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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Review: Bazodee

Bollywood, Trini Style

By Chris Sabga



Release Date: August 5, 2016 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Todd Kessler
Writer: Claire Ince
Cast: Machel Montano, Natalie Perera, 
Kabir Bedi, Valmike Rampersad, Staz Nair, 
Cindy F. Daniel, Teneille Newallo, Chris Smith, 
Kriss Dosanjh


Bazodee: The Trinidad word for someone who is disoriented or can't think straight.

"Bazodee" is a joyful celebration of Trinidad and Tobago – a Bollywood love story told through infectiously upbeat Soca music. Bright and colorful locations showcase the islands beautifully, but it's the even more colorful people in this film that really capture the country's spicy flavor. They're a unique cast of local characters that could come from nowhere else but Trinidad.

Ram Panchouri (Kabir Bedi) is opening a state-of-the-art resort in Trinidad. His innovative ideas have been described as "visionary." His daughter, Anita (Natalie Perera), is engaged to Bharat Kumar (Staz Nair), who is the son of his business partner (Kriss Dosanjh). Bharat's two brothers, Partiv (Rahul Nath) and Nikhil (Valmike Rampersad), could not be more different. Partiv is nice, shy, and unassuming; Nikhil is suspicious and bitter.

Even though Anita is about to be married, what really sweeps her off her feet is the music of a local legend named Lee (Machel Montano). Such is his level of talent that he was invited to play on the big stages of London. Then he gave up music and "disappeared."

A chance meeting – is there ever any other kind in the movies? – brings Anita and Lee together. His music makes her so "bazodee" that she doesn't think twice about singing one of his songs outside a crowded airport. (Maybe I'll try that the next time I'm in Trinidad!) He recognizes his own lyrics and joins his admiring fan in a duet. Then, just like that, he's back in the music game. It seems a bit sudden, but if someone came up to me and started reciting one of my film reviews, I might feel similarly inspired!

Romance and business, of course, will eventually intersect and inevitably clash.

"Bazodee" breathlessly bounces from one grand celebration to the next: an engagement party, a trip to Pigeon Point in Tobago, and – of course – Carnival (the U.S. equivalent of this world famous Trinidad celebration would be Mardi Gras in New Orleans).

Lee and Anita are such good, purehearted people that it's impossible not to root for them. Even when they're doing wrong, it's for the right reasons. Anita is a natural beauty. She's easy to fall in love with. Everyone will want to "thief" her away from the "Soca boy" after seeing this movie.

Of all the side characters, my favorite is probably Bud (Chris Smith), Lee's best friend and business partner. Like many of the people in this movie, he reminds me of someone I know.

There's a great scene near the end with Lee and his grandmother. Without saying a word, she speaks volumes.


"Bazodee" is filled with authentic Trinidad touches. A large part of the film's charm comes from listening to everyone converse – especially when they use Trini slang (Bazodee, Dred, etc.). Along with the British English accent, there is no accent more pleasurable to hear than a Trinidad accent. It has such a lyrical, rhythmical quality to it. It sounds like family.

Its mentions of London and Miami also ring true. When you're in Trinidad, every part of Florida suddenly becomes "Miami." Even people who have moved from "Miami" to Trinidad eventually start thinking of the entire state as Miami. During the movie, mention is made of someone now living in Miami. I wonder if it's actually Boca, Tampa, Jacksonville, or Tallahassee. Then again, maybe it really is Miami. Now, that would be a twist of M. Night Shyamalan proportions.

One nitpick though, from Silver Screen Sister: "They acted like they drove from Trinidad to Tobago, treating it like it was one island instead of an island nation." I wondered the same thing myself. Unless something has changed very recently, the only way to travel from one to the other is by plane or ferry. Then again, these people sing at the drop of a hat without anyone batting an eyelash. Alas, it is a musical, so such things are bound to happen. If only I could get away with that in real life...

As you walk out of "Bazodee," you might find yourself singing and humming. It's a lovely movie.

"Bazodee" is now playing in "Miami."

Friday, July 29, 2016

Review: My Breakfast with Blassie

A Biting Breakfast of Champions

By Chris Sabga



Where do I even begin with the bizarre "My Breakfast with Blassie"? It was, first and most obviously, a spoof of the movie "My Dinner with Andre." It was also a strange piece of performance art from comedian and actor Andy Kaufman, who was always looking for a controversial reaction. And it served as a late-career showcase for "Classy" Freddie Blassie, who was one of the most feared and despised professional wrestling villains of the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s.

Some background:

Prior to filming "My Breakfast with Blassie" in 1983, Kaufman made the improbable decision to become a pro wrestler. He first faced women in inter-gender matches, much to the chagrin of just about everyone. A progressive Billie Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs moment this was not – nor was it meant to be, of course. A far cry from the sweet and innocent Latka character he portrayed on the hit television show "Taxi," Kaufman's aim inside a wrestling ring was to anger and incite. That led, naturally, to a match between Kaufman and a male wrestler – Jerry "The King" Lawler – which ended with Kaufman's neck being "broken." Then Kaufman took it a step further by getting into an "altercation" with Lawler on national television during "The David Letterman Show."

All of this would be seen as an obvious show business stunt today, but things were much different back then. While enough people certainly understood that pro wrestling was more entertainment than sport, there were still fans who believed, or at least wanted to believe – and no one quite knew what was real and what wasn't when it came to Andy Kaufman. The actor and comedian even spent several days in the hospital after the Lawler match to sell the "injuries he sustained." To further the illusion, he wore a neck brace on-camera for "My Breakfast with Blassie."

Perhaps Kaufman was inspired by the villainy of Freddie Blassie? At one point, Blassie utilized a "vampire" gimmick where he would grotesquely file his teeth and bite his opponents until they bled. According to pro wrestling lore (and repeated in this movie), so shocking was this repulsive spectacle that it triggered a series of heart attacks and eventual deaths among some of the Japanese fans. I have my doubts, but why let that get in the way of a damn good story?

The movie itself:

"My Breakfast with Blassie" is not pretty to look at or listen to. It was shot on ancient videotape and it sounds tinny throughout. But none of that really matters. After all, no one is watching this curious oddity for its cinematography.

It takes place in California at a diner called Sambo's, which named itself right out of business by evoking harmful racial stereotypes. Somehow, I suspect Kaufman knew what he was doing when he chose the location.

Early on, Blassie paternally rubs a pregnant waitress's belly. However, before you think one of the great wrestling bad guys has gone soft, he cackles that they "don't have to tip her so much when we leave now." He later remarks that she's "another one we're gonna have to feed on welfare." It's a horrible, wince-inducing comment. Was Blassie part of the act, in on the joke, or was Kaufman stringing him along too? Keep in mind that Blassie was a consummate showman himself, and the last thing he would have done in his era was "break character" – especially in front of the camera.

Another great exchange involves wet wipes that Blassie brought with him from Japan (his wife was from there). Blassie tries to persuade Kaufman that they're useful for public bathrooms and dealing with fans. This was in a time before OCD was openly recognized, accepted, and celebrated.  

Even though we know now (courtesy of IMDb and other sources) that all of the "customers" in the restaurant were hired to be there, "My Breakfast with Blassie" still provides an interesting look at what celebrities have to go through day after day. Even something simple as eating breakfast is routinely interrupted by fans seeking autographs or just wanting a few moments of their time. "Don't sign autographs for these ding-a-lings!" Blassie barks at one point.

Two of the people in the restaurant were Lynne Margulies ("Legs"), Kaufman's future girlfriend – they actually met during the filming of this – and Bob Zmuda (as the fan who vomited on the table), his longtime writing partner. They were later portrayed by Courtney Love and Paul Giamatti, respectively, in the 1999 biopic about Kaufman, "Man on the Moon." The waitress, though, apparently really worked there.

Wrestling fans will enjoy hearing Blassie recount stories about his reigns as a "champeen" and matches against legends such as Rikidozan, and Kaufman aficionados will certainly appreciate this intimate glimpse of his creative genius and madness. (Sadly, Kaufman died a year later of lung cancer.)

When I first discovered "My Breakfast with Blassie" two decades ago, probably on Comedy Central, I think I took it at face value much more wholeheartedly. But with age comes wisdom, and my eyes were wide open during my most recent viewing. Still, that in no way diminishes the ridiculous kitsch appeal of what's on display here. While I cannot in good conscience call this a "great movie," if you're a fan of either Andy Kaufman or Freddie Blassie specifically, or Hollywood or pro wrestling in general, this "Breakfast" is certainly worth a bite. But you may need a wet wipe afterward.  

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hidden Gems: Sci-Fi Movies That Don't Get the Recognition They Deserve

Four Films Worth a Deeper Look

By Caroline Black



I would like to thank Silver Screen Surprises for publishing this article on their site. I've found them to be a great resource for movie reviews, and I would specifically recommend their review of Little Boy for anyone interested.

It's always an amazing feeling when a hidden gem is found. No matter the medium you’re consuming, it's always an awesome feeling. The problem is that finding these hidden gems can be a major chore. It's funny because it seems like the best chance to find them is to randomly stumble upon them (unless someone catalogs them). Of course, there are also those occasions where a movie is well-known but doesn't get the recognition it deserves. We are going to be taking a look at both here, so here are a few films you should check out:

Men in Black II



Here is a movie that is well-known, but only because of the success of the first film. When "Men in Black" was first released, audiences all across the globe witnessed a critically acclaimed masterpiece. However, "Men in Black II" did not receive the same praise upon its release. As fans of the series know, at the end of the first installment Kay lost all of his memories. "Men in Black II" picked up after those events as Jay was flying solo. He simply couldn't find a good partner. However, later on in the movie, it's revealed that Kay is the only man in the world with the information necessary to save the earth. It’s then up to Jay to bring his partner back and restore his lost memories.

Much like the first installment, the reason "Men in Black II" is so good is because of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. The way these two actors mesh on screen makes this movie worth the watch by itself. Admittedly so, "Men in Black" had a much better villain than its successor. Yet outside of this, "Men in Black II" did a tremendous job of keeping up to the standards of the first installment. It's tough to label this movie as a hidden gem because the franchise is very popular, but it’s absolutely worth a revisit.

Equilibrium


"Equilibrium" is a movie that combines exhilarating sci-fi action with a rather bland story. If the only aspect of this movie that is being judged is the plot, this movie is not particularly outstanding. Yet there is more to movies than a plot. This movie has a breathtaking presentation that transcends its story. In a futuristic world, every single person is restricted from using emotions. If these rules are resisted, repercussions are delivered. However, one day when a government official (Christian Bale) misses his dose of Prozium (which restricts the mind from using emotions), he realizes that emotions are necessary.

"Equilibrium" seems like a clone of "The Matrix," yet we have to ask whether this is actually the case. Since "The Matrix" was a global phenomenon at its time, many movies took a similar approach. There is no doubt that "Equilibrium" felt like "The Matrix" in places, but that didn't ruin the movie. As a matter of fact, it probably ended up helping the movie. Some critics at the time panned it for being more of the same. What critics need to realize, though, is sometimes "more of the same" isn't always a bad thing.

Battle: Los Angeles


Sometimes people can't sit back and appreciate how entertaining a movie can be. This is exactly the case with "Battle: Los Angeles." If it’s taken for what it is, it will be enjoyed. Much like previous alien movies, "Battle: Los Angeles" tells the story of an alien force invading the planet. As the movie progresses, more and more cities are devastated by the alien invaders. The cast of characters then must somehow find a way to stop an enemy unlike any they have ever encountered. "Battle: Los Angeles" does a good job of telling this old, but good, story.

There weren't many aspects that critics enjoyed about this movie. It has been criticized for its lazy editing, lack of originality and poor writing. However, much like "Equilibrium," sometimes more of the same is not a bad thing. In the producer’s defense, alien movies have been done to death. It's not easy to come up with new concepts about them. On the contrary, they do get paid the big bucks for being professional storytellers. While it may not be the greatest movie ever made, it's still an entertaining movie worth a watch.

Knowing


"Knowing" is one of the most creative sci-fi movies that has ever been made. The claim can be made that this movie is far from perfect, but the idea is absolutely amazing. Many years ago, a time capsule was buried and a cryptic message was left inside. Years later, the time capsule is dug up and the cryptic message falls into the hands of John Koestler (Nicolas Cage). The message was just a bunch of random numbers, but soon it is revealed that the numbers are far from random. The numbers document every single major calamity that will take place over the next several years. During his research, Koestler realizes that three of the dates have not happened yet, with the last date signaling the end of the world.

"Knowing" is great because of its plot. As mentioned earlier, however, that's not the only important aspect of a movie. What this movie also does a terrific job with is the suspense factor, as it will leave you on the edge of your seat. The ending of the movie may rub some people the wrong way, but it steered away from being predictable (without giving too much away).

Do you have any thoughts on the above films? Are there any other sci-fi films that simply don’t get the attention they deserve? Please leave a comment below and tell us what you think!

About the Author: Caroline is a freelance blogger and writer who writes mostly about technology and entertainment topics. She loves sci-fi and how it can make our dreams appear right in front of us. She hopes that you go back and check out all of these hidden gems.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Review: Adventures in Babysitting (1987 Original and 2016 Remake)

Three Babysitters in Two Adventures Almost Thirty Years Apart

By Chris Sabga



"Adventures in Babysitting" sits comfortably among the pantheon of 1980s movies not as a classic necessarily but certainly as a warmly-remembered time capsule of a sillier cinematic era. When the 2016 Disney Channel remake was announced, fans of the original expressed doubts. Surely it would be toned down and more childish than the "edgier" PG-13 original. What many people may not realize is that the 1987 version was also from Disney; it was released through Touchstone Pictures, which was Disney's label for films aimed at the teen and adult markets.

The premise of both versions is the same: A harried babysitter (Elisabeth Shue in 1987; Sabrina Carpenter and Sofia Carson in 2016) are forced to drag several children along (Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, and Maia Brewton in '87; Nikki Hahn, Mallory James Mahoney, Madison Horcher, and Jet Jurgensmeyer in '16) to rescue someone stranded in the big city (the hilarious Penelope Ann Miller in '87 and the much younger Max Gecowets in '16). Throughout the night, they're chased by bad guys. Wacky misadventures ensue. Can they get back home before Mom and Dad realize anything is amiss?

The Babysitters

Elisabeth Shue is radiant as babysitter Chris Parker in the 1987 original. Her facial expressions and reactions alone are classic. It is almost unfair to expect Sabrina Carpenter (or Sofia Carson) to live up to that. But Carpenter has a bright future ahead of her and will be a star. Her role in the 2016 film as the prim and proper Jenny Parker (a distant relative of Shue's Chris Parker, perhaps?) is a nice contrast to the wild child with a heart of gold she plays on "Girl Meets World."

It helps that Shue was legitimately an adult at the time compared to her younger co-stars (Keith Coogan, Anthony Rapp, and Maia Brewton). In the film, she's 17 and the two boys are 15, but their age gap was considerably wider in real-life (Shue was almost 24 at the time of the film's release). That made her seem so much more mature and worldly. She came across as a woman in charge of children.

In the remake, one of the babysitters (Carpenter) is the same age in real-life as one of the kids (Max Gecowets, who plays Trey). While there is an age difference between the characters in the movie, and it can be argued that the boy playing Trey probably looks slightly younger than he really is, the contrast between the babysitter and the "baby" isn't nearly as strong.

It also works in Shue's favor that she was already a major movie star in the '80s because of "The Karate Kid." That made her seem larger-than-life at the time, compared to Carpenter and Carson now, who are known primarily for their work on the small screen.

The Babies

The remake has double the cast – two battling babysitters and twice the amount of "babies" being "sat" – but less is more.

Of the new children, Jet Jurgensmeyer (what a name!) as budding chef Bobby – obsessed with culinary perfection and perpetually frustrated until he gets the right result – is easily the comic standout. On the other hand, while Mallory James Mahoney does a good job as the junior "fashionista" Katy, the character's costuming and makeup reminded me uncomfortably of JonBenét Ramsey – the little girl who competed in beauty pageants and was tragically found murdered in her own home. I realize Katy is probably meant to be a spoof of the ridiculous "Toddlers & Tiaras" reality show, but most reasonable people don't find much humor in that bizarre subculture.

In addition to that, it's a bit absurd that the 14-year-old boy in the 2016 version, Trey (Gecowets), still needs a babysitter and barely anyone acts like this is abnormal – other than one scene-stealing scene where a friend of the teenager's (Joshua Morettin) says breathlessly, "You have a babysitter?! I want a babysitter! She's hot." I laughed. At least in the 1987 original, the babysitter wasn't for the older boy (Keith Coogan's character was actually leaving the house for a sleepover with Anthony Rapp).

With only three kids in the 1987 version, there was ample room for all of them to stand out and shine. Coogan and Rapp are superb as the little teenage freshmen with a crush on the babysitter, but everyone who saw the original "Adventures in Babysitting" will instantly and fondly recall Maia Brewton's role as the little girl obsessed with the comic book hero Thor and her excitement when she finally gets to "meet him."

Thor

After rewatching the movie for the first time in years, I was shocked to discover that "Thor" is only in one scene. In my memory, Vincent D'Onofrio's role (credited as Vincent Phillip D'Onofrio) was so much bigger. That shows the power of his performance.

(By the way, in case anyone still doesn't realize this: Thor from "Adventures in Babysitting" and Private Pyle from "Full Metal Jacket" are portrayed by the same actor. I didn't realize that for twenty years. Yes, I saw "Full Metal Jacket" a child. When it finally dawned on me in the late-'90s or thereabouts that D'Onofrio played both roles, my mind was blown. Other future stars to look out for: Bradley Whitford, George Newbern, and Lolita Davidovich all make appearances.)

When the remake was announced, everyone was nervous to see how the "Thor" aspect of the story would be replicated. Well, as it turns out, the little girl this time (Madison Horcher) is a major roller derby fanatic. With the incredible cast of characters Disney owns, this was the best they could do?! The scene involving quarreling roller derby rivals in a police station is mildly amusing, but the poor kid isn't given much to work with this time around. No one is going to remember her character or obsession fondly two decades from now.

The Nightclub Scene

The big scene shared by both "Adventures" involves the babysitter(s) and kids being chased into a nightclub. In 1987, it's a jazz club and they're forced to sing the blues – "the Babysitting Blues" – in one of the movie's most memorable moments. The 2016 version pits the warring sitters against each other in a "battle rap." I prefer the original version of the concept, but the update is a clever enough modernization.

The remake features a few other scenes, lines, and nods to the original – such as a reference to going out for ice cream and the children's reactions to similar situations.

The City

In both films, the big bad "city" functions as a character of its own – a place where anything can (and does) go wrong, and danger lurks around every dark corner. Whether either movie is an accurate representation of Chicago, I wouldn't know, but they are accurate representations of each other. (The original was filmed in Chicago and Toronto while the remake was shot in Vancouver but is once again supposed to be set in Chicago.)

The Bad Guys

The villains in the 1987 incarnation were bumbling buffoons (after all, only an idiot is going to write important business information on a Playboy Magazine centerfold), but they still had an air of menace. The new bad guys are walking, talking, slipping, falling Disney cartoons. It is ironic that the original was directed by "Home Alone's" Chris Columbus, because it's the remake that's overrun with those types of juvenile gags. It's too goofy at times, even with the ridiculous standards set by the '80s version.

1987 vs. 2016

The original "Adventures in Babysitting" is remembered almost thirty years later for a reason: it's terrific escapist entertainment. The remake will get criticized for being too toned down and "Disney-fied." But let's face it: no "kids' movie" today would get away with the outdated gay and rape jokes that were in the '87 version. Plus, no one reads Playboy anymore. The modern equivalent of that – a kid looking up grown-up material on his iPad – would never fly in a Disney Channel flick, and it would probably bump any other studio's movie up to an "R" rating.

Look, the remake is certainly no classic and likely won't have the long shelf life its predecessor did, but there is still a lot to like about it. It's a fun and serviceable replica. It's more innocent, but the '80s were a tougher time with tougher kids.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Remembering Anton Yelchin

Soulful and Versatile, Anton Yelchin Lit Up the Silver Screen

By Chris Sabga

This one is hard.

Hearts in Atlantis (2001)

I first saw Anton Yelchin as a child actor. He had a small part in the 2001 thriller "Along Came a Spider," but where I really took notice of him was in the Stephen King adaptation "Hearts in Atlantis" released that same year. It was a starring role for him opposite acting heavyweights Anthony Hopkins and Hope Davis. He was every bit as good as they were. Hopkins was spellbinding on the screen with his commanding presence and quiet intensity, but Anton Yelchin matched the master every step of the way with his own pure-eyed performance that conveyed a genuine innocence.

The word "tragic" is overused, but that's the only way to describe Anton Yelchin's death on Sunday at the too-young age of 27. The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner's Office told People.com that "Yelchin's body was found pinned between a car and a gate."

In a DVD extra for "Hearts in Atlantis," Hopkins raved about Yelchin's enormous acting talent and said he hoped his young co-star would stick with the craft. Yelchin did just that. He never stopped acting and became one of the rare few who transitioned seamlessly to adult roles.

A few weeks ago at the urging of a friend, I finally watched the flawed but fascinating "House of D" from 2004. Once again, Anton was paired up with elite actors – Robin Williams, Téa Leoni, and Frank Langella, among others – but it was his shining presence that gave "House" its heart and carried this messy, muddled, but ultimately memorable film.

Of all of Anton's performances as a child, he's probably best known for his memorable work as teenage kidnap victim Zack Mazursky in 2006's "Alpha Dog." I remember watching the trailer week after week. It seemed to run endlessly (the movie was delayed). I can still remember its voiceover narration describing "the rap version of the American Dream." Truth be told, I was so sick of hearing about "Alpha Dog" that I wanted nothing to do with it by the time it eventually came out. Of course, I eventually did see it. In a film filled with the most promising young actors of the day – including Emile Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, and Ben Foster – it was Anton's honest and chilling performance that everyone walked away remembering when the credits rolled at the end.

Star Trek (2009)

After excelling in teen roles such as "Alpha Dog" and "Charlie Bartlett" (with Robert Downey Jr.), Anton got his first big break when he was cast as the young Russian genius Chekov in the 2009 "Star Trek" reboot and its subsequent sequels. Even though Yelchin was born in Russia and probably could have easily emulated a more natural Russian accent, he chose instead to honor the role the way it was originally portrayed by Walter Koenig. "There are certain things that I took, from the fact that he replaced every V with a W which is weird," he explained in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes. "I thought it was important to bring that to the character."

Yelchin was also wonderful in "The Beaver" – a bizarre but oddly compelling drama about the ravages of depression – as the son of Mel Gibson's puppet-obsessed character. In contrast, he was so much fun to watch in the "Fright Night" remake. Those two examples (among many) perfectly demonstrate Yelchin's versatility. He has 65 credits listed on IMDb – an incredible number for someone who was still so young – and he was great in everything I've ever seen him in.

This one is hard.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Now You See Me 2

The Magic is Back

By Chris Sabga



Release Date: June 10, 2016 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action, Comedy, Thriller
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: Jon M. Chu
Writers: Ed Solomon, Pete Chiarelli, 
Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, 
Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, 
Daniel Radcliffe, Lizzy Caplan, 
Jay Chou, Sanaa Lathan, 
Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, 
David Warshofsky, Tsai Chin  


"Always be the smartest guy in the room."

That was "the first rule of magic" according to Jesse Eisenberg's steadfastly self-assured character in 2013's "Now You See Me." In that movie, four magicians robbed a bank in Paris – while they were in Vegas. This time, the tables are turned on them: they escape through a drain pipe in the U.S. – and end up in Macau, China.

Three of the original Four Horsemen are back for magic trick #2. They are J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco). Gone is Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), who "got tired of waiting." Her replacement is the young and spirited Lula (played by the equally young and spirited Lizzy Caplan). As great as Fisher is, I think I prefer the new girl. Out of all of them, she may be "the smartest guy in the room" this time.

Naturally, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is still hot on the trail of the Horsemen – or at least that's the line he's feeding his partners in the Bureau, newcomer Natalie Austin (Sanaa Lathan) and prickly veteran Cowan (David Warshofsky, who was also in the previous film).

If Eisenberg was arguably the "star" the first time around, his charisma and charm are dialed down considerably for the sequel and he takes somewhat of a supporting role and backseat to Ruffalo – although both movies are very much ensemble pieces. I am a bit disappointed that Eisenberg has almost been shuffled off to the side – he was such a dynamic and magnetic presence in the first film – but Ruffalo is a superb actor in his own right.

Neither of them are "the smartest guy in the room" anymore – or are they? As with the first, there are many twists and turns, but the characters played by Eisenberg and Ruffalo are definitely vulnerable and on the run for much of the movie. Arthur Tressler (Morgan Freeman) and Thaddeus Bradley (Michael Caine) – both of whom are returning from the original as well – may or may not have something to do with that.

It looks like The Horsemen have finally met their match when they come face-to-face with tech whiz Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe, in a nice piece of casting – he's best known, of course, for portraying the most famous magician of the modern era, Harry Potter). He wants them steal a chip that will allow him to hack into any computer in the world and decrypt anything it comes into contact with. Hermoine would not approve.

Harrelson has double the screen-time in this sequel – literally. He also plays his long lost twin brother in a situation that gave me traumatic flashbacks to Jack Palance in "City Slickers 2: The Legend of Curly's Gold." But even though the twin character didn't entirely work for me, it was fun to see Woody clowning around again after taking on mostly dramatic roles over the past few years.

"Now You See Me 2" does attempt to explain some of its tricks, but they're mostly ridiculous and implausible – cinematic sleight of hand instead of actual magic. There is one scene with a playing card that defies every rule of logic and even gravity. If they can all throw a tiny card around with such precision, then they missed their true calling – they should be Major League Baseball players instead of magicians. The first movie likely had some of the same issues, but everything seems more excessive this time.

Still, such criticisms are probably missing the point. Did I have fun while I was watching? Absolutely. I was smiling for most of the movie.

There is one small scene in the final few minutes that I loved. It's no more than a tiny exchange between Michael Caine and Daniel Radcliffe, but they make those few seconds shine. Caine is such a delicious cad and Radcliffe has fantastic facial expressions.

The sequel isn't quite as good – are they ever? – and neither is its ending. Silver Screen Friend thought of a much cooler finale, which would have involved the Ruffalo character's father. But "Now You See Me 2" is still a worthy second (magical) act.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai

A Detailed Look Back at Four Friends and a Lifetime of Laughs

By Chris Sabga



When "The Golden Girls" first premiered on television in the September of 1985, it was instantly groundbreaking. Never before had women over 50 been portrayed so warmly and richly. Dorothy (Beatrice Arthur), Rose (Betty White), Blanche (Rue McClanahan), and Sophia (Estelle Getty) were complete and fully dimensional human beings. Nothing was off-limits for these Girls: they grappled with sex, aging, medical problems, gender inequality, political-social-economic issues, and – most hilariously – each other.

30 years later, there is finally a book dedicated to these dazzling dames. My first reaction: What took so long? But "Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai" by Jim Colucci was definitely worth the wait!

From the minute you hold it in your hands, you'll be impressed. So many books today cut corners that it's refreshing to see one that looks and feels like a high-quality publication. With its attractive cover, thick pages, and glossy photos, you'll be proud to display this on your proverbial coffee table.

"Behind the Lanai" doesn't cover every single episode, but it comes close. This is an exhaustive guide to "The Golden Girls" with recaps, interviews, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes from three of the four Girls – Bea Arthur, Betty White, and Rue McClanahan – and an endless array of guest stars and writers. However, If you're expecting nasty gossip or catty feuding, look elsewhere. This is a nice, heartfelt remembrance of one of television's all-time great sitcoms.

Speaking of nice...
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The show was originally going to be called "Miami Nice."

If you didn't grow up in the 1980s, you might not get the reference. Back then, "Miami Vice" – a hip show about two stylish police officers (played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas) – was all the rage. "Miami Nice" was a cute play on that. Thankfully, though, the name was changed along the way. "The Golden Girls" has a much nicer ring to it, don't you think?

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino (among many others) were guest stars.

Yes, that George Clooney. And yes, definitely that Quentin Tarantino. This was early in George's career, and he was already somewhat of a TV fixture – also appearing on shows like "The Facts of Life" and "Roseanne" around this time. There's an anecdote in the book which indicates just how little demand there was for him back in the '80s. Needless to say, fame and fortune would eventually smile in George's direction.

While Clooney already had some experience under his belt when he stepped onto the lanai, "The Golden Girls" was Quentin Tarantino's very first acting job. I wonder if both of them reminisced about their time on the show when they played unlikely brothers in "From Dusk Til Dawn" a decade later?

There was a gay housekeeper – "Coco" – played by Charles Levin.

It's no secret that the Girls had a gay housekeeper in the pilot – pretty progressive for the '80s. His name was Coco and he was played by Charles Levin. However, as these things go, the show was somewhat retooled after the first episode. Levin was dropped from the cast and more focus was placed on the Girls themselves – a wise decision, in retrospect, because Bea, Betty, Rue, and Estelle are still four of the most brilliant comediennes ever to grace the screen.

Fans of both pro wrestling and hilariously bad movies are familiar with Charles Levin too. He's one of the two spineless executives – along with future Oscar nominee David Paymer – in 1989's "No Holds Barred" who was berated by tobacco-slobbering pro wrestler (and WWE Hall of Famer) Stan Hansen for having "teeny wangers" Look up the clip on YouTube and lament how quickly things went downhill for poor Mr. Levin in only four short years!

Another Golden Girl from the Golden Era of TV almost made a guest appearance.

Lucille Ball, of "I Love Lucy" fame, seemed like a natural for a show like "The Golden Girls." While she obviously wasn't one of the four Girls, she was highly sought after for a guest role. Unfortunately, it never happened. As the book so eloquently points out, Lucy had her time in television history and so too did the Girls.

Estelle Getty could never remember her lines.

There's a hilarious anecdote about someone on the set gently asking Estelle for permission to move a prop that contained her dialogue. Her polite response was, "No, you may not." Estelle came from the stage, where months of preparation was the norm. Therefore, she was always a nervous wreck about remembering so many lines so quickly and relied on notes and other shortcuts. Marlon Brando famously did the same thing, so Estelle Getty is in great company. The iconic character of Sophia Petrillo is proof of that.

Recognize the kitchen?

The same kitchen set was actually used on "It Takes Two," a short-lived 1982-1983 sitcom starring another Golden Girl, Patty Duke, and Richard Crenna (of "Rambo" fame).

Bea Arthur almost left the show during the sixth season.

Remember the episode where Dorothy wanted to remarry Stan and the Girls interviewed Debbie Reynolds about becoming their new roommate? All of that was apparently in case Bea decided not to continue with the show. Thankfully, she stuck around for one more season. There were tabloid rumors about on-set squabbles, but the book offers a different – and much milder – explanation: she wanted to perform in the theater.
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If you're concerned that I've spoiled all of the good parts, worry not – I've barely scratched the surface. "Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai" is the most detailed and comprehensive history of "The Golden Girls" you'll find anywhere