THE FOUNDER – DULL BIOPIC OF THE BUSINESS VULTURE RAY KROC IN A WASTE OF KEATON’S TALENTS

SHORT TAKE:

Dry and uninvolving biopic, despite Michael Keaton's efforts, about Ray Kroc, the avaricious business predator, who co-opted then outsted the McDonald brothers from their own creation.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Limited to adults and older teens only because some language and Kroc's lack of interpersonal and business ethics. The mechaniations of enterprise – good and bad – might be interesting to business and history students.

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LONG TAKE:

If you can not be a good example be a horrible warning. I'm not sure which one the makers of The Founder intended it to be.

The Founder is a 2016 biopic about Ray Kroc, the man who made McDonald's a multi-bazillion dollar enterprise and its distinct Golden Arches logo one of the most recognizable symbols on (literally) the entire planet.

McDonald's was a singular hamburger restaurant – one of, if not the first, walk-up, designed by the McDonald brothers, Maurice and Richard (John Carroll Lynch of Jackie – see my review of Jackie here – and Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation). Their's was a unique concept, carefully designed and laid out, innovative and revoluitionary in the Drive-In-car hop-predominated culture of America in the 1950's. Richard and Maurice, had created this style as a money saver – no car hops, broken glassware, or dallying hoodlums. People stood in line to get great tasting burgers, in throw away packaging, in a clean family friendly environment. What the McDonald brothers saw as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, Ray Kroc saw as a golden goose just waiting to be plucked.

SPOILERS

The film starts with Ray as an unsuccessful multi-spindle milkshake salesman who happens upon this singular successful enterprise and recognizes the brilliant business model for what it is. The McDonald brothers think "small" but Ray believes in BIG. And the McDonald brothers don't know to whom they are linking their futures when they sign a contract with Ray to establish franchises. Ray's personal motto is "Persistence" and he uses his formidable variation on it to: slowly negotiate, maneuver and leverage their business right out from under them, steal the wife of one of his franchise partners, leave his own wife, and cheat the McDonald brothers out of the royalty fees to which they were promised when they inevitably are forced to sell out to Ray.

This is NOT a nice man, but then neither was Vito Corleone in The Godfather Trilogy or Loki from The Avengers movies. And people generally love both the Corleone patriarch and Thor's sly brother as guilty pleasures.  But what the latter two had in abundance, Ray Kroc, as portrayed in The Founder, had none of – and that was a relatable personality.

The Founder plays out like the dramatically filmed version of a documentary. It is not filmed in documentary style but is written as a series of facts filmed in vignettes. The movie is seen through Ray Kroc's eyes in a terrific performance by Michael Keaton but only in the visual sense. By that I mean, we see what happens as Kroc himself might remember them but we, the audience, get no real feel for seeing AS Kroc might have seen life. We are never given opportunity to see the world as Ray Kroc sees it. We only hear him voice the sentiments of his own avarice without understanding what it was that drove him to HAVE those views. No back story, no moments of reflection, no knowing how he reconciles with or justifies to himself what he has done to others. Certainly, no King Claudius self-tormenting moments from Hamlet, wherein the character knows the wrong he has done and would like to repent but is unable because of his own weaknesses for the things he has acquired through those same outrageous acts.

Keaton has been Batman, Bird Man, Vulture in Spiderman Homecoming, and Mr. Mom – all variations on super heroes with a dark but redemptively inclined streak in one form or another (even his character in the comedy Mr Mom gets within a hair's breadth of the dark action of cheating on his wife but comes to his senses in the nick of time). So playing an appealing villain would not be his first rodeo. Unfortunately, the script gives him little to do but posture and go through the motions. Once he establishes his unsuccessful frustrated character then woos the McDonald brothers, the rest of the movie is merely a checklist of events. Expand the business – check. Buy land – check. Meet his business associate's wife and show interest – check. Use innovations, like dried instant milkshake without the McDonald brothers permission – check. Tell the brothers he has more money and so he can do what he wants and they are  out – check. Movie over – check.

Don't get me wrong. Keaton does his best with this dry script. He even manages a few moments which gives a glimmer of what the movie should have been. For example, there's one scene where he joins his future second wife, Joan (Linda Cardellini from Daddy's Home and Avengers: Age of Ultron) at a piano where she works and, right in front of her husband, manages to woo her by singing with her. And the first scenes which show his woeful attempts to sell his multi-mixers demonstrate his gift of gab which is falling on deaf ears. I mean, his pitch was so good I was almost ready to buy one! But, alas, his potential buyers were noT so convinced. So you come to understand why, when he sees this extremely profitable "hamburger joint" his mouth starts watering and not just for the French fries. But for every one of the few interesting scenes there are several astonishingly bland ones, such as when he announces, as they eat a silent dinner at their kitchen table, to his all but ignored wife, Ethel, (Laura "Jurassic Park"  Dern), that he wants a divorce. She just puts down her fork, the camera pans back and away from her, the end. (Huh?) The audience pretty much knew this was coming, but instead of Beatrice Straight's Oscar winning 5 minutes in Network where she reads her husband the riot act for walking out on her, we get something more akin to the emotional vacuum of Dave as he eats alone in the empty house in 2001.

This is a humorless look at the man. Kroc states as his personal philosophy to the McDonald brothers at one point – "If my competitor was drowning I'd stick a hose in his mouth." So "business is business" is obviously a manifesto with Kroc. But that does not mean this arid POV has to be reflected in the way the movie is written. I can't help but wonder how much better this movie would have been with a Cohen Brothers-style hero in the lead.

In short, this is a flat film whose basic moral could be stated as: "If you are persistent enough you can have everything you want and never have to suffer the consequences of your evil actions." Kroc stole his partners' business, his friend's wife, and cheated the McDonald brothers out of hundreds of millions of dollars of royalties —- because he could. But we ultimately don't care. We don't know the abused well enough to empathize and we are givennothing with which to relate to the main character.  It's an unpalatable story which wastes the considerable talents of Keaton.

So……….next time, Keaton wants to play a vulture, I'd much rather it be one in a Spiderman sequel.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: DC v. MARVEL – It’s a COMIC book not Kafka…..so be nice

SHORT TAKE:

Justice League is an amusing and entertaining excuse to unite the DC comic book characters into their version of Marvel's Avengers but requires some parental supervision because of two short but poorly chosen off hand political and anti-Christian polemics which should require discussion between younger viewers and their parents.

LONG TAKE:

Writing an origin story isn’t easy. You have to deal with a lot of exposition and expectation all while trying to find a new way to tell an established or sometimes even cliched story line. Sometimes it works spectacularly well – like the Chris Reeves’ Superman or this year’s Wonder Woman. Sometimes not so well, like Wolverine or Eric Bana’s Hulk. And when you’re trying to do a team effort that issue becomes exponentially more difficult.

Such is the challenge facing Justice League, especially when three of the characters have only appeared in cameos in Batman V Superman: Flash/Barry Allen (Ezra "Fantastic Beasts" Miller), Cyborg/Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), and Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason "Drogo from Game of Thrones" Momoa).

The premise is that Bruce Wayne/Batman, in the wake of Superman’s untimely demise, has discovered that the void left by his super-colleague is attracting very ugly aliens called parademons who look an awful lot like larger flying version of the dwergers from Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing.

To prepare for the invasion by the parademons master, Steppenwolf (super villain, not the ‘60's band) who seeks to remake the world in his own image, Bruce and Wonder Woman/Diana set out to recruit other supers.  Bruce to seek the Flash and Aquaman, Diana to convince Cyborg. All three of the newbies have troubled pasts (Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman can put their baggage in the closet with the steam trunks from the traumatized Batman and grieving Wonder Woman) but eventually agree, only to find out that their considerable combined efforts will not be quite enough to even create a stalemate with Steppenwolf.

A nice little theme of not putting your light under a bushel, of being able to overcome your fears of failure or worse, dread of the responsibility in leadership, is interwoven in the storyline, but only as light embroidery, not as sustaining warp and woof of this cinematic costume quality fabric.

Other reviewers have complained the story felt disjointed and somewhat disconnected. By necessity this is what happens when you try to introduce three major players into a five "man" mix with a story intended to propel them together and still try to keep the movie less than 15 hours long. A few things have to be cut and you have to edit down a bit.

While Justice League isn’t as lighthearted as Guardians of the Galaxy nor near the apex of the genre that is  The Avengers, or Wonder Woman, it’s an engaging enough flick. And isn’t that good enough?! I mean, come ON, it’s a live action comic book!! If you want Shakespeare then you could watch…..well, OK Branagh’s Thor….

But seriously, there are at least four compelling reasons why I liked Justice League and can forgive them a lot of plot and presentation weaknesses because of them:

1. We get the return of Wonder Woman in a vehicle which did not require a three year wait as many other sequels are glacially cranked out. It was very nice to see Gal Godot don the Amazonian one piece and watch as she balletically beats up bad guys again.

2. DC has managed, as with Wonder Woman, another transformation I would never have thought possible. As a kid Aquaman was on the top of the list for the lamest of super heroes. Mostly a Ken doll who could hold his breath for a very long time he didn’t even make a blip in my Superman-loving radar. But in Justice League Aquaman is a whiskey swilling, tatooed, long haired Norwegian-ey good ole boy who looks like a wrestler and acts like a rock star. This guy is just fun to watch as he exudes the kind of joy battling parademons we haven’t seen since Woody Harrelson’s delightful walking dead killing spree in Zombieland.

3. We see the return, albeit in cameos, of Jeremy irons as Alfred, JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, and Cyborg's father Silas Stone played by Joe Morton, whose pedigree with sci fi dates back a lot further than you might think – through a stint on Warehouse 13, to a key role in the Terminator franchise all the way back to 1984's quirky sci fi indie Brother from Another Planet.

4. And most importantly, which reason would have been enough to get me to see this movie all by itself……..well……I’m not going to tell you, but you’ll know it when you see it.

That being said, there are also three reasons I have to take exception to, which are largely unrelated  or at least unnecessary to the story or comic book characters per se:

1. GLOBAL WARMING PROPAGANDA:

Bruce shoehorns a throw away comment to Aquaman about global warming as though it is an established fact rather than the cock and bull fantasy of environmental wackos who want an excuse to tyrannically limit First World progress into the 21st century in order to feather their own Al Gore-jet flying coffers.

2. ANTI-CHRISTIAN CHEAP SHOT:

Lex Luther takes a gratuitous stab at Christianity which I, for one, didn’t appreciate. Granted, he is a bad guy, but his comment stepped right over offensive into blasphemy. When a statement is so over the top that it shocks you out of the suspension of disbelief it does nothing to promote the storytelling either. It neither served the plot or character well nor will endear it to any Christian audience members, and was just plain rude. I continue to be annoyed by the singular targeting of the Judeo-Christian faith by a Hollywood which used to produce movies like Going My Way and Schindler’s List.

3. As I have alluded to in the earlier part of this post there is an awful lot of derivatives, echoes and dopplegangers between the two rival comic book universes DC and Marvel. Along with the ones I have already mentioned like parademons, there is Steppenwolf (DC comics) who looks a LOT like a combination of the fire demon Surtur who appears at the beginning of Thor: Ragnarok (Marvel comics) and Thanos from Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel). Further Steppenwolf’s goal is to bring together three "mother boxes" (DC) which are not explained well but when glowing look like red versions of  the blue Tesseract from The Avengers (Marvel), and when joined will reshape the Earth with tentacle transformers made of Element X (DC) which look an awful lot like the tentacles from Thor: The Dark World set loose by the Dark Elf Malekith from the Aether (Marvel).

See what I mean? After a while they all kind of blend together. In addition, the are a LOT of other counterparts in each world. I have made a short list below of the most noticeable ones. (And the years they first appeared in order to put to rest any debate about who predated whom. In short – DC and Marvel took turns being "first".)

DC vs Marvel

For the most part Justice League is an airy simple romp. Lots of cartoon violence, super powered heroics, and over the top demonic bad guys. Bringing the "old band back" is a hoot to watch and like the first Star Trek movie, or the first waffle off the griddle, they are entitled to "warm the pan up," so to speak, for future efforts. Besides, they should be able to pull off pretty much anything now that they have Wonder Woman and………you'll see.

 

SPYDER – BOLLYWOOD BEGETS BUDGET BATMAN – AN ADORABLY QUIRKY MOVIE

I DON'T NORMALLY OFFER LOCAL SHOW TIMES BUT THINK THIS MOVIE IS WORTH AND PROBABLY NEEDS A LITTLE ADVERTISEMENT TO MAIN STREAM MOVIE GOERS.
 
HERE IS THE WEB ADDRESS FOR THE LOCAL LAKE CHARLES THEATERS WHERE I HAIL FROM AND WHERE SPYDER IS SHOWING IN LAKE CHARLES:
 
https://www.fandango.com/cinemark-lake-charles-and-xd-AASWW/theater-page
 
HERE IS THE WEBSITE TO ACCESS SHOWINGS WHEREVER YOU ARE – JUST PLUG IN YOUR LOCAL ZIP CODE AND/OR SPYDER:
 
https://www.fandango.com/
 
SHORT TAKE:
 
Spyder is a refreshingly weird throwback to 30's musicals, 40's morality, and the innocent rom com, all against a re-envisioned Indian version of Batman: The Dark Knight….no I’m not kidding —  and I kind of loved it.
 
LONG TAKE:
 
  For those of you old enough to remember, think back to the old Audie Murphy or Gary Cooper Westerns.
 
 
For those too young for that image, think of Christopher Reeves as Superman rescuing Lois Lane from a falling helicopter. Gorgeous, clean cut, clean living, gentlemen good guys with altruistic courage who saunter onto any scene, beat up bad guys and barely muss their hair.
Holding onto that image, now conjure what a discount Dark Knight story might have looked like were it re-conceived as an Indian musical … and you have Spyder. See, our hero is a SPY – ergo Spyder. Geddit?
 
There is an undeniable charm to the entire proceedings and even at 2 and a half hours the movie kept my interest and consisted of entertainment in the way of good old fashioned diversion. No deep philosophical musings, no noir where the characters come in shades of gray. Good guys were very good and the bad guys didn’t just chew the scenery, they cackled Joker-like and leapt upon it like monkeys. It’s a universe where the hero’s raised eyebrow indicates the depth of his sincerity, a few heartfelt words or brave example rallies strangers to courage, and a final speech to the crowd sums up the lessons everyone should have learned during the course of the movie.
     
While very Batman-esque in his approach and intent, our hero, Shiva (Mahesh Babu), does not hide his identity, has no super powers and lives merely comfortably with his parents and younger brother in an upper middle class neighborhood. However, by virtue of his job he has access to all kinds of gizmos, cool toys and surveillance equipment. He’s a spy – a desk jockey who monitors communications: internet, cell phones, social media – to find the right triggers for the government to move on. But he has a personal agenda. Using a piggyback program of his own devising he ALSO monitors personal communiques – illegally – but with the intent of anticipating and intervening in bad events before they happen. Shown in a musical montage – complete with bevies of adoring costumed women – he thwarts a home invasion, prevents a bank robbery and intervenes before a young woman can hang herself – all while nattily dressed and moving like a runway model. He does everything but save a cat from a tree, strike the Superman pose or have light glint from his sparkling teeth.  Those are probably being saved for the sequel.
 
While doing his surreptitious surveillance he meets the requisite young woman of his dreams – Shalini (Rakul Preet Singh). Eavesdropping on a conversation with her girlfriend he discovers she has become curious about sex and decides to prevent her from making the terrible mistake of ruining her virtue.  The casually assumed morality alone won me over. It was quite refreshing from the brutally misused sexuality of our own country on display in even the most supposedly harmless of comedies and romances. Our hero follows her around for a few weeks and finds her beautiful, intelligent, forthright, and devout – and then the two of them engage in a dance routine to show how they feel for each other all the while denying any mutual attraction. This part is all very 1940's musical… had it taken place in India – replete with exotic colorful costumes, dozens of extras and Bollywood dance numbers and music by Harris Jayaraj.

THEN it gets weird. (To quote a line from Death Becomes Her — “NOW a warning?!”)

In a shift that is almost gear stripping from the lighthearted musical hero mode, there enters onto the scene a vicious serial killer, Sudlai (S.J. Surya), who murders and dismembers a friend of our hero and another young woman. A distraught Shiva, after encouragement from his father (Jayarakash)  makes it his mission, with a handful of his very clever geek friends,  to uncover the evil doer’s identity and bring him to justice, even at the risk of exposing his own unauthorized use of equipment.
 
Even during the dramatic portions it can seem a bit silly: the fight scenes where the hero’s fist doesn’t even come close to hitting the opponent are right out of the original Star Trek playbook. The survivability of our hero through falls and car crashes demonstrate the writer’s penchant for old B&W TV show heroes.  People run from danger by the Godzilla or Prometheus school of running away (in a straight line from an on coming boulder, instead of simply veering right or left). His hair is never mussed and he survives impacts and injuries that should have killed him. The morality is adorably right out of the 1940's rom coms – where the protagonist is sincerely anxious to protect the female lead’s virtue. The inclusion of the musical numbers was pulled right out of the old Busby Berkeley films – where crowds of choreographed and costumed dancers would  sweep across the screen with our intrepid hero and his love interest. The violence shown was cartoonish and any terrible events were Shakespearian in that they were not shown but intimated by a herald and others’ reactions to what they had seen.
 
  There are enough moving chases, tough guy fights, races against time, and beautifully clad women to keep the young teens entertained but nothing that would warp their sensibilities. Come to think of it I don’t even remember any bad language.
 
 
Some things to remember: this is an Indian movie and I’m sure some references and context were missed – at least by me. The acting is different as well. The cultural divide is reminiscent of the transition the silent film stars had to make when they went to talkies. In India these actors are highly praised and awarded. But their style, to my sensibilities, seemed to lean towards the old Perils of Pauline back-hand-on-forehead dramatic over-emoting. I’m not critiquing this, just advising caution before judging.
 
Another interesting feature is the subtitles. Of course, in an Indian produced movie shown in other countries there would have to be. BUT every now and again I felt like the Tardis Universal telepathic translator had kicked in because I was surprised by sporadic words and phrases of English naturally blended with the Tegulu and Tamil Indian dialects.
 
Then there are a ridiculous number of homages to Batman: Dark Knight. From the very premise of the hero’s intentions, to the bad guy’s use of the Scarecrow style mask, to the fact the bad guy is targeting a hospital, to the use of public communications’ devices to thwart the bad guy, to the way our hero gets away relatively unscathed with actions others would not either physically or legally, to the underestimation of the bad guy at a police station – all scream the writer-director’s  fan status towards the Dark Knight. No objection here. I think they made serviceable use of the material and gave it an interesting twist through an Indian filter.
 
So GO see this movie. Find where Spyder is playing on the Fandango website. The more I thought about Spyder the more it grew on me. Especially if you’re looking for something both different and familiar – kind of like a hamburger flavored with curry. Find it at your nearest theater’s special event, at an Indian cultural festival, on Amazon streaming when that happens, or even buy the DVD when it comes out. Bring no preconceived notions of what a movie format should be, turn off your brain a bit and just have a good time – India-style.