Drink of the Week: Theodora Goes Wild (TCM Fest 2017 Salute #4)

Theodora Goes Wild.So, we’re back with this year’s fourth and final salute to the TCM Fest 2017. While this year’s festival was tinged with sadness, largely because of the departure from our planetary sphere of people like Robert Osbourne, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, I can also honestly say I had as good a time as ever. It’s largely the fact that, even for a committed geek like me, there’s always the chance to discover movies that I might have missed before, or if I did see them, it was in a beat-up print on the second half of a double bill on a weekday night when I was the worse for wear and in no shape to absorb good cinema.

Indeed, I honestly can’t remember whether or not I’d ever seen 1936’s “Theodora Goes Wild” before this year. However, I now know that it’s easily one of the smartest and most iconoclastic films in the cycle of screwball romantic comedies that ran through the 1930s and 1940s. The film stars Irene Dunne as a seemingly super-upright, small-town spinster (today we call them “adult single women”) who is secretly the author of an allegedly steamy bestselling novel; her costar is the invariably roguish Melvin Douglas as a troublemaker who gets more than he bargained for when he needles the beautiful writer, presuming she is a teetotaler. She takes offense at the suggestion and, careful to put him in his place, she orders a “straight whiskey,” and then another, and another.

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Luck or skill: Which casino game is best for you?

Let’s start with the obvious statement that we need to get out of the way: All gambling is based on luck. This truism cannot be ignored when you enter the realm of casino games online, but it’s only part of the story. You need luck, certainly, but it’s not going to be of any use to you without at least some skill. Remember when Homer Simpson was playing blackjack and received 19, then asked for three more cards? D’oh!

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Movie Review: “Alien: Covenant”

Katherine Waterson, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo
Ridley Scott

Fans of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” can rest easy, because the director’s latest addition to the franchise contains much of the same bite of his classic 1979 film. “Alien: Covenant” is a vicious and thoughtful, albeit unwieldy and sometimes frustrating, piece of science fiction that provides Scott with an epic canvas on which to paint his terrifying vision, all while continuing the ideas that were first introduced in “Prometheus” and the rest of the series.

Set 11 years after the events of “Prometheus” and 17 years before the original “Alien,” the story follows the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship with thousands aboard waiting to wake up to their new home. On the way to the ship’s destination, first mate turned captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) receives a transmission from an unknown planet. Despite protests from crew member Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterson), Oram decides to take a trip to the nearby planet to see if it’s habitable. Unfortunately, it just so happens to be home to some deadly Xenomorphs ready to rip through Oram’s crew, which consists of Covenant pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), his wife Maggie (Amy Seimetz), Sergeant Lope (Demián Bichir), Karine Oram (Carmen Ejogo) and dutiful android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Along the way, Walter meets a familiar face when he crosses paths with David (Fassbender), the curious android with a god-sized ego from “Prometheus.”

Co-writers John Logan and Dante Harper’s screenplay answers more questions about the expanded universe than its predecessor, for better or worse. Intially, the movie provides answers to questions that aren’t of much interest, most notably regarding the Xenomorphs. “Alien: Covenant” doesn’t demystify the horrifying creatures, but what it does tell us about them can sometimes comes across as redundant in the bigger picture.

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Blu Tuesday: Return of Xander Cage and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“xXx: Return of Xander Cage”

Vin Diesel famously never made a sequel to 2002’s “xXx” because he didn’t believe in them, but that was before he became the go-to franchise guy with the “Fast and Furious” series, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, to a lesser extent, the Riddick saga. However, it seems unlikely that “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” will reboot the stagnant franchise as intended, despite its blatant attempts to mimic the “Fast and Furious” films. Though it boasts the same over-the-top energy and its own multicultural cast, the movie comes off as nothing more than a second-rate rip-off with some truly ridiculous action sequences. It’s not a complete waste of time thanks to the involvement of Donnie Yen and Ruby Rose, but for a film that borders on so-bad-it’s-good territory for most of its runtime, “Return of Xander Cage” comes up short.

Extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes on Vin Diesel’s return, the supporting cast, location shooting and stunts, as well as a gag reel. FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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Movie Review: “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Neil Maskell
Guy Ritchie

Director Guy Ritchie has had a fair amount of success breathing new life into old properties (“Sherlock Holmes,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), but when it was announced that he would be helming an adaptation of the King Arthur legend, something about the pairing seemed off, and it’s a feeling that permeates throughout “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.” Ritchie’s unique filmmaking style is constantly pushing back against the more traditional elements of a summer tentpole movie, and while that may have worked to good effect in the aforementioned projects, there’s a more noticeable divide here that prevents the film from having a clear identity. “Legend of the Sword” has plenty of great moments, but the sum of those parts is disappointingly mediocre.

The film opens in grand fashion as King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) defends Camelot from an army of giant elephants under the control of the evil sorcerer Mordred (Rob Knighton). Upon his victory, however, Uther is betrayed by his younger brother Vortigern (Jude Law), who murders the king and steals his crown, but not before Uther’s young son Arthur manages to escape down the river. Forced to survive on the tough streets of Londinium, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up to become a small-time criminal who operates out of the very brothel where he was raised.

Meanwhile, Vortigern has become increasingly concerned that Uther’s true heir will return one day to reclaim the throne, so he’s begun rounding up all the men of a certain age and challenged them to pull the magical sword Excalibur, which can only be wielded by a descendant of the Pendragon bloodline, from its resting place. When Arthur actually succeeds, thus revealing himself as the prophesized Born King, Vortigern swiftly orders his execution. Fortunately, Arthur is rescued by a small group of resistance fighters, including Uther’s most trusted knight Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou) and a mysterious disciple of Merlin (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who encourage him to accept his destiny and put an end to his uncle’s tyrannical rule.

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