Saturday, January 14, 2017

Still Alice

Year 9, Day 14 - 1/14/17 - Movie #2,514

BEFORE: Alec Baldwin carries over from "Concussion", for the second in a two-part chain of films about brain damage that both star Alec Baldwin.

THE PLOT: A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

AFTER:  It's been a while since I've watched a film with an Oscar-winning performance by Best Actress winner, the last was probably "Mrs. Miniver" in 2016, and "Monster" with Charlize Theron the year before that.  (I'm not entirely sure, I don't exactly track this sort of thing.)  But since this is a moving, sensitive portrayal of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's, I'm going to resist the urge to crack a bunch of jokes.  (It won't be easy.)

Alice Howland and her husband, John, are both professors at Columbia, she's in linguistics and he's in some kind of medicine, and this sort of seems designed to create the maximum amount of irony when a medical condition starts robbing her of language and cognitive functions.  They seem financially well off, with a Manhattan townhouse and a beach house in - Michigan, is it?  They've got three adult children who are at different relationship stages, but all are similarly needy (except the son, he's honestly something of a big blank) and it's similarly ironic when the one who Alice has chided the most for her life choices (acting in a buy-in theatre company) is the the daughter who thinks the least along the lines of "But how does my mother's diagnosis affect ME?"  

(The whole "my daughter is a struggling actor" sub-plot seems rife with irony, as well - hearing an actress playing a mother telling another actress playing a daughter not to be an actor, but to go to college and learn a different, more valuable set of skills is just like a giant snake eating its own tail...)

But since she's very smart and a linguistics professor, Alice's doctor is aware that she may be coming up with ways to compensate for her lack of memory, finding ways to test her own functions or using tricks to help remember things, but the end result of this is that it may be covering up for how fast the disease is really progressing.  And at times it almost seems like Alice is using her Alzheimer's as a built-in excuse for avoiding things she doesn't want to do - like dinner with her husband's colleagues.  After going out for a run without her cell phone and missing the social engagement, she only has to say, "Hey, I have Alzheimer's" and all is forgiven.  So, hey, some of us have that to look forward to, some day we can get out of doing any chore or attending any function we're not interested in.  (Great, I can't wait...)

"Honey, you were supposed to wash the dishes."  "Can't, I have Alzheimer's, remember?" "Did you call the guy about fixing the roof?"  "Alzheimer's!"  "Hey, we had tickets for the opera, where were you?" "What part of 'I have Alzheimer's' are you having trouble with?"  Alice goes to the well with this a few too many times, so sometimes I couldn't tell if she was really having a memory lapse, or just not in the mood for something.  

She's called upon to give a speech at an Alzheimer's conference, and after dropping the pages of her speech, I'm really surprised that she didn't say "Good morning, it's great to be here..." halfway through her talk.  (For that matter, I'm surprised so many people remembered to show up for the Alzheimer's conference...sorry.)  I suppose I shouldn't use humor to deal with the inevitable results of this terrible, terrible condition, because that's bad karma, and I'm getting to the age where I need to start worrying about things like this.  Like, if you start to lose cognitive function in slow degrees, are you even aware of the loss, or does the awareness mercifully disappear as well?  Alice says things like "I used to be smart..." but is that really how it works? 

My biggest problem with the film was probably the casting of Alec Baldwin, though - because he's played so many comedic roles recently, and played them well, it was tough for me to take him seriously in a more dramatic role.  And a science professor, also - I could maybe accept him as an NFL doctor last night in "Concussion", but I think once you hit big parodying Trump and are also a part-time game-show host, it's hard to be taken seriously in a somber drama.

Also starring Julianne Moore (last seen in "Assassins"), Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Zathura: A Space Adventure"), Kate Bosworth (last seen in "The Horse Whisperer"), Hunter Parrish (last seen in "It's Complicated"), Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Seth Gilliam, Erin Darke (last seen in "Love & Mercy")

RATING: 5 out of 10 family photos

Friday, January 13, 2017

Concussion

Year 9, Day 13 - 1/13/17 - Movie #2,513

BEFORE:  It might not seem like great timing at first to watch a football-related film (actually, the second one this week, if you count "Focus") - the Super Bowl isn't until February 5, but I'm going to be knee-deep in February romance films then.  Please bear in mind that I re-scheduled this film from fall, which would have been more football-adjacent.  But for me, the NFL season doesn't start until the Patriots have their first playoff game.   That's when I start watching football, anyway - and that's coming up this weekend, so, really, I'm right on time.

Will Smith carries over from "Suicide Squad", and so does one other actor, and I'll follow another link tomorrow. 


THE PLOT: In Pittsburgh, accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play.

AFTER: Think about any scandal from the last 50 years - like Watergate, or Bill Clinton's affairs.  The fact that the makers of cigarettes (or saccharin, or aspartame, or asbestos) denied for so long that their products were harmful.  Pollution, the hole in the ozone layer, and now global warming. Sorry, "climate change".  I could go on and on, but what do they all have in common?  The parties responsible for wrongdoing will always try to deny or deflect for as long as possible, and only admit that something is dangerous when there is no other option, or when the press calls them out.  (And I believe this is something we're going to be seeing a LOT more of in the days ahead.)  

And the same is true with the NFL "concussion" scandals.  The NFL denied evidence for years, and kept sending guys with head injuries back into the game to play, because, damn it, winning isn't just everything, it's the only thing.  In a billion dollar industry beloved by many Americans, anything that could jeopardize the game is therefore bad for the country.  NFL was sort of like the McDonald's of sports - everyone probably figured that it wasn't good for anyone's health, but they just didn't have the exact figures, and didn't want to deal with that reality.  

(With any scandal, eventually the truth comes out, but the downside is, we've been through the cycle so many times that some people now complete the blame game in their minds, and leap to conclusions.  Well, of COURSE the pharmaceutical companies would deny that vaccinations cause autism, they don't want to admit liability, so that MUST mean that they're covering something up, and vaccines cause autism.  Yeah, there's faulty logic there, but good luck getting an anti-vaxxer to see it that way.  And that's part of the reason why "fake news" is thriving so much now, we've been fooled so many times that people are even willing to see scandal where there is none, because it's believable at the very least.)

But it's not about whether this issue is important, it's about whether this issue makes a good movie, or was it made into a movie in the proper way.  But in its own way, this is SUPER preachy, plus, this is the ONLY guy who could possibly ever figure out what was going on?  Come ON, give me a BREAK?  Don't you think someone else would have eventually figured out that smashing your head into another guy's helmet, again and again, is not a good idea?  I mean, of COURSE it isn't, everybody must have known that, even if nobody was talking about it directly.  

It reminds me of Isaac Newton, who gets all this credit for "discovering" gravity, but what happened before that?  Did people just drop things and wonder why they ended up on the floor?  Every time something fell, back before Newton, did people just shrug, or fail to notice that things fell down, and not up?  Of course not, everyone just kind of knew what gravity was, even if they didn't have a name for it, they didn't just live in complete ignorance.  Or like how Columbus "discovered" America, which is a crock because there were already people living there!  He didn't discover a damn thing, in the end, certainly nothing that some other European wouldn't have found eventually.  

But is anything really different now in the NFL?  I mean, knowing what we know, have they changed any of their procedures?  Because the game still looks the same to me, a fact alluded to at the end of the film by having Will Smith's character drive by a local high-school game, and still witness football players knocking heads.  

Also starring Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"), Albert Brooks (last seen in "This is 40"), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), David Morse (last seen in "16 Blocks"), Arliss Howard (last seen in "Amistad"), Mike O'Malley, Eddie Marsan (last seen in "The World's End"), Hill Harper, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (also carrying over from "Suicide Squad"), Richard T. Jones, Luke Wilson (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Stephen Moyer, Gary Grubbs (last seen in "The Astronaut's Wife"), Matthew Willig, with cameos from Paul Reiser (last seen in "Whiplash"), Holt McCallany (last seen in "Run All Night")

RATING: 4 out of 10 CT scans

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Suicide Squad

Year 9, Day 12 - 1/12/17 - Movie #2,512

BEFORE: It's subtle, I realize - so subtle that you might draw the conclusion that it was unintentional, but I did set out to watch some more politically-themed films in the new year, because I watched so few of them in election year 2016.  But "The Conversation" was about wire-tapping, "Reds" was about the rise of Communism, and "The Parallax View" was about political assassinations.  Let's throw "Assassins" in there, too, and even "The Specialist" was about a bomb expert who once worked for the government on covert operations.  To stretch the point a little further, we saw how the Chilean president handled a crisis in "The 33" and even got a taste of the politics and customs of the Arab world in "Ishtar" and "The Black Stallion Returns".

It's all part of my coincidental plan to get ready for life in Trump's America - I'm going to use the "Reds" tie-in to claim that I predicted this guy was in Russia's pocket all along.  Looking back, I realize that the Movie Year has only (mostly) existed under the Obama administration (I began on 1/1/09) so we don't really know yet what our cultural freedoms will be like when Pres. Twitler takes office.  Will I even be able to watch whatever movies I want and speak my mind?

And once our new Russian overlords take control of our country, who knows what else will happen?  My non-reliable cinema-based sources point to more dirty politics, including advancement by assassination (just like in the "Star Trek" mirror universe...), eavesdropping on U.S. citizens, political unrest, smuggling of Mexican artifacts (gotta get them before the wall gets built) and lots of con games and pickpocketing.  And I hope you're not too attached to that horse, because he'll probably get stolen by Arabs.

It all comes to a head tonight, as we deal with super-villains, working for the government to commute their sentences.  Don't say it couldn't happen here, because I'm about to watch the proof, as both Will Smith AND Margot Robbie carry over from "Focus".  The truth is out there...


THE PLOT: A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a defensive task force.  Their first mission: save the world from the apocalypse.

AFTER: This is what the DC Movie Universe looks like, in a post-Avengers, post-Guardians of the Galaxy world - it's cool to be in a group of outlaws, who preferably come with their own soundtrack of (well-worn, overused) 1970's and 80's songs.

(However, the songs they chose - ugh, each one has been used in movies about 1,000 times, so they're all really played out.  Really? "Bohemian Rhapsody"?  "Spirit in the Sky"?  "House of the Rising Sun", "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap", "Fortunate Son"?  It's a lot like listening to that classic rock station while at work, because nothing's really too edgy or will get you in trouble with the boss, but since their playlist is only about 100 songs total, you end up hearing the same stuff every damn day.)

It's also a post-Superman world, because he's umm, out of action for a while, so who's going to step up and defend the world?  That's right, the Justice League.  But it takes time to get those superheroes together, they've got to find a space for their headquarters, file the articles of incorporation, and all that - so in the meantime, we've got the Suicide Squad.  When it comes to the DC Universe, I don't read all of the comics, just the Batman and Superman lines, and I catch up with the Justice League when the trade paperbacks come out.  (Unlike Marvel, where I read about 1/2 of their books.)

So I already knew about some of these characters, particularly Harley Quinn and Killer Croc, who are Batman villains, and I know Captain Boomerang is a Flash villain from way back.  But the others, I was starting from scratch - Katana, Slipknot, Enchantress, Deadshot, Diablo and Rick Flag.  These are 2nd-tier characters at best, but then the question becomes, if you put them together on a team, and force the villains to act like heroes, can the team become greater than the sum of its parts?

For the most part, yes.  Dramatic tension is created by putting these characters in a situation where they have to serve the greater good, while their natural tendencies are to do the opposite.  And since each is trying to achieve their own goals (reduced prison sentences, visitation rights with family), these all can be folded in to achieve the larger "squad goals".  The main one, however, involves taking down one of their own members (no spoilers), who is just starting to be aware of their own true power.  From a narrative standpoint, I would have preferred to see the Suicide Squad take on an external threat, rather than in internal one, because I think the story would have been stronger if they had faced a threat that wasn't caused indirectly by the team's own formation.  In essence, the Suicide Squad is the solution that carries within its own problem.

Once again, the classic three-act structure is in play, very obvious tonight.  Act 1: Backstory, exposition, motivations, establish the team.  Act 2: Enter Midway City, climb the tower, rescue objective, minor setbacks.  Act 3: Main conflict, complications, "all is lost" moment, rally and resolution.  If I'm going to quibble over anything, it would be the fact that there was a helicopter crash in each act - very repetitive in that sense.

It's basic, but it works, and this film obviously struck a chord with fans - I saw more "Daddy's Little Monster" Harley Quinns at NY Comic-Con last October than I did "Red + Black Latex" Harley Quinns.  OK, so not many people dressed like Killer Croc or Deadshot, but I'm sure we may see an uptick in Jared Leto Joker cosplay that could eventually overtake the Heath Ledger Joker cosplay.

I almost went to see this film in the theaters last year, and I can't quite recall why I didn't - I must have gotten busy in August, playing catch-up after missing a week at Comic-Con, perhaps.  Anyway, I think it would have been a challenge to work this into last year's chain, even with the large cast.  When I realized I had another couple of Will Smith films that got re-scheduled from fall to spring, it made more sense to ask for the DVD as a Christmas gift, and build the January chain around it.  Everything in due time...

Also starring Jared Leto (last seen in "Dallas Buyers Club"), Viola Davis (last seen in "Get On Up"), Joel Kinsman (last seen in "Run All Night"), Jay Hernandez (last seen in "The Rookie"), Jai Courtney (last seen in "Terminator Genisys"), Cara Delevingne (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Adewale Akkinnuoye-Agbaje (last seen in "The Thing" (2011)), Adam Beach (last seen in "Cowboys & Aliens"), Karen Fukuhara, David Harbour (last seen in "A Walk Among the Tombstones"), Ike Barinholtz (last seen in "Sisters"), Ted Whittall, Jim Parrack, Common (last seen in "Run All Night"), Scott Eastwood (last seen in "Fury"), Alain Chanoine, with cameos from Ben Affleck (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice", Ezra Miller (ditto).

RATING: 7 out of 10 nano bombs

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Focus

Year 9, Day 11 - 1/11/17 - Movie #2,511

BEFORE:  Last night, there was some kind of electrical fire on our street, which led to a partial black-out of our block.  Our house never lost power, but our lights began flickering, so we powered down whatever we could - the lights, the TV and the computers, and grabbed some flashlights, waiting for the power to go down completely, but for us it never did.  The houses across the street were dark, so it seems like we were just outside the radius of the affected area, which was a bit strange.   I'd never seen a blackout where the area was so keenly defined, affecting THAT house but not THAT one - maybe I'd just never lived in the spot that happened to be right on the edge before.  

But I walked down the block to where a fire engine was parked, just a bit from where the fire was bursting out of a manhole in the street, with a loud ZZT-ZZT sound, the kind of sound you hear in movies when Dr. Frankenstein turns on his giant electrical doohickeys that are going to bring the monster to life.  Since we never lost power, I was able to watch my movie on schedule, and the chain was allowed to continue.  Rodrigo Santoro carries over from "The 33"

 
THE PLOT:  In the midst of veteran con man Nicky's latest scheme, a woman from his past - now an accomplished femme fatale - shows up and throws his plans for a loop.

AFTER: This is a classic example of proper three-act structure.  Set-up, conflict, resolution.  Though some break down the story structure a little further and call it "six-act", the principle is the same.  Roughly, the six acts are: 1) backstory/teaser and exposition 2) establishment of characters / macguffin 3) establishment of major goal 4) Minor reversals and complications 5) rising action and suspense / climax and 6) denouement / conclusions.  Ideally, between these six things there should be 5 turning points, and two goals.  

This film follows the 3 (or 6) act structure in a major way.  Act I (or 1+2), introduce the characters, put them on a collision course, set them up with a similar goal.  Act II (or 3+4) is the time in New Orleans, working the crowd around the big football game and then the complications that follow, and Act III (or 5+6) is set in Buenos Aires at the car race, the conflict when the characters come back together and the suspense over whether each will succeed in reaching their goals, and the final turning point (also known as the "All is lost" moment) also leads to the twist that brings about the climax and surprise resolution.  

Once you're aware of the formula, it's difficult to NOT see it as such - so, yeah, this is why going to film school ruined my love for movies for a decade or so, because I was seeing everything in these terms, as a case study.  The structure is so blatant in "Focus", that they nearly hit you over the head with it, which is odd, because it's supposed to be a film about subtlety and distraction, and what can be accomplished (stolen) when people are looking where you want them to, instead of where they should be.  And Act I here is very, very solid, I just wish that it had set up a better conflict and resolution.

I don't want to get much more into specifics, because of spoilers, but I had problems with the cons in Acts 2 and 3 - they went from possible to unlikely to wildly impossible, and then (supposedly) back to plausible when everything was explained, but I'm not convinced.  And the way they telegraphed the climax of Act 3 with that story in Act 1 - I see what they did there, and why they had to do it, but it could still be regarded as sloppy.  As we're told in the introduction, a good con man doesn't telegraph his moves like that - I think perhaps a screenwriter shouldn't either.

NITPICK POINT: How much time passes between Act 1 and Act 2?  Months?  Years?  There's a prominent sign in New Orleans for  Super Bowl 17?  Wasn't that like back in the 1980's?  (EDIT: Ah, this is not set at the Super Bowl, Wikipedia tells me that the sporting event seen here is the Associated Football Franchise of America Championship Game.  I guess that's a thing?  And it explains why a team called the Rhinos is playing.  Or does it?)  And Wiki also tells me that three years passed between the time the characters separate in New Orleans, and reconvene in Buenos Aires - was that so difficult?  Why not add a little subtitle on the screen that reads "Three years later"?  

NITPICK POINT #2: I have to get into this - if Person A says "I'm thinking of a number, between 1 and 10" and Person B says, "Is it seven?"  Person A then has the ability, even if it WAS seven, to say, "No, sorry, it was three."  Without saying too much, this is, essentially, why the con at the football game just does not work. Period.

It's still a massive amount of fun, films about big cons usually are, like "The Sting" or "Now You See Me", being a sub-genre of the "heist" film, and delighting, as they usually do, in surprising the marks - but if you don't pay close attention here, you could also be fooled, along with the mark.

Also starring Will Smith (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), Margot Robbie (last seen in "About Time"), Adrian Martinez (last seen in "Sisters"), Gerald McRaney (last seen in "Red Tails"), BD Wong (last seen in "Jurassic World"), Brennan Brown, Dominic Fumusa, Robert Taylor, Steve Kim, Griff Furst, with a cameo from Han Soto (last seen in "The D Train").

RATING: 6 out of 10 stolen credit cards

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The 33

Year 9, Day 10 - 1/10/17 - Movie #2,510

BEFORE: I recorded this film to go on a DVD with "Everest", but that was when I mistakenly thought that Josh Brolin was in both films - it turns out he's not in "The 33", but his father is, hence my confusion.  By the time I figured that out, the film was on the DVD and on my schedule, so I decided to just leave it.  Both films are about rescuing people in danger, one from a very high place and one from a very low place, so I can still see the connection.  But that meant the film couldn't be viewed in December with the other Josh Brolin films, so I've rescheduled it here, with Antonio Banderas carrying over from "Assassins".   This is all part of my process, even the mistakes, and sometimes this is how I accidentally end up seeing some really good movies that I might not normally have even considered.  


THE PLOT: Based on the real-life event - when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.

AFTER: About 4 years ago, my wife and I were on a cruise, and we had an excursion on Aruba that consisted of a mountain cave tour, followed by a visit to a butterfly farm.  The caves were historically important, because in the 18th or 19th century, slaves had escaped from their owners and hid there for a time.  What I didn't realize was that once we got inside the cave, the tour guide would close a door to the outside world - then he announced that we would be traveling further into the cave, to experience what life in the caves was like before electricity was invented, and after traveling through a narrow passage into a small room, they were going to turn off the lights for a minute to allow us to get the full effect.  

A man at the back of the tour group said that his wife would prefer to leave before this took place, as she suddenly developed a fear of enclosed places.  "That's a very smart woman," I thought, since I was starting to feel the same way.  Part of me knew that the cave had been standing for hundreds, if not thousands of years, with no cave-ins, but the other part of me felt, deep down, that if anybody would be unlucky enough to tour the cave on that one day in a million, it could be me.  I volunteered to escort the lady back down the mountain's steps, and enjoyed a drink from the soda machine, knowing that whatever infinitesimal chance there was of a tunnel collapse, for me it would now be zero.  Oh, sure, I'd miss my wife terribly and I'd mourn the other people on the tour who I'd recently met, but I'd find a way to soldier on, plus I'd have a great story about how I'd just barely cheated death.  

Well, funny story, there was no cave-in that day, but it's important to remember that I didn't KNOW that at the time, and I did manage to spare the rest of the tour group from having to see a large adult man have a total claustrophobic meltdown in the middle of a dark cave.  It's important for everyone to know their limitations, and once they were established, I could then go on and enjoy my time in Aruba at the butterfly farm.  (But I kept an eye on those butterflies, I've heard they can be quite dangerous...)

My point is, it takes a tough man to be a miner.  And if you find yourself complaining about your job, just watch "The 33" and then get back to me about it.  This is the story of 33 men who survived a tunnel collapse, and then spent weeks rationing their food, with no contact from the outside world, while waiting for an uncertain rescue.  That takes some cojones, my hat is off to them, because I know for a fact I wouldn't last one day doing their job, or dealing with a similar situation.  
And if you think that's dangerous, one of the miners had both a wife and girlfriend who showed up at the mine when the accident made the news.  The two women fought over who deserved to be there, and when the trapped miners were given food and newspapers, he learned that they were both waiting for him.  I bet when he had the chance to be rescued, he probably said, "Can't I just stay down here a little longer, where it's safe?"


I wish they would have explained the process a little better that was used to keep the drill on target to find the miners' location.  Without getting too technical, could they have better clarified what it meant to "let the rock tell the drill where to go" and "aim to miss" means, or was that not possible?  

I'm glad to hear that the rescues miners recovered - but since jobs were hard to find in this area of Chile, some of them ended up working behind the scenes in production jobs on this movie based on their own rescue story.  I can't say if that's ironic, or just a fitting circumstance.  I mean, where are you going to find production assistants and grips who are willing to go into a mine and help with odd jobs during a film set there?  The real Mario Sepulveda worked as a coordinator of the extras for the background scenes. 

You might think it's strange that a French actress and an Irish actor have such prominent roles in a film set in South America.  I mean, everyone's supposed to do "blind" casting these days, and all ethnicities are supposed to be considered for all roles, but if a film casts a Caucasian actor in a role that "should" have gone to a minority, like in "Doctor Strange", everyone still loses their minds and starts pointing fingers.  It turns out that originally Jennifer Lopez was cast in this film, and when she left the production, she was replaced by Juliette Binoche.  Now, Gabriel Byrne playing drilling expert Andre Sougarret is a separate issue, but he did all right, I could buy him as a Chilean, I guess. 

Probably the most shocking thing I learned from this film came from the appearance of famous Latino celebrity Don Francisco - host of the immensely popular Univision variety show "Sabado Gigante" (or "Giant Saturday").  He appeared at the scene of the mining disaster to not only file reports, but to support and encourage the families - and he played himself in this film, only his name does not appear in the credits.  Ah, it turns out that "Don Francisco" is just a stage name, and the real name of this Chilean TV star doesn't sound as Hispanic at all.  

Also starring Rodrigo Santoro (last seen in "300: Rise of an Empire"), Juliette Binoche (last seen in "The English Patient"), Lou Diamond Phillips (last seen in "Supernova"), James Brolin (last seen in "Way...Way Out"), Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas (last seen in "Flight of the Phoenix"), Oscar Nuñez (last seen in "The Italian Job"), Juan Pablo Raba, Tenoch Huerta, Marco Treviño, Adriana Barraza (last seen in "Thor"), Kate del Castillo (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Cote de Pablo, Elizabeth De Razzo, Bob Gunton (last seen in "The Pick-Up Artist"), Gabriel Byrne (last seen in "Hello Again"), Naomi Scott (last seen in "The Martian"), with cameos from Brian Williams, Anderson Cooper (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), and Mario Kreutzberger (see above).

RATING: 6 out of 10 headlamps

Monday, January 9, 2017

Assassins

Year 9, Day 9 - 1/9/17 - Movie #2,509

BEFORE: I fast-forwarded through the Golden Globes last night, but a strange thing is happening with me and this year's nominees for the Globes, and I assume for the Oscars as well - I don't feel very connected to them, or invested in which films get nominated or win.  I've had favorites in past years, even recent past years, like "Birdman", but when you look at the list of films I went to see in the theaters last year, and compare them to the list that's getting critical acclaim during awards season, it just doesn't seem like I'm on the same page as the HFPA, or the Academy.  Sure, I get that I went to see mostly franchise sci-fi and superhero films, but I'm still conscious of this divide, more than ever.  

Do I feel the need to rush out and see "La La Land", or "Moonlight", "Hidden Figures" or "Fences" or "Hacksaw Ridge"?  Not in the slightest - and where are the nominations for films like "Star Trek Beyond", "Nerdland" and "Rogue One"?  Nowhere to be seen.  Maybe they'll get some technical awards during the Oscars, but for now it seems like there are two kinds of films - the kind I like to see, and the kind that gets nominations.  

Now, both of my bosses happen to be Academy members, and they get mailed a TON of screeners - they're meant for Academy eyes only, but I could easily borrow one or ten here and there, and no one would be the wiser.  But I'm not inclined to do that, with rare exceptions  (cough) "Sausage Party" (cough).  Why?  Because it feels like cheating - I enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the anticipation in waiting for a film to premiere on cable or PPV - I guess I'm a masochist at heart.  But there's also the joy in discovering a film on my own, whether other people rave about it or nominate it should be immaterial to the fact that if I think I might like a film, I should watch it.  But the nominated films in particular sometimes feel like they're being forced upon me, like THESE are the 8 nominated films, and you'd better go see them - it's too much pressure, guys.  And it's like putting the cart before the horse, like maybe they should nominate films people (I) like, instead of telling people (me) to like the nominated films.

Stallone carries over from "Creed", and he's back to being a hired killer.

THE PLOT:  Professional hit-man Robert Rath wants to fulfill a few more contracts before retiring but unscrupulous ambitious newcomer hit-man Miguel Bain keeps killing Rath's targets.

AFTER: Much like "The Specialist", I found this film to be mostly moronic, just the thinnest possible storyline to connect the action scenes, which are hired killings here, instead of explosions, but it's all in the same ballpark.  But let me try to explain just HOW dumb this film succeeded in being, and mostly it seems to be due to script problems, either from the situation or the dialogue.  I've got a lot of nits to pick tonight.

I can almost comprehend Stallone's character, he's one of those "just one more job, then I'll quit" guys, but you know deep down that they're probably really in the game until the bitter end.  At least in "The Specialist" he was trying to help the downtrodden battle mobsters, so his heart was in the right place.  But here it seems to be all about the money, and somehow it's never enough, because it's always "just one more job."  When is the payday going to be enough?  

The movie's not interested in letting us find out, though, because on a couple of his "one last jobs" he gets beaten by a younger, up-and-coming hit-man.  The "contractor" who's giving Rath his jobs by stone-age text messages claims to have no knowledge of a competitor, these are supposed to be single-bid jobs that this literal "loose cannon" keeps finding out about.  Yeah, I can see how people would rather hire Miguel, a hitman who's extremely unhinged, the kind of guy who shoots first and forgets to ask questions later.  Because that's really who you want taking care of a professional assassination.  

Miguel's signature move seems to be kicking out the back window of whatever car he's riding in, so he can attack the driver from outside.  Just think about this for a second, you'll realize it's a terrible idea.  It makes him vulnerable to attack or getting knocked out of the car, or scraped against a truck.  And if you're going to attack the guy driving the car, why not do it from directly behind him, where you are sitting?  For that matter, before attacking the guy driving the car, shouldn't you take a second and think what's going to happen to the car if you kill the driver?  Nope, better to act quickly and then deal with the impending crash later, I guess.

(This guy's so off-balance that when they're in Puerto Rico, later in the film, he asks for a beer from some villagers, and it seems like he's forgotten how to speak Spanish.  WTF?)

The third member in this crazy little triangle is a female surveillance expert, who doesn't take any job unless she can bring her cat along.  (Seriously?  You bring your cat to the data exchange, where you know other people might have guns or bombs or whatever?  That's just irresponsible.)  At one point Rath tracks her down by checking out which rooms in a hotel have placed room service orders that include a can of tuna.  Right, because humans NEVER eat tuna fish, people only give them to their cats.  By rights he should have broken the door down on a room with a diet-conscious person in it.  She later brings her cat to Puerto Rico, which apparently doesn't have any quarantine laws about bringing in animals...I guess no cat-sitters were available?

We never really find out what's in the "data files" that she's selling to the Dutch buyers.  You know, it's got "important data" on it - but that doesn't really matter.  I'm more concerned with why she's spying on her neighbors, and this is never explained either.  Are they important people, or is she just obsessed with watching their lives unfold?  Hey, it's kinky, but if that's what does it for you....  She claims to be a "ghost", living off the grid, and she says stupid things like "I don't even have a driver's license" and "I forgot my real name years ago".  But when she gets into trouble, she follows this up later with "I just want to get back to my normal life..."  Oh, the life where you can't remember your name and you don't drive anywhere?  Because that doesn't sound like a lot of fun, or very convenient.  She may not have a driver's license, but we DO see her driving a car - what the heck does she do if she gets pulled over?  Even worse, she later says she has 12 different passports - but still no driver's license?  What the hell? 

At one point, and I swear this is true, Rath and our miss no-name (Electra?) have done a data exchange, and even though she's got no driver's license, she's driving the car, and Rath realizes that his briefcase is ticking - simple, get rid of this dangerous bomb, right?  Nope, instead of throwing it out the window, he decides to hang on to it for another half-mile, because he knows where there's a dumpster up ahead that he can throw it into.  You've GOT to be kidding me. Who does that?

Finally, they all end up in Mexico, because Rath and Electra transfer a bunch of money to a bank there, and apparently they don't understand money transfers, because they think you have to BE there to accept it, or at least withdraw.  Hey, geniuses, if you transferred the money there, you can transfer it to wherever else you're going, too.  You no longer need to go to a bank in person.  But Rath has his heart set up on drawing out Miguel, and when they hit town, he (with the eyes of a hitman, I guess) figures out exactly where Miguel's going to set up his rifle - which is like saying, "I know exactly what he'll do, because I know how unpredictable he is."  

After that, I just didn't care, there was something about a chess game, Rath's old boss, blah blah blah, who cares, just tell me who shoots who and lets call it a day.  Ah, but that ending - there's just no way anyone makes that shot.  Not the best gunman on his best day, because a person's right arm can't make it all they way around their left side, to shoot someone behind them, not without turning around.  So I have to call shenanigans on that too.

Also starring Antonio Banderas (last seen in "The Expendables 3"), Julianne Moore (last seen in "Maps to the Stars"), Anatoli Davydov, Muse Watson (last seen in "Something to Talk About"), Kelly Rowan, Reed Diamond, 

RATING: 3 out of 10 yellow taxis

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Creed

Year 9, Day 8 - 1/8/17 - Movie #2,508

BEFORE: Sylvester Stallone carries over from "The Specialist", and here are my links for the rest of January, assuming I stay on track: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Walton Goggins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Allison Janney, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon, Anders Holm, Robert DeNiro, Jason Mantzoukas, and Alison Brie.  That should take me right up close to Feb. 1, and from that you may even be able to figure out the next three weeks of movies, though some of those stars will stick around for three or four days, so then again, maybe you can't. 


THE PLOT: The former World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa serves as a trainer and mentor to Adonis Johnson, the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed.  

AFTER: In just over 8 years of focusing on movies, I've watched an awful lot of boxing films (and a lot of awful boxing films, too) and most of them are trite affairs, where you just know the hero's going to win the final fight, good will beat evil, if either fighter can be defined as such, and the audience will leave happy, or at least satisfied.  But that outcome's not assured in a "Rocky" film, remember that Rocky's goal in the first film wasn't even to win, it was just to go the distance.  And then we saw Rocky win in the sequels, but also face a host of personal tragedies - so it seems like "going the distance" is an apt metaphor for the whole series.  

There were 6 previous "Rocky" films, and if you count "Creed" as Episode 7, you may come to realize that the franchise faces the same problems as, say, "Star Wars: Episode 7" - how do you connect the new film to the past, while telling a new story?  How do you entertain the fans who've been watching for decades, and also catch the attention of the newer generation?  Bring in some new faces, but have them face some of the same problems, because everything is cyclical, right?  Rey goes off to find Luke Skywalker, and Adonis Johnson seeks out his own mentor, Rocky.  

That's right, Adonis Johnson, not Adonis Creed, at least not at first.  Adonis never met his father, Apollo, because he was the child of an extramarital affair, but after bouncing around the foster care system for a few years, was adopted by Apollo's wife.  It's very cagey to work this character into the story, in-between the things we knew about Apollo, Rocky's first major opponent and later best friend.  So he both is and isn't a Creed, he tries to make his own way in the boxing world without relying on his father's name, but eventually the truth is revealed.  

Rocky's aged out of the boxing world (as has Stallone), and is happy just running his restaurant (Adrian's) until Adonis, or "Donnie", tracks him down.  He's unwilling at first to slip into the "Mickey" trainer role, but since he's lost nearly everyone in his life, and his son has moved to Vancouver, he comes to view Donnie as something akin to his last bit of close family.  No spoilers here, but they did give Rocky his own battles to fight in the process of training this young boxer.  Balboa's training methods are a mix of the stereotypical and the unorthodox, but I'm surprised they didn't give a callback to the famous shot of sparring with those big sides of beef in a meat locker. 

I usually complain that a boxing film doesn't focus enough on technique, explaining it properly and making it accessible to viewers like myself.  I think this film did explain a lot, usually with Rocky giving tips to Creed based on past fights he remembers - I can't say I always understood them, but I appreciate the effort.  And there's also plenty of good drama here, with Adonis struggling to deal with both his father's legacy, and feeling inadequate because of his illegitimacy. 

There's a contrivance that gives the young Adonis a shot at the title, against "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, but time and time again, the "Rocky" films are about these sort of contrived match-ups.  It's pretty amazing that they didn't take things a step further, and put him in the ring against Ivan Drago's son - maybe they're saving that for "Creed II".  The only other thing that I think was missing here was a cool name for the London-based fight, something akin to "The Thrilla in Manila" or "The Fracas in Caracas" - I'm not sure what that should have been, maybe "The Melée in the U.K." or "The Duel in Liverpool"?  Come on, guys, work with me here...

Also starring Michael B. Jordan (last seen in "Fantastic Four"), Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Graham McTavish (last seen in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"), Andre Ward, Wood Harris, Jacob "Stitch" Duran, with cameos from Michael Buffer (last seen in "Play It to the Bone"), Jim Lampley (ditto), Hannah Storm, Tony Kornheiser and the voice of Liev Schreiber (last seen in "Jakob the Liar").

RATING: 6 out of 10 Philly cheesesteaks