Saturday, January 12, 2019

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Year 11, Day 12 - 1/12/19 - Movie #3,112

BEFORE: I suppose I could have gone to see this film in the theater last year, I remember debating that, and if my chain had swung a little differently I probably would have, but I had my priorities, which involved getting to the film "Holes" so I could launch that chain of rock documentaries that took up more than 50 slots.  So I waited until now, when I have access to a screener, since awards season is in full bloom.  Yes, I know that only Academy members are supposed to watch those, but this film is now available on iTunes, and it most likely WILL be available on HBO in a couple months, and I promise to record it (and therefore pay for it via my cable bill) at that time.  So it's really all just about timing, I'm watching it now and paying for it later.

So far this year it's been 9 films watched on premium cable (7 of which were dubbed to DVD before viewing, and 2 were on the DVR on channels that didn't allow me to save a copy) plus 2 films on Netflix ("A Most Violent Year" and "Promised Land") and now 1 on a screener.  I'll try to update these stats at the end of each month, because there could be an indication in the future that I could drop cable and go all-streaming, but clearly I'm not there yet.

Tom Cruise carries over from "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" and I've cleared his filmography once again.  But having watched two Cruise movies last year and now another two in 2019, he'll never make the year-end countdown again at this rate.  Sure, big star, but I watched 11 movies last year with his ex-wife Nicole Kidman in them...

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (Movie #2,282)

THE PLOT: Ethan Hunt and his IMF team, along with some familiar allies, race against time after a mission goes wrong.

AFTER: The Impossible Mission Force is back to save the world, though if they do their jobs right, the world will never learn of their efforts - jeez, isn't that always the way?  And after an opening mission goes south, they manage to lose track of some silver spheres of plutonium, so they have to worry about TWO kinds of fallout, not only the nuclear kind, but the political and professional ramifications of their little boo-boo.  I suppose you could also say they're still dealing with the fallout from the previous films, too, because two characters from MI-6 (that's the British spy agency, not the 6th Mission:Impossible. film) are key players here, the rogue agent/love interest from "Ghost Protocol" and the former agent who headed up the Syndicate in "Rogue Nation".

One or two new faces, sure, but essentially it's the same old team.  I've got nothing against Luther and Benji, but I kind of miss the flavor of the old TV series, when there were 5 or 6 team IMF members to choose from and Jim Phelps had to put together the perfect team for the job each week.  OK, who am I kidding, he always picked the same people too, but at least they went through the motions of being picked, that was probably good for their self-esteem.  But if Ethan Hunt works with Luther and Benji every single time, what's their motivation to do the best possible job?  Oh, yeah, saving the world and all that.  Still, I think they could do something to mix it up a bit more.  But maybe today's audiences can't keep more than three characters straight at a time.  (Yet weren't there like 17 Avengers in their last film?).  And I maintain that if Ethan only works with Luther and Benji, then over time he's only going to pick the missions that they can accomplish with their skill-sets, instead of accepting the job and then assembling the proper team to pull it off.

Right, the new guy.  Because of their slip-ups, and the air of mystery surrounding Ethan Hunt (someone floats the possibility that he might have an alias as a secret arms dealer or something, but really, how would he have the time?) they're forced to work with CIA agent August Walker on the mission to get the plutonium back, and he's not only younger, fitter and stronger than Hunt, I think he can also change the course of mighty rivers and leap tall buildings in a single bound.  He might even be more powerful than a locomotive - but unlike that guy he played with the red cape, his character here is also a bit of a dick. The Big Mission starts with August and Ethan sky-diving into Paris - because who has time to wait in line for a TSA check, am I right? - and a mid-air accident forces Ethan to save August's life nearly at the expense of his own, and August not only doesn't thank him, he doesn't even acknowledge it happened.  Whatever, dude, we just learned all we needed to know about your character.

I'm going to maintain this is a huge NITPICK POINT, because despite everything that happens on the way down from the plane, both agents managed to land right on top of the exact building in Paris that they need to enter, without even trying.  Right.  These guys are good, but nobody is THAT good.  Plus, all that just to enter a nightclub without being on the list?  Seems to me there had to be a much easier way to accomplish that, but then again, I haven't been to a nightclub in over 30 years.

It seems this is sort of par for the course with the IMF, do they always insist on doing things the hard way?  Wasn't there a case a couple of films ago where Hunt had to access some computer databank that was stored underwater for some reason (is that even a thing?) and hold his breath underwater in that swirling tank while his team member infiltrated the compound in disguise?  You can't tell me that they just coudn't have hacked that system remotely, I'm not buying it.  Hanging from an airplane, climbing a tall skyscraper, if there's a hard way to do something, the IMF will find it, you can bet on it.  This film features some overly complicated bomb decision, combined with a helicopter-based shootout, mixed with a simultaneous hand-to-hand fight scene in another location.

But as I said yesterday, it's extremely easy for an action film to devolve into a simple chase scene, and this does happen twice here, only there's not really anything simple about either occurence. The driving-based one looked really familiar, as if I'd seen one just like it in the last "Mission: Impossible" movie, but I figured that couldn't be right.  And it's not - I was thinking of a similar chase scene set along the canals of Amsterdam instead of the streets of Paris, only it was in the film "The Hitman's Bodyguard", which I watched last September.  Motorcycles, cop cars, trying to apprehend an "asset" from Interpol custody, and ending up in a boat - the two scenes do have a lot in common, only the Amsterdam canals were replaced here with the Paris sewer system, with the end result very much the same.

Of course there are always the fake-outs, with the false faces and a little bit of sleight-of-hand thrown in.  Movie magic is what makes the false faces possible, I think they proved on "Mythbusters" a couple years ago that nobody has prosthetic face technology that's this good, in other words, in the real world you're always going to know that you're talking to a guy wearing a mask.  MAYBE you can fool a security camera here and there, but not the human brain.  And now the IMF has added this little strip of tape that they put on their throats, so the wearer can duplicate another person's voice, which, if possible, makes professional impersonators a thing of the past.  Of course this doesn't exist, as soon as the agent puts on the false face they cut away, and he's replaced by another actor.  We all know this is how the movie is made, doesn't this ruin the trick because we know that this whole "false face" thing is completely bogus?

It's been a gradual progression all week from the action films based on true events, like "13 Hours" to one that was semi-fictionalized ("Seam Team Six") and now one that's almost completely ridiculous, with barely one toenail in reality.  But damn if it isn't also the one that's the most thrilling, where even the setbacks in the stunts will have you on the edge of your seat.  For that reason, I think I'm being very lenient with my rating tonight.

Also starring Henry Cavill (last seen in "Justice League"), Ving Rhames (last seen in "Idlewild"), Simon Pegg (last seen in "Ready Player One"), Rebecca Ferguson (last seen in "Life") Sean Harris (last seen in "24 Hour Party People"), Angela Bassett (last seen in "Black Panther"), Michelle Monaghan (last seen in "North Country"), Alec Baldwin (last seen in "Rules Don't Apply"), Vanessa Kirby (last seen in "Everest"), Wes Bentley (last seen in "Pete's Dragon"), Frederick Schmidt, Kristoffer Joner (last seen in "The Revenant"), Liang Yang, Alix Benezech, with a cameo from Wolf Blitzer.

RATING: 7 out of 10 broken sinks

Friday, January 11, 2019

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Year 11, Day 11 - 1/11/19 - Movie #3,111

BEFORE: OK, so I figured out that the first movie I should see in the theaters this year is "Captain Marvel", because it could be the "Black Panther" of 2019 - the film that comes out a month or so before the big "Avengers" film, and is probably required viewing to stay current with the Marvel movies.  So I'd figured out my chain up until March 15 or 16, and from where I left off, it's just three steps to "Captain Marvel", which opens on 8 - I'll only be about a week behind, that's not too bad.

All I have to figure out then is a chain that gets me from there to "Avengers: Endgame" in about 40 steps.  I've been worried because it seems several films lately have been featuring people like Chris Hemsworth or John Brolin (or Cobie Smulders tonight) that are known for being in Avengers films (and two more next week with Robert Downey Jr.) so it seems like I'm disabling a lot of good linking possibilities in my film choices this month.  I shouldn't worry, because that Avengers cast list is so huge, I'll probably be able to get there in any of two dozen ways. I've still got other films on my list with Bradley Cooper or Chris Evans or Paul Rudd or Michelle Pfeiffer - hell, I've got films on my list with Benedict Wong or Frank Grillo or Hiroyuki Sanada, so I'm not worried.  I just need a few weeks to figure out the best way, or my preferred way, of getting from one Marvel film to the other.  I certainly can't take 40 days off in March/April, or sit on the "Captain Marvel" review for 40 days, that wouldn't be sporting. 

Tonight, Robert Knepper carries over from "Seal Team Six".  If you don't know who that is, he played the C.O. last night, and a general tonight, I think he plays a lot of army guys.  But he was also on the "Twin Peaks" reboot, as one of the casino-owning brothers, and Jim Belushi played the other.  Character actors like him seem to have an arc to their careers, once I notice someone I start to see him everywhere, and then I might not see him again for a few years after that.

I don't know why I didn't get to this film last year - I watched both "American Made" and "The Mummy" with Tom Cruise - obviously that last one had to land in October for horror month, but why didn't I go from "American Made" to the Jack Reacher sequel?  I must have had some other goal in mind around July 4, I guess I was trying to get to the film that was my entry to the rockumentary chain, and that meant I had to skip this film.  Oh well, I guess since I needed it now, that means that everything does happen for a reason.   And maybe that's what January is for, getting to those things that you meant to get to during the previous year.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Jack Reacher" (Movie #1,429)

THE PLOT: Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name.  On the run as a fugitive, Reacher uncovers a political secret from his past that could change his life forever.

AFTER: From the opening sequence, we're led to believe that veteran Jack Reacher is this Ronin-like character who always seems to turn up wherever justice needs to be served, or perhaps wherever he goes, the need for justice seems to follow him around, it's tough to tell.  Maybe a little bit of both.  In my review of the first film, I called him a great, well-rounded character, both observant and smart, and I gave that film a "7".  But I felt that his character was just a little TOO perfect, if that makes sense, but a lot of action heroes are portrayed like that.  Here in the sequel, they've improved the character by making him a bit more vulnerable, a little less superhuman and a little more capable of making mistakes, but the surrounding story just isn't as good.  Last time we had a military sniper who had apparently killed 5 people, only Reacher believed it was a frame-up, because his ability to "read" the murder scene told him that a military man probably would have not fired from that location - so that set up a challenge to find the real hitman.

Here, it's another frame-up, only the person being framed is Major Susan Turner, Reacher's connection to his old military base, a woman who basically has his old job who he talks to on the phone between one covert action and the next.  He slowly works his way back to Washington, presumably to ask her out, only to find out that she's in the brig.  Then HE gets framed for something, so he's got to break himself out of custody, and her as well.  Long story short, they go on the lam with a teen who MIGHT be Reacher's daughter, to figure out what's really going on here, and who's behind it all.  No spoilers here, of course, but I'm left wondering if it was all really worth it in the end.  Probably this could not have been resolved with a long court case, and that wouldn't have been very cinematic of course, but I'm not sure that what is essentially just an extended chase scene was the best way to go, either.

It's been a big week for private military contractors, obviously, since they were also seen in "13 Hours", but here they're almost interchangeable with professional assassins, and I have a feeling that's a gross generalization, and (one hopes) not a common occurence in real life.  Am I right?

Part of the last half of this film is set in New Orleans on Halloween - which is weird for me because I was in New Orleans last year just before Halloween.  Of course, we didn't realize that Halloween is like the 2nd biggest party day of the year there, after Mardi Gras, but something tells me that probably every holiday is like the 2nd biggest party day of the year there.  I can believe what was seen in this film, with a packed crowd on Bourbon St., fireworks and a whole lot of drinking - that seems about right.  And though we didn't fly into New Orleans International Airport, we did depart from it, and it IS that confusing. We went through the TSA check twice, because nobody told us that there was more than one terminal with a different security line for each one, and that we were standing in the wrong one.  If we didn't have the SkyPass we would have missed our flight and been eliminated from the race at the next pit-stop.

For that matter, it's a convention typical to movies, but I'm still going to count it as a NITPICK POINT that three people just go to the airport, and get tickets on the NEXT available flight to New Orleans.  Who does this?  I buy plane tickets months in advance to get the best prices - though who knows, sometimes they go up at the last minute, but maybe if there are still seats available you can get them reasonably right before the flight?  I can't live like that, I was brought up believing that if you wait until the last minute, you're going to pay top dollar.  But OK, they were using stolen credit cards here, so maybe they didn't care about the cost.  But to find a flight on no notice, with three seats available - no, wait, three seats TOGETHER at the last minute, uh uh, I'm not buying it.  It would have killed the movie's momentum, but by all rights, they should have had to wait around in the airport for hours.

I've determined that Jack Reacher is like the Marshall Crenshaw of action heroes.  If you know anything about 1980's music, Marshall Crenshaw came on the scene just a little bit too late, and rode that wave of post-MTV anti-heavy metal when people didn't know if the next big thing was going to be folk-soul or synth-punk as the 1980's turned into the 1990's.  (It turned out to be boy bands and rap, but for a little while, nobody was sure.)  So people thought maybe Marshall Crenshaw might be the next Elvis Costello, or even the next Joe Jackson, but after three albums the industry sort of decided that it just wasn't going to happen.  He had a hit song in 1982 with "Someday, Someway" and I kind of liked his song "Cynical Girl" from the same album, but I regretted making his next two albums part of my music collection because there wasn't anything even close to a catchy song on either one. 

After the first "Jack Reacher" film, I said that I was hoping for more installments in the franchise, but after this tepid chapter, I think I'm OK if they stop after two.

Also starring Tom Cruise (last seen in "The Mummy"), Cobie Smulders (last seen in "Avengers: Infinity War"), Aldis Hodge (last seen in "Hidden Figures"), Danika Yarosh, Patrick Heusinger (last seen in "Black Swan"), Holt McCallany (last seen in "Alpha Dog"), Austin Hebert (last seen in "12 Strong"), Darcel White Moreno, Robert Catrini, Jessica Stroup, Madalyn Horcher, Teri Wyble, Lee Child, Michael Papajohn (last seen in "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"), Jason Douglas, Judd Lormand.

RATING: 5 out of 10 flagged credit cards

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden

Year 11, Day 10 - 1/10/19 - Movie #3,110

BEFORE: This is the fourth action film in a row "based on a true story", and I'm getting a little burned out on the genre, as you might imagine.  Lots of gunplay, high body counts this week, and it's been affecting my sleep patterns.  It's harder for me to go to bed after a war film sort of jacks up my adrenaline.  I can't wait to get back to some light comedy or even an animated film so I can calm down and get some rest.

William Fichtner carries over from "12 Strong", and so does one other actor and one terrorist.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Zero Dark Thirty" (Movie #1,582)

THE PLOT: A group of Navy SEALs come to learn the identity of their next target: Osama Bin Laden.

AFTER: I should have known something was wrong when I saw this listed as a "TV Movie" - usually, famously, that's not a good sign.  This film was made for the National Geographic Channel, and then for some reason later aired on the premium channels with the commercials removed.  The version I saw was only 90 minutes long, so that was probably 2 hours of NatGeo air-time with ads.  But since the original version probably did have ads, there are still constant reminders of what happened before the break, even when the breaks are no longer there.

What's worse is that there's no information in this story that couldn't have come from news reports and news footage, in other words, nobody wrote a book about these real-world events and then adapted the book into a film, like with "12 Strong", instead they probably just went straight from news reports to a fictionalized versions, with a couple of Obama speeches before and after the event to fill in some gaps.

And since the mission was classified and the names of the SEAL team members were not revealed, at least not before this film was made, the soldiers couldn't possibly be based on real people, they're just sort of amalgams of what we imagine soldiers to be.  Even in the personal moments when they're Skyping loved ones, all we really learn about "Trench" and "Mule" is that they have families, that they're training real hard, and some of them love to play first-person shooter video-games.  (I personally think that after a hard day of training with guns, the LAST thing a soldier would want to do would be to play a first-person shooter game.  They probably would want the complete opposite of their daily routine in order to relax, and prefer to play Mario Kart or something.).

But any sixth-grader who watched the news could have written this screenplay.  Like, at one point we learn that "Cherry" has some kind of a beef with "Stunner", but do we ever really find out what it was?  Was he challenging him for leadership of the squad, were they fighting over a woman, what was the deal?

NITPICK POINT: And don't get me started on "D-Punch".  We can't say "donkey punch" on cable TV any more, what kind of censorship is that?  Come on, you know that's what the "D" stands for - but if you can't say the nickname, and that wasn't a Seal Team member's name anyway, then why not give him another phony name?

And what's worse than THAT is that the framing device used to tell the story is a series of interview sessions with the key players, like Cherry and "CIA Analyst #1".  Who is interviewing them?  Why are they talking to anyone about this classified mission, which is, you know, classified to the nth degree.  The soldiers even point out to each other that, assuming Bin Laden was their target, they would never ever be able to talk about it, not even if they were the one that took the kill shot.

The "facts" in this film were never confirmed or denied by the White House - so we don't really know how this went down, but no, by all means, don't let that stop you from making a movie about it.  According to this film, a couple of CIA operatives followed a known Taliban courier to that compond in Abbottabad, Pakistan and suspected that Bin Laden was there based on all of the children that were being home-schooled there, and the fact that they burned all of their trash.  So they rented an apartment on the other side of a soccer field so they could do surveillance - now I've got to go and look up to see if any of this really happened.  To confirm their suspicions about the chief resident of the compound, they (again, allegedly) got a doctor from the local hospital to knock on the door and offer free immunizations to gain access.  I guess this was their plan after selling magazine subscription didn't work, and their back-up plan was to leave a flaming bag of poop on Bin Laden's doorstep?

Also starring Cam Gigandet (last seen in "The Magnificent Seven"), Anson Mount (last seen in "Mr. Right"), Freddy Rodriguez (last seen in "Bobby"), Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner (last seen in "XXX: State of the Union"), Robert Knepper (last seen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"), Kenneth Miller (also carrying over from "12 Strong"), Tait Fletcher (last seen in "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle"), Kathleen Robertson (last seen in "I Am Sam"), Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kristen Rakes, Rajesh Shringarpure, Jenny Gabrielle, Mo Gallini, David House, Yon Kempton, Jahan Khalili, Keith Meriweather, Lora Martinez-Cunningham, Sarah Minnich, Alma Sisneros, Saleem Watley, Harsh Chhaya, Maninder Singh, with archive footage of Barack Obama (last seen in "Rush: Time Stand Still"), Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton (last seen in "History of the Eagles"), John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump (last seen in "The Polka King"), Seth Meyers (last seen in "Knock Knock, It's Tig Notaro"), Dennis Miller (last seen in "What Happens in Vegas"), and Osama Bin Laden (also carrying over from "12 Strong").

RATING: 3 out of 10 night-vision goggles

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

12 Strong

Year 11, Day 9 - 1/9/19 - Movie #3,109

BEFORE: Well, I added in all of the films that are now available to me via Academy screener, onto my auxiliary list, that is, not my main watchlist, which is holding steady at 155 films.  But the secondary list, which is films that are being considered for the main list, those available on screeners, Netflix, and on premium cable which I have not officially recorded on the DVR yet, has now ballooned up to 210 films.  I think it was a little over 150 a few weeks ago - that might give you an idea how many screeners get sent out this time of year, it feels like every film that has an outside chance of maybe getting an Oscar nomination is really going for it with the screeners.  There are even more films that got released in 2018 that aren't on any of my lists yet, except for the list of films I don't want to forget about when they do become available to me in some form.  Umm, I don't count those.  But all told that's 365 films I'm considering, plus another 25 that I don't want to forget about. Jesus, that's well over a year's worth of programming, and obviously more films are going to be released in 2019, like "X-Men: Dark Phoenix" and "Toy Story 4" and "Spider-Man: Far From Home", and of course "Star Wars: Episode IX".

So, I've got to be really careful, and start thinking about how I'm going to link to films like "Captain Marvel" in March and "Avengers: Endgame" in May.  I'm sort of playing with fire here by watching Josh Brolin in "Only the Brave", and Chris Hemsworth in tonight's film - both are probably on the cast list for this "Avengers" movie, and every time I watch a movie like this, I lessen the chances of the linking being there when I need it.  Fortunately I've got all of February to plan out the spring line-up, by then my lists could look very different, with all kinds of new opportunities springing up.  I've just got to keep my eyes open and keep all my cast lists current, I hope.

FOUR actors carry over from "Only the Brave", and they are Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Kenneth Miller and Matthew Van Wettering.  Hmm, the two films share a casting director - maybe all this time I've been going about this all wrong, and I should be paying attention to the casting directors, who probably cast the same people again and again.  And both films were partially shot in New Mexico in 2016, that's a huge coincidence - though they were filmed 6 months apart.

THE PLOT: The story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11.  Under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down the Taliban.

AFTER: Another high learning curve for me tonight, because this film is set in the month right after the 9/11 attacks, and at the time I was a little busy preparing to get married, on Nov. 3, 2001.  This meant we had to walk down in October to City Hall in Manhattan because the subway still wasn't servicing Lower Manhattan, go through extensive security checks because the whole area was basically on lock-down, and stand in a long line outside just to get in the building.  We'd been planning it for months, of course, and we weren't about to change our plans necessarily, but for a while there nobody knew when or if life was going to return to normal, and even if it did, whether it would seem appropriate to celebrate anything.  And then walking around after, we couldn't really get close to "the pile", but sometimes you'd catch a glimpse of it between buildings or hear the bulldozers and work crews moving rubble around.

And of course we just weren't really thinking about the fact that there might already be people with boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan - though I remember thinking that sending forces over there was probably inevitable, but probably also a really bad idea.  Because 3,000 people dying in Manhattan is of course terrible, horrific, but sending more people overseas to die in a war seemed to me like it would only compound the problem.  (I think the numbers back me up here - 4,000 soldiers and civilian contractors, 15,000 Afghan security forces and 31,000 civilians - was it worth all that?)

Did I expect America to do nothing in response?  I guess not, but I still think it would have been the smart(er) move.  The Christian move, even, because the Bible preached that everyone should "turn the other cheek" when they are wronged, but even though the conservative Republicans are usually very Biblical, they seem to forget that when it's time to go to war.  I don't mean to sound unpatriotic or un-American, I'm not, just pointing out what I perceive to be a disconnect between the precepts in some people's religion, and what they do in the real world.  How do you justify "Love thy neighbor" with "We have to go to war", I haven't got a clue.  I guess it's easy to believe in a pacifist religion but very hard to put that into practice.

Anyway, my thoughts on the war that's run on for what, 18 years and counting, are my own - I'm probably in the minority on this point in thinking we never should have gotten involved in a land war in Asia.  This film even points out that Afghanistan is the "Graveyard of Empires", so many other countries tried to take them over and failed, most recently the very powerful Soviet Union, who lasted a very long time but eventually gave up - shouldn't that tell you something?  The place just isn't worth fighting over, and if you have to fight there, just bomb the hell out of them from the sky and don't put any personnel at risk.

That's sort of what "12 Strong" is about, only they needed somebody to get close enough to the Taliban bases to get exact coordinates, because the bombers were up at 35,000 feet and didn't have the proper intel to make bombing effective.  So, enter the Green Berets on a classified mission to get the locations of the Taliban strongholds and relay that information to the B-52s.  And yes, they apparently had to ride horses to get from place to place, which seems like antiquated technology, but it really wasn't if they were coordinating via GPS and pinpointing locations with lasers and such.

The trick, of course, was working with THESE Afghanis to take down THOSE Afghanis over there, getting certain warlords to work together in the Northern Alliance to wipe out the Taliban, of course the enemy of your enemy is potentially your friend, but then today's friend could just as easily be tomorrow's enemy.  Literally and figuratively, it's a case of constantly shifting sands.

But hey, American soldiers are back on horses, just like the 1800's, so here's what some wannabe cowboys can do, Taliban! YEE-haw!  And I'm sure it went down exactly like this, with Green Berets shooting automatic rifles as they rode their horses between the tanks in order to take down that missile launcher.  Umm, yeah, right, this is me being sarcastic. Or at least very skeptical.  And there's even more hokey stuff here than was seen in "13 Hours", like how the U.S. Army captain learns some Yoda-like lessons from the Afghan warlord, who teaches him to stop thinking like a soldier with his head, and start thinking like a warrior, with his heart.  (Excuse me - BARF!)  Is that supposed to be serious?  This guy's a Green Beret, not the Karate Kid!  Give me a break!

Then it's another case of showing a photo of the REAL members of Operational Detachment Alpha 595, which comes as no surprise - just part of an ongoing trend I've noticed to "prove" that everything in a film is true, however I don't think that necessarily proves anything, just that actors can be made to look like real people.  This is based on the non-fiction book "Horse Soldiers", but who knows how close the events of the film came to those in the book, or the events in the book to the events in real life.  Well, at least the actress playing Chris Hemsworth's character's wife is the actor's wife in real life.

Also starring Chris Hemsworth (last seen in "Avengers: Infinity War"), Michael Shannon (last seen in "The Shape of Water"), Michael Peña (last seen in "Ant-Man and the Wasp"), Navid Negahban (last seen in "Brothers"), Trevante Rhodes, William Fichtner (last seen in "Independence Day: Resurgence"), Rob Riggle (last seen in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2"), Elsa Pataky (last seen in "Snakes on a Plane"), Austin Stowell (last seen in "Bridge of Spies"), Ben O'Toole, Austin Hebert, Kenny Sheard (last seen in "13 Hours"), Jack Kesy (last seen in "Deadpool 2"), Taylor Sheridan (last seen in "Hell or High Water"), Numan Acar, Ali Olomi, Fahim Fazli, Laith Nakli, Marie Wagenman, Allison King (last seen in "Midnight Special", Lauren Chavez-Myers, with archive footage of Bill Clinton (last seen in "History of the Eagles"), George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin, Madeleine Albright, Donald Rumsfeld, Osama Bin Laden.

RATING: 5 out of 10 MRE's

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Only the Brave

Year 11, Day 8 - 1/8/19 - Movie #3,108

BEFORE: Well, it's a very obvious theme for the week, it comes down to people putting their lives on the line to defend our country, whether that's soldiers or firemen or secret agents.  I'm starting with the "based on a true story" ones, and by the end of the week I'll be on the very fictional spy stuff, namely the new "Mission: Impossible" movie.  Those are always more on the unbelievable side of things, with the crazy "false face" disguises and the wild stunts.

But I'm still in the "this really happened" mode, with this film about a real group of firefighters, and James Badge Dale carries over from "13 Hours".

THE PLOT: Based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of elite firefighters who risk everything to protect a town from a historic wildfire.

AFTER: There are many similarities to last night's film, both this and "13 Hours" depict a group of men in danger, working as a team, developing that sense of camaraderie that comes from being in the trenches together, facing a common enemy.  Only instead of a fire-fight with bullets, tonight it's the other kind, against fire.  And usually that famous expression about "fighting fire with fire" doesn't seem to make much sense (People could say, "it's time to fight fire...with water" but that just doesn't seem very dramatic. Quite practical, though.) that's exactly what these Hotshots do, they perform controlled burns in the forest to create a barrier that the fire can't cross, because it's already burned.  When done properly, it's apparently quite effective for keeping a wildfire contained.

It's certainly more practical than keeping all of America's forest land well-raked, as our Nutjob-in-Chief suggested in response to last year's California wildfires.  According to him, it's what they do in Finland to cut down on forest fires, and the fact that it snows 11 months out of the year there, and the temperature is often sub-zero has nothing to do with their lack of spontaneous wildfires.  Right.  But by all means, let's pay some people to rake all the forests in California, only that's not a practical task, and even if it were, good luck finding people to do it, my guess is you'd probably have to hire immigrants to do it, because Millennials won't do manual labor, but good luck with THAT after you build your wall.  OK, maybe we can get convicts to rake the forest, but then you'd lose a few of them after they hide behind trees.

But I'm digressing again.  Just as it takes a certain sort of man to be a soldier (sorry, independent military contractor working for the CIA) it takes a certain sort of man to be a firefighter, and it takes another sort of man to be a wildfire-fighter, or a "HotShot".  The name sort of says it all, at least for these "type 1" firefighters who work hard, play hard, play pranks on each other, and are somewhat self-destructive.  The film comes close to suggesting that this is a job commonly held by more than one ex-addict, who maybe in getting themselves clean from drugs needed some other kind of thrill, and is getting some kind of high from the adrenaline rush of fighting wildfires, combined with the endorphins released from all that manual labor, perhaps.  For others it seems to be the last chance to succeed at something, if they dropped out of school, or got arrested, or had some relationship problems, or some combination of all three.

(Some military films are built around the same premise - that it's the poor, dumb and desperate who end up enlisting and fighting overseas, because they've got nowhere else to turn, and serving their country is maybe their last chance to straighten up and fly right.  Oh, if only they could end up as part of a ragtag unit that succeeds in a battle, against unlikely odds...)

These are all stereotypes, of course, but in a movie, what's a stereotype but a shortcut, a way to skip over character exposition?  There's only room here for a few standouts, the hot-headed commander who pushes his men because he cares so much about them, the sex-hungry ladies' man who's a little bit dim, and the burnout who's a new father and it still looking for his proper place in the world.  All the other men in the unit are fairly interchangeable and don't really stand out, not even the second-in-command, who someone forgot to give any sort of personality or identity beyond that title.  Compound that with the same problem as last night, which is once you put all these guys in the same uniform and they get some smoke and dirt on their faces, you can't tell any of them apart, anyway.

(To be fair, they did a hell of a job with the casting, plus hair and make-up.  When they post pictures of the real firefighters during the end credits, and transition from the actors to the men they're portraying, most of them are really spot-on.  Sure, doing make-up for a sci-fi or fantasy film is one thing, but replicating the look of REAL people, down to their head shapes and facial hair, that's just as much of a challenge, I think.)

The most developed character is Commander Marsh's wife - she's got a job training rescue horses, she wants to start a family, she actually says what's on her mind.  It's too bad she's so tangential to the main plot, and also that her husband has only two emotions, he's either romancing her or arguing with her.  There's so much missed opportunity there for character growth, but men from that generation aren't supposed to have complex emotions, it seems.  He's also apparently good at "reading" fires, figuring out which way they're going to burn, or if they're going to change direction.  But here again, it feels like there's something missing, in the way that a boxing film just sort of tells us "This guy is a great boxer" without being specific.  HOW does this guy read the fires, does he mentally put visual cues together in a special way, did he take some course in college that gives him insight?  Because just saying that it's all intuitive just doesn't cut it.

When his team is being evaluated, for example, he ignores the advice of the evaluator and disagrees with where the burn-line should be.  The evaluator protests, because he's got like 40 years of experience.  Marsh turns out to be correct, but then please explain why he was right and the evaluator was wrong.  Marsh also doesn't have any tact, because he loses his cool when he knows he's right - I'd love to back him if he's got the winning horse, but I can't possibly know that if the film doesn't explain how he can be so right and the other guy can be so wrong.

This comes up again and again, because near the end of the film, Marsh either mis-reads a fire, or it spreads much faster than expected.  Some more technical knowledge here would have been very helpful also, because what was it about this fire that made them think it would move at one speed, and then what changed to make it move at a faster speed?  Or, if Marsh was so great at reading fires, why did he suddenly lose this ability and make such a bad call - or what was it about this fire that threw him off?  So many questions that aren't answered here, like when the team is called on to protect a very famous tree from an approaching fire - that's all well and good, but why did they make their burnline so close to the tree, why couldn't it have been, say, 100 yards closer to the fire?

Also starring Josh Brolin (last seen in "Deadpool 2"), Miles Teller (last seen in "Rabbit Hole"), Taylor Kitsch (last seen in "Savages"), Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle"), Jennifer Connelly (last heard in "Spider-Man: Homecoming"), Andie MacDowell (last seen in "Town & Country"), Geoff Stults (last seen in "J. Edgar"), Alex Russell (last seen in "Unbroken"), Thad Luckinbill (last seen in "Just Married"), Ben Hardy (last seen in "X-Men: Apocalypse"), Scott Haze (last seen in "Midnight Special"), Jake Picking (last seen in "Patriots Day"), Scott Foxx, Dylan Kenin (last seen in "Gold"), Ryan Busch, Kenny Miller (last seen in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"), Ryan Jason Cook, Brandon Bunch, Matthew Van Wettering, Michael McNulty, Nicholas Jenks, Sam Quinn (last seen in "James Got a Gun"), Natalie Hall, Howard Ferguson Jr. (last seen in "Hell or High Water"), Rachel Singer (last seen in "Moonlight Mile"), Ralph Alderman, Forrest Fyre (last seen in "The Astronaut Farmer").

RATING: 6 out of 10 chainsaws

Monday, January 7, 2019

13 Hours

Year 11, Day 7 - 1/7/19 - Movie #3,107

BEFORE: I just sped my way through the Golden Globes - once an awards show is on my DVR, I prefer to zip through the vast majority of the acceptance speeches, and most of the silly montages (although, since the Globes had to work in both TV and movies, they seemed to keep the useless montages to a minimum) and I don't really watch the clip packages, either - just get me to the next set of presenters, list the nominees and tell me who won.  I can usually get through a three-hour awards show in under an hour this way, and get on to my next movie.  Look, do we really need a clip package from "Black Panther"?  Everyone in the world who was going to see "Black Panther" has already seen it, and the few people who haven't probably aren't going to consider it.  I may watch "Crazy Rich Asians" in the future, or I may not, but a series of clips isn't going to factor into that decision.

As it stands, I've got a limited amount of time before the Oscars, which are on February 24, just 48 days away.  But on February 1, I switch my focus over to romance films for at least a month, so really, I've got just until the end of January to watch any potential Oscar-worthy films - this is probably why I'm always playing catch-up, because I have such a tight window between the end of the year and the date of the Oscar presentation - and this year, I've already made up my mind which screeners I can fit in between now and January 31 - and the only other 2018 films I have room for between now and then are "Mission: Impossible - Fallout", "Vice" and "Welcome to Marwen".  Only one of those is now a real contender, but hey, maybe the action film will win some technical awards, you never know.

My point is, it's too late for me to work in some of the big winners and nominees from the Golden Globes, they're all in the category of "I would like to see that, but not at this time, probably later" - and that covers "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Green Book", "A Star Is Born", "BlacKkKlansman", "Mary Poppins Returns", "Stan & Ollie", "First Man", and even "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse".  They're all on my radar, I would like to see all of these films, but just not at this time, probably later. Tomorrow I can make a list of the screeners that I'll have access to, and start making some kind of plan.  And once I start making the links, things should come together, I can imagine a John C. Reilly chain that contains "Stan & Ollie", "Holmes & Watson", "Ralph Breaks the Internet", along with "The Sisters Brothers" and "The Little Hours", with that last one on Netflix.  See how easy that is?  And I'm probably going to need SOME way to link to Episode IX in December, I'm already thinking about Adam Driver in "BlacKkKlansman" or John Boyega in "Pacific Rim: Uprising", but that's still a long ways off.  Still, it's good to know that if I use up all my Oscar Isaac or Domhnall Gleeson films in January, I'll still have some options.  Mark Hamill was in "Brigsby Bear", and that's on my list, just saying - it's never too early to think about the linking options.

Tonight, John Krasinski carries over from "Promised Land" and I'm kicking off an action-packed week that SHOULD end with "Mission: Impossible - Fallout", if all goes well.

THE PLOT: During an attack on a U.S. compound in Libya, a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.

AFTER: OK, so I'm a little ashamed to admit this, but even though it didn't happen very long ago, just over six years ago, I could not remember what went down in Benghazi.  To be fair, those events got turned into a total political football during the 2016 election, blame got cast all around and especially on a certain Democratic candidate, until "Benghazi" just sort of became shorthand for "I want to end this debate very quickly, so let me go to my slam-dunk, all-purpose burn."  But what really happened in Benghazi?  Something to do with the Syrian Civil War - no, that was Aleppo.  Russia invaded - no, that was Crimea.  Ugh, too many military operations to keep track of in the past few years, plus we never finished the ones that George W. Bush started!

Yeah, you can say I really needed to watch this film to get it straight, and that's assuming that the filmmakers didn't get everything 100% accurate - because who does, really?  Benghazi was in Libya, and back in 2011 Gaddafi (or Khadafy, or Qaddafy, or whatever) was asked to remove himself from his palace of residence, and that request came from the insurgency.  Umm, they didn't ask nicely.  The U.S. sent a new ambassador to be the liasion to the new Libyan opposition, and also the CIA had been building a covert presence in Libya for months, monitoring groups like Al-Qaeda and also Ansar al-Sharia, from a secret base.  To say that the area was politically unstable would be a huge understatement, and things came to a head when Libyans attacked the U.S. embassy on Sept. 11, 2012.

Yes, the U.S. had people gathering intelligence in Libya.  And the conclusion drawn from that intelligence was that the area was an unstable powder-keg, so you might think that the logical response to that conclusion would be to withdraw from the area.  But hey, hindsight is always 20/20.  Live and learn.

The CIA Annex in Benghazi was just one mile from the embassy, so the terrible decision facing the members of the GRS (Global Response Staff) who were technically contractors working for the CIA, was whether to respond to the embassy attack, and risk revealing the location of the CIA Annex.  If this film is to be believed, their CIA chief ordered them not to go, but 6 members of the GRS went to the embassy to secure the location and try to save the ambassador.  By this time, the building had been ransacked and set on fire, so they were unable to locate him in the burning building, then to make matters worse, they were followed back to the Annex.

The Annex then was hit with wave after wave of Libyan militants, while a response team tried to get authorization to launch from Tripoli, and then encountered difficulty getting out of the airport, then MORE difficulty trying to find the CIA base.  Well, to be fair, it was a secret base - but you'd think they would have been able to send proper directions to the rescue team, right?  Look, I'm not the one who's going to complain about whether or not this film was completely accurate in the details of this event - I'm more likely to be the guy to complain about the fact that when you cast a bunch of white men with similar looking faces, then cover those up with similar-looking beards and a whole bunch of grime and blood, it becomes impossible to tell one soldier from another.

And I don't think they were trying to make some kind of grander point about soldiers losing their individuality, I think someone just cast a bunch of guys with similar features.  Maybe mix it up a bit, that's all I'm saying.  "OK, sorry, we already cast one guy with a scruffy beard, blue eyes and wiry curls - NEXT, please."  Just saying.

And I'm not one for "boo-RAH" patriotism, either.  But I can still be glad that I'll most likely never be in a firefight myself, and that the closest I'll ever come will be watching one in a movie.  For that, I'm thankful to others for their military service.  I don't know how much action should be in a movie and how much downtime there should be between firefights where the soldiers think about their families and what it all means, but this ratio seems about right.

Also starring James Badge Dale (last seen in "The Grey"), Max Martini (last seen in "Fifty Shades of Grey"), Dominic Fumusa (last seen in "Focus"), Pablo Schreiber (last seen in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), David Denman (last seen in "Fair Game"), Matt Letscher (last seen in "Her"), Toby Stephens (last seen in "Die Another Day"), Alexia Barlier, Freddie Stroma (last seen in "Pitch Perfect"), David Costabile (last seen in "The Post"), Payman Maadi, David Giuntoli, Demetrius Grosse (last seen in "Saving Mr. Banks"), David Furr, Kevin Kent, Christopher Dingli, Davide Tucci, Shane Rowe, Gabor Bodis, Wrenn Schmidt (last seen in "I Saw the Light"), Kenny Sheard.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Tangos

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Promised Land

Year 11, Day 6 - 1/6/19 - Movie #3,106

BEFORE: I think I've proven by now that I'll watch just about anything, except for franchises like "Transformers" and "The Fast and the Furious", but I've also learned to never say "never".  I probably passed on this film when it was on premium cable, but now it's popped up on Netflix and I'm staring down a watchlist of over 100 titles there, and that needs to be addressed.  Sure, Academy screeners seem more pressing, but they're always going to be there, it's a safer bet, while Netflix films could disappear at any moment.  I've already noticed one title from my proposed January chain has been removed, so I'll have to catch that one on iTunes.   But today the Netflix list goes down by one, only it's a new month so there are probably new titles there and after a quick spin around I'll probably find another dozen to add.  Negative progress once again.

Matt Damon carries over from "Suburbicon", and thematically it seems OK to follow Friday's film about home heating oil with one about drilling for natural gas.  Again, I'll watch just about anything these days.

THE PLOT: A salesman for a natural gas company experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town, where his corporation wants to tap into the available resources.

AFTER: This film came out in 2012 and sort of rode the wave of anti-fracking activism, once people took a minute to learn what fracking is, and what it does to the earth, and admittedly it doesn't sound ideal, but the gas companies have been doing it since 1940, and so far the earth doesn't seem the worse for wear because of THAT, I mean, nothing on the level of the hole in the ozone layer or the greenhouse gas build-up due to bovine flatulence. (Yes, look it up... my question then becomes, if cows are farting too much, and that's bad for the environment, why can't we capture that methane before it gets into the atmosphere, and use THAT energy to power stuff?  Yes, I'm proposing we heat our homes with cow farts.  Somebody make it happen, because it would solve two problems at the same time.)

The first problem with fracking is, of course, the name.  It just SOUNDS evil, the word has very rough consonant sounds and it seems like it should mean someone having sex in public while high on crack. (think about it...). The industry couldn't come up with a gentler-sounding name, like, I don't know, "gas whispering"?  Too bad "glamping" is taken by the activity of glamourous camping, because that could have worked, like short for "gas-lamping" or "gas-pumping".  Maybe "gumping"? Or get an acronym or something, jeez even "hydro-stimulation" would be a more appealing name than "fracking".  Go frack yourself, frack you, you mother-fracker.  See what I mean?

The second problem is the drilling rights.  When someone buys a piece of land, they're not usually thinking about what's under it, in fact, how far down do a propertly owner's rights extend?  Do we assume that a person owns everything under his house, right down to the center of the earth?  Of course not, that would be ridiculous.  Next thing you know, people would be able to charge airlines for the rights to fly planes over their land, which would be equally ridiculous.  In New York City, where smaller 6-story buildings are constantly being replaced by 40-story skyscrapers, it was a thing a couple decades ago for companies to start buying up "air rights", which is the space ABOVE a particular building, I guess in case somebody wants to build a building on top of another building - and you know space is at a premium in a city when this starts to happen.  (EDIT: I just tried to understand this law, where NYC air rights can be transferred to another property across the street, or down the block, and once the law gets into "maximum density restrictions", my eyes sort of glaze over and I become less interested.)

Secondly, you just can't have it both ways - I suspect some of the same people complaining about fracking are also complaining about America's dependence on foreign oil, and if we want to stop sending our money to Arab sheiks, and nuclear power isn't safe, just what the heck are we supposed to do, STOP driving cars and heating our homes?  Reduce consumption?  Like Americans even know what that means.  Look, it's not like there's a giant ball of energy in the sky that radiates ample energy every day to meet all our needs and all we have to do is build a big enough receptor to absorb it all.  Oh, wait...

Things seem to be going fine in this small town, as GlobalCorp representative Steve Butler brings his Harold Hill-like brand of salesmanship to town, under- or over-estimating the value of the natural gas under the town as need be.  Again, this might be "standard industry practices", but as we learned in "A Most Violent Year", that's corporate code for "Buy low, sell high, screw the little guy".  In the meantime they interact with the locals by drinking and flirting, and singing foolishly on open mic night at Buddy's Bar.  But a grass-roots activist shows up to rile up the locals, and throw a monkey wrench into the machine by calling the effects of fracking on the local water supply into question.  He also seems to have designs on the same woman that Steve's been flirting with, which seems like a large coincidence for a love triangle, except the town's not that big, so there are probably only a few eligible women of that age in the first place.

But I have to talk about the ending, without really talking about the ending.  I would have been fine if the lead character had a gradual crisis of conscience, brought on by guilt over screwing people out of the drilling rights for their land and paying them much less than that's worth, combined with slowly developing an appreciation for the quaint rhythm of country life found in THIS particular town.  But it seems that some writer didn't feel that would have been enough, so they threw another element in there that's way on the far side of being unbelievable, just in case we didn't get it by the end that the energy company was ruthless enough to do ANYTHING to secure the drilling rights they wanted.  And to prove this little development was unwarranted, you just have to think about the scenes with the activist character in the middle, knowing what you find out at the end - then that whole sequence doesn't work, because if that person was really (X), then he wouldn't have done actions (Y) and (Z).  I stand by that.

NITPICK POINT: Though I wasn't sure if anyone ever mentioned what state the depicted small town is in, according to the Wiki this is set in Pennsylvania.  Filming was done outside Pittsburgh, according to the IMDB, so this supports that.  But then why do so many residents wear cowboy hats and have southern accents?  Not all of rural America is the same, though it may look the same - but farmers in Pennsylvania just wouldn't talk like farmers in Georgia.

Also starring John Krasinski (last seen in "The Hollars"), Frances McDormand (last heard in "Isle of Dogs"), Rosemarie DeWitt (last seen in "Kill the Messenger"), Titus Welliver (last seen in "Live by Night"), Terry Kinney (last seen in "Body Snatchers"), Hal Holbrook (last seen in "The Bachelor"), Scoot McNairy (last seen in "War Machine"), Tim Guinee, Lucas Black (last seen in "Jarhead"), Sara Lindsey (last seen in "Concussion"), Ken Strunk (last seen in "Hidden Figures").

RATING: 4 out of 10 miniature horses