DR WHO: TWICE UPON A TIME – NEWBIES CAN’T TELL THE PLAYERS WITHOUT THIS SCORECARD

SHORT TAKE:

Peter Capaldi’s exit from the Dr Who Universe is, honestly, a weakish episode. Twice Upon a Time, will be extremely confusing for the "uninitiated"  BUT does have lovely resolutions for the conundrum involving the Captain and the extra twists for both the Captain and the Doctor’s regenerations.

LONG TAKE:

The first part of this blog is for those not familiar with Dr Who. The second contains SPOILERS for Twice Upon a Time.

My husband, a friend and I all went to go see the latest Doctor Who Christmas special shown as a Fathom event at our local theater. The enthusiasm with which our friend accepted the invite led me to believe he was a fan. I sat and saved seats as my husband waited for our friend in the lobby. But as my husband sat down on one side of me and my friend on the other and the credits began to herald the beginning of the show, my husband leaned over and said our friend had never seen a Doctor Who episode before. Horrified I turned to our friend and was struck speechless with the idea of trying to condense 50 years of Doctor Who into two or three sentences.

To make matters worse it was not a standalone show as some are, but was a complex story heavily dependent upon knowledge of the background history.

The premise of Twice Upon a Time is that Peter Capaldi, 12th doctor, on the verge of regenerating to the 13th, meets himself just before his FIRST regeneration. The original doctor was played by William Hartnell who passed away long ago and is currently played by David Bradley (who was most famously known as the castle caretaker Filtch in the Harry Potter series). In the process of coming to terms with their own version of mortality, the Doctors are both reluctant to regenerate. This hesitation causes a temporal fracture and time to freeze in place resulting in a very puzzled British Captain (Mark Gatiss)    being thrown out of his own time line just as he is about to be killed in a confrontation with a German during World War I. The three, the two versions of The Doctor and the beleaguered Captain, end up stranded together in a – literally – frozen landscape.

Both Doctors must find the resolve to move on as well as face the reality of having to return a very likeable and honorable human to his moment of death.

It occurred to me that not everyone is familiar with Dr Who. Amazing but true. So I offer a dozen points to get you started.

1. There are two distinct versions of Doctor Who: the original and the reboot.

The original Doctor Who started life in 1963 as the British version of Mr. Wizard, but who travels time and space to explore and teach. The special effects were cheesier than the original Star TrekDr Who was rebooted in 2005 with a bigger budget, better effects, more natural acting and a less self-conscious sense of humor.

2. When the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell, started having trouble remembering his lines due to age and illness, someone came up with the most brilliant marketing device since product placement. When an actor can’t or doesn’t want to continue they have Dr Who become mortally ill or injured and instead of dying, regenerate into an entirely different body. Same memories but different personality. This periodically reboots and updates the entire show.

3. A WARNING: Unlike the original show the reboot occasionally gets Captain Planet on you, advocating a certain environmental activism or even occasionally includes lifestyles of some of its side characters completely inappropriate to a show which was originally targeted to a younger audience.

4. There are a few terms you should know:

Time Lord – the name of the species of which the Doctor is a member.

TARDIS – Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It is essentially a sentient time and space ship which can move to any time – past, present, or future- and any place in space and sometimes even outside of the universe. It masquerades as a blue British 1960s telephone box and is both the Doctor’s vehicle and companion.

Sonic screwdriver – it’s a gizmo which sometimes acts as a "Deus ex Machina" to get him out of trouble – opening unopenable doors, emitting high shrieks which deter monsters, deactivating bombs, etc.

5. The doctor is a kind of combination Superman, MacGyver (the government agent who could make any needed device while on assignment out of the most mundane items) and Bill Nye the Science Guy – only Doctor Who needs gizmos to have the abilities that Superman was born with.

6. Dr Who travels the universe landing in places of crisis to fix whatever is wrong. This is likely why he is often referred to as The Doctor. He does his best to heal people, situations and places. While he's not always successful he is brave, kind, resolute, occasionally condescending, often snarky, generous, willing to self sacrifice unto death for even strangers, and always always clever.

7. Each of the doctors has a token expression and/or dress item. For example Peter Davison’s Dr Who inexplicably liked to wear a stalk of celery on his jacket lapel. Tom Baker was known for his big floppy hat and scarf. Christopher Eccleston, the first of the reboot doctors, wore a leather jacket and liked to say "fantastic". David Tennant wore a duster and was fond of the expression allons-y. Matt Smith’s Doctor thought bow ties were "cool" and exclaimed Geronimo frequently. Peter Capaldi experimented with an electric guitar, dressed like an old fashioned magician and frequently made fun of his own bushy eyebrows.

8. The doctor travels with companions who come and go. They're almost always completely platonic. There are some especially notable companions:

Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) – the only military man Doctor Who ever fully respected, called a friend, or would salute.

Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) was the favorite companion of the reboot.

  Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Slaydon) was the favorite companion of the original series. The actress as well as the character made an appearance for one last show in the reboot during Tennant’s tenure not long before she passed away of cancer.

River Song (Alex Kingston) was Dr Who’s wife, his intimate and lived backwards – he met her at the end of her life and she met him chronologically near the end of her own. A bit confusing but when you consider they are BOTH time travelers…….

9. Does not like and often refuses to use a gun – but when he does it is usually pretty dramatic. He is or tries to be a pacifist although he is sometimes also known as the War Doctor and a destroyer of worlds. He tries to be peaceful because he knows of what he is capable. This helps make him an extremely interesting and complex character to follow

10. He travels through time and space to right wrongs, help people, mend broken things, resolve disputes, save lives, and solve puzzles. It’s tough to tell if he navigates the TARDIS and lucks into problems along the way or if the TARDIS guides him to where she thinks he will do the most good.

11. The doctor has had a number of enemies. A few tend to repeat. The two most notable are the Daleks and the Cybermen. Each in their own way were originally human-like but managed to cut themselves off from their own Humanity in an effort to achieve an inhuman kind of perfection

12. His home planet is Gallifrey and is… Missing

 

SPOILERS FOR TWICE UPON A TIME

While I very much liked the resolution for the Captain and the twist in the end revealing of whom he was the grandfather, the build up had holes. For one thing, if Bill is to return as one of the last people to whom this Dr Who says goodbye, the only reason I can think would entitle her to this special place of honor is that she was one of the companions who died in his service. However, so did Clara – who they also brought back in a very quick cameo – and both Ponds, and, to be fair, so is Adric from Peter Davison’s 5th doctor, and so was River Song – in my book the best companion – the only companion who was the Doctor’s equal, not to mention his wife. I sorely missed seeing River in this show, especially given Capaldi was shown in The Husbands of River Song, to be the last version she knew.

The template for the glass woman was poorly chosen. She looked so much like Bill that I thought that was going to be the big reveal – that somehow Bill was now living in the future.

When they united Tennant, and Smith’s Dr Whos with John Hurt’s in The Day of the Doctor as The War Doctor they all had good chemistry – riffing off of each others eccentricities with the chronologically "younger" Hurt being the more mature and showing up the child-like mannerisms of the other two. The three were funny and worked well together.

In this recent Twice Upon a Time, while I thought David Bradley did a remarkably good job of bringing William Hartnell’s first Dr Who to life, when he and Capaldi were on screen together it was as though they were on two different sound stages. There was no chemistry between them. The spoke around, about and at each other, but never really to each other. There was no humor and no real conversation. We never get to find out what either thinks of the other. Not a flaw with the actors but, I think, with the script.

This all being said, "mediocre" Dr Who is much like "mediocre" Star Trek, or "so-so" fudge. It’s better than no Dr Who at all and often far better than much of what passed for "good" stuff elsewhere.

The only other major qualm I had about this episode was the apparently obligatory insistence on shoe horning in a reference to the lifestyle Bill leads which is totally inappropriate for what at its heart was intended to be a child’s show.

SUMMARY:

If you want to watch Dr Who by all means. But I would recommend you start with the Christopher Eccleston reboot in 2005 and work your way through in order.

FYI – Tennant is my favorite but Smith has some brilliant ones.

Twice Upon a Time requires some knowledge of Dr Who or much of what is shown will be lost on you.

The best of the reboot Dr Who "stand alones," or at least ones which could be watched with a minimal knowledge of the show and characters, were:

Vincent

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

Blink

Father’s Day

Listen

So until the next Fathom special Dr Who event – it was FANTASTIC! GERONIMO! and ALLONS-Y!

OUR FIRST VIDEO MOVIE REVIEW!!! PSYCH: THE MOVIE

WATCH OUR FIRST VIDEO MOVIE REVIEW!!

I WAS GRACIOUSLY INVITED TO BE INTERVIEWED BY "BARREL KING" FROM THE STARPG CHANNEL: HODGEPODGERS PRODUCTIONS

WE HAD A LOT OF FUN DISCUSSING PSYCH: THE MOVIE!!!

 

PSYCH: THE MOVIE VIDEO REVIEW WITH BARREL KING FROM STARPG

LISTEN TO THE REVIEWS OF COLOSSAL AND STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI WITH THE GUYS FROM KBYS.FM (88.3) LAKE CHARLES’ BEST SPORTS SHOW

On Mcneese's KBYS.FM Lake Charles' Best Sports Show every Sunday morning from 9-11 AM the guys are gracious enough to take my call within the first hour to talk movies and theater. December 17, 2017 Matt, Corey, Casey and I talked about Colossal and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. THE REVIEWS ON THIS EXCERPT START AT TIME 14:00

 

Audio Recording of movie reviews from the December 17, 2017

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI – IT’S…STAR WARS. WHAT MORE COULD YOU WANT???

 

Have you ever gone into your parents’ attic, rummaged around and found an old favorite toy – a Teddy bear, a plastic sword, a doll house or an old board game? Suddenly you are flooded with the warm fuzzy nostalgia of childhood and the uncomplicated excitement of an anticipated adventure with like minded companions.

In a slightly different scenario, but one which will tie in to the previous analogy, have you ever been to a foreign country which had a McDonald’s? Amidst all of the unfamiliar occasionally unidentifiable store front names, the Golden Arches stands out like a beacon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you go – if there is a McDonald’s, even with a variety of specials particular to the indigenous population, you will still be able to get the same Big Mac in Lesieux, France that you could get in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin or Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Sitting in a dark theater as the simple words “A long ago time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen in deliberate graphic print quality circa 1977 followed by the signature trumpet Star Wars fanfare I couldn’t help but laugh in delight. Now 58, when Star Wars first came out I was 18 years old. As I have repeated in my own cautionary refrain many times to my children – the only reason an 18 year old is now considered a legal adult is because of the Vietnam War. In short, when Star Wars premiered I was still a child.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, arrived on the screen 40 years 6 months and 20 days after the premiere of Star Wars (later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope much to the confusion of many inasmuch as there was no Episode 1, 2 or 3 for many years to come) but who’s counting, right?

During that time we have watched Luke and Leia   be born, grow up, and grow old. Many of us have grown up and grown older right along with them.

How does this all tie in? Simply.   Star Wars doesn’t change. Despite the moderate improvements in special effects the world of Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda and Darth Vader, Emperor Pallapatine and the Cantina on Tatooine is the same now as it was when we were all much much younger. A few of the trimmings might be tweaked but it’s still the same Star Wars I came to love fresh out of high school.

Like the dusty rediscovered Teddy Bear or the Big Mac purchased in Tokyo, the opening scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi are familiar territory to those of us who have tread these paths for 40 plus years of 7 movies, dozens of Halloween Vader masks, uncountable action figures, Youtube analyses, spoofs, comic books, Yoda backpacks, Millenium Falcon bed sheets, fanzines, shipping theories and both canon and non-canon books. This is not strictly speaking a negative thing. Nor is it a criticism, any more than someone who is fond of vanilla ice cream might note that there is a gallon or two of Blue Belle in the freezer.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi breaks very little new ground, does not further the conflict between the dark and light sides of the Force much, or do more than mildly massage the dynamics of the characters we have come to know and love. Even those coming later to the party like Rey (Daisy “Murder on the Orient Express” Ridley), Finn (John Boyega reprising his role from The Force Awakens) and Poe (Oscar Isaac – the only really good thing in Suburbicon) fall into step with their predecessors – Luke, Leia and Han.

MAJOR SPOILER FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NOT SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

The entire gang is here minus the significantly notable (and I continue the debate with my kids as to whether or no it was entirely unnecessary) exception of Harrison Ford as Han Solo. Mark Hamill is the aging Luke Skywalker, Anthony Daniels is C3PO, Frank Oz voices Yoda, and Peter Mayhew continues as Chewbacca. Princess Leia, too, has a major role to play, even though, ironically, the actress who played her, Carrie Fisher, has in fact, actually passed away. (Hail the bizarre technology of CGI which enhanced Ms. Fisher’s last screen moments into a fully fleshed out part.)

The premise of Last Jedi is that Rey, the street urchin who discovered her powerful Force sensitivity in the previous Force Awakens, tries to get an extremely reluctant, jaded and worn out Luke to rejoin the fight against the Empire. At the same time the last remnants of the rebel forces attempt to escape the pursuing clutches of the Imperial Fleet directed by Emperor Snoke (Andy Serkis) and lead by General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson), in a caricature of evil Nazi-like officer. Hux seems to have, through a kind of Peter Principle, risen through the ranks to the limits of his capabilities, probably because of the attrition resulting from the execution of previous failed commanders. This is a source of mild amusement to the audience.

Which brings us to the one singular added refreshing ingredient to this familiar but very welcome recipe – the sense of humor which has been incorporated into the characters. There has always been an element of comedy – mostly the droids banter and the snarky comments from Han. But for the most part the other characters were straight men. Now, with a certain seasoning, they have allowed characters like Luke to include a few one liners and humorous moments. guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-1366x768-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-6474It seems that Guardians of the Galaxy has set the Gold Standard of humor, converting the likes of the Thor franchise from an almost medieval melodramatic fraternal conflict to a sibling rivalry which occasionally plants tongue firmly in cheek and wisely no longer takes itself too seriously, throwing in moments which might otherwise be considered bloopers. Star Wars has reaped the benefits of this informant as well, levitating the mood in much needed relief from its darker more sinister moments.

All in all Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows there’s plenty of steam left in this railroad or should I say fluff in this Teddy bear.

In short Star Wars: The Last Jedi is………Star Wars. And I wouldn’t want them to change a thing.

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN – ENCHANTING MUSICAL BASED ON THE SPIRIT OF P.T. BARNUM

 

Donald O’Conner said: "Always leave them wanting more." And in the tradition of PT Barnum, about whom this movie was made – The Greatest Showman does just that.

Half way through the very first opening number I wanted to see it all again. Every scene, every song was a marvel – as compelling, exciting, absorbing and mesmerizing as the Barnum and Bailey Circus shows which enthralled millions of people for 146 years.

PT Barnum is best known as the inventor of the traveling circus, the King of Humbugs, the displayer of the human oddity, the man who said "There’s a sucker born every minute" EVEN THOUGH there is no evidence proving that he actually did say it! In fact, Barnum was also a philanthropist, the founder of Bridgeport Hospital, promoter of gas lighting, improved water systems, abolitionist, and pro-life/anti-contraception advocate.

However, the movie The Greatest Showman is not about his altruistic activities. The movie The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman is VERY VERY loosely based upon the life, enterprises, fortunes, failures and inspiration of PT Barnum as showman.

PT Barnum also once said: "A human soul, that God has created and Christ died for, is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit."

It is from the core of this latter philosophy that this screenplay was born. The Greatest Showman is more what PT Barnum represented than about the exact details of the man’s life. The Greatest Showman is about joy, life, family, turning chicken feathers into chicken salad, about never giving up, and overcoming internal as well as external handicaps, and rising above failure and rejection. It is also about embracing with gusto the challenges that God has bequeathed upon every individual soul – be it physical deformity, an unusual height, albinism, being a Siamese Twin, or whether the challenges come from being born into poverty and disadvantage. This story is about learning what is truly important in one’s life and what defines your home and your family.

Barnum’s biography as interpreted by screenwriters Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon, directed by Michael Gracey, and choreographed by Ashley Wallen, starts as the son of an impoverished tailor. Barnum is bright, ambitious, hard working and imaginative. Barnum joins the railroad, takes clerical positions, tries to bring his innovative ideas to his employers and eventually earns enough to support a family. He marries his childhood sweetheart and lifelong friend Charity (Michelle "Oz the Great and Powerful" Williams), against her family’s wishes. They live a modest life but Barnum wants more. When the company he works for goes bankrupt he carves out a unique niche in entertainment singlehandedly with people who have largely been ostracized by society – not for anything they have done but for the physical attributes with which they were born.

In the troupe are Lettie (Keata Settle) the bearded lady and lead female singer in the circus, and General Tom Thumb (whose name in real life was Charles Stratton who was actually 2 feet 10 inches tall) played by the 4 foot 2 inch Sam Humphreys with effects that convincingly makes him fit into the smaller shoes of the original General Thumb.

Theater actor Eric Anderson has a small but rather adorable part as Mr. O'Malley, a skilled pickpocket Barnum meets while on the receiving end of O'Malley trade, who Barnum refashions into a magician and then his box office manager. Far too little is made of this charming character and he just kind of disappears after the first half of the movie in a regrettable editing decision by the film makers.

Barnum's gift is taking the weaknesses and apparent handicaps in others and turning them into strengths. He takes people who hide because of their birth defects and turns them into proud headliners for all the world to see. He takes a petty thief and puts him in charge of his money. He takes a drunken society playwright and convinces him to become the junior partner in an enterprise that will make him a societal outcast but a far happier and more fulfilled man. He takes isolated people and forms them into a family. Barnum understands people and cares about them deeply. This is his gift. But Barnum must learn that not all handicaps are visible and is eventually forced to confront his own prideful self inflicted deformities.

And the story is told with brilliant colorful musical numbers which light up and leap from the screen in the only way that really counts – not via 3D but through panache and vibrant beautiful melodies performed with style and absolutely irresistible enthusiasm.

Hugh Jackman as PT Barnum and Michelle Williams his wife Charity, sing with joyful abandon and dance with infectious charm, gravity defying skill, and tremendous energy. Zac Efron plays Phillip Carlyle, an unhappy swell with a flair for story telling who Barnum entices into his troupe. Efron has grown well beyond his High School Musical days into an accomplished actor and hoofer, and proves he can keep up with even the indefatiguable Jackman. Zendaya performs as the trapese artist Anne with whom Efron’s Phillip falls in love. Efron and Zendaya do all their own flying dancing swinging stunts in an incredible scene where they dance a love song as athletic as the barn raising in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and as graceful as Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in — well, anything! Most of it is performed flying through the air on rigging and without nets (though interviews revealed they were, thankfully, harnessed for safety).

I can’t say enough good things about this movie. It’s uplifting, beautiful to watch, wonderful to listen to, with brilliant editing that meshes music to dance and slow motion effects used with admirable and effective restraint.

Honestly the only complaint I have is that there was not enough of it. It was too short. You know how some movies – a lot now a days frankly – would benefit from some serious chopping – the Hobbit trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Pearl Harbor all come to mind. But rarely do you come across a movie which you wish was LONGER.

The progress of Barnum’s jump from childhood to adulthood was blinked over and I would not have minded more of his progress from urchin to self supporting adult. Same for Barnum’s initial success as a "circus" owner to wealthy entrepreneur. Easily 5 or 6 more songs and another hour would have been more than welcome. There could have been more of Mr. O'Malley and included backstories on some of the other performers who are mostly seen in the group dances. And there were even a couple of my favorite lines from the trailer which were cut. It is almost as though the relative newbie director Gracey did not have the courage of his convictions. But he needn’t have worried. What is there is brilliant and entrancing.

I loved this movie not just for the performances by Jackman, Zendaya and Efron which were amazing – blending the acting with the singing and dancing seamlessly as only accomplished confident hoofers can. I also loved the morality tale played out in Barnum’s life as he is forced to reconsider what are those things that make his life worthwhile.

This is an uplifting delightful movie for the entire family. And although I would have loved for it to be another hour long, they employed Mr. O’Connor’s sage words and left us wanting more. I think I’ll just go see it again …. and take everyone I know.

PT Barnum also once said: "The noblest art is that of making others happy." The film makers of this movie about his life I believe are noble souls indeed.

AUDIO – RADIO SHOW – KBYS.FM – LAKE CHARLES BEST SPORTS’ SHOW – TALKS ABOUT THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

On Mcneese's KBYS.FM Lake Charles Best Sports Show every Sunday morning from 9-11 am the guys are gracious enough to take my call within the first hour to talk movies and theater. December 10, 2017 Matt, Corey, Tyler and I talked about Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (sic – the "o" is lower case in the official title).

12-10-17 Audio show – KBYS.FM: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

 

THE STAR – SHINES

 

When presented with the prospect of an animated version of the Nativity, in this day and age, the first thing that comes to my mind is: "What are they going to do with the story?!" Will they water down, disrespect or even ignore the birth of the Christ Child? Or will there be a well intentioned but ignorant slant or politically correct agenda?

I am delighted to say that Affirm Films (in conjunction with the Jim Henson Company and others) have produced a movie that is not only suitable for all ages, not only appropriate for the Christmas season, but one that is faithful to the Biblical story of the Nativity and resonates with the familiar features of many of the best children’s animated features.

Dating all the way back to Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who wanted to be a boy, main characters of feature length cartoon movies have centered about main characters who wanted to be more or different from the life which first appears to be their lot. Simba dreamed of being a king before he was ready. Nemo craved to be adventurous despite his shriveled fin. Turbo the snail wanted to be fast. The street urchin Aladdin wished to be a Prince.

And Bo, a miniature donkey and the lead character in The Star, dreams of becoming a member of Herod’s royal procession, despite his obvious unsuitability. Injured in his escape from the mill house where he works he seeks refuge in the home of newly married Mary and Joseph who take him in like a stray puppy, unaware that he is a runaway. When they are called to Bethlehem to participate in the census Bo refuses to let Joseph harness him to their humble wagon and after an amusing tussle is left behind. The fact Bo does not want to go with the Holy Family because he seeks to become a member of a "royal" procession is an irony not missed by the audience and is one of the elements of the intelligent and bittersweet humor which permeates this faithful and cleverly written adaptation of the Nativity story.

Lots of familiar and soon to be familiar actors do a delightful job in bringing to life the animated characters. Kris Kristofferson, is a wise old donkey who works with Bo in the mill and provides Bo with sage advice. Christopher Plummer voices the evil King Herod who seeks to do harm to the Holy Family. Keegan-Michael Key of the Youtube short famous comedy team Key and Peele brings to life the comically scheming bird Dave, Bo’s best friend. Zachary Levi, who voiced Flynn the male lead from Tangled is an endearingly human Joseph. The award winning Gina Rodriguez beautifully and sincerely gives voice to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ophray Winfrey plays Deborah one of the Wise Men’s camels. And Steven Yuen, the Korean born, self described Christian raised actor does a great job bringing Bo to humorous life.

While strict adherence is kept to the main story, it is embellished with a relatively sanitized interpretation of the martyred infants killed by Herod. Because of a well meaning but blabber mouthed mouse who was an unknown witness to the Annunciation and Gabriel’s message to Mary from God, Herod zeroes in on the Holy Family and sends a mercenary after them. This interrupts Bo’s plans and sets Bo on the adventure to catch up with and save the kindly couple who took him in. Unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, in an almost Road Runner/Coyote fashion, Bo and his friends repeatedly intercede between this mercenary and the Holy Family. Although objectively a serious scenario, the presentation of the "rescues" in serendipitous Rube Goldberg machinations (such as a Domino effect of disasters at a bazaar end up with the assassin ending up in a well), and occasionally preposterous Road Runner/Coyote style evasions keep this lethal cat and mouse game from becoming too suspenseful for even smaller children.

The result is an accurate retelling of the Nativity which is both Biblical and funny, appropriate for everyone from even the youngest children but clever enough to keep the adults entertained without detracting from the respect and devotion which this story demands.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI – THE MAIN CHARACTER IS NOT WHO YOU EXPECT

I’m going to BEGIN this blog with a major digression. Please bear with me, it is important to the entire point of this review that you understand the following:

Have you ever seen a movie whose main protagonist ends up NOT being the person you were focused on?

Mary Poppins springs to mind. Throughout most of the entire movie you believe you are watching a cute story about Jane and Michael Banks with their magical nanny, until nearing the end, as Mr. Banks walks the dark streets of London to his almost certain career destroying meeting with his employer, he passes the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and understands that he has failed as a father.  It is then that any movie goer paying attention realizes the movie has been about this well meaning but distracted parent all along and the goal is his reclamation of the father and husband he was meant to be.

This revelation is most poignantly noted in the trailers for Saving Mr. Banks when the author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, (Emma Thompson), is walking with Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as Walt enthusiastically tries to convince Ms. Travers to allow him to film her book the "Disney" way:

Walt Disney: "'No whimsy or sentiment!' says the woman who sends a flying nanny with a talking umbrella to save the children."

P.L. Travers: "You think Mary Poppins is saving the children, Mr. Disney? Oh dear."

She walks away in dismay leaving behind a stunned Disney.

I was stunned as well – shocked and delighted as this was the first time I had ever heard this epiphany spoken out loud by anyone other than my husband, Bryan – that Mary Poppins had come to help – not Jane and Michael – but their father, Mr. Banks.

Honestly, I was literally jumping up and down in my seat with anticipation barely able to contain my own excitement to share this trailer with Bryan….

But OK now I’ve SERIOUSLY digressed.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (sic: the o in "outside" should, grammatically, be capitalized but is not in the title, so I will not here) seems initially to be about the tragic story of a mother, Mildred (Frances McDormand – mainstay of the Coen Brothers movies and wife of Joel Coen) sick with grieving, burdened with the guilt of what she sees as her own "culpability" and frustrated to the point of desperation over the standstill in the investigation of her daughter’s brutal abduction, rape, torture and murder.

  To refocus attention on the 7 month old case she rents three billboards on a stretch of virtually unused road which state, "Burma Shave"-style respectively: "Raped while dying", "Still no arrests." "How come, Chief Willoughby?"

This one act stirs up a hornet’s nest in this otherwise profoundly sleepy and forgotten town, especially since the ire seems targeted to the well-loved and respected Sheriff, (Woody Harrelson), who is almost as frustrated by his inability to find any leads as Mildred.

The movie – written and directed by Martin McDonagh – appears to pivot around Mildred and the repercussions of these billboards to the town and its inhabitants as sides are taken, lines are drawn, fury is manifested, conclusions are jumped to, and blame is liberally distributed.

Mildred has rejected pretty much everyone in her life except her best friend Denise (Amanda Warren) with whom she runs a gift shop and her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges) who, rightly, finds her a bitterly difficult to live with embarrassment. She is a very rough woman who treats her friend James (Peter "Game of Thrones" Dinklage),  with ingratitude and an egregious lack of appreciation, makes leaps of blame and decisions which gets bystanders injured, is an alcoholic and is a neglectful mother. She is irresponsible, verbally abusive and does little to further or comfort her remaining child. She blames people and institutions which have nothing to do with her daughter’s death.

The town is full of eccentric and human characters – from Mildred’s son Robbie who, while clean cut and disdainful of his mother's behavior, does not hesitate to wield a butcher knife in her defense even against his own father, to Mildred’s admirer and friend James, to the victim Angela (Kathryn Newton) who only appears briefly in one scene all Goth and teenaged rebellion, to Dixon's over doting mother (Sandy Martin) and her pet turtle,  to Willoughby the straight shooting decent family man sheriff, to Charlie (John Hawkes) Mildred’s volatile ex-husband and Penelope (Samara Weaving) Charlie’s bubbleheaded but somehow cluelessly adorable girlfriend, to Mildred who is the kind of tough that can even scare her physically abusive ex-husband.

And then there’s Dixon, (Sam "Galaxy Quest" Rockwell) Willoughby’s thoroughly inept, racist, ignorant, and oblivious deputy. You wonder why Willoughby, as conscientious and decent a man as he is, continues to keep such a provocatively dopey subordinate.

Without revealing too much, time and circumstance eventually reveal not only that much of Dixon’s flaws seem to be expressed as something expected of him but also what is the source of Willoughby’s confidence in such an unlikely and unpromising buffoon.

Everything that happens in the first three-quarters of the movie is only to provide context for the conversion of Deputy Dixon.

 And what is most compelling is the self-reflection, remorse, repentance, accepted mortification, embraced humiliation, confession, willingness to self-sacrifice and redemption of the fallen Dixon.

Proffered words of unconditional fatherly love to Dixon inspire an act of extreme self-sacrifice which lead to a confession which inspires a forgiving act of kindness received which in turn leads to yet another act of self-giving and eventually a forgiveness given. And at the end there is a tiny chink in Mildred’s armour through which the light of some possible forgiveness may shine, perhaps in turn inspired by Dixon's ultimately unconditional acceptance of her. In the end perhaps a little of what Dixon has learned may have rubbed off on Mildred.

And in addition the acting is terrific. Harrelson gives another great performance. McDormand is amazing and as chameleon like an actress as ever I’ve watched (Fargo, Hail Caeser, Raising Arizona). And Rockwell as Dixon steals every scene he's in and carries this enormous character arc with ingenuous conviction. When asked, in an interview, if he thought it was true that it took someone with great intelligence to play this "dumb", Rockwell amended (in what I thought was some classy humility) that, no – he thought it took the ability to tap into a remembered innocence and expand upon it. And that since he, himself, was fairly gullible he was able to connect with this character easily.

And although saying Three Billboards is a dark comedy is a bit like calling a jalapeno dusted with sugar a Tootsie Pop, there is humor. Just as there is great human tragedy in the story, there is also human comedy in the interactions of these complex and burdened people.

However, while there is much to recommend in Three Billboards, there is also much to warn against.

The language is horrifying. Imagine every profane word you have ever heard repeated a plethora of times and you will have about 20% of the script. There are none spared.

The topic is, obviously and inherently, difficult.

But the biggest complaint I have is what has become the de rigueur dig against faith. No one in town, despite a number of significant events, seeks comfort or solace in a church or in prayer. To deny that prayer might be a normal reaction is likened to pretending people do not eat because you, yourself, are burdened with the mental illness of anorexia. This omission is an obvious insult to people of faith and I get very tired of the aggressive and passive aggressive denials of this normal human response to disaster.

One scene in particular makes the screenwriter's contempt of faith especially jarring. There is one exchange Mildred has with a visiting priest (or perhaps Episcopal minister) wherein she refuses to listen to anything he has to say because other members of his "gang" have abused children. And even though she believes HIM personally innocent she holds him "culpable". She is vulgar, rude and threatening to him. But this is not what bothers me.

The grief and guilt she carries almost drive her mad on a daily basis. As Mildred is in a constant state of deep despair and barely restrained fury – like a dog which bites at even those hands attempting to help it – her behavior is at least understandable.

The reaction of the minister, however, I found objectionable. First, the minister does nothing to respond to Mildred – not in comfort, or forgiveness – but simply bows his head in what is intended to be a gratuitous acceptance of guilt. In addition, a good minister, seeing the extreme pain in which this woman was drowning, especially someone who is a former congregant and someone who he obviously knows and likely grew up with, would have returned to minister, even should he be continually turned away or spate upon. He would have tried. Instead, after Mildred’s rebuking he just slinks away, never to be seen again. Aside from pointing out Mildred’s rejection of all conventional assistance – family, friends, police, counselors, medical professionals, and religion – it seems a pointed and deliberate insult to a man of the cloth in general and the Catholic Church in particular.

While Three Billboards is a fascinating examination of how even terrible events can lead someone to be a better person, I can only wish for what the Coen Brothers, who have far more respect for God, religion and people of faith, might have done with this story.

However, given the movie is ultimately not even really about Mildred, but about Dixon, I can still offer this movie a qualified encouragement – but only to established adults with a thick skin and a certain worldly wisdom. Be advised, despite my opening digression, that this is NO one’s idea of Mary Poppins.

KBYS.FM DECEMBER 3, 2017 RADIO SHOW – CHRISTMAS MOVIE PICKS AND MARSHALL

WELCOME TO 88.3 FM IN LAKE CHARLES ON MCNEESE STATE UNIVERSITY'S RADIO STATION KBYS WITH YOUR HOSTS COREY AND MATT DURING THE CULTURE SECTION OF LAKE CHARLES' BEST SPORTS SHOW – EVERY SUNDAY MORNING SOMETIME AFTER 9 AM. THIS WEEK ON DECEMBER 3, 2017 WE DISCUSSED

OUR 2017 CHRISTMAS PICKS AND

MARSHALL. ONCE AGAIN THESE GRACIOUS FELLOWS AGREED TO TAKE MY CALL:

 

 

 

KBYS Lake Charles Best Sports' Show with Corey and Matt December 3 2017

WONDER IS, WELL…….WONDERFUL

 

SHORT TAKE:

Wonder is a moving, funny, charming, honest and brilliantly constructed examination of the axiom: You can’t (accurately) judge a book by its cover.

LONG TAKE:

MILD SPOILERS

My husband and I have a shorthand way to refer to a cinematic experience. A good movie is a diverting entertainment. A good film is a piece of literature which makes you a better person for having seen it. Wonder falls into the latter category.

Wonder is based upon a book, also called Wonder, which was inspired by an unfortunate experience of the author, Raquel Jaramillo, writing under the pen name of R. J. Palacio. At an ice cream store with her own young child, they met a child with a severe facial deformity. Her toddler began to cry. Instead of engaging with the child with the facial disfigurement, as she later wished she had done, and show her own child there was nothing to be frightened of, emabarrassed, she instead removed her child from the store, only to realize later that she had effectively ostracized the other child. She "wondered" how she might have handled the situation better.

Wonder is the story which emerged – made up of an amalgam of experiences from real life – of a little boy named August "Auggie" Pullman (played brilliantly by Jacob Tremblay) born with severe facial deformities. He suffers from the genetic mutation known as mandibulofacial dystosis, also known as Treacher Collins Syndrome. Very rare, it results in underdeveloped facial bone structures – the symptoms range from almost undetectable to a face that is unrecognizable. Thankfully, it usually effects almost no other systems – intelligence, internal organs are usually fine. But the trauma for both child and parents in overcoming the challenges this disorder imposes is unimaginable in the more severe cases.

Homeschooled for most of his 11 years, as he and his family endured 27 surgeries just to allow him to hear and see normally, Nate and Isabelle Pullman, played respectaively by Julia (Pretty Woman) Roberts and Owen (the voice of Lightning McQueen from the Cars animated franchise and partner with Jackie Chan in the Shanghai movies) Wilson, Auggie's parents, decide to send him to a "regular" school to facilitate his adjustment to the broader outside world.

It is enormously refreshing to evaluate a movie where the parents are good, caring and kind people who love their kids and are still in love with each other. Julia Roberts plays Isabelle as a Mama Bear, protecting her cub and providing him with the security of her fierce unvarnished love. Owen Wilson’s Nate is funny, honest, affectionate and the heart of the family, whose unconditional acceptance and child like laid back approach to even the toughest of dilemmas gives Auggie a way to perceive the world with some of the sharper edges softened.

The teachers represented by Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) are unaffectedly quirky and portrayed as sincerely engaged with their students and genuinely interested in their students’ welfare and education. And the principal, Mr. Tushman, is a decent, reasonable, prudent man who moderates discipline and justice with understanding and kindness and is charmingly personified by by Mandy Patinkin ("Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." – Princess Bride).

Adults behave responsibly as they should and  the kids in this story act like kids – shocked they stare and ignore Auggie at first and some are even unkind, but eventually Auggie’s courage and endurance and intelligence win many of them over and he learns what it is to earn and bestow friendship.

Their surname is most telling. These are people who PULL others towards them with their open and obvious genuine familial bond, their concern for others, and their strength.

As described the movie would have been delightful, but the writers have added a layer which raises a good movie to genuine cinematographic literature .

Just when you, the audence, believe you are familiar with the characters of the movie, there is an unsignalled change of focus. Right at the point when Auggie is confronting and learning to deal with his challenges we see many of the previous events from the point of view of Olivia "Via" Pullman, (Izabela Vidovic),  Auggie’s older sister. Kind, affectionate, and ever-supportive of her hurting little brother, she understands and accepts intellectually that Auggie needs more but she feels neglected in what seems to be a secondary "also ran" position. She hides these feelings as well as her own social problems and even joys, believing her parents can not handle any more challenges or distractions.

Then we switch to Will, Auggie’s new best friend, who is seen from several points of view as he tries to peel himself from the "in" crowd which at first rejects Auggie and painfully grows to be a loyal genuine friend.

Then to Miranda, (Danielle Rose Russell), Via’s former best friend, who appears to have pulled away from her "adoptive" family over the previous vacation, but who is nursing pains of her own.

Meanwhile we get glimpses into the lives of others –

Nate Pullman, the Dad, (Owen Wilson) who seems to be the most chill member of the family – always with a gentle joke or turn of phrase to defuse a situation – but who absorbs the pain of the family because he sees the most.

Isabelle Pullman (Julia Roberts) whose fierce support and unabashed loved for her physically challenged son obscures her vision of her daughter who feels like an understudy in life.

Even the bully, Julian (Bryce Gheisar) who torments Auggie the entire movie, is eventually seen from an explanatory perspective.

And at some point, we as audience members, realize that we too, have been guilty of pigeon-holing and stereotyping the characters we have watched. No one in this movie is two dimensional or should be seen from a single angle. And we are the better for learning that lesson as we can apply that to those we come into contact.

Even Auggie, at last, must learn that despite the fact he APPEARS to have the most obvious challenges, does not make the obstacles others have to face less painful or daunting to them.

God gives us all obstacles to overcome and the strength with which to, appropriately, face them. Everyone misjudges, everyone misunderstands, even Auggie – which is OK if you learn from your mistakes. This is the lesson which Auggie, his friends and family learn from each other and teach us during the experience of this cinematic literature.

Isaiah 25:1 O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked WONDERS, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.

Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.