Saturday, May 20, 2017

Snowden

Year 9, Day 140 - 5/20/17 - Movie #2,635

BEFORE: Joseph Gordon-Levitt carries over again, and I've tried my best this year to cover more political topics, beginning with "Reds", "The Parallax View" and "The Conversation" in January, but then I admit I got a little sidetracked with Hollywood films like "American Ultra", "Assassins" and "Suicide Squad" don't really count.  But hey, I did watch "1984" in February, and then the three films in the "Ipcress File" series in March, then "Now You See Me 2", which also covered issues of illegal surveillance, then the hacker film "Blackhat" in April before getting into more spy-based films like "Body of Lies" and "MI-5".  But tonight I tackle the REAL spy stuff, like things that happened in the real world.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Citizenfour" (Movie #2,123)

THE PLOT: The NSA's illegal surveillance techniques are leaked to the public by one of the agency's employees, Edward Snowden, in the form of thousands of classified documents distributed to the press.

AFTER: Ugh, it's more excessive flashbackery tonight, as once again a filmmaker (Oliver Stone, they got to you too...what a shame...) decides that the best place to start a story is not at the beginning, or during the really exciting surveillance stuff, but in a hotel room where Snowden is being interviewed.  (Umm, someone already MADE that movie, it was called "Citizenfour".)  I never understand the mental reasoning that takes filmmakers in this direction - "Nah, screw the drone strikes.  We open on a man sitting on a bed in a hotel...").  With all the claustrophobia of underground houses and sealed-off bomb shelters ("Ex Machina", "10 Cloverfield Lane") this has become a running theme this year, and if I watch "Room" in a few weeks, I think I'll be so over this trend.

(Also, Hollywood loves squeezing the maximum amount of drama out of the action of copying files over to a drive and watching that status bar inch across the screen....geez, if I wanted to watch files being copied, I'd just go to work...)

But as flashbacks are concerned, in the end, what's more important, that we the audience get a clear idea of what happened, or that we know at every single point that it's Monday, July 10, 2013 - no, wait, now it's September 7, 2005 - no, wait, now it's March 17, 2009.  Give me a break, already, I'm exhausted from all this jumping around.

Another mistake was to show actual footage of the actual Edward Snowden at the end.  Because while Gordon-Levitt managed to capture the look of Edward Snowden, the real footage proved that he couldn't quite get his voice down.  I closed my eyes, and as a character, he ended up sounding more like Ashton Kutcher.

Now, with that out of the way, I will say that I now have a better handle on Snowden, what he did for the NSA, what the NSA was doing to everyone, and how Snowden turned the tables, by leaking information about the illegal surveillance that was being performed on normal Americans in the name of fighting terrorism.  Snowden believed that the President after Obama could very easily abuse this technology and that would result in a form of tyranny.  Honestly, I don't know what he was thinking...

It's funny, you don't hear much any more about what the NSA is doing, because we've got about 12,000 other scandals in Washington that have taken over the headlines.  The surveillance on average Americans was supposedly stopped, but you can't un-invent technology, so who knows?  There's more Skyping and Snapchatting and texting going on than ever, am I supposed to believe that the NSA suddenly just lost interest, because they SAID they did?  And can you imagine President Chump using this technology to finally prove that Rosie O'Donnell is in fact a big fat pig, or trying to eavesdrop on Obama's relatives to finally prove that he was born in Kenya?

Hmmm, in 2013, Snowden was granted asylum in Russia.  In 2016, Trump publicly asked for help from "Russian hackers" to help find Hilary's missing e-mails from her private server.  Now in 2017, the FBI is investigating whether Russian hackers had any influence on the election.  Just trying to connect the dots here.  Have Snowden's "speaking engagements" in Russia over the years given them the information they needed to compete with U.S. surveillance technology?

Also starring Melissa Leo (last seen in "The Big Short"), Zachary Quinto (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Nicolas Cage (last seen in "Matchstick Men"), Tom Wilkinson (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Shailene Woodley (last seen in "The Descendants"), Rhys Ifans (last seen in "Notting Hill"), Timothy Olyphant (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Scott Eastwood (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Ben Chaplin (last seen in "Cinderella"), Ben Schnezter, Logan Marshall-Green (last seen in "The Great Raid"), Lakeith Lee Stanfield, with cameos from Barack Obama, Donald Trump and the real Edward Snowden (last seen in "Citizenfour").

RATING: 5 out of 10 cell phones in the microwave

Friday, May 19, 2017

Premium Rush

Year 9, Day 139 - 5/19/17 - Movie #2,634

BEFORE: Movie #2 of 4 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt this week.  Picked this one up off of Free Movies on Demand, that's not usually a great sign.  Like if it were a great movie, they'd be charging for it, right?  Eh, who knows - this came out about 5 years ago, and it never really made my to-do list, not until I got "Don Jon" and had to pair it with something. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Quicksilver" (Movie #2,294)

THE PLOT: A bike messenger picks up an envelope that attracts the interest of a dirty cop, who pursues the cyclist throughout New York.

AFTER: So the premise is, there's this kid who flunked out of law school, and he now makes his living as this hot-shot bike messenger who rides a fixed-gear bike with NO BRAKES (because who would ever want to, like, stop?) and has an uncanny ability to find the best routes through intersections without getting killed and minimizing the resulting damage to pedestrians and property.  Right off the bat, I hate hate HATE this character.  Because I spend a fair amount of time as a pedestrian in NYC, and bicyclists (in general) are irresponsible enough without putting this dipshit up on screen and somehow glorifying riding a bike that can't stop.  Not even for red lights, which is kind of the law - in New York, a bike is legally a vehicle and is subject to ALL of the same traffic laws as a car.  Yes, all of them.

In the last few years, starting under Mayor Bloomberg and continuing under Mayor Too-Tall De-Blah-sio, New York's been moving toward become more pedestrian and bike-friendly, and less car-centric.  We've got Citibike stations on darn near every street now, and I have friends who swear by them as a method of getting around, and also getting more exercise at the same time.  That's fine, until you realize that the city really needs to pick a lane, and it can't become more pedestrian-friendly AND more bike-friendly at the same time, because those two things are at odds with each other.  And a guy on a bike with no brakes perfectly exemplifies that paradox - this means he speeds through EVERY crosswalk, even when it's full of pedestrians, because screw 'em.  And I've seen the result of that, and it's not pretty.  To say nothing of ALL the cell phone calls these bike messengers make WHILE weaving through traffic.  It's incredibly irresponsible to do, or portray this.

(I mean, JEEZ, what's the point of spending millions of dollars to make New York City more bike-friendly, when in a few years we're just going to have to scrap all that to make it more accessible for solar-powered, driverless cars?  Hopefully, that is.  And then I'll laugh myself silly every time one of those robot-driven cars plows into a cyclist that tried to cut into its lane.  Hopefully, that is.)

And then the movie seems to make it OK for any biker riding in the MIDDLE of traffic (NOT in a bike lane) to forcibly remove the mirror of any taxicab that they think might be encroaching on their space.  Fine, if that's the case, then I get to clothesline any biker who speeds through a pedestiran-filled crosswalk, fair is fair.  Personally, I've been hit several times by cyclists travelling the WRONG way down a one-way street, and most of the streets in Manhattan are one-way.  Yes, bikers, you don't get to pick and choose which traffic laws you want to follow, it's ALL of them.

I used to bicycle in the city myself, for a few years I'd ride in from Park Slope, Brooklyn, 2 or 3 times a week, unless it was raining or I didn't feel up to it.  I remember one condo board meeting that was so long and frustrating that I got on my bike in Brooklyn just to vent, and I soon found myself in the sheep meadow in Central Park, too tired to bike home.  (BTW, that's the ONLY time a bicycle should be allowed on the subway, when a cyclist is too tired or injured.  Otherwise, bringing a bike on the train during rush hour should be met with capital punishment.)  Eventually I gave it up, and all the potential health benefits that went with it, because I felt my life was in danger, there were just too many traffic risks that outweighed the positives.

But let's get back to the movie, which unfortunately is another case where someone couldn't tell a narrative in a linear way, and the movie starts at 5:30 pm but keeps jumping back to show us what happened at 3:30 or 4:15, forcing the audience to take comprehensive timeline notes at home to figure out what happened in what order.  Bunch of B.S., that's what it is.  There's simply no reason this story wouldn't have worked as a straight narrative, it just comes down to revealing information bit by bit, and a clever writer would find a way to make that work without defying the rules of time and space.

Speaking of the rules of space, don't think I didn't notice that our cycling hero starts uptown at 115th St., then somehow the scenery changes to lower Park Ave., then someplace where there's an elevated train, and then before long he's passing Central Park.  Umm, yeah, that route just doesn't work for me. Why show us the route on his cell-phone map thingy if the scenery's going to tell us a different story?  How the hell did he teleport over to Park Ave.?  I mean, I know it's very scenic street, but he could not have gotten there, so it's a poor excuse.

The goal is to get something down to Chinatown before 7 pm, which seems quite possible given that he's starting uptown at what, 4:30 pm?  Now, see, if it were me, I'd just take the subway down there, and still arrive well before the deadline, but what do I know.  Now, a couple of things - it's just too much of a coincidence that the woman sending the package is the roommate of the messenger's ex-girlfriend - I mean, there are 8 million people in this city, what are the odds?  Now, maybe you might feel that the later scenes (which actually happen earlier) explain this coincidence, and maybe you don't.  But let's table that for a minute.

It's the contents of the package that turn this film from a simple chase film into a commentary on immigration - and I'm reminded about how the Demi Moore film "Striptease" chose to similarly focus on the plight of the migrant farm workers (I remember thinking, "Jesus, can we just see Demi naked, please?").  It's all about focus, and I guess SOMETHING important had to be in the package, but did we really need a treatise on snakeheads and tongs and the underground Asian economy? 

NITPICK POINT: When our hero is first trying to deliver the package, and he's being followed by the mystery man, and he's still on deadline, he goes into a police station to report the man following him.  Why? He's still on deadline, he got away from the man and he can always report this guy to the cops AFTER he delivers the package.  I mean, I know WHY this had to happen to advance the plot, but he shouldn't be focused on making the deadline one minute and then wasting time in the police station the next, it's woefully inconsistent.

Now, in the end coda we should be made to feel as if the main character has been changed by his experience, there should be some personal growth, which could easily have been symbolized by riding a different bike, maybe one with brakes.  This would mean that he no longer has a death wish, he's more comfortable with life and more considerate of others.  Nope, still speeding along with no brakes, so he's still an asshole.  This would be like if Marty McFly still engaged in drag-racing at the end of "Back to the Future 3" - it would have shown that he learned NOTHING, and his adventure was all for naught.

Also starring Michael Shannon (last seen in "Midnight Special"), Dania Ramirez (last seen in "25th Hour"), Wolé Parks, Aasif Mandvi (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Jamie Chung (last seen in "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For"), Christopher Place, Sean Kennedy, Kym Perfetto, Anthony Chisholm (last seen in "Reign Over Me"), Ashley Austin Morris, Henry O, Boyce Wong, Lauren Ashley Carter.

RATING: 3 out of 10 ignored red lights

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Don Jon

Year 9, Day 138 - 5/18/17 - Movie #2,633

BEFORE: Scarlett Johansson carries over from "Hail, Caesar!" (and so does one other actor) - with such a large cast, I probably could have gone in any of a dozen directions next, but I've already established the path that gets me to Memorial Day and then to mid-June, and it goes through four movies with Joseph-Gordon Levitt.  If I had known so many of his films would fall on to my list, then I might have not watched "The Walk" last year - but in the end, I needed that to link to "The Night Before" at Christmastime, so the film came in handy.  Now another backlog of his films has built up - that's just how it goes with these actors, I've seen it happen with Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Brad Pitt and countless others.  Each time I clear someone like that off the board, they go out and make more movies and I'm forced to circle back.  Hey, that's what actors do, and I just have to deal with this little runs as best as I can.

I had to supplement the chain a bit to get me to the end of May, and I did so by adding two Academy Award screeners for films from 2016 that aren't on cable yet, and buying one DVD from Amazon, for a film that for some reason is not streaming on Amazon, iTunes or Netflix.  More about that next week - but at least the shipment from Amazon arrived yesterday, so the chain is solid.


THE PLOT: A New Jersey guy dedicated to his family, friends and church develops unrealistic expectations from watching porn and works to find happiness and intimacy with his potential true love.

AFTER: I'm kind of split on this one, because I'm not sold on the idea that porn is as destructive as this film suggests.  I mean, it exists, we all have unprecedented access to it thanks to the internet, and there's no doubt that it affects people's lives and relationships, but I don't think it's such a black-and-white issue.  I don't think the movie's sold on that idea either, but still it strongly suggests it.

After all, Jon's girlfriend watches a lot of Hollywood romance films, and forces him to watch them too, and don't those ALSO create a set of unrealistic expectations about love and relationships?  How many women have been disappointed over the years that their partners aren't as romantic as the ones they see on the screen?  But do men rise up and condemn the fictional roles for men, because they're always buying their women flowers and taking them out for fancy dinners, getting down on one knee and proposing after a week of dating convinces them that they've finally found the ONE woman they want to spend the rest of their lives with?

It's kind of the same way with porn actresses - they appear on-screen doing things that women at home can't or won't do in order to please their partners.  Both are there to act as fantasy personas, to let the people at home live vicariously through the magic of video, so we can imagine ourselves having those experiences for a brief time.  But a woman catching her man watching porn one time and making an issue out of it, or breaking up with her man because of his browser history, those seem like extreme reactions.  I'm sure they may have happened to some people (especially if the browser history reveals a fascination for violence or pedophilia, for example) but I don't think it's necessarily par for the course.

When I was in film school, and this is back in the late 1980's, if a female film student didn't like a film, she might say, "Oh, well this is just masturbation..." meaning that this film had no redeeming value whatsoever, or that it was pointless, or that it featured a director who was just glorifying himself.  But I never understood this, because by doing this, she was equating something BAD (a film she didn't like) with something else that was equivalently bad, masturbation, and for me, at that time, she was inadvertently making fun of my lifestyle.  I thought, "Wait, you're saying that masturbation is a BAD thing?" As Woody Allen once cracked in "Hannah and Her Sisters": "So, now you're going to start knocking my hobbies?"  (He also said, "Don't knock masturbation.  It's sex with someone you love.")

NITPICK POINT: Why, oh why, in movies is the process always: 1) jack off 2) grab some tissues. This would be very problematic, for obvious reasons that I don't have to describe here.  For God's sake, and to keep the furniture clean, filmmakers, please note, the correct procedure is: 1) grab some tissues and THEN 2) proceed.  This is especially egregious because this film took pot-shots at porn for not being an accurate representation of sex, and then they depict the male masturbation process in the wrong (and ickiest) possible order.  This is made even worse by depicting the main character as a bit of a neat freak, someone who appreciates clean sheets and a clean room - so you'd expect that he would know to grab the tissues in advance.

There are some nice touches here, like you might notice that Jon works out by himself in the gym, and then later in the film, graduates to playing basketball with other people, this is a great parallel symbolism to his sexual history, as he learns to have better relationships and work as part of a team.  But there are plenty of other pieces that go nowhere, like showing him with road rage again and again, which really adds nothing positive to his character.  Meanwhile, he's supposedly working in the "service industry" as a - waiter? bartender? - but that's all a bit unclear because we never see him at work.  This affects the school scenes, too, because we're not sure why he's going to school, what he's studying, and what that might have to do with his career.

Also starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (last seen in "The Night Before"), Julianne Moore (last seen in "Still Alice"), Tony Danza (last seen in "Dear God"), Glenne Headly (last seen in "The Purple Rose of Cairo"), Brie Larson (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Rob Brown, Jeremy Luke, Paul Ben-Victor (last seen in "Get Hard"), Italia Ricci, Lindsey Broad, with cameos from Anne Hathaway (last seen in "Ella Enchanted"), Channing Tatum (also carrying over from "Hail, Caesar!"), Cuba Gooding Jr. (last seen in "The Butler") and porn actors Tori Black, Devon, Bree Olson, Mia Markova, Alexis Texas.

RATING: 4 out of 10 money shots

Hail, Caesar!

Year 9, Day 137 - 5/17/17 - Movie #2,632

BEFORE: George Clooney carries over from "Money Monster", obviously - though tonight's film has such a star-studded line-up it makes me wonder if I should be saving it for some kind of linking emergency - because you never know.  But it's the latest film from the Coen Brothers, and I'm such a big fan of their other films that I simply can't wait to get to it.  Plus it's part of the track that gets me to Memorial Day, and I don't want to mess with that now, because it took me so long to find that path.

THE PLOT: A Hollywood fixer in the 1950's works to keep the studio's stars in line.

AFTER: I think the only way to explain my tepid reaction to this film, I have to talk about my music collection.  I'm currently engaged in a project to replace the old audio cassettes, and at the same time go through any CDs that haven't been uploaded to iTunes and digitize them, so finally my whole music collection will be in one place, my computer.  And on my phone - OK, two places.  And to appease my OCD, I started with the music acts beginning with "A" (Aerosmith, since I don't have any ABBA CDs) and proceeding alphabetically.  I'm allowing myself to buy 2 albums per week, either digitally from iTunes or a CD from Amazon if the album's not available on iTunes.  I've now reached the letter "H", so it will be at least another 6 months before I hit ZZ Top.

But getting all this music together in one place, I've learned something, and it turns out that when I'm dealing with an enormous quantity of something, how much I "like" it often depends on how familiar it is.  Like I just downloaded the George Harrison album "Cloud Nine", which I listened to a LOT in the late 1980's, so much that it wore a groove in my brain, so to speak.  I know every song, every riff, and it comforts me - I haven't listened to the album in years, because of the difficulties of the cassette format, but once I got it digitally, I think I listened to it twice in one day.  By contrast, I've had the Paul McCartney album "Memory Almost Full" sitting unopened in a pile of CDs for the last few years, and after finally listening to it for the first time, I have no desire to hear it again, because it's not familiar to me.  The things we really like get to be the things we love because they're the most familiar things to us.

In the same way, I really love several Coen Brothers movies - "Raising Arizona", "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski" the most, in some order.  If my movie ends at 2 am and one of these films happens to be on, I'll switch over to that channel and no matter where I come in, I'll watch to the end.  It's a hit of something familiar and entertaining, shot straight into a vein so it reaches my brain faster than some film I'm watching for the first time.  That's the only explanation I can find for why "Hail, Caesar!", written and directed by the same people, just left me cold.  Who knows, maybe after repeated viewings I'll find something I can relate to, or it could reach that level of familiarity where, if it's on, I simply have to watch it.  But I doubt it.

I mean, the premise seems good, where a studio executive has to visit all of these different movies being made on the same company's lot, and solve a variety of problems, like the star who gets kidnapped by Communists, a starlet who's pregnant with no intention of marrying the baby's father, a cowboy actor who's been cast in a period drama and can't quite meet the director's expectations, and a pair of twin gossip columnists threatening to write scandalous facts about the kidnapped star.  Meanwhile, he's getting offers to go work at Lockheed in an executive position that will guarantee him income for life (what, and leave show business?).  But somehow in all this, it feels like someone forgot to make it funny or write any gags.  Is that possible?  OK, maybe it's supposed to be a dark comedy, like "Fargo", which didn't have jokes either, but somehow still managed to entertain. 

OK, maybe it's interesting to see tributes to different genres of films from the 1940's/1950's - we go from an Esther Williams-style swimming number to a Ben Hur-like period piece, to a Gene Kelly-style dance number with sailors in a bar, to a Western and then a high-society relationship drama.  But does it all add up to something, in the end?  The P.O.V. of the fixer just seems to be a cheap way to link all of these numbers, as if that's the loosest possible thread to unite them - the fact that they're all being made by the same movie studio.  It feels like such a cheat.

And for every social issue being addressed - the Communist writers, the gossip spread by society mavens, the single mother thing - I feel like I can name two or three movies that dealt with those topics better.  And didn't the Coen Brothers already do the tortured writer thing in "Barton Fink"?  And didn't they also do ransom plots in "Raising Arizona", "Fargo" AND "The Big Lebowski"?  It's a bad sign when directors start repeating themselves.  And here we don't even get to see the resolution of some of the plotlines - instead the lead character just TELLS us how they got resolved.  That's just sloppy follow-up work.

Also starring Josh Brolin (last seen in "Everest"), Alden Ehrenreich (last seen in "Blue Jasmine"), Ralph Fiennes (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Scarlett Johansson (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Tilda Swinton (last seen in "Doctor Strange"), Channing Tatum (last seen in "The Hateful Eight"), Frances McDormand (last seen in "Aeon Flux"), Jonah Hill (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Veronica Osorio, Alison Pill (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Heather Goldenhersh, Max Baker, Fisher Stevens (last seen in "Undisputed"), Patrick Fischler (last seen in "Mulholland Drive"), David Krumholtz (also last heard in "Sausage Party"), Fred Melamed (last seen in "Ishtar"), Patrick Carroll, Alex Karpovsky (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), Robert Picardo (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Robert Trebor, Christopher Lambert, Clancy Brown (last heard in "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies"), Wayne Knight (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), Peter Jason (last seen in "Nice Dreams"), the voice of Michael Gambon (last seen in "Layer Cake"), with cameos from Jon Daly (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Kyle Bornheimer (last seen in "The D Train"), Jack Huston, and Dolph Lundgren (last seen in "The Expendables 3").

RATING: 4 out of 10 rope tricks

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Money Monster

Year 9, Day 136 - 5/16/17 - Movie #2,631

BEFORE: Julia Roberts carries over again from "Mystic Pizza" and gets me back to more current movies.


THE PLOT: A financial TV host and his producer are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor takes over their studio.

AFTER: This is another one of those "one-room" type of stories, like "Ex Machina" or "10 Cloverfield Lane", only the room here is a TV studio that gets taken over by a gunman.  The problem with setting something in a confined space is that it usually creates a film that is not very visually interesting, or one that can be boring without the interaction with the outside world.  But thankfully a TV studio is in touch with the outside world, and also the story wisely leaves the confined studio about 2/3 of the way in.

The inspiration for this story is most likely Jim Cramer's show "Mad Money", which caught flak back in 2009 from Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" for its practice of recommending that people continue to buy stocks while not being able to predict that the U.S. economy would tank.  After acknowledging that many people may have lost their entire savings by following uncertain financial advice, the show then began running a disclaimer emphasizing the show's education and entertainment value over its status as a financial advice program.  Yeah, right.

The IMDB "Goofs" section tells me that this situation is extremely unlikely, with a director choosing to stay on the air after a gunman takes control of the studio.  It's more likely that this decision would be taken out of her hands by the network, to avoid broadcasting a shooting - but didn't that happen on air a couple years ago when a reporter got shot, live on the air?  So you can't really say that this CAN'T happen.

There's more to the story here, because the lone nut here might have a valid point about corporate malfeasance, but that's not likely to happen in the real world, where investors lose their fortunes and have no right or manner to complain.  This film was probably in production for a few years, but I think could be taken as prescient if you carry the dissatisfaction over to the political arena and take this as a metaphor.  How many times has a lone assassin with a gun changed the course of U.S. history?  And if a corporate CEO can use international politics to affect stock prices, then it's an easy jump to a President using politics to further his investments.  Is it time to impeach yet?

I used to have stock in Marvel Comics, back when they were a publicly traded company.  I wasn't a mogul or anything, I think I sank about $800 or $900 into buying shares, but it was money I was willing to gamble with.  My investment got me an annual stock report that was in the form of a comic book and the chance to attend the annual shareholders' meeting to have it signed by Stan Lee.  I did that for about 5 years back in the late 90's, but at some point Marvel bought up a bunch of smaller companies - a toy company, a sticker company, etc. and built up so much corporate debt that they filed for bankruptcy, making my stock essentially worthless.  I was given the opportunity to trade in my 40 shares for 1 share in the reorganized company, provided I kick in some more money, which is where I drew the line.  I decided I was better off buying a few shares of Disney, and then a few years later, Disney bought Marvel, so I was back in the comic-book business.

Also starring George Clooney (last seen in "Tomorrowland"), Jack O'Connell (last seen in "Unbroken"), Dominic West (last seen in "28 Days"), Caitriona Balfe (last seen in "Escape Plan"), Giancarlo Esposito (last seen in "Alex Cross"), Christopher Denham (last seen in "Shutter Island"), Lenny Venito (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Dennis Boutsikaris (last seen in "In Dreams"), Chris Bauer, Emily Meade (last seen in "Young Adult"), Condola Rashad, John Ventimiglia (last seen in "The Notorious Bettie Page"), Aaron Yoo.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Icelandic hackers

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mystic Pizza

Year 9, Day 135 - 5/15/17 - Movie #2,630

BEFORE: Julia Roberts carries over from "Mother's Day", and she'll be here tomorrow also, as I get out of this misplaced (?) romance chain and back to other matters.


THE PLOT: Three teenage girls come of age while working at a pizza parlor in the town of Mystic, Connecticut.

AFTER: For the record, I've been to Mystic, CT a couple of times, and last year we finally bit the bullet and visited the Mystic Pizza restaurant.  I don't know why we avoided it on the first trip, probably because it seemed like such a tourist-y thing to do.  We spent time at the bookstore down the street, and the pizza shop was up this little hill, so climbing up there seemed like a bit of work, maybe that was it.  Also for the record, the real pizza restaurant is NOT seen in the film, the filmmakers converted a house in nearby Stonington to serve as the restaurant set, but since then, the owners of the pizza shop renovated their restaurant to look more like the film set.  Plus, they changed the sign to look more like the logo seen on the poster and they sell t-shirts there with the "A Slice of Heaven slogan" - so life, at some point, does imitate art.

One might imply from the name that the pizza has some kind of magic power - no, it can't read your mind or tell your future, what a disappointment.  As for the "magical" taste that is espoused by the restaurant critic in this film - well, it's good pizza, for sure.  I remember I had a slice with spaghetti and meatballs on it.  Nice callback, by the way, to the film "Burnt" whose plot last week also hinged on getting a stellar review from a food critic, though I doubt Mystic Pizza would earn three Michelin stars.

Another repeated theme - this is the fourth film in a ROW to feature someone who is unsure about getting married or who turns down a marriage proposal.  John Krasinski's character in "The Hollars" was unsure about marriage and fatherhood, and Sandra Bullock's character in "28 Days" turned down her boyfriend's proposal (she was in rehab at the time, to be fair) and then last night the barmaid in "Mother's Day" wouldn't marry her boyfriend until she made contact with her mother.  Just an odd coincidence, I'm sure.

Finally, we've got two sisters with relationship problems, which also carries over from "Mother's Day".  Here we've got one woman who falls for an upper-class law student, and the other gets involved with the married man who hired her to baby-sit his daughter.  They bond over the fact that he went to Yale, and she's going to study astronomy there soon.

I don't know, there just doesn't seem to be too much to this one, not enough to really hold my interest, anyway.  I know I complained about too many characters and too many nonsensical subplots in "Mother's Day", but this one seems to have gone too far in the other direction, it's sort of minimalist by comparison.  I guess I'm looking for that happy medium.

Also starring Annabeth Gish (last seen in "Wyatt Earp"), Lili Taylor (last seen in "She's Having a Baby"), Vincent D'Onofrio (last seen in "Run All Night"), William R. Moses, Conchata Ferrell (last seen in "For Keeps?"), Adam Storke, Joanna Merlin (last seen in "The Invasion"), John Fiore (last seen in "In Dreams"), Gene Amoroso, Sheila Ferrini, Porscha Radcliffe, Louis Turenne, Janet Zarish, John Cunningham, Ann Flood, Suzanne Shepherd, Jack Ringstad, Bucky Walsh, with a cameo from Matt Damon (last seen in "The Martian").

RATING: 4 out of 10 lobsters in the fridge

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

Year 9, Day 134 - 5/14/17 - Movie #2,629

BEFORE: Margot Martindale carries over again from "28 Days"...


THE PLOT: Three generations come together in the week leading up to Mother's Day.

AFTER: I hate to speak ill of the dead, but this is the last film directed by Garry Marshall, the third in his series of holiday-based romantic comedies, and I'm relieved that there won't be any more in the series.  I mean, how long would it have been before we'd be subject to Flag Day and Arbor Day as vehicles for star-studded ensemble romances?

It's all the fault of "Love, Actually", I think, which focused on the romantic aspects of Christmas (because, you know, who needs Santa and Jesus and Frosty and Rudolph, at the end of the day...) and then Marshall countered with the too-obvious "Valentine's Day" and the narrative mess that was "New Year's Eve".  And this led to the jumbled mess that is today's film, which attempts to interweave three family-based narratives together that have the most tenuous connections between them, all in the name of celebrating motherhood.  Or romance.  Or comedy, we're not really sure.

You can tell from the way that the credits are laid out on IMDB, which list all of the actors from one storyline first, then the next, then the next, so clearly they took three screenplays and Frankensteined them together, hoping in vain that something alive would rise from the combination of three corpses.
(Please bear in mind that my rating tonight is just for the film, not for Mother's Day in general, which I'm in full support of.  But this is not the way to celebrate it, it's just not.). But instead they got a final product that caused me to roll my eyes more than Anderson Cooper during an interview with KellyAnne Conway.

There are, like, a thousand reasons why this is a terrible story, or collection of stories.  I'm not kidding, you can start with the fact that it's (mostly) about white people, and white people with money, and that makes them entitled, and you can go from there.  Every single character is motivated by their own right to happiness, and makes all of their decisions based off this fact that they all DESERVE to be happy, and anything less is simply unacceptable.  Being rich and white in America does not entitle you to anything except the PURSUIT of happiness, and you have to understand that there are no guarantees, plenty of people are going to pursue happiness and never get there.

But let me just focus on the narrative aspects for a bit, and explain why this story is such a jumbled mess, one that goes around in circles and never gets anywhere.  A story should set up some expectations by introducing certain story elements.  Then, once these expectations are set up, they need to either be fulfilled or provide some reason why they aren't fulfilled, which can be a twist.  The one thing that CANNOT happen is for these expectations to be forgotten or ignored.  (What if, in "The Lord of the Rings" they told Frodo he had to deliver the ring to Mount Doom, and the third film just featured him and Sam going out to dinner or something?)

So, storyline "A" (by my reckoning) is the divorced woman with two sons, who gets news from her ex-husband that he is getting married to a younger woman.   This sets up a chance for personal growth, where she now has to share her sons with their new step-mom.  But instead we get a lot of pettiness and competition, where she throws a party FOR NO REASON complete with llamas and clowns and inflatable water-slides, on a Saturday (the day before Mother's Day, apparently) which is the day the kids are supposed to spend with their father.  She KNEW that, she HAD to know that, but she did it anyway, which makes her a horrible person.

Storyline "B" is the father with two daughters whose military wife passed away (they never say whether she died while serving, or some other way, which is a glaring omission) and he has to decide whether the family is going to celebrate Mother's Day, all while completely clueless about how to raise his daughters and deal with boyfriends, periods and such.  This character is all over the place, too, I mean, he runs a gym and seems to be fairly smart, but how can he not understand grocery shopping?  His daughter comes to him and says they need food, did he not realize that the refrigerator was getting empty?  So he says, "OK, what do we need?"  Umm, bread, milk and eggs, genius, it's not that complicated.  This is all to set up the standard "Dad, I need tampons" conversation so he can be made to feel uncomfortable.  So you give your daughter $10 and send her to the drugstore herself - again, not that complicated.

Here's the problem - early in the film, we see the dad and his daughters visiting his wife's grave.  Then with Mother's Day approaching, he's unsure how to celebrate the holiday.  His daughters head out without his knowledge, to visit their mother's grave.  This cannot constitute character growth, since there was the earlier scene where they did exactly that.  From a narrative standpoint, it would have made more sense for the father to AVOID visiting the mother's grave, then learn that this is what his daughters wanted to do, and that this would be the best way to honor her memory.  But that would have made him an even more horrible person, so they couldn't do that.  As a result, the big reveal ended up falling flat.

Storyline "C" is the two sisters whose right-wing parents live in Texas, and neither has been honest about their relationships - one is married to a man of Indian descent, and the other is married to a woman.  They both have been lying to their parents about their relationships, and they both have CHILDREN in their relationships, which means that their parents are being deprived of even knowing that their grandchildren exist, which is just - NO NO NO - people do not DO this.  OK, maybe some people aren't completely honest with their parents, but this is beyond the pale.  Even if possible, there was a time to correct this, and when the grandchild is now 8 or 10 years old, we're way past that point.

Here's the big joke, Mom and Dad are on their way to Atlanta in their RV. (We know this is set in Atlanta, because the sisters say things to each other like, "I'm gay and you're married to an Indian man, and we're both lying to Mom and Dad, and this is why we live in Atlanta.")  But they talk to their daughters via Skype along the way - so the daughters can plainly SEE the background of the Skype call, and the fact that Dad's driving and the scenery is rolling by, did they ever once think to say, "Hey, Mom and Dad, where are you driving to?"  No, of course not.

Once they arrive, and all the secrets are revealed, Mom and Dad have a tough time dealing with the fact that one daughter is gay and the other is married to a "towelhead" - which makes them more horrible people.  But the daughters are horrible people, too, for lying to their own parents.  Which is worse, living the reality or telling the lie? It's not just that Mom and Dad are racist and homophobic, it's that their daughters never gave them a chance to be anything else.  That's what it means to be progressive, sometimes you have to confront the previous generation and drag them into modern times.

But hey, good news, it's the type of racism that can be solved by just an accidental Skype call from their son-in-law's mother, when they suddenly realize that Hindu people are also, you know, people.  Come on, give me a break.  Imagine the type of anti-immigrant fervor going around this country now, can you solve that just by pointing out that some Mexicans (or Arabs, or whatever) are also humans?  It's not believable.  Plus, what suddenly made them accept their other daughter's lesbian lifestyle?  This was never even addressed.  

Storyline "D" is the barmaid who's had a daughter with an aspiring stand-up comic (like THAT'S a good idea...) but she can't bring herself to accept his marriage proposals because she was adopted and has never met her real mother.  She finally contacts her mother (who's in Atlanta on a book-signing tour) and she's a well-off home shopping personality who apparently fends off three women a week claiming to be her daughter.  Wait, how is that a thing?  Meanwhile her boyfriend manages to win a stand-up comic competition (umm, also not a thing...) by bringing the baby up on stage with him.

I could bury you in a few hundred more NITPICK POINTS, like the float that a character makes for the Mother's Day parade, which A) would never be allowed in any parade because it's shaped like a vulva and B) does not get used for its intended purpose, but instead follows the parents' RV at a random point in time, and we never learn why or who was driving it.  It's like the director suddenly realized that there is NO SUCH THING as a Mother's Day parade, not in any city, but still wanted to use the float that got built for something, and that was as good a time as any.

But what purpose would that serve?  It's just another piece of nonsense, as is this whole film.  Again, the holiday is very important, call your mom today - and stop lying to her about your relationship, if you are - but please don't make her watch this film.

Also starring Jennifer Aniston (last seen in "Horrible Bosses 2"), Julia Roberts (last seen in "The Mexican"), Jason Sudeikis (last seen in "Race"), Kate Hudson (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Timothy Olyphant (last seen in "Dreamcatcher"), Britt Robertson (last seen in "Tomorrowland"), Shay Mitchell, Jack Whitehall, Hector Elizondo (last seen in "American Gigolo"), Sarah Chalke, Robert Pine, Aasif Mandvi (last seen in "Music and Lyrics"), Cameron Esposito, Jon Lovitz (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Loni Love, Brandon Spink, Caleb Brown, Ella Anderson, Jessi Case, with cameos from Larry Miller, Jennifer Garner (last seen in "Dallas Buyers Club"), Paul Vogt and the voice of Penny Marshall (last seen in "How Sweet It Is!")

RATING: 2 out of 10 soccer games