Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Smurfs 2

Year 8, Day 225 - 8/12/16 - Movie #2,420

BEFORE: Lord help me, but this is the film that connects my chain to "Star Trek Beyond" - how I wish that it weren't.  But it's on the list, don't ask me why, so the best thing to do is to buckle down and pour some Diet Mountain Dew and try to get through it.  Then it will be off the list and gone.  

Frank Welker carries over again from "The Trouble With Spies", tonight providing the voice for Azrael, which is Gargamel's cat.  Coincidentally, that's also the name of a character in the Batman comics, and a different character on the Batman-themed Fox show "Gotham", which only started appearing under that name in an episode I watched about a week ago.  

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Smurfs" (Movie #1,328)

THE PLOT: The Smurfs team up with their human friends to rescue Smurfette, who has been kidnapped by Gargamel since she knows a secret spell that can turn the evil sorcerer's newest creation - creatures called the Naughties - into real Smurfs.

AFTER: This film's plot (and I use the term very loosely) throws us right into the middle of things - we find out that Gargamel is stuck in the modern human world, but he's doing quite well, as a master illusionist.  The reason is, he's not performing illusions, he's really turning people into giant toads and such on stage, with the help of Smurf magic.  But the magic is running out, and his attempts to make his own Smurfs have only resulted in the creation of pseudo-Smurfs called Naughties, which don't power his wand because they're not blue.  (Hey, man, whatever gets your wand working...)

So he opens a portal with the aid of the Eiffel Tower (shades of "Tomorrowland" plot point there) and sends the Naughties to SmurfVille to capture Smurfette, his last creation.  If he can get the formula for whatever turned her blue, he can recreate that with the Naughties, and then drain their Smurfy essence, which is probably as disgusting as it sounds. 

Papa Smurf gathers a team to teleport to the human world and get Smurfette back, but instead of Hefty Smurf, Gutsy Smurf and Brainy Smurf, a mix-up causes him to use the B-team, which is Grouchy Smurf, Clumsy Smurf and Vanity Smurf.  Oh, if only this ragtag team of screw-ups could overcome their negative personality traits in order to band together and save the entire village!  But, hey, you do what you can.  This really should have been the main message of the film, that even the lesser Smurfs can pitch in and do their parts for the greater good of the community, even though they've got character flaws.  Instead we're given a hit-you-over-the-head point about how step-parents are just as good as biological ones, and the fact that Smurf racism is acceptable (see below).  

NITPICK POINT #1: When the Smurfs appear in the NYC apartment of their human friends from the first film, they surprise Master Winslow's step-father - but he accepts the Smurfs in about a second and a half.  It's really a lot to take in, first that little blue creatures exist, that they can talk, and that they come from another dimension that needs saving.  Upon learning all this, most people wouldn't stop screaming for about an hour, or knowing New Yorkers, they'd probably chase the Smurfs around the apartment trying to kill them, assuming that they were some new form of vermin.

NITPICK POINT #2: When the humans find out where Gargamel is, they all fly from New York to Paris, like that's just a thing.  Sure, drop everything going on in your life to go rescue a little blue Smurf, don't bother calling your job to say you won't be coming in for a while, or explain your son's absence to his school.  And who can't afford 4 tickets to France bought at the last minute, assuming they're even available?  My boss is in France right now, and I arranged the tickets months ago, and for two people and a kid, round trip, two different itineraries on three different airlines, seats together when possible, it took me days to find tickets at a reasonable price.  And still it was nearly three large.  

NITPICK POINT #3: Time and again, this film sends out the wrong message - in an age where we should be teaching our kids to appreciate people of all skin colors, this film keeps telling the Naughties that they've got to be blue, they don't fit in unless they're blue, they're not "true" Smurfs unless they're blue.  That's some real smurfy "Master Race" eugenics stuff there - what if they had said that you're not a real person unless you're white, that the other colored people are somehow impure?  That wouldn't fly these days, right?  So why do we allow Smurfs to practice their blue racism?  

Also starring Neil Patrick Harris (last heard in "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2"), Hank Azaria (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Brendan Gleeson (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow"), Jayma Mays (last seen in "Red Eye"), Jacob Tremblay, with the voices of Katy Perry (last heard in "The Smurfs"),  Jonathan Winters (ditto), Christina Ricci (last seen in "Black Snake Moan"), George Lopez (last heard in "Rio 2"), Anton Yelchin (last heard in "The Pirates! Band of Misfits"), John Oliver (also last heard in "The Smurfs"), J.B. Smoove (last seen in "The Dictator"), Fred Armisen (ditto), Jeff Foxworthy, Alan Cumming (last seen in "Emma"), Gary Basaraba, Adam Wylie, and vocal cameos from Kenan Thompson (last seen in "Snakes on a Plane"), B.J. Novak, Shaquille O'Neal, Paul Reubens (last seen in "Cheech & Chong's Next Movie"), Jimmy Kimmel, Shaun White, Mario Lopez (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Tom Kane.

RATING: 2 out of 10 corn dogs

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Trouble With Spies

Year 8, Day 224 - 8/11/16 - Movie #2,419

BEFORE: This might feel like another sudden left turn, but I assure you, there is a connection.  Frank Welker is a voice-over artist - and if you really want to see who's got the most acting credits on IMDB, check out Frank or some other voice-over actors - and he provided the lead voice of Curious George yesterday.  Tonight he voices a parrot named Perky, and I bet dubbing in a parrot's voice is a lot easier than training one to say something.  Frank also voiced the dog in "Hudson Hawk", and tomorrow he'll make his 7th appearance in the blog this year, by voicing a cat. 

This might seem like a cheat - but it's not.  Voice-over work is just as valid as live-action acting, and I treat it the same, more or less.  I've never fallen back on linking through singers in background music, for example, but voice-over work recorded for a film totally counts.  Plus, it gets me to where I need to be for this weekend.

THE PLOT:  A British spy has gone incommunicado in Ibiza. Appleton Porter is sent to find out what happened to him, and survives several attempts on his life as he attempts to solve the mystery.

AFTER: Of course, the advantage of linking through the voice of the parrot means that I can cross this film off the list, and it was sort of circulating around the end of the list after several attempts to link to it.  I recorded it to go on a DVD with the Melissa McCarthy film "Spy", but I just couldn't find a path to itFilms like "Deliverance" or "Way...Way Out" that shared actors were all necessary parts of the Burt Reynolds or Jerry Lewis chains.  

But after all that effort, I wish it were a better film - it's just a below-average story that goes nowhere. There have been other films that depicted screw-ups working as secret agents, like "Spies Like Us" or "Johnny English", all of which are funnier than this.  When someone sets out to make a combination comedy/spy film, it's got to go really far in both directions at the same time in order to succeed, and this one doesn't go far enough in either.  

This was originally made for TV (HBO?) in 1984, but was not released until 1987.  It's easy to see why someone sat on it for so long - they were probably embarrassed about it, and probably it was only released during a very desperate slow period for some studio.  The acting from Ruth Gordon and Robert Morley is WAY over the top, and Donald Sutherland just looks like he'd rather be anywhere else, doing anything else.  It's very strange when you think of the success that his son later had playing a secret agent on "24", and contrast that with this.  

The plot's a mess, too - I don't think we ever get to the bottom of the drug connection, and we never get to see the amazing truth serum being used, so what's the point?  And why was it so important that he save the parrot from the burning building?  That feels like it should be important, somehow - like maybe the talking parrot would say a clue that would break the case open, but that never happened.  It's like someone introduced a bunch of random plot elements and then forgot about most of them.  People dress in disguise and follow other people around, they listen in on conversations and try to carry out assassination attempts.  The emphasis is on the word "attempts", because none of them seem to go well.   

So, in the end it just feels like a waste of everyone's time, especially the audience's.  Especially mine.  But as I said, the best thing I can say about this film is that it gets me to where I need to go.  

Also starring Donald Sutherland (last seen in "Pride & Prejudice"), Ned Beatty (last seen in "Deliverance", Ruth Gordon (last seen in "Harold and Maude"), Lucy Gutteridge, Robert Morley (last seen in "Way...Way Out") Michael Hordern, Gregory Sierra, Suzanne Danielle, Fima Noveck.

RATING: 3 out of 10 potted plants

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle

Year 8, Day 223 - 8/10/16 - Movie #2,418

BEFORE: Well, this is certainly a left turn off of the road that I was on.  I sort of panicked when I realized that my August films were starting to have a definite "autumn" feel to them, with 3 films partially set at colleges - that means I didn't take enough care when making my selections, I didn't think enough about the subject matter.  If I continued on that track, was I about to hit Christmas films in the middle of September?  Well, of course not, I wouldn't let that happen - but it did force me to think about the end of the year, and how I'm going to get there.  If I need to cram some more films into the line-up now, to make things work out properly in December, well, I'd rather know about that sooner than later. 

Plus, I wasn't crazy about the link to the next film ("Hot Pursuit") that led out of "Everybody's All-American".  The link was an actress who's not a household name, and that just doesn't fly with me.  Since I envisioned the chain, I got this "Curious George" sequel that ran on PBS during July 4 weekend, and it's got the voice of John Goodman, who carries over from "Everybody's All-American", so this sets me on a new path.  Yes, it means tearing apart the chain and re-imagining the August plan, which is less than 2 weeks old, but it had to be done.  

For starters, I want to catch the new "Star Trek" film this weekend, and I can get there from here in just about the right number of moves.  Now, I've only programmed the next week for sure, but in a week I can land on "X-Men: Apocalypse", and that's something of a nexus film - the cast is so large and it gives me so many options, I can go just about anywhere.  I can link up with the old chain very easily from there, and proceed (more or less) as planned. 

And when you add the films in that chain together with the October horror chain and then the 15-film end of the year chain, I'm only about 14 or 15 films short of filling up the final 82 slots.  No problem, with a plan for 285 films this year, what's another 15?  The best news is that I'm 99% sure that my chain will allow me to link to the 4 films I watched this year that were "off the books" - I wrote reviews but haven't posted them yet - and if I want to get out more this month and see more films in the theater (I admit I'm curious about both "Suicide Squad" and "Sausage Party") I think I've got a way to link to those, too.  Which is pretty amazing considering that my linking possibilities are getting more and more restricted whenever I cross a film off the watchlist.  

Still, I've got to block out the remainder of the year and fill that gap, just so I know that there won't be any mistakes, or any films left behind.  So what I have now is a series of little pods, chainlets of 4 to 8 movies, and I need to figure out the best ways to string them together.  And if they don't link directly, then I've got to explain why.  Sometimes it might be a thematic link when no actor link is available.  And that's how I'll fill up the rest of the year, if an actor chain ends, work in a documentary or two, or follow up with a movie with the same character, or is identical in some way to the film before it, that's what I've been reduced to.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey!" (Movie #1,024)

THE PLOT:  When Curious George is asked to take part in a very important space mission, a little monkeying around forces him to crash-land in Africa.

AFTER: Curious George and Ted ("The Man With The Yellow Hat") are back, and they get tracked down by some kind of (private?) space agency that wants to send a monkey into space.  Not for testing purposes (humans tried that, it didn't end well, at least not for the monkeys and dogs...) but because they can't get a human into space fast enough to fix the satellite that controls the dam that prevents flooding in this region of Africa.  Here I thought the biggest problem in Africa was the lack of water, not the overabundance of it, but hey, what do I really know?

It may seem strange, but as a man in his mid-to-late forties, I will watch an animated film for kids once in a while.  But I judge them by the same standards, in fact I may even be a bit tougher on them, because they not only need to make sense, but they should also have a positive message for the kids that I can get behind.  This film has that positive message - Curious George wants to help.  He volunteers for the space program - again, you'd think that a monkey wouldn't be able to understand a space mission or even the concept of outer space, but again, I know I'm not an expert.  

It also seems a little strange that the men in charge at the space agency have so much faith in this little primate - here's an idea, why not send a little person instead?  OK, maybe it would be a little demeaning to send a little person in a capsule that was designed for a monkey, but at least they would know that their astronaut understands the mission and they could communicate with him.  

Here's where I thought the movie was going to go - instead of the satellite controlling the flooding in Africa, I thought that the space agency men would be revealed as evil types who would hold the water away from the African people who needed it, and then Ted and George would need to find a way to shut them down.  I guess that would have been much too cynical for a kids' movie, huh?  But let's get to the NITPICK POINTS, because I think I sort of mentioned three of them already - (#1 - flooding vs. drought, #2, why not send a little person...) OK - 

NITPICK POINT #3 - who builds a dam that can ONLY be controlled by a satellite?  Is this even feasible, in that it demonstrates a terrible design flaw?  Why isn't there some kind of back-up so the dam can be operated manually on-site, just in case there's some problem communicating with the satellite, like, oh, I don't know, maybe a cloudy day?  Which would be likely if it were RAINING, which is when you'd need to control the flooding?  

NITPICK POINT #4 - this is the same problem that was inherent in "Curious George 2", which tasked Ted with finding an elephant in California.  He just went to a random spot in California and hey, there's the animal park!  California is kind of big, after all.  In this sequel, George gets lost in "central Africa" and while 5 search teams are combing an area with a 500-mile radius (umm, math tells me that's about 785,000 square miles) Ted goes up in a plane and within a hour or so, "Hey, look, that must be where George landed!"  I realize you have to move the story along, but come on!

NITPICK POINT #5 - the message of the film - helping others - is pretty solid.  After George lands in Africa, he helps out various jungle animals who are having problems, and later on, when he needs help, those animals are there for him.  But what about his desire to help the men with the satellite?  That sure backfired, because it stranded him in the jungle.  So I guess the takeaway there is "Never volunteer for things?"  It seems a little counter-productive to the message.  

This is probably fine for kids if they're not quite ready for the "Madagascar" series - it sort of has the same theme, with a domesticated animal returning to the jungle.  But with a little bit of the film "Gravity" thrown in, I guess.  But what happened to Ted's job at the museum, and also his girlfriend from the previous film?  There's no mention of those things in his life now - did he lose his job and also go through a break-up?  He seems to be able to go to Africa on a whim, just to search for his monkey. 

Also starring the voices of Angela Bassett (last seen in "London Has Fallen"), Jeff Bennett (last heard in "Batman: Year One"), Alexander Polinsky, Frank Welker (last heard in "Hudson Hawk" as the voice of Bunny the Dog)

RATING: 4 out of 10 packets of "celestial slime"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Everybody's All-American

Year 8, Day 222 - 8/9/16 - Movie #2,417

BEFORE: Dennis Quaid carries over from "Breaking Away", and suddenly I'm wondering where I took a wrong turn in my chain.  It's nice when things line up, like watching a film about bicycle racing shortly after the Olympics start, but now I'm on to football - in August?  OK, it's college football, and I'm sure that the college football players are reporting to practice this month, because how else are they going to be ready for September - but when you think about college football, you think about fall, or the Bowl games that happen in the winter, and football in general is a fall/winter sport, or so I'm told, so what's going wrong?  

I think I know the problem - as I get the watchlist down to fewer and fewer films, my linking choices are getting harder to justify.  I mean, maybe I should have followed the Hugh Laurie trail out of "Flight of the Phoenix" and watched "101 Dalmatians", or maybe I should have followed the Julianne Moore trail out of "Maps of the Stars" a week ago, which would have led me to "Still Alice", but that would have led me through Kristen Stewart to either "American Ultra" (currently a dead-end) or through Alec Baldwin to "Concussion" (football again, but at least the presence of Will Smith could have led me to go watch "Suicide Squad" in the theater).   

And it's not like tonight's film is a dead-end - but I'm not crazy about the link to tomorrow's film, because it relies on an actress who was way, way down on the cast list for both films, I think even uncredited in both films - and that's just not good enough.  So the entire plan for the rest of August now needs to be scrapped, I think. (I can keep it more or less intact, and perhaps link back to it...)  This is a reaction to the fact that my back-to-school films (colleges appeared in "Pitch Perfect 2", "Breaking Away", and now tonight...) have appeared a month early on the schedule, and this needs to be addressed.  

Fortunately, in the time since I made this chain, another film came on the list, which provides a new direction, a way off this track.  I've got 24 hours to decide if I want to take it or not, because it means tearing apart my plan and putting it back together in a new order.  But if that gets me a chain that's close to 83 films long, taking Halloween horror films and my end-of-year chain into account, then it's got to be done.  

THE PLOT:  A Louisiana football legend struggles to deal with life's complexities after his college career is over.

AFTER: I'm already feeling sort of disconnected from this chain, because it feels so back-to-school like, and this feeling isn't helped by a storyline that asks me to feel sympathy for an athlete, and a popular one at that.  Oh, is your life not everything it's cracked up to be?  It must be so tough getting so much attention, then playing for the NFL and making a ton of money, while being married to your attractive college sweetheart.  There's a reason why no one's making the biopic about Tom Brady, or feeling much sympathy for him being forced to sit out the first four games of this season, because we all just picture him spending time in his mansion, counting his money with his supermodel wife (and I say this as a Patriots fan!)  It's the same problem with this film.  

If anything, the film is sort of a cautionary tale for professional athletes, to be careful about how they invest their money, and which products they endorse, and to not let fame go to their heads which could result in neglect creeping in to their relationships.  I get that NFL players need to travel around a lot, plus could get traded to another team which would uproot the whole family (umm, or not) but even still, it's hard for me to muster up any sympathy for well-paid pro players.  

OK, so there's a bit in this film about the civil rights movement, which feels a little bit off-topic, but then again, the film is set in Louisiana, so naturally that was part of the zeitgeist.  But it still feels shoehorned in to lend the film some relevance, beyond being just about a rich white pro athlete. 

NITPICK POINT: I couldn't really understand if "Cake" was Gavin's cousin or nephew.  Wikipedia says he was his nephew, but then how would they be attending the same college at the same time?  Then again, this is set in the South, so maybe he's both. 

Also starring Jessica Lange (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Timothy Hutton (last seen in "The Ghost Writer"), John Goodman (last seen in "National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead"), Carl Lumbly (last seen in "Pacific Heights"), Ray Baker, Savannah Smith Boucher, Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "Shutter Island"), with cameos from Wayne Knight, Aaron Neville.

RATING: 4 out of 10 lateral passes  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Breaking Away

Year 8, Day 221 - 8/8/16 - Movie #2,416

BEFORE: I'm hitting a short run of sports-themed films, a few days after the Summer Olympics started.  This is largely accidental, but I'm going to roll with it.  So to speak.  I'm avoiding the Olympics this year because I no longer need to watch sporting events for work, plus I need to use August to catch up on episodic TV, where I'm so far behind, I'm just starting to watch shows that aired in early May - and the fall TV season will be here before you know it.  So, every weeknight, Mon-Thurs I'm watching three hours of shows (stored on VHS) from May before my movie, then from Fri.-Sun. I work on clearing the DVR before my movie.  By the end of August, it might be possible to reduce the backlog by about half.  That's my own personal race.  

Dennis Quaid carries over from "Flight of the Phoenix", and he'll be here tomorrow as well.  

THE PLOT: A small-town boy obsessed with the Italian cycling team vies for the affections of a college girl.

AFTER: I feel quite lucky, because this film covers a whole bunch of sports, perhaps even a pentathlon's worth.  There's bicycle racing, of course, but also one character jogs and another gets involved with synchronized quarry diving.  We also see the college kids playing frisbee and then there are references to college football.  Yes, I realize some of those are not really Olympic sports, but work with me here.  Tomorrow I've got more football coming up, and then a boxing film in about two weeks, and that will probably be the extent of the sports theme, unless some cable channel decides to start running "Creed" - I've also got "Southpaw" on the list, but my linking places it a lot closer to the end of the year.  

But let's focus on the bike racing tonight (which I'm pretty sure IS an Olympic sport).  This film is set in an Bloomington, home of Indiana University, where the most popular major seems to be douchebaggery, with an optional minor in bar fighting.  The rivalry between the college kids and the townies (nicknamed "Cutters", since their fathers cut the stone for the college buildings) keeps heating up until the police and the college dean come together and allow a team of Cutters into the "Little 500", the annual college bicycle race.  

Apparently, this town is obsessed with cycling, there are TWO bike races seen in the film, one against the visiting Cinzano-sponsored Italian team, which I guess is some kind of exhibition race, and then the big "Little 500" - which consists of 200 laps around a course, so I don't really get why it's called the "Little 500".  Oh, wait, it's a reference to the Indianapolis 500, I got that quite late.  And our lead Cutter is obsessed with the Italian team, he goes around speaking as much Italian as he knows and singing Italian opera - until he meets the Italian cyclists and realizes they're a bunch of Euro-snobs.  Words of wisdom, kid - you can meet your heroes, just don't get to know them.  

The plan for the Cutters to win the Little 500 is for Dave to do all the work, with the other three teens just for show.  Which seems like a great plan, as long as Dave doesn't get injured somehow.  That would mean that the other three riders, with much less experience and endurance, would need to get on the bike and somehow keep up with the much stronger athletes.  What are the odds of THAT happening?  Especially since we've been led to believe for the whole film that they're just a bunch of slackers, unable to buckle down and accomplish anything.  But I guess maybe you find your motivation when your pride is on the line.  

This is another film that's on that list of "1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", so after watching this, I've now seen 391 of those films, with 7 of them still on my watchlist.  I might be able to make it to 400 before I stop, which I think would be a pretty good percentage.  

Also starring Dennis Christopher (last seen in "Prisoners"), Daniel Stern (last seen in "Starting Over"), Jackie Earle Haley (last seen in "Robocop"), Barbara Barrie (last seen in "Private Benjamin"), Paul Dooley (last heard in "Turbo"), Robyn Douglass (last seen in "The Lonely Guy"), John Ashton (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Hart Bochner, P.J. Soles. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 used cars