A tale of two sequels

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is OK. Mostly it feels like a box-ticking exercise for Indy fans. Frenetic opening scene that could be the grand climax of another action movie? Yep. Fedora and whip? Yep. Snakes? Hordes of gross insects? Hundreds of skeletons in a catacomb falling on top of our hero and heroine? Yep, yep, yep. Don’t forget about connecting scenes with a map and a moving dot.

It is a far better attempt than 2008’s disappointing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but still a bit short of the original trilogy back in the 1980s. At least I did get invested in the story enough that I got an appropriate laugh at how Helen — Dr. Jones’ goddaughter — resolves the dilemma at the climax when Indy wants to (can’t go on without spoilers). And I did tear up at the final scene despite being fully aware it was another box being ticked.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, on the other hand, is a terrific film. It also ticks a lot of boxes — after all, I am Groot! — but the story is much more compelling, revealing the backstory of Rocket Raccoon. On the other hand, the third Indiana Jones movie is the best except for the first, too. Maybe a fourth, or fifth, Guardians of the Galaxy movie 25 or 40 years after the first would also feel unnecessary.

It is kind of nice to check in with familiar characters to see their happily-ever-after, but if I want to relive the joy of watching Indiana Jones again, it’s more likely than not that I’ll haul out Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

W.B. at the movies: Living

I’ve just watched Bill Nighy in Living, playing the part (Watanabe/Williams) that Takashi Shimura originated in Ikiru (To Live) back in 1952.

The newer film is remarkably faithful to the original Akira Kurosawa masterpiece, adapted by the brilliant Kazuo Ishiguro, essentially telling the same story — still set in the 1950s — for a modern audience.

Given a terminal diagnosis, a stiff older bureaucrat attempts to come back to life, finally seizing an opportunity to help some neighborhood mothers in their effort to have a small playground built in a bombed-out ruin.

The story parallels the original, right down to Watanabe/Williams’ fellow bureaucrats, after his funeral, pledging to learn from his example only to be bogged down by the quotidian once again, and recreating the legendary scene of Watanabe/Williams swinging in his playground and singing the sad folk song that he had asked a tavern musician to play earlier in the film.

Nighy — as Shimura before him — is one of those sometimes underrated treasures who deserves to be considered among our finest actors.

Living (currently on Netflix) is a quiet, slow-developing film and therefore not for everyone, but like Kurosawa’s original, it was definitely for me and moved me to the core.

Beautiful provocation

I encountered two opposite but complementary views about the nature of art this week.

One perspective was posted on Facebook and came from Joyce Carol Oates: “My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment and each other. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

The other was from legendary director Akira Kurosawa: “I want to make movies, beautiful movies. I’ve pursued that goal for more than 50 years, close to 60 years now. But I don’t think I’ve yet fully grasped what a movie is … I would like everyone to savor the beauty of cinema.”

The quote is in a documentary attached to Kurosawa’s classic film Ikiru, about a boring man who discovers he is dying of cancer and commits to spending his last days not being boring. I watched the film again and was comforted by the beautiful, iconic shot of the man, played by Takashi Shimura, riding a swing in the rain while singing a sad old folk song. The image is comforting and provoking at the same time.

Kurosawa may not have fully grasped what a movie is, but he made some of the most beautiful films in cinematic history. And I probably would never have exposed myself to his work had I not been intrigued by the image of Shimura — whom I knew from his work as Dr. Yamane in my childhood favorite Godzilla — in another role. So mass entertainment does play a role in this mix.

Zuzu’s petals

Sometimes just a phrase is all you need. For me, the other day, it was “Zuzu’s petals.”

If you love It’s a Wonderful Life as I do, you know what I’m talking about. George Bailey’s little daughter is upset because some petals had fallen off the flower she brought home from school, and he pretends to reattach them while tucking them in his pocket.

When Clarence the angel grants George his “wish” to have never been born, one of the consequences is that Zuzu’s petals aren’t in his pocket anymore, because if he was never born then neither was his daughter. 

What happens next makes George want to live again, and when he’s trying to figure out if he’s really back, he reaches desperately into his pockets.


Oh, damn, I’m choking up again as I write this. 

George Bailey never existed, and neither did Zuzu or her petals, but these imaginary people, and their trials and tribulations, affect us as profoundly as the real-life experiences we go through all the time. Sometimes they help us process reality in ways that reality can’t offer.

Zuzu’s petals represent all the things and all the people I’ve lost over the years. Some of them I’ve found again, and some of them are indeed lost forever. Lost or found, they bring tears to the eyes and a lump to the ol’ throat, grief and joy in equal measure.

They make me want to cry out, with George Bailey, “Help me, Clarence, please. Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live!”

70 movies I’m glad I saw

Oh, movies … I’ve seen thousands of movies in 70 years of being a human. How do you stop at 70? The only one of these lists that was harder to limit is the one about songs.

This is an area where Red and I have different attitudes. We both love watching movies, but they rarely linger with her. I might say, “That was so cool in the climax of Contact where they call back to the line, ‘Small moves, Ellie’ — I choked up,” and Red will say, “Which one was Contact again?”

So here are the 70 movies I would select from if I needed a list of my absolute favorite favorite films, the ones where I probably got goosebumps one or more times along the way. As usual, I only numbered them to make sure I hit 70, but unlike those other lists, the first eight are ranked and appear on every list of my favorite movies.

1. It’s A Wonderful Life

2. The Wizard of Oz 

3. Casablanca

4. E.T. The Extraterrestrial

5. Arrival

6. Serenity (2005)

7. Raiders of the Lost Ark

8. A Christmas Story

9. Joyeaux Noel

10. The Lives of Others

Continue reading “70 movies I’m glad I saw”

W.B. At the Movies: Wakanda Forever

I wasn’t that familiar with the background of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, so when I set aside some time this weekend to watch the Blu-Ray, I didn’t realize I was committing 2 hours and 40 minutes of my life to a story that would have made a nice two-hour movie.

Letitia Wright’s Shuri character was the most compelling of the supporting cast in the first Black Panther film, so it was nice to see she was chosen to carry the sequel after the death of Chadwick Boseman, and in the new film she does another fine job. 

The reinvention of Namor the Sub-Mariner for the Marvel Cinematic Universe was jarring to this old comics fan, but I’ve never been particularly enamored of that character anyway (see what I did there?) so my lack of interest may have had more to do with why that major plot point fell flat for me. 

It was especially jarring to see the supposedly noble ruler of an undersea kingdom gut-punching a 5-foot-5, 110-pound woman, no matter how superpowered she had become. 

Just as with the three-hour snooze fest that was The Batman, I found myself hitting the 2x speed button to get through the interminable slugfest in the final act of Wakanda Forever. Maybe I’m just getting tired of comic book movies, or maybe the arc that ended with Avengers: Engame was a pinnacle they may not be able to re-create. Or perhaps 160 minutes is too long for the average superhero epic and Marvel needs to hire more brutal editors.

Then we found ourselves drawn into watching four episodes of Prime Video’s Daisy Jones & The Six musical series. It was an interesting contrast to see how 160 minutes of Wakanda took forever but 200 minutes of Daisy left us wanting more.

W.B. at the Movies: Everything Everywhere All At Once

At its core Everything Everywhere All At Once is a sweet movie — a kind movie — and of course an insane movie. The insanity is why I loved it.

It seems everyone these days is doing movies about the multiverse, where every choice leads into its own universe. What would have happened if you took that other job or didn’t get that divorce? Somewhere there’s a universe where you made the opposite choices and everything played out differently.

Here, all of the multiverse is under threat, and somehow Evelyn Wang — played brilliantly by Michelle Yeoh — is at the center of it all. Everything, everywhere, all at once, somehow depends on Evelyn stopping her daughter Joy from building a bagel. Googley eyes also play a key role.

Not everyone will love the nuttiness of this film as much as I did. I can see someone throwing up their arms and saying, “This is just insane.” My response would be, “Yeah, I know. Isn’t it great?”

Yeoh is always wonderful, and here she is absolutely believable in an unbelievable role. Three of her colleagues are nominated for Oscars in supporting roles — Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis — and if it were up to me I’d declare a tie and give the two awards to the three of them. After last week’s Screen Actors Guild awards, Yeoh and the film itself are the front runners for Best Actress and Best Picture, and while admittedly I haven’t seen any of the other films and performances, I certainly would agree they would be worthy choices.

But you could tell everyone wasn’t thinking about winning awards when they made this picture; they were just having fun. And that is why you really have to see this film when you can. It’s just fun, and we need more of that these days.