Saturday, August 19, 2017

Despicable Me 3

Year 9, Day 231 - 8/19/17 - Movie #2,720 - VIEWED ON 7/31/17            

BEFORE: Yeah, I snuck out to the movies on a Monday night a few weeks ago, to catch the one animated film that I regretted not being able to squeeze in back in late June/early July.  I'd already gone through the cast list, trying to fit it into that chain, and though there was a linking opportunity (through Jenny Slate, who also did voices for "Zootopia" and "The Secret Life of Pets"), dropping this one in would only work if I watched her other two films back-to-back, which I didn't.  So at the time, there was only linking that would get me TO this film, and not on the other end.

But then I worked out my schedule for the rest of the year, and I realized I had two Steve Coogan films in the mix - so I could drop this one in between those two films, but I didn't want to wait until mid-August, because by then "Despicable Me 3" could be gone from theaters, replaced by "The Emoji Movie" or even worse films (if that's possible) so I figured I needed to get myself out to the theater again, or else I'd miss the chance to fill this slot, and be one film short for the year.

So here it is, and I think Steve Coogan will now carry over from "Hamlet 2", he voices two characters in this film, and he'll be here tomorrow as well.

THE PLOT: Gru meets his long-lost charming and more successful twin brother Dru, who wants to team up with him for one last criminal heist.

AFTER: What is it about the third film in a movie series?  Why do so many franchises seem to run off the rails when they hit the third film - I'm trying to think of some similar examples, like maybe "Superman III" or "Spider-Man 3"?  "Batman Forever" or "X-Men: The Last Stand"?  "Alien 3" and "Robocop III" don't seem to be very popular either - but on the other hand, you've got "Rocky III", "Back to the Future III" (unless you hate Westerns), "Toy Story 3" and "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", so what's the deal?

Before my screening of "Despicable Me 3", they ran the preview for "Pitch Perfect 3", which seems like another franchise which probably should have stopped after making 2 movies - because I can tell just from the plotline that they simply did not know what to do with the Barden Bellas after they graduated from college, so they're all going to be failing at their jobs, and they apparently are going to get back together and sing (duh) at some hastily-invented USO performance, where they're going to compete (?) against real bands with instruments, and that's just not even a thing.  Meanwhile it looks like the sports-style commentators will be back to narrate their entire performance, and that's not going to make any sense at all.

So the same thing really goes for "Despicable Me 3", the writers just didn't know what to do with all of the characters - which follows logically, if you think about it.  In the first film you introduce the characters, who they are and what they do.  In the second film you want to give them something different to do, so you don't just make the first film over again, and then in the third film you have to come up with something even more different for them to do, and by this time they're so far removed from who they were in the first place, and the third film is therefore so different from the first one that it's anything but a logical progression.  Believe me, this is how we got to a bunch of teddy bears fighting stormtroopers in "Return of the Jedi" - you can almost follow the logic: "OK, we did a desert planet, an ice planet, what else can we do...forest planet?  And we did tall, furry things so how about short ones this time around?"

So we've seen the Minions work for Gru, and we've seen them work for other villains, so let's do something new with them - let's send them to jail!  (Right...and then they go to camp, and then they save Christmas...)  I don't even think there was much comedic material gained by sending them to jail, they did a dance number and had the required food fight, and then they escaped from jail, rather matter-of-factly and in a not-very exciting way.  The same problem affected Gru's three daughters, they were really straining to give them something to do - the oldest daughter participates in a local dance custom with unexpected results, but that storyline goes exactly nowhere.  And the littlest one, Agnes, convinces herself she can catch a unicorn in the forest - there's a bit of a comic payoff, but another "nothing burger" when it comes to relating to the overall story.  And the middle daughter is just along for that ride, they couldn't even think of anything to do with her.

I don't think I'm that far off the mark, here - the character voiced by Russell Brand in the first two films isn't even part of the picture, supposedly he froze himself in carbonite (which is a Star Wars thing, not a real thing) so I guess that means that Russell Brand wasn't available?

I get it, the focus should be back on Gru, especially after he learns that he has a twin brother, and that his father was one of the best villains of all time - this fact and the brother's ambition are almost enough to turn Gru back to being a villain again.  Which would have been interesting, if he wasn't trying to play both sides off against each other, pretending to be a villain in order to do something heroic, to try and get his job back in the Anti-Villain League.  And Gru's wife (?) Lucy is, much like the middle daughter, just along for the ride.  Oh, she steps in to save the day once or twice, but in terms of being her own character, with her own thoughts and plans, it's like she's a total blank.

The big villain of the piece, however, is Balthazar Bratt, former child star from the 1980's, who appeared on the fictional Disney Channel-like sitcom "Evil Bratt".  (His famous quote: "I've been a baaaaad boy!!")  He's obsessed with the music and fashions of the 80's, and things like keytars and shoulder pads and Rubik's Cubes.  I can get behind this character, he certainly has good taste.  But while breakdancing was obviously a thing back then, I don't recall super-big, super-sticky chewing gum being that big of a deal, did I miss that 80's fad?  I remember we had Hubba Bubba, and then that gum with the liquid inside, but didn't that cause cancer or something?  I thought they had to take that off the market.

NITPICK POINT: The minions get in trouble for crashing a singing competition reality show, and together they perform the Gilbert and Sullivan song "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General", but of course in their own semi-French nonsense language.  Is this really the best song for them to sing?  Without the lyrics, this song is nothing - the tune is just the same three or four notes over and over again, so essentially it's now just "Ba ba ba ba BA ba ba ba Bababa..."  It's like when that dreadful Mannheim Steamroller group plays "Carol of the Bells" as an instrumental at Christmastime - without the words, it's just a bunch of meaningless, repetitive notes.  Plus, this is a movie for kids, they don't know Gilbert and Sullivan!  There simply must have been a better choice of songs for the minions to perform.

Honestly, I think I could have waited for this one to appear on premium cable or Netflix, now that I rushed out to see this in the theater before it went away, but perhaps I shouldn't have bothered.  Oh well, what's done is done, and at least I'm no longer curious about how good the third film in this franchise turned out to be.

Also starring the voices of Steve Carell (last seen in "Café Society"), Kristen Wiig (last seen in "Masterminds"), Trey Parker (last seen in "Bowling for Columbine"), Miranda Cosgrove (last heard in "Despicable Me 2"), Dana Gaier (ditto), Nev Scharrel, Pierre Coffin (last heard in "Minions"), Julie Andrews (last seen in "Torn Curtain"), Jenny Slate (last heard in "The Secret Life of Pets"), Michael Beattie (ditto), Andy Nyman (also last heard in "Minions").

RATING: 3 out of 10 dance fights

Friday, August 18, 2017

Hamlet 2

Year 9, Day 230 - 8/18/17 - Movie #2,719

BEFORE: I've still got a couple weeks until September, but it's time to start my back-to-school films.  (People are shopping for school supplies now, right?) This year I'm connecting to three school-related films, but I wasn't able to connect them to each other.  So I'll review the first one today, the second will come in about a week, and then the third a couple of days after that.  And as a bonus, the first one is set in a high-school, the second is about a high-school student applying for college, and the third one will be set at a college - so it's important that they're in the proper order.

Catherine Keener carries over from her (non-)appearance in "Bad Grandpa", and I did a whole Steve Coogan chain last year - 6 films, but the guy must get a lot of work, because I happened to find three more, so here goes.  With the other films I've seen or heard him in, he'll probably finish this year with another 6 appearances.

THE PLOT: A failed actor-turned-high-school-drama-teacher rallies his Tucson, AZ students as he conceives and stages a politically incorrect musical sequel to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

AFTER: Maybe it's me, maybe I'm a little screwed up after watching things like "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" and "Bad Grandpa", because I feel now like I might be more concerned about tone than content.  Shouldn't it be enough that a comedy film be funny, am I now so demanding that a film has to be funny "in the right way"?  Why can't I just turn off my mind, relax and float downstream, why am I so hung up on defining HOW funny something is, or what exactly it is about a film that counteracts the funny?

My point is, it's hard to get a read on this film where tone is concerned.  Are we meant to take it completely seriously?  Because there's plenty of stuff in it that's more silly than serious.  Or is it a well-intentioned metaphor for racial politics and other "politically correct issues"?  Or is it all one big wink at the audience that's not meant to be taken literally at all?  It's kind of like that guy you see on the subway train or the bus, dressed like a total hipster douchebag, with arms full of tattoos and the moussed-up hair, ratty jean shorts and work boots.  Does he KNOW how much of a jerk-off he resembles, or did it just sort of happen organically?  Does that really represent who he is at his core, or is he dressing to conform to an arbitrary set of rules that just helps him get more gigs or something?  Even if you ask him, you may never learn the answer...

We live in confusing times - it feels right to stand against racism, sexism, ageism and any other kind of bias or unfairness we encounter.  Yet often we find ourselves laughing at people who are making fun of being "politically correct" (as if that phrase isn't an inherent contradiction).  Are we laughing because we spend so much time trying to navigate around delicate topics, and it's refreshing to hear someone speak so plainly after all that?  Or does the humor help to mask or day-to-day discomfort or fear?  And the ultimate extension of this, which came up last week in the news - is it OK to punch a Nazi?  Should we meet violence with more violence, or does this just make everything worse?  Or if we preach tolerance, do we need to find a way to be tolerant ourselves, even with regard to intolerant people?  Does "free speech" protect hate speech?  Do people have a right to be wrong, as we currently define that?  I think these are complicated questions with difficult answers to debate.

So I have to just judge this film's story for what it seems to be, since I can't get inside the mind of its author.  Thankfully we don't get a lot of "writer staring at a blank page, trying to write" tropes, but there is some measure of that.  I think instead the teacher character just forged ahead in a solitary direction with his story, as misguided as that sounds, and with the mixed results that we (sort of) get to see at the end.  But since we've all seen so many "Hey, let's put on a SHOW!" movies before, is that why this movie sort of feels like it's been pieced together from other films?

First off, the drama teacher has been adapting Hollywood films like "Erin Brokovich" and "Mississippi Burning" into high-school stage plays - doesn't that sound a lot like the teen from "Rushmore" who adapted movies like "Serpico" into plays?  And when discussing drama in general, this teacher references movies like "Mr. Holland's Opus", "Dead Poets Society" and "Dangerous Minds", which were also set in high schools - so I can't tell if they're trying to just reference those films, or threaten to parody them somehow.  Then we've got the presence of Elisabeth Shue, who plays herself, and tells the students about her experiences making "The Karate Kid" and "Leaving Las Vegas".  Finally, we've got the finished production of "Hamlet 2" itself, which throws together music from "Flashdance", a lightsaber battle and the wire-work from "Kill Bill" plus the time-traveling format of "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure", only with Jesus and Einstein thrown into the mix.

Honestly, I can't decide if the point was to make this endeavor (the play within the film) succeed or fail - maybe a little bit of both?  Did it eventually fail upwards to become a success?  Or was this all engineered to make a larger point about civil liberties and the freedom of speech?  Or, again, just to spoof things like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Grease" and "Rent" to make the ultimate mash-up production?  It's hard because we see very little of the play in the conclusion, and I'm not sure if someone just didn't want to take the time to write the whole play-within-the-play, or if someone decided that less was more, and things were best left up to the audience's imagination.  I guess in a way, the content of the play doesn't really matter, but then in another way, of course it does - so I'm really split on a decision here.

I think in general this film was all around being "about" something - it came close to making a larger point, but I'm not sure it succeeded in doing so at the end. A little more exposition about whether the play was "good" or "bad" might have gone a long way, but in the end we're forced to wonder what it is we've just witnessed.  I guess that's how I feel about Steve Coogan in general - often his characters are so over-the-top that I can't really get a read on what he's all about, which makes me wonder if he's even there at all.  Does that make sense?

NITPICK POINT: The jump-off point for making the new stage-play is the fact that suddenly a lot of students have enrolled in drama class, since the other arts-related classes have been cut from the school's program.  But why would a school cut all of the arts classes except for one?  If there's no art budget, then they would have cancelled ALL of the arts classes - then throughout the film, the principal is constantly threatening to shut down drama, but if he wants to do this, why doesn't he follow through?  Furthermore, why cut the arts programs but keep the requirement that all of the students have to take an arts class?  This makes no sense - the school board wouldn't force kids to take classes that don't exist, logically if they remove the classes, there would be no requirement to take them.

Also starring Steve Coogan (last heard in "The Secret Life of Pets"), David Arquette (last seen in "Ready to Rumble"), Elisabeth Shue (last seen in archive footage in "Back in Time", probably), Amy Poehler (last heard in "Inside Out"), Skylar Astin (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Marshall Bell (last seen in "Comic Book Villains"), Nat Faxon (last seen in "Tammy"), Phoebe Strole, Melonie Diaz (last seen in "Be Kind Rewind"), Joseph Soria, Arnie Pantoja, Natalie Amenula, Michael Esparza, Shea Pepe, Josh Berry (last seen in "Lone Survivor"), Arron Shiver, Marco Rodriguez (last seen in "Nightcrawler"), Deborah Chavez.

RATING: 5 out of 10 days sober

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bad Grandpa

Year 9, Day 229 - 8/17/17 - Movie #2,718

BEFORE: I got this one to fill up a DVD that had "Dirty Grandpa" on it, the two just seemed to go together - now, normally I don't watch the "Jackass" movies, but now that I put this one in the collection, I have to watch it.  The saving grace here is that it gets me one step closer to the end of the year (I still can't believe a new "Star Wars" film is just 78 movies away...) but before that, I've got to plan and work New York Comic-Con and then go on vacation.  But before THAT, I've got to finish the August and September movies - and the back-to-school films start tomorrow, believe it or not.

Catherine Keener carries over from "Into the Wild", and she'll be here tomorrow as well.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Dirty Grandpa" (Movie #2,529)

THE PLOT: 86-year-old Irving Zysman takes a trip from Nebraska to North Carolina to deliver his grandson, Billy, back to his real father.

AFTER: Hoh, boy, where do I start with this one?  Remember all those hidden-camera prank shows that were popular after one of those writers' strikes in the year 2000?  (Sorry, I guess it was an actors' strike...) Remember "Jackass" and "Punk'd"?  They had their day, that's for sure.  But then I guess it got to a point where head Jackass Johnny Knoxville had to become an actor for real, because when he walked into a public place, people started looking for hidden cameras, or ducking for cover because they figured he was going to put too much detergent in the washer or spray ketchup all over the restaurant.  So somebody got the crazy idea to dress him up like a senior citizen and make everyone think he was taking care of his grandson, and now he could hit on women at will, or crash his car into things, and everyone would just write him off as senile.

So they made this hidden camera movie, where the old man and kid disrupt a funeral, a wedding reception, cause a scene in a restaurant AND a biker bar, and that's just for starters.  The kid (who's obviously been fed some lines, or told what to do) mistakes a woman working in a store for a stripper.  The old man dances with male strippers at a bachelor party, and so on.  All to get the reactions from the unsuspecting public on camera.  Problem is, almost all of it isn't funny, or if it is, it comes at the expense of older people.  Ha ha, old people can't drive well.  Ha ha, old men are horny because they haven't gotten laid in a while.  Ha ha, old people fall down and their bones are brittle.  Ha ha, old man got his wee-wee stuck in a vending machine.  (Umm, that last one just doesn't happen.  Not at all.)

Maybe it's because I'm staring down another birthday right now, which will be the last one in my 40's, but humor at the expense of any group, whether based on color, gender, religion or age, just doesn't land.  It shouldn't even be allowed to take off, let alone land.  Find another way.  And just because you HAVE the make-up technology (borrowed from "Undercover Boss", probably) doesn't mean you should use it in this way.

The other problem is, the hidden-camera pranks are worked into the narrative of this film, as if they're part of the story.  As if that's NOT Johnny Knoxville in old-person make-up, and we're just supposed to take this as a story about a grandfather and grandson on a road trip, causing havoc.  That's not just ill-advised, it's stupid and dangerous.  Passing off set-up pranks as a form of "reality" is one thing, but doing it for the sake of a story, well, now they're dragging fiction down into the mud-hole where we usually find Reality TV.  Look, I know that the show "Storage Wars" would be boring as dirt if it were JUST about people bidding on abandoned lockers, so they have to add a little bit about the bidders and their personal lives, just to make it interesting.  But there's no "story" that justifies making a funeral home full of people think that the body just fell out of the coffin, or asking furniture movers to help load a dead body into a trunk.  This is real bottom-of-the-barrel type of stuff.

The question then becomes, how "set up" are these pranks?  Do the people not wonder why there are THREE cameras following this old guy around, even to his doctor's office?  Why doesn't anyone call the police when he exposes himself, or asks someone to help him move his dead wife's body?  They must have let everyone in the scene know immediately afterwards that they were filming a movie, right?  I mean, they had to get personal releases from everyone in the scene, and the fact that some faces were blurred out means that they weren't always successful.  And did they use a person who was playing dead, or a lifelike mannequin - and aren't those both really bad choices?

Maybe they were playing off that appalling ABC show "What Would YOU Do?" (which I think resulted from another writers' strike, the one in 2008) where normal people are made to witness a person in public cutting in line, or abusing a child, or drinking too much at a bar and then heading off to drive home - and then they interview the people to learn WHY they interfered in the situation when, let's face it, we already know the answer, either they cared enough to act, or they didn't.  But that still doesn't justify the humor here.  Shock comedy (as seen in "The Hangover" and "Vacation") has just come way too far - and we know that in a fiction film, what we're seeing happen probably isn't really happening, and the people in these "reality" scenes just don't know that.

And where the hell was Catherine Keener?  Ah, Wikipedia tells me that she played the dead grandmother, or she would have if those scenes hadn't been cut.  They filmed flashbacks of her interacting with old Irving, but those scenes just didn't fit with the tone of the film - apparently cutting to a flashback would have disrupted the "reality" of these scenes, but somehow cutting between different three angles inside Irving's car doesn't, which is ridiculous.  A real old man with a real grandson wouldn't even have ONE camera inside his car, but we're all so used to the language of film editing that we just take the actors being filmed for granted and don't even think about what that means. But Keener was also used as the model for the dead grandma mannequin, they took a molding of her to make it look lifelike.

(As a point of order, I should probably disqualify this movie, but since Catherine Keener is still listed as being in this film, according to the IMDB she is in this, so I'm going to proceed.  She appears more in "Bad Grandpa .5", apparently, where they used the flashback scenes, but I feel no need to watch that.)

The only reason I'm not giving this film a "1" is that I did laugh during the scene where Irving dresses Billy up as a little girl and enters him a beauty pageant for little girls - and his Shirley Temple-like dance routine turns into a full-on stripper pole dance to the song "Cherry Pie", and the audience is completely shocked.  From everything I've seen of these child beauty pagents (on "Toddlers & Tiaras", among other shows) these people, more than anyone else, needed to be taken down a peg.  But when confronted with something that compares these pageants to a striptease, they can't handle it, which means they're a bunch of damn hypocrites.  We all know most of those girls are going to end up working a pole, anyway, right?  I mean, is Honey Boo Boo going to hold down a real job someday?

NITPICK POINTS: There are so many tonight, it just makes sense to combine them all into one.  Strangers don't attend people's funerals - just doesn't happen.  Social services doesn't let women go to jail without making sure someone takes care of their kid.  Similarly, if a counselor saw a father doing drugs on a Skype, she probably would NOT let the kid be delivered to him.  And if a body needed to be moved to another state for burial, a funeral home would probably have a way to send it there, they would NOT release a body back to the family.  And it's impossible for someone to spray fecal matter on a wall without removing their pants - why do I even have to point this last one out?

In exchange for making this disaster of a film, I decree that to right the karmic balance, when Johnny Knoxville becomes as old as the character he portrays here, he will be forced to walk around and NOT be recognized, and no one alive at that point in the future will still find any of his pranks funny, because humanity will have evolved past crude humor.  That seems only fair.

Also starring Johnny Knoxville (last seen in "Fun Size"), Jackson Nicoll (ditto), Greg Harris (last seen in "Mr. Woodcock"), Georgina Cates, Grasie Mercedes, Jill Killington.

RATING: 2 out of 10 cans of beer

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Into the Wild

Year 9, Day 228 - 8/16/17 - Movie #2,717

BEFORE: It may seem a bit weird, but I've got the rest of the year pretty well figured out now, the films are locked in and I can take a 3-week break in September, then some time off in October for New York Comic-Con AND a road trip down South if all goes well, and then I can wrap things up in November and December with a little time to spare.  And the path is going to take me through 4 big-ticket films that will be released in theaters: "Blade Runner 2049", "Justice League", "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Star Wars: The Last Jedi".  Now to get there, I've got to do a little more bouncing around between the films I've taped off cable (or am planning to), my access to a few key Academy screeners, and a few more films on Netflix.  However, this will only work if I break down and watch the "Hunger Games" films in November at a certain point - right now they don't all seem to be available on any one platform, not at a reasonable price, anyway, so near the end of October I'll have to figure out the best way to see them.  (Man, I sure do miss that $5 DVD store I used to shop at...)

But when I was putting together this chain, maybe about 6 weeks ago, I paused to think if there were any notable films that might also be missing from my plan - films that I've been meaning to see or had some interest in, but that just haven't seemed to be available.  I thought of two films that I've been anxiously waiting for some cable channel to run over the last, say, five years - but they never seem to come around.  One is "Into the Wild" and the other is "Drive" - now it turns out they're both available on iTunes, and I'm willing to lay out the $3.99 for either of them, only that means that I don't get to own a copy or put them in the permanent collection.  I don't feel I can wait any longer, since you never know when a film can disappear from a streaming service, it seems.  So I set out to work these two films into the mix somehow.

Now, since I've got some other Ryan Gosling films coming up ("The Nice Guys", "Blade Runner 2049" and I can borrow the Academy screener of "La La Land") it would seem that November would be an ideal time to watch "Drive" on iTunes.  But since Zach Galifianakis has a small role here, and can carry over from "Keeping Up With the Jones" for his fourth film in a row, there's no time like the present to watch "Into the Wild".  Seriously, why don't certain films that I want to see run on cable?  I've got like, all the channels.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Wild" (Movie #2,581)

THE PLOT: After graduating from college, Christopher McCandless abandons his possessions, gives his savings to charity and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wilderness.  Along the way, he encounters a series of characters that shape his life.

AFTER: Now I think I know why this doesn't run on premium cable, it's too damn long.  Two and a half hours?  It probably can't fit into any programming block on HBO or Showtime, or some cable network executives don't believe that a viewer will sit and watch anything of that length.  Meanwhile, the millennials today will binge-watch a new series, maybe 18 episodes all at once, so go figure that one out.

My next issue, and this ties in with it being too long, is that there's a lot of repetitive stuff here - don't get me wrong, the scenery is gorgeous, but how many times can we watch Chris (aka "Alexander Supertramp") hike up a mountain and then be stunned - absolutely awestruck - by the impressive view?  This loses its effectiveness somewhere around the 3rd or 4th time - maybe a few of these could have been cut, and the film's running time could have been brought down under two hours?  Just putting that out there.

Now, my famous pet peeve, Chris' itinerary, his route to Alaska, plays out completely out of order, which is usually a sure sign that someone wrote the screenplay in order, and realized there were long stretches of boring parts.  The easiest solution is to take the most exciting parts, in this case Chris arriving in Alaska and finding the "magic bus" to use as a shelter - from then on, we flashback to him graduating from college, and then burning all his bridges and going walkabout.  From then on, the film sort of toggles between his time in Alaska as an "experienced" outdoorsman, and the period crossing the country, making friends and gaining the skills he's going to eventually need in Alaska.

Really, I don't get it - why not play the film out as a linear narrative, which would not only make it easier for the audience to follow along, but also make it feel like more of a powerful accomplishment when he finally gets there?  Instead, the filmmakers tip their hand, we already KNOW he's going to get to Alaska, so whatever build-up or suspense about whether he may or may not succeed was dispatched within the first 5 minutes of the film.  This would be like a bit starting the first "Lord of the Rings" film with a scene where Frodo and Sam are about to throw the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom, then flashing back to the Shire where Gandalf comes to visit.  It doesn't make sense, but so many films are doing this these days.

What would be the problem with charting the course that Chris takes across the country, from Atlanta to South Dakota to Colorado, down to Mexico and then north to Los Angeles in the proper order?  Wouldn't we as an audience feel more invested, like we're along for the ride, unsure of whether he's ever going to make it to Alaska?  Again, I can only surmise that someone edited the film this way, and it was as boring as dirt.  Jumbling up the pieces, making me do the work to put the story in proper order, it's an editing crutch.  Going non-linear with the narrative allows for more editing possibilities, and the director then doesn't have to do as much work to set up expectations and then either fulfill or deny them, it's a cheap fix for covering over the boring parts, because he can just cut to some exciting outdoor action whenever things start to slow down.  Why make any attempt to follow classic 6-act structure if we can just jump around in time at will?  Rules were meant to be broken, right?  Sure, if you're OK with subverting reality and making it more difficult for people to follow along.

I say this as someone who's currently planning a road trip, from Dallas to Memphis to Nashville.  Maybe it's just me, but I want to do things in the most efficient way possible.  I know there are people who do things like driving cross-country, or taking their RV to every state in the lower 48 - and I admire the people who do this in the most efficient way possible.  And those people who try to visit every baseball stadium in the country in the minimum number of days, that's the kind of thing that really impresses me.  Heading out on the road without any sort of plan, to just see where life takes you, I don't think I could do that, it's just not in my nature.

There's a lot to like about the character of Christopher McCandless, but if I'm being honest, there's a lot I don't like about him too.  I get that he had issues with his family, and then also issues with the materialism of society as a whole, but I'm guessing there's probably a way to appreciate nature without destroying your IDs, giving away all your money and going completely off the grid.  Also, it seems like he did all this not to grow as a person or learn to be self-sufficient, but to lord it over everyone else.  Environmentalists as a whole might find their message travels better if they don't act so damn self-righteous about it.

Like, take vegetarians - if they convert to a diet of whole grains, fruits and nuts because they want to be healthier, that's fine, I can get behind that.  But if they do it to champion the cause and claim that they're then "better" than everyone else, now we've got a problem.  If you want to drop out of society and live out of a camper and follow Phish around, that's fine if that's the lifestyle you want.  But don't do it so you can live a life where you're constantly patting yourself on the back for being more natural or less wasteful or more liberal or whatever, because there's a really fine line between being a free spirit and being a hobo.  We have people in NYC who live off the grid, we call them "homeless people".

I'll admit that Chris took a hands-on approach, he made sure that he had the skills to trap and butcher animals, plus he learned things like leatherworking and amateur botany along the way, so that he could survive in the wild (umm, up to a point at least...) but that attitude of self-sufficiency seems to have run counter to things like hitchhiking, or accepting food from strangers.  Or working in a fast-food restaurant in order to get enough money for the next leg of your journey - congratulations, now you're a corporate shill, how does that jibe with your plan to live off the grid?

Also, was it really the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness that attracted him, based on Jack London's novels, or was that just the farthest place he could think to go, in order to put the most distance between him and his parents?  Perhaps there are many people who fantasize about dropping out of society, not telling friends and family where they're going, and then opening up a little surf shack in Maui or something - but it's just not fair to friends and family, who then won't ever be sure if they're alive or dead.

Since I'll never know the real Chris, maybe it's just an actor's choice in how to play him, but he comes off like a real prick here, someone who threw away his education and instead of getting a job and maybe working for things, he gave everything away and essentially disappeared, just to get back at his parents.  I mean, that's a long way to go to make a point, giving up every bit of opportunity and every relationship you've nurtured, not to mention every modern convenience that was invented to make human life better, just to stick it to Mom and Dad.  Why, because they used to yell at each other?  They didn't tell you the complete truth about the family dynamic?  They didn't hug you enough?  Give me a break.

And the solution is to divest yourself of any promise of comfort or routine, just to throw yourself into the wind, because you're somehow not cut out for a 9-to-5 job?  And now it's up to every stranger you encounter to give you a ride, or a hot meal, because you're above it all?  This is what's wrong with millennials (Chris was a bit ahead of his time, but work with me here...), they think that the world owes them something, they don't want to work hard for "the man" but still think they deserve to be paid.  For what, carrying your guitar around town?  Falling off your skateboards?  Handing out leaflets about social injustice?  Back in my day, you got out of college and started looking for a job, not a path to go live in the wilderness or a bunch of people to form a drum circle with.

By the time these social drifters hit 40 and realize that they didn't spend the last 2 decades crawling their way up to middle management, it's going to be too late, they won't have a retirement account or a work history or any accomplishments, really.  Congratulations, you went to Burning Man 8 years in a row, but what skills did you learn there that will help you run this bookstore?  And do you think you could maybe wait on customers without telling them that they're part of the imperialist regime, and that they need to do a juice cleanse? 

Maybe it's just that I've never had a good time camping - both times I went out to sleep in a tent somewhere, the results were disastrous.  Finally I realized that my ancestors invented "indoors" for a reason, and it was probably a good one.  Would I rather go camping or stay in a hotel where I probably won't get rained on or eaten by wild animals?  Which one of us has access to running water and a working toilet?  Sure, when you're out in the middle of the woods and you're having a reaction to some wild berries you ate, suddenly you realize that living in a city, where there are hospitals with emergency rooms, isn't such a bad idea.  Hey, you live by the sword, you die by the sword. 

Also starring Emile Hirsch (last seen in "Savages"), William Hurt (last seen in "Mr. Brooks"), Marcia Gay Harden (last seen in "The Hoax"), Catherine Keener (last heard in "The Croods"), Jena Malone (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Vince Vaughn (last seen in "Delivery Man"), Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Café Society"), Hal Holbrook (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Brian H. Dierker, Steven Wiig, Thure Lindhardt, Signe Egholm Olsen, Robin Matthews.

RATING: 5 out of 10 freight train cars

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Keeping Up With the Joneses

Year 9, Day 227 - 8/15/17 - Movie #2,716

BEFORE: My wife and I have been planning a late October getaway that would take us on a road trip from Dallas to Nashville, hitting the last day of the Texas State Fair, and as many BBQ restaurants along the way as we choose to deem acceptable.  I know there's plenty of great food in Memphis and Little Rock also, thanks to all the BBQ and other food-related shows I watch.  We're just a little short on ideas about fun things to do in Nashville, since neither of us care for country music, but I'm sure something will come up.  By then we should be really close to Halloween, so we could just find a haunted hayride or a spooky pub crawl and be done with it.

But this does affect my plans a little bit - I've got to stay on track now so that I can take the time off.  Plus when early October comes I may have to watch 2 or even 3 films per night for a while so that I can have a free week at the end of the month.  I'd already stripped down my horror-movie plans to allow time off for New York Comic-Con, and I already had a few free October days at the end, so now I just have to make sure that I can clear a whole week.  It should be fine.

Zach Galifianakis carries over again, this makes three in a row for him, and tomorrow I make it four before moving on to other things through another link.

THE PLOT: A suburban couple becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot when they discover that their seemingly perfect new neighbors are government spies.

AFTER: I think part of the problem with my last two films was a lack of contrast - if every character in a movie is weird or off in a similar way, it does create a constant tone, but without contrast a story can seem a little flat.  In "Masterminds" every character was bumbling or eccentric, and it's a mistake sometimes in comedy to think that "more is more" when it comes to making things silly.  When you have contrast, there's a greater chance for conflict, and comedy comes from that.  So here we have Zach Galifianakis playing a similar character - he's well-intentioned, naive, bordering on dumb, but essentially just a regular guy with a normal wife.  You put those two up against some super-spies as foil characters, now it sort of feels like we're getting somewhere.  We've got someone to compare the dumb nice guy to, someone suave and slick and deceptive, and we've got a game.

Same goes for the wife, she's nice, simple, attractive but not overwhelmingly so, and you put her up against Gal Gadot, now we've got some compare and contrast, it's just more interesting.  They can now set up a "fish out of water" storyline as the normals get pulled into this world of international intrigue (even though I don't think they ever leave Atlanta, somehow it's still international intrigue).

I feel like I should probably pay more attention to who directed each film I watch - most of the time I don't even bother to look up the director's name, but isn't that vitally important in the end?  It seems like when I was setting up the template for the format I've used for almost 9 years now, it seems like I didn't think this would ever come up.  But knowing that the director of "Masterminds" also directed "Napoleon Dynamite", and the director of today's film also directed "Superbad", "Adventureland" and "Paul" seems rather important in retrospect.  You can't always tell what kind of film you're going to get by considering what that director has made before, but it couldn't hurt to think about that.

In other Jon Hamm news, I'm almost done with the sixth season (out of seven) of "Mad Men".  I've grown tired of waiting for AMC on Demand to post 4 more episodes every 2 weeks - besides, they often skip episodes (the horror) or forget to make them available at all (lazy!) so I'm going to watch the rest of the episodes on Netflix, even though Netflix does that horrible thing where they start playing the next episode before the credits are done on the one I'm currently watching (very annoying!).  But at least this way I can watch them without ads or audio drop-out, there was even one episode on AMC on Demand that put commercial breaks in the MIDDLE of a scene - who the heck edited that?

NITPICK POINT: What person in their right mind, even someone who specializes in Human Resources, have no idea what the company works for even does?  I mean, HR is universal, if you know the rules and systems you could work for just about any company, but still, some time in the first week, you would imagine that question's going to come up.  If he wants to be good at his job, and understand the issues and specific stresses that the employees of the company are going through, he's simply GOT to know what line of work they're in.  For him to be this clueless about it, when he's otherwise capable at his job, just doesn't ring true.

Also starring Isla Fisher (last seen in "The Brothers Grimsby"), Jon Hamm (last heard in "Minions"), Gal Gadot (last seen in "Criminal"), Patton Oswalt (last seen in "Calendar Girls"), Matt Walsh (last seen in "The Do-Over"), Kevin Dunn (last seen in "The Bonfire of the Vanities"), Maribeth Monroe, Bobby Lee (last seen in "The Dictator"), Ming Zhao

RATING: 5 out of 10 shots of snake wine

Monday, August 14, 2017

Masterminds (2016)

Year 9, Day 226 - 8/14/17 - Movie #2,715

BEFORE: It's too early to start adding up the total appearances for each actor in Movie Year 9 - but it's going to be hard for any actor to beat Fred Astaire, who appeared in 14 films.  Hey, I said I wanted to finally get around to his films, and this year I did that, big time.  As a by-product of that chain, Ginger Rogers is a strong contender for second place, with 8 appearances.  I still have no idea who will come in third, but anyone who's done a lot of animation voice-work or been interviewed in geek-centric documentaries might have an inside track.  (Harrison Ford could be a contender, especially if I count the archive footage from "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" films seen in those documentaries.)

After this week, Zach Galifianakis (who carries over from "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" today) is going to have 6 appearances under his belt, and that's pretty good.  Tonight's film also marks the 6th appearance for Jason Sudeikis, so he's also having a good year.  They both tie Nick Offerman, who had a 6-film run with the animated movies ("Sing", "Ernest & Celestine", "Ice Age", "My Life as a Zucchini") and also 2 live-action appearances.  So we'll have to play the rest of the games out, since I'm also expecting high numbers from late appearances by Warren Beatty, Ben Affleck, Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lawrence.

THE PLOT: A guard at an armored car company in the Southern U.S. organizes one of the biggest bank heists in American history.  Based on the October 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery.

AFTER: This was another silly film about making money quickly, like yesterday's film, but this one took itself a bit more seriously, which I appreciate.  Not that much, of course, but at least the characters didn't constantly break the fourth wall and giving knowing looks to the audience - but as you might expect from the director of "Napoleon Dynamite", it's filled with strange characters that are just a bit too strange to be realistic.

There's a clueless guy, David Ghantt, who works for an armored car company, and he's easily duped by Kelly, a woman who got fired from that company who hatches a scheme to rob the place, along with her friend Steve, who's the alleged "mastermind" in the title.  Even though David's engaged (to another odd character), he falls for Kelly and is willing to clean out the armored car company's vault, which is a lot easier than robbing a bank, seeing as how the company trusts him with the keys.

David heads straight for Mexico with some of the cash, but most of it is kept by Steve, who keeps David away by having Kelly talk to him on the phone twice a week, constantly promising to join him in Mexico in a short time.  Eventually David figures out that Kelly's not coming, and Steve first tips of his location to Interpol, then sends a hit man to take him out, because dead men can't reveal their co-conspirators.

This is based on a true story, the Loomis Fargo heist in North Carolina, but at some point the comedy deviates from the (I'm assuming) boring way that the FBI connected the dots and got the evidence they needed to indict 8 people for larceny and money laundering.  Turns out that tracing phone calls and following tips probably isn't as cinematic as crashing a swanky party and blowing up some cars.  I'll allow it if it makes for a funny film.  (OK, I guess I'll settle for a partly funny film.)

This film falls apart at some point, and I think it's in Mexico where the hit-man finally tracks down his quarry.  The reason for sparing David's life and then bonding with him is quite fishy, definitely a plot contrivance of questionable nature.  It didn't follow logically, that's for sure.  The same goes for how David learns about Steve's real name.  This is a film that definitely stumbles toward its conclusion.

Hey, whatever happened to that heist film that was going to be set at a Comic convention?  I thought up this idea independently a few years ago, only to learn that someone was already making a film like that.  (It makes sense, the amount of money that these things rake is in quite astonishing...)  It's still listed on the IMDB as being in the post-production phase, under the title "Supercon", but there's no release date scheduled.  They'd better hurry, there aren't many release dates left in 2017 - August is usually Hollywood's dumping ground for bad films, so maybe I should be pleased it's not scheduled for release this month - but when?

Also starring Kristen Wiig (last heard in "Sausage Party"), Owen Wilson (last heard in "Cars 3"), Jason Sudeikis (last heard in "The Angry Birds Movie"), Kate McKinnon (ditto), Leslie Jones (last heard in "Sing"), Jon Daly (last seen in "Hail, Caesar!"), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (last seen in "Free State of Jones"), Ken Marino (last seen in "Gattaca"), Ross Kimball, Devin Ratray, Daniel Zacapa, with archive footage of James Coburn (last seen in "Hudson Hawk").

RATING: 4 out of 10 security cameras

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Year 9, Day 225 - 8/13/17 - Movie #2,714

BEFORE: William Atherton played the guy from the E.P.A., Walter "Dickless" Peck in the first "Ghostbusters" film, and since he was interviewed in "Ghostheads" yesterday, he appears again today and acts as my sneaky link back to narrative films.  My other choices were Sigourney Weaver (I'll catch up with her at the end of the month) or...well, that was about it.  Maybe Bill Murray in "Rock the Kasbah" but that's not high on my list of priorities, plus I know that this path gets me to the end of 2017.

Geek Week is over, but there is a Comic-Con connection here - I was in San Diego in 2006, which was maybe my 3rd or 4th year there, and our booth was next to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim booth, which they had decorated with a working fountain and a lot of owl statues, for some reason.  But they weren't selling anything, which struck me as quite odd, because who pays for a booth and then doesn't sell any merchandise?  Turns out they were just using the booth for signings, and each day they had a different show's cast there autographing for an hour or two - then they would re-decorate the whole booth for the next day (different colored owls), which again, I thought was quite crazy.  It defied all the natural logic about how to set-up and run a booth.

One day, a loud noise rang up from halfway across the convention center, and the rumble of a cheering crowd was slowly moving toward us - it was Tim and Eric, plus their entourage of fans, making a grand and loud entrance as they headed toward the booth next door to do a signing session. Later in the day, Tim came over and bought a whole bunch of stuff from us, including a few pieces of signed animation art, and though my boss didn't recognize him, I sure did.  (My other job at the time was tracking TV commercials, and I had to tape a lot of Cartoon Network to cover that demographic.). So I had to let Tim know that I knew who he was, without acting like a fanboy - I've found that's the best way to talk to minor celebrities - they want to be recognized, but they also don't want that recognition to get in the way of buying the thing that they want.

I also happened to catch about 15 minutes of this film, on in the background late one night while I was searching through the cable guide.  Not enough to spoil the whole film, just enough to want to see more of it, though I hope I didn't see the best parts, meaning I'll have to watch the crappy bits tonight just to cross it off my list.

THE PLOT: Two guys get a billion dollars to make a movie, only to watch their dream run off course.  In order to make the money back, they attempt to revitalize a failing shopping mall.

AFTER: Maybe it's just me, because I never got behind their shows "Tom Goes to the Mayor" and "Tim and Eric's Awesome Show...Great Job!" on the Adult Swim, but what the freak did I just watch?  Even with the advance work of having seen about 15 minutes of this before by accident, it still manages to defy all narrative logic.  Like, I can't tell if it's just comedy that's coming at me from a weird angle, or if it's put together poorly and the jokes aren't landing.  There's got to be a difference, right?  I mean, taken one way, there are parts that aren't funny, so comedy fail, but if that was the intention all along, to just be weird and not funny, then they succeeded, because that's what they got.

I get that this film doesn't take itself seriously, so therefore nothing in it can possibly be taken seriously, or even at face value.  It's a silly movie that knows it's a silly movie, but it's not funny enough to be a parody like "Airplane!" was, it's more on the level of something like "Baseketball", which set out to parody every sports movie at once, but was not a serious narrative in any way.  I see Tim & Eric as sort of the new Trey Parker and Matt Stone, following in their footsteps.  Just two creative guys who want to be funny, but they get there by throwing a whole bunch of stuff against the wall, hoping something will stick.  So to speak.

Maybe this whole thing is meant to be a send-up of Hollywood filmmaking, seen at first in the actor characters who get in trouble by wasting a billion dollars of the studio's money making their film (and for hiring a Johnny Depp impersonator instead of the real thing) and then spending the rest of the money on themselves and their guru.  The rest of the film spoofs the corporate world as they transform themselves into phony business types to run a mall in the middle of nowhere - there's a lot of double-speak as they pretend to know about profit/loss statements and the "action steps" they need to take to re-open the mall and make back their billion.

The S'Wallow Valley Mall is in disrepair, and its owner can't wait to hire them and then sneak out the back door, leaving them to deal with the failing businesses, the hobo squatters and one very hungry wolf that roams the premises.  There's an old yogurt shop that has spoiling inventory, and another shop that sells used toilet paper.  (Really?)  I think about 2/3 of the way through the excessive toilet humor really dragged the film down, a succession of poop jokes and masturbation jokes is usually a sign that the story couldn't support itself any longer, so boom, let's go right to the lowest common denominator.

The supporting cast of odd-looking people, some of whom are actors and some who I assume are not, was also a little suspect to me.  I'm reminded of movies like "The Ringer", which mixed in a bunch of mentally-challenged people, and then there sort of becomes this fine line between giving those people a voice and downright exploiting them.  In a weird way the two main actors sort of seem like mentally handicapped people themselves - so I wonder if they surrounded themselves with odder-looking people so they'd look more attractive?

Overall I'd probably be a lot more upset if this film didn't get me out of the "documentaries about geek films" section and link me to (hopefully) better films ahead.

Also starring Tim Heidecker (last seen in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas"), Eric Wareheim, Robert Loggia (last seen in "Hard Time"), Will Ferrell (last seen in "Daddy's Home"), John C. Reilly (last heard in "Sing"), Zach Galifianakis (last heard in "The Lego Batman Movie"), Will Forte (last seen in "The Ridiculous 6"), Twink Caplan (last seen in "Clueless"), Ray Wise (last seen in "X-Men: First Class"), Matt O'Toole, Ronnie Rodriguez, Mary Bly, Lillian Adams, Howie Slater, Robert Axelrod, Tennessee Winston Luke, James Quall, David Liebe Hart, with cameos from Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2"), Erica Durance and the voices of Bob Odenkirk (last seen in "Nebraska"), Michael Gross.

RATING: 3 out of 10 slices of pizza