In its hearth, the fire crackles,
Warms us from its tabernacle,
And it sinisterly cackles,
Jailed in generosity.
“Soon,” it says between its spitting,
“It won’t be just logs I’m splitting.
Homes and dreams will be more fitting
Feeding my ferocity.
“While I bide here, curbed and cringing,
Brothers have I elsewhere singeing,
None to stop their brutal, binging,
“Few can stop me once I’ve started,
Once from prison I’ve departed.
Brace your brave and lionhearted
For my animosity.”
MPAA rating: PG-13
Yes, I’m reviewing another disaster movie, but whereas The Hindenburg was about a major historical incident, Only the Brave focuses on a much more down-to-earth disaster which can affect anyone: wildfires. Though I’ve been told only you can prevent them, it’s real-life heroes who do the actual work of keeping them at bay once they get out of control, and one such group of heroes were the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a firefighting team from Prescott, Arizona.
Josh Brolin plays Superintendent Eric Marsh, who believes in his intuition and experience enough to rally his own team of certified Hotshots, firefighters who would be on call to answer both local and national fire emergencies. To that end, he recruits both old friends and new blood, including Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a loser by all definitions who finds in this new job a chance to renew his pathetic life. The training, teasing, and camaraderie that come with the Hotshot certification are quite comparable to what you see in military movies, and the successes and failures are likewise felt deeply. McDonough’s second chance at life is also inspiring alongside the ambitions of Marsh, who sees himself in the younger man’s struggles.
The effects recreating infamous fires are brilliantly done, while the excellent cast provide both likable characterization and insight into the methods and struggles of the firefighting business, including the toll it takes on their family, such as Jennifer Connelly as Marsh’s long-suffering wife. I suppose my only complaint (Spoiler!) is that I didn’t know what kind of movie Only the Brave would become by the end and was thus unprepared for a certain tragic turn of events. Those aware of the true story surely knew going in, but let’s just say this is as much a memorial movie as it is a disaster one, and it caught me off-guard, which isn’t even really a criticism since it does both very effectively. It’s a well-acted tribute to the kind of heroism that is all too often overlooked.
Best line: (Duane) “You gotta ask yourself, ‘What can I live with, and what can I die without?’”
Surely luxury entails
Safety in its fine details.
Once you’re paying through the nose
You need not doubt the practiced pros.
Once your travel’s well along,
Who’d dare think something might go wrong?
How could pride descend to panic?
Ask the Hindenburg and Titanic.
MPAA rating: PG
One of the many disaster movies of the 1970s, The Hindenburg will never go down as one of the best of its genre, but it’s by no means among the worst either, despite the pretty scathing reviews it has endured over the years. My VC happens to be quite fond of it, and while her appreciation dwarfs my own, I still consider it a solid film made memorable by its spectacular climax.
One thing everyone should know going in is that this movie is historically inaccurate on many fronts, despite a largely faithful re-creation of the airship itself and a collection of characters based on real people. The main character is Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott), a decorated German air officer who is tasked by Goebbels with preventing a threatened attack on the Nazis’ prize zeppelin, which flies with highly flammable hydrogen rather than helium. While many theories have been proposed on what caused the Hindenburg’s destruction, the movie goes the resistance conspiracy route, which has never been proven but works as a potential reason for what happened.
Scott does well as usual, and the fact that he plays a Nazi is mitigated by his distaste for the regime in light of some recent tragedies. The rest of the cast is full of recognizable names and faces, all of whom are suspects in Ritter’s investigation, including Anne Bancroft as a countess he knows, a young William Atherton as an airship crewman, and René Auberjonois and Burgess Meredith as a pair of gamblers. Having watched a lot of Everybody Loves Raymond recently, I also spotted two recurring stars in Katherine Helmond as a passenger and Charles Durning as the Hindenburg’s captain.
The build-up during the zeppelin’s flight, as Ritter scrutinizes everyone’s motives and opportunity, is unavoidably slow, but the tension does grow as the voyage comes to its historical end. The suspense is a lot like Titanic in that you know generally what will happen and are just waiting for the shoe to drop, and it’s worth it when it does. The Oscar-winning effects are dated but still impressive, and the re-creation of the accident is chaotic and brilliant as the screen fades to black-and-white and seamlessly works in real footage of the Hindenburg’s crash, ending with the iconic radio recording of a terrified onlooker. It’s a case where the last ten minutes makes the rest worthwhile, but you could also just watch the last ten minutes, sacrificing context to save time. Either way, despite being in a film full of historical liberties, it’s an excellent disaster sequence, which alone ought to disprove this film’s harsher critics.
Best line: (Captain Lehmann, ironically as they set off) “I’m to go to Washington to get us helium.” (Ritter) “I wish we had it this trip.”
If I were on a transport ship
And had my own space-faring trip
Disturbed by some malignant beast
That turned my friends into a feast,
And then I managed to survive
And make it back to Earth alive
And then agreed to travel back
To probe a possible attack
And once again encountered those
Same creatures and their embryos,
Again surviving (barely though),
Escaping with some friends in tow,
And suddenly awakening
To find they’re dead but still that thing,
That alien won’t leave me be
And still is on its killing spree…
I think I’d think the universe
Was out to get me with a curse,
Or since my troubles will not halt,
Perhaps it’s those darn writers’ fault.
MPAA rating: R
With few exceptions, it’s usually around the third film that a franchise starts going awry. Case in point: Alien 3. It could have been good. Based on the success of its two acclaimed predecessors, it should have been good, but even director David Fincher has disavowed this largely unpleasant installment in the ongoing xenomorph saga.
It’s not that Alien 3 is of poor quality. It’s actually a well-made film, or rather the best the filmmakers could build around a host of poor creative decisions, which require spoilers to fully criticize, so be warned. One such poor decision is obvious within the first few minutes before a single word is spoken. Thanks to an alien stowaway, both Michael Biehn’s Hicks and young Carrie Henn’s Newt are summarily killed off, despite surviving the events of Aliens with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. As a fan of Aliens, this immediately left a bad taste in my mouth, and it doesn’t get much better. (It’s funny that Biehn was paid almost the same amount for this film as Aliens, just for his image being briefly shown.) Ripley herself does survive her crash landing on a desolate prison planet, where fanatically religious prisoners and a skeleton crew of guards become the new prey of an alien creature.
With Alien 3, or Alien3 as it is stylized, it’s as if the writers missed what made the first two films so good. Sure, they seem to understand the tension of a hidden alien picking off unsuspecting humans, but they also break what is typically a cardinal rule of horror movies: killing both a child and a dog (or ox depending on the version seen). Instead of the generally likable casts of the prior films, we get a host of interchangeable British-accented skinheads, with only Charles S. Dutton standing out as remotely worthwhile. Oh, there’s one sympathetic character in Charles Dance’s doctor, but the writers had to nix him as soon as his tragic backstory was revealed. When you then also consider that Sigourney Weaver specifically wanted Ripley to die, you get an idea of just how depressing this film is by the end and wonder why she bothered to then come back for Alien: Resurrection five years later.
In addition, Alien 3 just feels harsher than its predecessors, with more cursing and in-your-face violence than the other two, not unlike how Alien: Covenant compares with Prometheus. The setting is certainly promising, and the fact that the prison planet lacks weapons of any kind makes the survivors’ plight even more dire. Their plan for trapping the alien is actually quite clever and intense, but it also becomes one long, hard-to-follow scene of the alien chasing and killing characters I couldn’t tell apart. Plus, a few scenes of the full-body alien are very clearly CGI, which was no doubt a leap forward for the effects team but looks hokey by today’s standards.
So, yeah, Alien 3 stinks. It’s not unwatchable and boasts some great sets and tense moments, particularly an iconic scene of Ripley and the alien coming face to face. But nearly every creative decision just feels wrong, which is a far cry from the first two classics. It’s the Alien franchise’s first dud and one I don’t think I’ll be revisiting any time soon.
Best line: (Golic) “In an insane world, a sane man must appear insane.”
The world of tomorrow was yesterday’s dream.
Today’s that tomorrow, or so it would seem.
Today’s not exactly what yesterday guessed,
But thinking dystopian, maybe that’s best.
Today has its own dreams of what’s on its way
But also thinks fondly about yesterday.
Today is a mess; maybe if we combine
Tomorrow and yesterday, all will be fine.
MPAA rating: PG
Some films are just unlike any other. The weird thing about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is that it’s both utterly unique and yet reminiscent of many other movies before it and since. It’s an unusual blend of the futuristic and the retro, which offers the same kind of entertaining, if not particularly deep, gusto as a pulp magazine from 80+ years ago.
Of course, unlike those magazines or comics, Sky Captain puts its visuals in motion with a distinctly retro, sort of noir visual style, which most reminded me of those Superman cartoons from the 1930s. Shadows are at stark angles, the colors are muted almost to sepia and black-and-white, montages have semi-transparent scenes playing over each other, and many shots have a balanced composition resembling an old war poster. Added to all of this are special effects that, created in 2004, manage to be both well-visualized and just that slightly bit cheesy, minus the extra polish that they would have if made today. Yet the fact that nearly all of the actors’ surroundings are CGI is quite impressive and not immediately obvious. So many films these days end up looking like something else, even if it’s unintentional or trying to be somewhat different (think Pacific Rim vs. Transformers), yet it would take a lot of effort to make anything resembling Sky Captain’s visual flair.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a hodgepodge of genres and story elements from sources ranging from Indiana Jones to those same Superman cartoons I mentioned. Jude Law plays the titular Captain Joe Sullivan, whose tricked-out plane is called in to stop giant robots attacking New York City, while Gwyneth Paltrow is Polly Perkins, a Lois Lane-ish intrepid reporter seeking her next big story. Together, they investigate a worldwide conspiracy that is making famous scientists disappear as part of some unknown master plan by a man called Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier, or rather his likeness since he died in 1989).
Like I said, I was reminded of many films while watching this one, making me wonder why I hadn’t bothered to see it sooner. It’s hard not to think of Salah in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Joe and Polly rendezvous with an old friend to visit Shangri-La, and Sky Captain himself is like an airborne Indy, as his womanizing ways and bickering chemistry with Polly indicate. Yet I was even more stunned by the fact that I was reminded of films that came out after this one and must have drawn some inspiration from it. Angelina Jolie shows up as an old flame of Joe’s, but tell me she’s not a touchstone for Nick Fury when she wears an eyepatch and captains a helicarrier from a bridge that even resembles the one from The Avengers.
More shocking still for me was how similar Sky Captain was to April and the Extraordinary World, a new favorite animated film I praised for its originality just last month. The story just holds too many parallels: a World War II-era setting with unusually advanced technology, famed scientists being mysteriously abducted, a jungle-set climax with a rocket that has more or less the exact same purpose in both films. I can’t say my opinion of April has diminished, but I must admit that it’s not quite as original as I thought. I suppose Sky Captain has absorbed my appreciation in that regard, even if I still like April more.
With my rambling on about uniqueness and originality, I don’t know if this review has made it clear or not, but I highly enjoyed Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. If you can buy into its stylistic distinctiveness, there’s plenty of high-flying, largely family-friendly adventure to be had from its genre blending. As the first film to be (almost) completely shot on blue screen, Sky Captain was clearly a labor of love for director Kerry Conran and remains his only feature film. It is indeed something of a novelty item, as many reviews have called it, but it’s still quite an entertaining one.
Best line: (I’d rather not say since it gives away a major plot point.)
Rank: List-Worthy (tied with April and the Extraordinary World)
Nineteen films in Marvel’s canon, fruit of planners’ careful plannin’,
And though some are sick of fandoms,
I am still a fan extreme.
So to honor them and thank them, now seems like the time to rank them,
Using Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”
For my rhyming scheme.
Just so everybody knows, regardless of where each one goes,
I like them all, both highs and lows.
(And poems are just more fun than prose.)
At number nineteen in the listing is one barely still existing
In the continuity
Of Marvel’s growing universe.
Edward Norton as Bruce Banner had the acting chops and manner,
But the climax was all smashing,
Which got tedious or worse.
It’s better than the green banana that had featured Eric Bana
But still feels unripe so, man, a-
Nother recast was in store.
William Hurt has since been spotted, but the hints with which it’s dotted
Might as well have not been plotted
And should come back nevermore.
Iron Man put Marvel soaring, but its sequel left some snoring,
Dragged down by two villains boring,
Both in need of better scripts.
Poisoned by his source of power, Tony’s mood was often sour,
But he managed still to win
When Russian Mickey Rourke made whips.
Still though, ScarJo as Black Widow made her entrance, and she did so
Well that most will only think
Of her debut and not the rest.
Rhodey gets a suit for blasting, none the worse for his recasting,
And Don Cheadle has proved lasting
Past the Terrance Howard test.
Then came Thor with smashing hammer, lifted up by Branagh’s glamor,
Boasting bold Old English grammar
And Chris Hemsworth’s muscled bod.
Visually, Asgard was stunning, and we love Loki so cunning,
But the plot was just too simple:
Humbling the thunder god.
New Mexico no doubt did smile as the place of Thor’s exile,
Where he learned to face the trial
Of his selfless worthiness.
I like Thor’s supporting players, and the myths have many layers,
But only in its outward airs
Was this Thor able to impress.
Still important? Yeah, I guess.
Avengers rocked the whole box office, praised by all except some sophists,
So Phase 2 kicked off for Marvel
With another Iron Man.
Traumatized and shaken Tony, grown from being glib and phony,
Offers honest testimony
Where his lowest point began.
Kingsley’s villain is scene-stealing till we get to his revealing
That he’s merely double-dealing,
Just a hack to fool the press.
Well, it worked, and it’s disjointing, baffling, and disappointing,
As is Tony’s final act,
Progress but dumb nonetheless.
Yet the rest meets with success.
Don’t discount my rare opinion, thinking I’m some racist minion.
No one race deserves dominion
Over superhero flicks.
As the first black solo story, yes, Black Panther meets with glory,
Breaking in new territory,
Adding to the Marvel mix.
Yet Wakandan mysticism paired with governmental schism
Drew from me some criticism
While from others gaining praise.
Sister Shuri and the action still earned positive reaction,
And, though others have more traction,
This film had a trail to blaze.
Keeping Phase 2 sequels going, Thor 2 showed the stakes keep growing
As the first time that the whole dang
Universe was jeopardized.
Fantasy continued merging with sci-fi, like worlds converging
As dark elves pursued the purging
Of the light they so despised.
True, it won’t impress Criterion, but the tone is still Shakespearean,
And both Thor and Loki shine
As they develop their rapport.
Next to Thanos or the Joker, Malekith is mediocre
As a villain. “Who?” you say,
Which just confirms my comment more.
Recently, the god of thunder suddenly has fallen under
Comedy, and fans have wondered
Where the gravity has gone.
Yet most others have ceased caring, caught up in the funny pairing
Of both Thor and Hulk, not sparing
Any joke to fall upon.
When his sister shows she’s greater, Thor becomes a gladiator
Under Goldblum the dictator,
Yet his humor pulls him through.
Losing hammer, home, and hair, plus friends you may not know were there,
May seem to be a bleak affair,
Yet laughter keeps the sad from view.
After Garfield and Maguire, did the universe require
Yet another Spider-Man
To swing his webs and quips galore?
Maybe so, because Homecoming kept young Peter Parker humming,
And we knew that he was coming
Since he was in Civil War.
(Want a fourth? Please, nevermore.)
Born from Disney’s deal with Sony, this young Spider now has Tony,
Gifting high-tech Spidersuits
To mentor over-eager Pete.
With its youthful high school setting and no Uncle Ben regretting,
It’s a new and fun resetting,
Not the best but no mean feat.
From the tech so futuristic, Marvel moved on to the mystic
With a dose of surrealistic
Imagery to help us cope.
Cumberbatch proved quite appealing as a doctor seeking healing,
Whose whole world is set to reeling,
Much like a kaleidoscope.
Yes, it’s effortless equating Strange’s rehabilitating
With one Tony Stark and rating Iron Man as first and best.
Visually, though, eyes were popping, just as many jaws were dropping.
Marvel showed no signs of flopping,
Always leaving us impressed.
I don’t mean to be a hater, since I do enjoy James Spader,
But in looking back years later, Age of Ultron is a mess.
Triumph was not guaranteed in this great challenge for Joss Whedon,
Yet he made the mess proceed in
Good directions, more or less.
Lots of characters to juggle, hints at future tales to smuggle,
All of it proved quite the struggle,
Even for his cleverness.
Ultron left a weak impression, but the heroes in procession
Still were awesome, since (Confession!)
I’m a geek, but I digress.
Of their many near disasters turned to gold by Marvel’s masters,
This one shocked the best forecasters
Who thought surely this would flop.
Talking trees and troublemakers and raccoons were no dealbreakers;
No, these misfit moneymakers
Proved too humorous to stop.
With its crowded plot subverted by pop culture jokes inserted,
Seventies pop songs diverted,
Making Guardians a fave.
Though not every wisecrack landed, Marvel’s world was well expanded,
And this superteam commanded
Special props for being brave.
Yet another risky venture, Marvel’s miniature adventure
Brought an original Avenger
From the comic to the screen.
Though its brethren may stand taller, I appreciate the smaller
Scale and silliness of Ant-Man,
Still with sights we’d never seen.
Paul Rudd’s both sincere and silly next to Lost’s Evangeline Lilly,
As he rides on ants (yes, really),
For a heist by shrinkage done.
While its physics call for bending, Ant-Man’s lark is worth commending.
It’s a romp or runt depending
On the viewer’s sense of fun.
Sequels can be tricky notions, preying on the fans’ devotions.
Some say this went through the motions,
But I favor Volume 2.
There’s more leeway to admire characters established prior,
And its fun flies slightly higher
Than its predecessor flew.
Mantis is a great addition, while Kurt Russell’s opposition
As Quill’s father made his mission
Quite the father/son dispute.
Drax’s laughing is contagious, and the action’s still outrageous,
But its poignancy engages.
Plus, I just love Baby Groot.
As you might guess from his placing, Cap’s one hero I’m embracing,
And his second film’s great pacing
Helped it merit much acclaim.
As a proven HYDRA hater, Cap was branded as a traitor,
And one elevator later,
He set out to clear his name.
Verifying comic theories, this one’s vast conspiracies
Rippled through both film and series,
Changing Marvel’s status quo.
Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D. were still quite lucky, more than poor, reprogrammed Bucky,
And to helm it, Marvel welcomed
Anthony and Joe Russo.
Iron Man initiated all that Marvel’s since created,
With a movie that predated
Disney’s lucrative control.
Downey, Jr.’s star selection was, in casting terms, perfection,
Serving as a nice reflection
Of the actor in the role.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges kept the central cast prestigious.
(Rhodey, though, would be recast,
With ol’ Don Cheadle in the wings.)
Tony’s origins so winning got the MCU to spinning.
Solo story, grand beginning— Iron Man was many things.
Though Iron Man was the go-getter, origins don’t get much better
Than the fourth but First Avenger In the Marvel pantheon.
World War II was recreated, screaming classic but not dated,
And Steve Rogers’ motivated
Hero showed both brains and brawn.
Of all baddies you could fill in, Nazis are an ideal villain,
And for girlfriends, Agent Carter
Still remains one of the best.
Though not quirky or exotic, Steve’s so sweet and patriotic,
Standing up to those despotic,
That he stands above the rest.
One whole decade in the making, bigger if not quite groundbreaking,
There is no doubt or mistaking
Marvel’s tour de force so far.
No more just a brief inclusion, Thanos dreams of one conclusion,
Boasting views downright Malthusian,
If he only had the Stones.
So much epic superteaming, such high stakes no higher seeming,
Fruit of all of Marvel’s scheming,
Nerdwise, this film made our day.
Though it gave us all we wanted, viewers might not leave undaunted.
I walked out less thrilled than haunted,
Part 2 still one year away.
“Avengers” isn’t in the title, since Steve Rogers is most vital,
But all members are not idle
In this epic civil war.
Ant-Man helps with Cap’s resisting, Spider-Man swings in assisting,
And Black Panther joins the listing,
All with ends worth fighting for.
Nuanced in its controversies, vengeful spats, and moral mercies, Civil War left this fan thirsty
For whatever would come next.
Once more, status quo was shattered, favorite heroes sad and scattered.
Next to others, this one mattered.
Give those Russos my respects.
Phase 1’s awesome culmination, The Avengers earned ovation.
(I saw it post-graduation,
Very fondly I recall.)
Team-ups were a new sensation, this one passing expectations,
Building on its strong foundations,
One big balanced free-for-all.
Geniuses and egos clashing, aliens and buildings crashing,
Every hero still proved smashing.
(Who wants shawarma? Anyone?)
Whedon’s dialogue was clever, which surprises no one ever,
And their first combined endeavor
Still is Marvel’s most well-done.
Thanks to anyone persisting, finishing my Marvel listing.
Let me know what you may think.
No need to write in verse, though. *Wink*
Some stories just don’t have appeal
For some strange reason. They may be
Not real enough or all too real,
Too boring, sad, or scholarly.
For some uncertain reason, though,
They’re loved by someone you love more,
A mother, father, friend, and so
You watch, for their sake more than yours.
But once they’re gone, no longer close
To coax you toward what once annoyed,
You find yourself in need of a dose
Of something they had once enjoyed.
MPAA rating for Grease: PG-13
MPAA rating for Grease 2: PG (should be PG-13)
Instead of picking a film about a strong mother, as I’ve done in the past, this Mother’s Day, I thought I’d review a pair of films my mom has specifically asked for…several times. The poem is not meant to say she’s gone, because I just watched these films with her, but when that dark day comes, I feel that I’ll associate movies like these with her. So Happy Mother’s Day, Mom and all you mothers out there!
I grew up loving the High School Musical films and sort of looking down on Grease. I was the perfect age to dance and sing along to the clean-cut HSM series, while Grease just seemed like a more risqué grandparent. Even if Grease came much much earlier, I know which musical about high school romance I still prefer. Yet I must give Grease its due: it’s still a high-energy musical that captures its ‘50s high school setting with as much fun as it knows how. And its sequel, um, tries to be that too.
Based on a 1971 musical popular on Broadway, Grease is not unlike American Graffiti, both films made in the 1970s but set in and remembering the 1950s, which are shown to be less wholesome than nostalgia makes us think. After a summer romance, Danny (John Travolta, fresh from Saturday Night Fever) and Sandy (gorgeous Olivia Newton-John) unexpectedly meet again at the start of Rydell High’s school year, and their relationship gets bumpy as Danny tries to act tough for his greaser friends while Sandy seems too goody-goody for a clique called the Pink Ladies.
I do want to be clear: I like Grease, but I don’t quite get why many people consider it among the best musicals of all time. I do love the high-spirited school dance and the final two numbers, and several songs are iconic. My mom has told me of how popular hits like “Grease,” “Summer Nights,” and “You’re the One That I Want” were on the radio at the time. There’s a wealth of classic older actors I barely know (Eve Arden, Sid Caesar, Dody Goodman, Frankie Avalon), and the car race is also great fun, even throwing in a Ben-Hur reference.
Yet the film surrounding these high points feels somewhat lacking, which is probably what fans of Grease say about High School Musical. Perhaps I don’t like how Sandy is transformed from Miss “Sandra Dee” into a would-be slut, with no explanation except the realization that she has to change for Danny. Plus, Danny’s fellow T-Birds don’t stand out to me, while Stockard Channing’s cynical Rizzo is just rather unpleasant to be around. These are fairly negligible reasons to dislike Grease, but they’re the best I can come up with for why it’s not one of my favorite musicals. I know that High School Musical is indebted to Grease in both inspiration and plot (the school colors are even the same, red and white), but I guess I just prefer the unrealistically innocent side of high school. Or maybe it just depends on what you grew up with.
Still, I know I like Grease, but I’m less certain about Grease 2. Widely derided as a ridiculous retread of its predecessor, Grease 2 has still managed to find fans of the so-bad-it’s-good variety, including my mom and a friend of mine from work. I’m pretty sure I can label it a bad movie, but it’s inconsistently bad, which I suppose translates to inconsistently good too. While Grease had a solid base with musical highs, Grease 2 swings wildly from musical highs to cringe-worthy lows.
Sandy’s English cousin Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) arrives at Rydell High as another transfer student, who becomes enamored of Pink Lady Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer in her first leading role) and endeavors to win her over by becoming a motorcycle man of mystery. I can’t say the acting is terrible exactly, but I just never believed anyone, especially Caulfield as Michael, who my mom considers dreamy but whose character remains paper-thin. Pfeiffer is a surprising bright spot, particularly with the song “Cool Rider,” flexing the musical chops she also got to use in The Prince of Egypt and Hairspray.
While most of Grease’s cast doesn’t return, I liked the few who did make an appearance, including several teachers, Dennis Stewart’s bad guy, and Didi Conn as Frenchy. Several of the musical numbers are actually great fun, especially in the beginning with the Four Tops’ “Back to School Again,” which ought to be the anthem for the start of every school year.
But other moments just leave me wondering what the heck the writers were thinking. An entire song about “Reproduction”? Nuns at a bowling alley? By the time Stephanie was imagining Michael in biker heaven, with none of the wink, wink of the first film’s “Beauty School Dropout” sequence, I didn’t know what to think about this movie. It’s just too easy to mock at times (notice toward the end how characters are floating on a pool, then disappear just long enough for someone to crash in before reappearing). Yet my mom just smiles through the cheesier parts and likes it anyway.
With its classic pop-rock-style, Grease is a good bet for people who think they don’t like musicals, while Grease 2 is for those who know they like cheesy musicals. It’s cool to see Pfeiffer’s origins, and if you don’t compare it to the original, there’s fun to be had even in an objectively bad movie. I still like High School Musical way more, but I will always carry some fondness for these films, if only because I now associate these films with my mom, who insisted I see and review them for her. You could say “we’ll always be together.”
Best line from Grease: (Marty) Do you think these glasses make me look smarter?” (Rizzo) “No, you can still see your face.”
Best line from Grease 2: (girl, to principal) “I’m a little worried… I’ve missed my last two periods.” (Principal McGee) “That’s all right, dear; you can make them up after school.”
Rank for Grease: List Runner-Up
Rank for Grease 2: Honorable Mention (barely)
Since this town was sprung up from the ground
And the pioneers came
And the money came round
And it earned its fame
Being anything but tame,
Many drinks and fears were both poured and downed
At the unembellished name
Curing wanderlust with its drinks and dust,
It soon started to draw
Folk you could not trust,
For there was no law
When the West was raw
Till a man moved in to defend what’s just
When he reached his last straw
MPAA rating: R
Once again, I fear I’ve been neglecting my dear VC, who hasn’t gotten one of her movies reviewed in well over a month. This time, she picked Tombstone, an all-star western that I’m honestly surprised I hadn’t seen before. As a sweeping retelling of the events surrounding the gunfight at the OK Corral, it provides a fictionalized but surprisingly comprehensive look at the law enforcement career of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.
I knew only the most general background information about the shootout at the OK Corral involving Wyatt Earp and the Clantons, but Tombstone offered quite a bit of context with its large ensemble cast. Not only do we see Wyatt Earp’s arrival in Tombstone and the increasing tension between his family and the violent gang called the Cowboys, but we get to find out the aftermath of the OK Corral incident, which could have ended the film as its climax.
Earp himself, played by a tough-as-nails Kurt Russell, is a well-known badass trying to retire from his days as a peace officer, yet an early confrontation with an unrecognizable Billy Bob Thornton confirms he can still put the fear of God in bad guys. Once we’re introduced to his family and sick friend Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer), it’s only a matter of time before his attempted retirement yields to bloodshed and vengeance as the Cowboys threaten the peace.
Like Silverado, another favorite western of mine, Tombstone boasts a staggering number of famous faces, some of them before they became famous. Russell is a fantastic Wyatt Earp, while Kilmer brings an unflinching swagger to an all-around pip of a role, which is considered one of his very best with good reason. Since my VC is a huge fan of Sam Elliott, his appearance as Wyatt’s older brother explains in part why she likes this movie so much, but there’s also Bill Paxton as the other Earp brother, Powers Boothe as wicked “Curly Bill” Brocius, Michael Biehn as fearsome Johnny Ringo, Stephen Lang and Thomas Haden Church as two Clantons, Dana Delany as Wyatt’s love interest, and Billy Zane as a visiting actor. That’s not even mentioning the smaller roles for the likes of Charlton Heston, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, John Corbett, Michael Rooker, Harry Carey, Jr., Gunsmoke’s Buck Taylor, Jason Priestley, and (Lost alert!) Terry O’Quinn as Tombstone’s mayor. It’s hard at first for me to keep up with the less familiar faces, but the biggest stars stand out with strong support from the ensemble around them.
I suppose I ought to see Kevin Costner’s Wyatt Earp from the following year for comparison’s sake, but it would be hard-pressed to top this western epic. While liberties are taken, there were many events and details that I was surprised to learn were true upon researching afterward, such as the fate of Johnny Ringo, which is a point of historical mystery yet was worked plausibly into Tombstone’s plot. Russell and Kilmer are in top form here, and Boothe and Biehn make for genuinely despicable villains from their very first scene. I wouldn’t hesitate to put Tombstone high among the top ten westerns I’ve seen, and it would likely make my Top 365 List if only I was more partial to the western genre. (True Grit is still my favorite.) As it is, I enjoyed Tombstone for its strong performances, excellent script, and historical interest; it’s the kind of movie that makes me want to like westerns more.
Best line (simple but great characterization): (Turkey Creek Jack Johnson) “Doc, you oughta be in bed. What the hell you doin’ this for anyway?”
(Doc Holliday) “Wyatt Earp is my friend.”
(Johnson) “Hell, I got lots of friends.”
(Doc) “I don’t.”
This world on a string is a curious thing
That somehow survives as it wildly swings
From one bad extreme to another bad dream
Of another madman with another sad scheme.
And it faces such ever diminishing odds
By placing its faith that once used to be God’s
On those who will fail, work to little avail,
And find their travails could not tip any scale.
We humans are like that, more stubborn than wise
And shocked when our heroes crash land from the skies.
When times are turned dire, those fighting the fire
May once have drawn ire in calmer days prior,
But now we require someone to inspire,
A failure but trier, a phoenix highflyer.
MPAA rating: PG-13
It says a lot that I still have not watched Justice League, yet I had to see Infinity War on its opening weekend. Marvel just knows how to do these huge mash-up franchise films better than anyone else, and their consistency has only helped their blockbuster reputation. Coming ten years after the original Iron Man, Infinity War is the culmination of all that came before, and we’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since that first glimpse of Thanos in the after-credits scene of The Avengers. So then, did it live up to the hype? I’d have to say yes.
Veiled in cinematic secrecy and a host of fan speculation, Infinity War is hard to write about with any level of detail lest spoilers abound. However, I’ll try to stick to the known facts. Fed up with all the appearances of Infinity Stones that don’t end up in his possession, feared overlord Thanos (Josh Brolin) has finally decided to gather the six reality-shaping rocks himself, with the help of four nasty and powerful disciples. You may not have kept up with the Stones’ locations after eighteen movies, but they’re well spread out across the galaxy, with Earth housing two to make it a prime target. Stepping up to the plate to defend the universe, we have the vast majority of the MCU’s heroes, from the Guardians of the Galaxy to Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and over a dozen others.
One of my favorite MCU films thus far was Captain America: Civil War, which did an outstanding job at introducing the old guard to new favorites and making the resulting combination both exciting and moving. Infinity War has the same exact team, from directors Anthony and Joe Russo to screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, so it should be no surprise that they do the same here. Yet it is a surprise and a pleasant one, considering how many disparate characters and storylines had to be brought together for this defining moment of the MCU, and they do it better than I could have imagined possible.
The huge cast is wisely broken up into well-chosen groups, such as Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man, whose banter bounces off each other wonderfully, as do Thor and the Guardians. Thanos himself has a well-developed if crazily evil motivation (wiping out half of all life to help the remaining half) and proves he’s no slouch, despite merely sitting in a chair up to this point. He might be the best villain the MCU has produced, if you don’t count Loki. It’s amazing how well everyone else is balanced, though. Each character still has their established personality, and everyone has a moment to shine, which is not easy with such a large ensemble, as evidenced by the Star Trek: Next Gen movies for example. Even with all the dark, universe-shattering moments, there’s still a welcome amount of humor to keep the entertainment level high, as if the truly awesome action wasn’t enough. The clashes between Thanos’s side and the Avengers are stupendous, especially a final battle set in Wakanda, which had several moments that got parts of my theater cheering. (It’s curious, though, that the iconic scene in the top picture was apparently a publicity shot and not actually in the movie.)
Yet for all its strengths, it’s doubtful that you’ll walk out of Avengers: Infinity War smiling at having just seen an amazing superhero movie. Everyone in my theater walked out rather quietly. The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been, and Marvel has taken quite a risk with their episodic format, not unlike the cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes Back. At least we only have to wait one year for the follow-up instead of three. The cynical and those who’ve seen Marvel’s future film line-up will know not to take Infinity War’s ending too personally, which is why there aren’t riots and demands for it to be stricken from the canon, a la The Last Jedi. We know (or hope) that things will turn around in the sequel, but Infinity War still deserves credit for its haunting conclusion and managing to surprise even the most jaded of comic book-weary viewers.
Some may call Infinity War overstuffed with its sprawling cast and 166-minute runtime, yet it never felt as bulky as, say, Age of Ultron, which I found hard to stay awake during recently. There’s so much coolness on display that it is hard to take in all in one go, especially with an ending that monopolizes your final thoughts, but I still loved it both because of and despite its high stakes. It is unfortunate that the successes of some past films feel hollow after this one, especially Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok, but only the sequel can resolve the huge questions raised, most notably “What now?” One thing is for sure: everyone who watches Infinity War will definitely see its follow-up, so Marvel’s done its most basic job well. They’ve created both a financial juggernaut and a huge, thrilling, poignant superhero extravaganza that only leaves me wanting more. After all, there is much to avenge.
Best line: (Peter Parker, pointing to Drax and Mantis) “What exactly is it that they do?” (Mantis) “We kick names and take ass.” [Tony’s reaction is priceless.]
Once again, National Poetry Writing Month has come to an end, and looking back, it’s hard to believe that I was able to keep up for the most part. The last two days’ poems were a bit delayed, but thirty poems in thirty days still makes me tired just thinking about it, though it helped that I had some of my reviews already done in reserve to speed up the process. The fact that I finished up my semester projects at the same time just adds to the exhaustion.
Yet I also read some great work by other poets, found inspiration, and got to see and review some really phenomenal movies this month, most of which were fairly recent due to my catching up on films of late, so I thought I’d post another recap of my NaPoWriMo exploits. A huge thank you to everyone who liked, followed, and commented along the way, and to everyone else who participated in NaPoWriMo this year, I’d like to say “Well done!”
(This is my last poem/review for NaPoWriMo, still playing catch-up. Yesterday’s final NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem dealing with a strange or obscure fact, so I just included a lesser-known one about the famous board game.)
Someone is dead, but all others must stay,
For once his heart stops
And we wait for the cops,
It’s time to determine who made him that way.
Someone is dead, and someone here did it.
They picked a good room
To exact the man’s doom
With one of these weapons, since nobody hid it.
Someone is dead, and Miss Scarlet’s suspicious.
Old Mustard looks nervous,
The maid’s out of service,
And both Plum and Peacock appear most pernicious.
Someone is dead; White shows little contrition
And might have begun it,
Or Green could have done it,
Or maybe Miss Peach (in an ‘80s edition).
Someone is dead; someone offed him, but who?
It’s time to be candid
And catch them red-handed,
For every detail is considered a clue!
MPAA rating: PG
For me, Clue is sort of like The Goonies, an ‘80s film that seems to have developed a cult following out of nostalgia yet I never got to see it as a kid, which is when I probably would have loved it even more. As it is, I truly enjoyed this campy comedy and see why it is considered one of the only good adaptations of a board game.
It’s been so long since I played Clue that I don’t really remember the gameplay, only the variety of characters, locations, and weapons, all of which are included in its film version. The beginning is a bit too slow, but it introduces us one by one to the collection of fake-named strangers who arrive at a mansion on a dark and stormy night: Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), and Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd). (Kellye Nakahara from M*A*S*H also has a cameo as the Cook.) All of them are greeted by the house’s butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry) and are soon confronted by Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving), the man who has been blackmailing all of them and who soon ends up dead under mysterious circumstances, leading those gathered to try to figure out who killed him, where, why, and with what weapon.
How much you enjoy Clue likely depends on your capacity for campiness. My VC, who had also not seen Clue before, wished that events had played out with a more serious tone, but considering the number of plot twists and holes, I don’t think the story could work without its tongue-in-cheek levity. The script by John Landis and director Jonathan Lynn is full of chuckle-worthy wordplay and potent quotables, but it’s also so convoluted that, by the end, the characters themselves are pointing out how ridiculous things have gotten (“There’s one thing I don’t understand.” “One thing?”) Some of the jokes don’t work (Madeline Kahn gets weirdly tongue-tied in one scene), but I was still thoroughly amused, from the Scooby Doo-like exploration of the mansion as the group splits up to the light black comedy as the body count rises.
Clue is also notable for having three alternate endings, which were apparently handed out at random to different theaters. I can see how that gimmick might have affected some opinions at the time since not every ending works as well. The first one is somewhat plausible, the second less so, but I preferred the third ending, which is the one the movie says “really happened.” Still, it’s a cool eccentricity that heightens its board game connection and makes you pay greater attention on the next viewing.
I do wish I had seen Clue when I was younger; if I’d watched it years ago and many times since, I could see it being a favorite. It’s silly but knowingly so, and all of the actors are “game” for the fun (especially Tim Curry), even if some of them can barely keep up with the convoluted dialogue they’re spouting. The mystery itself even kept me guessing. I can see why it has a cult following, and given some time, that might include me as well.
Best line: (Wadsworth) “Professor Plum, you were once a professor of psychiatry specializing in helping paranoid and homicidal lunatics suffering from delusions of grandeur.” (Professor Plum) “Yes, but now I work for the United Nations.” (Wadsworth) “So your work has not changed.”