Friday, June 17, 2022


Opening this weekend:

Lightyear--At the beginning of this animated feature from Disney/Pixar we are informed that back in 1995, a little boy named Andy got a toy from his favorite movie. "This is that movie."

The reference, of course, is to Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, the "Space Ranger," voiced in that film by Tim Allen, who competed for Andy's affections with Woody, the cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks. In this new feature Buzz, voiced here by Chris Evans, is the troubled hero of a far-flung sci-fi yarn. At the beginning Buzz, an intrepid hero in the Roger Ramjet vein, screws up while exploring a habitable but dangerous planet, with the result that a huge, radish-shaped spaceship full of scientists in suspended animation gets marooned there.

In trying to resume the space odyssey, Buzz makes repeated attempts to achieve "hyperspace," always falling short, and skipping ahead years each time. He keeps returning from these failed test flights to find a larger and more settled colony than he left, always seemingly less interested in leaving the planet; his fellow Space Ranger and best friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba) is also grayer and has moved on further with her life each time.

The movie has plenty of humor--the best of it, perhaps, from Buzz's deadpan, blandly capable robot cat Sox, voiced by Peter Sohn (Sox reminded me a little of Rags, Woody Allen's robot dog in Sleeper, though Sox proves far more useful). But Lightyear doesn't really have the tone of a comedy; it's surprisingly ambitious and surprisingly poignant. It's about the pain of living with our mistakes, and about the speed with which our lifetimes seem to get away from us.

Like so many of the Pixar films, it's an impressive, thematically complex piece of work. But despite a second act in which Buzz and his band of pals, voiced by the likes of Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi and Dale Soules, battle invading robots, this isn't a rollicking space opera, and it's a little hard to imagine it being Andy's favorite movie.

Culturally, what may be most significant about the film is that it includes a same-sex marriage, complete with a kiss. The significance isn't so much in the relationship itself, which is peripheral to the story, but rather in the splendidly matter-of-fact manner with which it comes across. Again, it belies the supposed conceit of the movie; it's hard to imagine the intensity of the reaction this element would have stirred up in 1995. But it's cheering to note how commonplace it seems today.

Friday, June 10, 2022


Opening in the multiplexes this weekend:

Jurassic World Dominion--Before discussing this supposed finale to the Jurassic Park series, I should offer my usual disclaimer: I'm a lifelong dinosaur geek. A movie with dinosaurs starts at as much of an advantage with me as, say, a movie about fighter jets does with a military aviation buff.

So take this into account this when I tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic World Dominion. Which I did.

The premise here is that dinosaurs have become a regular fact of contemporary life, usually as a danger or a pest. The movie begins with an enormous Mosasaur ruining the day of a commercial fishing boat, and from there director Colin Trevorrow, working from a script he co-wrote with Emily Carmichael, serves up one sequence after another of Mesozoic mayhem, as the revived reptiles cause traffic accidents, harass children, intrude on industrial sites and so forth. The beasts are also, of course, poached, illegally bred and otherwise exploited by humans.

The plot mixes the characters from the recent chapters, like Chris Pratt's raptor whisperer and Bryce Dallas Howard's Jurassic Park administrator turned dinosaur-liberation activist, with the heroes from the first film, Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum. Pratt and Howard are attempting to recover their adoptive daughter, the cloned child of a deceased JP scientist, as well as a young velociraptor, the offspring of Pratt's beloved Blue. Both have been kidnapped by a bio-engineering firm headed by creepy CEO Campbell Scott, and spirited off to an isolated research facility and dinosaur preserve in the Italian Alps.

Meanwhile Dern, startled by an invasion of locusts the size of baguettes that are decimating crops across the U.S., also suspects that the bio-firm is scheming, in the words of Simon Bar Sinister and Tears for Fears, to rule the world. She recruits her old pal Neill to help her infiltrate the facility, where Goldblum is gadfly-in-residence, and get proof. Eventually both sets of characters, along with an extremely glamorous pilot (DeWanda Wise) and a handful of other sympathetic parties, converge.

Along they way they are menaced by dinosaurs and other genetically-engineered perils. Raptors stalk our heroes through the streets and over the rooftops of Malta like assassins in a Bourne thriller. Dimetrodons chase them through amber mines. A giant flying Quetzalcoatlus attacks a plane in midair. Monstrous Giganotosaurus and sentimental favorite Tyrannosaurus Rex brawl like Japanese kaiju.  And that's aside from the worst outbreak of giant grasshoppers since 1957's The Beginning of the End.

Best of all, maybe, is an eerie, dreamlike sequence in which Therizinosaurus, a predator that resembles an enormous downy pheasant with claws like giant salad forks, towers over Howard as she lowers her pin-up-beauty face into a swampy green pool. This scene is a good example of a strength that has benefitted the whole series but is particularly pronounced in Dominion: the superb sound effects. For all of the movie's visual effects splendors, it's the sounds of the creatures, from the enveloping yet somehow muted bellow of the T-rex to all of the distinctive squawking and hissing and clucking and chittering of the others, that really make them scary.

On the downside, with as much objectivity as I can muster as a sucker for dinosaurs, I must note that the dialogue in Dominion seems bland and inexpressive; even Goldblum has to push his comically diffident delivery harder than usual to wring laughs out his lines. And the story is so unnecessarily scattered that the movie loses momentum at times.

Trevorrow is an admirably free-wheeling talent; he made 2015's Jurassic World a wild ride. With a tighter, more streamlined rescue-mission plot, this one could have been similarly edge-of-the-seat. On the other hand, if it was a tighter movie, it might have lost some of its eccentricity, and therefore some of its magic.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022


With Jurassic World Dominion opening this weekend, Your Humble Narrator has been more than usually preoccupied with dinosaurs, which is surely saying something. Thus, going through stacks of my old comics, I've noticed a recurrent motif:

Kona, Monarch of Monster Isle; Dell 1965:

Fantastic Four; Marvel 1975:

Jungle Action Featuring The Black Panther; Marvel 1975:

Marvel Two-in-One, Marvel, 1983:

Judge Dredd; Eagle Comics 1984:

Aquaman; DC 1992:

Shanna the She-Devil; Marvel 2005:

And finally, Superman in Action Comics; DC 1991:

So, just as Anaïs Nin chronicled her erotic adventures in Paris, and as George Orwell recorded his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, I will here thrill you with a tale from the world of obsessive comic hoarding: I had long sought a copy of that Action Comics issue with the beautiful Kerry Gammill cover, and spent hours in various comic stores and junkshops digging through dusty boxes of old funnybooks hoping to turn one up, without success. I resisted the temptation to simply order one from Amazon or eBay on the grounds that it would be far more satisfying to find one through honest rummaging, and that if I cheated and ordered a copy online I would soon face the bitter comeuppance of then finding it, probably for less money.

But one day, with the kind birthday present of an Amazon gift certificate further weakening me, I broke down and ordered. No joke, TWO DAYS LATER, as I strolled the aisles of a junkshop, I spotted a box of comics, idly flipped through the first two or three in it, and...there it was. For about four dollars less.

So now I have two...