PADDINGTON 2 – ADORABLE STAND ALONE BEAR OF A STORY

SHORT TAKE:

Family friendly stand alone continuing adventure of an anthropomorphized bear living in London who lives by the motto: "If we're kind and polite the world will be right".

LONG TAKE:

I knew nothing about the Paddington stories going in to see this sequel with my son-in-law and grandsons. I have not even seen the first Paddington movie. I was immediately charmed by the gentle, naive kindness of the titled bear and his adoptive human family, including Julie Waters (Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), and Hugh Bonneville (from Downton Abbey).

Paddington is voiced by Ben Whishaw (Q from the rebooted James Bond) who brings a lovely ingenuous confidence to the little talking ursine creature. Paddington is now a beloved integral part of his community who performs small kindnesses as a matter of course throughout the movie: cleaning a grouchy neighbor's windows gratis which affords the neighbor the notice of a lovely woman; reminding an absentminded neighbor to remember his keys before his door shuts on him; making lunch for a friend. Through these seemingly insignificant acts of random kindness Paddington manages  to help knit these otherwise at-odds neighbors into a community of friends. And this, I think, is the point of the movie. The rest is just McGuffins and window dressing to demonstrate the importance of the small actions which can mean so much to those around you.

I am reminded of St. Theresa of Liseux' book on the philosophy of The Little Way. That one does not need to be a celebrity or build a cathedral or die in a gladiatorial ring in order to become a saint. That for most of us, who are blessed with never being called to such sacrifices, it is our calling to offer all the little opportunities that come our way as the path to sainthood: opening a door for a stranger, smiling to the curmudgeon even when it seems they do not appreciate your offer of friendship, enduring with patience the unexpected suffering that does come your way…like being sentenced to prison for 10 years for a theft you tried to stop, not commit.

Such is the set up for this Paddington story. Paddington wishes to give his beloved Aunt Lucy a special birthday gift. So he goes to the eccentric and slightly dotty but goodhearted Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent of Moulin Rouge and Slughorn of the Harry Potter franchise). He decides on a rare but expensive book which he strives to earn through odd jobs but which is soon stolen by the unctous and self-absorbed Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, who creates the most amusingly horrible egotist since Kenneth Branagh's Lockhart in Harry Potter.) Paddington is accused of the crime and sentenced to prison where he befriends, again through small kindnesses, some of the inmates. (Don't try this at home kids – cute in a story but…..) His fellow prisoners include: Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody AGAIN from Harry Potter), and Noah Taylor (the Dad from Charlie and the Chocolate factory).  Rounding out the cast is Tom Conti (veteran comedian of a number of quirky British comedies including Reuben, Reuben and Saving Grace) as a grouchy judge with a grudge against the occasionally hapless bear, Michael Gambon as the narrator (the replacement Professor Dumbledore from…you guessed it, Harry Potter), and Peter Capaldi (the last male Dr. Who before Jody Whittaker) who has the unenviable task of being the only member of the community to take an instant dislike to our little furry friend.

Paddington's human family continues to believe in Paddington's innocence and the balance of the movie spends its time digging up evidence to free him. It's funny, charming, innocent fun and shows the benefits of striving to be….polite and kind – along with courageous, loyal, honest, steadfast, optimistic, hard working, and just plain nice.

I, my son-in-law, both of my grandsons, and the many other children in the theater and their parents, enjoyed the movie thoroughly. Don't feel like you need to even see the first one. Paddington the second is well worth your time and, I am even inspired to paraphrase a quote from my all time favorite movie – It's a Wonderful Life: "Each bear's life touches so many other lives," and when he isn't around the community of friends he has created will rally to help him, which, in itself, is a brilliant virtue to watch enacted with humor and affection for their source material.

It's quite nice to see a movie which everyone in the family can enjoy.

FERDINAND – THE BULL IS NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO WAS CONFUSED

SHORT TAKE:

Ferdinand has a poorly thought out plot based upon the charming 1936 kids' book The Story of Ferdinand, of a gentle bull who would rather smell flowers than fight. John Cena does a fine job bringing the main character to life but his charming portrayal is buried under lazy writing, unappealing side characters, and an inconsistent universe.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Little kids will get a kick out of it but it will quickly fatigue the older siblings and the attending parents who bring them.

LONG TAKE:

Every animated movie works within its own universe. For example in Snow White the animals acted like animals – kind of in tune with the leading lady but behaved much like the furry critters you or I might run into.

In Bambi or Finding Nemo the animals were again confined to animal limitations but the story was seen from their POV so we, the audience, could understand what they were saying and their mental capabilities were anthropomorphized.

Mickey Mouse, however, was an entirely different perspective. He stands up straight, wears clothes, speaks and actually has a pet. He and his friends are, basically, humans who look like animals. They drive cars, have opposable digits, live in human styled homes and speak the Queen's English.

Bugs Bunny is, again, another species. These guys are animals – they are hunted and it would not be considered murder – by Elmer Fudd (that is if he could ever catch the loveably infamous bunny). Bugs lives in a hole in the ground which he has dug, though it has rugs and chairs. Bugs not only speaks and walks on his back legs, wears clothes when the occasion demands it – though he usually sports only his "natural" fur – but he outsmarts every human that appears on the scene, plays a ukulele, makes snarky comments, coins witticisms and can do things nothing on Earth can. He can tunnel through the Earth at breathtaking speed, and survive falls and impacts which in a more realistically created world no living creature would survive. His movements can be unnaturally fast when the need arises at a speed Superman would admire – changing clothes, moving from one place to another, conjuring any number of Acme items to fit the needs of the moment – in seconds. In short, come to think of it – Bugs is not just ANTHROPOmorphized. Bugs is SUPERANTHROPOmorphized. In other words, Bugs is a creature not just given HUMAN attributes but envisioned with SUPERhuman attributes. Bugs is Superman and Harry Potter wrapped up in a fuzzy New York accented bunny rabbit suited con man.

All these worlds are very different from each other. And aside from the outliers, like Pluto in the Disney world – who acts like a regular normal, though unusually intelligent, dog, despite the fact Goofy is also a dog but anthropomorphized – these worlds generally do not merge.

I am a science fiction fan and am willing to accept all manner of outrageous premises…….IF the creators stay within the confines of the Universe they have created.

The problem with Ferdinand is that the writers couldn't decide on the parameters. It was the same problem had with The Secret Life of Pets. In both cases animals were established as normal creatures living with humans. They were assigned the normal limitations of animals supplemented by the extravagant definitions allotted through serendipitous and impossibly well timed environmental factors. They could, for example, blithely depend on perfect balance and the timely arrival of things such as clotheslines and moving girders to keep them aloft if they chose to scale down several stories of a building but they had trouble opening human doors without opposable digits, etc. BUT when Max, a terrier gets lost they come across a gangster bunny who can carve fully functional keys out of a carrot by chewing on them AND turn the key in the lock and other creatures can drive cars – completely outside the parameters of the universe they established. Finding Dory made the same mistake- by stepping outside of the rules of its universe.

And so it its with Ferdinand. Bulls and dogs and goats and hedgehogs act more or less according to their natural limits, and although we can understand them humans can not…that is until the writers paint themselves into a corner. Then suddenly critters can drive, convincingly do the hula in front of humans, and do a creative coordinated dance off including breakdancing with horses. One minute Ferdinand can not roll across a yard in imitation of a hedgehog, the next he is Moonwalking. This makes no sense.

In addition, the side characters, who in other movies so often steal the show, are off putting. The competitive German prancing horses next door act like an effeminate Nazi with his two fawning groupies. They gratuitously insult the bulls without context, purpose or wit. The goat, Lupe (Kate McKinnon), I assume is supposed to be their version of a "Dory" character – clueless but well meaning. Instead she is disgusting, creepy looking, annoying and unappealing. She drools, eats things then throws them up, attracts flies, sports two eyes that make her appear dead, has two protruding bottom teeth, and says offensive, occasionally inappropriate things.

The character of Ferdinand himself as voiced by John Cena is charming. I would love to see a sequel with this character but only with a far better script and almost none of the side characters. I did like Angus but am biased because he is voiced by my favorite Dr. Who persona – David Tennant – in full Scottish brogue.

And for all you sports fans Peyton Manning does the voice of Guapo.

In addition, the story leaves practical holes not really filled.

SPOILERS

Once Ferdinand escapes the bullring and his friends go to his home farm: HOW could a simple flower vendor feed all those enormous animals? Wouldn't the departure of his entire stock bankrupt the bull trainer? Even if Ferdinand used reward money (which we are never shown he gets so we're really spitballing here) for "defeating" the matador won't the bull trainer simply buy more bulls with it who will be doomed to the same fate Ferdinand and his friends escaped?

I know it's only a kid movie but those hanging points could have been EASILY dealt with even if only in credit sketches: the flower vendor hiring the bulls out to plow. The bull trainer turning his business into a petting zoo. I know it's just a kids' story but these loose threads were a distraction. The writers should have done SOMEthing to bring closure to this story.

In short – there's nothing really WRONG with Ferdinand. But there's not much really right with it either. Go read the book instead.

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.

BLADE RUNNER 2049

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SHORT TAKE:

Sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 release – Blade Runner – Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning as it continues in the original’s futuristic neo-noir style, picking up 30 years after the end of the first Blade Runner. Despite plot holes, preposterous coincidences required to propel the story and some internal contradictions, it is an interesting adult viewing if you don’t mind watching a movie the way one might stop and contemplate a mesmerizing painting at a museum.

LONG TAKE:

I will try to avoid revealing anything in Blade Runner 2049 that is not shown in the trailer.

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FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL BLADE RUNNER: The original Blade Runner, which came out in 1982, had a clear plot: replicants, self aware engineered human appearing creatures – Pris (Darryl Hannah), Roy (Rutger Hauer) and others – have limited 4 year life spans but extraordinary strength, speed and intelligence. They become “disenchanted” with being slaves on off planet colonies. They revolt, kill their keepers and come to Earth seeking to have their lives extended by their makers. When their Creator – Tyrell – either won’t or can’t upgrade them, they kill him. Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner/replicant killer hunts them down and “retires” them one by one. Eventually in a face to face confrontation Roy gains the upper hand but in a final act of mercy, saves Deckard’s life by preventing him from falling off a building. Then, like a clockwork toy, Roy runs out of time and simply expires. Deckard runs away with Rachael, who is a replicant without the life span limit. The movie ends with their fate unknown and a final question unanswered – was Deckard a human or another replicant? Essentially a Bogart-like detective noir film including femme fatale and cynical narration by the protagonist updated to a dystopian future with flying cars and hologram advertisements in a depressing (“Hong Kong on a bad day” to quote director Ridley Scott) cityscape where it is always raining.

The story line of Blade Runner’s sequel, Blade Runner: 2049 is not quite as easy to follow.

While there are some spoiler-ish comments I need to make I will try to negotiate the territory between being too oblique and revealing secrets but not ruining any serious plot points. This will, unfortunately require some vaguery on my part.

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The new 2017 Blade Runner: 2049 starts similarly to the original, where the new blade runner, K (later called Joe) (Ryan Gosling), hunts down a rogue replicant. The replicant is hiding out in an unforgiving barren area raising grubs on a protein farm. If you couldn’t figure out Joe was a replicant within the first 45 seconds from his conversation with Joshi (Robin Wright) his handler/boss, then the beating Joe survives while bringing down bautistaDave Bautista’s character Sapper would definitely be a clue.

The subsequent plot is dependent on so many wildly unlikely coincidences that when it turns out there is no mastermind leaving bread crumbs it leaves one with a sense of disillusionment about their universe.

And although I appreciate a script writer who trusts their audience to accept certain unfamiliar details which make up the background to any futuristic, or sci fi story, there is a fine line between not spelling out everything and not explaining what the heck is going on.

An example of the puzzling backdrop is the “debriefing” Joe gets when he returns. He sits in an empty room and is barraged with a series of sentences to which he repeats certain words and phrases. Joshi comments afterwards on the results of his debriefing as good. But there is little context for the audience to appreciate what it means so that later, when Joe has a “bad” debriefing, I really couldn’t tell the difference. There were no hints as to what the debriefing meant so Joshi’s reference to a possible extreme reprisal for a continued inability to follow the “baseline” really didn’t mean anything to us. A little background would have gone a long way to making the test results have more impact.

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Elsewhere, the megalomaniac brilliant inventor of the modern replicants – Wallace (Jared Leto) – wildly successful, wealthy, and powerful, meets one of his new “born” replicants. He monologues to his female psycho hench woman, Luv, about how difficult it is to make enough replicants and how he thinks of them as his children, then coldly stabs the helpless newly formed replicant to death. OK, I get it, the guy’s a genius nutburger, but the track of his soliloque just was not tending in that direction so her death was more confusing than shocking and there was certainly no sense of suspense.

JoshiThere is a secret revealed by Joe’s unique abilities in a preposterous series of events which sets the majority of the plot in motion. Joshi is horrified but it is obviously something that Wallace would want to make use of. Joe is tasked by Joshi to root out the source. Neither Joshi nor Wallace have the moral ground in this. One wants to destroy an innocent, the other exploit that innocent to enhance their culture’s slave society. Joshi’s concern about “the secret” and Wallace’s desire to foster it seem to be at odds, which is another point of confusion as Wallace seems to be in a position to control everything including the police, making all the subsequent cloak and dagger of the rest of the movie unnecessary.

Further, given the entrenched class structure of this casually cruel society, I was unconvinced that the revelation of the secret to the public would have had the kind of dire consequences which would make the extremes to which Joshi asks Joe to go be required. Conversely, the attention Joshi brings to the “secret” by sending Joe after the source creates the very problem she claims to want to avoid. No exposition is offered to clarify any of these points relating to the “secret”.

Also, there is some debate as to whether the use of this “secret” which Wallace so wants to capture would aid or destroy his empire. AND – it is unclear how Wallace found out about this “secret”. Either he has so much access to so much information that he would already know where this “secret” is or he would not even know about the “secret” much less Joe’s involvement in it. Either Wallace is borderline omniscient or he isn’t – make up your mind. And what is it with his eyes? Is HE supposed to be some kind of replicant that perhaps Tyrell created – which would explain his inside information, gifted research abilities AND weird eyes – but this potential plot point is never so much as hinted at.

K is supposed to be a “new” replicant which is designed to obey. But later K doesn’t always obey and even lies to Joshi.

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The replicant hench woman of Wallace, Luv, cries when Wallace kills a replicant but then is randomly and pointlessly cruel, including to other replicants. This cruelty is not instructed by Wallace nor inherent in replicants. If the replicants of this era are supposed to be held in such a tight rein of obedience these acts make no sense.

Joe fakes another character’s death then brings that character to an extremely high surveillance area to meet someone important to the Wallace corporation. This would be like taking someone in the witness protection program on a tour of the White House and encouraging them to sneak into the Oval Office to say “Hi” to President Trump and expect their identity will remain a secret.

There are other similarly nonsensical actions taken by characters which left me wondering if the writers thought the amazing scenery would distract sufficiently from the sloppy plot points.

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HOWEVER – These critiques are not to say that Blade Runner: 2049 is not a decent to good movie. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission. Villeneuve faithfully recreates Ridley Scott’s vision, ambiance, and mood. The acting is stylized but excellent, especially Gosling. joe w joihologramHe does a lot despite his character’s inherent reluctance to express much obvious emotion.

And those of us with serious trivia issues will note that one very poignant moment in Blade Runner: 2049 features music from an equally poignant moment from the original Blade Runner. I won’t say the name of the bit of music as that would be telling, but fans of the first outing should recognize it when it happens. (If you REALLY want to know I will spoiler below.)

It is a stunning, surreal world which director Denis Villeneuve creates. But anyone expecting a rollicking sci fi the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars will likely fall asleep. The pacing is that of a performance artist whose every movement is intended to mean something so strikes poses and stands, statue-like, long enough for their audience to appreciate and think about what they are seeing.

There is a good deal of gory violence though the worst is done out of visual sight. There is some profanity, graphic moments of sex seen through almost opaque windows and a lot of naked holograms whose full frontal is frequently avoided only by inches.

The Blade Runner universe is a specific genre in science fiction – ground breaking in 1982, somewhat derivative in 2017. And while my viewing companions thought the movie had a clean ending, I thought the writer left major opportunities begging for another sequel.

Hope I have been sufficiently vague enough to prevent giving away too much to this peculiarly engrossing yet perplexingly convoluted story.

And OK – this seriously annoyed movie mavin mom will give one BIG SPOILER … more like an UN-SPOILER ——– duly ignoring Ridley Scott’s pronouncement as just another opinion despite the fact he was the original film’s director — after 30 years of waiting we STILL do not definitively know whether Deckard is a replicant or not!!!!!! ARGGGGGH!

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MUSIC RELATED SPOILER – BIG SPOILERS – BIG BIG SPOILERS – BE SURE YOU HAVE EITHER SEEN 2049 OR DO NOT CARE IF MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE REVEALED TO YOU —- OK –  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED: The "Tears in the Rain" motif by Vangelis, played when Roy dies at the end of Blade Runner is again heard when Joe, seriously (mortally??) wounded, lies on steps leading up to the building into which he has sent Deckard to look for his daughter. He stares, wistfully, up into the falling snow. We are left wondering if Joe will die. Deckard does not know how badly Joe has been hurt but Joe has survived some savage injuries during the course of the movie so……?

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.

PASSENGERS – AN ALLEGORY FOR MARRIAGE

 
When my husband and I had been married for 15 years we volunteered to go through an Engaged Encounter Counseling training session. During that period of time we learned things about each other that we did not know! For example, his favorite color is blue. I thought it was tan. He always WEARS tan. Who knew?!
The process also reminded me about the dating/mating process. The early years when you become irresistably attracted. Then you wonder if you should take the risk of being a couple. After a time, as you consider you may be spending the rest of your life with this person – have I done the right thing? The infatuation. The sexual attraction. The sharing and adventure. The fun. And then you find out things maybe you hadn’t realized about the other. You fight. Maybe the fight seems to herald in the end of the relationship. But at some point you realize you would much prefer to journey through life WITH this person than without them – warts and all.
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in Columbia Pictures’ PASSENGERS.
Perhaps it takes a personal crisis. Perhaps there is a moment when you see the resilient admirable core at the center of their being – the stuff that, even unknowingly, attracted you to them to begin with. Their morality. Their love of life. Their sense of fun….their courage in the face of life’s adversity. Something to which you can cling during the dangers and storms of life.
SPOILERS
In short, I have just synopsized Passengers. This movie is a brilliant allegory about just such a meeting, discernment, set of crises, resolution, determination and resolve that describe the stages of coming together in a marriage – not just the wedding, but truly the union of two people through thick and thin who commit selflessly to each other to face the life and death trials the world – or space – can bring.

Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) are strangers. Passengers on a deep space colony ship whose 5,000 colonists and 100+ crew are put into hibernation for the length of a 120 year trip. 32 years into the journey the ship has an unexpected, unplanned run in with a comet storm which causes damage which triggers the opening of Jim’s pod. It also causes other damage which will not be fully noticed for another 2 years.  Jim finds himself alone on a 1,000 foot luxury cruise ship with every amenity except companionship. There is the quirky addition of an android bartender


(Michael Sheen) but that’s it. He spends much of his time for the first few months: trying to contact Earth (round trip answer to even his cry for help would take 55 years), accessing the bridge (NOTHING short of a proper access code will get him entry despite the fact he is a mechanical engineer), reading manuals, trying to reactivate his hibernation pod. Finally he resigns himself to at least enjoying the amenities on the ship but after another few months he begins the slow descent into madness. He ceases to care even about shaving or dressing and finally is inches away from suicide when he randomly, if not Providentially comes across Aurora’s pod. He checks out her video profile and the books she has written and falls in love with her humor, her writing and ultimately…her. He struggles for months with the idea of manually opening her pod – even consulting Arthur, but his desperation is too great and he does what he realizes is the unthinkable – he awakens Aurora 87 years too early.

And so the courtship begins. The details of how the potential tragedy plays out, what her reaction is when she finds out what Jim has done, the reason why Jim's pod opened to begin with, and the resolution to their relationship I will leave to your watching of this amazing film.
Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the special effects, delighted by the story and impressed with the acting of two Robinson Crusoes and their bartender “Friday”. Pratt and Lawrence were terrific and Sheen endearing.
But it was my husband who recognized the analogy to marriage – how two people, against odds, found each other. That despite the hundreds of people around them it was up to ONLY the two of them to make a life for themselves, to overcome seemingly overwhelming obstacles and to triumph by self sacrificing to and for each other, recognizing their union may require foregoing other possible choices, binding themselves only to each other, and spending the rest of their lives making a life with each other. The perfect analogy of a courtship and marriage.
My only regret is that religion was sanitized out of the equation. There were Biblical elements: Jim willing to lay down his life for Aurora. Aurora willing to forgive Jim completely and his life becoming her life. They ultimately chose to cleave to each other, despite the fact Aurora was provided, by Jim, with another option. But there were no visits to a chapel, no praying to God in what was emotional extremity for Jim. No acknowledgement of the Hand of God and His Providence in their miraculously timed awakenings, finding each other or escape from mortal peril. And that’s a shame. Because with inclusion of the recogniztion of God this marital analogy would have been raised to the level of a sacramental union. There was even a clergy of sorts in the form of a Senior crewman (Lawrence Fishburne), who stood in the way of Captain for a time and who – before his demise – gave his “blessing” to them.
Despite this lack Passengers is a lovely, inspirational movie about the adventure of two people who bond for life…and who bond FOR life.