Film/Arts/Satire*
(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Three Toons and a Baby

 
No wonder Coco won.

Quick takes on some popular animated movies now streaming and/or on home video.


Ferdinand:
It's odd to see a family flick centered around the "sport" of bullfighting in this day and age, but here it is. Nevertheless, this modern adaptation of the kid lit classic (previously made by Disney as an Oscar-winning cartoon in 1938) is silly fun and sometimes clever (our hero visits the proverbial china shop), although one has to question the casting of wrestling stud John Cena in the title role... who casts John Cena for his voice? One can only imagine the queer lunacy a Nathan Lane could have brought to the part of a flower-loving pacifist. (6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Um... is he pointing at his nipples?

The Breadwinner:
This Afghani version of Mulan from Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon begins with the young protagonist witnessing her mother being brutally beaten in the street. Yikes... I don't normally have issues with mature themes in animation, but I do when the characters resemble the cute little sprites from The Secret of Kells. Parents beware. (5/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

Don't trust this face.

Cars 3:
Hey Pixar, are you finally done with this worn-out, over-exposed franchise? Now that I've got that out of my system, this third Cars feature isn't too bad, especially since the focus has shifted back to Lightning McQueen (after the wall-to-wall Mater of Cars 2), even if he is saddled with a downer storyline about facing that final pit stop... uh, retirement? Yep, I think they're done. (6/10) Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Glengarry Glen Gerber

The Boss Baby:
In a field that has included the sad likes of Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Shark Tale, The Boss Baby can now easily claim the title of the worst movie to be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Crammed to the breaking point with everything that makes today's average animated fare so bad — such sloppy, lazy tropes as stunt voice casting (Alec Baldwin! As a baby!), a soundtrack-ful of tired pop songs, plenty of poop/fart/burp/booger jokes — this Boss Baby deserves a permanent time out. (2/10) Now streaming on Netflix.

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Reverend's Reviews: Totally Awesome Visions, New & Old


 

I have emerged from my longer-than-anticipated, post-awards season recovery coma.  Somewhat similarly, Steven Spielberg has just premiered his first post-The Post movie, Ready Player One. It proves to be an awesome, just plain fun return to the über-director's 1980's heyday before he got all serious and stuffy with 1993's Oscar-winning Schindler's List.  Despite a couple of exceptions, Spielberg has been making serious films ever since including Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Munich, Bridge of Spies and last year's The Post.


Ready Player One barely has a serious bone in its body, and the movie is totally successful as a result.  It is also dripping with nostalgia for all things 1980's-early 90's.  The time travel-augmented Delorean from Back to the Future is prominently featured, as are Spock's burial capsule from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, incantations from John Boorman's Arthurian epic Excalibur, and a rampaging T-Rex from Spielberg's own Jurassic Park.  Twisted Sister's rowdy "We're Not Gonna Take It" plays over the film's climactic battle scene.  Had Ready Player One actually been made in the 80's, Corey Haim no doubt would have played hero Wade Watts (a.k.a. Parzival) instead of current headliner Tye Sheridan, while Peter Coyote would be cast as big baddie Nolan Sorrento instead of new villain du jour Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Animal Kingdom).

Set in the year 2045 and a predictably dystopian, post-Trump Ohio, Spielberg's terrific sci-fi adventure showcases Wade's efforts to solve three virtual reality riddles created by the late James Halliday (a great performance by the director's current muse, Mark Rylance, in a fright wig and age-defying CGI).  Whoever solves these puzzles by the Willy Wonka-ish video game designer will win a priceless "Easter egg" including ownership of Halliday's entire online universe, known as the OASIS.


Naturally, anything priceless is going to attract not only well-intentioned folks like Wade but money-grubbing, megalomaniacal people such as Sorrento, who turns out to have been Halliday's former personal assistant. Sorrento lords over a staff of hundreds whose only job is to play the OASIS's games and get the all-powerful Easter egg. A big part of the fun in watching the visually dazzling Ready Player One for anyone over 40 is looking for the many mini "Easter eggs" that play brief background roles.  Appropriately enough, my friends and I saw the movie on Easter Sunday.  It was definitely less messy than dying actual eggs.

The movie's best sequence is set in the Overlook Hotel, haunted setting of Stephen King's horror novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation.  I haven't read the book Ready Player One but I've read that this Shining sequence replaced a lengthy literary homage to Blade Runner. It includes appearances by the scary twin girls and an expanded part for the bathtub-dwelling ghost in infamous room 237.

In the end, Ready Player One incorporates the best elements of Spielberg's 80's oeuvre: heroic young people, awe-inspiring special effects, abundant humor, and an emotionally uplifting finale. Older viewers may have difficulty with all the fast-moving video game CGI on display but will still likely enjoy this thrill ride of a film.


Classic cinema meets modern media in two stunning new Blu-ray releases from the lovingly curated Criterion Collection.  Turning back the clock 90 years, we find Carl Theodore Dreyer's famed religious pageant The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Inspirational in the best sense, it draws from actual court documents of the time to recount the trial, sentencing and execution of the female French soldier who would eventually become one of the Catholic Church's most renowned saints.

Renee Falconetti gives an unforgettable, screen-searing performance in the title role.  Dreyer required Falconetti and the rest of his cast to forego makeup in order to heighten the film's Middle Ages authenticity.  Rudolph Mate's innovative black and white photography, heavy on extreme closeups and odd angles, has inspired generations of cinematographers.

The Blu-ray of The Passion of Joan of Arc boasts numerous extras of historical interest as well as three different music scores by which to watch it.  One is Richard Einhorn's acclaimed oratorio "Voices of Light," which accompanied the film's 1995 release on VHS.  While this is the best regarded option, I enjoyed/appreciated the more recent, percussion-heavy score co-composed by rockers Will Gregory of Goldfrapp and Adrian Utley of Portishead.  The third musical option by Japanese pianist Mie Yanashita is lovely and reflective.  This universally-recognized classic is worth watching with all three scores as well as in its original silent mode.


Fast-forwarding to 1968 is Criterion's spotless, newly restored release of George A. Romero's revolutionary Night of the Living Dead.  The late director's famously low-budget horror hit set the template for all subsequent depictions of zombie uprisings, including today's Walking Dead franchise.  But the film may strike many as more significant or timely than ever due to its not-so-subtle commentary on race relations in the US.  Watching it now as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination makes this movie that much more relevant.

Largely set in a Pennsylvania farmhouse and its surrounding countryside, the movie depicts uneasy relations among a group of white strangers who have taken refuge from a siege by flesh-hungry undead.  The appearance of a black man (Ben, memorably played by Duane Jones) who is easily the smartest and strongest of them all only serves to heighten tensions.  In the end, the black hero survives only to be killed by a sheriff's posse that shoots without even determining if he is a zombie.

The original theatrical release of Night of the Living Dead at the height of the Civil Rights Movement was an unintended but providential occurrence that has helped to make the movie a cross-generational, multi-ethnic phenomenon for five decades now.  Sure, the actors' performances are amateurish at times and I noticed upon re-viewing it that some of the sound editing is off, especially during a fistfight scene.  These are minor criticisms though when held up against this movie's enduring cultural impact.  A new documentary about this, Light in the Darkness, is included as a bonus and features new Oscar winner Guillermo Del Toro among its commentators. Awesome indeed.

Reverend's Ratings:
Ready Player One: A-
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928): A
Night of the Living Dead (1968): A-

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film and stage critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MD Top 10: Will & Grace Guest Stars Who Need to Return


In its heyday, Will & Grace had so many guest stars it was practically The Love Boat (with Jack, Your Cruise Director). These guest spots ranged from hilarious (Matt Damon as a straight guy who just wants to sing) and iconic (Cher, naturally) to misfires (Ellen DeGeneres as a nun?) and outright bombs (Madonna or Britney, take your pick).


Since its return last fall, the classic sitcom has continued its guest star tradition with both new and returning celebs, including Grace and Will's ex-loves (Harry Connick, Jr. as Leo Markus, Bobby Cannavale as Vince D'Angelo), a couple of Karen's many nemeses (Minnie Driver as Lorraine Finster, Leslie Jordan as Beverly Leslie), recurring faves Nurse Sheila (Laura Kightlinger) and Val Bassett (Molly Shannon) and, coming soon, Blythe Danner as Will's mom Marilyn and Alec Baldwin as the mysterious Malcolm Widmark.


Of course, we'd love to see even more blasts from the past, and now that Will & Grace has been renewed for yet another season already they'll have plenty of opportunities to bring back some of our old favorites, such as...


(In alphabetical order, click on character name for a video clip.)

1. Candice Bergen as Candice Bergen


The multiple Emmy winner (or is it People's Choice Awards?) can warm up for the pending return of Murphy Brown by sparring with Karen yet again; imagine their debate about the pros and cons of a certain commander-in-chief.

2. Sandra Bernhard as Sandra Bernhard


Picture it: Will and Grace once again cross paths with the comedienne (who will also be in the upcoming Roseanne revival) and, since Sandra doesn't remember them, they become pals again... until Grace breaks out in song.

3. Veronica Cartwright as Judith McFarland


Jack has already mentioned his loving but clueless mother ("What is she, headless?") in the current season, a perfect set up to bring her back for a long-awaited second appearance. How about a dinner party with Marilyn?

4. Cher as Cher


Dear NBC: Just. Make it. Happen. Signed: The Grateful Gays of the World.

5. Michael Douglas as Gavin Hatch


Connect the dots... Gavin was a closeted cop who took a shine to Will. Jack's current boyfriend is a cop just out of the closet. How about a blind double date? Woof!

6. Christine Ebersole as Candy Pruitt


Candy was one of Karen's many high society rivals, the one with a penchant for plastic surgery. Imagine her now in the age of Botox.

7. Woody Harrelson as Nathan


Leo who? We always thought Nathan was the true love of Grace's life, and his bohemian vibe played well off of the straight(ahem)-laced Will. So how about a round two?

8. Dan Futterman as Barry


Don't you want to see where Barry is at now? Karen's cousin, who was Eliza Dolittle-d into a handsome head-turner by Will and Jack, has been out for awhile now... time enough surely to give Will a second chance.

9. Parker Posey as Dorleen


What a hoot it would be to see Posey (who'll play a gender-swapped Dr. Smith in Netflix's Lost in Space reboot) yet again as Dorleen, Jack's high-strung supervisor during his all-to-brief stint at Barney's.

10. Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Ro D'Angelo


Let's face it: Will & Grace was never too kind to lesbians during its original run (remember the cringe-inducing couple played by Edie Falco and Chloë Sevigny? Yikes). They can make up for it now with an encore appearance of Vince's sister Ro, who Jack convinced to come out to her family that one memorable Thanksgiving.

There are just two episodes left of Will & Grace this season, so you'll know where to find me the next two Thursday nights...!

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