Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Updates!

Since last we spoke, I've seen a number of films that have been all over the map. Let me just give you some capsule reviews to serve as catch-up.

First, on our way out West for vacation (dry heat is hot, yes, but it's not 90% humidity like it is at home!), I watched Florence Foster Jenkins and was surprised by how charming I found it to be. It could have been a simple one-trick pony - after all, the basic plotline is rich woman loves music, wants to sing, is just awful, but those around her shield her from this knowledge.

As Florence, Meryl Streep is wonderful. Her performance is not an over-the-top caricature, which would have been easy to do. Instead, Streep pulls in and lets us see this ageing socialite as a real person with real concerns. Jenkins' singing may have been treated as a joke, but her much-younger husband (played by Hugh Grant with rare restraint) has deep affection for her that transcends money (although they have an "arrangement," the need for which is described in heartbreaking detail) and her pianist (Big Bang Theory's Simon Helberg) comes to value the underlying warmth that emanates from this woman. While not a movie for the ages, it's a solid film and one with a simple underpinning of compassion and heart - you could do far worse.

Case in point - Spider-Man: Homecoming. I've had trouble putting my finger on it, but this movie left me just unsatisfied. It's far from bad, Tom Holland is solid, and there are some nice twists and turns in here (especially regarding Peter Parker's schoolmates), yet it never quite added up to WOW! for me. Yeah, yeah - Tony Stark. Yeah, yeah - a non-cadaverous Aunt May. Yeah, yeah - Michael Keaton as a much more interesting birdman than I thought he was in that other movie. It just never was quite enough for me. Still - I prefer Holland to Andrew Garfield's turn as the Web-Slinger. (Then again, after his turn in Hacksaw Ridge, all is forgiven, Andy!) I say it's a rental, but others may well disagree, and that's okay.

Then - zoinks! as Shaggy might say. FryDaddy and I had a rare opportunity to see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shown outside on a clear Utah night as part of the Sundance Institute's summer programming series. Think picnic on the grounds and you're there. I'd never seen Butch on the big screen and I was entranced enough to ignore my (very) cold feet. Butch is just a fantastic film and the obvious chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford is glorious to watch. Also, we both won small prizes for our knowledge of Butch trivia, and yay! for prizes. Seriously, scout around your own area - outside summer movies are quite a thing and they are worth seeking out!

Last one - on the flight home, I finally watched Arrival, which turns out to be one of the most thought-provoking science fiction films I've seen in the last few years. How do we manage first contact with an alien species when neither side knows the language of the other? There's some GREAT stuff in here about the tricks and traps that are built into language and the high degree of skill required to truly understand a language, as opposed to just understanding the surface of it, like "milk," "ball," or "war." It's a film that isn't afraid to take its time to build, which I loved. Others may find it too slow, but I say that if you like your science fiction to make you think, Arrival is for you.

Then, just yesterday, I saw War for the Planet of the Apes, which seems to close the gap between the new movies (which began with Rise in 2011 and continued with Dawn in 2014) and the original franchise. I think there could be one more film to actually close that gap and shift the audience's sympathies back to the humans from the apes, but it ends at a darned good place. Woody Harrelson has been watching Apocalypse Now and would someone just please give Andy Serkis all the awards right now? Again, thought-provoking science fiction and it plugs a major hole in the storyline - namely, why can't the humans in the 1968 version speak? Yes, the effects are incredible, but without Serkis to sell it - I just don't think it would matter.

Whew! That's enough! Several movies are still to be released this summer that I'm VERY excited about - check back to see if Valerian by the eccentric genius Luc Besson is worth your popcorn money and, on another front, let's see about Dunkirk!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Swan Song - For Now!

I've done about 250 episodes of Meet Me at the Movies for C19 TV, dating all the way back to 2012 and the time has come to hang up my popcorn bucket - at least for the time being. See, each show represents quite a time commitment. We try to cover two movies per show, so figure two movies at about two hours each. Then add in about an hour per blog post, then another hour spent filming and that's six hours per week, generally on the weekends. That's a lot of time that Meet Me at the Movies requires and that's time that I'm not spending on other things that are valuable and important to me.

So I'm leaving you all in the incredibly capable hands of Noel T. Manning II who has a vast knowledge of movies, both from artistic and a commercial perspectives. I look forward to actually watching the show (remember, it's available on streaming!) and getting recommendations!

You can access the current show here!

See you on the Catbus!
 For my very last show as a regular co-host of Meet Me at the Movies, I planted my feet like a mule and steadfastly refused to go see Michael Bay's latest BoomCrashBang Ode to Smash Cuts (the best review so far is found here!) and instead saw the limited screening of Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro. Please check out the ongoing Studio Ghibli Fest for monthly screenings through November. You won't regret seeing these masterpieces of animation on the big screen! The audience alone is worth it - it's always lovely to see something you enjoy surrounded by other people who also enjoy it.

In the meantime, Ensley and I will be ramping up our social media presence for the upcoming publication of A Dream Given Form, the ultimate guide to Babylon 5 that will be published in mid-September. Check back here for updates - we plan on having quite a shindig in our hometown of Shelby, NC for our book launch!





Monday, June 19, 2017

Victory Lap!

Back in 2006, Pixar released Cars, a rather sweet tale of the up-and-coming hotshot getting schooled by a gruff old master and together, the two of them reach the apex of their sport. It also turned out to be race fan Paul Newman's last film and I truly enjoyed the chemistry between Owen Wilson as the full of himself Lightning McQueen and Paul Newman as the Fabulous Hudson Hawk.

Now Cars 3the third installment of the franchise is out and I'm pleased to report that it's well worth going to see. Newman's voice is still there in a couple of flashbacks and new characters are added. Interestingly, the film also has a bit of a "girl power" thread as Margo Martindale voices an old-time racing great named "Louise Nash," Kerry Washington is a numbers-crunching statistician named "Natalie Certain" and Cristela Alonzo shines as the trainer-racer named "Cruz Ramirez." Yes, the old standbys are here, including Larry the Cable Guy's Tow Mater, but the real story is about Lightning finding worth in himself even if he isn't the fastest car on the track anymore. One of the most poignant lines comes from Lightning's competitor Cal Weathers (who is voiced by Kyle Petty) who comments on his retirement by answering McQueen's question about how to know when it's time to quit, "The youngsters will let you know."

And that's the heart of the story - as a new generation of high-tech, computerized machines takes over the tracks from the "race 'em on Sunday, sell 'em on Monday" actual STOCK stock racing cars, is there room for the old ways? Suddenly, McQueen isn't the hotshot - instead he's the "elder statesman" and he doesn't like it one bit. Now he knows all too well how "Hud" felt. (Confession - referring to Newman's old-school character as "Hud" and McQueen as "Hud's boy" just made me happy. It's a lovely, subtle tribute.)

Nathan Fillion voices the future of sponsorship and branding and brings his own brand of smarmy capitalism to a film that (let's face it) will be heavy of the toys, clothing, and geegaws of the upcoming holiday season.

But best of all are the NASCAR cameos and little history lessons tucked in Cars 3. While NASCAR is usually viewed as a white redneck sport (with enough brand loyalty to make sponsors salivate), there's always been a little more diversity than you might expect. And that's one of the lessons of Cars 3 as well - if you can do the work, where you come from doesn't really matter much.

May we all learn that one.

Plus - be sure you get there in time to see "Lou," the short that plays before the main feature!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

DC (Finally) Gets It Right!

I've waited a little while to write about DC's latest release, Wonder Woman. I think I simply needed time to process my reactions to this film. So much was riding on Diana Prince's Amazonian shoulders - and not just for the DC movie franchise. Films led by female comic characters have not done well at the box office - see Catwoman and Elektra for evidence of my point. However, the suits tended to think that the problem was with the fact that the lead character was a woman, as opposed to looking at the problems caused by weak scripts, sloppy direction, and indifferent marketing.

Wonder Woman might change all that, for the film is certainly is a game-changer. Director Patty Jenkins, who is best known for her 2003 debut feature, Monster, had much to prove here and the critical as well as commercial love for her film should go a long way towards dispelling the long-outmoded idea that "boys won't go see a movie with a girl lead character, so we don't want to make them." Currently, the film is sitting pretty at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the box office take is estimated to be well in excess of $200 million.

There is simply so much to love about this movie - Gal Gadot is perfectly cast as Diana, Chris Pine as Steve Trevor reminds me of why I enjoyed Hell or High Water so much, and the supporting cast is amazing. Special shout-outs go to Lucy Davis as Steve's grounded assistant Etta, and Robin Wright as Diana's warrior aunt Anitope made me punch the air in delight.

All that said, I wouldn't take very small ones to this. Wonder Woman moves the origin story from WW2 to WW1 and there are a few graphic scenes of battlefield violence. (Not Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge violent, but still - I'd keep the under 10 set outside.) The film carries a rating of PG-13 for the scenes of violence, which don't seem especially "comic-booky," so use caution with the young fry.

The film is taking the Internet by storm, including some fantastic reactions on Twitter.  Patty Jenkins shared a note sent to her by her producer showing the reactions of a kindergarten class (again, I think that's too young for this film, but that's me) and some of the audience reactions are just heartwarming (#17 is my favorite of this list). Alamo Drafthouse (a private business, by the way) in Austin, TX decided to have a women-only screening, which was generally well-received. And, it being Austin, when one man decided his feelings were hurt by this, the mayor responded with wit and humor. And Texts from Superheroes had more fun with this idea than should probably be allowed.

Diana is a warrior who wants to serve the cause of peace. May we all remember that no, it's not about what we deserve; it's about holding fast to our ideals. And perhaps about making swords fashion accessories at society soirees.

Will this save the upcoming Justice League movie? Only time will tell.


Monday, May 29, 2017

The Watery Depths

The 2017 summer blockbuster season is officially underway. While this can be cause for rejoicing (I truly enjoyed Guardians 2 and pleasepleaseplease let Wonder Woman be a strong picture!), it can also be a time for scratching your head and saying, "How'd that get greenlit again?"

The sheer expense of making a big summer movie accounts for Hollywood's rampant timidity - why try something new when you've got a built-in audience for a new installment of an established franchise? (Sigh. Yes, Michael Bay, I'm looking at you.) As the global market has become more important to box office receipts - especially China, which limits how many films it will import and wants them all in 3D - Hollywood has increasingly wooed those markets. In the case of Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (let's just call it Pirates), the Mouse took it a step further, premiering the film at the Shanghai Disney resort. Not that I minded that; premiere wherever you want. But it shows that even the Mouse is not immune to that sweet, sweet foreign movie money.

If you like the Pirates movies, you'll like this one. If, like me, you're a little meh on the whole thing, you'll find a great deal to criticize in this one. For me, it was especially annoying that so much of the film's event took place at night. You see, night on the ocean is dark. Darkdarkdark. And the results are murky and difficult to figure out. Add to that the dimming that often comes with 3D and the result is muddy.

As to the plot, it makes little to no sense, but no matter. There are sight gags a-plenty. You get Johnny Depp staggering and mumbling and trying to find something new in a character he first played 14 years ago. You get Orlando Bloom and a wordless Keira Knightley for the original fans, and you get Pirates: The Next Generation with Brenton Thwaites playing the grown son of Bloom's Will Turner and relative newcomer Kaya Scodelerio as a spunky girl astronomer with a mysterious past. There's redemption by the boatload and an after-credits scene that strongly hints that Disney believe the tides have not yet turned on this lucrative franchise.

Rental.

Now, I don't think many of us were clamoring for a Baywatch revival, but we've got one, anyway. While this is being savaged by critics (and make no mistake, it IS bad), I think people are being overly harsh. Baywatch knows it's a parody of a television show that was already a punch line, and there's a certain charm in setting the bar so low. I went into this one just hoping to not claw my eyes out and I actually found myself sincerely laughing a few times. The film doesn't take itself seriously, the plot is tissue-thin, and completely implausible. Well, Animal House wasn't a documentary and it still makes me howl. The "R" rating is for language (honestly, I think the "F bomb" is used as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and possibly a gerund throughout the film) rather than for nudity and the nudity you have is exclusively male. (I know, right?) Yep, even in the shower room. And the morgue, but let's not go there.

It's a big, dumb, stupid summer movie, but it's almost saved by Dwayne Johnson, who has saved many a lousy movie. And yes, David Hasselhoff (who also has a cameo in Guardians 2 - and is on the soundtrack!) as well as Pamela Anderson appear. Just like Keira Knightley in Pirates, Anderson's cameo is wordless. I'm beginning to sense a disturbing trend with that.

Rental.

Now go pick up your copy of Beyond Casablanca or its sequel and open to a random page. Go see that instead of either of these.