Saturday, October 3, 2015

Kermit's Swamp Years

Year 7, Day 276 - 10/3/15 - Movie #2,168

BEFORE: Three of the Muppet performers carry over from "Muppets Most Wanted" - Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz,  and Bill Barretta.  I may have got this just to fill up a DVD months ago, but it counts, it's in the collection, so I have to watch it.  And except for a Christmas movie, I'll be done with the Muppets after tonight, since I don't feel the need to watch "Muppets Wizard of Oz".

It's been raining pretty good the last two days, must be the effects of that hurricane in the Caribbean - but it's a good tie-in with a film set in a swamp.

THE PLOT: Kermit the Frog and best friends Goggles and Croaker travel outside their homes in the swamps of the Deep South to do something extraordinary with their lives.

AFTER: Really the first Muppet prequel, because it details Kermit's early life, before being discovered in the swamps, as seen in "The Muppet Movie".  But is it necessary?   Because Kermit has to leave the swamp for this story to be interesting, and then has to return to be in place for the start of their first film.

There's a lot of disagreeing between the characters, which makes the script feel half-written, like the performers don't really know where the story's going to go, so they better leave themselves a back-door for further script complications.  

Plus, there are no celebrity cameos, in fact no celebrities of any kind, just a couple of actors who you'll probably never see again in anything, but given their talent level, that's ultimately probably a good thing.  (For my linking purposes, that's downright terrible.)    

The scientist character turns out to be a biology teacher, and the film comes close to a social issue about the treatment of animals when it comes time for the frogs to be dissected in biology class.  Are we still doing that in the 21st century?  Can't we come up with some kind of computer program so kids can dissect a virtual frog instead of killing creatures in the name of education?  But, that being said, I doubt that any biology teacher would go out himself into a swamp to catch frogs, I'm guessing there would be some internal method for a teacher to order frogs through the educational system we have in place.  Nor would he need to go to a pet store, nor would a reputable pet store sell frogs to a school just so they could be killed.

(Geez, the character in "The Muppet Movie" who wanted to start a restaurant that served frog legs made more sense than this biology teacher does.)

NITPICK POINT: Where is this film set?  Because "The Muppet Movie" says that Kermit's swamp was in Florida, but at one point in the story, he encounters Jim Henson as a boy, and Henson's Wiki page says he grew up in Mississippi.  I doubt Kermit walked all the way across three states in a matter of days.  

NITPICK POINT #2: In the high-school scenes, the characters hide in lockers, all of which open quite easily, despite then being, you know, locked.   They all have combination locks on them, which apparently are useless, because they don't prevent the locker doors from opening.  I'm surprised the IMDB doesn't list this as an obvious goof, or am I the only person who cares about continuity?

Also starring John Hostetter, Kelley Collins Lintz, William Bookston, and the voices of Joey Mazzarino, Jerry Nelson, Cree Summer.

RATING: 3 out of 10 tire tracks

Friday, October 2, 2015

Muppets Most Wanted

Year 7, Day 275 - 10/2/15 - Movie #2,167

BEFORE: This may seem a bit jarring, to go from a mystery thriller to a Muppet film - but hey, don't blame me, I didn't cast Ray Liotta in both films.  He was also in "Muppets in Space", so clearly he's got an "in" with the Muppet people.  And I can knock off a couple of kiddie films here before getting back to more serious films, and then the Halloween chain.

THE PLOT: While on a grand world tour, the Muppets film themselves wrapped up in a European jewel heist caper, headed by a Kermit look-alike and his dastardly sidekick.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Muppets" (Movie #1,329), "Muppets From Space" (Movie #1,473)

AFTER: Well, this film just breaks all the rules - but a comedy can break more rules than a dramatic film does, as long as part of the comedy comes from acknowledging that a rule is being broken.  For example, Kermit is replaced by a his evil twin, who happens to be a criminal mastermind.  If that happened in a serious film, or even on a soap opera, and it wasn't being played for laughs, it would be difficult to believe - it would take you right out of the film's reality and remind you that you're watching a film, just because of how unlikely it would be.  Two people who look alike, sound alike, yet are total opposites - unless they were separated at birth, you'd never believe it, even if the film was riffing off of "The Prince and the Pauper", and pointed out how unlikely it was.  

But here, such a plot point is fair game - because it's funny.  And Constantine, Kermit's doppelganger, sounds nothing like him, he's got a thick Eastern European accent - a fact that the other characters either don't notice or don't care about.  What's going on is completely obvious to the audience, and the disconnect created is the source of the humor.  Similarly, any time the Muppets talk to the camera, or act aware that they're in a movie ("Hey, we did that plot in the last film.") it shouldn't be allowed, because again, it messes with the suspension of disbelieft.  But, those things are also funny here, so I can't really complain.

In fact, the film is pretty much nitpick-proof.  So what if Tina Fey has a horrible Russian accent, it's still funny.  So what if no one notices that the villain's last name is "Badguy"?  It's funny that they don't care.  So what if there's no more Soviet Union, and this film still uses the old hammer-and-sickle emblems everywhere?  It's not like anyone in the U.S. knows that much about Russia anyway. 

Once again, my timing worked out great, because the Muppets are suddenly hot again, with a new series on ABC.  I watched the first two episodes the night before last, and I've got a few quibbles with it, but not the ones that you might think.  The show recently came under fire for having some fairly adult jokes, with some parents complaining that topics like pre-marital sex and inter-species relationships were being discussed on a "kids" show.  The best jokes in things like this work on two levels, with kids taking them one way and parents taking them another way - or if that's not possible, then having jokes that kids won't understand, but parents will.  

There was a joke Fozzie made on the show about "what bears do in the woods" - that would only be funny if you've heard the vulgar expression about that before.  If you're a small child and you haven't heard the phrase, you might wonder what it is that bears do in the woods, but it won't be outright funny.  So if a kid laughs at that, it means he's heard the phrase before, and that's the parent's fault, not the show's.  If anything the parents should be mad at their kids' loss of innocence, which they probably bear some responsibility for.  

No, the problem I have is that it's done in the style of "The Office" and a number of other mock reality shows, where we see the behind-the-scenes workings of a talk show, hosted by Miss Piggy.  I think it's a mistake to assume that the audience is going to be more fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes of a fake show, rather than what's on the fake show itself.  The original "Muppet Show" struck a 50/50 (or so) balance, showing us what went on backstage at the Muppet theater, but also what was taking place on the stage itself.  We need to see more of the show-within-the-show, otherwise it feels less like entertainment and more like just watching Muppets work.

My other problem, and this is with the Muppets in general, is that they just don't sound like they did when I was a kid.  Oh, sure, I know that no one's ever going to perfectly imitate the late Jim Henson's voice, so if you're from my generation, then Kermit's always going to sound a bit off.  The same is true for the Looney Tunes characters, after Mel Blanc died they were never quite the same, no matter who they hired for the voices.  I think if you can't get Frank Oz back to do Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear on a regular basis, I wonder if it's worth doing.  I found Miss Piggy's lines in particular to be very difficult to understand, both in the new ABC show and in "Muppets Most Wanted".  

But I understand that the Muppets are a Disney franchise now, and a franchise needs to move forward or it's considered dead in the water. 

Also starring Ricky Gervais (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), Ty Burrell (last seen in "The Skeleton Twins"), Tina Fey (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Jemaine Clement (last seen in "Men in Black 3"), the voices of Steve Whitmire (last heard in "Muppets from Space"), Dave Goelz (ditto), Bill Barretta (ditto), Peter Linz (ditto), Eric Jacobson (last heard in "The Muppets"), Matt Vogel (ditto), David Rudman, with cameos from Tony Bennett, Hugh Bonneville (last seen in "The Monuments Men"), Sean Combs (last seen in "Get Him to the Greek"), Rob Corddry (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Zach Galifianakis (last seen in "Birdman"), Josh Groban, Salma Hayek (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Tom Hiddleston (last seen in "Thor: The Dark World"), Tom Hollander (last heard in "A Liar's Autobiography"), Toby Jones (last seen in "The Adventures of Tintin"), Frank Langella (last seen in "All Good Things"), James McAvoy (last seen in "The Last King of Scotland"), Chloe Grace Moretz (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Usher, Miranda Richardson (last seen in "Get Carter"), Saoirse Ronan, Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo (last seen in "Six Days Seven Nights"), Stanley Tucci (last seen in "The Fifth Estate"), Christoph Waltz (last seen in "Horrible Bosses 2"). 

RATING: 6 out of 10 raging bulls

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Year 7, Day 274 - 10/1/15 - Movie #2,166

BEFORE: This is not the start of the Halloween chain, though it is about tracking down a serial killer, I think.  I've got more kid-friendly stuff coming up in the next few days.  Still, it's kind of cool that this lined up with October 1, it wasn't originally going to, but then I took that two-day trip to Atlantic City, so a turn to darker fare ended up happening at just the right time.

THE PLOT: Unsuccessfully framed for his wife's murder, Dr. David Krane attempts to find the real culprit by utilizing a new drug that allows him to experience the memories of other people first-hand.  

AFTER: Ugh, I don't even know where to begin, I've got so many criticisms to make related to this film's premise and plot points.  This is just junk science, plain and simple, and I guarantee that no one did even an ounce of medical research before writing this dumb-ass script.  This takes place in a world, much like our own, only it's possible to take a syringe full of cerebro-spinal fluid (is that even a thing?) out of one person, living or dead, and inject it into another person, who can then experience specific memories of the first person.  (There's a TV show now called iZombie, where a zombie eats the brains of dead people to experience their memories and solve crimes, and honestly, that sounds more believable than this premise, even with the zombie thing.)

And wouldn't you know, the memories contain exactly the right information needed, just what our hero is searching for, he doesn't have to fast-forward through a bunch of meaningless days, or time spent in the grocery check-out line, since certain memories are very traumatic, they're somehow right there on the surface, they're the first ones seen.  What a load of hooey.  

Look, even if it were possible for memories to be somehow chemically coded into spinal fluid, which it's not (long-term memories are believed to be stored in sets of neurons, which fire together in particular patterns, not in brain fluid or spinal fluid - I looked that up in about 5 seconds) and even if it were somehow possible that another person's brain could somehow decode that information from the fluid, again, which it's not, we've got another big problem here.  Namely that the fluid comes out of one person's spinal cortex thingy, and Dr. Krane injects it NOT into his own brain, but into his arm.  How the hell is his arm supposed to read the encoded memories?  

OK, so he injects it into his bloodstream, and we can assume it travels up to his brain, right?  Yes, but's that not how memories enter the brain - if you believe that most learning is done visually, then information enters the brain via the retinas, and gets converted to electrical signals via the optic nerve.  If blood enters the brain, it's not there to bring information, but oxygen instead.  Again, no one took even the most rudimentary look at the way that either the circulatory system or the nervous system works.  And I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to inject anything into your bloodstream that isn't, you know, blood.  What if the drug or the spinal fluid ended up going to the kidneys before it got to the brain?  

Next, we come to another problem - memories are not reliable.  This film would have you believe that even if you could access another person's memories by injection, and watch the exact important moment of their life that you need to see, and it would play out on your eyeballs like a movie, that what you would then see would be the absolute truth.  But memories fade, people remember things differently over time, sometimes one memory might get mixed up with another.  It's suspect information at best, certainly not admissible in any court, and one shouldn't accuse another person of a crime based on something as unreliable as another person's memory.  

Another problem - even if you could inject another person's memories into your body and experience them, which you can't, they should all look like first-person POV memories, right?  I mean, that person could only experience what they could see with their eyeballs, yet the memories are all seen from other angles, like camera shots.  A person's memories are not third-person two-shots, perfectly framed to see the action in a room - they should all be like the footage you see from a GoPro attached to an athlete's helmet.  

Furthermore, who the heck saved cerebro-spinal fluid from his dead wife?  According to this film, they save a vial of it from every dead person, but I doubt that very much.  What possible use could it have, especially since she died before someone invented the process by which we could transfer the decoded memories out of it?  (Assuming those memories are even in the fluid, which they're not.)  Nope, they just happen to have a vial of her fluid in the lab - do you know how many dead people there are?  Are we saving vials of everyone's blood, spinal fluid and god knows what just for fun?  What lab is storing all of this stuff, for no practical reason?  

And another thing - this guy says he was framed for his wife's murder, and he swears he's innocent, but everyone else still thinks that he did it, and he just got off on a technicality.  How did he get his job back at the medical examiner's office?  He has to work every day alongside with police detectives who all think he killed his wife.  That's awkward at best, and really unprofessional to boot.  There's just no way the integrity of his office would be preserved under that condition - he'd surely be encouraged to resign, considering that he would have zero respect from police.  

There's just no way, all around.  This film starts out as unbelievable, becomes unfathomable, and is ultimately unwatchable. 

Also starring Ray Liotta (last seen in "Killing Them Softly"), Linda Fiorentino, Peter Coyote (last seen in "Patch Adams"), David Paymer (last seen in "Amistad"), Kim Coates (last seen in "The Last Boy Scout"), Kim Cattrall (last seen in "The Ghost Writer"), Duncan Fraser, Garwin Sanford.

RATING: 2 out of 10 lab rats

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Not Fade Away

Year 7, Day 273 - 9/30/15 - Movie #2,165

BEFORE: Brad Garrett carries over from "Planes: Fire & Rescue", and I'm back on track with another film about aspiring musicians. 

THE PLOT:  Set in suburban New Jersey the 1960s, a group of friends form a rock band and try to make it big.

AFTER: When it comes to being either famous or successful, there are two schools of thought.  One is that people need to go out and chase the work, and the other is that they need to hone their craft, become the best they can possibly be at something, and let the work find them.  Thinking back on my own career in filmmaking, I have found that, for me, neither track worked for me.  I'll explain.

Whenever I've gone out job-hunting, mailing out my resumé, responding to classified ads, and more recently doing things like getting a LinkedIn profile, the results have always been the same: nada, zippo, bupkus.  I've worked for over 25 years in the world of video and film production, and I can't point to one career move or successful job offer that resulted from this.  Instead I can point to five or six key moments in my life where things happened - jobs did come my way, but it was more like they dropped into my lap, and I don't know whether to call that luck, fate, karma, divine intervention, or merely just me taking advantage of the situations I found myself in.

If it's luck, then it's 5 or 6 lucky things that happened to put me where I am, and I'm not sure that I believe one person could be that lucky.  I did an internship at a production company for two semesters, and when it was over, I worked part-time as an usher at a movie theater on 23rd St.  One day both directors from that production company came in to see a movie, and saw me working when I tore their tickets.  (They were filming a project at a studio a few blocks away, and came to see a movie after a long shoot day.  They were a married couple, but they were separated and dating other people.  Long story.)  Anyway, they offered me a job in their studio that was half office assistant and half production assistant, so I took the gig.  I often think back to that moment and wonder how my life would have been different if I hadn't been working that shift, if they had gone to see a different movie, or if I had been on a bathroom break when they arrived.  Would I be managing a movie theater right now, if fate/luck/karma had not intervened?

A few years after that, I was working as an office manager for that company, and they got behind in paying me, so I had this intern working for me who was going to take a part-time job stuffing envelopes for a company uptown, but she then got offered a job as a location scout for Robert Redford, so she was leaving town.  I called the company that she was about to turn down, and asked if I could substitute in for her - I figured, how bad could stuffing envelopes be?  It turned out to be an animation rep company, like an agent for animated commercial work, and I got along with the people there, and I got my foot in the door and worked there for 22 years.  Again, I think back on all the ways that could have gone south - what if Robert Redford hired someone else?  What if that intern turned down the job as his location scout?  What if I didn't get along with the people stuffing envelopes?

A few months after I got myself situated in the new gig part-time, a co-worker left to work for an independent animation studio, then a year or two later, she left that job to do her own animation for Sesame Street, and she recommended me to take her place at the indie studio.  As far as I know, I was the only recommended person, the only applicant for the job, and I've been working part-time at THAT studio also for over 22 years.  Have I worked hard at those jobs?  I believe that I have.  Am I good at them?  I think the timeline speaks for itself.  But the common thread seems to be that in most cases, there was no competition, no other applicants I had to beat out, just friends recommending me, or things coming my way by default.  Most recently I took another part-time job for another animator, someone I've known for 20 years, and she wanted my advice on getting herself to the next level, and clearing her workload so she can have more time to animate.  I recommended myself because by now I've gotten used to how this feels - another opportunity dropped right into my lap.  ("dropportunity"?)  Another fungo softball, thrown at me right over the plate.

Don't get me wrong, when I see an opportunity, I try to take it.  I'll hit the hell out of that softball if you give me a chance.  But still, I'm left wondering - who threw me the softball in the first place?   I try not to believe in God, but if I didn't know better, I'd say I've got some kind of career guardian angel looking out for me.  Or if my career is based on 5 lucky turns, then that does that mean I'm a total fraud, who doesn't really deserve the good things that have come my way?  Or maybe I should just track down the people who turned down the gigs that I got, and buy them all dinner or something.  You know, restore the karmic balance.  On the other hand, I have recommended people who I've worked with for other jobs from time to time, so maybe I have balanced things out over time.

My point is, whether you work in filmmaking or art or rock music, the principle is the same.  Work hard, but also keep your eyes open for the next opportunity, whatever it may be.  I think that's what this film is really about, trying to move forward as musicians, while not ever being certain what exactly the next step should be.  What songs should we learn?  Should we try to write our own songs, or just stick to ones that everyone knows?  Should we quit school to devote more time to the band? Should we move out of our parents' houses, and get a loft in NYC so we can do more gigs?

I'm reckoning that there are probably thousands of stories like this, right up to the hipsters of today.  Without a straightforward career path, like banking or nursing or driving a truck, it's potentially maddening to figure out what to do or whom to trust.  And even if you do everything right, there's no guarantee you're going to meet the people you need to help you succeed.  Think about the Beatles, still the most successful band of all time.  They were just a skiffle cover band, and they performed for two years in the nastiest strip clubs in Germany.  They came back to Liverpool with a different sound, a drug addiction or two and probably some STDs, but they had confidence, and were suddenly a hit with the British girls.  And even then, nearly every record executive turned them down because they thought that "guitar groups were on the way out."  They auditioned for the right person on the right day, and after 5 years they became an "overnight success".

What if they hadn't met Brian Epstein?  What if George Martin hadn't agreed to arrange their songs or produce their album? What if Ed Sullivan hadn't put them on his TV show, or what if Oswald hadn't shot JFK and given the U.S. the need for some escapism?  What about the 500 or 1,000 other, possibly better bands that didn't get exactly the same opportunities that the Beatles did?  Sure, some of those bands got work in the 1960's just by following in their footsteps - suddenly 4-man guitar groups were all the rage, and if you could get 4 guys with Nehru jackets and bowl cuts who could carry a reasonable tune on stage without passing out, you could get a recording contract.

And that's exactly the time-frame covered in "Not Fade Away", the wake of the JFK assassination and the Vietnam draft, and the change in music that the Beatles represented.  The Stones co-opting the "Bo Diddley beat" on their cover of the title track.  Crazy bands like the Kinks and the Animals and the Moody Blues, representing the second wave of the British invasion.  Meanwhile, the local band members graduate high-school, go to college, drop out of college, all while trying to keep the band going.  And eventually they learn that, surprise, it's going to take a lot of work - and some of them may have joined the band to avoid this whole "work" thing in the first place. 

Do they succeed?  Ah, that would be telling.  But again, there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of personal stories like this out there.  This works as an amalgam, representing the average American rocker kids' dreams during the late 1960's.  The time-frame gets a little suspect, however, because the film seems to go right up to the start of the punk movement, and to me, that seems to suggest the mid-1970's (Sex Pistols formed in 1975) - and the kids don't seem 12 years older at the end of the film than they were at the start.  I can also see how people might think that this film is all over the place, trying to squeeze in as many cultural touchstones as possible. 

Maybe the reference to punk music is symbolic of how this film sort of "punked" out at the end.  They went for arty and obtuse, but to me that counts as a non-ending if there's no resolution.  The film doesn't really end, it just sort of stops.  As does my covering of this topic - I would love to follow this with a film like "CBGB", set in the early days of the punk movement, or even "Sid & Nancy", but I've only got 6 days to link to the start of my Halloween chain, and that's not easy.

Also starring John Magaro (last seen in "Captain Phillips"), James Gandolfini (last seen in "Enough Said"), Jack Huston (last seen in "Shrink"), Will Brill, Dominique McElligott (last seen in "Moon"), Brahm Vaccarella, Gregory Perri (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Bella Heathcote (last seen in "Killing Them Softly"), Molly Price (last seen in "Random Hearts"), Christopher McDonald (last seen in "Fanboys"), Meg Guzulescu, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), with cameos from John Tormey, Lisa Lampanelli. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 plastic lemons

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Planes: Fire & Rescue

Year 7, Day 272 - 9/29/15 - Movie #2,164

BEFORE: It may seem a little odd to veer into animation for just one day, separating two films about rock musicians, but it's necessary to maintain my actor linking.  Ed Harris, who appeared in blackface (still a no-no) in "Masked and Anonymous", does a voice in this film, and so does another actor who provides a link to tomorrow's film.  Besides, I've got a few more animated and puppet-based films coming up in a few days.

THE PLOT:  When Dusty learns that his engine is damaged and he may never race again, he joins a forest fire and rescue unit to be trained as a firefighter, or else his air strip will be shut down.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Planes" (Movie #1,851)

AFTER: It wasn't that long ago when I first watched "Planes" - September 2014.  So either they rushed the sequel into production, or I sat on "Planes" for a long while before watching it.  I'm thinking it was the first case, because there was only a year between the release dates of the film and its sequel.  I'm going to stop and re-read my review of the first film just to catch up.

AH, yes, my main complaint about "Planes" was that the filmmakers couldn't think of anything to make the plane characters do except race.  (duh, planes can go fast!)  Which not only made it a distinct rip-off of "Cars", but also displayed an incredible lack of creativity.  In the sequel, someone finally realized that vehicles are useful - they can fight forest fires!  Great, I support this because it makes the characters more useful, and since the planes have personalities, there's now a chance for personal growth.  It's not just about winning a race, it's about saving lives, even if those are the lives of other planes and not the lives of humans, who are once again mysteriously absent from this world.

I was also worried about the message that "Planes" sent out to kids - that's it's all about winning.  Hey, if you're not first place, you're last.  Second place is the first loser, and all that.  That little problem gets solved here too, because Dusty is forced to think of other things, and put his friends first (due largely to his own mistake, but still, overall the message is still better).  In "Planes" Dusty was also afraid of heights, which made no sense (he's a PLANE!) and here he's given a different imperfection, a fault in his engine that prevents him from doing the maneuvers necessary for racing.

However, Dusty is also afraid to talk about his defect/handicap, which itself sends out the wrong message.  (Kids, if there's something wrong or different about your body you should never, ever discuss it with anyone...)  This engine defect, sort of like a heart valve problem or something, should have been disclosed when Dusty started training with the fire-fighting corps, because not disclosing it put himself and others at risk.  Not cool, and it sets a bad example.

Then we have the same problem from "Planes", when Dusty got his fuselage modified to have himself changed from a crop duster to a racing plane - the human equivalent would be plastic surgery or some kind of body-modification surgery, and this becomes a sort of tacit approval of these practices.  Kids might think differently about becoming a firefighter or doing some kind of public service if they pick up on the fact that their acceptance in that career would be based on their body shape or their willingness to change it.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the film, because it did improve so much on the message from the first film.  And if I try a little, I can draw connections to "The Artist" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" - both of those films also featured characters who were going through career crises.  George Valentin in "The Artist" was upset that he couldn't be in any more silent films, and Llewyn Davis was wondering if there was any place for him in the new folk music scene.  Really, it's not a big leap from those two films to Dusty learning that he can no longer race.  All three characters have to find a way to move forward through changing times. They can only wallow in depression for so long, and have to make the best out of their new situations.

See, I've got my theme for the week once again.  I'm down with it because I went through this myself about a year ago, when one of my jobs went away, and I'd been working for that company for over 20 years.  I wasn't completely out of work, I just went from having two part-time jobs to one - so I was spending two more days each week at home, getting some chores done, going out to lunch, and trying not to let it affect my self-worth too much.  But I got a new part-time gig a few weeks ago, so I'm back up to a 5-day work week.  I understand this feeling, when you're one thing for so long, and then you're told you can't be that any more, and you may go through this identity crisis of sorts.  Eventually you can find the strength to say, "OK, I can't do that any more, so let me find something else."

I know that this is just a simple little kids film at heart, but I can't help but look for a larger meaning, or one that relates to my own experience in some way.  

NITPICK POINT: I'm not sure I understand the concept of "torque" is, and how it related to Dusty's gearbox problem.  What causes torque on a plane?  Is it speed, changing altitude, sudden acceleration, what exactly?  And if I didn't understand it, I'm willing to bet that a child wouldn't understand it.  And why couldn't he just fly with less torque, whatever it is?  OK, I get that it's something inherent to racing, but then the problem came up again during the firefighting training.  Why the heck does he have a warning light about exceeding his torque if he was only going to end up ignoring it?

Also starring the voices of Dane Cook (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Julie Bowen (last seen in "Horrible Bosses"), Teri Hatcher (last heard in "Planes"), Brad Garrett (ditto), Cedric the Entertainer (ditto), Stacy Keach (last seen in "Nebraska"), John Michael Higgins (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Curtis Armstrong (last seen in "Elvis Meets Nixon"), Hal Holbrook (last seen in "Midway"), Wes Studi (last seen in "Undisputed"), Barry Corbin, Regina King (last seen in "Mighty Joe Young"), Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara (last seen in "The Out of Towners"), Fred Willard (last seen in "Anchorman 2"), Bryan Callen, Patrick Warburton (last seen in "Ted"), Erik Estrada, Rene Auberjonois (last heard in "The Little Mermaid"), John Ratzenberger (last seen in "Gandhi"), Steve Schirripa (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), Brent Musberger, Kate Micucci, Kevin Michael Richardson, Brad Paisley.

RATING: 5 out of 10 episodes of CHoPS

Monday, September 28, 2015

Masked and Anonymous

Year 7, Day 271 - 9/28/15 - Movie #2,163

BEFORE: John Goodman carries over again from "Inside Llewyn Davis", and since there was just a little bit of Bob Dylan stuff at the end of that film, next up is a film with the real Bob Dylan in it.  I got this to put on a DVD with "Get on Up", that film about James Brown - and for a while I had it in between a couple other films with Penelope Cruz, but I needed to find 10 films that would connect the end of the McConnaughey chain with the start of the October horror chain.  There will be some bouncing around of subject matter over the next few days, but it's necessary to maintain the actor linking.  

THE PLOT:  A singer, whose career has gone on a downward spiral, is forced to make a comeback to the performance stage for a benefit concert.

AFTER: Wow, this was a tough one to get through.  It was hard to discern exactly what the story was, other than the fact that it was about a singer putting on a benefit concert.  But there's also a lot of political stuff, since this is (apparently) set in a near-future society with totalitarian rule, thus giving it the ability to comment on the decay inherent to a chaotic world, and the anarchy associated with political regimes.  OK, so I cheated and looked up the meaning of this film on Wikipedia, I admit that I got NONE of that from viewing it.

Bob Dylan does NOT play Bob Dylan in this film, which in itself is a disappointment.  He plays Jack Fate, a singer who's in prison in this future society, but he gets released to perform at a benefit concert.  (But for a guy who's not Bob Dylan, he sure knows a lot of Bob Dylan songs...)  Why is he in prison?  Who knows?  The film depicts the back-stage maneuverings of managers, promoters, press and various hangers-on as the concert is planned and performed.  

Characters have names like "Uncle Sweetheart", "Tom Friend" and "Bobby Cupid", and there's a lot of terrible dialogue, consisting mainly of aphorisms and little bits of wisdom like "It ain't easy being human." or "All of us are trying to kill time.  When all is said and done, time ends up killing us."  Ugh, please spare me all this folksy advice.  If there's a point that got made under all these stupid sayings and pointless violence, I sure couldn't tell what it was.

As with "Inside Llewyn Davis", I guess I was hoping for something more autobiographical about Bob Dylan himself.  Because that's a movie that I'd really find fascinating - movies like "I'm Not There" have sort of skirted around telling Dylan's exact story, and it's a story I'd like to see told one day.  Without it, I'm left to think of Dylan as some kind of weirdo or hermit, or perhaps a very private person in a very public occupation.  

But I say, if you want to make a concert film, make a concert film.  This idea of surrounding a concert film with a narrative, with the musical artist playing a character, seems really ill-advised, like it's a throwback to the 1980's, when Styx basically killed the format of the long-form music video with their futuristic "Mr. Roboto" ideas.  All that Dennis DeYoung B.S. about a future society controlled by robots, and the "Kilroy Was Here" album - what a bunch of crap.  The only other long-form music video I know of is that "Trapped in the Closet" crap, and that's a narrative mess also. 

Also starring Bob Dylan, Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot"), Jessica Lange (last seen in "Crimes of the Heart"), Luke Wilson (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Penelope Cruz (last seen in "Head in the Clouds"), Angela Bassett (last seen in "This Means War"), Mickey Rourke (last seen in "The Rainmaker"), Val Kilmer (last seen in "Alexander"), Giovanni Ribisi (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Bruce Dern (last seen in "Nebraska"), Ed Harris (last seen in "the Face of Love"), with cameos from Chris Penn (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Christian Slater (last seen in "The Contender"), Michael Paul Chan, Cheech Marin (last seen in "The Great White Hype"), Fred Ward (last seen in "Henry & June"), Tracey Walter (last seen in "Goin' South")

RATING: 3 out of 10 liquor bottles

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Inside Llewyn Davis

Year 7, Day 270 - 9/27/15 - Movie #2,162

BEFORE: This film was really hot on premium cable about a year ago (and I think it was hot in theaters about two years ago), so I'm glad I picked it up then, because now it's nowhere to be seen.  John Goodman carries over from "The Artist", and he'll be here tomorrow as well.

THE PLOT: A week in the life of a young singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.

AFTER: Shortly before the credits, I realized that this was feeling like a Coen Brothers film - and when the credits started to roll, I realized that it was.  I guess I knew that before, and I forgot it.  The signs were all there - a crazy quest, lots of folk music, and the presence of John Goodman.  That pretty much describes several of their films that I like a lot, such as "Raising Arizona", "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?".  But I didn't like this film as much as I like those, and I'm sort of hard-pressed to figure out why.

This is a recreation of the folk music scene in NYC from the early 1960's.  I thought perhaps this was sort of a thinly-veiled biopic of Bob Dylan, similar to "I'm Not There", or the way that "Velvet Goldmine" told the story of a Bowie-like rock singer.  But then there are clues that this character is NOT Bob Dylan, like the fact that he used to be part of a folk duo.  And then there's a hint that Bob Dylan also exists in his world, so he can't possibly also be him.  Maybe he's supposed to come from the same world, the same clubs on Bleecker St. (very sneaky, filming there, because I think that parts of that street still look quite the same as it did then)  

But to me, I just couldn't root for Llewyn Davis - for me, it was all because of the cat.  He's a proto-hipster, without a fixed residence, couch surfing through the apartments of various friends and fans.  Early in the film, he accidentally allows his hosts' cat out the apartment, and based on that, and what followed, I didn't find him to be a likable character.  But maybe he's not supposed to be.  

I'm a cat guy, I've lived with cats for most of my life, and losing another person's cat is a huge no-no.  What if he had taken his hosts' child to the park and left him there?  That would be wrong, right?  Well, to me misplacing a cat would be almost as bad.  He can't return the cat to its owners, so he carries it around with him for a while, in his hands, and even on the subway.  WTF?  Why can't he at least put the cat in a box or something?  

I don't want to talk too much about the cat, for fear of spoilers, but I'll say that I saw where this plot point was going from the get-go.  To me there are two kinds of cats, house cats and stray cats, and I doubt that either one would let a stranger pick it up and carry it around like a bag or something.  It takes YEARS to develop the kind of relationship with a cat where you can carry it for a long period of time.  My current cat won't even let me hold him for more than a few seconds.  I would just never treat an animal like this, that's all I'm saying.  

The film is really about this fictional singer, and his struggle to break out of the folk scene, sell some records, and make some money, but something is holding him back.  Is it a personal tragedy, like McConnaughey's character in "Failure to Launch", or is he just afraid to succeed, like Pacino's character in "Two for the Money"?  Or is he more like George Valentin in "The Artist", too proud to adapt to the changing entertainment scene, unable to change with the tastes of the public?  

Oddly, the first scene of the film is the same as the last - which at first gives his life a cyclical, futile nature.  After some consideration I realized that we're shown the last scene first, and the film then flashes back to show us what happened before.  I admit that the second time we see it, we have a LOT more information about Llewyn and what caused the situation he's in, but at no time did I ever feel like Llewyn was learning from his mistakes, or in the process of figuring out a way to improve his situation.  If just felt like misery upon misery, with no chance for redemption.

Plus, putting the last scene first still counts as messing with the timestream, and that's only allowable when the future of humanity depends on it...

Two of the actors from this film form a connection to "Star Wars: Episode VII" - in an ideal world, I could have watched this as Movie #2,199 right before "Star Wars".  But I messed up, and I'm still paying the price for that - there was no way to re-order my list and move this film there.  Plus, I've only got a few slots left before October, and I can't get to other films about musicians and music clubs, like "Get on Up", "Idlewild" and "CBGB" - in a few days I'll have to put this topic on hold.  But maybe that's a good thing, because I could pick up a few more films on the subject, like that one about Jimi Hendrix and the other one about Brian Wilson, if I'm lucky. 

Also starring Oscar Isaac (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Carey Mulligan (last seen in "The Great Gatsby"), Justin Timberlake (last seen in "The Social Network"), Garrett Hedlund (last seen in "Troy"), Ethan Phillips (last seen in "The Island"), Max Casella (last seen in "Revolutionary Road"), Robin Bartlett (last seen in "City of Angels"), Adam Driver (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Stark Sands, Jeaninie Serralles, with a cameo from F. Murray Abraham (last seen in "The Prisoner of Second Avenue").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Merchant Marines