Its been eleven years since Lightning McQueen was the fastest race car on four wheels but that’s like 100 years in the high-stakes world of auto racing. Just like the venerable Hudson Hornet was labelled a “classic” (AKA Old Fashioned) in the first film, Lightning is past retirement age. Except (there’s got to be an except here or there wouldn’t be a movie), that he won’t retire gracefully. Cue the homily-spouting old-timers and the whiz-bang, “we can mold you into shape” newcomers vying for Lightning’s attention. Underlying everything is the savvy marketing genius of Disney/Pixar who understands how much a baton-passing theme makes demographic sense. Face it, some of the kids who went to the movie in 2006 already have kids themselves. On the plus side, Cars 3 has a welcome moral-to-it-all: that even an egocentric car like Lightning can have a breakthrough moment and realize that he can become mentor to a (gasp of disbelief) Latina hotshot.
The 1951 Daphne de Maurier novel, Cousin Rachel, was made into a movie a year later starring Olivia de Haviland and Richard Burton. Through 21st Century eyes, the story of a young woman whose husband dies in mysterious circumstances and the cousin who suspects his widow, is obviously, a morality tale about the challenges facing an intelligent, single woman in a decidedly male-dominated, patriarchal world. Using the “Dogma” directing style that uses only natural settings and available light, infuses the film with a reality that is in stark contrast to the well-lighted and decorated sets in the Victorian soap-operas we watch on PBS. And the acting... Weisz plays the heroine in classic de Maurier style as secretive and reserved yet oozing with carefully controlled passion, and Claflin is excellent as a man fueled by the conflicting feelings of vengeful anger and unrequited lust.
An Amazon princess lives on an island inhabited only by female warriors (where, contrary to mythology, even the archers have both breasts). Rescuing a British pilot/spy from a crash landing, she discovers (no, not the obvious anatomical differences) that the “War to end all wars” is raging. To our surprise, we discover something as well—Wonder Woman’s real super powers are ensuring that morality and goodness and positivity prevail. Thank screenwriter/director Patty Jenkins and Gal Godot’s miraculous acting ability for elevating a character who was played by other actresses as camp and cliched into an intelligent, and completely capable being willing to literally “man the trenches” amidst the idiocy of “a mortal’s war”.
The original Baywatch TV show was reportedly seen in 142 countries by over a billion people every week! In addition to the skimpy swimsuits, part of the show’s “charm” was the less-than-stellar acting by performers stuck in Scooby-Doo style plots. The reboot for the BIG SCREEN keeps alive the same campy stylings of the original, but with currently hip “BIG NAME STARS” wearing the latest cheeky swimsuit designs and making insider jokes about how what they do everyday would make a really great TV show. Then there’s the slapstick humor, and slo-mo running sequences, and jokes about how the character played by Zach Efron looks amazingly like Zach Efron. Lets admit it. Shakespeare it ain’t, but everyone seems to be having a good time.
In Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant movie, the Covenant is a deep-space colony-ship whose passengers are all couples of childbearing age. They are headed for an Earth-type planet on the far side of the Galaxy where everything looks bucolic and friendly including the cultivated field of Terran wheat they discover. But there is something not quite right about this place. As one colonist asks “You hear that? Nothing. No birds, no animals. Nothing.” Well, she’s wrong, of course. There is something out there. Gigantic, slimy, ravenous creatures that will populate our nightmares for decades
Friendship is the center of this loving movie about death with dignity. Tomas boards a plane in Canada and travels to Spain to spend some quality time with his long-time actor friend Julian. The impetus is that Julian’s rapidly spreading cancer dictates he has only a few days left to live. Tomas is surprised to discover that much of their time together is spent making arrangements for how and where Julian’s elderly dog Truman will live out his life. Sparkling with insightful bits of humor, Cesc Gay’s Truman is astoundingly simple yet profoundly acted and well made.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is the follow up to James Gunn’s 2014 antihero hit, and allows plenty of screen time for the two breakout stars Groot, the tree sapling and Rocket the racoon. The basic plot is revealed by the muscular saxaphonist, Drax the Destroyer, who explains: “There are two types in the universe—those who dance and those who do not.” This Yoda/Zenness allows for action scenes to blur into the background while the Guardians do their dances. Closely aligning itself to Joseph Campbell-style archetypes, the multi-species who guard the galaxy form a “family” for the now orphaned Quill—albeit a bickering, wise-cracking, decidedly alternative family. Interspersed with all the 70’s pop songs, and zinging one-liners, are encounters with a golden empress, a kidnapping pirate, and a couple new characters—a father-figure named Ego whose female sidekick, Mantis, is an empath.
In Cristian Mungui's film Graduation, a Romanian-born physician returns to his native country with his family, including his teenage daughter. On the eve of sitting for an exam to win a scholarship to a British university, the girl is attacked by a would-be rapist. With her arm in a cast, and her confidence eroded, the “certainty” of the exam’s outcome is in doubt. The daughter isn’t sure she wants to move to Britain and leave her friends, family and country behind. To the dad, however a rock through his apartment window, a smashed windshield, and his daughter’s assault are symptomatic of everything wrong in Romanian society. He is certain his daughter must get away from all this, and when he manipulates his hospital’s transplant list to “smooth things along,” he becomes part of the corruption he condemns.
In Nacho Vigalando's film, Colossal, when a failed writer is ousted from her boyfriend’s apartment for her non-stop drinking, she returns to her parent’s empty house in New Hampshire to continue her legacy of empty bottles. A former classmate warmly greets her arrival, but she can’t recall knowing him “back then.” No matter, she willingly accepts the guy’s used furniture, and a job in his tavern where the regulars who sit at the bar serve as the Greek chorus for the rom-com goings-on. Meanwhile, over in Korea, a gigantic monster is single-handedly destroying Seoul. Strangely, the monster has the same quirky mannerisms displayed by the girl who lives so far away. Can there be a connection? Is the monster a giant metaphor? Is this movie fresh and exciting and fun to watch? Yes, yes, and yes!
In Mission Control: Th Unsung Heroes of Apollo, British documentary filmmaker David Fairhead blends archival footage, talking head interviews and CGI reconstructions to tell the nail-biting reality of NASA’s quest to land on the moon. The real-life faces are different from those of actors with the same names in Ron Howard’s astounding 1995 film, Apollo 13, but just like actor Ed Harris did in that movie, space mission flight director Gene Krantz wears his signature tie and vest in the Control Room. Following close to last years Unsung Heroes film about female, African-American NASA mathematicians, Mission Control looks like a whites-only boy’s club, so Fairhead begins and ends his film with shots showing that some modern-day controllers are women.