Saturday, April 8, 2017

Legend (2015)

Year 9, Day 98 - 4/8/17 - Movie #2,592

BEFORE: I've bounced this week between crime films and superhero stories, and even worked in a seafaring tale - but now I'm back on the crime beat.  Paul Anderson carries over from "In the Heart of the Sea", which enables me to kick off a Tom Hardy triple-play.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Black Mass" (Movie #2,588)

THE PLOT: Identical twin gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray terrorize London during the 1960's.

AFTER: They made a film about these criminals once before, it was called "The Krays" and it starred real twin brothers - the ones who were in the band Spandau Ballet (kids, ask your parents, or just look them up on Wikipedia, it's probably easier...)

It's hard for me to get a read on Tom Hardy, partly because he plays either these sci-fi roles with a lot of make-up and prosthetics, like as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises" or in "Star Trek: Nemesis", or he sort of disappears into his role, method-style, as he does here.  So if I try to think about what he looks like in real life, I have no idea.  I guess he looks more like Reginald than Ronald, because when he's playing Ronald here he's got those thick-framed glasses, and he's basically using the Bane voice again.  I don't know if he's just set himself on a path to play as many different and unusual roles as possible, or what.  Maybe his agent's got a grudge against him, or just likes throwing acting challenges his way.

That's the biggest challenge for an actor, right?  Playing twins, or two roles in the same film, and making each one distinct?  I saw this same thing recently in "Now You See Me 2", though I didn't mention which actor got to play the dual role, because spoilers.  But it goes way back in acting, past Patty Duke's "identical cousins" (whatever that means) or Peter Brady's never-explained double on that episode of "The Brady Bunch" (his brother from another mother?).  It probably goes back further than "The Wizard of Oz", where the farmhands, the traveling psychic and Mrs. Gulch all appeared as characters in Oz, and past stage-plays of "Peter Pan" where the same actor who played Wendy's father usually also played Captain Hook (more on that at the end of this month).

The technology has gotten much better in the last few decades, as we saw Nicolas Cage play twin brothers in "Adapation." and Michael J. Fox playing two roles at once in "Back to the Future III", and then, of course, there's "Cloud Atlas".  Beyond the old "split-screen" effect, they can now have an actor interacting with a stuntman, and then later super-impose the actor's head on the stuntman's body, which enables the Kray brothers here to disagree and have a bar fight with each other, and you can almost forget that it's the same actor in both roles.  It looks like they'll be doing something similar on the upcoming season of "Fargo", with Ewan McGregor playing brothers who interact.

It's enough to make this film unusual and interesting, but perhaps not enough to overcome the same narrative problem I saw in "Black Mass".  The criminals do something bad, there's a reason why they're not caught or charged, they apologize to their loved ones, then go commit another crime.  Repeat as necessary over the next two hours.  There's no real redemption along the way, which is also a bit of a shame.

Also starring Tom Hardy (last seen in "Layer Cake"), Christopher Eccleston (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), David Thewlis (last seen in "Seven Years in Tibet"), Emily Browning (last seen in "Pompeii"), Taron Egerton (last seen in "Kingsman: The Secret Service"), Paul Bethany (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Chazz Palminteri (last seen in "Mulholland Falls"), Colin Morgan, Tara Fitzgerald (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Sam Spruell (last seen in "Taken 3"), Adam Fogerty, Joshua Hill, John Sessions (last seen in "The Iron Lady"), Kevin McNally (last seen in "Entrapment"), with a cameo from Duffy.

RATING: 5 out of 10 tap handles

Friday, April 7, 2017

In the Heart of the Sea

Year 9, Day 97 - 4/7/17 - Movie 2,591

BEFORE: My wife and I play this game we call "The Butter Zone", it's when one of us plays the other a classic song from the 1970's or 80's, and the other one has to name it.  (Dr. Stephen Strange played a version of this game while doing surgery the other night, that's what made me think of it.). But tonight at dinner we came up with a new game, where one shows the other a photo we took of a meal we shared together, from last month or last year or maybe from earlier, and the other one has to name the restaurant or occasion.  We learned it's amazing what you can remember of your past dinners, or what you can discern from the elements of the photo, not just the food but also the plates, table decorations and so on.  We're tentatively calling it "The Bread and Butter Zone".

Chris Hemsworth carries over again from "Blackhat", making his third appearance in a row.


THE PLOT: A recounting of a New England whaling ship's sinking by a giant whale in 1820, an experience that later inspired the great novel Moby Dick.

AFTER: Having the story of the Essex told to Herman Melville in a framing sequence is a very sneaky way to make a story that's a lot like "Moby Dick", without actually remaking "Moby Dick", which might turn off the teens who are forced to read that book in high school.  (But, doesn't showing Melville copying down another man's account of a disastrous whaling voyage then detract from the Great American novel?) Don't worry, I'm here to help - the spin that this film puts on the classic obsessive whaler vs. white whale story can be used to your advantage, teens, when you have to write that book report for class.

You see, every film is a product of the time that created it, and with all the lefty liberal environmentalists driving around La-La land in their Priuses, arguing over who's leaving the smallest carbon footprint, Hollywood has finally managed to put out a version of "Moby Dick" where the WHALE is the hero, and the whalers are the villains.  Because times have changed, and some people now feel that hunting an entire species to the brink of extinction is a BAD thing.  This totally flips the script - when Melville first wrote "Moby Dick" there was no question, the white whale was clearly an agent of the devil, to fight back against the whalers, who were human, and it's right there in the Book of Genesis, God gave Adam, and by extension all mankind, dominion over the animal kingdom.  What other purpose could other living creatures possibly serve, if not to be food and clothing and a fuel supply for humans?

That story, too, was a product of the time that created it.  Once people discovered that "whale oil" (I feel I should probably look up exactly what "whale oil" is, but I have a feeling I'll regret it.  I'm still ruing the decision to learn what "ambergris" is...) could power lamps and (early versions of) machines, it seemed only natural to harvest as much of it as possible from the oceans.  God did say, "Let there be light...", right?  He must have been talking about lighting our homes with whale oil, which it turns out, is just boiled-down whale blubber, so mostly made of fatty acids.  People back then could possibly have made candles out of pig fat, except a whale was the size of like a thousand pigs.

And people's decisions to hunt and kill animals for their own selfish needs are often justified after the fact.  Bear in mind that this was all that people knew at the time, oil came from whales, they didn't know that you could also find oil by digging in the ground, which seemed like a ridiculous notion and a waste of time, the same way some people today feel about building windmills and installing solar panels.  Really, as a species we haven't gotten any smarter, we've only changed the things that we're ignorant about.

But back to your book report - your English teacher is probably some old fart that was taught that the symbolism in "Moby Dick" meant only one thing - the whale is a monster, the whale is evil, the whale represents Ahab's darker instincts for revenge.  Meanwhile the whalers attend church to hear a sermon, and everything aboard the ship is some kind of religious symbol or prophesy.  But what if we look at the story with modern eyes and a conservationist mentality?  Then we've flipped the script - the whalers are evil because they kill other living beings with no concern or grace, they treat all of nature as if it belongs to them, and they are shocked when an ignorant creature fights back, and doesn't just roll over and die.  If not evil per se, they're at least self-entitled asses.

Who's to say that the men of the Pequod, or the Essex in tonight's story that inspired "Moby Dick" don't deserve their terrible fates?  They are the invaders, the aggressors, they don't belong in the ocean, and their slaughter of whales to power their lamps and make their candles is an upset of the natural order.  So there you go, the whale is the hero, man is the villain - and if you get an "A" on your book report, I want some of the credit.  (But if you get an "F", it's not my fault - your teacher just isn't enlightened, that's all.).

Also starring Benjamin Walker (last seen in "The Notorious Bettie Page"), Cillian Murphy (last seen in "28 Days Later..."), Brendan Gleeson (last seen in "The Smurfs 2"), Ben Whishaw (last seen in "Spectre"), Michelle Fairley (last seen in "Philomena"), Tom Holland (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Paul Anderson (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"), Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawle (last seen in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"), Edward Ashley, Sam Keeley, Osy Ikhile, Gary Beadle (last seen in "Cockneys vs. Zombies"), Jamie Sives (last seen in "Maleficent"), Charlotte Riley (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow"), Donald Sumpter (last seen in "K-19: The Widowmaker"), Nicholas Jones (last seen in "Copying Beethoven"), Richard Bremmer (last seen in "Mr. Turner"), Jordi Molla (last seen in "Ant-Man").

RATING: 6 out of 10 pieces of hardtack

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Blackhat

Year 9, Day 96 - 4/6/17 - Movie #2,590

BEFORE: Sorry for possibly spoiling the post-credits sequence from "Doctor Strange", but it was important that I mention that Chris Hemsworth made an appearance as Thor - because Hemsworth carries over from that film to appear in "Blackhat".


THE PLOT: A furloughed convict and his American and Chinese partners hunt a high-level cybercrime network from Chicago to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Jakarta.

AFTER: Tonight it's time for "Why I Hate Millennials, Part 47".  Because none of them seem to know the value of hard work, instead they invent titles for themselves, like "Coder" or "Hacker" or "Social Media Coordinator", like that's a real thing.  Not to sound like an old fogey, but when I was a teenager I worked in a warehouse, lifting boxes.  (Thirty years and a film degree later, and I'm still moving boxes, but those are the breaks.).  Even in my twenties, I worked in a library media lab, and then broke into the business by working as a production assistant on music videos.  Driving vans, loading equipment, painting sets - I didn't have the opportunity to sit with a laptop and write code that would enable me to create backdoors into the computer systems at the stock exchange to manipulate soy futures, or whatever.

Oh, they sit in the coffee shops all day, and they want you to believe they're working on their screenplays, but they're really developing hack tools called RATs that end up being used to infiltrate the systems of nuclear reactors, and then when the NSA catches up with them, they probably say things like, "That's my code, man, but I designed it to hack into Hollywood movie companies and search for "Game of Thrones" spoilers."  But presumably something like this is what put the main character here in jail, where he sits around looking all buff and sticking to his exercise regime, saying things like "You do your time, but don't let the time do YOU."  What does that even MEAN?

But it's only a matter of time until the Chinese government convinces the FBI to release him in order to put him to work tracking an even worse hacker, because he's apparently the only one who can.  They pulled this same sort of thing on "CSI: Cyber" a few years back, commuting the sentences of blackhat hackers and turning them into whitehat ones.  But apparently the flashy computer tracking only goes so far, because they end up racing around the world anyway - which is really silly if you think about it, because they could easily just find a relay in that location which is just forwarding a signal from somewhere else, right?

The silliest part is probably near the end, when our hero hacker manages to steal back the money from the anonymous thief, and then STILL agrees to meet with him in person.  For the love of God, why?  You GOT his money, you won - just text him an "LOL" message and be done with it, why put yourself at risk?  But I guess at this point, the revenge is personal, visceral, and if you've got muscles like those (which no real hacker has in real life, I guarantee...) you might as well put them to use.

Also starring Leehom Wang, Wei Tang, Viola Davis (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Holt McCallany (last seen in Concussion"), Ritchie Coster (last seen in "Creed"), Andy On, Christian Borle, John Ortiz (last seen in "Amistad"), Yorick van Wageningen, Archie Kao, with a cameo from William Mapother (last seen in "Jobs").

RATING: 3 out of 10 sharpened screwdrivers

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Doctor Strange

Year 9, Day 95 - 4/5/17 - Movie #2,589

BEFORE: Well, I couldn't use Tom Hanks as a link out of "Bonfire of the Vanities" because I don't have copies of "Sully" or "Inferno" yet, and similarly I couldn't use Johnny Depp as a link out of "Black Mass" because no channel has run "Alice Through the Looking Glass" yet.  These are the things I have to consider, keeping an eye on the list of films that I WANT to add to the watchlist.

But it's all going to work out, because this is all part of my plan - Benedict Cumberbatch carries over from playing Billy Bulger in "Black Mass", and I get to catch up on the Marvel movie that I missed last year.  I didn't think there was a way to link to it, so I didn't catch this one in the theater, but then of course Cumberbatch turned up unexpectedly in "Zoolander 2" and I was so busy around the holidays that I couldn't adjust in time.  It's OK, I really needed the link here, so everything happens for a reason, I guess.


THE PLOT: While on a journey of physical and spiritual healing, a brilliant neurosurgeon is drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

AFTER: Every time I watch a Marvel or DC movie, I'm reminded that it's such a great time to be alive - because it turns out that if you live long enough, you get to see every book and comic book that you read as a kid turned into movies. Just over the last few years, I've been able to see the entire "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" series as films, plus some of the "Chronicles of Narnia" books, and just about every comic I read growing up, from the Avengers, Fantastic Four and the X-Men to Batman, Superman and soon the whole Justice League, not to mention "Watchmen", "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and soon even "A Wrinkle in Time" will join that list.  The fact that Marvel's made it down to Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and now Doctor Strange gives me hope that someday they'll make it to She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Cloak & Dagger and maybe Alpha Flight.

Any true comic book fan already knows the origin of Doctor Strange, so the first half-hour of this film should come with no suprises - Stephen Strange was a talented surgeon who was in a car accident, and lost the use of his hands.  This led him to Nepal to seek out alternatives to medical healing, and put him on a path of mystical discovery.  But before the accident, he was an arrogant asshole, so really this is like the "Regarding Henry" of superhero stories.  He eventually learns that it's NOT all about him, and that magic, like superheroism, is all about sacrifice.  (It's like an adult "Harry Potter" story, just one where the trainee goes to a much tougher school, then learns to fight "Matrix"-style in the world of "Inception".)

The most recent writers of the "Doctor Strange" comic book have taken this theme to heart, really diving into the cost of Strange defeating one mystical "evil" entity after another over the years, and finally showing the bill for that cost coming due.  They revealed that his manservant, Wong, and several of the Tibetan monks have been powering his spells, at the cost of their own souls, bit by bit, and in the last few issues, Strange has been battling a creature that's a manifestation of his own misery, which has built up over the years.  Sounds a bit like my job.

The film sort of touches on things like that too, when it's revealed that the Ancient One only got to be so ancient by tapping into power from the Dark Dimension, which doesn't sound good.  But if she's been able to stay alive longer and battle evil more by using dark power for good causes, who's to say what's right and what's wrong?

That's right, the Ancient One is a "she" here, which did cause some controversy since the Ancient One in the comic books was an old Asian man, not a (relatively) young British woman.  There's blind casting, and then there's inappropriate blind casting, it's not really up to me to decide which is which, but why go on record taking a job away from minority actors, just to cast a woman?  But really I just found this confusing, because I wasn't sure if she was supposed to be a woman, or a woman playing a man.  The latter might have been a bit more interesting, but I guess gender-bending is likely to blow the minds of little kids who are comic-book fans.  It turns out the filmmakers were trying to avoid using racial stereotypes, but in doing so, just managed to piss off more people for "white-washing" the character.

Now, there's the matter of where this fits into the Marvel Universe, because otherwise I'd have a NITPICK POINT about the Eye of Agamotto, which is generally used in the comic book to reveal the true nature of things, not to rewind and control time, as seen here.  But they do mention that it contains an Infinity Stone, most likely the Time Gem, and this is what we've been seeing in all of the Marvel movies so far - and this linked storyline should come to fruition in the upcoming "Avengers: Infinity War".  The tesseract in "Captain America" was really the space gem, the Aether in "Thor: the Dark World" came from the reality gem, the orb in "Guardians of the Galaxy" was the power gem, and Loki's scepter in "The Avengers" housed the mind gem (currently worn on the forehead of the Vision in "Age of Ultron").  If this film shows us the time gem, then only one is still missing - the soul gem.  Gee, I hope Thanos doesn't somehow get his hands on all 6 of them and put them together, that would probably be bad.

It's possible that the upcoming "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" will deal with this, if not then we'll have to wait for November's "Thor: Ragnarok".  Since that may deal with the fall of Asgard, and Hela (goddess of Death) is going to appear in that one, we may see the Soul Gem make its appearance there.  The post-credits sequence in "Doctor Strange" leads into that third Thor film, so it all starts to make sense, at least comic-book sense.

Anyway, back to the "Doctor Strange" movie.  It's visually stunning, but I admit that the plot got away from me at some point, specifically when the action left Tibet, and they started talking about the three "sanctums" run by the monks, which are in London, New York and Hong Kong.  (So, just curious, why live in Tibet when you can bounce between those other cities?)  Since I missed them talking about the sanctums somehow, it seemed to me like the villain zapped Doctor Strange, and suddenly he had his house on Bleecker Street and all the magical relics he needed, and I wasn't sure how he got there.

Also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (last seen in "The Martian"), Rachel McAdams (last seen in "Southpaw"), Mads Mikkelsen (last seen in "Rogue One"), Tilda Swinton (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Benedict Wong (also last seen in "The Martian"), Michael Stuhlbarg (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Benjamin Bratt (last seen in "The Great Raid"), Scott Adkins (last seen in "The Pink Panther"), Mark Anthony Brighton, with cameos from Stan Lee (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "Ghostbusters" (2016)).

RATING: 7 out of 10 MRI scans

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Black Mass

Year 9, Day 94 - 4/4/17 - Movie #2,588

BEFORE: I grew up about a half-hour outside of Boston, in the suburbs, in the 1970's and 80's, but I didn't hear about Whitey Bulger until after I'd moved away to college in New York, and my father started relating the local gossip about him to me some time in the mid-1990's.  So I feel like I've got some background, and I've truly been looking forward to this one - I'll probably end up bringing it with me the next time I visit my parents, so my Dad can weigh in on this film as well.

Two actors carry over from "Midnight Special" - Joel Edgerton and Bill Camp.


THE PLOT: The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.

AFTER: If this film reminds you in some way of "The Departed", you're not wrong.  Although that film was technically a remake of a Hong Kong film named "Infernal Affairs", Scorcese worked in a fair amount of Whitey Bulger's story into Jack Nicholson's character.   And Matt Damon's character, the criminal planted within the Boston police, bears a resemblance to John Connolly, who worked for the FBI but grew up as Bulger's childhood friend.

In real life, of course we now know that Connolly's presence on the FBI was probably the thing that allowed Bulger to build his criminal empire - wondering whether the FBI guy pretended to bring Bulger in as an informant or whether Bulger placed Connolly there as a mole is sort of a chicken/egg kind of thing, I suppose.  And the fact that Whitey's brother Billy was a state senator probably didn't hurt either.  At first, it doesn't track that Bulger would give any information to the FBI, because of how he felt about "rats", but if it was done to keep the heat off of him, and also take down the Italian crime family in Boston, maybe that does make a bit of sense.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend, or at least someone I can pretend to work with.

But the high-profile nature of Bulger as a news story doesn't mean that it will necessarily make for a great film - in fact, the story gets very repetitive early, and never changes.  Bulger commits crimes, Connolly covers them up, Bulger gives up a speck of information about the Italians, Connolly points out to his bosses how valuable the relationship is.  Repeat as necessary with each new boss at the FBI, and this went on for decades.  Eventually someone realized that every time Connolly was told the name or location of a guy willing to testify against Whitey, that guy usually turned up dead soon after.

The only attempt made to humanize Bulger was to show him with his girlfriend and son, and his reactions when his son got sick.  But there's only so much you can do to tone down the psycho, because you really don't want the audience rooting for him.  I noticed they left out any mention of his second common-law wife who went on the lam with him, or any of his other girlfriends.  The film makes it seem like he just went traveling around the world by himself, and that's not true.  But the FBI finally caught up with Bulger in Santa Monica in 2011, and he's currently serving two life sentences (plus five years) in prison.  Whoops, sorry, spoiler alert.

Also starring Johnny Depp (last seen in "Transcendence"), Benedict Cumberbatch (last heard in "The Penguins of Madagascar"), Dakota Johnson (last seen in "How to Be Single"), Kevin Bacon (last seen in "Starting Over"), Peter Sarsgaard (last seen in "K-19: The Widowmaker"), Jesse Plemons (last seen in "Shrink"), Rory Cochrane (last seen in "Argo"), David Harbour (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Adam Scott (last seen in "Sleeping With Other People"), Corey Stoll (last seen in "Café Society"), Julianne Nicholson (last seen in "August: Osage County"), W. Earl Brown (last seen in "Wild"), Juno Temple (last seen in "Maleficent"), Mark Mahoney, Brad Carter, Scott Anderson, Erica McDermott (last seen in "Joy"), Luke Ryan, Owen Burke (last seen in "The Forger"), David DeBack, Jamie Donnelly, Patrick M. Walsh.

RATING: 5 out of 10 surveillance photos

Monday, April 3, 2017

Midnight Special

Year 9, Day 93 - 4/3/17 - Movie #2,587

BEFORE: It took two hours yesterday at H&R Block, but our tax returns are done.  I'd probably still be scratching my head, trying to figure out form 8889 and calculating the limited deduction of the employer contribution to my wife's health savings account.  Which is quite difficult, I maintain.  Who knew that healthcare would be so complicated?  Donald Trump sure didn't.  But we got it done, then rewarded ourselves with a trip to IHOP so we could have breakfast for dinner.

Kirsten Dunst had a small role in "Bonfire of the Vanities" as the daughter of the main character, Sherman McCoy.  That allows me to connect to this film, where she plays the mother of the young boy character, Alton.  Really, I had two medium-sized chains with current films (2015-2017), and I used those two 1990-1991 films with Donald Moffat as a sort of connective tissue.  Tonight I kick off the 2nd chain with (mostly) recent films, which is great because I'm eager to get to these.


THE PLOT: A father and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child's special powers.

AFTER: There's something sort of X-Men like about this, especially with the type of powers that the boy has, mixed with the "one child and two adults on the lam" plot, which greatly resembles the one seen in "Logan" (seen and reviewed but not yet posted...it's coming soon) and the fact that I've been re-watching "X-Men: Apocalypse" a lot late at night, after my movie ends and I need to scroll through the upcoming listings.  The sci-fi tie-ins are also highlighted by the presence of two "Star Wars" actors and one DC movie actor - so yes, this is sort of the film where General Zod and Owen Lars go on the run with a young Cyclops-like boy, pursued by Kylo Ren.  Only, not really.

There's also a strong similarity to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", where people (particularly one small boy, his mother and Richard Dreyfuss's character) are compelled to make their way to a particular location in Wyoming, because they feel something important will happen there at a certain time.  The boy here, Alton, also appears to be receiving some kind of messages, and is being drawn to a certain location, but I don't think there's the same pay-off as that film from 1977.  (Umm, it's a little hard to tell.).

There's also a religious cult that's been built up around this boy, and the messages he's received - there's a strong similarity to "speaking in tongues" after all.  But it's also very unclear how the cult perceives the boy's powers, and what benefit, exactly, they get from interacting with him.

When Alton finally figures out his powers, and what he can do, and what it all means, is the payoff enough?  That's a question that viewers have to answer for themselves.  Me, I've got more questions than answers, and that doesn't usually make me happy.

Also starring Michael Shannon (last seen in "The Night Before"), Joel Edgerton (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Adam Driver (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Jaeden Lieberher (last seen in "Aloha"), Bill Camp (last seen in "Love & Mercy"), Scott Haze, Sam Shepard (last seen in "Bandidas"), Paul Sparks (last seen in "Mud"), David Jensen (last seen in "Hot Pursuit"), Sean Bridgers, Garrett Hines (last seen in "Stolen"), with a cameo from Nancy Grace (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice")

RATING: 5 out of 10 state troopers

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Year 9, Day 92 - 4/2/17 - Movie #2,586

BEFORE: Yesterday was a day for chores, namely getting my laundry done before t-shirt season (hey, I say if you wear a long-sleeve thermal shirt underneath, it's ALWAYS t-shirt season) and finally sorting our receipts for the tax return, a process delayed by the office move and other things.  There's still over two weeks to file, but after sorting a quick pass through the 1040 form revealed that for once, I haven't got a clue on some things, like the form for the Health Insurance Savings account, and those 4 new boxes on my wife's W-2 form that relate to 401K and various employer contributions to things, so we made an appointment to go see someone today.  At least I admit when I'm in over my head, and this sort of thing is too important to screw up.

Let me stick to what I know best - winding my way through my DVD collection, looking for the best chain.  Now I could have gone in a couple different directions from "Regarding Henry", for example, I just recorded "Ice Age: Collision Course" with the voice of John Leguizamo.  But that doesn't really fit thematically, and it may not get me where I need to be for Easter, so I'm going to follow this track instead - Donald Moffat carries over from yesterday's film.  It's a little like knowing that technically, a tomato is a fruit, but being smart enough to treat it like a vegetable and to not put it in a fruit salad.


THE PLOT: After his mistress runs over a teen, a Wall Street hotshot sees his life unravel in the spotlight, attracting the interest of a down-and-out reporter

AFTER: OK, some background before I begin.  "The Bonfire of the Vanities" was a super-huge novel (I mean popular, not in page count) written by Tom Wolfe and published in 1987.  First it was serialized in Rolling Stone magazine, much in the way Dickens novels were published in parts.  And it may have been the seminal novel of the 1980's because of its focus on yuppies.  OK, some more background, "yuppies" was what we called rich entitled white people back then, it stood for Young Urban Professionals, and we were all supposed to hate them, while pretending that we weren't envious and trying to become them.  The title of the book, which was NOT explained in the film (perhaps it was in the book, who knows, I never read it...) refers to the religious practice of burning objects that authorities deemed to be sinful, though the tie-in with vain yuppies was possibly a happy accident.  (It does not refer to the infamous 1938 Nazi purge of forbidden bathroom fixtures, also referred to as K√∂hlernacht...)

I can't speak to the tone of the novel, but there's something very flawed with the film, and I think that was reflected in the box office, as this is largely considered one of the biggest movie flops, critically and commercially, so what went wrong?  Or, put another way, did anything go right?  I'm going to surmise that the book was a serious look at race relations, politics, and personal greed in 1980's New York, and the film was made more like a comedy.  (Geez, it's like the real-life "Sweet Liberty", right?)  The acting is over-the-top, when it's not just plain bad, and it seems like the filmmakers were relying on two scenes with Melanie Griffith in lingerie to put asses in the seats.  Maybe they shouldn't have asked a director known mostly for horror and action films, like "Dressed to Kill" and "The Untouchables" to tackle a serious topical drama about relevant modern issues, who can say?

Let me take another step back for a second, and reference one of my favorite films, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", a comedy from 1963 about a bunch of people racing around Southern California, looking for a dead criminal's lost treasure.  It's a silly slapstick comedy, it was never meant to be taken seriously, and it featured a lot of actors known for television work (Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jonathan Winters, Edie Adams) who were trying to break into big-screen movies.  It was OK there to have very expressive comic actors, acting larger-than-life, because it just added to the comedy.  But here in "Bonfire", hiring actors like Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, who were also known at the time for their TV work, was a bad choice.  It seems they hadn't yet learned that in dramatic films, less is often more, and that you have to approach a serious movie differently than you would, say, "Bosom Buddies". (OK, so Tom Hanks had been in "The Money Pit" and "Turner and Hooch", those were still slapstick comedies - and Bruce Willis had been in "Blind Date" and "Die Hard", but I think the principle still applies.).

Now, let me get to the plot, because this is why I'm proud I went in this direction after "Regarding Henry" - both films are about rich, entitled, assholic white guys (lawyer, bond trader, whatever) who have an accident (robbery, car accident) and have their whole life turned upside-down.  Scandal, infidelity, financial ruin, relationship problems follow.  But this one follows the whole court case, as Sherman McCoy is eventually tracked down as the owner of a car that struck down a black teen in the Bronx (after an unfortunate wrong turn - a Manhattanite accidentally getting off the highway in a bad neighborhood) and after a lot of political posturing, we follow him through the legal system, the trial and the resulting scandals in the newspapers.

Again, this is not my area of expertise, but it felt like some things were just out of order here.  Like the way we were introduced to the stern, unorthodox judge long before McCoy's trial - it's the worst form of telegraphing what's coming up, when we're used to the "Law & Order" method of things, with a police investigation in the first half and a trial in the second.  Similarly, the way that the police approach the district attorney so early in the story, like the day after the accident.  This was very confusing, because the police basically have no leads, no evidence, no case, so why bring a whole bunch of nothing to the D.A.?  Shouldn't they have spent a few days on the actual investigation before contacting the legal system to say, "Hey, we got nothing..."?  Whatever happened to good old detective work, couldn't they have interviewed witnesses and run the license plate without instructions from the D.A., isn't that what police are trained to do?

Then we've got the notion that the district court in the Bronx is somehow, as a whole, tired of prosecuting minority offenders, and just itching, in advance somehow, to prosecute a white guy.  Again, telegraphing - it's as if the D.A. skipped ahead a few chapters in the book just to see what was coming up later.  Besides, that's racist, and these are professionals who are supposed to try criminals without regard for race.  The fact that it's an election year shouldn't cause the D.A. to seek out a white criminal to put on trial - in seeking out a defendant of a particular race to prove that he's not racist, he ends up sounding more racist than ever.  This character, and many others in the film, like the black preacher, just seemed so much like caricatures, essentially like live-action cartoons.

I get that everyone wants to use this case for their own personal financial or political gain - the attorneys want the prestige, the reporter wants to break a big story, the preacher wants justice for the community, and this may be the only part of the story that rings true, but it's how you get there that counts.  Some parts were just WAY too coincidental and contrived, like how the reporter got the information about who was driving the car, or why that secret conversation got recorded.  As if.  Plus it's not really a judge's job to pass judgment on everyone in his courtroom, he's really supposed to just stick to judging the defendant.

Turns out that entire books have been written about the difficult journey this story had, going from novel to screen, and I suspect that more than anything, it has to do with having too many cooks in the kitchen, and trying to appease everyone involved, which, more often than not, just isn't possible.

Also starring Tom Hanks (last seen in "Volunteers"), Bruce Willis (last seen in "The Prince"), Melanie Griffith (last seen in "Night Moves"), Saul Rubinek (last seen in "Sweet Liberty"), Morgan Freeman (last seen in "Now You See Me 2"), Kim Cattrall (last seen in "Unforgettable"), John Hancock, Kevin Dunn (last seen in "Jobs"), Clifton James (last seen in "The Chase"), F. Murray Abraham (last seen in "The Big Fix"), Alan King (last seen in "Cat's Eye"), Beth Broderick, Kurt Fuller (last seen in "Midnight in Paris"), Adam LeFevre (last seen in "The Invasion"), Mary Alice, Andre Gregory (last seen in "My Dinner With Andre"), Robert Stephens, with cameos from Rita Wilson (last seen in "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie"), Richard Libertini (last seen in "Best Friends"), Kirsten Dunst (last seen in "Anchorman 2"), Malachy McCourt, Don McManus, Richard Belzer (last seen in "Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead"), Camryn Manheim (last seen in "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion"), George Plimpton (last seen in "Reds"), Geraldo Rivera (last seen in "Grumpier Old Men"), Terry Farrell.

RATING: 3 out of 10 tabloid headlines