2018 Blindspot Pick #5: Sunshine (2007)

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Some say because mankind began,
Someday we’ll meet our end.
It’s borrowed time we spend.

Now centuries or more before
That fateful day arrives,
We fear for future lives.

We doubt if such is simply fate.
Should we rage if we could
If that good night be good?

Inevitable it may be,
Yet life is valued right
By how its owners fight.

Is saving life postponing death?
Then may death hesitate,
However short the wait.
___________________

MPAA rating: R (for language and some violence)

I’m a little embarrassed to have fallen behind on my Blindspot series this year, only now getting to May’s pick. Though, in my defense, I have been busy graduating and looking for a new job in web design, so I think that’s a reasonable excuse. Oh, and I discovered a funny little show called Parks and Recreation, which has kind of distracted me from my typical movie-watching schedule. Even so, I’m trying to catch up this month, and Sunshine made for a welcome return to my Blindspot picks.

I was familiar with Sunshine’s music long before I had any intention of watching it, even placing it at #49 on my list of Top 50 Movie Scores. Much of the electronica from composer John Murphy and the band Underworld is complementary for a sci-fi film but unmemorable, yet “Adagio in D Minor” is an immortal cinematic track as far as I’m concerned, serving to heighten the emotion of two visually striking scenes.

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There’s more than the score, though, to make Sunshine worth watching, not least of which is the diverse and recognizable cast, all astronauts aboard the Icarus II on a mission to save mankind by reigniting the sun with a giant bomb.  Cillian Murphy seems to be the lead as Robert Capa, a physicist in charge of the actual payload, while the rest of the crew include Michelle Yeoh, Benedict Wong, Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada (Lost alert!), and Chris Evans, who was between superhero roles at the time. Actually, it’s telling that five of those actors have made their way into superhero movies, and wait(!) Hiroyuki Sanada is supposedly cast in the next Avengers movie so it’s probably only a matter of time before Garity and Curtis make the leap too. The characters aren’t much more developed than the crew of the Nostromo in Alien (which wasn’t much when you think about it), but the actors do well in giving them distinct personalities and methods, though it was odd to learn that a lot of background information on each one was thought up yet intentionally left out.

I tend to enjoy the science fiction genre in general, and Sunshine had many of the ingredients I like, from intelligent problem solving in the face of disaster to a foreboding, often claustrophobic setting, plus a few creative subtleties, as when pictures of dead crewmen are momentarily glimpsed in the glare of flashlights. The script was also thought-provoking as it repeatedly put the characters in life-and-death positions in which the death option meant the death of mankind. As for the plot, it reminded me of a cross between the Firefly episode “Bushwhacked” (searching a derelict ship with a crazed danger on board) and  Alien: Covenant (picking up a distress signal that jeopardizes the mission, though Sunshine had a better reason for their following of said signal). I know some have criticized Sunshine for how the last third suddenly veers into slasher-style horror, but it didn’t seem incompatible with what came before and, if anything, strengthened the parallels to an Alien movie.

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Directed by Danny Boyle, Sunshine has a lot in its favor, which makes its fate as a box-office failure even sadder, but it’s also far from perfect. It’s hard for me to fault the grand spacefaring visuals, but there were multiple scenes where I just wasn’t sure what I was looking at, whether because of the unique design of the ship or because the scene was drowned in sunlight or shielded in darkness. This is the only Blindspot I’ve watched twice, the second time with my VC, who had the same trouble but still enjoyed it, and I did find it easier to understand on the second go once I knew what was happening. Coupled with that objection is how the “monster” of the film was kept semi-concealed, not through shadowy editing but through camera distortions that just became overused.

In addition, for a film about the potential end of humanity, there’s very little spiritual dimension to it, only reminders of man being “stardust” and some religious ramblings of a madman. I always find it weird when disaster or apocalyptic movies seem to intentionally avoid or demonize religion, since that’s where many a mind goes when death draws near, and the fact that Cillian Murphy reportedly “converted” to atheism due to this film reveals how coldly unspiritual its underpinnings are.

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Despite these qualms, Sunshine was still a sci-fi journey worth taking, buoyed by strong casting, effects, and music. You could almost say it’s a better Alien movie than most of the Alien sequels, and that’s without any aliens. While its fatalism can get heavy and its visuals require some thought to decipher, this is one more corner of science fiction I’m glad to check off the ol’ to-watch list.

Best line (showing writer Alex Garland knew his influences): (Mace) “We should split up.”   (Harvey) “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea….”   (Mace) “You’re probably right. We might get picked off one at a time by aliens.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
582 Followers and Counting

 

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For the Love of Spock (2016)

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Ideas are born and met with scorn
More often than embraced.
It’s hard to tell what might do well
Or else end up disgraced.

That’s why the rise of one franchise
Can be a wondrous thing
When someone’s pitch can find its niche
And gain a following.

Ideas sow seed while sponsors lead,
But icons call for skill,
For one who spans the dreams of fans
To live and prosper still.
__________________

MPAA rating: Not Rated (should be PG-13 for 2 F-words)

I don’t typically watch and review documentaries, but as a lifelong fan of Star Trek, I couldn’t pass up a celebration of Leonard Nimoy and his most iconic role. Funding through Kickstarter, For the Love of Spock  is unique in that Nimoy himself was actually involved in its production until his death in 2015, and his son Adam Nimoy not only finished the doco but turned it into a moving retrospective of his father and their rocky relationship.

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I love Spock. Who doesn’t love Spock? Whether it’s Nimoy in the original series and films or Zachary Quinto in J.J. Abrams’ reboots, the half-human, half-Vulcan science officer of the Enterprise is a both compelling and surprisingly lovable character, even with his famous emotional reserve. For the Love of Spock dives into the original man behind the ears, from his early acting days to his musical and artistic pursuits to how he and his family reacted to the sudden stardom that Mr. Spock foisted upon them.

Apart from Nimoy and his son, there are a plethora of celebrity interviews that provide commentary of Nimoy’s life, whether the experiences of co-stars like William Shatner and George Takei or the geeky influence he imparted to Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jim Parsons, and J.J. Abrams. It’s a brilliantly edited encapsulation of all that Nimoy and Spock have given popular culture and boasts the emotional resonance of the loss of a legend and some surprising stories of how that legend developed, such as the Jewish origin of Spock’s “Live long and prosper” hand gesture. (You probably can’t see, but I’m doing it right now.) Occasionally, it’s also very funny, as when it recaps Nimoy singing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” which is possibly the biggest what-the-heck moment I’ve seen all year and which I had to include below.

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As I said, I don’t often watch documentaries, but I’ve liked the few I’ve seen, with For the Love of Spock up there among the best. I use a simpler “Thumb” system for docos since they’re harder for me to compare to narrative films, but this is undoubtedly worth Two Thumbs Up. Perhaps certain periods aren’t covered in as much detail, like the original films or Nimoy’s first autobiography I Am Not Spock, but Star Trek geeks and semi-geeks alike will find plenty to enjoy.

 

Rank: Two Thumbs Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
582 Followers and Counting

Psychokinesis (2018)

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A hero isn’t born, you know,
With all he needs to earn that rank.
All roles are blank
Until they grow.

He may have strength to break a chain
Or speed to outrun any train
Or powers to abolish pain
With snap of finger or of brain,
The likes of which man can’t contain.
But all of that would be in vain
If he viewed others with disdain.

It’s finding one worth fighting for
That makes a hero from a blank.
___________________

Rating: TV-MA (with several beatings, the content is much more PG-13, but there are a few F words in the English subtitles)

It took me longer than everyone else to jump onto the bandwagon praising Yeon Sang-ho’s South Korean zombie hit Train to Busan. One advantage to waiting was that I didn’t have to wait too long for his next live-action feature, this time tackling the superhero genre. Though not on the level of his earlier film, Psychokinesis is an enjoyable counterpoint to the big-budget Marvel movies to which we’ve become so accustomed, a decidedly smaller-scale adventure that still delivers the goods.

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The film starts out a little confusingly, segueing from an advertisement about successful young restaurateur Shin Roo-mi (Shim Eun-kyung) to a night attack on her restaurant by a group of workmen, who try to evict her and accidentally kill her mother. Soon after, we meet her absentee father Seok-heon (Ryu Seung-ryong), an oafish security guard who happens to drink from a fountain right as it’s contaminated with energy from a meteorite and discovers he has telekinetic powers. Just reading back those two sentences makes this film sound really bizarre, and maybe it is at the start, but I’m glad I gave it a chance because it somehow does work by the end. After hearing of his ex-wife’s death, Seok-heon decides to use his power to reignite his relationship with the daughter who hates him and protect her from the villainous corporate developers trying to remove her and the other tenants who refuse to leave their shops.

Like Train to Busan, Psychokinesis is just as concerned with its human characters as its genre conventions. At first, Seok-heon is hardly the type to stick up for others and tries to dissuade Roo-mi from joining the rebellious shopkeepers. Much as the inconsiderate father in Train to Busan had his conscience pricked, Seok-heon ends up second-guessing his own selfishness and aiding them with his psychic abilities. Both Ryu and Shim are quite good as an estranged father and daughter (they voiced similar estranged roles in Yeon’s previous film Seoul Station as well), and those playing the villains are gleefully evil, especially Jung Yu-mi (the pregnant woman in Train to Busan) as a beautiful, power-crazed mastermind.

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As for the superhero side of things, the effects are actually very well done, and their impact is gradually built up as Seok-heon progresses from floating lighters and ties to throwing bad guys around to almost flying. It clearly takes immense concentration for him, and his mental straining often verges on comedic. With some over-the-top reactions and simplistic motives, the film knows when to chuckle at itself and when to be serious, bolstered further by some genuinely cool superhero moments.

Psychokinesis may not be quite on the technical level of Marvel’s offerings, but with its Korean setting and surprisingly small body count, it’s a refreshingly low-profile member of an increasingly crowded genre. It’s also a sign that Yeon Sang-ho is a director worth keeping an eye on for empathetic family dynamics and quality genre fare.

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
579 Followers and Counting

 

All Saints (2017)

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The saints whose names are still revered
Were known for how they persevered.
Some kicked and screamed; some volunteered,
But was not God’s will done?

Yet does that mean their walls and woes
Came tumbling down like Jericho’s?
No, perseverance only shows
When clouds eclipse the sun.
____________________

MPAA rating: PG

I’m a devout Christian, but I must admit that most overtly Christian movies are not very good. Some are just low quality, but even the ones I enjoy and admire (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Miracles from Heaven) are often too sincere for their own good, preaching to the choir and sometimes irritatingly so (God’s Not Dead). The secular critics are just as often harsh with these films, and that’s why it was such a surprise when a faith-based film called All Saints managed to net a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes last year. It took me till now to see it myself, and I now see why it earned such positive buzz. Biblical films aside, it may be the best faith-based film so far.

This based-on-a-true-story movie features John Corbett as Michael Spurlock, a salesman who becomes an Episcopalian pastor and is immediately assigned to close the dying All Saints Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. With only twelve members, the church leadership have decided to sell the property, but Michael has an inspiration when a collection of Southeast Asian refugees come begging for assistance. Led by God and against everyone’s advice, he decides to try saving the church for these displaced families by using them to turn the surrounding church land into a farm and pay off the church debt.

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What I think sets All Saints apart is that it doesn’t feel designed to appeal only to Christians by getting preachy; it’s the classic rule of “show, don’t tell.” A movie can moralize all day about how God works in mysterious ways and how good can come out of seemingly terrible situations, but it means much more when we see those lessons in action. All Saints lets the story itself illustrate that wisdom rather than rubbing viewers’ noses in it. It’s more concerned with the existing faith of the characters rather than earning converts; at one point, a volunteer describes himself as Buddhist and his two friends as “apparently nothing,” and Michael responds that “some of my best friends are nothing.” Instead of finger-wagging, there’s a challenge to Christians and nothings alike to work together, and it’s inspiring.

There are still moments where the acting and script have traces of that faith-movie weakness, but they’re largely overshadowed by strong performances from Corbett, Barry Corbin as an irascible veteran church member, and Nelson Lee as Ye Win, the representative of the Karen refugees who speaks the most English and works hard to improve their situation. The story itself is also not as predictable as it may seem; sometimes things fall into place with George Mueller-style providence, while at other times, Murphy’s law rules, which always makes people with and without faith wonder where God is and what His will might be.

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I hope it’s not odd if I point to Fall Out Boy lyrics (“Immortals”) as a good summation of the film’s major theme: “Sometimes the only payoff for having any faith is when it’s tested again and again every day.” Most of the characters are Christian and God is glorified, but there’s a real-life story of encouragement, sacrifice, and community here that I think is universal, one that earns its sincerity. Those who normally avoid “Christian movies” ought to give this one a try.

Best line: (Forrest, to Michael after a risky decision) “Did you let your stupid off the leash again?”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
578 Followers and Counting

 

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

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A lot can happen while you’re sleeping
If you’re sleeping hard,
And if you’re not expecting it,
You might be caught offguard.

Your organs might be harvested
While you are unaware,
Or someone may invade your dreams
To plant an idea there.

You might awaken to a world
Infested with undead,
Or find that you’ve somnambulated
Miles from your bed.

And, though this is unlikely,
You might wake up one fine day
To find that Sandra Bullock
Has become your fiancée.
____________________

MPAA rating: PG

This is one of those movies I’ve been meaning to see for a while since it’s a favorite of certain romance lovers, and I just got around to it, partly because it sounded vaguely similar to The Big Sick (romance, coma, etc.). Well, it’s actually not very similar at all, but that’s probably best, and I also didn’t realize it’s sort of a Christmas movie. While You Were Sleeping isn’t about to go down as one of the best rom coms ever, but it’s a likable little morsel of ‘90s-era sentiment.

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Sandra Bullock plays Lucy Moderatz, one of those ‘90s romantic leads that are so winsome and pleasant that you wonder why they’re not already married. Then again, Lucy’s not sure either, instead shyly crushing on a well-dressed regular (Peter Gallagher) at her train token booth. When she unexpectedly saves him after he falls in the path of a train, she accompanies her comatose dreamboat Peter to the hospital, and a series of misunderstandings lead his family to believe she is his fiancée, with no one to dispute it. Thus, Lucy must decide how far she should play along with this unintentional fib, especially when suspected by Peter’s handsome brother Jack (Bill Pullman).

To be quite honest, I’m still not sold on Lucy’s reasoning for not telling the truth up front. She supposedly fears that the shock might harm Peter’s sensitive grandmother (Glynis John, who played the Banks matriarch in Mary Poppins thirty-one years earlier), yet I don’t see how she thought she could keep up the charade. Even so, it works well enough for rom-com purposes, including coincidences and comedic reasoning to explain away potential inconsistencies in her story. Despite the untruth, it’s easy to see why she would want to stay with Peter’s family, even apart from her chemistry with Jack, since they welcome her with open arms from her dismal single existence.

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I suppose the main thing that was missing from While You Were Sleeping was the laughs. In spite of the multitude of misunderstandings, I barely chuckled through most of it, so the script is hardly on the level of a Nora Ephron film, yet it still left me smiling with its semi-predictable romance. Almost everyone comes out with sympathy, and I liked the cast overall, from Peter Boyle to Jack Warden but especially Bullock. My VC thought it was “good, leaning toward mediocre,” but it was a better film than that, just not one that I’d consider a classic.

Best line:  (Jack) “I guess I don’t remember meeting you.”   (Lucy) “Well, that’s probably because we’ve never met.”   (Jack) “That could have something to do with it.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
576 Followers and Counting

 

My Top Twelve Avicii Songs

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When it comes to specific artists, I tend to only do Top Twelve lists for my all-time favorites, such as Lindsey Stirling and Coldplay, and even without the sad news of Avicii’s death on April 20, he would have gotten a Top Twelve from me eventually. Due to his passing, though, now seems like the best time to honor this giant of EDM music. (That’s Electronic Dance Music, for the uninitiated.)

When celebrities die, it usually doesn’t hit me personally. It’s sad, and I have sympathy for those who are hit hard, but the grief that many showed over David Bowie or Chester Bennington wasn’t the same for me because I wasn’t a fan of theirs at the time. But in this case, I listen to Avicii’s songs on a daily basis so not since Robin Williams committed suicide has a celebrity death saddened my heart this much, and it’s even sadder that, after many health issues, Avicii reportedly took his own life as well, at only 28 years old no less. I’m not even the hard-partying type or one to go “clubbing,” but I know a jam when I hear it.

Avicii, or Tim Bergling, was a Swedish DJ and producer with a prolific discography of electronic hits. I’ve even turned my mom into an EDM fan thanks to his repertoire of electronic earworms. He had a talent for finding just the right combination of notes for a brilliantly catchy hook that gets the head bopping and that lives on in the memory. That’s where Avicii will live on through his music, and his talent will be sorely missed.

12. “Heaven”


 
Apparently one of Avicii’s last tracks, “Heaven” has still not been released officially, but it shows his talent certainly wasn’t waning at the end. The lyrics “I think I just died and went to heaven” make me suspect that he knew what he was going to do long before his death.

 
11. “Waiting For Love”


 
Avicii has a wealth of great lyrics, but I especially love singing/listing the days of the week in this toe-tapping jam.

 

10. “We Write the Story” (collaboration with Benny and Bjorn of ABBA, with choir)


 
When I heard this, I thought it sounded like the theme for an Olympic ceremony, and close enough, it boasted a unique rock opera grandeur as the opening anthem for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest (which I hadn’t heard of till recently but is apparently a huge deal in Europe, having been televised for the last sixty-two years).

 

9. “I Could Be the One” (with Nicky Romero)


 
Sadly, the head-banging climax at the end isn’t nearly long enough.

 

8.  “Without You” (featuring Sandro Cavazza)


 
This was #3 on my Top Twelve List of 2017 Songs, and it’s also special to Norwegian DJ Kygo (another favorite artist of mine), who played it recently at Coachella as a tribute to Avicii.

 

7. “Broken Arrows”


 
Between the inspirational music video, the endlessly catchy hook, and country-ish vocals from Zac Brown, this song should absolutely have earned more notice.

 
6. “The Days”


 
Sometimes Avicii’s songs end too soon, but with two verses and a climax, “The Days” feels like one of his most complete songs, at least to me.

 

5. “Lay Me Down”


 
Why the heck was this not all over the radio? Sung by Adam Lambert, it makes me want to find the nearest dance floor.

 
4. “Hey Brother”


 
I think I’ve come to realize that I really enjoy the genre mix called “folktronica,” and “Hey Brother” is an outstanding example. In 2014, it was Avicii’s last song to place in the U.S. Top 40 charts.

 
3. “Levels”


 
“Levels” is where Avicii and EDM as a whole started to earn some real notice outside their niche. Sampling “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” by Etta James (which has been sampled elsewhere as well), “Levels” boasts one of Avicii’s most recognizable riffs and my favorite video of his and is often ranked as his best work (and my mom’s favorite too).  Except for “Sunshine” with David Guetta, it’s also his only song to warrant a Grammy nomination, which doesn’t say much for the Grammies if they can’t award a song and artist who clearly deserved more.

 
2. “Wake Me Up” (with Aloe Blacc)


 
Not too long ago, this folktronica hit would have been an effortless #1, but it’s been barely edged out, maybe because I’ve heard it so darn much. This is easily Avicii’s most played song on the radio and placed #1 on my Top Twelve List of Head-Banging Songs.

 
1. “The Nights”


 
The more I hear “The Nights,” the more I love it! Written with and sung by Nicholas Furlong, it’s more progressive house mixed with folktronica and just a little bit of a Celtic lilt. The lyrics put it over the edge for me and carry even more emotional weight now that Avicii is gone. “One day, you’ll leave this world behind, so live a life you will remember.” He did, and we’ll remember for him.

 
Runners-Up (from next to least favorite and not counting remixes):

“Fade into Darkness”

“For a Better Day”

“Sunset Jesus”

“I’ll Be Gone” (still unreleased)

“Last Dance”

“Lonely Together” (featuring Rita Ora)

“Seek Bromance”

“City Lights”

“You Make Me”

“Faster Than Light”

“Somewhere in Stockholm”

“Sunshine” (with David Guetta)

“Dear Boy”

“Friend of Mine”

“X You”

“Taste the Feeling” (with Conrad Sewell)

“Liar Liar”

“You Be Love (with Billy Raffoul)

“Heart Upon My Sleeve”

“Stay with You” (with Mike Posner)

“Addicted to You”

“Dancing in My Head” (with Eric Turner)

“Silhouettes”

 

Farewell, Avicii. May you rest in peace.

For the end, here’s one man’s brilliant remix of Avicii’s biggest songs, showing how he’s still inspiring his fans.

 

Only the Brave (2017)

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In its hearth, the fire crackles,
Warms us from its tabernacle,
And it sinisterly cackles,
Jailed in generosity.

“Soon,” it says between its spitting,
“It won’t be just logs I’m splitting.
Homes and dreams will be more fitting
Feeding my ferocity.

“While I bide here, curbed and cringing,
Brothers have I elsewhere singeing,
None to stop their brutal, binging,
Burning bellicosity.

“Few can stop me once I’ve started,
Once from prison I’ve departed.
Brace your brave and lionhearted
For my animosity.”
______________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Yes, I’m reviewing another disaster movie, but whereas The Hindenburg was about a major historical incident, Only the Brave focuses on a much more down-to-earth disaster which can affect anyone: wildfires. Though I’ve been told only you can prevent them, it’s real-life heroes who do the actual work of keeping them at bay once they get out of control, and one such group of heroes were the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a firefighting team from Prescott, Arizona.

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Josh Brolin plays Superintendent Eric Marsh, who believes in his intuition and experience enough to rally his own team of certified Hotshots, firefighters who would be on call to answer both local and national fire emergencies. To that end, he recruits both old friends and new blood, including Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a loser by all definitions who finds in this new job a chance to renew his pathetic life. The training, teasing, and camaraderie that come with the Hotshot certification are quite comparable to what you see in military movies, and the successes and failures are likewise felt deeply. McDonough’s second chance at life is also inspiring alongside the ambitions of Marsh, who sees himself in the younger man’s struggles.

The effects recreating infamous fires are brilliantly done, while the excellent cast provide both likable characterization and insight into the methods and struggles of the firefighting business, including the toll it takes on their family, such as Jennifer Connelly as Marsh’s long-suffering wife. I suppose my only complaint (Spoiler!) is that I didn’t know what kind of movie Only the Brave would become by the end and was thus unprepared for a certain tragic turn of events. Those aware of the true story surely knew going in, but let’s just say this is as much a memorial movie as it is a disaster one, and it caught me off-guard, which isn’t even really a criticism since it does both very effectively. It’s a well-acted tribute to the kind of heroism that is all too often overlooked.

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Best line: (Duane) “You gotta ask yourself, ‘What can I live with, and what can I die without?’”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
574 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: The Hindenburg (1975)

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Surely luxury entails
Safety in its fine details.
Once you’re paying through the nose
You need not doubt the practiced pros.

Once your travel’s well along,
Who’d dare think something might go wrong?
How could pride descend to panic?
Ask the Hindenburg and Titanic.
_________________

MPAA rating: PG

One of the many disaster movies of the 1970s, The Hindenburg will never go down as one of the best of its genre, but it’s by no means among the worst either, despite the pretty scathing reviews it has endured over the years. My VC happens to be quite fond of it, and while her appreciation dwarfs my own, I still consider it a solid film made memorable by its spectacular climax.

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One thing everyone should know going in is that this movie is historically inaccurate on many fronts, despite a largely faithful re-creation of the airship itself and a collection of characters based on real people. The main character is Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott), a decorated German air officer who is tasked by Goebbels with preventing a threatened attack on the Nazis’ prize zeppelin, which flies with highly flammable hydrogen rather than helium. While many theories have been proposed on what caused the Hindenburg’s destruction, the movie goes the resistance conspiracy route, which has never been proven but works as a potential reason for what happened.

Scott does well as usual, and the fact that he plays a Nazi is mitigated by his distaste for the regime in light of some recent tragedies. The rest of the cast is full of recognizable names and faces, all of whom are suspects in Ritter’s investigation, including Anne Bancroft as a countess he knows, a young William Atherton as an airship crewman, and René Auberjonois and Burgess Meredith as a pair of gamblers. Having watched a lot of Everybody Loves Raymond recently, I also spotted two recurring stars in Katherine Helmond as a passenger and Charles Durning as the Hindenburg’s captain.

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The build-up during the zeppelin’s flight, as Ritter scrutinizes everyone’s motives and opportunity, is unavoidably slow, but the tension does grow as the voyage comes to its historical end. The suspense is a lot like Titanic in that you know generally what will happen and are just waiting for the shoe to drop, and it’s worth it when it does. The Oscar-winning effects are dated but still impressive, and the re-creation of the accident is chaotic and brilliant as the screen fades to black-and-white and seamlessly works in real footage of the Hindenburg’s crash, ending with the iconic radio recording of a terrified onlooker. It’s a case where the last ten minutes makes the rest worthwhile, but you could also just watch the last ten minutes, sacrificing context to save time. Either way, despite being in a film full of historical liberties, it’s an excellent disaster sequence, which alone ought to disprove this film’s harsher critics.

Best line: (Captain Lehmann, ironically as they set off) “I’m to go to Washington to get us helium.”   (Ritter) “I wish we had it this trip.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
574 Followers and Counting

 

Alien 3 (1993)

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If I were on a transport ship
And had my own space-faring trip
Disturbed by some malignant beast
That turned my friends into a feast,

And then I managed to survive
And make it back to Earth alive
And then agreed to travel back
To probe a possible attack
And once again encountered those
Same creatures and their embryos,
Again surviving (barely though),
Escaping with some friends in tow,

And suddenly awakening
To find they’re dead but still that thing,
That alien won’t leave me be
And still is on its killing spree…
I think I’d think the universe
Was out to get me with a curse,
Or since my troubles will not halt,
Perhaps it’s those darn writers’ fault.
__________________

MPAA rating: R

With few exceptions, it’s usually around the third film that a franchise starts going awry. Case in point: Alien 3. It could have been good. Based on the success of its two acclaimed predecessors, it should have been good, but even director David Fincher has disavowed this largely unpleasant installment in the ongoing xenomorph saga.

It’s not that Alien 3 is of poor quality. It’s actually a well-made film, or rather the best the filmmakers could build around a host of poor creative decisions, which require spoilers to fully criticize, so be warned. One such poor decision is obvious within the first few minutes before a single word is spoken. Thanks to an alien stowaway, both Michael Biehn’s Hicks and young Carrie Henn’s Newt are summarily killed off, despite surviving the events of Aliens with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. As a fan of Aliens, this immediately left a bad taste in my mouth, and it doesn’t get much better. (It’s funny that Biehn was paid almost the same amount for this film as Aliens, just for his image being briefly shown.) Ripley herself does survive her crash landing on a desolate prison planet, where fanatically religious prisoners and a skeleton crew of guards become the new prey of an alien creature.

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With Alien 3, or Alien3 as it is stylized, it’s as if the writers missed what made the first two films so good. Sure, they seem to understand the tension of a hidden alien picking off unsuspecting humans, but they also break what is typically a cardinal rule of horror movies: killing both a child and a dog (or ox depending on the version seen). Instead of the generally likable casts of the prior films, we get a host of interchangeable British-accented skinheads, with only Charles S. Dutton standing out as remotely worthwhile. Oh, there’s one sympathetic character in Charles Dance’s doctor, but the writers had to nix him as soon as his tragic backstory was revealed. When you then also consider that Sigourney Weaver specifically wanted Ripley to die, you get an idea of just how depressing this film is by the end and wonder why she bothered to then come back for Alien: Resurrection five years later.

In addition, Alien 3 just feels harsher than its predecessors, with more cursing and in-your-face violence than the other two, not unlike how Alien: Covenant compares with Prometheus. The setting is certainly promising, and the fact that the prison planet lacks weapons of any kind makes the survivors’ plight even more dire. Their plan for trapping the alien is actually quite clever and intense, but it also becomes one long, hard-to-follow scene of the alien chasing and killing characters I couldn’t tell apart. Plus, a few scenes of the full-body alien are very clearly CGI, which was no doubt a leap forward for the effects team but looks hokey by today’s standards.

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So, yeah, Alien 3 stinks. It’s not unwatchable and boasts some great sets and tense moments, particularly an iconic scene of Ripley and the alien coming face to face. But nearly every creative decision just feels wrong, which is a far cry from the first two classics. It’s the Alien franchise’s first dud and one I don’t think I’ll be revisiting any time soon.

Best line: (Golic) “In an insane world, a sane man must appear insane.”

 

Rank: Dishonorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
573 Followers and Counting

 

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

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The world of tomorrow was yesterday’s dream.
Today’s that tomorrow, or so it would seem.
Today’s not exactly what yesterday guessed,
But thinking dystopian, maybe that’s best.

Today has its own dreams of what’s on its way
But also thinks fondly about yesterday.
Today is a mess; maybe if we combine
Tomorrow and yesterday, all will be fine.
_________________

MPAA rating: PG

Some films are just unlike any other. The weird thing about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is that it’s both utterly unique and yet reminiscent of many other movies before it and since. It’s an unusual blend of the futuristic and the retro, which offers the same kind of entertaining, if not particularly deep, gusto as a pulp magazine from 80+ years ago.

Of course, unlike those magazines or comics, Sky Captain puts its visuals in motion with a distinctly retro, sort of noir visual style, which most reminded me of those Superman cartoons from the 1930s. Shadows are at stark angles, the colors are muted almost to sepia and black-and-white, montages have semi-transparent scenes playing over each other, and many shots have a balanced composition resembling an old war poster. Added to all of this are special effects that, created in 2004, manage to be both well-visualized and just that slightly bit cheesy, minus the extra polish that they would have if made today. Yet the fact that nearly all of the actors’ surroundings are CGI is quite impressive and not immediately obvious. So many films these days end up looking like something else, even if it’s unintentional or trying to be somewhat different (think Pacific Rim vs. Transformers), yet it would take a lot of effort to make anything resembling Sky Captain’s visual flair.

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a hodgepodge of genres and story elements from sources ranging from Indiana Jones to those same Superman cartoons I mentioned. Jude Law plays the titular Captain Joe Sullivan, whose tricked-out plane is called in to stop giant robots attacking New York City, while Gwyneth Paltrow is Polly Perkins, a Lois Lane-ish intrepid reporter seeking her next big story. Together, they investigate a worldwide conspiracy that is making famous scientists disappear as part of some unknown master plan by a man called Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier, or rather his likeness since he died in 1989).

Like I said, I was reminded of many films while watching this one, making me wonder why I hadn’t bothered to see it sooner. It’s hard not to think of Salah in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Joe and Polly rendezvous with an old friend to visit Shangri-La, and Sky Captain himself is like an airborne Indy, as his womanizing ways and bickering chemistry with Polly indicate. Yet I was even more stunned by the fact that I was reminded of films that came out after this one and must have drawn some inspiration from it. Angelina Jolie shows up as an old flame of Joe’s, but tell me she’s not a touchstone for Nick Fury when she wears an eyepatch and captains a helicarrier from a bridge that even resembles the one from The Avengers.

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More shocking still for me was how similar Sky Captain was to April and the Extraordinary World, a new favorite animated film I praised for its originality just last month. The story just holds too many parallels: a World War II-era setting with unusually advanced technology, famed scientists being mysteriously abducted, a jungle-set climax with a rocket that has more or less the exact same purpose in both films. I can’t say my opinion of April has diminished, but I must admit that it’s not quite as original as I thought. I suppose Sky Captain has absorbed my appreciation in that regard, even if I still like April more.

With my rambling on about uniqueness and originality, I don’t know if this review has made it clear or not, but I highly enjoyed Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. If you can buy into its stylistic distinctiveness, there’s plenty of high-flying, largely family-friendly adventure to be had from its genre blending. As the first film to be (almost) completely shot on blue screen, Sky Captain was clearly a labor of love for director Kerry Conran and remains his only feature film. It is indeed something of a novelty item, as many reviews have called it, but it’s still quite an entertaining one.

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Best line: (I’d rather not say since it gives away a major plot point.)

Rank: List-Worthy (tied with April and the Extraordinary World)

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
573 Followers and Counting