Labyrinth (1986)

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Turn left and right, then left again,
Through passageways unknown to men,
Escorted by the walls so wide
That hedge your path on either side.

It’s left again, or was it right?
Dead ends about, despite foresight,
And going forth and going back
Will likely both lead you off-track.

The walls can lie, the clues mislead,
In hopes that you may not be freed,
But when you round the final bend
And then at last you reach the end,

Perhaps you’ll find your former pen
Worth wandering through once again.
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG

You know what Jim Henson’s Labyrinth most reminds me of? The Wizard of Oz, with muppets. I’m sure I’m not the first to point out that similarity, but I never noticed it when I first saw Labyrinth years ago. The film also explicitly credits Maurice Sendak for inspiration, so Henson had some true children’s classics to draw from as he endeavored to craft one of his own. Whether it is one might be up to each viewer’s nostalgia and “inner child,” but it’s at least a cult classic for some.

In only her fourth movie role, Jennifer Connelly plays Dorothy, I mean Sarah, an imaginative fifteen-year-old who gets fed up with her annoying baby stepbrother Toby (Toby Froud) and wishes he were taken away by goblins. Naturally, she is shocked when he is actually spirited away by the Goblin King Jareth (alluringly hairy David Bowie), who challenges her to make it through his huge labyrinth to save her brother. Like The Wizard of Oz, she braves various obstacles and misadventures, while gaining three companions along the way, who manage to save her after she’s trapped in a dream, not unlike Dorothy in the field of poppies.

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Bowie may have been one of the big draws for Labyrinth, but in all honesty, the real star is Henson’s puppetry. The sheer number of fancifully designed creatures is impressive, and some boast a “how did they do that?” mastery, such as Sarah’s first grudging friend Hoggle, who apparently had a dwarf in a costume but a face radio-controlled by a team of puppeteers. (When his name is misremembered as Hogwart at one point, I couldn’t help but wonder if J.K. Rowling had been taking notes.) The characters can be alternately cute and grotesque, so when baby Toby is crying surrounded by partying goblins, I doubt there was any acting required. The other part that jumps out at me is the door riddle with the two guards that either lie or tell the truth. I remember that riddle being asked at camp once, and no one could remember the answer. Heck, I’m still not sure I understand its logic. While the film’s box-office disappointment hurt Henson, he had much to be proud of here, since the puppets outshine the humans for the most part.

Attractive as all get-out, Connelly handles her interactions with them earnestly, but her early “curse” against her brother is so over-the-top, it’s hard to believe she went on to win an Oscar. Bowie, on the other hand, is suave and charismatic from start to finish and strangely fits in with the goblins better than expected. Along with the wonderfully ‘80s-sounding soundtrack, he gets to sing too, with the most memorable tune being the endlessly catchy “Magic Dance.”

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I feel that Labyrinth might have been one of my fond favorites too if I’d seen it more than once when I was a kid (like The Neverending Story), since its mixture of dark fantasy and puppet silliness only worked so far watching it now as an adult. By the end of Sarah’s coming-of-age journey, though, it’s hard not to feel a bit of nostalgia as Hoggle and her friends offer to be there for her, “should you need us.” That’s exactly what childhood favorites are for, reminding you “every now and again in…life, for no reason at all” of the adventures that once so enthralled and enchanted you, even if you know they’re things of the past. Labyrinth may be uneven overall, but it’s still a triumph of puppetry skill and set design, notably a staircase maze modeled after the work of M.C. Escher. Perhaps I just need to revisit it myself a few more times for the magic to fully hit me.

Best line: (Sarah, a true teenager) “That’s not fair!”   (Jareth) “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is?”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
536 Followers and Counting

 

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The Big Sick (2017)

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How can you know that it’s love close at hand
And deeper romance than the rest understand
Until there is distance to feel
The pain of the parting, detachment’s demand,
The grief that goodbye makes more real?

Things taken for granted, more often than not,
Are prized more profoundly than we would have thought.
Their value is only revealed
When losing such treasures leaves lovers distraught,
Confessing what once was concealed.
___________________

MPAA rating: R (solely for language)

A happy Valentine’s Day to all, and in the spirit of love, I thought I’d review one of the best romantic comedies of recent years.

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Unfortunately, I don’t know how to review The Big Sick without sounding like a complaining puritan. It’s certainly one of the best films of 2017 and one worth recommending to others, but I suppose I’ll get my objections out of the way first. (Sorry to any who disagree, but please hear me out or skip the next two paragraphs.) As much as I enjoyed it, the amount of profanity really disappointed me, despite the fact that I usually ignore it. It’s impossible to escape the F-word these days since it’s now an ingrained part of everyday speech for the apparent majority of people, and it’s no longer as offensive as it once was. Yet more than two (if I’m correct) can still give a movie an R rating, and the simple truth is that The Big Sick did not need to be R. There’s no violence or nudity, but there are stretches where every noun has to be preceded by F-ing. Why? Could they not think of some better adjective? It’s not so much offensive to me as it is annoying and not reflective of the creativity in the rest of the script.

This is why I don’t watch much Tarantino or Scorsese, but usually R-rated films like theirs have more than just objectionable language. Here, the frequent language is the only thing that makes it R, and that annoys me because not only would I rather not hear it but it limits the audience. This is an extremely worthwhile film that I think everyone, even older kids and teenagers, could greatly appreciate, if it weren’t for the language (though that probably doesn’t stop most kids these days either). Despite what writer/star Kumail Nanjiani says, the F-word is not inherently funny, and there are plenty of good and clean rom coms that have proved how unnecessary it is.

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So there, I’ve had my rant, and I will now praise The Big Sick as if the language weren’t there. Without it, the script is a brilliant balance of funny and poignant, drawing both from Kumail’s job as a stand-up comedian and from his first-hand brush with tragedy. It was written by Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon (both now nominated for Best Original Screenplay) and based off of their own experiences, with Nanjiani playing himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily. After their initial meeting at a comedy club and a series of charming dates, their romance hits a snag due to Kumail’s traditional Pakistani family, who keep trying to coax him into an arranged marriage. When things seem over between them, Emily suddenly falls ill and is placed in a medically induced coma, leaving Kumail to decide how much he really cares for her while also getting to know her worried parents Terry and Beth (Ray Romano, Holly Hunter).

I suppose the best thing about The Big Sick is its authenticity, both in its dialogue and performances, the kind that can find amusement in a 9/11 joke yet quickly acknowledge its inappropriateness. It’s easy to believe that this is based on a true story, and Kumail’s connection with Emily is entirely natural, as is the older coupling of Romano and Hunter, whom I’m glad to see getting such strong roles. I loved the way that Hunter’s dislike of Kumail (based solely on how Emily had described their break-up) slowly melted into fondness, helped along by the ever-likable Romano. Even Kumail’s comedy seemed like an honest work-in-progress, since he repeatedly has to tell people when he’s joking. The realness extends to the end as well, where things don’t wrap up as quickly and easily as one might have hoped, yet strong themes of forgiveness, faithfulness, and sincerity are fostered in more satisfying ways than one.

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Perhaps it was Romano’s presence, but I couldn’t help but notice traces of Everybody Loves Raymond in Kumail’s family dynamics, particularly with his overbearing but loving mother. The Muslim family is depicted in a largely relatable and sympathetic way, contrasted no less sympathetically with Kumail’s agnosticism, and one heated conversation between Kumail and his parents feels like a talk that many traditional immigrants might have with their more free-thinking children.

So yes, I was able to look past the language and recognize The Big Sick as the outstanding film it is. I’m just sorry that others with similar objections (such as my VC) might not. I’ve overlooked such objectionable content before, which is why I’m still awarding it a List-Worthy ranking. As much as I wish it were cleaner, I can’t help but admire the total package.

Best line: (Kumail) “You’ve never talked to people about 9/11?”
(Terry) “No, what’s your, what’s your stance?”
(Kumail) “What’s my stance on 9/11? Oh, um, anti. It was a tragedy; I mean, we lost nineteen of our best guys.”
(Beth) “Huh?”
(Kumail) “That was a joke, obviously. 9/11 was a terrible tragedy. And it’s not funny to joke about it.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
536 Followers and Counting

 

Opinion Battles Year 4 Round – Most Anticipated Movie of 2018

Be sure to vote for your most anticipated movie of 2018 in Round 2 of this year’s Opinion Battles! There are so many movies this year that promise to be big hits, but which are you most looking forward to? While Infinity War has me hyped, I’m just as expectant for the pop culture geekery of Ready Player One. Thankfully, we only have to wait another month or so for it!

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Year 4 Round 2

Most Anticipated Movie of 2018

2018 is well underway and all our players have their own picks for what films they want to see this year, but which one is the one they want to see the most?

Next Round – Favourite Steven Spielberg Movie – Closing Date Friday 2nd March 2018

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Deadpool 2

Deadpool was one of my favourite superhero movies, it was loud and happy to push the limits with violence and language. We had Ryan Reynolds shining and now we want to see where he takes the character next, while I am not familiar with the source material we do get a fan favourite Cable joining the cast too.

Kim – Tranquil Dreams

Quiet Place

There are a ton of upcoming movies in 2018 that have potential to be hits however, the one that stands…

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Cartoon Comparison: Train to Busan (2016) / Seoul Station (2016)

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When certain death surrounds you,
You’d be foolish not to fear,
To run and hide and save yourself
And those few you hold dear.

Yet in the face of jeopardy,
What will you sacrifice?
Your conscience and humanity?
For those too have a price.

For some, to care for more than self,
The risk may be too high,
But ask yourself how proud you’ll be
Both if and when you die.
________________________

MPAA rating for Train to Busan: Not Rated (I guess R but it’s not as bad as some)
MPAA rating for Seoul Station: Not Rated (should be R)

If someone had told me last year that the first movie I’d love in 2018 was a South Korean zombie flick, I’d never have believed it. I only half-believed all the positive buzz around Train to Busan because hey, it’s a zombie movie, and I don’t watch zombie movies. I’ve never seen Dawn of the Dead or The Walking Dead and have only really liked a precious few of that genre (World War Z, Warm Bodies). The living dead concept is intriguing, but usually it seems like an excuse for excessive gore and end-of-the-world futility. But for some reason I checked out Train to Busan, which I can now say is my favorite of the genre and honestly one of my favorite horror films period, mainly because it goes beyond its horror limitations to deliver exceptional thrills and emotional stakes worth caring about too. Since I loved Train to Busan then, I had to check out its animated prequel, if only for comparison’s sake, a prequel that reminded me exactly why I don’t typically enjoy zombie movies.

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First, let’s focus on the good one. Train to Busan seems like such a simple idea: zombies on a train. It could easily have been the concept of a B-grade cheesefest, but the filmmakers went above and beyond to make it gripping. A big part of that is giving us worthwhile characters, particularly Seok-woo (Gong Yoo), a disengaged father who decides to accompany his young daughter Soo-an (Kim Su-an) as she returns to his ex-wife in Busan. There are various other passengers that quickly stand out as “survivor characters”: a man and his pregnant wife, a traumatized tramp, two high school students, and a self-serving businessman, among others. Things seem to start normally as the train sets out, but an abundance of warning signs builds the tension as a zombie outbreak engulfs the nation and the train itself. From there, it’s an all-out flight of survival with a few much-needed moments to catch one’s breath (even a disarming chuckle or two), but the suspense is ever-present. I don’t think I’ve been this tense during a movie since Dunkirk.

What’s impressive about Train to Busan is that it delivers the scares and shocks alongside an insightful character arc without sacrificing either. Seok-woo starts out as an apparent coward, fearfully closing a door in the face of someone fleeing the zombie onslaught, yet his self-first philosophy is called out in the criticisms of his daughter, while also playing out to an extreme in the uncaring actions of other passengers. The contrast between these mindsets imparts to the action some deeper themes behind it. There are sacrifices aplenty, some meaningful, some pointless, but the film seems to affirm the importance of helping others in the face of desperation rather than just oneself. To that end, the conclusion is surprisingly emotional as well, right up to the film’s anxious final moments.See the source imageSince I’ve said I don’t like the gory side of zombie movies, I should address that part of it. There is blood, but Train to Busan is still greatly restrained compared with a lot of others out there. Heck, some of the commercials for Walking Dead are worse than anything in Train to Busan. A big part of that is the absence of knives and guns, which draw maximum blood while also dehumanizing the still human-like zombies. (Sorry, but all the head-shots and such bother me.) Here, baseball bats are as bad as it gets, and most of the blood comes from the initial outbreak of zombies biting people’s necks. The fact that the victims quickly “turn” also does away with the whole flesh-eating element while also making the ever-growing horde even scarier. So I was thankful that the film didn’t rely on violence for its scares. In fact, after the initial outbreak, it’s really more of a fast-paced thriller than a horror. The zombies are the running type also seen in World War Z, and there are several moments that had me going “oh my gosh” as things devolve from bad to worse, often making great use of the visual effects.

How then does Seoul Station, from the same director Yeon Sang-ho, compare? It’s not exactly anime since it’s Korean rather than Japanese, but it has a similar visual style. I think it purports to be a prequel showing the origin of the zombie apocalypse, but it doesn’t really give any further details about the actual cause. A wounded homeless man is apparently patient zero, and while he slowly “turns,” we meet a runaway girl named Hye-sun who has a falling out with her cash-strapped and selfish boyfriend. The boyfriend is soon confronted by her father, and the two of them go in search for Hye-sun right as the city starts spiraling into zombie-infested chaos.See the source imageSeoul Station has some merit to it, mainly in the strictly horror department. There are some moments of genuine terror, particularly a white-knuckle encounter with a crazy woman, so if you enjoy zombie movies for the situational tension alone, you might like it. I, however, found plenty to dislike. For one, the animation, while mostly good, has the stilted look that 3-D-ish anime hasn’t gotten past, such as the way the characters walk. In addition, the gore and foul language (subtitled) are more pronounced here than in Train to Busan, and the characters are dumber compared to the rather clever survival techniques in its live-action counterpart. For one thing, everyone seems very slow to grasp the idea of a zombie outbreak, as if they’ve never heard of a zombie before, whereas Train to Busan showed that “zombies” were exactly where people’s minds went.

Still, I could look past most of that if the ending were worthwhile, but this is one case where the ending completely ruined it for me. The film pulls out a dark twist that pounds in the whole end-of-the-world futility I mentioned earlier I didn’t like. The characters are far less sympathetic, and the end only amplifies that. I didn’t hate the movie as I was watching it, but by the end, I did. Seoul Station tries harder to focus on its themes of class warfare, which were much more subtle in Train to Busan, yet it comes off as a cheaper offshoot of a much better original.See the source imageI’ve said before that I have very particular tastes when it comes to horror movies, but seeing two ostensibly similar zombie films side by side made me consider why exactly I loved one and hated the other. I can say I prefer genuine creepiness and atmosphere over gore, but in this case, I think it comes down to this (spoiler warning): I don’t like stories whose main purpose is killing off its characters. If there’s no survivor by the end, then everything that came before was pointless. If I actually care about the characters who live and die, then the end product becomes even better. That’s why Train to Busan exceeded my expectations. Clearly, I’m not about to become a fan of zombie movies in general, but I’m glad to have found one member of the genre that truly impressed me.

Best line (from Train to Busan): (Soo-an, pricking her father’s conscience) “Dad, you only care about yourself. That’s why mommy left.”

 

Rank for Train to Busan : List-Worthy
Rank for Seoul Station: Dishonorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
536 Followers and Counting

 

 

2018 Blindspot Pick #1: All Is Lost (2013)

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It isn’t easy to admit
That all my effort was in vain.
I’m not the type to whine and quit,
And seldom do I dare complain.
I gave my all;
I fought the squall;
I beat my chest at each downfall,
Until my lowest point was hit,
My lowest while still staying sane.

Don’t pity me, who did decide
To hold to life long as I could.
Perhaps I’ll fathom, once I’ve died,
That all this effort did no good.
But till my end
By God is penned,
With my own fate I must contend.
All is lost, yet still I tried,
As all beset by struggle should.
____________

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for brief language)

Well, I’m kicking off this year’s Blindspot series a bit late, but what’s a few days’ difference? I was nonetheless eager to see how my Blindspot picks this year would measure up to last year’s, especially since my #1 last year (Shuffle) was the first one I saw. I had high hopes for All Is Lost as well, due to its simple survival narrative that I knew would have echoes of Cast Away. Yet, while those echoes are present and the film overall is well executed, I was rather disappointed in the end product.

All Is Lost is notable for being essentially a one-man show, in which Robert Redford is the sole actor on screen in a straightforward survival tale of man vs. nature. Credited as “Our Man,” Redford barely speaks throughout (though there were a few more words than I was expecting), instead reacting to the various maritime dangers that plague him as a lone sailor, from destructive debris to vicious storms. It’s a credit to Redford’s acting ability that he can hold a movie completely on his own while in his seventies, and his nameless protagonist remains admirably calm through much of his travail, finding clever survival solutions others might not think of while also doing an inexplicable action now and then (like going up on deck in a storm for reasons I didn’t quite grasp).

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As an acting showcase for Redford and a no-frills survival story, All is Lost delivers reasonably well, with an understated Golden Globe-winning score and convincing effects and aquatic photography to create the man’s seafaring isolation. But somehow I expected more. My VC pointed out right away that we’re given no details about Our Man, no background or reason to care about him other than that he’s in the plight he is. Again, it’s easy to point to other isolation movies for comparison: In Cast Away or Life of Pi (both favorites of mine), we get to know the main characters before they’re thrown to the elements, strengthening our sympathy because we see what they’ve lost and what brought them to their predicament. Even with an oddly vague opening voiceover, we know literally nothing about “Our Man” except his immediate circumstances; that was likely the successful intent, but it doesn’t keep me as invested as those other films.

Plus, there’s the simple fact that the film was rather boring. I probably shouldn’t have tried to watch it after a long day at work, but I stuck with it still. My Redford-loving VC, on the other hand, gave up after a half hour, despite the fact she once thought she’d be happy watching Robert Redford read the phone book. (I guess that would have more dialogue, though.) I’m sure the lack of dialogue is more realistic, but there’s a reason Tom Hanks had a volleyball to talk to in Cast Away. Wilson allowed for greater character engagement, just as Richard Parker the tiger did in Life of Pi, which also benefited from a consistent voiceover narration. They gave us a glimpse into the mindset of the human character, while Our Man’s actions don’t really reveal anything about him, even though his story is propelled by action and reaction alone. Redford evokes his growing desperation and despair, but those emotions only go so far. Without fully engaging with the character, we’re simply watching what any competent person would do in this situation, and that detachment was a bit of a letdown.

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I can’t impugn Redford’s acting ability or the production values since All Is Lost does what it means to do expertly. It just wasn’t as involving as other survival stories. And it’s not solely because of the sparse dialogue either, nor the lack of character development alone. The Red Turtle held my attention with literally no dialogue at all, while Dunkirk was absolutely thrilling with hardly any character backgrounds. I guess it’s the combination of its monotonous pace and surface-only protagonist that made it feel wanting compared with more engaging films of its genre. While my VC might disagree, it’s by no means a bad film, just one I can’t see myself spending time on again.

Best line: (part of opening lines) “I’m sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried; I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn’t. And I know you knew this… in each of your ways. And I am sorry. All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
536 Followers and Counting

 

Genre Grandeur – Dead Again (1991) – Rhyme & Reason

Here’s my review of Dead Again, for MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur of Hitchcockian Films. This thriller starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh had quite the intriguing mystery, complete with a cleverly Hitchcockian twist.

For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Hitchcockian Films, here’s a review of Dead Again (1991) by SG of Rhyme and Reason

Thanks again to Michael Eddy for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Vinnie of Vinnie H. and it is Historical True Story Films.

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

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

Let’s see what SG thought of this movie:

___________________________________

Dead Again (1991)

 

Many believe that you die only once,

While others contend that your consciousness hunts

For peace and fulfillment most souls rarely find

But ever will search for the peace that it wants,

Through life after life after lifetime combined,

Each one a new chance as it plays with your mind.

_________________

MPAA rating: R (mainly for language)

As well-respected…

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My Top Twelve Songs of 2017

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I’m sure everyone’s been seeing end-of-year best-of lists everywhere they look, but I’m not quite ready for my own list of 2017 movies yet. There’s still more to catch up on, but songs are shorter and easier to appreciate, and dang, have there been some good ones this year! Ever since my 2016 song list, I’ve been trolling the radio and YouTube and carefully listening out for what might make it onto the 2017 edition. I must admit this list isn’t how I thought it would look earlier in the year, and I’m surprised that no Clean Bandit, Chainsmokers, or Lorde made the final cut.

I’ve heard all of these multiple times throughout the year, and despite agonizing over a few placements, I’m confident in my choices. Do keep in mind that music is highly subjective and dependent on taste and that these are my personal choices based on mine. There’s bound to be songs that I’ve missed in the past year, so feel free to comment on my picks or let me know your own favorites. Now, on to the list!

  1. “The Castle on the Hill” by Ed Sheeran

Sheeran’s other hit “Shape of You” may have been the best-selling single of the year, but “The Castle on the Hill” is my favorite song of his yet. Built on an honest nostalgia for the past that is no more, it’s a wistful ballad for anyone who wishes they could go home.

  1. “It Ain’t My Fault” by Brothers Osborne

Like last year, I had to include one great country song, and “It Ain’t My Fault” was the high point of the year for that genre. Full of guilty finger-pointing, a jamming guitar riff, and T.J. Osborne’s oh-so-deep voice, this is a perfect song for singing along to at a concert. Oh, and the video is like Point Break if it were slapstick and very politically incorrect.

  1. “Walk on Water” by Thirty Seconds to Mars

Jared Leto and a choir may not be the most obvious combination, but they come together brilliantly for this rock anthem. I’d say he’s a better singer than actor. This is just the first of several alt-rock hits you’ll see on this list.

  1. “No Roots” by Alice Merton

Alice Merton rocked the charts in Europe first, and when “No Roots” made its way across the Atlantic, America got to see why. I fell in love with the sound of Florence and the Machine last year, and the catchy simplicity of “No Roots” taps into a very similar Bohemian beat.

  1. “Believer” and “Thunder” and “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons

As far as the airways at least, 2017 was a banner year for Imagine Dragons, who seemed to rule several radio stations with three separate hit singles. The #8 spot is technically for “Believer,” but all three get better the more I hear them, which says a lot considering “Believer” has been played to death all year. Reviews for the Evolve album have been mixed, but Imagine Dragons continues to deliver their unique brand of mainstream experimental rock. (Since I’m grouping the three, the video is a mashup by YouTuber Sam Tsui.)

  1. “The Man” by The Killers

You know those jerk people who think they’re God’s gift to mankind? No one actually likes those people, but it can still be fun to sing with that kind of self-confidence. “The Man” is a perfect opportunity and quite a catchy one at that, with a different sound than I’d expect from The Killers. I hear this song a lot at work too, where one of my friends sings it to refer to me. Not that I let that go to my head….

  1. “Love Is Mystical” by Cold War Kids

With its heavy piano riff in the background and a jazzy pulse, I can rarely stay still during this song. It just made its way onto the radio, and I hope they give it just as much airplay as all the vastly inferior songs.

  1. “The Greatest Show,” written by Pasek and Paul, from The Greatest Showman

At least one movie cracked the Top Twelve. “This Is Me” has gotten all the attention with its Golden Globe win and Oscar nod, but “The Greatest Show” is the crown jewel of The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack, which the big finale should be. I haven’t actually seen it yet, but this song is so good that I can’t wait.

  1. “Stranger Things” by Kygo, featuring OneRepublic

Not to be confused with the Netflix show of the same name or “Strangest Thing” by The War on Drugs. How interesting that the only two artists from last year’s song list (Kygo at #7, OneRepublic at #1) made it onto this one with a collaboration! I already liked Kygo’s tropical house style, but I’m now a huge fan after his latest album Kids in Love. I could have just as easily put “Sunrise,” “Kids in Love,” or “Stargazing” here, but I’m trying to keep it to one place for each artist and this was my favorite.

  1. “Without You” by Avicii, featuring Sandro Cavazza

It’s pretty much a toss-up on whether Avicii or Kygo is my favorite DJ right now. Just when Kygo seems to be gaining ground, Avicii releases something like “Without You,” which ranks up there with his best work. The elusive goal for electronic music seems to be to find that rare combination of beats that feels iconic and designed to get stuck in your head, and Avicii achieved it here. (“Lonely Together” was also a good one from Avicii this year.)

  1. “One Foot” by Walk the Moon

The #1 and #2 spots were tough. Like last year, I had a choice between an emotional anthem or an infectiously catchy dancefest. OneRepublic’s dancefest won last year, but even if Walk the Moon is only second this time, I still adore this song. I’ve gone nuts in my car to this song more than once, and it’s just one more example of Walk the Moon’s talent for upbeat awesomeness.

  1. “Praying” by Kesha

“Praying” had to be #1 because of how honest and personal it is and how it changed the way I viewed Kesha, formerly Ke$ha. Before this, I thought of her as her “party girl” persona, but “Praying” showed a different side of her. After losing a messy court battle with her music producer Dr. Luke, whom she accused of sexual assault and emotional distress, she channeled her grief into this moving ballad of self-reempowerment. You can hear the raw emotion in her voice. Kesha’s trials predated the recent boom in sexual accusations and probably would have gone differently today, but her words of hope and prayer are the best possible response from such victims. I don’t really care about the Grammies airing later tonight, but I am rooting for “Praying” for Best Pop Solo Performance. (Update:  Of course, it didn’t win. This is why I don’t care much about the Grammies.)

 

So that’s my Top Twelve, but there were plenty of other goodies in 2017. Below are the many runners-up, generally listed from favorite to least favorite (but still good):

“Dreamer” by Axwell Ʌ Ingrosso, feat. Trevor Guthrie

“Symphony” and “I Miss You” by Clean Bandit

“Let Me Go” by Hailee Steinfeld and Alesso, feat. Florida Georgia Line and Watt

“Tell Me You Love Me” by Galantis & Throttle

“Clap Your Hands” and “Not All Heroes Wear Capes” by Owl City

“Nobody Can Hear You” by ALIUS

“Lonesome” and “Too Much” by Shaed

“Strangest Thing” by The War on Drugs

“Good Thing” by Tritonal

“Suit and Jacket” by Judah and the Lion

“Green Light” and “Perfect Places” by Lorde

“Paris” by The Chainsmokers

“Road” by Bruno Martini and Timbaland, feat. Johnny Franco

“Something Just Like This” by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay

“Up All Night” by Beck

“Feels Like Summer” by Weezer

“Lay It on Me” by Vance Joy

“It Ain’t Me” by Kygo and Selena Gomez

“Hard Times” by Paramore

“The Spectre” and “All Falls Down” by Alan Walker

“No Such Thing As a Broken Heart” by Old Dominion

“The Heart Is a Muscle” and “The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows” by Gang of Youths

“No Promises” by Cheat Codes, feat. Demi Lovato

“Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man (talk about played to death on the radio)

“The Cure” by Lady Gaga

“What Lovers Do” by Maroon 5

“Sober Up” by AJR

“All the Pretty Girls” by Kenny Chesney

“There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” by Shawn Mendes

“Peace Sign” by The Front Bottoms

“Wolves” by Selena Gomez and Marshmello

“Every Day’s the Weekend” by Alex Lahey

“Remember Me” by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, from Coco

“Body Like a Back Road” by Sam Hunt

“Cameo” by Sam Tsui

“To Be Human” by Sia, feat. Labrinth (from Wonder Woman)

“You’re the Best Thing About Me” by U2

“Legends” by Sleeping with Sirens

“This Is My Time” by Amy Stroup

 

Hopefully, you’ll discover some gems among these as well, but let me know of any other favorites from last year you might have. Here’s hoping 2018 will be just as prolific!

As with last year, it seems fitting to finish off this musical recap of 2017 with a brief tribute to the musicians lost last year. Rest in peace, Gregg Allman, Walter Becker, Chester Bennington, Chuck Berry, Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, Chris Cornell, Fats Domino, Johnny Hallyday, Jon Hendricks, Tom Petty, Mel Tillis, John Wetton, Don Williams, and Malcolm Young. Let’s remember them at their best, like my favorite Tom Petty song.

Get Out (2017)

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“Get out! Get out!” said common sense,
“You know that something’s wrong.
You linger at your own expense,
But shan’t do so for long.
You feel your muscles growing tense,
Your nerves a warning gong.
Would safety ever cause suspense?”
Yet still you play along.

When signs of danger first commence,
You’ll surely waver on the fence,
But when the strangeness of events
Grows ever more and more intense,
You’ll quickly wish you’d scorned pretense
And listened to your common sense
And all the warning signs about
The fact you should have gotten out!
_____________________

MPAA rating: R (for frequent language and some violence)

Not being a big fan of horror, I tend to only watch those that have a significant amount of positive buzz, and Get Out is about as positively buzzy as any movie of 2017, especially now that it’s received several Oscar nominations. Despite his reputation as a comedian, director Jordan Peele crafted a narrative that clearly tapped into America’s social consciousness more than anyone expected, and now that I’ve watched it, I can see why.

Get Out definitely has influences from other films, notably The Stepford Wives, but it’s really more of a dark twist on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, another ripple-causing film about race. When black photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her family, he’s hesitant about how he’ll be received, but her parents (Bradley Whitford and Caroline Keener) seem generous and warm to him, perhaps a bit too warm. More troubling is the odd behavior of the black servants and visitors on their wealthy estate, who seem bizarrely genteel and, well, don’t act like black people, one telling contradiction being when a fist bump from Chris is met with an oblivious handshake. The horror!

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Despite its loose categorization as a horror-comedy (the comedy is relegated to one side character), Get Out does seem to hearken back to an older class of horror movie, the kind where a large chunk of the movie is kept tame and spent noticing strange causes for unease before coming to a crazy head near the end. For an apparently low budget production, though, Peele makes it look excellent, creating that uneasy mood with disquieting music and some evocative visuals. Plus, it starts with one of those extended one-shot scenes I so admire. The acting is also good across the board, though I don’t think Kaluuya’s performance warranted a Best Actor nomination, despite a few strong dramatic moments.

Of course, the quality of the movie is beside the point since everyone seems much more interested in its social satire, and the fact that wealthy liberals are the target did come as a surprise. Rose’s parents are textbook white liberal elites, as are their wealthy friends at a dinner party, all of whom fawn over Chris to an uncomfortable degree. “Black is in fashion,” as one guest states. It’s a cogent example of passive racism. Get Out shows that the way progressives often highlight racial differences, even in an apparently supportive or positive manner, can still make minorities uncomfortable. Shouldn’t the goal be for such differences to not matter at all? While there were still a few moments that annoyed me (why are cops always implied to be racist?), the social themes help Get Out aspire to a higher class of horror, reminding me of how The Silence of the Lambs (another February release) also stayed relevant throughout a whole year and transcended its genre at the Oscars.

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As strong a film as Get Out is overall, I still wouldn’t have foreseen its Best Picture nomination, but I can understand it. As much as I suspect that its many nominations were an easy way for the Academy to avoid the whole #OscarsSoWhite controversy, its timeliness does deserve recognition. That said, with its 99% Rotten Tomatoes score, it does veer into the overhyped category, for me at least. Plus, there’s something about the ending that makes me feel it missed a chance for an ideal final moment. I won’t say it for spoilers’ sake, but one extra line at the end would have been a perfect closer, so I can’t help but feel a tiny bit disappointed when I think a film squandered an opportunity, however small it may be. It’s still a better ending than the alternate one I’ve heard about, though. Get Out has exceeded more than a few expectations, and even if it’s not as faultless as many say, the fact that it’s still being talked about a year later means it did something right.

Best line: (Chris, with a good reminder of how minorities can feel) “All I know is sometimes, when there’s too many white people, I get nervous, you know?”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2018 S.G. Liput
535 Followers and Counting

 

The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

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If I were a cat, sleeping soundly and snug,
Sure of my sweetness and rightfully smug,
My owner would sneak out the door as I yawn,
Hoping to leave ere I knew he was gone.
But little would he know, as soon as he split,
I’d stretch out my limbs like a good hypocrite
And head for the places I wasn’t to go,
Except for right now because how would he know?
I’d scratch every curtain and claw every chair,
Knowing I was quite safe while he wasn’t aware.
I’d go where I pleased, if you know what I mean,
Since compared to my box, everywhere else is clean.
And when he again would return home at last,
My many offenses now safe in the past,
I’d wait till he calmed down and cleaned up my crime,
Then snuggle his lap as I plan for next time….

But since I’m the owner instead of the cat,
I guess I’ll just hope that she doesn’t do that.
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG

Since it’s so obviously a rip-off of Toy Story (what do _____s do when humans are away?), I didn’t hold out much hope for The Secret Life of Pets. In fact, most of the recent American animated films outside Disney and Pixar haven’t really sparked my interest at all. But after finally giving Illumination’s 2016 hit a look-see, it proved to be quite an enjoyable little film.

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If you’ve seen the Toy Story films, you know the general plot: When humans leave their homes, the pets come out to play, after maybe pining for their owners a bit. Little dog Max (Louis C.K.) is the beloved of his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), missing her every time he’s left alone in her New York apartment, until his world is disturbed by much larger adoptee Duke (Eric Stonestreet). They clash, not unlike Woody and Buzz, and are soon on the streets and on the run from the dogcatchers and a band of crazy abandoned pets, led by a bunny (Kevin Hart) bent on revenge on mankind. The bitter abandonment motive probably brings to mind Toy Story 3, and Duke’s backstory has shades of Toy Story 2 as well.

So yes, we’ve seen every narrative beat in The Secret Life of Pets before, but that doesn’t mean there’s not still fun to be had, thanks to the colorful animation and diverse cast of characters, which seems to grow exponentially so every kind of pet can be represented. I, for one, am a cat lover, so naturally the jokes surrounding Chloe the cat (Lake Bell), one of Max’s friends who goes in search of him, tickled me the most. Even so, my favorite character had to be Gidget (Jenny Slate), a fluffy Pomeranian with a strong crush on Max, which drives her to act ruthless against her cute appearance. I really do love that puffball, and her big action scene on a bridge was both awesome and hilarious! I guarantee I would have wanted a Gidget stuffed animal when I was a kid. Kevin Hart does the same appearance-contrasting-with-personality thing by playing the bunny villain as an amusing psycho, but the rest of the characters aren’t nearly as well developed as the side cast in Toy Story, probably because there are too many of them.

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If I haven’t made it clear enough yet, this is no Toy Story, and Max’s “bonding” with Duke is just plain by-the-numbers compared with Woody and Buzz. Yet The Secret Life of Pets has enough good humor and warmth to exceed its conspicuous unoriginality, and I honestly enjoyed it more than Despicable Me, so I guess that makes it my favorite Illumination film (which doesn’t say that much, but oh well). The animation was particularly polished, and I liked several scenes designed as long tracking shots. It’s a perfectly kid-friendly jaunt, though in the end, I suspect pet lovers will find more relatable chuckles than non-pet owners, which might be why I found quite a few.

Best line: (Chloe, explaining Max’s owner’s behavior to him) “Because she’s a dog person, Max. And dog people do weird, inexplicable things. Like… they get dogs instead of cats.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
534 Followers and Counting

 

Opinion Battles Year 4 Round 1 Favourite Oscar Winning Performance from an Actress

It’s a brand new year for Opinion Battles over at Movie Reviews 101! Thanks to everyone who voted last year, especially since I won (shockingly), but it’s a whole new round now. This time, be sure to vote for your favorite Best Actress winner’s performance. I picked Sally Field in Places in the Heart, but of all the good choices, vote for the one you like best!

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Year 4 Round 1

Favourite Oscar Winning Performance from an Actress

Opinion Battles is back, much like last year when we look at the Oscar winning Actors, we are going to dive into looking at our favourite Oscar Winning Actresses, just what will make our list and what would you have picked?

Next Round is Most Anticipated Movie of 2018 – Closing Date Friday 3rd February 2018

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Brie Larson – Room

 

I may have picked a modern winner, but for me this is one of the best acting performances I have ever seen, Brie must carry this movie with her performance that must be strong for her son, while also being the victim of the kidnapping and multiple rapes. We do see how her character must learn to live again which is just as difficult as she would have imagined, she…

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