Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Peanuts Movie

Year 9, Day 147 - 5/27/17 - Movie #2,642

BEFORE: This is another film, like the "Ice Age" series, produced by Blue Sky Studios - and I do have friends that work there, so I'll try to be nice tonight.  I'm not sure if I can do it...

This film's been on the list for a short while, but always in the "unlinkable" section, because of someone's decision to use relatively unknown child actors to voice the characters - I have to rely on a voice actor named Randy Thom, who carries over from "Ice Age: Collision Course" where he voiced the minister in the marriage scene at the end.  Here he provides "additional voices".  I found out too late that the kid who voices Charlie Brown here is also in the show "Stranger Things" and the film "Bridge of Spies", but I think going from "Bridge of Spies" to this film might be too jarring - so the chain continues as planned.

It's the start of Memorial Day weekend, so I've got an opportunity to catch up on some TV over the next three days - those 3 missing episodes of "Mad Men", all the talk shows from the past week (that's how I get my Trump news, through the comedy filter) and we'll watch episodes 3 & 4 of "Twin Peaks: The Return" too.  Note: I'm a professional, I don't recommend that anyone else watch both "Twin Peaks" and "The Peanuts Movie" right after each other - they're really on opposite ends of the spectrum.


THE PLOT: Snoopy embarks upon his greatest mission as he takes to the skies to pursue his arch-nemesis, while his best pal Charlie Brown begins his own epic quest to win the love of his life.

AFTER: Right about now, my BFF Andy is cringing somewhere, because he and I have argued over the years concerning the merits of Charles Schulz and his "Peanuts" gang - Andy is for, and I'm usually against.  I can't deny that these characters occupy a special place in the hearts of many, many people, but as I've said many times, the cartoonist himself was a giant hack.  The original comic strip ran from 1950 to 2000, which is an incredible run - my issue, however, is that Schulz stopped writing new gags somewhere around 1972.  (By contrast, the creators of "Calvin and Hobbes" and "Bloom County" stopped their strips or took time off once they realized they were repeating themselves - but Schulz just kept on going...)  Once he'd established the characters' personalities and what their interactions were, it was just a case of "repeat as necessary".  Lucy's going to pull the football away from Charlie Brown's kick twice a year, Linus is going to spend Halloween in the pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown's going to get his clothes knocked off by a baseball, and Snoopy's going to pretend his doghouse is a biplane and he's fighting in World War I.  Repeat as necessary.

Which was all fine - when I was a kid.  But then I made the mistake of growing up (partially, anyway) and started reading "Bloom County" and "Doonesbury" and "Foxtrot", etc. and realized that comic strips can acknowledge the modern world, they can even make fun of the President or make references to current movies.  They didn't HAVE to be stuck in some 1950's idealized version of the world where you never see an adult, and all kids do is go to school, play sports and celebrate holidays.  Now, as always, your mileage will vary, and maybe you enjoy spending time reading the same comic strip plots over and over - maybe you have a kid or two and this is your world, paying attention to their schoolwork and sports and watching them have their first crushes, but that's not MY world.  I haven't had any use for the "Peanuts" gang in years.  Maybe I'm just a cynical man in a cynical world, but that's where I find myself.

The worst offense is the fact that they run those SAME damn Halloween and Christmas specials every year - I mean, I'm all for nostalgia, but enough is enough already.  Is there a man, woman or child alive who hasn't seen both of these damn things before, who doesn't know that Charlie Brown is going to buy a pathetic Christmas tree or that Linus is going to explain the true meaning of Christmas or that Charlie Brown is going to get a rock in his trick or treat bag (umm, nobody gives out rocks on Halloween, guys, that's not even a thing.)

So I can only imagine the challenges that were faced when someone pitched the idea of doing a "Peanuts" movie.  I worked in the world of character advertising for a couple decades, and I know that the companies that own characters are very particular.  If you want to animate an ad for Star-Kist tuna, there are rules.  You can't show Charlie the Tuna drinking, smoking, or the other thing.  He must have a specific Brooklyn accent.  He has to act like the smartest one in the room, but he can never, never come out on top.  (See also: Trix Bunny, the Vlasic stork, Chester Cheetah, etc.)

And so it is with Charlie Brown - how do you move the story forward when Charlie Brown has to remain the everyman that we all identify with, the lovable loser, the guy who means well.  The corporation that owns the character probably resisted all attempts to modernize the story, because today's audiences seem to want crazy talking zoo animals, 47 collectible monster characters and robots that turn into other things, and this is just a story about a bunch of kids who go to school and do regular kid stuff.  Plus, it has to retain that "every time" feel, so to appeal to kids and nostalgic adults there can't be any references to computers, smartphones or anything that didn't exist in 1972.  (While writing his book report, I swear, Charlie Brown in this film uses a fountain pen.  Really?  NO ONE today uses a fountain pen, even if a kid today didn't own a computer, he would use a ballpoint, right?).

Plus, the Schulz family probably had a laundry list of "Peanuts" touchstones that they wanted to be worked into this plot.  "We'd like to see references to the kite-eating tree, Lucy has to pull the football away at least once, and of course we need to see Snoopy fighting the Red Baron..."  Considering all the things that had to be worked into this film, and all the modern-day tropes that probably had to be avoided, I'd say somebody did a great job of checking all the boxes here.  You can see how far the writers had to bend over backwards - in order to work in both scenes of kids ice-skating AND Charlie Brown flying a kite, C.B. decides to fly a kite in the winter, to try to outsmart the kite-eating tree.  It's the sort of logic a perennial loser might follow (like George Costanza accidentally getting success by doing the opposite of what he thinks he should do) and ultimate it doesn't work, but it checked off two of the required boxes...

Meanwhile, Charlie Brown's life gets turned upside-down when the Little Red-Haired Girl (With No Name, Apparently) moves in across the street, and C.B. is smitten, but unsure how to proceed.  His plans to perform a magic act at the school talent show AND cover for the LRHG by doing a book-report for the both of them (NITPICK POINT: No teacher assigns dual book reports...that's not a thing either.) but all of his plans are for naught.  He over-reaches by trying to hand in a report on the "greatest book ever" but unfortunately, that turns out to be "War and Peace".  The one time that things seem to be going Chuck's way is when he somehow gets a perfect score on a standardized test, but due to a sitcom-like confusion, we know that's eventually going to be revealed as a mistake also.

Now, I may be old but I still remember grade school.  I was that smart kid (at least until 7th grade) who frequently got perfect scores on quizzes and tests.  I don't remember any other kids in class celebrating my success, so that's NITPICK POINT #2.  If anything, scoring well on tests worked against me socially, especially if the teacher was grading on a curve, but even if not, I got branded a "brain" and a "smarty-pants" (this was before "nerd" was a common word) and I was ostracized, more or less, or at least placed into a social archetype that I couldn't overcome.  The one time my achievements were celebrated came in high-school, after getting a near-perfect score on the PSAT.  (Good luck using that to increase your chances of getting a date - it can't be done. )

While I'm at it, here's NITPICK POINT #3: How are Linus and Lucy in the same class?  I thought Linus was Lucy's younger brother, so they should be in different grades.  They're not fraternal twins, as far as I know.  So unless this takes place in some small town where they've combined two classes into one, then they shouldn't be learning in the same room.  I always assumed that Linus was one year younger than Charlie Brown, which would put Linus in Sally's class, and that would make sense, she could have developed her crush on him there.  (EDIT: Ah, according to the IMDB "Goofs" section, Linus is so smart that he may have skipped a grade.  This fix works, but I'm not sure it's canon.)

Any N.P.'s I have about the things seen in Snoopy's story, like the fact that his doghouse biplane manages at one point to hover like a helicopter, are negated by the fact that this takes place during his fantasy, so by comparison none of that is real or should be held to the same standards.  And for once I don't have a problem with a film toggling between two realities or telling two stories in tandem, because it's very clear that Snoopy got a typewriter, is writing a story and we're seeing that fantasy unwind. (Where Snoopy learned the English language and how to type, however, still remains unexplained...)

Anyway, I think Blue Sky did a great job of moving the "Peanuts" franchise forward, and not just because the animation is CGI and makes the characters look rounder and less flat.  With only the elements of the past to work with, it's amazing that they were able to tell a story that will be universal enough to appeal to today's kids, who might not even notice how technologically backwards the setting is.  (After you explain to them what a biplane is, or a telephone land line, or for that matter, a fountain pen, library, and comic strip...).

Also starring the voices of Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller, Alexander Garfin, Noah Johnston (last heard in "Monsters University"), Anastasia Bredikhina, Rebecca Bloom, Venus Schulteis, Mariel Sheets, Madisyn Shipman, A.J. Tecce, Francesca Capaldi, Marleik Walker, William Wunsch, Bill Melendez, Kristin Chenoweth (last seen in "The Pink Panther").

RATING: 5 out of 10 hockey sticks

Friday, May 26, 2017

Ice Age: Collision Course

Year 9, Day 146 - 5/26/17 - Movie #2,641

BEFORE: OK, I took some time yesterday to combine three of my lists (the films running on cable I haven't added yet, the films in the Academy screener pile, and the films I want to see in the theater this year) into ONE list, it's now "The List of Films to Be Added To the List".  If I can go through what's available on Netflix this weekend, I can add those films to that list too.  It's a little more work, because now every time I add a film to the Watchlist, I've got to also take it off of THAT list.  But it's still easier than maintaining three lists of films not on the main list. 

Assuming I add "Bobby" to the list, which is a film with a large, varied cast, that should allow me to continue the chain past June 10.  I took a stab at that yesterday, and in fact came up with three different directions to go - one path that gets me to the film "Wonder Woman", another one which gets me to "Jimi: All Is By My Side", and a third that gets me to "Zootopia".  The first two are dead-ends, more or less, the third one has a little more promise, but I'm not that crazy about any of them - which usually means it's time to tear the chain apart and try to put it back together, only better.  But maybe if I look through all the films at the bottom of the list, or examine my back-to-school films to figure out the best way to link between them, I'll feel better about one of these possible June chains.

I'm glad I've hit a vein of animated films, because those tend to be on the shorter side - probably because of kids and their short attention spans - and that allows me to fall asleep (in the chair) a bit earlier than usual.  Last night after a short but heavy rainstorm I had to spend 45 minutes mopping up water in my basement, so it was a relief to have a shorter film scheduled - the voice of Simon Pegg carries over from "The Boxtrolls", by the way. 

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Ice Age: Continental Drift" (Movie #1,617)

THE PLOT: Manny, Diego and Sid team up with Buck to fend off a meteort strike that would destroy the world.

AFTER: I can't really be faulted for not remembering where we left off with the "Ice Age" characters - I mean, I watched the last film, like, a thousand movies ago.  Literally, it was over a thousand.  With three or four years going by between installments being released, that seems about right - it's just movie math.

If I remember right, the 2nd installment "The Meltdown" dealt with something similar to global warming - which was very forward (or is it backward?) thinking for a film from 2006.  My guess is that the franchise sort of peaked too early here, because that topic has only become more and more relevant.  The 4th installment, "Continental Drift" had a similar "environmental danger" theme, as the supercontinent Pangaea started to break up, and there were different theories among the animals over what they should do to respond to this crisis.  They're very hyper-aware, these cartoon animals.  I mean, beyond the fact that they talk and think, they somehow manage to know that Earth is round, and that there are things like continents and warming trends...

But it was the third installment, "Dawn of the Dinosaurs", that probably got the most flak for being scientifically inaccurate - I mean, we all know that the age of the dinosaurs predated the age of mammals by a few million years, so why make a film that puts them on the planet at the same time, and just fills kids' heads with junk science?  It costs nothing extra to make the "Ice Age" films scientifically accurate, so why not shoot for that, and be part of the solution, not part of the problem?  We've already got too many people in this country who think that cavemen and dinosaurs lived at the same time, thanks to cartoons like "The Flintstones".  To continue these myths just isn't helping. 

But that's the film where our mammoth, tiger and sloth heroes met Buck, the one-eyed weasel, and he's back for film #5, and unfortunately, so are the dinosaurs.  (I mean, it was a lost underground world populated by dinosaurs that appeared in the third film, but their presence here is still very problematic and anachronistic.)   The dinos that appear here are sort of halfway towards evolving into birds, and again, science gets thrown out the window, because we know that evolution just doesn't work this quickly.  There's one that looks like a tiny T. Rex and another that resembles a dragon, all with parrot-like wings that just couldn't possibly support their weight in flight. 

(EDIT: Turns out there are things called Dromaeosauridae, which were essentially microraptor dinosaurs of various sizes with feathers, and some think of them as the possible link between dinosaurs and today's birds, but they probably didn't look like this, and anyway, my point about the speed of evolution, or lack thereof, still stands. These sure don't look like Archaeopteryx, either.)  

Buck has these stone tablets that somehow tell the history of the world, or predict the future or something (it's all pretty unclear...) and this tells him that meteors have hit the earth before, and have caused mass extinctions each time, and that's what killed all the dinosaurs.  Umm, except it didn't, as the movie also states.  (Which is it?  You can't have it both ways...) So the team of prehistoric mammals, instead of running away from the crash site, has to do the heroic thing and head FOR the crash site, to figure out a way to stop the asteroid from hitting the Earth.  Wow, we may be looking at a record number of NITPICK POINTS tonight.  Let's get started:

NP #1: Who carved the tablets?  And how would they (and Buck) know about an asteroid strike that took place millions of years ago? 

NP #2: Wouldn't the place where an asteroid hits depend more on the rotation of the Earth than some magnetic spot on the Earth's surface?  I mean, any asteroid on a collision course would be traveling on a straight intercept vector, and the point of impact would then be determined by random chance, namely the changing rotation of the Earth. 

NP #3: Of course, the intercept vector would be affected by Earth's gravity, which would be a factor that draws it closer to the Earth.  (So, if an asteroid or meteor even came CLOSE to Earth on a non-intercept vector, we still could be in trouble...)  The force of magnetism would be nearly irrelevant, when compared to the force of gravity, right?  So once the asteroid got THAT close, you just couldn't hope to use magnetism to change its course.  (You really need Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and some explosives, I thought we'd established this...)  There's a little thing called momentum, too, which doesn't even seem to apply here.

NP #4: How do these animals, with their animal brains, really understand magnetism and gravity and volcanic pressure, anyway?  They've got little walnut-sized brains.  Humans didn't even understand gravity until an apple fell on Newton's head, right?  (cough...bullshit...cough...)

NP #5: There are a bunch of animals that are using the magnetism of geodes to stay eternally young - this is more junk science that doesn't belong in any movie, even a kids' movie.  Do we want the next generation to believe that magnets will help them live forever?  Sure, why not also tell them that exposing themselves to x-rays is really cool, and will help them glow in the dark?  Then they can read at night without turning on a light....

NP #6: Don't even get me started on the flying saucer stuff.  How did an extra-terrestrial civilization leave one behind on Earth, where it could get frozen into a glacier?  OK, maybe conditions were different on another planet, and life started sooner, therefore developed faster, or perhaps wasn't snuffed out by one extinction event after another, and that got them to hyperspace travel quicker, but whose ship was it?  Where are the aliens?  Did they just forget where they parked?  Where did this storyline come from, what's it doing in a prehistoric film, and why does it eventually go nowhere?  Now we're going to confuse kids more, who might now think that dinosaurs, mammals and UFOs were all on Earth at the same time...

NP #7: Why doesn't Scrat just EAT the damn acorn already, when he has a chance?  I know, he's got the biological compulsion to bury it, but he must be darn hungry by now, and wouldn't you think that the biological need to eat would be stronger?  Not funnier, of course, but stronger for sure.

I know, the main purpose here should be to tell a good story, and not necessarily push a bunch of science down kids' throats - but with the cutaways and an animated appearance by a prominent astro-physicist, there's an attempt to be all science-y anyway, it's just not any science that makes sense.  If you're going to fill kids' heads with something, why not make it accurate - kids love dinosaurs, but why have them living at the wrong time?  Why not assume that they're smart enough to learn about the world as it is (umm, was...) instead of putting the nonsensical story first?  Why does it have to be one or the other, why can't it be both?

Also starring the voices of Ray Romano (last seen in "Ted"), Denis Leary (last seen in "True Crime"), John Leguizamo (last seen in "Regarding Henry"), Queen Latifah (last seen in "What Happens in Vegas"), Adam Devine (last seen in "The Intern"), Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Wanda Sykes (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), Seann William Scott (ditto), Josh Peck (ditto), Jennifer Lopez (last seen in "The Wedding Planner"), Nick Offerman (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Max Greenfield (last seen in "The Big Short"), Keke Palmer (last seen in "Shrink"), Jessie J, Stephanie Beatriz, with vocal cameos from Melissa Rauch (last seen in "I Love You, Man"), Michael Strahan, Randy Thom and Neil deGrasse Tyson (last seen in "Zoolander 2").

RATING: 5 out of 10 dinosaur eggs

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Boxtrolls

Year 9, Day 145 - 5/25/17 - Movie #2,640

BEFORE: Jared Harris carries over from "I Shot Andy Warhol", or at least his voice does, and switching over to animated films for a few days allows me to rescue a few films from the "unlinkable" section of the watchlist.  I have sort of a connection with this film, since I used to work for the animation company that made it, or at least I worked in their New York rep's office, though we were absorbed into the Portland-based company for a few years.  So for a while there I got to go to events we hosted for "Coraline", "Corpse Bride" and "Paranorman" - not the big gala premieres or anything, just nights where we would take a bunch of ad agency creatives out to the movies and then rent out a nearby bar with a party room to buy them drinks and food.  Theoretically this was supposed to lead them to hire the company to make commercials, and we'd get our 10%.  It was kind of like what they do on "Mad Men", only with animation.

But this film was being produced around the time the company split in two, one division to make animated commercials and the other to make animated features, and they essentially dropped the company I worked for as an agent around the same time, so I never went to see "Boxtrolls" in the theater like I did for their other films.  And then a year or two later, the company I worked for folded, so it's taken me this long to get around to it.  This wasn't helped by the fact that this film went from PPV to commercial cable, somehow skipping premium cable, which is annoying because that's how I watch most of my movies.  I never understand this whole process, HBO and Showtime and Starz all have family-based channels, they must be desperate for new kids' movies, are they somehow not paying as much for them as Freeform TV is?  (This channel used to be the Family Channel, then it was Fox Family for a while, then ABC Family, now it's re-branded as Freeform.  Still doesn't explain how they outbid other channels to get this one, just to run it with commercials.  Ah, wait.  Now I get it.)

But it's possible this one just fell through the cracks in my system, and I don't want to let that happen again.  So I've decided to combine some of my lists together, now that I have access to both a pile of Academy screeners and whatever's on Netflix.  Plus, my current linking is still going to run out, around June 10 or so - and it would be helpful for me to be able to search the credits lists of the films that are NOT on the main watchlist, so I can better see what my options are, and highlight the films that I need to track down to keep the chain alive.  I think my best move is to make a new list on IMDB of the films that are airing now on cable (but not yet on the watchlist) and the films available to me on Academy screeners, and I can use the search function to find specific actors on that list.   If I can go through Netflix and find films there that are not anywhere else, I can add those to that list too.

Once the list is assembled, then I'll only have to do two quick searches for each actor in a film, and that will give me all of the linking options.  With luck I can then extend the viewing plan from June 10 until I leave for San Diego on July 19.


THE PLOT: A young orphaned boy raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors tries to save his friends from an evil exterminator.

AFTER: I had some trouble getting in to this one, there was a steep comprehension curve at first, and I'm not sure if that had more to do with the subject matter, the storytelling, or the thick British accents.  Sometimes with a film like "Trainspotting" or "Layer Cake" I know the actors are speaking English, but with such strong accents that my brain needs about a half-hour to get adjusted to it - unfortunately that means I could miss a lot of exposition information at the start of a film.  The Boxtrolls don't speak English, they chitter in a sort of nonsense language, so that was actually helpful because they had to mime everything.  Once the speaking parts started up, though, it was quite difficult for me.

(The boy hero, for example, is named "Eggs" but his real last name is Trubshaw - people tell stories of the Trubshaw baby, who was abducted by the trolls, but I thought they were saying "Drugstore", not "Trubshaw" and I kept wondering why he was the Drugstore Baby.)

The basics are that the Boxtrolls steal trash (and boxes, presumably) from the upper world, and then they return to the lower world to play music, build large mechanical devices, and sleep in their boxes.  I'm not sure if this is a metaphor for the lower class, or race relations, or refugees/homeless people, maybe all three.  The surface world society (literally the "upper" class) seems to have a caste system organized around the colors of their hats and the tasting of various cheeses.  It's all like some steampunk version of a Dr. Seuss world or something.

The main villain, Archibald Snatcher, is determined to catch all of the Boxtrolls when they roam the surface world, because he sees this as his way to advance in society, to get a white hat and to be invited into the cheese tasting rooms (even though he's allergic to cheese, so he's something of a walking contradiction...) As far as I can tell, Eggs, with the help of Winnie, investigates him to learn what's happened to the disappearing Boxtrolls, only to learn that Snatcher hasn't been killing them, but putting them to work for a more sinister purpose.

There's an interesting link to "I Shot Andy Warhol", since last night's film featured Candy Darling, and in this film, Snatcher also masquerades in drag, performing as a seductive "Madame Frou-Frou". And just as the Boxtrolls' method of recycling trash seems to project a trendy environmental message, someone here probably wanted to project a positive trendy image of transvestites - however, you can't really do that when it's the villain who puts on a dress.  So this then becomes a sticking point, because a man wearing a dress for a sinister purpose (seducing other men, presumably) just feeds into all of the negative stereotypes about transvestites and trans-gender people, focusing on the potential dishonest aspects of that.

(Animation doesn't really have a good track record with this subject - on "Family Guy" for example, the trans-gender character is Quagmire's father, and the usual running gag is that someone will have sex with her, then learn the truth and their immediate reaction is to vomit profusely.  Way to be insensitive, guys, especially since that character had no problem with the sex itself, only the mental reaction to learning of their partner's transgender status - and why is being sick considered an appropriate response, in this day an age?  Can someone please give Seth MacFarlane a clue that this is NOT OK?)

I think I may need to see "The Boxtrolls" a couple times to really evaluate it properly - watching it with commercials, late at night, probably wasn't the best way to do it.  My feeling right now is that it lacks some of the spirit that was evident in "Coraline" and "Paranorman".  (I rated "Coraline" a 9 and "Paranorman" an 8, while tonight's rating is much more noncommittal.)  There's no question that making stop-motion is an arduous process and therefore 330 people working on this film for 72 weeks is an enormous accomplishment, I just wish they had something more to show for it, I guess.

Also starring the voices of Ben Kingsley (last seen in "The Walk"), Isaac Hempstead Wright, Elle Fanning (last seen in "Maleficent"), Toni Collette (last seen in "Tammy"), Tracy Morgan (last seen in "The Night Before"), Simon Pegg (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Nick Frost (last seen in "The World's End"), Richard Ayoade (last seen in "The Watch"), Dee Bradley Baker (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2"), Maurice LaMarche (ditto), Steve Blum (last heard somewhere in "Rogue One"), Nika Futterman, Pat Fraley, Fred Tatasciore (last heard in "Kung Fu Panda 3"), James Urbaniak, Brian George.

RATING: 5 out of 10 manhole covers

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

I Shot Andy Warhol

Year 9, Day 144 - 5/24/17 - Movie #2,639

BEFORE: "Factory Girl" is a bit of a dead-end, so I'm going to invoke the new 2017 rule that allows me to link between films when they share a character - so Andy Warhol carries over from "Factory Girl" as a character.  Here he's played by Jared Harris, who's known for appearing in the middle seasons of "Mad Men", a series I'm still working on finishing. 

Someone must have screwed up at AMC - I've been watching the show on Demand, they post 3 or 4 episodes every 2 weeks or so, and that's about the right rate for me, considering how many other things I'm watching.  But after posting Season 5, Episodes 4-6, when those were taken down, they were replaced with NOTHING.  What gives, AMC, are you going to tease me with the first 58 episodes of a series, and then cut me OFF?  But then this week new episodes got posted, and they were Season 5, episodes 10-13.  What happened to Episodes 7-9?  How am I supposed to move forward after skipping three episodes? 

Fortunately, I've got a back-up, which is to watch the shows through my wife's Netflix account.  (I could even watch them faster that way, but I've got too many other shows and movies to watch...)  And the other reason I don't like to use the Netflix is that films are just a little bit TOO available there, I could build a list of movies that are playing there that aren't on premium cable yet, but I don't want to go down that rabbit hole just yet.  Besides, I've already got a watchlist of 130 (still!) films that I already have on hand, plus a 2nd list of films that are airing that I want to DVR in the next 2 weeks, a 3rd list of recent films that haven't aired yet that I need to keep an eye out for, and a 4th list of films that I can watch by borrowing an Academy screener from the boss.  So I can't see how a 5th list of movies is going to help me out any, it's just going to make things even more complicated.  Right?


THE PLOT: Based on the true story of Valerie Solanas, who was a 60's radical preaching hatred of men in her manifesto.  She wrote a screenplay for a film that she wanted Andy Warhol to produce, but he continued to ignore her.

AFTER: I live in New York and ride the subway, so I think I know what crazy people look like - the ones talking to themselves, or to everyone and no one, saying the same things over and over.  We had an experience in February in Atlantic City where we sat next to a very sketchy guy in a restaurant in the Borgata, and we called him "Twitchy".  He kept saying things aloud, over and over, like "I have to leave in 5 minutes" and "Where are my smokes?" and just generally not making much sense.

The problem here is, it's hard to distinguish the portrayal of a similarly crazy character from that of an actor who hasn't been given enough of a script to fill up her screen time, so she's asked to improv and instead keeps falling back on the few lines that were given to her, over and over.  So I can't tell if this is a "good" performance or not, if it's authentic to the craziness of the real Valerie Solanas, or if not enough was known about her, just a few fragments of speech or quotes from her writing, and the actress was told to just roll with those.

Every time she comes into contact with Andy Warhol, it's the same things discussed, "Did you read my screenplay?"  "Can I have that copy back?" and "When are you going to produce my film, Andy?" and I guess I'm leaning toward "crazy" over "improvised", because you can sort of connect the dots where a crazy person, who keeps getting stuck in these circular arguments, would eventually allow the dialogue to devolve into "That son of a bitch, he won't read my screenplay, and he won't give that copy back, and worse, he's never going to produce my film!"  Well, Valerie, what would make you happy, because if he gives you the screenplay back, then he can't really read it, and he's certainly not going to be able to produce it without keeping a copy.

Eventually Valerie finds a publisher for her "manifesto" (after explaining to other characters, and the home audience, what "S.C.U.M." stands for, about 10,000 times) and then she hits the next bugaboo, signing the contract with the publisher.  So it turns into, "That son of a bitch, keeping 10% of the royalties for himself, and paying for the publicity costs out of the gross sales, how dare he!"  There's already a certain amount of madness and futility involved in contract language and distribution rights, and from what I've seen at my jobs, it can be enough to drive a creative person insane.  So this sort of rings true to me. 

At the animation studio where I work, we've kept a file of the crazy e-mails we've received over the years.  (Our last studio address was the former home of a porn magazine publisher, so we also got a lot of weird mail from incarcerated men, but that's another story...)  We used to get long, rambling e-mails from a woman in France who was convinced that the presidents of France and the U.S. were tapping into her brain via various satellites, and that she'd been forced to have children with various notable animators, and then made to forget about those children.  Reading them aloud was always a weird mix of comedy and tragedy...

If felt like the film kept repeating itself, as if it were afraid to stray off too far in any one direction.  Why not get more into the films that the Factory DID produce, or Warhol's activities when he wasn't eating dinner or being interviewed.  Nope, it feels like someone felt that any of that would distract from Valerie's story, so let's just show her saying and doing the same things over and over, really drive those points home.

Plus, most of the Warhol entourage members and hangers-on, like Ultra Violet and Rotten Rita, are seen only briefly, so I never felt like I got to know any of them, let alone Warhol himself, who still remains something of an enigma.  The exception to this may be Candy Darling, the transgender actress who was famously mentioned in the Lou Reed song "Walk on the Wild Side".  ("Candy came from out on the Island...in the back room, she was everybody's darling.")  I was reading recently how this song is being banned in Canada for being "trans-phobic", which is flat-out ridiculous.  If anything, Lou Reed appreciated the new sexual lifestyles of the 1960's and supported trans-gender people whenever possible.  And now the song is banned, just because it talks about transgender people shaving their legs and giving head?  Great, the one song (except maybe for "Lola") that championed the trans-gender cause, and it gets labeled "trans-phobic"?  There's no sense to that.

Starring Lili Taylor (last seen in "Mystic Pizza"), Jared Harris (last seen in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."), Stephen Dorff (last seen in "Immortals"), Martha Plimpton (last seen in "Another Woman"), Lothaire Bluteau, Justin Theroux (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Anna Levine, Peter Friedman (last seen in "Someone Like You"), Tahnee Welch (last seen in "Cocoon: The Return"), Jamie Harrold, Donovan Leitch Jr., Michael Imperioli (last seen in "The Call"), Reg Rogers, Bill Sage, Jill Hennessy (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Coco McPherson, Myriam Cyr, Lorraine Farris, Craig Chester, Victor Browne, Billy Erb, Anh Duong, with cameos from Mark Margolis (last seen in "Noah"), John Ventimiglia (last seen in "Money Monster")

RATING: 3 out of 10 mylar balloons

Factory Girl

Year 9, Day 143 - 5/23/17 - Movie #2,638

BEFORE: I picked this one up a few months back, when I was looking for something to pair with "Basquiat" on a DVD.  I remembered that David Bowie played Warhol in that other film, so Warhol appeared on both films as a character.  That will be true of tomorrow's film also.

Beth Grant carries over from "Jackie", where she played Lady Bird Johnson, and tonight she plays Andy Warhol's mother.  This prevents me from relying on the link between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen....


THE PLOT: The rise and fall of socialite Edie Sedgwick, concentrating on her relationships with Andy Warhol and a folk singer.

AFTER: What I've learned is that too many biopics can affect your judgment - you start to feel like everyone's in a long, slow downward spiral from the moment they're born, and that nothing's ever going to end well.  It's not a great mental state to live in.  Non-biopic Hollywood movies, on the other hand, tend to have unrealistic happy endings, so I guess there's just no middle ground. Which brings me to the tragedy of Edie Sedgwick.

She came from one of those very rich Massachusetts families that traced its lineage back to colonial America of the 1600's.  But by the time of the 1950's and 1960's, that family seemed pretty messed up, at least according to this film's allegations of Edie growing up isolated, troubled, in and out of various institutions, and developing eating disorders.  Her father, Fuzzy, was noted for carrying on many affairs, and she had a couple brothers that were also psychologically messed up, at least one of whom committed suicide.

Coming out of the Cambridge, MA art scene, she moved to New York City to become a model - because those girls have it all together, right? - and then fell in with the art scene, started taking drugs and partying, and this led to meeting Andy Warhol and becoming something like his muse as he was trying to conquer the world of making movies with his studio, the Factory.  

The folk singer character, listed in the credits as "musician", is obviously supposed to be based on Bob Dylan, from the way he plays the guitar and harmonica simultaneously, right down to his speech patterns.  There's sort of a love triangle suggested by this film, but since Wikipedia tells me that Bob Dylan famously denied a romantic relationship with Sedgwick, my guess is that the filmmakers played this one very cagey, and never allowed the name "Bob Dylan" to be spoken in this film - and that's only weird when you have a character on screen that no one ever calls by name.  So it's a faux Dylan, but come on, it's supposed to be Dylan.

Dylan went on to marry someone else, and Edie got harder into the drug scene, and was paid very little by Warhol, so she felt betrayed - but the good news was that this led her to get out of New York City and into rehab in California.  At least she got herself clean for about a year before the end.

I've never really been able to get a handle on Andy Warhol - what was his deal?  According to this film, he was a Gay Catholic and that sure sounds like a contradiction in terms, no?  Was he just filled with self-loathing, like many religious people?  Maybe there are many people who are living contradictions - like at my high-school reunion late last year, I was talking with a woman that I did not remember, probably because we weren't in the same classes or traveled in different social circles during school.  She played on the basketball team, and was now out and proud, married to a woman, but she knew my father from church (my parents do a lot of work for the church) so therefore I knew she was Catholic, and so I couldn't quite figure her out.  How can someone practice a religion that claims that their whole lifestyle is sinful?  Why try to be a member of club that doesn't want you to join?

Anyway, back to Warhol the filmmaker. I really blame the Beatles - ever since they hit big, everybody who's famous for one thing suddenly also had to be in movies, write a book, be in a cartoon series, have a fashion line, and such.  Warhol became known as an artist, what right did he have to go out and make terrible movies?  Because it was the 1960's and you had to be seen to be famous - 40 years later, everybody would say that's just part of having a brand, selling yourself as a lifestyle, which is all the rage these days.  Connect the dots, and before long you've got Gwyneth Paltrow selling useless products that catch on because they're "organic" and therefore trend among the hipsters.

I think that there's probably a great film that will be made someday about Warhol, something akin to that film about Truman Capote - which is my way of saying that I'm not convinced this one is it.

Also starring Sienna Miller (last seen in "Burnt"), Guy Pearce (last seen in "The Count of Monte Cristo"), Hayden Christensen, Jimmy Fallon (last seen in "Ted 2"), Jack Huston (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Admin Amiri (last seen in "The Wrestler"), Tara Summers (last seen in "Alfie" (2004)), Mena Suvari (last seen in "Slums of Beverly Hills"), Shawn Hatosy (last seen in "The Faculty"), James Naughton (last seen in "The Devil Wears Prada"), Edward Herrmann (last seen in "Reds"), Illeana Douglas (last seen in "Hello Again"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "The Hollars"), Johnny Whitworth, Brian Bell, Patrick Wilson, Meredith Ostrom, Samantha Maloney, with cameos from Don Novello, Colleen Camp (last seen in "Joy"), George Plimpton (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Cary Elwes (last seen in "Ella Enchanted"), Sally Kirkland (last heard in "Nerdland"), Mary-Kate Olsen.

RATING: 4 out of 10 gay cowboys

Monday, May 22, 2017

Jackie

Year 9, Day 142 - 5/22/17 - Movie #2,637

BEFORE: I forgot to mention the other day that I was watching an Academy screener of "Snowden", because the film was not yet available on cable.  Actually it was available On Demand for $3.99, and when I finally made the decision to buy it, suddenly it was no longer available.  So that's not my fault - I'll DVR it as soon as it appears on a premium channel, since I get all of those.  That's my excuse for breaking the rules and watching the screener, anyway - and tonight I'm watching another Academy screener, in order to keep the chain alive.

So Natalie Portman carries over from "Hesher", and that's really all I want to know about this film.  Please, no spoilers.  JK, the president gets shot.  If that comes as a shocker to you, please go read a history book.

I just watched the first four episodes of this show "Genius" on the NatGeo channel, which is all about Albert Einstein, his early life anyway (so far) though the first episode bounced around in time between his young life and his older life, and you know that's become my personal bugaboo.  The later episodes at least cooled it with the time-jumping a little, to better focus on his formal education (or lack thereof) and his first marriage and jobs as a math tutor and patent clerk.  Really, you can't have many spoilers or surprises in such a biopic - except I was intrigued to learn that even back then, people calling him "Hey, Einstein!" sarcastically was intended to poke fun at how he seemed smart, but often acted dumb or foolishly. 


THE PLOT: Following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy fights through grief and trauma to regain her faith, console her children and define her husband's historic legacy. 

AFTER: Yep, you guessed it, more flashback stuff tonight, which means this film got on my nerves from the get-go.  The WHOLE STORY is in the past, so why do we need to jump around so much?  Wouldn't it be more informative to let the story play out in the order it happened, so we can gain more insight into how Jackie felt at THIS moment, because we know what happened right before?  Instead we get a framing sequence with Jackie being interviewed by a journalist, then the assassination of JFK, the aftermath and the planning of the funeral, even the move out of the White House is then presented in (more or less) random flashback order.  To make things even more confusing, there are flashbacks WITHIN flashbacks, no lie, when Jackie is telling the journalist about walking through the halls of the White House after the assassination (but before the move, presumably) she recalls that at the time, she was remembering John Jr.'s birthday party at the White House, so then we see that footage.  Or within the flashback of Jackie's famous televised tour of the White House, she mentions the time they had a command performance from Pablo Casals, so then we see that footage.

By the end of things, time had lost all meaning - and I had no idea what happened before what.  Well, Einstein did say that time is all relative, but somehow I don't think this is what he was talking about.

History porn - did we really need to see the headshot in such graphic detail?  Apparently so, because that's what all you jackal historians wanted to see.  You should be ashamed of yourself.  The point of the whole film is that Jackie was a dignified woman who acted with dignity, and then the film invades her privacy by showing removing her blood-soaked nylons and then crying in the shower.  Now I'm the one who feels really dirty, was such detail really necessary?

For that matter, is this entire film even necessary?  I mean, the details of JFK's assassination and funeral are well documented, and so is Jackie's televised tour of the White House.  I mean, we've got that on video, or at least a kinescope, right?  So why do we need a recreation of it, with an actress vainly trying to reproduce her Long Island-yet-refined accent.  All that this brings to the table is an imagining of the private moments in-between, and those were, umm, private.  Plus, we can probably imagine that she was grieving, in shock, confused about how to proceed.  Those are all normal feelings when dealing with the death of a loved one.  She talked to her priest, she changed the minute details of the funeral procession, she packed up her clothes.  Who the hell cares?

Seriously, if you're a devotee of the Kennedy era, and you want to peek behind the curtain and get excited about what Jackie Kennedy might have talked about with staffers like Jack Valenti or Larry O'Brien, then this is the film for you.  But otherwise, I think it's a pass.  It might have been a travesty if Natalie Portman had won an Oscar for this, because so much of it consists of long shots of her staring into the camera.  Grief and shock, while significant human emotions, just do not play well on film.

They're running "Bobby" on cable now, about the assassination of Robert Kennedy - my new rules say I could link from this film to that one, because characters carry over, but I think I'm going to schedule that film for June, I need to link out of the film "Room" - and with such a large cast, I'm thinking I could go just about anywhere after that.  And I think that film would pair nicely with this one on a DVD.

Also starring Peter Sarsgaard (last seen in "Black Mass"), Greta Gerwig (last seen in "To Rome With Love"), Billy Crudup (last seen in "Everyone Says I Love You"), John Hurt (last heard in "Thumbelina"), Richard E. Grant (last seen in "Logan"), John Carroll Lynch (also carrying over from "Hesher"), Caspar Phillipson, Beth Grant (last seen in "Matchstick Men"), Max Casella (last seen in "Inside Llewyn Davis"), Sara Verhagen, Helene Kuhn, Corey Johnson (last seen in "Ex Machina"), Deborah Findlay, Aidan O'Hare, Ralph Brown (last seen in"Amistad"), Georgie Glen (last seen in "Calendar Girls"), Julie Judd (last seen in "Head in the Clouds"), Barbara Foliot, Patrick Hamel, Frederique Adler, Craig Sechler.

RATING: 3 out of 10 pillbox hats

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Hesher

Year 9, Day 141 - 5/21/17 - Movie #2,636

BEFORE: The final of four films with Joseph Gordon-Levitt - but the big news is that "Twin Peaks" returns to TV tonight.  By a coincidence, today's film also has Piper Laurie in it, and she was part of the cast of the original show that ran in 1990-92.  25 years later, the show comes back tonight - I was around when the original episodes aired, and I didn't miss one, even when the show got weird.  Umm, that is to say, weirder.  It started at weird and then got very very weird, and you either bought into the mythology behind it or you didn't, but that was true appointment TV, you HAD to be there to watch it when it aired on ABC, because everybody would be talking about it the next day at work or school, trying to figure it out what it all means.

A lot has changed in my life since then - and a lot has changed in the world at large, and in the world of TV.  We've had darker shows air since then - "The Sopranos", "Oz", "Six Feet Under", "Dexter", "Hannibal" and so on.  Hundreds of channels where there used to be a couple dozen.  And since then I've come to hate David Lynch for his enigmatic movies, like "Eraserhead", "Lost Highway" and "Mulholland Drive".  (I watched those last two on Showtime, since apparently they cut a deal with Lynch to run all his movies, if only he'd make more "Twin Peaks" episodes...). Tonight I'm going to let Lynch back into my life because he's bringing back the show I liked - but if it sucks, then he and I are very much over.  Fool me four times, Mr. Lynch, and shame on me...

(Last week I recorded "The Straight Story", which is now on the watchlist.  Probably the only film ever that opens with "Walt Disney Studios presents...A David Lynch Film". I'm not sure when I can get to that one, though - it looks very hard to link to.).


THE PLOT: A young boy who lost his mother and is losing touch with his father and the world around him meets Hesher, who manages to make his life even more chaotic.

AFTER: I'm late posting today because we just watched the two-hour premiere of "Twin Peaks" (honestly, I never thought I'd say those words again...)  Geez, you live long enough and everything comes back - "American Idol", "The X-Files", we're getting all kinds of new "Star Wars" films.  It's the franchise culture and the need to make money, they keep dusting off old chestnuts like "The Planet of the Apes" and "The Pink Panther" - but "Twin Peaks" is big, man.  It's like the "Star Wars" of TV, and it's back after 25 years, with most of its cast scheduled to show up in one form or another.

But this is a movie blog, not a TV blog - plus I still have to go on the internet tomorrow and figure out what the events seen in the premiere mean, or at least what people THINK they mean.  But if you've never seen the original, go and binge-watch it ASAP, it's only like 30 episodes - an enterprising person could watch all of that in a weekend, right?  For God's sake, don't jump into the new series without watching the original show first, you'll have even less of an idea what's going on than I do - which is not much.

I had a hard time understanding "Hesher", too, at least at first, because the action was so random - who's that kid, why is he obsessed with that crashed car on the dealer's lot?  Why does that other kid want to bully him at school?  And where the hell is Joseph Gordon-Levitt?

He eventually shows up, as a squatter in an abandoned house, and he also seems to have an axe to grind with this kid, TJ.  But he forces himself into TJ's house, right as TJ and his father are stuck in a grief spiral, and we eventually find out they're still reeling from the loss of TJ's mother.  Sure, letting a random stranger who looks and acts like a psycho makes perfect sense if there's tension in your family.  You'd think that logically, maybe Hesher would be able to help TJ with his bullying problem, since he's bigger and tougher than the bully, but things just don't work out that way.  If anything, Hesher's actions tend to make things worse, but they're also sort of cathartic by default.

There's a difference, however, between an anarchist and someone who just does random things, and to me Hesher seems more like the latter.  An anarchist would work toward the purpose of dissolving the government, or at least rebelling against it, and we don't get to see Hesher doing that.  He'd rather break into people's backyards, throw their patio furniture into the pool, and set things on fire while he's at it.  That's not an anarchist, that's just an asshole.

I remember that the second time I saw Natalie Portman in person at San Diego Comic-Con, she was there promoting "Hesher".  (The first time was right after filming "V For Vendetta", because her hair was still super-short.). I bring this up only because she's going to carry over to tomorrow's film.

Also starring Rainn Wilson (last seen in "Super"), Natalie Portman (last seen in "Thor: The Dark World"), Devin Brochu, John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Hot Pursuit"), Brendan Hill, Monica Staggs, Audrey Wasilewski (last seen in "What Women Want"), Frank Collison, Mary Elizabeth Barrett, Barry Sigismondi (last seen in "XXX: State of the Union").

RATING: 4 out of 10 bowls of cereal