Coco (2017)

I thought I disliked Olaf the snowman because he falls apart all the time, but I didn’t dislike Miguel’s skeleton ancestors in Coco when they fell apart (over and over again) in the oddly godless land of the dead, so it must be something else about Olaf that rubs me the wrong way. Sadly, the creators of Frozen made him the central character in the animated short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which played before Coco.

Coco was totally worth the wait, however. The storytelling was crystal clear, emotional, and well-structured, with appropriate foreshadowing, lots of call-backs, and some stunning visuals. I couldn’t believe that a couple of adults next to me in the theater found it hard to stay awake; I found it hard not to cry.

Coco is the story of Miguel, the youngest in a long line of Mexican shoemakers. Coco is Miguel’s ancient great-grandmother. Coco and her mother were abandoned by an aspiring music man, so no one in the family is allowed to sing or play an instrument. They’re all fine with that… except Miguel. He wants nothing more than to be allowed to develop his musical talent. Eager to prove himself, he tries to steal the guitar from the tomb of a famous local musician so he can enter a competition being held as part of the town’s Day of the Dead celebrations. The theft doesn’t go as planned, and Miguel finds himself on a quest that teaches him about the dangers of ambition and the value of family.

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 Coco (2017)

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

It was pretty weird seeing a story about European winter traditions in a theater in tropical Southeast Asia, where Chinese New Year is a more important family holiday than Christmas. Here, if Christmas is commercialized, it’s at least partly because many people aren’t actually Christian.

This Christmas featurette stars Olaf, who I never liked, being just as annoying as ever. His broken-fourth-wall deadpan comments failed to amuse. Meanwhile, Anna and Elsa were so perfect as to be utterly boring, and Christoff was milked for awkward gross-out humor. I didn’t like the feature film Frozen much to begin with, but Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was terrible.

I’m not the only one who didn’t like the short. The reasons mostly seem to be that Pixar usually produces shorts that are surprising, cute, and clever, whereas this one was dull and obviously commercially motivated, and not even all that short.

I did catch Elsa saying “I’m sorry”—which she never does in the entire movie where she’s kinda (but not really) the villain. So there’s that.

Paycheck (2003)

I think this sci-fi action movie directed by John Woo (who also made Red Cliff) deserves a better reputation than it has. I like it better than all the other movies that were made from Philip K. Dick stories that I’ve seen so far (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Impostor), except for maybe The Adjustment Bureau. The premise is memorably fascinating (thanks, Phil) and the rest of the movie holds up reasonably well if you’re not expecting a cinematic masterpiece. (Yes, yes, you love Blade Runner. Fine. But I don’t, and at any rate Blade Runner isn’t fun, it’s grim.)

In Paycheck, Michael Jennings is a smart but lonely guy who gets paid to reverse-engineer (and improve) high-tech products. After each short-term contract job is completed, his memory is wiped of the work he did. What if, during the longest, highest-paid stint of his career, he learned that his boss had some kind of terrible plan? He’d still have to have his memory erased at the end of the job, but he’d need a way to tell himself how to escape the trap he was in while preventing his boss from carrying out the plan…

How does he escape, what is the plan, and how does he stop his boss? Watch the movie!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/paycheck/id550804986

Or 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 Paycheck (2003)

Predestination (2014)

It’s impossible to talk about Predestination without giving away important surprises. If you’ve read the Robert E. Heinlein story All You Zombies, although I gather the story is a bit different, you more or less know how the story goes and can proceed to the plot summary. If not, go watch the movie! It’s a very clever retro-futuristic sci-fi thriller, and has nothing to do with actual zombies.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/predestination/id912751334

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 Predestination (2014)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Since there were a lot of ways the sequel to the bizarre, Asianesque sci-fi noir classic Blade Runner could have been awful, I was expecting Blade Runner 2049 to be handled about as well as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Ghost in the Shell, both of which failed to delight their devoted target audiences. I was pleasantly surprised.

2049 has some disturbing violent moments, and the whole finale is one of those water scenes I really dislike, but I enjoyed it more than the original, I think because it generally made more sense, or because of some beautiful, colorful architectural shots, or perhaps simply because it was new and therefore I did not feel obliged to like it simply because, for two or three decades, other people already had.

There’s a lot of chatter about this movie’s ties to the original, and about philosophical questions relating to memory and the soul, but for me the movie is about the journey from blissful ignorance through mistake or self-deception to self-knowledge and finally acceptance. Ignorance is never bliss, and you always have a choice.

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 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Interstellar (2014)

I’m beginning to understand the fuss on the internet about saving Matt Damon. He’s an endangered private on a WWII battlefield. He’s a stranded astronaut on a mission to Mars… the list goes on. In Interstellar, though he’s not the main character, he’s a researcher on a distant planet shrouded with frozen clouds.

Interstellar was not a fast-paced movie. There is action, but there are also long stretches of calm. The futuristic mumbo-jumbo is balanced by familiar human relationships; there’s as much drama as sci-fi.

I thought Interstellar was way better than Tomorrowland—certainly it was more complex—but the two movies have the same message: smart people who have hope can always solve the world’s problems.

I enjoyed it, except for the terrifying watery scene, and found the resolution satisfying. 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 Interstellar (2014)

The Foreigner (2017)

Jackie Chan is still kicking, punching, and jumping out windows. In this action thriller, he’s a sad dad with special forces training, trying to track down some anonymous bombers. The two main characters, Quan and Hennessey, are enemies, but I would say this is a buddy movie because they are trying to solve the same mystery. The movie is serious and satisfying but has a few funny moments in it.

Update (27 Nov 2017): at Kinokuniya when I was looking for the illustrated Dream of the Red Chamber, I spotted the book the movie was based on:

The Chinaman by Stephen Leather

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

Continue reading The Foreigner (2017)

Pacific Rim (2013)

Do NOT watch this movie… on a plane. The real value is in seeing the amazing CGI fights, which somehow never devolve into loud, meaningless smashing. They’re—well, they’re colorful, for Pete’s sake. It’s no fun to watch on a screen six inches wide, but it’s joyous when you can see what’s happening! I enjoyed my second viewing much more than I expected to, thanks to the top-notch execution by Industrial Light and Magic of the stunningly detailed artistic vision of Guillermo del Toro.

Okay, so you’re not a fan of monster movies? Me neither, but this one does some magnificent worldbuilding. The prologue of Pacific Rim has its own prologue, strangely enough, and it was way less dull than at least two others I can think of. Perhaps us Westerners wouldn’t be able to stomach a movie that just started smack in the middle of a war with aliens, where giant military mind-melding machines are the new norm. Huge robots are par for the course for the mecha sub-genre of science fiction (cf Rahxephon), but they aren’t exactly Hollywood staples. This movie did well enough (on the strength of ticket sales in China and Japan) to spawn a sequel, coming to theaters next year.

Although I enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t what I’m used to, so it was hard to evaluate. The first time I watched it, I was confused by the story, either because I was stuck in an airplane watching on a tiny screen and started falling asleep, or because the plot was so straightforward I thought I must have been missing something. I kept expecting twists and turns that never materialized.

I felt better about the movie after I watched a couple of the featurettes included in this Blu-Ray package. The director explained that he wanted to tell a simple story about heroism using character types drawn in simple outlines. He didn’t want a lot of plot or expositiony dialog, he wanted realistic action coded with thematically appropriate colors. I’d say he got what he wanted.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/pacific-rim/id694686367

Want to know more about the plot? Simple as it is, it was built pretty well. See below for a summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Pacific Rim (2013)

Serenity (2005)

I loved Firefly. Still do. I’m not quite as huge a fan of the movie Serenity.

I’m relieved that, thanks to the near-miraculous success of a grassroots fan campaign (“Can’t stop the signal!”), a movie was made that squared away the plot mysteries of Joss Whedon’s futuristic fantasy space universe show, but Serenity is vastly different in tone. In the movie, the crew have to risk everything to save everybody, and death doesn’t just lurk around every corner: it jumps out and claims victims. Serenity is anything but serene.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/serenity/id292625148