Saturday, April 1, 2017

Regarding Henry

Year 9, Day 91 - 4/1/17 - Movie #2,585

BEFORE: See, I never have to worry as long as there are character actors, like Bruce Altman and Bruce McGill.  One of them was bound to give me a link to another film - Bruce Altman carries over this time from "Matchstick Men" and brings me back to Harrison Ford.  But you may well ask, why not put the two Harrison Ford films (this one and "Age of Adaline") together, instead of book-ending the week with them?  Ah, but that's the old way of thinking about linking, the new way is more inclusive.  Just look, by splitting up the two films, I was able to sandwich another four films (the two Reese Witherspoons and the two Nic Cages) in-between them, instead of relegating those films to the unlinkable section.  So I've got to look at the big picture, and sometimes that means splitting up two films that may appear to "obviously" belong together at first.


THE PLOT: Henry is a lawyer who survives a shooting only to find that he cannot remember anything.  He has to recover his speech and mobility, in a life he no longer fits into.  Fortunately, Henry has a loving wife and daughter to help him.

AFTER: And it seems like I've got an over-arching (though unintended, unless subconsciously) theme for the week - and it's all about redemption and empathy.  Going back to "Age of Adaline", where Adaline felt guilty for standing up her boyfriend who would continue to age when she magically wouldn't, continuing as errant wife and drug-user Cheryl Strayed decided to hike her way back to herself, and then we had Nicolas Cage as a thief who has to save his daughter in one film and a con-man who has to become a better parent in another.  Finally we examine a lawyer who gets shot during a robbery and has to re-learn everything, possibly becoming a better person in the process.  (I'll find a way to work "Hot Pursuit" in here too, just give me a minute...)

First we have to take a step back - what makes a good person/character good?  What makes another one bad?  Is it behavior, personality, attitude, past history, etc.?  Can bad characters redeem themselves and become good, and if so, what's it going to take?  Persistence, medication, going on a 1,000-mile hike?  Being a better cop, or going to Dallas to testify against a drug kingpin? (HAH! I knew I could work that one in somewhere...)  In this case, and this can only happen in a Hollywood film, I'll wager, it takes getting shot in the head.  Let's put aside for the moment that Harrison Ford probably took the role because it seemed like an easy path to an Oscar nomination ("My Left Foot", "Rain Man", "A Beautiful Mind" and countless others) and just focus on the unlikely redemptive ability of brain damage.

First off, the film has to establish Henry Turner as a grade-A, class-1 asshole, and it's only got a short time and a few scenes to do that.  OK, make him a lawyer - great, we're like halfway there already.  He's the kind of lawyer that defends big companies against malpractice suits, and that's telling.  Defending the client with the deepest pockets, screwing the little guy and his medical issues, maybe not telling the whole truth in the courtroom, but hey, that's the legal system, where burden of proof is on the accuser.  Make America great again, and what's right for our client is what's right overall.

We also gain insight from a phone conversation with his decorator - he HATES the dining room table she picked out, and if she doesn't replace it, she's fired.  So we hate Henry for his interpersonal skills, as well as his impossibly-large Manhattan apartment (townhouse?) with a maid, and then there's the way he disciplines his daughter, who apparently spilled juice on his piano or something.  After a night out with the other rich a-holes in his social circle, he goes in to apologize to his daughter, but instead only justifies his anger and disciplinary style, and then never gets around to actually apologizing.  Profile complete, we now all hate this man.

Fear not, all is fixed with a bullet wound or two.  The anoxia and resulting brain damage robs Henry of his memory, speech and motor skills, so he essentially is allowed to start over (wait, this was written by J.J. Abrams, so let's call it a reboot) and with the help of some speech therapy and physical therapy, he eventually regains his speech and movement, but who he was as a person is essentially gone.  But in every crisis there's an opportunity, so he's able to re-invent himself.  Now he hates eggs, likes the new dining room table, and thinks the family should have a dog. (In Manhattan?).  It's a dangerous plot point, because it may lead children to wish their parent would be shot, so they'd be nicer and more dog-friendly afterward.

But it's for the viewer to determine whether this unlikely change in attitude and personality does a disservice to the people each year who are shot and don't survive, or who suffer brain damage and never recover their speech or even consciousness, or people who have brushes with death and somehow don't become better people as part of their recovery.  It somehow seems more possible that if someone was a jerk before they got sick, they'd continue to be a jerk after they got well, from what I've seen.  Otherwise I'm left to believe that this gunman had incredible aim, to perform such precise brain surgery with his bullet in order to remove all of a man's bad qualities.  Unlikely.

And yes, this is the film where the screenwriter, J.J. Abrams, made a cameo as a grocery delivery boy, the one who Harrison Ford walks right by, and years later they would encounter each other again as J.J. was directing "Star Wars: Episode VII" with Harrison Ford back as Han Solo.  It doesn't really mean that much, it's just one of those weird coincidental things.  And it's why I pay attention to cameos.

Also starring Harrison Ford (last seen in "The Age of Adaline"), Annette Bening (last seen in "In Dreams"), Donald Moffat (last seen in "The Thing" (1982)), Rebecca Miller (last seen in "In a World..."), Elizabeth Wilson (last seen in "Catch-22"), Bill Nunn (last seen in "Cadillac Man"), Mikki Allen, Robin Bartlett (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), with cameos from John Leguizamo (last seen in "American Ultra"), James Rebhorn (last seen in "Cat's Eye"), Nancy Marchand (last seen in "Sabrina"), J.J. Abrams.

RATING: 4 out of 10 walk-in closets

Friday, March 31, 2017

Matchstick Men

Year 9, Day 90 - 3/31/17 - Movie #2,584

BEFORE: It's raining like crazy today, the kind of rain where I have to check the basement to make sure no rain's getting in, and also go around the outside of the house, in the driveway and the backyard, to make sure all the drains aren't clogged.  Good thing I checked, there was a clogged drain in the lower driveway and about 3 inches of rain built up that could have easily found its way into the basement.  We had some leaks in the bedroom back during the last snowstorm as things were starting to melt, but considering how many icicles were hanging down in front of the bedroom window, I figured out that the gutters probably just froze over, so when the melting started, the water had no place to go but inside.  Nothing's been leaking in the bedroom during this rain storm, so my hunch was probably right.  Still, I should probably get someone to check the roof one of these weekends, such are the joys of home ownership.  Also, I've got to get started on our taxes this weekend, now that I'm done with the office move.

Nicolas Cage carries over from "Stolen", and it's my rule of two again - I only recorded "Stolen" because I wanted to fill up the DVD with this film as a double-bill.  Have been very curious about this one over the years - I must have added it to my list sometime after I watched two other Nic Cage films last August.  I finally confirmed that I've had a complete turn-over on the watchlist since I started, because when I sort my list by "Date Added", I find that there's nothing that's been on the list since before 2014 - almost everything left was added after May 2015.  Oh, there are plenty of films on the list that were released before that date, but they've only been on my radar for a maximum of two years.


THE PLOT: A phobic con artist and his protégé are on the verge of pulling off a lucrative swindle when the former's teenage daughter arrives unexpectedly.

AFTER: At this point, for me to be surprised by a movie, well, that's saying something.  This one caught me off-guard at least, first by successfully portraying a con man as a sympathetic character, which is difficult, as I mentioned previously this week.  How often do you see an "evil" character, someone doing bad things, who you also want to root for?  Not that often - of course, that process is assisted here by showing us all of this con man's problems, tics and neuroses.  It starts with a bad case of OCD (yep, I can sympathize with that) and also includes agoraphobia, borderline personality, a lack of a moral compass, and then obsessive cleaning disorder (the other OCD).

Cage's character, Roy Waller, also has a small fortune in the bank, after years of pulling various cons and switchers.  In his world, it's OK as long as he doesn't take money from people, though instead he convinces people to GIVE them their money.  I suppose it's a fine line.  Here he wants to help his partner pull one last big score before supposedly retiring, but you just know that as long as it's profitable, he's probably never going to stop doing what he does, because then he wouldn't be who he is.  Which is a mess.  But finding out that he has a teenage daughter that he never met is enough to convince him to stay on his meds and to try and be a better parent and a better person.

Then something happens, and I don't want to say it's a "twist", because if I say that, and you go and watch this film, you'll spend the whole time wondering what the twist is, and when it's going to happen - when you should really experience the film cold, as I did.  So please forget I said anything, just let 6 months go by, let yourself forget about anything except the fact that I liked this film, and then check it out.

But the thing that happens sort of colors everything that came before it, and then obviously everything after as well.  Not exactly like what happened with "The Sixth Sense", because it's a whole different sort of plot point, but it could make you want to go back and watch the film again from the beginning, just to see if there are things that you could have, or should have, spotted.  Maybe it's more like if Lucasfilm released a statement saying that Chewbacca was a female Wookiee, always was, and then people would race back and watch the original Star Wars trilogy to see if there was any hint of a romantic relationship between her and Han Solo.  Only, not that.

So I'm surprised that more people don't talk about this film with reverence, or at least respect.  I can only conclude that maybe not very many people have given it a chance - I'm sure glad that I did.

Also starring Sam Rockwell (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Alison Lohman (last seen in "Where the Truth Lies"), Bruce Altman (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Bruce McGill (last seen in "Run All Night"), Sheila Kelley (last seen in "Soapdish"), Beth Grant (last seen in "Flatliners"), Jenny O'Hara, Steve Eastin, Tim Kelleher, Nigel Gibbs, with a cameo from Melora Walters (last seen in "The Master")

RATING: 6 out of 10 water filters

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stolen (2012)

Year 9, Day 89 - 3/30/17 - Movie #2,583

BEFORE: Sometimes doing what I do - planning my viewing schedule according to actor linking AND the calendar - isn't easy, especially when it comes to trying to predict what's going to be added to the list when, which by itself is nearly impossible.  How can I possibly know when a film's going to be sold to HBO or Showtime, and then when that channel is going to run it?  But over the course of 8 years watching the TV listings, I've developed something of a "sixth sense" about it.  Like, my chain right now has me covered until May 10 or 11, and then it just stops flat.  But that's a few days before Mother's Day, and there was a film last year about that very holiday - now, it would make sense for some channel to start running that film and take advantage of the holiday tie-in, but that doesn't mean that is certain to happen.  With the addition of one film, though, which I could easily watch on iTunes or Amazon Prime, I do know a way that I can extend my chain at least another three days and also watch "Mother's Day" if I choose.  Sure enough, Showtime's going to start running it this weekend, so even though the movie's probably crap, it helps extend my chain.  I also may need it to pair with something else to fill up a DVD, you never know.  Plus, from there I can link to "Money Monster" and then "Hail, Caesar!" which are currently near the bottom of my list in the "Currently Unlinkable" file.

Another example, I just recorded and added "Our Brand Is Crisis", and another Sandra Bullock movie to go with it, "28 Days".  The first film also has Billy Bob Thornton in it, which will probably place it on the watchlist next to "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", also currently languishing near the bottom of the list.  But this makes be think about "Bad Santa 2", and I wonder if that will run on premium cable as we get closer to Christmas - so in my mind, I think I need to save the two films with Billy Bob for December, just in case.  It's a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but leaving a hole for a piece that you lost, but still hope to find later when you clean the floor.

And while it's easy to link between films with the same big stars, it's a little harder when I have to resort to character actors, or people in minor roles.  I had the occasion to look back on some of my posts from 2014, and there was a LOT of indirect linking - Star A from Monday's film once co-starred with Star B from Tuesday's film.  I guess I thought maybe my linking was running out - but then I started using the filters function on IMDB to search my own watchlist for nearly every name, and it made my linking much more thorough.  As a result, my 2017 chain so far has had only ONE indirect link since January 1.  I'm proud of that, and thankful to the actors without star billing who made that possible - like today, an actor named Marcus Lyle Brown carries over from "Hot Pursuit", where he played "Lou" - who could forget that performance?


THE PLOT: A former thief frantically searches for his missing daughter, who has been kidnapped and locked in the trunk of a taxi.

AFTER: In appearance and name, this would seem to be Nicolas Cage's take on the Liam Neeson series "Taken" - for some reason, Hollywood has been led to believe that the audience will root for a thief, murderer or other anti-hero type provided that they are being forced by an outside party to do these bad things, and that there's an over-arching reason, like saving someone close to them, to get pulled "back into the game".  "The Forger" with John Travolta is another example - his character was forced to commit art forgery and theft, but he was being coerced, and doing it for his dying son.

So, as with last night's film, there's a definite formula.  For comparison, look at a film like "Collateral", where Tom Cruise played a hit-man eliminating witnesses - very hard to root for him, but you can root for Jamie Foxx as the cabbie driving him around, because he's being coerced to assist with this criminal activity.

So here Cage plays a master thief, a safecracker and leader of a team that includes a security expert, a female getaway driver and another guy (the muscle? his role is a little unclear...).  The opening heist sequence sets up the anti-hero and his morals (he won't kill during the heist) and the rivalry with both the FBI agent who's tracking the gang, and the team member who is injured, to set up the revenge plot in the second half.  There's a car chase with some things I haven't seen before, like getting the maximum amount of excitement from a parking garage, and then Cage's character ends up nicked. (Get it?)

After 8 years in prison, he tries to put his life back together and reconnect with his daughter, though his wife has moved on to another relationship.  Putting the old team back together is another non-starter, and he's still being watched by that FBI agent, who thinks he stashed the stolen money and will make a play to retrieve it.  But everything changes when his daughter is kidnapped and stashed in the trunk of a cab driven by a figure from his past.  Now he has to learn how to be a protective father, possibly for the first time, and try convince the FBI that he's really the victim here, not a guy trying to put his robbery team back together or to collect the money that he stashed away.  And wouldn't you know it, there's a tight timeline for getting it all done.

Oh, and wouldn't you know it, it just happens to be Mardi Gras time in New Orleans, giving the plot a reason for there to be traffic whenever an obstacle needs to be put in his way.  I'm not sure if this is a NITPICK POINT or not - I've never been there, does the whole town shut down for this celebration or not?  Because, like, it's a holiday for them, but it's also a Tuesday, right?  So do some people (FBI agents, psychiatrists) still just go about their business on that day?

Also starring Nicolas Cage (last seen in "Vampire's Kiss"), Josh Lucas (last seen in "Poseidon"), Danny Houston (last seen in "Big Eyes"), Malin Ackerman (last seen in "The Invasion"), Sami Gayle (last seen in "Noah"), Mark Valley (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2"), M.C. Gainey (last seen in "Starman"), Barry Shabaka Henley (last seen in "The Big Year"), J.D. Evermore (last seen in "Wild"), Dan Braverman, Jon Eyez (last seen in "Focus").

RATING: 4 out of 10 parade floats

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hot Pursuit

Year 9, Day 88 - 3/29/17 - Movie #2,582

BEFORE: And if I rescue "Wild" from the bottom of this list, this one sort of has to come along for the ride.  This is because I tend to put two films on each DVD I burn, to take up less storage space, and I try to make sure those are two films that go together, or at least share a major star in common.  So when I recorded "Wild", premium cable was also running this film with Reese Witherspoon.  So I'm not proud of that, but it is what it is.  I throw myself on the mercy of the court, just a man with an OCD problem and a too-large DVD collection.


THE PLOT: An uptight and by-the-book cop tries to protect the widow of a drug boss as they race through Texas pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen.

AFTER: This is straight out of "Midnight Run", which also had a cop (OK, an ex-cop) who had to get a criminally-tangential person from point A to point B so they could testify, while avoiding obstacles and various unsavory characters, and overcoming their vast personality differences.  It's an obvious formula that's usually ripe for comedy.  This one obviously put a few of its own spins on the formula - the main characters are women, and the cop is the uptight one, while the crook is the freewheeling one - but you can see "Midnight Run" as part of this film's DNA.

"Buddy" comedies rely on polar opposites working together, that itself goes back at least as far as "The Odd Couple", and before that there was Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy, among others.  But then the question becomes, how much bickering and disagreement between the two characters is too much?  This film will probably answer that question for you.

But there were at least a couple laughs here for me, I suppose this could have been much worse.  A lot of it is really by-the-numbers, like you just know that the cop will probably succeed in her duties, because it's so important to her, and she needs to be redeemed for the earlier incident that led to her working in the evidence room.  I couldn't take the overblown accent of the other lead character, Danielle Riva, because it was so stressed it came off sounding like she was Charo.

Surprisingly few NITPICK POINTS tonight, except for wondering how someone couldn't notice a truck coming to smash into their car, when they weren't more than four feet away from it, or how a woman passed the police exam without being able to climb out of a window that was just a few feet off the ground.  Seems like they would have covered that in training.

Also starring Sofia Vergara (last seen in "New Year's Eve"), Matthew Del Negro (last seen in "Celeste & Jesse Forever"), Michael Mosley, John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Ted 2"), Robert Kazinsky (last seen in "Pacific Rim"), Richard T. Jones (last seen in "Concussion"), Benny Nieves (last seen in "City Hall"), Michael Ray Escamilla, Joaquin Cosio, Jim Gaffigan (last seen in "It's Kind of a Funny Story"), Mike Birbiglia (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Vincent Laresca, David Jensen, Marcus Lyle Brown (last seen in "The Big Short").

RATING: 4 out of 10 commandeered vehicles

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wild

Year 9, Day 87 - 3/28/17 - Movie #2,581

BEFORE: This is another film that was lingering down with the other films that are very hard to link to, for quite a while.  There's an obvious link to tomorrow's film, and I sort of paired it with that film mentally, but until recently I had no place to go on the other side.  For a while it was on the watchlist next to "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", because it shares at least two actors with that film, but then I used that sci-fi film to link to "X-Men: Apocalypse", and that then cut this film adrift - which seemed sort of appropriate.  My recent re-organization of the watch list identified a new link, and I was able to move this back onto the real schedule, not the "someday" schedule.  So now Michiel Huisman carries over from "The Age of Adaline".


THE PLOT: A chronicle of one woman's 1,100-mile solo hike undertaken as a way to recover from a recent personal tragedy.

AFTER: I did (sort of) connect with this film, but I don't think it was in the way that was intended.  I never read the book it's based on, but that shouldn't matter - nearly everyone has had a personal tragedy, gone through a divorce or lost a loved one, so even if you're not a hiker, you can probably find something here that you can relate to.  For me, it reminded me of one hiking experience and two camping trips I took with my first wife, all of which ended in disaster.  I did try to compress our last couple of years together into a screenplay, and I tried to put at least some of the blame for the break-up on those camping nightmares.  For you see, we were two very different people when it came to diet and exercise, and if only one person in a relationship is athletic and vegetarian, then the chances of getting along are lessened. (Her coming out of the closet finally became too much of a strain, but perhaps the damage was already done.).

I remember the horrible camping food, and when you're with a bunch of crunchy-type people who won't even pack marshmallows because of their artificial nature, you're not likely to have a good time.  I remember a leaky tent that forced us to abandon the camping concept when it started to rain, and instead I had to sleep curled up inside a too small (for me, anyway) car.  And I remember I was also camping on the weekend that Jerry Garcia died (August 9, 1995) and the whole campground turned into a horrible sing-along of Grateful Dead songs - they're an OK band, I'm not a big fan.  I'll try and revisit their music when my cassette-replacement project hits the letter "G", and I'm on "F" right now.   This film also features hikers singing Dead songs, and it's an odd coincidence.  (Yep, IMDB confirms that this scene was set in August, 1995.)

So my experiences, like that of the main character here, Cheryl Strayed, were downright monstrous - whatever the opposite of "glamping" is, that's what I went through.  To paraphrase Fr. Mulcahy from the final episode of "M*A*S*H", when we die, and the Lord says we have to spend time in purgatory,  I can say, "No thanks, I've done my time - I went camping."  But one of my friends from those camping trips later made a film about people who hike the Appalachian Trail, called "2000 Miles to Maine", so I do understand a bit about the concept here.  People who just want to get out and hike a very long distance, by themself or with others, and even if they have to leave the trail and go back to their life for a while, they make note of where they left off, so they can return to that spot.

And in a way, it's a metaphor for life's road, I get that.  You're going to meet a lot of people along the way, some good, some not-so-good, some who will help you out and some who might take advantage of you.  And you're going to learn something from all of them, if you're paying attention.  And you can walk along with someone, or you can walk the road by yourself, if you need some time to just be in your own head.  But how much time spent alone is too much?  I ask myself that from time to time, even though I'm more comfortable being by myself than I used to be, if I spend too much time alone, I get a little crazy and talk to myself, or maybe the cat.

But what makes a person a "good" person?  Because the film here presents us with a character who has done bad things, in addition to going through tough times.  It's an important question for our times, when so many of our idols have been shown to have feet of clay, whether it's the sports star who's up on weapons charges, or the beloved sitcom star who allegedly drugged women to have sex with him.  Or any famous person who dares to have a social life that is in contrast to our own personal moral beliefs, or tells a story about a robbery in a foreign country that never even happened. Can a person be "good" in some aspect of their life to counter some other sin or indulgence?

This leads me back to the people who have this high moral attitude that's related to their diet or exercise, as if being "healthy" in body is somehow related to morality, or being "healthy" in spirit.  Come on, you probably know someone who's all uppity when it comes to being gluten-free, or about how many times this week they've been to the gym, or how long they ran on that treadmill.  It's all a bunch of B.S., because none of that makes them a "good" person in spirit, they can still be assholes.  In fact it often seems more likely - and I'd rather hang out with the eaters and drinkers who at least know how to have a good time, even if it's a shorter one.

But maybe I needed to hear this "don't quit" message that this film espouses - because my career path is kind of like this long hike, in its own way.  I've got more than enough reasons to pack it in and seek a job where in addition to a paycheck, I can also get a little bit of respect and appreciation.  But every time I think "Should I quit now?" I look back on how far I've come, and like Cheryl Strayed here, I then focus on the obstacle ahead, whatever it is, and say, "Fuck it!".  And so far it's not "Fuck it, I quit", but more like "Fuck it, I've come this far, what's another year?"  I admit it's not the best attitude, but it does get me through the day.

But let's start with the NITPICK POINTS.  First off, the film is way too flashback-y.  I understand the need to reveal the WHY of her journey slowly, over time, I just don't know if excessive flashbackery was the best way to do it.  The first few are even silent memories, because God forbid we learn too much about why she's hiking over 1,000 miles too soon in the film.  Plus, what's the point of numbering the days on the hike, if you're then going to jump around in time excessively, so we don't even know when we are?

The first few flashbacks are also very confusing - it looked like Cheryl's mother was attending high school classes with her, and I don't see how that made any sense.  Then I thought maybe her mother was a teacher at her high school, but that didn't make sense either.  Was the mother trying to get her own diploma later in life, after her own divorce?  This was never really explained.

Directly related to this is the casting of Laura Dern as Cheryl's mother - but Dern's only 9 years older in real life than Reese Witherspoon is.  So they really had to try and make Reese look younger and Laura look older, but there's only so much you can do in that regard.  (Weird tie-in with "The Age of Adaline", where Adaline and her daughter looked like sisters - but this was due to the quirk of Adaline not aging...).

Another NITPICK POINT, it seemed like there was a shot where Cheryl read her own name, Strayed, as a word in the dictionary.  I get that she "strayed" from her husband and "strayed" off on her hike, so the name has a meaning that ties in with the plot, but there just wouldn't be a dictionary entry for this word, because it's just the past tense of "stray", so a tense would only appear as a small part of the main definition for that root word.  The symbolism doesn't work if you phony up a dictionary entry.

Anyway, my takeaway from the film is that the old saying "The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step" is also a bunch of bull.  I think it should be more like "The journey of 1,000 miles SHOULD begin with like, a month of prep-work, if you're smart."  Or perhaps you should be figuring out a better way to travel, because we have planes and trains now - why is hiking still a thing?

Also starring Reese Witherspoon (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Laura Dern (last seen in "Dr. T & The Women"), Thomas Sadoski (last seen in "John Wick"), Keene McRae (last seen as Sting (!) in "CBGB"), W. Earl Brown (last seen in "Vampire in Brooklyn"), Gaby Hoffman (last seen in "Everyone Says I Love You"), Kevin Rankin (last seen in "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"), Brian Van Holt (last seen in "A Very Brady Sequel"), Cliff De Young (last seen in "The Craft"), Mo McRae (last seen in "The Butler"), Jan Hoag, Charles Baker, J.D. Evermore, Ray Buckley, Cathryn de Prume, with cameos from Art Alexakis (from the band "Everclear") and the real Cheryl Strayed.

RATING: 4 out of 10 protein bars

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Age of Adaline

Year 9, Day 86 - 3/27/17 - Movie #2,580

BEFORE: Today I have to start putting my office back together, which I'm not looking forward to.  I was very stressed out in the weeks before the move, and started fantasizing about quitting, just so I wouldn't have to go through the hassle of moving.  The move itself was also incredibly stressful, and even though the hardest part is over, I'm still having fantasies about quitting, so I won't have to rebuild everything in the office, from the internet to the file cabinets to the dozens of boxes of merchandise.  Sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is the promise of that annual trip to Comic-Con in July - which is also a lot of work, but at least it's also somewhat fun.

Blake Lively carries over from "Café Society" as I approach the end of another month.


THE PLOT: A young woman, born at the turn of the 20th century, is rendered ageless after an accident.  After many solitary years, she meets a man who complicates the eternal life she has settled into.

AFTER: This film features a very different love triangle than last night's film - but it's still an odd coincidence.  The one in "Café Society" featured the unlikely possibility that a young man's girlfriend might later become his aunt - but since that film was directed by a man who married his own step-daughter, you kind of have to wonder if he had his own agenda.  There's another very unlikely romantic occurrence here, though I'm hesitant to mention the exact details for fear of spoilers.  (Also, this is the third film in a row for me with a scene set on New Year's Eve, I kind of wish I'd known that, perhaps I could have scheduled this chain more appropriately.)

But suffice it to say that there is a woman who has somehow stopped aging (there is an exact combination of elements that supposedly causes this, but since it mentions electron compression in DNA, whatever that is, I assume that it's junk science and not meant to be taken seriously).  Hey, at least she's not aging backwards like Benjamin Button, because I still don't understand what was going on with him.

As a result of living for so many decades, Adaline ends up looking younger than her own daughter, and suspicions are raised whenever anyone checks her I.D., so she's forced to disappear every few decades and come back with a new name and new documents, and start her life again.  Of course, this leads to NITPICK POINT about how she manages to hired without a proper resumé or a college degree - or does she have to keep going to college under each new name, just to get ahead in whatever field she works in?  (Where does she work, anyway - some kind of library or archive?  It's a bit unclear.).

The good things about living for so long include being an expert on early 20th century history (because she was there for so much of it) and by extension, being unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit.  (But sorry, NITPICK POINT #2, just because you live longer doesn't mean you remember more, in fact the opposite is probably true.  The human brain can only store so much before old memories have to be sacrificed to make room, right?).  But the bad thing about living so long seems to be that it turns you into someone who can't form a lasting relationship, due to a combination of pining for lost loves and not wanting to watch another one grow old and pass away.

So Adaline has made herself unapproachable, unable to let anyone close for what she perceives as her own good, and to keep anyone from learning her secret.  And thus we come to NITPICK POINT #3, which results from me wondering why she is so desperate to keep her anti-aging a secret.  If you knew that your body held the cure for aging, or any disease such as cancer, wouldn't you have a moral responsibility to allow yourself to be examined, in order to help other people?  Keeping her secret is not only self-preservation, but also incredibly selfish.

But I digress - this is really a romance of sorts, because even though she's tormented by the memories of her dead husband and other lost loves, one man finally is able to break through the wall and win her heart - but things then become more complicated by a coincidence even greater than the convergence of events that led to her accident in the first place.  I wish I could say that I could overlook these coincidences, but I'm just not buying into it.

I wish I could say the acting is good, but most of it just isn't.  I think Blake Lively was cast in "Café Society" in an attempt to make Kristen Stewart seem like a better actor by comparison, but that didn't work.  And in addition to the junk science, the attempt to tie something in with the astronomical return of a comet didn't make any sense (nor did some weird tie-in between the moon, the tides in Tierra del Fuego, and a freak snowstorm - did not understand that at all.).

But I will say that the actor here who plays the younger version of Harrison Ford's character really should have been considered for the upcoming "young Han Solo" movie. I'm biased - he also was seen doing a Harrison Ford impression in the film "The People vs. George Lucas", a film I was interviewed in, so he was one of my co-stars.  This other actor, Alden Ehrenreich, who won the role, must have given a killer audition to beat this guy.

Also starring Michiel Huisman (last seen in "World War Z"), Harrison Ford (last seen in "The Conversation"), Ellen Burstyn (last heard in "Red Dragon"), Kathy Baker (last seen in "Saving Mr. Banks"), Amanda Crew (last seen in "Jobs"), Peter J. Gray, Cate Richardson, Anthony Ingruber, Lynda Boyd, Anjali Jay, Richard Harmon, with narration by Hugh Ross.

RATING: 5 out of 10 newsreels

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Café Society

Year 9, Day 85 - 3/26/17 - Movie #2,579

BEFORE: I ran out of Michael Caine movies, and I can't hold out for "Going in Style", even though that would have made some sense, with both Caine and Morgan Freeman carrying over.  So I'm following the Jesse Eisenberg link - I already watched one movie this year with him and Kristen Stewart ("American Ultra") and I guess I had hopes that this recent Woody Allen film would have run on cable by that point - only that was pre-Oscars, and I think mostly films that are in contention for Academy Awards don't premiere on cable until after the ceremony, just in case they might win, in which case they take longer to appear on premium cable, and probably get to negotiate a higher price for that.

As it is, I needed to borrow an Academy screener from one of my bosses (both of whom are Academy members).  I'm trying not to make a habit out of this, because it takes some of the sport out of tracking down movies, but I can do this on occasion, especially if a film takes too long (in my opinion) to air - where is "Spotlight", for example?  That won Best Picture over a year ago, and hasn't been on premium cable yet.

I haven't seen Woody Allen's last two films yet, and I hate to watch them out of order, but the linking is telling me to watch this one now, and maybe save "Irrational Man" for later in the year.  I can't be sure this is the right move, only time will tell.


THE PLOT: In the 1930's, a Bronx native moves to Hollywood and falls in love with a young woman who is seeing a married man.

AFTER: Well, I said I wanted to watch more modern films, and although this is a more RECENT film, there's scarcely anything modern about it - mostly because it's set back in the 1930's.  We get it, Woody Allen, you like jazz - I guess he ran out of ways to incorporate jazz into the background, so he had to make a whole movie set in the Jazz Age.  In fact, it seems weird to hear a character in the 1930's say something like "I love jazz!" because wasn't that the only music that they had?  It would be strange for someone back then to NOT like jazz because they'd essentially be saying that they hated music, and that's just not possible, right?  So why would anyone proclaim "I love jazz!" when it would, more or less, go without saying?

It's kind of odd that I recently finished a long chain with Fred Astaire, and then in this film, the lead character leaves New York to get a job with his uncle, who's an agent in L.A. and the first thing he does in town is go see the movie "Swing Time".  And then the central plot concerns a love triangle that feels like it's straight out of an Astaire/Rogers film.  I won't say here who's involved in the triangle, because many people may not have seen this film yet, and these are facts that the movie slowly reveals - over a loooonnnng period of time.  It's almost agonizing that one character figures it out, then a second - it's like pulling teeth.

Then I watched a Michael Caine chain, and of course Caine starred in my favorite Woody Allen film, "Hannah and Her Sisters", and this chain included "Sweet Liberty" with Alan Alda, who starred in another of his films, "Everybody Says I Love You".  Maybe this is what made me feel like the time was right to get to Woody's most recent film.

I also couldn't help but notice callbacks to earlier Woody films - the Jewish NY family reminded me of the one from "Radio Days", and the man deciding to convert from Judaism to Christianity just so he could believe in an afterlife sort of mirrored a similar crisis of faith seen in "Hannah and Her Sisters".  I guess once you direct over 45 features, you've got no choice over whether you start repeating yourself.

But there's something about this film's pacing that's way off - there are strange pauses in the lines, especially the ones spoken by Kristen Stewart.  Example: "I'm going to come over and cook you some (large pause) spaghetti." What the hell was that pause doing there?  Did she forget what her character wanted to cook?  Were they unable to do another take so she could complete the line in a timely fashion, so it would resemble human speech?  Or was that the best take that existed, God forbid.

I'm not convinced that she even belongs in a Woody Allen film, she doesn't seem to fit in.  Jesse Eisenberg sure seems at home, and Steve Carell I'll allow, but Stewart just seems all wrong in this setting. I heard he directed some Amazon series with Miley Cyrus too, I think he just likes working with younger and prettier, but kinda screwed-up women.  And there's just no way THAT could go south...

The overall pacing's also off, because there are two stories running concurrently, the adventures of Bobby Dorfman in Hollywood, and his brother Ben's criminal activities in New York.  Now, editing logic demands that eventually these two plot lines are going to converge, but again, the film takes its own sweet time in getting there - I was starting to question whether the storylines were ever going to have any relationship to each other at all.

Look, who am I to tell Woody Allen who to work with, or how to structure a film?  The guy's got an amazing track record, but I'm just not feeling like this is one of his best.  His filmography has gone through highs and lows before, and of course that's all subjective and different people may have different opinions about which are which, but this is no "Annie Hall" or "Radio Days" - hell, this isn't even as good as "Small Time Crooks".  Which makes me wonder how much longer Woody's going to keep making films, since he's 81 now and his filmmaking magic seems like it might be on the decline again.

NITPICK POINT: Oddly, both "Now You See Me 2" and this film feature scenes set on New Year's Eve, and they both made the same mistake.  It seems like film directors don't understand the world's time zones, because in "Now You See Me 2" they cut from 12:00 midnight in London to Sydney, Australia, where the sky was also dark.  But it should have been daytime in Sydney when it's midnight in London.  "Café Society" similarly shows two people celebrating New Year's Eve, but one's in New York and the other's in L.A.  They just wouldn't be experiencing midnight at the same time, one would celebrate it three hours ahead of the other.

Also starring Kristen Stewart (last seen uncredited in "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas"), Steve Carell (last heard in "Minions"), Blake Lively (last seen in "Savages"), Parker Posey (last seen in "The Sweetest Thing"), Corey Stoll (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Jeannie Berlin (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Ken Stott (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"), Anna Camp (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Paul Schneider (last seen in "The Family Stone"), Sheryl Lee (last seen in "Wild at Heart"), Stephen Kunken (last seen in "Still Alice"), Sari Lennick, with cameos from Richard Portnow, Don Stark (last seen in "Maverick"), Tony Sirico (last seen in "The Pick-Up Artist"), and narration by Woody Allen (last seen in "To Rome with Love")

RATING: 4 out of 10 menial errands