Friday, July 21, 2017

The Angry Birds Movie

Year 9, Day 200 - 7/19/17 - Movie 2,694

BEFORE: And now you see why I had to move "Cars 3" to nearly the end of the Animation raid - tonight Cristela Alonzo carries over to do a voice in this film.  I've made great progress crossing these films off of my list - both my watchlist and my Netflix list, which for the moment remain two separate lists, so I don't lose heart.  (Adding the Netflix films in would nearly DOUBLE my current watchlist, so when I get back from my Comic-Con trip I'm going to work some more on reducing the Netflix list to a more manageable level.)

After I squeeze in this one last film before my trip (and post this probably just before getting into a cab for the airport) I'll have just four animated films left to watch- "Norm of the North", "Despicable Me 3", "Shaun the Sheep" and "Happily N'Ever After 2".  I've got plans to squeeze in the first two of those before the year ends, but the other two are nearly unsinkable - I suppose I could count the animated films that I recently found on Netflix, like "Mulan 2", "Brother Bear 2", "Pocahontas 2" and "Tarzan 2", but honestly those don't feel like they should be high-priority choices.  We'll see.  Maybe next year.

THE PLOT: When an island populated by happy, flightless birds is visited by mysterious green piggies, it's up to three unlikely outcasts - Red, Chuck and Bomb - to figure out what the pigs are up to.

AFTER: I didn't have time to post before I left, so let me get a quick review in from San Diego, so I can move forward from here when I return. This film is just plain nonsense, in fact I think the video game it's based on has a better storyline, and there you merely launch birds at buildings to knock thrm down. To go back and try to explain WHY the birds are angry is quite unnecessary, when it's right there in the title, you could just take it as a given fact and move on. The rest is just window dressing (sending the lead bird to anger management classes, for example) and the jokes just don't land or pay off. I'm only happy to clear this off my list so that I can never speak of it again.

If I think of more to say later I will, now that I know I can post using my phone, but now I've got to take a quick shower and get back to my booth at the convention center.

Also starring the voices of Jason Sudeikis (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Josh Gad (last seen in "Pixels"), Peter Dinklage (ditto), Danny McBride (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Maya Rudolph (last heard in "Strange Magic"), Bill Hader (last heard in "Finding Dory"), Kate McKinnon (ditto), Sean Penn (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Keegan-Michael Key (last heard in "Hotel Transylvania 2"), Tony Hale (last seen in "American Ultra"), Hannibal Buress (last heard in "The Secret Life of Pets"), Ike Barinholtz (last seen in "Suicide Squad"), Titus Burgess, Jillian Bell (last seen in "The Night Before"), Billy Eichner (last seen in "What Happens in Vegas"), Blake Shelton (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Charli XCX, Geoffrey Arend (last seen in "500 Days of Summer"), Catherine Winder, Alex Borstein (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), Max Charles (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Fergal Reilly, Kevin Bigley, Ali Wong, Aidan McGraw (last seen in "American Sniper"), Fred Tatasciore (last heard in "The Boxtrolls"), John Lasseter.

RATING: 3 out of 10 stolen eggs

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cars 3

Year 9, Day 199 - 7/18/17 - Movie #2,693 - VIEWED ON 6/26/17

BEFORE:  Yeah, so I watched this one way back in June, about three weeks ago, when I started the whole animation block, but before I realized exactly HOW many films I was missing out on by not watching them on Netflix.  So I added (nearly) everything that was available to me into the plan, whether those films were on Netflix, Amazon or Academy screeners, and that forced a re-organization of the plan.  For linking purposes, this film then got moved to the back end of the pack, but honestly since I'm about 24 hours away from flying to San Diego, it didn't hurt to NOT have to watch a movie last night - instead I could pack, read some comic books and clear some shows off the DVR.  I think I can still squeeze one more film in tonight, since I usually don't sleep the night before I travel - I stay up and leave for the airport around 4 am to catch my 8 am direct flight that gets me in to S.D. around noon.  By the time I get to the convention center tomorrow I'm going to be already exhausted, and then I'll have to carry my merchandise from the UPS store to our booth, set up the booth, and work a 3-hour shift on Preview Night.  But hey, that's the job, and I haven't found a better way to get there and get everything set up.  Now, the rest of this post will continue, mostly as I wrote it, back in late June:

Now I know that programming this week of recent animated films was a good idea - because while at the movie theater to see "Cars 3",  I got to see the previews for the animated films coming out later this year, and I'm only going to fall further and further behind unless I keep crossing the animated films of 2016 and 2017 off my list.  Now, most of them seem really horrible, but before "Cars 3" I was shown clips from: "Despicable Me 3", "The Lego Ninjago Movie", "The Emoji Movie", "Coco" (and the new "Frozen" Christmas-themed short that will precede it), "Ferdinand", and "The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature".  Umm, thanks, but I still haven't seen the first "Nut Job" film yet.

Going to the theater this year so far has been all about choices - do I go see "Wonder Woman" or "The Mummy"?  (Made the right choice there...) Do I go see the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film, or just stay home?  Do I go see "Cars 3" or "Despicable Me 3", which opens later this week?  Well, I've landed on "Cars 3" out of those two choices, mostly because one works with my chain, for linking purposes, and the other one doesn't.  (Or does it?  I've got to remember to investigate this - I'm still 3 days short on my chain, it would be great to add in another 1 or 2 films...)

Screw it, I've made my choice, I've landed on a chain of animated films that gets me CLOSE to where I need to be, so all I need to do is take a couple days off in early July, and things will line up like I want them to.  So Bonnie Hunt carries over from "Zootopia", if I've done this correctly.  (EDIT: Nope, after changing things around, now John Ratzenberger carries over from "The Good Dinosaur")

Another Monday night out at the movies (though I'm probably posting this on Wednesday).  Hey, it's OK to have popcorn for dinner, right?  Corn is a vegetable, after all.  And that movie-theater butter is really just hydrogenated soybean oil, but soybeans are vegetables too, right?  So I'm eating healthy!

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Cars 2" (Movie #1,067)

THE PLOT: Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he's still the best race car in the world.

AFTER:  The new Pixar short film "Lou" preceded the feature - I thought this was a cute, touching film set in a schoolyard that also had a pertinent anti-bullying message, but my boss didn't like this short, he thought it was quite forgettable.  I strongly disagree with that.

Welcome back to the world of "Cars", where (as people have speculated) the human race has died out, cars have become sentient, and have found a way to reproduce and repair themselves, despite having no hands or ability to reason.  And if you've been turned off by the horrible aberration that was "Cars 2" - Hey, they're all cars, and spies, too! - this can be seen a return to form for the franchise.

My boss saw the film last week with his 4-year old son, and also posted his review - he said there was way too much talking and philosophizing about racing, and not enough racing. In a sense he's right, because it should be "Show, don't tell", the depiction of action over the describing of it.  But the film can't be just one long race, or even two or three races, there has to be some down-time in between.  Bill also left after the demolition derby sequence, so he missed the final race, and therefore the whole message of the film.

Speaking of messages, the film goes through quite a few of them - at first Lightning has this over-emphasis on winning, so it seems for a while like the message is going to be about winning being everything, or perhaps he'll learn over the course of the film that it isn't, and that will be a form of character growth.  This would echo the learning curve in "Talladega Nights", where Ricky Bobby lives by the mantra "If you're not first, you're last" and then comes to learn that this was a horrible piece of advice his father gave him when he was drunk or stoned - turns out you can finish second or third and that's still a victory of sorts.  Though I have to question the depicted repeated "pranking" of the winner of each race by the second-place finisher - Pixar, is this really a good example to set for the kids?

(And I hate to mention it, but we're not supposed to place too much emphasis on winning where kids are concerned.  We're supposed to make all the kids feel included, from the physically fit ones right on down to the ones with disabilities, and also the hyperactive spazzes who lack the focus to play sports properly.  ALL the kids get participation trophies these days, so maybe an animated film where winning is everything should have a slightly different focus, that's all.  Please continue.)

Then it seemed like the message of the film was going to be something about growing old and retiring gracefully - the next generation of race cars comes along and they're just plain faster, more energy efficient or less wind resistant or something - it's all very technical - but Lightning's top speed is like 195, and the new character, Jackson Storm, can go 207 mph easily.  So Lightning sees a lot of his friends retire from the sport, and figures that he needs to either improve, or go out on top.  Either way, he's got to win this next race in Florida - because if you're not first, you're last - in order to stay in the game.  So it seemed like they were heading toward a message about getting off the stage while you still have some dignity (I wonder if this represents the way that Owen Wilson feels about younger actors like Zac Efron, Channing Tatum and the Hemsworth brothers, who seem to be getting all the male roles he used to be offered...)

Then Lightning goes off to train, and learns that his younger, female, corporate sponsor-appointed trainer always wanted to be a racecar herself, but she walked away from her one chance to do that, due to lack of confidence.  But during the unconventional training process (which involves taking speed trials on the beach, getting involved in a demolition derby, and learning to drift on an old dirt track) it seems like maybe the female racer, Cruz Ramirez, has what it takes, after all.  During the drifting, another weird mantra arises - "you've got to turn right to go left" which was probably deemed to be too confusing to the viewers who are too young to drive.  Then it seems like the message might turn out to be something about how when people try to put you down or say you can't do something, you can turn that around as use it as extra motivation.

There's a lot of time spent in the middle with Lightning trying to re-connect with the memory of his mentor, Doc Hudson.  It's been mentioned that they didn't just re-use lines that Paul Newman recorded for the first "Cars" film - though that would have been totally OK, his character is only seen in flashback (and anyway, Lucasfilm re-used X-Wing fighter footage from "A New Hope" in "Rogue One", I spotted it right away...) they went back to the original recording sessions with Paul Newman and found outtakes that they could use, since Newman was telling racing stories all the time, on the down-time in between takes.  That stuff is probably golden.  They also had to find a sound-alike for the VW bus that was originally voiced by George Carlin, and they re-cast Chick Hicks, the car that was voiced by Michael Keaton in the first film, I guess Keaton wasn't available.

(Some of the voice casting doesn't make much sense to me - I try to identify the actors with distinctive voices whenever I watch an animated film.  Artie Hammer's voice is not very distinct, nor is Nathan Fillion's.  They're both bland, monotone and practically interchangeable.  I can only guess that actors with more distinct voices might have been cast, and then backed out of the project.  I could imagine that the corporate CEO car named "Sterling" could have been played better by, say, Jon Hamm, and considering that on "Mad Men" he worked for the agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, maybe this  was who they had in mind in the first place.)

Finally, with all the back-and-forth over who's training whom - I suppose this is to be expected when the trainer character is younger than the athlete, it's inevitable that in order to show he's got more experience than her, they end up sort of switching places - the real message of the film emerges, which is that there's nothing preventing a girl from being a racer, or being whatever she wants to be.  And that our limitations are mostly self-imposed (umm, except for the ones that aren't).  The audience gets there about 5 minutes before Lightning does, but when he finally sees the light and figures out that he can still race, but also gradually shift himself into more of a training/mentoring position on a race team, it's a brilliant revelation.  It satisfies all of his navel-gazing about whether he can retire on his own terms, it pays tribute to the mentor that he lost, and it helps a younger character find her own way.

Now, the cynical side of me wonders if this was done to get more young girls interested in a movie franchise that was very boy-centric.  Someone at Pixar finally woke up and realized there was a simple way to potentially double their audience - prior to this, girl "Cars" characters only played racers girlfriends or support staff.  Finally a girl racer character appears, and whatever the motivation is behind it, I just want to say that it's about damn time.  

The uplifting nature of the ending really stood out, possibly because I just finished watching three weeks of depressing films mostly about death and destruction.  I still have questions about the "Cars" universe - why are there handles on their doors if there are no humans to ride inside of them?  Why are there eyes on the windshields, but not on the headlights?  And how DO the cars reproduce, anyway?  Scratch that, maybe there are some questions I'd rather not have answered.

Also starring the voices of Owen Wilson (last seen in "Zoolander 2"), Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper (last seen in "Demolition"), Nathan Fillion (last seen in "Serenity"), Armie Hammer (last seen in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."), Larry the Cable Guy (last heard in "Cars 2"), Tony Shalhoub (last seen in "Heartburn"), Kerry Washington (last seen in "Against the Ropes"), Lea DeLaria (last seen in "The First Wives Club"), Margo Martindale (last seen in "Mother's Day"), Paul Newman (last seen in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"), Cheech Marin (last seen in "Planet Terror"), Katherine Helmond (last seen in "Family Plot"), Paul Dooley (last seen in "Breaking Away"), Bob Costas (last seen in "The Paper"), Darrell Waltrip (last heard in "Cars 2") Bob Peterson (also carrying over from "The Good Dinosaur"), Ray Magliozzi, Tom Magliozzi, Isiah Whitlock Jr. (last seen in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch"), Lloyd Sherr, Jenifer Lewis, Jerome Ranft and cameos from Kyle Petty, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Humpy Wheeler, Junior Johnson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Darrell Wallace Jr., Daniel Suarez, Ray Evernham, Shannon Spake, Lewis Hamilton, Michael Wallis.

RATING: 6 out of 10 endorsement deals

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Good Dinosaur

Year 9, Day 198 - 7/17/17 - Movie #2,692

BEFORE: And now I can reveal the real reason for doing this animated block for the last two weeks - this Pixar film "The Good Dinosaur" has been languishing at the bottom of my list for the last year or so, resisting all my attempts to link to it.  Whenever I found a movie like "Laurel Canyon", let's say, which would share an actress, there would be no second link, so it would essentially be dead-end to the chain.  Jeffrey Wright was also in "The Invasion" last year, that was another possible link, but since this is not a horror film, that didn't work out either.  Steve Zahn was in "Bandidas" last year, but you see what I mean - a film has to link on both sides to something to be part of a chain.

Finally, I remembered that John Ratzenberger does at least a cameo in every Pixar film - so by placing this one between two films with him in it, I can finally get it off of my list.  So Ratzenberger carries over from "Finding Dory", and he's my link to "Cars 3" tomorrow, also.

THE PLOT: In a world where dinosaurs and humans live side-by-side, an Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend.

AFTER: Once again, it's difficult to tell if I'm suffering from "animated feature burnout", or if this film is as lackluster or as by-the-numbers as it seems.  I mean, most people are just not designed to watch THIS many animated films in a row - I guess maybe parents with children might have to watch them more frequently, but you can't take your kids to the movies EVERY day.  So I suppose as a grown adult, with no kids, I'm just not cut out for this relentless assault on my intelligence - movies aimed at 5 to 10-year old - day after day.

And if we're going to get mad at climate change deniers for ignoring what science tells them, then the flip side of that is that I should also get mad at this story, for depicting dinosaurs and (photo-)humans existing at the same time, when science tells us that it just didn't happen.  Cavemen did not ride dinosaurs, perhaps they encountered mammoths because those are also mammals, but dinosaurs?  No way.

I know, this film posits an "alternate history" where the asteroid that cause the extinction-level event that killed the dinosaurs missed the earth - but that divergence, in and of itself, wouldn't have brought about the age of mammals any sooner, and it certainly wouldn't have resulted in anything close to a human, simply because it's that very same extinction-level event that (eventually) brought about the changes in climate that made it possible for mammals to develop in the first place.  Right?  Are we clear?   This would be like if you were to go back in time and kill baby Hitler, and you manage to prevent World War II and the Holocaust, but then somehow in the 1950's Germany would also develop the first flying cars.  One change can lead to other changes, but not ones that it has NOTHING to do with.

So, how do the dinosaurs surviving longer bring about the accelerated development of Neanderthals, or Cro-Magnon man, or whatever is seen here?  Simple, it can't, and that's a huge story problem, if you ask me.  Of course, if you take this movie seriously, even as an alternate history, then you have to believe that dinosaurs could have evolved into language-speaking creatures, discovered agriculture and also raised herds of chicken- and cow-like animals, not to mention built the first simple structures like shacks and silos.  No, no, no!  This is just going to give children bad ideas about what dinosaurs were like - they had walnut-sized brains, for cripes sake!  They never, never would have learned how to farm or build things - most dinosaurs didn't even have arms!  (Except for T. rex, and we all know how small his arms were...)

In its own way, this is JUST as bad as those bible-thumpers that think that dinosaur fossils aren't real, or if they are then Adam and Eve must have named them in the Garden of Eden, and anyway dinos couldn't have lived millions of years ago because the Earth is only about 4,000 years old.  We don't listen to these people because they don't pay attention to the conclusions of scientists, and somehow believe that priests and ministers have better answers.

The IMDB trivia section for this film acknowledges that there were many production problems and story issues during the development of this film, which then resulted in the release date being moved forward several times, and layoffs were made at Pixar's Canada satellite studio as a result.  After one director was removed from the project in 2013 and more delays resulting from that, a new director was named in 2014 and the story was then re-worked once again.  I have to say, this is about what you get when there's so many problems going on behind the scenes, a very mediocre film.   Yes, even Pixar is capable of making one.

Also starring the voices of Jeffrey Wright (last heard in "Ernest & Celestine"), Frances McDormand (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Anna Paquin (last seen in "Trick 'r Treat"), Sam Elliott (last seen in "Tombstone"), Steve Zahn (last seen in "Riding in Cars With Boys"), Marcus Scribner, A.J. Buckley, Peter Sohn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, Jack McGraw, Ryan Teeple, David Boat.

RATING: 4 out of 10 gopher holes

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Finding Dory

Year 9, Day 197 - 7/16/17 - Movie #2,691

BEFORE: You might imagine that it would have made sense to drop in "Despicable Me 3" next, with both Steve Coogan and Jenny Slate carrying over from "The Secret Life of Pets".  I tried very hard to make that work, but that would have led to a dead-end in the chain - even though a lot of voice-over actors have appeared in multiple films since I started my (mostly-)animated chain back on June 28, there just wasn't a way to work that one in.  Originally I had this film up at the start of the chain, but then when I saw the magnitude of the rich tapestry of films available to me via Netflix, I realized I needed to flip things around in order to fit everything in, and also to accommodate "Spider-Man: Homecoming".  So this one got re-located to the end of the chain, along with tomorrow's film and "Cars 3".  I'm still on track to wrap up this subject matter by Wednesday, when I leave for Comic-Con, though.

So Albert Brooks carries over again from "The Secret Life of Pets".

THE PLOT: The friendly but forgetful blue tang fish, Dory, begins a search for her long-lost parents and learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

AFTER: Maybe I'm suffering from a bit of fatigue where animated films are concerned.  This is my 12th animated feature in about three weeks' time, and honestly I'm burnt out on cute talking animals.  (Just three days to go, two more films with talking animals, and one with talking cars...).  The Hollywood animation machine keeps cranking this stuff out - maybe I'd think of it all differently if I had kids, but I don't, so instead I'm just a sad, aging man watching cartoons by himself, late at night.  But at least I'm a professional sad, aging man watching cartoons.

Where sequels are concerned, of course they should only be done if there is more story to tell, but honestly sometimes it feels like companies are keeping franchises going by answering lingering questions that never needed to be asked in the first place.  (cough....Rogue One...cough). Was anyone staying up nights wondering where Dory, the forgetful fish, grew up?  I doubt it, since she can't be made to remember, why should we even care?  I mean, everyone was born somewhere, everyone grew up somewhere, most people remember even if they might want to forget, and most animals are probably too busy trying not to be eaten to even spare a minute to think about it.   Ah, but there are salmon, which somehow remember where they were born when it's time for them to spawn. (Though, if you think about it, how do we know that each salmon is traveling up the EXACT same river that it came from?  Don't all rivers look alike if you're a fish?  How do we confirm this little factoid, or did this come from another Disney-propaganda documentary, like the one that incorrectly told us that lemmings all jump off cliffs together, when in fact those lemmings were PUSHED off by the documentary filmmakers - it's true, please look it up.).

"Finding Dory" tells us that manta rays migrate, a fact which plays a role in Dory remembering something about her childhood - but this fact is also suspect.  Recent research suggests that manta rays do not, like whales, travel thousands of miles following their food sources, and instead stay within areas of the ocean only around 140 miles across, as confirmed by satellite tags and tests of their muscle samples that demonstrate dietary quirks.  But let's not get bogged down in science, here, because the animators here didn't, either.

This film serves as both the prequel AND sequel to "Finding Nemo", since we see Dory when she's just a baby fish, interacting with her parents who try to help her find ways to cope with her short-term memory loss, and this part of the story takes us right up to the point where she meets Marlin in the first film, then skips ahead to the time later, when her memory gets jogged and she gets flashes of her parents and the location in which they (hopefully) still live.  And so she sets out with the help of her new friends to ride the jetstream across the Pacific and find a specific bay in California, where there happens to be a Marine Institute that rescues and relocates fish.  But apparently not all, because after spending time in quarantine, Dory concludes that this may be where she grew up, and her parents may be part of an ongoing exhibit at the aquarium.

Before re-connecting with her childhood friends, Dory encounters a 7-legged octopus who offers to help her, in exchange for the tag on her fin that will send him to Cleveland, to keep himself from being released back in to the ocean.  The octopus was probably the best character in the whole film, in my opinion, not just because it's a type of sea creature we haven't seen before, but because he was often surly and neurotic, not your typical bright and optimistic Disney creature.  Plus it was cool that he could change his color and camouflage himself, even though another prominent character did that in "The Penguins of Madagascar" - but hey, all of these animated films are drawing from the same playbook, it seems.  Both this film and last night's film "The Secret Life of Pets" had animals escaping from a truck that falls off a bridge, for example.

NITPICK POINT: This one's directed at last night's film also, which fell back on those old tropes about all toilets somehow leading to large communal chambers under NYC, where alligators are allowed to live and grow to massive scale - is that even how sewer pipes work?  I was more under the impression that sewage was a closed system, which would lead to, I don't know, maybe a sewage treatment plant, rather than directly into a river or the ocean, which I think would probably be against all community sanitary standards.  Maybe "Finding Dory" isn't as bad in this regard, but it leads us to believe that all of the tanks in an aquarium would be connected by a series of underground pipes, which I'm not sure would be the case.  Sure, every tank in an aquarium would probably have some kind of drainage system, but wouldn't it be closed most of the time?  Because otherwise any infestation of algae or other unwanted microorganisms would, under an open system, be able to spread across the entire aquarium very easily.  I'm just saying, if you're a screenwriter, maybe stop and do a couple of hours of research into how sewers or drainage systems work, if that happens to be an important element of your story.

Also starring the voices of Ellen Degeneres (last seen in "Edtv"), Ed O'Neill (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph"), Kaitlin Olson (last seen in "Vacation"), Ty Burrell (last heard in "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"), Diane Keaton (last seen in "Reds"), Eugene Levy (last seen in "Club Paradise"), Hayden Rolence, Idris Elba (last heard in "The Jungle Book"), Dominic West (last seen in "Money Monster"), Bob Peterson, Bill Hader (last heard in "The BFG"), Kate McKinnon (last seen in "Ted 2"), Sigourney Weaver (last seen in "Vantage Point"), Andrew Stanton, with vocal cameos from John Ratzenberger (also last seen in "Reds"), Willem Dafoe (last seen in "Out of the Furnace"), Brad Garrett (last seen in "Music and Lyrics"), Allison Janney (last seen in "The Rewrite"), Austin Pendleton (last seen in "Starting Over'), Stephen Root (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Vicki Lewis (last heard in "Alpha and Omega").

RATING: 5 out of 10 hugging otters