Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Our most patriotic superhero is once again in action but now with trouble coming from within the hallowed halls of S.H.I.E.L.D. in addition to the title guy he has to fight.
Marvelously droll Jason Bateman directs/stars in a nasty comedy about a mean man who insists on winning a children's spelling bee for very dark, personal reasons.
On My Way
Celebrated French actress Catherine Deneuve portrays an aging woman at her wit's end who sets off on a journey of self-discovery with some help from her grandson.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
An updated cartoon segment from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle TV show still features a brainy dog and his adopted boy time-traveling in an effort to prevent disaster.
[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews. This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.
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Unlike my last posting (April 3, 2014) where I reviewed several films but in individual isolation, this time I’ve found/ imposed enough of a continuity on the 4 under consideration to bring them together with a vague interpretation of Einstein’s connections of time and space for a consolidated review. I’m also trying even more this week to address his admonition in this photo to keep each batch of comments to a limited amount (another “spatial” concern, but one that keeps eluding me given that I have the luxury—or annoyance—of working without an editor who demands that I keep cutting), but not so much because I’m trying to spare you the extended joy of reading one of my insanely-long-postings (that’s actually a scientifically-proven-strategy for warding off dementia—as long as you can reach the end of the ramblings with some vague notion of what was going on when you started reading) but more to give you optimum opportunities for musical-metaphor-listings as I’ve linked up a lot of tunes for you this week, all with their own dubious “relevance” for what’s being reviewed. So, regarding space and time, I find that each of these cinematic offerings in some manner features a main character (or the plural, regarding Mr. Peabody & Sherman) who’s either actually displaced/traveling in time or has found themselves in a sort of “out of time” condition where their present is far too impacted by their past, thereby clouding their hopes for better futures. As far as the space aspect, those various time-dislocations have created uncomfortable spaces for the characters’ psyches, which all need to be resolved by a proper gravitational-pull toward something more stable in their universes. So, with that airtight-rationale (?) in place, I’ll move on to the first segment of the review, approaching each movie or film (with that semantic distinction depending on how aesthetically-invested I find each of them in approaching the possibilities of their subject matter, whether as mostly mindless entertainment with a bit of substance thrown in for keeping some of the brain cells active while the mouth muscles do most of the work mulching up the popcorn or with more aspects of mature themes, even though some exaggerated plot elements may be thrown in to lighten up the potentially soul-killing-aspects of the more serious scripts) with some consideration of how time's manipulations impact the narrative.
But, first, given that we’re looking at characters who are “out of time” in their various ways (especially the titular one in Captain America …, where everyone from his former life is now dead or so old that he’s like Dorian Gray to them), let’s start what will turn into a mini-musical-marathon with a listen to the Rolling Stones singing about exactly that, a tune which you can find in its own somewhat-disjointed manner either at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=inzCOWDKJVY, where you get the Stones’ vocals and instruments oddly-accompanied by an orchestra and added background vocals, even more oddly joined with mid-1960s black-and-white performance footage of Jagger and company but not singing "Out of Time," or, if you prefer, there’s the original recording at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wHRbIAZJfE, but it’s mildly-disjointed in its own way, having been released in Britain on the 1966 Aftermath album while the American version of that disc excluded this song and a few others so it was recouped for American ears in 1967 on the Flowers album, which brought together various singles, previously-dropped-cross-Atlantic-songs, etc. into a compilation (The Beatles had done the same thing in 1966 with their Yesterday and Today American-release-album, the one with the infamous “butcher” cover—“out of time” in its own way by being a joking comment on the violence of the Vietnam War but one judged incompatible with the previous carefully-constructed-image of the Fab Four, although that would be replaced soon enough in another manner with their changed musical-and-lifestyle-directions on Revolver [1966; this was another variation in the American release from the “official” British one in that a few of its songs had already been used in the Stateside-Yesterday and Today to fill needed space so the U.S. version of Revolver was a bit shorter] and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band —that had to be recalled, either to be destroyed or pasted over with a more innocuous photo). OK, enough diversion, musical or otherwise; on to disturbingly-conflicted patriotism in the newest episode in the life of super-soldier Captain America.
I’m exploring this round of comments in order of weeks in release of these movies and films, with the newest scrutinized first given that by now the one that’s been out the longest (Mr. Peabody & Sherman) may either be fading from your memory or your interested-consciousness; therefore, we’ll start with a trip to Washington, D.C. for Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo), where Mr. Patriotism-incarnate, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), finds his whole concept of government-based loyalty and service put to the test when he begins to doubt the motives of his S.H.I.E.L.D. superior, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), after Rogers and fellow (in the more generic comrade-ish sense, certainly not in the male-gender one) Avenger, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), break up an attempted hijacking of a S.H.I.E.L.D. ship (in the Indian Ocean, possible site of our missing Malaysian airliner, the first of several coincidental links to non-cinematic-current-events to be found in this suddenly-topical-movie) but Rogers finds that Romanoff is really there to get info from the ship’s computer because Fury is suspicious that something fishy’s going on within the organization, especially in connection with a powerful new anti-terrorist weapon soon to be launched, Operation Insight, in which 3 heavily-armed-Helicarriers linked to spy satellites will be sent aloft to deter threats worldwide based on highly-sophisticated-algorithms (better than the ones that Google uses to determine the acceptability of this blogsite for accepting advertising, I hope) that will predict danger before it happens (similar in concept to Minority Report [Steven Spielberg, 2002] except it’s now computers rather than psychics making the predictions). Free-will-advocate Captain America’s not that much on board with Operation Insight which he sees as about fear more so than freedom, no matter who’s championing it, given that his 95-year-old-WW-II-based-mentality is still focused on protection from overt threats rather than intelligence-gathering-leading-to-pre-emptive-strikes (even though S.H.I.E.L.D.’s supposed to be an elite, global, defense force which ups the ante on U.N./Interpol-type strategies and tactics, it comes off early in this movie alarmingly like the over-reachings recently disclosed of the NSA which also pushes …The Winter Soldier into contemporary-sociopolitical-relevance-territory unusual for a superhero tale, the factor that raises its worth in my estimation—and many other critics as well, particularly in the Rotten Tomatoes tally [see details in the suggested link far below]—beyond what’s to be found in its sadly-expected-overuse of fights, flying bullets, and destruction scenes—Washington, D.C. car dealers and construction firms should be celebrating banner years in 2014 providing replacement vehicles and metro-infrastructure-repairs after the carnage has concluded in this story).
Soon Fury is a strike victim as well, as he’s attacked, then apparently dies (No complaints, please; I couldn’t be any more obnoxious with my constant upfront Spoiler Alerts warnings. I realize that this movie hasn’t been in release that long, but I write for conceptual-closure not carefully-crafted-coyness.) because S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised from within by a world-domination group, HYDRA (so called because it’s so well-entrenched that simply attacking its leadership “heads” is ineffective because replacements quickly sprout up to take their place, another resemblance this storyline has to the real world with concerns about Al-Qaeda, even though these Marvel Comics characters far predate anything that our world has had to live with throughout the troubled 21st century), that dates back to Captain America’s original time, where they learned through the defeat of the Nazis that their vision of an imposed world order based on their determination to keep control on their fascist terms by simply eradicating crime and unrest via preventative actions wasn’t viable until such time as their subject populations demand such ultimate surveillance and response (thus, their plan to cap off decades of carefully-plotted-tumultuous-events with a vicious attack on the U.S. Northeast, killing 20 million, blaming it on terrorists who will then be “identified” and conquered by S.H.I.E.L.D.—but really the embedded, clandestine HYDRA cabal—so that Operation Insight will be embraced, allowing a form of a “1000-year-Reich” to come about, even as they see themselves as global-guardian-patriots, led by seemingly-trustworthy S.H.I.E.L.D. Executive Council Secretary, Alexander Pierce [Robert Redford, in an effective challenge to his many traditional roles of working for the betterment of humanity]). Given that HYDRA has many turned-S.H.I.E.L.D.-agents working against Steve, Natasha, and former-GI-combat-vet, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie)—who becomes Falcon when donning his techno-wings-device—it’s a very difficult task indeed for this small squad to prevent the Helicarriers from becoming fully operational (although a rousing speech from the never-to-be-doubted Captain does bring in loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. reinforcements at a crucial time during the final, all-hands-on-deck-combat-scene); however, the real problem confronting Steve is the presence of an equally-powerful-enhanced-human (not truly superhuman, as with Thor, the Hulk, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, etc.), biologically-manipulated by HYDRA decades ago, who just happens to be Steve’s long-presumed-dead-best-friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), now with strength and speed beyond the capacity of ordinary humans, a memory wiped cleaned of his past as a renown Allied warrior, and a willingness as The Winter Soldier to be the ultimate enforcer for his handlers. In their inevitable1-on-1-battles, Captain America also has the limitation of his thrown shield (composed of some indestructible metal) not automatically returning to him as with Thor’s hammer so he has to plan his tosses of this lethal object (shades of Oddjob’s steel-rimmed hat in Goldfinger [Guy Hamilton, 1964]) so that it curves back to him in boomerang-like fashion or embeds into something so he can quickly retrieve it before the grim Winter Soldier makes it his own (he does grab it a few times, but Cap ducks its retaliatory-trajectory, then regains control), thereby adding further complication, even to our hero’s first line of defense while he's also struggling with having to do combat against his old buddy.
Despite several confrontations between these 2 former-friends-now-bitter-enemies (although Steve’s determined to keep Bucky alive in order to restore his memory), there’s no conclusion as the Winter Soldier escapes during the chaos of the final battle, where Captain America and Falcon replace the Helicarrier control chips preventing the vicious machines from going online, which ends with S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters being destroyed by a falling Helicarrier (and their World Security Council directors being killed by Pierce, before his own death at the hands of a furious Fury), all of the agency’s secrets being released to the Internet, along with everything known about HYDRA (which, of course, isn’t everything, or the sequel options would be compromised [next Captain America episode won’t be out until May 6, 2016 when it’s scheduled to open against Warner Bros. still-untitled-sequel to Man of Steel (Zack Snyder, 2013) where we’ll get Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but there’ll likely be more storyline for Captain America to build on due to the May 1, 2015 release date of The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon)—stay tuned for more updates as the Time-Warner vs. Disney-Marvel contest continues into the foreseeable future, with Columbia/Sony and 20th Century Fox, respectively keeping their oars in the box-office-waters with the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises continuing as well, as we have The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb) set for May 2, 2014 and X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer) due shortly thereafter on May 23])—so we’re back to NSA-Edward Snowden allusions, even though this Captain America sequel was in the works long before our spy-scandal became a reality—and a huge task for the still-alive Nick Fury (his death on the operating table was faked by S.H.I.E.L.D. loyalists in order to give him covert ops opportunities against Pierce and his HYDRA forces) to rebuild his operation while the TV version of his merely-human-operatives (ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. [also created by Whedon]) still has some ratings life (I haven’t had time to watch this show during its inaugural season, but the final episodes in the next few weeks do acknowledge the events of … The Winter Soldier so it might be interesting to see how this all ties in with a cross-media-vision of corporate—if not political—world domination of entertainment outlets). With all of the current spy-scandal-relevance of … The Winter Soldier it certainly has more going for it than a lot of more-rote-superhero-stories (hey, Iron Man 3 [Shane Black, 2011], I’m talking to you, with a specific review in our May 11, 2013 posting; but, Thor: The Dark World [Alan Taylor, 2013], you’re on the hot seat as well, as noted in our November 14, 2013 posting) but it also suffers from their constant reliance on fight-and-destruction-scene-after-scene rather than allowing us much opportunity to understand these masked-and-caped-crimefighters as being anything more than self-driven-servants-of-community-protection (even though the involved communities usually end up with a huge pile of rubble to replace after the various battles are done). I realize that these high-budget-effects-laden-stories aren’t intended to be serious-introspection-human-interest-dramas, but I do appreciate it when in addition to the smash-and-crash-action-scenes we also get something of substance regarding what motivates these (mostly) guys (although women are beginning to get a better presence, especially in the X-Men movies and with better impact from Black Widow here than she had opportunities for in The Avengers [Whedon, 2012]—there’s another one where the “plot” is virtually one fight after another but at least it also finds an interesting angle by have some of those battles occur between the compelling-personality-ego-driven-heroes before they finally find reason to join forces against a common enemy; full review of this prequel to the current Captain America tale in our May 12, 2012 posting) beyond some vague sense of vigilante-dedication (Superman) or actual government-force-enlistment (Captain America).
There’s not an awful lot of that storytelling-enhancement here, though, so if you’re hoping for more than the standard all-out-action-situations and less-than-full-resolutions so that you feel forced to wait patiently for the next sequel, then I don’t think you’ll find much else in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, although that’s not keeping the satisfied crowds away, as this movie has already grossed a bit over $95 million domestically after just 1 week in release with a hell of a lot of worldwide-profit still to come, I’m sure. I found more of substance in it (regarding the HYDRA philosophy of imposing order for the supposed-sincere-benefit of the subjugated populace) than I anticipated, but it’s still a long way from the chilling, full-bodied-drama of The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008), still the gold-standard of superhero movies for my tastes. (Yet, in … The Winter Soldier there’s also the now-conceptual-problem for Marvel—soon to be shared by DC-Comics-based-movies—of the full Avengers team known to co-exist in the same universe but none of Steve Rogers’ colleagues, except Black Widow, are available to help him, even in this global-threatening-situation, so we just have to ignore their absences, chalked up presumably to other crises requiring their collective attention; this a clumsiness that begins to wear thin after awhile, but it’s a necessary reality that when you’ve already sunk about $170 million into the budget of this current film you don’t have the resources to keep bringing in the rest of the Avengers team—or Spider-Man or any of the many X-Men [in pure theoretical ponderings of such actions, disregarding the real-world-copyright-control of the various Hollywood studios over these other Marvel-ous beings], even though the circumstances would seem to justify their presence.)
A character in Captain America: The Winter Soldier tells Steve that if he wants to know what’s evolved in the USA since he was quick-frozen back in 1945 he should listen to Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack for the Trouble Man movie (Ivan Dixon, 1972); in that I’ve never seen it nor heard the soundtrack (my soul credentials are often slender at best, whether we’re talking music, culture, or religion), I’ll just have to take her word for it (although you can hear the original recording of that title song as an addition to the … Winter Soldier soundtrack at http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=9_tYfNN-Mfg), but if you’d like to see Marvin performing an electrifying version of the tune, here he is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDqmViWxEgU, from TV’s Midnight Special shot in Japan on June 9, 1974. However, given that I see the unifying factor among the offerings being reviewed this week as more about ominous situations that portend great disruptions for the main characters (although all of them find their way to harmonious ends, some more easily than their situations should allow) I’m going with another musical metaphor direction this week to follow up on my “Out of Time” beginning by turning to 4 increasingly-thunderous versions of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (from the 1967 John Wesley Harding album), vaguely (as it often my case) connected to this week’s review comments, with this first one linked to … The Winter Soldier because Cap is the original actual-time-traveler in this group of 4, with this version of Dylan’s song (at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=YanjY9CsPDQ) presented in the stark format of audio-only so there are conceptual links to both Steve’s friend, Tony Stark (Ironman), and the blunt options that Captain America (and the world) face in this new movie about free will vs. lives intentionally destined to be unexamined. The choice in the story’s plot is one of rejecting or accepting fundamental absolutism, just as this first recording of “All Along the Watchtower” is stripped bare in both instrumentation and vocal delivery. From here the song’s versions get more complex although the joined-cinematic-situations may not be all that Earth-shaking, that is until we get to Mr. Peabody & Sherman where everything is completely de-stabilized, so there I’ll give you a blazing rendition of the “Watchtower” warnings to bring all of this to a close. For now, though, let’s move on from internal governmental corruption to the slightly-less-harrowing-competition of a children's national spelling bee.
So, it’s obvious that I found too much in the just-released Captain America: The Winter Soldier to allow me to be breviloquent (a synonym for “concise,” the usage of which will soon be clear) in my comments so let’s see if I can be more stingy in my verbiage with the rest of the material under current review, all of which has been in the theaters for quite a few weeks already anyway. We’ll start with Bad Words, the directorial debut for Jason Bateman, about a 40-year-old-man, Guy Trilby (Bateman), who admits in voiceover that he’s a mess and whose sole reason for existence is his desire to enter and win the national Golden Quill Spelling Bee, even though the rules state that contestants cannot have finished the 8th grade prior to a stated date—however, he qualifies in that he never finished 8th grade, despite what’s either an extremely-high IQ, a photographic memory, or both, leading to his current “career” as a proofreader for product warranties and an antagonistic, alcohol-fueled attitude supported by a profanity-profuse-vocabulary as he verbally decimates everyone in his vicinity, including the Internet reporter, Jenny Widgeon (Kathryn Hahn), who’s bankrolling him in return for the story about his strange quest, and his most-likely-finalist-competitor, Chaitanya Chopra (Rohand Chand), a 10-year-old-kid with a generous, life-embracing outlook, despite the smothered life he leads as the result of his obsessive parents being determined that the trophy and $50,000 prize rightfully are due to their son. Guy can easily trump his competition (and cause great consternation among their parents) because there’s no word that even momentarily stumps him, but his abrasive demeanor leads to other, repulsive strategies as well as he offers insults, disturbing comments, or vicious lies to the other kids as they await their turn in the spotlight, so rattling them through a constant series of disgraceful tactics that they either trip up or fail to even make an effort. For awhile Guy actually takes some pity on the enforced-early-adulthood-regimen of Chaitanya (his father requires him to stay alone in the Bee’s host hotel in order to strengthen his sense of responsibility), resulting in a night’s spree of fast food, verification that all women have nipples, and bonding over a toy police car that speaks to a lost moment from Guy’s own childhood. However, that budding friendship is nipped when he finds out that his young almost-friend was set up by his father to seek out companionship with Guy in an effort to create sympathy for the kid, in hopes it would somehow lead to Guy’s unlikely defeat otherwise.
Despite Guy’s initial anger at this counter-tactic worthy of his own brutality, he eventually does refuse to take the earned route to victory at the final showdown, both because he knows that winning the Bee would be beneficial to Chaitanya’s later life and because, as it turns out, Guy’s compulsion to be part of the event is only to create chaos and disgrace for his long-ago-abandoning-father, Bee-founder Dr. Bowman (Philip Baker Hall) who had a fling with Guy’s Mom back in his traveling-encyclopedia-salesman-days, then never came back leaving her with an unfulfilled life of meager jobs and constant relocations, Guy with no friends or sense of a stable life. Guy’s accomplished all he set out to do, basically, by making the Bee into a media-circus-controversy, ruining Bowman’s long-cultivated-reputation for the integrity of the event (in the process bringing about the firing of Dr. Bernice Deagan [Allison Janney], head of the Bee organization, who attempted to manipulate the process by arranging for Guy to get seemingly-impossible words, although to no avail—anyone who can master "floccinaucinihilipilification" [the action of estimating something as worthless, as were Deagan's attempts to stump Guy; but I must say that I'm amazed that my spellcheck contains this word when it often doesn't recognize the plurals of simple nouns] isn't going to be taken down by linguistic curve balls), so he purposely starts misspelling when it’s down to the Final Two but Chaitanya refuses to win by default so he does the same until some rule-manipulating-events give the prize to him, even though he insists that Guy will share the money. When it’s all over, Guy has a better attitude toward life, he and Chaitanya develop a real friendship (they both live somewhat close in Ohio, seemingly the talent center of the universe if we’re to believe what we see on TV’s Glee), and Guy seems to have finally accepted pursuing a shared relationship with Jenny (rather than just incessant-but-guilty-sex—at least on her part—punctuated by her hilarious “Don’t look at me!” demands throughout their less-than-sensual-encounters in closets and bathtubs [the reverse of the famous “Look at me!” scene in Captain Phillips [Paul Greengrass, 2013; review in our October 16, 2013 posting] where this time it seems that neither of them is “the captain now”). While there’s plenty of smarmy adult behavior on everyone’s part in Bad Words to give anyone pause that decency actually transcends the 8th grade, the laughs are constant and robust, the situations are blissfully original so that you can rarely predict what might come next, and the performances are so expert from all concerned that they’re a constant delight to watch (there’s even a marvelously-nuanced-shift in visual quality—to my possibly faulty eye at least—with the televised images having a slightly-deteriorated-quality compared to the “actual” view that we have of the proceedings), so Bateman clearly demonstrates that he’s in complete control behind the camera, hopefully allowing him to helm more disturbing comedies such as this one. Bad Words may be too dark-spirited and/or obscene for all tastes, but for me it was hilarious, well-commanded by the filmmakers, and a thorough delight. As for its musical-metaphorical-connection to “All Along the Watchtower,” I’ll go with the psychedelic version of Jimi Hendrix (from the 1968 Electric Ladyland album) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJV81mdj 1ic, just because this rendition to me is about as surreal as our filmic story about an angry son putting his entire life’s energies into going to all of this trouble just to screw Dad in public, in the same manner that Bowman did privately to Mom all those years ago. If circumstances steer you to get caught up in the dismal aspects of this narrative it may be too disturbing to laugh at, but if you can just accept it for intended-surface-value, I think you’ll have a great time—but look fast because even with a recent increase to over 1,000 theaters it’s yet to break the $6 million mark in domestic grosses so it may not be long for first-run-release-availability.
That “long-time-gone”-fate may quickly befall our next film as well, On My Way (Emmanuelle Bercot), given that it’s on just 25 screens and has yet to even top the $300,000 mark at the domestic box-office, proving that even a star of the stature of Catherine Deneuve has a difficult time in the U.S. market getting audiences to read subtitles or care about the seemingly-trivial-tragedies (except to the character, Bettie, or anyone like her in off-screen-dead-end-life, facing nothing but losses, obligations, and little reason for continuation) of an aging woman whose restaurant is in financial trouble (there’s a great shot early on where she’s having a drink after work one night while we watch lobsters flailing around helplessly in a tank behind her), whose romantic life is crushed when the man she’s having an affair with finally dumps his wife but for a younger woman, whose daily routine requires care for and constantly-unwelcome-advice from her considerably-older-mother, Muriel (Camille), and whose aspirations seem to have gone up in the same smoke that curls from her constant cigarettes, one of the catalysts that finally pushes her to new possibilities even though the road to undiscovered options must first go through an insulting daughter and an independently-minded grandson, Charly (Nemo Schiffman). The story is simply that after the depressing embarrassment of losing her lover, Bettie blows up at the restaurant the next day, taking to the road in her car simply to try to figure out what to do next. Her frustrations continue as she finds herself out of those ever-present-smokes, so she keeps driving through the countryside until she ends up at a bar, the unexpectedly-named Le Ranch, where she first falls in with a group of gregarious older women (who seem to be lesbian bikers, or at least a couple of them are) then ends up in bed with a nice-enough-younger-guy, Marco (Paul Hamy), although he naïvely keeps remarking how beautiful she must have been when younger (in fact, she was Miss Brittany in 1969 but had a bad breakup with her lover of the time, never going on the ultimate Miss France contest, yet she now gets constant phone calls from the pageant trying to get her to attend a reunion of all of those regional winners; all of this provides an intentional parallel with Deneuve herself, a bit broader in body than in her career-making-roles although still an attractive woman, one who now can call on her commendable acting skills to hold the screen rather than just stake out a dazzling visual presence no matter how well she conveys a character—although that acting talent was never missing earlier either, just not always as remarked upon as was her physical attractions). A call she does take, though, is from daughter Jeanne (Hafsia Herzi) who needs for long-estranged-Mom to take Charly to his grandfather, Alain (from Jeanne’s ex-husband; Bette’s husband died long ago, another reason for her general despondency, along with the irony that her ex-lover was the doctor who tried to save the husband from choking on a chicken bone), while Jeanne goes off to a much-needed-job in Belgium. Circumstances prevent Bettie from getting to Charley before Jeanne has left (not helping the mother-daughter relationship at all), but soon they’re off to Grandpa Alain’s (Gérard Garouste) residence, although the tension between them erupts at a gas-station-stop leading first to more problems, then a reconciliation as Bettie gives into the Miss France reunion so as to cash in on the free hotel and food that comes with the event, entertaining her grandson in the process which greatly improves their interpersonal rapport.
Through arrangement with Alain, he comes to the hotel to retrieve Charly, which leads to the boy not wanting to part from his now-cool grandmother, a caustic response from the old man (an important local politician, running for re-election as mayor in his community), her determination to travel with them after all (I never did understand what became of her car at the hotel, although by the time we reach the happy ending I guess we’re not supposed to care about such trivial details), and how everyone—including Bettie’s mother and daughter—ends up at Alain’s country home, where initial conflicts melt away, family members seem to be willing to forget old wounds (even Bettie’s mother casts off her cares, returning to smoking just like her daughter, lung cancer be damned for both of them!), with romance developing at the end of the story between Bettie and Alain (he almost shifts gears toward her in mid-sentence as she’s coming under some unconstructive criticism from someone else; the next thing you know they’re having sex in a little sleeping porch, with no one really noticing their absence until the children peek in on them the next morning). Certainly, On My Way is a needed study of how older people—especially women—in our industrialized societies are often pushed to (or beyond) the margins as they lose looks, wealth, and opportunities for further growth (except around the waistline), plus it gives a delightful sense of hope that no one’s life should be considered hopeless or useless just because age and/or circumstances have led to less-than-optimal-results so far. From that perspective, this is an effective film, very well acted with plausible depictions of inter-generational-frictions among family members whose pasts haunt their presents, whose prospects for a miraculous-turn-around are limited, whose situations keep bringing out the worst in all of them extending their collective problems rather than moving toward unraveling those knots. Still, the quick reversals of future here for Bettie, the equally-quick-change of mind and heart of Alain regarding her very existence let alone her desirability for him, along with the ending’s easily-smoothed-over-conflict-resolutions for everyone (“Life goes on!”) turn this film from a nicely-observed character study of depth and human complexity into a rapid-resolution that’s desirable for all concerned but a bit too fairy-godmotherish in its particulars, as if an aging Cinderella finally found her prince after all these years just by slipping as she sits down at the dinner table, suddenly finding that her foot has slid into the long-forgotten-glass-slipper which not only conveniently is located under the table but also conveniently still fits her foot even as the rest of her body has broadened a bit. If you can just stay in the fable-mood that the film weaves for us and Bettie at its conclusion, you can’t help but enjoy it (as I definitely did upon viewing); however, if you start pressing its accelerated-change-of-attitude-plausibility, your joy may ease up a bit (as mine has over the last week), despite the enticing attitude that most of this narrative has to offer for those who can appreciate its intentions.
As for the musical metaphor variation of “All Along the Watchtower” to accompany On My Way, I’m going with an erratic version which, for me, properly mirrors the erratic nature of how the film so easily, magically resolves the conflicts that it’s previously presented in such plausible fashion. This clip, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E05eBPjZNds—with a stageful of primary performers including Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Elton John, along with dozens of others in the background including Mick Jagger, Mike Love, Yoko Ono—is from the 1988 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and performance ceremony, the year that the Hall welcomed The Beach Boys (Brian and Carl Wilson, Love, and Al Jardine accepted), The Beatles (Starr, Harrison, Yoko Ono, Julian and Sean Lennon accepted), Dylan, The Drifters, and The Supremes—all of whom sang—along with recognition to Berry Gordy Jr. and acknowledgement to Early Influence pioneers Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Les Paul. It’s a bit of a mess of performance, with no clear direction home through the song, even from Dylan who seems to be helped along in the lead vocals by Harrison, but that’s a bit representative of On My Way, which has a clear, understood structure throughout most of its life on screen (just as this song obviously has had a clear presence in musical pop culture ever since its original release) but then the film just seems to suddenly ramble to a joyous conclusion, just as this star-studded-performance does, with little concern from the audience as to the inherent raggedness. Persnickety me, however, ideally wants better control and closure of these situations, even while enjoying what’s rambling around in the process.
It’s abundantly clear by now that despite my attempts this week at being concise (or, in other words: brief, compact, compressed, curt, lean, pithy, succinct, synoptic, terse, etc.) in the previous review remarks that I’ve gone more in the antonym direction. (One could say expansive or lengthy, couldn’t one? Of course, another one might also offer long-winded, wordy, or just plain lengthy beyond belief … if so, guilty as charged.) So, here’s my last chance to cut to the chase, especially relevant given the subject matter of Mr. Peabody & Sherman (Rob Minkoff) is partly about being a dog, with the positive or negative connotations attached to that identity/characterization in a movie that manages to mix aspects of families in conflict from Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011; review in our January 21, 2012 posting), time travel and its potentially-disastrous-complications from the Back to the Future trilogy (Robert Zemeckis; 1985, 1989, 1990), and fast-moving-adventures very reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films (Steven Spielberg; 1981, 1984, 1989, 2008). The basic premise here, based on the old Jay Ward cartoons from the Rocky and Bullwinkle TV series (under various names, 1959-1964), is that a fabulously-intelligent-dog, Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell), adopts a eager-to-please-boy, Sherman (voice of Max Charles), then gives him a marvelous education even before 1st grade by time travel to various historical events via the complex WABAC machine. Peabody, a well-respected, Nobel Prize-winning figure of society, sends Sherman off to standard schooling, only to find he’s harassed by self-entitled-rich-girl Penny Peterson (voice of Ariel Winter) which leads to her calling Sherman a dog, Sherman biting her, the families trying to resolve their problems, Sherman trying to impress Penny with a trip in the WABAC, following by all sorts of historical anomalies which Peabody attempts to correct, only to find that the space-time-continuum is spinning out of control throwing all of the previous-era-characters (Robespierre, King Tut, Agamemnon, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein [reconnecting to my initial thematic-canopy for this week], etc.) into the present with a major catastrophe looming, salvation coming (just like in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) at the last second, with everything put right at the end after Peabody has recovered from the shock of Sherman being insulted at being compared to a dog along with Sherman finally learning to understand Peabody as a father rather than as a higher-plateau-guardian. Overall, I found this translation from the TV original to be a lot more interesting and successful than the previous bone-headed-attempts of Dudley Do-Right (Hugh Wilson, 1999) and The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (Des McAnuf, 2000), with a level of humor that harks back successfully to the original TV episodes, a message about misunderstood family relationships and acceptance that offers some actual substance (a little meat in there with the kibble), and enough quick changes of scene and introduction of new historical characters to always keep things lively. I credit Colin Hunt’s (note him under Movie Sites You Might Like at the very end of this posting) YouTube review and my wonderful wife, Nina’s, fascination with anything (yes, anything, even an animated feature cartoon) that involves time travel for getting me to the theater for this, given my disappointment with previous adaptations of Ward’s wonderful work on the small screen from "way back" in the long-gone-1960s. But this silly movie's a "good boy," isn't it?
By now, you may have seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman if you ever intended to (many folks have, as it still placed at #7 last weekend even after 5 weeks in release, racking up over 102 million domestic dollars, putting it at #6 on the 2014 tally so far) so there’s not much more to say about it except it’s a fun diversion if you’d haven’t seen it yet and would like to check it out (still playing in almost 3,000 theaters), its humor is rapid-fire so if you don’t like one joke just be easily-patient for the next barrage of them, and even in its overall goofiness it’s a bit heart-warming at the end when dog and boy transition more into father and son, so that like Captain America: The Winter Soldier it offers a bit more of substance than its surface premise might imply (just as the 2 mature-themed-films under consideration this week clearly convey more than just their trailer-presented-premises indicate about their primary plot points). I’ll close with one last version of “All Along the Watchtower,” as a musical metaphor for Mr. Peabody & Sherman, this one by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, joined by special-guest-guitarist Willie Nelson at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cusVoNKZF8 from the 1994 Farm Aid Concert in New Orleans, a seemingly-never-ending-performance which somewhat mirrors the titular dog and boy hurtling constantly through time, just as Neil and company fill up all the available aural space with their fiery guitar work (the one other version that I’d hoped to include in this collection is from the 1974 tour of Dylan and the Band [preserved as a double-album called Before the Flood], which I saw in Houston early that year and may be the best concert I’ve ever witnessed—if not, it’s #2 behind the 1987 Paul Simon Graceland tour but that that one has sentimental power in its favor because it’s where I met my wife, Nina, so it’s hard to be objective—but I couldn’t find a video link to Bob and the boys so just take my word or buy and listen to the album for a transforming evening of music). Well, compressed or not (mostly not, once again), those are my cinema-based thoughts for this week. Until next time—when I return once again to the hunt for the mythical beast named How 2 B Brief (so as to not abuse your time or my space)—here are some links to help you follow up further with what was explored above, hopefully in a timely—or, at least, at times helpful—manner (or maybe this whole review was all just “spaced” out, as is usually the case).
If you’d like to know more about Captain America: The Winter Soldier here are some suggested links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hVXI4cS7wo (essentially shows you all of the movie that you need to see if you want to save a few bucks)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lqFTLWLgCw (5:18 detailed explanation of the post-credits scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier as to how it plays into the next film in the ongoing Marvel movies catalogue, the next Avengers story due out in 2015)
If you’d like to know more about Bad Words here are some suggested links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWflaFHAOvc (short interview with director/actor Jason Bateman)
If you’d like to know more about On My Way here are some suggested links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ89UT3bTLo (here’s one of those sites where supposedly you can create an account, then watch the movie for free; I’ll leave that chance to your interests but take no responsibility for whatever the outcome may be)
If you’d like to know more about Mr. Peabody & Sherman here are some suggested links:
http://www.mrpeabodyandsherman.com/ (maybe it’s just my computer but this may take awhile to load)
http://www.youtube.com/show/mrpeabodysherman (many episodes of Mr. Peabody & Sherman from the old TV Rocky and Bullwinkle Show but these do require payment to watch; here’s one for free at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owB6zFSZbng)
As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.