WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES – A HUMORLESS PATCHWORK QUILT OF OTHER MOVIES

SHORT TAKE: Beautifully shot with masterful technicals, I just wish they had spent as much time and effort on an original script.
 
SPOILERS
 
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.

ODE TO BILLIE JOE – REQUIEM FOR THE FAMILY – 50th ANNIVERSARY

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.

SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING – THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM

 

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.

LONG TAKE:

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 – COTTON CANDY FOR THE BRAIN

SHORT TAKE:
 
Despicable Me 3 is harmlessly stupid but missed the chance to make a really good movie.
LONG TAKE:
 
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.
 
SPOILERS!!!
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.
 
*sigh*

TRANSFORMERS – LAST KNIGHT: TRANSFORMIUM TURKEY

SHORT TAKE: Not even the presence of Sir Anthony Hopkins and the adorable Mark Wahlberg can save this awful outing of numbingly repetitive action scenes, plotholes and unfollowable script.
 
LONG VERSION:
 
I would watch Anthony Hopkins read the phone book. I’ve been a fan of his since I saw him as Corky Withers, the eccentric troubled ventriloquist in the 1978 suspense thriller Magic. He has played a priest, a psychic, a serial killer, Odin, Richard the Lionheart, a veterinarian, a cad, a butler, Charlie Chaplin’s biographer, a truly terrible Zorro and C.S. Lewis. I have LOVED everything I have seen him in. Even if he is bad he is wonderful. There is something captivating about every performance he gives. And it’s a good thing he has a lot of scenes in Transformers because it is the only thing that kept me sitting through Transformers – The Last Knight.
 
You know – it was bad enough that Disney created an entire string of movies based upon a single image in a Disney ride. Now we are treated to a series of movies based upon a combination of a Japanese toy bought out by Hasbro and Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots marketed by Mattel.
I’ve never been a big Transformers fan anyway, but had great hopes for what I thought a genuinely clever idea: that the magic of the Arthurian legends was, what has been described by Arthur C Clarke as “sufficiently advanced technology”.
 
The premise is that Merlin was a drunken charlatan who comes upon a crashed Transformer, from whom Merlin prevails by way of the Transformer’s better nature to aid King Arthur in his quest to unite the world to a civilized society against the barbarian hordes  – to gift him with an ancient staff and to fight as a metal dragon to defeat the barbarians. Why this Transformer trusts Merlin, how Merlin found him and how this self-proclaimed alcoholic incompetent manages to control such advanced weaponry so that it fights against the right group and doesn’t just massacre everyone is never explained. Same goes with most of the rest of the movie. Terms are thrown around like: TRF, the “talsiman”, infernocons, Steelbane, Decepticons, Megatron, Knights of Cybertron, Unicron, etc – which, I suppose if you are an initiate into the Transformer franchise the lexicon will make sense. But every movie should stand on its own. It should not rely so heavily on previous movies that it leaves you head scratching through most of the movie.
The plot never covers why Cade (Mark Wahlberg) is hanging out in a devastated and abandoned Chicago (or why Chicago is abandoned – it's not radioactive or anything) tending to critters the rest of the world is out to kill…..or fight with, depending on where you are in the story. It is never convincingly explained why our military is ordered to change allegiances mid-way through the movie. The characters are never seriously injured…or DIE…from impacts, falls, crashes, shock waves, or other events which would break the bones, crush the skulls, concuss, or rupture organs in us mere mortals. Aside from abrogating ALL tension or concern about the characters it is so blatant that it impairs the already tenuous suspension of disbelief necessary for all good stories. And the constant action is never done in such a way as to give you a clear clue as to who you are supposed to be rooting for. The Decepticons look so much like the Autobots which look like the Knights – and they all fight against or with each other depending upon the minute marker in the movie but without much regard to any explanation or convincing motivation by the characters.
 
 
Thinking I must have missed something in a previous movie, I went back and read the plot lines of all the other Transformer movies: Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, and Age of Extinction. The stories all read like an excited little boys’ fantasy play fresh from opening his birthday toys with his older brother who throws in a few scantily clad girls right from his own fantasies to keep things interesting for himself.
 
 
Why would advanced technological metal alien life forms take on the attitude and appearance of: samurai, sleazy traveling salesmen, caricature cigar chewing (why would a metal alien chew a cigar???) Sergeant from stock World War II movies. Why would an advanced metal alien which can blend together to make a larger robot then separate again, fly across the galaxy, and utilize technology that can bring metal appliances to life —- not be able to fix the voice box of one of its own? That is just a dumb affectation.
Stan Tucci is amusing in the beginning as the discount Lord of the Rings Dwarf-like reprobate Merlin. And I love Mark Wahlberg. I think he did a stupendous job in Lone Survivor. I am proud to call him a fellow Catholic. I think he is a wonderful comic actor. And he did a good job trying to slog through this movie with character intact. But if even Sir Anthony Hopkins couldn’t save this Transformium turkey then it was a cinch he couldn’t either.
It is obvious that the makers of these movies really love their subject. They come to it with an enormous amount of zeal and enthusiasm. But I was sorely disappointed in their handling of what could have been a creative approach to this worn out and poorly conceived franchise. Like a child on a sugar high who can’t get three coherent sentences out in describing their new toys,  Michael Bay, his scriptwriters and team mates just throw incomprehensible fight scene after fight scene at us until we are too fatigued to pay attention any more.
 
If you ever get this as part of your Netflix or Amazon prime – for free or next to free, you might want to fast forward to the scenes with Sir Anthony as Sir Edmund Burton – where he narrates the Arthurian legend behind the Transformers attachment to Earth in general and mankind in particular. The imagery of the classic Knights of the Round table flanked by the Transformer Knights is pretty cool. But, unfortunately, that was the highlight of the movie.
 
On top of that there is unnecessary profanity, some of it coming out of the mouth of a 14 year old girl who is crow-barred into the story to give Wahlberg’s character, Cade, a pseudo-daughter to protect.
 
*sigh*
 
Sad to say – Transformers – Last Knight is about as clunky as the Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots upon which they are partly based. So if you want something with a bit more dignity, creativity and majesty about knights and magic and alien environments then go watch Thor instead…. or Excalibur…or Bugs Bunny in King Arthur's Court.

WHY I CHANGED MY BANNER …… or …… NO ONE TRIES TO MAKE A BAD MOVIE

 
You might have noticed – or not – but I changed my banner from “Movie reviews by a homeschool mom” to "NO ONE TRIES TO MAKE A BAD MOVIE". Well, for one thing, now that all six of our kids are graduated from high school I’m more an emeritus homeschooler. Granted, like the Marines, once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler – as in, it’s a philosophy, not a curriculum. BUT with the advent of this minor tidal change in our family I thought I might share one of the underlying perspectives I have always had when writing reviews.
 
 
A long time ago – BC (as in before children) – I worked outside the house. The business I worked for had reason to employ a little known and independent film director/writer named Bill Kirksey to, basically, provide a seminar on film making.
 
 
To briefly digress:  Every now and again someone tells me something that shifts my perception of the world just a little. One of those times was “told” to me in a book by Dorothy and Raymond Moore titled Better Late Than Early.
 
 
The first part of the book was cautionary advice on NOT rushing your child to “excellence”. NOT trying to create a super child – which we, as two Type A behavior parents were trying to do to our first child. Embracing this sage advice I continued reading the rest of the book which went on to expound the virtues of homeschooling. As soon as I read that that was a possibility it seemed so obvious: Why did I not see it before?! Why would I pay to send my child off to be taught by total strangers when I can simply continue to teach my child myself!!??
 

Sort of like the paper clip. You might never have thought of it yourself, but when someone explains it to you it seems so EASY!

So it was with something said by Mr. Kirksey. We were discussing the dearth of really good current movies. One explanation, of course, is that every age has bad entertainment. It is only the really good stuff that survives for later generations to partake. But, I commented, there had been recently (this was the 1980's) so MANY VERY bad movies that it seemed as though Hollywood was actually TRYING to make bad movies.

“Oh no!” he countered. “NO one TRIES to make a bad movie. Everyone is trying to make a masterpiece. It’s just that some people are not very good at it.”
 
 
And yes, all of the above pictured turkeys came out in the '80's. Though, for the record, I actually liked Ice Pirates and for reasons I will explain a bit further down I am personally fond of the truly terrible Cat People. One of the movies featured above, Heaven's Gate, was SO bad it actually tolled the demise of United Artists in 1981, a studio that had been in existence since 1919, by costing $44 million and bringing in a rousing …. $3 million.
 
And it hit me, as the homeschool moment would almost a decade later, that everyone is doing their dead level best to produce a work in their genre that others will want to see. And OK, maybe this was patently obvious to everyone else in the solar system except me, but this simple statement acted upon me like a light in the dark for someone trying to find a missing penny.
 
 
It made sense: every film maker – no matter how talented or crass or literate or unintelligible is attempting to contribute something profound…… or at least interesting…..or at least profitable.
 
 
That doesn’t mean the motives are necessarily lofty. It is a business – I can respect that (as long as it is not disreputable or advocating criminal or despicable acts). Most filmmakers are trying to make money. To that end they want people to watch it and if it isn’t compelling no one will bother. Even people making propaganda hit pieces, like the ridiculous mumbo jumbo from the left, are attempting to make the BEST propaganda they can, to convince as many people as they can to their opinion. And, I would say, even at the darkest end of the spectrum – those who create the most shady and disreputable films, they are trying to make the best ones they can, because they, too, seek to entice an audience into a theater.
This is why when I review even films which I do not like, or which I think poorly done – like Assassin’s Creed – I try to find some merit in them – because there is usually SOMETHING in there worthy of praise. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic and sometimes you have to look REALLY REALLY hard —- but it’s usually there.
 
 
Maybe it’s because I write screenplays too and have not yet been produced so understand the frustration and obstacles which wanna be film makers face. Maybe it’s because I have read about the making of movies, lots of biographies and autobiographies. Two of my favorites are Michael Caine’s What’s it All About and William Shatner’s Up Til Now. And there are other tomes on film analysis –
 
on both successful movies, like Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log, about the eccentric creation of Spielberg's career maker — and on disasters, like Heaven’s Gate, about which you can read in Steven Bach’s observations of a financial and creative train wreck, titled Final Cut. These books track the tortuous and detailed epic campaigns required to make a movie. There is an old saying – never seek to see how laws or sausage are made. The same could be said about film making. It’s an amazing business, but it’s a business. Much of it, like my Dad used to say about his experiences in the military, involves a lot of hurry up and WAIT!
 
I once was a crew assistant on Cat People. My job was the complex and intricately skilled responsibility of standing outside the perimeter of an area of a zoo where filming was taking place and asking passersby not to go any further…… That was it….. All day. I DID get to see Natsha Kinski as she walked by though. I wanted to say something memorable. So I wisely emoted: “You look very nice.” She seemed pleased. She was very sweet.
 
 
 
The POINT I’m making is that film MAKING isn’t always as exciting as WATCHING the final product. And whether the final outcome will be a blockbuster, a cult favorite, a respectable resume enhancer for the next celebrity, an art house head scratcher, a forgettable turkey, or a straight to DVD moderate success, it is a difficult, arduous process, often with all the glamor of mixing concrete. The people on the set are working hard, sometimes at sheer drudgery, in a professional capacity to do the best job they can – if for no OTHER reason than so they will get hired on the next set so they can pay their mortgage or for their kids’ orthodontic bills, just like the rest of us.
Michael Caine once was asked how on EARTH he could have been in the Oscar winning Hannah and Her Sisters in the SAME year he starred in the excruciatingly AWFUL Jaws 3. His answer (I paraphrase): “Because I had a mortgage to pay.”
No one ever looks at an ugly building and says – they must have WANTED to make an ugly building. No – they wanted it to be a safe and usable building. If that was accomplished then fine. No one ever had a meal at a restaurant and thought the chef WANTED to make it taste bad. Even if you were angry or disappointed you would understand it was an accident and know the chef was likely trying to do a good job but had a bad day or burnt something or was understaffed – whatever. But most people would never assume they WANTED to make a bad building or a bad meal. Even if you, as a consumer, did not like what was produced you would assume the creative mind behind it was trying to do their best – even if you, as a consumer did not think their best was good enough for you.
 
By the same token people who make movies really are trying to make the best movie they can. Even if I do not like the movie or the theme or the concepts which drove the idea behind it I understand the creative forces behind them were doing their best. So the movies I choose to review I want to respect from that point of view.
I may be harsh or even derisive but I do try to find that little bit of gold I always hope is somewhere in the mud. Maybe I’m like the kid who digs in a pile of manure sure there must be a pony if I only dig deeply enough. But knowing how difficult getting ANYTHING onto the screen is, I find myself compelled to seek out at least a seed of virtue.
To that end you ADULTS might want to put on your movie bucket list Ed Wood. It stars Johnny Depp as the man “credited” with making some of the worst movies of all time, including Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda. Wood, according to the story, was really trying to make the best movie he could. He just wasn’t very good AT it. But he was NOT TRYING to make a bad movie.
So next time you see a movie that just did not ring many bells for you, remember, be kind and see if you can think of anything good about it, because  the movies themselves were not bad – to paraphrase Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit – "They were just filmed that way."

MEET JERICA HENLINE – SCREENWRITER OF POLYCARP

Back in April, 2017 I was pleased to post my interview with Garry Nation, star of Polycarp.  I am now delighted to announce that our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in Lake Charles will be hosting a showing of Polycarp on Saturday, July 15, 2017 at 6 pm at the Ave Maria Hall at 935  Kirby Street in Lake Charles, LA, across from the Cathedral. I would encourage everyone and anyone interested in independent film making in general or this wonderful adaptation of the last months of this saint, bishop and martyr’s life in particular to come to this FREE showing. Our Youth group will be selling treats as part of a fund raiser during the show, so bring your appetite for snacks as well as your hunger for good wholesome entertainment.

And now meet Polycarp‘s extraordinary and talented young screenplay writer – Jerica Henline – whose patience and generosity of spirit allowed me to film this interview.

CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO BE DIRECTED TO THE APPROPRIATE YOUTUBES.

Jerica Henline introduces herself and describes what inspired her to write Polycarp.

Jerica Henline explains what, to her, is the most important theme in Polycarp.

Jerica Henline describes her favorite scene in her screenplay Polycarp.

Jerica Henline, screenwriter of Polycarp, explains how she and brother Joe became involved in film making.

Jerica Henline describes how to contact Henline Productions or purchase their products, including their 2015 production, Polycarp.

 

 

 

CARS 3: THE BEST OF THE TRILOGY

SHORT TAKE: Cars 3 is a massive improvement over Cars 2 and just as much fun but with an arguably better story than even the original Cars. Get the kids to take Dad for Father's Day.
 
LONG TAKE:
 
Cars was a clever remake of an old Michael J Fox movie called Doc Hollywood, about a hot shot doctor with dreams of getting rich out in California as a plastic surgeon to the stars. He crashes in a small rural burb and the judge sentences him to assisting around town where he learns that flashier and faster isn’t always better. It’s a very funny and charmingly whimsical movie, well worth your time. And Cars pretty much told the same story.
 
Toy Story made animated cinematic history by managing to create sequels arguably equal to or even better than the first. The secret to Toy Story's success: the plot. The writers didn't stagnate the characters or rehash the same conflicts, like some poorly written sitcom. Instead, the Toy Story franchise creators smartly chose to foster the development and maturation of the characters, extolling virtues like humility and self sacrifice along the way.
I am delighted to say that Cars 3 follows in Toy Story’s footsteps and not its own. Cars was a cute but forgettable knock off of a light rom com MJ Fox vehicle. Cars 2 was disappointing and somewhat inane. Cars 3 brings back everything that made the original Cars movie fun for the kids and satisfying for the adults and MORE, contributing an intelligent script which is silly enough for the kiddies but thoughtful enough to keep the parents interested.
 
Much like how Mary Poppins was really an advisory tale for fathers who were lured into watching by bringing the kids, Cars 3 is a wonderful story about the importance of fatherly role models as well as a cautionary tale for anyone who can appreciate that old Bruce Springsteen song “Glory Days” which will “pass you by…in the wink of a young girl’s eye”. As a matter of fact this song is featured as a remix during the movie. What happens when you’ve reached and passed your peak in whatever you do and you see young hot rods in your rearview mirror closing in on your tailpipe? If you live long enough you can’t control aging (that may sound dumb but it’s even dumber watching the botox shot and plastic surgery set try), but you CAN control your response to that inevitable event and your character will determine what that response will be.
 
I was charmed by the writers’ thoughtful development of Lightning McQueen, as well as the virtues of honest self-assessment, altruism, and courage included in the story.
 
I highly recommend the kids go and take the parents, especially the dads, this Father’s Day weekend.
 
Meanwhile meet some of the actors who artfully and respectfully bring life to a bunch of anthropomorphized transport vehicles:
 
Owen (Marley & Me, and the Night at the Museum franchise) Wilson is Lightning McQueen whose laid back snarkiness from Cars has been polished to a down home self-confidence in Cars 3.
]Larry the Cable Guy is Mater….who I love. (And who provides the only truly funny line in Cars 2 “Do not try the free pistachio ice cream! It done turn!!!!” Oh no! Now you’ll have to see the goofy Cars 2 to find out what that line means.) Mater is Mater, the adorably clueless and staunchly loyal best friend of McQueen.
 
 
Nathan (Firefly and Castle) Fillion is Sterling, McQueen’s new opportunistic sponsor.
 
Armie (Lone Ranger) Hammer is Storm, McQueen’s new main rival and representative of the up and coming generation of gizmo heavy competitors.
 
Bonnie (Jumanji) Hunt is Sally, McQueen’s faithful love interest. 
 
 
Cristela Alonzo is Cruz, McQueen’s trainer.
 
The duo of Ray and (the late) Tom Magliozzi – the stars of Car Talk aka Click and Clack aka The Tappett Brothers – do the voices of Dusty and Rusty – old friends and previous sponsors of McQueen’s, who do a cute and funny rendition of themselves.
 
Then there is the ubiquitous John Ratzenberger as Mack – the Mack truck and driver for McQueen.
 
Chris (from The Patriot and two Bourne movies) Cooper is Smokey – old Doc Hudson’s mentor.
 
And the late Paul Newman reprises the voice of Doc Hudson in “flashback”.
 
There are also two bits of lagniappe: a charming little short called LOU to warm up the audience about a playground bully who gets his cumupance in a lovely way, and a throw away Easter Egg at the tip end of Cars 3's credits featuring Mater with which I wish they had done more. This last is about my only big complaint about Cars 3.
 
All in all it was a great show and about 100 laps’ length better than its immediate predecessor. Bring the Dads to go see Cars 3 for Father’s Day. The kids will enjoy it too.

THE MUMMY – LIVE ACTION COMIC BOOK FUN

SHORT TAKE: The Mummy is a live action comic book – the trial run for Universal’s new Dark World franchise. It ain’t Shakespeare – or Wonder Woman – but it’s a lot of ridiculous fun.
MY TAKE:
When I was a 5 year old there was no such thing as iPods, DVDs, Nintendo, Gameboys or even cell phones. So when our family traveled in my dad’s Oldsmobile from New Orleans, LA to Disneyland in 1964, in order to keep his youngest child (me) occupied, whenever he stopped for gas he’d go into the station and buy a copy of every age appropriate comic book he could find. I must have read a hundred Superman, Superboy, Supergirl, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, and Wendy the Good Little Witch magazines. So I’ve always had a  soft spot for comic books.
Jump forward 53 years. My husband and I went to go see The Mummy – a movie 118 years in the making. No kidding. 1899 was the birth year of possibly the very first movie about a mummy – a silent short called Cleopatra’s Tomb directed by George Melies – the same auteur who directed 526 silent shorts, including the famous A Trip to the Moon
So how does our trip to see The Mouse in 1964 connect with 2017’s  The Mummy? Well…I was puzzled by my own reaction to The Mummy. While I love a well done scare fest, I usually spend a good deal of time watching it through my fingers and feeling creeped out and looking underneath my car before I get in it in the parking lot. But despite The Mummy being full of staggering mummies, zombified victims, living sandstorms, and other monsters (I will not now name for the sake of spoiler prevention), I came out of the movie feeling like a bouncy kid. I suddenly realized The Mummy is not actually a horror movie – it is really an extremely well done, well plotted, well performed live action comic book!
Wisecracking, never to be taken completely seriously leading man with flawed motives, vivid images, wildly outrageous developments:  massive flock of birds taking down a military plane, a mysterious cavern found by chance by two mercenaries, the dead being brought back to life as the mummy’s slave, a pit hiding a terrible secret under a pool of mercury, an underground secret science lab full of enough sparking and exploding electric tubes to swell the heart of Kenneth (1931 Frankenstein prop master) Strickfaden, evil incarnate in the form of a beautiful scantily clad tatooed woman. The Mummy throws in homages or outright supporting spots to a number of other monster stories.
I can picture the comic book panels to almost every scene in the movie.
It has all the tongue in “shriek” of Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing, John Landis’ American Werewolf in London, the troll in the bathroom scene from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and  Goosebumps – the movie about RL Stine’s fictions coming to life. No matter how much they amp up the scare factor you just can’t take it seriously enough to be disturbed.
SPOILERS FOR NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS – ESPECIALLY EGREGIOUS AS THESE SPOILERS REVEAL “PUNCH LINES”
And how CAN you take a movie seriously when the lead, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) has a quippy argument in a woman’s bathroom with his recently deceased best friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) on whether Nick was justified in shooting Chris just because Chris was trying to stab everyone around him after he had been zombified by the Mummy Princess Ahmanet???
And somehow the terror value is (intentionally) lost when Ahmanet has Nick held down by her zombie minions and is preparing to stab him with a ritual knife. See –  as she pulls his shirt up and rakes her fingers down his torso …. Nick starts laughing because he’s ticklish!!
OK – SPOILER FREE REST OF REVIEW!!!
The above mentioned scenes come within an inch of opera buffa or even outtake qualities but fit nicely with the tone of the rest of the movie.
And it makes sense because apparently Universal is starting its own franchise of “Dark Universe” films of which this is the golden nail in the railroad track. I can foresee it entirely possible to put all these worlds: DC, Marvel, Dark Universe within each others’ reach. And OH what mash ups are possible.
And why not! Within the last 118 years there have been mummy link ups with everything from Laurel and Hardy to Sherlock Holmes. AND, while we’re at it – why not the Hulk with Frankenstein or Dracula with Batman or Creature from the Black Lagoon with Aquaman? There really is no reason not to – if you can write a good enough plot and theme to go with it. If the scriptwriters can create the masterpiece that is Wonder Woman, then I suspect not even the sky’s the limit.
From Cleopatra’s Tomb to this year’s The Mummy, there have been over 402 films with a mummy theme – entries ranging from Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chan, Scooby Do and the Three Stoogesto the iconic Boris Karloff 1932 classic entry The Mummy, to the Brandon Fraser semi-parody Mummy franchise. There have been mummy movies with Sherlock Holmes, Abbot and Costello, and even Tom Baker’s Dr. Who! There have been mummy movies which have been frightening, suspenseful, and comic – sometimes a combination and sometimes unintentionally one or the other. And there is one my husband and I have determined we MUST see sometime soon called Bubba HoTep about an Elvis impersonator in a nursing home who thinks he’s the original and a black man convinced he is JFK dyed black by LBJ as part of a failed assassination attempt.The two team up to save their fellow residents from a shambling resurrected mummy – which makes some kind of sense because a mummy has a fighting chance against elderly which it would not have against more fleet of foot younger potential victims……I am SO not kidding. This is a real movie. Though I suspect NOT for the kiddies or the easily offended – so be advised.
Obviously, this is not a topic to be taken very seriously. But I digress.
BOTTOM LINE: There are a HUGE variety of mummy movie options. Many even with the name The Mummy. THIS The Mummy with Tom Cruise is fun and entertaining, though not for younger kids who might not be as amused as the more jaded of us by cliched over-the-top monster scenarios. Those who are panning this Mummy I think just don’t get it. The Mummy is not intended for introspective thoughful watching. It’s simply a comic book hoot. And that’s a wrap. Mums the word. Go home now – your mummy’s calling you.

NOT YOUR MOM’S FREAKY FRIDAY – THIS IS A FABULOUS PLAY!!!

In 1976 Disney came out with a really dumb movie called Freaky Friday starring Barbara Harris and a VERY young Jodie Foster about a mother and daughter who get their wish to be each other for a day. It’s the old – careful what you wish for. The daughter thinks her mom has it easy because she has all the control. The mom thinks the daughter’s position is a toddle because all she has to do all day is go to school, come home and snack. Both are, of course, wrong. But the story, as presented, is silly and superficial, trite and leans heavily on all the cliched generation gap misunderstandings. They didn’t do any better with the Shelley Long version in 1995 or the Jamie Lee Curtis version in 2003.
 
So when my husband bought tickets to go see the new musical version I had to laugh. Why not? On vacation, let’s be brainless. By intermission my husband and I turned to each other almost simultaneously and said “Our kids have GOT to see this!!!” The music is catchy with clever lyrics, the script is funny and fast paced. The acting in the one we saw with Heidi Blickenstaff as mother Katherine and Emma Hunton as daughter Ellie were absolutely brilliant and totally believable. The singing was stunning and powerful but nuanced with “attitude” and comic timing. And most importantly it has a really good PLOT! I guarantee you will see yourself somewhere in this play – as the parent, as the child, as the sibling – older or younger – or as all at some point in your life. To see yourself as others see you. Prepare to laugh – a LOT – but bring some kleenex too.
 
Instead of a throw away one-note gimmick, the tale here is of a widowed mom, Katherine, on the eve of remarriage trying to hold together her fledgling catering company and her fragile family – still traumatized and battered by the untimely death of the father 6 years before. (AGAIN underlining the importance of the DAD!!!) The father leaves his wife and daughter each a “magic” hourglass, as though knowing this day would come. And at the apex of the stresses from the wedding preparation, a journalist about to do a story on the mom’s business, the daughter’s crush on Adam, the popular guy in class, and a simple conflict in scheduling – well, they get their respective wishes. Fleshing out the cast is: an adorable 10 year old little brother, Fletcher, who is looking forward to having a Dad again; Mike, the deeply patient and understanding fiance; Katherine’s underappreciated assistant; Katherine’s oblivious parents; a timely parent-teacher meeting; some teenaged angst; a class cutting up frogs in biology class and….a treasure hunt. And yes all these elements work together like gears in a clock to make a funny, warm, insightful, catchy, brilliant little musical. I think this the best thing Disney has done in years.
 
While focusing mostly on the mother and daughter, the supporting cast is not forgotten. Each gets a moment to shine. And the ensemble group is utilized to the full as well. There are some moments in the play which would have done Mozart proud – as at times there are upwards of 6 people singing in the same song about their different agendas or perspectives – and it all makes sense (think the ensemble song “Tonight” in West Side Story or the Act II and IV octet finales in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro).
 
The songs each have a personality of their own as well – from the cocky “I Got This” where Katherine and Ellie assume pretending to be each other will be a breeze, to the lyrical heartbreaking “After All of This and Everything” which Ellie, in Katherine’s body sings to a sleeping Fletcher, to the bitterly funny “Parents Lie”, and the just plain old cute “Women and Sandwiches” which Adam sings to Fletcher in an attempt to explain the fascination women have for him and will one day have for Fletcher.
 
If you want to get a preview of Freaky Friday you can hear the songs on Youtube.
The play opened October 4, 2016 in Arlington, VA and we were blessed with being able to see the original cast leads in Houston. This play will, no doubt, make the rounds around the country – or be filmed at some point. But don’t let the previous original versions put you off. This is a truly “magical” play.
FIND and go see this play SOMEWHERE!!!!!!