Zoolander 2 (2016)

Zoolander 2, the sequel to the now classic Zoolander, was better than I was led to believe. It seems to have failed to meet high expectations, but I didn’t think it was incoherent (whereas Point Break (2015), for example, was).

It had an interesting plot, but it wasn’t all plot… it had themes, too!

⦁    failure
⦁    ageing
⦁    fatherhood
⦁    abandonment
⦁    gender identity
⦁    obesity
⦁    loss

In fact, maybe there were too many themes. I’m not sure there was a theme overall, because all the issues that were raised were worked out in the end, and it’s not clear which was the central one. It’s not clear that a comedy would really need one, though… can’t a successful comedy just be an endless string of mostly unrelated jokes? Recycled jokes, even?

I liked Don Atari, the character who spoke nonsense, thus adding a lot to the “stranger in a strange world” disconnect that Derek and Hansel struggled with when they returned to the world of fashion. It was really painful to see how they were treated in their fashion relaunch, but that was the point.

I usually find comedy hard to stomach because inevitably some of the one-off jokes are offensive or just disgusting; certainly that’s true here. Nevertheless, other jokes succeed. Probably no two people would agree which jokes were funny and which weren’t.

I probably overlooked more than half the celebrity cameos since I don’t follow celebrity or fashion news. The cameos seem to be a major reason the movie was criticized… they’ll seem even less relevant to the movie in the future when these celebrities are less well known, assuming people even watch this movie in the future. Who knows, though? The first Zoolander movie wasn’t popular when it was first released either.


Captain America: Civil War (2016)

I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War overall. The major theme is choice, taking responsibility for one’s own actions and their consequences.

Some people seem to be reading implications about the role of America in international politics and policing into it, but I mostly think they’re missing the point.


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 Captain America: Civil War (2016)

The Jungle Book (1967)

Yes, that’s a VHS tape of The Jungle Book, and I just watched it at home using my VHS player. (Nothing beats a video that starts off with “Coming Soon in 1997.” Did you know that they released the 1989 movie The Little Mermaid back into theaters that year? Best Disney movie ever.)

I have mixed feelings about the Jungle Book cartoon. On the one hand, I love watching Bagheera slink around and roll his eyes. Shere Kahn is delightful as well. The voice of Baloo is just perfect. The animation of Kaa the snake is hilarious. On the other hand, I can’t get over the fact that Kaa speaks with the totally incongruous voice of Winnie the Pooh, a character who is the opposite of sneaky and threatening, while the Mowgli in this story does absolutely nothing but sulk and giggle and sulk and giggle the entire time. The only time he makes a decision is in the tacked-on ending invented by Walt himself—about which, more later—and his use of tools is limited to the aimless swishing of various twigs.


SPOILERS, including a detailed plot summary and comparisons with the 2016 movie, below.

Continue reading The Jungle Book (1967)

The Jungle Book (2016)

Disney’s live-action / cgi adaptation of its own animated classic, The Jungle Book, is similar in tone to its live-action / cgi adaptation of Cinderella. It was earnest and straightforward, and the technology that brought all those talking animals and jungle landscapes to life was amazing.

The theme seemed to me to be extremely American, or at least Western, in its individualism.


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 The Jungle Book (2016)

Mansfield Park (1999)

I must have seen Mansfield Park on a plane before I watched this DVD.

I remembered only the oddly sexualized parts, which surprised me both times, since the sex in Jane Austen’s romances is, in the novels and the other movie adaptations I’ve seen, all much more implicit.

Another weird thing about this movie is that bits of Jane Austen’s letters were put in as part of the character Fanny Price, who sometimes speaks directly to the camera.

Finally, the movie adds in a didactic subplot to remind us that Slavery Is Bad.

Although the movie seemed well received, personally, I can’t recommend it.



Continue reading Mansfield Park (1999)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a surprisingly straightfoward plot, but it was pretty enjoyable.

Premise: Dragons, formerly a menace to the people of Berk, are now a cherished part of Berk’s peace-loving culture. Menace lurks on the horizon, however. Dragon trappers are hunting dragons to sell to a warlord who is building a dragon army, and they’re not about to let a bunch of dragon riders get in their way, attacks from a mysterious giant ice-spitting dragon notwithstanding. Can Hiccup accept his role as future chief and protect his people… and the dragons? He and Toothless are going to have to fight that warlord, obviously. With help from an almost totally unexpected source…

Frankly, even if the plot had been a lot worse, the dragon joyrides would have made it totally acceptable. You know, kind of like The Rescuers Down Under. I’m a sucker for friendships with flying animals. (Free Willy, on the other hand, you can keep.)

Looking forward (waaaay forward, to 2018) to the third and final movie in the series. Considering reading the books, but I understand there are a lot of them and they’re only loosely related to the films. Not interested in the TV show.


More about this movie, and only this movie, since apart from the tame-the-injured-beast montage I don’t remember much about its 2010 predecessor, below. There are SPOILERS, 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 How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

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)