Thursday, October 8, 2015


Year 7, Day 279 - 10/6/15 - Movie #2,171

BEFORE: I was sure that I'd be able to find a connection between "300: Rise of an Empire" and this film - surely the two films produced in the same year that were about ancient Greece and ancient Rome would share at least one actor, right?  Nope, not one.  It took a while, but I finally found an indirect link - David Wenham was also in "Dark City" with Kiefer Sutherland (last seen in "Melancholia"), who appears in "Pompeii".  That'll have to do, especially since Kiefer is my link to the start of the Halloween chain next week.

THE PLOT:  A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.

AFTER: I watched this film on Tuesday, but as I write this it's Wednesday (correction, Thursday), and I've already completed the load-in for New York Comic-Con.  After the work was done, my team and I celebrated with a few beers (provided by Brooklyn Brewery, makers of Defender, the event's official beer).  Then I went out with some friends to an Oktoberfest dinner at Brooklyn Brewery, so that meant I had a few more beers, came home, watched a little TV and fell asleep.  This was a critical error in terms of time management, because when the beer wore off I woke up, and now it's 3 am and I need to be back at the Javits Convention at 9 am to put the booth together, and I'm afraid that if I go to bed, I'll oversleep.  But if I stay up all night, I'll be exhausted at the convention and I may not make it through the day.  So I'm screwed.  Anyway, back to "Pompeii".  

When you see that a film is directed by Paul Anderson, it's a good idea to find out which one - is it the one who directed "Boogie Nights", "Magnolia" and "There Will Be Blood", or the other one, who directed those "Resident Evil" films.  In this case, it's the latter, Paul W.S. Anderson.  Sorry, but to me that's a bad sign right from the start.

Because it turns out that you can't just take the love story from "Titanic" (rich girl falls in love with poor boy) and the action scenes from "Gladiator" and fuse them together under the backdrop of the danger from "Volcano".  Sure, on paper it seems like it will work, just combine two Best Picture winners, what could go wrong - but it so damn obvious that's what they did.  The "elevator pitch" for this was "Titanic meets Gladiator" or I'm a monkey's uncle.  

The tagline for the film reads "No Warning, No Escape", but that's not really true, is it?  I mean, when you put a city next to an active volcano, you're sort of asking for trouble - and there were prior earthquakes around Vesuvius, notably in 62 A.D., prior to the eruption depicted here, which was in 79 A.D.  And the film shows several rumblings right before the eruption, how is that not a warning?  

Oh, yeah, SPOILER ALERT, the volcano erupts.  But you knew that, right?  Or you saw it on the poster, or pretty much figured that the volcano would erupt, because if it doesn't, then we don't really have a story here.  And after an hour or so of bad acting and even worse line-reading (there were several times where I had to rewind to figure out what someone said, and times where I eventually gave up) I couldn't wait for the volcano to take these people out.  

But if you read about the real destruction of Pompeii, you'll learn how inaccurate this film was.  They placed the city in the wrong location relative to the ocean, plus there was no lava expelled from Mount Vesuvius, merely stones, ash and hot gas - but I guess that doesn't look so exciting on film, does it?  

Then we've got the contrivances, in both the "Titanic"-like and the "Gladiator"-like storylines.  What a coincidence that the Senator visiting Pompeii is also interested in the same lady as our Celtic slave hero, no?  I mean, there are a lot of women in town, but we have to have a love triangle?  And what a coincidence that our slave's only friend in the gladiator camps turns out to be the man that he has to fight in a death match.  Come on...

Also starring Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss (last seen in "Red Planet"), Emily Browning (last seen in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), Jared Harris (last seen in "Mr. Deeds"), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (last seen in "Thor: The Dark World"), Joe Pingue, Currie Graham, Jessica Lucas (last seen in "Cloverfield").

RATING: 3 out of 10 pyroclastic flows

Monday, October 5, 2015

300: Rise of an Empire

Year 7, Day 278 - 10/5/15 - Movie #2,170

BEFORE:  Two days to go until New York Comic-Con (for me, it starts on Wednesday with the load-in, not Thursday) and I've started to have the stress dreams.  Like I had a dream a couple nights ago that I got a job on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and I had an office on the 6th floor of their building, but I couldn't seem to get to the 6th floor.  The elevator wouldn't stop on that floor, so I went to the stairwell and the stairs were gone, it was an empty stairwell - how is that even possible?  Then I passed by the green room and saw Jon Bon Jovi in it, so I had to step outside and text my wife that I just saw Jon Bon Jovi, and I never really got to my desk, which was very frustrating.  This is really a variation of my standard Comic-Con dream, where I'm wandering through a convention center and I can't find my booth.  

Then last night I had a dream I was in a production of "Les Miserables" that starred Leonardo DiCaprio (for some reason) and someone was murdering the performers, and it might have been Leo, because he was really drunk and blacking out from time to time, so maybe he was killing them while blacked out, or perhaps someone was framing him for the murders, I couldn't tell.  But the killings were all pretty violent.  I must be more stressed out than I care to admit.

Rodrigo Santoro carries over from "Rio 2", he voiced the male bird scientist Tulio in that film, and he played Persian leader Xerxes in "300" and this sequel.  

THE PLOT:  Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "300" (Movie #300)

AFTER: Sure, it might seem weird to go from a CGI children's animated film to a very violent adult film about Greek soldiers - but that's where my movie-watching process is at these days.  If I follow the connections provided by themes, then I lose the actor connections.  But if I follow the actor linking, then my subject matter careens all over the place.

Or, does it?  "Rio 2" featured a turf war between the blue macaws and the scarlet macaws.  It was like a war between races of birds (though it looked a lot like an aerial soccer game) and tonight's film features a similar turf war between the Greeks and Persians.  There's also a red army (Spartans) and a blue army (Athenians), but they happen to be fighting on the same side here.  

The film starts shortly after the first "300" film leaves off, when the 300 Spartans faced off against the Persians - apparently it did not go well, because Queen Gorgo is talking to her troops about the sacrifice that the 300 made, and then she tells a story, so we snap back to the Battle of Marathon, 10 years before, where this whole rivalry with the Persians started.  That battle went a little better for the Greeks, with Themistokles taking out King Darius, but also setting up his son Xerxes to come back for revenge with a whole load of ships.  The story stays with Themistokles and his men until it catches up with the original film - one assumes that it runs parallel with the last stand of the Spartans for a while.  

But when does the Queen STOP telling the story?  There's an opening narration that leads into the flashback, but when the flashback catches up with the present (not our present, the present of the past, the present of the opening sequence) we should come out of the flashback, but we never do.  Was there a shot missing, with the Queen telling her troops "The Athenians should be here shortly to help us in our battle."  Maybe I'm not really understanding how this timeline thing works.  Once you start jumping around, it's hard to make any sense of it all - there are even flashbacks within the main flashback, which shouldn't be possible.  

Still, I found this slightly easier to follow than the first "300" film, but it similarly suffered from "too many characters" syndrome".  And if this was like a "10" in the level of violence, there's simply no reason why it couldn't have been at level "8" instead.  But maybe I'm supposed to take solace in the fact that I wasn't born back then, and I don't have to get stabbed or decapitated as part of the Greek army - I only have to fight the battle of Comic-Con, again and again.  

Also starring Sullivan Stapleton (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Eva Green (last seen in "Dark Shadows"), Lena Headey (last seen in "Dredd"), Hans Matheson (last seen in "Les Miserables (1998)"), Callan Mulvey (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), David Wenham (last seen in "Moulin Rouge!"), Jack O'Connell, Andrew Tiernan (last seen in "The Pianist"), Igal Naor (last seen in "Green Zone"), Andrew Pleavin, Peter Mensah (last seen in "Hidalgo")

RATING: 6 out of 10 flaming arrows

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rio 2

Year 7, Day 277 - 10/4/15 - Movie #2,169

BEFORE: I've had a good run in the last two weeks, chipping away at the films of 2014, also a few from 2013 and 2012.  That's largely because my watchlist now largely consists of films from the last couple of years, it's a great sign that I'm finally catching up.  I still have some films from previous decades on the list, some of which I use as linking material, like I did with "Unforgettable" and "Masked and Anonymous".  But for the theme months of October and February, it's (mostly) back to older horror films and romance films.  

I'm going to finish this week out with three more films from 2014, and then I'll take a week's break for New York Comic Con.  When I come back next Monday I'll start the horror chain, with films ranging from 1973 to 2014, only not in that order.  I tried to do the best ordering of horror films I could, given a particular set of 19 films, but there are bound to be some gaps, and I'll just have to deal with that.  

For tonight's linking, "Kermit's Swamp Years" was a bit of a dead end, but since several Muppet performers were in "Muppets Most Wanted" with Jemaine Clement, I'm going to follow that thread, as he's the voice of Nigel the evil cockatoo in the "Rio" franchise.  (God, there were so many stars making cameos in "Muppets Most Wanted" I could have gone in any of a dozen directions - but there's not much point in second guessing it now, with just a few days left in regular season play.)  

THE PLOT: Blu, Jewel and their three kids are hurtled from Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel and meets his father-in-law.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Rio" (Movie #1,293)

AFTER: This is a continuation of the "fish out of water" story seen in the first "Rio" film, but for me placing it after "Kermit's Swamp Years" has additional meaning.  From a swamp to the Amazon jungle, get it?  But also, I've lucked out because they focus on some of the same issues - what constitutes a wild animal and what constitutes a pet?  Is it right to take frogs or birds or snakes out of the wild and make them live in a persons' house?  The first "Rio" film took on exotic bird smugglers, but also sort of gave the impression that all Brazilian people want to do is dance at Carnival.  

It seems like every animated film these days needs to champion a cause, even "Kermit's Swamp Years" took a stand against killing frogs in biology class, and tonight of course it's the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest.   Which seems like an easy cause to champion, if you ask me - I mean, of COURSE we should be working to save the rainforest.  But haven't we been hearing about this for a couple of decades now?  Plus, exactly what action would you like me to take to save it?  I can't influence the Brazilian government from where I am, and I doubt that a lot of kids who see this movie would be able to do anything constructive either.  OK, great, we've raised awareness of a thing that most people were already aware of - by the time the kids who see this movie become adults and are able to donate money or take political action, I figure either the problem will be solved, or it will be too late to do anything.  

A quick bit of research tells me that Amazon deforestation is actually down significantly since 2004, and that the more the rainforest gets logged, the less precipitation reaches crops, so there's really no more economic advantage to converting rainforest to fields.  It's like what the paper industry in the U.S. went through a few years ago, after they figured out it was more economical to replace trees than to just cut them down, they started to do the right thing and renew their own resource.  I'd imagine the farmers in Brazil have started to see the light, and Wikipedia confirms that the amount of conserved land in Brazil tripled between 2002 and 2006.  Should we remain on guard in the name of future conservation?  Of course, but there's less of a reason to stick an environmental message into an animated film.

As an animated film, it just feels like this one had too many characters.  How are kids supposed to keep track of them all?  Did Blu and Jewel really need to have three kids, wouldn't two have been enough?  There really wasn't time to develop them all with different personalities, so why did they all need to be there?  Then we've got the toucan, the canary, the bulldog - they don't bring much to the table, the bulldog was even absent from most of the film because they didn't have anything for him to do.  

The storyline with Blu trying to fit in with the tribe of blue macaws was fine, but why did their enemies have to be the scarlet macaws?  Doesn't this teach kids to think along color lines, suggesting that people should only associate with others of the same race?  Why couldn't all the birds share the grove from the start, wouldn't that send a better message out to the kids?  

Another NITPICK POINT - why did the birds need to cross Brazil 17 times, just to find the Amazon?  Isn't the Amazon River the largest in the world, isn't the Amazon basin just plain huge?  Seems to me they should have been able to find the Amazon a lot quicker.  OK, so they were looking for one specific point in the Amazon, I get that.  But one bird had a phone with GPS, and the other was a bird using typical bird-flying techniques - am I to understand that neither system worked well?   I understand that Rio de Janeiro may be 2,000 miles away from the Amazon, but it's a straight shot, isn't it?  

Also starring the voices of Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "Now You See Me"), Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Interstellar"), Andy Garcia (last seen in "Let's Be Cops"), George Lopez (last heard in "The Smurfs"), Jamie Foxx (last seen in "Horrible Bosses 2"), (last heard in "Rio"), Tracy Morgan (ditto), Rita Moreno (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Kristin Chenoweth (last seen in "Bewitched"), Bruno Mars (last seen in "Honeymoon in Vegas"), Miguel Ferrer (last seen in "Another Stakeout"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "Big Daddy"), Sergio Mendes (last heard in "Rio"), Kate MiCucci, Janelle Monae, Rodrigo Santoro (last seen in "Love Actually"), Rachel Crow.

RATING: 5 out of 10 chainsaws