Saturday, April 23, 2016

Terminator Genisys

Year 8, Day 114 - 4/23/16 - Movie #2,314

BEFORE: Today is Earth Day (wait is that right?  Maybe it was yesterday...) and I don't usually mark that occasion with a movie, but how about one where people are trying to save the world?  Yes, it's time for time travel again, I had two films on that topic in February, and I have four more I'll get to later this year, but since I had a J.K. Simmons chain of three movies planned, it's no problem to drop in a fourth, which also has the benefit of pushing my Mother's Day film to the exact day - no need to take a day off now to make that line up.  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Terminator Salvation" (Movie #486)

THE PLOT:  When John Connor, leader of the human resistance, sends Sgt. Kyle Reese back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor and safeguard the future, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline.

AFTER: I began this film with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation, because the film got such horrible reviews last year.  Plus they spoiled the film's biggest twist in the trailer (and the poster), and I'm still not sure if that was an incredibly dumb move, or an act of desperation - as in "look how far we're going to change the storyline you know, to try and convince you that our old franchise is new again!"  Still, I tried to put both of those things aside and watch the film with an open mind.  

I get it, everyone's trying to reboot their franchises - there are probably meetings all over Hollywood where people go up and down lists of the greatest films, trying to rework them.  "Hey, does anyone have a fresh take on "Jaws"?  Is it time to remake "E.T." yet?  What about "Smokey and the Bandit", who's got the rights to that?"  Think about it, in the last few years, Hollywood has re-booted or revised everything from James Bond to "The Wizard of Oz" to Robocop.  Not to mention "The Man from U.N.C.L.E", "Star Trek", "Planet of the Apes", Godzilla, "Jurassic Park" and "The Pink Panther", obviously because it must be cheaper and easier to revamp and re-tool than come up with a new, original idea.  A franchise film is closer to a sure thing, because it's already got name recognition, and could sell itself. 

But sometimes the franchise gets treated like it's made of Lego bricks, and the feeling is, let's tear down what we've built, put the pieces back together in a new way, and we'll have a new product to sell.  But that fits in nicely with time travel, because if you go back and change the past, that could create a new future, and then technically you CAN tell a new story, and ignore what came before.  That's what they did with the "X-Men" films, people kept pointing out that there were discrepancies among the first three films and the ones that came later - err, before, like "X-Men: First Class" and "X-Men: Origins - Wolverine".  Simple solution, have Wolverine mind-travel back to the 1970's, and change the past, therefore creating a new future that any stories can be told in.  

That's a bit like what happens here with the "Terminator" storyline.  We all know the story from the first film, future John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time to save Sarah Connor, while the evil robots send the Arnold-bot back to kill her.  Kyle meeting Sarah leads to the conception of John Connor, and with the destruction of the robot, the time-loop is closed.  But the franchise started messing with its own concept in the 2nd film, the Arnold-Bot then came back to SAVE John Connor, not kill him, and again lots of stuff blowed up and the world was saved again from Skynet.  

But here's the thing if you've got a working time machine, especially if you're a bunch of immortal, indestructible robots - you've got an infinite amount of time, and therefore an infinite of tries to get the result that you want.  So after the attempts to kill adult Sarah Connor failed, at some point Skynet targeted her as a child, while another Arnold-bot ("Pops") appeared on the scene to save her.  This changed the timeline to one where Sarah was raised by a Terminator, and grew up as a much tougher woman.  SO this time when Kyle Reese appears on the scene in 1984, she doesn't need as much saving, and she and her Terminator already have a plan in place to save the future. 

I still don't know exactly what the problem was that the fans had with these changes, unless it's the twist that was in the trailer that people didn't like.  Hey, man, that's time travel, you can't have characters bouncing around the timeline trying to fix things, and still be resistant to change.  OK, so you're not going to like ALL of the changes in the timeline, don't you like some of them?   You can't have it both ways, after all.  

That said, if I've got any NITPICK POINTS tonight, they'd probably stem from the fact that characters all seem to know things they're not supposed to know - like being aware that their timeline has changed.  No one would know this, because they'd have no frame of reference (that new reality?  You're soaking in it...).  Like you wouldn't realize it if everything in the universe suddenly got smaller, because all of the rulers would have shrunk, along with everything else.   The reality that you're in is the one you know, and if it changes, you change with it, unless you're the time traveler who's outside of time.   

I bet there are other big plotholes I can find if I think more, like who sent the Guardian back in time?  And why did Skynet send anyone back to ensure its existence?  Doesn't its continued existence prove that doing so is unnecessary?  That would be like writing a note to remind yourself to eat dinner, but doing it right after you finished the meal.  I bet there are a lot more things like that, but I'm too tired to try and think of them.  

Also starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (last seen in "Escape Plan"), Jason Clarke (last seen in "White House Down"), Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney (last seen in "A Good Day to Die Hard"), Matt Smith (last seen in "In Bruges"), Dayo Okeniyi, Courtney B. Vance (last seen in "Dangerous Minds"), Byung-hun Lee, Michael Gladis, Sandrine Holt, Otto Sanchez. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 paradoxes

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Mexican

Year 8, Day 113 - 4/22/16 - Movie #2,313

BEFORE:  Well, as long as "The Counselor" dealt with the cartels in Mexico, it just makes sense to follow up with this one.  Brad Pitt carries over for the last time, but the end of the Brad Pitt chain is also the start of the J.K. Simmons chain.  

THE PLOT:  A man tries to transport an ancient gun called The Mexican, believed to carry a curse, back across the border, while his girlfriend pressures him to give up his criminal ways.

AFTER: Well, this fits right in with my theme for the week - plans going awry.  Brad Pitt's character is indebted to a crime boss (long story...) and after performing a series of tasks (presumably) he only has to do one last, easy job - fly to Mexico, meet with a gun dealer, take possession of a rare pistol, and bring it back to the U.S.  Only nothing goes as planned, and within a day he's lost his rental car, the gun and the man he was supposed to meet.  

Meanwhile, his girlfriend heads to Vegas alone, on a trip that was supposed to be for them to take together, and gets intercepted by a gangster who keeps her as insurance, to make sure that her boyfriend follows through with the job he's supposed to do - because it sure looks like he's gone rogue, killed his contact and taken possession of the item for himself.  So they keep sending more and more guys to help him out, only things keep going wrong and he keeps getting into more and more trouble.  

Meanwhile, different people relate the backstory of the pistol, who made it and why, and discuss whether or not it's got a curse attached to it.  Considering all the things that go wrong to the guy who's trying to find it and hold on to it, maybe there's something to all that.  As in "The Counselor", Mexico seems to be full of gangsters and hitmen, only here there's more of a comic nature to the whole proceedings.  Pitt's character in particular is noble but stupid, like who goes to Mexico without any ability to speak Spanish at all?  Who thinks they can get a gun past airport security in their luggage?  Sure, there are a lot of holes in the guy's plan, but if you accept that his character is quite dim, then all that doesn't matter. 

The folk tale about the creation of the pistol is a bunch of hooey, and I didn't even really care whether it was true or not, but in the end it does provide a good justification for who should end up with the gun.  So I'm fairly fine with the way it all shook down. 

Also starring Julia Roberts (last seen in "Flatliners"), James Gandolfini (last seen in "Not Fade Away"), J.K. Simmons (last seen in "Jobs"), Gene Hackman (last seen in "Narrow Margin"), Bob Balaban (last seen in "Altered States"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "Serenity"), Michael Cerveris, Sherman Augustus, Pedro Armendariz Jr. (last seen in "Original Sin").

RATING:  6 out of 10 handcuffs

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Counselor

Year 8, Day 112 - 4/21/16 - Movie #2,312

BEFORE:  I had this film on a DVD with "The Rainmaker", but I wasn't able to watch the two films near each other last year.  Then I had it next to "12 Years a Slave" for a while, because it shares two actors with that film.  But if I had watched this one next to that one, then I wouldn't have been able to start the McConnaughey chain on schedule last fall.  So since I'm having a clearance sale, everything must go, I'm working it in here.  Brad Pitt carries over from "Fury", and he'll be here tomorrow as well.  And I was able to confirm that with the exception of just four films, I've had almost a complete turnover of my list, there's almost nothing that's been on the watchlist for much more than a year.  That doesn't mean that the films are all recent ones, it just means they've all been (relatively) recently added.  

THE PLOT:  A lawyer finds himself in over his head when he gets involved in drug trafficking.  

AFTER: A counselor, for some reason, decides to get into the drug trade - and everything goes absolutely fine.  Just kidding.  There are repercussions from the Mexican cartel, and things go horribly wrong.  Who could have seen that coming?  But I seem to have a theme developing for the week, with people reaching beyond their station, and plans going wrong.  Scott Lang in "Ant-Man" tries to stop being a thief, but then gets hired by Hank Pym to pull a heist.  The lead characters in "Nerdland" try to become instantly famous, but things keep going wrong, yet still they sort of fail upward.  And then in "Fury" the tank crew tries to pull a complicated subterfuge to take out a Nazi battalion, and then...

The conveniently-unnamed title character, our "everyman", aspires to a life of crime, which seems like a terrible idea, especially when the guy advising him looks like a Latino version of Tom Jones (the Welsh singer, not the literary character...).  And when the Mexican cartel doesn't like it when a bunch of newbies start dealing in their territory.  Say what you will about organized crime, these guys sure are organized.  OK, so getting drugs to Chicago can generate a four thousand percent return on your investment, it's only going to cost you all of your family and friends.  The cartel will not only kill them, they'll make snuff films out of their deaths, and then another film of someone having sex with their corpses (which, oddly enough, is another weird tie-in to "Nerdland".)  

At least, that's what I think happened in this film.  It's super confusing, not because the events are shown out of order or anything like that, it's just that nothing's very clear, especially when it come to who's working for who, or why anyone is doing any of the things they're doing.  When I have to go to Wikipedia to learn what the storyline is WHILE I'M WATCHING IT, that's a really bad sign.  Plus, I can't take Cameron Diaz seriously when cast as a drug-lord mastermind.  Plus I didn't understand why her ex-boyfriend let her continue to live with him, especially if she might be competing with him in business.  Was that a "keep your enemies closer" thing, or just really dumb?

Also starring Michael Fassbender (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Penelope Cruz (last seen in "Twice Upon a Yesterday"), Cameron Diaz (last seen in "The Holiday"), Javier Bardem (last seen in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Ruben Blades (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Goran Visnjic (last seen in "The Peacemaker"), Dean Norris (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Sam Spruell (last seen in "The Martian"), Edgar Ramirez, Natalie Dormer (last seen in "Flawless"), John Leguizamo (last seen in "John Wick").  

RATING: 3 out of 10 briefcases

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Year 8, Day 111 - 4/20/16 - Movie #2,311

BEFORE:  Well, it's a little embarrassing, but "Nerdland" proved to be a dead end - I've got no more films with Paul Rudd, no films with Patton Oswalt, no films with anyone from the cast (although it's tough to be sure, I saw other names listed in the "Nerdland" credits that are not on the film's IMDB page, someone needs to update that real soon...)

But, I've decided to do what anyone walking or driving would do when they hit a dead end - and that's back up to the last junction and take another path.  So Paul Rudd links through "Ant-Man" to Michael Peña, and this was the next film that was going to come after "Ant-Man" anyway because of that connection, so we continue.  

And although I don't believe in divine providence, it seems that the late addition of "Nerdland" has moved this World War II movie, set in Germany, onto April 20, which is Hitler's birthday.  It's things like this that make me believe some larger organizational process is at work, even if it stems from my own subconscious.

THE PLOT:  As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened Army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and his five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines.

AFTER: As an extra bonus, this is set in APRIL of 1945, and we're in April now.  You know I love when things happen like that.  

You kind of know when a war film gets touted for its "realism" that it's probably not going to have a feel-good sort of ending.  Meaning not all of the characters introduced at the beginning are going to make it out alive.  Look, I'm not an expert on tanks or warfare (and yes, there are probably "war nerds" who would pick this apart) but all you really need to know is that "war is hell".  

But it's a bit of a war-movie trope to fall back on telling the story through the eyes of the new, young soldier, and the older sergeant who takes him under his wing, but also teaches him the tough lessons about war.  So on one level, it's just "Platoon", but taking place in a different war - for that matter, it's every war film who tried to show the horror of it through the eyes of a (relative) innocent.  

It turns out that killing your first German is hard, but after that it gets much easier (hmm, there's a weird tie-in with "Nerdland" there, but no spoilers...).  Same goes for sleeping with your first German woman when you liberate her town - they'll all have sex with soldiers in exchange for a chocolate bar and some cigarettes, don't ya know.  By the time you get to the tenth town or so, the process is relatively routine.  

But you can't allow war to be routine, because each town is different, the Nazis are hiding in a different place, taking cover in a different way.  But there's a weird symmetry when the way that the Germans hide from the tanks to the climactic sequence, when the tank crew is forced to pull their own form of subterfuge, in a desperate attempt to survive a whole battalion of SS Panzer troopers. 

NITPICK POINT: There's an explanation or two about "tracer rounds", how every fifth bullet can be seen visually,  which aids the tank crew in targeting.  But this effect was used perhaps a bit too much, and as a result many of the battles resembled ones you might see in a "Star Wars" film, with elongated laser blasts of green and red being exchanged by troops.  I realize that calling soldiers in Star Wars "stormtroopers" hearkens back to the Nazis, but that's no reason for a battle in a WWII film to resemble an exchange from a sci-fi film.  

Also starring Brad Pitt (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Shia LaBeouf (last seen in "Lawless"), Logan Lerman (last seen in "Noah"), Jon Bernthal (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Jim Parrack, Brad William Henke (last seen in "Jobs"), Jason Isaacs (last heard in "Batman: Under the Red Hood"), Kevin Vance, Scott Eastwood, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg,

RATING:  6 out of 10 Bible passages

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Year 8, Day 110 - 4/19/16 - Movie #2,310

BEFORE: It's the day of the New York primary, and I screwed the pooch when it came to voting today.  I'm registered, I believe I could have, should have voted, but I didn't.  And now it's 7:40 pm and I'm seeing this film "Nerdland" tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival, and anyway, my heart's just not into voting today.  Let me explain why.

First off, if you're registered and you get the chance to vote in your state, or your country, you totally should.  Definitely, definitely - do as I say, not as I do.  Because a whole lot of people died over the years to preserve your right to do that, and not voting totally dishonors their memories.  Plus, there are people in countries who don't GET to vote, or not in a fair way, so you should reap the benefits of free elections and enjoy the fact that you live in a society that allows them.  OK, enough with the PSA.  

I'm abstaining from voting (yeah, that's good, that can work) not because I don't care, because I do care very much.  And not because I don't believe my vote counts, but rather because I know EXACTLY how much my vote counts, which is so small it's essentially statistically insignificant.  We've just got too many people in this country - and I don't mean too many Mexicans, or immigrants, or people of color, or anything like that - there are just. too. many. people.  What's one vote against the rest, when you live in a city of 8 million, a state of nearly 20 million, a country of (gasp) 319 million?  Thinking that my vote's going to change anything is like thinking I could choose the winning PowerBall numbers while being eaten by a shark and struck by lightning at the same time.  It's not going to happen.

I hear the arguments in favor of voting - "Maybe one vote can't change things, but ten thousand votes like yours can".  OK, go out and get those ten thousand votes, then give me a call.  But at that point you probably don't even need me, because you've got those ten thousand other people.  "But what if nearly everyone was like you, and didn't vote?"  Well, then those people that found a way to get to the polls would find that their votes were suddenly very important.  And, you're welcome.  

But allow me to make a distinction between the people who were just too lazy to vote (and I get that, I really do, I understand lazy) and people who were too busy.  Turns out I was both, too lazy and too busy, but let's focus on the "busy" part for a moment.  I had to work in Brooklyn today, which means from my place in Queens, I had to go into Manhattan and catch an express subway to Brooklyn.  

My boss got a short accepted into the Tribeca Film Festival, as part of a block programmed by Whoopi Goldberg.  We had an opportunity to get several free tickets for other screenings, but I let the deadline pass, because I hadn't found any other scheduled films I wanted to see.  But a few weeks ago,  I checked out the whole program guide, and I found "Nerdland", a film animated by a studio that's just down the street.  AND it featured the voice of Paul Rudd, and I realized it would fit right into my schedule, especially if I watched "Ant-Man" on April 18.  So it seemed like a sign, it had to happen, so I bought a ticket, not realizing that April 19 was also the date of the NY Primary.  

The screening's not until 9:15 pm, so theoretically after I got out of work, I could have gone back home to vote.  But that would have meant going Queens to Manhattan to Brooklyn, back to Manhattan, back to Queens, back into Manhattan to see the film, then finally back home to Queens.  Yeah, I'm not doing that. Too much travel.  So it's Queens to Manhattan to Brooklyn, into Manhattan to see the film, home to Queens, and no voting.  

Oh, I suppose I could have gotten up early, maybe voted around 9 am, then started my day, but the voting place is in the OPPOSITE direction from the subway, so I would have had to walk like 7 blocks, then 7 back, then two to the subway.  Again, not doing that.  Plus, I'm not a morning guy - the only way I would be there at 9 am would be to stay up all night, and then I'd be a wreck for the rest of the day.  Look, this is the digital age, why can't I vote on my computer, why isn't there an app on my phone that allows me to take part in the democratic process?  Why does it involve so much walking, isn't that an unfair system against people who have trouble walking, or don't own cars?  Aren't those people being repressed and their voices not being heard?  I should hold my vote back in a silent protest of solidarity...

Look, if it's any consolation, I feel really bad about it, OK?  I hemmed and hawed over which candidate to choose, the one who has a ton of scandals but could end up being really proficient at the  job, or the one who's promising everyone the moon but may not be able to deliver those things.  I believe that HE believes he can deliver, but I strongly suspect he's delusional.  Truth be told, I don't like either candidate, and maybe that's part of why I'm OK with not voting.  But as I said, I feel bad about it, so I promise to vote in November for whichever candidate isn't Trump, OK?  We cool?

So now I'm waiting for the early results, which might come in around 9 pm, but most likely they won't post anything until I'm halfway through this movie.  I'll know when I come out of the theater whether my lack of voting had any effect upon society, but I'm betting that it won't.  Who knows, maybe Clinton will lose New York by ONE VOTE, and then we can all point to "Nerdland" as the film that maybe changed the course of history.  For want of a nail, and all that - if I hadn't bought this ticket, I would have gone home and voted after work, and we'd have a female President.  OK, if that happens, it's on me.  

BUT, I lived through the 2000 presidential election - so I have much more right to be jaded and cynical than any of these damn slacker millennials do.  I know that if any election is that close, like with 1 or 2 percent separating the candidates, then someone's going to contest things or demand a recount.  And then we'll have that situation where they count the votes 17 times and get 17 different results.  Welcome to the world of politics, kids.  It's filled with shady dealings and disappointment and watching the a-hole you didn't vote for win, and someday you'll be as jaded as I am, for real.

I don't think I'm far off-base here, because this whole election season has been the craziest, dumbest, most soul-crushing political period I've ever seen.  I'll wrap up for now, but in a few weeks I've got a film or two about politics, and I reserve the right to pick up this topic again then.  But I think the whole system stinks, it feels like a season of "American Idol" with no stand-out singers, and every week instead of voting for the best, people just vote for the least worst, and that's really not the same thing. 

THE PLOT:  Story of two best friends, aspiring screenwriter Elliot and aspiring actor John, whose dreams of super-stardom have fizzled. With their 30th birthdays looming and their desperation growing, John and Elliot decide that in this 24/7, celebrity-obsessed world of over-shared navel-gazing, there are more ways to become famous -- or infamous -- then ever before.

AFTER: The animation studio here is Titmouse, a name you may recognize if you've seen "Venture Brothers", "Metalocalypse" or "Super Jail".  I haven't watched those shows, because I work for a living, and my Adult Swim viewing is therefore limited to new episodes of "Robot Chicken".  I think I'm probably too old for the rest of their line-up.  So I'm coming in at a loss here, I have to just review the movie put before me, without much background.  

I approve of animation made for adults, I work for a studio that makes animation for adults, and so I want to support animation made for adults.  Among my co-workers, the anticipation for "Nerdland" is probably second only to "Sausage Party", a CGI film full of anthropomorphized grocery food, coming out this summer.  But again, let me try to stick just to "Nerdland" and judge it on its own merits.

It's not too much of a mental leap from "Beavis and Butthead" to John and Elliot.  Maybe if those kids finally stopped watching videos and got off the couch, moved to L.A. and tried to find work in the entertainment industry.  In the meantime, they have to support themselves with various jobs to pay the rent - and just like Scott Lang in "Ant-Man", Elliot's been fired from an ice-cream shop (and a record store, and a video-store, and...)  

But in a few days they'll both be 30 years old (Ya feel that, millennials?  It's coming...) so they decide to take the fast-track to being famous, and these days that means only one thing - making internet videos.  When that doesn't work, they decide to become hackers, then pop-culture news heroes, and when THAT doesn't work, really, there's only one solution, right?  If the first two words you thought of were "hard work", then you're way off-base.  Think more like "murder spree".  I think the twisted logic that gets them there is quite an interesting turn, even though if we like these guys, we don't want to see them kill a bunch of people.  

But there's a message here, kids, if you can stop texting long enough to hear it - there is NO fast track to fame.  For most people, there isn't even a slow track.  Every person who became famous, for the right reasons anyway, had to work hard to get there.  I heard some rock stars bad-mouthing "American Idol" about a month ago, because it seemed like such a fast-track to them, and the people involved don't seem to be paying their dues.  Yeah, but nobody has natural talent, not even pop stars, they have to practice, they have to learn songs, they have to get up on stage and perform.  They even have to appear in silly Ford commercials, and that's not easy.  

Oh, sure, there are YouTube stars, and there are Kardashians.  But even YouTubers have to work hard to make good videos, and anyone who has success thrust upon them for the wrong reasons - do you really WANT their kind of fame, in the end?  You might have some money, but no soul.  So quitcher whining and get a job, because no one's going to give you a free college education, and nobody's going to successfully wrestle money from the corporations and banks and distribute it out to twenty-somethings.  

I say this with confidence, because I came out of the screening to learn that Clinton won the NY primary, 57 to 42 percent at last count, which really saved my bacon.  OK, so the state delegates are going to be split, but it looks like she'll get 135 of them, and she now needs only 500 or so more for the nomination.  See, everything worked out fine, when you're stressed about something, you should just go to the movies and try not to worry about it.  Well, go and vote first, then go to the movies. 

My main complaint is that the film is called "Nerdland", and the two main characters aren't really nerds, they're more like slackers.  The main nerd in the film is an overweight man who runs a collectibles store and wears a crown (King of the Nerds), but he's too much of a stereotype, an urban version of Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons" or The Collector from "PowerPuff Girls".  And like those other stereotypical nerds, he'll do just about anything for you, as long as you can get him a rare action figure that's MIB.  But we've all seen plot points like that before, right?  

Look, I've been across the country, I've met nerds from coast to coast.  Nerds are, for the most part, decent people, and the vast majority of them are hard-working and not very murder-y.  And they have smart phones, not flip phones - they love technology, after all!  If you're going to call a film "Nerdland", maybe put a few more nerds in it, that's all I'm saying. 

Also starring the voices of Patton Oswalt (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Hannibal Buress (last seen in "Neighbors"), Julie Galdieri, Mike Judge, Riki Lindhome (last seen in "Fun Size"), Kate Micucci (last heard in "Rio 2"), Laraine Newman, Paul Scheer (last seen in "Rapture-Palooza"), Sally Kirkland, Laura Silverman.

RATING: 6 out of 10 Bloops