Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Merry Friggin' Christmas

Year 8, Day 358 - 12/23/16 - Movie #2,500 

BEFORE: It's Christmas Eve Eve (is that a thing?) and Jeffrey Tambor carries over from "The D Train" to link to my 2nd Christmas movie, and the last movie of Year 8.  I admit that I spent most of Thursday night wrapping gifts (hey, at least I didn't wait until the last minute, just the next-to-last) so Friday night's got to be the big night for watching big movie #2,500.  (Just think, I'm 1/4 of the way to 10,000...)  My goal for next year is the same as it was for this year - try to clear the watchlist and be done with this.  

But before that can happen, we've got to drive up to Massachusetts on Saturday, probably with a stop at a certain Connecticut casino and buffet.  Then Sunday my mom and I will cook a big meal, the family will open presents, and then I can sleep for a few days.  I love that church is out of the picture for me, so the holiday now just comes down to eating and exchanging gifts.  What more do we need?

I was going to write a whole thing about my holiday mix CD, and the process of making it, but I don't know if I have the time or space for that.  Suffice to say I wasn't really in the mood at first this year, but I also didn't want to break with tradition, so I slammed something together - but then after listening to it a few times, I realized how dark and depressing it was, so I had to scratch a number of the worst offenders, like LCD Soundsystem's "Christmas Will Break Your Heart" and a song by Set It Off titled "This Christmas (I'll Burn It All to the Ground)".  While the intention would have been sincere, these songs didn't reflect the message I wanted to send out to friends and family, so they were jettisoned in favor of more uplifting tracks.  In the end, tone is very important. 



THE PLOT: Boyd Mitchler and his family must spend Christmas with his estranged family of misfits. Upon realizing that he left all his son's gifts at home, he hits the road with his dad in an attempt to make the 8-hour round trip before sunrise.

AFTER: And this is how my year comes full circle - I started Year 8 with "Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro" and made a dedication to all the comedians, especially the ones who are no longer with us, and I end the year with a Robin Williams film.  Guess I had that in mind all along - umm, yeah, let's go with that.  That first film of the year was about two comedians on a road trip, and in a way, this one is too.  

Here, the father of a young boy realizes after driving to his parents' house, the boy's gifts were left back in Chicago, so he decides to drive all the way there and back again overnight.  The plot contrivances dictate that the trip be made with his own father, so a host of family issues surface during the drive.  Sure, why not emphasize the "FUN" in "dysFUNctional"?  Meanwhile, the rest of this family of misfits spends Christmas eve digging through the family's attic and drinking, or for the kids, avoiding sleep, discussing the existence of Santa, and speed-eating pickles.  I wish my parents had encouraged my competitive eating skills, I could have been a lot further along with those skills by now.  It's not their fault, I don't think competitive eating was as big back then, especially not for kids.  

This film is a fine combination of two common themes seen earlier this week - bad behavior ("The D Train", "The Night Before") and events going wrong, but working out in the end ("Rogue One", "The Walk", "The Night Before").  That being said, I wish the movie had been funnier - a lot of the comedy is sort of slice-of-life comedy, rather than laugh out loud comedy, and I wish they'd gone for the latter more often.  Instead it just felt like every character was some kind of quirk personified, from PTSD to alcoholic to just plain dumb.

But we do learn a number of lessons along the way, from why everyone should obey the speed limit (even on Christmas Eve), that some people enjoy mixing beer and tomato juice, and the pros and cons of various ways of getting rid of a corpse.  Oh, and the debate rages over when kids should be told the truth about Santa Claus - being a kid who figured it out around the age of 5 or 6, I think 10 is a little too old to keep the charade going.  But since I don't have kids, I don't really have to worry about it - but I wonder when my niece and nephew are going to wise up.  

NITPICK POINT: Given the sheer size of the wrapped gifts that were forgotten here, it's kind of hard to see how Boyd and his family drove away from home without realizing that these huge boxes weren't in the car.  But hey, in another Christmas movie, the McCallisters forgot a KID ("Kevin!") and got all the way to the airport and on the plane before they realized they were one child short - I never understood how that was possible, either. 

NITPICK POINT #2: Given that Boyd did not have fond memories of Christmas, because it was often spoiled by his father, it's odd that he's SO into Christmas, and demands that it be perfect for his kids.  "The Night Before" made a similar mistake with a character.  If someone's past Christmases were unhappy, it makes more sense that they'd want to AVOID Christmas, not double-down on all of its traditions.  

NITPICK POINT #3: What tween girl uses "the Nixon administration" as a cultural yardstick?  Is she some kind of politically inclined child prodigy?  Quite far-fetched.

In the end, the film does really nail the way that family members are able to get under each other's skin.  Even though it's a time that everyone has to endure their annoying families, I hope everyone out there has a merry friggin' Christmas (except for you Jewish people and pagans) and that Hobo Santa brings you what you want, and that you don't forget too many things when you travel.  I'll be back with the year-end wrap-up in a few days.

Also starring Joel McHale (last seen in "The Big Year"), Robin Williams (last seen in "Man of the Year"), Lauren Graham (last seen in "It's Kind of a Funny Story"), Clark Duke (last heard in "The Croods"), Wendi McLendon-Covey (last seen in "Bewitched"), Tim Heidecker (last seen in "Vacation"), Candice Bergen (last seen in "Stick"), Oliver Platt (last seen in "Don't Say a Word"), Pierce Gagnon (last seen in "Tomorrowland"), Bebe Wood, Ryan Lee, Mark Proksch.

RATING: 4 out of 10 portraits of Bea Arthur

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The D Train

Year 8, Day 357 - 12/22/16 - Movie #2,499

BEFORE: Jack Black carries over again from "Bernie" and his chain gets me ALMOST to the end of the year.  Tomorrow will be the last film of 2016, and we can wrap up this big movie fest, at least until January 1.  

I attended my own 30th high-school reunion, back after Thanksgiving, and sort of sat on the story until now, knowing this film was coming up on the list.  It was great to catch up with a few people I hadn't seen in a long time, but there were no really fantastic revelations, just that everyone there looked a lot older (except for me, of course...).  I spoke with 6 or 7 women at the event, which is probably a lot more than I talked to during the four years of high-school.  Hey, I was a late bloomer, I didn't really date until the last year of college.  I just thought of girls back then as a different species or something, I didn't really imagine that I had much in common with them or would be able to relate to them.  

But fast-forward 30 years and throw some alcohol into the mix, and things were a bit different.  Though at first everyone seemed to congregate back into those old cliques, which left me out in the cold again at first.  But eventually I was able to circulate around, and the three most common questions (after "How are you?") were "Are you married?" "What do you do for a living?" and "Are you still living in the area?"  Those seemed to work the best as conversation starters.  

I did get congratulated once or twice for my success, when people found out I was working in the film industry.  I must have mentioned this as a goal during my senior year or something, so some classmates were happy that I followed my dream and made it happen.  Umm, yeah, let's go with that.  And a kid who used to bully me turned out to be a computer tech genius now, that was probably the most surprising transformation I saw.  I caught up with the people who I wanted to catch up with, so I guess I have to consider that a win.  


THE PLOT: The head of a high school reunion committee travels to Los Angeles to track down the most popular guy from his graduating class and convince him to go to the reunion.

AFTER: This sort of fits right in with the "bad behavior" genre I was discussing the other night - when everyman Dan flies off to L.A. to track down a lost classmate (after seeing him in a suntan lotion commercial), he does so under the guise of lying to his boss and wife, who both believe he's out there to meet with a business client.  And one lie begets a second, then a third lie has to cover up the second one, and so on.  His technologically-impaired boss even tags along to help close the deal, so Dan has to enlist cool Oliver's help to fool the boss, and before long there's a whole web of lies.  

But for a while it looks like maybe the scheme's going to work, so Dan and Oliver hit the town for a night of debauchery, which involves a number of things that have ramifications, and are going to be very hard to explain down the road.  In a way this works, because the man who decides to lie to make himself look better ends up paying the price, and losing his dignity, and nearly losing his job and relationship as well.  

Like in "Bernie", Jack Black plays a character whose sexuality comes under question - is this just a developing bromance between Dan and Oliver, or is something else going on here?  Oliver made some references to dating women and men in L.A., so what's the deal?  I mean, it's great that we can now have characters that are open about this sort of thing, it gets people talking and accepting in the long run, but I wonder if using this sort of thing as a comedic complication really does the cause justice.  

Plus, you can't have it both ways.  Even if there were some kind of physical relationship between Dan and Oliver, the movie really can't decide if that would be good or bad.  So, it's OK to be out and proud about swinging both ways, but once that becomes public knowledge, suddenly it's something to be ashamed about?  It's like a screenwriter couldn't make up his mind, or was trying to serve two agendas. For the sake of the story, it's got to be one or the other. 

The funniest stuff here (to me, anyway) was probably the bits about Dan's Luddite boss, who didn't understand (and didn't WANT to understand) e-mail or the internet.  A few of those people are still out there, I know because I work for one of them.  The rumor is that my boss was being teched on a computer program, and when told that he should open a new window (on the computer) he got up from the desk, walked over to the office window, and opened it.  And I believe that story.  My mother's like this too, she says she wants to learn to use the computer, but she's got some kind of mental block that prevents it.  No lie, she called me once and asked me how to find Google.  Jeez, Ma, you don't "find" Google, you just GO there, and then you find other things!  So I guess senior citizens need some kind of search engine to help them find the search engines...

If you watch 4 Jack Black movies in a row, and I'm not saying that you should, you come to realize that he does sort of play the same character in every film - someone who's outgoing, loud and proud, but who's obviously that way to cover for his insecurities.  Maybe the actor is really like that, maybe not, but either way, he's become something of a one-note actor in that sense.  I guess it's really lucky that that's who his character in this film is supposed to be, but I think there are probably other times where Mr. Black could have or should have taken his characters in a different direction.

Also starring James Marsden (last seen in "The Butler"), Kathryn Hahn (last seen in "Tomorrowland"), Jeffrey Tambor (last seen in "The Hangover Part III"), Russell Posner, Mike White (last seen in "Zombieland"), Kyle Bornheimer (last seen in "The Big Wedding"), Henry Zebrowski, Han Soto (last seen in "Fantastic Four"), Denise Williamson, Danielle Greenup, with a cameo from Dermot Mulroney (last seen in "Sunset").

RATING: 4 out of 10 missing buttons

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bernie

Year 8, Day 356 - 12/21/16 - Movie #2,498

BEFORE: Jack Black carries over again from "Nacho Libre" and it's a dark comedy scheduled for the darkest day of the year, aka the Winter Solstice.  Blessed Solstice to all my pagan readers, whoever you are.  

This is another one of those nearly unlinkable films, with only a few stars of note in it, and I did my big McConnaughey chain last year, and I think this one arrived in my collection too late to be a part of that.  But as I said last night, it does help me rescue "Nacho Libre" from the land of unlinkable films.  But I have yet to assess the damage for next year, how many other unlinkable films are still on the list?  And what lengths will I go to in order to connect to them?  


THE PLOT: In small-town Texas, an affable mortician strikes up a friendship with a wealthy widow, though when she starts to become controlling, he goes to great lengths to separate himself from her grasp.

AFTER: This is another strange film, it rambles quite a bit before it lands on a coherent narrative storyline, because the first half is mostly interviews with the residents of Carthage, TX, talking about Bernie Tiede, what their impressions of him were when he came to town, what kind of a guy he was, etc.  I know Linklater's big on these "real person" things, but I'm wondering if it this is best viewed as an extension of his documentary style, or if this was done to cover up a weak story in the first half.  Because you have to admit, if you fill the film with fake interviews, you don't have to worry about problems in the second act, and you can skip on a couple of the turning points, and go right on to the main conflict and confrontation.

The filmmaker also doesn't have to have coherent answers to some key questions - is Bernie gay?  Is he sleeping with the widow Nugent, or just her companion?  Does he work for her as an employee, or is the work being done "after hours"?  This way, all the people in town being "interviewed" simply need to speculate about these things, without having facts at hand.  It's very clever, but it's still a narrative cheat. 

Whatever else we don't know, what we do know is that Bernie met Mrs. Nugent at her husband's funeral, they struck up a friendship and became quite close, and then one day Mrs. Nugent was shot, and nine months later, her body was found in a freezer.  It's not really a spoiler, because the facts of the real case are already up on Wikipedia.  What becomes interesting in the case is the WHY of her being shot, rather than the HOW.  Yes, she was known as a bitter, even abusive person, but is that really what led to her death?  

She had already given Bernie control over her fortune, what part did that fact play in her demise?  And again, we're left wondering if they were just close friends, lovers, or employer/employee.  But everyone in the town of Carthage had come to know Bernie in the years previous, and no one had a bad word to say about him, despite speculation and idle gossip.   

But it does work as a portrait of what goes on in small-town America, and I think I learned the most from the description of the "5 regions of Texas".  We New Yorkers tend to lump everyone in Texas together, and think of them as all the same, but it's very interesting to learn that they're not.  The areas around Dallas, Houston and Austin apparently contain very different people with different mindsets. 

I had the occasion a few weeks back to meet a real murderer, though I didn't know it at the time.  I worked at a weekend animation art sale, and one of the attendees was an old friend of my boss, who had done some camera work for him way back in the 1980's, and then lost touch for a while, because he was serving time.  It was a very famous case out of Greenwich, CT, where this guy shot his neighbor's father while he swam in his pool, on the guy's birthday no less.  And the victim was the head of a very prominent NYC ad agency, I guess the guy I met wasn't right in the head, and after his neighbor had given him some drugs, came to believe that this family was trying to control his mind.  After the shooting, he drove himself to the police and turned himself in, before the cops had even known about the crime.  Honestly, that last bit seems like the craziest part. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to 60 years, but it was later determined that the judge had not properly defined "insanity" for the jurors, so he got a second trial, at which he pled guilty and then received 30 years. But with good behavior, that apparently got knocked down to 15.  That's the justice system for you.

The story of the real Bernie Tiede, following the events seen in this film, has a few similar twists to it, which you can look up on Wikipedia if you're so inclined.

Also starring Shirley MacLaine (last seen in "Artists and Models"), Matthew McConnaughey (last seen in "The Wedding Planner"), Brady Coleman, Richard Robichaux (last seen in "Boyhood"), Rick Dial (last seen in "Crazy Heart"), Brandon Smith, Larry Jack Dotson, Merrilee McCommas (also last seen in "Boyhood"), Matthew Greer, Gabriel Luna.

RATING: 4 out of 10 Broadway musicals  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Nacho Libre

Year 8, Day 355 - 12/20/16 - Movie #2,497

BEFORE: We're really getting down to it now - after tonight's film I've got just two more to go, then comes my 2nd Christmas film which will also be Movie #2,500 and the end of Year 8.  Then comes actual Christmas, and a few days off which I'll probably spend trying to figure out where I could possibly start Movie Year 9.  That's not easy, because it's not just the films on the watchlist, I've got to think about what other films from 2016 I missed and am likely to get copies of, plus what movies are coming out next year that I'm going to want to link to.  Working all of that into a coherent chain is nearly impossible, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to try.  

The worst thing would be to get down to 50 or 60 movies on the list that share no actors in common - no, no, that's almost unthinkable.  I have to be aware of all of the connections to prevent that.  Take tonight's film, it's been on the watchlist for at least a year and a half, maybe longer, because I had no other Jack Black films, not since watching "The Holiday" during February's romance chain and essentially stranding "Nacho Libre" at the bottom of the list.  And since it has no other stars, except for one character actor, the only way to link to it was to come up with two other Jack Black films to watch, which I (eventually) found.  So Mr. Black carries over from "Kung Fu Panda", and he'll be here tomorrow as well.


THE PLOT: Berated all his life by those around him, a monk follows his dream and dons a mask to moonlight as a Luchador (Mexican wrestler).

AFTER: I remember hearing about this film when it was released in 2006, but then it disappeared rather quickly, and now I know why.  I think expectations were high because it was the second feature directed by Jared Hess, who directed "Napoleon Dynamite", and people thought maybe lightning could strike twice, but it wasn't to be.  That first film was so quirky, so out there that it grabbed people's attention and didn't let go - how much of that was due to the actors involved, I wonder?  That dance scene from "Napoleon Dynamite" and the scenes right after it, where everyone's lives are shown to be changing for the better, still warm my heart.  But was it just the music that stirred those emotions and helped set the scene?  

Because this film has all of the quirk of "Napoleon", but none of the heart.  And things just sort of happen in a strung-together way, but with no real sense of purpose, or even a lot of cause and effect.  What's left is quite singular - this guy wants to be a wrestler, so he wrestles.  Then he wrestles some more, then some problems arise, but they're solved by more wrestling.  Where's the "Rocky"-like training sequence?  Where's the mean old miser who's threatening to shut down the orphanage?  Where's the crippling fear of performing in front of crowds that our hero needs to overcome?  Now, I'm not saying these tropes SHOULD have been part of the film, but if they HAD, at least we'd have a little more than we were given, which didn't feel like very much.

I'm not even sure why wrestling is forbidden by the monastery - there's probably nothing in the Bible about Luchadores, right?  And the way that Ignacio (Nacho) meets his wrestling partner, by fighting over donated tortilla chips, well, it just feels forced.  I couldn't find any logical path in the plot to explain anything.  The whole side plot with the guy telling him to eat eagle eggs was a weird tangent, too, that went exactly nowhere.  Why wouldn't anyone, even a simpleton like Nacho, think that maybe through training and exercise he could maybe improve his wrestling skills a little?  

Everything after that just seemed like random happenstance, both the ups and the downs of his wrestling career.  A character who demonstrated even a little bit of control over his own life would have been more interesting to watch, instead of someone who's essentially the "Forrest Gump" of Mexican wrestling.  Maybe it's me, maybe I don't understand enough about what makes one Luchador favored over the other, or really much about why it's popular, either.

Also starring Ana de la Reguera, Hector Jimenez, Peter Stormare, Carla Jimenez, Richard Montoya, Cesar Gonzalez, Moises Arias, Darius Rose, Donald Chambers, Craig Williams.

RATING: 3 out of 10 ears of corn

Monday, December 19, 2016

Kung Fu Panda 3

Year 8, Day 354 - 12/19/16 - Movie #2,496

BEFORE: I don't have a copy of this film in the collection yet, but I'm going to spend a couple dollars and watch it on iTunes or Amazon tonight, because it helps me link to the end of the year.  Once I found my endpoint, I determined that the road there has to go through Jack Black, and the link between "The Night Before" and Jack Black is this film, with Seth Rogen carrying over. 

I know, I know, what about "Sausage Party"?  With the voices of Seth Rogen AND James Franco, wouldn't that have been a more natural progression?  Well, sure, but as I said the other day, I don't have enough slots.  If I had ONE more slot this year, I could have used it for "Sausage Party" and then followed up with tonight's film, but that would mean pushing one film with Jack Black into 2017, and I've had "Nacho Libre" on the books for at least two years, with no way to link to it.  Better to clear that film now, and "Sausage Party" has such a large cast, I should have no problem finding another way to get to it.  After Christmas I can review the entire watchlist and get started on figuring out next year's chain.  

But it's too bad that both "Rogue One" and this film were not on the watchlist, so while they help me progress, they don't help me reduce my numbers.  The watchlist is currently at 143, well above the low point of 103, but still below the year's starting point, which was 160.  I've only got a few chances left to keep it from getting to 150 before the end of regulation play.



FOLLOW-UP TO: "Kung Fu Panda 2" (Movie #1,284)

THE PLOT: Continuing his "legendary adventures of awesomeness", Po must face two hugely epic, but different threats: one supernatural and the other a little closer to his home.

AFTER: Normally I'd prefer to run a bunch of animated films together, because that usually helps both my actor linking and my thematic linking, but I'm satisfied with running this one here.  It ended up relatively close to a Star Wars film, and there's a little bit of thematic overlap there, since the Jedi were loosely based on Asian warriors like Samurai (yes, I realize this film is set in China, not Japan, but work with me here...) plus there's a lot of mention of "chi" energy here, and is that really so much different from the Force?  

I also look for little commonalities, things that might be going on in my life that tell me that I'm on the right track - and Sunday my wife and I did go out to a little place in Queens for soup dumplings.  We're obsessed with those things, and we also had some shanghai pan-fried noodles to go with them - and just like us, Po can eat a lot of dumplings and noodles!  Then, when I'd finished watching the film, in the early hours of Monday morning, I got up from my desk and the first thing I saw was the calendar on the wall behind my wife's computer - and what was on the calendar?  A baby panda!  

I really liked this film, it looked great, and it will probably look better when I see it on cable in HD, instead of on SD on my computer through Amazon.  (Damn, I should have ordered it on iTunes, but it was like 2 dollars more there!)  The CGI is beautiful (not something I say often) and they even managed to make each panda distinct, I think it would have been very easy to just copy the same panda face again and again.  They did a good job assigning different characteristics to each animal, especially the villain, who's a snorting, charging bull.  The other studios are now riffing off of this with films like "Zootopia" and "Sing" (I saw the preview before "Rogue One") and the common belief is that more is better - like, why have 10 different animals in your film when you can have 100?  But I think at some point more is just too much, I'd rather see 10 or 12 different animals, like in a "Kung Fu Panda" film. 

The hero journey of Po finally comes around full circle, when his Master retires from teaching, and recommends that Po become a teacher in his place, to further train the Furious Five.  This leads to a bunch of fortune-cookie sounding bits of wisdom, like "I can't teach you to be me, I can only teach you to be YOU."  Meanwhile the evil Kai has broken free from the spirit realm, and according to the prophesy, he can only be beaten by someone who has the power over chi, which conveniently is an arcane knowledge protected by the pandas.  So when his long-lost father shows up, Po must discover his origin and get in touch with his inner panda, to unlock the secrets of chi.  

NITPICK POINT: I'm glad that Po found out where he came from, and that he learned to be a panda, but it's too bad that being a panda seems to involve mostly eating, being overweight and being lazy, for the first half of the film, anyway.  This is counter-productive to the message from the first two films in the series, during which he overcame these tendencies and trained hard in Kung Fu to become the Dragon Warrior.  So it's a step backwards for his character, and this also doesn't make him a good role model for the kids, at least during the times where he's just chillaxing in Hidden Panda Valley.  Sure, he eventually gets all of the pandas to exercise and train, but for a good portion of the film, the message was very muddled.  

Anyway, the pandas teach Po how to be a panda, and then Po teaches the pandas how to fight, but that's comprised of stuff straight out of "The Karate Kid".  Remember when Daniel-San didn't realize that waxing Mr. Miyagi's car was really teaching him karate moves.  Yeah, same damn thing here.  The pandas know how to roll down hills, play hacky-sack with dumplings and twirl ribbons, and all of these skills end up being weaponized.  Po and his allies then have the ability to confront Kai, enter the spirit realm and defeat the evil power.   I didn't really remember the Wuxi finger-hold "Ska-doosh" defense from the first two films, maybe I missed it.  

Also starring the voices of Jack Black (last seen in "The Holiday"), Bryan Cranston (last heard in "Batman: Year One"), Dustin Hoffman (also last seen in "The Holiday"), Angelina Jolie (last seen in "Original Sin"), J.K. Simmons (last seen in "The Music Never Stopped"), Jackie Chan (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Lucy Liu (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), David Cross (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Kate Hudson (last seen in "Nine"), James Hong (last seen in "R.I.P.D."), Randall Duk Kim (last seen in "John Wick"), Wayne Knight (last seen in "Everybody's All-American"), Fred Tatasciore (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), with vocal cameos from Al Roker (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Willie Geist, Jean-Claude Van Damme (last seen in "The Expendables 2")

RATING: 7 out of 10 tiny rat helmets

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Night Before

Year 8, Day 353 - 12/18/16 - Movie #2,495

BEFORE: I set the schedule for these closing days of 2016 weeks ago, but this film about partying at Christmas/Hannukah (and Kwanzaa?) time still found a way to be relevant at just the right time.  This past week has been nothing but one party after another - I think Tuesday was the only day last week I wasn't out socially for some reason.  Monday I got together with my old boss and co-worker, and we went to Pete's Tavern, a bar in NYC that's been serving continually since 1864, and happens to be the place where O. Henry sat and drank (allegedly) while writing the iconic, ironic Christmas story "The Gift of the Magi".  Wednesday was the office Christmas party, so more drinking of beer and eggnog, Thursday of course was the "Rogue One" premiere, and then Friday my friend Victoria and I had our Festivus get-together.  

I usually take a day off (the date changes each year) and go on what I call the Festivus walk, it involves a nice breakfast in Manhattan, a stroll through the holiday market and ice rink at Bryant Park and then the holiday market at Grand Central.  The goal is to see some of the NYC sites that will make me feel most Christmasey, and for the last couple years, Vic has joined me later in the day at the Union Square holiday market, but this year it was just too cold on my Festivus to stay outside for any length of time, so it was reduced to a cup of hot cider in Union Square, an indoor spin through Barnes & Noble, and then finding a place nearby to have a couple drinks.  On a Friday night in Manhattan during December, this was no easy task, we had to go to three pubs just to find a place to sit.  Only after ordering an expensive plate of chicken fingers did I realize my mistake, I'd discovered a great falafel place a couple weeks ago that puts amazing fried eggplant on the falafel at no extra charge, plus they serve beer.  We should have gone there, but even great falafel for some reason doesn't seem as festive as pub food and a couple of black and tans.  

But coming home each night after partying, I saw a lot of people on the subway and street who weren't just drunk, they were "falling down" drunk.  So it seems everyone's got the same idea, to party hearty here in the closing days of the year, or maybe everyone's trying to deal with what a tough year it's been, in many ways, and alcohol just seems like the quickest, best solution to forget one's troubles for a couple of hours.  I'd like to think it's the former, but I know it's probably the latter.  Anyway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries over from "The Walk", and I get to watch the first of this year's two holiday-themed movies.



THE PLOT: On Christmas eve, three lifelong friends spend the night in New York City looking for the Holy Grail of Christmas parties.

AFTER: I suppose this is to be expected in the post-"Hangover" world of movies, you don't need much plot for a "quest" film these days as long as you have three friends who are willing to stumble around a city exhibiting bad behavior.  I suppose you could also trace this story back to "A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas", but it also evokes earlier Christmas films like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol".

Imagine Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" if there were three friends in the Scrooge role, but instead of getting visited by three ghosts, they visit a magical pot dealer (who's more like Clarence the Angel than he is Jacob Marley) three times, and each one has a mystical vision when they do that.  Does that make sense?  Meanwhile they're living the type of wild party-filled night seen in "The Hangover", only they're doing it in real time, not trying to retrace their steps.  

And this also means James Franco is back, playing a version of himself, which just means he's taking the Mike Tyson role from "The Hangover" or the Neil Patrick part from "Harold & Kumar" - geez, once you see that movies are so formulaic it makes you feel like there are only 5 people in Hollywood writing movies, or else they're all cribbing from each other.

This also sort of gives me an unintended theme for the week, going back at least to "Rogue One", where things go wrong, continue to go wrong, and then go terribly wrong, but at least something sort of works out in the end.  For a long while it didn't look like the Rebels weren't going to get that file uploaded, even though we knew for sure that they would, and it didn't seem like Philippe Petit was going to get to walk across those twin towers, even though we knew for sure that they did.  These three friends set out to have a fun time at Christmas, and everything from bad drugs to losing a phone to bumping into an ex-girlfriend seems to be sabotaging their plans, but 

NITPICK POINT: Getting unknown quantities and doses of drugs off of Craig's List is a terrible idea, but when a character starts to have a bad reaction to one of them, his solution is to try another one.  The rational solution to bad drugs is probably not "more drugs", though I realize the character was probably not thinking rationally, due to the drugs.  But this is still a strange message to send out to the kids, when a simpler solution would have been "Hey, maybe stop taking drugs for a bit."  

NITPICK POINT #2: Given that Ethan's character lost his parents shortly before Christmas years ago, it seems more logical that he would have come to reject Christmas and its traditions, rather than obsessing over them and using them as a crutch.  I can appreciate that his two best friends came together that year to help him celebrate, but sometimes when people are not in the mood to celebrate, it's better to just leave them be and let them take a year off.  His friends now want to have one last year doing their traditional things, and then it will be time for him to "move on" - but if they always party together, wouldn't "moving on" mean that he WOULDN'T celebrate Christmas in the future?  This was a little confusing and contradictory.  

My question becomes, have we seen enough of "bad behavior" comedies?  In addition to "The Hangover" we had "Bridesmaids" put a female spin on it, but these led to "Trainwreck" and probably a dozen other comedies with people acting out, but still managing to pull their lives together in the end.  It's an obvious trend, and I suspect that in the real world, the behaviors exhibited are usually the start of a downward spiral that has a much sadder ending.  Isn't it time to grow up and start acting responsibly, even for comedy stars and their characters?  OK, considering the year we all had I'm going to allow it this one last time, but after this, it's time to seriously think about getting some help.  And now we've got "Office Christmas Party" in theaters, so I don't think the trend will be ending any time soon.

Also starring Seth Rogen (last seen in "22 Jump Street"), Anthony Mackie (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Jillian Bell (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Lizzy Caplan (last seen in "The Interview"), Mindy Kaling (last heard in "Inside Out"), Michael Shannon (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), James Franco (last seen in "True Story"), Ilana Glazer, Tracy Morgan (last heard in "Rio 2"), Miley Cyrus (last heard in "Bolt"), Lorraine Toussaint (last seen in "Hudson Hawk"), Aaron Hill, Nathan Fielder, Helene Yorke, with cameos from Jason Jones (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Jason Mantzoukas (last seen in "They Came Together"), Randall Park (last seen in "Sex Tape").

RATING: 5 out of 10 ugly sweaters