Saturday, September 12, 2015


Year 7, Day 255 - 9/12/15 - Movie #2,147

BEFORE: I'm going to sneak in my Saturday film on Saturday afternoon, so tonight after midnight I can watch my Sunday film, and I'll be back ahead on the count again.  The Watchlist is still at 140 films, that number hasn't changed in weeks, because I keep finding more films to work into the chain.  But all of those new films are going into next year's line-up, because I don't have any time now to restructure the rest of 2015's chain.  Whatever happens next year will largely depend on what films I add over the holiday break, anyway.  I can't accurately predict a new starting point on Jan. 1 until I can see the entire list of what's left at that point.

Michael Caine carries over from "Flawless", and we'll see Caine one more time tomorrow, then again for "Interstellar", and again at Christmastime in "Muppet Christmas Carol".  I guess that's the best I can do now, I can't get all of the Caine films together, so at least Caine will link to Max von Sydow in "Star Wars: Episode 7" via "Hannah and Her Sisters", or alternately Frank Oz (as the voice of Yoda) is an indirect link to half the cast.  If there's some kind of uncredited cameo in Episode 7 from Yoda, even just his voice, that would really help me out, so someone please get working on that. 

Next year, if I do another Big Year, I may have to resort to characters carrying over, like if I watch an animated film with Superman or Batman right before "Superman v. Batman", that should count, right?  We'll see.

THE PLOT: A Broadway playwright puts murder in his plan to take credit for a student's script.

AFTER: Earlier this week, I was railing on "Seven Psychopaths" for having characters who were also nascent screenwriters, always discussing their screenplays, which were based on their lives, so that in the end the audiences gets a film where we can't tell the difference between the film and the film-within-a-film.  I should hate "Deathtrap" for the same reasons - it focuses on two playwrights, who are always discussing their play, which is based on events in their life, and since the play "Deathtrap" bears a close resemblance to the film we're watching, once again, it's difficult to tell the difference between the film and the play-within-the film.

And ultimately, the play being written becomes the film we're watching - or does it?  There are certainly a lot of similarities - two acts, no more than five characters, and it's largely set in one room of a big country house.  And in fact, "Deathtrap" was a play by Ira Levin before it was a film directed by Sidney Lumet.  (The main character's name is also Sidney - this film is so self-referential that at some point it becomes like the snake eating its own tail...)

Sidney is an aging playwright whose last play was badly reviewed, and it's only a matter of time before his wife's fortune runs out.  On the urging of his wife, he agrees to collaborate with a young former student who has written a play (using techniques learned during Sidney's writing classes) and Sidney finds the play to be nearly perfect.  So the plan is hatched to try and kill the young student, and present the play as Sidney's own.  

Here's where I'll stop talking about the plot, because there are so many twists and reversals that I don't want to give any of them away - but I thought I could see where this one was going, and I was dead wrong.  I figured on one kind of triangle, but there was another kind instead.  

And I'll say I should have hated this one because it falls back into that "writers writing about writing" abyss, which is a bit like holding up two mirrors across from each other and staring back into infinity.  But I didn't hate this one so much, so perhaps there is a way for a writer to write about writers writing about writing without it driving me mad.  

The theater seen in the opening sequence (one of the few scenes taking place outside the house in the Hamptons) is the Music Box Theater, which is where "Deathtrap" originally ran as a play, and has been the home of many notable productions, including "Sleuth" (come back here tomorrow for that one), and also the stage productions of "Dangerous Liaisons", "A Few Good Men", the revival of "Amadeus", part of the run of "August: Osage County", and the recent revivals of "Pippin" and "The Heidi Chronicles".  And what was running at the Music Box when they filmed the opening of "Deathtrap"?  The play "Deathtrap", of course. 

Also starring Christopher Reeve (last seen in "The Remains of the Day"), Dyan Cannon (last seen in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"), Irene Worth (last seen in "Eyewitness"), Henry Jones (last seen in "Vertigo"), with cameos from Jeffrey Lyons, Joel Siegel.

RATING: 6 out of 10 carbon copies

Flawless (2007)

Year 7, Day 254 - 9/11/15 - Movie #2,146

BEFORE: We're less than one week from Labor Day, it's technically not even fall, and I have to start thinking about Christmas and the end of the year.  I've been clear about the fact that I want to end this year with "Star Wars: Episode 7", and that means keeping the last slot of the year open, but I've really been keeping TWO slots open at the end of this year's chain, for "Star Wars" and for "Interstellar".  Makes sense, right?  Two films about space, two very different films about space, but in both cases I don't want to learn too much about the plot before watching them.  

I've allowed myself to read reviews of "Interstellar", but nothing that looked too spoiler-filled.  And somehow I got it into my head that Max Von Sydow appears in "Interstellar", which would make linking to "Star Wars" a breeze - only now that I've checked the cast list on IMDB and Wikipedia, he doesn't seem to be in that film.  What gave me that idea in the first place?  The good news is that I've been assuming that some station would run "Interstellar" before December, and in fact Epix is going to run it next week, so there's time for me to make a correction.

I was going to end the year with "The Family Stone" (a film about a Christmas gathering), then "Failure to Launch" following the Sarah Jessica Parker link, then "Interstellar", following the McConnaughey link, then "Star Wars".  Moving "Interstellar" will be quite easy, though I can't do it in time to put it with these three Michael Caine films coming up, I can just move it (and "Failure to Launch") forward to join my upcoming McConnaughey week, so that will now be 9 films instead of 7.  The number of films left to watch in 2015 stays the same, and I preserve the wordplay of watching "Failure to Launch" right before a film about astronauts.  Hey, that's what I find hilarious.  

But the problem now is that there will be no direct link to the "Star Wars" film (and "The Family Stone" similarly connects to nothing now).  And I've passed on many, many opportunities.  I could have gone from "The Exorcist", with the Max von Sydow connection, but that film's square in the middle of horror season - and I can only have one intro and one outro for October.  I could have linked from Adam Driver in "This Is Where I Leave You" or Oscar Isaac in "Inside Llewyn Davis" (coming up in late Sept.) or even Domhnall Gleeson, appearing in "About Time", which got moved to February. Dammit, dammit, dammit, all of these decisions were made thinking I had a link to "Star Wars" in the bag.  

Simon Pegg?  Harrison Ford?  Andy Serkis in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"?  Jeez, why doesn't Mark Hamill make more movies, that would really help me out.  Lupita Nyong'o in "12 Years a Slave"?  No, I'm planning on watching that next week.  I've lived with this list for so long and got so used to the order of what's coming up that I'd really hate to tear it all apart again.  I just have to hope that by the time the new "Star Wars" film comes out, I'll be so happy to watch it that I won't care about directly linking to it.  

Today, Demi Moore carries over from "Disclosure".

THE PLOT:  A soon-to-retire caretaker convinces an American executive to help him steal a handful of diamonds from their employer, the London Diamond Corporation.

AFTER: This film ran on PBS a few months ago, and I admit I'd never heard of it before.  But it really helped me out, providing a link out of "Disclosure" after I ran out of Michael Douglas films - and Dennis Miller just has not been in that many movies.  And this allows me to start a week of mostly crime-themed films, with an initial focus on Michael Caine.  

There's an interesting tie-in here with "Disclosure", even though they're set in different years, there are mentions made of the "glass ceiling" which prevents women from rising above a certain level in companies, whether they're tech companies in Seattle in 1994, or diamond trading companies in London in 1960.  And in last night's film, that made Demi Moore's character get involved in a complex "sexual-harassment to cover up a production problem" scheme (umm, I think?) and tonight it gets her involved with a janitor who wants to steal a few diamonds from a place that has so many of them that they'd never even notice.  

And like "Disclosure", the film is set in a very specific time period, technologically speaking.  Right after they invented closed-circuit cameras, which allowed one security guard to sit at a desk all night watching monitors, rather than paying for a team of security guards to patrol the vault corridor.  (And why is there a "vault corridor" in the first place, couldn't they just build the vault a little closer to the offices, or vice versa?)

Anyway, Caine's character works out a plan based on the timing of the cameras  - a flawless plan, leading to the title, which of course also could refer to diamonds in general.  So all he needs is a partner to get him the other half of the vault combination, and then he can retire on a handful of diamonds.  Only that's not what happens at all.  

British people are brought up a certain way, and for the most part, they never seem to lose their cool.  Which makes for a great diamond thief, but a terrible executive, I think.  If you're going to do a deal with the Russians, who are a very emotional people, you may have to show some fire.  They might even want to think about getting a little bit mad when someone steals their diamonds, but no, that's what insurance is for.  No reason to get upset, because that would make them seem more vulnerable or lesser somehow.  

As heist films go, this seems to be a relatively boring one, not flashy like "The Italian Job" or "Ocean's Eleven".  There are no car chases, no explosions, no shoot-outs with the law - and I admit that as a result, I fell asleep about 30 minutes in and had to force myself awake a few hours later to finish the film.  But my question then goes back to films like "Bad Words" - is there a reason for the law-breaker to be doing what he's doing?  There is a reason here, and it seems to be a good one, so that helps this film score a little bit higher.

Also starring Michael Caine (last seen in "Now You See Me"), Joss Ackland (last seen in "The Mighty Ducks"), Lambert Wilson (last seen in "Julia"), Nathaniel Parker, Nicholas Jones (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), Constantine Gregory, Derren Nesbitt, Natalie Dormer (last seen in "Captain America: The First Avenger").

RATING: 5 out of 10 greyhounds

Friday, September 11, 2015


Year 7, Day 253 - 9/10/15 - Movie #2,145

BEFORE: Well, I've fallen behind in the count again - I watched my Thursday movie late on Thursday night, instead of early on Thursday morning, as I would prefer to do.  I'll have to pull double-duty this weekend to get back on track - because I allowed myself to skip two days last week, so there's no more give in the schedule if I want to hit horror films right after NY Comic-Con, and finish them in time for Halloween. 

It's not just because I'm back on a 5-day work week, though - my BFF Andy came to town and secured tickets for Stephen Colbert's 2nd "Late Show" taping, and I think that was worth getting off my regular schedule for.  Andy and I went to see Letterman tapings several times over the years, let's say 6 or 7 times, and we were very curious what things would be like with a new host.  The verdict - it's a completely different animal.  

I can't imagine it's easy for anyone to take over a show from anyone who had a 30-year record of hosting, but if anyone can handle it, it's Colbert.  I think it might be even harder for Colbert's band-leader, Jon Batiste, to fill the shoes of the flashy, out-spoken Paul Shaffer, who had a giant friendly personality where Letterman was often irascible, even grouchy (but that's the way we liked him).  Based on what I've seen, Letterman took about 20 years to become relaxed and friendly with the audience, whereas Colbert is starting out that way - so I think he's got a great shot.  Now I have to decide who my new late-night talk provider will be - I still can't stomach James Corden, so perhaps next week I'll ditch Conan for Colbert, but keep Seth Meyers in the rotation as well.  I'll know more after I watch a full week of Colbert's shows.  

Seeing the show live was a new experience for us as well, since the Worldwide Pants staffers, who had done so many shows together that they functioned like a well-oiled machine, are no longer employed there (though the CBS staffers, like cameramen and prop guys are still there) and have been replaced by Colbert's people, who are still working out some of the kinks.  We were held in a line for a couple hours as usual, but then once we were seated, there was about a 45-minute period of complete inactivity, followed by the warm-up comediean, some music from the new hipster-oriented jazz band, and then Colbert taking questions from the audience.  Once they got rolling, it took nearly two hours to record an hour's show, so my advice is that if you go to see the new "Late Show" live, you should really block out the whole day, at least until they get a few more shows under their belt.  

Then we had dinner at Ellen's Stardust Diner, where the waiters and waitresses are all young Broadway hopefuls (OK, some maybe aren't so young) who get to audition for shows during the day and work flexible shifts at the diner.  It's a place where if someone quits, it usually means that they've landed a part in a show, and that's encouraged and celebrated, rather than frowned upon - and the waiters perform show tunes from "Grease" and "Les Miz" throughout the whole evening, so you get a free show with your dinner.  Then when we finally got home, we had to record a podcast about our experiences at the new Colbert show, so a movie on Wednesday night was really out of the question. 

Dennis Miller carries over from "Murder at 1600".  

THE PLOT: A computer specialist is sued for sexual harassment by a former lover turned boss who initiated the act forcefully, which threatens both his career and his personal life.

AFTER: As always, I have to take the year that a film was released into consideration when I start to give my thoughts - because every film, of course, is a product of its time.  A window into the current events of that year, if you will, so watching this film now, there's no way to separate the film from the year 1994, when sexual harassment was the hot topic of the day.  So you would expect this film to either be a reflection of, or a reaction to, the events of that time with regards to that issue.  Seeing as they flipped the script and made the woman the aggressor and the man the harrassed victim, I'd go with the latter. 

The only problem with that is, when you flip things around like that, it's very easy for a filmmaker to lose sight of the original topic, and that seems to be what happened with this film.  This film is about sexual harassment in the same way that "Jurassic World" is about amusement park management.  Maybe a better analogy would be to "Horrible Bosses 2", a film that started out being about 3 guys trying to stay employed, but went off on so many tangents related to kidnapping, sexual addiction and just overall dumbness that by the end, it's hard to understand what the original point of the exercise was supposed to be.  

If this film had JUST been about a sexual encounter, and the resulting legal situation stemming from it, it might have been easier to take it seriously.  But instead we get bogged down in the inter-office politics of a technology company right before a merger, plus the problems caused by manufacturing products in Malaysia, and even our hero having a sex dream about his male boss.  Any point that was going to be made about sexual harassment, hostile work environments, whether "no means no", the difference between men and women with regards to sex, etc, didn't stand a chance with all this other stuff going on.  

Worst of all is the company's file-storing system, which needs to be access via a virtual reality system that involves a glove, a headset and a trampoline (!) and places the user in an environment that resembles an ancient Roman basilica, where a helpful VR angel (literally an angel, WTF?) can assist you in preventing the file you need from being deleted by another user, if you get there in time.  This was a joke, right?  This is some production designer in 1994 predicting that in just a few years, every company will be using VR to access all of their files, because just listing them in a directory on a computer screen would be just SO early-90's.  This seems like a LOT of work just to find a file, when a couple of keystrokes and a password probably would have sufficed.  

There are probably a ton of NITPICK POINTS to be made about other technological issues, like the quality of video-conferencing with Asia in 1993, or the recording abilities of cell phones and answering machines back then, but I'm probably not the best person to talk about them.  I don't think I even had a cell phone back then, I was still working with a fax machine on a daily basis.  What a pain in the ass those were...

Anyway, it's a good chance to reflect back on simpler times, back before we got that whole sexual harassment thing worked out - I'm glad it's no longer a problem, men and women are now treated 100% equally, and we have more time and energy in the workplace to solve other issues, like transgender restrooms and same-sex partner benefits. 

Also starring Michael Douglas (last seen in "Last Vegas"), Demi Moore (last seen in "We're No Angels"), Donald Sutherland (last seen in "Klute"), Dylan Baker (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Caroline Goodall (last seen in "Cliffhanger"), Roma Maffia (last seen in "The Paper"), Suzie Plakson, Nicholas Sadler, Rosemary Forsyth, Donal Logue (last seen in "Miami Rhapsody"), Allan Rich.

RATING: 3 out of 10 family photos

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Murder at 1600

Year 7, Day 252 - 9/9/15 - Movie #2,144

BEFORE: I'm going to allow myself indirect linking tonight, because that will set up a chain that will take me all the way to Halloween, and also because there don't seem to be any good direct links out of "Seven Psychopaths".  Well, there's Woody Harrelson, who links to "Zombieland" and "EDtv", but I'm not ready to start either the Halloween horror films or the McConnaughey chain yet.  Then there's Colin Farrell, who links to "Winter's Tale", and it's 90 degrees out, so I'm not ready for winter films either.    There's also Harry Dean Stanton, but he links to February films like "Pretty in Pink" and "One from the Heart".  So I'm stuck, no matter which way I turn.

So it's an indirect link from Woody Harrelson to Wesley Snipes (last seen in "Play It to the Bone", one of several films they co-starred together in, like "Wildcats" and "White Men Can't Jump").  

THE PLOT:  D.C. detective Harlan Regis is called to the White House after a young woman is murdered, only to discover the secret service has taken hold of all the evidence for their own investigation.

AFTER: For a long while, this film was on my watchlist next to "White House Down", and I had been planning to watch them back-to-back, and if I had, that wouldn't have been the worst idea, because the two films share some things in common, most notably, someone trying to get the President to resign because he disagreed with his foreign policy.  "White House Down" just did it with more explosions and special effects, so it sort of makes this earlier film seem a little quieter and less flashy by comparison.  

But since this is more of a political thriller/murder mystery hybrid, perhaps it should be judged on different criteria than a big, loud action movie.  What about the case itself, do the pieces come together in a mostly satisfying way?  Umm, not as such - even after the identity of the murderer was revealed, I still had some problems with it, most prominently I still didn't fully understand the WHY of it all.  Don't get me wrong, the WHO is great, love to hear WHO killed her, but I'd love to also hear WHY.

Next up is the fact that our detective hero just happens to be a student of military history (he builds little Civil War dioramas) which enables him to know something about the White House that most people don't know, and that's a wee bit too convenient for my tastes.

Also starring Diane Lane (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Dennis Miller (last seen in "The Campaign"), Daniel Benzali, Alan Alda (last seen in "California Suite"), Ronny Cox (last seen in "Some Kind of Hero"), Diane Baker, Tate Donovan (last seen in "Argo"), Harris Yulin, Tom Wright, Charles Rocket.

RATING: 4 out of 10 security cameras

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Seven Psychopaths

Year 7, Day 251 - 9/8/15 - Movie #2,143

BEFORE: I faced down a terrible dilemma once again - should I stick with the planned chain that's going to get me to the end, albeit with some imperfect linking, or should I scrap the plan and try to start a new course, which might improve my linking, and could either help or hurt me form chains next year?  There's no way to know - and while I'm happy right now with my plans for late January, February and early March, that doesn't help me with deciding where to start on Jan. 1, as I can't seem to get the chain to extend back that far from Feb. 1.  

Plus, there were so many linking possibilities from "The Way, Way Back" - should I follow the Steve Carell link and watch "Despicable Me 2", or the Maya Rudolph link to "Big Hero 6", which would lead me into animated films?  Should I follow it with "Tammy", recently taped off cable, which shares three actors, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Nat Faxon?  This would keep the comedy chain going, but it seems that would lead me to "St. Vincent", then to "Dumb & Dumber To", and then I'd hit a dead end.  Rob Corddry from "The Way, Way Back" is also in THREE films on my watchlist, but two are romances, the other is "Muppets Most Wanted", and the fourth is sort of a dead end too - maybe I should just hold out for "Hot Tub Time Machine 2", which he's in, and make a chain with that.  

This is where I start to go a little mad - with 10-20 actors (at least) in every film, you'd think the linking possibilities would be endless.  And sometimes it does seem like there are too many, like tonight, but other times it seems there are no paths to follow at all.  I think I'm going to stick with my original plan, even though it leads to some indirect linking tomorrow, but it's already lined up with the calendar, and if I stick to the plan, I'm going to hit Halloween, Hanukkah and Christmas spot on, even if I take time off for New York Comic Con.  I really shouldn't mess with the chain any more, because I may never get back on that track if I start changing things up now.  So Sam Rockwell carries over from "The Way, Way Back".

THE PLOT: A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu.

AFTER: I found this to be a terrible film, I didn't really get it at all, and the parts that I did understand, I didn't like.  But it's not enough for me to just SAY it's a terrible film, I have to explain why.  

First off, there's way too much about the two lead characters working on their screenplay, and that always bugs me.  It's the last refuge of a writer with no ideas to write a screenplay about people writing a screenplay, who also are having trouble coming up with ideas.  (Gee, you looked in the mirror and wrote about yourself, congratulations.)  It's only slightly better to show a writer typing furiously, or writing something out longhand, full of ideas, but that also is, in my opinion, a cheap substitute for action rather than action itself.  But if I never see another film with a writer staring at a blank piece of paper, that would be fine with me.  

What's almost as bad is having to hear writers "workshopping" their ideas by telling them over and over to other people, which is what takes place here.  Hey, what if we write about it THIS way?  Hey, wouldn't this situation we're in make a great story?  What if the guy was short instead of tall?  Ho hum, wake me when it's over.  

Which brings me to my second issue - the characters are always so in the moment, and thinking about how their situation could be applied to movie ideas, that this film ended up being way too self-referential.  Whenever they say things like, "Hey, wouldn't this canyon be a great place for a movie shoot-out?" it falls just one step shy of them breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging that they are, in fact, characters in a film.   Plus, you can obviously tell that there's going to be a shoot-out in that canyon later on - it's another cheap way of telegraphing instead of foreshadowing.  

Next issue, who are the seven psychopaths?  I mean, that's what the screenplay-within-the-film is going to be about, but why do there have to be seven?  And there are times where the 7 are counted out with on-screen text (similar to the sex acts being counted off in "The To Do List"), but sometimes they're the real characters in the film, and sometimes they're the fictional characters in the screenplay.  So where do I start counting, and when should I stop?  And how can Psychopath #7 be the same as Psychopath #1? Did I miss something, or are they cheating on the count?

It's tempting to look at the poster and say, Hmm, there are seven people on it, those must be the seven psychopaths, right?  Umm, no, because two of those people are women - not to say that women CAN'T be psychopaths, but they just aren't in this film, so I'm hard-pressed to figure out who the seven are.  

All of this is my way of saying that this film is way too confusing.  And they use the word "psychopath" so liberally that by the end of the film, it nearly ceases to have any meaning at all.  It certainly should NOT be used as a motivation for any character's action (See also: "American Psycho").  Why did he kill that guy?  Oh, because he's a psychopath?  Not enough, you've got to give me more instead of constantly leaning on that word as a crutch.  You can't just say WHAT he is, you've got to say WHY.  

It's a shame, really, because there were a lot of talented actors appearing in this film, and their talents were wasted because they just weren't given anything to DO except jaw about a screenplay that hasn't been written yet.  Even the crime boss is a poorly fleshed-out character - what sort of criminal is he?  Oh, he "does crime"?  Again, it's not enough.  The only thing I ended up knowing about him was that he loved his dog more than anything, but that's like reducing him to a cartoony Bond villain who just sits in a chair and pets his cat.  

Time and time again, the characters in this film complain about events, pointing out that they're just not interesting enough to fill up a movie.  Yeah, I happen to know that exact feeling.  It figures, out of all the directions I could have gone after "The Way, Way Back", I think I may have picked the worst possible one.

Also starring Colin Farrell (last seen in "Saving Mr. Banks"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), Christopher Walken (last seen in "Heaven's Gate"), Abbie Cornish (last seen in "Limitless"), Harry Dean Stanton (last seen in "The Wrong Man"), Kevin Corrigan (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Zeljko Ivanek (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Gabourey Sidibe (last seen in "Precious"), Lynda Bright Clay, Olga Kurylenko, Tom Waits.

RATING: 2 out of 10 white rabbits

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Way Way Back

Year 7, Day 250 - 9/7/15 - Movie #2,142

BEFORE: In honor of Steven Colbert (or at least his former conservative pundit persona), it's time for "Tip of the Hat/Wag of My Finger".  First, a tip of the hat to the Travel Channel, for bringing back one of my favorite shows, "BBQ Crawl", which is about a BBQ chef named Danielle who travels on the competitive circuit, but in every town she goes to, she also visits a number of acclaimed BBQ restaurants, and tastes their specialties, describing them for the viewers.  It appeals to my love of food as well as my penchant for organization, because if you follow along and watch the episodes in the right order, it's like you're going on the trip with her.  This season, she started in California, competed in Arizona and Utah, then drove out to New York City, where the BBQ trend has exploded in the last few years.  

We've got great BBQ restaurants in Manhattan, Brooklyn, out on Long Island, upstate - and my wife and I have been to many of them.  I made it up to episode 6 of "BBQ Crawl" this weekend, very appropriate for Labor Day, and watching the show made us do a crawl of our own.  Yesterday we were out on Long Island, we drove to the outlet stores but they were too crowded, so we found a nearby BBQ joint and had lunch.  This place (Maple Tree) had a strange mix of Texas brisket, Carolina pork and NY deli, like pastrami and smoked salmon.  It may sound weird, but I'm buoyed by the possibility that NYC could develop its own signature BBQ style, and not just borrow from other regions around the country - this could be the start of something new.  Then we watched the NYC episode of "BBQ Crawl", which featured two of my favorite places, Mable's Smokehouse and Hill Country BBQ - though it was the Brooklyn location of Hill Country, and I'd only been to the one in Manhattan.  So, we had to go have lunch in Brooklyn.  

But a big wag of my finger to the Travel Channel, for not giving this show any of the promotion it deserves.  The series returned in April, but it was done so quietly that I missed it - and I had to change out my DVR last August, so the new DVR wasn't programmed to record it. It turns out you can only program the recording of a show when the show is active, if it's not currently airing, you can't set your DVR for it.  You also need to KNOW when a show is coming back on, so I blame the Travel Channel for airing it at 2 or 3 am.  Finally I managed to catch reruns of the entire season so far - only to find that when I recorded Episodes 7 and 8, they hadn't aired when they should, and my DVR instead recorded episodes of "Man Finds Food", which I'd already seen.  Now I'm forced to try and download the episodes illegally, which I'm not a fan of doing, or else I have to watch the episodes out of order, and then wait for the missing ones, and you know that will drive me nuts.  Part of the fun is experiencing her road trip with her, in the right sequence. 

Hey, Travel Channel, it's a great show - why not make it available On Demand, in case someone missed an episode, or their DVR screwed up, or in case YOU screwed up by not airing the episodes at the right time?  How is someone supposed to become a fan of the show if they can't see the episodes they want, in the proper order?  

Allison Janney carries over from "Bad Words", and this will be the last film in the "Back to School" series, even though it's about summer vacation, I'm thinking that today is the most appropriate place for this one to land.  

THE PLOT: Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend's daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in the manager of the Water Wizz water park.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Adventureland" (Movie #833)

AFTER: This seemed like just a simple little coming-of-age story, so I didn't really expect much out of it, just maybe a combination of elements seen in other films, like "Adventureland" and "Little Miss Sunshine".  For the most part, that's exactly what I got - which isn't to say that's a bad thing, it just seems to be territory that's been mined before in earlier films.  A teen comes out of his shell during a summer - the unique part might be that this kid starts to act like a grown-up, while the grown-ups in his family and at the water park act mainly like children.  

A few days ago I watched "The To Do List", which centered on a teen girl working at a pool in 1993, and today's film is about a teen boy working at a water park in - what year?  Eventually a character made references to events that took place in 2011 and 2012, so this would appear to be current, but with all the 80's music and old station wagons, really it could be set in just about any time in the last 30 years.  This was pretty crafty, because without a lot of current references, it could appeal to today's teens as well as adults who want to remember their teen years.  

Duncan eventually gains confidence from working at the water park, even forms his first friendship and potential romantic relationship with a girl, though I was a little unclear about why he had to sneak out every day to go the park, why he couldn't tell his family where he was spending his time.  Maybe his mother wouldn't have allowed him to get a job, since they were supposed to be spending the summer together.  Maybe he just wanted a little something private for himself, but this wasn't made completely clear.  

This leads me to a NITPICK POINT about being a 14-year old, which seems a little too young for me to have a real summer job.  Duncan gets paid by check, and that means that there had to be paperwork, like he had to fill out a W-2 form, and show proper ID, which not every 14-year old would have, or bring with him on vacation.  Unless he made less than $650 during the summer, which means the water park wouldn't have to report his salary, but hiring him without proper ID or paying him off the books would still be a little illegal.  

This was filmed in towns like Wareham and Duxbury in Massachusetts, and while that's not exactly on Cape Cod, it's pretty darn close.  I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and many people in my hometown had vacation houses on the Cape - so I remember there were some kids from junior high that you just didn't see from June to September, because their family could afford to spend the whole summer at the beach.  I'm not a fan of the beach, so that didn't really interest me, maybe once during the summer we'd take a drive up to Maine or go out to the Cape for a weekend, that was enough.  

Also starring Steve Carell (last seen in "Hope Springs"), Toni Collette (last seen in "The Night Listener"), Sam Rockwell (last seen in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"), Liam James, Maya Rudolph (last seen in "Friends With Kids"), Rob Corddry (last seen in "Rapture-Palooza"), Amanda Peet (last seen in "Syriana"), AnnaSophia Robb, Nat Faxon (last seen in "Zookeeper"), Jim Rash, River Alexander, Zoe Levin. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 ghost crabs

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Bad Words

Year 7, Day 249 - 9/6/15 - Movie #2,141

BEFORE: Since we were out of town last weekend, we're staying in this holiday to enjoy the extra day off.  But we are going out to eat - the advantage of a weekend where nearly everyone tries to get out of town is that we can aim high and eat just about anywhere we want. 

Jason Bateman carries over again from "Horrible Bosses 2", and this is Movie #4 (out of 5) in this year's Back to School series.

THE PLOT: A spelling bee loser sets out to exact revenge by finding a loophole and attempting to win as an adult.

AFTER: There's been a lot of bad behavior witnessed by me in movies in the last week - from impersonating police officers to faking a kidnapping, college students drinking and doing drugs at parties, and a woman going down a list of sexual acts.  The trend continues tonight, as an adult befriends a grade-schooler during a spelling bee, and takes him out drinking, gets a prostitute to flash him, and says many, many inappropriate things in front of him.  He also has (nearly) empty sex with the reporter who follows him on his quest to win a grade-school level spelling bee.

We have to ask - why does he want to do this?  The reporter is there to find out, but every time she asks, the question gets deflected - so I was honestly afraid that we'd never find out the WHY, that someone just came up with this idea and riffed on it, without ever bothering to dig deeper.  There is a reason behind this character, but we just have to wait for nearly the whole movie to go by before they get to it.  

Next question is the HOW of it, how does this adult get to compete in a young person's spelling bee?  There's a half-hearted loophole explanation since he supposedly never finished eighth grade, and since he appears to know every rule in the book and although threatens legal action if they don't let him compete, it's basically the same logic that allowed a dog to play sports in the "Air Bud" series.  ("Hmm, I don't see a rule that says an animal CAN'T play basketball...")  And that's a little worrisome too, that the technicality of it all gets glossed over.  

But things really picked up near the final round - and if you can't predict who makes it to the final round, then you've just never seen a movie before, because like all the humor in "Horrible Bosses 2" and "The To Do List", it's all telegraphed way in advance.  But once we get to the final round, something interesting does happen that flips the competition around, defying all logic relating to winning and losing, which, even if it's not hilarious, is at least somewhat original.  Remember those Olympic athletes a couple of years ago, I think it was in the sport of badminton, who were trying to lose matches in order to get better opponents in the next round?  It's a bit like that.  

And that brings me to my NITPICK POINT - at several times, our anti-hero is seen advancing in the national competition via some kind of bracket system.  His nameplate is moved from one round to the next, symbolizing his progress - but a spelling bee wouldn't use brackets, it's just not set up like the NCAA basketball tournament.  That system would only work if each player had direct, head-to-head matches, with one player advancing and one being eliminated - but a spelling bee works differently, everyone spells a word in each round and all of the players who misspell their words are eliminated - so if they start with 50 spellers, as depicted, the number of people knocked out in each round could be anywhere in the range from 1 to 49 - a bracket system just couldn't represent this.  They depict this correctly in the game-play, but the close-ups of the bracket should not have been included. 

But the actor they cast to play the proctor, the guy who reads the words to the contestants, what great casting!  I thought for a while that they got the real guy who does this for the Scripps-Howard spelling bee, he's nearly a dead ringer.  OK, when I look at their photos side-by-side I do see some differences, but I think he really captured the essence of that guy, without doing a direct impersonation.  

Also starring Kathryn Hahn (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Allison Janney (last seen in "Six Days Seven Nights"), Rohan Chand, Philip Baker Hall (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Ben Falcone (last seen in "Enough Said"), Steve Witting, Rachael Harris (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph").  

RATING: 4 out of 10 ketchup packets