Sunday, October 13, 2019

Metallica & San Francisco Symphony: S&M2

20 years after the original collaboration between Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Symphony and Metallica (S&M), in 1999, the band was approached to do it once more for S&M2. Not only would this new concert celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original concert, it would also provide Metallica the opportunity to open San Francisco’s Chase Center. After a back-and-forth collaboration between the two groups over the course of Metallica’s WorldWired Tour, they performed two shows, one on September 6, 2019 and one on September 8, 2019. These performances were then edited together into a 160-minute concert film that was shown theatrically for one night on October 9, 2019. As a longtime Metallica fan, I naturally went out to see the theatrical showing and, fortunately, walked away satisfied.

As S&M2 is a concert film, there’s no plot to speak of, but after an extended ad for Metallica’s nonprofit All Within My Hands Foundation, the film does open with the band and some members of the symphony telling the story of how both collaborations with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra came to be and how this second go-round differs from the original run with Michael Kamen. They felt the process this time was more collaborative, with more input from Metallica on the compositions and selection of songs, specifically wanting to strike a balance between old and new songs.

This effort paid off, as the final result is a pleasing mixture of the metal and orchestral worlds while showcasing Metallica’s output with a number of their most popular songs, along with newer ones that work surprisingly well with a symphony backing them up. There’s a good balance of tempos in the setlist, with slower songs like “The Memory Remains” and “No Leaf Clover” alongside energetic songs such as “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman.” Much like with the original S&M, the orchestra helps breath a new life into each of the songs by embellishing the emotional core of each piece at the right time.

What helps S&M2 stand out from the original, however, is not just the inclusion of new songs like “Confusion” and “Halo on Fire”, but also a certain willingness to experiment more with the concept and try new approaches to existing material. Such experimentation ranges from James Hetfield playing an acoustic rendition of “All Within My Hands” to a cover of “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” performed by the San Francisco Symphony bassist. Where the original S&M put Metallica into the spotlight, S&M2 has more moments where the symphony is given time to shine, including a mostly orchestral version of “The Unforgiven III” and a performance of Sergei Sergeyevich's “Scythian Suite, Op.20 , Second Movement” that excludes Metallica entirely.

The most interesting experiment, however, came with the performance of Alexander Mosolov’s “Iron Foundry”. As explained during the show, the symphony decided to introduce Metallica to the piece to see what they would think of it. To their the surprise, the band not only loved it, but wanted to play it themselves. The result is a unique twist where instead of the symphony backing up Metallica, Metallica backs up the San Francisco Symphony and adds a new dimension to a fittingly futurist piece.

Of course, since this is a film, there is a visual element that can’t be overlooked. As explained before the show, the visuals and staging have a theme of circles. The San Francisco Symphony circles Metallica and the fans circle the stage. As well, the screens suspended above are also in a circular shape. This gives the show a more intimate feel that invites the audience watching it later to feel like a part of the event as the cameras show off the capabilities of the musicians at the best possible angles. You can also tell that the members of Metallica are having fun at times, with moments like Lars and a symphony percussionist banging on each other’s drumsticks to help simulate the gunfire from the opening to “One”.

S&M2 proves not only that Metallica can operate well with an orchestral backing, but also that there is still room to experiment with the concept and tread new ground in both worlds. As a film, the visual element helps with the presentation and gives a distinctly intimate feeling when watching talented artists show off their full capabilities. While I would immediately recommend this to Metallica fans, if a theater filled with fellow fans is anything to go by, I would also suggest that fans of orchestral music give it a try to see how well the combination works.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Stubs - The Fly

The Fly (1958) Starring Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall Directed by Kurt Neumann. Screenplay by James Clavell Based on the short story "The Fly" by George Langelaan in Playboy (Jun 1957). Produced by Kurt Neumann. Run Time: 94 minutes USA Color Horror, Science Fiction

One of the more memorable science fiction horror films from the 1950s has its roots in World War II espionage. Paris-born British writer George Langelaan was an intelligence agent during the War and agreed to undergo extensive plastic surgery that would render him unrecognizable.  Channeling the motif of transformation, Langelaan wrote his 1957 short story, the tale of a French scientist experimenting with matter disintegration and reintegration who winds up atomically fused with a common housefly - with tragic results for man and insect. After being published in Playboy magazine in June 1957, the story came to the attention of executives at 20th Century Fox.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Joker (2019)

In the midst of their slate of big-budget action-driven superhero films, Warner Bros. has released a, comparatively, low-budget character-driven film based on one of DC’s most iconic villains, the Joker. Giving the Joker his own film and making it a psychological thriller is rather fitting, but making it unconnected to the larger, and still-ongoing, DCEU is a bit of a gamble, if only due to the risk of confusing audiences about continuity. This risk seemed to pay off early, however, when it got an eight-minute standing ovation at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, where it also won the Golden Lion, the festival’s highest prize. After I saw the film in its opening weekend through a 35mm print, I walked away feeling like I generally agree with its praise, but there are certain elements that are not for everyone.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Stubs - Cat People

Cat People (1942) Starring: Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph, Jack Holt, Kent Smith, Alan Napier; Director: Jacques Tourneur; Screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen. Producer: Val Lewton. Runtime: 74 minutes. USA. Black and White. Drama, Psychological, Horror

Sometimes, films that were made for low budgets to feed a distribution pipeline can grow in distinction over the years and live long beyond the few weeks of release they were originally intended for. Studios like RKO needed low-budget films to do well at the box-office to make up for big budget films, like Citizen Kane (1941) that didn’t always fare as well as hoped.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The First Tree (PS4)

When The First Tree was released last year, the visual direction intrigued me to play it, as did the premise of the stories of a fox and a human intersecting. Though I did not purchase the game digitally when it first launched, I did obtain a physical copy for PS4 through Limited Run Games, which included a fold-out poster and a full color manual that contains notes from the developer. After getting around to playing it, the experience was short, though I still thought it was worth the price.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Stubs - Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey (2019) Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton Directed by Michael Engler. Screenplay by Julian Fellowes. Based on the television series Downton Abbey created by Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame. Produced by Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge Run time: 122 minutes United Kingdom Historical period, Drama

For fans of the British TV series Downton Abbey, hearing in 2018 that they were going to make a film with most of the original cast returning was music to their ears. That film, which opened on September 20, 2019, was that weekend’s number one film at the US box-office, showing the show's popularity three years after it went off the air.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal

Genndy Tartakovsky has made a name for himself in the animation industry, best known for works such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003) (and, to a lesser extent, Symbionic Titan), along with directing the Hotel Transylvania series of films (of which I have seen the first). As a fan of his work, including [adult swim]’s Samurai Jack Season 5, I was excited to see what he’d do when his next [as] series Primal was announced, for which a selling point was a complete lack of dialogue, a step up from Samurai Jack’s more conservative use of dialogue. With Primal’s air date drawing nearer, I stumbled upon a limited theatrical screening of the series at the Downtown Independent LA (still going as of this writing) that would take place prior to the TV premiere, and so I took advantage of the opportunity to see what the show would be like. After taking the chance, I walked away highly impressed with what Tartakovsky had accomplished.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Lilo & Stitch

When Lilo & Stitch first came out in 2002 (following Atlantis: The Lost Empire), I will admit I was not too interested in it as a kid, mainly due to its advertising campaign, however I was aware enough of it and its subsequent franchise that I knew who the character of Stitch was without knowing his full backstory. However, after seeing the character make appearances in the Kingdom Hearts series as well as positive word of mouth in recent years, I decided it was time I actually gave the film a chance. To my own surprise, the movie was far better than I initially expected it to be.

Saturday, September 14, 2019


What if Lex Luthor actually defeated Superman? That is the question Dreamworks Animation sought to answer with Megamind, the studios’ satirical take on the superhero genre, back in late 2010. Unfortunately, the trailers didn’t do much to incentivize me to see it in theaters at the time, so I didn’t actually gain an interest in watching it until about recently about nine years after the initial release, when Megamind was suddenly in vogue for internet culture. While it’s not a perfect film, I now wonder why it took so long for me to see it.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Metal Wolf Chaos XD

If you hadn’t heard of Metal Wolf Chaos before, no one would blame you. The game, developed by FromSoftware of Armored Core and Souls fame, was originally released in 2004 as an Xbox-exclusive, but never made it outside of Japan. Its increasing cult status would eventually warrant a remaster, named Metal Wolf Chaos XD, courtesy of Devolver Digital. Now, nearly 15 years later, Americans finally have the chance to play what is perhaps the most American game ever made. While I was excited to play it and enjoyed my time with it, I have to admit it’s certainly rough around the edges.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Review Hub - Animated Movies

While animation as a medium and art form had been experimented with since the early 1900s, animated shorts would eventually see their way to becoming a popular form of entertainment attached to film screenings (long before the advent of television). The art of the animated short arguably became a lot more popular with the debut of the classic Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie in 1929, though Walt Disney had begun to sow the seeds for this runaway success (and entertainment juggernaut) with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927. Though animation had proven itself in the short form, Disney would prove the medium's potential as long form entertainment with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Though the success of Walt Disney's efforts helped spur the medium forward, animation lives on in the efforts of several major and independent studios, with its full potential as a powerful means of visual storytelling still being explored to this day.

Below is a list of links to every animated movie/short review on this blog, sorted in alphabetical order and by company where applicable (links to alternative reviews are listed next to the main link in parentheses).

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Second Look - Catherine

Note: The following review contains spoilers for Catherine.

In 2011, Atlus, developer behind the Megami Tensei series and Persona sub-series, released an odd-sounding game called Catherine in 2011, which detailed the story of a man going through an affair, with some block puzzles mixed in. The ideas presented in the trailers intrigued me and the result turned out be more interesting than I expected. Eight years later, a re-release with extra content dubbed Catherine: Full Body was announced, among its new features being a new character that leads to new story paths. While the game is already out in its native Japan, the announcement of the English version’s release date led me to play the original game again, both to see how it holds up and to have a comparison point for the Full Body version. After playing the game three times to view multiple endings, I can say that the game is just as good as I remembered it being, though it doesn’t quite hold up as well in some areas.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Stubs - The African Queen

The African Queen (1951) Starring Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Theodore Bikel. Directed by John Huston. Screenplay by Peter Viertel, John Collier. Adapted for the screen by James Agee, John Huston. Based on the novel The African Queen by C. S. Forester (London, 1935). Produced by Sam Spiegel. Run time: 106 minutes. United States/United Kingdom Color. Romance, Drama, War, Adventure

There has been a long history of directors working with particular actors. Arguably, one of the best well-known is the teaming of John Huston and Humphrey Bogart. Their first film together, The Maltese Falcon (1941), can be seen as setting the tone for Film Noir, finally cementing Bogart as a star and showing Hollywood that John was something more than just the son of actor Walter Huston.  They would go on to make four films together, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Beat the Devil (1953), and The African Queen, which finally won Bogart the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Their friendship is fairly storied and the two enjoyed working together and playing practical jokes on each other on the set. However, it is reported that it was his co-star Katharine Hepburn who recommended Bogart for the lead role. Producer Sam Spiegel sent her the book and she felt Bogart "was the only man who could have played that part.” The chance to work with Huston again and the chance to work with Hepburn was more than enough to interest Bogart in the project. But prior to him, the film was considered as a vehicle for Elsa Lanchester and Charles Laughton. David Niven and Paul Henreid were also looked at for the lead.

Though the book was written in 1935, Warner Bros. didn’t buy the rights to it until 1946. John Collier wrote the first screenplay adaptation in 1949, which supposedly adhered closely to the book. With plans to produce it himself, Collier than bought the rights to the book and the screenplay from Warner Bros. But instead of making the film, he sold the rights to Horizon Enterprises, which was co-owned by Huston and Spiegel.

The production itself would be legendary. Hepburn would write her own account in The Making of “The African Queen,” or How I Went to Africa with Bogie, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind. In 1953, writer Paul Viertel published the book White Hunter, Black Heart, a thinly fictionalized account of his experience writing the script for The African Queen with Huston. The book follows the exploits of a tyrannical director who stalls the production of his African-set film by obsessively hunting an elephant. The book would be made into a film in 1990 by Clint Eastwood and starred Eastwood and Jeff Fahey.

The film was made partly on location in Africa, which was quite a feat at the time, especially considering they were using rather bulky Technicolor cameras. Production got underway in late May and continued until mid-August 1951 at the Isleworth Studios, London. The film would open in Los Angeles on December 26, 1951, so it could qualify for the Academy Awards, and open nationwide on March 21, 1952.

Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, the sister of a British Methodist missionary (Robert Morley) in German Africa.

The film is set in September 1914 in German East Africa at the beginning of World War I. The action opens in the village of Kungdu, where British Reverend Samuel Sayer (Robert Morley) and his spinster sister Rose (Katharine Hepburn) lead prayers at the makeshift First Methodist Church.  While the natives struggle to follow the English-language psalm, they race outside when they hear Canadian Charlie Allnut's (Humphrey Bogart) ancient launch the African Queen chug into the village laden with mail and goods.

Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) is warmly greeted by the natives in the village of Kungdu.

Though conscious of his lower social standing than the Sayers, Charlie lunches with them. They have to delicately ignore his loud rumbling stomach. Before leaving, he informs them about the encroaching war in Europe, and although the Sayers are frightened by the news, they refuse to desert the village.

Though they are of different social tiers, the Sayers invite Charlie to have lunch with them.

However, hours later, German troops invade Kungdu, imprison the natives and burn down the huts. By the time the smoke clears, Samuel has begun to lose his mind from shock and grief. He soon collapses, unintentionally wounding Rose by raving that their attraction to missionary work grew out of a lack of more attractive social options.

Charlie returns the next day and he finds Samuel dead and helps Rose bury him. She then accepts Charlie's offer to hide from the Germans on his boat. Once they are on the river, Charlie explains to her that the Germans have positioned a heavily armed steamer, the Louisa, at the mouth of Lake Tanganyika to block British troops. He tells her that the Germans even had to dismantle the boat and carry it overland to the Lake.

Rose almost immediately forms a plan to attack the Louisa by crafting torpedoes out of explosives and oxygen tanks, strapping them to the African Queen and ramming into the steamer. Charlie tries desperately to dissuade her, describing the German fort and impassable rapids they will have to face along the way, but Rose's determination eventually shames him into agreeing to the plan.

After they set sail, Charlie teaches Rose how to read the river, and they negotiate how to bathe in private. That night, a pouring rain forces Charlie to seek shelter under Rose's tarpaulin, and after at first banishing him, Rose softens and allows him to sleep near her.

The African Queen nears a set of rapids.

The next day, they reach the first set of rapids and Charlie hopes that the death-defying experience will frighten Rose. But his hopes are dashed when she proclaims it the most stimulating physical experience she has ever had.

Charlie drinks gin while Rose drinks tea.

That night, a frustrated Charlie taps into his gin reserves. Drunk, he rants that he will not sail any farther, calling Rose a "skinny old maid." He awakes the next morning to find Rose pouring his gin bottles into the river. Hours later, he begs her to speak to him and she finally reveals that it is his refusal to sail which has infuriated her.

Rose dumps out all of Charlie's gin while he helplessly looks on.

Charlie quickly backs down, agreeing to accompany her while still doubting their chances for success. Their first obstacle is the German fort he spoke about that overlooks the river. The soldiers open fire on the African Queen, hitting the engine. Charlie, however, manages to repair it and they sail on and get out of the line of fire.

Their joy at surviving the rapids turns romantic.

Almost immediately, however, they reach another set of rapids. Rose struggles to steer while Charlie races to keep the engine stoked, and although they are badly pummeled, they miraculously reach calm waters. Thrilled, Charlie and Rose fall into an embrace which quickly becomes romantic. When they declare their love, they finally learn each other's first name.

They then sail peacefully past exotic flora and fauna until they hit a waterfall, which damages the rudder. Although Charlie despairs, Rose devises a plan to weld a new rudder. For every problem Charlie can think they might have with the repair, Rose thinks of a solution. She even gets into the water to help Charlie get the old rudder off. A few days later, the boat is fixed and on its way.

Together, Rose and Charlie fashion a new rudder for the African Queen.

Just miles down the river, they are attacked by a horde of mosquitoes, which terrifies Rose and forces them to stay in open water. Within days, they become lost in the stagnant shallows as thick reeds bog down the boat. Charlie has to get into the water and pull the African Queen through the reeds.

When he finally gets back on board, he finds leeches covering his body, and even though he is shaking with revulsion, he instructs Rose to use salt on them rather than pull them out. Still reeling, he must return to the water to keep the boat moving. Hours later, they’re stuck on land. Charlie is feverish and tells Rose they may not make it, but that he loves her. They both collapse into sleep.

Feverish, Charlie confesses to Rose that they might not reach their goal.

During the night, a fresh rain upstream raises the water level and sweeps the launch downstream onto Lake Tanganyika. When they awaken, they find the Louisa only miles away, and are forced to retreat into the reeds to hide. By the next day, they have discerned the ship's sailing pattern and they make the African Queen ready. Not only do Charlie and Rose make the torpedoes, but they scrub and polish the boat for its last mission.

Charlie figures out the fuse for the torpedoes.

They set out that night on their attack, but a sudden storm capsizes the launch and Rose and Charlie are separated in the dark.

The next day, Charlie is imprisoned by the Germans and, not wanting to live without Rose, accepts his sentence of hanging. Just then, however, Rose is brought in, and when she hears that Charlie is to be killed, proudly admits their whole scheme to the soldiers.

Before they're to be hanged, Charlie and Rose are married by the German ship's captain (Peter Bull).

Before they are hanged, though, Charlie requests that the captain (Peter Bull) marry them, and just as the service ends, the African Queen surfaces, hits the Louisa and explodes. The German boat goes down and Charlie and Rose manage to escape. Floating together in the water, the newlyweds see the boat's nameplate floating by and realize that their plan has succeeded after all. Happily, and singing, they swim together towards the shore.

After the African Queen sinks the Louisa, Charlie and Rose swim away to safety.

During the filming, Hepburn and Humphrey develop a great rapport and that shows on the screen. Even though Bogart couldn’t manage an English-accent, forcing them to change Charlie’s nationality, he does a really good job as Allnut. This allows him to show a range. No longer the gangster or a true romantic lead, Bogart shows himself to be a fine actor and not just a movie star. The role would earn Bogart his only Academy Award of his long and esteemed career.

The film is essentially a two-person show and Hepburn gives a fine performance herself as Rose.  Bogart is only as good as he is because he has an equal acting partner in Hepburn. The trip down the river in the African Queen is as much a journey of discovery for Rose as she goes from the virginal sister of the missionary into a woman discovering both her emotional and, yes, sexual self. She would also receive a nomination for her performance.

Robert Morely makes a brief appearance as Rose's brother and Methodist minister. His part was all shot in the studio and he did not make the trip to Africa. His role is small though important, however, he doesn't really bring anything more than name recognition to the role.

The film would also receive nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay for both James Agee and John Huston as well as one for Huston as Best Director. The film also did well at the box-office, making over $10.75 million on a budget of $1 million. The film has had legs and often lands in the top 100 films of all time in many polls.

This is definitely one of those classic films that everyone should watch. The film is unusual given the star power of the leads and the strong performances they give despite the hardships of filming. Much of this is done on location, which would be difficult at best but both give top-notch performances. The action is good as the couple grow closer and have to fight the dangers of the jungle to achieve their goal. I can’t say enough good things about the film and would highly recommend it.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Prior to the start of development on the Jak and Daxter series for the PS2, developer Naughty Dog managed to revisit Crash Bandicoot one last time, this time a kart racer called Crash Team Racing for the original PlayStation. Humorously, this pattern of three main entries followed up with a kart racer would be repeated with Jak and Daxter in the form of Jak X: Combat Racing. Though Crash Bandicoot continued on beyond the original Naughty Dog games, there would still be further kart racing games in the series on multiple platforms. Following the release of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy from developer Vicarious Visions in 2017, a similar remaster/remake treatment would be announced for Crash Team Racing by developer Beenox, rounding out the original Naughty Dog series. After having played the game for a while after launch, I found the overall experience enjoyable, though not without some serious caveats regarding post-launch content.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

When I first saw Atlantis: The Lost Empire in the theater as a kid in 2001, I remembered liking it, however I had missed the first few minutes due to arriving a little late; this small gap was filled in when I saw it again on DVD in 2002, which turned out to provide some additional context to the story. I had not thought about watching the movie again until a couple years ago, when I took a Quick Sketching class with Disney animator Ron Husband, who was the supervising animator for the character Dr. Joshua Sweet (Husband’s other Disney animation work also includes the goat Djali in The Hunchback of Notre Dame). It was also through that class that I learned legendary comic book artist and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola was involved in Atlantis’ production and his art was the inspiration for its art direction, which got me more curious about seeing it again. It wasn’t until recently that I actually got around to re-watching Atlantis, upon which I had begun to appreciate it more after a 17-year gap in viewings.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Stubs - Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell Directed by Quentin Tarantino Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino Produced by David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino Run Time 161 minutes US/UK Drama, Fantasy

1969 was quite a year from a number of points of view: The Jets defeated the Colts in Superbowl III, Boeing's 747 flew for the first time, The War in Vietnam started to wind down, John and Yoko did their Bed-In for Peace, Man Landed on the Moon, there were the Stonewall riots in New York, The Beatles released Abbey Road and the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Voytek Frykowski, Steven Parent and Abigail Folger, as well as Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. It is the first of these murders which Quentin Tarantino chose as the subject of his 9th feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

But in Tarantino fashion, the film doesn't really concentrate too much on Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) or her husband, Roman Polanski (RafaƂ Zawierucha), but rather their fictitious neighbor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick is a has-been TV Western actor who is living doing guest shots as the heavy in a series of 1960s TV shows. Cliff, who has his own issues, sticks by his friend and meal ticket, doing odd jobs for him. And while Rick lives on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills, Cliff lives in a trailer behind the Van Nuys Drive-in Theater.

Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton) are the focus of the film.

The film does a very good job of recreating Los Angeles in the late 1960s from the KHJ radio jingles to music on the radio, to the cars, to the fashions, and to the celebrities of the times. Even for someone who didn't live in L.A. at the time, I could see the attention to detail, as well as being jealous of the open roads the freeways were at that time. And let's not forget the smoking, which was still a common thing then. I have never seen so much smoking in a movie made since 1970. There are a few anomalies, like the 747 which didn't take passengers until after this story would have been told, but this a fantasy.

One of the things I was really worried about prior to seeing the film is how the Tate murder would be handled. While I'm not a big Tarantino fan, I had no illusions that he won't go there when the time came. Happily, I can say the film has a very surprising happy ending, which is all I'll say.

A couple of interesting things about my viewing, which was a 4 o'clock show on Friday afternoon at the Sherman Oaks Arclight. The film didn't start on time, which seemed unusual for a chain that seems to delight in being prompt. But there were also no coming attractions, which is the first time I can remember seeing a first-run film that didn't have any. (This may explain why the start was delayed as if giving people time to show up.) And there was a credit in the film for Tim Roth (Cut). Roth does not appear on the screen and I had never seen a credit for a non-appearing actor.

The film takes its sweet time getting to the end of the film. While there are some tense moments, much of the first two and a half hours is sort of a lackadaisical tour of 1969 LA, Hollywood and television production. If you're looking for a nostalgic look back, then this is certainly the film for you.

There are almost too many actors in supporting roles to mention and you may find yourself looking up an entry on IMDb or Wikipedia to see that Dakota Fanning played Squeaky Fromme or Bruce Dern played George Spahn of Spahn Ranch fame. Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), as well as Mama Cass (Rachel Redleaf), Connie Stevens (Dreama Walker) and Michelle Phillips (Rebecca Rittenhouse) all make cameos in the film.

Margot Robbie (left) is a good choice to play Sharon Tate (right).

I'm not a big fan of DiCaprio's and frankly found his casting as a Western TV star a little hard to swallow. Brad Pitt, on the other hand, was quite believable as Cliff and proved to be a very formidable person in the film. I will admit to enjoying his work in the film. Margot Robbie's turn as Sharon Tate wasn't bad, but there really wasn't very much for her to work with and her depiction, as stated previously, takes a backseat to Rick's.

If you're looking for an action-packed two and half hour film then you will be sadly mistaken if you go to see this film. The final twenty minutes are very intense but except for one other sequence, not a lot happens. However, if you're feeling nostalgic as the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of all things 1969, then this may be a surprising film to see. Again, the ending is a relief from what I was expecting and that made the film more enjoyable than I feared going in.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Spy Fox 3: "Operation Ozone"

Two years following the release of Spy Fox 2: “Some Assembly Required” in 1999, as well as a spin-off game called Spy Fox in: “Hold the Mustard” within the same year, Humongous Entertainment would release the inevitable third game, Spy Fox 3: “Operation Ozone”, in 2001. This would turn out to be the final game in the main Spy Fox series, with Humongous Entertainment itself going defunct in 2006. Upon getting to play Spy Fox 3, I found this state of affairs unfortunate, as it introduced a number of gameplay concepts that improved over Spy Fox 2 that contributed to a rather interesting experience.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Stubs - The Stratton Story

The Stratton Story (1949) Starring James Stewart, June Allyson, Frank Morgan, Agnes Moorehead, Bill Williams. Directed by Sam Wood. Screenplay by Douglas Morrow and Guy Trosper. Produced by Jack Cummings. Run Time: 106 minutes. USA Black and White Drama, Biography

I will be the first to admit that I am not a big baseball fan. I didn’t grow up around a Major League team, nor did I ever have the desire to play the sport as a child. For me, the game is too slow and low scoring. I will watch the occasional game, but I am not a diehard fan. That said, I do find I like baseball films. There is just enough history in them to keep me interested. Baseball seems to have a very storied history with many stories that can be made into interesting films.

Monty Stratton was a Major League pitcher from Texas that played for the Chicago White Sox from 1934 to 1938. During his career, he amassed a record of 36-23 with an ERA of 3.71. While those may not seem like great numbers and a short career, there is a lot more to Stratton’s story. He had a promising career that was cut short by a hunting accident. Out hunting rabbits on his family farm, he fell and accidentally shot himself in the leg. A main artery was damaged to the point that in order to save his life, his leg had to be amputated. The following two seasons, Stratton worked as a batting practice pitcher and coach.

He attempted to pitch at a charity game at Comiskey Park in his honor in 1939, but was unable to transfer the weight effectively to his artificial wooden leg. He would keep trying though and would eventually pitch again for the Sherman Twins of the East Texas League (Class C) and amass a record of 18-8. In 1947, he pitched for the Waco Dons of the Big State League (Class B) with a record of 7-7.

His comeback was too much for Hollywood to ignore. However, When MGM approached him to option his story, Stratton was not initially interested, but reconsidered when the studio talked about the inspiration it would grant disabled veterans of World War II who were struggling to deal with their circumstances. In post-WWII America, there were scores of veterans who returned from the war missing limbs.

While Jimmy Stewart ended up playing the role, he wasn’t the first choice of the studio. MGM wanted Van Johnson to play the role, however, a car accident in 1943 left Johnson unable to physically handle the role. Ronald Reagan also wanted to play the role, but he was under contract to Warner Bros. and that studio would not let him out of his contract for a film they expected to be a failure. Donna Reed was also considered for the role that would go to June Allyson.

The film went into production in late October and wrapped on December 28, 1948. The film features scenes shot on location at Comiskey Park, Gilmore Field in Hollywood, and at American League fields in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Washington, D.C. It Released in the summer of 1949, after playing in selected cities with American League teams before its general release. Made on a budget of $1,771,000, it would earn $4,488,000 at the box office and win the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture Story.

The film opens with a young Monty Stratton (James Stewart) walking ten miles to pitch for the Wagner Wild Cats baseball team. After the game, he walks home and works on his farm for the rest of the day. He does catch the eye of ex-catcher Barney Wile (Frank Morgan), who recognizes his talent and convinces him that he could be major league material. Barney moves in with Monty and trains him throughout the winter. Barney promises him a tryout with the Chicago White Sox, who are having spring training in California, but before they go they have to convince Ma Stratton (Agnes Moorehead) to let him go. Monty arranges for their cousin Earnie (Robert Gist) to come and take care of the farm. Reluctantly, Ma gives him $5 and wishes him luck.

Barney and Monty then hitchhike across the southwest to get to California. When they arrive, it turns out that a tryout is not a guarantee. Chicago White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes (playing himself) does know Barney, but is initially reluctant. Monty's speed and accuracy impress him and he lets the boy stay with the Sox. Because he can’t have Barney just hang around, he hires him as a pitching coach. Monty is sent to get a haircut, but gambles the money. Proving just how lucky he is, Monty wins big.

As Monty tries to learn his way around the big city, he is overjoyed when fellow teammate Eddie Dibson (Bill Williams) invites him on a double date. Monty realizes Eddie is a cad, however, when he tries to steal Monty's date, Ethel (June Allyson), who is visiting from Omaha, and leaves Monty with the whole tab for the evening. Monty grabs Ethel and leaves, quickly winning her over with his sincerity and sweetness.

Monty (Stewart) meets Ethel (June Allyson) and they fall in love.

Monty makes the team, and after sitting on the bench for most of the first season, he is finally allowed to pitch, but only against the powerhouse Yankees. But he gets beaten so badly that he is sent back to the White Sox minor league in Omaha. There, he calls Ethel to tell her that he loves her, but wants a chance to prove himself professionally before they marry.

After finding success in Omaha, Monty is asked to join the majors again, at which point he and Ethel marry. For his first outing, he is asked to pitch against the Yankees again, but this time he masters his fear and wins the game.

Monty gets his chance and becomes a well-respected pitcher for the White Sox.

After the season ends, Monty brings Ethel back to his family farm to meet his mother and stay for the winter. The next spring, he wins every game he plays, and, during one game, learns while on the mound that Ethel has given birth to a boy, Monty, Jr.

His success continues and within months, he is part of the All-Stars team and breaking league records, but Ethel worries that he is spending too much time out of the house. He tells her that he has meetings and interviews which make him late most nights. Even Barney suspects something is wrong. However, when they get back to Texas, he takes her to a nightclub and reveals that he has spent his extra time learning how to dance in order to please her.

Months later, while Monty is out hunting rabbits, he stumbles and his rifle discharges into his leg. His dog brings Ethel back to find him. The doctor informs her that his leg is infected and has to be amputated to save his life. Ethel doesn’t want to, but has no choice.

Monty loses a leg and his Ma (Agnes Moorehead) is concerned about him.

After the operation, Monty sits, motionless and bitter, as Ethel waits patiently for him to re-gather his resolve. Finally, however, Monty witnesses Junior taking his first steps, and realizes that he has been indulging in self-pity. He puts on his artificial leg and takes his son outside to play.

Monty starts to pitch again with Ethel playing catcher.

Soon, Monty decides to learn to walk on his false leg, and within months he is tossing a baseball with Ethel, who reveals that she is expecting another baby.

Barney (Frank Morgan) takes Ethel and Ma to the All-Star game to watch Monty pitch.

Barney comes to visit them that spring. He’s on his way to an All-Stars game in Houston and Monty, Ethel and Ma decide to go with him. Monty excuses himself to say hello to some of the players and Barney goes with him. It is then that he learns Monty has convinced the coach to let him pitch. Ethel goes down to see him before he goes out to the mound. He’s suddenly frightened, but goes out. He has trouble running and catching bunts, but he overcomes those obstacles and wins the game for the Southern League.

Ethel talks to Monty before he pitches in an All-Star game.

I’m not a baseball fan so I don’t really know the ins and outs of Monty Stratton’s career, so I imagine that he was built up a bit in the movie to make the fall even deeper. I’m sure that Stratton was depressed about losing his leg and his livelihood, but in real life he got back on his feet, so to speak, faster than James Stewart does in the film. He was back to working for the White Sox the next year while movie Stratton sat around the house moping.

And, as Stratton got back to pitching in the minor leagues, movie Stratton does so in a major league setting. This sort of deviation from reality is nothing new; movies have been doing it ever since they’ve been making them. The idea is not to replicate real life but to make a compelling film.

This is not to say Monty was not happy about his onscreen depiction. He did serve as a consultant on the film, and as recounted in Jhan Robbins' Everybody's Man: A Biography of Jimmy Stewart, the athlete knew his instincts were correct when he first screened the film: "When I saw Jimmy on the screen, I wept. He was more me than I am!"

Monty Stratton (l) and James Stewart as Monty Stratton (r).

Jimmy Stewart’s performance has a lot to do with the success of the film. He is an everyman and seems at ease in almost any film role he’s playing. Whether it’s working with Hitchcock, Frank Capra or playing a baseball player, Stewart is usually always watchable.

Adding to the film’s success has to be June Allyson, the girl next door type. She and Stewart make a winning on-screen couple. They seem to play off each other. So good in fact that they would be paired again in The Glenn Miller Story (1954) and Strategic Air Command (1955).

Somewhat underutilized is Agnes Moorehead, perhaps best known to the Baby Boomer generation as Endora in the TV Series Bewitched, but she has also given notable performances in films like Citizen Kane (1941), Mrs. Parkington (1944) and Dark Passage (1947). It is interesting to note that she was also working with her future husband, Robert Gist (Earnie), whom she would marry in 1954.

In real life, Robert Gist, who plays Cousin Earnie (r), would marry Agnes Moorehead.

Frank Morgan is perhaps best known as the Wizard in TheWizard of Oz (1939), but he had also appeared opposite Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner (1940), a perennial Christmas classic. He would twice be nominated for an Academy Award, one for Best Actor in The Affairs of Cellini (1934) and one for Best Supporting Actor in Tortilla Flat (1942). Here, he has a smaller but well-played role as Barney Wile, the vagabond former catcher who is the first to realize Stratton’s talents.

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, like me, there is a lot to like with The Stratton Story. If not 100% accurate, it is still an inspiring story that teaches that you should never quit no matter the odds.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Spy Fox 2: "Some Assembly Required"

Following the success of Spy Fox in: “Dry Cereal”, Humongous Entertainment began releasing follow-up games on a mostly-annual basis, as they have done with some of their other popular titles. After a spin-off arcade-style game called Spy Fox in: ”Cheese Chase”, the next true follow-up to the original Spy Fox would come two years later in the form of Spy Fox 2: “Some Assembly Required”. Though I wasn’t sure what to expect from Spy Fox’s second outing, I overall found it had greatly improved on some things over the previous main game and still made for an enjoyable experience.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

My Hero Academia: Two Heroes

Since it began serialization in Weekly Shonen Jump in 2014, My Hero Academia, a manga about a boy named Izuku Midoriya born Quirkless (without superpowers) in a world where just about everyone has a Quirk, has been highly successful, spawning a popular anime series, three spinoff manga, two video games and a feature film, Two Heroes, with a second film, Heroes Rising, due later this year (the popularity in the US was also such that it almost shut down San Diego Comic-Con 2018). Two Heroes, the subject of this review, saw theatrical runs in both Japan and the US in 2018 and released to positive reviews from critics and grossed nearly $28 million dollars worldwide. While I hadn’t seen the movie during the limited US theatrical run, I did buy it on Blu-ray, but didn’t watch it until right after I had seen Episode 58 of the anime, which served as a lead-in, through a Toonami broadcast. Now that I have seen it, I found it a worthy addition to the My Hero Academia universe, despite a lack of accessibility.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Spy Fox in "Dry Cereal"

If you grew up during the ‘90s and early ‘00s, there’s a good chance you were either aware of Humongous Entertainment or have played one of their games. This developer specialized in edutainment games, however their particular brand of it is what makes their games more beloved to this day. As a kid, I was one of those people that was aware of their games, though I had always been mildly curious about them when seeing their box arts at my local CompUSA (which is now defunct). I didn’t get the urge to actually play one of their games until I had seen a couple YouTubers I watch play them, and I finally got my chance through a recent Humble Bundle that contained most of their catalog. I wanted to play the Spy Fox series in particular, so I began with the first entry, Spy Fox in “Dry Cereal”, originally released in 1997. Though the game is over 20 years old by now, I thought it actually held up pretty well and I enjoyed it for what it was.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Toy Story 2

Note: The following review contains spoilers for Toy Story 2.

Following the success of the original Toy Story, it seemed inevitable that Pixar would want to cash in on that with a Toy Story 2. Though a Toy Story sequel was in development during A Bug’s Life, it was initially envisioned to be a direct-to-video feature, however Disney, who had a distribution deal with Pixar at the time prior to the later buyout, later wanted it to be a theatrical release following test footage. Pixar wanted to change things, however Disney insisted on the release date they had already set, leading Pixar to rework the movie and somehow finish it within a span of nine months. Despite these circumstances, the movie that came out of it was surprisingly good.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A Bug's Life

Note: This review contains spoilers for A Bug’s Life.

Three years after the release of Toy Story (1995), Pixar released their second animated feature, A Bug’s Life (1998), which also happened to be the first film I had ever seen in a movie theater. Though critically acclaimed at the time, it seems to have generally fallen off the radar in recent years when the works of Pixar are discussed. The same rang true for us until we caught part of a recent Disney XD airing and decided to watch the movie in full through our DVD copy. Now that we’ve seen it all the way through again after several years, it seems to have held up surprisingly well, though it’s also a little rough around the edges.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Stubs - Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) Starring: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J. B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal Directed by Jon Watts Screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers Based on Spider-Man created by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko. Produced by Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal Run Time: 129 minutes. USA Color Superhero

Just when you thought Phase Three of the MCU came to a satisfying conclusion with Avengers: Endgame (2019), here comes the final film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which ends it, this time for sure. For those of you that remember Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), this might not be the sequel you were expecting. The end of that film set up what you might have expected, a return by Vulture (Michael Keaton). But that’s not the story here.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Stubs - Yesterday

Yesterday (2019) Starring: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon. Directed by Danny Boyle. Screenplay by Richard Curtis. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Bernie Bellew, Matthew James Wilkinson, Richard Curtis, Danny Boyle Run Time: 116 minutes. United Kingdom. Color. Musical, Fantasy

Being a life-long Beatles fan, I was intrigued by the first trailer for this movie and I’ve been looking forward to seeing it ever since. This seems to be the summer for rock fantasy musicals. Earlier this year was Rocketman, which more-or-less told the Elton John story but not really. Now this, which re-imagines the music of The Beatles in a modern world setting.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Second Look - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Note: The following review contains spoilers for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and potentially other Transformers stories.

Following the success of the 2007 Transformers film, a sequel was inevitable. This sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (ROTF), was released in 2009 to negative reviews, not helped by the script being one of many victims of a then-recent Writer’s Guild of America strike. Though I reviewed this film already, I’ve been wanting to re-review it for a while as I wasn’t sure whether the thoughts presented in it were entirely my own. For this, I decided to watch the movie again, this time via the Walmart-exclusive Big Screen Edition Blu-ray; though I’m not one to actively support Walmart, this set is unique in that it also includes the IMAX footage, a rarity amongst home video releases. Upon what is approximately my third or fourth viewing of this movie, I can safely say that, even as a Transformers fan, I genuinely did not enjoy it.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Toy Story 4 - To Infinity and Beyond

Following the success of the original Toy Story (1995), Pixar made a name for themselves in the world of animation and continued to pump out multiple successful movies, which, of course, included two sequels to the first film, Toy Story 2 (1999) and Toy Story 3 (2010). Now, about 24 years later, Pixar has released what seemed like an unnecessary sequel in the form of Toy Story 4. I didn’t feel very enthusiastic about this one going in, as I had thought that Toy Story 3 served as a good conclusion emotionally and had no idea how they could continue the story. Well, as it turns out, they found a way to do that and make a surprisingly good movie out of it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Meet the Robinsons - Keep Moving Forward

When I first saw trailers for Meet the Robinsons, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. I was aware it had been based on a William Joyce book I vaguely recalled reading, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, though I didn’t know how well the book could be translated to feature length. I didn’t end up seeing the movie in a theater when it first came out in 2007, though I had been reminded of its existence when taking a handful of college animation courses. I had recently taken a Disney XD airing as a chance to finally watch the movie, to which I found it to be a bit better than I initially expected.