LITTLE WOMEN – ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES I’VE SEEN IN YEARS

SHORT TAKE:

Artfully modernized, faithfully told beautiful adaptation for the contemporary audience of the classic story, Little Women.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Everyone. Anyone. All ages. Please go, bring friends.

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LONG TAKE:

We know this story extremely well, inside and out. I’ve read the book. I’ve taught it as part of our curriculum several times over the span of homeschooling six kids.  I have seen a number of filmed versions including the appalling one where Katherine Hepburn was way too old to play Jo and a lovely one with Susan Sarandon as Marme. Our family was IN the danged play at our local community theater 12 years ago. My second oldest daughter played the lead, Jo, and the rest of our family either had parts on stage, behind the scenes or were present for every rehearsal cheering their siblings on. We’ve incorporated lines and expressions like "love lornity" and how French is a "silly slippery language" from the play into our traditional family sayings. Shoot, with four girls of our own, there were times I've felt as though we were LIVING scenes from Little Women…but I had never truly appreciated the story of Little Women until I saw this 2018 modernized film.

Little Women, marking the 150th anniversary of the publication of the source book, has been refurbished to modern day and is arguably one of the best movies I have seen in years. The film makers have adapted this Civil War era story to the 21st century with the same skill as the innovative Cumberbatch-Freeman Sherlock updated the original Conan Doyle invention, or Steve Martin refreshed Cyrano de Bergerac into the whimsical Roxanne – that is to say with both seamless, creative invention and great respectful affection for the source material. It is a testament to the timelessness of the concepts foundational to Louisa May Alcott’s novel that it translates so well, but it is the talent of the gifted screenwriter Kristi Shimek, newbie director Clare Niederpruem and the actors that makes it blossom onto the screen.

For the benefit of anyone suffering the misfortune of not being familiar with the story, the premise of Little Women follows Jo March from childhood to womanhood as she and her sisters grow and mature together in the warm embrace of loving parents and stalwart friends through joys, embarrassments, mistakes, misunderstandings, and the other comedies and tragedies of life.

For those who are blessed with a familiarity of the subject, rest assured the writer and director have a love and respect for the material. The tale has not been changed by the displacement in time, but is transformed into an image more familiar and therefore more accessible to 21st century audiences, without altering a single iota of character development, story arc, or theme. John Bunyan’s famous Christian allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, is as notable here as it was in the original script and novel, forming the underlying themes of passage from human frailty and sin to redemption, suffering the travails of life with forgiveness, courage, and love. Instead of the Civil War, the father is deployed overseas. Instead of letters they have Skype. The charity the original characters perform for a starving mother and children next door is done at a homeless shelter. The children are homeschooled and the social faux pas are appropriately updated to reflect the unwiseness of modern youth. As many lines as can be are pulled directly from the book, but updates, where needed, are appropriately made.

I’ve known Lea Thompson was a fine actress ever since I first saw Back to the Future at the theater in 1985. I was floored to discover, some 20 minutes into the movie when Marty goes back to the past, that the same woman who played a dowdy, overweight, burnt out, disillusioned and embittered alcoholic was NOT in fact 50 years old but a brilliant little 24 year old actress who nailed the tragic first version of Lorraine in the opening scenes of that now famous movie. She hits the bull's eye again in Little Women as Marme, the gentle, warm and archetype maternal figure of the March family.

I was honestly not familiar with any of the other cast members before seeing this Little Women. Most harken from TV shows and B movies, but every one of the performers is not only tremendous in their roles, but fit into and shape their characters so perfectly I will have difficulty ever thinking of these March family members and friends as anyone but them (with the except of our own family members, of course).

Sarah Davenport is perfect as the high strung, impulsive, often unthinking and deeply emotional Jo. Allie Jennings ditto as Jo’s favorite sister and alter ego, the gentle, kind and resolute Beth. Melanie Stone is lovely as Meg, wanting nothing more than to be a wife and mother. Elise Jones and Taylor Murphy playing the younger and older Amy, respectively, do a great job of the self absorbed and easily smitten youngest sister without losing Amy’s vulnerability. Lucas Grabeel steps into the part of Laurie with just the right combination of awkward and delightful as the lonely young man next door anxious to join a family. Ian Bohen as the caring and insightful Professor Freddie Bhaer, Bart Johnson as the warm and loving Papa March, Michael Flynn as Laurie’s kind and thoughtful grandfather Mr. Lawrence, Stuart Edge as Brooke, Barta Heiner as Aunt March and even Goober the cat contribute their support to this brilliant and beautiful film adaptation for the contemporary audience.

The dress and sets are simple and fit the time and place of a family of well cared for and spiritually sound young women. The sweetly fitting soundtrack is decorated with modern day songs which accurately reflect the needs of the film's moods. Most of the action takes place in and around the March and Lawrence homes. The filming style is of flash – backs and forwards – as time moves on and memories are rekindled by events in Jo’s dynamic present. And I really enjoyed the cinematically creative and tasteful way Ms. Niederpruem conveyed the passage of time.

Go see this wonderful version of Little Women. Read the book either before or after…or both…and gain a fresh new appreciation for this enchanting, inspiring and enduring tale of spiritual growth, family strength and the power that love and faith have over the buffets and trials of life. Bring Kleenex.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR – THE STORY OF FRED ROGERS AND HIS NEIGHBORHOOD

SHORT TAKE:

Lovely, delightful and moving documentary covering the life of both Fred Rogers and his Neighborhood.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Absolutely everyone. No really – unequivocally, no holds barred, universally, unabashedly, and without even the smallest reservation – EVERYONE!!!!

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LONG TAKE:

When I was a kid, I had a brother and sister who were 9 and 10 years older, respectively, than I. Come to think of it, they STILL are 9 and 10 years older. Also, my Dad and I were buddies. I’d go to the hardware store with him, and I would hang around and “help” him with construction projects around our house. He was 40 when I was born. My point is that when we turned on the TV it was “Fractured Fairy Tales” on Rocky and Bullwinkle, Star Trek, Hogan’s Heroes, Abbot and Costello, The Great Escape, Wagon Train and The Magnificent Seven. The quiet and gentle wisdom of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and his cardigan sweaters was just not on my radar. So later, when I had kids, while I respected the show, and thought he was doing something nice for kids, I just wasn’t that interested.

So I was surprised by my own emotional reaction to Won’t You Be My Neighbor. I realized then that Fred Rogers had seeped, ever so slowly, into my consciousness with his gentle, joyful manner over the last 50 years. He was simply a kind and decent man who both advocated as a motto of his show and lived by the personal  ethic: “I like you just the way you are.” Fred Rogers spent his life wisely, as the personification of Jesus' answer to the question which preambled the parable of The Good Samaritan: "Who is my neighbor?" There is no doubt in my mind that the name of his show was intended as an incarnation of that answer – that, to Mr. Rogers, everyone was his neighbor. And Fred Rogers' personal Inspired ministry was to bring God's Love to all people in a very practical, first hand way – by demonstration.

St. Francis famously advocated to: “Preach always, sometimes even with words.” Fred Rogers, through his actions, showed himself to be an avid disciple. Though the subject of Fred Rogers’ specific spiritual beliefs came up sparingly in the documentary, aside from the fact of his ordination as a minister, his adherence to the foundational Christian belief that all men are brothers, beloved of and equal in God’s eyes, comes out boldly and profoundly in everything Fred Rogers did, or said.

The documentary dips into the very deep well of video on which he appears. Not just the copies of almost 1,000 shows, but his personal appearances on interview programs, at schools, and even before Congress! There is no lack of documentation of Fred Rogers’ progress from his early philosophical musings before a piano on teaching children about serious issues, probably filmed by his wife, in 1962, all the way through the blooper video clips from his very last show in 2001 and his PSA in 2002 on 9/11.

The documentary interviews his wife, his sons, John and Jim, his co-workers, friends, associates, and other interviewers. They come from many walks of life, and life styles. But all people were equal in Fred Rogers’ eyes. Rogers maintained a tight ship, monitoring every aspect of the show, and required understandably scrupulous behavior, watching over the reputation of the show with care and affection for everyone involved in the production. Mr. Rogers, for example, forbade one actor from frequenting a particular bar and Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin) from appearing in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. However, Rogers’ fatherly supervision of his cast and crew did not discourage a certain level of good-natured juvenile behavior amongst those Mrs. Rogers remembered he called his “playmates”, such as practical jokes on set or a poster made from a tasteless but amusing photo clandestinely left on Rogers’ camera by a mischievous member of the crew.

SPOILERS

Back in the 1960's, there were topics, it was understood, that children’s programming just would not explore. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood’s stock in trade was the places where angels would fear to tread. He tackled issues head on that many adults avoided: death, divorce, lost children, serious illness, and disabilities. He had guest stars, wrote books, made appearances, did interviews, and performed puppet plays intended to translate these complex topics in ways which children could understand, talk about, and express their confusions and concerns.

The cast and crew were close and the show was very personal to everyone involved. Daniel the Tiger, the avatar most close to Fred Roger's heart and personality, according to those who knew him best, often spoke of insecurity and self doubt. King Friday XIII and his Queen dealt frequently with parental concerns. Everyone on the cast was known by a real name. Lady Aberlin's name was Betty Aberlin, Officer Clemmons was, in real life, the powerhouse singer, Francois Scarborough Clemmons, and the name Mr. McFeely, though played by David Newell, was Fred Rogers' middle name.

In the ‘60's, when black people were forced out of public pools, Fred Rogers pointedly invited Francois Clemmons, a black man portraying Mr. Rogers’ local police officer, to come join him on a hot day as he soaked his feet in a child’s plastic pool and to share his towel. Fred Rogers went out of his way to rinse Officer Clemmons' feet with his hose and offer him his towel. There is no mistaking the reference to Jesus' washing of his disciples feet nor of the point Mr. Rogers made. I couldn’t help but laugh as Mr. Rogers looked up at the camera from contemplating their cooling feet. There was an expression I'd never seen on the face of this usually sweet, impeturbable man –  just a glimpse of his righteousness anger at the injustices which inspired this demonstration, as though, for a moment, he was staring down anyone who would dare question his actions. I hoped those at the time, he was silently addressing, had seen and squirmed in shame. Mr. Roger and Mr. Clemmons re-enacted the event some years later.

When Bobby Kennedy was murdered, Fred Rogers’ show had Lady Aberlin and Daniel the Tiger discuss what the word “assassination” meant. When the Challenger blew up in front of millions of kids, Fred Rogers was there to confront the topic with his beloved puppets in ways small children could understand. When the horrific attack on our country was made by Islamic terrorists on 9/11, Fred Rogers came out of retirement, ill with only months left before he would pass away, to offer comfort to 33 years of children who had grown up watching him.

Mr. Rogers was the personification of kindness and the exemplification of Jesus’ instruction to his apostles as he sent them to preach, to be: “…wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Rogers  loved and put at ease everyone he met, but was uncompromising in his beliefs and could talk anybody into anything he believed was right.

Rogers’ powers of persuasion were legendary. Mr. Clemmons, during the documentary, explained that just portraying a police officer as a black man at the time was initially out of his comfort zone, because he had grown up afraid of police. But Clemmons put on the uniform and gave good example, portraying this character for decades. Mr. Rogers could reason anyone into doing the right thing, including convincing an extremely prejudiced and skeptical Congressman Pastore out of the 20 MILLION dollars needed in 1969 to keep a fledgling Public Broadcast System afloat, by simply being reasonable. See the Youtube of Rogers' appearance before the subcommittee here.

Mr. Rogers recognized what a force for good the power of the television medium could be and how its worth was being wasted on frivolous, violent and brainless assaults on children’s senses. His mind set was to minister to children of all ages by taking their feelings and thoughts seriously, and help them cope with the normal struggles of life. He featured everyone from the profoundly physically challenged Jeffrey Erlanger to a young Wynton Marsalis to the famous Julia Child to Koko the Gorilla. Yo Yo Ma, the famous cellist, not only appeared several times on the show, but was a friend, was interviewed for the documentary, and is credited by the director, Morgan Neville, as being the inspiration for the documentary. While interviewing Mr. Ma for a different project, Mr. Neville asked Mr. Ma how he dealt with fame. Ma's response surprised him – that he learned it from Mr. Rogers who, it turned out, assured Mr. Ma that fame was not an inherently bad thing, and mentored him on the appropriate ways to use this gift.

Like Colonel Pickering, who treated even a flower girl like Elisa Doolittle as though she were a lady, Mr. Rogers treated everyone alike, to be valued as a child of God. His love for every man was carried out in his prison ministry, and his outreach to adults, Old Friends, New Friends which aired during the hiatus of his Neighborhood during 1967-8.

He was a missionary of fraternal love to mankind and The Good Samaritan to the world. I am so glad his ministry lives on in his shows, in the memories of his friends, family, co-workers and those children, now adults, who watched him and were positively influenced.  The picture of humility, his wife remembered how on his death bed he wondered if he would be accepted into Jesus' sheepfold. Known world wide, recognized and admired by celebrities, all he thought of himself was God's unworthy servant.

In this, the 50th anniversary year of his show’s debut, not only will a commemorative U.S. postage stamp featuring Fred Rogers be released, but work has begun on a biopic of the legendary minister, starring Tom Hanks, planned for release in 2019.

Jesus said the second half of the greatest law is to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Rogers was an ordained minister, so it was obviously not a coincidence that in the world of his “Neighborhood,Fred Rogers' declared, by word and action, daily, that he liked his fellow man, with a Christian love, just the way they were. St. Francis should be proud.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: A MIXED BAG – BUT ANOTHER PUZZLE PIECE IN THE MARVEL UNIVERSE OVERALL PICTURE

SHORT TAKE:

Flawed selfish characters in a plot full of holes, but even faulty Marvel hero films are fun. If you do go – STAY FOR TWO IMPORTANT END CREDIT SCENES!

WHO SHOULD GO:

I'd advise parental discretion here. There is a lot to commend it as a fun action-adventure. But while Ant-Man is altruistic and focused on his family, the Pyms are selfish and unconcerned about the damage they do to others. And there is a sprinkling of mild "cuss" words as well as one very inappropriate strong profanity, especially for a child's film, uttered by Hank in a moment of stress.

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LONG TAKE:

Before I start my review, let me just say that I LIKED Ant-Man and The Wasp. The story and characters are very flawed, but like the oddly cut, and hard to place piece in a jigsaw puzzle, it fits into its own little niche.

TRIED NOT TO SPOIL BUT SOME REFERENCES INEVITABLY IMPLY THINGS SO HEREBY BE FOREWARNED

The Pyms are the singularly most flawed enhanced individuals in the Marvel Universe. I don't call them "heroes" because during the course of the entire movie they don't do one heroic thing. Lang and his ex-cons are another story, as they risk their lives, livelihood and freedom to help the Pyms. But outside of Loki and pretrained Dr. Strange, the Pyms are the most selfish "good guys" we've met. Strange reforms and Loki is at least witty and has spectacular style.

Even Thanos THINKS what he's trying to do is for the good of the Universe and is willing to make personal sacrifices for others – no matter how colossally and tragically misguided Thanos' intentions are.

And DEADPOOL! While, admittedly, Deadpool has an agenda of vengeance, his goal is to take out bad guys, which is to the benefit of innocents everywhere, AND he is willing to sacrifice his otherwise potentially immortal life for a kid he hardly knows. When Deadpool is a better moral example than the Pyms, you know the Pyms have issues.

Here's another way to look at it.

Whether Ant-Man AKA Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the Wasp AKA Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly), and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are good guys or bad guys kind of depends upon whether or not their universe is full of NPC's. For those of us not video gamers, an NPC is a non-player character, a critter or human which is really just part of the landscape serving as a decoration, target, or information access. Their deaths are irrelevant to the game's outcome.

The premise of Ant-Man and The Wasp concerns the Pyms who are trying to retrieve Janet Pym, (Michelle Pfeiffer), the wife of Hank and mother of Hope, from the quantum realm in which she was lost three decades before during a mission to disarm a nuclear weapon.

To accomplish this they kidnap Scott from his house arrest 3 days before he will have served his full term, which sentence resulted from his participation in the events of Captain America: Civil War. This kidnapping puts Scott at risk of getting him thrown in jail for the next 20 years and missing his daughter's entire youth. During the course of the movie the Pyms shrink and enlarge everything from cars to buildings to Pez dispensers and humans. In the real world many of these activities, especially when accomplished during car chases on busy highways and in populous areas, would have resulted, inevitably, in the collateral deaths of many bystanders.

All this in order to rescue one adult human, who, though lost performing a heroic act, volunteered knowing exactly what would happen to her. While their goal is admirable, the lengths to which they go are not. I understand WHY they do what they do but it does not justify their actions.

There is a Biblical truism which warns that no goal, no matter how good, can be justified with even a single evil act. While granting that rule must be temporized with common sense, someone committing a small sin to further the noblest goal would still have to take responsibility for their actions. And there is no doubt that wrecking havoc on an entire city and putting hundreds, if not thousands, of other people's lives in danger for the benefit of a single person, is neither a small sin nor an admirable plan.

In addition, Hope Pym is another in a growing list of tiresome, condescending, feminist, "I can do anything better than you can," chip-on-their-shoulder, self-absorbed, female characters which have most notably reared their ugly heads in the Star Wars franchise, as well as movies like Oceans 8. (Click on the names to access those reviews.)

All that being said Ant-Man and The Wasp is, kind of obviously even from the title, a fantasy science fiction. If we can keep that in mind, for the sake of this review, and the fantasy in which such stories live, let us presume that at least no innocent person, by some miracle, was harmed during the course of the movie and that all property damage was duly compensated by the Pyms using some kind of techno gizmo.

If you think that's absurd, then consider that we are discussing a movie wherein the characters can shrink themselves down to quantum level size and enlarge themselves to the height of tall buildings in a moment and with no permanent ill-effects.

I can live with that.

Moving forward from there, I can safely say that Ant-Man and The Wasp is a very fun movie. It is a family-friendly action adventure with a couple of provisos. Scott Lang and his crew of lovably goofy but well intentioned fellow ex-cons, Luis (Michael Pena), Kurt (David Dastmelchian), and Dave (Clifford Joseph Harris, Jr. aka T.I. shortened and altered into initials from the nickname "Tip" which his grandfather gave him), appropriately enough, run a security company. Who better would know how to stop a thief than another thief? They risk their new business to help the Pyms.

The dialogue is often tongue and cheek, such as when cliche comments are taken literally and responded to in kind. An example is a prolonged and funny discussion between Luis and the villain Sonny (Walton Goggins) as to whether or not the torture drug they are about to administer to Luis should be properly referred to as truth serum and then the Shrek style Pinocchio recitation Sonny gets from Luis of irrelevancies in response to asking where Scott is.

Little is taken really seriously so I suppose the car chases and suddenly and constantly expanding and shrinking buildings and people shouldn't be either.

The plot is interesting, especially as there are multiple sets of conflicting interests. The Pyms wish to save Janet. Scott wants to help the Pyms but stay out of jail. Sonny wants the Pym's tech to sell. Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) needs the Pym tech to solve her chronic state of quantum flux inflicted on her as a child when her father's experiment goes awry, an accident she blames on Hank Pym. Foster has his own agenda. The Fed, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), wants to catch SOMEbody — ANYbody!. And the ex-con friends are just simply agog to be involved with super hero "stuff". Frankly, given all the contrasting interests involved, the ONLY thing that maintains Hank's priority of use of the tech is the fact that he invented and owns the technology.

Everyone believes their cause justifiable but only Sonny is seen as the real bad guy . Hwever, since Scott, the Pyms and their friends are the ones through whose eyes we see the proceedings, they are the ones for whom we are supposed to root.So we are to ignore when bystanders are put at risk……………??

OK.  I'm fine with that. This is, after all, a science fiction fantasy. I mean, come on, the guy's riding an ant.

Violence is cartoonish and the language is pretty clean until Hank lets loose with at least one over the top profanity I could have done without in a child's movie. For parental guidance I am quick to seek information from www.screenit.com. Membership is cheap and well worth it.

The rest is what we've come to expect from a Marvel Superhero Movie, with lots of exciting special effects which worked really well with 3D by the way. I'm not normally a big 3D fan but the flying-fighting scenes were ratchted up at least a half a notch by the glasses. The flashbacks featuring a younger Michelle Pfeiffer were the best I've ever seen, though Douglas suffered from the typical overly smoothed face and peculiar facial expressions common to this cinematographic magic trick. I think it is something about the mouth that just doesn't look right most of the time. I'm not singling out Douglas. I am aware of his medical issues and that is not the problem because this is universal to any time older actors are "youthened" by CGI.

 Also, Pfieffer's character is the point of one of the biggest plot holes – how did she survive 30 years in a hostile environment with zero resources? Food? Water? Bathroom? She aged and referenced being aware of the passage of 30 years time. She didn't even have a pack of cards so even if she didn't have to eat or drink, how did she manage not to go insane? This is completely glossed over without mention and I've found no precedent for answers even from comic book geeks on the net.

Another one that bugged (sorry about the pun) me was the physics which operated conveniently to the plot. On the one hand, being shrunk seems to afford some survivability not usually possible – like falls and impacts which would destroy a normal unshrunk human. This would imply a certain enhanced density. Granted, the suit they wear must help a lot but does not account for every instance – such as when their helmets are off. If the humans had been tiny but undense they could have been swatted like fairies or butterflies. Instead they carry an enormous amount of momentum and punch in fights. This implies the matter is all there but concentrated. On the other hand, Hank can pick up an entire shrunken building and people carry it around as though it was made of styrofoam. Even a scale model of that building would have been heavier than presented had it been made of the same unconcentrated steel girder and concrete materials, much less how many thousands of tons it should weight even in its shrunken but dense state. So which is it guys?

On the positive side, the jokes are funny, Scott doing his best as a father was refreshing, and I enjoyed the lighter tone of the movie, especially since the previous one I saw was Infinity Wars. However, on that note, and without giving any spoilers — hold onto your seat. Let's just say it is important to sit through all of the credits and that the FIVE screenwriters (talk about a story written by committee!): Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd (the Ant-Man, himself), Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, as well as director, Peyton Reed, were definitely aware of the aforementioned movie.

In short, without a score card, it is difficult to tell whether the Pyms or Sonny is the "bad guy" team. The Pyms' goals are exclusively personally, relatively trivial in the grand scheme considering what they are willing to do to others, ignore the desperate needs of others, like Ava, casually put the safety and security of Lang's family and friends at risk by yanking Scott out of his house arrest a mere three days before he will be free, dismissively ignore Hank's possible culpability in Ava's condition, and put thousands of innocent bystanders in mortal danger.

It is not their best Marvel movie, nor does it try to be but it does hold its own and finds its place in the Marvel universe. I especially enjoyed the addition of Michelle Pfeiffer as new blood into the mix and the return of Scott's motley crue of comic convicts led by Michael Pena (Collaterol Beauty), who is always a pleasure, especially when he is telling one if his overly convoluted stories.

So, you older geeks (like me) – go see Ant-Man and the Wasp, if for no other reason than to put another puzzle piece into the overall picture that is the Marvel Universe, but I'd see it before deciding whether or not to bring impressionable kids.

INCREDIBLES 2 – AND NOW YOU KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY

SHORT TAKE:

The second act of a two part story which began as The Incredibles in 2004. No more, no less as delightful, fulfilling, family friendly, exciting and fun as the first half.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Absolutely everyone! ESPECIALLY if you are a fan of the first installment. (Though I can not say the same about the short in the beginning, Bao, which has nothing to do with the main movie and which you might want to give a miss. I explain why in a spoiler-filled overview of Bao at the end of this The Incredibles 2 review.) Incredibles 2 VERY child friendly, (Bao not so much).

LONG TAKE: 

"And now you know the rest of the story."

Paul Harvey was a radio personality who used to tell stories on air about little known facts or anecdotes, leaving some key element out until the end – like one about a war hero who turned out to be Lee Marvin, why the passengers on the Titanic didn't have to die, what really happened to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – that kind of thing. So as I watched the beginning of The Incredibles 2 pick up IMMEDIATELY as Incredibles (1) had ended, that tag line came to mind.

If you have not seen Incredibles 2 yet please do not read any further. I don't want anything I have to say influence your fresh impression of the movie. It's bad enough trailers give away too much nowadays. I do not want to compound that affront for anyone who has not yet enjoyed the sequel to the original Incredibles. For those of you who HAVE seen I2, READ ON!

SPOILERS – REALLY SERIOUSLY – DON'T READ ANY MORE UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN THE MOVIE!!

Okay for those of you who have already seen the movie I have a confession to make. I was just a little bit disappointed, but really it was my own fault. Please do not get me wrong – I LOVED The Incredibles 2. It's a terrific movie. But let me give you some examples – for those of us living in the south do you remember the first time you ever saw snow? The experience of seeing it again can never match up to the anticipation you have built up from your original encounter with the frozen fluffy stuff.

OR – When you're a kid, no matter how amazing Christmas is, there is always a little teensy part of you that is just a little bit disappointed that it's not as amazing as you expected it to be. Build up and eager high hopes can do that to you. FOURTEEN YEARS worth of anticipation cannot help but handicap the real item when it finally comes along. And, yes folks, it has been 14 years since writer/director Brad Bird hatched the first Incredibles and introduced us to the Parr family of superheroes.

All our favorite characters are back!! And despite the time passage, all the voices are the same: Holly Hunter with her growly, lispish, Texas-twanged Helen, Craig T. Nelson, the occasionally bombastic Bob, Samuel L Jackson, the smooth crooning voice of Lucius, Sarah Vowell returns as Violet whose vocal mannerisms echo an individual variation on her mom. Jonathan Banks returns as Rick Dickers, the exhausted, put-upon government agent assigned to help hide the existence and whereabouts of the Supers. And Brad Bird, the director, writer and father figure to the entire Incredibles Universe returns to voice my all time favorite character – Edna Mode, the adorably abrasive, diminutive costume designer to the Supers, whose own super powers are: mega-confidence, an almost mystical calm, extraordinary talent, and a forcefully maternal, protective, preternatural insightfulness into the Supers themselves. She was conceived by Bird as the solution to the eternal question: since when do super powers automatically make you a gifted tailor? Where DO those awesome suits COME from?! AND contrary to popular opinion, according to Bird, himself, he did not create the inimitable "E" from any one or combination of real life designers – at least not consciously. She is simply a mismash of the cultures of Japan and Germany – two, he thought, countries who were very small in relation to their cultural impact – much like Edna herself. Therefore, her house decor is a combo of Japanese and German, as is the clothes she herself wears, her odd accent, and even her personality – swinging wildly from imperturbability to wildly forceful and persuasive as the occasion demands.

Unfortunately, Spencer Fox’ Dash’ boisterous reflection of his Dad’s commanding vocals had to be replaced with the younger Huck Milner, but you will not notice the difference. Fox is the only one to be replaced. According to interviews and articles the decision seems to have been arrived at from a combination of Fox’ puberty, (like in the lyrics of "Puff the Magic Dragon" warns: "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys"),  Fox’ committments with his punk band Charley Bliss, and a certain nostalgic ennui Fox had for the entire project – that it was something great he did in his childhood to which he didn’t really want to revisit.

AND NOW FOR SOME SERIOUS SPOILERS – THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.

First off, calling it a sequel really isn’t accurate. Incredibles 2 is actually a continuation of the first movie. Literally. We pick up in the first moment of Incredibles 2 after the last second of The Incredibles (1). The Underminer has arrived and the family Parr (the word "par" meaning average) becomes the family of Incredibles. (Anyone notice the name significance before this? Very clever underscoring by Bird, I thought.) They go into action as a group and avert a massive casualty list of people but rack up a lot of collateral property damage in stopping the mammoth runaway drill.

Once again they are unjustly blamed and sent off in disgrace, reinforcing to the public, through the willing accomplices in the media, why Supers were banned to begin with.

Helen is summoned by a Super-Hero-loving industrial magnate, Winston Deavor, (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn Deavor "Evil Endeavor" – geddit? (Catherine Keener) to be the face the Supers need to become accepted again. For any of you who have seen the trailer, the movie plot largely revolves around Bob adjusting to a Mr. Mom status while Helen goes off to be the poster child for Super Heroes. And the fish-out-of-water aspect to the movie is wonderful – fun, touching and eminently relatable to any parent ever. Bob trades fighting collassus killing machines, saving people from building fires, and wrestling with super villains for math homework, meals and a metapowered baby – oh yeah and exhaustion:

It is the genius of Brad Bird that he creates a reflection of a modern family and places it into a Super Hero framework.  The Parrs/Incredibles is a fairly young family – mom, dad, children. The kids cover the spectrum too – early teen, adolescent and infant. One of the things, I believe, which made The Incredibles such a universally loved movie was that people intuited the metaphor. In an interview with Bird prior to the release of the sequel, Bird makes this clear. Bob, the father, is given incredible strength, as a father must have in one way or another: physically, mentally, and morally, to the best of his ability, he must stand strong in the eyes of those he has sworn to protect. Helen, the mom, stretches in impossible ways, much like your average mother who must be psychologist, chauffeur, chef, teacher, and judge, all while carrying a baby on her hip and breast feeding. Dash, the adolescent, has just GOTTA MOVE, so is super fast! Violet suffers the normal angst teens go through – is standoffish and sometimes wants to disappear, so has the powers of invisibility and force fields. Jack Jack is an unknown but delightful baby – which pretty much fits the description of every infant.

Everyone who has ever been in a family, which is, of course, everyone, can relate to one or more of each of these characters. And every family has challenges and threats which come at them, against which they are best advised to confront together. 

In what is really only the first half of a 3 hour movie, in the 2004 installment of The Incredibles, Bob comes to understand he has allowed his desire for the limelight to overpower the real center stage he should be occupying – that of Super Hero in his own home. The kids learn their parents really are the heroes in their lives and step up to the plate to emulate and obey their parents. Together they learn this lesson in spades and the family is triumphant.

The second half of the movie – aka Incredibles 2 – puts this newfound unity, affection and understanding immediately to the test. A familiar tune, as there is not a day goes by that the family in general is not under attack.

It is (if you’ll excuse the pun) INCREDIBLY refreshing to have a movie where the Dad is and wants to be the man of the house, but is still confident enough as the leader to step aside, when that is the right thing to do. That he will do the right and manful thing for his family, EVEN IF, as in this unusual situation, he must temporarily suppress his own natural, and very powerful, normal desires and instincts to protect and provide for his family, to allow someone else to take point. The wife is a considerate partner, without either being submissive or dominating – conferring with her husband on important issues, but being wise enough to leave the final decision up to her husband, knowing and trusting his judgement. The husband is wise enough to put his own needs, wants and desires aside for the good of the Supers in general, sure, but primarily for his own family and his own children. The parents' first thoughts are for their children – even if it means leaving their own comfort zones, or putting aside their own goals and wants.

In other words, the Incredibles  have their priorities straight!! And their nom de plume – Parr, the average – points out that this is and should be the structure of every successful family. That every family should aim for this healthy functional dynamic. And that is a wonderful thing to see.

I do have a few quibbles with the plot. This is not meant to be a negative but a hope that the next movie will be even better. They may be smnall quibbles, but they did have 14 LOOOONG years to think of a script and it seems some of these things could have and should have been worked out:

1. The first one dates back to the first installment – Jack Jack got away from Syndrome because he expressed some heavy duty powers: turned into a monster, caught fire, became metal – but at the end of the first movie no one knows he has powers. And in the beginning of the second movie Bob is shocked that Jack Jack has powers when he starts to display them and Helen later makes it clear she didn’t know either. NONE of them saw any of what Jack Jack did to Syndrome? Granted it was a traumatic moment and they were pretty high up in the sky but the Parr family is used to crises and they have super powers!

2. Their living arrangements. Their house is destroyed by Syndrome’s crashing plane. At the end of the first movie some time seems to have gone by. Violet makes headway with Tony – gets noticeed, he asks her out on a date; Dash has accepted he must restrain his abilities and the family has developed a certain code with him about holding back at events like track meets; there seems to have been some time to adjust, become comfortable with their new found unity and must be living somewhere. But when we see them in the beginning of the second movie they are still living in a second rate government sponsored hotel.

3. The Parrs, at the beginning of Incredibles 2 are broke and unemployed. Bob can’t get a job as a security guard? Bank teller? Dock Worker? Secret service??!! They’ve already run through the insurance money for their house? And don’t tell me Bob wouldn’t have had insurance to cover the unlikely eventuality of a plane falling on his house. He WORKED for an insurance company.

4. The no-show Supers were never addressed. Why did Gazorbeam and Dynaguy not answer the Deavors' phone when they were under attack? Were they already dead at Syndrome's hands? The parent Deavors were elderly and the siblings only barely seem to have had time to adjust to running the company, so maybe a year or two? So the timing would be about right. If so, why did no one explain that to Evelyn? The Supers who did not come to their parents aid were likely DEAD, and ironically, at the hands of Syndrome, someone who, like Evelyn, wanted to de-power the Supers for their own selfish, shortsighted reasons.

5. I find it odd that none of the Super Heroes questioned the motives of yet another mega-rich entity interested in hiring them. Wasn't the last movie about exactly that? Granted it turned out Winston was the real deal, but aside from Lucius assuring them  Winston was on the up and up after a single interview, no doubts are shared or intentions dissected by any of a group who should have been extremely sensitive to this scenario, coming so close on the heels of a very similar one from which they just finished extracting themselves.

More of an observation than a critique, this is also kind of a dark movie – more so than the first. Whether you like it or not, and I did like it, there is an element of reality infused into this "kids’" movie. People do die. Ethical and legal debates are had around the Parr dinner table. And there are complex cultural issues to wrestle with, along with physically fighting bad guys. Much like the Sokovia Accords in The Avengers Universe, the ban on Supers smacks of an unjust legalese stemming from an urge to place blame on the easy marks of Super Heroes instead of the real villains. It is easier to rein in people who willingly abide by and enforce the law than it is the criminals who break them.The issue of breaking a law in civil disobedience and leaving her family to save it, are ironies which are discussed and will be of interest to the adults in the audience, but will go over the heads of most of the youngsters. Bird, himself, said in an interview that he eschews the term "kid" movie but simply makes animated films he would enjoy seeing. His is obviously a winning prescription, but it makes for a movie which might lose the attention of younger viewers in places.

Which talk of Sokovia Accords and the ban of Supers brings me to the REAL villain of the Incredibles. It’s not really Screenslayer or even Evelyn. It’s the media.

In the aftermath of the Underminer escapade, which bridges the two movies, the visual presence of the Parr family as Incredibles in the mountain of rubble is not portrayed as heroes mitigating and managing a catastrophe for minimal damage, but as the cause of the mess. Sadly, these talking heads, the REAL villains of BOTH movies, are the same media who defined Mr. Incredible in the 2004 movie not as a rescuer, but as someone who ruined a disturbed man’s attempted suicide. This is a typical example of how news bias and "fake news" reports are fashioned – a classic example of what happens in the real world – to give their audience, not news, but their own prejudiced view. These real evildoers are never showcased as such. That might have been an interesting aspect to pursue, especially as it ties in with the bad rap the heroes in The Avengers got in Captain America: Civil War from the misguided and grossly civil-rights-violating Sokovia Accords. But while we see the "news" people at work, either blankly vapid or ginning up anger towards the Supers (without the excuse of being hypnotised), no serious criticism is ever laid at their feet where that blame belongs.

In an interesting note, the actors who voice the main characters – Holly Hunter, Craig T Nelson, and Samuel L Jackson, are given a small intro at the beginning of the movie, mentioning how grateful they are for the patience of the audience over the past 14 years and how glad they are to be working together again as this family of Supers. Fourteen years is not a small span of time and both Ms. Hunter and Mr. Nelson are not exceptions to reflect this span of a half – generation of years between movies. I only mention this because, strangely, Samuel L. Jackson does not look a DAY older than when he did in the year the first Incredibles came out.  He’s in many super hero universes as well: The Avengers and Agents of Shield as Nick Fury, Mr. Glass in Shymalon's alternate super universe, and here as Frozone, as well as super, almost indestructible characters in movies like The Hitman’s Bodyguard. And the actor, much like most super heroes — never…. seems…..to age. Hmmmm. Is there something you’re not telling us avid super hero fans Mr Jackson? LOL

In conclusion on The Incredibles 2 – I just want to say PLEASE DO NOT WAIT ANOTHER 14 YEARS TO DO A FOLLOW UP FILM!!! We want to know more of — the rest of the story.

Bao

Finally, just as a side note, there is a strange little short at the beginning of The Incredibles 2 called Bao (meat or vegetable filled dumpling) about a dumpling which comes to life for a lonely woman, so is spared from being eaten, until it grows to an age where he wants to leave home and marry, at which point the mom EATS the dumpling! The movie has nothing to do with The Incredibles 2 plot, except perhaps as a counterpoint DYSFUNCTIONAL family dynamic, making the strong family of Incredibles look even better. This is some fairly disturbing imagery, softened very little by the revelation that the "dumpling" is merely a reflection of her real life son, an only child, who left his parents to marry. While there is reconciliation with said son in the end, brought about by his understanding father, and acceptance of the non-Asian wife as she learns dumpling making from her mother-in-law, I could not get the unsettling imagery out of my head of the mother willingly eating her child rather than allow him to mature and leave home. This is a short you may want to either get in late enough to avoid or prepare to discuss with your kids later.

OUR FIRST VIDEO BLOG/VLOG — WE PREMIERE WITH — OVERBOARD

WE ARE SO EXCITED TO PRESENT YOU WITH OUR VERY FIRST VIDEO BLOG !!!!!

(also known as vlogs which is succinct but difficuult to pronounce).

We will continue to develop this project so any suggestions you have will be appreciated!!

IT IS ON OVERBOARD THE NEW REMAKE OF THE 1987 ROM-COM OF THE SAME NAME

HOPE YOU ENJOY OUR FIRST ENTRY INTO AN EVER DEVELOPING NEW PROJECT AND FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW!!!

 

VIDEO BLOG OF OVERBOARD

 

THE WEEK OF – A CRASS ADAM SANDLER MOVIE WITH A GEM AT ITS HEART

SHORT TAKE:

Adam Sandler semi-slapstick about a working-stiff middle class Dad trying to provide the kind of wedding for his daughter which will impress the family of his wealthy son-in-law to be.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Only for adults and then only for those who do not take offense at tasteless humor, raunchy sight gags, strippers, or bad language.

LONG TAKE:

The pickings were very thin this week at the movie theater so I decided to think outside the box and try a Netflix original.

There's an old Jewish folk tale called "It Could Always be Worse" wherein a poor farmer, grieved that his house was too small and his pantry too bare, seeks advice from his Rabbi. The Rabbi advises him to invite his lazy brother to come visit and open his house to his obnoxious neighbors and demanding friends. Reluctantly the farmer went home and told his wife, who, desperate to cheer her husband up, agreed. Soon every room in the house was taken up with noisy people who raided their pantry and slept in their beds and on their sofas and sprawled on their floor. Soon losing his mind the farmer returned to the Rabbi.

This time the Rabbi shocked the farmer by advising he bring all of his animals into the house as well – the chickens, the goats, the cow, the family dog, and all the cats. Soon even the obnoxious neighbors were complaining about the crowding and having their toes stepped on by cow hooves, the mooing and the barking in the middle of the night, and the smell.

After a full week the farmer was at his wits end and more miserable than he was before. Angrily, the farmer returned to the Rabbi who simply smiled and said now go throw everyone and everything out. Send your neighbors back to their own homes, kick your brother out, and put the animals back in the barn.

After sweeping up behind all of their departed guests the farmer and his wife discovered, much to their astonishment, how much bigger their house was, and how much more food they had.

At the height of the Rabbi's lesson for the farmer, while the house was full of neighbors and relatives and animals, Kirby, the visiting father of the groom, in the movie The Week Of, would have noticed little difference between staying at the farmer's house or staying at the home of Kenny, the father of the bride.

SPOILERS

In the premise of The Week Of, Kenny, played by Adam Sandler, is a working stiff who makes a very modest living bringing dilapidated hotels up to passing health inspector levels. Despite his limited resources, he is determined to pay for his oldest daughter's wedding without the proffered help of the much wealthier Kirby, played by Chris Rock.

Unable to provide adequate housing for the multitude of guests and finding the hotel completely unsuitable despite his best efforts, many of the relatives on both sides end up staying at his modest-sized home. Amongst the participants are Seymour (Jim Barone – a real double amputee) his uncle, Noah his emotionally fragile cousin fresh out of rehab, Charles (Steve Buscemi) his raunchy cousin, loud obnoxious elderly deaf ladies and the monster sized German Shepherd owned by one of his visiting kin.

I normally do not watch this kind of movie and likely would have turned it off had I not been planning to review it. So watching to the end, imagine my shock to discover a tiny gem buried in the bottom of this pond full of less than subtle sex jokes and caricatures.

In classic Adam Sandler comic style, there's something to offend everyone. Sandler and Robert Smigel, the screenwriters, make fun of Jewish culture, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, and the elderly. It's hard to tell which is more cringey, the often crude and tasteless jokes or the fact that Chris Rock plays a straight man and is old enough to be someone who has a groom-aged son. But somehow, The Week Of still manages to make all these characters approachable, even likeable, giving each moments that makes them relatable and human. Part of it, I think, is that even though the situations make fun of these vulnerable and sometimes inherently ridiculous people, Adam Sandler's Kenny treats them all with genuine affection and respect.

At different points in the movie, Kenny, literally, carries his legless Uncle Seymour around. Kenny never acts as though it is a burden. And this becomes an interesting analogy for the entire movie. Despite Kenny’s lack of financial resources, despite his pride, and despite his occasionally bad judgment, everyone looks to Kenny whenever there is a problem. He is the one with the heart to usually do what he genuinely believes is the right thing for his family, has the cleverness to get it accomplished, and the determination to see it through to the end no matter how ridiculous some of the plans are. It eventually becomes obvious that it is not just Seymour he cheerfully carries on his willing back.

In a side note, despite the fact the story pivots around an interracial marriage, absolutely NO references are made to this, cliche or otherwise, and refreshingly, race is the ONLY thing about which Sandler does not shark up a cheap laugh. The race of the two families ends up merely being a convenience for the audience to help keep track of which of the dozens of characters are likely to be from which side of which family – like wearing different jerseys at a sports event or using shirts versus skins at a pickup game of basketball.

Chris Rock's character, Kirby, is an extremely successful cardiac surgeon who lives out of very swanky hotels with a succession of mistresses. Kenny on the other hand has three kids who he adores and dotes on, but for whom he can provide "only" a middle-class lifestyle. Kirby's life is reflected in the swanky hotels he stays in, his clean, quiet, organized, unencumbered, glass and steel life without distractions. Kirby's life, on the other hand, is cluttered, messy, noisy, and full of humanity, conversation, hugs, arguments, interactions and affection.

Kenny is always there, always in the mix, always doing his best and keeping a calm, optimistic perspective on even the wildest moments. So – despite all of the epic fails in Kenny's attempts to provide for his daughter's wedding, despite: the leaky ballroom, the poor choice of a magician to entertain the guests, using his 11 year old nephew as a wedding reception DJ, feeling shown up by the sumptuous wedding rehearsal dinner provided by Kirby, the crude bachelor party at a stripper trampoline exhibit, the death of one of the guests and a fire – it is Kirby who ultimately feels both overwhelmed and outclassed by the modestly resourced Kenny.

In one example, representatives of both families meet at the emergency room as a result (trying not to spoil TOO much) of one of the "high jinx". Tyler (Roland Burch, III), the groom, feels responsible and Kenny explains to him how the outcome would have been worse had the group not done what they did, then embraces him comfortingly. Kirby can be seen in the background watching this exchange, and in a lovely but easily missed moment, Kirby realizes he is the outsider – that his son sought advice naturally and first, not from him, but from his future father-in-law, who seems to understand how everyone ticks.

In a funny repeat motiff, whenever Kenny and his wife Sarah (Allison Strong, who played a very strange secretary in another and similarly themed Sandler movie, Click) disagree, both put on a happy face, retreat to their bedroom and audibly yell at each other, believing no one can hear them. One of the cousins asks one of Kenny’s younger children if they are getting a divorce. With the exhausted confidence that every child should have in their parents' marriage, he says, "They NEVER do."

The wealthy Kirby ends up: sleeping on the floor, suffering the indignities of living with about 50 strangers at Kenny's house, being made fun of during a Parcheesi game in Kenny's asbestos infected basement, and is conscripted to help catch bats in one of Kenny's crazy plans to save face. Kirby as a result, comes to understand that the sum of all this lunacy is a close-knit family that will suffer through and with each other because of a love based on a lifetime of intimacy. Kirby threw money at every problem his family encountered. Kenny throws himself into the line of fire whenever someone in his family needed him.

Kirby comes to realize that Kenny is indeed the much richer man. Realizing what a bad father and poor husband he has been Kirby apologizes to his ex-wife, begins to make amends with his children for his neglect, and looks forward to spending real time with his grandchildren. It’s a little like Mary Poppins for the Zohan crowd.

And meanwhile all this is set against some appropriately chosen Billy Joel songs. The ending genuinely had me choked up, and not just because I was sick to death of all the bad jokes. I can forgive a lot in a movie if it makes a good end. And I have to say that in spite of the raunchy humor, the borderline offensive caricatures, and the repetitive visual jokes – for the sake of the movie’s final couple of scenes ….. all is forgiven.

 

 

 

BLACK PANTHER – GOOD BUT FLAWED

 

SHORT TAKE

A solid entry to the Avengers universe and enhanced by the sterling performance of Chad Boseman as Black Panther, though handicapped by mistakes made by other sci-fi franchises.

WHO SHOULD GO: Family friendly with cartoon violence, no sexual activity, a few minor profanities, but has very loud music and special effects sounds.

CHECK OUT DETAILED AND SPECIFIC CONTENT STATISTICS AT SCREENIT.COM.

LONG TAKE

It is unfortunate that there has been SO much hype leading up to the release of Black Panther. For one thing there is no way any movie could possibly live up to everyone's world wide expectations. For another it leaves no room for analysis. Before anyone gets their panties in a wad, let me go on record as saying I liked Black Panther. I have been a big fan and advocate of Chad Boseman since I saw him in Marshall and I think the Black Panther character will be an excellent addition to the Avengers franchise.

That being said let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a British  actress comedian named Jennifer Saunders. She and Dawn French were staple comedians in the 1980's and by 1992 Saunders and the replacement co-star for French, Joanna Lumley, were able to parley a 14 minute1990 skit into a 6 year BBC show called Absolutely Fabulous. However, as my son has pointed out about the Roman Empire, in her victory was her downfall. By the early 2000's she had become so popular no one wanted to criticize her and her comedy had become so strident, bitter and redundant she lost  the audience she had worked so hard to gain. But during this fall she had so much clout no one had the nerve to tell her she was making mistakes. So the Emperor – or the Empress in this case – continued to wear "invisible" clothes and no one dared say she was naked.

Raise your hand if anyone reading this has even heard of Jennifer Saunders. Point made. Saunders became so successful that everyone thought it prudent to keep what should have been helpful and constructive criticism to themselves.

And so, I fear, it could go with Black Panther if reviewers are not honest and thoughtful. There has been so much wildly anticipated excitement about the “first” black super hero – everyone seeming to forget collectively the awesome Idris Elba’s Heimdall from the Thor franchise – that no one wants to take an objective look at it.

Don’t get me wrong – it is a welcome addition into the superhero universe, but it isn’t perfect. While there is much to commend it, it suffers from weaknesses other similar movies have had.

SPOILER WARNING

I want to lead this review by saying that the plot was very good. When contemplating the premise – that Wakanda is a secret kingdom flourishing in impoverished Africa – one might reasonably wonder why the beneficent leaders did not work to improve the plight of their desperately poor and suffering countrymen over the last several hundred years. The compelling theme of Black Panther examines why clandestine African Wakanda withholds aid from other Africans while the rest of the world donates billions in food and medical supplies? FYI the pictures of suffering Africa are not from the movie but real photos.

Does one keep such high tech secrets from the rest of the world or risk exposure and possible plunder in an effort to bring aid to others? And if one DOES decide to reveal the Wakandan advancements to the outside world should it be under the flag of conquest or compassion? Do the Wakandans emerge into the rest of the universe as prideful aggressors or humble aid workers?

This is the struggle which is personified  between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) the rightful king successor to his father, murdered during Captain America: Civil War, who longs for peace, and his opponent/cousin Eric Killmonger (Michael Jordan) who hungers, like the Biblical Ishmael, to use these wonders to make war against the entire world.

And it would make an interesting sequel to explore the fall out from the Wakandan neighbors when it is discovered that much of the death, disease and starvation of their fellow Africans could have been ameliorated by a watching but silent Wakanda.

I think Chad Boseman is great. He is a joy to watch and can effortlessly generate chemistry with any actor he works with whether he is King of a futuristic African nation or a cortexaphan subject with powers to control energy in Fringe or Thurgood Marshall. Not bad for a fellow southerner. (Boseman is from South Carolina.) Like Michael Caine, Meryl Streep or Bruce Willis he brings a natural ease to his characters which makes him likeable and three dimensional. And yes, I know – Willis is not in the same league as Caine or Streep. Willis is a one note actor who plays the same person in every movie he is in with variations. But it’s easy to enjoy that one character and Willis does it extremely well. In addition, Willis creates that wonderfully comfortable ebb and flow with his fellow performers which Caine and Streep also manage that make it fun to watch them in whatever they are in. You don’t have to be a brilliant actor to be one who can create good chemistry with their fellow actors. And by the other side of the same coin, even some brilliant actors can not manage it – like Lawrence Olivier who was gifted but stiff…….but I digress.

 I want Black Panther with Boseman to be a successful franchise. And when the dust has settled down from the novelty of this movie there needs to be some close examination of its flaws if it is to do better than the first stabs at Spiderman or Hulk.

First  – if you have to do five minutes of blunt exposition just to bring your audience up to speed before the first scene of the movie, then you’re not being very clever with your story telling. This is the same weakness in Thor: The Dark World. Lengthy exposition marred the beginning of Dark World and helped relegate it to the weakest of the Thor outings and Black Panther makes the same mistake.

Second –  it is about 45 minutes too long. Some of that is due to the excessive emphasis on showcasing Wakanda and the tribal costumes, dances, accessories and artifacts. One is reminded of the first Star Trek movie where there were nerdgasms over the extensively long and loving fly over of the Enterprise  as well as extremely long sequences of the planet-sized V’ger. In an effort to overwhelm the audience with the splendor of both the flagshp and the opposing mechanical nemesis, the result, in 1979's Star Trek,  was ultimately the opposite and did not age well, weighing that first Star Trek movie down to one of the lesser ranked installments. There is only so much build up and pay off of the same material you can sit through until, like surfing a wave which eventually crests, after a while you wonder when the ride will be over.

Similarly, there is too much dependence on the “wow” effect of Wakanda and repeated recurrences of the character-citizens commenting about how beautiful it is, how much they longed for another view of it, how much they missed it – all followed up by multiple extended views of it.

    The presentation of the African color and lore and costumes, tatoos and plates in distended lips, ancient impractical traditional garb and spirit walks get to be so much that after a while it becomes at risk of being a parody of itself. It is understandable that the film makers wanted to take full effect of their first opportunity to demonstrate and showcase this new universe, but, as Donald O’Conner once said – you should always leave the audience wanting more. Instead the writers of Black Panther went at the movie like an excited child who tries to tell of an adventure in one breath as though afraid people will stop paying attention before he gets to the end.

Another problem with the length is the same flaw found in the Man of Steel – too much fighting. There are two lengthy hand to hand combat scenes, one very exciting car chase, as well as battles royale (literally) between the two princes, along with various and sundry skirmishes, an aerial combat and the final confrontation between the two opponents on a magnetic monorail. There are high tech spaceships shooting tasers and cables, power staffs, Bullet/ French Connection quality car chases, Spiderman quality leaping and jumping during the car chases, photon firing artificial arms, and – I kid you not – vibranium armoured rhinoceroses. While all super cool it was just…too…much for one movie. 

The writer and director should have had the confidence in their story to not bury it under so much of what Bishop Barron refers to as “whiz bang”.

Third – there were unnecessary incongruities in the Wakandan kingdom. While their labs, travel modes and medical facilities would rival those at Star Bases, their exchange of goods took place routinely in outdoor marketplaces wound through with dusty dirty streets. This didn’t make sense.

And the uniforms of the Amazonian guardswomen were too culturally reflective of Africa to be practical. All this high tech and the best they could do was sticks with a sonic boom effect? Now to be fair the island from which Wonder Woman emerged was similar in its cultural armament impracticalities and Asgard of the Thor franchise also had an odd juxtaposition of high tech and ancient (in that case medieval) trappings. But both Wonder Woman and Asgard were alien cultures, and both based in familiar Earth mythologies, so can be given a wider range in suspension of belief and peculiar behaviors and traditions. But Africa in general and Wakanda in particular are right here on Earth so can’t get that much leeway.

Fourth – Thor, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, for example are based respectively on established: Norse myth, the Greek Amazons and the Roman god of the sea Poseidon, all of which date back thousands of years and are part of the shared cultural background noise. So when origin stories are concocted using them as foundations it is an easy bridge into that world. There is no corresponding panther myth that I could find in Africa outside of the Black Panther comics which came upon the scene only about 50 years ago in 1966. The only established mythology I could find in Africa revolved around reptiles. So unless you are a serious comic book afficiando you wouldn't have known what they were talking about in Black Panther without exposition. But the writer, instead of weaving the background into the warp and woof of the story inelegantly chose to dump the entire story on the audience's head like — well — Thor's Hammer.

All that being said Black Panther is a fun though flawed adventure. I look forward to future installments and hope the film makers will gain confidence from the warm open armed reception they have received from the wider movie going audience and do a better job with the next one. Otherwise Black Panther will not age well or inspire longevity for the franchise – and that would be a shame.

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

SHORT TAKE: Captivating, beautiful, family friendly musical loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum's early business life and the people on the fringes of society he turned into a family.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT: EVERYONE!!!!!

LONG TAKE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 – STRANGEST HOMESCHOOLING FAMILY… EVER

Every homeschooling family is unique. Some raise farm animals. Some attend symphony concerts. Some are heavily into sports. And one —– saves the galaxy. And most important to the homeschool family is — the father. I’ve said this before in other blogs, but I am happy to have the opportunity to say it again: A father (or father figure) in a family is irreplaceable and essential to a child’s development unless you want that child SERIOUSLY screwed up. No movie of recent history exemplifies this point more than the most recent Guardians of the Galaxy installment. I get that some families must persevere without a father – BUT given the vital role a father has in the home it is imperative that fatherless homes finds a wholesome father figure role model – brother, grandfather, priest, friend. Someone who can be turned to for counsel and, when needs be, protection.

While Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is one of the most entertaining movies I have seen in a long time, there are serious underlying themes.

Please understand that the analysis below of the rather sobering themes explored in Guardians is not meant to imply that this is not a fun, funny, uplifting romp of a movie. I know the expression “feel good film” is more overused than “blockbuster” but you really WILL feel good when you come out. The movie is comedic, warm, and friendly, though a BIT too mature for the under 13 crowd. The violence is extensive but cartoonish and richly deserved by the recipients. No one takes themselves too seriously and tongue is planted firmly in cheek. I mean, how can you miss it when one of the characters is named EGO.

BEYOND HERE BE MASSIVE SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!! FOR BOTH GUARDIANS!!!

I hate giving spoilers, so if you haven’t seen either of the Guardians movies wait to read this blog. But in order to do justice to the analysis of Guardians I have to get into spoiler-detail territory. If you continue – well, you’ve been warned. In addition, some of my comments rely on some short hand which only those who have seen the films will fully get.

On the homeschooling issue – it would have been easy to justify placing Baby Groot (YES! Still voiced by Vin Diesel) in some kind of protective custody environment. The hazards routinely taken by Baby Groot’s family of risk taking super hero parent/sibling models would have given the willies to the Flying Wallendas. Instead they work together to provide for the needs of Baby Groot, to nurture, protect and teach him all the while carrying on with killing scary critters and taking on fleets of homicidal bad guys. No one will watch your child the way you do. Your child is safer with you in a hazardous situation than they are with paid strangers in a “safe” environment.

And integral to the successful homeschooling home, ideally, is the father.

The importance of a good father in the healthy upbringing of a child is featured in this Guardians sequel both for daughters as well as sons. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is “kidnapped” (and I’ll explain the quotes shortly) by Yondu (Michael Rooker) instead of returned to Peter’s appropriately named father, Ego, as Yondu had been paid to do. And so Peter was raised without his biological father. Ego, (Kurt Russell) presents himself to Peter, first, as a loving father, happily and finally reunited with the son he was denied by Yondu. In fact Ego has deliberately “seeded” himself both physically into the various planets he has visited as well as bred with many species across the galaxy in order to come up with the perfect child with which he can eliminate all life forms other than himself. He justifies this because he, himself, as far as he could tell, just “popped” into existence and has been traveling around, aimlessly, for millions of years – much like V-Ger in the first Star Trek movie, gaining a lot of knowledge but, it seems, very little wisdom. And with almost limitless power but without the guidance of a good father, Ego has become the embodiment of his name.

After thousands, or perhaps even millions, of attempts, Peter is Ego’s first progeny who is able to share Ego’s abilities. The others were killed in the trial process or murdered and discarded – we are never made clear on this creepy point. And – to make Ego even more evil – in order to stay true to his own perverted course, to sever all ties to anything which might distract him, he murders Peter’s mother by deliberately placing the tumor in her brain that kills her.

So – this heartless, selfish, sensualist alien playboys himself around the universe, wooing women in order to bed them, impregnating them, then abandons them and abuses the children. If this sounds more familiar than it should it’s because it is the repetitious refrain of almost every domestic abuse scenario in pretty much every single daily paper we read. While the story in Guardians is glamored up with a lot of extremely fun sci fi, that is exactly what happens. Boyfriend (not husband, mind you), impregnates a woman then returns, if at all, only to abuse the child and batter then kill the mother. While Ego doesn’t beat Peter’s mother, I would say that infesting her with a brain tumor definitely qualifies as battery.

It is interesting that the character of Ego is played by Kurt Russell, an actor who made his name as a child actor portraying family friendly, father supported characters. In all his cinematic years he seems to know how to demonstrate the need for a good father by showing us one with no fatherly attributes.   

Ironically Ego is seeking “meaning” to his life. And cleverly, Peter expresses the thought about Gamora and Yondu that: “Sometimes the thing you want most is right next to you all the time.” The meaning Ego seeks he had found in Quill’s mother and the children he had bred. But he rejected all of them to serve is own enormous —– Ego.

Meanwhile, the sisters Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who also plays Uhura in the Star Trek reboot) and Nebula (Karen Gillian, unrecognizable under all the cybernetics from her stint as Amy Pond in the Matt Smith incarnation of Dr. Who Duke it out both physically and verbally until it is revealed that Nebula’s cyborg implants are the result of her losses to Gamora in fights when they were children. Every time she was defeated by Gamora in the combats set up by their father, Thanos, he would perform grisly replacement surgeries on her – arm, spine, eye – purportedly to make her stronger. Once again, the warped relationship with the father mangles these women physically and emotionally, pitting them against each other in a twisted desire to glorify himself under the guise of “strengthening” them.

Once again, it all comes down to the father.

And if this weren’t enough, both Yondu and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) admit to each other that they were betrayed by THEIR “father figures” – Yondu by his parents who sold him into slavery and Rocket by those who created him only to torture him with genetic engineering. Rocket is another example, like Gamora and Nebula, of parent figures who try to warp their “child” into images of themselves. Yondu is another example of the abandoned child.

In the course of the film it is explained that Yondu did not kidnap Peter but, like a reformed abortionist, could no longer stomach what was happening to the children he was delivering to Ego and decided to take Peter as his own, hide him from Ego and raise him the best way he knew how. Being a pirate that fathering took some unusual turns but it is made clearly evident that Peter was, indeed, the recipient of some solid mentoring and fathering, given the hero he becomes.

As another counter to Ego’s bad father example, Drax nostalgically grieves for the daughter he has lost. And then there is Groot – who steals EVERY-SINGLE-SCENE he is in. Every member of the crew functions in a parental or sibling way. Peter tells him to put on his seat belt before going into combat, Gamora cautions him to get out of the way during a firefight then humors him with a smile and wave. Drax and Rocket carry him on their shoulders, Rocket offers everything he has to the pirates who kidnap them just to ensure Groot’s survival, yet in other scenes Rocket listens carefully while Groot explains the origin of his discomfort with people who wear hats – all during a prison break, then later Rocket warns Groot that they will have to work on Groot’s tendency to use bad language (which we, of course, never hear because all he says are inflected variations of “I am Groot”). Groot’s healthy nurturing is underlined again in one of the post-credit scenes where Peter confronts a surly now-teenaged Groot sulking in his room with a computer game and Peter quips: “Now I know how Yondu felt,” acknowledging both his recognition of Yondu as his real father and the frustration of every parent at some point in the relationship between parent and adolescent child. These guys all demonstrate the importance of “being there” at the opportune moments in a child’s life when they need to be heard or chastized or sheltered or comforted or just held. And these moments are lost when a child is institutionally schooled.

This is the most eccentric homeschooling family since Gomez and Morticia decided that Wednesday and Pugsly weren’t getting the background important to the Aadams’ family traditions. But Groot — well —- blossoms (pun intended) beautifully under the care of the Guardians.

So, basically, what we have with Guardians is a super entertaining action adventure sci fi covering up a yin and yan of parenting and showing an unusual but thriving homeschool family. On the one hand you have the archetypal examples of bad father figures, represented by Ego and Thanos, who use their children instead of love them. On the other you have good parenting of the Guardians, who, ironically, represent almost every example of victims of bad parenting: abandoned, orphaned, abused, neglected, and used as extensions of their parents’ “Egos”, each of our crew has issues but rise above them to do their best to parent — Groot.

Yondu does his best to be a father substitute to Peter and makes the ultimate parental sacrifice of his life. Drax was brutally stripped of his children but becomes a protector to the other Guardians. All the abused children, from Yondu to Rocket, step up to do a better job with Groot, the child with which Fate has entrusted them. And we know Groot is in good hands because of the way they interact with him. One example of this bond is that the crew, despite the fact all Groot ever says is “I am Groot,” understands exactly, often in complex detail, what Groot is saying.

And this is what makes Guardians more than just another fun but forgettable adventure flick. The Guardians of the Galaxy are wonderful examples of how we can each do our own part to save the galaxy – one child at a time.