“The failures of my generation are the opportunities of yours.” Fantastic Four (2015)

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

I’m an ornery pain. I’m the only person in America (or possibly the world) who didn’t like Frozen, yet I adored notorious flops The Lone Ranger and John Carter. I find prestige Oscar-winners like Crash or Birdman overrated messes, but I can watch Xanadu in an endless loop. (Though even I admit Xanadu stretches the acceptable limits of “guilty pleasure.”) When most of humanity flocks to something or flees from it, I’m always headed in the opposite direction. Hell, I even kinda liked Jonah Hex. You probably should just stop reading … now.

And it is with this context that we come to Chronicle-director Josh Trank’s reboot of Fantastic Four, admittedly a film that we, as a downward spiraling culture, did not need, given that the “First Family of Marvel Comics” already hit the silver screen twice in the past ten years in a pair of much campier, candy-colored offerings.

I suppose, given all of the hyperventilating sky-is-falling press over this late summer entry, I expected this new Fantastic Four to be a laugh-out-loud howler of a train wreck, not unlike that last Transformers movie (a movie I might add that nobody liked but still made a billion dollars). It wasn’t … at least not to me and the two other people in last night’s screening room.

I was pleasantly surprised that I actually, sort of, enjoyed myself. Word of warning: it is a very somber affair, but with zero gravitas and even less fun. However, the smart play Josh Trank makes (that is, before he completely disavowed his work on the flick in a Twitter rant a few weeks back) is in staging his film in a creepy, David Cronenberg-lite horror universe, where, say, being turned into a man on fire or a man made of rubber or a man made of orange rocks or a woman who can’t see her own hand is not necessarily a whimsical day at the park. It’s a logical approach, and Trank has cast his film with some of the best young talents in Hollywood, all acquitting themselves nicely.

Yet,  it’s not the glib August superhero escapist fare anyone expected in a post-Guardians of the Galaxy moment, not does it have the courage to be full-blown creep-fest either, so Fantastic Four just sort of floats dormant in some audience-confounding, foggy nether realm. In short, I liked the movie’s tone directionally and the cast in concept and the unrealized potential best, which is strange praise indeed.

Playing the titular heroes are Whiplash‘s Miles Teller (“Reed Richards”), House of Cards‘ Kate Mara (‘Susan Storm”), Fruitvale Station‘s Michael B. Jordan (“Johnny Storm”), and Turn‘s Jamie Bell (“Ben Grimm”). The cast’s standout, Bell has a criminal dearth of screen-time, but, in his few stoic minutes, he sets a beautifully glowering tone of disaffected youth that propels and enriches what passes for character development in the movie’s relatively brisk running time.

All that said, much of the film is a drag, but, for some reason, I found its dreary sensibility and general mopiness compelling. Nope, we did not need yet another origin story of these heroes, but that’s what we get. This time instead of rocketing into space, our intrepid foursome explore another dimension (where they gain their amazing abilities … er … deformities) while attending the Baxter Institute, a kind of Hogwarts for Science Geeks in Midtown Manhattan.

By far, the weakest part of the film is its villain Victor Von Doom, a Draco Malfoy without the charm or the pretty platinum hair. In the comics (goofy name notwithstanding), this is a character who can be so fascinating with his Oedipal complex, inferiority complex, God complex, and all around prissy pissiness. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why filmmakers haven’t figured out he is the proto-Darth Vader and deserves a film of his very own. Ah well. At this rate, between Toby Kebbell’s not-ready-for-The-CW posturing in this iteration and Julian McMahon’s pretty boy voguing in the prior films, we will be lucky if we see Dr. Doom selling mouthwash and toothpaste during Saturday morning cartoons.

The film is nothing but 90 minutes of set-up, which would be fine if there was a payoff, but the proceedings completely fall apart in the final act, a clutch of computer-generated nonsense in the “other dimension,” the “otherness” being some billowing clouds, a lot of steam, and goofy floating rocks. Our heroes have to stop Doom from blowing up our world or throwing us all into a black hole or giving us gas from cheap popcorn … or something. Wait, what was this movie about again?

And that’s a shame, because until the film’s final moments, I actually dug it. Maybe Fantastic Four will find a second life as a pleasant, dreary televised diversion on rainy Sunday afternoons, and maybe (one day) someone will finally give this classic family of four-color misfits the smart but zippy movie treatment they deserve. Or not.

Early in Fantastic Four, Reg E. Cathey – playing Franklin Richards, the stony-faced scientist father of Susan and Johnny Storm – rumbles ominously, “The failures of my generation are the opportunities of yours.” And, dammit, the Fantastic Four film franchise is giving us nothing but opportunities. Sigh.

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

“Sometimes I don’t want to let it go.” Idina Menzel at Detroit’s Fox Theatre – PLUS, my mom Susie Duncan Sexton on Patty’s Page tv show

No Day But Today

“No Day But Today”

For a bit of time now, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Idina Menzel, she of the soaring vocals that are such a shot of adrenaline in beloved (overrated?) musicals like Rent and Wicked. The first time I saw her perform Wicked‘s signature tune “Defying Gravity” on the Tony Awards (10+ years ago), I got chills and my eyes welled up from the underdog-makes-good vitriol in her delivery. She was the best thing – the much-needed battery acid – in Chris Columbus’ misguided candy-coated film version of Rent. Her sporadic appearances on Glee – as the brilliantly cast mother of All About (Baby) Eve Rachel Berry (Lea Michelle) – were spiky, oddball fun, notably their peculiar duet of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.”

However, “Let It Go” (the ubiquitous ditty from Disney’s Frozen) seemed like an underwritten redux of “Defying Gravity” (not her fault of course), and the whole “Adele Dazeem” debacle just got more cloying and unfunny with each passing day (again not her issue … exactly). And the “brand” of Menzel – not unlike that of Wicked co-star Kristin Chenoweth or, for that matter, Audra McDonald or the queen mother of kewpie doll divas Bernadette Peters – suffers from a “gee, aren’t I darling” humblebrag self-absorption and a disingenuous projection of “how did I get here?!” humility that belies the ragingly talented, driven loon lurking underneath.

“Don’t Rain On My Parade”

Blessedly, Menzel’s show last night at Detroit’s Fox Theatre (more or less) stripped away that glossy artifice and laid bare the broken soul with the big voice. It was a revelation.

In her between-song patter, Menzel offered a rambling treatise on her befuddlingly amazing 18-month ride, with epic highs like the runaway success of Frozen and performing on the Oscars and devastating lows like her divorce from Taye Diggs (whom she never mentioned by name). Lest you think she was milking all of this life experience in some kind of self-serving “Oprah” confessional, that was not the vibe at all. Her chatter was too loopy, too heartfelt, too, well, lost to be anything but that of a desperate soul searching for an anchor in a swirling moment of intense success and loss.

“River”

She channeled this personal crisis into a fascinatingly raw (and dare I say schizophrenic) array of song choices. Yes, the favorites were all present: “Defying Gravity,” “The Wizard and I,” “For Good” (for which she dropped the mic and used the Fox Theatre’s legendary acoustics to chilling effect), all from Wicked; “Take Me or Leave Me” (which she used as an opportunity to winningly share the stage with many hyperventilating Idina-groupies in the audience) and “No Day But Today” from Rent; and, of course, show-closing “Let It Go,” again sharing the mic with all the wannabe “Elsa”s in the audience (weirdly/delightfully interpolating the song with Red Hot Chili Peppers’ funky classic “Give It Away”?!?!).

The Wicked tunes especially seemed to get a perfunctory, hastened treatment, as if Menzel is as tired of them as we are. She seemed anxious to get to the caustic musical nuggets at the heart of her show, gleefully dropping many f-bombs along the way, hoisting a middle finger to the Disney empire (and all the blue-dressed dollies) that allowed her to mount such an extensive summer tour in the first place. That’s my kind of diva (and I hate that word).

“Defying Gravity”

She delivered expected Broadway bon-bons like Funny Girl‘s “Don’t Rain on my Parade” and an Ethel Merman tribute medley (Annie Get Your GunGypsy) with powerhouse vocals and a salty element of sad understanding, as if trying to say, “We women have been treated like crap forever, no matter how talented we are. Knock it off!”

The deepest heartache was telegraphed during a one-two punch of the crystalline elegance of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and what could only be described as a “hooker medley” of Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and The Police’s “Roxanne.” Both numbers were electrifying, eliciting a hushed awe from the audience. “River” with its repeated chorus of “I wish I had a river I could skate away on” seemed to serve as Menzel’s central thesis. In her introductory remarks to “Love for Sale/Roxanne,” she mentioned a fearsome theatre professor who excoriated her about her performance of the Porter tune, challenging “Do you even know what that song is about?!?!” She wanted us to know – especially juxtaposed with her earlier performance of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” – that, yes, Mr. Man, she does know that the song is about. It was sheer theatrical brilliance.

Fox Theatre

Fox Theatre

She performed a number of original works, none of which alas quite held up to the other material, but the punk rock passion with which she delivered the tunes revealed an alternate reality where Idina might have been another Alanis, instead of a wannabe Barbra. She offered If/Then‘s 11 o’clock number of “Always Starting Over” as a fiery yawp over the Sisyphean nature of daily living. Her take on Radiohead’s 90s classic “Creep” was a dizzyingly effective blend of Broadway bombast and grunge existentialism. I would love to have that performance on a permanent loop in my head.

John and Roy

John and Roy

At one point in the show, Menzel joked that, while she’s appreciative of her recent success, “sometimes I just don’t want to let it go.” Some days she just wants to stay in her bed and let the world run its course while she tries to figure out which end is up. Her candor and her authenticity were much appreciated, and, along with her prodigious use of the f-word, just the eye-opening experience all those baby Elsa princesses in the audience needed to hear. I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.

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BONUS! Enjoy part 1 of my mom Susie Duncan Sexton‘s two-part interview with delightful Patty Hunter on her Patty’s Page TV program. Also in the house are journalist and advocate Terry Doran and my dad Don Sexton. It’s a free-wheeling and fun discussion of politics, small-town living, animal rights (and, yes, pig wrestling), writing, and other insights and adventures. Enjoy! Click here to view.

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Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews 2

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital)In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Are you satisfied with your care? That’ll do, Bay. That’ll do. Big Hero 6

Description: Film poster; Source: Wikipedia [linked]; Portion used: Film poster only; Low resolution? Sufficient resolution for illustration, but considerably lower resolution than original. Other information: Intellectual property by film studio. Non-free media use rationales: Non-free media use rationale - Article/review; Purpose of use: Used for purposes of critical commentary and illustration in an educational article about the film. The poster is used as the primary means of visual identification of this article topic. Replaceable? Protected by copyright, therefore a free use alternative won't exist.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

When I heard that Disney was going to start mining its ownership of Marvel for future animated properties, I admit my blood (unnecessarily) ran to ice water. This corporate marriage of Mouse House and House of Ideas has yielded a remarkable run of quirky and thrilling and poignant live-action cinematic blockbusters, rife with whimsy and adventure. However, the idea of Spider-Man potentially swinging his way through a princess fairytale musical extravaganza gave me pause.

I should’ve known better. These guys aren’t messing around.

Big Hero 6, Disney Animation’s latest offering, based on an obscure Marvel comic about teenagers saving the world in some indeterminate polyglot future world, absolutely sparkles. I was a lone-dissenting voice in my distaste for Frozen, and, while I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph, I thought it got rather lazy in its final act. However, Big Hero 6 is perfection.

This latest addition to the Disney canon has its feet planted firmly in the superhero genre, and, while comfortably familiar (it is Disney/Marvel after all), it takes the conceit to new humanistic heights. The tried-and-true Disney themes of family and acceptance and kindness and altruism and championing the underdog are all gloriously on display, but they are infused with a hyper-charged cheekiness that we typically only see over at corporate cousin Pixar.

The story relates the life of two loving brothers, who having lost their parents, now live with their aunt (voiced warmly by Maya Rudolph) above a bakery in San Fransokyo. One can only presume at some point in the near future, the Pacific Ocean dries up, with Tokyo and San Francisco inevitably meeting “urban spawl cute” somewhere in the middle. Or something.

Older brother Tadashi is a robotics expert at the local university, and his younger brother, Hiro, equally bright, aspires to join him. They are surrounded by a colorful and sweet group of friends, a United Colors of Benetton with brains and self-awareness. These are misfits for our modern age, open-hearted kids who embrace their intelligence, see the world as a playground of opportunity, and wear the term “nerd “as a badge of honor.

It wouldn’t be a Disney movie, if there were not some tragic death that prompts the narrative to action. Someday someone needs to write a thesis on that inherent dark heart in all the Disney “magic.” Tadashi and his beloved professor Callaghan (voiced perfectly by the always dependable James Cromwell) disappear in a tragic accident, and Hiro and his pals must band together to solve the mystery (and thereby overcome their heartache … paging Joseph Campbell).

And, like any Disney or Marvel film, we are introduced to an instantly unforgettable character – the kind of character who should have absolutely no appeal but who, though the power of design, voice, and script, somehow enters the halls of classic animated sidekicks the moment he steps on screen.

Before his disappearance, Tadashi had invented a medical robot named Baymax, a large squishy creature, one part marshmallow, one part Michelin Man, and one part unadulterated love. Baymax lives to heal, having been designed as a one-stop walking/talking urgent care facility, and his life’s work becomes the central metaphor throughout the entire film … in a way, rather ingeniously undermining the genre. So many of these movies use violence to bring peace, but in Baymax’s case,  his very design (and every intention) is to use peace and love to end violence and heartache.

The film is most enjoyable in its first half, as it establishes the relationships among these thoughtfully drawn characters. It is a rich and diverse cast, and I applaud that the filmmakers are able to offer us nuance and depth for each and every member of the cast in the film’s lean 90-minute running time (with nary a fart joke to be had).

The film also looks gorgeous. As I said, it quite literally sparkles. I don’t know that I have ever seen an animated film, to this date, in our computer-generated era, that is so immersive and so beautiful and so fluid. It is a treat to watch, and likely will benefit from repeated viewings.

AND, don’t miss the lovely animated short that precedes it, Feast (from the same team that crafted the glorious Paperman) – an affectionate ode to animal rescue, the joys of food, and the ability of one little dog to bring a family together.

One of Baymax’s signature lines is the query, “Are you satisfied with your care?” Indeed, this evening at the movies fit the bill. That’ll do, Bay. That’ll do.

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Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Countdown: Frozen

From my wonderful publisher Open Books

The countdown continues! Just 9 days left until the official launch of ReelRoyReviews, a book of film, music, and theatre reviews, by Roy Sexton!

Reviews from Roy’s proud parents…

  • Susie Duncan Sexton: “I got my book today and I not only LOVE IT…I ABSOLUTELY KNOW THIS IS MY FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME…and I am not biased…I am candid as can be. Ask anybody! Why do I love and enthusiastically recommend this exquisite, easily digested book of clever and meaningful words and phrases? Because Roy covers the waterfront of moviedom…equal opportunity tastes satisfied without a doubt. A breezy yet informative trip! Films are adored, fairly critiqued, and as a bonus this author’s tributes include the human condition–who we are as we sit and gaze at the screen. Films remind us and advance us and chronicle US! Thanks for this collection of true stories of the human race’s 150% love affair with cinema whether we admit that fact or not. Each essay equals a mini-movie…even the concert, CD, and book reviews! Gene Siskel is back! At last!”
  • Don Sexton: “This is timeless writing that will not only enlighten you concerning movies and theater – it will also give you food for thought concerning our ability to take ourselves too seriously – our ability to get hung up on the trivial – and the overall silliness of life in the 21st century. Grab this book and enjoy – as Mr. Sexton writes – ‘I approach everything and everyone honestly and with a positive intent and offer candid feedback with an open heart and as much kindness as possible.’ This book is highly recommended.”

Here is a snippet from Roy’s review of Frozen: “Everything has to be postmodern, postfeminist, postmillennial, postfun … and titles we used to know and love need to be replaced by edgy (and meaningless) adjectives. For example, Rapunzel is now Tangled. Today, Snow White would be Pale or Cinderella would be Shoeless or Sleeping Beauty would be Snoozy. Hence, now The Snow Queen is called Frozen. And it’s a bore.”

Learn more about REEL ROY REVIEWS, VOL 1: KEEPIN’ IT REAL by Roy Sexton at http://www.open-bks.com/library/moderns/reel-roy-reviews/about-book.html. Book can also be ordered at Amazon here.

Why are we ashamed of our fairy tales? Disney’s Frozen

Description: Film poster; Source: Wikipedia [linked]; Portion used: Film poster only; Low resolution? Sufficient resolution for illustration, but considerably lower resolution than original. Other information: Intellectual property by film studio. Non-free media use rationales: Non-free media use rationale - Article/review; Purpose of use: Used for purposes of critical commentary and illustration in an educational article about the film. The poster is used as the primary means of visual identification of this article topic. Replaceable? Protected by copyright, therefore a free use alternative won't exist.

[Image Source: Wikipedia]

In this post-Wicked era, we seem to be ashamed of our fairy tales. Everything has to be postmodern, postfeminist, postmillennial, postfun … and titles we used to know and love need to be replaced by edgy (and meaningless) adjectives.

For example, Rapunzel is now Tangled. Today, Snow White would be Pale or Cinderella would be Shoeless or Sleeping Beauty would be Snoozy. Hence, now The Snow Queen is called Frozen. And it’s a bore.

I really wanted to like this. I love Disney animated movies, and I love musicals … and I adore Disney animated musicals. But not this one.

With the pedigree that this film has – from the creators of The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q (which I admit does seem like a bit of a stretch for Disney) providing the music and Pixar’s John Lasseter producing – I had high hopes. I also think The Snow Queen is a fascinating (and weird) story to adapt. Plus, you have voice work from Broadway’s Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad as well as TV star Kristen Bell.

Sadly, the film is dead on arrival. The musical numbers are forgettable – completely. And the storyline is so far afield from the familiar narrative, bolting on, yes, a Wicked-esque sisterly rivalry that adds little. And, I will admit it, I still miss hand-drawn animation. I know 2D is basically gone forever, but this computer-generated business where everyone looks like a glassy-eyed Bratz doll is for the birds.

There are folks out there who loved Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame with its singing and dancing gargoyles and creepy, oversexed, misogynistic clergy villain. I’m not one of them. And I kept thinking of that misfire while watching Frozen. The plot is similarly disjointed, and I just couldn’t get too geeked about musical numbers featuring rastafarian rock trolls and goony snowmen.

I wish I had more to say. I’m fresh out of clever. There’s an interesting twist in the film’s final act that helped me engage a bit, but at that point the movie had already lost me. There will be people who – on their Thanksgiving holiday high – will adore this, and they will likely tell me “you just didn’t get it” and “you are thinking about it too much.”

Well, I like thinking. And the Disney classics of old weren’t devoid of thought. In fact, they were rich with it. Frozen left me uninspired and bored to icy tears.