Avoid “Escape From Tomorrow”

I’m about to give you 2 free hours in your lifetime, that can be used for *any* purpose you select.

If you are tempted to watch the Netflix offering “Escape from Tomorrow,” let me save you the time that you’d spend watching it. one and a half hours of wasted time, that is now yours. I will provide you a quick summary below, if you are still curious. But please don’t be curious; this is not a bad movie that’s so “bad” that you’d want to see it. It is just bad. Even my son Michael, who’s very young and has some time to spare, gave this movie a one-star rating (he tried to stay until the very end)

escape_tomorrowWarning: Spoilers follow !!

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This movie was filmed at DisneyWorld, without permission from Disney.  You can see that the crowd shots are real,  the venue is very real and all the actors do well in mingling with the crowds while trying to shoot their scenes.  There are several extended shots of the actors in the rides, and this would have been a very easy activity to conceal.  Where stealth was not an option (say, an extended dialogue scene) they put the actors in front of a blue-screen background.

This is an interesting concept, but don’t be tempted to watch the movie just for that.  Watching an extended home movie gets boring fast, and the plot of the movie (an engineer going insane after being fired from his job, during a vacation at DisneyWorld) is just barely passable.
Are there interesting points?  Yes.  Let me outline a few but these are the only bright moments in a really dull film:
Since Disney owns the characters, music and logos, you will see from time to time a “blacked-out” part of the screen to hide the Disney name.  There’s even a sonic bleep when the word Disney is uttered.  Also, it is a little disconcerting (yet fascinating)  to see the
It’s-A-Small-World ride being filmed with an equally annoying and cloying replacement song that is used by the film makers.  However, the images of Donald, Mickey and Pluto greeting park guests is used;  I guess this is in the public domain, somehow.
Having some of the Disney images turned into demonic versions of themselves (while the main character is going mad) is interesting.  But these are short 1-second snippets which are infrequent.
The subplot of a former princess cast-member turning into a sexual predator gets your attention. Give this film an extra star if you’ve ever wanted to have a tryst with the Evil Queen from Snow White.
This is a 30-second sequence that you’ll remember.
Some special effects shots showing EPCOT blowing up are memorable.
The subplot of the main character stalking some teenage French babes is not memorable.
There you have it.  I hope I have not piqued your interest; my descriptions are probably more entertaining than the film itself.
If you want further information, here’s the review from RogerEbert.com; I’m afraid it will just increase your interest in the film.
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Movie night with a dictator.

Our group used to meet regularly at members’ homes to view Classic Movies and then discuss them at the coffee klatch that followed; this was part of our on-going adult education and a great way to see some amazing films.  We used to call it “Classic Movie Night at X’s”  or CMNAX  for short.   Over the years, we met at CMNAL, CMNAP, CMNAMOC (Orange County edition) and now I’d like to talk about CMNAHAS.   Classic Movie Night at Hitler and Stalin’s.
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Let me recommend this wonderful Hitler article at the Roger Ebert website,  which started me thinking about how all the world’s dictators are such great film buffs.   I already knew about Stalin’s Movie Night  but here was another story that suggested a pattern to my mind.   Wasn’t Kim Jong Il a big Hollywood fan?  I believe he was.  Before his demise (he definitely left us too early I fear) he courted Hollywood producers and directors to come visit him in that wonderful showcase for film, North Korea.
Are there others in this list?  We never got to see what videocassettes Bin Laden was watching in his compound, but he was a mere terrorist.  We need to focus on heads of state.  Saddam Hussein did not have much room in his spider hole to fit a portable DVD player, so that legacy is also lost.  And there’s been nothing on Kaddafi; he may have been a TV series fan.
We’ll have to wait to see what streaming video does to the tastes of the next Evil Head of State1
  1. On the other side of the scale, we have the Good Guy Festival: G.W. Bush was fond of Armageddon  –yuk– and Bill Clinton was a big fan of High Noon —thanks to Gene Siskel’s interview with Clinton, we know all about these White House preferences.  []

10 YEARS Already?!? I Mean, “The Crack Team: A Decade In Retrospect”

When The Crack Team was formed many years ago, it was to achieve one simple, humble goal: save the world. We’ve accomplished that, many times, and although you’ve never read about it, we know you’d like to thank us from the bottom of your hearts. You’re welcome, Earth.

I know reporting on our deeds has been lacking of late, with none to blame more than me. Therefore, I bring to you a new theme, and a concerted effort to bring you more content. Meaning: we’ll up the effort for a little while, then we both forget. Deal? Deal.

And now for our featured presentation…

In Memoriam….. A Race to Final Place

rogerebert Seymour_hoffman

I’ve been meaning to write this small article as a way to encourage the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to include Roger Ebert in their Oscar telecast. But now, with the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman it seems  fitting to broach this subject.

AMPAS puts together a memorial section during the Oscars, to commemorate and celebrate the lives of those that have  passed the previous year. We would normally see a montage of movie stars and famous directors accompanied by stirring music. Once in a while you’d see a famous producer, and that was OK also. This year I expect to see the big names such as Peter O’Toole and Paul Walker.

But recently this memorial presentation has been getting strange. We’ve been getting listings for publicists, agents, technical tradesmen and even some writers (gasp!). I understand losing someone like Jerry Goldsmith (for music)  or someone like Edith Head (for wardrobe) and including them in the montage makes sense. But a publicist? What’s next, casting directors?1 And stop putting in people that made 1 film but were famous in some other field (Michael Jackson comes to mind).

Movies are a visual medium. Unless the person is in front of the camera, or controlling that camera, or making news outside of the movie industry (say, TV or music) so that they are familiar to us, don’t include them. Wardrobe and art direction are something we can see on the screen; include those folks.

Having said that, now I have to make a case to include Roger Ebert2.  He was an amazing writer and he wrote about movies. Even in his non-movie essays, he’d find a way to reference movies, to show how movies changed his life. He championed good movies and good movie-viewing technology. He fought  against the evils of colorization and Bowdlerization and was a promoter of film to the very end. He should be included.

And what the heck, put Phillip Seymour Hoffman in also, event though his passing was in 2014 and outside of the scope of the memorial.

  1. Jiminy, they put in a casting director and omit some of the stars from Star Trek? Heresy !! []
  2. His website RogerEbert.com is still one of the best places to read about film (both new and old) and essays about  diverse interesting subjects. If you miss his writing, like I do, go over there and feast on decades of his brilliant  essays and reviews. []

Man’s (Mad) Ingenuity

I read somewhere that the only difference between men and apes is the former’s ability to use tools. So were it not for our simian friends’ lack of access to a Tool Depot credit card, we could see chimpanzees driving down the freeway or flying planes1. And although we have seen rudimentary behavior by apes using branches or twigs to extract ants out of the ground, they still have a long way to go before they invent an air-compressed bolt extractor.
Which brings me back to Man: is tool-invention still part of our mental process? Since every tool has already been invented, do we still strive to create new ones? The following pictures show that the answer is a resounding YES.   These are creative uses for everyday items and are sometimes referred to as Life Hacks2.

But call me an apostate, I don’t believe everything I read on the Internet.  My comments follow each life hack below, and there’s even a fun video presentation that is a lot more entertaining than my dry prose.

lifehack1

 

My take: If you use the lid as a coaster, you can now spill your drink.  And if you pick up the cup, the coaster comes with it.  Looks strange, but it would work.

 

lifehack2

 

The proposal: All pots are designed to allow you to rest your spoon on the handle.

My take: The pan hole was made primarily to hang the pan on the wall.  You could use it to hold a spoon, but only if you found a spoon that fits the hole.  I suspect that some “creative” whittling was done to make it work.

 

lifehack3Was the soda can designed to hold your straw in place?

My take: Soda can tab was modified in order to save material.   It just happens to also function as a straw holder, if you rotate it.  But then, why was it  made to rotate?  The rotation serves no purpose.  I suspect it’s a manufacturing side effect (to attach tab to can)  and not intended to facilitate your straw holder configuration.

 

 

lifehack5The proposal: Tic Tac boxes were expressely designed to dispense *one* Tic Tac at a time.

My take: I believe this one.  But could someone tell me what happened to the “Toe” in tic-tac-toe ??  Someone got paid really well to come up with this name, incredibly.

 

 

And here is a video that will put it all in perspective.  Enjoy.

 

POSTSCRIPT:  I promised that I would add a life hack of my own so that you can promote/criticize it. Turnabout is fair play, as they say !

 

lifehack8My proposal:  Cut an empty tube of toothpaste in half and clean out the bottom part (throw away the part that has the cap).  You can now flatten the other half and put it in your pocket for a handy-dandy drinking cup.   As a kid, I loved the telescoping plastic drinking cups and bemoaned the fact that you cannot find them anymore.  But this flexible, unbreakable, plastic tube becomes a nice drinking cup.  You can make it shorter for convenience and you can fold the top to prevent it from getting cruddy with pocket lint (yuk).

  1. They were admirable astronauts in the Mercury program, but that’s another story []
  2. visit www.lifehacker.com for more of these []

The London MI6 North Face Red Bag Mystery

“Ahh. Well… Bring out The Gimp.”

You remember that guy in the trunk, in Pulp Fiction?  Right?

And now there is the unfortunate guy from MI 6 whose death is looking like some sort of misadventure. He was found naked inside a locked bag.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Gareth_Williams

The North Face red bag was locked with the paddle lock from the outside, and the keys were found inside. The Crack Team Intelligence Unit has been actively investigating behind the scenes, and so far no one has found out.  These investigations have not been disclosed.

Until now.

 

The North Face Red Bag

The North Face Red Bag

Here is some data on claustrophilia:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/30/did-claustrophilia-kill-u-k-spy-gareth-williams.html

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stuck/201205/turned-tight-spaces

The key to the padlock was found inside the bag.  Maybe it was just one of those things that the other person locked the padlock, and everyone forgot about the key until it was too late. In other words, maybe it started out as just an innocent game, locking the padlock, and everyone forgot about having the key to the bag at the ready.

He would be dead in about 30 minutes.

But do we know for certain that there must have been somebody else there, with the deceased?

The court saw videos of people who tried to climb in and lock themselves inside the bag, and they did get inside, but they failed to lock the lock.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tb6YKX_Hy40
http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=_ZyEHlj78hg

But the Crack Team Investigation Unit has discovered another video demonstrating principles on how a highly motivated person could actually do it all alone.

But of course, why would he want to?

The method would be to first lock the zipper tags together, then force open the zipper a few inches from it, open it wide, climb in, and then when inside, use the round end of the padlock key to slide the zipper tags, first to one end, entirely closing the zipper, and then back to the center position as when found.  This would account for the keys being inside.  So, it’s physically possible that there was no one else involved. The demo:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MDxzcjTrkY

Conclusion: someone, all alone, without any help could get himself killed like this, but only if he’s really smart.

Wait.  There must be something wrong with that conclusion, but I am not sure what it is.

However, not yet revealed is where the keys were found inside the bag.  I mean, if the keys were underneath him, and not available to either hand, then it would change the evaluation.

In 2007, Mr. Williams was found alone and helpless in his apartment.  That time, a neighbor answered calls for help and found him all tied up.  Was there another person who left?  Or did he do it himself?

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/mi6-spy-gareth-williams-tied-himself-to-bed-says-landlady-7678328.html

So at least once before, Mr. Williams was in a helpless situation, alone and in his apartment.

It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma!

Here is a timeline:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/9240639/Gareth-Williams-timeline-how-the-mystery-of-the-spy-in-the-bag-unfolded.html

And a summary of the problems of the case:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/may/02/gareth-williams-key-unanswered-questions

Crack Team agents everywhere are advised to keep their eyes and ears open and report to the secretary if new information is found.

Good luck.

Do not fail.

Yes, It’s Canceled (2011-2012)

Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m watching too much TV, but it seems like there have been a ton of canceled showed this past year. Here’s what we’ve lost:

  • House: Ongoing, but final season. Getting too expensive to produce, mainly from actors’ salaries.
  • Chuck: Painfully overt Subway promotions couldn’t make up for low ratings. At least they had lots of time to lead to a real series finale.
  • Terra Nova: I really enjoyed this one, but the ratings didn’t support the high filming costs. Netflix was in talks to save it, but bowed out. Another reason to not go back to them.
  • Alcatraz: Yet another one season wonder, ending on a cliffhanger to boot.
  • Pan Am: spies and stewardesses in the swinging sixties. How did this not catch on? I’m a Christina Ricci fan, but Margot Robbie was just stunning in this show. Prettiest face on TV. Expect we’ll see more from her.
  • Bored to Death: Read it was canceled to help pay for Luck.
  • How to Make it in America: Again, was unLucky, even with lots of nudity added in the second season. At least we got to see Lake Bell topless.
  • Luck: Ha! Two shows killed for this and they cancel it because show also killed horses. Actually, the last horse died walking back to the barn and wasn’t at all related to filming, but there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Honorable mention to:

  • Hung: Honestly, I didn’t make it past the second season. The show didn’t make it past a third.
  • Men of a Certain Age: I liked the first season, but never made it to the second, so I’m in part to blame.

Here’s what a lot of producers don’t get: if you acknowledge the bad ratings and tie up the loose ends at the end of the (probable) final season, you can actually get some DVD sales, which might justify a return season (see Family Guy, Arrested Development). I know it interferes with your perfect 5 year story arc, but you can always come up with a good plot excuse for keeping it going. The alternative, putting your head in the sand or being overly optimistic, leads to cliffhangers that just piss off your core audience. Alcatraz followed in the steps of Flash Forward, which was the worst series finale in history.1 If your fans yell, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” at the screen when your series ends, you have not done a good job. I will give exceptions to shows like Luck, which filmed all its episodes before the first aired, not to mention it was actually renewed before the sudden cancellation.

At this point, I just hope the following actors get jobs on something I want to watch:

 

Yvonne Strahovski

Margot Robbie

Christina Ricci

Allison Miller

Lake Bell

 

  1. Best series finale goes to Good Times where, for once, good things happened to everyone in the show. []

Best Films of 2011

It’s the 8th anniversary of The Crack Team blog! To celebrate, I’ve once again gone through the list of Oscar-eligible films and selected the best of the bunch. I don’t believe in ranking them since many are hard to compare with each other, but I’ll break it down for you in terms of quality, enjoyability, and longevity.

Drive
Upon seeing this, I realized I’d just witnessed a new cult film, an homage to the gritty crime dramas of the 80′s. Gosling and Brooks give standout performances and the soundtrack is fantastic, but none of these will be recognized by the Academy due to oversight and technicalities. To be honest, I was a bit turned off by the trailer, mainly because Bryan Cranston looked like he was overacting. Truthfully, I’m not thrilled with his performance here, but everything else about this film rocks.

The Artist
Here’s a film that has already been honored with Golden Globes and Oscars are in the works. I’m a classic film buff and felt this was exceptionally well done. While a silent film, it is scored very well. I also recommend the OSS-117 films from the same director/actor team. They’re a farcical French take on 60′s James bond (more like In like Flynt than the over the top Austin Powers). Very funny.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
A riveting story with fascinating characters. I’d seen the Swedish version already and found this to be a faithful remake, but there are some subtle but interesting character interpretations. Another selling point for fans of the original is that director David Fincher brings along his fantastic cinematographer and Trent Reznor for the score, so it looks and sounds beautiful. This movie convinced me to start reading the books.

The Guard
This is another film that people are granting cult status, although I don’t think as strongly as Drive. First thing to note is that in Ireland, Garda is police, so the American translation would be The Cop. It’s a dark comedy about a dirty cop (Brendan Gleeson, aka Mad Eye Moody of the Harry Potter films) and a straight laced visiting FBI agent (Don Cheadle of the new Showtime series House of Lies). If you enjoyed In Bruges (you did), then you’ll enjoy The Guard (you will). If you didn’t see In Bruges, fix that right away.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The final chapter in the immensely entertaining and well crafted Harry Potter series. You either saw it and loved it, you’ve written off all things Harry Potter, or you’re putting off watching them all until you have time. Not much I can say to sway you either way. It won’t pick up any accolades for writing, directing, or acting (not that it shouldn’t, it’ll just never happen), but the beautiful art direction and special effects can’t be denied.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
A great psychological thriller and another Oscar surprise that Elizabeth Olsen wasn’t nominated. She does a tremendous job, and I might point out that some of that job is performed sans clothing, which is rather nice since she doesn’t suffer her more famous sisters’ eating disorder. Or lack of talent. John Hawkes also does a great job portraying the creepy yet charismatic cult leader.

Midnight in Paris
A fun, thoughtful comedy about appreciating the present. I’m a pretty huge Woody Allen fan so it’s no surprise this is on my list. It’s also his most financially successfully film to date, so if you’re not a fan of Woody you may still like this one. If you are a fan, I highly recommend the American Masters’ Woody Allen: A Documentary.

Our Idiot Brother
A great cast in a great comedy. I loved the tone of this film. In fact, I’m kind of surprised to see it has an R rating (although I can quickly recall the scenes that earned that rating) because its heart is in the right place. That said, you’re still laughing out loud throughout. A very recommendable film.

Super 8
This is the most enjoyable and easily recommendable film of 2011. It’s ET meets The Goonies (it even takes place in 1980), only ET is bigger and angrier. J.J. Abrams directs, but Spielberg produces, and the classic Spielberg style is all over this. The kids in this are pitch perfect, too.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I was a fan of the original BBC miniseries, which runs over 5 hours, so I wasn’t sure how it would survive its run time getting chopped in half. But I didn’t miss a thing. The screenplay is very well crafted so the plot isn’t convoluted and doesn’t run at a breakneck pace. Of course, the acting is superb.

Young Adult
Diablo Cody followed up her Oscar winning screenplay for Juno with the awful Jennifer’s Body. Maybe that was the director’s fault, I don’t know, but she redeems herself with Young Adult (she may have redeemed herself with The United States of Tara, but I don’t watch that). She’s once again teamed up with Juno director Ivan Reitman and we have 2 more Oscar snubs for Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt (plus one for the screenplay). At a minimum, it has the best single line of any of last year’s films.

Honorable Mentions

We had some very good sci-fi films last year:

Hanna - would love to see a sequel to this
In Time - from the director of the excellent Gattaca
Source Code – from the director of the excellent Moon

And a couple top dramas:

The Ides of March
Moneyball
Margin Call – terrific screenplay, reminded me of Aaron Sorkin or Stephen Gaghan

Then there are the films that are just plain fun. These are the films where, if you liked the trailer, you’ll like the film:

X-Men: First Class
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Thor
(actually, I wasn’t stoked by the trailer, but really enjoyed this movie)
Hugo

The most famous covert organization in the world.