Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Internship

Year 7, Day 199 - 7/18/15 - Movie #2,093

BEFORE: I should probably be concerned about the fact that after a 5-day Comic Con, it takes me about a week to recover.  I'm getting older, sure, but this time in addition to the usual backache and blisters from walking around so much I had to deal with a head-cold (or some kind of nerd flu) and a bladder infection, and the less said about that, the better.  A week on anti-biotics and DayQuil was in order.  Still, today is the first day in a week and a half that I don't have to go anywhere or do anything, so after I watch this film I plan to sleep well into Saturday afternoon.  

Josh Gad carries over from "Jobs", and we move from behind the scenes at Apple to behind the scenes at Google. 

THE PLOT: Two salesmen whose careers have been torpedoed by the digital age find their way into a coveted internship at Google, where they must compete with a group of young, tech-savvy geniuses.

AFTER: Well, the plan almost worked.  I was awoken at about 9 this morning by the loudest thunder I'd ever heard.  At first I thought that there was a massive explosion somewhere in Brooklyn.  But no, it was raining so I got off the recliner and climbed the stairs and got in bed and slept until about 2 pm.  I slept so long I had one of those dreams where I was trying to get home on a subway, then a bus, and I knew people on the bus and the trip never really got me closer to home.  I slept so long I was even more tired when I stopped sleeping than I was before.  

Forgive me for initially regarding this film as a pastiche of Vince Vaughn's previous films - you've got two irresponsible male friends (the pair from "Wedding Crashers") who try to go back and reclaim their previous glory ("Old School") by competing against younger, stronger teams in challenges ("Dodgeball").  And Vaughn is playing the type of fast-talking lovable loser he's famous for, in everything from "Swingers" to "Couples Retreat", to (I'm guessing) tomorrow's film as well.  Now that I'm back I need to catch up with "True Detective", where at least he's doing a slow burn as a cool, silent crime boss.

The problem is that this really IS a mix of those previous Vince Vaughn films.  OK, so they play Quidditch at Google and not dodgeball, but the end result is the same.  And an internship at Google is not really the same as being in a college frat, but it's close enough.  There are the rich kids, the cool kids, the mean kids, and our two heroes have to find a way to get a team of messed-up losers to come together, work together, and succeed together.  Which won't be easy for a pair of washed-up, tech un-savvy salesmen who are easily three times the age of their competition.

What they do have is experience - maybe not computer experience, but life experience, and I'm glad to see that still counts for something in today's world, and today's movie plots.  What's clever here is the WAYS that their life experiences come in handy, in everything from designing an app that doesn't already exist to romancing a female Google executive in a very unorthodox way.  What they bring to the table is a bunch of unorthodox thinking, and it turns out that might just represent the kind of creativity that Google is looking for.  In every sports movie from "The Bad News Bears" to "Major League", there's always that moment where the game looks almost over, but there's a desperation play that's never been done before, which is just crazy enough to work.  These guys are nothing but desperation plays, and some of them work and some of them don't.  

I liked the overall message, as unlikely as it was, which is that every member of the team is important, and you'll get farther being nice to everyone than you will if you act like a dick.  It's corny, but it's the kind of philosophy that you wish were true.  The film doesn't do much to enhance Google's reputation (except for showcasing the free food, plentiful bicycles and driverless cars) by pointing out that it's run by the weird fringe members of society, but maybe that's true, for all I know.  The geek shall inherit the earth, and some of the kids who got bullied in school are designing web-sites and apps now, I'm fairly sure.  If Google wants to be seen as a social place for anti-social people, who am I to disagree?

Also starring Owen Wilson (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Rose Byrne (last seen in "Troy"), Aasif Mandvi (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Max Minghella (last seen in "Syriana"), Josh Brener, Dylan O'Brien, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Eric André, Jessica Szohr, with cameos from John Goodman (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Will Ferrell (last seen in "Melinda and Melinda"), Rob Riggle (last heard in "The Lorax"), Gary Anthony Williams (last seen in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"), B.J. Novak (last seen in "The Dictator").

RATING: 6 out of 10 nap pods

Friday, July 17, 2015


Year 7, Day 198 - 7/17/15 - Movie #2,092

BEFORE: This time it's Lukas Haas' turn to carry over from "Transcendence", where he had a cameo role, but in "Jobs" he has a larger role, that of early Apple Computers employee and Steve Jobs friend, Daniel Kottke.

There's also an obvious tech-related reason for putting this film right after "Transcendence", but the two films appear to be very different.  One is about a man with a computer-based brain who tries to take over the world through technology.  (And, as Craig Ferguson might say, the other film is "Transcendence".  Cue rim-shot.)

THE PLOT:  The story of Steve Jobs' ascension from college dropout into one of the most revered creative entrepreneurs of the 20th century.

AFTER: Early in this film we Steve Jobs in college, where he refuses to wear shoes - and then working for Atari, where he apparently refuses to shower.  I realize it was 1974 and hippie culture was still in effect, but you have to figure a guy's got to learn a few social graces at some point.  The early Jobs learns to work alone, late at night, or with his buddy Steve Wozniak, creating new video-games for Atari.  This leads to one of the film's best gags, when they slave over the programming of a new video-game, only to have it revealed that the game is just a slight modification of Pong, but one that early gamers will no doubt be familiar with.

I entered into this film not knowing very much about Jobs the man - and wondering if anyone mistook this film for a documentary about unemployment in the U.S., based on the title alone.  But I digress - I was an empty slate, looking to be filled with information about the man, the myth, the machine that was Steve Jobs.

If the film is to believed, the man was a creative thinker who tended to fail upwards, but someone who really felt that form should follow function. (I can get behind "Form should follow function", because I'm always saying that with regards to things like the San Diego trolley system or the way that Comic-Con is run.)  But if you can figure out what the consumer is going to use the product for, and then deliver the product in a form that will enhance that experience, make things simpler, easier and more intuitive, the sales should follow, even if at the current moment the consumer doesn't even realize he or she needs that product yet.  

That seems to be a viable concept - nobody knew they needed an iPod until there was one, no one even knew what digital music was at that point.  At some point nobody knew they needed an iPhone or even a personal home computer, until someone invented them and told them about it.  And now building an Apple Mac before there was even an internet seems a little like inventing the car and hoping that someone will eventually design roads for it.  But that's what happened, I think.

Throughout the film, we see Jobs' position at the company founded change based on his successes and his failures - he was riding high after the Apple II, reduced to a mere employee after the LISA debacle, and then sort of clawed his way back with the success of the Macintosh.  I presume his eventual rise to CEO coincided with some product like the iPod, but I'll have to check the timeline on that.

Jobs' interpersonal relationships seemed to be based on some variation of "Forgive, but don't forget".  Or more accurately perhaps it was "Never forgive, never forget," because he eventually did take down everyone who disagreed with him or voted against him, even if it took years and several regime changes at Apple.  In one notable scene he takes a designer to task for creating a word processing system that doesn't allow people to use different fonts - it's not the guy's fault, because most people didn't even seem to care about computer fonts at the time, because they just didn't know there were options.  So yes, Steve, you  were correct, but you didn't have to be a dick about it.

The whole film seems to take delight in pointing out Steve Jobs' sins and character flaws - parking in handicapped spaces, spending more time developing his LISA computer than with his daughter of the same name, firing people who didn't agree with his vision right on the spot, and storming through the Apple headquarters like a focused, determined Tasmanian Devil.  He also denied paternity of his daughter for many years, but we're never sure if this is due to not wanting to be in a relationship, not wanting to share future profits of the computer company with a wife or daughter, or perhaps some other personal undisclosed reason. 

I wish we could have seen more of a representation of how the computers worked - why the Apple II and the Macintosh were superior to their IBM and PC rivals, in a concrete way.  I'm a big Mac supporter myself, and I know how important they've become to the creative and art-based industries, including filmmaking, but that information, that FEELING, is largely absent from the film.  OK, maybe it's tough to get that to come across in a screenplay or in a narrative film, and would be better demonstrated in a documentary format, but couldn't someone at least make an attempt to convey that?

Because, as a result, this film breaks the "Show, don't tell" rule, again and again.  It would be better, for example, to SHOW the audience why one computer interface works better than another, or why one design is brilliant, instead of having characters just SAYING that in design meetings.  I shouldn't have to bring what I know about how computers work to the table to help make these points, I feel they should have been incorporated into the film in some way.

A shot of Steve Jobs lost in thought really doesn't show or tell me anything.  And a scene where he taps his discman or throws out his headphones in frustration, prior to designing the iPod, almost feels like a cheat.  They had a segment at the start of the film where Jobs introduced the iPod to America, claiming it would hold a person's entire music library, and be digital, and be portable, lightweight, convenient, etc.  But again, that's just someone TELLING me things, not showing. Same thing with the famous "1984" commercial for Apple Computers - you have to reference it, I suppose, because it was a watershed moment for the company - but in the end it's just another talking point.

Similarly, how important is it, really, to have scenes that are just people talking about who's getting stock options and who isn't, or people being recruited and then shown the door at various times.  Isn't what they DO at the company more important than when they got hired or fired?   Another key moment in the film is Jobs accusing Bill Gates of stealing his Mac interfaces to create Microsoft Windows, but this conversation takes place over the PHONE - that's hardly cinematic.  Same goes for introducing characters - everyone from Apple's history has to be introduced by name, and that's another non-visual thing that just bogs everything down.

NITPICK POINT: There's a scene where the Apple II computer is introduced at an electronics fair, and Jobs is very eloquent in describing what the computer would do, and how it would revolutionize the industry.  (Again, it's just someone TALKING, how frustrating...)  When he's done, the audience bursts into applause - but I call B.S. on this one.  Maybe it went down like this and maybe it didn't - but I tend to doubt it, because if the computer was that revolutionary, the first audience to see it probably wouldn't have properly understood it, right?  Or was the point that Jobs was do dynamic of a speaker that they were cheering his words, his concepts, rather than the computer itself?

NITPICK POINT #2: Steve Jobs parked in a handicapped spot EVERY SINGLE TIME that he drove his car to Apple HQ?  Really?  The man who touted form should follow function also had no regards for the law, or the proper way that a parking lot should work?  If what the film has told me about the man's personality is true, it seems to me that doing things over and over the "wrong" way would have just eaten at his very core - at the very least he would have yelled at someone to get that parking space that he pulled into every day marked with a sign reading "Reserved for Steve Jobs" and then had the space next to it re-designated as the handicapped spot.  Because that would have been much more efficient.

Despite my best advice, and beyond all rational comprehension, there is going to be a SECOND narrative film based on the life of Steve Jobs, due to be released this October.  Did someone feel that this 2013 film was a hack-job, or somehow didn't get the details right?  Or did some studio hear about another's Steve Jobs project and start one of their own?  Was there a race to be the first film to market with the final product - gee, that would be ironic, almost as if one film studio was Apple and the other was IBM....

Look, I don't have a dog in this fight, but jeez, at least in addition to the man's years of birth and death, would it have killed someone to put a small statement at the end about the impact the man had on technology?  Something simple, like "Steve Jobs' passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing."  I just cribbed that from Wikipedia, it took all of 5 seconds - how hard was that?  And I did it on a Macintosh.

Also starring Ashton Kutcher (last seen in "No Strings Attached"), Josh Gad (last heard in "Frozen"), Dermot Mulroney (last seen in "Copycat"), Matthew Modine (last seen in "Notting Hill"), J.K. Simmons (last heard in "Young Adult"), Ron Eldard (last seen in "Super 8"), Victor Rasuk, Nelson Franklin (last seen in "Argo"), Eddie Hassell, Kevin Dunn (last seen in "Snake Eyes"), Elden Henson, Brett Gelman, Robert Pine, John Getz, Brad William Henke, with cameos from Lesley Ann Warren, James Woods (last seen in "Eyewitness", Masi Oka, Samm Levine, Joel Murray (last heard in "Monsters University"), William Mapother.

RATING: 5 out of 10 circuit boards

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Year 7, Day 197 - 7/16/15 - Movie #2,091

BEFORE: Still dealing with post-Comic-Con matters - yesterday I unpacked the office supplies out of my suitcase, and today I had to go to my post office to pick up a certified letter, which was from our boothmate in California sending me a check for the extra badge I arranged for his cousin, who videotaped our panel for us.  It's my fault for not pointing out that it was best to just send plain mail to my house - sending it via certified mail nearly guaranteed they'd try to deliver on a day I was at work, forcing me to take a subway two stops and then walk for a mile and a half to get the letter.  I tried to pick up the letter at my nearest post office last week, only to be told that I was visiting the post office in a different zip code, and my nearest post office is therefore not the one that handles my mail, the one very far away is.  Of course.  

Then I took the subway to Brooklyn, to visit a friend who I've known for almost 20 years, an animator who's so bogged down in clerical things that she's having trouble finding time to work on her creative projects.  She asked if I could take a look at her operation and figure out what she's doing wrong.  After she described her situation, I realized that, like my boss, she really needs someone like me taking care of business matters so she can focus on her animation.  I promised to help her find someone part-time to help her get organized, even if that person turns out to be me - we agreed to revisit this in a month or so.  Then I took the express train into Manhattan, because one of my co-workers is leaving this week, and we all went out to Barcade for beers and games of Ms. Pac-Man.  They had no idea I was so talented at video-games, but hey, I've been playing them since the mid-80's.  

Wow, did you ever find yourself busier on your day off than you are on a typical workday?  

Points to you if you predicted that Johnny Depp would carry over from "The Astronaut's Wife" in some way. 

THE PLOT:  A scientist's drive for artificial intelligence takes on dangerous implications when his consciousness is uploaded into one such program.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Her" (Movie #2,022)

AFTER:  I'm calling this a follow-up to "Her", but in some ways it's like the reverse of that film, which had a computer software that acted like a human.  This film features a man who gets turned into computer software - or does he?  That point seems a little bit debatable.  The plot synopsis says that Will Caster's consciousness gets "uploaded" - but is that even possible?  Not with today's tech, no, but perhaps this is set in the near future, like "Her" was.  Er, is.  Will be?  

My basic understanding of computers, which admittedly is not that much above the average, suggests that if you make a computer program designed to mimic a man's thoughts and speak with his voice, you haven't created a new version of him, you've created a piece of software that merely thinks it is him, and it could be mistaken.  It could be self-aware, but programmed incorrectly, or unable to discern its own true nature, and therefore making conclusions based on a misconception.  Hey, it happened to HAL in "2001", didn't it?  

Before his "uploading", Dr. Will Caster is the foremost expert in A.I., working to create a sentient machine that will possess both the world's knowledge and also some form of emotion, while his wife is working on nano-technology that will clean the earth's water system and rebuild its forests.  
Together they see a chance to combine their areas of expertise, and (plot point redacted), leading to Will becoming the apparent consciousness within the machine.  

I will say they kept me guessing - was the computer program really him, or a version of him, or was it just designed to look and sound like him?  One presumes that if his consciousness could be uploaded, then so could his humanity and ability to discern between good and evil, but if he only consists of a set of programs that are mimicking the man he was, then all bets are off.  

But the downside is that for a long time, we're not sure who to root for.  Should we be glad that the "Deppus Ex Machina" has access to Wall Street's computers, so he can raise money for the supplies he needs to fix the world, or are the implications of his day-trading worse than the problems he's trying to fix?  Once Caster (or his software avatar) have the power to do whatever he deems in need of doing, what are the effects on anyone standing in his way?  

Or should we be rooting for the Luddite army that wants to stop him, the ones who carry forward the logic of letting a computer program change the world around, the people who would rather maintain their basic freedoms than have smog and pollution under control.  It's a tough call.  

It's kind of a shame that everything here is portrayed in such extreme terms - the computer program is either going to save the world or take control of it.  The use of nano-technology is either the best idea ever, or it's a crime against nature.  Can't there be some middle ground?  Why can't you say, let the program fix the hole in the ozone layer, delete the world's polution, program away all the plastic floating in the ocean, and THEN find a way to disconnect it? 

Also starring Rebecca Hall (last seen in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Paul Bettany (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "Eyewitness"), Cillian Murphy (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Clifton Collins Jr. (last seen in "Pacific Rim"), Kate Mara (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Cole Hauser (last seen in "A Good Day to Die Hard"), with cameos from Xander Berkeley (last seen in "Volunteers"), Lukas Haas (last seen in "Everyone Says I Love You"), Wallace Langham (last seen in "Hitchcock").

RATING: 3 out of 10 solar panels

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Astronaut's Wife

Year 7, Day 196 - 7/15/15 - Movie #2,090

BEFORE: More post-Comic Con sci-fi tonight.  Charlize Theron carries over for Movie #4, and for the last time in this chain.  Hmm, who's going to carry over into tomorrow's film, I wonder?

THE PLOT:  After an explosion in space and subsequent two-minute radio-out period, two astronauts return home to their wives. Slightly it's revealed that they're not the same as they were.

AFTER: Didn't I see ads for this as a TV show starring Halle Berry?  OK, I haven't watched that show, so maybe it's quite different, but it seems like there's a very similar starting point.  

I had this film in the proposed Halloween chain for a long while, because I have a lot of horror films this year with a similar theme, with something sort of invading someone's body.  So please keep this theme in mind, and I'll be back to it in October, which isn't really all that far off, if you think about it. For me, it's only about 80 movies from now.

This is a pretty low-key film, however, not bogged down in all the special effects one usually associates with a typical horror film, or that other genre (information withheld here for risk of spoilers).  Let's just call it sci-fi, OK - which is another FX-heavy genre.  

This is also sort of a slow-burn think-piece - it takes a long while for the title character to realize that something is wrong with her husband, and then even when she's made aware of it, she's in some form of denial, so that slows things down even further.  I guess, as with "Aeon Flux", someone figured the truth is so amazing that we've got to ladle it out, bit by bit.  But the end result of that process is making the film like it's a 10-minute story stretched out to an hour and a half.  Still, I stayed awake for the whole film this time, so that automatically grants it a higher score than "Aeon Flux".  

Another way you can tell that a movie is stalling for time is when the characters all say each other's names over and over - I heard "Mrs. Armacost" so many times in this film, it was really annoying.  "Don't you understand, Mrs. Armacost?" and "You have to listen to me, Mrs. Armacost!"  Ugh, give it a rest, people just don't use each other's last names so formally and so often in everyday speech. 

But this film also played upon the vulnerabilities of a spouse who hasn't seen her husband in a while - how do you know when someone goes away on a trip that they come back as the same person?  What do you do when you feel that they've changed somehow?    There's another female fear that gets touched upon here, but I can't refer to it without giving away a plot point...  Let's just say that the human body is a wonderful thing, but certain processes are very weird, especially for women, and they tie in with the whole strange life-form thing, if you get where I'm going. 

However, it's a bit of a cheat to tell us that a character has changed after an incident, when we never really saw him before.  Where's the reference point?  I understand the mystery that gets created by not showing the audience the incident in question - and I understand how much easier it would have been to show, rather than tell.  Still, "show" is usually more exciting than "tell", as a general rule.

Also starring Johnny Depp (last seen in "Into the Woods"), Joe Morton (last seen in "The Night Listener"), Clea Duvall (last seen in "Argo"), Donna Murphy (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Nick Cassavetes, Tom Noonan (last seen in "Heaven's Gate"), Blair Brown (last seen in "Space Cowboys"), Gary Grubbs, Cole & Dylan Sprouse (last seen in "Big Daddy").

RATING: 4 out of 10 old-timey radios

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Aeon Flux

Year 7, Day 195 - 7/14/15 - Movie #2,089

BEFORE: OK, I'm back from San Diego Comic-Con and ready to get back into the swing of things.  It feels rather odd that I haven't watched a movie in 6 days, because I was in the epicenter of movie and comic-book promotions - but I just didn't have time to really enjoy it.  After working at a booth from 9 am to 7 pm (with breaks, of course) each day, the last thing I wanted to do was go watch a film - I prefer to go out to dinner, have a couple of beers (maybe one with ice cream in it) and then just head back to the hotel (or the AirBnB apartment, in this case) and go right to sleep.  

I spent some time today guest/ghost-writing a blog for my boss about the event, and I don't care to repeat all those stories again, so if you're interested in learning what went down this year, please visit:

And if you care to see my photos from SDCC, which I promise are quite interesting, go to:

Now then, I'm picking up where I left off, with Charlize Theron carrying over from "Monster" - and I promised some appropriate sci-fi for (post-)Comic-Con week, so here goes.  This is based on an animated series of the same name, directed by Peter Chung, that ran on MTV back in the day. 

THE PLOT:  Aeon Flux is a mysterious assassin working for the Monicans, a group of rebels trying to overthrow the government. When she is a sent on a mission to kill the Chairman, a whole new mystery is found.

AFTER: I kind of remember, a few Comic-Cons ago, that Peter Chung came to visit our booth.  I asked him to pass along a greeting to Karyn Kusama, who I went to NYU with (we were in comedy writing class together) but I don't know if she ever got my message.  Perhaps I should check for her on LinkedIn or something.  Perhaps I committed a faux pas by asking Mr. Chung to try and put me in contact with someone who took his storyline and did - well, this with it.  

I remember the animated series was a bit confusing, but people treated it like it was artistic.  I think sometimes you can get away with a lot more in animation just because of its nature - if you don't like the way something looks, just draw it different.  If you want something to be scary, violent, edgy, just experiment with a few styles and speeds and you'll eventually land on something that will convey the right tone.  The other advantage the animated show had was being episodic, which allowed it to tell short stories, relate its information out to the audience in little bits and pieces, as long as each episode ended on a cliffhanger, people would tune in again, much like with a comic book.  

But there's a big difference between a series of animated shorts (or comic-book stories) and a full-length live-action feature.  Adapting the storyline from one into the other isn't always easy - for every "Avengers" or "X-Men" that succeeds, there's a "Green Lantern" or "Green Hornet" that doesn't.  

In this case, the story was forced to change every so often, which works great for small episodes, but for a feature film, it feels like as soon as the rules of the game were established, they would change, and then change again.  The problem is that people are disappearing.  No, wait, the problem is that someone is cloning people.  No, wait, the problem is that we have to fight this virus.  Everyone agrees that there's something wrong in this future society, but no one can seem to agree what exactly it is, or how best to change it.  

It seems like a shame, because in addition to being confusing as all heck, this film may have also been a victim of bad timing.  The whole dystopian future thing really didn't kick in until the "Hunger Games" novel came out three years later in 2008 - and then the end-of-the-world stories picked up again in the run-up to 2012 (stupid Mayans!).  

Look, maybe it's me - maybe I was just exhausted.  I flew back across the country, I carried my luggage up a few flights of stairs taking the subway home, I sat in my recliner for the first time in a week, and I admit it, I fell asleep.  But I woke up at 2 am, ran the movie back to where I left off and I tried again - and I fell asleep again.  But THEN I ran it back to the same spot again, finished the film, and still found it majorly incomprehensible.  

For the life of me, I can't see any benefit why one character would have her feet replaced with a second set of hands.  I mean, you can walk on your hands but you can't really run on them, right?  I guess they'd help you if you wanted to climb trees like a monkey but for running, flipping and the other acrobatic stunts seen in the movie, I'm not seeing the advantage.  

A lot of the other techno-gadgets seen here are confusing as well - some kind of pill that people swallow that enables telepathy?  Umm, you know that things you swallow go to the stomach, not the brain, right?  Some kind of liquid containment field for people's memories?  What the heck happened to videotape, or storing things digitally, or in the cloud?  They tried here to predict what tech would look like in the future, and I think someone really got things muddled up.  

Also starring Marton Csokas (last seen in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"), Frances McDormand (last seen in "Something's Gotta Give"), Sophie Okonedo (last seen in "After Earth"), Jonny Lee Miller (last seen in "Melinda and Melinda"), Pete Postlethwaite (last seen in "The Shipping News"), Nikolai Kinski, Paterson Joseph, with a cameo from Stuart Townsend (last seen in "Head in the Clouds").

RATING: 2 out of 10 backflips