The Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan’s 24-hour movie marathon is over, and it was great! I thought the foundation put on a fantastic event, and I’m pleased to say that I saw 10 of the available 13 movies in the 24 hours that I had. I’ll give you a movie marathon 2016 recap in two parts. For Part 1, I’ll give you my review of the best Hollywood has to offer as of November of 2016.
Movie Marathon 2016 Recap Part 2 will review the event itself, and what it was like to spend more than 24 hours of my life in the movie theater (spoiler alert: it was awesome!).
Read on for part 1 (watch out: some mild spoilers below!). The movies are presented in the order I saw them.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Award Winner: Weirdest movie of the marathon
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is difficult to describe. It is X-Men meets Harry Potter meets The Terminator meets Groundhog Day written as Young Adult fiction and filmed through the Tim Burton dark-and-wacky lens. Does that give you the picture? This has to be the weirdest movie I’ve seen since Labyrinth.
Try to follow me here: A boy has a weird grandfather and neglectful parents. The boy’s grandfather is killed and has his eyes removed, but not before saying some dying mumbo-jumbo to the kid. The kid is traumatized. Child psychologist suggests he goes to a Welsh island previously mentioned in the mumbo-jumbo to get closure. Neglectful dad brings him to the island (?? Really?? That must have cost thousands of dollars!!) and ignores him. Kid finds Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children.
Ok. Take a deep breath: turns out the peculiar children have superpowers and are living the same day over and over again in a time loop since the 1940s because it is the safest refuge from a group of villains who look vaguely like a cross between slender man and the monster from Cloverfield who want to eat the children’s’ eyes so that they can be human again and/or get superpowers from the children’s home head-mistress who can control time and might be the key to eternal life but the villains find them so the kid, who turns out to have superpowers of his own, needs to lead a final climatic battle in a carnival and kill their leader once and for all so all peculiar children everywhere can be safe. Whew. Got all that?
Living in a time loop is intriguing. Infinitely re-living the same good day seems like it would be nice for a while. But ultimately it seems like a burdensome way to hide from villains. For one thing, it introduces one of the major ethical dilemmas from Interview with the Vampire – where children are forced to be eternally young. Is it really ethical to keep people trapped as children and under the thumb of parental figures forever? I think vampire Claudia would say “no”!
I get it – the time loop provides some security since it is hard to find and get into. But couldn’t you just set up a peculiar children bunker and, if anything goes wrong, use your time-control powers to go back and correct the problem? This is the entire plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past. Basically anything could go wrong, but as long as one time-controller survives, everything should be fine.
One more highlight – Samuel L. Jackson plays one of the most cheerful psychotic mass child murdering villains I’ve ever seen. Nothing really seems to get him down, and he is very goal-oriented. If only we could all live our lives like that (without the eye-eating, of course).
Award Winner: Best movie of the marathon
Hacksaw Ridge is a great movie. It was directed by Mel Gibson, so it has his unique thumbprint of gory violence and religion, but it works. The reason it works is because the mixture of violence, religious beliefs, and bravery in battle is the real-life story he is trying to tell. Our hero Desmond does not want to stand idly by while a war is going on, but is adamant that he cannot personally take a life of another human being. So, he doesn’t – and yet manages to personally save the lives of 80 people in the battle for hacksaw ridge.
I think what is the most interesting to watch is the drama of holding on to your beliefs even as the entire world turns against you. Especially when the entire world has a point. His fellow soldiers are right when they say that the Japanese won’t show him any mercy, and that he needs to kill to protect his friends. But he holds on anyway, and he finds a way to save lives.
What we all need to think about is – what do we believe, and what would it take to give that up? This movie talks about war stripping away layers of yourself. This is also a theme of The Walking Dead. In this movie, the Desmond never wavers. In contrast, the main characters of the The Walking Dead are ground down season after season until they give up on civilized rules, and become hardened killers just to survive. Is anyone really like Desmond? Does everyone have their breaking point?
I saw Hacksaw Ridge and Dr. Strange back-to-back in this movie marathon. Mel Gibson calls out an interesting contrast between his movies and the Marvel movies, calling the comic book movies “violence without conscience“. This is something I think about sometimes when my kids watch Star Wars or other similar fare. The violence in these movies is stylized and nearly bloodless, yet people are dying on the screen nonetheless. Are we teaching our kids that violence is nearly without consequence?
Maybe, but I agree with the New Yorker that Mel’s obsession with violence tends towards pornographic. I think it works in this movie, but I hope ol’ Mel is seeing a psychologist.
Award Winner: Most fun movie of the marathon
Doctor Strange is a lot of fun. I confess, I did not enjoy The Avengers: Age of Ultron or Captain America: Civil War as much as thought I would. I think it is because those movies feel more like the director is picking up action figures and bashing them together than it feels like we have a plot with depth and character development.
This movie is different. Here, we have a character who has it all, loses it all, and reinvents himself through will, determination, and his talent for memory and critical thinking. I like that. If that is the foundation of your movie, then special effects and action enhance the plot, rather than being the entire basis of it.
And what a set of visuals this was. I always thought MC Escher paintings needed more action sequences. Why move through time and space to defeat your enemies when you can bend time and space itself? Am I right? I won’t belabor the plot, since it is still ultimately a Marvel comics superhero origin story, but I enjoyed some of these thoughts:
- As a super-dimensional evil being, can you really hunger for “earth most of all” when there are an infinite number of dimensions to consume? I don’t think that’s how infinity works.
- Magic is explained as writing a sort of source code of reality. I dig this, both because I’m a software engineer and it reminds me of the “Wiz” series of books by Rick Cook where the same concept is explored.
- Artifacts can be containers of magic. This reminds me of the quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In many ways, aren’t we already there? I can ask Amazon Alexa almost anything, my mobile device allows me to talk to anyone in the world, hot water just comes out of a faucet, etc. etc.
Award Winner: Most adorable movie of the marathon
I came into this Trolls not wanting to like it. How good could it be? It’s based on a decades-old collectible toy that has cute hair but ugly faces and seemed to enjoy being nude most of the time. But, watching this movie is like watching a puppy. You can’t stay mad at it for very long. Maybe it’s the neon pop dance parties, hourly hugs, or general fuzziness of everything in this entire world (really – look closely – nearly everything is fuzzy). Whatever it is, I thought it was a fun time, if not particularly deep.
Award Winner: More-entertaining-than-it-should-have-been movie of the marathon
I found The Accountant more engaging than I thought I would. It is a story of a man somewhere on the autism spectrum who seems to live a decent high-functioning life as an accountant. But as the story goes on, more of his childhood and personal life is revealed that shows how bizarre his past really is, and what a genius he is despite his disability.
In short, I’m not totally sure what to make of this movie. The accountant is effectively a superhero with brutal martial arts skills, is a brilliant detective, ninja-like in his ability to slip in and out of situations, and the best technologies at his disposal acquired through accumulated wealth. Wait – that means he’s basically asperger batman.
Thinking about the accountant as Batman is more weirdly appropriate than you might think. This dude had a messed up childhood, and lives a tortured life today. Yet, he exercises a form of vigilante justice enabled by the police and assisted by a…butler or sorts. Is he good? Is he evil? Is he both? Probably bad, since he doesn’t seem to mind killing his enemies. Batman would just have a fist fight and string ’em up for the police.
Award Winner: Most thoughtful movie of the marathon
I really enjoyed Arrival. I do not necessarily agree with all of its premise, but I’m a sucker for thought-provoking science fiction. Quick plot summary: Aliens arrive. They want to talk. Humanity tries to talk to them. It turns out communicating is harder than it looks, but if you can do it, I’ll blow your mind.
With that stellar plot summary out of the way, let’s review the main sci-fi hook of the film: How you communicate can alter your perception of time. The movie states as a given that language can affect how you think. That is a more controversial topic in science than the movie let’s on. Take this excerpt from the linguistics society article on the subject:
Here’s one more example. Whorf said that because English treats time as being broken up into chunks that can be counted—three days, four minutes, half an hour—English speakers tend to treat time as a group of objects—seconds, minutes, hours—instead of as a smooth unbroken stream. This, he said, makes us think that time is ‘stuff’ that can be saved, wasted, or lost. The Hopi, he said, don’t talk about time in those terms, and so they think about it differently; for them it is a continuous cycle. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that our language has forced a certain view of time on us; it could also be that our view of time is reflected in our language, or that the way we deal with time in our culture is reflected in both our language and our thoughts. It seems likely that language, thought, and culture form three strands of a braid, with each one affecting the others.
This movie’s thesis is the Aliens can communicate an entire concept all at once, rather than as a sequence of sounds or a written representation of a sequence of sounds. Thus, the Aliens think of time all at once, and not as a linear sequence of events. If humans think of time in this way, it enables them to see the future.
The movie lost me a bit on that part. Perhaps my mind is not ready to accept a non-linear view of time – but how could a human start perceiving future events that cannot possibly be predicted just from a simple shift of worldview? I don’t think the movie really explains.
Still, this line of thinking allows you to explore the concept of “If I knew the future consequences of my actions, even if I knew it led to personal tragedy, would I still make the same choices? Would I still enjoy the journey even though I know how it ends?”. My first reaction to this was revulsion, as in “No! Of course I wouldn’t want to make choices that end in tragedy!”. But you have to stop and think – ultimately every story ends in death. Trying to avoid death just means you’ll avoid life. The point of life is the journey.
That said, with my engineering mind, I can’t help but think I would attempt to find an optimal path through all possible future states to arrive at the best possible outcome (I found an optimal path for this movie marathon, didn’t I?). This movie took a more fatalistic approach to the future.
Go see it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Award winner: Most mediocre movie of the marathon.
Ok. Imagine, if you will, the following concepts (stereotypes, if you will):
- Christmas movie
- Large-family reunion movie
Now, put these concepts together. Whatever you visualize, that is Almost Christmas – another movie off of the Hollywood Christmas movie assembly line. Ready to be amused by long-standing sibling rivalries? Ready to be sad due to dealing with the recent loss of a loved one? Ready for a “very special episode” on drug abuse? Ready for everything to be resolved at the end? Oh, and Christmas sets the scene and is the excuse to bring everyone together? Then Almost Christmas is for you!
It wasn’t for me.
Sidenote: A subplot is “Where did mother’s prized tin can of recipes go? Will we ever find it?”. It was in the kitchen cupboard. You know, where it probably would be. Really movie? Really?
Award winner: Worst movie of the marathon
I knew Shut In was trouble the day before the movie marathon when it had zero critic reviews on RottenTomatoes.com. I believe this is typically done for terrible movies that the studio wants to protect from bad press. My fears were confirmed mid-way through the movie marathon when I checked RottenTomatoes and it had an astounding 0% rating. That’s a special kind of awful if not a single critic, even the horror movie nerds, gave it a positive rating.
Here’s the problem: horror movies can be bad, as long as they are funny or at least unique in some way. For example, at my last children’s leukemia foundation movie marathon, I enjoyed watching the bad horror film The Purge since it made me think of what a ridiculous world the movie was portraying. Shut In commits the cardinal sin of being a boring horror / thriller movie. The only scares you’ll get are in the theater, where they can turn the volume all the way up and play a BIG NOISE(!!!) for a jump scare.
When a movie is boring, you start noticing things you shouldn’t. Like:
- Why doesn’t our heroine ever close the front door when she wanders outdoors in the middle of the night investigating some spooky noise? Doesn’t she know she’s letting all the heat out? And letting axe murderers and raccoons in?
- Why doesn’t our heroine ever turn the lights on when she wanders around indoors investigating some spooky noise? I think lights generally help the search effort.
- So she finds a disabled kid in her parked car in her closed garage in the middle of winter with the car windows broken…and she doesn’t call the police? I don’t think a five-year-old has the upper-body strength to punch holes through car glass. Just sayin’ that maybe our heroine should have thought something suspicious was going on.
- Speaking of the police, where are they anyway? The psychologist of the heroine is able to drive from the city to the country, have a slip-off car accident on the snow and ice, walk up to the house, get captured and finally get killed before the police arrive? Or is the movie saying the psychologist didn’t call the police even though he knew there was an intruder in the house before he even left? The dude was just going to handle this one on his own?
- Is this movie really saying the child psychologist, who has a very close relationship with her step-son, totally missed the fact that the step-son is an obsessive psychotic killer???? I think her clients should ask for a refund.
In short, imagine a thriller without thrills, actors doing things because the plot needs them to, and REALLY LOUD JUMP SCARES(!!!) and you have “Shut In”.
Jack Reacher: Never go back
Award Winner: Most clichéd action movie of the marathon
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is a sequel to Jack Reacher. I never saw that movie. This movie is dumb. However, I had a lot of fun trying to figure out what the heck was going on with no context from the first movie.
So I give you – the plot as far as I could figure it out:
Jack Reacher is a freelance do-gooder who fights crime related to military bases (and no other crimes, apparently). Jack is a former commanding officer of the Army military police who is used to working alone (??? He is??? Who did he command, exactly???). Jack does not have any money, so he stays at seedy motels, but he is also somehow able to instantly get places without a car or money. Hitchhiking and magic seem to be involved.
Jack has various super powers, including but not limited to:
- He can break car windows in a single punch without a cut or breaking bones in his hand
- He can beat up guys in airplanes, producing audible punch sound effects, without anyone noticing
- He can make the bad guys temporarily forget they have guns at crucial moments and have them engage in punching and kicking before they start shooting.
- He can survive a fall onto concrete from about 2-5 stories without noticeable injury (note: bad guy also has this power).
- He can look at a picture of a girl and magically find her as she is walking around some random location in the city
Because Jack is such an interesting super-hero (clearly), all the Army military police just can’t wait to talk to him about current Army business. He quickly learns that a new commanding officer is being framed by some military contractors who want to cover up their money-making scheme for smuggling drugs into the country in weapons crates.
Jack quickly starts committing crimes to help exonerate the MP commander – including breaking her out of military prison, running around restricted areas of airports, threatening, assaulting, and killing various people. Thankfully for him, there are no police anywhere to be found – in the city, during a major parade in New Orleans, or in the airport.
As Jack leaves a trail of destruction, he learns that he might have a daughter. The would-be daughter tags along for most of the movie so that she can be put in peril, and so she can show some street smarts. P.S. She isn’t his daughter. Her involvement in this movie is pointless.
Through an inexhaustible source of energy, Jack beats up bad guys at various locations until the drug smuggling plot is uncovered. Then it is back to his life of hitchhiking and freelance military-crime fighting. The End.
Oh, and he inhabits an alternate universe where the following are true:
- Pay phones exist
- Catholic high school girls are instantly friendly and accepting of a new schoolmate from a rough background.
- All of the Army’s internet systems are easily accessible via an internet café and a 1990’s style website.
Award Winner: Most preposterous movie of the marathon
Sorry everyone. I call time-out on Inferno. Sure, this movie is mostly filmed in Italy so it is very pretty. Also, we get to visit sites of historical interest with a professor who can spit out factoids like pop-up video (for example, I learned that the root word of “quarantine” if “40”, which is the number of days ships were kept isolated in Italy when suspected of carrying disease). However, the basic premise of the movie makes no sense.
Here’s what drives the entire movie:
- An billionaire is concerned that human overpopulation is going to destroy the planet.
- The evidence he cites is the non-linear growth of the human population. It took humanity about 100 years to go from 1 billion to 2 billion, 50 years to go from 2 billion to 4 billion, less time to reach 8 billion (although wikipedia seems to think it would still take a total of 50 years), and so on.
- His solution is to release a deadly disease that will kill half the world’s population.
- For security purposes, he ensures that only he knows where the delivery system has been placed. But he leaves a series of Dante’s Inferno-based clues on a little projector, and in various historic artifacts, so that his small cadre of followers can figure out where it is if anything happens to him.
- Something does happen to him, and the game is afoot!
I would presume this evil billionaire isn’t stupid (he seems to be some technology or medical CEO). So you think he would notice that, if he killed off half of the world population, that would push back the problem of overpopulation by, oh, about 50 years (per his own logic). So his “solution” doesn’t really solve anything. In fact, he may still be living when we are right back in the same situation as before!
Further, being a tech-savvy evil billionaire, you would think he could afford a thumb drive with 128-bit encryption which contains a file that says “World Killing Virus is at the Opera House!”. Heck, buy a few thumb drives, tell the minions the password and you are all set! It seems as if this would be a far more secure and efficient system than a set of cryptic clues on historic artifacts in museums.
Also, it would probably be a good idea to have redundant world-killing virus delivery systems, just in case something goes wrong with one of them (as it did in this movie). He’s an evil billionaire, so you’d think he could afford more viruses in plastic bags.
While we are at it, maybe he should just buy a plane or 10 and airdrop the killer virus into major cities, rather than just leaving it somewhere were someone could find it and mess up the plans.
So, in short, the scenery was nice. That is all.