Thursday, June 22, 2017

Criminal

Year 9, Day 173 - 6/22/17 - Movie #2,668

BEFORE: Based on the cast lists, this could have been my lead-out from "Wonder Woman", and it could also have led right into "Jason Bourne", but that would have disrupted the placement I already had in mind for it, namely connecting "Mr. Brooks" and tomorrow's film.  So I found "The Zero Theorem" instead to do that early June linking, and now I'm all caught up and I can move forward, and approach that week of animated films on Netflix, with "Spider-Man: Homecoming" on the horizon.

So Kevin Costner carries over from "Mr. Brooks", and I promise this will make some more sense tomorrow.  (Yeah, sure...I say that all the time and it's never really true...)

THE PLOT: In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative's memories, secrets and skills are implanted into a death-row inmate in the hopes that he will complete the operative's mission.

AFTER: For the 2nd night in a row, Kevin Costner plays a sociopathic killer - only here he's given the opportunity to possibly gain release by working for the government and letting them do some brain-salad surgery to give him another man's memories.  He's like a one-man "Suicide Squad", I suppose, or a two-man Jason Bourne.  (or you could say this is like "Face-Off", only with brain surgery instead of face transplants...) Did he really volunteer for this project, or was he not given any choice?

He's also perfect for this project because he has an undeveloped frontal lobe, due to a childhood injury or some kind of genetic quirk, it's not really clear - take your pick, I suppose.  This enables the "brain pattern" (knowledge? memories?  I'm not quite sure...) off the agent to be grafted into his brain.  You know, because actually putting the other guy's brain into his skull would take too much time, and they're on a tight schedule for saving the world.  Still, it's laughable that about 10 minutes after brain surgery, this guy is awake and ready to sneak himself out of the hospital.  Right, no post-operative procedure or recovery period.  Tick-tock, times a-wasting!

You see, there's a man who wants to take down the government - which one?  Why, all of them!  And to do this he's got a hacker named the Dutchman who created a "Wormhole" on the Dark Web that somehow gives him control of the entire planet's nuclear arsenal.  This CIA agent, Bill Pope, was able to get the Dutchman to a safe hiding place before he expired, so those memories in his head contain the only known location of where the guy is.  Why doesn't the CIA just check his Seamless account to find out where food is being sent - even the Dutchman's got to eat some time, right?

Nope, it's (apparently) easier to have a convict undergo a complicated, experimental procedure and throw him out into the field, to see if he remembers any of the other guy's memories.  It's only the fate of the free world resting on this long-shot, after all.  And it doesn't seem to work at first, but then once the headaches go away, he remembers that there's something hidden behind books written by George Orwell, so he goes to the library in London.  Sure, like there's only one library in the greater London area...and we know he's a sociopath because he cuts to the head of the line, in a library.  Really, who DOES that?

The implanted memories also drive him to seek out the dead agent's wife and daughter.  Right, that won't creep this woman out at all, to meet a criminal with her dead husband's memories of their time together....why, that won't be awkward at all!  And then the rest of the plan basically involves driving this guy around all of London, to see if anything jogs the other guys' memories, or something.  Sure enough, eventually he remembers where the other guy left the bag, and the Dutchman - but a coherent plot thread continues to be elusive.

Honestly, by this time I'd fallen asleep, and I had to force myself awake, try to find the place where I left off and then try to continue, only to fall asleep again.  This happened several times before I was forced to give up, go to sleep for real and then watch the last half hour of the film in the morning.  You might have more fun with this film if you think of it as being set in the DC Universe, and Commissioner Gordon authorizes the transfer of Green Lantern's brain into Jonathan Kent's body via a procedure created by Two-Face so they can save the world with help from Green Lantern's wife, who happens to be Wonder Woman.

Also starring Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Ryan Reynolds (last seen in "Logan", sort of...), Gal Gadot (last seen in "Wonder Woman"), Jordi Molla (last seen in "In the Heart of the Sea"), Michael Pitt (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Alice Eve (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Amaury Nolasco, Antje Traue (last seen in "Woman in Gold"), Scott Adkins (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Lara Decaro with cameos from Piers Morgan, Robert Davi (last seen in "The Expendables 3")

RATING: 3 out of 10 headaches

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mr. Brooks

Year 9, Day 172 - 6/21/17 - Movie #2,667

BEFORE: There were probably a lot of ways I could have gone after "Bobby", with that large all-star cast, or so you might think, but with my options slowly dwindling down, I really only wanted to use that film to link here, with Demi Moore carrying over into this thriller.  From here I could link to another film with Kevin Costner, and his co-star tomorrow leads me to another film, and a co-star in THAT film leads me to another film, and so on.  This will get me to a block of recent animated films that I can watch on Netflix, starting early next week, and this in turn will get me to July, and just a few links away from "Spider-Man: Homecoming".  Gotta get that new Spider-Man film in before I head off to Comic-Con...


THE PLOT: A psychological thriller about a man who is sometimes controlled by his murder-loving alter ego.

AFTER: Kevin Costner as a serial killer?  As a concept, that seems like it should have been marked "dead on arrival".  Costner's played every hero from Elliot Ness to Robin Hood, from the good cowboy in "Unforgiven" to the solider-turned-Native American in "Dances With Wolves".  He was the family man in "Field of Dreams" that just wanted to build a baseball field and have a catch with his dad, for chrissakes.  You know what was the perfect role for him?  Jonathan Kent in the recent Superman movies - older guy, midwestern values, the guy who gave Superman his moral compass.  I didn't see him as Pa Kent at first, but thinking about it later, that casting was a slam-dunk.

I mean, I get that an actor is an actor, collectively they're just like a bunch of trained monkeys who producers can count on to show up, read their lines, and not put up too much of a fuss on the set, or later when they have to talk to the press.  But you'd like to think that the top actors build up some kind of reputation, or have some kind of overarching theme when you look at their entire body of work.  Maybe Costner got sick of playing white hats and wanted to see if he could stretch himself and play a villain for once...

There are two conceits here in the portrayal of Mr. Brooks, the serial killer.  One is that when he talks to the side of him that wants to kill, that side is portrayed by a different actor who appears in the scene as a character named "Marshall", only no other characters can see or hear Marshall.  When Brooks speaks to Marshall, the audience is supposed to understand that represents the conversation inside Brooks' head, the one he's having with his dark side.  It's a bit of a Tyler Durden situation, except we're told at the start that Marshall is not real.  He's part of Brooks, but he doesn't look like Brooks.  I suppose they could have had Costner play a dual role, like Kyle MacLachlan is currently doing on "Twin Peaks", playing both Dale Cooper and his doppelgänger, but they went another way with the idea here.

The other conceit is that being a serial killer is equated with addiction, Brooks goes to A.A. meetings and doesn't exactly say what he's addicted to when he introduces himself.  (The poor crowd in that church basement, they don't know who they're clapping for...). I'm not sure that I agree with this, because even if serial killers enjoy what they do, I'm not sure that they're compelled to do it - that they just can't get through the day without it, like some people with alcohol or drugs.  Isn't it a cop-out to suggest that they're driven by addiction, that they couldn't stop killing, even if they wanted to?  And then there's the irony of a serial killer reciting "The Serenity Prayer" - so is killing something that they can change, or something they have to accept that they can't change?

Plus, it doesn't come close to answering the question "Why does he kill?"  "Because he's addicted" is not a serious answer.  And if you're going to blame Marshall, his murderous side, that's not really an explanation, it's just a manifestation of the urges in his head - why is Marshall there in the first place? I have no idea.  And a big NITPICK POINT to me: if he's attending addiction meetings, shouldn't he be going through the 12-step program to try to stay "clean"?  Wouldn't this involve steps like making reparations to the people that he's hurt?  This not only seems out of line with being a serial killer, we never see it take place, and it doesn't seem like he's even interested in the concept.

As if Mr. Brooks life as the meticulously neat "thumbprint killer" isn't complicated enough, he also has to contend with someone who witnessed his latest murder who wants to become an apprentice of sorts, and a daughter who has just left college and returned home, right after a brutal murder occurred on campus, so he has to wonder if the apple didn't fall far from the proverbial tree.  Even when they're grown up, it seems like parents are always cleaning up after their kids' mistakes, am I right?

Oh, and he learns that there is a clever detective on his trail, but she's got problems of her own, including an escaped convict on the loose looking for revenge, and a husband filing for divorce, trying to take all of her money.  Can the cat stay focused enough to win this little game of cat-and-mouse, or will the murderous mouse figure out a way to point the finger at someone else?

Also starring Kevin Costner (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), William Hurt (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Dane Cook (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Marg Helgenberger (last seen in "Always"), Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Danielle Panabaker, Lindsay Crouse (last seen in "Slap Shot"), Jason Lewis, Matt Schulze, Reiko Aylesworth, Aisha Hinds, Traci Dinwiddie.

RATING: 5 out of 10 vacuum cleaner bags

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bobby

Year 9, Day 171 - 6/20/17 - Movie #2,666

BEFORE: "Room" gets me to this film, with William H. Macy carrying over, and I think I figured that if I could get to this one, with a near all-star cast, I could go just about anywhere.  There are so many stars in this film, I didn't even notice that I could have linked here from "Drugstore Cowboy".  But since I snuck in two more films in-between, maybe that's for the best.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Jackie" (Movie #2,637)

THE PLOT: The story of the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, shot June 5, 1968 in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and 22 people in the hotel whose lives were never the same.

AFTER: Perhaps I should treat this as a combination of "Jackie" and "Vantage Point", which was another film about an assassination told through the viewpoints of different people who were nearby.  But this story is real - sort of.  For the most part the filmmakers did not use real-life stories, though it's true that the person closest to RFK when he was shot was a hotel busboy.  But it's tricky when you use the names of real people in a movie, if the filmmakers don't secure the rights to each person's name and likeness, which can be expensive, then they open themselves up to litigation over the way those people are portrayed, which can be even more expensive.  You'll see a note at the end of this film that points out that the Ambassador Hotel did have a doorman with the same name as the doorman character in this film, but that man retired three years earlier in 1965, so therefore any relation is merely a coincidence.

The stopgap measure these days, if you want to give any character a first and last name, which they may accidentally share with a real person, is to find someone with that name and have them sign a contract that licenses the use of their name for a small sum, like a dollar.  That way nobody else with that name can come forward and file a lawsuit over the use of that name.  But that wouldn't work in the case of the film "Bobby", if you name the busboy character Juan Romero, it would obviously be done with the intent of portraying the real busboy with that name, and even a license with another person named Juan Romero wouldn't hold up in court - so here the busboy is just named José.  (We used to play a fun game at my old job, if there was a TV commercial with a character's first and last name, we'd look up the real person with that name and thus figure out which ad agency had that account.  Look up an Energizer battery commercial from the year 2000 with a candidate named Bob Fremgen, and you'll see what I mean.  The real Bob Freemen was a creative director on the account.)

But the RFK assassination was just a bit before my time - I was born about 4 months later, so I grew up in a world with only Ted Kennedy in office.  It was years before I understood who JFK and RFK were, and what their impacts were on the world.  Obviously we'll never know the path not taken, what things these two brothers might have accomplished if their lives had not been cut short.  Some people obviously believe that even though Kennedy's inaugural speech promised to "pay any price, bear any burden", that he still could have ended the Vietnam War faster than Johnson did.  And then there's a very strong implication that when Robert Kennedy started running for President, it was on something of an anti-war platform, so people similarly believe that he would have ended the war sooner if he had been elected.  But we will never know this for sure.

But here is what I did learn tonight - Robert Kennedy was shot on June 6, 1968, just three days after Andy Warhol was shot.  (Had I known this, I might have programmed this right after "I Shot Andy Warhol").  And because Robert Kennedy's campaign came to an end, the Democratic nominee in the 1968 election was Hubert Humphrey, and then Richard Nixon became President.  So you can perhaps see a sort of domino effect here, and wonder what might have been without Tricky Dick, Watergate, Gerald Ford and so on.  Shrine Sirhan, the man who shot RFK, was an Arab Palestinian born in Jerusalem, who moved to New York and California but retained Jordanian citizenship.  He felt betrayed by Kennedy's support of Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, but was also still upset about the formation of the country of Israel, back in 1948.  The night before June 6, Sirhan had witness a Zionist Pro-Israel parade, and then drank quite a bit as a result.

We might also wonder why the most famous shootings of the 1960's - the two Kennedys, along with Martin Luther King Jr. - didn't have more of an effect on gun control.  What happened there?  Why did the loss of three of the country's most beloved public figures not result in some more effective kind of legislation that would prevent this type of thing from taking place in the future?  Because years later Reagan was shot, and then later on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, and then last week there was that shooting last week at the Congressional baseball game where the House Majority Whip was shot.  I realize these incidents are just a drop in the OCEAN that is gun violence in this country, I bring these up as I wonder why the politicians aren't more keen on gun control, since they've also been targeted.  So congressmen will vote themselves pay raises and free medical care, but they won't take steps to protect everyone from guns, including themselves?  It doesn't make sense.

(UPDATE: A little research tells me that 14 members of the U.S. Congress have been killed while holding office.  But three of those died in duels, those don't really count, right?  That seems sort of voluntary.  Another 10 members of Congress have been wounded - 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats, and five were injured during the 1954 Capitol shooting.  I guess seeing as how guns helped form this country, they're too much a part of our history?  History, apparently, is written by the winners, or those with the best aim.)

Other facts I learned - 5 bystanders were injured, in addition to Robert Kennedy, in that crowded hotel kitchen.  (Not the same 5 people seen injured in this film, but I covered that above...)  How many shots did this assassin take, in order to hit RFK 3 times, and also another 5 people?  But he was tackled and disarmed by close friends of Sen. Kennedy, including George Plimpton and Rosey Grier. Oh, and I learned that the Senator McCarthy that lost to RFK in the California primary was Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota, and was not related to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was from Wisconsin.  (But you can see how that might be confusing if they never state his first name in this film...)

The film "Bobby" chose to focus on fictional characters, who in total represent a cultural pastiche of 1968 - we see a woman marrying a young soldier she barely knows so he'll be less likely to be sent to Vietnam, her hair stylist who's married to the hotel's manager, who's having an affair with a hotel switchboard operator, a kitchen manager with racist ideas who ends up listening to a Dodgers game with the Mexican busboys, two campaign volunteers who seek out a drug dealer and take acid for the first time, a couple of young idealist campaign managers, a well-off married couple who are apparently campaign donors, and an alcoholic singer performing at the hotel whose husband argues with her agent.  Finally, there's a Czech reporter who's there to get an interview with Sen. Kennedy, so apparently the Czech people are not known for their good timing.

These people take part in various activities in and around the hotel on the day of June 6, and they interact or bounce off each other in various ways.  But while this may be interesting, I'm not sure if it should be the main focus of the film, not to this extent, anyway.  I mean, what's more important at the end of the day, the shooting of a U.S. senator and presidential candidate, or a bride getting her hair done?  Should the marital troubles of a hotel manager, or a couple of campaign volunteers taking drugs, be put on a par with such an important historical event?  A couple of guys talking about baseball seems to be given equal importance as well, a woman who forgot to pack the right color of shoes, or a singer getting drunk - to what end?  I'm not convinced that this approach gives us more insight into this historical event than, say, following RFK around for the same time period would have.

Perhaps this film is supposed to remind us that the little things in our life that we do to keep ourselves busy - playing tennis, listening to a baseball game, taking drugs, playing chess - they're very trivial, and they're obviously not as important as voting, or paying attention to the candidates running for office.  Whatever you think you'd like to do on Election Day that isn't voting, for God's sake, put it on hold for one day and go make an informed selection, because we've all now seen what happens when the majority of people can't be bothered to take the time.  If that's the message of the film then I can get behind it, but something tells me that I'm doing most of the work here to fill in the blanks and find some meaning.  It's just as easy to think that the message of this film is that despite people's best intentions and efforts, everything good eventually gets ruined and turns to crap, and everyone dies, even the good ones.

Wikipedia mentioned the similarity to Robert Altman's film "Nashville", another ensemble piece with interrelating/intersecting characters whose plot revolves around a political convention/campaign. I haven't seen that one yet, but it's on my watchlist, and I'm trying to get to it. There's no direct link, so it may take some time for me to get there.

NITPICK POINT: I'm also not convinced that anyone in 1968 would perform the song "Louie Louie" in a slowed-down, ironic lounge style.  That seems more like what someone would do in either the early 1980's or 2000's, times when lounge music made notable comebacks, and then it was hip to take rock songs from the 1950's and swankily them.  But in 1968, I think most people didn't even know what the lyrics to "Louie Louie" were - nobody funded a complete and proper study of what the Kingsmen were singing until the mid-1970's, I think, so everyone just assumed that they were saying things that were really obscene.  (I'm only partially kidding here, the very real FBI had a 31-month inconclusive, fruitless investigation into the myth about the nature of the lyrics of this song.  Look it up if you don't believe me.)

Also starring Christian Slater (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Sharon Stone (last seen in "The Specialist"), Demi Moore (last seen in "Forsaken"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Emilio Estevez (last seen in "St. Elmo's Fire"), Shia LaBeouf (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Catch-22"), Helen Hunt (last seen in "Dr. T & the Women"), Heather Graham (last seen in "Drugstore Cowboy"), Freddy Rodriguez (last seen in "Planet Terror"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson (last seen in "Apt Pupil"), Ashton Kutcher (last seen in "Just Married"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Elijah Wood (last seen in "The Faculty"), Lindsay Lohan (last seen in "The Holiday"), Harry Belafonte, Brian Geraghty (last seen in "Jarhead"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "Factory Girl"), Svetlana Metkina, Joy Bryant, Spencer Garrett (last seen in Blackhat"), Jacob Vargas (last seen in "The 33"), David Kobzantsev, with cameos from Scoot McNairy (last seen in "Our Brand Is Crisis"), Orlando Seale.

RATING: 5 out of 10 hotel bathrobes

Monday, June 19, 2017

Room

Year 9, Day 170 - 6/19/17 - Movie #2,665

BEFORE: Time for a TV update, since the last two films featured actors noted for being on "Twin Peaks" - Heather Graham and Grace Zabriskie in "Drugstore Cowboy", and Kenneth Welsh in "The Art of the Steal".  We're still tuning in to "Twin Peaks: The Return", the 7th episode just aired, and not only is it a confusing mess, I'm predicting that even though it FEELS like it's building up to some large payoff, it's going to confound everyone when it doesn't.  Damn you, David Lynch, do you have any concept of how to introduce plot threads and then, I don't know, FOLLOW UP with them at some point?  Nope, last week's threads were left hanging, in fact they weren't even mentioned, and instead we were treated to a solid three minutes of a man sweeping a barroom floor, which didn't advance the story one iota.  Trust me, people, there will be NO answers, NO resolution to the situations put before you.

But I finished the current season of "Gotham", "The Amazing Race", "Angie Tribeca" and the finales of "Genius" and "Fargo" will air this week.  I've got all summer to catch up on shows like "Little People, Big World", "Law & Order: SVU", "Family Guy", "The Simpsons" and "Bob's Burgers".  And I haven't even finished the recent season of "Face-Off" on Syfy, and the new season is starting up already - geez, guys, give me a break!  Let me catch my breath!  And then I've got to start watching "American Gods" and "Ginormous Food", which are threatening to clog up my DVR.

The tie-in between "The Art of the Steal" is not very obvious, an actor named Joe Pingue carries over, he played the barely noticed "Carmen" last night, and tonight plays a police officer.  That's because "The Art of the Steal" was essentially a dead-end, so I have to rely on a character actor.  Now, since I made the plan, Kurt Russell popped up again in "Deepwater Horizon", so I could have linked to that film, but it's serving another linking purpose next week, and if I skip ahead to it, I'll miss all the films in between and have to re-link to them.  Nope, it's Joe Pingue's turn in the spotlight tonight.


THE PLOT: A young boy is raised within the confines of a small shed.

AFTER: This is another one of those claustrophobic one-room movies that seem to be popping up frequently this year - it's not really a follow-up because the two films are so different, but I bought "Room" off of PPV in order to go on a DVD with "10 Cloverfield Lane", since both feature a woman being held captive in a closed space.

"Room" is sort of tricky at first, because you see a woman taking care of her son, doing normal mom-like activities like measuring his height against a mark on the wall, eating together and having play-time, it's only after a little while goes by that you realize that they haven't left this small room, and then you get the dreadful feeling that they may not be able to.  But why?  Who put them there?  Who brings them food and other things that they need?  What the heck is going on here?

The answer comes in time, of course, and it ends up being the sort of situation that you'd like to think doesn't happen in our modern, loving society, but probably does happen more often than you think, or would care to admit.  My question really isn't "who would do such a thing?" because there are plenty of psychos and nut jobs out there, but my question was more along the lines of "who would allow this situation to continue, once a kid has become part of the equation?"  Because I'm guessing that if someone abducted her to make her some kind of sex slave, he probably got much more than he bargained for.  (Oh, yeah, Happy Father's Day, everyone!).

What's more interesting here than the situation, how it came to be or whether they have any chance of getting out of it, is the psychology of a child raised under such conditions, where all he knows of the world is within that small room.  The room is real to him, everything outside is not real, because he's never seen it.  Oh, they have a TV, and his mother can tell him things about the world, but the TV depicts both reality and fantasy, so you might imagine that he has trouble telling the difference.  He can't even imagine that there IS anything on the other side of the wall, or even that the wall HAS another side.  Everything that isn't in the room might as well be in outer space, to him.

And if that boy and woman were to get out of the room somehow, and I'm not saying that they do, but if they did, how would he be able to comprehend the vastness of the world, and navigate the complications of society?  Well, this sort of hearkens back to my point about "Wonder Woman", where she was confused unnecessarily about Steve Trevor's wristwatch, but in her society they probably had a sundial, so she should be able to make that mental leap without much difficulty.  The boy might never have seen a car, but he's played with a toy car, for example, so there should be a way for him to get there.

But I don't really want to talk about that, because spoilers, so instead I'm going to wonder if this film is a big metaphor for something - after all, most people end up spending the majority of their time in rooms in their home that aren't much bigger, or cubicles in their office that are in fact smaller, so is this really such a bad life?  I mean, of course it is, because Joy and Jack CAN'T leave the room, and regular people can leave their home or office at will.  (But can they really?  CAN THEY?)  Or is this situation meant to function as a metaphor for any bad or abusive relationship, where someone knows that they SHOULD leave the relationship for their own sake, but similarly feel that they can't?

I mean, you can leave your office, but you're going to have to come back the next day.  You can leave your house for a while, but eventually you're going to need to come back and sleep there.  You can go on vacation or walkabout, but sooner or later you've got to come home.  So we're all prisoners in our own little ways, even if we have the illusion of free will, home is where you hang your hat, and you can eventually get tired of living or working anywhere.  The only real way to be happy is to be content in your situation, realize it as such and try to be as comfortable as you can there.

As a thought experiment, would you rather be homeless, or confined to a single room where you had everything you needed or wanted?  In the room someone would bring you food, supplies and entertainment, but you could never leave the room - is that better or worse than sleeping outside and carrying around your possessions with you?  What about living in an galactic zoo, if you got the offer to live in the human exhibit, with all your needs and wants taken care of, except for freedom, would you take that deal?

Now, I don't have children, so I related more to this story by thinking about the stray cats we've taken in and turned into house cats, which is itself a form of captivity.  We give the cats food, medical care, love and attention, and all we ask in return is that they never leave the house.  I heard a comedian do a routine recently where he referred to cats and dogs as "friend-slaves", and I don't think he's that far off.  We took in our latest stray around Memorial Day 2016, and it took 9 months in our basement to train and re-program her before we could integrate her with our upstairs cat (also a former stray).  In a sense, we had to catch her, break her and then build her back up - and it's only the fact that I've been through this process several times before that I think of myself as a responsible cat owner and not a kidnapper (kit-napper?).

I don't mean to muddy the waters here, or to insinuate that this woman and child weren't in a terrible situation that they should, of course, try to escape from.  And by no means would I stick up for the abductor in such a situation, even considering the "Stockholm Syndrome" where people identify with and excuse their captors.  And of course no one should abuse women or children or hold them captive or threaten them in any way.  But when I think about pets, the situation becomes quite a bit muddier.  "Room" has just given me a lot to think about, that's all.

Also starring Brie Larson (last seen in "Don Jon"), Jacob Tremblay (last seen in "The Smurfs 2"), Sean Bridgers (last seen in "Midnight Special"), William H. Macy (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Joan Allen (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Wendy Crewson, Tom McManus (last seen in "The Vow"), Cas Anvar, Amanda Brugel. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 cracked eggshells

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Art of the Steal

Year 9, Day 169 - 6/18/17 - Movie #2,664

BEFORE: The 2016 films are coming to cable more quickly now, I just saw ads for "Arrival" and "Jack Reacher 2" being promoted as airing soon - of course, I'm cheating by dipping in to a pile of Academy screeners, but even if I watch a film earlier than scheduled, I still have to remember to DVR that film when it airs so I can archive it on DVD.  Meanwhile I've got an eye on the 2017 release schedule for the rest of the year, and my decision to see "Wonder Woman" in the theater, instead of "The Mummy" or the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie seems to have been a smart one, based on what critics and audiences seem to be saying.  I wish I could say I made that decision after careful deliberation, but it probably had as much to do with the fact that I could link to "Wonder Woman" more easily than the other two - so, random chance, really.

For each film I take off the list, I seem to be adding one from 2015 or 2016, and those are the films I'm most interested in watching right now.  I suspect I won't dip back into films from the 1950's or earlier until October rolls around, but who knows?  Today's film is from 2013, and thankfully it has nothing to do with the President except the fact that the title riffs off his most famous book, which essentially is a guide for screwing everyone you deal with.  Yep, collectively we voted for that guy, and then we were surprised that he wants to screw everyone he deals with, including us.

Matt Dillon carries over from "Drugstore Cowboy", and I'm really shocked that I'll be watching at least four Kurt Russell movies this year, and not using him as a link at all, which seems odd.


THE PLOT: Crunch Calhoun, a semi-reformed art thief, agrees to get his old gang back together to pull off one last heist.

AFTER: I'm back on art forgery + theft, which seems to pop up every year at least once, whether it's in "The Thomas Crown Affair" or "The Monuments Men", or "Tim's Vermeer", and last year this topic seemed to be all over the countdown, with "The Forger", "Woman in Gold", "Big Eyes", "F For Fake" and even "Hudson Hawk", "Lara Croft" and "The Pink Panther" (if you extend the topic to artifacts as well as art, that is.).

It seems like Hollywood doesn't know what to do with art, except show it being stolen.  But this leads back to heist stories, which I usually like.  We get to see an action film that combines beautiful things with cool technology and a bunch of sneaky people who are probably one step away from double-crossing each other.  And so the story is probably going to keep us on our toes with a good twist or two.  For the record, I predicted both twists in this film, the little one in the opening sequence and the big one later - but I was only about 5 minutes ahead of the plot, which is saying something, if the film could keep me guessing for that long.

Despite its insistence on breaking down the crew into its criminal archetypes ("The Wheelman", "The Brain", "The Rookie", "The Scratcher") this film still managed to tell a really good story.  In the opening gambit there was some stuff I'd never seen before - like a motorcycle chase ON a subway train - and one team member ends up taking the fall for the heist.  The second part is about getting the crew back together for "one last job", but what happens on that job reminded me more of "The Usual Suspects" than anything else.  (Unlike "The Crying Game", this is one instance where making reference to the fable about the scorpion and the frog would have made some sense.).

Tricks aside, there's a middle part that tells the real story of the theft of the "Mona Lisa", in which Vincenzo Perrugia, an employee at the Louvre, hid in a broom closet and simply walked out with it one day.  The man who hired him to do this, Eduardo Valifierno, paid him for his efforts but did not collect the painting, instead he asked Perrugia to hold it in his apartment.  Valifierno then hired a famous forger, Yves Chaudron, to make six forgeries of the famous painting, which he then sold to various U.S. patrons.  As long as the painting hung in the Louvre, a forgery would be worthless, but after news of the theft broke and the painting's location was unknown, the rules changed.  Valifierno could make more money, over time, by NOT selling the real item.

This story is re-enacted in flashback, using the same actors as in the main film, and really was the highlight here.  It has a direct impact to the plot, but I can re-tell this middle bit here without spoiling anything.  And the anecdote is not only true, it's part of what made the Mona Lisa such a famous painting, plus it illustrates the real art of the steal, not just the steal of the art.

Also starring Kurt Russell (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Jay Baruchel (last seen in "Robocop" (2014)), Kenneth Welsh (last seen in "Heartburn"), Chris Diamantopoulos, Katheryn Winnick (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Jason Jones (last seen in "The Night Before"), Terence Stamp (last seen in "The Haunted Mansion"), Devon Bostick, Dax Ravina, A.C. Peterson, Joe Pingue (last seen in "Maps to the Stars"), Camilla Scott, Eugene Lipinski, Karyn Dwyer.

RATING: 6 out of 10 Polish inmates

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Drugstore Cowboy

Year 9, Day 168 - 6/17/17 - Movie #2,663

BEFORE: This one's been held on the bottom of the watchlist for a long while, paired with the film I'll watch tomorrow, but collectively they weren't really linked to anything else.  Then when I saw that Kurt Russell (who's in tomorrow's film, with Matt Dillon) was going to appear in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" I got excited, because it was a chance to rescue both films, but then "Drugstore Cowboy" seemed like the end of the chain, and for a while it was.

I found another way to link out of "Guardians 2", so it seemed like a shame to consign both films back to the "unlinkables" section - then along came "Vantage Point", so James Le Gros could carry over from that film to this one.  But then, even though I had the link out of this one to tomorrow's film, then THAT became the dead end.  Ah, but a way out then presented itself, so the chain is still going strong, it just takes careful research and a willingness to change the plan around every few weeks.


THE PLOT: A pharmacy-robbing dope fiend and his crew pop pills and evade the law.

AFTER: You see the problem this presented, right?  I mean, the low-profile indie cast here made it nearly impossible to schedule, at least if I wanted to stick by my own self-imposed rules.  Matt Dillon' just hasn't made that many films that have fallen into my possession, or at least ones that I'm interested in watching, neither has Kelly Lynch.  I mean that's fine, make the kind of films you want to make, they're in charge of their own careers after all, but why not take a part in a blockbuster once in a while, just to help a guy out?  I mean, who wants to see their names in a clickbait article about "Why Hollywood Won't Hire Matt Dillon Any More", I'm just sayin'.

I know this is an acclaimed indie film by acclaimed indie director Gus Van Sant, but I'm sorry, I just don't get it.  Watching people shoot up and get high just doesn't appeal to me, nor is it very cinematic.  People get stoned and become catatonic, and then basically inert, the process doesn't lend itself very well to movies, which are all about action and movement and, you know, talking.  (FUN FACT: movies with sound were once called "talkies", which is a horrible name, but calling them "movies" because they display movement isn't much better.  We shouldn't even call them "films" any more because everything's digital, so we really need to come up with a better name for movies.).

I'll make an exception for comedies, I suppose, like Cheech & Chong or Harold & Kumar films, but in general the only thing more boring to me than watching a movie about people taking drugs is a movie about people getting off of drugs.  Getting sober doesn't really make for a good cinematic story either.  Hey, welcome to the drudgery of reality, with no filter, which means going to work and earning a paycheck and attending meetings.  Yeah, I'll pass.  And "Drugstore Cowboy" gives me both boring non-ideal-for-movies things - taking drugs and then getting sober.

There is some action and excitement with the heists, even more so when they don't go as planned.  Robbing pharmacies makes sense if you're looking for drugs, I suppose.  I mean you can steal money if you're hoping to buy drugs, but why not just cut out the middleman?  And it made sense to steal drugs even before the pharmaceutical price hikes of the last few years.  But pharmacies have increased security since this film was made, as evidenced by the fact that I can't buy the best cold medicine without waiting for a store employee to unlock a cabinet.  Right, I'm a drug dealer, as you can probably tell by my constant sneezing, runny nose and hacking cough.

I wish I could say that things perk up when William S. Burroughs makes an appearance as a former priest and drug-user, but I never found him or his work interesting either, plus I'm still mad at him after watching "Naked Lunch" a few years back.  So this to me is a swing and a miss.  The only consolation is that I can now cross if off from that list of "1,001 Movies To See Before You Die". (My current total: 408 seen.)

Also starring Matt Dillon (last seen in "Girl Most Likely"), Kelly Lynch, Heather Graham (last seen in "Two Girls and a Guy"), James Remar (last seen in "The Warriors"), Max Perlich (last seen in "Maverick"), Grace Zabriskie (last seen in "The Judge"), William S. Burroughs.

RATING: 3 out of 10 superstitions

Friday, June 16, 2017

Vantage Point

Year 9, Day 167 - 6/16/17 - Movie #2,662

BEFORE: Forest Whitaker carries over again from "Ghost Dog", and I'm still kind of on topic.  Jason Bourne from last week was a spy/assassin, one could say, and "Nightcrawler" had a bit about gun-men shooting a family and some police.  After my detour for the "grief" trilogy ("Moonlight Mile", "Demolition", "Manchester By the Sea"), "Out of the Furnace" dealt with criminals shooting people, "The Crying Game" was about IRA terrorists and hit-men (among other things...) and "Ghost Dog" was about a mafia hit-man.  So I continue with this film about a Presidential assassination.

I'll pull out of this topic in a little over a week, but with so many shootings in the news this week, I sort of feel like maybe I'm right where I should be.


THE PLOT: The attempted assassination of the American President is told and re-told from several different perspectives.

AFTER: It's funny that last night's film name-checked "Rashomon", because this film takes that seen-from-different angles idea (I've never seen "Rashomon", but I know that's the hook...) and runs with it.  Generally speaking, in this 90-minute film we see the same 10 minutes (or so) of time, over and over, each time from a different person's point of view, and each time we gain a little bit more information about exactly what happened. 

It's an interesting format, but since it's so repetitive it's easy to see why no other film has ever attempted this - plus there are a lot of balls to keep up in the air, so to speak, and if there's a downside, it's that each character's story needed to end on something of a cliffhanger, or at least someone felt that it did, and also each character's story had to add something of a twist to what had come before, and therefore what we learn as truth in one story may easily be proven wrong in a story that comes later.  Also, creating all these twists means that about 18 different improbable things had to be shown taking place, and maybe I can believe that 5 or 6 improbable things might happen in sequence, but this seems like maybe a bit too much.

In addition, all 6 people whose perspectives we see are on something of a collision course, most of them need to end up in the same place at the same time for the story to come together and resolve, and that's also a bit of a stretch.  I think by the sixth time the story unfolds, the singular P.O.V. format was abandoned in favor of more traditional omniscient, omnipresent camera-work, because really, how long can you keep a thing like this going, and shouldn't we think about wrapping up this story by now?  I mean, how many times can you see the President get shot, what kind of person would want to see that again and again - wait, don't answer that.  You never know who's listening...

Also starring Dennis Quaid (last seen in "Truth"), Matthew Fox (last seen in "Alex Cross"), Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Chappie"), William Hurt (last seen in "Race"), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "Out of the Furnace"), Edgar Ramirez (last seen in "Joy"), Eduardo Noriega, Said Taghmaoui (last seen in "Wonder Woman"), James LeGros, Bruce McGill (last seen in "Matchstick Men"), Richard T. Jones (last seen in "Moonlight Mile"), Holt McCallany (last seen in "Blackhat"), Ayelet Zurer (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Dolores Heredia, Brian McGovern, Leonardo Nam.

RATING: 5 out of 10 metal detectors

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Year 9, Day 166 - 6/15/17 - Movie #2,661

BEFORE: And now I've hit this nice little pocket of films about hit-men and assassinations - more death and destruction for a while, but at least with this topic it seems to serve a purpose.  Forest Whitaker carries over again from "The Crying Game".


THE PLOT: An African-American mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.

AFTER: I haven't seen too many films by Jim Jarmusch, other than "Coffee and Cigarettes" and "Broken Flowers".  I think I watched "Down By Law" and "Stranger Than Paradise" back in college, but really, who didn't?  I think if you went to film school in the late 1980's, like I did, that was probably required.  I'd like to watch his film "Dead Man", with Johnny Depp, but it appeared in the cable listings a few weeks ago and then disappeared just as quickly, I think before it even aired.  Not sure what was going on there.

But I think mainly Jarmusch's films tend to come off as character studies, not intensely narrative stories, but not all oblique like David Lynch or Terry Gilliam stories, either.  I feel like I could have used more story in this one, if that makes sense, because instead it just kept telling me Ghost Dog's origin over and over, only slightly differently each time.  (I didn't realize that was a nod to "Rashomon", because I haven't watched much Japanese cinema.  I should probably put that on my eventual "to-do" list, but that list is already pretty packed.  Besides, I've avoided "Rashomon", "Ran" and "The Seven Samurai" up until now, why ruin a good thing?)

There's a fair amount of Eastern philosophy here, as Ghost Dog reads from the Hagakure, with advice for samurai warriors that covers everything from the nature of existence to recommending to warriors that they should live life as if they are already dead, which in itself seems a little contradictory.  But I guess if you consider yourself already dead, then you don't mind sacrificing yourself in battle, or for whatever cause you happen to be fighting for.  Besides, even when you decapitate a samurai, it says that they should still have enough energy left in their body to do one last thing.  Umm, yeah, OK, good luck with that.

Ghost Dog works for a man in the Mafia, someone who saved his life years ago, and has dedicated himself to serving this man as his master, much like the samurai of ancient Japan served theirs.  Over the years he has carried out a number of hits, which are "perfect" in that they can't be traced back to him, possibly because he'll only communicate with his master via carrier pigeon.  Possible NITPICK POINT: one of the Mafia guys here uses the term "passenger pigeon" instead of "carrier pigeon" or "homing pigeon", but passenger pigeons are not only extinct (as the character correctly pointed out) but were not used to send messages.  Their name was a corruption of the French word "passager", meaning "to pass by", referring to their migratory habits.  Passenger pigeons didn't carry passengers, or messages.  But carrier pigeons are European, so the correct term to use here was probably "homing pigeon".

His only other friends seem to be an ice cream vendor who only speaks French (this is something of an unnecessary complication, as it requires every bit of dialogue between them to be said twice - hey, I guess you gotta fill your movie however you can...) and a young girl who reads a lot of books.  Great, be sure to give her the book on the samurai lifestyle - I'm not sure if this was just an ill-advised reading recommendation or an attempt to set up a sequel 15 or 20 years later, when the girl grows up.

Either way, the pieces just didn't really come together for me with this one.  There's a fair amount of action, but half of that is just really old guys shooting guns, or attempting to.  And too many moody shots of Ghost Dog driving through the scummier parts of New Jersey at night, listening to rap music.

Also starring John Tormey (last seen in "Not Fade Away"), Cliff Gorman, Victor Argo (last seen in "Don't Say a Word"), Henry Silva, Richard Portnow (last seen in "Café Society"), Tricia Vessey, Frank Minucci (last seen in "Carlito's Way"), Isaach de Bankolé (last seen in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"), Camille Winbush (last seen in "Dangerous Minds"), Frank Adonis, Gary Farmer, Gene Ruffini, with a cameo by The RZA.

RATING: 3 out of 10 classic cartoons

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Crying Game

Year 9, Day 165 - 6/14/17 - Movie #2,660

BEFORE: Just a little over one month to go until San Diego Comic-Con, when I'll shut down the blog for a week - right now my life is all about doing the paperwork for the convention, filling out forms, getting the temporary CA sales tax permit, starting to publicize our panel and screenings, and figuring out who gets which kind of badge. In fact, with all the different things we're doing there, I may end up with too many badges, which is a nice problem to have - it beats the alternative, anyway.  But there could be friends or family that contact my boss at the last minute to try and get in, so it's probably best to have them set aside for the moment.

Forest Whitaker carries over from "Out of the Furnace", as I said he would, to appear in the first half of this film, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year - I feel like maybe I'm the last person to watch this one, and that's what this blog is (supposed to be) about, after all, finding those "lost" classics that I never took the time to watch before, even if I'm familiar with the film by way of pop culture. 


THE PLOT: A British soldier is kidnapped by IRA terrorists.  He befriends one of his captors, who is drawn into the soldier's world.

AFTER: Damn it, how do I write about this film without giving away any spoilers?  Then again, this film has been around for 25 years, so if you haven't seen it or heard about it by now, then you're even more behind the times than I am - please, if you haven't seen this one, stop reading NOW.  Go track it down and see if if you want, but I simply can't be responsible if you haven't gained the proper background information to process what I need to say tonight, either by viewing the film or by cultural osmosis.

OK, is everybody gone now who needs to leave the room?  We may need to discuss some adult topics here, so please put the kids to bed.  This film didn't do that well when it was first released, but then became something of a sleeper hit after an ad campaign asked people to not reveal the film's secret to their friends, and this of course made people intensely curious about what this secret could be, so then people went to see it in droves, perhaps not fully prepared to deal with all of the issues it raised.

Of course, now in 2017, 25 years later, the presence of a transgender character (there, I said it...) is less of a big deal.  The norms have had more chance to get used to the idea, and the societal issues that go along with it.  I can't say that trans people are universally accepted, because the cynical part of me knows that there are plenty of places in this world where they are not, but I also can acknowledge that legally and socially in the better places in the U.S., great strides have been made.  Heck, there was a transgender contestant on "Survivor" this past season, and while the circumstances regarding that person's outing were hardly ideal, for the most part it became something of a positive interaction in the end, for most of the people involved.

I'd argue that the character here is more accurately described as transvestite than transgender, but then I think that's putting too fine a point on it.  Splitting hairs, so to speak.  Most people just didn't know that much about the politics and acceptable language connected to this issue back then, many in fact still don't, and try to judge someone based on their anatomy rather than how they identify.  This is why they had those ridiculous bathroom gender laws down in North Carolina - but it turns out you can't legislate intolerance after all.  If a male wants to be treated as a female, or vice versa, we're not supposed to ask about whether they've had an operation or not, the polite thing to do is to treat them however they want to be treated, right?

Now, with relation to this issue as seen in this film, the question then becomes, is the film a one-trick pony?  Does it have anything to offer the viewer outside this issue, or is this basically the thing that's driving all of the other plot points and creative decisions?  I suppose this is a debatable point, because once the secret is revealed, it sort of affects everything else, how could it not?  The lead character tracks down the girlfriend of the soldier he held captive, based mostly on the stunning photo that the soldier kept on him.  He obviously feels indebted based on the soldier's last wishes, but evidently the plan goes out the window when he sees her.  (This is before he knows that she's the "girl with something extra"...)

You might look at the situation through a modern filter and wonder, "How could he not know?  Didn't he pay attention to the type of bar, the way she sings, the way she moves, etc."  Again, I counter with "But it was 1992."  It was a different world in many ways - obviously there were sex changes that took place back in the 1970's (and earlier, as seen in "The Danish Girl"), but I think they were less prevalent and also less accepted.  But anyway, let's take the situation as presented to us in this film, and try to move forward.  Let's assume that the character here, Dil, can pass as a woman (the jury's still out on that one, if you ask me...).

When Fergus is hiding out in London, after fleeing Ireland and hooking up with Dil, he gets tracked down by Jude, an associate and (female) member of the IRA.  Jude naturally assumes that Dil is a woman, and tells Fergus she's going to kill his woman if he doesn't help out with the next operation, the assassination of a British official.  Fergus's solution to hide Dil from Jude is to cut her hair and dress her like a man, an act which contains levels of irony that can only be found in Shakespeare's more complicated farces, or perhaps in "Victor/Victoria".

But I think the message that Dil gets from this, without knowing that her life is in danger, is that Fergus would prefer her to act and dress like a man - and she goes with it, to the extent that she can, but of course now we know this is disrepectful to trans people, forcing them to dress and act like their birth gender, rather than how they identify.  So this leads to a rather complicated situation, formed by confusion and dishonesty, then further complicated by honesty.  I won't say any more about how the situation gets resolved, because I may have spoiled too much already.  But it's worth checking out because it represented a turning point in storytelling.  After all, Shakespeare could only dress female characters (played by men at the time) in men's clothing, and vice versa, but Neil Jordan, the director of "The Crying Game" was able to take things a giant step forward.  In essence this is a female character, in a man's body, being forced to act and dress like a man for her own safety - and I'm fairly sure that at the time this came out, nobody had seen a story like that before.

NITPICK POINT: I still have no idea what "The Crying Game" is, what the title is referring to.  I know it's the name of the song, so maybe the lyrics of the song could give me an idea (Nope, no such luck...), but right now I fail to see how it ties in with the events in the film.  Furthermore, I don't think that the parable about the scorpion and the frog really ties in well, either, maybe I just don't get it.

Also starring Stephen Rea (last seen in "In Dreams"), Miranda Richardson (last seen in "Muppets Most Wanted"), Jaye Davidson (last seen in "Stargate"), Jim Broadbent (last seen in "Eddie the Eagle"), Ralph Brown (last seen in "Jackie"), Adrian Dunbar (last seen in "My Left Foot"), Tony Slattery, Birdy Sweeney, Joe Savino. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 carnival games

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Out of the Furnace

Year 9, Day 164 - 6/13/17 - Movie #2,659

BEFORE: Casey Affleck carries over from "Manchester By the Sea" and closes out his three films in about a week's time.  Yeah, they were all supposed to run together at one point but it made more sense to separate them a bit.  I've got to keep the chain flexible, to allow other films to be dropped in here and there, as long as linking is maintained then I feel good about it.

But the ending of three films with Casey Affleck is also the beginning of four films with Forest Whitaker, that's just the way things go.  Circle of life.


THE PLOT: When Rodney Baze mysteriously disappears and law enforcement doesn't follow through fast enough, his older brother Russell takes matters into his own hands to find justice.

AFTER: An Iraq veteran, steelworkers, drug dealers and underground bare-knuckle boxing.  There's a lot of pain and misery to go around tonight, I feel like I'm soaking in it.  (There are more specific things that this film happens to share with "Manchester By the Sea" but I'm withholding some to prevent spoilers.)  But it's part prison film, part crime drama, part boxing movie - and yet it's not really any of those things, what it is becomes rather hard to quantify, but like most of the other films in the past week, pretty much everyone is circling the drain, or standing on shifting sands, like quicksand.  Yeah, that's it, metaphorically we're all sinking into quicksand, and we don't take the proper steps to save ourselves, since we might not even know we're sinking until it's too late to prevent it.

This is set somewhere in Pennsylvania, Wiki tells me the steel mill setting is in North Braddock, and the prison scenes are set at Moundsville, which is in West Virginia.  The scenes with the psycho drug dealer and his gang are apparently set somewhere in Bergen County, NJ - there was a lawsuit after this film was released about the portrayal of a Native American tribe from Mahwah, NJ, and their environs in the Ramapo Mountains.  It seems the film used some character names that are close to the names of some real people who live there, and those people took offense.  A filmmaker today, before using any name in a film, needs to protect himself by finding someone with that name and signing a contract with that person to buy the right to use their name, it can be for a low amount like one dollar. I thought that this was standard Hollywood practice by now to prevent litigation.

I've got to find a way to pivot away from all these depressing movies - it's been nothing but misery, night after night, ever since "The Zero Theorem".  You could say that "Moonlight Mile" and "Demolition" ended on positive points, but that doesn't make up for how depressing most of those films were.  Unfortunately, there's more darkness ahead for the next two weeks - more hit-men, heists, at least two assassinations, two serial killers, an oil-rig disaster and a prominent bombing.  After that, I think I'll need to dive into some upbeat animated films for a change of pace.

Also starring Christian Bale (last seen in "The Big Short"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Triple 9"), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Willem Dafoe (last seen in "John Wick"), Sam Shepard (last seen in "Midnight Special"), Forest Whitaker (last seen in "Rogue One"), Tom Bower (last seen in "Pollock"), Boyd Holbrook (last seen in "Logan"), Bingo O'Malley.

RATING: 4 out of 10 orange hunting vests

Monday, June 12, 2017

Manchester By the Sea

Year 9, Day 163 - 6/12/17 - Movie #2,658 - viewed on 6/8/17

BEFORE: I'm back from Massachusetts, and today's film just happens to be set there - but I really watched it last week, I just didn't review it right away.  This is because the original plan was to have this one follow "The Zero Theorem", with Lucas Hedges carrying over.  This was the simplest way to get back to the chain I had originally planned, after making a detour to watch "Wonder Woman".  But then I decided to follow the Matt Damon track out of "The Zero Theorem" because I saw the opportunity to squeeze in those three Jake Gyllenhaal movies, and still link back to here, with C.J. Wilson carrying over from "Demolition". 

And originally THIS film was supposed to go after "Triple 9", with Casey Affleck carrying over.  But since my current chain was scheduled to end a few days before "Spider-Man: Homecoming", after dropping in these extra 4 films, it looks like I may hit it right on the nose.  But that's opening night - and I may not want to deal with the crowds, so if I can find three more films to shoehorn into the chain, I could put the Spider-Man film off until the following Monday, that would be super-sweet.

I'm hoping this marks the end of this little grief-based trilogy I seem to have fallen into.


THE PLOT: A depressed uncle is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies.

AFTER: This one starts out with the portrait of the lead character, Lee, as a handyman/janitor in the Boston area - so it's the drudgery of shoveling snow, unclogging toilets, fixing leaks, then doing it all again the next day.  But this janitor's life changes when his brother dies, and he's named to be the guardian of his nephew. 

Or perhaps I should say the "gaah-dian", because the Boston accents are prominent here, and it feels like the screenwriter picked a lot of spoken words that would emphasize it, like "shaak" (shark) and "caad-bawd" (cardboard) or the "mawg" (morgue).  Plus the teen kids apparently still call each other "re-taah-ded" instead of "stupid", just like they did when I was a kid, even though that's not very PC.  (And if we really wanted to emphasize how stupid someone was, we'd call him "fekkin' re-taah-ded".  I guess some things never change...) 

Not too far into the film, we hit what I usually call Excessive Flashbackery - which was confusing at first because they just go right into it, and a character that just died is in the first flashback, so at first it seemed like he was alive again, or perhaps there was confusion over who died.   That's when I realized it's another one of these films that starts in the middle and flashes back to the beginning, because nobody knows how to tell a goddamn story in the proper ORDER any more, they'd rather just throw all the bits of the timeline at you and let you know that some assembly is required.

But I sort of have to allow it here, because the information in the flashbacks is important, it eventually gives us insight into the character of Lee and it explains why he doesn't feel he's cut out to be a parent, and why his marriage fell apart, and all that is really powerful stuff, once we've assembled it together, that is.  I just think directors are falling back on this trick way too often, like they've collectively got it into their heads that information is more dramatic if it's delivered via flashback, and compared or contrasted with a current scene in the framing sequences. But it's still a storytelling crutch...

Also starring Casey Affleck (last seen in "Triple 9"), Michelle Williams (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Lucas Hedges (last seen in "The Zero Theorem"), Kyle Chandler (last seen in "Carol"), Gretchen Mol (last seen in "True Story"), Matthew Broderick (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Tate Donovan (last seen in "Murder at 1600"), Kara Hayward (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Anna Baryshnikov, Heather Burns (last seen in "Two Weeks Notice"), Josh Hamilton, Tom Kemp (also carrying over from "Demolition"), Joe Stapleton.

RATING:  5 out of 10 baah fights

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Demolition

Year 9, Day 162 - 6/11/17 - Movie #2,657

BEFORE: Day 3 in Massachusetts, and Day 3 of this year's Jake Gyllenhaal trilogy.

Yesterday I went to the local German picnic with my Mom and a friend, and then today I just went out for breakfast and dinner with my parents, then showed them the film "Black Mass" later in the evening.  My Dad followed the Whitey Bulger story closely while Whitey was on the lam, so even though the film had a lot of profanity in it - and that's not really their thing - I figured the movie might go over well with them.

I caught up on sleep this weekend, as there wasn't much else for me to do here in the mornings, so I'm hoping that even if I stay up and watch one more movie, it won't affect my ability to get up early tomorrow morning and catch a 6:30 train back to NYC.  I also spent an hour today on the phone with their cable TV's customer service in order to get their On Demand features working again - so I hung out with the parents, got their cable fixed, there's nothing for me to do but head back to work on Monday. 

THE PLOT: A successful investment banker struggles after losing his wife in a car crash.  With the help of a customer service rep and her young son, he starts to rebuild, beginning with the demolition of the life he once knew.

AFTER: For the second night in a row, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a man with a deceased wife, who then has an awkward relationship with her parents, and coincidence leads him into a new relationship.  But the similarities end there - oh, wait, also family secrets are revealed and dealt with, but that's really where the similarities end.  In "Moonlight Mile" his character essentially has to break up with her parents in order to move on with his life, and in this film, he's got to break a lot of other stuff.

Things start rolling when a vending machine won't properly dispense his candy, and this leads him to write a long, rambling letter to their customer service department.  (Why he doesn't move directly to destroying the vending machine with a sledgehammer, and cut out all the middle stuff is beyond me.)  The letters are so moving and emotional that the woman who runs the customer service department for the vending machine company contacts him, and they form a strange friendship based on their mutual dissatisfaction with life, or their mutual broken dreams, or something.

Meanwhile the man, Davis, takes his ex-father-in-law's advice literally, which was that the human heart is a thing that needs to be taken apart in order to be fixed - Davis expands this idea and starts taking apart appliances to find out how they work, only he's not so diligent about putting them back together.  The refrigerator, a lamp and a bathroom stall at work end up in pieces, leading his father-in-law, who's also his boss (OK, that was a plot point in last night's film too...) to think he's going crazy, and tells him to take time off to mourn and heal.

But instead he inserts himself further into the life of that customer-service rep, and hangs out with her while her boyfriend is out of town, and also engages in further destructive behavior with her 15-year-old son, like breaking up more and bigger things with sledgehammers and such.  Sure, there's no one way to mourn, but I have a feeling that some probably end up being better than others in the long run.  For all the destruction seen in the film, I'm glad it at least ended on a more positive note. 

Also starring Naomi Watts (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Chris Cooper (last seen in "Syriana"), Judah Lewis, C.J. Wilson (last seen in "The Intern"), Polly Draper (last seen in "The Pick-Up Artist"), Heather Lind, Malachy Cleary, Debra Monk (last seen in "This Is Where I Leave You"), Wass Stevens, Blaire Brooks, Tom Kemp (last seen in "Black Mass").

RATING: 5 out of 10 peanut m&m's

Moonlight Mile

Year 9, Day 161 - 6/10/17 - Movie #2,656

BEFORE: Day 2 in Massachusetts, and Day 2 with Jake Gyllenhaal, who carries over from "Nightcrawler" and I seem to have hit a thematic chain about mourning and grief. 

THE PLOT: As he copes with the death of his fiancee, a young man befriends her parents and must figure out what he wants out of life.

AFTER: This one's all about the awkwardness of dealing with family (or maybe it just seems like that because I'm dealing with my family right now...) or people who were almost family, or something like that.  Joe is a young man living temporarily with his fiancee's parents while and after her funeral takes place, and gradually we learn more about who she was and how she died, and what took place the week before she died.

Thankfully, this is done more artistically then through the lazy use of flashbacks.  See, there is a way to get information across about what has transpired before, without jumping around in time excessively.  We also gradually learn when this is taking place - at first it seems like it could be set in the present (2002, when this was released) but with references to Vietnam and certain songs on the jukebox being only a couple of years old, it turns out this is set in 1973.

This makes sense, with most people in the film using land-line phones and old-style jukeboxes, but if you set something in small-town America, you might still see some of those things, especially if people are resistant to change.  My parents still have a home phone, for example, and only use their (flip-style) cell phones when needed, but the younger generation uses the smart phones all the time, and tend to ditch home phone numbers. 

Joe has to deal with wedding invitations that were sent that need to be retrieved, and for that he gets help from the local postmaster, who seems to have no problem with allowing him to tamper with the mail to get those invitations back - which I believe is a federal offense.  But the postmaster is an attractive woman who has suffered a loss of their own, so you don't have to do much complicated math to figure out that they could help solve each other's problems.

She also works/co-owns the local bar, which is a complication because Joe's being roped into going into a commercial real estate partnership with his almost-father-in-law, and there's some kind of possible deal to land a big development deal in the town, but of course it just happens to involve the same block that this bar is on.  What a coincidence.   Can Joe find a way to free himself from the emotional weight of his late girlfriend and the pull imparted by her parents, in order to break out and start a new life somewhere else?

NITPICK POINT: It's a bit confusing to have prominent characters named "Joe" and "JoJo" in the same film, especially when JoJo goes by the shortened "Jo". And if these two characters have known each other for months, it's a bit strange that they would suddenly realize that their names are similar. 

Also starring Dustin Hoffman (last seen in "Ishtar"), Susan Sarandon (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Holly Hunter (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Ellen Pompeo (last seen in "Catch Me If You Can"), Dabney Coleman (last seen in "Melvin and Howard"), Alexia Landeau (last seen in "Riding in Cars With Boys"), Richard Fancy (last seen in "Sunset"), Mary Ellen Trainor (last seen in "Anywhere But Here"), Allan Corduner (last seen in "Woman in Gold"), Richard T. Jones (last seen in "Hot Pursuit"), Lenny Clarke (last seen in "Ted 2"), Phil Reeves.

RATING: 4 out of 10 yellow suit jackets

Friday, June 9, 2017

Nightcrawler

Year 9, Day 160 - 6/9/17 - Movie #2,655

BEFORE: I'm up in Massachusetts for the weekend, a solo trip to visit my parents.  Came up by train on Friday after work, there's a German picnic tomorrow in the town next door to my home-town, and I like to visit that each year, provided it's not in conflict with the Newport Chowder Cook-Off that I've been attending for years.  (But that event has changed venue from Newport Harbor to Ft. Adams State Park, which is much more difficult to get to - anyway they have "red" chowder as a category this year, and I think most right-thinking people will agree that tomato-based clam chowder is a culinary abomination, so my friends and I have decided to boycott that event until some event planner comes to their senses.)

A bit about my parents, they're not that technologically savvy, but my Dad has made strides to figure out e-mail and the internet, though he mostly uses it to print out photos of their grandchildren - yes, print, because who just saves photos on their computer?  That's crazy talk.  Their generation believes that the photo's not real unless it's on paper. My mother, on the other hand, has figured out how to watch TV shows and movies on demand, which is a huge step forward for her.  I think there are two competing shows she likes on Tuesdays, so she saves one of them for Friday to watch on demand.  (I'd love to get them a DVR, but I think it might short-circuit their minds - plus it's another thing to learn, and I have a feeling they might have trouble deleting shows or perhaps recording too many shows, and then the drive would fill up and not record the new shows they want, and that would defeat the purpose.  Perhaps it's best to leave well enough alone here.)

Anyway, Moms was freaking out because their On Demand channel does not, for some reason, have the season finale of "NCIS: New Orleans" available.  She was one step away from calling CBS to complain, but I calmed her down over the phone and pointed out maybe someone was on vacation last week and didn't post the episode they should have, or maybe they'll post it next week, so she should just be patient.  Meanwhile I recorded the episode to VHS from my DVR in New York, and brought it up with me to surprise her.

But this meant I had to get a VCR working in their house, in order for her to see it - plus I have to get a DVD player working, if I'm going to watch movies this weekend (I figured if I can't, that's OK too, losing two days right now isn't much of a big deal, in fact it could help me line up my chain with "Spider-Man: Homecoming", as I've described previously.)  Now, I usually have a DVD player and VCR daisy-chained into their TV, just for emergencies like this, but they got a new cable box a few weeks ago, and as I figured, the technician from Comcast didn't respect my set-up, and while plugging in the new cable box, of course he unplugged my VCR - because, who still uses VCRs these days?  Well, I do.  Sometimes, like in this situation, that's the quickest way to get a show or movie to be seen by someone in a pinch.

Within 5 minutes, I'd managed to accidentally unplug their cable box, thanks to some spaghetti-like crossed wires behind their TV.  But I stayed calm, found my mistake, got the cable box plugged in again, and found the component cables to hook up the VCR (and the DVD player, whose signal runs through the VCR to the TV) into the "cable" input on their TV.  This is bound to be confusing when I explain it to them tomorrow, how the cable comes in on the "HDMI" input and the VCR now comes in on the "cable" input.  Mom and Dad still don't understand why they have to turn on the VCR, under my system, if they want to watch a DVD - I've probably explained that a hundred times.

Anyway, next problem - the next film in my chain is "Nightcrawler", with Riz Ahmed carrying over from "Jason Bourne".  I wanted to watch this film last year, and use it as my link between my Jake Gyllenhaal chain ("Everest", "Southpaw") and "Rogue One", only no cable station ran it on the time-frame I expected they would - but fortunately Forest Whitaker was also in "Southpaw" and made the connection to "Rogue One", so I didn't need "Nightcrawler" for that.  Even now, I haven't seen "Nightcrawler" running on any channel, so I chose to borrow an Academy screener.

Now, the screeners are technically supposed to be ONLY for Academy members to watch before making their nominations - but it's been THREE YEARS already, how long am I supposed to wait for this movie?  Look, I pay for all the premium channels, and I promise, as SOON as one of them runs it, I will record it and burn it to DVD and add it to my library - but I need the link NOW, plus it does seem like an interesting movie.  And just like with "The Zero Theorem", after watching over 2,650 films for this project, for me to have any desire at this point, to actually WANT to see something instead of just linking and going through the motions, that's huge.

But before I can watch a film on an Academy screener, there's a check screen at the start of the DVD, and I have to select "YES" (to the fact that I acknowledge that this is a screener intended only for Academy voters, and I promise I'll destroy the disc immediately after viewing it - which I won't, but I have to select "YES" to watch it...) and this is a problem because I have to hit the "ENTER" key on the remote to select "YES", and my parents lost their DVD player's remote years ago.  So I wasn't quite sure this would work tonight.

And in fact, the DVD wouldn't play at first - so I also tried it in my parents' old laptop too, and it wouldn't play there either.  Aha, the disc was dirty - a quick wipe with a relatively lint-free Kleenex, and I tried again - yep, that did it, it played in the laptop, but let's try it back in the DVD player so I can watch it on a bigger screen.  Hurray, it worked, and the "PLAY" button on the player itself was a working substitute for the "ENTER" button on the remote.  Finally, after all that, I get to watch the film. That's how my life goes sometimes.

I'm lucky that all worked, because I had no back-up linking plan - tonight it was either watch "Nightcrawler" or break the chain.  I suppose I could have paid to watch it on Amazon, but the Academy screener was freakin' free. 


THE PLOT: A con man desperate for work muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism and blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

AFTER: This apparently is a real thing, people called "stringers" who record freelance video of accidents to sell to competing news stations.  It makes sense, each station is trying to get a leg up on their competition, and they can only cover so much territory with their news crews, especially if they're in a small market (not enough vans) or a large city (too much ground to cover in L.A.)  Plus, these cameramen are all probably union, which means they don't work too many hours in a row, they don't do overnights, and they won't put themselves at risk to get the shot.  (The pussies...)

Louis Bloom's character is a stringer, which means he's up all night - you know, when the crime and auto accidents all happen - and he learns quickly to listen to the police scanners, figure out all the codes, and he gets an assistant to help him navigate around L.A. quickly.  In some cases he gets to the crimes even before the police - and this gives him a chance to move evidence around to get the best shot, which I'm sure is a legal no-no.  But what else can he do, ask car crash victims to make sure they land at a more cinematic angle?

His biggest fumble comes when he arrives on the scene of a shooting in a suburban home, and gets footage of the shooters leaving the scene.  Rather than call 911 (I guess from the scanner he knew that the cops were already on the way?) he goes inside the house with his camera and records gruesome footage.  The TV station, of course, had the option to do the right thing and NOT run this footage, but hey, it's sweeps month, so guess what they do?

Bloom also has an option to simply give all of his footage over to the police, and that would be the right thing to do, the safe and humane thing to do for all involved, but he doesn't.  I won't spoil where this leads, but you can probably figure out it's not good.  He crosses some moral line when he puts lives at risk so he can get more footage - and like the journalist in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", it's possible that he's become addicted to risk, and puts himself in greater and greater danger to get the story and the rush that comes with it.

Of course, there's a lot of blame to go around - the TV stations keep running more and more salacious stories (always with that "graphic footage ahead" warning, but come on, who turns off the TV when they see that?) and because people keep tuning in to see these stories, ratings go up and the cycle continues.  Even if you don't like the guerrilla interview tactics on a show like "TMZ", for example, you still might watch it just to see how low they can go, to remind yourself why you hate it so much.  Until people stop tuning in after being fooled by tabloid tactics, they're going to keep working.

Perhaps this is why no cable channel has run this film yet - they don't want people out there with video cameras to get bad ideas from this film and act any more irresponsibly than they already do.  Admit it, how many times have you seen footage on the web of someone getting hurt doing a stunt, or breaking their ankle while skateboarding, and you wonder why someone kept filming instead of helping that person? (And for God's sakes, people, if you're going to keep filming, don't forget to turn the camera 90 degrees to get the proper TV ratio - I'm sick of seeing those stupid bars on the sides of cell phone footage that they have to put there because someone couldn't be bothered to turn their phone. Can't someone invent an app that prompts people to rotate the camera so the image will be more horizontal instead of vertical?) 

Also starring Jake Gyllenhaal (last seen in "Southpaw"), Rene Russo (last seen in "The Intern"), Bill Paxton (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow"), Kevin Rahm (last seen in "Alfie" (2004)), Ann Cusack (last seen in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"), Michael Hyatt, Price Carson, Kathleen York.

RATING: 6 out of 10 paramedics

Jason Bourne

Year 9, Day 159 - 6/8/17 - Movie #2,654

BEFORE: Oh, it was going to be so sweet - almost poetic in its elegance.  Lucas Hedges was in "The Zero Theorem", and also happens to be in "Manchester By the Sea", I was going to review that and link right back to my chain, right back to where I left off after "Triple 9".  I could detour to include "Wonder Woman" and get right back to where I stepped off the path in ONE more step.  I have the best luck sometimes.  But the problem with that chain, as great as it is, is that, assuming I watch a week of animated films on Netflix in late June, that it links up with "Spider-Man: Homecoming" 5 days too early.  Which is not that big of a deal, I could just watch no films for a few days, and then end up right where I wanted to be.  But darn it, that's not good enough.

Since there is no meaning to the universe other than that which I assign to it, I choose to change the path again, and follow the other road - Matt Damon carries over from "The Zero Theorem" - and this leads me to 3 films with Jake Gyllenhall, two of which were recently added to the bottom of my list, and the third will be an Academy screener.  This pushes my link to "Spider-Man: Homecoming" forward a few days, and it now links up with the premiere date.  Of course, it may be too crowded to see this film on opening day, so if I can push it back another three days so I can watch that film on a Monday night, that would be ideal.  But maybe I can only control the universe a little bit at a time.

"Jason Bourne" is a last-minute drop-in, and I should be able to get back to "Manchester By the Sea" next Monday.  So right now I'm current, which means I'm really a day behind - but I'll be able to catch up next week.  Forward progress on reducing the size of watchlist is suspended for, like, the 40th day in a row, but concessions need to be made.  If I can watch DVDs at my parent's house this weekend I can stay on track, if not, well, I can work with that too.  But I think going from "The Zero Theorem", with a main character who's not all there in the head, is a good segue to "Jason Bourne", and if I'm right, the last of the 3 Gyllenhaal films will provide a nice thematic link back to "Manchester By the Sea". 

THE PLOT: The CIA's most dangerous former operative is drawn out of hiding to uncover more explosive truths about his past.

AFTER: The latest film in this franchise inches the story of Jason Bourne's quest for answers ahead once again, after a 10-year absence for the character.  Where has he been all this time?  Bare-knuckle boxing in various countries for cash prizes, apparently.  Supposedly he's filled with guilt, so I suppose I have to go back and read the plotlines for the previous "Bourne" films to remind myself exactly what he did and why he feels so guilty. 

The only other character that carries over from the previous films is that female technician, who may or may not have been Bourne's girlfriend at some point.  She's a "hacktivist" (ugh, that word...) who's planning to download all of the CIA's secret files and release them to the word, Snowden-style.  But she's tracked by a bunch of better hackers in one of those cinematic rooms full of monitors, and they track her "Eagle Eye"-style to her location in Iceland, before she's off to meet Jason Bourne in Greece, in the middle of an anti-goverment protest.  The dodge doesn't work, because the magic people in the magic room full of computers can somehow track her in the middle of all the chaos, thanks to tapping in to street cameras and people's social media accounts and oh, God, we're living in the world of "1984", aren't we?

(Is this why my computer is running so slowly, because the CIA's finally on to me?  They know what I wrote about the President last week, don't they?  Now they're rooting around in my iTunes, checking out what music I listen to, to see if I fit some profile.  Don't tell me it's not possible, because I know it is...)

Bourne's not looking for the answers to the universe, just ones from his little corner of it, like who was he before he was Jason Bourne, and apparently he can only get these answers by staring at a PDF file of government files on the Treadstone Program, which trigger memories of a fateful meal he had at a café, or something.  He's not like normal people, who fall asleep while reading government documents about how to deduct business meals from their income on their tax return. 

Bourne's adversary here is The Asset, a professional killer who came out of the same program that he did, because of course he did, though he looks considerably older.  Maybe all that bare-knuckle boxing has kept Bourne looking young, who knows.  Maybe it's liberating to get all of that aggression out, and that plus the stress-free nature of living off the grid, plus a balanced diet, is just the thing to keep him fit and trim while trying to decide whether it's time to "go back in".  Everyone seems to have an opinion here about whether it's "time to come in" or whether they can "bring him in".  Did anyone think to ask him, maybe he doesn't want to come in, maybe he likes it outside? 

And, just putting this out there, does anyone in the CIA think that maybe their time might be better spent keeping track of our country's enemies, instead of tracking down agents that disappeared 10 years ago?  Is this really the best use of our agents' time, instead of fighting ISIS, for example?  I guess if they have to devote so much time to plugging their leaks and preventing compromising files from being posted on Wikileaks there's no time left to prevent Russia from messing with our election process, and there you go, that's how that happens.

Also starring Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Cobb"), Alicia Vikander (last seen in "Burnt"), Vincent Cassel (last seen in "Trance"), Julia Stiles (last seen in "Girl Most Likely") Riz Ahmed (last seen in "Rogue One"), Bill Camp (last seen in "Black Mass"), Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepherd, Vinzenz Kiefer, with a cameo from Gregg Henry (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Black Ops projects