Monday, November 23, 2015


Starring Jennifer Lawrence,
Josh Hutcherson,
Liam Hemsworth,
Woody Harrelson,
Donald Sutherland,
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Julianne Moore,
Willow Shields,
Stanley Tucci
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
Runtime 137 minutes
Rated PG-13


 The Hunger Games saga concludes.
In keeping with Hollywood’s disturbing trend of stretching a book into a 2-part film, Mockingjay – Part 2 has the same slow pace that dragged down The Hobbit and impaired the 2-part finale to the Harry Potter series. The sheer greed shown by breaking up the story and making everybody have to wait for six months or a year means the story loses steam. The pacing gets all thrown off, and we have to sit through airy stories inflated artificially. This means huge tracts of film that properly should have been edited wind up comprising too much of the movie.
That said, other aspects aid.
Upshot: Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), reluctant face of the rebellion, leads a squad to the Capitol to assassinate President Snow (Sutherland).
What makes the first movie, The Hunger Games, the best of the four films in the series is the freshness of the high-concept idea: representatives of fascist districts required to fight to the death and a young archer heroine. Catching Fire keeps that momentum, but by the time we reach Mockingjay, many of the best elements have been replaced with other things that we’ve seen too often.
High marks for the film’s star. None of The Hunger Games would work at all if Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t perfect for the part. She’s just totally believable. She exudes dignity by seeming fairly careless of her beauty and focusing instead on a strong moral center. The interior life conveyed through her eyes usually pushes each scene.
As Peeta, Josh Hutcherson also delivers an amazing performance. It’s a tricky role, because it seems like Katniss is always saving Peeta. We could easily dismiss him in this role-reversal, but we recognize that his character has just as strong of a core as hers.
In addition to the acting, interesting characters gird the film. One such character can’t stand Katniss until she learns that Katniss plans to kill Snow, another is a mute who spent five years underground never once seeing the sun. As the rebel president, Julianne Moore shows varied facets, praising Katniss to her face, and at other times proving more revealing.
The journey from District 13 to the Capitol in order to oust the dictatorship is beset with dangers in the form of pods, traps peppered everywhere and containing nasty video game-like surprises. The occasional activation of these pods provides the movie’s most memorable action. Ultimately, if the filmmakers had taken the best of Part 1 and the best of Part 2 and made one solid movie, both the franchise and the audience would be better served.

Monday, November 16, 2015


Starring Daniel Craig,
Christoph Waltz,
Lea Seydoux,
Ralph Fiennes,
Monica Bellucci,
Ben Wishaw,
Naomie Harris,
Dave Bautista,
Andrew Scott
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis,
Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
Runtime 148 minutes
Rated PG-13

Yet another awesome Bond flick.
Both current and classic, SPECTRE unveils Bond’s best villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (excellently played by Christoph Waltz), whose scheme for total control of global surveillance threatens James Bond’s job.
Daniel Craig excels a fourth time now as secret agent 007. Of the two dozen official franchise entries, Craig’s efforts compare admirably with the only real James Bond, Sean Connery. New Bond movies, like baseball, invoke historical comparison. One of the strengths of this film is that it subtly refers to other Bond films with no distracting winks or nudges.
For example, when the film starts off in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, we see a figure in a skull-face mask wearing a top hat, thereby reminding us of the character played by Geoffrey Holder in Roger Moore’s first Bond movie, Live and Let Die. Director Sam Mendes—who directed Daniel Craig in Skyfall last time—deftly satisfies an appetite for homage without interrupting the action or losing fresh appeal.
Bond infiltrates a crime ring whose members get to wear a ring prominently depicting a stylish octopus logo: SPECTRE—Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. In the absence of a new Bond novel from the long-deceased Fleming, the franchise carries out a two-pronged attack, through self-referential—even self-reverential—hearkening to Bond’s cinematic roots, while still moving the characters forward. So when Dave Bautista shows up, we see glimmers of Grant, the assassin stalking Bond in From Russia, With Love, and Oddjob, the bodyguard with the bowler hat in Goldfinger, without ever losing sight of the story.
As the white Persian cat-petting, Nehru jacket-clad leader of the free crime world, Christoph Waltz smugly scintillates. In particular a Bond movie is only as good as its villain is bad, and Waltz’s performance as Blofeld ranks exceptionally high on that list. We see a deal more of Q this time than usual. Ben Wishaw fits the role quite well as a younger version of the MI6 tech-wizard frequently irritated by Bond’s cavalier attitude toward spendy spy gizmos.
In the interest of preserving the plot, suffice to say Lea Seydoux conveys boatloads of interior life in her eyes as a woman in hiding whom Bond has promised to protect. Also, Andrew Scott—whom Sherlock fans will recognize as Moriarity—has a terrific turn as the head of the department ousting MI6, and Ralph Fiennes provides a suitably credible and steadfast M.
All of these parts in place, plus Daniel Craig owning the role, make SPECTRE a spectacular big-screen spectacle well worth watching.

Monday, November 9, 2015


The beloved author of children’s classics, who would be ninety-nine this year if he was still alive, got into writing in a roundabout way. A British Royal Air Force fighter pilot in WWII, the Welsh-born Dahl had a chance meeting with author C.S. Forester that changed his life. Forester encouraged him to write a story, perhaps detailing his experience being shot down over the Libyan Desert, assuring Dahl he could get it published in The Saturday Evening Post. Dahl wrote the piece and was paid a thousand dollars.
Twenty years later, he wrote his first children’s book, James and the Giant Peach. A long succession of children’s books followed in Dahl’s varied career, most notably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was the first of his stories to be put into film and is the only one to be filmed twice—until next year’s release of The Big Friendly Giant.
To date, eight primary features top the list of Dahl’s many film credits. Most of the movies reflect the spirit of books marked by wild imagination and wicked humor. In addition to penning darker material, such as stories for TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he also wrote the screenplay for his friend Ian Fleming’s James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, having himself served not only as a pilot, but, like Fleming, also as an actual spy.  

1.      Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) – The classic stars Gene Wilder as the eccentric confectioner. Studio deviations from the story, including changing the title, left Dahl disappointed.

2.      The BFG (1989) – Decent animated movie about a big friendly giant who takes a kid from an orphanage off to Giant Country.

3.      Danny, the Champion of the World (1989) – Jeremy Irons as a mechanic who won’t give in to a developer trying to buy him out, and Samuel Irons as Danny, the mechanic’s young son.

4.      The Witches (1990) – This excellent adaptation of one of Dahl’s best books features Angelica Huston as the leader of witches at a conference accidentally witnessed by a little boy.

5.      James and the Giant Peach (1996) – A feast of stop-motion animation featuring an orphan, beleaguered by rotten ants, who has an amazing adventure traveling by giant peach and makes friends with the giant critters inside.

6.      Matilda (1996) – A girl with telekinetic powers has ridiculous parents and a principal whose “idea for a perfect school is one in which there are no children at all.” Kind of a Carrie for kids.

7.      Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) – Johnny Depp stars as Willy Wonka in this faithful and terrific adaptation from director Tim Burton.  

8.      Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – Superlative stop-motion animation featuring George Clooney as the voice of Mr. Fox, who breaks his promise to his wife (voice of Meryl Streep) by raiding the farms of neighboring humans, then has to help his fellow critters survive the farmers’ wrath.  


Saturday, November 7, 2015


Here we see 
the enigmatic wonder
known to the people as
returning to visibility!


Do you remember when you first met Squirrel Girl?

You had been working on various formulas in the field of flying paint, which of course you called Flaint. The idea that a child could be responsible for inventing stuff which made flying carpets and flying broomsticks available for everyone seemed a far-fetched idea at the time. Most people thought you were merely playing when you said you were making a substance that when painted on an object would allow it to fly. Most thought you were only kidding.

Kidding perhaps like the day I woke up shorthanded. Another one of your spells you practiced on me. I don’t see why you always have to make your dad your guinea pig. All I could do was fumble at the door handle with my still temporarily shrunken hands and go, “Wabes! You made me shorthanded! Wabes! The dogs are barking outside!” 

You were downstairs in the Witch’s Room, as you call your laboratory. “Settle down, Dad,” you assured, “you’ll be all back to normal soon, and I’m coming up to get the dogs in a second.”

“One,” I said. “Okay, it’s been a second. Wabes! What are you doing down there?”

“Dad, have you had anything to eat this morning?”

“Well, just some baby corn. It’s all I could hold. QUIET, DOGS! Hurry Wabes, they’re being awful and my little hands can’t turn the handle.”

“Hold on,” you said, “I’ve been working on something extremely special and I’m almost done.”

Outside, Gomez and Morticia showed frantic interest in something up the maple tree. They were standing on the bench below the tree and looking up leaning with their paws against it barking and barking. It seemed like a long time to me, but in reality it was probably only about another forty or fifty seconds of waiting.

You opened the door to call in the dogs. “Gomez, Morticia, let’s go!”

Slobbering like idiots, the dogs bounded inside. “Good job,” you told them, shutting the door. Nails ticking on the floor, they blundered into the kitchen, tails knocking table legs.

Panting from the exertion of her barking, Morticia waited for a turn at the water bowl while hogboy Gomez shoved his way over and loudly slurped. That was when you noticed. Something was stuck on the back of Morticia’s collar.

It was a tiny little person. Barely two inches tall.

Perceiving she was spotted, the little person suddenly jumped up from Morticia’s collar, took a few steps in the springy fur and spectacularly leaped toward the chair in the corner with your coat left on it. There was a tiny “oof” as she landed against the spongy surface and slid down the draped sleeve, lost from our sight behind the chair in a tangle of toys.

You may recall with what anguish I lamented the disorder. “Dang it Wabes, I’m certain I gave you specific instructions that these toys were not to be left in a tangle. Now look, she got away!”

“Good,” you said. “You’re scaring her.”

“What? I just want to shake hands.”

“Then you should ask.”

“Don’t be impertinent,” I said. “Hey down there. All right now, come on out, you.”

“No,” came the tiny reply. “You come down here.”

“Sure,” I said, “that’s easily done.” So I got down on the floor. I had to use my elbows on the hard surface to keep from crushing my hands. “Well, here I am,” I said. “Anybody ever see Trilogy of Te—NO!”

The tiny little person had leaped out in a proficient-appearing martial arts stance!

“You want to shake hands?” she said. “Let’s shake hands.”

“Alrighty,” I said, leaning down. But it was a trick, because as soon as we started shaking hands, she twisted and threw me over her shoulder so that I came down on the kitchen floor like the giant at the bottom of the beanstalk.

I remember looking at the ceiling. I think you said you had a talk with her after that. “This is Squirrel Girl,” you said. “She was raised by squirrels.” You asked if I would read to you and Squirrel Girl from the stack of Dorrie books we had picked up the day before from the library. My hands were all better by then, so turning the pages was easy.

You had given Ichabod a few drops from a vial what seemed like forever ago and so he was there with his fuzzy black kitty body spread out on the pile of books next to us asking questions about the story and wanting to inspect each page with sniffing.

"Is this one by Rudyard Kipling?" Ichabod said.

"No," you said. "This one's by Patricia Coombs."

"Oh," said Ichabod, his kitty mouth making a little circle.

Squirrel Girl peeked out from behind Icky's ear. "You're much fuzzier and squishier than a squirrel," she said. "Plus you don't stink as bad as the dogs."

"Thank you! I eat a lot of kibble. Would you like some kitty kibble?"

"Not just yet, thanks," Squirrel Girl said.

"There's already some in my bowl over there. You can have a piece."

"Ichabod," you said, "you shouldn't offer kibble that has your spit on it."


"It's gross."


"Because it is."

"I don't mind," Squirrel Girl said. "You should see some of the stuff I eat!"

Unfortunately, all of this chatter impeded my oration, and I had to set the book face down and wait for you, Squirrel Girl and Ichabod to finish your conversation. But then you didn't stop very quickly so I said, "Ah, excuse me, Squirrel Girl, if I happen to be interrupting you—”

"Oh, you are."

"Yes well, Squirrel Girl, I understand you're used to hanging out in trees with squirrels, and so you're probably accustomed to a great deal of chatter—”

"And how! I love to talk! Sometimes I wake up already talking about interesting things and all kinds of stuff!"

"Indeed. My point being—”

"Why, I remember one time I woke up with a whole crazy song in my head and everything!"

So I put my hand under my chin and listened while Squirrel Girl launched into the song which she kept messing up and starting over. Again and again.

"It's okay, Dad," you said. "This is a good time to take a break. According to my calculations, my extremely special experiment should be just about ready."

Ichabod looked up. "Out of everyone in The Jungle Book," he said, "who's your favorite?"

"I dunno," I said.

"Mine's Bagheera. I think Bagheera's best."

"I bet you do."

"Ohhhhh, I'm the mightiest warrior of the trees! No, wait. Ohhhhhh, I'm the—”

“All right, everybody,” you called upstairs, for you had returned to the Witch’s Room in order to put the finishing touches on your experiment, “you can come on down now and have a, heh-heh, look at what I’ve done.”

Walking single-file into the basement seemed to take forever because whereas Ichabod was smart and raced ahead, I was polite and got stuck behind Squirrel Girl, who went extra slow “just to be safe” going down the stairs. Passing Gomez and Morticia’s comfy crates, shelves of books and shelves of food, we eventually made it into the room, Squirrel Girl marveling at the profuse array of esoteric items looming over chalk drawings on the stone floor. Masks, hats, microscopes, encyclopedias, beakers and a Bunsen burner, crystals, magnets, weird roots, devices with dials and levers, apparatus with knobs and antennae, candles and divining rods. Using the ladder-like grooves of a wooden chess board leaning against a wall, Squirrel Girl rose to the top edge and perched, looking at the various vials of colored liquid arranged on a wooden bureau by a lumpy green recliner covered in black cat hair.

“Where are you?” I said.

You stood up from where you’d been crouching out of view behind the recliner. Wearing a hat, and shades, and wrapped in bandages, you looked creepy. The department store raven affixed to the edge of the candy bowl skull (from the same store) contributed to the general atmosphere. Selecting a piece of caramel candy and slipping it between the folds of the wrappings below the novelty nose you said, “Behold…Invisikid! Yes, Invisikid: first kid to master the secrets of invisibility. Seeing how no one else my age was seriously pursuing invisibility, I looked into it.”

Removing both hat and shades in a fluid motion startled even Gomez and Morticia peering in the doorway. The bandages didn’t cover the top of your head, we now saw, and where we expected to see your eyes, instead all we could see were empty parts in the wrapping. Then you removed the plastic nose. Gross! Nothing there! We could see the chewing motion of your mouth on the caramel until you unwound the bandages completely.

“The fools!” you said. “Ha ha! I’ve done it! Not wanting to catch a chill, I decided not to bother with taking a serum, and opted instead for a liquid solution of my own device which makes not only me invisible, but also my gi that I soaked it in, too. Plus my shoes.”

Sure enough, you’d done it. I could only shake my head in amazement. “Invisikid, you are a wonder,” I said.

“Thanks!” came the unseen reply.

“What are you going to do now, Invisikid?”

“Well, I’ve got some Flaint left. I’m planning on a mission.”

“I can tell you’re pretty serious about this.”

“I am.”

“What are you going to do on your mission?”

“I will use my powers to help the people.”

“That’s good. The people need that.”

“Yes. Thank you. Do you want to be part of this mission?”

“It would be an honor.”

“Yes,” you agreed, at which point we proceeded back upstairs to draw up our plans and have some snacks. You brought the bottle of Flaint upstairs with you. One tiny drop on a pencil and Squirrel Girl rode it like a broomstick all around the table, knocking over the pepper shaker and laughing hysterically.


"I'm really proud of you for what you're doing here," I said as I set down a plate of healthy snacks. "I also think that since I get to be your sidekick I should have a name. How about Dad-Man?"

"I don't know about that," you said.

"Do you want dessert?" I replied.

"Probably. What is it?"

"Ice cream."

"What kind?"

"Mint chocolate chip."

"Then yes, Dad-Man, I do want dessert."

"Hot dog! So what's the plan, Invisikid?"

"Well, you know the donut shop?"

"Oh yes. How could I forget?"

"We should start our patrols there, make sure everything's fine."

"Right. We wouldn't want anything bad to happen to those donuts. I like their maple bars. We need to check up on the safety of those for sure."

"What's a donut?" said Squirrel Girl, sliding down the channel of a stalk of celery.

Ichabod jumped up on the table. "If you get to be Dad-Man, I get to be Cat-Man," he said.

"No," I said starting to get flustered, "it's not the same. Everybody settle down. Donuts are can be Icky-Boy. Wabes, why are you going straight to the ice cream?"

"What's a yummy?"

"Invisikid, did you have any celery?"

"What's a yummy?"

"I'll be Cat-Man, you be Dad-Boy."

"What's a yummy?"

"No! Invisikid, celery?"

"I don't want any, thanks."

"Because Squirrel Girl used it as a slide?" You didn't nod yes but I knew that's what it was. I was getting so frustrated. It felt like things were falling apart. Madness everywhere. Something had to happen. I could feel the power growing within me. True parental power.

I got up from the table and stood in the center of the kitchen. "Somebody, quick, ask me who I am. No wait, don't bother, I'll tell you. I'M DAD-MAN! Everybody settle down! You: I'll wash off the celery and you'll eat it. You: don't you ever ruin celery again, and you'll see what donuts are later, if you behave. And you: you can't be Cat-Man because you're a kitty-boy."

"Then I want to be Gusto."

"Why Gusto?"

"Because I am fast. Fast like the wind."

"Okay, well that works. Invisikid, hand me the celery, please. You like how I handled all that? Busted open a can of Dad-Man is what I did. I hope you have some extra Flaint so I can fly. Do you?"

"That depends. Start scoopin'," you said, kindly advising I was going to need a bigger spoon...