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)

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)

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.)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/man-of-steel-2013/id684580963

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.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/frozen/id741238771

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)

Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman captured the attention and approbation of hordes of moviegoers interested in seeing a heroic female fantasy character. It wasn’t personally meaningful to me the way that it seems to have been to a lot of people. I think the movie was pretty and entertaining but that, like many others that don’t have a well-crafted core story, it could have been thematically stronger.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/wonder-woman-2017/id1235765633

Keep reading for more on the movie’s many possible themes and some questions I had (possibly because I’m not familiar with the source material) and things I liked, along with 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 Wonder Woman (2017)

Thumbelina (1994)

“Let’s get out of this stinking weather before we’re statistics. I can’t even feel anything in my feelers anymore.”

That’s a brilliant pun. It’s the best line of dialog in the whole movie, and like all the best lines in Thumbelina, it belongs to the beetle, who sounds like Iago in Disney’s Aladdin. (Both characters were voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.)

Unfortunately, “can’t feel anything” describes the effect the movie had on me. In spite of all the supposedly empowering messages in it that could have been meaningful, it left me numb.

If you saw and enjoyed Thumbelina when you were little, maybe you can see and enjoy it now. Otherwise, I’d say the odds are slim to none.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/thumbelina-1994/id694969660

Keep reading for more (MUCH more) on why I didn’t like the movie, along with 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 Thumbelina (1994)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

The best part of Dead Men Tell No Tales was the hilarious dry-land bank robbery scene. The runner-up was the failed-execution scene, which was also, notably, a scene on dry land. The CGI was impressive and all, but the ocean consists of entirely too much water, albeit fake water, if you ask me.

This is a tough movie to summarize in that there are five main characters, all with their own goals and conflicts. It’s an easy movie to summarize in that the whole plot is basically just “get control of the magic stick”. (It’s best not to think too hard about how the magic stuff works.)

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 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

Trying to write down what I think about Mao’s Last Dancer is like unpacking a Russian doll. There are stories within stories within stories.

The reviews tell a story about the film’s reception. Critics were harsher than I expected, oddly saying both that the movie was bland and that it was melodramatic.

Included on the disc is the filmmaker’s story of how the movie was made, which made the whole thing sound like a minor miracle. The casting was challenging because in addition to a fantastic Chinese-speaking ballet dancer who could play Li, they needed a whole set of kids to play Li and his ballet classmates at age 11, and a whole set of teenagers to play Li and his ballet classmates at age 15. They also had to choreograph and stage a bunch of different ballet performances in different styles: a Chinese imitation of a Western ballet, a Chinese revolutionary ballet, Don Quixote, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (familiar to me as the cartoon evolution of life on Earth in Disney’s Fantasia).

In 2003 Penguin published Mao’s Last Dancer, the autobiography of Li Cunxin, who is still alive and was consulted during filming. It must be strange to see your life made into a movie. I don’t think I’d like it.

Two cultures clash: Mao’s communist ideals and the American dream. Unsurprisingly, the movie teaches that it is better to live rich and free in the West than poor and oppressed by Party members who do not tolerate ideas that conflict with their doctrines.

And there is the plot of the movie itself (see below).

You see what I mean about the recursive nature of the story? There’s the story of the reception of this particular biopic; the story of the making of the film; the story in the film itself; the story in the autobiography the film was based on; the memories that the autobiography was based on; and the real-world cultural backdrop of the dancer’s life.

I’m still not clear on the title. The name “Mao” conjures up the Chairman, but Li was chosen by representatives of Madame Mao, not Chairman Mao, to learn ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy. I’m not sure why he was called the “last”, unless perhaps he was the last child selected during tryouts.

This movie, like Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Kings of Pastry, was a gift from my in-laws.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/maos-last-dancer/id424153088

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 Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)