XKCD Unpopular Positive Opinion Challenge: Speed Racer (2008)

When I saw the Unpopular positive opinion challenge on xkcd, I scrolled through my movie log and looked up a few scattered titles to see what their scores were on Rotten Tomatoes.

The challenge is to find a movie that…

  • you genuinely like (not “so bad it’s good”)
  • came out in your adult life post-2000, and
  • is rated below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes

I didn’t find many low-rated movies that I strongly disagree about. The exception is Speed Racer (2008).

Continue reading XKCD Unpopular Positive Opinion Challenge: Speed Racer (2008)

War Horse (2011)

Next time someone says to me, “The book is always better than the movie,” I can say: “Hah! You have not seen War Horse!”

Stories evolve. Later versions are not necessarily better, and stories told using different media have different strengths and different constraints. Nevertheless, though the movie owes much to both its predecessors—the children’s novel written by Michael Morpurgo and the stage play that uses puppets by Handspring—the movie is hands down the best version.

Why?

The relationships between the characters have been tweaked to support the story better. The story itself has been tweaked to smooth the pacing and heighten the drama. Moreover, the settings shine. A book can describe a setting evocatively, but not every book does. Spielberg’s pictures are worth many more thousands of words than Morpurgo gave us. Meanwhile, the anti-war didacticism, which sometimes upstaged Handspring’s puppets in the play, is toned down to the point that it’s almost absent from the dialog of the movie. After all, on the big screen, the horror of war speaks for itself, and anyway, there are other stories that better show its terrible cost. This is not the story of the lives and deaths of human soldiers, nor even the story of a boy who loved his horse. This is the story of a horse that went to war.

It’s beautiful, and so absorbing that I didn’t realize until after I’d watched it twice that it’s two and a half hours long!

According to the reviews, not everyone likes the old-fashioned “honest, emotionally direct” storytelling, calling it overly sentimental, and some deride it as mere family-friendly entertainment, too clean to be serious about its ostensibly grim subject matter.

I refuse to dislike the movie on those grounds. Is it calculated to be emotionally satisfying? Maybe. But it satisfies, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies.

See below for a short summary, a very very detailed summary (with SPOILERS), a list of the changes I liked in the movie, a list of some of the movie reviews, and a few other thoughts.

Continue reading War Horse (2011)

War Horse (the film of the stage play)

Sometimes the medium is the message. When I watched a Singapore screening of the play War Horse which had been performed in London at the National Theatre, I was underwhelmed by the plot and script but full of admiration for the puppetry that brought horses (and a hilarious goose) to life on the stage. Hats off to Handspring Puppet Company for an awesome performance and the engineering and practice that went into it.

Continue reading War Horse (the film of the stage play)

Inala: A Zulu Ballet (Singapore 2019)

I found this performance to be a bit mystifying. It featured the Soweto Gospel Choir and an international fusion dance group. The choir moved around and danced during the performance. Overall, I would say there was a lot of energy and movement and skill, but I felt the lack of a discernible story to tie it all together.

Continue reading Inala: A Zulu Ballet (Singapore 2019)

John Wick (2014)

I was impressed with the first bit of this movie, which had very little predictable dialog—very little dialog at all. It’s just scenes of Sad Keanu, basically…

John Wick is alone except for his vintage hot rod and a puppy thoughtfully gifted to him by his late wife. So when the entitled, oblivious son of a Russian crime boss takes a fancy to his car, steals it, and kills the puppy, leaving him completely alone, what does he do? Why, he goes back to his life as the best professional assassin ever, letting nothing stand between him and his doomed target. (I mean, you know it’s a revenge plot, right?)

Gone are the days when noir was black and white and grey; here you’ve got grey, sure, but also yellows, reds, blues, and greens. It’s slick and modern and moody. I guess the stylization is a big reason the violence was not unenjoyable. There’s a lot of death, but it’s not a lot of senseless grunting and bloody messes. It feels clever. More than that, it feels just. It’s also got some rather funny deadpan moments that keep it from feeling too heavy.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/john-wick/id928911988

See below for a plot summary with SPOILERS.

Continue reading John Wick (2014)

Little Women (1933)

Why do I feel like there was too much shouting? (Also, too much crying? Sheesh, Kathy, calm the heck down.)

The 1933 Katharine Hepburn film is an unsubtle adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel Little Women. Then again, the book at times is less than subtle in its advocacy of Christian selflessness. Moreover, I get the sense that compared to the films of the day, Little Women represented a victory for realism: it was a departure from overblown, melodramatic, stereotyped adventures.

I decided to watch Little Women (1933) after the Hungry Hundred Book Club meetup, when I saw three classic film adaptations—Little Women 1933, Little Women 1949, and Little Women 1994—listed in a friend’s copy of the book. Many critics seem to consider the 1933 adaptation the best of the bunch.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/little-women-1933/id298739825

See below for more of what I thought of it, as well as a plot summary in the form of a list of incidents included in the movie.

Continue reading Little Women (1933)

Loving Vincent (2017)

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian aptly calls the film “impressive but weirdly exasperating”. I did enjoy the film, but I do wish I’d sat a bit farther back from the screen. I also wish I had watched Loving Vincent on DVD (rather than in a theater) so that I could watch the special features. For one thing, I’m not so familiar with the life and works of Vincent Van Gogh. For another, I would love to know more about the technique that was used to create this strange film. The medium is the message.

Some of the frames are copies of Van Gogh paintings—over a hundred of them. The color parts of the film seemed to have been actually painted (in the style of Van Gogh); the black-and-white parts seemed to consist of live-action film that had been modified with some kind of filter. In any case, the realism of the people and their movements can be explained by rotoscoping: the movie was filmed first; then artists used the film frames as templates for paintings on canvas. What we see was made using images of those paintings. (And I thought stop-motion animation was pains-taking!)

The story of the film is sad, as is the life of many a starving artist; Van Gogh only became famous after his untimely death. The end credits said he sold exactly one painting in his lifetime, but created over 800 in the decade before he died—and he died when he was younger than I am now.

It goes to show that having a skill is not enough; you also need the skill or connections to advertise that skill in the right place at the right time, or you are no more noticed than a tree falling in the forest where no ears can hear it.

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 Loving Vincent (2017)

Risky Business (1983)

People associate Tom Cruise with the 1986 action drama Top Gun, an early success, but his breakthrough film was the artsy 1983 teen comedy Risky Business.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/risky-business/id571721656

It is strange to see the nineteen-year-old version of Tom Cruise on screen. He looks really different, and yet he’s also the same guy, smiling the same million-dollar smile.

Which English translation or edition of The Count of Monte Cristo should I read?

So you want to read Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure, The Count of Monte Cristo. And you don’t read French.

No problem. This massive novel has been available in English since the 1840s. You’ll find a copy in any decent library or bookstore, and if you like reading ebooks, you can download the novel for free because it’s not under copyright. That’s sorted, then.

Not so fast!

As soon as you visit the library or bookshop or click over to Amazon, you realize there are a host of publishers offering a myriad of paperback and hardcover editions and dozens of digital versions. What’s the difference?

Unexpurgated, unabridged, abridged, children’s, illustrated, and film versions are available. Keep reading to learn how to choose an edition that’s right for you.

Continue reading Which English translation or edition of The Count of Monte Cristo should I read?

City of Ember (2008)

Never judge a book by its movie. City of Ember (the movie) is only okay, but City of Ember (the book) is fantastic.

Deep underground, the people of Ember have never seen the sun and don’t even know it exists. The builders of their city planned for them to emerge, but that plan was lost and forgotten, and now Ember is running out of supplies, and its generator, without which there is no light, is breaking down. Will the builders return to save the people of Ember, as some believe? Will the mayor come up with a plan for his people? Or will it be up to Lina and Doon to rediscover the lost exit to the surface?

The premise is great. However, the movie lacks the focus of the book because some added elements don’t quite fit, some of the positive thematic messages are missing, and some of the action shots were created with awkward CGI. Also, personally, I’m not fond of Bill Murray.

I think The City of Ember would be great as a television series, because a TV show could spend a lot more time developing the characters and exploring the unique underground world.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/city-of-ember/id299413486

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 City of Ember (2008)