Saturday, September 19, 2015

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing

Year 7, Day 262 - 9/19/15 - Movie #2,154

BEFORE: McConnaughey career retrospective Day 3, and I'm up to this film from 2001.  Admittedly I know nothing about it, this might be a mortar film between two bricks.  I think I just taped it after planning the McConnaughey chain, which I was looking to expand.  Three films with one actor is no big deal, four is serviceable, five is a little more impressive, but if I can get it up to 8 or 9, well then I've got something to really be proud of.

THE PLOT: In New York City, the lives of a lawyer, an actuary, a house-cleaner, a professor and the people around them intersect as they ponder order and happiness in the face of life's cold unpredictability.

AFTER: I've criticized a number of films for jumping around in time unnecessarily, and I'm prepared to do it again tonight.  This is a great big jigsaw puzzle of a film, with its scenes not in the proper order - but what would be great about a jigsaw puzzle of a film would be eventually seeing how the pieces all fit together, like some resolution or insight at the end that helps us organize things.  But there's not, I ended up not even knowing the shapes of the pieces, or what the final picture is supposed to be, so it's like doing a jigsaw puzzle in the dark, without knowing where all the pieces are, or even if some of them are from a different puzzle.  

I maintain: if you, as a filmmaker, felt the need to scramble up all the scenes and present them in what appears to be random order, you might THINK you're doing it to create suspense, but all you're doing is either being excessively "arty", or proving that your film's narrative is not strong enough when presented in proper linear order.  There was certainly a wave of films that did this in the years following "Pulp Fiction", but that was an example of Tarantino being "arty".  This film, however, falls into the latter case, because if each of these 5 intersecting stories were told separately, or one at a time as in "Pulp Fiction", I think that none of them individually would be able to hold anyone's attention.  

Instead we're supposed to marvel at how everyone is connected, like they showed us in "Magnolia" a couple years before, and what they tried to do with "Crash" a few years after this.  But no larger point is made by these characters being interconnected - I can't even say for sure that there were thirteen conversations, and I can't even tell you what the one thing is.  Happiness?  Guilt?  Fate?  It's got to be one of the big ones, right?  But since I can't tell you, that means this film committed a worse sin than being arty, it ended up being obtuse.  Ooh, look how complicated connected things can get!  Ooh, just when you think everything's going well, you're just setting yourself up for either disaster or disappointment!   

You know what, screw off.  People watch movies (generally speaking) to forget about the major and minor disappointments in their lives, when you fill a movie with work problems, relationship problems, hitting someone with your car, and even worse, BEING the person hit by said car, it doesn't elevate me, make me feel better, or give me any great insight into life.  

And then, to place little title cards before each segment, much like Woody Allen did in "Hannah and Her Sisters", it's just a reminder that no matter how much misery Woody Allen inflicts on his characters, he also remembers to make his films FUNNY.  And parts of life are funny, even some of the miserable parts can be ironically funny.  This was just depressing.  If you're going to show us a slice of life, make sure it's a slice that tastes good, or we're not going to want to eat it.  

If the point of this whole exercise was to suggest that people get what they deserve, that their negative actions lead (somehow) to more misery entering their own lives, then this point would be served much greater by not just saying "cause and effect", but by showing it.  And, you know, putting the effect after the cause.  There was so much time-jumping here that I half expected a character to walk out of a bar and pass himself also coming in.  

Also starring Alan Arkin (last seen in "Grudge Match"), John Turturro (last seen in "Rounders"), Clea Duvall (last seen in "The Astronaut's Wife"), Amy Irving, Tia Texada, Frankie Faison, David Connolly, Barbara Sukowa, Rob McElhenney, Malcolm Gets, William Wise.

RATING: 3 out of 10 physics equations

Friday, September 18, 2015


Year 7, Day 261 - 9/18/15 - Movie #2,153

BEFORE: Day 2 of the McConnaughey chain, and I've decided to go chronologically, more or less.  I had a couple of chains earlier this year that ended up going in reverse chronological order, and it's a little weird watching an actor get younger as the chain goes on.  Finally I've had enough time to plan a chain that goes in the correct sequence.  So a couple years after filming "Amistad", Matthew M. was in this one, which I think gave him a few more chances to be shirtless.  It seems a little weird to go from a historical drama right into a silly comedy, but hey, that's McConnaughey.  Get your bongoes out, here we go.

THE PLOT: A video store clerk agrees to have his life filmed by a camera crew for a television show.

AFTER: I made my choice back in 1999, there were two similar films out in theaters, and I went with "The Truman Show" - and it's taken me all this time to get around to watching the other one.  It's weird how one film still feels like a fantasy, but this one came so much closer to predicting the world of reality television.

There was barely any reality TV when this came out - maybe "The Real World", but that's about it.  "Survivor" ("The Real World" on an island) and "Big Brother" hadn't aired yet, and nobody had any desire to keep up with any Kardashians.  But the big error this film made was assuming that people would watch a show about a regular guy, and then the genre went on to have its biggest successes with shows about already famous people, like Jessica Simpson and Anna Nicole Smith.  But since we've got shows about rednecks who make duck calls and people who work on fishing boats and people who ride trucks over icy roads, I guess someone ended up coming pretty close to the mark anyway.

And we HAVE a TV channel called TruTV now, much like the True TV network in the film...

But the point of the film is that the act of observing someone has the potential to change what is being observed.  That's the quantum physics of reality shows (or, alternatively, people tend to change what they are doing when they KNOW they're being observed.)  So Ed's camera crew inadvertently causes his brother's cheating to be made known to his girlfriend, and then Ed starts to form a relationship with his brother's ex, which everyone watching at home saw coming like, a mile away.  The show-within-a-film also effects his mother's relationship, and puts Ed back in touch with his dad - all the family's secrets find their way on to the show.

However, big NITPICK POINT here, not even live TV is "live".  There's always a delay for the purposes of censorship, in case anyone in a crowd on the street happens to shout out a curse word.  (And reality TV shows are now heavily edited, they certainly don't air live.)  Many times in the film people find out where Ed is at a given moment by tuning in to the show, but the show would always be a bit behind reality in time, simply for the time for the signal to get beamed from the mobile truck to the satellite, and then to pass through the network censors.  Otherwise there would be no control over the content of the show.

Also starring Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Jenna Elfman (last seen in "Keeping the Faith"), Ellen DeGeneres (last seen in "Coneheads"), Sally Kirkland (last seen in "Private Benjamin"), Martin Landau (last seen in "Ready to Rumble"), Rob Reiner (last seen in "The Story of Us"), Dennis Hopper (last heard in "Alpha and Omega"), Elizabeth Hurley (last seen in "Bedazzled"), Adam Goldberg (last seen in "Zodiac"), Viveka Davis, Clint Howard (last seen in "The Paper"), Ian Gomez (last seen in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), Gedde Watanabe (last seen in "Volunteers"), with cameos from Harry Shearer (also last seen in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), Michael Moore (last seen in "Fahrenheit 9/11"), Arianna Huffington, Don Most, RuPaul, Rusty Schwimmer (also carrying over from "Amistad"), Rick Overton, George Plimpton, Merrill Markoe, Bill Maher (last seen in "The Interview"), Jay Leno (last seen in "Delivery Man").

RATING: 4 out of 10 death threats

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Year 7, Day 260 - 9/17/15 - Movie #2,152

BEFORE: I figured this was the best way to kick off the 9-day Matthew McConnaughey chain - not just because it's the oldest among the 9 films, but because Chiwetel Ejiofor carries over from "12 Years a Slave".  Yep, 15 years before he became an overnight success of sorts for that Best Picture winner, he was in another slavery-related drama.  

THE PLOT: About a 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that is traveling towards the northeastern coast of America.  Much of the story involves a courtroom drama about the men who led the revolt. 

AFTER:  Here's a brief history of the United States, with regards to civil rights: "All men are created equal."  Of course, they weren't back then, because women weren't men, and slaves were considered property, and you had to be a land-owner to vote in an election, so good luck with that whole pursuit of happiness thing.  But then slowly, one by one, legal battles were fought to better define that "all men are created equal" idea.  (Well, surely the founding fathers meant "men" in the humanity sense, not just male men, right?  So after a long legal battle, women were considered created equal, too.)  But, look, we've got a new country to run, so can we just get back to you on the whole slave thing?  Say, in maybe four score and twenty?

Time and time again, we keep coming back to that "all men are created equal" thing.  Women in the 1920's, civil rights in the 1960's, and today it's same-sex partnerships and people trying to say that it doesn't apply to the children of immigrants we don't like.  What part of "all men are created equal" are we still having trouble with?  Anyway, we're not saying the phrase entitles people to anything concrete, just the pursuit of happiness - there's no promise of actual happiness, you're just allowed to come to America and look for it.  It's not "all men are created equal, except for Mexicans or Arabs or Chinese or Irish or gay people or left-handed Eskimos", now is it?  (next, we'll try and argue over the word "created" - why isn't it "All men are inherently equal"?  Why do we have to bring God into it?)

But that's the core legal argument seen in "Amistad", which rather ironically is the Spanish word for "friendship", and the name of a slave boat in this story.  Geez, with friends like those...  Whether these men who rose up against their oppressors and took over the ship had a right to do so, and whether the law considered them property, which would make them beholden to treaties and trade agreements, or men.

McConnaughey plays a young lawyer, one who approaches the case from a "slaves are property" angle, because he thinks he can win this on technicalities.  But this method doesn't sit well with the abolitionists, who want to argue that the slaves are men, because in a big-picture, long-term sense this would serve their cause better, even if the Amistad slaves become martyrs.  It takes the involvement of an ex-president, John Quincy Adams, who believes that cases are won by the best stories, and implores the abolitionists to tell the slaves' story of suffering, from a human interest angle rather than a dry, legal one.

And I'm going to rate this one a smidge higher than "12 Years a Slave" because while it registered the same message - of course, slavery is horrible for the slaves - it didn't wallow in it for the whole film.  During the flashback sequence it made that point, then it moved on.

Also starring Matthew McConnaughey (last seen in "The Newton Boys"), Djimon Hounsou (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "RED 2"), Morgan Freeman (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Nigel Hawthorne (last seen in "Gandhi"), Pete Postlethwaite (last seen in "Aeon Flux"), Stellan Skarsgard (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), David Paymer (last seen in "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit"), Paul Guilfoyle (last seen in "Cadillac Man"), Allan Rich (last seen in "Disclosure"), Jeremy Northam, Xander Berkeley (last seen in "Transcendence"), Arliss Howard (last seen in "Tequila Sunrise"), Austin Pendleton (last seen in "Hello Again"), with cameos from Anna Paquin (last seen in "25th Hour"), Daniel von Bargen (last seen in "The Kid"), Pedro Armendariz, Jr., Kevin J. O'Connor, Jake Weber, Rusty Schwimmer, Peter Firth, Ralph Brown.

RATING: 6 out of 10 Mende numbers

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

12 Years a Slave

Year 7, Day 259 - 9/16/15 - Movie #2,151

BEFORE: It's almost time for the McConnaissance - but I'm bookending that chain with TWO recent Oscar winners for Best Picture.   Benedict Cumberbatch carries over from "The Imitation Game", and I get to stay on my schedule. 

THE PLOT: In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. 

AFTER:  I've got a big problem with the opening sequence - we see Northup as a slave, then we go back in time to see him as a free man in Saratoga, before he was kidnapped.  As with yesterday's film, I can't see any justifiable reason for this time-jumping - the opening sequence not only telegraphs what's going to happen (why, why would you tip your hand like this?) but also could easily confuse viewers who are more familiar with purely linear narratives.  (So, he's a slave, then he's not, then he's a slave again?)   Call me crazy, but I think his capture would have had more narrative impact if the audience didn't know it was coming.  (Same goes for the flashback to the shop, where Solomon and his family encountered a traveling slave and his master.  The film would have been stronger if this had been earlier in the film, and not shown out of sequence - it could have acted as a foreshadowing of Solomon's fate.)

While I realize the historical importance of this subject matter, it didn't really resonate with me on a personal level.  It's tough for me to separate the issue of slavery from the apparent use of the topic as "Oscar bait".  Was slavery terrible, abominable, deeply regrettable and very, very unfortunate?  Of course it was, but we've already got countless films on the same topic.  Did we need another one?  The fact that the filmmakers went and searched out the story of Solomon Northup, a man who wasn't even supposed to BE in that situation, that suggests to me that someone did some story workshopping - "Like, slavery is terrible, but can we find a way to make it MORE terrible?  What if it were also pointless, and thanks to a case of mistaken identity, not even culturally acceptable for 1861?"

Like, we've had "Sophie's Choice" and "Schindler's List" and "Life Is Beautiful" - if someone were to do another Holocaust film, which they would have every right to do, they'd be setting themselves up for some criticism, especially if someone were to accuse them of making another Holocaust film JUST because they were trying to increase their chances of winning an Oscar.  And the main character was in a concentration camp, and they weren't even Jewish!  (Womp-womp...)  That's the vibe I get off of "12 Years a Slave" - we've already had "Roots" and "The Color Purple" and "Gone With the Wind" and we freakin' GET IT already.  

I find it quite ironic that there was a scene in the film where there was a woman who had been enslaved and separated from her children, and Solomon, having endured plenty of hardship of his own, goes over to her and pushes her around, to try and get her to stop wailing pointlessly, because her wallowing in misery just wasn't very productive at all.  Yeah, that's sort of how I feel about the whole topic.  This whole film was just like that woman, complaining loudly about this situation of American slavery (which, again, nearly everyone agrees was beyond horrible...) but moaning about it now just doesn't seem productive to me at all.  Unless you want to line your shelf with awards, that is. 

This is not a racial thing, I'm asking "Do we need another slavery film?" with the same tone that I might ask "Do we need another Jack Ryan reboot?" or "Do we need another Transformers film?".  I mean, there are plenty of terrible situations throughout history, what about the Black Hole of Calcutta, or the Irish potato famine?  When do they get their big Hollywood blockbusters?  Look, I have to get up every day and go to work and maintain some semblance of a positive outlook, and if I sit around and dwell on slavery and the Holocaust and global warming and the plight of non-free-range chickens, I'm just not going to be able to get through the day.  I'm going to treat this film the way I treat the people from Planned Parenthood or gay rights causes or anyone who stands outside of Whole Foods with a clipboard.  Don't make eye contact, keep walking, because I just want to get some lunch, man.  Can I please just do that and enjoy myself for five minutes?  I promise, I'll get started on trying to care about this issue - right after this sandwich.

I'm just saying "12 Years a Slave" was a bit heavy-handed in its message, that's all.

Was this REALLY the best picture of 2013?  There were 9 nominees, and as of tonight, I've only seen 6 of them, with two coming up ("Dallas Buyers Club" and "The Wolf of Wall Street").  Here were my ratings on the other nominees I've seen: "American Hustle" 7, "Nebraska" 5, "Captain Phillips" 5, "Gravity" 6, and "Her" 4.  So, based on my unscientific system, I guess my vote for Best Picture of 2013 would have gone to "American Hustle" - but Hollywood didn't go my way, and maybe I'm a tougher critic than most.  And nobody asks me what the marketplace needs these days, not like they used to.

Also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (last seen in "Melinda and Melinda"), Michael Fassbender (last seen in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"), Brad Pitt (last seen in "World War Z"), Lupita Nyong'o (last seen in "Non-Stop"), Paul Dano (last seen in "Prisoners"), Sarah Paulson (last seen in "Down With Love"), Alfre Woodard (last seen in "Primal Fear"), Garret Dillahunt (last seen in "Killing Them Softly"), Kelsey Scott, Scoot McNairy (also last seen in "Non-Stop"), Taran Killam (last seen in "Grown Ups 2"), Tom Proctor (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Bill Camp (last seen in "Birdman"), Paul Giamatti (last seen in "My Best Friend's Wedding"), Quvenzhané Wallis, J.D. Evermore, Dwight Henry, Bryan Batt, Chris Chalk, Michael K. Williams.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Bible passages

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Imitation Game

Year 7, Day 258 - 9/15/15 - Movie #2,150

BEFORE: Let me begin tonight by pointing out that this is a last-minute, nay, a last-second substitution for "The Counselor" - I've been trying to ignore the fact that the rest of my 2015 movie chain seemed to coming together just fine, except for the link between "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" and "The Counselor".  Counting backwards from Halloween, I needed something that would get me to "12 Years a Slave", and after that, the McConnaughey chain would start and I'd be rolling right into October.  

But the problem with "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit" is the same problem I faced with "Sleuth" - a whole lot of dead ends.  Chris Pine is not in any other films on my watchlist, nor is Kenneth Branagh.  Kevin Costner links to one horror film, but it's set for the middle of October. And Keira Knightley?  I know she links to "Anna Karenina" and "Pride & Prejudice", but those are solid romance films, scheduled for February. 

My original link to "The Counselor" was way, way, down on the cast list - a guy I'd never heard of before, and I'd be surprised if you'd heard of him either.  And then when I re-checked my linkings a month or two ago, I found that all of his credits listed on IMDB had vanished - WTF?  Sure, I could still prove he was in both of those films by checking his personal resumé, but I shouldn't have to resort to that.  People LIE on their resumés all the time.  Besides, even if he's telling the truth, he played "third Russian soldier from the left" in "Jack Ryan" and "guy in motorcycle dealership" in "The Counselor".  How am I going to stand behind that?

I'm committed to providing you, the reader, with the finest possible links between NAME actors, and if I can't deliver that, I should probably just pack it in.  How am I going to sleep at night, knowing that my link is some guy who was just an extra in a motorcycle-buying scene?  OK, don't panic, go up and down that cast list one more time...  Wait, Keira Knightley was in "The Imitation Game" - of course, I needed to check a film that wasn't on my watchlist yet, and who else is in that film?  Benedict Cumberbatch, from "12 Years a Slave" - I can drop this film in and it gets me RIGHT where I need to be for tomorrow, without changing the count. 

OK, so it's going to cost me $4.99 to watch this film on demand - and it will probably premiere on premium cable in about two weeks, given my luck.  I've been waiting for it to air, so I can put it on a DVD with "The Theory of Everything" - but I need to watch it NOW, because of the Knightley/Cumberbatch connection.  The link is good, the chain is solid, and the balance is restored, at least for a few more weeks.  "The Counselor" gets moved into next year's chain, and it's with great relief that I type the following phrase: Keira Knightley carries over from "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit". 

Plus, I get to enjoy the added bonus of the spy theme carrying over.  Both films are about brainiac analysts working for intelligence about that?

THE PLOT:  During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing tries to crack the enigma code with help from fellow mathematicians.  

AFTER:  After tonight, the countdown to the end of the year really starts - just 50 more films until I get to see a new "Star Wars" film, whether I'm able to link to it or not.  I feel like this film sort of ties together a lot of elements from recent films, not just the spies/analyst thread from "Jack Ryan" but the military secrets plot from "The Fifth Estate".  Let's not forget the anti-social genius/loner character ("Bobby Fischer Against the World"), plus the British gay man raised in a prep-school environment ("A Liar's Autobiography").  Toss in the "outwit the Nazis" element from "The Monuments Men", the "military think tank" angle from "Fat Man and Little Boy",  the big mystery device from "Safety Not Guaranteed" and the office politics of "Disclosure", and it's like old home week around here.  I'm going to have trouble at the end of the year sorting through all of this year's recurring themes.

But at heart is the story of Alan Turing, who I admit I know very little about, other than the fact that his work inspired very early computers (Oh, yeah, let's throw in similarities to "Jobs" while we're at it...) and that he helped to break the Nazi's Enigma code during WW2.  There's a lot to learn and a lot for me to like here, especially the breakthroughs that the code-breaking team managed to have, and the moral dilemma that was created after the code was broken.  The team could have easily saved lives after gaining the ability to decode every German transmission, but if the Allies appeared too knowledgeable about German troop movements, it would have alerted the Germans to stop using the Enigma machine - so they needed to use the information to bring about just enough victories to win the war, without turning the tide too quickly and tipping their hand.

I would have like to known a little bit more about Turing's machine, which he named "Christopher" but the British army probably called "that giant, expensive collection of whirling gizmos" - I know that the different cylinders were filled with letters and numbers, but how, exactly, did it try out different combinations?  I get that it was faster than any human code-breaker, but how was it programmed?  On a very practical level, what did it do?  I felt the movie sort of glossed over this, probably for fear of boring the audience, but I think another segment of people would have found this intensely fascinating.

My main other complaint comes from the film's structure, which dispenses with a straight narrative to tell Turing's story simultaneously in three time periods - his time at boarding school in 1927, his work on breaking the Enigma code (1939-1945), and being outed in the 1950's and charged with indecency.  All three stories progress linearly, but there is much jumping between them, and I think dates only appeared on the screen during the World War II segments.   If you're going to put dates up, I think you have to do it every time you change to another year, otherwise I think it's too confusing.  Turing didn't look that much older in 1951 than he did in the early 1940's, so at times it almost seemed like he was trying to break codes AND being investigated by the police simultaneously.

I often penalize for excessive time-jumping, particularly when it's not necessary, or done for what feels mainly like "arty" reasons, or when it's done to cover up weak parts of a story.  I think here all three parts of Turing's story are important, since we see how his close friendship with a boy at school helped him discover his sexual preference, and then of course his prosecution tells us a lot about how homosexuality was viewed treated in the early 1950's.  But I think there was a much easier, less confusing way to tell this story, since Parts 1 and 3 don't bring as much to the table as Part 2 does.

Part 3, set in 1951, could easily have been the framing sequence for the film - you start with the police coming to his house after the break-in, and then the detective does the background check (not a very dynamic part of the movie, anyway).  Then during the interview with the detective, you let Turing tell his story - flash back to the boarding school years if you want, but don't linger there, because you want to get to his volunteering to solve codes for British Intelligence.  Then the WW2 story can progress linearly from there - see, you only need to jump back in time ONCE, and the story progresses linearly from there.  Or you can keep jumping back to the older narrator, like they did with Salieri in "Amadeus", but jumping back and forth between three time periods is just too much.

There also are reportedly many inaccuracies in this film, including downplaying the information received from Polish intelligence that helped break the Enigma code, and whether the decision to withhold information after breaking the code was made at the cryptographer's level, or much higher up in the chain.  If not for these inaccuracies and the weird time-jumping structure, I think I could have rated this one a bit higher.

NITPICK POINT: The title of the film comes from one of Turing's thought experiments, which he conceived of before there was even much of a thing called artificial intelligence.  The concept is that ideally, if A.I. technology were to progress as he thought it might, it should be difficult for someone who is asking a set of questions of an entity to determine whether he's speaking to a human or a computer.  Assuming, that is, that the computer can properly imitate human speech and/or thought - a version of this test famously appeared in the film "Blade Runner", under another name.  When used in this film, Turing asks the detective to play his little game - but the game just doesn't work when two people are sitting across a table from each other, unless the detective would have reason to suspect that Turing is an android, which would not be possible with 1951 technology.   The game only works when the two entities are communicating via keyboard, or by e-mail or text messaging, which didn't exist back then either. 

Also starring Benedict Cumberbatch (last heard in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"(, Matthew Goode (last seen in "Match Point"), Allen Leech, Rory Kinnear (last seen in "Skyfall"), Charles Dance (last seen in "Scoop"), Mark Strong (last seen in "Syriana"), Matthew Beard (last seen in "One Day"), Alex Lawther, Jack Bannon, James Northcote, Steven Waddington, Tom Goodman-Hill.

RATING: 7 out of 10 crossword puzzles

Monday, September 14, 2015

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Year 7, Day 257 - 9/14/15 - Movie #2,149

BEFORE: Yesterday was "fall-prep" day at the homestead, I got into the backyard and trimmed back the grape vines (which find their way into the rosebushes, the trees, the neighbor's yard) and most of the weeds, which tend to grow - well, like weeds.  I also shaved for the last time before I let my mustache and goatee grow back in for the autumnal equinox.  The only thing left to do is to waterproof the basement door, in case we get some kind of tropical storm or hurricane incident.  If not for that, I'd be tempted to put up our Christmas lights now, just to drive the neighbors crazy.

With just four actors, last night's film nearly caused another dead-end in the linking chain - Michael Caine links only to "Interstellar", which I'm not ready watch yet, and "Muppet Christmas Carol", which it's way too early for.  Jude Law links to "Anna Karenina" and "The Holiday", which are both scheduled as part of next February's romance line-up.  Fortunately, director Kenneth Branagh made a cameo appearance in yesterday's film, as an actor seen on a TV screen, and he has a larger role in today's film, which he also directed.  So the chain is saved once again - but where I go from here is another issue.  

I sort of wish I had allowed for linking between directors - certainly if I could have arranged films by director, like I did with Woody Allen's and Alfred Hitchcock's film, that could have made my life a lot easier.  That would have been another possible escape route whenever I hit a dead end in the actor linking - and not every director inserts himself into his films with cameos.

THE PLOT: Jack Ryan, as a young covert CIA analyst, uncovers a Russian plot to crash the U.S. economy with a terrorist attack.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Sum of All Fears" (Movie #695), "Patriot Games" (Movie #696), "Clear and Present Danger" (Movie #697)

AFTER:  This franchise's continuity is all messed up - Jack Ryan was older, played by Alec Baldwin, during the Cold War in "Hunt for Red October", then he was older still, played by Harrison Ford, during the age of Glasnost in "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger", then he got younger somehow when he was played by Ben Affleck in "The Sum of All Fears".  So he's sort of like the Benjamin Button of spy films. 

I know, I know, it's a reboot, so it makes more sense to compare Jack Ryan to James Bond, and this film thus becomes a sort of "Casino Royale" for the Tom Clancy franchise.  After all, this takes place in a post-9/11 world, and it shows the start of Jack Ryan's career in the CIA, after he goes through rehab and PT due to a helicopter accident.  But I thought I was all done with this franchise after watching the LAST reboot, and then they go ahead and reboot it again.  There ought to be some kind of limit on this sort of thing. 

Anyway, someone felt they had to make spy stuff cool again for the millennials, and those people don't want to see an aging dinosaur like Ford or Baldwin, they want to see someone in their 30's doing all the stunt stuff, unless of course they can sign Tom Cruise, who just doesn't seem to age.  As a matter of fact, this Jack Ryan film does have a sort of "Mission: Impossible" vibe to it, only without the rock-climbing and the false faces, so in the end it's like "Mission: Really Difficult But With a Little Bit of Effort I Think We Can Pull It Off". 

Ryan plays a CIA analyst, sent undercover into a Wall Street trading firm, because that's where he can see reams and reams of financial information, and his brain can pick out the patterns that indicate that a global superpower is totally going to buy low and sell high, and take advantage of the next terrorist scare to collapse the U.S. economy.  Of course, he knows the Russians are hiding something because he can plainly see that it isn't there.  Wait, what? 

At the same time, his girlfriend (who was his doctor during rehab) has resisted all efforts to marry him, because she's a modern woman who thinks that marriage is SO Cold War-era, keeps thinking that he's cheating on her because he's so secretive and distant.  He's got secrets, sure, but the CIA has very strict rules about who you can confide in, and for her own safety, she's got to stay out of his world.  Unless they're married, which means all bets are off - who cares if wives get taken hostage, as long as the villains leave our agent's girlfriends alone, am I right? 

So, his girlfriend Cathy naturally defies all logic and instead of meeting Jack in Paris as planned, she somehow arranges for the proper visas to visit Moscow on, like, four hours notice (not possible...) and surprises him right in the middle of his most dangerous operation yet, but don't worry, I'm sure she'll be perfectly safe, what could possibly go wrong? 

I was going to take the franchise to task and say, "Really?  We're STILL using Russia as the Evil Empire?  Shouldn't we be featuring the Middle East, or China trying to crash the U.S. economy via terrorism?"  Then I remembered all the events of last year with Putin and invading the Ukraine, and now I think the makers of this film got very lucky indeed, that Russian villains are back in style.  Arab terrorists are, like, SO 2011.   Still, it's very appropriate that I watch films like this around this time of year, if I hadn't gone to Atlantic City a couple of weeks ago, then this might have lined right up with 9/11.  Maybe that wouldn't have been appropriate, I don't know any more.  I'm within a week so I can at least allude to it, right?

There are a lot of loose ends in this one - like, what happened to the dog?  How did they repair the hotel room so quickly after the fight?  And don't even get me started on the police van...

Also starring Chris Pine (last seen in "Horrible Bosses 2"), Kevin Costner (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), Keira Knightley (last seen in "Love Actually"), Colm Feore (last seen in "City of Angels"), Gemma Chan, Peter Andersson, Alec Utgoff, Seth Ayott, Matt Rippy (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Nonso Anozie, with cameos from David Paymer, Mikhail Baryshnikov.

RATING: 5 out of 10 security codes

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sleuth (2007)

Year 7, Day 256 - 9/13/15 - Movie #2,148

BEFORE: I picked this one up a few months ago from premium cable, and I was waiting for the 1972 Olivier/Caine version to make a double-feature on a DVD.  But that film didn't air, and then TCM did a tribute to Michael Caine in August, where they ran "Deathtrap", and the two films seemed similar enough to place them together.   The 1972 film "Sleuth" appears on the list of "1,001 Films to See Before You Die", but this remake doesn't.  

THE PLOT: An aging writer matches wits with the struggling actor who has stolen his wife's heart.

AFTER: Two men, an older writer and a young buck in a country house - with a love triangle on the line, so of course there are similarities to "Deathtrap".  Both stories are based on stage productions, so the action is largely set in one house, one room, that also helps to give them a similar feel.  

Since I haven't seen the original Olivier/Caine version, I can't be sure of the differences, but it appears that Harold Pinter changed quite a bit from the original Anthony Shaffer play.  To me it's interesting that Michael Caine was in both versions, playing the younger man in the 1972 film and the older one in the 2007 film.  Meanwhile, Jude Law stepped into Caine's old role, having also played another role he made famous in "Alfie", and director Kenneth Branagh just also happened to go on to play Laurence Olivier in "My Week With Marilyn" - what an odd set of coincidences.  

I'm not sure why it's called "Sleuth", though - we usually think of that word in connection with detectives, or solving a murder mystery, and there's really nothing to solve here, it's just two men trying to mess with each other's heads.  These are essentially elaborate pranks, not crimes.  Which makes things really awkward when the gay subtext starts to come to the front - is it part of the game these guys are playing, or is one (or both) of them really hot for the other?  The implication here is that any time there are two men involved with the same woman, that they really want to bang each other, and the woman is just a conduit - I'm not sure I agree with that.  

And if you follow that line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, then two men trying to kill each other are really trying to commit elaborate suicides, because what's hatred for another person, if not self-loathing turned outwards?   Then this can be seen as part of the homophobia, is each one trying to out the other, catch him in an elaborate gay trap, or does he then want to kill the other because the other now knows his own secret desires?  It's interesting that we never see the wife/girlfriend that they share here, I'm just saying.  And whether it's part of the game or not, it's a little telling that someone would even consider a romantic offer from someone who was just trying to kill him a couple of days before.  

From this and the previous two films, what's clear is that Hollywood screenwriters have no idea how insurance policies work.  It's really a contrivance that movie characters think that things can just be stolen (or "fake-stolen") and all someone has to do is file a claim, and they get a check.  There's a little thing called a deductible, and often screenplays just move forward and pretend that doesn't exist.  For a few million dollars worth of jewels, that deductible could be quite substantial.  Plus there would have to be a police report filed, there would be an investigation, and then a search for the missing jewels that would make them quite un-fenceable.  (This was also a major plothole in "Flawless", though I didn't want to talk about it for fear of spoilers.)  

Two weeks ago, I upgraded my phone, from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 6 - not the 6s, just the regular 6.  And I had it for only about a week before I dropped it and cracked the screen.  When I took it to what looked like a Verizon store to get it fixed, they told me my deductible was $199, but they could fix it for me for $150, so there was no reason to file a claim.  That sounded a little shady, but when they said I had to pay in cash, that's when they started to sound a LOT shady, so I took my business elsewhere.  A couple days later, after confirming that my deductible was in fact $199, I found a specialist shop that repaired the cracked screen for $135, saving me some money, but still providing an incentive to be more careful in the future.  (Why do they make those screens breakable in the first place?  Why can't they use a shatterproof material?)  

But my point is, an insurance deductible is there so the insurer doesn't go out of business.  And a guy who would let someone steal, let's say, a million dollars worth of jewels would still have to pay the insurance company when he files the claim, and that could be $100,000 or more, depending on how the policy is structured.  And in the case of this film, he'd still be without the jewels, and his wife - so he's so not making that deal.  He'd have to be an idiot to think he'd come out ahead on that, and it would take an idiot to believe that he'd follow through with that offer.  There are more NITPICK POINTS to be made regarding this plot, but that will do for now.

Also starring Jude Law (last seen in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"), with a cameo from Kenneth Branagh (last seen in "My Week With Marilyn").

RATING: 4 out of 10 motion detectors