Saturday, June 20, 2015

Stakeout

Year 7, Day 171 - 6/20/15 - Movie #2,070

BEFORE: Can I do this?  Can I cut from a serious film about African dictator Idi Amin to a silly 80's police comedy?  I mean, I know I can, but should I?  I can tell myself that the linking makes it OK, because Forest Whitaker carries over.  But I still feel like I'm ricocheting all over the place, with no consistency in subject matter.  I'll just console myself that crime's running through everything, whether that's the crime of being dishonest ("Magic in the Moonlight", "The Importance of Being Earnest") to the crimes of treason ("The Conspirator"), art theft ("Trance") and political wrongdoing/genocide ("The Last King of Scotland").  Whatever helps me sleep at night, right?

This gets me to Richard Dreyfuss films, which get me to Peter Falk films, which get me to Jack Lemmon films, and then back to sci-fi before my Comic-Con break.  The plan will all make some kind of sense in about 2 1/2 weeks.



THE PLOT: Two cops have to observe a woman. One of them falls in love with her.

AFTER: The film opens with a man breaking out of prison - sure, like that happens in the news all the time.  But federal agents don't break out the bloodhounds or follow the crime wave he creates as he moves across the country, they instead choose to get local police to stake out places he might turn up, like the homes of ex-girlfriends.  Because they don't head north across the border to Canada, no matter how close they are - instead they drive across big states like Montana if they think they might get laid.  Are you paying attention, upstate New York cops?  

(I mean, really, there are three choices if you bust out of prison so close to Canada - 1) Head to Canada, simple but effective.  2) Do the complete opposite, and head south toward Mexico.  If you can't make it to Mexico, there are plenty of places to hide in rural Pennsylvania, and maybe everyone will just assume you went the other direction.  3) Stay right where you are, find a little cabin or something a few miles from the prison, because nobody would expect that.  Wait a month, change your whole look and then walk (don't run) out of town.)  

Above all, if you're on the lam, don't call attention to yourself.  That includes looking up old girlfriends - but the convict in question here has no choice, because he's got money stashed at his ex-lover's house.  It seems like it would be relatively easy for him to get it, because the local cops are spending much more time pranking each other (the day team pranks the night team, and vice versa) and also romancing the subject they're supposed to be watching.

To be fair, the guy's just broken up with his girlfriend (wife?) and he's having trouble sleeping during the day - the running gag of noisy wood chippers and neighbors with motorcycles breaks the comedy rule of things being funny in threes, because there are only two examples shown.  Someone couldn't think of a third loud thing to annoy him?  Wait, I think there was also a garbage truck - never mind.   

They put a bug on her phone - which, apparently in the 1980's, could only be done from inside the house. Either spy technology was really poor back then, or else this was just a narrative cheat to get one close to her, where he can see how attractive she is.  So that's a NITPICK POINT, because I think you can tap someone's phone line from the telephone pole or the junction box, right?  Anyway, once our man forms a connection, the slippery slope of reasoning goes that his job is to watch her house, but now he's just doing it from the inside.  

Jeez, it's just like "In the Cut" - do cops really see their casework as one big dating service?  This seems quite unprofessional.  But I guess police run into a lot of different people in the course of a day, and I could see her going for a man in uniform, except he's not in uniform.  She just thinks he's a nice guy who works for the phone company, but in the real world, a woman calling someone "nice" is not great news for the relationship - it means she's put him in the friend zone while she looks for another bad boy to date.  

While I'm at it, another NITPICK POINT: Why didn't the FBI have enough agents to do their own stakeouts?  They were only watching 6 locations, even with two agents per shift at each location, that's only 24 people.  There was no reason at all for them to get the local police involved.  Plus they probably would have handled things a bit more professionally.

Also starring Richard Dreyfuss (last seen in "Postcards From the Edge"), Emilio Estevez (last seen in "Repo Man"), Madeleine Stowe (last seen in "China Moon"), Aidan Quinn (last seen in "The Prince and the Pauper"), Dan Lauria, Ian Tracey, Earl Billings, with cameos from Don Davis, Elizabeth Bracco.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Playboy centerfolds

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Last King of Scotland

Year 7, Day 170 - 6/19/15 - Movie #2,069

BEFORE: James McAvoy carries over for his third and final film in this chain, and it's clear that when I draw up the recap for this year, in addition to artists and serial killers, I'll be talking about world leaders and/or politics.  In January I watched films about both Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher, I finally got around to watching "Gandhi", and then a few weeks ago "The Butler" showed a take on all the U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Obama, and then I touched on Abe Lincoln earlier this week. 


THE PLOT:  Based on the events of the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's regime as seen by his personal physician during the 1970.

AFTER: What's odd for me is that this film doesn't seem to fit in with those other films about world leaders.  With the story being told from the point of view of his personal doctor, the film neatly sidesteps the enigma that is Idi Amin - cleverly, we get to see him through a close confidant's eyes, and that person goes through stages of being fascinated by him, charmed by him, and then eventually threatened by him.  

But we all see things through our own filters - so naturally I can draw a parallel to my own experiences working for people, and in a roundabout way, that puts this film in close proximity to "The Devil Wears Prada", or perhaps "Swimming with Sharks".  Because no matter what field you're working in, whether it's fashion or film, medicine or politics, you could end up working for someone who's a giant in the industry, and you could be similarly fascinated, charmed and then threatened by that person.  (Wait, this guy works for an egotistical dictator whose word is law, and he runs things tyrannically with random instructions to his staff?  Yeah, I've been there.)

So they took this very specific conundrum - working for a brutal dictator, and they found a way to make it more universal.  Maybe you've had a boss, (or a spouse, or an phone service provider) that you were once enamored with, and you'd like to break things off, but you can't, because that person (or phone service provider) is acting psychotically, and that's part of the problem.  There's just no good way to follow up, "I'd like to talk to you about how irrationally you've been acting lately..." because that's just going to set that someone off, now, isn't it?  Or you're stuck in a job, and you can't look for another job until you quit THIS one, but you can't quit this one, because you don't have another job lined up just yet.  What are you going to do for a living, nothing?  

So our hero gets in too deep with Amin before he realizes the man's true colors, whether he's bipolar or self-absorbed or just putting the "dick" in "dictator" - he starts to rely on his trusted doctor for advice on matters of state, and that's not the doctor's area of expertise.  So he digs his hole even deeper, figuring that he can at least help upgrade the country's medical facilities once he has the president's ear.  As long as he doesn't do something stupid like form a bond with one of Amin's wives...

They sort of fictionalized things by making the doctor Scottish - supposedly I guess this leads to a fascination with that country, after which Amin gives himself the title sobriquet.  In real life, Amin had erroneously told his people that he had conquered Britain, and therefore earned the title as the King of Scotland, or Conqueror of the British Empire.  Having a Scottish character sort of gets us there sooner, I guess.  (Apparently there's also a Shakespearean connection as well, the title works if you want to pick up on the connection between Idi Amin and Macbeth.)  

Also starring Forest Whitaker (last seen in "The Butler"), Gillian Anderson (last seen in "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"), Kerry Washington (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Simon McBurney (last seen in "Magic in the Moonlight"), David Oyelowo (also last seen in "The Butler")

RATING: 5 out of 10 bodyguards

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Trance

Year 7, Day 169 - 6/18/15 - Movie #2,068

BEFORE: Snapping back to modern times, but with James McAvoy carrying over from "The Conspirator".  Crime's been a semi-constant theme here for the past few weeks, and it looks like "art" is going to be a recurring theme for the year as well.  The two themes come together in a film about an art robbery - sort of like how they came together in "The Monuments Men".



THE PLOT:  An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.

AFTER: Once in a while, I land on a film that ties together a bunch of themes - things I've seen over and over, making similar points but connecting them in a new way, and it just makes me feel like I'm on the right track.  And every indication I got from the first half of this film made me feel that way.  There's a heist ("Gone in 60 Seconds", "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"), hypnotherapy ("Shrink", "Prime"), and even torture ("Syriana", "Prisoners").  Plus a fair amount of sex ("Henry & June", "In the Cut") and a gambling debt ("Rounders").  

There's a great set-up here, one of the best I've ever seen.  The heist itself is great, well-executed, calling to mind something out of "The Thomas Crown Affair" - with one twist that you'll probably see coming, and another one that you probably won't.  When all is said and done, the man who knows where the painting is gets hit on the head and can't remember its location.  Is that a contrivance?  Sure it is, but once the gang decides to find the answer inside his brain with the help of hypnosis, that's just contrived enough to perhaps be believable.  Damn, I was desperate to find out where the painting was - I wanted to see the end of THAT movie.  

But the movie then got caught up in so many other things - and little inconsistencies started to pop up, like the elements in "Jacob's Ladder" that didn't make sense, which made me start to wonder what was really going on here.  After all, once you open that hypnosis door, you allow the possibility to creep in that maybe things aren't really what they seem.  Maybe you're in the dreamscape, at least for some of the scenes, or taking a spin through a character's memory.  And then if some things aren't real, then you end up with the kind of movie that someone wanted to make because "Inception" made so much money a few years before, and they wanted to get a similar movie out there in the marketplace.  

Who's really in control of the gang?  Who had the idea to steal the painting in the first place?  Is everyone even really who they say they are?  Can anyone's memory be trusted, or are some people living out hypnotic suggestions?  But unlike some films that get tricky with this stuff, which practically demand a second viewing right after the first one, all of these questions and concerns just made things way too complicated, and I wanted the story to end so I could be done with it.

Obviously I don't want to reveal here what was really going on, but I'll maintain that if you load up a narrative with so many different possibilities, the result could be a film that's so much about everything that it ends up being about nothing.  This was directed by Danny Boyle, who also directed "Slumdog Millionaire", and I could make the case that the structure that worked for that film so brilliantly - a game show contestant has flashbacks that allow him to answer questions correctly - doesn't work here, as a man tries to trigger memories that will give him the location of the painting.  

Also starring Rosario Dawson (last seen in "25th Hour"), Vincent Cassel (last seen in "A Dangerous Method"), Danny Sapani, Matt Cross.

RATING: 5 out of 10 hired Ukrainians

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Conspirator

Year 7, Day 168 - 6/17/15 - Movie #2,067

BEFORE: OK, enough Colin Firth, and enough Oscar Wilde. (I tried, I really did.) This time it's Tom Wilkinson's turn to carry over from "The Importance of Being Earnest", and I've set the Wayback machine for another 30 years (or so) back, to 1865.  I guess I could have watched this in February for President's Day/Lincoln's birthday, but I'm always into the romance films that month.  I may not have even had a copy of this film then, so it goes here.


THE PLOT:  Mary Surratt is the lone female charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial of Abraham Lincoln. As the whole nation turns against her, she is forced to rely on her reluctant lawyer to uncover the truth and save her life.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Lincoln" (Movie #1,572)

AFTER: Ah, this would have gone nicely on a DVD with that film with Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe - but no, I had to pair that film with "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter", now, didn't I?  Damn, that just sullied the whole process right there, didn't it?  Seeing as how "Lincoln" ends with him heading to the theater, and this film pretty much picks up right there, I recommend watching the two films back-to-back to get the whole story.  Unless you choose believe that Lincoln fought vampires, in which case, use your own judgment. 

This film is about the aftermath of the assassination (Spoiler Alert: Lincoln gets shot, and never learns how the play "Our American Cousin" ends.)  But ask anyone who killed the President, and nearly everyone says the same thing: John Wilkes Booth.  Just like Lee Harvey Oswald, most Americans believe that he acted alone.  This film correctly points out that Booth was part of a larger conspiracy, but of the entire group that planned to kidnap or kill Lincoln, Vice-President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward, Booth was the only one who succeeded with his part of the plan.  

To heal the nation, and because Booth himself was shot while being captured, his co-conspirators were swiftly rounded up and given military trials in which convictions were nearly a foregone conclusion.  It's very easy to draw a connection between the trampling of due process and the prisoners' civil rights that was done in the name of expediency and patriotism and, let's say, the containing of certain suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay in the years following 9/11, outside U.S. legal jurisdiction, without putting them on trial.  

That's the only reason I can come up with for picking at this particular historical scab on our nation's legislative body - if they railroaded someone back in 1865, in the name of patriotism, they can do it again, and they probably will.  

Otherwise, this is a pretty boring courtroom drama - the challenge is always to make legal proceedings interesting, like in last month's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", but there's only so much you can do.  At least that film had a transvestite and some other colorful characters to spice things up - the 1860's were flat-out boring by comparison, even with a plot against the President.  You can't really call it an action film when the most action that takes place is objections being overruled. 

They tried to make things interesting by adding a little bit of Civil War battle in the beginning, and some flashbacks to what went down between Booth and the others - but those scenes were all talky-talky too, just more secret meetings between the conspirators.  After the fateful night at Ford's theater, it's really all downhill from there, cinematically.  They should have spent more screen time on the assassination and less on the aftermath, if you ask me.

Also starring James McAvoy (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), Robin Wright (last heard in "A Christmas Carol"), Kevin Kline (last seen in "Last Vegas"), Danny Huston (last seen in "Hitchcock"), Colm Meaney (last seen in "Get Him to the Greek"), Evan Rachel Wood (last seen in "Whatever Works"), Justin Long (last heard in "Alpha and Omega"), Alexis Biedel, James Badge Dale (last seen in "World War Z"), Johnny Simmons, Toby Kebbell, with cameos from Stephen Root (last seen in "The Lone Ranger"), John Cullum (last seen in "The Night Listener"), Norman Reedus, Jonathan Groff (last heard in "Frozen").

RATING: 4 out of 10 witnesses for the prosecution

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest

Year 7, Day 167 - 6/16/15 - Movie #2,066

BEFORE: I tried to do the right thing yesterday, and recycle two old PowerMac G5s from my office.  My printer died and I figured that since the local Mac service center had a trade-in policy, I'd lug what are essentially two giant paperweights (or perhaps boat anchors) over there, trade them in and put the credit toward a new printer.  I had access to a dolly, some cardboard and some bungee cords, so the only thing making it difficult was the fact that it was the most humid day of the year so far.  (It kept threatening to rain, which would have cooled things off, but it never really got around to it, so you never knew if you needed a jacket or an umbrella, or if you would make it to your destination before you got soaked.  How annoying.)  I muddled through and wheeled the computers over to the service center, only to find out that they don't offer trade-in on any computers over 10 years old, a fact that was not pointed out in any of their signs or advertisements.  The clerk started giving me web-sites that would offer third-party software that could make the paperweights useful again, but I figured that was way too much work, and offered them up for recycling at zero value.  At least I know they'll be disposed of properly, and metals won't be seeping into the groundwater from a landfill, but jeez, at least give me a $5 gift card for the effort of dragging these things in!

Wrapping up the Colin Firth section of the chain, as he carries over from "Magic in the Moonlight", and if you've noticed, I've been slowly slipping back in time a little each night - from the modern "In the Cut" to "Where the Truth Lies", set in 1957, to the late 1920's seen in "Magic in the Moonlight", and tonight we're in London in the 1890's.  Damn, it was so subtle that it might lead one to think it wasn't even planned.  Coincidentally, tomorrow's film takes place in the 1860's.  



THE PLOT:  In 1890s London, two friends use the same pseudonym ("Ernest") for their on-the-sly activities. Hilarity ensues.

AFTER: I must confess that I know nothing about the work of Oscar Wilde.  I don't know much about Wilde himself, only enough to get me through trivia matches, and the fact that watching an Oscar Wilde film starring Rupert Everett is about as close as I get to celebrating Pride Month.  When I was young I stuck close to animated films, comic books and videogames, and maybe I'm in a state of arrested development or something, but I still love animated films, comic books and videogames.  But I'm TRYING to be an adult, and that means I'm trying to develop a love for more lofty fare.  

(ASIDE: I watched part of the 1966 "Batman" movie this afternoon, something I loved as a kid, but to me as an adult, it's darn near unwatchable.  It's campier than all the "Austin Powers" films put together, and I compiled a list of Nitpick Points a mile long.  What did I ever see in it, except that Catwoman in her tight suit used to make me feel all funny?  But if that movie never existed, we wouldn't have had the 1989 "Batman", and by extension we never would have gotten to "The Dark Knight Rises", so there's that.)  

This Oscar Wilde film is similarly silly, but maybe there's stuff in it that was also influential, in its own way.  Maybe every time there's someone on a soap opera who was raised an orphan, who then finds out he's the secret heir of Lord Thwickenthwat, some hack writer is being influenced by Oscar Wilde, and doesn't even know it.  This play is about society men who pretend to be something they're not, to romance women - dare I draw a connection to a film like "Wedding Crashers"?   If Wilde's intent was to make fun of society's notions of romance and to expose the mercenary nature of marrying well, it's not a big leap to reality shows like "The Bachelor", now, is it?  

Like "Where the Truth Lies", there's a double meaning in the title - it's important to be "earnest", meaning truthful, sincere and heartfelt, but it's also important to be "Ernest", since apparently Victorian women were quite stricken with the name and all wanted to marry someone with that name, since we all know that you can tell everything you need to know about a husband by his first name, even if he's lying about it.  But that's it, that's the joke - the one joke in the whole play/film, which gets repeated over and over.  (The joke doesn't even completely work, because the name and the adjective aren't spelled exactly the same.  Sorry, Oscar.)

To be fair, the two men, Jack and Algernon, use the pseudonym for different purposes.  Jack becomes Ernest when he's in the city, and when he's in the country, refers to Ernest as his brother - this enables him, presumably, to romance women in the city without long-term consequences, and to skip out on paying his restaurant bills.  Algy - who for a long while preferred the practice of "Bunbury-ing", which is pretending to be visiting a sick friend named Bunbury to get out of family obligations - begins adopting the name Ernest when he's in the country, I guess so he can romance women there without long-term consequences.  

Heavens, what will happen when Jack's fiancĂ©e meets Algy's sweetheart, and they each think they're in love with Ernest, and for a while they think they're both talking about the same man, who doesn't really exist, and it takes them all of five minutes to sort out who's who, and they'll be mad at each other for a while, but then they'll bond with each other and be mad at their men, until it all gets sorted out?  Won't that be a real hubbub, a proper farce?  Umm, I guess so.  

It's sort of ironic if you think that Wilde probably never got to write the play he wanted to - in his mind, perhaps Jack and Algy should have fallen in love, turned a bromance into a romance, before the truth of parentage is revealed.  The Abbey Theatre in Dublin produced this play in 2005 with an all-male cast, and you have to wonder if the result was closer to what Wilde could have produced if society at the time had allowed it.  

Also starring Rupert Everett (last seen in "My Best Friend's Wedding"), Reese Witherspoon (last seen in "American Psycho"), Frances O'Connor, Judi Dench (last seen in "My Week with Marilyn"), Tom Wilkinson (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Anna Massey (last seen in "The Machinist"), Edward Fox (last seen in "Gandhi"), Patrick Godfrey.

RATING: 4 out of 10 cucumber sandwiches

Monday, June 15, 2015

Magic in the Moonlight

Year 7, Day 166 - 6/15/15 - Movie #2,065

BEFORE: I've got two other films with Kevin Bacon on the watchlist, but they seem like they belong squarely in the romance category, and I've got to start saving such films for next February.  If I've calculated things out correctly, there's just no room for them this year anyway.  Of course, the list is always shifting around, so I really have no way of knowing exactly how 2015 is going to play out, just a rough plan and a destination, with several ways of getting from here to there.  But I'm 135 slots away from "Star Wars: Episode 7", with 129 of the 147 watchlist films forming a chain to get me there, plus 5 films I'm saving spaces for (6 if you count "Star Wars" itself) - that doesn't leave a wide margin for error, and it pushes at least 18 films into 2016, a number which is sure to grow a little every week.  Now if I can just resist the temptation to tear the list apart again, I can get through the summer and finish out the year, and let the chips fall where they may for next year....

Last year I watched every Woody Allen film I hadn't seen before, which was 34 films, and that kept me busy for over a month - but even that didn't catch me up, because he released another film while I was watching his others.  I can't really say I've seen them all until I've seen them all, and tonight I'm accomplishing that, at least until his newest film gets released in July.  (He could really help me out, if he'd just stop making movies already.)  I got this one last month, and found a space for it, right between two other Colin Firth movies.  That was a simple decision, at least. 


THE PLOT:  A romantic comedy about an Englishman brought in to help unmask a possible swindle. Personal and professional complications ensue.

AFTER: Whoopsie, this one turned into something of a romance after all.  Oh, well, I've still got some romances scheduled for 2015, these are films I need to bridge gaps between chains, or are likewise planned into slots between occurences of a particular actor.  

I can't ignore the coincidental plot points this shares with "Where the Truth Lies" - Colin Firth plays an entertainer who meets a girl when she's very young, then meets her again when she's older, and she pulls a form of deception on him.  There are many differences, of course, but the fact that two otherwise random films can share even that still amazes me.  Firth plays a magician here, which is not uncommon to Woody Allen films - I'm thinking of the hypnotist seen in "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion", and also the disappearing act seen in Allen's segment of "New York Stories".  I think he also had fortune tellers in "Broadway Danny Rose" and "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger", and Woody even played a magician himself in "Scoop".

Also, "Where the Truth Lies" seemed loosely based on Martin + Lewis, and this one was inspired by another real-life entertainer.  It made me think of Harry Houdini, who was obsessed with debunking mentalists and occultists, but also performed magic acts himself.  But the IMDB tells me that Colin's faux Chinese persona, Wei Ling Soo, is a reference to the stage name of William Ellsworth Robinson, who performed under the stage name Chung Ling Soo.  He was another magician who was known for exposing spiritualists as charlatans.  

Firth's magic expert, Stanley, is convinced from the start that the young Sophie Baker is a fraud, and that she's performing seances for rich people just to tell them what they want to hear.  Imagine the Amazing Randi taking on that Long Island Medium, pointing out that her messages from beyond are really observations combined with guesswork (or in this modern age, perhaps things that could be determined from a quick internet search) but when she appears to know intimate details of his past, he begins to believe in the supernatural.  

This sort of echoes the things I was saying after watching "City of Angels" - if you believe in angels, then you have to believe in God and heaven and hell and the whole ball of wax.  Similarly, if you believe in ghosts or messages from beyond, then there's an afterlife and you end up falling down the same rabbit hole.  Stanley's world is rocked because if she's getting messages, then everything he's stood for is wrong, but instead of making him angry, he's relieved and delighted for a while.  

This is the lure of any magic trick, or any movie for that matter.  For a few minutes we want to believe that the impossible has happened, or for a few hours we want to believe in angels or aliens or dragons or cartoon characters, but then when the credits roll, we've got to go back to our regular lives.  I must have been about 7 or 8 when I demanded to know whether fairy tales were real - not because I wanted to discredit them, but because I needed to get it straight in my own head, what was real human history and what was not.  Eventually this led me into filmmaking, because after seeing "Star Wars", I wanted to know more about the way movies were made, which is really the way that stories are told.  

I think, like Stanley, I became a skeptic about stories, and once you're a skeptic, it's an easy slide toward becoming a cynic.  Once I learned how movies were made, there was a long period where I couldn't take them seriously, or I guess maybe I was taking them TOO seriously, and I couldn't just relax and enjoy them.  Now I've sort of found that appreciation again, except for the ones I have a hand in making.  

I wonder how much of Woody Allen is in Stanley (besides the fact that he's attracted to a much younger woman, that is).  Like Woody, Stanley seems well versed in the philosophy of Nietzsche, such as fatalism and nihilism.  But perhaps the only things that can counter such a depressing viewpoint are optimism, love and believing in something bigger than yourself, whether that's God or cinema or raising children.  And if you don't have something to believe in, I can sort of see how a skeptic who becomes a cynic could easily become a fatalist - I'm probably working my way there.

Woody's previous film "Blue Jasmine" dealt with a slightly similar theme, in that the lead character's world was falling apart, and she had to rebuild herself - here Stanley's whole belief system is challenged, he turns from skeptic to believer and back again.  The most unbelievable thing to me seems to be how well he rolls with the changes - most people probably wouldn't handle being deceived so well.  

Woody Allen's great at picking out old jazz tunes, but his knowledge of classical music really needs to be expanded.  I've heard the selections featured here in dozens of movies, there's just nothing innovative about using Ravel's "Bolero" or Beethoven's 9th symphony, or Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring".  I felt the same way while watching "Scoop" when he kept using "In the Hall of the Mountain King" to create suspense - it's just so played out, man.

Also starring Emma Stone (last seen in "Birdman"), Marcia Gay Harden (last seen in "Pollock"), Simon McBurney (last seen in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"), Hamish Linklater (last seen in "42"), Jacki Weaver (last seen in "Silver Linings Playbook"), Eileen Atkins, Catherine McCormack (last seen in "Spy Game"), Jeremy Shamos, Erica Leerhsen.

RATING: 5 out of 10 ukulele solos

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Where the Truth Lies

Year 7, Day 165 - 6/14/15 - Movie #2,064

BEFORE: I do have another Meg Ryan film on the watchlist, but it's also a boxing film, and I'm going to watch 5 or 6 of those together in a couple of months.  So instead, Kevin Bacon carries over from "In the Cut" - though his role in yesterday's film was  uncredited, he's front and center in this one.



THE PLOT:  A young journalist known for her celebrity profiles is consumed with discovering the truth behind a long-buried incident that affected the lives and careers of showbiz team Vince Collins and Lanny Morris.

AFTER: This was based on a book by Rupert Holmes (yes, the guy who sang the 1970's earworm "The Pina Colada Song"), and the jumping-off point here is a weekend telethon hosted by a 1950's comedy/music duo - a thinly-veiled version of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, although the telethon is for (sorry, against) polio, and nearly everything about this team's career is presumably fictional.  This includes the fact that one of them is British, when neither Martin nor Lewis were, but whether this was done to further separate them from reality, or was a casting choice, or was a concession because only a British actor was available, I can't say.  

The timeline is split between 1957 and 1972 - and the scenes don't necessarily spool out in order, the flashbacks appear in the order that the truth is revealed.  What happened on that holiday weekend that ended with a dead woman found in a hotel room?  And why do I have to do all the work, assembling the timeline back together?  It's so much easier when they're already in the right order.

This ties in neatly with all the films I've watched this year that are set in hotels, more than I can keep track of.  For famous people, that's where a lot of the kinky stuff happens, right?  Yes, the theme of kinky sex carries over from "In the Cut", as well as a particular plot point that I can't mention for fear of spoilers.  

But there's a warning here for young actresses - in an ensemble piece with only three main characters, if you're cast to work with two accomplished heavy hitters, you've got to be really good, or you'll easily be outshined.  Flaws in technique will be magnified, to the point where the lead actress here seems confused or stoned most of the time - and she's supposed to be the one researching things, so her chances don't seem all that good.  

Speaking of drugs, it's relevant that performers used to take "uppers" so they could give longer or more lively performances - I remember reading about the Beatles during their Hamburg days taking "pep" pills, which were essentially a form of speed.  Also, swingers back in the day used different drugs like amyl nitrate "poppers" recreationally during sex - perhaps they still do, but you don't hear about it as much.  I remember learning about them from a couple of stashed Harold Robbins novels I read as a teenager, and not knowing much about sex, this made it all seem very complicated.  

My point is, the 1950's were a different time, and certain drug use took place then, and carried on through the 1970's, or until cocaine took over as the recreational drug of choice.  Perhaps this sheds some light on the Bill Cosby scandals - not that this makes anything he's accused of OK if it's true, but some of it allegedly happened back when celebrities were known for taking some drugs to be up, other drugs to get down, and still other drugs before or during sex.  Eventually these morphed into club drugs, but before that, they were used in more intimate settings, at least among the jet set.  

Also starring Colin Firth (last seen in "Circle of Friends"), Alison Lohman (last heard in "Beowulf"), David Hayman, Rachel Blanchard, Maury Chaykin (last seen in "Entrapment").

RATING: 4 out of 10 grapefruits