Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 8: Battle in the Clouds

Nowhere near as many wipes this chapter, but that lack doesn’t really help things. The cliffhanger resolve is another reveal one; turns out it wasn’t the bad guys shooting those guns off-screen, it was the good guys. So there wasn’t really a cliffhanger at all.

Like always. It’s never a cliffhanger in Dick Tracy and Ralph Byrd is never in danger. Except he can be sucker-punched. Even though he can literally fend off five thugs in a fist fight, Byrd goes down for the count with a single sucker punch. Byrd also doesn’t pay attention to people warning him about incoming sucker punches either.

This chapter once again brings in the two old white guys (one credited–Edwin Stanley–and one not–Louis Morrell) to remind the viewer Byrd still hasn’t found out anything about his missing brother. The missing brother has actually been brainwashed and given plastic surgery to become villain Carleton Young. That situation hasn’t changed since the first chapter. There also haven’t been any developments on it. No idea why anyone thought the expository old white men were necessary.

But most of the story has to do with (also uncredited) Ann Ainslee and her (credited) father, Wedgwood Nowell. He designs fast airplanes, she test pilots them. The Spider Gang wants the plans to the latest project. Not for themselves, but for a foreign power. It’s up to Byrd to protect the plans.

He almost succeeds, but it turns out sidekick Smiley Burnette is actually so stupid he can’t relay a message to Fred Hamilton and the bad guys get away. The latest example of Burnette’s abject stupidity comes after he says Ainslee can’t fly planes because she’s a woman. Not to her face, just behind statically smiling Kay Hughes.

Even Lee Van Atta has started picking on Burnette for being an idiot.

Without any action to distinguish Battle in the Clouds–the battle is the bad guys shooting shotguns out their aircraft’s gun portals at the super-plane–it’s a particularly trying chapter.

At least the wipes are back to a tolerable level and there aren’t crappy inserts. But it’s clearly going to be a long seven chapters to the finish.

CREDITS

Directed by Ray Taylor and Alan James; screenplay by Barry Shipman and Winston Miller, based on a story by Morgan Cox and George Morgan and the comic strip by Chester Gould; directors of photography, Edgar Lyons and William Nobles; edited by Edward Todd, Helene Turner, and William Witney; produced by Nat Levine; released by Republic Pictures.

Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Kay Hughes (Gwen Andrews), Smiley Burnette (Mike McGurk), Lee Van Atta (Junior), John Picorri (Moloch), Carleton Young (Gordon), Fred Hamilton (Steve Lockwood), Francis X. Bushman (Chief Clive Anderson), Wedgwood Nowell (H.T. Clayton), Louis Morrell (Walter Potter), Edwin Stanley (Walter Odette), Ann Ainslee (Betty Clayton), and Milburn Morante (Death Valley Johnny).


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Lick the Star (1998, Sofia Coppola)

The opening narration of Lick the Star, which isn’t from the same character as the end narration, explains the ground situation. Ostensible protagonist Christina Turley has just returned to school after her father accidentally ran over her foot. So she’s on crutches. She worries her group of friends has ostracized her for her absence. Good news, they haven’t. Bad news, Turley and her friends are the seventh grade bad girl bully clique.

Audrey Kelly plays the leader, who loves V.C. Andrews books (which almost feels like writers Stephanie Hayman and director Coppola are stereotyping), wears make-up, smokes, gets objectified most by the little boys. And, the age thing is one of the short’s biggest visual problems. Kelly and her crew look older than the middle schoolers they’re bullying. It filmed on location at a middle school, which probably no doubt accounts for some of the awful acting–though given Peter Bogdanovich is terrible in his cameo, amateur actors don’t account for all the acting problems–and the girls are bullying little kids.

Coppola and Hayman move away from Turley as protagonist and de facto give it to Kelly. The short becomes fixated on her glamour, then her cruelty, then her abuse (from the male classmates). She’s got a plan though (straight from V.C. Andrews). Poison the boys with arsenic.

The short only runs thirteen minutes and Coppola is more concerned with montage sequences set to (some good, some bad) indie rock. It’s not diegetic and doesn’t seem like anything the characters would like, so it causes a disconnect. The cast’s painful delivery of the expository dialogue or the mood-breaking montages. Pretty soon, the short becomes a toss-up of what you don’t want to sit through more.

Coppola’s composition is good. Her direction of the cast is awful. The short initially promises some kind of insight into the tween angst, then gets distracted from it (losing protagonist Turley almost entirely by the three-quarter mark), then brings her back to passively witness the finale. Coppola doesn’t even bother trying to straight-face that finish, cutting away from Turley as soon as she can.

Decent black and white photography from Lance Acord.

Lick the Star is thirteen minutes of mediocre disappointments.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Sofia Coppola; written by Stephanie Hayman and Coppola; director of photography, Lance Acord; edited by Eric Zumbrunnen; produced by Coppola, Andrew Durham, and Christopher Neil.

Starring Christina Turley (Kate), Audrey Kelly (Chloe), Julia Vanderham (Rebecca), Lindsy Drummer (Sara), Rachael Vanni (Wendy), and Peter Bogdanovich (Principal).


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Dick Tracy (1937, Ray Taylor and Alan James), Chapter 7: The Ghost Town Mystery

The Ghost Town Mystery has a lot of wipes. Half wipes, quartering wipes, circular wipes. Wipe, wipe, wipe, wipe. I swear there haven’t been this many wipes in the serial until now. There’s also some terrible insert shots of lead Ralph Byrd when he’s listening to someone. Edward Todd,
Helene Turner, and William Witney’s editing hasn’t been stellar or anything up to this chapter, but it’s real bad here.

Especially once they get to the ghost town and have a shootout. Directors James and Taylor utterly bungle it.

There’s also some serial standards, like Byrd coming across the next clue right as the cliffhanger resolves. Good thing the bad guys dropped a newspaper folded to the ghost town. It’s not a ghost town, actually, it’s a gold mine claim. The owner’s Milburn Morante. He’s an eccentric Western hick, mixing various stereotypes in a bad performance.

Really, only Carleton Young, John Picorri, and Fred Hamilton don’t cause uncomfortable squirming as they try to get through their scenes. Byrd’s somehow getting worse–having young ward Lee Van Atta around isn’t helping things and it’s impossible to take Byrd too seriously when he’s got moron Smiley Burnette on the payroll.

There’s a great hold-up sequence with Young, which actually had me hopeful for the chapter, wipes and all. It doesn’t go anywhere. The ghost town section is a misfire. It starts with Hamilton getting shot in the face (thankfully he doesn’t die, because getting shot in the face barely hurts in Dick Tracy).

Mystery also has some of Kay Hughes’s worst acting so far, which is an achievement all it’s own. It’s impossible to disparage her too much just because she so clearly should never have been cast; it’s the serial’s fault; it embarrasses her.

Dick Tracy seems to have turned a very bad corner.

CREDITS

Directed by Ray Taylor and Alan James; screenplay by Barry Shipman and Winston Miller, based on a story by Morgan Cox and George Morgan and the comic strip by Chester Gould; directors of photography, Edgar Lyons and William Nobles; edited by Edward Todd, Helene Turner, and William Witney; produced by Nat Levine; released by Republic Pictures.

Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy), Kay Hughes (Gwen Andrews), Smiley Burnette (Mike McGurk), Lee Van Atta (Junior), John Picorri (Moloch), Carleton Young (Gordon), Fred Hamilton (Steve Lockwood), Francis X. Bushman (Chief Clive Anderson), Wedgwood Nowell (H.T. Clayton), Louis Morrell (Walter Potter), Edwin Stanley (Walter Odette), Ann Ainslee (Betty Clayton), and Milburn Morante (Death Valley Johnny).


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Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Avengers: Infinity War has quite a few significant achievements. Special effects, for example. But the two most salient ones are Josh Brolin’s performance (of a CG character, no less) and the pacing. Directors Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do an extraordinary job juggling the large cast and various storylines, which start splintered, then come together. But it’s the tension is the thing. The film opens with the introduction of a countdown clock, with the literal fate of the universe in the balance–the introduction’s both to the audience and the majority of the characters–and with that threat, the countdown is always present. There’s always more tension they can ratchet as things get more and more dire. It culminates in big finale, of course, with lots of moving pieces needing to sync up for that finale to work. But the most impressive thing is when, at around an hour and fifty minutes into the film (which runs two and a half hours, albeit with a questionable ten minute end credit sequence before the Marvel movie post-credits teaser), it becomes obvious they aren’t going to have time to wrap it up. The film’s so good at maintaining intensity, so good at latching on to the characters’ determined hopefulness, when defeat becomes visible and probable… it’s a shock. Even though there can’t be much other outcome, given the movie can’t really go on forever, can it?

Even if one of the big finale twists is a bit of a cheat since it relies entirely on something the audience (not to mention the characters) have any idea is possible.

Of course, what’s possible is what’s in question in Infinity War. Giant blue space alien (Brolin) is searching for six “infinity” stones, which–explained in a first act lecture to the audience (and Robert Downey Jr.)–will allow him to remake reality. Brolin starts the movie fighting with Chris Hemsworth out in space, but then goes off on his own storyline–arguably the film’s most successful, though it’s got limited competition and is the only consistent arc (thanks to Brolin’s shockingly good performance). How Brolin’s not just able to bring depth to the CG giant–which has far better CG than when Mark Ruffalo hulks out–also in terms of how he never gets caught up in the gooniness of the whole thing. Directors Russo play the whole thing straight–one of their greatest touches is treating Infinity War like an impromptu trip through the galaxy–but it wouldn’t work without Brolin. Everyone else who has to deal with the gooniness? Well, either it gets worked through like with Downey, Tom Holland, and Benedict Cumberbatch or utterly avoided like with Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson. Hemsworth is somewhere in the middle. He spends most of the movie with Bradley Cooper’s CG wiseass mercenary raccoon and straightfaces it through the gooniness. Everyone else in his scenes is CG (they also bring along the talking tree “voiced”–or audio filtered–by Vin Diesel).

Anyway. With Brolin, there’s gravitas in the fantastical alien stuff. With Downey’s plot line or Evans’s, there’s not. Even with Downey on a space ship hurtling through hyperspace (presumably, otherwise the Marvel universe is real small), no one wants to get too bogged down with the logic. Hemsworth, hanging out with Cooper and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy crew, acknowledges the existence of the fantastical without wanting to deal with it. It’s a wise move from the filmmakers. The Russo Brothers get better performances out of Galaxy regulars Chris Pratt and (especially) Zoe Saldana than their feature movies ever suggested possible. Though Pratt’s still way out of his depth opposite Downey, which is made even more clear when Holland and Cumberbatch are able to keep pass. With Holland even surpassing Downey, in no small part thanks to Downey’s acquiescence. They have a wonderful rapport.

The storylines follow the ostensible Avengers “big four”–Downey, Hemsworth, Evans, and Ruffalo. Though Ruffalo is just moving through where he’s playing second fiddle. First it’s to Hemsworth, then to Downey, then to Evans. Ruffalo’s fine and likable as ever, but… Infinity War goes far in showing, while Ed Norton might be regretting the profit sharing, he didn’t miss out on any great acting opportunities with the franchise.

Evans also ends up supporting other storylines, like Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen trying to figure out how they’re going to survive the movie. Bettany is an android superhero (though he’s a distressingly weak android superhero in Infinity War) who has one of the rocks Brolin wants in his head. Olsen’s the woman who loves him; she’s also a superhero and the only one who can destroy said stone to save the universe, if need be. Evans protects them? He brings along sidekicks–Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, and eventually Sebastian Stan–to help, but even they get a little more to do. Johansson bonds with Danai Gurira (after Evans and company become second–or third–fiddle to the Black Panther cast), Mackie and Cheadle have some rapport. I guess Stan doesn’t really get anything. But then neither does Chadwick Boseman, who’s the actual Black Panther. He’s scenery.

And then they get Ruffalo lumped in too because… the movie doesn’t actually need him. It’s kind of shocking how good the CG works with Brolin’s character versus Ruffalo’s Hulk. I know I mentioned it already, but it’s really striking.

Anyway. Hemsworth teams up with Pratt, Saldana, and the other Guardians team members who get almost nothing to do in the film–especially not after their first scene confronting Brolin; an Infinity War needs cannon fodder, after all. He’s got his quest with the CG Guardians and some fun moments with Cooper; Peter Dinklage shows up at some point in there too.

Then there’s Downey, who’s got Holland and Cumberbatch with him as they hurtle through the galaxy for a showdown with Brolin. They think. They eventually team up with the Guardians cast, leading to those scenes where we have to pretend Pratt can hold his own opposite Downey. Oh, right. It’s after Pratt can’t hold his own opposite Hemsworth and every single character in the movie makes fun of him for it. Good scene, but whatever.

So a lot going on. Because then there’s also Brolin’s whole arc, which involves adoptive daughter Saldana (he took her in after killing her mother and half the population of her planet). Lots going on, all at once. When the movie gets to the third act and all the storylines are going fullsteam–Brolin can instantly teleport between them, which helps to streamline–it’s truly astounding what editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt manage with their cutting. The film has a rhythm to it already, but they’re able to rev it something spectacular for the finish. Infinity War is a technical marvel. No pun.

Alan Silvestri’s score even recovers from the first act, when it’s focusing on repeating franchise themes.

Performance wise… Brolin’s best. Then Downey. They get the most to do. Their showdown, for instance, hints at some great nemesis possibility. The movie’s just too big (and already too long when they get together) for it. Then Holland? Holland doesn’t get a lot to do after the first act, especially not once Pratt and company join his storyline, but he’s always great support for Downey and he’s got the film’s best single scene (for a non-CG actor, anyway). Then Hemsworth. Because after Hemsworth everyone is fine, but not particularly standout. Though Saldana, Bettany, and Olsen all have some rather good moments; Saldana because it’s opposite Brolin’s CG giant alien, Bettany and Olsen because they’re able to ooze chemistry even though Bettany’s caked in red body paint.

Evans, Boseman, Cumberbatch, whoever. They get their jobs done. The movie doesn’t task them with a lot and always implies if they got another scene or two, they’d be quite good. The rapport between Johansson and Gurira, Cheadle and Mackie, whoever. The film implies potential, but keeps it in check because the trains have to run on time.

Even Pratt’s fine. Karen Gillan’s still not good. And the movie doesn’t do poor Pom Klementieff any favors.

Just getting to the finish line with Infinity War is a win for directors Russo and the screenwriters. Getting it to the finish line with so much good stuff along the way… the film’s a lot more successful than should even be possible, given it’s so seeped in franchise continuity and bloated with characters. The filmmakers nimbly hop through it all. Because, frankly, they get to leverage it all with Brolin’s singular, phenomenal performance.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Josh Brolin (Thanos), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Chris Pratt (Peter Quill / Star-Lord), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / Hulk), Tom Holland (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers / Captain America), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Dave Bautista (Drax), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Ebony Maw), Carrie Coon (Proxima Midnight), Terry Notary (Cull Obsidian), Michael James Shaw (Corvus Glaive), Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa / Black Panther), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Don Cheadle (James Rhodes / War Machine), Peter Dinklage (Eitri), Benedict Wong (Wong), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Winston Duke (M’Baku), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Benicio Del Toro (The Collector), and William Hurt (Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross).


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