The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster certainly qualifies as a movie—er, film?—that I wouldn’t normally watch.

When I’m on planes, I try to watch movies in different languages or genres than the ones I tend to pick up off the shelf or pay to see in theaters. I watch a lot of mainstream children’s animated films and Hollywood action flicks. They’re usually pretty sparkly and happy.

In contrast, The Lobster was a bleak dystopia that had a kind of a science-fiction premise but absolutely zero sci-fi eye candy. The movie exists to make us feel weird about rules governing  relationships. Ours as well as the ones on screen.

The premise is that the government does not permit people to be single. Those who separate or whose spouses die are sent to a kind of dating boot camp at a hotel where, if they do not find a ‘suitable’ partner in 45 days, they are turned into the animal of their choice (by means of some scientific process whose results we see but which is largely outside the scope of the film). The name of the movie is the animal that the protagonist wishes to become if he is unable to find a partner.

Parts of the movie seemed (and were probably intended to seem) disturbing. The ending is ambiguous, and felt (and was probably intended to feel) unsatisfying. The movie was interesting in that it was genuinely, uniquely weird (intentionally absurd, in fact), but I wouldn’t recommend it unless your tolerance for grotesqueness is a lot higher than mine, or you’ve got at least five or ten hours of time to pass on a long-haul international flight… and something cheerful lined up to watch next.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-lobster/id1111770510

For a plot summary with SPOILERS, keep reading.

Continue reading The Lobster (2015)

Les Nouvelles Aventures d’Aladin (2015)

This French comedy, the title of which in English is The New Adventures of Aladdin, was the first and best of the ten movies I saw on my latest trip to the US.

It’s a story within a story; the frame story is set during Christmas and is about a guy who is planning an after-hours robbery of the department store where he and his buddy work. Before the time arrives, however, his boss makes him tell a story to a group of kids, and he chooses to narrate a ‘remix’ of the fantasy story of Aladdin.

This version of Aladdin is a mixture of the familiar 1992 Disney cartoon, the traditional Arabian Nights story, and the filmmakers’ own ideas. Some of the new ideas are wry anachronisms inserted by the character who serves as narrator; others are suggested by the children in the audience as the story progresses.

The whole thing is utterly hilarious, and of course there’s a happy holiday ending: the narrator—the proverbial thief with a heart of gold—decides not to go through with the robbery after all.

https://itunes.apple.com/fr/movie/les-nouvelles-aventures-daladin/id1045015238

For more on what I liked, with SPOILERS, keep reading.

Continue reading Les Nouvelles Aventures d’Aladin (2015)

Cloud Atlas (2012)

From the Wachowski siblings who created pop-culture touchstone The Matrix (1999) as well as personal favorite Speed Racer (2008) comes Cloud Atlas (2012), a clever and ambitious positive spin on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell. I like it in some ways but not others.

It’s not a movie that can be easily summarized; it spans six different timelines that are tied together in surprising ways.

I’ve now watched the movie three times: once on a tiny screen on the plane, where much of the subtlety went straight past me; again via iTunes on a laptop screen; this time via iTunes on a huge TV shortly after reading the book.

For more on what I noticed about it this time (including SPOILERS), and ways the movie differs from the book, keep reading.

Also see my post on the book Cloud Atlas.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/cloud-atlas/id585810604

Continue reading Cloud Atlas (2012)

Rise of the Guardians (2012)

I was not particularly optimistic about Rise of the Guardians. But I should have trusted Dreamworks. They have made the best clap-if-you-believe-in-fairies movie I have ever seen. I thought I was over the whole childlike-holiday-spirit movie ethos, but apparently not. The movie was amazing. How on earth did it not make a profit? It was way, way better than the creepy adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Hogfather, which covers a lot of the same ground. There are also maybe some echoes of Epic here, but Epic wasn’t nearly as good.

Apparently, Rise of the Guardians (like that weird, weird mess, Meet the Robinsons) is the brainchild of writer William Joyce. Oh, hey, wait, Epic is his too, actually. Huh. He must really have a thing for hummingbirds.

Anyway, the premise of Rise of the Guardians is that a lonely magical teen named Jack Frost is called in to help four others (Santa aka Nicholas St. North, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the Sandman) who guard the children of the world because the Bogeyman, Pitch Black, is trying to gain power again by making them afraid. If he succeeds, he could destroy belief, and with it, the guardians themselves, along with all hope and happiness. But Jack is just a carefree punk who doesn’t know where he came from. What could he possibly do?

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/rise-of-the-guardians/id909795889

For more on what I liked (with SPOILERS), keep reading.

Continue reading Rise of the Guardians (2012)

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

In The Legend of Tarzan, the fascinating, civilized man-beast who’s at home in the jungle and gets the anachronistically spunky girl is buried in a narrative tailor-made to showcase a whole roster of white men’s offenses.

I mean, really… what is this movie about? Because it seemed to me to be, start to finish, about The Evils of Western Civilization.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-legend-of-tarzan-2016/id1129690427

My advice? Go and watch the other CGI jungle animal movie about a human raised by animals. Mowgli’s story doesn’t even demonize the villain.

For a list of other vaguely related fictional works I prefer along with more on this movie (including SPOILERS) and a bit on the actual history of the Congo, keep reading.

Continue reading The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Independence Day (1996)

Until my flight from San Francisco back to Singapore, I had never seen Independence Day. I knew it had a famous scene where an alien spaceship destroys the White House, but I didn’t really know anything else about it. I was disappointed.

I guess I was expecting it to have more subtlety. (I know, I know. It’s a disaster movie. Why did I think it was going to be subtle?)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/independence-day/id272967721

See below for more of what I thought of Independence Day, including SPOILERS.

Continue reading Independence Day (1996)

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

I did not want to be one of those people who think Paul Newman is “that salad dressing guy?” and my movie-watching experience is appallingly thin in the popular area of westerns, so I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on the plane.

It was depressing to realize I was going to have to watch the characters circle the drain. In a way I didn’t, though: I fell asleep. So not the best movie experience ever.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/butch-cassidy-sundance-kid/id401101707

The screenplay was written by William Goldman, the man responsible for The Princess Bride (1987)!

Maybe that accounts for the similarity in the protagonists’ behavior when chased by some really persistent trackers to that of Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo when chased by the Man in Black.

Capture the Flag (2015)

Capture the Flag was listed as an international movie in United’s online entertainment panel because it’s Spanish. So I was surprised to realize that the movie’s animation matched the English audio, and that the movie was about Americans.

The premise is that some kids break into a rocket and launch it to the moon, thus thwarting an evil businessman who wants to extract some kind of power-generating resource from the moon and destroy the flag of the original moon landing and simultaneously gratifying the grouchy failed astronaut grandfather and healing his relationship with the astronaut father.

I wanted to think it was cute, but I found it too implausible. Actually, I fell asleep. So it was really slow, or I was sleepy, or both.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/capture-the-flag/id1059910669

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Wow. Just wow. How is it that I had never seen Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure before?

The California dude voices. The vocabulary. The simplified historical content involving figures who (thankfully) were not depicted as speaking English unless they were actually English speakers. Futuristic George Carlin. (George Carlin!) The time travel phone booth. (Phone booth!)

The coolest part was probably how the characters solved problems in the present by planning to return to the present later to do something that would benefit them right then.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/bill-teds-excellent-adventure/id309099454

13 Going on 30 (2004)

The movie 13 Going on 30 seemed like it was going to be, and was, something like the 1998 Tom Hanks movie Big only with a girl protagonist.

I liked the fantasy element and the message, which is about being loyal and genuine and appreciating the now. Overall I thought it was cute and fun to watch if rather awkward in places.

The idea of magically becoming a different age is similar to the idea of body-swapping in movies like Freaky Friday (1976 and 2003), whose premise is that a girl changes bodies with her mother, thus gaining an adult perspective.

One review I read pointed out a similarity with Devil Wears Prada (2006): there’s a backstabbing New York career plot element.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/13-going-on-30/id264038287