Other Natural Disasters

The Evening Star is the continuation of Terms of Endearment no one’s heard of. Sequels to Best Picture winning films aren’t very common, but author Larry McMurtry wrote many books in his Houston series. The Evening Star picks up where Aurora Greenway left off. Shirley MaClaine reprises her Oscar winning role and seems to be doing everything she can to hold the movie together. Unlike Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star was not praised by critics. I feel like the sequel tries too hard to recapture what worked in the first movie.

Aurora is once again dealing with family problems and her complicated love life. Emma’s children are grown up and just as troubled as she was. Tommy is not so surprisingly in jail, Teddy has a disrespectful son, and Melanie desperately wants to get away from her overprotective granny. Juliette Lewis has played rebellious characters like this before. Emma’s best friend Patsy is recast with a more meddlesome Miranda Richardson. Aurora is at odds with her, but maintains a small circle of friends that includes the General Hector and her maid Rosie.

The latter is also recast with Marion Ross at least deserving a Golden Globe nomination. Ben Johnson plays her neighbor/husband Arthur in his final film role after passing away. Jack Nicholson manages to steal the show despite being nothing more than a glorified cameo. Aurora’s primary romantic conquest is a creepy relationship between her and her counselor Jerry played by the much younger Bill Paxton. This time not one, but three characters die in an attempt to elicit the same emotional response. The Evening Star is a little burnt out.

The Evening Star

Aurora and Garrett look at the evening star

Preceded by: Terms of Endearment

Come to Terms

Terms of Endearment is a lot to come to terms with. It’s a human-interest story that was very common in the 80’s. The kind of story guaranteed to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Aside from its Oscar win, I never had too many expectations going into Terms of Endearment. I only knew it was a tearjerker, and that my manager strongly recommended it. Simpsons producer James L. Brooks directed, produced, and wrote the film himself. Winning three separate Oscars in the process. Terms of Endearment is based on a 1975 novel by Larry McMurtry. It chronicles the back and forth relationship between a mother and her daughter. I just don’t think it’s for me. Just about everyone is flawed and occasionally unlikeable.

The great Shirley MaClaine won Best Actress for her performance as the controlling Aurora, who maintains an obsessively close relationship with her daughter. Debra Winger was nominated for her performance as Emma, who deliberately marries a man her mother doesn’t approve of. Jeff Daniels got a serious career boost playing Emma’s neutral college professor husband Flap. Nearly 30 years of their lives go by with little warning. Emma and Flap have three kids, but each of them have affairs when life gets too tough. John Lithgow was nominated for his performance as Emma’s kind of pathetic lover Sam.

Aurora’s love life is just as complicated. She distances herself from Danny DeVito, but ends up falling for Jack Nicholson. Nicholson very much deserved his Best Supporting Actor win as Aurora’s overly confident, yet somehow charming former astronaut neighbor Garrett. I felt the most invested when he was on screen. Reality sets in when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness and everyone has to come to terms with it. Although I was on the verge of tears, I guess I couldn’t connect as much as I could’ve. Even though it is a perfect catharsis for each character. Terms of Endearment is technically brilliant with a perfect cast, fine performances, and realistic characters dealing with realistic problems.

Terms of Endearment

Emma lays down with her mother Aurora

Followed by: The Evening Star

No Dogs Allowed

Snoopy Come Home gave the spotlight to Charlie Brown’s beloved pet beagle. Snoopy is every bit the icon that his owner is. Peanuts fans love his smart yet mischievous nature and independent spirit. Since A Boy Named Charlie Brown was such a success, Snoopy Come Home soon followed. This time Charles M. Schulz wanted a more cinematic feel. The first movie admittedly felt like an extended special. While the animation is still simple, backgrounds feel more immersive.

Another change was music from the Sherman Brothers instead of the usual Vince Guaraldi. Most songs feel a bit more Disneyfied than usual. Although it takes further advantage of the medium, Snoopy Come Home was sadly a box-office bomb. The story is very sentimental with Snoopy leaving home to visit his sick former owner Lila. Charlie Brown blames himself for his dog running away. Linus, Lucy, and Peppermint Patty all have shared mishaps that make them doubt if he’ll ever return.

Joining Snoopy for the first time on-screen is his faithful bird sidekick Woodstock. Together they endure the elements, a pet crazed kid, and near constant “No Dogs Allowed” signs. Snoopy nearly chooses to stay with Lila, but let’s just say a problem becomes the solution. Even though Snoopy’s tearful farewell is played for laughs, Charlie Brown almost saying goodbye to his best friend is very relatable. Snoopy Come Home is the best kind of “boy and his dog” story.

2. Snoopy, Come Home

Snoopy and Woodstock hitchhike

Preceded by: A Boy Named Charlie Brown & Followed by: Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown

B–E–A–G–E–L

A Boy Named Charlie Brown brought Peanuts to the big screen. I have always been a huge fan of the Peanuts franchise. They’re simple, but smart stories for the young and young at heart. I can think of nothing better to review on the 5 year anniversary of my blog. The great Charles M. Schulz first created Charlie Brown for a 1950 comic strip series. The Peanuts popularity soon grew to TV specials like the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

I’d say it was only a matter of time before they made a major motion picture, but Charlie Brown really is so down to Earth. A Boy Named Charlie Brown manages to feel big without losing its simple charm. Everyone knows Charlie Brown as the boy who just can’t seem to win. He can’t fly a kite properly, he can’t play baseball without losing his clothes, and everyone treats him like a blockhead. All the classic characters and moments are there.

Snoopy dreams he’s a World War I flying ace, Lucy doesn’t let Charlie Brown hit the football, Linus obsesses over his blanket, Sally crushes on Linus, and Schroeder plays his piano. A Boy Named Charlie Brown is a musical with many abstract animated sequences accompanying them. The main conflict for Charlie Brown is a spelling bee that finally gives him self-confidence. Of course he blows it on the word beagle (“Good grief”). Like so many great Peanuts stories, A Boy Named Charlie Brown offers an important lesson about believing in yourself.

1. A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown hopes to fly his kite

Followed by: Snoopy Come Home

I’m Still Standing!

Rocketman soars as high as a kite. Since Elton John is one of the greatest living musicians, it was only a matter of time before someone gave him a biopic. Turns out the singer had been wanting a movie based on his life story since the 2000’s. The timing couldn’t have been better for it to happen in 2019. Dexter Fletcher directed Rocketman a year after his uncredited work on Bohemian Rhapsody. Both musical biopics center around gay singers who dealt with a lot of personal struggles. Music manager John Reid also plays a part in both stories. Even more ironic is the fact that Taron Egerton was practically born to play Elton John. Though singers and/or actors like Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy were considered, Egerton had a lot of bizarre connections to the singer.

Egerton already sang “I’m Still Standing” in Sing and John himself had a featured role in The Golden Circle. He also happened to work with Fletcher before on Eddie the Eagle. Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn encouraged the casting by becoming a co-producer. Edgerton pulls off the bespectacled look and every flamboyant outfit. Although I saw Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters, I chose not to do the same with Rocketman. Though I am a big fan of John’s songs, the R rating spoke for itself. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman doesn’t hold back on the singer’s homosexuality or various addictions. The film explores his younger days as a piano prodigy and the strained relationship with his parents that led to him changing his name from Reginald Dwight to Elton John.

Bryce Dallas Howard is practically unrecognizable as his mother. As his star rises, John forms his longest lasting platonic relationship with songwriter Bernie Taupin played by Jamie Bell. His troubled love life includes abusive manager Reid played by Richard Madden, but his relationships with women are significantly downplayed. Rocketman is more of a fantasy with purposeful historic inaccuracies and stylish musical numbers for all his songs. Every performance is fun to watch, but Elton’s rehab visits and struggle to love himself are the heart of his life’s story. Which is why “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” won Best Original Song. And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til anything tops Rocketman.

Rocketman

Elton John dressed up

Le Mans ’66

Ford v Ferrari is the last 20th Century Fox film nominated for Best Picture. It couldn’t have happened to a more old fashioned movie. In fact, Fox always wanted to bring the racing rivalry between Ford and Ferrari to life. At one point they wanted Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but Matt Damon and Christian Bale are suitable replacements. After Logan, director James Mangold shifted gears back to the biographical dramas he used to make with acclaimed films like Walk the Line.

I’m still not an automotive expert, but even I know the idea of a Ford beating Ferrari in a race sounds like a pipe dream. Ford v Ferrari is all about Ford being challenged to build a racecar with enough speed to outrace Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Damon is the determined automotive designer Carroll Shelby and Bale appropriately portrays his hotheaded frenemy Ken Miles. Shelby is close with Miles’ family and does everything he can to push the racer.

Even when everyone else is trying to get him out of the driver seat. They deal with the heads of Ford played by Jon Bernthal and Tracy Letts. They also deal with a lot of scientific mechanics in order to get the Ford GT40 to crazy speeds. Racing scenes are so fast and smooth that you feel like you’re right there. No wonder Ford v Ferrari won technical awards like Best Film Editing and Sound Editing. Though the outcome isn’t fair, the thrill of the race is more than enough. Ford v Ferrari is an honest-to-goodness sports drama about the American dream.

Ford v Ferrari

Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles on a Ford

Sing a Better Song

Educating Rita closely examines the importance of education. I never heard of Educating Rita, but my uncle regularly advised me to watch it. Turns out I ended up being quite invested in the film actually. In many respects, Educating Rita takes cues from the renowned stage play Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady as it’s known to those in musical theater). Dr. Frank Bryant is an alcoholic Open University professor who tutors a cocky young hairdresser who calls herself Rita.

Frank fills the role of Henry Higgins and Rita fills the role of Eliza Doolittle. Both characters play off each other so well that I wasn’t surprised to learn the film was based on a two actor stage play. Both leads were nominated for best acting Oscars. Since I’ve yet to see Michael Caine’s early work, it was refreshing to see him in a serious lead role. Educating Rita has moments of humor, but it’s the young Julie Walters who lightens up the stuffy university.

I could hardly believe this was her very first film. I’m so used to seeing her as Molly Weasley. Rita’s willingness to learn is a delight to watch. Frank feeds her classic literature and poetry until he begins to rediscover his own love of teaching. Of course their respective personal troubles put a damper on things. Rita’s education leads to her divorce and Frank falls into an alcoholic downward spiral when his marriage fails. Only together do they find a way to improve themselves. Educating Rita taught me a valuable lesson.

Educating Rita

Rita sits with Dr. Frank Bryant

The Present of Parents

Four Christmases tries to bring people together in time for Christmas, but it only succeeds in tearing them apart. Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play a mostly convincing couple. Although they didn’t get along on set since he’s more off the cuff and she sticks to the script. Brad & Kate are the kind of couple that never wants to get married or have kids. Not my favorite kind of people, but to each his own. They each belong to divorced families that they purposefully avoid seeing in order to take exotic trips. Until they get caught in their lie on live TV.

Four Christmases refers to each house they have to visit on Christmas day. Robert Duvall is Brad’s father who’s comfortable being poor. The rest of his family are stereotypical hillbillies that like to rough house. Mary Steenburgen is Kate’s new aged mother who’s seeing a pastor. The rest of her family are mostly women who like to tell embarrassing stories. Their story goes on a while with a whole Nativity play in between.

Sissy Spacek is Brad’s mother who’s awkwardly dating Brad’s childhood best friend. Jon Voight is Kate’s father who’s the only normal parent of the bunch. Not to mention their siblings played by other name actors like Jon Favreau, Kristin Chenoweth, and Tim McGraw. I got some amusement out of the cast and hijinks that ensue, but it’s a bit too cynical for me. Brad & Kate didn’t win me over with their alternative views, but even I couldn’t root for them when they start drifting apart. The rushed happy ending doesn’t make Four Christmases a tradition I want to endure again.

Four Christmases

Brad reacts to Kate’s nephew spitting up on her

Tonight! Tonight!

West Side Story (2021) had the difficult task of remaking a Best Picture winning classic. Somehow it succeeds in becoming one of the better remakes I’ve seen. Of course it helps to have master filmmaker Steven Spielberg at the helm. Believe it or not, despite his often whimsical directing style, Spielberg never made a musical until now. West Side Story was a good ol’ fashioned musical and childhood favorite of his. Since themes of racial tension are timeless, it made sense to reimagine the story. But I was still a little skeptical when the remake was first announced. I had to wait a while to find out since the pandemic pushed it back by a year. Not to mention 20th Century Fox being acquired by Disney. Although it was meant for 2020, 2021 made a lot more sense considering it was the 60th anniversary of the original and Rita Moreno would be turning 90.

Since I’m a fan of the 1961 film, I ended up seeing it in theaters with my brother and mom (who wanted to compare & contrast). West Side Story (2021) lives up to the original by keeping all the songs intact, but makes subtle improvements that even diehard fans can accept. The nearly 3 hour runtime didn’t bother me since I already knew the story. Songs are just as energetic and well choreographed with a few changes made to context, venue, and/or placement. The Romeo & Juliet romance and everything around it plays out exactly the same with no unwanted deviations. The most obvious change is casting entirely hispanic actors as the Puerto Ricans. With the exception of teen heartthrob Ansel Elgort, Corey Stoll, and of course Rita Moreno, most of the cast is generally unknown. Rachel Zegler even makes her film debut as Maria. Another change is making the Upper West Side of New York a construction site for new housing developments.

Talk of discrimination is more open, but not overdone. The remake is grittier without omitting the colorful cinematography of the original. Tony, Maria, Riff, Bernardo, and Anita are still the biggest standouts among the Jets or Sharks. Except Tony is given a criminal past, Maria is quirkier, Riff has clearer motivations, Bernardo is a boxer, and Anita is tougher. The gangs still blur together like the original, but Anybodys and Chino are given more explicit changes. I expected Anybodys to be trans, but Chino’s arc from awkward to killer was the best. All performances are great, but Moreno playing the Puerto Rican owner of Doc’s is an interesting change that the Oscar winner makes work. I’d very much like to see West Side Story (2021) become the first remake to win Best Picture and it would be just as cool for Moreno to win 60 years after the original. West Side Story is a pretty, witty, and bright remake.

West Side Story

Maria sees Tony at the dance

Remake of: West Side Story (1961)

Love is Blind

A Patch of Blue is the cinematic embodiment of “love is blind.” It’s also the oldest Sidney Poitier movie I’ve seen since his Oscar winning turn in Lilies of the Field. After experiencing so much of his groundbreaking work, my mom recommended A Patch of Blue as the next film. Although Poitier is top-notch as dignified office worker Gordon Ralfe, the movie truly belongs to 22 year old newcomer Elizabeth Hartman. Selina D’Arcey is blind and living a Cinderella type existence with her abusive prostitute mother Rose-Ann and alcoholic grandfather Ole Pa.

Played by the legendary Shelley Winters and Wallace Ford in his fitting final performance. You truly feel for Selina’s struggle, but find hope when she meets her metaphorical Prince Charming in the park. Director Guy Green didn’t need to film the 1965 movie in black & white, but it does fit the racial theme. Gordon is a well spoken black man who teaches the uneducated Selina how to better take care of herself. Their friendship is just as beautiful as the poetic Jerry Goldsmith score that accompanies it.

As their relationship becomes more romantic, reality begins to sink in. Though I am glad they included an early interracial kiss and didn’t lean too heavily on intolerance. Despite the title, I also love that Selina doesn’t see color. A Patch of Blue was nominated for Best Actress, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Music. Winters understandably won Best Supporting Actress since she’s just so unlikeable as the mother. A Patch of Blue is a lovely story that can’t be unseen.

A Patch of Blue

Gordon leads Selina