The Reviews Are In

At the time of writing, just past 0200 GMT, Chappie has a 32% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I haven’t seen the film, since I am not an actual critic, so I cannot say if I agree with the score.

That being said . . .

The trailers looked awful. I mean, way worse than Edge of Tomorrow. I have seen the Chappie trailer in front of every movie since what, Guardians of the Galaxy, maybe? At least, Gone Girl. Or, at least it feels that way. People talk about trailer fatigue, but in this case, it was self inflicted, since I chose to go to the theatre. It’s not like I clicked on a link or anything. The third and supposedly last trailer for The Avengers: Age of Ultron was set forth on the world yesterday, and of course I saw it, since most of the review show I watch on YouTube were going to be discussing it. I don’t want to be any more out of the loop than I already am.

Neill Blomkamp’s first film, District 9, is at 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is an excellent score, as I am lead to belive. Blomkamp was touted as the “Next Big Thing,” or whatever term critics choose to use to describe a director whose first film is universally acclaimed. Many of those same critics said the same of M. Night Shyamalan post-The Sixth Sense, which was also a great film. Shyamalan followed with Unbreakable, which some reviews thought was even better than The Sixth Sense. Many also liked his third film, Signs, right up until the last ten minutes or so. After that, things started going downhill at a rapid clip.

It seems no one believes that Shayamalan has a good film left in him. While others may want to have a big rethink about his first two efforts. But it’s always easy to see the clues to the plot in retrospect. Almost always. I have seen The Usual Suspects at least thirty-seven times, and I always think that Dean Keaton is Keyser Soze.

Blomkamp’s second movie, Elysium, has a Tomatometer rating of 68%, more than twice that of Chappie. Everyone seemed to talk about how disappointed in the film, and how, in a way, it was a retread of District 9. I heard on AMC Movie Talk the other day that Blomkamp recently addressed the story problems in Elysium, and he felt he could have done better. Good for him; and I am not being sarcastic. Many directors and/or writers would ever admit shortcomings. The problem is: This admission led some to feel that Chappie would be a return to form. Well…

I am not rooting against Blomkamp–far from it. I don’t want to see anyone fail, not even Michael Bay. I doesn’t help me one iota, and I do not derive any pleasure from seeing others fall flat on their face.

What I wonder is this: What if the order of Blomkamp’s films had been reversed? Chappie would probably been even less well recieved, since there would have been no previous work to compare and contrast it to. Elysium would be seen as a vast improvement, and critics would be looking forward to the next project. District 9 would be hailed as a triumph by many, while some may still see Blomkamp as the guy who foisted Chappie upon an unsuspecting world.

Next up: Blomkamp will direct the next installment of the Alien franchise. After the last two movies, both his and Alien, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Happy Birthday, Betty Jones

After spending a day neglecting social media, and doing actual, productive chores, I returned to find out that one of my Facebook friends was celebrating a bithday. Being a benevolent, Southern gentleman, I wished them a happy birthday by posting “Happy Birthday” on their wall, as is the custom. Of course, I did not include quotation marks in my salutation, for I did not want to my friend to think that I was being ironic.

Later that day, I received a text from a friend in real life, who is also a Facebook friend. (It’s complicated.) It read as thus:

“According to Facebook, today is the birthday of ‘Betty Jones.’ You wished her a happy birthday. I’m friends with her. But who the f is she???”

First, a point of clarification: “Betty Jones” is a non de plume, created by me in order to protect the identity of the person of which I am speaking. Secondly, for a moment there, I thought the missive was going to go to an altogether different place. Where? I’m not sure, but I thought that my friend was upset. Why should she be upset? I do not know. I always expect the worst when in comes to receiving messages–it saves time. I am a firm believer in the ancient Irish saying: “If you’re expecting a kick in the balls, and get a slap in face instead–it’s a victory.” This explains my genuine shock and awe when something good comes my way.

Having regained my ability to breathe, I replied:

“I don’t know! I was just doing it to be nice. I apparently have quite a few Facebook ‘friends’ that I didn’t even know I was friends with.”

This is true. There are people on Facebook that I am friends with that I have no clue how we became friends. I cannot blame it on alcohol, though I wish I could. That explains any number of people I know in real life, but those are the ones I only see when I go to the pub, which is not as often as I would like, but far too often since I might become actual friends with some of them.

Also, I am Facebook friends with a number of people I went to school with, but we were never really friends; we weren’t even on “nodding terms,” or however it is that Nick Hornby described it. Living in a small town, you kind of know everyone, and in my case, I was somehow related to a lot of them on my mother’s side of the family. Add this to the long list of reasons I didn’t attend Prom.

I won’t relay the next text verbatim, because it involves the names of people I actually know; one more than the other. The other, I only met once. She is the friend of my friend’s sister, which doesn’t make her related to me, but one can never be too careful around here.

Anyway, the jist was, it turns out that Betty Jones is also the Facebook friend of my friend’s sister’s friend, and… She’s FBFs with my friend’s husband.

Dun, Dun, DUNNNN!!!

Didn’t see that one coming. My friend also denies ever approving a friend request from Betty Jones. I didn’t want to point out to my friend that she never approved my request to be real life friends, she kind of inherited me like a second hand T-shirt, but a really cool one. Not like Panama Jack, or something.

My next text was:

“If I did approve her request, it was because she was listed as having mutual friends. This has suddenly become an episode of Seinfeld.”

To which, my friend replied:

“. . . Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Grumpy Nerds

I didn’t want to discuss Spider-Man being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe until the part had been cast, but my plans never go my way. I had planned to write about Birdman, but snow got in the way. I was going to try again this week, but life got in the way. They say that blogging is all about content, so I guess I have to say something. Never mind the fact the less I post, the more hits I get. If I never write anything, I will have the most popular blog ever. The only thing I am good at it sabotaging my success, so here goes.

Now that we are getting yet another Spider-Man reboot, this time hopefully without the origin story, it seems that everyone has an opinion and they are expressing it en masse. I have been expecting picketers outside Columbia/Sony Pictures with signs, or pitchforks, chanting:

“What do we want!?”

“Spider-Man!”

“Who is Spider-Man!?”

“Miles Morales!”

“Who is the only person who can play him!?”

“Donald Glover!”

Yeah, Millennials.

I don’t have anything against Donald Glover or Miles Morales. I also have nothing against a woman playing the part of the Doctor, or Idris Elba being the next James Bond. My problem is the way that some people are going about it as if they are marching on Selma, or storming the Bastille. It’s almost like this has become a civil rights issue or something. Maybe it is. But are we that far removed from the events in Ferguson, Missouri that we can turn our collective voices to Hollywood and make a casting choice into a referendum? I’m not trying to be flippant, and I am not trolling. I don’t like trolls.

I can see the point of having a Miles Morales version of Spidey, despite the fact that most people think Miles Morales is either the kid that J.K. Simmons flung a chair at in Whiplash, or shortstop for the L.A. Dodgers. Yes, we need more diversity in comic book movies, and in films in general. I had zero problem when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdale in the Thor films. The same goes for Michael Clarke Duncan as the Kingpin in Daredevil. I also feel that at some point the Miles Morales version of the Webslinger should be on theatre screens. The same goes for a female Thor, or Terry McGinnis as Batman; it’s all a matter of timing.

I’m not saying that the audience needs time to come to terms with someone else as the Wallcrawler, I’m saying that Marvel’s plans for the character needs be served. I have no idea what Kevin Feige and the Marvel Studios braintrust have planned, but I know in my gut that it will be interesting, based on their track record thus far. If the decision is to go with Morales–great. If it’s Parker, let’s not get our collective Underoos in a bunch.

Yes, I do know that Hollywood still has a problem when it comes to minorities. Even in the 21st Century, they continue to “Whitewash” films like Exodus: Gods and Kings. And who thought it was a good idea to cast Johnny Depp as Tonto? If Marvel/Sony goes with Parker, it’s not Whitewashing, since Parker is Caucasian. If they Whitewash Morales… I will join the protests.

Oscars 2015

How did you do with your Oscar picks? Mine didn’t suck as hard as I thought they would. I got Sound Mixing and Sound Editing: both of which are crapshoots. I also correctly picked Film Editing, which many saw as an upset.

As for the ceremony itself, it was lackluster, but the Academy Awards often are. There were some great speeches by J.K. Simmons, Patricia Arquette, Common, Graham Moore, and a few others. This may be one year where the speeches outshined the pomp and circumstance; which is how it should be. But I wouldn’t have missed Lady Gaga for the World. I’m glad that some of you finally noticed she can sing.

When celebrities get in front of a microphone and start making political statements, many people tune out. Maybe I’m getting old, but I kind of half expect it. Call it the “Bono Effect,” if you must. I tune in or tune out, all depending on my mood at the moment. Or maybe I switch over to The Walking Dead. Sometimes I think “time and place,” other times I think “seize the moment.” It’s not that I disagreed with anything anyone said–I didn’t. Last night happened to be one of those nights where I didn’t mind.

There were some on Twitter last night that had an “Anything but American Sniper” mentality. I wanted to ask if they had seen the film, but I pretty much knew the answer. I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to at some point.

Some see it as “Red State propaganda,” and others see it as a good film–full stop. Ben Mankiewicz of What the Flick?! really enjoyed American Sniper, and thought that it was one of the best films of 2014. No one would ever consider for one second that he is a Neo-Con. I guess there are those who can put personal feelings to one side, and judge a film on its own merits. There are times when I wish I could do that.

Back in high school, there was a teacher who hated Jane Fonda witha purple passion. The mere mention of Fonda would set her off on a rant. Not being of that generation, nor having been in the military, obviously, we students couldn’t quite grasp her outrage. But that didn’t keep us from using it to our advantage. If we ever wanted a “free day,” someone would make reference to a Jane Fonda film or workout tape, then we would sit back and watch the show. After five minutes or so, the teacher would say, “Be quiet and read for the rest of the period.”

There were those who were indignant when Sean Penn made a Green Card reference at the expence of Alejandro G. Inarritu, not knowing that they were friends who had worked together before. Has it been that long since 21 Grams? Of all the things to be upset at Penn about, a lot of you picked a joke made about a pal, as opposed to his history of violence, especially against women. But that was in the past.

Everyone has a trigger–something that pisses you off so much that it’s unforgivable. In addition to the aforementioned Jane Fonda, many of you dislike Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, or Jenny McCarthy; this being the only time that Jenny McCarthy’s will ever be mentioned alongside Oscar caliber talent.

There are occasions where some are willing to overlook things for whatever reason. Call it the “They may be a jerk, but they’re my jerk” defense. This usually occurs when your favorite player on your local sports team gets busted. The first thought is usually, “I hope they make bail before the next game,” not, “I hope the victim is okay.” In many cases, the “blame the victim” mentality kicks in, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

On a much lighter note; if it doesn’t snow this week, I may go see Birdman. If it does snow, I am going down to the Weather Channel studios and kick some ass.

My Useless Oscar Predictions (2015 Edition)

And once again, it’s time to prove that I know nothing about movies. Regular readers know this already, new readers: Welcome to the show.

I shoudn’t say that I know nothing about films, when it’s the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handing out the awards, and it is what their collective thought process is in any given year that I am trying to predict, as opposed to what actually should win.

And the award for “Most Convoluted Run On Sentence” goes to….

Here the nominees:

Original Song: “Glory” from Selma

Original Score: Alexandre Desplat

Sound Editing: American Sniper

Sound Mixing: Whiplash

Visual Effects: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Makeup and Hairstyling: Is it just me, or is there a scarcity of women in these nominated films? I’ll go with The Grand Budapest Hotel, since Steve Carell’s nose in Foxcatcher is more of a visual effect. I’m glad that wasn’t in 3D.

Costume Design: Into the Woods, for no real reason. Inherent Vice is too “thrift shop,” while Mr. Turner doesn’t have the plethora of overly elaborate gowns that voters look for in period films.

Foreign Language Film: Ida; but Leviathan has an outside shot.

Live Action Short Film: Aya. Do you really think the Academy will give an Oscar to a film called Boogaloo and Graham, or Butter Lamp? Boogaloo and Graham sounds like something that would star Ron O’Neal and Roger Moore. As for Butter Lamp? I’m not going there.

*Cough* Marlon Brando *Cough, cough*
Documentary Short: *Closes eyes and draws from a stylish hat* Joanna

Documentary Feature: Citizenfour

Animated Short Film: Feast; Duh.

Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2; not that I care.

Production Design: If The Grand Budapest Hotel wins, it will only validate and encourage Wes Anderson, whose films I adore. So… The Imitation Game.

Cinematography: Birdman

Film Editing: This is a tough one. I have a gut feeling that Whiplash will win, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s American Sniper.

Adapted Screenplay: Gone Girl. Wait what? Okay, Wild. Seriously!?! Give me a sec. Oddly enough, Inherent Vice is the one with the least amount of controversy surrounding it, but I don’t for a minute think it will win. There is no “safe bet,” so I will pick The Theory of Everything, which means The Imitation Game will win.

Original Screenplay: Umm… Birdman? My second choice is Boyhood.

Director: This is a tough one. Bennett Miller is nominated despite Foxcatcher’s lack of a nom for Best Picture. An arguement could be made that James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) should have taken Miller’s spot, or that Foxcatcher should have been nominated for Best Picture, since up to ten films can be nominated in a year. This is not unprecedented. John Huston was nominated for Best Director, but his film, The African Queen, wasn’t. I think there are other examples, but I’m not Robert Osborne, and I’m too lazy to Google it.

So… I will hesitantly choose Alejandro G. Inarritu.

Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette

Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons

Actress: Julianne Moore

Actor: Remember late last summer when the first pics from Foxcatcher were released, and everyone was all like, “Steve Carell is totally unrecognizable! He will win all the awards!” When Foxcatcher was released, everyone proclaimed, “How about Michael Keaton!?! Birdman is awesome!!!” That’s how it goes: The nose maketh not the Oscar.

Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne have split the awards in the run up to the Oscars. I think it will go to Keaton; not by a nose, but more as a “Career Achievement.”

Best Picture: I think there will be a split vote in the sense that since I picked Inarritu to win Best Director, Boyhood will win Best Picture. The opposite could happen with Richard Linklater taking Director, and Birdman bringing home Picture. I chose the former because Linklater also produced Boyhood, which means he will get a statue if his film wins Best Picture. That way, everyone goes home happy.

Did You Hear that Jeff Gordon is Retiring?

I cannot believe that Jeff Gordon is retiring as a full time NASCAR driver. It seems like only yesterday that I was watching him race sprint cars on ESPN’s Thursday Night Thunder. He was a skinny fellow with a sad mustache and bad haircut; he looked like he would be more at home at a Rush concert than a dirt track.

Somewhere, I have a T-Shirt from his rookie NASCAR season in 1993. Yes, I am a fan, well… I supported him, and still do, to a certain extent. A lot of stuff changed when Dodge came back into the sport in 2001, but now they are gone, and that is a rant for another time.

I almost attended Gordon’s debut race, since it was also Richard Petty’s final race, which was the 1992 season finale at Atlanta International Raceway, or had they changed the name to Atlanta Motor Speedway at that point? It’s hard to remember. All I know is, I haven’t been back since the track was needlessly reconfigured; but that too is another rant.

Unbeknown to anyone, until now, Gordon is the main reason I got back into NASCAR, after a few years of half-watching, and generally not giving a crap. I was so fed up after the way the sanctioning body treated Tim Richmond in 1988, that I didn’t feel like I wanted to waste any more time and money on a sport that would that would do someone so dirty. I’ve written about Richmond before, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, so I won’t reopen those wounds again.

What was it about Gordon that I liked? Hmm… I think it was that he came from an open wheel background, as opposed to the traditional route of Late Model Stock cars. He was born in California, and his family moved to Indiana so that he could race with the adults at an earlier age. Is that the wisest move ever?

In addition to NASCAR, I grew up watching, well, mostly reading about, Indy Cars and Formula 1. A lot of people in the South didn’t see this as “real racing,” but nothing could be farther from the truth. Yeah, F1 and Indy Cars don’t bang wheels or “trade paint” like stock cars, but often times the races are just as intense, albeit in a different fashion. I enjoyed it when drivers like A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, or other open wheel drivers would show up at a NASCAR race and take home the trophy. It didn’t happen often, but it was nice all the same.

Gordon could have gone into Indy Cars or F1, but would he have had the success that he has in NASCAR? Who knows? As with any sport, a lot of winning and losing is up to the team around you. Gordon was fortunate that team owner Rick Hendrick liked his driving ability. Yeah, Gordon crashed a lot during his rookie season, but Hendrick stuck with him, and his faith paid off big time.

Hendrick is one of the smartest people in the garage area. A smart idea was to listen to Gordon and hire Ray Evernham as crew chief, since Gordon liked working with him in what is now known as the Xfinity Series. That combination won three championships and a ton of races together. If Evernham hadn’t left Hendrick Motorsports in late 1999 to start his own team, and in doing so, bringing Dodge back into Cup, who knows how many trophies they would have won. And if Evernham hadn’t sold his team to George Gillett, Dodge might still have a presence in NASCAR. Or not. That too is another rant.

Gordon won a fourth championship in 2001 with Robbie Loomis as crew chief, but that was the final one up to this point. It seems that his era is over, and we are now in the Jimmie Johnson era, or is that over too? I still say that Johnson will win another title in 2016, since it seems that he is unable to win one in the first two seasons under any given points/Chase format. So, all you Johnson haters out there, pool your resoures, start a Kickstarter campaign, win the lotto, whatever it takes to get Dodge back into NASCAR, and throw the rest of the money at Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, and beg him to run the operation. It’s either that, or pray that NASCAR keep the same points system more than two years in a row.

Before Midnight

Spoiler warning

Before Midnight takes place nine years after the previous film. (I sense a pattern.) Jesse and Celine are now a couple, and are the proud parents of two daughters named Ella and Nina. (But of course.) Jesse’s son, Hank, spent the summer with Jesse and his new family in Greece, and at the beginning of the film, Jesse is about to board a plane back to his home in Chicago.

Before Midnight continues the tradition of long conversations between Jessse and Celine. The difference this time is that there are other couples that feature, since that is what couples do: They hang out with other couples. Fortunately, the conversations don’t involve landscaping, golf, jazz brunches, the “proper” way to griil a steak, or any of that boring stuff.

The host, Patrick, is one of those “Most Interesting Man in the World” types who likes to philosophize, but has interesting things to say, as opposed to Drunk Uncle. Also in the group are: a widow that has wonerful things to say, a middle aged couple, and two young lovers who chat on Skype until they fall asleep. Awww… Young love is so sickening.

Remember when you were young and in love and you would spend hours on the phone not saying a word? Before Skype came along, you could read a book, or play solitaire. With Skype, you have to look like you are paying attention, instead of saying, “Uh-huh,” every thirty seconds.

In what some people would consider the third act, Patrick gifts Jesse and Celine with a night in a hotel so that they can have some alone time. Of course, things go downhill quickly.

Jesse wants to move to Chicago to be closer to Hank, because he considers Hank’s mom to be a bad influence. Celine has been offered her dream job with the French Government. (I’ll just leave that there.) An argument ensues, since that is often what couples do.

Yes, it is sad and painful to watch, since I love these characters. They are the fairy tale romance of my generation, as I previously stated. But, if everything was perfect, it wouldn’t be real.