Monday, April 24, 2017

7 Days in May | Fate of the Furious and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

The Tall T (1957)

A while back, Pax and I talked about Ride Lonesome on Hellbent for Letterbox. I like that movie a lot and some of our listeners recommended a few other Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott films, so I picked up a DVD set of six Scott Westerns, four of which were directed by Boetticher. The Tall T is the second of them I've seen now (counting Ride Lonesome) and it promises good things for the rest of the collection.

I have no idea what the title means, but it's based on an Elmore Leonard story, so there's a heavy crime thriller element to it. Scott plays a guy who winds up hostage with some other people to a gang of ruthless bad guys. Mostly the movie is about that captivity and who will survive it, with Maureen O'Sullivan (Jane in the classic MGM Tarzan movies) as a notable (but married) ally for Scott. There's a lot of tension and a lot of trying to figure out how to get out of it. I had a great time.

The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Since I finished Season 1 of Disney's Zorro show last week, I took a break to watch the first Zorro movie. I've seen it a few times by now and it's a very faithful adaptation, but I wanted to watch it again right after reading The Curse of Capistrano to remind myself how it handled parts of McCulley's novel. For instance, Zorro's mute assistant Bernardo is a huge part of the Disney show (played by the lovely and charming Gene Sheldon), but the character is in the novel so little that I actually wondered what the point was of having him there at all. The Mark of Zorro includes the character and gives him a lot more to do, including allowing him to hear (the novel's Bernardo is deaf as well as mute). Disney's version is borrowing from Fairbanks' movie, not the book. And that's a good thing.

Another thing I was interested in was how Mark of Zorro handles the secret identity. I was surprised that the novel saves the reveal until the very end, so the reader finds out at the same time as everyone else. I couldn't remember if the movie does the same thing. It was possible that the movie kept that a secret, but that I filled in the knowledge because of my familiarity with the character. But no, that's not it. Mark of Zorro lets viewers in on the deception right away.

That's cool because it means we get to peek at parts of Zorro's life that the book keeps hidden. Like how Zorro comes in and out of his house. Underneath his mansion, he's got a cave with a couple of hidden entrances. There's a shrub covered, horse-sized outer passage, and in the house there's a secret door disguised as a grandfather clock. Everyone knows that Batman was inspired by Zorro, but sometimes we forget how much. It's all based on Fairbanks' version though, not the novel.

Batman could take some more lessons from Fairbanks' Zorro on playing the idle playboy, though. Fairbanks' performance as Don Diego is brilliant. He always looks exhausted and bored, only perking up when he's irritating someone with an unwanted handkerchief trick. In the Disney version, you kind of have to overlook that no one's figured out that Guy Williams' Diego and Zorro are the same guy. It's about as believable a disguise as George Reeves' Clark Kent. But with Douglas Fairbanks, I totally see why people are fooled. And that impressive bit of acting is nothing compared to the unbelievable acrobatic work that Fairbanks pulls off in Zorro mode: leaping around and climbing over sets like he's inventing parkour.

The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992-93)

Watched two episodes that were basically Young Indy in Love. As he and his friend Remy are trying to get to London to join the Belgian army, they stop off in Ireland to work and raise money for the final leg of their trip. Indy meets a girl who seems to like him, but she's under the impression that he's rich and she always brings along her girlfriend on dates. I feel like it's supposed to be some kind of life lesson for Indy, but after the relative maturity of the relationship back in Princeton that he totally blew off, I wasn't able to believe in Indy's investment in this one at all.

More effective was the story around the girl's brother, a passionate young man who's interested in freeing Ireland from English control. The brother becomes involved in the Easter Rebellion and I wondered briefly is Indy would be tempted to join up, too. After the easy way in which he was persuaded to join the Mexican Revolution and then enter WWI, he seems like a sucker for this kind of thing. But he doesn't join the Irish fight and the show is smart about why. In contrast to the brother, Indy also meets the playwright Seán O'Casey (Juno and the Paycock) who has his own ideas about what Irish independence means. One of the lessons that Indy learned in Mexico is that war is often messy and that everyone has different ideas on what it's about. It makes sense that he'd pass up Ireland's battles in order to fight a more objective evil (so he believes) on the European continent. It'll be interesting to see how long he holds on to that belief.

In the second episode, Indy and Remy reach London and join the Belgian army. They have some time before they leave though, so they split up: Remy to hook up with a war widow and Indy to go visit his childhood governess in Oxford. Before Indy takes off for Oxford though, he meets a young woman played by Elizabeth Hurley and gets involved in the cause of women's suffrage. This romance is way more believable and touching than the Irish one and I'm as heartbroken as Indy when it doesn't work out (for equally believable and touching reasons). I buy that this was the love of Indy's life and it makes some sense out of his lack of commitment to anyone in the later films. In fact, I kind of don't like that he marries Marion anymore. But I expect I'll get over that when I rewatch the movies.

Underground (2016-present)

One of the things I love about this show is how it has enough characters that it can split its focus from episode to episode and depending on the characters its dealing with, can even change genres. So in the Season 2 episodes I watched this week, one was a Revenant-style survival tale while the other was a cat-and-mouse drama between two old rivals. And every episode just seems to open up more potential for future storylines. There's no end to the breadth of stories possible in this setting. And that most of them feature utterly badass women makes me extremely happy.

The Fate of the Furious (2017)


As much as I'm a fiend for this series, F8 (as it should have been called) didn't even crack my 20 Most Anticipated Movies of the year. That was due to the hackneyed suggestion in the trailer that Dom's going rogue and betraying his team. Since there was 0% chance that his defection was real, I rebelled at the whole concept. And I wasn't crazy about the promise of Jason Statham's Han-killing character joining the family, either. I went into F8 with arms crossed and needing to be won over.

And it was rough-going for a lot of the movie. Charlize Theron is wasted as a super-serious and self-important hacker who growls the worst dialogue I've heard in a few years. "Did you ever think you'd betray your family the way you did today?" And even though I'm all for previous movies' tossing cars between skyscrapers and parachuting them out of airplanes, I found the complications around the New York car chase ridiculous and unbelievable, but still not as fun as skyscraper jumping and automotive skydiving. And Statham's transition to the good guys' side was as clunky as I feared it would be.

But about the time that Helen Mirren showed up, I decided to just jump on board. She's awesome, her relationship to the other characters is awesome, the final chase across the ice lake is awesome (confusingly shot at times, but still awesome), and Jason Statham is the most awesome of all. Enough so that I forgive the movie for making him a good guy, even if I don't completely forgive him for murdering one of my favorite characters. There's a devastating missed opportunity when he doesn't dive out of the airplane with a baby in pursuit of Theron, but oh well. This isn't one of the best Fast/Furious movies, but it's good enough and I ended up having a really good time.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016)

I enjoyed Jack Reacher and had been looking forward to the sequel, but negative reviews of Never Go Back lessened my enthusiasm and I decided to wait for home video. I'm okay with not having seen it in the theater, but I do like it a lot more than the critical consensus did.

There are some tropy elements like introducing a potential love interest and a possible daughter. And it seems a little weird and unexplained that Reacher is willing to "go back" in the first place. Also, this is far from the first military contractor we've seen go rogue.

But as clumsily as the relationships are introduced, I bought into them once they got going. Cobie Smulders is good as a high-ranking officer who still struggles with sexism and doesn't feel like dealing with it from Reacher, however unintentional his might be. I don't see a lot of stories that deal with systemic and ingrained, but involuntary sexism. Seeing it here made me think about my own actions and attitudes in a way that stories about blatant chauvinists can't.

Danika Yarosh is great as the teenager who may or may not be Reacher's kid. She reminds me a lot of young Anna Paquin and I love how smart and resourceful and tough, yet deeply vulnerable her character is.

And finally, I just got a kick out of Underground's Aldis Hodge as the MP officer tracking down Reacher and Company. Never Go Back isn't as good as the first Jack Reacher movie, but I found a lot worthwhile about it.

Jam of the Week: "High Ticket Attractions" by The New Pornographers

Shut up and dance.

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