Sunday, December 31, 2017

year 9 wrap-up / year 10 preview

It's been over a week since I watched my last film for 2017, and it's time for the yearly wrap-up post, where I try to make sense out of a year that, on many levels, made no sense at all.  Seriously, in terms of the news can you remember a worse (or funnier, but in that dark hopeless sense of funny) year in human history?  OK, maybe back when there were plagues and stuff there was a darker year - but my point is, you've got to go WAY far back to find the level of dread and angst that got tossed around.  But let's get to the movie breakdown, because that's going to circle back to the dread and angst thing eventually.

I got the Entertainment Weekly Annual "Best of" issue, and I'm sure that every other magazine and newspaper will be counting down the top films of the year, but those Top 10 lists and mine just don't seem to have a lot in common.  Of the Top 10 films listed in EW, I'd only seen one of them, and that was "Wonder Woman".  I haven't seen "Dunkirk", "Get Out", "Call Me By My Name", "The Shape of Water", "Foxtrot", "Hostiles", "Lady Bird" or "Molly's Game", and I'm OK with all that.  I've got a different agenda, and it's (mostly) catching up with the classic films that I've missed, whether they're from the 1930's or the 1990's or even last year.

That's not to say I didn't go to out to the movies this year, I did - I saw almost a dozen films in current release, but nearly all were superhero, sci-fi or animated franchise films.  That's just what I'm about, and I think there's so much product coming out of Hollywood these days that you really have to pick and choose what will bring you out to the theater, especially with the price of popcorn being what it is these days.  But for my top-rated films of the year, we have a tie between "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", both scored a "9" on my very un-scientific scale.  Tied for second with scores of "8" were "Logan", "Justice League" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".  Hmm, all new releases that were seen by me on the big-screen.  It's possible that going out and having the big-screen experience is skewing the rating system - but it's in favor of the films I'm most likely to like anyway.
(My WORST film of the year, by the way, was "Norm of the North", which barely scored a "1".)

Even though I stayed current on big-screen sci-fi and superheroes, the bad news is that the size of my watchlist increased this year, and I think that's the first time this has happened.  I started the year with 145 films on the list, and now here at the end of 2017, it's nearly 160.  There are two culprits here, Netflix and Academy screeners.  I gained access to Netflix this year, my wife set up an account for me, and it helped me see a number of films that just weren't available on premium cable - like "Lovelace", "Into the Wild" and a bunch of animated films like "Sing" and "Zootopia".  That was all great news for my linking, but not great news for progress where the size of the list is concerned.  In addition to the nearly 160-film watchlist, I now have a second list of films on Netflix and Academy screeners that's almost 80 films.  But it's too discouraging to think of my watchlist going from 145 to 240, so I'm trying not to think about it.  I finally got the number of Academy screeners I want to borrow from my boss down to under 10, and now a flood of new screeners came in over the last couple of weeks.  Another great resource, but discouraging in terms of volume.

But let's at least try to break down Movie Year 9 by category:

1) Superhero films stood out, of course, beginning with "Suicide Squad" in January, then I caught up with last year's "Doctor Strange" and this year's "Logan", followed by "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Wonder Woman" and "The Lego Batman Movie" in June, and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" in July (don't they know that Homecoming happens in the fall?) and finally November brought the one-two punch of "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Justice League".  Sure, they're all formula films, most of them fall right in line with the common plot line of "put the team together and defeat the evil power".  But they all made a ton of money, so they must be doing something right.  I guess I also have to count the film "Midnight Special" in the superhero category, since it featured a kid with mutant powers, much like an X-Man.

2) Following right behind was the sci-fi category, of course.  Knowing that "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" was coming in December sort of set the whole tone for the year, which I'd dedicated to Carrie Fisher - so in a way the whole year's chain was setting up for her final appearance.  While "The Last Jedi" may have just missed being my top film for the year, it was still light-years ahead of the other sci-fi films I watched, like "Chappie", "Ex Machina", "The Zero Theorem", "Passengers", "Gods of Egypt" and "Blade Runner 2049".

Aliens came around again, in films like "Arrival", "The 5th Wave", and "Independence Day: Resurgence".  "Arrival" was the best of that bunch, though I think I need to watch it again to fully understand it.  Then there were the classic films about aliens arriving, which I mixed in with my horror films - "The Thing from Another World", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956) and "20 Million Miles to Earth".  Aliens were always here with evil intent during the 1950's, right?  It would have been unthinkable to make a film like "Arrival" back then.

And then we had the sci-fi films about dystopian futures, namely "Mad Max: Fury Road" and the four "Hunger Games" films.  I'll get more into the Hunger Games thing with relation to politics, but it seems we all agree that the world will eventually be a place where humans need to fight to survive, either because of dwindling resources, or because it makes for good entertainment.  Maybe both.

3) Next up another big big category - animation.  Once I realized that the big animated films from the last year or two weren't turning up on cable, I ended up finding a bunch of them on Netflix, and I was off to the races.  But first in January I watched "Anomalisa", "Minions", "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "The Penguins of Madagascar" and "Sausage Party". Then I included "Thumbelina" in February's chain, it wasn't really a romance film but I needed the link.  Another mini-wave in May, with "The Boxtrolls", "Ice Age: Collision Course", "The Peanuts Movie" and "Strange Magic" - and then came the Netflix flood in June and July: "Zootopia", "Moana", "The BFG", "The Lego Batman Movie", "Kubo and the Two Strings", "Sing", "The Jungle Book" (2016), "My Life as a Zucchini", "Ernest & Celestine", "The Little Prince", "The Secret Life of Pets", "Finding Dory", "The Good Dinosaur", "Cars 3" and "The Angry Birds Movie".  August brought the low point, "Norm of the North", which probably made "Despicable Me 3" look that much better a couple of weeks later.  By the time I got to "The Fox and the Hound 2" and "Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World", I was pretty much just watching those films to make my linking connections.  Same goes for "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip", which allowed me to connect two films about porn actors - that was odd.  Still, that's 30 animated films in 2017, that was a significant percentage of my line-up.  I watched so many kids movies this year (and I don't even have a kid...) that the category is still pretty clear months later.  I think there are maybe FOUR animated films on my list right now, which is pretty close to zero.

4) And I can't talk about animation without also discussing fairy tales and children's stories - in addition to "Thumbelina", I watched three versions of "Cinderella" this year: "Ella Enchanted", "Ever After" and "Cinderella" (2015).  Then came two films about Peter Pan, the 2003 version and the "Pan" prequel from 2015.  Thankfully I made that rule change before the year began, which enables me to link between two films that have the same character, that really does help me make these connections.  And finally in November came two films with Snow White, "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "The Huntsman: Winter's War" to kick off my Hemsworth chain.  Snow White was really only in the second film for a brief appearance, that's what happens when an actress has an affair with her married director...

Also aimed at kids was my lead-off film for the year, "The Black Stallion Returns".  Then in February I got to "The Flintstones" and "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas", and I HOPE those were made for kids, because the prospect of adults enjoying those movies is just too frightening.  (I know, the Flintstones and Rubbles are classic couples, but those films really didn't belong in February - again, linking.)  And I also finally got to the live-action "101 Dalmatians" and its sequel "102 Dalmatians" - those count as kiddie-lit too, not animation.  And then I covered teen fiction by FINALLY getting around to "The Hunger Games" - man, I avoided those about as long as I could, but with a bunch of other Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth films on my list, the linking was practically shouting at me that it was time.

5) And that leads me to politics, because everything about President Snow in "The Hunger Games" just made me think about Donald Trump.  A dictatorial older man famous for producing a reality TV show where the contestants are eliminated one by one, and his main opposition is a female president-in-exile, who's not good at giving speeches - I'm not the only one who sees the connection, right?  But there were a LOT of films that reminded me about Trump, and part of that is probably just the zeitgeist we're all soaking in. I finally got around to watching "1984", based on a book that shot to the top of the best-seller list again after Trump's election, since it's all about a government replacing the headlines with "fake news".  "Tapeheads" was about an older man running for office with two useless sons, trying to get back his embarrassing sex tape - so that was about Trump, even though it was released in 1988 - as was the 1992 film "Bob Roberts", about a corrupt right-wing politician willing to say or do anything to get elected, while a reporter kept trying to point out the scandals in his past, that was uncannily about Trump, too.  Heck, even the original "Dracula" was about Trump, the way I saw it.  Of course, there are differences - one's an evil blood-sucker who molests women without consent, and the other one is a vampire.

I did set out this year to try and cover politics more thoroughly, and this included the documentary "Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time", and also three docs from Michael Moore: "Weiner", "Sicko" and "Where to Invade Next".  But also on topic of politics was "Our Brand Is Crisis", "Truth", "Nashville", a few films about economics like "The Big Short" and then a bunch of films about Russia and Communism, like "Reds", "Pawn Sacrifice", and "Trumbo".

And along with politics this year came political assassinations, again and again.  This topic first popped up in "The Parallax View", followed shortly after by "Assassins" and "American Ultra", "Jackie" and "Bobby" (TWO films about Kennedy assassinations), "The Crying Game", "Vantage Point", and even "Nashville".  Plus there were hitmen in "Ghost Dog", "The Nice Guys" and "The Accountant" and the terrorism at the Boston Marathon in "Patriots Day", and finally a terrorist plot in "Inferno".

6) On the larger scale, war and international conflict, which pops up every year for sure, was depicted in "Free State of Jones" (post-Civil War), "Unbroken" (World War II), "We Were Soldiers" (Vietnam),  "The Year of Living Dangerously" (Indonesia), "Seven Years in Tibet" and more comically in "Start the Revolution Without Me" (French Revolution) and "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" (Afghanistan).

Government agents and spies were also seen in "The Conversation", "The Specialist", "The Ipcress File" and its two sequels, "Body of Lies", "MI-5", "Eagle Eye", "Snowden", "Jason Bourne", "Criminal", "Bridge of Spies", and more comically in "Ishtar", "The Brothers Grimsby", "Keeping Up With the Joneses", and "You Don't Mess With the Zohan".  Then there were the cyber-crimes seen in "Black Hat", "Paranoia", "Now You See Me 2" and "Runner Runner".

7) Crime came back in a strong way this year, everything from murder on down to robbery.  Let's start the break-down with "Kalifornia", "Mr. Brooks" and "Untraceable" (serial killers) and then organized crime, as seen in "Black Mass" (Whitey Bulger), "Legend" (the Kray twins), and "Live By Night" (Prohibition bootlegging).  Then there was "Night Moves" (smuggling/kidnapping), "The Nice Guys" (arson/murder/kidnapping), "Stolen" (kidnapping), and "Money Monster" (hostage situation).  Let's not forget "Triple 9" (bank heist/cop killing), "Winter's Bone" (drug-dealing and murder) and the comedies "Irrational Man (murder of a corrupt judge) and "The Late Show" (detective solving murder).

Then there were thefts and heists, as seen in "Drugstore Cowboy" (robbing drugstores), "The Art of the Steal" (art theft & forgery), "Masterminds" (armored car heist), "You're Never Too Young" (diamond theft) and no less than four films about con artists: "Focus",  "Now You See Me 2" (magic-based heists),  "Matchstick Men", and "I Love You Philip Morris".  And all those heists needed a good get-away driver, as seen in "Drive".

That leads me to the vehicular crime in "The Bonfire of the Vanities" (hit-and-run), and then we've got "Regarding Henry" (man shot during a robbery).  More criminal activities were seen in "Nightcrawler" (tampering with/causing crime scenes), "Hesher" (arson/destruction of property), "Demolition" (destruction of property), "Out of the Furnace" (illegal gambling/fighting),  "Keanu" (drugs, gangs, cat-napping), "The 'Burbs" (spying on neighbors, breaking and entering), "Hot Pursuit" (something about protecting the widow of a drug boss, but come on, that plot was a real mess), and "Equus" (blinding horses, but did we ever find out why?)

Special shout-out to Ben Affleck who balanced his appearance as crimefighter Batman with four appearances as criminals in "The Accountant" (hit-man), "Live by Night" (bootlegging), "Boiler Room" (stock-market fraud) and "Runner Runner" (cyber-gambling)

7) Another big category this year was movies about performers - nearly every Fred Astaire film (see full list below) was about him being a famous singer or dancer, either going on holiday or putting on a Broadway show.  (most of them also seemed to feature a case of mistaken identity, but that's beside the point)

Other films that seem to fit in here include - "Café Society" (nightclub performers), "Idlewild" (jazz clubs), "Hail, Caesar!" (film directors & actors), "Factory Girl" and "I Shot Andy Warhol", "Danny Collins" (aging pop singer), "Don't Think Twice" (improv comics), "Sandy Wexler" (talent agent), "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" (supposedly about two filmmakers), "Hamlet 2" (school play director & performers), "Miles Ahead" (jazz musician Miles Davis), "La La Land" (jazz pianist & actress), "Cecil B. Demented" (anarchist filmmakers), "Lovelace" (porn actress), "Wonderland" (porn actor), "Jimi: All Is By My Side" (Jimi Hendrix), "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping" (boy-band/pop star), "Bright Lights" (mother-daughter Hollywood actresses), "Sweet Liberty" (author/filmmakers), and "Rules Don't Apply" (Howard Hughes and his stable of actresses)

8) Which leads me into films about romances and relationships: There were two basic kinds of romance movies this year, and most of them fell into February by design, but the concept of romance also spread to the other months as well, that's just the way it breaks down.  The first kind was the classic romance film - let's just take all of the Fred Astaire films as a given, since most of them had some kind of romance plot, along with the singing and dancing.  The other classics this year were mostly a mix of Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin films: "How Sweet It Is!", "The Mating Game", "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", "The Tender Trap", "High Society", "Pal Joey", "Some Came Running", "Marriage on the Rocks", "Who Was That Lady?" and "Bells Are Ringing".  These always seemed inclined to end with either a party scene, a brawl, or a brawl during a party.  Other classic romance films featured Michael Caine in "Alfie" and  Liz Taylor and Richard Burton in "Cleopatra" and "The Taming of the Shrew", and we'll be seeing more of them in February 2018 too.

For the more modern romance films, it seems that the theme this year was "Everything goes wrong".  There were a number of films where, despite the characters' best efforts, falling in love or staying in love was extremely difficult due to many failures or slapstick accidents, all in the name of comedy (supposedly).  Of course, it's not supposed to be easy, but neither is it supposed to be this difficult.  These difficulties occurred in "Sleeping With Other People", "How to Be Single", "The Other Woman", "The Sweetest Thing", "What Happens in Vegas", "Just Married", "Riding in Cars with Boys", "Music and Lyrics", "The Rewrite", "What Women Want", "Dr. T & The Women", "Bride Wars", and also the January films "The Anniversary Party" and "By the Sea", May's "Mystic Pizza" and "Don Jon" and the August films "Town & Country" and "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates".
And even though it's a classic film from the 1970's, "Two For the Road" with Audrey Hepburn also fits here, since it shows three European trips where everything went wrong.

9) And after Valentine's Day was over, I managed to find films for several other holidays - "Finian's Rainbow" (for St. Patrick's Day), "The Robe", "The Passion of the Christ", "Risen" (3 films for Easter), "Mother's Day", "Free State of Jones" (for Independence Day), "Labor Day" (for, umm, Labor Day). And for Back to School time, I watched - "Hamlet 2", "Orange County", "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising".  Sorry, Christmas movies, better luck next year - it's not my fault that "Bad Santa 2" and "Office Christmas Party" didn't air in time to be worked into the chain.  

10), Oh, yeah, the other month-long holiday season, Halloween/Horror - It took a couple years, but I finally watched those early German expressionist "horror" films, namely "Faust", "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and "Nosferatu".  That led thematically into the first "Dracula" film from 1931, then I followed that with a couple from the 1970's, and the best of the Hammer Studios "Frankenstein" films.  Of course, Turner Classic Movies and I were working at cross purposes, because at the same time they picked Dracula as their star of the month, so they were running all the Universal Dracula sequels, and all the Hammer Studios Dracula films.  Do you see why I get so discouraged with my lack of progress?

The rest of my October horror chain was devoted to the classic alien invasion films (mentioned above) and then the classic "creature" films - "Creature from the Black Lagoon" and its sequel, plus "Them!" (giant ants), "Tarantula" (giant spider), "The Deadly Mantis" (giant mantis) and 2 Godzilla films, the earliest and the most recent.  Bryan Cranston was my lead-out, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were my lead-in with their comedy "Scared Stiff".

11) Another special category, which came about due to my new access to Netflix: Documentaries about filmmaking, Comic-Cons and other geek stuff: "Elstree 1976" and "I Am Your Father" (Star Wars), "For the Love of Spock" (Star Trek), "Jodorowsky's Dune", "Back in Time" (Back to the Future), "Ghostheads" (Ghostbusters), "Room 237" (The Shining), "Fanarchy" and "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made", "Comic Book: The Movie" and "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope", and "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster" (about Drew Struzan's poster art, but at the end of the film, he appears at San Diego Comic-Con)

12) That still leaves sports, which was a really mixed bag this year - we had "Creed" (boxing), "Concussion" (football), "Eddie the Eagle" (ski-jumping), "Race" (Olympics, Jesse Owens), "Unbroken" (also Olympics), "Wild" (hiking),"Pawn Sacrifice" (chess), "Rush" (auto racing), and let's throw "Premium Rush" in here too (cycling).  Nothing really dominated, except that the Olympics popped up three times, the Summer Games twice and the Winter Games once.

13) And the last main category: Westerns - it's a stroke of good fortune that I was able to knock off "The Ridiculous 6", "The Magnificent Seven", and "The Hateful Eight" in the same year. Plus I got around to "The Revenant", "Forsaken", and "McCabe & Mrs. Miller".

Oddly, most of the other films seemed to break down in pairs.  But this makes a kind of sense, because I'm usually putting two films together on DVDs and I'm always looking for the connective tissue.  This year I watched "Criminal" and "Self/Less" (two Ryan Reynolds films where one person's soul/memories went in another person's body), "Burnt" and "Chef" (two films about high-end chefs suffering from creative burn-out and job/relationship problems), "Wild" and "Into the Wild" (two films about people dropping out of society to go hiking/living in the wild), "Moonlight Mile" and "Demolition" (two films where Jake Gyllenhall plays a young man grieving over a dead wife), "Carol" and "I Love You Philip Morris" (two films where married people get involved in gay romance), "Still Alice" and "Concussion" (two films about brain damage), "The Intern" and "Joy" (women succeeding in the corporate world), "Dirty Grandpa" and "Bad Grandpa", and if I'm stretching things, "Lion" and "Australia" (two films where Nicole Kidman adopts native orphaned children).  Wait, I almost forgot about "The 33" and "Deepwater Horizon" (two films about mining/drilling accidents) also "Room" and "10 Cloverfield Lane" (two films about people held in a confined space) and then there was "The Do-Over" and "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" (two films where Adam Sandler fakes his own death).

Then there are the films that pissed me off this year, by not following a linear narrative structure: "Two for the Road", "Unbroken", "Premium Rush", "Snowden", "Jackie", "Vantage Point", "Free State of Jones", "The Little Prince", "Into the Wild", "Steve Jobs", "Miles Ahead", "Arrival", "Lovelace", "Wonderland", and "Sully".  (I probably missed a few, too, but no time to double-check...) Enough with the fractured time-lines and excessive time-jumping, Hollywood.

And the following films stand accused of excessive Flashbackery: "Ishtar", "American Ultra", "Just Married", "Riding in Cars With Boys", "Wild", "The Age of Adeline", "Lion", "In the Heart of the Sea", "Ghost Dog: the Way of the Samurai", "Sandy Wexler", "Pawn Sacrifice", "The Accountant" and "Inferno".  The only film that gets a pass for flashbacks is "The Hateful Eight", because Tarantino knows what the hell he's doing.  OK, I'm going to give a pass to "Manchester By the Sea" too, because it used the technique the right way, too.

And a special shout-out to my home state of Massachusetts, which showed up this year in "Black Mass", "In the Heart of the Sea", "Manchester By the Sea", "Patriots Day", "Spotlight", "Labor Day",
Now, the even harder part, counting up who had the inside track this year.  Actually, it's easy now because I started keeping track about two months ago, now I just have to compile it all before the New Year's ball drops.  The winner was never really in question, because I specifically set out to watch as many of his films as possible this year. (And I've 5 more on tap for 2018).  Beyond that, any actor who appeared in several animated films (voice-overs count) or those geek-themed documentaries (archive footage counts, too) had the inside track.  Heck, anyone who was in "The Hunger Games" made the list, because that was four appearances right there.  It also helped to be a character actor (they work a LOT) or to be the creator of a very famous comic-book company who likes making cameos in movies with his characters.
And this year's winner, with 14 appearances, is:
Fred Astaire - "The Band Wagon", "The Gay Divorcee", "Roberta", "Top Hat", "Follow the Fleet", "Swing Time", "Shall We Dance", "Carefree", "Broadway Melody of 1940", "Second Chorus", "Three Little Words", "The Barkleys of Broadway", "Finian's Rainbow", "Funny Face"

In second place, with 10 appearances:
Harrison Ford - "The Conversation", "The Age of Adaline", "Regarding Henry", "Elstree 1976", "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope", "Fanarchy", "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made", "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster", "Paranoia", "Blade Runner 2049"

And third place, riding Fred Astaire's coat-tails, with 8 appearances:
Ginger Rogers - "The Gay Divorcee", "Roberta", "Top Hat", "Follow the Fleet", "Swing Time", "Shall We Dance", "Carefree", "The Barkleys of Broadway".

7 Appearances:
Woody Harrelson - "Now You See Me 2", "Triple 9", "Out of the Furnace", 4 "Hunger Games" films
Chris Hemsworth - "Doctor Strange", "Blackhat", "In the Heart of the Sea", "Snow White and The Huntsman", "The Huntsman: Winter's War", "Rush", "Thor: Ragnarok"
Jennifer Lawrence - "Joy", 4 "Hunger Games" films, "Winter's Bone", "Passengers"
Debbie Reynolds - "The Intern", "How Sweet It Is!", "The Mating Game", "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", "The Tender Trap", "Three Little Words", "Bright Lights"
J.K. Simmons - "The Rewrite", "Zootopia", "Patriots Day", "Labor Day", "La La Land", "Justice League", "The Accountant"
Frank Sinatra - "What Women Want", "The Tender Trap", "High Society", "Pal Joey", "Some Came Running", "Marriage On the Rocks", "Blade Runner 2049"
Kristen Stewart - "Still Alice", "American Ultra", "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas", "Café Society", "Into the Wild", "Snow White and the Huntsman", "The Huntsman: Winter's War"
Michael Stuhlbarg - "Doctor Strange", "Body of Lies", "Steve Jobs", "Pawn Sacrifice", "Miles Ahead", "Arrival", "Trumbo"
Donald Sutherland - "Billion Dollar Brain", "Forsaken", "Start the Revolution Without Me", 4 "Hunger Games" films

6 Appearances:
Ben Affleck - "Suicide Squad", "Justice League", "The Accountant", "Live By Night", "Boiler Room", "Runner Runner"
Warren Beatty - "Reds", "Ishtar", "The Parallax View", "Rules Don't Apply", "Town & Country", "McCabe & Mrs. Miller"
Michael Caine - "Alfie", "Sweet Liberty", "The Ipcress File", "Funeral in Berlin", "Billion Dollar Brain", "Now You See Me 2"
Steve Coogan - "Minions", "Ella Enchanted", "The Secret Life of Pets", "Hamlet 2", "Despicable Me 3", "Rules Don't Apply"
Jim Cummings - "Minions", "Sing", "The Secret Life of Pets", "Comic Book: the Movie", "The Fox and the Hound 2", "Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World"
J.D. Evermore - "Wild", "Stolen", "I Love You Philip Morris", "Deepwater Horizon", "Trumbo", "Live By Night"
Griff Furst - "Focus", "Self/Less", "I Love You Phillip Morris", "The Founder", "Trumbo", "The Magnificent Seven"
Zach Galifianakis - "What Happens in Vegas", "The Lego Batman Movie", "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie", "Masterminds", "Keeping Up With the Joneses", "Into the Wild"
Liam Hemsworth - "Independence Day: Resurgence", "Paranoia", 4 "Hunger Games" films
Scarlett Johansson - "Hail, Caesar!", "Don Jon", "Sing", "The Jungle Book", "Chef", "Thor: Ragnarok"
Stan Lee - "Doctor Strange", "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "Comic Book: The Movie", "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope", "Thor: Ragnarok"
Dean Martin - "Some Came Running", "Marriage on the Rocks", "Who Was That Lady?", "Bells Are Ringing", "You're Never Too Young", "Scared Stiff"
Julianne Moore - "Assassins", "Still Alice", "Don Jon", "Eagle Eye", 2 "Hunger Games" films
Nick Offerman - "Ice Age: Collision Course", "Sing", "Danny Collins", "My Life as a Zucchini", "Ernest & Celestine", "The Founder"
Wayne Pére - "American Ultra", "The Big Short", "Midnight Special", "Free State of Jones", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "Trumbo"
Billy Slaughter - "Focus", "American Ultra", "The Big Short", "Midnight Special", "Trumbo", "The Magnificent Seven"
Jason Sudeikis - "Sleeping With Other People", "What Happens in Vegas", "Race", "Mother's Day", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Masterminds"
David Thewlis - "Anomalisa", "Seven Years in Tibet", "Legend", "Wonder Woman", "The Zero Theorem", "Justice League"
Stanley Tucci - "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "Spotlight", 4 "Hunger Games" films
Forest Whitaker - "Out of the Furnace", "The Crying Game", "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai", "Vantage Point", "Ernest & Celestine", "Arrival"

5 Appearances:
Sean Bridgers - "Midnight Special", "Room", "Free State of Jones", "Trumbo", "The Magnificent Seven"
Albert Brooks - "Concussion", "The Little Prince", "The Secret Life of Pets", "Finding Dory", "Drive"
Marcus Lyle Brown - "The Big Short", "Hot Pursuit", "Stolen", "Self/Less", "I Love You Phillip Morris"
Hannibal Buress - "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "The Secret Life of Pets", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising", "The Nice Guys"
Richard Burton - "Cleopatra", "1984", "The Taming of the Shrew", "The Robe", "Equus"
Sam Claflin - "Snow White and the Huntsman", "The Huntsman: Winter's War", 3 "Hunger Games" films
Joe Chrest - "Focus", "I Love You Philip Morris", "Deepwater Horizon", "Free State of Jones", "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"
Billy Eichner - "The Penguins of Madagascar", "Sleeping With Other People", "What Happens in Vegas", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"
Carrie Fisher - "Elstree 1976", "Wonderland", "Bright Lights", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", "The 'Burbs"
Will Forte - "My Life as a Zucchini", "Keanu", "The Ridiculous 6", "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Gal Gadot - "Triple 9", "Wonder Woman", "Criminal", "Keeping Up With the Joneses", "Justice League"
Jeff Goldblum - "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie", "Nashville", "Thor: Ragnarok", "Independence Day: Resurgence"
Joseph Gordon-Levitt - "Don Jon", "Premium Rush", "Snowden", "Hesher", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
Ryan Gosling - "The Big Short", "Drive", "The Nice Guys", "La La Land", "Blade Runner 2049"
Bill Hader - "Sausage Party", "The BFG", "Finding Dory", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Tom Hanks - "The Bonfire of the Vanities", "The 'Burbs", "Bridge of Spies", "Sully", "Inferno"
Garrett Hines - "The Big Short", "Stolen", "Midnight Special", "Deepwater Horizon", "Trumbo"
Hugh Jackman - "Australia", "Eddie the Eagle", "Chappie", "Logan", "Pan"
David Jensen - "Focus", "Hot Pursuit", "Midnight Special", "I Love You Phillip Morris", "Free State of Jones"
Richard T. Jones - "Concussion", "Hot Pursuit", "Moonlight Mile", "Vantage Point", "Godzilla" (2014)
Toby Jones - "Ever After: A Cinderella Story", "Snow White and the Huntsman", 3 "Hunger Games" films
Tom Kemp - "Café Society", "Black Mass", "Demolition", "Manchester By the Sea", "Irrational Man"
Leslie Mann - "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "How to Be Single", "The Other Woman", "I Love You Philip Morris", "Orange County"
Jason Mantzoukas - "Sausage Party", "Dirty Grandpa", "Sleeping With Other People", "How to Be Single", "The Lego Batman Movie""I
Holt McCallany - "Concussion", "Blackhat", "Vantage Point", "Justice League", "Sully"
Tim McInnerny - "101 Dalmatians", "102 Dalmatians", "Eddie the Eagle", "MI-5", "Race"
Zoe Saldana - "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Out of the Furnace", "Vantage Point", "For the Love of Spock", "Live By Night"
Adam Sandler - "The Do-Over", "Spanglish", "You Don't Mess With the Zohan", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler"
Peter Sarsgaard - "Black Mass", "Jackie", "Pawn Sacrifice", "The Magnificent Seven", "Lovelace"
Sylvester Stallone - "The Specialist", "Creed", "Assassins", "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"
Sigourney Weaver - "Chappie", "Vantage Point", "Finding Dory", "Ghostheads", "The Year of Living Dangerously"
Jeffrey Wright - "Ernest & Celestine", "The Good Dinosaur", 3 "Hunger Games" films

4 Appearances -
Jan Arvan - "Some Came Running", "Bells Are Ringing", "The Robe", "20 Million Miles to Earth"
Lucille Ball - "Roberta", "Top Hat", "Follow the Fleet", "Trumbo"
Elizabeth Banks - 4 "Hunger Games" films
Cate Blanchett - "Cinderella", "Truth", "Carol", "Thor: Ragnarok"
Eric Blore - "The Gay Divorcee", "Top Hat", "Swing Time", "Shall We Dance"
Steve Carell - "Minions", "The Big Short", "Café Society", "Despicable Me 3"
Bradley Cooper - "Joy", "Burnt", "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "10 Cloverfield Lane"
Benedict Cumberbatch - "The Penguins of Madagascar", "Black Mass", "Doctor Strange", "Thor: Ragnarok"
Peter Cushing - "The Curse of Frankenstein", "The Revenge of Frankenstein", "Frankenstein Created Woman", "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed"
Matt Damon - "Mystic Pizza", "The Zero Theorem", "Jason Bourne", "Thor: Ragnarok"
Laura Dern - "Dr. T & The Women", "Wild", 'The Founder", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
Adam Devine - "The Intern", "Ice Age: Collision Course", "The Lego Batman Movie", "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates"
James DuMont - "Midnight Special", "Deepwater Horizon", "Patriots Day", "Trumbo"
Jesse Eisenberg - "American Ultra", "Now You See Me 2", "Café Society", "Justice League"
Idris Elba - "Zootopia", "The Jungle Book", "Finding Dory", "Thor: Ragnarok"
John Eyez - "Focus", "Stolen", "Triple 9", "I Love You Phillip Morris"
James Franco - "Sausage Party", "Tristan + Isolde", "The Little Prince", "Lovelace"
Domnhall Gleeson - "The Revenant", "Unbroken", "Ex Machina", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
John Goodman - "The Flintstones", "10 Cloverfield Lane", "Patriots Day", "Trumbo"
Douglas M. Griffin - "10 Cloverfield Lane", "Self/Less", "I Love You Philip Morris", "Deepwater Horizon"
Jess Harnell - "Minions", "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "Norm of the North", "Comic Book: the Movie"
Anne Hathaway - "The Intern", "Bride Wars", "Ella Enchanted", "Don Jon"
Kate Hudson - "Dr. T & the Women", "Bride Wars", "Mother's Day", "Deepwater Horizon"
Helen Hunt - "What Women Want", "Dr. T & the Women", "Bobby", "Bob Roberts"
William Hurt - "Race", "Vantage Point", "Mr. Brooks", "Into the Wild"
Josh Hutcherson - 4 "Hunger Games" films
Oscar Isaac - "Body of Lies", "Ex Machina", "Drive", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
Allison Janney - "Minions", "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "The Rewrite", "Finding Dory"
Michael Keaton - "Minions", "The Founder", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "Spotlight"
Ben Kingsley - "The Boxtrolls", "Self/Less", "The Jungle Book", "Room 237"
Harry Jay Knowles - "Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope", "Fanarchy", "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made", "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster"
Stephen Kunken - "Still Alice", "Café Society", "Jason Bourne", "Bridge of Spies"
Maurice LaMarche - "The Boxtrolls", "Zootopia", "Comic Book: the Movie", "Ghostheads"
John Leguizamo - "American Ultra", "Regarding Henry", "Ice Age: Collision Course", "Chef"
John Carroll Lynch - "Hot Pursuit", "Hesher", "Jackie", "The Founder"
Anthony Mackie - "Our Brand Is Crisis", "Eagle Eye", "Triple 9", "Runner Runner"
Paula Malcomson - 4 "Hunger Games" films
David Maldonado - "Deepwater Horizon", "Free State of Jones", "The 5th Wave", "Trumbo"
Jena Malone - "Into the Wild", 3 "Hunger Games" films
Rooney Mara - "Carol", "Lion", "Pan", "Kubo and the Two Strings"
Margo Martindale - "The Hollars", "28 Days", "Mother's Day", "Cars 3"
Erica McDermott - "Joy", "Black Mass", "Manchester by the Sea", "Patriots Day"
Kevin Nealon - "You Don't Mess With the Zohan", "Sandy Wexler", "Cecil B. Demented", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Brad Pitt - "Seven Years in Tibet", "Kalifornia", "By the Sea", "The Big Short"
Parker Posey - "The Anniversary Party", "The Sweetest Thing", "Café Society", "Irrational Man"
Chris Pratt - "Bride Wars", "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Passengers", "The Magnificent Seven"
John Ratzenberger - "Reds", "Finding Dory", "The Good Dinosaur", "Cars 3"
Margot Robbie - "Focus", "Suicide Squad", "The Big Short", "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"
Seth Rogen - "Sausage Party", "Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope", "Steve Jobs", "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"
Stephen Root - "Finding Dory", "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates", "The Fox and the Hound 2", "Trumbo"
Kurt Russell - "The Hateful Eight", "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "The Art of the Steal", "Deepwater Horizon"
Rob Schneider - "You Don't Mess With the Zohan", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler", "Norm of the North"
Liev Schreiber - "Creed", "The 5th Wave", "Spotlight", "Pawn Sacrifice"
Willow Shields - 4 "Hunger Games" films
Jenny Slate - "Zootopia", "The Lego Batman Movie", "The Secret Life of Pets", "Despicable Me 3"
Patrick St. Esprit - "Truth", "We Were Soldiers", "Independence Day: Resurgence", "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" 
Nick Swardson - "The Do-Over", "You Don't Mess With the Zohan", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler"
Channing Tatum - "The Hateful Eight", "Hail, Caesar!", "Don Jon", "The Lego Batman Movie"
Elizabeth Taylor - "The Flintstones", "Cleopatra", "The Taming of the Shrew, "Bright Lights"
Charlize Theron - "Mad Max: Fury Road", "Kubo and the Two Strings", "Snow White and the Huntsman", "The Huntsman: Winter's War"
Marisa Tomei - "The Big Short", "The Rewrite", "What Women Want", "Spider-Man: Homecoming"
Alan Tudyk - "28 Days", "Zootopia", "Moana", "Trumbo"
Gary Weeks - "Self/Less", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "The Nice Guys", "Sully"
Mary Elizabeth Winstead - "10 Cloverfield Lane", 'The Hollars", "Factory Girl", "Bobby"

And (God help me, this was really a lot of work) 3 Appearances -
J.J. Abrams - "Regarding Henry", "Comic Book: The Movie", "For the Love of Spock"
Scott Adkins - "Doctor Strange", "The Brothers Grimsby", "Criminal"
Casey Affleck - "Triple 9", "Manchester by the Sea", "Out of the Furnace"
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje - "Suicide Squad", "Concussion", "Trumbo"
Alan Alda - "What Women Want", "Sweet Liberty", "Bridge of Spies"
Mahershala Ali - "Free State of Jones", 2 "Hunger Games" films
Bruce Altman - "Bride Wars", "Regarding Henry", "Matchstick Men"
Paul Anderson - "In the Heart of the Sea", "Legend", "The Revenant"
Christina Applegate - "The Sweetest Thing", "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip", "Wonderland"
Alec Baldwin - "Concussion", "Still Alice", "Rules Don't Apply"
Ike Barinholtz - "Suicide Squad", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising"
Drew Barrymore - "Riding in Cars With Boys", "Music and Lyrics", "Ever After: A Cinderella Story"
Michael Beattie - "Minions", "The Secret Life of Pets", "Despicable Me 3"
Lake Bell - "Mr. Peabody & Sherman", "What Happens in Vegas", "The Secret Life of Pets"
Annette Bening - "Regarding Henry", "Danny Collins", "Rules Don't Apply"
Haley Bennett - "Music and Lyrics", "Rules Don't Apply", "The Magnificent Seven"
Mike Birbiglia - "Hot Pursuit", "Don't Think Twice", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Jeremy Bulloch - "Comic Book: The Movie", "Elstree 1976", "I Am Your Father"
Sandra Bullock - "Minions", "28 Days", "Our Brand Is Crisis"
Nicolas Cage - "Stolen", "Matchstick Men", "Snowden"
Bill Camp - "Midnight Special", "Black Mass", "Jason Bourne"
Bobby Cannavale - "Chef", "Danny Collins", "Lovelace"
Mariah Carey - "The Lego Batman Movie", "You Don't Mess With the Zohan", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Gwendoline Christie - "The Zero Theorem", "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
Julie Christie - "Reds", "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", "Nashville"
Jemaine Clement - "Moana", "The BFG", "The Lego Batman Movie"
Lynn Cohen - "I Shot Andy Warhol", "Eagle Eye", "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Lily Cole - "The Zero Theorem", "Snow White and the Huntsman", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
Charles Coleman - "The Gay Divorcee", "Shall We Dance", "Carefree"
Chris Cooper - "Demolition", "Cars 3", "Live By Night"
Steve Coulter - "Mr. Brooks", "The Founder", "The Hunger Games"
Bryan Cranston - "Trumbo", "Godzilla", "Drive"
Lavell Crawford - "American Ultra", "The Ridiculous 6", "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates"
Billy Crudup - "Jackie", "Spotlight", "Justice League"
Alan Cumming - "The Anniversary Party", "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas", "Strange Magic"
John Daly - "Bride Wars", "Hail, Caesar!", "Masterminds"
William Daniels - "Reds", "The Parallax View", "Two for the Road"
Stef Dawson - 3 "Hunger Games" films
Robert De Niro - "The Intern", "Joy", "Dirty Grandpa"
Cameron Diaz - "The Other Woman", "The Sweetest Thing", "What Happens in Vegas"
Guy Doleman - "The Ipcress File", "Funeral in Berlin", "Billion Dollar Brain"
Vincent D'Onofrio - "Mystic Pizza", "Room 237", "The Magnificent Seven"
Natalie Dormer - "Rush", 2 "Hunger Games" films
Robert Downey, Jr. - "Chef", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "The Nice Guys"
Shelley Duvall - "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", "Room 237", "Nashville"
Zac Efron - "Dirty Grandpa", "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising", "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates"
Taron Egerton - "Legend", "Eddie the Eagle", "Sing"
Giancarlo Esposito - "Money Monster", "The Jungle Book", "Bob Roberts"
Elle Fanning - "The Boxtrolls", "Trumbo", "Live By Night"
John Farley - "You Don't Mess with the Zohan", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler"
Jon Favreau - "The Jungle Book", "Chef", "Spider-Man: Homecoming"
Ralph Fiennes - "Hail, Caesar!", "The Lego Batman Movie", "Kubo and the Two Strings"
Peter Firth - "Risen", "Equus", "MI-5"
Wilbur Fitzgerald - "The Founder", "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire", "Sully"
Nick Frost - "The Boxtrolls", "Snow White and the Huntsman", "The Huntsman: Winter's War"
Allen Garfield - "The Black Stallion Returns", "The Conversation", "Nashville"
Brad Garrett - "Music and Lyrics", "Finding Dory", "Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World"
Mel Gibson - "What Women Want", "The Year of Living Dangerously", "We Were Soldiers"
Everett Glass - "Pal Joey", "The Thing From Another World", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"
Heather Graham - "Drugstore Cowboy", "Bobby", "Norm of the North"
Beth Grant - "Matchstick Men", "Jackie", "Factory Girl"
Seth Green - "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "The Lego Batman Movie", "Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"
Clark Gregg - "We Were Soldiers", "Labor Day", "Live By Night"
Melanie Griffith - "Night Moves", "The Bonfire of the Vanities", "Cecil B. Demented"
Luis Guzman - "Keanu", "The Do-Over", "Sandy Wexler"
Jake Gyllenhaal - "Nightcrawler", "Moonlight Mile", "Demolition"
Gene Hackman - "The Conversation", "Reds", "Night Moves"
Tony Hale - "American Ultra", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip"
Mark Hamill - "Comic Book: The Movie", "Elstree 1976", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
Jon Hamm - "Minions", "Keeping Up with the Joneses", "We Were Soldiers"
Tom Hardy - "Legend", "Mad Max: Fury Road", "The Revenant"
Desmond Harrington - "Riding in Cars with Boys", "We Were Soldiers", "Boiler Room"
Lucas Hedges - "The Zero Theorem", "Manchester By the Sea", "Labor Day"
Audrey Hepburn - "Funny Face", "Two For the Road", "Trumbo"
Jonah Hill - "Sausage Party", "Hail, Caesar!", "The Lego Batman Movie",
Dustin Hoffman - "Ishtar", "Moonlight Mile", "Chef"
Anders Holm - "Sausage Party", "The Intern", "How to Be Single"
Philip Seymour Hoffman - 3 "Hunger Games" films
Edward Everett Horton - "The Gay Divorcee", "Top Hat", "Shall We Dance"
John Hurt - "1984", "Thumbelina", "Jackie"
Thomas Jane - "The Sweetest Thing",  "Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope", "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster"
Kristen Johnston - "Music and Lyrics", "Bride Wars", "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas"
Diane Keaton - "Reds", "Finding Dory", "Town & Country"
Tom Kemp - "Café Society", "Black Mass", "Manchester by the Sea"
Catherine Keener - "Into the Wild", "Bad Grandpa", "Hamlet 2"
Anna Kendrick - "The Hollars", "Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates", "The Accountant"
Tom Kenny - "The Boxtrolls", "Sing", "Comic Book: The Movie"
Keegan-Michael Key - "The Angry Birds Movie", "Keanu", "Don't Think Twice"
Nicole Kidman - "Lion", "Australia", "Room 237"
David Krumholtz - "Sausage Party", "Hail, Caesar!", "Bobby"
Stephen Kunken - "Still Alice", "Café Society", "Jason Bourne"
Ashton Kutcher - "What Happens in Vegas", "Just Married", "Bobby"
Sandra Ellis Lafferty - "Self/Less", "The Hunger Games", "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Diane Lane - "Untraceable", "Trumbo", "Justice League"
Jennifer Jason Leigh - "The Hateful Eight", "The Anniversary Party", "Anomalisa"
Jay Leno - "The Flintstones", "Weiner", "Sandy Wexler"
Jerry Lewis - "Trumbo", "You're Never Too Young", "Scared Stiff"
Jon Lovitz - "Mother's Day", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler"
Dolph Lundgren - "Hail, Caesar!", "Jodorowsky's Dune", "Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"
William H. Macy - "Room", "Bobby", "Ernest & Celestine"
John Magaro - "The Big Short", "Carol", "Unbroken"
Aasif Mandvi - "Music and Lyrics", "Mother's Day", "Premium Rush"
Kenneth Mars - "The Parallax View", "Night Moves", "Thumbelina"
Eleanor Matsuura - "MI-5", "Wonder Woman", "Justice League"
Rachel McAdams - "Doctor Strange", "Spotlight", "The Little Prince"
Matthew McConnaughey - "Kubo and the Two Strings", "Sing", "Free State of Jones"
Kate McKinnon - "Finding Dory", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Masterminds"
Scoot McNairy - "Our Brand Is Crisis", "Bobby", "Wonderland"
Fred Melamed - "Ishtar", "Hail, Caesar!", "Passengers"
Kate Micucci - "The Lego Batman Movie", "Don't Think Twice", "Sandy Wexler"
Sienna Miller - "Burnt", "Factory Girl", "Live By Night"
Maika Monroe - "The 5th Wave", "Labor Day", "Independence Day: Resurgence"
Demi Moore - "Forsaken", "Bobby", "Mr. Brooks"
Michael Murphy - "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", "Nashville", "The Year of Living Dangerously"
Thomas Francis Murphy - "Focus", "Self/Less", "Free State of Jones"
Laraine Newman - "The Flintstones", "Sing", "The Boxtrolls"
Leonard Nimoy - "For the Love of Spock", "Fanarchy", "Them!"
Andy Nyman - "Minions", "Despicable Me 3", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
Mike O'Malley - "Concussion", "28 Days", "Sully"
Nestor Paiva - "Creature from the Black Lagoon", "Revenge of the Creature", "Tarantula"
Michael Papajohn - "American Ultra", "Nightcrawler", "Live By Night"
Simon Pegg - "The Boxtrolls", "Ice Age: Collision Course", "For the Love of Spock"
Joe Pingue - "The Art of the Steal", "Room", "Drive"
George Plimpton - "Reds", "The Bonfire of the Vanities", "Factory Girl"
Richard Portnow - "Café Society", "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai", "Trumbo"
David Prowse - "Comic Book: The Movie", "Elstree 1976", "I Am Your Father"
John C. Reilly - "The Anniversary Party", "Sing", "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie"
Ryan Reynolds - "Logan", "Criminal", "Self/Less"
Eric Roberts - "The Specialist", "Lovelace", "Cecil B. Demented"
Julia Roberts - "Mother's Day", "Mystic Pizza", "Money Monster"
Terence Rosemore - "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2", "Triple 9", "The Nice Guys"
Maya Rudolph - "Strange Magic", "The Angry Birds Movie", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Mark Ruffalo - "Now You See Me 2", "Spotlight", "Thor: Ragnarok"
Jackie Sandler - "The Do-Over", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler"
Jared Sandler - "The Do-Over", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler"
Rodrigo Santoro - "The 33", "Focus", "I Love You Phillip Morris"
Paul Scheer - "Bride Wars", "Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Michael Shannon - "Midnight Special", "Premium Rush", "Cecil B. Demented"
Martin Sheen - "Bobby", "Rules Don't Apply", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Mark Rhino Smith - "Creed", "Criminal", "Zootopia"
Will Smith - "Focus", "Suicide Squad", "Concussion"
David Spade - "The Do-Over", "The Ridiculous 6", "Sandy Wexler"
Bruce Spence - "Australia", "Peter Pan", "Gods of Egypt"
Steven Spielberg - "Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made", "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster", "Back in Time"
Joe Stapleton - "Manchester by the Sea", "Spotlight", "Irrational Man"
Fisher Stevens - "Hail, Caesar!", "Bob Roberts", "Bright Lights"
Emma Stone - "La La Land", "Irrational Man", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping"
Sharon Stone - "The Specialist", "Bobby", "Lovelace"
Peter Stormare - "The Penguins of Madagascar", "Strange Magic", "The Zero Theorem"
Mark Strong - Tristan + Isolde", "Body of Lies", "The Brothers Grimsby"
Kay Sutton - "Roberta", "Follow the Fleet", "Carefree"
Tilda Swinton - "Doctor Strange", "Hail, Caesar!", "The Zero Theorem"
George Takei - "Kubo and the Two Strings", "You Don't Mess With the Zohan", "For the Love of Spock"
Fred Tatasciore - "The Boxtrolls", "The Angry Birds Movie", "The Huntsman: Winter's War"
Billy Bob Thornton - "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", "Our Brand Is Crisis", "Eagle Eye"
Lily Tomlin - "Nashville", "The Late Show", "Orange County"
Donald Trump - "Snowden", "Weiner", "Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time"
Herb Vigran - "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", "Bells Are Ringing", "The Band Wagon"
Alicia Vikander - "Ex Machina", "Burnt", "Jason Bourne"
Dominic West - "28 Days", "Money Monster", "Finding Dory"
Kristen Wiig - "Sausage Party", "Masterminds", "Despicable Me 3"
C.J. Wilson - "The Intern", "Demolition", "Manchester By the Sea"
Kate Winslet - "Triple 9", "Steve Jobs", "Labor Day"
Reese Witherspoon - "Wild", "Hot Pursuit", "Sing"
Finn Wittrock - "The Big Short", "Unbroken", "La La Land"
Robin Wright - "Wonder Woman", "Blade Runner 2049", "Justice League"
James Woods - "Night Moves", "The Specialist", "Riding in Cars With Boys"
Keenan Wynn - "Three Little Words", "Finian's Rainbow", "Nashville"
"Weird Al" Yankovic - "Sandy Wexler", "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping", "Tapeheads"
Steve Zahn - "Riding in Cars With Boys", "The Good Dinosaur", "The Ridiculous 6"

Now, as writing this wrap-up has stretched from New Year's Eve Eve to New Year's Eve itself, I've got to really wrap things up.  I still have to give out my 2018 preview, pick someone to dedicate Year 10 to, and explain how I picked the start of the 2018 chain.  Let me get two of those out of the way here - what's on tap for 2018, and where is it going to start?

As I mentioned above, I've got about 160 films on the main Watchlist right now, with another 75 or 80 on the list of films to add, which are available on Netflix or Academy screeners.  The only way to keep the linking going was to isolate the romance films for February, and comb the cast lists of those films, looking for connections.  The best I could do was to assemble them into two main chains, so then I had early February and late February chains, with an unavoidable break in the middle.  Any romance film that didn't fit into one of these chains was (temporarily, at least) consigned to the "unlinkables" section.  I also rescued a few films from the "unlinkables" section of the list, but creating any chain by following SOME links inevitably means that I have to avoid others, so that also added a few films to the unlinkables section, it couldn't be avoided.

I've got the film "Once", and I really want to get to it, but it only links to ONE other film on my list, so I'm calling it a "One-linkable".  I could start the romance chain with it on February 1, but that still creates a break between Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, so that doesn't really solve the problem, it just moves it.  But accepting a break in the middle of February allowed me to determine what film would land on February 1, and from there I could reverse-link back to the start of January.  The first 14 or 15 links came very easy, because I dipped into the Netflix list as needed.  Then over the Christmas break, while I was up late in a hotel room in Massachusetts, I sat down with some scrap paper and a calendar and scrolled through some IMDB cast lists, and slowly but surely worked my way back to January 1.  It's not perfect, a chain never is, but it's a plan that gets me from Jan. 1 to about March 25 with only one break and one other indirect link.  For Year 10, that's probably the best I can do.

I knew I'd found the right film to start 2018 with when I realized it was also a One-linkable, so putting it there makes sense - it can't fit anywhere else during the year without causing a break in the chain.  So when I found this One-linkable that was 31 links away from the start of the romance chain - yeah, that's it.  As a bonus, I also found a way to get to the classic Sherlock Holmes films in March, I've got a good lead-in and lead-out for them now, and I think I can get to Easter-themed films in just about a week from there.  (Remember, I now allow linking by character as well as actor, so if I've got three films with, say, King Arthur in them, I can put those together even if they don't share any actors.)

Other coming highlights for January include the recent remake of "Going in Style", "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", "Alice Through the Looking Glass" on Netflix, "A Monster Calls" and "Split".

So Goodbye 2017, please PLEASE let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, and I'll be back tomorrow with the start of Movie Year 10.

Friday, December 22, 2017


Year 9, Day 355 - 12/21/17 - Movie #2,800

BEFORE: I'm here, I made it to the last film of 2017 - another day late, since our office Christmas party was on Wednesday night, and after a few beers I was in no shape to watch a film when I got home.  But I'm still finishing a full 10 days before the end of the year, normally I'd be finished in mid-November, but I did go on vacation, and then "Star Wars" happened, so in the end everything worked out as it should.

Tom Hanks carries over again from "Sully", and my apologies if you were expecting "The Circle" or "The Post", but I don't have access to those films yet.  There's a precedence here, since my final film in the year 2010 was "Angels & Demons".

And my linking ends here, I'll start a new chain fresh on January 1, though I have no idea where to start just yet.  I've reviewed all of my February romance-related films, and assembled them in the best order I could do - there will have to be one full break in that chain, and I think two indirect linkings, which means after 10 years of linking movies, finally my opportunities are dwindling - still, I'm going to do the best that I can.  Then I've linked backwards from February 1 to about mid-January, so there's still some work to do to find the starting point for Year 10.  I'll explain this all further in next week's wrap-up post.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Angels & Demons" (Movie #730)

THE PLOT: When Dr. Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe to foil a deadly global plot.

AFTER: This film is the third film centered around Robert Langdon, but it's based on the fourth book.  That's all right, just like the James Bond series it doesn't matter what order they make the movies in, because each story is (more or less) self-contained.  Hey, the first book in the series was "Angels & Demons", but they made a movie out of the 2nd book, "The Da Vinci Code" first.  But it seems like the series follows some rule about diminishing returns, because the first film was a boffo smash success, the 2nd was somewhat less so, and this film, well, didn't really perform as it should have.

So perhaps there are no future plans to make a film out of "The Lost Symbol" - Wikipedia says they tried to make a screenplay for that, I wonder what went wrong.  It's a shame, because if ever there were a time to make a movie about the secret symbols in Washington, D.C. architecture and statues that suggest that there's a secret society running American politics, man, this would be it.  That would explain a lot, right?

Anyway, back to "Inferno" - this is yet another film where the story is not told completely linearly, we're thrown sort of into the middle of the story and have to piece together what took place before as it is slowly revealed, but here that design really works, because the main character is recovering from a head wound and has a form of selective amnesia - the far-fetched Hollywood kind that is only temporary, of course.  So we're just as confused as Langdon is about what's going on, and we have to figure it all out as he does.  So that's a case like "Memento", where starting at the middle of the story really is justified.  When this is used in a biopic or for forced dramatic effect, or to cover up a story's shortcomings ("cough - Sully - cough") or make a story conform to six-act structure, that remains unacceptable in my book.

As a result of this amnesia, Langdon does not know whom to trust - which would only be a problem if several parties like the World Health Organization and the Italian police weren't out to apprehend him.  He also vaguely remembers getting an injection, but since he doesn't remember the circumstances, it's possible that he himself is a carrier of the virus that he's trying to stop.  Again, we'll all find out when he does.

The referenced art here includes a lot of Botticelli, with literary references to Dante's "Inferno", which happens to share its name with the virus.  But unlike the secrets hidden in the art portrayed in "The Da Vinci Code", which were allegedly hidden by the Renaissance artists themselves, these seem to have been hidden by the modern-day criminal mastermind, which basically makes him about as believable as a Batman villain, since he can't seem to commit a crime without leaving behind a puzzle to solve, which opens up the possibility of someone really smart foiling his plot.  So "shenanigans" has to be called on this, because the really evil people in the world just DO THEIR BAD THING without tipping their hand in any way.

I'm glad that I didn't read this in book form first, therefore I was able to still be surprised by the twists and turns of the plot, I think that was important.  I did read the first two books in the series, though.  I've had "Ready Player One" in my "must-read" pile for a while now, but since that film is coming out next year, I've got much less motivation now to read it before the film's release.

I did fall asleep about 10 minutes in on this film, I admit it.  And I kept having to force myself awake, returning to that point and trying again, but finally I fell asleep at about 1 am and slept for a few hours.  So I woke up again at about 4 am Friday and stayed awake until the end, then went back to sleep around 6 am.  As you might imagine, this sort of behavior radically affects my ability to get to work later that morning at a decent hour.  I think once the craziness of the Christmas holiday is over, I need to start getting some more solid sleep at a more regular, non-vampire-like schedule.  I've got about four days after Christmas to rest up before starting again.

Also starring Felicity Jones (last seen in "True Story"), Omar Sy (last seen in "Burnt"), Ben Foster (last seen in "Lone Survivor"), Irrfan Khan (last seen in "Jurassic World"), Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ana Ularu, Ida Darvish, Paul Ritter, Gabor Urmai, Philip Arditti.

RATING: 6 out of 10 violinists (performing in a flooded room, for some reason...)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


Year 9, Day 353 - 12/19/17 - Movie #2,799

BEFORE: Tom Hanks carries over again from "Bridge of Spies".  Just one more film and the Movie Year 9 will be over.  I'm gonna bring this year in for a landing, just like...oh, if only there were some kind of metaphor for how I'm gonna stick the landing on this one.  Maybe something will come to me.

THE PLOT: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River to save the flight's passengers and crew.

AFTER: They just couldn't resist doing one of those "Fractured Timeline" things with Sully's story - it makes me wonder why they couldn't just have started with the plane taking off on that January day, and letting the audience experience the event in (somewhat) real time, or at least in the proper sequence.  Instead they felt they had to start with the follow-up investigation of the incident, and then at some point they flashback to show the events of the day in question.

I guess the reasoning is as follows: if they wanted to cover both the incident and the aftermath, then the climax of the story, which is the landing and the ensuing rescue effort, and then the TSA investigation and the ways in which Sully was regarded as a hero, then the most exciting part of the story would come way too early in the movie.  One might imagine that even with some padding, then the crash (sorry, "water landing") would happen at the midpoint of the film at the latest, then it would be a long, hard slog through the boring third act.  So instead they moved the best, most accurate account of the incident, aka "the reveal" to happen shortly near the end, while the investigators and an audience are all listening to the flight recordings together.  It's a very sneaky way to move the most climactic moment of the story to where one might expect to find it in a narrative film, which is shortly before the ending.

But as a result, that means that excessive flashbackery ends up fracturing the narrative here, it's not a straight shot from start to finish, and as a whole, the use of this as a storytelling device has been much too prevalent in recent years.  I bet that in next week's wrap-up, if I count up how many films saw fit to jump back and forth through a famous person's life, I'd come up with at least a dozen examples from films I watched this year.  Enough of this crap already, just start at the beginning and end at the end, and if that doesn't make your story interesting, then PICK ANOTHER STORY TO TELL.

There are also visions of what COULD have happened, mostly from Sully's point of view, and mostly concerning Sully's plane crashing into one of NYC's many occupied buildings.  But we all know this DIDN'T HAPPEN, so this kind of comes off like a desperate attempt to spice up the story with what, a peek into some alternate realities?  Can we say for sure that Sully had these visions, that he was tormented with nightmares of the crashes that didn't happen?  I'm not sold on this point - I'd bet my money that the filmmakers didn't think that the landing that did happen wasn't nearly as visually arresting as the crashes that didn't, so they used CGI to give us a peak at those - but I'm calling shenanigans on this.

And I've said this before, whenever there's a film about an airplane crashing - I don't care if it's "Airport" or "Alive" or "Flight" or "Cast Away" - they all reinforce the fact that air travel is still dangerous to some degree.  I wish designers could guarantee every plane's safety, but they can't - so I don't recommend frequent air travel until such time as it becomes safe in a foolproof way.  If a flock of birds can bring down an airplane, maybe that should be telling us something.  Or maybe movies should focus more on air travel as the miracle that it is (like, how DOES the plane stay up in the air?  I took physics class in high-school and I still have no clue.  I think the plane just goes fast enough that it keeps going straight, and the earth curves out from under it, right?) and maybe a little less on the planes that crash.

Also, can we get a movie to explain to me how time zones work?  This always makes my head hurt - like, if you could travel across a time zone, west to east, in a fast plane and do it in under an hour, aren't you going back in time?  Like if I had a plane that left New York at 5 pm and could get to L.A. in an hour, I'd arrive at 6 pm NYC time, but that would be only 3 pm L.A. time, so I'd somehow arrive before I left.  Wait, that can't be right...

Also starring Aaron Eckhart (last seen in "London Has Fallen"), Laura Linney (last seen in "Man of the Year"), Mike O'Malley (last seen in "28 Days"), Jamey Sheridan (last seen in "Spotlight"), Anna Gunn, Holt McCallany (last seen in "Justice League"), Valeria Mahaffey (last seen in "Seabiscuit"), Delphi Harrington, Ann Cusack (last seen in "Nightcrawler"), Molly Hagan (last seen in "Red State"), Jane Gabbert, Jerry Ferrara (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Autumn Reeser, Max Adler (last seen in "Café Society"), Sam Huntington, Christopher Curry (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Wayne Bastrup, Jeff Kober, Molly Bernard, Chris Bauer, Blake Jones, with cameos from Katie Couric (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), David Letterman, Michael Rapaport (last seen in "The Heat")

RATING: 5 out of 10 flight simulators

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Bridge of Spies

Year 9, Day 352 - 12/18/17 - Movie #2,798

BEFORE: I took a little break on Sunday night, just to get the 2nd half of my Christmas cards signed and packaged with a little mix CD of holiday music.  Then tonight (Monday) was my annual Festivus ritual, which is not anything like the one depicted on "Seinfeld", with the Festivus pole, the Airing of the Grievances and then the Feats of Strength.  No, my Festivus is much more free-form, it's just designed to get me into the holiday spirit about a week or so before Christmas.

I usually hit one of the NYC holiday markets, either at Union Square or Grand Central, or go on a walk between the two, and try to finish my holiday shopping, if need be.  This could involve buying books at the Barnes & Noble, or not, and it may involve a friend and some food and drink, or not.  This time I met my friend Victoria at the Union Square market, I had a Polish sausage and a Belgian waffle, then we shopped for books.

Tom Hanks carries over from "The 'Burbs", and it doesn't really matter what order I watch these last three films of the year in, but there's sort of a tenuous story connection with the last film, where those suburbanites thought their neighbors MIGHT be Russian spies, and this film is about a genuine Russian spy.  Russia's been weaving through the narratives of my films this year, I'll break down the extent of my blog's collusion with the Russians next week in the annual wrap-up post.

THE PLOT: During the Cold War, an American lawyer is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy in court, and then help the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

AFTER: Thanks to Hollywood movies, most of us think we know what being a spy is all about - cool gadgets, fast cars, even faster women, and so on.  But in the real world, espionage is probably a lot more boring, as evidenced in this film based on real events.  The KGB spy captured here by U.S. agents is an older, rather unassuming man, who paints in the park every day while he makes his "drops".  James Donovan is an insurance claims lawyer chosen to represent him in court, so that the public perceives that the spy has a "fair" trial, which makes Donovan hated in the news media at the time (1960).

The surprising plot twists here take the form of legal arguments, like "How can a man be accused of treason, if he never swore allegiance to the U.S. in the first place?"  In one sense, this spy, Rudolf Abel, was just doing his job, and if you follow the logic, then U.S. spies could be held for treason against the countries that they're spying on, and would we really want that?  Another legal question arises when Donovan tries to get the protections of the Constitution to cover Abel (you know, like a fair and speedy trial, no unjust punishments...) but the judge believes that since he's been in the country illegal, and, you know, SPYING on us, he's not necessarily entitled to those protections.  Which kind of sounds like he was assumed to be guilty, and not innocent until proven guilty.

But hey, congratulations on finding a way to make spy movies boring - just quote a bunch of legal arguments and watch the eyes of the audience glaze over as they lose their attention.  I'm fairly sure I fell asleep about halfway through this one, I had to force myself awake at about 4 am to watch the last hour of the film, just so I could go back to bed at 5 am and get a few hours of solid shut-eye.  That's just not going to help me perform at work the next day, guys.

Donovan convinces the judge to not sentence Abel to death, because as a foreign agent he might have some trade value with the Soviets.  And then, as if on cue, Francis Gary Powers gets shot down over Russian airspace while flying a U-2 spy plane taking photos, and suddenly trading one of ours for one of theirs seems like a fine idea.  So Donovan is sent off to recently-separated Germany to negotiate the deal, only there's a hitch: another U.S. citizen, a young economics student, has gotten into trouble with the East Germans, so Donovan has to try to arrange a two-for-one deal, getting one prisoner back from the Russians and another back from the East Germans.

The exchange plays out on the Glienicke Bridge, hence the title, and I wish I could say that this climax of the film is more exciting than what has led up to it, but really, it's just a prisoner exchange, and it's hard to imbue that with a lot of dramatic tension.  They try their best with the last-minute phone call thing, but it's a vain effort.   They also left themselves open for a sequel, because Donovan went on to play a role in releasing prisoners after the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

NITPICK POINT: I recognized the subway cars in the opening scene as being just a bit too recent for a film set in 1957 - they look just like some of the older cars that are still in service.  Sure, some NYC subway cars haven't changed since the 1970's or so, but these looked all shiny with the ribbed siding, and those cars didn't come into service until 1964 (as mentioned on the IMDB "goofs" page).  They should have used the cars from the 6 Line with the flat sides, I don't think that design has been updated since the 1940's.

Also starring Mark Rylance (last heard in "The BFG") Amy Ryan (last seen in "Escape Plan"), Sebastian Koch (last seen in "The Danish Girl"), Alan Alda (last seen in "Sweet Liberty"), Austin Stowell (last seen in "Whiplash"), Scott Shepherd (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Billy Magnussen (last seen in "The Big Short"), Eve Hewson (last seen in "Enough Said"), Jillian Lebling, Noah Schnapps (last heard in "The Peanuts Movie"), Jesse Plemons (last seen in "Black Mass"), Michael Gaston (last seen in "Body of Lies"), Peter McRobbie (last seen in "The Hoax"), Domenick Lombardozzio, Will Rogers, Dakin Matthews (last seen in "Sunset"), Stephen Kunken (also last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Joshua Harto, Mark Zak, Edward James Hyland (last seen in "Café Society"), Mikhail Gorevoy (last seen in "Die Another Day"), Burghart Klaußner.

RATING: 5 out of 10 checkpoint guards

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The 'Burbs

Year 9, Day 350 - 12/16/17 - Movie #2,797

BEFORE: This may seem like a big leap, from a sci-fi franchise film to a strange little comedy from 1989 - but Carrie Fisher's in this one, too, and this is certainly the last movie she'll be in this year, and since I've worked my way through her filmography, perhaps this is the last film I'll see her in.  What a damn shame.  I thought I taped this film around the same time as I got "Bright Lights", but it must have been after I watched "The Bonfire of the Vanities", or I would have linked here from Tom Hanks, right?  Anyway, it's my link to Tom Hanks, whose films are going to help me finish out Year 9.  I should be writing more Christmas cards tonight, but I'm anxious to get to the end of the year.  I could save the last three films to watch between Christmas and New Year's, but I think I'm going to need that time to write my year-end review and also figure out my starting point for Movie Year 10.  (That usually means figuring out the February schedule of romance films, and then counting backwards 30 or 31 linked films from there.)

THE PLOT: An overstressed suburbanite and his fellow neighbors are convinced that the new family on the block is part of a murderous Satanic cult.

AFTER: This is a strange little film, because for the longest time it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be - is it a horror film where the weird neighbors really are up to something evil or creepy, or is it a slapstick comedy where the right-thinking neighbors keep having accidents while they try to get close enough to find out?  Bad news, it's both of those things, and you really can't mix genres like that, it's like putting chocolate sauce on an onion.   And after Tom Hanks and his cohorts keep screwing up worse and worse, it's painful by the end to see them go for broke, when it's still possible that their imaginations have been getting the best of them, and the family in question is not evil, just very weird.

What's worse is that under the guise of pulling back the curtain to show how weird and twisted life can be in the American suburbs, it sort of justifies anti-immigrant sentiment at the same time.  What are those people, Slavic?  Their name sounds German or Polish or something, and you know what THAT means... And if that makes it OK to break into their house, or spy on them and violate their privacy, that's not a good thing.  Jeez, why didn't they just look for some information about the weird neighbors on the internet.  Oh, right, it was 1989 and they couldn't do that.

We really are spoiled these days, because if I had a strange neighbor, Googling them would be the first thing I would do, or I'd look for their Facebook pages and play amateur detective with their family photos.  I used to do some freelance genealogy work for a family friend of my first wife, basically if someone in the Cleveland area had a relative who died in New York City, I'd go to the surrogate court in the appropriate NYC borough and Xerox their will that was on file, which would reveal a lot of information about their relatives.  That's how I earned pocket money for a few years in the early 1990's, but I'm betting all that stuff's on the internet by now, if you know how to look for it.

An odd thing about this film is that, according to the IMDB, it was filmed during a writers' strike in 1988, so that does explain a lot about why many of the dialogue scenes feel improvised, because they were.  There are a few times where two actors are going back-and-forth on an issue, but the arguments don't always appear coherent, they drift off into random directions at times.

The whole thing's set on a cul-de-sac, in a town that's supposedly somewhere in Iowa, or perhaps Illinois.  But of course it was really shot on the Universal Studios back-lot, a set called Colonial Street, that's been used in many different movies and TV shows, at least as far back as "The Munsters", and then later it became Wisteria Lane on "Desperate Housewives".   You can also see this collection of fake houses in the exterior shots on the TV shows "Leave It to Beaver", "Marcus Welby, M.D.", "Providence" and the movies "Harvey", "Gremlins" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".  Hollywood's been recycling since way before it was cool.

Also starring Tom Hanks (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Bruce Dern (last seen in "The Hateful Eight"), Rick Ducommun (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Wendy Schaal, Corey Feldman (last seen in "Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope"), Henry Gibson (last seen in "Nashville"), Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Gale Gordon, Robert Picardo (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Dick Miller (also last seen in "Gremlins 2"), Cory Danziger, Franklyn Ajaye, Rance Howard (last seen in "Nebraska"), Nicky Katt (last seen in "Boiler Room").

RATING: 4 out of 10 delivered pizzas

Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Year 9, Day 349 - 12/15/17 - Movie #2,796

BEFORE: I've been building to this all year long, it turns out.  Every choice I made, to watch THIS movie next or to skip THAT one for now has led me here, basically back to the beginning - the beginning of the Movie Year in January 2009 ("Star Wars: The Clone Wars" was movie #2) and to the beginning of my own fascination with films, which was kicked into high-gear in 1977 when I saw the first film (Episode IV: A New Hope) as we're now supposed to call it.  I've seen every Star Wars film since then (umm, except the animated one...) on opening day, and I don't intend to break that streak now.  Whatever I've had to do, skip out of school, call in sick, that is what I'll do, because this is the film series that I live for.

I've avoided all reviews, stayed off of Twitter and Facebook (mostly) this week, in anticipation of Opening Day.  I didn't even watch Colbert's interview with Mark Hamill until it was a week old, and only then after I was fairly confident that no spoilers would be involved.  All I really watched was the official "Last Jedi" previews, and then I felt even that might have been too much.  You see, back in the day, 1983, on the eve of the premiere of "Return of the Jedi", I bought the paperback novelization and read the first half of the book before seeing the movie, and then of course instantly regretted doing so.  There need to be surprises, so I take this very seriously, for a "Star Wars" film I go in as cold as I possibly can.  Good or bad, that's what I've decided to do.

Expectations are extremely high - and I've already rated two films with scores of "9" this year - "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2".  Can anything possibly beat those scores, and consider that I'm probably TOUGHER on a "Star Wars" film than any film from any other franchise...   Obviously, Carrie Fisher "carries" over from "Bright Lights".

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (Movie #2,200)

THE PLOT: Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order. 

AFTER: I went to see "The Last Jedi" at the AMC Empire Theater on 42nd St. in Manhattan, it's where I saw "The Force Awakens" too.  Right across the street was the Regal Theater, which used to the Regal E-Walk (Ewok?) but now has a giant sign that reads "Rebel", so you have the Empire on one side of the street and the Rebel on the other - appropriate for "Star Wars", right?  Only the sides aren't called the Empire and the Rebellion any more, they're the First Order and the Resistance.  So this coincidence would only have been applicable for Episodes 4-6, I guess, or "Rogue One".

But I realize that not everyone feels compelled to see this on opening day, as I did.  So how do I write about the film, without writing about the film?  This was a common problem for me this year, by my rough count I went out to the movies 10 times this year, all sci-fi and superhero and animated films, and I'm not going to be the guy spoiling any film, especially a "Star Wars" film, for anyone.  In this case, I'll use some metaphors and reference what I liked and didn't like about it, just without being very specific.

The first thing that leaps to mind is, maybe this film is perfect for our current political climate, with an unpopular (at least in MY state...) President with some people, at least, comparing him to a tyrant.  So naturally one might infer that Trump's administration is the Evil Empire (sorry, "First Order"), and the liberal Democrats are the Resistance. Well, General Hux does have that shockingly orange hair... Possibly this isn't the "Star Wars" film we deserve, but perhaps it's the one that we need to see, to keep our own hope alive.  And that's a funny sort of PC shift, the way that the good guys in "Star Wars" used to be called "Rebels", but now they're "Resistance".

When I hear "resistance", it calls to mind the French citizens during World War II, who fought against the Nazis occupying their country.  We've determined that Nazis were on the wrong side of history, and therefore the Resistance was on the right side of history.  (Well, duh, history is written by the winners, and the Nazis lost...). But I think we can all agree that Hitler was evil and wrong, and therefore Nazis were too.  (See, Mr. Trump, it's not that hard to get there...).  The problem with the word "rebels" is that it calls to mind the Confederacy from the Civil War, and again, we now believe they were on the wrong side of history, too.  So it's a subtle shift from "rebels" to "resistance", but it carries some weight.  Looking back on my review of "The Force Awakens", I struggled then with determining the difference between "rebels" and "terrorists", because I'm really not sure what the difference is, I think it really depends on your point of view, and whether you agree with their cause.

But in another sense, since I work in independent filmmaking, I could also depict DisneyCorp as the Evil Empire (and I say this as a shareholder...) - Disney bought Marvel, Disney bought Lucasfilm, and they just bought much of 20th Century Fox.  It's ironic to me that they own the "Star Wars" franchise now, and have to release a story about the little independent rebels fighting against the giant mega-conglomerate First Order, when that's exactly what Disney does, they buy up other studios and other franchises.  You could say Disney's mission is to take over the entire entertainment galaxy, and it's a bit weird that they plan to get there with films like this one, where ruling the galaxy with an iron (cartoon) glove is a BAD thing.  I used to hear radio stations all the time play that sound clip from "A New Hope" where an imperial general says, "This station is now the ultimate power in the universe..."  Sure, it's funny when "station" means a subversive radio station, it's less funny when it's a movie studio that now owns half of Hollywood's output.

But let's get back to "The Last Jedi".  In much the same vein as "The Force Awakens", this film throws pieces of former Star Wars plots back at us, little things that reference bits of Episode V or Episode VI, while still taking the overall plot in a drastic new direction.  If that's what you're looking for from a new "Star Wars" film, then this is an unqualified success.  But still, just a bit long with a running time of 2 1/2 hours. (Make sure to use the restroom before the film begins...). As you could probably surmise from the film's preview (and the ending of the previous film, so no spoiler) Luke Skywalker has been found - but did he want to be found?  And if not, then why?  And why does he say that "The Jedi must end"?

We "Star Wars" fans came out of "The Force Awakens" with three major questions - 1) Who is Supreme Leader Snoke, and where did he come from?  2) Who are Rey's parents?  and 3) What the heck happened between Luke Skywalker and Ben Solo during Ben's Jedi training?  I can't really say that we get a whole lot of coherent answers to these questions, but maybe between zero and one of these get addressed.  That's not to say a lot doesn't happen in this film, a great many things happen, but unfortunately if you're looking for clear answers, as Luke says, "This is not going to go the way you think!"

As the second film in the sequel trilogy, this is the "Empire Strikes Back" for the new generation.  It's designed to continue the story, but not really resolve anything.  Go back and watch Episode V and you'll see it's the darkest of the original trilogy, where the rebels are on the run and all hope looks lost, Luke is many things but he's not a Jedi yet, and essentially, it gave the audience very few answers and a ton of new questions.

And what these two newer films do very well is continue the spirit of Luke, Han and Leia in the three new heroes - Rey, Finn and Poe.  They are not carbon copies of the first three stars, sometimes Poe reminds me of Han but he flies an X-Wing like Luke did, and he's got a military mind like Leia's.  Finn has the eagerness and drive of Luke, but he's got an outsider's mind for strategy, like Han.  And Rey has force powers like Luke, but she flies the Falcon and hangs out with Chewbacca like Han did, and she's a strong woman like Leia is.  So they all have these little echoes of the original three main characters, while representing entirely new combinations of those heroic traits at the same time.  Kylo Ren, meanwhile, wants very badly to be the new Darth Vader, but he's still a whiny millennial brat - and yes, they do have those in other galaxies too.

But (and you knew there'd be a "but", right?) back in the days of the original trilogy, there was a lot of romance in "Star Wars".  OK, not a lot, but a little.  There was this "will they or won't they" speculation about Luke and Leia, and then about Han and Leia (and a few freaks who, after learning Luke and Leia were siblings, still thought they should get it on...).  So far, in the sequel trilogy, there's been no real romance, just suggestions of possible romance down the line.  After "The Force Awakens", I thought it was clear that they would eventually pair up Rey and Finn, but now I'm not so sure.  I think this is an unfortunate by-product of having a new director take over, and it feels like the last director didn't share his notes about what direction he was going to take things eventually.

So it's maddening to me that we don't know if we'll ever see Rey and Finn together, or Rey and Poe, or Finn and this new girl, or possibly even Rey and Kylo have some kind of connection.  Heck, at this point I'd settle for Finn and Poe falling for each other, because at least that would BE a direction.  But hey, maybe nobody's got time for romance because, you know, there's a war going on.

If I'm critical at all of this film, it's still too long, and that means the pacing is sort of off.  When it comes to key over-arching story elements, there's a sense of "delay, delay, delay" because all the pieces have to be in place for certain things to happen.  But still, there are about 10 "Holy crap!" moments for "Star Wars" fans, and that means in one sense, this film's swinging for the fences, much like "Thor: Ragnarok" did, and that's very important in the end.

There, I feel like I've told you everything you need to know, while telling you nothing at all.  My work is done.

Also starring Mark Hamill (last seen in "Elstree 1976"), Adam Driver (last seen in "Midnight Special"), Daisy Ridley (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), John Boyega (ditto), Oscar Isaac (last seen in "Drive"), Andy Serkis (last heard but not-seen in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), Domhnall Gleeson (last seen in "Ex Machina"), Gwendoline Christie (last seen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"), Anthony Daniels (last seen in "Rogue One"), Laura Dern (last seen in "The Founder"), Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro (last heard in "The Little Prince"), Billie Lourd (also carrying over from "Bright Lights"), Joonas Suotamo, Jimmy Vee (last seen in "Pan"), Tim Rose, Mike Quinn, Veronica Ngo, Mark Lewis Jones, Adrian Edmondson, Amanda Lawrence, the voices of Frank Oz (last heard in "Inside Out"), Lupita Nyong'o (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Tom Kane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "Hesher") and cameos from Justin Theroux (last seen in "I Shot Andy Warhol"), Lily Cole (last seen in "Snow White and the Huntsman"), Warwick Davis (also last seen in "Rogue One")

RATING: 8 out of 10 ski speeders (I really think I should give 8.5 here, but I don't do halves because the IMDB won't register that as a rating.  However, I reserve the right to alter my rating after a second viewing, and you KNOW I'll be seeing this one again...)

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