Outside of Bible stories and abridged introductions to Shakespeare for kids, I have never been a big fan of the graphic novel. So when I heard that Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets was based ON a graphic novel, I was not impressed.
Valerian is the most expensive indie movie in history (to date). Weighing in at $180 million, the mind boggles when considering that past indie sci fi films like John Sayle’s 1984 cult hit Brother from Another Planet cost $350,000, or that 1985's This Quiet Earth rang in at $1,000,000. Even in 2017 dollars those amounts would, respectively be “only” $824,000 and $2.4 million. And raise hands if you knew George Lucas made the indie sci fi cult classic THX 1138 with Robert Duvall? At $777,000 even today’s money would “only” be a $1.8 million outlay. So indie sci fi, while holding an honored place in film history, has not usually been the beneficiary of a generous budget.
In Valerian, every penny of their massive budget shows up on screen. It is visually spectacular and extremely well written. For example, most sci fis are heavily dependent on overt exposition – from Star Wars background history scrawls to Morgan Freeman’s warning that a bad Mars is about to rise to Linda Hamilton’s description of doom to come in the Terminator movies. And while Valerian is also guilty of this affectation, there is a brilliant sequence which creatively SHOWS how this Alpha City of a Thousand Planets evolved over hundreds of years with a series of simple greeting vignettes but without using a single word of dialogue. 
I really recommend this movie and want you to see it so will try hard to NOT GIVE ANY SPOILERS!
Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, author and illustrator of this 43 year old comic book series have molded this intricately woven community of worlds in 21 collected volumes plus short stories and an encyclopedia, so it’s not surprising there is a wealth of information for the screenwriter and lifelong fan of the comic book, Luc Beeson, to pull from. But never does Beeson of Lucy, Fifth Element and Taken fame lean on cliche. The young leads Dane DeHaan (horror-sci fi Chronicle, and the super creepy Life after Beth) who plays Major Valerian and Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns and Suicide Squad) who plays his partner Sargeant Laureline are special operatives with the Mission of Defense, assigned to keep order in space. The characters are undercover detectives likely much older than they appear, given their abilities and histories. They stumble upon a mystery during a covert operation to retrieve an “item” of some importance to their superiors and find their loyalties tested, encountering secrets even they did not suspect existed but which will test their skills and their honor.
Kudos to Besson for crafting a compelling, interesting story which relies on strange interplantary involvements which would make Roddenberry jealous and never loses the humanity behind all the colorful fascinating critters. A lot of sci fis succumb to the temptation to rely on the "wow" factor and a lot of action to keep their audience's attention. And in ratcheting up the visuals they spend so much of their budget on effects they forget to spend enough time on a compelling story. Valerian, thankfully, does not suffer from this ailment. The different species are, at once different but believable, not just weird offshoots of the human community. I got as geeked out as any other Star Wars fan over the different species on Tatooine. But the parade of creatures used in Valerian shows how such diversity can really be done properly. And unlike the cantina scene (sorry Lucas) it fits into the plot with a purpose and not primarily just for the “ooh aah” effect of seeing a bunch of aliens.
There are plenty of chase scenes but always with a purpose, often done with humor as well as suspense and creativity. Besson plays with time and spatial dimensions as well as species and futuristic technology to make a world in which the characters at once make us feel comfortable and dazzled at the same time.
DeHaan and Delevingne, while not sizzling with chemistry and without much of a familiar film history, do a good job of portraying believable police partners – evoking an easy manner with each other conveying long familiarity. Clive Owens (Children of Men, Bourne Identity) is always a pleasure as their enigmatic superior officer.
I was very pleased with this sci-fi outing, which was both beautiful and thoughtfully engaging, presenting a story with a fair number of surprises and twists, but never stepping outside of the rules of their universe or blindsiding you with left field solutions or ex-machinas.
And everyone was three dimensional, even those who ultimately are found to be to blame for the problems created genuinely thought they were doing the right thing at the time for the greatest number of people. And most refreshing:  Reason, mercy, and morality, not infatuation and force, conquer all or at least guide the necessary decisions.
In the end, I WAS impressed by Valerian. So much so that I am tempted to check out the graphic novels at Kevin’s Paper Heroes – our local comic book guru emporium. And anything that makes me interested in reading a 40 year old graphic novel is pretty darned clever.
MILD CAUTIONS: As young teens are likely a major target demographic, I thought I might give a few warnings – While there are no overt sexual acts, aside from some kissing, the first scene introducing the leads shows them wrestling somewhat sensually in scantily clad bathing suits. Nothing happens, and once you’re past this the rest of the film pretty much has them in space suits and fighting bad guys. In another scene Valerian is walking through a shady part of the city where alien prostitutes speak suggestively to him but he brushes them away. And lastly Bubbles, a shape shifter, does some Fosse style sensual dancing. And there are seven mild profanities.



SHORT TAKE: An intense and powerful but still intimate experience of the historic Operation Dynamo rescue at Dunkirk of over 300,000 desperately trapped Allied soldiers by mostly civilian volunteers told from all three perspectives of land, air and sea.

LONG TAKE: We’re all the way back home and I’m sitting behind my computer but my heart is still pounding. Dunkirk is one of those films, along with the likes of Hacksaw Ridge, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List and Lone Survivor which you owe to those who endured the experience to bear witness to what they endured.

I THINK I HAVE AVOIDED ALL SPOILERS – I’m only referencing things you could see in the trailer.

Dunkirk, lest you not know, was the "Miracle" of Operation Dynamo in which one-third of a million soldiers were rescued from advancing German forces from the sandy shores of the bombed out and abandoned seaside French town of the same name. The rescue took place primarily not by a military cavalry, nor by a charismatic leader or even by the Avengers, but by….civilians in over 700 private vessels including yachts, fishing boats, personnel ships, tugboats, hospital ships, fireboats, trawlers, lifeboats, pleasure craft, a paddle steamer, the River Mersey Ferry, and other small ships, the smallest of which was only 15 feet long, several of which have been preserved in museums and a dozen of which are actually used IN the movie! These unnamed intrepid incredibly courageous crews all made their way across the channel from Ramsgate, England to either bring their boys directly home or ferry them from the beaches to the destroyers waiting offshore. Many were simply weekend sailors, fishermen and other private citizens – including older men, boys and women – who responded to the call for help. All braved death to bring their own home. The tagline is quite accurate. When 400,000 men couldn’t get home, home came for them – literally.

Directed by Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight, Interstellar and Inception), this incredible 10 week episode is told in telescoped perspective, hopping back and forth in time to accommodate the fact that the three main dovetailing stories cover different spans of time. A week in the case of the soldiers stranded on the beach, a day for the sailors who came to pluck them away from death and mere hours for the few air force able and allowed to provide air cover. As a result some events are told once and then retold from a different character’s perspective. It can be a little confusing but if you pay attention, as you should, this challenging POV is artfully and satisfyingly crafted by Nolan to tell the story with a depth you might not otherwise have been able to get.

Some background is needed to understand the scope of desperation created by the situation. 400,000 men were surrounded, hopelessly outnumbered, gunned and flanked by the Germans. German planes straffed and bombed the helpless men on the beach. America was not yet in the war. Most of the Allied air force were either otherwise committed or held back in anticipation of the Battle over Britain to come. The destroyers were held back for the same reason. But without these men, England was done for as they made up the bulk of their army.

Although placed in harm’s way by a disastrous military defeat, the fortitude and courage required by these brave people to face imminent brutal death to rescue their own was testament to the British Spirit required to win the war and inspirational world wide. And even though they were only three-quarters successful these civvie sailors managed to multiply the most optimistic predictions of the Operation Dynamo organizers by TEN TIMES! Headquarters hoped to save 30-45,000. The British citizens rescued over 330,000.

I do not believe any of the individual characters represent one individual person but each represent an amalgam of heroes. Kenneth Branagh puts his stamp on the military leadership who stayed behind to provide order to the soul destroying chaos as Commander Bolton. Tom Hardy (Inception and Dark Knights Rises) and Jack Lowden are air force Spitfire pilots who provide what protection they can against the German Stukas for the "Little Boats" and the men on the beach. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) as Mr. Dawson comes closest to portraying an individual – a thinly veiled Charles Lightoller, the second officer from the Titanic, who with his son and his friend insisted on taking his own ship across. Much is seen through the eyes of Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, a young soldier cut off from his company, terrified and stranded, risking everything but his own conscience to get home. Cillian Murphy (Inception and Dark Knight) portrays a shell shocked young officer plucked from the sea by Dawson. Michael Caine does a voice cameo you have to have a quick ear to catch and there’s a point of film trivia which gives this a bit of poetic symmetry.

Although merely referenced in Atonement, the classic Mrs. Miniver, Their Finest (Hour and a Half), and The Snow Goose – the latter a very old Hallmark Show starring Richard Harris and based on a short story by Paul Gallico (Poseidon Adventure), the story of Dunkirk was only filmed once before. Appropriately enough it was called — Dunkirk. Made in 1958 it follows, on the Dunkirk end, much like Desperate Journey, a small group of soldiers led by John (Swiss Family Robinson) Mill’s character Tubby, who trek from a mission to blow up a bridge to the shores of Dunkirk. On the British end we root for two weekend civilian pleasure sailors portrayed by Bernard Lee and a very young THE Sir Lord Richard Attenborough (acted in Jurassic Park, Doctor Doolittle, Sand Pebbles, the Great Escape, and Branagh’s Hamlet, directed Chaplin, Magic, Gandhi, A Chorus Line, and Shadowlands, and a life long friend of the previously mentioned John Mills). The 2017 Dunkirk cast includes none other than Sir Attenborough’s grandson, Will.

If I have only one gripe, it is that Nolan's personal take blunts the vastness of the Herculean effort that was required. At no time did I really get the sense of almost half a million men stranded on the beach or the hundreds and HUNDREDS of ships which answered the call to aid. What Nolan has done is show a portion of it from the point of view of a few people. A few shots show a LOT of people but does not really convey the scope of almost a half million men trapped on a beach. I can't help thinking that even one aerial shots of beaches showing the enormity of the task and the sheer number of boats who came to their aid might have hit the right "awe-ness" aspect this event deserves, much like the railroad scene in Gone With the Wind where Scarlett walks through the sea of wounded.

But that's enough of the quibbles. I have only mentioned the highlights of the movie’s virtues. There is much more to credit it in the visuals, the storytelling, and the performances.

This film is a hour and 45 minutes of unrelenting tension but goes by like a snap of the fingers as you are drawn into these historic events through these characters’ experiences. As one of the characters alludes – if they have done nothing else in their life but this they will have contributed much.

I’m as big a fan of comic book heroes as the next geek, but every generation should have real heroes to look up to like these men and women who risked their lives to pluck their own from the gates of Hell and bring them home. And Nolan does a beautiful job of giving homage to them all.



SHORT TAKE: Beautifully shot with masterful technicals, I just wish they had spent as much time and effort on an original script.
LONG TAKE: Eragon was a bad book and a terrible movie. It was the definition of derivative. It stole from pretty much every fantasy and sci fi story from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars – and they stuck poor Jeremy Irons right in the middle of it then killed him. I didn't think I would ever see a movie as derivative outside of an outright parody — and then along came War for the Planet of the Apes.
MY CREDENTIALS: I have seen every Planet of the Apes movie there is – some multiple times. No kidding. Many of the originals I saw in the movie theater, (circa 1968-1973) which gives you an idea of how long I’ve been following this story. I read the book by Pierre Boulet too. The first 5 (yes —- FIVE) were innovative and creative for their time. Certainly some of it was cheesy, the costumes limiting and it was pretty clear they were filming in Arizona and California. But come on! They had Charlton Heston who has played Moses, Ben Hur and the Voice of God – not to mention delivering two of the most iconic lines in cinematic history, both from the very first Planet of the Apes movie – “Take your stinking paws off me you d*** dirty ape!” and
“You maniacs! You blew it up!!!” the latter during possibly the top “gotcha” ever in any movie anywhere.
I have seen:
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
(Featuring some of the most popular prepositions: of, beneath, from and for)
AND I watched the TV shows based on the movie: Planet of the Apes and Return to the Planet of the Apes. Not to mention the terrible 2001 remake Planet of the Apes which featured Charlton Heston AS an ape, as well as the recent reboots Rise and Dawn of P of A.
The first franchise starting in 1968 was clever, inventive and worked old school without CGI. The original used heavy hot difficult to emote facial prosthetics which took HOURS to put on the actors. The newer movies have the advantage of motion capture and CGI. But somehow something was lost along the way. Spoiled with the cinematic advantages, the film makers ended up relying so heavily on what they COULD do (to paraphrase Ian Malcolm’s character from Jurassic Park) they didn’t consider what they SHOULD do. In short – visually heavy these recent installments are plot light – convoluted perhaps but shallow.
In the original, the WOW factor came from the storyline. You think you’re on an alien planet but find primitive humans. THEN you find they are subject/slaves of intelligent clothes wearing speaking apes on horseback! THEN you find you’ve never left Earth at all. Because of the limitations of the prosthetics and clothing the actors depended on their ACTING SKILLS!
I mean, kudos to Andy Sekis in the reboots. He has become the “go to” guy for screen capture – from King Bohan in the videogame Heavenly Sword to Gollum, King Kong and now Caeser. But when you have CGI and motion capture to correct or enhance that’s cheating.
I guess it’s been redone so many times that the surprise element just doesn’t exist, but then I wonder why they bothered at all if simply the visual was all the motivation they had going into the project.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a purist. My favorite Trek franchise is the Next Generation,  I prefer the Steve Martin Father of the Bride over Spencer Tracy’s, and while I recognize the flaws in it I LOVED Jurassic World. I just think you should have a really compelling REASON to remake a film, especially a classic one. And not just to show off your new technical toys.
The premise in War for P of A is that 10 years after the outbreak of the simian virus which wiped out most of mankind and raised the average IQ of apes and — somehow altered their vocal structure to allow them to speak – apes and man are fighting a war over the Earth. That somehow in all the vast emptiness that is now planet Earth these two remaining surviving groups are so intent on wiping each other out that there is no thought to just —- moving away. To India, England…Florida. No, these two survivalist groups have to duke it out in interspecies war —- right outside of San Francisco.
Homages are made to everything from Apocalypse Now to Moses to the Nazi Holocaust to Enemy Mine (a very old Dennis Quaid sci fi where a soldier is marooned on the same planet as an alien from the opposing side of a war and the human ends up adopting the alien’s child – cool movie but details are too involved to get into here) to Bridge over The River Kwai (where prisoners of war are condemned to build a useless structure by vicious captors with the cooperation of prisoners who, at the end, turn on their captors). And the mismash is dizzying and ultimately annoying.
Woody Harrelson’s character is the Colonel – an insane military officer who has gone over the edge and off the reservation, who holds an almost idolatrous worship-control over those he commands. Reminiscent much? The words “Ape-ocalypse Now” is even written on the inside wall of a tunnel.  You can't even tell the two movies apart from these photos.
If they had only gone just a BIT further they would have made a successful parody. Instead they have only succeeded in being objectionable. For example: In one scene the Colonel stands on a platform while shaving his head and “blesses” his assembled troops with the razor while the Star Spangled Banner plays against a backdrop of starving apes in a concentration camp-like prison for apes:  insulting Catholicism, besmirking patriotism, offending the military, and trivializing the Holocaust all in one blow. If the film makers were contestants in  “How many people can we offend in the shortest amount of time?” I’d vote War as the most pretenious and obnoxious based on this scene alone.
Then there are the plot holes:
The Colonel kills any human showing the most telling sign of the secondary infection – speechlessness. If you couldn’t speak you were “euthanized” by firing squad. Heaven help you, I guess, if you just have laryngitis.
Why don’t the apes just leave – YEARS ago?
They are in the middle of a pine forest. What do the apes eat? What do the horses eat? There are no grain or fruit storages shown. No gardens. No one is seen doing anything but fighting or sleeping in rocky caves.
When held prisoner why would the Colonel not give the apes anything to eat or drink if he wants them to build a wall?
The apes desperately tell Caesar they are dying without water —- while it’s raining. Smart enough to speak and ride a horse but not as smart as a turkey – which will drown looking up in a storm.
Elephant in the room – how did apes acquire the vocal structure to speak in 10 years? The original virus was to improve the brain's ability to function – the central nervous system, not the anatomy. Apes' vocal cords do not fully close, nor do they have the jaw and tongue agility to form words. Basically it would be like giving your computer a software upgrade and suddenly finding it could now percolate coffee as well.
If they were trying to dove tail this new set of reboots with the old movies then they are about 2,000 years off. The 1968 version took place in 3978 but this reboot takes place pretty much now.
BUT if they were NOT trying to knit the two franchises together,  then WHY give two of the apes names of the leaders of the orignal films: Cornelius and Caeser? In the original Cornelius was Caeser’s father. Here Caeser is Cornelius’ father. I understand it could have been a name passed from father to son but for 2,000 years?! And then how coincidental that the little girl who Caeser adopts in the reboot has the same name as the young innocent woman that Charlton Heston takes as his mate in the original. And it’s not like Cornelius, Caeser or Nova are common names. These were specifically chosen. But no explanation is given for how or why the tie-in happens. And if they are just giving superifical nods to the original films it almost feels like a cheap attenpt at trying to link with the audience of the original – like begging for a complement. And even if these three characters were the predecessors of the characters from the 1968 movie, what are the chances that THEIR descendants would feature TOGETHER in an event hundreds of years later?
Then there are the missed opportunities:
The apes come across a lone man and kills him when he tries to defend himself. They find a young girl inside who has been rendered dumb by the mutated virus. This girl, named Nova, bonds with the apes in two days so closely that when one of them is injured and killed she is grief stricken. However, right after she first meets the apes, she sees the man they have killed and her reaction is: “Meh” – another dead body. So, obviously, the dead man  isn’t her father. It would be easy to believe a scenario in which the Colonel, having had to kill his infected son, couldn’t bear the thought of killing his daughter too so left her in the care of this soldier. Otherwise what is this “deserter” doing so relatively close to the compound? At no time do the Colonel and the girl ever see each other even when she is skulking about the compound to help the other apes escape, so it would have fit the narrative. Sadly, nothing is ever done with this set of circumstances. It is never explained WHY the girl was there with this lone man she hardly recognized.
Then there is an unknown force “from the North” which opposes these brutal tactics of the Colonel and attacks at the same time Caesar’s people are escaping. At no time do you ever see any of the soldiers of this new group. Faces are covered in masks and googles and decked out in Battle of the Budge white. At a critical moment Caesar pauses on a mound in full view of this new battalion. All eyes turn to him. I would have paid $50 for one of them to have uncovered their face and shown it was an army of apes — or even better and army of humans and apes working together. The first would have helped explain the future manifestation of the plotline – that while our protagonist apes are smart – the ones in the north are even smarter. The second scanerio would have been an interesting game changer – a different timeline wherein the secondary virus was cured and ape and humans were learning to work together finally.  But no such creative luck.

Instead the army raises their guns to shoot Caeser but a well timed deus ex avalanche comes along right then and takes out the force in white. We never do get to find out who the heck they were. Shame too. Might have made for a more interesting story.
They tried really hard to make a relevant movie which would justify this re-reboot of the original. But the most I got out of it was: Let's show off our really cool graphics?!
A parody would have been brilliant. Especially since – did anyone know – the Boulet book upon which 50 years of cinematography rests was a SOCIAL SATIRE?! Intended to point out the transient nature of intelligence which, if not used, could atrophy and be lost – and then developed by another group willing to take up the mantle.
The original had a handle on the idea that there was a satirical element to it and never took itself completely seriously.
Roddy McDowell, who appeared in ALL of the original movies except Beneath, and returned as the ape Galen in the TV show of the same name, even took his time expensive and uncomfortable getup onto the Carol Burnett Show. But these latest manifestations of the Boulet book take themselves so doggone SERIOUSLY it is painful to watch. I mean these guys glower…a LOT.
Guess no one making the movie got the joke so now the joke is on them.


SHORT TAKE: The solution to the mystery behind the lyrics to the song "Ode to Billie Joe".


LONG TAKE: The lyrics from “Ode to Billie Joe” have always puzzled me and after five decades of hearing this song I finally know why. And, yes, this subject DOES belong in a movie/theater blog because the mystery behind this song was speculated upon in a movie of the same name in 1976 starring Robbie Benson – the geeky looking kid who shocked audiences when it was discovered he was the one who produced the magnificent and overpowering Disney Beast voice in the original ANIMATED  Beauty and the Beast. The movie Ode to Billie Joe was…….interesting.

Not one I’d necessarily recommend you rush out and see but not terrible. But neither is it terribly relevant to this blog so leave that for another day.

If you’ve never heard the song it is worth taking the time to listen.

50 years ago today, on July 10, 1967,  "Ode to Billie Joe" made it to the airwaves. It is a haunting, melancholy folk song by Bobby Gentry sung with only a guitar as accompaniment with a bit of violin to occasionally sweeten the background. If you want to listen, it is here.

She paints the picture of a small quiet Southern town and the family she grew up with, having breakfast one early summer morning:

It was the 3rd of June,
Another sleepy dusty Delta day…

As she goes on to describe this unnamed town, you feel it is the kind of place in which the children’s book, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, could have been set. In the children’s book a farmer goes into town, and while his wife experiences incredible adventures visited upon their doorstep, the most exciting thing that happens to him while in town is to watch a turtle cross Main Street. That kind of town.

In the Bobby Gentry song, however, a more sombre tone is set as the family shares mild  town gossip then the Mom casually mentions that:

And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

Then the father notes:

Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please.

This comment might rise to the level of casual cruelty except that her father doesn’t seem to have the slightest idea his comments have had any effect at all on anyone at the table, much less his stricken daughter. No one notices the effect this bit of tragedy has had on her. In a brilliant piece of writing, the narrator’s response is not expressed but noted in the next stanza by the mother’s laconic observation that:

… child, what's happened to your appetite?
I've been cookin' all morning, and you haven't touched a single bite

And then the family goes on to discuss more gossip including how the new preacher:

…saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

But no one ever follows up on that bit of news.

I have always had a fascination with this song. The reason for the boy’s apparent suicide is never explained. Neither is the narrator’s connection, except for her subdued but profound reaction to the news as noted obliquely by her mother.

When asked, Bobby Gentry herself said she did not know why Billie Joe MacAllister leapt to his death from the Bridge, nor even if it was a suicide. And then I read an article the other day which brought some clarity to the issue. The song is not ABOUT Billie Joe MacAlister. It is about the detached, casual, almost cruel way the family brings it up and the fact that they do not notice their daughter/sister’s obvious and deep distress.

No one in her family registers that maybe she was even in love with the young man, although total strangers – we the audience – notice with the dismay that comes from watching someone collapse in grief from a distance which precludes our ability to do anything about it. We, who’d never even heard of this young woman until listening to this song, see and understand what her closest family members do not. And that’s what the real tragedy is about.

In the very next stanza the narrator sings casually about how her brother and Becky Thompson get married and buy a store in Tupelo. And then, in an almost off-hand manner, the narrator describes how:

There was a virus goin’ round and Papa caught it and he died last Spring.
And now Mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything.

In an almost “turn about is fair play” callousness, the recent death of her own father elicits an observation no more heart felt than her subsequent observation that her mother seems to have lost her enthusiasm for activities which she, presumably was once interested, echoing the detachment her father, in turn, had expressed about Billie Joe's death. The narrator describes the catastrophic death of her father with the same consternation one might have in noticing that after losing a pie contest her mother was no longer interested in making pies or equivalent to the loss of the family pooch. Her comment echos her father’s off-hand petty insult upon learning of Billie Joe's death, that Billie Joe: “…never had a lick of sense.” No sympathy. No serious concern. Just an emotional shrug of the shoulders.

For years I thought the song was about Billie Joe, as do, I suspect, most listeners. It is about death, but not Billie Joe’s. I believe the song is about the silencing of this young woman’s bond with her family. And it is a reflection of the alienation many young people of the last several generations have felt towards their parents and siblings. It is about the isolation manufactured, engendered, and cultivated deliberately by today’s society of institutional education, cliques, social media, and the “generation gap” mentality. It is about the indoctrination of the philosophy that one’s significant others must be anyone but one’s family members, repeated by every TV show, movie and song lyrics since the early ‘60's. From not wanting to be seen dropped off by one’s parents, to the Who’s line in the song titled, appropriately enough “My Generation”: “Hope I die before I get old,” it is a reflection of the media endorsed idea that children are not the parent’s business and children should disdain closeness with their family members.

The Baby Boomers of today have grown up and grown old in a world where family ties are supposed to be weak, transitory and superficial – to be easily replaced with the bar hook-up relationship. And "Ode to Billie Joe" was the early epitaph to this unfolding sociological cataclysm.

How could an entire family not notice this young woman's grief? Or care enough to find out her involvement with Billie Joe? Or want to inquire if indeed it was she who had been up on the bridge tossing something off with Billie Joe? And why was she so visibly shaken at the news of his death? No one inquires. No one seems to even care.

Yet the narrator’s response to Billie Joe’s death reflects her mother’s reaction to her father’s death. Instead of finding uplifting comfort within a familial embrace, they both sink into apathy and depression.

Mama doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything.

And me I spend a lot of time pickin’ flowers up on Choctaw Ridge, and throw them into the muddy waters off the Tallahatchie Bridge………………

No one seeks consolation or comfort from the other. The brother moves away. The mother withdraws. The narrator isolates herself.

But this is not a  new idea, only one newly re-discovered. Herman Raucher, author of the screenplay for the earlier mentioned movie, Ode to Billie Joe, had interviewed Gentry as part of his research. Gentry stated that the real theme of the song was indifference.

If you watch the video of Bobby Gentry performing this song on the Smothers Brothers Show when the song first came out in 1967, this becomes visually evident. Gentry plays alone with a guitar and in the background, around a table, sits a family of…mannikins. It is a creepy but apropos image.

As a homeschool mom who is profoundly grateful for the Providence with which we were blessed to  raise our children with their siblings as their primary friends, who never took “nothing” as an answer to the question “What’s wrong?” and whose husband insisted that all dinners were mandatory attendance for all family members, this is a bullet we dodged by the Grace of God.

The failure of the ‘60's generation society to nuture the family unit has a lot to answer for. Obtusely placed blinders when it comes to staying in tune with one’s children is one of those debts.

I pray God your children never experience the kind of trauma Gentry describes. But they will inevitably experience some kind of trauma. Be sure you notice.



SHORT TAKE: The light mood, the clever story, the genuineness of Tom Holland, and the mesmerizing acting skills of Michael Keaton make this the perfect Spiderman movie – at last. SWING – don’t just walk – to go see this terrific installment into the super hero genre.


Well, they finally got it right. Took them three tries but Tom Holland is the perfect web swinger. Far far better than the angst and guilt ridden weepy Toby McGuire. And Andrew Garfield was simply miscast. Too mature for the part, Garfield was to Spidey what Eric Stolz was to Back to the Future – not bad in and of himself but just wrong for the part. Garfield was brilliant in the historical drama Hacksaw Ridge but a massive damper to what was supposed to be a comic book super hero movie.

Holland’s Peter Parker is a kid, fresh faced, eager, innocent, and smart. The kind of young man you’d want to ask your daughter to the prom. He commits acts of casual kindness without thinking about it just because he couldn’t imagine behaving any other way.

It’s tough to write a blog for a movie you really like because you’re just DYING to tell spoilers but you know you can’t. But I will say this movie is a major success for the same reason Wonder Woman was – it harkens back to the wide-eyed, principled, truth-justice-and the American Way hero that Christopher Reeves personified in Superman (1978).


I will be careful to not give anything away because I want you to see this movie, but think of a kid – a really nice kid – who just happens to have super powers, who has a rich genius for a sponsor, and what could happen as a result, and you get the idea of the direction the plot will go.

Robert Downey Jr. does a great job of being Tony Stark – the favorite and somewhat indulgent uncle figure –  but is only icing on this cake and neither steals the show nor upstages his eager young space cadet. Peter’s friend Ned is simply adorable as played by Jacob Batalon. Both he and Holland plays KIDS – not cynical adults pretending to be children, but like your favorites of your kids’ friends. Marisa Tomei does a good job as a far younger Aunt May – and as I heard one Youtuber note it IS AUNT May NOT GRANNY May, so —- why not? There are a number of small parts and cameos I will not give away. And I will not likely ever think of anyone else as Spiderman than Holland. He has made Spiderman his own.


But you know it’s a good movie when you even like the villain. I must give MASSIVE kudos to Michael Keaton. Creating the initial tone in the Batman that became Dark Knight, then his amazing turn as the psychotic (or superpowered???) Birdman. Now he dips into the same flighted super powered well a third time as the similarly titled Vulture. Only, like Mary Poppins who could pour three times out of the same medicine bottle and get three entirely different flavors of delicious syrup, Michael Keaton has managed, over the last 28 years, to ladle from the same source three completely different brilliant memorable and distinct personas. It is a testament to his performance that you like this guy against your will and have to force yourself to root more for Parker than for him.

The colors and tones of the movie are bright and comic book-like, and the humor is genuine and comes from the art of being a normal teenaged boy.

But the true hero in Spiderman: Homecoming is the fact that FINALLY some of the super hero movies are going back to their roots. The ones that do seem to be now the only mainstream movie media lionizing, espousing and advocating for true virtue in their main characters. And this is why the ideal-starved audiences are voting with their paychecks and rightly making these movies blockbusters.

Here comes the Spiderman – long may he swing.


P.S. With the tragic and untimely passing of Anton Yelchin, I can not help but wonder if Holland could, perhaps, step into the shoes Yelchin left so sadly empty and take over the parts of both Star Trek’s ernest and steadfast Ensign Chekov and Koontz’ melancholic and innocent psychic Odd Thomas that Yelchin had filled so beautifully.


Despicable Me 3 is harmlessly stupid but missed the chance to make a really good movie.
The title of this blog, if you're wondering, is a homage to Conspiracy Theory where SPOILERS!!! Patrick Stewart, as the bad guy, refers to the brain numbing chemical he administers to Mel Gibson's innocent Joe, as "gravy for the brain". I suggest DM3 is more like cotton candy for the brain. Cotton candy is pointless. It’s fun, fluffy and brightly colored, gives you a quick rush of pleasure but is not particularly satisfying, can give you cavities and if you eat too much will make you sick. Despicable Me 3, aside from the cavities part, is the cotton candy of movies.
Now – keep in mind I LIKE cotton candy. But in small amounts. As a 15 minute short DM3 would have been cute. But watching 90 minutes of the THIRD installment of this franchise is a bit much.
The premise of the trilogy is that Gru (Steve Carrel), a repentant super villain, has  adopted the three orphan girls from the first movie, married Lucy (Kristen Wiig), a super “anti-villain” spy from the second movie and made a home and family for them all. Then a challenge to their situation comes when the new boss fires both Gru and Lucy. In a Fraternis ex Machina, Gru is summoned by his previously unknown rich twin brother, Dru, who wants to learn how to commit crimes. Problem is Gru gave up the life of crime for Lucy and the girls. Gru succumbs to the idea of reverting back to his old ways for just one more heist and calamities follow. Eventually Gru and his brother come to terms during a dangerous mission, Gru recommits to being a good guy and all’s well at the end. That’s a good thing and a nice moral to teach kids.
Lucy – the adoptive super spy mom – is very conscious of her responsibilities and is naturally very protective of her charges. That is a good thing too.
The orphan kids are cute and a side story about Agnes, the youngest learning there is no such thing as a unicorn is kind of adorable. Gru is very protective of the children’s innocence and strives to keep them that way – which is a very laudable attitude to portray. When Gru takes gentle command of the unicorn situation and explains the truth to her Agnes still loves the “scratched and dented” goat she thought was a unicorn. It is a very nice subplot and provides a surprisingly warm and developed moment of bonding between Gru the adoptive-Dad and Agnes. But those kinds of moments are few and far between.
This whole theme was far better fleshed out in Shrek Forever After – where Shrek, former ogre and now husband, father and hero to his neighbors,  gets tired of his routine and wishes to be a real ogre again – an opportunity to be free of his responsibilities for a day and  revert to his former bad ways – and then discovers the consequences of his wish are catastrophic.
Most of DM3 is preoccupied with silly slapstick forced into the story-line, butt wagging sight gags by the 1980's obsessed super villain Bratt, minion fart jokes, and other butt related “humor”. A little bit of “minion” goes a long way. But it is a one note joke – a plethora of plastic yellow Mexican jumping bean side kicks who speak a Slavic-like version of pig Latin and like to get into mischief – can only take you so far comedically. Unfortunately, they have beaten that dead horse flat as a pancake with these little pill shaped banana eaters. 
The recurring motto "I've been a bad boy" of Bratt – former child star of Evil Bratt turned super villain – became cringe worthy annoying, the excerpts of Evil Bratt where the lead is a child villain who successfully gets to wreck havoc were frankly not something I would have wanted my child to see or wish to imitate, and the repetitive pseudo "sexy" '80's homage behind wiggling  was really not appropriate for a movie aimed at young children.
The minions did have one shining moment however. Chased into a singing TV show competition, they break into a clever Minionese version of the "Major-General’s Song" from the Pirates of Penzance. This scene should end up on a Youtube somewhere so you don't have to sit through the whole movie to see it. If DM3 had put MORE class like that into their humor it would have been a far better movie. But instead of Bugs Bunny-ing more classics into the minion characters they mostly relied on the now extremely fatigued minion slap stick which has become their tired trademark.
The writers of Toy Story and Cars have upped their game and produced good movies with maturing characters and explored, in fun ways, some complex fundamental themes of human nature: what is the purpose of parents when their children grow up and leave home, overcoming jealousy and sharing authority, having the humility to hand over the crown when your time is up. But Despicable Me’s creators apparently do not have the courage for this but instead lean dependently on the same old vaudevillian banana slipping knee slaps.
Sadly, there was an opportunity to make a really good movie buried in the storyline: the minions seem to be able to do ANYTHING yet – they keep doing the SAME thing over and over and over and over and over whereas they could have done more classic take offs or made more capital out of their uniform cookie cutter physiques. Instead of continuing to act like a hive mind amoeba, they could have examined how to stand out in a crowd, played with the evils of an Orwellian 1984 or a Fritz Lang Metropolis-like work force where everyone is the same….but they didn’t.
Then there is Gru, the husband and father who wishes to relive his glory days, is enticed by an immature brother to moral regression, comes to grips with doing the right thing, learns that being a good father and an honest husband is vastly more valuable than all of the riches he used to think so important……….but alas,  that is not the movie they made either, but merely the excuses for more mindless merriment.
There were tiny glimmers of what the authors were capable in the Agnes-Gru scene and the send up of the Pirates of Penzance, but it was only enough to make you hunger for more than the brain full of cotton candy that is Despicable Me 3.