Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

Year 9, Day 182 - 7/1/17 - Movie #2,676

BEFORE: This is how I'm flipping my chain around - less than a week ago I realized that I could make this the last film watched before Comic-Con, and that made some bit of sense.  It's right on theme, I could watch this the night before getting on the plane, and get in the right mind-set.  But then  I went through some more cast-lists (I've got to learn to stop being so thorough...) and found that if I linked to this one now, I could work in something on Monday for July 4.  (I know, Monday is July 3, but really, it's the best I could do.)

So now Jemaine Clement carries over from "The BFG" for his third animated film in a row, and I've still got my same path to my San Diego trip, just in a different order.  Now in order to watch this here, I had to buy it On Demand for $3.99, but that's OK.  I could have seen this in a theater when it was released in February, but I passed - so I saved about 11 or 12 dollars this way.  I'm still up on the deal, I think.

So let's kick off July, and the four-day weekend, with a superhero film.  This is what summer's all about, right?


FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Lego Movie" (Movie #2,096)

THE PLOT: Bruce Wayne must deal with the usual suspects as they plan to rule Gotham City, while discovering he has accidentally adopted a teenage orphan who wishes to become his sidekick.

AFTER: I wish I could say that this captured the spirit of "The Lego Movie", taking a couple key characters from that film, expanding on their stories and moving forward with that same manic energy.  You know, where worlds collide but everything is still awesome.  There's definitely some kind of energy here, but it shoots in every direction at once, there's not the same heart.  Of course, the films have different directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord only produced this film - I last spoke with Chris in 2015 at Comic-Con (he was a intern at one of the animation studios I work for, about 14 years ago) and I didn't get much time to connect with him.  (It's been sort of fun for the last two years to say I knew someone before they became a director of a "Star Wars" film, and even though I've been kicking myself for not begging the guy for a job, now that Miller and Lord have been fired from the young Han Solo movie, maybe I made the right choice...).

So there's no "everyman" Everett Brickowski here, instead we have Batman as the central character, and with a Batman film you just never know if you're going to get the brooding Batman (Bale) or the silly Batman (Adam West) or the nurturing parent Batman (Clooney) or the deep-throated dickish "I know more than you" billionaire (Affleck).  This film figures, why not give the audience all of the above?  Which means he's going to be constantly pinging from one emotion to the next, and it's going to be difficult to get a read on him.  But then again, I'm not sure this was a characterization choice, or just a lack of direction, and therefore a default decision to go in all directions at once.

Batman's lack of social skills are parodied here (remember, Batman is the real guy and Bruce Wayne is the disguise, or some say...) and this leads to the Justice League having an anniversary party at Superman's Fortress of Solitude without even inviting him.  I mean, he'd only drag the party down - but as a story element, since Batman needed to go to the Fortress anyway, to get the Phantom Zone projector, why not have him invited, and then use the invitation to get what he needed?  (Just sayin'...)

It's possible that Batman's longest "relationship" is with the Joker, and that's a fact that's parodied here too, with the Clown Prince of Crime acting like a jilted lover when Batman won't acknowledge him as one of his greatest foes.  And so Joker uses Batman's whole rogues gallery (and he does have one of the best...) from Bane and Catwoman right on down to, umm, Calendar Man and Condiment King (wait, what?). But it might be all a trick so that Joker can get in touch with the villains from other franchises, like King Kong, Godzilla, Voldemort and Sauron to form an All-Star Gang.  But still, the only thing that this group of masterminds can think to do is to destroy Lego Gotham.  Think bigger, guys!

Meanwhile, sad sack (but eternal optimist) Dick Grayson is "accidentally" adopted by Bruce Wayne, and both Wayne and Batman have trouble letting people in to their lives, because of what happened to his parents.  I get that, but I thought Batman adopted Robin to distract his opponents, basically using him as a human shield.  My bad, I guess.  Oh, and Commissioner Gordon retires, to be replaced by his daughter, Barbara - because that's how you hire police commissioners in the Lego world, I guess. We know she's going to become Batgirl at some point, so why sidetrack her into the police department?

There are tons of funny references, to everything like the old 1960's Batman and his use of shark repellent spray, to the doorbell at the Fortress of Solitude sounding like the John Williams theme music from the 1978 "Superman" film, but the story's a bit of a jumbled mess.  (Where was the Justice League, for example, when the city needed to be put back together - were they still at that party?). So while this film should have been a slam-dunk, in the end it was mostly a bunch of random noise - or possibly I just wasn't in the proper mind-set for something this madcap.

Also starring the voices of Will Arnett (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Michael Cera (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Rosario Dawson (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Ralph Fiennes (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Zach Galifiankakis (last seen in "What Happens in Vegas"), Jenny Slate (last heard in "Zootopia"), Hector Elizondo (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Channing Tatum (last seen in "Don Jon"), Jonah Hill (also last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Ellie Kemper (last seen in "Sex Tape"), Eddie Izzard (last seen in "Lost Christmas"), Seth Green (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), with vocal cameos from Jason Mantzoukas (last seen in "How to Be Single"), Doug Benson, Conan O'Brien (last heard in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Pt. 2"), Billy Dee Williams (last seen in "The Conversation"), Zoe Kravitz (last seen in "Mad Max: Fury Road"), Kate Micucci (last heard in "Nerdland"), Riki Lindholme (ditto), Adam Devine (last heard in "Ice Age: Collision Course"), Mariah Carey, Laura Kightlinger (last seen in "Down With Love"), Brent Musburger (last seen in "The Main Event"), Ralph Garman (also last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Chris Hardwick and Richard Cheese (last heard in "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies") and stock footage of Tom Cruise (last seen in "Edge of Tomorrow") and Renee Zellweger (last seen in "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason").

RATING: 6 out of 10 Daleks

Friday, June 30, 2017

The BFG

Year 9, Day 181 - 6/30/17 - Movie #2,675

BEFORE: Ha ha, remember a couple of days ago, when I worked out a plan to stay on Netflix for a week?  Oh, I was so naive back then - two days later, I'm already questioning the wisdom of that plan, not because of any Netflix problems (it's not you, Netflix, it's me...) but because I knew that my chain of animated films, as good as it was, had two problems.  The chain was still one day too short, and I had no properly-themed film to watch on July 4.  But I realized yesterday that with all of the actors that are in more than one of these animated films, and I realized this by dropping in "Moana" at the last minute, that I could flip around an 17-film section of the chain, connect from tonight's film "The BFG" to the film that I was going to watch right before Comic-Con, and I could also drop in one more film that would be (sort of, I think) related to American Colonial history.  (No, it's not "The Birth of a Nation", it's the other one...)

Now, a couple of things - do I really want to flip this part of the chain? It means I'll lose my obvious connection to Comic-Con - but I don't HAVE to watch a superhero film right before going to San Diego, so maybe I'm fretting over nothing, I'm so good at that.  Essentially I've got two paths that both get me to my week-long July break - and they both use the same films, just in a different order.  Either way I fill the space allotted, and oddly enough, both get me to "Spider-Man: Homecoming" on July 10, which is the Monday after the film opens.  I really can't go wrong here, I just have to pick one over the other, so I guess I should pick the path that gives me a historical film on July 3 or 4.

The only other difference between the two paths is where they leave me after the San Diego trip - which has better linking opportunities for when I get back?  I can't even think about that right now - tomorrow I'll just have to pick one of the two films that "The BFG" will link to, and go from there.
For today, Jemaine Clement carries over from "Moana" - but will he be here tomorrow, also?  Hmmm....


THE PLOT: An orphan girl befriends a benevolent giant who takes her to Giant Country, where they attempt to stop the man-eating giants that are invading the human world.

AFTER: This is an odd film, even for an animated fairy-tale type of story.  I'm not that familiar with the Roald Dahl story it's based on, so I don't know exactly where it's coming from, or what to do with the story that it brings me.  How does it help me, or kids, to think that there are giants reaching into windows at night and snatching kids away, presumably to eat them?  I mean, kids do go missing sometimes, and there's not always an explanation for what happened to them, but if this is the answer, then I'm not sure that I want to know about it.  Then again, the real reason kids go missing is possibly even worse.

More girl power this week in animated films - I know, technically this is only half-animated, it's a combination of live-action and CGI.  But the Hollywood marketing people don't seem to know what to do with a film that's only part animated.  What's the problem?  Who cares how a film is made, as long as it gets made and tells a story?  Why do we have to get so hung up on labels?  Anyway, the technology has come a long way since "The Polar Express", they've really improved the process so that's it's maybe 99% photo-real.  You could see that in "Rogue One" also, the way that Grand Moff Tarkin and the young Princess Leia were motion-capture/CGI and the average viewer probably couldn't tell.  It's an exciting time to be an animation fan, I think. 

The actress they cast to play the Queen doesn't look very much like Queen Elizabeth, though, but clearly it's supposed to be her.  Helen Mirren probably wasn't available, so I guess they had to do the best they could, but I'm guessing they could have done better.  Heck, if they had put Eric Idle in a wig and a dress they might have done better.

Now, as for the story problems here, I'm a little unsure exactly what the BFG's function is, roaming the streets of London at night, collecting and cataloguing dreams.  For what purpose, to what end?  He stores them in jars, but then goes out again to give the dreams back to people - but why take them in the first place, if he's only going to give them back?  Why not just leave them where they are, and cut out the middle-man?

I think a lot of the language is clever, not the words that someone apparently carried over from Dahl's other story "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", but the ones that end up being plays on words, or that add extra meanings to words, like calling vegetables "vege-terribles".  That's a clever portmanteau that also expresses an opinion about the subject matter, so I approve.  But does anyone else have a problem with the name "Big Friendly Giant"?  I mean, the concept of "Big" is implied by "Giant", right?  All giants are big, therefore you don't need the extra word in there.

And in fact, he's not that big - he's the smallest of all the giants that we see in the film, so why isn't he just called "The Friendly Giant"?  The other giants bully him and throw him around like a football, so I suppose there is a teachable moment here for the kids about how bullies need to be stopped - but stopping them with more violence shouldn't necessarily be the answer.  I wish that Sophie and the BFG could have found a way to outsmart them, and not just get a bigger bully (the British military) to step in and solve the problem.  Oh well, whatever keeps more kids from getting eaten, I guess.

NITPICK POINT: When they give the dream about the evil giants to the Queen, why didn't we get to see that?  It would have been so much more interesting than just hearing the Queen talk about it - "Show, don't tell".  It should have been possible to make an animated sequence with the bigger giants tearing up London and causing mayhem - was this deemed too traumatic for kids?

I did have some screening troubles with the Netflix - about every 10 minutes the sound dropped out for about a minute.  I could have fixed it while it was playing by rewinding a bit, but since I'm watching Netflix through a Sony Playstation, the controller was close to the TV, and since I was on the recliner on the other side of the living room (we have a very large-screen TV) with a cat on my lap, I couldn't reach the controller to rewind and fix the problem.  So it was easier just to let the silent minute go by and miss some dialogue.  I hope this won't be a constant problem over the next two weeks, as I watch more films this way.

Also starring Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton (last seen in "Calendar Girls"), Rafe Spall (last seen in "The Big Short"), Rebecca Hall (last seen in "Transcendence"), and the voices of Mark Rylance, Bill Hader (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Adam Godley (last seen in "Around the World in 80 Days"), Daniel Bacon, Jonathan Holmes, Chris Gibbs, Michael Adamthwaite, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Paul Moniz de Sa, with a cameo from Matt Frewer (last seen in "Ishtar").

RATING: 5 out of 10 Corgi farts

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Moana

Year 9, Day 180 - 6/29/17 - Movie #2,674

BEFORE: Day 2 of my Netflix Animation Raid.  This film (that my boss kept mis-pronouncing as "Mona") just became available on Netflix, it was added after I made my original plan, so I wanted to take the opportunity to see if I could work it in - this meant tearing apart the plan, and typing out all the credits again and color-coding the actors who appeared twice, with circles and arrows connecting them so I could chart the right path through them.

So, even though "Zootopia" had a large cast and gave me many linking opportunities - I could connect via Bonnie Hunt to "Cars 3", via Idris Elba to "Finding Dory", or via Jenny Slate to "The Secret Life of Pets" or "Despicable Me 3" - there was only one path (OK, two) that got me through 9 animated films instead of 8, so I'm following Alan Tudyk from "Zootopia" to "Moana" - even though he provides the voice of the chicken character here, that still counts.

The other piece of good news is that I was tooling around with some cast lists, just trying to extend the chain past the Spider-Man film, and I came up with a chain that's mostly Academy screeners and other Netflix films, but it gets me all the way to my Comic-Con break on July 19!  And it ends on perhaps the most appropriate film to watch before heading off to a Comic-Con.  I'll just have to deal with making progress on the rest of my list when I get back.  Right now I have zero plan for late July or August that doesn't start the back-to-school chain way too early.


THE PLOT: When a terrible curse incurred by the Demigod Maui reaches a Polynesian island, the Chieftain's impetuous daughter answers the Ocean's call to seek out the Demigod to set things right.

AFTER: So it looks like it's going to be "girl power" week here at the countdown, and I'm fine with that.  That means another Disney princess character, though, because Disney doesn't seem interested in heralding the adventures of the 99% of girls who aren't born into royalty - overall that's a strange message to send to the kids.  If you're just a regular girl, and your Daddy isn't the king or the chief, no adventures for you.  But the one thing that a regular girl can empathize with, and this happened in "Zootopia" too, is that their parents are always going to be over-protective - "Don't move to the big city." or "Don't sail beyond the reef."   By extension, "Don't try to be something you're not." and "Don't leave home, because I'll miss you."   Where are the encouraging parents in animated films?

But really, it's all about overcoming obstacles, and parents are just another obstacle, right?  You're going to reach a point in your life where you move out, or get a job, or just run for cover because you can't take your parents particular brand of crazy any more, not if you're going to have a chance to find yourself and accomplish things.  (This never changes - I'm 48 and I can't spend more than three days with my parents before I get the urge to quit my job and just live in my old bedroom, but I know that this would be a very unhealthy lifestyle, and drive me insane in about a week.)

For Moana, this means fulfilling the prophecy of finding Maui and bringing him somewhere by boat, after her island is struck by a lack of fish and coconuts, brought on by a curse.  Hmm, no, it couldn't possibly be due to overfishing, or eating too many coconuts and neglecting to plant more trees, could it?  There was a teachable lesson here about sustainable farming and fishing, and Disney missed the opportunity. Nope, must be "the Gods".  What about being self-reliant, and not depending on the Gods to fix our problems?  That would be another teachable moment, how religion is all bunk, and we weren't put here to use up all our natural resources, and we've got to figure out the answers to our own problems, because God just ain't getting it done.

But since there is a precedent for co-opting a polytheistic culture's gods to make a Disney film (the Greek pantheon in "Hercules") they move forward.  God knows that Disney has already strip-mined most of Western literature for their story ideas ("Tarzan", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") so they've got no choice but to move on to religion-based stuff.  But it would be weird if they made a story about Jesus, or Mohammed going on a quest, right?  Why is it OK to do something with the Hawaiian gods?  Because they're not as "real"?  This is crazy thinking, because ALL of the gods aren't real, so why make a distinction between the different faiths, and reduce some of them to cartoon characters, but not others?  Food for thought.

Anyway, rants aside, we're dealing with the nature gods here, like the Ocean is a character and then there's a volcano/fire god (correction: lava demon?) named Te Ka, who battled Maui back in the day, as he was stealing the heart of Te Fiti, whatever that is, and stranded him somewhere, like a thousand years ago.  Someone (most likely Moana) has to sail beyond the reef and find Maui, convince him to sail with her to ANOTHER island, and restore the heart of Te Fiti.  Jeez, I'm exhausted just thinking about it.  Why does the quest need to be so complicated?  Even Frodo Baggins only had to carry ONE ring across Mordor and drop it in a mountain.  Here we've got a magic stone, a magic giant fish hook, a demigod who can turn into all kinds of animals, Moana has to learn how to sail a boat, navigate by the stars, find the thing, and then defeat the big boss level.  Plus there's a pig, a rooster and I think a head of lettuce, and her boat can carry only two of them at a time, and she's got to get them all across the river, or something.  Good luck with that...

Some of the songs here were written (or co-written) by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and though this film was released after "Hamilton" became a hit on Broadway, and it seems like DisneyCorp was jumping on the coattails of the hit Broadway musical composer, the reverse is true.  Miranda started working on these "Moana" songs in 2014, before "Hamilton" opened in 2015.  Then "Moana" was released in November 2016 and their initial move to hire this guy before he broke big then seemed like a really smart move.  I think I would have recognized his style even if I hadn't known that he worked on these songs, since my wife was playing the "Hamilton" soundtrack pretty much non-stop in the car all last year.

NITPICK POINT: When Maui turns into a giant hawk, where does his big fish hook go?  When he hits the water and turns into a shark, I think we see the hook drifting away, but when he's flying as a hawk, where is it?  Shouldn't he be carrying it in his big talons?  He obviously still has it, but is it inside him when he's a bird?  Consistency problems...

Also starring the voices of Auli'i Carvalho, Dwayne Johnson (last seen in "The Other Guys"), Tempera Morrison (last seen in "The Island of Dr. Moreau"), Jemaine Clement (last heard in "Rio 2"), Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger (last seen in "Men in Black 3"), with a cameo from Troy Polamalu.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Kakamoras

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Zootopia

Year 9, Day 179 - 6/28/17 - Movie #2,673

BEFORE: I know, I skipped a day - I went out to the movies on Monday night, and when I came home instead of watching Tuesday's movie I decided to catalog some comic books, watch a few hours of TV and such - then I had to take a couple hours on Tuesday and re-organize the list once again.  Why?  It's complicated...

I've been planning for a while to transition to some animated films, because I found a whole bunch of them on Netflix (my wife has an account) that haven't run on premium cable yet.  Maybe they're available On Demand, but I'm not paying $4 or $5 each for things that are going to be free (OK, not really, because cable bill) on HBO or Starz in a few months.  So I figured I'd transition to a week of animated films and catch up a bit - sure, I could watch the Academy screeners, but watching Netflix is even more convenient, plus no "For Your Consideration" subtitles pop up every 15 minutes.  And the most logical entry point came from J.K. Simmons carrying over from "Patriots Day" to "Zootopia".

(It's a hard transition between the two films, I know, but at least I'm going from a film about Boston cops to a film with CGI animal cops.)

And there's a logical exit point for the animated chain, too - well, logical by my standards, which may not match yours - but one that gets me within spitting distance of "Spider-Man: Homecoming".  But what should happen in-between "Zootopia" and the last animated film in the chain took some working out.

Now, the great thing about animated films is that there are professional voice actors who work VERY frequently.  Once I get myself to some animation, it makes sense to stick with the subject, because many of the same actors pop up again and again.  Even the actors who work mostly in live-action, if they've got distinctive voices, they may do a lot of animation - like J.K. Simmons, for example, who did a voice for "Kung Fu Panda 3", plus he's the voice of J. Jonah Jameson in Marvel's animated shows, and now here he is again, voicing the mayor in the town of Zootopia.  If I can find a few more actors like that, who've appeared in multiple animated films, then I've got my chain. 

So I found there were 18 animated films released that I have an interest in seeing - I had a path that took me through 8 of them, but I was still falling short - so I typed out the credits for all the films in a Word doc, and color-coded the actors that appeared more than once, and I found a way to work in one more film (yeah, I know - a lot of effort for a small improvement) and the other 9 films seem to link to each other, more or less, so I'll get back to them shortly.  And good news, I saw the correct film on Monday night, out of two possible choices, so I'll post that review in a few days.

Now, the hard part - spending a week on Netflix, catching up on animated features that were NOT on my watchlist (I'm sure they would have been there in the future, though) means that my list will not decrease in size for the next week and a half - so I'm going to try to NOT add any films during that time, which for me is not easy.  But I can't backslide - which means I can only add a film to the list when I take one off, so I'm going to try and hold the line here, and not let my list get any bigger while I'm distracted by the cartoons. 

THE PLOT: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a rookie bunny cop and a cynical con artist fox must work together to uncover a conspiracy. 

AFTER: Damn, but this is clever.  So much good stuff here to process and enjoy, not just for kids but of course there are jokes in here that adults can appreciate, too - like references to "Breaking Bad", "The Wire" and "Shawshank Redemption".  Plus there are plenty of little in-jokes, references to other Disney or Disney-adjacent films, like the fact that Alan Tudyk did the voice of the Duke of Weselton in "Frozen", and here he voices a weasel named Duke Weaselton - I love that sort of thing.  But you really have to pay attention to see these things -

Like the first time we see the fox, Nick Wilde - he was running a clever scheme (one of many, probably) and I couldn't figure it out at first.  It's rare to see a scam in a film where I'm not able to track what's going down.  And this is just his "fox-like" nature asserting itself, the film dives into these questions about whether every animal can only stay true to it's own nature, or whether they can rise above it and become something else.  This rings true in a kids' movie, because parents are always telling their kids they can be whatever they want when they grow up, but I bet that at least 90% of the time, it's just typical parental B.S.

The city of Zootopia has every kind of animal in it, and visually it sort of reminded me of the children's books I used to read, like ones illustrated by Richard Scarry, where animals all wore clothes and held human-like jobs and everyone got along peacefully.  But "Zootopia" really ramped up the scale, since the city is on a huge island and has 12 different environmental zones, everything from Saharan desert to Arctic tundra.  And there are tiny towns for the small animals, like mice, and then there are large-scale things that accommodate the giraffes and hippos.  So it's clear that someone put a lot of thought into the logistics of this - or maybe they just went to the zoo with their kids and got inspired.

A lot of the time having all these different animals in one city leads to comic results, like having the sloths work at the DMV - we've all waited in line for a long time there, right?  But then there are the questions that result from having the small tasty animals living right next to the large, hungry ones.  When we the audience visit the town, we're told that this was all worked out long ago, that all of the animals now live in harmony - but they don't explain exactly how this works.  Is every animal now a vegetarian?  Do the predators have to wait for the smaller animals to die from natural causes?  I bet a kid would take this system at face value, but as an adult, I want to know how this is all supposed to function.

In fact, it may not work, because the number of animals that have disappeared in recent days (mostly large mammals, but also one notable otter) leads our hero bunny cop to discover that some of the residents of Zootopia might be turning "savage" again - which is an interesting way to maybe put a spin on tragic news stories that make no sense.  Kids might wonder why we have killers, why people seem to go off the deep end and shoot up a nightclub or stab people on the street.  Well, it's hard to tell kids that those people just aren't working right, or that they've got some beast inside of them that compels them to kill.  So here's an animated metaphor that might lead to some understanding.

(Look, kids, the quicker you figure out this world is a terrible, dangerous, unfair place, the better prepared you'll be for being an adult.  I don't know why animals eat each other, or why humans eat animals, they just do.  I don't know why some bad people kill other good people, they just do.  No, it's not fair, but nobody ever said that the world was fair.  Can you grow up to be anything you want?  Well, no, because you can't be a fish or a pig, despite what Bing Crosby sang about.  Oh, you meant can you have any JOB that you want?  Well, yes and no, I mean, a lot of that depends on you and how hard you want to work at something - but even then, things might not go your way, and you could end up in a job that you hate.  It's probably easier to find a job that utilizes your particular skill set than to reach beyond your abilities, or try and modify your skill set for a more difficult career. See, I would totally keep it 100% real, and this is probably why it's a good thing that I don't have any kids...)

Judy Hopps is a great character, because she's a bunny, and a girl, and everyone expects her to be a carrot farmer like her 245 siblings (yeah, you know, because rabbits mate like, umm, rabbits).  But she wants to be a cop, and she's very energetic and starry-eyed, but, and this is important, she's also willing to put in the time and the effort to get there.  So this is a great message, especially for a generation of kids that is constantly entertained and over-stimulated and (for the most part) spoiled rotten.  Show me the American kid that doesn't have parents giving them everything they want...it will be much harder for those kids to learn the lesson later that they have to work to get what they need and want when they're adults. 

Maybe I'm reading too much into this - maybe you just want to see a police procedural that plays out like a spoof of a "Law & Order" episode, only with animals.  Or maybe you just want to appreciate the puns in a world where stores have names like "Trader Doe's" and "Urban Snoutfitters".  OK, the movie will work for you too, because it does work on so many levels.  Kudos for that.

Also starring the voices of Ginnifer Goodwin (last seen in "He's Just Not That Into You"), Jason Bateman (last seen in "The Sweetest Thing"), Idris Elba (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Jenny Slate (last heard in "The Lorax"), Nate Torrence (last seen in "The Big Year"), Octavia Spencer (last seen in "Snowpiercer"), Alan Tudyk (last seen in "28 Days"), Shakira, Bonnie Hunt (last seen in "Return to Me"), Don Lake (last seen in "Dumb and Dumber To"), Tommy Chong (last seen in "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie"), Kristen Bell (last seen in "Safety Not Guaranteed"), Maurice LaMarche (last heard in "The Boxtrolls"), Raymond S. Persi, Tommy "Tiny" Lister, John Dimaggio (last heard in "Batman: Under the Red Hood"), Phil Johnston, Katie Lowes (last heard in "Big Hero 6"), Gita Reddy (last seen in "The Bourne Legacy"), Jesse Corti (last seen in "Gone in 60 Seconds"), Josh Dallas, Peter Mansbridge, Mark "Rhino" Smith (last seen in "Criminal").

RATING: 7 out of 10 lemmings - and THANK YOU Disney for finally getting this right!  Lemmings may follow each other in a line, but they do NOT jump off cliffs just because the others ones do!  (Of course, this falsehood came from a Disney "documentary" back in the day, so it seems only fitting that DisneyCorp should correct its own mistake, albeit 60 or 70 years later.) 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Patriots Day

Year 9, Day 177 - 6/26/17 - Movie #2,672

BEFORE: Mark Wahlberg carries over to his other 2016 film about an explosion in the news, also directed by Peter Berg.  I can't help but feel that maybe my chain has become out of sync with the calendar, which could mean that I've taken a mis-step somewhere.  The name of the film implies that it would have been appropriate to watch on July 4 - or in April, since the Patriots Day holiday, and the Boston Marathon, is held then.  (Patriots Day isn't that big of a holiday outside Massachusetts, it turns out.)

But the linking has led me to here and now, and I'm dipping in to the Academy screeners from last year to exploit the Wahlberg connection.  God knows when this will run on premium cable, so as long as I've got the resources to see it, and that will continue my chain, then I should do that.  This will bring my nearly 3-week long treatise on death, destruction and criminal mayhem to an end, tomorrow I can move on to some upbeat animated films.

(If you ignore the documentary break, then I've kept direct linking going ALL YEAR so far, except for like one instance, thanks to a new method of tracking who's in what, made possible by using the IMDB in a different way.  So I hate to break the chain now - that's my final excuse for why this film is landing here, and not on Patriots Day itself or July 4.) 

(UPDATE: According to Wikipedia, the planned execution date for one of the bombers was supposed to be June 27, 2017 - which is tomorrow.  The appeals process means that this will likely be delayed for years, but it's still an odd coincidence that justifies my screening date.)  


THE PLOT: The story of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the citywide manhunt to find the terrorists responsible.

AFTER: The structure here is a little wonky, because in the opening scenes we are introduced to a bunch of people who are going to be important later - not just policemen but also people who are going to be bystanders in the crowd, or people who are going to cross paths with the bombers, and we're even shown the bombers themselves, having a normal breakfast (while watching a video on how to put nails in a pressure cooker, which may be putting too fine a point on things).  Hey, there's a cop visiting M.I.T. and chatting up a female student, I wonder if he'll factor in to the story later...yeah, you can count on it.  So there's nothing subtle here about telegraphing the story to come, but then again, if we remember the news coverage from 2013, we all pretty much know where this is going, anyway.

I remember that my wife and I were on a cruise when the news of the Boston Marathon bombing broke in 2013.  I paid as much attention to the news as I could, considering that I grew up in suburban Boston and it was the first big city that I spent time in, mostly on Newbury St. and Copley Square and the area around Boston Common and the Public Gardens.  I've never been to see the Boston Marathon, or any marathon for that matter, but I've been many times to First Night, which is a series of art and music events around Boston on New Year's Eve.  So I know first-hand how difficult things can get in that city when it's crowded and confusing and people are having fun - unfortunately that also means that people have momentarily let their guard down, and terrorists can strike.

I remember how the whole city went on lockdown, a curfew was implemented and all business shut down for a few days, which gave the police a better opportunity to track down the bombers - it was probably tough for someone to make that decision, considering that in New York City after 9/11, the attitude was more like, "If we don't hold a baseball game, then the terrorists win." or "If we don't go out to a nice restaurant tonight, then the terrorists win."  We used that excuse a lot in fall 2001 to get ourselves back to some form of normalcy, or just to justify doing whatever we wanted to do.

The other problem with the structure here probably involves the casting of Mark Wahlberg - I mean, I guess you've got to have a name actor that puts asses in the seats, but he's so front-and-center here that it stretches believability, that this one cop could have been on the scene for every major turning point in this case, when in reality it was no doubt a joint effort of dozens, no, hundreds of policemen to track and catch the bombers.  So I guess we're supposed to treat Officer Marky Mark as an amalgam, not one particular character but someone representing all the men in blue who worked this case.  Otherwise I have to allow that on the night they tracked down the 2nd bomber to the boat in that guy's backyard in Watertown, this Boston officer was just out patrolling randomly, off the clock, outside his usual beat, and he just happened to drive through the right neighborhood at the right time.

(I'm going to refrain from typing words like "backyaad" to represent the proper Boston accent, which of course many of these actors try to pull off, some better than others.  And, just like with "Black Mass" and "Manchester By the Sea" the screenwriter here loved throwing in a bunch of phrases that sound great in that accent, like "Red Saax", "Fenway Paak" and "Saage" (Sarge).  At one point there's a man in a lobster costume who tries to run across the finish line, and you know they just did that so a cop character could say a line like, "Hey, Saage, I gotta go, the fecking laabster is back and he's trying to chaage the runnahs...") 

But enough joking around, this is serious business.   There's nothing funny about terrorism, and once the characters here determine that it is an act of terrorism, the FBI swoops in and takes over - or, that's what's supposed to happen anyway.  Once they get the pissing contest out of the way, ("This is MY jurisdiction!") there's a cluster-you-know-what of activity, and once they've got photos of the two suspects, they're quickly leaked to the press, forcing the terrorists to run.  They could have easily jumped on an Amtrak to NYC or Washington, which, considering Amtrak's lax luggage screening, could have been even more disastrous.

It's only the fact that the bombers got sloppy - shooting that cop on the MIT campus and then car-jacking the Asian man who gets away from them - that gave the police anything close to a trail to follow.  (I guess if they had laid low, the cops would have tracked Dzhokar's texts to his friends, but we'll never know.)  And of course, amalgam hero cop Tommy Saunders is on the scene to interview the carjacked guy, after spending all day taking down names of the injured people at the hospital, helping review surveillance footage, and then probably sweeping up the station at the same time, after they stuck a broom up his ass.

And like I said, Saunders is on-hand for the shootout in Watertown, too.  (I'm surprised an enterprising screenwriter didn't move the action to Chaalestown, or even Daahchester.)   AND he's the guy who lifts up the taap on that guy's boat in his backyaad to find the second bomber hiding there.  Come on, give me a break.  And give some other actors some stuff to do, please.

But the real impact of this film came at the end, when they added about 10 minutes of interview footage with the real cops, the real Massachusetts governor and Boston Mayor, the real bystanders who were injured.  It's very sneaky, they did a transition by showing David "Big Papi" Ortiz of the Red Saax entering Fenway Paak, greeted by Maaky Maak Wahlberg.  Then they cut to Ortiz's real speech at a "Boston Strong" ceremony at Fenway, where he wasn't afraid to drop a few F-bombs and tell the terrorists that they did, in fact, mess with the wrong city.  The city officials then talk about how there's been a real kinship among cities that have been affected by terrorism, and as we've seen more recent events play out in Brussels, Paris, Orlando and now London, you realize that even though the terrorists are trying to tear people apart, what they've ended up doing instead is bringing many people closer together.

By the time they showed people who recovered from their injuries and came back to run the Boston Marathon in following years on artificial legs, I admit it, I was tearing up pretty good - and I usually hate runners, and the whole running culture.  I saw the list of the fallen oil-rig workers the previous night and felt practically nothing, but the images in the last 10 minutes of "Patriots Day" left me an emotional wreck.  Maybe it was the Boston connection, I don't know. 

NITPICK POINT #1: The FBI, on the advice of our hero amalgam cop, confiscates all the cell phones from the people in the Boston Marathon crowd.  But how did they unlock the phones in order to see all that footage?   We learned a year or two later when the Feds were trying to crack that suspected terrorist's iPhone that they can't get around the security locks on cell phones, not without trying every random combination of four numbers, which locks up the phone after a certain number of attempts.  But here they just plug in every cell phone and watch the movies on them - how?  And how many crappy home movies or personal pornos did they have to sift through to see the usable stuff?

NITPICK POINT #2: It was very unclear what got the video analysts to focus on the two terrorists, who they temporarily labelled "white hat" and "black hat".  Was "white hat" acting shifty?  At that point, they couldn't get a clear image of his face, so he couldn't have looked concerned or nervous in the crowd.  What behavior, exactly, brought this guy to the attention of the FBI to make him stand out from the thousands of other people in that crowd?

NITPICK POINT #3: So, the FBI takes over a giant warehouse and builds a mock-up of the Boston street so they can keep track of all the evidence.  And they mark off each storefront near the bombing site.  But why do they need to call in our hero amalgam cop to figure out the name of each store, and to remember which ones have security cameras that might have footage of the suspects?  Couldn't the FBI just look at a map, or check Google Earth, to see where the "Stah-bucks" was?  And couldn't they just check each camera (either in-person or remotely) down the block themselves?  Why did they need this guy to rack his brain so they could look at each camera in order?  Two minutes of research would have given them the exact same result, and this guy could have taken some well-deserved down time. 

Also starring John Goodman (last seen in "10 Cloverfield Lane"), J.K. Simmons (last seen in "The Rewrite"), Michelle Monaghan (last seen in "Eagle Eye"), Kevin Bacon (last seen in "Black Mass"), Vincent Curatola, Alex Wolff (last seen in "The Sitter"), Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach, James Colby (last seen in "Demolition"), Jimmy O. Yang (last seen in "The Internship"), Rachel Brosnahan, Christopher O'Shea, Melissa Benoist (last seen in "Whiplash"), Khandi Alexander, Jake Picking (last seen in "Dirty Grandpa"), Cliff Moylan (last seen in "Money Monster"), Lana Condor, with cameos from Peter Berg (also carrying over from "Deepwater Horizon"), David Ortiz.

RATING: 6 out of 10 "Call of Duty" missions

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Deepwater Horizon

Year 9, Day 176 - 6/25/17 - Movie #2,671

BEFORE: Remember the 2010 BP oil spill?  Someone did, because they figured it would make for a good action movie.  This is part 2 of director Peter Berg's "Mark Wahlberg faces disaster" trilogy, the first part being "Lone Survivor" and I'll watch Part 3 tomorrow.

Douglas M. Griffin, Joe Chrest and J.D. Evermore all carry over from "I Love You Phillip Morris", and I've unfortunately reached the breaking point for the year, the point where the number of films left on the watchlist (130, which hasn't changed in over a month at this point) is greater than the number of slots left in the year.  So even if I stopped adding films RIGHT NOW, which is unlikely, I still couldn't clear the list in 2017.  So anything added beyond this point pretty much assures that I'll need to do Movie Year 10 if I want to watch everything that is on it, or will be added to it.


THE PLOT: A dramatization of the April 2010 disaster, when the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

AFTER: This film itself really plays out in two parts, the first half being the day-to-day lives and interactions of the crew of an oil rig (along with a technical manual's worth of information about how to NOT properly maintain a rig) and the second half, of course, as that crew attempts to shut down and/or escape from, said rig as it explodes.  

Blame is quite handily placed on B.P. executives who don't allow the crews time for proper downtime to repair the equipment and who also won't pay for the necessary pressure tests, or the proper amount of cement to keep the well stable, or something.  There's barely enough gas in the helicopter for it to reach the off-shore rig - it's a bad sign when an oil company doesn't have enough spare fuel lying around, right?

The positives here are that there's plenty of action, at least in the second half, that John Malkovich does one heck of an authentic Louisiana accent, and that I learned that an oil rig is really a giant (semi-submersible) boat, in that it floats and can be moved into position.

The negatives are that the film has two different speeds - standing still in the first half and 90 miles and hour in the second, so that I felt exhausted by the end.  And little attention is paid to the resulting oil spill and the impact on wildlife - of course that wouldn't be as cinematic.

NITPICK POINT: This bunch of smart people, like technicians and electrical engineers, still believes that petroleum is made up of decomposed dinosaurs.  One even teaches this myth to his daughter, for chrissakes.  Can we get past this bunch of hooey, already?  This comes from an ad campaign way back in the 1950's where Sinclair Oil had a dinosaur in its logo and used cartoon dinos in its commercials.  For one thing, there's WAY more oil underground that could possibly have come from dinosaurs, even if they covered the surface of the planet.  Secondly, how did their bodies get so far underground, for the pressure to turn them into oil, when we're still finding their skeletons relatively close to the surface?  It doesn't make sense.  The best theory now says that oil comes from billions of smaller ancient organisms, like plankton and algae, which died in prehistoric seas and then got buried under layers and layers of sediment.  There's your high-school science project, kids.

Also starring Mark Wahlberg (last seen in "Lone Survivor"), Kurt Russell (last seen in "The Art of the Steal"), John Malkovich (last heard in "Penguins of Madagascar"), Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O'Brien (last seen in "The Internship"), Kate Hudson (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Ethan Suplee (last seen in "True Story"), Brad Leland, James Dumont (last seen in "Midnight Special"), David Maldonado, Juston Street, with cameos from Trace Adkins, Peter Berg (also last seen in "Lone Survivor").  

RATING: 5 out of 10 life-jackets