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)

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)

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.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/tomorrowland/id990865721

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.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/baby-driver/id1239575681

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)