Saw a Takashi Miike picture called The Great Yokai War. "Yokai" is a Japanese term for monsters from folklore, as opposed to the more familiar kaiju. It's a kids' picture, about a young boy from Tokyo sent out to live in the countryside with his older sister and his intermittently senile grandfather. When a vengeful spirit appears, the boy gets caught up in a war between warring groups of yokai and must find his courage to become the "Kirin Rider", the hero who will set everything to rights. It's not a bad picture - nothing deep, but an amusing story. Some of the yokai are really trippy, Japanese folklore can get pretty "out there", apparently.

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We watched Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow the other night... what a fun movie. It's got sci-fi military setting reminiscent of Starship Troopers, but with a mind-bendy time travel plot reminiscent of a Phillip K. Dick story. Tom Cruise plays a reluctant soldier who wakes up in the same place every time he's killed, but remembering all his past lives. Basically it's Groundhog Day as an action movie. It's a blast, a really fun sci-fi adventure. 

Also, I re-watched Twilight, the 1994 detective movie with Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman and James Garner. (Also Sigourney Weaver, Reese Witherspoon, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schrieber, and Margot Martindale -- one hell of a cast!) It's solidly neo-noir, with Newman as a retired P.I. digging into the dirty laundry of the past, and I liked it even better the second time around. Also a great, moody score by Elmer Bernstein. It's on Netflix streaming, if anyone's interested.

Last night I stayed up to watch Dear White People on Amazon Prime... I'd expected to watch no more than an hour of it before bed, but it grabbed me immediately and pulled me forward all the way to the end. It's an excellent comedy by Justin Simien that deals with issues of race on an Ivy League campus. One of the main characters is a campus DJ with a show called "Dear White People" where she proclaims things like "the number of black friends you need to not look like a racist has now been raised to two... and no, your weed guy Tyrone doesn't count." She's stirring things up, and winds up elected head of one of the houses on campus. Meanwhile, another black student (Tyler James Williams, who played Noah on Walking Dead), awkward and gay, isn't finding anyplace to fit in. There are plenty of great characters here, and a really compelling movie that doesn't let any of its characters off the hook. It's really fantastic.

I’ve been watching The Trollenberg Terror (1958), a British film starring Forrest Tucker, which is known in the US as The Crawling Eye. Like a number of other British movies of the period it was based on a TV serial. 

Professor Crevett is the director of an observatory on a Swiss mountain. He has summoned his friend Alan Brooks (Tucker), a UN investigator, for help. There have been disappearances on the mountain, and a cloud is hovering by it, always in the same place. The cloud is radioactive. All of this reminds Crevett and Brooks of a mystery they investigated in the Andes. During the night a climber is killed in the shack on the mountain, and his partner goes missing. When searchers find him he ambushes and kills them. Truscott, a journalist, asks Crevett and Brooks what’s happening. They reveal they think the cloud conceals extraterrestrials. The climber turns up at the hotel and tries to kill a psychic woman who has shown herself susceptible to influences coming from the mountain, but Brooks knows something is up due to his Andes experiences and stops him. Overnight he tries again, and Brooks is forced to shoot him. (Conclusion spoiler warning.) The cloud begins to move towards the village. Brooks and co. and the villagers take refuge in the observatory, which is built to withstand avalanches. The aliens turn out to be giant eyes with tentacles. Brooks deduces they’re susceptible to heat. He radios for an airstrike with firebombs, and he and Truscott keep the aliens at bay with Molotov cocktails until the plane arrives. The airstrike kills all the aliens.

The plot has points of resemblance to the Doctor Who story The Abominable Snowman; an alien intelligence invades Earth from the top of a mountain, it conceals itself with cloud, at the climax the cloud moves towards the fortified location where the heroes have taken refuge and there is an attack. Tucker also appeared in the movie The Abominable Snowman (1957), which was based on a Nigel Kneale teleplay. It’s my guess these movies together inspired the Doctor Who story.

The climax struck me as the model for the climax of another Who serial, The Seeds of Doom. The Krynoid besieges the Doctor , Sarah and others in Chase’s mansion and grasps at them with tendrils like tentacles. It’s killed by an airstrike the Doctor calls in.

The film was the last one made at London’s Southall Studios.

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RANDOM HARVEST: Ronald Coleman, Greer Garson, 1942

I came to watch this one in an odd way. As a part of her 2016 reading challenge, Tracy just read The Catcher in the Rye (a book she should have read in school) for the first time. She had such an extreme reaction, I re-read it myself. (I had read it three times previously, but not in the last 30 years.) There's one scene in the book in which Holden goes to the movies and offers his critique. The movie he saw doesn't actually exist, but critics believe the fictional film in the movie is based on Random Harvest. The plots are similar, and I totally agree with Holden's critique.

I saw Deadpool. Man, it was perfect. Perfectly done for the character. That's all I can say right now--it was perfect.

Deadpool had a $150 million opening weekend. Looks like Fox has finally figured out Marvel's recipe for success. Too bad they didn't find it before Fantastic Four!

Hopefully that will not convince them to keep making Fantastic Four movies.

We caught up with a couple of movies we missed when they were in theaters.

The first was Her, which had us going "weird" from the first frame to the last. Set in the near future, it stars Joaquin Phoenix (looking for all the world like Leonard from The Big Bang Theory with a mustache) as Theodore, a lonely divorced man who buys a new operating system for his home computer. This new OS has the capability of constantly absorbing knowledge, to the degree that it develops a personality, dubbing itself "Samantha" after scanning 180,000 possibilities in a book of baby names.

Samantha has the warm, friendly, sexy voice of Scarlett Johansson, and she and Theodore develop an association, then a friendship, then a relationship -- with the ups and downs of a conventional relationship, magnified by the uniqueness of her not actually having a physical, female body. How Samantha tries to solve that problem is one of the hiccups in their relationship.

The story is absorbing; you certainly keep watching, wondering how this utterly unlikely romance plays out, and everything presented is plausible, in the context of this world. But I'd never want to see this movie again.

The other film was Saving Mr. Banks. This is the story of the making of Mary Poppins, the movie, told through the eyes of P.L. Travers, author of the book series. As the movie begins in the 1960s, she is broke; she hasn't written a book in years, and the royaties have dried up. So her agent pushes her to take up the standing offer from Walt Disney to make a movie from the books -- an offer that she has rejected repeatedly over 20 years.

So, she flies to America to the Disney studios, and Walt sets her up with a scriptwriter and two songwriters to work on the story. Travers has final approval over the script, and won't sign over the rights to the book unless Disney satifies her every objection ... and she has more objections than there are grains of sand on the beach. Travers is presented as a uncooperative harridan, reflexively dismissive and disdainful of absolutely everything, and it's rather tiresome.

The story cross cuts with frequent flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, with her two younger sisters, and her weary mother and father -- a ne'er-do-well bank manager whose drinking problem keeps getting him fired time and again. We come to see that the Mary Poppins stories are an idealized version of her personal story, and Disney and his writers don't win her over until they realize the father isn't the villain of the story, but a soul in need of redemption, and write the tale accordingly. It was all right, but no great shakes.

Julie Andrews really doesn't resemble the character, she's more like Angela Lansbury, possibly why Disney later used Lansbury for the similar Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Disney seemed to like the father being the villain idea back then. Hans Conried was both Captain Hook and Wendy's father.

I honestly never got Mary Poppins' popularity. She was rude, bossy, and had that thing about bragging how she was "practically perfect in every way." If she was really perfect why did she feel she needed to keep telling everyone that? Cleary the movie was saying Travers based Poppins on herself.

There was also a movie on the making of the Wizard of Oz, but it took so many liberties I'm surprised L. Frank Baum's family didn't complain.

No, Saving Mr. Banks tells us that Mary Poppins is based on P.L. Travers' aunt, come to help run the household when Dad is on his sickbed.

Not having read the books, I might argue that maybe Angela Lansbury is more like the character in the books, but Julie Andrews might have been the better choice for the movie for any number of reasons. She was available (I have no idea if Angela Lansbury was or wasn't available); she's a bigger movie star than Angela Lansbury -- which is more relevant for making movies than which of the two is a better actress; she's younger and prettier (yeah, yeah, it's sexist, I'll admit); "rude and bossy" comes across better from Julie Andrews than from Angela Lansbury.

In the movie, Travers doesn't say anything about Julie Andrews per se, although she does assert that Mary Poppins is not about joy and frippery but about teaching the hard lessons of life. She does object to Dick Van Dyke. She complains that the Banks' home is too opulent, and the flowers in the window boxes are the wrong type and color, and the children have the wrong name, and she's utterly against it being a musical and the sun is too sunny and the rain is too rainy and nobody knows how to make a proper cup of tea and on and on and on -- she was a quite tiresome old bat.She throws a royal tantrum when she learns about the animated sequence with the penguins, leaving California and going back home to London.

Walt Disney patiently puts up with this because his daughters loved the books and he made a pledge to them he'd make a movie version. And at one point, he is shown to understand why Travers won't let go, recalling how he didn't sell Mickey Mouse to some studio when he was a struggling cartoonist.

I get the notion of a writer not wanting the movie to "ruin" the book, but the older I get, the more I realize that books are books and movies are movies, and each needs to play to its strengths. And if she hated it THAT much, better to just refuse for the 21st year in a row than string everybody along with an incessant series of demands and complaints.

Dick Van Dyke has said his accent was so bad because he was taught by someone that couldn't speak it himself.

That might have been what she was doing, making demands and complaints so they'd give up on the idea. Salesmen often talk people into things they don't want to do, then they struggle to get out of it without coming right out and saying they wish they'd never said yes in the first place. I've had to tell a number of salesmen to stop bothering me because "I'm not interested" or "I'm currently unemployed and can't afford something like that at this time" just made them try all the harder to sell me on things I don't want and don't need. They especially seem to have an obsession with trying to sell me new windows that would cost me more than buying a new car.

Saving Mr. Banks is one of the rare films that the Good Mrs. Benson and I went to see in a theatre during its original release.  (The GMB is far more willing to attend a theatre to see a film than I am; I don't see the point in spending a small fortune on the tickets and concessions to see a film among an audience of noisy people, when I can wait and, later, see it on television at home, where the food is free, the distractions are minimal, and I can stop and roll back the video if I want to recheck a plot point.)

It was a pleasant little film.  I had no major gripes with it; yet, it didn't impress me terribly, either.  In fact, only three things really stick in my mind about it.

1.  I had no trouble with Emma Thompson playing Miss Travers as someone devoutly protective of the image of the character she created.  In fact, I enjoyed the way she stood her ground with Walt Disney, when Disney was undoubtedly accustomed to getting what he wanted when he wanted it. 

I particularly relished the way she dressed down Bradley Whitford's character and everyone else who immediately addressed her by her first name.  That is one of my pet peeves---that every receptionist, cashier, doctor, dentist, salesman, and telemarketer immediately assumes first-name familiarity.  I don't stand on ceremony and insist on being addressed as "Commander Benson"---although I prefer it and it's the most correct form of address---but it better be, at the least, "Mr. Benson" from strangers and professional contacts.  (Last year, my long-time dentist retired and left the business to another dentist.  I was willing to give the new dentist a shot---until I was in the chair when the new dentist came in and she made the mistake of calling me by my first name, adding "I'm Doctor Forrest."  I immediately got out of the chair, left, and found a new dentist.)

2.  The flashbacks were too frequent and intrusive.  Yeah, Travers' father was a ne'er-do-well, full of good intentions but sabotaged himself with drink. And he loved his daughters (but not enough to stop drinking, I would point out).  We got it pretty early on.  The film could have dispensed with one-half to two-thirds of the flashbacks without losing the point, yet making the film move along at a brisker pace.

3.  Tom Hanks, an actor I usually enjoy in anything he does, was a poor Walt Disney.  Part of the problem for me there was I well remember the real Walt Disney, from when he hosted Disneyland in the late '50's and The Wonderful World of Color  in the early '60's.  Mr. Hanks neither looked, nor sounded like the person he was portraying.  This is always a problem when an actor portrays someone with whom I am familiar.  It doesn't take much in the way of physical resemblance or vocal resemblance to the original for a good actor to rise above that.  But, in this case, Mr. Hanks did little more than slap on a moustache and play himself.  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't see him as Walt Disney.

The fourth-act scene, the conversation between Disney and Miss Travers in her London flat, redeems the film's missteps.  At least enough to make me satisfied with it as a whole.

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