Saturday, August 6, 2016

Pitch Perfect 2

Year 8, Day 218 - 8/5/16 - Movie #2,413

BEFORE: Maybe I should have tried a little harder to cram some more films into the chain last week, because now it seems that a back-to-school film is scheduled just a bit too early.  I don't seem to have any other high-school or college-set films on the list, but maybe something will arise.  

Keegan-Michael Key carries over from "Vacation".  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Pitch Perfect" (Movie #1,522)

THE PLOT:  After a humiliating performance at The Kennedy Center, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform.

AFTER: I may be tough on time-travel films, but I'm even tougher on films about a cappella, because I used to be part of that world, back in the late 1990's for a time.  It's a tough racket, performing and arranging and trying to get your group some recognition, and I didn't like when "Pitch Perfect" made it look so easy.  "Oh, we just need to rehearse more - great, we won!" and "Guys, I have this like superhuman ability to mash songs together, so I'll just do it!"  People study music for YEARS to be able to arrange medleys, and to suggest otherwise would be like making a film where kids build a rocket in their backyard and it takes them to the moon.  Or, you know, maybe a time machine.

The other two things I didn't like about "Pitch Perfect" were the overuse of the two commentators DURING the performances (the competitions don't have running commentary like sports does, because then people wouldn't be able to hear the singing) and the infamous riff-off that took place in the empty pool.  Because to have that level of continuous singing - the next group has to jump in at the right moment, the song has to be on the same topic AND a word has to carry over from one song to the next - you would need to have the whole thing planned out in advance for all that to happen, and the battle was (allegedly) spontaneous.  Oh, and the members of each group seemed to all know what their lead singer was going to do, without discussion, so that implied some kind of group ESP or mind-meld.

On the first point, "Pitch Perfect 2" still has the commentator (I'm sorry, the word has too many syllables, it should be "commentor", because they comment, they don't "commentate") characters, but now they host a podcast about a cappella.  This is a slight improvement over speaking DURING the performances - but still, who the heck is listening, when they could be listening to the singing, instead of people talking about the singing?  And wouldn't the real fans rather see the performances as well, like the stage moves and such?  It seems like their only podcast audience would be blind a cappella fans.

On the second point, same old problem.  There's a "secret" a cappella sing-off, hosted by a weird millionaire in his enormous private ballroom or something, and somehow groups from around the world find their way there, even though the world championships are in a totally different country.  At least this time words don't have to carry over from song to song, but the BEAT does - this is a bit more reasonable.  But again, one assumes that when the lead singer says "I got this one!" somehow his group will immediately fall in line with backing vocals, even though he never told them what song he was about to break into.  Well, what key is he going to sing in?  Which part is everyone going to cover?  Why don't 3 people in the group say, "Wait, what's my starting note?"  Sure, they're supposed to be good singers, but they're not mind-readers.  Maybe they've got a few arrangements worked out in advance, but this ability to demonstrate the group mind-sing is really far-fetched.

Plus, and here we're in total NITPICK POINT territory, why would a singer tell his group, "I got this one!" when he clearly didn't have an idea?  Would a baseball outfielder say "I got it!" when he's nowhere near the ball?  This didn't make any sense.  And on a seemingly random topic, another singer claimed to be an expert, and then proved that he was anything but.  Very contrived, but the plot demanded that certain groups be eliminated at certain times, to help move the scene along.

Obviously, I realize the entire sing-off was carefully arranged in advance.  A cappella is not a sport like tug-of-war or mud wrestling that anyone can just jump into.  Speaking of those things, the Bellas do go on a retreat to work on their team-building skills, and this does help them develop some group harmony.  But group harmony does not always translate into vocal harmony.  Again, the singing and arranging process is simplified by implying that if the team can live together, they can sing together.  Not necessarily true - but I get it, who wants to see boring practice, practice, practice during a movie when you can have a "Rocky"-like training montage, which also doesn't give away what songs will be sung in the competition?

I did like that the girls started making plans for their lives after graduation - after all, who attends college for seven years just so they can stay in an a cappella group?  Time for more of the Bellas to age out of the program, since most of them look like they're in their 30's anyway.  But that's only because most of them are in their 30's - it's time to stop playing college kids.  The group gets one new member in this film, but logically there should have been more turnover, because not all the Bellas in the first film were freshmen.  And with "Pitch Perfect 3" coming out next year, it's going to be harder to contort all of the graduates into the plot, unless they form a new group together after college.

Hmm, I just realized that both "Vacation" and this film had a similar subplot, about a woman returning to her old college for a visit.  Damn, I'm a programming genius.  Time for two more quick NITPICK POINTS: first, the wardrobe malfunction in the opening scene.  Why the hate for the female anatomy?  I'd wager that there were a lot of men (and probably some women) who enjoy viewing the female form.  Sure, it may have been inappropriate, but why depict such a negative reaction from the audience to seeing a part of a woman's body?  Aren't we supposed to teach our children to be proud of their bodies, and to not body-shame others?  Doesn't this seem to counter-act that attitude?  I remember when Janet Jackson had her infamous "wardrobe malfunction" (also, totally planned, BTW, so not a malfunction) during that Super Bowl, and sure, there was a lot of flak from offended people, but you know there had to be just as many, if not more, people who enjoyed seeing a naked boob during a major sporting event.

Secondly, I appreciate that the a cappella group from India was called the Naan Stops.  But for a group of ladyboys from the Phillipines, is "Manila Envy" really the best name you can come up with?  Geez, even "Manila Folders" would have been better, because it sounds like a reference to tucking.  "Manila Wafers", "Manila Extract", "Manila Ice Cream"?  I don't know, there's a better pun out there somewhere.  Unless they were called "Manila Envy" because they couldn't call them "Philli-Penis Envy".  Ah, maybe that's the joke.  That took me way too long.

With regards to Beca's secret internship at the record company, I get that she wants to show off her superhuman mash-up skills to her boss.  But when given the task of improving a famous star's insipid Christmas album, why not suggest that the Bellas sing background on the tracks?  That way she wouldn't be betraying her group by working for "the man", she'd be giving them a way towards possible recording work.  And it worked for Cee-Lo Green, who featured the a cappella group "Straight No Chaser" on his Christmas album.  And I guess that showing someone staring at a laptop and soundboard with headphones on is the new version of a writer staring at a typewriter with a blank page, huh?

But why all the hate for German people?  Aren't we as a country over World War II yet?  I'm of German descent and know some German people, and they're not all humorless robotic genetically perfect Aryan-type specimens - can't we get beyond this?  It felt like they were using leftover jokes from "Dodgeball" or "Beerfest" - for that matter, why does the Asian girl have to be ultra-Asian and the Mexican girl ultra-Mexican?  You would think that after living in America, they'd be more adapted to the culture - but why let logic ruin some cheap ethnic humor?

Also starring Anna Kendrick (last seen in "Into the Woods"), Rebel Wilson (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Brittany Snow (last seen in "Pitch Perfect"), Hailee Steinfeld (last seen in "Ender's Game"), Skylar Astin (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph"), Adam Devine (last seen in "Neighbors"), Anna Camp (last seen in "The Help"), Ben Platt, John Michael Higgins (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Elizabeth Banks (last seen in "Love & Mercy"), Alexis Knapp (last seen in "Project X"), Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Chrissie Fit, Flula Borg, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, David Cross, with cameos from Snoop Dogg (last heard in "Turbo"), Jason Jones (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), John Hodgman, Joe Lo Truglio (last seen in "They Came Together"), Reggie Watts, Rosie O'Donnell (last seen in "A Very Brady Sequel"), Rosie Perez (last seen in "The Counselor"), Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Christina Aquilera, Pharrell Williams, Joe Scarborough, Robin Roberts, and the real group Pentatonix.

RATING: 6 out of 10 hate mail letters

Friday, August 5, 2016


Year 8, Day 217 - 8/4/16 - Movie #2,412

BEFORE:  This is another film that could have helped me greatly this December with my linking - but it doesn't feel like a December film, right?  It's summer, and it's time for summer vacations, so I feel good about watching it here.  And this means that Chevy Chase carries over from "Hot Tub Time Machine", and I can watch the two 2015 films he did cameos in, back to back.

For me it's really the year of sequels, remakes and reboots - when I get to the end of the year I'll total them all up, but it really feels like half of what I'm watching these days falls into one of those categories.  According to the IMDB, this film is simultaneously a sequel, a remake AND a reboot.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" (Movie #357)

THE PLOT: Rusty Griswold takes his own family on a road trip to "Walley World" in order to spice things up with his wife and reconnect with his sons.

AFTER: During the 1980's, you could count on a few things, movie-wise.  One was that every few years the dysfunctional Griswold's would make another futile attempt at giving their kids a dream vacation.  They went to Walley World, they went to Europe, they celebrated Christmas, and then nearly a decade passed before they went to Las Vegas.

The problem with Rusty Griswold, and his sister Audrey, was that throughout the franchise, they were each played by 4 different actors (because child actors have an annoying habit of getting older), a fact which is referenced here by the adult Rusty looking through his old vacation photos.  Sometimes Rusty was older (or at least bigger) than his sister, sometimes he was smaller.  He was like the Benjamin Button of 80's movies.  So you can't really put the four previous films into any kind of timeline that makes any sense, you just have to take them for what they're worth, or mentally place them in some kind of "story time", which allows them to exist incoherently.

For this film, they decided to go a different direction, and portray a family vacation that goes really really well.  Just kidding.  You know everything's going to end up going wrong, because that enables us all to laugh at our own vacation mishaps, especially when what we see on the screen is so much worse than what we encounter in our own lives, because then we can remind ourselves, things can always get worse.  

Maybe it's just that I watched this right after "Hot Tub Time Machine 2", which not only completely trashed what had happened in the previous film, but sprayed its comedy in about a dozen directions, with no clear focus.  This new "Vacation" film had a difficult mission -  how do you not repeat the same jokes from "Vacation", or a dozen other movies about road trips gone wrong ("Due Date", "The Guilt Trip")? Simple, you write new jokes, it CAN be done.  

And there's great comic timing - I don't want to spoil any of the jokes, even though one of the biggest laughs was spoiled in the trailer, and aired on just about every talk show last year - so instead I'll point out how the first "Vacation" film was all about comic timing.  For example, when Chevy Chase was dancing for Christie Brinkley's character, trying to look cool and seductive while eating a ham sandwich - naturally it's only when he takes a bite that his wife announces that the dog peed in the picnic basket.  The timing makes it funny - same goes for all of Chevy's bluster when he's getting ready to jump in the pool with Christie - the bigger the build-up, the funnier it is when he realizes the water is cold, and he screams like a girl. 

I almost hate to break down comedy, because often to analyze it is to kill it - but damn if "Vacation" doesn't seem like a master class in the rules of comedy, at least compared to "Hot Tub Time Machine 2".  You have to lay the foundation for a gag, so that when you have a callback later, it means something.  You have to set up expectations first, so they can be defied later.  And if there's a shout-out to the original "National Lampoon's Vacation", like the hot mystery woman riding in the sportscar, they put a different spin on it, hopefully one you weren't expecting. 

Any film could show a family dynamic where the older child bullies the younger one - but to have the younger child act as the bully?  I don't think I've seen that before, and the "Omen" films don't count.  Sure, there are gags here that could have been in any movie about traveling - gags about the car's GPS system, gags about the tourist attractions along the way, gags about running out of gas or getting into trouble.  But they all work because they're universal, and the rules of comedy are being respected.  

Take the gags about the car - Rusty gets one of the last cars available for rental, and it's a foreign model that's got all kinds of comic possibilities.  Compare that to the driverless smart cars in "HTTM 2", which was a set-up for a joke that never landed.  Because we don't have driverless cars yet, so there was no frame of reference for the audience.  But by comparison, how many more people have had trouble programming their GPS systems?  

Ed Helms is a great actor to follow in Chevy Chase's footsteps, because he tends to play characters who similarly mean well, but are also ultimately clueless, before having an epiphany that everything is futile, leading to a breakdown or blowout tirade.  And Rusty has similar blinders on when it comes to dealing with his kids, or how things sometimes look from an outside perspective.   

Also starring Ed Helms (last seen in "They Came Together"), Christina Applegate (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Leslie Mann (last heard in "Rio 2"), Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Skyler Gisondo (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Steele Stebbins, Charlie Day (last seen in "Horrible Bosses 2"), Ron Livingston (last seen in "Game Change"), Beverly D'Angelo (last seen in "National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead"), Norman Reedus, Keegan-Michael Key (last seen in "Let's Be Cops"), Regina Hall, Catherine Missal, with cameos from Colin Hanks (last seen in "The Guilt Trip"), Michael Pena (last seen in "Fury"), Nick Kroll, Tim Heidecker (last seen in "Fantastic Four"), Kaitlin Olson (last seen in "The Heat") David Clennon (last seen in "Gone Girl"), and John Francis Daley.

RATING: 6 out of 10 state troopers

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

Year 8, Day 216 - 8/3/16 - Movie #2,411

BEFORE: Well, I crossed two time-travel films off the list in February, "About Time" and "Twice Upon a Yesterday", and last fall I watched "Safety Not Guaranteed", but I still have a few more to go.  Attempts to link the four films that remain, even indirectly, have been futile, so I'm going to link to one tonight, and I've got a second one planned for August, that will leave just two on the list, "Project Almanac" and "The Butterfly Effect 2".  

John Cusack carries over from "Maps to the Stars" - umm, at least I think he does.  The IMDB says he has an uncredited role in this sequel, which could mean that he's only in it for a minute, or it could mean that all of his scenes were shot in one day, like they did with Bruce Willis in "Planet Terror".  It's pretty easy to notice that Willis never shared the screen with the other stars, so possibly this was done as a courtesy for his schedule, or because the film couldn't afford him for more than one day.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Hot Tub Time Machine" (Movie #1,108)

THE PLOT: When Lou finds himself in trouble, Nick and Jacob fire up the hot tub time machine in an attempt to get back to the past - but they inadvertently land in the future.  

AFTER: You know, it's summer, you think about vacations, and for me that means Comic-Con, and that means all things geek-related, as evidenced by my movie selections of the past week or so - everything from zombies to pleasure robots to ghosts, plus Hollywood celebrities and the pseudo-archeological B.S. of "Hudson Hawk".  And time travel seemed like it was going to fit right in there, it really did.  

But I've been looking at the big picture recently, and trying to figure out the endgame for the year - as such, I have two holiday movies on the watchlist, "The Night Before" and "A Merry Friggin' Christmas", without a direct link between them.  I realized too late that "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" is the perfect movie to connect them - Jason Jones is also in "The Night Before", and Clark Duke is also in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas".  Arrrgggh! Why didn't I realize this until it was too late?  Now I have to watch four movies in between them to link them, what if I don't have enough slots at the end of the year?  

And honestly, if I'd known that John Cusack wasn't really going to be appearing in this film, I would have moved it down on the schedule, instead of moving "Still Alice".  I could have followed the Julianne Moore link out of "Maps to the Stars" and then followed "Still Alice" with "Concussion", and gone from there.  Now I've got a lot more work to do, searching for links in the wee hours when I should be sleeping.

What also bothers me is that John Cusack isn't really in this film at all, so I feel I was sort of hoodwinked by his listing in the IMDB.  Oh, there are still photos of him, so on that level it (sort of) counts, but if I'd known that the actor avoided appearing in the sequel, I could have moved the film to a better place on the schedule.  

And I was really looking forward to this one, because I gave the first "Hot Tub" film a 7 rating - but this is just nowhere even close to that.  Whatever worked in the first film - the comedy, the mystery and the working of time travel, the way it spun the plot of "Back to the Future" around, only in the 1980's instead of the 1950's - all of that gone.  Down the hot tub drain, so to speak.  When we last saw our heroes at the end of "HTTM", they'd returned to their present and found it in a much better state than they'd left it in.  Adam was married to his girlfriend, Nick had become a major recording star, and Lou was a major internet businessman, the creator of "Lougle", and also the lead singer for Motley Lou.   

I can appreciate that someone didn't want to just repeat the plot of "HTTM" by sending the characters back into the past.  So in this scenario, they travel to the future instead.  The mysterious hot tub repairman informs them that the hot tub takes them to where (when) they NEED to go, rather than where (when) they WANT to go.  Wait, so someone's in charge?  If so, who is it - God?  The devil? Einstein?  And if so, what's their motivation for making certain things happen?  What's the divine plan, because as far as I can tell from this sequel, there really isn't one.  

One of the few TV shows that I'm current on (I'm working on catching up on TV from April to July, the upcoming Olympics should make this possible, if I work hard...) is "12 Monkeys", and this show follows a similar "send me back, I have to change the past" sort of formula.  And technically this type of time travel shouldn't work, because if you want to kill baby Hitler, let's say, and you succeed, then there never WAS a baby Hitler, so you wouldn't have any motivation to go back and kill him.  So then you don't, and baby Hitler is back, which means that adult Hitler is back, and you've accomplished nothing.  Anyway, "12 Monkeys" got into a similar rut, from changing the past too many times, and they avoid the paradox by showing the changes to the time stream as a wave moving through time in both directions, but that's neither here nor there - they're going to avoid the issue entirely for next season by similarly sending their characters into their future. 

Which doesn't really work, either - how can you send someone into the future if it doesn't exist yet?  Are you merely sending them into a possible future, and can gaining knowledge there help to change the present once you return to it, and therefore ensure that future never comes to pass?  Unless, of course, you like it, in which case can you work to preserve it?  The three Cusack-less heroes of "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" travel to the future by accident, only to find out that, as Meat Loaf once sang, "The Future's Not What It Used to Be".  Yeah, neither is this film franchise.  

They only go 10 years forward, but even if you assume 5 years taking place between films, how is Adam's son an adult in the year 2025?  Did Adam have a son in the new timeline much earlier than we thought?  Once he joins the trio, they run down a list of possible suspects to determine who's going to kill Lou in the future, even though technically this happened in the past.  But the hot tub repairman says that "The future is the past", which leads them to believe that the killer is from the future, because the killer hasn't done the killing yet, he'll need to travel back to the past to do it.  Umm, or something like that. 

But even if this is a coherent idea, and I'm not saying that it is, the film sidetracks itself with too many extraneous things, like a TV show called "Choozy Doozy", which sounds fairly innocent but suggests that game shows will one day use virtual reality technology for some illicitly graphic purposes.  Beyond that, TV shows will devolve to the point where watching buildings collapse on children will be considered entertainment.  (This, in fact, already happened - there used to be a show on Discovery Channel called "Destroyed in Seconds" that was just explosions and plane crashes, and my wife and I watched the heck out of it...)

There are a ton of other half-baked ideas about what the future will be like, including skirts for men, driverless cars that hunt people down to run them over, and nanobots that can flush dangerous drugs out of someone's system, but also make their testicles huge for some reason.  But even worse is the fact that the big twist that allows the stranded heroes to return to the past just doesn't work (nope, nope, nope) and even worse than THAT is the film's ending, which not only blatantly opened the possibility of another sequel, but was used in the film's commercials, and gave a false impression of what HTTM 2 would be like.  It's not cool to open up this whole "we can go anywhere and save all of history" box, but only explore it during the closing credits.  

If the BEST and funniest material in your film appears only during the closing credits, you have to wonder why that stuff wasn't included in the film itself.  This film only proved to me how lame the concept was, and why most people wouldn't know how to really use a time machine - because you could go anywhere, do anything, and you chose THAT?  How very lame.  If I could go back in time, I'd go back to try to convince myself not to watch this.  But knowing me, I probably wouldn't listen to myself, so it's better just to watch it, admit that it's terrible, and move on.

(EDIT: It appears that John Cusack did make a cameo, but only in the "unrated" version.  And from what I just read, it doesn't change the plot at all, or improve anything.  Either way, the damage to my chain has been done - thanks a lot, guys.)

Also starring Rob Corddry (last seen in "Sex Tape"), Craig Robinson (last seen in "Get On Up"), Clark Duke (last seen in "Kick-Ass 2"), Adam Scott (last seen in "They Came Together"), Gillian Jacobs (last seen in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"), Collette Wolfe, Jason Jones (last seen in "Against the Ropes"), Kumali Nanjiani (also last seen in "Sex Tape"), Bianca Haase, Kellee Stewart, with cameos from Chevy Chase (last seen in "National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead"), Lisa Loeb, Jessica Williams (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Christian Slater (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Thomas Lennon.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Beatle wigs

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Maps to the Stars

Year 8, Day 215 - 8/2/16 - Movie #2,410

BEFORE: The next film on my list was going to be "Still Alice", and then I was going link back to John Cusack again through Julianne Moore, but after taking a look at the bigger picture, I decided to move "Still Alice" down to another position on the list - where it will link two other films that had been left hanging.  This tightens up the John Cusack chain, I can run all four films back to back, as he carries over again from "Love & Mercy".  And there's a bit of a connection here, with messed-up celebrities in both films.  

I haven't been able to say for sure which 90 films are going to finish out the year now, but I was able to program a chain that will take me through August.  And this chain pushes some of the films I want to see to the top of the list, plus it connects to some of the films that I've seen but haven't posted about yet ("Deadpool", "Ghostbusters" et. al.)

And then when I reach September 4 or so, I'll have to reassess.  Where I go from there will be determined by which of several films might run on pay cable between now and then, which, of course, I have no way to predict.  But I've got my eyes open for films like "The Danish Girl", "Ex Machina" or "Burnt", which could really help me out.  "Spectre" has started running, which gives me a nice lead-in to my October chain, and I also got a free coupon code for a Movie On Demand, since Time Warner's On Demand system has been out for the last week.  I guess someone finally noticed that no one in my neighborhood had been ordering any movies, and figured out that something was wrong with the system.  I'm thinking I should order a long film like "The Hateful Eight", just to get the most out of the coupon.  

THE PLOT: A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.

AFTER: The first thing I noticed in the credits was the name of the director - David Cronenberg.  Hmm, I thought he was a horror director - well, good for him, reaching outside of his comfort zone and doing a straight drama about messed-up Hollywood types.  But as the film went on, I realized that in many ways, this IS a horror film.  It's just one that happens to be about Hollywood actors and the people around them, but nearly all of them are haunted in some way.  

And sometimes this is very literal - a number of the characters see ghosts, but it's not entirely clear if these are supposed to be legitimate phantoms or spectres, or if the viewer is under the influence of some substance (alcohol, GHB, kale smoothies) and is having induced hallucinations connected to their guilt.  Other times this is symbolic, I suppose, as adults are haunted by childhood trauma or other terrible memories from their past - but the result is the same.  The actress, Havana Segrand, had an abusive mother who was part actress, part cult leader, who died in a fire and she's tormented by visions of this woman.  You know, the Joan Crawford / Jim Jones type.  Why, it's almost enough to keep her from going on auditions or spending $18,000 on clothing in an afternoon.

Meanwhile, a woman gets off the bus from Florida for her interview with Carrie Fisher, and she was also once in a fire that burned her badly - only I couldn't really see the burn marks that everyone was talking about and reacting to.  Was this a problem with my DVD copy, or was her burn make-up not prominent enough?  I don't know.  She did wear long black gloves all the time, were her arms supposed to be burned, too?  We soon learn that she might be in town for a completely different reason.

Also meanwhile, a teen actor has trouble on the set of his TV show as he's upstaged by a younger, cuter, funnier kid.  He's also just coming off of rehab, and secretly hitting the club scene again with his actor friends.  His mother acts as his agent, as his father is some kind of new-age massage therapist mixed with a psychologist, who forces people to re-live their childhood traumas as he gives them massages.  Because that's not f'ed up at all.  One of his clients is the actress, Havana.  

Tying it all together is a man who's a limo driver, but also wants to be an actor.  He's the sort-of boyfriend of the burned girl, but he also drives Havana around sometimes.  Slowly even more connections are revealed between the characters, and some of them are deep secrets with sinister implications.  So in a way it's reminiscent of films like "Short Cuts" and "Magnolia" - they've been running "Magnolia" recently late at night, I see it while I scan through the TV listings.  That's a film that's probably overdue for a re-watch by me, maybe in November when I have some time.  

But it's debatable whether "Maps to the Stars" is a work of interlocking genius that I just didn't appreciate, or merely a warning to never, ever move to Los Angeles.  

Also starring Julianne Moore (last seen in "Non-Stop"), Mia Wasikowska (last seen in "Lawless"), Evan Bird, Olivia Williams (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Robert Pattinson (last seen in "Water for Elephants"), Sarah Gadon, Carrie Fisher (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Kiara Glasco, Dawn Greenhalgh, Justin Kelly, Emilia McCarthy, Gord Rand, Ari Cohen.

RATING: 4 out of 10 energy drinks  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Love & Mercy

Year 8, Day 214 - 8/1/16 - Movie #2,409

BEFORE: I wasn't able to watch a film on Sunday night in New Jersey, so I had to watch my Monday night film on Monday night, rather than Monday morning - it's fine, but I'd rather be ahead of the game and knock out my film early, that gives me the whole day to write down my thoughts.  This way forces me to write immediately after viewing the film, which is also fine, but I was going to use this time to go through my watchlist and work out a plan for the rest of the year.  Maybe I'll try to do that as soon as I post. 

John Cusack carries over from "The Prince", and I now realize that I really do need to count my films for the rest of the year - because after this I'll need to make a choice between watching 4 John Cusack films in a row, or in two groups of two with a film in-between.  It's only important because I don't want to fall one film short for the year, or have one too many to watch.  

THE PLOT: In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.

AFTER: I've got to remember at the end of the year that music biopics were a popular topic for me this year - I watched "Get On Up" and "CBGB" in January, and "24 Hour Party People" a few months later, and I still want to get to "Sid and Nancy" and "Jersey Boys" before the year is over, and if any channel would run that film about Jimi Hendrix, I want to see that too.  The trend started a few years back with films like "Walk the Line" and "Ray", and it's still going.  Someone's probably working on fictionalized versions of David Bowie and Prince's life stories as I write this.  

"Love & Mercy" uses a unique (I think) trick, casting two actors to play Brian Wilson, one younger and one older, to represent two time periods in his life.  The younger section depicts his time with the Beach Boys, composing albums like "Pet Sounds" and singles like "Good Vibrations", and the older section focuses on the time spent under the care of a therapist who had some kind of psychological influence on him, or had misdiagnosed him and was keeping him medicated.  Or something to that effect, we may never know exactly what went down, but everyone seems to agree that it wasn't on the level.

The only problems with the conceit of using two actors is that first off, the two actors look nothing alike, so it's hard to imagine the younger one growing old and becoming the second one.  Oh, the younger actor, Paul Dano, has an uncanny resemblance - I can buy him as Brian Wilson just fine - but Cusack, not so much.  They're both soft-spoken in this role, but that's where the similarity ends. (EDIT: Based on the footage I saw later of the recording sessions for "Good Vibrations", Brian Wilson looked sort of like a young Alec Baldwin.  So personally, I would have preferred to see Baldwin in the older role, over John Cusack.  All other things aside, at least there would have been more of a physical resemblance.  And wasn't Brian on the heavy side after spending a year or three in bed, eating cheeseburgers?) 

The second problem results from the film toggling between the two time periods, as if they were playing out simultaneously, even though they're set in different decades.  I've railed about techniques like this before, they're frequently used to cover up narrative flaws, like a story that just wouldn't be very interesting if told completely in the proper order.  I wonder if any people in other countries, or people sort of unfamiliar with movies were very confused by this fractured timestream, after all, they never put any dates on the screen to alert the audience that the story was not being told linearly.

Books and comic books do this too, and it works best when one notices similarities or contrasts between the two time periods, or there's some traumatic event in the past that gets alluded to by the present events.  But there's not really anything like that here - so there's less justification for the toggling.  Maybe the events of the past slowly reveal how the Brian Wilson of the present got so messed up, but it's still a contrivance.  It's not like the lead singer of the Beach Boys could travel through his own lifetime like Billy Pilgrim in "Slaughterhouse Five", right?

I mean, who knows, maybe if you're a musical genius, you hear everything in terms of sound collages, and react violently to certain forms of cacaphony, like knives and forks scraping on plates at a dinner party.  Maybe if you're a rock star and you take LSD, it's just a short step from there to spending three years in bed and gaining 300 pounds.  Maybe if you're under the influence of medications giving to you by your legal guardian, when you finally shake off the zombie cucumber you might have one of those experiences like Dave Bowman has at the end of "2001", where your past self meets your future self, and vice versa.  We'll never know, because Brian Wilson's combination of genius and drugs both legal and illegal gave him a unique perspective.  Anything that tries to recreate his story from his P.O.V. would be involved in guesswork at best.  

Still, I enjoyed the footage of the recording sessions quite a bit - it was a trip watching "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Good Vibrations" getting sonically assembled, even if it was just a mock-up of the real recording sessions.  And it was interesting to be how hearing The Beatles' "Rubber Soul" album pushed Brian to be more creative and collage-oriented when working on "Pet Sounds".  

Also starring Paul Dano (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Elizabeth Banks (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Paul Giamatti (last heard in "Turbo"), Jake Abel (last seen in "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"), Kenny Wormald, Brett Davern, Graham Rogers, Erin Darke, Joanna Going, Bill Camp (last seen in "Aloha"), with cameos from Dee Wallace and the real Brian Wilson.

RATING: 5 out of 10 session musicians

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Prince

Year 8, Day 213 - 7/31/16 - Movie #2,408

BEFORE: Well, the balloon festival in New Jersey turned out to be a big bust - it rained nearly the whole weekend.  Saturday's balloon launchings were delayed all day Saturday (although the concert performed rather ironically by KC & the Sunshine Band appeared to be a go) so we saved our tickets for Sunday.  But the rain continued, and by 9 am today's activities were cancelled as well, even though the rain finally stopped around 2 pm the damage was done, all of the fields being used for launching and parking were probably muddy pits.  So we just spent the weekend indoors, hanging out with friends, playing dominoes and Monopoly, grilling some burgers and then getting takeout pizza. There are undoubtedly worse ways to spend a weekend, plus as a bonus I finally got to catch up on sleep in a very comfortable hotel bed.  And this still allowed me time to watch movies - Bruce Willis carries over from "Hudson Hawk", for the last time in this chain.

THE PLOT: When his daughter is kidnapped, a retired assassin is drawn back into the life he gave up. To rescue her, he must confront his former rival.

AFTER: When I recorded this film from cable, I put it on a DVD with "The Equalizer", and once again my instincts were spot on - this follows the same pattern as that film, plus "John Wick", and they're all part of the trend that I think started with "Taken".  These films all follow a similar formula, with a seemingly average guy with a dark past (as a hitman or secret agent, it doesn't much matter which) who has to fall back on his skill and training when someone he cares about (daughter, wife, dog) is threatened.  

This time, it's an average auto mechanic whose college-age daughter is kidnapped.  Geez, it's almost like action film Mad-Libs, no?  I'm honestly surprised that someone didn't say, "Daughter?  Jeez, that's a little too close to "Taken", can't we make it his son or niece or something?"  But in the end, daughters are more vulnerable, plot-wise - here the daughter falls in with a bad crowd, gets hooked on drugs and before you know it, she's held captive by a mid-level drug dealer who happens to work for her father's old rival.

What's unclear here is whether anyone knew who her father was, if she was targeted by a drug dealer because of her last name, or if the dealers do this to a whole lot of women, and they just happened to stir up this old rivalry.  The mechanic, who was formerly known as "The Prince" when he ran his own section of New Orleans, takes himself back into the underworld with the help of his daughter's friend in order to find and hopefully rescue his daughter.

All the standards and tropes of your basic action movie apply here - the hero can take down 20 enemies with 20 bullets from a standard gun, but the villains can shoot hundreds of bullets at the heroes with automatic rifles and never hit him.  OK, almost never.  And the villains will hold the gun to someone's head and count to three - and you know that if that's an important character with the gun held to their head, they're not going to die.  I'm betting that in real life, bad people with guns don't count to three, they just shoot, right?

So sorry, there's no new ground broken here.  Just the same tired elements of typical white-hat/black-hat action films.  If anything it gives people bad ideas - if your daughter is kidnapped, don't call the police, just load up with a bunch of untraceable weapons and head for her last known location, then just start beating up and shooting people until you get her back.  That's probably not advisable.

Also starring Jason Patric (last seen in "Your Friends & Neighbors"), John Cusack (last seen in "Fat Man and Little Boy"), Jessica Lowndes, Gia Mantegna, Rain, 50 Cent (last seen in "Spy"), Don Harvey (also carrying over AGAIN from "Hudson Hawk"), Jesse Pruett (last seen in "Vice"), Johnathon Schaech (ditto), Tyler Jon Olson (ditto), Tim Fields, Jim Bennett, Bonnie Somerville.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Montecristo cigars