Planes: Fire & Rescue

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Planes_fire_rescue_poster

The visuals are stunning, the details are witty, the 3D effects are splendid,  the songs are lively, the voice actors are top-notch, but the storyline feels like an episode of “Thomas the Tank Engine.”  That’s when it was still analog and old-school and before it went to animation, but still — especially as the gender politics of this film are uncomfortably old-school as well.

Last year’s Planes added another mode of transportation to the charmingly retro world of Cars. A plucky crop-duster named Dusty (Dane Cook) learned to race and became a champion. As this movie begins, he is an international superstar. But his vintage gearbox has been worn down by the races, and no replacement is available. Dusty is going to have to find something that is as meaningful to him as racing.

When he accidentally starts a fire at Piston Peak National Park, Dusty sees that old Mayday (Hal Holbrook), the fire and rescue truck is not quite up to the task.  More important, he is not up to code.  The stern Transportation Management Safety Team inspector informs them that they need more capacity if they are going to stay in business.  That means some upgrades for Mayday and it also means a second firefighter.  Dusty feels responsible. And if he cannot race, he has to find something new to do, to help make up for his mistake. So he agrees to take the training to become a certified fire fighter.

Dusty is welcomed by the team, including the flirtatious Lil Dipper (“Modern Family’s” Julie Bowen), the heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter (Wes Studi), ex-military transport Cabbie (Captain Dale Dye) and The Smokejumpers, a brave collection of all-terrain vehicles who leap out of the planes and parachute down to the fire.  But he stern Blade Ranger (Ed Harris), who is in charge of the training facility, is not at all sure Dusty is up to the task.

The action sequences are very well staged and the effects, especially the water and sky images, are truly astonishing. The usual pun-studded, meta humor for the series shows up throughout, from the show business trade news magazine titled “Cariety” to a female vehicle dismissing a lame come-on with a cool, “Pick-up trucks!” The choicest surprise is a videotape with a car-ified version of a classic television series, with that very recognizable series star contributing a character voice.  Of course the television show appeared in the late 70’s-early 80’s, so it is likely to be over the heads of today’s children and their parents, too.

The real villain here is the fire, of course, but there is also a comic villain, a pompous administrator voiced by John Michael Higgins.  But the movie never works up much interest in him or his schemes, and the post-credits stinger barely stings.

More troubling is the poor treatment of the female characters, despite being called out for that same problem in the first one.   At least in the original, the female characters were capable and independent.  Poor Bowen is relegated here to a role that recalls the man-chasing stereotypes of television in the 1960’s, often played by Rose Marie or Ann B. Davis.  She is constantly trying to tell Dusty that they are on a date and, when he politely says they will be going as a group, dementedly agrees that it is a good thing for her to meet his friends until he reminds her that the firefighting team members are her friends.  And a major plot twist occurs when the previously ultra-capable mechanic voiced by Teri Hatcher is casually outdone by a male character.  It’s completely unnecessary, it subverts the primary premise of the storyline, and it demeans the female mechanic for no reason.  It isn’t Dusty who’s got filings in his gearbox.  It’s the script.

Parents should know that this film includes peril, including fire, collapsing bridge, rapids, engine failure, action and some violence (no one irreparably hurt, but a reference to a sad death), and some bathroom humor.

Family discussion: Who in this movie has to decide how to handle it when their plans do not work out? How do you think about your own back-up plans?  What does “better than new” mean?

If you like this, try: “Cars” and “Planes”

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List: Movies About Lincoln

Posted on February 12, 2014 at 8:00 am

Happy birthday, Abraham Lincoln!

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Celebrate the birthday of our 16th President with some of the classic movies about his life. Reportedly, he has been portrayed more on screen than any other real-life character.  I was honored to be invited to participate in the 272-word project from the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois.  Each of us was asked to contribute an essay that was, like the Gettysburg Address, just 272 words.  Here’s mine:

Two score and six years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, he was first portrayed in the brand-new medium of film. 102 years and over 300 films later, Lincoln has appeared on screen more than any other historical figure and more than any other character except for Sherlock Holmes. In 2013 alone there were three feature films about Abraham Lincoln, one with an Oscar-winning performance by Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg. In another one, he was a vampire slayer. He has been portrayed by Henry Fonda (John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln,” Raymond Massey (“Abe Lincoln in Illinois”), Walter Huston (D.W. Griffith’s “Abraham Lincoln”), and Bing Crosby – in blackface (“Holiday Inn”). The movies have shown us Lincoln defending clients, mourning Ann Rutledge, courting Mary Todd, and serving as President. We have also seen him traveling through time with a couple of California teenagers in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and granting amnesty to Shirley Temple’s Confederate family in “The Littlest Rebel.”

Lincoln is appealingly iconic as a movie character, instantly recognizable as a symbol of America’s most cherished notion of ourselves: unpretentious but aspiring for a better world and able to find both the humor and integrity in troubled times. In every film appearance, even the silliest and most outlandish, he reminds us, as he did in The Gettysburg Address, of what is most essential in the American character: the search for justice.

PS My husband and I waited for two hours outdoors on a frozen January 1 to view the Emancipation Proclamation on its 150th anniversary. When I saw it, I wept. A security guard whispered, “I know how you feel.”

The Steven Spielberg epic, Lincoln, based on Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, with Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis.

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Based on Bill O’Reilly’s book:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-J3LhG46ZY

Young Mr. Lincoln Directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda, this is an appealing look at Lincoln’s early law practice and his tragic romance with Ann Rutledge. Particularly exciting and moving are the scenes in the courtroom as Lincoln defends two brothers charged with murder. Both have refused to talk about what happened, each thinking he is protecting the other, and Lincoln has to find a way to prove their innocence.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcuUvtenx6w&feature=related

Abe Lincoln in Illinois Raymond Massey in his signature role plays Lincoln from his days as a rail-splitter to his law practice and his debates with Stephen Douglas. Ruth Gordon plays his wife, Mary.raymond massey lincoln

Gore Vidal’s Lincoln Sam Waterston and Mary Tyler Moore star in this miniseries that focuses on Lincoln’s political strategies and personal struggles.

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Sandburg’s Lincoln Hal Holbrook plays Lincoln in this miniseries based on the biography by poet Carl Sandberg.

 

 

 

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Tribute: Dixie Carter

Posted on April 11, 2010 at 8:27 am

Dixie Carter, the lovely and elegant star of Designing Women, died yesterday at age 70. I am a huge fan of the show and its portrayal of successful, independent, outspoken women who shared a deep and loyal friendship as well as a thriving business. The show addressed many controversial topics during its run including one of the first sympathetic depictions of a gay man with AIDS as well as many variations of the ups and downs of male-female relationships, aging, loss, family, and racism. It was a rare program set in the urban South. Its theme song was “Georgia on My Mind.”

Carter played the oldest of the group, Julia Sugerbaker, sister of the self-involved beauty queen played by Delta Burke as Suzanne. Carter was known for her outspoken rants on liberal subjects, though Carter herself was quiet and conservative. Her real-life husband, the distinguished actor Hal Holbrook, played her boyfriend in many episodes. Here is one of my favorite moments on the show, where Julia, despite her misgivings about the superficial and undignified aspects of beauty competitions, comes to her sister’s defense.

Some of my other favorites included the women’s impulsive trip to Graceland and the time they came up with an exceptionally clever way to stop the local construction workers from taunting and insulting them as they walked by. And I quote this line quite often:

Carter was also a cabaret performer and appeared on stage. I was privileged to meet her once at a Broadcast Film Critics Association event and it was an honor to be able to tell her how much her performance on “Designing Women” meant to me. She was every bit as gracious and kind as I could have hoped.

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