Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Warriors

Year 8, Day 93 - 4/2/16 - Movie #2,293

BEFORE: This is another one of those "cult" films that I've been aware of for many years but never took the time to watch - sort of like "Repo Man" or "Eraserhead", something that seems like it's been seen by all the film geeks out there and has built up something of a reputation.  Since I'm having a going-out-of-business sale, or trying to, it's high time to get to films like this.  Trouble is, it's very difficult to link to - but not impossible.  It took me months to find a link, and it comes via David Patrick Kelly, who played the "cleaner" in "John Wick" last night.  I'm familiar with Kelly because he played Jerry Horne in another cult classic, "Twin Peaks", but he really became famous before that, for saying the most notable line of this dialogue from this film: "Warriors, come out and pla-ay!"

THE PLOT:  A charismatic leader summons the street gangs of New York City in a bid to take it over. When he is killed, The Warriors are falsely blamed and must fight their way home while every other gang is hunting them down.

AFTER: I don't do nearly enough political material here at the Movie Year - oh, sure, I watched "The American President" and "The Contender" as part of the proceedings, but that's not saying much.  I also intentionally abstained from the last election because I live in a state whose outcome seemed predetermined, and I was keenly aware how little impact my one vote would have.  But this election year seems different, nothing seems pre-determined on either side of the aisle, there are two Democratic contenders running nearly even, and Republicans are talking about a fractured convention.  And once again, I predict there will be uproar over the fact that convention delegates AND electoral college delegates are not bound AT ALL to vote the way the public has directed them to.  It's a strange little quirk that means that, quite literally, anything can happen.  Somewhere, right now, someone's developing a film about a dog becoming President.  (Hmm, there's nothing here in the Constitution that says a dog CAN'T be President...)  

So, since this election could go down to the wire, it's time I addressed the political stuff.  I've moved the Robin Williams comedy "Man of the Year" up on the schedule, because I think that could have some relevance.  I'm making plans to see this documentary "The Brainwashing of My Dad", which is directed by a friend of mine, with animation from a boss of mine, and I'm recommending it to others - it's all about how the right-wing media has used its influence and a bunch of half-truths to change the minds of older voters.  I'd watch and review it now, but there's a natural slot for it in about a month and a half, and then it won't affect my linking or my count.  

But let's talk about "The Warriors" with regards to politics.  If you're a Sanders Democrat, this film is all about the 99% of street gangs coming together, and realizing that if they're united, they vastly outnumber the 1% of the police who control everything.  Each NYC street gang is only 10 or 12 guys, but if they could get themselves organized, work out some kind of system, they'd be unstoppable with regards to the redistribution of wealth and "turf".  

If you're a Republican, you can get an advance look here at what this year's National Convention is going to be like, especially if handguns are allowed on site, a topic now being debated.  SPOILER ALERT: Yeah, that doesn't end well.  Because what's to prevent one yahoo (and that's all it takes) from firing at the podium and taking out the nominee, plunging the whole system into chaos?  Wait, I mean, maintaining the whole system into chaos.   We've already seen that anti-Trump protestors can get into Trump rallies, if you throw guns into the mix, well, you reap what you sow.  By all means, let one gun nut with bad (or good) intentions change the course of history, see if I care. 

Now, with that out of the way, "The Warriors" is a rather simple film - I think by adding in some political relevance I've giving it twice the credence it deserves.  It's just about 7 gang members who need to get across NYC by subway without getting killed, but don't 7 million people do that on a daily basis?  What's the big deal?  How is this different from any of a thousand other "quest" movies, like, most recently for me, "London Has Fallen" (trying to get the President across town to the embassy) or "Tammy" or "Dumb and Dumber To"?  

The other film that came to mind was "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", especially when some of the Warriors are enticed by the all-female gang, the Lizzies, to go back to their crib for a make-out session. This called to mind the Sirens from that Coen Brothers film, which of course is a reference to Greek mythology, the women who would tempt the warriors, using seduction to interfere with their quest or their journey home - but that would place "The Warriors" on a level with "The Odyssey", but I'm not prepared to do that just yet.  Maybe it's somewhat inevitable now that I've noticed the connection.  

So the story is simple, the acting is horrible, the only other thing of value here is a look back at New York City in 1979 - a time when average citizens were at the mercy of colorfully costumed gangs of characters who would shake them down for money.  Holy crap, that's just like Times Square today!  Seriously, someone took a look around at the gang colors at the time (red and blue, I believe) and expanded on that - there are 21 gangs in this film, including the Orphans (dull green), the Hi-Hats (they dress like mimes), the Boppers (purple vests + fedoras), the Baseball Furies (face-paint and Yankees uniforms) and the Punks (overalls and roller skates).  A full breakdown of the gangs is available on Wikipedia, I'm sure the fans of this film know the outfits by heart.  

As with several other "cult" films, I'm struggling to see the appeal.  But now I really want to play some "Grand Theft Auto" - but I can't today because I've got to get our taxes done.

Also starring Michael Beck, James Remar (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris (last seen in "Brubaker"), Tom McKitterick, Marcelino Sanchez, Terry Michos, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Roger Hill, Lynne Thigpen (last seen in "Hello Again"), with a cameo from Mercedes Ruehl.  

RATING: 4 out of 10 Molotov cocktails

Friday, April 1, 2016

John Wick

Year 8, Day 92 - 4/1/96 - Movie #2,292

BEFORE: Well, the original plan was to be deep into the Batman films by now, so that I could pick an animated one with the Joker in it for April Fool's Day - so much for that plan.  This is why I need to keep the schedule somewhat flexible and not plan too far ahead at one time, because then the addition of extra films to the skeleton-like schedule then pushes things too far from their targets.  Like right now the film I want to watch on Mother's Day is still about two positions away, but I've got like 3 films in mind that could play on premium cable between now and then, which I'm holding possible open slots for, I just need for two of them to come through - heck, even one would work, I can always take a day off.

Willem Dafoe carries over from "XXX: State of the Union", and after this I'm done with spies and crime films (at least until I can link to the Liam Neeson chain) and getting ready for some superhero action.  

THE PLOT:  An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.

AFTER:  Between the "XXX" films and this one, which both feature a variety of classic cars and a lot of shooting, I'm getting that old itch to play "Grand Theft Auto" again - after I mastered "GTA 3" and "GTA: Vice City", two of the best video-games ever, I got halfway through "GTA: San Andreas" before giving up, and never even started "GTA 4" or "GTA 5".  My wife's going on a business trip next week, I think it might be time for me to go back to Liberty City and kick some ass again.  I can probably get through GTA3 in a weekend if I buckle down.

This is another film in the style of "Taken", where a professional agent or hitman has been out of that life for several years, and then gets dragged back in when his life or his family is threatened.  Here Wick runs into members of the Russian mob, and they work him over when they steal his car, and it just so happens that one is the son of his former employer, a man he did a lot of contract killings for in the past.  This allows him to have enough knowledge of the organization to get revenge, but having these prior connections seems a lot like a coincidental short-cut for the screenwriters to take advantage of.  A few references to a past we haven't seen, bing bang, and we've got enough a character with both the skills and motivation to go on a revenge-filled killing spree.  

There are no fancy gadgets here that spread biological toxins, no villains with plans for world domination, just a guy killing evil people.  That seems like both a positive and a negative, for while the story seems very realistic, it doesn't feel as big somehow as a Bond-style action film.  But there is an insight into the world of contract killers, which includes a hotel that specifically caters to them (providing medical service and supplies as needed) and also a look at the underground "cleaning crew" that takes care of things when you kill the entire hit squad that comes to your home to take you out.  I suppose it would be a bit unrealistic for one man to dispose of 12 bodies by himself - something they never teach you in hit-man school.   

Also starring Keanu Reeves (last seen in "A Walk in the Clouds"), Michael Nyqvist (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"), Alfie Allen (last seen in "The Other Boleyn Girl"), Adrianne Palicki (last seen in "Legion"), Bridget Moynihan (last seen in "The Recruit"), Dean Winters (last seen in "Conspiracy Theory"), Ian McShane (last seen in "Scoop"), John Leguizamo (last seen in "Moulin Rouge"), David Patrick Kelly (last seen in "Wild at Heart"), Lance Reddick (last seen in "White House Down"), Omer Barnea, Toby Leonard Moore, Daniel Bernhardt, Clarke Peters, Randall Duk Kim, with a cameo from Kevin Nash (last seen in "Rock of Ages").

RATING: 5 out of 10 stitches

Thursday, March 31, 2016

XXX: State of the Union

Year 8, Day 91 - 3/31/16 - Movie #2,291

BEFORE:, Well, March may have come in like two Grumpy Old Men, but it's going out with two grumpy young(er) men, and they're both playing spies - Vin Diesel and Ice Cube.  Samuel L. Jackson carries over for the last time this week - this is his 7th film appearance in March, but his 9th so far this year, because he did a voice in "Turbo" in January, and had a cameo in "Betsy's Wedding" in February.  So he's currently the lead contender for the star making the most appearances in 2016.  

Four days to go until "Batman v. Superman"...

THE PLOT:  Darius Stone, a new agent in the XXX program, is sent to Washington, DC to defuse a power struggle among national leaders.

AFTER: So apparently the first XXX is DOA, or at least MIA, so the NSA needs to recruit a new XXX (hey, it's the guy from NWA) to go to DC and stop the head of the DOD from taking out the POTUS and VP during the SOTU.  OK?  

Tonight's film comes with a free peek inside the heads of the marketing guys who run these Hollywood franchises - after tapping into the world of extreme sports for the first "XXX" film (and after Vin Diesel probably wanted too much money to be in the sequel), someone took a look around at the culture of 2005 and said, "Hey, you know what's big right now?  Hip-hop music!  Let's make the next secret agent really STREET!" Thank God they haven't made a third "XXX" film yet, because some jerk-off in 2009 would have created a hipster secret agent who fights terrorists between gigs and carries guns in his guitar case.  Get me Jesse Eisenberg on the phone...

Once again, I have to give it up for the "XXX" franchise, which has proven to be more influential in the spy genre than I would have thought.  With a cabinet member here plotting an attack on the White House, isn't this essentially the precursor to "White House Down"?  The Secretary of Defense is 6th in line to be President, meaning he only has to kill the Pres and 5 other people to become President himself (NITPICK POINT: he'd really have to kill 6 people, not the 4 mentioned here) and though this isn't set in that Star Trek mirror universe where people get promotions through assassination, it's enough to hang a movie plot on.  The speaker of the House only has to kill two people, so I'd keep an eye on that guy.  

EDIT: Other people on the IMDB pointed out the similarities between this film and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", mostly with regards to Samuel L. Jackson's character and what happens to him.  No spoilers here, but I do now see the connections there as well.

Like the first "XXX" film, this is all pretty basic spy stuff - we need to break into the vault where the files are stored, we need to hack the Pentagon - until once again we reach the final action sequence, which is just plain batshit crazy.  Here Darius Stone chases after the President and his kidnapper, who are on the secret high-speed Washington bullet train, in a Shelby Cobra that (shades of last night) rides on a convenient highway right next to the tracks.  Then he drives the car ON to the tracks, and as the tire treads wear off from the friction, the rims just happen to fit PERFECTLY into the track's gauge, so he's essentially turned the car into a railroad train.  Pretty sure that's impossible.  

Somehow the car catches up with the high-speed train, and he's able to blow off the back of the train, ram it with the car, and then jump from the car to the train while they're momentarily connected, before the car breaks off and falls off the rails.  Too many NITPICK POINTS in this sequence to even bother with, I'm afraid that once I start I'll never be able to stop.  

I wasn't kidding about Xander Cage, they apparently had him killed off-screen between the first film and the second, although it took place in a short DVD extra where Vin Diesel's character was played by a body double.  Apparently that was enough to fool the assassins, too, because they're planning on bringing Diesel back for the third film in the series, to hit theaters next year in 2017.  

Also starring Ice Cube (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Willem Dafoe (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Scott Speedman (last seen in "The Vow"), Xzibit (last seen in "8 Mile"), Peter Strauss, Michael Roof (also carrying over from "XXX"), Sunny Mabrey (last seen in "Snakes on a Plane"), Nona Gaye, John Gleeson Connolly, with a cameo from Todd Louiso (also last seen in "Snakes on a Plane").  

RATING: 3 out of 10 tanks on an aircraft carrier (bad idea...)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Year 8, Day 90 - 3/30/16 - Movie #2,290

BEFORE:  Almost done with March films, and the Samuel L. Jackson chain - both should run out at exactly the same time.  Then I've got to deal with April - which is mostly set already, thanks to this Batman & Superman chain I've got worked out.  There's also a film I want to see at the Tribeca Film Festival, however, and it should fit neatly in the schedule, then I can program all the way to Mother's Day and just a bit beyond. 

I've got about 2 dozen films that are languishing at the end of my watchlist, not connected to anything.  I should probably take a run through their cast lists to see if they can provide any filler that I need (2 more films, or 2 days off, and I'll hit Mother's Day square on...) but I have to accept that at some point, my links are going to run out, and I'll be left with a certain number of random films that will defiantly not connect to anything, even by subject matter.  It's too horrible to think about.

THE PLOT:  An extreme sports athlete, Xander Cage, is recruited by the government on a special mission.

AFTER:  The year was 2002, a former U.S. president (Jimmy Carter) had just visited Cuba, and a young Dick Cheney became the leader of the free world for a few hours while George W. Bush had a colonoscopy.  And the world was ready for a new kind of movie spy, the kind that could drive a car off a bridge, ride a snowboard down a mountain, and jump out of a plane very close to the ground.  

That's the theory, anyway - Vin Diesel had only been in a few movies at this point, like "Pitch Black" and "Boiler Room", and had only made ONE movie that was both fast and furious.  I know, it's hard to remember that far back.  

But mostly, this proves to me that the 1970's + 80's era James Bond films didn't have a monopoly on semi-seriousness.  This one sort of lives at the same crossroads, including both serious action and silly gadgets.  (Other spy films tend to be either more serious, like "Mission: Impossible", or more silly, like "Spy" or "Austin Powers" - this XXX film is right down the middle.)

And now I know that I've reached the saturation point on spy movies, because I'm seeing the same clichéd elements, again and again.  Xander Cage is recruited to be a spy (because of his prowess at extreme sports, of course) and is the standout among a group of 5 or 6 recruits, just like Eggsy in "Kingsman: The Secret Service" last night (and they both got in trouble for stealing a car, putting them on the agency's radar).  And they put the recruits through testing scenarios that might be real, might be fake ("Kingsman" again).  And there's a mercenary group here made up of former agents from Russia and other countries (Hmm, just like in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation")  Also, Cage's escape from being tied up looked suspiciously like the one Tom Cruise pulled off in that recent M:I film, PLUS there's a female agent who's deep under cover with the band of bad guys....

But I think I've got it backwards - I can't fault "XXX" for sharing story elements with films that were made 12 years later - if anything, I should be blaming "Kingsman" and "Mission: Impossible" for lifting plot points from THIS one.  But I think it also proves that "XXX" is pretty standard fare, because late in the film the villains have a biological weapon that's going to be used to take down a whole city (umm, that's like in every spy film, ever) and here it gets mounted on a submarine that for some reason, seems designed to never go under water.  So, therefore, it's not a submarine - the prefix "sub" meaning "under", after all.  

It's not until Cage drives after the submarine with a souped-up gadget-enhanced Pontiac GTO, and there are conveniently enough roads running right next to the river to allow this to happen, that the film goes from slightly silly to supremely silly - and I swear, after he and the car's passenger switch places without stopping the car (which only works in the movies, kids, try this at home and you will probably crash and die) he proceeds to fire a harpoon gun at the above-water submarine, then use a parachute to parasail behind it, then slide down the line to reach the submarine, and disable it at the last possible second.  Even for an "extreme sports" guy, no effing way.  

Also starring Vin Diesel (last seen in "Riddick"), Asia Argento, Marton Csokas (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Michael Roof, Werner Daehn, Richy Müller, Tom Everett, Danny Trejo (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Thomas Ian Griffith, Eve, Leila Arcieri, William Hope, with cameos from Tony Hawk (last seen in "Parental Guidance"), Carey Hart, and the band Rammstein.

RATING: 4 out of 10 fake tattoos  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Year 8, Day 89 - 3/29/16 - Movie #2,289

BEFORE: I had three experiences yesterday that resulted in me coming to terms with a character flaw of mine, and I think this helps me to understand why I seem to be so impatient about things, and not just with regards to my dental surgery.  You know how you can be standing in line to order food or to pay for something in a store, and you just want to strangle the person ahead of you?  I thought for a while this was maybe just a NYC thing, but I had real, concrete reasons yesterday why the patrons ahead of me needed to be taken down a peg.  First off, I was waiting to order lunch, and the woman in front of me took 10 minutes (no exaggeration) to order a couple of cheeseburgers.  She was saying, "Now, on the first one, I want lettuce, and...OK, just lettuce.  On the second one, I want lettuce, a slice of tomato, and what kind of cheese do you have?  American and what?  Cheddar?  OK, I want American on the first one, and cheddar on the second one.  Wait, can I get one on an English muffin instead of a bun?  OK, the one with cheddar and tomato, put on a regular bun, but the one with just lettuce, I want on an English muffin..."  ARRGH!  I couldn't even START my order for a sandwich until she finished, and there was absolutely NO sense of hurry-up on her part, there was just this enormous sense of entitlement that what she's doing is really important.  No, it's not, even if you love cheeseburgers, and you want them a specific way, there's a better way of ordering.  How about "Two cheeseburgers, one on an English muffin", and then you just pick off the stuff you don't want?  Finally I ordered my sandwich, using only seven syllables, and two of those were "to go".  Look, there are eating establishments where I can get very specific, and if you want to get a sandwich that will take 5 minutes to order, I can take you to that kind of restaurant, but a little hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon joint in Chelsea is not one of those places.  

Later I went to the comic-book shop, and had a similar experience - this guy walks up to the cashier with four copies of the same comic, only with different-colored backgrounds on the cover.  He needed to know if these were really the same comic-book inside, beyond the differences in the cover (which seems like a question that should answer itself - do they have the same issue number?)  And then he launched into a discussion with the cashier about why the character in this book was his favorite - which only delayed my desire to pay for my books and go home even further.  Now, I'm all for making polite conversation with the clerk at the store, but NOT when there's a line of people waiting to pay!  And anyway, any question about the content of a book should have been directed to an employee working out on the floor, not the cashier - who should only be concerned with helping people pay for their books and exit the store.  I wanted to drag this guy across the room and throw him down the stairs (the comic-book shop is on the second floor) but I showed restraint.  

The common factor here, beyond my short temper, is the fact that I'm keenly aware that these people are not going about things the correct way (according to my definition, but when it comes to ordering food and buying comics, I'm something of an expert.)  The third time this feeling exerted itself yesterday came when I was booking my AirBnb reservation for San Diego Comic-Con.  Last year I switched from the frantic search for a reasonably-priced hotel to a slightly less frantic search for a rented room, and the results were good.  I already booked my boss into his first-choice hotel this year by going through official Comic-Con housing for the first time, but I'm on more of a budget, and the hostel-like hotel I stayed at for years is now only taking reservations two weeks in advance, and I just can't take that chance.  If I'm going to get 5 nights of accommodation in the $500-600 range, AirBnb is now my best bet.  And there are rooms listed for the San Diego area starting at $50 per night, ideally I'm looking for something within trolley distance from the Convention Center, ideally from a host who's either new to AirBnb or has no idea what Comic-Con is, because those who do know they can double or triple their rates during the convention.  

So I tried to book a room at a $50/night rate, and then at a $65/night rate, only to have my requests declined, because the hosts were planning to raise their rates during Comic-Con week - which they have every right to do, but the correct way to do this is to select the "festival pricing" option on the calendar, and then assign an increased rate to that week in July.  If they don't do this, then the room looks open for that week at that price, and increasing the rate later amounts to a "bait-and-switch", which is against the terms of service for the site.  But when I try to point this out to the host, since I know the correct way of doing these things, and they apparently don't, then they get mad at ME.  Hey, I'm just the messenger here, you signed up for AirBnB and you're bound by the TOS, as am I.  I'm just trying to benefit from playing the system according to those rules, and you can't just turn me down because YOU forgot to charge more.  Now I could get fussy and report these hosts, and maybe I'd get the room for the rate advertised, but it would just create bad feelings with the host.  It's better to take one attempt at stating my case and my superior understanding of the rules, and then move on.  

But whether I'm ordering a sandwich or booking a hotel room, why do I have this constant need to prove that I know more than other people, where does this come from?  Am I so starved for attention and praise that I need to prove I'm the smartest person in the room?  Part of me wants to trace it back to grade school, when I was fairly sure I was the smartest kid in the class, and maybe I got addicted to that feeling of superiority.  But I think part of it is feeling good that I believe everything is running efficiently, or taking comfort in the fact that I can often see a better way to get things done.  My dad (a man who knew the most efficient way to drive his truck between any two Boston-area cities, and then probably 17 alternate routes if that first one didn't work) used to take my sister and me to amusement parks, and he made us walk all the way around the park to make the most efficient plan, before going on any rides.  Maybe he was just trying to tire us out, but he taught me so much about making plans that the plan-making became part of the enjoyment for me.  When he eventually took us to Disney World, the place was too huge to walk around, so we pored over maps of the park the night before, to determine the most efficient (and therefore most fun-packed) way to see everything we wanted to see.  

Because life's not a destination, it's a journey, and if you're not traveling in the most efficient manner, then you're wasting time, and you might miss the thing you wanted to see most, even if you didn't know about it.  I almost feel sorry for people who are stumbling through life, and don't realize that with a few simple rules they can wring more enjoyment out of it, especially if they take pleasure in the creation and following of those simple rules, like I do.  

Final point to illustrate this - a few weeks ago, my BFF Andy was in town, and when I got off work we met at a new BBQ joint on the upper East Side - he got the burnt ends and some baked beans, while I had the advantage of sussing out the menu before-hand, thanks to the Food Network.  So I got the half-chicken and some sweet potatoes (with maple-glazed pecans) but I also knew that they had this giant beef rib on the menu, which they call a Brontosaurus rib.  Usually when I test out a new BBQ place I get a combo platter with brisket and some pulled pork, and an array of sides, so that next time I visit the restaurant, I'll know which items I like more than others, and I can focus on those.  But there was no way I was eating there without one of those ribs, even though some reviewers didn't care for it.  Afterwards, Andy expressed the opinion that I had "out-ordered" him, which was really just the result of proper planning and some quick decision-making, but when someone tells me that I planned something really well, I take it as a very high compliment.  

And that's really what I'm doing with movies, too, I'm trying out all the different items on the menu, and ultimately I'll have a much better idea at the end of this process concerning which movies I like better than others.  Still deep into Samuel L. Jackson week, but for a change of pace, he plays the villain in this film, I think. 

THE PLOT: A spy organization recruits an unrefined but promising street kid into the agency's ultra-competitive training program, just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius.

AFTER:  Turns out this is based on a comic-book, together with "Edge of Tomorrow" and "Robocop", it sort of feels appropriate that I'm watching as many comic-book-style movies as I can, leading up to "Batman v. Superman" - and then after that I've got a path that will take me to "Ant-Man" and the recent "Fantastic Four" reboot.  But "The Secret Service" is not a comic that I've ever read, but it's interesting that this film's director also produced "Snatch" and directed both "Kick-Ass" and "X-Men: First Class".  So, as one would expect, that puts this one somewhere squarely between British pub culture and superhero team sensibilities.  

For Americans, this confirms what we've long suspected about the U.K., namely that there's a Hogwarts-like school there for just about everything you can imagine, including spy training.  We see much of the film from the P.O.V. of Egby, who gets recommended for the program by the agent who owes his life to Egby's late father, who was also an agent.  And it's one of those programs that keeps testing its recruits with more and more dangerous tests, and some things that don't even seem like tests at first, and then continue until it's too late to pass them properly.  

The agency uses very British code names like "Arthur" and "Merlin", and they have an opening for a new "Lancelot".  Oh, and the biggest bad-ass in the agency is played by Colin Firth, which is a welcome change after seeing him in very meek roles, like in "Circle of Friends" and "The King's Speech".  He never came across before as someone who could take down a whole room of enemy targets, but that's what he does here. 

The gadgetry is ridiculous, of course, even outdoing the things you usually see in James Bond films, like submarine cars and magnetic watches.  Here there are bullet-proof umbrellas and stun rings and blades hidden in Oxford shoes - but again, it's a comic-book movie, so there are no limits placed on the imagination of the writers.  Nobody's going to complain that the gadgets and the action are unrealistic, because they're not expected to be.  The villain's second-in-command even has blades in place of legs, much like Oscar Pistorius, only they're much deadlier, like Wolverine's claws.  Sure, they work as legs and weapons, why the heck not?  Because nothing could be cooler than that. (NITPICK POINT: And I get that she can slice a man in half, but where is the blood?  Wouldn't it be all over the place?)

It's a long time before the villain's plan is revealed, at first we're only told that this billionaire was working to combat climate change, and then at some point he realized that not only had we passed the dreaded "tipping point", but that in the end, humans are the problem, so the most logical thing to do would be to get rid of most of the humans, so the planet can heal itself.  Because if we don't do that, then we're dead already, it's just going to take longer.  I feel like there's a flaw somewhere in this logic, but I can't quite place it.  And then when Valentine's plan is revealed, it's quite silly indeed, and it starts with giving every person on the planet free cell phone service.  Damn, why didn't Blofeld ever think of that?  Because that can only lead to mass extinction, right?

NITPICK POINT: This is the third spy movie I've watched recently (along with "Spy" and "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation") that would have me believe that for every agent out in the field, there is at least one person sitting in front of a bank of computers to give him advice, and that tech expert can see and hear everything that the agent can.  Now, is this based on any real knowledge of modern spy techniques, or is this just a movie-based convention to make things easier for the director to move the action forward?  Because when all the characters are on the same page, and nobody has to explain anything to their teammates, solutions can be created almost instantly - but I'm guessing that actual spy work is a lot more complicated than this.  I feel now that I must research this, because I feel that the screenwriters, in all cases, probably didn't - these movies just seem to borrow plot points from each other, after all.  

Also starring Colin Firth (last seen in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), Taron Egerton, Mark Strong (last seen in "Twice Upon a Yesterday"), Michael Caine (last seen in "A Bridge Too Far"), Sophie Cookson, Sofia Boutella, Mark Hamill (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Jack Davenport (last seen in "The Wedding Date"), Edward Holcroft, Tom Prior (last seen in "The Theory of Everything"), Nicholas Banks, Jack Cutmore-Scott, Nicholas Agnew, Nicholas Banks, Rowan Polonski, Fiona Hampton, Hanna Alstrom, Samantha Womack, Geoff Bell, Jonno Davies.

RATING: 6 out of 10 tabloid headlines

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Man

Year 8, Day 88 - 3/28/16 - Movie #2,288

BEFORE: Samuel L. Jackson week (mostly) continues, and I'm back to films where he plays some kind of policeman or federal agent.  That's where he seems to be the most comfortable, he built up such a rep as this type of character that he was a shoo-in to play Nick Fury in the "Avengers" films.  They even based the comic-book "Ultimate" version of Nick Fury on his likeness, years before he was cast to play him in the films.  (Not the first Marvel Nick Fury, who fought in WWII, but the rebooted second alt-universe one, and then also the third one, who I think is the son of the first one)

I'm reminded by the presence of Jackson, along with the actor that plays the Falcon, that I'm going to have to figure out a way to link to "Captain America: Civil War" when May rolls around.  I hope that I'm not spoiling my chances for linking to that by watching the Samuel L. Jackson movies now (I don't think so, he's not listed in the cast for that film on the IMDB...)  I can't be concerned with that now, because my path is set to link to "Batman v. Superman" in exactly one week, and then I've already figured out how to link to Passover, and then I'm going to try to link to Mother's Day. (which wouldn't be a problem at all if Mother's Day were on May 1 this year, but it's not, it's on May 8 - so I'll either need to sandwich in 7 more films in late April, or take a week off.)  

THE PLOT:  Special Agent Derrick Vann out to get the man who killed his partner, but a case of mistaken identity leads him to a salesman with too many questions and a knack of getting in the way.

AFTER: This is Comedy Writing 101 - find two actors who can play characters who are total opposites, and make them work together.  Hollywood keeps spitting out different variations of this, like casting Sandra Bullock opposite Melissa McCarthy in "The Heat", or Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara in "Hot Pursuit".  You can trace this trend back much further, to films like "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" or "Midnight Run", and I'm sure I could think of many other examples, going back to Abbott & Costello or Laurel & Hardy.   It must just work, or at least make writing screenplays easier.  

In this case, a tough ATF agent trying to track down a shipment of weapons for sale in Detroit has to team up with a dental equipment salesman, who's in town for a convention.  Because the salesman was in the wrong place at the wrong time, reading the wrong newspaper, and got mistaken for the agent trying to buy the guns.  The straight arrow who's never broken the law in his life (except for a convenient customs misunderstanding in Turkey years ago) is then forced by the agent to continue the charade and impersonate an arms dealer in order for the incriminating sale to take place - and to keep the guns out of the hands of real criminals.  

And here's what's important when you do one of these "fish out of water" team-ups: the characters need to be consistent, meaning that they each have an attitude, a P.O.V., something in their core that makes them act a certain way, and that shouldn't change, unless that's a slow change over time which results from their influence on each other - normally this would only manifest itself during the climax or the demouement (wrap-up).  They tried to do this with "Spy", take a meek character and put her into a position where she needed to be a strong character, but there was no consistency - one minute she was competent, then scared, then decisive, then unsure.  It's much easier to pull this off with two characters, with each one acting as a side of the competency coin - when a writer tries to pack every emotion into one central character, it can be a real mess, because the audience could end up unsure of who they're dealing with at any given moment.

Eugene Levy is just inherently funny, whether he's playing a very suave, knowledgeable character (like in the TV show "Schitt's Creek") or a completely clueless one (like the spacey Mitch Cohen in "A Mighty Wind") but here he has to split the difference, and play a man who's knowledgeable about family matters and dental products, but clueless about arms deals and police procedures.  No matter, he'll find a way to make it work.  His character also has a problem with flatulence when he eats red meat, and I didn't think this was necessary to make the film funny, it would have been just fine without pandering to low scatological humor. 

(ASIDE: I'm going to use the dental equipment connection to voice my complaints about dentists - I just had some dental work done, getting a crown on my front tooth, and dealing with a large cavity that developed some time in the last 12 years when I was avoiding dentists, so that necessitated a root canal.  Now, I don't have a problem with the work performed, as annoying and painful as that was, but my issue resulted from going to a large dental office, with many different dentists, hygienists, and an oral surgeon who only comes in twice a month to do root canals.  This meant that I've had three visits in the last two months, first for a cleaning & x-ray, then to get the root canal, and then last week to get the first crown.  And I still have to go back two more times, to get the second crown and a filling, for a second cavity which no one told me about on the first two visits.  

Why can't there be better communication between the various employees in the same dental office, and better communication with the patient?  Not telling me about the second cavity until my third visit makes me think that they're inventing new things to work on in my mouth, doing things that don't need to be done, in order to run up the bill.  Now, I get that the root canal guy is only in on certain days, but why wasn't there an attempt to keep the number of necessary visits down to a bare minimum - since nobody likes going to the dentist in the first place!  Let's try to combine some of these visits, people, and then the work can get done faster, and I can get back to ignoring my teeth again.  And please, when you shuffle patients along from dentist to dentist, like they're products on an assembly line, please take the time to explain each procedure, what it is and why it's necessary, before you tell me to open wide - because once I've got the dental tools and the suction thing in there, it's hard for me to ask questions. 

And why the need for a temporary crown?   Why are they putting something on my tooth to make it look better, when they're only going to remove it in 2 weeks and put on the permanent one?  Why can't they just go straight to the permanent one, and save a step?  It's not like I suddenly need my mouth to look perfect - if I had been concerned about the way my teeth look, I would have gotten the front tooth fixed 20 years ago!  And I was FINE with the chipped tooth for all that time, so why assume that I'm suddenly vain and need the temporary crown to make my smile complete?  Why not ASK me if I want a temporary crown, rather than assume that I do - when what I really hate is not having a chipped front tooth, it's inefficiency.  Come on, people, get your act together and save some of my time, and yours!  

Yeah, I wasn't a very good dental patient last Friday - something tells me they made a note in my file that I was being difficult.  End of ASIDE.) 

Also starring Eugene Levy (last seen in "Goon"), Miguel Ferrer (last heard in "Rio 2"), Luke Goss, Anthony Mackie (last seen in "The Fifth Estate"), Susie Essman (last seen in "Keeping the Faith"), Gigi Rice, Rachael Crawford, Horatio Sanz (last seen in "The Dictator"), Nestor Serrano.

RATING: 6 out of 10 surveillance photos