The Infiltrator (2016)

I expected The Infiltrator to have more tension, violence, and fear than it actually did. At the heart of the movie is (the real-life story of) a friendship betrayed; the core of this movie is not danger, or even justice or remorse, but sadness. I wasn’t expecting that.

They picked the perfect actor for the role; here you have Bryan Cranston again transforming (albeit temporarily) from a mild-mannered husband to an absolutely driven liar, imposter, and corrupt kind of dude (you know, like he did in Breaking Bad).

The deadly game that the character Robert Mazur plays is reminiscent of the antics seen in Catch Me If You Can (2002), only the consequences of exposure aren’t jail, they’re much, much worse. Bob is in the car when a contact he was meeting with is shot dead and the car flips over. So it’s not as if there’s no fear, no tension, and no violence at all.

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading The Infiltrator (2016)

Turbo (2013)

Well, race fans… What to say about Turbo. Not a favorite. Too many characters and subplots. There are comparisons one could draw between this movie and Pixar’s Cars (2006) and the less obviously related Ratatouille (2007), and Disney’s Planes (2013)… but none of those comparisons favor Dreamworks.

Among the Dreamworks disasters, I liked Rise of the Guardians better than Turbo; I vaguely think Sinbad and El Dorado were okay; I haven’t seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman or Penguins of Madagascar.

Turbo’s premise, which is proclaimed insane throughout the movie itself, is that a garden snail from somewhere in California accidentally gains superpowered speed (and miscellaneous other irrelevant attributes of being a car), finds a human sponsor, and goes to compete in the Indianapolis 500 against his childhood idol, a famous French driver. Throw in Samuel L. Jackson, a Latino, grown-up version of the charmingly oblivious fat boy in Up, more antagonists than you can shake a stick at, and a clip from the hit song “Eye of the Tiger” and you’ve got a mess of a movie.

I thought the filmmakers had passed up the world’s most obvious chance ever to make the old “look at that S car go” joke until I noticed that Turbo’s race number is ‘5’, which looks an awful lot like the letter ‘S’. Kudos, guys! I was expecting the joke and you still got me.

Keep reading for more on what didn’t work and why, including SPOILERS. (Ha ha, get it? Spoilers!)

Continue reading Turbo (2013)

Types of futures in movies

In my post on Total Recall (2012), I said:

Perhaps because the future is like an exotic place, in American movies, the future is believably exotic when it’s Asian.

However, Asianness is not the only kind of exoticness that the future exhibits.

Sometimes, for example, the future is architecturally minimalistic (Gattaca) or brutalist (Total Recall 1990). Or it’s just the West in the present—or the 70s, as the case may be—but with better gadgets (Predestination), better weapons (Edge of Tomorrow) or “technology” you can’t help but call magic (Wanted). Or it’s a desert wasteland (Mad Max), possibly with flooded, buried, damaged, or overgrown skyscrapers (AI, Oblivion, Divergent, I Am Legend). Or at first glance it’s indistinguishable from the far past (Cloud Atlas). Or it’s not the future, it’s a magical parallel world that’s full of true-to-life European buildings but also has steampunk “technology” (The Golden Compass).

In The Expanse, interestingly, New York has walls to protect it from elevated sea levels. That’s an optimistic kind of future: we’ll have problems, but we’ll solve them in such a way that the past will be preserved rather than destroyed—or transcended and forgotten.

Total Recall (1990)

Despite my distaste for the sleaze, cursing, and blood in the Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall, I have to say that overall it’s a much better movie than the 2012 remake!

Viewers’ overall preference for the original seems to be widely attributed to nostalgia or fondness for Arnold’s acting, but in fact what makes the old movie better is that the characters’ actions and relationships just make so much more sense.

Arnold is an ordinary manual laborer of the future who’s so obsessed with going to Mars that not even his seductive wife can distract him from his dream of going there. He visits a business called Rekall that sells memories of perfect adventures and vacations that people can’t have in real life, but something goes wrong during the memory-implantation procedure and suddenly Arnold is being hunted. He goes to Mars, gets the girl and saves the planet. Or does he?

Feminism accounts for some of the differences between the original and the remake. The 1990 version has a feisty female rebel and a feisty female secret agent, but the rebel is a prostitute and the secret agent is also more or less hired out. Those roles had some ground-breaking elements but didn’t totally suit the sensibilities of two decades later. Also, the alien and psychic elements were dropped and obviously the setting was changed.

Interestingly, the original movie, I’m told, isn’t much like the story it was inspired by, Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”.

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Total Recall (1990)

Total Recall (2012)

This remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger sci-fi movie Total Recall (1990) is flashy but far from amazing. I didn’t buy the sci-fi, I didn’t buy the romance, I didn’t buy the political cause. I heard clear echoes of Paycheck (2003), Upside Down (2013) and The Matrix (1999) but nothing really gripped me. Paycheck and sold the romance better. Upside Down sold the political cause and the romance better. Say what you want about Keanu, The Matrix sold the romance, the cause and the sci-fi better!

The premise of the movie, loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, is that when some average Joe in the future can’t shake the feeling that he isn’t average, and one day goes to try out a recreational technology that can implant memories, and asks to live out a spy fantasy, he discovers that he is, supposedly, already a spy! Things spiral out of control from there. There’s lots of chasing, holograms, hovercars a la Minority Report (2002), sideways elevators, and explosions. In the end he saves the world and gets the girl, as per usual. In many ways, it’s a passable sci-fi/action/romance movie, but I can see why it’s been panned—it’s hard to care what happens to this guy.

Also, the hovercars aren’t the only things in the movie that are lifted (ha ha).

Watching the Total Recall remake proves about as inspiring as a trip to Costco. Every now and then something shiny and new catches your eye, but mostly you’re just eyeballing stuff you’ve seen a hundred times before.

One could also draw parallels with Vanilla Sky (2001) and Inception (2010). Or even the bizarre novel Sophie’s World.

The main actor, Colin Farrell, in this movie looked like a less boyish version of Brett Dalton, the actor who plays Grant Ward in Marvel’s Agents of Shield. (In a later and very, very strange movie I saw recently, The Lobster (2015), Colin Farrell looks more like Ned Flanders than Grant Ward.)

I think it was a nice touch that protagonist and factory worker Douglas Quaid is shown reading an Ian Fleming (James Bond) novel during his commute through the Earth. The internet says it was The Spy Who Loved Me.

The special features on the DVD weren’t so special. There’s a gag reel, which is okay but kind of unexpected since this isn’t a kids’ movie or a comedy. There’s a thing called “Science Fact or Science Fiction”, which is basically an interview with a guy who believes anything and everything will be possible eventually, if it isn’t already—an attitude I find unrealistic and somewhat poisonous. Finally, there’s a bit about how The Fall was designed which doesn’t shed much light on the thing at all, given how unintuitive and in fact highly implausible the technology is.

Lots more thoughts below, including a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Total Recall (2012)

Vera Cruz (1954)

I don’t know quite what to make of Vera Cruz. I don’t know whether it was confusing because I fell asleep, or whether I fell asleep because it was confusing. I’m afraid watching the movie did not contribute to my understanding and appreciation of the genre of westerns as I’d hoped.

Monster Hunt (2015)

Monster Hunt, a 2015 Chinese live-action/CGI historical-fantasy, was mostly cute but also more than a little disturbing in places.

Amazon reviews indicate that the English-dubbed version is missing some content and is thus less disturbing but also less coherent than the original.

Wikipedia says both versions played in US theaters, but it doesn’t surprise me to learn that neither did very well. The movie was reportedly a big hit in China, though how big a hit is a matter of some debate.

The premise of the movie is that, in a world where humans hate, hunt, fear, and enslave monsters, the strong monsters-in-exile turn against the weak and the beleaguered pregnant monster queen implants her unborn son in a rather domesticated young man whose father left him in charge of an isolated village. The pregnant young man then teams up with a relatively unproven female monster hunter who plans to sell the baby monster prince to a dealer in the city, where, it turns out, monsters are killed in a special kitchen and eaten in a special restaurant.

I don’t know which is more disturbing: the sequence in which two monsters disguised as human children plead with the head chef to be killed quickly, or the sequence in which the head chef prepares the cute little innocent monster prince to be eaten alive.

I think the point is that both humans and monsters are sentient beings, and shouldn’t hurt one another. Live and let live. It’s a nice theme.

There are lots of fight scenes that involve flying-through-the-air style martial arts moves. Oh, and there are songs.

The CGI is good. The movie’s take on gender roles is interesting. The fantasy action adventure story is fine. Bits of it are funny. I just think the villains could have been threatening in a less nightmarish way. Not a movie I’m likely to watch again.

Mr. Right (2015)

If you like The Man Who Knew Too Little, then perhaps you will also like Mr. Right. Both use obliviousness as a form of comedy. There are also presumably some similarities with the TV show Dexter, which I haven’t seen, but which revolves around a serial killer who kills killers.

There was some cleverness and fun action, but I didn’t genuinely like the characters and felt squeamish about some of the violence.

Perhaps the best part of the movie was Francis’s interaction with Steve, an assassin sent to kill him.

Also enjoyable was hearing Tim Roth, who I recognize from the TV show Lie to Me, put on a southern drawl that is not at all like his usual voice.

Racer Legend (2011)

I’m a sucker for car racing movies, which means that occasionally I wind up watching terrible examples of the genre. Such as this one.

The protagonist is an arrogant, brooding guy who’s out of control because of his brother’s racing-related death. There’s a girl racer who hates racing and loves nature. There’s some stuff about the physics of making tight turns. There’s some back and forth about risk-taking (bad) and teamwork (good). Lots of vroom vroom on the track.

It all felt amateurish, exaggerated, and overly long.

Oh well.

Hard to beat Herbie for goofy nostalgia or Speed Racer for epic weirdness.

A Hologram for the King (2016)

I watch a lot of action movies and kids’ movies, but when I’m on planes I search the free entertainment library for the unexpected… a movie about a boy in Laos who builds a rocket, for example.

I chose A Hologram for the King for its similarly exotic setting; I’ve been to Laos, but never Saudi Arabia.

This Tom Hanks movie was definitely unexpected; I hadn’t heard of the book by the same name by Dave Eggers.

I liked the middle-aged central character and was interested in the problems he faced. In addition, the movie has some great humor in it. I have mixed feelings about the overall plot, however.

More below, with SPOILERS.

Continue reading A Hologram for the King (2016)