Interview with the Vampire (1994)

If you thought all Tom Cruise movies had a scene showing Tom Cruise sprinting, you were wrong. Vampires don’t sprint, and in this movie… Tom Cruise is a vampire. So is Brad Pitt. Tom Cruise plays the bloodthirstier of the two. There’s a lot of blood and death in this movie. It’s not really my genre. At all.

Hah. I wanted to know about the financial aspects of being an immortal vampire. Do they steal? Do they invest? Do they work for pay? They could do any or all of those things, but we are shown zero of them. We also don’t see the legal or even social consequences of any of their murders, some of which really seem like they would have been noticed. Oh well…. In the positive column, Kristen Dunst, age 12, did a great job of playing an eternal woman child.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/interview-with-the-vampire-the-vampire-chronicles/id279599100

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 Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Office Space (1999)

The year 1999 gave us the Wachowskis’ touchstone film, The Matrix, the story of a young man seemingly trapped in a meaningless office cubicle existence. The hero of Office Space is no less trapped, no less freed, and no less adored, though the tone of the film is (like Dilbert) comedic rather than darkly futuristic.

If you haven’t seen this cult classic, you are missing out.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/office-space/id273369330

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 Office Space (1999)

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie looks like a transparent marketing ploy, but there’s more to it than that. It is surprisingly good. (So is The Lego Batman Movie, but reportedly The Lego Ninjago Movie isn’t.)

The Lego Movie is chock-a-block with jokes, only some of which are of the unsubtle variety, but it has a message, too: we all want to feel special, and in some way or other, we probably are, if we choose to see ourselves that way.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-lego-movie/id805178535

I liked the playfulness of the script and inventiveness of the visuals in the fights and chases. I am choosing to overlook the overly didactic name of the villain.

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 The Lego Movie (2014)

The Great Wall (2016)

When I watched this on television at a friend’s house, I’d heard of the movie and wanted to see it (my dislike of the famous-Hollywood-star-in-Asia movie The Last Samurai notwithstanding), but had no idea there were lizard things in it. I suppose I assumed it was a historical story, or maybe a fantastical historical story with magicky people in it, like The White-Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom (2014). I have just learned that the name for that genre is “wuxia”.

No, this was a monster movie. It was a good one! Like Pacific Rim (2013). Again, I sort of expected the monsters to be misunderstood, but no. They’re just monsters. The point is to kill them, not understand them. There are some vague bits of theme wafting around—trust, loyalty, discipline, and teamwork are good, while greed is bad—but really, the point is to stop the lizard monsters from taking over the world.

I enjoyed the Mandarin-heavy dialog because hey! I understood some of it! Every big-budget Hollywood movie with part of the plot set in China (e.g., Now You See Me 2), every Chinese movie with crossover Western appeal (e.g., Bleeding Steel), and every studio cooperation using big names from both the West and China, like this one, brings us closer to a fused future culture like the one in Firefly, even if some of the products of that cooperation, like this one, are not exactly greeted with resounding applause.

Bleeding Steel (2017)

Take Jackie Chan’s “loving father / brave protector” role from The Foreigner, subtract the tragedy, and add an over-the-top comic-book villain equipped with an airborne science lab and a fierce henchwoman in a Tron suit, and you’ve got Bleeding Steel. It wasn’t amazing, but I enjoyed it.

It was especially fun for me for two reasons, both related to my recent trip to Australia and New Zealand. First, on that trip, I skydived for the first time. There’s a scene (shown on movie posters) of Jackie Chan falling from a plane. Now I know what that feels like. Second, when touring the Sydney Opera House, our group was told that Jackie Chan had been filming stunts for a movie there. When I saw the movie, I recognized the location from having been there myself. Of course, I wasn’t actually on top of the Sydney Opera House, but I was in and around it.

When I told a friend I’d just seen a Jackie Chan movie, she thought I meant The Foreigner. No, not that one. Kung Fu Yoga? No, not that one, either. All three are Jackie Chan movies released in 2017! Now I learn there was a fourth: Namiya. It must have been a busy year for Jackie, not even counting two cartoon voice roles.

Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Moral values are and should be demonstrated through art, but it’s better that they be embedded deeply so that they shine through, rather than pasted to the surface like so many flashy glass jewels. I found The Last Jedi too didactic in its details and (possibly) too cynical in its approach. See below if you want to know why.

Continue reading Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Bottle Shock (2008)

The folks at The Marlborough Vintners Hotel, a lovely place to stay, are no fools. The people who pass through Blenheim care about one thing: wine. The shelf of DVDs at the front desk therefore includes the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, which I watched with my mother-in-law (who had seen it before). I mean, what else were we going to do with the rest of the afternoon, after the wine tour we went on?

It was a delight to see Alan Rickman play a British wine snob in this movie, a storyteller’s take on the watershed 1976 Paris Wine Tasting event that brought California wines to the attention of the world.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/bottle-shock/id301233114

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Watching Valerian and the Movie with the Ridiculously Long Harry Potter–esque Title was a strange experience. I can’t say I liked it overall.

I think what grated most was the absurd idealization of the beautiful, innocent, peaceful aliens. They’re harder to relate to than gods or robots! In religions across the world, supernatural beings (with the notable exception of Cthulhu) always have some human behavioral characteristics that help us understand, admire, and/or emulate them. In Asimov’s science fiction stories about robots, even the robots are more complicated (and thus more interesting) than these aliens, because even with only a scant handful of unbreakable rules to follow, conflict is inevitable.

Yes, the innocents are aliens, so we could imagine that they have a society infinitely freer of conflict than any we’ve ever come across, but there’s really no point putting them in a human story if they are impossible to identify with. Nevertheless, not only are they in this story, they are the story. If it’s not possible to care about them, then why would anybody want to watch this movie?

Well, Valerian contains a lot of surprising, inventive, and beautiful, uh, stuff. As this guardian review puts it:

Valerian has the courage of its fearsome convictions, and if you’re willing to overlook things like acting, plot, characterization, dialogue, character arcs, pacing, structure and leads, as many science fiction die-hards are willing to do, then Valerian is a nifty spectacle that excels as eye-candy even if it comes up short in every other respect.

In other words, maybe it’s cult-classic material, albeit not for my particular kind of cult.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/valerian-and-the-city-of-a-thousand-planets/id1254728550

More opinions below, with SPOILERS.

Continue reading Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

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)