Tomorrowland (2015)

I think the vagueness of the looming disaster that the protagonists have to avert prevents the movie from being a great one, but there’s lots to delight the imagination in Tomorrowland, and the underlying message, the glorification of hope and creativity, is one I can get behind.

I don’t know who this retro-futuristic dys/utopian sci-fi/fantasy family mystery/thriller nostalgic road adventure movie was made for, because it’s got admirable protagonists in three different age groups, and that’s not the only thing that makes it a bit strange. Whatever else it may be, however it might be said to fail, it’s definitely original.

Below are some notes on what I thought the message of the movie was 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 Tomorrowland (2015)

Baby Driver (2017)

Previously, my husband and I saw part of Baby Driver in the theatre, but the equipment broke and we didn’t see the end.

My predictions for what would happen were pretty far off! Already a strange movie, Baby Driver just kept getting stranger. I’m so glad we managed to return to the theatre to see the ending, and I’m glad we chose to see it in the first place. It was interesting and different. (Now I really want to see Ant-Man because it’s by the same director.)

See below for ways I was wrong or right, the things I noticed the second time around, the beat sheet for the end of the movie, and a list of interesting movie-related articles.

Continue reading Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver (or not)

Modern technology is great, right? For a while now it’s been the case that when you go to a movie theater, they don’t have to change projectors and load film reels during screenings because all the film has been spliced together and plays through one projector.

Screenings in Singapore, the ones that aren’t IMAX or 3D, all seem to bear the label “Digital”, so one assumes that perhaps in most cases, there’s no film at all. Maybe that upsets traditionalists, and maybe there are some things about analog films that are better than digital films, and connoisseurs will prefer to make pilgrimages to theatres that stick to older-style projectors, but on the whole I assume digital screenings are an improvement.

My assumption was tested when my husband and I went to watch a digital screening of Baby Driver. Somewhere maybe two-thirds of the way through, we lost the picture. The audio continued, but all we could see were some colorful, unmoving shapes and stripes on the screen. The few of us in the small theater seemed to wake as if from a dream, and started looking around awkwardly.

Someone was found to complain to, the audio and screen were shut off, hasty, vague explanations were made, people passed the time on their mobile phones. They never managed to get the movie going again. We agreed to accept movie ticket vouchers and come back another day.

Below is a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. I’ve included my predictions for what I think happens in the last third of the movie, which I didn’t see (or read about online).

Continue reading Baby Driver (or not)

In Time (2011)

Do you like puns? And sci-fi? Okay, then maybe you can forgive this movie for starring Justin Timberlake and having only a vague plot, because it has an interesting premise and lots of clever dialog.

The premise is that someone has figured out how to stop everyone from aging when they hit age 25, and after that, time really is money: the poor are even more susceptible to dying early than they are in the real world, while the rich can effectively live forever. You buy things by transferring time from your wrist to someone else’s, or to a machine. Your account balance is shown in green glowing numbers on your arm, and every second, well, counts.

Enter our working-class protagonist, who gets a lucky break and then goes all Robin Hood. As you might expect, he and his girlfriend try to take down the system. They face off against an enforcer played by Cillian Murphy, who is beyond creepy in Batman Begins and presumably also in Red Eye, which I didn’t see.

Looking for some actual good science-fiction? Try Gattaca. Same director, better result. Both movies have nifty retro-futuristic cars and important ocean scenes.

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

About a year ago, I re-watched the Disney cartoon Beauty and the Beast. Watching the live-action/CGI remake, I felt gratified to notice some changes that improved the story. IMO, not all the changes were good, but overall I thought it was a success. In fact it was a phenomenal commercial success, though sadly it’s still listed below Frozen.

See below for more opinions. Beware of SPOILERS.

Continue reading Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Red Cliff II (2009)

Red Cliff was released as one (not very admired) edited movie, but it was also released in two glorious full-length parts. I wrote about the first part already; this is my post about the second part.

Considering the two movies as parts of a whole, it’s not surprising that the first one is more playful and triumphant and the second one is bloodier and more sombre. The theme of the first movie is that David Can Beat Goliath; the theme of the second movie is that War Is Bad. I think the two parts work well together, and I liked both movies.

Keep reading 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 Red Cliff II (2009)

Red Cliff (2008)

Shortly after we moved to Singapore in 2008, my husband and I bought a big flat-screen television. The movie Red Cliff II was being used to demo the screens in all the shops we visited, so we named our television “Cliff”.

Until now, though, neither of us ever watched either of the two movies. I decided it was time to check them off the list of DVDs we own of movies we’ve never seen.

There’s a version that combines the two movies into one; that’s not what we’ve got. We’ve got the two-part version of Red Cliff that was released in Singapore. The audio is in Mandarin and English subtitles are available.

Honestly, though, half of the movie doesn’t even have subtitles because nobody’s talking, thus there’s nothing to translate.

I am starting to think that maybe a lot of Chinese movies have a common plot structure that requires a long buildup in which we go around meeting all the characters and forming some kind of alliance, so that later each of them can do whatever he’s known for doing as part of the group effort to overcome the enemy. I called this “collect the whole set” in Kung Fu Yoga, which I recently watched, but Shaolin Soccer also took what I thought was an unusually long time to get going. Maybe it’s not unusual after all.

I could try to make some kind of point about individualistic vs. collective social philosophy (or about martial-arts mashup movie titles), but I think it would be misplaced. Chinese movies with a group of protagonists still have a central hero, and Hollywood movies sometimes have a group or coalition of protagonists. The difference I’m noticing is a superficial one of how long it takes to meet all the characters: a quarter of the movie, or half of it. In either case, the midway point marks a significant upping of the stakes.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS as well as a list of the main characters and a surprising observation about one of them.

Continue reading Red Cliff (2008)

Kung Fu Yoga (2017)

In Kung Fu Yoga, the greatest treasure isn’t gold and jewels. It’s seeing Jackie Chan, playing an archaeologist named—uh—Jackie Chan, do a Bollywood dance number in a movie that pays homage to Indiana Jones. If seeing this legendary 62-year-old Hong Kong action star dancing around in Indian clothes with a big goofy grin on his face doesn’t make you smile, you and I are made of different stuff.

That being said, you have to sit through over an hour and a half of astonishingly wooden acting on the part of Jackie’s co-stars, plus far too many scenes with awkward CGI animals, to earn that final dance scene.

Released during the Chinese New Year period, the movie more than earned back its budget despite poor reviews. Ticket sales were weak in India, but strong, or strong enough, in China. Jackie Chan traveled to Singapore to promote the movie, and it did well here compared to others.

I hope Jackie Chan had fun making the movie (in spite of endangering himself during filming for the umpteenth time). I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need money, so he must be making movies because he wants to—or to promote his country’s political goals.

The fight scenes are okay, but the English/Mandarin script and the plot are disappointing. I can’t really recommend it. I can summarize it for you, though.

Keep reading for a catalog of all the unnecessary CGI animals 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 Kung Fu Yoga (2017)

Man of Steel (2013)

What with all the Michael Bay–style explosions and destruction, you might not have noticed that Man of Steel is a thorough dialectical exploration of the nature/nurture debate. It totally is, though.

I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think I was going to like the movie at all because I didn’t remember hearing good things about it. It was fine, though, apart from being longer than I realized it was going to be, clocking in at almost 2.5 hours.

For what it was (a superhero origin story that could have been its own miniseries), it was really pretty good. It painted a clear and thematically strong picture of an admirable character and how he got to be who he is. In this rendition, Superman is not a lighthearted, perfect figurehead who proclaims belief in “truth, justice, and the American way”. He is a sensitive and largely anonymous but steadfast protector who stands for hope and choice. (I much prefer these kinds of themes to the ones associated with Spiderman, which tend be things like sacrifice and duty.)

I generally liked the sharply contrasting sci-fi and Kansas sets, the cast, and the costumes, though I always imagine Lois as Teri Hatcher, and until now I’d never imagined Kal El’s suit as made of the same stuff as those grippy rubber things you use to open jars.

No thanks, I got this one, Kal.

If you have a long enough attention span for another 4000 words on this movie, keep reading for more on the nature/nurture theme and some other thoughts 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 Man of Steel (2013)

Frozen (2013)

Oh, where to start. I’m stuck. I am, as it were, frozen.

Right. Well, when all else fails, go back to the beginning.

Frozen, like The Little Mermaid, is a Disney adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story. As a child I watched the low-budget Faerie Tale Theatre Snow Queen, which is a lot closer to the Andersen story. The Disney version of the tale has some stunning visuals and one good song, but—for reasons having nothing to do with other versions—I think its story is deeply flawed.

Though some say it’s a story about the problematic relationship between two sisters, I’d say Frozen is one girl’s coming-of-age tale or rite-of-passage story. Rite-of-passage stories have a life problem, a wrong way of addressing it, and a moment of acceptance. Anna’s problem is her sister’s unwillingness to face the world. Anna spends the whole movie wrongly acting as if she can soothe her sister’s fear, and totally fails because Elsa has to master her fear herself. Anna grows up when she accepts her sister as-is. Seems simple, right? Disney went and made it all complicated.

See below for more on why I thought Frozen was disappointing, including 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 Frozen (2013)