'Cars 3' still has a lot left in the tank

'Cars 3' still has a lot left in the tank

(Updated 6/19/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

Franchises are getting so many sequels, prequels and follow-ups these days that studios can literally blow $100 million or more making an installment just to apologize for the previous failed episode. "X-Men: Days of Future Past," for example, was two hours and 12 minutes of basically erasing the entirety of "X-Men: The Last Stand."

"Cars 3" is a slightly different beast. And, as a result, I have a lot of respect for it. You see, "Cars 2" was pretty much universally loathed by anyone with double digits in their age. In fact, it has almost become a rite of passage to turn 10 and suddenly hate the film. Whoever thought making Larry the Cable Guy's Tow Mater the main character and Lightning McQueen the support should have been Segway-ed off of Pixar's beautiful corporate campus in California with his/her office contents and never allowed back again. The truly great thing about "Cars 3?" It never mentions the events of "Cars 2!" It's like the film never existed. And Tow Mater is given about as much screen time as Jar Jar Binks in "Attack of the Clones." Just enough to continue selling the toys. But not enough to mar the movie in any significant way.

Instead, the film belongs completely to Owen Wilson's Lightning McQueen, who was once the hotshot, showboat upstart of the racing circuit in this alternate world of mutated, sentient vehicles. But now he's the old car being supplanted by a new generation of souped-up, high-tech rivals led by the sleek, supremely cocky Jackson Storm (voiced by Armie Hammer, the sleek actor who's name actually sounds like a character in an animated film). Storm blows past him and several of Lightning's longtime rivals during one race early in the film, and McQueen suddenly realizes he has to push himself harder in the next one if he has any chance. He does, and the result is a terrible, viscerally disturbing crash that puts him out until the next season.

In that time - the whole middle part of the film - "Cars 3" becomes a variation on one of the "Rocky" movies with the beaten former champ having to regain his confidence and learn to fight... er, drive a different way before attempting a comeback. He briefly licks his wounds... er, dents, back in Radiator Springs with all the familiar faces of the first two flicks. But the film really takes hold when Lightning travels to a high-tech training center and meets new team owner Sterling (Nathan Fillion) and, even more importantly, new coach Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Cruz had dreams of becoming a racer growing up and watching McQueen do his thing. But it didn't work out for her and decided that she could make more of an impact coaching.

The heart of the film comes in the generational divide between McQueen and Ramirez coupled with the lingering memories Lightning has of his cherished mentor, Doc (the late Paul Newman, who's spirit is jump-started here thanks to some unused audio outtakes from more than a decade ago). The film has a lot to say about the importance of mentoring, the acceptance of one's limitations and the transitioning of skills and lessons from one generation to the next. It's a film that both embraces and honors old traditions and recognizes how vital it is to similarly embrace and honor change, progression and the future.

I still don't put this franchise up there with Pixar's greatest efforts like the "Toy Story" franchise, "Up" and "Monsters Inc." It's still a 90-minute toy commercial, first and foremost. And the studio missed a golden opportunity to cast "Smokey and the Bandit" legend Burt Reynolds to voice Doc's mythic mentor Smokey, who McQueen tracks down for counsel. Instead, Chris Cooper is cast, and he's just passable. Newman was great because he was such a major star AND a well-known celebrity auto racer.

Ah well. At least there was some real care put back into the storytelling here. And the animation is amazing. "Cars 3" does more than spin its wheels. It propels the franchise forward.

"Cars 3" is rated G.

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'Rough Night'? It was for Durgin!

'Rough Night'? It was for Durgin!

(Updated 6/19/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

OK, we get it. After "Bridesmaids" and "Trainwreck" and "Bad Moms" and "Snatched" and now "Rough Night," you broads... er, chicks... er, hens... er, ladies can be every bit as coarse, nasty, filthy and profane as us guys. But now the male/female raunchy comedy sub-genre has a problem: the only way to stand out from what's come before is to go even harder, crasser, dirtier... even meaner. What these followers lack is what the two films that kicked off this current trend for both genders ("The Hangover" and "Bridesmaids") had that rarely gets acknowledged - really good screenplays!

Now, of course, there were R-rated sex comedies way before this current cycle. As a kid growing up in the '80s, I was too young to see "Porky's" and "Bachelor Party" in their original theatrical runs. But, man, did I wait for those free, unscrambled weekends of HBO and Cinemax; record each and every one of them (also "Fraternity Vacation," "Private School," etc.); and then wear out the VHS tapes. A decade later, "American Pie" picked up the proverbial sword and numerous imitators followed, from "Road Trip" to "Euro Trip."

But these latest efforts like the ones mentioned above and "Dirty Grandpa" and "Neighbors" are starting to attract bigger stars and bigger budgets. In recent years, they're also having to compete with increasingly loose cable-TV and live streaming comedies like "Girls" and "Californication" that offer explicit scenes and little in the way of censoring. So, rather than write legitimately funny dialogue and create endearing characters, we basically get thin stories with even thinner characters to hang a succession of gross-out gags on.

The filthy characters in "Rough Night" might very well have been referred to throughout as "The Straight-Laced One," "The Raunchy One," "The Australian One," and so forth. Scarlett Johansson plays one-time college party girl, Jess, who is now the darling of her political party in a run for state Senate. She is also getting married, and her needy, obscene best friend from college, Alice (Jillian Bell), is throwing her a bachelorette party in Miami with former dorm-room besties Blair (Zoe Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer). Also along for the ride is Pippa (Kate McKinnon), an Aussie woman who roomed with Jess for a year when doing international study.

A decade removed from their campus hijinks, the five don't really have much in common anymore. Only Alice really craves the care-free past, and the film suffers from it. There is a distinct lack of affection between the ladies throughout. They don't feel much affection for each other, so we don't really either. The meat of the movie comes near the end of its first act. After the five women have binge-drank and snorted cocaine at several of Miami's better nightclubs, they return to their beach house and a male stripper soon shows up to grind on Jess. But the horny Alice charges him after a few minutes, the man loses his footing, cracks his head and dies!

This is all shown in the trailer, but what's not shown is the amount of blood that gushes from the back of the guy's head that diffuses any potential comedy in the moment. The film takes too long, in my opinion, to regain its fun and funny footing after this dark turn. I mean, even in "Weekend at Bernie's," the two lead dudes didn't actually murder Bernie. There was a certain silliness and absurdity to that similarly themed flick. Here, the main death is a sinister turn that makes it really hard to once again crank back up the smut and raunch.

The elements just don't work well together. And when, late in the film, the screenplay goes soft and actually resolves its central dilemma off-screen(!), you realize there should have been at least one or two more passes at the screenplay before filming began. I've certainly seen worse in this genre. But "Rough Night" is an evening I'd just as soon forget.

"Rough Night" is rated R for crude sexual content, language, drug use and brief bloody images.

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Did new Tom Cruise flick make Durgin want his 'Mummy'?

Did new Tom Cruise flick make Durgin want his 'Mummy'?

(Updated 6/12/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

"The Mummy" actually feels more like Frankenstein's monster than that bandaged boogeyman of film yore. It's a movie stitched together with a bunch of disparate parts and meant to function as a cohesive whole. But it struggles to take on a life of its own. And, in the end, it appears to have drawn the scorn of mad hordes of film critics with their proverbial pitchforks and torches. Unfortunately, I'm one of that angry mob.

This is Universal's initial attempt to launch its so-called Dark Universe series of interconnected flicks, drawing on their vault of classic horror movie characters from the 1930s and '40s. Back then, Frankenstein and The Mummy, the Wolf Man and Dracula, and so forth were basically the featured players in the popcorn movies of their day. They were the flicks that many of our grandparents and great-grandparents geeked out over like we geek out on Marvel and DC superheroes, Jedi knights and Sith lords, and Hogwarts wizards and warlocks.

Back then, the makers of those films were essentially inventing cinema, tinkering with ways to create mood and atmosphere, thrills and spills. By contrast, the new " Mummy" is just another CGI spectacle from the modern Hollywood assembly line. It features a big, big star. Universal went out and got Tom Cruise himself to star here as Nick Morton, a brash Army officer who has come to fashion himself into a treasure hunter as a result of his experiences in the Middle East. But even his star wattage dims here.

Nick travels to Iraq and inadvertently awakens Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian princess who made a pact to unleash the God of Death centuries earlier and was cursed by being buried alive as punishment. She's the titular mummy who targets Nick as her mate and winds up wreaking some serious havoc in today's world. Nick is forced to seek help from Dr. Jekyll (Russell Crowe) himself, who leads a secret organization dedicated to fighting such ancient evils. Of course, the not-so-good doc is fighting his own personal demons in the form of Mr. Hyde.

"The Mummy" does hold the viewer's attention and interest for a while. The whole enterprise certainly feels like a big Hollywood production. But after a while, a certain dullness takes over. It's a film that goes through the motions of giving people a fireworks show without ever striking out and launching this new-old movie universe in distinguishing fashion.

Even Cruise seems a bit tired in the role. This is the first time I've seen a vehicle in which he's the star that I actually thought, "Hmmm, a younger actor would have been better in this movie." Like one of those Chris actors -- Pine, Pratt, Hemsworth, etc. There's also a distinct lack of real fun here. I wasn't the biggest fan of Brendan Fraser's "Mummy" flicks of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But they did brandish a sort of swashbuckling, "Indiana Jones" flair that is charming in retrospect. This film, by contrast, feels darker, heavier.

Universal, though, is banking on additional films in this series. It's already lined up Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein's Monster. Hopefully this first foray will be used more as a test run, and subsequent flicks will scare up better returns both creatively and financially.

"The Mummy" is rated PG-13 for violence, action, scary images and some suggestive content.

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'My Cousin Rachel' should be disowned

'My Cousin Rachel' should be disowned

(Updated 6/12/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

Sitting through "My Cousin Rachel" felt like a job. It felt like real work, folks. Set in 19th-century England, the movie starts with the lead character, 24-year-old Philip (Sam Claflin), learning that his cousin - a man who had taken care of him since his parents died when he was very young - has passed away in Italy. The last letter Philip received from the man implored him to come quick, that his new, young wife was poisoning him.

The main problem I have with the flick is Philip. It is really, REALLY hard to follow a weak protagonist for nearly two hours of screen time. And Philip is just a disaster as a man. The first act of the film, he's basically a jerk to his friends, his servants - everyone. He prepares his manor home to receive his cousin's widow, with revenge in mind - to call her out upon her arrival, embarrass her and tar her as the murderer of his beloved father figure. But once Rachel (Rachel Weisz) arrives, within - no lie - one scene, Philip is absolutely smitten with her. Like head over heels sucker love, my friends! And she does very little to attract him. A small smile, a little joke and that's basically it.

Throughout the second act of the film, Philip is a fool. He pines after Rachel like a lovesick schoolboy. Having inherited his cousin's entire estate due to the dead man's mistrust of Rachel, he believes this was due to a brain sickness and that Rachel was unfairly disinherited. So he convinces his attorney to change the conditions of the will so that Rachel gets everything, believing this will convince her to marry him. The last third of the film has Philip the victim. Rachel has rejected him, he suddenly starts having headaches and blackouts and he comes to believe that she is poisoning him as she likely did his cousin.

At no point did I root for anything that Philip wanted in this film. His infatuation with Rachel happens way too fast for me to have become emotionally invested. Philip is referred to throughout as a "boy," immature and inexperienced. But Claflin looks too much like a strapping and confident man to pull this off. You needed someone a lot more boyish... a Zac Efron type... maybe Daniel Radcliffe or Taron Egerton.

And the entire audience I saw this with practically guffawed when Philip idiotically signed over his entire family fortune to her. And they and I also laughed heartily late in the film when Philip cries on the shoulder of his friend, Louise (the always lovely Holliday Grainger), and finally entertains the possibility for the first time in the entire flick that "I've been a fool."

Basically, this is the costume drama version of Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca." But director Roger Michell lacks the will to turn this into the trashy, Gothic, psycho-sexual thriller audience members so desperately will pull for this to be. He's way too beholden to the Daphne Du Maurier source material, unwilling to give the stuffy, old tale any pop. And, like the book, it never fully decides whether Rachel is a misunderstood victim of her time and gender or a cunning, dark-hearted villainess with a firm grasp of the conspirator's mindset. It sort of leaves it to the viewer's decision. And I'm sorry - that's not dramatically satisfying.

There are things to admire. Weisz is outstanding in the title role. She gives Rachel a certain "unknowable" quality that serves the central mystery well. And the Italian locations are stunning, despite Michell and cinematographer Mike Eley frequently deciding to use blur techniques to obscure certain shots. Other times, they place inconsequential objects, extras or creatures (a chicken, at one point) in the foreground of certain important sequences that forces the viewer to look around them to follow the actual action in the scene. I just never felt involved or invested. I'd rather you give up your money to see something else.

"My Cousin Rachel" is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong language.

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DC Comics heroine Is still a wonder, 'Wonder Woman'

DC Comics heroine Is still a wonder, 'Wonder Woman'

(Updated 6/5/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

I know I'm supposed to follow other reviewers' leads and write about how "Wonder Woman" is a revolutionary, women-empowering, long-overdue, big-budget summer movie featuring that greatest of all comic-book female protagonists. But, honestly, from my own experience and perspective, I've never noticed a huge absence of kick-butt heroines from the big or small screen.

Since I was a little kid, I've always thrilled to take-charge, female heroines. I tuned in every week to check out The Bionic Woman, Wilma Deering, Charlie's Angels, Electra-Woman and Dyna-Girl, then later characters like Xena, Buffy and Dana Scully, and now Supergirl, Eleven and more. On the big screen, there was Princess Leia, Marion Ravenwood and Ellen Ripley growing up. They all set the stage for today's Lara Croft, Katniss Everdeen, Jynn Erso and Rey Whoever, and will continue throughout this summer with strong female action leads in "Atomic Blonde," the new "Transformers" movie and more.

As a man (and hopefully a good one), I do still find it a bit hard to watch fight scenes in which a woman squares off with a man or multiple men, takes a few shots to the face and body herself, but ultimately beats the hell out of them. Lots of kids are growing up watching women do this. Is it the right message to send to little boys that the girls can "give just as good as they get?" Ooof. I don't know.

Well, let's not go too far into social commentary here. Ain't no mortal man gonna beat up Wonder Woman, the Amazon warrior who is the daughter of Zeus. Her full range of fighting abilities are on display throughout the new movie, which re-imagines the character as being young during the World War I era as opposed to most previous TV and comic incarnations set in World War II. I think the change is a good one as it keeps comparisons to "Captain America: The First Avenger" to a minimum and places Wonder Woman/Diana back before women could even vote.

Gal Gadot plays the title character, and it's a performance that gets better and better the longer the movie goes on. She is certainly beautiful and able to handle the action sequences. But I love the light comedy she brings to the role here, the sly and excited smile that comes over her face when charging into battle, the truly lovely empathy she has for a world at war in which so many innocents (and not-so innocents) need her help.

Chris Pine is well cast as Wonder Woman's long-time male counterpart, Steve Trevor, here re-imagined as an American spy whose plane is shot down near the Amazonians' mythic island. He has information about a dreadful chemical weapon the Germans are developing that could threaten the peace talks as WWI nears its end. When Diana hears of the impending genocide in Europe, she believes the God of War, Aries, is behind it and agrees to accompany Steve back to London. She and he are eventually plopped down on the Western Front where Wonder Woman sees the world as it really is for the first time and must figure out how to act and react from there.

Director Patty Jenkins and screenwriter Allan Heinberg are not afraid to tackle some big themes here. At the same time, though, they've broken the DC Comics gloom-and-doom trend that has weighed down their newfangled Superman and Batman movies. They get the tone EXACTLY right here. The war setting may be grim. But much of the action is comic-book cool, the leads are genuinely appealing, there's some light humor sprinkled throughout and the romance is sweet.

The film is not a total triumph. I think the climax is way drawn out and should have been at least a good five minutes shorter. And, hey, NO Lynda Carter cameo! There should have been one! Gadot is splendid, but Carter will always be my and many others' Diana Prince. To this day, she's still a wonder, Wonder Woman. But Gal Gadot is well on her way, too.

"Wonder Woman" is rated PG-13 for violence, action and suggestive content.

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'Captain Underpants': It's a stretch for parents... but the little ones will love it

'Captain Underpants': It's a stretch for parents... but the little ones will love it

(Updated 6/5/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

If you go into a film titled "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" expecting high-brow, sophisticated humor and Pixar-level social commentary... this reviewer really can't help ya. It's called "Captain UNDERPANTS!" If you are still looking for thematic hints of Sartre and Kierkegaard after the introduction of the villain - Professor Poopypants - you obviously enjoy a good cocktail from time to time.

How much you get into "Captain Underpants" may just depend on how tipsy you are... but more likely how many kids under the age of 10 you have and how much joy you derive in listening to them giggle, guffaw and generally crack up over silly names, 1982-fresh "Uranus" jokes and Whoopee cushion symphonies. Bless you for making 'em happy for a little while, Mom and/or Dad.

I did enjoy "Captain Underpants." But I would've enjoyed it more had my daughter still been eight or nine years old and willing to go with me. Now 12, I told her the movie I was going to be seeing, asked if she wanted to go with me, had my face laughed in and then not-so-little Maddie returned to her Instagram page on her cell phone muttering, "Please close my door on your way out."

At least she said please.

"Captain Underpants" follows the misadventures of elementary-school besties George (voice of Kevin Hart) and Harold (voice of Thomas Middleditch) as they try to break the tension of their strict public school with a series of pranks against the teachers, their fellow classmates and the stern authoritarian Principal Krupp (voice of Ed Helms). But their efforts frequently land them in trouble, and Krupp has finally had enough after they sabotage the school's science fair. He separates them permanently into different classes.

Distraught, Harold and George make a last-ditch effort to save themselves by hypnotizing Krupp with one of those gag rings. Amazingly, it works. Through the power of suggestion, they convince Krupp that he is a comic book character the two dreamed up called "Captain Underpants," who runs around saving the day and dispensing justice in a cape and some tighty-whiteys.

But matters become complicated when the school's new science teacher, "Professor P" (voice of Nick Kroll), turns out to be a bona fide mad scientist intent on inventing a zap ray that will literally suck the senses of humor out of all human beings. He also has a ray gun that can both shrink and expand objects and people.

The movie is a hodgepodge of a lot of popular entertainments, everything from "The Peanuts," "E.T." and "Gravity Falls" to "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and "Megamind." It tries mightily to reach for the sort of absurdist, subversive humor that "The LEGO Movie" pulled off beautifully. But its heart is really in its potty gags. I did like that the two lead boys were kindred spirits in love with storytelling (George is the writer, Harold is the artist of their series of comic books).

But I found the use of adults as the voices of all the children really distracting throughout. Hart goes from sounding like Kevin Hart one moment to a Muppet Babies version of himself the next. There were enough adult characters sprinkled throughout that they could have gotten the box office names needed to sell this kind of fare and then populated the rest of the cast with any number of talented child actors out there now (the kids of "Stranger Things," for instance).

Still, there's a lot here to entertain grade-schoolers without talking down to them or corrupting them. At its heart, it's a story about dealing with mean teachers; hanging out in tree houses; and lying on the ground, looking up at the sky and imagining goofy adventures with giant robots and courageous superheroes. A 6-year-old may give it a 10 out of 10. This 46-year-old gives it a 6 out of 10.

"Captain Underpants" is rated PG for mild rude humor.

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Fifth 'Pirates' film is tarnished treasure

Fifth 'Pirates' film is tarnished treasure

(Updated 6/1/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

The new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, subtitled "Dead Men Tell No Tales," is the movie of the moment (eh, until the next big blockbuster hits screens)... and it is a movie of moments. It's not really a complete motion picture experience, but rather a big-budget framework to hang big set pieces and special effects on. I liked some of the moments. But as an actual film, it's a bloated mess - one that I wish I knew the beats going in, because then I could have planned a bathroom break, a snack-bar run, a check of my e-mail, etc.

Johnny Depp is back once again as that rogue scallywag Captain Jack Sparrow. In 2003, Jack was one of the best and most original motion-picture character creations in years. Now appearing in his fifth movie in 14 years, Sparrow is old pirate hat... and that's both comfy and problematic. The Powers That Be behind this franchise never really want to push the character too far. They are content with him as the quippy, de facto party host of this franchise. The trouble is, aside from Geoffrey Rush's dastardly Captain Barbossa, Depp's Jack is surrounded by bland, interchangeable characters who are forgettable from one film to the next.

Much ink has been wasted on Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley returning to the franchise here as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (albeit in diminished roles). Honestly, they weren't missed. And they weren't gone long enough to have a son in Brenton Thwaites who looks more like Bloom's kid brother than his offspring.

At any rate, the plot is such that Jack's old nemesis, Javier Bardem's Captain Salazar, escapes from the Devil's Triangle with a crew of vengeful ghost pirates and a mission to kill every remaining pirate at sea, with Jack being Target Numero Uno. Sparrow soon discovers that his only hope is teaming up with Turner's beefcake son and a hot astronomer babe named Carina (Kaya Scodelario) to locate the legendary Trident of Poseidon, capable of breaking all curses.

Bardem is effectively creepy as Salazar. I've always liked that these "Pirates" movies have embraced their more creepy elements, a la the skeleton pirates in the first flick and Davy Jones and his cursed band of half-pirates/half-sea creatures in the sequels. But maybe going to the well once again with a curse wasn't the best plot point to take. It's really starting to feel played out at this point. And at well over two hours, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" has an inordinate amount of tedious moments where it's too complicated for its own good. It seems to be taking a page from the "Fast and Furious" flicks, which pretty much bring back everybody alive from previous flicks for each new installment.

But that series has ridiculously fast cars that all audience members can fantasize about driving. Pirate ships? I don't even like going on cruises all that much. I get queasy. I'm much more of a destination guy.

Now, there are some joys to be had here. Once again, this is a mega-budgeted film, and the money is up there on screen. Again, taking a page from "Fast and Furious," my favorite sequence in the flick is a quite literal bank heist where the actual bank is stolen. Very fun! I also was eager to spot the Paul McCartney as a pirate cameo, and it didn't disappoint. I only wish he could have appeared with Ringo. He was always the rum drinker of the Fab Four, right?

Well, I'm done with this review. And I am done with the "Pirates" franchise, and I hope Depp and Co. are also. The makeup and costume are such that Depp can play the role for at least five or 10 years more and look good doing it. And, yes, the end credits sequence does hint at an additional adventure to come. But if that does happen, they really should subtitle it "Pirates of the Caribbean: Enough Is Enough!"

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is rated PG-13 for adventure violence and some suggestive content.

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New 'Baywatch' has Durgin in a Hoff

New 'Baywatch' has Durgin in a Hoff

(Updated 5/26/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

Not since "12 Years a Slave" has a film... just kidding. OK, right up front, I have to tell you fine folks that "Baywatch" is an awful movie. Just awful. It's an R-rated action-comedy in which the action is about as involving as a 10th season episode of "Walker, Texas Ranger" and the comedy is mostly a string of gags involving boobs and genitals that play like ad-libbed outtakes from a DVD blooper reel.

But here's the thing: if you've been planning to see this movie for months now, no review of mine is going to dissuade you. 'Cause you're not going for great stunts or high-brow comedy. You're going for the existential jollies of seeing Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach bouncing around on the big screen in their tight, cleavage-busting swimsuits. You're going to see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Zac Efron and their amazing pecs. This shouldn't be called "Baywatch." It should be titled "Great Male and Female Chests in Slo-Mo."

On that level, it's a masterpiece.

Hey, I'm no idiot. I didn't expect anything great here. I mean, let's be honest - "Baywatch" was a pretty bad show. The world watched because it had generous weekly helpings of Pamela Anderson and Yasmine Bleeth in various stages of undress. It had sun, surf and idyllic beaches. It had The Hoff! It was total "turn your-brain-off" television. It wasn't "Hill Street Blues." And the movie version was never going to be "Spotlight."

But, man, it could have been just a bit more ambitious! It didn't even have to be on the level of the fun and funny "21 Jump Street" movie that has become the gold standard for this kind of fare. But, jeez, at least it could have been on the level of... oh, I don't know... 1987's "Dragnet!" That actually had a clever crime caper for the recast Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd) and his partner, Pep (Tom Hanks), to solve while smut and goofiness happened around them.

"Baywatch" actually has a fairly entertaining first half, in which the characters are introduced, that's played mostly for R-rated chuckles. Then the second half kicks in and the focus shifts to one of the most lame crime capers that has ever been committed to screen. It's one of those lazy crime flicks where the hero characters need to find out a key piece of information. So, in the very next scene, they just happen to overhear a villain character say exactly what they need to hear to confirm their suspicions. Or, they need to know if drug deals are going down on the beach. So, two scenes later, they pull up in a boat about 30 yards from the bad guys' boat and just watch as big narcotics shipments are unloaded.

The fight scenes are ludicrous in which multiple characters get knocked out with one punch and dozens and dozens of bullets are fired and miss completely. We're talking Stephen J. Cannell mid-'80s action TV show quality here, folks... but played straight, without a hint of parody or spoof.

Johnson as Mitch and Efron as Brody make for a pretty good mismatched buddy pair. I did like "The Rock" constantly calling Efron's pretty-boy showboat everything from "Bieber" to "High School Musical" throughout. Efron is very good natured to be the butt of SO many jokes. I only wish Johnson's ego was such that Efron could have bagged on him just as good. The most consistently funny character in the film is Ronnie (Jon Bass), a nerdy type who has finally made lifeguard and crushes hard on the gorgeous C.J. (Rohrbach).

But what can you say about a movie that botches both a David Hasselhoff cameo AND a Pamela Anderson cameo? That's unforgivable. "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2" made infinitely better use of The Hoff. Ah well. After this and the bad "CHiPs" movie, maybe Hollywood will try something new and original. Nah! I hear they're thinking of rebooting "Magnum P.I." for TV... with a female lead!

Ugh. Maybe she'll have a moustache...

"Baywatch" is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content and nudity.

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R.I.P. Roger Moore

R.I.P. Roger Moore

(Updated 5/26/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

I've written a few times that a guy's favorite James Bond is likely the one you saw when you were 16. That's the age when Agent 007 becomes everything you want to be as a man - suave, sophisticated, quick-witted, handsome, a ladies man, a man of action. Well, "The Living Daylights" came out in the summer when I was 16. So, Timothy Dalton will always be my personal favorite Bond.

But Roger Moore's secret agent is the one I grew up with. In my mind, he IS Bond. I really haven't seen him as any other characters. Sean Connery? I also know him as Marko Ramius and Indiana Jones' daddy. Dalton was an awesome baddie as Neville Sinclair in "The Rocketeer," and Daniel Craig has been able to easily shed the Bond persona in everything from "Munich" to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

But Moore? I'm too young to have known him from TV's "The Saint." And even in "The Cannonball Run," he was playing a guy who looked and acted like Roger Moore in a great bit of spoofery. No, Roger Moore is as much James Bond to me as Ray Bolger is the Scarecrow, as Bela Lugosi is Dracula, as Carroll O'Connor is Archie Bunker. And Moore was completely cool with being identified by the one part. He embraced it, had fun with it and ultimately turned it into something amazingly positive with his global work with UNICEF.

Roger Moore passed away on Tuesday, May 23, at the age of 89. I loved him as James Bond. "Moonraker," as cheesy and as silly as it is, was the first 007 movie I ever saw. My family was one of the first to get a VCR and also to have HBO in the late '70s and early '80s. My father was a Bond fan, so he taped all of the Connery Bonds and then the Moore films when HBO aired them, uncut and without commercials - a real novelty back then. Me being a "Star Wars" fan and 10 years old... of course, I was gonna start with "Moonraker."

Yeah, yeah. It was - *ahem* - BOND... IN... SPACE! The whole thing indeed climaxes with astronauts in a laser gun battle with the evil Hugo Drax's henchmen, while Bond pilots a space shuttle and shoots down orbiting death satellites with his phaser cannons. To that I say... uh... COOL!!! What the hell is wrong with that?! And the entire time Bond is zipping around the cosmos, he has a gorgeous woman at his side (Lois Chiles) named... Holly Goodhead!

Beat that, "Moonlight!"

For the most part, though, there was just a fun to the Moore Bonds that isn't in the admittedly superior Daniel Craig films. I also think he was the most romantic of Bonds, in large part because he had the best ballads of any 007. "Nobody Does It Better," "For Your Eyes Only" and "All Time High" are lush, gorgeous, sexy and suggestive songs with lyrics like "Like Heaven above me, the spy who loved me, is keeping all my secrets safe tonight."

"For Your Eyes Only" was arguably Roger Moore's best film of the seven he made. The locations in that film are among the series' best, it has my favorite pre-titles action sequence of all the Moore films, and what a beauty Carole Bouquet was! The team followed that film up two years later with the box office hit "Octopussy." However, by 1985, Moore was clearly getting too old for sleuthing. His final appearance as 007 was in "A View to a Kill," a film that had its pluses (cool Duran Duran song, Christopher Walken's cackling genocidal maniac). But it was clear new blood was needed.

Roger Moore is the first James Bond actor to die. Even George Lazenby is still alive! In the end, he's the first Bond to be defeated by the ultimate super-villain, that most cunning of all megalomaniacs... the Grim Reaper. But don't be too sad. In true 007 fashion, he died in Switzerland and his funeral will be in Monaco. Seriously, how freakin' Bond is that?!

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'The Keepers' is one keeper of a documentary series on Netflix

'The Keepers' is one keeper of a documentary series on Netflix

(Updated 5/22/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

Full disclosure up front - my mentor was Tom Nugent. He was my Journalism professor throughout my four years at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). And he's featured prominently in Netflix's riveting, new, seven-part documentary "The Keepers." The docuseries centers on the unsolved 1969 murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik. She was an English teacher at an all-girls Catholic school in Baltimore County. One night, she left her apartment to go buy a gift for her sister who was about to get married. She never made it home. Two months later, her body was found and her killer was never brought to justice.

So, how does Tom factor into this twisted tale? Well, he was more than just a college writing instructor. He was and still is an investigative journalist extraordinaire, having broken many a story over the years for such publications as the Baltimore Sun and the Detroit Free Press. I must have taken a dozen classes with him over those years, and he was the adviser on the college newspaper I wrote for.

First and foremost, what I love about "The Keepers" is the amount of screen time he gets, because he comes off so perfectly as... well... Tom! "Nuge," as his students called him, was like this scrappy dog of a newsman. When he'd get ahold of a story, it was like a little yappy canine going lockjaw on a mailman's leg. He wouldn't let go! He would miss classes left and right because he'd be hot on the trail of some story.

It was around this time that he first became attached to the Sister Cathy mystery and made it his obsession for the next 20-plus years. Clearly "The Keepers" director Ryan White has drawn heavily on Tom's research in the story. White begins his first part (each installment runs around an hour) in Tom's cluttered attic, as he sifts through boxes of old newspaper articles, photos and other items related to the case. Then we meet the two most compelling figures in the series, 60-something Baltimore 'hons Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, who were students of Sister Cathy's and have devoted years of their lives to trying to solve the murder of their beloved teacher. At one point, Tom marvels at their tenacity imploring them to become investigative reporters. To which they reply, "No thanks. We'll do this our way."

It's a rare moment of humor in an eerie, tragic, but absorbing story. Factoring in throughout is a separate murder of a young woman in late 1969, a pedophile priest and a "Jane Doe" witness who struggles for years to get past her fear and shame. If you were a fan of "Homicide: Life on the Street" and HBO's "The Wire," this pretty much makes it a trilogy of Baltimore crime.

The personalities that run throughout this docuseries are pure B'more. Every face wrinkle is part of the story. Any rowhouse the camera glides by could hold the one clue that's been missing in this case for 46 years. And all who were young then now hear the tick-tock, tick-tock of Father Time. The clock is running out for those who want - who need to find out what exactly happened to Sister Cathy. Does "The Keepers" solve the mystery? I wouldn't dare spoil that here.

I will say that watching it, I personally felt an enormous wellspring of pride for Tom Nugent. This has been his crusade for years. And to see the hours and hours of blood, sweat and tears pay off here in the form of a Netflix series that brings his passion and his absolute "Nuge-ness" into the homes of millions... well, it's enormously gratifying.

The first time I encountered him was in an English 100 Composition class that every student had to take sooner or later. He was 10 minutes late to the class. None of us 25 or so students knew each other. So we just sat there quietly, waiting. Then, in the distance, we heard a faint whistle. It was a simple, yet familiar melody. It was the theme song to "The Andy Griffith Show."

Tom walked into the class, looking like an unmade bed of a man, and continued to whistle until he'd finished the entire theme. He then took a breath, looked at each of us, and asked, "Was life ever that simple?" He then launched into a half-hour bit about how Mayberry was evil and had set us all up to believe in an idyllic society that never really did exist and never really could. Two dozen college kids thought they were witnessing the ramblings of a mad man. One kid, this kid, knew he had changed his major to the right one.

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Latest 'Alien' flick disappoints... Durgin needs his space

Latest 'Alien' flick disappoints... Durgin needs his space

(Updated 5/22/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

I guess I'm just never going to see another great "Alien" movie in my lifetime. And I'm OK with that. In this dojo, there is STILL only 1979's "Alien" and 1986's "Aliens." And maybe that's all there should have been. I've always regarded the third "Alien" film in 1992 and the follow-up "Alien: Resurrection" as nightmares Sigourney Weaver's Ripley had while in cryo-sleep on her way back to Earth from LV-426 with Newt, Hicks and Bishop in tow. Meanwhile, I see the "Alien Vs. Predator" movies essentially as goofy "What if?" fan flicks.

And then there was Ridley Scott's disappointment "Prometheus." The 2012 film was the oddest mix of heady, ponderous, faux-grand ideas and flat-out moronic characters. Some audience members got into the original "Alien" director's over-reach in which he attempted to graft the origins of the frightening xenomorph creatures onto the creation of life itself. I just sat there bitter.

"Alien: Covenant" is Scott's flailing attempt to be all things to all fans. It is a direct sequel to "Prometheus," set 10 years after that film. So, we find out what happened after the duplicitous android David (Michael Fassbender) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) set off in an alien ship to find the Creators' home world. But now we meet a new starship crew who's mission is to colonize a distant world. When their ship carrying 2,000 colonists in cryo-sleep is hit with a neutrino burst, only the crew is awakened to fix the ship and get it back on course. But during repairs, they receive a signal from a nearby world and realize there's a potentially Earth-like planet much closer to them. So, they make the ill-fated decision to speed to those coordinates and check it out.

One of the things about this movie that works against it is the audience is more aware than the characters are at almost all times because we know what they're headed towards, and we know these dolts ain't gonna be up to the challenge. At the same time, the film poses as a story of great discovery and exploration. The trouble is, we don't discover anything we didn't already know. And the exploration part is ill-handled when this new crew sets down on this completely uncharted world and immediately begins acting like victims in an '80s slasher movie. One guy goes off "to take a wizz." So much for him! One woman takes a break to "be by herself." Buh-bye!

And, of course, none of them wear space helmets when setting down on the alien world. And they appear to have no systems or procedures in place for contagions. Heck, the planet is almost constantly shrouded in lightning storms and heavy rain, and not one of these John Glenns brings an umbrella!

The one aspect of this film that is truly different from the other movies and should have been played up more is the fact that most of the characters are couples. Married couples, in fact. But, with only a couple of exceptions, Scott and his screenwriters botch what should have been the heart of the film. It's not even clear sometimes who is married to whom. Several times, I had to remind myself, "Oh, yeah. He's with her, and she's there and he's over there."

The female lead Daniels (Katherine Waterston) watches her husband die early in the film during the neutrino burst. While we are drawn to her because of her loss (and she ends up being a heck of a fierce fighter), there's not much to the character except for her continued insistence that she wants to fulfill her and her late hubby's dream of building a cabin by a lake on their new world. What?! You decided to be space explorers? Interstellar colonists? And the scope of your vision was to do something you saw on HGTV?!

There is a twist in the end that sets up the next flick. But I just wish all concerned would stop muddying the waters. Please, let this be... ahem... "Game over, man!"

"Alien: Covenant" is rated R for violence, language, bloody images and some sexuality/nudity.

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Teddy's 10 most anticipated movies of 2017

(Updated 1/16/17)

- By Teddy Durgin -

My "10 Most Anticipated Movies" is one of my favorite columns to write. But I totally acknowledge that it's a rather silly one. Most of the truly great flicks of each year aren't even thought of in January. If you look at my recent 10 Best Movies of 2016 list, for instance, I wasn't even aware of four of my top five at this time last year ("Hell or High Water," "La La Land," "20th Century Women" and "Hacksaw Ridge"). I knew about the "Pete's Dragon" remake, but had no idea it would be that well-made. And nobody had heard of "Moonlight."

Regardless, at this point in time, I think there is a lot to look forward to over the next 12 months, cinema-wise. Here we go (dates are subject to change):

1) "Star Wars: Episode VIII" - Of course this is my most anticipated movie of 2016. And in other news, water is wet (Dec. 15).

2) "Blade Runner 2049" - I'm in the minority among sci-fi fans in that I have always believed a sequel could actually TOP the original. To paraphrase Roy Batty, I've seen No. 2 films you people wouldn't believe! "Blade Runner" wasn't so great that a follow-up couldn't be every bit as compelling and franchise-expanding as such second movies as "The Empire Strikes Back," "Aliens," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," etc. (Oct. 6).

3) "Dunkirk" - The trailer for this epic World War II film from director Christopher Nolan had my pulse racing. And the more I read about it and the more footage I see, the more I'm convinced this has the chance to be something special (July 21).

4) "The Circle" - I'm intrigued by this one mainly because Tom Hanks gets to play a villain (an Internet billionaire with no regard for personal privacy). And I totally think he can do it! After all, the most formidable bad guys are often the ones who are the most likable (Hans Gruber, Rene Belloq, etc.) (April 28).

5) "Beauty and the Beast" - This could be a HUGE year for Emma Watson, who has a supporting role in "The Circle" and is top-lining here as Disney's iconic Belle in a live-action version of the 1991 animated classic. From the trailers, it sounds like she's cast quite the singing spell, too (March 17).

6) "The Greatest Showman on Earth" - Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum? Step right up (Dec. 25)!

7) "Murder on the Orient Express" - The pedigree of this remake is phenomenal. It's based on the classic Agatha Christie novel, Kenneth Brannagh is directing, Johnny Depp is starring as Hercule Poirot and the supporting cast includes everyone from Daisy Ridley to Judi Dench to Josh Gad. All aboard (Nov. 22)!

8) "Downsizing" - Anytime Alexander Payne writes and directs a new movie, it's an event for me. "Election" is one of my favorite films of all-time, and I greatly admired his other works like "About Schmidt," "Sideways" and "The Descendants." Here, Matt Damon plays a man who's literally been shrunk down to thumb size to live in a community built by other people who've had the same procedure. It sounds like Charlie Kaufman Land, but I'll definitely be visiting (Dec. 22).

9) "Baywatch" - Would I rather have a big-screen adaptation of "Downton Abbey" or this one? Uh... ahem... THIS ONE (May 26)!

10) "American Made" - Tom Cruise starring in a 1980s-era crime thriller. How could the author of "The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor" NOT be intrigued?! (Sept. 29)

Ten more that have potential (in no particular order): "Life," "Kong: Skull Island," "Wonder Woman," "Justice League," "The LEGO Batman Movie," "The Beguiled," "The Mummy," "The Dark Tower," "Darkest Hour" and "Free Fire."

And, finally, Sequels Galore: Between now and Dec. 31 - deep breath - the world's cineplexes will see "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3," "Pitch Perfect 3," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "John Wick: Chapter 2," "Paddington 2," "Trainspotting 2," "Thor: Ragnarok," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Alien: Covenant," "The Fate of the Furious," "The War for the Planet of the Apes," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," "Transformers: The Last Knight," "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Logan" (the third "Wolverine" standalone movie).

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel

Times writer Teddy Durgin releases first novel

- By Patrick Taylor -
Recently, East County Times writer Teddy Durgin, who many recognize for his film reviews, released his first novel. Titled “The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor,” this murder mystery is a fast-paced, action and humor packed tale that will keep you glued to the pages.

Set in Laurel in the summer of 1986, the story follows 16-year-olds Sam Eckert and his friends Chip and Buddy (think the geek crew from the seminal show “Freaks and Geeks”). With summer work at the mall beginning, it looks like all will be relatively dull until the school year began - until a car explosion kills Muffy McGregor, one of the more popular, attractive girls in their school.

From there Sam and Chip get roped into the world of private investigation with the help of a mall regular, Mr. Rabinowitz. Suspects pop up one after the other, with McGregor’s classmates, co-workers and lovers all under the watchful eyes of Sam and his crew.

Those who have consistently read Durgin’s reviews over the last few years won’t be surprised that the book is filled with pop culture references that capture the time period perfectly. Whether it be discussing the films that made 1986 stand out or paying tribute to cultural touchstones such as the M*A*S*H finale, Durgin perfectly captures what it was like to grow up in that era.

“The thing about throwing references in is that you try to make them true to the character, and you don’t want to overdo it,” said Durgin.

Of course, given Durgin’s love of film, it should come as no surprise that this book often has a very cinematic feel to it.

“The premise of the book started with a simple question - what if John Hughes had written a murder mystery? It kind of went from there,” said Durgin. “That’s what was part of the fun of writing it.”

In typical John Hughes fashion, the book features many of your high school archetypes - jocks, nerds, pom-pom shaking cheerleaders. It also features some of the truest dialogue between teenage boys that I’ve read in quite some time. Seeing as how the boys are 16, it should come as no surprise that the book is littered with swears and moments of characters speaking before they’ve thought about what they’re going to say. A particularly awkward exchange early on between Sam and his new boss, a former plus-sized model named Collette, ends with Sam asking if she has any copies of her old magazines lying around.

“Some of those conversations are actual conversations from my youth,” Durgin said. “Before I really started writing the book, I had a lot of funny lines and interchanges between characters so I knew where to put lines.”

But the best dialogue comes when Rabinowitz is in the picture. An elderly Jewish man who often wonders aloud why he didn’t choose another field of business over private investigating, Rabinowitz is often trying to keep Sam and Chip in line during the investigation. After all, you can’t be making noise gushing about Magnum P.I. while you’re breaking and entering looking for clues.

For Durgin, writing this book was something that has been on his mind for a while, with the characters bouncing around in his head for ages.

Last year, he took about three or four months to plot out what the story would be, figuring out what should happen in each chapter. Around September, he decided that he was going to start really writing and dedicated himself to a chapter per week for the next 16 weeks. The book was finished around President’s Day this year.

“It was the most fun I ever had writing,” said Durgin. “I love doing the film reviews for the Times and for other papers, but this was something I just had to do. I had started and stopped novels before, so it felt really good to get this done.”

For Durgin, setting the story in the summer of 1986 felt natural. Much like Sam Eckert, Durgin was born in 1970, and 15-going-on-16 in the summer of ‘86. The nostalgia for this time period drips from the pages, but it never comes off as forced or insincere. The dialogue, references and struggles seem very true to the time.

“This book will appeal to anyone who has a twinge of 80s nostalgia, anyone who has lived in Maryland and anyone who enjoys a good whodunnit,” said Durgin.

“The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor” is available now on Amazon and for Kindle, and it couldn’t have been released at a better time.

This book is the perfect companion for travel, beach days, lounging by the pool and more. It’s a quick, easy read, but one that will keep you interested and engaged. When I first picked up the book I had a plan to read half of it on a Saturday, half on Sunday. Instead I finished it in one go.

The payoff is absolutely wonderful, and one that I did not expect as I made my way through the book. This might be Durgin’s first mystery novel, but it reads as if he’s been crafting these types of tales his entire life.

With elements of John Hughes, Thomas Pynchon and the Coen Brothers (Durgin compared a particularly poignant scene to the highly underrated “Burn After Reading”), this story is a wonderful blend of mystery and humor that really brings suburban Maryland in the 1980s to life.

“If the East County Times readers have enjoyed reading me in the past, I think they’ll really enjoy this book,” said Durgin.

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