Saturday, April 16, 2016

Don't Say a Word

Year 8, Day 107 - 4/16/16 - Movie #2,307

BEFORE: "The Martian" was something of a nexus point for me, linking branched out in four or five possible directions - but only one path gets me to two more superhero films in the next two weeks, and also gets me to where I want to be on Mother's Day.  So Sean Bean carries over from "The Martian", and I kick off a Michael Douglas triple-play.  

THE PLOT:  When the daughter of a psychiatrist is kidnapped, he's horrified to discover that the abductors' demand is that he break through to a post traumatic stress disorder suffering young woman who knows a secret...

AFTER:  The film starts with a bank heist gone wrong, one thief double-crosses the rest, and keeps the best loot for himself.  Fast forward ten years, and the gang is back, looking to find their score, and the secret to that is somehow in the mind of an institutionalized teenager.  And the secret to getting that secret is to go put a psychiatrist through the worst Thanksgiving Day ever.  But there are plot problems, right from the start.  

In some ways, this seems like a precursor to the "Taken" franchise, it even stars the same actress as the kidnapped girl's mother - but while it made sense to have Liam Neeson play a former spy, who would therefore possess the necessary "certain set of skills" to take a gang of kidnappers down, it makes much less sense for a psychiatrist to have those skills.  OK, maybe he understands a bit about the criminal mind, but how did he get so good in a fight?  How did he learn how to evade police, and where did he learn how to drive a motorboat?  I have a feeling that once I start picking at the plot, the whole thing's going to unravel like a poorly-knit sweater.  

So, let's begin: NITPICK POINT #1) When the gang robs the bank, bypassing a fortune in cash just to get at a particular safe-deposit box, they've got just two minutes to carry out the whole robbery.  So if they know what they want, why do they spend a lot of time opening the box and rooting around in the contents (stocks, wads of cash, etc.) to find that thing?  Why not take the whole box and sift through the contents later?  Better yet, why not take 4 or 5 boxes, including that one they want, to make it look like a more random heist?  As it is, the cops will find one opened box that's missing exactly ONE thing, and they'll sort of know what they were after.  I can also question how they knew about that thing and where it was, but that's a pointless exercise, as the film doesn't seem interested in answering any specific questions.  

NITPICK POINT #2) These criminals JUST got out of prison, after a 10-year stint.  Where did they find the time and the resources to place cameras and microphones in (seemingly) every apartment in New York City?   OK, maybe they targeted just a few people, but they got surveillance equipment inside a man's apartment, without his knowledge, as well as a cell at a psychiatric facility.  How?  And more importantly, when?  The doctor's wife was home with a broken leg, so I suggest that there was no time when the apartment was unoccupied, during which they could have planted mikes and multiple cameras.  I'm calling "shenanigans" on this one. 

NITPICK POINT #3) There's some weird NYC geography going on here, with the psychiatrist working in Brooklyn, but living on the upper West Side.  And why does he ask his wife what the cross street is as he's driving home?  Doesn't he live there?  How does he not know his own cross street?  Then he has to get back to Brooklyn, during the Thanksgiving Day parade, and can't get through.  Wasn't he planning to go to see the parade with his daughter?  So wouldn't he therefore know the parade route, just as every New Yorker would?  (A true New Yorker would know the entire parade route, just to make sure to be nowhere near it on that day...)  

NITPICK POINT #4) So, the psychiatrist's daughter has the EXACT same type of doll that his patient had, when she was a kid?  I guess it's possible, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of types of dolls, so the odds are way against this.  OK, so it symbolizes how alike the two girls are in some way, or possibly it's just a way to keep the budget down by buying one less prop.  Either way, it's a little odd. 

NITPICK POINT #5) The graves in a "Potter's Field" are not usually marked by individual gravestones or crosses.  That's the whole point of a Potter's Field, the bodies are all lumped together, since they're unidentified, there's no need to separate them.  Beyond that, how can this girl's father be buried in a Potter's Field, as if he were unidentifiable?  There's a file on her, the doctors know her name, plus the police know the members of that gang - so is her father known, or unknown?  This is very unclear.  (Not to mention that we're led to question whether the girl is crazy or not, the movie can't seem to stay consistent on any point, small or large...) 

I'm going to allow the fact that the characters in this film somehow travel to three different NYC boroughs in the same day, from Brooklyn to Manhattan to Brooklyn again, to Chinatown in Manhattan, and finally up near the Bronx - but again, it's Thanksgiving, maybe there's not much traffic because everyone's either watching football or asleep after a big turkey dinner.  And I saw the thing with the numbers coming a mile away, even though there was a much simpler, more logical answer for the discrepancy that they did not use.  Still, too many things just don't add up here. 

The "Bridgeview" Psychiatric Center is fictional, of course, but there is a Manhattan Psychiatric Center, which is not on the island of Manhattan at all, it's on Randall's Island.  We've passed it for years when we take the BQE up to see my parents at Christmas, and we usually joke about it (even though at the time we were mis-identifying it as Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, which is way the hell out in Queens).  I'd always joke that after a few days at my parents' house, my wife should drop me off at Creedmoor on the way back.  But it looks like they shot some of this there, that would be the only way to get that river view out of a patient's window.  

Also starring Michael Douglas (last seen in "Disclosure"), Brittany Murphy (last seen in "Clueless"), Famke Janssen (last seen in "Rounders"), Oliver Platt (last seen in "Flatliners"), Jennifer Esposito (last seen in "Summer of Sam"), Skye McCole Bartusiak (last seen in "Against the Ropes"), Shawn Doyle, Victor Argo (last seen in "The Pick-Up Artist"), Paul Schulze (last seen in "Zodiac"), Conrad Goode, Guy Torry.

RATING: 3 out of 10 flip-phones 

The Martian

Year 8, Day 106 - 4/15/16 - Movie #2,306

BEFORE:  I had more dental work performed today, got my second crown and my first filling, plus had the first temporary crown removed and replaced with a permanent one.  And the whole time I'm sitting in the chair, trying to ignore the drilling being done on my teeth, I'm thinking, "just an hour or so of this, and then I can go home and watch "The Martian".  You know, a film about a person who's got it worse off than me. 

This was a major goal of mine, to get to "The Martian".  I really should have watched it after "Interstellar", because they share so many things in common (more on that later) but I wasn't in the same "Go out to the movies on Monday nights" mode as I am these days.  I had my whole McConnaughey chain worked out, and a way to (eventually) connect that to "Star Wars: The Force Awakens", and when you have a path like that, adding a film like this could have been a detour, and I might not have been able to finish last year the way I wanted to.  (I certainly didn't want to reorganize my 2015 chain for the tenth time - nine, sure, but ten times is crazy....)  

But then the Oscars came around, and reminded me about this film again, so I made it a goal and a priority.  Bought the actual physical DVD and everything, then I just needed to figure out a way to link to it.  Mission accomplished, now the next goal is to link to a Passover and a Mother's Day film.  Ha ha, I've already got that worked out, so the next goal after that, to find a new goal!  How about that?

Chiwitel Ejiofor carries over from "Serenity", which really helped me out - for the longest time I had no way to link from that film, so it languished at the bottom of my list until I found the connections.  This always gives me hope that the films currently at the bottom of my list can also find their places in the vast chain, before I'm done.  But I know it's a real longshot for some films - more than likely I'll be left with a bunch of randos that will refuse to connect to anything.  

THE PLOT:  During a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney is presumed dead after a fierce storm and left behind by his crew. But Watney has survived and finds himself stranded and alone on the hostile planet. With only meager supplies, he must draw upon his ingenuity, wit and spirit to subsist and find a way to signal to Earth that he is alive.

AFTER: About a week ago, I watched "Starring Adam West", which pointed out that Mr. West's most famous role, before playing Batman on TV, was in the 1964 movie "Robinson Crusoe on Mars".  Over fifty years later, and we're right back there, with a man stranded on Mars - the more things change, the more they remain the same, right?  Oh, the movies look better, and the special effects are much more sophisticated, but this is just the concept of a cast away on an island that's much, much further away.  

If you think I'm disparaging the film, I'm really not - if I wanted to do that, I'd call it "Home Alone" on Mars, because as his crew blasted off, I was thinking about that moment in "Home Alone" when Catherine O'Hara's character suddenly realizes - when on the PLANE - that she forgot about Kevin.  (I still don't see how that's even possible, I mean, at some point you have to realize that you have one more ticket and boarding pass than you have kids on hand, right?  If nothing else, the airline staff would point that out, even if you're a complete nincompoop who doesn't count your children.  But then, we'd never have that movie.)  

This is a story of survival, of man triumphing over the elements, of a man whose spirit would not be broken, despite overwhelming odds - but there were some things that felt quite contrived to me, like the fact that Watney was a botanist.  If he had been any other kind of scientist, like a geologist or physicist, survival would not have been possible.  Yeah, it's kind of a "fait accompli", but also a contrivance, at least in retrospect.  I'm sure I can think of many others, like the fact that there's always a camera recording wherever Watney is - in the HAB, in the rover - there's always something his thoughts, and not just the invisible omniscient camera.  Sure, I get that without such a convenience, the audience wouldn't be able to follow along, but looking back on it, it feels like a cheat.  Yeah, I get that he needs to talk to the camera to stay sane (my wife was away last weekend, and I was having conversations with our cat by day 2) but still...

Again, my frame of reference here is "Interstellar", which I watched last September.  Side by side, they're nearly equal - both have Matt Damon in them, one in a starring role, and one in a supporting role.  Both have Jessica Chastain in them, same deal.  Both feature astronauts overcoming incredible odds and hostile environments, and performing risky maneuvers in space.  But "The Martian" is just about a guy surviving and trying to contact Earth again, but "Interstellar" is about saving the whole human race, it seems to carry more weight in that sense.  Oh, I get "The Martian", tell a big story by focusing on the little things, but "Interstellar" went the other way, told a big story by going big.  And while "The Martian" ran two and a half hours and seemed to drag at times, "Interstellar" was over THREE hours long, and kept me on the edge of my seat for nearly the whole time.  

Plus, it's worth mentioning that I had no idea where "Interstellar" was going with its plot, and I figured I pretty much knew how "The Martian" was going to end.  Sure, my bad for not going to see it in the theaters, but shame on people who gave away spoilers - and I'm including the Golden Globes, who basically tipped the ending just by placing this film in a particular award category.  (We all know that if it bends, it's funny, but if it breaks, it's not...)  Am I still bitter about that?  Perhaps. I just know I was robbed of the chance to experience this film with a clean slate.  And that affects the suspense, the drama, everything.  

No, I didn't read the book first, for exactly the same reason - that would have removed all doubt over Watney's fate, and then bye-bye, dramatic tension.  From what I understand, the book was more involved in the methodology of surviving on Mars - so I guess if you like movies that emphasize the science part of "science-fiction", this is the film for you.  But if you prefer the fiction part a bit more, and dig black holes, then go with "Interstellar".  

But I'm still buoyed and encouraged by both films - the future of mankind, and man's space travel, is a lot more positive in the movies than it is in real life.  Just thinking about how someone has to calculate things like launch windows and mission lengths to get from one planet to another - it's baffling and exciting at the same time.  And this brings up the point I made the other day, about the meteor heading "straight for Earth".  Nothing heads straight for anything, because everything in the universe is constantly in motion.  If a spacecraft takes two years to get to Mars, you have to aim not at where Mars is, but at where it's GOING to be.  And then to get back to Earth, same problem - it's just not going to be in the place it was when you left it.  I don't know how you work out something like that, but hey, I'm no rocket scientist.  I can't even figure out how they tell which car's in the lead in a NASCAR race, when you factor in all the pit stops, and there are cars all over every part of the track.

Also starring Matt Damon (last seen in "Interstellar"), Jessica Chastain (ditto), Jeff Daniels (last seen in "Dumb and Dumber To"), Michael Peña (last heard in "Turbo"), Kristen Wiig (last heard in "How to Train Your Dragon 2"), Sean Bean (last seen in "The Island"), Kate Mara (last seen in "Transcendence"), Sebastian Stan (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), Aksel Hennie, Benedict Wong, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover (last seen in "The To Do List"), Nick Mohammed, Shu Chen, Eddy Ko.

RATING: 7 out of 10 disco songs

Friday, April 15, 2016


Year 8, Day 105 - 4/14/16 - Movie #2,305

BEFORE: I feel I'm at something of a disadvantage tonight, because I never watched the show "Firefly", which this is a continuation of.  So I have to play a little catch-up.  My reasons for watching this are three-fold: 1) because I keep hearing about it at Comic-Cons and such, 2) I got a copy to fill up the 2nd slot on a DVD with "Snowpiercer", and 3) it helps me link the Batman and Superman chain to the next set of films, with Summer Glau, the voice of Supergirl in yesterday's film, carrying over.

THE PLOT:  The crew of the ship Serenity tries to evade an assassin sent to recapture one of their number who is telepathic.

AFTER: I was so clueless about "Firefly", I thought there were puppets in it - I think my mind confused it with "Farscape".  Live and learn, I guess.  This is more straight-forward sci-fi, if that term even applies - but like the "Star Wars" series, it seems a lot like a Western film set out in space.  Set far in the future, after mankind has left Earth and gone through centuries of exploration and terra-forming worlds to sustain human life, there's an alliance among the inner planets (inner part of the galaxy? unclear...) who have won a war against the more independent outer planets.  One of the weapons used by the Alliance is a number of conditioned psychics who are also assassins.  

One such assassin is River, who ends up as part of the ragtag crew on the Serenity after her brother rescues her from the training facility.  The crew is made up of smugglers and part-time bank robbers, who survive on the fringes of society while trying to evade the cannibalistic Reavers.  They also encounter another assassin named The Operative, who's willing to kill them all just to get River back - it turns out that she might have read the minds of political figures and could be carrying state secrets, even if she can't remember them outright.  

But the best scenes are probably the fight scenes, where River goes into "advanced combat mode", and this is something that's popped up in several films already in the past month, most recently "Batman v Superman", and "John Wick" and "Kingsman: The Secret Service" before that.  All featured scenes with individuals taking down 40, 50, or 100 combatants while performing near-impossible fight moves, as if in a personal version of hyper-time or the "bullet-time" seen in the "Matrix" series.  All these years later, and that's still a thing?  I think maybe it's just a trend where each movie tries to one-up the last one by ramping up the difficulty factor. 

The Operative is a strange character, out to "rid the world of sin" - umm, that should be "worlds", I guess.  But to achieve that goal, he's willing to kill people - but isn't murder a sin?  So he's out to create a better society, just by killing all the bad people?  I guess he regards the killing of evil as somehow good, but that must be tricky if the definition of what's evil keeps changing, and things aren't always that black and white.  

I do like how there's an assumption that in the future, even after leaving Earth, humans will still have guns that shoot bullets, weird animated commercials and a desire to have sex with robots.  Ah, you crazy future kids. 

Also starring Nathan Fillion (last seen in "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"), Gina Torres (last seen in "The Matrix Revolutions"), Alan Tudyk (last heard in "Big Hero 6"), Morena Baccarin (last seen in "Spy"), Adam Baldwin (last seen in "The Patriot"), Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Chiwetel Ejiofor (last seen in "Amistad"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "The Judge"), Ron Glass, Sarah Paulson (last seen in "Mud"), Michael Hitchcock.

RATING: 5 out of 10 crash landings

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Year 8, Day 104 - 4/13/16 - Movie #2,304

BEFORE: Well, this is it, I've reached the end of the Batman and/or Superman chain.  I'm sure there are a few animated films that I missed, but these were the ones that ran on cable and made it into my movie collection.  I'm suffering from DC Heroes burnout, and I need to move on to other topics.  Like Marvel superheroes, coming up next week.  But first, some sci-fi, then a couple crime films.  It'll all make sense in a week or two - I know, I say that a lot.   But I really prioritized this time, many of the films coming up in the next 3-4 weeks have been deemed to be the most important or significant ones left on the watchlist.  After that, I can't be held responsible for what rises to the top of the list. 

Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly carry over as the voices of Batman and Superman, respectively.

THE PLOT:  Batman discovers a mysterious teen-aged girl with super-human powers and a connection to Superman. When the girl comes to the attention of Darkseid, the evil overlord of Apokolips, events take a decidedly dangerous turn.

AFTER: I think this might be based on the storyline in "Superman/Batman" comics that came right after "World's Finest" (which got turned into last night's movie, "Public Enemies") because that giant meteor headed "straight at" Earth (like that's even possible...) was a chunk of Krypton that also was carrying the spaceship of Kara, aka Supergirl.  No, this doesn't make much sense, because if she was in a spaceship, why is the spaceship part of the meteor?  Did the meteor hit her spaceship, or did her spaceship never launch properly, so it was still on the planet when Krypton blew up?  If so, how did the rocket not get damaged?  

Apparently she got into the rocket, which protected her from the explosion, and the life support and/or suspended animation got turned on, but then the planet blew up before her launch, and that chunk of the planet ended up being aimed right at where Earth was going to be, years later.  That's quite a series of unlikely coincidences.  But hey, it's a comic book, these things happen.  Wikipedia confirms at least some of this as her back-story, she was Superman's (Kal-el's) cousin, she was a teen when he was a baby, but her rocket got stuck in an asteroid, and she arrived on Earth years after him, but he was now older than her, thanks to cryogenics or whatever.

This is how they brought Supergirl into the DC universe, at least before the last reboot.  I don't know how they introduced her in the "New 52" continuity - but that's the problem with these animated films, especially if you follow the current comics, these films are only 6 or 7 years old, but they're already outdated.  Fans barely have a chance for these stories to register before the universe they take place in gets ripped to shreds and pieced back together again.  How are characters supposed to get loyal followers or fans, when their back-stories keep changing?  Whoops, sales are down 5 percent, better cancel that book, completely re-work the character and re-launch them with a new number 1 issue!   

You might also consider this film as a little peek into the future of the DC Movie Universe, in line with the "flash-forwards" we were shown during "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice".  Batman had a dream/vision of Earth in flames, being attacked by flying parademons - that's the work of Darkseid, but he probably won't show up in a movie until the 2nd Justice League movie or so.  Kind of like Thanos in the Marvel Cinema Universe, they keep teasing him, but when's he gonna appear for real?   

I never really glommed on to the "New Gods" section of the DC Universe, created by Jack Kirby back in the day.  Darkseid was a really important character around the time of "Crisis on Infinite Earths", but that was just before I began reading DC Comics regularly (I only read Batman, Superman & Justice League).  So I know a bit about Orion and Granny Goodness and Miracle Man and Big Barda, but only from them making guest appearances in the comics I've read.  

Also starring the voices of Andre Braugher (last seen in "City of Angels"), Susan Eisenberg, Summer Glau, Edward Asner (last seen in "They Call Me Mister Tibbs!"), Julianne Grossman, Rachel Quaintance, Andrea Romano, Salli Saffioti, Tara Strong (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2").  

RATING: 4 out of 10 hell spores

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Year 8, Day 103 - 4/12/16 - Movie #2,303

BEFORE: Two weeks ago, I happened to get a free copy of a promotional comic that tied in with last week's release of "Batman v Superman", so I just put it in with my regular comic books for that week, but I finally picked it up last night, only to find out it was a reprint of a comic I already owned, from the series "Superman/Batman" released prior to the DC reboot from about 4 years ago.  But, the story was the first issue of "World's Finest", the 2003 storyline which was turned into this animated film - what a great coincidence, and it conveniently reminded me of the plotline.  

Linking from "The Death of Superman Lives", from Kevin Smith I can backtrack through "Yoga Hosers" to Kevin Conroy, who provides the voice for Batman tonight.

THE PLOT:  When Lex Luthor gets elected US President, he uses the threat of an oncoming kryptonite meteor striking Earth as a rationale to frame Superman.

AFTER:  See, this is what I was talking about a week ago, after watching "Batman v Superman" - this is the Lex Luthor I'm more familiar with, he should be more Donald Trump than Mark Zuckerberg.  This followed the storyline (released in the election year of 2000) where Luthor was elected President, no doubt by promising to build a wall around the Earth and make the Kryptonians pay for it.  After turning the economy around, Luthor goes on to put a number of superheroes on the government payroll, including Power Girl, Captain Atom, Black Lightning, and Starfire.  

But Luthor's big scheme involves using the giant meteor heading to the Earth as a framework for setting up a situation where it looks like Superman has killed the villain Metallo (suggesting that the Kryptonite radiation must have messed with Superman's mind) and he places a billion-dollar bounty on Superman's head.  This causes an army of villains to attack Superman and Batman to collect it, while they're breaking into S.T.A.R. Labs to investigate Metallo's murder. 

Meanwhile, Luthor borrows the plot of "Armageddon" and sends missiles to destroy the meteor - and when that fails, chooses instead to let the meteor hit, so most of society can be destroyed, and he can rule over whatever's left.  (That's some crazy logic, huh?)  But after battling both Luthor's heroes, and then Hawkman and Captain Marvel, Superman fights Luthor while Batman rides a giant robot (built by Toyman) that just happens to be designed to look like half-Batman-half-Superman to destroy the meteor.  

Eventually, Luthor is revealed to have been injecting himself with liquid Kryptonite and Bane's steroid Venom, which has warped his mind, conveniently making him not responsible for his actions, but gets him both arrested and impeached.  So that happened - and I think Superman's childhood friend Pete Ross was V.P., so I guess he became President?  (Whoops, I guess that was only in the comics, not the animated movie universe.) 

All things told, it's a better-than-average storyline to turn into a movie, and they keep upping the ante by putting Batman and Superman against stronger and stronger heroes - first a few second-stringers, then a band of villains, then a couple of VERY strong heroes, and finally the meteor itself.  

NITPICK POINT: This is sort of a common mistake, I see it whenever there's a dangerous thing speeding toward the Earth, but movies tend to simplify this situation and fail to acknowledge that the Earth, you know, MOVES.  They treat the Earth as if it occupies a stationary point in space, which it does not - it orbits around the sun, and it won't be in the same place tomorrow that it is today.  So how can anyone tell when something's going to hit the Earth, without calculating where the Earth is going to be at that time in the future?  It's not like Earth is a magnet pulling in meteors from across the galaxy, or someone is aiming the meteor right at Earth, making adjustments as it goes?  Was Luthor pulling the meteor towards Earth somehow, or, more likely, is this just a simplification of the way planets move for the sake of the story?  

NITPICK POINT #2: Why did the missiles (and the Batman/Superman rocket) need to go through a wormhole in order to reach the meteor?  How far away was the meteor - if the missiles needed to use a wormhole, that means it was still pretty far away, right?  And if it was that far away, that means there was time to come up with an alternate plan, right?  Why not just remove the wormhole, move the meteor closer, and therefore decrease the deadline and increase the sense of urgency?   Or, if we have wormhole technology, why not set up a wormhole for the meteor to go through, so it won't hit the Earth?  Just saying.  

Also starring the voices of Clancy Brown (last heard in "Lego Batman: DC Super Heroes Unite"), Tim Daly (last seen in "Against the Ropes"), Xander Berkeley (last seen in "Amistad"), Corey Burton, Allison Mack (last heard in "The Ant Bully"), John C. McGinley (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), CCH Pounder (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Levar Burton, Brian George, Jennifer Hale, Ricardo Chavira, Rachael MacFarlane, Calvin Tran, Alan Oppenheimer, Bruce Timm (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2"), Michael Gough, and Mark Jonathan Davis (better known as the modern-day lounge singer, Richard Cheese)

RATING: 6 out of 10 news bulletins