42 (2013)

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Hate has a sound, neither quiet nor calm.
It’s harsh as a screaming match, loud as a bomb.
It hides where it can, but when called to resist,
It bursts on the scene, and it cannot be missed.

By fruits, you shall know it, by fire and fear,
By people too busy condemning to hear,
By pointing of fingers and counting of sins,
And seeing, not people, but labels and skins.

But how does one fight it? More fire and fear?
More yelling in hopes that bystanders will hear?
No mind has been changed meeting rancor with wrath,
But by the more difficult, opposite path.
_______________________

MPA rating:  PG-13 (mainly for multiple racial slurs and a few profanities)

Like so many others, I was heartbroken at the news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing on August 28, the very day that MLB was celebrating a belated Jackie Robinson Day, since it’s the day Robinson and Branch Rickey first met. The premature loss of a talented actor who played so many African-American icons has prompted a resurgence of regard for his past work, and it seemed only right to revisit 42, the story of baseball trailblazer Jackie Robinson. I had seen it years ago and, not being a baseball fan, vaguely logged it in the “good, not great” category, but I recall my dad really liking it and watching it several times. Now rewatching it with my mom, I enjoyed even more this true story that has become timelier with age.

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Aside from his history book summary, I wasn’t very familiar with Jackie Robinson’s story, but I was pleased when some further reading revealed how historically accurate much of 42 is, from individual lines of dialogue to the shared Methodist faith of Robinson (Boseman) and Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford). It would have been so easy to turn the colorful Rickey into a mere caricature or lose the nuance of Robinson’s restraint. Yet both Ford and Boseman do outstanding work here, filling both characters with a realistic dynamism, Ford trying to disappear behind facial prosthetics and a Southern growl and Boseman embodying Christ-like nobility. The film itself might have been too pedestrian to be an awards contender, but I rather wish that the two of them could have gotten a nomination or two for their performances. In light of Boseman’s death, lines like “He was made to last” have also taken on a more bittersweet tone than before.

Perhaps the film’s themes are a bit on-the-nose at times, such as one mocked scene where a hesitant white boy starts yelling slurs at Jackie when he sees his father do the same. Yet I don’t doubt that such interactions do serve to perpetuate prejudices. That same boy is later shown looking regretful when he sees Jackie’s teammate Pee Wee Reese (Lucas Black, grown up since Tokyo Drift) put an arm around Jackie on the field. I know it feels a little manufactured since the kid probably would have been raised to be used to such language, but it still serves as an example of how children can be shaped by what they see and hear. Bigotry or its opposite don’t come from society as a whole, at least not anymore, but from individual interactions that shape how we view each other, so the film’s message still rings true.

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At a time when racial disparities and injustices have come to the forefront of national debate, 42 feels like a shining example of how to combat racism on a one-on-one level. While Robinson later assisted Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement, he epitomized King’s principle of nonviolence on the field, having “the guts not to fight back”, as Rickey tells him, even while being lobbed by blatant abuse. I loved the perceptive line “Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours,” while the alternative plays out beautifully when Robinson’s hesitant teammates take his side over the sneering vitriol of an opposing team’s manager (Alan Tudyk). Turning the other cheek has gone out of fashion in our modern society, but the stronger the contrast between offender and victim, the more support there will be from good people to address such indignities. In every new or daring pursuit, there must always be a first, and, as the first, Jackie Robinson did untold good in moving the sport of baseball and the country closer to its ideals.

Best line: (Jackie Robinson) “You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”
(Branch Rickey) “No. No. I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back. People aren’t gonna like this. They’re gonna do anything to get you to react. Echo a curse with a curse, and they’ll hear only yours. Follow a blow with a blow, and they’ll say, “The Negro lost his temper,” that “The Negro does not belong.” Your enemy will be out in force… and you cannot meet him on his own low ground. We win with hitting, running, fielding, only that. We win if the world is convinced of two things: that you are a fine gentleman and a great baseball player. Like our Savior… you gotta have the guts… to turn the other cheek. Can you do it?”
(Jackie) “You give me a uniform… you give me a, heh, number on my back… and I’ll give you the guts.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

© 2020 S.G. Liput
699 Followers and Counting

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

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There’s one thing that surpasses
Every culture, race, and creed,
A deep, unsleeping hunger
Men across the globe must feed,
A simple, primal craving
That I’ve yet to see suppressed:
The ever-fervent appetite
To prove themselves the best.

It’s not at all a shock that
Wars and races share a cause,
For when a challenge beckons,
We put common sense on pause.
The winners plan their parties,
And the losers future wins.
I guess that competition’s
Not the worst of mankind’s sins.
______________

MPA rating:  PG-13

Boy, you never realize how little time you have until college courses take it from you. My apologies for being absent lately, but it’s time to return to the Fast and Furious series. Tokyo Drift feels like the black sheep of the franchise. The lack of any characters from the previous two films (mostly) is evidence that the filmmakers were willing to just experiment with story lines as long as they still revolved around the testosterone-fueled art of street racing. It simultaneously fits in with this franchise by emulating its predecessors while also having every right to just be a separate movie with no connection at all.

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Tokyo Drift could conceivably even work as some kind of origin story for Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner, showing how he became such a good driver, but no, it’s instead the origin of one Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a rather dull teenage Walker wannabe with a Southern accent. Prone to vehicular recklessness and the inevitable trouble that follows, Sean’s only option other than juvie is to move in with his Navy dad in Tokyo, but even there he can’t stay away from the thrill of racing for long. In a way, his transfer-student introduction to his high school is like a live-action anime at first, but soon the plot shifts to borrowing heavily from The Karate Kid: Part II, with the plucky foreigner butting heads with a Japanese hotshot (Brian Tee) over a girl (Nathalie Kelley) and being trained by an experienced master (Sung Kang) to challenge his rival.

Now three films in, I’ve gotten a grasp on what I like and don’t like about these movies, and both are integral to them so far. I love the car races and chases. Who doesn’t love a good car chase? In the spirit of the classic Initial D anime, Tokyo Drift is all about drifting (the horizontal swing of a car rounding tight corners that is clearly harder than it looks) and it makes good use of the concept, from a unique race through the levels of a crowded parking garage to a climactic set piece down a winding mountain road. What I don’t like is the requisite pre-race party scenes full of macho attitudes and scantily-dressed women, which is a little more concerning here since several of the characters are high-schoolers. I don’t know how close this atmosphere is to actual street racing culture, but I have even less interest in said culture if it’s accurate.

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Tokyo Drift doesn’t reinvent the friction-worn wheel, but it’s an entertaining car-centric flick, whether as part of the Fast and Furious world or not. Sung Kang as the cool, mentoring Han is easily the best new character, though I’m not sure if we’ll get to see any of these characters again after things swing back to Walker-Diesel-land in the next movie. It may not do much to serve the franchise, but Tokyo Drift is a watchable slice of East-meets-West automotive action.

Best line: (Sean) “Why’d you let me race your car? You knew I was gonna wreck it.”
(Han) “Why not?”
(Sean) “’Cause that’s a lot of money.”
(Han) “I have money, it’s trust and character I need around me. You know, who you choose to be around you lets you know who you are. One car in exchange for knowing what a man’s made of? That’s a price I can live with.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
699 Followers and Counting

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

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They say it’s not bragging if it’s proven true,
So if I said I could drive faster than you,
It’s not arrogance or a source of disgust
If I can then leave you chagrined in my dust.

I’ll eat my own words if my pomp is disproved,
But I’ve yet to leave an opponent unmoved.
So what do you say? Let our wheels choose between
A legitimate boast or a punk who can preen.
___________________________

MPA rating:  PG-13

On to the second film in the nitro-powered franchise, cleverly utilizing its sequel number in its own title. That’s right, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Considering how synonymous Vin Diesel/Dom Toretto is with this series, I was surprised that he wasn’t in the sequel, which instead featured Paul Walker as the star, in buddy cop mode opposite Tyrese Gibson. Better in several ways than its predecessor, it’s a film confident in its own undemanding entertainment value.

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The film starts very much like the first, with Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner being called in for a four-way street race, but this time the cars have such bright neon colors that you can’t tell what’s real and what’s CGI, which isn’t a positive in this case. After letting Toretto go in the previous film, O’Conner is on the run, but he’s given a chance at redemption when law enforcement recruits him to infiltrate the organization of a Miami drug lord who needs fast drivers. To do that, he seeks out an old friend named Roman Pearce (Gibson) who, despite harboring resentment against Brian’s police past, joins him as a lean, mean street-racing duo.

2 Fast 2 Furious is summer movie entertainment, full of vehicular stunts that remain just believable enough to make viewers think they could jump a moveable bridge too. (Please don’t.) Without the constant parallels to Point Break, this one feels more sure of itself than its predecessor did, and Walker and Gibson have great tough guy chemistry that grows with time. The dialogue about their past friendship even sheds a little light on O’Conner’s actions at the end of the first movie, which make a little more sense now. Even so, it’s too bad Diesel was too busy filming The Chronicles of Riddick to reprise his role, but his Pitch Black costar Cole Hauser makes an unpredictably ruthless bad guy as the Argentinian drug lord drunk on power.

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With high-speed thrills and more downshifting than you can shake a stick shift at, I’d consider 2 Fast 2 Furious a better film than the first, and the lower your expectations are, the better it seems. It’s a good action movie but, amidst that overcrowded genre, there’s nothing remarkable that would warrant a multi-film franchise. Yet if this movie can improve on its predecessor, I’m still curious to see what the films that follow can bring to the table.

Best line: (Brian) “You ready for this?”   (Roman) “Come on, man. Guns, murderers and crooked cops? I was made for this, bro.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

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The Fast and the Furious,
If you were curious,
Knows what it is, and at that, it is good:
Cars going fast
And a masculine cast.
I’m curious what else is under the hood.
____________________

MPA rating: PG-13

Periodically, I like to delve into a series that I’ve unconsciously avoided until now, and I’ve largely enjoyed past explorations of franchises like Mission: Impossible or the Riddick trilogy. So then it’s finally time to investigate the Fast and Furious movies, a series that has surprisingly risen from “that little series about car racing” to a huge blockbuster phenomenon. I’m wondering what the hubbub is about, so I’ll be watching all nine films in the franchise to see just what has made it so wildly popular.

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So what of the very first movie from 2001, the one with the “the”s in its title? Is it the kind of innovative kickoff film that promised big things ahead? Um, no, I would not go that far. The Fast and the Furious is a right decent action movie, in which undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) infiltrates LA’s illegal street racing scene and the crew of racer Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who might be behind a rash of recent high-speed robberies. I can’t fault Walker and Diesel, the former full of cautious self-confidence and the latter boasting an intense glare to match his skills behind the wheel.

The problem is that The Fast and the Furious follows the exact formula of Point Break, just substituting driving for surfing and comes up short in most respects. And by the open-ended conclusion, the attempts at character development just don’t quite justify Brian’s sympathy for Toretto, making the cop’s actions a bit puzzling. Plus, I just have very little interest in cars that go vroom, so I’m sure I’m not the target audience for this kind of movie. Even so, do feminists not have a problem with how women are portrayed here? It was nice to see Michelle Rodriguez (Lost alert!) as Dom’s girlfriend Letty, who gets a few moments to be cool, but women here are mostly little more than trophies and hood ornaments for the swaggering male drivers, which was a turnoff for me and my VC (my Viewing Companion, who happens to be female), though it plays into the comparison to exploitation films that other reviews have made.

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The high-speed chases are entertaining and I’ll keep watching, but right now, it’s hard to imagine a decades-spanning franchise based on this film alone. I understand that the scope of the series changes around the fifth movie, so I’m curious to see what that looks like. Stay tuned.

Best line: (Dom) “Ask any racer. Any real racer. It don’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”

 

Rank:  Honorable Mention

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

Edward Scissorhands: Christmas in July Blogathon 2020

Here is my contribution to the annual Christmas in July Blogathon, hosted by Drew of Drew’s Movie Reviews. This year, I opted to write a poem and review for Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, since I lean toward unconventional holiday fare outside of December. Check out the other posts for the blogathon and have a Merry Christmas in July!

Drew's Movie Reviews

Welcome to day 3 of the Christmas in July Blogathon 2020! Today we are joined by the cinephile and poet SG from Rhyme and Reason. SG uniquely combines his love of movies with his love of poetry, as you’ll see below. Definitely go check his blog out for a unique movie review format. Today, SG reviews the non-traditional Christmas film Edward Scissorhands.



Scissors for hands – what a curious trait!
What a sad and bizarre and improbable fate!
For scissors for hands, with their razor-sharp edges,
Would terrify all, and especially hedges.
How lonely ‘twould be to be born with such digits,
Endangering life with the slightest of fidgets!

For who could love someone so strange and pathetic,
With hands so unsightly, unsafe, and synthetic?
Somebody could, though you might call it schmaltz,
For love can look past all exterior faults.
Some mock and some fear, but if…

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I Lost My Body (2019)

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A hand without a body or a man without a hand –
Which would be more piteous or prone to reprimand?
The hand is guiltless, lacking fault; its owner bears the blame
Of entering a situation liable to maim.
The hand is helpless, lacking mind; its owner bears the thought
That they may wish to clap and clasp two hands and yet cannot.
The hand is listless, lacking will; its owner bears the task
Of moving on and living life behind a fragile mask.

The former owner bears so much, yet his lot I’d prefer
Than that poor hand that cannot even know how things once were.
Pity the hand but love the stump and all to it attached.
At bouncing back from tragedy, we humans are unmatched.
____________________________

Rating: TV-MA (should be PG-13)

I take the Best Animated Feature Oscar perhaps more seriously than others do. After superb anime films like Your Name or Maquia have been spurned in recent years, I take notice when the Academy deems other foreign films worthy of the honor of nomination. The seventh French production to earn such a nomination was last year’s I Lost My Body, a strangely poetic meditation on loss that happens to involve a severed hand.

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At first, we don’t know how the severed hand came to be, though; the film starts out with the appendage “waking up” in the macabre fridge of a hospital and figuring out how to walk and jump with its fingers, like a more mobile Thing from The Addams Family. Cut then to the past and sullen pizza delivery guy Naoufel (Dev Patel in the quite good English dub), whose childhood of joy and trauma is recounted in flashback throughout the film. In failing to deliver a pizza, he becomes acquainted with a librarian named Gabrielle (Alia Shawkat) and takes up a job as a woodworker to get closer to her. Edited into this more grounded story, Naoufel’s future hand (which is evident from a scar they both have) makes its way across Paris in search of its owner.

It’s hard to call any movie about an animate severed hand anything but strange and morbid, but I Lost My Body treats it as an extended metaphor, which, as I said before, grows surprisingly poetic, heightened by a memorably haunting score. The close calls of the hand’s travels across a dangerous urban landscape provide thrilling visuals, while Naoufel’s struggles offer bittersweet human drama. Naturally, the film’s ultimate lead-up is to how the hand and its owner were separated, which is both cringeworthy and deeply symbolic.See the source imageAs an art film that happens to be animated, I Lost My Body’s main drawback for me is how open-ended it is, not offering much closure beyond what viewers choose to interpret. What does the hand represent? It’s up to you, I suppose. At one point, Naoufel is criticized for not knowing another character is sick and accused of not truly caring; the film never mentions it again, so I guess the film doesn’t care much either. Despite this, I’ve often said that I enjoy animations that can delve into mature themes without wallowing in mature content, and I Lost My Body fits that laudable mold. Amid last year’s nominations, Missing Link was the weak link that should have been replaced last year, preferably with Weathering with You; while imperfect, I Lost My Body is a worthy nominee.

Best line: (Gabrielle) “Once you’ve dribbled past fate, what do you do?”
(Naoufel) “You try to keep away from it. You run blindly… and keep your fingers crossed.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

 

Henry V (1989)

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It seems the English language is intent on, over time,
Discarding excess letters, which are just an uphill climb.
In Milton’s and in Shakespeare’s era, words were often longer,
So literarians believe their eloquence was stronger.
Yet, slowly we have shed the eths and ests that ended verbs
And kicked the gifts of diction to their metaphoric curbs.
Not “dost” but “do,” not “thou” but “you,” not “wherefore,” no, but “why,”
And going back in time to read can make you want to die.

Yet, even now the language still is mutating in place,
With idioms and acronyms it can’t help but embrace.
The letter-shedding carries on with “YOLO”, “app,” and “ref”
And “LOL, JK, IDK WTF.”
Abbreviations have their place; archaic words as well;
For me, too much of either one is glossolalic hell.
So savor language while you can, for generations hence
May not know what the heck we’re saying when it’s in past tense.
________________________

MPA rating: PG-13 (for battlefield violence)

Since it’s been hard fitting this blog into my busy schedule of work and college, I’ve decided to try to shorten my reviews so I don’t end up posting only twice a month. Let’s start the compressed reviews with Shakespeare, shall we? I am not a fan of William Shakespeare. I’ve read Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and a few sonnets, and that’s quite enough for me. Even so, I feel I need to be familiar with his work, if only to be prepared for when I some day get on Jeopardy. So surely watching Henry V is better than reading it, right? I think so, at least, especially when brought to life by the accomplished Kenneth Branagh, who both directed this 1989 epic and played the title character.

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Knowing nothing of the original play, I was intrigued by the framing device of a one-man Chorus (Derek Jacobi) providing an introduction and occasional commentary throughout. Branagh is intense and committed as the young King Henry, who sets out on a supposedly justified war to claim kingship of France, and he delivers the big speeches with enough stirring authority that you can believe the patriotism he inspires in his men. I recognize that Shakespeare’s poetry-flecked prose is eloquence epitomized, but the simple fact is that it was a constant effort to understand what was being said, which would have been even harder without captions. The action on-screen made it clearer at least, so perhaps it would be easier to read the play now that I know what happens. Plus, the presence of seasoned thespians elevated the production even more, such as Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Paul Scofield, and even early roles for Christian Bale and Emma Thompson (who married Branagh the same year).

Henry V might well be one of the finest faithful Shakespeare adaptations; I just haven’t seen many others to give it due comparison. Branagh’s treatment, though, is certainly praiseworthy, and one climactic tracking shot after the Battle of Agincourt was awe-inspiring to behold. You can’t do that on any stage, after all. With its nearly three-hour runtime, I was tempted to give up, but I typically try to finish any movie I start, and I’m glad I did. (Still not a Shakespeare fan, though.)

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Best line: (Henry, addressing the troops) “And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves acursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day!”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

Frozen II (2019)

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I wish life were more like the movies that end with a swift fade to black,
Where characters make their departures while still in their glory and prime,
Where stories have definite endings and rarely, if ever, come back.
(Unless they accumulate money; then it’s only a matter of time.)

I wonder sometimes where my own life would warrant a “Cut!” and a “Print!”
I’m working my way to a climax, that’s hopefully not when I die.
I wonder if I’m stuck in filler and wish God would give me a hint.
I trust that I’ll know when I see it and hope that it will satisfy.
_______________________

MPA rating: PG

I liked Frozen when it came out in 2013. It’s on my Top 365 movie list. I watched it in the theater and still think “Let It Go” is one of the best movie songs from the last decade. Yet I did put it on my Top Twelve List of Overrated Movies, not because it was bad but because it was overexposed. Disney milked the merchandise so much that it was hard to tell whether the Frozen products ever really went away before the Frozen 2 merch took their place. So it’s easy to believe that Frozen 2 was made solely with profit in mind, but even if that’s the case, it deserves a fair shake and appraisal on its own merits. And I must say I enjoyed this sequel about as much as the first. Like its predecessor, it’s not above criticism, but it’s an enjoyable return to the franchise.

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Peace has returned to Arendelle with Elsa (Idina Menzel) as queen, but a strange voice reaches out to her, drawing her to the enchanted forest to the north. And, of course, sister Anna (Kristen Bell), her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven the reindeer, and Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) are right at her side. The plot of Frozen 2 seems to be the aspect most criticized, and indeed it is rather convoluted with flashbacks, mysteries, and vague explanations that can boil down to a single line of dialogue and thus aren’t answered as clearly as they could have been. Even so, cheap cash-ins don’t usually have this kind of laudable ambition, so I still appreciated how the world and lore of Frozen were expanded, even if its parallels to real-world issues are a bit half-baked. Oh, and did anyone else think the ending is suspiciously similar to Ralph Breaks the Internet? Just sayin’.

But come now, who watched Frozen for the plot? “Let It Go” was clearly the biggest draw, so how does the soundtrack compare? The songs of Frozen 2 may not seem as good at first, but I’ve found they get better with repetition. (Yes, I’ve listened to the soundtrack at work.) “Into the Unknown” is the most “Let It Go”-ish belter for Menzel and the only one nominated for the Best Song Academy Award, and I think it was robbed at the Oscars. But “Show Yourself” has even greater power, especially in the context of the film, while “Some Things Never Change” and “The Next Right Thing” are underappreciated gems, especially the latter for its surprisingly deep and relatable lyrics. The animation at least is one aspect that is clearly on par or better than the original; from the horse spirit made of water to the gorgeous fall foliage, the animation is as lovely as any Disney movie yet. I mean, look at this art!

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Frozen 2 may not have been able to replicate the original’s awards, not even being nominated for Best Animated Feature (but neither was Weathering with You, so it’s in good company), but it did become the highest-grossing animated film ever, assuming you don’t count that Lion King remake. I still consider Elsa a bit too lacking in personality, but both films are a welcome return to the classic princess genre that so defined the Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s, with their strong female leads and lovable sidekicks. (Olaf once again gets the funniest scenes.) Plus, as a big fan of Norwegian singer Aurora, I was thrilled that she got such high-profile exposure being featured as “The Voice” in the film and “Into the Unknown,” even if her role is just four notes. Time will tell if Frozen 2 has the same kind of staying power that its predecessor had, but it’s a good way to end Disney Animation’s resurgence in the 2010s. Let’s hope it will continue into the next decade.

Best line: (Olaf; the irony is strong with this one) “Tell me, you’re older, and thus all-knowing; do you ever worry about the notion that nothing is permanent?”   (Anna) “Uh, no.”   (Olaf) “Really? Wow, I can’t wait until I’ve aged just like you, so I don’t have to worry about important things.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining the first Frozen)

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

Knives Out (2019)

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I don’t quite believe that the truth is subjective,
A trite protocol
That changes and varies
‘Twixt contemporaries,
From person to person.
Such thoughts only worsen
The idea that truth isn’t out there at all.

No, no, there is truth, even-handed, objective,
But often concealed
In worry and caring,
Fake news and red herring.
It leads us on chases
To unpleasant places.
The few who keep up get to see it revealed.
__________________________

MPA rating: PG-13 (a bit heavy on language, as much as they could fit in while retaining its rating)

I still have Blindspots to catch up on, but it seemed past time to watch a movie that I’ve been wanting to see since it came out last year (until a certain virus kept me from the second-run theater I was planning to visit). The murder mystery genre has fallen by the wayside in recent years, but if any film can revitalize it, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is the one to do it. Being a fan of Johnson’s contentious The Last Jedi, I was eager to see what he’d do next, and Knives Out did not disappoint.

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Named after the Radiohead song of the same name, the film doesn’t waste time getting to the murder, as the first scene involves the morning discovery of mystery writer Harlan Thrombey’s body (Christopher Plummer) after he apparently cut his throat in his study sometime during the night. Like so many other classic mysteries, the large ensemble cast is full of splashy characters, most of whom have a potential motive for the Thrombey patriarch’s death. At first, there doesn’t seem to be a main character as detectives (Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segan) interview Harlan’s discordant family: his arrogant daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband (Don Johnson), his insecure son (Michael Shannon), and his self-absorbed daughter-in-law (Toni Collette), among others. Gradually, though, famed Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, handily covering his British accent with a Southern drawl) takes the stage, as does Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s personal nurse who physically cannot tell a lie.

Replete with flashbacks to the night of Thrombey’s death, Knives Out is artfully organized to show only what Rian Johnson wants to show, which is often more than you’d expect. In fact, the story seems to show its cards much earlier than you’d expect from a film over two hours long, seeming to go from a mystery to a cover-up, but it still has plenty of twists to trigger second-guessing and culminates in true murder mystery form with some climactic revelations. And through it all, the story’s convolutions and colorful characters played by actors in peak form (including Chris Evans) make for prime entertainment.

Craig is likably hammy as his Benoit Blanc doesn’t always seem as self-aware as a master sleuth should, though he proves his deductive abilities by the end; and Ana de Armas is a special stand-out in what is likely a star-making role, considering she was singled out for a Golden Globe nomination, as was Craig. Considering the overwhelmingly positive reception Knives Out has received, including being named one of AFI’s Top Ten Films of the Year, I’m actually a bit surprised it didn’t get more attention at the Oscars beyond a Best Original Screenplay nod; with all the flashbacks in the Thrombey mansion, I would think it deserved some attention for editing or production design.

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The murder mystery genre has been so oversaturated over the years, from cozy Hallmark mysteries to decades of primetime series, that it’s a noteworthy exception when one can warrant this kind of all-star cast and big-screen appeal, subverting and embracing clichés in equal measure. Boasting a sly political subtext that paints both sides negatively and lauding compassion over selfishness, Knives Out proves that, in the right hands, any genre can be resurrected. Rian Johnson hit gold here, and I can’t wait to see if he can hit it again with the inevitable sequels to which Benoit Blanc lends himself.

Best line: (Blanc) “The complexity and the gray lie not in the truth but what you do with the truth once you have it.”

 

Ranking: List-Worthy

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
695 Followers and Counting

2020 Blindspot Pick #3: Annie Hall (1977)

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Love is hard to pin down –
What it is, where it’s from,
Why it makes you a clown
Or remarkably dumb,
Why it strokes you one minute with gentle caress
And pounds you the next with a cold callousness,
Why it fills you with joy at a memory made
That turns bittersweet as the joyful times fade,
Why it brings you to tears
At the thought of a laugh,
Why the grain is so worth
The abundance of chaff.
No, I can’t explain it, doubt anyone could.
You’ll know when you feel it, the bad and the good.
________________________

MPA rating: PG (should be PG-13 nowadays)

Have you ever watched a movie that you can appreciate for everything it does well but still just not connect with it? That was my reaction to Annie Hall. This Best Picture-winning rom com is among Woody Allen’s most iconic films, and I can see why. From innovative storytelling to an insightful script, it deserved acclaim, but I can only offer it so much.

Allen himself plays Alvy Singer, a neurotic Jewish comedian, who after a couple failed marriages, falls for the offbeat beauty Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), with whom he shares a rollercoaster of a romance. The longer I watched Annie Hall, the more a thought continued to grow in my mind: “This is just like (500) Days of Summer!” Sure, Alvy has little in common with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in that much later film, but there were so many parallels: the non-linear storyline, the quirky girlfriend, the occasional use of split-screen, the digressions with unconventional styles (an animated sidebar here vs the musical number in the other), the ultimate depression as a once happy romance peters out. The 2009 film is practically a remake, though not exactly, sort of how I felt about the plot similarities between Hidden and A Quiet Place.

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Annie Hall has so many creative choices that just feel unique and revolutionary even, such as Alvy repeatedly breaking the fourth wall, the visual representation of how a lover feels distant, characters’ inner thoughts being shown as subtitles to contrast with what they’re saying, or his discussions with random people on the street as if they were parts of his subconscious. And then there were the plethora of cameos, from Paul Simon and Carol Kane in larger roles to Christopher Walken used for a one-off gag, not to mention certain stars who had yet to become famous, like Jeff Goldblum, John Glover, and Sigourney Weaver.

And yet, for all those strengths that I enjoyed, I was left feeling oddly cold. For the film being considered the 4th greatest comedy by AFI, I recall a chuckle here and there but no big laughs; it was full of lines where I didn’t laugh but instead thought, “That’s humorous,” which doesn’t seem like what a comedy should do. Perhaps it was the presence of Woody Allen himself. His overly neurotic Alvy, obsessed with death and Jewish discrimination, is quite a character, but I couldn’t stand to be around someone like him in real life. Plus, there’s the mental baggage of the real-life Allen and the scandalous allegations surrounding him. My VC says he makes her skin crawl and didn’t enjoy the film because of him; the only film with him she rather liked was The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, in which he’s constantly disparaged.

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So, I guess I can count Annie Hall with so many other classics that just didn’t quite live up to expectations, right alongside the likes of The Third Man and The Philadelphia Story. I can appreciate it for its groundbreaking eccentricities, but when I consider that it won Best Picture over Star Wars, I just have to shake my head. Considering all the things I liked in Annie Hall, I just thought I would like the whole package more.

Best line: (Alvy Singer’s Therapist) “How often do you sleep together?”
(Annie Hall’s Therapist) “Do you have sex often?”
(Alvy, lamenting) “Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.”
(Annie, annoyed) “Constantly. I’d say three times a week.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
692 Followers and Counting