I Am Mother (2019)

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Mothers care,
And mothers bear
The heavy weight
Of a child’s welfare.

They guard the gate;
They mind and wait
Until that child
Can negotiate

The world so wild
And be exiled
From all that Mother
Once reconciled.
_________________

 
MPAA rating: TV-14 (aka PG-13, mainly due to heavy themes; nothing gratuitous)

It’s a good time to be a fan of science fiction, and Netflix has been supplying a steady stream of it, with I Am Mother immediately catching my eye with its trailer. One part dystopian sci-fi, one part psychological thriller, it’s a futuristic chamber piece that keeps the audience guessing as it asks whether humans or robots are the more trustworthy.

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The film starts with some unknown catastrophe that prompts a robot called Mother (voiced by Rose Byrne) to activate in an underground facility and begin the development of one of thousands of embryos stored there. We then cut to 38 years later, when a girl only referred to as Daughter (Clara Rugaard) grows into a teenager with Mother as her sole teacher and companion. (And if you recognize a discrepancy between the 38-year time skip and the teenage girl, rest assured that there’s a reason.) Daughter, however, entirely trusts and helps Mother, who has warned her of radiation outside, but the arrival of an injured woman (Hilary Swank) who warns her against her robotic guardian throws everything she’s ever known in doubt.

Those who know dystopian fiction might be able to guess the most likely explanation for what’s going on (though perhaps not all of it), but I Am Mother thrives on its atmospheric uncertainty. Mother seems to be a dutiful, even tender parent to Daughter, yet sci-fi has shown us too many times that advanced robotics are rarely sympathetic to mankind. Similarly, Swank as the unnamed woman knows more of the world and shares a common humanity with Daughter, yet she’s a survivor whose motivations are similarly hazy. There are lies and accusations of lies that can’t be proven, forcing Daughter to choose who has her best interest at heart and letting themes of truth, trust, and motherhood play out as only sci-fi can.

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Both Swank and Rugaard are excellent in their roles, while Byrne makes a surprisingly good female HAL, and the effects are every bit as impressive as a big budget Hollywood version of this story might have been. In many ways, it’s a coming-of-age story, one that shatters the Bechdel test while delivering a thriller that may have familiar elements but still delivers on its thought-provoking suspense. There are plenty of Netflix movies that only got there because they wouldn’t make it as a big-screen film, but I Am Mother is not one of them.

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
644 Followers and Counting

 

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Tolkien (2019)

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A story’s source is not alone
The man who put his pen to page,
But every seed his life had sown
Within that man at every age,
His greatest fear, his cruelest pain,
His deepest love, his darkest stain:
These seeds were sown into his brain,
His heart and soul until they bore
A fruit we’d never seen before.
And so, in turn, that story’s sown
More seeds that yet remain unknown.
______________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

As a devoted fan of The Lord of the Rings, I was eagerly awaiting this biopic of J.R.R. Tolkien (played earnestly by Nicholas Hoult), hoping that it would provide some insight into the source of one of fiction’s greatest stories (and my favorite movie of all time). The acting is on point, the period setting is splendidly polished, the emotions are effectively conveyed, and yet Tolkien doesn’t do more than the minimum of what I expected.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with how Tolkien’s early life is recounted, and it actually enlightened me to quite a bit of his history. It covers his courtship of Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), his long-standing love of languages, and his friendships with three other boys who together formed the T.C.B.S., or Tea Club and Barrovian Society, a creative fraternity that clearly echoes the “Seize the day” mentality of Dead Poets Society. The film goes back and forth between these early years and his horrific time during the Battle of the Somme, where he suffers from trench fever and hallucinates fantasy figures on the battlefield.

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It’s all a solid, respectable attempt at providing background for Tolkien the great author, but it also feels manufactured in how it tries to provide context for Tolkien’s works. Early scenes of his youth in bucolic Birmingham do well to remind viewers of the Shire without making it overly clear, but other references aren’t as subtle. (Though I agree with the statement from one of his friends about Wagner’s Ring Cycle that it shouldn’t take six hours to tell a story about a magic ring; it actually takes 9+ hours.) It’s only a matter of time before the T.C.B.S. is referred to as a “fellowship,” and the surreal hallucinations Tolkien has amidst the horrors of World War I serve no discernible purpose but as references to his fantasy and excuses to include some special effects. It also stumbles at times in the presentation of events, such as when Tolkien’s mother suddenly dies with no explanation at all.

I also would have liked more references to Tolkien’s Catholic faith and how it shaped his work, something which director Dome Karukoski supposedly filmed but removed due to test audience feedback. There are welcome touches, such as the inclusion of a crucifix in Tolkien’s battlefield visions, but the film definitely prefers its romantic side, as when Tolkien is told by his friend and guardian Father Francis (Colm Meaney) to stop seeing Edith until he was 21. This is true, but the film’s Tolkien later insists it was a mistake, while the real-life Tolkien said he didn’t regret the decision.

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In its elegant presentation and clear fondness for its subject, Tolkien is a respectable, well-acted biopic that does most of what it sets out to do. Considering the exceptional man and story of its inspiration, though, one would hope it could have been a little more than that.

Best line: (Edith, on Tolkien’s regard for languages) “Things aren’t beautiful because of how they sound. They’re beautiful because of what they mean.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
644 Followers and Counting

 

My Top Twelve Films of 2018

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It may seem past the usual time for such lists, but it’s about time I posted this Top Twelve list of my favorite films from last year. Better late than never, right? After all, it’s never too late for a list. The year 2018 yielded a plethora of sequels, adaptations, and the occasional original story that made it a strong year at the cinema.

You might notice that my choices diverge from the Oscar fodder you’d expect on this kind of list, and that’s because I’ve either not seen it yet (BlacKkKlansman, Roma) or didn’t like it much (First Man, Annihilation). Nevertheless, if you see a movie you liked that isn’t here, feel free to recommend. I’m always on the lookout for hidden gems. Without further ado, let’s start the countdown, first with the runners-up and working our way up to the Top Twelve:

Leave No Trace

Creed II

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Ben Is Back

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

The Hate U Give

Flavors of Youth

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Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

The Bookshop

Mirai

The Endless

Bohemian Rhapsody

Isle of Dogs

Next Gen

Puzzle

Psychokinesis

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Skyscraper

Mortal Engines

A Star Is Born

Crazy Rich Asians

Mary Poppins Returns

Instant Family

Aquaman

Eighth Grade

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Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Beautiful Boy

The Christmas Chronicles

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Commuter

Game Night

Black Panther

Please Stand By

  1. Searching

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Portraying the modern Internet experience in a movie would be hard enough, but doing so while gradually unfolding a mystery and a compelling father-daughter relationship is masterful. Starring John Cho as a dad who searches for clues online to find his missing daughter, Searching makes the most of its creative choice to show everything through a computer screen. It’s hard to imagine this concept being done better.

  1. A Quiet Place

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A monster movie that makes sound itself the enemy, A Quiet Place is proof of the talents of writer/director John Krasinski and his wife Emily Blunt, both playing parents who do everything they can to keep their kids safe during this soundless apocalypse. Even if its plot is a bit too similar to the criminally underrated Hidden, the tension it draws from every scene is palpably effective.

  1. Solo: A Star Wars Story

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I wrote in my review that most seemed to agree that Solo was “not bad,” but I stand by my belief that it deserves “good” status. It may not be the strongest Star Wars movie, but it was better than I expected, especially since it was tasked with recasting two iconic roles. These incarnations of Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are different, but the actors deliver enough swagger to make them close enough interpretations. The worst part is that the film’s underperformance probably means we’ll never get the sequel it sets up.

  1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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It was only last year that I caught up with the Mission: Impossible series, and Fallout continued the upward trend for the series that started with Mission: Impossible III. There seems to be no stopping Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, and the action set pieces never disappoint. I was a tad disappointed with how it resolved the relationship begun in the third film, but Fallout knocked everything else out of the park.

  1. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

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This beautiful anime tearjerker deserved so much more than it got. It may have gotten a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it seems that anyone in charge of awards never heard of it. It couldn’t even get a nomination from the Crunchyroll Awards! This tale of a near-immortal teenage girl who adopts a human baby merges tender maternal themes and a larger fantasy plot, delivering a gut-punch of emotion that left me a sobbing puddle by the end.

  1. Ralph Breaks the Internet

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I loved the first Wreck-It Ralph. My VC did not, but we both agreed that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a great sequel. Between the gloriously shameless product placement of everything Disney owns and the affecting bond between Ralph and Vanellope, this movie’s foray into the highs and lows of Internet culture is both colorfully metaphorical and hugely entertaining.

  1. Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Speaking of hugely entertaining, Ant-Man and the Wasp brought a much smaller (pun intended) adventure to follow up the universe-shaking clash of Infinity War. It often feels more like a family comedy than a superhero actioner, but they blend so well with these characters that I left the theater happy. They don’t all have to be world-ending face-offs.

  1. Green Book

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I still don’t get why Green Book was such a controversial pick for Best Picture, and I’m personally glad that it grabbed the top Academy prize. Race is obviously a sticky subject at this time, but Green Book breathes a good deal of humanity into its depiction of the friendship between New York bouncer Tony “Lip” Vallelonga and black classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley. Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali give outstanding performances that ring true all the way to the satisfying end.

  1. The Incredibles 2

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The Incredibles seemed to be the Pixar movie that most cried out for a sequel, and it only took them fourteen years. This follow-up doesn’t quite match the original, but it’s still a winning mix of familial lessons and superhero action and a welcome revisiting of everyone’s favorite super-family.

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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With so many cinematic versions of Spider-Man, it’s a small miracle that an animated version turned out to be one of the most original movies in recent memory. Into the Spider-Verse not only turned the Spider-Man mythology on its head by using the many versions of the character to its story’s advantage, but it represented those varied incarnations with an eye-popping blend of cutting-edge animation styles.

  1. Ready Player One

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Nostalgia sells these days, especially for the ‘80s, and every aspect of Ready Player One is built on nerdy nostalgia. I loved the book, and while Spielberg’s adaptation takes some liberties with the plot, it’s faithful to its spirit, loaded with Easter eggs that will appeal to geeks everywhere on different levels. The effects and action scenes are outstanding, and it’s easily one of the most entertaining movies of late.

  1. Avengers: Infinity War

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Any longtime reader should not be surprised by my #1. As a Marvel geek, I was right there on opening weekend to watch the beginning of the culmination of the whole MCU, and, like everyone else, I was left reeling by the gut-punch cliffhanger with which Infinity War ended. Yet that didn’t take away from the fact that it was also the biggest, most bombastic spectacle Marvel had yet delivered, and while I said then my continued appreciation would hinge on how well Endgame stuck the landing, I was thrilled and satisfied that it did. It seems so many are getting sick of superhero movies, but I’m still “marveling” at the awesomeness that Marvel has wrought.

So ends my Top Twelve Films of 2018, and thanks to anyone who bothered to read my absurdly late ranking. Now over halfway through 2019, I already have some ideas for this year’s Top Twelve, but it’s too early now. I ought to wait till at least next July. 😉

Puzzle (2018)

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Gather the pieces and put them together,
Grouped by the borders, the colors, the shapes,
Every last piece is reliant on whether
You’ll strive to the end or accept sour grapes.

People and puzzles begin as mere pieces
And wait for the day they at last are complete.
The one who assembles, refusing to cease, is
The one satisfied at the end of the feat.
____________________

MPAA rating:  R (solely for intermittent profanity)

I don’t recall which post it was, but I remember saying at some point that there would inevitably be a movie for every conceivable contest out there, and sure enough, here’s one featuring a national jigsaw puzzle tournament. As someone who used to love puzzles and put together 1000-piece pictures with the best of them, I had special interest in this movie’s subject, and it turned out to be a quietly likable little film.

Kelly Macdonald (known to me as the voice of Merida in Brave, though she effortlessly sheds her Scottish accent here) plays a soft-spoken Catholic housewife named Agnes. We get an excellent, largely wordless view of her character and life as she hosts her own birthday party, preparing the cake and cleaning up herself, all with patience and an occasional sigh. Yet when she opens one of her gifts and assembles the jigsaw puzzle inside, she discovers a latent talent that is all her own, leading her to step out from the shadow of her family life and start training with the wealthy and misanthropic Robert (Irrfan Khan), a professional puzzler in need of a partner for an upcoming puzzle contest.

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Puzzle’s greatest strength is its characterization. As I said, it sets up Agnes’s situation with a brilliant lack of exposition, showing rather than telling, and her demure, self-effacing nature is a sharp contrast to the eccentricities of her puzzle partner. Agnes’s husband Louie (David Denman) is also a complex figure. At times, he seems like an inconsiderate boor, expecting her to always have dinner ready and balking at any change to their normal lives, but it’s simply what he, as well as Agnes up to that point, had always known. And plenty of other scenes make it clear that he loves Agnes and is willing to change for her, just not always in the most tactful of ways. It would have been so easy to slap these characters onscreen without the nuance, but I enjoyed the character depth delivered by talented actors.

Nevertheless, I was somewhat disappointed by the direction of Agnes’ self-awakening, specifically (spoiler alert) that her relationship with Robert inevitably evolved into an affair. While I appreciated her eventual decision, I’ve always felt the same way about stories where someone turns back only after a sexual fling. Films like Witness, Ida, and this one are well-made and relatable, but it feels like the ultimate decision toward orthodoxy loses some of its power after they’ve already transgressed. On top of that, the ending here is a little too open-ended for me. Like I Am Legend, this is another case where I prefer the alternate ending to the actual one, or even better, some combination of the two.

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Puzzle came close to being a favorite, but it fell just a little short. The characters were empathetic and well-written, and I certainly loved the puzzle subject matter and its message of why puzzles themselves are so appealing. I also liked its rare positive portrayal of Agnes’ Catholic faith, though I wish they could have delved further into how that faith was affected by her new sense of self. It’s an engaging indie that just might awaken (or re-awaken) the desire to assemble a puzzle of your own.

Best line: (Robert, to Agnes, whom he calls Mata) “Life’s just random. Everything’s random. My success, you here now. There’s nothing we can do to control anything. But when you complete a puzzle, when you finish it, you know that you have made all the right choices. No matter how many wrong pieces you tried to fit into a wrong place, but at the very end, everything makes one perfect picture. What other pursuits can give you that kind of perfection? Faith? Ambition? Wealth? Love? No. Not even love can do that, Mata. Not completely.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
643 Followers and Counting

 

Detective Pikachu (2019)

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If Pokemon really existed, as shown,
Which creature would you want to claim as your own?

A friendly Charmander with flame on its tail?
A giant Wailord? (Let’s be real: it’s a whale.)

A psychic Kadabra to bend all your spoons?
Or maybe some ghostly balloon-like Drifloons?

If you’ve a green thumb, then Sunflora earns smiles,
And Ursaring’s cute…when they’re still juveniles.

I’d love a Sandslash to dig holes with aplomb,
But perhaps you’d prefer the more handy Aipom?

A Seel or a Spheal would be (honestly) cool,
But know that for water types, you’ll need a pool.

If you need sleep, Jigglypuff’s known for its pipes,
And Eevee has options for multiple types.

Oh, come now, you must want at least one of these?
Arcanines? Kirlias? Sweet Caterpies?

What’s that? You say none of these names ring a bell?
You only know Pikachu then? Very well,
I shouldn’t be “shocked” since that mouse sure can sell.
_______________________

MPAA rating:  PG

Who would have thought that a live-action Pokémon movie would be the first film based on a video game to be deemed “Fresh” by Rotten Tomatoes, even if it is only at 67%? There was something about the trailers for this movie that strangely fascinated me. I don’t know if it was the faithfully rendered CGI pocket monsters or the casting of Ryan Reynolds as a talking Pikachu or just the inclusion of “Holding Out for a Hero,” since I love that song. But whatever it was, I had unusually high hopes for Detective Pikachu, and thankfully it did not disappoint this nostalgic fan.

While I was once an avid Pokémon player, I never played the Detective Pikachu spinoff game, so I didn’t have any preconceptions about the plot.  Justice Smith of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Paper Towns (remember the Pokémon scene?) plays Tim Goodman, a young man with no interest in Pokémon who is nonetheless drawn into a mystery involving the powerful Mewtwo, his missing father, and his dad’s mysteriously talkative Pikachu. Plotwise, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but the mystery had enough twists and turns to be engaging and even some decent heart by the end. All the actors, from Bill Nighy as a wealthy industrialist to Kathryn Newton as an intrepid reporter named Lucy, give their utmost to the sometimes hammy proceedings, but Reynolds is clearly the source of star power, making the most of the script’s funny double entendres (aside from an eye-rollingly dumb gag about climate change).

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I find it funny that there was such backlash against the “creepy” look of the live-action-ish Pokémon, because the effects are top-notch. It’s not easy for creatures with otherworldly powers and body proportions to look ostensibly real, but the effects team did an excellent job at bringing the 2D characters into furry, feathery, scaly life, as well as integrating them with the actual live-action characters and action scenes. It didn’t take long to get used to the visual style, making it just one of the film’s strengths. (On a side note, I was delighted that Kygo and Rita Ora contributed the song “Carry On,” which deserves placement in my End Credits Song Hall of Fame. Boy, that list needs some updating.)

The story doesn’t dwell on the whole “gotta catch ‘em all” motif, instead setting the action in a metropolis of peaceful coexistence, not unlike Zootopia. While the creatures are commonplace and treated as both partners and near-sentient wildlife, I wish there were even more of them on display. I fell away from the franchise after Generation IV, and with the mix of newer and older Pokémon featured, I’ll admit there were several I didn’t recognize. Yet, there were also plenty of originals for us original fans, from Charizard to Psyduck to an evolving Eevee (even the original Pokémon theme song too), so I commend the filmmakers for their equitable fan service.

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I doubt those with no history with the Pokémon franchise will enjoy this movie as much as I did, but there’s still enough fun and creature cuteness/coolness to appeal to everyone on some level. And if I’d seen this as a kid, I would absolutely love it to pieces! As it is, Detective Pikachu proved to be a thoroughly endearing piece of effects-heavy family fun, especially for those who were ever in its target demographic. Luckily, that includes me.

Best line: (Lucy, describing a potential lead) “Down by the docks. Rough part of town, not the sorta place you wanna visit alone at night.”   (Tim, trying to impress her) “Well, I’m actually pretty good at being alone at night.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up (could go up with future watches)

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
642 Followers and Counting

 

2019 Blindspot Pick #6: Amadeus (1984)

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How must it be to be a genius,
Masterpieces to be mined
In the mind,
Unrefined,
And so gradually defined
In an act of new creation
Not unlike how God designed?

Oh, to birth such instant classics,
Such a rare, eternal prize!
Oh, what highs
In human eyes,
We crave as we mythologize,
And what despair we suffer when
Our limits cut us down to size.

Comparisons are no avail
If we’re defined by how we fail.
______________________

MPAA rating: PG for the original, R for the Director’s Cut, due to brief language and nudity

For me, Amadeus is the perfect candidate for a Blindspot pick. I’ve been putting it off for far too long, even getting it from the library a while ago and letting it sit around until I had to return it. On top of that, I kept being reminded of it; the recent anime Steins;Gate 0 had an AI called Amadeus and explicitly referenced the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, and I also just rediscovered the classic ‘80s tune “Rock Me Amadeus” by Falco, inspired by this film. I even got a recent Final Jeopardy question wrong because I didn’t realize Amadeus was based on a play, making it perfect for MovieRob’s Genre Grandeur this month as well. Thus, at long last, it seemed only right to watch the Best Picture of 1984, since I was clearly being pointed toward it.

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Winner of eight Oscars, Amadeus is a powerhouse for both acting and music. For his role of Salieri, F. Murray Abraham deservingly won the Oscar for Best Actor, ironically defeating Tom Hulce as his unwitting rival Mozart. Salieri is a tortured soul, deranged and aged far past his prime when the film opens in 1823, and tells a priest of how his classical musical career was overshadowed by the flippant but undeniable talent of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Hulce portrays Mozart as a frivolous man-child, a “creature” as Salieri refers to him, whose high-pitched laugh grows increasingly annoying, yet the elder composer recognizes Mozart’s gift and blames God for leaving Salieri so comparatively untalented. Both performances are brilliantly nuanced, especially by the tragic end, but the Academy chose right that year.

Yet the music is just as much a character as the dueling composers. As Salieri points out early on, everyone recognizes Mozart’s best work, and his best work is put on full display, with even extended stage performances from opera like The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni. (I watched Milos Forman’s Director’s Cut.) Lovers of classical music will revel in the score, but even non-fans will likely appreciate watching the inception of masterpieces that have stood the test of time.

While I recognize the film as a magnum opus for everyone involved, there’s something that bugs me and keeps it from ranking among my favorites. It may seem shallow or unsympathetic, but as I watched Salieri spiral into a tortured wretch of envy, cursing God for giving Mozart the talent he craved for himself, I just wanted to slap him and say “Get over it!” It’s drama, and I know such unbridled jealousy does happen, but I hate when people compare themselves to others because no matter how good you are at anything, there will always be someone better. Salieri had a high-profile position, money, and respect, and instead of viewing Mozart as a colleague, however vulgar he may have been, he made him the source of an inferiority complex, ultimately contributing to his ruin, for which Salieri received nothing but guilt. He may have blamed God, but the fault was his own. It’s a marvelously complicated portrayal of destructive envy that nonetheless frustrated me almost as much as Mozart’s laugh.

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Looking back, 1984 was undoubtedly one of the big movie years in history, and it says a lot that Amadeus was able to sweep the Oscars that year, winning Best Picture, Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup, and Sound. Impeccably mounted in its 18th/19th-century setting, it’s an overly long but outstanding period piece conveying a historic rivalry that, while fictionalized, still resonates.

Best line: (Salieri) “All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing… and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn’t want me to praise Him with music, why implant the desire, like a lust in my body, and then deny me the talent?”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
642 Followers and Counting

 

Gremlins Review: Christmas in July Blogathon 2019

‘Tis the season for Christmas in July, and more specifically Drew’s Christmas in July Blogathon, which just wrapped up. My contribution this year was the classic ’80s film Gremlins, which was more Christmas-y than I remembered. Check out the other contributions this year, and thanks again to Drew for hosting the party!

Drew's Movie Reviews

Hello, friends!

We have now crossed the halfway point of this year’s Christmas in July blogathon! SG from Rhyme and Reason is going to wrap-up day three. SG combines his two passions, film and poetry, to create truly unique reviews. He also loves a good list so you will find plenty of them on his site. Have a look after checking out his review of the non-traditional Christmas classic Gremlins.


‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the town,
Small creatures were stirring and scurrying round.
They once had been furry;
They once had been cute,
But now they were scaly, and evil to boot!

Because of one snack
After midnight had chimed,
The work of one boy who had gravely mistimed,
These creatures were rampant
And running amok,
And now the whole town had the awfulest luck.

The stop lights were blinking,
Car brake lines were cut,

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The Sunshine Blogger Award!

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It’s been a while since I got to post something like this, but it’s my honor to accept the Sunshine Blogger Award, courtesy of Christian from AniBProductions. Thanks, Christian! And I highly recommend others check out his animation blog, which posts great character pieces and reviews of animated shows, both East and West. According to the rules of this award, I should:

  1. Thank the nominator and include a link to their blog
  2. Answer the eleven questions they asked
  3. Nominated eleven more bloggers for the award and ask them eleven questions as well
  4. Comment on one of their blog posts to alert them to their nomination
  5. List the rules and the Sunshine Blogger Award logo (that’s two already done!)

 

So on then to the questions!

 

  1. What’s one animated show you’ve watched that you didn’t expect you’d like going into the watch, but wound up really enjoying? (It can be anime or Western animation.)

 

I suppose this could apply to a show that is outside my usual preferences, which typically involve sci-fi. I’ve always steered clear of zombie movies, so I was hesitant about the series Gakkou Gurashi, or School Live! Yet I ended up loving it and even crying by the end. Likewise, I wasn’t much interested in the ultra-violent gangster trappings of Baccano, but its story and characters made it a surprisingly fun watch.

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  1. Sports fans are everywhere, so if you’re a sports fan, who’s your favorite team and if so, why?

 

Sadly, I’m not much of a sports fan. In fact, the Super Bowl and the Wimbledon finals are basically the only sports I actively watch all year. What football teams I favor were inherited from my parents, so I typically root for the Redskins, Steelers, Cowboys, and Dolphins, although I’ve also cheered for the Seahawks for no other reason than to be different.

 

  1. What’s the best thing you ever ate?

 

Boy, that’s tough. There was a corn and trout chowder I had in the North Georgia mountains that has always stuck in my head as truly exceptional, and I still pine after a horseshoe sandwich I tried in Chicago. (For those who don’t know, a horseshoe is an Illinois delicacy of toast, meat, fries, and cheese sauce; pardon my drool.)

 

  1. Name a popular series that you disliked, contrary to most people’s opinions?

 

I’ve had a pretty good record of watching shows I at least somewhat liked, but I was definitely disappointed in the anime Angel Beats. It has this huge reputation as an all-time favorite tear-jerker, yet I was annoyed at how rushed the series was. It certainly has its strengths, but not enough of its huge cast got any kind of real character development, and the gut punch twist at the end just left me confused at its lack of logic.

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  1. Is there a city, place, or a country you’d really like to visit on a vacation?

 

I’ve always dreamed of doing a tour of Europe, from England to Germany to Italy to Switzerland and France. Oh, and I’d love to do the Lord of the Rings tour down in New Zealand and visit all the filming locations.

 

  1. What’s that one show or movie you always intended to see or watch, but never got to yet?

 

I’ve actually got my Blindspot series to catch up on movies that fit this description, and there are plenty more for future years, though I’m making progress. As for series, I have yet to see why Code Geass or Breaking Bad are so popular. One of these days…

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  1. Books or video games?

 

I’ve got barely enough time for blogging, so both have fallen by the wayside recently, but, as a lover of literature, I tend to make some time at least for books.

 

  1. Since I liked this one from TPAB a lot, your guilty pleasure movie/anime/series?

 

For anime, that would have to be Girls und Panzer, which is ridiculous fun combining high school girls and tank war games, but I also could mention the English dub of Ghost Stories, which has become famous for its parody-level sense of humor and ad-libbing, like if the characters from Mystery Science Theater 3000 wrote the official dub. It’s highly politically incorrect, and whether you’re black, Jewish, Christian, gay, or dead, there’s bound to be something that will offend you, but it can also be darn funny.

As for movie, a Canadian comedy called Roller Town also fits that description. So bad, you feel guilty about it, but laugh anyway.

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  1. If you had a dream job, what would it be? (And if you already have it, share it!)

 

I recently settled into a tech job that I honestly love doing more than any job I’ve had thus far, but my biggest dream job I think would be an actual film reviewer for an official website or publication.

 

  1. Ok, one fun theoretical setting question: A school relay competition is held between Kunugigaoka Junior High’s Class 3-E (Assassination Classroom), U.A. High School’s Class 1-A (My Hero Academia) and Luna Nova Academy’s girls (Little Witch Academia). The objective is to use teamwork to move a baton about a mile and a half (or 1.6 km) to a finish line, and the course is lined with dense forest. Who wins, and why?

 

I think my vote would go to U.A. High, simply because of the many unique skill sets in My Hero Academia, which have been used in races before. Keep in mind that Kunugigaoka’s class members are entirely normal humans so that puts them at a disadvantage, and I just think that superheroes would edge out magic users.

 

  1. What inspired you to be a writer and/or a blogger?

 

I’d always enjoyed movies and lists and writing poetry, and even compiled a list of my top 365 favorite films long before I considered blogging about it. After a failed attempt at starting a hot dog cart business (trust me, it’s harder than it looks!), it was suggested that I try my hand at combining all the things I loved into a blog and counting down that top 365 with a poem and a review over a year’s time. That was back in 2014, and while my productivity has waxed and waned over the years, I’m still here, enjoying this creative outlet with so many others.

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Now on to my questions!

 

  1. If you could prevent any single Hollywood/entertainment tragedy from occurring, which would it be?
  2. If you’ve seen any anime (series or film), which is your favorite?
  3. If you could live in any cinematic world, what would it be?
  4. If the world was ending and you could only save three songs in the history of the planet, what would they be?
  5. What’s a movie that you absolutely hate while others love it?
  6. What’s a movie that you absolutely love while others hate it?
  7. Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?
  8. With what animated character do you most identify?
  9. Someone tells you that animation is just for kids and shouldn’t be taken as seriously as live-action. How do you respond?
  10. Plain water is suddenly the only liquid available to drink in the world. How do you and the world respond?
  11. If you could break any Guinness world record, what would you want it to be?

And lastly the lucky victims bloggers who get to answer the above questions, if they so choose, and accept the Sunshine Blogger baton. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they already have a few awards to their name.)

Vegan Children’s Stories

Sci-Fi Jubilee

Rachel’s Reviews

Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

Keithgarretpoetry

Movies and Songs 365

PeggyAtTheMovies

Often Off Topic

Tranquil Dreams

Not quite eleven, but I’m aiming for quality over quantity. And of course, anyone else who wants to is welcome to answer them as well. I’d love to hear as many answers as possible! Thanks again to AniBProductions for kindly bestowing this award on my humble blog!

Apollo 11 (2019) / For All Mankind (1989)

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A lonely halo is the moon,
A muse for which romantics croon,
And nobody is quite immune
From such a storied, distant sphere.

Upon its face, mankind has walked,
From which the moon no doubt was shocked,
For how could men have flown and docked
Upon this pioneering pier?

And now, alone again, the moon
Has only space for its commune
And wonders if we’ll come back soon
To face and further its frontier.
_____________________

MPAA rating for Apollo 11:  G
MPAA rating for For All Mankind:  Not Rated (G is fine)

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years to the day since man first landed on the moon. Those familiar with this blog probably already know that my family has a personal connection to the space program, my grandfather having worked for NASA from 1955 to 1973 and my mother working for NASA contractors during the space shuttle program. That personal connection heightens even more my appreciation for the spectacular feat of engineering and cooperation that was the Apollo 11 mission, a mission depicted in several documentaries, two of which seemed perfect to review today.

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Both documentaries were released as anniversary retrospectives, 1989’s For All Mankind on the 20th anniversary of the first moon landing, and this year’s Apollo 11 for the 50th anniversary. Both films are entirely archival, made up of actual footage from the Apollo program, though For All Mankind also features voiceovers from interviews with the astronauts. While they both follow the same structure and even share a few of the same shots, both are exceptional in different ways.

Apollo 11 has been making the rounds on TV and theaters, raking in acclaim along the way. It’s an excellent account of the mission, from the monumental launch of the Saturn V rocket as crowds of onlookers marveled from a distance to the tense landing sequence plagued by false alarms. Its best aspect is the visual restoration of the footage, which now lacks any trace of the age inherent to film from 50 years ago. As with Peter Jackson’s They Will Not Grow Old, the footage looks fresh and recent, making every moment feel immediate and much more real than some ancient faded images.

The only drawback for me was how strictly archival the film was, without any narration or sound other than what was filmed. This made several extended scenes of space borderline boring; while the spacecraft’s staggering speeds and dwindling fuel gauge were added for the sake of context and danger (with far-too-small captions), interest definitely depends on how mentally engaged the viewer is, since there isn’t always much happening visually.

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Interestingly, after taking 10 years for its assembly and release, For All Mankind had the same issue, originally compiled from old NASA footage without voiceover, only for director Al Reinert to add in interviews based on audience feedback. I thought these interviews added a lot to the film, providing insight directly from those who lived these missions, including Jim Lovell, Michael Collins, and Jack Swigert. You might have noticed that not all of them were on the Apollo 11 mission; that’s because For All Mankind, despite being edited to look like one mission from start to finish, is actually a compilation of all the Apollo moon missions, with a little Gemini thrown in.

The footage may not have the crispness of Apollo 11, but I found that For All Mankind offered far more unique and memorable scenes that I had never seen before: an astronaut making a sandwich in zero gravity, a montage of astronauts playing and repeatedly falling over on the moon, David Scott of Apollo 15 dropping a feather and a hammer to prove Galileo’s theory of gravity correct. I only wish there were some captions or on-screen notes saying which mission each clip was from and which interviewee was speaking during the voiceovers. For All Mankind may not be as detailed as Apollo 11 (the Apollo 13 disaster is glossed over in a matter of minutes), but I thought it offered a more engaging history lesson than the more recent film, ending with a touching tribute to the space program’s casualties, both American and Russian. It’s up there with the best documentaries I’ve seen.

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Now fifty from that historic day, it’s equally hard to believe that we haven’t been back to the moon in over 46 years since then. I realize some may view space exploration as an impractical pursuit, but Apollo 11 was an amazing moment in human history, and I sincerely hope that the spirit of dreaming and daring that made it possible will again yield fruit and prove what mankind is capable of accomplishing. In the meantime, we at least have some great documentaries (which I recommend far more than last year’s First Man) to remind us of our past achievements and perhaps renew that same spirit.

Best line, not counting the really famous quotes: (from For All Mankind, summing up how all this was possible) “We are all in this together as a team effort. We’re gonna make it work, and I don’t know how to make it work; I don’t know how to do most of this mission, but I do know that I can assure you that my piece of it is gonna work, and it won’t fail because of me.”

Rank (using thumbs for documentaries):

Apollo 11 – One thumb up, one thumb down
For All Mankind – Two thumbs up

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
636 Followers and Counting

 

The Bookshop (2018)

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A bookshop contains many shelves-worth of portals
To lives and to lands unexplored by mere mortals,
Until they are cracked and the pages are spread
To reveal a new world that takes shape as it’s read.

I grieve at the thought that these hubs of insight
Are losing appeal as the futures ignite,
And though that may happen, my shelves are well-stocked
With worlds and their doors that still wait to be knocked.
___________________

MPAA Rating:  PG

Some movies come and go without making a splash, but I don’t think this one even made a ripple, at least in the U.S., which is a shame. Based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1978 novel, The Bookshop is a Spanish-British-German co-production that fits into an all-too rare genre: the quiet literature-lover’s drama. It’s funny that the 56% Rotten Tomatoes synopsis specifically criticizes its “meandering pace,” since my VC and I thought that was one of its strengths, and anyone who liked 84 Charing Cross Road or The Book Thief will likely agree.

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Emily Mortimer plays Florence Green, a widow who tries to make a fresh start by opening a bookshop in the small English seaside town of Hardborough in 1959. She starts to make unexpected connections with a young assistant (Honor Kneafsey) and the town’s book-loving recluse (Bill Nighy), but her use of what is called the Old House draws the ire of a local wealthy socialite (Patricia Clarkson), who wants to use it as an art center. None of the performances are showy, but they’re all quiet and believable, with Mortimer and Nighy in particular fostering a rare, subdued chemistry.

The Bookshop is simple but heartfelt, and the quaint setting and provincial townsfolk lend themselves to a fond sense of yesteryear, even if it also highlights how quietly cruel the world can be. As much as I enjoyed the bulk of the film, its ending is depressing and less than satisfying in its lack of detail; I suspect the same is true for the source material, but it’s a strong story in desperate need of an epilogue. Yet these kinds of book-lovers’ movies are infrequent enough that I can forgive its flaws. Like You’ve Got Mail and 84 Charing Cross Road, its eloquent affinity for literature is bittersweet and worth cherishing. (Plus, it really makes me want to check out the work of Ray Bradbury.)

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Best lines:  (Mr. Brundish, played by Nighy) “In the case of biographies, it’s better, I find, if they’re about good people, whereas novels are much more interesting if they are about nasty people.”

and

(Mr. Brundish, to Clarkson’s Mrs. Gamart) “Old age is not the same thing as historical interest. Otherwise, you and I would be far more interesting than we are.”

 

Rank:  List Runner-Up

 

© 2019 S.G. Liput
636 Followers and Counting