Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Secret Life of Pets

Year 9, Day 196 - 7/15/17 - Movie #2,690

BEFORE: I went through my October horror films line-up, to figure out which films will make the cut this year - I've got about 30, but that's too many since I'll need to take a break for New York Comic-Con, and I want to keep more slots open in case I need to add some linking material to make my November/December chain.  Next step - go through the planned November/December movies to try and figure out how much linking material I might need to add.  After that I can get a better idea how many slots there will be to fill in September - right now my chain should last until August 19 before it dead-ends, but maybe with some fill-in material I can get that chain to stretch into September. Either way, I'm close to having a solid plan for the rest of the year that will also allow me to go out and see the new "Blade Runner" film, plus "Justice League", "Thor: Ragnarok" and of course "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", because those are the priorities.

Albert Brooks carries over from "The Little Prince", and he'll be here tomorrow as well - nothing but animated films until I leave for San Diego on Wednesday, so that's like clear sailing.


THE PLOT: The quite life of a terrier named Max is upended when his owner takes in Duke, a stray whom Max instantly dislikes.

AFTER: I'm back in the "city full of diverse animals" genre, as seen in "Zootopia" and "Sing".  But the animals' positions here are closer to reality, where they're subservient to humans in a real city (NYC).  They do talk to each other, but the humans can't understand their language, it comes out as barks and meows to human ears - creating a situation like the one seen in "Toy Story", where there are two overlapping interpretations of what's going on, or where actions seen through one set of characters' eyes aren't properly seen or understood by people.

The voice-casting is pretty great here, especially in the choice of Louis C.K. to be the "everydog" main character.  His voice has a regular-guy feel, with just enough sarcasm and notes of complaint to be the put-upon dog who has to share his space and owner's affection with a new dog roommate.  And the start of the story is common enough, with two pets getting used to sharing space - we just finished getting two cats to share space without killing each other, the socialization process for us took about a year.  (That was nine months with the new cat in the basement, then three months of supervised interaction before the fighting was under control.).

But there are problems with the narrative here, which essentially turns into just one long chase scene after the character introductions are made (and there are a lot of those).  We know that the two dogs are going to become friends after they endure hardship together, making their way back to their home, but did that have to involve escaping from the Animal Control truck three times?  It might have been better if they faced a lot of different challenges together, rather than the same challenge over and over.

Some of the animal characters live in the sewers, forming an alliance of "Flushed Pets" - so there was perhaps an opportunity here to have a teachable moment, maybe a call to action to get people to stop discarding pets?  Isn't there a problem where whichever animals get featured in a popular children's movie, there's a wave of interest in adopting that specific breed, and then the majority of people find out they're really not cut out to be pet owners, and then they discard those pets?  Like there was a huge run on Dalmatian puppies after "101 Dalmatians", but the interest waned quickly when people found out how much work it is to take care of a dog.  I can only imagine the rush to own Jack Russell terriers and Pomeranians after this film hit.

As sensitive as I am to this issue, and the plight of discarded pets, the stories of some of the "flushed pets" here didn't make much sense.  First off, one was an alligator, and I thought we dispelled those "alligators in the sewers" urban legends years ago.  But let's take the tattooed pig here - he says that tattoo artists practiced on him until his skin was filled up, and then they discarded him.  Where to start with the NITPICK POINTS?  You can't really flush a pig, or any animal besides a fish, really, and have it survive in the sewers after.  And it wouldn't make sense for a tattoo artist to practice on a live pig, because it would squirm around in pain, so assuming this is even a thing, with a pig's body standing in for human skin, then they would practice on a dead pig, because then it would be still.  And even if the workers in a tattoo shop were practicing on a live pig, when they were done they probably wouldn't discard the pig, they'd take it to a butcher and get some ham and pork chops out of the deal.  (Sorry, kids, but I'm keeping it real.)

But it seems like this film made a ton of money, so the sequel is due out in two years.  And as long as they keep making animated films like this, kids will keep going to see them - but unfortunately that means they'll keep wanting pets that they can't care for.  But I guess that's how the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself, down through the generations....

Also starring the voices of Louis C.K. (last seen in "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn"), Eric Stonestreet (last seen in "The Island"), Kevin Hart (last seen in "Get Hard"), Jenny Slate (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Ellie Kemper (ditto), Lake Bell (last seen in "What Happens in Vegas"), Dana Carvey (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Hannibal Buress (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Bobby Moynihan (last seen in "Ted 2"), Steve Coogan (last heard in "Ella Enchanted"), Chris Renaud, Michael Beattie, Sandra Echeverria, Jaime Camil.

RATING: 5 out of 10 fire escapes

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Little Prince

Year 9, Day 195 - 7/14/17 - Movie #2,689

BEFORE: I got myself a knee brace at the pharmacy, after visiting my doctor this morning.  The reflexes in my left knee seem to be less responsive, which could mean any of several different things.  I could have a torn ACL, or early osteo-arthritis, but I needed a quick fix to the problem since I leave for San Diego next Wednesday, and I'll be doing a lot of walking there.  While sitting in the exam room, I suddenly remembered the time in February that I slipped on some ice while crossing the street and stepping up on a curb - it's very possible that I landed hard on my knee before my chest hit the ground.  So maybe I just banged it up and it took this long to start acting up - with luck I'll have more time to investigate this when I get back, but in the meantime the doc showed me some exercises I can do to strengthen my quadriceps to compensate.

Rachel McAdams carries over from "Spotlight", and this is another little gem I found on Netflix, I think it was in theaters briefly, but since then it's been hiding there as a Netflix exclusive.

THE PLOT: A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it.  Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.

AFTER: Thankfully I don't end up saying this very often, but I didn't understand this film at all.  I mean, I get that the framing sequence is about over-achieving "helicopter moms", and that sometimes it's best to let kids just be kids and not put too much pressure on them.  If that's the point of the film, then I can get behind that.

But all of the sequences with the Little Prince, I just couldn't tell which end was up, where the story was coming from, or where it was going for that matter, or what it all means in the end.  Why did it have to be so obtuse?  I feel like everything I saw was a metaphor for something else, but the meaning was always just out of my grasp.  I know it's just the story-within-the-story, but this is the part based on the famous children's book, right?  I don't know for sure, I never read it.  I'm assuming that the framing sequence is what's new here, and those sequences are animated in a different style, so it seems fairly straight-forward about which events are "real" and which ones are the fictional story.

Or is it?  Because late in the film the real girl gets into the Aviator's broken-down plane, and flies to another world, where she meets someone who might be the grown-up version of the Little Prince.  Is this part supposed to be real or not?  I honestly have no idea - I mean, in the end NONE of it is real, it's all one big story, but the people from the story aren't supposed to interact with the people from the story-within-the-story, right?  Isn't that against the rules?

I admit it, I fell asleep at some point, and I'm sure that didn't help.  In order to insure that I would get up in time for my doctor's appointment, I avoided my usual caffeinated beverage during this film, thinking that I'd make it through the (relatively) short film, fall asleep right after, and get something close to a good night's rest.  Didn't work out that way - instead I dozed off about a half-hour into the film, slept for an hour, and when I woke up, I was too far away from the PlayStation controller that would rewind the film, so I watched the end of the film, then I figured I'd go back and watch the middle bit that I missed in the morning.  Only by this time I'd forced myself to stay awake, and there was no getting back to sleep, so I got up, rewound the film to where I fell asleep, and watched until the part where I dozed off.

I realize all that makes for a non-ideal way to watch a story - but since then, I've reviewed the entire plot in the right order, and I still don't get it.  Who or what is this Little Prince, who lives on an asteroid, supposed to represent?  Is he God, Jesus or the child that lives within all of us?  And he falls in love with a rose?  How is that a thing, unless the rose represents a young woman somehow, whom he leaves to makes his way in the world, which he regrets later.

The Little Prince then makes his way to a variety of other asteroids or planets, where he meets a King, a Conceited Man, and a Businessman - what the heck is THAT all about?  Who are these people, or what are they supposed to represent?   Then he comes to earth and meets a Fox, whom he tames, and a Snake, who I think kills him earlier in the story, even though that happens later.??  Again, so much is unclear here about what happens when, or whether I'm supposed to take everything in this story literally or symbolically, that in the end I have no idea what's going on.

The Little Girl keeps sneaking out to be with the Aviator, who's the one telling her all these stories about the Little Prince - it seems he once crash-landed his plane in the desert, where he encountered the Prince himself (only, did he?  I can't tell if the Aviator is a reliable narrator, or a senile fool.)  And may I add here that this is a movie for kids, and if I had this much trouble understanding it, then what possible chance does a child have when it comes to figuring out what this story means?

Eventually the Little Girl gets in trouble with her mother for spending so much time with the Aviator and neglecting her studies, which are supposed to be preparing her to enter a very prestigious school.  But then when the Aviator gets sick, she sneaks out of her bedroom, flies off in the Aviator's plane and has her own adventure, where she meets the Little Prince as a man in his twenties, on a world full of workaholic people, run by that Businessman from the story, who grinds up everything that is not essential, and is holding the stars from the sky hostage and using them to power his city.  Again, WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?  I much prefer to interpret this as maybe the girl hit her head when the drainpipe fell down, and she fell into the Aviator's yard next door.  So I think the whole sequence on the workaholic world wasn't real, she was just imagining it while lying unconscious in the yard - that makes sense to me, but I worry that other interpretations are possible too.

OK, I've paused here to look up the storyline of the original children's book "The Little Prince" on Wikipedia, and I think I'm starting to understand the problem.  Much like "The Jungle Book", the book is a series of little vignettes with the prince visiting these different asteroids, and each one contains an irrational adult that's meant to satirize a specific type of person, or a part of society.  (Maybe it's a bit more like "Gulliver's Travels", where Gulliver found differennt illogical people in each land that he visited.)  Like the king who has no subjects, or the vain man who believes he is the best person on his planet when he's the ONLY person there, or the businessman who counts the stars but is blind to their beauty.  I note that the film left out the drunk man who's drinking to forget the fact that he's an alcoholic, understandable because this doesn't belong in a kids' movie, and the lamplighter who wastes his life following orders, because today's kids wouldnt' know what a lamplighter is.

The author of the book, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, did fly airplanes, and did crash a plane in the Sahara in 1935, and while he and a co-pilot survived, four days in the desert led to some very strange mirages, no doubt.  He also saw desert foxes while serving as a mail pilot, so I get where that came from too.  The Prince's rose is thought to symbolize Saint-Exupery's wife (as I figured), and the other roses the Prince encounters on Earth are possibly symbols of his infidelity. 

But it seems that overall, the film retained the events of the book, but in my opinion, made no attempt to even try to state what these events might mean.  If that's what you're going to do, make a really half-hearted effort to tell a story, then why bother?

Also starring the voices of Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Masked and Anonymous"), Mackenzie Foy (last heard in "Ernest & Celestine"), Marion Cotillard (last seen in "Midnight in Paris"), James Franco (last seen in "Tristan & Isolde"), Riley Osborne, Bud Cort (last seen in "Harold and Maude"), Benicio Del Toro (last seen in "Sicario"), Ricky Gervais (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Albert Brooks (last seen in "Concussion"), Paul Rudd (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Paul Giamatti (also last heard in "Ernest & Celestine").

RATING: 3 out of 10 birthday pancakes

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Spotlight

Year 9, Day 194 - 7/13/17 - Movie #2,688

BEFORE: I'm gearing up for my San Diego trip, yesterday I got my merchandise boxes shipped out via UPS, to my (not-so) secret UPS Store location that's very close to our booth - years ago I would ship to a UPS Store 3 blocks away from the convention center, but since I stayed at a little hostel across the street, it made sense.  Now that I'm staying at an AirBnB location up in Mission Valley, it makes more sense to ship my boxes as close to the convention center as possible - fewer steps to go and get the boxes.

I've got a bad reputation for getting sick on the first day of a Comic-Con - OK, maybe 3 times in 15 years, but I still don't like the odds.  I've had colds (back when the NY Comic-Con used to be in February), kidney stones and 2 years ago I had a UTI on my first day in San Diego.  Right now I've got this weird thing happening with my knee, where it sort of pops while I'm walking, and my leg sort of does this weird kick, which would only be a problem if I were going to a large convention hall next week, where I have to do a lot of walking around...

So I'm going to get a check-up tomorrow morning and see if there's anything I can do before Wednesday, like maybe get a knee brace or something.  I put an ice-pack on it last night, but it's one of those things where I don't know if I should be using an ice-pack or a heat-pack - maybe both?

Liev Schreiber carries over from "The 5th Wave".  My recent forays into Netflix revealed that this film is streaming there, which may explain why it hasn't appeared on premium cable yet, despite winning the Best Picture Oscar TWO years ago.  Why the hold-up?  Anyway, I could have also watched this on an Academy screener, but Netflix is obviously more convenient - and being on Netflix now has forced a re-organization of my priorities, which is still ongoing.  In other words, I still have slots to fill before the year ends, so why not identify the most important films, or the ones I think I will most enjoy, and watch them first?


THE PLOT: The story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

AFTER: I'm almost done now with watching the Best Picture nominees from 2015 - besides "Spotlight", I've seen them all except for "Bridge of Spies", and I have a copy of that, it's on my list.  That was a tough year, I mean, I don't see how "Brooklyn" or "The Big Short" could have won, maybe "Room" or "The Martian" had an outside chance.  Sorry "Mad Max: Fury Road", but you should have been honored just to be nominated.  Clearly I think this is one of those times where the award went to the film that covered the "big issue", with less regard for how the film was made - no doubt it was substance over style.

Because if it were just about style, I don't see how this film deserves the Best Picture Oscar.  It's one of the worst offenders ever when it comes to the "Show, don't tell" rule - nearly everything that these reporters do just isn't cinematic, sure they're doing "actions", but it's not action-oriented, like, say, "The Revenant", which was non-stop action.  What happens here is that reporters have meetings, they interview people, they talk to other people on the phone, they go read files at the courthouse, they file motions to gain evidence, and then they write articles and publish a newspaper.  NONE of that is cinematic at all!  OK, so they have to drive from place to place, but it's all at regular, law-abiding speed - come ON, how about a car chase or two?  Or a reporter speeding to get to his computer to make a deadline?  The closest we get is a reporter trying to get to the courthouse one day before it closes, and even then, we don't see the hustle, we only see him knocking on the door to try and get in.  "What's that?  You close at 4:30?  OK, I guess I'll come back tomorrow morning..."

I'm sort of dancing around the issues here, because the child molestation issue is so sensitive - plus it's nearly impossible for me to crack jokes about.  My parents are still solid church goers up in the Boston Archdiocese, my father was one of the first deacons ordained there in 1976, and my mother played the organ in church for decades - they still go to church in the suburbs a few times each weekend, and then for fun, there's another church group they belong to in downtown Boston.  Plus the deacons all know each other, so when I was a kid my family's idea of fun was to go to a party at another deacon's house, or maybe once in a while their was a church picnic somewhere.

But I broke from the church a long time ago - I stopped attending mass as soon as I got to college, mostly because it's usually boring as hell.  But when I got divorced in 1996, that's when the real break took place - the official church position was that I had to get an annulment if I ever wanted to take communion again, and I figured, "Nah, I'm good."  Why would I want to be part of an organization that won't take me the way I am, that wanted to tell me that a five-year part of my life didn't really happen, when I was trying to learn from all the things that happened to me, even the bad things.  And then once you get clear of the religion, it all seems rather silly from the outside, where they're all bogged down by silly rules like not eating meat on Fridays and going to mass on Halloween.  (OK, All Souls Day, but you know what I mean.)

But when I was a kid, I did my time as an altar boy - I remember you had to be in fourth grade to get the gig, but the first year I qualified there was a big blizzard (1978?) so nobody could make it to the meetings, and everybody of my age had to wait for the next year's tryouts.  (Because they couldn't schedule more training in the spring, for some stupid reason.)  It was a big deal for me, because on Sundays I had to show up early for church, get my vestments on and light the candles.  My mom didn't want me using matches, so she showed me how to use a cigarette lighter - because that's SO much safer...  And I never had any problems with priests trying to get grabby, which years later, after the scandals broke made me wonder why - wasn't I cute enough as a young teen?  (Hey, I said it would be difficult for me to make jokes about this, not impossible...)

I've had real focus on Boston this year - and why not, if I'm originally from there?  Let's see, I watched "Black Mass", "Manchester by the Sea", "Patriots Day" and now this.  (Are there any others?  Let's see, "In the Heart of the Sea" was partially set in Nantucket...) I grew up reading the Boston Globe, and this film focuses on that newspaper's "Spotlight" team, which takes on long-form investigations and which was tasked by the paper's new editor with re-opening the case of Fr. John Geoghan, a priest who'd been arrested for molesting children. And, more importantly, whether Cardinal Bernard Law (who was perhaps ironically named) had known about his actions and tried to cover them up, which is itself a crime.

It seems there was a lawyer who claimed to have documents proving that Law was aware of Geoghan's actions and engaged in cover-up activities like paying off victims, settling cases in order to seal away records, and then moving priests around to different parishes in order to confuse the issue and make it hard for victims to track down their molesters.  The Spotlight team ended up using the Diocese directories (I remember those phone books, my parents always had similar copies...) to look at the over-arching pattern of moving priests around, and determining that phrases like "sick leave" were code for "this priest is a SICK puppy and was forced to LEAVE that parish because he couldn't stop touching kids."  By making a list of all of the priests on "sick leave", and cross-referencing them with legal cases and accusations, the team is able to identify nearly 90 priests who seemed to have been relocated for various reasons.  Now, this is something like backwards logic, in a sense it's a bit like going through a parts junkyard outside a chop shop in order to solve open car theft cases, but it does get them a list to work with.

Meanwhile the team gets advice from a former priest who has worked on the various methods of "reforming" the priests who are the worst offenders, and his personal research places the rate of sexually active Catholic priests at 6% - since this more or less coincides with the number of Boston priests shuffled around or placed on "sick leave", the team feels confident in proceeding.  But doubt begins to creep in when one legal official asks if they've considered the consequences of publishing their findings, and whether the resulting blowback will be worth the effort.  But it seems the consequences of NOT publishing their findings could be even worse - however, it's fitting that this leads to a crisis of conscience for the reporters.  After all, what business are they in, the business of shedding light on the world's injustices, or the business of selling papers?

Further doubt creeps in when the reporters realize that various parties had given them evidence of widespread molestation years ago, and they didn't really follow up to the extent that they could have. Hey, I guess you do what you can, and the wheels of justice grind slowly, but they DO grind.  (The 9/11 terrorist attacks did manage to slow down the Globe's investigation somewhat...)  And the Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for the Spotlight team's reporting.  I'm just not sure why this had to be made into a movie, too - I don't think it enhances the story THAT much to have actors re-enacting a newspaper investigation.  OK, so it worked in "All the President's Men", but that was an exception.  I mean, take any historical event, like Vietnam or the Kennedy assassination, is it better to make a movie about the event itself, or just a reporter's actions after the fact?  I'll always favor the former over the latter.

I'm sorry, I know the issue is really important, but I don't see the film being anything more special than the average episode of "Law & Order: SVU".

Also starring Michael Keaton (last seen in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Mark Ruffalo (last seen in "Now You See Me 2"), Rachel McAdams (last seen in "Doctor Strange"), John Slattery (last seen in "Ted 2"), Brian d'Arcy James (last seen in "Sisters"), Stanley Tucci (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Jamey Sheridan (last seen in "Syriana"), Billy Crudup (last seen in "Jackie"), Gene Amoroso (last seen in "Mystic Pizza"), Paul Guilfoyle (last seen in "In Dreams"), Len Cariou (last seen in "Prisoners"), Neal Huff (last seen in "Moonrise Kingdom"), Maureen Keiller, Michael Cyril Creighton (last seen in "Sleeping With Other People"), Laurie Heineman, Tim Progosh, Elena Wohl, Eileen Padua, Richard O'Rourke, Joe Stapleton (last seen in "Manchester by the Sea") and the voice of Richard Jenkins (last seen in "The Hollars").

RATING: 5 out of 10 cups of behh at Fenway Paak

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The 5th Wave

Year 9, Day 193 - 7/12/17 - Movie #2,687

BEFORE: Michael Keaton will be back here tomorrow, but for now I'm going to take advantage of some different linking to squeeze in this film, which doesn't link to a whole hell of a lot else, except maybe "Neighbors 2".  So now Tony Revolori carries over from "Spider-Man: Homecoming".

I had some time yesterday to really take a good, hard look at the schedule - I had no idea what I was going to screen when I get back from San Diego.  I found a few sci-fi themed documentaries on Netflix, like ones about the making of "Star Wars" or the rabid fans of "Ghostbusters", so I figured I could do a documentary break if needed, and that would give me 5 or 6 days to come up with a new chain.  But that won't be necessary, I figured out a way to keep my linking going after Comic-Con, then I may drop in that "geek week" of documentaries anyway, starting on August 1.  I swear, this will all make sense then.

But my linking opportunities are much greater, now that I'm considering a whole bunch of films that are on Netflix (or Academy screeners) that just weren't available to me, or at least I wasn't aware that they were, as little as 2 months ago.  Now it's a big jumble, I'll go from a film on Netflix one night to a film on a screener the next, then to the theater for a film in current release, then maybe something I burned to DVD a year ago - it's all fair game now.  The possibilities are much less limited, and I'm finding new pathways that I never considered before.  BUT, that doesn't really help reduce the size of my watchlist - I mean, it does, but it also sort of doesn't.

So the new plan, which will last me until about August 22, is a mix of films that has been on the list for a while, plus Netflix films, plus a couple screeners.  In the next 40 days, I'll at least remove 14 or 15 films from the Watchlist, and I can easily fill those slots again with what's running on cable now.  I'll also take about 22 films off the list of the films I WANT to add to the watchlist, which may get that list down to a manageable level, where I can check all the credits lists for those films, and organize it a lot better.  

All this is my roundabout way of saying that I've re-prioritized the list to get more of the films I WANT to see up closer to the top, and I'm starting to make a plan that will get me to the end of the year.  I know, it's July and the end of the year seems like a long way off, but it's really not.  I've got only 113 viewing slots left, 36 films in the current July/August chain, then (let's say) 25 horror films in October, and another 32 films that I want to watch in November/December - that's 93 films on the docket for 2017, and only 20 open slots.  But the November/December line-up is really 3 small chains that right now are not connected, I'm going to need some of those 20 slots to turn them in to one big chain, if that's even possible.  More research on this is required, but it means that I may not have as many open slots in September as I thought, and the end of the year is coming up fast. 


THE PLOT: Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated.  Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother.

AFTER: I'm not going to pretend like I know a lot about "young adult" literature - but I'm guessing that a lot of it is like this, it involves overcoming hardships while slowly outgrowing one's parents, taking those first steps into the adult world, maybe have one's first solid relationship.  But is an alien invasion backdrop really the best place for this sort of thing?  One of Cassie's parents doesn't make it through the third wave, and the other - well, let's just say this keeps my orphan theme from last week going strong.  So she figures she's got to go and find her brother, the only family she has left.  She doesn't know that he's fine, like all the other kids he's been taken away by the military to train and become a young solider, I mean, the children are our future, how else are we going to defeat these aliens?  They took away our technology, so we can't send robots or even drones to kill them, and forget about using planes like they did in "Independence Day"...

But this gives Cassie the chance to make goo-goo eyes at not one but TWO hunky teens, the one who defends her when she gets shot and nurses her back to health, and the other she meets later, an old high-school friend who's in the same military squad as her brother, and he's keeping an eye on him.  Really, what are the odds of that?

Thank God for plot twists - for a while there I thought I was watching the most boring movie ever made about alien invasions.  I saw this one coming a mile away, it was frustrating to wait for the characters to catch up and realize the truth about the situation.  The aliens look like regular people, or maybe they take over the bodies of regular people, we're not really sure - now, was this a calculated plot point or just a way to save money on make-up and costumes?  Anyway, we've seen this sort of thing before in all of the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" movies, so really, the human race should have been better prepared.

But there's no real resolution here - it ends up feeling like the first book in a series, and God only knows if they're going to make more and continue the story or not.  I mean, this girl spent all of five minutes training to fight the aliens, it would be a shame for her to stop now.  Where else can we find someone so willing to stare directly into the camera with a look of concern?

EDIT: I forgot to mention the thought I had, after juxtaposing "Spider-Man: Homecoming" with this film - both of which deal with alien tech, by the way.  In the "Spider-Man" film, the Vulture steals tech that came from the Chitauri invasion seen in the first "Avengers" film, and in this film, aliens are the only ones with tech, after shutting down the humans' devices.  But right now, in the Marvel Comics Universe, there's this crossover called "Secret Empire", where the H.Y.D.R.A. organization, led by an evil Captain America (don't ask) has taken over most of the world, creating a human resistance, much like the one seen here in "The 5th Wave".  And at the same time, the Chitauri are trying to invade Earth again, but evil Captain America handled the alien invasion by creating a shield around the planet, which also had the benefit of trapping some of the resistance heroes in space.

But at some point it started to feel all too familiar - evil leader who built a wall around the planet to keep out aliens.  It's all quite Trump-like in its symbolism - was Captain America afraid that the Chitauri were going to take jobs away from Americans and decrease our standard of living?  Was H.Y.D.R.A. poised to "Make Earth great again"?  And how does this change the interpretation of "The 5th Wave"?  Are "The Others" here supposed to be code for something, like foreigners or gay people?  (They look just like us - but they want to replace us!)  I would guess that the teens' fear of adult aliens sort of plays on the arguments that all teens eventually have with their parents - the parents/aliens want the kids to behave/submit and do what they say - but the teens eventually will win out, because at some point they become adults, and the parents/aliens don't live as long.  That's a rough idea about what this film might really be about in the long run, but I'm only workshopping that. The rating below remains the same.

Also starring Chloƫ Grace Moretz (last seen in "The Equalizer"), Liev Schreiber (last heard in "Creed"), Ron Livingston (last seen in "Vacation"), Nick Robinson (last seen in "Jurassic World"), Maria Bello (last seen in "Prisoners"), Alex Roe, Maggie Siff, Zackary Arthur, Maika Monroe, Talitha Bateman, Nadji Jeter, Alex MacNicoll, Terry Serpico (last seen in "Premium Rush").

RATING: 5 out of 10 numbered dog tags

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Year 9, Day 192 - 7/11/17 - Movie #2,686

BEFORE: Michael Keaton carries over from "The Founder" in a great bit of casting to play Spider-Man's enemy, the Vulture.  Well, he did play Birdman, after all, that's sort of close, right?  And last night he played the guy who stole the McDonald's operation from the McDonald brothers, so playing another thief in this film seems like it will fit in well.

Plus I've been watching a lot of films about orphans and such - and isn't Peter Parker like the ultimate orphan, raised by his aunt?  So hopefully it all comes together tonight, because this is my last big benchmark film before heading out to San Diego next week.  I can't really show my face at Comic-Con if I haven't seen this film yet, that would be too embarrassing.  Should be a lot of Spider-Man and Wonder Woman costuming this year.  And what a year it's been for superhero movies, right?  I've seen four Marvel and two DC films already in 2017, and after this there's one more of each still to come.


THE PLOT: Peter Parker, with the help of his mentor Tony Stark, tries to balance his life as a high-school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man when a new threat emerges.

AFTER:  And so we come to the THIRD actor playing Spider-Man in the last 10 years, after two movies with Andrew Garfield as the "Amazing" hero, it's time to re-boot all over again.  Hey, I'm used to this from reading comic books, which re-boot characters about every five years, or so it seems, and entire fictional universes about every ten.  After the last universe collapse in Marvel Comics, there are at least THREE Spider-Men web-swinging around New York, including Peter Parker, Miles Morales (from the now-defunct "Ultimates" universe) and Miguel O'Hara (Spider-Man from the future year of 2099, who time-traveled back).  Yeah, that can get confusing - not to mention the "Spider-Verse" storyline that had 30 or so Spider-Men and Spider-Women from different universes and dimensions teaming up to defeat the evil power.  Yes, even Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham. (don't even ask.)

But I get it, this film marks the melding of the Spider-Man story with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which includes the Avengers films and the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but not the X-Men films. (Because that would be ridiculous, apparently.  Why can't Sony, Fox and Disney all get along?). If I'm drawing a reference back to the comic books, a very early issue of Spidey's book in the 1960's had him unsuccessfully trying to join the Fantastic Four.  (He should have known by the name of the group that there were no open slots, because there were already four of them, duh.).  But if Spider-Man had instead set his sights on joining the Avengers, the storyline might have gone something like this film, with Iron Man acting as Peter's mentor and supplier of cool technical gadgets. (It's worth noting that Spider-Man has been in and out of the Avengers in the comics over the last decade or so, first as a "junior" or reserve member, and now on the main team if the writer likes to use him.)

Come to think of it, getting Stark tech makes a lot more sense than thinking that a teenager could invent cool things like Spider-Tracers, different types of webbing, opaque lenses that he can somehow see through, and that device that activates his camera when he swings in front of it.  (Turns out Spider-Man was taking selfies back in the 1960's, before that was even a thing.). Here Tony Stark also supplies him with a new suit that has it's own A.I., among other cool features, including a few designed to keep him in check.  Stark's a busy man, however, so he becomes like the absent father that Peter never had, instead relying on his assistant/bodyguard Happy Hogan to be the point of contact.  This makes sense, based on Stark's character - or was Robert Downey Jr. only available for a few days of shooting?

I'm honestly surprised they didn't go with the Miles Morales version this time around, which would have been so ultra-PC.  I guess they couldn't go TOO far with the main character, but they over-compensated by making the supporting characters overly multi-culti.  Hey, if you want to make Peter Parker attracted to girls of all races, I'm fine with that.  But why the obsessive need to re-cast white roles from the comic book as people of color?  Why not just make new characters with different names?  Flash Thompson, Ned Leeds - they were caucasian in the comic books, now they have darker skin tones, but those are still white-sounding names, so it doesn't make sense.  Flash Thompson is supposed to bully Peter Parker, and this looks much odder coming from a minority, who you'd hope would know something about tolerance.  Oh, but sure, if I complain about this racial-blind casting being forced on me, then I'M the racist.  I see what you're doing there.

Speaking of Ned Leeds, there was just WAY too much of him in this film.  Supposedly Peter's closest friend and confidant, he wanted to be the "man in the chair" and help Spider-Man on a mission, but this kid was not a great actor, so giving him so much screen time was a terrible mistake.  Some of the other kids on the Academic Decathlon were even worse actors, but at least they didn't take up much screen time.  (Why is it so difficult to find teen actors that can SPEAK LINES CLEARLY?).

This film also marks the addition of Damage Control to the MCU - these minor characters (from the comic book of the same name) were meant to be a comedy of sorts, the official people who have to clean up the destruction caused by superhero and villain battles.  It all goes back to the Chitauri invasion seen in "The Avengers", and when Damage Control is called in to deal with all the alien tech lying around, Adrian Toomes and his construction crew are sent packing - which leads in a roundabout way to the birth of the vulture, who steals this alien tech and sells it to other villains (after keeping the best bits for himself).  The Vulture's "wings" here resemble giant drone pieces, and that seems to fall in line with the tech we have now in the real world.

Late in the film there's an incredible contrivance, a coincidence so great that it feels quite unbelievable, however this might be a call-back to something similar that happened in the first "Spider-Man" movie with Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man and the Green Goblin.  For this to happen TWICE to Peter Parker is doubly unbelievable, but I guess I'm not supposed to try and figure out some wacky combination of continuity that makes all of the Spider-Man movies possible.  OK, kids, take those superhero DVDs that your father likes and throw them in the trash, because they don't count any more.  (and as for the other late reveal, which I won't even discuss here, all I can say is "NO NO NO" for reasons listed above.)

At least we didn't get bogged down in ANOTHER re-telling of Spider-Man's origin story - after seeing Cliff Robertson and then Martin Sheen bite it as Uncle Ben, some lucky older actor didn't get stuck in this role (sorry, Steve Buscemi...).  They just started the film with Peter as Spider-Man, and we all caught up just fine.  And I did like the "Homecoming" title, it's got a nice double meaning since at the start of the film, Peter is coming home from his first adventure with the Avengers ("Civil War") and it's also the name of the traditional fall dance that coincides with football season (umm, I think).  But they're already talking about making "Spider-Man: Homecoming 2" and that would be stupid, because there's only one homecoming dance per year - shouldn't it be "Spider-Man: Prom" or "Spider-Man: Graduation Day"?

NITPICK POINT: The Spider-Man continuity has become so convoluted that the geography no longer makes sense.  For starters, it feels like every spot in Brooklyn or Queens can see Avengers tower large-size in a close-up, and this is not possible.  There are spots in Brooklyn where you might get a good view of the Freedom Tower, for example, and a couple parts on the edge of Queens where you might see the midtown skyscrapers relatively close-up, but not everywhere.  Especially since we know that Peter Parker grew up in Flushing, Queens, and from there the Manhattan skyscrapers appear small and on the horizon, assuming a clear view.  Plus, Parker attends "Midtown School of Science and Technology", which I think is a carry-over from the animated series, but the school's name suggests that it's located in Midtown Manhattan, and the school buses in the parking lot all say "Queens County" on them.  So, which is it?  There's just no "Midtown" section of Queens.

NITPICK POINT: 80's music?  As much as I love it, is that really the way to modernize Spider-Man for today's teen audience?  I should say that I love 80's music, except for one of the tunes featured here, which is "Blitzkrieg Bop" by the Ramones, what a terrible song.  AND they use it to start the film, and AGAIN in the closing credits.  It's got only 3 chords, which is all the Ramones knew, the lyrics make no sense, it's repetitive and stupid and completely out of place here.  They also played "Space Age Love Song" by Flock of Seagulls in the homecoming dance scene, and I can tell you that today's kids have never danced to that song, and most have never even heard of that band.  The other songs played were better songs, like "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'" by the Rolling Stones and "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" by Traffic, but those are even OLDER than the 80's music.  Was there no music available from this century for the soundtrack?

But it seems there was an attempt to pay homage to the 80's films of John Hughes - I caught the reference to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" but perhaps I missed others.  I just felt that chunky Ned Leeds shared so much screen time with geeky Peter Parker that this film reminded me more of "Superbad", with chunky Jonah Hill and geeky Michael Cera.  They could have just called this one "Super-Hero Bad", if you ask me.  But maybe I'm just getting too old for another reboot that puts Spider-Man back in high school.  Plus, I wasn't even ready for my "back-to-school" films yet - I'm trying to delay those until late August.  So I gotta do it - NITPICK POINT: Who the heck wants to see high-school events during a summer blockbuster?  Can't the kids just enjoy their summer vacation?

So by my un-scientific scoring system, that's one point off for excessive re-booting, one point off for forcing the mutli-cultural thing (while treating girls as little more than party decorators and hostages) and one point off for over-using the Ramones song.  Hey, my blog, my rules.

Also starring Tom Holland (last seen in "In the Heart of the Sea"), Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Chef"), Jon Favreau (ditto), Marisa Tomei (last seen in "What Women Want"), Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "The Anniversary Party"), Zendaya, Donald Glover (last seen in "The Martian"), Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Tony Revolori (last seen in "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Bokeem Woodbine (last seen in "Riddick"), Tyne Daly (last seen in "The Enforcer"), Hannibal Buress (last seen in "Daddy's Home"), Martin Starr (last seen in "This Is the End"), Kenneth Choi (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Garcelle Beauvais (last seen in "White House Down"), Michael Chernus, Michael Mando, Logan Marshall-Green (last seen in "Snowden"), Gary Weeks (last seen in "Self/Less"), and the voice of Jennifer Connelly (last seen in "Winter's Tale"), with cameos from Chris Evans (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Stan Lee (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2").

RATING: 7 out of 10 lost backpacks

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Founder

Year 9, Day 191 - 7/10/17 - Movie #2,685

BEFORE: Back to another Academy screener for this one, and I'm going out to the movies tonight, so I think you can see where this is heading for tomorrow's movie.  Nick Offerman carries over from "Ernest & Celestine" for his fourth appearance in a row, and 5th in the past week if you go back to "Sing".  And then Michael Keaton will carry over to the next film.

It's great that I'm able to work in the new movies that are appearing in theaters now, and it's great that I've gotten access to last year's screeners, and it's great that I've discovered the whole new world of films that are available on Netflix - but this all comes with a cost.  I haven't made any progress on reducing the size of my Watchlist (still hovering at 130 films) for over a month at this point, and even though I haven't officially added all of those extra films I can access to the List, I know they're there.  I made a separate list for all of the films I (eventually) want to see, whether they're available on screener, Netflix, iTunes or Amazon Prime, and that list constitutes another 95 films!  So if I were to add those films to my Watchlist, the list would grow overnight from 130 to 225 films - and that's a giant step backwards for me. 

As long as those films are on a separate, searchable list, I can access their credits as needed, in order to keep the chain going - but I feel like I should be getting back to concentrating on the Watchlist films, since there are about 10 or 11 films running on premium cable that I want to add to the Watchlist before they disappear - I've been holding off for the past two weeks while raiding Netflix for animation, but I've got to get to them when I get back from Comic-Con.  And that means crossing films off the Watchlist to make room - the Netflix films will be there for a long while, I think, and the screeners aren't going to disappear, so I've got to sit down and make a plan for what to watch at the end of July and in August that removes some films that have been pending for a long while. 

Problem is, I have no concrete direction for late July right now - I only figured out the chain up to July 19.  I could go in a number of different directions, I just need to pick one.  Maybe I need to figure out the next film I want to see in the theaters, and use that as a target point, I don't know - but that's the sort of plan that got me to where I can go see "Spider-Man: Homecoming" tonight, with the review posting tomorrow.  Do I want to see the new "Planet of the Apes" film?  Or catch up with the new "Pirates of the Caribbean"?  "The Dark Tower"?  "It"?  or "Blade Runner 2049"? 


THE PLOT: The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers' innovative fast-food eatery McDonald's into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world through a combination of ambition, persistence and ruthlessness. 

AFTER: Remember last week, when I was writing about "Free State of Jones", and I posited that the American motto should be "If you don't like the game, change the rules."?  Well, I've sort of circled back to that point today, because nobody exemplifies that concept like Ray Kroc, the "founder" of McDonald's.  It's right there on the poster, "Game Changer", right after "Risk Taker" and "Rule Breaker". 

Now, they say that there are two sides to every story, but we're also told that history is written by the winners, so combined that means that usually we only hear one side.  Scratch the veneer of history just a bit, and you may realize that whatever you learned of history isn't entirely true.  Christopher Columbus discovered America, right?  Only there were plenty of people who were already there when he arrived, so that's a bunch of B.S. unless you quantify it and say Columbus discovered the riches of the New World for Europeans to exploit - but even that's not right, because the Vikings had been here centuries before.  Henry Ford invented the automobile, right?  Umm, no, but he streamlined its production and used assembly-line techniques to maximize profit and drive the cost down to where anyone could own one. And then so many people have died over the years in car accidents that I wonder whether history should instead regard Henry Ford as one of the biggest mass-murderers of all time.  The Wright Brothers may have accomplished the first airplane flight, but now thanks to them we have airline food, cancelled flights, runways full of dead birds, not to mention airplane crashes and disasters at air shows.  That doctor who got dragged off that United flight might as well have been punched by Orville and Wilbur themselves...

And people will still refer to Kroc as the founder of Mickey D's, but is that true?  As this movie shows us, there was a McDonald's restaurant in San Bernadino, owned by Maurice and Richard McDonald, and they were doing quite well with their business thanks to Dick's plans to optimize food production and minimize wait times - meaning you could walk up to their counter in 1954, order a burger, fries and a milkshake for just 35 cents, and receive your food in about 30 seconds, not 30 minutes.  Now, the food was not technically "made to order", but so what, all the burgers were the same.  Dick's realization that 85% of their business was relegated to just those three menu items meant that they could ditch the other items that were slowing them down, and focus on churning out a constant stream of burgers that apparently still tasted pretty good - and standardizing the fries and the proper cooking time meant that the whole operation could run like clockwork. 

Ray Kroc, a milkshake mixer salesman at the time, arrived in town like Henry Hill in "The Music Man", and was so impressed by their operation he convinced them to franchise their operation, with himself in charge of bringing McDonald's restaurants, with their signature "golden arches" to other states in return for a percentage.  And the burgers caught on in Illinois (where Kroc boldly and incorrectly called his first franchise "McDonald's #1", when it was the ninth), Minnesota and then across the Midwest - with Ray struggling to turn a profit on his small percentage, while requiring to get every cost-cutting innovation approved by the McDonald brothers, as per the terms of their contract.

But then came the revelation - "if you don't like the game, change the rules".  A financial advisor reviewed Kroc's books and told him that since his biggest costs were in obtaining the land to put the new franchises on, Kroc wasn't really in the burger business, he was in the real-estate business.  He could make more money faster if he bought the parcels of land and leased them to the franchisees, which would also give him more control (as a landlord) over the actions of the investors.  He could then terminate their contracts if they didn't follow his rules, or keep their restaurants clean - so he set up a separate corporation, not controlled by the brothers, that would end up owning all the land and therefore be the overarching "boss" corporation of his agreement with the brothers.  Franchising was, essentially, a giant legal multi-level marketing scheme with Ray Kroc at the top of the pyramid. 

By the time the McDonald brothers knew what was happening, it was too late to do anything except for suing Ray Kroc, and since they had kept their part of the business small, content to run just the original McDonald's restaurant, they didn't have the resources to do so.  But after spending a few years just accumulating land and wealth, Kroc instead brought them a blank check and bought them out of their own business.  They were allowed to keep their restaurant in San Bernadino, although since they had signed away their rights to the corporation, they couldn't even call it "McDonald's" any more - that name on a burger joint was now the intellectual property of McDonald's Corp.  So they each got a big payout, they ran their restaurant for a few more years under the name "The Big M", but Kroc never gave them the royalties he had promised, and then eventually opened a Golden Arches across the street, and drove them out of business.

So the question becomes - was Kroc a persistent capitalist who took someone else's business model and expanded it to its logical conclusion, or a ruthless, vindictive thief who ended up taking credit for someone else's innovations?  On the one hand, it makes sense to franchise, because who wants one restaurant when they can have two?  Who wants two when they can have a hundred, or more?  And now there are over 14,000 McDonald's joints in the U.S. and almost 37,000 worldwide, and the company feeds about 1% of the world's population every day.  You can't argue with success -

But on the other hand, someone who's only interested in the bottom line doesn't really make the best decisions for his customers - and so over the years criticism has been aimed at McDonald's over the use of non-recyclable Styrofoam, the destruction of the rain forests, the low pay earned by its workers, the unhealthiness of its food, and questions over where, exactly, on the chicken the "nuggets" come from.  Not to mention the famous U.K. "McLibel" lawsuits, and the other suits filed by the corporation against other restaurants in Scotland, for example, with "McDonald" or "MacDonald" in their names, even though they'd been around much longer. 

And now we have Starbucks, Subway, Burger King and KFC, along with a dozen other franchises that probably followed Ray Kroc's franchising model, and where has that put us?  To a place where the corner mom-and-pop owned diner is nearly a thing of the past, along with book stores and record stores that were crushed by Amazon, right on down to opticians that were taken over or run out of business by LensCrafters and such.  People have often debated when, exactly, the good old days ceased being so good, when our country ran itself off the rails and started going to hell in a handbasket.  Maybe we need to discuss a solid case for that exact moment being the day that Ray Kroc started planting his giant arches all across the country.  Because that's also the day that personal home-town style service went out the window in the name of profits. 

Also starring Michael Keaton (last heard in "Minions"), John Carroll Lynch (last seen in "Jackie"), Linda Cardellini (last seen in "Daddy's Home"), Laura Dern (last seen in "Wild"), B.J. Novak (last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), Patrick Wilson (last heard in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Justin Randell Brooke, Kate Kneeland, Griff Furst (last seen in "I Love You Phillip Morris"), Wilbur Fitzgerald, David de Vries, Andrew Benator, Cara Mantella, Mike Pniewski,

RATING: 6 out of 10 powdered milkshake mixes

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Ernest & Celestine

Year 9, Day 190 - 7/9/17 - Movie #2,684

BEFORE: Back to Netflix again tonight for this one, with the voice of Nick Offerman carrying over again from "My Life As a Zucchini".  (Two other actors carry over also, but they're listed under "various voices") Maybe it's a good thing that I just discovered this film on Netflix, because if I had looked at the cast list, I would have tried to work this in to the Forrest Whitaker chain last month, and that would have screwed everything up.
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This film was also nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, but from 2012.  So somehow I let this one slip by me, it just hasn't been a high priority for me.  And I'm back on the topic of different animals trying to live together, too.  Oh, and there's apparently also both a French and English version of this film - I'll make sure to watch the English version of this one today.


THE PLOT: The story of an unlikely friendship between a bear, Ernest, and a young mouse named Celestine.

AFTER: Yeah, in a certain way this seems like a stripped-down version of "Zootopia", with just two different animals trying to live together in the same city.  (Yes, I'm aware that this film pre-dated "Zootopia" by four years, and that it's based on a series of children's books that's been around for years.).

The bears live above ground in a very human-like city, wearing clothing like people, driving cars, etc. and the mice live underground in the sewers, but come up to act as sort of "tooth fairies" for the bears, particularly interested in the teeth of young bears, so that the mouse dentist can use them as replacements for mice that have lost or worn down their own teeth.  Umm, that's a lot to take in, I think.  Celestine the mouse lives in a sort of orphanage (parents must have been eaten by bears, or caught in a mousetrap or something) under the charge of the Grey One, who tells terrible stories about the vicious bears, while Celestine draws images of bears and mice living happily together.

On a trip to collect teeth, because that's what mice do, Celestine is almost caught by a bear couple, and ends up sleeping in a trash can, where the hungry street-performer bear Ernest finds her and tries to eat her.  She instead shows him how to break into a candy store's basement where he can eat his fill.  However, he's caught and arrested, and the enterprising Celestine frees him from the paddy wagon if he will help her steal her whole quota of teeth from the dentist.  And I'm not sure, but I think the dentist is a woman married to the candy store owner, and they're the same couple who almost caught Celestine near the start of the film.  Things were a bit unclear to me.

This leads to the pair stealing a van (from the candy store owner, of course) and hiding out in Ernest's cabin in the woods, where they spend the winter together and bond further.  It's nice that an orphaned mouse finds a home with the bear, but it's another strange message to send the kids that's it's OK to steal in order to get ahead, and then when you are in danger of getting caught, it's OK to steal again to run away.  But I think there are larger narrative problems that result when you try to take an entire series of adventures from a set of children's books and try to distill them down into one coherent narrative.  This seems similar to the problem of adapting "The Jungle Book", which was a collection of short stories that needed to be tweaked and shuffled around to fit everything into one longer tale.

The depiction of the two parallel trials was interesting, though, with the bear on trial in mouse court and the mouse on trial in the bear court.  The courthouse catches on fire, which is a bit of deus ex machina, and the nature of our heroes is revealed when each saves the day in court.  However, this is another odd message to send to the kids - hey, if you're in trouble with the law, just save the judge from a fire, then everything will be OK.  Yeah, that's not how the justice system works.

I'm just not sure that the overarching message (mice don't have to be dentists, and bears don't need to be judges) - even though it's similar to the one in "Zootopia", about how bunnies don't need to grow up to be carrot farmers - is worth the expense of seeing the main characters here constantly subvert the due process of the law.  And then they pull that old trick at the end - "Hey, let's make a children's book about how we met!".  At least they didn't decide to make a movie about it.

Also starring the voices of Forest Whitaker (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Mackenzie Foy (last seen in "Interstellar"), Lauren Bacall (last seen in "Harper"), Paul Giamatti (last seen in "Love & Mercy"), William H. Macy (last seen in "Bobby"), Megan Mullally (last seen in "Once Bitten"), Jeffrey Wright (last seen in "The Invasion"), Vincent Grass.

RATING: 5 out of 10 marshmallows