Saturday, August 29, 2015

22 Jump Street

Year 7, Day 241 - 8/29/15 - Movie #2,135

BEFORE: I was at the doctor's yesterday, got my last hepatitis vaccine shot and a flu shot as well (something I usually try to avoid, because the possible side effects include flu-like symptoms, plus you never know if they've correctly predicted which strain of flu will be going around this coming winter...) and I was able to prove to my doctor that I can lose weight.  I've lost 18 pounds in four months, according to the doctor's scale - but I only made a small dent in my cholesterol level, so I'll have to maintain a diet of falafel and broccoli for a while.  Still, I allowed myself a trip to a real NYC deli to celebrate the weight loss, though I realize that was probably counter-productive.  

It's Part 2 of the Back to School chain today, and Seth Rogen has a cameo in here somewhere, so he carries over from "Neighbors", and at least two other actors do, too.

THE PLOT:  After making their way through high school (twice), big changes are in store for officers Schmidt and Jenko when they go deep undercover at a local college. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "21 Jump Street" (Movie #1,379)

AFTER: There are a lot of knowing winks at the audience in this one, with characters admonishing each other not to "do the exact same thing we did last time" or making sure to shout "Something Cool" (literally) during important slo-mo action scenes.  The police unit headquartered at its new address on Jump Street is symbolic of the film itself, having been given a bigger budget and a larger "cast" of agents.  And right across the street, a new development is being built at 23 Jump Street, complete with a  "Coming Soon" banner, hinting at the next sequel.  

But first our undercover officers have to track down drug dealers at the fictional MC State (College? University?) and they realize that they have different strengths, and need to separate to properly investigate a student's death. Their partnership is jeopardized when one has a romance with a girl, and the other forms a bromance with the football quarterback - and it's a bit of a twist, because if you had to pick which actor would do better with the ladies...

Meanwhile, most of the students peg them as narcs right away, or comment on how old they look.  It's nearly a NITPICK POINT to have a man in his late twenties go back and play college football again, because you'd think there would be strict rules about players having to prove their ages to qualify for NCAA games.  But I admit I know very little about college football rules. 

More fraternity hazing tonight, plus (unlike "Neighbors") we get to see students going to classes!  OK, so they're not really there to take classes, but that feels like a step forward.  Plus we get football games and then before you know it, Spring Break rolls around - but it's too bad they have to spend their break finally tracking down the drug-dealing masterminds, and then figuring out if they can work together as mature adults going forward.  

NITPICK POINT: The drug in the film is called WHYPHY (Work Hard Yes, Play Hard Yes) because it allows people to have intense focus for a few hours, then have an intense psychedelic trip - which sounds ideal for college life, cramming for exams and then going out to party.  But why would kids be taking this drug on spring break, where there are no exams - wouldn't they probably just want to take a simple party drug like ecstasy?

As evidenced by all of the (fake) end trailers, they have the ability to keep on making more films in this franchise for many, many years. 

That's going to wrap up August for me, I'm taking a few days off to go on another road trip to Atlantic City, which is probably also counter-productive to me losing more weight, since we love the buffets there.  I don't mind missing a few days, I'll still have plenty of time to finish out the year, and this will even make my chain line up better with Labor Day.  

Also starring Channing Tatum (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Jonah Hill (ditto), Nick Offerman (ditto), Ice Cube (last seen in "21 Jump Street"), Peter Stormare (last seen in "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters"), Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens West, The Lucas Brothers, Jimmy Tatro, Jillian Bell (last seen in "The Master"), H. Jon Benjamin, Rob Riggle (last seen in "The Internship"), Dave Franco (also carrying over from "Neighbors"), Craig Roberts (ditto), with cameos from Richard Grieco, Bill Hader (last heard in "Her"), Patton Oswalt (last heard in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Queen Latifah (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), Anna Faris (last seen in "The Dictator").

RATING: 5 out of 10 hidden cameras

Friday, August 28, 2015

Neighbors (2014)

Year 7, Day 240 - 8/28/15 - Movie #2,134

BEFORE: Seth Rogen carries over again, and two other actors also carry over from "The Interview".  It's funny, my list of movies to watch in 2015 got flipped around several times, messed around with every few months, but still, all of the films relating to school ended up in late August + early September.  I try not to think too hard about things like that, but it just sort of happens, perhaps on a subconscious level.  So today, it's Part 1 of a 5-part Back to School series, although they won't all be in a row, much like there were gaps in my "final" boxing chain a couple of months ago.  Sometimes mortar is needed to connect the bricks.  (last year's chain was just 4 films - "Monsters University", "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion", "Clueless" and "Admission")

So far, I've been able to resist all urges to make further changes to my final 2015 film list, because I've gotten used to that plan now.  The Watchlist is still stuck at 140 films, so right now that's 77 films that are set aside for 2016, but since I knew that February was a little short, I've managed to add a few films to the romance category in the last week, taking it up to 19 films.  That's almost a full February, but I have to remember it's a leap year coming up, so I'll try to find 10 more applicable films, or if not, I'll live with the chain as is. 

THE PLOT:  After they are forced to live next to a fraternity house, a couple with a newborn baby do whatever they can to take them down. 

AFTER: This seems like it came straight from a "World's Worst" improv session - like a couple of writers were tossing story ideas around, and tried to think of what the world's worst neighbors would be like, and when they hit on a frat house, they figured the story would just sort of write itself.  I agree that the premise here is quite strong, but that doesn't allow a screenwriter to rest on that - the plot still needs to advance and have turning points, and it needs to come to some kind of logical conclusion.

There is a conclusion here, but I'm forced to question how the film got from the premise to the conclusion, and that path isn't necessarily supposed to be straight, but it's got to make sense at every turn.  This one doesn't always do that - sometimes the residents of the two houses are adversaries, and sometimes they act like friends, so it's sort of like a room where the floor is always shifting, which makes it very difficult to walk across.  Example - after there is contention between the two houses due to some loud parties, the frat boys still allow the neighbors to come to the next party.  Why would they?  I mean, they have to for the plot to advance, because that's where our heroes put their next plan in motion, but from a tactical standpoint, you don't let enemy spies into your territory.  Not if you know they're spies, and if you want to win the war.  

But the foundation of the plot is just as shaky as the floor here - why is a frat house located in a residential neighborhood, instead of on campus?  There's a half-hearted explanation, something about the frat's last house burning down, but I still find the situation to be quite unlikely.  The area's probably zoned for residential use only, and a frat house would probably not qualify, and would need to be located on school property.  

Next problem - how do a bunch of frat brothers get the money to buy a house?  Especially in a neighborhood where a (presumably) hard-working couple spent their whole life savings to buy one?  If they're college students, one could posit that they don't have full-time jobs, maybe they've got part-time gigs at the college bookstore or something, but working around a class schedule and maintaining a partying lifestyle doesn't leave much time.  So unless they've got outside funding, I can't see them scraping together enough for a down payment and a monthly mortgage - they do come up with a money-raising scheme later in the film, but it wasn't early enough to help them purchase the property. (Anyway, we're shown that they've spent all their available funds on beer, weed and fireworks - after buying a house they probably wouldn't HAVE any excess money for party supplies.)

But, let me be generous, and do the screenwriter's job for him, and assume that the frat is renting the house, not buying it.  Thus the neighbors mistake the rental agent seen early in the film for a sales agent.  This works if their previous frat house burned down, and they need to live somewhere while it's being rebuilt.  But this leads to security deposits, damage waivers, and an increased fear of throwing a wild party because then they'd waive their rights to get their deposit back, or risk being out on the street again.  Once again, the premise falls apart after reason is applied. 

Then we come to the logistical nature of a noise complaint - if you call the cops on your loud neighbors, that's a lodged complaint, no matter what.  The fact that the police showed up at all means there's a record of the complaint, even if it's made anonymously (which, as correctly depicted in the film, is not usually as anonymous as one might think).  But someone just can't say, "Oops, I rescind my noise complaint."  Too late, the cop's already there and the complaint is on the police blotter, so it's a matter of public record.  

The movie later screws up with its own premise, after the dean quotes the "three strikes" rule - if you assume that the old frat house burning down is strike one against the frat, then the party that gets out of hand is strike two, and the neighbors celebrate as if that were strike three, which it's not.  Yes, it means that possibly the frat boys will be on their best behavior in the future to avoid strike three, but that's not exactly the same thing as definitively getting rid of the frat, now, is it? 

Then we have the larger question, as to whether it's OK to become worse than your enemy in order to defeat him.  The couple depicted here has to resort to some pretty big deceptions to get the frat closed, and I'm wondering if I'm the only person who thinks they crossed the line.  I mean, they had plenty of legitimate complaints that SHOULD have been enough to get the frat closed down, it seems like a shortcoming of their characters that they had to resort to underhanded behavior themselves.  

NITPICK POINT: Shortly after entering college, I found myself on academic probation - it's a long story that I don't care to get into, but things did get crazy one night and some empty soda cans fell from our window.  The college interviewed me and all of my roommates, and once we were on probation, they told us exactly how long the probation would last, and we knew how long we had to watch ourselves carefully.  It does not just "happen" at a random time.      

There's a similar problem to "The Interview" here, as the writers/directors just can't resist comedy that appeals to the lowest common denominator - so it's physical humor about people having sex, guys making molds of their dicks, and even a mother being "milked" by her husband.  While I admit these things seem a little more fitting here in a teen comedy than they would in a political satire, I still think the standards could have been a bit higher.  

Also starring Rose Byrne (last seen in "The Internship"), Zac Efron (last seen in "Me and Orson Welles"), Dave Franco (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Carla Gallo (last seen in "We Bought a Zoo"), Ike Barinholtz (last seen in "Shrink"), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (last seen in "This Is the End"), Lisa Kudrow (last seen in "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion"), Jerrod Carmichael, Hannibal Buress, Halston Sage, Craig Roberts, Brian Huskey, with cameos from Andy Samberg (last seen in "Grown Ups 2"), Adam Devine, Blake Anderson, Anders Holm (also carrying over from "The Interview), Randall Park (ditto), Jake Johnson (also last heard in "The Lego Movie").

RATING: 4 out of 10 De Niro costumes

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Interview

Year 7, Day 239 - 8/27/15 - Movie #2,133

BEFORE:  Everybody was buzzing about this film late last year, since the real Kim Jong-Un was threatening to blow up theaters that screened it.  Silly Korean dictator, we don't need you to come here and threaten theater audiences, we've got enough Americans doing that already.  Another foreigner trying to come here and take American jobs...

So I felt I had to get it from PPV when it became available, since I didn't know if any cable channel would dare to eventually run it.  Seth Rogen carries over from "The Guilt Trip", he'll be around for a couple more days.

THE PLOT: TV host Dave Skylark and producer Aaron Rapoport land an interview with a surprise fan, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and are recruited by the CIA to turn their trip into an assassination mission.

AFTER: My wife watches that "Team America" movie about once a year, which featured a puppet version of Kim Jong-Il, and had some good moments.  It's sad for "The Interview" that they did more funny things with a marionette North Korean leader than this film does with real actors.  It's also sad that people rallied behind this film as a patriotic cause, declaring no foreign dictator had the right to curb Hollywood's releases - I'm guessing none of those people took the time to WATCH the film before they made statements supporting it.  

You'd like to think that actors and directors would get better over time, let's say people who've made a few comedies should, all other things being equal, learn from their experiences and you might expect their later comedies to be funnier than their earlier ones.  Not so in this case - this film has jokes that go on too long, other jokes that don't land, and some that just go nowhere at all. 

There's a tiny bit of insight into how an American celebrity could be wooed into a bromance with a foreign dictator (you're not off the hook yet, Dennis Rodman), but that's about as clever as this film gets.  Before long it devolves into poop jokes, dick jokes and anal sex jokes.  Whatever promise it had of being clever just got tossed away.  It probably wouldn't have done much business at the box office at all, if Kim Jong-Un hadn't started complaining about it.  He could have watched the film die a quick death if he had only kept his mouth shut.  

There are several plot holes you could drive a tank through, but the worst NITPICK POINT to me is: If the U.S. government could deliver these guys the exact supplies they needed via a drone drop, then they could have just as easy taken out Kim Jong-Un with a drone strike.  There was no need to send human assassins, and they could have spared us all a lot of bad comedy.

Also starring James Franco (last seen in "This Is the End"), Lizzy Caplan (last seen in "Mean Girls"), Randall Park (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), Diana Bang, Timothy Simons, Reese Alexander, Anders Holm, with cameos from Eminem (last seen in "8 Mile"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "Lincoln"), Rob Lowe (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Ben Schwartz, Bill Maher (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Seth Meyers (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Brian Williams.

RATING: 3 out of 10 margaritas

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Guilt Trip

Year 7, Day 238 - 8/26/15 - Movie #2,132

BEFORE: This seems like it would have made a great film for Mother's Day, but I was busy watching "The Butler" then, and I don't want to put this off until next year, because placing it here it leads me to some films that are perfect for a Back to School chain.  I've got to consider the big picture, after all.  Tom Virtue carries over from "Return to Me", where he played a doctor - here he's cast as "Mature Singles Man".

THE PLOT:  As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom's house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.

AFTER: At first this seems just like your average road-trip film, God knows we've seen a bunch of these in the last few years, like "Due Date", "Identity Thief", "We're the Millers" and "The Hangover" films.  But it's the first one I've seen where a man goes on a road trip with his mother, so at least it has a relatively newish angle.  

Quite simply, no one can get under your skin like your mother can.  Even if she's the loving, nurturing type, then those are exactly the qualities that will come to annoy you over time - because there's a fine line between mothering and smothering, and most mothers seem like they get sort of "all in", and then there are no lines she won't cross, no personal questions she won't ask, and so on.  

This can, in many cases, lead to a catharsis where the son may take in one annoyance after another, and eventually explode - and that's exactly what happens here, to great comic effect.  From my experience, this is a natural part of growing up - I went through it around age 17 (and if you knew what a sweet, charitable woman my mother is, you'd understand what a rat bastard I probably was then) so if we assume Seth Rogen's character is 30 here, then the confrontation between son and mother is long overdue.  It seems like he's been avoiding it by living far away from her, but when she mentions an old boyfriend whom he was named after, he takes the opportunity to invite her on a cross-country trip.

In a way, he meddles in his mother's life, by not telling her the real purpose for the trip.  I can't decide if this makes him a hypocrite, or if turnabout is fair play. 

I think what surprised me here was Streisand's ability as an actress - I'm used to seeing her acting silly in older movies like "What's Up, Doc?" or "The Owl and the Pussycat", or acting silly in newer movies like "Meet the Fockers", and she always came off as sort of a human cartoon.  But here she felt real, like a real overbearing mother, but one with faults and issues, and I think she was able to deliver lines that would have seemed very silly if delivered by someone else.  She's simply the most believable thing about the film, while I was aware at all times that Seth Rogen was an actor playing a part.  Maybe it's that really fake nervous laugh that he's taken to doing.  

The highlight of the film was probably seeing Streisand's character try to eat that giant steak challenge in Texas - the one that's a 72 oz. steak, plus potato, plus salad, plus roll and you have a 1 hour time limit and if you succeed, it's free.  Conventional wisdom says a skinny woman doesn't have a chance at succeeding at this, but conventional wisdom is wrong - watch some of today's competitive eating contests, and they're dominated by skinnier people.  Fatter people simply don't have as much room for their stomach to expand - there was a woman this past April who ate THREE of these 72 oz. steaks, plus all the trimmings, in under 20 minutes, and she only weighs about 120 pounds.  That's impressive, and a little scary.  (Yeah, I realize Streisand probably did this with the help of "movie magic", like editing, but it was still fun.) 

Also starring Barbra Streisand (last seen in "Little Fockers"), Seth Rogen (last seen in "This Is the End"), Adam Scott (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Brett Cullen (last seen in "42"), Ari Graynor (last seen in "Celeste and Jesse Forever"), Colin Hanks (last seen in "W."), Yvonne Strahovski, with cameos from Nora Dunn (last seen in "Miami Blues"), Rick Gonzalez (last seen in "Laurel Canyon"), Casey Wilson, Kathy Najimy (last seen in "Hope Floats"), Miriam Margolyes, Creed Bratton, Danny Pudi (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier").

RATING: 6 out of 10 ceramic frogs

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Return to Me

Year 7, Day 237 - 8/25/15 - Movie #2,131

BEFORE: I hate to dip into the romance pool again, because I don't want to run out come February, but I need the linking - James Belushi carries over from "The Pebble and the Penguin".  Already this summer I watched "Moulin Rouge" and "Down By Love", and in any other year I would have saved them for the Valentine's chain.  I'll have to search the listings for some more love-oriented films over the holiday break.  

THE PLOT: A man who falls in love with the woman who received his wife's heart must decide which woman it is who holds his heart.

AFTER:  Series of contrivances: 1) the film follows two people, a man whose wife dies in a car accident, and a woman in need of a heart transplant - so when the heart goes from there to there, it just happens to travel between the people we're already invested in, then 2) the donor's husband and the recipient happen to meet, and fall for each other, and 3) through the biggest contrivance of all, they later find out about the connection they have.  This happens via a letter that the heart recipient wrote to her donor's family, which she happens to find in his possession.  

The film never explains the letter, or lets the audience know its contents, and we have to bring our own knowledge to the film that this sort of letter is usually written anonymously, because God forbid the film take a minute to mention that fact.  By failing to mention it, one might easily mistakenly presume that she knows the name of the donor, and he read the letter and knows the name of the recipient, so how come they don't recognize each other's names when they meet later on?  Really, would it have killed them to show her writing the letter, or getting instructions from a hospital staffer about being careful not to sign her name? 

You have to go back to ancient Roman or Egyptian civilizations to learn where the human heart first became a symbol of love and emotions - but since then, we've learned that it's just a part of the circulatory system, and it's probably more accurate to say that love happens in our brains.  But the symbolism has persisted for some reason, even though it's not supported by the facts - kind of how like we still say that the sun rises and sets, when it really just stays in one place while the Earth rotates.  (I can change people's perceptions one at a time, but I doubt we'll be seeing brain-shaped Valentine's Day cards or cakes any time soon.)

To its credit, the film doesn't get all gooey after the reveal, or treat the heart like it is the working seat of emotion, because that would have been a very silly direction to go.  Suggesting that she fell in love with him because of some residual feeling in the heart she got would be like expecting someone with a corneal transplant to be able to recognize people that the donor knew by sight.  

Nor does the film get all caught up in the odds against the situation, which would imply kismet or karma or fate or some divine providence, and this would have been a silly direction too.  I mean, the best you can do with that is have the characters say, "Wow, what an amazing coincidence!" and that's something of a story dead-end also.  

But without going in these directions, what to do after the reveal?  It seems like they were left with making every character sit down and look overwhelmed, while discussing how overwhelming the situation seemed.  But having everyone stare into space while contemplating the meaning of it all seems like a cop-out, I need to see more in a story. 

Oh, sure, we get to see him make good on his promise to his dead wife, so the gorillas at the zoo get a new habitat.  But that seems a bit disconnected and off-topic.  There used to be a Showtime series called "Red Shoe Diaries", in which David Duchovny appeared in each week's framing elements, with a dog, reading an anonymous letter he got in response to a classified ad asking people for their stories of lost love or erotic encounters.  Duchovny's career was red-hot at the time, so I think women might have tuned in to see him, but he was never involved in the love-making scenes, so I'm betting they were frequently disappointed. 

This film sort of feels like a lost episode from that series, we've got the dog and the anonymous letter and Duchovny staring into space, wondering how people find each other and what it all means.  But at least his character got to be in the relationship this time, and not just read about it.  

NITPICK POINT: An Irish Italian restaurant?  Sure, because everyone wants their lasagna to come with a side of cabbage.  You people in Chicago are so weird.  Like, you don't need to put pickles AND relish on your hot dogs, one of those would be plenty.  And why celery salt?  

Also starring David Duchovny (last seen in "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"), Minnie Driver (last seen in "Circle of Friends"), Carroll O'Connor (last seen in "Kelly's Heroes"), Bonnie Hunt (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Robert Loggia (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), David Alan Grier (last seen in "Bewitched"), Joely Richardson (last seen in "The Patriot"), Eddie Jones, Brian Howe, Tom Virtue (last seen in "Hitchcock"), with a cameo from Don Lake (last seen in "Grudge Match").

RATING: 4 out of 10 sizable donations

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Pebble and the Penguin

Year 7, Day 236 - 8/24/15 - Movie #2,130

BEFORE: One more animated film, then I can move back to more adult fare.  But while I'm in the neighborhood, I'll get to this one, because Will Ryan carries over from "The Little Mermaid", here he voices two characters.  I met Will about 15 years ago, when web-sites were still sort of a new thing, and I'd just designed my boss's site (this was before you needed to know Flash or Java or whatever) and Will was looking for someone to design a site for a character he'd created.  I don't remember if we just didn't connect on the particulars or if I lost interest, or web-sites became too complicated for me to continue to understand.

A lovable but introverted penguin named Hubie plans to present his betrothal pebble to the bird of his dreams.

AFTER: It's so funny, I was just talking about animator Don Bluth two nights ago, because I thought that some of the characters in "The Swan Princess" resembled his work, and now here's a film directed by Bluth.  Well, he wasn't satisfied with the final film and he had his name removed from it, but he's one of the the film's directors.  Don Bluth and Gary Goldman left this production halfway through (another bad sign) in order to start the studio that eventually became Fox Animation (1994-2000), a division of 20th Century Fox Animation which produced only one hit film, "Anastasia". 

This is apparently a real penguin mating ritual - the male searches the beach for a "perfect" pebble,  and when the female accepts it, they've mated for life.  For this reason, many people have noticed the similarity between penguin and human courtship, only humans do this with much shinier rocks.  See, penguins are exactly like us! 

Well, not exactly.  Most penguin species are monogamous, but research shows that some females may have up to three partners in a season, ditto for some of the males.  And if a mate fails to return to the nesting area, or mates arrive there at different times, their prior relationship doesn't prevent them from finding new mates - so I wouldn't call that exactly mating for life.  Wait, cheating on their spouses and having rebound relationships, maybe penguins ARE just like us!  

Certain breeds, like these Adelie penguins, do build nests out of pebbles - so it's possible that the behavior of collecting pebbles for the nest, which would happen around the same time as courtship, has been misinterpreted.  It's all a big myth or urban legend.  After all, what would a female penguin DO with a pebble, it's not like she wears it on a big ring on her flipper!  

Really, it's just a jumping-off point here - Hubie, the stuttering penguin, is too shy to talk to his ideal mate, Marina, but eventually bumps into her (literally) and makes contact, then spends all day and night looking for the perfect pebble (which gets provided by a very timely meteorite) and then everything looks like it will go well, until the big, strong rival penguin sends him floating off on an iceberg, and he's got to find his way back.

I'm right on point with this week's other animated films - both "The Swan Princess" and "The Little Mermaid" feature perfect lovers who get separated, and they have to find each other again.  And Drake, the evil penguin, has designs on the lovely female (just like Rothbard in "Swan Princess"), and apparently this will allow him to take control of Penguinland, somehow.  And once again, there's a complicated time limit - Ariel had just three days to make Prince Eric fall in love with her, and here Hubie's got to get back to propose to Marina before time runs out, or else she'll have to accept Drake's pebble, or be banished.  They just don't take kindly to single lady penguins in Antarctica, I guess.  

This then just turns "The Pebble and the Penguin" into a simple road movie, where Hubie meets other penguins on a human ship, and teams up with Rocko, the rockhopper penguin, to get back.  Rocko has a desire of his own, he wants to be able to fly.  Hubie and Rocko have to dodge leopard seals and killer whales on their way back, and again and again they keep bobbling that pebble and nearly losing it.  Really, don't they ever figure out that holding on to it with their slippery flippers just doesn't work?  Jeez, just put it in a bag or wrap it in your scarf or something.  (umm, yeah, penguins wear clothes in this film, deal with it.) 

There are some OK songs, written by Barry Manilow, but none that stand out from the rest, so in the end they're mostly forgettable.  There's nothing that's the equivalent of "Under the Sea" or "Kiss the Girl", that's for sure.  This is just a simple film that had the bad luck of being released before penguins became popular due to "March of the Penguins", "Happy Feet" and "Surf's Up".

Once again, I worry more about the message that's being sent out to the kids.  Are we creating a generation of young men that feels like they can't win the heart of a woman without a shiny piece of jewelry?  It might have sent a more positive message if Hubie had lost the pebble, really lost it, and Marina accepted him anyway.  Sure, she said that's "it's not the pebble, it's the penguin", but I noticed that didn't prevent her from accepting the pebble when he found it again. 

Also starring the voices of Martin Short (last heard in "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted"), James Belushi (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Tim Curry (last seen in "Congo"), Annie Golden, Alissa King, Neil Ross, Stevie Vallance.

RATING: 4 out of 10 sheets of music

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Little Mermaid

Year 7, Day 235 - 8/23/15 - Movie #2,129

BEFORE: Well, it's as good a time as any to admit that I've never seen the film that sort of kicked off the Disney renaissance of the late 1980's.  I was busy that year graduating from college, trying to find work in the big city, and distancing myself from childish things.  And without offspring, there's been no real hurry to get to every kiddie movie out there, this is really just for research purposes, and to finally cross the damn thing off the list.

Two members of the musical chorus carry over from "The Swan Princess", Susan Boyd and Sally Stevens.  Once I hit a run of animated films, it's usually pretty easy to link between cast members, because they all seem to draw from the same pool of voice-over talent. 

THE PLOT:  A mermaid princess makes a Faustian bargain with an unscrupulous sea-witch in order to meet a human prince on land.

AFTER: Beyond the animated fairy-tale aspect, this film has a lot in common with "The Swan Princess" - in last night's film, a young girl was transformed into a swan by an evil magician trying to take over her father's kingdom, and ruin her relationship with handsome Prince Derek.  Here we have a young girl transformed from a mermaid into a human by an evil magician trying to take over her father's kingdom, and ruin her relationship with handsome Prince Eric. (Hmmm....)  This last week's really been about fantasy creatures like dragons and dwarves and such, and transformations, like that guy in the "Hobbit" film who could turn into a bear.

Oh, there are differences between last night's film and this one - Ariel the mermaid enters into this bargain to become human quite willingly, even though it's a really bad deal - she gets to be human for three days, in exchange for her voice, but there's no guarantee she can romance the Prince in that time, a great chance she'll end up being enslaved by Ursula, and there's not even a mention of how to get her voice back.  How the heck is she supposed to connect to this guy without speaking (Hey, hey, keep it clean, kids are watching...) when her voice is the thing that attracted him in the first place?  

But both films also changed the endings of their original stories - because fairy tales used to be so much more depressing and bleak, like Cinderella's stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit them in the glass slipper - in the original Hans Christian Andersen story of the Little Mermaid, she doesn't just magically have her voice taken away, she has her tongue cut out.  Plus, when she's given the ability to walk on legs, she always feels as if she's walking on knives and her toes are bleeding.  That Andersen was a sick puppy...

So, I understand the need to make the story a little happier, but to what effect?  What's the message being sent to a generation of little girls, that they should have their bodies altered in order to win the love of a man, which is the most important thing in the world?   That doesn't seem like it's helping girls have positive body images.  That a man won't fall in love with a woman unless she's quiet most of the time?  Again, it's sending out a strange message.  It's bad enough that we've raised a generation of girls on Disney princess stories, and 99.9% of them will never get to be princesses, but will they grow up expecting to be treated as such?  I'm all for teaching girls they can do anything they want, but they'll simply never be royals.  

Once again, I feel like there were some shortcuts taken with this plot, though maybe not as many as in "The Swan Princess" - do we ever find out WHY Ursula wants to take over the undersea kingdom?  Besides just the fact that she's evil, I mean.  IMDB says there were deleted scenes that explained she was King Triton's sister, and why she was banished - that would have done the trick, sure.  But if she's one of the mer-people, then why does she have tentacles like an octopus?

NITPICK POINT: Who takes a marble statue with them on an ocean voyage?  Even though it's a gift for the prince, that doesn't seem like a good idea.  That wooden ship's not going to float as well with a big marble statue on the deck, assuming the deck can even support its weight.  

NITPICK POINT #2: The mer-people derisively call the humans "fish-eaters".  Well, they live underwater, what do they eat, just seaweed?  How do those mermen get all those muscles if they're not eating protein?  I would think that they'd HAVE to eat fish to survive, and they'd more properly call the humans "cow-eaters" or something.  

Also starring the voices of Jodi Benson (last heard in "Toy Story 3"), Samuel E. Wright (last heard in "Dinosaur"), Christopher Daniel Barnes, Buddy Hackett, Kenneth Mars (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Pat Carroll, Edie McClurg (last heard in "Frozen"), Rene Auberjonois, Will Ryan, with cameos from Nancy Cartwright (last heard in "The Simpsons Movie"), Jim Cummings, Kimmy Robertson, Rod McKuen, Frank Welker.

RATING: 5 out of 10 scallop shells