Deadpool 2 (2018)

This M18/R-rated movie carries a warning about “violence and coarse language”. You might think that’s standard boilerplate for any action movie, and maybe it is, but in this case, they’re really not kidding.

In case you missed the first Deadpool movie, Deadpool is a basically immortal, literally scarred super-anti-hero in a skin-tight red-and-black suit that, like Spider-Man’s, covers his whole head and eyes, and unlike Spider-Man’s, has two long swords attached to the back. Deadpool’s human name is Wade Wilson. The name “Deadpool” refers some kind of bet about who was going to die soonest, which turned out to be not Wade, obviously.

Deadpool spews a steady stream of pop-culture references, curses, and insults, often talking directly to the audience about how he’s in, like, the mother of all superhero movies. The Deadpool movies are thus not just violent, coarse fantasy/action movies, they’re parodies: each one is a sustained self-reference joke, complete with ironic use of 80s light-rock hits. (The 80s are so trendy these days!)

The second Deadpool movie, as Deadpool himself tells us, is not for kids, but is nevertheless “a family movie”. As becomes clear towards the end of the movie, he’s not talking about the genre of the movie, he’s talking about the theme of the movie. The movies in the Fast and Furious series were also “family movies” in this sense: the characters consider each other family because they derive their identity from their strong bonds with each other.

What group of people/mutants could Mr. Pool possibly belong to? Is he talking about starting a literal family with his girlfriend (who will never not look like Inara from Firefly to me)? Is he joining the largely but not entirely absent team of X-Men? Is he forming his own superpowered vigilante crew? How about all of the above? Yeah, kinda!

Here’s an article about the entirely irrelevant official plot summary. See below for my plot summary (with SPOILERS) in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Deadpool 2 (2018)

Avengers 3: Infinity War (2018)

I’m thinking I should go see more movies during the opening week or weekend because when I watched Infinity War, I enjoyed people’s reactions to the movie as much as I enjoyed the movie itself. People gasped and laughed and went “WHHHHOOOAAA” in large numbers. One girl in the audience actually screamed when one of the characters got stabbed. At one point I heard the audience collectively go “SHHH***TTT”.

I’m reminded a bit of the time I went to see a WWF match: the audience was really into it, for some of the same reasons: people like to see a champion fight an enemy, and they love it when the champion delivers a particularly cool attack. I was also reminded of what it was like seeing the first Harry Potter movie in a really big, really full theater when it first came out: people loved the characters and felt invested in their world, and couldn’t wait for the chance to enter that world with them. Marvel has built a visually and, yes, emotionally rich alternate reality.

Before I saw the movie, I heard that this Marvel movie was “different”. I assumed that maybe meant it had an even bigger cast of characters than before, or that it was better than Age of Ultron, which people thought was kind of lame. That wasn’t what they meant. They were talking obliquely about the ending, which I will not talk about until you scroll down quite a bit further.

For some reason I thought “Infinity War” referred to the galactic scope of a war, or maybe to a war that gets stuck in some kind of time loop as in Doctor Strange. Nope. The war is named after the stones that the bad guy, Thanos, is looking for. When the movie begins, Thanos has one of the infinity stones already, the power stone (purple). He has attached it to a golden gauntlet on his left fist, which would look ridiculous if he weren’t an immense and very ruthless villain.

Thanos is looking for the remaining five stones. He is missing the space stone (blue), the reality stone (red), the soul stone (orange), the time stone (green), and the mind stone (yellow). If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve seen these stones in other Marvel movies. For the sake of the universe, we hope they stay hidden.

See below for a summary with SPOILERS. I’ve done a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, but the sequence may be a bit weird. The movie cut back and forth between the different sets of characters more than my summary does, so things are a little out of order.
Continue reading Avengers 3: Infinity War (2018)

The Remains of the Day (1993)

After Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club chose The Remains of the Day for April 2018, I decided I was going to skip out on reading it. I read it half a lifetime ago, and remembered enough not to want to read it again. (It’s poignant, not my preferred mood for fiction.)

Among the DVDs I bought second-hand from a neighbor over a year ago was a copy of the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Emma Thompson film version, so I figured I could just watch the movie instead of reading the book. (Normally that’s cheating, but like I said, I already did read the book. Also, it was a particularly well-made movie.)

I remembered that the book was about a butler who passed up his opportunity for love because he was too busy doing his job, and that there was something wrong with his master’s politics, such that the butler’s devotion was somehow even more thoroughly wrong-headed than it would have been otherwise.

The wistfulness of looking back on a wasted lifetime is nicely captured in a poem by Edgar Lee Masters called “George Gray”. Even more succinctly: A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

Although I did not re-read the book, and in some ways found the movie painful to watch, I very much enjoyed the book group meetup. See below for some of the themes and scenes we discussed.

Continue reading The Remains of the Day (1993)

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

The things people are saying about this sequel sound like the kinds of things they could safely say without ever bothering to watch the movie: it’s just a loud, boring mess because it doesn’t have the benefit of Guillermo del Toro’s creativity like the first one, which wasn’t even all that popular. Fine. Even the kindest reviews say the sequel is only an echo of the 2013 original.

What I think is NOT fair to say (and a review at Roger Ebert agrees with me) is that Uprising is as bad as Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. I only watched the first one. That, now that was loud and boring. And crass! I am not a Transformers fan, but I am still mad at Michael Bay for somehow being able to mess up a movie about sentient cars, because that is such a cool concept. (I’ll stick with Herbie, thanks.)

See below for a shorter-than-usual plot 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: Uprising (2018)

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Welp, I’ve checked another Robin Hood adaptation off the list.

I can only recommend it if you are trying to watch every movie the esteemed Alan Rickman has ever been in, or if you, like me, are interested in tales of the popular folkloric hero Robin Hood regardless of how well they’re told. (In this case, not very.)

Parts of this version reminded me of the much happier and tamer 2006 Robin Hood television series.

The Wikipedia list of film and television adaptations includes quite a few more versions, including a new movie scheduled for this year.

Jumanji (1995)

Jumanji is based on a creepy-looking picture book by Chris Van Allsburg that’s also called Jumanji.

It’s an expensive, high-tech movie, but the plot (perhaps unsurprisingly) ends where it starts (in the past), and all the accumulated damage is reversed.

I have trouble believing the giant crocodile was ever convincing, and the effects team admits to basing the monkeys on no monkey in particular, but the plants were pretty cool, and the stampede was amazing.

The running gag with the car was hilarious, and it was fun to see Robin Williams act the part of the man-child from the jungle. He’s awfully good at being silly and yet serious, as he is in Hook (which I liked better).

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/jumanji/id532055046

Tomb Raider (2018)

The rebooted Tomb Raider, like its bizarre 2001 predecessor, is an archaeological action-adventure movie based on a video game starring a feisty, attractive young woman named Lara Croft.

There is much that you’d expect: a mysterious ancient text, an exotic locale, booby traps, and of course a plunge off a cliff into a river that flows towards the inevitable waterfall. However, although the waterfall itself is no surprise, the scene where Lara barely escapes going over the edge of it has to be seen to be believed. It isn’t quite like any other.

It’s not just the details that are different; the backstory is new, too. In the 2001 movie, Lara is rich and lives in the family mansion like some kind of female Bruce Wayne. In the 2018 movie, she’s a penniless hipster who refuses to take possession of her inheritance because it would mean giving up hope that her missing father will return.

I enjoyed it. The consensus seems to be that although the leading actress (Alicia Vikander) did a great job, Tomb Raider was disappointing. Sadly, this origin story was obviously intended to make way for a sequel—one that may never materialize.

Tomb Raider Reviews

  • Roger Ebert says it was better than expected, and doesn’t feel like it’s copying from a game.
  • Variety calls it a “rare thing, a propulsive blockbuster with a bit of heart” and “escapism that breathes”.
  • The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw was bored.

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

This ambitious film adaptation of a ground-breaking children’s sci-fi novel was faithful to the book in fits and spurts, and in some ways it was better. Still, I agree with the box-office receipts on this one: not a winner.

I’m biased towards the book because I read it growing up and remember it vividly. Since screenplays can’t accommodate as many details as even the shortest of novels, liking this movie was going to be difficult in any case. That being said, the movie has some real flaws, about which, more below.

See below for some comparisons with the book and a list of reviews as well as 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 A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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)