Gallagher's Forum

Oh, God!

By Jon Gallagher

Oh, God! (WB, 1977) – Director: Carl Reiner. Writers: Larry Gelbart (s/p). Avery Corman (novel). Cast: George Burns, John Denver, Teri Garr, Donald Pleasence, Ralph Bellamy, William Daniels, Barnard Hughes, Paul Sorvino, Barry Sullivan, Dinah Shore, Jeff Corey, George Furth, David Ogden Stiers, Titos Vandis, & Moosie Drier. Color, Rated PG, 98 minutes.

A few months ago, I “cut the cable,” mainly due to the fact that my cable TV provider seems to think that the way to reward their customers for their loyalty is to raise their prices while cutting their service. In all fairness, they did give me a choice: Pay an extra $15 a month for what I was already getting or lose about 10 channels or a DVR for the same as I was getting now. I surprised them. I chose “none of the above,” went out and bought a set of what we used to call “rabbit ears,” and discovered that I could get 23 channels over the air for free.

Some of these channels include networks not carried by cable TV companies like AntennaTV (imagine that!), the MeTV network, Bounce, and others. Most of the programming is old shows that makes me wonder how we ever managed to get this far in technology while others reminded me of how good TV once was with actual writers and scripts rather than people making fools out of themselves in the name of “reality TV.”

Oh, wait. This is supposed to be a movie review, not an editorial. Sorry about that. I just needed to get you up to date on why this particular movie was reviewed. One of the over the air channels that I now receive carries an old show from the 1950s, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, starring the immortal husband and wife comedy team that made the transitions all the way from vaudeville to radio to TV. George was in his 50s during the TV run which lasted from 1950 to 1958.

I don’t remember the TV show. I was only a year old when it went off the air. But I do remember that he also starred in a couple movies, just about the time I was going to college. He was in his 80s when he won an Oscar for his role in The Sunshine Boys and he was cast opposite John Denver in Oh, God!, playing the title character. I remembered the latter and began digging for a source on which to watch it. 

I found it on Amazon.

John Denver was a pop/country music star with a string of hit songs including “Country Roads,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” who was trying his hand at acting as his music career was on the decline. It was a novel, if not somewhat risky, pairing, but producers were counting on the chemistry that Burns seemed to have with all of his costars to carry the film.

Denver was cast as Jerry Landers, a perfectly ordinary guy who led a boring life as the assistant manager of a grocery store. He gets a letter inviting him to an interview the next day and it’s signed simply, “God.” Figuring it’s a joke, he tosses it into a bedside wastebasket only to have it pop back up in the middle of the night and again the next day while at the store.

With curiosity getting the better of him, Jerry goes to the interview where God tells him that He wants Jerry to be his messenger and tell the world that everything is going to be okay. At first, all we hear is God’s voice: Burns’ trademarked grandfatherly gravelly growl which Jerry dismisses as a practical joke of some sort. When God finally appears in the flesh to Jerry, the Almighty turns out to be the octogenarian Burns who somehow gets through the entire movie without his iconic cigar.

God manages to lead Jerry along, convincing him little by little that this is no joke and that Jerry was picked at random to spread the gospel. Of course, the world around Jerry reacts as it would to anyone who claimed to have a personal visit from the Almighty – they laugh at him and criticize him, going as far as to put him on Dinah Shore’s talk show with a police sketch artist so the world can see what God looks like.

The movie culminates with an evangelist (Sorvino) suing Jerry for defamation of character (God had told Jerry that the guy was a phony) and God showing up in court to testify on Jerry’s behalf which leads to a classic scene:

Bailiff: Do you swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth?
God: So help me, Me.
Judge: So help you, you?
God: If it pleases the court, and even if it doesn’t, I’m God, your honor.

All in all, it’s a charming movie with no heavy-handedness on the religious aspects. Although God is involved, it doesn’t continually bash us over the head with theology, but rather poses questions for us to answer on our own through the interaction of the characters. Denver and Burns do share a chemistry that is enjoyable to watch and it’s obvious that the seasoned Burns is leading Denver through his maiden voyage in movies, making him even perhaps better than he already is. The singer/songwriter, who leaves his guitar in the wings with Burns’ cigar, comes off as being very natural and engaging, the type of guy that would be fun to work with or be around in the real world. Burns is also a natural playing the old guy part, seemingly with an answer to everything, but then who wouldn’t when you’re God?

Add this to the fact that you get to watch Teri Garr, who plays Jerry's wife, and you just can’t complain at all.

I re-watched the movie with my 32-year-old daughter, and her two preteen kids. Although they weren’t impressed with the movie, it didn’t insult their intelligence and they did ask quite a few questions about those things that looked sort of like cash registers at the supermarket where Jerry worked as well as that push button radio in Jerry’s car.

Had the movie been written in our current day and age, there would have been more than enough people out there to be offended by something in it, but those are people who spend their entire day just looking, hoping, and praying to find something that they can claim offends them.

It’s a delightful movie, and leaves us with a genuinely good feeling (not a fake-good). It’s an easy A- which could only have been better if they’d let John sing the title song (of which there wasn’t one). 

If you get the chance to find this at the local video store, or local library, you might want to check it out. There are certainly worse ways to spend 98 minutes.

Elvis & Nixon

By Jon Gallagher

Elvis & Nixon (Bleecker Street Media, 2016) – Director: Liza Johnson. Writers: Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwes (s/p). Stars: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettier, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Ahna O’Reilly, Ian Hoch, Ritchie Montgomery, & Nathalie Love. Color, Rated R, 86 minutes.

I first saw the trailer for this film in March. Elvis is one of my favorite entertainers and Nixon was one of my favorite presidents. I knew about how Elvis had just shown up at the North Gate one day to see the president back in 1970, and I knew about the iconic picture the two of them took together, the one that more people request from the National Archives than any other photo in history.

I HAD to see this movie.

That was a problem. The movie was released on April 22, but it did not make it to Peoria. The Peoria area has five theaters with 55 screens, and it wasn’t playing on a single one of them. Fortunately, the Internet was able to get the nearest location for me and that was Davenport, Iowa, just a short 75-mile trip from home (I really wanted to see this movie). I wasn’t able to schedule a trip on opening weekend, but I made arrangements for the next weekend. I called the theater to make sure of showtimes.

I’m glad I did. They had pulled the movie after the first three days and replaced it with Prince’s Purple Rain because Prince had died the day before Elvis and Nixon was released. Had I driven 75 miles and found out Elvis had been replaced by Prince, I might have been a little grouchy.

Another search of the Internet found Elvis and Nixon playing in the Chicagoland area, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive, according to Mapquest. Tickets were $12. I really wanted to see this movie, but not enough to drive for five hours, spend a bunch of gas, and pay $12 a ticket (in Peoria, I rarely pay more than $5). 

Not to worry. Kevin Spacey gallantly tried to drum up business by making the talk show circuit, but the limited release spelled disaster for the box office. The film couldn’t even break the $500,000 mark on opening weekend and in its three-week lifespan, barely topped $1 million in the United States. This meant that I’d have to wait a short time for the DVD release which some Internet sites had estimated at June 21.

Naturally, they were wrong. But it did come out (finally) on July 22, and is available at Amazon (for download), or at your favorite video store (if they still have those in your area).

Before watching the movie, I viewed a C-SPAN program that featured Elvis henchman Jerry Schilling and Watergate burglar Bud Krogh (four years in the clinker) interviewed for a program devoted to that day.

Can you imagine? The most popular entertainer in the world shows up at the White House without calling ahead of time, and asks to see the president! And for what reason? He wants to become an undercover drug agent and help his country battle the war on drugs.

I swear to God, I am not making this up.

If someone would have approached Hollywood with this concept for a feature film, they’ve have been laughed out of town. Not only did it happen, they managed, due to Elvis’ request (you know, since he was going to be undercover and all) that no one know about it. Somehow, they managed to keep it quiet for thirteen months!

Everything about the whole story is surreal. Nixon, famous for being somewhat of a recording artist himself, did not have the Oval Office wired for sound yet when the meeting took place in December 1970. Therefore, the only record of the meeting are the handful of photographs taken by the official White House staff. Nixon and Elvis met alone for about a half hour privately so what they talked about is all conjecture; neither spoke much of it outside of the meeting itself. What is known is that both men came away from the meeting with a better understanding of the other along with a friendship that endured until Elvis’ death.

The movie captures the entire concept, mainly from Elvis’ point of view, but occasionally from Nixon’s. Elvis went to Memphis International Airport by himself, caught a flight to Los Angeles where he hooked up with long time friend Jerry Schilling, and then the two flew to Washington, D.C., where they approached the White House guard shack, then retired to a hotel to wait for an answer from the president about the proposed meeting.

Kevin Spacey plays Nixon and does a good job, capturing his voice and inflections if not his face or mannerisms. Michael Shannon takes on the role of Elvis and although he does a wonderful job with the voice, he looks nothing like the “King of Rock n Roll.” Colin Hanks is cast as Bud Krogh and does an okay job as does everyone in the cast. I have no complaints about the acting.

The film also seems to be very accurate from a factual standpoint as well. 

Admittedly, there will be a few goofs here and there with cars that are too new appearing in shots, but they did a good job on keeping everything dated correctly for the most part. I thought I heard a reference to Gerry Ford at one point (who wouldn’t become vice president till 1973), but they made a clear reference to Spiro Agnew being vice president towards the end of the movie, so I’ll give them credit on that one.

My only problem with anachronisms is one scene where Elvis is approached in an airport by an Elvis impersonator. Although it’s a cute scene (predictable in that the impersonator is telling the real Elvis what he’s doing wrong), it never happened. Elvis impersonators didn’t start crawling out from under the woodwork until after Elvis died in 1977, and they certainly didn’t exist in 1970.

Speaking of impersonators, the only thing I really don’t understand with this film is why they didn’t get someone to play Elvis who at least looked like him. Shannon does a good job with the voice, but his face just doesn’t do it. He didn’t have Elvis’ eyes, and he certainly didn’t have Elvis’ trademark smile. You gotta have the smile!

I was entertained by the movie and give it a solid B. However, and this is important, I am an Elvis fan and I’m a Nixon fan. Unless you have more than a passing interest in either, you’re going to be bored out of your skull. I know this because my oldest daughter watched it with me and her eyes had glazed over within the first 10 minutes. She didn’t just keep looking at the clock during the movie; she was counting down the minutes. She tried to find nice things to say about it so that I wouldn’t be insulted, but finally admitted that she hadn’t enjoyed it.

I should also mention that not a single Elvis song, not a single one, was used in the soundtrack. I found it interesting that they did use someone else’s version of "Peace in the Valley," Elvis’ only gospel hit.

If you’re a history buff, you may enjoy this one. Otherwise, don’t bother. Those of us who like this genre will just have to watch it alone.

Finding Dory

By Jon Gallagher

Finding Dory (Pixar/Disney, 2016) – Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane. Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse (s/p). Andrew Stanton (original story). Angus MacLane (additional story material). Bob Peterson (additional s/p material). Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Sloane Murray, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bob Peterson, Kate McKinnon, Bill Hader, & Sigourney Weaver. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 103 minutes.

It’s been 13 years since we went in search of a little clown fish named Nemo. Pixar has us now searching for Dory in a thoroughly entertaining sequel to the original.

In the original, Nemo, the only surviving son of Marlin, is fish-napped by a collector. Marlin devotes the rest of the movie to finding his son and rescuing him from an aquarium. Along the way, he’s aided by a blue tang fish with a severe short-term memory loss named Dory.

This movie picks up a year after Nemo left off. Nemo and his dad look after Dory who has a hard time remembering just about everything. Despite her shortcomings in the memory department, she has the uncanny ability to use logic and it’s that logic that triggers distant memories of her parents (which we see in flashbacks). When she suddenly realizes she has a set of parents, she sets out on a quest to find them. Marlin and Nemo then set out an a quest to find her before she gets hurt.

Along the way, we get to experience two different adventures and a whole new cast of supporting characters who are a lot of fun.

The movie itself moves along at a nice pace, allowing us to experience the rollercoaster ride that goes along with an adventure film, but it’s a kiddie rollercoaster at best. There’s never any real danger and there’s no villain who’s out to harm our heroes. The whole conflict in the movie comes from whether or not Dory is going to find her parents and whether or not Marlin and Nemo are going to find Dory. 

When I taught English many moons ago, I taught my students that stories must have conflict. Conflict can come in one of three different forms: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, and Man vs. Himself. While this movie has some conflict as to whether everyone is going to end up finding each other or not, there’s no real definitive adversary which is why the ups and downs of the plot are only “kiddie rollercoaster” types of highs and lows.

Having said that, that does NOT mean the movie wasn’t entertaining; it certainly was. A scene where Marlin and Nemo are trying to stop a truck loaded with a fish exhibit on its way to Cleveland is roll-on-the-floor funny (Best line in the movie, if you can hear it over the laughter is, “We are SO fired!”).

There are a lot of lessons being taught during the movie too. There’s the one about not ever giving up, there’s the one about always looking for another way to accomplish something, there’s the one about how important family is…and there’s the big one about how we treat someone who’s a little different or has special needs. 

I usually don’t make a big deal out of how someone voices a character because voice is only one tiny aspect of acting, but Ellen DeGeneres who does the voice of the title character Dory needs to be lauded for her exemplary work here. Reading a script is one thing, but it’s obvious that Ellen is improvising a good deal to convey the whole concept of absent-mindedness, and she could not have been better.

It takes Pixar several years from concept to completion on a project, but I doubt if we’re going to be waiting another 13 years for a third installment in this franchise. There were enough characters introduced (Hank the Septapus) to give them plenty of plotlines for a third movie (Hank lost one of his tentacles in an accident that’s really not explained, so the third movie could possibly be spent looking for it).

I asked my 11-year-old daughter (who was my date for the night) what she thought of the movie and her eyes sparkled as she answered, “Awesome!”

As for me, I’ll give it an A-. It was a great movie, kept the kiddies in the audience engaged, kept me chuckling, and provided some thought-provoking conversation afterward with my daughter. I would like to have seen a little more conflict and maybe a villain to foil in the end. But all in all, it was good enough to add to the collection once it hits the DVD market soon.

Central Intelligence

By Jon Gallagher

Central Intelligence (New Line, 2016) – Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber. Writers: Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen (Story & s/p). Rawson Marshall Thurber (s/p). Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Jason Bateman, Aaron Paul, Ryan Hansen, Tim Griffin, Timothy John Smith, Sione Kelepi, Dylan Boyack, Thomas Kretschmann, Megan Park, Slaine, & Annie Kerins. Color, Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.

Let me begin by telling you that my 14-year-old grandson and my 12-year-old granddaughter both loved this movie. They gave it rave reviews, telling me that it was the best movie they’ve seen this year with all sorts of other superlative adjectives to describe almost two hours of their lives.

Then let me tell you that my grandchildren will never be mistaken for Siskel and Ebert. I will also tell you that when it comes to movies, I’ll never believe them again.

This movie had a lot of potential. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays Robbie, the laughingstock of his high school, a fat, effeminate loser who on the last day of school, gets thrown naked into the middle of the gym by the school jocks during a school assembly. He is saved further embarrassment by the cool kid Calvin, a four-sport letterman who is voted most likely to succeed by his peers, who tosses Robbie his letterman’s jacket to cover himself.

Flash forward 20 years. Calvin is stuck in a dead end job as an accountant. Robbie is now Bob and has spent six hours a day for the last 20 years working out. Oh yeah, and Bob also works for the CIA. He’s got the muscle but he needs straight-laced Calvin’s brain to solve a case and keep the world safe from terrorists.

It had potential.

If you’ve seen the trailers for it, you’ve seen all the good parts. That’s all there is folks; there ain’t no more.

The problem with this type of comedy/action film, it needs to either be really funny or have a real good plot, or (hopefully) both. This movie’s plot has enough holes in it that the captain of the Exxon Valdez could have navigated through it. Kevin Hart thinks he’s a lot funnier than what he is which leads to some rather flat jokes and gags. Johnson is usually good at poking fun at himself, but in this one, he seems to be just going through the motions without any motivation to make it any funnier.

It’s not a terrible movie; it’s just not a very good one. Part of the problem comes from the performances of the ensemble of actors and actresses. Amy Ryan, or at least a mannequin who looks like her, plays an agent who is chasing Bob and it was like she’d been told to play every stereotype associated with a female CIA agent. I can’t believe that the performers got together and decided just to be terrible all at once, so we’re going to lay all the blame for this at the feet of director and writer Rawson Marshall Thurber.

I’ll give this one a D because it did make me chuckle a couple of times and because I heard others saying positive things about it on their way out of the theater. I just can’t bring myself to do anymore than just that. Like I said, it wasn’t bad; it just wasn’t good.

The Intern

By Jon Gallagher

The Intern (WB, 2015) – Written and Directed by Nancy Meyers. Stars: Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo, Anders Holm, JoJo Kushner, Andrew Rannells, Adam DeVine, Zack Pearlman, Jason Orley, Christina Scherer, Nat Wolff, Linda Lavin, Celia Weston, Steve Vinovich, & C.J. Wilson. Color, Rated PG-13, 121 minutes.

So what do you do when you’re 70 years old, just lost your wife of 42 years, and are bored out of your skull with everyday activities? If you’re Ben Whittaker (De Niro), you find an upstart internet company founded by 30-something Jules Ostin (Hathaway) and staffed by a bunch of 20-to-30-year-olds who are long on technology, but short when it comes to common sense, and you become a “senior intern.”

Jules’ company, a web-based clothing retailer, is an overnight success story, reaching their five-year goals in a record-setting nine-month period. She runs the company her way, working long hard hours, keeping her hand in every facet of the business while her husband (Holm) stays at home to raise their daughter Paige (Kushner). Ben is hired as an intern, much to Jules’ chagrin, and manages to chip away at her shell to become a trusted confidant, and, by the end of the movie, her best friend.

The film has some very funny moments. In one instance, Jules sends an email to her mother by mistake. The email complains about how controlling her mother is and has the potential of destroying their relationship. Jules goes to her staff to ask their help in getting the email back before her mother gets home from work and checks her personal email.

It’s Ben who comes up with the perfect solution in our digital world: Break into her mother’s house and steal the computer. Ben and three others from the company set out to do just that. It’s a hilarious scene that makes good use of Murphy’s Law and still leaves me with a smile on my face just thinking about it as I type this review.

Jules’ investors aren’t sure she’s the one to run the company and suggest she find a CEO who would then become her boss. She’s resistant, but still explores the possibilities including taking a trip across the country (with Ben) to San Francisco to interview one of the top candidates.

Midway through the movie, I was set to complain about how predictable the movie was, but to my surprise, it wasn’t predictable at all. That was quite a shock, actually, but in a good way.

De Niro shows off his talent with this role, playing the wise old man who still knows a trick or two. Hathaway does a wonderful job as well, and the two play well off each other, creating an onscreen chemistry that we don’t see enough of nowadays.

Rene Russo plays Fiona, a masseuse who works for the company (of course, a modern start-up company needs to employ a masseuse) who develops a relationship with Ben. Zach Pearlman and Andrew Rannells also turn in good performances as another intern and a company manager, respectively.

My only real complaint about the movie is that it seems to end in the middle. There are some decisions that are made at the end, and although we’re pretty sure we know what they are, the characters never quite come out and say what those decisions are for sure. In fact, I was taken aback when the credits started to roll; I thought there had to be at least another 10 minutes of movie remaining.

I enjoyed the movie. I thought the clash of cultures between the generations was well worth exploring and would like to have seen more.

I’ll give the effort a solid B, with the only thing holding it back from a better grade being the ambiguity of the ending.

No Escape

By Jon Gallagher

No Escape (The Weinstein Company, 2015) – Director: John Erick Dowdle. Writers: John Erick Dowdle & Drew Dowdle. Stars: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Sterling Jerins, Claire Geare, Pierce Brosnan, Thanawut Ketsaro, Chatchawai Kamonsakpitak, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Tanapol Chuksrida, Nophand Boonyai, Kanarpat Phintiang, Jon Goldney, Duang Maidork, Suphornnaphat Jenselius, & Barthélemy Son. Color, Rated R, 103 minutes.

Owen Wilson usually stars in or lends his voice to comedies. He’s usually pretty good in his roles, though he tends to play the same character: a second banana type with a quick wit and impeccable timing. He seems like a natural with his roles, but many times that’s because he’s improvising the dialogue rather than reciting it. Vince Vaughn, one of Owen’s frequent co-stars, also does this, but not nearly as well.

That’s the reason why I was a little anxious to see how he would handle a serious role like the one he has in No Escape, a thriller which left little room for improvisational skills.

Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, an American who has been offered a job somewhere in Southeast Asia (I don’t believe the country is ever named) by his company which will be doing something to help them with their water supply (it’s never really determined what). He takes his family – a wife and two small daughters – along with him and there is some anticipation about the culture shocks they may find there.

What they don’t plan on is the rebellion that is being staged after they arrive. A coup is about to take place and the rebellion seems to be centered around the American company that is taking over the water supply. The rebels are grabbing any American they can find and executing them in the street.

Jack, who has gone in search of a newspaper, has to not only make it back to his hotel where his family is safely ensconced, but also has to escape the country with them.

Pierce Brosnan plays a British “tourist” who is actually a British secret agent (seems appropriate for a former Mr. Bond). He is instrumental in moving the plot forward and making sure there are some dramatic moments.

There are quite a few “edge of your seat” moments including one where Jack has to toss each of his daughters from the roof of one building to another with a several story drop in between. Director John Erick Dowdle does a good job of spacing out the peaks and valleys of the plot, making sure that the valleys never drag while at the same time allowing the audience to collectively catch its breath. 

Wilson is very good in his role. Thankfully, they don’t try to make him an action hero. He remains rooted in his everyday smart-ass persona who is obviously in over his head. By allowing him to be vulnerable, it makes the escapes and near misses much more tense. 

Jack’s wife Annie is played by Lake Bell, a relative newcomer who does a great job shifting between the loving wife and mother to the scared fugitive who undergoes a dramatic transformation. 

The climatic scene is very tense and well done. SPOILER ALERT: Jack is being held by the bad guys and being prepped for execution. The bad guys grab one of his daughters and try to make her kill him by holding the gun in her hands and trying to make her pull the trigger. Finally, the rebel leader puts a gun to her head, and I won’t spoil it from there, but the ending wasn’t what I expected. I was pleasantly surprised and satisfied with the result. END OF SPOILER ALERT

My problem with the film is the lack of logic used in crafting the basic plot. It seemed that they came up with the idea – an American and his family being chased by bloodthirsty rebels – and then randomly selected a country and reason for the rebellion. I never really bought the idea of the rebels being upset with the water company, even though Brosnan does his best to tell the story from their point of view when he explains to Jack why they’re being chased. A little more thought, or perhaps a different, more compelling reason, might have turned the tide for me, but the explanation given just fell flat.

There are a number of near misses and narrow escapes, but still, the movie seemed short. At an hour and 43 minutes, it was plenty long enough, and any more escapes may have been one too many, but it still seemed like there should have been more. I wish I could nail it down better than that, but I was still surprised when the credits started to roll.

It gets a B from me, with the good points being the sequences that are tension filled, and the bad points being the vagueness and the plot holes. As for renting it, you’ve spent three bucks on worse things. If you’re in the mood for a gripping thriller, go for the gusto and rent it. It made it to video so quickly that I’m certain it’ll be in the heapie-cheapie bin at Walmart by the end of the summer.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

By Jon Gallagher

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (WB, 2016) – Director: Zack Snyder. Writers: Chris Terrio & David S. Goyer. Based on characters created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger (Batman) & Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster (Superman). Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy, Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Brandon Spink, Lauren Cohan, & Alan D. Purwin. Color, Rated PG-13, 151 minutes.

It’s probably the most personally anticipated movie of the past several months, even more so than Star Wars. I’m not really sure why because I hated the preceding movie Man of Steel and Zack Snyder’s treatment of Superman, so I’m not sure what led me to believe that I’d like another dose of his Kryptonian lore combining it with the chance to destroy the Batman legend as well.

All the trailers leading up to it had the same premise: it was Superman versus Batman in a battle to end all battles. Taken on the face, this is pretty dumb because Superman is a strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men (Someone should write that down…. It’d make a great introduction for him someday). Batman is a millionaire playboy with lots of fancy toys that gives him a lot of advantages, but that does not make him indestructible. Given those facts, Batman had a snowball’s chance of surviving a battle between the two.

This basic premise made me leery. I didn’t want to have to choose between two superheroes who were, for some reason or another, at odds with one another. It reminded me of a situation way back in 1972 in the WWWF (the forerunner of the WWF, which was the forerunner of WWE) in which the two major babyfaces got into a misunderstanding which led to a series of matches. Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales were the company’s biggest babyface (good guy) stars and they worked as a tag team in a TV match against heels (bad guys) Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji (who had nothing to do with cameras or film). The evil Mr. Fuji threw salt in Bruno’s eyes, blinding him, and Tanaka threw salt in Pedro’s eyes. Bruno and Pedro, blinded, began punching each other in the confusion, thinking the other guy was one of the bad guys.  Afterward, there were recriminations that led to match between the two at Shea Stadium, where they wrestled to a curfew time limit draw. Although I never witnessed the storyline myself, my friend, the wrestling historian The Phantom of the Ring, who lived in the Northeast, said that he was shocked when the promotion pitted the two good guys against each other.

Now even though Batman and Superman are billed in the trailers as doing battle, only the most dimwitted of all village idiots would think that they would remain foes all the way through the movie. They, of course, do work out their differences and join forces (along with Wonder Woman – where the heck did she come from?!?!). When the credits start to roll, almost every single person in the audience is grumbling about any number of things including a plot twist, the ending, the entire movie, the CGI scenes, the continuity, or the lack of anything remotely entertaining. I didn’t hear one single solitary positive remark coming out of the theater. Not one.

And you’re not going to get any from me either. This movie sucked.

Snyder subjected us to his version of Superman in the 2013 film Man of Steel. The Kal-El that Snyder presented to us was a darker, more violent Superman than we’d ever seen. This one even went so far as to break Superman’s sacred code of never killing when he broke the neck of General Zod at the end of that movie. Superman purists rose up in anger, but for some reason, Snyder still got the job directing this movie.

Dawn of Justice gives us a Superman who is even more dark than in Man of Steel. Not everyone is thrilled with Superman, pointing out that he is an alien and that with his super powers, he could rule us humanoids like a god if he wanted. Snyder recently did an interview where he said that he did this to give more of a realistic feel to the story because this is how people would really react if Superman did show up on Earth.

Wait a second. Just hold on. We’re talking about a guy who catches falling airplanes, has bullets bounce off of him, can see through things or start fires with his eyes, and who flies, and Mr. Snyder wants to make him more realistic? I hope that Mr. Snyder watched or listened to that interview, if for no other reason, so he could hear just how freaking stupid that sounds.

The movie opens with the 39th different retelling of how Bruce Wayne became an orphan and how he grows into an adult with the help of his trusty butler Alfred. There’s nothing new that we haven’t already seen, but for some unknown reason, we have to see it again. 

When Superman shows up the first time to be a hero, one of Wayne’s buildings falls victim to the carnage caused by Superman’s battle with aliens in scenes reminiscent of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. I thought this was in extremely bad taste and could only shake my head in amazement that it so closely resembled those attacks.

Lois Lane is taken hostage by terrorists in an unnamed country, but Superman comes to her rescue, but not before some American Special Forces units are lost. Again, the anti-alien contingent blame Kal-El. 

Bruce is among the anti-alien group because he lost friends and colleagues in the battle over the city when Superman first appeared. Clark, on the other hand, sees Batman as a vigilante who marks his captures with a Batman brand (yeah, like cattle) which proves to be a death sentence for them among other convicts once they’re sent to prison.

Among those who are not impressed with Superman’s heroics is a rich businessman/scientist named Alexander Luthor who manages to trick both Batman and Superman into battling each other. Luthor has obtained kryptonite and lures Superman into doing battle with Batman who has a kryptonite-infused weapon.

Let’s take a look at performances before getting into a major plot development that Superman fans may have seen coming (I’ll give you a spoiler alert warning).

First, there’s Ben Affleck who does an okay job. His acting has to be contained to his portrayal of Bruce Wayne since in the alter ego, it’s the cowl that does all the acting work. He’s a little old for the role, but shows off some of his acting skills with some emotional scenes. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save things, and I’ll blame that on Snyder’s direction rather than Affleck’s skills.

By the way, you may not recall, but Affleck once wore the Superman outfit in a movie. In the 2006 film Hollywoodland, he plays George Reeves, TV’s Superman of the 1950s. He’s shown in the role of Superman, wearing the suit, and being suspended by wires for one of the scenes. 

Jesse Eisenberg plays Lex Luthor, and although I don’t like the character and the reboot that Snyder has given it, Eisenberg does a great job with the role, making Luthor appear just a little psychotic, if not a little young (he and Superman are supposed to be about the same age).

Amy Adams handles the role of Lois Lane again. There’s no challenge here. She shows up, does her lines, and goes home. I’m still have a hard time seeing Lois with red hair though (even though I’ll never have a hard time watching Adams).

Henry Cavil does nothing to set himself apart from others who have played the Superman role. The thing that really sets actors apart is the way the handle the dual role of Superman/Clark Kent. Christopher Reeve was a master at this while George Reeves looked like Superman wearing a hat and glasses when he was in his secret identity. Cavil doesn’t even do that good; he’s missing a hat. That’s pretty sad.

I cannot recommend this movie to kids under 14. There are some very intense scenes and the ending may come as a bit much for many of them to handle.

Part of the problem is Snyder’s decision to make both of the heroes with a dark side. I don’t want my heroes to have a dark side! And if they do, I want it to be so inconsequential that it’s easy to overlook in favor of his heroics. Neither Batman nor Superman’s dark side is something that can be easily discounted. 

Of course, there’s a sequel already in the works with the entire Justice League (Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Batman, Superman, and possibly more) taking part. I’ve been told that it will be filmed in two parts, with Snyder directing both movies. That may be enough to make me stay home and wait for it to come on free TV.

As for a grade, this one slips into the F category. The acting, the directing, the storyline, and even the special effects keep it low on my scale, but when you subject me to all that for two and a half hours, a movie that could easily have cut a half hour from the finished product (if not more), you get the famous F- bomb.


Luthor creates a Kryptonian using something from the deceased General Zod and calls it Doomsday. For fans of the Superman comics, this foreshadows the end of the movie. Back in 1992, DC comics came out with a series of comics spread over several months in which Superman takes on an opponent named Doomsday. The title of the series is “The Death of Superman.”

The end of Dawn of Justice has Superman taking a spear with a kryptonite blade, and stabbing Doomsday. Unfortunately, since Doomsday is Kryptonian, one of the spikes on his hands stabs Superman through the chest...and kills him.

A funeral is held in Metropolis for Superman with military honors while the Kent homestead in Smallville buries Clark in a family plot.

In the comics, Superman returns, but with somewhat reduced powers. Cavil is already slated for the Justice League movies, so I’m not sure if Superman will make a comeback or if he’ll be available through flashbacks. He may even appear as a ghost.

I’m just hoping, after all the allusions made towards Superman being a savior of the planet that they don’t have him rise from the grave in three days. Maybe they’ll explain it as just a way to reduce Superman’s workload in the rescuing department. I don’t know, but out of all this, that’s really the only thing I’m interested in finding out when it comes to the new movie.

In the meantime, if you’re a long-time Superman fan, stay home from Batman v Superman or you’ll just end up getting really pissed off.


By Jon Gallagher

Race (Focus Features, 2016) – Director: Stephen Hopkins. Writers: Joe Shrapnel & Anna Waterhouse. Stars: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons, William Hurt, Eli Goree, Shanice Banton, Carice van Houten, David Kross, Jonathan Higgins, Tony Curran, Amanda Crew, Barnaby Metschurat, Vlasta Vrana, Shamier Anderson, & Jesse Bostick. Color, Rated PG-13, 134 minutes.

It’s hard for me to imagine my dad in any way other than the way I remember him: a short, aging, potbellied man who had a pair of bad hips and spent most of his time huffing and puffing after any kind of strenuous exertion, brought on by years of smoking, emphysema, and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). It seemed to me, even in my preteen years, that Dad was overweight even though pictures of him contradict that image.

It was hard for me to picture him as a track star, something he always talked about with pride. In 1938, when he was a senior in high school, he set a school record for the 440-yard dash (a quarter mile) with a time under one minute. This was particularly impressive because when I was in high school, the closest I could come was several seconds over a minute, and I thought I was hauling ass when I did that.

Dad told me that much of his inspiration had come from Jesse Owens, a track and field star who had returned from the 1936 Olympics with four gold medals. Since I wasn’t interested in track (baseball and basketball were my sports), I filed the name away into the recesses of my memories. Other than to know that Owens was a black man who was very fast and had run against and beaten Adolph Hitler’s Nazi athletes, I was clueless about the man.

Race solved that. The film stays true to the actual history that surrounded a very turbulent time in world history. The question is, “Does the title refer to a contest to determine who or what is the fastest, or does it refer to the classification of people, based mainly on the color of their skin?” The answer is “Yes. It refers to both.” The message it delivers in regard to the latter is as powerful as any movie’s message in a very long time.

We’re not hit over the head with the message to begin with. It’s spoon fed to us in little bites, allowing us, the audience, to gradually become incensed with the bigotry and prejudices faced by blacks before the Civil Rights Movement.

The movie begins with Owens (James) getting ready to head off to college. He has a girlfriend and a child out of wedlock, a somewhat scandalous situation in the mid 1930s no matter the race. Owens boards a bus that will take him to Ohio State University where he’s to be part of the track team and that’s where we’re introduced to the prejudices that we’ll see throughout the movie. A small, almost unnoticeable sign advises “Coloreds move to the back.”

Jesse meets his coach, Larry Snyder (Sudeikis) who will be his mentor for the rest of his life. Snyder is a taskmaster, a drill sergeant who demands both hard work and dedication. While in the locker room, Owens is the recipient of some racial taunts and further discrimination.

Meanwhile, the United States and the Olympic Committee is trying to decide whether or not to participate in the 1936 Olympic Games which are being held in Berlin. Although Hitler hasn’t started invading other countries (and thus, the War), he’s been getting more than his share of attention and it’s well known that the German dictator does not want neither Jews nor Negros competing in his games.

The Olympic Committee sends Avery Brundage (Irons) to Germany to investigate the rumors of Nazis rounding up all the “undesirables” from the streets (meaning anyone who was Jewish), and to negotiate the United States’ participation in the games. He sees the Nazis rounding up families and transporting them to concentration camps on the outskirts of Berlin. He sees signs that (in German) tell people not to shop with Jewish businesses. He sees a very ugly position being taken by the German government.

We meet Joseph Goebbels (Metschurat), the Minister of Propaganda, who is the mastermind of the games. Goebbels needs the U.S. to participate and finally agrees to allow the U.S. to bring along Jews and blacks as a condition of U.S. participation.

Brundage returns to the U.S. with the recommendation that the U.S. send an Olympic team. It’s a close vote, and by a margin of just 58-56, they decide to attend the Games.

Meanwhile, Jesse is being pressured by all sides including the NAACP who ask him not to attend and support their boycott because of the treatment of blacks at home.

In the end, Jesse decides to go, Snyder goes too (even though he was not asked to be a coach on the team), and he ends up winning four gold medals while forging a friendship with the German track and field star Carl “Lutz” Long (Kross). Jesse wins his fourth medal when he has to step in and run a leg of the 400-meter relay because the Germans asked that two Jewish athletes not be allowed to take part.

As I mentioned, the movie stayed true to the historic events, varying only once (that was obvious). While Jesse is competing in his events in Germany, his family is gathered around a radio back home in America to listen live. The technology did not exist to broadcast live from Germany (not to mention the time difference). It’s a minor point, and one I’m willing to concede to literary license given the accuracy of the rest of the film. It should be noted, however, that the 1936 Olympics were the first games to be televised, though in a very limited area in Germany, and certainly not live.

Stephan James does an admirable job in his role as Jesse Owens. Because of the backlash in Hollywood over the past two years concerning no actors of color being nominated for major awards, it wouldn’t surprise me if he nabs a nomination in the Best Actor category, even if it’s not deserved. Don’t get me wrong; James does a great job in his role, but he shows very little acting range. Had he reacted more strongly to the incidents of bigotry he suffered, I might have been inclined to agree with a nomination. However, his decision to play the role as a “humble black man” disappointed me just a bit. Owens was known for his humble attitude, at least in public, and he may never have shown any anger behind closed doors, but seeing it on the screen, and using that anger as a motivating factor (more than it was) would have really hammered home the message.

Jason Sudeikis and Jeremy Irons are both tremendous with their roles. Usually Sudakis takes on comedy roles, so it was nice to see him take on a very different role. Stepping out of his comfort zone really added to his performance. Irons, a classically trained actor, takes on such varied roles anyway, and his didn’t even seem to be a challenge to him. It’s always a pleasure to watch an actor take on a role so well, and so effortlessly.

Carice van Houten plays videographer Leni Riefenstahl, the woman who was responsible for filming the 1936 Olympic Games to preserve for posterity the superiority of the German athlete. I have to admire her for taking such a minor role in the movie, and elevating it to such an important one. I’m not sure if the “real” Riefenstahl acted as the portrayed one, but her resolve to do things her own way stood out as one of the more notable performances.

The movie is stolen, however by Barnaby Metschurat, who plays Joseph Goebbels. Although he never utters a single word in English, his portrayal of the German Minister of Propaganda is worth of an award for Best Supporting Actor. He uses his eyes and his expressions to strike fear among not just the other characters, but in the audience as well. I found myself scared to death of him as he just oozed the poisonous philosophy of the Nazi Party. His eyes became the epitome of evil.

The movie is rated PG-13, but be prepared for some rather coarse language. These words were not used in the movie; they came from a 70-year-old lady seated across the aisle from me. She was pissed at the way Jesse was being treated, and she wasn’t afraid to voice her displeasure (much to the chagrin of her husband who seemed to keep sinking in his seat).

This movie will stir your emotions (as it did that lady’s – I’m not kidding about her). As I said earlier, it starts off slowly, giving you baby bites of the bigotry before finally hitting you with it like a Mack truck. The end of the movie shows Jesse and Coach Snyder, along with their wives, approaching a New York City hotel where there is a dinner being given in Jesse’s honor. The doorman refuses the Owens’ entrance through the main door and directs them through the kitchen instead because colored people weren’t allowed to use the main entrance, no matter who they were.

This elicited a comment from the lady across the aisle of “You left-handed dick licker!”  I’ve never heard that phrase before (and doubt that I ever do again), but she seemed to take some pride in being able to utter a string of insults without ever using the same one twice.

If your emotions are not stirred by Race, then there will be a receptacle at the door in which you can drop your membership card of the human race.

The film misses my coveted A+ rating by the slimmest of margins. I give it a hearty A, and only because the first 45 minutes, though interesting, seem to drag. That is the worst thing I can say about this movie as the rest of it is just absolutely excellent.

Go see it? YES! Rent it or stream it? Absolutely. Own it? I’ll think very strongly about it.

It’s just that good.


By Jon Gallagher

Zootopia (Walt Disney Pictures, 2016) – Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore & Jared Bush. Writers: Jared Bush & Phil Johnston (s/p). Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, & Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon (story). Dan Fogelman (Additional story material). Voices: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, Raymond S. Persi, Della Saba, Jenny Slate, & Maurice LaMarche. Animated, Color, Rated PG, 108 minutes.

Disney has been pushing this one hard. I’ve been seeing its trailers for months. You can’t turn on a kids’ channel on TV without being inundated with previews. 

This worried me.

From the trailers, it looked like a fun movie. All the characters are animals with human-like characteristics. There are some scenes that look hilarious. I’ve seen this play out before, and usually, to be brutally honest, a movie with this much hype sucks.

Not the case here. For me, it actually lived up to its hype, and in some cases, surpassed it.

It’s the story of a female rabbit who wants to become the first rabbit in history to become a cop. In this animal populated world where stereotypes of each animal is common, the rabbits are usually relegated to being carrot farmers while law enforcement is left to the bigger, brawnier types like hippos, elephants, rhinos and buffalo. 

Judy Hopps, a young determined rabbit, becomes the first rabbit ever to pass the tough police academy tests and be hired as a police officer. She is immediately assigned duties as a meter maid where she, still fiercely determined, vows to write 200 tickets….by noon.

Meanwhile, mammals around town have been disappearing with no reason. The entire city is up in arms about the disappearances and the police department (except Judy, that is) is working hard to solve the case.

Judy meets up with a fox who is a con man (keeping with the stereotyping of foxes being sly), and in the process of him hustling her, she manages to hustle him into helping her solve the case of a missing otter. They become partners, then friends, and work together to solve the mystery.

This is not the typical Disney fare. This film has more storytelling than the usual offering from the animation giant. There is humor that will go right over the heads of the younger audience members (my 12-year-old granddaughter sat beside me and had no clue at some of the jokes), but will resonate with the adults (while I found myself chuckling). The plot is easy enough for the kids to follow, but still one that the adults will be able to appreciate as well. This may have been the most impressive part. I especially liked the references to and parody of The Godfather, which the youngsters just won’t have a clue about.

For those interested in the plot, they manage to keep away from a murder mystery (which would be a little out of character for Disney) by using a little different plot device. The animals in the city who are known predators are being turned back into predators by some unknown person or persons. Judy and Nick (the fox) have to discover not only who, but why.

The music throughout is definitely aimed at the younger set, but it’s nothing offensive to those of us in the older generation, and something I could live with for 108 minutes. Shakira provides the voice and inspiration for one of the characters who makes a big impact.

There is a lesson to be learned (we shouldn’t judge people based on their ethnicity), and at times it feels as though we’re about to be hit over the head with the message very hard. Although the message is received loud and clear, it’s not done in such a way that it’s rammed down our throats. Since Nick is a predator, his friendship with Judy is questioned by both her and those around them. It’s nicely done.

There is a twist at the end which anyone who has EVER seen or read a mystery should see coming. There is also a final hustle towards the end that came as a complete surprise.

One other comment on content. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve jumped in my seat. The only two times I can ever remember jumping is when the hand comes out of the grave at the end of Carrie, and when the head pops into view while Hooper is underwater in Jaws (I landed three rows back on that one!). Zootopia has an instance where I jumped. Nice. Although I am a little embarrassed that I jumped out of my seat in an animated movie.

I won’t make many comments on the voices; they were all well done, but then, I expect that in an animated film. Since the actors are only using their voices, they can concentrate on that rather than having to deliver lines with the appropriate body language/facial expressions. The animators get a bunch of kudos for using just the right techniques to give us a further sense of what the characters are going through. 

The animators also get extra credit for the beautiful scenery in and around Zootopia, whether it be the sparkling metropolis of the big city, the colorful canopies of the rain forest area, or the frozen polar tundras with the dazzling white drifts of snow and sheets of ice. Visually, they’ve outdone themselves.

On a whole, the movie gets an A-. My 14-year-old grandson liked the movie (he said it was “okay”), but thought from the previews on TV that it would be better. My 12-year-old granddaughter also liked it, but hesitated quite a bit before answering the question. Their mom (my thirty-something daughter) liked it, but was disappointed that it wasn’t as good as what the trailers purported it to be. Those around us in the theater seemed to be mixed in their reactions as well.

I still liked it and will consider adding it to my collection once it comes out on DVD. There’s a lot of humor that I’m sure I missed the first time around.

I recommend it for children 10 and older. Those children under the age of 10 may find the visuals entertaining, but there’s no way they’re going to follow the plot.

Daddy's Home

By Jon Gallagher

Daddy’s Home (Paramount, 2015) – Director: Sean Anders. Writers: Sean Anders, Brian Burns, and John Morris (s/p). Brian Burns (story). Stars: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Haden Church, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Bobby Cannavale, Hannibal Buress, Bill Burr, Jamie Denbo, Mark L. Young, Matthew Paul Martinez, Dave Davis, James Harton Palmer, & Riley Corbin. Color, Rated PG-13, 96 minutes.

There are times when I find Will Farrell brilliant and funny. There are other times when I find him pathetic and annoying. Unfortunately, the latter has been the case more often than not with most of his latest work. He seems to “become” his character, which is usually an extreme exaggeration, and the overacting that accompanies it manages to ruin the entire movie.

On the other hand, I usually like Mark Wahlberg, at least since he’s stopped being that cartoon character Marky Mark. I can accept his tough-guy persona, even when he’s adapted it to a comedic setting.

That’s why I had no idea how I was going to react to the two together in the new movie Daddy’s Home. The previews looked good, but I was afraid that they’d just showed all the funny parts in advance, trying to lure people to the box office. While I was partially right on that count, I came out of the theater pleasantly surprised.

The storyline is pretty simple. Brad (Farrell) is the new stepdad to a couple of pre-teens. He’s trying his hardest to be accepted by the pair. Dusty (Wahlberg) is the bio-dad who comes back into their lives and attempts to take back his family. The result is a slapstick comedy as the two compete for the affections of the children while mom Sara (Cardellini) plays referee while longing for a third child.

Brad is the polar opposite of a “cool dad,” a straight-laced radio executive who reads books on step-parenting while Dusty is a motorcycle-riding, former special ops dude who makes Arthur Fonzarelli look like a nerd. He has the ability to make people like him within the first 10 seconds after meeting him, and it seems he knows everybody in the world who’s famous. In real life, a battle for the kids’ affection between the two would throw the kids into a dangerous position, but in a movie such as this, it allows us to sit back and just enjoy the mayhem.

One nice thing about the movie is that we really don’t “root” for either father. Both are portrayed as being just a bit psychotic (in a nice way) which provides several funny moments. I was right in thinking that most of the funny parts have been seen during the trailers, but the way the story is blended together, makes that a non-issue. The bridge between the funny scenes that you’ve already watched is interesting and entertaining.

I should mention that I would not take my pre-teen to see the movie. There are some highly sexual scenes in it that I’m not quite ready to explain to an 11-year-old.

For example, Dusty sets Brad and Sara up with an appointment with a famous fertility doctor (who just happens to be a friend of Dusty’s). He determines that part of Brad’s infertility problem has something to do with his, er, ah, private parts (see… it’s even hard to explain here!). He has Sara feel said parts, then brings in Dusty for a comparison. It’s a funny scene, but it’s funny for ADULTS, not kids. Take your kids, and you’re gonna have some major “splainin’ to do.” Maybe the best you can hope for is that they forget about that scene by the end of the movie. The worst you can hope for is that they’re too embarrassed to ask you about it and instead ask friends at school.

Farrell does a decent job with his role. There are a couple of spots where he goes a bit over the top, but for the most part, it’s not annoying. Wahlberg does the tough guy thing and makes it work in this comedy. Almost everyone else in the film is there just to provide carbon dioxide and their roles could have been filled with just about anyone.

There is a twist at the end of the movie that I didn’t see coming. I won’t spoil it for those of you who want to see it. But it doesn’t end in a predictable way, which was somewhat of a relief.

I might have been willing to add a + to the end of it had they not marketed it as a “family film” and then thrown in the sex stuff. They could have worked a little harder and come up with better “family” comedy than jokes about the size and shape of someone’s junk.

Everyone else exiting the theater, even those with kids, seemed to enjoy themselves. You know your kids better than I do, so use your own judgment before deciding whether or not to take the family out to this one.

Rating: B

Big Game

By Jon Gallagher

Big Game (EuropaCorp USA, 2015) – Director: Jalmiri Helander. Writers: Jalmiri Helander (s/p and story), Petri Jokiranta (story). Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Omni Tommila, Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Mehmet Kurtulus, Ted Levine, Jorma Tommila, Risto Salmi, Felicity Huffman, Jim Broadbent, Rauno Juvonen, Jaymes Butler, Jason Steffan, Jean-Luc Julien, & Erik Marcus Schuetz. Color, Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.

What makes a good movie? Well, one needs to have an interesting story, good dialogue, decent actors and actresses, and a director who knows how to not only shoot the individual scenes (and from what angle), but who can also assemble all the scenes he’s shot into a logical, interesting order.

What makes a bad movie? When a film is lacking in one or more of the above criteria.

Sometimes, directors can motivate bad actors into delivering impressive performances. Sometimes a strong story or plot will override a poorly-written script (but not often). In other words, even if one part of the equation lags behind the other parts, there are ways to pull a decent movie out of it.

Some movies are just so bad that they’re good (Plan 9 From Outer Space). Others are just a total waste of time, money, and celluloid.

The Big Game falls into the later category.

This is one absolutely horrid movie.

The film had potential. Terrorists shoot down the president’s plane, but the POTUS escapes; his escape pod landing in the mountains of Finland. He is found by a 13-year-old boy who is taking part in a tradition that sends 13 year olds into the woods and mountains to return with the carcass of an animal that he has hunted and shot with his bow and arrow. Together, they battle nature and the bad guys, forming an unlikely friendship.

Doesn’t sound bad. Throw Samuel L. Jackson into the lead role of the president and it sounded like something I’d be interested in seeing.

And then the movie started.

The boy is the son of the village’s best hunter and it will be hard for him to live up to the reputation of his old man. Still, his father sends him out into the wilds of the Finnish forests on the back of a four-wheeler.

Meanwhile, the president is on his way to a conference in Scandinavia and we see him on Air Force One. One of his Secret Service men comes in wearing a neon-yellow t-shirt with the words “BAD GUY” emblazoned across the chest. Okay, maybe he doesn’t, but he might as well have. It’s that obvious that he’s going to be bad guy here.

On the mountainside is a terrorist who’s doing his best impression of Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber from Die Hard, but is failing worse than I would if I tried to imitate Marilyn Monroe. To prove to us how evil and maniacal he is, he blows up an innocent local man, even after giving him a running head start of a couple of miles, with something that looks like a LAW Rocket.

Air Force One is shot down by the terrorist on the mountain, but not before the POTUS jettisons in his little Escape Pod One. The bad guy/Secret Service agent parachutes out before AF1 goes down and hooks up with the mountainside bad guy. They have a brief Alpha Male moment to prove who the real leader is (turns out to be the Secret Service guy), before going in search of the president.

Meanwhile, the president has been found by the kid, who is unimpressed being in the presence of the leader of the free world. They survive the night in the woods on the mountainside, but are captured by the bad guys who turn the kid loose (we knew that would be a mistake).

Back in Washington, the Department of Big Screen TVs and Antiquated Computer Equipment has called in the vice president, a nine-star general, and a retired CIA operative who attempts to fill in all the gaping holes in the plot with his previously attained knowledge (like who the terrorists are). They manage to turn the spy satellites into real-time video cameras so they’re able to watch events take place on the ground at the same time they’re happening (yeah, right!).

The kid helps the president escape again, but once more the bad guys are hunting them down.

The director attempts to keep things interesting by having a couple of twists in the plot, one which was as subtle as a nine-alarm fire: the bad guys turn on each other, but neither turns on the president.

The president ends up shooting the Mountainside Baddie because, even though he’s a feared terrorist and can operate a LAW Rocket, he doesn’t know how to cock an automatic weapon so that it will fire.

The Secret Service bad guy is also dispatched, this time by the kid. Earlier, in some of the horrid dialogue, it’s revealed that the agent took a bullet for the president and it’s still lodged just inches from his heart, waiting for it to be pushed into his heart which will kill him. That’s his whole motivation for capturing and killing the president. The kid shoots the agent with his trusty bow and arrow. The arrow bounces off (obviously the writers don’t know the first thing about bows and arrows), but not before it manages to push that bullet fragment into the agent’s heart, killing him just before he pulls the trigger to annihilate both the kid and the POTUS.

It’s a bad movie, plain and simple. Bad. Bad movie!

The dialogue is forced, the actors are stiff, and the plot is weak. There are technical inaccuracies as well, which shows that the writer didn’t bother to research. They tell the VP he has to take the oath of office to officially assume the presidency once they think the president is dead. But in reality, the Constitution reads that upon the president’s death, the VP automatically assumes command; the oath is just a formality.

My recommendation? Don’t rent it, don’t stream it, don’t even bother watching it if it’s on free TV. It’s almost two hours of your life you’ll never get back.

Grade: F-


By Jon Gallagher

Creed (WB, 2015) – Director: Ryan Coogler. Writers: Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington (s/p). Ryan Coogler (story) & Sylvester Stallone (characters). Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Andre Ward, Tony Bellew, Ritchie Coster, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, Graham McTavish, Malik Bazille, Ricardo McGill, Gabe Rosado, Wood Harris, Buddy Osborn, & Rupal Pujara. Color, Rated PG-13, 133 minutes.

I can’t believe that I’m about to type some of the words I’m about to type, at least in the order that I put them in.

Go see this movie.

In what amounts to the 7th installment of the Rocky franchise, nearly 39 years after the original Rocky took home the Oscar for Best Picture, Sylvester Stallone reprises his iconic character, this time in a supporting role as he helps train the son of his former rival turned best friend, Apollo Creed.

Now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute. Apollo had a son? Didn’t Apollo die in the ring at the hands of some juiced up Russian robot back in the early days of the franchise? How did he have a son?

They do an okay job of explaining this rather complex situation. According to this movie, Apollo had an affair and this son, Adonis, is the result. Adonis was born after his father died (1985) which would put him around the age of 30. That’s going to be a sticking point with a few moviegoers, but I decided to accept the explanation they gave rather than to harp on it (like I tend to do sometimes).

Adonis (Jordan), or Donnie, uses the last name of his mother, “Johnson.” The boy is in and out of juvenile detention centers for most of his early life as his mother dies when he’s still a child.

Enter Mary Anne Creed, Apollo’s widow (Rashad) who takes him in, lines up a job for him, and basically pampers him. She has obviously been careful with Apollo’s sizeable fortune.

Donnie, however, wants to fight. He goes to Tijuana to fight in unsanctioned bouts, and he’s very good. He’s 16-0, but he’s facing the equivalent of local tough guys rather than seasoned boxers. He gives up his “day job” with some financial advisers and decides to pursue a boxing career, much to the displeasure of his adopted mom.

Donnie heads for his father’s training facility in LA, but the head trainer won’t work with him since he’s older than most. In fact, Donnie is roughed up in the ring by the star pupil, who happens to be the No. 2 boxer in the world in that weight class.

Donnie leaves California and heads for Philadelphia where he meets up with Rocky. Rocky wants nothing to do with him at first, and tries to discourage him from getting in the ring.

Instead of getting Rocky for a trainer, Donnie goes to Mighty Mick’s gym, the place famous for training Rocky. He’s told he can work out there, but the head trainer is more interested in working with his own. He’s not told anyone that he’s Apollo Creed’s son because he’s determined to make it on his own.

Rocky shows up and starts working with Donnie. The head trainer wants to schedule a match between his boy and Donnie, hoping that Rocky’s name will help draw some big money. Right before the bout, the trainer finds out that Donnie is Apollo Creed’s son, but agrees to keep it a secret.

And he does. For a day or so. When the news hits the media that Creed’s kid is fighting, it gets the attention of the World Champion, Pretty Ricky Conlan (Bellew), who is not only undefeated in 29 fights, he’s never even been knocked down.

A fight is scheduled and the last part of the movie centers on the fight itself.

If you can overcome the obvious plot holes, mainly Donnie’s age and why no one knows Creed had a son, then this is an excellent movie, almost as good as the original Rocky.

And well it should be. This movie mirrors the original in so many ways that it’s impossible not to see them. Let’s take a look.

Both movies feature a professional champion who takes on an unknown underdog opponent. Both movies have the underdog being trained by an aging ex-fighter who is unorthodox in his training methods. Both underdogs develop a love interest with an unlikely female character during their training. And both movies have a challenger who spends most of the main event blocking punches with his face.

The plots of the other Rocky movies are just dissimilar enough to the original to make this sequel fresh again.

The fight scenes in the main event were totally reminiscent of the original Rocky with a surprised, somewhat unprepared champion underestimating his inexperienced opponent. One of the funniest moments of the movie comes with the expression on Conlan’s face after Creed (who has agreed to use his father’s name for this fight) hits him for the first time.

There is one spot in the main event that they use the original music from Rocky. When the sound system in the theater cranked out the opening bars of “Gonna Fly Now,” chills ran down my spine and I felt a big smile slowly growing on my face.

Another plot hole is the main event itself. There are a lot of punches exchanged during the fight, just like Apollo and Rocky. There’s no way that two men could stand up to that kind of punishment for more than a minute, let alone 12 rounds.

They’re excused for this. Most boxing matches are pretty mundane and boring with few punches connecting until need be. Had the director modeled the fight scene after a real fight, we’d have all been snoring by the end of the film. Instead, he mirrored the Apollo-Rocky match, and came up with a winner.

Here’s one of those sentences I never thought I’d type. Stallone is amazing in this movie. His performance has Oscar nomination written all over it. During the course of the movie, we find out that Rocky has non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a disease that he actually welcomes because he feels he’s been left alone in this world by friends and family who have passed on. All those blows to Rocky’s head in his previous movies must have straightened out his slurred speech and made him more wise. He dispenses invaluable advice without coming across as a bitter old man.

Michael B. Jordan does an admirable job in his role as Adonis Creed. He shows a brazen confidence combined with a touch of insecurity, mixing the two into a complex character who is both interesting and likeable.

Tessa Thompson is Bianca, Donnie’s love interest. An independent young nightclub singer, she’s quite the opposite of Rocky’s Adrian, but still manages to inspire and motivate the protagonist perfectly.

Go see this movie!

See it in a theater with a bunch of other people. If you get a good group to watch it with, you’ll hear plenty of cheering during the fight (which is really weird if you think about it – cheering for a fighter in a movie), which adds to the overall experience of the movie. This is one that I will watch again once it comes out on video, and one that I wouldn’t mind owning.

I came out of the theater smiling and feeling better than when I went in. That seemed to be a general consensus of those who attended the same showing.

I’ll give this one an A+ for giving me my money’s worth and then some. It far exceeded my expectations.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By Jon Gallagher

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Lucasfilm/Disney, 2015) – Director: J.J. Abrams. Writers: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, & Michael Arndt. George Lucas (characters). Stars: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max Von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, & Joonas Suotamo. Color, Rated PG-13, 135 minutes.

There will be no spoilers in the first part of this review. That way, you can read through without having any of the surprises or plot twists revealed before you see the movie. I’ll clearly separate this review without spoilers from the review with spoilers so that those of you who have seen it can get an idea of what I was thinking during the movie.

The Prelude

A long time ago, in a city, not that far away, it began. Outside the local theater on June 17, 1980, a line started to form. Sleeping bags were unrolled on the sidewalk, out of the way of those who were showing up to see John Travolta in Urban Cowboy or Clint Eastwood in Bronco Billy. Those hardy souls braving the weather and the taunts of others, movie-goers or those just driving by, were in line so that they could be the first to see the long anticipated sequel to Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back.

Yes, those of us who were so enthralled by the original George Lucas movie, released three years prior, were going to be able to tell our grandkids that we were one of the first to see the sequel.

As for me, I waited till the crowds died down a little, then I went.

Cut to the present, and people were camped out in front of theaters across the country here in 2015, awaiting the release of Star Wars, The Force Awakens, the 7th movie in the franchise.

Thirty-five years later, we have a lot of things we didn’t have back in 1980. We have the Internet, which spewed forth the secret plots and characters that Lucas and director J. J. Abrams had protected like Fort Knox gold. We also have midnight showings, something that just didn’t happen 35 years ago, at least not in our neck of the woods. Also, people reviewed the movie, including some while watching it, on Twitter, Facebook or other blog type things that didn’t exist in the dark ages.

In fact, we now purchase our tickets in advance via the Internet, something else we weren’t able to do three and a half decades ago.

Locally, one theater decided to put advance tickets on sale for the new movie and it sold out in less than two minutes. They added a second show, but this time, they upped the price to $25 a ticket rather than the $8 they charged the first time. The $25 tickets went just as fast. In fact, you couldn’t buy a ticket to see Star Wars on opening night at that theater because all showings of it, on two screens, had sold out at $25 a pop.

A couple of enterprising young jerks bought up a bunch of tickets and listed them on CraigsList and eBay for $250 each. No word on whether some other insane idiot(s) agreed to part with that much money for the right to see it first.

The Film

However, it turns out that the Force was with me, for I saw it on opening day. I went to a multiplex in Peoria where it was playing in 3D on one screen and in two other smaller theaters down the hall. I attended the 2:00 pm showing, and to my surprise, had no problem getting a seat or standing in line. Only about 30 people were in attendance. The usher told me that they had screened it the previous night to a full house and that he expected that all the evening showings would also be sold out, but with school still in session and people working, I made a good choice if I didn’t want people beside of me.

Star Wars at this theater was just $4.50 for the matinee. It’s playing at two other theaters in Peoria and prices for the matinees range from $6 to $8, with evening prices going as high as $10 (more if in 3D or IMAX).

I would not have wanted to be Abrams. He was given the task of taking a beloved story that had already had six different movies in its franchise, and not only writing a script to cover the last 30 years, but also direct a combination of old stars and new.

Now combine that with having to please those who live and breathe Star Wars and who can answer absolutely any trivia question about any of the six movies.

Talk about a daunting task!

That’s why I figured I’d be trashing the movie once it came time to review it. There was no way it could live up to the hype it’d gotten. There was no way it could come close to fulfilling the expectations brought on by the years of anticipation (Lucas had originally promised us a movie every three years till he had nine total, so he’s about 20 years behind where he should be).

Somehow, though, Abrams pulls it off and produces a finished product that will no doubt garner just as many accolades as did the original film. It gets an A+ on my scale, and won’t be just one of those movies I have to own; it’s one I’m probably going to go see in the theater again. It was that good.

The original film (Episode IV) had a magic that is nearly impossible to capture in a film. The storyline was tremendous; the acting superb, and the action sequences were top notch. It had an “edge of your seat” excitement about it, especially in the final few scenes as the rebels tried to blow up the Death Star.

None of the other Star Wars movies were able to capture that magic. The next two sequels, although not bad, seemed more interested in trying to tie in merchandising by selling toys (Ewoks and the like) than in moving the storyline along. They even tried to blow up a second Death Star, presumably, because they ran out of ideas of how to make the Empire more evil.

We did get some surprises out of the second two movies. We found out that Luke and Leia were brother and sister and that their father was not just Anakin Skywalker, but Darth Vader himself. We also got to meet Yoda, the Jedi Master, who was probably seen by producers as nothing more than huge dollar signs.

Then came the prequels, introducing us to Obi Wan Kenobi and how Anakin was found, trained, and led astray by the Dark Side of the Force. Episode I, the Phantom Menace, was the hardest to sit through as Lucas tried to explain after the fact where all his characters had come from while staying true to his original work. In all fairness, that had to be a really tough job, evidenced by the fact that all three prequels fell short of expectations.

The Force Awakens seems to get away from the merchandising, although in the past six weeks it seems that every frickin’ thing in the world is tied to the movie from cars (?!?) to toothpaste to soup, and concentrate on the storyline.

If that’s what Abrams set out to do, then it’s an unqualified success.

Abrams gives us characters we care about, who we get to know right off the bat. He provides enough information in dialogue to give us an idea of what’s been happening over the past 30 years.

He also gives us plenty of action. There are lots of dogfights with the X-wing aircraft battling the Tie-Fighters from the original movie. The Millennium Falcon is also back, and no worse the wear.

He gives us plenty of light saber fights as well. I can’t say much more than that without spoiling it so we’ll just leave it at that.

Reprising their roles from the original trilogy are Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and the actors inside the Chewy, C-3PO, and R2D2 costumes (Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker respectively). Ford gets the lion’s share of screen time, which is a nice surprise. He does a superb job of combining his cockiness with the wisdom he’s gained over the last 30 years.

Newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver (Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren respectively) give us a new crew to cheer (or boo), and the “passing of the torch” to them is done nicely.

There is one new droid, BB-8, who takes the place, so to speak, of R2D2. If you’ve seen the previews, and who hasn’t, you’ll recognize him as the ball with the hat. He’s cute, speaks the same bee-bob language as his predecessor, and adds some comic relief.

The movie isn’t all action. There are some funny parts, mainly one-liners, mixed in too. There’s even a bar scene, reminiscent of the original film. ET may have finally found work after all these years as Maz Kanata, the owner of the bar. If so, he’s had a Bruce Jenner moment and his vocabulary has grown beyond the simple “Phone home.”

As I’ve said, there’s enough of a plot and enough fun and thrills to keep everyone interested. It’s two hours and 15 minutes, but I guarantee, you won’t be checking your watch.


This is the plot, without the spoilers.

Several things are borrowed from the original. The scene is set 30 years or so after Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker has gone missing of his own accord. We learn that he had been training young Jedi Knights until one turned on him. Luke went into exile, much the same way that Yoda and Obi Wan did before him.

The bad guy in the movie is Kylo Ren (Driver), a Darth Vader wannabe. He’s trying to find Luke, but the Resistance (Rebels in the first movie) doesn’t know where he is. Their best pilot, Poe (Isaac), gets a good lead on where Luke is, but Ren’s Stormtroopers find him. Ren hides the information in his droid and tries to send him back to the home base.

While ravaging the village where Ren found Poe, one of the Stormtroopers, Finn (Boyega), has a change of heart and tries to help him escape. While running from the bad guys, Finn meets a young woman, Rey (Ridley), who has found the droid. Rey steals a vehicle, which turns out to be the Millennium Falcon. She proves to be a formidable pilot, especially when Han and Chewy show up to reclaim their property.

Most of the movie is spent with everyone trying either to find Luke or blow up the planet where the resistance is based. The bad guys have built a “Starkiller” which dwarfs the two Death Stars and uses the harnessed power of a sun to annihilate not just planets, but entire star systems.

There are plenty of twists and turns, and the relationships of the new characters with the old are extremely interesting. Both Ren and Rey are learning to use the power of the Force, which culminates in an epic battle.

Of course, Abrams leaves the door wide open for additional movies. I’d honestly be surprised if part of the next movie hasn’t been shot already. It should be able to pick up right where this one leaves off.

That’s not to say that this isn’t a complete, stand-alone movie, because it is. But we all know that there will be more.


The following will contain some spoilers.

I guess it had to be done. Ren kills off one of the beloved original characters, but unfortunately, most everyone in the theater saw it coming.

Ren is the son of Han and Leia, grandson of Anakin/Vader. Although it’s never revealed, we’re led to believe that Rey is Luke’s daughter, based on the way she can use the Force and the way he reacts when he sees her.

Fans of Mark Hamill should look quick – he’s there for the last minute or so of the movie and he doesn’t have any lines. I kept expecting him to pop up and save the day, but that didn’t happen.

Ren and Rey have an epic light saber battle at the end of the movie with Rey getting the better of him. For a while, I thought I was watching a remake of the scene with the black knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Rey kept scoring hits on Ren, but somehow, he kept fighting. She has no idea who her parents are/were, and she has no training with the Force or the light saber, yet she manages to hold her own against someone like Ren.

I left the theater completely satisfied with a smile on my face. That’s why I go to movies. This one met and surpassed all my expectations.

The Good Dinosaur

By Jon Gallagher

The Good Dinosaur (Pixar/Disney, 2015) – Director: Peter Sohn. Writers: Bob Peterson (orig. concept & development), Peter Sohn, Erik Benson, Meg LeFauve, Kelsey Mann, & Bob Peterson (story), Meg LeFauve (s/p). Voices: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Maleah Nipay-Padilla, Ryan Tepple, Jack McGraw, Marcus Scribner, Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Peter Sohn, Steve Zahn, Mandy Freund, Steven Clay Hunter, A.J. Buckley, Anna Paquin, & Sam Elliott. Color, PG, 93 minutes.

When I was a high school English teacher, I had certain students from whom I expected exceptional work. I just knew that these few students would blow me away whenever I assigned a special project. On occasion, when they didn’t, I was disappointed. The work they turned in was still top notch, and usually much better than other students, but there was just something lacking, something I called the “Wow! Factor.”

Pixar has always been like those exceptional students. They’ve given us classics such as the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo, Up!, and Monsters Inc. They always seem to find a way to combine a plot driven story with a message with unbelievable graphics that at times seem realistic rather than computer generated. They’ve set the bar high.

A Good Dinosaur doesn’t come close to the bar.

It’s still a decent movie, and way ahead of other animated feature movies, but it doesn’t come close to the Pixar standards. There are many problems.

The first is the premise itself. In all previews for the movie, we’re given a “What if” question: What if the meteor that killed all the dinosaurs had missed the Earth? That’s an interesting question, and one that I’d like to see explored. Unfortunately, they did little to explore it. Instead, they just used it as an excuse to put dinosaurs and humans in the same movie without having critics point out that dinosaurs and humans walked the Earth several million years apart from each other.

It also allows the artists in the movie to create elegant backdrops in what looks in parts to be Arizona, with buttes rising skyward in their magnificence. These beautiful landmasses, of course, would not have been there during the era when dinosaurs walked the Earth; they would have just been forming.

The plot of the movie was nothing new. Arlo is the runt of the litter in a family of dinosaurs. His father takes him out to hunt down a critter (an infant human) that is stealing their winter stores, and ends up getting killed, forcing his son to grow up. Arlo, along with a brother and a sister, try to help their mother keep up the family farm, but Arlo gets separated from the family, then tries to find his way back home.

Along the way, he discovers he’s being tailed by the feral cave-baby, who Arlo blames for his father’s death. Naturally, they become friends (Arlo names him “Spot”) and they attempt to get back home, fending off dangers and other vicious dinosaurs along the way.

There are some themes along the way that are laudable. The importance of family seems to come out of every adventure along the way home as well as establishing itself as the main theme as well.

The artwork in this film is absolutely stunning. There are scenes of a river with its rapids crashing against the bank when one has to wonder if it was drawn, generated by computer, or filmed live. It’s that impressive.

Unfortunately, it seems that Pixar has run out of plots for their films. So many of their movies have the protagonist struggling to find their way home (or to a specific destination), meeting with adverse conditions along the way. They’ve done it with toys, cars, fish, monsters, and now dinosaurs. I guess they figure “why change the formula for success?” to which I’d reply, “BECAUSE WE’RE GETTING TIRED OF IT, THAT’S WHY!”

A major problem I had with the movie was a three-minute segment when Arlo and Spot eat some fermented fruit and “get drunk.” They hallucinate together in what looks like it could have been a bad acid trip from the 1960s, and show very little in the way of consequences the next morning. This added nothing to the movie and Pixar should be ashamed of themselves for including the scene (especially without consequences). It’s hard enough to be a parent nowadays, and tell your kids that drinking or doing drugs is bad, and then to go and have all that erased in three minutes by some irresponsible writers and artists is inexcusable.

Another negative from the movie involves the “roller coaster ride.” In most movies in this genre, the protagonist is presented with a problem, then the problem escalates (the ride up a roller coaster), and is then solved (the ride down the big hill). In between problems, there’s a period of relaxing before starting to climb the next hill.

This movie has one downward ride after another. There’s hardly any room to rest. As a result, it may be viewed as somewhat scary. My grandson had no problem letting his mom, and for that matter, the entire theater, know that he was scared. He spent a good portion of the movie being scared.

I’ll give The Good Dinosaur a C-. I knocked it down a full letter grade because of the aforementioned scene.

I hadn’t planned to see this movie in the theaters. While sitting around the apartment, trying to figure out what to do for supper, my middle daughter called and said that she was bringing her five-year-old son over to see it at the theater in our small town. She invited me to go along. Who am I to refuse a chance to see a movie with my daughter and grandson, especially when she sweetened the pot by offering to bring pizza from a local and fabulous pizzeria?

While chowing down on the pizza, my oldest daughter called and said she’d be headed over for the movie too. She was bringing her daughter (11) and one of her sons (1), so we were having family night at the movies!

Now if you read my review of The Martian, you’ll know that our local theater is in some serious financial trouble. Last night on the local newscast, they said that the theater is going to be put on the auction block later this week for back taxes. It’s been in foreclosure since May and time may have finally run out. When we went, employees at the theater said that they fully expect to be out of work by the end of the week.

In all fairness, everyone else – both daughters and two grandchildren (who are old enough to speak) – enjoyed the movie. The middle daughter was upset with the fermented fruit scene while the older daughter missed the scene while tending to the baby. My granddaughter pronounced the movie “Great!” while my grandson was busy recalling every scene he could think of in a never-ending stream of consciousness that slowed down only long enough for him to take a short breath. One other patron on her way out of the theater remarked, “That wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be.”

The Good Dinosaur will make a lot of money for Pixar. It will be a huge seller once it hits the video market. But as far as I’m concerned, it will rank towards the bottom of the list of the 16 Pixar movies that have been released.

Love the Coopers

By Jon Gallagher

Love The Coopers (CBS Films, 2015) – Director: Jesse Nelson. Writer: Steven Rogers (s/p). Stars: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Alex Borstein, Timothee Chalamet, Amanda Seyfried, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde, Jake Lacy, & Steve Martin. Color, PG-13, 107 minutes.

We have a tradition in the Gallagher family.

On Black Friday, my girls and I always head for a movie and dinner. It started about 20 years ago when the two older girls’ mother would go shopping on Black Friday (that was before the stores started opening at ungodly hours of the morning or on Thanksgiving) and I would take the girls to a movie, then out for pizza.

Since it was an annual event, we all had parts to play. The first year was a complete surprise when I herded two young girls, probably five and 10 years old, into the car without them having a clue where we were going. We wound up at a movie theater, a true treat for them since we rarely went to a theater to see a movie. After the first year, the girls had to pretend that they didn’t know where we were going, and I had to pretend that they didn’t know.

Now the tables are reversed a little. Kelly, my oldest daughter, picks me up and I’m the one who has to pretend that I don’t know where we’re going. As I get older, I find it’s easier to pretend. The middle daughter, Erin, now either comes to my place to ride along or meets us at the theater or restaurant, depending.

My youngest daughter, Caroline, began joining us three years ago when she was eight. Her mother’s family celebrates Thanksgiving on a different day each year, so her joining us depends on when they celebrate.

This year, work schedules and life in general had us attending the movie on Saturday, the day after Black Friday, the day that Caroline’s mother’s family decided to have their celebration, so she didn’t get to attend this year.

In the past years, we’ve seen movies such as Home Alone IICheaper by the DozenThe BachelorWreck-it RalphMorning GloryPolar ExpressFrozenDelivery ManPenguins of Madagascar, and Four Christmases. Some have been winners, some real stinkers, but the best part is being able to spend time with the three most important people in my life.

I had to keep remembering that thought this year as we went to see Love the Coopers.

An all-star cast with Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Amanada Seyfried, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, and Olivia Wilde promised to entertain us for nearly two hours. The previews, which showed four generations of a dysfunctional family attempting to reassemble themselves for a Christmas Eve dinner, are probably the best part of the movie.

There’s a valiant attempt to weave four or five subplots into the fabric of the movie itself. Unfortunately, instead of coming out with a beautifully woven pattern in a warm fuzzy blanket, we’re left with a bland, boring, monochromatic beach towel with a few stains.

Alan Arkin is the patriarch of the Cooper family (even though his last name isn’t Cooper – he’s the father of Mrs. Cooper) who shows up at a café every day to see a certain waitress (Seyfried). Their relationship is one of the stories.

Mr. and Mrs. Cooper (Goodman and Keaton) are the focal point of the story since it’s their house where the dinner will take place. The only problem is that after 40 years of marriage, they’re planning a divorce and this will be their last Christmas dinner as a family.

Mrs. Cooper’s sister (Tomei) is arrested for shoplifting on her way to the dinner and her psychoanalysis of the arresting officer gives us another one-dimensional part of the story.

The Cooper’s son (Helms) has just lost his photographer’s job at Sears to a computer, a fact he’s trying to hide from his family as he looks for work. He has a couple of teenage boys, one who’s at the awkward stage of just being interested in girls, and the other at the age of being a real pain in the ass to his older brother.

The most interesting story belongs to the Cooper daughter Eleanor (Wilde) who is on her way home alone. She meets a young soldier (Lacy) at the airport and convinces him to come home with her and pretend to be her boyfriend for the evening. Their interaction, as predictable as the alphabet, is somewhat entertaining, but possibly because it’s the only real interesting subplot in the movie.

There’s also a short-lived exploration into the life of an elderly aunt who’s afflicted with Alzheimer’s that attempts to come off as funny, but misses the mark. I thought maybe they were trying to convey sadness in the failed attempt at humor, but they miss that mark too.

Although the movie never got to the point of me wanting to walk out, it did have me checking my watch about every 15 minutes starting at the one-hour mark, wondering how much longer we had.

Kelly didn’t dislike the movie. She said that even though it was predictable, it left her with a good feeling, which is why she goes to movies.

Erin found it “cheesy” and “unrealistic in so many ways.” 

Personally, I was bored, but didn’t hate the movie. I just didn’t really like it all that well. Since I save the lowest grades for movies that I absolutely hate, I’ll give this one a D. I wouldn’t rent it when it comes out on video, even when it hits the bargain bin, and probably wouldn’t bother to watch it on TV either, unless it just happened to be on and I was too lazy to hunt for the remote.

One humorous side note: Erin has just completed her first trimester at Knox College, my alma mater. Knox is a private school with a reputation for producing a lot of artsy-fartsy types. While at dinner before the movie, we were discussing commencement speakers that Knox has had in the past including Barack Obama (when he was just a senator), Bill Clinton (after he’d left office), John Podesta (Clinton’s chief of staff and Knox graduate), Stephen Colbert, and a comedian whose name we couldn’t remember (even though I spent time interviewing him for a local paper). We got to the movie where Erin and I almost shouted in unison, “Ed Helms! That’s the guy!” Ironic: we’d talked about him, couldn’t remember him, then we went to see his movie…

The Martian 

A Tale of Two Survivals

By Jon Gallagher

The Martian (20th Century Fox, 2015) – Director: Ridley Scott. Writers: Drew Goddard (s/p), Andy Weir (book). Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mackensie Davis, Donald Glover, Nick Mohammed, & Chen Shu. Color, Rated PG-13, 144 minutes.

The story of Ridley Scott’s The Martian is a tale of survival and how a man left behind on the planet Mars has to fend for himself and manage to survive on limited resources until help arrives. Ironically, the theater in which I saw this movie is also in its own battle for survival, so much so that this may be the last movie shown on its screen for some time.

A little background is called for here. I live in a town of about 2,000 people. The theater here is over 100 years old and was once a vaudeville theater before becoming a movie house, complete with the black and white silent movies before moving on to talkies, and finally Technicolor and Dolby. The current owner has laid claim to the place for more than 30 years; he’s seen it all, and it’s been a nice little moneymaker for him over the years. From his humble beginnings here in town, he has, over the years, owned or co-owned as many as four theaters with more than 15 screens total.

He’s been a survivor himself. While all the other small towns around us have closed their theaters, ours has stayed open. If you don’t like the movie playing here in town (it’s a single screen), then your only other option is to rent something, or drive at least 30 miles to the nearest theater.

When I moved to town 13 years ago, you could get a seat in the theater for just two bucks. You certainly couldn’t beat that! You couldn’t even rent a movie that cheap, and the theater was running current movies. We might not have gotten them on the release date, but we had them within a couple weeks of their release. There was no pressure from the big chains to keep our theater from getting first-run flicks because they knew our little 400-seat theater wasn’t going to hurt them a bit.

About six years ago, the owner decided to step into the 21st century and raise his prices a bit. They skyrocketed to $3 per seat, and, of course, there were complaints from the town folk who complain about everything.

Shortly after raising his prices, however, an F-3 tornado came through town and took direct aim at the theater. It ripped out a good portion of the west wall and took off the roof, depositing it half inside the theater and half on the building next door. Eighty people watching a movie when the theater was hit were miraculously spared; there wasn’t a single injury.

The power to the theater had gone out and so, with no movie to watch, everyone got up to file out. When the twister hit, all 80 people were either in the lobby, or under the balcony and managed to avoid the falling roof. Amazing!

Unfortunately, the owner was underinsured. When the insurance company wrote him a check for repairs, it didn’t even cover half of what needed to be done. He was ready to pay off loans he had taken out, and close up shop.

The citizens of our town wouldn’t hear of it. They convinced him to forge ahead. He asked for donations from the town folk, and they came through, covering the rest of the repairs to his place. It took a year, but the theater rose from the rubble and was once again operating.

He jacked ticket prices to $4. Still, that was a bargain compared to the theaters in the big city some 30 miles away, so people griped about it, but paid out their money anyway, even though they might have been one of the donors.

While he updated the theater, installing new seats and improved lighting, he inexplicably failed to update his projector. He continued to operate with a film projector while all the other bigger theaters in the bigger towns converted to digital projectors.

Two years after reopening, he came to the citizens of our town again. He was going to have to close his doors because his equipment was outdated. Most of the movie companies were distributing their films on digital now, not on film. He cited the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson, as a movie he would like to have shown but couldn’t because it wasn’t available on film.

The bottom line: He needed $50,000 to upgrade to a digital projection system. Once again, he asked for donations.

Once the projector was installed, prices went to $5 a seat. Once again his way of saying “Thank you” to those who contributed.

Now here it is a little over a year later. He’s supposedly defaulted on some of his loans. The theater is up for sale. The rumor around town last weekend was that this was the theater’s final week. The bank, which held the notes on the place, was tired of waiting on its money, and could come in and shut him down at any moment.

So as the owner struggles to survive (he still lives in a luxurious home in an exclusive neighborhood, drives new vehicles, and continues to finance his wife’s singing career including her tour bus), the main character in The Martian deals with a different kind of struggle to survive.

Matt Damon is Mark Watney, an astronaut who’s part of a six-member crew exploring the surface of Mars. A storm causes them to abort the mission, but Watney is struck by flying debris and the crew leaves him behind, assuming that he’s dead.

He’s not, but no one knows that for about the first 20 to 30 minutes of the movie. While a dejected crew heads for home, NASA officials notice that things are moving around the red planet when they study still photos of the surface. They discover that Watney is alive and devise a way to communicate with him. After establishing contact, they begin to work on a solution to bring him back to Earth.

Unless there is conflict in a movie, it gets boring very fast. English teachers (which I used to be) tell us that there are three kinds of conflict: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. Obviously the conflict here is man vs. nature, even though nature is Mars’ nature, not our own.

The problem I had with this movie is that even though there is the obvious conflict of how Watney is going to survive until we can send him either provisions or help, director Scott doesn’t do a very good job of creating urgency. It seems that Watney has enough food to last him for a while, and he learns how to grow more in a “greenhouse” that he constructs, so we never really feel that there’s a chance he’ll starve to death.

Watney is presented with a multitude of problems, yet I never got the feeling of a rollercoaster ride like with most “disaster” movies. The peaks and valleys of this particular ride are interesting, yet I never felt the characters were in great danger until near the end of the film.

A good portion of the film is very geeky. I didn’t understand hardly anything about the jet propulsion theories or how scripts were rewritten to override computers. Instead of trying to understand, my brain just switched off and put it in simple terms like, “Oh, he fixed the chat window thing on his computer so he can talk now.” My older brother went to the movie with me and he said that he didn’t need to know all the particulars of “how” either. He was satisfied with just knowing something either worked, or didn’t.

One particularly strong point of the movie is the use of Watney’s video blog. By using this device we get to see his inner thoughts and the apprehension he feels (maybe it’s because he’s got such a positive outlook that I didn’t feel the sense of urgency as mentioned earlier). In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks plays off a volleyball (Wilson) with dialogue; the video blog by Damon works every bit as well and was a major part of the movie.

There were other things that bothered me. Throughout the movie we see clouds in the sky. I always thought you needed water to create water vapor which is what clouds are made out of, so when I got home, I did some research and found out that clouds are possible on other planets despite the absence of water. Had they explained, maybe in one of the video blogs, about the clouds, maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me as much. Then again, I may be the only person who cared about it.

Another part of the movie that caused me to make my “yeah, sure” face is during the attempted rescue. Crowds gathered in Times Square, Tiananmen Square, and in London to watch the rescue live on TV.

Sorry, Charlie, but I don’t think crowds gather in Times Square for anything other than a ball dropping once a year. These people would be more likely sitting at home or in their office, following the live broadcast on their smart phones. Crowds like that haven’t gathered since probably World War II.

There is one scene in the movie that may be too intense for kids under about 14. After Watney finds himself marooned, he also finds that he’s been impaled by a satellite antennae. He removes it himself and stitches up the wound, all without the use of anesthesia, and it is pretty graphic. Those with weak stomachs may need to look away. On the plus side, Damon gets to show off his acting chops as he reacts to the pain that he’s putting himself through.

Jeff Daniels plays the head of NASA, Teddy Sanders, and does a good job. There are times when we’re not sure if he’s a good guy who’s just trying to cover his own ass or if he’s a bad guy who is purposefully sabotaging the mission, and I, for one, was left still guessing as I left the theater.

Chiwetel Ejiofor tackles the role of Vincent Kapoor, the astronauts’ advocate here on Earth. He did an outstanding job showing restrained anger, an emotion that is very easy to overact. More emphasis on his role might have added to the non-existent rollercoaster ride I keep talking about.

I’ve said a lot of negative things about the movie, so you might get the impression that I didn’t like it. Not true. I enjoyed the film, though at times, it dragged enough that it threatened to put me to sleep. I thought the storyline was good, the performances were good, and the ending was more than satisfying. There were just enough little things that bugged me that when thrown together, it sounds like a negative review.

Still, I wanted that rollercoaster ride. I didn’t get it until the very end of the movie (when I did move up to the edge of my seat). It was a better than average movie, but it loses points for the slow parts.

All in all, I’ll give it a B-. I probably won’t rent it on DVD. I would recommend seeing it in the theater if you have any interest because the small screen (even if you’ve got a drive-in movie theater sized TV) just won’t do it justice.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

By Jon Gallagher

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (WB, 2015) – Director: Guy Ritchie. Writers: Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram (s/p). Jeff Kleeman, Guy Ritchie, David C. Wilson, & Lionel Wigram (story). Based on the Television Series by Sam Rolfe. Cast: Henry Cavill, Arnie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Luca Calvani, Sylvester Groth, Hugh Grant, Jared Harris, Christian Berkel, Misha Kuznetsov, Guy Williams, Marianna Di Martino, Julian Michael Deuster, Andrea Cagliesi, & Riccardo Calvanese. Color, PG-13, 116 minutes.

When I was in grade school, recess was often spent “playing” TV shows. We’d run out on the playground and announce the name of the show we were going to play, then we’d shout out the name of the character we were going to play like we were calling “shotgun” on a road trip.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a TV show at the time and everyone wanted to play Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) because his name was fun to say, and because he was cool (he was a Russian). Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) was also pretty cool and he was the other main character. They worked together for the United Network Command of Law and Enforcement, which was pretty amazing in itself, since the United States was in the middle of the Cold War with Russia.

They were spies and spies were hot, mainly because of James Bond. We played James Bond, too, and we had a whole bunch of double-0 spies on the playground. The trouble was, we were all too young to understand what all this spy business was about. Our whole “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” play consisted of a couple of us running around introducing ourselves to “bad guys,” then either trying to beat them up or shooting them.

Yes, back in the early 60s, they let us bring play guns to school. School administrators and parents alike would absolutely lose their minds if that happened today. But back then, no one broke into schools and shot them up and there were no such thing as gangs in rural west-central Illinois. The only thing we had to worry about, according to my dad, were the “Damn Commies.” If a Damn Commie broke into our school, we’d be sure to recognize him because ... well, because he was a damn commie!!! I’m sure that he would have been accommodating enough to wear a t-shirt or something that said “Damn Commie” on it for our benefit.

Even in those innocent days, toy manufacturers recognized the value of TV and movie tie-ins. There was a boatload of Man From U.N.C.L.E. toys including cameras that turned into guns, pens with invisible or disappearing ink, and briefcases filled with guns and other weaponry that might be needed to fend off Damn Commies. My briefcase, which I begged Santa to bring, could actually fire white bullet-shaped projectiles without even opening the case. It was cool! No one in my family could figure out how to reload those projectiles to get them to fire again, but it was cool while it lasted. I’m sure that my Man From U.N.C.L.E. briefcase lies in repose next to many of my other childhood toys, including a small fortune in comic books and baseball cards, in a landfill somewhere around my hometown.

Enough. We’ve got a movie to get to. I was anxious to see the newest version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when I heard it was being made into a motion picture. Then I heard that Superman (Cavill) and the Lone Ranger (Hammer) would play Solo and Kuryakin respectively, and I rolled my eyes. This couldn’t be good.

The premise of the movie is that an American CIA operative (Cavill) is sent to extract a German woman (Vikander) from East Berlin during the middle of the Cold War. The CIA is interested in her estranged father who worked for Hitler and the Nazis, and they think they can use her to draw him out. The KGB wants to keep her on the Communist side of the Berlin Wall and enlist Ilya to keep Solo from taking her across. The first 20 minutes or so feature these two trying to kill each other and displaying some of their formidable skills.

Solo is successful, but then finds himself teamed with Kuryakin to find the missing scientist. It comes across as a cop-buddy plot with these two hating, yet respecting, each other. There’s only so far you can go with that formula before it’s been done before, and this movie is no exception.

The thing that sets this movie apart is the constant plot twists. Those who insist that a plot be tight and believable might as well stay home. Those of us who are willing to suspend our disbelief for a couple hours and will put up with minor inconsistencies will enjoy the movie. I’ll admit I didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I managed to follow along closely enough.

The movie, like the TV show, is done with the tongue planted in the cheek, but not so that it makes it a campy movie. Gadgets aren’t overdone, and the ironic parts will elicit a smile, if not a good chuckle from the audience.

Cavill does a decent job playing Robert Vaughn. He seems to have studied Vaughn’s portrayal of Solo in the original TV series, and he has it down pretty well. The character is one who cannot be flustered (at least outwardly) and comes across as a little cocky. I liked him a lot better in this role than I did as The Man of Steel.

Hammer is very good as Iyla. He maintains a decent Russian accent throughout and allows his facial expressions to convey a good deal of the story, which is always a plus for actors with that ability. He was much better – eons better – than his Lone Ranger character.

Everyone else is okay with no special mentions.

The movie ends and is prime for a sequel. They don’t even tell you what U.N.C.L.E. stands for until the closing credits.

I hope they do make a sequel. I’d go see it. I enjoyed this one enough to give it an A-.

The Lone Ranger

By Jon Gallagher

The Lone Ranger (Disney, 2013) – Director: Gore Verbinski. Cast: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter, James Badge Dale, Bryant Prince, Barry Pepper, Saginaw Grant, & Mason Elston Cook. Color, 149 minutes.

Let me be clear about something right up front: I don’t like reboots. It flat out pisses me off that some idiot thinks that he’s got a better idea of how a story should be told, so he changes what the original author or screenwriter created to mold characters and situations to better fit the rebooter’s vision of a better story.

If the original author or screenwriter had wanted it that way, that’s the way he (or she) would have written it!

Over the last several years, we’ve sat through and endless parade of Batmen, Supermen, Spidermen, Fantastic Fours (Would that be Fantastic Eight? Elite Eight?), and even the Lone Ranger.

Speaking of the Lone Ranger…

I realize the movie came out a couple of years ago, but after reading one horrible review after another, I decided my money would be better spent on other frivolous things rather than a ticket or even a rental. I waited for the film to appear on Encore (which my cable company thinks I should have) and watched it On Demand instead.

I’m glad I saved my money.

The movie is little more than a vehicle for Johnny Depp to display his versatility as an actor. Evidently he was so concerned that he might be recognized in his role as Tonto that he spent most of the movie hiding behind face paint that made him look more like “the Crow” version of professional wrestler Sting than it did an Indian.

The plot, along with the origin of the Lone Ranger, is absolutely horrid. Depp had to be “the star” of the film, so they centered the movie more around the Indian sidekick than they did on the masked man. Armie Hammer dons the mask to hide his identity of John Reid.

We begin the movie with a little kid dressed like the Lone Ranger entering a carnival sideshow that depicts the old West. When he gets to the display of an Indian in his “natural habitat,” he discovers that the wax figure is actually a human being: Depp under several pounds of prosthetics, which was no doubt modeled after Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. After the curious little kid asks a bunch of questions, Tonto reveals the origin of this incarnation of the Lone Ranger.

Of course, since Depp is the star, we have to have Tonto looking good, so he comes off as the brains of the duo, reprising his Captain Jack Sparrow character at times, teaching his protégé, a bumbling nerdish attorney how to be a man in the Wild Wild West. The attorney is John Reid (Hammer), who is the brother of Texas Ranger Dan Reid.

The evil, cannibalistic Butch Cavendish is being taken to his hanging when he escapes with the help of his gang and kills everyone who is trying to transport him. John survives having been deputized by his brother, and shocks Tonto as the Indian is trying to bury Cavendish’s massacre.

The main problem I had with the film (other than a really horrific scene in which Cavendish becomes cannibalistic – that should NEVER have made the final cut of a DISNEY movie) is that director Gore Verbinski couldn’t figure out if he wanted to offer up a straight Western drama or a comedy or a parody of the old West. There are times when he attempts to do all three, and it just doesn’t work. Combine that with the frustration of those of us who grew up seeing the Lone Ranger as a hero, and you can get a better idea of why movie-goers stayed away in droves; word of mouth gets around fast.

The last 40 minutes of the movie aren’t bad at all. There’s a sequence where the bad guys are battling the good guys on a pair of trains that are, for the most part, chasing each other along a newly laid set of tracks. Most of it is CGI, but done well enough to be exciting and only a little distracting (when something unbelievable happens like Silver galloping along atop one of the trains). The thing is this whole scene could have been done just as effectively without the Lone Ranger and Tonto. With the Lone Ranger in the cast, HE needs to be the focus, not the special effects.

One other thing that bothered me a lot was the use of the “William Tell Overture.” Ever since the days of radio, the Lone Ranger theme has been used for every single incarnation of the character. It was used here during the “chase” scene with the trains, but it didn’t work well. I think it was mainly because the action on the screen didn’t match the rhythm of the music, and that might have been too difficult to do. However, the swells and crescendos didn’t match what was going on movie-wise either, and that made it somewhat distracting. Had I been the director, I would have hired the orchestra AFTER the fact and let the conductor watch the movie as he was arranging the score. That obviously wasn’t done and the end result came across as Verbinski saying, “Oh yeah! We gotta include that music thing! I’ll just stick it in here.”

I won’t be as harsh as some have been. The chase scene saved it from getting a failing grade, but it only pulled the grade up to a D. My advice, had this been an assignment of mine when I was a teacher, would have been, “Pick out what theme you’re going to use (comedy, parody, whatever) and stick with it throughout.”


By Jon Gallagher

Aloha (Columbia, 2015) – Director: Cameron Crowe. Writer: Cameron Crowe. Stars: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, Bill Camp, Jaeden Lieberher, Danielle Rose Russell, Michael Chernus, Edi Gathegi, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, Elizabeth Marvel, & Ivana Milicevic. Color, PG-13, 105 minutes.

I wanted to see this movie when it was in the theaters, but it never made it to my small town and by the time I was able to make it into the “big city,” it had been pulled from screens. With an illustrious cast including eye candy Rachel McAdams and Emma Stone, plus the comedic talents of Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, and John Krasinski, the film was written and directed by one of my favorites, Cameron Crowe (Almost FamousJerry Maguire). Bradley Cooper had the male lead, giving us a decent actor and eye candy for the ladies. What could go wrong?

I don’t know, but something sure did.

Cooper plays a former Air Force pilot who has gone over to the private sector. His boss (Murray) sends him to Hawaii to oversee the launch of a new privately owned satellite. There, he finds his former lover (McAdams) who is married (to Krasinski), with a couple of teenage kids. Stone plays Allison Ng, an Air Force pilot who is assigned to watch over Gilcrest (Cooper) while he’s on the island.

McAdams and Krasinski’s marriage is on thin ice, so the insertion of a former lover certainly complicates things. Meanwhile, Allison is practically throwing herself at Gilcrest in an attempt to hook up, but he is not the least bit interested (What’s wrong with that man???).

Part of Gilcrest’s assignment is to negotiate a land swap with a descendent of King Kamehameha. Allison helps to guide him even though he’s more than familiar with Hawaiian customs, traditions, and legends.

The whole problem is that the billionaire (Murray) launching the satellite included a nuclear device, turning it into a weapon, which will make him the most powerful man in the world. Allison finds out that Gilcrest knows about the weapon and has sold out for money.

The movie is supposed to be a romantic comedy, so the love story of Gilcrest being torn between Allison and Tracy (McAdams) covers the romantic part of the equation. The comedy part is supplied by Baldwin in his role of an over-the-top general who wants to make sure the deal goes through without a lot of thought towards “how.” Murray is good as the eccentric, power-hungry billionaire.

Unfortunately, Crowe attempts to appeal to everyone with this script. He’s got the romantic part for the ladies, the plot part for the guys who the ladies drag to the movie, and in case the plot doesn’t do it, he’s got Stone and McAdams for aesthetic value.

It was Bill “the Evil Bartender” Cosby who once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” Crowe should have listened to him when he attempted to do just that.

Maybe revealing the plot a little earlier would have helped. The first 20 minutes of the movie seemed to drag and at one point had me seriously considering turning off the DVD player. I stuck it out till the end, which did have its moments; it just took too long to get there.

There was one very tender moment towards the end when two of the characters make a discovery that has been hinted at throughout the movie, and I found that satisfying.

No one was horrible. McAdams and Baldwin were most remarkable in their roles, but not good enough to save the film for me.

I’ll give it a D. Don’t bother renting it, but wait for it to hit free TV if you’re still interested in seeing it.

Jurassic World 

By Jon Gallagher

Jurassic World (Amblin/Universal, 2015) – Director: Colin Trevorrow. Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow, & Derek Connolly (s/p). Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver (story). Michael Crichton (characters). Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus, Brian Tee, Nick Robinson, & Katie McGrath. Color and 3D, 124 minutes, Rated PG-13.

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon and the theater in our small town is offering matinees for a buck off the regular $5 admission price. Jurassic World has just been held over for a second week and my oldest daughter and two oldest grandkids have recommended it. Then again, I have to remember that they recommended Transformers, so I gather my four bucks together and walk across the street.

Jurassic World is the fourth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise which began all the way back in 1993 with Stephen Spielberg directing Michael Crichton’s screenplay of his own novel. Sequels would follow in 1997 and 2001 with Jurassic Park: the Lost World and Jurassic Park III.

SPOILER ALERT:  No lawyers are eaten during this movie. Damn!

The other movies followed a similar plot path: scientists recreated dinosaurs, put them on display for the public to see, and then were surprised when the dinosaurs broke loose and started munching on people. I wondered what a fourth movie would add that was new.

The answer is, “not much.”

In this movie, scientists have genetically engineered a dinosaur, bigger than any previously known overgrown lizard. This one is bigger, badder, faster, more intelligent, and seemingly unstoppable. Fortunately, he’s in a special pen on the north side of the island.

The south side of the island has reopened to tourists and features the very latest in dinosaur technology. There’s a petting zoo (I did not make that up), an archeological dig, and a “ride” where you are seated in a “hamster ball” that keeps you upright all the time but rolls amongst the roaming wild dinosaurs.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, an administrator with the Jurassic World owners who is trying to increase attendance at the theme park while playing host to her two teenage nephews who are visiting her while their parents sort out a potential divorce. She is in charge of the project that will unveil the “Indominus Rex,” the villain of the movie who is available for naming rights. The teens are played by Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins.

There are plenty of mid-level bad guys to choose from as well. Irrfan Khan is Masrani, one of the owners of the park; Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays the military guy who sees the new creation as the Army’s new secret weapon; and B.D. Wong, who is the guy who mixed the DNA to create the new species.  

Our hero is Owen (Pratt), a bad ass animal trainer who has developed a relationship with four Velociraptors (a velociraptor whisperer???) who also somehow has all the skills of a special ops/Jedi knight.

The plot goes the way of all these types of movies whether it’s Jaws or Predator. The big bad freak of nature (or the lab or aliens as the case may be) gets loose and starts to terrorize innocent people. The administration keeps denying the danger until the body count is too high to ignore at which point the good guy (Owen) starts to right the ship. In this case, the two teenagers are in the park in danger and Claire enlists Owen’s help to try and rescue them. Meanwhile, the Indominus Rex is able to survive attacks from other dinosaurs, humans, and machines with no real damage.

The movie is heavy with CGI, but then, where do you find stock footage of dinosaurs attacking each other and terrorizing humans? If you go into the movie accepting that fact, you’ll like it a lot better than if you don’t. If you can’t accept the CGI, then you may expect Fred and Barney to come rolling to the rescue at any moment.

Pratt is nothing special in the starring role. Of course, they weren’t looking for Academy Award winning performances here. This movie was driven by visuals and not by plot nor performances. Owen is a likeable hero, but he really brings nothing special to the role. I think any of today’s leading men could have been put in the role and the results would have been the same – a likeable hero.

D’Onofrio is quite different from his Law & Order character and does show off some of his acting chops here. His character comes off as being a little to the left of insane, creeping that way inches at a time till his true character is finally revealed.

The movie on a whole was fun and enjoyable. It was just different enough from the original three to keep me entertained, and it offered the traditional roller-coaster of emotions expected from a thriller. It also left the possibility open to sequels, and no doubt will, given the box office draw this movie enjoyed.

I’ll give it a solid B. I wasn’t thrilled with the last couple lines of dialogue, as they brought to mind the end of San Andreas (which I previously reviewed). Had they tried to develop the characters a little more and not tried to impress me so much with the CGI, it might have gotten into the A range.

About 25 other people from town also decided that it was a lazy Sunday perfect for taking in a movie. It was a good mix of ages from pre-teen to grandparent age, and everyone seemed to enjoy the film.

The Princess Bridge


By Jon Gallagher

The Princess Bride (20th Century Fox, 1987) – Director: Rob Reiner. Writer: William Goldman (book & S/p). Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk, Peter Cook, Mel Smith, Carol Kane, Billy Crystal, & Anne Dyson. Color, 98 minutes, PG.

When The Princess Bride first came to the theaters some 28 years ago, I didn’t go see it. It didn’t sound like the kind of movie that would interest me.

When it went to video, I didn’t rush out to the video store to grab a copy. Again, I just wasn’t interested in seeing something called “The Princess Bride.” That sounded like a chick flick if ever there was one, or something my (then) four-year-old might eventually watch.

At the time it came out on video, I was editing and publishing an insider’s newsletter that covered professional wrestling. One of my staff members, Jeff Siegel, called me and urged me to go out and rent the movie as soon as possible. “Yeah, right. I’ll get right on that,” I remember saying to him.

He told me that a popular wrestler, Andre the Giant, was in the movie and was quite good. He also said there was an inside joke where Andre told another character that people in masks could not be trusted. At the time, Andre was wrestling under a mask as the not-very-well-disguised Giant Machine.

To appease Jeff, and in the interest of being able to make fun of the movie in my newsletter, I went out and rented it.

It immediately became one of my all-time favorite movies. My kids love it, my ex-wives both love it; I even showed it to my Advanced Senior English class that I taught at a local high school, and they went absolutely nuts over it.

Anyone who has seen it is probably nodding their head with a big smile on their face, going “Yep. Been there, done that.”

The reason I bring all this up and am reviewing a movie that is 28 years old is because we have a theater in my old hometown of Galesburg, Illinois, that shows “throwback” movies every Thursday during the summer. So far this summer they’ve offered Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Ghosts of Mississippi, with SupermanFerris Bueller’s Day OffHookToy StorySingin’ in the Rain, and Beetlejuice yet to come. Admission is free (although they do offer outrageously-priced concessions) and there is a matinee and an evening show.

Built originally as a vaudeville theater, the Orpheum has played host to a virtual who’s who in entertainment over the years. It began showing movies, and remained a movie theater from the 40s through the 80s when multiplex theaters became the way to make money rather than a single screen. Since, the Orpheum has been refurbished to its heyday, with a huge, ornate crystal chandelier in the lobby, stage for local theater groups or visiting troupes, private parties, concerts, and of course, movies.

Seating in the 946-seat theater is spread throughout three levels. The main floor seats 438 with a mezzanine level that holds 108 wrapping around the main level like a horseshoe. A steep balcony looks down on everything and will hold 400.

I had never seen The Princess Bride on the big screen, so when it was announced, my oldest daughter, her husband, and two of their three kids offered to take me (figuring that the nine month old wouldn’t care one way or another if True Love triumphed or not).

I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to other classic movies where people showed up dressed as their favorite characters. When I saw The Wizard of Oz a few years ago, several women came dressed either as Dorothy or the Wicked Witch. Star Wars brought out a whole cast of Darth Vaders, Luke Skywalkers, Obi-Wan Kenobis, and C-3POs.

I didn’t want to overdress, just in case no one showed up in costume, so I wore a t-shirt.

I’m glad. No one else showed up in any type of costume. In fact, only 159 people showed up for the matinee.

The Princess Bride has given us so many iconic lines that I figured that they would be repeated en masse whenever they were delivered on screen. “Anybody want a peanut?” “Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means,” “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die,” and of course, my all time favorite, “Have fun stormin’ the castle!” were all just begging to be delivered in stereo, yet the audience here allowed the actors to have the lines to themselves.

Most of the reason for that was because of how the audience was made up. Most of the attendees were grandparents or parents with a number of children in tow.

We sat in the mezzanine, which negated the effect of the big screen. Since we were at the level of the top of the screen, it had the effect of watching the movie on perhaps a 32-inch TV. The audio was okay, but nothing spectacular. As it turns out, we were watching a DVD of the movie, not even a blue-ray copy. That was being projected onto the screen and the stereo sound came from the disc, and wasn’t even in Dolby.

But the movie, with its cast of wonderful characters, remained as charming, funny, and entertaining as ever. The audience cheered at the right moments and erupted in applause at the end. It still gets an A+ in my book.

I went to the lobby, watched people file out, and listened to what they had to say. It was then that I realized why no one had repeated the lines in the movie. Most people in the audience were young enough that they had never seen the movie before. There were even parents who had not seen it.

One mother gushed, “That was awesome! We need to rent that and show it to (the whole family)!” 

A grandfatherly type was smiling and shaking his head. “I’m sure glad the kids dragged me to this!” he said to the theater manager.

Next week, they’re showing Superman, the original Christopher Reeve movie that started his career as the Man of Steel.

We should go to that,” my daughter said.

As you wish,” my son-in-law and I replied in unison.

For those of you who are fans of The Princess Bride and can quote at least four of the iconic lines from the movie, there’s some required reading for you.

Cary Elwes, who of course plays Westley, has written a book called As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. It is a fascinating account of how the movie was put together including anecdotes about how he and Mandy Patinkin refused to use doubles in their sword fight and how they learned to duel in the hands of master swordsmen, how he (Elwes) got knocked out cold by wanting to make another scene look real, and how Andre was a gentle giant, putting everyone at ease, and using his huge hands to help keep cast members warm during frigid temperatures.

Barnes and Noble had it for just $5.38. I highly recommend it.


Little Facts Mean A Lot

By Jon Gallagher

A long time ago (20 years), in a galaxy far, far away (Galesburg, Illinois), I did a radio show once a week called the J. L. Newton Rock ‘n’ Fun Show. I had started doing the show as a non-traditional student on the college radio station in town (WVKC – the VOICE of Knox College), and when I graduated, a local FM station contacted me to continue the show on commercial radio (WGBQ-FM, Q-93).

On the show, I played oldies, introduced songs with bits of trivia about the song, and even took trips in our Magical, Mystical, Musical Time Machine back to whatever date we were on, to a year somewhere between 1960 and 1985. I’d play the top 20 songs in countdown order from that date, looked at magazine covers that had come out that week, read the top stories that had appeared in both local and Chicago newspapers, and covered what movies were at local theaters (most of which didn’t exist anymore) and TV shows that were on that night. It took a lot of research, but it was a ton of fun, and it gave me four hours a week on Sunday nights to relax with music and escape from life. Even after I became a high school English teacher (after all, I had gone to college for that), I continued to do the show (without my students knowing it) because it was so much fun. I’d probably still be doing it today if the owner of the station hadn’t sold it to a company I wouldn’t have worked for no matter what kind of money they paid (I’d have done the show for free for the first owners – and practically did!).

I bring all this up to give you a rather long-winded explanation of how I came across what this particular entry is about. I miss doing the show and the trivia that goes with it, so at the suggestion of a few friends, I put together a Facebook page called the Rootin’ Tootin’ J. L. Newton Rock ‘n’ Fun Show page where each morning I post an almanac of what happened on that date, plus trivia and a song of the day.

When I wrote the June 8 entry, I found that Ghostbusters had come out 31 years ago on that date. Ghostbusters is a timeless classic (that will be remade and released in 2016 with female stars) that is just as good today as it was 31 years ago. While researching it, I found out a lot of things I didn’t know.

The movie was conceived quite differently than the finished product. Originally named “Ghost Smashers” by writer Dan Aykroyd, it was supposed to take place in the future, not the present, and Ghostbuster units were to be found at every fire station, just like paramedics and other first responders. John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, and Aykroyd were to star. The problem was, with all the special effects written into the original futuristic version, the budget would have been (according to director Ivan Reitman) over $300 million in 1984 dollars!

Instead, they decided to make it present day. The ghostbusters would wear SWAT uniforms and instead of carrying bulky equipment, they would dispel the evil spirits with special magic wands.

While retooling the original, Belushi died from a drug overdose, and Chevy Chase was offered his part. He declined because he felt the original script was “too dark.” Bill Murray stepped into the Belushi role, but only under the condition that the studio remake the movie Razor’s Edge with him as the star. John Candy signed on, but quit the cast early on when he felt that his ideas were not being used. Murphy was offered Beverly Hills Cop, so Ernie Hudson took his role. Michael Keaton was offered a part as either lead character, but he turned it down.

John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Walken, and Jeff Goldblum were all considered for a role in the film, but Harold Ramis, one of the writers, finally decided that he himself was best suited to play Dr. Egon Spengler.

Whenever things would happen unexpectedly on the set (whether by accident, or accidently on purpose), the cast and crew would blame it on the ghost of Belushi. More than once, someone said that they hoped that busting the ghosts on the film would hurt John’s ghost.

Although there was a script, a good part of the movie was improvised. In fact, Murray never recited a single line the way it was written. He had ad-libbed his way through Caddyshack four years earlier and it worked so well that they allowed him to do it in this film as well.

During a battle with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Aykroyd’s character mentions roasting marshmallows at “Camp Wokanda” when he was a boy. Camp Wokanda is one of our local parks, a former Boy Scout Camp just a little ways north of Peoria, about 35 minutes away from where I now live. I always enjoy hearing about nearby locations in movies.

The Ghostbusters theme song was also interesting. Huey Lewis was approached (as was Lindsay Buckingham) to write the theme, but he turned it down. Ray Parker Jr. took the job and didn’t have much done on it as the deadline approached. Parker saw a late night TV commercial for a New York plumber with the phrase “Who you gonna call?” and he took off from there. Ironically, Huey Lewis would later successfully sue Parker for plagiarizing his song “I Want A New Drug” with the Ghostbusters theme.

Parker rushed his song into production and he used anybody he could find for the chorus. Even his young girlfriend was used for the group that chants “Ghostbusters!” at the appropriate time in the song. Whatever he did must have worked because the song spent three weeks on the top of Billboard’s Hot 100.

The video for the song had a long list of celebrities making cameos, and a whole list of stars who didn’t make the cut for some reason or another. Appearing in no particular order: John Candy, Irene Cara, Chevy Chase, Melissa Gilbert, Al Franken, Ollie E. Brown, George Wendt, Jeffrey Tambor, Carly Simon, Danny DeVito, Terri Garr, and Peter Falk.

Director Ivan Reitman made the comment on the DVD commentary that he was so rushed to get the movie finished that many of the special effects were left unfinished. He notes several shots where wires are showing, for example. The thing is, he noted, no one really cared.

There’s even more, mundane as it may be, trivia about the film, but I’ve whetted my own appetite. I wonder if I can find it somewhere online to watch. The video store is about 20 miles away!

San Andreas

By Jon Gallagher

San Andreas (WB, 2015) – Director: Brad Peyton. Writers: Carlton Cuse (s/p), Andre Fabrizio & Jeremy Passmore (story). Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Alexandra Daddario, Ioan Gruffudd, Archie Panjabi, Paul Giamatti, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Will Yun Lee, Kylie Minogue, Colton Haynes, Todd Williams, Matt Gerald, Alec Utgoff, & Marissa Neitling. Color, 114 minutes, PG-13.

I really wanted to like this movie. The previews on TV looked good, Dwayne Johnson’s interviews on various talk shows sounded interesting, and I hadn’t seen a good roller-coaster of a disaster movie in a long time.

The problem with disaster movies is that they all follow a basic recipe: One part protagonist who warns others of some impending doom, two or more parts skeptic who don’t believe him, plus one catastrophic event that will set off a chain of events proving the protagonist correct and his skeptic(s) looking like idiots. It’s important here to mix in as many landmarks as one can find in the region where the story takes place, and destroy them with computer generated images (CGI). Combine ingredients for no more than two hours and serve to a specialized audience. In a movie from this genre, no one expects a great plot. No one goes thinking they’ll see an Academy Award worthy performance. They go for the special effects. If a plot gets tossed in that makes sense or the actors do a remarkable job (I’m thinking Jaws here), then that’s a bonus.

Although this one doesn’t fit the formula exactly, it is predictable enough that even a fraud like Uri Geller could have gotten it right.

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is the star. He plays Ray (I’m not sure he even has a last name), an L.A. firefighter who specializes in helicopter rescues. He shows off his chops in the opening sequence where a girl is rescued from a car that’s fallen into a deep ravine. He is in the process of a divorce from his wife Emma (Gugino) who is set to move in with her new boyfriend Daniel (Gruffudd). It’s obvious that Ray wants to try the marriage again, if for no other reason than their college-bound daughter Blake (Daddario). We also learn, very gradually, that Ray and Emma had a younger daughter who Ray couldn’t save from downing despite his vast skills. This appears to be the major contributing factor to their breakup.

Giamatti is a Cal Tech seismologist who has discovered how to predict earthquakes about 10 seconds before they happen. While at the Hoover Dam, studying some readings, a major quake hits and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The dam becomes the first of several landmark casualties.

Blake and Daniel take off for San Francisco in one of his private jets (he’s a big time architect) while Emma stays behind in L.A., agreeing to join them later.

Ray is dispatched with his helicopter to the Hoover Dam while Emma has lunch in L.A. (for no other reason than she needs to be saved by Ray). The earthquake at the Hoover Dam moves up the western part of the United States and hits L.A. next, toppling many tall landmark buildings as well as the famous Hollywood sign. With buildings falling around him and slamming into the blades of his whirlybird, Ray still manages to save Emma (he never does make it to Hoover Dam).

On their way to safety, they get a phone call from Blake. The earthquake has moved up the coast and is now ravishing San Francisco. Ray promises Emma that they’re going to get their daughter.

The movie is a roller coaster. The protagonists are hit with a problem only to solve it and be faced immediately with another problem more immense and deadly than the one prior.

Johnson surprised me with his acting here. Professional wrestlers have to be good actors anyway, whether we like to admit it or not, so they can sell their character to fans. Rarely do they get a chance to delve this deeply into a character, and I’ll admit Johnson did a good job.

In fact, no one did a horrible job. I was concerned for the safety of everyone involved including an English brother duo Blake befriends while at her future-stepfather’s office.

My only sticking point was the end. I thought the end, especially the last line in the film, was darn cheesy. In fact, I’m a little surprised that the character that utters it isn’t wearing a cheese head made popular by Green Bay Packers fans.

I’ll give it a C+, dropping it to that from a solid B, because of the ending. Now here are some recommendations and caveats about the movie.

If you’re going to go see it, do so in a theater, preferably in 3D. Unless you’ve got a blue-ray player with an awesome sound system, and at least a 50-inch TV, don’t wait to rent it or stream it. This one was meant to be seen on the big screen.

As long as you go in knowing that you’re not going to get a solid plot or much else other than some spectacular CGI, you should feel you got your money’s worth.

Then again, our matinee for seniors is only $6.50 for 3D movies.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

By Jon Gallagher

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (Columbia, 2015) – Director: Andy Fickman. Writers: Kevin James, Nick Bakay (s/p and characters). Stars: Kevin James, Raini Rodriguez, Eduardo Verastegui, Daniella Alonso, Neil McDonough, David Henrie, D.B. Woodside, Nicholas Turturro, Loni Love, Gary Valentine, Ana Gasteyer, Shelly Desai, Steffiana De La Cruz, Adhir Kalyan, & Bob Clendenin. Color, 94 minutes, PG.

This is not the type of movie that I usually spend money to see. However, given the chance by my oldest daughter to see it with her and my grandchildren, I jumped at the chance. I’m hooked up to oxygen 24/7 so the opportunity to go to a theater to see a movie doesn’t present itself that often. The fact that it was playing across the street along with the company I’d be keeping weighed heavily in the decision to go see this film.

This movie will never be mistaken for any sort of classic. We won’t hear the title in any discussion at or about the Academy Awards. No one will disseminate the movie for great plot twists, nor will they praise anyone for superb acting. The whole purpose of this movie was to make people forget about life for an hour and a half and perhaps get a few chuckles from them.

Given that purpose, the movie does what it set out to do.

This is a Kevin James comedy vehicle, plain and simple. If you don’t like his subtle, “I’m taking myself way too seriously with my tongue in cheek acting” humor, combined with seemingly endless slapstick humor and sight gags, then you won’t enjoy this movie at all. You have been warned.

James reprises his role as Paul Blart, the mall security guard who takes himself and his job WAY too seriously. This time, he and his daughter are in Las Vegas at a national convention of rent-a-cops and he expects to be the keynote speaker for the gala. His daughter, who is getting ready to go off to college, rebels against her over-protective father and ends up getting kidnapped by a band of high-tech art thieves who are there to loot the hotel of its pricy art collection.

It’s up to our hero to gain the respect of his peers, solve the crime (which the hotel doesn’t even know is happening) and save his daughter, all while using his finely honed skills and a lot of new gadgets that are on sale or demo for the convention.

Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers) plays Vincent, the villain of the piece, and he does an okay job as the tongue-in-cheek bad guy. There’s just so much you can do with a role like this short of turning it down.

I’ll have to admit that towards the end of the movie, the choreographed fight scene between Blart’s Legion of Super Rent-a-Cops and the Assembled Bad Guys is quite entertaining, if not predictable at times. Still, there are enough chuckles during the scene to keep it interesting and entertaining.

There are times when you don’t want to see an overly dramatic movie. There are times when you don’t care about the acting. There are times when you just want to sit down and see a “stupid-silly” movie, and this one fits the bill.

I enjoyed it for what it was. The grandkids laughed most of the way through it and at no time was I embarrassed by what was happening on screen.

I wouldn’t pay big money to go see it in a theater (our small theater is $5 a seat). As for renting it, I’d wait till it was not quite new and pick it up for a discounted price at the local video store.

I’ll give it a B-. I was expecting a lot worse.

The Judge

By Jon Gallagher

The Judge (WB, 2014) – Director: David Dobkin. Writers: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque (s/p). David Dobkin, Nick Schenk (story). Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, Dax Shepherd, Billy Bob Thornton, & Vera Farmiga. Color, 141 minutes.

Pairing Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall as an estranged son and father, then combining it with a murder mystery, seemed like a good idea with lots of potential.

Downey plays Hank Palmer, a successful Chicago attorney who will do anything within the realms of legality to get his clients off. He’s called home, a place he hasn’t been in about 10 years, to attend the funeral of his mother. His father, the small town, no-nonsense judge, the Honorable Joseph Palmer (Duvall), barely acknowledges him. The tension between the two is tight, although it seems Hank gets along fine, or as well as can be expected, with older brother Glen (D’Onofrio) and younger, mentally challenged brother Dale (Strong).

Just before Hank is scheduled to leave, his father is arrested on a murder charge. According to the charges, the judge ran down a bicyclist with whom he had a confrontational past. The judge hires a young, inexperienced lawyer (Shepherd) to defend him against the charges.

Hank sticks around to watch, and after seeing the younger lawyers strategies (or lack thereof), takes over the case himself.

I was hoping for a good old-fashioned whodunit, but it just didn’t happen. The story is straightforward with a few minor twists and turns, but no great surprises. The relationship between Hank and his father is always interesting and the interaction between characters with the backstory that intertwines itself throughout was good, but the plot itself did nothing to keep me on the edge of my seat like I had hoped that it would.

That’s not to say this is a bad movie; it just didn’t accomplish what I wanted it to accomplish.

Both Downey and Duvall are excellent in their respective roles. Thorton turns in a darn good performance as the special prosecutor brought in to represent the state (he has a personal ax to grind with Hank). There are no bad performances in the movie.

There was enough conflict between characters to keep it interesting, and the verdict is in question till the end, even though (SPOILER ALERT) we know the judge did in fact run over the victim with his car.

So why am I only giving it a C+? There were some slow parts, which made the movie seem even longer than the 141 advertised minutes. Again, I had hoped for more of a whodunit, and came away disappointed in that regard. I was pleasantly surprised at the interaction between the characters, which made up for some of my disappointment at the lack of mystery.

All in all, it was a decent movie, one that I’m glad I waited to watch on DVD or PPV rather than drive 30 miles to a theater to watch.

Grade: C+


By Jon Gallagher

Parkland (Exclusive Releasing, 2013) – Director: Peter Landesman. Writers: Peter Landesman, Vincent Bugliosi (book). Cast: Marcia Gay Harden, Zac Efron, Matt Bahr, Mallory Moye, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton, Ron Livingston, & Jacki Weaver. Color, 93 minutes.

Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy comes another movie in the seemingly endless parade of movies that recreates that historical event. We’ve seen it from documentaries to fantasies (The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald) to conspiracy theories (JFK). What more could another film do to further our knowledge or appreciation of what transpired half a century ago?

This movie promised to give us a different view. Instead of concentrating on the assassination itself or on who shot Kennedy, this movie was to focus on Parkland Hospital, the unsuspecting emergency room where Kennedy was taken moments after the shooting. It made the movie intriguing enough that the weekend it opened, I went in search of it (it was in limited release).

I found the movie about 45 minutes from home, but when I got there on a Sunday afternoon, I found it had already been pulled from the theater. Three weeks later, it was already available on DVD.

The movie begins with Kennedy’s arrival in Dallas as the opening credits roll with actual footage from the event. By the time they’re over, Abraham Zapruder is already picking his spot to record history with his Bell and Howell camera. Within seven minutes of the movie’s start, Kennedy has been shot.

True to his word, the director focuses on the resulting chaos at Parkland Hospital. Shot in cinema verite (handheld cameras), the movie shows the frantic arrival of the motorcade, the unprepared staff (who could be prepared for something like this?), and the complete pandemonium caused with Secret Service, FBI, hospital staff, and a President who is quickly losing his battle for life.

Effron is Dr. Jim Carrico, the resident in charge of the ER this day and his valiant efforts despite his exhaustion and his self doubts. Harden plays an ER nurse, a take-charge type who keeps a level head throughout. Both are wonderful in their roles.

Meanwhile, the secret service is trying to take possession of the Zapruder film from the man who shot it. Zapruder (Giamatti) is a reluctant recorder of history with his state of the art camera. He only wanted to take a movie of the President, not a murder. Thornton plays Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels, who is trying to obtain the footage. Thornton gives the movie’s best performance as an intense agent under pressure to solve the crime.

The first 45 minutes of the film are excellent. They capture the pandemonium perfectly with the handheld camera angles and the flawless acting of the entire ensemble (including extras). Most of the action is at the hospital including a standoff between the locals and the federal agents about who is going to take the president’s body. 

Maintaining the intensity of the first half of the movie, however, is too much of a challenge. The final 45 minutes seems to not only lose direction of where it’s trying to go, but follow several different paths at the same time. They didn’t know if they wanted to stick with the Zapruder storyline, follow along with Lee Oswald’s brother Robert and the rest of his family, follow the slain president’s body back to Air Force One (if he wasn’t dead before he went in the casket, he would have been after they managed to get it on board!), or stay with the hospital and explore the staff’s feelings as they try to save the life of the man, Oswald, who was responsible for the one they lost just a few days earlier.

There are some other remarkable treatments in the movie. In every other Kennedy movie, we see the Zapruder film at least once. In this movie, we see it, but we see it reflected in the eyeglasses of someone watching it or we see it some other way other than directly. We are also not led to believe that there was or was not a second shooter on the infamous grassy knoll. The film concentrates only on what is known for fact, not someone’s speculations.

Oswald’s mother is played as a conniving, controlling, lunatic who sees dollar signs almost the moment her son is arrested. Weaver handles the role beautifully. We’re also shown how much trouble they had finding somewhere that would accept Oswald’s body for burial and how newsmen covering the event had to act as pallbearers since no one else would. All are interesting, but stray from the focus, or at least what we were led to believe the focus would be.

Zapruder’s character waffles back and forth between a sympathetic one who really doesn’t want to be where he is, to a greedy opportunist and back again to sympathetic. It was more than just a little confusing how the director thought we were supposed to view him. Maybe the intent was to let us see all sides of him, but it failed because there wasn’t enough done to develop the final incarnation of his personality.

Watching this movie was like talking to someone who goes off on tangents and never quite gets to the point.

I gave it a C-, and only because of the intensity of the first 45 minutes, which was nothing short of great. Unfortunately, when the wheels fell off, they rolled quite a ways away, and the movie just never could get back on track. It’s lucky that it didn’t pull the first 45 minutes down with it.

Unartful Dodgers

By Jon Gallagher

The Sandlot (20th Century Fox, 1993) – Director: David M. Evans. Writers: David M. Evans, Robert Gunter. Cast: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna, Denis Leary, Karen Allen, & James Earl Jones. Color, 101 minutes.

Somehow, some way, I missed seeing The Sandlot the first time around. The movie, considered by some to be a classic, was released 20 years ago and was the coming of age story of nine boys who played sandlot baseball together in the early 1960s. For the past few weeks, whenever I listen to a Dodger game on the radio (via the internet since I’m in Illinois), they’ve been talking about a promotion where they’re going to show the movie on their new big screen TV out in left field after a game. That was good enough for me. I rented the movie and previewed it before sitting down with my eight-year-old daughter for a “family movie night” that we share once a week.

We won’t be watching this one together.

There’s nothing that I wouldn’t want my eight-year-old to see, really. There are a couple words that I hope I don’t hear her say for at least a few years, but nothing that really raised my concern levels. The movie itself just isn’t very good. I’m not sure who deemed it a classic, but I’m taking their “movie classic designation license” away from them immediately.

The story is about nine boyhood friends who spend a summer hanging out and playing sandlot baseball while experiencing life around them. It’s done in a Jean Shepherd-esque feel with the adult narrator recalling his past through an adult voice. The big difference here is that Shepherd was interesting and funny. This is boring and only mildly amusing.

The movie gets off on the wrong foot. It tells the story of Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series. It tells how in the bottom of the ninth with a man on and the Yankees down by a run, the Bambino steps to the plate, points to the stands, then hammers a homerun to win it in walk-off fashion. 

As a baseball fan, I know that the story of Ruth’s called shot is widely disputed. Some say it never happened at all. But let’s get the facts, or at least the lore, correct here. The called shot took place at Wrigley Field in Chicago, which means that it wasn’t the BOTTOM of the ninth because the Yankees would have been batting in the TOP of the inning. Second, it supposedly happened in the 5th inning with the score knotted 4-4. The story is a good one; you don’t have to make it more impressive by adding more BS to the pile.

It might be a little thing, but one that bugged me right from the start.

Later in the movie, there’s a neighbor (Jones), who befriends the boys. He shows off his trophies and keepsakes from a short major league career as a contemporary of Ruth. There’s a picture of him standing there with Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Jones’ character, Mr. Mertle, tells the boys that Ruth was “almost as good as hitter as me,” and that he (Mertle) would have bested Ruth’s records had it not been for his accident.

This is a major gaff. Ruth retired in 1935, some 12 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. As far as I’m concerned, this much of a historical inaccuracy is every bit as bad as if we would have seen Abraham Lincoln arriving at the White House on Marine One. I realize that producers were probably giddy at the thought of landing Jones for the role, but because of his race and the timeline, it just didn’t work.

Meanwhile, the rest of the movie isn’t much better. The nine boys are, for the most part, flat characters who blend into each other, with the stereotypical token characters represented. There’s the fat, red-headed, freckle-faced kid, a nerd with Clark Kent glasses, the pure athlete, the pervert, and of course, a couple of ethnic kids thrown in as well. No one sets themselves apart to make any one character more interesting than the others which results in a snoozefest of major proportions. Combine that with the predictability of not just some, but EACH and EVERY scene, and you’ll understand why I’m not bothering to show it to my daughter.

Even the talents of Allen, Leary, and Jones can’t save this one. This may be generous, but I’ll give this one a D.

My Admission:  Tina Fey is Hot

By Jon Gallagher

Admission (Focus Features, 2013) – Director: Paul Weitz. Cast: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Gloria Reuben, Wallace Shawn, Lily Tomlin, Ann Harada, Ben Levin, Dan Levy, & Nat Wolff. Color, 107 minutes.

I wanted to see Admission when it was in the theaters, but other things got in the way. Other movies that seemed more pressing to see stole my time and then a couple of projects with two new local newspapers robbed me of even more of that limited commodity that restricts us to just 24 hours in each day.

I wanted to see it because the previews looked good and because – I’ll admit it – Tina Fey is hot. Not only do I enjoy looking at her, I think she’s extremely talented as an actress, writer, comedienne, and, well, anything else she undertakes.

She didn’t disappoint me in Admission. The story is about an admissions officer at Princeton University who is up for a promotion to the head of the department. Natalie (Fey) has been at the college for 16 years and follows all of Princeton’s rules to the letter. That is, until she meets John (Rudd), a teacher at an alternative school where he is the mentor of a very special student. The student, Jeremiah (Wolff) is a genius, a prodigy who has never been given a chance. Not only does John push for Jeremiah’s admission to Princeton, he reveals to Natalie that the student is the child that she secretly gave birth to in college some 18 years ago.

Natalie is torn between several conflicts. There’s her job, which mandates that Jeremiah is not Princeton material despite his high IQ. Then there’s the fact that he may be her son. Combine that with her breakup with her long-term live-in boyfriend and the attraction she has toward John, not to mention the stormy relationship she shares with her feminist mother, and you get a script ripe for possibilities.

I liked the play on the word “admission.” Not only does it refer to the job that she holds, it also refers to her admitting that she is Jeremiah’s mother.

It’s not a comedy, though there are some pretty funny parts. It’s not a drama, but there are some dramatic parts. It’s not exactly a romantic comedy, though there are aspects of that as well. Instead of throwing a label on it that won’t fit anyway, let’s just say that the movie kept my interest throughout, and had enough plot twists throughout to keep me from complaining that it was predictable (it was anything but predictable). The ending came a little quickly, without completely resolving a couple of storylines, but that’s how life is. We’re left to decide for ourselves how some of the stories end, and I found that refreshing rather than to have it shoved down my throat.

Fey is, as advertised, tremendous. Rudd does a great job as well. Tomlin plays Portia’s mother and she does a good job with a quirky character. Shawn (whose line “INCONCEIVABLE!” is one of my all-time favorites from another movie) is the retiring head of admissions and he’s annoyingly good. Of course, that’s Shawn’s role in any movie that he’s in (bonus points if you can name the movie in the aforementioned quote).

I won’t go so far as to give it an A+ as it’s not one that I would purchase. I might watch it again someday, but other than that, it would just sit on the shelf collecting dust. I’ll give it an A- because it did such a good job of holding my interest and because of all the quirky, memorable characters.

Grade: A-

Monsters University

By Jon Gallagher

Monsters University (Pixar/Disney, 2013) – Director: Dan Scanlon. Voices: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Alfred Molina, Helen Mirren, Peter Sohn, Joel Murray, Sean Hayes, Dave Foley, Charlie Day, Julia Sweeney, Nathan Fillion, John Ratzenberger, & Noah Johnston. Color & 3-D, 104 minutes.

Has it really been 12 years since we first met Mike Wazowski and James P Sullivan, the lovable monsters from the Pixar movie Monsters Inc.? I loved that movie and so did both of my kids (even though they were 17 and 12 at the time). It was just one of Pixar’s modern masterpieces with perfect voicing done by Crystal and Goodman.

Since I enjoyed the original so much, I was really looking forward to its “prequel,” the story of how Mike and Sulley first met which came out just a couple weeks ago. Sadly, I was a little disappointed with the new movie.

The story is just okay. Mike and Sulley are freshmen at Monsters University, both trying to become “scarers,” the monsters who visit human children each night and elicit screams from them, which, in turn, powers Monster City. Sulley comes from a long line of scarers and his family name is legendary. He’s eight feet tall, covered in purple polka-dotted blue hair, and is naturally scary looking. Mike, on the other hand, is a cute little orb that isn’t much more than an eyeball. No one takes him seriously. 

What we end up with is a couple of stereotypical characters: Sulley, who is naturally gifted, but too lazy to study his craft, and Mike, who has no God-given talent but is determined to work hard to get to his goal. The pair finds themselves at odds with each other in the “Scarer Program” while at school. They clash, end up breaking the Dean’s prized canister (which contains her record-breaking scream), and get booted out of the program as a result.

Mike won’t give up. He learns of “The Scare Games,” a school-wide competition between fraternities (and sororities) and sets out to win the competition.  He joins with a group that can only be described as the Nerd Fraternity (Oozma Kappas) and tries to enter with this ragtag bunch. He learns that they need one more, and Sulley, who has been kicked out of his “cool” fraternity, the Roar Omega Roars, joins with them. The six teams compete in a daily game with the last place team being eliminated.

Mike makes a deal with Dean Hardscrabble that if his team wins, she must reinstate him (and Sulley – plus the rest of the team) into the Scarers Program. She agrees, but tells them if they fail, they must leave school.

Of course Mike’s team finds themselves pitted against the Cool Fraternity in the final contest which has Mike competing against Roar Omega Roar’s leader as it comes down to just two monsters left with the score tied. 

SPOILER ALERT: Mike wins the competition by scaring the simulated sleeping child with a record-producing scare, only to find out later that Sulley had rigged the computer apparatus to make sure Mike won. Sulley admits he cheated and he and Mike are kicked out of school for good. Instead of finishing college, they go to work at Monsters Inc., start in the mailroom, and work their way up the corporate ladder to the point where the first movie begins.

As an adult, I wasn’t as impressed as I was with the first movie. Pixar has the inherent problem of raising their own bar with every movie they produce. The next one is always better than the last (although I really didn’t care for Wall-E). This one didn’t raise the bar any. That’s why I was disappointed.

Crystal and Goodman are once again excellent in their voicing. Dean Hardscrabble (Mirren) is a tremendous addition to this movie. She’s scary, yet not overly so. She’s stern, but somewhat fair. I really liked the character.

The nerds in the fraternity are okay, but none of them are meant to standout. My favorite among them was an “older” monster named Don who is voiced by Murray. That’s not saying a lot; he was just my favorite among them. Fillion does a decent job in his role as the head of the Cool Guy fraternity. You may know him as Castle from ABC’s series of the same name.

The first movie had several “laugh-out-loud” moments, but I found myself not laughing during this prequel, although I did chuckle quite a few times, and found myself smiling more often than not. Kids are going to LOVE this movie (my eight-year-old went with her mom the night before I saw it and couldn’t stop talking about it).

The director has changed, and that may account for the difference in quality. Scanlon handled the megaphone and clackboard with this one, while Pete Docter, along with David Silverman and Lee Unkirch, did the first movie.

Still, even with its drawbacks, I’m giving this one a solid B+ because it did give me an hour and 44 minutes of good entertainment, and although stereotypical in parts, the ending set it apart from the usual fare or what we might have suspected would happen. It’s one that I would buy for my collection and probably watch more than once.

Man of Steel

By Jon Gallagher

Man of Steel (WB, 2013) – Director: Zack Snyder. Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Amy Adams, Dylan Sprayberry, Cooper Timberine, & Jadin Gould. Color & 3-D, 143 minutes.

When I sat down in the theater a few minutes before the show began, there was a low rumbling sound coming from the speakers in the theater. At first, I thought it was the music used for the movie with the bass turned up. I was wrong. It was the combination of Christopher Reeve, George Reeves, and anyone else who has ever played the Man of Steel in film, rolling over in their collective graves at once.

Other critics have been giving Man of Steel rave reviews, at least if you listen to the TV ads that have been assaulting us for the last week or so. Let’s cut to the chase. Man of Steel is not a good movie. It’s director Snyder’s way of taking 15 minutes worth of plot and combining it with two hours of computer generated special effects to give us a colossal waste of time.

I went to a sparsely attended afternoon showing of the 3D version in Peoria. I was looking forward to the movie since I’m a big fan of Superman, but they got things off on the wrong foot by subjecting me to nine minutes worth of commercials for stuff that appears in the movie or looked like it could be in the movie. Then, there were four trailers for movies heavy on those CGI effects. Finally, we got to the movie. Unfortunately, only about half of the movie is done in 3D. They should have saved the money and done it without the unimpressive 3D effects.

It opens on the Planet Krypton with Jor-El (Crowe) addressing the Kryptonian Elders with the fact that their planet was about to explode. He and his wife have secretly had a naturally born son (Kal-El) because there hasn’t been a natural birth on their planet in centuries. As we find out, everyone who is living there has been genetically engineered from conception to do a certain job.

Jor-El sends off his son in the spaceship and then we begin a journey into the warped brain of Snyder, who can’t figure out whether he wants to tell the story from the time Superman appears with his superpowers or whether he wants to do a flashback to Clark Kent’s boyhood. Between the flashbacks and the reappearance of Jor-El throughout the rest of the movie, it was confusing. 

What plot there is revolves around Clark Kent/Superman trying not only to figure out who he is, but why he is. That plus a bevy of Kryptonians led by General Zod who have come to Earth to establish a New Krypton and extract revenge on Kal-El for the sins of his father who imprisoned all the bad guys in the Phantom Zone.

Other than as a boy, Clark Kent doesn’t even make an appearance till the last 10 minutes of the movie, and because of that, it was hard to judge how Cavill is as an actor. His suit (which slightly resembles the Superman outfit we’ve all come to know and love) does all the acting for him.

Adams is Lois Lane and is okay, but barely. Usually I like her in whatever she’s in, but I thought she just read her lines and swooned at appropriate times. In fact, there’s nothing special about any of the performances in the movie with the exception of General Zod (Shannon), who really has the only freedom in the film to develop his character.

Gone is the excitement that we saw in the first Reeve movie when everyone sees Superman for the first time. Gone is Jimmy Olson. Gone is mild mannered reporter Clark Kent and evil genius Lex Luthor. Gone is Superman’s secret identity! Perry White is the editor of the Daily Planet but from what they have him doing in the movie, he could have been an insurance agent. He does nothing that really pertains to a newspaper.

Snyder has been quoted as wanting to make a movie that was more “realistic” than previous incarnations. I’ve got to scratch my head about that statement. We’re talking about a strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. He can freaking fly, fercryingoutloud! And he wants realism?

At times it was hard to tell if I was watching a Superman movie or a Transformers movie that had a guy with a red towel taped to his back. 

There’s a scene from the movie that REALLY bothers me because if people follow the directions, someone could get killed. A tornado is heading towards a line of cars on the highway, and Jonathan Kent, Superman’s dad, directs everyone under an overpass to take shelter. The National Weather Service cautions against this because the winds from a tornado whipping around a structure like a bridge, can actually increase as they pass and result in a lot more damage. The proper thing for people to do is to lie flat in a low-lying area. The fact that they included this in the film is irresponsible.

Don’t bother with the big-screen version. Save your money and rent it when it comes out on video (that was one of the commercials prior to the movie – preordering it through Walmart), which shouldn’t be that long.

I’ll give it a D. It ends in perfect position for a sequel, which would have to be better than this. I’m just not sure if I like Lois knowing who his is or not.

As mentioned several months ago in the long article I did on Superman and all his movies, they did explain in this one that the big red on his chest does not stand for Superman. It’s the Kryptonian symbol for HOPE. If you’d been reading regularly, you’d already have known that.

Blaze Glory

By Jon Gallagher

There are times in our life when we remember something special from our childhood and we attempt to find a way to recreate the experience that at one time brought so much joy into our lives. In particular, I remember the scent of my grandmother’s house as she baked fresh rolls, and even though I have the exact recipe that she used, I have never been able to recreate the same delicious mounds of bread (or the scent) that came out of her oven.

When Ronald Reagan was campaigning for president, he stopped by Galesburg, Illinois, where he had spent a year and a half of his childhood. They took him by Silas Willard School where he attended first grade and they stopped at the home he lived in on North Kellogg Street. Reagan looked a bit bored at it all, perhaps a bit nostalgic, but when a reporter asked him if it looked the same, he could only smile wistfully and say, “The yard seemed bigger.”

Time has a way of embellishing the details our minds forget, making insignificant things bigger, better, and more exciting. Often, the more times we remember something, the better it becomes.

I bring this up because I’ve been on a quest that has taken up a tiny bit of my life over the last two or three years. As a kid, I remembered seeing a short subject film that I thought was hilarious, but one that no one else remembered.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, I lived in a small town of 2,500 people. We had our own movie theater that showed the equivalent of third- or fourth-run movies. Galesburg, the large town just six miles away, got all the good movies and we got them in our town several weeks, sometimes months, later.

An old cinderblock building, the Earl (named after the original owner Earl Williams), was state of the art when it was built in the early 50s. It had a modern concession stand, large speakers, and arc lighting projectors, none of which had been updated since the place opened. A cry room – a soundproof room where women could take fussy infants or screaming toddlers – was located in the back of the theater with its own plate glass window so users could still see the movie. Curtains 20 feet tall covered the screen and opened slowly as the picture began.

Sumner Johnson, the owner, insisted on being old fashioned. The movies always began with 10 seconds of the U.S. flag flying in the breeze. That was followed by previews of upcoming attractions. Sumner didn’t run previews of movies unless he had them scheduled in the coming weeks, so new trailers were never seen. That was always followed by a short subject, usually a Woody Woodpecker, Pink Panther, Bugs Bunny, or Road Runner cartoon. Finally, he’d run the feature film.

One short subject that I remembered was one I wanted to watch again some 40-plus years later. I didn’t have much to go on except a faulty 40-year old memory covered in mental cobwebs.

It was a Western, and not just a Western, but a comedy Western. It was actually a spoof of a Western. It was shot in either time-lapse photography or with the technique they used for claymation. I didn’t remember the characters walking, rather moving without using their feet. The hero was dressed all in white and reminded me of Herman Munster.

I also remembered that it had come out somewhere between 1967 and 1974. I was able to narrow it down to that seven-year period by knowing that I didn’t go to movies by myself much before 1967 and after 1974, I had a steady girlfriend.

It wasn’t much to go on, but with the power of the Internet, I could find anything. Right?  Wrong.

I’ve searched for several years. I ran a blurb at the end of a weekly column I used to write for a local newspaper, and despite having hundreds of readers, didn’t get a single person writing in to tell me they’d seen it. I did Google searches, coming back with lots of results, but nothing that was right.

I called Ed Garea and gave him the synopsis. He hadn’t seen it.

I was beginning to question whether this had been a very creative figment of my imagination since Ed hadn’t heard of it. Ed’s heard of everything that was put on celluloid no matter how obscure it is!

From time to time I’ve continued to do Google searches. Some days I’d spend an hour on the search, while other days I’d just give up on it.

Then one day, I hit the jackpot.

I found a site that lists the names of movies in certain genres. I typed in Western Short Subject (it didn’t allow to search for parodies) and got back a list of about 4,000 films. Over the past few months, I’ve gone through the list, page by page, looking for something that might fit the bill. Anything that didn’t fit within my date range was automatically tossed out. Anything that fell within the range got my attention. I’d read the short synopsis provided and decide if it was something to look at further or not.

The name of the film was Blaze Glory. It was produced in 1969 and was, in fact, a parody of Western films. It was shot in stop motion pixilation much like the Gumby character in his cartoon show. The characters in the film ride imaginary horses, and a team of invisible steeds pulls the stagecoach.

The plot’s pretty simple. The bad guys rob the local stage and take a girl hostage. Blaze Glory, a white-suited hero saves her and the money, and subdues the bad guys, all within 10 minutes. 

Chuck Menville stars as Blaze Glory and wrote the short with Len Janson, who plays the Pug-Nosed Kid. The two continued to work together and had decent careers co-writing episodes of cartoons and children's shows. Ted Cassidy, Lurch from The Addams Family, provides voices in this short.

I found that YouTube actually has a version of the film, so with breathless anticipation, I settled in to watch the film for which I’ve been searching for so long.

It was awful.

It was as bad as bad gets. It’s dumb, sophomoric, and just not funny.

I thought that maybe I’d put too much faith in it and that I was just disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I remembered it. To give it a fair shot, I waited two days and watched it again.

It wasn’t as bad the second time around, but it was still dumb, sophomoric, and not very funny.

There is some Three Stooges-type violence (which I still find funny when THEY do it), but it just didn’t work given the characters in this short film. The bad guy had a laugh that was just creepy (for lack of better words) and made him sound more like a pervert than an evil bad guy. The whole thing just left me feeling like I could use a good hot soapy shower.

Check it out if you want. You may find it funnier than I did the second time around. You may even find it as funny as I did some 40 years ago.

But I’ll bet in 40 years you won’t.

My Favorite Movies with the phrase “Play Ball!”

By Jon Gallagher

Well, Ed Garea has been after me for months now to write about my five favorite baseball movies. I don’t know why I’ve put it off; maybe it was because it was so hard to choose just five. Maybe it’s because I was waiting to see if 42 made the list after seeing it. Maybe it’s because I was lazy.

Time to rectify that now. The order of these movies might change somewhat, depending on the mood I’m in. There were several I considered, so let’s mention them first and hang an honorable mention tag on them.

The Bad News Bears (the original with Walter Matthau, and Tatum O’Neal), A League of their Own (which reminded us that there’s no crying in baseball), Mr. Baseball (with Tom Seleck), 61 (the story of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chasing Babe Ruth’s single season home-run record), and The Winning Team (with Ronald Reagan). One of these days I’ll do a review on The Winning Team since I doubt that even 1% of our readers have ever heard of it, let alone seen it (it covers the life of Grover Cleveland Alexander, who got his professional start in my hometown of Galesburg, Illinois).

With no further ado, here’s the top five:

5) Eight Men Out – Based on the true story of the 1919 Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball, this movie features a spectacular cast. It seems to be pretty accurate as it recounts the underpaid White Sox players, eight of them, who agree to throw the World Series for cash. Two of the eight, Buck Weaver and Joe Jackson, have second thoughts, but after word leaks out, they’re lumped in with the others and all end up with lifetime bans from the game. 

4) The Rookie – Whadda ya know … Another true story. This one is the story of Jimmy Morris, a high school baseball coach who gave up his chance to play baseball long ago due to injuries and family obligations. Now, at 39, he promises his high schoolers that if they win a championship, he’ll go to a tryout. Scouts are impressed with his 98 MPH fastball and sign him to a contract. He toils in the minors while his wife and three kids struggle at home. Finally, he’s called up to The Show and makes his debut in Arlington Texas, not far from where he coached. It’s a “feel-good” movie, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, skip it.

3) For the Love of the Game – Billy Chapel is on the mound, contemplating several things. The new owners of the Tigers want to trade him, but he knows his career is at an end. His lover is leaving him to take a new job in London. This could be the last game he ever pitches. Oh yeah, and through eight innings, he hasn’t allowed a single baserunner. He’s on track to pitch a perfect game in the twilight of his career. If you don’t like baseball movies, there’s enough going on off the field, done in flashbacks and his lover’s point of view, to keep you interested. And if you don’t like love stories, there’s enough baseball to keep you watching. But if you don’t like either, why the heck are you continuing to read? If you like both, you may move this one up on the list.

2) 42 – Yeah, it’s brand new, and it’s fresh in my mind, but it’s also a very powerful movie that tells what might be the most important baseball story of all time. It’s the story of how and why Jackie Robinson came to be the man who broke baseball’s color barrier and the implications that went with it. I won’t say more; you can read my review here.

1) Major League – Not only is it my favorite baseball movie, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies period. The new owner of the Cleveland Indians want to move the team, which hasn’t had a winning season since the 1950s, but in order to break their lease on the stadium, they have to have a very low attendance. She puts together a mishmash of cartoonish characters with has-beens and never-will-bes, to form a team that steals our hearts from the beginning. It’s the Bad News Bears make the Major Leagues. An unbelievable cast including a young Charlie Sheen, a younger Wesley Snipes, and the Allstate Voice Guy, along with some major league stars and Hall of Fame announcer Bob Uecker, combine to deliver a fun-filled romp over the bases, and some dialogue that is still quoted regularly (“Juuuusssst a bit outside…”).

It’s an eclectic list with some cheesy films paired with others that may bring home some hardware and little gold statues someday. They all have two things in common, however: they’re about baseball, and they’re highly entertaining.

42 Hits for the Cycle and Pitches a Perfect Game All at Once

By Jon Gallagher

42 (WB, 2013) Director: Brian Helgeland. Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Ryan Merriman, and Lucas Black. Color, 128 minutes.

The movie 42 is one that not only makes me proud to be a baseball fan, but also proud to be a Dodger fan, even though the events take place long before I was born. It’s the story of how Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier changing the world of baseball as well as the United States forever.

Before getting into the movie itself, I want to say that even though this is the story of Robinson, and it’s a true story, I’m sure that the filmmakers took some liberties with what really happened. Then again, with the bigotry that was alive and well during this time period, I’m wondering if they were able to really hint at how badly blacks were mistreated during that era.

The movie begins with Dodger executive Branch Rickey (Ford) telling two subordinates that he intends to bring a black player to the major leagues. He has no idea who he will bring and the trio begins a search of the Negro Leagues. Roy Campanella is ruled out and so is Satchel Paige. They settle on Robinson (Boseman) who is playing for the Kansas City Monarchs. 

They bring Jackie to Brooklyn to tell him the news. Rickey baits him several times, trying to get a rise out of him and see a flash of Robinson’s famous temper. He’s just trying to prepare him for what’s ahead.

Jackie plays for Montreal in 1946 in his only minor league season. We get a glimpse of how he’ll be treated once he hits the major leagues, and the movie doesn’t waste a lot of time on this, although it’s a very important part. More time is spent showing how the fans and players treat him during spring training in Florida than north of the border in Canada. In one scene, a cop even tries to arrest Jackie on the field for playing “a white man’s game.”

In 1947, when Jackie makes his big league debut, he’s not treated well, even by his own teammates who get up a petition to keep him off the team. Rickey will have none of it, and trades one of the detractors, just to create an atmosphere of teamwork. Once the players who surround Jackie get to know him and see the absolutely deplorable attitudes towards him, they slowly come around to his side and embrace him as a teammate.

If this movie isn’t nominated for several Academy Awards, there needs to be a federal investigation. Boseman is powerful in his portrayal of Robinson, allowing his frustration and anger to show just once. Still, we can feel the tension on the screen through his facial expressions and body language. It’s a performance that’s awesome and inspiring.

Ford should just clear a spot on his mantle for what should be a Best Supporting Actor statue. In the trailers, I didn’t even realize it was him playing the role of Rickey, and in the movie, he’s even better. 

Beharie, Meloni, and Black are tremendous as well as Jackie’s wife, Manager Leo Durocher, and Pee Wee Reese respectively. In real life, Reese was a little thick-headed, so he could have played things a little more on the “dumb” side, but that might have added too much of a comic touch, so I won’t complain. In real life, Reese heard about a plot to shoot Jackie, so in all seriousness, he suggested the whole team wear the number 42 so they’d all look the same. It’s done a little differently in the movie, but it’s well done.

A special mention has to be made of John C. McGinley who plays Red Barber, the Dodgers’ announcer. Obviously a lot of research went into the making of this film, and McGinley had to have listened to hours of Barber for this relatively minor role. He was superb. He used many of Barber’s catchphrases that some of the old guys (like me) in the audience would fondly chuckle at (“This game is tighter than a new pair of shoes on a rainy day!”).

Also to be commended was the set design. If I didn’t know that Ebbets Field and Crosley Field had been torn down, I’d swear the movie was filmed there. As I listened to the Dodger game on the radio, Charley Steiner also made mention of the detail used in recreating the stadiums.

I should also caution parents that the “n” word is used liberally throughout the movie. If your kids have never heard that word before, then it might be a good time to have a little discussion with them before you take them to see this one.

Of course I’m giving this my highest rating of A++. It’s one that I’ll see if it comes to my little town’s theater, and I’ll buy it when it’s released on DVD. I can’t wait to see the deleted scenes. It’s a two hour and eight minute movie that I actually wish had been longer.

The Crood 3D

By Jon Gallagher

This Isn’t Your Father’s Flintstones

The Croods 3D (DreamWorks 2013) Director: Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders. Cast: Voices of Nicholas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Clark Duke, Randy Thom, and Chris Sanders. Color, 3-D, 98 minutes.

I had the opportunity to take my eight-year-old daughter to a movie this week and she chose the one playing across the street, The Croods, an animated feature that’s had a lot of lines forming in front of the theater. This means you get two reviews in one: my daughter’s and mine.

The movie centers on one of history’s first families as they experience some of the changes occurring to the Earth. The leader of the family is Ugg, a large, extremely strong father who protects his family at all costs. His wife is Ugga, a typical cave-wife. Thunk is their dimwitted teenage son who seems to be a chip off the old block, while Eep is a rebellious teenage daughter. His mother-in-law, Gran, who keeps threatening to die, is with them as is a baby, Sandy, a ferocious toddler with all the charm of a rabid pit bull.

Ugg doesn’t like change. He tells his family that the secret to surviving is to fear everything. Naturally, his teenagers tend not to listen to this and Eep in particular seems bent on doing the opposite of whatever her father tells her. Early in the movie, the shifting of the new Earth destroys the family cave, forcing them to face the dangers of the outside world as they find a new home. They meet Guy, a nomadic teen who introduces them to fire, and teaches them that fear is something to overcome, not shy away from. Guy has a pet sloth named Belt (because he helps keep Guy’s pants up) who turns out to be the funniest character in the movie.

While the story tends to be a bit predictable, (and the interactions of the characters more so due to the built-in stereotypes), it’s still an entertaining movie. We’re introduced to landscapes and animals that are the results of some artists’ vivid imaginations and are in some cases, simply breathtaking. Amazing things can be accomplished nowadays with animation and The Croods is a prime example. Having said that, I found that some scenes, particularly one at the beginning with the family out hunting, tend to be drawn out, becoming a little boring in the process.

The main characters, Ugg, Eep, and Guy (and to some extent, Belt), are well developed, but the rest just sort of fall into the background, barely even playing a supporting role. They seem to be there just because they have to be. A day after the movie I really can’t recall even one line from either Thunk or Ugga.

I always find it hard to evaluate the voice actors in an animated movie. In a live action movie, the voice and action create the character and both depend on the actor. In animation, the actor is only responsible for half of the character – the voice. When I see an animated movie, I try hard not to find out who the voice actors are, just in case that might influence me.

The Croods is a perfect case in point. Most of the time, I really don’t care for Cage movies. He’s done a few I’ve enjoyed, but for the most part, he plays the same character with the same voice that sounds like either he’s in pain or constipated (maybe both). I didn’t know until the credits that he voiced Ugg. I have to admit, I was impressed. 

Stone does Eek’s voice and is decent as is Reynolds as Guy. Again, my favorite was Belt (Sanders) who really didn’t have that tough of a job as long as the animators did theirs.

The resolution of the movie is satisfying, especially after trying to jerk some tears out of old crusty guys like me. The journey to get to the end was much like the one the family experienced in the movie: there were obstacles, laughs, impressive scenery, and interesting animals, but I’m not convinced that the journey I took was worth the end.

My daughter was thoroughly impressed and was interested throughout the movie. She gave it an A+ at first, but after thinking about it, scaled it back to just an A. Her reasoning for the reduction was that it “wasn’t as funny” as she thought it would be.

My grade is a B-. For me, it was just a tad better than an average movie, but not only did my daughter enjoy it, the other kids in the audience seemed to enjoy it as well. Had I seen it on my own, it probably wouldn’t have gotten much more than a C.

Olympus Has Fallen: This Generation’s Die Hard

By Jon Gallagher

Olympus Has Fallen (Millennium Films, 2013) Director: Antoine Fuqua. Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Finley Jacobsen, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett, and Melissa Leo. Color, 120 minutes.

When I decided to go check out this movie, I figured I could write the review before I even got in the car to go. In fact, I had pretty much just decided to use the review for A Good Day to Die Hard and just change the names of the characters. You know, “things blow up, there’s some shooting, and more things blow up.” I’m lazy like that.

Instead, I was shocked to find myself in a theater where I was actually enjoying the movie, waiting for that moment when everything fell apart. It never did.

Having said that, I need to throw in a few disclaimers. First of all, this is pure fantasy. What happens in the movie could not ever happen in real life. If you’re a stickler for things like that, you’ll probably be disappointed. However, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief for a couple hours like I did, then I think you’ll be as entertained as I was. Also, you need to accept that unless a character has been dismembered, he may not be as injured as he first appears to be.

The movie actually has a plot. It opens with President Benjamin Archer (Eckhart) and family leaving Camp David on a snowy night for a Christmas party at a billionaire’s house. On a bridge, The Beast (the super-armored presidential limousine) slides out of control and perches itself half on, half off a bridge.  Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Butler) races to the president’s and first lady’s aid, and manages to pull the president to safety before the car topples over the bridge, sending Mrs. Archer to her death.

Six months later, the president is still recovering from the traumatic experience, as is his young son (Jacobsen), who was riding in a separate car and witnessed his mother’s death. Banning has been taken off the presidential detail, not because he did anything wrong, but more because he reminds the president of that horrible night. The White House is set to welcome a contingent from Korea for talks when all hell breaks loose.

With the Korean diplomats in the White House already, a plane takes aim at Washington. Disguised as an Air Force transport, the plane, piloted by Koreans, begins shooting the two real Air Force jets that intercept it, civilians on the street, the roof of the White House, and then crash lands on the South Lawn just after taking off the top part of the Washington Monument. A well-orchestrated siege on the Executive Mansion begins and before long, Korean terrorists have control of the building.

In the meantime, inside the White House, Secret Service agents grab the president and his guests, and shuttle them off to safety in the “Bunker,” an underground safe haven for the president that’s built to be impenetrable, even by nuclear war. Therein lies the problem because most of the Korean diplomats are terrorists themselves, and they now have, not just the president, but two other members of his cabinet who hold launch codes (or as it turns out, anti-launch codes) for America’s nuclear arsenal. All three codes must be entered at once and the terrorists begin to extract the codes from the three who have them. Naturally, the Bunker has all the computers needed for nuclear launches.

Banning is outside the White House when the shooting begins, but he uses his training as an ex-Army Ranger and his intimate knowledge of the White House to get inside and begin disrupting terrorist plans. He has to save the president’s son Connor, and the president himself.

The basic formula is that of the original Die Hard: one guy vs. a bunch of others who capture a stronghold with hostages (who they kill one at a time when they don’t get their way). There are plenty of twists along the way (they’re too good to give up here, even with a spoiler alert) and tension is kept high throughout. Even when there is a resolution of sorts, it’s always a small victory for the good guys before the bad guys come up with something more sinister. There’s a scene that resembles when John McLain meets Hans Gruber without knowing he’s the bad guy.

Also reminiscent of Die Hard is the apparent indestructibility of Banning. He gets the holy snot beat out of him, but somehow manages to keep going, much like McLain in Die Hard. If you can get by that small detail, it’s one heck of a ride. 

There isn’t a bad performance in the movie. Banning is particularly good, especially his American accent (Butler is an Australian). Freeman handles his role as Acting President (since the President and Vice President are both incapacitated and he’s next in line as Speaker of the House) well. My only complaint with him is not with his acting, but with the character itself. I might have made him a little less laid back, but I guess his easy-going nature was needed to balance out an already tension filled film. McDermott as Agent Forbes, and Yune as terrorist Kang, turn in performances worthy of mention too. Yune comes off being very believable as a sinister villain.

There are lots of things that blow up and there’s an excessive amount of blood. The folks in the CGI department worked overtime on this one.

I’m going to give this one an A+ as I was so entertained by the movie. Everyone around me did too as they cheered at the end. On the way out, I heard a lot of positive comments. I’ll definitely rent it when it comes out, and could be persuaded to purchase it as well. If it comes to the theatre across the street from me (yes, I literally live across from a theater), I’ll go again. Unlike the idiots who sat down the row from me, I won’t allow my eight-year-old to see it until she’s at least 16. By then, she won’t want to because of the blood and gore.

Since it’s been 25 years (are you serious?!?!) since Die Hard came out, many younger fans may have found a way not to have seen it. Olympus Has Fallen may well become this generation’s Die Hard.  I would count on Agent Banning making his appearance in another movie, especially if this one does well at the box office.

Halle Answers the Call, Burt Wonders What Happened

By Jon Gallagher

The Call (Troika Pictures/WWE Studios/Emergency Films, 2013) Director: Brad Anderson. Cast: Halle Berry, Evie Thompson, Abigail Breslin, Roma Maffia, Michael Eklund, Morris Chestnut, and Michael Imperioli. Color, 94 minutes. 

I thought I was going to like this movie because of the previews. It looked interesting.

I thought I was going to like this movie because of the plot. My oldest daughter works as a 911 dispatcher.

I thought I was going to hate this movie because of the producers. The first thing on screen is the WWE logo. Normally, anything Vince McMahon has his hands in, I hate.

I ended up in between.

The movie itself stars Berry, and basically no one else I’ve heard of.  It involves a 911 dispatcher in LA who takes a call from a young girl whose house is being broken into. Jordan (Berry) keeps her on the phone, giving her instructions on how to avoid the intruder, but loses her connection along the line. When the dispatcher calls the girl back, the intruder hears the ringing cell phone, finds the girl, and murders her, all while on the line with the dispatcher.

Flash forward six months. Jordan is now an instructor for new telecommunicators when a similar call comes in. This girl has been kidnapped and is in the trunk of the kidnapper’s car. Jordan takes over the call from an inexperienced dispatcher and tries to save the girl.

The movie is a proverbial roller-coaster ride with the good guys getting a leg up before the bad guy discovers it and sets things back to worse than what they were. It’s a tense filled chase with the cops using everything at their disposal to try and find the kidnapper in time to save Casey’s (Breslin) life.

The first hour of the film is great. There are enough near misses and near solutions to have seasoned thriller lovers rubbing their hands in anticipation of the next hurdle. The problems begin once the police figure out that it’s Michael Foster (Eklund) behind the kidnapping. They try to resolve what’s made him crazy enough to do something like this, but the storyline they settle on is about as believable as little green men parachuting in from Venus. There’s no way I can buy that someone who is this much of a nutcase can lead anything that resembles a normal life with a wife and two kids.

It was almost as if the writers found themselves up against a deadline and took a brilliant first half and ended it with whatever they could throw together at the last minute.

The resolution of the movie, however, is very satisfying.

As the 911 operator, Berry gives a good performance. She manages to bring moviegoers to the edge of their seats several times with facial expressions and eye movement. Maybe more credit should be given to director Anderson than Berry. Breslin also does a good job in the victim’s role. Her panicked dialogue is perfect – not too much and not too little. She is a little strange by the final scenes, but after what she’s gone through, that’s somewhat understandable.

Chestnut plays Berry’s love interest in the film, though I’m not sure why he’s in there. Maffia is a telecommunicator supervisor and is completely wasted in her role. They could have done so much more with her character but chose to insert the lame love interest instead. As a thriller through the first half, I’d give it a solid B. As a horror film during the last 30 minutes, I’d give it a D. Giving some weight to the longer of the two I’d give it a final rating overall as a C+. I’m still having trouble believing that the plot fell off the cliff so fast.
The only thing I can figure out is that 2/3 of the film was produced by one group of people and the 1/3 I didn’t like was done by WWE. If that’s the case, then that makes more sense than the plot.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (New Line, 2013) Director: Don Scardino. Cast: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, James Gandofini, Alan Arkin, Steve Dacri, Paul Daniels, and Jay Mohr. Color, 100 minutes.

The producers are probably still trying to figure out why this movie bombed during its opening weekend at the box office. They bombarded broadcast media with ads. Trailers were shown before almost every movie playing in the multiplexes. The stars were booked on all the talk shows. What happened? How did the lower-budget The Call manage to crush Burt Wonderstone by such a wide margin?

Part of the reason may be the fact that they partnered with several retail outlets including Papa Murphy’s pizza to give out free passes to an advance screening, thinking that word of mouth might spark some box office sales. That might have been the entire reason it bombed.

See, when you have a movie this bad, you DON’T WANT people to see it ahead of time for free. Take their money and RUN! Had the producers seen what a monstrosity they were about to unleash on the world, they might have rethought those free advance passes.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to get a free pass. I say that only because I paid to see this turkey. I thought I was going to see a comedy, given the fact that Carell, Carrey, and Buscemi star, but I ended up with just a dreadful movie that had a few laughable moments.

Carell and Buscemi play childhood friends who have turned their childhood hobby into a dazzling magic show that headlines a Las Vegas casino. On stage, they’re bored after having done the same show with the same tricks and the same lines night after night after night. Off stage they are at each other’s throats, arguing about any little thing that comes up. Burt Wonderstone (Carell) is the more suave and sophisticated of the two, obsessed with himself, women, and material possessions. Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) is the dim-witted, along-for-the-ride sidekick who lends very little to either the partnership or the movie.

Enter Steve Gray (Carrey), a young (not really) street performer who doesn’t so much do magic as he does stunts (walking or sleeping on hot coals, holding his urine for a week, etc.) much like David Blaine or Criss Angel. Gray’s star is rising while Burt and Anton’s are falling. After trying to do a similar endurance stunt and failing miserably, the team breaks up and the two go their separate ways.

Burt finds he’s broke due to extremely bad investments and extravagances, and has to fend for himself, hiring himself out as a store magician (pitching paper towels) and (gasp) a birthday party magician. Along the way, the duo’s assistant, Jane (Wilde) keeps running into Burt. She had been one of the few female assistants who had been able to resist Burt’s charm and/or bed, which, of course, tell us where they’ll end up eventually.

While down and out, the owner of a casino announces that he’ll be building a new one and hosting a competition for the headlining act. Gray, after interrupting Burt’s performance at a birthday party for the owner’s 10-year old son, plans to win the contract and the oodles of money that go with it. Burt, Anton, and now Jane must work together to create an illusion that will be bigger and better than whatever Gray dreams up.

I had several problems with the movie. First, it wasn’t funny. If they were going to use comedic actors, and go over the top with some of the characterizations like they did, then the lines and the gags should be funny. There were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, but few and far between.

Second, only ONE of the characters was a sympathetic character. Wilde did an excellent job at creating empathy for her Jane character, but that was it. I didn’t care if Burt Wonderstone starved, if Anton Marvelton got lost in a jungle, or if Steve Gray turned out medium-rare. I just didn’t care about their characters.

Third, and maybe it’s because I’ve spent a good portion of my life earning money as a professional magician, I didn’t like the commentary that it was trying to make. As a magician, I’m not impressed with the guys who can turn women into tigers or who make jet planes appear and disappear. If you’ve got enough money to build the props (or have them built for you), you can accomplish anything on stage. The true magician is the one who can take innocent looking objects and turn them into things of wonder. 

A spongeball that disappears or appears at will from an empty hand (Dacri) or a routine involving a cup and a ball (Daniels) are much more impressive to watch than a guy who stands aside while assistants wheel huge boxes (that do all the work) on and off stage. And if you think that doing birthday parties isn’t a profitable gig, don’t tell that to magicians like Silly Billy (who has fun and rakes in well over $100,000 per year).

The movie seemed to be a commentary written by magicians for magicians on the current state of magic. The problem here is that magicians already know this and agree; there’s no need to preach to the choir. The general public doesn’t care.

I was also offended, not as a magician, but as a person, by the name given to Carrey’s character: Steve Gray, Brain Rapist. It was an obvious take off on Criss Angel, Mindfreak, but done in worse and very poor taste.

Arkin appears in the movie as an aging magician who used to sell magic kits to youngsters (much like Marshall Brodien or Mark Wilson) and is wonderful in his role. He’s not sympathetic, necessarily, but very likable. David Copperfield makes a brief cameo and served as a consultant (Copperfield, by the way, is a very accomplished sleight of hand artist and can do the kinds of things that impress me… he doesn’t need the big boxes).

For those asking, I’m not sure the Burt and Anton characters are based on actual magicians. They weren’t flashy enough to be Siegfried and Roy. Lance Burton and Mac King both headline shows individually and were friends back in Louisville before making it big, but they don’t perform as a team. There’s always Penn and Teller, but Teller never talks on stage (off stage you can’t shut the man up), but I don’t see them in these two characters at all. 

As for a grade, I’ll give it a D.  It wasn’t as horrid as Good Day to Die Hard, but I wasn’t entertained in the least. I don’t think kids will be entertained either. Most of those around me leaving the theater were talking about how disappointed they were. Forget owning it on DVD when it comes out, and it won’t even be one that I would want to rent. If I want to be depressed and laugh every once in a while, I’ll just study my checkbook register.

Oz: Even More Great and Powerful in 3D

By Jon Gallagher

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (Walt Disney Pictures, 2013) Director: Sam Raimi. Cast: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Bill Cobbs, and Joey King. Color and 3D, 130 minutes.

To prepare for this movie, I read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the children’s novel on which the world’s most famous movie was based. I was shocked to find so many differences between the book and movie (the wicked witch doesn’t even make an appearance till about three-quarters of the way through the book), and there are many more inhabitants of Oz than just the Munchkins who we meet in the movie.

The screenwriters of Oz the Great and Powerful must have done their research as well. They delve into parts of Oz that Baum wrote about to weave together a very nice prequel that answers a lot of questions that we may or may not have had about the magical land that Dorothy visits courtesy of a Kansas twister.

I should also mention that the version of Oz the Great and Powerful that I saw was in 3D. I’m not sure how many special effects were added just for the 3D version or if there were any at all. I’d be interested in seeing the film again (at least the first half hour) to see if there’s any.

One other bit of trivial information before we get into the movie itself: Baum’s books (there are 14 total – to him, Oz is a real place, whereas in the movie, Oz is just a dream) are in public domain which means that anyone can print or use things from them. However, The Wizard of Oz movie is copyrighted and owned by MGM, along with all of the names (Dorothy may not be, but she isn’t mentioned in this new film) like the Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West (including the shade of green used in her makeup). Therefore, the new movie has to find a way to work around using those names. They do an excellent job.

The movie begins in classic black and white using just the very center of the screen with a small-time travelling circus called the Baum Brothers (in honor of L. Frank Baum) and its con-man magician, Oscar “Oz” Diggs (Franco). He tries to convince his audiences in 1905 Kansas that his magic is real, not just an illusion, and he puts the moves on ladies from each and every town that they visit. Somewhere along the line, he pisses off the circus strongman who’s bent on tearing him limb from limb, but he escapes to the relative safety of a hot air balloon tethered on the circus grounds. He makes his escape, only to be caught up on a Kansas tornado and transported to the magical Land of Oz. As he floats into the new land, the full screen expands and turns to vibrant color, and includes a rainbow, which he’s floating over. He lands, well, you know… Somewhere… OVER the rainbow…

He meets a lovely young lady named Theodora (Kunis) who tells him of the dead king’s prophecy that a wizard with the same name as the land, Oz, will fall from the sky and become their new king. Along the way they meet a winged monkey in a bellhop’s outfit who they befriend. Oz has to use his magic to scare away a hungry lion that wants to make a snack of the monkey. As the lion runs off, Oz calls him “a coward.”

She takes him back to the Emerald City where he meets Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Weisz). She shows him what he can have, a room filled with gold, if only he will go and kill the evil witch who lives in the forest.

The plot twists as Oz finds another friend along the way. It’s a small China doll with broken legs. Her village of other China figures has been destroyed by the evil witch’s flying baboons; save for the one small doll. While in Kansas, he had failed to help a little girl walk with his magic, but here in Oz, he’s able to use some glue from his suitcase to mend her legs. 

It’s not long before Oz, the monkey Finley, and the doll China Girl, find the witch (Williams) but it’s not who they expected. It’s revealed that she’s actually Glinda the Good, while the sisters back at the Emerald City are the evil ones.

Things start to fall together nicely. Evanora convinces Theodora to take a bite of an apple which brings out her true persona and turns her a light shade of green (it will take some time for her skin to get as dark green as it is when Dorothy visits). She also needs some extra time to grow the mole on her chin (since MGM lawyers convinced someone that it was also copyrighted). Oz needs to save the Land of Oz to win the heart of Glinda (who knows all along that he’s not a real wizard), but he doesn’t have much to work with.

The final scenes involve his use of illusions to outwit the wicked witches and save Glinda, the Munchkins, the Tinkers, and the Tailors, and the Winkies. Even the Scarecrow gets a bit of an introduction without violating any copyright laws.

The acting is okay. Franco comes across slimy as the conman, but his transformation to a hero isn’t quite as good. His character, when he appears to Evanora and Theodora towards the end, is way over the top, and becomes a bit distracting. Kunis is good before her transformation takes place, but afterwards, it’s not that impressive. Williams is good and Weisz is tremendous, but it’s Braff’s voice-overs as Finley that steal the show. It’s hard to judge the acting part of his and King’s (China Girl) part since they’re both CGI. 

Given the fact that I enjoyed the story and the settings, but could have wanted more in the acting, what should I give it as a rating?

My answer: A+

Here’s why: When I go to a movie, I don’t necessarily go to see good acting. I go to be entertained. I want to leave the theater with a smile on my face knowing that I just spent my money on something I enjoyed. If I have my daughter with me, I want to make sure she enjoyed it as well. 

I came out of the theater thoroughly entertained. I loved the 3D effects, I thought they did a good job with the story and tying it into the movie that had already been made, and I was satisfied with the ending. It’s a movie that I would go see again, one that I would rent when it comes out, and it’s one that I would probably own eventually. With that criteria in mind I have to rate it an A+.

It won’t be winning any Academy Awards next year (unless it’s for cinematography, or something) but it’s something the family can enjoy. Smaller children may be bothered a bit by the flying baboons (they are scary).

And I will admit, there’s one scene where the 3D got me. I won’t tell you exactly what, but it involves River Fairies. I found myself ducking, then being extremely embarrassed for sliding down in my seat. I was glad it was dark in the theater. But as I sat back up, I noticed everyone around me was sheepishly sitting back up in their seats as well.

They got us all!

A Good Day To Die Hard

By Jon Gallagher

(20th Century Fox, 2013) Director: John Moore. Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Yuliya Snigir, and Cole Hauser. Color, 97 minutes.

I’ve always said that if I ever see Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), I’d run, not walk, the other way very fast. See, she has a habit of having dead bodies turn up in relatively close proximity wherever she goes.

If I ever see John McLane, I’m gonna do the same because something’s bound to blow up any second.

Bruce Willis is back for the fifth, and hopefully last, installment of the Die Hard franchise, this time taking his explosion magnets to Russia and no doubt reigniting the Cold War. This time, McLane goes to Moscow because, for some unknown reason, he decides he wants to patch things up with his estranged son John Jr. (Jai Courtney). Unknown to John, Jack (which is what they call John Jr.) is a CIA agent trying to get a Russian physicist to safety.  John surprises Jack, then lots of things blow up, there’s a car chase or two, then a whole lot more things blow up, and then almost everything in the movie blows up. There are also lots of guns (big guns, little guns, anti-tank guns, etc.) and someone seems like they’re always shooting.

I’m not kidding. Well, at least not very much.

There’s some dialogue sprinkled in at opportune times (probably while they reset the charges on the next set of explosions). Gone are the snappy little one-liners that McLane is so famous for using (he does use his Yippee-Ki-Yay Mister Flubber line), but that’s probably due to one of two things. Either they would have had to hire real writers who could communicate a PLOT to the audience or… No, I think I hit the nail on the head. It was like watching one of Steven Segal’s We-Make-This-Up-As-We-Go movies that usually go straight to DVD.

There are a couple of plot twists, or should I say, attempts, but by the time they get around to doing them, you expect the twist and you’re so confused that you really don’t care. I’m still trying to work past the part where Jack is making his initial escape and nearly runs over his dad.

I would guess that there’s as much Russian dialogue in the movie (with subtitles) as there is English conversation. Because of that, there’s not a lot to report on with how the actors handled their roles. Bruce and Jai would exchange a line or two, then the stuntmen would come in, fall down a lot, then we’d see either a computer-generated explosion or car wreck.

It’s a total waste of time. Even if you’re a big Die Hard fan (which I am; the first movie is in my top five all-time favorites), you’ll be disappointed.  I won’t rent or own it when it comes out (look for it soon), not even to complete my collection. I think maybe we’ll just conveniently forget this one was ever made. I wonder, perhaps, if this was made as a vehicle for Courtney to continue on with the Die Hard/John McLane series.

I hope not. Grade: F

Zero Dark Thirty

By Jon Gallagher

Zero Dark Thirty (Columbia, 2012) Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Cast: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, Reta Kateb, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, & Jennifer Ehle. Color, 157 minutes.

I went into this movie expecting great things. After all, it’s been nominated (along with EIGHT other films) for Best Picture this year, and Chastain, the female lead, is up for Best Actress.

I came away a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, or as much as I had hoped.

One thing I was curious about was the storyline itself. National Geographic had already shot and aired a movie based on the hunt for and the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was okay, but focused more on the team of Navy SEALS who went into the Pakistani compound on this mission.

This movie starts on 9/11 with some sound bites from that awful day in 2001. It then follows the CIA’s efforts, particularly those of a woman named Maya who had made it her life’s work to find the world’s most wanted terrorist. We see her on her first assignment, watching as a seasoned CIA vet uses torture to extract information from detainees. We follow her as she realizes what it will take to get information from dedicated Al Qaeda members. As the years pass by, she becomes more frustrated, not only with the lack of intelligence coming out of Afghanistan, but finally with the U.S. government and their unwillingness to act. More than four months pass between the time she first notifies her boss that she thinks she knows where bin Laden is holed up and the time that action is taken to capture or kill him.

Even though the two films tell the same story with the same end result, the points of view are entirely different, even during the portion of Zero Dark Thirty when the raid takes place.

As for the movie itself, it’s another long one. The first hour gives us background and drags. I’m not sure we need to know or see quite as much as we do. Some of the scenes of the CIA torturing terrorists might cause some sympathy in the wrong direction. The authenticity is good, with many of the informants using heavily-accented English. But the accent, combined with the forced delivery after having been tortured, makes them extremely difficult to understand.

The second hour of the movie picks up quite a bit. It’s after terrorists begin bombing others and targeting characters in the movie that the plot seems to move along.

The last 30 minutes or so are dedicated to the raid on bin Laden’s compound. Shot in night-vision green, it’s very hard to see, and although very authentic, not very satisfying by the end. Maybe it’s because the episode is so fresh in my mind (after all, it only happened two years ago), there wasn’t much drama to it. I knew going in that we got bin Laden and that none of the SEALs were hurt, so unlike Argo, the suspense element was sorely missing.

The big question that remained was, “How are they going to show bin Laden being killed.” I’ll only say that I was disappointed.

Although it’s based on real events, I’m sure most of the characters are composites of real life people, done for their personal safety. Chastain does an incredible job with her role and if she walks away with the Best Actress award, you’ll hear no arguments from me. Clarke handles Chastain’s mentor role superbly, generating all sorts of emotions from the audience with his portrayal. We fear him, we loathe him, yet we like him. It was a solid performance as well.

The film is rated R due to the violence and language and rightfully so. It’s not a movie for kids, and I wouldn’t be interested in letting teenagers see it either. The length brought it down a couple of notches on my grading scale, not so much because it was so long, but because the first hour was boring. It was nominated for Best Picture, but all those I’ve seen in that category are better than this.

I’ll give it a solid C due to the storyline and the performances of Chastain and Clarke. I won’t be renting it when it comes to DVD and I certainly won’t be purchasing it.

Identity Thief

By Jon Gallagher

(Universal, 2013) Director: Seth Gordon. Cast: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, John Cho, John Favreau, & Amanda Peet. Color, 112 minutes.

Got to be careful with this one. Rex Reed is in hiding after his review of this movie…

The hype has been second to none. Its trailers have been playing during prime-time for what seems like years. It’s one of those movies that probably shows all the funny parts during the trailers.

Not so. It’s actually a very funny movie that surprised me by making me like it.

Bateman plays Sandy Patterson, an accountant in Denver who falls victim to a lady con artist in Florida who steals his identity and his credit cards. While life unravels for him in the Mile High City, she’s living it up on the coast of the Sunshine State.

Sandy the guy is married with two little girls and a baby on the way. He’s slaving away for a boss who’s a pompous ass while trying to save money to buy a house for his growing family. Other accountants at his job decide to start their own firm and they offer Sandy a position at five times what he’s making currently.

Meanwhile, Sandy the gal (McCarthy), is running up his credit cards, ruining his credit, getting mixed up with drug dealers, and skipping out on court dates. It doesn’t take long for Denver police to pick up Sandy the guy and arrest him on Florida warrants. Once they discover his identity has been stolen, they let him go.

The problem comes from the clients of the new accounting firm who are reading all sorts of nasty things about Sandy Bigelow Patterson on the internet. His new firm wants to fire him, the police can’t help because the thief is half a country away, and poor Sandy is fit to be tied.

It’s at this point that he decides to go to Florida, capture the fake Sandy, and bring her back to Denver where authorities can take her into custody and straighten out the problems with his work. While that’s a nice though and a superb plan, someone forgot to tell Sandy the thief about it and she begins to throw truckloads of monkey wrenches into the mix.

Sandy finds his alter ego and they begin a cross-country trek after he promises her that she won’t have to go to the police, just talk to his new bosses. Shortly after that a pair of drug dealers who’ve been ripped off by her, and a bounty hunter who’s been offered $50,000 to bring her in, converge on the action.

I enjoyed the movie and found it funny. It kept me smiling clear to the end and even as the credits were rolling. It is NOT, however, a kid friendly movie. The “F” word is used extensively (along with other words and phrases you could expect to hear should your identity be stolen), and there’s a sex scene that I think could have been easily left out. Older teens might be okay with it, but I guarantee you that they’ll be extremely uncomfortable, sitting in the same row as Mom and Dad during that part. You, on the other hand, will be uncomfortable if you’re in the same theater as they are.

There’s a lot of physical humor, almost to the point of being slapstick, but it’s not overdone. Violence is kept to somewhat of a minimum, but there are a lot of car crashes and some gun play involved.

Both Bateman and McCarthy are excellent in their respective roles, playing believable characters. Somehow, they get us attached to both of them rather than rooting for one over the other. There has been talk on the internet about how it was wrong of Reed to badmouth McCarthy because of her weight, but this movie required the female lead to be overweight and obnoxious. It just would not work with someone like Reese Witherspoon or Amy Adams playing a Southern-type gal to Bateman’s average man. The physical comedy wouldn’t work and the whole movie would have to be changed. The way they had it was perfect. The chemistry between the two was some of the best I’ve seen for a while.

I’ll give this one a B+. I enjoyed it enough to give it a high grade, and this is one I might end up owning. I won’t be showing it to my youngest daughter or my grandkids, though, and that’s what held it back.

Les Miserables

By Jon Gallagher

For some reason, even though touring companies have come through my area with off Broadway productions of Les Miserables, I’ve never seen the stage version of it. I have, however, read the Victor Hugo novel on which it is based. One of my advanced French classes in college required it and I remember struggling through it, determined not to read it in English. Maybe that’s what made me a little biased when it came to the movie.

Les Miserables is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway). The film has taken the Golden Globe award for each of those categories (Best Musical or Comedy) and is certain to take home a few Oscars as well.

But not if I were giving them out.

The story begins in 1825 and follows an ex-slave/criminal, Jean Valjean (Jackman), for the next 14 years. Valjean is caught stealing from a church, but through grace is spared when the priest fibs to police to protect him. He then devotes his life to helping others and becomes a successful businessman and mayor while being chased unmercifully by Javert (Russell Crowe), a prison guard who is sworn to bring Valjean to justice for violating his parole.

Fantine (Hathaway) is a young mother who works in one of Valjean’s factories. She is fired by a foreman and turns to prostitution to survive. In her death scene, she sings “I Dreamed a Dream,” (the song made more famous by Susan Boyle), and makes Valjean promise to watch after her daughter Cozette.

The next nine years are spent watching Cozette (Amanda Seyfried) mature and Valjean age. By this time, the peasants in Paris are ready to stage a revolution in protest of their miserable lives. Valjean is once again pulled apart by dilemmas: does he protect his charge Cozette, or does he allow her possible happiness by marrying one of the young revolutionaries?

Ninety-five percent of the movie is done in song. It’s more of an opera than a musical, along the lines of Jesus Christ Superstar or Phantom of the Opera.

Although I enjoyed the movie for the most part, I started looking at my watch about 90 minutes into it, wondering how much longer it was going to be. The film is 158 minutes (that’s two hours and 38 minutes if you don’t want to pull out the calculator) which, I think, is about 45 minutes too long. Things really started to drag towards the end.

Where I saw the movie, there were about 100 people in the theater and a few of them clapped at the end. I’m not sure if it was because they enjoyed the movie or because they were glad it was FINALLY over. I would have been in the latter group. I was surprised at the number of negative comments I heard on the way out.

The music was okay, but there are very few memorable songs, save “I Dreamed a Dream.”  I doubt if many people can hum or whistle any other tune from the movie. The vocals were impressive, especially Hathaway’s, though both Jackman and Crowe showed their considerable vocal skills as well.

I don’t believe it was good enough to take home the Oscar for Best Picture. 

Both Lincoln and Argo were better.

It’s hard to judge the acting performance of Hathaway and Jackman since all their lines were sung. Hathaway did a marvelous job with the big song in the show and I wouldn’t be surprised if she takes home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Her facial expressions and body language during her scenes added to her character.

As for Jackman, if he does get Best Actor, part of the credit should go to the makeup department. His transformation from slave to mayor to old dying man is amazing, but I’m just not sure how much was his acting ability and how much was makeup. I’m sure that the nomination stems mainly from the very touching scene at the end when he’s saying goodbye to Cozette. For me, that’s not enough to overcome someone like Daniel Day-Lewis, who maintains character throughout the entire movie. Jackman’s body language and facial expressions were not in the same league as Hathaway’s.

Some voters may feel obligated to keep up their “artsy-fartsy” image by voting for this as Best Picture, but as I said before, it’s not my choice. On my grading scale, I’ll give it a C+, mainly because of the length.

I won’t be buying or renting it once it comes out on DVD, but in all honesty, that might be the best way to enjoy this film with a pause button on hand to give an occasional break to the viewer. Just make sure you have a good sound system to get the full experience.

Jack Reacher

By Jon Gallagher

(Paramount Pictures, 2012) – Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Starring Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike, Werner Herzog, & Robert Duvall.

Those of us who are Lee Child fans have been waiting a long time for one of his books to be made into a movie. Child has penned 17 novels over the last 15 years, all of them featuring the ultimate loner Jack Reacher as the protagonist. Reacher is an ex-Military Policeman who has no home, carries no credit cards, and owns only the clothes on his back and a folding toothbrush which he keeps in a pocket. In the novels, Reacher always seems to just be roaming around the country when he happens upon an injustice, which requires him to kill several people while saving the day. He manages to live off his Army pension by having money wired to himself from the one thing he does own which is a bank account.

When it was announced that a movie was going to be made of one of Child’s novels, I was pretty excited. When I found out the movie was going to be based on his 2006 novel One Shot, I was even more excited. One Shot was one of the better novels Child has written and featured an intricate plot filled with twists and turns that kept you turning pages and guessing till the end.

I think I finished the book in two days. Usually a novel and I are partners for at least a week, sometimes 10 days.

Then came the bad news. Tom Cruise had been cast in the lead role. Now personally, I don’t have anything against Tom Cruise. In fact, I like most of his movies. There was just one small (pardon the upcoming pun) problem and that’s Cruise’s size. Child’s character is always listed at 6’5” while Cruise, at 5’6” is almost a full foot short of that. He’d be better suited to play a member of the Lollipop Guild rather than Jack Reacher.

I was also afraid they’d screw with the plot. On his website, Child assured his fans that Cruise was a good choice for Reacher and that he was happy with the script. Good enough for me.

The movie starts in Pittsburgh – the entire movie is filmed in the city – where a random shooting takes place. A highly-trained sniper shoots five random people along a walkway, then flees the scene. He leaves behind a plethora of evidence including a spent shell casing, tire tracks and shoe prints in some concrete dust, video of his van and its license plate pulling in and out of the structure, a pristine bullet which missed victims but lodged itself in a liquid dispenser, and a quarter with his thumbprint, found in the parking meter inside the garage.

It looks like a slam dunk for the prosecutor as they find the alleged sniper, passed out on his bed at home with the van in the garage and his boots by the door. They find the gun used in the shooting and his workshop for making his own ammunition. He had been trained as a sniper by the United States Army. While he is being questioned, he writes a note that says, “GET JACK REACHER.”

Before the police can attempt to contact Reacher, the suspect is beaten into a coma by other inmates. While the cops and DA puzzle about how to find this Reacher character, he shows up.

We learn, as Reacher begins to work with the suspect’s attorney Helen Rodin, daughter of District Attorney Rodin, that Reacher had come to find the suspect after hearing about the shooting on the news. Reacher, as an MP, had arrested the suspect in Iraq for going rogue and killing four “innocent” Iranian citizens, using the sniper techniques he’d been taught and had practiced for years. The suspect had gotten off on a technicality, but Reacher promised him that if he ever did anything like this again, he would come looking for him.

Reacher is convinced of the guy’s guilt from the get go. But when all the evidence seems to be too good to be true, and thugs start showing up to try and take him out, Reacher decides to stick around and dig a little deeper into the case. Thus, the rest of the movie is spent watching Jack Reacher beat up bad guys, run from cops, and try to save the female attorney he’s managed to put in danger.

The movie is decent. I enjoyed it and I went in thinking the worst (because I usually like the book better). In this case, the movie was every bit as good as I remember the book (I read it six years ago – I grab Lee Child’s books before the ink is dry). The dialogue seems to be forced at times and that did bother me, and there was a chase scene that I could have done without, but screenwriter (and director) Christopher McQuarrie stayed relatively loyal to the book (dialogue is the hardest thing to write for some people).

The villain is played by Werner Herzog, a director in his own right with more than 50 documentaries under his belt, and he is excellent. Rosamund Pike, a Bond girl from 10 years ago tackles the role of the female attorney, but the role still managed to rush for a first down plus. She was not impressive.

Robert Duvall plays a gunshop owner and is entertaining as he lends assistance to Reacher in the end. Old crusty men must be an easy role to play because I’ve given good reviews to several of them now.

Detective Emerson (David Oyelowo) and DA Rodin (Richard Jenkins) seem like they’re also just filling roles, but I’ll blame that on McQuarrie since he not only wrote the characters, but also told them how to play them. Jai Cortney is very good in the villainous second-banana role and deserves a mention.

Finally, Cruise did a good job with his performance. Personally, I would have cast someone else in the role had I been directing. Jim Caviezel of CBS’s Person of Interest comes to mind immediately, but his character on that show is more Jack Reacher-ish than the one seen in this movie. Dwayne Johnson might have been a good choice as well. I can’t fault Cruise for his performance because it was good; I just can’t say it was the right person for the role. Though if I had to give out the Best Actor of the Movie here, it would go to Cruise.

Part of the reason I’m going to rate it so high is because of the ending. I won’t say more than that so that it’s not ruined for you, but I thought the ending alone warranted a slightly higher rating of the movie overall.

Having said that, I enjoyed the movie and the ending enough to give it an A-. I thought the action sequences were good, I enjoyed the few humorous parts that were sprinkled in, and the plot itself was at least solid (if not a little unbelievable). I’ll probably rent this one again once it comes out, and to be truthful, I wouldn’t mind owning it once it hits the DVD shelves.

The opening weekend for the movie was good, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of Child’s other 16 books start filming in the very near future.

I do have to admit that the beginning of this movie made me extremely uncomfortable. Granted it was filmed quite a while ago, but it was released just a week after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. In the opening sequence, when the sniper is sighting his victims, we see the crosshairs of his scope trained on several potential targets, including a small child. In fact, when the sniper fires a shot in her direction, we’re not sure till much later in the movie whether the small girl was hit or whether it was the person carrying her.

I certainly hope that theaters in and around the Newtown area had enough sense to postpone the opening of this movie for a while. This is neither an argument for or against gun control; it’s observation based on compassion for an area of our country that could use a little right now.

Red Dawns

By Jon Gallagher

Red Dawn (United Artists, 1984) – Director: John Milius. Starring Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, and Charlie Sheen.

Red Dawn (Contrafilm, 2012) – Director: Dan Bradley. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, and Connor Cruise.

I’ve done some columns on reboots so I thought I was going to do a review of a reboot. But I’m not. They’re calling Red Dawn a remake. So I’m reviewing a remake.

Back in 1984, the United States was in a staring contest with the Soviet Union. We’d been at odds with them since the end of World War II, and tensions had run high since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Red Dawn came out just before the USSR fell apart, so the concept of the movie was very topical. It featured Russia invading the USA and a ragtag group of high schoolers fleeing to higher ground and conducting guerilla raids that drove the invading Ruskies nuts.

Since that time, we’ve become buddy buddy with Russia while a bunch of wackos changed the course of history by flying planes into buildings. Al-Qaeda makes a more likely villain for a movie like this, but since they really don’t have a country and their terror attacks only work on limited targets, the writers of this movie had to come up with a logical opponent to invade the United States.

Then again, if we want to start reviewing these movies based solely on logic, then we’re going to have a major problem. Both movies depend entirely on the willingness to suspend disbelief for a couple hours.

In the 1984 version, the movie starts with a prologue of sorts, explaining that the world has been plunged into war and that the Russians, along with the Cubans, have invaded Mexico. It makes no mention of what the United States did, so we can only assume that our military just sort of sat on the sidelines and watched everything happen around them. There’s very little that happens before paratroopers start falling out of the sky to invade a sleepy little Colorado town. Several teens head up into the mountains to escape, and then slowly, take back their town.

The movie is both tense and entertaining through most of it (it gets a little drawn out at the end) and it does an excellent job of allowing the audience to follow the quick maturation of a bunch of kids turned warriors. Part way into the movie they get the assistance of an Air Force pilot who has dropped in and tells the group that they are famous freedom fighters in unoccupied America.

Patrick Swayze stars as the leader of the rebels with a very young Charlie Sheen filling the role as his younger brother. Jennifer Grey, who will later star with Swayze in Dirty Dancing and Lea Thompson provide excellent female point of view as they mature from frightened teenage girls to battle-hardened veterans.

My only real problem is with the logic. I never understood why the Russians invaded Colorado. I understand the invasion of Mexico part, but then why didn’t they invade Texas (other than the fact that Texans are crazy and would have kicked their collective asses)?

I won’t give away the ending, but I thought the last 15 minutes of the movie were pretty lame. I rented it the other night because I hadn’t seen it in more than 25 years and needed a little refresher for this review. I’d give it a C, mainly because it falls apart so much in the last 15 minutes.

The newer version has North Korea attacking the US, which makes sense, I guess. This time the attack hits the coastline of the Pacific Northwest which really made a lot more sense than Colorado.

Once again, a group of kids band together and hide out in the mountains, running guerilla attacks on the invaders. The characters are very similar (some even have the same names).

The movie has been in the can for two years, but not released until Thanksgiving weekend. It seems that when they first made the film, they used the Chinese as the bad guys. Since then, it made more sense to use Korea, so they had to go through with their computers and change all the Chinese flags and insignias to Korean flags and insignias. That took some time, and the switch wasn’t noticeable.

We start off with a high school football game and spend entirely too much time trying to establish the second banana’s (Josh Peck) personality. His older brother (Chris Hemsworth) is home on leave from the Marines and stops by to watch his little brother play. The next day, the invasion begins.

Too much of this movie is spent trying to give us background on characters and not enough time developing them on screen. It’s like the writers are trying to cram the characters’ personalities down our throat rather than allowing us to discover who they are through their current actions and interactions.

The second movie also features a trio of Marines who drop in to help out the kids. I’m not sure they’re meant to be comic relief or not, but one of the guys uses nothing but military slang which leaves all but one of the group wondering what he’s talking about most of the time.

My other problem with the movie is the bad guy. He does some pretty bad stuff, but whether it was a result of miscasting or just bad acting, Will Yun Lee just doesn’t come across as being a mega-badass. Sure, we want to see him die at some point (SPOILER ALERT) because he kills another character, but I’m thinking maybe he killed the wrong one and that a better choice might have been more impactful when the good vs. evil moment comes. In fact, another victory or two over the Wolverines might have done the trick. We get the impression that the Wolverines always pull out a win at the last moment.

Then again, maybe it’s because I didn’t get emotionally attached to the character they do kill. 

Maybe it’s because the spent too much time developing the wrong characters.

I thought the action sequences were better this time around, but they should be, given the leaps and bounds of technology over the last 28 years. The Wolverines (the guerilla group’s name) wreck more havoc on their raids than in the first movie and there are times when I felt like cheering them on.

There is a point of logic that they explained, but not well enough for my tastes. Apparently, the invading forces were able to shut down large grids of electric power which is what allowed them to sneak past our defenses, allowing them to drop thousands of paratroopers onto our soil. I take it that this means that our defense systems have no back-up generators or anything else that might run the radar (I’m suddenly reminded of the Airplane movie where the guy unplugs a single cord and shuts everything down). TV and radio stations have them so they can broadcast the news, a house in the middle of the woods have them, but NORAD does not. Hmmmm.

My second bone to pick involves the technology the Koreans have. Evidently, they had what they need to shut down all electricity in an area and the ability to override everyone else’s cell phones (their own work due to a magic black box that they’ve got), but they don’t have the technology to detect the body heat of a dozen kids hiding out in the hills outside of town. Double Hmmmm.

If I can get past those two points (which would have been a lot easier to do had they not spent so much time trying to justify some of the illogical parts), then I enjoyed the movie. The ending was more satisfying than the first and the action sequences kept me more on the edge of my chair than the first (I honestly did not recall how the first one ended before seeing it again).

Once is enough for me. I won’t be renting or owning it on DVD. If you like action movies on the big screen, go see it. If you’re content with them on your home theater system, then be patient. It’ll be out soon.

I’ll give this one a C+, a slight bit better than the first, mainly because of the ending and the fact that they attacked the coastline rather than the middle of the country.

Bit O' Trivia

The original Red Dawn was the first movie released with a PG-13 rating.

It was also Charlie Sheen’s first movie (he had two previous uncredited roles as a child).

According to a website, the invasion by Russian and Cuban forces via Mexico was done because the Army War College and the CIA determined that that would be the weakest point of American defenses.

Red Dawn 2012 was to have the Chinese invading and the commander, played by Will Lun Lee was, naturally, Chinese. When they shifted to North Korea, Lee didn’t have to undergo much; he is Korean. He has had a recurring role on the latest incarnation of Hawaii Five-0.


By Jon Gallagher

(DreamWorks Studios, Touchstone Pictures, 2012) – Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and David Strathairn.

Let’s get this out of the way first thing: The producers of this movie better bring a really big truck to the Oscars, because Lincoln is going to take home a boatload of little statues.

Having said that, Steven Spielberg has worked his magic again, this time with his take on our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln in his new epic Lincoln. For those who are history buffs, you’ll absolutely love this movie and will come away with a little different view of Illinois’ favorite son. 

Those who enjoy period pieces and like good acting will appreciate the story and the efforts of the actors as well.

For those who don’t like history, you’ll think this two-and-a-half-hour movie lasts about twice as long as the Civil War did. You won’t even want to rent this one once it makes its way to DVD.

The movie begins in January 1865 and covers the time between then and (SPOILER ALERT) Lincoln’s assassination (Lincoln dies at the end). It is arguably the most important four month period in the history of the United States.

Spielberg puts a new spin on Lincoln that I don’t believe has ever been used before. We meet a man who is obsessed with passing the 13th Amendment and will do anything, including bribing Congressmen and promising patronage jobs to anyone who will give him their vote. Lincoln has the chance to negotiate peace with the Confederacy, but chooses instead to concentrate his efforts on the passage of the amendment instead, knowing that if the war ends, there will be no need for the amendment, and slavery will continue to be legal.

Especially with what has happened in Illinois politics with Rod Blagojevich being kicked out of the Governor’s mansion (well, technically he didn’t live there anyway) and sent to prison for trying to sell Barack Obama’s seat to former Gov. George Ryan spending his retirement in an orange jumpsuit for accepting bribes, Illinoisans may not be shocked at Abe’s wheeling and dealing. We know he did it; he just didn’t get caught.

Others who have had a pristine image of the Great Emancipator may be taken a little aback by this new information. And there is where Spielberg makes the most out of the conflict presented in this movie.

Lincoln’s choice is to allow the South to surrender, end the war (thus ending the bloodshed) and losing the chance to abolish slavery with a constitutional amendment OR stall the peace talks, allow the fighting to continue, and fight for the votes he needs from Congress to put the 13th Amendment on the books. If he accepts the Confederacy’s offers, then there’s no way the Amendment will pass because the Southern states will block it. He has to have it passed while the war wages on if it has any hope of all of ever being passed.

It’s quite a conundrum for old Honest Abe. There isn’t a soul who can blame him for the results, but he may be suspect for the route he took to get there. Movie-goers will have much to talk about as they exit the theater, that’s for sure.

Daniel Day-Lewis turns in a marvelous performance as Lincoln. We see several sides of the President, from the backwoods story teller to the loving father, to the at times tyrannical leader.  He uses his storytelling to illustrate points throughout the movie, both with family and with other politicians.

Sally Field is his much-maligned wife Mary Todd Lincoln, who is usually played as a psychotic lunatic. Field handles the role as a woman on the edge having lost a son while in the White House and being first lady while a war ravishes her own husband. I look for her to walk on stage to accept one of those golden statues.

Tommy Lee Jones is Thaddeus Stevens, a powerful Republican Congressman who is helping Lincoln secure the votes he needs to pass the Amendment. I’m not sure of the reason, but Jones sports what has to be the worst wig in the history of filmmaking or for that matter, mankind. I may have missed the reason for the wig as he does make a reference to it later in the movie.

Secretary of State William Seward is played by David Strathairn, who bears an uncanny likeness to him. I thought he was better than Jones, but will probably be overlooked when it comes time to nominate actors for awards.

It is Day-Lewis under the direction of Spielberg who sets the movie apart. He is able to go from charming father to demanding politician in the blink of an eye, and make it believable.

While most movies of this sort would be tempted to include the assassination at Ford’s Theater, this one does not. We learn of Lincoln’s death another way and John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators are not mentioned (a little surprising as Seward was attacked on the same evening).

For those of us in Central Illinois, where Lincoln sites abound, it’s fun to hear the President tell a story in the movie of a Metamora woman he defended while a lawyer, on charges that she killed her husband. It was the only reference in the movie itself that I caught of anything to do with our area.

In the credits, an old professor of mine, Douglas Wilson is thanked and the Knox College Lincoln Studies Center is also mentioned. It was nice to see my alma mater mentioned in a Spielberg film.

I’ll rate this one a solid A, given my penchant for history, but as I stated at the beginning, I don’t think it’s good enough to overcome someone’s dislike of all things historical. I also don’t think you’re going to find a lot of people under the age of 21 who will enjoy the movie. 

Despite my high rating, I don’t think this is one I’ll own on DVD; it’s one of those movies that you see and enjoy once, maybe twice, but that’s enough.

Taken 2

By Jon Gallagher

(EuropaCorp, 2012) – Director: Olivier Magaton. Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Framke Jannsen, and Rade Serbedzija.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of sequels, especially if I haven’t seen the first one. It may be a little hard to get up to speed on the characters if I haven’t seen the predecessor. Fortunately, I did see Taken, so when I went to see its sequel, Taken 2, I had a good idea of where things were going to go.

Although seeing the first movie isn’t a prerequisite for Taken 2, it is a good idea. The original gives you a better understanding of the main character Bryan Mills (Neeson) and just how far he will go to save someone he loves. If you haven’t seen the first movie, you can still enjoy the sequel, but I’m guessing, you won’t like it quite as much.

Taken (the first) has Mills’ daughter Kim, who lives with her mother, going off to Paris with friends. While there, she is kidnapped and she is about to be sold into sex slavery. Her dad (Neeson) is a retired CIA agent with a “special set of skills” that allows him to track her and the bad guys down, and saving her. 

Sorry if that spoils the ending for you, but you have to figure that if there’s a sequel, then he probably got the job done in the first movie.

Taken 2 picks up not long after the first movie ends. Mills is trying hard to reestablish a relationship with his daughter, but he’s a bit overprotective (understandable, even if she hadn’t been kidnapped in the first movie). After his ex-wife has a breakup with her current boyfriend, Mills offers to take her and Kim to Istanbul for a little R and R.

Meanwhile, the father of the first movie’s bad guy is seeking revenge for the death of his son. He doesn’t seem to care that his son was a human trafficker, selling young girls and destroying countless lives; he only want justice (most people call that revenge). He puts together a team of bad guys who somehow find out that Bryan and his family will be in Turkey, and plots to kidnap all three.

He manages to get Bryan and his wife, but this time, Kim is able to elude the bad guys, and plays a big role in helping her dad.

The plot is pretty straightforward. I wasn’t thrilled with what they did with the basic concept. I think they could have taken a bit more time to develop the storyline, which might have made the whole movie more exciting.

There were some tense parts in the movie, but nothing that might make your hair stand on end. There are some chase scenes, both on foot and in cars, but those too, are nothing for director Megaton to brag about. As a matter of fact, people who like to point out inconsistencies (like bullet holes that appear and disappear randomly and windshields that miraculously heal themselves for short periods of time) will need a lot of paper on which to take notes. I’m not sure what kind of cars they use for taxis in Istanbul, but I can tell you they’re practically indestructible (at least through 95 percent of the chase).

Neeson is good in his role. I sure wouldn’t mess with him. Then again, I wouldn’t mess with Dakota Fanning, so my assessment may not hold a lot of water. Great acting, however, is not what the director was trying to achieve with this movie; he was after the action sequences combined with the suspense element. It’s just okay in both of those regards. Neeson was much better in the first movie.

The rest of the cast (no one you’ve probably ever heard of) is adequate, but that’s about it. They weren’t as bad as the casts that Steven Seagal uses in his bombs, but no one here will ever be confused with Oscar nominees either. 

All in all, I give it a very low C-. It was better than I expected, but not one that I would see more than once, even on DVD. It gets the grade based on the thriller elements and the basic plot, but little else. I debated for a while whether I should drop it into the D ratings.

Don’t bother seeing it in the theater. I don’t think the big screen added anything to the movie at all. Wait for it on DVD and if you like action/thrillers, and you’ve already seen Taken, give it a try. You may be more impressed than me.

Christmas Story 2

By Jon Gallagher

(Digital Diva Films Canada, 2012) - Director: Brian Levant. Starring Daniel Stern, Braeden Lemasters, and Stacey Travis.

If there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen at least a half hour of 1983’s A Christmas Story, I haven’t met them. Nor do I think I ever will. The ubiquitous film director by Bob Clark is usually broadcast 24 hours in a row on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day by Superstation TBS. 

Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know that Ralphie wants an Official Red Ryder Carbine-action, 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas? Is there anyone who isn’t afraid he’ll shoot his eye out?

A Christmas Story is based on the writings of Jean Shepherd, a humorist/radio host who wrote and broadcasted about his days growing up in the 1940s in small town Indiana. Shepherd wrote tons of stories (many appeared in Playboy) which recounted his youth. Four books (“In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: and Other Disasters,” “The Ferrari in the Bedroom,” and “A Fistful of Fig Newtons”) were compiled from his stories and A Christmas Story is put together using several stories from his books.

In A Christmas Story, Shepherd can be heard throughout the movie, narrating the story. He also has a brief cameo as he directs Ralphie to the end of the line when he shows up to see Santa.

When A Christmas Story came out in 1983, there was no real fanfare and it didn’t do well at the box office. It was released around Thanksgiving, but by Christmas, it could only be found in second-run theaters. It wasn’t until it was released on video that it took off through word of mouth.

Having said all that, it only took 19 years for them to make the sequel. A Christmas Story 2 was released this past week and it went straight to DVD without a stop in the theaters. The new movie, also based on the writings of Shepherd, finds the Parker family in the same old house some seven years later. Ralphie is ready to turn 16, the Old Man is still battling the furnace, Mom is still holding the family together, and little brother Randy no longer makes pig noises at the table, but actually formulates words instead.

Ralphie is played by Braeden Lemasters, a 16-year-old who bears an uncanny resemblance to young Ralphie. Stacey Travis is the mother, Valin Shinyei is Randy, and Flick and Schwartz (David W. Thompson and David Huehrle) have also grown into teens. Daniel Stern (Home Alone, and a bunch more) has the formidable task of playing The Old Man, a role made for and defined by Darren McGavin. 

The trouble with making a sequel is it will always be judged by the original. When the original is a classic like A Christmas Story, there’s no way the sequel is ever going to live up to the original. Maybe that’s why it took 19 years to do this one.

The movie itself is entertaining, and it has its laugh-out-loud moments. The plot is simple enough. Ralphie is dreaming of owning a car, an old beat up clunker at the local used car dealer. He goes to show it to his friends Flick and Schwartz and ends up releasing the parking brake which allows the car to roll backwards. A Christmas decoration drops through the canvas roof of the car, leaving Ralphie on the hook for $85, the cost to repair the damage. The used car dealer gives him till Christmas Eve to come up with the cash.

The rest of the movie is spent with Ralphie trying to raise that enormous amount of money (it’s just after the end of WWII) with the help of his two friends. The movie also has a few Walter Mitty-type flashbacks, in the same fashion as its predecessor. 

The acting is decent with David W. Thompson taking home the Best Actor in the Movie Award. Stern tries, but no matter how hard he does, there’s just no replacing McGavin, and it’s impossible to keep his portrayal of The Old Man out of the equation. There is a scene with Santa where I thought that McGavin had somehow come back to life and was hiding beneath the beard. 

If you take away comparisons to the first movie, this one can stand on its own. If you insist on making those comparisons, then you’re going to be seriously disappointed with this one. Go into it with an open mind, and I promise you’ll enjoy is a lot more.  I’ll give this one a B-, mainly because it was good to see the writings of Shepherd back on the big screen (even though it’s on DVD).

Technically, A Christmas Story 2 is the SECOND sequel to be made from A Christmas Story. In 1994, director Bob Clark worked with Shepherd again to film a movie called It Runs in the Family. The Parkers are back, although none of them look like the original cast, and this time it’s summer. 

Again, the movie is based on short stories Shepherd wrote about his childhood, mainly from the Wanda Hickey book. Charles Grodin plays the Old Man and the boys are played by Macaulay Culkin’s younger brothers, Kieran and Christian. Mary Steenburgen is the mom. Despite my best efforts to find this film, I have been unable. I’m told it’s because one of the cast members has devoted their life to finding every last copy of it and destroying it, but I’m sure that’s just an old wives’ tale.


By Jon Gallagher 

(WB, 2012) Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber, and Tate Donovan.

It is rare when a movie lives up to its hype or previews. Argo, from director Ben Affleck, not only lives up to those lofty expectations, but surpasses them as well.

The movie is based on the true story of how Iranian “students” captured the American Embassy in 1979, holding 52 American diplomats as hostages during the Iranian Revolution and overthrow of the Shah of Iran. Six diplomats managed to escape and take refuge in the Canadian Embassy. The movie chronicles the details of how they escaped the country and returned home.

Although I’m sure certain liberties were taken with the actual events, Affleck as director, combines fact and fiction to give us two hours of exceptional entertainment, complete with breath-holding moments in the final minutes of the film. Even for those of us who lived through the Iran Hostage Crisis and know the ending, the film’s climactic scenes kept us on the edge of our seats.

Affleck not only directs the movie, but stars as well, playing the lead role of Tony Mendez, the lead CIA operative in charge of extracting the six escapees. John Goodman is equally excellent as Jack Chambers, a makeup artist (he was responsible for the Planet of the Apes makeup) who helps Mendez forge the plot and cover story. However, 78-year old Alan Arkin steals the show with his portrayal of Lester Siegel (a fictional composite), in the process taking the crotchety old man character to new heights.

The movie begins with the Iranian students taking control of the Embassy and the six escaping to the Canadian Embassy. The CIA calls Mendez to sit in on a brainstorming session by the CIA. How to come up with an extraction plan? During the takeover, diplomats shredded documents, including pictures and dossiers on all American employees, but the Iranians are reconstructing those documents in a painstakingly slow process much like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. The CIA fears that it won’t be long till they discover the six missing.

Ideas are floated and tossed around the meeting. The best anyone can come up with is to provide the six with bicycles and have them ride more than 300 miles to the Turkish border at the beginning of winter. Other ideas are shot down as well, mainly because of the security at the airports and other checkpoints, keeping outsiders out and insiders in.

Mendez hatches a plan that would have a Canadian movie crew scout the region for a place to film a new movie. He enlists the aid of Chambers and Siegel to put together a believable plot, complete with fake script, fake publicity, and even a fake office in Hollywood. The script they settle on is called Argo and is a science fiction monstrosity, an obvious rip off of Star Wars.

Mendez is given a window of about 72 hours to get in, give the six diplomats their new identities, and have them learn their new backgrounds in case they are stopped.

One would think that anyone being hiding out in such a manner would be more than anxious to escape, but at least one of the six expresses his doubts as to whether the mission will work, and rebels against the idea. The conflict is set up and could be the proverbial monkey wrench waiting to be tossed into the CIA’s plan.

I’m told that the last 30 minutes of the film, the nail-biting scenes, are almost entirely fiction. I’ll give Affleck a pass on that. After all, just because the Von Trapp family escaped Austria by walking to a train station with no Nazi soldiers chasing them, either through the station or an Abby, the Sound of Music is still a wonderful movie. If Affleck would have told the actual story, we’d probably have been bored to tears.

There was a round of applause given to the movie from the audience where I screened the film (Peoria, Illinois, on a Sunday afternoon) that quickly died away as the credits rolled. Credit was given to the Canadian Government for their role in the extraction and a reflection by former President Jimmy Carter was heard as pictures from the 1979-1980 time-frame were shown. 

Affleck also included side-by-side pictures of the stars and the real people they portrayed. Special kudos go to Lara Kennedy, who was responsible for the casting, and which was drop dead straight on.

When the credits quit rolling and the lights came on, most of the audience (who had stayed) burst into a nice round of applause, something that I haven’t witnessed for a while.

I’ll expect this one to garner at least a couple of nominations when it comes award time. Affleck should be nominated for his directing and either Arkin or Goodman (perhaps both) for their supporting roles. The cinematography may take some hardware home as well; they used special techniques to give the whole film the look and feel of something from the late 70s and early 80s.

Obviously I’m giving the movie an A+.  I’m anxious to own this DVD and see what other goodies Affleck will include with it.

Look! Up in the Sky! – The History of Superman

By Jon Gallagher

Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s a bird!  It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Even as a kid, I had to wonder about the citizenry who couldn’t tell a bird from a plane, let alone a caped guy flying around their city. And for that matter, what the heck would get them so excited about seeing a freaking bird flying around, much less a plane.

I was cynical even as a kid.

A few weeks ago I was discussing reboots with Ed Garea. This is when Hollywood has run out of new ideas, so they recycle old ideas with new twists. That time we talked about Spiderman and Batman.

Well, now it’s Superman’s turn.

Superman has been rebooted more times than a cowboy walking cross-country without a horse. 

Superman began as a comic book, first appearing in Action Comics in 1938. Since that time, Superman has undergone several changes and it seems that each generation makes their own changes to his storyline. In the comics, they’ve managed to justify the different paths the stories take by saying that there are parallel Earths, and that a different Superman exists on each, with just slight changes in his biography.

For example, one Superman discovered that he had powers as a baby. On that Earth, there was a Superboy. On other Earths, he doesn’t discover his superpowers until he’s a young adult. Sometimes, in the comics, the Supermen from the different Earths get together and then I’m really confused.

One thing is for sure and is a constant throughout. Superman was born on another planet and came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Hey… someone should write that down. It’d make a good intro someday. 

The planet was identified later as Krypton, and so far, that has remained consistent throughout each telling of his life. But that’s where things start to change. As the comic books remained consistent, radio, TV and motion pictures started giving their own slant on things.

Superman began on radio in 1940 and enjoyed an 11-year run with future game show host Bud Collyer supplying the voice of the Man of Steel. This weekly series introduced two important items into the Superman lore that have remained. First was Jimmy Olson, a cub reporter for the Daily Planet who became buds with both Superman and Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent. 

It also introduced Kryptonite, small bits of the planet Krypton that came to earth as meteorites and are deadly to Superman.

In 1948, Kirk Alyn began portraying Superman in a series of movie serials. He reprised the role for Atom Man vs. Superman, filmed as a movie, but later split into mini movies for serialization. Alyn, typecast in the role, had trouble finding other work in Hollywood after that. He had a cameo in the 1978 movie Superman.

TV provided us with the Superman associated with Galesburg, Illinois. George Reeves, whose mother lived in Galesburg, starred in the title role from 1952-1958. 

In this series, there was little difference between Clark Kent and the Man of Steel. Clark was little more than Superman with glasses, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone; the series was a huge success. The first two seasons were filmed in black and white, but later episodes were in color, which meant they had to get a Superman costume with the color scheme correct. In the first episodes, Reeves wore a costume that was grey because it didn’t matter.

This series featured some special effects, but most things were left to the imagination. Reeves would use a springboard to jump out of windows, landing on padded mats out of the camera’s view. When entering a room through a window, Reeves would swing like a gymnast from a bar outside the window. Fortunately, Reeves, despite being in his 40s at the time, was athletic enough to pull off the stunt.

One thing that really bothered me was when the bad guys would shoot at Superman. He’d stand there, letting the bullets bounce off his chest. After the criminal had emptied his gun, he would always throw it at Superman.

Think about that. Bullets won’t hurt the guy, so throwing the gun at him might. 

Then, instead of letting the gun bounce off of him like the bullets did, Superman would DUCK! That makes sense.

Other than animated series, we went without a Superman for 20 years. In 1978, Christopher Reeve (no relation to George Reeves) would take over the role and become the best Superman celluloid would ever know.

Reeve, in his portrayal of the Kryptonian, gave us a Superman who had fun. Special effects allowed us to “believe a man can fly” as the advertisements at the time claimed. His Clark Kent character stammered and ran into things, slouching to hide his physique. In one magical moment in the movie, Clark is in Lois Lane’s apartment (Lois is Superman’s love interest) when he decides to reveal his identity. Lois is in the other room and Clark removes his glasses and straightens up, becoming Superman. He has second thoughts and just as she comes back in the room, he slips his glasses back on, and resumes his Clark Kent persona.

This Superman is one that was aware of the differences between himself and others as a teen, but didn’t fully realize his powers until he, as a young adult, took a crystal from his home planet to the Arctic where the crystal built his Fortress of Solitude, a place that trained him and revealed his origin on the planet Krypton.

Reeve would reprise his role in three more sequels in 1980, 1983, and 1987. Each lost some steam as writers ran out of ideas, and by the time the final movie came out audiences had tired of the series.

That didn’t stop television. In 1988, a series called The Adventures of Superboy made its debut on the tube. The series ignored the movies and made Superboy a college student. As a superhero he worked for a government agency while as Clark Kent, he attended college. 

Somehow, the series made it through 100 half hour episodes, ending in 1992. Gerard Christopher took the honors of donning the cape for this go-round. 

An interesting note from the series, which was set at Shuster University: there was a building on campus called the Siegel Center. This honored Superman’s creators Jerry Shuster and Joe Siegel.

Almost as soon as the series ended, ABC came out with Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The series starred Dean Cain as the strange visitor from another planet while Teri Hatcher was Lois Lane.

In this series, which lasted 87 (one-hour) episodes, was played tongue in cheek, much like the Batman series of the 1960s. Although not as campy as Batman, no one seemed to take themselves too seriously. Here, Lois knows that Clark is Superman, but somehow manages not to reveal it to the world. Again, there’s not a lot of difference between Clark and Superman; both are a little nerdish this time around.

In 2001, the WB came out with Smallville, yet another take on the Superman origin. In this series, which lasted 10 years, Clark is a teenager, being raised by his parents Jonathan and Martha Kent. The town of Smallville was hit with a meteor shower, which brought all sorts of problems, causing several residents to mutate into humans with special powers. Lex Luthor, who will eventually become Superman’s arch enemy, loses his thick shock of red hair because of radiation. The meteor shower, of course, was parts of the planet Krypton that came right along with the spaceship carrying baby Kal-El (Superman’s Kryptonian name). 

Tom Welling plays Clark, who dons the tights and cape just once in the final episode. Throughout the 10-year run, however, Clark is seen wearing some combination of red, blue and yellow, the colors of Superman’s costume.

The series follows Clark throughout his high school years, introduces Luthor and Lana Lang, setting the stage for Clark’s future life as Superman. Lex and Clark are best buds though the first few years, but become bitter enemies by the end of the series. Lana is Clark’s first love, and we discover that they lose their virginity to each other. Lane is also introduced and becomes Clark’s lover and fiancé. 

My favorite parts of the show are the inside jokes that are often used. John Schneider, who had played one of the Duke boys on The Dukes of Hazzard, played Clark’s father Jonathan. In one episode, Jonathan is riding along in his truck and his radio starts playing One-Note Waylon Jennings’ “Good Old Boys,” which was the theme song of the Dukes. In another episode, Tom Wopat, the other Duke boy, shows up for a reunion with Jonathan in a car that looks suspiciously like the General Lee, the car they drove in their original series.

The show also has some interesting connections to the Christopher Reeve movies. Annette O’Toole plays Martha Kent in Smallville but in 1983, she played Lana Lang in Superman III. Terrance Stamp is the voice of Jor-El, Clark’s Kryptonian father, throughout the series. It’s not the first time he’s played a Kryptonian because in Superman II, he was the evil General Zod who came to Earth looking for the son of Jor-El. 

Reeve, who by this time was paralyzed because of his horseback riding accident, appears in two episodes as Dr. Virgil Swann (a salute to longtime Superman comic book artist Curt Swann), who gives Clark quite a bit of the background he needs from his past. Reeve died shortly after filming his role. It’s quite eerie seeing him talk to Clark from his wheelchair, knowing that he once played that role himself.

Others, including Cain, Hatcher, Helen Slater (Supergirl in the movie by the same name), and Margot Kidder (Lois in the Superman movies), have roles as well.

Interesting to note that Oliver Queen, the alter ego of superhero Green Arrow, is a regular and played by Justin Hartley. Hartley’s official bio lists him as being born in Knoxville, Illinois, in 1977 (he was either born at home or they moved Cottage or St. Mary’s a few miles east), and claims to have spent the first few years of his life on Westview Drive. Heck…. I may have done a magic show at one of his birthday parties!

In 2006, not to be outdone, Bryan Singer directed Superman Returns. Brandon Routh landed the lead role with Kate Bosworth playing Lane. Kevin Spacey is Luthor.

In this movie, the characters are a little darker with Lois basically being a slut. Superman (along with Clark) vanished five years ago, leaving Lois by herself. When he returns, she’s got a five-year-old kid who she claims belongs to her fiancé Richard White. The problem is the kid exhibits super abilities which makes me wonder if Lois can’t remember who she slept with. If it was Richard, then it sure didn’t take her long to get over Superman because the child was born nine months later.

The budget on this movie must have been really low because they used major parts of the first Reeve movie’s script, including the part where Superman saves Lois from a crashing aircraft and reminds her that “statistically speaking,” flying is still the safest mode of transportation.

Basically, the movie sucked.

I’m not sure why the movie was made given the fact that so much was taken from the 1978 film. Maybe Singer wanted to correct a couple things he didn’t like in it.

Producers corrected one major thing: they scrapped the idea for a sequel because of all the bad reviews this one got, not to mention the egg it laid at the box office.

So here we are in 2012 and trailers are starting to pop up in movie theaters for the newest incarnation of Superman, this one called Man of Steel and set to be released on June 14, 2013.

Evidently this reboot is going to take us back to the beginning again with Superman landing on Earth. 

Gee, I think we got that already.

Christopher Nolan, who was responsible for the latest reboot of Batman, is the producer and I’m told that there will be quite a few changes to Superman’s character. He won’t be as bold and self-confident as he’s been portrayed in the past, and Lois isn’t going to be as interested in him as she has in every other version.

I’m not sure how that’s going to work out. Superman without Lois would be like Lucy without Ricky, Fonzie without Richie, or Andy without Barney. Sure it’s been done, but the end result wasn’t quite the same.

Superman’s costume has also undergone some changes. Instead of wearing his underwear on the outside of his tights, the red trunks have vanished. This reflects the new Superman in DC Comics whose costume doubles as a suit of armor (uh…. Isn’t Supes invulnerable anyway???). 

The big red “S” on his chest doesn’t stand for Superman; it’s more of a family crest in the form of a shield. This started to be established in the 1978 version when Jor-El, Superman’s father (Marlon Brando) had the same insignia on his shirt while still on Krypton. Later, and I’m not sure where, it was revealed that the “S” is a Kryptonian symbol which means “hope.”

I’ll go and see the movie when it arrives in theaters, but I can’t say I’m quaking with anticipation. I’m not sure anyone can do justice to the role that Reeve defined.

I wonder when Hollywood is just going to say, “Let’s leave well enough alone.”

Just a bit of trivia….

·    The original Superman in the comics did not fly. He could leap an eighth of a mile, but he did not fly. That came later.
     Superman’s home is Metropolis, a fictional town that closely resembles New York City, at least in the Reeve movies (including a Statue of Liberty). In Smallville, Metropolis is in Kansas, not far from Smallville that is also in Kansas.
     There is, however, a real Metropolis, and it’s located in Illinois. The town is located in the southern tip of the state, about 30 miles from the Kentucky border. They have a Superman Museum there and they hold a Superman festival on the second weekend of June each year. 
     It was declared the official hometown of Superman in 1972. The newspaper there officially changed its name to the Metropolis Planet. Evidently it doesn’t come out daily.
     In 1961, a pilot was filmed in black and white called “The Adventures of Superboy.” John Rockwell was cast as Superboy and 13 scripts were written in anticipation of the show being picked up. Networks took a look but determined that the cost to produce each episode with the special effects needed was too much and only the pilot was ever put on film.
     The Daily Planet was originally called the Daily Star.

In the movie Hollywoodland, a movie about the life of George Reeves, actor Ben Affleck falls from his harness while filming a flying scene. When he gets up, stunned, he says, “I’d like to thank the Academy and all the good people of Galesburg, Illinois, for their support….”

Finally, if you really want to show off your Superman trivia knowledge, Clark Kent’s middle name is Joseph.

Trouble With the Curve

By Jon Gallagher 

(WB/Malpaso, 2012) Director: Robert Lorenz.  Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, John Goodman, Chelcie Ross, Justin Timberlake.

Clint Eastwood, fresh off a command performance with an empty chair at the Republican National Convention, stars as an aging baseball scout chasing one last recruit before being put out to pasture. Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake co-star.

Gus Lobel (Eastwood) has made a career out of signing some of the hottest baseball talent known to the game. A widower who sent his six-year-old daughter off to live with relatives (almost 30 years ago) and then boarding school after the death of his wife, Gus has to cope with failing eyesight and the onslaught of technology as he tries to hang on for one more amateur draft. His latest signee is struggling in the minors as he chases the newest potential phenom around high school baseball fields in North Carolina.

Gus’ daughter Mickey (Adams) has grown up and become an up-and-coming corporate attorney, trying to become the youngest (and only female) partner in her law firm. She continues to work on a big company deal from afar as she takes off to look after her father on his recruiting trip at the urging of an old family friend. She becomes Gus’ eyes on the trip, using her own knowledge of the game to help her father and his evaluation.

Justin Timberlake, formerly of ‘N Sync, reprises his role of the empty chair at the RNC as a former pitcher turned scout who becomes Mickey’s love interest and Gus’ rival (though friendly) scout. As a matter of fact, Gus had signed Johnny “the Fireball” Flannigan (Timberlake) before he blew out his arm.

Gus can’t see anymore, yet he has to evaluate a young power hitter and make a recommendation to his team (the Braves) whether or not to sign him. Johnny’s team (the Red Sox) has the first pick in the draft which leads to him having to make a decision based on whether to trust Gus’ failing eyesight and their friendship, and Mickey’s knowledge of the game.

A drama, with some cute parts thrown in to keep it on the lighthearted side, the movie is predictable, which is not a bad thing in this case. Writer Randy Brown is a firm believer in foreshadowing and drops enough clues throughout the movie to bring us to a satisfying resolution.  

The film, though about baseball, is not about baseball. It’s about relationships, which makes it a good picture for both guys and gals. It has enough baseball to keep the baseball fan interested and enough of the relationship angle to keep romantics at heart happy.

Eastwood does a great job playing a crotchety old man (maybe he’s not playing a role here) and Adams is excellent in her role as well. Timberlake, though I’ve enjoyed him in other movies, doesn’t offer anything in this project, seemingly, just going along for the ride. There is one scene involving Eastwood that actually brought a tear to my eye. Overall, it’s an excellent performance.

I give the movie an A-. It’s one that I will rent and watch again after it comes out on DVD. It may even make it to my collection.

Reboot: The Amazing Spiderman

By Jon Gallagher 

Sometimes it seems like Hollywood has run out of ideas. Instead of coming up with new ones, they simply go back into their vaults, find an obscure movie, rewrite it, recast it, and remake it. We used to call them “Remakes.” 

Some, like Here Comes Mr. Jordan, follow the original almost exactly with only a few minor changes to update the film. Others, like The Poseidon Adventure, keep the basic premise intact while changing storylines, characters, and sometimes even the plot.

Now, Hollywood doesn’t call them Remakes. They call them “Reboots.” A reboot is basically when someone doesn’t like another director’s or writer’s perspective on a movie, they change it, remake it, and pretend the other movie never happened.

Batman has been rebooted a couple of times, more if you count the serials done in the 1940s and the movie version of the 60s’ TV show. Poor Alfred has a hard time telling the different Batmans apart considering seven different actors have now donned the cape and cowl.

We shouldn’t be so surprised then that someone thought they could do a better job with the Spiderman franchise. I’ll have to admit that I’ve been a Spiderman fan since the early 60s when the first Spiderman comic appeared. At one time I owned the first 200 issues of the series (most of them missing their covers since I was not a very good collector).

I enjoyed the first three Spiderman movies that came out a few years ago with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst (OK, I enjoyed the first one, tolerated the second, and forced myself to sit through the third), but felt like something was missing.

Flash forward to 2012. Marc Webb directs a reboot of Spiderman that explores the origin of the superhero more in depth than its predecessor. Andrew Garfield lands the role of the webslinger and Emma Stone plays his love interest Gwen Stacy.

As one who cried for nearly a month when Marvel killed off Gwen Stacy in the early 70s, I was anxious to see how a director would handle her role in a movie, knowing that her days were numbered.

The Amazing Spiderman itself is decent. The introduction follows the same path that the Spiderman storyline had trod since 1962 (the specific details have changed). Peter is bitten by a spider that’s been exposed to radiation of some sort and he develops the abilities of a spider (super strength, speed, and the ability to walk on walls and the ceiling). He resists becoming a crime fighter until his Uncle Ben is killed by a guy who had just committed a robbery who Peter had a chance to stop, but didn’t.

In this movie, Peter is obsessed with finding out more about his parents, his father in particular, who dropped him at Ben and May’s house prior to going into hiding. We learn that Peter’s parents are killed in a plane crash not long after dropping him off with his aunt and uncle. His father had been working on some sort of formula that would allow animals to regenerate lost limbs like certain reptiles. He finds his father’s old lab partner, Dr. Curt Connors, who is still working on the project 15 years later, trying to regenerate his own arm which he lost in an accident.

Peter supplies a missing formula and Dr. Connors is able to complete a formula that works on lab rats. His employers insist that he try it on humans, perhaps wounded veterans, without approval in an attempt to save the corporation’s founder, who is sick. Connors tries it on himself and he regrows an arm. Unfortunately, the effects turn him into a giant lizard who goes on to attack New York City and become Spiderman’s first official foe.

While the movie was decent, there were several things which bothered me. First, Gwen Stacy is not only a 17-year-old high school junior, she’s also Dr. Connor’s trusted assistant at Oscorp. I’m not sure how she landed such a cushy job or why she has access not only to most of his research, but passwords and key cards as well. I’m also not sure how Peter Parker gets past such lackadaisical security to enter the room where he’s bitten by the spider.

I also had problems with the casting of Peter and Gwen. Andrew Garfield is a 29-year-old playing someone who’s 18 and Emma Stone is 24 in the role of a 17-year-old. Seeing these two roaming the hallways of a high school was like watching John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John trying to pass themselves off as teenagers back in 1978. Both looked way too old for high school students.

The plot moves slowly through the first hour of the movie, dwelling more on Peter’s personal life than his superhero persona. Once things get going, Webb relies on a lot of CGI effects as Spiderman battles the Lizard. I’m sure these scenes, especially the ones of Spiderman swinging through downtown Manhattan, would have been spectacular either in 3D or IMAX, but neither was available.

The Best Actor Award of the film goes to Martin Sheen who plays kindly old Uncle Ben. His crotchety old-man persona lent itself perfectly for this movie and he gave Peter several bits of sound advice. Too bad he didn’t manage to pass some of it along to his real-life son.

Aunt May deserves a mention as well. Sally Field, who I still see as Sister Bertrille, does a nice job too, making Aunt May less old than the comics have her (in the comics, she appears to be right around 134).

I give the movie a solid C-plus. It’s not one that I’d see again in the theater, and probably not rent either. If you didn’t see it in the theater, I’d recommend rental if you’re a Spiderman fan. Kids under about 15 will be bored with this one, so don’t bother renting it if you’re looking for a babysitter.

Too Much Trivia Department: In the original comic, Peter, trying to make some extra money, takes on a professional wrestler (remember…this is 1962). The wrestler’s name is Crusher Hogan. Twenty years later, Vince McMahon would attempt to trademark the name Hulk Hogan only to find out that Marvel Comics owned the trademark on “the Incredible Hulk.” Rather than get into a lengthy and expensive court battle, Vince was able to purchase the exclusive rights to the name “Hulk Hogan” from Marvel.

See Ya, Harry!

By Jon Gallagher

I’d love to sit in on one of those discussions that TV execs have when discussing which shows to keep and which ones to dump. It’d be fascinating to see if there actually are people in the world as stupid as these morons lead us to believe they are.

Let’s take NBC for example. In 2011 they put together a mid-season replacement that attracted a lot of attention. Harry’s Law starred Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates as a 50-something patent lawyer who grew tired of the drudgery of corporate law and walked out of her world into one that she wasn’t aware existed.

She finds herself in one of Cincinnati’s rougher neighborhoods when someone falls out of the sky and lands on her.

You read that right. The guy was trying to commit suicide and had jumped off the roof of a building only to land on an awning which broke his fall, then propelled him onto Harriet “Harry” Korn. Both take it as a sign from God that she should open a law office right there.

As she’s scouting the neighborhood for a good location again, a driver careens out of control and rams into her which of course cements her decision to leave the world of corporate law behind for the satisfaction of practicing law out of a storefront. She opens up her law office in a former shoe store which still has an inventory of shoes on hand. Fortunately for Harry, her assistant who makes the move with her from corporate to storefront law just happens to be a fashion expert which leads to the opening of “Harry’s Law and Fine Shoes.”

The characters in Season One are wonderful on many levels. Paul McCrane, best remembered for his role as Dr. Robert Romono on ER, is assistant district attorney Josh Peyton who ends up going a little bonkers after being beaten by Harry in court once too often (he strips to his underwear during court while complaining about how the system strips him of his prosecutorial powers).

Damien Winslow III, played by Johnny Ray Gill, offers protection for the neighborhood with his special brand of insurance. Nate Corddry is the hyperactive driver of the car that hits Harry, who just happens to be a lawyer himself. 

It’s an interesting series, created by David E. Kelley (Boston LegalAlly McBealL.A. Law, and Doogie Howser M.D.) that, like a great cook, combines just the right amounts of what’s needed – in this case drama, comedy, interesting characters, and conflict – to produce a winning recipe.

When Harry’s Law was picked up for a second season, I was anxious to see where they were going with it and what could be done with a full season’s run.

Evidently, no one ever told them, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” because that’s exactly what happened.

Harry moved upstairs, leaving the shoe store far beneath her. Instead of having a small law office, she now had a major law firm with several lawyers working for her. Instead of representing the motley crew of characters from the ghetto setting, she was now taking on clients who could afford the exorbitant rates that she must now be charging.

Gone are most of the characters who added so much to Season One, replaced by, well, lawyerly types. Adam (Nate Corddry), who tried to run her over, is still with her, but it’s obvious that they’ve quadrupled his hourly dose of Ritalin. He’s had a complete personality transplant and seems to have found an inferiority complex that would fill psychological journals.

Tommy Jefferson (Christopher McDonald) is another holdover from the first season. He’s a flamboyant ambulance chaser who opposed Harry in the first season, yet has somehow moved into one of her vacant offices in the second. His role has increased, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

The assistant DA from Season One, Josh Peyton, is also gone, but in his place is a lazy Susan of prosecutors, each of whom brings their own quirkiness to the courtroom. From the born-again Christian with a closet porn problem to the DA herself with a personal vendetta against Harry, the DA’s office appears to be the last refuge for lawyers who are on the fast track to a padded room. The trouble with this is that they’re TOO quirky, with writers trying to round out their characters quickly rather than letting them develop with just a problem or two.

Harry walked out of the high-priced corporate law setting into the storefront-law setting, then right back to criminal law without the store front. The journey that was so interesting became boring when she went from being a high-priced patent attorney to being a high-priced criminal attorney. She just changed her concentration, not her surroundings. That’s pretty boring. 

So why make the wholesale changes in an already successful show?

Producers of the series claim that Harry’s Law in its second season was NBC’s most watched scripted show, but that it didn’t do well with the 18-49 age demographic. According to NBC’s logic on this, those of us over the age of 50 have already purchased everything we need to purchase in our lives, so they have to aim their advertising at the 18-49 year old group who still have disposable income. The changes were made in order to appeal to the age group targeted by advertisers.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work so those of us over the magical age of 50 will just have to find another show to get attached to. It also didn’t work for those between the ages of 18 and 49 as NBC canceled the show.

Dark Shadows

By Jon Gallagher

Trailers on TV and the internet make it appear that the new Dark Shadows movie is a comedy, perhaps a parody of the old TV show. Neither is true. There are some funny parts, but I think you’ve seen all of them now if you’ve been watching the trailers.

It’s also not quite a horror film, although it’s closer to that than a comedy. Maybe it’s just a poor example of both. The trouble is, because it tries to do both, it comes off as being a bad comedy, and a not so good horror.

The movie starts off with background on Barnabas (Johnny Depp) and how his mother and father start a very successful fish cannery in Collinsport, Maine. Young Barnabas, somewhat of a playboy, rejects the affections of a servant girl, Angelique Bouchard, who is a witch. Angelique places a curse on the Collins family that kills the mother and father and turns Barnabas into a vampire.

Barnabas is chained in a coffin and buried for 196 years. When he’s unearthed by a construction crew, it’s 1972 and Barnabas is thirsty.

He finds the Collins mansion where he grew up and introduces himself to the family that’s still left. Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the head of the family now, living in the mansion with her daughter Carolyn, her brother Roger, his son David, and a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffmann. There’s also a caretaker, a maid, and a governess (who has just arrived and is the reincarnation of Barnabas’ lost love).

Barnabas may be an evil vampire who kills his prey, but he’s deeply committed to family and that seems to be the entire struggle in the movie. Angelique is still around, a beautiful CEO (despite her age of 200+) of a rival cannery which has all but destroyed the Colllins’ family business.

The plot is pretty straightforward: Angelique still wants Barnabas. Barnabas wants Victoria (the reincarnation of his lost love). Angelique and Barnabas battle. It’s not much of a plot.

The humorous side of things is seeing a guy who’s been chained up for 200 years pop up in 1972’s society. Barnabas has to deal with electricity, cars, TVs, and Alice Cooper (“The ugliest woman I’ve ever seen!”), and tends to blame anything he can’t understand on the devil. This wears thin quickly.

I could be wrong about this, but it seems that every vampire’s rulebook I’ve ever seen clearly states that vampires aren’t allowed out during the sunlight hours. Director Tim Burton skirts this rule by dressing Barnabas up like Michael Jackson with sunglasses and a huge black umbrella. For a moment, I thought we were going to have a “Thriller” moment.

Burton seems to be confused as to which way to go with the script. He didn’t do it as a complete parody, so the comedy he does use falls flat. There’s little to no suspense (something I thought horror films were supposed to have), so he fails on that front.

The movie is saved by Depp, who works his magic to create a sympathetic character whose evil side kills innocent people. He expertly weaves the two characters (good guy/evil guy) so that we’re left cheering for him when we need to, but feel a little guilty when we do.

I’m not sure why they picked 1972 to set the film rather than today. I thought at first, it might be a salute to the original Dark Shadows, but it went off the air in 1971, not 1972. I then wondered why they didn’t make the year 1974 so that the music they used would have been accurate (“No More Mr. Nice Guy” 1973, “Top of the World” 1974, “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” 1974). You’d think that if they went to that much trouble to set the year, they’d get the music right.

Fans of the old TV show will not be entirely disappointed by the movie, although I can’t see them jumping for joy either. The movie uses just enough of the elements from the old soap opera to keep it interesting for fans, yet it brings enough new information in to make it interesting for a new generation as well.

This is minor, but I also missed the original soundtrack. The TV show had the most eerie music ever written as an opening theme and the music they played behind the actors’ dialogue had its way of keeping you on the edge of your seat. That was missing from the movie and I was disappointed. Including it might have made the difference.

This isn’t exactly a spoiler alert, but you may want to skip over this paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie . . . The most interesting part I found was when the Collins family threw a big party at their home and Barnabas greeted a group of older Collinsport citizens at the front door, He thanks them for coming and they thank him for inviting them. The four at the door are Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, David Selby and Jonathan Frid. Fans of the TV show will recognize (the names at least) as the original Maggie Evans, Angelique Bouchard, Quentin Collins, and Barnabas Collins respectfully. Watch quick . . . It’s over very fast.

I left the theater confused. I think that’s because of the conflicting message Burton sent by not being to combine horror and comedy. He did, however, leave the door wide open for a sequel.

I’ll give it a C minus. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it didn’t do much to satisfy the six months I’ve been waiting on it.

On a sad note, Jonathan Frid, who played the original Barnabas Collins and who had a brief cameo in this movie, passed away on April 13. He was 87.

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