Saturday, December 17, 2016

True Story

Year 8, Day 351 - 12/16/16 - Movie #2,492

BEFORE: It's the time of year when naturally we start to think about endings - the end of the year, the last page of the calendar, the end of our country's Democratic system, the end of the world (whoops, that's next year, spoiler alert...) - and for me, I've worked hard to find a chain of films that will not only get me to movie #2,500 before Christmas, but that will also bring about some kind of resolution, if that's even possible on some level.  I went back and forth on a lot of films that had some connection to "The Night Before" - the big question being "Should I watch "Sausage Party" in December, or save it for January?" First it was a long-shot, then it was in for sure, now I just don't have the slot for it.  It connects to a lot of films coming up, but it's got such a large cast that it will probably connect to a lot of films in January also.  So, that's it then, it's out.

Then nothing seemed to link out of "Rogue One", so for a long while, I planned to just give up, and follow that film with a documentary, like maybe "Jodorowsky's Dune", to keep the sci-fi theme going.  But then a couple of James Franco films came my way, including this one, which also stars Felicity Jones, so I actually DID have a way to link out of "Rogue One".  And naturally, with both Franco and Jonah Hill in this film, it seemed like putting "Sausage Party" back into the mix for 2016 would make sense.  But again, the same problem - I don't have a slot for it.  I watched two films back in September that I simply will not carry over into the next year, and I've got to post those reviews tomorrow.  Publish or perish - and that's my lead-in to "The Night Before", and from there the chain is set to the other Christmas film, so once again "Sausage Party" is out.  Sacrifices have to be made, here at the end of the year, with only 8 slots left after tonight.  Did I make the right decision?  Or did I just make a terrible linking error back when I watched "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"?  I may never know.

THE PLOT: When disgraced New York Times reporter Michael Finkel meets accused killer Christian Longo - who has taken on Finkel's identity - his investigation morphs into a game of cat-and-mouse.

AFTER: Ultimately, if there's anything we should point to this year as the cause of our troubles, it's fake news - which is an oxymoronic term that shouldn't even exist, outside of "The Onion" and "The Daily Show".  Because if something's fake, then it's not news.  And if it's news, we used to be able to trust that someone had checked it, and it's real and factual.  Because if it's not those things, then it's - what's that other word - oh, right, a lie. And thanks to the interwebs and social media, an alluring lie can spread much faster than the boring facts, and since nearly nobody bothers to take the time to fact-check anything, whether something's true or not now takes a back seat to gauging how many people are talking about it and forwarding it.  This has got to change.  

If you've ever lied, or if you have someone in your life who makes a habit of lying, then you know that one lie can never stand by itself.  You usually have to tell a second lie to explain the first lie, and then a third one to back that one up, and so on.  I've been through enough scrapes to know that honesty isn't just the best policy, it's also the best way to keep your story straight.  The central character here learns this lesson the hard way, after he combines the backgrounds of several men in a news article for the fictional "The New York Times" to make a composite character, and it turns out that's a no-no at the Gray Lady, so he's shown the door.  

After several attempts at finding work and getting back in the game (umm, after you get sacked from The Times, it's probably best to just find another line of work, or so I've heard) he learns that a man accused of murder, Christian Longo, was caught in Mexico while using his name, Michael Finkel, as an alias.  Finkel meets with the man in prison, but in the midst of their bro-bonding, he doesn't think to ask about "why" he borrowed his name - which is weird, because isn't "why" one of those 5 W words that journalists are supposed to ask?  (Let's see, who, what, where, why - yep, it's definitely one.)  

Longo does explain that he's a big fan of Finkel's writing, and he wants to learn to write like Finkel, as much as he wants to tell his story to someone who writes like Finkel, preferably Finkel, if he's available.  Finkel only sees a way to get back into writing, either with a news story about Longo, or a book, or maybe even a movie - sure, like THAT would ever happen.  

The process that follows is somewhat akin to what happens when two people fall in love - they tend to notice only the things they have in common, and ignore the traits that they don't share (umm, like one of them probably murdered his family?).  Finkel pays attention to the similarities in their handwriting, details from their backgrounds, etc. and in a way, he's smitten and starts to believe that Longo is innocent.  It's only later in the court case where we get glimpses of the real reason for Longo's meetings with Finkel, and this suggests that perhaps by using Finkel's name as an alias, that getting in touch with Finkel was part of his game plan all along.  

However, both characters make for unreliable narrators, and as a result the audience may not know who to believe, or when either character has stopped telling lies that are intended to explain their previous lies.  Longo's version of what happened on the night in question is so far from any possible reality that it's not even movie-possible.  So, is the title of the film meant to be ironic?  Is this the nature of the crime story, post "Gone Girl", that we may not get the real story, and on top of that, we're led to believe that we don't even deserve it?  Are we all just going to have to settle for "truthiness" going forward?  That doesn't bode well.

NITPICK POINT: When Finkel is first made aware that someone has been using his identity, he goes right to Google to search on his name.  But this could mean that he'd have to sort through a bunch of genuine stories about himself, or written by himself, before he found any news about the false Finkel.  But he had Longo's name, wouldn't it have been more efficient to search on Longo's name, or their two names together, to get better search results for news about the impersonation?  

Also starring Jonah Hill (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon 2"), James Franco (last seen in "The Great Raid"), Ethan Suplee (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Robert John Burke (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Gretchen Mol (last seen in "Rounders"), Betty Gilpin, Robert Stanton, Maria Dizzia, Genevieve Angelson, Joel Garland, Rebecca Henderson, Maryann Plunkett (last seen in "The Night Listener").

RATING: 5 out of 10 promotional book signings

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