Saturday, June 24, 2017

I Love You Phillip Morris

Year 9, Day 175 - 6/24/17 - Movie #2,670

BEFORE: This year I found movies to help celebrate Valentine's Day, as usual, but also St. Patrick's Day ("Finian's Rainbow"), Easter ("The Passion of the Christ", "Risen") and Mother's Day (umm, "Mother's Day").  I missed a few small holidays like Flag Day and things are not looking great for July 4, sad to say.  I mean, they're running "The Birth of a Nation" (the new one, not the old one) and that would be perfect, except I don't think I can link to it without disrupting the chain that gets me to "Spider-Man: Homecoming" - perhaps a little research is required on this.  Alternatively I could watch "Independence Day: Resurgence", only I'm saving that for a Liam Hemsworth/Jeff Goldblum connection I think I'll need later this year - and it's off topic, having little to do with the American holiday.

But for once, it seems like I'm up for celebrating June's Pride Month, with "The Crying Game" and tonight's film.  If you also allow me "Carol", which I screened in April, this trilogy covers 3/4 of the LGBT acronym.  (I know, they've recently added more letters, but work with me here...).

Two actors carry over from "Self/Less", Douglas M. Griffin and Marcus Lyle Brown.  Maybe they didn't headline either film, but minor roles are also important to telling stories.  And one of those actors will be in tomorrow's film also.  Yeah, OK, so I needed to pad out the chain a little.  The truth is that none of the above-the-title actors in tonight's film are in anything else on my list, and I didn't want this film to languish down at the bottom of the list in the Unlinkables section.


THE PLOT: A cop turns con man after he comes out of the closet.  Once imprisoned, he meets the second love of his life, whom he'll stop at nothing to be with.

AFTER: The two stars here are involved with current TV projects, of course.  Ewan McGregor just finished a run on the third season of "Fargo", and Jim Carrey is exec-producing the cable drama "I'm Dying Up Here", about L.A. stand-up comics in the 1970's.  I finished "Fargo" and I've got all the episodes for the other show on my DVR, now I just need to find the time to watch them.

I heard about this film a few years back when it was released, and then it didn't show up on premium cable until a few months ago.  I'm not sure if there was a distribution problem, or someone found the gay prison sex too controversial, or what.  Maybe there's something here to offend everyone, conservatives will hate it because it glorifies the gay lifestyle, and liberals will hate it because the lead character is a gay man who is also a con man and a compulsive liar, so therefore not the best possible moral person, by anyone's standards.

When we first see Steven Russell, he's married with a wife and daughter (it's been a big week for daughters, but this is the third film in a row with absent fathers and young daughters...) and as he lies in a hospital bed and narrates his story in flashback (Arrgh, more flashbacks, but at least they're in linear order and we don't jump around too much), it's a good five minutes before he mentions that he's gay.  Or as he puts it, "gay gay gay gay gay."  So why is married then?  How does he have a daughter?  Isn't he technically bi-sexual and not gay?  Nope, let's say it again for emphasis, he's "gay gay gay gay gay".  I'm just saying that a little explanation of how this marriage came to be, then, would really help us straights in the audience understand.

For some reason, bisexuals seem to be looked down on, from people on both ends of the sexuality spectrum, as if they're people who just can't make up their minds.  Why can't they be celebrated, as people who want to experience everything, or get the most out of life?  Why must they be pulled in one direction or the other, by either the straight or gay communities?  And if we're supposed to let everyone love who they want, why doesn't that seem to hold true for bisexuals, who are made to feel that they've got to commit to one orientation or the other?

I'm getting away from the plot of the film here, but I think the LGBT community has a perception problem, especially if they want people to get on board with the whole "born this way" concept.  First off, they used to call it "sexual preference", and right there is a language problem.  "Preference" makes it sound like they just prefer one thing over the other, like they're both good, like with flavors of ice cream, but you prefer one over the other.  These days it's called "sexual orientation", which is better, because it sounds like it's a guiding principle that guides people through their life, they orient their life around it, like using a compass to find your direction on a map.  But that still doesn't imply that being gay is a birthright, it still sounds like a series of decisions to be that way.  So I think a stronger term is definitely needed, if the straight community is really going to believe that being gay is not a choice.

I bring all this up because this film is about choices, bad ones made by the main character to lie, steal and defraud.  And he happens to be gay.  So we're supposed to separate all the terrible choices he makes in his life, ones that land him in jail and cause him various bodily injuries and say, "OK, those were the bad choices" but being gay and falling in love with Phillip Morris, those were the good choices.  How the heck are we supposed to parse out someone's life like that?  The danger here is to allow someone to take the main character at face value and say that all of his choices and actions were terrible, including the gay stuff.  And that's a dangerous road, right?

Like with "Mr. Brooks", are we supposed to believe that he's a serial killer, a sexual deviant, but also a good father?  How do the first two things not reflect on the others?  So he kills again to save his daughter from being a suspect, am I supposed to give him a trophy that reads "Best Dad" or something?  And here with Steven Russell, he becomes a con man in order to live the extravagant gay lifestyle (you know, because being gay means being fashionable and over-accessorizing...) so doesn't all the crime taint the lifestyle that it supports?  Also, after getting out of jail he continues to make terrible choices, like embezzlement and fraud, but since it was all for love of Phillip, somehow that's OK?  I'm sorry, I can't do that.

I'm probably making this more complicated than it is - it's supposed to be a black comedy, but the comedy is covered up by and tied to all these other issues, so it's sort of tough to see it.  Dying of AIDS, for example, is not funny - it should be impossible to find any humor there, but the film still tries.  Was Jim Carrey bucking for an Oscar, seeing as how Tom Hanks got one for "Philadelphia"? Or was he trying to build on the success of "Fun With Dick and Jane", which also found humor in financial fraud and bankruptcy?  It's just a little unclear what the intent was here.

I guess that if this was based on a book that was based on a true story, I can't really fault the details and ask questions about why things all went down this way, assuming that they did.  But the film has also sparked a lot of questions for me about the WHY of things in general, but I'm going to refrain from asking them here, because I have a feeling that the PC police will say that I'm not supposed to ask such questions in the first place.

Also starring Jim Carrey (last seen in "Once Bitten"), Ewan McGregor (last seen in "Emma"), Leslie Mann (last seen in "The Other Woman"), Rodrigo Santoro (last seen in "Focus"), Brennan Brown (ditto), Antoni Corone (last seen in "The Specialist"), Marc Macaulay (ditto), Michael Showers, Annie Golden (last heard in "The Pebble and the Penguin"), Michael Mandel, with cameos from David Jensen (last seen in "Midnight Special"), J.D. Evermore (last seen in "Stolen"), and the real Phillip Morris.

RATING: 4 out of 10 slip-and-fall accidents

Friday, June 23, 2017

Self/Less

Year 9, Day 174 - 6/23/17 - Movie #2,669

BEFORE: Ryan Reynolds carries over from "Criminal" into another body-switching story - hey, it's "Freaky Friday", how about that?  Remember that old film where a mother and daughter switched bodies?  Then they re-made that film?  Then they made a bunch of knock-offs like "Vice Versa", "18 Again", "17 Again", "13 Going on 30" and so on?  Yeah, me neither, I avoid those films - but still, twice this week I'm dealing with body/mind swaps of a sort.  Last night Ryan Reynolds' mind got put into Kevin Costner's body, and tonight someone else's mind gets put into Ryan Reynolds' body.  That seems only fair, plus there must be room in there, considering what happened in "Criminal". 

THE PLOT: A dying real-estate mogul transfers his consciousness into a healthy young body, but soon finds that neither the procedure nor the company that performed it are quite what they seem.

AFTER: Oh, sure, the 1 percenters get to live forever, every time they get close to death they just get their mind transferred into a new body, and they can keep doing that as long as their bank account holds out.  They're told that the new bodies are "grown in a lab", but is that even possible?  Can we grow a body without a brain, without a soul?  Would we even want to - we can barely feed the number of people on the planet now. 

Of course this is movie science, so it's junk science.  How would we even make that transfer, basically downloading someone's memories and personality and putting them in the new vessel?  I mean, they don't physically move the old brain over, so how do they do it?  By electricity, or removing DNA with a needle, or making a map of the brain, or do they store the impulses on some kind of hard drive and then download everything into the new brain?  It's probably best not to think too hard about this, because the screenwriters here sure didn't.  Just look at the flashing lights and try to relax - this is the best advice for both the patient and the audience. 

Once in the new body, the old man, Damian, can do all kinds of things he couldn't do before, like play basketball and sleep with attractive women without paying them for it.  As long as he takes the mystery medication that makes the headaches go away.  (Shh...the mystery drug is probably aspirin...)  Oh, and they have to fake his death and transfer him to the new body with a new name and a new backstory.  He can't just pretend to be his own son or anything like that. 

But when hallucinations start to surface, and Damian finds himself heading for St. Louis instead of Hawaii, questions start to form about where exactly this body came from, and whether anyone was using it before.  This process of people "shedding" and then coming back in different bodies made for a confusing film, however, and I missed some of the clues that would have let me know that I was seeing the same character again in a new form. 

Naturally there are questions over what constitutes a person - is it the mind, the body, the soul, or the combination of all three?  It's too bad the movie couldn't take time to answer any of the questions it raised, probably because they had to leave room for the big car chase.  It seemed a little weird that a company that spent so much money moving a man's consciousness into a new body would then send so many assassins to kill him.  That seems a little counter-productive, no? 

Also starring Ben Kingsley (last heard in "The Boxtrolls"), Natalie Martinez, Matthew Goode (last seen in "Copying Beethoven"), Victor Garber (last seen in "Sicario"), Derek Luke, Michelle Dockery (last seen in "Anna Karenina"), Melora Hardin, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Sam Page, Brendan McCarthy, Sandra Ellis Lafferty (last seen in "Prisoners"), Douglas M. Griffin (last seen in "10 Cloverfield Lane"), Marcus Lyle Brown (last seen in "Stolen"), Thomas Francis Murphy, with a cameo from Big Freedia.

RATING: 4 out of 10 flipped-over police cars

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Criminal

Year 9, Day 173 - 6/22/17 - Movie #2,668

BEFORE: Based on the cast lists, this could have been my lead-out from "Wonder Woman", and it could also have led right into "Jason Bourne", but that would have disrupted the placement I already had in mind for it, namely connecting "Mr. Brooks" and tomorrow's film.  So I found "The Zero Theorem" instead to do that early June linking, and now I'm all caught up and I can move forward, and approach that week of animated films on Netflix, with "Spider-Man: Homecoming" on the horizon.

So Kevin Costner carries over from "Mr. Brooks", and I promise this will make some more sense tomorrow.  (Yeah, sure...I say that all the time and it's never really true...)

THE PLOT: In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative's memories, secrets and skills are implanted into a death-row inmate in the hopes that he will complete the operative's mission.

AFTER: For the 2nd night in a row, Kevin Costner plays a sociopathic killer - only here he's given the opportunity to possibly gain release by working for the government and letting them do some brain-salad surgery to give him another man's memories.  He's like a one-man "Suicide Squad", I suppose, or a two-man Jason Bourne.  (or you could say this is like "Face-Off", only with brain surgery instead of face transplants...) Did he really volunteer for this project, or was he not given any choice?

He's also perfect for this project because he has an undeveloped frontal lobe, due to a childhood injury or some kind of genetic quirk, it's not really clear - take your pick, I suppose.  This enables the "brain pattern" (knowledge? memories?  I'm not quite sure...) off the agent to be grafted into his brain.  You know, because actually putting the other guy's brain into his skull would take too much time, and they're on a tight schedule for saving the world.  Still, it's laughable that about 10 minutes after brain surgery, this guy is awake and ready to sneak himself out of the hospital.  Right, no post-operative procedure or recovery period.  Tick-tock, times a-wasting!

You see, there's a man who wants to take down the government - which one?  Why, all of them!  And to do this he's got a hacker named the Dutchman who created a "Wormhole" on the Dark Web that somehow gives him control of the entire planet's nuclear arsenal.  This CIA agent, Bill Pope, was able to get the Dutchman to a safe hiding place before he expired, so those memories in his head contain the only known location of where the guy is.  Why doesn't the CIA just check his Seamless account to find out where food is being sent - even the Dutchman's got to eat some time, right?

Nope, it's (apparently) easier to have a convict undergo a complicated, experimental procedure and throw him out into the field, to see if he remembers any of the other guy's memories.  It's only the fate of the free world resting on this long-shot, after all.  And it doesn't seem to work at first, but then once the headaches go away, he remembers that there's something hidden behind books written by George Orwell, so he goes to the library in London.  Sure, like there's only one library in the greater London area...and we know he's a sociopath because he cuts to the head of the line, in a library.  Really, who DOES that?

The implanted memories also drive him to seek out the dead agent's wife and daughter.  Right, that won't creep this woman out at all, to meet a criminal with her dead husband's memories of their time together....why, that won't be awkward at all!  And then the rest of the plan basically involves driving this guy around all of London, to see if anything jogs the other guys' memories, or something.  Sure enough, eventually he remembers where the other guy left the bag, and the Dutchman - but a coherent plot thread continues to be elusive.

Honestly, by this time I'd fallen asleep, and I had to force myself awake, try to find the place where I left off and then try to continue, only to fall asleep again.  This happened several times before I was forced to give up, go to sleep for real and then watch the last half hour of the film in the morning.  You might have more fun with this film if you think of it as being set in the DC Universe, and Commissioner Gordon authorizes the transfer of Green Lantern's brain into Jonathan Kent's body via a procedure created by Two-Face so they can save the world with help from Green Lantern's wife, who happens to be Wonder Woman.

Also starring Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Jason Bourne"), Ryan Reynolds (last seen in "Logan", sort of...), Gal Gadot (last seen in "Wonder Woman"), Jordi Molla (last seen in "In the Heart of the Sea"), Michael Pitt (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Alice Eve (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Amaury Nolasco, Antje Traue (last seen in "Woman in Gold"), Scott Adkins (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Lara Decaro with cameos from Piers Morgan, Robert Davi (last seen in "The Expendables 3")

RATING: 3 out of 10 headaches

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mr. Brooks

Year 9, Day 172 - 6/21/17 - Movie #2,667

BEFORE: There were probably a lot of ways I could have gone after "Bobby", with that large all-star cast, or so you might think, but with my options slowly dwindling down, I really only wanted to use that film to link here, with Demi Moore carrying over into this thriller.  From here I could link to another film with Kevin Costner, and his co-star tomorrow leads me to another film, and a co-star in THAT film leads me to another film, and so on.  This will get me to a block of recent animated films that I can watch on Netflix, starting early next week, and this in turn will get me to July, and just a few links away from "Spider-Man: Homecoming".  Gotta get that new Spider-Man film in before I head off to Comic-Con...


THE PLOT: A psychological thriller about a man who is sometimes controlled by his murder-loving alter ego.

AFTER: Kevin Costner as a serial killer?  As a concept, that seems like it should have been marked "dead on arrival".  Costner's played every hero from Elliot Ness to Robin Hood, from the good cowboy in "Unforgiven" to the solider-turned-Native American in "Dances With Wolves".  He was the family man in "Field of Dreams" that just wanted to build a baseball field and have a catch with his dad, for chrissakes.  You know what was the perfect role for him?  Jonathan Kent in the recent Superman movies - older guy, midwestern values, the guy who gave Superman his moral compass.  I didn't see him as Pa Kent at first, but thinking about it later, that casting was a slam-dunk.

I mean, I get that an actor is an actor, collectively they're just like a bunch of trained monkeys who producers can count on to show up, read their lines, and not put up too much of a fuss on the set, or later when they have to talk to the press.  But you'd like to think that the top actors build up some kind of reputation, or have some kind of overarching theme when you look at their entire body of work.  Maybe Costner got sick of playing white hats and wanted to see if he could stretch himself and play a villain for once...

There are two conceits here in the portrayal of Mr. Brooks, the serial killer.  One is that when he talks to the side of him that wants to kill, that side is portrayed by a different actor who appears in the scene as a character named "Marshall", only no other characters can see or hear Marshall.  When Brooks speaks to Marshall, the audience is supposed to understand that represents the conversation inside Brooks' head, the one he's having with his dark side.  It's a bit of a Tyler Durden situation, except we're told at the start that Marshall is not real.  He's part of Brooks, but he doesn't look like Brooks.  I suppose they could have had Costner play a dual role, like Kyle MacLachlan is currently doing on "Twin Peaks", playing both Dale Cooper and his doppelgänger, but they went another way with the idea here.

The other conceit is that being a serial killer is equated with addiction, Brooks goes to A.A. meetings and doesn't exactly say what he's addicted to when he introduces himself.  (The poor crowd in that church basement, they don't know who they're clapping for...). I'm not sure that I agree with this, because even if serial killers enjoy what they do, I'm not sure that they're compelled to do it - that they just can't get through the day without it, like some people with alcohol or drugs.  Isn't it a cop-out to suggest that they're driven by addiction, that they couldn't stop killing, even if they wanted to?  And then there's the irony of a serial killer reciting "The Serenity Prayer" - so is killing something that they can change, or something they have to accept that they can't change?

Plus, it doesn't come close to answering the question "Why does he kill?"  "Because he's addicted" is not a serious answer.  And if you're going to blame Marshall, his murderous side, that's not really an explanation, it's just a manifestation of the urges in his head - why is Marshall there in the first place? I have no idea.  And a big NITPICK POINT to me: if he's attending addiction meetings, shouldn't he be going through the 12-step program to try to stay "clean"?  Wouldn't this involve steps like making reparations to the people that he's hurt?  This not only seems out of line with being a serial killer, we never see it take place, and it doesn't seem like he's even interested in the concept.

As if Mr. Brooks life as the meticulously neat "thumbprint killer" isn't complicated enough, he also has to contend with someone who witnessed his latest murder who wants to become an apprentice of sorts, and a daughter who has just left college and returned home, right after a brutal murder occurred on campus, so he has to wonder if the apple didn't fall far from the proverbial tree.  Even when they're grown up, it seems like parents are always cleaning up after their kids' mistakes, am I right?

Oh, and he learns that there is a clever detective on his trail, but she's got problems of her own, including an escaped convict on the loose looking for revenge, and a husband filing for divorce, trying to take all of her money.  Can the cat stay focused enough to win this little game of cat-and-mouse, or will the murderous mouse figure out a way to point the finger at someone else?

Also starring Kevin Costner (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), William Hurt (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Dane Cook (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Marg Helgenberger (last seen in "Always"), Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Danielle Panabaker, Lindsay Crouse (last seen in "Slap Shot"), Jason Lewis, Matt Schulze, Reiko Aylesworth, Aisha Hinds, Traci Dinwiddie.

RATING: 5 out of 10 vacuum cleaner bags

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bobby

Year 9, Day 171 - 6/20/17 - Movie #2,666

BEFORE: "Room" gets me to this film, with William H. Macy carrying over, and I think I figured that if I could get to this one, with a near all-star cast, I could go just about anywhere.  There are so many stars in this film, I didn't even notice that I could have linked here from "Drugstore Cowboy".  But since I snuck in two more films in-between, maybe that's for the best.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Jackie" (Movie #2,637)

THE PLOT: The story of the assassination of U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, shot June 5, 1968 in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, and 22 people in the hotel whose lives were never the same.

AFTER: Perhaps I should treat this as a combination of "Jackie" and "Vantage Point", which was another film about an assassination told through the viewpoints of different people who were nearby.  But this story is real - sort of.  For the most part the filmmakers did not use real-life stories, though it's true that the person closest to RFK when he was shot was a hotel busboy.  But it's tricky when you use the names of real people in a movie, if the filmmakers don't secure the rights to each person's name and likeness, which can be expensive, then they open themselves up to litigation over the way those people are portrayed, which can be even more expensive.  You'll see a note at the end of this film that points out that the Ambassador Hotel did have a doorman with the same name as the doorman character in this film, but that man retired three years earlier in 1965, so therefore any relation is merely a coincidence.

The stopgap measure these days, if you want to give any character a first and last name, which they may accidentally share with a real person, is to find someone with that name and have them sign a contract that licenses the use of their name for a small sum, like a dollar.  That way nobody else with that name can come forward and file a lawsuit over the use of that name.  But that wouldn't work in the case of the film "Bobby", if you name the busboy character Juan Romero, it would obviously be done with the intent of portraying the real busboy with that name, and even a license with another person named Juan Romero wouldn't hold up in court - so here the busboy is just named JosĂ©.  (We used to play a fun game at my old job, if there was a TV commercial with a character's first and last name, we'd look up the real person with that name and thus figure out which ad agency had that account.  Look up an Energizer battery commercial from the year 2000 with a candidate named Bob Fremgen, and you'll see what I mean.  The real Bob Freemen was a creative director on the account.)

But the RFK assassination was just a bit before my time - I was born about 4 months later, so I grew up in a world with only Ted Kennedy in office.  It was years before I understood who JFK and RFK were, and what their impacts were on the world.  Obviously we'll never know the path not taken, what things these two brothers might have accomplished if their lives had not been cut short.  Some people obviously believe that even though Kennedy's inaugural speech promised to "pay any price, bear any burden", that he still could have ended the Vietnam War faster than Johnson did.  And then there's a very strong implication that when Robert Kennedy started running for President, it was on something of an anti-war platform, so people similarly believe that he would have ended the war sooner if he had been elected.  But we will never know this for sure.

But here is what I did learn tonight - Robert Kennedy was shot on June 6, 1968, just three days after Andy Warhol was shot.  (Had I known this, I might have programmed this right after "I Shot Andy Warhol").  And because Robert Kennedy's campaign came to an end, the Democratic nominee in the 1968 election was Hubert Humphrey, and then Richard Nixon became President.  So you can perhaps see a sort of domino effect here, and wonder what might have been without Tricky Dick, Watergate, Gerald Ford and so on.  Shrine Sirhan, the man who shot RFK, was an Arab Palestinian born in Jerusalem, who moved to New York and California but retained Jordanian citizenship.  He felt betrayed by Kennedy's support of Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, but was also still upset about the formation of the country of Israel, back in 1948.  The night before June 6, Sirhan had witness a Zionist Pro-Israel parade, and then drank quite a bit as a result.

We might also wonder why the most famous shootings of the 1960's - the two Kennedys, along with Martin Luther King Jr. - didn't have more of an effect on gun control.  What happened there?  Why did the loss of three of the country's most beloved public figures not result in some more effective kind of legislation that would prevent this type of thing from taking place in the future?  Because years later Reagan was shot, and then later on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot, and then last week there was that shooting last week at the Congressional baseball game where the House Majority Whip was shot.  I realize these incidents are just a drop in the OCEAN that is gun violence in this country, I bring these up as I wonder why the politicians aren't more keen on gun control, since they've also been targeted.  So congressmen will vote themselves pay raises and free medical care, but they won't take steps to protect everyone from guns, including themselves?  It doesn't make sense.

(UPDATE: A little research tells me that 14 members of the U.S. Congress have been killed while holding office.  But three of those died in duels, those don't really count, right?  That seems sort of voluntary.  Another 10 members of Congress have been wounded - 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats, and five were injured during the 1954 Capitol shooting.  I guess seeing as how guns helped form this country, they're too much a part of our history?  History, apparently, is written by the winners, or those with the best aim.)

Other facts I learned - 5 bystanders were injured, in addition to Robert Kennedy, in that crowded hotel kitchen.  (Not the same 5 people seen injured in this film, but I covered that above...)  How many shots did this assassin take, in order to hit RFK 3 times, and also another 5 people?  But he was tackled and disarmed by close friends of Sen. Kennedy, including George Plimpton and Rosey Grier. Oh, and I learned that the Senator McCarthy that lost to RFK in the California primary was Eugene McCarthy from Minnesota, and was not related to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was from Wisconsin.  (But you can see how that might be confusing if they never state his first name in this film...)

The film "Bobby" chose to focus on fictional characters, who in total represent a cultural pastiche of 1968 - we see a woman marrying a young soldier she barely knows so he'll be less likely to be sent to Vietnam, her hair stylist who's married to the hotel's manager, who's having an affair with a hotel switchboard operator, a kitchen manager with racist ideas who ends up listening to a Dodgers game with the Mexican busboys, two campaign volunteers who seek out a drug dealer and take acid for the first time, a couple of young idealist campaign managers, a well-off married couple who are apparently campaign donors, and an alcoholic singer performing at the hotel whose husband argues with her agent.  Finally, there's a Czech reporter who's there to get an interview with Sen. Kennedy, so apparently the Czech people are not known for their good timing.

These people take part in various activities in and around the hotel on the day of June 6, and they interact or bounce off each other in various ways.  But while this may be interesting, I'm not sure if it should be the main focus of the film, not to this extent, anyway.  I mean, what's more important at the end of the day, the shooting of a U.S. senator and presidential candidate, or a bride getting her hair done?  Should the marital troubles of a hotel manager, or a couple of campaign volunteers taking drugs, be put on a par with such an important historical event?  A couple of guys talking about baseball seems to be given equal importance as well, a woman who forgot to pack the right color of shoes, or a singer getting drunk - to what end?  I'm not convinced that this approach gives us more insight into this historical event than, say, following RFK around for the same time period would have.

Perhaps this film is supposed to remind us that the little things in our life that we do to keep ourselves busy - playing tennis, listening to a baseball game, taking drugs, playing chess - they're very trivial, and they're obviously not as important as voting, or paying attention to the candidates running for office.  Whatever you think you'd like to do on Election Day that isn't voting, for God's sake, put it on hold for one day and go make an informed selection, because we've all now seen what happens when the majority of people can't be bothered to take the time.  If that's the message of the film then I can get behind it, but something tells me that I'm doing most of the work here to fill in the blanks and find some meaning.  It's just as easy to think that the message of this film is that despite people's best intentions and efforts, everything good eventually gets ruined and turns to crap, and everyone dies, even the good ones.

Wikipedia mentioned the similarity to Robert Altman's film "Nashville", another ensemble piece with interrelating/intersecting characters whose plot revolves around a political convention/campaign. I haven't seen that one yet, but it's on my watchlist, and I'm trying to get to it. There's no direct link, so it may take some time for me to get there.

NITPICK POINT: I'm also not convinced that anyone in 1968 would perform the song "Louie Louie" in a slowed-down, ironic lounge style.  That seems more like what someone would do in either the early 1980's or 2000's, times when lounge music made notable comebacks, and then it was hip to take rock songs from the 1950's and swankily them.  But in 1968, I think most people didn't even know what the lyrics to "Louie Louie" were - nobody funded a complete and proper study of what the Kingsmen were singing until the mid-1970's, I think, so everyone just assumed that they were saying things that were really obscene.  (I'm only partially kidding here, the very real FBI had a 31-month inconclusive, fruitless investigation into the myth about the nature of the lyrics of this song.  Look it up if you don't believe me.)

Also starring Christian Slater (last seen in "Hot Tub Time Machine 2"), Sharon Stone (last seen in "The Specialist"), Demi Moore (last seen in "Forsaken"), Anthony Hopkins (last seen in "Red Dragon"), Emilio Estevez (last seen in "St. Elmo's Fire"), Shia LaBeouf (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Martin Sheen (last seen in "Catch-22"), Helen Hunt (last seen in "Dr. T & the Women"), Heather Graham (last seen in "Drugstore Cowboy"), Freddy Rodriguez (last seen in "Planet Terror"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Nick Cannon, Joshua Jackson (last seen in "Apt Pupil"), Ashton Kutcher (last seen in "Just Married"), David Krumholtz (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Elijah Wood (last seen in "The Faculty"), Lindsay Lohan (last seen in "The Holiday"), Harry Belafonte, Brian Geraghty (last seen in "Jarhead"), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (last seen in "Factory Girl"), Svetlana Metkina, Joy Bryant, Spencer Garrett (last seen in Blackhat"), Jacob Vargas (last seen in "The 33"), David Kobzantsev, with cameos from Scoot McNairy (last seen in "Our Brand Is Crisis"), Orlando Seale.

RATING: 5 out of 10 hotel bathrobes

Monday, June 19, 2017

Room

Year 9, Day 170 - 6/19/17 - Movie #2,665

BEFORE: Time for a TV update, since the last two films featured actors noted for being on "Twin Peaks" - Heather Graham and Grace Zabriskie in "Drugstore Cowboy", and Kenneth Welsh in "The Art of the Steal".  We're still tuning in to "Twin Peaks: The Return", the 7th episode just aired, and not only is it a confusing mess, I'm predicting that even though it FEELS like it's building up to some large payoff, it's going to confound everyone when it doesn't.  Damn you, David Lynch, do you have any concept of how to introduce plot threads and then, I don't know, FOLLOW UP with them at some point?  Nope, last week's threads were left hanging, in fact they weren't even mentioned, and instead we were treated to a solid three minutes of a man sweeping a barroom floor, which didn't advance the story one iota.  Trust me, people, there will be NO answers, NO resolution to the situations put before you.

But I finished the current season of "Gotham", "The Amazing Race", "Angie Tribeca" and the finales of "Genius" and "Fargo" will air this week.  I've got all summer to catch up on shows like "Little People, Big World", "Law & Order: SVU", "Family Guy", "The Simpsons" and "Bob's Burgers".  And I haven't even finished the recent season of "Face-Off" on Syfy, and the new season is starting up already - geez, guys, give me a break!  Let me catch my breath!  And then I've got to start watching "American Gods" and "Ginormous Food", which are threatening to clog up my DVR.

The tie-in between "The Art of the Steal" is not very obvious, an actor named Joe Pingue carries over, he played the barely noticed "Carmen" last night, and tonight plays a police officer.  That's because "The Art of the Steal" was essentially a dead-end, so I have to rely on a character actor.  Now, since I made the plan, Kurt Russell popped up again in "Deepwater Horizon", so I could have linked to that film, but it's serving another linking purpose next week, and if I skip ahead to it, I'll miss all the films in between and have to re-link to them.  Nope, it's Joe Pingue's turn in the spotlight tonight.


THE PLOT: A young boy is raised within the confines of a small shed.

AFTER: This is another one of those claustrophobic one-room movies that seem to be popping up frequently this year - it's not really a follow-up because the two films are so different, but I bought "Room" off of PPV in order to go on a DVD with "10 Cloverfield Lane", since both feature a woman being held captive in a closed space.

"Room" is sort of tricky at first, because you see a woman taking care of her son, doing normal mom-like activities like measuring his height against a mark on the wall, eating together and having play-time, it's only after a little while goes by that you realize that they haven't left this small room, and then you get the dreadful feeling that they may not be able to.  But why?  Who put them there?  Who brings them food and other things that they need?  What the heck is going on here?

The answer comes in time, of course, and it ends up being the sort of situation that you'd like to think doesn't happen in our modern, loving society, but probably does happen more often than you think, or would care to admit.  My question really isn't "who would do such a thing?" because there are plenty of psychos and nut jobs out there, but my question was more along the lines of "who would allow this situation to continue, once a kid has become part of the equation?"  Because I'm guessing that if someone abducted her to make her some kind of sex slave, he probably got much more than he bargained for.  (Oh, yeah, Happy Father's Day, everyone!).

What's more interesting here than the situation, how it came to be or whether they have any chance of getting out of it, is the psychology of a child raised under such conditions, where all he knows of the world is within that small room.  The room is real to him, everything outside is not real, because he's never seen it.  Oh, they have a TV, and his mother can tell him things about the world, but the TV depicts both reality and fantasy, so you might imagine that he has trouble telling the difference.  He can't even imagine that there IS anything on the other side of the wall, or even that the wall HAS another side.  Everything that isn't in the room might as well be in outer space, to him.

And if that boy and woman were to get out of the room somehow, and I'm not saying that they do, but if they did, how would he be able to comprehend the vastness of the world, and navigate the complications of society?  Well, this sort of hearkens back to my point about "Wonder Woman", where she was confused unnecessarily about Steve Trevor's wristwatch, but in her society they probably had a sundial, so she should be able to make that mental leap without much difficulty.  The boy might never have seen a car, but he's played with a toy car, for example, so there should be a way for him to get there.

But I don't really want to talk about that, because spoilers, so instead I'm going to wonder if this film is a big metaphor for something - after all, most people end up spending the majority of their time in rooms in their home that aren't much bigger, or cubicles in their office that are in fact smaller, so is this really such a bad life?  I mean, of course it is, because Joy and Jack CAN'T leave the room, and regular people can leave their home or office at will.  (But can they really?  CAN THEY?)  Or is this situation meant to function as a metaphor for any bad or abusive relationship, where someone knows that they SHOULD leave the relationship for their own sake, but similarly feel that they can't?

I mean, you can leave your office, but you're going to have to come back the next day.  You can leave your house for a while, but eventually you're going to need to come back and sleep there.  You can go on vacation or walkabout, but sooner or later you've got to come home.  So we're all prisoners in our own little ways, even if we have the illusion of free will, home is where you hang your hat, and you can eventually get tired of living or working anywhere.  The only real way to be happy is to be content in your situation, realize it as such and try to be as comfortable as you can there.

As a thought experiment, would you rather be homeless, or confined to a single room where you had everything you needed or wanted?  In the room someone would bring you food, supplies and entertainment, but you could never leave the room - is that better or worse than sleeping outside and carrying around your possessions with you?  What about living in an galactic zoo, if you got the offer to live in the human exhibit, with all your needs and wants taken care of, except for freedom, would you take that deal?

Now, I don't have children, so I related more to this story by thinking about the stray cats we've taken in and turned into house cats, which is itself a form of captivity.  We give the cats food, medical care, love and attention, and all we ask in return is that they never leave the house.  I heard a comedian do a routine recently where he referred to cats and dogs as "friend-slaves", and I don't think he's that far off.  We took in our latest stray around Memorial Day 2016, and it took 9 months in our basement to train and re-program her before we could integrate her with our upstairs cat (also a former stray).  In a sense, we had to catch her, break her and then build her back up - and it's only the fact that I've been through this process several times before that I think of myself as a responsible cat owner and not a kidnapper (kit-napper?).

I don't mean to muddy the waters here, or to insinuate that this woman and child weren't in a terrible situation that they should, of course, try to escape from.  And by no means would I stick up for the abductor in such a situation, even considering the "Stockholm Syndrome" where people identify with and excuse their captors.  And of course no one should abuse women or children or hold them captive or threaten them in any way.  But when I think about pets, the situation becomes quite a bit muddier.  "Room" has just given me a lot to think about, that's all.

Also starring Brie Larson (last seen in "Don Jon"), Jacob Tremblay (last seen in "The Smurfs 2"), Sean Bridgers (last seen in "Midnight Special"), William H. Macy (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Joan Allen (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Wendy Crewson, Tom McManus (last seen in "The Vow"), Cas Anvar, Amanda Brugel. 

RATING: 6 out of 10 cracked eggshells

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Art of the Steal

Year 9, Day 169 - 6/18/17 - Movie #2,664

BEFORE: The 2016 films are coming to cable more quickly now, I just saw ads for "Arrival" and "Jack Reacher 2" being promoted as airing soon - of course, I'm cheating by dipping in to a pile of Academy screeners, but even if I watch a film earlier than scheduled, I still have to remember to DVR that film when it airs so I can archive it on DVD.  Meanwhile I've got an eye on the 2017 release schedule for the rest of the year, and my decision to see "Wonder Woman" in the theater, instead of "The Mummy" or the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie seems to have been a smart one, based on what critics and audiences seem to be saying.  I wish I could say I made that decision after careful deliberation, but it probably had as much to do with the fact that I could link to "Wonder Woman" more easily than the other two - so, random chance, really.

For each film I take off the list, I seem to be adding one from 2015 or 2016, and those are the films I'm most interested in watching right now.  I suspect I won't dip back into films from the 1950's or earlier until October rolls around, but who knows?  Today's film is from 2013, and thankfully it has nothing to do with the President except the fact that the title riffs off his most famous book, which essentially is a guide for screwing everyone you deal with.  Yep, collectively we voted for that guy, and then we were surprised that he wants to screw everyone he deals with, including us.

Matt Dillon carries over from "Drugstore Cowboy", and I'm really shocked that I'll be watching at least four Kurt Russell movies this year, and not using him as a link at all, which seems odd.


THE PLOT: Crunch Calhoun, a semi-reformed art thief, agrees to get his old gang back together to pull off one last heist.

AFTER: I'm back on art forgery + theft, which seems to pop up every year at least once, whether it's in "The Thomas Crown Affair" or "The Monuments Men", or "Tim's Vermeer", and last year this topic seemed to be all over the countdown, with "The Forger", "Woman in Gold", "Big Eyes", "F For Fake" and even "Hudson Hawk", "Lara Croft" and "The Pink Panther" (if you extend the topic to artifacts as well as art, that is.).

It seems like Hollywood doesn't know what to do with art, except show it being stolen.  But this leads back to heist stories, which I usually like.  We get to see an action film that combines beautiful things with cool technology and a bunch of sneaky people who are probably one step away from double-crossing each other.  And so the story is probably going to keep us on our toes with a good twist or two.  For the record, I predicted both twists in this film, the little one in the opening sequence and the big one later - but I was only about 5 minutes ahead of the plot, which is saying something, if the film could keep me guessing for that long.

Despite its insistence on breaking down the crew into its criminal archetypes ("The Wheelman", "The Brain", "The Rookie", "The Scratcher") this film still managed to tell a really good story.  In the opening gambit there was some stuff I'd never seen before - like a motorcycle chase ON a subway train - and one team member ends up taking the fall for the heist.  The second part is about getting the crew back together for "one last job", but what happens on that job reminded me more of "The Usual Suspects" than anything else.  (Unlike "The Crying Game", this is one instance where making reference to the fable about the scorpion and the frog would have made some sense.).

Tricks aside, there's a middle part that tells the real story of the theft of the "Mona Lisa", in which Vincenzo Perrugia, an employee at the Louvre, hid in a broom closet and simply walked out with it one day.  The man who hired him to do this, Eduardo Valifierno, paid him for his efforts but did not collect the painting, instead he asked Perrugia to hold it in his apartment.  Valifierno then hired a famous forger, Yves Chaudron, to make six forgeries of the famous painting, which he then sold to various U.S. patrons.  As long as the painting hung in the Louvre, a forgery would be worthless, but after news of the theft broke and the painting's location was unknown, the rules changed.  Valifierno could make more money, over time, by NOT selling the real item.

This story is re-enacted in flashback, using the same actors as in the main film, and really was the highlight here.  It has a direct impact to the plot, but I can re-tell this middle bit here without spoiling anything.  And the anecdote is not only true, it's part of what made the Mona Lisa such a famous painting, plus it illustrates the real art of the steal, not just the steal of the art.

Also starring Kurt Russell (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Jay Baruchel (last seen in "Robocop" (2014)), Kenneth Welsh (last seen in "Heartburn"), Chris Diamantopoulos, Katheryn Winnick (last seen in "Failure to Launch"), Jason Jones (last seen in "The Night Before"), Terence Stamp (last seen in "The Haunted Mansion"), Devon Bostick, Dax Ravina, A.C. Peterson, Joe Pingue (last seen in "Maps to the Stars"), Camilla Scott, Eugene Lipinski, Karyn Dwyer.

RATING: 6 out of 10 Polish inmates