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.

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.

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)

The Movie Book

Reading The Movie Book, I got the strong impression that, regardless of its genre, every movie I like is basically the same movie: an uplifting story with a conventional structure, an admirable main character, and an upbeat conclusion. This book, in contrast, expresses appreciation of many kinds of movie, seemingly few of them cheerful.

Still, some of my personal favorites are considered great cinema; I am a fan of the quite historic Wizard of Oz, for example. In contrast, although intellectually I understand that Blade Runner is a classic, I found it largely unpleasant to watch. Oldboy was much worse. Those are two hours of my life I really wish I could get back.

Lesson learnt. Watching “good” movies—or even “important” movies—as if movies can be measured on a universal scale is not a recipe for enjoyment. Taste is personal.

Here’s an interactive list of the 116 movies featured in the book. (It doesn’t list the 88 honorable mentions described briefly at the back of the book, but this post does.) Among them are some movies I have not seen that I would like to see—some that I think I would actually enjoy (e.g., Singin’ in the Rain) and others that are not my cup of tea but would be interesting and give me a stronger grounding in the history of film (e.g., King Kong).

When and Why I Read The Movie Book

I like books. I like movies. I like checklists. Surely I will enjoy a book that consists of a checklist of movies.

Genre: non-fiction (reference; film)
Date started / date finished: 02-Apr-2018 / 17-Apr-2018
Length: 343 pages
ISBN: 9780241188026
Originally published in: 2015
Amazon link: The Movie Book

Jumanji (1995)

Jumanji is based on a creepy-looking picture book by Chris Van Allsburg that’s also called Jumanji.

It’s an expensive, high-tech movie, but the plot (perhaps unsurprisingly) ends where it starts (in the past), and all the accumulated damage is reversed.

I have trouble believing the giant crocodile was ever convincing, and the effects team admits to basing the monkeys on no monkey in particular, but the plants were pretty cool, and the stampede was amazing.

The running gag with the car was hilarious, and it was fun to see Robin Williams act the part of the man-child from the jungle. He’s awfully good at being silly and yet serious, as he is in Hook (which I liked better).

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/jumanji/id532055046

Tomb Raider (2018)

The rebooted Tomb Raider, like its bizarre 2001 predecessor, is an archaeological action-adventure movie based on a video game starring a feisty, attractive young woman named Lara Croft.

There is much that you’d expect: a mysterious ancient text, an exotic locale, booby traps, and of course a plunge off a cliff into a river that flows towards the inevitable waterfall. However, although the waterfall itself is no surprise, the scene where Lara barely escapes going over the edge of it has to be seen to be believed. It isn’t quite like any other.

It’s not just the details that are different; the backstory is new, too. In the 2001 movie, Lara is rich and lives in the family mansion like some kind of female Bruce Wayne. In the 2018 movie, she’s a penniless hipster who refuses to take possession of her inheritance because it would mean giving up hope that her missing father will return.

I enjoyed it. The consensus seems to be that although the leading actress (Alicia Vikander) did a great job, Tomb Raider was disappointing. Sadly, this origin story was obviously intended to make way for a sequel—one that may never materialize.

Tomb Raider Reviews

  • Roger Ebert says it was better than expected, and doesn’t feel like it’s copying from a game.
  • Variety calls it a “rare thing, a propulsive blockbuster with a bit of heart” and “escapism that breathes”.
  • The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw was bored.

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

This ambitious film adaptation of a ground-breaking children’s sci-fi novel was faithful to the book in fits and spurts, and in some ways it was better. Still, I agree with the box-office receipts on this one: not a winner.

I’m biased towards the book because I read it growing up and remember it vividly. Since screenplays can’t accommodate as many details as even the shortest of novels, liking this movie was going to be difficult in any case. That being said, the movie has some real flaws, about which, more below.

See below for some comparisons with the book and 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 A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

Evita (2018 musical in Singapore)

It is a night of sparkles and shining lights.

A crystal cascade hanging in Marina Bay Sands mall over what used to be a plastic ice-skating rink delivers a magical sound and light show for the benefit of diners at the food court.

The performance itself is less magical than we hoped: the music is cacophonous, we strain to hear the words, and while we don’t much admire the social climber Lloyd Webber depicts, neither do we much like the narrator who mocks her. Nevertheless, arrayed in flashing white jewels, Eva Peron captivates when she sings…

Seen from the rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the domes and supertrees in Gardens by the Bay glow below in the darkness: don’t drop your phone.

If you look the other way, skyscrapers downtown shout the names of their tenants in lights the colors of bank logos. Save your pennies! they seem to say. See the 1996 film version instead. Too late now.

He Named Me Malala (2015)

He Named Me Malala is the emotional story of how one Pakistani girl embarked on a mission to insist on education for girls. Politics is a minefield I try to stay away from, but literacy is a cause that appeals to me if ever there was one.

A strong theme in the film (indeed, in the title!) is Malala’s relationship with her father. There will always be people who say that by giving his daughter the name “Malala” and involving her in his intellectual life, Malala’s father created the champion who is now beloved by the international media…. and that he is also, thus, responsible for making her the victim of a shot to the head by a Taliban gunman. Malala refuses to blame her father, describe herself as a special victim of the Taliban, or even admit to any personal feelings of anger or suffering related to the shooting. Moreover, she states clearly that whatever she has done has been her own choice. Of course we are nevertheless free to imagine her anger and suffering, and to reflect on the many reasons any of us follow the paths we do: nature, nurture, chance, and choice all have roles to play.

The film runs the gamut of emotions: we feel shock, anger, sadness, and awe, but interviews with Malala’s brothers provide comic relief, and some of the things Malala says about herself are pretty funny, too. The segments that present Malala’s “normal” family and student life remind us that she is not just a survivor, a heroine, and a champion of the oppressed: she’s a human girl, in some ways no different from you and me, yet she has accomplished more than most of us would ever dare attempt, and perhaps for good reason: most of us have a stronger sense of self-preservation, and most of us have not been shot in the head.

Though it seems to try to transcend politics, the film can’t entirely avoid being political. One of its messages is that the Taliban’s teachings are not Islam; it is a perversion of Islam, a radical, poisonous ideology subscribed to by power-hungry extremists. The film does not document their crimes in detail; unlike the shorter 2009 NYT documentary, it is not graphically violent and its tone is generally hopeful; the bad guys are not its focus. Malala’s father says it wasn’t a person who shot her; it was an ideology. Who pulled the trigger doesn’t matter.

This film included beautiful animated segments and features the voices of Malala and her father, who speak in admirable English that has some charming idiosyncrasies.

I was curious whether He Named Me Malala, being fact rather than fiction, would have the same structure as other movies I’ve watched and analyzed. Although it had a kind of collage aspect to it, its underlying structure was the same as that of any narrative. I was not surprised. Just because a documentary starts with facts doesn’t mean it’s not also a story. Even if it a story that in real life is far from over, or one that isn’t told in chronological order, every story has to have a recognizable beginning, middle, and end.

I didn’t know much, if anything, about Malala before seeing the film. Now, having seen it, I am at least somewhat curious to read the book I Am Malala, a copy of which, hilariously, Malala signed and inscribed to herself before shelving it alongside others in her bedroom.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/he-named-me-malala/id1037547331

See below for some links to reviews as well as a summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading He Named Me Malala (2015)

Galaxy Quest (1999)

I keep thinking this movie is the one where a robot says “Danger, Will Robinson!” but no, that’s Lost in Space, a movie that came out around the same time and was reportedly terrible, though it was based on a beloved classic television show.

Galaxy Quest is decidedly not terrible. It’s an award-winning sci-fi comedy beloved by sci-fi and comedy fans alike. It’s got big-name actors (Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman), and top-notch special effects (from Industrial Light and Magic and others) that still look good almost twenty years later. And it was the film debut of Justin “I’m a Mac” Long, who subsequently starred in Live Free or Die Hard, Herbie: Fully Loaded, and Accepted.

The premise is that, years after the end of a long-running television show called Galaxy Quest (obviously a parody of Star Trek), the show’s washed up actors (those who played the commander, the attractive woman who talks to the computer, the rubber-headed alien doctor, the young pilot, the tech expert and a one-episode redshirt) are approached at a fan convention by actual aliens who mistakenly believe they are the “never give up, never surrender” heroes they used to portray. Can these human fish out of water pull together to meet this unexpected challenge?

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/galaxy-quest/id286147467

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 Galaxy Quest (1999)

Black Panther (2018)

Marvel’s Black Panther embodies American exceptionalism. The theme is that offering foreign aid and sharing knowledge is not only a good idea, but a duty, and one on which a prosperous country’s survival depends.

Wait, you thought it was a superhero movie? Or a movie that celebrates black culture? Or a movie that celebrates women? It’s all those things too!

Moreover, critics are saying it’s a “Shakespearean” drama because of the nuanced characterization of the main villain, who believes so strongly in his mission that you’re half inclined to agree with him.

I’m glad that the unremittingly bleak and gritty Christopher Nolan style of superhero movie is increasingly giving way to humor, even in movies like this one that have serious and important themes.

See Marvel’s Black Panther as soon as possible so that you can join in the discussion of this cultural touchstone. If it’s not in theaters, it’ll be on iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/black-panther-2018/id1342065788

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 Black Panther (2018)