Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

Year 9, Day 347 - 12/13/17 - Movie #2,795

BEFORE: I'm finally getting to the Carrie Fisher chain - which will set me up perfectly for the premiere of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" on Friday.  And that will really be MY Christmas this year, sure I'll send out Christmas cards and have dinner with my family, and exchange gifts and all that - but this year, Geek Christmas comes on December 15.  I'm taking a half day off from work to attend a noon screening, that was the best I could do.  But really, this plan has been in the works since January 1, when I sent out a dedication to the late Ms. Fisher - and it took almost a whole year to come to fruition.

Since this is a relatively short feature, I'm programming another short today to precede the feature - it's Carrie Fisher's hour-long HBO special "Wishful Drinking", which is a cable broadcast of her one-woman show from 2010.  I taped it to fill up the DVD and I've seen about half of it before, tonight I'm watching/re-watching the entire thing to preface the documentary.  My favorite part is when she pulls out a "Family Tree" chart of Hollywood marriages, divorces and lineage to figure out if her own daughter, Billie Lourd, might be related to a man she was interested in dating, who was a grandson of Liz Taylor and Mike Todd.  I guess you wouldn't want anyone in Hollywood to date their own half-sibling or anything.  Surprisingly Liz Taylor is NOT the person on the chart with the most marriages...

I might have screwed myself here, though - I was so anxious to get here that when I saw the link between "Bob Roberts" and this film, I set the plan in motion.  Only the link is Fisher Stevens, who did a cameo in "Bob Roberts" as a news reporter, and he DIRECTED this documentary about Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds.  That doesn't count by my linking rules, unless he appears in this film somehow.  What the heck was I thinking?  Perhaps I figured that if these actresses were being interviewed for this documentary, then the director would be the one asking them questions, so I'd at least be able to hear his voice, and then that would count as an appearance.

It's also an appropriate film for the first day of Hanukkah, though, right?  At least according to the title...


THE PLOT: An intimate portrait of actress Debbie Reynolds and her relationship with her beloved children, Carrie Fisher and Todd Fisher.

AFTER: Great news, Fisher Stevens does appear briefly in this documentary he directed - some kind of fire or burglar alarm goes off at Debbie Reynolds' house at one point in the filming, and I caught a glimpse of him standing among the chaos.  So the linking is preserved, and I don't have to wonder whether that's his voice asking Debbie questions.

"Bright Lights" (taken in conjunction with "Wishful Drinking") gives us a peek into the "typical" (if there is such a thing) Hollywood family, and a lot of it is not pretty.  Multiple marriages, multiple divorces, drug and alcohol abuse, stepfathers who gamble and frequent prostitutes, etc.  Debbie Reynolds was regarded as "America's Sweetheart", but ignored the advice she got from Frank Sinatra ("Don't marry a singer") and there seemed to be something of a domino effect from there.  Eddie Fisher went and slept with Liz Taylor, his best friend's widow, and this led to a high-profile divorce.  He had five wives in total and four children, while Liz Taylor went on to marry Richard Burton, her co-star in "Cleopatra", and divorce, re-marry and re-divorce him.  Carrie's take on the whole thing casts Liz Taylor as the Angelina Jolie of her time, breaking up the happy marriage between Eddie Fisher (Brad Pitt) and Debbie Reynolds (Jennifer Aniston).

Carrie, meanwhile, found herself with a stepfather who was a tycoon in the shoe business (instead of show business, there must have been a miscommunication there) and rooming with three new step-children, one of whom apparently should have been in some form of institution.  And Carrie herself was bi-polar, only they didn't call it that back then, or really understand that condition, I think "manic depression" was the favored name at the time.  She describes it as having two driving internal forces - "Roy", always in search of a good time, and "Pam", the sedentary one who stares out at the beach from the window.  Teen experimentation with drugs and alcohol only then fueled more addictive behavior, and I'm sure pulling her out of high-school to appear in her mother's stage act in NYC didn't help things.

With the odds stacked against her, it's surprising that Carrie Fisher had such a great attitude, and could make humor from her own life.  Everything from interaction with fans at Comic-Cons (which she often referred to as "giving lapdances") where the fans thought it would be a compliment to tell her stories about pleasuring themselves while thinking about her (umm, inappropriate) to her failed marriages to both Paul Simon and a gay talent agent to her time in rehab - with enough time, everything became grist for the comedy mill.  That's how she ended up writing "Postcards From the Edge", which became a hit movie - you take the tragedies in your life and you try to make something artistic from them that other people will connect with.  It's the very definition of a writer/artist, even when you factor in the electro-shock therapy that helped her find some form of daily peace.

Carrie and Debbie lived next door to each other for many years, and spent time together every day, assuming both were in town.  And then the film show that even when one went to do a concert or an awards show, the other was likely to come along.  Somehow they grew old together, became co-dependent on each other, kept each other in check and acted more like best friends than a mother-daughter pair.  It's somehow both comforting and pathetic at the same time, if that makes any sense - two damaged people living next door, taking care of each other, giving each other advice and help as needed.

I didn't know that Debbie Reynolds had done so much to preserve the artifacts of old Hollywood, like costumes and props - not just the ones she wore and used, but from other films like "The Wizard of Oz", often buying them with her own money in the hopes of opening up some kind of Hollywood-themed museum someday.  She and her family worked on this for decades, but ultimately had to auction off most of them just to keep the project afloat.  Meanwhile, Carrie managed to amass her own collection of personal and Star Wars-themed memorabilia, and I got to take my own little tour of that this past July at San Diego Comic-Con, where many of the items were on display. 

We're coming up on the first anniversary of Carrie Fisher's death, now just two weeks away, and as we all know, Debbie died just a few days later, in the way that some married couples that have been together for decades end up dying - one just can't face the reality of life without the other, in a semi-symbiotic relationship. And in two days, I get to see Carrie's last film (along with millions of other people) and that's going to be bittersweet.  I'm glad I got to meet her in person about 11 years ago, I'm glad that I kept the conversation on topic when asking for her autograph, and I'm glad I got my picture taken with her, I keep that handy on my phone at all times.

It was one thing to watch "Rogue One" last year with a stand-in/CGI version of Princess Leia that was made to look like she looked in 1977, but this Friday's going to be quite different, seeing her on-screen for the last time, knowing what happened one year ago.  Time moves on, and eventually everything becomes a little nostalgic and sad - I just hope that like many of the things in Carrie's life, with enough time and distance, eventually they become fun again. 

Also starring Debbie Reynolds (last seen in "Three Little Words"), Carrie Fisher (last seen in "Wonderland"), Todd Fisher, Catherine Hickland, Griffin Dunne (last seen in "Dallas Buyers Club"), Eddie Fisher, with cameos from Elizabeth Taylor (last seen in "The Taming of the Shrew"), Liberace, Billie Lourd (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Oprah Winfrey.

RATING: 7 out of 10 home movies

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bob Roberts

Year 9, Day 346 - 12/12/17 - Movie #2,794

BEFORE: Tim Robbins carries over from "Tapeheads", and so do two other actors in smaller roles.  Well, I did say I wanted to get more political this year, and I've done that - but this is perhaps my last attempt to add to that topic, with just six more films to watch this year.  Unless Snoke is seen in "The Last Jedi" wearing a red baseball cap and starts talking about "Making Alderaan Great Again".


THE PLOT: A right-wing folk singer becomes a corrupt politician and runs a crooked election campaign.  Only one independent muck-raking reporter is trying to stop him.

AFTER: I'm not the only one who sees the connection here - the internet is now calling this "the 1992 film that predicted Donald Trump", despite some obvious differences.  The character of Bob Roberts was running for U.S. Senator, not President, for just one example.  Also, Roberts used folk music as his platform for becoming famous before launching his political career, not reality TV.  But aside from those things, it's another case where a movie seemed to function a bit like a crystal ball for the election of 2016.

Both Bob Roberts and Trump are rich right-wingers, and both are very willing to talk about their wealth (though Trump seemed to adopt right-wing politics after being a Democrat for a very long time, and still won't release his tax returns, so we don't REALLY know if he's as rich as he claims).  But both used racial divisiveness and catchy slogans to get elected - for Roberts those slogans were in the form of songs, and for Trump they were in the form of three-word phrases ("Build the wall", "Lock her up", and so on...).  And both, of course, would say just about anything to get elected.

Another telling moment is what seems to be a predictor of Trump's appearance on "SNL" during the 2016 campaign.  In this film, Bob Roberts travels to New York City to appear on a comedy show called "Cutting Edge Live" and perform a song.  We see him meeting with a very Lorne Michaels-like producer (named "Michael Janes") and the guest host of the show, John Cusack (possibly playing himself) is not happy about sharing the stage with a right-wing politician - and neither is one of the female staffers, who knocks out the power during Roberts' performance.

Roberts is also a slick businessman, who went to military school as a teen, is a manipulator of the media who displays any negative press as "fake news" and there are rumors of a connection to failed businesses (savings and loans) in his past, while his political opponents all call him a "con man".  Sound familiar?  Bob Roberts might as well have been hash-tagging "MAGA", only we didn't have Twitter back then.  Oh, plus we see him hosting a beauty pageant in Pennsylvania - and as the election draws near, protestors start appearing at Bob Roberts' rallies, only to be roughed up by security and yelled at by the candidate on the stage.  Watch it yourself if you don't believe me, that's all in the film.  The signs were there, we chose to ignore them - I took my time getting to this film, so I take on some of the blame.  But in 1992, this was considered an outrageous satire, and looking back on it in 2017, it's very close to our current reality.

The prophecies only go so far, of course - Roberts chooses to imply that his opponent, incumbent Senator Paiste, had an improper encounter with a 14-year old girl, while the Senator claims she was just a friend of his granddaughter, who was in the back-seat of the car, and he was giving her a ride home.  (If this were truly predictive of Trump, he'd probably support a candidate for dating a 14-year old, like he's doing for Roy Moore, rather than criticizing him for it...)  And in the film there's only one diligent reporter trying to take Bob Roberts down, while in our reality there are probably hundreds of them trying to get the dirt on Trump, and it doesn't seem to be making a difference, at least not yet.

This is a fascinating peek inside the playbook of the things that politicians will do or say to get elected, promising everyone everything while campaigning, while knowing that it will be mathematically impossible to both cut taxes AND increase military spending, to create jobs AND reduce the deficit, to maintain peace AND keep us out of war.  But some people keep believing in those contradictions, don't they?  Last year at Christmas, my (younger) cousin kept telling me what a great President Trump was going to be, and if I see him this year and the FIRST thing he says to me isn't "Boy, was I wrong!" then we've got nothing constructive to talk about.

Also starring Giancarlo Esposito (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Alan Rickman (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Ray Wise (last seen in "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"), Brian Murray, Gore Vidal (last seen in "Gattaca"), Robert Stanton (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Harry Lennix (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Rebecca Jenkins, John Ottavino, Merrilee Dale, Kelly Willis, Tom Atkins, David Strathiirn (last seen in "Godzilla" (2014)), Jack Black (last seen in "Orange County"), John Cusack (also carrying over from "Tapeheads"), Lee Arenberg (ditto), Bob Balaban (last seen in "Catch-22"), Lynne Thigpen (last seen in "Sweet Liberty"), Bingo O'Malley (last seen in "Out of the Furnace"), Kathleen Chalfont (last seen in "Perfect Stranger"), Anita Gillette, Matt McGrath (last seen in "The Anniversary Party"), with cameos from James Spader (last seen in "Supernova"), Pamela Reed (last seen in "Eyewitness"), Helen Hunt (last seen in "Bobby"), Peter Gallagher, Susan Sarandon (last seen in "Moonlight Mile"), Fred Ward (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Fisher Stevens (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Jeremy Piven (last seen in "The Crew"), Robert Hegyes.

RATING: 5 out of 10 local news anchors

Monday, December 11, 2017

Tapeheads

Year 9, Day 345 - 12/11/17 - Movie #2,793

BEFORE: Two actors carry over from "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" - they are "Weird Al" Yankovic (big fan, happy to FINALLY use him as a link) and Steve Higgins, who's known now for being Fallon's sidekick on "The Tonight Show", but apparently he's been around for years as a writer on SNL.  Higgins may not have many acting credits, but Weird Al has made a TON of cameos over the years, it's surprising that he hasn't turned up more often here at the Movie Year.  He's only popped up in four films out of nearly 2,800 and three of those were in this calendar year.

I last saw him in concert in San Diego in July 2016, and in-between the songs (while Al was changing costumes, no doubt) they played video montages of Al's cameos from various movies and TV shows over the years, and there really are a lot of them.  Just look on IMDB, the guy has over 100 acting credits (these include his own music videos, though), and almost 200 credits as "Self" (but some of these count as acting, this includes times he played himself in movies as well as talk-show appearances).  The IMDB really needs to break down these categories better - I think many of these listings end up in the wrong section...


 THE PLOT: A couple of creative losers accidentally become big shots in the music video industry.

AFTER: I passed on this film a few times, because like many cult films it comes around on cable every so often - I think I was probably confusing it with the film "Airheads", which I had seen. But it's a different film with a different agenda, and I've just seen it referred to online as "a little film that tried way too hard", and that's as good a description as any.

But let's get the Trump similarities out of the way - part of the plot concerns a rich right-wing Presidential candidate with two useless adult sons, trying to track down an incriminating sex tape of him doing some really kinky things.  Hmm, does that sound familiar?  The character's name is Norman Mart, and that even has the same cadence, two-syllable first name and a one-syllable last name.  There's no way this film from 1988 could have peeked into the future, but maybe this film is  worth another look for its predictive quality alone.

I did a lot of work on music videos myself in the late 1980's, mostly as a production assistant, when I was a recent graduate of NYU film school, and just glad to have a foot, or any other kind of appendage, in the proverbial door.  So I know this world well, for a few years there it seemed like the only money to be made came from music videos, because at least the clients had money to spend, and the alternative was to work on an educational piece, or worse, your own project, both of which were likely to pay a lot less.  I've spoken often about my first day on the job, which was prepping for two music videos being shot back-to-back, one for Rick James and the other for Apollonia - I got to be on set for the Rick James one, I remember holding the cables off the floor as the director moved around with the handheld camera.  I worked in some capacity on other music videos (or Sesame Street segments, we treated them equally) for Leon Redbone, Jeff Healey, En Vogue, Alphaville, and a piece for The Residents.  The directors I was working for were part of the whole downtown art scene, so they knew a bunch of the big names in the video art and dance world - but it was still a rough place to work, never knowing when the next paying gig was going to come in, so we'd spend a lot of time sending out demo reels and taking any job that came in, even if it was just editing stock footage together for a video-game commercial or an in-house corporate promo.

So this film sort of works in that sense, capturing the feeling of owning a tiny video-production company in the late 1980's.  But I have to consider it a NITPICK POINT that characters in this film are just starting to figure out the power and potential of music videos, when the truth is that they'd been prominent since at least 1983 when MTV started, and also before that, so why doesn't anyone in a 1988 film seem to believe in them at first? 

There's another NITPICK POINT in the film where the two video entrepreneurs are hired to tape a man reading his own will, and the gag is that they're acting like auteurs, forcing him to record the thing again and again while he's lying in a hospital bed, because he's not delivering the lines with enough "feeling".  It's supposed to be funny when the guy expires on the 14th take, and it is - but then the director acts like he didn't get the shot, and the implication then is that they won't get paid.  But hey, guys, if it's the 14th take, that means that there are 13 previous takes where the guy read the will, so that means that they DID get the will recorded, and the job was therefore completed - unless they did something incredibly stupid like keep recording over the same piece of tape, and nobody did that back then, because videotape was seemingly infinite, we all just kept buying more and more of it. 

This film also predicted that the best use of music-video imagery would be to sell stuff, the directors make an upgraded commercial for Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles (which is apparently a real restaurant in L.A.!) and it looks and sounds just like a rap video.  There's also a music video they make for a Swedish band called Cube Squared that ends up looking like something that OK GO would make a couple of decades later.

But the main plot (umm, I guess) concerns a plot to sabotage the Menudo concert, which is about to be broadcast around the world, and replace it with a performance by the Swanky Modes, a couple of famous soul singers who have fallen on hard times.  It's a noble enough calling, I suppose - but are the people who tuned in to see Menudo really going to be satisfied if they don't see their favorite boy band, but a couple of old soul singers instead?  Aren't they just going to change the channel when they find out that Menudo isn't going to be performing?

Also starring John Cusack (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Tim Robbins (last seen in "Arlington Road"), Mary Crosby (last seen in "The Legend of Zorro"), Clu Galager (last seen in "Into the Night"), Katy Boyer (last seen in "The Island"), Jessica Walter (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Sam Moore (last seen in "Blues Brothers 2000"), Junior Walker, Susan Tyrrell (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Doug McClure (last seen in "52 Pick-Up"), Connie Stevens (last seen in "Way...Way Out"), King Cotton, Don Cornelius, Lee Arenberg (last seen in "Robocop 3"), with cameos from Lyle Alzado, Xander Berkeley (last seen in "Sid and Nancy"), Coati Mundi (ditto), Bobcat Goldthwait, Ted Nugent, Jello Biafra, Doug E. Fresh, Michael Nesmith, Martha Quinn, Courtney Love (also last seen in "Sid and Nancy"), David Anthony Higgins and the band Fishbone.

RATING: 4 out of 10 limbo dancers

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Year 9, Day 344 - 12/10/17 - Movie #2,792

BEFORE: If this were a typical Movie Year, I'd be closing up shop right about now, so I could focus on getting some Christmas cards mailed out, and some catalog browsing to at least start thinking about gifts for family and friends.  But it's not a typical year - I took time off for a vacation in addition to two Comic-Cons this year, so I've still got another week and a half of movies to hit 300.  With 21 days left in 2017, I'm sure I can make it - the trick will be finishing with enough time to do those other holiday things.

Shorter feature films do help, this one's just under 90 minutes long.  But I'm going to do something I only do a couple of times a year, and watch a short tonight before the feature.  My only rule for this is that the short must be on topic.  It won't increase the count or affect the linking, I'll just mention it here as an extra - but it does star Andy Samberg, who's also in today's feature.  It's "Tour de Pharmacy", a 40-minute mockumentary spoof that's about the Tour de France, only it's set in a year where nearly every cyclist was caught using drugs, so all were banned from the race except for 5 non-dopers.  And this is quite topical, considering the Russians were just banned from the Winter Olympics for a drug scandal.  But this short is all in fun, with tons of guest stars and a bunch of inside jokes about the world of sports and fame.  Check it out on HBO if you get a chance.

Now that's out of the way, and Imogen Poots carries over from "Jimi: All Is By My Side" to another film about a famous music star, only it's another spoof.


THE PLOT: When it becomes clear that his solo album is a failure, a former boy-band member does everything in his power to maintain his celebrity status.

AFTER: I'm sure it was quite easy to take some of these potshots at the world of today's pop music, everything from the ridiculous boy bands of the 90's (the Style Boyz here) to the way that musicians feel the need to reinvent themselves for each new tour - after the band breaks up, the lead renames himself "Conner4Real" to the constant need to over-hype and outdo the last album.  Conner is a pastiche of Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, and let's say Justin Timberlake (who also came out of the boy-band scene, and appears here in a role as Conner's personal chef).

So every aspect of being a pop-music star is taken to its extreme and illogical conclusion - in much the same way that "Tour de Pharmacy" oversold every joke.  A cyclist isn't just doping, he's super-doping, taking every steroid and drug known to man, because a longer list is (theoretically) funnier.  And so Conner's new album can't just do poorly, it's got to do phenomenally horribly just to over-sell the joke.  In reality, you've got to imagine that an album doing slightly worse sales than expected is probably a lot more common.  The concert arena can't just have a few empty seats, it's got to look like there were zero tickets sold, and so on.

I try to follow pop culture, but watching this, I wish I knew a bit more about current pop music, just so I could understand all of the references.  Probably that just means I'm too old to fully enjoy this film.  I sort of got that Conner's song "Equal Rights" was a dig at Macklemore, but if I didn't know that, it could have come off as really homophobic, since Conner drops in the line "I'm not gay" as many times as possible in a song calling for gay marriage rights.  Of course, Conner finds out that his protest anthem hit the stores just a bit too late, after gay marriage became legal, because in this film, everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

Conner owns a large turtle, and I guess this is supposed to a reference to Justin Bieber's pet monkey - the one that he tried to take to Germany, which got confiscated.  Hey, did he ever get that monkey back?  Just wondering, the news doesn't always do proper follow-ups on things like this.  Ah, I guess it lives in a zoo in Germany now, that probably draws a few extra people in, to see a famous person's ex-monkey.

I didn't really get the joke about putting Conner's new album into appliances like refrigerators and microwaves - apparently this was a dig at U2 for having their album installed for free in everyone's phones, which I guess people didn't appreciate.  I knew about the U2 thing, but the joke was too different from reality for me to make the connection.  I would guess it's a lot of work not only to do parody work, but to strike the right balance between reality and fiction - how far into left field should a spoof go?

Also starring Andy Samberg (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Jorma Taccone (last seen in "Neighbors"), Akiva Schaffer (ditto), Tim Meadows (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Sarah Silverman (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Chris Redd, Maya Rudolph (last heard in "The Angry Birds Movie"), Bill Hader (ditto), Joan Cusack (last seen in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"), James Buckley, Edgar Blackmon, Justin Timberlake (last seen in "Runner Runner"), Danny Strong, Kevin Nealon (last seen in "Cecil B. Demented"), Will Arnett (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Mike Birbiglia (last seen in "Don't Think Twice"), Chelsea Peretti, Eric André (last seen in "The Internship"), Paul Scheer (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Will Forte (last seen in "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"), Joanna Newsom (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Derek Mears (last seen in "Live by Night"), with cameos from Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Carrie Underwood, Nas, Usher (last seen in "The Faculty"), 50 Cent (last seen in "Southpaw"), Simon Cowell, Ringo Starr (last seen in "George Harrison: Living in the Material World"), Adam Levine (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Mario Lopez (ditto), Akon, Mariah Carey (last seen in "You Don't Mess with the Zohan"), Pink, DJ Khaled, A$AP Rocky, Danger Mouse, RZA (last seen in "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"), T.I. (last seen in "Get Hard"), Pharrell Williams, Seal, Jimmy Fallon (last seen in "Factory Girl"), Steve Higgins (last seen in "Ghostbusters"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Rules Don't Apply"), Emma Stone (last seen in "Irrational Man"), Katy Perry (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Snoop Dogg (also last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Michael Bolton and "Weird Al" Yankovic (last seen in "Sandy Wexler")

RATING: 4 out of 10 quick costume changes

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jimi: All Is By My Side

Year 9, Day 343 - 12/9/17 - Movie #2,791

BEFORE: André Benjamin (André 3000?  Which is it?) carries over from "Idlewild", and this is the film I've been looking forward to, they took their sweet time running this 2013 on premium cable.  I know because I've been waiting for four years, since before there was even a Netflix to check obsessively.  This will also cap off a trilogy of 1970's bio-pics this week, which included Linda Lovelace and John Holmes.  Now, whatever happened to those Janis Joplin movies that competing studios were supposedly developing a few years ago, will any of those ever get produced?

I don't have many films left in this year's chain - and I can't make any changes now, not if I want to link to "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", which is now just five films away.  But if I had an open slot, I could drop in a documentary about Hendrix that I recently taped - maybe I'll watch it anyway as an extra after this to verify the events in this movie.  If needed.


THE PLOT: A drama based on Jimi Hendrix's life as he left New York City for London, where his career took off.

AFTER: It's the stuff of rock and roll legend, how Jimi Hendrix did a show in London with two of the Beatles in the crowd (Paul and George) and happened to have an advance copy of the "Sgt. Pepper" album backstage, so he quickly listened to the title track and went over the chords with the other members of his band, all so he could get ahead of the curve and be the first person to play a song from that upcoming album live in concert.  Now, since that album had only been released three days prior, very few people in that audience were likely to recognize it, but for the few that would, hearing Jimi play it was really going to mess with their heads.  Was Jimi trying to steal the Beatles' thunder, pay homage to their new album, or just blow their minds with a musical magic trick of sorts?

This did happen, there's a video of it online.  Hendrix didn't get all of the chords right, and added an extended guitar solo, of course.  But that's all we see of this concert in this movie, though Hendrix went on to perform "Foxy Lady", "Manic Depression", "Hey Joe", "Purple Haze", "The Wind Cries Mary" and "Are You Experienced".  That's about when you realize that the filmmakers here weren't able to secure the rights to any of Hendrix's original songs, but they went ahead with the movie anyway.

To pull off their own little magic trick, they had to compose a few song pieces that sounded a bit like early Jimi Hendrix Experience numbers, and they were able to record Hendrix-like versions of "Wild Thing" and "Hound Dog", but other than that, there's a lot of footage of André as Jimi tuning up, or getting ready to play, or stalling within a recording session.  Turns out you really do need some of those songs if you're going to make the point that Hendrix was a great guitarist, if not a great song-writer.  But the film, in this roundabout way, then raises the question about his songwriting - was he just a great guitarist, in the end?

For these purposes, you have to examine his most famous tracks - "All Along the Watchtower" was a Bob Dylan song.  "Hey Joe" goes back to Billy Roberts in 1962, and possibly before that. "Red House" came out of Albert King's 1961 recording "Travelin' to California", and so on.  And the version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" he played at Woodstock would be completely out of copyright, of course.  Rock has undergone a sort of revisionist history in the last few years, with musicologists pointing out that nearly every Led Zeppelin song was just a fresh take on an old blues song by Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters, so they've been forced to credit the real songwriters on the new releases of their old albums.  Even "Stairway to Heaven" bears a strong resemblance to a song called "Taurus" from a band called Spirit, which Zeppelin toured with before they released "Stairway".  Hmmmm......

So the film chooses to focus only on Jimi's time in London, which means it conveniently ends as he flies off to play at the Monterey Pop Festival, another iconic performance where he played some songs that he did write, which we'll never get to hear here.  It's kind of similar to how "Wonderland" chose to focus on John Holmes' connection to a murder scene, rather than the x-rated film work that he was more famous for.  And both remind me of Patton Oswalt's routine about "The Passion of the Christ", comparing a film focusing solely on Jesus' torture and crucifixion to an imaginary film about Albert Einstein that would focus solely on those three days where he had really bad stomach flu.

But for the positives, André Benjamin was great at capturing the speech pattern, the look and the FEEL of Jimi Hendrix.  And even though he still had that "too cool" detached manner that was evident yesterday in "Idlewild", here that attitude really works, because I'm guessing that quite often, Hendrix WAS the coolest person in the room, and he knew it.  It's too bad that the narrative and musical constraints here forced the story to add in a bunch of insecurity (to explain the overly-long guitar tuning sessions) and also the times he beat his girlfriend (which she claims never happened).

Also starring Hayley Atwell (last seen in "Cinderella"), Imogen Poots (last seen in "28 Weeks Later"), Ruth Negga (last seen in "World War Z"), Andrew Buckley, Oliver Bennett, Tom Dunlea, Adrian Lester (last seen in "Primary Colors"), Burn Gorman (last seen in "Layer Cake"), Amy de Bhrun (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Clare-Hope Ashitey, Laurence Kinlan, Jade Yourell, Sam McGovern, Robbie Jarvis, Danny McColgan, Sean Duggan, Geoffrey Burton, Richard Lintern (last seen in "Syriana").

RATING: 5 out of 10 hair curlers

Friday, December 8, 2017

Idlewild

Year 9, Day 342 - 12/8/17 - Movie #2,790

BEFORE: Faizon Love carries over from "Wonderland", and this is a film that I recorded months ago, but I kept it down at the bottom of the list, because I was waiting for some channel to run the film I'm going to watch tomorrow.  That took some time, longer than expected.  But eventually it did air, so I'm moving forward with my plan to get this one AND that one off the watchlist before the end of the year.


THE PLOT: A musical set in prohibition-era American South, where Rooster, a speakeasy performer and club manager, must contend with gangsters while his partner, piano player Percival, must choose between his love and his obligations to his father.

AFTER: This sort of fits into that fascination we seem to have as a country with the Jazz Age, the birth of the club scene and a particular style of music, and the gangster lifestyle that went along with the combination of those things and Prohibition.  Just as American culture and nightlife were developing, alcohol happened to be illegal, so naturally crime flourished in the form of bootlegging and other illicit night-time activities.

But I found this film very hard to follow - and very hard to finish, since I kept falling asleep, rewinding back to the last thing I remembered, and falling asleep again.  How did someone make singing, dancing and running hooch so flipping boring?  I had to give up on the film after about an hour, and then get some real sleep.  After work on Friday I had to finish the final hour of the film, but all told, that took way too much time.  If only there had been anything interesting in the plot, maybe I could have stayed awake.

I think the main problem here is that even some of the actors don't seem like they care - and if they don't seem invested in what's going on, then neither do I.  Bear in mind that some of these actors fell backwards into movies through music, so they may not have had formal training in acting, and sometimes that does make a difference.  Terrence Howard, I don't know what his deal is, but he always gives off that air like he doesn't care what's happening.  Acting is about showing emotions, not just being the coolest, most emotionally detached person in the room at any given time.

But there are also parts of the story that don't make any sense.  There's a woman who impersonates a famous singer, just to get into the club - and then when she gets up on stage, she realizes that she can't perform due to stage fright.  Really?  If she can't sing, then what was her big plan, what was the endgame to her little scam?  It just doesn't track.  In another instance, a gangster informs the new owner of the club that the previous owner's debt is now his problem.  Umm, no, pretty much everyone agrees that when someone dies, their debts are wiped clean.  Not even a mobster would go after someone else to collect a debt, or am I way off base here?

Plus, it just didn't work for me to have characters performing in a nightclub in the 1930's, singing what are essentially hip-hop songs.  You can't re-work the historical timeline to put a modern piece of music in a historical setting.  This didn't work in "Moulin Rouge", and it didn't work here.

On top of all that, I didn't even understand the bits with the talking rooster on the flask.  I literally have no idea what that was all about.  Was Rooster insane, hallucinating, or what?  Same goes for the little animated characters on the sheet music - what did that even bring to the table, or was it just a time-killer?   I'm just not following so much of this randomness.  And on top of THAT, it doesn't make any sense for someone to collect cuckoo clocks, to have a whole wall of them.  That's just not a thing - I guarantee that for anyone who owns one of those items, one is plenty, possibly too many.

There are a couple of nice camera tricks in this film, but a movie needs to be about more than just a couple pieces of interesting cinematography and a hokey ending.

Also starring André Benjamin, Antwan "Big Boi" Patton, Paula Patton (last seen in "The Do-Over"), Terrence Howard (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Malinda Williams, Cicely Tyson (last seen in "Alex Cross"), Ving Rhames (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Macy Gray (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Jackie Long, Ben Vereen, Bill Nunn (last seen in "Regarding Henry"), Paula Jai Parker (last seen in "Hustle & Flow"), Bobb'e J. Thompson, Patti Labelle, Karen Dyer (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Oscar Dillon, Esau McGraw, Bruce Bruce, with the voice of Fonzworth Bentley.

RATING: 3 out of 10 tommy guns

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Wonderland

Year 9, Day 341 - 12/7/17 - Movie #2,789

BEFORE: Christina Applegate carries over from "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip", and it's another one of those weeks where I'm absolutely certain that no one ever, besides me, has watched these particular films in this order.  Who watches an animated movie for kids and then follows it up with a film about porn stars and murder?  You really should watch out for someone like that, there's probably something very wrong with them.

Speaking of which, I have heard from a reliable source that there will be no more "Chipmunks" films produced, after "The Road Chip", and it's probably just as well.  It seems like Alvin's really in trouble this time, some of the Chipettes have accused him of sexual harassment, so his Hollywood career is over, unless he goes to sex rehab and then does the apology publicity tour.  It's very sad - but you just can't have someone like that serving as a role model for kids.


THE PLOT: In the investigation of a brutal crime scene, one man was at the center of it all: legendary porn star John Holmes.

AFTER: Way back at the start of this year, I sent out a dedication to Carrie Fisher, who passed away just before Christmas.  It took 11 months to finally get to some films with her in them - she turns up tonight in a small role as a religious L.A. woman trying to help get troubled women off the streets - but I didn't expect her to pop up here.  This is almost too soon - I've got three more films with her scheduled for next week, including a little sci-fi film you might be anticipating, if you're like me.  I'm still 7 films away from linking to "The Last Jedi" - but I'm gonna get back to Carrie in time for next Friday.

This film about John Holmes is a bit of an odd duck - I mean, there's no denying the fact that he was a person of interest in what came to be known as the "Wonderland Murders" (which took place on Wonderland Avenue) and were probably a gangster's retaliation for a robbery by a group of people who were also connected to Holmes.  The connection between all the parties involved seems to be that John Holmes liked to come over to their houses, snort a bunch of cocaine, and then leave.  Holmes also apparently worked out a deal to trade one person's antique guns for a bunch of drugs, and then may have suggested the plan to go steal the guns back, which then in turn precipitated the murders.

The problem is that being involved in both the heist and the murder plot is probably not the most interesting thing about John Holmes, who was much more famous for his x-rated movies, where he was known for, well, let's just say his size and his endurance.  How did he get started in the industry?  Once that happened, how did he become so famous?  And then what effect did this have on his marriage and his personal life?  How did he get addicted to drugs?  All of these things I would be curious about, but this film just doesn't seem interested in them.

Instead we have to just assume that someone working in the porn industry probably made a number of bad life choices, and that's a pattern that seems to continue when we're introduced to Holmes as a character.  He makes a stop at a house on Wonderland, then leaves his girlfriend in a hotel room, disappears for a few hours, and when he comes back, the news comes on with the story about four people killed in that very same house.  Slowly we're shown the events of that night from several different perspectives, and the facts seem to change depending on who's relaying them.  And you know I hate movies where I have to assemble the narrative myself from all the pieces, especially when they're not given out in the proper order.

And even when we do piece everything together, it scarcely matters since nearly everyone connected with the case either died in the house in Wonderland, or died a few years later from other causes.  Also, several people were arrested and tried for the murders, but hardly anyone served any hard time.  Everything about this case just ends up feeling pointless and depressing.  Plus I think the director often lost track of this story, because there were a few times where there were flashbacks within flashbacks, and that's a big narrative no-no...this isn't "Inception".

Also starring Val Kilmer (last seen in "The Island of Dr. Moreau") Kate Bosworth (last seen in "Still Alice"), Lisa Kudrow (last seen in "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"), Dylan McDermott (last seen in "Olympus Has Fallen"), Josh Lucas (last seen in "Stolen"), Ted Levine (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Tim Blake Nelson (last seen in "Fantastic Four"), Faizon Love, M.C. Gainey (also last seen in "Stolen"), Eric Bogosian, Carrie Fisher (last seen in "Maps to the Stars") Janeane Garofalo (last seen in "Sandy Wexler"), Natasha Greyson Wagner (last seen in "Lost Highway"), Louis Lombardi (last seen in "Runner Runner"), Franky G (last seen in "The Italian Job"), Scoot McNairy (last seen in "Bobby"), Joleigh Fioravanti, George Leonardopoulos, Michelle Borth, Chris Ellis, with a cameo from Paris Hilton.

RATING: 4 out of 10 metal pipes

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

Year 9, Day 340 - 12/6/17 - Movie #2,788

BEFORE: OK, this may seem a little weird, because I'm putting a (partially) animated kids movie right in between two films about the porn industry, and another about filmmaking terrorists.  What can I say, my linking makes for some strange neighbors sometimes.  John Waters made a cameo in his own film "Cecil B. Demented", and he carries over to make another cameo in this film.

I guess it's part of a larger theme week about fame - the chipmunks are singing stars in their film series, right?  What's odd is that last night's film had a whole bit about a porn film with a rodent entering a certain body cavity, and now tonight it's a whole bunch of famous singing rats.  (Chipmunks are really rats, right?)

I must confess this is being included just to get it off of the list - this film has been languishing down in the "Unlinkables" section of my list for some time.  It didn't share actors with ANY of the many animated films I watched this year, and that should tell you something right there. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" (Movie #1,324)

THE PLOT: Through a series of misunderstandings, Alvin, Simon and Theodore come to believe that Dave is going to propose to his new girlfriend in Miami, and dump them.  They have three days to get to him and stop the proposal, saving themselves from losing Dave and gaining a terrible stepbrother.

AFTER: I know, it's supposed to be a movie for kids, and I'm not a kid - nor do I have any kids.  But I started this damn Chipmunks series, and I'm going to finish it today.  Please PLEASE let this be the last "Chipmunks", movie, OK, Hollywood?  We all have to stop letting people go to the movies to see films like this, or else they're just going to keep barfing out more of the same.   Hey, if your kids like this movie, that's fine, but you may want to think about getting smarter kids in the long run.  If I did have a kid, he or she would probably say something to me like, "How come Alvin, Simon and Theodore can talk and sing, but in their world there are also other animals, including squirrels, that can't?"  That's assuming that I raised that kid correctly, with extra love and attention whenever they prove that they're smarter than the other kids their age.

Does this film series ever address this point?  I doubt it.  Are these 3 (OK, 6) Chipmunks extra special, was there some kind of mutation caused by a radiation leak that granted them intelligence and the power of speech?  Are we as viewers just supposed to ignore this, like the people on screen in this wacko universe that's just like our own, except with 6 talking rodents?  Now my head hurts.

The film itself is not only powered by misunderstandings, but also by the certainty that the three rats-in-sweaters are NOT going to behave.  As soon as Dave, their foster father (apparently) tells them NOT to leave the house, or NOT to leave the hotel room, or NOT to follow him to Florida, you just know that's exactly what they're going to do, right?  This is another very important reason to not let your kids see this - each time, the chipmunks are rewarded for NOT obeying the rules.  It shouldn't matter if they're trying to fix things each time, a rule is a rule, and each time they transgress then they are punished more severely and have to apologize more sincerely, and after three times it just makes you wonder why there are even rules imposed on them in the first place.
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"I know you said not to kill anyone, Dave, but we were just trying to fix things!" would be the ultimate illogical extension of this.  I know, it's ridiculous, but that's where my mind tends to go, to take everything to its extreme illogical conclusion.

Part of the plot involves the possibility of Dave getting married, to a woman who has a son, and the first few meetings between the son and the Chipmunks do not go well.  This would have been an excellent opportunity to make a statement about bullying, how wrong that is, and how a bully really only hates himself, or is acting out because of troubles at home, but the film just lets that alone - so there are no consquences for the bully, or motivations for him to change his behavior.  What a shame, from a narrative standpoint. 

And the character who kept getting beaten up by the Chipmunks in the first three films, played by David Cross, did not return - so they had to create a new character, who's an Air Marshal, who follows them and keeps getting injured or falling down or in some other crazy situation.  Kudos to the actor who was smart enough to not take the job, and pity the actor who took his place.

And why was the actress who played the girlfriend delivering all of her lines through clenched teeth?  She didn't seem to want to be there either, or maybe she got lockjaw after being bitten by a rabid CGI chipmunk?  This franchise needs to end ASAP - someone call an exterminator.

Also starring Jason Lee (last seen in "Dreamcatcher"), Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Josh Green, Tony Hale (last heard in "The Angry Birds Movie"), Bella Thorne, Eddie Steeples, Maxie McClintock, Laura Marano, with the voices of Justin Long (last seen in "The Conspirator"), Matthew Gray Gubler (last heard in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked"), Jesse McCartney (ditto), Christina Applegate (last seen in "The Sweetest Thing"), Kaley Cuoco (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Anna Faris (last seen in "Keanu"), and cameos from Jennifer Coolidge (last seen in "A Series of Unfortunate Events"), Uzo Aduba, Retta, Flula Borg (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), RedFoo.

RATING: 2 out of 10 horrible pop songs that sound even worse when "sung" at chipmunk speed.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Cecil B. Demented

Year 9, Day 339 - 12/5/17 - Movie #2,787

BEFORE: Eric Roberts carries over from "Lovelace", though it seems he just did a quick cameo last night as a polygraph operator, and I think he's just got a quick cameo in this film, but that counts.  Cameos keep my linking alive, and will get me to the end of the year.


THE PLOT: An insane independent film director and his renegade group of teenage filmmakers kidnap an A-list Hollywood actress and force her to star in their underground film.

AFTER: It seems like I've got a loose theme this week about fame and filmmaking, and that's going to continue for a few more days, though it looks like it's going to turn into a fame and music thing, then a political thing again.  That's OK, fame is fame and the theme should get me to next Friday's new "Star Wars" film.  But first, a different kind of "star" wars.  Here a Hollywood star is kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to act in an independent film.  Ugh, how humiliating.

You have to go back and consider this film was released in 2000, that's pre-9/11 so when they use the word "terrorist" here, it's an entirely different animal than the ones we're concerned with now.  And there are scenes where the filmmakers storm a movie theater in a mall with guns and bombs, which might have been funny back before it started happening in real life.  I didn't even go to see "The Dark Knight Rises" in a theater because some idiot shot up a theater in Denver that was showing that film, and even now, I'm still a little wary when I go to the movies, I check where the exits are and I think about how I should duck under the seats if I should hear any gunfire that doesn't come from the screen.

I'm not sure how I feel about John Waters movies, it seems like he should have been uniquely positioned to have a distinct point of view in the filmmaking business, but that he squandered most of his opportunities just being weird and outrageous.  And then the whole world sort of caught up with him and got even weirder than even he could have imagined, so now his stuff doesn't seem shocking at all.  He was fascinated by transvestite and transgender performers way before all that was commonplace, before we had a half-dozen reality shows about drag queens and people changing their genders - maybe he laid all the groundwork for that, I'm not sure.  I think the closest he ever got to making a real point about social change was "Hairspray", with its pokes at racism and fat-shaming.

But then I see the same old problems with both the character and the plot of "Cecil B. Demented" - it never gets around to making a real statement about anything.  And Cecil's big moves seem to be storming into places and saying, "Hey, I'm Cecil B. Demented!"  OK, so what?  Do you have anything else to say, now that you've announced yourself?  No, I didn't think so.  Sure, he wants to make a shocking film, where people set themselves on fire or shoot at cops - but how does this add up to a coherent film-within-the-film?  Well, it doesn't, at least not one that we ever get to see, so what the hell is the point?

OK, so they take over the "Forrest Gump" sequel that's being shot in Baltimore - so what?  If Hollywood's intent on making a crappy sequel, they're going to do it, no matter what a bunch of renegade filmmakers say.  You don't overthrow the Hollywood system, the only way to change it is from within, it's just too big and powerful.  You can spend your entire career working outside the system and do quite well without breaking the law and trying to tear it all down.

And getting a tattoo of your favorite filmmaker's name doesn't mean squat in the end unless you're suddenly going to adopt their style.  It just felt like a cheap way for Waters to justify these "terrorist" actions - oh, they know who Almodovar and Peckinpah and Fassbinder are?  They must be OK, then. Not necessarily.  It's like a math problem, you've got to show your work, you just can't guess at the right answer.  Going out of their way to make each member of the "Sprocket Holes" unique just ended up making them a bunch of quirky people who would probably never hang out with each other in the real world, because collectively they'd be firing in every creative direction at once, without a clear point of view.

File this one sort of midway between "The King of Comedy" and "Bowfinger", which both riffed on similar concepts.  I'm left feeling like I may want to see a few more John Waters films, maybe "Serial Mom" and "Pecker", but really that's about it.

Also starring Melanie Griffith (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Stephen Dorff (last seen in "I Shot Andy Warhol"), Alicia Witt (last seen in "Four Rooms"), Adrian Grenier (last seen in "The Devil Wears Prada"), Maggie Gyllenhaal (last seen in "Riding in Cars With Boys"), Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Jack Noseworthy (last seen in "The Brady Bunch Movie"), Ricki Lake (last seen in "Hairspray" (2007)), Mink Stole (last seen in "Lost Highway"), Michael Shannon (last seen in "Premium Rush"), Patricia Hearst, Eric Barry, Kevin Nealon (last seen in "Sandy Wexler"), Harry (Harriet?) Dodge, Erika Auchterlonie, with cameos from Roseanne Barr, John Waters.

RATING: 4 out of 10 raw oysters

Monday, December 4, 2017

Lovelace

Year 9, Day 338 - 12/4/17 - Movie #2,786

BEFORE: Peter Sarsgaard carries over from "The Magnificent Seven", and this might be a bit of an odd week - as I draw closer to the end of Year 9, it's something of a mixed bag, I'll admit.  Some of December's films were chosen just so they would allow me to link to the upcoming "Star Wars" film.

But, that being said, I have been very curious about this film, the first of two films this week on the topic of porn actors.  I happen to know, in the real world, someone who wrote a book about Linda Lovelace after interviewing her extensively, and he also served as a consultant on this film.  I remember that two studios were developing films about her a few years ago, and this one got made and released, the other one, not so much.  But it's been four years now and this film has not run on premium cable, and honestly, I grew tired of waiting for it.

When I saw it listed on Netflix a few months ago, I allowed myself to work it into my chain, hoping that it would still be there in December (you never know when films are going to disappear from Netflix, it turns out....). But I think I've confused the Netflix software, which now does not know what to make of me - in July I watched a bunch of animated films for kids, and now I'm watching a film about a real porn actress.  That software that recommends titles probably just shrugs now when it looks through my viewing history.  It's OK, both the IMDB and Amazon recommendation software have given up, they don't know what to recommend to me either.

Look, I get it - in the past week alone I went from an economic-based thriller to the dystopian future of "The Hunger Games", to a drama about a Southern teen, to a sci-fi action film, to a Western and then a porn biopic.  Anyone trying to get a handle on my viewing habits, even some software, is not going to be able to keep up.  


THE PLOT: The story of Linda Lovelace, who is used and abused by the porn industry at the behest of her coercive husband before taking control of her life. 

AFTER: The history of porn is a hot topic right now - I just finished watching the first season of HBO's "The Deuce" and it covers some of the same territory, how the industry grew in the 1970's from a few theaters and peep-shows screening plotless porn "loops" to a multi-million dollar industry, with a few select films, like "Deep Throat", attracting wider audiences and causing contoversy at the same time.

Obviously, it was a different era, with different roles for women and different attitudes toward sex.  But at the same time that women were gaining ground in the workplace, the porn industry was setting them back, if you ask me.  When Hugh Hefner died a couple of months ago, the verdict was split on whether magazines like Playboy were good or bad for feminism.  Sure, they made a few women super-famous as centerfolds or Playmates of the Year, but at what cost?  More damage was probably done in the long run by making male readers regard them as only sex objects, instead of sexual beings.  Hefner was happy to run pictorials about women going to college or working as doctors or lawyers, provided they were all willing to get naked for him and the readers - that's not exactly helping the cause of feminism.

And if you ask me, that's why we're in the situation in the news now, with widespread sexual harassment among the men in power in Washington and Hollywood.  I enjoy porn as much as the next guy, but I acknowledge that it has long-lasting, damaging effects, and these result from depicting one truth and one lie, which got spread more quickly with the inventions of home video and then the internet.  The truth it tells is that women are sexual beings, with their own desires (it seems obvious now, but in past decades, many were told to hide or not acknowledge their feelings) and the lie it depicts is that all women, everywhere, are ready for sex at any time.  This is the male fantasy that powers just about every x-rated film.

Add this fantasy to the Hollywood patriarchal power structure, which was primed to take advantage of young women already via the casting couch, and it's like throwing gasoline on a fire.  I don't condone the actions of anyone guilty of sexual harassment or who took advantage of their positions of power or fame, I'm just saying I understand where the fantasy that perhaps propelled some of their actions came from. When a man watches porn movies for a few decades, in which no woman ever says "No" to anything in any way, that man's going to have a distorted view of sex, and it's very possible that he'll eventually get a distorted view of reality as well. 

The odd thing about the X-rated film industry is that it's one of the rare places that women earn more money than men.  But as the story of Linda Lovelace tells us, the pay's often not enough to make up for the hazards.  This film depicts her coerced into porn by her husband, who also pimped her out when he could make a few extra bucks for doing so, and also beat her up for good measure.  Even when she became famous (or infamous) for appearing in "Deep Throat", he kept controlling her actions and collecting her money to settle his debts.  She couldn't even leave him, because her parents were of that generation that believed that marriage came first, and that wives should obey their husbands.

If I've got any beef with this film, it's the fact that there seem to be confusing timelines? I don't think the narrative is strictly non-linear here, but it doesn't seem to be 100% linear either.  A couple times a graphic appears that says "Six years later", but then there's no warning when we're snapped back to the past - I'm fairly sure that the timeline didn't advance another 6 years each time, we seem to be toggling a bit back-and-forth between 1972 and 1978 (or so) but how about a little warning when we return to the earlier time? 

Or is the conceit here that the film tells her story three times, adding more details with each pass, and therefore growing darker as we learn more about the domestic abuse?  Sure, there's conflicting information in each version of her story, but this is a woman who wrote three different autobiographies, which conflicted with each other on some key details.  So what can you do but tell ALL of her different stories, and let the audience judge for themselves?  I guess....

Also starring Amanda Seyfried (last seen in "Pan"), Sharon Stone (last seen in "Bobby"), Robert Patrick (last seen in "The Faculty"), Juno Temple (last seen in "Black Mass"), Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale (last seen in "Danny Collins"), Hank Azaria (last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), Adam Brody (last seen in "Sleeping With Other People"), Chloe Sevigny (last seen in "Melinda and Melinda"), James Franco (last heard in "The Little Prince"), Debi Mazar (last seen in "Collateral"), Wes Bentley (last seen in "The Hunger Games"), Eric Roberts (last seen in "The Specialist"), Don McManus (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Ron Pritchard, Cory Hardrict (last seen in "American Sniper"), with archive footage of Johnny Carson, Walter Cronkite, Phil Donahue, Bob Hope. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 photo shoots

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Year 9, Day 337 - 12/3/17 - Movie #2,785

BEFORE: Chris Pratt carries over from "Passengers", and I just couldn't watch both "The Hateful Eight" and "The Ridiculous Six" this year without getting to this one too.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Magnificent Seven" (Movie #244)

THE PLOT: Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

AFTER: As I said the other day, there are really only about four different stories, when you look at the basic elements, and this is an instance of "put a team together to defeat the evil power".  That puts it in good company with recently-viewed films like "The Hunger Games", "Independence Day: Resurgence", "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Justice League", and therefore also "The Avengers", not to mention franchises like "Lord of the Rings", "Star Wars", "Mission: Impossible" and so on.  So since "The Magnificent Seven" is based on "The Seven Samurai", that means that by transitive properties when you go out to see "Justice League", you're really seeing "Seven Samurai" for the umpteenth time - a good superhero film may be bringing something new to the table, but at heart it's the same meal that's been served up for a long time.

The dressings of the story usually end up reflecting the current world around us, regardless of whether the film is set in a dystopian future, or a barbaric past, like the Old West - which is why the villain here is a corporate man, and the good-hearted gunslingers are a multi-cultural bunch, with a black man leading and an Asian and Native American thrown in for good measure.  How dare this businessman try to make a profit by exploiting workers and running a gold mine!  Capitalism is out of control, and it's high time that the ethnically diverse lower class destroys his business and ruins his livelihood!  This is the way that today's P.C. crowd wishes that the Old West was, but I doubt it bears any resemblance to reality.

Of course, the businessman doesn't see himself as evil, no evil person ever does.  From the Empire's point of view, Luke Skywalker was a mass-murderer, and from Jabba the Hutt's perspective, "Return of the Jedi" is a story about a bunch of rebels who break into his palace, steal his stuff and then kill him.  But then this film does go out of way to make Bartholomew Bogue a bad dude, because he torches the town church and kills anyone in the town of Rose Creek who speaks out against him.

Two townspeople, Emma Cullen and Teddy Q, ride to another town, where they encounter Sam Chisholm, a U.S. Marshal, and he expresses interest after hearing the name of their town's oppressor. Perhaps there's some history there, or else he just likes noble but near-impossible crusades.  He soon recruits outlaw, gambler (and amateur magician) Josh Faraday, supposedly this was to get his horse back, but I found in general that most of the recruiting here happened just a little too quickly and felt a little forced as a result.  I guess times were hard and these men were all motivated by the money, I just wonder if that's a little too simplistic.

The team gets rounded out by an ex-Confederate marksman, his Korean traveling companion, a Mexican fugitive, an older mountain-man game hunter, and a walkabout Comanche warrior.  That's 7, the minimum amount of characters required to form a ragtag band with an unlikely chance of success.  But at least they had a week to train the townspeople, gather materials and create a plan for the town's defense, and thankfully they didn't pull a "Blazing Saddles" and build an exact copy of the town about a mile down the road.  (Having a black man leading the defense of the town was itself enough of a reference to that classic Mel Brooks comedy....)

Also starring Denzel Washington (last seen in "The Equalizer"), Ethan Hawke (last seen in "Gattaca"), Vincent D'Onofrio (last seen in "Mystic Pizza"), Peter Sarsgaard (last seen in "Pawn Sacrifice"), Byung-hun Lee (last seen in "Terminator Genisys"), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett (last seen in "Rules Don't Apply"), Luke Grimes (last seen in "Fifty Shades of Grey"), Matt Bomer (last seen in "The Nice Guys"), Jonathan Joss, Cam Gigandet (last seen in "Easy A"), Sean Bridgers (last seen in "Trumbo"), Billy Slaughter (last seen in "Trumbo"), Griff Furst (ditto), Mark Ashworth (last seen in "Logan").

RATING: 7 out of 10 burning wagons

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Passengers

Year 9, Day 336 - 12/2/17 - Movie #2,784

BEFORE: It was very nice of Hollywood to make a movie with both Jennifer Lawrence and Andy Pratt in it, and almost no one else, because I'm guessing someone knew that I would need to link between 6 other movies with J. Law in them, and another one with Pratt in it.  It's this sort of forward thinking that's enabled me to keep my linking going, and to finish the year out the way I want to.  It looks like I'll be able to link to "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" with just one day to spare - I do love it when a plan comes together.  I can't believe another new "Star Wars" film is now just 12 films away...


THE PLOT: A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet, transporting thousands of people, has a malfunction in its hibernation pods.  As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early.

AFTER: Why is space-travel so problematic in movies?  Isn't it supposed to be this grand fantasy, to hop aboard a space-ship and travel via light speed to another world?  While we want very much for this to happen, it seems that at the same time we can't believe that the process will work right, so most movies depict something going wrong.  If it's not mechanical problems, like in "Apollo 13" or 'Gravity", then it's pesky creatures invading the ship, like in "Alien".  Then there are the problems inherent to space itself, as seen in "Interstellar" and "The Black Hole".  "Mission to Mars", "Red Planet", "2001: A Space Odyssey" and even "Planet of the Apes" - it seems like something's always going wrong on a mission.  Is this all done just to create tension and drama in stories, or do we believe deep down that once we as a people finally get to the future, we'll find a way to screw it up?

Which brings me to "Passengers", because once you think you've solved the problem of how to get people to endure space travel, by using hibernation pods, then you have to figure that there's got to be a potential downside somewhere.  In this case, a ship malfunction wakes up one passenger much too early, and he finds himself alone on the ship, able to survive but with no way to fix the problem or contact anyone for help.  Due to the distance, any transmission for help wouldn't be answered for decades, time that he doesn't have.

He could just spend the rest of his days in luxury aboard this ship, designed to entertain 5,000 passengers who are scheduled to wake up four months before the ship reaches another planet.  There are enough resources to keep him alive, but not enough to keep him entertained, apparently.  So he goes a little cuckoo over the course of a year by himself.  But then for the sake of his sanity he decides to wake up another passenger, and the most logical thing would be to wake up someone who could help him fix the ship, or better understand how to interact with its systems.

(I'm not sure if this is really a NITPICK POINT or not, but at first I believed that the ship intentionally woke up the character that would be most helpful in fixing its systems, since Pratt's character is an engineer.  But apparently not a spaceship engineer or a computer engineer, since either of those would have been helpful.  And I suppose the malfunction on his pod was more or less random - or...was it?  I suppose it's asking a lot to believe that a ship's computer could take steps to repair itself by re-programming his hibernation unit, but then be unable to communicate to him the exact nature of the current mechanical problem, despite having androids that can speak to him and serve him drinks.  That would be silly, if someone designed an A.I. for the ship that had arbitarily imposed limits on what it could do...)

Instead he does the illogical thing, he wakes up the hottest woman, who's also a writer, so that he can at least pass the time with a pleasing companion.  But by doing so, he's potentially dooming her to a similar life in exile, and preventing her from living long enough to reach the colony world.  Which makes me wonder if this whole sci-fi thing with the broken ship is just a metaphor for a different ship - relationship.  Marriage has that whole "Till death do we part thing", so we don't seem to have a way to acknowledge you want to spend your life with someone without being reminded of your mortality.

And just like in a relationship, the two people here have to work together to find the root cause of the ship's troubles, deal with that issue and then try to repair the damage and move forward...

Also starring Chris Pratt (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Michael Sheen (last seen in "The Queen"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Bobby"), Julee Cerda, with a cameo from Andy Garcia (last seen in "The Pink Panther 2") and the voices of Emma Clarke, Chris Edgerly, Fred Melamed.

RATING: 6 out of 10 tethers

Friday, December 1, 2017

Winter's Bone

Year 9, Day 335 - 12/1/17 - Movie #2,783

BEFORE: The Hunger Games may be over, but Jennifer Lawrence week still has two more films to go.  She's sure to make my year-end list of actors and actresses who appeared the most times, and so is pretty much anyone who was a regular in that Hunger Games series.  Three appearances usually allows someone to make it to the countdown, and 6 or 7 will bring someone almost to the top.

I'm back on schedule, I planned to hit this one on December 1 because of the word "winter" in the title.  I know that technically winter doesn't begin for another three weeks, but this was still my intent.


THE PLOT: An unflinching Ozark Mountain girl hacks through dangerous social terrain as she hunts down her drug-dealing father while trying to keep her family intact.

AFTER: My boss said the other day that there really only four stories in the world, so each new one that you hear is just a variation on one of the old ones.  Seeing a film like "Winter's Bone" really drives that point home - it's a very simple story, the one where someone is looking for someone.  In this case it's a teen girl looking for her absent father, but those are just details, the basic framework is the same simple story that's been told time and time again.

It's very strongly suggested that her father's mixed up in the drug scene in rural Missouri, though if you don't know much about "cooking" drugs like meth you might think that he's been working as a chef or something, only there just don't seem to be any fine restaurants in that part of the world.  So it eventually becomes clear that he's been doing a different kind of cooking.

The whole first half of the film seems to be the main character knocking on doors of various people and asking them where her father is, then them telling her to shove off.  Can you really justify a whole half of a movie like that?  And who are all these people, how are they connected, and why won't any of them answer her questions, is it because they don't know or they won't tell?  But this became so repetitive that after a while, I just didn't care.

Sure, she needs to prove that her father did not skip town on his bail, because the family house was put up as collateral, and the family would very much like to continue living there.  But if he crossed the wrong people and got himself killed, that would be an elegant solution to the problem, because if he died that means he didn't leave town, and therefore his bail and other debts don't need to be paid back.  And that means that the family can keep their house.

Other than the search for her father, not a lot goes down - so I'm having trouble seeing how this movie became so critically acclaimed.  Who cares?  I'm not seeing any big deal here.  It apparently did well on the festival circuit, with prizes won at Sundance and other key festivals, but that doesn't always mean a film consists of great storytelling.

Also starring John Hawkes (last seen in "Everest"), Garret Dillahunt (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Dale Dickey (last seen in "The Guilt Trip"), Lauren Sweetser, Tate Taylor (last seen in "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion"), Sheryl Lee (last seen in "Café Society"), Shelley Waggener, Kevin Breznahan (last seen in "Regarding Henry"), Ronnie Hall, Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson, Cody Shiloh Brown, Cinnamon Schultz, Casey MacLaren, Valerie Richards, William White, Russell Schalk.

RATING: 4 out of 10 roasted squirrels

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2

Year 9, Day 333 - 11/29/17 - Movie #2,782

BEFORE: Day 4 of Jennifer Lawrence week, and I've reached the end of the Hunger Games, unless they become a real thing in the U.S. over the next few years.  Screw the Winter Olympics, let's have the Reaping and start training the tributes from Districts 1-12.


THE PLOT: As the war of Panem escalates, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.

AFTER: Let's face it, war is just not as interesting as a gladiatorial contest, let's be clear about that.  I'm a little disappointed that this trilogy/quadrilogy started out as one thing, and took a left turn halfway through to become another thing entirely.  Like I was sold a bill of goods and then didn't get what I bargained for.  Instead I'm presented with a story in the final film where the past contestants have to band together, arm themselves and advance on the capital city, which is filled with booby traps and people and things designed to kill them, almost like the central district is some kind of arena itself and...Ah, I see what you guys did there.  Very clever, the Hunger Games arenas in the first two films become symbolic metaphors for the larger battle to come.

And if we take "The Hunger Games" as not just a glimpse at a dystopian future, but somehow also an uncanny predictor of our current political climate, what can we learn from the final film, where the people rise up and overthrow the whole damn system, because they're tired of how the President is making a mess of things?  Well, for starters, as we're all learning, that process could turn out to be a lot more difficult than you might think at first.  And then, assuming you accomplish that, who are you going to replace him with?  Remember, Trump managed to pick a Vice President even more conservative (and possibly weirder) than himself, which I maintain was the smartest decision he's made in the last two years.  Any anti-Trump liberal would probably want Pence as President even less, which is really saying something.

There's absolutely no process, I'm assuming, to allow the winner of the popular vote in the 2016 election to take over, even if you could get Trump impeached, so that's nothing more than a pipe dream.  And even then, if you could essentially call a "do-over" and get Hillary Clinton elected after the fact, which is impossible, you'd risk alienating the OTHER half of the country, so where would that even get us?  Remember, nearly half the voters rejected her in the first place, and maybe that's not likely to change, even though hindsight is 20/20 - right-wing people would regard this as replacing one bad apple with another, at the end of the day.  So maybe it's better to just hunker down for the next three years and ride this out.  However harsh this may sound, it's the only way we're going to collectively learn to make better decisions in the future, if there are consequences for our actions.

But let's get back to the film.  It's astounding that they kept the central love triangle going for so long. Every time Katniss competed in the Games, it seemed like she was getting closer to Peeta, and then every time she got back to District 12, she drew closer to Gale.  Maybe some people go through situations like this in real-life (if you're not with the one you love, love the one you're with...) but on a practical level, I don't know how anyone could maintain that, in reality or in fiction, for any length of time.  I think in the end I was more Team Gale than Team Peeta, and I'm comfortable enough in my masculinity to say that casting Liam Hemsworth made that an obvious choice to me.  So I'm sorry these crazy kids couldn't work things out in the end, but what the heck do I know?

I guess it's the same situation with the love-triangle romance as it is with an election - whichever way the conflict is resolved, there are bound to be almost half of the people not satisfied with the result.

Also starring Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Natalie Dormer, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Mahershala Ali, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, Wes Chatham, Elden Henson, Patina Miller, Evan Ross, Stef Dawson, Sarita Choudhury, Robert Knepper (all carrying over from "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1"), Meta Golding (last seen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), Toby Jones (ditto), Michelle Forbes (last seen in "Kalifornia"), Gwendoline Christie (last seen in "The Zero Theorem"), Omid Abtahi (last seen in "Argo"), Eugenie Bondurant, Misty Ormiston, Kim Ormiston, Joe Chrest (last seen in "Free State of Jones"), April Grace (last seen in "Whiplash").

RATING: 6 out of 10 propaganda videos

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Year 9, Day 332 - 11/28/17 - Movie #2,781

BEFORE:  It's Day 3 of Jennifer Lawrence week and we're approaching the holiday season.  Please, let me be the first to wish you and your family a Happy Hunger Games this year.  (I'm hoping this will catch on, maybe a new line of greeting cards is in the works.).

Really, though, I'm starting on my holiday mix CD this week, too.  Always a tricky thing, putting a mix CD together, trying to balance the songs I like against what I think my family and friends have come to expect from my annual CD, which I mail out with my Christmas cards.  There's always a theme, this year I tried to put together another 80's mix, but it feels very boring to me - this might be because I've already used the best tracks from all my 80's artists, so unless I order some new CDs very quickly, I won't have much to draw from.  On the other hand, I have these "style parodies" that I sometimes make mixes from, these are holiday songs that are done in the style of particular rock bands or notable songs, but I don't have enough to fill up a CD with.  However, if I take the best tracks from both playlists and weave them together, maybe I can make a disc full of great Christmas songs that's also a little funny and irreverent, but is also peppy and moves along at a good clip, so as to feel lively and entertaining.  There's so much to consider, but I usually end up working it out in time to get my cards in the mail.  Here's hoping.


THE PLOT: Katniss Everdeen is in District 13 after she shattered the games forever.  Under the leadership of President Coin and the advice of her trusted friends, she spreads her wings as she fights to save Peeta and a nation moved by her courage.

AFTER: Damn, I was really starting to enjoy the Hunger Games, and then this film comes along and throws the whole series into a form of chaos.  The end of "Catching Fire" showed us the 75th annual Hunger Games, and it seems like there won't be a 76th edition.  What a shame.  You hate to see an entire sport get cancelled like that, just because the players all teamed up to stop it, so they don't get killed.  But hey, NFL players, please take note - if you're worried about all the risks that come from excessive concussions, just get all of the players on every team to agree to stop.  Problem solved, and you're welcome.

Last night I mentioned the amazing similarities between Panem's President Snow and our current President Pro Tem, Donald Trump - and the books were released between 2008 and 2010, years before the 2016 election.  All of these films were released prior to the election too, making it all an incredible prediction, or an incredible coincidence.  Tonight Katniss finds herself in the mysterious District 13, where there's another President in exile, and it's a woman with blond hair who seems to have a problem being warm and relatable in her speeches.  Let me guess, did she win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College?  Another astounding coincidence - she wears a fatigue-like jumpsuit for most of the film, and I'll restrain from thinking of that as a pantsuit, though.

So now begins the arduous task of uniting the 12 - sorry, 13 - despite the walls (literal and figurative) that separate them in order to take down the President and this system where the Capitol gets everything from the subjects and gives very little in return, except for imposing law and order.  (Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans, are you watching this, too?)  Katniss agrees to be the "Mockingjay" for the cause, but what exactly does that mean, for the benefit of those of us who didn't read the books?  I guess it's just the symbol for the Rebellion against the Empire, or something like that.

But there's a big problem here, and that's the fact that the series is still called "The Hunger Games", but how can there be more Hunger Games if the whole system goes kaput?  Bring back the Hunger Games, just maybe without all the killing and stuff, or else change the name of the movies!  When you go to see a new "Star Wars" film, you kind of know what to expect, because "Wars" is right there in the tile.  If they made a new "Star Wars" without all the fighting, then it just wouldn't seem like part of the franchise.  There's plenty of fighting in "Mockingjay - Part 1", but a definite lack of Hunger Games...

Also starring Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Willow Shields, Paula Malcomson, Stef Dawson, Erika Bierman (all also carrying over from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), Julianne Moore (last heard in "Eagle Eye"), Mahershala Ali (last seen in "Free State of Jones"), Natalie Dormer (last seen in "Rush"), Evan Ross, Elden Henson (last seen in "Jobs"), Wes Chatham, Sarita Choudhury (last seen in "A Perfect Murder"), Patina Miller, Robert Knepper (last seen in "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters").

RATING: 6 out of 10 incendiary arrows

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Year 9, Day 331 - 11/27/17 - Movie #2,780

BEFORE: Jennifer Lawrence carries over from "The Hunger Games", which is itself a huge spoiler, if you think about it.  A lot of other actors carry over from the first film also, so they all somehow survived The Reaping.

I'm giving myself the whole week for this quadrilogy, I didn't schedule another film after these until December 1, so I may have a free day on Friday, or I may just keep going so I'll be a day ahead of schedule.  Or I may need a break on Friday, you never know.


THE PLOT: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.

AFTER: Prior to this, I was made aware of "The Hunger Games" during the 2016 Presidential campaign, when Stephen Colbert dressed up like Caesar Flickerman and would project the images of the fallen candidates on the ceiling of the Ed Sullivan Theater as they dropped out of the race.  That's about the time I realized this franchise is so integrated into pop culture that I should probably give it a look.

But somewhere in the humor, there's a real allegory - I realize the first "Hunger Games" film came out in 2012, and the novels preceded that, but isn't there a similarity between President Snow and Donald Trump?  Think about it - what is "The Hunger Games" but "The Celebrity Apprentice" with weapons?  Last night I drew the comparison to "Survivor", but really, any reality show where the contestants get eliminated one by one would do, they just also lose their lives in the future version.  So in the future there's this incompetent President who's obsessed with watching reality TV, using the media to gain power, and getting into culture wars with the participants.  And he's notorious for directing the narrative with false information about the contestants and their back-stories - that's fake news, right?   And the districts are separated by giant walls - see where I'm going with this?

And in both the film series and reality, there's an elite class of people who work at the Capitol who are hopelessly out of touch with the concerns of the working class. Is anyone surprised that the latest proposed "tax cut" bill would actually increase the taxes on most people in the middle and lower class?  I sure wasn't.  In both the film series and reality,  I'm heartened to learn that the Rebellion is forming.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We're told that once someone wins the Hunger Games, that's it, they're set for life, they can retire and just be famous, maybe mentor a young competitor once in a while.  That's great for one book, but it doesn't help turn the story into a series.  So although it feels like a bit of a cheat, the rules of the Hunger Games are changed yet again, for the landmark 75th Games the President announces that former winners will return to compete - anyone who's seen an "All-Star" edition of "Survivor" could have seen this coming, it makes great sense.

But of course this throws Katniss and Peeta back into the Hunger Games arena, after they finish their "victory tour" of the other districts, and get a sense of the fomenting rebellion there.  And it's a strain on Katniss to maintain the illusion of having a relationship with Peeta while her real boyfriend, Gale, works in the coal mines back in District 12.  But you people probably knew all of this, right?  I still feel like I'm coming late to this party.

The Hunger Games All-Stars are generally all unhappy about being called back to the Games, since all were promised a bill of goods that said they'd never have to compete again.  This brings a whole new element to the Games, since some of the past winners won by brute force, some won by using technology, and others won just by hiding well, and waiting for the arena to finish off their competitors.  And then alliances form among the All-Stars, because there's strength in numbers, but also because they saw from Katniss' first appearance that the Games can be brought to an end if the remaining players refuse to play.  I mean, sure, the Careers from Districts 1 and 2 are going to put up a fight, but it turns out there are other ways to win besides killing all of your opponents, if you're willing to think outside the box and exploit every loophole.

I was prepared to write off this whole series as silly young-adult material, but it keeps surprising me at every turn.  Now I'm glad I never read the books or learned too much about the plot of the films, it feels like I waited until just the right time to start paying attention to this series, since it turned out to be topical as hell.  I'm half-done, and I can't wait to finish it over the next two days.

Also starring Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Toby Jones, Paula Malcomson, Willow Shields, Jack Quaid, Nelson Ascencio, Bruce Bundy (all also carrying over from "The Hunger Games"), Philip Seymour Hoffman (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Jeffrey Wright (last heard in "The Good Dinosaur"), Amanda Plummer, Jena Malone (last seen in "Into the Wild"), Sam Claflin (last seen in "The Huntsman: Winter's War"), Lynn Cohen (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Meta Golding, Bruno Gunn (last seen in "28 Days"), Alan Ritchson, Stephanie Leigh Schlund, Patrick St. Esprit (last seen in "Independence Day: Resurgence"), Stef Dawson, Erika Bierman (last seen in "Dumb and Dumber To"), Wilbur Fitzgerald (last seen in "The Founder").

RATING: 7 out of 10 angry mandrills