Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Brand Is Crisis

Year 9, Day 154 - 6/3/17 - Movie #2,649

BEFORE: And I'm back from documentary territory, ending on a political note, which leads me here - and Billy Bob Thornton carries over from "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", so I'm going to consider the chain intact, even if it's technically not. 

THE PLOT: An American political consultant returns from self-imposed exile to help re-elect a controversial president in Bolivia, where she must compete with a long-term rival working for another candidate. 

AFTER: As you might imagine, this was originally supposed to come right after "28 Days", with Sandra Bullock carrying over.  But sometimes I realize that if I can just break up an obvious pairing like that, follow another path, I can squeeze a bunch of films in-between them, and that helps to extend the chain.  I mean, that was 18 or so days ago, so if I can figure out some more substitutions like that, I might be able to make it to my San Diego break in July after all.

I had my BFF Andy over last night, he was in town for just one day, and I gave him a look at the whole watchlist, laid out with connecting actors and circles and arrows - and Andy knows that these are not really the confused writings of a serial killer (merely a serial movie watcher) so he didn't suggest I get professional help.  But he noticed that I had left open slots for some prominent films coming out later this year, so he pointed out that it was like hockey, in that I'm not trying to hit the puck, I'm aiming for where the puck is going to be.  Exactly.   Umm, I think, I don't really get hockey.

But I'm still on politics, here the political drama is transplanted to Bolivia (but come on, it's probably a metaphor for the U.S.) - and hey, this is still American politics, it's just South American.  This probably could have been set anywhere, there's nothing all that special about Bolivia that required the movie was set there, except they have llamas and people wear those tiny hats.  This is based on a documentary about the 2002 election in Bolivia, where James Carville was a prominent strategist, and apparently that film drew comparisons to the U.S. elections of the same year, where politicians had to campaign and simultaneously sell America on the war in Iraq.

But this is the fictionalized version of that, because everything that happens IRL has to be turned into a movie, apparently.  Here the central candidate has to promise his people that he's not going to invite the IMF into Bolivia without a referendum and....oh sorry, I just dozed off for a minute there.  Most Americans, like me, probably have no idea with the International Monetary Fund is, or what the implications of inviting it into your country are.  For that matter, what's a "referendum"? Why not just say a "vote"?

But let's get to the good stuff, which is the political strategy, the dirty tricks, the somehow even more fun clean tricks, and the fact that Billy Bob Thornton is probably doing a serviceable James Carville impression here.  Bullock's character has a history with this guy, a past election where things went south and we gradually learn what happened there (though I'm not sure I fully understood it...).  And then there's negative campaigning, which you absolutely shouldn't do unless the other candidate does it first, or you can make it LOOK like the other guy does it first.  (Yep, this seems like America all right, even if it's South....).

And they accidentally predicted the results of the 2016 U.S. election - the day after the election, campaign promises go out the window and the country immediately regrets its decision, with massive protests in the street.  What the main character does at this point is completely unbelievable, for many reasons, not the least of which is that we've been told many times that she doesn't speak any Spanish. So, without saying any more, just be aware that's a massive NITPICK POINT.

Also starring Sandra Bullock (last seen in "28 Days"), Anthony Mackie (last seen in "The Night Before"), Joaquim de Almeida, Ann Dowd (last seen in "St. Vincent"), Scoot McNairy (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Zoe Kazan (last seen in "Revolutionary Road"), Dominic Flores, Reynaldo Pacheco, Louis Arcella, Octavio Gomez Berrios, Luis Chavez.

RATING: 6 out of 10 quotes from "The Art of War"

Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time

Year 9, Day 153 - 6/2/17 - Movie #2,648

BEFORE: Donald Trump appeared at the end of "Weiner", to weigh in on that scandal, and that gave me the idea to extend the documentary chain by one more day - which I think might be helpful in early July where there seems to be a 7-day gap between the day I want to watch "Spotlight" and the day I'll probably go to see "Spider-Man: Homecoming", both with Michael Keaton in them.  So I either find a way to fill that gap, take a few days off in June or July, or find a way to extend the chain by adding some last-minute fill-ins.  I'll try for that last option where I can.

THE PLOT: Footage of candidate Trump, from the primaries through the debates to the dawning realization that the businessman will become the President of the U.S.

AFTER: Rarely do I say that I regret watching a movie, even if I give one a low score I can usually find a way to learn something from it, even if that's something about what NOT to do when making a film.  But tonight I have to own the fact that I watched this, and it was almost completely pointless, because it was assembled from archive footage that we've all seen in the news, plus some additional material culled from the thousands (?) of hours of footage shot while making the Showtime political commentary show "The Circus".

So yeah, there are bits where the three hosts of that show go out on the road, and they can't believe what's happening as Trump's movement grows, and the other candidates go from "He won't be the Republican nominee" to "What if he's the Republican nominee?" and finally are all asked "Will you support him as the Republican nominee?"  The fact that the hosts are front-and-center in the new footage should prevent this from even being taken seriously as a documentary - who do they think they are, Michael Moore?  He's really the only person who can get away with that.

The hosts, however, fail to consider the 5 W's of journalism - oh, they're fine with the who, what, where and when, but there's not even a nod to "why".  ("How" is completely out of the picture too, I guess that's maybe for the FBI to determine.).  Instead this plays all of the "greatest hits" of the 2016 campaign in rapid succession - there's "Trump disses John McCain", "Trump says that Mexicans are rapists", and "Trump mocks a disabled reporter".  Which are things that would have curtailed the campaign of anyone but him - the more controversy and scandal he created the more it seemed to feed the beast.  And the more he played on Americans' fear and dissatisfaction, the higher he rose in the polls.

The problem becomes, who is the target audience for this documentary?  Even if you haven't seen "The Circus", you've seen 90% of this film on the news last year, if you were paying attention.  I think this film would be great if you've got a friend or family member who just woke up from an 18-month coma, and you want to bring them up to speed on the state of the Union at a rapid pace, but that's about it.  Maybe future historians will need this to capture the specific zeitgeist of the year 2016 (when the whole class is throwing up, that means they're paying attention...) but other than that, it's fairly useless.

And it seems like technology itself didn't want me to watch this movie - as I played it from Showtime's On Demand channel, the sound went out about every thirty seconds, forcing me to rewind a few seconds numerous times to counter the buffering and re-activate the sound.  It's possible this was a problem just with my DVR, or perhaps it was a problem with the version on the system, and if no one else has complained or taken the time to fix it, that means nobody else is watching, which seems about right.

SPOILER ALERT: Trump wins, and the country gets screwed.

Also starring Mark Halperin, John Heilemann, Mark McKinnon, with archive footage of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorino.

RATING: 2 out of 10 words - I have the best words.

Thursday, June 1, 2017


Year 9, Day 152 - 6/1/17 - Movie #2,647

BEFORE: This documentary break worked out fairly well - and it's over tonight, so back to scripted material tomorrow.  But Bill and Hillary Clinton carry over from "Sicko", via the miracle of archive footage, so in some way the linking was maintained.  But tomorrow I'll pick up the actor linking, right where I left off.

THE PLOT: An examination of disgraced New York Congressman Anthony Weiner's mayoral campaign and today's political landscape.

AFTER: Our new President said something this month, at a graduation ceremony or something, about how no other politician in history had ever "been treated worse" than he has by the media.  Well, even accounting for how much Trump loves to talk about himself, and how everything connected to him has to be the biggest, the best, the most YUUGE, we can all tell that this statement was pure bunk and merely more hyperbole.  Because you don't need to think very hard to come up with a politician who was treated worse - Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner both come to mind immediately, but what about NY Governor Spitzer, and NJ governors Chris Christie and Jim McGreevey?  What about Obama, having to fend off numerous challenges about his birthplace and citizenship (gee, who was the loudest instigator of that, I can't recall...)?  What about Abe Lincoln, hated by one-half of the country and assassinated for his efforts?

But I digress, let me focus on Anthony Weiner for a minute - if you're not familiar with the man, he was a 7-term Congressman for New York who represented Brooklyn and Queens in the House.  Though he had a reputation as being short-tempered, he did occasionally put that to good use, as this film shows in footage where he was yelling at fellow Congressmen for not passing the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2011 (nice tie-in with last night's film "Sicko", right?).  But then a texting scandal forced him to resign from Congress, thanks to the dick-pic seen 'round the world - and then, somehow, he very impractically decided to run for Mayor of New York City, and furthermore, very impractically decided to allow a documentary crew film him during the weeks leading up to that election.

This means that the camera crew was in place when Weiner's second sexting scandal broke - the one after he said he wasn't sexting anyone any more, or sending out any dirty tweets, when really he meant to say was that he wasn't sending out dirty tweets FROM THAT ACCOUNT, and had instead created a new Twitter account, under a new name ("Carlos Danger").  Which really should have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with addictive behavior, few people ever really stop drinking or using drugs or watching porn, they just find better ways to hide their tracks - hiding booze in their desk at work, or shooting up between their toes, or taking the time to clear their browser history.  People are human, they make mistakes, they grab on to little behaviors that bring them pleasure so they'll momentarily forget that someday they're going to die.

But Weiner became a local and national punchline, and fuel for all of the jokes on late-night talk shows, not to mention the New York Post headlines that seemed to write themselves, like "Can't Keep Weiner Down" or "Weiner: I'll Stick It Out" or (when his wife threw him out) "Huma Cuts Off Weiner".  There you go, NY Post, keeping it classy.  You just KNOW they were waiting for him to quit the mayoral race so the headline could read "Weiner Pulls Out".

This documentary is uncomfortable to watch, because it shows Weiner and his wife going through their daily routines, meeting with staffers, speaking to the press and it gradually wears on them and makes the relationship difficult.  You can tell from Huma's body language that she was developing a different attitude toward her husband as the new revelations came forward and the election neared.  And while she was willing to stand by her husband throughout the campaign, at some point she stopped making appearances, only to have the press jump on the fact that she was less visible, and start asking questions about her lack of involvement in the campaign, and possible detachment from her husband.

Sure enough, soon after the filming concluded, the couple announced their separation, but the news as of YESTERDAY was that Weiner was planning to move back in with Huma, after spending a few months sleeping on his mother's couch in Brooklyn.  Right now no one seems to be sure whether their relationship is back on, or if he's just moving in to take care of their son.  A couple times in 2015 or 2016 I used to see him hanging out in Chelsea with his son, maybe the kid goes to a daycare around there or something.

A couple takeaways, the most notable is the fact that I don't think we've seen the end of the effect of Twitter and Facebook on U.S. politics - we're just getting started.  How do candidates (and celebrities) seem to forget that posting things on social media means that other people can, you know, SEE THEM and pass whatever judgements they want.  This cuts both ways, on the one hand it's a great sign of an open democratic society, but it also serves as a de facto invasion of privacy (especially when you get down to hacked cell phone videos...).  But as far as political scandals go, this should have been a relatively tame one, I mean, Weiner didn't have extra-marital sex, he didn't hurt or kill anyone with his photos, but now he's been forced to register as a sex offender because the age of one of his texting contacts.  And why did Trump somehow get a pass for all the rude behavior in his past, when Weiner was humiliated and received so few votes?

Plus, if you remember, that Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal that returned JUST before the 2016 election pointed out that Huma, Hillary's aide at the time, may have stored some of the classified e-mails on a computer that Weiner had access to.  (God forbid, government e-mails on the same device as a couple of horny tweets...)  But that may have tipped the balance on the election - so it's possible future historians will look back on the Weiner scandal and identify this moment, this person's mistake, as the point in time where everything started turning to crap and civilization started to collapse.  Who can say?

Also starring Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Bill de Blasio, with cameos from Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Bill Maher, Howard Stern, Donald Trump.

RATING: 5 out of 10 press conferences

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Year 9, Day 151 - 5/31/17 - Movie #2,646

BEFORE: Last night's trip around the world reminded me that I haven't even started binge-watching "The Amazing Race" yet, and the finale is going to air tomorrow.  So I've got to start watching at least 2 episodes each night, if I'm going to have any chance to watch the finale before I see a spoiler online.  Fortunately the identity of the winners of a reality show isn't quite the big deal that it used to be.  Still, I can maybe get 4 or 6 episodes watched this week and get to the rest early next week, so the best I can hope for is to be about a week behind.  That's kind of where I spend most of my time, anyway.

Michael Moore carries over from "Where to Invade Next", and it's kind of a step backwards, since this was a documentary he made back in 2007, and we've had two new presidents since then.  I know I'm coming late to the party here, but health care as a political topic just does not seem to be going away, so this look at the pre-Obamacare system is long overdue for me.

THE PLOT: A documentary comparing the highly profitable American health care system to those of other nations, and relating HMO horror stories.

AFTER: There's a quick key to understanding a Michael Moore film, and I probably don't even have to tell you that it's "Republicans are bad, Democrats are good".  Here he places the blame for the U.S. healthcare crisis (the one before Obamacare, anyway) on Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.  Reagan apparently made a record album at some point that equated universal healthcare with socialism, and from then on I guess the Republicans regarded it as a slippery slope - one day you're providing medical care to the lower middle class, and the next day everyone is working on a collective farm and sharing cows.  And then there's audio tape of Nixon saying something good about HMO's, so clearly he's to blame also.

But as we all know, Hilary Clinton took on this issue when she was First Lady, and how dare she actually try to accomplish something, instead of just decorate the White House, perfect her chocolate chip cookie recipe and pose for photo ops, which is what's expected of a woman in the White House, right?  The Republicans refused to work with her healthcare ideas -whether it was because they were threatened by her femininity or because she technically wasn't an elected official at the time, we may never know.  Then the pendulum swung the other way for two terms, and nobody tried to fix healthcare until Obama was elected.  At which point, Obamacare was introduced, its web-site worked perfectly from Day One, and the healthcare crises was solved forever.  Ha ha, just kidding.

Say what you will about Obamacare, I'm sure it wasn't perfect, but goddammit, at least somebody tried.  It turned the game on its ear and said that everyone at least had the opportunity to be insured, and if you wanted to roll the dice and live without healthcare, that's fine - but we'll get you on the back end and you'll have to pay a penalty on your tax return.  And now President Cheeto-head wants to "repeal and replace", or at least let's do the first part and then maybe in a year or two we'll get to the second part, which is a bit like the way the water company tears up your street and then repaves it, without checking to see if the electric company also needs to get in there next week.  (OK, maybe that's not the best analogy, it's just what happens on my block.). It's a bit like knocking down a load-bearing wall in your house without putting in anything to support the second floor.

But tonight I've returned to a simpler and cruder time, back when you couldn't get health insurance if you had something called a pre-existing condition - nothing with the prefix "pre-" tends to make sense.  You don't really pre-heat your oven, because you can't heat it before you heat it, so those baking instructions really should say to "heat your oven to 350 degrees, then put in the food".  And as George Carlin once pointed out, it's impossible to "pre-board" the plane - once you set foot on it, you're boarding, not pre-boarding.  And so on.  So the insurance companies could have just gone with "existing condition", if you think about it.

Moore set out to find the worst medical insurance horror stories, and I'm sure there are always going to be a few out there - that's been the case ever since the insurance companies gained the power to deny coverage in the first place.  And while these decisions used to be based on actuarial tables (actuaries are fun guys - they love to calculate when you're going to croak...) at some point greedy people realized they could make more money just by denying coverage to sick people and only granting it to healthy people.  Which makes the whole thing feel something like a casino, where you're betting you're going to live forever, which is impossible - and you only want to buy coverage if you need it, but if you wait until you need it, it's too late.

Look, unlike our President I'm smart enough to realize that I'll never understand this issue - I only know that I'm lucky enough to have health insurance, and it's good to know it's there.  In some way I don't quite understand why insurance companies don't take everyone on, because more customers means more payments and more income, if not more profit.  I was on the phone the other day with my parents' cable provider because they wouldn't send a technician to fix their cable box until they spoke with the person whose name is on the account, which turned out to be my father.  But since I pay their cable bill, I was screaming at the customer service rep, threatening to stop paying the bill unless they sent a repair tech ASAP - I just didn't understand why they got so caught up in their petty rules, because the main goal was to provide service, not stick to the rules, and sticking to the rules wasn't getting the cable box fixed.  Apparently there's a rash of phone pranksters up in Massachusetts who delight in calling the cable company to request fake service calls and waste their time, or perhaps there are rampant squatters who break into people's houses to watch free cable and then call the repair techs when the boxes don't work.

A sick person is sort of like that cable box - the goal should be to get it working again as soon as possible, and not get bogged down in any technicalities, like who's making the phone call, or whose name is on the account.  This is why people are clogging the E.R. rooms at the hospitals when they get sick and they don't have insurance, because in the E.R., they have to help everyone who walks in the door.  I think the problem just boils down to too many people, and it's high time for those evangelist Republicans to rethink their stances on abortion and birth control, because we've got too many Americans as it is, and their ideology is just not helping.

Moore's strongest argument might be that we already have socialized services in the U.S., namely police forces, fire departments, public schools and libraries, and those haven't turned us into Communists, so why not just add one more public service, healthcare, and then call it a day?

Moore then does a bit of what he later did in "Where to Invade Next", comparing the broken U.S. healthcare system to the ones in other countries, and then goes for the jugular by showing us people who were 9/11 first responders who have been denied medical coverage in the U.S. - even though they were promised coverage for their injuries, the amount of paperwork roadblocks that were put in their way often prevented them from getting the treatment they needed - meanwhile, our Congressmen get free medical care, something that we should think about taking away, if they're going to deny it to others.  The biggest gut-punch to these ailing heroes was the realization that the captured terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay were getting medical care, and they weren't.

So Moore took a bunch of these 9/11 heroes and sailed around Guantanamo Bay with a bullhorn, to request the same medical care for these Americans that our enemies were getting inside - which is one of those total dick moves that Moore is famous for, like ambushing CEOs that don't want to be interviewed or that shady crap he pulled in the gun store near Columbine.  I mean, come on, he KNEW that they weren't going to open up a military installation like Gitmo just to give some regular citizens a check-up, right?  But then he surprised me by doing the decent thing, and getting them some quality medical care at deep discount prices in Havana.  So maybe he does have a heart after all, even if it's a bleeding one.

Moore also relates how he paid the medical bills for the wife one of his enemies, who ran a bunch of anti-Michael Moore web-sites but couldn't keep the sites running and pay those medical bills.  Well, you know someone's really a champion of free speech when he defends someone else's right to say nasty things about him.  But this doesn't really count as a good deed in my book if he also puts it in his own documentary to show everyone what a great human he is.

Also starring (in archive footage): George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hilary Clinton, Richard Nixon.

RATING: 4 out of 10 house calls

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Where to Invade Next

Year 9, Day 150 - 5/30/17 - Movie #2,645

BEFORE: I'm going to take a 3-day documentary break, because I feel like I still haven't concentrated enough on politics this year, and really, what's been in the news besides politics?  Such a crazy sideshow, and it's taking up all of everyone's time, around the clock or so it seems, mine included, except you wouldn't know it from my blog entries.  And as long as I try to keep the actor-linking chain going, then I'll never stop for that documentary break - so let me put a pin in the linking, right on Billy Bob Thornton, and I'll pick up the chain in a couple of days.  Thematically, this is the best place for the docu-break, so I'll work them in here, since the last film dealt with the invasion of Afghanistan, and this film is also about "invading" other countries.  (Then the docu-break will end with a political film, and the narrative chain will also pick up from there - this should make some kind of sense in a few days, I hope...)

But by dropping in three documentaries this week, and then making plans to hit up Netflix for some animated films starting on June 20 or so, I can extend my linked chain until nearly the end of June - at that point it will be just three weeks until my Comic-Con break, and I may be able to engineer another extension by then.

THE PLOT: To explore what the USA can learn from other nations, Michael Moore playfully "invades" them to see what they have to offer.

AFTER: First off, there's no real "invading" going on here, not on any practical level demonstrating what we've come to understand that word to mean.  I mean, look at Michael Moore, the only international thing he ever invaded was an IHOP on unlimited pancakes day.  Supposedly he was called to the White House as a consultant (this would have been during the Obama administration, only it, umm, never happened) and his advice to the President would have been to "Stop with all the invading", referring to Iraq and Afghanistan, no doubt.  But supposedly this got Michael Moore thinking (again, unlikely) about what benefits we could gain as a nation from invading our allies (umm, this wouldn't happen either, because they're OUR ALLIES) and appropriating bits of their culture into ours to improve it.

Yeah, the premise just doesn't work, because as a bunch of Ammurricans, we're pretty set in our ways, and mostly rigid in our thinking, plus we don't really take ideas from other countries when we invade them - that's not the way invasion works.  I mean, we invaded Afghanistan, and you don't see us working a lot of Afghani culture and practices into our daily routine, right?  The burka just hasn't caught on as a fashion trend in the U.S., nor has their been a sudden spike in teens bowing to Mecca 6 times a day, and there's not some trendy Afghan cafe or hookah lounge opening on every other corner in the cool neighborhoods in town.  The last time that a war or invasion influenced American culture was probably World War II, which put more women in the workplace and put Spam and Chef Boy-ar-Dee into our cupboards.  I don't think we took much from the cultures of Korea and Vietnam except for maybe some war orphans among the trend-setters.

So the premise here just didn't work for me - what Michael Moore really wanted to do was to say that THIS country has a better policy with regards to workers' rights, and THIS country has a better policy when it comes to women in power, and THIS country has a better policy with regards to de-criminalizing drugs, but he couldn't really say those things, because that would be un-American, and no one would listen.  But that's still what he's really saying, and while I'm not in favor of being very jingoistic ("America - love it or leave it") I still think you can accomplish more when you look at how far America has come, rather than by focusing on how far it still has to go.

Plus, there's just no way that Michael Moore can be impartial about this - he's clearly got a liberal agenda, and he's aware of the agenda that most liberals espouse, so he's gotten himself on that track, and there's just no getting off of it.  I see myself as a liberal, too, but he's way too far gone to look at anything from a neutral POV.  When he says that he's going to go to another country and take their best ideas back to America, naturally he's already determined that he's going to take the ideas that best fit with his already-fixed mindset.  If he found out that in another country they rounded up all the marijuana smokers and threw them in jail, well he's not going to champion that idea, because it doesn't fit in with the liberal agenda he wants to put forward, instead he's going to find a country (Portugal) where they de-criminalized drug use, and found that drug-related crime went down and not up.  In a way this is just playing around with statistics (why, yes, if you de-criminalize something there will be less crime, technically) and in other cases, this leads me to other unanswered questions - what happened in that country when police no longer arrested drug users.  Were there more overdoses?  Can you prove that their society was, on the whole, happier?

So they do certain things differently in other countries - so what?  "Different" does not automatically mean "better", even if you could get everyone in the U.S.A. to agree that things here are not perfect.  Which you can't, because everyone's got a different concept about how society should function, or what constitutes a "good" way of doing things and what defines "not so good".  Plus you'll never get certain parts of the U.S. to agree on things like free birth control or available abortions, because the most hardcore religious nuts don't believe in the separation of church and state, so they only sponsor legislation that makes birth control and abortions less available, with the eventual goal of eliminating them all together, except for abstinence-based programs, which have been proven to not work.

I could go through the "better" ideas that Moore finds one-by-one - 8 weeks of paid vacations for everyone in Italy?  Now what employer in their right mind would cover that in the U.S.? - same goes for free college in Slovenia, where would the money come from in the U.S. to send everyone to college?  College costs too much in the U.S.?  Well, that's capitalism for you, and if you start to provide free college for everyone, that's starting to sound a bit like socialism, and isn't that a bit too close to Communism?

Somehow I think that when Reagan started the "War on Drugs" in the 1980's, the ultimate goal was not to incarcerate as many African-American men as possible, in order to affect the outcome of elections 10 or 20 years down the road - but of course, I've got no proof of that.  (Funny thing, Moore has no proof that it WAS, either...)  Of all the ideas put forward in this film, this one might warrant a full documentary of its own to really examine the issue.

But the worst offender among his discovered ideas is the idea to put women in power, not only as elected officials (clearly Moore was predicting a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016...) but also in charge of the banking system, as they did in Iceland.  But if we hire only women to do certain jobs, like running banks, isn't that just reverse sexism?  Don't women want to earn those jobs, by becoming the most qualified people to apply for them?  Wouldn't it be somewhat meaningless if they didn't genuinely deserve to do those jobs?  Similarly, we shouldn't just elect a woman as President because "it's time" or even "it's overdue".  We could have ended up with someone like Sarah Palin that way, or that French woman, Le Pen, who ran for President.  If you believe in gender equality, then you should believe that women (in general, not any specific one...) have the equal ability to be horrible Presidents - so therefore we have to judge each candidate on her merits, and not advance someone just because she's a woman - then we'd be right back where we started.

Speaking of being right back where we started, Moore "suddenly" realizes at the end of the film that the ideas that he decided to cherry-pick from other cultures - and by the way, there's a HUGE gap between finding the right policies for the future of our society and actually, you know, implementing them - all had their genesis somewhere in the U.S.  In the blue states, no doubt.  The May Day holiday, the abolishing of the death penalty, the forbidding of cruel and unusual punishment, and the Equal Rights movement (aka the failed ERA amendment) all were originally American ideas.

Great, the only thing worse then blind progressive policies is blind nostalgia - with everyone longing for the "good old days", but nobody can seem to pinpoint exactly when those were, or where exactly the country starting going to hell.  Personally, I blame Warren Harding, but what do I know?

NITPICK POINT: If you're going to pick a theme, Michael Moore, you've got to stick with it.  What was all that nonsense about the Berlin Wall, that had nothing to do with anything?  You can't suggest that we bring the idea of the Berlin Wall to America, because that serves no purpose, or tear down the wall that we have, because we don't have one.  This section should have been excised out, it went nowhere.

Can we just acknowledge the obvious, that Michael Moore probably just wanted to take a vacation around Europe, and have his production company pay for it?  The documentary he made along the way was nothing more than a cover story.

Starring Michael Moore (last seen in "Edtv")

RATING: 4 out of 10 school lunches

Monday, May 29, 2017

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Year 9, Day 149 - 5/29/17 - Movie #2,644

BEFORE: Alfred Molina carries over from "Strange Magic" and gets me to something for Memorial Day.  OK, so maybe it's a Hollywood comedy and probably not on a par with "From Here to Eternity" or "The Great Escape", but at least it's got U.S. soldiers in it.  Probably.

I decided to spend most of the weekend binge-watching the new season of "12 Monkeys", because 5 episodes on Saturday and another 5 on Sunday, and that would cover all of Season 3, and I can start on "American Gods" later next weekend if most of my talk shows are in reruns - and I managed to free up a bunch of space on my upstairs DVR this way.  I also cleared most everything from the downstairs DVR (the one for movies) and if I start watching more Academy screeners and Netflix movies, maybe I can stay on top of it in the future and keep it from getting above 50% full.  Here's hoping.

THE PLOT: A journalist recounts her wartime coverage in Afghanistan.

AFTER: This film was adapted from the memoir of a reporter from the Chicago Tribune who was embedded in Afghanistan, so it's certainly not my place to say, "this seems unlikely" or "this probably couldn't happen this way" about any plot points here.  I'm just genuinely shocked, looking back, that embedding reporters to accompany military units during their actions was a thing that we did - it seems rather reckless in hindsight.  Couldn't these professionals have reported on the war without being so close to the action?

This film also makes the implication that danger is something akin to a drug, and once a reporter sees some military action, he or she might seek out greater and larger thrills, putting herself in more and more dangerous situations in order to chase down the news.  I wouldn't know about this either, I'm probably the furthest thing from an adrenaline junkie.  But that's where the story finds our reporter, Kim Baker, and once she lands in Afghanistan (the single reporters are given this great "chance" to advance through the ranks) we see her progress from a clueless rookie to (eventually) someone who knows all the local customs and can curse in Farsi.

She's hit on by the reporters from other countries, treated with disdain by the U.S. Marine General, and when her long-distance relationship starts to fade, takes the opportunity to allow her three-month assignment to go on for several years.  (Kind of like the war in Afghanistan itself.)  New challenges, new relationships, new excuses to party in the "ka-bubble" - but eventually there's a shift at home, when the war slides off the front page and her editors start to question why she's been there so long.  Meanwhile the competition between the reporters heats up, as they all need to prove their worth.

Now you may find, like I did, that the film's resolution was a little too pat, as all three major problems (Kim's status at her network, her strained relationship with the general and the kidnapping of a fellow journalist) are all resolved at once with the same plot point), but I suppose that's a minor quibble, perhaps I should be championing the simplicity of the denouement.  In its own way, this comes across as a modern-day "Catch-22" or "M*A*S*H", depicting the ridiculousness of war - and I'm sure there's ridiculousness to spare when you start examining the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And the end coda, where Baker visits a soldier she met shortly after arriving in Afghanistan back in the U.S., made this a perfect choice for Memorial Day.  OK, maybe it would have been better for Veterans' Day, but I'm often not watching films in November, so I'll take this as a win.

Also starring Tina Fey (last seen in "Sisters"), Margot Robbie (last seen in "The Big Short"), Martin Freeman (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Billy Bob Thornton (last seen in "National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead"), Christopher Abbott (last seen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene"), Nicholas Braun (last seen in "How to Be Single"), Stephen Peacocke, Sheila Vand, Cherry Jones (last seen in "Cradle Will Rock"), Josh Charles, Evan Jonigkeit, Scott Takeda, Sterling K. Brown, with a cameo from Soledad O'Brien (last seen in "Zoolander 2").

RATING: 6 out of 10 slaughtered lambs

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Strange Magic

Year 9, Day 148 - 5/28/17 - Movie #2,643

BEFORE: This film's been on my watchlist longer than any other, I think, mostly because it was nearly impossible to link to, at least until "The Peanuts Movie" joined the list, too - Kristin Chenoweth carries over from that film and makes it possible to finally cross this one off.  Kristin Chenoweth (and also Peter Stormare from today's film) is also in the cast of "American Gods", a TV series (based on a Neil Gaiman book I read) that's one of three or four currently taking up space on my DVR, my hope is this weekend I can get to at least one of them - either "American Gods", "Angie Tribeca" or "12 Monkeys".  Got to clear some space...

I think I figured out why I'm having trouble creating a chain that will go past June 10 and reach Father's Day - it's a lack of material, which sounds funny considering there are still 130 films on my watchlist.  But I'm saving 25 or so horror films for October, there are 15 Sherlock Holmes movies I can't link to, then there are about 20 romance films that seem like they should maybe be saved for February, 12 that make (and lead into) a very rough back-to-school section, and another 15 or so that seem like they'll link to films I want to see in the theater later this year, like "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".  Add all that to the 13 films that I have scheduled between now and June 10, and that only leaves about 30 possibilities.  No wonder I'm hitting a dead end!

So, I'm thinking I should open things up a bit, and I took a spin through Netflix, to see what's available there.  It seems to be a bit of a mixed bag, and honestly I think I have more viewing options from the pile of Academy screeners at work, but one section that stood out was the list of animated films available there - ones that haven't run on cable yet, like "Zootopia", "Finding Dory" and "The Secret Life of Pets" - I took a spin through the cast lists, and I could easily do a week of animated films on this platform, and still keep the linking chain alive, largely because there's so much crossover in the casts of animated films.

So that's the plan, if I do hit a wall come June 10, I'll slide over to Netflix for a bit, and try not to think of that as negative progress, just because doing this doesn't reduce the size of my watchlist.  My other concern is where do I end up at the close of that week, but it also gives me another week to come up with something - and by June 17 my list could look very different, with more linking opportunities.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Epic" (Movie #1,854)

THE PLOT: Goblins, elves, fairies have misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion.

AFTER: I'm not exactly sure what the problem here was, but this film was confusing as all hell.  I couldn't keep track of who was a fairy, who was an elf, who was a troll, and so on.  I guess I should have known all this from the way they looked, but since none of them are real, explaining it all could have been very helpful - like, why were the elves smaller than the fairies?  I would think that fairies in general would be the smallest beings, like Tinkerbell in "Peter Pan", while the elves in the "Lord of the Rings" movies are human-sized, so it's all very confusing when this film uses a different set of sizes.  Not to mention that the trolls in "The Boxtrolls" were just a little smaller than human-sized, can we all just get on the same page her?

Maybe it's the fact that they worked in a lot of popular songs, like the ELO song that shares the film's title, also Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody", "Wild Thing", "Can't Help Falling in Love", "I Can't Help Myself" and a few newer ones I didn't recognize (hey, I'm a classic rock guy...)  But this was my problem with putting modern songs in "Moulin Rouge" and "Australia", it messes with the timeline.  Sure, a fairy tale can be set any time, but we usually think of them in conjunction with the Middle Ages, or else they're supposed to be timeless, and dropping in modern-day popular songs takes me out of that mindset.

Then there are all of these crossing love triangles and intersecting crushes, which are made worse by the influence of the love potion (made from primrose petals, though I don't know why it was so damn important to point this fact out...).  When this potion is cast on someone, they fall in love with the first character they see, which of course leads to complications, much like those seen in "A Midsummer Night's Dream".  But there it was the fairies influencing humans to fall in love, and here the fairies themselves fall victim to the magic potion.  You'd think by being magical creatures, they'd have some kind of immunity, but no.  The other problem is that the potion seems like it never runs out, so how many doses are in that vial?  Does it regenerate, or is there always enough in the bottle to fulfill the necessary plot twists?

The love potion also doesn't work if the recipient is truly in love with someone else - if they manage to find true love, then the potion's no good, which seems to counter the whole reason for using the potion in the first place.  But at least we know that if someone can break the spell, the feelings they have for their love are genuine - which is good, because love potions in general seem a little too rapey for a kids' movie.  Kids should at least be teenagers before they learn about the effects of various drugs and alchohol on their inhibitions.

This screenplay came from a George Lucas story, so I was willing to give it a little bit of slack, and I get what they were trying to do with the "don't judge a book by its cover" theme, and the all-inclusive nature of love, how it should extend across fairy species (and therefore transcend human racial and gender boundaries) but with the love potion involved, the story mechanics here are clunky at best.  According to the IMDB the plot incorporates elements of 4 Shakespeare plays, I guess confusion is what you get when you try to shoehorn all that into one story.

Also starring the voices of Alan Cumming (last seen in "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas"), Evan Rachel Wood (last seen in "Practical Magic"), Alfred Molina (last seen in "The Pink Panther 2"), Elijah Kelley (last seen in "28 Days"), Meredith Anne Bull, Sam Palladio, Maya Rudolph (last seen in "Gattaca"), Bob Einstein, Peter Stormare (last heard in "Penguins of Madagascar"), Kevin Michael Richardson (last heard in "Batman: Under the Red Hood"), Tony Cox (last seen in "Nice Dreams").

RATING: 3 out of 10 talking mushrooms