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.

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)

Collateral (2004)

In Edge of Tomorrow, Tom Cruise somehow made dying funny. In Collateral, he somehow makes killing funny. And also sad.

The premise is that Tom Cruise, playing contract killer Vincent, hires Jamie Foxx, playing taxi driver Max, to chauffeur him around LA all night, without, of course, explaining that he will be murdering five people before skipping town. What’s a hardworking, law-abiding taxi driver to do, apart from cooperate? Can he improvise a way out of his horrible predicament?

Collateral seems like it could have been an action movie, but it’s kinda not. Although it features crazy driving, shooting, Tom Cruise running, and a police hunt, it’s a drama as much as it is a thriller. The whole story takes place in one night, and dialog seems to take up the bulk of the screen time. It’s more serene than frantic.

The theme is carpe diem. Don’t postpone your dreams! Don’t be afraid of taking risks! Also: Don’t hire yourself out as a contract killer, because if you do, when you die, no one will care!

I hated Tom Cruise’s hair. Was that style fashionable back in 2004? Clamshell phones were. Those are a joke now that smartphones have taken over the world…

All nitpicking aside, I enjoyed the movie. Sure doesn’t make me want to live in LA, though!

The plot summary on Wikipedia is not bad.

This Roger Ebert review is full of praise.

This review at Pajiba calls the movie melancholy and soulful, claiming it may be the best movie Tom Cruise will ever make.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/collateral/id291825916

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

When I started seeing movie posters for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, I was curious but apprehensive. Watching the movie, I was pleasantly surprised.

Unlike the 1993 film featuring ballet student and Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin, the movie is not merely a recording of a stage performance of the ballet, nor is it a musical, nor does it follow the “story” of the ballet. It’s a through-the-looking glass version, a mirror image, or echo of the story in the ballet. The film includes a bit of ballet and some of the musical themes, but mostly it is a beautiful, original, inspiring fantasy.

The sets, CGI, and costumes are impressive, but the strength of the movie is the theme it expresses: how to deal with the loss of a loved one. There are healthy ways and unhealthy ways, both demonstrated dramatically.

Other solid, admirable themes are family togetherness, friendship and loyalty, creativity and curiosity, bravery, compassion and forgiveness, choice, and belief in one’s self.

With so much for the protagonist to learn on her adventure, I don’t see how detractors can call the movie ‘soulless’. Did we even watch the same movie? Whatever their reasons, critics and audiences don’t seem to like this movie nearly as much as I did, saying it’s as clunky as that ambitious 2018 flop, A Wrinkle in Time. That’s not fair at all. Four Realms is miles better than A Wrinkle in Time.

Maybe the detractors don’t award as many points for theme as they do for how subtly those themes are expressed. Some hoped for more ballet, others hoped for more music. Some wanted it to be scarier, others wanted it less scary. Maybe they all simply had higher expectations. Maybe nobody quite knew what to expect at all. I agree the film could have been better, but I think it was actually pretty decent. This review at Empire Online agrees with me.

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 Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Darkest Minds (2018)

Starring the actress who played Rue in The Hunger Games (2012), The Darkest Minds was like Wrinkle in Time (2018) plus X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), but better in some ways than either one.

I wish I’d known it was based on the first book in a series and not a standalone story; then the pacing would have made more sense.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-darkest-minds/id1412296702

The reviews reflect a general consensus that though the cast was good, the movie feels like a timid, bland echo of other dystopian stories. I dunno, sweet and safe isn’t necessarily bad. Here’s a representative “meh” kind of review, from IGN.

Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, says the functions of a good website are neither explained nor self-explanatory, they are self-evident.

In Ant-man and the Wasp, the sequences filled with exposition are excruciating because in them, the fake science is explained.

I felt a bit better when the fake science was lampshaded: “Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” (My thought exactly!)

I felt even better during the action sequences, when the effects of the fake science were delightfully self-evident.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ant-man-and-the-wasp/id1400637562

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 Ant-man and the Wasp (2018)

Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Your English teacher was so wrong when she said “i before e, except after c or when sounding like ay as in neighbor and weigh”. She obviously wasn’t counting on the feisty female heist in Ocean’s 8.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/oceans-8/id1390225970

I was worried there would be annoying, unsubtle feminist messaging throughout, but there was only one scene where characters talked about men per se. Thank goodness someone realized there’d be no point in making a movie about a bunch of female thieves only to have them talk about men the whole time.

Clearly the writing and/or casting was done with diversity in mind: there is a black character, an Indian character (played by an actress I now recognize from A Wrinkle in Time), and an Asian character in addition to the several Caucasians, one of whom sounds Irish and one of whom speaks German in several scenes. Although Ocean’s 8 is a much higher-quality production, I’m reminded of the awkward parody Superfast! which gave its ensemble’s token characters the literal names “Rapper Cameo”, “Model Turned Actress” and “Cool Asian Guy”.

The movie had two problems, neither of which I was expecting.

One problem was that the protagonist is introduced as a skilled shoplifter. An elaborate plan to steal millions of dollars’ worth of jewels is something I don’t have a problem with, since it’s obviously fantasy. Shoplifting is, however, both real and problematic. I don’t admire people who shoplift in real life, so I don’t really want to be encouraged to admire a shoplifter on screen. I mean, yes, the character comes across as clever, but… I don’t know. It just doesn’t sit right with me.

When giving her team a pep talk, Debbie says something along the lines of “Let’s not do this for us. Somewhere out there is an eight-year-old girl who dreams of becoming a criminal. Let’s do this for her.” Maybe that was funnier than the shoplifting, but… crime is bad, y’all!

The other problem was that although the caper was exciting, and there were lots of gratifying chuckles, there didn’t ever seem to be any serious obstacles. There were little stumbling blocks along the way, but each one was overcome after a moment of panic too brief to allow the tension to build.

See below for 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 Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Superfast! (2015)

I’m a sucker for car racing movies. Some are Disney while others are deadly; some are comedies while others are merely laughable; some are wacky Wachowski one-offs while others are furiously approaching double digits.

The irony? I don’t drive.

The worst I’ve seen in the wake of the fabulously successful Fast and Furious franchise was undoubtedly the shoestring-budget direct-to-DVD production 200mph (2011). If any movie about a car wreck could be called a train wreck, that was it.

On the other hand, I didn’t expect to like Death Race, but it was great! The sequel was also pretty good, though the second sequel wasn’t.

Due to my hit-and-miss nature of my past experience with car movies, my expectations for this parody/spoof were extremely non-specific. I didn’t know Superfast! was, like Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Vampires Suck, et al., written and directed by the much derided team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. I had no interest in any of their other movies and didn’t see them.

All of which is to say that maybe I shouldn’t have enjoyed Superfast!, but I did, perhaps because the filmmakers’ humor was new to me, even if it’s stupid and old and tired to most everyone else.

Anyway, even if it was a bad movie, it wasn’t as bad as 200mph.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/superfast/id1229229788

See below for some links to 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 Superfast! (2015)

Ant-man (2015)

Watching Ant-man was fun, but it would probably have been more fun in a theater where there would have been lots of people there to laugh at the absurdities scattered throughout.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ant-man/id1012788984

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 Ant-man (2015)