Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hunger for this to End

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful we’re free from our long national nightmare.  With the release of the final Hunger Games movie, no longer are we shackled to the threat of future films based on pre-teen page turners about sullen heroines with commitment issues.  But deliverance comes only from struggle.  I saw The Hunger Games – The Mockingjay Part 2 last Sunday, and it was indeed a struggle.  This turgid, colorless exercise in Hollywood greed and contempt robbed me of a weekend afternoon, this fetid effluence of cinematic offal smeared on countless movie screens, crammed down our throats like overfed, numbed cattle awaiting their turn in the chute.  Then again, the popcorn and Milk Duds weren’t half bad!

I blame my daughter.  A few years ago she rebuffed me when I tried borrowing her copy of the third and final Hunger Games novel.  “Dads shouldn’t read books 6th grade girls are reading,” she said, even though I’d devoured the first two of Suzanne Collins’ books about Katniss Everdeen and her exploits in a dystopian America where TV reigns and the passive, ruthless President plots and schemes (think Ben Carson but less energy).  As I sat alone in the first hour of the fourth film of the three books, I blamed my daughter for denying me the chance to learn in advance this story is tired, drawn-out and exhausting.

The best line of the afternoon came during the previews when a character asked rhetorically, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most powerful of them all?” and a guy in the back row yelled, “I am!”  It made no sense but had more spontaneity than the ensuing two hours did.

The Mockingjay Part 2 was released to massive hype last week, our last chance to see Jennifer Lawrence in the role that launched her career.  The film picks up where Mockingjay 1 ended.  Wounded and on the mend, Katniss itches to get back in the rebels’ fight against the government.  She’s surrounded by glum cohorts who say serious things like, “I guess there are no rules anymore about what a person can do to another person,” and, “Our future starts tomorrow at dawn,” while plotting the final assault on the Capitol, the seat of power for the brutal, regal President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland.  Katniss must kill the President to end the rebellion and eliminate the chance of any future Hunger Games – these annual televised contests where unlucky citizens fight to the death until one victor emerges, a show staged by the government to ensure its downtrodden citizenry remembers who’s in charge.  “He needs to see my eyes when I kill him,” she mutters to one of her two boyfriends as she readies herself for battle.  Neither seems like a very good listener.

What the rebels lack in prospects and upbeat outerwear, they make up in personal grooming habits - who knew revolution could be so good for eyebrows and teeth?  As Katniss and both boyfriends join a squad of soldiers, including a PR team filming their every move, we’re treated to scenes of rubble, holographic maps, refugee squalor and exchanges like, “You don’t owe me anything,” and “All those deaths mean something.”  Jennifer Lawrence barely registers a pulse, whether it’s choosing between rebel hunks or enduring her new boss’s treachery.  She spends most of her time offering a look that whispers, “This franchise seemed like a good idea at the time, before I met Bradley Cooper and Bobby De Niro.  I just need to get through this.”  I feel the same way, Jennifer, I feel the same way.

The film reaches a heartbeat in the final thirty minutes as the plucky pals dodge a sludge flood to battle an underground horde of zany zombies in what looks like the Somerville, MA Red Line train station.  But just as I think the film may redeem itself, it settles into a pace slower than the action sequences in My Dinner with Andre.

The end comes mercifully, but not after a lot of violence, murder, remorse and baby-making.  Near the climax, the new president, played by Julianne Moore, says, “A thirst for blood is difficult to satisfy,” as Woody Harrelson’s character grimaces like a man with gastric distress.  I couldn’t tell if he was acting or needed a few Beano capsules.  No one on screen ever looked all that comfortable, and when Katniss finally does break down and shows some emotion, I’m shocked she’s such an ugly crier – all snot and sloppy tears and lack of facial muscle control.  Let it out, Katniss – you’re free from The Hunger Games for good, which should make all film lovers smile ear to ear.

(The Hunger Games – The Mockingjay Part 2 is both a violent film filled with mayhem and destruction and a boring, dialogue-driven commentary on surveillance, media intrusion and governmental control.  Suitable for anyone who read the books or who’s old enough for caffeine- you’re gonna need it.  In wide release everywhere).

(Email Tim your comments and suggestions –

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mars Needs Optimists

Begin scene:  A man in his late forties sits reading a book on a late summer afternoon, teenage girls and their parents mill about at the end of another sports practice.  The man, unassuming, educated and attractive in a, “He’s kind of pudgy but cute!” way, is a few pages into his book when a fellow parent approaches.

“Hey Tim.  How are you?  What’cha reading?” the woman asks, interested in the book he holds.  She approaches the table where Tim sits and takes a chair.

Looking up from the pages, Tim’s hazel eyes lock with the woman’s stare as he removes his fashionable glasses and smiles.  “It’s called The Martian, by Andy Weir,” Tim says.  “It’s about an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars and tries to survive,” he adds, putting his glasses back on as if to emphasize he reads books about science.

The woman hesitates, looks at the bespectacled man across from her and asks, “Hmm, sounds interesting.  Is it a true story?”

A look of stunned confusion on his face, Tim struggles for a response as the screen fades to black.  End scene.

This vignette is true, even the part about my hazel eyes and unassuming character.  What does one say to such a question?  I could only muster, “Um, er, ah – no, it’s not a true story.  But Matt Damon’s making a movie about it!”

Matt Damon did make a movie about it.  The Martian, Hollywood’s latest science fiction blockbuster directed by Ridley Scott, hit theaters in early October and continues to fill seats across the globe.  Just this week The Martian raised its total ticket sales to over $170 million with no signs of abating.  Granted, besting such future classics as The Last Witch Hunter and Paranormal 7 – The Haunted Bath Mat seems like an easy task, but America loves The Martian.  And for good reason.

Based closely on Andy Weir’s novel, originally self-published as a free eBook in 2011, the film tells the story of Astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, and his fellow astronauts who’re on a relatively routine NASA mission to Mars, sampling the Martian soil and atmosphere, and doing lots of science stuff until a ferocious wind storm threatens to leave them all stranded – or worse.  The small team, led by Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis, skedaddles in an escape rocket for the safety of its orbiting space ship and a multi-month trip back to Earth, but in the mad dash for the departure, Mark has a run-in with an errant satellite dish.  He gets left behind, his colleagues assume he’s dead, and Mark must figure out how to survive – either until the unforgiving Mars environment kills him, he runs out of food or he’s rescued by NASA.
              This movie is the exact opposite of every Adam Sandler film you’ve seen.  Watching Billy Madison makes you feel like a Mensa elder, like you’re watching dimwits make a movie filled with morons, but The Martian has the reverse effect – as the movie progressed, I felt more and more like I was the clod watching geniuses solve complex, impossible problems with pencils, slide rules and coffee.  Matt Damon not only makes water from a chemical reaction involving fire but also uses a small nuclear reactor as a much-needed Mars Car seat warmer.  During this part of the movie, I ran out of napkins and used my socks to wipe the popcorn butter off my hands.
                It's also a reminder to pay attention in science and math class.  I’d survive 46 seconds on Mars if the same predicament befell me, 31 of them looking for duct tape and the last 15 wondering what songs they’ll play at my funeral, whimpering as the air seeps out of my helmet, the pressure popping my faux-scholar glasses off my rapidly swelling science-free noggin.
Of course my lousy math SAT scores and mildly sedentary lifestyle tendencies would have ruled me out of final selection for the journey to the Red Planet, but I do wonder.  Everyone on this ill-fated cinematic mission to Mars had a specific skill – botany, engineering, software, spaceship piloting – and I wonder what I’d bring to the effort.  With limited spots, chief cheesesteak maker and witty raconteur probably wouldn’t make the cut.

Mark Watney puts his botany skills to good use as well as his chemistry, physics, pre-calculus and navigation capabilities, solving every problem he confronts.  His dual mantras of, “Do the math,” and “Work the problem” carry him through his many travails, and really are the thrust of the film, the stranded astronaut walking us through his tasks as he keeps a video diary of his time on Mars, applying copious amounts of duct tape and gumption to hurdle most obstacles in his way.  I can identify with his use of duct tape.  My dad used so much of it that my friends referred to any brand of it as “O’Shea Tape,” a fitting testament to a family that unspooled one massive roll of silver tape after another in a shared desire to always repair, never replace.

The Martian’s been so successful because we Americans would much rather watch someone else do the science stuff than actually do it ourselves.  Who cares that we rank just behind Burundi and a garden rake in math scores?  We make kick-ass movies about smart people who do amazing things, all the while looking awesome and saying cool stuff like, “I’m not gonna die here,” while the disco classic “Turn the Beat Around” plays in the background.  Cogitate on that, Equatorial Guinea!

Another reason we love this movie is because it has no villains.  Even the soulless bureaucrats who usually ruin everything relent and join hands with the sweaty brainacs at the Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA headquarters and Mission Control in Houston.  The bad guys aren’t Nazis, zombies, angry dinosaurs or a creepy doll with missing eyes and voice like a lifetime smoker – it’s the lack of the things we need to live that Mark fights against – not enough air, water, food or shelter – kind of like a family camping trip but on Mars.

In this age of pervasive cynicism and needless rancor, any movie that combines Matt Damon, a can-do spirit, stylish astronaut sweatshirt designs, groovy music, genuine teamwork, Fonzie, friendly Chinese nerds and a race against the clock to survive into a story that makes you feel like a winner will hit its mark.   The Martian made me feel good about humanity and reminded me that you can never have enough duct tape or optimism.  Mars needs optimists, and so do we.

The Martian remains in wide release and can be seen in regular or 3D versions; it’s rated PG-13 for intense action scenes, the use of one’s fecal matter as fertilizer, one or two obscene exclamations and a vigorous defense of a STEM-based education.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Straight Outta Memory, or "I Was a Pre-Teen Racist"

I was a pre-teen racist.  Okay, maybe “racist” is a bit harsh, the term implying a proactive, energetic nastiness.  Instead, I might describe my 13-year old self as a “casual bigot,” spending all my time with kids like me, watching TV shows and movies about people like me, and listening to music made by people I identified with.  Heavy rotations of classic rock, new wave and punk music spun on the record and cassette players in my room in my family’s spacious home in a comfortable slice of Long Island, New York. 
I grew up happy and advantaged, my biggest fears whether I’d score tickets to The Who at Shea Stadium or worried just how bad the Mets would be that summer.  Music was for me a constant, my family’s massive record collection spurring me to build my own.  Most conversations with my friends came back to music – Moon or Bonham, Boy George or Adam Ant, Hot Rocks or Hot Rocks II – these were the topics we cared about.  And we’d judge kids by what they listened to – “He likes Black Sabbath?  He seemed so normal,” or “I’d love to date her, but a guy can endure only so much Madonna,” were regular threads as we rode our ten-speeds around town.  And we grew up judging people in other ways too.

The Long Island I remember was more tribal than racist – few people ever went out of their way to make trouble, just as long as everyone kept to their own.  My tribe - the Irish/Italian Catholics of Garden City - was known for its manicured hedges, robust backhands, hefty bank accounts, Izod shirts, madras shorts and a proud rejection of anything different than what we knew as our tribe’s way of life.  Long Island was more fondue than melting pot – stick to your own sauces and let that eternal flame of “What Are You Looking At?” burn equally for everyone.  I had no other frame of reference and figured the jokes we’d tell each other were just what you did, like campfire stories of our identity.  I later realized you didn’t say certain things in public, but back then, my sense of race relations could be best described as, “Adolescent ignoramus with a hint of condescension.”  We had our part of Long Island, and other people had theirs, and it was best if everyone left it that way.

You know you’ve been isolated when Vermont’s the most diverse place you’ve ever been.  But it was there, in college in the late ‘80’s, where I discovered it wasn’t cool to tell jokes like we did back home.  For the first time, I was surrounded by people who were different.  A Methodist, a Jew, a Catholic and an African-American at the same party?  Is this the United Nations?  I learned quickly to keep the inane bigotry to myself and did my best to get educated.

I dove into the Black American experience more than any and read book after book – James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, The Autobiography of Malcom X – these were the guideposts to this journey I’d stumbled into.  Above all, music opened my world.  In the mid ‘80’s in New York, rap music started to take shape.  If I dared, I’d nudge the radio dial past the Springsteen A to Z Weekend and hear snippets of “Rappers Delight” or Run DMC’s “Rock Box,” but I’d usually get confused and head for the safety of what I knew back down the dial.

By the time I finished my freshman year in college, I was far more aware of a broader world, and rap music was my private passport.  The Beastie Boys, KRS-One, Kool Moe Dee, Public Enemy and reruns of “Yo! MTV Raps” on cable became a constant, this music a way to fend off my past perspectives.  I held those cassettes close to me, not like a sinner’s hair shirt but as a celebration of my unplanned, uneven and meandering pilgrimage to make myself comfortable with me.

So many of these memories flooded back to me a few weeks ago as I watched the film, Straight Outta Compton.  This movie depicts the rise, rage and revolution in rap music launched by the group NWA in the late ‘80’s in Los Angeles.  If you were a sentient being back then, you saw the news reports of this rap group inciting violence against the police, its most popular song an exclamation against what it saw as racial profiling and unprovoked police brutality.  You remember how the FBI sent NWA a letter warning the group not to sing certain songs, and you might have a vague recollection of how this unvarnished, raw music provoked lengthy debate among politicians, police and pundits about the limits of free speech – you may even remember Tipper Gore in front of Congress asking for warning labels on record albums.  To think the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” is considered incendiary speech today – America’s wimp factor may be at an all-time high when you listen to what NWA rapped about almost three decades ago.

Early on in the film, we see NWA hassled by cops for being the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood, sparking its members to create a masterpiece of rap music that remains just as divisive today as it was in the fall of 1988.  The music explodes on the screen, and it’s impossible not to get swept away into the cultural and societal events NWA unleashed on America.  Hearing Ice Cube sing, “They think they have the authority to kill a minority” felt like the whack of a truncheon to my head – in a good way. 
Straight Outta Compton captures much of NWA’s rise to fame and infamy as it chronicles the beginning, ascendancy and eventual collapse of the group, its five members sparking creative genius in each other before collapsing under the weight of their success.  The film is twenty minutes too long, gets overly maudlin for its own good, and no doubt sanitizes certain events (I can only imagine when a scene involving automatic weapons, drugs, unclad female fans and creative use of adjectives is a “sanitized” version of what really happened . . .), but I found it riveting and relevant.

I can implore you to see Straight Outta Compton, but chances are you won’t.  It’s filled with enough cursing for a lifetime of sailor bar crawls, and the misogyny might scare off the more sensitive, and I understand that.  But to skip it is to ignore an important cultural movement in America’s recent history that gave a voice to millions of Americans who’ve been marginalized for generations.  NWA doesn’t sing about tomorrow’s math test or unrequited teen love. They spit out lyrics that speak to their rage at the way their world was, and, sadly remains today.  At one point, as their manager waves the FBI’s warning letter in the air, the group insists it won’t back down, adding, “Our art is a reflection of our reality.”  For me, this film reminds me how someone else’s reality can prod me to change for the better, one beat at a time.

Straight Outta Compton, directed by F. Gary Gray, is rated R for all sorts of R-related things, including bad words, bad decisions, bad business deals and bad behavior; still in theaters and not to be missed.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dance, Amy! Dance!

It’s not often you find two films in theatres the same week both featuring creative, self-destructive women named Amy who like to drink, curse and smoke.  This once in a lifetime Amy Alignment has never happened in the history of cinema.  My favorite celluloid Amy had been Amy Namey, Ace Reporter from the 2011 opus, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, but these Amys with their big girl problems are far more compelling.  Truly, this July’s Amy Alignment was one for the ages.

The documentary Amy, directed by Asit Kapadir, is the story of English jazz singer Amy Winehouse, who rocketed to stardom on the strength of her 2007 masterpiece album, Back to Black.  Using home videos, voice-over interviews, performance clips and song lyrics, Amy paints a troubled portrait of a slight teenager with an oversized talent who rises from small clubs in England to the top of the popular music world, a career that spanned less than a decade but saw enough success and travails for a lifetime.

This “very old soul in a very young body” writes and performs beautiful, heart-wrenching songs as her personal life spirals out of control.  When Amy sings, “. . . my dark side has grown a mile wide,” you get the sense that things won’t end well.  And they don’t.  Amy had an uncanny ability to surround herself with men who have less than her best interests in mind.  Her disconnected, opportunistic father, at one point, convinces Amy to skip rehab for the sake of a concert tour, more concerned with his stake in Amy’s career than in his daughter’s well-being.  But the winner of “Worst Boyfriend/Husband of the New Millennium” goes to Blake Fielder-Civil, the man who introduced Amy to crack cocaine and heroin, and held such sway over her that she was never able to survive sober once he slithered into her life.
The saddest moment in the film comes during the 2008 Grammy Awards.  Amy’s on the mend,    in a London club watching the US broadcast, having just after performed her song, “Rehab,” nominated for Song and Record of the Year.  Amy seems focused and lucid, and for a moment, we think she’s fixed what’s wrong in her life.  She’s watching as her idol Tony Bennett announces her as the winner, Amy’s face full of joy, fear and wonder.  As the video shows Amy searching for her friend, Juliette Ashby, in the crowd, we hear Juliette, through tears, tell us how Amy found her, whispering in her ear, “This is so boring without drugs.”

The film reaches its climax, and Amy’s nadir, when she implodes onstage in Belgrade, Serbia in front of a massive festival crowd.  She walks out on stage – skinny, barely filling out her black and yellow dress as the crowd roars for her to sing.  But she can’t – she’s too drunk or stoned or exhausted, and the show’s canceled, the young singer booed off stage.  Amy would die less than two weeks later in her sleep in her London apartment, the cumulative effects of her struggles catching up to her with a vengeance.

In a different trainwreck of sorts, we meet the other Amy.  Directed by Judd Apatow and written and starring America’s new potty-mouthed sweetheart, Amy Schumer, Trainwreck is the story of a single woman living in New York who wants it all – and by “all” I mean three square meals a day, a few snacks, lots of drinking, dalliances with zero commitment, and an exciting job writing for S’Nuff, a men’s magazine that’s a cross between Esquire and Hickey Technique Quarterly.  Amy makes no apologies – she sleeps where and with whom she wants, drinks like an ad exec and barely masks her disdain for her younger sister who married a guy who dresses like Mr. Rogers.

As she narrates, Amy makes the point that falling in love is not in her plan, until of course, she meets the right guy.  Anyone who’s been paying attention at the movies for the past forty years knows exactly where this is going, but it’s fun to watch Amy and her doctor boyfriend figure things out.

Trainwreck is a film of superlatives – best use of the word, “pineapple”; best portrayal of a long-suffering New York Mets fan; best use of ‘80’s Billy Joel since the Catalina Wine Mixer; best Truth or Dare effort at a baby shower, and the best use of an NBA Hall of Famer as an earnest Downton Abby-loving cheapskate with a budding career as a relationship counselor.  It’s funny, raunchy and held my interest right through the predictable ending.

                If I were a women’s studies post-doctorate candidate, I would now offer an erudite position about how Amy Schumer’s portrayal of a sexually confident woman comfortable in her own skin makes her character a role model and icon for a post-feminist world.  At one point, Amy remarks to a Knicks cheerleader about a provocative dance routine, “You’re gonna lose us the right to vote.”  Is that some sort of coded feminist statement, like fish riding bicycles?  Who knows - I’m no Misha Kavka, and I also never felt that Susan Gamble’s argument about post-feminism and its inability to remain a product of assumption wasn’t persuasive enough.  I’ll take funny over feminism any day, and Trainwreck has lots of funny. 

And it’s one I’ll watch again on cable, but not with my parents unless I keep the volume low and fast-forward through the elder neglect parts.  On the other hand, I’m not rewatching Amyany time soon – it’s compelling but also painful, sad and a little too long – kind of like the Shoah of boozy self-destructive jazz singer documentaries.

I can’t help feeling a little tricked by Trainwreck.  Amy’s character is one we rarely see – assertive, hilarious and confident, rejecting the notion that happiness comes only when you settle into a domestic groove rather than live a life of late nights, no kids and a panhandling hobo for a neighbor.  Amy says no to the subtle restraints we place on women in our society – be attractive but not slutty; have a few drinks but don’t close the bar; flirt with the intern but don’t sleep with him –and we’re fooled into thinking she’ll have it her way.  But Amy doesn’t find fulfillment until she gets fired, quits drinking, apologizes to family, mourns her dad and learns that little kids can be endearing.  Amy has to resort to a dance routine with the very cheerleaders she suggested would roll back suffrage to win back the man she lost, but I’m no feminist so “Dance, Amy, Dance!”

Both movies left me with a sense of sadness.   Amys can’t make it in this world unless they find a man to tame their wild streak.  Amy Schumer wrote a happy ending for herself, but in the real world, Amy Winehouse was surrounded by men who stood aside as she rode that wild streak into an early grave, caring more about her singing than her survival (“Sing, Amy! Sing!”).  If only she had the other Amy to write a happier ending.

(Amy, directed by Asit Kapadir, is rated R for lots of bad decisions, the worst boyfriend ever, drug use, foul language, questionable dental work and great music; in select theatres and soon to be available for streaming online.)

(Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow with screenplay by Amy Schumer, is rated R for all sorts of stuff your mom wouldn’t approve of; in theatres now and probably a great DVD stocking stuffer for that sister of yours who seeks direction and fashion tips.)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bird Tales

If you saw the 1993 movie, Jurassic Park, or read the 1990 novel of the same name, you remember that birds of today descended from the dinosaurs roaming our planet hundreds of millions of years ago.  The geese nibbling at the pond’s edge, the hawks hunting field mice and the chickens pecking away in the yard all have distant cousins in their family trees a lot bigger and just as hungry, all looking up one day, saying, “Hey, check out that asteroid!”

We’re reminded of this fact moments into the newest installment in the Jurassic Park film franchise as what looks like a giant T-Rex foot stomps on the ground until the camera pans back to show a harmless sparrow looking for lunch.  If only it had been a bloodthirsty carnivore hungry for the family we meet in the opening minutes, we could have avoided this entire mess.  It’s not that Jurassic World is terrible– it’s just not very good.

This movie, the fourth in the series, has the ingredients of a winner – the dinosaurs are fun to watch, the action sequences are exciting, the mysterious tropical island holds intrigue and the characters are not completely uninteresting.  But just like mixing heaps of buttered popcorn, a pound of Milk Duds and a wastebasket-sized orange soda seems like a winning plan, Jurassic World’s celluloid recipe left me gassy, sad and wishing I’d napped instead.

Jurassic World’s plot includes the key elements in a disappointing summer blockbuster – genetically modified beasts on the loose, career-minded single women learning how to love while sprinting through the jungle in high heels, and former military men who are both sensitive and smart or off-kilter lunatics hell-bent on turning dinosaurs into SEAL Team 7.  Along the way we see nitwit nephews escape from certain death, Jimmy Fallon appears and the requisite IT nerd with facial hair saves the day.  We’re taught important lessons, like “Don’t be greedy,” “Don’t be overweight,” and “Always buy vacation insurance.”  Based on the park’s security procedures on display in the film’s second half, the next installment should be, Jurassic Park 5 – The Lawsuits.  Apparently creating a theme park where ferocious pterodactyls might escape and attack from the sky created zero concern for duck and cover drills.

Over the course of two hours, good people live, bad people die, and we gird ourselves for the inevitable bloated semi-avian carcass of another sequel in three summers.
         In far fewer theaters the same week Jurassic World deposited its steaming pile of brontosaurus turds on the world was another bird movie of sorts.  I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a documentary chronicling the life and work of famed puppeteer Caroll Spinney, the man who created the characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for the PBS series Sesame Street, growing both into worldwide loveable icons.  Released in a handful of theaters for a short time, I Am Big Bird shares moments from Spinney’s entire career and tells us, in his own words, how he came to shape an 8-foot yellow feathered puppet into an international symbol of a happy childhood, recognized from Bangor to Beijing and parts in between.
Spinney is a fascinating character.  Bullied by his domineering father and cruel classmates, he found his calling in puppetry, the film taking us through his start in the ‘60s, from Big Bird’s rise to global recognition and a trip with Bob Hope to the Great Wall of China for a first-of-its-kind TV special.  We learn about Spinney’s love-filled marriage, his professional challenges and see how Big Bird became an unwitting prompt in the 2012 Presidential election.  Spinney tells us how he and his Big Bird costume were invited to join the 1986 Challenger space shuttle crew on its fateful flight as a way to get kids excited about the space program.  A last-minute change grounded the large, flightless bird and his puppet master, saving Spinney from that disaster.  One can only imagine.

       Other than the creepy interlude of clips from The Bozo Show in the early ‘60s where Spinney got his start, the film is everything that Jurassic World isn’t – honest, simple and endearing. Spinney, in Big Bird’s character, singing a tribute to his friend and mentor Jim Henson at Henson’s funeral is sweet and touching, making me weep like a man who’s afraid of clowns.  In contrast, I shed no tears during Jurassic World, although I did get choked up realizing I spent $11 on this when I could have waited eighteen months for it to flutter onto my cable TV screen for a lot less.

         As Jurassic World’s box office take reaches into the hundreds of millions, I Am Big Bird might bring in a few million dollars when all’s said and done.  Both films teach lessons about the pursuit of perfection, whether it be building the perfect dinosaur or puppet, both rely on healthy doses of suspended disbelief and both place imaginary bird-like creatures at their center, except one wants to hug you and the other wants to eat you.  I prefer hugs any day.

(Jurassic World is rated PG-13 for dino-on-dino violence, dino-on-human violence and questionable decision making by most characters; in theaters in wide distribution for the foreseeable future.)

(I Am Big Bird is not rated but should be avoided by film lovers who hate hippies, puppets or adult clown scenes; available for rental on-line on a selection of streaming sites.)