Flavors of Youth (2018)

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I’ve had the chance to learn and grow
From where I was ten years ago,
And though time’s neither fast nor slow,
It’s galloped past me even so.

I know,
I know,
I’m not that old.
Not old enough to be consoled
For past regrets and words untold
When still on destiny’s threshold.

Yet worry knows no age or race.
It’s but a trace time can’t erase,
Not even at its breakneck pace.
And such are truths we all must face
As past and future we embrace.
_____________________

Rating: TV-PG (nothing objectionable, just themes best appreciated by adults)

For those who loved Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, it’s naturally a grueling wait for his next anticipated feature, but in the meantime, CoMix Wave Films, the production studio for Shinkai’s movies, has filled the gap nicely by teaming with the Chinese animation house Haoliners. In place of Shinkai, Flavors of Youth has three different directors, each delivering a dramatic entry for this Netflix anthology film. Surprisingly, the result is a satisfying substitute that boasts both visual beauty and honest emotion in equal measure (as well as a solid English dub).

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While the names and settings are clearly Chinese rather than Japanese, Flavors of Youth has all the aesthetic quality of a well-crafted anime film, and while Japanese animation can so often be associated with explosive battles and yelling, this belongs to the more introspective and relatable side of anime. The first of the three short stories revolves around a young man’s memories of the San Xian noodles he ate while growing up, which may seem overly simple, but the true-to-life details and poetic narration by narrator extraordinaire Crispin Freeman (of Haruhi Suzumiya fame) added to its impact. The second film was a bit less engaging for me, focusing on two sisters in the fashion world, but the story ended nicely and didn’t detract from the film overall. The third, though, entitled “Shanghai Love Story,” is especially affecting with its likable characters and sad irony, and any fan of Shinkai is bound to admire it.

While the themes are far from niche, I felt that the individual stories were aimed precisely at people like me, twenty-somethings uncertain about the future and nostalgic for good ol’ days which weren’t all that long ago yet seem to be fading before our eyes. The first story best encapsulated these sentiments and the way that memories and regrets always outlive their source. Cherished businesses close, loved ones die, and modern replacements never quite reach the glory of our recollections and hopes.

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Yet unlike some other films I could name (I’m looking at you, 5 Centimeters Per Second), Flavors of Youth doesn’t settle with being depressing and finds hope in the promise that comes with building off those precious memories. This anthology may fall that little bit short of greatness, but those who enjoyed Shinkai’s work, such as The Garden of Words, should not miss it; just don’t expect another Your Name, and certainly nothing supernatural. I feel like I’ve grown fonder of this film since first seeing it, thanks especially to an after-credits scene that barely tied the stories together, and it’s a gratifying sign that Shinkai’s influence is clearly spreading. There are several anime films I’m dying to see this year, especially Maquia and Mirai of the Future, so I’m grateful that Netflix supplied this wistful little film while I wait.

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
589 Followers and Counting

 

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Mission: Impossible II (2000)

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The job of the IMF agent
Before he or she needs a coffin
Is mounting impossible missions
For heroes no danger can soften,
Yet lately the best of the bravest
Have been going rogue far too often.

I can’t speak to why these trained agents
Are letting their loyalty lapse,
More focused on garnering riches
Than keeping the world from collapse,
But IMF might try improving
Their benefits package perhaps.
_________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Now for the second Mission: Impossible film, the one that seems to be widely considered the most inferior of the bunch. I can see why. Mission: Impossible II isn’t necessarily awful, but it’s highly inconsistent, only sometimes feeling like an actual M: I installment as opposed to a rip-off of ‘90s James Bond.

In this entry, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise in his thankfully brief long-haired phase) must vie against a rogue IMF agent (Dougray Scott) who aims to steal a deadly bio-engineered virus called Chimera.  I could tell early that this entry would have problems. We first see Ethan free-climbing a high rock formation in the Utah desert, and while it shows off Cruise’s impressive strength for stunts, it also inadvertently echoes that other worst-movie-in-its-series, Star Trek V, which also features Kirk free-climbing in Yosemite. After that, Ethan recruits a thief named Nyah (Thandie Newton) for his team and engages in some awkward scenes of innuendo and seduction that strengthen the James Bond comparison I made earlier and just don’t feel like Mission: Impossible.

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It’s not these faults that drag down M:I 2 the most; that can be summed up in two words: slow motion. I don’t know if this is a trademark of director John Woo or what, but the slow-mo scenes are distractingly frequent, from the long sultry looks exchanged when Ethan first sees Nyah to the mid-action interludes that are thrown in as if to say to the audience, “Look at this! Isn’t it cool?” Sometimes it is admittedly very cool, but there are plenty of other movies that have used slow-mo more judiciously. Except for The Matrix, it’s best when such scenes don’t draw attention to themselves.

I don’t mean to sound like I hated it. Around the midpoint, it does hit its stride with another spy heist that is even more like the one in National Treasure than the first M:I film. And the slow motion aside, the action scenes are still thrilling, while the face mask tactics are even more entertainingly clever, though I’m starting to wonder how those convincing face masks can be applied so quickly.

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There’s extra epicness to the music this time around, and the cast is strong as well, especially the returning uber-competence of Cruise and Ving Rhames and a surprising uncredited role for Anthony Hopkins; plus, I must mention a Lost alert for William Mapother (whose island role was named Ethan, oddly enough) as one of the villain’s henchmen. Despite the world-threatening perils, though, the plot feels strangely shallow, thanks mainly to the short-term chemistry of Thandie Newton, who I don’t believe is in the rest of the sequels. M:I 2 is a good effort, but it ultimately takes the series in a less interesting direction that I sincerely hope the other films will rectify.

Best line: (Mission Commander Swanbeck) “Mr. Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. ‘Difficult’ should be a walk in the park for you.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
588 Followers and Counting

 

Mission: Impossible (1996)

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Missions preventing or triggering wars
Are shrouded in subterfuge no one explores,
And those who enact them
Are quick to redact them
With names only spoken behind their closed doors.

Missions accomplished with such secrecy
Are kept as discreet as we need them to be.
And though you and I
Never know how or why,
Such missions are part of what keeps us all free.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

It seems that any franchise I didn’t watch growing up simply has to work up enough buzz for me to finally catch up on it. I’d heard that the first three Mission: Impossible movies had mixed reviews, but with three critically acclaimed entries in more recent years, I think it’s finally time for me to see if Tom Cruise’s spy thrillers are all they’re cracked up to be. I was pleasantly surprised last year when I watched the latest Planet of the Apes trilogy, so I’m hoping for good things. My mission, if I choose to accept it, is to watch all six of the M:I films in the coming weeks and review each one before seeing the next, so that I don’t get confused on which explosion or double cross happened in which sequel. But you have to start with the beginning, and that means the 1996 original.

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Having never seen the 1960s-70s TV series on which it is based, I didn’t have any major expectations, aside from the famous theme music and the self-destructing tape that details a mission, if they choose to accept it. (On a side note, I always thought the tape would cause some big explosion, not just go poof with a little smoke. Isn’t it fun to learn how wrong you are sometimes?) The man listening to that tape is Jim Phelps, played by Jon Voight, but despite the presence of Voight and other stars like Emilio Estevez and Kristin Scott Thomas, we all know Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt is the star, which becomes even clearer after the mission backfires and shaves down the team considerably. Now suspected as a mole behind the sabotage, Hunt goes on the run to figure out who the real criminal mastermind is.

I suppose I’ll just come out and say it: I liked it. The British have James Bond, and Ethan Hunt is sort of his American counterpart, just with less womanizing and more disguises and hacking. As a product of the ‘90s, the technology in this first Mission: Impossible is unavoidably dated, with spies fighting over floppy disks and a hidden video early on that seemed almost like the quality of a parody. But it also has a twisty plot and the same kind of heist-style infiltration by which my beloved National Treasure was clearly inspired. Though most of the film lacks the daring stunts that the series has become known for, the climax boasts some especially thrilling (albeit CGI) action with a bullet train and a helicopter.

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I do see why my parents never got me into the series early on because this first one apparently trampled all over the original they remembered, particularly the character of Jim Phelps. Those with nostalgia for the original series will likely take offense, but I as a newcomer found a lot to enjoy. I’m still not convinced whether this qualifies as List-Worthy in my book, but I’m excited to continue the series and do think that it has the potential to join my favorites. Now for the supposedly bad one, Mission: Impossible II….

Best line: (tech guy Jack Harmon, describing a gum-like explosive) “Hasta lasagna, don’t get any on ya.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up (for now)

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
588 Followers and Counting

 

Genre Grandeur – Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018) – Rhyme and Reason

Here’s my review of Maze Runner: The Death Cure for MovieRob’s July Genre Grandeur for film adaptations of popular novels. Despite its imperfections, the third and final installment of the dystopian Maze Runner series proved to be a bittersweet climax to a solid YA franchise.

For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Bestselling/Popular Novel Adaptations, here’s a review of Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018) by SG of Rhyme and Reason

Thanks again to Satu of FairyTale Pictures for choosing this month’s genre.

Next month’s Genre has been chosen by Richard of Kirkham A Movie A Day and it is Swashbuckler Films

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

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

Let’s see what SG thought of this movie:

______________________________________

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

 


Dangers arise,

And we run for our lives.

Struggles surprise,

And we run to survive.

Lows follow highs,

And our life’s a treadmill.

Fears terrorize,

And we run faster still.

But…

We’ll find in the long run,

As far as we’ve raced,

Each danger remains one

That needs…

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Cartoon Comparison: 3 Godfathers (1948) / Tokyo Godfathers (2003): Christmas In July Blogathon 2018

I recently contributed this poem/review to the annual Christmas in July Blogathon over at Drew’s Movie Reviews. It’s one of my Cartoon Comparisons, juxtaposing the western 3 Godfathers with the anime film Tokyo Godfathers, which are both set at Christmastime and share the same basic plot about three social outcasts finding a baby. Drew always hosts a fun holiday party, so be sure to check out the other Christmas in July entries as well.

Drew's Movie Reviews

Hello, friends!

Today’s first entry marks the beginning of the second half of this here blogathon! Starting the day is a regular in my blogathons. If you are looking for a unique blog, look no further than SG and Rhyme and Reason. SG combines his love of poetry and movies to create interesting and one-of-a-kind posts. I highly recommend giving his site a visit. For this year’s Christmas in July Blogathon, SG is comparing two films: 3 Godfathers, a John Wayne western, and Tokyo Godfathers, an early 2000s anime. Let’s get to it!


Life can embitter you
As you permit her to;
Always and never you’re in her control.
And as her aggressions
Leave deeper impressions,
We’re quick to forget that we each have a soul.

So often confronted
By cynics and hunted
By worries we parry were never our fault,
We grow disenchanted,
Breaths taken for…

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My Top Twelve Characters with Robotic Arms

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This is one of those lists for which the concept just came to me out of nowhere and niggled in my brain until I finally had enough for a list. Why? Because robotic arms are just cool, that’s why. While sometimes perceived as an encroachment of technology replacing the human person, they’re usually used as impressive enhancements indicating the technological progress of their owner’s futuristic setting. They’re also a convenient replacement that serves as an ever-present reminder of the trauma of a lost limb. For those who have lost a limb, I look forward to the day when fully functional limbs comparable to the real thing are actually a reality, though that might be a mixed blessing, as you can see in this very dark animated short film.

As for this list, I had to go outside my typical realm of movies in order to get a full twelve. I had considered forgoing the robotic part and sticking instead with any prosthetic arm (think Dr. Strangelove, The Fugitive, and The Best Years of Our Lives), but that’s a list for another time. Eschewing realism, we’re sticking with fully functional robotic limbs, with my selection aided by the likes of television and anime. I’m also not counting characters who are more robot than human, so don’t expect to see the Terminator, Robocop, or DC’s Cyborg on here, despite the fact they technically fit the theme. Thus, here are my Top Twelve characters with robotic arms:

 

  1. Jet Black – Cowboy Bebop

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As the captain of the Bebop, Jet Black is the most level-headed and fatherly member of his crew of interplanetary bounty hunters. A cop before being betrayed by his partner and losing his arm, he keeps his cybernetic replacement limb as a reminder of his former life and mistakes.

 

  1. Ulysses Klaue – Black Panther

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Andy Serkis’s Klaue lost his arm to Ultron’s rage in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but in Black Panther he got a fancy vibranium one complete with a laser cannon. Too bad he didn’t stick around long enough to use it more.

 

  1. Yang – RWBY

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This is sort of a spoiler for anyone who hasn’t watched Rooster Teeth’s ongoing animated web series, but Yang (the Y in the title RWBY) meets the wrong end of a sword and is dis-armed rather traumatically at one point. After a tough time healing, though, she’s come back strong with a cutting-edge replacement.

 

  1. Finn – Adventure Time

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This might also count as a spoiler, but Finn, the human main character of Cartoon Network’s hit Adventure Time, also misplaces his arm, several times actually. After one replacement made of cursed grass turned into a clone of him (this is a weird series), he finally went with a mechanical upgrade, just like his counterpart from another dimension.

 

  1. Claw – Inspector Gadget

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Whether it’s Rupert Everett in the first live-action film or his animated counterpart, Dr. Claw is Inspector Gadget’s most dangerous nemesis and gets this high on the list based on pure nostalgia. Yes, I realize the claw might be considered a hand prosthetic rather than an arm, but I’m allowed to fudge now and then.

 

  1. Violet Evergarden – Violet Evergarden

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The title character of Netflix’s recent anime series Violet Evergarden is a traumatized former child soldier who, after the war’s end, finds a new life as a professional letter writer. Having lost both of her arms, her two mechanical limbs are both strong and remarkably adept at activities like typing on a typewriter. It’s really a good and poignant series, with the tenth episode being one of the most emotional episodes of TV I’ve seen.

 

  1. Furiosa – Mad Max: Fury Road

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In most cases of replacement limbs, suspension of disbelief is required since their operation should involve complicated nerve links and such, so I have no idea how Furiosa’s mechanical forearm that straps into place is supposed to function. But it does, and it makes her that much cooler.

 

  1. Long John Silver – Treasure Planet

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I never said someone on the list couldn’t also have a robotic leg. I hold that Treasure Planet is much better than the gimmicky update some critics called it, and turning Treasure Island’s one-legged pirate into a cyborg was an inspired addition, as well as a neat way to work in CGI to the 2-D animation.

 

  1. Edward Elric – Fullmetal Alchemist franchise

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Here’s another character with a robotic arm and leg, both made out of a material called automail. The adventure of the Elric brothers in this hugely popular anime franchise all stems from an alchemy experiment gone wrong that claims two of Edward’s limbs and his brother’s whole body. Good thing he has access to automail prosthetics, which help facilitate all the fantasy action for which the series is known.

 

  1. Bucky / The Winter Soldier – Captain America/MCU

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I’ll be honest. I sort of developed this list around Bucky. Captain America’s friend-turned-brainwashed-enemy-turned-friend-again was the first character I thought of, with the best robotic arm of recent years. Time will tell if Rocket ever gets his hands on it.

 

  1. Doctor Octopus – Spider-Man 2

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Remember I said I could fudge? Sure, you could say Doc Ock’s robotic appendages are tentacles rather than arms, but the fact that they’re fused to his spinal column makes them limbs in my eyes, and he sure knows how to use them.

 

  1. Luke Skywalker/ Darth Vader – Star Wars

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Most nerds out there probably saw this one coming. I couldn’t choose between father and son, so both Skywalkers share the #1 spot. If you have to lose a limb, light sabers are probably the safest way for it to happen, and at least the Star Wars universe has handy life-like replacements on demand. One day, perhaps we’ll get to that point too. (I can dream, can’t I?)

 

 

And here are some prosthetic runners-up worth mentioning:

 

Tetsuo from Akira – Tetsuo builds himself a robotic arm with his psychic powers, though it doesn’t go well afterward.

Combustion Man from Avatar: The Last Airbender – A bounty hunter after Aang has both a third eye and a mechanical forearm.

Cable (Josh Brolin) from Deadpool 2 – Cable didn’t make the list because I have not seen Deadpool 2, but he’s still worth a mention.

Detective Spooner (Will Smith) from I, Robot – Despite hating robots, Spooner has a bit of robot himself.

Tee Hee (Julius Harris) from Live and Let Die – I barely remember this James Bond movie, but apparently there’s a henchman with a pincer hand?

Kushana from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind – The antagonist from this Miyazaki classic has removable hands thanks to some giant killer bugs.

Jonah (Beau Knapp) from The Signal – Alien experiments give abductees strange prosthetics in this sci-fi.

 

Thanks for reading my random nerdy list! Let me know what you think and feel free to tell me of any other robotic arm owners I may have forgotten.

 

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

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The final frontier’s waiting.
It waits for those who dare.
For each frontier
That man draws near,
A new one grows elsewhere.

We often think that warnings
Were made to be ignored,
Yet some frontiers
Deserve their fears
And should be unexplored.

But human beings being
What human beings are,
We will not see
Our fallacy
Until we’ve dared too far.
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG

Before recently, I could say that I’d seen all the Star Trek films, from the original series cast to Next Gen to the J.J. Abrams reboots…all of them except Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Why? Well, I suppose I just assumed it wasn’t worth seeing. My parents always said it was one of the bad ones and never had any desire to see it more than once, so I never did while growing up. But then I thought, “Why should I take their word for it? I ought to find out for myself how to view a Star Trek film!” So I watched The Final Frontier, and you know what? They were RIGHT!

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There’s a commonly held notion that all the even-numbered Trek films are good and the odd-numbered ones are bad. I personally don’t think that holds true for later films, since I didn’t much like Insurrection or Nemesis but love all three reboots, yet it’s films like The Final Frontier that give that kind of theory credence. It’s not unwatchable; it’s not utterly boring like Star Trek: The Motion Picture was, but like that first movie, its story is both ill-advised and far more fitting a small-screen episode rather than a feature-length film. It’s the only Trek film written and directed by William Shatner, and no offense to him, but that’s likely for the best.

After an introduction to the film’s unusually empathetic Vulcan antagonist Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill), we catch up with Kirk, Spock, and Bones on shore leave in Yosemite National Park, which very quickly reveals the problems that will plague this film. The banter is far more forced than in other films, relying more heavily on the proven chemistry of the actors rather than actual wit or humor. A scene with Kirk falling off a cliff and Spock rescuing him features some atrociously obvious green screen and hints that the effects won’t be nearly as polished as in prior films. (ILM was busy with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Ghostbusters II, so a less prestigious effects house was commissioned instead, and it shows.) Plus, a scene with the three amigos sitting around a campfire just felt rather pathetic, Kirk and McCoy trying to teach “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to Spock. I think my mom once said it was a reminder of how old these actors/characters had gotten, keeping each other company for lack of any families of their own.

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The middle of the film does bounce back a bit, as the malfunction-ridden Enterprise is sent to Sybok’s desert planet to rescue some consuls he has taken captive, only for him to seize Kirk and his ship. It allows for some decent action and even a glimpse into a private trauma in McCoy’s past, thanks to Sybok’s patented form of therapeutic brainwashing. Yet there’s always a sense of this being a second-rate production, from bewildering creative choices (a three-boobed cat woman? Uhura doing a fan dance to distract some guards?) to unavoidable plot holes. Here’s a prime example: Starfleet sends Kirk on this mission, despite his ship’s handicaps, solely due to his experience because hopefully he won’t have to resort to violence to rescue the hostages. However, he opts for an infiltration plan that immediately turns to violence because his transporter wasn’t working. If Starfleet had sent another fully functional ship, they could have just beamed up the hostages, and Kirk’s unparalleled leadership wouldn’t have even been necessary!

By the end, the film nearly falls apart as the Sybok-led Enterprise navigates to a planet at the center of the galaxy where Eden and God supposedly await them. The “dangerous” barrier surrounding it is nothing but a bunch of swirly colors, and when they beam down to the planet, they wander yet another desert landscape while the music swells like we’re supposed to be awestruck by its grandeur. The god they encounter is visualized as a big glowing face that shoots lasers out of its eyes, and…now that I’m describing it, I realize how stupid that sounds. Yeah, it is, and even with the attempt at deep religious questions that might have made a worthwhile episode, the end product just isn’t a very worthwhile film.

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Although I’d easily consider it the second-worst film in the series, Star Trek V has moments where you can see why the filmmakers and actors kept running with it rather than throwing their hands up and starting over. Luckinbill has a great screen presence as the villain, if only he had a better film to antagonize, and it’s hard to hate Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley in these iconic roles. The film was reportedly plagued by multiple budget problems during filming and post-production, and while some movies can hide such issues, here the end result suffers. The plot is unfocused (a potential romance is teased between Uhura and Scotty but goes nowhere); the humor is largely unfunny; certain elements are introduced, never to be seen again in the franchise, as far as I remember (Spock’s rocket boots, an observation deck with a literal ship’s wheel); and I found it unfortunately easy to mock while watching it, MST3K-style. The plot of Star Trek IV can also sound stupid when you describe it, but it’s all in the execution. There, it worked; with The Final Frontier, it didn’t.

Best line: (McCoy, to Spock) “I liked you better before you died.”

 

Rank: Dishonorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
586 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: Flashdance (1983)

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While “work all day and dance all night”
May be a habit hard to break,
It pays the bills to underwrite
The hopes believed by us alone,
The quarter-baked ambition-prone,
Who dare to dream for dreaming’s sake,
For people’s dreams are all their own.
___________________

MPAA rating: R (for language, sensuality, and nudity in a strip club scene)

Flashdance is actually a perfect example of a VC Pick, a movie that my VC enjoys far more than I and one that I only ended up seeing after quite a bit of persistence on her part. This slice of ‘80s danciness isn’t all that different from Travolta’s Staying Alive from the same year: underdog dreamer uses their athletic dance talent to hit it big and achieve their professional dream. Instead of a man overcoming a lustful partner, though, Jennifer Beals’ Alex is a welder by day and bar dancer by night who has to overcome her own self-confidence and dare to become a ballet dancer.

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I can see why my VC enjoys Flashdance, at the very least for its dance scenes and soundtrack, which made the rounds on MTV back in its early days and were used effectively to promote the movie. While the film makes an odd but ardent distinction between dancing sensually and scantily clad in a bar to pop music versus actual stripping, it certainly boasts some outstanding dance sequences, most of which don’t really add anything to the plot but at least look good. To complement them, the Grammy-winning soundtrack includes some quintessential ‘80s tunes that still get decent airplay on the radio, from “Maniac” during a particularly strenuous workout to “Gloria” to the Oscar-winning theme song, Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feeling.”

A few have become iconic pieces of pop culture (the water falling over the chair, the final audition), but some of the less famous dances are just as memorable, from the gyrating “Manhunt” dance by Cynthia Rhodes (also from Staying Alive) to a trippy sequence with Alex and a unique strobing effect. The strobe dance is my VC’s favorite, though my appreciation for it was tempered by my concern for any epileptic viewers. I don’t think they put disclaimers on films of the ‘80s like they did recently with The Incredibles 2, so I can’t help but wonder how many unsuspecting viewers were negatively affected by that scene.

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Aside from the music and dancing, Flashdance is fairly thin, following Alex’s relationship with her boss (Michael Nouri) and her attempts to build up the courage for ballet school. Some scenes depend on how the viewer approaches them: When Alex’s boss follows her home after saving her from a lecherous jerk (Lee Ving), you could easily see it as sweet of him to protect her or borderline creepy since he had been trying to court her and now knows where she lives. (Luckily the movie opts for the former view.) Without the music, Flashdance would be hardly worth watching, but it still manages to leave you with that satisfied dreams-do-come-true kind of glow as the credits roll. My VC loves it, and Jennifer Beals is lovely, but, next time, I’d be just fine watching its music video high points instead of the whole thing.

Best line: (Alex) “I told you, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go out with the boss.”   (Nick, jokingly) “OK. Have it your way. You’re fired. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at eight.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
585 Followers and Counting

 

The Incredibles 2 (2018)

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Incredible is a subjective term,
As critics and colleges can confirm.
One man’s amazing and top-of-the-class
Is another’s mundane because people, alas,
See things either clearly or through rosy glass.

Incredible is a desirable word,
So rarely deserved yet so commonly heard.
At times, there’s consensus for some shining star,
But mostly we just must agree on the bar
And how we compare them decides what they are.
___________________

MPAA rating: PG

Of all the studios churning out long-awaited sequels, Pixar has arguably the best track record. Whether it’s Monsters University, Finding Dory, or Toy Story 3 (I mean 4), the decade-waiting sequelization of their canon is well underway and, with the exception of Cars 2, has turned out surprisingly well. (They’re all weaker than the originals, but they’re by no means bad, except Cars 2.) Yet strangely, Pixar has made fans wait longest for the follow-up to the one film in their oeuvre that was actively crying out for a sequel, namely The Incredibles. Perhaps due to the influx of superhero franchises since 2003, director Brad Bird finally delivered, and I’d say the fourteen-year wait was worth it.

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Picking up immediately where the first film left off, The Incredibles 2 reminds us that, even after saving the world from Syndrome, the Parr family still have to deal with the fact that superheroing is illegal. After their battle with the Underminer goes south, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) are approached by millionaire entrepreneurs Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), a brother and sister team who are actively trying to bring supers back into the spotlight. Due to her less destructive abilities, Elastigirl is the new face of their law-bending campaign, and while Bob deals with the headaches of parenting at home, Helen faces off with a mind-controlling villain called the Screenslaver.

There are certain elements borrowed from the previous film, such as the family disagreements on how to handle hiding their powers, and if you suspect their new benefactors aren’t entirely on the up-and-up, you’d be somewhat right. Yet The Incredibles 2 does an excellent job at differentiating itself from the first and from other superhero films in general. Chief among the differences is the inclusion of other supers joining the crusade for superhero legality, and their presence allows for added creativity in the battles and actual super-vs.-super fights rather than the repeated super-vs.-robot fight of the first. Anyone who wanted more Elastigirl and Frozone shouldn’t be disappointed, and while Bob seemed sidelined by suppressed egotism and Mr. Mom franticness, it wasn’t as bad as the trailers implied. Ultimately, even with some mature themes being broached, this is still a film for and about families, with Bob’s first-hand struggles with superpowered child-rearing offering a nice counterpoint to the more action-packed beats with his wife.

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One thing that seemed like a retroactive change is that the Parrs apparently didn’t see baby Jack-Jack use his powers at the end of the first film, allowing for all of them to be surprised again by his multifaceted abilities. Jack-Jack even steals the show at times, whether he’s paired with an ornery raccoon or fashionista Edna Mode (Brad Bird). Likewise, Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner, seamlessly replacing Spencer Fox) get their fair share of screen time, especially after the villain is revealed. Speaking of which, the Screenslaver may not have as compelling a backstory as Syndrome, but the philosophy spouted by the shadowy figure has a point in denouncing people’s reliance on computer/TV screens and lack of responsibility. It’s the kind of motivation that works well for a supervillain, bearing a kernel of truth but taken to a malevolent extreme, which actually offers a legitimate threat against the supers.

I’ll be honest: I intentionally had very low expectations for The Incredibles 2. Others I know have said they had enormous hopes for it, but when you’re dealing with a film as awesome as the first Incredibles, it’s going to be hard to match. Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much compared with one of my disappointed coworkers, who likely had too many preconceived notions of what the perfect sequel should be, not unlike Star Wars fans of late. Yes, The Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor: It lacks the meaningful character arcs of the first film, its villain mystery is semi-predictable, and it raises more thematic questions about right, wrong, and responsibility than it even tries to answer. Yet it was so enjoyable to spend time with these characters again that I didn’t mind, and it still stands head-and-shoulders above the majority of animated films nowadays.

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I think I’d go so far as to call it the best Pixar sequel since Toy Story 2, at least in recapturing the spirit of the original. The action scenes are as cool and polished as anything in the MCU, and Michael Giacchino’s bombastic score is still the perfect complement to its comic book world. It’s not above some complaints, but if you compare The Incredibles 2 to Cars 2 rather than the first Incredibles, I think you’ll agree it’s an “incredible” sequel. Pixar does it again!

Best line: (Edna) “Done properly, parenting is a heroic act. [Glares at Bob’s exhaustion] “Done properly.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining the first film)

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
585 Followers and Counting

 

2018 Blindspot Pick #6: Some Like It Hot (1959)

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What do soup and summer days
And bedtime milk and big buffets
Have in common with your tea
And pie and wind and panini
And thoughts about celebrities
And temps for different types of skis?

Have you thought of it or not?
Yes, that’s right! Some like them hot.
Some also like them cold, and so
Which one are you, I’d like to know?
_______________________

MPAA rating: PG

Well, I’m still trying to catch up on my Blindspots, and since it’s been hot as blazes outside lately, Some Like It Hot seemed like a good choice for my next review. (For the record, I do not like it hot. I can’t wait for fall.) This is one of those classics among classics that it just seemed more and more wrong that I, as a movie lover, hadn’t seen it yet, which is exactly what this Blindspot series is for anyway. Now that I’ve seen it, I can recognize its special place in the pantheon of comedy, but there have been plenty of funnier movies since.

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I don’t mean to badmouth a classic, since that is what Some Like It Hot is. Starting out more like a gangster movie than a comedy, the film follows the misadventures of two musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), who keep finding themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. When they happen to witness a mob massacre by the vengeful “Spats” Colombo (George Raft), they escape Chicago by dressing as women, calling themselves Josephine and Daphne, and joining an all-girl band on their way to Miami. Of course, things get inevitably complicated when Joe becomes attracted to fellow bandmate Sugar (Marilyn Monroe) and a millionaire (Joe E. Brown) improbably falls for Jerry.

I guess crossdressing is just inherently funny, at least in the movies. That’s what the AFI seems to think, placing Some Like It Hot at #1 on their list of top 100 comedies, with Tootsie right behind at #2. (Incidentally, Mrs. Doubtfire is at #67, and I love that one more than either of the others.) While Some Like It Hot had me consistently amused, especially once Curtis and Lemmon donned their feminine alter egos, I find it laughable that this would be considered the best comedy ever made, much less one of the greatest films overall.

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Certainly, there are elements I can tell have influenced comedies since, such as Joe’s rush to change between his male and female clothes, much as Robin Williams did 34 years later. However, Joe does this in order to fool Sugar into believing he’s her wealthy dream man, which begs the question of how he thought he could get away with such a ploy in any lasting way, and his dishonesty not only makes the runtime a bit too long but is also blithely ignored when the truth comes to light, in contrast to the collective shock at the end of Tootsie or Mrs. Doubtfire. Lemmon, on the other hand, gets the best comedic scenes, sometimes struggling with his “femininity,” while other times losing himself in character.

As shameful as it is for a cinephile to admit, this is actually the first comedy I’ve seen of director Billy Wilder (I’ve at least watched his The Spirit of St. Louis) and the first film starring Marilyn Monroe. Wilder’s direction is beyond reproach, and he includes a few clever cinematic touches, like the repeated shots of “Spats” Colombo’s shoes to portend the approach of danger. Monroe had a greater challenge, though, since I had always associated her with her short-breathed, dumb blonde persona (which my VC can’t stand, for the record), but I was pleasantly surprised by her and her musical moments. Despite being a gold digger, her portrayal of Sugar was hardly one-note, even expressing weariness at her own “dumb blonde” proclivities, and I’m now much more interested than before in exploring her other iconic roles.

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While I wouldn’t call Some Like It Hot the amazing movie it is commonly considered, it was still a good one and worthy to be called a classic. I finally got to understand the context for many familiar clips, such as the famous last line and that grating “poo poo pee doo” song parodied so perfectly by Ginger on Gilligan’s Island. So, complaints aside, I’d call this a successful and long overdue Blindspot pick. By the way, did you know it’s based off a 1935 French film called Fanfare of Love? I guess that’s another film I’ll have to check out for comparison’s sake some day.

Best line: (Sugar) “Water polo? Isn’t that terribly dangerous?”   (Joe, pretending to be rich) “I’ll say. I had two ponies drowned under me.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
584 Followers and Counting