Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Year 7, Day 189 - 7/8/15 - Movie #2,088

BEFORE: I've got time for one more film before I head to the airport.  Charlize Theron carries over from "A Million Ways to Die in the West", and so does the topic of prostitution, but this time with a more serious tone.  This film is NOT on the list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die", but the documentary on Aileen Wuornos that was released the same year is, for whatever reason.  However, I don't have that film, I have this film, so I'm proceeding.

My challenge heading to San Diego each year is to not miss the flight, and I feel that if I go to sleep, even with the intent of just sleeping for a few hours, I won't get up in time.  So I usually stay up all night, leave for the airport at 5 am (fewer cars on the road, I usually get to JFK by car service in 15 or 20 minutes) and spend some time at the airport doing crosswords or having a leisurely breakfast, or both.  Still enough time between midnight and 5 to watch this film, write a quick review and throw some clothes into the suitcase to fill the gaps between the booth supplies.  I can sleep on the plane better if I'm exhausted when I board - but if I don't sleep on the plane, I'll be double exhausted when I land and have to get everything from the UPS store to the convention center and set up the booth.  It's rough to put myself through a 36-hour day before getting real sleep, but it beats missing my plane, I guess.

THE PLOT:  Based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer.

AFTER: Yep, that'll do it - this will keep me from closing my eyes for a while, at least until I can get on the plane.  Plenty of time for nightmares then.  I dropped the serial killer chain in early June after watching "Eyewitness", "Copycat" and "In the Cut", but that topic is back.  

So are the themes I mentioned last night, that of two people in a relationship with different sexual experiences and different ideas about fidelity - here complicated by the fact that Aileen has a lesbian lover, and also sleeps with men for money.  The obvious disconnect between one kind of love and another, the condition of being gay but perhaps in denial, and associating another kind of love with abuse creates a downward spiral of self-destruction.  Although she kills for the first time in self-defense, it seems like the later killings came more easily, were set off by lesser offenses by her "victims", and in some cases didn't appear to be motivated by the same pattern at all.  

Being unable to find any legitimate work that she was qualified her seems like a bit of a justification, though.  It seemed like a pretty big leap from "I can't get into law school" to "Well, guess I'm back to hooking and killing again."  Did she even try bagging groceries, or working in a stockroom?  The world needs people to do those jobs, too.  

Being abused as a child, not having opportunities to succeed, living out of a storage facility - these are situations, not excuses.  Neither are they justifications for murder, so something was out of whack somewhere. Theron won the Oscar for playing Wuornos more as someone with mental problems, be that anti-social personality disorder or schizophrenia or whatever - I guess that's easier for the audience to understand in the end.  But when you throw in the lesbian angle, then the "I'm not gay" denial associated with that, plus an apparent hatred toward men, the lines get a little blurred, I think.  She didn't hate and kill all men, just the johns she felt were abusive, unfaithful scumbags.  At first, anyway.  

Some people seem to refer to Aileen Wuornos as "the only female serial killer".  This is not true, although an FBI profiler noted that other female serial killers tend to kill in sprees, while male ones tend to work in sequential fashion.  However, he noted that Wuornos was an exception, meaning that she killed people more like a man would, I suppose.  

This is one of those times where my personal rating system maybe falls a little short, because I tend to go by how much I enjoyed a film, and some films just aren't meant to be enjoyed.  This is ultimately depressing and frustrating as a film, but something tells me it was supposed to be that way to make a point.  But man, I need a break.  And maybe some mental floss.  See you in a week.

Also starring Christina Ricci (last seen in "The Hard Way"), Bruce Dern (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Lee Tergesen (last seen in "Red Tails"), Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince (last seen in "Jacob's Ladder"), Tim Ware (last seen in "42"), Scott Wilson (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Kane Hodder, Christian Stokes.

RATING: 4 out of 10 sink showers

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Million Ways to Die in the West

Year 7, Day 188 - 7/7/15 - Movie #2,087

BEFORE: I feel a wee bit guilty referring to this as a "Ewan McGregor film", because it's not - but he does have a cameo as a cowboy at a fair, so I feel justified.  This is one of those films with such a giant cast that I probably could have linked to it from just about anything - so it seems a little wasteful to use a quick cameo to justify its inclusion here, even though it gets me to the start of a Charlize Theron chain.  

But there were tons of promos for this at the New York Comic-Con in October 2013, (or were they promoting the DVD release in October 2014?  After a while it's tough to remember...) so in my mind there's a bit of a link to Comic-Con - plus tomorrow morning I'm headed out West myself.  There won't be gunslingers or Indians out there, but San Diego can still be a dangerous place.  I just did a podcast describing some of my best (and worst) Comic-Con experiences, which you can listen to here:

I mean, when you think about it, there could be problems with the plane flying out there.  I have to take a taxi, so traffic accidents are a concern, plus the Convention Center is on the far side of a highway, a trolley line AND a freight train track.  While accidents there are not commonplace, they have occurred.  Not to mention food poisoning, terrorist attack, over-exhaustion, dehydration, and if the weather's absolutely perfect, and everything goes my way, there's the chance that I'll find myself happy for a few minutes, and not know what to do with that feeling.  

I kid, of course, but my point is that traveling often sucks, and even if it doesn't, I have to be on my toes.  The fact that I've made this trip 12 or 13 times before is no reason to be lulled into a false sense of security. 

THE PLOT:  As a cowardly farmer begins to fall for the mysterious new woman in town, he must put his new-found courage to the test when her husband, a notorious gun-slinger, announces his arrival.

AFTER: If you watched the commercials or the trailer for this film before it was released, you might come to the conclusion that it's a one-joke film.  The ads and trailer only featured people dying in quick and gruesome ways, and MacFarlane's character talking about other ways people could bite it back in the typical American Old West town.

What's really strange is that I set this chain up merely because there were three films that featured Ewan McGregor.  But "Moulin Rouge!", "Down With Love" and tonight's film - what do they all have in common?  Anachronism.  In "Moulin Rouge!" we had people in 1899 who somehow knew songs that were written 60, 70 or 80 years later, and in "Down With Love" we had people in 1962 who were somehow keenly aware what the future of sexual politics in the workplace would be.  And tonight we've got a sheep farmer in 1882 who somehow knows that life's going to be much better in the future, which means that right then and there, it pretty much sucks.

Another thing that they have in common is the fact that they're all sort of cobbled-together pieces of other plots, it's just that today's film referenced bits of other Westerns - barfights, gunfights, etc. - in the name of comedy.  

I'll admit that this is not really a one-joke film.  There are other jokes, besides watching people die - but unfortunately they're pee jokes, poop jokes and references to sex acts, so they really were stressing low comedy over high ideals.  

Once again, there's a man in love with a prostitute - that's weird, this topic has popped up for the third time in recent memory.  But here it's taken to a vulgar extreme in the name of comedy - unlike in "Moulin Rouge!" where they wrung every little bit of drama out of that situation, and "Irma La Douce", which sort of handled the situation with kid gloves and turned it into a dress-up bedroom farce.  Here the hooker in question has loud, graphic (off-camera) sex with a variety of men, while her beloved boyfriend waits downstairs holding a bouquet, waiting for his platonic date with her.  The irony is that he can't have sex with her, because she's "saving herself" for marriage.  

It's fun for a few laughs here, but it brings up an odd point based on discrepancies in a relationship.  Every joke has some basis in real situations, after all.  Any time one part of a couple is more sexually active than the other, an imbalance is created - and it's a very real situation for some people, like those who work in the adult entertainment industry, some of whom go home to spouses and try to keep their two worlds separate.  They find a way to deal with this particular conflict between their home life and their jobs, and their partners either find a way to deal with their spouses' job, or else they separate, or perhaps go a little berserk in the process.  

It's perhaps a little personal for me because of my first marriage (see my review of "Chasing Amy" for all the details there...) but the crux of the situation was that she wanted to broaden her horizons, so to speak, take a walk on the wild side, and I preferred that she not do so.  She expressed a desire, and I made a choice to not be OK with that.  But my choice had ramifications, because once that desire is expressed, and not acted on, then I became the barrier standing in her way of being who she wanted to be.  (She had friends in Ohio who were living a more bohemian "swinging" lifestyle, and my guess is that hearing about that made her long for new experiences.)  Perhaps the relationship was doomed from this point on, or perhaps if I could have wrapped my head around a different definition of marriage, something could have been worked out - we'll never know.  

I watched part of a documentary on Billie Jean King the other day, and I never knew she was married before coming out - and she was having an affair with a woman, her secretary/hairdresser/traveling companion, while remaining married.  Now, this was back in the early 1970's and it was a different time, but I saw obvious similarities to my first marriage (1991-1996), and the way her husband accepted her affairs seemed a little like my "road not taken", but they still divorced anyway in 1987.  So I don't think there are any easy answers when there's a discrepancy in sexual activity between two people - there seem to be just two main paths, acceptance/ignorance or the termination of the relationship.  

Back to the film - we also find out why no one ever smiled in old-time photos, how hard it was to train for a gunfight, and why a proper man needed a proper mustache.  At least there weren't as many cutaways as you might find in the average episode of "Family Guy", but unfortunately that just ended up making more room for potty humor.

Also starring Seth MacFarlane (last heard in "Ted"), Charlize Theron (last seen in "Head in the Clouds"), Liam Neeson (last seen in "Taken 2"), Giovanni Ribisi (last seen in "Gone in 60 Seconds"), Sarah Silverman (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph"), Amanda Seyfried (last seen in "The Big Wedding"), Neil Patrick Harris (last seen in "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas"), Wes Studi (last seen in "The New World"), Evan Jones (last seen in "Jarhead"), John Aylward (also carrying over from "Down With Love"), with cameos from Rex Linn (last seen in "The Odd Couple II"), Alex Borstein, Matt Clark (last seen in "42"), Jamie Foxx (last seen in "Django Unchained"), Ralph Garman, Christopher Lloyd (last seen in "Goin' South"), Gilbert Gottfried, John Michael Higgins (last seen in "Rapture-Palooza"), Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Bill Maher, Ryan Reynolds (last seen in "R.I.P.D."), Mae Whitman (last seen in "Hope Floats") and the voice of Patrick Stewart (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"). 

RATING: 4 out of 10 bottles of snake oil

Monday, July 6, 2015

Down With Love

Year 7, Day 187 - 7/6/15 - Movie #2,086

BEFORE: Another film that probably deserves to be part of a February chain to be judged properly, but I've put it here between two other films with Ewan McGregor in them - the lead-out from "Moulin Rouge" is perhaps a bit obvious, but it will suffice.  This will get me to connect to the Charlize Theron chain, and that will set me up to watch some sci-fi when I get back from Comic-Con.  

I just got back from our weekend in Massachusetts, and I've got just 24 hours before I have to start packing for San Diego.  Whose idea was that?  

THE PLOT: It's New York City in 1962, and love is blooming between a journalist and a feminist advice author, who's falling head over heels despite her beau's playboy lifestyle.

AFTER: As with "Moulin Rouge", it doesn't do anyone any good for me to just write this off as a terrible film.  I have to try and break down WHY this is a terrible film, or else I'm never going to learn, and Hollywood will never learn to stop making terrible films. 

First off, they tried to resurrect the genre of the 1960's sex comedy, but to me, that sort of enterprise is doomed to fail.  It would be like trying to resurrect film noir, or silent slapstick films like the Keystone Kops.  Different genres had their day, and everything falls out of favor at some point.  If they didn't, we'd all still be watching films set in World War II, or Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, or Westerns.  There is an ebb & flow to this sort of thing, I get that once in a while someone will try to revive a genre, and we'll get a World War II film like "Pearl Harbor" or a musical like "Chicago", or a Western like the "True Grit" remake.  But even though those films were successful, none of them managed to bring back their entire genre, they were just one-offs.

At some point, the furor over superhero films will die down, just as the trend of slasher films ran its course, and so did teen sex comedies like "Risky Business" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" - everything eventually finds its place, burns bright for a while and then fades out.  The reason I don't get the attempt to revive 60's sex comedies like "Pillow Talk" or "Sex and the Single Girl" is that they were so rooted in the sensibilities of that decade - like men wore suits and worked in offices, and women took care of the house but were trying to make strides in the business world at the same time.  That conflict was then, and (for the most part) we got past it.

(EDIT: Wikipedia suggests that this film is indeed a pastiche of three specific films: "Pillow Talk", "Lover Come Back" and "Send Me No Flowers".  If "Moulin Rouge!" was also a stitched-together version of three specific stories, that's an odd back-to-back coincidence.)

So all of the tropes that a film set in that decade should seem unbelievably quaint to the audience now, you can't really have a man in the 1960's say "Ha ha, a woman working - sure, she can get me some coffee!" without that man looking like a tremendous ass.  And if that's your intent, fine, but unless you can somehow inject some sly winks, you're not advancing the cause, you're just bringing up old battles that were fought long ago.  

About halfway through this film, I noticed there were some sly winks.  The film allowed men to be chauvinistic for a while, but then it started coming at the battle of the sexes from a different angle, namely one that started to try and hold the men accountable for their enormously misguided attitudes.  Once again, as in "Irma La Douce" and "Moulin Rouge!", a man takes on a false identity in order to win a woman's love - only here, he's a magazine writer who's determined to prove that her liberated theories about women not needing love are merely a facade.  

I know, I know, more writers - and it's a double-dose here because she's written a book, and he's supposed to be writing a magazine article about the book.  But he keeps breaking their lunch and dinner meetings in order to sleep with one stewardess or secretary after another.  (Another way men aren't portrayed well here - the implication is that they'd all sleep with three each day, if they had the chance.) Ah, but when he eventually sees her photo, and realizes how beautiful she is, suddenly he's interested in writing that article again.

Too late, he missed his chance, and her book gains national attention without his help.  So he does the only logical thing - impersonate an astronaut, gain her confidence, romance her, bed her, prove that women are creatures who only dream of impossible romantic love, and debunk her theories of women advancing themselves in the workplace via casual, non-committed sex.

Women don't really get off scott-free here, and in the end I can't decide which is more insulting - suggesting that women can have either a career or a relationship, but not both, or suggesting that eating chocolate is a fair female substitute for romance.  And then I'm not sure, but I think the film ends up supporting the argument that it was trying to debunk in the first place, that women can't get by without finding, or at least seeking, impossible romantic love.  

You see, there is a twist to the proceedings, and most times I'd be ill-advised to even mention that there is a twist, let alone to state what the twist entails, but I simply have to here, because it's so unbelievable, so far-fetched that it will make your head spin.  It's so convoluted that I think I can safely say that it would never, ever happen in real life, and I doubt it could even happen in the fantasy world.  Oh, they tried, but I'm just not buying it.

They got really clever with the title, which allowed them to use an old Judy Garland song, and footage of Judy herself (uncredited, for some reason) singing that song, which is also the title of the film, and the title of the book-within-the-film.  But they got an impersonator (Will Jordan, last seen in "Broadway Danny Rose") to play Ed Sullivan and introduce her, and the fact that he's been in several films as the famous TV host proves to me that you only need to do one thing well in this world to succeed.  Seriously, he played Ed Sullivan in "The Doors", "Mr. Saturday Night" and movies about Elvis, Buddy Holly and The Beatles.  Good gig.

Also starring Renée Zellweger (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), David Hyde Pierce (last seen in "Nixon"), Sarah Paulson (last seen in "The Notorious Bettie Page"), Jeri Ryan (last seen in "The Kid"), Rachel Dratch (last seen in "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), Tony Randall (last seen in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex"), Jack Plotnick, with cameos from Laura Kightlinger (last seen in "Must Love Dogs"), Chris Parnell (last seen in "The Dictator"), Florence Stanley (last seen in "The Odd Couple II"), Marc Shaiman.

RATING: 3 out of 10 bomb protestors

Moulin Rouge!

Year 7, Day 186 - 7/5/15 - Movie #2,085

BEFORE: Well, I guess you can say I avoided this film as long as I could.  The temptation is there to put it off further, like maybe to the romance chain in February, or preferably about never?  Would never work for you?  But as soon as I say that, I realize I'm passing judgment on a film I've never seen.  Sometimes you read reviews and you think, "Eh, that's not for me" or you make a judgment if you know people who swear by a certain film and you question THEIR judgment, but I've found over time that that's the lazy way to go.  I shouldn't hold a film accountable because I don't like its ardent fans.  (Although, that seems to be what keeps me away from "Transformers" and "Twilight" films, and so far, so good.)

But this Nicole Kidman chain allows me a chance to finally cross this one off the list, while two years ago I had no intention of ever watching this movie.  But I can judge it all I want, after I watch it, that's really the way it should go.

THE PLOT:  A poet falls for a beautiful courtesan whom a jealous duke covets in this stylish musical, with music drawn from familiar 20th century sources.

AFTER: Well, sometimes you should go with your gut, and sometimes you get exactly what you expect.  I didn't care for this, but at least now I have a reason to complain.  This is loud, bombastic, silly and over-the-top in most ways.  The theory seems to be bigger, louder, stupider - why should a character simply sing when they can sing LOUDLY, why should a character love when they can love DEEPLY, why should a character be jealous when they can be SUPER-JEALOUS?  At some point, this becomes pandering - what a director seems to be saying is, "I don't think the audience will get this unless I really, really hammer home every plot point", which to me, really sells the viewers short. 

Somehow this is the hyper-dramatization of everything, and you saying over and over that this is the deepest, strongest, most meaningful love in the history of love begins to sound like over-compensation at some point.  I'm glad now that I watched "Irma La Douce" a week or so ago, because it riffed on the same theme - a man falls in love with a prostitute, and by the very nature of her job, she's got a different take on love than he does.   Also, there's some confusion over the identity of the man when he falls for her - in "Irma La Douce" he could only love her when he dressed up as a phony British lord (hey, whatever gets you through the night, I guess...) and here the poet/writer is at first thought to BE the duke.  If not for this confusion, he wouldn't have even been given the opportunity to fall for Satine.

To me, this does not sound like the basis for a solid relationship - she was only attracted to him because of mistaken identity, and he somehow falls in love with a prostitute.  A very beautiful prostitute, sure, but still, why not aim a little higher?  You're only going to torture yourself with the thoughts of her being with other men, which is her JOB, or don't you want her to have a career?  What is this, the 1800's or something?  (Oh, wait, it is.)  

And ugh, it's writers and artists again - because I SO enjoy scenes of writers using typewriters when they're getting inspired, or even worse, when they're not.  What a tired trope, not to mention that we see the writer at the beginning typing, and that story is the story we're about to see, and it's going to be the greatest story in the history of every story ever typed - give me a break.  And why have Toulouse-Lautrec, famous painter, in the story as a character if we never see him paint?  He's not exactly known for his acting or his affiliation with theater groups, so why include him at all in this pointless exercise? 

The only thing I really dug here was the play-within-a-play, and the way it mirrored the love triangle between the writer, the actress/whore and the Duke.  (Same question to you, Duke, you can probably have any woman in Paris you want, why do you want the one that's been with everyone else?)  

I haven't even touched on the inclusion of modern-day music in a story set in 1899.  Dear God, why?  I know that every film is a product of its time, and modern sensibilities are always going to creep in here and there, but this is so blatant in its pandering to modern audiences.  People like Madonna, right?  OK, let's throw one of her songs in there.  People like The Beatles, David Bowie, Queen, Elton John, Phil Collins, The Police, Nirvana and U2, so let's throw them all into this cultural blender, who cares about historical accuracy?  Well, I do, for one.  There's just no reason to do this, unless you're using it as a crutch, a musical stunt that you do just because you can, or to garner a little extra publicity.  It's practically an admission that if they didn't put modern songs in this film, no one would give it the time of day.  Right?

Because I recognize those songs for what they are - modern songs, not 1899 songs - every time one of them got used anachronistically, it took me out of that reality for a bit, and since it happened again and again, it put so many holes into that structure of the past that in the end I couldn't believe in it at all, not one bit.  It's easier for me to believe in a reality where the X-Men have superpowers and time-travel than one where Kidman and McGregor are residents of 1899 Paris, and singing modern songs.  

A little research on IMDB tells me that even the main storyline is a patchwork of sorts, cobbled together from three sources: "La Boheme" (young writer falls in love with terminally ill girl), "La Traviata" (courtesan learns about ideal love), and "Orpheus in the Underworld" (man travels into the netherworld to try and bring his love back from it).  I happen to know that the famous "Can-Can" music (also used annually in the NYC area by a particular grocery chain to sell canned food) is from Offenbach's operetta version of "Orpheus in the Underworld", so I dig the reference - but it all goes to prove what a crazy mish-mash of story this is.  It's the literal version of "Frankenstein" - not being a monster movie, but being an animated corpse made up of re-assembled dead pieces.  The monster shouldn't be alive and walking around, because it's just a brainless mockery of a living being.

Same NITPICK POINT as in "Practical Magic", by the way - if a character is terminally ill, or has a death curse placed on them, whichever, why does this not color all of their decision-making?  I mean, people who know they're going to die just plan things differently, right?  They don't make long-term plans, and there's some indication that whatever they do in the coming weeks is going to be something of a wash.  In this case, the resolution to the love triangle didn't matter, at least to a certain extent, because in a few months, it would have just been a moot point.  But nope, this didn't get addressed, not in the slightest way.

Also starring Ewan McGregor (last seen in "August: Osage County"), Jim Broadbent (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), John Leguizamo (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Richard Roxburgh, Jacek Koman, with cameos from Kylie Minogue, Placido Domingo and Ozzy Osbourne (?!)

RATING: 3 out of 10 narcileptic episodes