My apologies for taking a couple of weeks off. One of our subcontractors told us a few weeks ago that four members of their crew had tested positive for Covid-19. Naturally, that freaked us out a little. I certainly don't want to get it but I was mostly concerned with my elderly, and very immuno-compromised father. We rushed off and got tested. Well, "rush" is the wrong word as it took us some three hours to actually get the test. They all came back negative, thank god. But it was a scare.
I wanna say that kept me from writing, but that's not exactly true. Especially considering I wrote half a dozen reviews during that time. But it did take me off my game. The need to write slipped. That always comes and goes over time. Some days I want to do nothing but write about movies and others I really just want to lay in bed watching them and do nothing else. But the Covid scare put the desire to not write into overdrive.
Also I had a ton of reviews to write and that drained every ounce of writing energy out of me. So, I took a couple of weeks of from Five Cool Things. But now I'm back and I've got plenty to say.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
I've spoken before about my love of old Nintendo games (mainly the original NES and its successor the SNES) and how I've been enjoying playing them again on an emulator for my computer. For the most part, I've stuck with NES games because their controllers only used two buttons and a control pad. This is easy to modify for use on a keyboard. Whereas the SNES system has a control pad, four main buttons plus two on the side of the controllers that aren't used nearly as often. Porting those onto a keyboard is much more difficult and I found it nearly impossible to play those games without a controller.
Well, I finally bought one that plugs into my computer's USB port. I've been playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past all week. Widely considered one of the greatest games ever made, A Link to the Past took the basics of the original The Legend of Zelda on the NES and made it even better. There are more weapons and abilities, and more control over where Link, the hero of the game, goes and how he moves.
The Legend of Zelda was one of the first games to allow the player to go wherever they wanted to. Previous games tended to only allow players to move in one direction and go where it wanted you to go. Legend gave the players a huge map and an ability to wander around it, searching every nook and cranny for special prizes. A Link to the Past expands on this idea, giving the game an even bigger world to explore.
But the game's biggest invention was that of parallel worlds. Link can move between a light and dark world. Both use basically the same map, but the dark world's enemies are more powerful and its visual design is, well, darker. It also creates subtle differences in the two worlds to create clever passages so that the player who pays attention can maneuver between the worlds to find special weapons and items. The genius of this design is that since the two worlds are identical in their basic design it uses less space in the game cartridges' data banks but allows for a lot of extra gameplay. You get more bang for your buck as it were.
But really, none of this matters because the game is so much fun to play.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH / The Secret of NIMH
Since my daughter has been born, we've tried to regularly read to her. My wife and I take turns putting her to bed and about once a week we have a family night where we take turns reading a larger chapter book. We just finished reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and naturally, we then watched the movie based upon it.
The book is a semi-realistic portrayal of a widowed rat who lives on a human's farm. Every Spring, just before the farmer brings out the plows, she moves her family down by the river. But this year her youngest son is very sick. She first visits Mr. Ages, a sort of doctor mouse - I said it was semi-realistic, emphasis on the "semi" - who gives her some powder for the boy to take. But he also says she can't move him for several days. The weather is already getting warmer and the plow will be coming soon. She then visits the old owl who tells her to talk to the rats under the rose bush.
The rats live like humans. They steal electricity from the farmer, use tools, and can even read (ok, it isn't really realistic at all, but it is more realistic than the movie, which we'll get into in a moment). Nicodemus, the elder rat, tells her the story of how they came to be. They were regular rats but some humans put them in a lab, injected them with something, and slowly they grew bigger and smarter. They agree to move Mrs. Frisby and her family; in return, they ask for her to help them move. You see they are tired of stealing from the farmer and figure they can make their own society deep inside the forest.
There is lots of adventure with the rats desperately trying to move Mrs. Frisby's house before the plow comes. It's a lovely, fanciful story full of adventure and humor. My daughter loved it and so did I.
The film is from Don Bluth, who made such classic animated films as An American Tail and The Land Before Time. The animation is beautifully designed, especially the rat lair which is full of darkness and magic. Oh yes, the film includes random magic, making it even less realistic than the book. It is odd magic though as Nicodemus is the only one who seems to possess it. He looks and talks like an old wizard (being voiced wonderfully by Derek Jacobi) and can write in his book without using a pen and make things move without touching them. None of this is explained in the film and he doesn't use his powers to protect himself or anybody else. It seems mostly there for the atmosphere.
There's also a villain rat. He's mentioned in the book only as a rat who disagreed with them moving and took off on his own. But in the film, he's a full-on bad guy, planning to take over the role of head rat. It gives the film some good action scenes but takes away from the gentleness of the book. I much prefer the book, but the film brings back nostalgic memories and it is beautifully drawn.
Robert Duvall won an Oscar for his portrayal of Mac Sledge, a down-and-out, country and western singer who meets a kind and sweet widow (Tess Harper) and finds some semblance of happiness. The script by Horton Foote is deceptively simple. Nothing much happens but the way it understands these two characters in their hearts is quite beautiful (he won an Oscar for it too). You can read my full review here.
The Eagle and the Hawk
I've been watching a lot of films from the 1930s this year. It was a fascinating decade where moves went from silent to sound, and pre-code to censored. It was also mostly pre-World War II, which meant war movies tended to focus on World War I, something we don't see much anymore. Nazis are just more interesting, I guess.
The Eagle and the Hawk stars Frederic March as a pilot charged with flying over enemy territory while his observer takes photos and shoots his guns if an enemy approaches. They approach a lot and his observers keep finding themselves dead. The film catalogs how March's character goes from an exciting new recruit to a disillusioned, shell-shocked veteran. March gives a magnificent performance and his costars, Cary Grant and Jack Oakie, aren't bad either. You can read my full review here.
I've decided I'm a fan of the western genre now. I've never disliked those movies, but I've never loved them enough to really seek them out. Several months ago, I found an old John Wayne movie on Amazon Prime and decided to watch it. Then I watched another one and a few more. Then I reviewed a three-movie set of westerns from Kino Lorber and suddenly I was awash in cowboys. I like westerns in the way that I like crime movies and film-noirs. Genre movies tend to have a basic set of rules and some determined plot points. These things give genre movies structure to play in while still allowing the filmmakers to do something interesting.
Backlash, the 1956 film from John Sturges, gives us a great opening scene in which we meet Jim Slater (Richard Widmark) digging in the dirt looking for his dead dad and Karyl Orton (Donna Reed) looking for gold. Getting shot at by a deputy sends them on quite an adventure. It never quite reaches classic status but it's full of action, good dialogue, and a little romance. Which is exactly what you need in a western. You can read my full review here.
The Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad (minus the "The") (2016) was a terrible film. This is known. How it garnered not one but two sequels is a mystery we'll be debating for years on end. I didn't watch Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), but I heard good things. And now we have The Suicide Squad. What a terrible name. I get that they want to make sure everyone knows it is a sequel to Suicide Squad (despite being terrible it did make money) but couldn't they have added a colon (:) to Suicide Squad and then added in something to go behind it?
Normally, I'd ignore this sort of thing, but out of curiosity (and a need to fill in the "and..." to this week's Five Cool Things), I watched this trailer, which really amounts to nothing but a roll call of characters and actors. But what a crazy amount of great actors! Margot Robbie is back and she's bringing with her Idris Elba, John Cena, Peter Capaldi, Michael Rooker, Taika Waititi, and Nathan Fillion. They are playing a laundry list of characters from deep in the DC vaults. Some of whom I've heard of from TV's The Flash, but most of whom are a mystery to me. But who cares? With a cast like that and with James Gunn directing, I'm definitely interested.