King of Thorn (2010)

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The world was collapsing
With panic forecast
And death in the news everyday,
Yet we were persuaded
That one short sleep passed
Would sweep the dark future away.

We woke to a nightmare
More dire than the last,
Confronted and hunted and trapped.
We slept to thwart death,
Which would not be outclassed
By sleepers with secrets untapped.
________________

MPAA rating: Not Rated (should be R)

One movie-watching emotion that I especially love and rarely get the chance to experience is the feeling of having my mind blown. The best example I can point to for that would be Inception, and to a lesser extent The Prestige, both Christopher Nolan features with unspoiled twists and a provocative narrative boldness. All too often the twist is either spoiled for me (Predestination, The Sixth Sense) or it’s not all that surprising (The Usual Suspects, Interstellar), so when a film provides me with that rare blend of shock and wonder, I treasure it. King of Thorn did just that.

I had heard that this anime film was a combination of Inception, Aliens, and Lost, and…that’s exactly what it is, with a little Matrix and Akira thrown in for good measure. In the first scene, we see a woman commit suicide by jumping off a building, but when she lands, her body shatters, revealing the effects of a new fatal disease dubbed the Medusa virus. This plague that turns humans to stone quickly becomes a worldwide pandemic; in response, the Venus Gate organization selects 160 infected individuals to be put into a Cold Sleep until a cure can be found. When the diverse group is awakened from stasis, surrounded by thorny vines, a horde of monsters attacks them, thinning the herd (not unlike the plane crash at the beginning of Lost) in a scene sure to make you even more afraid of falling down an elevator shaft. Only seven survive, including timid Kasumi, who had to leave her twin sister behind and now must survive with the others and escape from this nightmare.

Now the typical viewer might think that they slept in stasis for hundreds of years to awaken in a post-apocalyptic future, and that’s actually exactly what the characters assume at first. But let’s just say there’s more to it, a lot more. Almost every character has a secret or a past trauma, and the plot twists just keep coming. Like Lost, the film even teases suggestions of what is really going on. Is all of this a dream? Did Kasumi and her sister somehow switch places? There’s no way I’m going to spoil it, though, and I guarantee you that you’ll be kept guessing right up to the last ten minutes.

Because King of Thorn is so packed with plot, from repeated flashbacks that slowly reveal more to overly explanatory references to Sleeping Beauty, it’s not surprising that not everything gets a resolution. Some plot points are dropped without a second glance, and the ending doesn’t even try to address a major uncertainty. Plus, even if I think I understand how everything came about, I’m not sure I get why it all happened the way it did, perhaps due to the significant omissions from the manga the film is based upon (which everyone who’s read it seems to agree is better than the film). Yet the fast-paced action and thought-provoking narrative made up for these faults. If you’re one of those people who hated all the loose threads in Lost, King of Thorn will leave you equally perplexed; but I for one didn’t mind at all, and I know quite a few friends and fellow bloggers who would find this film fascinating. I’ve already introduced it to a friend of mine, and he loved it.

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On the down side, it’s a film worthy of an R rating, with gruesome killings and a little nudity toward the end. Yet, the gore was far from constant, and like Aliens, it’s the kind of violence one can easily see coming and just turn away from at the right moment. At least, that’s what I did. As for the question of whether to see the subtitled or dubbed version, both have their strengths. The English dub features accents that make it clear that the survivors are from around the world (British, Italian, American, Australian), but it also has the foul language one would expect from an R-rated horror thriller. If you care about avoiding profanity, the original subtitles have far less.

Despite the few negatives, King of Thorn is an exceptional sci-fi thriller that played with my mind in the best way and even managed to touch the heart. The cast of characters are all unique and sympathetic as their back stories are clarified, and the music adds to an epic sense of mystery, especially in the early scenes. (The song “Edge of This World” also earns entrance to the End Credits Song Hall of Fame.) The animation beautifully brought to life both the thrilling and the grotesque, and even if some might complain about the occasional merging of 2D and 3D animation in the action scenes, I didn’t find it distracting. In the days since I first saw it, King of Thorn has only risen in my estimation, and while it might further mess up my original Top Twelve Anime List, I think I’ve got another favorite to add.

Best line: (Marco) “Even if you’re overcome by unspeakable loneliness, endure it and encourage someone who can follow where you left off.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
404 Followers and Counting

 

Casino Royale (2006) / Quantum of Solace (2008)

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An agent of will
With a license to kill
And a suavity sporting equivalent skill
With word or with fist
And a need to be kissed
Is an asset the British are brandishing still.

Yet even James Bond,
Whether black-haired or blonde,
Has the human weakness to grow overly fond.
Such a passionate path
Leads to rancor and wrath
In the cruel aftermath and the danger beyond.
__________________

MPAA rating for both: PG-13

I’ve never been particularly well-versed in the James Bond franchise. Although I didn’t grow up in the ‘80s, I was first introduced to Roger Moore as 007 so he’s always been my preferred Bond. Yet whether he’s played by Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan, what’s there to know? He’s a dashingly handsome British spy with gadgets, who thwarts international villains while bedding international women. With such a simple premise and narrative room for plenty else, the franchise has been content churning out stand-alone features with mainly Bond and his superiors M and Q (and occasionally a villain) as the constants, even if they’ve been recast over the decades.

Thus, when I finally decided to give my attention to Daniel Craig’s now-ended run as Bond, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale, I was surprised to see that the filmmakers went with a more overarching storyline, continuing into Craig’s second film Quantum of Solace. Resurrecting Bond from the campiness of the Moore and Brosnan years, Casino Royale serves as a sort of origin story for the famous agent, even depicting how he obtained his Aston Martin; we still know little of his early years, but witnessing the beginning of his 00 career provides a larger context for Bond himself.

Craig plays the character with grim determination and only a sliver of the charm of past Bonds. He’s certainly skilled at the no-nonsense side of the job, but while his emotions do simmer beneath the spy façade, I still find him rather deadpan, even in the plaintive scenes. The always good Judi Dench as M is the only connection to past Bond films, and her scolding mother-style relationship with Bond provides a pleasant friction to the proceedings, since this less-experienced Bond is prone to rash decisions and unintended force.

Casino Royale sees Bond match wits with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a banker for terrorists who is pushed into holding a high-stakes poker tournament in Montenegro to satisfy his debts. Tagging along to advise and assist are Mathis (Giancarlo Giannini) and the beautiful treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a Bond girl whose relationship with Bond starts off with cold barbs but takes them both much further than one would expect from the famous womanizer.

The brisk action, cracking dialogue, and slick intrigue are the strongest elements, especially a thrilling “gotcha” struggle with a bomber at an airport runway, but Casino Royale takes a left turn in showing Bond truly in love rather than the usual lust, even being willing to quit MI6. Once things settle down after the card game, we get an unexpected amount of romantic bliss right before the climax. It certainly shows a different side to Bond, but it also interferes with the pacing that one would expect from a 007 movie. The final scene does make up for it, though, ending with a perfect lead-in for the subsequent film.

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Quantum of Solace picks up right there, not with further adventures in the meantime but right after Casino Royale. That makes it the only Bond film I can think of that will leave viewers seriously confused if they haven’t seen its predecessor. For most Bond films, certain characters rather than events are the touchstones, yet here both are equally important. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Quantum of Solace is considered Craig’s weakest outing; by no means is it a bad film, but if one goes into this Bond movie expecting a self-contained plot, they will be disappointed. Yet for someone like me who loves continuity and didn’t have to wait two years between watching the two, I actually found Quantum of Solace better in some regards.

The most notable improvement is the pacing. It feels more like a James Bond outing, just with the action levels ratcheted up to eleven, making Quantum supposedly the most violent of any Bond movie. There are car chases, foot chases, boat chases, plane chases, Bond chasing others, others chasing Bond. The set pieces are thrilling, and Craig’s Bond continues to be a respectable combination of tough and clever, even if he has a problem with killing potential suspects. The character and plot holdovers from Casino Royale add to the story, and as the mysterious Quantum organization and its conspiracies are discovered, the vendettas pile up, both for Bond and for Bolivian companion Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko).

Despite the introduction of the still-enigmatic Quantum, I will admit that the plot is downright convoluted. Even with the early secret agent escapades at the beginning, Casino Royale had a focused plot that can be summed up rather easily. It’s not as easy to recall the main point of Quantum of Solace; there was a double agent and a secret meeting at an opera and an evil general and something about oil and the environment that didn’t cast world governments in the best light. By the end, I couldn’t quite keep up with who had a grudge against whom, particularly in the final semi-redemptive scene where Bond confronts two previously unseen characters. (Maybe I was just too distracted by the surprise at seeing Bakshi from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Beckett from Castle together. I did like the scene’s significance once I understood it, though.)

Neither film is perfect, but as a dual foundation for Craig as the new 007, they’re among the best Bond films I’ve seen. Casino Royale is a uniquely paced debut for the stern-faced Craig and sets up the complex plot and tremendous action of Quantum, which astonishingly leaves at least one female character free of Bond’s sexual charms. I’m still partial to Roger Moore’s incarnation, and A View to a Kill is still my go-to for the series, but Craig’s more solemn version has my respect. I do think it’s laughable that, by the time of Quantum of Solace, some critics were grumbling about the overly serious tone when they used to complain that the old Bonds like Moore were too silly and lighthearted. There’s no pleasing some people, but Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace have convinced me to check out Craig’s further adventures. Skyfall, here I come.

Best line from Casino Royale: (Bond, after losing a lot of money) “Vodka-martini.”   (bartender) “Shaken or stirred?”   (Bond) “Do I look like I give a damn?”

Best line from Quantum of Solace: (Bond) “They say you’re judged by the strength of your enemies.”

 

Rank: Both List-Worthy

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
404 Followers and Counting

 

My Top Twelve Lindsey Stirling Songs

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I recently had the great pleasure of attending a Lindsey Stirling concert promoting her new album Brave Enough, and it was awesome! For those who don’t know, Lindsey Stirling is a world-famous violinist who often combines her wicked fiddling with hip hop/dubstep influences and choreography. She was a quarter finalist on “America’s Got Talent,” and though the judges said her performances weren’t “enough to fill a theater in Vegas,” she has gone on to huge success. For the record, the arts center where she performed was sold out. Take that, judges!

In addition to movies, I love music fusion, especially combining classical with electronic pop, and Lindsey Stirling does it beautifully. Aside from the fact that she’s lovely and probably my first celebrity crush, I admire her as a person far more than most of the stars out there. That’s why I had to see her live in what was honestly my first concert. With the availability of music nowadays, there aren’t many music acts I’d pay to see, but Lindsey Stirling was worth it and put on a fantastic show. Not to oversell it, but it’s probably one of the new high points in my life.

Still giddy from the show, I wanted to offer my Top Twelve of her songs. She’s collaborated with quite a few other artists (“Radioactive” with Pentatonix, for example), but I’m excluding collaborations and cover medleys, though they are awesome too (especially those for “Lord of the Rings” and “Phantom of the Opera,” the latter of which ended the concert as a great encore). Her dancing and violin playing are impressive enough, clearly the result of relentless practice, but the fact that she can also create original music both beautiful and dance-worthy just confirms how amazing she is. Can you tell I like her?

 

  1. “Song of the Caged Bird” from Lindsey Stirling (self-titled album)

Like the video, this track has a growing magic and beauty.

 

  1. “Take Flight” from Shatter Me

An enchanting song for one of her most visually arresting videos.

 

  1. “Anti Gravity” from Lindsey Stirling

A great title for such a swirling beat that ranges across the musical spectrum.

 

  1. “Spontaneous Me” from Lindsey Stirling

They’re all beautiful, but I’m more partial to the upbeat tracks like this one and most of what follows.

 

  1. “Electric Daisy Violin” from Lindsey Stirling

Lively and vibrant – classic Lindsey.

 

  1. “Minimal Beat” from Lindsey Stirling

This one may start out sounding like any number of her songs, but it becomes more dynamic as it continues.

 

  1. “Transcendence” from Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey played this at the concert right after discussing her battle with anorexia, and her encouraging honesty lent its high-speed strains even more power than the symbolic video.

 

  1. “Shadows” from Lindsey Stirling

Probably the purest example of her talent and one of her catchiest tunes.

 

  1. “Something Wild” from Brave Enough and Pete’s Dragon (2016)

You know I never compile a list without some kind of movie reference, and during the concert, Lindsey mentioned how Disney reached out to her for a song for the remake of Pete’s Dragon. Not only does it feature Andrew McMahon for vocals, but it also boasts inspiring lyrics and a gorgeous Celtic-inspired melody that instantly became a new favorite of mine. I wish the Academy would give this a nod for Best Song.

 

  1. “Stars Align” from Lindsey Stirling

Going into the concert, I already knew what my top 3 were, and I was thrilled that she played them all. “Stars Align” may not be one of her most popular tracks, but its dubstep mixture is toe-tapping and almost otherworldly. One of the few to feature Lindsey’s vocals too.

 

  1. “Roundtable Rival” from Shatter Me

Many of her videos place the power of her violin against, say, video game thugs or giant monsters, and this Old West string battle against a guitar-wielding outlaw is nothing short of spectacular. This was easily the most energizing song of the night and got the crowd pumped. I remember three guys in the front rows jumping around going nuts (fun to watch, not so much to sit behind), but who could blame them with such an awesome song?

 

  1. “Moon Trance” from Lindsey Stirling

I have loved this song and video since the first time I saw it, and it was the second song she played! Not-so-great acting in the music video aside, it’s a jamming homage (not a rip-off) to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” with vigorous choreography and a spirited, memorable tune to boot. Violin vs. zombies? Violin wins every time.

 

It was really hard narrowing down her songs to these twelve, so here are several others undoubtedly worth a listen. As a well-deserved YouTube phenomenon, Lindsey Stirling already has a devoted fan base (me included), and I only hope that her popularity continues to grow. Thank you for a fantastic experience, Lindsey, and God bless!

 

“The Arena”
“Ascendance”
“Celtic Carol” (This may be a Christmas medley, but it feels like its own song.)
“Crystallize” (my VC’s favorite)
“Elements”
“Master of Tides”
“Mirror Haus”
“Night Vision”
“Prism”
“River Flows in You”
“Shatter Me”
“V-Pop”
“We Are Giants”
“Zi-Zi’s Journey”

 

Opinion Battles Round 16 Favourite Batman Villain

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Batman villain in the latest Opinion Battle. Somewhat of a limited choice this go-round, but everyone loves the Joker, right?

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battels Round 16

Favourite Batman Villain

Suicide Squad is hitting the cinema with a host of Batman enemies getting their own film, we always need a good villain to go up against the Dark Knight and we have had plenty to pick from.

If you want to join Opinion Battles our next subject will be Time Travel Movies, if you want to enter the closing date is 20th August 2016 and email your choice moviereviews101@yahoo.co.uk

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Scarecrowscarecrow

Scarecrow first appeared in Batman Begins and was his first appearance in film universe, this was a risk to do because in the reboot we could have just jumped in with a more iconic villain for the non-comic book fans like myself could relate too. Scarecrow isn’t even the lead villain in this film but his scenes come off as the scariest in the superhero genre and…

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The Jungle Book (2016)

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While man has moved on from the jungle to cities, committees, and ease,
There’s something intriguing and lavish about the deep green of the trees.

We look back at creatures and corners too fierce and exotic to tame,
Caught up in an ancient attraction too dark and uncharted to name.

The beauty of virginal wilderness and wonders no eye has beheld
Still haunt we who harness the future yet still to the past are impelled.

We gladly embrace what is modern, by comfort’s convenience beguiled,
Yet even a civilized person can fall to the call of the wild.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG

I had considered reviewing Disney’s live-action version of The Jungle Book as a Cartoon Comparison, but since I’ve already covered the original 1967 feature, a separate review seemed better. Ever since Disney started in on translating their classic animated films into live-action retellings, I’ve been skeptical. Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent weren’t content to just translate the story but added in dark subtexts that ruined every shred of the original that they incorporated. I was never that fond of the animated Alice in Wonderland or even Sleeping Beauty so it was a lesser form of sacrilege to me, but I’ve always had a soft spot for The Jungle Book. How could Disney possibly do it justice? Well, I’m relieved to say they did, as almost every other reviewer seems to agree. In a world where we’ve seen CGI conjure almost everything imaginable, Disney and director Jon Favreau still managed to impress.

I’m shocked to say it, but this version might actually be better than the original because of how it fleshes out the story with material from Rudyard Kipling’s book. After we’re introduced to Mowgli (very young but good Neel Sethi), his wolf family, and the wolves’ rhyming creed plucked straight from the book, a drought causes the Peace Rock in the riverbed to be revealed, effecting a Water Truce during which predators must cooperate with prey for the sake of water. Such is the Law of the Jungle. This clever rule allows Mowgli to meet the murderous tiger Shere Khan up front, whereas the animated Mowgli isn’t as aware of Shere Khan’s threat until the end. Actually showing the restrained antagonism at the river also gives a more immediate reason for the wolves’ decision to send him back to the human village for his own safety.

The cartoon is far more episodic than many Disney films, bouncing from Kaa the python to the elephants to Baloo to King Louie to Kaa again to those Beatles-style vultures before the end. Favreau’s film follows almost the same chronology (minus the vultures and Kaa’s second appearance), but provides far better connections to create a more cohesive story. Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa, for example, isn’t just a random danger but elucidates some of Mowgli’s history during her brief scene. Christopher Walken as a more menacing Gigantopithecus King Louie instills the idea of fire’s power in Mowgli, and that fire plays a far more significant and complex role in the climax than simply appearing in a flash of lightning and scaring off Shere Khan. I don’t mind how the animated version was told, but the new filmmakers found the perfect way to tell essentially the same tale (albeit with a different ending) in a uniquely well-rounded way for modern moviegoers.

Easily the best things about the original Disney cartoon were the voicework and music. Every voice actor embodies that character, and I wasn’t sure that new voices could pull it off. One of my coworkers has an issue with talking animal movies like Babe or The Jungle Book, seeing them as an abomination of nature, and hearing recognizable voices coming out of the mouths of CGI animals did take some getting used to. At the first listen, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera and Bill Murray as Baloo don’t seem to quite suit their roles, but the more I heard them, the better they fit. Even Walken does well as a more mobster-like King Louie in the film’s biggest action scene. Probably the weakest voice casting was Johansson as the honey-voiced Kaa, but that could be due to how briefly she’s heard; plus, I’m sure Sterling Holloway seemed like an odd choice in 1967. Likewise, Idris Elba is a more fierce-sounding Shere Khan, but there’s something so sleekly villainous about George Sanders’s voice in the cartoon. Bill Murray’s Baloo managed to surprise me the most, offering the best comic relief, and even if he doesn’t quite compare with Phil Harris in the cartoon, I won’t mind future generations growing up with these revised characters. Unfortunately, the songs don’t translate as well, and while “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wan’na Be Like You” work well enough, they could have been omitted and left to the superior cartoon versions.

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Much has been said of the film’s visual quality, and the CGI animators truly outdid themselves. Like Life of Pi, the interactions between the boy and the simulated animals are seamless; CGI hasn’t quite reached the point that I can’t tell it’s still CGI, but it’s well on its way. Also, even though this is a far darker adaptation of the story, with more peril and death than the cartoon, the color pallet wasn’t limited for the sake of keeping it dark. The jungle is a lush wonder, like a live-action version of the greenery that made Disney’s Tarzan so stunning. The mood of the forest morphs depending on the tone of the scene, but it’s always a beauty.

Succeeding as both a faithful retelling and a thrilling reimagining, this latest Jungle Book does almost everything right for a remake, even making Mowgli more industrious and clever than his animated counterpart. The voices take some getting used to, but they don’t hamper the gorgeous visuals and the flow of the story. Disney doesn’t seem to be slowing down with its live-action remakes, and even if I’m still concerned about what they might do to Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, The Jungle Book reinforced the hope that Maleficent almost destroyed.

Best line: (Mowgli) “But I’m helping Baloo get ready for hibernation.”
(Bagheera) “Bears don’t hibernate in the jungle.”
(Baloo) “Not full hibernation, but I nap a lot.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (on par with the original)

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
404 Followers and Counting

 

Cartoon Comparisons: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) / The Dark Knight Returns (2012)

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Titans once clashed in the Greek myths of old,
When swords were the weapon of man sandal-soled.
Men marveled at stories of inhuman glories,
Which none had the privilege or chance to behold.

Now the world watches for titans once more,
For angels and devils to fear or adore,
And mythical quarrels with optional morals
Are thrills for mankind, as they were long before.
_________________

MPAA rating for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: PG-13
MPAA rating for The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and Part 2: PG-13

Since my Cartoon Comparisons aren’t limited to just Disney and anime, I decided to compare the recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with the animated WB adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic book miniseries The Dark Knight Returns. Both follow their own storylines, but Batman v Superman does draw some inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, most notably in how the famous comic ends with a battle between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.

I should start out by saying that I am unapologetically a Marvel fan. Everyone has their preference, and I tend to think that those more drawn to DC or Marvel are more likely to forgive their movies’ faults. For example, one of my coworkers is a DC purist and loves to poke holes in Marvel movies while making excuses for films like Batman v Superman. One thing, though, that I find uncontestable (but I know many do contest) is that in recent years, Marvel films have taken the lead and DC is now struggling to keep up. Oddly, DC seems to be doing the opposite of Marvel; instead of introducing each hero in their own movie and bringing them together Avengers-style, DC is tossing in the likes of Wonder Woman and the Flash without much explanation and then providing a stand-alone film. I know DC is trying to differentiate itself from Marvel, but it’s a strange creative choice that doesn’t lend itself to a cohesive setup.

Honestly, I wasn’t too eager to see Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman. The trailers were meh, the reviews were worse, and Man of Steel didn’t exactly thrill me as the beginning of a new superhero universe. Yet, with all the other DC films planned to follow, I felt I should give it a try, if only to keep up with the curve. Was it terrible? No. Was it anywhere near good Marvel? No. It was certainly better than I expected, and I found it to be a solid serious take on the DC heroes, particularly Batman, played with surprising intensity by Ben Affleck. While watching it, my main complaints were simply facts of its existence: it’s very dark, very serious, and very long. It still kept my interest through its 181-minute runtime with its mostly sound acting, cleverly symbolic dialogue, and periodic bursts of action, but boy, are there flaws! It’s just that its flaws were more noticeable after the fact than during the movie, and I’m not sure if that’s to the film’s advantage or detriment.

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I suppose my biggest qualm going in was the very concept of Superman and Batman fighting each other, even though it has precedent in the comics. I loved Captain America: Civil War, but I don’t want the good guys to clash among themselves too much. Thankfully, that’s one thing that Batman v Superman does fairly well. Superman’s issues with Batman have to do with his shadowy vigilantism, but Batman’s objections to the Son of Krypton are more deep-seated, stemming from the rampant destruction that made Man of Steel notorious. One must keep in mind that these characters don’t know each other’s intentions, and I could understand Bruce Wayne’s distrust of a godlike alien. Even so, I felt that all of the anti-Superman rhetoric was rather narrow-minded. Most people wouldn’t blame a fireman for only being able to save half of the people in a fire, yet everyone seems to question Superman’s motivations, focusing on the one or two uncertain events instead of the countless lives he does save. No wonder Henry Cavill’s Superman acts so grim and depressed; note to the writers, Batman is supposed to be the brooding one.

There are smaller nitpicks too, such as Jesse Eisenberg’s youthful, God-haunted Lex Luthor, who seems more obviously crazy than the charisma of Gene Hackman’s original or even Kevin Spacey’s knock-off. A friend of mine said Eisenberg would have made a better Riddler, and I tend to agree. The film is also far from cohesive, with plot threads weaving all over the place, and a foreshadowing dream sequence has some unexpected predictive elements sure to confuse the uninitiated. As for the big brawl that may or may not have made DC fans geek out, it’s well set-up and well executed but ends with a semi-obvious plot twist that gets more stupid the more I think about it. Naturally, Batman and Superman couldn’t stay enemies for long, but the turnaround is sudden to the point of absurdity. At least, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman does make a nice if underused debut, and I’m actually more interested to see her movie than another Batman/Superman pairing. In trying so hard to set up the upcoming Justice League films, Batman v Superman offers much to appreciate and much to criticize, and it’s all a bit…much. I’m not saying Marvel is perfect either, but at least they’ve found a formula that works. DC is still struggling to find their feet, and, even if they have the spectacle, I’m dubious that they can reach the same level of entertainment.

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Now for The Dark Knight Returns, which was broken up into a Part 1 and Part 2, both of which are about the same length as Batman v Superman when combined. I used to watch the animated Justice League on TV, but I’m not as familiar with the more recent direct-to-video animated films that lean more on the mature side. The Dark Knight Returns was my first exposure to these, and I see why it has been acclaimed and, despite the different storylines of each film, recognize several similarities with Batman v Superman. Among the aspects it shares with Zack Snyder’s film are the Batman/Superman fight (of course) complete with kryptonite gas, a line from Bruce reminding someone that “We’re criminals. We always have been,” repeated news reports debating the legitimacy of unsupervised heroism, an unexpected televised massacre, a nuclear explosion with Superman high in the atmosphere, and an ending funeral scene, in which the two movies have the characters’ places switched.

Unlike Batman v Superman, where Superman is still a new hero for Earth and Batman is a somewhat older than usual version, having already assumedly beaten the rogues to be seen in Suicide Squad, The Dark Knight Returns features a much older Batman in the 80s, who has retired from hero work after the death of his second Robin named Jason. With Gotham City being terrorized by a violent gang called the Mutants and the return of a supposedly rehabilitated Two-Face, Bruce Wayne decides to “return” as the hero it needs and deserves. As his crusade continues in Part 2, he also battles the once-catatonic Joker and eventually Superman himself, aided by the young Carrie Kelley as the new Robin.

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Part of what sets The Dark Knight Returns above its live-action counterpart, in addition to its more focused narrative that still covers a lot of ground, is the sense of history among the characters without showing it all. Batman is haunted by the deaths he couldn’t prevent, even telling the Joker he blames himself for allowing his foe’s killing spree to last so long, but he acts with the sureness of experience. The police have a varying reaction to the Dark Knight; those like Commissioner Gordon who remember Batman’s past heroics welcome him with a hands-off policy, while the newer recruits and incoming Commissioner Ellen Yindel see him as merely one more violent influence on Gotham City. Debates rage on the news and talk shows over whether Batman should be admired or arrested, with one know-it-all psychiatrist especially criticizing him with some good points, but the mix of opinions is a bit more balanced than the backlash in Batman v Superman. We even get some cameos from much older Selina Kyle and a grizzled Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (who has one arm for some reason, reflecting that unseen history I mentioned earlier).

The Dark Knight Returns also boasts a stellar voice cast, led by Peter Weller of Robocop as Batman. Also (Lost alert!), Michael Emerson, who played such a great villain in Ben Linus, brings a similar ruthless sneer to the Joker. As for Batman’s climactic clash with Superman, it plays out rather similarly, but for entirely different reasons. It goes back to the history they have with each other in this post-Justice League world, and interestingly the reason is more like that in Captain America: Civil War than in Batman v Superman. Unlike Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, this Superman directly supports the U.S. government and its Reagan-esque President and is sent to put a stop to Batman’s vigilante brand of justice. They clearly disagree, but even in the heat of battle, their respect for each other causes them to hold back. And it doesn’t end with a silly twist so it’s arguably a better confrontation, which is more of a symbolic clash of ideals than the death battle in Batman v Superman.

Another point where The Dark Knight Returns has it over Batman v Superman is its depiction of Batman’s conscience. Both Batman and Superman are well-known for their refusal to kill their villains, which of course lets them come back repeatedly, but Zack Snyder seems to have ignored that fact. I didn’t notice at first, caught up in the impressive action sequences, but Affleck’s Batman doesn’t seem to mind smashing cars into people and general murder of the bad guys, perhaps owing to that “feeling of powerlessness that turns good men cruel,” as Jeremy Irons’s Alfred says. The Dark Knight Returns’s Batman, however, takes care to leave his baddies alive, only coming close to killing when pushed to his limit; one especially cool rampage in the tank-like Batmobile makes a point of using rubber bullets to incapacitate the Mutant gang without killing them.

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Despite the upheld ban on killing, there is quite a bit of violence and some nudity for a PG-13 cartoon. Some of the fistfights are vicious, and while the more gruesome scenes are left offscreen, it doesn’t shy away from blood, mainly in scenes with the Joker. Not to mention, the Joker has a Batarang sticking out of his eye for a while so I can’t help but think an R rating might have been more deserved. Likewise, Batman v Superman has its fair share of brutality, though comparatively little blood.

Both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Dark Knight Returns have their strengths and weaknesses. The former is gritty and well-acted for the most part with a jam-packed plot that will likely reward repeat viewings, but its overstuffed length and particularly drab treatment of Superman aren’t about to make it a classic either. The Dark Knight Returns is clearly a stronger film, though that’s owed to its acclaimed source material which didn’t have to set up a whole superhero universe through cameos. The animation is nothing special but it illustrates the story well; the older Batman is a wise and responsible version of the hero who is still susceptible to human weakness and grief yet manages to even rally the citizens of Gotham to his cause. Despite the violence, some weird unexplained slang, and several loose ends left open, such as the Cold War entanglements, The Dark Knight Returns is a strong Batman movie and proves why DC often seems so much more suited to the animated realm (and TV, like Arrow). I won’t begrudge DC fans the pleasure of seeing their favorite heroes in live action on the big screen, but Marvel does it so much better. Only time will tell if that holds true for DC’s future line-up.

Best line from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: (Lex Luthor, actually offering a good point) “You don’t need to use a silver bullet. But if you forge one, you don’t need to depend on the kindness of monsters.”

Best line from The Dark Knight Returns (the real best line is a spoiler but this one will do): (Alfred) “If it’s suicide you’re after, I have an old family recipe. It’s slow and painful. You’d like it.”

 

 

Rank for Batman v Superman: List Runner-Up

Rank for The Dark Knight Returns: List Runner-Up

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
403 Followers and Counting

 

I Am David (2003)

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Many a time have I carelessly smiled
While others in tears are despised and exiled.
Many a time have I taken for granted
A thing that to some would seem rare and enchanted.

Many a time have I cursed my bad luck,
My vain trivialities running amok,
When many would beg for a life such as mine,
Where the greatest annoyance is no cause to whine.

I cannot know the pain others must bear,
Each has his own that he can’t always share.
Yet in the sharing, we gain a small taste
Of lives and laments that our brothers have faced.
_________________

MPAA rating: PG

I’m not entirely sure why I checked out I Am David from my local library, the diverse stock of which has provided me with an equal measure of gems and duds in recent months. There was nothing particularly intriguing about the DVD case, and its main featured actor was Jim Caviezel, who is typically good but not what I would consider A-list. Thus, I had the rare opportunity to experience a movie I’d never heard of with hardly any preconceptions, and it impressed me in a quiet, wholesome sort of way and made me now curious to read the 1963 Danish novel on which it is based.

The eleven-year-old David is played by Ben Tibber in his only film role, and the film begins with David’s escape from a Communist prison camp in Bulgaria, following the careful directions of an unseen voice. Bearing a sealed envelope, he is instructed to head for Italy and then north to Denmark, with the added caution to trust no one. David himself is a child devoid of joy. When a baker he meets asks him for a smile, he doesn’t seem to understand the concept, never having had any reason to smile back in the camp. He’s a profoundly serious boy, and Tibber plays him with earnest gravity as he encounters new people, places, and emotions along his route.

I Am David has received a good deal of criticism in addition to fond adulation. Both critics and my VC have commented on how unrealistic portions of David’s journey are; sometimes his passage seems too easy, while other times he’s met by stereotypes and dubious acting. I can’t completely argue with these points; I myself had some issue with the ending which seemed unexpectedly simple and rushed considering the slower rate of his previous travels.

Yet I Am David transcends most of these complaints by its unassuming nature. What it succeeds at is a look at the refugee experience through the eyes of an innocent. Everything that happens is through David’s eyes, eyes that have seen grief they cannot understand. Much of the dialogue is simple and straightforward, words David could easily understand. Likewise, I attributed the occasionally exaggerated acting to how David viewed things; one exchange with two friendly parents who push David when he refuses to tell them where he’s going leaves David cringing in fear, unable to comprehend any kind of discipline but cruelty. Disjointed flashbacks of David’s time in the camp and his last day with his friend Johannes (Caviezel) become more meaningful over time, as David’s guilt and fear of anyone in a uniform are both confirmed and relieved by his experiences on the outside. Despite the rushed ending, I appreciated how the connected threads of the flashbacks provided a fitting conclusion to an overall poignant film.

I was surprised to see after the fact that I Am David was the directorial debut of Paul Feig, who is much better known for directing comedies like Bridesmaids and the recent Ghostbusters remake; his beautifully-shot first feature shows a dramatic potential to which Feig is welcome to return. As I watched I Am David, I was also pleased to realize it fit into my favorite subgenre of Meet-‘em-and-Move-On movies, the type that follow a protagonist through the ups and downs of a journey and the varied acquaintances met along the way. These interactions range from a brief run-in with an ignorant American couple to an extended stay with a generous painter (Joan Plowright). Some of these meetings seem to validate David’s distrust of strangers; others challenge him to not view the world as he did in the camp. Treating its subject matter with subdued respect, I Am David seems like a perfect film to introduce young viewers to unpleasant subjects like refugees and forced labor camps, depicting their struggles but imbuing the end result with hope.

Best line: (Sophie, the painter) “David, most people are good. They have families and friends, and they just want to live their lives as happily as they can. Oh, there will always be bad people in this world, and you’ll usually know them when you meet them, or sometimes you won’t, but you can’t let that stop you from living your life fully and freely, and making friends, and seeing the goodness in people, because if you don’t do that, you’ll never find any happiness.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
401 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: Minority Report (2002)

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Some people insist that the future is written
In stone,
Worry-prone
And forever unknown.
For every mistake, we are twice shy once bitten,
Yet fate
Will dictate
Whether we are too late.

How grand it would be if the future were clearer,
To see
Finally
What we can’t guarantee.
If destiny was not a wall but a mirror,
Events
To lament
We perhaps could prevent.

Yet what if the future were actually written
In sand,
To expand
Or to change what is planned.
How could you know if the course that you fit in
Is still
To fulfill
Or to change if you will?
______________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Since most of her movie choices thus far have been romantic comedies, my VC wanted to prove her interests do extend beyond, to science fiction, for example. Thus, she recommended Minority Report, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story about a world where crime can be stopped through precognition. You can’t go wrong with Spielberg and sci-fi, and as with his later pairing with Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds, Minority Report is a darkly polished cautionary tale with no shortage of futuristic effects.

Cruise plays John Anderton, a PreCrime cop whose division prevents murders through the oracular visions of three medicated “precogs” who float in a vat of milky fluid. When you say it like that, it sounds rather, um, strange, but the technological methods and theoretical concepts employed are explained understandably enough and brought to life with all manner of futuristic gadgets, from jetpacks to hand-operated holographic screens that look suspiciously like those in Tony Stark’s garage. After dealing with the probing questions of DOJ agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), Anderton finds himself on the wrong side of this supposedly flawless system when he is singled out as a would-be murderer, and as he says, “Everybody runs.”

Cruise himself delivers a solid performance as Anderton, one of his first sci-fi roles. Despite being a drug addict, Anderton is consistently sympathetic due to his grief over his son’s abduction, after which he threw himself into his Precrime work. He insists on the system’s infallibility, yet when he’s on the receiving end of the accusation of murder, he proves to have the strength and intelligence to evade capture and dig deeper into how the system works. It’s a credit to the story that, even after an apparent breakthrough moment, the plot still has more twists up its sleeve. The secrets Anderton uncovers also open up philosophical quandaries he had chosen to ignore, from the humanity of the seemingly braindead precogs to whether the future is really set in stone, particularly when that future can be foreseen.

One thing seems certain: 2054 will be a problematic year. I find it curious that at least three different dystopian sci-fi films take place in that year, Surrogates, Harrison Bergeron, and this one. I suppose it’s a year that seems close enough to still be recognizable to our current lifestyle but distant enough to hold guessable technological advances. Those advances are some of Minority Report’s greatest strengths, of which we see more as Anderton’s journey continues. Autopilot cars and vertical highways? That’s cool. Spider drones that scout out entire buildings? That’s even cooler. The practical advantages of seeing the future? That too. Eventually, these cool moments add up to an all-around cool movie with some food for thought at its heart.

In addition to the moral issue of punishing people for crimes not yet committed, the tech side of things also offers questions to consider. As convenient as it would be for cars to drive themselves or public ads to be instantly customized to you based on an eye scan, such advances are only harmless for as long as you remain in the good graces of the powers that be. Those conveniences become liabilities and dangers once Anderton goes on the run. One could say that good, law-abiding people have nothing to worry about, but what is good or law-abiding can change depending on who is in power.

Minority Report is a thought-provoking mystery and one more credit to Spielberg’s sci-fi filmography. The dark cinematography makes every source of light glow, often placing an aura or halo around people, suggesting perhaps, like many dystopian films, that this shining future is only bright on its edges with shadier secrets below. The film’s one negative, aside from an unanswered question or two, was an uncomfortable scene of an eye transplant. My VC is especially squeamish about such scenes and didn’t even want me to look.

Nonetheless, Minority Report’s style and futuristic creativity made for an entertaining what-if scenario with ethical debates that will only grow as 2054 gets closer.

Best line: (Dr. Hineman, co-founder of Precrime) “Sometimes, in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
401 Followers and Counting

 

Genre Grandeur – Coming Home (2014) – Rhyme and Reason

Here’s my review of Coming Home, a well-acted Chinese drama for MovieRob’s July Genre Grandeur of recent foreign-language movies.

imagesFor this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Foreign Language Film (2013-Present), here’s a review of Coming Home (2014) by SG of Rhyme and Reason

Thanks again to Jordan of Epileptic Moondancer for choosing this month’s interesting (if not uncomfortable for me) genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Jane of 500 Days of Film  She has chosen another genre that is well out of my own comfort zone but I am up for the challenge.  We will be reviewing our favorite Horror Films

Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Aug by sending them to horrorjane@movierob.net  Try to think out of the box! Great choice Jane!

Let’s see what SG thought of this movie:

_________________________________

1

Coming Home (2014)

Time can burn

As years are lost.

It won’t return

At any cost,

No matter how we humans yearn

For life ere it was tempest-tost.

Time…

View original post 513 more words

Monsters University (2013)

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“When I was in college,” the old monster said,
“We didn’t use laughter but screaming instead
To power our civilization, and so
Each monster who scared was a public hero.

“And where did they go hone their scaring art,
To learn how to quicken a young child’s heart,
To grasp the best method of siphoning screams
While working alone or together as teams?

“Where did they practice their skulking and creeping
And sneaking for when their young target is sleeping
So when the time’s right for the roaring and leaping,
They know that it’s just the right scream that they’re reaping?

“Where did they go? But of course, you all know.
The campus of MU, where scarers went pro.
Those were the days,” sighed the monster named Ed.
“Yeah, what he said,” said his own second head.
____________________

MPAA rating: G

After the disappointment of Cars 2, I was wary of any further Pixar sequels, or prequels in the case of Monsters University, a recounting of Mike and Sully’s wild college days and how they became friends. Even though I enjoy Monsters, Inc., I skipped its prequel at the theater, and the college concept didn’t give me much desire to see it. When I finally did, I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, it’s Pixar. Shame on me for doubting Pixar. It may not be their very best, but it’s a rare spinoff film that surprisingly holds its own with the original. My VC, who isn’t too fond of the original, actually loved Monsters University more.

Monsters, Inc. ended with a more or less satisfying conclusion so I see why they opted for a prequel. First, we go all the way back to an elementary field trip where little Mike gets to visit the scare floor from the first film, reinforcing his hero worship and attracting him to MU, Monsters University, the premier place for the next generation of scarers. When he finally arrives to the colorful campus, there’s a pleasant wink-wink of nostalgia with the arrival of Randall and Sully; we know that Randall will end up the bad guy and Sully the devoted friend, but seeing them in opposite roles that change over time is both intriguing and entertaining. Friendships aren’t always as straightforward as “Hi, let’s be friends” and neither are enemyships (yes, it’s a fake word), and Monsters University develops both in believably gradual fashion.

Mike and Sully are polar opposites, it seems. Mike is the underdog, forced to study hard to keep up with the more natural scarers, while Sully is the carefree frat boy content to coast on his family name and obvious talent. After a disastrous run-in with Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), the two are thrust together to reclaim their place at the school, which entails joining a loser fraternity called Oozma Kappa and competing in an intramural scaring competition.

Rarely does Pixar aim for the predictable, and this is no exception. Honestly, I highly doubt that the unexpected climax would have been the same had Dreamworks been in charge of production. All manner of animated and family films contain the message of believing in yourself and achieving your dreams with enough effort, and while Monsters University does too, there’s also the rare suggestion that not all dreams are feasible if your true talents lie elsewhere. In addition, it ignores the unspoken assumption that doing something good or impressive somehow washes away past transgressions; that’s a fairly common problem with many films (like how Captain Kirk from Star Trek has been in danger of court-martial more than once but always redeems himself with his heroics), and Monsters University doesn’t fall into it, making the result more realistic in the process.

I don’t know why I assumed Monsters University would be inferior. Perhaps the collegiate setting just didn’t interest me at the time, but it actually provided quite a bit of humor, from the various scaring studies to the madcap fraternity sports. Characters as lovable as Mike and Sully should only be revisited with a worthwhile story, and Pixar succeeded in that. It’s not a game-changer in animation like some of their best films, but it’s second-tier Pixar rather than third-tier. Compared with many of the animated movies out there, that’s certainly good enough for me.

Best line: (Art, mentioning his strengths) “I’ve got a third arm. Not with me, of course.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining Monsters, Inc.)

 

© 2016 S. G. Liput
400 Followers and Counting

 

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