Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Big Eyes

Year 8, Day 264 - 9/2016 - Movie #2,456    

BEFORE: Christoph Waltz carries over from "Spectre", and just like that, I'm back on art.  Not just art, but the confluence of art and deception, which brings to mind recent films, both "The Forger" and "Woman in Gold", of course "F For Fake", and tangentially "Mr. Turner" as well.  After tonight I'm on break for about 10 days, because the next link will take me directly into October's Halloween chain.  But this break comes right at the start of the new TV season, so I've got plenty of things to watch to occupy my time.  I sped through the three-hour Emmys telecast last night, plus about three nights ago I watched the pilot episode of "Mad Men".  I know, I'm about 9 years late for that party, but the first 5 episodes are suddenly available On Demand, so I'll watch the first 5 eps this week and then wait for more.  

The good news is that I got my watchlist down to 103 films, that's the smallest it's ever been, and I'm darn close to breaking 100, but of course taking 10 days off is going to be a step backwards, because I've got a second list next to the first list, containing about 12 films currently airing that I want to add.  So I could easily be back up at 113 or 115 by the time October 1 rolls around, and I can begin chipping away at it again. 

THE PLOT: A drama about the awakening of painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.  

AFTER: While it's easy to reference those other films about forged or stolen paintings, I want to tie together another thread, and link this film to "The Danish Girl" and "Brooklyn" while I'm at it.  Because the key to this story similarly seems to be gender politics, getting to the heart of what it meant to be a man or a woman in the past.  (And with "The Danish Girl" set in the 1930s, "Brooklyn" in the 1950s and "Big Eyes" in the 1960s and 70s, there's something of a progression.)  

We live in interesting times, that's for sure.  We're on the cusp of possibly electing the first female president, (and to think just 100 years ago, women couldn't even VOTE for President in the U.S.)  But for thousands of years the patriarchy was in place, and the thought of a woman artist (or soldier, or astronaut, or CEO) was somewhere between ridiculous and impossible.  Unfeasible, let's say.  Nurses, bookkeepers, showgirls, fine - maybe the occasional pilot if she was Amelia Earhart.  But it seems nearly everyone was stuck when it came to considering what women could do.  Why was it such a big mental leap from a woman running a home to, say, running a business?  Women could shop at a grocery store but not manage one?  I don't get it.  

I knew a little bit about the Keane art before watching this film - when I spent a day in San Francisco about four years ago (after a failed attempt to visit Skywalker Ranch), the first place I went was the ILM office at the Presidio.  (Priorities...)  The second place I went, after freeing myself from an insane cab driver who probably would have driven me all over the city if I wanted, was the Palace of Fine Arts, which is seen in this film.  The third place I randomly walked by was the Keane Gallery.  Of course, I was familiar with the "big eye" or "sad eye" paintings, who isn't?  Plus my boss had poked fun at this style of art several times in his films.  But I didn't really know the story behind the art, and the artists, until a couple of years later. 

You look up Walter Keane on Wikipedia now, and the first sentence reads "He was an American plagiarist..." so the verdict is really in, and history will regard him for the scam artist that he was.  The film calls into question whether he in fact had any artistic ability at all - hey, it even took his wife a few years to realize that although he had many paintings to bring to galleries, she had never seen him put a brush to a canvas.  Of course, "his" paintings didn't really sell until he met Margaret, his second wife, and suddenly his art style completely changed, and his new paintings looked an awful lot like the ones his wife painted before they were married, with the sad orphans with the saucer-like eyes.  

Sure, Picasso had his blue period and his red period and then made everything out of cubes for a while, but the simplest explanation is the best - one person made the paintings, the other one took the credit.  Now, there could be many reasons for this - sometimes one person is just much more outgoing than the other, or has more sales experience in relating to the customers.  I know it took me a few years to be able to talk to customers at our booth at Comic-Con, and most of the time I'll defer to my more outgoing boss when it comes to conversation, because the fans come there to talk to him anyway.  I much prefer the "soft sell" approach, because I don't like to feel I'm bothering customers, but I still realize that engaging people more does sell more product.  It's just harder for me to do.  

And Margaret Keane seems like a nice person, who probably deferred to her husband, who was more than happy to steamroll over her if it meant making some sales.  And sales were made, the Keane art started selling for thousands of dollars, and collectively they started making millions, which then of course reinforced the idea that maybe they were doing something right, which further encouraged her to not make any waves.  Besides, there just didn't seem to be a market for "lady art", so why not just let things be?  

Eventually, after a few too many lies, Margaret did get the stones to leave Walter, moving to Hawaii with her daughter, but he tracked her down, and demanded more paintings of despondent waifs before she could be free.  So she sued him for ownership of the entire artistic endeavor, leading to one of the more absurd trials in the history of the U.S. court system.  

However, we never really get at the three main questions raised by Keane art, which are: 1) Why kids with big eyes?  2) No, I mean it, why do you keep painting these kids with big eyes?  and 3) Seriously, what the frick is up with all these big-eyed orphans?   And more importantly, WHY did people suddenly find them popular in the late 1960's?  I get that they caught on like a viral fad, but WHY?  Did people get some form of relief by looking at these pathetic kids, thinking, "Wow, my life could be so much worse, I could be a sad orphan who looks like a bug-eyed alien!"??  

I'm reminded of "Ed Wood", also directed by Tim Burton, which also depicted the "bad" films of a hack director, but at the same time implied that they caught on with some people, so somehow these bad films could also be regarded as "good" in some circles, but similarly, there was zero explanation of the mechanics of all of that.  What was it, exactly, about "Glen or Glenda" or "Plan 8 From Outer Space" that appealed to some people - if you can't explain that, then it feels like something essential is missing, and the same goes for the Keane art.  Just a person or two, gazing at some big eye art, maybe mentioning what it is that made them so interesting, that's all I ask for.  If you can't have any character finish the sentence, "I like this painting because..." then why are you making a movie about it?

Also starring Amy Adams (last seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Danny Huston (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Krysten Ritter (last seen in "Someone Like You..."), Jason Schwartzman (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Terence Stamp (last seen in "The Adjustment Bureau"), Jon Polito (last heard in "Batman: Year One"), Madeleine Arthur, Delaney Raye, James Saito, Guido Furlani, 

RATING: 6 out of 10 Jehovah's witnesses

Monday, September 19, 2016


Year 8, Day 263 - 9/19/16 - Movie #2,455

BEFORE: So the news came down on Saturday night about a bomb exploding in Manhattan on 23rd St., and then they found another device on 27th St. - the two blocks involved just happened to be where the animation studio I work for used to be, and where it is currently.  It was hard not to read some significance into that, and I had to tell myself it was just an odd coincidence.  I walk down that block of 23rd St. at least twice a week, right by that residence for the blind.  It's a bit of a shock to the system, especially since I was only about one block away from the World Trade Center bombing - the first one, in 1992, not the big one in 2001.  But hearing people describe the sound of the bomb brought my memories of that day in '92 right back. 

Of course, I was nowhere near my workplace on a Saturday night - why would I be?  I was at home watching TV.  But watching the footage of a security noose tightening around a 4-block area of Manhattan, and I know that drugstore, I use that ATM, there's the place I get my Monday morning bagel, for cripes sake...  And not knowing the culprit or the cause, or what this means for the future, it's all very unnerving.  How much tighter is security going to be at New York Comic-Con, just a little over two weeks from now?  What does this mean for the election, if the bomber has ties to ISIS, does that mean more votes for Trump?  That might even be scarier than the bombings.  

Daniel Craig carries over from "Layer Cake" (and so does Ben Whishaw), and I'll see him one more time this year, at the very end of the Halloween chain.  Of course, I realized too late that part of this film is set during the Mexican "Day of the Dead" celebration, which is the day after Halloween.  So now I'm kicking myself, because this would have been a perfect film to watch on November 1.  But I'm locked into a chain now, it's too late to move things around.  And if I moved this film to Nov. 1, I'd have nothing else to link to - so I'm committed to watching it here.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Skyfall" (Movie #1,464)

THE PLOT: A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

AFTER: Speaking of terrorists, and bombs, James Bond finally faces off against SPECTRE, the organization behind all of the mayhem and mischief in the first three Daniel Craig Bond films.  And it turns out that Bond has a personal connection to the chief architect, the man with the plan (and the furry white cat).  How very "Count of Monte Cristo", to find out that his enemy was once his friend, and he carries a very personal grudge, for desiring what the other one had.  

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I watched the majority of the James Bond films back in 2013, even the one or two I'd seen before, just to be a completist.  And my biggest struggle was deciding what order to watch them in, since there were bound to be timeline problems and contradicting or overlapping information, no matter what order I chose.  I decided against watching the stories in the order that Ian Fleming wrote them, because the movies were all so different from the books.  I also decided against watching the films in the order they were released, because that didn't make sense either.  After all, Bond's origin movie didn't occur until the 21st film, "Casino Royale", as most people now discount the original "Casino Royale" from 1967, because it's a very silly film. 

What I settled on was watching the first two Craig films, "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace", then snapping back to "Dr. No" and progressing up through Connery, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan, to finally arrive at "Skyfall".  Of course, this didn't make much sense in the end either, because Bond's appearance kept changing, characters that died in one film were suddenly alive again in a later film, Judi Dench was "M", then she wasn't, then she was again, and so on.  But that was going to happen, no matter what order I chose.  Anyway, it was the best I could do to try and parse some kind of chronology out of the whole series.  

But if you just treat "Casino Royale" as a reboot and only count the four Daniel Craig films as the "new" Bond timeline, which I assume the newer generation is being encouraged to do, then "Spectre" is suddenly very important, because it marks the first appearance in the new timeline of a very important character, whose identity you've probably already guessed.  And while it's about as much of a surprise as the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch's character in "Star Trek Into Darkness", it still needs to be regarded with some respect. 

But first Bond has to stop a terrorist group from blowing up a stadium in Mexico City, and this means disrupting said Day of the Dead celebration with a sniper attack, a demolished building and a fight on a helicopter.  After exercising his license to kill, Bond beds that man's widow and finds out where the SPECTRE organization is holding their next meeting.  It's kind of like a deadly job fair, where assassins are recruited, and then there's a bake sale.  JK.  

After outwitting an assassin, Bond then goes to Austria to track down an old enemy - however, he's not supposed to be doing any of this, because the Double-O program is in the middle of being shut down, in favor of a new camera-based intelligence gathering service.  So he goes rogue with the help of Q, and some gadgets he's not even supposed to have, to get out in the field again, where he belongs. 

Geez, I haven't done one of these Bond breakdowns in quite a while, I hope I remember how...

LOCATIONS: Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangiers, London

VILLAINS: Mr. White, Hinx and you-know-who

BABES: Lucia Sciarra, Madeline Swann (what, no clever sexy puns?)

ALLIES: M, Q, Miss Moneypenny

PASTIMES: Chess (not really...) 

CARS: Aston Martin DB10, Aston Martin DB5

GADGETS: Just a watch with a little extra something

THEME: "Writing's on the Wall" by Sam Smith.  OK, so it's no "Skyfall", but it was perfectly serviceable.    

One of the biggest positives, I think, was the stunts - they really went all out on this one.  Sure, they're impossible, but that's what Bond does, the impossible.  The most unlikely, outrageous and jaw-dropping was probably when Bond flew a plane to take out a caravan of Land Rovers, which involved creatively destroying the plane as it crashed down a mountainside, and produced exactly the intended result of disabling three cars on the way down.  I can safely say I've never seen a movie stunt quite like that one.  The car chases, meh, I've seen dozens of them, but a PLANE chasing cars, well, that's something special.  

The destruction of buildings is another matter, and that happened THREE times during this film, three variations on the sort of collapsing building effects that were seen in the last two "Superman" films, and many other recent sci-fi films, and honestly, I'm over it.  It all seems like an unconscious reflection of what we all saw on 9/11, and I'm pretty darn sick of that.  Can't action movies find something more interesting to blow up than buildings?  I mean, any idiot can blow up a building, let's be a little more creative, OK?  

NITPICK POINT: Who the heck puts an Austrian Psychiatric Institute on the top of a mountain, where you need to ride a ski-lift to get to it?  What's the matter, was there no office space left in downtown Geneva?  What are you supposed to do if a mental patient is afraid of heights?  This made zero sense. 

It's probably not the last Bond film, but it ends in such a fashion that if it turns out to be that, there's something of a resolution.  Bond has worked out all of his relationship issues and defeated all of the bad men, although something tells me at least one of them will come back...  

Also starring Christoph Waltz (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Lea Seydoux (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Ralph Fiennes (last seen in "Maid in Manhattan"), Naomie Harris (last seen in "28 Days Later..."), Dave Bautista (last seen in "Riddick"), Monica Bellucci (last seen in "Under Suspicion"), Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear (last seen in "The Imitation Game"), Jesper Christensen (last seen in "The Interpreter"), Alessandro Cremona, Stephanie Sigman, Marc Zinga, with a cameo from Judi Dench (last seen in "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"). 

RATING:  8 out of 10 safe houses

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Layer Cake

Year 8, Day 262 - 9/18/16 - Movie #2,454   

BEFORE: Ben Whishaw carries over from "The Danish Girl" - see, I told you we'd get there.  And this will link nicely to "Spectre" and then set up the Halloween chain with the following film.  

THE PLOT: A successful cocaine dealer gets two tough assignments from his boss on the eve of his planned early retirement.

AFTER: Well, it seems there are film directed by Guy Ritchie (like "The Man from "U.N.C.L.E.") and then there are those that just FEEL like they were directed by him.  This one was directed by Matthew Vaughn, who also directed "Kick-Ass" and "Kingsman: the Secret Service", but it feels like it shares more of its DNA with films like "Snatch" and "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels". Maybe because Mr. Ritchie left that genre behind to make spy films? (Ah, I get it - Mr. Vaughn produced those  films...)  Anyway, films about British criminals with Cockney accents stumbling around the U.K. underworld have sort of become a genre of their own over the years.  

Here, a pre-Bond Daniel Craig plays XXXX, an unnamed middle-man of sorts in the drug scene, someone who's pretty good at making deals and playing one faction off against the other, at least until he decides he's had enough and wants to get out of the game.  A couple of things wrong with that plan, first off that it's extremely lucrative, so there's really no motivation to get out, and even if he could, he knows too much about too many people, so events rightfully seem to conspire to make things very difficult for him.  

There's a shipment of a million stolen ecstasy pills that his boss wants him to unload, but even as difficult as that may be, it gets even harder when the Serbian gang that they belong to shows up and starts calling his phone.  His boss also wants him to track down an associate's daughter, who's missing from rehab.  Since our "hero" isn't really a tracker, he hires a couple of con men who know the drug scene.  The investigation doesn't get very far before the girl's father shows up and kidnaps XXXX, not only wanting in on the deal for the ecstasy pills, but carrying information that XXXX's boss is an informant and will never, ever let him retire.  

Then things go even more pear-shaped, as the Brits say, and XXXX has to navigate an ever-shifting bunch of players, with names like Dizzy, Tiptoes and the Duke, while avoiding Serbian assassins and figuring out who, if anybody, should get to buy these pills and whether his plan to get out of the game is even still possible.  

Part of the difficulty is always understanding these thick Cockney accents - usually I'm pretty good at it after 15 minutes or so, but tonight the problem persisted.  It was also very hard to understand how exactly the events of years ago (the flashbacks with Crazy Larry, and younger versions of Gene and the Duke) connected to the present-day ones.  Something about the disposal of a body, and Morty doing time, and Freddy falling asleep, but honestly it's a bit of a muddle.  

Also starring Daniel Craig (last seen in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider"), Tom Hardy (last seen in "Lawless"), Colm Meaney (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Sienna Miller (last seen in "Alfie"), Jamie Foreman (last seen in "Oliver Twist"), Sally Hawkins (last seen in "Paddington"), Michael Gambon (last heard in "Paddington"), George Harris (last seen in "The Interpreter"), Kenneth Cranham (last seen in "Maleficent") Jason Flemyng (last seen in "Lost Christmas"), Dragan Micanovic (last seen in "Bad Company"), Burn Gorman (last seen in "Pacific Rim"), Marcel Iures, Tamer Hassan, Dexter Fletcher, Stephen Walters, Steve John Shepherd, Louis Emerick. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 country club memberships