Wednesday, August 20, 2014

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Well now, this was a surprise. I don't recall being all that impressed with the first G.I. Joe movie. And my connection to Joe is more 1970s Adventure Team than the 1980s Yo Joe anti-terrorists. I felt that the first movie was meant only for folks into the 80s toys and didn't care if it left everyone else behind. I expected more of the same with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. I was pleasantly surprised.

In the aftermath of that first movie the big bads, Cobra, swore revenge. Not only did they get it, but as this film begins, they have already won. The President has been compromised, he is held prisoner as Cobra operative Zartan masquerades as PotUS. An air strike takes out all of the Joes except for a handful who must rebuild and take back a country that now finances and iodizes Cobra as heroes and hates the Joes as villains.

I'm not a fan of Channing Tatum. He's never impressed me much, but here, in the precious little time he's on screen, his chemistry with The Rock is enough so that you miss him and you really almost feel the pain when he dies. Yeah, it's that good. The Rock, as Roadblock, brings his comrades home to the hood to regroup. The Rock equally is good.

The leftovers go to the original G.I. Joe, Bruce Willis, for help. He's fun as the tough old crotchety know-it-all with the heart of gold and a wisecrack for every occasion. The cast is rounded out by David E. Kelley pilot Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki (who has also just been cast as Mockingbird in "Agents of SHIELD," wow, somebody wants to be a superhero bad) and D.J. Cotrona who is basically Channing Tatum lite.

In between the interesting scenes with The Rock, Bruno and company, there are ninja interludes featuring characters with names like Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Jinx. I didn't have any emotional connection or even knowledge of them, so I just enjoyed them for the James Bond/Shaw Brothers wannabes they were. Fun but hollow.

All in all, while a bit dark in places, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was a fun action flick with more warmth and depth than I ever would have expected. If you're looking for a better than average actioner, this is it. You might be just as surprised as I was.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RIP Don Pardo

I saw "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in June of 1976. I remember recognizing the voice of announcer Don Pardo right away. I can't rightly say where I knew it from but I knew it. The show has been on the air for almost four decades and he was there for all but one misguided season. The powers that be corrected that mistake quickly.

When the last new show of the current season aired, I actually thought of Don and how long he's been at this, Googled his age and was surprised. I loved the man, and loved his sense of humor, and his ability to deadpan a joke when needed. He did this to great effect in "Weird" Al Yankovic's "I Lost on Jeopardy" and when his usual announcement that "guests of Saturday Night Live stay at the Marriott's Essex House" became part of a bit. He did it with the same finesse as always.

Don Pardo passed away yesterday, quietly in his sleep at the age of 96. SNL is probably what he was known for most even though his golden voice has graced many other shows, games and news, with the same warmth and professionalism. The man and his voice are legend, and I know "Saturday Night Live" will ever be the same again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Hobbit 1966

I was surprised to find this treasure on YouTube as I had never heard of such a thing before. This twelve-minute short from 1966 is indeed the first animated version, predating the Rankin-Bass film by eleven years. Rumor has it the producer, William L. Snyder, had to make a movie before selling off the rights. By making a short, Snyder walked off with quite a profit, and then made more from the rights sale.

This version directed by Gene Dietch, while using rather primitive animation and designs by Adolf Born, is actually quite watchable. Gandalf is Gandalf but Bilbo is a bit like David Tennant with hairy feet, it's fun. The narration by Herbert Lass is somber and appropriate, almost like a serious Edward Everett Horton from "Fractured Fairy Tales." I like him, it's like velvet.

The only thing that may stop viewers in their tracks is a previous knowledge of the JRR Tolkien story. Snyder has irrationally changed character names, streamlined events, and eliminated a few dwarves and details along the way. It seems just fine to the uninitiated however.

I am reminded of HBO's "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child." This is fun, and an oddity for the Tolkien fans, worth checking out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Brewster's Millions 1945

The 1985 version of Brewster's Millions with Richard Pryor and John Candy is one of my favorite guilty pleasure films. It's silly, it's funny, it's predictable, but the talent involved elevates the movie to a new level. I'll watch it whenever it's on, and laugh every time.

Brewster's Millions is an old idea however. Previous to Richard Pryor's updating, there was a 1945 film, one of a total of ten movie versions, radio dramas, stage plays on and off Broadway, a musical, and numerous adaptations for TV either veiled or obvious. It's been done in cartoons, to music, and even in Bollywood. The story of a man forced to spend money to learn the value of money is resilient. Old ideas get around.

As I recently watched it again, today I'll be talking about the 1945 film. Like all versions of the story, it's based on the 1902 novel by Richard Greaves AKA George Barr McCutcheon, author of the now largely forgotten Graustark book series. There are also elements of the stage play in this. Each version features updates to the times, though originally a stockbroker, here Brewster is a GI returning home from the war.

Here's the gist. Penniless Monty Brewster comes home from the war to find he's inherited eight million dollars, but in order to get it, he must first spend a million dollars in sixty days, with no assets, and not let anyone know why he's doing it. His dead uncle wanted him to hate spending money.

Dennis O'Keefe is in the title role, with Helen Walker as his fiancée, both serviceable. Look for Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from "Batman." Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson plays the family servant (for lack of a better word, butler maybe? later he's a majordomo) and is by far the best part of the movie. The actor, best known from "The Jack Benny Show," gets all the best lines, the best laughs, and steals the movie. Notably, a sign of its times, the film was banned in Memphis because his character was portrayed and treated too well.

There is care, and comedy, in the style of the decade depicted, but no one on screen approaches the charisma level of Eddie Anderson. I think I would have really dug the movie more had he been cast as Brewster. Still, it's a pleasant entertaining film, and I was happy to see it again. See it if you get the chance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Gay Purr-ee

Gay Purr-ee ~ At a time when most animated features were made by Disney, this non-Disney entry is largely forgotten. Written by Chuck Jones and his wife, who was moonlighting on his regular gig with Warner Bros., Gay Pur-ee is the rather simple tale of a country cat who comes to the big city, Paris in 1890.

An animated musical, it stars Robert Goulet in his big screen debut and Judy Garland during one of her final comebacks. Uninspired songs, complex fine art inspired backgrounds, and failure to capture the imagination of either adults or children led to its unfortunate sweeping under the rug.

As a kid I remember being bored by it, but even then recognizing the later Chuck Jones style, and that I disliked it. As an adult, I do appreciate the backgrounds a bit more, but they do little to enhance the subpar Jones characters, mannerisms, gimmicks, and inadequate pacing. Red Buttons is annoying here, and the talents of Hermione Gingold are sadly wasted.

Judy Garland had moderate success with "Paris Is A Lonely Town," but truth be told, she could sing the phone book on her worst day and make it sound wonderful. The music here is not good, and none of the songs memorable. As opposed to today, the characters didn't even resemble the actors. Gay Purr-ee is nice to see maybe once, but perhaps otherwise best forgotten.