Review – The Beguiled (2017)

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Since I first saw the amazing and captivating trailer for The Beguiled (check it out for yourself), this movie has been near the top of my must-see list.  I’ve been a huge Nicole Kidman fan for the last couple of . . . uh . . . decades (yikes), on top of it, so I would have likely tried to catch this one, anyway.  But the trailer guaranteed it.  I love when movies look like one thing but turn into another (see Woody Allen’s excellent Match Point for another example) and the marketing department did its job, here, and roped me right in.  I had to drive an hour to catch it, but there was no way I was missing it.

Based on the novel by Thomas Cullinan (which I obviously haven’t read) and directed by Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled is a Civil War period piece set in Virginia in which a wounded Union soldier  by the name of Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) is taken in by a small group of teachers and students at a seminary.  Having been segregated from men throughout their lives, and being faced with a Yankee soldier in the Confederate south, McBurney’s very presence causes great unrest and conflict that leads to some unfortunate occurrences.


Lately, independent films have steered more and more towards mainstream sensibilities (i.e. attention spans) in their subject matter and presentation, but Coppola goes the more traditional low-budget route with The Beguiled.  The film is very soft, quiet, and methodical until it reaches the climax, at which point the dam breaks.  It’s clear from the opening frame – simply by the tone and musical choices – that something powerful is being built towards, but the film certainly takes its time getting there.

This didn’t bother me, personally.  I enjoyed watching the performances and trying to read them for clues regarding how the events were going to play out.  The premise is a concoction of supremely combustible elements and there is never any question that things are going to go south in epic fashion.  But there are so many possibilities for how that could occur that to reveal it too early would suck all of the fun and suspense out of the film.  Coppola admirably restrains herself, telling the story in the way she knows is best instead of catering to the impatient generation of typical modern filmgoers.


The performances are as nimble as Coppola’s direction, and remarkably layered, as well.  Kidman, Farrell, Elle Fanning, and Kirsten Dunst all provide earnest, believable turns as their characters do their best to navigate through uncharted waters.  Through the efforts of the cast and crew, the film works as a metaphor for modern society where there is a constant internal struggle between automatically seeing the worst in those with different viewpoints than oneself and the need to believe that everyone is good on the inside.  It’s this internal struggle that provides the primary conflict in the film and serves as the impetus for all of the most pertinent decision-making that occurs.

Said conflict is primarily internal, however, which may perturb some viewers who were misled by the trailers.  And, as strong as those trailers are, I have to admit that they are, in fact, misleading.  They present the film as more of a thriller than the straightforward period drama that it is, in actuality.  Also, when things do begin to go wrong for the characters, the motivations behind their actions are likely not going to be in the realm of audience expectations.  And that’s fine for those who, as I often say, judge films based on what they are and not what they aren’t.  But for those (of which there are many) who get an idea into their heads of what a film should be before they see it and then scoff at anything that contradicts their narrow-minded artistic license, they may want to educate themselves a little more about this particular narrative before plunking down their ten dollars to see it.


For me, though The Beguiled wasn’t quite as gripping as I would have liked it to be, I can’t complain too much.  The direction and acting are all top-notch, if subdued, and the characters all behave realistically, allowing the narrative to unfold at a grounded pace and in an organic manner.  I was hoping this one would be strong enough to have a shot at my year-end Top Ten.  It won’t likely be there by the time 2017 has ended, but The Beguiled is still a strong, well-crafted look at the effect of the fear and mistrust on society and relationships.

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Review – The Beguiled (2017)

Review – Rough Night

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I’ve sometimes lamented about how tough comedies can be for me to review.  The mileage for senses of humor varies wildly and what’s funny for one person is rarely the same as what’s funny for the next.  It helps when the comedy in question has more going on than simply an effort to get laughs and, luckily, that’s the case with Rough Night.

Directed by Lucia Aniello, Rough Night tells the story of five friends going away for a bachelorette party as one of them, Jess (Scarlett Johansson), is on the cusp of marriage.  When Frankie (Ilana Glazer) acquires some recreational drugs and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) suggests they hire a stripper, things go south extremely quickly.

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In terms of tone and theme, Rough Night is much like a cross between The Hangover and Weekend at Bernie’s, but with female leads, of course.  In fact, the switch of traditional gender roles in this sort of debauchery-based-humor film is deliberately played up for laughs, as the corresponding bachelor party isn’t exactly what one would expect, nor are the sensibilities of Jess’s fiancé Peter and his friends.  It’s a fun switcheroo for those looking for that sort of thing and I always appreciate when a film plays with convention.

There is very much a women-can-do-whatever-men-can-do feel to the entire production (which I wholeheartedly endorse), but with a twist.  Usually, that idea is supported in film by illustrations of women doing great and wondrous things, as men are so often portrayed as doing.  Here, the filmmakers go the other direction, proclaiming that women can be just as depraved and irresponsible as men can be.  That is not often a perspective represented in movies (though it may now become a trend – one that was started by Bad Moms) and I happen to see it as a good thing.  Women are often held to impossible, nearly inhuman standards to the point where they are sometimes socially punished for being themselves and showing basic human needs and desires.  Jess and her friends are written and acted as complete, round human beings with good sides and bad sides, careers and hobbies, brains and hearts, and everything that makes people people.

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Most of this is conveyed through – naturally – comedy.  And it’s pretty good comedy.  It’s not cracking my Top Five Favorite Comedies, but it’s certainly above average in that regard, and I was consistently chuckling and smiling throughout the film.  Kate McKinnon’s Pippa is probably the funniest, as much because of McKinnon’s experience and subtleties as anything else, but each cast member gets some time to shine and even Peter gets a worthwhile subplot on his own that runs concurrent to the primary events of the film.  Of course, this is all subjective, as stated above, but all I can do is give you my own personal take.

Johansson is the star, but she’s more than content to let her co-stars shine, and the film benefits greatly from it.  If I have one criticism, here, there are a couple of greatly entertaining supporting characters portrayed by name actors who sort of just vanish after their big scene.  I would have liked to have seen some follow-up to their monumental achievement that occurs about halfway through the film.  To say anything else would be to spoil, so I’ll stop there, but it’s a minor nitpick, in the grand scheme of things.

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The film earns its R-rating but it’s mostly through dialogue.  There is a very healthy dose of profanity and immensely suggestive language, but visually speaking, things are kept to a hard PG-13.  There is no real nudity and anything sexual is suggested off-screen.  That’s just for your information, in case you were thinking of seeing this with your mom, or something.  I have no strong feelings either way towards the content, as I’m fine with it being explicit and I’m fine with it being restrained.  I understand both approaches; to each their own.

Rough Night is a fun alternative to the typical deluge of big-budget summer spectaculars that are assaulting theaters, right now.  I certainly enjoyed it much more than Transformers: The Last Knight in essentially every way one can prefer one film over another.  While not the OMG-Greatest-Comedy-EVAR!, it’s absolutely another feather in the cap of female-driven filmmaking, both in front of and behind the camera.  But one doesn’t have to be or identify as female to have a good time, here.  For a lighthearted, potty-mouthed escape from real life, Rough Night is a great couple of hours at the movies.

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Review – Rough Night

Review – Transformers: The Last Knight

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I have a feeling this is a wasted column.  Let’s be honest; you’ve already made your mind up about this movie.  Most of you probably did so without even seeing it.  So, why should I bother?  Maybe there’s one person out there who actually cares what I think, regardless of their own opinion?  Probably not.  But I should go ahead and write it, just in case!

So, yes, here we are with Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth film in the franchise helmed by Michael Bay based on the Hasbro toy line from the eighties.  The films aren’t particularly well-regarded among film geeks but they have tended to play well with the masses and have made lots of money for Paramount.

(On an interesting side note, I just got back from Orlando, where I finally got the chance to check out the new Transformers ride at Universal Studios.  I love Universal Studios, but I was disappointed by this particular ride.  It used the exact same format and technology as the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride at their neighboring Islands of Adventure park, with no apparent technological advances, even though the Spider-Man ride is well over a decade older than the Transformers ride.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is amazing, though, and the two accompanying rides are better – especially The Forbidden Journey.)

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The film is already massively underperforming in North America (I had a private showing, today), though it’s doing respectable business in the rest of the world.  That’s not altogether different from the last installment, Age of Extinction (the best film of the franchise), and speaks more to American sensibilities than anything else.  Americans will sit and binge-watch 120 episodes of a television show with a single bathroom break but balk at the idea of a fourth or fifth film in a franchise.  This film could be the legitimate greatest movie of all time and three-quarters of Americans would declare that it sucked and subject anyone who liked it to online bullying that would make Randy Marsh proud.  But, as I pointed out in this column, it’s not all about America, anymore.

Having said that, Transformers: The Last Knight is not the greatest movie of all-time.  The story, here, is that the Decepticons are hoping to use an ancient artifact located on (you guessed it) Earth in order to suck the life out of the planet and restore their home world of Cybertron.  Along the way, there is a much-publicized heel turn by Optimus Prime, hoping to inject a fresh little twist into the proceedings.

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It doesn’t help much.  Yes, narratively speaking, there is some new stuff going on in The Last Knight, but it unfolds at such a plodding pace and with such lifeless delivery that I actually once found myself thinking back to the Simpsons ride at Universal Studios.  The movie is, simply put, obnoxiously boring.  Exposition is necessary in all films, but it needs to be done in a way that is every bit as entertaining as the big action set pieces are.  Sometimes, the dialogue is even more interesting, such as in all three Iron Man films.  In The Last Knight, from a very large cast, only Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock, and Isabela Moner exhibit any semblance of charisma.  Unfortunately, most of the information pertinent to the overarching narrative is delivered by all of the other characters, with those three simply reacting to those revelations.  And, regarding those other characters, their dialogue is uninspired and so are their performances.  It’s a deadly combination.  Even Anthony Hopkins lazily limps along throughout the movie, bringing ultimately nothing to the proceedings.  The lame, unfunny humor that permeated earlier series installments (other than Age of Extinction) makes a partial return, though it’s not as sophomoric nor as frequent as it once was, so I suppose that’s something.  I found myself just waiting for the big battle at the end, not even caring about why it was happening.

Even worse, once the big battle arrives, it’s almost as boring as the rest of the film.  With maybe one brief exception, there is nothing fresh or even remotely memorable to see.  On top of that, due to the lackluster writing and sleepy performances, there is virtually no personal connection to the battle, so there’s nothing in which to emotionally invest.  Admittedly, Optimus Prime is still great (so is Quintessa and their brief scenes on Cybertron are the highlight of the film), but he’s taken out of nearly the entire movie, scoring maybe twenty minutes of screen time out of the unnecessarily bloated 149 minutes.

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I stand by my claim that Age of Extinction is actually pretty good and jettisoned nearly everything that people had complained about regarding the series up to that point.  I had hoped that trend would continue, but – alas – it was not to be.  The Optimus Prime arc had some potential but it was largely ignored in favor of everything else that audiences don’t care about.  The series jumped from my favorite installment to now my least-favorite.  Take this information and do as you will with it.  But don’t forget that Wonder Woman is still showing, right down the hall.

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Review – Transformers: The Last Knight

#ThrowbackThursday – The Green Hornet (2011)

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Original US release date: January 14, 2011
Production budget: $120,000,000
Worldwide gross: $227,817,248

The Green Hornet was director Michel Gondry and co-writers Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg’s take on a character first created for a radio serial in 1936.  Most modern audiences had little to no significant exposure to the character before the release of this film, but many claimed to hate the movie for not being “true to the source”, anyway.  Granted, it was an unexpected approach (until it was announced that Rogen was starring in the title role.  Then, what else could one expect?), given that the character had never been associated with comedy – much less Rogen’s brand of comedy – at any point in his existence.  But few people actually cared about that; most just wanted an excuse to bash Rogen and feel better about themselves.  But was the film really that bad?

Britt Reid (Rogen) grew up a spoiled rich kid with an unsympathetic father (Tom Wilkinson), who had no patience for Britt’s desire to help people if it didn’t involve making money or if it did involve the risk of failure.  When Britt’s father passes away, Britt inherits everything and finally finds the freedom to live his life as he sees fit.  Along with one of his father’s former employees, Kato, Britt sets out to fight crime, but he approaches it from a different angle: he attempts to infiltrate the crime world and take them by surprise by convincing them that he and Kato are among their kind.

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Speaking objectively (which is what I’m here to do), the film is a mixed bag.  Having the heroes deliberately intend to gain a reputation as criminals is certainly a twist on the superhero genre.  Even more, the script is flipped by the obvious fact that Britt – who dubs himself “The Green Hornet” – is completely incompetent and in way over his head, whereas Kato is the only reason that the duo meets with any semblance of success.  Despite Britt’s greatest wishes and total delusions, the Green Hornet is the sidekick and Kato is the hero.

All of this is great for freshening the genre up, but I can understand how the three or four people out there who were actually Green Hornet fans from the genesis of the character onward would be upset by this presentation.  I have always said that creative liberties with established properties are absolutely fine as long as the heart of the original is retained.  And that’s certainly not the case, here, if we’re being honest.  But only fans of the original should truly be upset by this.  If one never knew or had any allegiance to that version, what difference do the changes make?  So, to most people whining about the changes, I call BS.  They didn’t actually care; they just wanted to feel important and knowledgeable on the Internet.

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These changes obviously lend themselves to the opportunity for comedy.  And the comedy isn’t that bad.  It’s not an all-time classic, but I chuckled fairly regularly.  It’s Rogen’s style, but without all the drug references, and when he abandons that stuff, he’s at his best.  His delivery is exceptional and he knows how to play earnest stupidity.  Britt is the exact same character Rogen plays in all of his films, but it works for him, so I’m not going to fight it.  He and Goldberg essentially approached the film as “Seth Rogen tries to become a superhero”.  And it’s fine.

Jay Chou as Kato is the standout performer in the movie.  His action scenes are truly exceptional, due both to his own efforts and those of the creative minds behind them.  The action, in general, is actually above average for a lower-tier action film (a “lower-tier” action film that cost $120,000,000 to produce, which was way too much for this untested, long-dormant license).  It’s all creatively conceived and beautifully executed, with Gondry going out of his way to ensure it feels different from other films.

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Besides Britt and Kato, the other characters are hit-and-miss.  Cameron Diaz does fine as Lenore, the assistant to the crime-fighting duo.  She’s much smarter than either of them and has absolutely no desire to be The Girlfriend, fiercely and refreshingly rebuking Britt’s advances at every turn.  The villain(s?) don’t fare as well.  Christoph Waltz is a tremendous talent but his mob boss baddie Chudnofsky is bland and uninteresting.  The only scene featuring the character that didn’t make me want to move along to the next is his introduction, in which he confronts a new boss on the scene (James Franco, in a delectable, scene-stealing performance) after he moves in on Chudnofsky’s turf.  After that, he devolves into clichéd, standard fare for mob bosses.  Britt’s father isn’t much better, as the a-hole father who just doesn’t understand his kid.  It’s a trope, but at least that one has significantly less screen time than Chudnofsky.

The Green Hornet is an average action film.  Some of it is pretty good, some of it leaves much to be desired, and it all kind of evens out.  I appreciate what Gondry, Rogen, and Goldberg were going for but it ultimately needed a more interesting story and villain to stand out as truly memorable and be something that audiences would crave more of.  Trying to lean solely on strong action beats and moderately amusing dialogue left us with an experience that isn’t entirely a waste of time, but not something that many will wish to revisit.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Green Hornet (2011)

Review – 47 Meters Down

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47 Meters Down was a scary proposition to me.  Not because I’m scared of sharks.  No, it’s because I’m scared of the director, Johannes Roberts.  Last year, Roberts directed The Other Side of the Door.  I hated that movie.  I hated it so much that I actually included it in my list of The Five Worst Films of 2016.  But, on the flip side, another shark movie from last year – The Shallows – made my Top Ten films of the year.

47 Meters Down may look like a copycat trying to capitalize on the success of The Shallows, but that’s not true as 47 Meters Down was in development long before The Shallows was released (to great success).  In fact, 47 Meters Down was originally supposed to be released straight to disc and on-demand under the title In the Deep.  Perhaps the success of The Shallows did play a part in Entertainment Studios’s decision to purchase the film from Dimension and then release it theatrically.  But the film, itself, was not influenced by 2016’s outstanding Blake Lively vehicle.

Regardless, the question remained: could the man who delivered that atrocious horror film in early 2016 also craft a solid shark thriller?  I thought it was worth a shot to find out for myself.

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The premise of 47 Meters Deep is simple: two sisters, Lisa and Kate (Mandy Moore and Claire Holt, respectively) go shark diving in a cage while on vacation in Mexico, when the wench that keeps the cage attached to the boat on the surface fails and they sink to the bottom of the ocean.  Not only must they concern themselves with the sharks that are infesting the area, but they have limited oxygen and run the risk of dying from the bends if they attempt to swim to the surface too quickly.

With so many shark movies out there – and one especially fantastic and successful one, just last year – what makes this one a story worth telling?  Well, it comes down to the added story elements I mentioned up above.  47 Meters Down essentially flips the script on the typical shark movie by stranding the protagonists in the ocean, where the sharks have the home field advantage.  Normally, the humans have some sort of refuge – or at least some leverage – simply by having access to the surface in some way.  In Jaws, they had the boat (though they needed a bigger one).  In The Shallows, she had her rock.  In Deep Blue Sea, they had an entire research installation.  The closest shark movie that I can think of for comparison is Open Water.

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But in 47 Meters Down, there is the added component of being underwater, with limited time left before drowning inevitably occurs.  The urgency in the film is omnipresent and palpable, building nicely to a high-octane climax.  In addition, the narrative is unpredictable, playing with convention, and it’s clear that Roberts has a lot of fun making the audience believe they know what’s coming and then pulling the proverbial rug out from under them.  The unpredictability and the fact that the film is essentially adrenaline in celluloid form are enough on their own to make this film far superior to The Other Side of the Door.

But it’s not perfect.  The dialogue can be hammy and unnatural, even bordering on parody.  This problem seems to exist solely with Mandy Moore’s Lisa, for some reason.  That leads me to believe that it’s the result of the performance choices she was making and not the writing, but that’s just my speculation.  Otherwise, she does a fine enough job (not Blake Lively-level, though) and the dialogue is perfectly acceptable outside of this (relatively sizable) handful of instances.

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The main area where Roberts is still showing his inexperience is in shot framing.  The all-too-common problems of quick cuts and tight shots permeate nearly the entire film, once the leads sink to the ocean floor.  As a result, it is commonly difficult – and even occasionally near-impossible – to discern what is taking place on-screen.  And it’s not even limited to the action scenes, though that’s when the issue is the most problematic.  This has plagued certain directors for decades and it seems less common than it used to be, but it unfortunately infests much of 47 Meters Down.

So, in short, 47 Meters Down is excellent in concept and average in execution.  It is certainly an exciting 90 minutes, in spite of its flaws, but there are better films in theaters, now, that are just as exciting.  And of you haven’t seen The Shallows, shame on you and watch it instead, if you have to choose between the two.  If, however, shark movies are your thing, you’ll have enough to enjoy here to make it worth your time.

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Review – 47 Meters Down

Review – Cars 3

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I went to Charlotte and then Florida for 12 days but now I’m back and ready to play catch-up with the movies that came out while I was gone.  I’m starting with the first big release that I hadn’t gotten to catch, Pixar’s Cars 3.  The Cars franchise is a bit of an anomaly for Pixar.  The first one was pretty well-liked (I loved it), but its sequel is almost universally accepted as Pixar’s worst film (it is).  It abandoned most everything that Pixar has come to be known for and played more to the less-discerning masses.  Objectively speaking, it wasn’t as horrible as the knee-jerk reactions were all suggesting at the time of its release, but it certainly wasn’t up to Pixar’s typical standards, either.

Despite that, it made a bunch of money – mostly through ancillaries (action figures, merchandise, etc.).  And I genuinely think that the good folks at Pixar sincerely wanted a chance to redeem themselves and this property in the eyes of true film lovers.  The financial success of the previous sequel provided them with the justification for giving themselves that chance.  It was clear that Cars 3 was going to be more in line with previous Pixar offerings when the mysterious and intriguing teaser trailer first landed, a number of months ago.  I was immediately sucked in and found myself eagerly anticipating this film so I could see what they had up their sleeves.

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While Cars 3 doesn’t stand at the level of the true Pixar giants (Up, all three Toy Story films, The Incredibles), it serves as a high-quality course correction for the series and as vindication for Pixar in the footsteps of their most notorious film.  In this back-to-basics follow-up, after a career of nearly unprecedented success in the racing profession, Lightning McQueen finds himself suddenly upstaged by a newcomer (Jackson Storm, voiced by Armie Hammer).  With the help of a new trainer by the name of Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), Lightning sets out to revamp and reinvigorate himself with the goal of once again becoming competitive against a younger, stronger, faster generation of racers.

Starting with the obvious, the film looks amazing.  I feel like I say this with every single Disney and/or Pixar release, but they are both so far ahead of their competition in this regard that it simply bears repeating, every time out.  To not mention it would be a metaphorical crime against the meticulous artistry put into the work.  The textures, the shine, the colors, the detail are all photo realistic.  The “battle-damage” that the cars suffer as they get scratched and banged up is mind-blowing in its minutia.  And the high-octane energy put into the races, themselves, is unabashedly thrilling.  I wish I had gotten to check this one out in 3D.  I guess I’ll have to wait for the blu-ray.

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Thematically speaking, this film is the Cars version of Rocky V.  Or perhaps it’s a fictionalized account of modern Roger Federer.  Lightning is desperate to keep himself from becoming Old Yeller.  It’s a very relatable tale – and one that has been tackled before in various forms.  But it’s a unique approach to the story with several extra layers to keep it fresh.  The most notable of those layers would be Lightning’s aforementioned trainer Cruz Ramirez.

Cruz is my new favorite character in the Cars franchise.  She’s funny, endearing, infectiously enthusiastic, and completely heartfelt and sincere in her efforts to help Lightning succeed in his goals.  The interactions between the pair are consistently amusing as each represents a different generation with opposing methods for achieving similar ends.  Cruz is very much the modern millennial, with a technology-based approach that focuses on the bigger picture.  Lightning swears by his more practical training methods that are focused towards very specific goals.  Neither is wrong; both can learn something from the other.  Watching them discover this is a blast.

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What really sets Cars 3 apart from many other films of its ilk is its complexity.  There are no true villains in the film.  Yes, there’s a cocky archrival in Jackson Storm, but it’s not like Storm is trying to Tonya Harding his way to victory.  He wants to earn it on his own merits.  At the same time, there is competition between characters we like, as well.  As clever as Pixar is in crafting the denouement (an they are very clever), they make sure to not send an unrealistic message to the kids out there.  Not everyone can be on top and – at some point – everyone must step aside.  Whether that happens now or later for Lightning, that idea is not avoided, which is gutsy for an animated film.  But we’ve come to expect guts from both Disney and Pixar, so it shouldn’t be too surprising.

I applaud Pixar.  They have redeemed themselves and the Cars series with a very worthy third installment in the franchise.  So far, it appears as though it may be too little too late, though, as the box office is reeling from the reputation of the preceding sequel.  Don’t let Cars 2 scare you off of Cars 3.  This is the film we all wish we would have gotten, last time.

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Review – Cars 3

#ThrowbackThursday – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

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Original US release date: May 23, 1984
Production budget: $28,000,000
Worldwide gross: $333,107,271

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to his massively successful Raiders of the Lost Ark (for which I previously did a #ThrowbackThursday column, which you can find here).  It was a follow-up at a time when follow-ups were, though not quite unheard of, rare.  (Notice I didn’t say it was a sequel.  Because it isn’t.  It’s a prequel.)  It was an easy proposition; the original film made more than 21 times its budget, and this one followed up by making almost twelve times its own (making 2.5 times the budget typically guarantees profit).  Indiana Jones had become a pop culture phenomenon and Harrison Ford successfully made the leap from Star Wars star to genuine movie star.

Despite its financial success, this particular installment in the Indiana Jones franchise wasn’t as critically well-received as its predecessor, and it’s easy to see why, as it’s quite a mixed bag.  Ford, himself, is as commanding as ever as the titular Dr. Jones, but his supporting cast doesn’t fare quite so well.  Accompanying Indy on this adventure are two notable and memorable accomplices.  Since we last saw him, Indy has found a young Chinese boy who goes by the name Short Round.  Short Round works as a driver and a sidekick for Indy, tagging along wherever he goes and doing what he can to carry his own weight.  Opinions vary on Short Round, but put me down as a fan.  Not only is he unique, but Jonathan Ke Quan (then billed as Ke Huy Quan) turns in a solid performance.  Under other circumstances, he would come across as a little over the top.  But he’s a kid!  And kids are over the top!  So, it works, especially since he never overdoes it.

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The final third of our protagonist trio doesn’t fare as well.  Playing vivacious nightclub singer Willie Scott is relative newcomer Kate Capshaw.  Watching Capshaw try to act makes me think about what would happen if I took a mediocre Algebra student and put them in charge of teaching my Statistics class.  Occasionally, they’d get something right just by sheer luck, but they’d spend most of their time trying to fake it until they would hopefully make it.  There are moments when Capshaw is fine (her reaction to the Snake Surprise is pretty much exactly what mine would have been), but she’s never good – much less great – and she’s frequently bad.  I’ll even go so far as to say that her delivery of the infamous, “We’re not sinking – – WE’RE CRASHING, AHHHHH!” line is among the worst I’ve ever seen in all of film, TV, stage, local theater, and even high school plays.  She’s over-the-top, unnatural, and just can’t seem to relax.  Her casting worked out for director Steven Spielberg, because he and Capshaw eventually married in 1991, but he’s the only one that benefitted.  She was way out of her depth in a movie that didn’t even require that much depth to begin with.

Aside from Quan and Capshaw, the villains are also silly and exaggerated.  Part of it is in the writing (the film even ends with a clichéd everybody-laughs-at-something-that-isn’t-especially-funny moment), but much of it is in the performances.  This starts right at the beginning in Club Obi Wan (an early example of an Easter egg) where Indy meets Willie during an encounter with nefarious Chinese diplomats.  The characterizations are by far the weakest aspect of the film, affecting virtually everyone except for Indy and, arguably, Short Round.  Nobody else is even remotely believable, whether it comes to the writing or the performances.

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And the writing makes other questionable choices, as well, often pushing forward with an idea just for the sake of doing it.  One moment, Indy and Willie can’t stand each other and she’s being portrayed as an annoying nag, and the next, they’re flirty and lovey with no transition or explanation.  And they aren’t just hoping for a hookup; supposedly true feelings and attraction simply materializes out of nowhere.  This is just one example, but the film seems determined to check off as many tropes as possible.  On top of that, the film is oddly a prequel, though there’s no story points that necessitate such a choice.  Living through this adventure even contradicts Indy’s declaration in Raiders that he doesn’t believe in magic.  So, yes, the writing here is weak.

On the flip side, the setting and action scenes are a lot of fun.  For me, in particular, I still consider the mine cart chase to be my favorite scene in the entire franchise.  And it was an influential one, too.  Its impact can still be felt in everything from other movies (the Harry Potter series) to video games (“Donkey Kong Country”, “Final Fantasy”).  The entire final third of the film, once they enter the temple, is a pretty raucous ride, with plenty of engaging, innovative excitement that is quite frankly so good that it tips the scales and makes the film enjoyable in spite of its many other flaws.

Temple of Doom 3

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is not as highly regarded as other films in the series, but it has its moments.  Unfortunately, many of them are bad.  But what’s good is very good and no film geek is worth their street cred without having seen this one at least once.  The extended, pulse-pounding finale makes all of the tedious build worth it, in the end.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom