Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, says the functions of a good website are neither explained nor self-explanatory, they are self-evident.

In Ant-man and the Wasp, the sequences filled with exposition are excruciating because in them, the fake science is explained.

I felt a bit better when the fake science was lampshaded: “Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” (My thought exactly!)

I felt even better during the action sequences, when the effects of the fake science were delightfully self-evident.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ant-man-and-the-wasp/id1400637562

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 Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Your English teacher was so wrong when she said “i before e, except after c or when sounding like ay as in neighbor and weigh”. She obviously wasn’t counting on the feisty female heist in Ocean’s 8.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/oceans-8/id1390225970

I was worried there would be annoying, unsubtle feminist messaging throughout, but there was only one scene where characters talked about men per se. Thank goodness someone realized there’d be no point in making a movie about a bunch of female thieves only to have them talk about men the whole time.

Clearly the writing and/or casting was done with diversity in mind: there is a black character, an Indian character (played by an actress I now recognize from A Wrinkle in Time), and an Asian character in addition to the several Caucasians, one of whom sounds Irish and one of whom speaks German in several scenes. Although Ocean’s 8 is a much higher-quality production, I’m reminded of the awkward parody Superfast! which gave its ensemble’s token characters the literal names “Rapper Cameo”, “Model Turned Actress” and “Cool Asian Guy”.

The movie had two problems, neither of which I was expecting.

One problem was that the protagonist is introduced as a skilled shoplifter. An elaborate plan to steal millions of dollars’ worth of jewels is something I don’t have a problem with, since it’s obviously fantasy. Shoplifting is, however, both real and problematic. I don’t admire people who shoplift in real life, so I don’t really want to be encouraged to admire a shoplifter on screen. I mean, yes, the character comes across as clever, but… I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

When giving her team a pep talk, Debbie says something along the lines of “Let’s not do this for us. Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a criminal. Let’s do this for her.” Maybe that was funnier than the shoplifting, but… crime is bad, y’all!

The other problem was that although the caper was exciting, and there were lots of gratifying chuckles, there didn’t ever seem to be any serious obstacles. There were little stumbling blocks along the way, but each one was overcome after a moment of panic too brief to allow the tension to build.

See below for 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 Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Incredibles II (2018)

I felt like maybe there were too many characters who had their own subplots. Still, it was fun, and apparently it made buckets of money, which counts for something (though not a lot, since the notably vacuous Minions grossed a billion in 2015).

Not having played the video game, I’m still not sure what happens to The Underminer, but can I just say I really love that as a name for a mechanical mole villain?

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/incredibles-2/id1392900449

Superfast! (2015)

I’m a sucker for car racing movies. Some are Disney while others are deadly; some are comedies while others are merely laughable; some are wacky Wachowski one-offs while others are furiously approaching double digits.

The irony? I don’t drive.

The worst I’ve seen in the wake of the fabulously successful Fast and Furious franchise was undoubtedly the shoestring-budget direct-to-DVD production 200mph (2011). If any movie about a car wreck could be called a train wreck, that was it.

On the other hand, I didn’t expect to like Death Race, but it was great! The sequel was also pretty good, though the second sequel wasn’t.

Due to my hit-and-miss nature of my past experience with car movies, my expectations for this parody/spoof were extremely non-specific. I didn’t know Superfast! was, like Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Vampires Suck, et al., written and directed by the much derided team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. I had no interest in any of their other movies and didn’t see them.

All of which is to say that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed Superfast!, but I did, perhaps because the filmmakers’ humor was new to me, even if it’s stupid and old and tired to most everyone else.

Anyway, even if it was a bad movie, it wasn’t as bad as 200mph.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/superfast/id1229229788

See below for some links to 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 Superfast! (2015)

Ant-man (2015)

Watching Ant-man was fun, but it would probably have been more fun in a theater where there would have been lots of people there to laugh at the absurdities scattered throughout.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ant-man/id1012788984

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 Ant-man (2015)

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!

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/deadpool-2/id1382445641

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)

Ballerina aka Leap! (2016)

Work hard, believe in yourself, and your artistic dreams will take flight… Great idea, poor execution. For a movie about poise, it’s not very well balanced.

Arguments can be made that every “follow your dreams” movie is unrealistic. I enjoy the well made ones, but Ballerina stretches the imagination too far. The ballet lessons Felicie weasels her way into, even combined with extra training, don’t span enough time for a real transformation from total beginner to top of the class. Passion is not a substitute for experience.

Worse, perhaps, the story was not emotionally well modulated; for example, the song at the very beginning is triumphant rather than wistful. A character who starts off confident has nothing much to learn.

Do you like subplots? For antagonists, we’ve got two different people who run the orphanage, the ballet rival, and the rival’s mother. There are two helpers: the mentor and the ballet teacher, plus the inspiring deceased mother in the backstory. Then there are two romantic interests: the childhood friend, and the Parisian. Got that?

Don’t watch this movie if you’re afraid of heights. I’m not bothered by flying contraptions or people walking on roofs: I think that stuff is great—even if it’s just as unrealistic as learning ballet in a week. Go figure.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/leap/id1271027079

Isle of Dogs (2018)

Having watched The Grand Budapest Hotel at the behest of at least one fan of Wes Anderson, I decided I was not also a fan of Wes Anderson. Maybe a different movie (a stop-motion canine dystopia set in Japan) would change my opinion?

Nope. Still not a fan of Wes Anderson.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/isle-of-dogs/id1363298490

Articles about Isle of Dogs

Vulture: “What it’s like to watch Isle of Dogs as a Japanese speaker”
The writer shares some thoughts about language, setting, and the possibilities and pitfalls of cultural appropriation, adding thoughts from several Japanese speakers.

The New Yorker: “What Isle of Dogs gets right about Japan”
The writer considers the film’s use of Japanese language and culture to be thoughtful and nuanced, and says, yes, actually there are Japanese in-jokes as well as a lot of culturally accurate details. Personally, I agree that the American in the story is not a “white savior” because although she rebels, she’s ultimately ineffective.

The New Yorker: “Isle of Dogs is a stylish revolt against (American) political madness”
“Thrust into situations of utter degradation, places of utter ruin, and fates of utter despair, these [canine] victims unite in resisting the forces that would destroy them and, in the process, tap into a latent sensibility and forge a sublime style of their own….. The movie looks closely at deportation, internment in a prison camp, and the threat of extermination—all from the perspective of the victims.” Welp, now I feel silly taking the story at face value. Of course it’s all a political metaphor.

Vulture: “Isle of Dogs: Did you fall asleep?”
The writer explains some reasons why Wes Anderson, or at any rate, this film of his, is not for everyone: Anderson is deadpan, the visuals are precise, and there’s a lot of dialog in Japanese.

The Atlantic: “The beauty and sadness of Isle of Dogs
The writer says this fable about evil, told with “magnificently deadpan humor”, is “filthy and fetid, yet somehow utterly gorgeous”. Personally, I don’t see how something can be disgusting and beautiful at the same time. And that’s my biggest problem with the film: I kept wanting to look away.

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.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/avengers-infinity-war/id1370224078

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.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-remains-of-the-day/id540710212

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)