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The Pod Bay Doors Podcast, Episode #13: It Follows (2015)


In week three of Shock-tober Jerry and Doug take a look at It Follows, going along slowly but never stopping…until the end of the episode.

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Posted by on 10/15/2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Pod Bay Doors Podcast, Episode #7: Under the Skin (2014)

 
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Posted by on 09/03/2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Pod Bay Doors Podcast, Episode #6: The Wild Bunch (1969)

This week on the Pod Bay Doors Podcast, Doug and I strap on our shootin’ arns and blaze a bloody trail through Sam Peckinpah’s immortal Western classic “The Wild Bunch.”

PDB - Wild Bunch

 
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Posted by on 08/28/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Catching Up: How to Be Single (2016)

There will come a moment, soon I hope, that Dakota Johnson will find her path to greatness.  As a performer, there is something in her that her contemporaries seem to lack, an understated intelligence, a manner in which you can tell there’s a real person there.  When someone talks to her on screen you can see that she’s thinking.  Maybe that’s just something I’ve interpreted, but I think it’s special – she reminds me a lot of her grandmother, Tippi Hedren.  My problem is that it doesn’t really fit with the movie’s she seems to find herself in.  Fifty Shades of GreyNeed for SpeedCymbeline?  She has a screen presence that suggests that she should be in films like Spotlight.

That’s a nice way of saying that she is using her special qualities in movies that don’t deserve them.  Take the latest, How to Be Single, a disposable rom-com that does no favors for her or the genre.  There is nothing especially wrong with this movie, but there’s nothing especially noteworthy either.  Here is a movie that feels a lot like a Greatest Hits collection of the rom-coms you’ve been going to over the past 10 years.  It gathers all of the comic overtones and heartfelt moments and wraps them up into a tender-hearted burrito that you’ll enjoy while you’re watching it but probably cash out of your memory banks as soon as its over.  It chases The Hangover, “How I Met Your Mother” and steals borrows great heaping gobs of Bridesmaids. Yet it never finds an identity for itself.

Johnson is at the center here in a role that should have been a movie by itself.  She plays Alice, a twenty-something who “takes a break” from her relationship with her long-time boyfriend John (Nicholas Braun) and moves to New York to work as a paralegal.  The relationship is complicated when the “break” breeds new relationships on either side, especially for Alice who goes through a series of rotating suitors even though she tries to resist the temptation to find a man.

Hovering in her immediate hemisphere are her three BFFs; her sister Meg (Leslie Mann) an OB/GYN who rejects the notion of a husband and kids.  There’s Lucy (Alison Brie), a lonely-heart who is on an all-consuming mission to find “The One.”  And there’s Robin (Rebel Wilson), a cliche who is a free-spirited and apparently self-destructive party girl who is always either hung-over or in pursuit of the male sex organ.  She’s one of those movie-types that parties all the time but never has to face any consequences.  Where are the consequences?  Where is the sadness?  Where are the morning-after problems?  She’s a cliche and that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film.

The pieces and parts of other (and much better) rom-com standards are present here but they are stitched together into a movie that is really hard to care about, mainly because you already know where it is going.  Does it surprise you that workaholic Meg’s biological clock goes off the moment she looks into a baby’s eyes?  Does it surprise you that Lucy falls for the guy running the bar that she has an argument with?  Does it surprise you that Robin’s bacchanalian lifestyle comes buttoned with a tag of wisdom for the heartaching Alice?  Does it surprise you that, for the ump-teenth time, we get the “Sex and the City” vision of New York featuring stylish cloths and comfortable apartments?  Again, you’ve seen it all before and done way better.

 
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Posted by on 08/11/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Catching Up: CHiPs (2017)

I see a lot of movies, and at the same time a lot of movies come my way.  So, of course, I miss a movie now and then.  But over time I try and catch up.  Welcome to my regular series “Catching Up” in which I take a look at a movie that, for one reason or another, I just missed the first time around.


Early in CHiPs there is a long, lingering shot of a cat’s anus.  This is supposed to be funny.  That should seal the deal on whether or not you want to see it.  If it doesn’t, you need help.

For that reason, and many others, I don’t want to meet the people who would be entertained by a movie like CHiPs; furthermore, I don’t want to meet the people who would make a movie like CHiPs.  Here is yet another comedy at the lowest common denominator, shelling out the kinds of frat-boy sex jokes and bodily function gags suitable for those metal signs that say “Beer is the answer, but I can’t remember the question.”

It’s also a little heart-breaking.  “CHiPs” wasn’t an especially good show when it ran on NBC from 1977 to 1983 but it was good-hearted, featuring a friendship between two cops who loved their jobs and, in a lot of ways, each other.  The adventures were fun and over-the-top and it had a pretty cool theme song.  Those of us now in our mid-40 throw knowing smiles at each other when the show is brought up in conversation.

There is nothing loving or affectionate about this movie.  Written and directed by the otherwise very funny Dax Shepard – who should know better – the movie mines comedy for those who think that the words “kitty litter” are automatically funny.

The story is a lot of ‘who-cares’.  Former pro-motorcycle rider Jon Baker (Shepard) who has turned rookie highway patrol officer teams up with an undercover Miami fed working under the name Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) who comes out to California on the trail of a group of dirty cops led by Vic Brown (played by a wasted Vincent D’Onofrio).  Upon being paired up, our common sense flags start to go up, particularly when we are introduced to Ponch’s sex addiction and Baker’s addiction to pain killers which is heaped upon his lingering obsession over his estranged wife (Kristen Bell).  Are you laughing yet?

So yeah, Ponch’s sex addiction means that we get long, lingering male-gaze shots of women’s breasts and derrieres and lots of jokes involving sexting and masturbation – naturally women fling themselves at him.  From Baker’s end we get a tasteless gag in which Ponch has to carry his naked body from the bathroom to the tub followed by a conversation about whether his face touched . . . oh you shouldn’t even care!  I didn’t see this much homophobia in seventh-grade gym class 30 years ago.

This is a movie that can’t get anything right, made by people who don’t seem to care.  It fails as a comedy because no one cares to set up a joke.  It fails as a police procedural because no one cares to set up a good story.  And it fails as an action picture because it can’t raise stunts that we care anything about.  I’m not a big fan of The Fast and the Furious movies but at least those people care to put some actual work into their stunts.  This movie is focused less one giving you a good time then padding its running time with jokes about homophobia.

Homophobia, by the way, is a massive part of this experience.  There’s a lot of time wasted on the horror that a man in your company might either be a homosexual or have homosexual tendencies.  It would seem to be an unreasoning fear but given the way that sex is thrown around in this movie, one might presume that if a homosexual appeared in the movie, it is likely to be followed by a voracious sexual attack.  It’s not a joke, it’s a blunt instrument established in jokes that fall flat before they even begin.

What’s worse is that this is crux of the whole movie.  Shepard (for he is to blame) takes a lot of crude, homophobia and mixes it with jokes that aren’t even set up right.  Example: Ponch is frequently sexting a buxom female officer.  and at one point he accidentally sends the text to his superior (Jane Krakowsky), but we can see her number on his phone before he sends it out.  So the joke is already knocked down before it gets set up.

I only isolate that moment because it’s the kind of misfire that happens over and over and over.  Jokes are set up , but we can see the payoff because the editing is mishandled.  Added to that, there isn’t a single character in this movie that isn’t utterly repulsive and the movie puts a button on its repulsiveness by ending on a scene in which a female officer begins a sexual adventure with Baker in the back of an ambulance while Ponch looks on with leering, orgasmic delight.

Personally, I checked out at the cat anus.

 
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Posted by on 08/04/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Catching Up: War Room (2015)

I see a lot of movies, and at the same time a lot of movies come my way.  So, of course, I miss a movie now and then.  But over time I try and catch up.  Welcome to my regular series “Catching Up” in which I take a look at a movie that, for one reason or another, I just missed the first time around.


Just the other day an elderly woman asked me if I had seen the Christian drama War Room.  “No, I haven’t,” I said.  The woman placed a motherly hand on my shoulder, looked me dead in the eye and said “You owe it to yourself.  This movie will change your life.”  What this woman didn’t know is that I had already heard a great deal about War Room – and none of it good.  I’ve heard from faithful Christians that it is changing lives, yes, but I also heard the same noise about God’s Not Dead and I declared that movie the worst of 2014.

Having now seen War Room, I can report that it hasn’t changed my life but I can freely admit that it exudes a message that seriously concerns me.  If I understood the film correctly, the filmmakers Alex and Steven Kenrick (the same team behind Fireproof and Courageous) want to use this story to sell us on the idea of absolute blind religious faith that omits of the luxury of common sense – whatever comes your way, take it to God and your problems will magically disappear.  If your marriage is in trouble, forget therapy and open lines of communication because God can fix everything.  He’s standing by waiting for your call.

That’s a wrong-headed message that War Room persists on shoving your way.  So too is the smaller message that if you are attacked by a mugger, the best course of action is to invoke the name of Jesus and the mugger will run away.  That’s a dangerous message.  Movies like this have a way of breeding a sheep mentality among the faithful who are likely to take every scene at face value.  Ideas like that are not only unhealthy, they’re irresponsible.

But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let’s get to the story.  Our protagonist is Liz Jordan (Priscilla C. Shirer), a disturbingly milquetoast real estate agent who is apparently successful at her job only because her clients can walk into a house and say “We’ll take it” without looking the place over.  At home she has endured sixteen loveless years with Anthony (T.C. Stalling) a hateful, reprehensible monster who belittles her unmercifully and then goes to work where he flirts with other women and steals from the company.  This unholy alliance has produced a daughter named Danielle.

The trajectory of Liz’s path to righteousness comes from one of her clients, Mrs. Clara Williams (Karen Abercrombie) a hard-line dyed-in-the-wool Christian who can apparently spot domestic distress with no evidence at all.  Left alone after her first encounter with Liz, Miss Clara watches the young woman walk away and imparts a knowing “Mmm-hmm.”  She knows how it is, you see.  This, despite the fact that Miss Clara never once meets the husband or sets foot inside Liz’s house.

Over several days, Liz and Miss Clara build a friendship – the troubled young professional coupled with the wise old sage who’s been around.  Miss Clara, having blindly spotted the trouble in Liz’s marriage, offers life-changing advice to her in the form of seclusion and prayer.  She shows her the War Room, an empty closet wherein she tacks prayers on the wall and prays all of her earthly problems away.  She encourages Liz to do that same because this and only this will iron our the strife in her relationship.

Right there!  Right there!  That’s where the movie loses me.  The advice of Miss Clara seems to be for Liz to close herself off from all things and pray for God’s intervention.  Nowhere does she impart that Liz should talk to her husband, seek counseling or even ask God for guidance in helping her through her marital crisis.  NO!  Pray Pray Pray and it will magically work itself out.  The movie is asking Liz to be pathological doormat until God parts the seas and makes Anthony see the light.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so pressing on this issue if I felt that Liz had exhausted all other options.  That’s not the case here.  She has apparently done nothing to try and save this marriage.  Worse, there is never any indication that Liz’s marriage is worth saving.  There is never any indication that Anthony loves his wife or that she even loves him.  The two never have a conversation that isn’t a conflict and his approach to her is on the level of a dog that just pooped on the rug.  When he finally (SPOILERS) sees the light, it takes near-infidelity that is interrupted by food poisoning.

The message bred from this film is disturbing.  Liz and Anthony have problems but it never imparts that the wisdom of common sense or that the secrets to success in a marriage are worked through communication.  This movie sees marital strife through communication with God, the result of which will come solutions bred from magical realism.  Where are the questions?  Where are the challenges?  Where’s the approach to real life?  Where are the tactics for dealing with the hard knocks?  Communication with God is food for the soul but it can’t be a replacement for laziness.  That’s a message that the makers of the this movie would be happy to gloss over.

War Room is not as hateful as God’s Not Dead but I can say that it is just as hypocritical.  Both sell a message based on ignorance and intolerance wrapped up in a doctrine that preaches to the choir.  What non-Christians are going to watch this movie?  More than that, what non-Christians would be sold on its message that blind faith is the path to all things?  Movies like this have to step outside of the comforts of their target audience and speak on grounds that are challenging and far-reaching.

There is a sermonizing technique here that seems retroactive.  Miss Clara makes a rousing speech at the end of the movie, a call to arms to raise a generation who are not afraid to declare themselves Christians.  Fine.  But how about raising a generation that is understanding, patient and non-judgmental.  How about raising a generation that operates on common sense rather than on a pathological doctrine of ignorance?  These movies need to acknowledge that life is not as black and white as they portray it.  Look at and acknowledge the world you live in before you call out for the kind of world that you want.

 
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Posted by on 08/01/2017 in Uncategorized

 

Bowing Out: June Foray (1917-2017)

If the word ‘ubiquitous’ can be a person, it might as well have been June Foray.  For more than 85 years, she seemed to be everywhere; she seems to have done everything in nearly every show business medium imaginable.  She was a rare bird; a voice actor who became a legend in her own time who seems to have touched every part of the show business canvas.  Let’s put it this way, if animation was a global village than she surely traveled the globe: radio, television, movies, video games.  She worked with all titans of the animated form: Chuck Jones, Friz Freling, Walter Lantz, Walt Disney, Jay Ward, Hanna Barbara.  She was famous for the voices of characters you might know: Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Witch Hazel, Cindy Lou Who. Even when she wasn’t creating a character, she could be heard somewhere providing a cackle or a grunt or a meow.

Foray died Tuesday at the age of 99, just six weeks shy of her 100th birthday and for those of us who practically worship the animated form, she was a true legend.  She was born nearly a century ago on September 18, 1917 in Springfield, Massachusetts to Russian Jewish immigrants who, she said, filled her head and her time with an exposure to the theater and movies and the opera.  It caught on, and Foray made a habit of imitating everyone that she saw.  She said that it inspired her, at the age of 5, to pursue a career as either an actress or a fairy princess – given her roles, some might say she did both.

She started on radio in 1929 at the age of 12 working on a radio program on WBZA for one of her teachers.  At the age of 15, she convinced the owner of the radio station to let her be part of the WBZA players.  She portrayed dozens of characters on radio all through the 30s and 40s, and for the next sixty years her voice could be heard in everything from movies to television to albums to talking toys.

She would become known as the female counterpart to Mel Blanc, but Foray’s voice wasn’t quite as enmeshed.  If you had the right ear, you could always tell it was her.  That’s particularly true of the Warner Brothers shorts, in which for many years she was the only female voice artist.  She worked tirelessly creating voices in nearly 300 animated shorts often shifting from one dialect to another.

While not as well known as Mel Blanc to those outside of the animation tapestry, she was well-respected in the industry.  In 2012, at 94, she received her first Emmy Award nomination in the category of Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for her role as Mrs. Cauldron on The Garfield Show (2008).  She was given the Governor’s Award, also the oldest performer so honored.

In 2000, she was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame after a campaign spurred by Chuck Jones.

But where do you know her from?  Well, the short answer is, almost anywhere.  Aside from Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Witch Hazel, Natasha and Cindy Lou Who, she was famous as Granny on the Looney Tunes cartoons.  She worked for Walt Disney as Lucifer the cat in Cinderella (1950) and a mermaid in Peter Pan (1953).  She was Lena Hyena in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). She provided the barks for Little Ricky’s dog on “I Love Lucy.”  She was Aunt May on “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” TV show from 1981 to 1982.  She was Marigold on Tom Slick.  She provided the voices of several  laughing beach children in “Jaws.”  She was on a legendary episode of “The Twilight Zone” as the voice of the Talky Tina doll who kills Telly Savalas (a role she got after Rod Serling heard her do the voice of the Chatty Cathy doll).  She was on “Bewitched” as the voice of baby versions Darrin and Gladys.  And she did voices for “The Brady Bunch”, “Green Acres”, “Get Smart’ and possibly twelve other famous shows.

She was on a memorable early episode of “The Simpsons” in which she played the receptionist of The Rubber Baby Buggy Bumper Babysitting Service.  When Marge calls to inquire about a babysitter for Bart and Lisa, the receptionist immediately retorts “Lady, you’ve gotta be KIDDING!

Foray worked most often with another legend, Chuck Jones in adaptations of Horton Hears a Who, A Cricket in Time Square, The Phantom Tollbooth, The White Seal, Raggedy Ann and Andy, Mowgli’s Brothers, Rikki Tiki Tavi and The Jungle Book (not the Disney one).  This, in addition to the hundreds of cartoon shorts for Warner Brothers under Jones’ direction.

Those who recognized her, loved her.  She was beloved by the industry for nearly a century.  Probably the only person who didn’t love her was Richard Nixon.  In 1973, when meat prices started to sky-rocket, she joined in a protest that led all the way to Washington.  She made Nixon’s infamous ‘Enemies List’ and led to an audit by the IRS at the same moment that Foray was trying to pay medical expenses for her aging mother.

That might very well be the only dark moment in Foray’s career.  The exposure didn’t hurt her career one bit nor did it stop her.  She worked tirelessly for the rest of her life.  Courted as The First Lady of Voice Acting she was one of the original members of animation organization ASIFA-Hollywood (the International Animated Film Association) and founder of the annual Annie Awards which recognized achievements in animation.  Short of stature, she was a women who could command, and did.  She chaired the short subject branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for many years, and fought tooth-and-nail to keep animated shorts a part of the annual Oscar broadcast.  And she was instrumental in the creation of the Oscars’ animated feature category, which has been handed out every year since 2001.

And yet, the one legacy that must be mentioned is that her death brings down the curtain on the legend of Termite Terrace, that bizarre annex animation house of Warner Brothers that, during the 40s and 50s brought life the characters of The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.  She is its last surviving legacy and with her passing, all the laughing denizens of Termite Terrace are now gone.

What she leaves behind is the work of a true voice artist.  There aren’t many left.  Those who work in the form are being nosed out by casting agents who want animated features to be headlined by big-named stars.  That puts professional voice artists – who know now to create a character with their voice – out of work.  Foray’s legacy brings hope to those who want to work using their voice.  She had a passion for it.

“I love everything I do with all of the parts that I do”, she once said. ”Because there’s a little bit of me in all of them.  We all have anger and jealousy and love and hope in our natures. We try to communicate that vocally with just sketches that you see on the screen and make it come alive and make it human. That’s what I enjoy doing.”

 
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Posted by on 07/30/2017 in Uncategorized