Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Simple Twist of Fate

Year 7, Day 206 - 7/25/15 - Movie #2,100

BEFORE: I was texting with my sister, inquiring about the Comic-Con trinkets I bought for my niece and nephew - I wasn't able to get the right Lego figure in San Diego, so I had to order it on eBay, and it's taking longer than expected to arrive.  But she mentioned that she took the kids to see "Inside Out", after some justified trepidation - my nephew did get a little freaked out over the suggestion that little people might be living inside his head, controlling his emotions.  I guess as a parent you have to consider these things, how your kid might respond to certain plot elements, and that means learning what's in a movie before you see it.  A parent should at least prepare for the fallout if they find out that a character dies at the end of a film, or whatever. 

(I go through a similar process, not only reading a lot of movie reviews but by transferring a film to DVD before I watch it, occasionally catching sight of a plot point I'm not supposed to see yet.  But sometimes that helps me build a theme week - I'm sort of programming for my inner child, who suffers from OCD.  Forget "suffers", sometimes I think he enjoys it.)  

And that's how this film ends up at another century mark - well, Steve Martin carries over from "Novocaine", sure, but why does this film end up as big #2,100 and not, say, "The Pink Panther"?  (Because I'm still a Peter Sellers fan and I don't agree with Martin's casting as Clouseau, but I digress.  I'm probably going to have to watch that film eventually.  Next year, maybe, if I do another Big Year.) 

THE PLOT:  His life was emotionally closed off from the world, until an orphaned baby showed up at his house.

AFTER: This is another film based on a classic novel or play ("Silas Marner"), and there sure have been a lot of those this year.  But the simple twist of fate that placed this film at #2,100 now seems justified, because it ties together a lot of the recurring themes I've noticed in the past week or so.  First off, we've got a divorced man (as in "Nebraska") who likes to collect things ("The Big Year") and he finds himself as an unexpected father ("Delivery Man") to the daughter of a junkie ("Novocaine") while the real father denies parentage ("Jobs") and eventually determines that he should have been honest in the first place (also "Novocaine", also "Delivery Man").  Meanwhile the adopted father plays with his child in unconventional ways ("The Lego Movie"), so she can grow up and get a job at Google ("The Internship") before they're all eaten by dinosaurs.  Wait, those last parts can't be right...

It's pretty difficult to tell where and when this film takes place - since it's based on a classic novel, maybe they wanted to do a throwback sort of story.  The lead character makes furniture by hand, which seems sort of retro, plus he collects antiques from his sister's (friend's?) store.  Horse riding, polo, classic cars all set the stage for a tale that seems like it could happen in any decade, plus it's set in some Southern (?) small town, which seems like it's all stuck back in the 1930's or 40's anyway.  (Plus, where did they shoot this?  There's a swamp, and a bunch of snow in the winter?  IMDB says Georgia.)  

Look, I don't know about "Silas Marner", but I know about Steve Martin.  This is a better fit for him than "Novocaine" was, because it allowed him to act a little goofy, bounce around a field with a weather balloon, and dance and lip-synch to silly songs.  Those are the up moments, of course there's a custody battle also, and a theft of personal property, but there's balance in every life.  Martin himself became a father for the first time at age 67, so maybe that was an unexpected blessing, and life sort of imitated art, or at least a portion of this film.   

This gives me a chance to learn a little bit about Silas Marner, a novel by George Eliot that I have no familiarity with - Eliot seems a bit like the poor man's Charles Dickens (wait, George Eliot is a woman?  How did that happen?  And she lived with a man named George?  That had to be confusing...)  Some things obviously needed to be updated for the plot to be used in a modern film, some didn't - but I see where Mr. Martin changed the timing of some occurrences, in the most notable case this leads to a major revelation happening when it needs to, but unfortunately making the ending feel more contrived than the one in "Novocaine".  

Also starring Gabriel Byrne (last seen in "The Man in the Iron Mask"), Laura Linney (last seen in "The Life of David Gale"), Catherine O'Hara (last seen in "The Paper"), Stephen Baldwin (last seen in "Casualties of War"), Alana Austin, Michael Des Barres, Amelia Campbell, with a cameo from Anne Heche (last seen in "Six Days Seven Nights")

RATING: 4 out of 10 character witnesses

Friday, July 24, 2015


Year 7, Day 205 - 7/24/15 - Movie #2,099

BEFORE: Steve Martin carries over from "The Big Year", and he's going to get me to Movie #2,100 as well.  Yes, there are two different films where Steve Martin plays a dentist, the first being "Little Shop of Horrors", of course. 

THE PLOT:  A dentist finds himself a murder suspect after a sexy patient seduces him into prescribing her drugs.

AFTER: Yesterday I was discussing honesty with regards to bird-watching, and tonight's film is about the other side of that equation - the little lies that people tell each other to get out of tricky situations, and how they can grow and compound.  The metaphor used is that a little lie is like a little piece of food stuck in one's teeth, and if it's not flossed out it can rot through the enamel and destroy an entire tooth.  

But like "The Big Year", it's got a tricky tone.  People go into a Steve Martin (or a Jack Black) film expecting a certain kind of comedy, and "The Big Year" was nothing like a laugh-a-minute comedy, and neither is this.  "The Big Year" had some heartfelt moments, with a little bit of romance, some athletic competition, and some soul searching as characters took stock of their lives, seeking to balance their hobbies with their careers and their relationships.  This is more like a crime film, or perhaps a dark comic parody of a crime film, it's tough to tell.  

The dramatic situation depicted here is something like a sweater with a loose thread, and you might want to pull on it to remove it, when perhaps you really should cut it, because you're likely to unravel the whole damn thing.  A dentist appears to have a great life, with a thriving practice and a beautiful fiancĂ©e.  But his no-good alcoholic brother shows up looking for a place to crash, and a seductive new patient also appears on the scene to scam some drugs out of him.  

So maybe the takeaway here is just that honesty is the best policy, as well as the 2nd best and third best.  Really, it's the only way to go, unless you want to start telling large lies to cover up your small lies, and so on.  But maybe your takeaway will be "don't let your brother stay at your house" or "don't cheat on your girlfriend", or something personal like that.  For me, it's also, "Man, it's been a really long time since I've been to the dentist."  Like, over a decade. But I'm not aware of any dental problems, other than the big chip in my front tooth that I've been meaning to fix for the last 30 years - really, it's not necessary and part of me thinks I'd just be vain if I got that fixed.  It's been so long since I've seen a dentist that I'm almost afraid to go, because then I'd have to admit to a dentist how long it's been since I've seen a dentist.  

Right, the film.  There's a point here where things spiral out of control beyond reason, at least in my opinion, by which I mean that they cease being believable - of course, your mileage may vary.  I have to question whether the solutions near the end might be worse than the problems that they're intended to solve, and that means that they don't seem practical at all. 

Also starring Helena Bonham Carter (last seen in "The Lone Ranger"), Laura Dern (last seen in "The Master"), Lynne Thigpen (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Elias Koteas (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Scott Caan (last seen in "Gone in 60 Seconds"), Chelcie Ross (last seen in "The Last Boy Scout"), Keith David (last seen in "Cloud Atlas"), with a cameo from Kevin Bacon (last seen in "Where the Truth Lies").

RATING: 4 out of 10 x-rays

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Big Year

Year 7, Day 204 - 7/23/15 - Movie #2,098

BEFORE: I used up all my other connections, so June Squibb carries over from "Nebraska" - I worked out this chain months ago, and it's taking me so long to figure out if there's a better chain that it's simpler just to stick with this one.  Perhaps I should just finish out my own year as planned, and let next year take care of itself.

THE PLOT:   Two bird enthusiasts try to defeat the cocky, cutthroat world record holder in a year-long bird-spotting competition.

AFTER: It's funny that this one comes along at this time, because it's all about partaking in a hobby in an organized fashion.  As these characters are to birds, I am to movies - some people just look and go, "Hey, there's a bird." while others have to over-complicate the process, and try to see more birds and better birds than the next guy.  Hey, that's just like me!  Where some people just watch movies, I'm in my 7th "Big Year" in a row, and I just love organizing, note-taking and overcomplicating things!  

I can't even remember the last time I watched a movie without making sure that it shared an actor with the previous day's movie, or at least connected to it thematically.  And if you saw the cast lists I scribble down, with circled names and arrows connecting movies, you might think the Unabomber had written a new manifesto.  But the note-taking, the blogging, the obsessive re-ordering of the lists all bring me some measure of satisfaction - in some cases, more satisfaction than watching the films themselves.  

So I think I know where these birders are coming from.  Whatever your hobby is, whether it's drinking beer or reading books or training ferrets, it's all too easy to let that hobby take over bigger and bigger parts of your life.  Once people know you as the "ferret guy" you'll be getting ferret-related Christmas gifts and people will be cutting out articles about ferrets from the newspaper for you, in case you didn't see them (which you probably did) and then before long you're attending a ferret convention and wondering how you got so deep down the ferret-hole.  

Really, it's all about balance.  A hobby is fine as long as it doesn't get in the way of your job or your relationship.  At least, I think that's the message here, since we're presented with three different men at different stages of life, who pursue the same hobby, but their lives are all out of balance in different ways.  One has no job, so he has the time for the hobby, but no income to support it.  Another has spent too much time at his job, running a company, and he feels he hasn't spent enough time on his hobby, so he retires to devote himself to a year of bird-watching.  

Finally we have the record holder, Kenny Bostick.  He's got the time and he's got the money (apparently) but he swings too far in the other direction.  He devotes so much time to the hobby that his relationships suffer.  References are made to previous relationships that have dissolved because he's been so obsessed with bird-watching, and now his wife is pregnant, but since he's always traveling around to see birds, she's forced to become independent, simply because he's never there.  Even though he's not seeking balance, it's clear that his life could use some.  

It's odd that this adds to the theme this week of fathers and sons connecting ("Nebraska", "The Lego Movie") because the younger slacker birder ends up re-connecting with his father over the quest to see a nearby snow owl.  But also in this past week there have been instances of people who are running from fatherhood ("Delivery Man", "Jobs")  I think that's also represented here in Bostick, although I'm not quite sure if he's reluctant to be a father, or if the lure of bird-watching is just greater for him.  

The three different men are really on the same quest - spot the most birds in a calendar year, breaking (or maintaining) the current record.  This could be any sport, really - or any pastime like crosswords or chess or poker - but the focus on bird-watching here is a simple way to place their quests in various scenic landscapes across the U.S.  (Finally, someone understands that film is a VISUAL medium, and doesn't lend itself as well to board meetings and such.)

I think any qualms I have are with the sport of bird-watching itself, rather than the three participants that are focused on here.  These three all seem like honest men, in that they all have to SEE the bird, or take its picture, before they'll record it in their logs.  It seems that not all birders follow these rules, some will note a bird after only hearing it - but since the whole thing runs pretty much on the honor system, there's nothing preventing anyone from falsifying their logs and claiming sightings that never took place.  Gee, if it's that simple then I can be a champion birder just by writing down a bunch of bird names. 

But even though I don't fully understand the sport (not that I have to, I've got a bunch of boxing films coming up next week, and I don't really get that sport either...) I do understand collecting, because that's kind of my thing.  I collect comic books, Star Wars autographs, movies, and a number of other things.  And I understand the compulsive nature of collecting, from keeping things organized to completing perfect sets of things.  I've got a signed photo from every Imperial officer with a name, for example, or every snowspeeder pilot from "The Empire Strikes Back".  But just as I've neared completion, with only Frank Oz and James Earl Jones as the only missing major actors, they had to go and film a new "Star Wars" film, so I fear that the collection will now never be complete.  

For some of the autographs in my collection, I've gone great distances, endured stage shows I didn't want to see, or stood in long lines - but for others, it was as simple as ordering them from web-sites.  I'm reminded of two notable "Doonesbury" characters, Dick Davenport and Jimmy Thudpucker.  Dick was a bird watcher himself, and sought the elusive Bachman's Warbler.  But when he finally had the chance to take its picture, fate intervened and he suffered a heart attack before he could click the shutter.  With his dying motion, he reached up and got the shot, achieving some measure of immortality.  In another strip, rock legend Jimmy Thudpucker is seen engaging in his chosen hobby, collecting stamps. From his hot tub, he phones up a stamp dealer and orders a complete set of stamps from Belgium, then decides to move on to France next.  

Perhaps these two characters represent the extremes of collecting - but so do the characters in "The Big Year".  Bostick is an extreme example of someone who puts his hobby ahead of everything, including his personal life.  Over the years I've heard about people who set out to visit every Starbucks in the country, or to see a game played in every MLB or NFL stadium over the course of a season, and if that quest makes someone happy or brings them some feeling of accomplishment or satisfaction, then it's fine.  It's only when people become so obsessive in the hunt that they lose something else, and I'm thinking here of notable focused athletes like Tiger Woods or Lance Armstrong.  

It's notable that Bostick never seems to find the right balance, he's aware of what he's giving up to maintain his quest, so the implication seems to be that sacrifice is an essential component of success, but people who manage to find a balance, while they may be less successful, could be happier in the long run. 

NITPICK POINT: For what is being positioned here as a competitive sport, there seems to be a lot of sharing of information in bird-watching, most notably people telling other people where to go to see certain birds.  If this is truly competitive, why are they being so open about it?  Is it a case where people just HAVE to talk about what they've seen where, in order to qualify, or is there some dichotomy between the competitive & cooperative aspects of the hobby?  I mean, nothing says people CAN'T work together to see birds, and in some cases in this film, people notably do, but if we're talking just about breaking records, and it being competitive, I'd imagine people would be more tight-lipped about what birds they've seen where.  Again, maybe I just don't understand the nature of the activity.

Also starring Owen Wilson (last seen in "The Internship"), Steve Martin (last seen in "The Out-of-Towners" (1999)), Jack Black (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Rosamund Pike (last seen in "The World's End"), JoBeth Williams (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Rashida Jones (last seen in "Celeste & Jesse Forever"), Kevin Pollak (last seen in "Miami Rhapsody"), Joel McHale (last seen in "Ted"), Brian Dennehy (last seen in "Semi-Tough"), Dianne Wiest (last seen in "Practical Magic"), Jim Parsons (last seen in "The Muppets"), Anthony Anderson (last seen in "Hustle & Flow"), Anjelica Huston (last seen in "Frances"), Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "Syriana"), with cameos from Al Roker, Steven Weber, Corbin Bernsen, Barry Shabaka Henley, and the voice of John Cleese (last heard in "Planes").

RATING: 6 out of 10 maxed-out credit cards

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Year 7, Day 203 - 7/22/15 - Movie #2,097

BEFORE: As I said last night, I could link to pretty much anything after "The Lego Movie" - there are at least three different directions I could go from here.  I could follow the Lego angle, because I have a Lego Batman movie to watch (but apparently it's not THE Lego Batman movie, which is still in production) or I could follow the Christopher Miller link and follow it with "22 Jump Street", which shares at least four actors with "The Lego Movie".   

But, I've got another way to get to "22 Jump Street", and I only have one way to get to "Nebraska", so that's my plan.  Will Forte, who did the voice of Lego Abe Lincoln last night, carries over.

THE PLOT:  An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

AFTER: At first glance, this film doesn't seem to share much with "The Lego Movie" - one is fast-paced, colorful and frenetic, and the other is slow, colorless and depressing.  But at heart, they're both about a father and a son.  In fact, if I go back a few days to "Delivery Man", it's almost like a defacto trilogy about fathers and sons - "Delivery Man" was about a man becoming a father, "The Lego Movie" was about a father and son bonding over toys, and then "Nebraska" is all about an older father being taken care of by his son.  Three different stages of fatherhood in one week, it's almost poetic. 

And poetry is a good word to use with this film, with its long, complacent shots of the Midwest landscape, with the occasional broken-down farmhouse or barn.  The loneliness of the region, encapsulated in bleak cinematography and lack of quick editing.  If "The Lego Movie" was geared toward a child's attention span, this is clearly aimed at lethargic adults, there couldn't be more of a contrast there.

But this is also about what happens when people get old, and they spend too much time listening to telemarketers or believing in e-mails from Nigerian princes who need a business partner in the U.S. to help them deposit an inherited fortune.  Bruce Dern's character here believes he has won a million dollars, all he has to do is show up in Lincoln, Nebraska with the winning numbers he was mailed, and order a few magazine subscriptions to seal the deal.

It's the kind of offer we all get in the mail several times a month, and most of know they're B.S., but what happens to old people that makes them so gullible?  Is it just the fact that they were part of the "greatest generation", and they want to believe the best about everyone, including junk mailers?  Or do our logic circuits get fried after too much time (and alcohol), allowing us to believe in the unlikely, or to believe what we WANT to be true?  Much in the same way that a lot of people tend to find religion if they believe they're going to die soon, just to hedge their bets.

Or is there more going on here?  Are we just dealing with a typical man with dementia, or does he, on some level, understand that he probably did not win the million bucks?  Because if you think about it, he got to spend a lot of driving time with his son, and when he was back in his hometown, and "accidentally" spilled the beans about his windfall, suddenly he became the center of attention, and got some measure of revenge on people who had wronged him in the past.  Maybe he knew all along what he was doing.  But that's just a theory.

Also starring Bruce Dern (last seen in "Monster"), June Squibb (last seen in "Alice"), Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Rance Howard (last seen in "The Paper"), Devin Ratray, Tim Driscoll, Angela McEwan, Mary Louise Wilson, Missy Doty.

RATING: 5 out of 10 stereo speakers

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Lego Movie

Year 7, Day 202 - 7/21/15 - Movie #2,096

BEFORE: While I was at Comic-Con, I met Christopher Miller, co-director of this film (along with "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and the "21 Jump Street" remake).  Or perhaps I should say I re-met him, because I knew him years ago when he was an intern at the animation studio I work for.  And now he's been hired to direct one of the upcoming Star Wars origin films (whose working title is, presumably, "Han Solo, Solo") but I somehow resisted the urge to fall on my knees and beg him for a job.  

Chris Pratt carries over from "Jurassic World", and this is one of those films with so many actors and linking possibilities, that from here I can go practically anywhere - so it might be really tough to stick with my plan after this. 

THE PLOT:  An ordinary Lego construction worker, thought to be the prophesied 'Special', is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil tyrant from gluing the Lego universe into eternal stasis.

AFTER: When I was a kid, Lego was just a toy - or, rather, a building medium that could be used to create toys.  The concept is brilliant - why buy your kids one toy they'll get tired of, when you can buy the bricks to build an infinite number of things that (theoretically) will entertain them forever?  And that was enough for Lego to build a company, but they were just getting started.  Then they made Lego kits, collections of specific bricks to build specific models.  Then came Legoland, because why not have a theme park that showcases the best designs, plus rides, souvenirs, concessions?  You don't want to be leaving money on the table, after all.  

Then Lego became a franchise - scratch that, a mega-franchise.  Because thanks to the kits designed around specific films, plus the video-games like "Lego Batman" and "Lego Star Wars", Lego now has ties to Star Wars, DC, Marvel, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.  It's like the Comic-Con of toys, because nearly every other franchise can have a Lego version of itself made.  

At first, "The Lego Movie" is set in a universe that seems to just be a collection of these franchises.  There's a medieval world, an old West world, a Gotham City, a pirate world, Atlantis, and of course, Cloud Cuckoo Land.  There are a few characters that seem to be able to travel between the different worlds, but for the most part, they're separated by barriers.  It seems like Marvel Comics sort of ripped off this idea when it created Battleworld in the current crossover "Secret Wars", so expect to see a lawsuit any day now.  

The first half-hour of the film is crazy, fast-paced, filled with frenetic movement.  Clearly it was designed to appeal to the ADHD crowd, because if something doesn't explode or get assembled/disassembled every 30 seconds, those kids wouldn't be able to focus on the screen.  So try not to blink during the first part of the movie, or you might miss something important.  Like, what is Kragle, and why should the Lego characters be afraid of it?

The plot concerns a regular Lego guy who lives in Lego City, but who one day stumbles upon a very important thingie, which I naturally assumed was a red Lego piece, but no, it turns out to be something else.  Finding this thingie means that he is something special, a Master Builder according to a prophecy, but at first he doesn't seem to be creative enough to be special.  (I wondered why the girl he meets at the same time couldn't be the special one, but not to worry, the movie was way ahead of me on this...)

I was worried about watching this film because the only thing I really knew about it came from that horrific performance of its theme song, "Everything Is Awesome", during the Oscar telecast - which was also a loud, frenetic, mishmash of screaming and rapping that entertained the kids and probably scared the older viewers.  (I can almost hear the Kodak Theater stage manager: OK, you guys were at like a "10", and I need you to be more like a "7".)  

But how can everything be awesome?  Don't we need contrast in life, how do we recognize joy if there is no pain?  How do we understand good if there is no evil?  If everything is awesome, then by extension NOTHING is awesome, right?  Ah, but again, the film was way ahead of me.  Kids will probably just go around singing "Everything Is Awesome" with unbridled glee, but adults will recognize that the song is meant to induce conformity and complacency in the Lego world.  It's akin to a Communist anthem meant to keep the populace in line and satisfied, without asking silly questions about what personal freedoms are.  So if you're old enough, you'll see the irony in "Everything Is Awesome".  

This all began to make sense when the true nature of the Lego Universe was revealed - it's not set in a fictional Legoverse, but in a father's basement Lego collection, being played with by his more creative and free-thinking son.  And in this we see the dichotomy, the Cartesian dualism of Lego (where the "X" axis is order and "Y" is chaos)  Because in the end, there are two types of Lego building.  Lego encourages creativity, but there are also those kits I mentioned, which are very detailed and organized, and come with instruction manuals.  The film finds its conflict in the difference between the two schools of Lego thought.  

(There is some slight overlap with "Toy Story" here, but if the story were to continue in the Legoverse alone, I'm not sure how it would be able to have any logical conclusion at all.  It could just continue on forever, going from world to world, piling nonsense upon nonsense.  By putting one plastic foot in the "real" world, at least there's the opportunity for a denouement.)

So Emmet vs. Lord Business is really father vs. son, creativity vs. rigidity, chaos vs. order.  It's Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader, the chaotic Rebellion vs. the order of the Empire.  (Gee, it's no wonder Chris Miller got tapped for a Star Wars film...)  It's sneakers vs. shoes, t-shirts vs. ties, art vs. business, rule-breakers vs. rule-followers, Jobs vs. Sculley.  Which side are you on?  

I have to acknowledge that I'm a rule-follower more than a rule-breaker, but I'm cool with it.  As a kid I was very detail-oriented in my arts and crafts - I was one of those "color within the lines" kids, and also everything had to be the "correct" color, and the crayons needed to be kept in proper order inside their box.  I didn't understand those kids who colored things all crazy-like, and didn't pay attention to what colors things are in the real world.  I could draw just about anything, provided I could see it - but I had a little trouble drawing things from memory, or things that didn't exist.  I guess I was a pre-Impressionist, pre-Modernist child artist.  I colored inside the lines not out of a sense of conformity, but because it brought me great satisfaction to do so.  

Film school taught me that I wasn't as creative as I thought I was, but also that I could still find a place in the industry.  Filmmaking is another art form that also has a clear set of rules, unless it doesn't.  I mean, you can have experimental films, or films that are "arty" like "Jacob's Ladder" or "Memento" that bend the heck out of the form.  Or you can tell a straight narrative, which toe the line and don't allow for mistakes.  The forms meet on a long-running show like "The Simpsons", where nearly anything can happen, within a certain set of parameters, as long as the pieces get put back in the box at the end of an episode so the characters will be ready for their next adventure.  

For a while, I was doing paint-by-number sets, not only of "Star Wars" scenes, but also of some Biblical scenes like Noah's Ark or the Last Supper.  But after a while I got the idea to change the colors around, either at random or by switching the cool colors with the warm colors.  The results were a little mixed, but I did get two pieces into an art show, where I took scenes of a covered bridge in autumn and made them look like winter scenes.  It was probably the B.S. description I wrote that got them into the gallery...  but that's about as close as I come to being creative.  But hey, at least I get to work with and hang out with some very creative people.  

NITPICK POINT: I have to question the process of making a film via CGI in a process that closely mimics stop-motion animation.  In my opinion, the process of building (and un-building) Lego vehicles, and having figures moving around seems tailor-made for stop-motion.  OK, maybe CGI is faster and cheaper, but does that automatically mean it's BETTER?  I say, "Nay, nay!" I worry sometimes about what we're losing when we start doing everything in the digital world - digital comic books, for example.  They may be convenient, but you can't hold one, you can't collect them, you can't put them into a collection, and they'll never increase in value.  Same goes for digital music - it's a little sad to think of how few physical record collections there are in the world now, also how poorly record stores are doing, assuming any still exist.  I fear that we've lost something along the way, and not just the tactile experience of holding a book or putting an album on a turntable.  I just read an article about digital Star Wars trading cards, since a company is re-releasing all of the collectable cards in digital form.  Why?  You can't touch them, you can't trade them, you can't take proper care of them - all you can do is download the files and look at them, and collecting them is as easy as pushing a button to purchase.  If this represents the future, vast parts of it seem quite pointless to me.

Also starring Will Ferrell (last seen in "The Internship") and the voices of Elizabeth Banks (last seen in "Pitch Perfect"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "Transcendence"), Will Arnett (last seen in "Men in Black 3"), Liam Neeson (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Alison Brie (last seen in "The Five-Year Engagement"), Charlie Day (last heard in "Monsters University"), Nick Offerman (last seen in "City of Angels"), and vocal cameos from Jonah Hill (last seen in "This Is the End"), Channing Tatum (last seen in "White House Down"), Will Forte (last seen in "Grown Ups 2"), Dave Franco, Keegan-Michael Key, Billy Dee Williams (last seen in "The Out-of-Towners"), Anthony Daniels, Dave Franco (last seen in "Warm Bodies"), Jake Johnson (also carrying over from "Jurassic World"), Cobie Smulders (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Shaquille O'Neal.

RATING: 7 out of 10 batarangs

Monday, July 20, 2015

Jurassic World

Year 7, Day 201 - 7/20/15 - Movie #2,095

BEFORE: I'm messing with my own timestream again, meaning that I watched this film in theaters in late June, and if my plans work out the way I think they will, I'll give myself a day off in late July by posting this review in between two other movies starring Chris Pratt - so Chris Pratt carries over from "Delivery Man", if I've done this right.

THE PLOT:  A new theme park is built on the original site of Jurassic Park. Everything is going well until the park's newest attraction--a genetically modified giant stealth killing machine--escapes containment and goes on a killing spree.

AFTER: Well, they went and did it.  They opened a new Jurassic Park right on top of the old one.  Will they never learn that some things are better left alone?  Same goes for you, Universal Pictures, re-opening an old movie franchise years after the last disaster.  Will they never learn that some franchises are better left alone?  In both cases, they've taken some of the old, deteriorated DNA and spliced it together, using parts from other animals/movies to fill in the gaps.  Why?  Because science, that's why.  

Science tells us that these dinosaurs lived for millions of years, and ruled the planet for so long that they probably deserve another chance.  (Curse you, meteorites!)  Science also tells us that if the previous Jurassic Park movies made like a trillion dollars, the new one's going to make a trillion more.  Seriously, when the people in this movie who run the dino theme park talk about how they need a new attraction, a new spectacle every few years to keep the masses entertained, it's hard to not think about the board meetings in Hollywood studios, which are probably filled with people who follow the same logic.  "We need a new, bigger dinosaur with more teeth!" is not that far removed from "We need a new, bigger blockbuster with more dinosaurs!"  Or cars, or explosions, or spaceships or whatever. 

So this time they create a giant prehistoric underwater Mosasaurus and a new version of the T.Rex called the Indominus Rex - and they say they've nailed it this time, everything is safe, what could possibly go wrong?  They re-open with a new tagline, after rejecting such slogans as "If you lived here, you'd be dinosaur food by now" and "We really think this time, if you visit the park, you (probably) won't get killed. (offer void where prohibited)"

But come on, admit it, as movie-goers, that's what we're there to see, right?  People getting eaten by dinos, mostly the people who deserve it but probably a few who don't, because if we went to see a "Jurassic Park" movie where everything worked just fine, how freaking boring would that be?  Every film in this franchise tries to have it both ways, namely "Oh, they're beautiful, majestic giant creatures" and "They're efficient, ruthless killing machines."  Can we come to a consensus here, please?  

This, to me, is a point of order - yes, recreating extinct animals seems like a noble cause, and something impressive that should endeavor to create a greater understanding of biology and paleontology.  But why do they have to clone the bitey ones that want to eat people?  Can't they just stick to some herbivores and make sure the park is really 100% safe?  Of course, there's always the chance you could get stepped on by a giant herbivore, but I'll take my chances with that over a T. Rex.  (Sorry, I mean I. Rex.)

There are other attempts to elevate the storyline, like a project to train and weaponize certain dinosaurs (because science, that's why) and a ridiculous attempt to throw a romance into a disaster film, but before long, it's back to the tried and true - a dinosaur gets loose and where you see a crowd of happy tourists, it sees an all-you-can-eat buffet.  They change things up by making the villain dinosaurs from the previous films into (sort of) hero dinosaurs, but that seems almost like pandering of a sort.

But as a film, I'm sort of toggling here between respecting the visual effects and realizing that the story is patently ridiculous.  The characters are not fleshed out (the kids are...just plain kids, I sort of expect more) and the dialogue is hopelessly stilted, but again, that's not why you came to the movie, you sick bastards, is it?  You want to see people eaten, don't you?  But why go to the length of showing us that the younger kid is a dinosaur expert (aren't they all?) if we never get to see him use that knowledge, not once, to save anyone.  I credit my wife for pointing out this dangling, ignored plot point.

She also noticed that the final conflict ripped off the ending to "Anchorman", where the dog talks to the bear in the zoo.  (This was repeated in "Anchorman 2", when the dog talked to the shark.)   But what lesson can we learn here, besides the fact that you should spend time with your family, and not just let your assistant take them for the day?  Hmm, how about "STOP BUILDING THEME PARKS WITH REAL DINOSAURS!"  Because sooner or later, one's inevitably going to get loose (because science, that's why) and it will be your ass in the sling.   

Also starring Bryce Dallas Howard (last seen in "The Help"), Vincent D'Onofrio (last seen in "The Newton Boys"), Irrfan Khan (last seen in "A Mighty Heart"), Jake Johnson (last seen in "No Strings Attached"), Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, BD Wong (last heard in "Mulan"), Judy Greer, Andy Buckley (last seen in "The Heat"), Omar Sy, Lauren Lapkus, Katie McGrath, with a cameo from Jimmy Fallon (last seen in "Anything Else").

RATING: 7 out of 10 souvenir shops

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Delivery Man

Year 7, Day 200 - 7/19/15 - Movie #2,094

BEFORE: I'll get back to Owen Wilson in a few days, this time Vince Vaughn carries over from "The Internship", and as I count down to movie #2100, I've got to make a decision about whether to stay the course, or take a look at my linking and revise the plan for the rest of the year.  Thanks to an influx of new films, plus my week off for Comic-Con, my watchlist remains stuck at 145 films.  I should probably re-institute the policy of watching two films for every one I add if I want to make some dent in that number.  Right now there's a pile of new films at the bottom of the list, and theoretically if there's an actor chain that will take me through not just this year but also 2016, I'm going to have to start looking for it.

Yet part of me says to stay the course - I've got a chain that will take me through the next two weeks, then lead me topically into some documentaries, then I've got another chain that will take me right up to the Halloween topic and into Christmas, and I've even thought of a link to get me from there to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", if I've counted right.  Why would I mess with that?  Who cares if next year's chain is just a jumbled mess.  Or maybe things will work out next year, if I just leave things alone.  The actor links will either be there, or they won't, it doesn't matter.  Oh, but it does.  How do I know that my plan is the best it can be, unless I tear it apart and rebuild it?  I'm trying very hard to resist, because that's a time-consuming process.  I want to just coast, so to speak, until October, and then I'll have plenty of time in November to work out next year's plan.  But it's eating at me.

THE PLOT:  An affable underachiever finds out he's fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago. 

AFTER: This is based on a true story, one which also got turned into an earlier French Canadian film titled "Starbuck", from the same director, and a later French film titled "Fonzy".  There was a news story in 2011 that revealed that one man was believed to be the father of over 150 children through his donations to sperm banks over the years.  But that man still remains anonymous, and his story was used just as the jumping-off point here.  

Once again, Vaughn plays a lovable loser, David Wozniak, a mostly-incompetent truck driver for his family's meat business, who expresses concern over becoming a father when his girlfriend announces that she's pregnant.  She's assuming she'll be going it alone, because over time she's learned to expect nothing from David, so she won't be disappointed.  Around the same time, he's contacted by a representative of the clinic he used to donate to, informing him that there's a class-action suit being filed by 142 of his children to determine his identity.  

He's given their profiles and decides to surreptitiously meet them, curious about whether his children are losers like him, or perhaps more successful.  It's the old nature vs. nurture question - and when he finds that some of his children need a helping hand, his fatherly instincts kick in and he feels obligated to make each of their lives better in some way.  A good portion of the film is devoted to his actions as a sort of "guardian angel" to his unintentional brood.  

For the second night in a row, I'm surprised by the heartfelt nature of a Vince Vaughn film.  Here's a guy up to his eyeballs in debt, he's not great at his job and can barely function in a relationship, but he wants to succeed, he wants to help others, even if it's just with a kind word or an act of friendship, stemming from a responsibility for something that he never even knew he had.  When he stumbles into a support group for the children who are all seeking the father they don't know, even his passing comment has an impact.  They're all brothers and sisters, and somehow they found each other, and that means something. (Though I'm not sure why they didn't have this little revelation on their own.)

Before long, the group is organizing camping trips and sing-alongs, posing for group photos that strain the limits of how many people you can fit in one photo, and David is playing father figure to many of them - it's not a large leap from there to predicting the end of the plot.  What's more important, winning a lawsuit or winning people over?  Preserving your anonymity or bonding with your biological children?  It's an unusual, complicated family situation, but then, what parental relationship isn't?  Most people don't know if they'll make a good parent until they try, it's just that most people start with one kid, not 142.

Also starring Chris Pratt (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Cobie Smulders (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Bobby Moynihan (last seen in "Grown Ups 2"), Simon Delaney, Andrzej Blumenfeld, Bruce Altman (last seen in "The Paper"), Britt Robertson (last seen in "Dan in Real Life"), Damian Young (last seen in "Birdman"), Dave Patten, Jack Reynor, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jessica Williams, Matthew Daddario, with cameos from Jay Leno (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Bill Maher (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West").  

RATING: 6 out of 10 basketball jerseys