Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lone Survivor

Year 8, Day 316 - 11/11/16 - Movie #2,486

BEFORE: Mark Wahlberg carries over again from "Ted 2", and I'm using that to pivot to action films, and this one in particular for Veterans Day. After this, I've got four more films in my November chain, then I'll be on break again for a month, until the release of "Rogue One"on December 16, then I'll have to get 9 more films watched before Christmas.  Really, the end of the year will be here before we know it, and I can't wait.  Bring on the holiday spirit, I really need some. 

THE PLOT: Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005, but are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.

AFTER: This may be an important film to watch, but it was a tough one for me to get through.  The face that it's based on a true story doesn't help the fact that the title totally gives away the ending, and also reveals the fate of Luttrell's fellow soldiers.  So, we all know what's coming, and it's so drawn out, at some point it began to resemble some form of war injury porn.  

Of course, Hollywood war films are great at glamorizing war, and making sure that soldiers who die on screen do so heroically, and with good intentions - but considering how many soldiers can die in a conflict, deep down we know that can't always be true.  So a film that doesn't put a positive spin on soldiers being shot, showing them injured again and again as they tumble down a mountain to try and escape Taliban forces, it should feel a little honest and refreshing, but it doesn't, it's just dark and depressing. 

I'm not even interested in discussing the futility of war, especially in Afghanistan, because it's such a hot-button issue that's been co-opted by both sides, and I've had enough of partisan politics to last for five election cycles.  (Go ahead, explain to me again how Afghanistan is Obama's fault, when Bush Jr. + Cheney started the war there....)  Enough, already.  Somehow our forces have been there too long, but at the same time, we withdrew too soon and created ISIS.  None of it makes any sense.  Afghanistan has been at war, in one form or another, since 1978, did we really think our 14-year presence would change anything there?  

But anyway, by focusing on the actions of a four-man SEAL team, the film focuses on a small story to try and tell the bigger one.  This unit is sent to take out a Taliban leader, but when they realize Ahmad Shah is too well-protected by troops, they attempt to abandon the mission, but a couple of goat-herders stumble on their position, and then the entire mission is compromised, and faced with the difficult decision over killing or releasing the herders, before trying to contact their base for extraction.  

Without giving anything away (that can't be determined from the film's title), Luttrell is the only team member who makes it, he's taken in by Afghan villagers who stand up to the Taliban because of their own code of honor, and they're able to keep him safe until they can make contact with the U.S. base.  But I want to stress again that while I didn't find the film very entertaining, I recognize its importance. The film opens with footage of Navy SEAL training, and those soldiers endure the harshest possible conditions for a reason, because they never know what they'll encounter during combat or capture.  And the best tribute to them I can give is acknowledging that I'd probably flunk that training on Day 1.  Heck, I'd probably quit after 10 minutes.    

Also starring Taylor Kitsch (last seen in "Snakes on a Plane"), Emile Hirsch (last seen in "Taking Woodstock"), Ben Foster (last seen in "Hostage"), Eric Bana (last seen in "Troy"), Alexander Ludwig (last seen in "Grown Ups 2"), Rich Ting, Jerry Ferrara (last seen in "Last Vegas"), Dan Bilzerian, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman, with a cameo from Peter Berg.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Apache helicopters

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ted 2

Year 8, Day 315 - 11/10/16 - Movie #2,485

BEFORE: I probably could have addressed this yesterday, but I thought this election remorse might have ebbed or at least lessened, but it just hasn't.  Living in a liberal enclave like New York City, everyone I deal with is still shocked and stunned, because we were all obsessively checking polling sites and calculating how many electoral votes Hillary had in the bag, so it seemed to us that enough like-minded people were on our side, and all we had to do was go to the polls, and then it would be a fait accompli.  For once, I'm one of the people who DID vote, so whatever happens next, it's not my fault.  

But it's coloring everything, even though I'm trying to watch silly comedies to get my mind off things.  "Get Hard" emphasized the great racial and class divides we have in this country, and "Daddy's Home" had two fathers vying for the love of two children, much like two candidates vying for the Presidency.  It's not just me, you see it too, right?  

I'm trying to find the silver lining in the election results, but it's not easy, especially when everything I've heard over the last few months led me to believe that this guy would be the American Hitler - don't forget that Hitler was elected, too, back in 1933, and a majority of people in Germany was behind him, at least at first.  I'm reminding myself that Trump used to be a Democrat, as little as two years ago, and in some ways may even be more liberal than Hillary Clinton, but it's small solace.  Unless he decides to accomplish very little once he gets into the White House, which is definitely possible, I feel we're about to watch the Constitution get gutted, and human rights taken away.  But hey, if you enjoy schadenfreude, things are looking up.  

Mark Wahlberg carries over from "Daddy's Home", and I'm back on sequels, after watching "Pink Panther 2" and "Zoolander 2" earlier this week. 

FOLLOW-UP TO:  "Ted" (Movie #1,626), "Paddington" (Movie #2,448)

THE PLOT: Newlywed couple Ted and Tami-Lynn want to have a baby, but in order to qualify to be a parent, Ted will have to prove he's a person in a court of law.

AFTER: I wanted to make sure to get to the OTHER talking bear film that was released last year, because watching this and "Paddington" close to each other, for comparative purposes, seems to make sense.  Man, American films about talking bears are VERY different from British ones.  

But the Election logic is creeping in yet again -  Ted finds out here that as a talking teddy bear, legally, he is not a person, so his marriage is annulled, he loses his job and his bank account.  Symbolically, this is what could happen to the rights of immigrants and gay people over the next few years - legislation could be passed in the GOP-controlled Senate, signed by Trump, that marginalizes various groups of people.  What does it mean to be an American?  What does it mean to be married?  What constitutes a person?  These are all legal questions with potentially changing answers.

Maybe if I bury myself in minutia, I can stop thinking about the election for a bit - this is the second film in a row to have part of its action set at a fertility clinic, where slapstick humor about the process of a man leaving a sample ensues.  Also, like "Pink Panther 2", it's a sequel where one actor was unavailable to reprise their role, so they had to be replaced.  Here, Mila Kunis was not available for the sequel, so her character was written out via a break-up, and John, the main human character, is in the market for a new girlfriend.  

Conveniently, that turns out to be Ted's lawyer, who happens to be young, female and attractive, and also very down to smoke pot with John + Ted.  A stoner's dream, right?  But speaking as a nerd, I don't think I could ever date someone who knew NOTHING about nerd culture - not "Star Trek" or "Lord of the Rings", what gives?  These things are so ingrained in our pop culture that for someone to not get references to those things, they much be either a snob or incredibly stupid.  

Let's get to the NITPICK POINTS, because the climax of this film is set at New York Comic-Con, a place I know very well.  They shot the exteriors there, but clearly not the interiors, because I didn't recognize what I know about the Javits Center at all.  They re-created the look of NYCC, right down to the bright red carpet, on a soundstage somewhere - makes sense, a Comic-Con is much too crowded of a place to film scenes for a Hollywood movie, especially if you're going to have an epic nerd fight and break a lot of stuff.  I started to realize that something was up when the food court seen here looked NOTHING like it does at any Comic-Con - there was a Subway and a Johnny Rockets, but they looked like they were serving from regular vendor booths, when a real Comic-Con would have food vendors separated away from other vendors, to keep food away from the merchandise.

But I also think I heard the characters say they were driving to New York for a Monday morning consultation with a lawyer, and then later that day, Ted goes to New York Comic-Con.  Well, everyone knows that NYCC takes place Thursday through Sunday, so attending on a Monday would be impossible.  (The goofs section on IMDB also points out that this film is set in August, and NYCC happens in October, so fail all the way around...)  Plus, Ted buys a ticket right before entering, and as anyone who's been there would also know, same-day tickets are usually not available (except maybe for Thursday), because the event is usually sold out, months in advance.  Plus, NO ONE is seen wearing their convention badges, which 99% of attendees wear on a lanyard around their necks.  

Also starring Amanda Seyfried (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), the voice of Seth MacFarlane (last seen in "Starring Adam West"), Jessica Barth (last seen in "Ted"), Giovanni Ribisi (last seen in "Flight of the Phoenix"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "Under Suspicion"), John Slattery (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Sam Jones (also last seen in "Ted"), John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Grumpy Old Men"), Patrick Warburton (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Michael Dorn, Dennis Haysbert (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Ron Canada, with cameos from Liam Neeson (last seen in "Taken 3"), Tom Brady (last seen in "Stuck on You"), Jay Leno (last seen in "Calendar Girls"), Jimmy Kimmel (last seen in "The Smurfs 2"), Jimmy Fallon (last seen in "Get Hard"), Bill Maher (last seen in "EdTV"), Kate McKinnon (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Bobby Moynihan (last heard in "Inside Out"), Taran Killam (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Nana Visitor, Ralph Garman (also last seen in "Starring Adam West"), Alec Sulkin, Lenny Clarke (last seen in "The Judge"), Dustin Ybarra, Tiffany, and the voice of Patrick Stewart (last heard in "A Million Ways to Die in the West").

RATING: 5 out of 10 improv comics

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Daddy's Home

Year 8, Day 314 - 11/9/16 - Movie #2,484

BEFORE: Will Ferrell carries over from "Get Hard", and this kicks off a three-film Mark Wahlberg chain.  It's amazing how simple that all seems in retrospect, but I just couldn't see these connections a couple of weeks ago, I had to sit down with my phone and scan through the IMDB looking for possible paths that would get me to the end of the year in an acceptable way, according to my own rules.

THE PLOT: Brad Whitaker is a radio host trying to get his stepchildren to love him and call him Dad, but his plans turn upside-down when their biological father, Dusty Mayron, returns.

AFTER: Essentially, it's the same formula as "Get Hard" - cast Will Ferrell (really, always a good idea - well, almost always) as something, then cast someone to play his polar opposite.  In this case, Ferrell is the nerdy, insecure, less manly stepdad, playing against the super-cool, super-confident, super-macho biological father, and they put themselves in a competition for the hearts and minds of their two co-children.

I don't know exactly how common a situation this is, I'm basically a conscientious objector in the parenting department.  Whether this type of struggle goes on across America, or this is an exaggerated fictionalized version of an imagined typical family dispute, I have no idea.  All I can do is analyze the tale that Hollywood puts in front of me, and judge it by how entertaining it turns out to be.

At the same time, it's something of an over-simplification - right away, the conflict is determined to be THIS guy or THAT guy, as if the kids could only love one or the other, which is ridiculous at its core.  We probably all know someone who's got a parent and a step-parent, and logically it should be possible for them to care about them both, whether equally or not, but that doesn't seem to be even suggested as an option here.  Right away, the macho he-man B.S. comes into the picture, and both men end up in caveman lizard-brain mode, where it's "either me or him".

Great for comedy, but not great for logic, and not representative of the way most people probably think.  Look at the big picture, do you only have one job throughout your life?  One house, one car?  The only thing that's constant in our lives is change, and that's true of relationships, too.  Thousands of kids in our country eventually find room in their hearts for a new parent, why do these bozos automatically assume that the kids couldn't possibly love them AND another dad, too?

It starts with simple things, like telling bedtime stories, but before long each man is trying to outdo and outspend the other, starting with pets and escalating up to extravagant treehouses and a skateboard half-pipe in the backyard.  Then there's the competition over handling tough childhood issues - like, which father is better at advising their son over how to deal with bullying.  The psychological warfare eventually extends to the bedroom, where the new stepdad seems incapable at first of giving the wife another child, the biological father's track record on this is already proven.  However, there's an unexpected twist late in the film, which I thought was handled pretty cleverly.

But apart from this point, the remainder of the resolution, the ultimate reasoning for these two men calling a truce, felt both forced and rushed.  I guess we always knew that they would make peace for the sake of the children, but the turn-around just takes place too quickly.  And the biological parent's inability to deal with the day-to-day things, like making lunches and school drop-offs, is much too convenient.

NITPICK POINT: What fertility clinic, anywhere in the world, would put a man who's there to leave a "sample" in a room where he could possibly be seen by others?  Sure, it's a visual joke for comic effect, but no one would responsibly set aside a room for this purpose where only a few, insufficient venetian blinds were standing between someone and social embarrassment of this nature.  Anyone in the medical profession would be smart enough to designate a private, locked room for this, so the joke just didn't work.

Also starring Mark Wahlberg (last seen in "2 Guns"), Linda Cardellini (last seen in "Avengers: Age of Ultron"), Thomas Haden Church (last seen in "Tombstone"), Hannibal Burress (last heard in "Nerdland"), Bobby Cannavale (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Bill Burr (last seen in "The Heat"), Jamie Denbo (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), with cameos from John Cena (last seen in "Sisters"), Kobe Bryant, Paul Scheer.

RATING: 5 out of 10 traffic cones

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Get Hard

Year 8, Day 313 - 11/8/16 - Movie #2,483

BEFORE: I watched this as the election returns came in on Wednesday night, and I think I'd be a little more vocal about my disappointment in the outcome, but I've got to be careful now, you never know who's listening, and taking down names.  There is historical precedent for this, but you've got to look at the election of 1932, only not in America, if you feel me.  

Seriously, I stood in the office on Monday and I predicted a repeat of the 2000 election, even though some of the kids I work with are probably too young to remember that one.  The tight popular vote, the recounts, the court challenges, the weeks of not knowing who the President was going to be.  The butterfly ballots, the hanging chads (I had to explain what those things were...)  Even though the polls gave Clinton a 75% chance of victory, I was the one saying that it was going to be close, like stay-up-all-night year 2000 close.  Like "the Supreme Court has to step in here" close. 

That being said, I don't know why this all had to be decided overnight.  Back in the day, it took weeks for results to come in from all of the different states, of course they had to be delivered on horseback, but that's how they did it.  I don't know why Clinton conceded when she did, before any recounts or any challenges could be filed - my gut tells me that Trump made up the story about getting a concession call, just another lie in a campaign full of lies, and Clinton's just too tired to challenge.  But it is what it is.  

So we've got a president who lost the popular vote by a slim margin, but squeaked out a win in the Electoral College.  Yep, that's 2000 all over again, and we survived the Bush presidency (barely) but depending on where you stand, I'm left feeling like it's all going to get worse before it gets better.  Personally I don't understand the need to fix a system that wasn't all that broke to begin with, or the desire to hire a completely unexperienced person to do a job.  When you need something fixed in your house, do you go and seek out a contractor who has no idea what he's doing, or the person who's done this before and has a proven track record.  

And if you think "the system is rigged" or "the electoral college doesn't work right", well, that's a debatable point.  But you know as well as I do that nothing about the system is going to change, it's like a leaky roof - you only realize it needs to be fixed when it's raining, but when the sun is shining, you're much less motivated to get up there and fix it.  So in four years we'll be back in this same spot, where nobody came up with a better system, a better method of casting ballots, or a foolproof method of counting votes.  

I had my fun on Election Day, I happened to be carrying a tote bag because I was on my way to pick up some animation art from a gallery, so I told the workers at my polling station that the bag was to hold all the free stuff I was going to get when I voted.  (I had to tell them I was kidding, then they appreciated the humor...)  Most people just take this stuff way too seriously - however, the stupid 11,000 hipster douchebags who wasted their votes on a dead gorilla, well, they just weren't taking it seriously enough.  You want to know why I hate hipsters?  This is why, their jokes just aren't funny.

Will Ferrell carries over from "Zoolander 2", and since I watched this film in-between election results, I think this is the kind of comic material we're all going to need more of in the days ahead.

THE PLOT: When millionaire James King is jailed for fraud and bound for San Quentin, he turns to Darnell Lewis to prep him to go behind bars.

AFTER: A lot of comedy derives from juxtaposition, putting this thing next to THAT thing, and then pointing out how different they are.  Abbott/Costello and Laurel/Hardy are some of the early film examples - let's get one fat guy and one skinny guy together, and they'll have opposing personalities, which creates conflict, and ultimately, humor.  The formula is still in place today, in films like "The Heat" and "Hitch", among many others.  

If you want to extend the difference along a racial line, and not venture into "Miami Vice" or "Lethal Weapon" territory, then you land on something like "Get Hard" - which probably owes its greatest debt to "Trading Places", and the plots are even a little similar, with a rich white guy taking a fall from the world of stock-market trading.  But while Dan Aykroyd's character was merely stripped of his assets and thrown into the street, Will Ferrell's character here is looking at serving hard time in San Quentin.  

He then seeks out the only African-American person he knows, Darnell - the guy who washes his car, because he naturally assumes that Darnell has served time.  He hasn't, but just like any other hard-working American, he needs money and he sees an opportunity.  So there's a larger social importance here, the film keenly points out the existence of two Americas - the one with clueless white people living in their McMansions, making uneducated assumptions about minorities, and then the day-to-day world of the struggling middle class.  Hey, who knew I could find a way to tie this one in to the election?

Though there's way too much focus on the scatalogical here - it's based on some very biased assumptions about what goes on behind bars between two men.  And the vast majority of this is judgmental - the automatic assumption that all gay sex is bad or unpleasant is particularly egregious.  Maybe it's like a food you haven't tried before - how do you KNOW you won't like it, unless you try it?  But no, let's just assume that all prison sex is non-consensual and all man-on-man action is to be avoided, for the sake of a joke.  After a year or two in prison, maybe for anyone, all bets would be off, that's all I'm saying.  We just put a man with a terrible track record on gay rights into the vice-presidency (which, according to Trump, puts that man in charge of all domestic policy...) so we really should examine humor like this and determine whether it does more harm than good.  

But beyond that, putting Will Ferrell in situations where he seeks out protection, first from a White Supremacist biker gang, and then from a black street gang, is comedy gold - even though it's like picking low-hanging fruit.  And it took way too long for Ferrell's character to realize who was really responsible for his situation, and to start to fight back.  The whole situation could have been avoided if his character had been a little less clueless, but of course, it's funny that he was so out of touch with reality for so long.  

And the main message of the film is that you may have a period of time coming up for which you must get tough, if you're going to endure it and come out intact on the other side.  And for that reason alone, watching this could not have been more timely. 

Also starring Kevin Hart (last seen in "Grudge Match"), Craig T. Nelson (last seen in "The Family Stone"), Alison Brie (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Edwina Findley Dickerson (last seen in "Red Tails"), Greg Germann (last seen in "Here Comes the Boom"), T.I. (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Ron Funches, Dan Bakkedahl (last seen in "This Is 40"), Matt Walsh (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Paul Ben-Victor, with cameos from John Mayer, Jimmy Fallon (last seen in "Jurassic World").

RATING: 5 out of 10 shivs

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Zoolander 2

Year 8, Day 312 - 11/7/16 - Movie #2,482

BEFORE: As I mentioned, this movie was not originally part of my plan for November, it's only been on the watchlist for a few weeks, but since I had to rearrange my chain, I was able to come up with another path to get to my Veterans Day film, and Will Ferrell leads to Mark Wahlberg, in a way that will be obvious in just a few days.  So I'm dropping in 3 films with Ferrell as something of an "October Surprise", in a place where two Peter Pan-themed films were, which makes up for the fact that I had to drop another film from the list that didn't link at all.  

Tonight's link is CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour, carrying over from "The Pink Panther 2", and this film also features quite a few other famous newscasters, who are people we'll be seeing a lot of tomorrow during election coverage.  See, I knew I could find a way to link this all in somehow. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Zoolander" (Movie #523)

THE PLOT: Derek and Hansel are lured into modeling again, in Rome, where they find themselves the target of a sinister conspiracy.

AFTER: I went back and read my review of "Zoolander", which I watched in June 2010 - I gave that a "4" and said there were a few funny moments, but it wasn't a laugh riot.  Yeah, this one's just about the same.  Like the recent "Pink Panther" films, everything seems to be based on one simple premise - "Clouseau is clumsy" or "male models are dumb".  At least in the first film male models were used as mindless assassins, in sort of "Manchurian Candidate" way, but making them stand-ins for spies, without having them carrying out any type of defined mission, becomes sort of formless humor.

No lie, one character here literally works for the "Fashion Police", and there's also a prison for fashion's worst offenders.  The plot is basically nonsense - and then more nonsensical things are piled on top of that, in some kind of fallacy that states if you can pack in enough nonsense, the overall movie will come out and make sense on the other side, and it just isn't so.

I will give credit, however, for putting a spin on the plot of "The Da Vinci Code", with the possibility that a certain person is secretly the descendant of a famous Biblical figure (no, not that one) and that a secret society exists to keep that bloodline secret and safe.  Someone did have to be clever to come up with something this stupid, if that makes any sense.  There are also jabs at the "Silence of the Lambs" films, with Mugatu imprisoned in a very Hannibal Lecter-like fashion, which I was able to recognize from watching "Red Dragon" recently.

But it's hard to get a handle on what the point of the film is, other than "male models are dumb".  Is it about trying to remain relevant in an ever-changing world?  The difficulty that celebrities have in maintaining relationships and raising normal children?  Friendship triumphing over evil?  No, I think it's just "male models are dumb" - to draw any other conclusion feels like I'm giving the movie too much credit.

It seems odd, however, that a film in this day and age would engage in its own version of fat-shaming, and also to have a character who is androgynous, and to show the male models being creeped out by that.  Modeling in general, with a couple of exceptions perhaps, does focus on what is allegedly "beautiful", but shouldn't we be aiming to get beyond that?  The dark side of calling these people attractive is that it reinforces the opposite, that the people who are NOT models are less beautiful, and therefore this film becomes part of the problem.  Right?  OK, so Derek Zoolander eventually accepts his overweight son as "plus-size", but that's barely a step in the right direction.  Modeling and acting still put much too much emphasis on beauty, and this just highlights all that. 

Also starring Ben Stiller (last seen in "The Trip"), Owen Wilson (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Will Ferrell (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Penelope Cruz (last seen in "The Counsellor"), Justin Theroux (last seen in "Mulholland Drive"), Kristen Wiig (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Milla Jovovich (last seen in "The Claim"), Jon Daly (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Christine Taylor (last seen in "A Very Brady Sequel"), Billy Zane, Kiefer Sutherland (last seen in "The Lost Boys"), Kyle Mooney, Fred Armisen (last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), Benedict Cumberbatch (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Sting (last seen in "Quadrophenia"), Cyrus Arnold, Nathan Lee Graham (last seen in "Hitch"), with cameos from Justin Bieber, Jerry Stiller (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Katie Couric, Jane Pauley, Joe Scarborough, Soledad O'Brien, Matt Lauer, Susan Boyle, Joe Jonas, Olivia Munn (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Skrillex, Naomi Campbell, Willie Nelson (last seen in "The Electric Horseman"), Katy Perry (also last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), Neil deGrasse Tyson (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Alexander Skarsgard, John Malkovich (last seen in "Rounders"), Susan Sarandon (last seen in "Alfie"), M.C. Hammer, Anna Wintour, Kate Moss, Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Jacobs, Johnny Weir, Lenny Kravitz (last seen in "The Butler"), Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Christina Hendricks, Andy Dick. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 selfies

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Pink Panther 2

Year 8, Day 311 - 11/6/16 - Movie #2,481

BEFORE: I feel a little guilty now for not scrapping my plans and programming something political, with the election in just two days.  They're running documentaries like "Where to Invade Next" and "Weiner", and I do want to see those - you'd think now would be the perfect time, but instead I'm just so burned out by all of the coverage, that honestly, the last thing I want to do is focus on politics.  I'll take a mindless comedy like this one, anything to get my mind off of polls and debates and predictions. 

I watched Game 7 of the World Series last week, and if you have to pick just one baseball game to watch, you'd like to think Game 7 of the World Series would be the one.  And it was.  I'd say that I didn't have a dog in that fight, except that I did root for the Indians for a few years while married to someone from Cleveland, and I still think they would have won in 1994 if the Series had been played (kids, look it up).  But then again, the Cubs had a longer drought, so I was good either way.  Terry Francona, former Red Sox coach, was coaching the Indians, but Theo Epstein, former Red Sox GM, is now GM for the Cubs.  So for once I was able to just enjoy a game, regardless of the outcome.  

I wish I could say the same about the election - it looks like I'll be forced to head to the polls now, or I'll never hear the end of it.  God forbid that anyone disagree with the outcome, then if I didn't vote, then somehow it'll be my fault.  I predict this one will go into extra innings, then we'll get a rain delay of sorts, like we did in 2000 (again, kids, look it up...)  Maybe I need to approach it like I did Game 7 - if my candidate wins, then I get to relax, and if the other one wins, I get to watch the country crash and burn, and enjoy the increased schadenfreude from the comedy pundits.  

Steve Martin carries over from "The Pink Panther", which is an easy one, and tomorrow I'll have to get a little more creative.

THE PLOT: Insp. Jacques Clouseau teams up with a squad of International detectives.  Their mission: Stop a globe-trotting thief who specializes in stealing historical artifacts.

AFTER: Clumsy Clouseau is back, and now he proves to be just as inept at romance as he is at crime-fighting.  Still, he fails upward on both fronts, because honestly, this is just a bunch of silly fluff I'm watching to distract myself (not working...).  When you get right down to it, it's just a collection of slapstick gags, tied together by the thinnest of plots, which is rife with inconsistencies.  

Though I think the one thing this sequel got right was introducing a famous jewel thief, which in theory pays direct homage to the Phantom, who stole the Pink Panther in the original Peter Sellers film.  Here the thief is called "Il Tornado", which seems to be a reference to nothing in particular, my guess is someone just picked a name that wasn't "The Phantom", because that would be more than an homage, then it would be a rip-off. (God forbid!).  

Clouseau is also forced to update his way of thinking, because he's an old-school gendarme in the new world of political correctness, so even though he's exremely busy working on the Il Tornado case, they also bring in a specialist to lecture him on proper work-place behavior.  (Umm, couldn't we postpone that until AFTER we catch the jewel thief?)  To support my claim that the film is inconsistent, may I just point out that Clouseau is coached to not engage in racial stereotypes, but then the film assembles a team of detectives from around the world, and the Japanese guy is the tech expert, the British gent is the master of observation, the Italian is a great romancer...  "Hello, kettle?  This is the pot calling.  Guess what?"

It's also odd that French Inspector Dreyfus is no longer played by the same actor, but his co-star from "A Fish Called Wanda", and somehow he's now British.  I mean, really?  What gives?  Are we not supposed to notice this?  I get that Dreyfus is a key character in the "Pink Panther" series, but since Clouseau is already teaming up with international detectives, why not just have him loaned out to Scotland Yard, and that way the casting of John Cleese might make a little more sense.  I mean, I love Kevin Kline, but I also love Cleese, and if you can get Cleese, by all means get him, but just don't cast him as a Frenchman.  And while Dreyfus's character's accent changed from French to British, the accent of Clouseau's assistant, Ponton changed from British to French.  Go figure.  

It gets worse from there, Clouseau is completely clueless, yet somehow had the ability to outsmart the thief.  He's always wrong, until he's incredibly right.  Dreyfus can't stand Clouseau, yet admires him when he cracks the case.  How can all of these things exist at the same time?  I think what bothers me the most is that nothing seems to matter, nobody seemed interested in fixing any errors, they just wanted to keep a franchise alive with another film.  I'm starting to realize how brilliant "South Park" is this season, with its long-running gag about "member berries".  As long as Hollywood keeps trying to feed us these servings of re-booted nostalgia, and we keep watching them, hoping to somehow regain our childhood memories, this is what we're going to end up with, instead of new stories with new ideas.

Also starring Jean Reno (also carrying over from "The Pink Panther"), Emily Mortimer (ditto), John Cleese (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Andy Garcia (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Alfred Molina (last seen in "The Hoax"), Jeremy Irons (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Lily Tomlin (last seen in "The Kid"), Yuki Matsuzaki, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Geoffrey Palmer (last seen in "Paddington"), Johnny Hallyday, with cameos from Federico Castelluccio, Christiane Amanpour (last seen in "Iron Man 2").

RATING: 3 out of 10 security cameras

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Pink Panther (2006)

Year 8, Day 310 - 11/5/16 - Movie #2,480  

BEFORE: I'm back after a 10-day break, during which time we had the real Halloween, not just in movies, we had about 100 kids come to the door for candy this year, and I made sure that all of them got voter registration cards and Trump stickers.  Hey, what's more scary than that?  Plus my wife and I had our 15th wedding anniversary (Nov. 3, but we did the big dinner out earlier tonight) and I managed to catch up on a lot of TV and comic books.  But without watching movies, as I feared, my watchlist grew in size again - I had it down to 103 at one point, but now it's up to 123 again.

So before I begin tonight, I've got to do a little bit of list maintenance.  I left myself exactly 21 slots to finish out this Movie Year, and I had a plan for all of those slots - but now, as I examine the plan more closely, I see that I've made a number of mistakes.  My 21 films were essentially divided into two parts - 12 films that would get me to "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story", and another 8 films after that.  However, this was not a continuous chain, there was one indirect link, one break for a documentary, and one film that didn't link at all - it seems I accidentally placed a film with JAMES Brolin in between two films that star JOSH Brolin.  Nope, that won't work at all.  Plus that chain relies on THREE films that I don't have copies of, and only one of them ("Rogue One") will be in theaters.  

So tearing apart the list again seems like an incredible chore, and this highlights another mistake - if I had added a few more Dracula and/or Frankenstein films to the October line-up, I could have cut my work here in half, then I could just follow the links to "Rogue One" and be done with the year.  But no, I had to schedule a couple of Christmas films this year, and getting from here to there in the right number of steps is not going to be easy.  To make matters worse, I pre-watched two of the films I had planned for December, and since I can't un-watch them, and I don't want to carry them over into next year, I have to link to them somehow, even if it's indirectly. 

Now, I could just scrap the whole list and chart a new course - a little experimentation gave me a link between "The Invasion" and "The Good Dinosaur", from there I could link to "Reds" and then a couple other Warren Beatty movies - this would put "The Parallax View" on Election Day, and I could certainly make a political connection there.  There's a link from there to a couple of Gene Hackman films ("Night Moves" and "The Conversation"), then I could follow the Harrison Ford link to "The Age of Adaline", and I sort of know my way from there.  But this only changes the first half of the list, and right now it's the second half that worries me, so I really wouldn't have accomplished anything by doing that.  

The saving grace is that by adding films to the list, I've created new linking opportunities that weren't there a month ago, or even 10 days ago when I went on break.  I've got a possible link OUT of "Rogue One" now, and I can see how that links to what I had planned for December, so I think it's best if I stick with as much of my last plan as possible, with a couple of tweaks I think I can make it work.  I'm going to postpone the two Peter Pan-themed films until next year, and drop in three Will Ferrell films, that should make the count even out again, and in doing so I'm reducing the number of breaks in the chain from two to one, and also reducing the number of films I'll have to watch online from two to one.  So this should be easier all around.  And it only took me a couple of hours to change the plan, and thanks to the end of Daylight Savings, I had an extra hour to do the tweaking tonight.  And if I count tonight's film as Saturday's film instead of Sunday's, I can still program a war-themed film on Veterans Day.

So Roger Rees carries over from "The Invasion", as I originally planned.

THE PLOT: Bumbling Inspector Clouseau must solve the murder of a famous soccer coach and find out who stole the infamous Pink Panther diamond.

AFTER: This is another one of those films that I swore, at one point, I would never watch.  But this is sort of the year for getting to those, like "Yentl" and "Red Dragon".  If I'm getting to the films that I planned to never watch, that must mean I'm making progress, right?  I watched the essentials, then the films that I could take or leave, and now I'm getting to the ones I've been avoiding for the longest time! But also, this is the year for sequels and reboots, so when all is said and done for the year, this one should fit right in.  

The reason that I swore to avoid this film was out of respect for Peter Sellers, and the original films directed by Blake Edwards.  But you know what?  They had their own faults.  Sellers was a comic genius, but as I learned from watching all of his "Pink Panther" films in a row, shortly before starting this project, the series ran off the rails at some point, perhaps during the third or fourth film you can really pick the scene where it jumped the shark.  Maybe it was during the 2nd film that they cobbled together from outtakes and unused scenes after Sellers died, because they still wanted the franchise to continue.  By the time they had Ted Wass starring in one film, and Roberto Benigni as Clouseau's son in another, most fans realized that the franchise should have been buried with its star. 

There was always a bit of that same "Frankenstein's Monster" confusion with the series, too - the Pink Panther was a diamond, not a character - the jewel thief in the first film was called "The Phantom", but later films in the series kept "Pink Panther" in the title, even when the movies had nothing to do with the gem.  "The Return of the Pink Panther" should really have been called "The Return of the Phantom", but then I guess the filmmakers didn't think the audience would understand, so the error took prominence over logic.  

Sellers had to walk a fine line, comically speaking - Clouseau had to be clumsy and inept, but not inherently stupid, because that would be sad.  Mostly he had to fail upwards, while pulling off a series of disguises and physical gags.  But further inconsistencies abounded as the relationship between Clouseau and Chief Inspector Dreyfus deteriorated, after Clouseau's accidental successes drove Dreyfus insane, and before long Dreyfus was the main villain of the series.  I remember as a kid being excited when a "Pink Panther" film ran on TV, only to be disappointed when I realized that once again, it was the one where Dreyfus was the criminal mastermind, or the one AFTER that when he was somehow declared sane again and reinstated.  Whaaattt??

What I mean to say is, as much as I love the original films (some of them, anyway) I now realize there could be room for improvement with an update.  The original series came to symbolize what could go wrong when a franchise is allowed to go on too long, but sometimes, like with James Bond, a reboot could be just the thing.  But it's sad to say that by going for the cheapest, silliest slapstick at every turn, this reboot turned out to be more like "Austin Powers" than "James Bond".  Perhaps that's what they were going for, but I'm left feeling they could have aimed a lot higher.  

The modern Dreyfus promotes Clouseau and assigns him to the Pink Panther theft case (OK, at least the new film worked in the diamond heist) which also involves the simultaneous murder of a soccer coach.  OK, I'm with you so far, soccer's big in Europe, I hear.  And the suspects include the coach's girlfriend, who's an international pop star, played by an international pop star.  Everything seems to be relevant so far...

But then, Clouseau gets his fingers stuck in a door.  And sets fire to a bathroom.  And gets BOTH his hands stuck in vases.  And drops a globe down a large staircase, where it bounces out into the street and knocks over bicyclists from the Tour de France.  It seems that in France, there's ALWAYS a group of bicyclists going by for Clouseau to knock down.  It's just too much of the same thing, over and over, so by the third time he electrocutes himself, it's simply stopped being funny any more.  They even tried to revive some old Sellers gags, like attacking his assistant without warning, but that worked when Kato was Clouseau's manservant, and it was much less successful here. 

However, if I focus on the positives here, there is a case/problem, Clouseau is clumsy but still manages to fail upwards, and there is a semi-logical climax and resolution, so in the middle of all the nonsense, the film does manage to follow proper three-act structure.  For the longest time it just seems like repetitive slapstick without any sign of an ending, but it did manage to tie up the loose ends.  Just too many descents into non-productive comedy, like Clouseau's inability to pronounce "hamburgers".  Or the fart sounds in the recording studio.  I could go on and on...

Also starring Steve Martin (last seen in "A Simple Twist of Fate"), Kevin Kline (last seen in "Ricki and the Flash"), Jean Reno (last seen in "Alex Cross"), Emily Mortimer (last seen in "Notting Hill"), BeyoncĂ© Knowles (last heard in "Epic"), Kristin Chenoweth (last heard in "Rio 2"), Jason Statham (last seen in "Spy"), Clive Owen, Henry Czerny, Boris McGiver.

RATING: 3 out of 10 tranquilizer darts