The Incredible “Incredibles”

Hopefully, you’ve all had the chance to see Pixar Animation Studios‘ latest animated wonderment Incredibles 2. And, hopefully, you’ve had a chance to see that it’s absolutely killing it at the U.S. box office, too. I had the chance to see  both the original film, The Incredibles (2004) and its newly released sequel at a special IMAX and Pixar sponsored screening last week and it was movie-going bliss for this animation fan.

Writer and director Brad Bird and his talented team at Pixar created a total home run when The Incredibles hit theaters in the summer of 2004. Witty, thought-provoking, action-packed, and beautifully animated, the film about a family with superpowers delivered in a big way.

Now, 14 years later, the Parr family is back right literally where the first film left off with the family taking on the super villain the Underminer, who is attacking their city of Municiberg. After the fight with the Underminer doesn’t go exactly as planned and the superheroes (aka “supers”) have to go back into their undercover mode again, Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible, voiced again by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen Parr (aka Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible, voiced again by Holly Hunter), and their superhero buddy Lucius Best (aka Frozone, and also voiced again by Samuel “F-ing” L. Jackson) meet up with billionaire businessman Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) and his inventor sister Evelyn Deavor (voiced by Catherine Keener) who have an interesting proposal to bring the supers back into the limelight.

(Image ©️ Disney/Pixar)

Family dynamics are front and center as Elastigirl/Mrs. Incredible goes back to work, leaving Mr. Incredible home to take care of the kids. Terrific humor and incredible action scenes abound as Elastigirl uncovers a dastardly plot while Mr. Incredible has to deal with his kids’ relationships, homework, and superpowers. Nothing is stupid here and no gender is better than the other–it’s really just a great story about a family figuring things out and working together.

(Image ©️ Disney/Pixar)
(Image ©️ Disney/Pixar)

While the sequel can’t capture the perfection of the first film (what can?), writer/director Brad Bird and team still deliver a wonderfully solid film with a compelling storyline, brilliant animation, and emotions and situations that ring, well, incredibly true. Watch The Incredibles again on Blu-ray or streaming and then go see Incredibles 2 in theaters and have a great time at the movies.

Incredibles 2 is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “action sequences and some brief mild language.”

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

P.S. There’s a scene with absolutely knock-out animation that uses lighting effects that mimic a strobe light. This warning was prominently placed at multiple places throughout the multiplex where I saw Incredibles 2 again over the weekend. The animation in that sequence is stunning and it’s unfortunate if it’s causing problems for anyone.

Review: “Solo: A Star Wars Story”

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a gangster/action movie hybrid that is just pure, unadulterated fun.

The second of Lucasfilm’s “anthology” series of films set in the Star Wars universe but not part of the saga’s episodic storyline (2016’s Rogue One was the first one of these anthology films), Solo is an origin story of sorts, recounting adventures in the early years of the life of the smuggler Han Solo.

The daunting task of playing the beloved character iconically established in the series by actor Harrison Ford goes to Alden Ehrenreich and he does a terrific job in not only emulating Harrison Ford, but in making the character all his own. Check out this clip when Harrison Ford recently crashed in on one of Alden Ehrenreich’s press interviews:

Han’s co-pilot and BFF Chewbacca is also, thankfully, in the pic and is played again by the extremely tall Finnish actor Joonas Suotamo (follow Joonas on Twitter to see some hilarious pics of him overshadowing, well, most everybody). Also returning for this origin story is gambler and playboy Lando Calrissian brilliantly played by the brilliant Donald Glover.

L-R: Phoebe Waller-Bridge as L3-37, Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian in SOLO. (Image ©️ Lucasfilm)

The film has a slew of new characters, too–both digitally created and real. In the digital category is Lando’s sidekick robot L3-37, voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and an alien pilot named Rio Durant, voiced by Jon Favreau.

In the real category, the main cast is filled out with some very cool actors, including Woody Harrelson as Han’s mentor Tobias Beckett, Thandie Newton as Beckett’s partner in crime Val, Emilia Clarke as the femme fatale Qi’ra (pronounced “Kira”), and Paul Bettany as crime lord Dryden Vos.

Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra in SOLO. (Image ©️ Lucasfilm)

The film is set in between Star Wars – Episode III : Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope (sorry about the timeline error in my original post). At the beginning, we meet a young Han Solo who is trapped in a horrible work camp on the planet of Corellia. He decides to break out and join the evil Galactic Empire so he can become a pilot (and for that reason alone; he hasn’t jumped teams, he’s just looking out for himself). While as a soldier in the Empire, he teams up with criminals Beckett, Val, and Rio on a smuggling mission which then sets his course into becoming the Han Solo that we know and love.

As mentioned previously, the film really is a glorious combo of a gangster movie (some are calling it a Western, and that works, too) along with a deliriously entertaining action movie. The action scenes truly are breathtaking (just wait for the infamous Kessel Run as mentioned in Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope).  And the film’s plot is both clever and comfortable, staying interesting while also staying firmly planted within the Star Wars mythology. Kudos are in order to the great Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan who wrote the terrific script.

Director Ron Howard, who was brought on the film late into the process after the film’s original directors were fired due to creative differences, delivers a home run. While it’s unclear to those of us outside of Lucasfilm what scenes were reshot after Howard took over the director’s chair, he was still able to deliver a supremely entertaining and very Star Wars-feeling summer movie (and he brought the movie in on time, too, which I think was a Herculean feat). And it goes without saying that all technical aspects of the film are absolutely marvelous, thanks to the technical wizards at Industrial Light and Magic, a group that I hope we will never take for granted.

Overall, Solo is an extremely entertaining romp through the Star Wars universe. It’s so much fun to have new big screen experiences like this in the galaxy far, far away. Get some popcorn and a soft drink of your choice and go have a wonderful time at the movies.

My Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of sci-fi action/violence.”

As an added bonus, check out this exclusive IMAX poster for Solo (and see the movie in an IMAX theater if at all possible; it’s totally worth it).

(Image ©️ Lucasfilm)

 

Why I Love “Sunset Boulevard”

What hasn’t already been said Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950)? This exploration into the dark side of desperation, fame, and fortune in Hollywood is a masterwork in all regards. It’s currently at number 16 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies” ranking, among its placement on other prestigious lists. And after having recently seen it again on the big screen thanks to both the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Big Screen Classics series, I was reminded (as if I had forgotten…not) how much I love this film.

Here’s a little photo essay about why I love Sunset Boulevard.

I love the opening scene which perfectly sets the tone for the film.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I love the witty and snarky narration of the Joe Gillis character, perfectly interpreted by William Holden.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I am simultaneously creeped out and delighted by Gloria Swanson’s brilliant performance as faded silent film star Norma Desmond.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I am haunted and fascinated by Norma Desmond’s decrepit mansion, inside and out.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

And I’m just utterly disgusted by the disingenuous and terrible relationship of Joe and Norma (and isn’t that the point?).

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I love the perfect composition of every shot in the film.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I love how quotable the movie is. Some of my famous favorites:

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces.”

“Funny, how gentle people get with you once you’re dead.”

I am heartbroken by Erich von Stroheim’s performance as Max, Norman Desmond’s butler (and ex-husband and the last, sole member of her fan club).

Image ©️Paramount Pictures

I love the intersection of fact and fiction with the real people playing themselves (Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper, etc.) interspersed with the fictional characters.

Cecil B. DeMille and Gloria Swanson on the set of SUNSET BOULEVARD. Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

Nancy Olson’s performance as Betty is the perfect balance of youthful optimism and unbridled ambition.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

Norma’s full descent into madness after killing Joe is both devastating and breathtaking. Hedda Hopper’s face says it all.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

And one final quote: “And I promise you I’ll never desert you again because after Salome we’ll make another picture and another picture. You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark! All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

2018 TCM Classic Film Festival Recap

I had such a marvelous time at the 2018 Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival. I tried to mix things up and see a combination of new discoveries and old favorites. It was all so fantastic, I didn’t want it to end (which is always a good thing, right?). Here’s a brief recap.

Day One – Thursday, April 26

Panel: “Meet TCM”
I began this year’s festival by attending a very interesting panel featuring some of the high-level management of the TCM network. The network is in good hands and they are definitely focused on their mission of keeping classic movies alive.

Finishing School (1934)
This terrific pre-Code film was a great way to kick off the opening night of the festival. Ginger Rogers and Frances Dee starred as two girls at a finishing school who are navigating their way into adulthood. Frances Dee’s grandson Wyatt McCrea was there to introduce the film (he’s also the grandson of Joel McCrea, Frances’ husband).

Image ©️ Warner Bros. Classics

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
While not part of the TCM Classic Film Festival, I couldn’t resist seeing this mega super hero extravaganza on the film’s opening night at the lovely El Capitan Theatre, which is just across the street from the TCL Chinese Theater. It was such a blast seeing this action film with such an enthusiastic, exuberant, and expressive crowd.

A “prop” (not sure if it was used in the film since the character was entirely CGI) of Thanos’ infamous Infinity Gauntlet was on display in the theatre lobby

Day Two – Friday, April 27

Presentation: “Pink Panther Cartoons on the Big Screen: The Coolest Cat in Town”
Hosted by animation expert and producer Jerry Beck, this presentation highlighted the Pink Panther cartoon shorts from the 1960s produced by Mirisch Films. Jerry talked about their origin (they were based on the opening credit sequence of the first Pink Panther live-action feature film released in 1963), brought in some folks involved with the making of the cartoons, talked a bit about their history, and then screened a few, including the very first one, “The Pink Phink.” Really fun.

Image ©️ Larry Mirisch, MGM, and Park Circus LLC

Presentation: “Mickey in Hollywood”
Mickey Mouse is celebrating his 90th birthday this year. This presentation, hosted by historian J.B. Kaufman, focused on the history of  Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in the early days of Hollywood. Kaufman also talked about his new book that he is finishing up for Taschen about the history of Mickey Mouse which should be a tremendous volume for Disney fans. He then screened a few enjoyable short films that included Hollywood specific-references, including “Mickey’s Polo Team” and “Mickey’s Gala Premiere.”

Image ©️ Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Three Smart Girls (1936)
Enjoyed this cute comedy about three daughters scheming to bring their divorced parents together. It was the feature film debut of Deanna Durbin and the big box office generated by the film saved the then-cashed-strapped Universal Studios. The film was presented in 35mm with a print preserved by the U.S. Library of Congress.

Image ©️ Universal Pictures

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
Before there was this year’s big Academy Award®️ winner The Shape of Water, there was the so-bad-it’s-good B-movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. (Comedian Dennis Miller introduced the film as “The Shape of Water without the zipper.”) A relatively recent 3D rendered print was screened at the festival and it was a hoot.

Image ©️ Universal Pictures

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
This comedic satire starring Tony Randall, Jayne Mansfield, and Joan Blondell about an advertising executive who gets in a bit over his head majorly loses steam in the third act, but was still a lot of fun to see on a big screen with an appreciative crowd.

Image ©️ Twentieth Century Fox

Day Three – Saturday, April 28
I indulged and spent the entire day at the TCL Chinese Theatre and watched four of my classic movie favorites in one of my all-time favorite theaters.

His Girl Friday (1940)
This marvelously witty screwball comedy is always a pure delight to watch. It was my first time seeing this film on the big screen and I totally loved it.

Image ©️ Sony Pictures

Bullitt (1968)
Again, my first time seeing this seminal classic on the big screen, Bullitt did not disappoint. In fact, it was probably my favorite experience at this year’s festival. The crowd applauded both before and after the film’s legendary car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco.

Image ©️ Warner Bros. Classics

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Seeing this film about Hollywood in one of the most iconic theaters in Hollywood was just the best. Actress Nancy Olson, who plays Betty in the film, was there to introduce it, too.

Image ©️Paramount Pictures

Heaven Can Wait (1978)
A favorite of my childhood, it was wonderful to see this newly restored film again on the big screen. And it was just as good as I remembered it. Actress Dyan Cannon and writer/co-director Buck Henry were there to introduce the film.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

Day Four – Sunday, April 29

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Seeing this brilliant spaghetti western from Sergio Leone on the big screen was a revelation. Such a beautiful, masterful movie filmed both in Italy and in my home state of Utah (and Arizona, too). Writer/director John Sayles was on hand to introduce the film and it was like a 10-minute film school lecture that I never wanted to end. So great.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

Intruder in the Dust (1949)
Loved this film adaptation of William Faulkner’s poignant book. In fact, Faulkner himself even consulted with the filmmakers (mind blown…).

Image ©️ Warner Bros. Classics

Silk Stockings (1957)
This was my first time seeing this musical adaptation of Ninochkta. Starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, and with songs by Cole Porter, it was bliss to experience this breezy film on the big screen.

Image ©️ Warner Bros. Classics

The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944)
Final film of the festival was a comedic farce by auteur Preston Sturges about a woman who perhaps gives up too much for her country. Really good stuff and not the type of film I would probably ever see if left to my own devices.

Image ©️ Paramount Pictures

I am a member of the TCM Backlot and TCM provided a lot of cool, exclusive experiences for Backlot members at the Festival, including some fun meet and greets, a hard hat tour of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ new Academy Museum that is currently under construction, and a private tour of the American Society of Cinematographers‘ headquarters. While I couldn’t attend all of these events, the ones I went to were stellar. If you’re not a member of TCM Backlot, you really should be. More info is at www.tcmbacklot.com.

All in all, I experienced four days of movie fan heaven at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Next year, the festival will celebrate its 10th year (and the 25th year of the TCM cable network). I hope to be able to be there. Thanks again to the entire TCM team who put on this outstanding event.

 

 

Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”

This review is spoiler-free–I promise. #ThanosDemandsYourSilence

The screen is crowded and the stakes are high for all (well, most) of our favorite “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) superheroes in Marvel Studios’ ambitious and engaging superhero mashup Avengers: Infinity War.

Avengers: Infinity War is a culmination of a series of character arcs, themes, and storylines that have been going on for the past decade from the prolific and talented folks at Marvel Studios. It’s taken 10 years and 18 films to get us to this point, but with Avengers: Infinity War, we finally get to truly meet the big baddie who’s been pulling the strings and wreaking havoc on Earth and elsewhere in Marvel Studios’ carefully crafted and intertwined plot line–the mean purple people killer from outer space, Thanos (excellently voiced by Josh Brolin; pictured above).

Thanos has one goal–to kill half of the residents of Earth and every other planet. In order to complete his nefarious task, he needs the six “infinity stones”–each with their own color and power and most of which have been introduced at one point or another within the MCU films–placed within his Infinity Gauntlet glove which will make him powerful enough to get the job done. (Refer to this Time article for an infinity stones primer/recap.) While up until now Thanos has been relying on and manipulating others to collect the infinity stones for him, he’s finally had enough of waiting and is hell-bent on getting all of six stones himself, no matter the cost.

Cover for Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet comic saga. (Image ©️ Marvel)

It’s going to take a lot to bring Thanos down, so thank goodness there are lots of Marvel superheroes throughout the MCU galaxy that are up to the task. Everybody from Iron Man (again played with great aplomb by Robert Downey Jr.) to Captain America (Chris Evans) to the-new-to-the-Avengers Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his “Guardians of the Galaxy” team are reunited and on-board to try to take out this dastardly and devastating villain wherever he may be in the universe.

The whole gang is back in action for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. (Image ©️ Marvel)

The results are pretty great. What could have easily turned into a convoluted mess, with so many characters and plot lines converging into one massive film, is a successful and fun action picture of the first order. Watching the film feels like reading a comic book (and I mean that as a complement); the action is brisk, the dialogue is crisp and clever, and the pacing is rarely plodding and always purposeful. One of the big strengths of the MCU films is the cast and that continues–the actors are so appealing and the terrific banter between them is a big part of the continued enjoyment of the experience of the MCU series of films.

Kudos to Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (aka the Russo Brothers) who directed the film along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also successfully collaborated with the Russo Brothers on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) who all had the unenviable task of putting together this massive and high-profile project. Hardcore MCU fans should hopefully feel rewarded by the choices made by the filmmakers. And while casual MCU fans might get a little confused with all of the characters and all of the mayhem happening on the screen, there’s still enough exposition that the film really should be a fun and entertaining ride for anyone and everyone who sees it.

One thing to keep in mind (and I don’t think this is a spoiler), but the Russo Brothers and team filmed this movie and another Avengers movie at the same time. Originally when announced, the films had the titles Avengers: Infinity War Part One and Part Two. Currently, this next film’s working title is Avengers: Untitled (title TBA) and it is scheduled to be released  in May 2019. Just sayin’.

My score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.

As an added bonus, here are some cool Avenger: Infinity War posters with five of the six infinity stone colors represented. (All images ©️ Marvel)

Initial Picks for the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

I’m really looking forward to attending the 2018 Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival later this month in Los Angeles. TCM always does an incredible job with curating an eclectic and relevant group of films to enjoy along with bringing in outstanding guests to introduce each screening.

Now that the festival schedule has been published, I’ve been going through the agonizing task of trying to choose which films to see (because mostly I just wish I could see them all). Here are my initial picks (subject to change, of course).

Day One – Thursday, April 26

Finishing School (1934) — Starring Ginger Rogers and Frances Dee and directed by Wanda Tuchock, this pre-Production Code (or “pre-code”) film about young women taking their first steps into adulthood was one of the first films to be condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency (we’ll see how saucy it really is if I can get into the screening). It’s being screened in 35mm with a print from the U.S. Library of Congress and is being introduced by film historian Jeremy Arnold and Wyatt McCrea, the eldest grandson of the film’s star Frances Dee.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) — While not part of the TCM Classic Film Festival, I was able to get a ticket to a late-night screening of this highly-anticipated (for me, at least) film on its opening night at the marvelous El Capitan Theatre. Should be fun.

Day Two – Friday, April 27

The plan is to spend Friday morning attending two potentially cool animation presentations. First up is a screening of a curated group of “Pink Panther” theatrical cartoons created by Friz Freleng and David DePatie for The Mirisch Company in the 1960s. Hosting the presentation are animation expert Jerry Beck and film executive Lawrence A. Mirisch. Next is a presentation about Walt Disney and the creation and evolution of Mickey Mouse (who is celebrating his 90th birthday) by noted animation historian J.B. Kaufman. Attending this presentation is a no-brainer if you’re a big Disney fan like I am.

The rest of the films I hope to see on Friday include:

Blessed Event (1932) — Another pre-code film, this time a comedy starring Lee Tracy as a newspaper advertising man who takes over the writing of the newspaper’s gossip column and turns it into an outrageous success. Also stars Dick Powell in his film debut along with Ruth Donnelly, Gladys Price, and Ned Sparks. This is also a 35mm print from the U.S. Library of Congress. The screening will be introduced by the Film Forum‘s long-time director of programming Bruce Goldstein.

The Right Stuff (1983) — Based on the book by Tom Wolfe and directed by Philip Kaufman, the film tells the story of the early days of NASA and the U.S. space program. I never had the chance to see this epic film on the big screen, so now is my opportunity. It will be introduced by two actresses from the film: Veronica Cartwright who played Betty Grissom, the wife of astronaut Gus Grissom who was tragically killed in the Apollo 1 disaster in 1967, and Mary Jo Deschanel who played Annie Glenn, the wife of astronaut John Glenn.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945) — This Technicolor melodrama starring Gene Tierney as a crazy lady is going be screened with a special nitrate print and will be hosted by Todd Wiener from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

Day Three – Saturday, April 28

I am indulging on Saturday and am planning to spend the entire day at the glorious TCL Chinese Theatre watching films all of which I’ve already seen but three of which I’ve never seen on the big screen before.

His Girl Friday (1940) — One of the all-time great comedies starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant will include an introduction by author, journalist, and documentary filmmaker Cari Beauchamp.

Bullitt (1968) — This gritty crime drama is particularly beloved by me because the incredibly cool 1968 Ford Mustang GT fastback that Steve McQueen drives in the film. (The original “Bullitt” Mustang has been missing for many years and recently resurfaced. More info is here.) I’m so excited to see the legendary car chase scene in the film on the big screen, too. Introducing the film is actress Jacqueline Bisset who plays Steve McQueen’s love interest.

Sunset Boulevard (1950) — Although this favorite film noir is going to be screened next month at my local theater as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series, I just can’t pass up the chance to see this film in the TCL Chinese Theatre. It will be introduced by actress Nancy Olson Livingston, who played the young writer Betty Schaefer in the film (another reason to see this screening).

Heaven Can Wait (1978) — This Warren Beatty-directed remake of the classic comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a favorite film of my youth. Introducing the film are actor and writer Buck Henry and actress Dyan Cannon (really!).

The Big Lebowski (1998) — This one is my least favorite of the five films planned for Saturday and even though it’s also part of this year’s TCM Big Screen Classics series, I’m probably going to give this revered and wacky Coen Brothers’ film another chance. (Still subject to change. But have I mentioned lately that I just want to spend a day in the TCL Chinese Theater?)

Day Four – Sunday, April 29

The jury is still out on films for Sunday–partly because there are five slots still “to be announced” by TCM (typically, these are popular films screened earlier in the festival and TCM provides another chance to see them). In the morning, I need to decide between Francis Ford Coppola’s gorgeous The Black Stallion (1979) or the classic Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn comedy Woman of the Year (1942). I’m also considering the Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse musical Silk Stockings (1957) in the afternoon. If the TBA films aren’t to my liking, then I might spend the entire afternoon at the TCL Chinese Theatre watching Cecil B. DeMille’s four-hour epic The Ten Commandments (1956) on the big screen for the first time (I’ve only ever seen it on TV). Last choice is between a screening of the silent version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) with a live orchestra, Animal House (1978), which isn’t my favorite film but director John Landis and many of the film’s stars will be in attendance, or another TBA screening.

All in all, it should be a memorable weekend. Many thanks to TCM for putting together such a great event (and for making it impossible to choose!). Hope to see you there!

(Image ©️ Turner Classic Movies)

Happy 40th Birthday to “Grease”

Not wanting to make anyone feel old (myself included), but can you believe that Grease has been the word for 40 years?

After making its debut in movie theaters in the summer of 1978, Grease, directed by Randal Kleiser and based on the hit Broadway musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, is still one of the world’s all-time favorite Hollywood musicals. To celebrate the film’s 40th anniversary, Paramount Pictures, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), and Fathom Events are screening this raunchy and revered film across the U.S.A. this week as part of the TCM Big Screen Classics series (ticket info is here.). Paramount is also releasing a new 40th anniversary edition of the film on Blu-ray, Digital, and 4K Ultra HD on April 24.

Hot off of the 1977 mega hit film Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta was able to show off more dance moves and his great comedic timing as leading man and supposed tough guy Danny. And making her film debut was country singer Olivia Newton-John as the innocent and lovestruck Australian transfer student Sandy. The chemistry between the two stars is clearly one of the contributors of the film’s lasting appeal, not to mention the outstanding supporting cast of Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway, Eve Arden, Dody Goodman, Joan Blondell, Sid Caesar, Frankie Avalon, and others.

Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny (John Travolta) try to keep their summer fling alive while navigating the vicissitudes of their high school cliques in GREASE. (Image ©️ Paramount Pictures)

But I think it’s the music that keeps Grease alive. The film’s soundtrack was a monster hit. From the unforgettable opening fanfare of the title track (written with a disco vibe by the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb and sung with perfection by Frankie Valli; check out this awesome YouTube clip below of Valli performing the song in 1978 on the TV dance show Soul Train), to Olivia Newton-John/Sandy crooning about her hopeless devotion to John Travolta/Danny, to the whole gang singing their hearts out about their forever friendship even after high school graduation, the soundtrack is non-stop nostalgia and fun.

Here’s the film’s original trailer from 1978.

As an added bonus, here’s the film’s original one-sheet poster, also from 1978.

Original 1978 theatrical poster. (Image ©️ Paramount Pictures)

Enjoy Grease again on the big screen and at home this month. And remember, as Eve Arden/Principal McGee says, “if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.”

Review: “Ready Player One”

Prepare yourself for a truly wild ride with Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One. Based on the popular book by Ernest Cline (Cline also co-wrote the screenplay), this fantasy adventure film is a nostalgic trip into the action films of Spielberg’s past and a futuristic romp into the CGI-heavy filmmaking of today.

The story is set in a dystopian United States of America in the year 2045, where overcrowding, pollution, war, and disease have taken a significant toll on the country.  A virtual reality game world known as the OASIS provides a welcome escape to people everywhere. In the OASIS, you can be anything and anyone (as long as you’ve got the credits and lives to keep yourself going, just like in any video game).

The OASIS was created by a Bill Gates-type figure named James Halliday (played by Mark Rylance). When Halliday dies, a message is delivered to the world that he has concealed the ultimate “Easter egg” (a hidden message or inside joke) somewhere inside the expansive game and that the user who finds the egg will inherit his fortune and become full owner of the OASIS game world. Not only do gamers everywhere decide to try to locate the Easter egg (OASIS gamers looking for the egg are known as “Gunters,” short for “egg hunters”), a corporation named IOI (Innovative Online Industries), run by CEO Nolan Sorrento (played by Ben Mendelsohn), uses its tremendous resources and aggressively tries to get the egg as well in order to take control of the OASIS and gain a great competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Our hero, Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan), a teenage orphan who lives in a poverty stricken area of Columbus, Ohio and who spends much of his time in the OASIS to get a break from his difficult circumstances, decides to be a Gunter with the hopes of finding the egg and greatly improving his life. Known by the avatar “Parzival” in the game, Wade/Parzival enlists the help of his four main virtual friends in the OASIS, together known as the “High Five”: his best virtual friend “Aech” (we learn more about Aech in the movie), a teenage girl named Samantha, aka”Art3mis” (played by Olivia Cooke), and virtual brothers Toshiro Yoshiaki, aka “Daito” (Win Morisaki), and Akihide Karatsu, aka “Sho” (played by Phillip Zhao).

Wade/”Parzival” and Samantha/”Art3mis” in the OASIS virtual reality game in READY PLAYER ONE. (Image ©️Warner Bros.)

What follows is a non-stop pop culture extravaganza as these Gunters in the OASIS try to outwit the other gamers and IOI in order to keep advancing in the game to find Halliday’s egg. Anything goes with the gamers’ avatars and you will have a blast spotting all of the different movie, TV, comics, and video game references during the film’s scenes set in the OASIS. For example, more obvious references include Doc Brown’s famous DeLorean from the Back to the Future movies that Wade/Parzival drives during the car racing games and the Iron Giant replica that Aech is building to use in the game based from, well, Brad Bird’s 1999 animated classic The Iron Giant.

Everything from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (which is one of my favorite gags in this film) to Gundam is fair game here and used with wild and clever abandon. I’m sure there are plenty of references that I missed but, hopefully, will be picked up through subsequent viewings and from movie fans on the internet (The New York Times prepared an excellent primer here). There are also some great homages to other films as well, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining,  Ridley Scott’s Alien, and many others.

Steven Spielberg and his team have done an extremely impressive job with storytelling in this very entertaining live action/CGI film. While most of the action takes place inside the computer-generated OASIS, the film still feels like a Spielberg film. He again enlisted his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and both the live-action and CGI camera work is superb. The great soundtrack by Alan Silvestri is augmented by some fantastic 1980s pop songs which work perfectly in context of the film, too.

A virtual reality racing game in the OASIS in READY PLAYER ONE. (Image ©️Warner Bros.)

Probably what I appreciated most is that Spielberg used his deft and masterful touch in keeping the focus and tone of the film constant, entertaining, and fun, even with the incredible (and potentially overwhelming) amount of CGI present throughout. And the film never loses sight of the important truth that while virtual reality has its place, it’s actual reality that makes life worth living.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s the exclusive IMAX poster for the film by artist Orlando Arocena.

(Image ©️ Warner Bros.)

“Vertigo” Turns 60

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo turns 60 this year. Turner Classic Movies (TCM), along with Fathom Events, is screening Vertigo to honor the film’s 60th anniversary on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 as part of their excellent TCM Big Screen Classics film series.

Here’s the original trailer for the film:

When it was released in 1958, Vertigo was not a success. In fact, critics dismissed it and the film bombed at the box office. According to OpenCulture.com, Hitchcock himself kept the film out of circulation entirely between 1973 and his death in 1980.

It wasn’t until the passing of Alfred Hitchcock that critics and cinephiles began to more seriously take notice (although the film had the strong allegiance of early fans as evidenced in the interview below with director Martin Scorsese).

Now, Vertigo is considered by many to be one of the best films ever made. In 2007, it moved to the #9 spot in the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 10th anniversary edition of its prestigious “100 Years…100 Movies” list. And after a steady, multi-year climb, Vertigo was recognized as the #1 film in 2012 by the British Film Institute (BFI) in their “Greatest Films of All Time” poll, knocking Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane out of its long-held top spot.

British film critic Tim Robey had this to say about both the film’s ascent to the top of the BFI poll and his own opinions about the staying (and growing) power of this Hitchcock classic:

“Even though its rehabilitation as a classic was well under way at the time, I remember my first viewing being something of a disappointment, too. I was hoovering up Hitchcocks from their TV airings in my mid-teens, high on Psycho and Notorious, and found the whole structure of this one broken and bewildering. It didn’t satisfy my early notions of what ‘Hitchcockian’ meant, and the lure of it as romantic fantasy probably didn’t strike much of a chord either. Next to the addictive wickedness of his other thrillers, it was an oddly foreign proposition, arty and stilted-seeming.

“What I hadn’t realised is that Vertigo is the ultimate grower. If its laboriously slow ascent to the highest stratum of critical adoration has proved anything, it is that. In its very bones, the movie is about a repetitive pattern of romantic obsession, and it is entirely fitting that such a pattern makes more sense the more we see it repeated: it’s an experience that gets correspondingly more deep and dreamlike with every viewing, echoing further back into the reaches of the subconscious. There’s something quasi-religious about returning to it, knowing all the mistakes that Stewart’s Scottie Ferguson is going to make all over again, and recognising every facet of Kim Novak, from ethereally seductive to seemingly guileless to manipulative and doomed.”

Vertigo is also available on Blu-ray and your favorite digital download platforms, but don’t miss this opportunity to see the special 60th anniversary screening of this cinema classic on the big screen. Check the Fathom Events website for times and locations and for information about upcoming TCM Big Screen Classics.

 

 

 

Review: “A Wrinkle in Time”

Disney’s most recent adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time is an artistic, purposeful, and meaningful one (along with a few wrinkles here and there).

Based on the 1962 Newberry Award-winning fantasy young adult novel by American author Madeleine L’Engle, the film tells the story of Meg Murry (played by Storm Reid), a high-school aged girl who is unsure of her place in the world and who is still grieving the loss of her scientist father (played by Chris Pine) who has been missing for many years.

When Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace (played by Deric McCabe) introduces her to strange supernatural friends named Mrs. Whatsit (played by Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (played by Mindy Kaling), and, later, Mrs. Which (played by Oprah Winfrey), Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s school friend Calvin (played by Levi Miller) embark on a journey through time and space to rescue Meg’s father who is being held against his will on another planet by a nefarious, dark force.

The cover of the edition of A WRINKLE IN TIME that I read and enjoyed when I was a kid. (And for what it’s worth, the Centaur-like creatures don’t make an appearance in this filmed adaptation.)

This is the Walt Disney Studios’ second attempt at filming A Wrinkle in Time. A made-for-TV version was completed in 2003 and was pretty much DOA, showing once on ABC in 2004 and then being relegated to home video. When asked about what she thought about the adaptation, Madeline L’Engle said “I’ve glimpsed it…I expected it to be bad, and it is.”

Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) and screenwriter Jennifer Lee (writer and co-director of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen) took on an ambitious and challenging task in adapting again this beloved yet complicated book into a feature film. The results are mixed–the pacing is uneven, some of the characters’ motives don’t seem quite right (or at least not in line with logic and/or the source material), and the characters’ interactions with the excessive and sometimes sloppy CGI occasionally tipped the scales into confusing and/or ridiculous territory.

Storm Reid as Meg and Levi Miller as Calvin in A WRINKLE IN TIME. (Image ©️ Disney)

However, Ava DuVernay and her team have crafted overall a wonderful work of art. Each scene in the film had a very noticeable sense of intimacy, of artistry, and of care. Each costume, from Meg’s simple flannel shirt to Mrs. Which’s architecturally inspired hair styles, provided visual interest, uniqueness, and wonder. Each set and setting were created carefully and with skill and expertise. And the timeless themes of familial love, fighting darkness with light, being courageous, and being yourself are presented with honesty and with a deft touch.

While the filmmakers and others are calling this interpretation of A Wrinkle in Time a black girl-power movie, I think of it more as a kid-power movie–a film where all children can start thinking about the importance of using their brains to solve problems and of using their hearts to fight the darkness both within and without themselves.

(L-R) Mindy Kaling is Mrs. Who, Oprah Winfrey is Mrs. Which, and Reese Witherspoon is Mrs. Whatsit in A WRINKLE IN TIME. (Image ©️ Disney)

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, check out this cool poster made for the film’s exclusive IMAX screenings.

(Image ©️ Disney)