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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I liked it too. I thought it was really clever. The way it unfolded really played nicely.

You could see that the director really wanted to make a Coen Brothers movie, but I thought it fell just a little short of that. He has a great future ahead of him.

Richard Willis said:

We just watched Bad Times at the El Royale. It has a lot in common with Coen Brothers movies and also with Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. Anyone who likes this type of movie as I do will enjoy it. Don't bring the kids.

Despite our better judgement, we saw Isn't It Romantic. Rebel Wilson takes her first starring role as Natalie, a schlub with low self-esteem who works at an architectural firm. When she was a child, her mom stomped on her heart for watching Pretty Woman; ever since she's hated romantic comedies.

At work one day, Natalie goes into a three-hour screed about how phony and unrealistic such movies are, with all of the same tropes: the Gay Best Friend, the Mean Girl Frenemy, how the lead is dazzled by Mr. Wonderful but doesn't notice the Boy Next Door, how the lead doesn't want the Boy Next Door until he is seduced by the Femme Fatale, how people spontaneously burst into song and dance in elaborate production numbers, etc., etc., and so forth. 

One day, Natalie gets bonked on the head while getting away from a purse-snatcher. Waking up in the hospital, she finds her life is transformed and everything that happens in a typical romantic comedy is now happening to her! And, as they say, hilarity ensues. 

It was amusing enough, in spite of the fact that I don't like Rebel Wilson very much. (While promoting the movie, Wilson claimed it was the first with a plus-sized woman in the lead. Wrong, lots of people pointed out; Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique got there first. Instead of acknowledging the fans were right, she first claimed that the movies Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique didn't count. When the fans came after her for that, she started blocking them on Twitter. Then people noticed she was blocking only Black people, not White people who were saying the same thing -- so many that it gave rise to the hashtag #RebelWilsonBlockedMe. After a weekend of this nonsense, her publicist must have taken her phone away because she made an actual apology, and even unblocked people.

We saw Five Feet Apart. It's a four-hanky romantic drama about a pair of sick teenagers who fall in love. You might be forgiven for thinking it's the same exact movie as The Fault in Our Stars, but it isn't.

The leads are Stella, played by Haley Lu Richardson, and Will, played by Cole Sprouse of Riverdale. They are in a hospital being treated for cystic fibrosis. Will is in a clinical trial to deal with a strain of bacteria; Stella is hoping for a lung transplant. Also at the hospital is Stella's childhood buddy, Poe, as the Gay Best Friend.

Boy meets girl, and they immediately don't like each other. Stella scrupulously follows her regimen of medications; Will is a young cynic who wonders why the effort is worth it. The lung transplant only buys you five years; the hope is that a cure for CF might be found before you need another one. 

Various things happen to drive Stella and Will apart, and then together -- and to make Stella the cynic and Will the hopeful one, so much so that he makes a painful sacrifice at the end. 

Five Feet Apart was directed by Justin Baldoni, who co-stars on Jane the Virgin. If you like tearjerkers, it's right up your alley.

Continuing my viewing of Marx Brothers movies in random order…

THE BIG STORE: I found a ranking of the 13 Marx Brothers movies online. The last six movies filmed are ranked at the bottom (The Big Store certainly belongs there), and the last four are numbers 10-13 in order of realse. I didn’t see The Big Store for the first time until the early 2Ks, and this was only my second time. Groucho himself rates the sang “Tenement Symphony” from the film as “one of the worst songs ever written.”

A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA: This is the second Marx Brothers movie I ever saw as a kid (following Go West), and I would rank it higher than the #12 it earned online. I always thought it would make a good double-feature with Casablanca. Speaking of which, Warner Brothers filed suit against Adventure in Casablanca (the film’s original title) as being too similar to their own Casablanca. MGM countered by changing the title to A Night in Casablanca, which was more similar to A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. that wasn’t the end of it, though. Later, when WB was filming a movie about the life of Cole Porter titled Night and Day, Groucho sent a letter telling them the title was too similar to their films.

I always considered Love Happy and  Room Service to be other peoples films with the Marx Brothers as guest stars. And I pretend A Night In Casabalanca never happened.

Thanks for the Marx Bros. tour, Jeff! I don't think I've seen them all. I already know they don't hold up that well, but I love them anyway. I remember watching The Big Store in high school and feeling embarrassed for them ... but I still watched it to the end.

The wife and I finally watched Gravity. Pretty predictable, but very pretty and with two of our favorite actors. My wife liked it, but her first comment was "we should have watched that on the big screen." She is right, of course.

“Thanks for the Marx Bros. tour, Jeff!”

You’re welcome! Continuing…

LOVE HAPPY: This is the last film the Marx Brothers made together, and it is ranked dead last online. It would be difficult to justify a higher ranking. According to Groucho, Harpo had the idea that he could become the next Charlie Chaplin and plotted the movie as a solo vehicle for himself. No studio had any interest in producing the movie unless all three brothers were involved. Besides, Chico needed money again, so Groucho reluctantly agreed. Groucho’s part took him only four days to film. He does not appear alongside his brothers until that last 10 minutes of the film, one scene with Harpo, one with Chico. Never are all three brothers on screen at the same time.

I forgot to mention the other day that The Big Store (1941) was to have been their last film. It was even promoted that way, but Chico ran out of money so they got together again for a second “final” film, A Night in Casablanca (1946). Their third and truly final “final” film was LOVE HAPPY (1940). It is widely known as Marilyn Monroe’s first film, but blink and you’ll miss her. She is in only one scene and delivers only one line. Also in the film are Ilona Massey and Raymond Burr, which I had forgotten. This is another Marx Brothers movie I have seen only once before, when I got it on DVD in the early 2Ks.

I watched Vice last night. There was a lot that I did not know about Dick Cheney and a lot I never knew. Extremely well-acted by Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Tyler Perry, and Allison Pill.

Continuing my look at Marx Brothers movies in random order.

THE COCOANUTS: I thought I’d follow up the Marx Brothers’ last movie (Love Happy) with their first. I recently referred to Animal Crackers as my favorite of the early films. The Cocoanuts is my least favorite. Not only is it the very first Marx Brothers movie, it’s one of the first talkies, period. As such, it’s not very technically proficient. The sound is kind of fuzzy, and the shots are very static. Consequently, it’s probably very much like what seeing The Cocoanuts on stage would have been like. Except that, used to wandering around and delivering their lines from anywhere, the Marx Brothers had to learn to hit their marks. Also, they couldn’t ad lib as much as they were used to, because the microphones tended to pick up stray noises and translate them as “fuzz.” A musical dance number was shot from a bird’s eye view (this was still years before the famous Busby/Berkley musicals), and even the reviews (from one of my books) were still inventing the language of movie reviews. I appreciate it, but it’s still not my favorite.

MONKEY BUSINESS: If I thought Animal Crackers was a bit disappointing when I re-watched it recently, I didn’t feel that way at all about Monkey Business. It was fast-paced and frenetic, both in dialogue and action, just the way I remembered it. I think the reason Animal Crackers had been my favorite is that I still thought of it as something of a rarity. It had been tied up in rights issues for years, and finally released to the theaters on a double-bill with a revival of The Sting (still my favorite double-feature except for maybe Bugs Bunny Superstar and Monty Python and the Holy Grail). One year, the day we returned home from a 10-day vacation, Animal Crackers was being shown on prime-time network TV for the first time ever.

I tell you, I could have recited the dialogue right along with Monkey Business when we watched it Saturday (but for Tracy’s sake I didn’t). One thing I do like is finally “getting” jokes that had eluded me in my youth. For example, the following exchange from Monkey Business:

SHIP CAPTAIN: I ought to have you thrown in irons!

GROUCHCO: You can’t do it with irons, it’s a mashie shot.

First of all, I was never sure of exactly what he was even saying, but last night it came to me. (It’s a golf joke.) And from The Cocoanuts:

GROUCHCO: Now let me show you these blueprints. Do you know what blueprints are?

CHICO: Sure, oysters.

I never did get that one, either, until Saturday night it just came to me: it’s a pun on Blue Point Oysters.

I never did get that one, either, until Saturday night it just came to me: it’s a pun on Blue Point Oysters.

So that's what it means! I had never heard of Blue Point Oysters until I read your post. Is that the origin of Blue Oyster Cult's name as well?

Sadly, no. According to the almighty internet: "Pearlman had also come up with the band's earlier name, 'Soft White Underbelly', from a phrase used by Winston Churchill in describing Italy during World War II. In Pearlman's poetry, the 'Blue Oyster Cult' was a group of aliens who had assembled to secretly guide Earth's history." He may have gotten the name from Blue Point Oysters, however.

Ok, I don't want to break the conversation on the Marx Brothers ('cuz I'm a fan. My favorite is "Duck Soup". Frankly, it's  brilliant....and funny); but, more currently, I saw SHAZAM.

Once again, I'm sure it's reviewed elsewhere; but' me being me, here is my take on Shazam: This movie had more than its' share of laughs; but, it wasn't a straight up comedy. Yes, it was funny; but, in a very real sense. Where else do you get to experience what its' like to be a teen-ager that suddenly finds himself with superpowers (even if you're not sure what they are?)? Of course, you do what a fifteen year old boy would do. Even so, the ever pervading "pure of heart" question looms. This Billy Batson is by no means a saint. He is a fifteen year old boy. But yet, his intentions are indeed, pure. I believe this plays out in the end, bringing laughter along the way. More important than the made me smile. In other words, on some level, I could relate. On some level, I was fifteen again.

Now, if you are a comic book purist, you may be somewhat disappointed. First off,  Sivanna, is less a scientist than he is a would be sorcerer (although, this is not entirely out of character). True, he is referred to as "Doctor", leading one to believe he does possess the credentials (likely in psychology,  by what I can see); but, he's definitely more obsessed with the supernatural than fans may be accustomed to. All in all, this is not an issue for me. I found it to be a good portrayal, over all. Don't let this ruin it for you. The dynamic between Billy and Sivanna is properly established. That's good enough for me. Second, Mary (Batson) is not established as Mary Batson (she's just "Mary"). Again, don't let this ruin it for you (the character holds her own, sister or not. Heck, she may very well be a Batson. We may not know it yet). There are several other deviations from tradition. None take away from the story.

If you enjoy the character, you'll enjoy this film. It captures the essence of the character, in a current fashion. Without question, I want a sequel (which is more than I can say for DC's other contributions to cinema, in general).


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