Tuesday, 09 August 2022

‘The Bad Guys’ are actually good; TCM Festival report


Animated films have mostly lost their luster and appeal, at least from my perspective in recent years. For instance, Disney’s animated films too often appear to be a variation of the same style and themes.

This, of course, is just a matter of opinion which you may discuss among yourselves. My recent general avoidance of animation may be skewed by perception of missing innovation.

That’s why it’s so refreshing and original that DreamWorks Animation has delivered a true family-friendly entertainment with “The Bad Guys” that everyone on the age spectrum is able to enjoy.

The bad guys are dashing pickpocket Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell); slithering safecracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron); master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson); short-fused “muscle” Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos); and Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), the sharp-tongued expert hacker.

This quintet of crackerjack criminals has a deserved reputation as irredeemable animal outlaws that have managed to strike fear in the citizenry and exasperate law enforcement, particularly excitable police chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein).

Things take a turn when after the gang is caught, the dapper, ultra-smooth Mr. Wolf brokers a deal with the foxy Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) to avoid prison with the most-wanted villains putatively deciding to go straight.

Mr. Wolf’s deal doesn’t sit very well with the crew, but now under the tutelage of Professor Marmalade (Richard Ayoade), an arrogant guinea pig with a British accent, the bad guys will have to pretend at least to mend their ways.

How will it be possible for these hardened criminals who have terrorized the city for so long be able to reform their behavior? Will these dastardly criminals avoid a potential recidivism?

Complicating matters is the tension that arises between Mr. Wolf’s wanting to do good while his pals remain subversively tied to planning heists as if they were the lead characters in “Ocean’s Eleven.”

The fun in “The Bad Guys” comes from the wise-cracking animals who take so much pleasure in their capers and how they torment the police chief, as well as the high-speed chases in Mr. Wolf’s vintage muscle car.

The fast pace of “The Bad Guys” is exhilarating and the gags are funny. Tune in to experience the joy and find out if the bad guys finally redeem themselves.


For the TCM Classic Film Festival, movies of the 1940s and 1950s on display may not necessarily be classics in the mold of “Casablanca” or “Giant,” but in the case of “Queen Bee” and “The Letter,” they offer an insight to the draw of iconic actors.

In an introduction to “Queen Bee,” writer and filmmaker William Joyce noted the checkered career of star Joan Crawford went from being the “high priestess of glamor” to “box office poison” before reinventing herself for the classic “Mildred Pierce.”

Though it received mixed reviews in 1955, “Queen Bee” is a gem for showing Joan Crawford at her best and her worst in this lurid melodrama as she deliciously flaunts her wiles with an amusingly vicious streak.

As a Southern matriarch out to keep her former lover Jud Prentiss (John Ireland) from marrying her sister-in-law (Betsy Palmer), Crawford’s Eva Phillips is evil personified.

Eva thrashes one rival’s bedroom and uses the engagement party to reveal her past affair. Does her ruthless skewering actually lead one of the leading characters to suicide?

Joan Crawford’s manic energy as the noxious shrew leads her to dominate every scene, and as William Joyce so aptly observed, her character “descends to devour everyone in the movie.”

Arguably, Joan Crawford takes a serious approach to her character’s mean traits that drove her husband to alcoholism and bitterness. From a contemporary viewpoint, her performance looks like a generous helping of delightful “camp.”

Bette Davis was another strong actress with a stellar career who made several films directed by William Wyler, with whom she had a romantic and professional relationship according to Kathryn Sermak, the cofounder of the Bette Davis Foundation.

In an introduction to 1940’s “The Letter,” Sermak observed that star Bette Davis was an actor from the old school who created her character from within her persona. Fittingly, Davis was known to have respected Joan Crawford.

An emotionally potent film, “The Letter” showcases Davis in a stellar performance as Leslie Crosbie, an upper-class woman who pumps six bullets into a lover and then spends the rest of the film lying to cover her real motive.

Though claiming self-defense, Leslie is arrested for murder and her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) hires attorney Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) to defend her.

Predictably enough, blackmail and intrigue beset the trial. The lawyer uncovers an incriminating letter that casts serious doubt on the veracity of Leslie’s story of victimhood.

“The Letter” may not rise to the level of vintage film noir, but a dark tale of murder and adultery is about as good as it gets when stirring the pot with a heavy dose of duplicity and conspiracy. An icon of that era, Bette Davis delivers the goods.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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