I'm Away

Okay, friends, I'm about to fly away to France for a bit. If you want to follow along in that adventure, be sure to Like and Follow my Facebook page.

I also just sent out the first newsletter in a new series that will feature an ongoing fantasy story set in the fictional world of AElit. It's not too late to join in. Click the "Sign Up" button on the aforementioned Facebook page.


Movies: Cars 3

Voices by: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Armie Hammer
Directed By: Brian Fee
Written By: Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich (screenplay); Brian Fee, Ben Queen, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart (story)
Pixar, 2017
G; 109 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)


I really enjoyed this movie, and I struggled over how many stars to give it. I might, with time and/or persuasion, think of it as a five-star film.

Truth is, I liked the first Cars movie, was indifferent to the second, and had no real expectations for this one. But of course it's when you have no high hopes that it's easy to be wowed. So many people really disliked Cars 2, almost anything would have been an improvement. However, Pixar still made a solid film that stands tall in its own right.

Going back to what worked before, the story here is that Lightning McQueen (Wilson) begins to lose races and suffers a crisis of confidence because of this. Younger, flashier cars with newer, better features are displacing McQueen's "generation." After a horrific crash, McQueen decides he just needs to train faster and harder, but it becomes increasingly clear that he has limits—he just isn't as fast as the rookies. So he needs to be smarter instead.

When his corporate sponsors are bought by a mud-flap billionaire, McQueen is assigned a personal trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Alonzo). But it's McQueen who teaches Cruz a thing or two about old-school ways of training. They survive a demolition derby and seek out Doc Hudson's old mentor Smokey (Cooper).

McQueen must win the first race of the season or be forced by his new owner to retire to a life of pitching products and selling his name.

There's nothing surprising here, no big twists; Cars 3 shows you the map well ahead of the journey. Still, it's an enjoyable ride. They do a fine job of making the demolition derby terrifying, and I, at least, am grateful for the lack of Mater in this installment. After hinging Cars 2 on him, someone finally figured out less is more when it comes to that particular sidekick character.

Still, while there are real jerks in this movie—McQueen's new boss, and the flashy new Jackson Storm—it lacks any real villain. This is more about becoming a better you than about beating anyone else. Which is fine, but may be lost on the younger crowd. In fact, I noticed a marked restlessness in the cinema whenever the story got quiet or introspective.

But there are plenty of races and racing scenes to keep the kids largely engaged. I, for one, would like to see it again in a cinema without a mostly juvenile audience to distract me. In short, this is easily my favorite of the Cars films, though that's not saying much. And I still have a lot of questions about the way this world of theirs functions. The Sistine Chapel is referenced and someone does a cover of a Bruce Springsteen song, so . . . People did exist at one time? Or in this parallel universe does the Sistine Chapel feature a mechanic creating the first car? Why is there a school bus if there are no children to ride it? Should a bus for cars be a car carrier? Cruz mentions going to school, too . . . Driving school? Do "young" cars drive on a learner's permit? How do they grow? I just . . . I know it's a kids' movie and all for fun, but some of these details really need to be hammered out.

Oh, and why in one scene does McQueen have functioning headlights? I thought they were stickers?


It would be easy to go down the rabbit hole. Try not to think about it too much. Just enjoy the show.


Movies: Wonder Woman

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Directed By: Patty Jenkins
Written By: Allan Heinberg (screenplay)
DC Entertainment, 2017
PG-13; 141 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


I teared up a few times while watching this movie, seemingly at random. I mean, I honestly don't know why. There's a force of empathy behind this film; it has a depth most superhero movies lack or try to fake. And Gal Gadot is simply amazing. She brings such a blend of wonder and purpose to, well, Wonder Woman.

The story is straight forward enough. Diana, Princess of Themyscira saves a WWI pilot who flies into their bubble and crashes in the ocean. When she learns of the war, Diana feels compelled to go stop it. After all, it is the sacred duty of the Amazons to bring peace to mankind and to put an end to Ares, God of War.

Reluctantly, Diana's mother lets her go.

Cue the fish-out-of-water story in which Diana is introduced to the world. But while it has its funny moments, this is not played so much for laughs as for contrast. Diana sees what is and imagines what could be if only men weren't at war and under the influence of Ares. Her focus on her goal is a through line that holds things together. We see and feel Diana's pain whenever she witnesses some new act of insensible violence, whenever she reacts to seemingly bizarre pronouncements that will doom thousands of men to die. "How can you say that, believe that?" she cries, and we nod. We're used to thinking of war as hell, but here we're shown that war is pretty fucked up, too, and it's the little guy who pays the hefty bill for it.

I'll say some of the plot twists were pretty telegraphed, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. This is well written, well acted, and beautifully directed and filmed. (Don't bother sitting through the credits, though; DC has opted not to follow Marvel into the world of little teaser scenes at the ends of their movies, at least in this case.)

Chris Pine does a nice job as the love interest. He's the typical Chris Pine type of character, but without the cocky smugness. In fact, he plays the fish out of water more than Gadot as Diana, as someone trying to steer this strange and beautiful woman through the world, and he does it well.

I'd say more but I don't want to give anything away to those who've yet to see the movie. In short, it's really good, and I was especially glad to be able to see it with my daughter, who was awed by Wonder Woman . . . And really wants some boots like hers?


Movies: The LEGO Batman Movie

This was . . . okay. Not as funny and cute as The LEGO Movie. I think maybe the Batman character, as portrayed in the LEGO movie(s), is better in small snippets rather than 100+ minutes.

Part of the problem may also be that The LEGO Movie had original characters while here Batman is necessarily circumscribed by his known self and the DC Universe.

Also, a lot of this seemed rushed and not fully explored. Why have Voldemort and Daleks, etc. and not use them to full potential?

As for the plot, it was generally this: Barbara Gordon takes over as Commissioner of Gotham City and believes there is no longer any need for Batman because look at how long he's been on the job and there's as much crime in Gotham as ever. Not a bad point. Meanwhile, Joker is upset that Batman won't "commit" to their hate-ship. When Batman sends the Joker to another dimension, one filled with bad guys (see aforementioned Daleks et al), the Joker brings these baddies back to Gotham. Hilarity does not ensue. Instead a rushed and chaotic battle of the kind one usually sees in Avengers movies occurs. Meh.

Oh, and there's Robin spending all his time trying to find ways to call Batman his "dad" without offending him.

Except maybe for the would-be bromance between Batman and Joker, I wasn't all that hugely amused by this movie. It wasn't terrible, just not as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected, which means I was disappointed in the end. Maybe Unikitty needs her own movie instead.


Television: Legion, The Leftovers, and Fargo

Okay, so I finally got around to watching the last couple episodes of Legion. As promised, the story finally came together. But I still didn't care enough about anyone—except maybe Dave—to be very interested. I just really feel like they could have cut so much of the mushy middle of this season. It could have been tight and fast and breathtaking. But instead it was a lot of style and not so much substance. Sort of like the Twin Peaks revival (though I will admit Parts 3 & 4 of that were far more engaging than the first two). I'm not sure I'll be back for another season of Legion.

[I'm one to talk: I write for character and tend to meander in my plots, too. Kettle, you're black.]

And now we need to talk about Kevin. Garvey, that is. In The Leftovers. This is the final season, and it's getting to be an awful lot like Lost. I'm not convinced that's a good thing. While I'm mostly enjoying the season, and the idea of Kevin as a new Messiah is highly entertaining, he's just so Jack (from Lost) and things seem to be falling that way, meaning the show doesn't feel very fresh any more. Only one episode left, and I don't think we're going to get closure, exactly; this isn't that kind of show. But I believe you can have a satisfying but open/ambiguous ending. Let's hope we at least get that.

Finally, let's loop back to more Noah Hawley with Fargo. I'm a couple episodes behind, but it appears Emmit may be hitting his breaking point. I really enjoyed the sidebar episode in which Gloria went to L.A. on a wild goose chase; it was nice to infuse something a little different into things, rather like tapping into the Coens' other works. David Thewlis as Varga is particularly abhorrent, which is just as he's meant to be, so bravo there. But I can't help thinking of Sy as "discount Joaquin Phoenix." Why is that?

All told, I'm not as fully engaged with Fargo this season despite the fabulous casting. I think maybe the story just doesn't grab me. Scene by scene, it's so well done, but put together my mind starts to wander pretty quickly.