Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Year 8, Day 320 - 11/15/16 - Movie #2,490

BEFORE: In a way, my blog is like a little lodge in the Catskills, I'll be shutting down for the season after tonight - but I will re-open for a week, just before Christmas, because there's always a few hunters out in the woods that need a place to stay during duck season.  (Or is it rabbit season?)  Now I need some time to celebrate Thanksgiving, go to my high-school reunion, get some Christmas shopping done, and probably bail a few relatives out of jail so they can celebrate the holidays.  Hey, you never know.

The watchlist stands at 118 films, which is still above the low point of 103 (a month or so ago) but is less than the number of films when I went on break last november (130, I think).  So some progress has been made, but the list will no doubt grow again over the next month. 

Jake Gyllenhaal carries over from "Everest", and let's hope things work out better for him in this film.  Based on the trailer I saw a couple years ago, I'm not getting my hopes up.

THE PLOT: Boxer Billy Hope turns to trainer Tick Wills to help him get his life back on track after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to child protection services.

AFTER: I've watched my share of boxing films over the course of this project, just last year I watched 6 in a row ("Grudge Match", "Undisputed", "Play it to the Bone", etc.) and I know they tend to follow a formula.  Boxer loses, boxer is down on his luck, boxer trains and fights his way back.  Throw in some family or relationship drama and a crusty old trainer, and you've got yourself a movie.  I thought I was DONE, but every time I think I'm done with boxing, Hollywood releases another one.  ("Bleed For This", in theaters now...)  Plus, I still have to watch "Creed", I wasn't able to schedule that one on the 2016 calendar. 

So I wish that something was different and unique about this film, but it follows the same old Hollywood boxing formula, just amped up to high volume.  The family drama is increased by tragedy (which again, was TOTALLY telegraphed in the film's trailer, I don't know why anyone would let such an important spoiler into a preview clip...) and then worse, our boxer is then declared an unfit parent, based on both his recreational behavior and the fact that he beats people up for a living.  

Boxing is still a thing, even though we know it's no good for the participants, yet it still seems to be our country's second most popular blood sport (after the presidential election, of course...).  I try very hard to look for some form of metaphor in a boxing film, but most of the time, it's just not there.  Is it about the everyman's struggle, man's inhumanity to man, or the futility of life?  Nope, usually it's just about two guys pounding on each other. 

I can tell that there was SUPPOSED to be some kind of learning experience for Billy Hope - the loss of his wife and daughter was intended as some kind of wake-up call, a sign that he was on the wrong track and needed to make some changes in his life.  But rather than take up an honest profession, he just learns how to be a better boxer.  Umm, considering how close he already was to being permanently damaged by boxing, that shouldn't count as a helpful solution.  Being part of the boxing promotion machine should have been seen as part of his problem (I'll explain in a bit...) and there should have been something better for him to do than to get right back into that world, as soon as possible.  

So, that leads me to two NITPICK POINTS, which I believe are connected, and in both cases they relate to parts of the story that are cliched, seen all the time in movies, but when you stop and think about them, they make little sense.  The first relates to boxing technique (and again, I've seen so many boxing movies now, I'm pretty much qualified as an expert on the sport...) - we're led to believe that Billy Hope had a "bad" boxing style, because he tended to let himself get hit a lot, which would then make him mad enough to come back and win the fight.  But, at the same time, his record was 43-0.  However you rate him, that's a successful career - so to tear him down and then say he needs to become a better fighter through proper mechanics - WHY?  Whatever he was doing before, right or wrong, it was working.  

Now, to be fair, there's a suggestion that some of his fights might have been fixed, and of course there's the possibility that if he stays on that track, he's going to suffer brain damage a lot sooner than you might think.  But a little more explanation would have gone a long way here, for the people who don't completely understand boxing.  For the layman, a 43-0 record seems very good, and the need to change his fighting style may not seem very justified. 

This brings me to NITPICK POINT #2 - his finances, which represent a riches-to-rags story, for dramatic purposes.  But again, this makes little sense.  Even if a boxer gets banned from boxing for a year, that doesn't necessarily mean he's going to go bankrupt and lose his house.  To have his accountant come to him and tell him that he's out of money, behind on his taxes, and in danger of getting his house repossessed - it never should have come to this point.  This is exactly the kind of situation that a competent accountant is there to prevent, so I can only allow this if his accountant is terrible, or is cheating him somehow.  

For example, how is it that with his money, he's still making mortgage payments on his house?  Let's say he made $30 million from his first big fight, a competent accountant would have advised him to put aside half of that money for taxes, leaving $15 million, and he could have bought a house outright for $10 million, leaving $5 million to invest, or to live on until the next payday.  Why would anyone with that kind of money get a mortgage, which involves paying for the house three times over, when you calculate all of the interest?  

And if there's a year where he's not going to make any income, there are things that can be done to off-set this.  It sounds like he's got some back taxes that need to be paid - which again, should have been avoided by a competent accountant, but let's just say for now - if he's got an outstanding debt from a couple years of returns, he could take a loss for the current year, with no income, and thus the refund from one year would balance out the debt owed from the others.  So he's either getting some appallingly bad financial advice, or the screenwriter knows nothing about filing taxes.  

The suggestion to sell a few of his cars makes a little more sense - I mean, if he sells them at a loss he could get a tax break for that, then use the income to settle his tax debt.  Or if he auctions them off for high price he'll have to pay taxes on the profit, but that's for the current year, while he uses the money to pay the previous year's debts.  It's not exactly solving the problem, just moving it, but by then he could be back in boxing again - it's still better than losing the house.  Even filing for personal bankruptcy would be preferable to losing the house and all of its contents, why wasn't that an option?

I will admit that I fell asleep while watching the climactic boxing scene - which is not usually a good sign.  I woke up, got back to that scene, and fell asleep again.  I toyed with the idea of NOT watching the last 5 minutes, because it was blatantly obvious how it was going to turn out.  But I watched the ending in the morning, just to be sure.  

Also starring Rachel McAdams (last seen in "Aloha"), Forest Whitaker (last seen in "Vision Quest"), Oona Laurence, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson (last seen in "The Prince"), Miguel Gomez, Naomie Harris (last seen in "Spectre"), Skylan Brooks (last seen in "Seven Pounds"), Danny Henriquez, Rita Ora (last seen in "Fifty Shades of Grey"), Victor Ortiz (last seen in "The Expendables 3"), Beau Knapp (last seen in "Run All Night"), Malcolm Mays, Clare Foley (last seen in "Win Win"), Jim Lampley (last seen in "Play it to the Bone", but darn if he isn't in just about every boxing movie...)

RATING: 5 out of 10 supervised visits

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Year 8, Day 319 - 11/14/16 - Movie #2,489

BEFORE: This time Josh Brolin carries over from "Sicario", and from Mexico we're off to climb a mountain in Nepal.  Another activity I know nearly nothing about, and am very unqualified for, considering I get winded just climbing up the stairs in my house. 

THE PLOT: A climbing expedition on Mt. Everest is devastated by a severe snow storm.

AFTER: Look, I don't know why people swim with sharks or become Navy SEALs, so I sure as heck don't understand why people want to climb the highest mountain in the world, which requires traveling through such harsh conditions.  If man was meant to climb to the top of Everest, why was it put so far away?  Everything about Nepal and the Himalayas just seems to scream out, "Don't come here!" and since getting to the summit climbing icy terrain, enduring extreme cold and lack of oxygen, and then walking across these rickety hardware-store ladders over endlessly deep chasms, I can't understand why anyone would put themselves through this.  Where, exactly, is the fun part?  But people are drawn to do this, for some reason.  Maybe if you know someone who wants to climb Everest, you should show them this movie, and that should take care of changing their mind.  

This film is set in 1996, which until recently had been the deadliest year for teams climbing Everest - 16 people have since died in 2015, and 18 people in 2016 due to avalanches.  But 1996 got all of the press since one climber was John Krakauer, who went on to write the bestselling book "Into Thin Air" about the experience, and another climber on the same expedition, Beck Weathers, also wrote a book, which was the source material for this film.  OK, so we know that's two characters who are going to make it home, but there are probably a few who won't.  

If you read up on the 1996 disaster on Wikipedia, (Spoiler alert: doing so will give you an indication of who's not coming back alive...) you'll learn that part of the problem was the large number of people trying to reach the summit on the same day, May 10.  Several tour groups were taking money from their clients for the experience, and were all attempting to deliver at the same time - why some of the groups weren't willing to wait an extra day at base camp, I have no idea.  The large number of people caused delays, then there were other delays when the sherpas hadn't put the fixed ropes in place in time, and any time spent waiting near the summit causes more oxygen to be needed for all those people during that time, and well, you can see how any little hiccup in this process could be deadly. 

There's also what they call a "turnaround point", which is a time limit on when someone can reach the summit, and still allow enough time to descend and return to the highest base camp.  For Everest, the turn-around point is at 2 pm, and people who have not summited by that time are usually encouraged to turn back.  So when someone in this film decides to press on after that point, you can assume that the end result is going to be less than ideal.  Mistakes are made, there's plenty of blame to go around, but I guess you have to figure these climbing companies make their clients sign all kinds of waivers which will absolve them of all blame, up to and including their own deaths.  

There's also an acknowledgement that the area higher than 8,000 meters/26,000 feet is known as the "death zone", and that's because a person's body at that height is dying (or as they say in the film, "literally dying", even though I don't see how that's any different...) because of the lack of oxygen and every body system is affected, including the ones that help make rational decisions.  Yeah, that's a problem when people have to decide whether to finish the climb or turn back, and they're already pretty foolhardy to begin with, or they wouldn't be trying to climb Everest.  

You'd think that getting down the mountain after summiting would be relatively easy, but it's not.  We even have a saying in English, "It's all downhill from here," which means that once you get over the difficult part of something, you can just coast to the end.  What a bunch of bull, as this film demonstrates - so I think we have to do away with that expression.  Downhill can kill you, and so can thinking that you're past the difficult part of something, because that's when you relax and get careless.  When the various characters reached the summit at (approximately) the mid-point of the film, that's when I got really nervous, because it meant that something was about to go sideways, since it couldn't take an hour to show people returning uneventfully from the summit.  

So, add another to the ever-growing list of activities that I'll watch a film about, but have zero interest in doing in real life.  Do you know that if you die on Mount Everest, they don't bring your body back, they just leave it there?  Because it's difficult to retrieve a frozen corpse, sure, but also as a warning to anyone else trying to climb the mountain.  So ask yourself, before you go on an expedition like this, "Do I want to die and have my body frozen on top of a mountain forever, without giving my family anything to bury?"  Ugh, I get the chills just thinking about it.  Like, I don't think I want to be buried after I die, because at least cremation is warm, not that I'd feel it, but even still...

This is not a NITPICK POINT for the movie, but for mountain-climbing in general - and admittedly, I don't fully understand the sport, but from what I do understand, it seems like coming down the mountain is as dangerous, if not more so, than climbing up.  But, don't we have better, quicker ways of getting down from a mountain?  Like, for example, skiing?  Is that not practical, for some reason that I'm missing?  OK, so maybe it's not feasible to carry skis up the mountain with you, what about a lightweight sled?  What about just sitting down and sliding down the mountain, wouldn't that be a lot faster?  Or what about using a parachute and jumping off the mountain - sure, it may be a little dangerous, but it would prevent people from freezing on the hike down.  Look, I'm just trying to help - it just seems that there must be a more efficient way of doing things. 

Also starring Jason Clarke (last seen in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), Jake Gyllenhaal (last seen in "Jarhead"), John Hawkes (last seen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene"), Michael Kelly, (last seen in "Now You See Me") Emily Watson (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Sam Worthington (last seen in "The Great Raid"), Keira Knightley (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Robin Wright (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."), Thomas Wright, Martin Henderson (last seen in "Windtalkers"), Naoko Mori (last seen in "Hackers"), Clive Standen, Vanessa Kirby (last seen in "About Time"), Tom Goodman-Hill (last seen in "The Imitation Game"), Ingvar Eggert Sigurosson, Micah Hauptman, Charlotte Boving, Chris Reilly, Chike Chan, Vijay Lama, Mark Derwin.

RATING: 6 out of 10 oxygen canisters

Monday, November 14, 2016


Year 8, Day 318 - 11/13/16 - Movie #2,488

BEFORE: I'm starting to understand the appeal of binge-watching TV shows, I've tried to avoid it because that's what the hipster Millennials all do - but I'm halfway through the second season of "Mad Men" now, and it's moving along well, I can see the appeal of not having to wait a week for the next episode.  Last night I watched the first three episodes of "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" in a row, and I'm very intrigued.  It's been so long since I read those Douglas Adams books that I forgot all the plot details, so I'm not judging the show by how closely it hems to the books, I can just take it for what it is.

At the same time, I've managed to stay current this season on shows like "Gotham" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.", while adding new shows like "Westworld", "Timeless" and "Frequency".  You know, geek stuff.  And I stayed no more than a week behind on all may talk shows during the election.  Most other shows are still being archived on VHS, and after I go on movie break in 2 days, I can start catching up on those - I'm still in late August on those back-burnered shows, but I should be able to start making some progress later this week.

Another film about fighting the Mexican drug cartels, and Benicio del Toro carries over from "Savages".  Even though I tried to avoid the political films last week, considering how much time one candidate gave to Mexico and building a border wall to keep out the "bad hombres", I think I landed back on point anyway.

THE PLOT: An idealistic FBI agent is enlisted by a government task force to aid in the escalating war against drugs at the border area between the U.S. and Mexico.

AFTER: I don't know if I just have movie fatigue, or I wasn't in the mood for this type of story, but this one just sort of left me feeling numb.  I mean, technically there's a set-up, conflict and resolution here, but I didn't feel all that connected to it for some reason.  Mostly I felt there was a lot going on that I didn't understand, or perhaps there were a lot of story fragments, and I had trouble putting them together.  I felt the need to review the whole plot on Wikipedia immediately after viewing, and that's not usually a good sign - but whether this lack of understanding was the movie's fault or my own, I'm not sure.  

I get that two FBI agents are asked to join a task force run by the CIA, and ultimately they find out that they were only asked along to legitimize the operation's actions within the U.S.  I guess the CIA can't operate within the U.S.?  I'm not an expert, so this was a bit unclear.  But then the task force travels into Mexico, where the FBI has no jurisdiction, so I felt even more lost - if they have no jurisdiction there, then why are they there doing stuff?  I feel I might need a flowchart. 

But this film does raise an interesting point about the Wall that we keep hearing about - spending $15 billion on a wall at the US/Mexico border seems awful silly, when the wall can be circumvented by a $1 million tunnel.  Just sayin'.

Also starring Emily Blunt (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow"), Josh Brolin (last seen in "Planet Terror"), Victor Garber (last seen in "Argo"), Jon Bernthal (last seen in "Fury"), Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, Bernardo Sacarino, Julio Cedillo (last seen in "The Life of David Gale"), Maximiliano Hernandez, Raoul Trujillo.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Indian Creek cigarettes

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Year 8, Day 317 - 11/12/16 - Movie #2,487

BEFORE: Taylor Kitsch AND Emile Hirsch carry over from "Lone Survivor", and I just could not have accidentally programmed a film that's more timely, this one's all about growing marijuana in southern California, a state that voted last week to make recreational marijuana use legal.  Which is also great timing, because as a blue state, they're going to need it more than ever.  Massachusetts also passed some kind of law de-criminalizing pot, which could make my holiday visits to my parents a lot more interesting.  Stay tuned...

THE PLOT: Pot growers Ben and Chon face off against the Mexican drug cartel who kidnapped their shared girlfriend.

AFTER: Thematically, a lot carries over from last night's film, not just the presence of two actors.  The two men who are selling pot and growing their business get their seeds from Afghanistan, and they also employ a bunch of snipers, who also served in the military over there.  And it turns out that much like the Taliban, the Mexican cartels enjoy making videos where they cut people's heads off - only they use a chainsaw and not swords, but hey, to each his own.  

These entrepreneurial hipsters are out to change the world, by growing pot with ten times the usual THC, and using the profits from the business to fund charity work in Africa and Asia, which seems awfully ambitious for a couple of stoners.  Wait, I thought millennials didn't believe in hard work?  They also share a girlfriend, which makes sense because finding two romantic partners would be twice the work, and because the kids today are supposed to be beyond jealousy and emotional attachments.  This looks great on paper, but when you get into the logistics of a love triangle, it's bound to fall apart at some point.  

The cartel fixes their romantic problem by kidnapping O, which is short for Ophelia (hey, thanks for explaining that every single time, which actually takes longer than just saying the full name in the first place...) and the boys will do just about anything to get her back - wait, what was that thing about no emotional attachments?  Because they seem pretty attached to her.  And I thought you guys said it was all about the charity work, and if that's true, why not just pack up your money, cut your losses and go find another girl to share?  Or hey, maybe even two, but you do what feels right.  

Ben and Chon (Seriously?  Is that supposed to be some hipster version of "Sean" or something?) do try several ways to work with, around and then against the Mexical cartel.  First they try to just hand over the super-strong pot business and walk away, but no, the cartel wants them to stay in place and follow orders.  Then they try to accept the offer, but hack the computers (or something, it's all pretty vague) and when that fails, they try to liquidate everything and buy their girlfriend's freedom - only to do this, they steal money from the cartel itself, to pay off the cartel.  I can't believe how stupid this plan is, to steal $5 million from a cartel convoy, a few days before making a payment in the same amount, to the same people.  Nah, they'll never put two and two together on this one...

Then things get even more complicated, and there are plans within plans, and double-crosses and triple-crosses, and the DEA gets involved - this was probably the best part, when there were so many plans going on and nobody knew who was really on what side, or how the whole thing would shake down.  But then this was ruined by a multiple-scenario ending, where we the audience basically get to choose whether we get the happy ending or not.  What a cop-out, it seems like the director filmed two endings and couldn't decide between them, so he included both.  No, you have to pick one!

Even worse, however, is the horrible narration, which is often used in place of expositional action, in an egregious case of "Tell, don't show."  O tells us, for example, that "just because I'm telling you this story, it doesn't mean I'm alive at the end of it."  We can only hope you're not, and thanks for giving us a clue about the ending, too.  When she goes home to pack and sees that her mother is not home, she deduces that she's "somewhere in the world".  Gee, that's an amazing insight - any thoughts on narrowing that down?   "You don't change the world, it changes you..."  Pardon me while I vomit.

I'm doing that thing now where I total up how many appearances each actor had in the movies I watched this year, because once I get to my last film (tentatively scheduled for Christmas Eve) I'm not going to have a lot of time.  So it's best to start adding things up now and beat the holiday rush.  It looks like Salma Hayek had a good year, this is the fifth film I've watched with her, and Benicio del Toro will also make the list, once I count tomorrow night's film.  Unless something changes, some actors like John Travolta will fall short, with just two appearances - but sometimes less famous actors have good years, like Mia Maestro, who I probably couldn't even identify on sight, but this is the fourth film I've watched this year with her in it - so there are always some surprises on that list. 

It's all pretty pointless now that pot's legal in California, right?  I mean, surely there will be no more related criminal activity now, right?  

Also starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Blake Lively (last seen in "Green Lantern"), Benicio Del Toro (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Salma Hayek (last seen in "The Faculty"), John Travolta (last seen in "The Forger"), Demian Bichir (last seen in "The Heat"), Diego CataƱo, Joaquin Cosio, Sandra Echeverria (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Mia Maestro (last seen in "Poseidon"), Shea Whigham, Trevor Donovan.

RATING: 4 out of 10 severed heads