Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cars 3

Cars 3 ~ Once you get past the truly dark first teaser trailer that led children, and some adults, to believe Lightning McQueen was dead, this isn't a bad film, and on par with other Disney Pixar flicks, unlike the other Cars sequel and spin-offs like this and this.

Cars 3 does what all good third installments of trilogies do best, it brings the story full circle, and to a lesser extent not only closes the circle but also introduces a new beginning.  As Lightning McQueen finds himself falling behind younger and faster cars with newer and higher technology after a near crippling accident in track, he trains a new contender - just as Doc Hudson, the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, did for him in the first movie.

Speaking of Doc, there is wonderful use of Paul Newman's voice acting from the first movie used in flashback and memory.  It's almost as if Paul was here in this one.  Larry the Cable Guy is back as are all the regulars from the town Radiator Springs, but in greatly reduced roles.  Even Lightning's girlfriend is back, but not as his girlfriend so the story can concentrate on his trainer Cruz. 

This is a good movie, with all the proper Disney Pixar buttons for emotional targeting.  We get new characters aplenty including Armie Hammer's smug rival Jackson Storm, Lightning's smarmy new boss voiced by equally smarmy Nathan Fillion, and a killer school bus from the demolition derby.  Yeah, this one doesn't kill Lightning as the teaser suggested, but it does get dark in places. 

And there're none of those weird human dwellings in this film that made Cars 2 seem so creepy, and made me wonder what happened to the people.  I still maintain that Cars happens in the same universe as Stephen King's "Trucks," just after all the humans are gone

All that said, this was a good flick, and better sequel, well worth seeing. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why Worry?

Why Worry? ~ The other Harold Lloyd film (other than The Kid Brother) I got to see while on the 2016 TCM Classic Cruise was Why Worry?, the 1923 follow-up to the classic, and perhaps his best known, Safety Last!.  For this, Lloyd wanted to do something different, so no climbing on buildings or crazy stunts. 

Still as his 'glasses character,' Harold Lloyd plays a hypochondriac who needs to get away to some peace and quiet, and visits the fictional South American country of Paradiso. He's accompanied by his nurse, played by Lloyd's third leading lady, Jobyna Ralston.  Paradiso however is on the brink of revolution and may not be very peaceful or quiet for long.

As the battle goes on around him, at first unknowingly and then as he tries to quell the revolution, we see various fun gags.  The best revolves around John Aasen (one of the tallest actors ever) and his toothache, which Lloyd cures, earning his loyalty.  Aasen, who was so much taller than Lloyd, and twice as tall as Jobyna, steals the movie. 

This is a fun silent romp, with new score by Robert Israel, which like The Kid Brother, shows a very different side of Harold Lloyd.  Recommended.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds ~ This is one of those films I have very distinct memories of as a kid.  When I first got my own black and white TV in my bedroom I became addicted to late night television, especially older movies, and one of my regular fixes was WPVI channel 6 in Philadelphia's Friday night Million Dollar Movie.  And as this film was not available to home video for years, that was the only place to see it. 

When I saw it recently on TCM I was actually shocked that it wasn't a black and white movie.  That wouldn't have been odd as other movies of the time had tried black and white as an arty or attention getting stunt.  This film however had no need of such hype.  As an adaption of a Pulitzer Prize winning play directed and produced by Paul Newman and starring his wife Joanne Woodward, it was already high profile, and is an amazing film. 

Woodward plays a widow raising two very different daughters, and her performance is gritty and realistic, however the real stars are the actresses who play the daughters. The role of epileptic Ruth is Roberta Wallach, daughter of actor Eli, and intelligent and shy Matilda is the daughter of Woodward and Newman, Nell Potts, is simply stunning in the role. I am still amazed Potts didn't go on to a more promising film career. 

The long and awkward title comes from the experiment Matilda puts together for school that sets her apart, and might get her out of her situation.  Ruth seems to be walking in her mom's footsteps but Matilda could have a chance to elevate herself.  The experiment parallels her growth as a person. 

Highlighted by not only the performances but also by a wonderful score by Maurice Jarre, the film which might seem like a depressing study of late sixties small town white trash is compelling and addictive, with smart dialogue.  I love this movie, not just a great film, but a great memory as well.  Must see. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Suicide Squad

Now right up front I was not happy going to see this flick, the third of the DC Comics Extended Universe after Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  After them, I figured it could only get worse, a point that has since been reversed by the vastly superior Wonder Woman.  But Suicide Squad?  I didn't even have invested interest in the comics. 

I have read the Suicide Squad here and there.  I knew the characters and the motives but it never really rang any bells for me.  Mind you, no offense meant to the work of John Ostrander, he's a genius, and the stories were good, just not in my wheelhouse is all.  Of course it seems only a few things from the comics of the time made it to the screen. 

The concept is here.  Super-villains offered time off sentence for doing the dirty jobs the superheroes can't do, and a few of the characters are here, but others that just seem odd.  Some are originals from the comics I remember, some from the newest iteration, and some from left field.  All are still from Belle Reve prison (I have some question on the proper pronunciation of that, but I'll let it go) and all still manipulated by Amanda Waller, though much thinner. 

There's Will Smith's Deadshot, who like co-star Margot Robbie, is simply electric when onscreen. He's a family man driven to crime and put away by the Batman.  He's got a moral code, but is still a criminal, we feel for him.  He might just be the sanest of the bunch, a great counterpoint to his co-star and glory hog (not that that is a bad thing) in this flick, Harley Quinn. 

I have never been a big fan of Harley outside of her original source material in "Batman The Animated Series," so I'm not down with the New 52 slutty stripper version.  Give me the jester outfit and the Mark Hamill Joker any day of the week.  This version, while charismatic and making love to the camera like crazy town, is slavishly dedicated to her Joker, who I'll get to in a minute.  She's good, and Robbie is terrific in the role, but there's a better Harley that could've been portrayed here, ya know?  She's also stolen the movie, in that, other than the New 52, Harley is not even a character I associate with Suicide Squad.  It feels mismatched.

Waller, played with skill by The Help's Viola Davis, at a discreet government meeting introduces her idea for this team, and in simplistic flashback method to each character.  It's easy, and it works.  We see in vignettes Deadshot in action and apprehended by the Batman, the origin of Harley Quinn as well as verification she may have murdered Robin as seen in BvS, Captain Boomerang captured by the seen but unnamed Flash, and much shorter ones with El Diablo, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress.

Waller describes a nearly fully formed world of metahumans just beneath the headlines, just waiting for others like the now deceased Superman and the Bat to open the gateway to public acknowledgement.  Whereas Marvel built their movie world, DC's was already there, waiting to be revealed.  We're twenty minutes in and we know the players, the world, and getting a good vibe on the plot - ain't nothing wrong with that. 

The Harley sequence includes a chase through Gotham from Batman, once again more than ably portrayed by Ben Affleck, and far too much of the Jared Leto Joker.  This tattooed metal-grilled psychopath is very scary, but, I'll say it, he's no Joker.  And I don't think the filmmakers thought so either, because his entire subplot fizzles as if it didn't exist - it certainly doesn't matter in the course of the film - why is he here?  I would have rathered a tetherless Harley than this substandard Joker wannabe waiting in the wings for a payoff that never really comes. 

The Enchantress, an extradimensional entity that possesses June Moone is said by Waller to be the most powerful metahuman she's catalogued. She has a brother, named Incubus, trapped in a jar, and that's where it gets crazy.  Waller has her heart, and June is in love with Rick Flagg, a special operative with ARGUS and under Walker's command. 

Flagg is played by Joel Kinnaman, not the first choice for the role, but one of my favorite actors.  I loved him in "The Killing," but not here, here he is a disappointment, and apparently a one note actor.  It's a shame, along with Leto's Joker, they're among the worst things in this otherwise entertaining flick. 

When Midway City (love the shoutout to Hawkman's hometown) is under attack by the Enchantress and her brother the Incubus, the Squad is gathered, and sent onsite, with super heroine Katana added almost as an afterthought.  Again, almost casually the fact that her sword drinks souls is thrown out there as if that kind of thing happens everyday.

Once on the ground, it becomes a mission movie and we get to see the villains interact, and fight the badder guys.  Of course around now the producers seem to forget half the team is there and it becomes about Deadshot, Harley, and Flagg, and unfortunately and pointlessly, the Joker - the threat that never actually manifests.  Boomerang, who in the comics is, along with Deadshot, Enchantress, and Flagg, the only recognizable Squad members, is hardly in this, and barely acts like his source material. 

The ending however turns into another mess like Man of Steel with weird streams of blue light in the sky.  Other than that silliness this was good, it's true, Suicide Squad was good, and the battle at the end is the type we want all metahuman brawls to be like, especially on the big screen.  Victorious and tragic at once, this was a winner. 

Up until a few weeks ago, with the debut of Wonder Woman, this was the best of the DC films.  I don't know what all the haters are on about, I dug Suicide Squad

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Inside Comedy on Cable

Two new television series have popped up recently exploring the world of stand-up comedy - "Crashing" on HBO and "I'm Dying up Here" on Showtime.

"Crashing" came first focusing on the semi-fictional life of comic Pete Holmes and was developed by Judd Apatow.  This anti-sitcom is based around Holmes' actual stand up, which if I'm being honest I never found all that funny.  This show however is hilarious, tragic, but hilarious.

Propelled by recurring guest stars like Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, and Sarah Silverman, it begins when Holmes' wife cheats on him and after leaving her, he begins to take his stand up career seriously while couch surfing with friends and strangers.  The tragedy of his life is countered by how funny the situations he finds himself in.  I loved it and hope it returns for a second season. 

"I'm Dying up Here" is more of a drama set in the early 1970s about much the same inner working of the comedian's world.  It's good, real good, but solidly a drama.  It is almost "Crashing" meets HBO's "Vinyl," and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Melissa Leo, who I loved in "Treme," leads an ensemble cast, executive produced by Jim Carrey.  I'm looking forward to more of this, not so funny, but great performances. 

Both series offer intriguing insight on the industry, from two completely different eras, and both worth checking out.