Friday, June 9, 2017

Nightcrawler

Year 9, Day 160 - 6/9/17 - Movie #2,655

BEFORE: I'm up in Massachusetts for the weekend, a solo trip to visit my parents.  Came up by train on Friday after work, there's a German picnic tomorrow in the town next door to my home-town, and I like to visit that each year, provided it's not in conflict with the Newport Chowder Cook-Off that I've been attending for years.  (But that event has changed venue from Newport Harbor to Ft. Adams State Park, which is much more difficult to get to - anyway they have "red" chowder as a category this year, and I think most right-thinking people will agree that tomato-based clam chowder is a culinary abomination, so my friends and I have decided to boycott that event until some event planner comes to their senses.)

A bit about my parents, they're not that technologically savvy, but my Dad has made strides to figure out e-mail and the internet, though he mostly uses it to print out photos of their grandchildren - yes, print, because who just saves photos on their computer?  That's crazy talk.  Their generation believes that the photo's not real unless it's on paper. My mother, on the other hand, has figured out how to watch TV shows and movies on demand, which is a huge step forward for her.  I think there are two competing shows she likes on Tuesdays, so she saves one of them for Friday to watch on demand.  (I'd love to get them a DVR, but I think it might short-circuit their minds - plus it's another thing to learn, and I have a feeling they might have trouble deleting shows or perhaps recording too many shows, and then the drive would fill up and not record the new shows they want, and that would defeat the purpose.  Perhaps it's best to leave well enough alone here.)

Anyway, Moms was freaking out because their On Demand channel does not, for some reason, have the season finale of "NCIS: New Orleans" available.  She was one step away from calling CBS to complain, but I calmed her down over the phone and pointed out maybe someone was on vacation last week and didn't post the episode they should have, or maybe they'll post it next week, so she should just be patient.  Meanwhile I recorded the episode to VHS from my DVR in New York, and brought it up with me to surprise her.

But this meant I had to get a VCR working in their house, in order for her to see it - plus I have to get a DVD player working, if I'm going to watch movies this weekend (I figured if I can't, that's OK too, losing two days right now isn't much of a big deal, in fact it could help me line up my chain with "Spider-Man: Homecoming", as I've described previously.)  Now, I usually have a DVD player and VCR daisy-chained into their TV, just for emergencies like this, but they got a new cable box a few weeks ago, and as I figured, the technician from Comcast didn't respect my set-up, and while plugging in the new cable box, of course he unplugged my VCR - because, who still uses VCRs these days?  Well, I do.  Sometimes, like in this situation, that's the quickest way to get a show or movie to be seen by someone in a pinch.

Within 5 minutes, I'd managed to accidentally unplug their cable box, thanks to some spaghetti-like crossed wires behind their TV.  But I stayed calm, found my mistake, got the cable box plugged in again, and found the component cables to hook up the VCR (and the DVD player, whose signal runs through the VCR to the TV) into the "cable" input on their TV.  This is bound to be confusing when I explain it to them tomorrow, how the cable comes in on the "HDMI" input and the VCR now comes in on the "cable" input.  Mom and Dad still don't understand why they have to turn on the VCR, under my system, if they want to watch a DVD - I've probably explained that a hundred times.

Anyway, next problem - the next film in my chain is "Nightcrawler", with Riz Ahmed carrying over from "Jason Bourne".  I wanted to watch this film last year, and use it as my link between my Jake Gyllenhaal chain ("Everest", "Southpaw") and "Rogue One", only no cable station ran it on the time-frame I expected they would - but fortunately Forest Whitaker was also in "Southpaw" and made the connection to "Rogue One", so I didn't need "Nightcrawler" for that.  Even now, I haven't seen "Nightcrawler" running on any channel, so I chose to borrow an Academy screener.

Now, the screeners are technically supposed to be ONLY for Academy members to watch before making their nominations - but it's been THREE YEARS already, how long am I supposed to wait for this movie?  Look, I pay for all the premium channels, and I promise, as SOON as one of them runs it, I will record it and burn it to DVD and add it to my library - but I need the link NOW, plus it does seem like an interesting movie.  And just like with "The Zero Theorem", after watching over 2,650 films for this project, for me to have any desire at this point, to actually WANT to see something instead of just linking and going through the motions, that's huge.

But before I can watch a film on an Academy screener, there's a check screen at the start of the DVD, and I have to select "YES" (to the fact that I acknowledge that this is a screener intended only for Academy voters, and I promise I'll destroy the disc immediately after viewing it - which I won't, but I have to select "YES" to watch it...) and this is a problem because I have to hit the "ENTER" key on the remote to select "YES", and my parents lost their DVD player's remote years ago.  So I wasn't quite sure this would work tonight.

And in fact, the DVD wouldn't play at first - so I also tried it in my parents' old laptop too, and it wouldn't play there either.  Aha, the disc was dirty - a quick wipe with a relatively lint-free Kleenex, and I tried again - yep, that did it, it played in the laptop, but let's try it back in the DVD player so I can watch it on a bigger screen.  Hurray, it worked, and the "PLAY" button on the player itself was a working substitute for the "ENTER" button on the remote.  Finally, after all that, I get to watch the film. That's how my life goes sometimes.

I'm lucky that all worked, because I had no back-up linking plan - tonight it was either watch "Nightcrawler" or break the chain.  I suppose I could have paid to watch it on Amazon, but the Academy screener was freakin' free.


THE PLOT: A con man desperate for work muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism and blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

AFTER: This apparently is a real thing, people called "stringers" who record freelance video of accidents to sell to competing news stations.  It makes sense, each station is trying to get a leg up on their competition, and they can only cover so much territory with their news crews, especially if they're in a small market (not enough vans) or a large city (too much ground to cover in L.A.)  Plus, these cameramen are all probably union, which means they don't work too many hours in a row, they don't do overnights, and they won't put themselves at risk to get the shot.  (The pussies...)

Louis Bloom's character is a stringer, which means he's up all night - you know, when the crime and auto accidents all happen - and he learns quickly to listen to the police scanners, figure out all the codes, and he gets an assistant to help him navigate around L.A. quickly.  In some cases he gets to the crimes even before the police - and this gives him a chance to move evidence around to get the best shot, which I'm sure is a legal no-no.  But what else can he do, ask car crash victims to make sure they land at a more cinematic angle?

His biggest fumble comes when he arrives on the scene of a shooting in a suburban home, and gets footage of the shooters leaving the scene.  Rather than call 911 (I guess from the scanner he knew that the cops were already on the way?) he goes inside the house with his camera and records gruesome footage.  The TV station, of course, had the option to do the right thing and NOT run this footage, but hey, it's sweeps month, so guess what they do?

Bloom also has an option to simply give all of his footage over to the police, and that would be the right thing to do, the safe and humane thing to do for all involved, but he doesn't.  I won't spoil where this leads, but you can probably figure out it's not good.  He crosses some moral line when he puts lives at risk so he can get more footage - and like the journalist in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", it's possible that he's become addicted to risk, and puts himself in greater and greater danger to get the story and the rush that comes with it.

Of course, there's a lot of blame to go around - the TV stations keep running more and more salacious stories (always with that "graphic footage ahead" warning, but come on, who turns off the TV when they see that?) and because people keep tuning in to see these stories, ratings go up and the cycle continues.  Even if you don't like the guerrilla interview tactics on a show like "TMZ", for example, you still might watch it just to see how low they can go, to remind yourself why you hate it so much.  Until people stop tuning in after being fooled by tabloid tactics, they're going to keep working.

Perhaps this is why no cable channel has run this film yet - they don't want people out there with video cameras to get bad ideas from this film and act any more irresponsibly than they already do.  Admit it, how many times have you seen footage on the web of someone getting hurt doing a stunt, or breaking their ankle while skateboarding, and you wonder why someone kept filming instead of helping that person? (And for God's sakes, people, if you're going to keep filming, don't forget to turn the camera 90 degrees to get the proper TV ratio - I'm sick of seeing those stupid bars on the sides of cell phone footage that they have to put there because someone couldn't be bothered to turn their phone. Can't someone invent an app that prompts people to rotate the camera so the image will be more horizontal instead of vertical?) 

Also starring Jake Gyllenhaal (last seen in "Southpaw"), Rene Russo (last seen in "The Intern"), Bill Paxton (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow"), Kevin Rahm (last seen in "Alfie" (2004)), Ann Cusack (last seen in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"), Michael Hyatt, Price Carson, Kathleen York.

RATING: 6 out of 10 paramedics

Jason Bourne

Year 9, Day 159 - 6/8/17 - Movie #2,654

BEFORE: Oh, it was going to be so sweet - almost poetic in its elegance.  Lucas Hedges was in "The Zero Theorem", and also happens to be in "Manchester By the Sea", I was going to review that and link right back to my chain, right back to where I left off after "Triple 9".  I could detour to include "Wonder Woman" and get right back to where I stepped off the path in ONE more step.  I have the best luck sometimes.  But the problem with that chain, as great as it is, is that, assuming I watch a week of animated films on Netflix in late June, that it links up with "Spider-Man: Homecoming" 5 days too early.  Which is not that big of a deal, I could just watch no films for a few days, and then end up right where I wanted to be.  But darn it, that's not good enough.

Since there is no meaning to the universe other than that which I assign to it, I choose to change the path again, and follow the other road - Matt Damon carries over from "The Zero Theorem" - and this leads me to 3 films with Jake Gyllenhall, two of which were recently added to the bottom of my list, and the third will be an Academy screener.  This pushes my link to "Spider-Man: Homecoming" forward a few days, and it now links up with the premiere date.  Of course, it may be too crowded to see this film on opening day, so if I can push it back another three days so I can watch that film on a Monday night, that would be ideal.  But maybe I can only control the universe a little bit at a time.

"Jason Bourne" is a last-minute drop-in, and I should be able to get back to "Manchester By the Sea" next Monday.  So right now I'm current, which means I'm really a day behind - but I'll be able to catch up next week.  Forward progress on reducing the size of watchlist is suspended for, like, the 40th day in a row, but concessions need to be made.  If I can watch DVDs at my parent's house this weekend I can stay on track, if not, well, I can work with that too.  But I think going from "The Zero Theorem", with a main character who's not all there in the head, is a good segue to "Jason Bourne", and if I'm right, the last of the 3 Gyllenhaal films will provide a nice thematic link back to "Manchester By the Sea". 

THE PLOT: The CIA's most dangerous former operative is drawn out of hiding to uncover more explosive truths about his past.

AFTER: The latest film in this franchise inches the story of Jason Bourne's quest for answers ahead once again, after a 10-year absence for the character.  Where has he been all this time?  Bare-knuckle boxing in various countries for cash prizes, apparently.  Supposedly he's filled with guilt, so I suppose I have to go back and read the plotlines for the previous "Bourne" films to remind myself exactly what he did and why he feels so guilty.

The only other character that carries over from the previous films is that female technician, who may or may not have been Bourne's girlfriend at some point.  She's a "hacktivist" (ugh, that word...) who's planning to download all of the CIA's secret files and release them to the word, Snowden-style.  But she's tracked by a bunch of better hackers in one of those cinematic rooms full of monitors, and they track her "Eagle Eye"-style to her location in Iceland, before she's off to meet Jason Bourne in Greece, in the middle of an anti-goverment protest.  The dodge doesn't work, because the magic people in the magic room full of computers can somehow track her in the middle of all the chaos, thanks to tapping in to street cameras and people's social media accounts and oh, God, we're living in the world of "1984", aren't we?

(Is this why my computer is running so slowly, because the CIA's finally on to me?  They know what I wrote about the President last week, don't they?  Now they're rooting around in my iTunes, checking out what music I listen to, to see if I fit some profile.  Don't tell me it's not possible, because I know it is...)

Bourne's not looking for the answers to the universe, just ones from his little corner of it, like who was he before he was Jason Bourne, and apparently he can only get these answers by staring at a PDF file of government files on the Treadstone Program, which trigger memories of a fateful meal he had at a café, or something.  He's not like normal people, who fall asleep while reading government documents about how to deduct business meals from their income on their tax return. 

Bourne's adversary here is The Asset, a professional killer who came out of the same program that he did, because of course he did, though he looks considerably older.  Maybe all that bare-knuckle boxing has kept Bourne looking young, who knows.  Maybe it's liberating to get all of that aggression out, and that plus the stress-free nature of living off the grid, plus a balanced diet, is just the thing to keep him fit and trim while trying to decide whether it's time to "go back in".  Everyone seems to have an opinion here about whether it's "time to come in" or whether they can "bring him in".  Did anyone think to ask him, maybe he doesn't want to come in, maybe he likes it outside?

And, just putting this out there, does anyone in the CIA think that maybe their time might be better spent keeping track of our country's enemies, instead of tracking down agents that disappeared 10 years ago?  Is this really the best use of our agents' time, instead of fighting ISIS, for example?  I guess if they have to devote so much time to plugging their leaks and preventing compromising files from being posted on Wikileaks there's no time left to prevent Russia from messing with our election process, and there you go, that's how that happens.

Also starring Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Cobb"), Alicia Vikander (last seen in "Burnt"), Vincent Cassel (last seen in "Trance"), Julia Stiles (last seen in "Girl Most Likely") Riz Ahmed (last seen in "Rogue One"), Bill Camp (last seen in "Black Mass"), Ato Essandoh, Scott Shepherd, Vinzenz Kiefer, with a cameo from Gregg Henry (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2").

RATING: 4 out of 10 Black Ops projects

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Zero Theorem

Year 9, Day 158 - 6/7/17 - Movie #2,653

BEFORE: There's no real road-map to which movies I watch, no rules other than those that I make up and impose upon myself.  That's why it's so great when my plans seem to be in sync with Hollywood's release schedule, or when something I watch coincides with the news of the day or the other events in my life.  Like, nobody is MAKING me watch this particular film by Terry Gilliam today, but I was looking up and down the filmographies of the cast of "Wonder Woman", trying to find a connection back to my chain, and I hit upon this one, a film I've been curious about for several years, but never had a chance to watch, because no premium cable channel has run it.  But it's there on Amazon Prime, I could watch it for free AND it provides a link to the next film I was going to watch after "Triple 9" - so I'll be back on track tomorrow without messing up my plans, other than delaying them by 2 days, which helps me get closer to linking my chain with the upcoming "Spider-Man" movie anyway.  So, it's a win all around.

I bring this up because the news about Terry Gilliam broke today, that he's finally finished his version of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" that's been in production for only the last 17 years, and seemed to be a cursed production, with many shooting disasters and false starts, as depicted in the 2002 documentary "Lost in La Mancha".  There were also reports online today that Gilliam had accidentally deleted the only copy of the film by accidentally reformatting a drive that he had NOT backed up, but since this news came from a very suspicious web-site I'm going to assume that this was someone's idea of a joke that accidentally got mistaken for a real news item.  So fake news. 

David Thewlis carries over from "Wonder Woman", and he's popped up a LOT this year already, this will be the 5th movie in Year 9 with him in it, so even though Fred Astaire's a near shoo-in to have the most appearances this year with 14, Thewlis is on a pace to give him a run for his money, with appearances in "Anomalisa", "Seven Years In Tibet", "Legend", and now two films this week.   And he's prominent in the current season of "Fargo", so it feels a bit like he's everywhere I turn. 


THE PLOT: A talented but socially isolated computer operator is tasked by Management to prove the Zero Theorem, which states that the universe ends as nothing, rendering life meaningless.  But meaning is what he already craves. 

AFTER: To fully understand this Terry Gilliam film, I've got to draw a parallel to David Lynch and the recent return of "Twin Peaks", which is currently confounding TV viewers like me who were expecting something more narrative, something akin to the original ABC series, which did venture into some strange symbolism and other-dimensional stuff like the Black Lodge and demons controlling peoples actions, but for the most part was a linear, soap-opera story about the residents of a small town in Washington State.  The new series, however, is full of confusing material like evil doppelgangers, a tree with a brain on it that claims to be the evolution of the dancing dwarf from the 1992 series, and most prominently in the first episode, a man paid to monitor cameras that are filming an empty glass box in a NYC skyscraper.  The first 10 minutes of this eagerly-anticipated show, no lie, were focused on this glass box with NOTHING IN IT - and the shots went on so long it was hard to believe that this was what the director chose to focus on for such a considerable amount of time, until the audience at home eventually came to realize that the director was opting to dispense with any conventions of narrative altogether, and instead was choosing to defy all expectiations with footage that one might easily mistake for dadaism, or essentially nonsense.

Gilliam's oeuvre parallels Lynch's, in that they both started out in the realm of sci-fi/fantasy ("Time Bandits", "Dune") but then dipped into more conventional narratives ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", "Blue Velvet") before deciding to focus on stories that are a mix of reality and impossibility ("Tideland", "Lost Highway") that defy rational explanations.  This opens up some story possibilities - a character can choose to live in a fantasy world, or one character can turn into another - but can also be confusing as all heck.

With "The Zero Theorem", Gilliam returns to a "1984"-style future world similar to one he's shown us before, namely in "Brazil" - the central EveryMan is just a cog in a wheel, someone for the unseen Big-Brother style "management" who can't see enough of the big picture to fully understand what his role is in all of it.  Instead he chooses to beat the system the only way he knows, which is to excel at his job in the hope of pleasing his unseen masters.  He dreams of things like love and joy, but since he's socially awkward, he has no idea how to obtain them.  The EveryMan here is named Qohen, with a "Q" and no "U" as he says many times, so it's pronounced like "Cohen", except his supervisor keeps calling him "Quinn", and Qohen ends up correcting him, many times over.  (Is this repeated many times because it's important somehow, or just because there weren't enough other things for the characters to talk about?  Does it even matter?)

Qohen is a number-cruncher, which means that he spends his days moving equations around on a screen, but the pieces of the equations are on cubes, and he moves them through a virtual world of buildings made of cubes, similar to "Minecraft" perhaps, and putting the equations in place seems to destroy these buildings or constructs ("entities").  Do his actions add up to something in the long run, do they serve some kind of purpose for Management, or is it just something to keep him busy?  (Again, does it even matter?  We have no way to know.)

He does meet a woman, Bainsley, at the one party he attends at his supervisor's house, and this woman is some kind of internet porn-star (I think), but she won't have sex with Qohen unless it's in the virtual world, which requires him to wear a full-body interactive suit that projects his consciousness into a beach scene with Bainsley.  This way they can have contact with each other that's completely safe, because it's not really real.  Right?

Also at this party, he meets someone from the mysterious Management Department, who approves his request to work at home, provided he help work on the Zero Theorem, which postulates that since the universe will one day end, or return to the nothingness that it was before the Big Bang, therefore everything will one day be meaningless (The Big Crunch).  In math terms, this means proving that "zero equals a hundred", or that everything adds up to nothing (I think...).  And working on the Theorem tends to make even the best number-crunchers go a little cuckoo - but Qohen's ideal for the project, because he's already full of phobias and anxieties, and possibly insane as well.

Qohen allegedly once received a phone call that contained the meaning of life, and he's been spending his time waiting for the call to come again - as such, he's easily manipulated by any entity that assures him that they're going to look into this matter, to find out when he can get that call again.  In the meantime, he has visions of a giant black hole, which I suppose represents the antithesis of meaning, it's a force of destruction that seems to reinforce the idea that eventually everything dies or ceases to exist.

So, what's the takeaway here? Is life meaningless, or not?  Or is it one, then the other?  Look, as a middle-age man who's probably closer to the end of my life than the beginning, I'm kind of on board with the entropy idea, but you've got to commit to one or the other, Terry.  And isn't it kind of contradictory, I mean, if you could prove that life had no meaning, wouldn't that revelation itself have some meaning?  So therefore the original statement is impossible, or else it's a paradox.  Or, do older directors just like to give the audiences a good mind-fuck by being "arty" without any intention of coming anywhere near a point?

Look, I see how it can happen.  You make a film like "Brazil" with some fantasy sequences that are filled with symbolism and metaphor, and the audiences and the critics go nuts for it - and the fantasy parts are all they want to talk about.  So, in your next film you figure, consciously or not, let's give them a little bit more of what they liked about the last film, and then in the next one, a little bit more, until you find yourself telling a story where the audience can't tell what's real and what isn't.  It's a seductive line of reasoning that results in utter nonsense, a few films down the line.

Plus, I don't mean to alarm anyone, but isn't there a giant black hole at the center of our galaxy?  It's not an imminent threat, and for all we know that may be perfectly normal, to have a black hole there. Astronomers and cosmologists just don't know enough about them yet - maybe galaxies form around them?  But the more I look at the images of black holes, I see the similarity in shape to both a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way, and water going down a drain.  I know where the water goes, but where does the stuff circling around a black hole go?  And does it mean that everything on our planet, everything we know, is essentially circling the universe's drain?  Something to think about.

Also starring Christoph Waltz (last seen in "Big Eyes"), Melanie Thierry, Matt Damon (last seen in "Mystic Pizza"), Tilda Swinton (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Lucas Hedges (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Peter Stormare (last heard in "Strange Magic"), Ben Whishaw (last seen in "In the Heart of the Sea"), Sanjeev Bhaskar, Emil Hostina, Pavlic Nemes, with cameos from Rupert Friend (last seen in "Pride & Prejudice"), Gwendoline Christie (last seen in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), Lily Cole (last seen in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus")

RATING: 4 out of 10 electric cars

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Wonder Woman

Year 9, Day 157 - 6/6/17 - Movie #2,652

BEFORE: If I've got an opportunity to see a summer comic-book blockbuster and the linking is there, I figure I should take it - so Gal Gadot carries over from "Triple 9".  At first I wasn't going to see this in the theater, because even though I had a way to link TO this film, it seemed there was no way to link out of it.  Except I have "Criminal" on the watch list, another film with Gadot, but that film is serving a different linking purpose later this month, and watching that film after "Wonder Woman" would break up that chain, in a way that I couldn't put back together.

Then I figured I could go and watch this film now, and post the review later, like I did last year with "Deadpool" and "Captain America: Civil War".  After all, they're still on track to release "Justice League" this November, and obviously Wonder Woman's going to be in that, so I could just save this film to link to "Justice League" quite easily.

But then I looked through some actors' filmographies on IMDB, and I landed on tomorrow's film, which helps me link back to my original Casey Affleck chain quite easily.  I'll have to watch it tomorrow on Amazon Prime, but that can be done.  It seems like getting access to Amazon Prime and Netflix, thanks to my wife, and a pile of Academy screeners, thanks to my boss, is making the linking easier.  All that doesn't decrease my watchlist, but it does give me more options, I don't have to wait for a film to appear on premium cable, and it seems that these days there are some films that never quite get there.  I waited like three years for that film "The Raven", about Edgar Allan Poe, and finally I had to break down and watch it online - and there are about a dozen other films like that.


THE PLOT: When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, Diana, princess of the Amazons, leaves home to fight a war to end all wars, discovering her full powers and true destiny.

AFTER:  There's a lot of great action and a lot of good stuff to like here, though I couldn't help noticing the similarities to "Captain America: The First Avenger".  The elevator pitch was probably that film, plus "Clash of the Titans", plus boobs, equals a winner.  I mean, that's probably why they moved the setting from World War II (as seen in comic books and the 1970's TV series with Lynda Carter) to World War I, so we wouldn't notice that most of this was done before.  You just change the gender of the hero, turn Peggy Carter into Steve Trevor, and the Red Skull into Gen. Ludendorff, Arnim Zola into Dr. Maru, and you're halfway there.

Yes, I realize that the two characters have different origins - but in many ways Wonder Woman is like the Captain America of the DC universe, even though she's Greek.  She wears a red, white and blue outfit - or at least she used to, even with white stars on her blue umm, lower part of her costume - so they're both dressed like the U.S. flag and they both use shields (although W.W. has a sword to boot) and they both fight the dirty Germans (Prussians or Nazis, depending).  And their solo films are both the precursors to their relative universe's big team-up movie.  (Plus, Captain America also likes to run around in a bustier and high-heeled boots, but only on the weekends...)

The setting of World War I, however, does allow for more contrast between the feminism that W.W. represents, and the now-outdated "world of men" where women aren't the decision-makers, and aren't even allowed in the room where it happens, and are expected to speak only when spoken to.  And don't think I didn't notice that even though she takes the lead on the fighting, she's got a ragtag support staff that's multi-cultural and minority friendly - there's a Scotsman, a Turk (?) and a Native American.  Very PC, even before there was such a thing.  (and yep, the first Captain America movie did pretty much the same thing with the Howling Commandos, making them a virtual United Nations of soldiers)

The image of a strikingly gorgeous woman, colorfully dressed, walking across the "No Man's Land" of a World War I battlefront, deflecting bullets and mortars and machine-gun fire.  Hell, there's your movie.  A woman lifting up a tank and flipping it over, that's action-movie gold.  And the stuff she does with her golden lasso, like grabbing enemy soldiers, pulling them through the air and then jumping up and kicking them when they get close - I've never seen anything like that.  I wish there had been more of that and less of the "But I don't understand humanity..." crap.

Overall, way too much mansplaining, as Steve Trevor has to tell Diana how the world works, only like a dozen times.  This doesn't really fit in with the character, because we were told that the Amazons had access to great literature, and Diana speaks over a dozen languages.  How is that possible, when it was well-established that Themyscira was cut off from society?  The internet didn't exist, so how and when did they get literature from the outside world?  And if that was hundreds of years ago, how can she speak modern English and French, wouldn't those languages have changed quite a bit over several hundred years?  For that matter, NITPICK POINT, she might not know what a wristwatch is, but wouldn't she know what a sundial is?  It's not that much of a leap from a sundial to a clock, they both work the same way, so why doesn't she get the concept?  Like, she's not called "Wonder Woman" because she wonders why the world works the way it does.

And possible NITPICK POINT, it's been 100 years since the end of World War I - and it turned out to not be the "war to end all wars", we all know that.  So where was Wonder Woman during WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf Wars?  Why doesn't anyone see her again until "Dawn of Justice", when Batman and Superman meet her for the first time?  Was she protesting the war in Vietnam and not getting involved?  Was she depressed and pining over the friends she lost in World War I?  Or was she imprisoned somewhere for 99 years?  There are obvious sequel possibilities, but it feels like DC would rather have us believe that she just hid all that time.  It must be tough, sure for an eternal goddess that doesn't age - did she just take some time off and backpack across Europe to find herself?

The timing of the release of this picture is great, just one year after the 75th Anniversary of the creation of the character, by William Moulton Marston in 1941.  (She got her own comic book in 1942, so we can celebrate the 75th anniversary of that.)  According to IMDB, there's a biographical drama that will be released this year about Marston, who led a fascinating life - in addition to creating Wonder Woman, he was a feminist who lived for a time in a three-way relationship with two women, one of whom was his former student.  He also invented the systolic blood-pressure test, which was incorporated into the development of the polygraph test - so he helped invent the lie detector, and Wonder Woman has the golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth.  And he was just really into depictions of bondage play - Wonder Woman is really a collection of male fantasies about fetish gear and being tied up, right?

Not to mention that the most recent incarnation of W.W. in the comic books (DC has rebooted their characters three times in the last 5 years, so things are constantly changing, it seems) she's been depicted as bisexual - which makes sense for a woman raised in an environment with no men.  But as forward-thinking as it is for LGBT readers, it's a complication for comic-book storytelling.  Even in the gay community, bisexual people are sometimes perceived as non-committal or indecisive, or even not truly "gay" by their definition.  None of that fits in with Diana's personality, which is forceful and direct, if occasionally naive.  Plus, what's she going to do, defeat Cheetah or Giganta by asking them out on dates?  How is that going to work?

Which brings me to the hokey ending of "Wonder Woman" the movie - don't worry, no spoilers here - with its depiction of how love triumphs over war.  Why, because it's nicer?  That just doesn't seem realistic.  Besides, even though she apparently derives some of her energy from love, she then turns it around and does something very violent with it - which doesn't seem on message at all.  Essentially saying "I'm going to use my power of love...to DESTROY YOU!" just doesn't work.

Also starring Chris Pine (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Connie Nielsen (last seen in "The Great Raid"), Danny Huston (last seen in "Stolen"), Robin Wright (last seen in "Everest"), David Thewlis (last seen in "Legend"), Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui (last seen in "American Hustle"), Ewen Bremner (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Eugene Brave Rock, Elena Anaya, James Cosmo (last seen in "Emma"), Lisa Loven Kongsli, Mayling Ng, Florence Kasumba (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Eleanor Matsuura (last seen in "MI-5"), Ann Wolfe, Ann Ogbomo, Josette Simon, Doutzen Kroes, Samantha Jo, Brooke Ence, Jacqui-Lee Pryce, Danielle Lewis.

RATING: 7 out of 10 gas masks

Monday, June 5, 2017

Triple 9

Year 9, Day 156 - 6/5/17 - Movie #2,651

BEFORE: Anthony Mackie completes a three-film run, carrying over from "Eagle Eye", and this was supposed to be the start of a similar Casey Affleck three-film run, but since I'm trying to extend the chain, I'll follow another path out of this one and circle back to Casey Affleck in a couple of days.  I've got an opportunity to go to the movies tonight, since it's Monday, and nobody goes out to the movies on Monday except for me, and I found a way to review that film right away and still link back up with my chain.  More on that tomorrow.


THE PLOT: A gang of criminals and corrupt cops plan the murder of a police officer in order to pull off their biggest heist yet across town.

AFTER: I had lunch at this little café today, actually it's not so little because it takes up the better part of a city block, with a large seating area and a buffet steam table, plus little stations that make Chinese food, Mexican food, sushi, wraps, pizza - just about anything, really.  But I went for Chinese food today, and while the server was cooking up my sweet and sour chicken, he told me a joke about three Mexicans who take a ride in a cab, and the taxi driver decides to go really fast, and when he arrives at their destination the first guy gets out and thanks him for getting them home very quickly, and the second guy gets out and pays him really well for doing such a good job, and the third guy gets out and walks over and slaps the driver, saying "You're such a crazy driver, you could have killed us!" 
Now, this joke didn't seem all that funny to me, but I laughed politely as they guy put the chicken over the lo mein and handed it to me.  When I got back to the office I googled the joke, to see if it was just me, or maybe this guy was just really bad at telling jokes.  I found the joke on a Reddit page, the way it's supposed to be told and yeah, this guy left out a couple of key ingredients - from the joke, not from my food.  It's very important that the passengers in the cab are very drunk, and it's not so important that they're Mexican - they could be of any ethnicity, as long as they're drunk.  Secondly, the cab driver decides to take advantage of their drunk state by starting the taxi's engine, but not putting the car into gear - he only PRETENDS to drive them really fast to their destination, the cab doesn't move forward at all.  This way, it's FUNNY when the guy slaps the cab driver and says, "Be more careful next time, you drove so fast you almost killed us!"

And that's kind of how I feel about "Triple 9" - all of the elements are there for a good crime/heist story, but it feels like something's a bit off in the sequence, or maybe the timing.  Because we find out, for example, that one of the bank robbers has a son, and the son's mother is the sister of the wife of the Russian crime boss.  That's something that would have been really good to know earlier in the film, because if they're essentially holding his son as a hostage to make him do these crimes, then that could change how we feel about this character.

That's just one of the things that makes this story very complicated - if these guys are cops and also bank robbers, for example, am I supposed to root for them, or not?  Another one of the corrupt cops is partnered with a rookie cop who just happens to be the nephew of the detective on the force who's investigating their bank robberies - that's another complication (or is it?  I can't tell.)  These cops want to cut their losses, but the Russian mob coerces them to do one more job, and they figure the easiest way to do this job is to cause a "Triple 9" situation - that's where an officer has been shot, and every available policeman is expected to head to his location and help out.

That's not a bad germ of an idea, even though that means that cops have to find a way to get a cop shot or even killed, and again, now this is another thing that could affect whether I root for them or not.  I realize there are no perfect people, not even policemen, but this film seems to have more than its share of imperfect people, and therefore is very lean on actual heroes.  But I guess a film about policemen doing their jobs well without incident would make for a boring movie by comparison.

My other problem came early in the film, when I couldn't distinguish between Aaron Paul's character and Casey Affleck's character - the two actors just resemble each other a little too much.  I had to stop and read the film's plot on Wikipedia just to keep these two characters straight.  The fact that most of the heist crew is seen masked for the first 10 or 15 minutes didn't help. 

Also starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (last seen in "Doctor Strange"), Casey Affleck (last seen in "Interstellar"), Woody Harrelson (last seen in "Now You See Me 2"), Aaron Paul (last seen in "Exodus: Gods and Kings"), Kate Winslet (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Gal Gadot (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Clifton Collins Jr. (last seen in "Transcendence"), Norman Reedus (last seen in "Vacation"), Teresa Palmer (last seen in "Warm Bodies"), Michael Kenneth Williams (last seen in "Ghostbusters" (2016)), Michelle Ang, Terence Rosemore, Luis Da Silva Jr., Carlos Aviles, Ian Casselberry, Anthony Belevtsov.

RATING: 5 out of 10 flash-bang grenades

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Eagle Eye

Year 9, Day 155 - 6/4/17 - Movie #2,650

BEFORE: And just like that, Movie Year 9 is now halfway over, with 150 movies crossed off.  Now I've got to make some serious progress, since I've only made a 13-movie dent in the watchlist, so I'm on track to only get it down to 117 or so before the end of the year.  And since I just got access to a pile of screeners and a bunch of films on Netflix, that probably won't happen, and soon I'll be at the point where I'll be forced to consider doing Movie Year 10.

Both Billy Bob Thornton and Anthony Mackie carry over from "Our Brand Is Crisis", which helps rescue this film from the unlinkables section of the list, where it probably languished for 6 months or so.


THE PLOT: Two strangers are thrown together by a mysterious phone call from a woman who threatens their lives and family, pushing them into a series of dangerous situations, using the technology of everyday life to track and control their every move.

AFTER: The tricky thing about using current technology to drive a movie's plot is that you run the risk of that film appearing outdated in just a few years.  Someone here tried to take the tech that was new in 2008 - smartphones, drones, traffic cameras - and crunch it together into a projected future nightmare about what could happen if someone got all of these things working together.  So in 2017 this feels really outdated because of the things that someone got wrong, and so it's a little quaint to think back to a time when the government might have been listening to all cell phone conversations, but we weren't sure.  When the army had to launch drones by throwing them forward like paper airplanes, instead of getting them to take off vertically with those multiple fan-type things.  And so on.

Perhaps because of all this, it seems to take too long for the pieces of the puzzle to come together here, and then when they do, it doesn't feel like they really connect, not completely anyway.  What does a man whose more successful twin brother died while working for the military have to do with a woman whose son is going on a class trip to perform at the Kennedy Center in D.C.?  Why did the man's tiny apartment suddenly fill up with weapons and military-grade chemicals overnight, without his knowledge, and why is there an enormous amount of money in his bank account?  And that's all before the mysterious cell phone calls telling them to go here, jump out this window, break into this car, etc.

Meanwhile, the FBI agent who catches the man's case teams up with an agent from the Department of  Defense to chase those two people across Chicago, and when they lose them, they start investigating the Defense Department to find out what's really going on, and who's pulling their strings.  I won't give away the answer here, but considering what we know now about how Washington DC works, I can say that the reveal is quite ridiculous.  We all know how the U.S. government gets taken over now, and it comes from Russia, not like this.

I think it's also a large leap from someone being able to listen to private cell phone calls and having access to traffic cameras and the like to being able to DO something constructive with it.  And even then, if the mastermind behind the plan was so all-knowing as a master planner, why pick a woman who can't drive a stick-shift and then ask her to do exactly that?   Furthermore, why ask two people to rob an armored car and not provide them with masks, or even nylon stockings to disguise their identities?  No gloves either, so they probably left their fingerprints all over - that's some plan.

But the biggest NITPICK POINT to me is that no grade school band, even the best grade school band in the country, would not sound this good.  It sounded like a professional recording of the "Star-Spangled Banner", which it probably was - to be realistic they should have added some mistakes or out-of-tune instruments.  Plus a grade school band probably wouldn't have the exact right balance of instruments to sound this good, it would probably sound violin-heavy or have not enough brass or something.

There are plenty more - like how does a trumpet get picked up in Chicago, delivered to a man who works on it, which presumably takes some time, and then shipped overnight to Washington DC, where it somehow arrives BEFORE the kid who took the train?  No way, even FedEx would get it there the next morning, which would be too late.  Assuming a 17 hour train trip from Chicago to DC, this is marginally possible, but extremely unlikely.  There are at least a dozen other mistakes like this that I didn't catch, all listed in IMDB's "Goofs" section.

Also starring Shia LaBeouf (last seen in "Fury"), Michelle Monaghan (last seen in "Pixels"), Rosario Dawson (last seen in "Death Proof"), Michael Chiklis (last seen in "Nixon"), Ethan Embry (last seen in "Can't Hardly Wait"), William Sadler (last seen in "Iron Man 3"), Bill Smitrovich (last seen in "Ted 2"), and the voice of Julianne Moore (last seen in "Don Jon"), with cameos from Eric Christian Olsen (last seen in "The Thing (2011)), Marc Singer, Madylin Sweeten.

RATING: 5 out of 10 conveyor belts