Finding Dory, Pawn Sacrifice, Duel, Sugarland Express.

Movies watched:  Finding Dory (Bonney Lake Regal Tall Firs 10 – 103 minutes), Pawn Sacrifice (home – 115 minutes), Duel (home – 89 minutes), Sugarland Express (home – 110 minutes).

Total cumulative time:  3 days, 8 hours, 9 minutes

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I’ve missed out on a lot of the animated movies of the last decade or so.  My son is an adult now, and has been for a while,  so the days when I had to see virtually every  animated movie made are long gone.  Of course, there are plenty of quality “kid’s” movies that have been released in the last decade, and maybe I’ve missed a few good ones.  But I never miss a Pixar movie.  They really have set the bar so high, and stumbled so infrequently.  Last year’s Inside Out  was one of the best movies of the year, animated or otherwise.

So Finding Nemo was never one of my favorite Pixar movies.  The animation is spectacular, but it didn’t grab me the way Toy Story  or Monsters Inc. did.  I feel like this movie is a worthy successor to the original.   It is very similar in tone to the first movie.  Ellen DeGeneres is really perfect as Dory, and the rest of the voice talent is good too.   I almost feel like Albert Brooks is wasted, because he’s basically playing his part the same way he did in the first movie.  Perhaps it would have been better if this was just Dory’s adventure.     And two people from “Modern Family” doing voices on a Disney movie?  Nobody is better than Disney at cross-promotion.  Synergy, baby.

I liked this movie; the kids in the theater loved it. It is a perfect movie for children, with a great message.

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I don’t play a lot of chess these days, but I’ve always enjoyed movies about chess.  I’m also a fan of the oft-maligned Tobey Maguire.   The Fischer/Spassky world championship is great subject matter for a movie.  That tournament took place when the tensions of the cold war were very high, and every victory became politicized.  I had no idea how bonkers Bobby Fischer became.  Did his unstable home life contribute to his paranoia?   The movie does not explicitly make this claim, but it is certainly offered up as a possibility.  Fischer had an exceptional mind, and perhaps his extreme paranoia was a genetic offshoot of the way his brain functioned.

The movie is very entertaining, and Tobey MacGuire does a great job.  Liev Schreiber is also solid, and Peter Sarsgaard is outstanding.   The movie is directed by Edward Zwick, a very workmanlike director who has made several solid (but not great) films.  It is entertaining for the most part, but it doesn’t linger for long when it’s over.  If this story intrigues you, there are some good books about Fischer;  what a sad,  strange story.

"You want crazy?" says Tobey Maguire. "I'll show you crazy."
“You want crazy?” says Tobey Maguire. “I’ll show you crazy.”

Universal Pictures released an 8 movie blu ray box set of Steven Spielberg movies, which was available at Costco for a steal.  It’s a little spotty, because it only contains the movies Spielberg directed for Universal.  There are no real duds in the set though.  So I started watching them chronologically.

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Duel was originally made for television, but several months after its TV debut an extended theatrical version was released.  This longer, theatrical cut was shown on television frequently when I was a kid.  I remember watching it with a mix of horror and fascination.  I couldn’t stop watching, even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.  It was the fact that Spielberg never showed the face of the truck driver.  The idea of an unknown, faceless menace scared the crap out of me.   The bulk of the movie was shot near my hometown of Palmdale, California.  I had been on Sierra Highway,  where some of the scenes were shot. So when I would be riding in my mom’s car, I would hunker down and close my eyes every time we passed a truck.  It took me a couple of years to get over that one.

Dennis Weaver stars as a salesman, who has a chance encounter with a truck on a small desert highway, and is then stalked by the truck for the duration of the movie.  The movie is based on a short story by the brilliant Richard Matheson, who wrote dozens of “Twilight Zone” episodes.   Duel is very well paced, and brilliantly shot.  In many ways, it lays the groundwork for Spielberg’s entire career.

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I had never seen Sugarland Express before, which is Spielberg’s official feature film debut.    It stars a young, cute, very talented Goldie Hawn, as Lou Jean, a woman who has made some bad choices in life, and has her young son taken away and placed in foster care.   Goldie breaks her husband out of a minimum-security prison, and they set off to take back their child.  Along the route, they end up with a Texas policeman as a hostage, and soon have half the lawmen in Texas following them.

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It was a pleasant surprise to see William Atherton in the role of Clovis, Lou Jean’s equally goodhearted but misguided husband.  Atherton would later establish his career playing assholes throughout the 80’s (the EPA guy in Ghostbusters,  the TV reporter in Die Hard and Die Hard 2).  Here, he is incredibly likable.  One look in particular stands out, when he is supplying the sound effects to a Loony Tunes cartoon, and all of a sudden the joy drains from his face, as if he knows exactly how this escapade with his wife is going to end, but is going to follow it through to the end.

Then there is Ben Johnson as Captain Tanner, leading the seemingly hundreds of law enforcement agents trailing the kidnapping couple.  Johnson was a pretty basic actor.  He kept it simple, but always believable.  His quiet understatement would provide a good example to some of the bombast that passes for acting today.

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The movie is different in tone from most Spielberg movies, but it is watchable.  It just feels like an odd choice sandwiched in between Duel and Jaws, as if he had to make this one, and make  it successfully, to make a movie that he really wanted to make.  It is also the first time Spielberg worked with John Williams, who used Toots Thielmans’ magnificent harmonica playing in the score.

 

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