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Front Row at the Movies

Film Review The Great Wall
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Matt Damon as William Garin in a scene from "The Great Wall."

Film Review The Founder-1

Shirrel Rhoades

Friday, February 17, 2017

Matt Damon saves “The Great Wall”

Since President Trump is planning to build a great wall to keep out hoards of Mexican illegals, there should be some interest in its historical precedent: The Great Wall of China. That wall was built to keep out Mongol invaders and various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe.

Trump’s wall proposes to run 1,000 miles along the U.S.-Mexican border, while the Chinese wall stretches some 5,500 miles across the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. Yes, it’s huge.

If we give Trump credit for the new American wall, there must be a similar heroic figure in Chinese history. Turns out, it’s Matt Damon.

Movies are happy to deal with alternative facts. And the new epic action-adventure film titled (you guessed it) “The Great Wall” abounds in them.

As directed by Zhang Yimou (“Hero”), with a script by Tony Gilroy (those “Jason Bourne” movies) and a host of other writers, this turns out to be a monster movie.

Set during the Song Dynasty, a European mercenary named William Garin (Matt Damon, that is) is looking to score some black powder but gets embroiled in a battle where the Great Wall is the only thing standing between the Chinese capital and invading monsters known as Taoties.

Believe it or not, there is a mythological basis for these Taoties. Depicted on Chinese bronze vessels, these zoomorphic motifs have been referred to as “children of the dragon.”

According to the movie, these alien monsters came to earth on a green meteor that crash-landed onto Gouwu Mountain some two thousand years earlier. Every 60 years they attack.

A prototypical white savior, Garin and his pals join forces with the Nameless Order, a secretive military sect that has been training to repel the monsters. With the aid of hot air balloons, black powder rockets, and some archery skills to equal Robin Hood, Garin helps the Chinese win this round.

In December, the film premiered in China, where it took in $67.4-million on its opening weekend. Now if it can conquer American movie audiences as handily as Matt Damon vanquished the Taoties …


“The Founder” Is more about greed than burgers

Think of “The Founder” as one big infomercial for fast-food hamburgers.

Even so, Michael Keaton makes it interesting with his determined portrayal of Ray Kroc, the guy who “founded” McDonald’s.

As the history unfolds, we learn that Ray was a salesman peddling milkshake machines before he stumbles across a little diner called McDonald’s that sells high-quality hamburgers at low prices. An entrepreneur at heart, Ray convinces the brothers who own the diner to let him franchise it.

Ray expands the restaurants, increases profits by using powdered milk to make the ice cream, gets richer still when he sets up a real estate company to own the land the McDonald’s restaurants occupy, and finally rooks Mac and Dick McDonald out of the fast-food chain with a handshake deal that promises them money they never get. And their original restaurant went bankrupt while today The McDonald’s Corporation is worth more than $110 billion.

“I consider myself blessed to go from ‘Birdman’ to ‘Spotlight’ to ‘The Founder,’ says Keaton. “McDonald’s Ray Kroc is not a lovable guy, but he’s got an extraordinary work ethic and a decency — although once he sells his soul to the devil, he becomes a different, almost sadistic human being.”

In the movie, Dick McDonald asks Kroc why he wanted to own the McDonald brothers’ chain of diners when he would have stolen their idea and created his own fast-food franchise. Ray says he simply fell in love with the name “McDonald’s.”

Guess ol’ Ray knew what he was doing. McDonald’s is now considered the ninth most valuable brand in the world.

Shirrel Rhoades is the movie reviewer for Cooke Communications North Carolina. He can be reached at srhoades@aol.com.