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The Greatest Showman

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

In this world of constant information, it can be hard to understand why showman P.T. Barnum was ever a success.

Greatest ShowmanHe relied on society’s fascination with anyone and everyone who was ‘different.’ He created exhibits and shows of what people wanted to see. He made money and lost money and made it again by taking phenomenal risks.

And that is only what is covered in the movie The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum. This movie covers the time that Barnum created his American Museum, his live performances, and the tour with Jenny Lind. We are thoroughly in the mid1800s without mention of the Civil War or Barmun’s abolitionist or temperance activities.

I hate to break it to you but this is not a documentary or bio pic looking to be accurate.

Instead, we get an action packed, musically driven story that hilights Barnum’s desire to make money anyway he can. The whys are the usual reasons that propel anyone to succeed. Barnum adds to this by being willing to risk everything all of the time – his home, his properties, his non-existent fleet of trains.

We also see that he is a brilliant promoter. He knows how to get people to his shows, how to publicize his shows, how to keep people coming into the door. All of this despite the protesters and the angry mob who do not want the freaks on display because freaks need to stay hidden at all times.

Greatest Showman - castThe music is not fitting with the times, instead it has a modern pop and hip-hop vibe. This is Me was nominated for an Oscar and is the big song of the movie as the Barnum show cast sings it with dignity when they become more open about who they are.

The dance sequences are incredible as well. Based on Broadway hip-hop spectacular and Busby Berkley views from the top, we see how Barnum is the center of the show. He wants to be the center, he wants to drive the show, he wants to be the one who says ‘look at this, you have never seen this before.’

Hugh Jackman is great in this movie because he encompasses the hope of a man who has failed before, he is a risk taker, and he is a pure raconteur constantly re-inventing himself with each new venture. Gone is the weariness that we saw in his role as Wolverine; instead we get a man hungry for success who never losses his lust for life. Michelle Williams plays his wife with her own ethereal style. It is something she can do in her sleep and yet I never get tired of watching her as her husband takes them from poverty to riches and down again.

Greatest Showman - Zac and ZendayaBut credit must go the rest of the cast including Keala Settle who plays the Bearded Woman, Lettie Lutz. Rebecca Ferguson is impressive as the legendary Jenny Lind. Zac Efron and Zendaya bring life to their roles as star crossed lovers in a time that did not allow racially-mixed couples. Their performances, singing, and dancing added spark to many scenes.

Not everyone is going to like this movie. But for those who love the musical genre, this makes a great spectacular to add to your collection.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

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Make’ em laugh

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

When life gets hectic, all I really want to do is laugh.

I want to laugh until my sides hurt.

Lately, I have found myself angry and tired of seeing people with guns going into schools and shoot up whoever they can find. I am tired of there being no answers, no solutions, and nonsensical arguments being bandied about.

So I look for comedies to distract and make fun of the world.

Arsenic and Old Lace posterI grabbed a few comedies the other week with Arsenic and Old Lace (1941) being at the top of the pile. This classic stars Cary Grant as a theater critic who loudly stated in the past he has no intention of marrying – ever. That is until he falls in love with the girl next door, Priscilla Lane. They wed at city hall but before going on their honeymoon, Grant wants to tell his two aunts. They are the sweetest ladies who do much charitable work in Brooklyn.

And he will, right after they discuss the dead man in the window seat AND his homicidal brother’s return to town AND the bodies in the basement AND elderberry wine. All of this happens on Halloween night.

It is silly and goofy and completely over the top. Cary Grant thought this was one of his worst performances. Pearl Harbor occurred during the shooting of the movie, and Director Frank Capra meant to make more edits before he left to join the armed services. But he never did tone it down.

They story is fun, the action is quick, and the fight scene between the brother and the police is enough to make one laugh a few belly laughs.

But in case you want something a bit more modern, there is always Date Night starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. These two crazy kids are a couple who fear they have fallen into a rut, especially after close friends tell them the friends are getting divorced.

Date Night posterSo on their usual date night, Tina and Steve push their boundaries. They dress up a little more, go into NYC to a hot new restaurant for a meal, and take someone else’s reservation. But of course there is a problem, these things always lead to problems. It appears that the couple who did not show for the reservation is holding on to something belonging to a criminal figure.

And as the night goes on this couple has to figure out how to stay one step ahead of bad police guys, find the couple, get the flash drive, get help from super security guy Mark Wahlberg, and get home in time to pay the babysitter. Oh, and stay alive.

This is not a movie for those people who do not like swearing. It can get raunchy at times and definitely not for kids. That’s ok because sometimes couples need a break from the routine and watch something meant for adults. I always liked this movie for being both preposterous in the action and deeply honest in the interaction between this couple.

It might be one of the few romantic comedies that features car chases and shoot outs before the ending resolves into happy-ever-after.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

The Right to What?

Since the Parkland shooting, I have been nonsensical with grief, worry, and anger.

All I seem to hear is the usual NRA rhetoric of good guy with a gun, we need more guns , and how dare those kids talk about gun control.

The mother’s anguished screams to President Trump to ‘do something’ has not left my brain.

But what really set me off was someone I know stating that we can’t control crazy or evil people, they are going to do what they do. Therefore the only course of action is nothing. Because I had been unreasonable towards them, I felt the need to apologize. They accepted it and then felt the need to lecture me once more so I might understand their  point of view.

That is where they lost me. Accept the apology and move on. Explain your side so that I can know how wrong I am and I know you are a pompous ass who only cares about your point of view.

I also know that they were wrong because I know that determined people can change a society.

Look what happened when the federal government instituted speed limits. While states have been setting speed limits since 1901, the federal government set highway driving speed limits at 55 mph in 1972. This lead to a drop in driving fatalities by nearly 50%. That was huge.

In the 80s, the federal government also forced states to raise their drinking age to 21 by refusing to give them highway money. Maybe it didn’t matter to those of you surrounded by states with all the same drinking age but it really mattered where I grew up. Wisconsin was only 90 minutes away. Kid could drive up, drink, and come home.

But every year, there was always a fatality of a car load of kids coming home. Every year our year book had a dedication page to the dead. Every year someone did not come home. These were laws that made changes to behavior that were seen as unchangable.

It was during this time when mothers became and angry about their children being killed by drunk drivers. MADD was formed in 1980 and these women worked to change laws, make reforms, and stop the death toll.

Unlike the temperance unions that destroyed bars and banned the creation of alcohol products, these women went after the people who drank to excess and worked to get them off the roads. That is how drinking ages were raised, penalties for drunk driving increased, and various punishments put into effect. The efforts of MADD brought down the fatalities rates 50 percent.

I think people would have said that there was no way you could bring down the drunk driving fatality rates. You can’t control what drunken people might do.

But what if we took some of those same ideas towards gun laws. Say we made gun laws consistent across all states so that every one follows the same rules. What if age limits were set for gun owner ship? What if magazine sizes were limited? What if we changed gun rules to match what MADD did or the federal government did that actually saved lives?

Or we could sit around pretending there is nothing we can do so that we can continue to caress our guns and be satisfied that the right to own guns is safe.  Forget the inalienable rights declared in the declaration of Independence as the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. As long as guns are available no matter what, who cares if another group of school kids are shot to death.

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Once I found out that Thor: Ragnarok was on video, I wanted to see it.

Thor RagnarokIt is no secret that I am a big fan of the Marvel comic series movies. I have seen most of them and love them. Each one fits into to the overall story line, with different issues being addressed specific to those characters.

But this one I knew was going to be different. It was reported that Chris Hemsworth wanted a different feel to this movie and I could understand why. Thor is a stoic character most of the time with a bit of fiery emotion that is hard to control. This can be hard to play all of the time.

In using new director Taiki Watiti, improvisation was the rule on set. Some of the lines came from suggestions from a fan who visited on set during a make-a-wish visit. Others came during the moment of filming. We have seen glimpses of humor throughout the past movies but here Hemsworth allows us to see a goofier and sometimes more honest version of Thor.

But there are other momentary glimpses of perfection. Such as when a Led Zepplin song is used for the final battle song. I giggled and screamed a little when I realized the legendary English band’s ode to Nordic myth set the scene for this important battle. I could have sworn Loki’s hair did a slow motion swoop during this scene, matching the musicality of the song.

The story is about Thor’s need to get home after being captured on a distant planet. He needs to beat the super opponent in order to be able to leave. And he must get back home to stop his older sister, that he never knew about, from destroying Asgard.

Thor and LokiWhile I love this series for developing characters and making us like them even more than before, never have I seen this group of actors mix the serious and the humorous so seamlessly. His description of the break-up with Jane is telling and funny and face-saving in one fell swoop.

But other characters, including Tom Hiddleston and Jeff Goldblum go for the humor as well, working in the subtleties of their characters as allowed. It is not a total wink at the camera but there is enough to let us know the actors are trying to have fun while dealing with the serious aspects of this movie.

There are plenty of sight gags and oops moments, physical humor and eye rolls that make us laugh. But there are also moments of emotional angst and personal introspection as characters decide who they really are as a soulful creature. There are always ethical issues to mull over in a Marvel comic book movie but here we get it mixed with humor.

Thor valkarie and helaCate Blanchette, Tessa Thompson and Rachel House are great as women warriors who fight with fury and their own sense of purpose or right and wrong. There are so many moments with these women that you just need to watch the whole movie to catch their wonderful moments that string along wonderful baubles into a beautiful necklace.

The essentials of the Marvel movie remains. But the differences make this movie worth the viewing. Who can resist The Immigrant Song by Led Zepplin during the major battle scene?

No one, I tell you, no one.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Live from Jerusalem

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

As Easter comes closer, I have to admit I look forward to the annual showing of Jesus Christ Superstar.

I remember when I was a kid and people hated this version of the crucifixion story. It was too secular. The music was loud and bombastic. It seemed to have no understanding of the greatest story ever told. It was blasphemy.

I can’t remember what my very religious grandmother may have thought about the movie. I can’t imagine she was very happy about the movie as she was a bit old fashioned.

Jesus Christ Superstar Ted NeelyI must have known about it because I remember singing the title song and having a classmate tell me I was going to to to the fiery place. Nancy was Catholic and must have heard that from her parents or her priest.

As the years have past and I have seen the movie again. I found it to be heart breaking and beautiful as we walk through the last weeks of Jesus’ life. I always thought that the cast were experimenting with how things happened in that way. I always got the sense that they thought this time it would be different, that they could do this and Jesus wouldn’t die.

Ted Neely was in his prime at the time of the filming of Jesus Christ Superstar. He was young and handsome in that early 70s style. His voice could be gentle and ferocious. The scene in which Jesus destroys the temple sticks out for the anger we seldom ever saw from Jesus. The same goes for the Hosannah scene in which Jesus comes to Jerusalem in triumph.

Later scenes walk us through the various parts of the story in which Jesus confronts his immediate future and what he must do, no matter how difficult. Strangely enough, we never see the resurrection, we never see the next part of the story. It simply ends with the crucifixion and the regret of the remaining characters.

john-legend-sara-bareilles-jesus-christ-superstar-portraitsThis Sunday a new version will be shown live with John Legend in the lead role. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that Legend has a fantastic voice with a great range. His songs have great emotional scope so I feel confident that he can make the role incredible.

These live musical events have been going on for a few years now and they seem to be very successful. It is exciting to see performances in a live setting as you never know what can happen. But the other part of a live performance is that the emotions of the performers are more raw, more tangible.

Because the play was so popular with an iconic performance by Neely, it will be interesting to see how John Legend handles the role. I am also anxious to see Sara Bareilles as Mary Magdalene and Alice Cooper as King Herod in this production. While not everyone will agree with the rock opera treatment, I find telling this story in different ways brings the story to a larger audience, always an interesting challenge.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

The Shape of Water

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Since the Best Movie was announced at the Oscar Awards, I have been wanting to see The Shape of Water.

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the movie is described as an other-worldly fable. I was fascinated by the character who lives in the water, a creature who looks vaguely like the creature from the Black Lagoon.

Shape of water posterMy son and I watched it together, and because it is a bit touchy at times, I found myself leaving the room occasionally. I don’t like blood or much violence or action that takes place under water.

Our main character is a mute woman who lives alone but has a lively relationship with her next door neighbor. She works at a secret government lab as a cleaning woman. One day a new ‘asset’ is brought to the lab, a creature that needs to be underwater most of the time.

What government interrogator Michael Shannon plans to do with the creature is unknown. But for the present time, torturing the creature is high on his list.

Elisa and Zelda, Elisa’a black co-worker, are allowed to clean in the locked lab. Sometimes, Elisa has lunch in there and develops a relationship with the creature. She teaches him sign language and they begin to communicate.

This is not a movie for everyone. There is violence and swearing and short bits of nudity. But there are also questions of right and wrong and how we treated people in the early sixties that was supposed to be a time of magical kingdoms. You will be required to think while watching this cinematic spectacle of wonders.

Shape of Water Sally OctaviaThis movie is gorgeous to look at. The sets of Elisa’s and Giles’ apartments are rich and detailed. The lab is retro to what we thought secrets labs should look like if they were housing a creature that required living underwater most of the time.

And our water monster is incredible as well, his gills flying out when angry. His scales coming off after hours of torture and deprivations. Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones as our mute couple display more emotions than we ever see in most Kate Hudson romantic comedies.

I know what I saw and I know that this was a beautifully realized movie. But my head is still pondering and wondering at all of the side details and unspoken commentary about life in the Cold War era. Not everyone was valued, people with good ideas and instincts were discarded because they did not fit the boundaries of normal at that time. Even the Russian spy is never everything we think that person should be.

If you plan to see this movie, be prepared for normal to not be so normal. Be prepared for something weird and out of this world. Be prepared for a fairytale where monsters walk free and others wrangle for that hope of freedom. It is a weird and strange, lovely and beguiling movie. One of my friends told me not to waste my time. I am telling you that if you like the weird and beguiling, this might be the movie for you.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

When doing the annual St. Patrick’s Day column, I try to stay away from those movies I write about every year.

I heart IrishNot going to talk about Into the West yet again. If you haven’t seen it, then you should. It’s a great movie featuring a legendary horse out of Irish folklore.

The same goes for Ondine and The Secret of Roan Inish. Both movies feature selkies, the latter is from the past, the former is set in modern times. While there are not chase scenes both are worth while. Check them out.

I have not talked about any Daniel Day-Lewis movies in the past. Just know that he is one of the best actors ever but his movies tend to live on the serious side of life. They are worth the time spent watching.

Before we talk movies, I will tell you that my friend once again had her wonderful potato party. I was lazy and did not bring a topping for the potatoes. Instead I focused on my green dessert. I made dark chocolate brownies with minty green frosting. Yes, the brownies had mint-flavored frosting.

They were tasty and since I under cooked them, slightly, they were soft and moist. When I took them home, there was great remorsing. I have no regrets.

Tara RoadSo this year for movies, I am suggesting chick flicks, the kind that make women cry and laugh and want to throw things at the TV. Thank God Irish novelist Maeve Binchy had two novels made into movies before she passed away in 2012.

 

 

First up is Tara Road starring Olivia Williams and Andie McDowell as two women who switch houses for two months after their lives have fallen apart irrevocably. Ria and Marilyn swap houses between Dublin and the United States. Both hope to seek a respite from their own lives while healing from the pain of loss.

Is this a first rate production? Not really but I do enjoy it for the strong performances by Williams and McDowell. They slowly meld into the other’s life while discovering strengths of their own. Its the perfect movie to watch with girlfriends.

Circle of FriendsThe other Irish movie for a chick flick festival is Circle of Friends starring Minnie Driver and Chris O’Donnell. This movie is about two friends (Benny and Nan) who go to University, meet up with a childhood friend, and discover love. Driver plays the sweet Benny who is never allowed to forget that she is heavier than most girls.

O’Donnell is the pre-med student from a wealthy family who falls in love with Benny. Some how they find each other and work towards developing a relationship. But life and other manipulations work towards disaster. Benny finds herself challenged and heart broken and ready to move forward.

This is the kind of movie to watch to remember life when everything seemed ‘simplier.’ All you need now is some popcorn and dark chocolate brownies with mint frosting.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Becoming Churchill

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

One of the things that I always find amazing about the movies is the ability of the make-up and special effects crews to create the spectacular from tiny bits of powder and cream and prosthesis skin coverings.

darkest hour oldman churchillI haven’t seen Darkest Hour yet. But it is simply incredible how Gary Oldman goes from looking like himself to Winston Churchill in all of the trailers that I have watched. We follow Churchill as he is elected Prime Minister after Neville Chamberlin. We watch as he tries to keep the country motivated to fight against Hitler’s army that seems unbeatable.

Movie watchers know Oldman from the Harry Potter series as Sirius Black and Christopher Nolan’s Batman series as Commissioner Gordon. He is a younger man who is thin and three inches taller than Churchill who was 5’6”.

The make-up used on Oldman made him look older as Churchill was 66 years old during the time period depicted in this movie. Oldman turned 59 during the shooting of the picture.

Maybe it’s me but I sometimes think we have begun to age differently. I know people in their 60s who look younger than I remember my grandparents looking at the same age. I am often told I look ten years younger than I am (for which I am grateful. I don’t care if people are just being nice to me.) When I see Gary Oldman at 59, I think I am seeing a man in his 40s.

Darkest Hour oldmanBut as Churchill. Oldman is jowly. He is heavier and moves differently. Oldman stated he intensely studied Churchill for a year in order to have his moves and quirks, speak patterns and accent. In the end, though, Oldman stated he had to do more than impersonate. He had to interpret the man who brought England through the roughest part of WWII when it looked like the war was about to be lost.

Now that was the challenge. In every clip I have seen, Oldman is Churchill, he embodies all that we have ever known about him. He sounded like Churchill, especially during the “Beaches” speech. I know it is Oldman’s job to be incredible, to capture his subject’s spirit. Not everyone succeeds at the job. But even actors who have portrayed Churchill in the past, including Robert Hardy, have stated that Oldman’s performance is the best so far.

Others must agree for Oldman has won a Golden Globe award for this performance along with nominations for Best Actor from the Screen Actors’ Guild, BAFTA, (British Academy Awards), and the Academy Awards aka the Oscars TM.

churchill-darkest-hourOldman’s performance may be trans-formative but he is supported by other actors, including Kristen Scott Thomas and Ben Mendolsohn, that brings the era to life. Director Joe Wright has been incredible in his past efforts which include Atonement.

Darkest Hour is a movie I am looking forward to seeing, not just because I am a history buff, but because I enjoy high art that is also accessible to anyone and everyone..

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Avengers and Freedom

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

All this past week the only movie I heard being discussed was Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman.

blackpantherIt is setting records like crazy for highest box office, for highest pre-sale tickets. People are marveling over the fact that the director is only 31 years old. But Ryan Coogler also directed Creed, winning Sylvester Stallone an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

His other movie was the highly touted Fruitville Station, the story about a man shot in the San Francisco mass transit station. All three movies feature Michael B. Jordan. Ever since I saw Jordan on the TV show, Parenthood, I had a feeling he would be a force in Hollywood.

Some people have that ‘something’ and Jordan has ‘it.’ When I saw him in Creed you could feel his charisma. But one of his goals was to play a guy totally unlike himself, completely different and that meant finding a ‘bad guy’ role. He has found that role in Black Panther as Erik Killmonger.

I plan to see this movie sometime in the near future, Black Panther will surely be around for sometime. I‘ve made due with clips and trailers that I can see on Youtube. My youngest has been ordered by his brother to stop giving away the secrets of the movie.

If I am lucky I will still know nothing by the time I get to see it.

Captain America Civil warIn the meantime, I will have to settle for Captain America: Civil War. In this installment of the Marvel Universe, Captain America/Steve Rogers and Iron Man/Tony Stark do not see eye to eye about legislation meant to keep these superheros in check. Tony is for it while Steve believes it goes against everything that America stands for.

Rogers saw what happened the last time people were forced to register and does not want a repeat of that world. Stark, on the other hand, understands why governments want to control the damage that can be done by these super battles.

Soon, the various members of the Avengers, including a whole host of new people, are choosing sides. Some side with Cap, others decide to join forces with Tony. It is not pretty and some of the team members have total fanboy moments. All of this leads to an epic fight between Iron Man and Captain America.

More importantly, there is another force taking advantage of this divide. The reasons why seem crazy and not so crazy. And in the end, it makes us question what we know to be true.

Cap and ironman fightThis is a movie I have watched a few times. While I have a crush on Captain America and his philosophy of what it means to be American, I am fascinated by Tony Stark’s emotional development. Stark appears to be suffering from PTSD but wants to hide it. He also wants to be in charge and constantly improving his technology while ignoring that he made his money from weapons. These are characters that are complex and act out in ways that seem contradictory to what we view as their intrinsic values.

While I notice new details about sets, I never cease to be amazed by the development – both good and bad – of the characters in the Marvel Universe.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Moonstruck by Love

Family Movie Night


Family Movie Night

Every year Valentine’s day comes with read and ink hearts all over the place.

There will be candies and wine flowing. People will go out for dinner or stay home to make a magical feast.

At the moment of this writing, I have no idea what we might be doing beyond youth group that evening at church.

Moonstruck But the one thing I do know is that I want to watch Moonstruck starring Cher and Nicholas Cage. It is a classic although a bit non-traditional love story. I find it to be one of those few perfect movies that makes you laugh and cry. Every scene feels as if it could stand on it’s own.

The story is about an Italian-American woman who lives with her parents. Loretta works as an accountant and has been widowed for many years. She has just accepted a marriage proposal from Johnny, a man she does not love.

Before he leaves for Italy to visit his dying mother, Johny asks Loretta to invite his brother to the wedding. They have been estranged for many years but Johnny wants a fresh start. When Loretta meets Ronny, sparks fly and they fall in love.

moonstruck_mahoney dukakis Meanwhile, her mother is dealing with the knowledge that her husband is cheating on her again. Her sadness is broken for an evening with an interlude with a professor who has played out a usual scene of a break-up. This coule is the great Olympia Dukakis and the late-great John Mahoney who dance around the idea of an affair.

All of the cast, including Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello, and Fedor Chaliapin Jr., make this a rich family drama that is so much more than your typical romantic comedy. You have stories about the renewal of hope, the power one holds in marriage when you don’t think you have that power. The binds of family and resposibility.

Moonstruck - family breakfast There is the great musical selections of Dean Martin, Vicki Carr, and songs from La Bohome that seal each moment of feeling and emotion.

And then there is the other character that is not listed, the city of New York with its historic buildings and distinctive neighborhoods. We see the lovely opera house and toodle around Brooklyn. We see Loretta’s life that might be dull to some people but makes sense for her in the life of a broken dream.

I could go on and on about this movie for the richness of the characters, the pack of dogs led around by the grandfather, the beauty of the moon, the intensity of feelings by Nicholas Cage, and the need for great love in any of these characters’ lives.

Because the feelings are so real, so close to home without a false note, there is almost no way I could ever fall out of love with this movie. That’s why it is the perfect Valetine’s day movie.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.