Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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We laud and admire explorers who dare
To venture to regions unknown,
Who journey to jungles with risk in the air
Where most men would heed all the signs to beware,
But not they who roam to the eye of nowhere
And cherish each uncharted zone.

Yet one thing to note of these men who beseech
The thrill of what’s hidden ahead:
Although they may find every mountain and beach
And give all the teachers more titles to teach
And seek out the truths that lie just out of reach,
Most of them do end up dead.
______________________

MPAA rating: PG-13 (some of the violence is rather strong, though)

If you thought the world didn’t need another remake of King Kong, you’d be right, but that’s not about to stop Hollywood. Following 2014’s Godzilla and paving the way for 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong prize fight of the so-called MonsterVerse, Kong: Skull Island isn’t the same story in past films featuring the giant ape. There’s no film crew, no screaming damsel in distress, no Empire State Building, so it might seem that Kong: Skull Island simply features a different (and much larger) version of the character and isn’t an actual remake. But it is, just a remake of the first half of the original King Kong tale, that being the story of ill-fated visitors to Kong’s home of giant critters. As much as the film tries to make a whole out of this half-story, it doesn’t quite work.

Those ill-fated visitors include a team of surveyors, a military escort fresh from Vietnam, and a few scientists from Monarch (the secret monster-studying organization from Godzilla), all led by the shady desire of Bill Randa (John Goodman) to explore the newly discovered Skull Island. There are plenty of big names here, from Goodman to Tom Hiddleston’s manly tracker to Brie Larson’s intrepid photojournalist to Samuel L. Jackson’s overly devoted army commander, boasting plenty of Jacksonian intensity. In addition, the Vietnam War-era setting warrants a great soundtrack of 1970s rock staples that make the team assembly of the first half quite enjoyable and promising. And when we actually see Kong himself, skyscraper-sized and none too happy about the unwanted guests and their explosives, it’s an action-packed debut that reminds us how frightening a giant gorilla can be.

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Yet as the film wears on, and the dangers of Skull Island make themselves known, it becomes clear that this is less of an adventure movie and more of a CGI-laden horror film. Oversized creatures take out redshirt after redshirt, often in gruesome ways, until the only source of mystery is who’s going to be on the menu next. By the time one unsuspecting fellow was carried off by lizard birds and torn apart in silhouette, my VC had had enough of the carnage and didn’t want to keep watching. It might help if the characters had some meat to them (literal or otherwise), but they’re really only there as potential beast fodder, even Hiddleston and Larson whose roles are clearly main character material yet don’t really go anywhere. It was also annoying that the military immediately makes the stupid decision in these films of “shoot the giant monster” instead of retreating, like any sensible person would in that situation.

There are bright spots. John C. Reilly livens up the cast significantly as a castaway stranded on the island since World War II, offering some good heart and humor and exposition for the island’s inhabitants, including a tribe of natives much more sympathetically depicted than in past versions. The big battles with Kong are also CGI wonders, perhaps not on par with Peter Jackson’s triple T. Rex fight but still marvelous to watch.

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Despite the relatively positive reviews for both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, I’m still not sold on this MonsterVerse franchise. The monsters created are well visualized with properly awesome action, but the human characters are thin as paper. It’s not a good sign when the scene played during the end credits has more human interest than the whole rest of the film. And I have other questions, like “How are Kong and Godzilla supposed to battle when Godzilla is still much bigger?” or “Will it turn out the same as the 1962 Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla?” or “Will none of the surviving characters from Skull Island return, considering they will have aged between the ‘70s and the modern-day time frame of Godzilla?” Basically, Kong: Skull Island is about a bunch of people who go to an island, and a lot of them die. There has to be more than that for me to care.

Best (and most ironic) line: (Randa, as hippies in D.C. protest the war) “Mark my words. There’ll never be a more screwed up time in Washington.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
518 Followers and Counting

 

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Opinion Battles Round 23 Favourite Post-Apocalypse Film

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite post-apocalyptic film in Round 23 of Opinion Battles! Ah, the apocalypse…. It never ends well, does it? There are so many different ways the world could go wrong, but I had to pick Pixar’s WALL-E, whose trash-covered future manages to be depressing, charming, and hopeful by the end. What’s your favorite?

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Round 23

Favourite Post-Apocalypse Film

The end of the world is here, well it is at least in these films, we have seen many different ideas of the potential end of the world but just what is the most popular?

If you want to join the next round of Opinion Battles we will be take on What is your Favourite Thanksgiving Film, to enter email your choice to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.ukby Saturday 25th November 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Children of Men

The idea that humans can no longer going to be able to have children and people are giving up hope, the population is starting to stave and people are getting desperate, what more could you want from characters who are put in a world like this. We follow the first pregnant woman in 21 odd years needing to become safe to have her child.

 

Milo…

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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When terrorized by Ragnarok,
(The end of the world? What a shock!),
Mighty Thor will not shrink.
With a boom and a wink,
He’ll prevail while the rest of us gawk.
_______________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s safe to say that the Thor movies are probably the least loved of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (except maybe The Incredible Hulk, but with Mark Ruffalo’s recast, that one’s barely even connected). Thor and Thor: The Dark World aren’t bad films and are still perfectly entertaining fusions of Shakespearean drama and alien hammer battles, but compared with the rest of the MCU, they’re just not that memorable, despite being the source of Marvel’s best villain thus far, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Hiddleston’s trickery and Chris Hemsworth’s muscular appeal helped the Thor movies not drag down their more acclaimed cousins, but it seems that Thor has finally found his hit, not with earth-threatening gravitas but tongue-in-cheek comedy, courtesy of New Zealand director Taika Waititi.

Those paying attention during Captain America: Civil War might have noticed that two of the Avengers were absent from the whole schism. So what were Thor and the Hulk up to in the meantime? Quite a lot actually. The post-credits scene of Doctor Strange hinted that Thor would be looking for his father Odin, but aside from a neat little cameo for the Sorcerer Supreme, the search for Odin isn’t a main plot point. Instead, there’s the arrival of Thor’s long-banished sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, whose power overwhelms Thor and his hammer and sends him hurtling onto a distant planet of garbage and gladiators. There he encounters both the sadistic Grandmaster (ever-colorful Jeff Goldblum) and the long lost Hulk, whose two-year leave has widened his vocabulary and made the big green guy more of an actual character than merely a secret weapon, borrowing from the Planet Hulk storyline of the comics.

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While most of the buzz for Ragnarok has been positive, there is a minority who find that the lighter tone cheapens the proceedings, especially considering how dark Hela’s takeover gets. I can definitely see that; the body count is high, including characters from past Thor movies, yet only one gets even some brief token grief, while the others are sloughed off without a passing glance. This might seem callous in a film so filled with gags that it clearly doesn’t want you to dwell on anything but the entertainment. But entertaining it is.

Fans of Guardians of the Galaxy should be quite pleased with how Ragnarok emulates its quirky alien diversity, but Waititi adds his own Kiwi sense of humor, in person actually playing a soft-spoken rock-covered gladiator named Korg. He also brings along Rachel House (as the Grandmaster’s assistant) and a briefly seen Sam Neill (as an Odin actor) from his previous film Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I was also shocked to learn that Matt Damon has a cameo I totally missed. The jokes are many, often droll and sometimes at the expense of past Marvel films, stepping back from the expected superheroics to chuckle before doing them anyway. It’s a fun mix, particularly the rivalry/rapport between Thor and Loki, and although Ragnarok also follows Guardians of the Galaxy in thinking it’s funnier than it actually is, there’s enough varied humor here to please anyone, especially when the whole cast seems to have had so much fun making it.

The action, though, is where Thor: Ragnarok really ups the ante. From the big Thor vs. Hulk fight to a Guardians-ish spaceship chase, the effects are an epic thrill to behold, augmented by the presence of Hemsworth’s more cheeky Thor and likely fan favorite Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Karl Urban also has a nice little character arc as a would-be lackey of Hela’s, along with one of the many awesome scenes of the finale. But there’s no beating Thor’s big battle toward the end, made brilliantly epic by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”

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So yes, Thor: Ragnarok is far more memorable than its predecessors, attracting every conceivable synonym of “fun,” “epic,” and “awesome.” While it has its dramatic moments, the constant jokery keeps things so light that the gravity of certain situations only sinks in later. Despite the fact that Ragnarok leaves several lasting impacts on the MCU, it still feels oddly disposable, like really amusing filler meant to set the stage for next year’s Infinity War. (Can’t wait!) It may or may not go down as one of Marvel’s best, but even if it doesn’t, it’s still Thor-oughly entertaining.

Best line: (Bruce Banner, to Loki) “Last time we saw you, you were trying to kill everyone. What are you up to these days?”   (Loki) “It varies from moment to moment.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
517 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: Fletch (1985)

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Hello, sir, I’m Roland Dough,
I work for someone you don’t know,
And last I checked,
I must inspect
The volume of your stereo.

While I’m here, I thought I’d ask
If you’ve seen any shady stuff,
Like backroom deals
Or big reveals
Or guys like me who just can’t bluff.

Of course, you’ve not seen me before;
I think I’d know if I was seen.
I just stopped by
To satisfy
My need to be in every scene.

No, no, don’t bother getting up.
Your stereo broke; what a shame!
I’m finished, so
I’d better go.
It’s time to pick another name.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG (perhaps PG-13 nowadays)

My VC has a habit of having me rewatch films I saw only once years ago, just to see if my vague memories are reliable. In this case, I recalled Fletch favorably, even if every detail of the plot had long ago been jettisoned from my mind. But now that I’ve seen it again, that’s a crying shame, because I enjoyed Fletch a lot more than I expected. Chevy Chase’s comedy can be hit-and-miss for me, but when he’s good, he’s good.

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Chase plays investigative reporter Irwin Fletcher (one guess what his nickname is), who is in the middle of an undercover drug bust when he is picked up by dying millionaire Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson), who promises to pay Fletch to kill him. Since not asking questions isn’t in his DNA, Fletch then sets out doing what he does best, following leads, dressing up, and lying through his teeth in pursuit of the truth.

While it’s based on a book series I didn’t know existed, I felt Fletch might have been intended to mirror the success of Beverly Hills Cop. Both of them cast an SNL alum as an improvisational investigator, backed by similar-sounding Harold Faltermeyer scores. Whereas Axel Foley had a gun to do off-hours police work, Fletch is entirely dependent on his wit and sharp tongue, and it’s great fun watching him scramble to plug the holes in his stories. Throughout the film, he impersonates a doctor, a beach bum, a country club guest, an insurance investigator, and probably some I’m forgetting, all with hilarious fake names, and Chevy Chase sells the verbal gymnastics with aplomb.

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It was also fun recognizing some of the secondary cast, from Geena Davis as his news office buddy, Joe Don Baker as a corrupt police chief, and even The Waltons’ Jim-Bob (David W. Harper) as a young car thief, not to mention small roles for George Wyner, Kenneth Mars, George Wendt, and M. Emmet Walsh. (The “Moon River” scene with Walsh as a doctor was literally the only thing I remembered from last time.) It’s a talented cast and an intriguing, weaving plot, but Chase is the anchor, whose wry narration and slick spontaneity make Fletch possibly his best role, though I still prefer Foul Play overall. Now to remind myself of the sequel I also saw only once called Fletch Lives, though I hear Fletch Dies never got off the ground. Just kidding, though there’s still talk of a re-cast prequel called Fletch Won. This franchise may not be dead yet.

Best line: (Dr. Dolan, speaking of someone Fletch doesn’t know) “You know, it’s a shame about Ed.”
(Fletch) “Oh, it was. Yeah, it was really a shame. To go so suddenly like that.”
(Dr. Dolan) “He was dying for years.”
(Fletch) “Sure, but… the end was very… very sudden.”
(Dr. Dolan) “He was in intensive care for eight weeks.”
(Fletch) “Yeah, but I mean the very end, when he actually died. That was extremely sudden.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up (a very close one)

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
517 Followers and Counting

 

2017 Blindspot Pick #11: Giovanni’s Island (2014)

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‘Tis futile to wish our lives never to change,
To stay in the bliss of a child’s outlook.
We’re always disturbed by the new and the strange,
Priorities puzzled as they rearrange,
Things hardly confined to the page of a book.

The friends that we make and the loved ones we lose
Accompany us just as far as they can.
And when we have finally paid all our dues
And traveled the path that each person must choose,
Perhaps we will see ‘twas all part of a plan.
____________________

MPAA rating: Not Rated (probably PG)

Boy, just like with Donnie Darko, finding a copy of this film for my Blindspot was harder than I thought, hence why I’m a day late for this November pick. I’m always on the lookout for emotional anime films, and Giovanni’s Island promised to have something of the tragic quality of Grave of the Fireflies, which still makes me cry every time I see it. Giovanni’s Island undoubtedly borrows from the 1988 film and actually reminded me of several others as well, from the Russian exile of Doctor Zhivago to the childish friendship disrupted by war of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It also draws explicit inspiration from the Japanese novel Night on the Galactic Railroad, which is apparently a great classic in Japan, though it’s not surprising if most are unfamiliar with it. Some knowledge of that story might help one’s understanding of certain scenes in the movie. (It does have an anime adaptation too, which is dream-like, very slow, full of symbolism and Christian references, and might have vaguely influenced The Polar Express.)

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The first parallel to Night on the Galactic Railroad is the names of the two brothers who live in a small fishing village in the far northern Japanese islands toward the close of World War II. Junpei (nicknamed Giovanni) and Kanta (nicknamed Campanella) draw their Italian-sounding names from the main characters of the book, a favorite in their family, which ignites their fascination with both the stars and trains. While the villagers expect the Americans to take control after the war is lost, it’s instead the Soviets, who waste no time in establishing themselves and commandeering the Japanese homes and school building. Despite being driven from their house, young Giovanni and Campanella befriend a Russian girl named Tanya, but the conflict and stresses of the adults around them soon strain their relationship and send the brothers away from their beloved island into the unknown.

Despite being produced by Production I.G., the same studio behind Ghost in the Shell, the animation in Giovanni’s Island is different from their other works. The sketched environments and setting details are masterful, and one scene of a front-lit toy locomotive passing between two rooms showed an amazing attention to light and shadow. The character animation, on the other hand, wasn’t bad, but I found it somewhat distracting at times. Despite all anime sharing similarities of style, character design can vary significantly, and it’s a distinction that can be very subjective with its appeal. It’s not as if it was ugly (like One Piece, in my opinion), but the look of the characters sometimes brought me out of the story, though I did get used to it with time.

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There’s a lot to enjoy about Giovanni’s Island, particularly scenes designed to tug at the heartstrings. In an early scene, the school building is divided between the Russian and Japanese children, and each classroom sings their own national songs to try to drown the other out, while each room later sings the other’s song. Similarly, Giovanni becomes quite close to Tanya, and though the language barrier is barely addressed, it was encouraging to remember that children’s interactions are so much simpler than adults harboring resentment and hate. Another touchstone seemed to be Empire of the Sun, as the two siblings are soon separated from their father and cast into the harsh post-war realities of internment camps, all seen through the eyes of a child. The parallels to Grave of the Fireflies are blatant toward the tearful end, though there are differences, such as the fact that Giovanni and Campanella are never completely abandoned, at least accompanied by their teacher and uncle most of the way. Despite the similarities, it’s not a complete ripoff since the familiarly tragic end also draws from Night on the Galactic Railroad, along with several wondrous dream sequences that recreate scenes from the book.

Giovanni’s Island has plenty of moving drama, some of it probably seen before, but it presents it with warmth and sincerity, as well as grief. It didn’t make me cry like Grave of the Fireflies, but the final scene brought me close. I’m just a sucker for those kinds of poignant death-transcending reunion scenes, so it ended on a high note for me. I also enjoyed a repeated musical cue I recognized as “Those Were the Days,” a Mary Hopkins hit from the ‘60s, which recycled the tune of a traditional Russian folk song, making its use in the film more authentic. A somber tale of loss and survival that never becomes objectionable, Giovanni’s Island may combine elements from better films, but they’re combined beautifully nonetheless.

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Also, you can click here for a somewhat less rosy review from Rachel of Reviewing All 56 Disney Animated Films and More!, who also had this as her November Blindspot.

Best line:  (Giovanni, when asked what Night on the Galactic Railroad is about) “When people die, they rise up into the heavens and become stars in the night sky. Those countless stars fill the sky, shining brightly and eternally, and we live our lives down here, basking in their light. That’s what the story is about.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
517 Followers and Counting

 

My Top Twelve Butterflies in Movies

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It’s been a while since my last Top Twelve list, so I thought “What better list to compile around Thanksgiving than a list of butterflies?” Yes, butterflies. Moths, too. Okay, maybe there are more seasonal topics out there, but sometimes I just like random lists. If you want a good reason for a butterfly list in autumn, though, I guess I can point to something I heard on the radio about not raking your fall leaves for fear of disturbing butterfly eggs/cocoons that could be hiding among them. I don’t normally rake my leaves anyway, so I’ll gladly take another excuse.

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For this list, I’m ranking significant butterflies or moths in film. I’m only including films I’ve actually seen all the way through, so that excludes a host of films with butterfly titles, such as Butterflies Are Free, The Butterfly Room, The Mothman Prophecies, The Butterfly Effect,  M. Butterfly, The Blue Butterfly, A Pin for the Butterfly, Butterfly’s Tongue, and several just called Butterfly. A special shout-out also to some TV butterflies as well, such as the pussycat swallowtail hunter on Gilligan’s Island, the fun Castle episode “The Blue Butterfly,” Star Butterfly from Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and the “killer” butterfly from the classic SpongeBob episode “Wormy.” In addition, despite my research, I feel like I may have forgotten some worthwhile entries that just aren’t coming to mind, so feel free to comment with any lovely lepidopterans I might have missed. On to the list!

  1. Alice in Wonderland (1951, 2010)

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The hookah-smoking caterpillar is a memorable character in both versions of Alice in Wonderland, though his eventual transformation into a butterfly does nothing to improve his sour mood. And let’s not forget the bread-and-butterflies too.

  1. TIE: Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2001) and Paprika (2006)

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I couldn’t decide which anime film to give the edge to, so it’s a tie! In Cowboy Bebop’s stand-alone film, a terrorist’s poison gas causes hallucinations, specifically glowing butterflies as death approaches. And in a rather disturbing scene of Satoshi Kon’s imaginatively bizarre Paprika, the title character is captured and pinned as a human butterfly.

  1. I Am Legend (2007)

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The butterfly here is mentioned by the daughter of Robert Neville (Will Smith), the last non-vampire-ish resident of New York City. His daughter’s love of butterflies is a mere memory, but it also plays a part in the climax, which goes in two different directions depending on which ending you watch.

  1. Doctor Dolittle (1967)

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The end of this charming classic musical features Rex Harrison’s animal-loving doctor heading back to England atop the Giant Lunar Moth. It’s for anyone who ever wanted to ride a moth. Anyone?

  1. Papillon (1973)

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I always had this film confused with Bullitt and thought it would have a car chase, but it didn’t. Meaning “butterfly” in French, Papillon is the nickname of Steve McQueen’s Henri Charrière, who is imprisoned on Devil’s Island in South America and refuses to give up on escape. He has a butterfly tattoo on his chest and even catches butterflies in the jungle at one point. I’ll be interested to see how this year’s remake compares to the uneven original.

  1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

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Yes, reviewing this film recently might have put me in a butterfly mood, and aside from Papillon’s translation, it’s the only film here with “butterfly” in the title. The butterfly isn’t an actual presence, though. One scene of an emerging adult is the main visual appearance, while Jean-Dominique Bauby’s narration compares it to his flights of fancy and his memories. “May you have many butterflies.”

  1. A Bug’s Life (1998)

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Since the one in Alice in Wonderland is a caterpillar most of the time, this is the only film here where a butterfly is an actual character, namely Gypsy (Madeline Kahn), the lovely assistant of Manny the mantis magician. She may not be one of the major characters, but a butterfly’s a butterfly, and I’d totally forgotten Madeline Kahn voiced her.

  1. Bunny (1998)

I’m stepping outside the box a bit here to include a short film, the Oscar-winning Bunny (which you can watch above) from Ice Age director Chris Wedge. An elderly rabbit is annoyed by a persistent moth, only to discover the moth’s more symbolic and emotional nature.

  1. Bright Star (2009)

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Butterflies are especially popular as metaphors, and this biopic of John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his beloved Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) has particularly beautiful symbolism. After Keats moves away, Fanny fills her bedroom with captured butterflies and gushes her affection through love letters, only for the passion to slowly die away like the butterfly carcasses that eventually litter her room.

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

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Who could forget the memorable final scene of this classic anti-war epic? A butterfly collection was seen earlier in the film, and when Paul Bäumer (Lew Ayres) reaches for one on a World War I battlefield, his hand is made motionless by a sudden gunshot. Neat fact: the hand is actually that of Lewis Milestone, the director.

  1. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies (2001-3, 2012-14)

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Of course, another list of mine had to feature Lord of the Rings! Gandalf’s use of a big hairy moth as a messenger eventually becomes synonymous with the intervention of giant eagles: saving him from Isengard, joining the battle at the end, and even extending their services into the Hobbit movies. That’s a handy moth to have around! I also must mention the scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, in which Bilbo peers above the treetops of Mirkwood and sees a host of butterflies flitting in the morning sunlight.

  1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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As much as I would have liked to give Lord of the Rings the #1 spot, it had to go to The Silence of the Lambs. I mean, just look at the famous poster! Serial killer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) has an affinity for the death’s head moth, raising them and inserting them in the throats of his victims. It’s also one of these moths that gives him away to Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), and since it plays such a key role in the plot, I had to give the top spot to this morbid moth.

Runners-Up:

Corpse Bride – The title zombie dissolves into butterflies at the end.

Dallas Buyers Club – Matthew McConaughey visits a room full of butterflies (see top photo).

Heidi – In the 2015 version, seeing a butterfly helps crippled Clara to stand.

The Last Unicorn – At the beginning, a capricious butterfly tells the unicorn she is the last of her kind.

Mothra – This would have been a really obvious choice for the list, but I haven’t actually seen a Mothra movie. Still, after Godzilla, he’s the second most popular giant monster over in Japan.

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Snow White and the Huntsman – In that Sanctuary scene copied from Princess Mononoke, the fairy elk explodes into butterflies when it is shot.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Watch out for butterfly-fishing!

You’ve Got Mail – Meg Ryan points out a butterfly on the subway.

Feel free to comment with any other cinematic butterflies I might have missed. Below is a lovely butterfly song from Hannah Montana: The Movie, back when Miley Cyrus was normal.

It may be several months before we get to see real butterflies again, but hopefully this list will hold you until then!

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

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To watch the world outside a shell,
One window in a tiny cell—
Is this mere pain or is this hell?

‘Tis hell if I but make it so.
While others pity, I must know
That self alone brings spirits low.

From out my shell, my soul must fly
Through fancy, passion, mind, and eye
Before my body dares to die.

I’d view the lives of others crossed
By tragedy and tempest-tossed,
And value things they have not lost.

The world is cruel, yet majesty
Is found in places hard to see,
And both extremes have staggered me.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for two brief scenes with topless women)

There are some movies that remind you how blessed you are and how grateful you ought to be. Films like Cast Away and Room show us people deprived of life as usual, and things once taken for granted gain far greater value when they are reclaimed. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly may lack such recovery of normal life, yet the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby made me value everything he lost so suddenly.

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Formerly the editor of Elle magazine, Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) suffered a sudden stroke in 1995, awakening after a twenty-day coma to discover that his entire body was paralyzed except for his left eye, a rare condition called “locked-in syndrome.” The film begins as he wakes up, and the camera’s first-person view lets the audience hear Bauby’s thoughts and see what he sees. It reminded me a lot of the season 7 M*A*S*H episode “Point of View,” where the audience sees the typical M*A*S*H operations through the eyes of a wounded soldier. As in that episode, doctors and visitors speak directly to the camera, delivering bad news and hollow encouragement alike. Although flashbacks and third-person views are more prevalent later on, a good chunk of the film is furnished through Bauby’s perspective, which is uncannily effective, such as when the screen blinks to portray Bauby’s only means of communication or when his right eyelid is unnervingly sewn shut to prevent infection.

I can envision a present-day version of this story turning into a pro-euthanasia tale bemoaning his pitiful quality of life, but The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is thankfully instead a reminder of the humanity hidden behind Bauby’s withered form. Amalric does a fine job, both in the pre-stroke sequences and his rigid paralysis afterward, managing to convey emotion with just one eye, even more minimalist acting than Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Hearing his thoughts reminds us that there is still an active mind behind the expressionless face, one able to think, compose, regret, gripe, and even laugh at himself now and then. At one point, Bauby does wish for death, only to have his nurse scold him for even considering it, urging him to remember everyone who still cares about him. Plus, despite being called a vegetable, he shows the initiative of writing the memoir on which the film is based, dictated a letter at a time by blinking with a special alphabet method and a very patient nurse. Although he points out the ineffectiveness of prayers offered for him by his children and various religious groups, even Bauby ends up acknowledging the reality of miracles.

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The other actors playing friends, loved ones, and nurses are also phenomenal, from Emmanuelle Seigner as the still-devoted mother of Bauby’s children (whom he regrets not marrying) to Anne Consigny and Marie-Josée Croze as his faithful nurses/therapists. Moving comparisons are made between Bauby’s situation and that of a friend who was imprisoned by terrorists, as well as of his apartment-bound father (Max von Sydow), and an indirect phone call between Bauby and his father is particularly emotional.

I’m typically not a fan of films like this with artsy editing and high-minded metaphors, but it doesn’t come off as pretentious here. There’s plenty of symbolic imagery, like collapsing ice-shelves or the diving suit and butterfly of the title, which seem to represent Bauby’s confinement and the freedom of his imagination, respectively. The Oscar-nominated cinematography is luminous and frequently out of focus when seen through Bauby’s vision, and the first-person views really exhibit the talents of the cast. Bauby’s dream sequences and flashbacks serve more of a purpose than escaping his affliction; they manifest the simple things he once took for granted: a sumptuous meal, a passionate kiss, a mere drive through the countryside, things we forget to value until they’re gone.

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Deservingly nominated for four Oscars, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a paean to life and empathy, to the selflessness of nurses and caretakers, to the bright side of a wretched situation. Despite the sadness of it, the film’s end fosters a unique sense of inspiration, reinforced by the rewound images played over the credits to the song “Ramshackle Day Parade” (worthy of my End Credits Song Hall of Fame). One wonders why such a terrible thing would happen to someone, but the way Bauby’s story ends, I can’t help but wonder if it was simply to supply the world with a much-needed tale of encouragement amid adversity.

Best line: (Roussin) “Hold fast to the human inside of you, and you’ll survive.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
517 Followers and Counting

 

Opinion Battles Round 22 First Choice Halloween Horror Marathon

It may seem a bit late, but don’t forget to vote in Round 22 of Opinion Battles for your favorite film to kick off a Halloween marathon! I picked The Conjuring, a modern classic of horror, but you can plan ahead for next Halloween and vote for your choice, whether obvious or obscure.

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Round 22

First Choice Halloween Horror Marathon

Halloween is here and that means time for a couple of horror rounds, the second question would be, what would you pick first in a horror movie marathon, this question should be everything open to what people do or don’t like in the genre.

If you want to join the next round of Opinion Battles we will be take on What is your Favourite Post-Apocalypse Film, to enter email your choice to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.ukby Saturday 11th November 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Evil Dead

For me I would start with the original Evil Dead, mainly because it offers up a short, gore filled horror experience that can drag our audience in and leave them in shock when needed and leave them in disgust when required, it also introduces us to an iconic horror lead and shows us horror films can…

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

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How primitive we’ll likely seem
To generations yet unborn.
They’ll look at microchips and deem
Them obsolete, as we do steam.
Our present will be like a dream
Before the future’s morn.

I wish that I could see such things,
As interplanetary trips,
And alien discoverings
And cars that fly with plasma wings.
I’d rather see what that dream brings
Than some apocalypse.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

It boggles my mind that people complain about no originality in Hollywood anymore, and then the fifth Transformers film makes millions while Valerian flops. Luc Besson’s French import based on a classic French comic immediately sparked my interest based on the trailer alone, and I knew I had to catch it on the big screen. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is easily one of the most visually imaginative films I’ve seen, resplendent in its CGI-heavy universe that resembles Star Wars, Star Trek, and Avatar on steroids.

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It starts out with one of the rosiest visualizations of first contact ever, a brief but brilliant montage of mankind’s collaborative camaraderie expanding to include thousands of alien races. Centuries in the future, the diverse species of the galaxy will converge aboard the space metropolis of Alpha, and human government agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are tasked with protecting it when a mysterious danger arises. That’s about as general a description I can give, because the plot is fairly simple at its core but so surrounded by frenetic action and less-than-necessary tangents that it seems more complicated than it is. Yes, it probably didn’t need a memory-eating jellyfish or a shape-shifting pole dance, but Luc Besson’s exuberance for his material is obvious and fun in this all-over-the-place approach.

Most of the criticisms aimed at Valerian focus on the casting, and I’ll admit Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne would not have been my first choices to play the two leads. Neither imbues their character with anything very unique, and their personalities are rather flat as a result. Yet I wouldn’t say they were bad but rather passable. There’s nothing overtly mockable in their relationship like Anakin and Padme, and their chemistry and interactions are enough to maintain our interest in everything that happens around them. While Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, and Rutger Hauer show up to lend some brief recognizable star power, the more interesting characters are the CGI alien creations, like the three gremlin-bird-things that wander around trading information like money-grubbing Ferengi. Rihanna as a shapeshifter offers an especially enjoyable addition to the lead duo, though I wish she had had more screen time.

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More than anything else, I enjoyed Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets because it showed me things I’d never even imagined before:  pristine alien beaches for harvesting energy pearls, glowing butterflies you do not want to touch, extra-dimensional shopping malls located in the middle of a desert. For an independent film, the Oscar-worthy visual effects rival anything that Hollywood has put out. The action scenes were spectacularly thrilling, and I didn’t stop to care about the film’s flaws when I was watching Valerian escape from a crime boss through a multi-level alien bazaar while his arm is trapped in another dimension. It was just a fun ride, particularly an extended shot of Valerian bashing through wall after wall of Alpha’s various alien habitats.

I will gladly defend Valerian based on how much it entertained me, and I wouldn’t doubt that it will become a cult classic, not unlike Besson’s other quirky, polarizing sci-fi The Fifth Element. Nevertheless, I’m torn on how to personally rank it because the closer I get to the end of the year, the more I realize I’ll have to remove genuinely good films from my Top 365 list to make room for this year’s additions. At this point, I’m not sure that Valerian warrants that, since I must acknowledge the relative weakness of the characters and plot, including an extended glimpse of life on one alien planet that goes on for too long. Even so, it’s a film I greatly enjoyed and plan to see again soon, so perhaps it will rise further in my estimation after another awesome visit to the future.

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Best line:  (Doghan-Dagui, the three information traders) “We know how humans work. They are all so predictable.”   (Laureline) “Clearly, you have never met a woman.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
517 Followers and Counting

 

A Happy Thanksgiving to all!

It Could Happen to You (1994)

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“If I won the lottery,” so many say.
“If I won the lottery,” oh, what a day!
“The things I would buy and the bills I could pay,
The dreams I could fill and the places I’d stay!”
And that’s why so many will plead and will pray
For six random numbers confirming their luck.

If you won the lottery, what would you do?
If you won the lottery, would it change you?
Dreams can be marvelous when they come true
But often result in more pain than you knew.
While waiting for fortune and fame to break through,
Enjoy life a bit before you’re money-struck.
(And then make it count when you do make a buck.)
_________________

MPAA rating: PG

There’s something refreshingly old-fashioned about It Could Happen to You. For a ‘90s rom-com with Nicolas Cage and Bridget Fonda, I can easily envision a 1940s version with Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson. (It’s easy for me to picture them together after The Glenn Miller Story.) There’s a wholesomeness here that you just don’t see nowadays, strengthened by the “Once upon a time” fairy tale narration by Isaac Hayes.

For all his nuttier roles, Cage is admirably down-to-earth as responsible NYPD officer Charlie Lang, who’s beloved of the whole neighborhood except for his critical wife Muriel (Rosie Perez). Strapped for cash at a diner one day and too upstanding to not leave a tip, he promises down-and-out waitress Yvonne (Bridget Fonda) that he’ll split his lottery ticket with her if he wins. Lo and behold, he does, much to Yvonne’s delight and Muriel’s chagrin. Everyone uses their newfound fortune differently, and it doesn’t take long to see Charlie and Yvonne deserve each other far more than greedy Muriel or Yvonne’s also-greedy husband (a barely recognizable Stanley Tucci).

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Based on and greatly exaggerating a real life story from ten years prior, It Could Happen to You begins with a universal what-if question of winning the lottery and extends that to ask whether Charlie should uphold his promise and how best to wield such riches. We as the audience may not be as humanitarian as Charlie and Yvonne, who freely share their wealth with the less fortunate, but we’re hopefully not as heartless as the scheming Muriel. Most people probably fall somewhere between the two extremes, but seeing them side by side reminds us just how laudable a Charlie or an Yvonne is in this selfish world. Yvonne even points out that, as decent people, they seem to be “freaks” in a place like New York City, but the end suggests that there are far more lovers of decency than the news headlines would have us believe.

Despite having an all-around charm to it, I must admit that It Could Happen to You isn’t very strong in the comedy department. I don’t remember laughing once, though Cage and Fonda largely made up for that with their sweet chemistry. On the other hand, Rosie Perez’s grating voice made her excessively unpleasant, as if the courtroom scenes with her calculating lawyer weren’t enough. Don’t you hate those scenes where some devious lawyer twists the facts to paint the worst possible picture of an innocent defendant who’s too inarticulate to escape being backed into a corner? I do, so the film’s second half was a tad annoying before it bounced back to satisfying.

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With the classic tune “Young at Heart” sung by both Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, the film evokes a vaguely similar tone as Sleepless in Seattle but could have used a more humorous script. Still, lacking much profanity or objectionable content, it’s a reminder that Hollywood once did PG-rated romances just as well as the R-rated ones. Fonda and Cage have rarely been so appealing, and the end is likely to leave you with a smile.

Best line: (Charlie, about Muriel) “It’s like we’re on two different channels now. I’m CNN, and she’s the Home Shopping Network.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
517 Followers and Counting