Picture it: 1992. Wabash College Lambda Chi Alpha house. Young Roy was walking through the “tube room” (where our ONE tv was) on the way to do my laundry. My frat brothers were going on in that performative way only young hormonal straight guys can for each other about how “hot” they were finding the “woman” performing on MTV. I giggled to myself when I realized the video they were watching was “Supermodel” by RuPaul.
After I put in my wash, I walked back to find them all a bit crestfallen, as the resident veejay had then interviewed MamaRu and they realized they’d been duped. To their credit, they weren’t spouting off any homophobic foolishness to cover for any embarrassment they may have been feeling. We were a really kind and inclusive house. Always.
All of that said, if you had told me then that I would be holding in my hot little hands today Fisher-Price LittlePeople depicting this fabulous superstar, I would’ve never believed you. But here we are. I’m sure there are some hyperventilating pundits out there sputtering that these charming toys are somehow harming our youth more than guns and devious politicians do. C’est la vie. All I know is that I’m delighted that we live in a forward-moving world where these exist … and that I own them. At age 49. 😅🌈✨
Scenes from a crazy room – judgment free zone. In this pandemic, and honestly with the loss of my mom, I have felt increasingly nostalgic. I suppose some of us silly humans are plagued with an instinct to gather up trivial objects in an effort to nest during difficult times.
There were three toy lines when I was a child that I knew at the time the world believed I was either the wrong age or gender to enjoy as much as I did. Such a shame we do that to kids. What I discovered in pandemic is that all three lines were much more finite than I had realized back then. Due to the magic of eBay, I was able to re-gather playthings I thought lost to the ether. The joys of acquisition and completion and display have been a strange comfort to me.
Gabriel’s Wannabees were a failed attempt to compete with Playmobil figures and Fisher-Price’s Little People. My grandma Edna must have scooped them all up at a clearance table in the 70s to keep her beloved grandkids/great-grandkids happy and occupied AND safely out of her Mamie Eisenhower-esque coiffure. She kept the Wannabees all in a wicker, wood-lidded picnic basket on her temperature controlled, enclosed back porch. You could tell you had overstayed your welcome in her kitchen when she said in her lilting North Carolina accent, “Why don’t y’all go play with those li’l figures out there.” (Not as much a query as a directive.)
An odd collection of “professions“ was represented by the figures, which I didn’t realize then was by toy maker design. A cowboy, a football player, a gymnast, a nurse, the Lone Ranger, firemen, a helicopter pilot. Sounds like a casting call for the Village People. Anyway, having these little creatures in my hands again 40+ years later is as surreal as it is transporting, evoking what seemed like a happier, safer time.
Mattel’s Hub Bubs where a similarly unsuccessful toy line, likely intended to compete with Richard Scarry‘s ubiquitous (at the time) Busytown. A series of little anthropomorphic animal figures – attired in various uniforms like policeman, fireman, postal worker, teacher (apparently career inspiration was key back then) – could be placed in little plastic buildings. When you hooked the structures together, and turned a little crank, they all moved and interacted.
Again, I have visions of my mother Susie, who always was a sucker for anything animal related, seeing all of these on a sale table, grabbing them all in the feverish way she always shopped, and bringing them home. And likely wanting to play with them even more than I did. Further, I always assumed there were more characters and buildings than we once had. It was just a few months ago that I realized we basically had the complete set, which I then replicated in the feverish online way I tend to shop. That apple (iPhone) doesn’t fall very far from the tree.
And this last toy confession is likely where I will get the most critique, but I loved Kenner’s Strawberry Shortcake dolls. I’ll say it! The smell, the world building, the fact that character conflict existed but was always quickly resolved with minimal harm to any involved. My parents grudgingly bought me a couple of the dolls when I was a kid, but it was an era when that made everyone far more uncomfortable than it should have.
Ironically, I learned recently that I had a couple of relatives who thought having dolls in my crib when I was a baby made me gay. I also had another grandmother who thought having a brass bed (which I did) would make me gay. Irony of ironies. If only it were that easy, the gay mafia would be a lot larger. Of course, all that really tells you is how Dr. Freud effed up generations of nosy, well-meaning, lightly toxic kin who failed at job one: live and let live, love and let love.
Thank goodness I had good friends in elementary school – Hope, Missy, Pam – who shared sans judgment their Strawberry Shortcake toys with me, exemplifying from an early age what acceptance, kindness, and inclusion actually looked like. And now as a *slightly* unusual 50-year-old man I have my own set. All still smell great BTW. Lord knows with what kind of chemicals they were doused for their respective aromas to linger so!
And I’m still gay. And proud of it. And not because of any toys I had. And not because of parental-driven decor. But I’m comfortable being me – and thriving – because I have been blessed with parents who loved and supported and celebrated me unconditionally.
I also love superheroes which didn’t turn me Kryptonian. And GI Joe which didn’t make me a Marine. And He-Man which didn’t make me a bodybuilder. And Star Wars which didn’t make me a Jedi.
What all these Gen X materialistic influences DID make me was a creative soul who continues to be energized by flights of fancy and imagination. And all led me to a happy, successful, stable loving life. I’ll take that all day long.
Musings from the bleak midwinter … I woke up here in Grey Gardens cranky – the pandemic and life’s obligations weighing me down. I know everyone is feeling it.
But then I saw these little footprints of Hudson’s in the snow which gave me some warmth and perspective. Life continues in beautiful ways.
John Doordashed some unhealthy but tasty and comforting breakfast treats, and I had some lovely NSFW check-ins from my adopted siblings (whether they like it or not) Blaine Fowler and Diane Hill.
I took a much-needed shower (why are we all so averse to bathing in pandemic?) and threw on my new 80sTees.com Mister Miracle shirt (thanks, Kevin Stecko!), which reminded me how much the escapism (pun intended) of comic books thrills me.
Jack Kirby created Mister Miracle (a cosmic Houdini) and the rest of DC Comics’ bonkers New Gods at the height of his most unfettered creativity. Kirby had jettisoned Stan Lee’s reportedly toxic self-promotion from his professional life and let his freak flag fly. This was after already gifting the world Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Thor, the X-Men, Hulk, Iron Man, and so many other incredible characters.
I found kinship in Kirby by inadvertent means. In the mid-80s, Kenner toys released arguably the greatest super hero figures ever with their SuperPowers line: a well-constructed, detailed (for that era), heady mix of characters both popular and obscure. I was gobsmacked when I saw Dr. Fate and Red Tornado hanging on the pegs alongside Superman and WonderWoman at our local KayBee.
But my favorites among all of the figures in the line were the New Gods – Darkseid, Steppenwolf, DeSaad, Kalibak, Orion, and, yes, Mister Miracle. They were day-glo Shakespearean – epic, fun, transfixing. It would be years later that I would learn the New Gods are suspected to have inspired (in part) my other geek love at the time (and still) Star Wars. (Also, an incredible Kenner toy line over which I obsessed.)
So, I put on this shirt, and thought what lessons can I take from King Kirby? How can I live my life as boldly and creatively? And maybe inspire others as he had inspired me?
One of the treasures my dad Don Sexton unearthed these past few months was a beautiful quilt my great grandmother Money had made. (At least I hope I have that right. My mother Susie Sexton is somewhere saying “I KNEW you weren’t listening to me!”)
After brainstorming a bit with dear friend Aaron Latham about the merits and downsides of framing it (ain’t no wall big enough for THAT!), it occurred to me to order one of those plexiglass display cases you find in jewelry stores and trade shows. Thank you, Shoppopdisplays, for coming to the rescue and delivering on Sundays!
I spent far too much time trying to figure out how to fold this damn thing, but I’m thrilled that it is safe and displayed now in our TV room.
That little moment of creative endeavor and honoring the past did my heart good. I’m no Jack Kirby, but this artistic activity – not to mention that quilt’s bold colors and beautiful lineage – will brighten my January/February days.
My crankiness has subsided, and that is all due to family, friends, memories, reflection, and writing (this right here if you made it this far). Food, shopping, and cute dogs help too!
Yes, I overshare, but social media and blogging for me are (as they were for my mom) the perfect combo of bulletin board, journal, and party that never ends. Thanks for being there. ❤️
I spent this afternoon with John Cena. It was heaven. HBOMax’s Peacemaker is brilliant. A dash of Netflix’s Cobra Kai, a smidge of Fox’s Deadpool, some of Amazon’s The Boys, and even a little of HBO’s Watchmen. (That last reference comes full circle as Watchmen’s “The Comedian” was a riff on the original comic book “Peacemaker.”)
The show is bonkers, irreverent, subversive, and more than a bit poignant. Yes, Peacemaker is a study in male arrested development and will appeal to the naughty and vulgar 8th grader in all of us.
But Cena also conveys a tragic sadness amidst the rampant silliness, a beefy Willy Loman in spandex. And the smart ensemble trapped in an unceasing series of Rube Goldberg-esque dead-ends owes as much to The Iceman Cometh as it does to the X-Men.
See? Not all of my references are comic book-oriented.
Danielle Brooks as a comically green field agent (who might not be as inept as she telegraphs), Jennifer Holland as her more seasoned (read: wryly, candidly cynical) colleague, and Freddie Stroma as adorably homicidal and overeager wannabe sidekick Adrian Chase (aka “Vigilante”) are standouts.
Showrunner James Gunn takes the merry melody he began in last year’s The Suicide Squad and turns it into a symphony. Whereas that film occasionally was mired in its own fan service, Peacemaker builds upon its predecessor’s promise and avails itself of the expanded real estate serial television provides to develop its characters without sacrificing any gee whiz puerile shenanigans.
And watching The Suicide Squad is not a prerequisite. There is a brief recap in the first episode, and, in many ways, Peacemaker is the far stronger production. I almost wish I HADN’T seen The Suicide Squad first (which nonetheless I did enjoy).
Even if you loathe superheroes – or ESPECIALLY if you do – you’ll find it endlessly entertaining.
A week or so ago, I caught up with Netflix’s tick, tick…BOOM! and Amazon’s Being the Ricardos, which also could be dubbed the “late bloomers double feature” (not just because I saw them well after their respective premieres). Both films explore the challenging intersection of art and commerce, a limbo often riddled with casualties who *just* haven’t quite made it yet but keep hitting that show biz gaming table for one last hopeful spin.
tick, tick…BOOM! is the autobiographical musical by the late Jonathan Larson, Pulitzer Prize-winner for Rent. Detailing his 30th year of living, the piece reads like a Gen X bohemian Company with its protagonist bouncing from well-meaning friend to less-well-meaning friend on a journey to find himself and a backer for his long-gestating musical (no, not Rent … yet).
Director Lin Manuel-Miranda displays a sure hand with the material, fueled no doubt both by love and respect for his contemporary Larson but also from his own career’s stops and starts.
The film is a glorious fairytale of hardship, and its leading man Andrew Garfield (always a marvel) turns in a career best performance, deftly walking a high wire of being inspiring, endearing, maddening, and self-serving. Oh, and he sings (gorgeously), plays the piano, and (sort of) dances, all while painting one of the clearest-eyed portrayals of the white hot isolation of a creative spirit I’ve ever seen.
Supporting players Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, MJ Rodriguez, Judith Light, and Bradley Whitford (as Stephen Sondheim no less!) are all stellar, sharply capturing the earnest if ephemeral nature of relationships in the theatre community. There are Broadway cameos aplenty, and I won’t spoil the fun, but I will give shout outs to Laura Benanti (always a comic delight) and Judy Kuhn who are positively larcenous in their all-too-brief respective scenes.
Comparably, Being the Ricardos is shaped by the endless, thankless years performers toil in an effort to “make it.” While the film focuses on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at the peak of I Love Lucy’s fame, we learn, through flashbacks and writer/director Aaron Sorkin’s signature rat-a-tat dialogue, the steep challenges through which this legendary couple powered to achieve blockbuster success relatively late in their respective careers.
The film clarifies without belaboring that Lucy and Desi’s success came with a steep price. Years of working in obscurity created hairline fractures that would eventually blossom into infidelity, but throughout they remained a united front in art and business.
Notably, while Kidman doesn’t look one whit like Ball, she does nail Lucy’s husky smoker’s voice and overall demeanor. We leave the film with incredible admiration for Lucille Ball as an entrepreneur who transformed the industry, as a comic visionary with an artiste’s obsession for detail, and as a social progressive who beautifully didn’t give a damn for mid-century social norms.
Kidman and luminous Javier Bardem (as Desi) conduct an acting master class in how to portray beloved historical figures, channeling their essences, while making them uniquely their own. Consequently, they land a timely and timeless message of living in one’s moment.
They are aided and abetted by JK Simmons and Nina Arianda as William Frawley and Vivian Vance respectively. Despite Arianda being saddled with an unfortunate body shaming subplot, both Arianda and Simmons sparkle brilliantly as showbiz workhorses who simultaneously value and resent their “second banana” success.
And, for those who geek out over sumptuous scenic and costume design, there is lush Eisenhower-era eye candy aplenty, with one postcard-perfect image after another of Hollywood’s (and television’s) golden age.
The film’s politics get slippy at times. Sorkin seems intent on force-fitting a modern liberal’s gaze onto Lucy and Desi’s history, but tricky details like Richard Nixon exonerating Lucy from her communist party past get in the way. Be that as it may, the performances transcend any pedantry to detail lives fully lived in service to art and cultural progress.
Joe: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma: I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.
From Sunset Boulevard
“If you dream it, you can achieve it.” – Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) in Wonder Woman 1984
“Nothing good is born from lies.” – Diana (Gal Gadot) in Wonder Woman 1984
Sadly, this seems to be the season of watching big ticket blockbusters crammed onto a home screen. Furthermore, this seems to be the season where all of your Facebook friends march like lemmings to tell you what you’re supposed to think of said offerings before you even have had a chance to view them for yourself. Being the good-natured contrarian that my parents raised, I find myself in direct opposition to much of the feedback I’ve observed. To me, The Prom was kind-hearted escapism-with-attitude, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a stagy self-indulgent slog, Midnight Sky was a resonant Truman Capote-meets-Ray Bradbury short (long) story, and Wonder Woman 1984 was a candy-coated (admittedly overstuffed) confection.
I loved The Prom. I, for one, like unapologetic musicals, and this Ryan Murphy production reads like Hairspray, The Greatest Showman, High School Musical, and Bye Bye Birdie had a socially progressive movie baby. Much needless ado has been made about (formerly?) beloved Carpool Karaokemaven James Corden playing a gay character, claiming his take is offensively stereotypical. Many critics’ descriptions have been as troubling as what they accuse Corden of perpetuating, if you ask me.
To me, it is one of Corden’s better and more thoughtful performances, layering broad comedy in a compelling gauze of pathos, to effectively depict a man struggling to find his path in the margins (in career, physicality, and, yes, sexuality). Corden is part of a free-wheeling quartet of Broadway narcissists (all compensating for respective ghosts of failures past) who descend on a small Indiana town to “rescue” it from its own prejudices after the local PTA shames and embarrasses a young lesbian (luminous newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman) in a way that would make even John Travolta’s character in Carriecringe.
Meryl Streep (channeling a caustic yet charming mix of Patti LuPone and Susan Lucci), Nicole Kidman (at her most winsomely fragile), and Andrew Rannells (all bounding and puppyish joy) are Corden’s partners in well-intentioned, occasionally misplaced crime, and they have fabulous chemistry. Kerry Washington is suitably evangelically vampy as the rigid PTA president, and Keegan-Michael Key is a pleasant surprise (both as a singer and actor) as the high school’s show tune loving principal. Tracey Ullmann pops up as Corden’s regretful Midwestern ma, and their reconciliation scene is a lovely little masterclass in heightened understatement.
Oh, right, I did say the movie is kicky fun, but nothing I’ve written here much indicates why. Working from Matthew Sklar’s buoyant Broadway production, Murphy and team overdo everything in all the right ways, juxtaposing all-too-real intolerance and heartache (basically everyone in the film is guilty of uninformed prejudice of one kind or another) with the metaphysical joys of unhinged singing, dancing, glitter, and sequins. All ends (predictably) happily, almost Shakespearean (if Shakespeare listened to Ariana Grande), and I dare you not to sit through the end credits with a stupid, hopeful grin on your face.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is also adapted from the stage, as legendary director George C. Wolfe brings August Wilson’s play to the screen. I suspect my disappointment is more to do with the source material than Wolfe’s sure-handed if claustrophobic direction. To be honest, I wanted more of Viola Davis’ dynamite Ma Rainey and less of … everyone else. Davis has one scene worthy of the Hollywood time capsule, eviscerating the misogynistic and racist capitalist machine that steals artists’ voices (quite literally as Rainey is committing her vocals to vinyl) and tosses people to the curb when they’ve outlived their usefulness.
The film depicts one day in a Chicago recording studio as Rainey fights with, well, anyone who crosses her path in defense of her vision and to retain her integrity in a world that reduces her to a commodity. THAT is the movie I wanted to see, but Wolfe gives preferred time to Rainey’s studio musicians, a group of men whose primary purpose seems to be representing inter-generational animosity among those with a Y-chromosome. Perhaps I’ve just had my fill for one lifetime of toxic male posturing, but I grew weary of their (endless) scenes.
In total, the film feels like it never really escapes the confines of the stage, and I may be among the few viewers underwhelmed by Chadwick Boseman’s performance. His work seems hammy and like he is in search of another movie altogether. I could be wrong, but the overwhelming praise for Boseman here feels like groupthink rhapsodizing given that he is no longer with us. I’m going to hell. See you there. Boseman remains a singular talent, but I don’t think time will be kind to this particular role, Oscar-winning as it likely will be.
Wonder Woman 1984 follows the loping narrative style of all inexplicably beloved films made in, well, 1984, and thereby is a kind of referendum on the cardboard excess and shallow instant gratification of that hollow era, nostalgia for which continues to plague us in insidious ways to this very day.
I found it nicely character driven with a strong cast and with a warm and (mostly) light touch, but plagued by some script/logic problems in its final act. All in all, it met my comics-loving expectations, and I enjoyed what they were doing. Gal Gadot remains a commanding presence in a way we just don’t see in screen stars these days. She’s not an actor per se, but she is a star.
Director Patty Jenkins has great Rube Goldberg-esque fun with one improbable action sequence after another. All were clearly nods to similar films of the 80s featuring, say, Superman or Indiana Jones but enhanced through modern Fast and the Furious-style tech and suspension of disbelief. I’m not looking for pragmatism in a movie like this. Sometimes I just want to be entertained, and WW84 did that for me
Jenkins makes the smart choice of casting talent who will connect the dots in a wafer-thin script. In the film, Kristen Wiig consistently makes smart acting choices as her character progresses from heartbreakingly nerdy sidekick to sullen and insolent supervillain, never losing the heartache of exclusion underneath it all. I thought she was a refreshing and inspired choice to play Barbara Minerva/Cheetah.
Dreamy/witty Chris Pine doesn’t get much dialogue/plot to work with as newly resurrected love interest Steve Trevor, but he shines nonetheless, wringing laughs from fish-out-of-water nuance without ever belaboring the joke.
Pedro Pascal balances Trumpian satire and Babbitt-esque tragedy as a gilded charlatan who believes 80s greed is the key to self-acceptance. He’s grand until the dodgy final act strands him somewhere on manic Gene Wilder-isle, and the film limps to its inevitable world-saving resolution.
I also think if people had watched WW84 on the big screen, they would have walked away with a different vibe. Some may disagree, but there’s a hidden psychological bump to paying for a ticket and investing time away from home (one WANTS the movie to be good) that is erased by the small screen – which has little to do with what is actually being viewed. IMHO.
The global warming parable Midnight Sky (directed by and starring George Clooney), however, benefits from small screen viewing. That said, the film’s outer space, nail biting, race-against-time elements have all been covered (sometimes better) in The Martian, Interstellar, Ad Astra, and George Clooney’s own Gravity. Hell, throw in Event Horizon, Sunshine, and The Black Hole for good measure.
Rather, I enjoyed the film’s quiet moments with Clooney as the sole (maybe?) survivor on an ice-covered Earth, as he fights the elements, time, and his own failing health to deter a deep-space crew from returning to their certain death on an uninhabitable planet. I didn’t give two hoots about the space mission, which included Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, and Tiffany Boone, all doing their level best to make us care. However, I was transfixed by an almost unrecognizable Clooney who checked his golden boy charm at the door and exquisitely projected the exhaustion and anxiety and fear of someone nearing the literal end. So, in other words, how most of us feel in 2020.
If it were up to me, I would edit out all of the space-faring scenes and leave the film’s focus on George Clooney alone in a post-apocalyptic arctic, yielding a transcendent hour-long Twilight Zone episode.
Now, let’s see how I fare in the Twitterverse when I finally turn to watching Disney’s/Pixar’s Soul …
Postscript …what follows is an email sent to my mother Susie Sexton this afternoon about 1960’s classic Cimarron. They don’t make movies like this any more, and that’s a shame.
From IMDB’s synopsis: “The epic saga of a frontier family, Cimarron starts with the Oklahoma Land Rush on 22 April 1889. The Cravet family builds their newspaper Oklahoma Wigwam into a business empire and Yancey Cravet is the adventurer-idealist who, to his wife’s anger, spurns the opportunity to become governor since this means helping to defraud the native Americans of their land and resources.”
I just finished Cimarron and liked it very very much. I do think that Edna Ferber captures perhaps somewhat formulaically but absolutely effectively, the passage and snowballing magnitude of time and life, with a lovely progressive sensibility (pun unintended).
Maria Schell is exquisite. I don’t think the film would’ve been half as good without her in it. I really like Anne Baxter too. Their one scene together is quite understated and powerful.
Glenn Ford is of course great too, but Maria Schell really got to me. She acts in a style ahead of its time. It’s a beautiful film, but at least in the first ten minutes I kept expecting them to burst into song. When it really digs into their struggle and unpredictable relationship, it’s very powerful. The supporting cast was of course great since all of those people had been in one million films already.
Thanks for recommending this! Love you!
My family loves movies. We always have. It is our cultural shorthand, and every holiday – until this one – has been spent in communion over what movies we saw, how they made us think and feel, and what these films might say about our culture and its advancement. That is in short why I write this blog. I can’t imagine watching a movie without having the opportunity to share how it speaks to my heart and mind.
Thank you for reading these thoughts of mine for nearly ten years (!), inspired as they are by a lifetime of loving movies.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a shotgun blast of pure pop riot grrl anarchy. Just the slap in the face “bro culture” has needed. And will continue to need.
Director Cathy Yan and producer/star Margot Robbie, working from a script by Christina Hodson, have crafted a beautifully forward-leaning day-glo antithesis to the retrograde sludge that was Suicide Squad(the precursor to Birds of Prey wherein Robbie’s “Harley Quinn” made her scene-stealing debut). One could even argue that Birds of Prey is a razor-barbed bookend to the exquisite existential angst of DC Entertainment’s Oscar-winning Joker.
The set up of Birds of Prey is that Harley has finally broken up for good with her boyfriend: yes, The Joker. Not Joaquin’s superior “Mistah J,” but Jared Leto’s inferior one – the tattooed, gold-toothed, overacting, “Hot Topic” fever dream one from Suicide Squad. Their breakup involves blowing up a chemical factory because, you know … comic books. As Rosie Perez’ world-weary and whimsically hard-boiled Detective Renee Montoya observes, “She [Harley] just publicly updated her relationship status.” Robbie is divine as Harley. Full of madcap poignancy, unencumbered by the cinematic fetishization she and the character suffered in Suicide Squad.
Alas, freeing herself from one hotbed of toxic masculinity just throws Harley into the deep end of a pool of abusive, egomaniacal, swaggering male bullsh*t as every thug in town now sees Harley as fair game. Leading the pack is Ewan McGregor’s sadistic Roman “Black Mask” Sionis and his sleazy, murderous, codependent wingman Mr. Zsasz (a fabulously glowering Chris Messina). McGregor literally gnaws at every splinter of scenery in one of his best performances – all fluttery hands, gritted teeth and coiled self-loathing.
Eventually the film adds a serpentine plot line about a diamond and a hidden family fortune, tied to a mafia family entirely gunned down years ago with only one “lost” survivor. Think Anastasia by way of The Jersey Shore. As Birds of Prey gathers momentum, like a pinball careening through a Rube Goldberg contraption, Harley partners up with Detective Montoya as well as a scrappy street thief Cassandra Cain (charming Ella Jay Basco), sonically superpowered club singer Black Canary (sparkling Jurnee Smollett-Bell of Roll Bounce and The Great Debaters), and socially maladjusted but utterly a$$-kicking Huntress (dynamite – as always – Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Fargo and Sky High).
There is a buoyancy to the entire film that is utterly infectious. The sheer joy these actors seem to be having playing women in command in a world out of control is a delight. I’m not one to care much for fight scenes or action sequences, but the balletic, athletic choreography on display here is Gene Kelly meets Sly Stallone, Bob Fosse meets Jackie Chan, if filmed by Vincente Minnelli. When a climactic car chase involves one of the characters on roller skates, you may be in for a treat.
The film reminded me of Drew Barrymore’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels, now 20 (!) years old. A film by women and about women, reclaiming a genre (action/superheroes) which has been far too long dominated by men (and, worse, by men of a certain stunted emotional development). Go for the hijinks, stay for the surprising depth of character development, and linger for the final scene as the women celebrate their victory over tacos and margaritas, sharing camaraderie and conversation and honest appreciation for their common humanity. Far too few films – let alone comic book epics – end on such an affirming note. Keep ‘em coming.
P.S. Spoiler alert for my animal loving friends, but Harley’s hyena “Bruce” makes it to the end of the film just fine￼. 😉
[Chorus] Got bridges to burn and places to run Yeah, this smile is a loaded gun
[Verse 1] It’s my party, my body, my business It’s my town and my crown on my hitlist It’s my world and you’re just living in it Did I, did I, did I finish? They are my girls, and it’s us who’s deciding It’s our door, did we say you’re invited? Leave your name and we’ll call if we like it If we, if we, if we like it
[Pre-Chorus] No more Mrs. Sweet and Miss Nice No more Mrs. Fuckin’ Polite Time for Mrs. Takin’ What’s Mine You don’t need him
[Chorus] Got bridges to burn and places to run Yeah, this smile is a loaded gun
[Verse 2] It’s my party, my body, my business If he tries to control me, he’s finished Won’t be crying, there’s plenty of fishes And I, and I, and I’m fishin’ You should know that you won’t find another Who will ruin your life then your brother’s Who will take what she’s owed when she wants to Did I, did I, did I stutter?
“I retain the right to be moved by those little things nobody notices.” – Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) in Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
My favorite part of the Christmas to New Year’s gauntlet? Those empty days when the sky is gray and there are no obligations, and you can sit around in your sweatpants, shell-shocked and comatose from the holiday frenzy, vegetating in front of a movie or television screen (or both!).
“People will believe anything if you’re properly dressed.” – The Man Who Invented Christmas’ Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens), repeating advice his father John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce) taught him
Cats. O, Cats. Listen, it’s a weird effing show (read more here) that should have never been the success it was. And the lemming-like behavior that led audiences to fuel its decades long stage success is the same lemming-like behavior that is leading people to scorn the film in droves now. The film is a logical outgrowth of its goof-a$$ origins, and, by that low bar, it’s perfectly fine. Passably entertaining even. So, everyone STOP piling on because it’s fun to make fun of something you SHOULD have scorned in 1981. Too late now! Director Tom Hooper (Les Miserables) brings some inventiveness here and there, but as Rum Tum Tugger (a mush-mouthed Jason Derulo) might observe, it tends to get lost “in a horrible muddle.”
The human faces on CGI cat bodies are disconcerting (mostly in how they kind of float around and drift a bit), but I found the un-CGI’d human hands and feet even more repulsive. Rebel Wilson (Jenny Anydots) should not be allowed anywhere near a musical. Or a piano. Or karaoke. Or cockroaches. The group dance numbers should have all been cut, as pseudo-ballet is pretty but not much fun to watch in the cinema, and Hooper’s approach to filming said numbers is by turns monotonous and disorienting. Imagine Michael Bay’s Transformers singing disco-synth, day-glo show tunes.
Buried under the muck, there are decent performances yearning to break free. Ian McKellen is heartbreaking and campy as Gus the Theatre Cat. James Corden is James Corden! as Bustopher Jones (though his number has about 8 reprises too many). Judi Dench makes a really pretty Persian Cat – who knew she had the face for it? Her Old Deuteronomy has a few good zingers, and she looks really fine lounging in a wicker basket. Idris Elba (MacAvity) and Taylor Swift (Bombalurina) should take their act on the road, hitting nightclubs across the land and wearing cat-style footie pajamas. Jennifer Hudson skulks and sulks nicely as Grizabella (even if showstopper “Memory” gets thrown into an editing Cuisinart by Hooper). Surprising no one, the British dance-trained unknowns Steven McRae (Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat), Robert Fairchild (Munkustrap), and Laurie Davidson (Mr. Mistoffeles) escape with the most dignity, lending pathos to t.s. eliot’s clever wordplay and lithe movement to their feline character work.
As my mother noted, the filmmakers would have been so much better off just crafting this as an animated film, a la The Aristocats or Lady & the Tramp. But, no. That would have made sense. And, while Cats may be “forever,” it has never made one lick of sense. Meow.
“Morals don’t sell nowadays.” – Jo (Saoirse Ronan) in Little Women
Ain’t that the damn truth? And no one knows that better than the political puppet masters over at FOX News. New movie Bombshelldepicts the downfall of FOX head Roger Ailes (creepy good John Lithgow, who is no Loudest Voice in the Room‘s Russell Crowe, however). Ailes is brought low by decades of sexual misconduct, bullying, ugliness, and sheer thuggishness. Today, we’d reward that behavior by making him President of the United States.
The film is good, though lacking the depth of other treatments (namely Loudest Voice on Showtime). Go for Charlize Theron’s uncanny take on Megyn Kelly. Stay for the popcorn zip of director Jay Roach’s takedown of the hypocritical/toxic right wing media. Margot Robbie is remarkable as a production assistant torn between her ambition and her tenuous grasp on integrity. In other words, she fits right in in the FOX newsroom. Kate McKinnon is acerbic fun as Margot’s cubicle-mate, and Nicole Kidman does her best version of Nicole Kidman-as-befuddled-ice-queen as Gretchen Carlson, who first brings charges against Ailes. Some have worried that the film makes heroes of the unheroic, Kelly and Carlson and their ilk being as complicit in the rise of this Trumpian nation-state as anyone. Charles Randolph’s script doesn’t let them off the hook, in my opinion, and Roach’s swirling direction keeps the audience from feeling too much empathy for anyone.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know secular music.” – Bombshell‘s Kayla (Margot Robbie), a production assistant who mixes up images of The Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey during a FOX News broadcast
Who has two thumbs and is finally suffering from Star Wars fatigue? THIS guy. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is full of sound and fury, signifying … meh. It is overlong, derivative, and convoluted, and, while director J. J. Abrams pulls far too many threads together in a reasonably satisfying way, Skywalker just isn’t very thrilling. The film feels like homework: “I’ve seen eight of these things, and watched a grab bag of spin-offs and tv shows, so I guess I have to see how this thing ends.” Thank heavens for Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) and Daisey Ridley (Rey) who deserve a much better script but do yeoman’s work making something, anything seem interesting.
I didn’t love Last Jedi, the previous film in the series, but at least I felt, in that instance, that there was a plan and a strong artistic vision. Skywalker seems like it was focus-grouped with a bunch of Orlando tourists, hopped up on churros and Red Bull, after riding Space Mountain a dozen times. Truth be told. I just didn’t care. I know these films are fairy tale nonsense, Saturday-morning serials on big budget steroids. I love that about Star Wars, but, to succeed, to truly succeed, these flicks need to be fun and rollicking and light as air, so you happily look past the broad leaps of logic and common sense. Rise of Skywalker is anything but fun or light or rollicking, so all you are left with is a plateful of plot holes … and regret.
We Star Wars fans may seem nitpicky. Perhaps these movies were best left in the murky fog of childhood remembrance, but if Jon Favreau can evoke this perfect balance of whimsy and comic book gravitas in TV’s The Mandalorian, why can’t this be accomplished on the silver screen again as well? Disney has come closest with their entries in the Star Wars Stories anthology films, notably Rogue Oneand arguably Solo. Let’s hope Disney/Lucasfilm puts a pause button on these movies for awhile, learns some tough lessons from wise Baby Yoda, and gives their film strategy a good rethink. We’ll be waiting, getting older and fatter, but still buying action figures.
“Make sure she’s married by the end. Or dead. … Girls want to see women marry. Not [be] consistent!” – Jo’s publisher (Tracey Letts) in Little Women
Yet, I don’t suffer from Little Women fatigue, and, by all rights, we should be finished with cinematic and televised depictions of this oft-told tale of the plucky March sisters, surviving and thriving in Civil War-era America. The latest iteration, written and directed with postmodern aplomb by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), is a marvel.
The film is exquisite – a smart, sharp update for contemporary sensibilities, without losing the familiar story beats. Unencumbered by linear chronology (the film operates as a series of flashbacks while Jo challenges the limited sensibilities of her era’s publishing industry), Gerwig reimagines Little Women to render inexorable its keys messages of agency, humanism, imagination, independence, and hope.
Among the cast, of course Saoirse Ronan is dynamite as Jo, never losing the spirit or authenticity of the era but painting a clear-eyed portrait of a human being gobsmacked by the artificial limitations society imposes on her gender. The more things change. …
Meryl Streep as Aunt March downplays that character’s sometimes arch control and sour disappointment, offering an aunt as amused as aggravated by the changing mores around her. Laura Dern is the quintessential Marmee, warm and flinty and kind. Chris Cooper is lovable and loving as the March family’s wealthy neighbor, and Timothee Chalamet puts his innate insouciance to good use as Laurie.
The revelation, though, is Florence Pugh as Amy, avoiding the pouty, flouncy pitfalls of other portrayals, turning a bright spotlight on a woman tired of being left behind, refreshingly unapologetic in the choices she (logically) makes, given the cards she’s dealt.
Much will be written about the film’s ending, which borrows a bit (knowingly?) from the Broadway musical. Where does Gerwig actually leave the March sisters? At a sun-dappled picnic, happily betrothed, teaching the young and raising their own families? Or, with Jo as a fully-realized free-agent, unburdened, accomplished, and ready to change this world for the better? Or a mix of both? This film is essential viewing, and one of the best movies this year.
“Don’t get sucked into a fight with someone who has better reason to be in it than you do.” – Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) in Bombshell
Outside of the cinema, we also caught some great flicks now on home video or streaming/cable. The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a welcome, wholesome throwback to the ABC Afterschool Special and Wonderful World of Disney broadcasts of yore.
Based on a series of novels from the early 70s (inspired by a gothic mansion in Marshall, Michigan), Clock stars Jack Black and Cate Blanchett at their most understated. Save for a CGI-filled denouement that gets a bit manic, the movie is a lighter-than-air soufflé of a fantasy period piece. Young Lewis (accessible, likable, kind Owen Vaccaro) is orphaned and is sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Black, almost unrecognizable in his quietly nuanced turn). Jonathan happens to be a warlock with a sorceress bestie (Blanchett, also nicely underplaying). Black and Blanchett seem like they stepped right off the set of 1958’s Bell, Book, and Candle – which is high praise – and I surely hope they get to make more installments in this series.
The Man Who Invented Christmasuses the inspiration behind Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to inform, instruct, and inspire, thereby breathing new life into this over-adapted classic. Dickens (a wry and winsome Dan Stevens of Beauty and the Beast) is challenged to maintain his humanity in the face of a commercial machine that crushes souls and torches family ties.
His reclamation of his own voice and of his own industriousness is tied inextricably to his reconciliation of a past that haunts him and of a present that buffets him – not unlike what befalls Ebenezer Scrooge (a brilliant and twinkling Christopher Plummer). Jonathan Pryce deftly balances heartbreak, disappointment, and yearning as Dickens’ embattled father. The production, directed with a sure hand by Bharat Nalluri from a layered and literate script by Susan Coyne, is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly cliched holiday season.
Where’d You Go,Bernadette?,directed by Richard Linklater, is a beautiful film, light and poignant, a loving treatment of lost souls rediscovering their moorings and of the special challenges those with creative brains can experience in this judgmental world. Cate Blanchett as Bernadette and Kristin Wiig as her long-suffering “mean girl” neighbor both bring their A-game to the enterprise.
There is a pivotal sequence in the film wherein Bernadette’s heartbroken free-spiritedness finally runs afoul of the pragmatic realities of day-to-day living. Laurence Fishburne, as a former architectural colleague of Bernadette’s, and Judy Greer, as a therapist hired by Bernadette’s husband Elgin (the always reliable Billy Crudup), in parallel/intercut conversations with Bernadette and Elgin respectively, discuss the couple’s situation.
Fishburne and Greer’s characters share seemingly contradictory theses: Fishburne’s that Bernadette’s departure from a creative work life has atrophied her spirit and her mind and Greer’s that Bernadette has had a break from reality brought on by environmental change. In reality the truth is somewhere in between, and Emma Nelson, in a bright and affecting turn as Bernadette’s and Elgin’s daughter Bee, explicates clearly how her parents have drifted from what she once knew them to be, simultaneously appreciative of their distinctive quirks and gifts. Fishburne and Greer are both marvelous, as well, avoiding caricature or presumption, walking a fine line between compassion and bemusement.
As the film works toward its resolution, which as evidenced by the trailers includes Bernadette voyaging to Antarctica, her family finds healing, as they embrace the spark that makes Bernadette an individual while balancing the collective needs that will re-center their lives. The seemingly screwball comedy elements of the film may lead viewers to miss the important nuance here. Not dissimilarly to Joker, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? offers a sensitive and empathetic portrayal of how the intersection of emotion, intellect, and environment impacts us all.
“No one is useless in this life who lightens the burdens of another.” – The Man Who Invented Christmas’ Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens), repeating advice his father John Dickens (Jonathan Pryce) taught him
“Unhappy the land where heroes are needed.” – Galileo, in Brecht’s Life of Galileo (1943)
“The theater, which is in no thing, but makes use of everything – gestures, sounds, words, screams, light, darkness – rediscovers itself at precisely the point where the mind requires a language to express its manifestations…. To break through language in order to touch life is to create or recreate the theatre.” – Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and Its Double (1938)
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
“…agitprop theatre, a highly politicized theatre that originated in 1920s Europe and spread to the United States; the plays of Bertolt Brecht are a notable example. Russian agitprop theater was noted for its cardboard characters of perfect virtue and complete evil, and its coarse ridicule. Gradually the term agitprop came to describe any kind of highly politicized art.” – Wikipedia entry on “Agitprop Theatre”
“Stop the world/Take a picture/Try to capture/To ensure this moment lasts/We’re still in it, but in a minute -/That’s the limit – and this present will be past.” – “Stop the World,” Come From Away
“I’m not your bitch. Don’t hang your shit on me.” – Madonna, “Human Nature” from Bedtime Stories
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
It’s funny – not “ha ha” funny, but odd funny – that I haven’t much wanted to write anything else since seeingJoker three weeks ago. That film – and Joaquin Phoenix’ transcendent performance – took up permanent residence in my brain and refracted everything I’ve viewed since. I’m still digesting that film and its profound reflection of our fragmented society. I want to see it again (and again), but maybe it’s for the best that life has intervened and, consequently, I haven’t been able to indulge that impulse.
My co-workers and yours truly in line for Madame X
Joker makes its plea for compassion and empathy in strokes both bold and nuanced, and it leaves a bruise (on the heart). That same earnest desire to reach through and wake us from our collective self-absorption and malaise was evident in two other performances I’ve taken in recently: Come From Away‘s National Tour stop at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre and Madonna’s Madame X tour residency at the Chicago Theatre, one a decided crowd-pleaser and the other a riding crop upside the head. I’m sure you can guess which is which.
Come From Away [Image Source: Wikipedia]
Come From Away is a beautiful show, on its surface a pastoral ode to the power of human kindness, belying its sharp-eyed critique of the darker sides of human nature.
Wrapped in the aural comfort food of its Chieftains-esque score, Come From Away tells the story of 38 planes rerouted to the tiny Newfoundland town of Gander during the days following 9/11 and the joys (and tensions) of a tight-knit community faced with housing and feeding and comforting thousands of stranded, anxious, and exhausted international travelers.
Come From Away [Image Source: Wikipedia]
What is brilliant about the show, beyond its Brechtian theatricality (a dozen actors play all of the townspeople and all of the visitors, using a handful of mismatched kitchen chairs, a costume item or two, and a clutch of flawless accents), is the fact that Come From Away is not a Valentine to 9/11. This isn’t some fawning piece of jingoistic nationalism. The heartwarming positivity of seeing a plucky band of Canadians open their doors and hearts to a rather spiky bunch of displaced Americans and other nationals is not without a few bumps along the way. Irene Sankoff’s and David Hein’s remarkably integrated book and score do not shy away from the ugliness of racism, misogyny, ageism, homophobia, materialism, and the overarching fear that can eat us all alive in the face of crisis.
That said, the show blazes a bright and inspiring path in its “warts and all” philosophy, leaving us with the comforting affirmation that there are in fact angels among us who truly care about all creatures (great and small).
Madonna [Image Source: Wikipedia]
Turning to Madonna for a moment, I read a review recently that described her latest recording Madame X as a cast album in search of its show. An apt description, given what I witnessed at the Chicago Theatre last week. I, for one, am a fan of Madonna when she lets her freak flag fly and doesn’t care one whit for marketability. Her Dick Tracy-inspired album I’m Breathless is a good example (ironic since it was clearly initiated as a marketing ploy … and turned out to be anything but.) Madame X is her nuttiest collection in years, Paul Simon’s Graceland as designed by Yoko Ono, Giorgio Moroder, and Tex Avery, full of world beats, polemics, and gobsmacking u-turns.
Madonna [Image Source: Wikipedia]
As a result, the album begs for some theatrical staging, and Madonna, for the most part delivers, taking her trademark arena/stadium excess and translating for much smaller and more intimate environs like the Chicago Theatre (where she is currently in residence as part of her Madame X world tour).
For the most part, it’s a very compelling switch, but, continuing the aforementioned “cast album” comparison, if these small theatre residencies are Madame X‘s out of town tryouts, I think Madge needs to send the “book” back for some revisions.
This was NOT a deal as Madonna didn’t take the stage until 11:15 pm, concluding at nearly 2 am! She may be in cahoots with the parking industry.
When our Queen of Pop tries to be overtly political and offer “profound” declamations of individualism, she comes off like a college freshman who has just discovered Jean-Paul Sartre and James Baldwin. Madonna has never been what one would consider an exceptional comic raconteur so the show’s interminable patter between songs, ostensibly structured to create intimacy, provocation, and laughter falls exceptionally, head-scratchingly flat. When the show focuses on more of a one-world ideology, with its polyglot mixing bowl of international flavors and styles, the implied politics of love and understanding are much more impactful.
The bulk of the show’s set list is pulled from the album Madame X with more than a few classics woven in: “Express Yourself,” “Rescue Me,” “Papa Don’t Preach,” “American Life” (sounding fresher and more prescient than ever), “Frozen” (a breathtaking performance which includes floor-to-ceiling projections of Madonna’s first-child Lourdes dancing as her mother sings this haunting hit from Ray of Light, the album inspired by Lourdes’ birth), “La Isla Bonita,” “Human Nature,” and a rousing “Like a Prayer.”
My work pals and yours truly before dinner/show
The old songs fit nicely alongside the new, providing a thematic arc of free-expression and heartfelt-spirituality that is quite effective, juxtaposed as they are with dystopian images of a society skidding off the rails: dancers in police garb, gas masks, and other militant fetish-wear or the recurring martial motif of a vintage typewriter whose striking keys double as gunfire throughout the production.
When Madonna visits some of the stronger material from Madame X – the stuttering sci-fi shmaltz of “Future,” the slinky robo-cha-cha-cha of “Medellin,” or the sultry disco of “Crave” – the show is a luscious dream.
As with every Madonna tour, there are a couple of numbers to preserve in the proverbial time capsule. In the case of Madame X (in addition to some wonderful exploration of Lisbon’s Fado culture), “Batuka” with its accompaniment by the all-women Orquestra Batukadeiras is a rocket-blast of fist-pumping feminism. The show’s encore “I Rise” is a goose-bump-inducing salute to any and all who’ve been marginalized by a society that praises conformity above all else.
As Madonna marched into the audience and out the lobby doors of the Chicago Theatre Thursday night, her entire retinue in tow and chanting “I Rise,” I found myself moved to tears and thinking there may be hope for all of the Arthur Flecks in this world after all.
With my Detroit pals at Come From Away
There’s nothin’ you can do to me that hasn’t been done
Not bulletproof, shouldn’t have to run from a gun
River of tears ran dry, let ’em run
No game that you can play with me, I ain’t one
‘Cause I’m goin’ through it, yeah
I know you see the tragic in it (alright)
Just hold on to the little bit of magic in it (yeah)
I can’t break down now
I can’t take that now (I can’t take that now)
Died a thousand times
Managed to survive (I managed to survive)
I can’t break down now
I can’t take that (I can’t take that)
I rise, I rise
(Rise) I rise up above it, up above it
(I rise) I rise, I rise
(Rise) I rise up above it all
I managed to survive
Freedom’s what you choose to do with what’s been done to you
No one can hurt you now unless you want them to (Unless you want)
No one can hurt you now unless you love ’em too
Unless you love ’em too
Lights. Camera. Cure. – a special theatrical event held on Wednesday, February 6, that featured classic film hits as sung by local performers at The Village Theater at Cherry Hill – was a sell-out success with a capacity crowd of 400 patrons. The show raised over $20,000 for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life Canton-Plymouth.
Producer/director Denise Staffeld of Lake Michigan Credit Union observed, “Last year, we had a vision to do a Cancer Society fundraiser that celebrated the healing power of Broadway. We sold out the house, and raised over $15,000. I had hoped this year would exceed last, both financially and artistically, but I never anticipated this. I am so very grateful.”
Roy Sexton, director of marketing for the Clark Hill law firm, emceed the evening as well as performed. A published author of two books of film reviewsReel Roy Reviews, Sexton noted in his opening remarks that “film is a great unifier, helping audiences to escape the troubles of daily life and to aspire to something greater.”
The cast was comprised of semi-professional and professional talent from throughout Southeast Michigan’s theatre community: Shirley Auty, Denise Staffeld, Aimee Chapman, Christina Bair, Cathy Golden,Cathy McDonald, Caitlin Chodos, Noel Bittinger, Julzie Gravel, Bethany Basanese, Keri Mueller, Janine Creedon, Tracey Bowen, Diane Dimauro,Roy Sexton, Jeff Steinhauer, AJ Kosmalski, Bruce Hardcastle, Tim Chanko, Kurt Bowen, Tracy Neil, Carl Nielsen, Anna Nielsen, and David Dilsizian.
Kelvin Elvidge served as sound designer/engineer. Lia DeBiasi was the production’s stage manager, and Daniel Pocock assistant stage managed. There were special appearances by Tom Cassidy and Canton Township SupervisorPat Williams opening remarks by Kim Scartelli, and event support by Megan Schaper (American Cancer Society) andTammy Brown and Marion Rozum (Chicks 4 Charity.
American Cancer Society Community Development Manager Megan Schaper noted “This event truly embodies the motto attacking cancer from every angle. I was in awe of the show and I can’t wait to see and support what this show inspires these communities to do next.” Schaper supports Canton, Plymouth, Westland, Wayne, Ypsilanti, Livonia and Redford.
Happy New Year! We finally saw Disney’s Wreck-It Ralphsequel Ralph Breaks the Internet. Don’t make fun of our movie choice because it took a month and a half to get there. Or because it is, well, Ralph Breaks the Internet. The flick is a clever and zippy analysis of the light and dark sides of the internet and a logical extension of the franchise. The Disney princess sequence which has gained the lion’s share of the film’s buzz is indeed loony meta-perfection. The last 20 minutes of the movie feel a bit labored and darkly existential, like the filmmakers just had NO idea how to wrap the thing up, but otherwise the movie is a delight.
“Does Disney’s latest animated foray Wreck-It Ralph live up to the peppy pixelated promise of its retro fun trailer? Not quite. Is it an enjoyable pre-holiday diversion with a lot of heart to accompany its endlessly merchandisable premise? Absolutely. A shameless amalgam of Disney’s own Toy Story, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Tron, this film deftly imagines a world in which video game characters (from across thirty years of canon beloved by Gens X & Y, Millennials, and beyond) live, laugh, argue, and play after the neighborhood video arcade takes its last round of quarters for the evening. Clever touches and pop cultural references abound, with the Donkey Kong-esquetitular character Ralph, warmly voiced by the ever-reliable John C. Reilly, trying to shake off three decades of villainy to gain acceptance from his digital cohorts.”
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
This synopsis basically holds true of the 2018 sequel as well. However, Wreck-It Ralph 2 benefits, like the Toy Story sequels before it, from a built-in audience familiarity with its premise. Going in, we carry few (if any) expectations for a groundbreaking narrative or breathtaking visual experience and are settled in for some cinematic comfort food. On that front, Ralph Breaks the Internet more than delivers.
The vintage arcade that houses Ralph, Sugar Rush racing game’s Vanellope von Schweetz (an impishly acerbic Sarah Silverman), and their sundry digital buddies adds “WiFi” internet access for its young patrons’ convenience. After a mishap involving the steering wheel controller attached to Vanellope’s game console, Ralph and Vanellope use said WiFi to take a wild and woolly trip into the far reaches of the internet to retrieve a replacement.
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
The same aesthetic inventiveness from directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore that benefited the first film is on display here, depicting the interwebs as a glistening Emerald City-style metropolis, populated with perky chirping Twitter birds, YouTube-inspired video cafes, and an ebay shopping complex that borrows liberally from Target and IKEA and the Mall of America. Oh, and just like the real internet, the denizens of Ralph‘s mythic world know that one should never read the comments section.
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Vanellope and Ralph’s friendship is put to the test when she is lured by the manic, violent pleasures of an online Grand Theft Auto-style game Slaughter Race and its a**-kicking heroine Shank (a wry Gal Gadot). After a satirical meet-up with all the Disney princesses (which is somehow both ultimate Disney-corporate synergy and a bold send-up of Mouse House excess), Vanellope sings her own “I’m Wishing”/”Part of Your World”/”Belle”-style anthem of longing, the zany “A Place Called Slaughter Race”: “What can it be that calls me to this place today?/This lawless car ballet, what can it be?/Am I a baby pigeon sprouting wings to soar?/Was that a metaphor?/Hey, there’s a Dollar Store!” (and so on).
[Image Source: Wikipedia]
Ultimately, the core message of Ralph Breaks the Internet is that true friendship can withstand any challenge or geographical distance. Ho hum. The more important takeaways are that women are people too, free-thinking and bold, and that nothing is gained in life without a sense of risk and adventure. As the arcade characters are cautioned by one of their own when “WiFi” enters their midst: “It is new and different. Therefore, we should fear it.” Pshaw!
Yours truly modeling my new birthday coat (FAUX fur collar). My mother thinks I look like the creature from “The Shape of Water.” LOL.