Monday, August 29, 2016

Gene Wilder 1933-2016

I have a couple friends who say they learn of celebrity deaths from my blog, that I write about these things first. I don't want to, you know, and I especially don't like doing it when it's about someone I really liked and admired. Today we lost award-winning actor, writer, director, and author Gene Wilder, star of screen and stage. Yeah, one of the big ones.

I knew Gene Wilder at a very young age, from commercials for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to multiple viewings of Bonnie and Clyde when it came to television, a family favorite which later became one of my favorites. As a kid and later as an adult, two different levels of humor, I loved him in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. As I grew older, I dug him in The Producers and when he got together with Gilda Radner, I even liked the charming but corny stuff they did together.

Wilder was a genius, a master of expressiveness and pantomime, a fantastic actor and a legend in his own time. He has been away for some time, but never forgotten. Gene Wilder will be missed.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Finding Dory

Finding Dory ~ The general parallels to the Star Wars franchise are hard to ignore here in this sequel to Finding Nemo. In the original movie it was a quest, a learning journey, with few signs of seriousness or darkness - not to say it wasn't serious - but this was a different movie than its sequel. Nemo was about parenting and about learning, but Dory gets downright dark and serious, much like The Empire Strikes Back. The fish have grown up.

We all laughed at the character of Dory, voiced by Ellen Degeneres, and her extremely short-term memory in the first film. As long as you don't know someone like that, or think about how she got that way, it's funny, but really, it's quite tragic. We find that like Marlin (Albert Brooks) lost his son Nemo and went to search for him, ultimately finding him - Dory wandered away from her parents, and never found them again, and never knew if they were looking for her. When you really think about it, it gives a whole new meaning to the film's title, Finding Dory.

The film begins with her losing her parents (or her parents losing her) in the past, then in the present day, follows her journey from there. After remembering one thing, she is off to first find her parents, and then save her friends. It's a fun road trip, but as I said, a bit darker than its predecessor.

I've been a fan of writer/director Andrew Stanton (also the voice of Crush) since John Carter, so I'll watch just about anything he's involved in. This was no disappointment, highly recommended, but be warned, tears alert. Also, don't forget to watch Piper, the Pixar short that accompanies it, it's awesome, as they all are.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Café Society

Café Society ~ I have always been a Woody Allen fan, although admittedly more of his funny early work than his later still-funny-but-in-a-different-way intellectual think pieces. Recent years have added the problem of Woody himself not being able to play his characters because he's just too old (perhaps he should write older characters? Just a thought, I like his narrative template just fine), and has employed other actors essentially playing himself, like Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (which I loved) and here Jesse Eisenberg in Café Society.

Jesse Eisenberg is quite good here, just like Wilson he slips seamlessly into the Woody shoes and world. Also good in the Facebook film The Social Network, it seems to me that his misstep as Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was just bad casting. Eisenberg can be amazing in the right role, he just has to be a bit more picky.

Café Society has Jesse Eisenberg as young Jewish New Yorker Bobby Dorfman who wants to go to Hollywood in the 1930s to make his fortune. In his element, Woody is the master here, and builds an authentic world filled with his wonderful dry wit. While in Hollywood, working for his uncle, played by Steve Carell, he meets the perfect girlfriend, Vonnie, played by Kristen Stewart, who is Uncle Phil's secretary. One glitch, she has a boyfriend, but what young Bobby doesn't know is that that boyfriend is Uncle Phil.

Vonnie has to choose between her boyfriends and eventually goes for money and stability over love. Bobby loses and goes back to New York to work in his gangster brother's nightclub. He takes to it like a fish to water, becoming a big shot in the business. And then Phil and Vonnie come to visit. She's changed, but still she and Bobby try to rekindle their romance, even though things can never be the same.

I really liked this film a lot, even with Eisenberg pinch-hitting for Woody. Surrounded by a powerful period piece and wrapped in Woody's flair for New York, the actors shine in this little flick, and the score is wonderful. Recommended. I certainly hope folks come out to see this one. When I saw it, it was a 'private screening,' as there was no one else in the theater, which was a shame.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Escape Room Challenge

While not necessarily a new thing, the escape room challenge concept has been sweeping the country of late. The Bride and I recently saw one place featured on one of the myriad reality TV shows she favors, and we were both intrigued. So when we noticed that an escape room, The Escape Room Challenge, had opened in our home town, Marlton NJ, we had to check it out.

The basic concept is that you and a group of friends or strangers are trapped in a room, and using clues at your disposal, or given by the room masters if asked, you solve puzzles and/or mysteries to earn your escape from the room in an allotted amount of time. Otherwise, you are stuck in the room for that amount of time.

Of course I'm not going to tell you what we had to do at the Marlton site, because that would spoil the fun for you folks should you go and attend this great night out (or is it a night in?), but I will say that this room had a Cold War theme, and it was a distinct advantage that The Bride and I were older than our younger co-habitants. It was great fun, and highly recommended.

More rooms with different themes will be coming to the Marlton location, and if you wanted to do the same room again, they keep track, and the puzzles will be different. The same clues will never work the same way twice. Anyone in the area, or if you have one nearby, should definitely check out the Escape Room Challenge.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

This is what we've have been waiting for since the last Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows and were teased at the end by the adult versions of our protagonists sending their children off to Hogwarts, finally a sequel, with Harry and friends as adults. Shamefully we don't get what we want, but something different and yet the same.

First a word about formatting, Harry Potter and Cursed Child: Parts One and Two is not a novel, nor is it written as a novel. It is a stage play and is written as such. Based on an original new story by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, with John Tiffany & Jack Thorne, with the play by Jack Thorne. Some folks might find it problematic to read in such a format, but it didn't bother me, and after a while, honestly, I didn't even notice it.

The story is that of Albus Severus Potter, the son of Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, and Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Draco Malfoy. Neither fit in well at Hogwarts, neither are good at making friends, and so they become each other's friends - the sons of two enemies of their youth. While Albus struggles with living up to his father's reputation as the savior of all wizardom, Scorpius must deal with rumors that he is the son of Voldermort. A bond is formed between the boys, similar to that of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the original books.

The tale is one of time travel and alternate timelines, of dire prophecies and dark possibilities. I won't give any more away, but I will say it starts slow, then about halfway through becomes a non-stop rollercoaster. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and felt it kept the spirit of the original stories alive. I hope there's more to come. Recommended.

For another view, check out Sarah Hawkins Miduski's thoughts on the book at Biff Bam Pop! right here.