THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO

by Alan Yudman

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!

If you do not know what that means, well I weep for your misspent youth. Or maybe you are simply too young to know the joys of the 1960’s adventure series THE THUNDERBIRDS. The original was produced for British TV by ITC and brought to the viewers in “Supermarionation”. Yup, a bunch of puppets. But it was awesome. And now it is back thanks to Amazon Prime!

A brief history. The series was set in the future where Jeff Tracy and his sons Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan ran the organization International Rescue. When things when horribly wrong, one of the boys would show up in one of four rescue vehicles known as Thunderbirds. Number 1 was a kind of rocket plane. Two was a do it all hauler/rescue vehicle that looked liked a big hippo and carried all manner of equipment to where it was needed. Three was a real rocket/spacecraft. Four was a kind of rescue submarine that looked very James Bond-ish. There was also Five, which was an orbiting space station that monitored the world looking for trouble. The Tracy’s were assisted by Brains, the guy who built all the Thunderbirds and all manner of gadgets. Also, Lady Penelope and her chauffeur Parker, who were spies driving around in the coolest car you’d ever seen. Their nemesis was The Hood, who was trying to of course, take over the world.

There was the series, a movie and then in the early 2000’s Universal tried making a live action version directed by Jonathan Frakes. It was awful. So, how would a reboot do? Thanks to the advent of streaming services there are more avenues to try out this type of thing. Thank goodness, because this was well worth it.

Yes, THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO is distributed under Amazon’s Kids banner, but if you were a fan of the original series there is plenty here for you. I was overwhelmed by nostalgia. The only negative for me was the stilted, sometimes too kiddie dialogue. A lot of “bro” and “yeah” and high fives to punctuate the end of a set piece. But that is easily overlooked. The rest is completely true to the original, including the stirring theme music which is honored and updated. The Thunderbirds look nearly identical to the original models. But, they are better because this is all computer animation. You can do stuff with computers you could not do with puppets. The characters are true to their original arcs and the voice acting is good if not great. And Rosamund Pike voices Lady Penelope! Wow!

The updated version twists the original in a good way. Jeff Tracy has vanished in a crash, which will give the boys fodder for future episodes. The vaguely racist character of TinTin has been replaced by a kick-ass young woman named Kayo, a spy who pilots a brand new Thunderbird called Thunderbird S. Her storyline is complicated by the fact that her uncle is The Hood, a something none of the Tracy’s are aware of. So as you can see there is a lot to chew on.

This is definitely kid friendly. While people are in peril, they always get rescued and each of the first season’s 12 episodes ends on a high note. I’m loving it and if you adored the original, get an Amazon Prime subscription and share this with your children.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME

by Alan Yudman

Richard Linklater specializes in telling very real stories about very real people. From the SUNRISE/SUNSET trilogy to BOYHOOD to DAZED AND CONFUSED, Linklater’s characters don’t do outrageous things or exhibit outrageous behavior by Hollywood standards. His stories are about life. His latest, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME follows that same path.

It is the story of a college freshman baseball player and his house full of teammates. It takes place in 1980, in the days before the fall semester begins. Jake arrives with his record collection, clothes and dreams of playing college baseball. He meets his housemates, and while they are all on the baseball team, they are not what we now think of as college athletes. One is a pro prospect, another is thoughtful and philosophical, another is kinda crazy, a few are green and unsure. So in other words, a microcosm of what normal college life might be like.

There are a lot of funny situations and a lot of outrageous college frat-type behavior. But none of it feels fake or outsized. I felt I was watching something that actually happened at a place and time it could have happened. That is probably not far from true. Linklater was a college baseball player, so it is not a stretch to think that is the source for a lot of this material.

The soundtrack is amazing. It is a time capsule of my own college experience. If you are into vinyl, wait for the LP rather than the CD or iTunes download. From what I’m seeing there are a lot more songs on vinyl than any other format.

The film is full of winning performances by a group of actors I had never heard of before this film. Blake Jenner (of Glee) plays Jake with a combination of innocence and self-confidence. He tests his boundaries, mostly without horrible consequences. This is what I have noticed about most of Linklater films. His characters go into a situation and you start girding yourself for the most horrible thing that could happen. Instead, the worst that happens is that they learn something about life and about themselves.

That is why I love Linklater films so much. I feel I am peering into a window, looking at life. Shock and awe never get in the way of telling a good story. All filmmakers should aspire to the same.

GREEN ROOM

— by Jeff Schultz

A nasty piece of ugliness that has no juicy villains (not even Patrick Stewart), has victims you don’t care about, and looks as murky as the sound is muddy. (Whole chunks of the beginning are mumbled.) The blood-spurting, faces-blown-off gore that finally arrives after a crawling start doesn’t rate as much as a blink. Not only is the slaughter stale, but whether it’s one of the innocents or one of the skinheads who gets it, makes no difference, has no punch. By the end, you can’t even quite remember which ones got killed. And when **spoiler alert** the “heroes”, the usually likable Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, get away with their lives, you’ll probably feel as nastily uncaring as the movie’s last line, which involves not giving a shit.

HARDCORE HENRY

— by Jeff Schultz

SHOOT ‘EM UP meets CRANK in this teenage boy’s wet dream of a never-stopping, all-shooting, all-killing, blood-spattered and literally gut-wrenching, endlessly brutal exemplar of bang-bang bravado.This is a movie whose excess is the point, whose body count must rank among the highest ever, but whose storyline is barely comprehensible (to me, anyway). It might have been clearer with subtitles; thick accents muddy the dialog, made worse by a loud, pounding underscore that runs almost throughout. There’s a major gimmick here: the entire movie is shot from the point-of-view of Henry, a rogue cyborg on the run. Because Henry is always breathlessly escaping or fighting or blazing gunfire, the technical challenge of doing it all POV is impressive. If this sort of flick gets your heart racing, you’ll enjoy the ride. Others may find it exhausting.

THE BOSS

— by Jeff Schultz

At some point, we hope, a project will come along that makes full use of Melissa McCarthy’s talent. THE BOSS ain’t it. It’s a mess, and although I can’t come down too hard on it, since I did laugh out loud often, the plot is thin, the complication sappy, the outcome forced — plus, much of the comic timing is just off, leaving jokes to shiver in unsupported silence. By now, McCarthy has perfected the steadily mounting insult, here especially in her in-your-face put-downs of a snotty scout troop mom. But in this story of a slapped-by-reality, orphanage-raised woman who, before her downfall and prison sentence, climbed ruthlessly to the top of the business world, powered by rage at having been abandoned as a child, the filmmakers also want us to believe that she is utterly helpless once released from lockup and utterly without a filter in her dealings with, well, everybody. Sometimes it works, but a lot of the time it’s just ridiculous, and not in an especially funny way. Plus, since the movie stars the reigning queen of R-rated comedy, there are obligatory genital gags, one about Melissa’s vagina, the other about fellatio, which have all the comic punch of 13-year-olds snickering over dirty words. Of the supporting cast, Kristen Bell is so bland she makes vanilla seem like sriracha. Timothy Simons, so awesome on “Veep”, plays almost the exact same character, but in a vacuum. The biggest surprise is Tyler Labine, who has left his chubby slacker/stoner persona behind, cleaned himself up, and become, of all things, a rom-com hunk!

THE INVITATION

— Jeff Schultz

There are two gripping scenes in this tense but overlong thriller which may make you thirsty because its premise requires swallowing a pretty big grain of salt. One involves the lead (Logan Marshall-Green) and key recipient of the dinner party invitation, who is skeptical from the get-go and who a little past the halfway point erupts in rage, calling out the party hosts for their unquestionably bizarre behavior. The other is a monologue from the great John Carroll Lynch (so memorably menacing in “Carnivàle”) about coming to terms with his wife’s violent death. But from the moment the party begins until its convulsive finale there are so many big honking warning signs that sticking around is not a good idea, you become frustrated with the guests’ blindness and willingness to stay. Plus, Green’s character as written is a drip, a grief-stricken introvert who’s less sympathetic than merely a drag. Fortunately, Tammy Blanchard and, more subtly, Michiel Huisman as the hosts generate the right creepy/dangerous vibe to keep us on edge until and after the mystery reveals itself.

HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS

— by Jeff Schultz

One of our Fox-11 Entertainment anchors raved about this movie, mostly because of Sally Field’s star turn. Field, as usual, shines. But it was another name that got me into the theater: Michael Showalter, a genius of American comedy, whether as actor, writer, or here as writer-director. And although this is a very safe, very predictable, slightly bittersweet tale of an impossible, one-sided romance, it’s as embraceable as the lovable almost-loser at its center. There’s a big hurdle to get past here: Sally Field is 69 (and playing a role close to that age). The object of her workplace crush, drop-dead-handsome and charming Max Greenfield, is 35. We are asked to believe that Doris could think a relationship between them is a possibility. That leads to fish-out-of-water scenes such as Doris at an EDM concert, embraced as hip despite her cluelessness — and warnings from her best friend (a spectacular Tyne Daly — maybe the best performance in the film) about the pitfalls of what she’s getting into. You can see the heartbreak coming, twice, and it’s easy to figure out how it will all wind up. But getting there is delightful, thanks to a cast that, besides Daly and Greenfield, includes Stephen Root (kind of villainous at first, but then touchingly emotional), nasty Wendy McLendon-Covey (from TV’s “The Goldbergs”), and cool alt-musician Jack Antonoff. (Sadly, Rich Sommer of “Mad Men”, is completely wasted.) The very last line in the very last moment at first seems calculated, in that studio-imposed way, to send the audience home in a good mood. But as I think back on it, that moment doesn’t have to lead to a phony, fairy-tale ending. It could simply be a kind gesture, and that’s enough.