The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

I enjoyed the heist aspects of The Thomas Crown Affair, but I hated the characters.

Although the movie is named after Mr. Crown (played by Pierce Brosnan), when the insurance investigator (played by Rene Russo) shows up, it seems the movie is going to be about her trying to catch him, or at least about him trying not to get caught. However, it’s actually about whether clever, cynical Crown can ever trust anyone, which is less interesting than a heist. Maybe it’s not a heist movie. Maybe it’s a romantic comedy with a heist in it. I don’t know. I’m confused. And so is Rene Russo’s character. In fact, she’s spineless. I hate spineless characters. (Like Elsa, for example. Don’t get me started.)

SPOILERS BELOW. Read on if you want to know why I think you should save yourself the trouble of watching this movie.

Continue reading The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

Shaolin Soccer (2001)

I was eager to see the Chinese fantasy sports comedy Shaolin Soccer because I’d already seen and enjoyed Steven Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. I think I liked Kung Fu Hustle better, but this wasn’t bad.

Steven Chow (writer, director, star) is a poor boy named Sing who has five brothers and who wants to bring Shaolin martial arts to the masses by packaging it in a unique way. He tries kung fu singing, but that doesn’t really work, and gets him and one of his brothers into trouble with some local rabble-rousers. Luckily, a crippled ex-soccer star is interested in teaching him to combine his kung fu with the game of soccer. Half the movie is gone by the time our protagonist has successfully recruited his brothers, seemingly unsuited for soccer, to form a team. Will this strange team be able to defeat the Evil Team, owned and managed by the cripple’s former rival? Yeah, probably so. And will our protagonist also win the love of the woman who uses kung fu for baking? Yep, that’s kind of a given, too. How do those two goals come together? That’s worth seeing.

The seams between the live action filming and the special effects are generally obvious, but the CG effects are amazing for 2001 and still pretty enjoyable. The best is when the Puma soccer ball turns into a puma.

SPOILERS BELOW, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Ubiquitous deceptions

When I was writing up Paul Ekman’s book Telling Lies, I started to try to make a list of all the movies and TV shows that were arguably related, then realized that there were too many for the list to be coherent.

Now that I think about it, it’s hard for any plot not to involve a deception somewhere along the way. Entertainment wouldn’t be entertaining if there were no mysteries and no surprises.

Assessing the hundreds of movies and shows in my collection to find out which have a strong lying theme is a big task, but here’s a first stab at listing them.

  • Oblivion (2013): you are not who you think
  • Shark Tale (2004): the snowballing consequences of lying
  • Accepted (2006): lying about college acceptance
  • A Thousand Words (2012): misuse of words
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002): being a con artist
  • The Usual Suspects (1995): lies about criminal guilt
  • Chicago (2002): lies about criminal guilt
  • The Matrix (1999): the world is a computer simulation
  • The Truman Show (1998): the world is a stage
  • Pinocchio (1940): lying makes your nose grow
  • Liar Liar (1997): pathological lying
  • Lie to Me (2009–2010): ascertaining truth as a career
  • Breaking Bad (2008–2013): lies about criminal guilt
  • House (2004–2014): everybody lies
  • My Fair Lady (1964): rags to riches
  • Pygmalion (1938): rags to riches
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997): mistaken identity
  • Mulan (1998): gender masquerade
  • Mulan (2009): gender masquerade
  • The Incredibles (2004): superheroes in disguise
  • Speed Racer (2008): disguise
  • Gattaca (1997): impersonation
  • The Princess Bride (1987): disguise
  • Anastasia (1997): stolen/lost identity
  • Impostor (2002): aliens are among us
  • The Mask of Zorro (1998): disguise
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004–2009): aliens are among us
  • Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993–1997): disguise
  • Batman Begins (2005): disguise

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

It had some repetitive, unsubtle dialog, but on the whole, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 was better than I was expecting.

Premise: The protagoscientist (Flint) and everyone else on the boring fishing island that got covered in too-big food items falling from the sky in movie 1 gets evacuated to California while the mess gets cleaned up by Live Corp, a high-tech company headed by Flint’s childhood hero, inventor Chester V. After working thanklessly on inventions for the company in a tiny cubicle for six months, Flint then gets suckered into returning to the island to deactivate his device, which has gone haywire and has apparently created food monsters. His father and friends return with him to the island, where they discover that it has turned into a jungle inhabited by foodimals.

If you can stomach the dialog, some of which is funny and some of which (like I said) is repetitive, then it’s actually a lot of fun. You get a technicolor eyeful of lovable, inventive creatures and an earful of food- and animal-related puns. The plot is rather tidy and satisfying, and the demise of the antagonist is particularly fitting. The end credits are really weird. The informative special features shed light on some things you might overlook while watching the movie.

SPOILERS BELOW, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

Schindler Lifts

This is the sign in the lift at Huber’s Butchery and Bistro. (In Singapore, where elevators are almost universally called ‘lifts’ because that’s normal in British English.)

It’s a laugh-inducing shock when you see a sign saying “Schindler Lifts” for the first time, since what immediately springs to mind is Schindler’s List, the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie about a German who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

You brain goes: “Hey! That’s almost a famous movie title! Did they do that on purpose? Are they making a joke about the Holoc—Aw, it’s probably just a normal family name in Europe and totally a coincidence.” Which it is. But then you take out your smartphone and take a photo anyway.

Then you realize that hundreds of people on the internet have already done exactly the same thing.

And then you think, so what? It’s all been done. That doesn’t mean nothing is worth doing.

Randall has the right idea in this webcomic.

There will always be happy opportunities to share things with people who don’t know what you know, especially if you spend time around small children. Practically everything is new to them! That’s one of the joys of teaching.

Zootopia (2016)

I do not know how, but Disney made a fantastic cartoon mystery about gender, race and law enforcement. Oh, wait, I do know. They made it about animals instead of people, they did an amazing job of fantasy world-building, they got all the plot points in place, and they somehow made the theme explicit without—in my opinion—letting it get sickeningly didactic.

Premise: In a world where anthropomorphic mammals live together in harmony regardless of whether they are predators or prey, a bunny from a carrot-farming family becomes the first bunny police officer in the big city. Her victory turns to ashes when she’s merely made a meter-maid and tricked by a fox who’s as sly as a—well, as a fox. Meanwhile, fourteen mammals have disappeared in the city and no one knows why.

Zootopia is another full-on American movie about freedom of choice, but in this case the “be anything you want” message is tempered with uncannily realistic reminders that nobody—and no melting-pot, not even one with a utopian reputation—is perfect and that people will surprise you in both good and bad ways.

SPOILERS BELOW, including a detailed plot summary in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Zootopia (2016)

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

It was beautiful and moderately entertaining, but Kung Fu Panda 3 wasn’t great. I think the scenery and stylization was the strongest aspect of the project.

The premise is that an evil former friend of the old turtle character is stealing the life force of all China’s kung fu masters, both living and dead. Po the panda, as the famous Dragon Warrior, is the only one who can stop him. However, first he must figure out the answer to the surprisingly difficult question, Who am I?


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Death Race: Inferno (2013)

The other two Death Race movies had satisfying plots. This movie had what could have been a satisfying plot, but somehow it fell short. It just wasn’t really particularly clear what was happening or why, so it was hard to care about the characters and events. Moreover, the dialog was amazingly boring. Take away the drama, and it’s just cars and blood and death. Yuck.

The premise is that the moneymaking prison death race management company gets forcibly bought out by a first class jerk, who tells star driver Frankenstein that he in fact cannot win his freedom from prison by winning a fifth race as promised and that instead he is obliged to travel the world to compete and lose to attract fans across the globe.


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Accepted (2006)

I had never seen Accepted until yesterday, but even without seeing it, I knew how it was going to go. It’s basically Camp Nowhere (1994) with older kids. And yet, it’s not: it’s a critique of traditional higher education in America. And it’s got Justin “I’m a Mac” Long in it, who’s in Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005) as well as Live Free or Die Hard (2007), which I didn’t like.

The premise is that a guy who didn’t get into college rents an abandoned mental hospital and invents a college, which then attracts other ‘rejects’ by means of its all-too-functional fake website. South Harmon Institute of Technology (SHIT) turns out to be the best thing that happened to any of them: they’re finally ‘accepted’.

The two key words—‘shit’, with its endless potential for humor, and ‘accepted’, which conveys a wistful longing for belonging—together perfectly encapsulate the movie’s spirit. The producers are Tom Shadyac and  Michael Bostick, those responsible for the enjoyable Jim Carrey comedies Liar Liar (1997) and Bruce  Almighty (2003).


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Point Break (2015)

Point Break (2015) is not a movie, it’s an ode to extreme sports with a plot carelessly grafted on. That being said, parts of it were utterly beautiful. Specifically, the mountainy parts. Perhaps it’s a pity that I didn’t watch it in 3D!

More about this mess of a movie below, with “SPOILERS”, not that there’s really a plot.

Continue reading Point Break (2015)