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Bodyslam

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**½

Look, you drop the strap. Station’s happy. You come around in three months and win it back again. Everyone loves an underdog.

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Georgina Reilly, James Preston Rogers, Daniel Kash and Bret Hart in Bodyslam,© 2013 Lumanity Prods.

This 2013 Canadian short film came to my attention thanks to a podcast called “The Art of Wrestling, with Colt Cabana.” I had never heard of the guest, RJ City, who is listed in the credits as Rj Skinner. It has one of the last recorded performances from the great Rowdy Roddy Piper in it. Piper’s role is just a supporting one, he plays the commentator and is fine. There is lots of insider lingo, but it’s played so hard. Maybe that’s on me for feeling like a pro wrestling insider from listening to podcasts. But if this short isn’t for me, then who is it for?

The premise is that a rival promoter has paid off the WHOA Champion—pictured above—to not lose in a televised event, that if successful will take the WHOA “national”. This probably takes place in Canada based on the cast.1 Rj City/Skinner plays a wrestler named “Gas”, which ranks pretty low on the pro wrestler names, right alongside “Puke”, “Disco Inferno”, and “Charlotte”. Gas is supposed to win the title and if he does the capitalist dream comes true, or something.

I do think that the film had solid production values and felt like a real independent wrestling show. It was a good idea to put Bret Hart in a luchador mask, because any wrestling fan seeing his face would think — hey, it’s Bret Hart, not “The Hangman”. By calling him “The Living Legend” he seems to be playing a Terry Funk type, since Terry Funk—while inadvisable, still wrestles as a man in his late 60s.

There are worse ways to learn about pro wrestling if you are unfamiliar with it. For our convenience it is available on YouTube.

1 Famed Scot Piper is actually from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for example. And Bret Hart is considered the greatest Canadian wrestler of all-time. Plus, how many cities could be in more than one country—this is set in Niagara Falls. 

The Beauty of Film: Midnight in Paris

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Midnight in Paris (2011) — Darius Khondji (cinematographer) & Woody Allen (director).

Allen has often been credited with making New York one of the characters of his films. So it was particularly important that he not only set this film in Paris, but put it right in the name. Khondji received a nomination for this work from the British Society of Cinematographers and the Independent Spirit Awards. He lost to Guillaume Schiffman for The Artist, which is understandable since The Artist was an amazingly successful black & white film in 2011. He also received an Academy Award nomination 15 years earlier for Evita. Just look at the sources of light and their different colors. It is an effective way to make the background seem as important as the character moving within it.

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Jurassic World

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***

Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.

So close. Just, so so close to getting it. Instead this was basically on par with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The cast is wonderful. The special effects clearly costs hundreds of millions of dollars. In fact instead of reviewing the movie I just want to think of the other (better) movies these cast members were in.

Chris Pratt: It is hard not to primarily imagine his as Andy from “Parks and Recreation,” but his Star Lord seems to have redefined him as an action star with Guardians of the Galaxy. Here his uber mensch gets to be always right in the film at the expense of all of the other characters—particularly Bryce Dallas Howard, who is guilty of being a career oriented woman.

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Owen (Chris Pratt) looming over Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) in Jurassic World, © Universal Pics. 2015.

Bryce Dallas Howard: She never gets to play the likeable, reasonable character. She is a cheater who quits on her boyfriend who has cancer in 50/50 and the worst white jerk in The Help. She does get a few moments that are meant to even out her career woman-ness, like saving Pratt with a dart gun, and not taking his hand. That said, she only grows as a character as she gives in to his character and shows interest in him.

Irrfan Khan: This is a great actor. If you like superhero movies, his Rajit Ratha is great in Amazing Spider-Man. If you prefer Academy Award nominees, you can watch him as the adult star in The Life of Pi. If you insist on Academy Award winners, then you can enjoy him as the vicious policeman in Slumdog Millionaire.

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Irrfan Khan as Masrani and BD Wong reprising his role as Dr. Henry Wu, © Jurassic World, Universal Pics. 2015.

BD Wong: He was on equal footing with Oscar winner J.K. Simmons as a psychological analyst in the Law & Order universe. Bonus points for his marriage counseling in The Ref.

Vincent D’Onofrio: He was on a different Law & Order. And is a fine actor. He was kind of wasted in this by playing a simultaneously simplistic and conniving villain. While I do not remember it, since he was generally exceedingly unpleasant, he was probably sexist too.

So yes, how about the sexism? Making Bryce Dallas Howard a soulless corporate drone without humanity is not sexist, on its own. Perhaps perhaps worse than sexist the film should be accused of having no humanity, playing flatlining hearts for laughs. The only thing worse than the humanity is the technology. Despite having the technology to bioengineer dinosaurs, they cannot use radios or cellphones.

The true selling point of this, like the prior Jurassic Parks, was the novelty of new dinosaurs. Thus the quality of the Indominus Rex—Latin for untameable king—was crucial to the success of the film. I found the choice of dragon style eyes interesting. It tries to make the audience fear it both as a dinosaur and a mythological, wise, evil creature. The Megalodon, on the other hand, did not look particularly real. I think it is just too big for have fit into a theme park. That is probably for the best, because I am afraid it probably quickly ran out of food after this movie ended.

In closing, I want to let everyone know that this mediocrity was directed by Colin Trevorrow. He is slated to direct Star Wars IX. Is there an emoji for “screams noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!! for 30 seconds straight?

The Beauty of Film: Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes (2009) — Philippe Rousselot (cinematographer) & Guy Ritchie (director).

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Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr. as Watson and Holmes, © WB 2009.

The Beauty of Film: The Shawshank Redemption

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The Shawshank Redemption (1994) — Roger Deakins (cinematographer) & Frank Darabont (director).

Victory only has meaning if it comes at a price. This is why the whole team cannot make it through a movie without it feeling unsatisfying. For instance, compare The Shawshank Redemption with its loss of Brooks, to Furious Six where not only did no-one die, but in fact on character came back to life. But seriously, consider Star Wars and Fellowship of the Ring. Without losing main team members characters in them, would they have turned out as well? And see how their third installments compare to their first ones as they move further from those losses. That is to say, that drinking beer and smoking on a hot roof sounds okay, at best, but when you are stuck in a 1940s prison then those cold beers probably felt delightful. It is the success of the acting and of the this shot that allow the audience to feel this satisfaction with them—particularly when Andy Dufresne abstains from drinking as well.

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The Sting

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Did you know that The Sting was the first Academy Award Best Picture winner to have a female co-producer? Maybe that explains why this film seems so progressive, at least by 1970s standards. As I write this I am coming from a place that is, “well, everyone saw this movie,” but perhaps some people have not seen it. I mean, some people have not seen the Best Picture winner from the year before, The Godfather. Thus I will provide the setup.

****½

What was I supposed to do — call him for cheating better than me, in front of the others?

Here is the two buck version of the film: con artist team of Johnny Hooker—Robert Redford, All the President’s Men—and  Luther—Robert Earl Jones, Ben from Sleepaway Camp, seriously, what a difference in quality 10 years makes—take $30,000, in 1930s dollars, off of low level mobster in Chicago. In retribution the crime boss, Doyle Lonnegan—Robert Shaw, Jaws—orders all three of them killed. Hooker gambles his cut away immediately, which is at least partially responsible for Luther’s death. Of course Luther had immediately retired after the con, telling Hooker to seek out an elite con artist, Henry Gondorff—Paul Newman, The Hustler. Put another way, we have a bad guy and two anti-heroes and a grand moral excuse for pulling off grand hustle with a few chases and shootouts.

That sounds like dozens of other movies, but this won Best Picture, so there must be something special about it. Placed into a historical context, this is six years after Bonnie and Clyde, which is famous for having the protagonists be villains. Under the old Hays Code the criminals could never get away with the money, indeed even Bonnie and Clyde bite the dust in the end. Even in Ocean’s Eleven (1960) Frank Sinatra’s team does not get away with the money. So in 1973 having a moralist film with dozens of criminals taking advantage of not only mobsters, but a rather crooked police lieutenant too—Charles Durning, Peter Griffin’s father on “Family Guy”—must have still been quite a surprise. You could compare this to The Godfather, but it really is an extremely different style, and genre, of film. This film should be viewed for what it is, a transitional film bridging the death of the Hays Code, the ensemble period piece, and the blockbuster. Because the film looks like it used practical effects and blocks of Chicago1 with 1930s cars and clothing, it has really aged well and does not feel like a 70s film.

Another way the film transcends its time is in its casting. For instance, having Luther be played by a Black actor, that shows an anti-racist stance by the director, even as racist language gets used. Although, having him he fit into the wise old Black man archetype is less modern. Then there is the intrepid madame—Eileen Brennan, of schlocky manor murder movie fame2—a classic strong female archetype from the Western genre. So she is strong, but in a stereotypical way. On the other hand Salino is a cold blooded assassin. That she happens to be a woman is a pleasant surprise. That she sleeps with Hooker the night before the attempt is very Bondian, although she shows very little sex appeal. The last casting choice I want to mention is that of Charles Dierkop as Floyd, Lonnegan’s bodyguard—Robinson from The Pawnbroker. His look was perfect. It says 1930s mob thug in a way that Vincent Pastore–Goodfellas—looks like a 1970s Italian mafioso.

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Charles Dierkop, Robert Redford & Robert Shaw, as Floyd, Hooker and Lonnegan, sharing the backseat of a too thin car, The Sting, © 1973 Universal.

On the soundtrack front, I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know the name of Scott Joplin until about a week before I watched this. If his name does not ring a bell, his music will. His wonderful tune “The Entertainer” is instantly recognizable as a song ice cream trucks play. Marvin Hamlisch adapted it, among other songs, for the soundtrack, and received an Academy Award for his trouble. Hamlisch’s name was already familiar to me, but that is because he co-wrote “Nobody Does it Better”, the theme song to The Spy Who Loved Me. Thus in conclusion you should definitely watch The Spy Who Loved Me. And The Sting, even though there is no character named “Jaws” in it.

1 I do not know how much of the film was shot on location and how much was shot on the Universal City lot, but that is a testament to just how well made this movie was.
2 Brennan played Mrs. Peacock in the cult classic Clue and Tess Skeffington in Murder by Death. I forgot to review Murder by Death, which is a good thing because I had never seen a Charlie Chan movie, e.g. Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, so I did not understand that Peter Sellers was parodying a yellow-face, “Confucius say” Chinese detective, and not just being horribly racist. I blame The Pink Panther Strikes Again, because he stars in that and it is very racist in its portrayal of a Chinese manservant.

Ghostbusters

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To be clear, this is a review of the 2016 Paul Feig Ghostbusters, not Ivan Reitman’s 1984 Ghostbusters. In almost every facet, from casting to special effects, drama to comedy, the new lives up to the old. The one thing that I missed was a particular line from Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Yes it’s true… This man has no dick. Do you remember that line?1

The film did have some great lines. Lines like this, I don’t go to Chinatown, I don’t drive wackos, and I ain’t afraid of no ghosts! That comes from Dan Aykroyd, who appears in a scene, as does Murray, Hudson and Weaver. Another is, Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never! That comes from Andy Garcia’s wonderful Mayor of New York. From the updated sensibilities the film effect was, on the whole, kind of like J.J. Abram’s Star Trek. It was familiar and fresh, with a new villain and surprising faces. The only major difference is that Star Trek was kind of sexist and this was not. Somehow I think that Star Trek was still a better movie.

No Karan Soni, unfortunately.

Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), Ghostbusters, © 2016 Columbia Pics.

The entire main cast was hilarious. My least favorite was probably Kate McKinnon, but she seems to be the favorite of most other people. Thus there is a Ghostbuster for everyone watching! Well, except for angry men out there who are just looking for something to hate. In their case they have Kevin—Chris Hemsworth, Thor—who is the least competent receptionist ever. But he is very attractive. This seems to have bothered people in a way that no incompetent female character ever has. Do not misunderstand me, he is gratingly obnoxious, but the ironic anger of some viewers makes his inclusion worthwhile, at least on a meta level. A lot in this film seems to function on a meta level, but almost all of it2 works for me. Good job Paul Feig.

****

1 Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd): Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.
Walter Peck (the inimitable William Atherton): They caused an explosion!
Mayor (David Margulies): Is this true?
Dr. Peter Venkman: Yes it’s true. [pause] This man has no dick.
2 E.g. McCarthy reading an online review of her book, which is mean and sexist, to which McKinnon tells her not to read that crap.

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