Review – Lightning Strikes Again! (“Cars 3”)

Talking anthropomorphic automobiles that race and have feelings? Sure, why not! In 2006, Cars was Pixar’s golden child for boys having a jones for cars and NASCAR and, despite the boring plot and anti-climatic ending, it made a ton of money. That certifiable trainwreck that was Cars 2? Uh… let’s not talk about that one, okay?

Forget Cars 2 (everyone else trying to), we’re back to the racing world and that ego-driven race car, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). Yes, it’s a sweet life for #95 and winning year after year is great, especially for his endorsement company, Rust-eze. However, with technology comes a new breed of racer; the slim-line, computer-enhanced, super-modified, high-tech cars that are pushing the “old timers” out of their life’s work and into retirement. And McQueen’s on the short list when he loses big time to hot-shot, super-jerk Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer), the new whiz-kid on the track.

Things go from bad to worse when McQueen smashes during a race and recuperates back home in Radiator Springs with his buddies: lovable, but dim Tow Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), girlfriend/lawyer Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), Italian tire guru’s Guido and Luigi (Guido Quaroni and Tony Shalhoub), his faithful truck/travel home, Mack (Pixar’s good luck charm, John Ratzenberger), and many more. Ready to give up his racing gears, McQueen gets a much needed shot in the emotional fan belt when he’s asked to the massive Rust-eze Racing Center’s brand new home.

Run by Mr. Sterling (Nathan Fillion), who’s a Lightning McQueen super-fan, the ol’ #95 is given a face-lift and strange new training by the facilities chief trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). Not keen on all the weird new training exercises, McQueen just wants to race and beat Storm… and get on that super-neat virtual-reality simulator. However, it’s all a smoke-screen as Mr. Sterling just wants McQueen’s image to sell merchandise without him ever racing again. Oh no! McQueen begs for one more race, agreeing to retire if he loses, and the training with Cruz begins. Cue training montage #1.

A quick trip to legendary Thunder Hollow and a crazy demolition derby (y’know, for training) almost makes them both car fodder. Surprisingly, Cruz wins the derby, which upsets McQueen even more. Again, McQueen is ready to give up, so as a last-ditch effort, they visit the old stomping grounds of McQueen’s late mentor, Doc Hudson (the late Paul Newman). There they meet Doc’s mentor, Smokey (Chris Cooper), and his band of old cronies who re-train McQueen old-school style… even though Cruz is still out-racing McQueen easily. Cue training montage #2.

Well, it’s time for the Piston Cup in Florida and everyone is saying that Jackson Storm will be the easy winner, with Lightning McQueen coming in dead last. Get ready for a finale that isn’t what you’d expect, but one that is certainly 2017 and keeping up with the current agenda. Redeeming itself from that mess that was Cars 2, this film isn’t one just for the kiddies. Considering the topics of getting old, despair, helplessness, regret, life- changing decisions, and other weighty adult issues, this is hardly your cheery, LOL children’s fare. Yes, it does have some very funny moments, but they are scattered about like thrown lug nuts in an oil pan.

Screenwriters Kiel Murray (Cars), Bob Peterson (A Bug’s Life), and Mike Rich (The Nativity Story) have a smart, excellent story of winning, loss, and redemption with the requisite Pixar funny shenanigans thrown in for the kids, but clearly not enough like in Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. or Ratatouille. As an adult, however, it did hit home on many levels, like getting old (remember Carl from Up! ?) and giving up on your dreams.

First time-director Brian Fee does a nice job here, what with Pixar rolling out their newest “photo-realistic” CGI software; he couldn’t go wrong . The imagery is SO real looking that you’d swear you were looking at actual filmed footage. Jaw-dropping stuff.

And, for starters, Pixar also gives us a new short before the movie called Lou, about a playful disembodied entity in an elementary school yard, that scoops up left behind toys and stuff, and plops them back in a lost and found box where it lives. However, Lou’s ‘job’, is challenged when a bully named J.J. wreaks havoc by stealing all the toys and stuff from the other kids. Soon the two square off in a battle of wits and what-belongs-to-who! Very clever with an emotional, surprise ending.

                 

Rocky III (1982)

*

In every movie franchise there comes the “Rocky” trope, so named for this movie plot where the hero, once on top of the world, gets kicked to the gutter where he/she has to crawl back to the top, usually with the help of their past mentor, enemy, or lover. Sure, it was used before Rocky, but this movie gave it it’s panache.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone in his signature role) has been on top of the boxing world for years now. Celebrity endorsements, The Muppet Show appearances, mega-bucks galore, and an undefeated heavy-weight title too boot. Life is sweet. After a ridiculous charity bout with wrestler Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan), Rocky is later called out by an over-zealous and super-angry boxer at a Rocky statue unveiling. This dangerous boxer is Clubber Lang (Mr. T.), and Rocky accepts his boxing challenge, much to the ire of his trainer and friend, Mickey Goldmill (the perfect Burgess Meredith).

While Rocky is getting his butt handed to him in the ring, Mickey dies in the clubhouse, and thus begins Rocky’s downward spiral. He quits boxing and refuses a rematch with Clubber. . .until his old nemesis, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), shows up with a proposition. He’ll train Rocky for a rematch, but in exchange for “a favor”. Reluctant and still reeling from his loss, Rocky, his wife Adrian (Talia Shire), and quite possibly the worst human being on Earth, Paulie (Burt Young) all go to L.A. to train. Apollo attempts to re-train Rocky the old-school way and have him get back “the eye of the tiger”, but Rocky holds back, until finally Adrian yells at him and finds out the truth.

Unshackled by his fears, Rocky regroups and comes back to face Clubber Lang in the ring again, whooping his butt in a taught, tense, and painful boxing finale where Rocky regains his title and later will fight a huge blonde Russian for some idiotic reason. Oh yeah, the “big favor”? Apollo just wanted to fight Rocky again, but privately! Like the original, Sly wrote this screenplay too, and also directed as well, as he did with Rocky II. Needless to say, the film was a ginormous hit, not only scoring a major hit at the box office, but making the song, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, a certifiable one-hit wonder.

This movie also didn’t hurt the careers of both Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, who both went on to have major TV and movie projects. The Rocky juggernaut could not be stopped and has since produced a fair amount of sequels and sorta reboots. After the laughable Rocky IV, Rocky V nearly killed the franchise with its really dumb plot, but 2006’s Rocky Balboa gave the franchise a nice kick with a surprisingly poignant storyline. Even more surprising was Creed in 2015 with Rocky serving only as a secondary character!  

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