cable, or add it to your Netflix queue, and then we can talk about it, OK?  I don't ask you to do this often, but please, work with me, here. 

The best thing about the movie is Eddie Izzard - and isn't he always the best part about whatever he's in?  (Although they didn't let him wear a dress here, which seems like a damn shame.)  He plays a mysterious drifter who also seems to be part medium and part magician, although he can't remember his own name or many details outside of meaningless trivial facts.  But by shaking hands with someone, he can see images of whatever it is that person has lost - and it could be an object, or a loved one, or just their direction.  And even though it seems like he has no direction himself, he encounters a boy who's lost his dog and a man who's lost his family, and together they set out to make things right, based on these flashes of psychic insight. 

I will say only that Izzard's character is not an angel, nor is he Santa Claus, nor is he the Ghost of Christmas Past.  So, then, what IS he?   Ah, ah, ah.  All will be revealed - and if for some reason you find the answer to be a bit too science-fiction-y, a bit too wibbly wobbly timey-wimey, then you're probably the type of person who wonders why there is a "Dr. Who" Christmas special.  

And if you don't like sci-fi in your Christmas movie, that's too bad.  May I remind you that Santa Claus would need to travel near the speed of light in order to visit every good little boy and girl's house on Christmas Eve to deliver presents?  And he lives in an impossibly cold workshop location at the North Pole?  And reindeer don't fly, and elves don't build toys?  And that stars don't move through the sky and then suddenly STOP right over where a baby got born in a manger?  There's already plenty of sci-fi in the Christmas stories, deal with it.  

Let's also go back to those other classic stories for just a second - "A Christmas Carol" is very nearly the first story ever to feature time travel, predating the 1895 story "The Time Machine".  Now, the ghosts only showed Ebenezer Scrooge "shadows" of the past and the future, but the end result is the same.  Scrooge was able to see his past and his future, for the benefit of making a better Christmas in the present - and isn't that what time travel is for?  And in "It's a Wonderful Life", George Bailey got to see what his town would have been like if he had never been born.  People died in World War II because his brother didn't save them, because George wasn't there to save his brother when he fell through the ice.  And there were dozens of other characters who benefitted from the work of George Bailey - in the end, there's not much difference between "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Butterfly Effect".  

(Alternately, "It's a Wonderful Life" is just the flip-side of the Baby Hitler conundrum.  If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, you couldn't really benefit from changing the timeline, because you'd come back to the present and say, "Hey, everyone, I did it!  I killed Hitler before he could become a problem!" and people who say, "Who the heck is Hitler?"  Since he didn't do anything bad yet, he wouldn't be on anyone's radar, and your heroics would go unnoticed.  But I digress.) 

The other thing this film reminds me of is the NBC TV show "My Name Is Earl".  The main character there had lost a winning lottery ticket, and when he learned about karma, he felt that if he could make a list of all of his past mistakes, atone for them and become a better person, then the universe would find a way to make it up to him.  The storyline of "Lost Christmas" works on the same principle, since every character has lost something or someone, they're all holding on to the belief that if they can retrace their steps, find what was lost, apologize for their mistakes, then something good, or at least better, will come of it.  And it's hard to argue with that philosophy, especially at Christmas time.  And even if it's not entirely true, it's a nice belief system to have.

There, I've managed to tell you everything you need to know, and also I've told you nothing at all.  The film is a puzzle in its own way, and it doesn't get deep into religious B.S., except maybe a little Hinduism.  And maybe you'll gain an appreciation for what you have, because things could always be so much worse - and that feels very British, too.  It probably deserves to be a "7", but I'm taking off a point for the horrible acting job of the central young boy.  Ugh, save me from kids that mumble all of their lines.  But I'd still like to see this movie become a Christmas classic in years to come. 

Also starring Larry Mills, Jason Flemyng (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), Geoffrey Palmer (last seen in "Tomorrow Never Dies"), Sorcha Cusack (last seen in "Snatch"), Christine Bottomley (last seen in "Venus"), Steven Mackintosh (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Connie Hyde, Brett Fancy.

RATING: 6 out of 10 family photos