2019 MOVIES IN REVIEW – Marilyn Armstrong

We’ve been catching up with the movies we never got to see in 2019. Many — maybe most — of them have been available on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime for a while, but we never got around to viewing them. A few more we got as gifts. So this is what we’ve seen of this year’s movies.

The first movie we watched was “Little Women.” I’ve read the book who knows how many times and visited Orchard House many times. I’ve also seen all the productions of the movie, my favorite being the 1994 version with Winona Ryder as Jo March. It’s still my favorite version. This one was weirdly disjointed.

I understand what the director was trying to do, but I didn’t think it worked. If I hadn’t read the book many times and seen all the other versions of it, I wouldn’t have had any idea what was going on. It’s not terrible, but it’s not exceptional in any way. With a cast of such great stars, it should have been better. A lot better.

Our next movie was “Harriet,” the story of Harriet Tubman. Garry has an issue watching movies about slavery in the same way I have an issue watching stuff about the Holocaust. We were both over-exposed to our collective history in early childhood.

I pointed out that “Harriet” actually had — as much as any movie of its kind can have — a “happy” ending. She was a historical figure, so we knew how it worked out. It wasn’t just all your ancestors lining up naked to be gassed en masse. He agreed to watch it. I don’t carry the weight of slavery as my personal history, but it turns out you don’t have to be Black to hate slavery and slave owners on southern plantations.

By the end of the movie, when Harriet rides off with a rifle on a white horse, I was cheering. Garry thought it might make a good television series. Harriet could rescue slaves every week and maybe blow away a slave owner or two.

We were so encouraged that the next movie we watched — or tried to watch — was “A Marriage Story.” I don’t care how many Oscars it won. By about an hour into it, neither one of us could watch any more of it. It’s available on Netflix, by the way, so if you are in the mood to watch a couple tearing each other to pieces while getting a divorce, feel free to watch it. How interesting that this movie won Oscars, but “Harriet” didn’t. Make of this what you like, but Harriet was by far the better movie with better action and acting top to bottom.

Even after turning it off, “Marriage Story” left a bad taste in our mouths. Garry suggested “The Two Popes,” a movie I had marked for viewing a few weeks ago. We hadn’t gotten to it.

It was about the papacy of Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the 2013 election of Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Two great actors dominating the movie and I thought it was excellent. I don’t know how accurate it is, but it was gripping and often quite funny. It’s also playing on Netflix, so if you can, it is definitely worth seeing.

We took a pass on “The Irishman,” also on Netflix.

We also saw “1917.” Garry liked it more than I did. The pointlessness (futility?) of war and all that. I thought it was a good movie but not a great one. Garry may differ on this one.


And this is as far as we’ve gotten with last year’s movies. I’m not sure there are any more in which we are interested.

And having run out of new movies, we settled happily last night into a rerun of “The Mask of Zorro.” Give me a handsome dude in a mask, riding a glorious horse and I’m a happy camper.

“SAN ANDREAS FAULT” ALL THE AWFUL IN ONE MOVIE! – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Friday Flashback — December 7


Last night, tired of the endless depressing, appalling, horrible news, Garry played a movie he had previously recorded.

San Andreas Fault is not merely a disaster film. It is every disaster film you have ever seen in one film. It’s earthquakes that will turn Kansas into the Pacific beach capital of the nation. It’s crashing buildings, towering infernos, the hugest OMG tsunami. We get to see the bravest heroes and most craven cowardice.

It’s all there.

The crashing bridge

Every cliché from every disaster movie made in this and the previous century includes a lot of movies.  Worse, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen all of them, but we’d never seen this one before.

I think it was originally filmed in 3D. Everyone said it was drivel, but it made more than $300,000 million at the box office, so clearly drivel sells well.

Crashing cruise ship

It certainly sold well at our house. When the intended second husband of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson‘s wife (Carla Gugino)  played by Ian Gruffudd (aka “The Asshole”) abandons Rock’s daughter to her fate, trapped under fallen cement in a parking garage, it’s no less than you expect from the cowardly CEO of a major corporation.

Hollywood crashing

We know they are cowards because … well …that’s what they always do in the movies, right? Have you ever seen a brave, manly CEO stand up to anyone or anything outside a boardroom? Especially when they are trying to marry the hero’s ex-wife who we all know should be with the hero.

Even though The Hero can’t utter a coherent sentence (and probably hasn’t since he came back from The War (insert name of war here), he’s a hero (with medals to prove it) and would never run, not even when a million tons of water and a complete cruise ship is about to fall on his head.

The Rock watching everything crash

Finally, the family reconnects. The entire west coast is smoldering ruins covered by about half the Pacific Ocean. There isn’t a bridge, a building … nothing. Total, absolute devastation everywhere.

Garry is giggling to himself.  Because he knows. I know. We both know. It’s coming.

The Rock, arm around his wife, his daughter saved, is gazing over the wreckage of the world and Garry murmurs … “Now, we rebuild.”

Beat. Beat. Beat. Pause.

And THEN The Rock says: “Now, we rebuild.”

Garry collapsed into laughter. The last time he laughed that much was when Trevor Noah had Ben Carson on the show and Trevor did a better Ben Carson than Ben Carson. Garry was still howling while the credits rolled.

A perfect ending.

san-andreas-fault-with-dwayne-the-rock-johnson-000

We’d seen the world end. We’d see the best, the bravest. The worst. We’d seen the most depraved cowardice imaginable and in HD wide-screen.

But now, we rebuild. We have to rebuild … because … SAN ANDREAS 2 is coming! As the headline says, this will finally allow The Rock (who no longer calls himself “the Rock”, so you have to call him Dwayne) to punch an earthquake.


This is everything that we fear will result from climate change, but it all happens in one movie. I need to see this again. Especially how they rebuild a world that has been totally wiped out.


THE CIRCLE OF MOVIE LIFE – Rich Paschall

The Lion King, a review, Rich Paschall

In the world of the Disney movie magic, what goes around will go around again. This is especially true for the beloved animated classics. You may have noticed this by their calculated re-release program.

Disney has employed what is is known as the Vault program. When they released a movie for video sales, first by VHS and then DVD and BluRay, it was limited in nature. The very fact that it was limited created an instant demand. When it was gone, it was gone forever.  OK, it was not really gone. Every 7 to 10 years they would bring it out of the vault, so to speak, for another limited release. There could be Gold editions, anniversary editions, Platinum editions. There might be interviews and other bonus material included. Each would be different and therefore the Disney fanatic would need the next version of something they already owned.

Original Snow White

Consider Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, one of Disney’s oldest and most endearing classics. It was released in 1937 and re-released in 1944. The success of the re-release set the precedent for what would be crafted into the Disney Vault Program. Snow White came around for a visit in theaters again in 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993. In this time period, something wonderful happened for Mouseland. The VHS player became standard home equipment.

In October 1994 Snow White appeared in homes on VHS. She was also released on the short-lived LaserDisc format. Seven years later it was the Platinum edition on VHS and also on DVD. In 2009 it was the Diamond Edition with two discs on DVD and BluRay. What could be better than a Diamond Edition? The Signature Edition!

The Signature Edition came out on BluRay in 2016. Disney must have felt that they were missing out on a big piece of the audience and released a different Signature Edition on standard DVD in 2017.  In between all of these you can find some foreign language releases for other countries. Is a live version coming soon? What do you think?

Among the many Disney animated classics is The Lion King. The 1994 release is the 11th highest-grossing animated film of all time. What’s number 1? Hang on by your claws for a moment. We’ll get there.

Lion King was released on VHS and laserdisc in 1995 in various editions after its spectacular run in the theaters. Those editions were gone in a few years and into the vault went the King. Before he could come back to the home video market, The Lion King returned to the theater in standard and IMAX release in 2002. The following year saw various editions for VHS and DVD.

In 2011 the King came to life in a 3D theatrical release followed a few weeks later by BluRay release including 3D. The Signature Collection release came out in 2017 on HD Digital, DVD and BluRay. If you thought all bases were covered, think again. The Lion King was so popular, he came out again in 2018 in Ultra HD BluRay and 4K digital download.

You may think you don’t need any of these various Lion King media presentations.  You can stream it on Hulu or Netflix. But the Mouse King has a surprise for you. Disney bought a controlling interest in Hulu and has bought their way out of the Netflix agreement.  Why end the Lion King’s reign in the streaming world? Did you really think the King was going to run away to another land? Just like Simba, the film will return because Disney will soon have their own streaming service, Disney+.

The Lion King also rules over the Broadway stage. He made it there in 1997 and never left, but I digress. We were talking about movies, weren’t we?

This year we received the live action version. OK, it’s live action if you believe those animals are really singing and dancing. Disney has employed CGI (Computered Generated Imagery) to make a realistic looking version of The Lion King. This sort of thing was inevitable. Movies have been using CGI for years. Video games get their realistic look from this remarkable computer wizardry.

The 2019 version of The Lion King is actually an animated remake of the original.  The story is the same. Much of the dialogue is the same. The songs are the same, except they added one more to the mix. Some things are added or lengthened for affect, but you are getting the same story with a new kind of animation.

Simba

The Lion King, Mufasa, from the beginning of the story is the same. Let’s face it, James Earl Jones is so memorable in the role, why get another actor? He is King of the story. All of the other parts have been recast. Some are just as good or at least equal to their 1994 counter parts. Others are not.

Holding up their parts as the Warthog, Pumbaa, and his little friend meerkat, Timon, and Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner. They are the comic relief, which is absolutley needed in light of the darker, more realistic looking, death and fight scenes. While the original performers were great, these guys do quite well.

The villian lion Scar was Jeremy Irons the first time around. This time  it is Chiwetel Ejiofor as the scary one. Ejiofor sounds to me at times like Alan Rickman at his evil best.

Donald Glover does not match Matthew Broderick as Simba. Others fall short of the original all-star cast as well. Critics have not been kind to Beyonce as Nala. We know she is there both to add star power and to sing a song. The part is lengthened to explain exactly how it is Nala found Simba, but the voice work lacks the energy and passion of Moira Kelly as the original.

When you compare the casts, you may wonder why more than James Earl Jones was not retained from the original. In many places they did not do better. The Circle of Life opening is performed by different singers in the two movies, and the 2019 version fails to add the Elton John version to the soundtrack at the end. I think they missed the mark there too.

Still, this is a version worth the time, if only for the stunning visuals. By the way, I promised to mention the number one animated box office hit and here it is: The Lion King 2019.

Sources include: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (video),” disney.fandom.com

 

THE WIND AND THE LION (1975) STARRING CANDICE BERGEN AND SEAN CONNERY – Marilyn Armstrong

wind and lionThe Wind and the Lion is an old-fashioned, romantic adventure tale set in turn of the century Morocco and Washington DC. Parallel stories, an ocean apart, the interlocking of which in many ways foretells the world we live in today.

President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is facing an upcoming election. The nation is not thrilled about his handling of the Panama Canal project and although he is among the most popular presidents in many long years, re-election is anything but certain. Meanwhile, in Morocco, an American woman, Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children are kidnapped by Berber brigand Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery), triggering a variety of international incidents.

All of this is taking place not long before the opening of the first world war, after which nothing will ever be the same again. All the European powers, as well as the U.S., Japan, Russia, and Turkey,  have their eyes on strategically placed Morocco, headed by a weak sultan who is beset by civil unrest. The Pedecaris incident has given the various nations an opportunity to send in the troops.

And they do. All of them. Including, of course, America.

Meanwhile, out in the desert, there is Mrs. Pedecaris riding with the Berbers.

“You are a great deal of trouble, Mrs. Pedecaris,” says the Raisuli, sounding deliciously like James Bond. Indeed she is.  Ah, but what a woman! My kind of woman, one who will take up a sword and fight — for herself, her children and what is right, by golly.

Out in the desert are the Raisuli and Mrs. Pedicaris. He’s brave, handsome and sits a horse like nobody’s business. And she’s beautiful, fearless and proud. What a pair. I have always thought Candice Bergen among the most beautiful women ever. In this movie, she is magnificent as is Connery. They play off each other wonderfully. I don’t know if you could call Sean Connery, as a Berber Chieftain, exactly believable, but he is stunning. Flashing eyes, sharp tongue. A master of wit and charm.

It was probably the best role Brian Keith ever got too. He is entirely believable as Teddy Roosevelt. I’m ready to vote for him. Why not? At least he was straightforward about wanting the United States to militarily dominate the world and he created the national parks system.

They don’t make’em like that anymore.

The score was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith who used an ensemble including a large percussion section and many Moroccan instruments. The music is haunting and although Jaws composer John Williams won that year’s Oscar, the score for The Wind and the Lion is stunning, possibly Goldsmith’s best; it was one of the American Film Institute’s 250 nominees for top 25 American film scores.

Filmed in Spain where the director, John Milius, had previously filmed his spaghetti westerns (even the scenes set in D.C. were actually shot in Madrid), the cinematography is breathtaking. Broad vistas, magnificent sunsets, deserts and battles on horseback with scimitars at the ready.

The film is accurate and sympathetic to Islam, making it one of the few American movies to become popular in Arab countries. It’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t automatically assume the only possible valid religion is Christianity.

When I say romantic, I mean it in the epic sense of the word. It’s a world filled with heroes and heroines who are larger than life. There’s not a superpower among them, but nonetheless, superheroes abound.

It’s a great movie. Without a bit of gore, grit, or gristle. No zombies, chain saws or special effects. No CGI. Just great photography, a delicious script, and terrific acting.

Because that’s what it takes to make a wonderful movie. Everything else is wrapping paper and ribbons.

INHERIT THE WIND (1960) – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Inherit

I can’t hear the word “Inherit” without thinking of “Inherit the Wind,” the Spencer Tracy – Frederic March classic. The movie, although historical, is not the “real” event. A lot of changes were made to give it the kind of tension a movie needs and which are often lacking in ‘real’ life.

Much of the language used in the movies was taken directly from the court’s transcripts. Despite this, there were also significant changes that are inevitable in making movies. It remains one of the great movies of our past and future. Definitely worth watching today — maybe even more than it was in 1960.

From “Inherit the Wind” 1960, Directed by Stanley Kramer, based on actual transcripts of the 1925 Scopes’ “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, where the teaching of evolution had been banned. As far as I can tell, we are going back there again.

DUMBEST BAD GUY IN THE WEST – Marilyn Armstrong

Open Range (2003) stars Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, Abraham Benrubi and a lot of other people, but notably Michael Gambon (Professor Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter) as the stupidest villain in the old west.

Mind you, Open Range isn’t a bad western, as these things go. It’s pretty standard, with a rather better cast than most westerns. All the good clichés are included and the movie builds up to a massive shootout between Duvall and Costner against Gambon and his thugs.

Open Range Poster

Here’s the plot. It contains spoilers, but I feel safe in saying the movie has no surprises, so really, there’s nothing to spoil.

Old West, 1882. “Boss” Spearman (Duvall) is an open range cattleman, who, with hired hands, Charley (Costner), and Mose (Benrubi) (et al), is driving a herd cross-country. Charley, a former soldier who fought in the Civil War, feels guilty over his past as a killer. 

Boss sends Mose to the nearby town of Harmonville for supplies, a town controlled by a ruthless land baron, Denton Baxter. Mose is beaten and jailed by the marshal (owned body and soul by Baxter). The only friendly resident owns the livery stable.

Boss and Charley worry when Mose doesn’t return. The get him out of jail but are warned to not free-graze on Baxter’s land. Mose’s injuries are severe, so Boss and Charley take him to Doc Barlow where they meet Sue Barlow, the doctor’s sister.

Killing and skullduggery follow. Charley and Boss vow to avenge the various murders and injustice. Charley declares his feeling for Sue and she gives him a locket for luck. 

Boss and Charley are pitted against Baxter and his men. A gun battle erupts in the street, with Boss and Charley heavily outnumbered … until the townspeople begin to fight.

It’s a shootout of Biblical proportions. Epic. Costner is the troubled hero, which is just as well because he directed and co-produced the movie. Gambon, a murderous Irish immigrant with a killer brogue, is a brutal tyrant with no compunctions about slaughtering anyone. Everyone. He owns the sheriff, he owns the town. He has a lot of cows, but it’s not enough. It will never be enough.

He is the consummate villain of the old west, an out-of-control, power-mad cattle baron. You just know there’s going to be a lot of killing.

Skipping over the early individual killings to get to the big battle, it’s now the final quarter of the gun battle. It’s a high body count. I’ve lost count and I swear some of the actors died more than once, but maybe it’s just me.

The first seriously stupid bad guy moment comes when Baxter’s ace hired gun stands in front of Costner — who is loaded for bear and hates the son-of-a-bitch — and taunts him. So Costner shoots him through the head. One shot, dead center of his forehead.

I look at Garry and say “Well, what did he think was going to happen?” The fight was on.

A few minutes later, corpses litter the landscape. Heads are exploding right, left, and center. The townsfolk are unhappy about being under the thumb of Baxter, the power-mad cattle baron, but they’re too wimpy and cowardly to do anything about him.

Until asshole Baxter stands up in front of the whole town (they’ve come out to watch the shootout because they don’t have anything else to do) and tells them that as soon as he gets through killing the good guys, he’s going to start killing them.

“All your children will be orphans” he rants.

Say what?

Guess what happens next? Right you are! The townspeople, realizing they have nothing to lose, pick up their guns and start killing Baxter’s men. What a shock.

Costner marries the pretty sister of the doctor. Duvall offloads the cattle. Costner and Duvall take over the saloon and everyone lives happily ever after.

I assume they bury the corpses.

This one gets my vote for the dumbest bad guy in the west. But maybe you know something I don’t know …


AND NOW, HERE’S OUR MODERN VERSION …

If POTUS is the power-mad cattle baron … and “Baxter” is Miller (the gun-crazy killing machine) while the rest of the “crew” are the usual morons with big guns and few brains — are we the cattle?

You could follow the plot almost exactly, just change cities. Just wait for it, wait for it. Dumpf will make one of those speeches … you know, how “he knows everything and only HE CAN FIX IT” — Alex Baldwin could play the role.

Then Costner could shoot him between the eyes. Great ending. Kevin could be president. Why not? Hasn’t he done it before? Pretty sure he did or maybe I’m thinking of Michael Douglas … hard to remember sometimes. And there’s always Morgan Freeman.

Has anyone asked Kevin? His career hasn’t been doing all that well. This might be a terrific piece, proving comedy is hard but worth it. We could have a good, long hysterical laugh. I know I sure would. I’m laughing already.

A COLLAPSING WORLD IN “SAN ANDREAS FAULT” – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Tuesday: Fault

Last night, tired of the endless depressing, appalling, horrible news from around the world, Garry played a movie he had previously recorded.

San Andreas Fault is not merely a disaster film. It is every disaster film you have ever seen in one film. It’s earthquakes that will turn Kansas into the Pacific beach capital of the nation. It’s crashing buildings, towering infernos, the hugest Omigod tsunamis. We get to see the bravest heroes and most craven cowardice.

It’s all there. Everything you can pack into a movie is in this one. From CGI to humor (parts are so bad they are funny) to the end of the world, to the final line we all know is coming.

The crashing bridge

Every cliché from every disaster movie made in the past century are in this film.  I’m pretty sure we’ve seen all of them, but we’d never seen this one before.

I think it was originally filmed in 3D. Everyone said it was drivel, but it made more than $300,000 million at the box office, so clearly drivel sells well.

Crashing cruise ship

It certainly sold well at our house last night. When the intended second husband of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson‘s wife (Carla Gugino)  played by Ioan Gruffudd (aka “The Asshole”) abandons Rock’s daughter to her fate, trapped under fallen cement in a parking garage, it’s no less than you expect from the cowardly CEO of a major corporation.

Hollywood crashing

We know they are cowards because … well …that’s what they always do in the movies, right? Have you ever seen a brave, manly CEO stand up to anyone or anything outside a boardroom? Especially when they are trying to marry the hero’s ex-wife who we all know should be with the hero.

Even though The Hero can’t utter a coherent sentence (and probably hasn’t since he came back from The War) (insert name of war here), he’s a hero (with medals to prove it) and would never run. Not even when a million tons of water and a complete cruise ship is about to fall on his head.

The Rock watching everything crash

Ultimately, the family reconnects. The entire west coast is smoldering ruins covered by about half the Pacific Ocean. There isn’t a bridge, a building … nothing. Total, absolute devastation from Canada to Mexico.

Garry is giggling to himself.  Because he knows. I know. We both know. It’s coming. That final line.

The Rock (who is no longer the Rock), arm around his wife, his daughter  (having been saved by him of course), is gazing over the wreckage of the world and Garry murmurs sotto voce: “Now … we rebuild.”

[Beat. Beat. Beat. Pause about 3 seconds.]

The Rock says: “Now … we rebuild.”

Garry collapses into laughter. The last time he laughed that much was when Trevor Noah had Ben Carson on the show and Trevor did a better Ben Carson than Ben Carson.

Garry was still howling while the credits rolled. It was a perfect ending.

san-andreas-fault-with-dwayne-the-rock-johnson-000

We’d seen the world end. We’d see the best, the bravest. The worst. We’d seen the most depraved cowardice imaginable and in HD wide-screen. In our own living room, no less.

But now, we will rebuild. We have to rebuild … because … SAN ANDREAS 2 is coming! 

As the headline says, this will finally allow The Rock (who no longer calls himself “the Rock”, so you have to call him Dwayne) (it’s a long way from being ‘The Rock’ to being Dwayne) to punch an earthquake.

Then, we will rebuild.