BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF MY ARTICLE BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING

I am kind of a homebody. I love staycations, contemplating a fire in our fireplace, watching a home movie and enjoying the ability to pause for a snack or bathroom break (even with TP being a growing scarcity), or just reading a book with a cat in my lap. BUT nothing makes me want to leave faster than being told I CAN’T leave. And our governor has decreed that there is now a MANDATORY requirement to VOLUNTARILY self isolate.  Putting aside the inherent oxymoron, I more than understand everyone else’s anxiety.

So I decided, rather than fret over this bizarre situation, to suggest a few movies about being stuck in one spot.

Now, as you peruse my choices, know that I am aware of other movies which might seem more obvious.

SPOILERS

Three I would NOT recommend at this time:

Saw invites a guy to hack his foot off.

Cast Away is an a-theized version of Robinson Crusoe. I’m not saying Cast Away openly advocates for an atheistic philosophy, but the original Robinson Crusoe, on which the writers draw heavily in concept, was about a spiritually damaged man who comes to realize his enforced isolation as Providence. Crusoe uses his time as an opportunity to rediscover his relationship with God. On the other hand Cast Away is just about Tom Hanks surviving on an island.

Buried is just too grim to talk about.

So without further ado these are what I think are five great movies that show BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING.

REAR WINDOW

This classic gem from Alfred Hitchcock stars the icon of cinema, Jimmy Stewart, in one of his historically memorable performances as a man with a broken leg, before the age of ubiquitous air conditioning, internet, cell phones or streaming movies, stuck in his apartment during a hot summer and bored out of his mind. The only things he has to occupy himself with are peeping at his neighbor across the way from his apartment and the occasional visits from his girlfriend Grace Kelly. Point of trivia and irony: One neighbor is played by Raymond Burr. Two years later Burr would become Perry Mason, the eponymous lead in an extremely popular courtroom drama TV show, in which this part brilliant lawyer part inquisitive detective, would weekly successfully and justly defend an innocent man who everyone else thinks guilty.

Stewart’s character peeps in on his neighbors and surmises from circumstantial evidence that Burr has murdered his wife. Getting anyone to believe him or prove it becomes a rather tall order as he is stuck in his apartment at a time long before the term handicapped access was even created.

The movie was later remade into a vehicle for the paralysed and wheelchair bound Chris Reeves, who, in an act of sheer inspiring determination, not only lead but, incredibly, directed the film. While I have not yet seen Superman’s version, it is on my bucket list.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE MIGHT HELP YOU SOLVE A MURDER!

APOLLO 13 (1995)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

This one has some profanity including blasphemy and a few instances of verbal sexual innuendo meant comically. Also, for those old enough to understand the jargon and circumstance, though the men involved face this grimmest of situations with calm and dignity, it is quite tense. So young teens at earliest, especially since younger crew who did not fully appreciate the gravity (or lack thereof) of the space hazards would likely get bored.

This is the telling of the historical and harrowing event which took place from April 11 through 17, 1970 known as the Apollo 13 mission, which was to have been the third lunar landing by the United States. When an oxygen tank catastrophically failed the mission parameters changed to simply trying to return the crew alive.

Even those familiar with the story will be on the edge of their seats as most of the movie is seen from inside the claustrophobically small cabin. Starring Tom Hanks (Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Sully, and many more terrific movies, many also biopics), Kevin Bacon (most famous for Footloose), Bill Paxton (Aliens, Twister), Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump) and Ed Harris (The Rock, The Right Stuff) – these men portrayed those who really DID have The Right Stuff with a courage, patriotism and dignity which helped a new generation understand why the space race is worth the risks we take.

BEING STUCK IN ONE  PLACE CAN HELP DEMONSTRATE THE COURAGE, DETERMINATION AND INGENUITY OF THE AMERICAN SPIRIT

SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1960)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Appropriate for the whole family.

This is a wholesome and inspiring CLASSIC Disney movie based on the Pastor Johann David Wyss’ book about a family, anxious to start a new life in a far away home, who become shipwrecked on an island. The story is of their ingenious survival for a decade with reliance only on their faith in God, each other, and the abundance of raw resources of the uninhabited land far away from any known charts. They tame wild animals, rescue a fair damsel, fight pirates, build a multistory home, and conquer their environment with a plethora of ingenious inventions.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE WITH THOSE YOU LOVE TO CONQUER CHALLENGES CAN DEMONSTRATE YOUR STRENGTH AS A FAMILY

PASSENGERS

I know this movie has gotten a lot of flack over the years for lionizing Stockholm Syndrome and I might have agreed except for one thing:

SPOILERS

Jim gave Aurora an out. He repurposed a biobed into a cyro chamber for her.

I have a full review HERE.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Mid teens and up for mild profanities, some semi-comic bare buttocks, some stressful life threatening scenes, and an episode in which the main character becomes so depressed he contemplates suicide.

The story is about a colony ship that glitches 30 years into an 120 year trip leaving one passenger stranded and completely alone among hundreds of other people – who are all asleep in cryogenic chambers. Knowing he is condemned to die alone, after a year he becomes desperate and begins what can be looked at as a parable of marriage.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE CAN TEACH YOU A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF, BOTH GOOD AND BAD

AIRPLANE (1980)

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

NOT FOR THE KIDDIES. Everything from bad language, fart jokes, crude humor and a pair of bare breasts almost LITERALLY thrown in for a moment JUST to achieve an R rating, it’s a classic but for adults only.

OK Let’s go full bore comedy here. This is the prince of parodies, the founder of funny, the superfilm of spoof. On the heels of a decade of airborne disaster melodramas, the Zucker Brothers and Jim Abrahams wrote a movie which incorporated as many clichés, parodies, homages and pokes at this genre as they could possibly stuff into one film. Additionally it featured TV and cinematic legends like Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges (father of Jeff and Beau), Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver), and Leslie Neilsen, who had previously been primarily in serious roles, as well as a host of other very familiar faces from old movies and TV Land shows, NOT to mention the Zuckers and Abrahams, the writers. Especially for its time and place, especially for those of us who grew up in the 1950’s and/or were disaster movie afficianados, this was a recipe for rare hilarity. It also stands the test of time. Even if you don’t recognize any of the actors or references this will still tickle your funny bone with its outrageous dead pan deliveries, great timing, unexpected warping of clichés, and the wonderful actors totally committed to turning their comfort zones on their heads.

Many have tried to recapture this lightning in a bottle of mocking a very successful film genre, and many have met with a measure of success – Police Squad, Reno 911 (police TV shows), Disaster Movie (disaster movies), Vampires Suck (Twilight saga), Shaun of the Dead (zombies), Saturday the 14th (Friday the 13th), Spaceballs (Star Wars) –  even using and reusing Leslie Nielsen in some of the ventures. But Airplane was the grand daddy of them all – at least the ancestor with the most fame and clout for their efforts – leading the way with the guts to take on an established genre powerhouse and openly make fun of it.

BEING STUCK IN ONE PLACE CAN BE JUST PLAIN OLD FUNNY

So enjoy your time at home. We usually never have enough of it.  And relish this, what I genuinely believe we will come to later understand as precious moments to:

Be alert, be brave, appreciate your family, learn something about yourself and…laugh.

RAMBO: LAST BLOOD — TRULY BAD MOVIE, BUT WORTH SEEING AS A HORRIBLE WARNING TO IDEALISTIC SNOWFLAKES

 

AUDIO OPTION FOR REVIEW OF: RAMBO – LAST BLOOD

SHORT TAKE:

Excessively violent without justifiable purpose, even for a Rambo movie, what feels like a first draft of what could have been a much better film had it been through a few dozen re-writes.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults only! For extreme violence (not sure if Screenit has a scale measurement long enough), language, and graphic scenes of human sex trafficking victims.

LONG TAKE:

“They should not have left him with nothing to lose.” This is an expression my husband and I use to describe plots where the bad guys have put the protagonist in a corner, so our intrepid hero goes out to kill them “all”. Examples are: Live Free or Die Hard and ALL the John Wick movies.

Rambo movies, even at their mildest, are a guilty pleasure of revenge “porn” – titillation from violence, rationalized by the protagonist’s desire to mete out “justice”. Last Blood is extreme even for its type.

SPOILERS – BUT HONESTLY, THEY WILL NEITHER HURT NOR HELP THIS POORLY CONSTRUCTED OVERBLOWN MESS.

I cheered during the last fight scene in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, watched Saving Private Ryan with pride, once sat through the entirety of A Clockwork Orange, and enjoyed all of the Alien franchise movies multiple times, but during parts of Rambo: Last Blood, particularly the last twenty or so minutes, I often cringed and had to look away. Granted the movie set up the bad guys for deserving everything that happened to them, albeit in a VERY heavy handed way, but it was still hard to watch and, unlike Saving Private Ryan, there was no moral, educational or historic purpose to showing it.

Rambo: Last Blood is not for the faint of heart or even for someone with a reasonably strong stomach. This had all the dread of a Taken, the gory tragedy of Titus Andronicus and the violence of Saving Private Ryan‘s first 10 minutes. That being said, the violence was really not this installment’s biggest problem. More painful to sit through was the paper thin, poorly thought out plot and caricature performances.

The premise is that Rambo, (self-made-Sylvester “Sly” Stallone – Rambo I – IV, Rocky I – VI, Creed I & II, Expendables I – IV, this boy DOES love his franchises, not to mention everything from the brilliant screwball comedy of valises Oscar to Guardians of the Galaxy II – proving Stallone IS capable of SO much better) now lives out a quiet existence on a ranch with his friend Maria (Adriana Barraza – small part in Thor as the owner of the diner in which Thor, memorably and emphatically, “asks” for another cup of coffee) and her teenaged granddaughter, Gabriella (Yvette Monreal). Gabriella gets information from an old “friend” Jezel, (Fenessa Pineda) about her abusive father, Miguel (Marco de la O), who abandoned her family years before. Gabriella sneaks off to Mexico to confront Miguel and, predictable to everyone in the universe but Gabriella, after meeting her abusive sperm donor, is drugged by Gizelle and sold as a sex slave to a Cartel run by the Martinez brothers (Sergio Peris-Mencheta and Oscar Jaenada). Then Rambo sets off to rescue her.

The acting was hammy-handed and mono-chromatic, but it is hard to blame the cast for sloppiness when the writers made little effort to construct a coherent adventure or characters, with a script that makes video game NPC (non-player characters) seem relatable by comparison. Only a couple of steps further, and had the topic (human trafficking) not been so grim, it might have been the grist for parody.

The bad guys are cookie cutter bad guys with zero redeeming features, or even self-justifying rationalizations for their behavior, which shallowness makes them uninteresting. They were simply place holders where the script said “bad guys”. I should not have been surprised had they started twirling black mustaches.

Even the soundtrack by Brian Tyler is generic – Southwestern echo-y trumpets, deep cello borrowed from every spaghetti Western cowboy duel not scored by Ennio Morricone.

There is a myth that Sylvester Stallone wrote the classic, brilliantly simple and beautifully inspirational script for Rocky in three days. In fact what he wrote was a 90 page detailed treatment of which, by his own admission, only about a third was used in the final script. While even this is an amazing accomplishment, the fact that even Rocky, successfully conceived with preternaturally rare speed was MOSTLY written over the following months during pre-production and with the oversight of the financing production company, gives you an idea of how much work goes into a good shooting script. Unfortunately, Rambo: Last Blood is what a movie would look like if you actually DID film something you dashed off in a long weekend. Penned by Matthew Cirulnick and Stallone, the dialogue is a string of cliches and the story often makes no sense, as though they are only passing time, meandering about until they have enough justification to get to the over-the-top mayhem.

And the story is just – for lack of a more tactful word – stupid. Here are some of the dumber points:

1. When the niece confronts her father, Miguel first seems welcoming and invites her to ask any question she has of him. Then, like a bad tempered female cat he turns  vicious and sneeringly tells her that she and her mother meant nothing to him. But — if that were true why would he bother to speak with her at all? Why not just slam the door in her face or deny his identity? And if he truly did not care, why would he say so with such venom to an innocent young woman he hadn’t seen in 15 years? His response was so over-the-top that I thought it MUST be a ruse to get her to leave for her own safety. You would think Miguel might have at least escorted Gabrielle to the border, if for no other reason than to protect his own – ass-ets – knowing Rambo was helping raise her.

2. The writers made a big visual point about John taking medication, but they never explain what the prescriptions are for. Was he dying? Was it to help him suppress his more aggressive tendencies? He “symbolically” throws them away just before he goes off to kill the bad guys, but no one bothers to explain for what it was supposed to  symbolize? Releasing his “inner demons”? Resigning himself to death?

3. When John shows up at Miguel’s house and Miguel does NOT confess that he had only been trying to get her to go home, I was actually surprised. I fully expected Miguel to join up with John in a reconciliation quest and then go off together to rescue the girl. But that didn’t happen. Instead, John confronts the deadbeat contemptuous Miguel, the guy at the center of the mess, and then just leaves.

4. John pointlessly allows himself to be seen, captured, and hopelessly outmatched during his first attempt to rescue his niece. The resulting delay, along with the attention he brings to Gabrielle in particular, effectively condemns his niece to a horrible death.  Even a half-assed plan might have saved her. This is NOT in keeping with previous Rambo missions or movies.

5. It did not make sense that John would leave untouched the two people who were most responsible for putting Gabrielle in harm’s way: Gizelle who lured her to Mexico and Miguel who abandoned the family and then left his daughter to the mercies of a known dangerous city.  Rambo could have, with a flip of a knife, dispatched Miguel then even have just “dropped a dime” on Gizelle to the Martinez brothers who would have happily taken care of her for him. I’m not endorsing this behavior. I’m just saying it’s out of character for a man this steeped in violence to allow the two people, without whom this whole scenario would not have happened, to get off Scot free. It’s just bad writing.

6. The Cartel Army —-? Wind up GI Joe dolls would have demonstrated more survival skills. The Cartel’s arrival – preposterous in itself as they stream through the border with a long line of “bad guy” black vehicles loaded for bear, proceed to make a LOT of noise during which time NO ONE shows up even out of curiosity – is greeted with a demonstration of massive ordnance mines. You would think cartel king Mr. Martinez might now have cause to  rethink his frontal assault plan. But no – Martinez continues his World War II Russian front-style battle “plan”. His troops just throw themselves at John’s house accumulating the casualties you might expect. Then, even dumber, they descend into John’s home-made tunnels and search for him on his own turf, encountering booby trap after booby trap in an Aliens-level massacre and never ONCE attempt retreat, surrender, mutiny or escape but simply continue to run pell mell forward, as though John was tallying up frag points in Deathmatch and filming with all the same subtlety.

It’s as though Stallone and Cirulnick threw in a bunch of ideas but decided not to take the time to resolve them, in order to more (using a word homage to the INFINTELY better Stallone character, Angleo Provolone, from Oscar) “expeditiously” revel in all the bloody mayhem. Hey! We did our bit to create some human “drama” now LET’S GET TO SHOOTING PEOPLE AND BLOWING STUFF UP!!!

“Sly” Stallone has managed to accomplish a singular feat – I think he’s the first person to ever outlive his usefulness in TWO franchises of his own creation – Rocky and Rambo. He has become too old for either hand-to-hand combat or ring boxing.

He HAS creatively found ways to fit those weaknesses into the plot of both the Rocky and Rambo films. In the case of Rocky, Stallone has done a good job of passing the torch by “anointing” Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan – Black Panther‘s nemesis Killmonger) as Rocky’s protégé and replacement. I could go into how Adonis artfully fit into the franchise as Apollo Creed’s son and how Rocky’s mentoring does poetic justice to Burgess Meredith’s memory as Rocky’s coach, but that can be a post for another day. (Meanwhile go see Creed I and II).

In the case of Rambo, Stallone does not seem to know how to let go or end the franchise.

My husband remembers reading the book First Blood, upon which the first  Rambo movie was based. While Rambo: First Blood, the movie, diverges considerably from the source material, it still made for a fascinating and inspiring cult story of how a lone soldier suffering from PTSD responds when unwisely pushed into a corner. First Blood was a cult classic with legs. But oh how the mighty have fallen.

Putting all of my negative observations aside, I can’t help but applaud ONE  aspect of the movie. Last Blood highlights the extreme dangers of diving head first into situations for which you are unprepared. More particularly, the film points out to misinformed, feminist-propaganda fed young Millenial snowflakes, who have been foolishly taught by the PC crowd they can go anywhere and do anything as long as they are following their heart, that the world is a very tough and sometimes horrible place which can quite literally eat you alive. Gabrielle discovers, quickly and brutally, that all the empowerment brainwashing in the world will NOT save you from a horrible death. BUT the protective men in your life who care for you: your father, your husband, your brother, your uncle, your guardian – CAN protect you AND YOU SHOULD LET THEM!!!!!

In short, when someone who you have good reason to trust, tells you something is dangerous, MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T DO IT!!!

Rambo: Last Blood is a savage, unpleasant and ultimately unsatisfying experience, but if seeing it makes even one young adult hesitate to expose themselves to situations or people who, having seen the movie, might NOW look risky, then the movie would be well worthwhile to show them.

So, in short Rambo: Last Blood,  while not great cinema…not even good cinema, serves as an exemplary horrible warning, .

LAST Blood? LAST, as in this is the end of the franchise? Please, oh please, oh please, let Last Blood be the final Rambo entry, despite the ambiguous Shane-like ending. Or, the way they are heading, Rambo will next be creating grenades in a nursing home and tossing them from a Zimmer Frame based on a script scribbled on a napkin during a quick lunch at McD’s.

INSTANT FAMILY – A TALE OF THE TRUE SUPER HEROES

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF INSTANT FAMILY REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Instant Family is the charming, inspirational and humorous story of a DINK (double income no kids) couple who decide to foster three children. The film manages to be smart, brutally honest, funny and even whimsical all at the same time.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Must see! BUT only for older teens and up for language and story content.

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LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS!!

Instant Family COULD have been called Foster Parenting for Dummies. This is no one’s idealized version of a blended family. This is not The Brady Bunch, Three Men and a Baby, Despiccable Me or even……… The Blind Side (and you’ll see why that’s funny when you see the movie). But the movie is honest and very funny, miraculously achieving that delicate balance between comedy and drama which many movies attempt but at which few succeed. The innate parity between laughter and tears, which exists in the human condition but is rarely found in movie scripts, comes naturally to this script because the story was inspired by writer/director Sean Anders and his wife’s real life experiences of adopting. All of the characters, from the kids to the support group members to the social workers, are based on the real people Anders met through the process – normally flawed humans with the usual awkward family dynamics trying to do their best under difficult circumstances..

Instant Family soft pedals nothing as it follows Pete (Mark Wahlberg – Mile 22, Deep Water Horizon and Lone Survivor), and Ellie (Rose Byrne – Moira from the X-Men reboot and Bea from Peter Rabbit, and who, though from Australia, does a spotless American accent) from their naive, romantic visions of fostering a child, through the often hilarious mandatory support group meetings, the spotty support of their doubtful relatives, through the decision making and then to the realities of trying to support, protect, guide and raise three at-risk and traumatised children of different ages.

Sounds like heavy stuff, and it is, but it is also laugh-out-loud funny.

The movie occasionally wanders gently into slapstick and slight caricature but only in a way one might, with the humor and affection gleaned from the wisdom of retrospection, remember an experience that did not seem funny at the time but ends up being one of your favorite memories. Instant Family reminds me a lot of last year’s equally brilliant Wonder, about a family coping with a severely handicapped child. There are no bad guys, only the challenge, tackled by adults and children alike, to interact with the people who love you as best you can.

And if you ever wondered, as the PSA querries, that you had to be perfect to foster a child, the characters in Instant Family will disabuse you of that notion pretty quickly.

The support group scenes are especially funny, populated, as they are, by every possible combination of would be foster parents, from: single wanna-be super mom, to idealistic fundamentalist Christians, to an infertile interracial couple, to a gay couple, and to our protagonists – an upwardly mobile self employed couple, who initially think of these children the way they do the houses they renovate for a living. All come with a unique set of priorities and preconceived, often conflicting, sometimes counter-intuitive notions. Some are even portrayed as ridiculous or annoying. But, fundamentally, ALL of them have one thing in common: A core desire to provide a loving stable home for children who have none, and who are often at risk of abuse, addiction and even death at the hands of their biological parents and the environment to which they are subjected.

These foster parents, for all of their differences, flaws, quirks, and even errors in judgment, are the living life rafts on the treacherous and stormy seas of our broken culture, desperately trying to rescue survivors who sometimes don’t even want to be saved. I love movies about: The Avengers, Thor, Hulk, Spiderman, Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Ant Man, Batman, Justice League and Agents of SHIELD. But these disparate, sometimes awkward, occasionally clueless foster parents are the true super heroes.

The acting is terrific, never succumbing to the easy temptation to sink into saccharine or false empathy, but neither does it avoid showing the warts of the torturous foster process.

Wahlberg and Byrne are excellent and never shy away from any of the very strong emotions of the moment, but don’t dwell on them either. And there is a constant balance of the solemn with the naturally evolving moments of humor that always arise from even the grimmest of circumstances. For example, the social workers, Sharon and Karen, played by Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures and Zootopia) are very funny as odd couple co-workers. Notaro is the prim, proper, white, reserved, rule follower while Spencer is the outspoken, blunt, pragmatic, black counterpart. But they both have a realistic view of their jobs. When Pete asks Sharon and Karen about the foster children’s father the only answer he gets is uncontrolled laughter. This humorously speaks serious volumes without belaboring the tragic point. In another scene, after learning of a significant hitch in their plans, Pete and Ellie come home to discover Ellie’s mother, Jan, being decorated with permanent ink sharpies. There was no malice involved. Children and Jan alike had mistaken them for washables. Jan, performed by Julie Hagerty, whose unforgettable stint in Airplane made her synonymnous with ditzy characters, solemnly offers good and sage advice but, of necessity, while indelibly and distractingly face painted.

The music is a cheerful and delightful sprinkling of songs like Wings’ “Let ’em In,” George Harrison’s “What is Life,” and Jefferson Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now”. The perky upbeats also help soften the more somber moments. You can get the individual songs streaming on Amazon here.

The children are very natural. Isabela Moner, singer and actress, is Lizzy, the teenager who is simultaneously grateful for the safe haven Pete and Ellie provide for herself and her siblings and understandably resentful of these same people as interlopers to her “real,” incarcerated, drug-addicted mother. Moner has a truly beautiful voice and sings the credit song, “I’ll Stay,” at the end of the movie. Gustavo Quiroz is adorable as Lizzy’s clutzy, well meaning and inept younger brother, Juan. And Julianna Gamiz is the youngest and precocious sister, Lita.

The two younger kids act with the normal and very believable open ingenuousness, quick impulsive affection, manipulative behavior, and selfish temper tantrum demands of normal kids. But the writing skillfully runs a thread of abnormality underneath these kids’ otherwise normal veneer. For example, Lita happily plays with Ellie when they first meet until Lita begins play-acting with her doll, calling her doll racial epithets and interacting with the doll  in ways she is obviously imitating from her previous foster parents. It’s nothing sinister but casually cruel. And it gives the audience a taste of what every precarious day can be like for these kids whose parents have abysmally let them down  and are in a system which can sometimes fail them. But again the serious tone is undercut by the humorous way the failed foster couple insist she must have heard it on TV.

A lovely cameo is of Joan Cusack as an elderly, awkward, but concerned neighbor who helps to deflate another scene which could have degenerated into mawkishness but for her delightfully eccentric presence.

The filming style itself is very straightforward, almost like professionally made home movies, as we see quite intimate moments of Ellie and Pete with each other, with their families, and with the foster kids, and the support group sessions.

While there is no sexuality shown on screen, there are sexual topics which come up necessarily and inevitably with the raising of a 15 year old girl from a bleakly broken background who has severe daddy issues. In addition, under stress, there is some humorously interjected but understandable profanity that crops up sprinkled throughout the movie. This, with the serious topic of abandoned and at-risk children, make this movie suitable only for older teens and up. However for that demographic for which is appropriate it is a must-see movie.

ISLE OF DOGS – A WES ANDERSON TAKE ON MAN’S BEST FRIEND

SHORT TAKE:

Peculiar stop-action animated dramedy about abandoned dogs and their nobility in a dystopian Japanese future and the boy who adventures out to rescue one of them.

WHO SHOULD GO:

The violence is, literally and figuratively, cartoonish, but unlike most cartoons, there are realistic outcomes: bitten off ear, bones of a starved dog, ripped eyes, missing fur – so mid-teens a minimum, and only then with parental discretion. As always, when in doubt, PARENTS YOU SEE IT FIRST before taking your kids.

Remember, they can not UNsee something.

LONG TAKE:

Isle of Dogs is a straight up tale of a boy searching for his lost pet.

But that is where the possibility of it being a kid movie ends. Isle of Dogs is really an animated stop action film for adults that most older kids could probably go see too. The premise of this very odd animated movie involves dog-hating corrupt politicians in a Japan 20 years into the future. (Not, according to Wes Anderson, necessarily OUR future or Japan's future but SOME future in the…future. Don't blame me, that is what Wes Anderson said.)

Acting on a thousand year old feud between dogs and cats, the evil Mayor of Megasaki gets his henchmen to devise and deliberately introduce a lethal snout flu into the dog population, making dogs both sick and more aggressive. To "protect" the population, all dogs from the fictitious Japanese town, (which name seems to stand for LOTS – mega – of very strong rice wine – saki), are sent to Trash Island, aptly named for the location to where all of the pollution, litter, industrial waste, radioactive discards, plastic bottles,

rusted car parts, broken glass and every day garbage are dumped from Megasaki.

The animation is almost entirely stop motion puppets, and the "making of" Isle of Dogs videos are fascinating. Each portion of this strange film is stylized:

a cave made of discarded soda containers, a mountain of black sand,

an island of tires. Anderson primarily uses bright colors in the peopled Magasaki and muted colors on Trash Island, not only to highlight and represent the desolation of Trash Island but to realistically reflect the fact that dogs are partially color blind and Anderson wanted the view of the place to be from the dog’s POV.

I wondered what would inspire Wes Anderson, the director of such disparate but equally quirky films as: the

Royal Tenenbaums,

The Grand Budapest Hotel,

The Fantastic Mr. Fox and

Moonrise Kingdom, (yes, Anderson likes that signature over-the-shoulder shot, doesn't he?), to make this rather odd film. It turns out after some research that the primary reasons are an amalgam of four disparate thoughts: a London street sign, a misunderstanding about him personally, a familiar trope, and 1960s Japanese directors.

It began apparently when Mr. Anderson was driving through London during the filming of The Fantastic Mr. Fox and saw a street sign "Isle of Dogs". Yes, it is a real place –

a suburban area built into a loop of the Thames. The name stuck with him. Further it's a bit of a play on words. Say it fast and it becomes "I love dogs". Which leads to the misunderstanding about him personally.

In Wes Anderson films, bad things often happen to dogs. This goes a long way to explaining why I'm not a big fan. See in my Sgt Stubby review where I talk about Lethal Weapon 2. This particular repeating motiff has led to the misunderstanding that he does not like dogs. However, according to Mr. Anderson, this is very much not true. So he has written a movie about a group of abused examples of these endearing creatures – which leads to the next reason I have uncovered.

Mr. Anderson likes to include the concept, in all of his movies, of the endearing Underdog.

The character up against seemingly overwhelming odds who surely cannot win but for whom everyone roots and who often overcomes the odds.

Mr. Anderson, in a conceptual pun, has written a screenplay about the ultimate Underdog – the downtrodden, less fortunate dog, who has become the under dog.

The abandon group of men's best friends, who are condemned to die alone on a trash island, who face seemingly insurmountable odds, but whom are very likeable and for whom we root are the very definition of the Underdog.

The ultimate underdogs.

Finally, Mr. Anderson simply is a fan of two Japanese directors.

Akira Kurosawa was the director of movies such as Ran, the Japanese version of King Lear, Rashomon, the brilliant classic film about an attack in a forest told consecutively from four points of view, and Kagemusha, (which translates to "political decoy") about a thief who is hired to be the body double of a king. For you Star Wars trivia buffs, just "so's ya' know," Kagemusha

was made possible through the influence and financial intervention of George Lucas. Lucas attributed inspiration for his breakthrough epic Star Wars from Kurasawa’s movie The Hidden Fortress. Shocked at finding out that Kurasawa could not get funding or attention to get Kagemusha filmed, Lucas pulled his now very thick and powerful strings – purse and studio – to get Kurasawa the backing he needed and the movie was a massive financial and critical hit.

Wes Anderson admits to being a big fan and was highly influenced in his use of style by Kurasawa as well.

The other Japanese director is

Hayao Miyazaki, an acclaimed manga animator of

Princess Mononoke, which Anderson says he admires for his use of nature and silence.

Therefore, Anderson set the location and the architectural styles of Japan

with a Frank Lloyd Wright flair.

The movie is not without humor. It is actually quiet funny in moments

with a dry wit often worthy of Steven Wright ("I woke up one morning to discover everything in my house had been replaced with an exact duplicate,") or George Carlin's "Hippy, Dippy Weatherman" routine, where he predicts that the nighttime would likely be "dark" with continued "dark" until the morning and that "the weather would continue to change for a long, long time."

Similarly, the dogs comment matter of factly on their tenuous, sometimes impossible, and seemingly hopeless situation with a jaunty optimistic naivety. Boss is voiced with

deadpan wryness by Bill Murray,

King with gentle common sense pragmatism by Bob Balaban,

Rex with a slight bit of snark by Ed Norton,

Duke as a gossipy worrywart by Jeff Goldblum, and Chief

with a straight man's frustration by Bryan Cranston. These dogs all have notably different personalities, despite the limited abilities of the puppets to express facially or look terribly individual.

Rounding out more of the cast are Scarlett Johansson's Nutmeg,

Leiv Schrieber's Spots,

Tilda Swinton as the TV interpreting Oracle,

Koyu Rankin as Atari, known to the dogs as the "Little Pilot"

for the daring way he arrived on Trash Island,

Greta Gerwig (the director of Ladybird, read about Ladybird in my Oscar Winners of 2018 review here) as

Tracy Walker, who takes up Atari's cause to the citizens of Megasaki, and

Frances McDormand who acts as narrator and occasionally Greek Chorus.

Incredible care and detail went into making each of the figures. For example, Andy Gent, working with 70 other artists, deliberately made the dogs' legs differently – they wanted to hit a "balance" between reality and "caricature," so to create that effect and for the convenience of the puppeteers, gave the dogs hind legs that look like front legs.

They brought in real dogs – sometimes pets from the cast and crew – and fashioned them according to certain actors they wanted to reflect, such as Charles Laughton's visage for Jupiter the St Bernard, voiced by F. Murray Abraham.

They also used

mechanical armature as a skeleton and crafted the fur from alpaca and merino wool.

There are virtues to be learned of: loyalty, redemption, fortitude and finding the purpose that God has given you. God IS mentioned in a positive way.

The dogs are at a loss until they are given the opportunity to once again serve humans and

humans have an obligation (defined Biblically as a stewardship) to care for, protect and respect the devotion lavished on us by dogs.

We are reminded often that dogs are supposed to be man's best friend and until that relationship is restored there is no real peace either in Megasaki or in the dog world.

While Isle of Dogs is aimed mostly at adults, despite its distinct peculiarities, this movie fits into that long honored list of films that remind us of the enduring relationship between humans and man's best friend.

TOMB RAIDER – HARMLESS BRAINLESS FUN

Daniel Wu

SHORT TAKE:

Discount Indiana Jones style adventure thriller with a female lead that takes advantage of the popularity of the video game of the same name.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Mid to older teens and up but video game fans should be warned that while the spirit of the game is there, this is a mostly different plot.

LONG TAKE:

In the African fable of The Cow-Tail Switch a father, the leader of the tribe, is lost on a lion hunting trip. The youngest has not yet even been born when the father goes missing. Time goes by and eventually the youngest brother is born, toddles about, grows older and learns to speak. His very first words are, "Where is our father?" The six older brothers then realize their father has been gone a very long time and decide to go on a quest to find out what has happened. Many days travel away they eventually come upon the father’s bones. Each son has a magic gift of life. One puts the bones together. Another replaces the sinews and muscle. Another gives his father organs. Another flesh. Another fills his father’s body with blood. The sixth brother breathes life into him. They all return rejoicing and the father announces he will make the next ruler of the tribe the one who contributed the most to his return. Each of the six older sons makes an argument for the part they played in returning their father to life. But the father chooses the youngest, reasoning that he was the one who thought to ask about him – and as long as someone remembered him he was never really dead.

Such is the case of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.

SOME SPOILERS

The premise of Tomb Raider is that a young woman, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina) decides to embark upon a quest to find out what happened to her long lost adventurer father. During this quest she must overcome everything from Chinese muggers to shipwrecks and an evil nemesis Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins, the perennial bad guy) who works for the mysterious Trinity, an organization seeking to control the world, who shoots the weak and offers up the predictable, "You should not have come," line. Based on the video game of the same name, fans of the game need to be aware that the Tomb Raider movie has virtually (pun intended) nothing in common with the video story except that the lead character is a female on an adventure on a mysterious island to find something. No mention of a missing father or a world catastrrophe she is tasked to stop is ever mentioned in the video game.

Missing for seven years, everyone else has given Richard Croft, (Dominic West with a diverse filmography from 300, the musical Chicago and 1999's A Midsummer's Night Dream) her father, up for dead. But so intent is Lara upon the idea that her father is still alive that she will not even lay claim to the inheritance which will get her off the streets and allow her to return to the life of luxury in which she grew up.

It is only when she is prevailed upon to meet with the family attorney that she is introduced to a wooden puzzle box which, according to the will, she is to solve upon her father’s death.

Solve it, of course, she does (or it would have been a very short movie) and off she is sent on an adventure that would have challenged Indiana Jones.

Until Gal Gadot put lie to my assertion that a really good super hero movie could not be made with a female lead, I did not think that a woman was as good a choice as a man for an action adventure……and aside from Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman I still think this is true.

Part of the problem is that the extremely physical stunts required of the character in Tomb Raider would have been a challenge for a circus gymnast with the power of Dwayne Johnson, much less a female bike courier who likes to kickbox for fun, which is what Lara is without her family dough. A video game character gets several lives, but the movie is more grounded in a real life scenario, and to have a female endure the abuse and survive the jumps, falls, hits, fighting and wounds she does and still have the energy to run with weapons into a battle, cartwheel through ancient booby traps and still have the strength to stand is beyond the limits of even my considerable powers of suspension of disbelief.

Another problem with this movie in particular is the plot. The very McGuffin is flimsy. The father spends much of his time away from his supposedly beloved daughter scouring the world in search of something that – well, truthfully he could have found in the nearest church.

It is never made clear exactly why Lara did not continue to live on the family estate even while her father was missing. Did she, at some point, decide – gosh, I think I’ll move away because if I CONTINUE to live here it will be like an admission of his death….? They never even explain why she left the home of her childhood to begin with. They show her there as a child and an older teen just before Richard leaves on his fateful last trip. When did she abandon the family manor so that returning would be an acceptance of his death? You have to LEAVE somewhere before you can RETURN. And if she left – why? And when? There is no logic, pretext, reason or excuse so much as alluded to. Doesn't make any logical sense.

Another McGuffin point is that the family executor, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, tells Lara if she does not sign papers acknowledging her father’s death that everything will be sold at auction. Um….why? It’s not as though they were going bankrupt. This seems like a very arbitrary threat which comes out of nowhere with no background explanation.

Lara is a newbie to the adventure scene. Indiana Jones' father took him to exotic locales since early childhood. Indiana grew up as an artifact hunter with a lot of experience fending for himself. Batman and Iron Man used LOTS of gizmos to get between their relatively fragile human bodies and the hostile punches, bullets, missiles and other assorted threatening challenges being thrown at them. Superman simply had … powers. Lara is a relative hothouse flower who…rides bikes fast and…kickboxes. Whoopie. This in no way demonstrates that she can survive: an ambush by three thugs, a shipwreck, a fall from a cliff, a landing through trees, picking up her own dead weight one handed – and these are only things you see in the trailer.

Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) is a significant and likeable supporting character who figures strongly in the plot yet is never given the clear resolution he deserves but is just kind of left…  hanging.

The main baddie Mathias Vogel  tells Lara he has killed her father but does not explain why he would murder the one man who, by his own admission, is the only way to find and open the tomb of Himika – the goal that will get him off the island. Then, let us say, in a surprise that takes no one unawares, that he is laughably bad at follow up.

Without giving away too much more than is already IN the trailer I find it difficult to determine who the real bad guy is – Mathias Vogel who only wants to "win" so he will be allowed to go home to his family, or Richard Croft, the titular good guy/Dad who, truth be told, abandoned his daughter to set off a search for an item that he should have predicted would get a lot of people killed, and all for some pretty lame reasons.

And I don't think it is much of a spoiler to reveal that this movie is primarily a great big set up for a sequel. But then so was Ron Eli's 1975 Doc Savage, and given you probably have never even HEARD of that movie you can see how well that turned out.

Not that Tomb Raider is a bad movie. It is certainly a mostly satisfying wild ride of a tale. But Lara Croft is no Wonder Woman. Nor is she Indiana Jones, Captain America, Hulk, Spiderman, Iron Man, Superman, Batman or even Zorro. OK Lara Croft is better than Doc Savage …. or Howard the Duck.

There is a surprise and very small role featuring one of my all time favorite actors, Derek Jacobi. Although the character provides almost nothing to the movie, Sir Derek would lend class and grace to a McDonald’s advertisement, so it was a joy to see him.

Movies like Tomb Raider are like the pleasure you get riding roller coasters or eating cotton candy – not harmful in moderation and a hoot if you don't think about it very hard.

In short Tomb Raider is a good old fashioned potboiler of a thrill ride with plenty of hair raising incidents, near misses, goofy but ignorable plot holes, preposterously unlikely survivals and…running. LOTS of running. So get your popcorn and malted milk balls, turn your brain WAY down to simmer and enjoy.

NOTE: There is NO nudity and NO sex as there is no time and virtually zero opportunity for the characters amidst all the chasing and shooting and RUNNING. There are a few profanities including one blasphemy which is spoken by the bad guy. The violence is on par with your average Indiana Jones movie.

But being a firm believer that people should check things out for themselves, especially when it comes to one's kids, who will VERY likely want to see this movie, I recommend you subscribe and check out: Tomb Raider on www.screenit.com http://www.screenitplus.com/members/tomb_raider_Full_Content_Review.cfm#p