He Named Me Malala (2015)

He Named Me Malala is the emotional story of how one Pakistani girl embarked on a mission to insist on education for girls. Politics is a minefield I try to stay away from, but literacy is a cause that appeals to me if ever there was one.

A strong theme in the film (indeed, in the title!) is Malala’s relationship with her father. There will always be people who say that by giving his daughter the name “Malala” and involving her in his intellectual life, Malala’s father created the champion who is now beloved by the international media…. and that he is also, thus, responsible for making her the victim of a shot to the head by a Taliban gunman. Malala refuses to blame her father, describe herself as a special victim of the Taliban, or even admit to any personal feelings of anger or suffering related to the shooting. Moreover, she states clearly that whatever she has done has been her own choice. Of course we are nevertheless free to imagine her anger and suffering, and to reflect on the many reasons any of us follow the paths we do: nature, nurture, chance, and choice all have roles to play.

The film runs the gamut of emotions: we feel shock, anger, sadness, and awe, but interviews with Malala’s brothers provide comic relief, and some of the things Malala says about herself are pretty funny, too. The segments that present Malala’s “normal” family and student life remind us that she is not just a survivor, a heroine, and a champion of the oppressed: she’s a human girl, in some ways no different from you and me, yet she has accomplished more than most of us would ever dare attempt, and perhaps for good reason: most of us have a stronger sense of self-preservation, and most of us have not been shot in the head.

Though it seems to try to transcend politics, the film can’t entirely avoid being political. One of its messages is that the Taliban’s teachings are not Islam; it is a perversion of Islam, a radical, poisonous ideology subscribed to by power-hungry extremists. The film does not document their crimes in detail; unlike the shorter 2009 NYT documentary, it is not graphically violent and its tone is generally hopeful; the bad guys are not its focus. Malala’s father says it wasn’t a person who shot her; it was an ideology. Who pulled the trigger doesn’t matter.

This film included beautiful animated segments and features the voices of Malala and her father, who speak in admirable English that has some charming idiosyncrasies.

I was curious whether He Named Me Malala, being fact rather than fiction, would have the same structure as other movies I’ve watched and analyzed. Although it had a kind of collage aspect to it, its underlying structure was the same as that of any narrative. I was not surprised. Just because a documentary starts with facts doesn’t mean it’s not also a story. Even if it a story that in real life is far from over, or one that isn’t told in chronological order, every story has to have a recognizable beginning, middle, and end.

I didn’t know much, if anything, about Malala before seeing the film. Now, having seen it, I am at least somewhat curious to read the book I Am Malala, a copy of which, hilariously, Malala signed and inscribed to herself before shelving it alongside others in her bedroom.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/he-named-me-malala/id1037547331

See below for some links to reviews as well as a summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading He Named Me Malala (2015)

Galaxy Quest (1999)

I keep thinking this movie is the one where a robot says “Danger, Will Robinson!” but no, that’s Lost in Space, a movie that came out around the same time and was reportedly terrible, though it was based on a beloved classic television show.

Galaxy Quest is decidedly not terrible. It’s an award-winning sci-fi comedy beloved by sci-fi and comedy fans alike. It’s got big-name actors (Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman), and top-notch special effects (from Industrial Light and Magic and others) that still look good almost twenty years later. And it was the film debut of Justin “I’m a Mac” Long, who subsequently starred in Live Free or Die Hard, Herbie: Fully Loaded, and Accepted.

The premise is that, years after the end of a long-running television show called Galaxy Quest (obviously a parody of Star Trek), the show’s washed up actors (those who played the commander, the attractive woman who talks to the computer, the rubber-headed alien doctor, the young pilot, the tech expert and a one-episode redshirt) are approached at a fan convention by actual aliens who mistakenly believe they are the “never give up, never surrender” heroes they used to portray. Can these human fish out of water pull together to meet this unexpected challenge?

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/galaxy-quest/id286147467

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

Continue reading Galaxy Quest (1999)

Black Panther (2018)

Marvel’s Black Panther embodies American exceptionalism. The theme is that offering foreign aid and sharing knowledge is not only a good idea, but a duty, and one on which a prosperous country’s survival depends.

Wait, you thought it was a superhero movie? Or a movie that celebrates black culture? Or a movie that celebrates women? It’s all those things too!

Moreover, critics are saying it’s a “Shakespearean” drama because of the nuanced characterization of the main villain, who believes so strongly in his mission that you’re half inclined to agree with him.

I’m glad that the unremittingly bleak and gritty Christopher Nolan style of superhero movie is increasingly giving way to humor, even in movies like this one that have serious and important themes.

See Marvel’s Black Panther as soon as possible so that you can join in the discussion of this cultural touchstone. If it’s not in theaters, it’ll be on iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/black-panther-2018/id1342065788

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

Continue reading Black Panther (2018)

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

If you thought all Tom Cruise movies had a scene showing Tom Cruise sprinting, you were wrong. Vampires don’t sprint, and in this movie… Tom Cruise is a vampire. So is Brad Pitt. Tom Cruise plays the bloodthirstier of the two. There’s a lot of blood and death in this movie. It’s not really my genre. At all.

Hah. I wanted to know about the financial aspects of being an immortal vampire. Do they steal? Do they invest? Do they work for pay? They could do any or all of those things, but we are shown zero of them. We also don’t see the legal or even social consequences of any of their murders, some of which really seem like they would have been noticed. Oh well…. In the positive column, Kristen Dunst, age 12, did a great job of playing an eternal woman child.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/interview-with-the-vampire-the-vampire-chronicles/id279599100

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

Continue reading Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Office Space (1999)

The year 1999 gave us the Wachowskis’ touchstone film, The Matrix, the story of a young man seemingly trapped in a meaningless office cubicle existence. The hero of Office Space is no less trapped, no less freed, and no less adored, though the tone of the film is (like Dilbert) comedic rather than darkly futuristic.

If you haven’t seen this cult classic, you are missing out.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/office-space/id273369330

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

Continue reading Office Space (1999)

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie looks like a transparent marketing ploy, but there’s more to it than that. It is surprisingly good. (So is The Lego Batman Movie, but reportedly The Lego Ninjago Movie isn’t.)

The Lego Movie is chock-a-block with jokes, only some of which are of the unsubtle variety, but it has a message, too: we all want to feel special, and in some way or other, we probably are, if we choose to see ourselves that way.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-lego-movie/id805178535

I liked the playfulness of the script and inventiveness of the visuals in the fights and chases. I am choosing to overlook the overly didactic name of the villain.

See below for a 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 Lego Movie (2014)

The Great Wall (2016)

When I watched this on television at a friend’s house, I’d heard of the movie and wanted to see it (my dislike of the famous-Hollywood-star-in-Asia movie The Last Samurai notwithstanding), but had no idea there were lizard things in it. I suppose I assumed it was a historical story, or maybe a fantastical historical story with magicky people in it, like The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom (2014). I have just learned that the name for that genre is “wuxia”.

No, this was a monster movie. It was a good one! Like Pacific Rim (2013). Again, I sort of expected the monsters to be misunderstood, but no. They’re just monsters. The point is to kill them, not understand them. There are some vague bits of theme wafting around—trust, loyalty, discipline, and teamwork are good, while greed is bad—but really, the point is to stop the lizard monsters from taking over the world.

I enjoyed the Mandarin-heavy dialog because hey! I understood some of it! Every big-budget Hollywood movie with part of the plot set in China (e.g., Now You See Me 2), every Chinese movie with crossover Western appeal (e.g., Bleeding Steel), and every studio cooperation using big names from both the West and China, like this one, brings us closer to a fused future culture like the one in Firefly, even if some of the products of that cooperation, like this one, are not exactly greeted with resounding applause.

Bleeding Steel (2017)

Take Jackie Chan’s “loving father / brave protector” role from The Foreigner, subtract the tragedy, and add an over-the-top comic-book villain equipped with an airborne science lab and a fierce henchwoman in a Tron suit, and you’ve got Bleeding Steel. It wasn’t amazing, but I enjoyed it.

It was especially fun for me for two reasons, both related to my recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. First, on that trip, I skydived for the first time. There’s a scene (shown on movie posters) of Jackie Chan falling from a plane. Now I know what that feels like. Second, when touring the Sydney Opera House, our group was told that Jackie Chan had been filming stunts for a movie there. When I saw the movie, I recognized the location from having been there myself. Of course, I wasn’t actually on top of the Sydney Opera House, but I was in and around it.

When I told a friend I’d just seen a Jackie Chan movie, she thought I meant The Foreigner. No, not that one. Kung Fu Yoga? No, not that one, either. All three are Jackie Chan movies released in 2017! Now I learn there was a fourth: Namiya. It must have been a busy year for Jackie, not even counting two cartoon voice roles.

Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Moral values are and should be demonstrated through art, but it’s better that they be embedded deeply so that they shine through, rather than pasted to the surface like so many flashy glass jewels. I found The Last Jedi too didactic in its details and (possibly) too cynical in its approach. See below if you want to know why.

Continue reading Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Bottle Shock (2008)

The folks at The Marlborough Vintners Hotel, a lovely place to stay, are no fools. The people who pass through Blenheim care about one thing: wine. The shelf of DVDs at the front desk therefore includes the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, which I watched with my mother-in-law (who had seen it before). I mean, what else were we going to do with the rest of the afternoon, after the wine tour we went on?

It was a delight to see Alan Rickman play a British wine snob in this movie, a storyteller’s take on the watershed 1976 Paris Wine Tasting event that brought California wines to the attention of the world.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/bottle-shock/id301233114