Saturday, May 7, 2016

24 Hour Party People

Year 8, Day 128 - 5/7/16 - Movie #2,328

BEFORE: Steve Coogan carries over from "The Trip", and so do two other actors.  This time Steve's not playing a fictionalized version of himself, but a fictional version of record producer Tony Wilson.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "CBGB" (Movie #2,204)

THE PLOT:  In 1976, Tony Wilson sets up Factory Records and brings Manchester's music to the world.

AFTER:  This biopic of the founder of an (allegedly) influential record label traces all of the major British recording acts of the early 1980's to one Sex Pistols concert in 1978, where they were all in attendance - members of Joy Division/New Order, the Buzzcocks, Morrissey, the lead singer of Simply Red, etc.  So this punk bad was so important, that nearly everyone who attended that concert (approx. 40 people) immediately either formed a band or was already in a band, and immediately began playing important British new wave, even though that was a punk concert. 

Yeah, I'm not buying it.  In the first place, the Sex Pistols sucked.  The only thing listening to them would cause anyone to do would be to run out and buy some earplug.  I've never understood why people think the Sex Pistols were talented, or even count as music - I think their cover of "My Way" was funny, but only because it was so terrible from a music standpoint.  And logically, how could any music that was so bad inspire people to go out and create music that was somehow good?  Unless everyone at that concert suddenly thought, "Hell, my band's better than THEM!" or "I bet I could get up on stage and be popular, if these wankers can do it!"  

I don't mean to sound like an old fart, I like a lot of 80's music, it's the decade I was a teenager, but I followed the American charts mostly.  Sure, I knew at the time who the Beatles and Stones were, and by the time I got to college I was appreciating the Kinks and Led Zeppelin, but I never found a place in my music library for Joy Division, the Smiths, the Cure, or Siouxsie and the Banshees, and I can't even stand The Clash - hearing "London Calling" or "Rock the Casbah" is always my cue to change the radio station.  So maybe you have to appreciate that style of music first in order to really enjoy this film. 

Tony Wilson's character narrates his own story, well, he really claims to only be a minor characer in his own story, but it's a constant case of breaking the fourth wall - the films breaks a lot of conventions, including pointing out the instances where the real founders and employees of Factory Records appear in cameo roles.  Well, it's a good thing that they did that, because the audience probably has no idea what they look like, but it still works against the suspension of disbelief.  And then in one case, where Wilson's wife is seen having sex in a bathroom with a man named Howard, the real Howard is immediately revealed as a janitor in the room, with the claim that "it didn't happen this way".  OK, maybe not, but then why is it being depicted in the wrong way?  

I've worked with musicians and composers, getting them to sign contracts for the use of their songs in animated films.  With a few exceptions, most I've dealt with prefer to sign a contract that they understand, one that I wrote in plain English, not legalese, that explains simply how much they're getting paid, that the song will be used however the director wants in the film, but they'll retain copyright and ownership of the song, plus receive royalties when the film is broadcast.  According to this film, Tony Wilson had similar agreements with his acts, but the problem then becomes that larger record companies and music rights organizations don't consider these to be proper contracts, and they're easily contested as a result, just because they're not 15 pages long and filled with terms that only lawyers understand.  Such is the way of the world. 

NITPICK POINT: There are a few non sequiturs here that just go completely nowhere.  For example, the depiction of a UFO sighting - to what end?  And didn't "Velvet Goldmine" use exactly this same plot device, and have it also dropped in with no connection to the film's other events?  Who's copying who, and what's up with all the UFO's over Britain?  Or are these people so high on ecstasy that they're having mass hallucinations?   Similarly, we're led to believe that for some reason, an incident where two future band members poisoned several hundred pigeons is somehow a major turning point in their lives, but HOW?  The film never takes the time to explain how this influences anything.

Also starring John Thomson, Lennie James (last seen in "Get On Up"), Shirley Henderson (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Paddy Considine (last seen in "The World's End"), Andy Serkis (last heard in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Paul Popplewell (last seen in "The Trip"), Rob Brydon (ditto), Ron Cook, John Simm, Peter Kay, Martin Hancock, Sean Harris (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"), Simon Pegg (ditto), Kate Magowan (last seen in "Stardust"), Ralf Little, Tim Horrocks, Danny Cunningham, Chris Coghill, Kieran O'Brien, Raymond Waring, Dave Gorman, Enzo Cilenti, with cameos from Christopher Eccleston (last seen in "28 Days Later...", and the real Tony Wilson, Howard Devoto, Paul Ryder, Rowetta, Mike Pickering and John DaSilva. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 demo tapes

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Trip

Year 8, Day 127 - 5/6/16 - Movie #2,327

BEFORE: Actor Steve Coogan carries over from "Around the World in 80 Days" - here he plays an actor named Steve Coogan, so it seems like this is the role he was born to play, unless this is a highly fictionalized version of himself.

THE PLOT: Steve Coogan has been asked by The Observer to tour the country's finest restaurants, but after his girlfriend backs out on him he must take his best friend and source of eternal aggravation, Rob Brydon.

AFTER: I watched this as a feature film, which is how it aired on premium cable, without realizing that it's an edited-down version of a BBC TV series, comprising 6 episodes of presumably the same material.  Whether it works better as a film or as a series is a debatable point that I'm not prepared to discuss.  I'm only able to review what I've seen, which is the just-under two-hour long film. 

There are obvious similarities here to "Sideways", with two men going on a life-changing road trip, and to "My Dinner With Andre", which similarly focuses on what two male friends talk about while eating at restaurants - only this film has fewer conversations about theater and philosophy and more debate over who does the better Michael Caine impression.  Really, in the end, isn't that more important?  

I'm getting to know a little more about Steve Coogan, that's what this week seems to be all about, but I haven't watched a lot of BBC shows since "Benny Hill" was in syndication, so I don't know much about his time playing Alan Partridge, which seems to be like the British version of "The Larry Sanders Show". So far I've only seen him as the tiny Roman Centurion in the "Night at the Museum" films, and in small U.S. comedies like "Our Idiot Brother" and "Ruby Sparks".  If "The Trip" has any basis in reality, then he's struggled to get roles in Hollywood, losing many in the last few years to Michael Sheen.  

I know even less about Rob Brydon - from the context I gather that he's worked with Coogan on and off, and has also done a lot of work for the BBC, particularly due to his vocal impressions.  His voice seems naturally to be right in the same vocal range as Hugh Grant, so he's got a head-start on that one, with other favorites being Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton, Tom Jones and a few that I wasn't able to identify, and he seems to be known for throwing his voice to create a character called "The Man in the Box".  I guess I'm a little disappointed to learn that British people don't just sit around quoting lines from Monty Python's Flying Circus, like we geeks all do in America.   

There's an obvious contrast between the (fictional?) Coogan, a divorced father who's on a break from his girlfriend, and the married (fictional?) Brydon, who's not as interested in turning the road-trip into a succession of one-night stands with hotel employees and other women. And Brydon seems a lot like Bobby Moynihan's character in "Sisters", in that he's always ON, always quoting lines from movies, so you start to wonder if there's anything to him beyond that, or if he's overcompensating for having nothing genuine to say. 
But on the whole, I support the idea of road trips centered around food, God knows I've driven (OK, ridden) to Atlantic City and Connecticut in search of quality casino buffets, and to upstate New York or out to Long Island on a quest for delicious barbecue.  The next step would be for us to take a trip down South and go on a real BBQ crawl, from Memphis to Kansas City, or from Dallas to St. Louis or something.  That would be nice.  

Also starring Rob Brydon (last seen in "The World's End"), Margo Stilley (last seen in "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People"), Paul Popplewell (last seen in "Twice Upon a Yesterday"), Claire Keelan, Rebecca Johnson, Dolya Gavanski, Kerry Shale, with a cameo from Ben Stiller (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"). 

RATING: 5 out of 10 ABBA songs

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Year 8, Day 126 - 5/5/16 - Movie #2,326

BEFORE: Well, it's clear that I was working on a Steve Coogan chain, and I was going to get there through "Night at the Museum", but that wasn't going to help me land on my Mother's Day film, so I followed the Robin Williams thread and added "Man of the Year" and three Amy Poehler films, and fortunately I found my way back to Steve Coogan, he'll be here for four more films in a row.

Thematically, this worked out rather well, because Flint Lockwood in last night's film was an inventor, and Phileas Fogg in this story (this version of it, anyway) is also an inventor.  That was unplanned, but I'll certainly still take credit for it. 

And it's Cinco de Mayo, I don't know if this trip around the world will pass through Mexico, but at least there's an outside chance. Will Forte, who voiced the main villain in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2", carries over and has a cameo as a British bobby.  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Around the World in Eighty Days" (1956) (Movie #1,300)

THE PLOT:  A bet pits a British inventor, a Chinese thief, and a French artist on a worldwide adventure that they can circle the globe in 80 days.

AFTER: The 1956 version of this story was the last film that I watched in 2012, and I used it as a sort of "Victory Lap" for a 63-movie virtual journey around the world, based on where each film primarily took place.  The trip started in San Francisco with "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and also ended in the same city, with "The Lady From Shanghai".  And to make things extra difficult and fun, the actor linking was maintained whenever possible, so really it was a giant mental organizational challenge, with an estimated distance (not actually) traveled of 48,100 miles.  The trail went across the USA to New York, then over the ocean to London, across Europe and down to Africa, across Asia and then Australia, over the South seas to South America, and then up through Central America and Mexico.  And if I hadn't stayed on the couch that whole time, I would have been even more exhausted. 

And it took me two nights to watch that version of "Around the World in Eighty Days", because it's a long film, with a convenient intermission.  As far as I can tell, that version stayed pretty faithful to Jules Verne's story, but this 2004 version?  Not so much.  A Chinese actor plays the role of Passepartout (originally made famous by French comic actor Cantinflas), plus they added a whole sub-plot about a stolen Jade statue, and a cadre of martial-arts villains trying to get it back.  

There are numerous other changes, like the female love interest being introduced while traveling through Paris, rather than India, and the addition of a lot of slapstick (the lowest form of comedy), not just the karate-based stunts, but also a lot of paint being splashed around, people falling out of trains and such.  

In its own way, this is a reboot of the Jules Verne story, but it's akin to that "Fantastic Four" reboot, in that someone set out to update the story by saying "Let's change this here" and "This would be more relevant if we had a minority in a major role" and then at the end of the process, the final result bears very little resemblance to the original story.  When you "update" just about everything, using the original story only as a framework for a bunch of newish ideas, well, you might as well just create a whole new storyline while you're at it, because at that point you're just one or two steps away.  And it's another example of how making hundreds of small changes, each of which seems to make some sense at the time, can result in a giant pile of nonsense when taken in together.  

But what they did manage to keep was the cameos of famous actors playing historical figures (though not nearly as many as in the 1956 film), and the fake-out ending from Verne's book, where the travelers think they have lost the bet, but forget to calculate that they gained a day by traveling east and crossing the International Date Line.  Essentially, the travelers set their watches forward one hour every time they crossed into a new time zone.  And after doing this 24 times, their calculations were ahead one day, so when they arrive too late on what they think is the 80th day, it's really only the 79th day.  But is this really the way that traveling works?  This always confuses me.  

They did travel west to east, but does this mean that if they had traveled east to west, they would have lost a day?  That doesn't make sense, because it shouldn't matter which way you travel around, logically the trip should take the same amount of time, when viewed from an arbitrary standpoint.  And if you follow this theory to its illogical conclusion, it means that if I can travel east to west and get through each time zone in under an hour, then I'll be traveling back in time, right?  That seems like it shouldn't be possible.  

Everything feels forced - the set-up with the bet feels forced, the love story feels forced, the humor feels incredibly forced, so in the end, nothing feels very genuine or sincere.  I mean, I guess they were trying to appeal to kids here, which doesn't really justify anything, but often people make children's movies so big and broad, it comes off as talking down to them.  Assuming that you have to make every joke very blatant so kids will understand them seems a lot like talking down to them, if you ask me. 

Also starring Steve Coogan (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Jackie Chan (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 2"), Cecile De France (last seen in "Hereafter"), Jim Broadbent (last seen in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"), Ian McNeice (ditto), Ewen Bremner (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Karen Mok, Perry Andelin Blake, with cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger (last seen in "Terminator Genisys"), Maggie Q (last seen in "New York, I Love You"), Richard Branson, Macy Gray, Rob Schneider (last heard in "Eight Crazy Nights"), Sammo Hung, Luke Wilson (last seen in "The Family Stone"), Owen Wilson (also last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), John Cleese (last seen in "The Big Picture"), Mark Addy, Kathy Bates (last seen in "Tammy"). 

RATING: 3 out of 10 Van Gogh paintings