Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

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Dystopias and futures grim
Are but a writer’s dismal whim.

No wasteland stark
Or desert dark
Or dictatorial monarch,
No virus spread
Or walking dead
Or culture built upon bloodshed,
No overthrow
Of status quo
Could happen to the world we know.

‘Twill be too late when mankind learns
To heed dystopians’ concerns.
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

I’ve been skipping the recent Planet of the Apes reboot series because I considered them just another example of Hollywood’s idea-starved habit of milking past franchises. Although I was surprised at how positive the critical reactions were, that’s why it took me so long to finally explore this reboot, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m surprised again by how good it really is. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a sterling example of a reboot done right, taking the basic ingredients of a prior film and building on them in new and unexpected ways.

Of all the earlier Planet of the Apes installments, this film most resembles the fourth one, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which happens to be where the original film series took a nosedive on quality and believability, even more so than in the second film. Whereas the Caesar in Conquest (played by Roddy McDowall) was the product of a time leap from the ape future seen in the original Planet of the Apes, the Caesar in Rise (played by Andy Serkis via ever-improving motion capture) is born from a captured chimpanzee being used for experimental drug tests. When an incident causes his mother and the other test cases to be killed, baby Caesar is taken in by Will Rodman (James Franco), the head of the project, and his father (John Lithgow), whose Alzheimer’s disease spurs Will to keep working on his cure. Although raised by humans, the unusually intelligent Caesar eventually learns of his origin and the fate of others of his kind and sparks a simian revolt.

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As the first in the series to use CGI for an authentic appearance for the apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a huge improvement over the originals on a visual level alone. The apes look astoundingly real, even if there’s still that slight CGI-ness that lets me tell they’re not, and the motion capture allows for entirely credible movements, as well as emotive facial expressions in the case of Caesar. Franco and Lithgow also deliver solid human support that adds heart to a tale of science run amok, while Daniel Oyelowo plays the typical corporate corner-cutter who’s the “real” villain. The film’s “rise” to its action climax is not only a great thrill but one that also shows early on Caesar’s moral reluctance to take any human lives.

Although Rise is clearly rewriting the history of the original Planet of the Apes series, there are plenty of callbacks to please those like my VC who are wary of any change to a cherished franchise. Iconic lines are recycled, like “It’s a madhouse” and “Take your stinking paw off me, you d*mn dirty ape.” Easter eggs are dropped, like Caesar’s mother being nicknamed Bright Eyes, as Charlton Heston’s character was in the first film, and Heston himself even has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. There’s an added reason to the references too, particularly in how Caesar is imprisoned in a cruel ape cagehouse, implicitly suggesting that, as bad as Heston was treated, the apes were treated that way first.

I also liked the subtlety of how Caesar’s arc is analogous to Moses in the Bible. Like Moses, Caesar was rescued when the rest of his “people” were killed; he was raised by the “enslavers” until an act of violent rebellion gets him in trouble; and after a time of exile, he leads his “people” to freedom. It’s a nice subtext that allows the story to be enjoyed as both a solid sci-fi movie and a semi-allegorical narrative.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes does so much right that it makes me wonder why it’s so hard for other reboots to succeed. Certainly, it has respect for the source material but also the nerve to tell its own story, including a parting hint as to how mankind’s decline will play out. It’s a very promising start for a series that, from what I understand, will only get better.

Best line: (Jacobs, Will’s boss) “I swear, you know everything about the human brain except the way it works.”

 

Rank:  List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
516 Followers and Counting

 

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No Game No Life: Zero (2017)

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Is life not a game
Where there’s no one to blame
If the rules seem unfair
And the ends are the same?

You’re tempted to quit,
Raise your hands in forfeit,
For the game doesn’t care
Where the losers will sit.

But wait! None will mind
The misfits of mankind,
For the arrogant player
Is conveniently blind.

Who heeds the has-been
When his triumphs begin?
Those who haven’t a prayer
In the game can still win.
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Although I’ve come to really enjoy anime movies over the last several years, I’d never seen an anime film in the theater. Thus, it was a special treat to see No Game No Life: Zero on the big screen, especially with it being such a visually spectacular film. After being impressed by the trailers for months before its July opening in Japan, I thought for sure I’d have to wait perhaps a year before I’d get to see an American release, so I’m grateful to Sentai Filmworks and Fathom Events for distributing the English dub so quickly.

I wouldn’t doubt that non-anime fans have no idea what No Game No Life is. It’s a series of Japanese light novels, but most in the West would know it from the anime adaptation that is surprisingly popular for having only a single twelve-episode season. It centers on the gaming prowess of eighteen-year-old Sora and his eleven-year-old stepsister Shiro, two genius-level shut-ins who are transported by the god of games Tet to a fantasy world where all conflicts are decided by wagering on games of any kind. Humanity (known as Imanity in this world) is the lowest and least powerful of all the fantasy races, so Sora and Shiro take it upon themselves to lift up the humans and conquer the world through the likes of chess, word chain, and first-person shooters. Just as WarGames fans say “Shall we play a game?”, No Game No Life fans say “Aschente,” the mutual pledge before starting a game.

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The show itself is played mainly for laughs and to marvel at the Sherlock-level strategy and foresight the siblings command even when at a disadvantage, but it boasts a broader fantasy appeal too, especially with unseen backstory about a horrific war that only ended when Tet became god and made the world game-centric. The characters and situations are quite entertaining for the most part, though No Game No Life isn’t among my favorite series for one simple reason: fan service. There’s plenty of sexual harassment, near-nudity, and risqué humor, mainly from Sora, and while much of it is funny, a lot is just uncomfortable and annoying. Plus, I’m not usually a fan of the kind of anime with silly faces and exaggerated reactions (I know that’s the majority of anime), which is why I lean more toward dramatic series or movies, which are usually easier to take seriously.

That’s why I was so eager to see No Game No Life: Zero, a film centering on an extended flashback of the pre-Tet war, a subject which lends itself to much more drama and emotion, and indeed the film is a complete contrast from the humorous tone of the series. (By the way, the Zero in the title seems to be an example of the naming convention for works that are connected yet somehow separate from an established series [e.g. Fate/Zero, Steins;Gate 0, etc.].) No Game No Life is notable, and sometimes disliked, for its hypersaturated colors, boasting more bright hues than a Crayola factory, and while the movie retains the same style, it limits its palette more to complement the darker storyline. Instead of the shiny fantasy land into which Sora and Shiro are literally dropped, this war-torn world 6000 years earlier is dominated by reddened skies and skin-burning ash, leaving no doubt as to humanity’s desperation, caught in the crossfire between the more powerful magical races. Just look at the contrast between the worlds below, the first from the show, the second from the film.

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Although there’s still a lot left unseen, the film wonderfully expands our knowledge of the war, showing us why the modern-day races still hate each other. Jibril, an immortal angel-like creature called a Flugel, was one of the best characters on the show, conceited and charming at the same time, but her appearance in the film fits the description of an “angel of death,” proving that those memories of slaughter she fondly reminisces about in the show were not exaggerated. The film also intentionally echoes the series with its “new” character designs. Riku, the leader of the remaining humans, looks a lot like Sora, just as Shuvi, an Ex Machina android intent on learning the value of the human heart, looks much like Shiro. (They’re even voiced by the same voice actors in the excellent English dub that I saw.) The main design difference may be that their hair colors are reversed, but these new characters have their own personalities and griefs that set them apart from their later incarnations, and instead of a brother and sister relationship, theirs is destined for love. I will say it takes a certain amount of disconnect from the series to accept a romance between two characters who look like the siblings we know, but the film spends a good amount of time developing their relationship, even if it starts on a very awkward note.

The trailers mainly focused on the romance angle and an epic fight between Shuvi and Jibril, but I was glad to see that the movie does explain the war’s formerly vague resolution. Instead of the explicit games of the series, the game concept, along with humanity’s struggle, becomes more of a running theme as the characters engage in a literal game of “Global Thermonuclear War.” Some have complained about the pacing of the movie’s final third, but that’s where I thought it truly found its stride and consistently impressed. I loved the way victory is snatched from apparent defeat, utilizing the fact that the Ex Machina are a lot like the Borg from Star Trek, and the sad circumstances became sublimely bittersweet by the end. It spoke to how the most important people in history often remain unsung heroes, their names sometimes only remembered by God.

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No Game No Life: Zero was a pleasure to watch in the theater, especially because it elevated the series it was based on, focusing on the fantasy with just a taste of the original’s humor and chucking the unnecessary fan service. (There’s still some stylized nudity, but it’s more forgivable here.) The animation is particularly stunning, especially during that epic battle I mentioned, and the score beautifully enhanced the emotions of each scene, with the lovely ending theme “There Is a Reason” earning entrance into my End Credits Song Hall of Fame.  By the end, as the film tied itself directly into where the series left off, I even found myself feeling surprisingly nostalgic and fond for a show I thought I only moderately liked. Many think this film is a prelude for a potential second season, and the movie will certainly strengthen that hope. No Game No Life may be a series I wouldn’t quite recommend to everyone, but, with the right background information, this movie is. (By the way, I’ve included the first teaser trailer down below to give a taste of the awesome animation and music.)

Best line: (Riku) “Yes, humans are fools, but it takes a great fool to not let that foolishness get themselves killed.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2017 S.G. Liput
516 Followers and Counting

Five Flaming Hotties Tag

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Behold! I have been tagged once again, this time by good ole Drew of Drew’s Movie Reviews, who has named me to take part in the Five Flaming Hotties tag. It was created by Catherine of Thoughts All Sorts and Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews, known as the 2 Reel Quirky Cats, to highlight their biggest on-screen crushes. The rules are as follows:

 

  1. Mention the name of the blog you were tagged by, as well as Realweegiemidget Reviews and Thoughts All Sorts, linking back to all blogs involved and including the picture above. (Done that.)
  2. List five of your greatest hotties from TV and/or film, i.e. crushes/objects of your affection, including musicians or sports stars too.
  3. Tell us how you were “introduced” to them and why you like them/what appeals. (Keep it clean.)
  4. Add some appealing (and clean) pictures.
  5. Tag seven bloggers for their Five Flaming Hotties.
  6. Post the rules. (Done that too.)

So then, my top two immediately came to mind, but I had to think long and hard about the others, and it wasn’t easy ranking them either. Everyone has different tastes and preferences that aren’t even explainable sometimes, but these are five lovely ladies that have captured my heart through the screen.

 

#5.  Meg Ryan

Specifically in: You’ve Got Mail (1998)

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Meg Ryan was the quintessential rom com leading lady of the ‘90s, whether with Billly Crystal or Tom Hanks. Nowhere was her personality and charm so lovable as in You’ve Got Mail, and there’s something about her sweaters and short hair that makes my heart skip a beat. It helps too that she plays a book lover.

 

#4.  Rachel Weisz

Specifically in: The Mummy (1999)

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Speaking of book lovers, I’m still enamored of Rachel Weisz as Evie in the first two Mummy movies. Sure, she reads undead monsters back to life, but just look at those eyes of hers. Her bookish spunk is enhanced even further by her British accent as well.

 

 

#3.  Stana Katic

Specifically in: Castle (2009-2016)

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When it comes to the mystery-of-the-week series Castle, Nathan Fillion may have been the main draw for female viewers (and Firefly fans), but Stana Katic as Detective Beckett kept the men happy. She’s the perfect combination of competent toughness and flirtatious charm. And she’s gorgeous! I could tell from the start that it wasn’t just the murders that kept Castle around. (Don’t forget she also had a cameo at the end of Quantum of Solace.)

 

#2.  Winona Ryder

Specifically in: How to Make an American Quilt (1995)

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I never thought of Winona Ryder as that beautiful because she had always been the goth girl in Beetlejuice to me, but when I saw her in How to Make an American Quilt, boy, was I smitten! Like Meg Ryan, maybe it’s the short hair I like, but there are few movie characters I remember finding so distinctly attractive as she. The movie itself was fairly good too, but I’d watch it again just for her.

 

#1.  Lindsey Stirling

Specifically in: Everything she’s done

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Yes, my original celebrity crush wins the day! You can tell from my list of Top Twelve Lindsey Stirling Songs that I’m a big fan of this talented violinist. I’m not sure what I love most about her: the geeky exuberance she pours into her performances, her epic musical talent, her overall sincerity and genuineness. And lucky me, I get to watch her each week as a contestant on this season of Dancing with the Stars. Come on, Lindsey, you can win it!

 

I couldn’t not mention five runners-up as well, so a very special mention to Audrey Hepburn, Alice Evans, Emma Stone, Brittany Snow, and Diane Kruger too.

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As for my tag-ees, I’ll be nominating the following bloggers (and eagerly awaiting their choices):

 

AniB Productions

MIB’s Instant Headache

Curry N Code

Cindy Bruchman

Violet’s Veg*n e-Comics

Smilingldsgirl

Conman at the Movies

 

Thanks again to Drew for tagging me and giving me an excuse for some eye candy!

 

Opinion Battles Round 19 Favourite Least Favourite Book Adaptation

Be sure to vote for your least favorite book adaptation in Round 19 of Opinion Battles! Films so often mess up the source material, and the one that most disappointed me was the would-be fantasy epic Eragon, which was too rushed for its own good. Check out the rest of the “letdowns” others picked and see where you agree.

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Round 19

Favourite Least Favourite Book Adaptation

For years now movies have used books to make money with a film, few are good, less are great, most are hated because you just don’t get the time to tell the whole story. this latest round we get to look at the ones we hated the most, so let the hate commence.

If you want to join the next round of Opinion Battles we will be take on What is your Favourite TV show to Movie, to enter email your choice to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.ukby Saturday 30th September 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Angels and Demons

I will be honest, I don’t read many books, since leave school you can count the fictional books on one hand, so this made this category harder than it should have been. Angels and Demons is one book I truly did enjoy, I love…

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Predator (1987)

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Can you feel the eyes upon you,
Every move within their sight?
Where they are you cannot know
Regardless if it’s day or night.
Vainly, you attempt to flee
Or foolishly prepare to fight.

It
awaits the perfect moment,
Preying on your fear’s last thread.
Though some fail to see the danger,
Blood is ready to be shed.
Once you know you’re being hunted,
You’re already good as dead.
_________________

MPAA rating: R (for much violence and language)

Predator is about a bunch of elite commandos, led by the Terminator himself, fighting an alien hunter in the Central American jungle. And I thought Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling was macho! This Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle supposedly stands alongside the Alien movies as a great sci-fi actioner (thanks in part to the whole Alien vs. Predator spinoff), and while it definitely nails the action part, it’s certainly not on the level of the first two Alien films.

This is a prime example of a film in which the plot serves the action rather than the other way around. The storyline is as thin as it gets, with Schwarzenegger’s “Dutch” Schaefer sent on a rescue mission with his team of professional soldiers (Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, future writer/director Shane Black, who will be helming another sequel due out next year), joined by Carl Weathers as former friend and CIA agent George Dillon. After an assault on the local guerrillas reveals they were misled as to their true mission, the soldiers head back, only to be picked off by an invisible alien poacher. As I said, the plot serves the action, and so do the simple but enjoyable enough characters, all of whom are oozing testosterone with lines like “I ain’t got time to bleed.” (Spoiler: He finds the time.)

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You don’t watch a movie like Predator for the narrative or any complex themes. It’s a turn-your-brain-off-and-watch-the-explosions kind of movie and an entertaining and not too dumb one at that. There’s not much horror to the ugly, cloaked alien himself (who feels a lot like a relative of the Hirogen hunters from Star Trek: Voyager), but he’s an intimidating and well-armed antagonist, especially from how easily he takes down most of the group, though he also seems to have some kind of honor code for worthy prey. My VC felt that the reveal of its face was rather a letdown, but it was followed by a fight and an explosion so I can’t complain too much. A solid sci-fi actioner, Predator is perhaps not what I’d consider “great,” but it’s machismo-fueled entertainment that still excites thirty years later.

Best line: (Dutch, adhering to the Batman school of alien killing) “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
516 Followers and Counting

 

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)

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Some may wish five happinesses
On both traveler and friend:
The hope for wealth from their successes,
And a long life ere the end.

Third, may good health cause increase,
And virtue fortify your soul,
And lastly, may you die in peace,
Having met your every goal.

Though five would fill most purposes,
A sixth and final happiness
I wish to all, but what it is
Is up to each of us to guess.
____________________

MPAA rating: PG

Ingrid Bergman is one movie star who hasn’t been much on my classic film radar, aside from Casablanca and Gaslight (which are great). To remedy that, I decided to check out one of her later roles in the semi-epic The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, in which she plays Gladys Aylward, a real-life missionary to China who rose to fame with her humanitarian efforts during the Sino-Japanese War of the 1930s.

I call it a semi-epic because, though it doesn’t quite boast the sweeping storytelling of Ben-Hur or Doctor Zhivago, there’s enough of it in Aylward’s decades-long mission that the magnitude of her story rises above others of its day. At the beginning, Aylward displays an indomitable passion for China, feeling it is where God has called her for His purposes, and at her own expense and peril, she journeys there to join an already established missionary (Athene Seyler). There in Yang Cheng, they open an inn for travelers, whose hunger for stories they plan to meet with the Bible, but many difficulties stand in the way, from uncooperative leaders to the obvious language barrier. And even when she earns the trust and love of the people, Aylward’s commitment to China also puts her in harm’s way when the Japanese invade in the years leading up to World War II, and she takes it upon herself to lead a hundred orphans to safety.

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While The Inn of the Sixth Happiness doesn’t quite make my List, it’s the kind of film that might have if I’d seen it long ago and built it up in my head as a classic. (That is how it works sometimes.) There’s much to love about it, not least of all is Bergman’s performance as Aylward. Even if she looks and sounds nothing like the woman she’s playing (just one of the film’s many historical liberties), she certainly captures her commitment and love for the Chinese people. Like Mother Teresa, she goes to serve as both servant and example rather than force conversion on the people. She doesn’t merely go to China for a couple years to fulfill a duty; instead, she immerses herself in the land and culture, even becoming a Chinese citizen, and dedicates her entire life to her mission of love and social reform. It is this kind of Christian commitment that is most persuasive, and when she does find success and respect in the eyes of both the Chinese and her fellow missionaries, it’s immensely satisfying and touching. I’ve even heard reports that playing such a godly woman led Ingrid Bergman to become a Christian.

Strong supporting roles are filled by Curt Jurgens as a half-Chinese colonel and love interest and Robert Donat (his last film role before his death) as the local mandarin of Yang Cheng. Of course, neither actor is Chinese, leading to retroactive criticisms of the film for whitewashing, but they both are excellent still, especially Donat, and they’re not at all insulting like Mickey Rooney’s caricature in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Plus, the vast majority of the cast are still played by Chinese actors, including many children from a Chinese community in Liverpool. Especially affecting is the commitment of Aylward’s two Chinese helpers who assist her along the way, as well as an emotional scene between Aylward and one of her adopted Chinese daughters.

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It’s not without its flaws, from an overlong runtime to some loose ends that are left unresolved by the end. Plus, it’s up to each viewer how much the historical changes bother you; Aylward herself wasn’t a fan of the film’s depiction of her or Curt Jurgens’ character. Yet the mountainous setting adds a good deal of authenticity to Aylward’s travails, aided by terrific cinematography, and even if director Mark Robson was the only member of the production to earn an Oscar nomination, the quality of the performances and overall film seem deserving of far more. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness isn’t strongly evangelical, still being a Hollywood production, but the faith of its subject is unmistakable and inspiring.

Best line: (Aylward) “You have to interfere with what you feel is wrong, if you hope to make it right.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
514 Followers and Counting

 

Dunkirk (2017)

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In desperate times, the desperate strive
To conquer odds and just survive,
A second, minute, hour away
To die or live another day.

Is this success, to scrape on through,
To call retreat as foes pursue?
Is it defeat to slip away
To live and fight another day?
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Dunkirk was one of my most anticipated movies this year, and Christopher Nolan delivered. And what he delivered is a war movie unlike any other, one that uses his penchant for time manipulation in order to provide a comprehensive and visceral glance at the Dunkirk evacuation, which until now wasn’t nearly as known as it should have been.

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Minimally explained by a couple words on the screen, the film takes place in three different time frames: a week for the soldiers stranded on Dunkirk’s beaches as they desperately seek rescue, a day for a small civilian vessel on its way across the English Channel to help, and an hour for a lone RAF pilot (Tom Hardy) as he defends evacuees from German bombers. The movie bounces around between time frames so frequently that it’s easy to confuse the chronology of events that play out faster in one timeline than another, but it also becomes a sort of epic puzzle as the three stories converge toward the end.

Dunkirk is far from a head trip, though; it’s a non-stop adrenaline rush. From the first moments where silence is shattered by sudden gunfire, the nerves are constantly put on edge. I wouldn’t doubt that Dunkirk is a shoo-in for technical Oscars, like Sound Editing: augmented by Hans Zimmer’s escalating score, the gunshots and the blaring drone of incoming bombers are deafening (my theater had excellent speakers), lending the audience a taste of the shell shock felt by the soldiers of Dunkirk.

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It’s amazing how relentless the suspense is across all three stories. Hardy’s midair dogfights are thrillingly authentic, especially with the knowledge that real period planes were used rather than CGI re-creations, while Mark Rylance embodies civilian determination as the skipper of the small boat Moonstone, offering brave wisdom while dealing with a panicky survivor (Cillian Murphy). The most unnerving scenes go to the British young men on Dunkirk’s stark, wind-swept beaches, particularly Fionn Whitehead as our touchstone in that time frame. We barely get to know any of the soldiers, which also include Aneurin Barnard and a quite solid Harry Styles, but their desperation is palpable as they search for any boat in the storm. One scene of a torpedo attack is a whirl of watery chaos; not since Titanic has a ship sinking been so riveting.

On technical merit, the film is practically flawless, but there were a few things that held it back from total perfection, for me at least. Aside from the potential confusion of the three time frames, I suppose I prefer war movies to have a bit more character development. I never really learned any of the characters’ names or backgrounds, and the beach-bound soldiers have precious little to say to each other, although I’m sure it was likely intentional to focus more on their immediate actions rather than backstory and dialogue. A few moments also left me confused as to people’s reasoning, like when soldiers on an endangered boat insist that someone should get off or when one character seems to choose capture by the enemy over joining the evacuation. One tiny bit of improved editing might also have better shown that a waterlogged boat was actually at sea rather than just surrounded by the incoming tide. Plus, Nolan’s focus for the film was clearly the desperation of everyone involved, and while heroism has its triumphant moments, the desperation tends to overwhelm it and leave little room for any religious aspect of the story, like the day of prayer in Britain beforehand or the miraculous storm that kept the German army at bay.

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I quite agree with the consensus that Dunkirk is one of the great war movies of all time, and its beach setting makes comparisons to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan inevitable. While I think Saving Private Ryan is a better film overall, I will say that I appreciated Dunkirk’s comparative restraint. There are no severed limbs or sprays of blood, and the intensity of the war scenes is not diminished one bit. Yet perhaps that’s due to a difference in directorial intention. I loved Nolan’s explanation he gave in an interview, stating that Saving Private Ryan showed the horror of war with scenes to make you want to turn away, while Nolan wanted to make a film of suspense that “you can’t take your eyes off.” In that, he succeeded, and even if it’s not quite perfect, even if I still consider Inception Nolan’s best work, Dunkirk is a brilliantly executed, well-acted, edge-of-your-seat piece of immersive history.

Best line: (Rylance’s Mr. Dawson) “He’s shell-shocked, George. He’s not himself. He might never be himself again.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
514 Followers and Counting

 

My Top Twelve Pixar Movies

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I’ve loved growing up with Pixar movies. No other American animation studio has had such consistently marvelous output over the years and revolutionized the medium as strongly. Pixar pioneered CGI animation, and now that seems to be all U.S. studios care to work with anymore. Yet DreamWorks and Blue Sky and the rest can’t compare with the original masters, and even if Pixar’s more recent films have been overshadowed by the resurgence of Disney, Pixar is in such a class of its own that even its lesser films are better than most cartoons.

Now that I’ve reviewed all of Pixar’s films through Cars 3 (and eagerly await Coco in November), it seemed like the right time to finally count down my favorites list. Feel free to tell me which Pixar classic you prefer, and let’s hope there will be plenty more in the future.

 

  1. Monsters University (2013)

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After the disappointment of Cars 2, this is one Pixar sequel that I skipped entirely, not seeing much potential in its college frat storyline, but it was quite a pleasant surprise. Replete with colorful gags and throwbacks to Monsters, Inc., Monsters University proved to be a highly entertaining prequel that balanced its “dream big” message with sensitive practicality. Plus, it was just fun hearing John Goodman and Billy Crystal as younger versions of Sully and Mike.

 

  1. A Bug’s Life (1998)

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Let the record show: A Bug’s Life is better than Antz. There, I said it. Even if it’s clearly based on Seven Samurai (which I know now but I didn’t in elementary school), A Bug’s Life was and is still great fun. Following Toy Story, it confirmed that Pixar excels at animated ensembles full of diverse personalities. Kevin Spacey is an ideal villain as Hopper, and I saw this movie so early in my life and many times since that I can picture practically every scene in my head.

 

  1. Cars (2006)

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Again, the plot of Cars may be a rip-off of Doc Hollywood, but I love that movie so why wouldn’t I love Cars too? Pixar’s automotive world is just believable enough to still be relatable, and there’s nothing like seeing an arrogant hotshot brought down a peg to learn the value of small-town life. Another great voice cast (Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy) adds to the fun as well.

 

  1. Toy Story 3 (2010)

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I really wish Pixar didn’t have a Toy Story 4 in production because they ended this trilogy as perfectly as I can imagine. Building on the previous films’ concerns over Andy getting older and abandoning them, Toy Story 3 addresses that insecurity head-on with a prison-like daycare, a despotic teddy bear, and a frighteningly dark climax. The very end, though, is a tear-jerking beauty of a conclusion that doesn’t really need any more sequelizing.

 

  1. Up (2009)

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I think everyone agrees that the first twelve minutes of Up are some of the finest scenes Pixar (and animation in general) has to offer. From those lofty heights, the increasingly absurd and high-flying adventures of a crotchety old man and a young Wilderness Explorer in a balloon-floated house balance both goofy fun and heart-tugging emotion. For a movie with such a short title, Up is bound to be a long-lasting classic.

 

  1. Monsters, Inc. (2001)

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Pixar surely knows how to create memorable pairs: Woody and Buzz, Marlin and Dory, Carl and Russell, and of course, Sully and Mike. This imagination-packed buddy movie about monsters who power their world by harvesting the screams of human children still makes me chuckle and marvel at the door vault scene, and Billy Crystal and John Goodman have rarely been so perfectly cast.

 

  1. Inside Out (2015)

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After a few lackluster entries (Cars 2, Brave), Pixar returned to form marvelously with a peek inside the brain of a young girl named Riley, introducing us to the five personified emotions that rule her mental state (and everyone else’s, for that matter).  With a suitably emotional storyline that mixes Joy and Sadness and stunning visuals that changed how we viewed our own inner workings, it showed that Pixar’s best days aren’t necessarily behind them.

 

  1. WALL-E (2008)

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Pixar has always excelled at their wordless short films, but WALL-E was their first stab at using minimal dialogue in a feature-length film. The first half is an endearing robot love story against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, and the second half goes into the fate of the human race threatened by a rogue A.I. and their own laziness. It’s incredible how much character is lent to WALL-E and EVE by the animators and Ben Burtt’s sound effects, somehow making us care about two robots falling in love.

 

  1. Ratatouille (2007)

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A rat who wants to be a chef…. Only Pixar could pull off something like that and not let it devolve into pure silliness. With a careful eye to its Parisian setting and the culinary morsels that look good enough to eat, Pixar once again proved the superiority of its animation and provided a surprisingly mature “follow-your-dream” narrative worthy of it. Plus, look at Remy’s nose. It’s so cute!

 

  1. The Incredibles (2004)

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No matter how many movies Marvel and DC churn out, one of the best superhero movies of all time doesn’t belong to either of them. Pixar honored and poked fun at the Silver Age of superheroes with this action-packed tale of an undercover family of supers pulled into action by a vengeful villain. With its bombastic score, specialness message, and thrilling visuals, The Incredibles keeps getting better every time I see it. I sure hope the upcoming sequel doesn’t disappoint.

 

  1. TIE: Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999)

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Okay, I couldn’t decide! The first and second Toy Story movies are practically perfection, all the more incredible for being two of Pixar’s earliest works. True, the animation is rough by today’s high standards, but the plots and characters of both films are second to none. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are Woody and Buzz, and their buddy dynamic is brilliantly developed with a good deal of humor and memorable side characters to play off them. The first film forced this odd couple to cooperate and become unlikely friends, while the second explored Woody’s identity as a classic toy and what it means to be “a child’s plaything.” It’s amazing that Pixar created such a fun and quotable series that simultaneously guilts its audience for abandoning their past toys. (I’m sorry, my old friends!)

 

  1. Finding Nemo (2003)

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#1 and #2 might as well be tied because Finding Nemo and Toy Story are both Pixar at its best. I’ve just always had a soft spot for fish, and at the time I first saw Finding Nemo in the theater (and cried within the first five minutes), I dreamed of being a marine biologist when I grew up. That may not have panned out, but I never get tired of Marlin’s oceanic journey, traversing the colorful and dangerous underwater world to rescue his son. It really is one of the best father-son movies, animated or not, and Dory may well be Pixar’s funniest character.

 

And here are the other Pixar films, ranked as well:

 

  1. Finding Dory (2016) – Fun to revisit Finding Nemo’s characters, even if it’s not quite as fresh.
  2. Cars 3 (2017) – Uneven at times, but ends the series on a strong note.
  3. Brave (2012) – Derivative by Pixar standards but still stunning and emotional at times.
  4. The Good Dinosaur (2015) – Lackluster for Pixar (I still don’t get the creative decision of having playdough dinos against the beautiful scenery) but still entertaining and lovely.
  5. Cars 2 (2011) – Cool action but definitely Pixar’s low point as far as story and characters.

 

Now tell me, what Pixar movie entertains or moves you the most? I just found out one of my friends shockingly doesn’t like most of their movies, not even Toy Story, so feel free to chime in with different opinions. But for the record, Pixar rules!

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Genre Grandeur – The Wages of Fear (1953) / Sorcerer (1977) – Rhyme and Reason

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Here is my contribution to MovieRob’s September Genre Grandeur of Remade Movies. I reviewed both the classic French thriller The Wages of Fear with its American counterpart Sorcerer, comparing and contrasting them as one of my Version Variations.

For this month’s first review for Genre Grandeur – Re-Made Movies, here’s a review of The Wages of Fear (1953) / Sorcerer (1977)) by SG of Rhyme and Reason

Thanks again to Robb of Red Bezzle for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Kira of Film and TV 101 and it is Western CrossoverMovies.

Literally any film from any genre with western elements to it; comedy/drama/musical or even thrillers or horror.

Please get me your submissions by the 25th of October by sending them to westerncrosskira@movierob.net

Try to think out of the box! Great choice Kira!

Let’s see what SG thought of these movies:

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The Wages of Fear (1953) / Sorcerer (1977)


You don’t know what fear is, son.

You’ve felt it flicker and then fade.

But none can say they’ve fully felt

The fear that makes men’s spirits melt

Until their nerves…

View original post 1,236 more words

The Assassin (2015)

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They say the world was slow before the Information Age,
When everything was hastened into busyness and rage.
Before the start of coal and steel and trains to move them round,
I guess that life was slower still and much less schedule-bound.

So think of how much slower life was centuries ago:
Compared with now, it might seem that the world was in slo-mo.
But once the novelty had worn, you’d want your time restored,
‘Cause when the world was slower, it was also very bored.
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MPAA rating: Not Rated (should be PG-13)

I can’t remember the last movie I saw that was such a complete and excruciating waste of time. I had heard The Assassin was a slow but beautifully shot Chinese epic, but my gosh, I had no inkling as to how slow it would be. As I once described 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is the definition of artsy-fartsy: artsy because yes, there is cinematic skill on display, and fartsy because it stinks nonetheless.

The Assassin’s plot, such as it is, is about a woman named Yinniang trained from a young age as an assassin, whose mentor sends her to prove her ruthlessness by killing Yinniang’s own cousin, the military governor of an autonomous province. Even if I wanted to recount the rest of the story, I don’t know that I could because it was so inscrutable. There’s talk of backstabbing loyalists to the Emperor and someone’s wife getting pregnant and an assassination attempt other than Yinniang’s, and honestly I couldn’t keep track of the convoluted mess being barely explained in front of me. One bald guy seems to be pulling strings from the shadows but is never identified; even after some soldiers barged in and shot him with arrows, I still didn’t know who he was supposed to be.

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On top of this narrative opacity, all the plot elements I mentioned belie the fact that very little actually happens. Seriously, this 105-minute film has less dialogue than a typical half-hour TV show, and it seems to drag out its story by padding every sentence with interminably long shots of characters staring gloomily ahead, with not enough context or effort to lend their expressions any meaningful emotion. This might be forgivable if the action scenes could make up for it, since this is supposed to be a wuxia film, but Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon this is not. The martial arts are oddly placed and very brief, often with jarringly abrupt endings. At one point, Yinniang walks through the woods, trades sword slashes with a briefly glimpsed masked woman, manages to cut off a piece of the mask, and they both walk away with no words spoken. Did the filmmakers not care how many questions scenes like that would bring up? Obviously not, since they never try to explain it.

I just want to point out that I am a very patient person. I can spend hours working on a jigsaw puzzle. I’ve watched uneventful potential snoozefests like Into Great Silence, Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, The Wall, and Metropolis and typically tried to recognize the best in them. I greatly enjoyed and admired The Red Turtle, and that didn’t have any dialogue at all! But The Assassin was a complete and utter waste of my time, a film I only finished because of my personal policy to finish any movie I start, unless it’s outright offensive, which this wasn’t.

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After preserving some hope for the first half hour, I spent the remainder just wishing it would end already. I wanted every scene toward the end to be the last because I knew it would try for some enigmatic conclusion I wouldn’t understand anyway so why did it matter where it stopped? If I had to pick something, I suppose I appreciated the cinematography, such as some of the landscapes and a carefully composed scene shot through a transparent curtain. But trust me when I say this film is not worth your time. I’ve included the trailer below because every scene of worth is in there; just watch that instead, disregard the critical praise, and do something more interesting with your 105 minutes, like maybe watching paint dry.

Best line: There were none!

 

Rank: (Very) Dishonorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
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