Due to technical difficulties…

…I am going to delay a couple of reviews. Work and mental health have been at odds lately, leaving me with little time to watch and review films.

I will get back to it in a few days, and I will make sure that I get caught up. I know that I owe two reviews, and I’ll probably try to get one in tomorrow and get the rest caught up over the weekend.

I’m just really tired and a little overwrought.

Thank you for your patience and understanding in this matter.

Seething Apathy

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 26: Pottersville

What happens when you take the writers of S.N.L. and Mad TV, lock them in a room and tell them that they need to write a movie appropriate for Lifetime Christmas Season?

You get Pottersville.

This is a sweet, sugary romantic comedy that still manages to hit all the romance tropes, but still have some surprises that were definitely spoiled in the trailers (which I never saw).

To be honest, the only reason why I bought this film was for Michael Shannon. That man is wonderful to watch. He approaches this movie with an air reserved for Jimmy Steward. Everything he does is selfless, and puts the town first. The characters are painted with broad, but funny strokes. The love interest is played with quiet interest by Judy Greer, who needs to get more work. The wife / romantic foil is played by the voluptuous and carnivore in bunny’s clothing Christina Hendricks, and the funniest person there is Thomas Lennon as Brock Masterson. Ron Perlman and Ian McShane play supporting characters, but they definitely have an impact and certainly are not wasted.

I, as a rule, try to avoid Christmas films and there are a very few romantic comedies that I like. Pottersville is one. I like the slightly subversive tone the movie adopts early on, even if we saw part of it coming. As I said, the movie hits all the right plot points at the right time. This is a movie that was made for a specific audience, skewering another specific audience. There was no unique statement to be made. Everything gets wrapped up satisfactorily in the final last five minutes.

Is this a movie that you should run out and get immediately? No. There are a lot of better movies in either romance or comedy out there to watch. If you happen to find it during the holiday season, should you grab it and enjoy turning off your brain for a few minutes? Sure. Pop it in with your favorite bottle of wine, cheeses and a warm knit rabbit sweater.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 25: Wreck-It Ralph

I’m not a huge fan of Disney. Even though they are the entertainment juggernaut that will crush all pretenders under their cheerful cartoon heel…I’m not a huge fan of most of their offerings (I am excluding Marvel, LucasFilms in this…for reasons). I’m not a fan of the musicals that are quickly and simply wrapped up in under 90 minutes so as not to strain the little one’s attention span. I also understand that I am far from Disney’s target demographic.

Now, saying this, I said I’m not a huge fan. Yes, I will watch Aladdin for Robin Williams and The Lion King certainly made me respect their story-telling chops even if it’s a re-skinned Hamlet. For the most part, still not a fan.

Now, I love Pixar. Even as much as they skew a little towards the kids, there are some decent storytelling points and they are not afraid to go a tiny bit mature in the story. Sometimes, it’s right out there for everyone to see. I know I wasn’t the only one shrinking into their seats when the main characters in Toy Story 3 were facing the incinerator, and the song “When She Loved Me” still reduces me to tears (admittedly, I was in a very bad place when I experienced that song). Not only are they master story tellers – Brad Bird has a wonderful article about his writing process, and the formula he uses, which I highly recommend – they are technical geniuses. Every film they have made is the gold standard of computer animation. Every film pushes the boundaries a little more.

When I saw that Wreck-It Ralph was coming out, I knew I was going to go see it. It was clearly a Pixar film at first glance. I would brave the children and the screaming to see this.

Then I saw The Castle.

I am not a person to walk out of a movie. Trust me, I have sat through some howlers. I decided that I was going to give this one a chance. After all, I made an investment of time and money…and I had popcorn. So, I settled into my seat.

I was not disappointed. I came for the animation, but I stayed for every gamer in-joke, trope and bit of naughty and/or toilet humor I saw. I was stunned at some of the lines they left in. I found myself chuckling, then asking myself if it was appropriate to laugh at that with children nearby. They were laughing, too – so I relaxed and let myself be entertained.

While the overarching theme of belonging is a very kid-friendly one, there was another theme that stuck with me. It was plainly thrust out there. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed it.

Being glitchy doesn’t have to define you.

Vanellopes main calling card is her glitchiness. In moments of high emotion, she pixelates and breaks down. Eventually, she learns to control this, and even use it to her advantage. As one of my theatre teachers in high school told me many, many, many years ago: “You’ve got to take that flaw and present it as a strength.” Sure – hack advice to give to teens, but sadly some adults need to be reminded of that every now and then.

It’s OK to glitch. It’s OK to have a bad day. Just don’t let that one thing, that one day, that one weakness define what you are, or how you present yourself.

I encourage any and all stodgy sorts like me to buy Wreck-It Ralph. Thanks to digital services, you wont have to lie and say it’s for the kids or grandkids.

And Aerith lives.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 24: Endless

Endless is not a movie about time loops and the definition of insanity. It is a movie about moving on with things. Given my mental state over the past few days, this message was not lost on me.

Complaining about a lack of vegetables and good food starts us off. One brother looks at the past through rose colored lenses, while the older and more grounded one sees the darker side, noting that they were part of U.F.O. cult that was preparing to commit group suicide. After some talking, they decide to go back and visit for one day, staying ovenight and leaving the morning. This stretched out to a second day.

The cult itself isn’t ominous. Dressed plainly and nice – they’re more like family than anything else. Which is one of the points in this movie: family is the people that will always take you in when you’re cold and hungry. No one here holds their defection over their heads. No one shuns them – in one scene that is rather remarkable and a sign of creepiness to come – they try to get the brothers to participate in a tug-of-war with…something in the darkness. When they do, the realize that there might have been something to the beliefs of the community.

The theme of breaking out of being stuck was everywhere. The stage magician working on a new trick, the cute clothes maker showing her new patterns, everyone was trying to do something a little different, but nothing seemed to work. It’s not that they were doing anything other than what they did before, and they knew it. That theme plays out everywhere. The comically frustrated suicide tries to end his life in a different way, only to realize that he’s back at the beginning of his loop.

The brothers manage to break out of the cycle, and make some heart felt confessions in the process. Whereas some films would have the cult cursing that their prey had escaped, or set up machinations so that the brothers were the key only to escape. Instead, the cult leader seems to wish them well in the end. This movie tries very hard to not take the easy way out.

While this is a good film, and certainly one I will watch again (I apologize, but I’ve been distracted as of late). This is a good and deep sci-fi film that should be carefully watched.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 23: The Disaster Artist

Everyone likes an underdog story. We root for the scrapper, the unbendable, the one who plants his roots like a tree by the River of Truth and says ‘no, you move’. We like the Cinderella Story. We like the U.S. beating Russia. We like miracles.

The Disaster Artist is the underdog tale for the movies. It takes us through the creation, filming and screening of what is considered the worst movie ever – The Room. We meet Greg – an actor in L.A. who makes a fateful friend with Tommy in an acting class. Right away, we know that Tommy is not an actor. They read monologues together and try to grab a piece of the dream that fuels a whole town. In the course of the movie, we see that there is something more to Tommy than what is apparent…almost sinister in its aspect. We watch the miracle splinter, we watch it bend, but we never see it break. As people who know what’s going to happen. We want to scream at Greg as he turns down a bit part in the show Malcom in the Middle – offered by Bryan Cranston, but Greg has to shave off the beard he grew, which would throw the movie off schedule. Rather than abandon the movie, and get a better chance at a career, he sticks to his guns. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes.

This movie is absolutely phenomenal. The acting is meticulously performed. James Franco’s performance is pitch perfect. Stick around for a “Wiseau-off” between Franco and the real Tommy Wiseau in an after credits scene. Not only are the perforances spot on, but the recreation of the movie The Room is eerie. Another post credit scene compares the The Disaster Artist’s performances of scenes in The Room. The care that it took to get every little movement, every little intonation down shows the dedication these actors had to the film.

The humor comes from the disconnect that Tommy has to, apparently, the entirety of reality. Seeming oblivious to the flaming chaos he creates, he forges ahead unflinching towards fame…or infamy if you look at it right. We see him try to act, and while he thinks he’s giving an Oscar winning performance, everyone else, and the audience, cringe with every syllable. We don’t know if he’s all-in crazy, or trying to prank the cast, and the audience in the process (rumors of money laundering aside). In a town that chews up the unwary, Tommy Wiseau punches his way down the esophagus and comes back up covered in juices proclaiming victory.

See this movie. See the after credits scenes, and if you ever doubt that your talents and skills will ever make an impact…remember – Only Nixon could go to China, and only Tommy Wiseau could make The Room.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 22: Bob Lazar: Area 51 and the Flying Saucers

I have been very lucky to have seen Travis Walton in person. For those of you who might not know, Travis Walton is a UFO abductee. His story is told in the book and the movie Fire In The Sky, which I will review later on. If you get the chance, go see him. I am telling you that this is a man who has seen it and lived it. You can look in his eyes and see it.

Another famous name in UFO circles is Bob Lazar, the whistleblower who alleges (don’t shoot me, Cigarette-Smoking Man!) that not only did the U.S. government have flying objects, aliens and backwards engineering, but he had proof that could corroborate his story. He explained in detail how the saucers worked, what fueled them and where they hailed from.

As much as I love documentaries, especially U.F.O. documentaries, I found this one to be a little flat. While his story is well known in the community, this one seemed to be more concerned about his home life, what he does now and keeping his name out there for the notoriety. While he puts on a demeanor of ‘here we go again’ at times, other times he comes off as the 35 year old ex-high school quarterback who just won’t shut up about the time he threw five touchdowns in a single game.

I guess I was looking for more…zip? We got a look at his first appearances explaining how he got to what would be called Area 51, and the other facility that housed the ships. We watched him talk about meeting Edward Teller, then have Dr. Teller deny meeting him…and Bob pulling out a torn page from the directory with his name on it. This particular documentary was rather dry. I finished it, but I had to push myself, which I normally don’t do on such things. This was more of an extended history / puff-piece on a well known member of the community.

Seriously: see Travis Walton in person, or watch the movie Fire in the Sky. You’ll be better entertained.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 21: It Follows

It is very rare that there is a horror movie that I watch and see subtext immediately. The first time I watch any movie, it’s for dumb enjoyment. I just want to let the movie world take me in and quiet all the nagging doubts, crippling depression and self-loathing I’ve had for so long to just be quiet. If a movie is really good, then I’ll see it again and maybe pick up on a couple of things. I’m not a film student, nor a critic. I’m just a guy who goes out and likes movies.

It Follows is a movie that not only scared me, but it really made me consider the impact that our social media driven culture has had on us – especially people of my generation who can remember a time before the Internet, Facebook and Instagram. As the saying goes: the Internet is forever. How many cringe-inducing moments are now forever? Remember that flame war you got into with that guy from Omaha? The Internet does. Remember those naked pictures your boyfriend took of you after a few too many beers? The Internet does (and thanks you for that, too).

While the proverbial ‘It’ has been discussed by the director of his film as a metaphor for STDs, and given that the ‘It’ is something that is passed along by sex until you’re dead – the main character manages to keep one step ahead of it by throwing herself at almost every guy she can find (even on a boat) certainly would make one pause before scrolling through Tinder for a hook-up.

However, I watched the movie and thought about how our online lives are following us. If someone did a dedicated enough search of things I’ve posted (even on this very site), they’re going to come upon some moments that I am not proud of. Even though the digital ‘It’ is perhaps five or six blocks away, it is coming and it is relentless. What makes this even worse is that we sign up for this. We eagerly give our name, email address and phone number to ‘It’ so that we’re not alone. We let ourselves get herded, stamped, appraised and summarily ignored and shunned for failing the ideological purity tests. What might have been way down the street is now stepping through our front door…

…and you can’t hide from it.

While there are some internal logic issues I have with the film, they don’t stand up to some wonderful set shots that will linger with you after the lights come up. The most striking scene for me is the very end. Heroine and Hero – now both befouled – walk distracted from each other down a sidewalk. In the background is an approaching figure.

This is certainly in my top five horror movies, and well worth watching.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 20: Good Bye, Lenin!

A staple of comedy is the growing lie. What starts out a simple seed (“No, sir – you look so…so…marvelous!”) blossoms into a garden of deception and spinning plates that would stagger any politician. The ultimate fun is when, running out of plates, time and energy the whole apparatus collapses. We drink in the anger of the explanations and say to our friends ‘should have been honest from the get-go’.

Good Bye, Lenin gives us no such moment. Featuring my first and best man-crush with Daniel Bruhl, this story is nothing more magnificent than a life-sized replica of the palace at Versailles made out of balanced cards. Some of the contrivances (happened to find unbroken glass jars of the exact kind with intact labels?) are a little out there, but we get the pay-off with the (should be) iconic sight of the statue halves of Lenin being flown to the West. The mother and stroke victim see the world as if should be to them, then pass away with their last breath being a contented sigh. A far better ending than plates crashing.

This movie is also a fair examination about what we would do to shield and protect our loved ones. How many of us would scour the city trying to find old glass jars? Talk our friends and other family members to carrying on the facade to a ridiculous level? Many people would have sat down with our mothers and tried to explain the changes in society. Many people would also end up burying our mothers shortly afterwards. Better to risk truth than take the simpler option? As anyone going through a higly-charged emotional situation can tell you: sometimes the lie is what’s needed.

The mother is an ardent Communist, loyal to the party and the struggle. Telling her that the very system she worked in and supported had vanished literally overnight would have killed her – the MC was told that his mother could not have a shock to her system. Now the stage is set – a page ripped from history, apparently – to see how long we can spin these plates. The plates spin for a long, long time thanks to the dedication of a single son to his mother.

Daniel Bruhl tackles this role with eagerness to help that is heartfelt. All the schemes he talks about and undertakes are done with an innocent sincerity. He never tries to wheedle anything from her, but tries to stay one step ahead as the elaborate scheme grows in complexity. In the end, the mother dies satisfied that her world is preserved and enduring not through a machination of her son, but by the coincidence of a helicopter flying overhead. Seems that God indeed, as Carl Reiner puts it, is a gag writer.

A lot people complain about foreign humor, but this movie proves that comedy has a language that surpasses borders, politics and woe. If you want something funny, but clever not crude – give Good Bye, Lenin! a look.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 19: Audition

Audition is the one movie that almost scared me away from Japanese women.


This is a classic of the horror genre and one of the few films that genuinely creep me out. When it comes to horror – zombies, ghosts and outlandish psycho killers don’t really do it for me unless there is some sort of jump scare (which there is in almost every film nowadays…dang it). The ones that really get under my skin, the ones that really affect me are the ones where the threat is not only conceivable, but practical, achievable and completely happen without any external, supernatural agency.

Summoning Satan? Nah. Really want to get to me…

kiri, kiri, kiri…

On this watch through, I was struck by a couple of things that I didn’t notice earlier. Frankly, I am hitting myself on the head that I missed them:

1) Asami always wore white. Here in the West, white is associated primarily with purity, and it makes sense. Asami always came off as someone who was innocent and pure. Not by virture of being closed off from the world, but by virtue of her trials and tribulations. After the accident that damaged her hips and took away her ability to dance, we can see that what was left has been tempered and made stronger.

I don’t think that this is the ultimate case.

In Japanese tradition, white is a funeral color. This is the equivalent of someone dressing goth in the West. She’s constantly in a state of mourning for what she lost, and it’s that grief that’s made her mad. She’s the Eastern equivalent of the widow who doesn’t move past the death of her husband. The men she goes after aren’t there to comfort her, provide for her or anything like that. They are the medium through which she expresses her pain.

2) Who was auditioning for who? We accept the beginning premise that Aoyama was auditioning women to find someone suitable to date (creepy enough on its own), but as the movie continues on, it’s Aoyama who ends up auditioning for Asami. She teases, tricks and torments and Aoyama keeps right on going. This is the bloody equivalent of the old auditioning story of getting up on the stage and after preparing a stirring monologue, being told “You’re bacon. Now sizzle.”

Takashi Miike is one of my favorite directors. His use of subtle time jumps keeps the audience off balance, and letting us get a feel for Aoyama’s confusion and distress over falling into this woman’s clutches. Of all the horror films I’ve seen, this movie and Misery are the two best and the most startling to me. If you are a fan of horror in general, and J-Horror specifically – this needs to be in your collection. It’s well worth the watch…although I wouldn’t hit sites like cherryblossoms.com after watching this.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 18: Hancock

Before Marvel really geared up and DC stumbled out of the gate, there was Hancock – the superhero movie we didn’t know we needed. It faded quickly in obscurity because it wasn’t the typical Will Smith family friendly sort of fare. Crude and violent, this is more the style of Garth Ennis than Stan Lee.

Hancock is a superhero with that’s called F.I.S.S. (courtesy of Aaron Williams) – Flight, Invulnerability, Speed, Strength. The basic package of superheroes. He also comes with abysmal P.R., alcoholism and a bad attitude. While he’s not as bad as The Plutonian from Irredeemable, he’s certainly no DC Comics mainstay.

The real treat to this movie is that it takes a somewhat realistic look at the notion of “what society giveth, society taketh away”. Cancel Culture is older than you think. While Hancock’s struggle to improve himself is fun to watch, it should also point out that sometimes we lend our always-on, celebrity litmus test too much credence. However, I think this one theme is lost in the mythology of the movie, but it’s fine. The overall message of anyone can be redeemed if they work hard enough. Sadly, even this message might get missed in the face of Hancock’s initial crudity.

I would have liked to seen this movie expanded upon. The mythology is nice, and makes sense when fully explained. The writing is good from Vince Gilligan (Lloyd C. Bird alum!) and Vincent Ngo. The direction and camera work are a little shaky, but its a lot better than other films I’ve seen from the same year. It made the budget back and actually earned a profit, but the critical and moviegoer panning didn’t help to get this a sequel.

Much like a lot of films I own, this one is a good movie to turn your brain off to and just laugh. There are some redeeming messages, but not regarding them doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. Give it a whirl.