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.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Straight Outta Compton

Straight Outta Compton ~ I find it hard to believe that this film was so ignored by the Oscars. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy becomes crystal clear for anyone who has seen Straight Outta Compton as it should have garnered multiple nominations for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, as well as Best Film, Best Director, and that's not even mentioning the various music and sound categories. What the hell happened here?

Besides that incomprehensible omission, Straight Outta Compton is obviously the biography of N.W.A., and specifically Easy-E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre. Yeah, I know, there are more members of the group, including the one the film completely ignores, but let's face it, if you make a movie about the Beatles, you're really only focusing on John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Big guns only, ya know?

The film is amazing. I can't say enough about the performances by Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube's son, playing the young Ice Cube, and Paul Giamatti as evil promoter Jerry Heller. The music is fantastic, a time capsule of the 1990s and how N.W.A. changed hip hop and rap into something harder and more real, a sound of the street, and specifically Los Angeles in a time of violence.

Again however, omission seems to be a theme when it comes to Straight Outta Compton. With the real Ice Cube and Dr, Dre, as well as Easy-E's widow as producers on the flick, one might assume they want to sweep any dirty laundry under the rug. There are very few women in the movie, save Carra Patterson, who aren't just there for the party or the sex. And no mention is made of Dre's numerous domestic violence charges against women.

All that aside, this is a brilliant film, must-see for folks into N.W.A. and the music of the time, a true time capsule, and a terrific movie.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Jessica Jones S01 E13: AKA Smile

Cancel Sweet Christmas. If I was really clever, that's what I would have said at the end of the last episode when Jessica had to shoot Luke Cage in the face to stop his Kilgrave-powered rampage to kill her. We know Luke's okay, super-tough skin and upcoming Netflix series and all that, but the characters on the show don't.

Jessica rushes Luke to the closest Hell's Kitchen hospital, Metro General, which is where Claire Temple, Night Nurse, works. As other nurses struggle to give Luke medical treatment, bending needles and all (a plot complication that comes right from the pages of The Pulse), Night Nurse is there to help. I love Rosario Dawson so this is a more than welcome appearance.

The pre-Civil War antagonism is still festering, as another nurse sneers toward Luke, "he's one of those." Claire notes later that she herself is not special, but she keeps running into special. Claire gets the comatose Luke out of the hospital while Jessica contends with the Purple Man's amplified powers turning everyone in said hospital against her.

Night Nurse and Jessica have very good repartee and I would love to see them together again. At Jess' place they get Luke resting, and Jess patched up. Later a scene where Jess curls up with Luke is ruined by too much talk. Show, don't tell, folks. After a bit for Jess, it's back in the trail to Kilgrave. When Malcolm shows up (they keep writing him out but he never seems to leave), he and Claire get on well - I hope they both show up in "The Defenders."

If Kilgrave wasn't dangerous before, he's getting a real knack for the super-villain game now. Amazing what a jilted love and a couple days in a torture cell can do. A previous episode's title asks, what would Jessica do? Obviously she would turn a selfish jerk rapist into a full blown super-villain. She even found his mad scientist dad to help him modify and maximize his powers. Thanks, Jessica. And did anyone else think that, just for a second, Kilgrave was going to actually turn purple?

The horror show left in his wake at the penthouse where Dad amped him up is not for the squeamish. That last shot of amp must have messed him up good. There's a showdown with many people on his side, police and civilian, and a tense confrontation with Patsy, who should never have been there in the first place. The ending of Kilgrave is however too easy, and completely unsatisfying. And I hated it.

The closing of the series is more promising however, noir with a bit of hope. Jessica, Patsy, and Malcolm all on the road at least to being a hero. The first seven episodes, and the last two were very good, in between, not so much. "Jessica Jones" has been renewed for a second season, but first we'll have to see how "Daredevil" fares in his second...

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond ~ The trailer for Star Trek Beyond is one of the things that kept me going when I spent this last December in the hospital. Beyond of course The Bride, my friends, my family, and a short video of my kitty Snowy, there was the first trailer that broke.

My friend Andy Burns posted it at Biff Bam Pop! on a day when I was feeling a bit better and I showed that YouTube clip set to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" on my iPhone to everyone who came into my room that day. I was psyched. One reason I was going to get out of that hellhole was certainly to see Star Trek Beyond in July.

It's July, and I'm out. I saw it, and I loved it. Star Trek Beyond is one of the three best movies out this year so far. And the other two - Captain America: Civil War and The Legend of Tarzan respectively - actually have a lot in common with Star Trek Beyond.

Like Civil War, this carefully structured script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, gives all of the many characters in this venerable cast equal time. Everyone has something to do and no one gets the short end of the stick. No matter who your favorite is, he or she gets a spotlight. Speaking of the script, Pegg and Jung are masterful in creating adversaries and situations that are absolutely geared to defeat the crew of the Enterprise, but never once does it degenerate into a when-is-it-time-for-the-good-guys-to-win scenario. There is no desperation, we are always rooting for our heroes.

And while we're on the topic of heroes, the similarities to Tarzan become apparent when as a viewer I realized that this was not the new crew, or new actors, but the real thing. This was Star Trek, and it was bringing it for a new generation without losing that which made it cool to begin with. I not only loved the traditional characters, but the new ones as well, and look forward to a fourth installment - something I could not have said after Into Darkness sadly.

This new Trek was fun, exciting, and triumphant. Highly recommended, and worth living for.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens ~ Hey folks, it's that time of year again, in what has become an annual tradition, it's Sharknado time again. Unlike lightning, the Sharknado can strike once, twice, three times, and now a fourth. Can Thunder Levin and The Asylum keep it going for a fourth installment? I think that's a no-brainer, but that's the kind of fun Sharknado is.

After an amazing Star Wars opening with the scrolling introduction off into the stars, we learn that it's now five years later from the end of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!. There are no more Sharknadoes thanks to AstroX run by Tommy Davidson, who has now put their space money into a clean energy, and a Shark World hotel in Las Vegas. It's just too bad that our hero Fin Shepherd, played by Ian Ziering is also headed there for a family reunion. Predictably the fun starts very quickly, with a dust devil made of sharks. Yes, a dust devil, made, of sharks. Just go with it, folks.

This sandstorm full of sharks is apparently possible because it has no water, what Astro X was capable of preventing. As long as there's no water, they can't stop these storms. So the storm chasing Fin and his family morphs as it tracks him across the United States, changing into a boulder-nado, a fire-nado, a twine-nado, and finally a nuke-nado before Fin has a final showdown with the shark-filled beast at Niagara Falls, but not before it leaves a trail of destruction in its path.

The guest star parade is incessant, much like the window cameos in the 1966 "Batman" TV series, everyone wants to be part of Sharknado. "The Today Show" hosts are back, as are Jedward, joining, among many, many others like Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Wayne Newton, Cheryl Tiegs, Gilbert Gottfried as Ron McDonald (insert your own joke), Dog the Bounty Hunter, Dr. Drew Pinsky, Lloyd Kaufman, Carrot Top, Paul Shaffer, Corey Taylor of Slipknot, Seth Rollins, Jillian Barberie, Adrian Zmed, and Christine, Stephen King's possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury.

On the minus side, the Xfinity X1 commercials within the movie itself were just embarrassing. Dodge was obvious product placement, but at least their commercial outside the flick were amusing. Really, Xfinity, really?

This one has it all - pirate ships, shark-bergs, cyborg Tara Reid, shark-fribulators, a "Baywatch" reunion, and Gary Busey and David Hasselhoff. I loved the comic book credit sequence, and I even loved the Tara Reid homage to the cover of Action Comics #1. The movie is just fun, and if it has any flaws (other than Xfinity) it's where this Sharknado takes itself seriously or gets caught up in its own franchise continuity. Otherwise it's awesome. Bring on Sharknado 5!