MEMORIAL DAY MEMORIES AND MOVIES

 
SHORT TAKE:
 
While contemplating my favorite Memorial Day weekend appropriate movies I thought of: my Dad, some movies I didn't see on anyone else's list, and some classic favorites, in that order.
 
MEMORIAL DAY – MY DAD, THE PATRIOT
 
When contemplating Memorial Day and patriotism I do so, unabashedly, through my father's eyes. Billy Ashton Weisfeld was a radarman on the destroyer Breckenridge during World War II back in the day when radar was so top secret just talking about it outside of their classrooms could land them in Portsmouth Naval Prison. He was very proud of his service and I have always been proud of him. And I see patriotism through the filter of his definitions. He was the one who risked his life for four years. He earned that right.
 
He taught me to stand during the pledge of allegiance and during the Star Spangled Banner. I remember, sometime during junior high we had a choir teacher who refused to instruct us to stand while we practiced the Star Spangled Banner. I remember being very upset about this and making an impassioned plea on behalf of the men and women who were currently fighting and dying in Vietnam. My arguments fell on deaf eras. (Ironic for a choir teacher.) However, when I approached my parents with my dilemma my Dad took me for an appointment with the principal. I made my case and thereafter we stood for the Star Spangled Banner – whether in performance or practice.
 
On a more humorous note my Dad and I went to see Poltergeist at the theater in 1982. I don't know if any of you will remember this but it starts with the TV actually "signing off" for the day as stations were wont to do back then. The end of the programming day was heralded with – The Star Spangled Banner. Not even realizing it was the beginning of the movie – not that it would have made much difference – when the Anthem began, my Dad immediately stood up and I stood with him —– by ourselves —– because it was just the beginning of the movie. I can't help but chuckle to this day. But, funny as that was, I was and am so proud of him for that. It is one of my favorite memories.
 
Now, while my Dad, thankfully, did not lose his life during the war – obviously, given these recollections from events which took place in the early '60's and '80's – he did lose his hearing. His radar station was beneath the big guns which classically blast out during every sea based World War II movie, booming noises rattling your seats even before XD was a thing. Though he was fully entitled to disability from the government he refused to apply, saying that his service had been a privilege. Again, I was very proud of my father for his attitude.
 
I know Memorial Day is to honor those who died fighting for our country and her ideals. My father would have been the first to shy from comparing his efforts to those who never got a chance to offer decades to America, but much like the white martyrs of the Catholic church, my Dad gave his entire life in the service of the ideals of his country by the way he lived and by inculcating those ideals to his children. In return I and my siblings and our spouses have tried to pay it forward to our children.
 
MOVIES – THE UNSUNG HEROES
 
There are a plethora of really good patriotic movies. There are a handful on my list which I did not find on anyone else's.
 
Now an advisory. There are some well done movies about war which do not deserve to be placed on this list. They are movies which I admit are creative, artistic, fascinating, even literary masterpieces. But they do not deserve a place with these better brethren because they do not respect America, her ideals or the reasons for which we went to war. America fights not to conquer but to free. We are the only major power who has not colonized as victors. Instead of taking Kuwait as a territory we freed it. Instead of laying claim to the areas we won during World War II we asked only, as General Powell notably said, for enough ground to bury our dead.  America protects the innocent, feeds the hungry, heals the broken, adopts the homeless, and helps our enemies to get back on their own feet. This philosophy was even immortalized in an affectionate jab of political satire called The Mouse That Roared wherein a small destitute country attacks America just to be defeated so she can receive much needed aid. The movies that do not recognize or respect that distinctly American tradition and morality do not deserve a place with this group any more than does the coward who Patton famously slapped belonged in the military hospital, demoralizing the wounded soldiers. So —- I won't mention them here, but I suspect you know the ones to which I refer.
 
This first group of Memorial Day-worthy movies are ones which I did not find on many, if any, prominent list, because of political correctness, age of the film, or plain old quirkiness.
 
The Green Berets – A classic old John Wayne movie about the Vietnam War – likely the ONLY movie which extolled the virtues of why we went there in the first place, made at a time when we were told the plan was to win. Liberal reporter David Janssen and patriot John Wayne as Green Beret Colonel Kirby face off in an in-country expedition to explore our original mission: to defeat the cancerous brutal totalitarian political structure of Communism then creeping into Southeast Asia, and to provide humanitarian aid to Communism's indigenous victims.
 
The Scarlet and the Black – Based on the actual account of Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty, Gregory (To Kill a Mockingbird) Peck portrays this brave priest at the Vatican during World War II who aids in the sequestration and rescue of thousands of Jews under the nose of the reigning Nazis who surround it and infest Italy.

Victory – another based on a true story – starring Sylvester Stallone, Michale Caine and real life soccer legend Pele, the story is about the soccer game between an international group of POWs and German soldiers. The intent, much like the 1936 Berlin Olympics, was to prove German “superiority” by publically humiliating the non-German losers. Needless to say, like their Olympic failure to Jesse Owens, it backfired spectacularly.
 
The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming – comedy this time. At the height of the Cold War, Russian submarine Captain runs aground off Gloucester Island. He just wanted to get a look at America. So to prevent an international incident, not to mention his own capture, extradition and likely execution, he sends a team out headed by Alan Arkin as Lt. Rozanov, to find a way to pull the sub free before the submarine is discovered. I picked this one because it is a demonstration, albeit done in an affectionate parody, of how average American citizen-patriot/soldiers, willing to die to protect America and her ideals, are also willing to extend friendship, show common ground, and offer protection to the helpless when the opportunity arises, even to our enemies.
 
1776 – A musical – WAIT! THAT MAKES THIS ONE LITERALLY A SUNG HERO – if you can believe it, about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Paraphrasing the last sentence of the Declaration, these 56 men, with the hope in the protection of Divine Providence, pledged to support that Declaration with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. Many saw their homes burned, their families abused, their children vanished. Some died in poverty or from wounds or torture. Some lost sons on the battlefield. Thomas Nelson, Jr. discovering Cornwallis had encamped in his palatial home fired the cannon to destroy it himself – and died a bankrupt. 1776 concerns who these men were and why they came together to so devote themselves – only they do it in song. 1776 mostly focuses on John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin's efforts to acquire a unanimous consent on breaking with the British Empire. One of the most charming aspects of this little known film is the conversations the otherwise "obnoxious and disliked"  John has with his wife Abigail. Lifted from the pages of their letters, these interchanges manifest themselves in bittersweet duets wherein they engage in playful banter and loving longing, unable to touch because they are really only conversing by written exchange.
Kelly’s Heroes – OK I hesitated to include this movie, because it rides right up to the line of being one of those anti-war films, BUT I do not think crosses that line. This is one of my favorite movies. A comedy-drama starring Clint (directs everything & cut his teeth on about a million spaghetti westerns) Eastwood, Donald (Hunger Games) Sutherland in one of the quirkiest roles you will ever see him in, Carroll O’Conner, and Don Rickles, about a group of exhausted soldiers near the end of World War II who find out about an enormous cache of German gold in a bank deep behind enemy lines. They plan to steal the gold the Germans have stolen. In the process, a general, played by Carroll O’Conner believing they are a gung-ho troop, decides to honor their apparent courage and follow them right into the heart of the offensive, breaking the German front line.
 
MOVIE STANDARDS
 
The ones in this next group are, and deserve to be, on just about everyone's list of movies that exemplify the best of American courage and ideals in battle.
 
Patton – Brilliant portrayal by the unequalled George C Scott of the ultimate patriot and complexity that was American General George S. Patton during the pinnacle achievement of his battlefield career. The movie follows Patton’s astonishing and irreplaceable contribution to winning the European theater during World War II for the Allies as well as the egotism which was almost his undoing. Brilliant military strategist and tank commander, inexhaustible commander who led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not. Known as Old Blood and Guts he unabashedly prayed and wept openly for wounded soldiers, stood in open battle, fiercely loved and fought for America, he was probably our greatest American soldier.
 
The Longest Day – an ensemble accounting of D-Day starting with the preceding days waiting desperately for a break in the weather – with a cast which included some of the biggest stars of the time, including Sean (James Bond) Connery, Red Buttons, Henry Fonda, Richard (West Side Story) Beymer, George Segall, (THE) John Wayne, Kenneth More, Jeffrey (Captain Pike from the first Star Trek pilot) Hunter, Robert Wagner, Rod Stieger and Richard Burton!!! and more! If the names don’t ring a bell, look them up in us.imdb.com and if you are at ALL a classic movie afficionado I guarantee you will recognize at least one of the movies in which they have featured. The movie covers beach landings and straffings, the French resistence, parachute drops, hand to hand combat, a battle inside the town of  Sainte-Mère-Église, the Normandy advance. It combines beautiful individual moments as well as grand sweeping action about the turning point of the European portion of the war.
Guns of Navarone – very loosed inspired by the real Battle of Leros during World War II and starring David Niven and (again) Gregory Peck, the story revolves around a covert Allied mission to sabotage massive German battleship-killer guns on the Greek Island of Navarone. Classic heroism.
Battle of the Bulge – based very loosely on the Counteroffensive of Ardennes, it condenses months of preparation and campaigning into a few days. Starring Henry Fonda, Robert (Jaws) Shaw, Telly Savalas & Charles Bronson, it is another classic.
Schindler’s List – Heart breaking, and deeply moving drama about Oscar Schindler, an opportunist, Nazi collaborator and war profiteer who, in one brief shining Divinely inspired period of his life decides to risk his life, manipulate his Nazi connections and spend his life’s fortune saving over 3,000 Jews destined for the gas chamber. While neither American nor a soldier, Schindler risked everything for same ideals for which our American soldiers risk, as well as sabotaged his own military's bombs, which in turn protected our soldiers.
American Sniper – directed by Clint (Kelly’s Heroes) Eastwood, tells the story of the military career of Chris Kyle, the decorated and deadliest American sniper in military history, and his heroic commitment to his fellow soldiers during the Iraqi War. A stand out, not only for telling Kyle’s story, but for the astonishing performance by Bradley (voice of Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy) Cooper. Cooper transforms himself from a nerdy accountant physique with a hyperactive personality in A-Team to looking like Dwayne Johnson’s little brother with the “gentle giant” demeanor to go with the size. He did, I think, Navy Seal Kyle proud.
The Great Escape – one of the best war movies ever made. Starring, among others: Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Richard (Jurassic Park) Attenborough, and Charles Bronson. The screenplay is based on the book about the biggest mass escape from any German POW camp ever – Stalag Luft II in Sagan, Poland during World War II. The Germans made the critical mistake of putting the most ingenious serial escapees in a single prison, reasoning they could keep them all more closely guarded. What they did not consider was that together they made a formidable escape army. 600 men planned the tunnel escape of 200 men, none expecting to acquire permanent freedom but primarily to cause confusion and chaos behind enemy lines. These men succeeded in creating the most time expensive, personnel consuming recapture plans the Nazis ever required. This movie is a distinguished and honorable tribute to these internationally mixed heroes.
The Hunt for Red October – Cold War era defector Sean Connery sneaks a game changing silent submarine out of Communist Russia. Although not an American soldier, he and his men risked their lives to protect our country, as well as the world, from the brutality of Communist Russia.
 
There are many more, but let me leave you with the names of others which should definitely be on your bucket list:
 
Black Hawk Down
Monuments Men
13 Hours
Sole Survivor
Hacksaw Ridge
We Were Soldiers
The Alamo
The Patriot

If you can’t find a really good inspiring movie highlighting patriotism and the American spirit to watch this week – then you’re not really trying.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES – A FLICK TOO FAR

SHORT TAKE

Yet ANOTHER in a series of weaker and weaker installments of Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which, nonetheless, still has a few surprisingly good moments (and I do mean teeny tiny moments), mostly thanks to Geoffrey Rush, about the importance of fatherhood.

SPOILERS

I admit, I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales anticipating, regretfully, that I would have to write a scathingly dismissive pan for this fifth installment in this series of decreasingly inventive franchise offerings. While I was, unfortunately, not wrong, there is reason to reinforce my belief that “NO one TRIES to make a bad movie”.  Amazingly, I found aspects to commend and which deserve some applause.

Before I get there I have to first express dismay – did the director just tell the crew: “Follow Depp around as he pin balls from place to place as Jack Sparrow and we’ll write a script around whatever he’s doing”???

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t want to not like this movie. I even went wearing my Pirates of the Caribbean earrings my kids gave me for Mother’s Day years ago for the opening of a previous P of C installment.

But these movies suffer from what in the sci fi world could be described as “replicative fading” – the tendency of copies of copies to become less well defined, more replete with mistakes and less richly detailed than the predecessors until at last the descendants are no longer viable. Do they not think they have perhaps milked enough out of an idea which began as a SINGLE EXHIBIT IN A DISNEY THEME PARK RIDE!!!  I think this parrot has ceased to be (apologies to Monty Python and the Dead Parrot sketch).

The stories, after the first one wherein Depp brilliantly stepped onto a dock from the crow’s nest of a sinking ship, now seem to slap dash about from one preposterous situation to another as Depp bounces around doing pratfalls: falling off a tall fence into a muddy pig pen, being dragged down the street with his foot attached to a rope by horses pulling a….well, a HOUSE down a street, evading ghost pirates by lassoing a ghost shark, and pirouetting on a board as a guillotine slides back and forth within inches of his neck. His previous incarnations of the worst pirate Commadore Norrington had ever heard of: engaged in a sword fight while running in a water wheel, fought with squid headed sailors, and drunkenly swung invincibly from chandeliers, ropes and off house tops. All this with ZERO suspense as we know he will escape unharmed.

Sparrow’s antics are often reminiscent of other more original vaudeville-like routines from other movies and eras: Chaplin’s Little Tramp’s breakdown in Modern Times where the Tramp misses being crushed by centimeters as he cavorts through gears and machinery; or perhaps Baby Herman’s parkour crawl from Who Framed Roger Rabbit around the increasingly dangerous kitchen as Roger attempts to rescue him; or maybe just the Three Stooges as they endure falls, impacts and encounters with lethal implements with only minor scratches and the occasional blackened hair to show for it.  But Depp’s Sparrow simply leans heavily on these creative giants, no longer bringing anything original or inventive to the slap stick. While there are a lot of cartoon deaths, you know Sparrow will live to stagger another day. Without him there IS no Pirates franchise. So there’s really no serious tension.

Meanwhile, though they can’t do without him they don’t seem to do much with him either. His character has become less the center of focus and more like Puck, flitting between the other characters, igniting chaos and consequences with which the others must deal, getting himself away repercussion free.

While I really don’t mind that, I do mind the fact that the writers don’t even TRY to convince you anything bad will happen to Sparrow any more. The unlikelihood of Sparrow being even injured takes away all healthy suspense and tension from the film, which, in turn, takes away all the ebb and flow of emotion which sparks humor.

As for the other characters:. Disney HAD to try to set up the “next generation” Will-Elizabeth paring. But Brenton Thwaites who plays Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan,  and Kaya Scodelaria, who plays Carina Smyth, the supposed leads/new love interests  have absolutely….no…chemistry…between … them….what-so-ever. While Will and Elizabeth (reprised briefly here by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly) had a life long history which made their bond credible, Henry and Carina have only just met under absurd circumstances. They are arrested, escape, captured, and rescued from execution via one more ridiculous scenario after another: Because she is a women expressing an interest in science she is declared a witch. Henry is the sole survivor of a shipwreck so is condemned to death. Carina finds out Henry is after the Trident as well so springs him from his chains in return for an alliance but is herself arrested and sent to the gallows. Henry hires Jack’s old crew to save both Carina and Jack from execution — and on and on. It’s silly, and as though the writers couldn’t think of a legitimate plot, they just invented one “escape room” after another to challenge their intrepid heroes. When in doubt – have someone chase them and, like Bugs Bunny, they always manage to get away.

And you know what else is annoying: They absolutely WASTE David Wenham (Faramir from Lord of the Rings)  in  unrecognizable makeup and cliche bad guy lines and Paul McCartney!!!!! in a cameo under Halloween quantity makeup and facial hair.

NO ONE TRIES TO MAKE A BAD MOVIE:

There is a small gem to be dug up. Once again reinforcing my belief that NO one tries to make a bad movie, P of C: Dead Men has an underlying thread of essential purpose hiding, like Paul McCartney, under all the totally unnecessary and fairly ludicrous accessories.

Both the lead characters – Henry and Carina – are on Chataquas inspired by their respective fathers. Henry is trying to find Poseidon’s Trident in order to use it (somehow) to release Will from his curse and return him back to the family fold. Carina is determined to follow her father’s diary to find this same Trident as a legacy to him.

Once again, instinctively, against the will and wishes of every P.C. promoter in Hollywood, they can not seem to avoid the irresistible truth that FATHERS ARE AT THE CORE OF EVERY CHILD. For better or worse the fathers of Henry and Carina are the true leads of this movie – mostly unseen in the former case and a mystery in the latter, the fathers propel the plot (such as it is) and most of the motivations.

Which brings me to a shining moment of three dimensional coalescence in the form of Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa. Rush is an astonishing actor: David Helfgott in Shine, Hans Hubermann in The Book Thief, Lionel Logue – King George’s teacher – in The King’s Speech, Javert in the prose version of Les Miserables, Peter Sellers in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Philip “I don’t know, it’s a mystery” Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love, even the voice of Nigel the Aussie Pelican in Finding Nemo – the man is a versatile, nuanced, and powerful actor; a chameleon, like Dustin Hoffman, who can singlehandedly suck you into the world of the movie in which he resides. Make no mistake, even Rush can not shore up this shaky step down into the sink hole that has become the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

However, Rush manages to knead a few lovely moments out of this Playdough of a script and gift us with a last couple of surprises. When Carina tells Barbossa where she got her father’s diary, Rush doesn’t have to say a word, but like the walk Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey takes at the train station in It’s a Wonderful Life when George decides to sacrifice his own future for his brother’s happiness, we watch Barbossa’s face as he walks away from the young woman that fate has thrown in his path. We understand in the next few seconds by his expression, his gaited walk and his thousand yard stare that he has just realized Carina is his daughter. Of course it is on the strength of Rush’s portrayal alone which makes this moment both believable and moving and which makes his inevitable sacrifice for her later the real genuine and satisfying ending to this series. There is NOTHING before this in the plot which would suggest this connection; nothing in the way the actress behaves, nothing she says, which would give the audience a fair hint that she and Barbossa had a connection.  It was as though the script’s instructions were: “On the word ‘orphanage’ Geoffrey Rush proceeds to act the SNOT out of the moment to carry this scene, because we’ve been too busy working in absurd Captain Jack ‘schticks’ to write an actual plot.” 

Barbossa’s death should have been the penultimate scene of the movie. From the first there has been the push and pull of Barbossa and Sparrow. Without Barbossa there is only the Sparrow clown left and had the creators ANY sense at all they would have let this franchise end – not with a bang but with the whispered word “Treasure” – Barbossa’s description to Carina of what she is to him just before he dies.

FINAL GRIPES:

We homeschooled six kids from Kindergarten through high school graduation, so we were around our kids a LOT. And I have told them, probably, hundreds of times: You can get away with a lot if you can make me laugh. And I could have forgiven much in this movie if they had been funny. But sadly, even though this is supposed to be a comedy, the moments are barely worth the occasional smile.

Pintel and Ragetti – the pirate Abbot and Costello part of Barbossa’s crew – the thick bald guy and the skinny one whose eye keeps popping out – who provided occasional Greek chorus like quips during the first movies have been replaced with a forgettable pair who I would not be able to point out in a line up. Pintel and Ragetti were sort of adorable buffoons. The new guys are neither recognizable nor have any distinguishing characteristics to make them stand out in the crowd of pirates.

I’m not sure the writers and producers really know their audience any more – which is a downright tragedy for a franchise that’s been going on for 14 years.

ONE SMALL CONSOLATION

It was actually quite nice to see Bloom and Knightly reprise their respective roles at the tip end as Turner and Swan and reunite after the curse is broken.


SAVE US!!!!!

HOWEVER, the writers apparently think they will be able to squeeze yet another pathetic replicant out of this failing enterprise. There is a reveal after the credits finish rolling as Turner and Swan lie contentedly asleep together as husband and wife. (And, yes, I’m one of those people who stay to marvel at the enormity of digital artists there are, listen to the epilogue medley of themes, and watch for “fun” credits such as “hand models” and “bee wranglers” – OK so I’m easily amused. AND I’ve been doing this YEARS before “Easter eggs” started cropping up in the credits.) Clues during this extra scene indicate there likely will be yet ANOTHER P of C!!! This speculation is hammered home if you check out us.imbd.com. Type “Pirates of the” into the search engine and you will find “Pirates of the Caribbean 6"…………………………. *sigh*

HYPERSLEEP PODS – THE GENERIC RED SHIRT

I’ve just seen Aliens: Covenant and it occurred to me that hypersleep is nothing but a fancy way to be an anonymous red shirt. Aside from the bad idea of its intended use, which is to go to sleep in one solar system and wake up after everyone you know is dead and in another place so far away that help or supplies or assistance with unanticipated events is a minimum of a lifetime away, it is just simply … a death sentence. I mean, come on – these things even LOOK like coffins!!!

Or fish tanks…

 

Dating all the way back to 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey, HAL, the evil computer murders all the crew still in hypersleep by the simple expediency of turning off their life support. They went to sleep and never woke up.

Then there’s 1968's Planet of the Apes. Charlton Heston and company are put into hypersleep to travel faaaaaar out into the planets only to accidentally perform a hyperbolic maneuver which lands them right back on Earth hundreds of years into the future where apes have taken over the planet. All the men wake up upon crash landing, but the sole female’s pod malfunctioned and she died of old age in her sleep (or screaming futilely to be let out of the pod) then mummified. Heston doesn’t find out he’s been home all along until the end of the movie. MAYBE if someone had stayed AWAKE they would have been able to avoid these problems.

Even comedy has a jaundiced eye to hypersleep. In Woody Allen’s 1972 film Sleeper, Miles Monroe is put against his will into cryogenic sleep and wakes up in a dystopian future.

1979's Alien featured the crew of the Nostromo who go into hypersleep and are woken up to respond to a distress call from an alien planet which houses the chest bursting critters. And so begins that franchise (the only good news is for the owners of the script property – not so much for any of the characters). Now while hypersleep wasn’t directly responsible, had they all been awake during the ride maybe someone would have had the sense to say – “Uh, no. This might be a trap”. Or take the time to properly translate it from the distress call they thought it was to the WARNING BEACON TO STAY AWAY that it really was.

And let’s not forget Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) wherein Han Solo was placed into a carbonite block – big sister of the cryogenic sleep concept – to be a wall decoration for Jabba the Hutt.

Then there’s 1986's Aliens – with an “s”, plural. As the lone human survivor of the attack, Ripley goes into hypersleep with Jonesy, the cat, and wakes up 54 years later! having accidentally passed “right through the core systems”. (Talk about delayed arrival.) Everything is changed, everyone she knew dead and even her daughter has grown up, grown old and died never knowing what happened to her. Had she been awake this would not have happened.

Ripley is sent – again – into hypersleep. This time with a bunch of soldiers to face the aliens and is, once again victorious. She then puts herself and her surviving companions: Bishop, Newt and Hicks into hypersleep……

….only to wake up in Aliens 3 (1992), on a prison planet – Newt dead, Hicks dead, Bishop irredeemably damaged and Ripley “impregnated” with an alien.

 

Don’t think all the refund money in the world from this airline is going to make up for that one. But maybe – just MAYBE, if someone had been AWAKE, this might not have happened.

1988's Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Neutral Zone” – examined the moral implications of reviving three terminally ill people, put into cryogenic sleep (just a chillier version of hypersleep), at the point of death shot into space and….lost. They are picked up by the Enterprise 400 years later, and easily cured by the intrepid Dr Crusher, just as Picard and company are heading for the Romulan border, only to discover the first hint of Borg Invasion – not an auspicious point in time to wake up. Out of time and place by four centuries these three understandably have a lot of trouble coping and all of them consider they might have been better off staying home.

In Forever Young (1992), Mel Gibson's character is a volunteer put in cryogenic sleep only to be —– forgotten!!! He then wakes up to find that his body, while initially young, rapidly catches up to his real age.

Then there’s Demolition Man (1993) – a Sylvester Stallone vehicle wherein he plays police office, John Spartan, unjustly condemned for the death of hostages and put into cyrogenic sleep (remember, chilly version of hypersleep) along with the criminal who held the hostages. The bad guy breaks out of the hypersleep – once again proving how unreliable it is – and Stallone is awoken to catch him since he is deemed best suited to capturing his old nemesis. Havoc ensues.

 

2002 saw Tom Cruise's character, John Anderton, in Minority Report also put in a hypersleep prison for a crime he didn't commit, conveniently buried alive by the corporation which wants to hide their failures.

Pandorum (2009) is a treat for hypersleepers. Hypersleep pods allow a group of colonists to: stay marooned underwater for 800 years, develop psychotic deleriums, be woken one at a time by a maniac to be tortured to insanity, and become a tribe of mutant cannibals …shall I continue? If ever there was an argument against hypersleep pods, Pandorum is it.

Let’s not leave out Interstellar (2014). Their hypersleep pods makes it possible to: miss years of your child’s life and for an abandoned crew member (Matt Damon) of a doomed mission to go quietly insane waiting for a rescue he never expected so that, when finally found, he attempts to murder everyone else on the arriving ship Endurance.

Passengers (2016) put thousands of people into hypersleep for a ride of over a century. No possibility of help and, sure enough, something goes wrong. The ship rides through a meteor storm, one of the hypersleep pods prematurely opens and Chris Pratt’s character, Jim Preston, is left alone on a remote controlled ship to spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement with an android bartender in a necropolis of the living. That may sound like an oxymoron, but for all intents and purposes, though alive, the people in hypersleep are dead to him and he to them. In addition, when he tries to re-enter the hypersleep pods, it not only fails to put him back to sleep it but also locks and doesn’t “want” to let him out. Nice – won’t put him to sleep but doesn’t want to let him go either. Fortunately he did manage to muscle his way clear but no one had thought to put in an emergency release!!?? I mean military pilots have ejection seats, airplanes have emergency doors, elevators have holes in the ceiling but hypersleep pods are like time locked safety deposit box safes?! So Jim is safely left to slowly…..

go……..

insane……….

 

But Pratt’s character was lucky. Another hypersleep pod malfunctions, wakes Lawrence Fishburne's character to a day’s worth of mortally painful system failures and then death. Not to be outdone by just stranding this crew member decades ahead of time, the hypersleep pod had to be sure all his organs necrotized and shut down. As though, not content with tormenting Preston it wants to proactively KILL one of its charges.

Now in 2017 comes Alien: Covenant. During the course of this movie a bunch of the hypersleep pods fail due to a simple electrical surge. The Captain is burned alive in his pod, 47 colonists die in ways so horrible they apparently don’t want to explain how even in an Alien movie and, consistent with Passengers, there is no emergency escape release. At the end of the movie, Danny is one of the last two human survivors. Danny emerges victorious from multiple horrific encounters with aliens and betrayal by David, an evil android who looks like Walter, their good android. Danny is locked into a hypersleep pod by ….David, the wrong android. But she doesn’t figure out the deception until it is too late. Again – no emergency release, so she is just SOL – simply out of luck, and forced to drift to sleep knowing she and all the colonists will be used as alien hosts by David.

SO! —– to sum up: Once you are in a hypersleep pod, you are at the mercy of: an incompetent or homicidal computer, a psycho android, space "storms" poorly prepared for, or just plain old bad luck. Just wanted to be sure I had that right. 

OK I now think that perhaps the use of hypersleep isn’t just a death sentence, the victims are the result of some kind of malevolence. I do believe that hypersleep pods are downright evil. So the next time I have to travel light years away, rather than lock myself into one of those claustrophobic, fire trap nightmare, unreliable prisons with no emergency release and a bad sense of timing …. I think I’ll take the stairs.

 

ALIEN: COVENANT – A PLETHORA OF PLOT HOLES

In 1979 I was in college and dating my now husband of 35 years.  We saw Alien at the movie theater and it made my unflappable husband yelp and startle out of his chair (first and last time I ever saw him do that) and terrified me to the point that in one still memorable scene involving a wet storage facility, a cat and dripping water I thought – “This is no longer fun, I am in pain I am so stark staring terrified.” Alien was, at that point, simply the scariest movie I had ever seen. Though I have been known to watch movies I liked, even Jaws, 4 or 5 times, it took me the full 17 years until the first sequel before I would even consider watching this gut clenching film again. (Note: Of course, my far more jaded kids saw it and went “Meh, I’ve seen scarier.” Repressing the urge to disinherit them, I realized I had hyped it so much and explained scenes to the extent that they were quite prepped for it – so that was not a fair evaluation.) I have seen every Alien movie since (aside from the Predator cross-breeds), including the iconically awful why-are-you-running-in-front-of-the-spaceship-that-is-about-to-squish-you Prometheus. Whenever Cinema Sins does a review and someone does an Indiana Jones fleeing the boulder run Jeremy, the narrator, always quips that they must have gone to the "Prometheus School of Running Away from Things". While Alien: Covenant is not as bad as Prometheus, it is no where near as good as the best of the franchise, Aliens, nor as roller coaster terrifying as the founder movie, Alien (though to be fair, over the last 38 years WE, like my kids, have all been prepped on these stories to the point that a lot of the raw suspense has been removed, replaced with its creepy cousin anticipatory suspense).

SPOILERS!!!

The premise to Covenant is that the titular colony ship on a 7 year trip with 2,000 passengers and over a thousand embryos is hit with an energy neutrino surge which overloads their systems, killing 47 passengers and burning their captain  (James Franco in what has to be the shortest, most unnoticed cameo in the history of scary movies. Stan Lee gets more screen time in the Marvel movies) to death in his hypersleep chamber (see my article on the evils of hypersleep pods).  Without their proper commander, the leadership of the vessel falls under the questionable control of a self-doubting, vacillating and weak but well meaning First Officer who unwisely agrees to take a detour from their assigned path to investigate —- a John Denver song. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but this is what happens. The song is being inadvertently transmitted, (or perhaps is part of a trap – we are never made clear on this point), by David, android and sole remaining survivor of the goofy crew Prometheus, who hijacked an alien spaceship and landed on the alien creators’ home world. David looks like the Covenant's android Walter. David and Walter are played by the reprising Michael Fassbender who seems to be condemned to star in the least worthy installments of some amazing franchises, like X-Men and now Aliens. (Although he was also in X-Men: Days of Future Past which WAS a good movie.) 

 

I want to make a side note and mention that Fassbender does a good acting job here. He convincingly portrays David and Walter as two distinct characters with opposing motivations and personalities. Not a mean trick given both are androids with supposedly muted emotions. But Fassbender does a good job of making one clearly different from the other – one an easily recognizable good guy and the other a slick manipulative camoflaged bad guy

The homeworld of the alien creators is now a barren wasteland with no fauna of any kind but flora which includes a questionable, fungal looking and black pod.  But our intrepid heroes continue to speculate about where they should put their summer homes on this bizarre choice to call home.

This is where things get REALLY dumb. Let me list just a few questions I have:

1. The crew, without testing for parasites, bacteria or anticipating the unexpected, opens the hatch without hazmat, protective gear or even a helmet. Haven’t they ever even HEARD of War of the Worlds? In this case we are the Martians as it turns out.

2. When on an uncharted mysterious planet, where there are no animals or even insects, is it wise to stick your face near a cluster of black bulbs which could either be fungus or poop?

3. When a crewman is inexplicably smitten with a sudden and debilitating illness, starts throwing up black blood and seizing, is it the most sensible course of action to bring them RIGHT into the transport ship?

4. When a crewman is locked in a room with an obviously dangerous creature that just blew its way out of another crew member, should you: let the other crewman out? Or run away to find a weapon with which you are unfamiliar while the creature EATS your fellow crewman? And contagion isn’t an issue because the rupturing crewman just sprayed blood all over you and you end up barging into the med chamber with your weapon anyway.

5. When shooting at an alien creature should you fire wildly in the direction of the rest of the ordnance?

6. What is THAT much ordnance doing on a transport ship which was originally onboard a colony ship? And why would you bring it ALL with you on an away mission? And why, when going to all the trouble to BRING this much firepower, would you then leave it behind in the transport ship instead of taking it with you to do the walkabout?

And that’s just one scene.

Not even the prologues they have released, one about the crossing made by David and Elizabeth from the Prometheus movie and the other about the last meal the crew has together before the ill fated entry into the hypersleep pods, really brings any light or aid to mending this swiss cheese script.

I skipped over the part about the captain burning to death. (And, BTW, how they got James Franco to play this barely-seen captain is more of a mystery than why they released this movie with all these plot holes in the first place.) During this particularly gruesome and pointless death scene the poor wretch is trying to get out from the inside and his crewmen are trying to get him out from the outside. Neither is successful and he burns to death in the pod. My simple question is: WHY wasn’t there an emergency release hatch? Inside? Outside? No? So we just lock them in like they were the Hope diamond and content ourselves with the belief there will never be an emergency during which they might need to escape? Such as the hypersleep pod catching FIRE!? OK Just thought I’d ask.

This is all not to say that Covenant isn’t a scary piece of work. It is. But the problem is two fold.

First, the plot has so many ridiculous holes that you should be able to read the script right through it even in the bad lighting and foggy mood mist in which they filmed the entire planet-side portion of the movie.

Secondly, and I’ve complained abut this before in movies…there is no humor. This is a flaw it shares with the original Alien, also directed by Ridley Scott.  The original Alien was so tense that after a while your adrenal glands just shut down. There was no let up from one incredibly tense moment to the next. And Ridley Scott makes the same mistake here. One of the things that makes Aliens (plural) a far better film is that the suspense is relieved with legitimate bits of lightness. It doesn’t take much in a horror film. In Aliens, directed by James (Titanic) Cameron, after their rescue ship crashes, one of the soldier wails “What’ll we do now?” Paul Reiser (an actual comedian in real life) quips, “I don’t know, let’s make a campfire and sing songs.” You chuckle in surprise, the tension is released and you are now prepared to get the pants scared off you again in about another 5 minutes.

Without this emotional hill and valley your audience will just continue to rocket ship up and up the tension ladder until eventually, without oxygen it will burn out. By the end of the movie the scares just aren’t that scary any more. I’m sorry, but Cameron should have directed this venture. Scott makes the same mistakes in Covenant as he did in the original Alien, has not really brought us anything new and so Covenant just feels like a rehash of the same stuff. Only we, as an audience have had 38 years to ready ourselves for the adventure. It is still a thrill ride, but I really wish they had given more thought to the premise and plot.

The McGuffins are plentiful and too too obvious. And characters do things that are unbelievably stupid. In one case a young woman crewman goes off, on this extremely hostile and unknown planet, where she has just seen one of her fellow crewman ERUPT with a creature which turns around and rips into another crewman, to BATHE?! By herself!? Of course, one of the aliens gets her. Duh!

Going to investigate the first office/captain goes with their host, David, an increasingly untrustworthy android who looks like their good android, Walter, but who they have no reason to trust and a lot of reasons to question. David tries to protect the alien who ate the crewman from the captain. The captain kills the alien anyway. David objects. Now you’d think this would put the captain on guard as to where David’s allegiances lie, right? But no. The captain continues on BY HIMSELF with David, doesn’t even radio in as to where he’s going or with whom, down into a dungeon-like area where there are alien pods and is easily convinced to LOOK INSIDE ONE!!! In all the Alien movies, this is the first time I have ever thought – “OK, buddy you are about to get what you deserve.” What he did was so dumb I figured David was doing the rest of the crew a favor by getting rid of this bozo.

The kids in Nightmare on Elm Street make fewer boneheaded choices than this colony ship crew who are supposed to be trained to know better. I could go on with other inadvisable decisions made by various members of the good ship Covenant crew but I think you get the picture.

For some never adequately explained  reason, but shown in flashback, David, upon arriving at the alien creator homeworld on which they now stand, unleashes cannisters of black goo from the hijacked ship to convert all animal life, including the alien creators, into variations of aliens. Further this conversion takes place with the instantaneous and explosive eruption of baking soda mixing with vinegar or sodium with water. This explosive and instantaneous conversion reaction is never seen again.

Covenant is about as scary as a haunted house but makes about as much logical sense as Gracie Allen. People do monumentally irrational things to further the plot and I suspect both Cinema Sins and How it Should Have Ended will have a field day with this one. The intent was to tie in the end of Prometheus with another step towards the beginning of the origin story, Alien. It does that adequately, I guess, but there was just no NEED for the plot to be this poor.

Perhaps, as Alfred Hitchcock once so memorably said of the Academy’s delay in giving him an Oscar, it was “a matter of carelessness.” Meanwhile, please give James Cameron back the directorial reins.<—-FROM ALIENS, A FAR FAR BETTER MOVIE

WARNINGS: Aside from the obvious, extreme and ubioquitous violence, there are also nude scenes – though with married couples, and a LOT of gratuitously used "F" bombs.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 – STRANGEST HOMESCHOOLING FAMILY… EVER

Every homeschooling family is unique. Some raise farm animals. Some attend symphony concerts. Some are heavily into sports. And one —– saves the galaxy. And most important to the homeschool family is — the father. I’ve said this before in other blogs, but I am happy to have the opportunity to say it again: A father (or father figure) in a family is irreplaceable and essential to a child’s development unless you want that child SERIOUSLY screwed up. No movie of recent history exemplifies this point more than the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy installment. I get that some families must persevere without a father – BUT given the vital role a father has in the home it is imperative that fatherless homes finds a wholesome father figure role model – brother, grandfather, priest, friend. Someone who can be turned to for counsel and, when needs be, protection.

While Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is one of the most entertaining movies I have seen in a long time, there are serious underlying themes.

Please understand that the analysis below of the rather sobering themes explored in Guardians is not meant to imply that this is not a fun, funny, uplifting romp of a movie. I know the expression "feel good film" is more overused than "blockbuster" but you really WILL feel good when you come out. The movie is comedic, warm, and friendly, though a BIT too mature for the under 13 crowd. The violence is extensive but cartoonish and richly deserved by the recipients. No one takes themselves too seriously and tongue is planted firmly in cheek. I mean, how can you miss it when one of the characters is named EGO.

BEYOND HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!! FOR BOTH GUARDIANS!!!

I hate giving spoilers, so if you haven’t seen either of the Guardians movies wait to read this blog. But in order to do justice to the analysis of Guardians I have to get into spoiler-detail territory. If you continue – well, you’ve been warned. In addition, some of my comments rely on some short hand which only those who have seen the films will fully get.

On the homeschooling issue – it would have been easy to justify placing Baby Groot (YES! Still voiced by Vin Diesel) in some kind of protective custody environment. The hazards routinely taken by Baby Groot's family of risk taking super hero parent/sibling models would have given the willies to the Flying Wallendas. Instead they work together to provide for the needs of Baby Groot, to nurture, protect and teach him all the while carrying on with killing scary critters and taking on fleets of homicidal bad guys. No one will watch your child the way you do. Your child is safer with you in a hazardous situation than they are with paid strangers in a "safe" environment.

And integral to the successful homeschooling home, ideally, is the father.

The importance of a good father in the healthy upbringing of a child is featured in this Guardians sequel both for daughters as well as sons. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is "kidnapped" (and I’ll explain the quotes shortly) by Yondu (Michael Rooker) instead of returned to Peter’s appropriately named father, Ego, as Yondu had been paid to do. And so Peter was raised without his biological father. Ego, (Kurt Russell) presents himself to Peter, first, as a loving father, happily and finally reunited with the son he was denied by Yondu. In fact Ego has deliberately "seeded" himself both physically into the various planets he has visited as well as bred with many species across the galaxy in order to come up with the perfect child with which he can eliminate all life forms other than himself. He justifies this because he, himself, as far as he could tell, just "popped" into existence and has been traveling around, aimlessly, for millions of years – much like V-Ger in the first Star Trek movie, gaining a lot of knowledge but, it seems, very little wisdom. And with almost limitless power but without the guidance of a good father, Ego has become the embodiment of his name.

After thousands, or perhaps even millions, of attempts, Peter is Ego’s first progeny who is able to share Ego’s abilities. The others were killed in the trial process or murdered and discarded – we are never made clear on this creepy point. And – to make Ego even more evil – in order to stay true to his own perverted course, to sever all ties to anything which might distract him, he murders Peter’s mother by deliberately placing the tumor in her brain that kills her.

So – this heartless, selfish, sensualist alien playboys himself around the universe, wooing women in order to bed them, impregnating them, then abandons them and abuses the children. If this sounds more familiar than it should it’s because it is the repetitious refrain of almost every domestic abuse scenario in pretty much every single daily paper we read. While the story in Guardians is glamored up with a lot of extremely fun sci fi, that is exactly what happens. Boyfriend (not husband, mind you), impregnates a woman then returns, if at all, only to abuse the child and batter then kill the mother. While Ego doesn’t beat Peter’s mother, I would say that infesting her with a brain tumor definitely qualifies as battery.

It is interesting that the character of Ego is played by Kurt Russell, an actor who made his name as a child actor portraying family friendly, father supported characters. In all his cinematic years he seems to know how to demonstrate the need for a good father by showing us one with no fatherly attributes.   

Ironically Ego is seeking "meaning" to his life. And cleverly, Peter expresses the thought about Gamora and Yondu that: "Sometimes the thing you want most is right next to you all the time." The meaning Ego seeks he had found in Quill’s mother and the children he had bred. But he rejected all of them to serve is own enormous —– Ego.

Meanwhile, the sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who also plays Uhura in the Star Trek reboot) and Nebula (Karen Gillian, unrecognizable under all the cybernetics from her stint as Amy Pond in the Matt Smith incarnation of Dr. Who Duke it out both physically and verbally until it is revealed that Nebula’s cyborg implants are the result of her losses to Gamora in fights when they were children. Every time she was defeated by Gamora in the combats set up by their father, Thanos, he would perform grisly replacement surgeries on her – arm, spine, eye – purportedly to make her stronger. Once again, the warped relationship with the father mangles these women physically and emotionally, pitting them against each other in a twisted desire to glorify himself under the guise of "strengthening" them.

Once again, it all comes down to the father.

And if this weren’t enough, both Yondu and Rocket admit to each other that they were betrayed by THEIR "father figures" – Yondu by his parents who sold him into slavery and Rocket by those who created him only to torture him with genetic engineering. Rocket is another example, like Gamora and Nebula, of parent figures who try to warp their "child" into images of themselves. Yondu is another example of the abandoned child.

In the course of the film it is explained that Yondu did not kidnap Peter but, like a reformed abortionist, could no longer stomach what was happening to the children he was delivering to Ego and decided to take Peter as his own, hide him from Ego and raise him the best way he knew how. Being a pirate that fathering took some unusual turns but it is made clearly evident that Peter was, indeed, the recipient of some solid mentoring and fathering, given the hero he becomes.

As another counter to Ego’s bad father example, Dax nostalgically grieves for the daughter he has lost. And then there is Groot – who steals EVERY-SINGLE-SCENE he is in. Every member of the crew functions in a parental or sibling way. Peter tells him to put on his seat belt before going into combat, Gamora cautions him to get out of the way during a firefight then humors him with a smile and wave. Dax and Rocket carry him on their shoulders, Rocket offers everything he has to the pirates who kidnap them just to ensure Groot’s survival, yet in other scenes Rocket listens carefully while Groot explains the origin of his discomfort with people who wear hats – all during a prison break, then later Rocket warns Groot that they will have to work on Groot’s tendency to use bad language (which we, of course, never hear because all he says are inflected variations of "I am Groot"). Groot’s healthy nurturing is underlined again in one of the post-credit scenes where Peter confronts a surly now-teenaged Groot sulking in his room with a computer game and Peter quips: "Now I know how Yondu felt," acknowledging both his recognition of Yondu as his real father and the frustration of every parent at some point in the relationship between parent and adolescent child. These guys all demonstrate the importance of "being there" at the opportune moments in a child’s life when they need to be heard or chastized or sheltered or comforted or just held. And these moments are lost when a child is institutionally schooled.

This is the most eccentric homeschooling family since Gomez and Morticia decided that Wednesday and Pugsly weren’t getting the background important to the Aadams’ family traditions. But Groot — well —- blossoms (pun intended) beautifully under the care of the Guardians.

So, basically, what we have with Guardians is a super entertaining action adventure sci fi covering up a yin and yan of parenting and showing an unusual but thriving homeschool family. On the one hand you have the archetypal examples of bad father figures, represented by Ego and Thanos, who use their children instead of love them. On the other you have good parenting of the Guardians, who, ironically, represent almost every example of victims of bad parenting: abandoned, orphaned, abused, neglected, and used as extensions of their parents’ "Egos", each of our crew has issues but rise above them to do their best to parent — Groot.

Yondu does his best to be a father substitute to Peter and makes the ultimate parental sacrifice of his life. Dax was brutally stripped of his children but becomes a protector to the other Guardians. All the abused children, from Yondu to Rocket, step up to do a better job with Groot, the child with which Fate has entrusted them. And we know Groot is in good hands because of the way they interact with him. One example of this bond is that the crew, despite the fact all Groot ever says is "I am Groot," understands exactly, often in complex detail, what Groot is saying.

And this is what makes Guardians more than just another fun but forgettable adventure flick. The Guardians of the Galaxy are wonderful examples of how we can each do our own part to save the galaxy – one child at a time.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE AND KING ARTHUR BRED “MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL” WHICH MUTATED INTO SPAMALOT WHICH IS PLAYING AT ACTS THEATER IN LAKE CHARLES

I met with Clay Hebert, director of Spamalot, a hilarious play being produced for the first time in Lake Charles to run for two weekends from May 5 – 14 at ACTS theater. It is also the closer of ACTS 50th anniversary season.

<==================PLEASE ORDER TICKETS HERE!! DON'T MAKE US SEND THE KNIGHTS WHO SAY "NI" AFTER YOU!!!

For those of you over 35 or who are British comedy afficianados, most are lucky enough to be familiar with Monty Python – a troupe of British comedians spawning the likes of Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, the late Graham Chapman,  Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and John Cleese.

These men have been instrumental in (some might say to blame for) everything from A Fish Called Wanda, Fawlty Towers, Time Bandits, and The Secret Policemen's (Other) Ball to Great Railway Journeys of the World and Sahara with Michael Palin, as well as John Cleese's ecclectic turns as: one of the incarnations of Q, the eccentric James Bond inventor, a serious turn in Branagh’s  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as the ill fated Professor Waldman, and Nearly Headless Nick from the Harry Potter franchise  – quite literally the sublime to the ridiculous (and I will leave you to figure out which is which), AND (drum roll) Monty Python and the Holy Grail – of which Spamalot is the musical manifestation.

For anyone under 35 or who is NOT familiar with British comedy you are in for an extraordinary surprise treat. I asked Clay how he would describe this play and he suggested: “SNL Meets King Arthur”, and as a "happy go-lucky feel good laugh fest". “The cast are having so much fun it is contagious” – much the feeling one would get when watching the original British crew doing anything Python-esque.

Clay said this is his first time directing, aside from a few 15 minute student productions. The cast is a substantial 20 (10 guys and 10 women). The original script called for some actors to carry 7 characters. But Clay thought it made more sense to break those up. He also chose, as was his directorial prerogative, to re-cast some of the male characters as female. He is not, he explicitly explains, gender switching, but is making it obvious that the characters, who were written as male, have been re-cast as female. The Knight of Ni and Black Knight, for example are both being played, as female characters, by Kathy Heath. Patsy is Kelly Roland. So any of you purists out there just be warned to not complain or you will be chopped down with a HERRING! Or subjected to a killer rabbit. These threats will, of course, make sense once you’ve seen the play.

In addition the Voice of God and Tim the Enchanter are played by Payton Smith, Bob Goodson plays Sir Robin (who runs away a lot – Robin, not Goodson), Corey Tarver is Galahad, King Arthur is Mark Herbert, Lancelot is Aaron Webster and Taylor Novak-Tyler plays Bedevere. In an extraordinary bit of bravery on the part of Clay he is also directing Markie, his wife and mother of his three children. Markie plays The Lady of the Lake. I asked him what it was like to direct his spouse and he quipped: “She understands I am the boss in the theater…..and she is the boss everywhere else.”

A cautionary note is warranted – Clay would consider this a PG-13 outing. With small children of his own he recognizes the need for discretion, although there is no explicit or blatantly “adult” material. A lifetime Python fan myself I would explain that it deserves the warnings one might reserve for a harmlessly intended mischievous romp written by brilliant comedians with the minds of just pubescent teenaged boys and a taste for puerile scatalogical humor. In short – hysterically funny.

 

THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS – MUCH MORE THAN IT APPEARS TO BE

I admit I was not a big fan of The Fast and Furious movie franchise. But just for a lark my husband and I went as a date to this latest installment and I was pleasantly surprised … then later startled.

LOTS of SPOILERS – I MEAN, REALLY, IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT AND DON’T WANT TO RUIN ANY SURPRISES THEN WAIT TO READ THIS BLOG UNTIL AFTER YOU’VE SEEN THE MOVIE:

This outing – number EIGHT! – is best described as Bond meets Smokey and the Bandit. We have Cipher, a megalomaniac played by Charlize Theron, who, one cat short of a super villain, wants to get a hold of some nukes and their codes so she can keep the rest of the world under her manicured thumb. We have wise cracking questionable good guys, preposterous set ups for car chases involving dozens, if not hundreds of vehicles, a submarine, a Lamborghini, a tank, explosions, cars under the auto control of Cipher who guides them into a lethal high speed battering ram elegantly assembled like a troupe of ballerinas, a spy plane, black Ops, and Dwayne Johnson ripping out a concrete bench just to do curls. Part of the genuine charm of these movies is that they wisely do not take themselves too seriously.

In what is SUPPOSED to be the plot, Theron, as Cipher, extorts co-operation from Dom (Vin Diesel) by kidnaping his ex-girlfriend, Elena, who has, unbeknowst to Dom, borne him a son. Theron threatens mother and child so Dom, during a mission for American Black Ops spy, played gleefully by Kurt Russell,

turns on his crew to steal an EMP. Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham make up the other leaders of the good guys who are frantically trying to catch up with and figure out why Dom has turned on them. Luke Evans makes a fun cameo which, if you blink you might miss – so don’t blink. And how can you NOT like a movie which includes DAME Helen Mirren as Statham’s MOTHER and some snarky dialogue between them.

Mirren's parts of the movie are worth the price of admission alone. This is the only F&F movie she had appeared in and she makes the most of enjoying the heck out of it. (Apparently she is a fan of the franchise and stated that she would be willing to be in a sequel, so they took her up on it!)

And oh yeah – Statham gets to kick some SERIOUS booty while protecting a BABY AND the crew get chased by a SUBMARINE!!!

Turn your brain off and it is a LOT of fun.

(As a side note, Mirren’s role here reminds me of another, albeit much darker, similar one she played with Bob Hoskins way back in the previous millenium, in 1980's The Long Good Friday – as Hoskins’ gangster moll/wife in a British Godfather-ish movie which, despite the extreme violence and language is a brilliant movie.)

Now to the startling epiphany. Summed up in a line by Cipher, I realized – intentionally or not – the F&F group had made a much deeper, more philosophical point than first meets the eye

In one scene Dom meets with Elena and sees his son for the first time. Dom is separated from them by a thick glass wall. Elena tells Dom to save their son at all costs – and later does give her life for her baby. After Cipher has butchered Elena in cold blood she tells Dom that his pain of loss for Elena and fear for his child are not real and he should ignore them as she has. That it is merely a genetic hold-over which evolved as a necessary response in order to protect the continuation of the human species – a survival instinct so that one would keep track of one’s progeny when by a watering hole so that the crocodiles would not eat them. She then blankly states the line that startled me: “I am the crocodile at the watering hole.” I realized that this moment was the crux of the REAL plot of the movie.

There was no furthering of the titular story with this scene and it could easily have been cut. But it is the pivotal expository moment of the true theme.

The crocodile was worshiped by the Egyptians at the time when they were putting the Israelite children to the sword and throwing them into the Nile to be eaten by crocodiles. Cipher, who calls herself a crocodile,  wants to nuke a few cities to make the Superpowers “accountable”. She has no belief in family, is willing to casually commit the mass murder of millions, and has no problem with slaughtering an infant with her own hands. Can anyone say: Population control, planned parenthood and…evolution.

Strict atheist evolutionists, even ones who claim to be benign, have no place to stand on moral ground. If there is no God and there is no real bond between humans except as that “artificially” manufactured by our gene pool in order to perpetuate its own survival, then the murder of an infant, or of anyone, can rationally be justified. Cipher murders a bound helpless mother, threatens an infant and casually constructs situations in which hundreds of bystanders are put in harm's way, all to gain the ability to incinerate millions based upon her own rules – she wants to make herself a god with the power of life and death over everyone else, unaccountable, herself, to no one.

On the other hand you have Dom who quite simply will do anything to protect this innocent infant, his son. Elena also willingly places her son’s life ahead of everything, including her own life. And at one crucial point Dom leaves an object hanging from their prison wall which will prove to be the Cipher/Devil’s downfall – Dom’s cross.

Now it turns out to have a transponder in it which allows the good guys to find the plane. But that’s just part of the plot McGuffin. He could have used anything for this but the chosen image was the symbol of Christianity. Other Christian acts are central to the defeat of the antagonist: During the course of the resolution, a rehabilitated bad guy is “resurrected”, like the Widow's Son,  from the dead by the good guys, and reunited with both his mother and brother to sneak aboard the plane and rescue the baby. He places his life and the differences he has with Dom aside to literally put himself between the innocent child and death.

That entire scene is really adorable BTW – Statham places headphones with children’s music playing on the baby’s ears, then proceeds to parkour his way, in classic action adventure style, around a plane full of bad guys, taking out henchmen, deflecting bullets from Dom’s infant son with his own Kevlar protected body, periodically checking to be sure the baby is content and his diaper is clean. And up to now I thought Wolverine was the best babysitter ever!!

And at the end of the movie, Dom, finally united with his son, holds him up and says, “So all this was about you.” And he’s right, because it is.

So, whether they meant to or not, you have clearly established Christian symbols on one side: the Cross, reformed bad guys, multiple family ties, and self-sacrifice for the sake of an innocent child. On the other you have pure evil: someone who cold bloodedly cares not for life at all – who cherishes only death, even her own as she faces down a gun barrel. She looks for reasons and excuses to rationalize and find opportunities to rain down death on others: nukes, car crashes, dropping cars onto bystanders from car garages, heat seeking missiles, execution-style murders, all the while using infant-murdering Darwinian evolution rationalizations as an excuse to avoid her own culpability or even feel guilt.

The good guys’ philosophy is one of family and children and Christianity. The bad guys are on the side of secular atheist life-dismissive evolution. And here you have the core and soul of the movie. Cipher represents the Devil, the temptress trying to lure Dom into evil, and merciless ruthless evolution. Dom stands against her, representing family, protection of the innocent, and Christianity, with the Cross as his LIFE preserver.

Regardless of what you believe, and I happen to believe that evolution would have only been possible with the Hand of God, this is how the plot pans out. And kudos to Chris Morgan and Gary Scott Thompson for penning this stylish and clever spoonful of sugar mad dash action adventure to explore a profound philosophical dispute, painfully relevant to the demographic audience they are targeting, behind the guise of the wildest Fast and Furious ride ever.

 

There is a bit of enthusiastic hanky panky but with a married couple and there is some (I thought) gratuitous bad language. The violence is mostly cartoonish but way too much for anyone under, say, 13. As per my usual caution – if you have any doubts, you parents go see it FIRST, before allowing your kids to see it.