Saturday, May 30, 2015

Henry & June

Year 7, Day 150 - 5/30/15 - Movie #2,049

BEFORE: I probably should have watched this one in 2014, along with other films about authors and poets, like "Sylvia", "Shadowlands" and "Julia".  But I don't think I had a copy then, or I would have.  But I did schedule it as part of the romance chain this past February, but it didn't link directly to any of those other films, plus I needed to cut something so the topic would fit in the short month.  Finally it finds a place here, between another Uma Thurman film and another Kevin Spacey film.  

THE PLOT:  In 1931 Paris, Anais Nin meets Henry Miller and his wife June. Intrigued by them both, she begins expanding her sexual horizons with her husband Hugo as well as with Henry and others.

AFTER: This film has a reputation because it was the first film to receive a rating of NC-17.  It was really the cause of that rating being created, because there was a movie theater in Massachusetts that got pressure from town officials because it was initially rated "X", and ultimately they did not screen it.  That theater was the Showcase Cinema in Dedham, MA - and I had worked there about two summers before that, at the concession stand.  I wasn't surprised at all when I heard the news, because suburban Massachusetts wasn't really known for its progressiveness at the time.  Something clearly changed in the following decades, because Massachusetts later became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.  (Which sort of makes sense, because back in the days of the pilgrims, it was the first state to legalize no-sex marriage.)    

The theater is now gone, they bulldozed it about a decade ago (I took pictures) and there's a mall there now called Legacy Place.  I've been back a couple times to play pool at a bowling alley there, and they did build a new Showcase theater on the property, but I bet no one who works there is aware of the location's place in film rating history.  
Anyway, the rating was just that, a rating, and the Dedham town selectmen picketed the film without ever watching it.  The laugh's on them, because according to the IMDB, the film was not rated X because of all the girl-on-girl sex, it got rated X because at the start of the film, Anaïs Nin is seen looking at some erotic postcards, and one of those has a drawing of a Japanese woman in bed with a squid.  A drawing. Again, from a state that loves seafood as much as Massachusetts does, you'd think they'd be OK with something like that. 

I freely admit that I rented this film once before, but I only watched a few scenes.  You can probably guess which ones - but I'm still repenting for movie sins like that by going back and watching the film around the sexy scenes.  In this case, it turns out I made the right call.  Outside of the naughty bits, this film just isn't that interesting.  Do I care, in the end, about the affairs of a bunch of writers?  Not really, unless they're super-famous like Hemingway, their lives and loves don't really float my boat.  Toss in a bunch of hard-to-understand French accents and an even worse Brooklyn accent coming from Uma Thurman, and I can feel my mind starting to wander.  

The filmmakers tried their best to keep the clichéd shots of writers writing to a minimum - there are only a few scenes where Henry Miller is seen typing, then pulling the sheet of paper from the manual typewriter and instantly recognizing that he's typed something genius, and there are no shots of writers staring at a typewriter or a blank sheet of paper, not knowing what to write.  But there is the hackneyed scene where a large manuscript is thrown up in the air (by a person or the wind, same result) and the pages are thus jumbled in order.  Because no writers in movies believe in the use of paper clips or staples.  

I was never really sure about the pronunciation of Anaïs Nin's name.  Is it AHH-nais or ANN-iss?  Turns out it's neither, the correct pronunciation appears to be Ahn-ay-ees.  But throughout the whole film, Henry Miller keeps calling her "ANN-iss".  Was this intentional, to suggest that he never bothered to learn to say her name right, or a case of the actor playing him never being able to say it correctly?  (For that matter, when we're talking about the spice named anise, should I say "ANN-iss" or "Ahh-NICE"?  People on the Food Network seem to alternate, and they really need to get their people on the same page.  Same for "JY-ros" or "JEE-ros" or "YEE-ros", and don't get me started on Worcestershire sauce.  It's not hard, just say "WUSS-ter-sheer".  Simple - the towns in Massachusetts and the U.K. are both pronounced "WUSS-ter".  Even if you make a joke out of it and say, "Wor-chest-er-sheer", it's not funny, you just sound ignorant.)  

Anyway, the real point here is that 1931 Paris was apparently another hotbed of liberalism, at least for authors and people with money to spend on adult entertainment.  They didn't have the wonders of the internet, so if they wanted to see something kinky, they had to either do it themselves, or go out and pay somebody to do it while they watched.  (Which raises the question, what was kinky back then, and what's considered kinky now, in this post-internet age?  What haven't we seen by now, after stars have released sex tapes and reality TV stars are doing hardcore porn?)

But even back then, I can see the double-standard - if a married man spent the night with a beautiful prostitute, he was a cheater and a filthy pig.  But if a woman did the same thing with the same woman, she was "having an experience" or "exploring her sexuality".  This film practically celebrates Anaïs Nin for being a free spirit and falling in love with people other than her husband, while villainizing Henry Miller for doing the same.  Hey, if you want true gender equality, these are the little distinctions that are going to need to be ironed out.  All people need to be held equally accountable for their actions, or allowed to explore in the same fashion.  Explaining that a woman wants love when a man wants sex is not a valid excuse.  

Whether it was from bad writing or from bad acting, I'm left with very little understanding of the true nature of the relationship between Henry and June.  Perhaps because the movie spent more time on Henry and Anaïs, and also on June and Anaïs.  (The fourth part of the love quadrangle, Anaïs' husband, Hugo, is conveniently absent for most of the film.)  June is portrayed as Henry's lover and champion of his work, but also as a possible liar and con artist.  Late in the film, when she's making out with Anaïs, she pretends to hear someone approaching, and the best scene in the film is thus over too quickly.  So, was she leading Anaïs on, was that part of the con, or did she have genuine feelings for her and was unable to consummate the relationship?  We'll never know, because shortly after that, she discovers that Henry and Anaïs are lovers, and she doesn't take it well.  But that's another double standard, right?  Like, it's OK for her to fool around, but her husband better not!  

Also starring Fred Ward (last seen in "2 Guns"), Maria de Medeiros, Kevin Spacey (last seen in "Shrink"), Richard E. Grant (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, with a cameo from Gary Oldman (last seen in "Lost in Space")

RATING: 4 out of 10 female contortionists

Friday, May 29, 2015


Year 7, Day 149 - 5/29/15 - Movie #2,048

BEFORE: Meryl Streep carries over again, and I think I've now seen every major Streep picture, except for "Mamma Mia".  Sure, there are some minor ones I probably skipped, but just like with Robin Williams and Robert Redford, I don't have to go for 100% completion - I'm free to determine where to draw the line.

In any other year, I would have counted this as a romance, but since I devised this chain when there was still a chance I could end this project in 2015, I worked it in here, and I'm still following that plan. 

THE PLOT: A career driven professional from Manhattan is wooed by a young painter, who also happens to be the son of her psychoanalyst.

AFTER: OK, forget what I said about this week being about industries I don't understand.  This week is about ethics.  A tough word to get a grip on sometimes, but we dealt with the ethics of selling oil and merging oil companies (umm, I think...) in "Syriana", the ethics of looting a country's fine art during wartime, the ethics of selling insurance policies and never paying claims, and the ethics of trying go get out of a TV show contract by casting a conjoined twin as a co-star.  Yeah, OK, the ethics of the fashion industry, but that's a bit of a stretch. 

The ethical thing for an analyst to do, if she finds out her patient is dating her son, would be to help that patient find a new analyst.  I don't think I'm divulging any spoilers by revealing this bit of the plot, because it's in the tagline, geez, it's on the freaking poster.  Anyway, that's not what Streep's analyst character does - because if she did, the movie would be over an hour too early.  Instead she keeps treating the patient, intently curious about what sort of boyfriend her son is.  Curiousity mixed with cringing that is, because she learns some intimate details that make her cringe, but still she continues.  

The story had to cheat a little bit to allow this awkward situation to develop in the first place - the audience is meant to figure it out well in advance of the characters themselves.  To do this, a number of cheats are introduced, namely that the mother and son have different last names (well, she is a professional woman) and they don't live in the same apartment (for some reason, he rooms with his grandparents) and the patient also fudges the age of her boyfriend when she talks to her therapist.  OK, sure, maybe she's a bit embarrassed about dating a younger man, but that's three unlikely things that need to occur to bring about this confusion from the overlapping of characters.

I almost marked this as a follow-up to another romance film I watched a couple years ago that pulled off nearly the same cheat, but the difference is that I felt that film succeeded in maintaining the element of surprise, even from the audience, for much longer.  So if I mention the connection between this film and that one, that's a spoiler, and I don't want to ruin that other film for anyone.  But I gave that film a higher rating, and felt that it was perhaps a bit too clever in its contrivance.  

This film commits a few more movie sins, also - like having a terribly underdeveloped best friend character.  For some reason, after dating a woman once, he appears on their doorstep to hit them in the face with a cream pie - why?  Is this because the women won't give him a second date, or does he do this to ensure there will be no second date?  Does he have some weird fetish, or does he just hate women, and if so, why does he continue to date them?  This is the guy who should be on the analyst's couch, but his actions are never explained.  They're despicable, but at least slightly interesting.  

But it's really about an older divorced woman in a relationship with a younger man.  Can they make it work despite the age gap and the difference in their religions?  He's also a struggling artist, and she's..., huh, I'm not really sure what her job was, but it's something in the fashion industry. (She works for a photographer?  I guess it's not important.) Are they made for each other despite their differences, or is their relationship doomed to fail?  I guess it depends on who you ask, but they were a little bit on-again, off-again, so it seems like the film was trying to have it both ways, and ultimately you've got to pick one.  Whichever result you're rooting for here, there's a 50% chance of being disappointed.  

Also starring Uma Thurman (last seen in "Tape"), Bryan Greenberg (last seen in "Friends With Benefits"), John Rothman (also carrying over from "The Devil Wears Prada"), Jon Abrahams (last seen in "Non-Stop"), Zak Orth (last seen in "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"), Jerry Adler (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), Doris Belack, Annie Parisse, with cameos from Aubrey Dollar, David Costabile (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Will McCormack. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 quail eggs

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Devil Wears Prada

Year 7, Day 148 - 5/28/15 - Movie #2,047

BEFORE: Well, I started the year with three Meryl Streep films, and now here are three more.  Meryl carries over from "Stuck on You" and will stick around for tomorrow's film as well.  I've got to be close to closing out the Meryl Streep category by now.  

I certainly never envisioned myself here, watching this film, when I started this project.  But I've been down a lot of roads that I never imagined walking down - zombie films, old Cary Grant screwball comedies, films about rap music - I didn't think I'd ever get to the Marx Brothers movies, but I got there.  

I saw a video once of a man at a beer festival, and he'd kept track of all the different beers he'd tasted over the years.  By his calculations, he'd tried 4,999 different beers, and was about to sip his 5,000th.  Before he did, though, he had to go through his clipboard notes and make sure this was really a beer he'd never tried before - meanwhile, the beer sample is sitting in front of him, and he's not drinking it.  (I do keep a sort of mental checklist of beers I've tried, but surprisingly, I'm not all anal and organized about it.)  I'm similarly organized about the films I've seen, but I never want to let the record-keeping get in the way of the enjoying - so I really should just try to dive in and enjoy each film for whatever it's worth, even if I'm not inclined to enjoy it, because that's the point of it all, right?

THE PLOT:  A smart but sensible new graduate lands a job as an assistant to Miranda Priestly, the demanding editor-in-chief of a high fashion magazine.

AFTER: It turns out I know even less about the fashion industry than I do about the oil industry or the insurance industry.  (Hey, there's a theme for the week - businesses and trades I know nothing about...)  

I see where they're going with this one, they want me to root for Andrea as she gets a low-level job at a fashion magazine and tries to advance, or at least survive, as she works for a very demanding boss.  But the boss didn't read as cruel to me, so I'm sort of with Miranda Priestly on this one.  She rose to the top of her industry, she's in charge of a prominent fashion magazine, so she wants what she wants when she wants it, and if she's got a bizarre request, there's probably a very good reason for it that her underlings just don't understand.  And here comes this young hot-shot who doesn't even want to make a career out of fashion, and she thinks she's going to have it easy?  That she doesn't have to put in extra hours or be available around the clock to do errands?  I think not.  

I probably empathized more with Emily - not "Emily" as represented by Andrea, the generic term for one of Miranda's assistants, but the actual Emily, who's directly under Miranda, but in charge of other staffers.  Yeah, I also work for a boss who often has strange demands, but I'm still running the day-to-day of the office, and I can assign work to interns if I need help, and I can plan projects, advise the boss or even disagree with him if I see fit (within reason, of course).  Wisdom eventually comes in knowing when to correct the boss, and when to let him be wrong (so I can ultimately be proven right...).  

The smartest character here is probably the head stylist, who (politely) puts our heroine in her place, and tells her to suck it up.  It's called "work" because it's not supposed to be easy, you dope.  Did you think everything was just going to fall into place for you, and other people would scurry around the office, thinking of ways to make your life easier?  Yeah, that's not how it goes down.  Other people are there to play their parts, and their interests are often going to conflict with yours - buckle down, put in the time, and look for opportunities to advance by going the extra mile.  (He's also proof that an actor can play a presumably gay character without overly queening it up.)

However, he also recommends that Andrea start dressing better - ah, nothing solves a problem like just getting a makeover and proving to everyone that you're really a pretty girl.  This sends completely the wrong message out to America's youth - I know, they say "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have."  But what about being true to yourself, and developing your own personal style?  It's not like Andrea was wearing a burlap sack to work, she dressed the way she wanted at first, and making her conform to another person's sense of style just to curry favor at the office seems like bad advice to me.  Of course, I work in an office where nobody cares about how people dress, the boss usually wears shorts and flip-flops, and my biggest concern each morning is deciding what I want my novelty t-shirt to say.  

Also starring Anne Hathaway (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises"), Emily Blunt (last seen in "Into the Woods"), Stanley Tucci (last seen in "A Life Less Ordinary"), Adrian Grenier (last seen in "Anything Else"), Daniel Sunjata (last seen in "Melinda and Melinda"), Tracie Thoms, Rich Sommer, Rebecca Mader, with cameos from James Naughton, Gisele Bündchen (hey, Tom Brady was here just last night...), John Rothman, Heidi Klum, Donatella Versace.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Hermes scarves

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stuck on You

Year 7, Day 147 - 5/27/15 - Movie #2,046

BEFORE: Matt Damon carries over from "The Rainmaker", this is a recent acquisition that came in after watching the Greg Kinnear films earlier this year, like "Sabrina" and "Someone Like You".  And I admit it doesn't seem to fit thematically here, with a month full of suicides and war and serial killers and concentration camps, but you just never know.  Anyway, I'm no longer programming thematically, it's now catch-up time on a wide variety of topics.  I'll admit I've been a bit curious about this film, could it be as bad as it seems to be?  Plus, this helps link to where I want to go tomorrow, and sets up a chain that will last at least two more months, I think - at least until my Comic-Con break.

THE PLOT: Conjoined twins from Martha's Vineyard move to Los Angeles so that one of them can pursue an acting career.

AFTER: OK, it's not as bad as I thought, it's watchable, but just barely.  It could have been a lot worse.  Hey, I endured "The Radioland Murders" and "Miss March", so I can watch just about anything at this point.

Most of the humor, scratch that, ALL of the humor, originates from one source - the state of being a conjoined twin.  So you could say it's the same joke, over and over, for nearly the whole length of the film.  One twin is outgoing with the ladies, the other is shy and has a pen pal relationship.  One wants to be an actor, the other one gets stage fright.  One wants to stay in Hollywood, the other one is happy flipping burgers in Martha's Vineyard.  What to do?

The physical nature of their situation is driven home, again and again, to the point of ridiculousness, even in flashbacks.  What would it look like if conjoined twins played baseball?  What would it look like if conjoined twins played hockey?  What would it look like if one twin had to go to jail?  What if one of them gets drunk, and he's the one on the right, so the one on the left has to drive home?  What if one takes a shower, and the other one wears a raincoat? 

The problem with all this is the logistics, which are sacrificed quickly in the name of comedy.  And if the logistics don't work, then for me, the jokes don't work either.  You simply can't close a jail cell in a way that will keep one brother on the inside and one on the outside - because the cell door can't pass between them.  How did that door close?  Wouldn't they have realized that on the set while filming, that there was no logical way to make that happen?  Same thing with the bus gag, where one gets stuck on the outside of the bus.  Well, the bus can't move unless the door closes, and the door can't close unless both of them are inside, so you simply can't have one outside, so that gag doesn't work either.  My advice - if the joke has no possible bearing in reality, try a different joke.

Perhaps I'm overthinking things - maybe the conjoined twin thing is just a metaphor, not to be taken literally, because it doesn't seem to conform to any realistic physical laws.  Maybe any two people who are brothers, or in any kind of relationship, can spend so much time together that they get on each other's nerves, but also can't stand to be apart.  Really, aren't we all conjoined twins in some way?  And the film was directed by two brothers...hmm...maybe we're getting a little insight to their relationship, joined at the hip? 

Again, something tells me I'm giving the film too much credit.  Safe money says this is just a silly little comedy, not meant to be taken seriously, not a metaphor for something else.  When one brother goes on a date and tries to hide the fact that he's attached to his brother, or the other brother thinks he's got a solid chance at an acting career, despite the obviousness of his situation, it seems beyond ridiculous.

On the other hand, dare to dream, right?  It's kind of heartening to think that someone with a physical disability like this wouldn't let it slow them down, they still want to work, and play sports, and have relationships just like anyone else.  I just think at some point, like in playing high-school sports, reality would set in, and the opposing team would claim that you can't have two pitchers on the mound, or an extra man on the football field, as this represents an unfair advantage.  The twist here is that these two men (and legally, they are TWO men) seem to keep finding ways to turn their disability into a positive advantage.  

The most famous conjoined twins were, of course, Chang and Eng Bunker, born in Siam, which is where we get the now less-preferred term "Siamese twins".  Like the brothers in this film, they were joined at the torso and shared a liver, although in more modern times they probably could have been separated medically.  They both were married and slept in a bed made for four - one had 11 children and the other had 10, so clearly they didn't let their condition slow them down either, though things were no doubt awkward.  

Speaking of awkward, the Farrelly brothers seemed to go out of their way to hire their friends and family to make cameos in this film, along with a disproportionate number of people with physical and mental disabilities.  I want to believe they had the best intentions in doing so, but my cynical side wants to believe that they did so because of some odd fascination, or perhaps a tax break for their hiring practices.  Or perhaps this was some kind of move to make the film critic-proof, because if I call attention to this or make fun of the actors involved, suddenly I'm the bad guy.  

At the very least, this is distracting.  Maybe it's more reflective of the way society is, I don't know, these questions are above my pay grade - and maybe there's a larger point being made by putting people who don't match Hollywood's beauty standards into a film, but if it's not done correctly, it seems to stray towards exploitation.  Remember when there was a big wave of Hollywood comedies like "The Ringer" (also produced by the Farrelly brothers) and that news show produced by the creators of "South Park" that featured reporters with disabilities?  I think you have to walk a very fine line when you cast real disabled people in a comedy, because you open up the possibility that people will laugh AT them, or worse, feel uncomfortable laughing WITH them.  

Wikipedia is telling me that one of the Farrelly Brothers is a longtime volunteer with Best Buddies, a group that mentors people with intellectual disabilities, so I'm going to cut them a little latitude here.  Still, I don't know if it's appropriate to load up this film, or any film, with every person you've ever met who wants to be on camera, disabled or not.  Also, does it belittle the condition of people with real disabilities to cast two Hollywood pretty-boys as conjoined twins?  I mean, it's a contrivance, and a necessary one because of the plot - in its own way, this is as contrived as casting the same actor in two roles (like Ed Harris in "The Face of Love"), where the form follows function.

Once the brother who wants to be an actor achieves some measure of success on a crime show, and attempts are made to either cut his conjoined twin out of the frame, or dress him in chroma-key green and remove him from the shot digitally.  The show, "Honey and the Beaz" is at first a laughing-stock, then a surprise hit, then a runaway success, then becomes the victim of its own success.  By placing a character with a disability in the middle of all that, there's nearly a parody look at Hollywood and how it treats actors, especially ones that don't conform to some imagined standard of perfection.  Between reality TV and social media, opinions are starting to change, but it's a long slow road, and I suspect that pretty people will always have the inside track.  But if you want to take this as a metaphor, and substitute "gay" or "transgender" or "overweight" or "Mormon" (or whatever) for "conjoined twin", then there's almost - ALMOST - a point being made here.

I did watch that TLC show about conjoined twins, which aired back in 2012 - "Abby & Brittany".  These were girls in their late teens who were about to graduate from high school and go to college.  The difference between them and the characters seen in this film is that they're joined at the spine, and have just one ribcage and two legs.  They had three arms initially, but a central one was removed, resulting in the necessity of teaming up in order to walk or ride a bike.  They work together to drive a car, but also had to receive separate driver's licenses.  This supports my point about conjoined twins being legally two different people, which I think would also prevent them from playing team sports like the characters in this film - not for physical reasons, but to conform to the rules.  I'm filled with questions about how they live their lives, but I'm going to table them because I felt pretty darn invasive just from watching their show. 

Also starring Greg Kinnear (last seen in "Someone Like You"), Eva Mendes (last seen in "Hitch"), Cher (last heard in "Zookeeper"), Meryl Streep (last seen in "August: Osage County"), Seymour Cassel, Griffin Dunne (last seen in "Shrink"), Wen Yann Shih, Jackie Flynn, Ray Valliere, with cameos from Dane Cook, Peter Dante, Gary Valentine (last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), Jeffrey Ross, Jay Leno, Luke Wilson (last seen in "The Skeleton Twins"), Lenny Clarke (last seen in "Rounders"), Tom Brady, Cam Neely, Jesse Ventura, Frankie Muniz,

RATING: 4 out of 10 crossword puzzles

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Rainmaker

Year 7, Day 146 - 5/26/15 - Movie #2,045

BEFORE:  Matt Damon carries over from "The Monuments Men", and it's still a holiday week, which means it's a fairly slow week for TV, and a slow week for movies premiering on cable.  That's great if I want to gain some more ground, if I can limit myself to just adding "Boyhood" and "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" over a 7-day span, that gets me 5 steps closer to the 150-film mark. 

And yes, the cable guide lists this as "John Grisham's The Rainmaker", but I don't allow possessives in movie titles, even for authors like Grisham.  IMDB says this is just "The Rainmaker", so I'm inclined to agree.  Now if only the cable company would cooperate - because if you were inclined to watch this film and play along at home, you wouldn't search under "J", you'd search under "R".  Right?

THE PLOT:  An idealistic young lawyer and his cynical partner take on a powerful law firm representing a corrupt insurance company.

AFTER: I had "Syriana" trying to prove that the whole oil industry is corrupt, and now here's "The Rainmaker" trying to make the same point about the insurance industry.  I'm inclined to agree, but isn't the goal of any company to make money?  Any company that isn't turning a profit and is paying out more than it takes in simply isn't going to be around very long to serve its customers, so making money is always job #1 - I guess it just comes down to the way in which a company makes its profit.

For the Great Benefit insurance company, that's seen in the way they turned down the claim of a young man with leukemia, and refused to cover processes that might save his life, like a bone marrow transplant.  A young law school grad who's studying to pass the Tennessee bar exam picks up the case from a legal aid center, and goes up against a team of more experienced lawyers working for the insurance company.  

Meanwhile, he gets a job as an associate at a firm, which sends him out with a paralegal to the hospital to search for injury claims.  It's not long before the firm is under investigation and he and the paralegal set up their own practice.  And here the word really has two meanings, because he's a "practicing" attorney in both senses of the word. 

He even juggles two other cases, both of which seem like conflicts of interest to me.  OK, I never studied law, but I've watched a ton of "Law & Order" - all the different series.  He helps an elderly lady with her will while he's renting a room from her, and she's so grateful she wants to make him a beneficiary.  Umm, how about just a break on the rent, or is that unethical?  He also meets a woman in the hospital who's being beaten by her husband, and he forms an emotional relationship with her, but there are legal ramifications of that, and what comes next in that storyline.  

There's a line at the end, in voiceover, that says "Every lawyer, at least once in every case, feels himself crossing a line that he doesn't really mean to cross... it just happens... and if you cross it enough times it disappears forever."  I have to disagree with this, because - in EVERY case?  There are thousands of lawsuits filed in every U.S. city each year, do you really mean that lawyers cross some kind of ethical line in every single one of them?  If that's true, then the legal profession is shadier than the insurance game, and I don't think that's what the author was trying to imply.  

The main character here thinks of himself as an ethical man, and then when he has to resort to a bit of deception to win a case, perhaps he thinks less of himself - but at least he's aware that he's crossed a line, where many would just go with the deception and not even think twice about it.  Similarly, it feels like some filmmakers cross a line when telling a story, when they take story shortcuts or use coincidences to bring people together, and if they do that too many times, they probably just get in the habit of doing that without thinking twice about it.

Also starring Danny DeVito (last seen in "Goin' South"), Claire Danes (last seen in "Me and Orson Welles"), Jon Voight (last seen in "Coming Home"), Mary Kay Place (last seen in "Private Benjamin"), Andrew Shue, Mickey Rourke (last seen in "Get Carter"), Virginia Madsen (last heard in "Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild"), Danny Glover (last heard in "Alpha and Omega"), Red West, Johnny Whitworth (last seen in "Limitless"), with cameos from Dean Stockwell (last seen in "Compulsion"), Roy Scheider (last seen in "Klute").

RATING: 5 out of 10 bags of mulch

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Monuments Men

Year 7, Day 145 - 5/25/15 - Movie #2,044

BEFORE: Well, my goal was to make this film line up with Memorial Day, so I succeeded, thanks to the last-minute addition of "Jarhead".  George Clooney and Matt Damon carry over from "Syriana", and I face another linking decision after this.  This one has so many stars in the cast that it's something of a nexus film, I could go a lot of different ways after this one - or at least I could have, if I hadn't watched those Wes Anderson films already.  More on that later.

THE PLOT: An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.

AFTER: I'm going to assign a rating now, before I go and read the "Goofs" section on IMDB, or learn any trivia or behind-the-scenes info that will cause me to lower the score, because I really liked this one.  It felt in one way like one of those classic war team-ups, maybe not "The Dirty Dozen", but more like "Kelly's Heroes".  I got something of a "Great Escape" vibe too, only the men had to break into Germany, not out of it.  And the cast calls to mind "Ocean's Eleven", but again, in reverse since they're not stealing, they're un-stealing.  While I'm at it, let's throw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in the mix as well, since that film also told us Hitler was an obsessive art collector.  And what the hey, "Saving Private Ryan", for telling the story of a small mission set against the backdrop of larger campaigns like Normandy.  

Enough comparisons, because I think this film could become a classic on its own.  It's based on the true story of a platoon of art historians, architects and museum curators who were tasked with rescuing stolen masterpieces as the Nazis were retreating, and restoring them to their rightful owners if possible.  The mission isn't just impossible, it's really unlikely, given that the Nazis had years to rifle through French and Belgian art collections, were able to cherry-pick the ones they liked, burn the ones they didn't, and ship the best off to, well, wherever they were going to build the FuhrerMuseum.  

For extra pathos, the platoon is comprised of men unskilled in military protocol and a few screw-ups looking for redemption - but they represent boots on the ground seeking information for a very specific purpose.  One has to gain the trust of a French woman who aided the Nazis in looting the Louvre, and is subsequently branded a traitor.  She won't trust the American, because he's a curator for the Met in New York, and she's convinced he'll loot the collection for his own ends.  But these are men who end up risking their lives behind enemy lines to preserve art.  

OK, so the real Monuments Men numbered 345 people from 13 countries - and some of them were Monuments Women.  Forgive the film for boiling their number down to 7 in order to tell a coherent story.  The film still managed to keep three or four plotlines going (with our heroes chasing down different leads) without getting all incoherent, like "Syriana".  I'll allow them to use some characters as amalgams to represent the exploits of several personnel.

OK, now I've read some of the complaints about this film on the IMDB forums, and I just don't agree with them.  Some people say the film was poorly structured, some wish it had been more serious, some say the music ruined the film, and it's like they're talking nonsense.  I would have nominated this for an Oscar over films like "Her" - wait, I think that's the wrong year.  This is a 2014 film, so it would have been up against "Birdman", "Boyhood", "The Imitation Game", "The Theory of Everything", "Selma", etc.  Wow, that was a tough year.  I mean, every year is tough, but if this could have come out in calendar 2013 it might have had an outside chance. 

Maybe you have to know and appreciate art.  I studied art history in high school and though I haven't been to a museum in a while, I know a Vermeer from a Van Eyck.  The question becomes - is art worth dying for?  And obviously the answer is yes, especially if you work in art (or film, or TV) because that's what you do when you devote your life to something, you give up your life, one day at a time.  Every artist died for his or her art - even if your job is cleaning the street, you die for your job, so you'd better make sure you believe in it.  Or maybe I'm really into this film because it appeals to my OCD - it's all about Hitler being a collector, and then once the art is recovered, it all has to be checked, catalogued, and returned to its proper places - I get chills just thinking about all that restoration of order.

Speaking of art, I face a decision tonight about whether to stick with the plan, or call an audible.  It's something of a crossroads, the presence of two prominent cast members of "The Artist" (and that's a hard film to link to, believe me...) makes it seem worthwhile to abandon the plan - or should I follow the Matt Damon thread, since I know (more or less) where that one leads?  But I've got another way to get to "The Artist", following the McConnaughey chain - and I don't think I have another way to get to the next Matt Damon film, so I think that's the deciding factor.  I wish I could predict which path would get me to the end of 2015 in the best way, but there are too many variables.   Anyway, I should be focused on getting the watchlist to be shorter, not fretting over the best order.  

Also starring Bill Murray (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Cate Blanchett (last seen in "Blue Jasmine"), John Goodman (last seen in "Flight"), Bob Balaban (last seen in "Jakob the Liar"), Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville (last seen in "Notting Hill"), Dimitri Leonidas, Alexandre Desplat, Grant Heslov, with cameos from Matt Rippy, Nick Clooney.

RATING: 8 out of 10 flamethrowers

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Year 7, Day 144 - 5/24/15 - Movie #2,043

BEFORE: Chris Cooper carries over from "Jarhead", and I'm back on track.  Got my caffeinated diet soda and since it's a holiday weekend, I'm caught up on sleep, so I have a better chance of staying awake through this one. 

THE PLOT: A politically-charged epic about the state of the oil industry in the hands of those personally involved and affected by it.

AFTER: Ugh, I feel like I didn't get this one at all - or maybe there was nothing to get.  This is supposed to be one of those films like "Crash" or "Babel" where we marvel at how interconnected every little event is - but unless you're a Political Science major, you probably won't find the individual events themselves interesting.  

Oh, things do happen - oil companies merge, an American economist advises an Arab prince, a CIA agent is sent to assassinate that same prince, and a lawyer investigates whether the merger is legal.  Meanwhile, there's a missing missile and a tragic incident in a swimming pool.  The question then becomes, do these elements add up to a coherent whole, or not?  Considering that I had to look up the plot summary online to even form the last few sentences, then I'm going with "No".  

Unless the point is to prove how complicated and hard to understand politics are in the Mideast, then I'm not getting it - even so, that's no excuse to make a complicated and hard to understand film.  Or is it?  If "Jarhead" was about how pointless war is in the Middle East and its relation to oil, this is a pointless film about oil in the Middle East and its relation to war.

The theme of the week seems to be torture - Jackie Robinson endured psychological torture from racist baseball fans, the killer in "Alex Cross" was a fan of torture techniques, and then they popped up again in "Prisoners".  In "Jarhead", Marine recruits endured the torture of basic training, and then this film was like torture to watch.  Just kidding, someone in this film gets waterboarded and physically tortured, so yeah, it's a fun week here at the Movie Year.

Also starring George Clooney (last seen in "Solaris"), Matt Damon (last seen in "Rounders"), Jeffrey Wright (last seen in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"), Amanda Peet (last seen in "Something's Gotta Give"), Christopher Plummer (last seen in "Must Love Dogs"), Alexander Siddig (last seen in "Clash of the Titans"), Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "The Thin Red Line"), William Hurt (last seen in "Lost in Space"), Viola Davis (last seen in "Prisoners"), Mark Strong (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Robert Foxworth, Peter Gerety (last seen in "Flight"), Jamey Sheridan (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), David Clennon (last seen in "Coming Home"), with cameos from Will McCormack, Thomas McCarthy.

RATING: 3 out of 10 strips of soy bacon