2021 Blindspot Pick #2: My Left Foot (1989)

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We get what we’re born with,
No more and no less.
Curse the sky,
Moan and sigh,
Pound the cage and wonder why;
Still, when you are out of breath,
You’ll have what led to such distress.

Our handicaps vary,
In flesh and in mind.
Is it strange
That this range
Still can lead to lasting change?
The albatrosses each must carry
Mark the best of humankind.

Yet suffering will never
Inspire by default.
‘Tis the sight
Of the fight,
Proving we are not our plight.
The hardest roads, the fool’s endeavor
Are the wins to most exalt!
_________________________

MPA rating:  R (mainly for language)

No, I haven’t forgotten about my Blindspots this year, and I plan to hurriedly catch up once school is done in September. In the meantime, I have still been able to see a few. I recall hearing my mom often speak positively about My Left Foot, but I never got around to seeing it for whatever reason. An acclaimed biopic, My Left Foot also heralded Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis as one of the premier actors of his day, which other films have since confirmed.

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It’s become a bit of cliché for actors feigning disabilities to become awards magnets, with recent criticism increasing from many communities over such portrayals. In playing the real-life painter and writer Christy Brown, Day-Lewis rises above such complaints with the sheer commitment of bringing to life a man whose life was so much more than a victim of cerebral palsy. Born into a poor but plentiful Irish family, Christy is accommodated to the best of their ability, with particular love from his doting mother Bridget (Brenda Fricker) and grudging affection from his rowdy father Patrick (Ray McAnally, who died shortly after the film’s release).

While chronic conditions like Christie’s might have led to despair and debasement (a la The Elephant Man), it’s a warm-hearted joy to see how his siblings and friends treat him as one of their own. In the Browns’ cash-strapped world, a mere wheelchair is a thing to cherish, while a desire for a room of his own results in an inspiring family effort. In Christy’s struggles, there is still a constant feeling of otherness, leading to heartbreaking moments where Day-Lewis’s intensity transcends his limited movements. The actor’s lock-jawed dialogue can be hard to make out at times, but he perfectly embodies the emotional range of his subject, from his sardonic humor to his self-pitying grief to his earnest desire for happiness.

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As award-worthy as Day-Lewis was, I felt Brenda Fricker deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar just as much. Indeed, she ranks among the finest movie mothers, both with Day-Lewis and the equally excellent Hugh O’Conor as the young Christy. There has been some debate over whether Driving Miss Daisy deserved its Best Picture win in 1989, with My Left Foot held up as the best alternative. I’ll admit that was a very competitive year (Glory wasn’t even nominated) and I would be happy with My Left Foot winning, but I do have a soft spot for Driving Miss Daisy so I’m still glad it won. Even so, My Left Foot is a shining example of a biopic that finds a perfect convergence of inspiring true story, poignant script, and ideal casting.

Best line: (Mrs. Brown) “A broken body’s nothing compared to a broken heart.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

© 2021 S.G. Liput
736 Followers and Counting

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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Behold, I am still alive! After getting through NaPoWriMo, it was certainly not my intention to take a hiatus for over a month and a half. Schoolwork has kept me crazy busy, and I will still likely post infrequently until I finish classes in September. Hold tight in the meantime; I can’t wait to return to my former posting schedule, but for now, here’s an overdue poem and review:

There are rumors in the shadows
Cast by whispers in the light
Of a coup that cannot happen
From the silent out of sight.

We were made to be compliant
And designed for docile duty,
Having never tasted freedom
Nor assayed a glimpse at beauty.

Humankind need not be worried
By the pawns they oversee.
They arranged that and believe it.
How surprised they soon will be!
___________________________

MPA rating:  R

Blade Runner was one of my Blindspot picks back in 2017. I wanted to see it before the sequel came out, but I remember being largely disappointed by its dreary vision of the future, punctuated by random weirdness, rather dull characterization, and too many loose threads. It made me lose interest in Blade Runner 2049 until just recently, as my curiosity for director Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune has grown. I loved Arrival, which heralded Villeneuve as a sci-fi visionary, and Blade Runner 2049 proves that once again, showing he can handle existing material with both respect and artistry.

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If I haven’t made myself clear, I consider Blade Runner 2049 superior to its predecessor in almost every way, even if that may be an unpopular opinion. Blade Runner’s own dystopian originality was its greatest asset, but it failed to tell an interesting story, in my opinion. This sequel set 30 years afterward isn’t just a futuristic noir about Blade Runners tracking down rogue replicants; it also plays as a reality-questioning mystery and features enough compelling sci-fi concepts to fill several episodes of Black Mirror.

Set thirty years after the first film, as indicated by the title, Blade Runner 2049 features Ryan Gosling as K, a Blade Runner who knows he is also a replicant, part of a more stable and compliant brand of artificial humans introduced by mysterious businessman Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) some years after replicants had been banned. (There’s a larger history from the last thirty years that is touched on in the excellent anime midquel titled Blade Runner Blackout 2022 and a couple other live-action shorts, the events of which are vaguely mentioned in this film but are still optional viewing.) After taking down an older model replicant in hiding (Dave Bautista), K discovers evidence that a replicant defied its biological design and apparently gave birth many years prior. With this news comes fear over its implications, so K’s boss (Robin Wright) orders him to hunt down this child to dispose of it, while Wallace’s henchwoman (Sylvia Hoeks) follows his progress with other intentions.

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Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 excels in its own sci-fi stylishness, replicating the original’s dark, grimy cityscapes and augmenting them with visits to out-of-town wastelands and ruins that make the film’s world feel bigger and, I suppose, more depressing. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has deserved many Oscars he didn’t receive in his long career, but at least the Academy recognized his artistry here. Paired with Villeneuve’s direction, scenes like a fist fight amid a holographic light show or a peaceful end under a light snowfall are visually arresting and a wonder to behold. Plus, as with Arrival, Villeneuve succeeds in setting a very deliberate pace that somehow never left me bored through the film’s 2-hour-and-44-minute runtime.

As for the actors, Gosling is a little too deadpan as a protagonist, though his status as a replicant makes that understandable, and he still delivers some subtle emotion at the right moments. One of the most fascinating subplots was K’s relationship with his holographic girlfriend Joi (an extremely attractive Ana de Armas). Her efforts to please him seem to go beyond mere programming, making us wonder whether there’s real love between the two artificial beings, even as advertisements for Joi proclaim she can be whatever you want. While the original Blade Runner reserved the smallest bit of pathos for its antagonist’s final moments, this film manages more heart, not only for K and Joi but for the returning Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who gets far less screen time than he deserves.

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Blade Runner 2049 is not above reproach. Despite being the apparent main character, K’s ultimate story arc is rather unsatisfying overall, while Jared Leto’s villain is at once mysteriously eccentric for no apparent reason and largely forgettable. The film also indulges in several instances of upper female nudity, adding to the perceived misogyny highlighted by some critics. Yet, as a fan of most science fiction, I was left quite impressed with how it was able to continue the legacy of a classic film and build on it as a true successor rather than a mere cash grab. It felt like a fuller experience than the first film and increased my opinion of the series, which can’t be said for many other decades-spanning sequels.

Best line: (a rebel replicant) “Our lives mean nothing next to a storm that’s coming. Dying for the right cause. It’s the most human thing we can do.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2021 S.G. Liput
736 Followers and Counting

NaPoWriMo 2021 Recap

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It’s amazing how National Poetry Writing Month feels way too long when in the middle of it and way too short when it’s over. But I can’t deny the sense of accomplishment I feel on the other side, clearing out my backlog of films to review and writing a host of new poems. I felt like I had less time this year to devote to the writing, so I hope the quality didn’t suffer too much. I also find it interesting (and a total coincidence) that my favorite films reviewed were the two animated ones that bookended the month. Sadly, I did miss two days, but I’m surprised I was able to keep up as well as I did. For anyone else who missed a day, here’s a recap listing the films/poems for NaPoWriMo 2021:

April 1 – Soul (2020) – List-Worthy

April 2 – A Hidden Life (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 3 – Ocean Waves (1993) – Honorable Mention

April 4 – missed due to Easter

April 5 – The Vast of Night (2020) – List Runner-Up

April 6 – The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) – Honorable Mention

April 7 – Clemency (2019) – Honorable Mention

April 8 – At Eternity’s Gate (2018) – Honorable Mention

April 9 – Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) – List Runner-Up

April 10 – A Song to Remember (1945) – List Runner-Up

April 11 – Fatal Attraction (1987) – List Runner-Up

April 12 – Cocoon (1985) – List Runner-Up (also a VC Pick)

April 13 – Outbreak (1995) – List Runner-Up

April 14 – Chappaquiddick (2017) – List Runner-Up

April 15 – Over the Moon (2020) – List Runner-Up

April 16 – The Big Year (2011) – List-Worthy

April 17 – Ad Astra (2019) – Honorable Mention

April 18 – Resistance (2020) – List Runner-Up (my personal favorite poem this month)

April 19 – Runaway Bride (1999) – List Runner-Up (tied for most likes)

April 20 – Don’t Let Go (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 21 – Platoon (1986) – List Runner-Up

April 22 – The Harvey Girls (1946) – Honorable Mention

April 23 – missed

April 24 – Mean Girls (2004) – List-Worthy

April 25 – Cloverfield (2008) – Honorable Mention

April 26 – Total Recall (1990) – List Runner-Up (also a Blindspot)

April 27 – News of the World (2020) – List-Worthy

April 28 – Yellow Rose (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 29 – Infinity Chamber (2017) – List Runner-Up

April 30 – The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021) – List-Worthy (my favorite movie of the month and tied for most likes)

A huge thank-you to everyone who read, liked, followed, and commented throughout the month, as well as the NaPoWriMo website that provided so many great daily prompts! I would still write even if it were just for me, but it warms my heart that others out there in cyberspace enjoy it too. I still plan to continue posting, just at a more relaxed schedule. Now I’m looking forward to NaPoWriMo 2022, when I’ll finally be free of school! Until then….

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

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(I almost decided to skip this last day of NaPoWriMo, being late once again, but it’s still April 30 on the West Coast, I suppose. The last prompt of April was for a poem giving directions, so mine is meant to lead to a happy family.)

There are many forks to family,
Where the road splits east and west,
Every one a chance to grow a bond
Or leave it cold and unexpressed.

Will you raise your voice or calm it,
Eye your child or your phone,
Repeat the things they want to hear
Or speak opinions of your own?

Take a left at dream-supporting,
Take a right at honesty,
And the forks will prove a straighter line
Than anyone on earth can see.
_____________________________

MPA rating:  PG

Rarely do I watch a Netflix movie so soon after it is released, but I’ve been eager to see The Mitchells vs the Machines ever since it was known as Connected and supposedly coming out last year as a non-Netflix movie. And I don’t mind it being sold to a streaming giant (thanks again, COVID) since it allowed me to watch a fantastic movie from the comfort of my home. The warm-hearted, hyperkinetic love child of Gravity Falls writers (Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe, who also directed together), The Lego Movie’s producers (Christopher Lord, Phil Miller), and Into the Spider-Verse’s animation company (Sony Pictures Animation), The Mitchells vs. the Machines is an animated blast making full use of the talents behind it.

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On the surface, The Mitchells vs. the Machines could easily have lapsed into one-note laziness, its plot boiling down to “dysfunctional family must deal with robot apocalypse.” On top of that, it really does embrace a ton of cliches, from the stressed father-daughter relationship, to the main character’s “I’m different from everyone else” monologue, to the villain saying “I already have” when they’re told they’ll never get away with it. It’s really a testament to the writing that the film is so consistently hilarious and the characters so well-realized that its strengths completely outshine the apparent weaknesses.

Honestly, this movie made me laugh harder and more often than any other in recent memory, thanks to its sly repeated gags, social commentary, and cultural self-awareness. I have long been a fan of Gravity Falls so it’s about time its writers were given an even bigger budget with which to play. My love for animation was further fed by the wondrous 2D-3D mix that Into the Spider-verse pioneered; it’s not quite as frenetic as that film’s comic book extravagance (which I think is a good thing), though it still includes imaginary, sketch-like flourishes to highlight how the movie-loving Katie Mitchell sees the world. Plus, the soundtrack is awesome, culminating especially in the action climax.

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Abbi Jacobson does a fine job as Katie, but Danny McBride as her dad, Maya Rudolph as her mom, and Olivia Colman as the AI taking over the world are pitch-perfect casting. (Rudolph’s Linda Mitchell also gets the greatest mother beast mode scene in film history.) And as I said, the script is filled with huge heart to go with its constant jokes, stressing the power of familial bonds and subverting the usual trope of only the parent needing to grow to improve the strained relationship. I can’t wait to see The Mitchells vs. the Machines again, and I sincerely hope this creative team can deliver more gems like this one.

Best line: (Katie, after her dad locks the car doors) “Yeah, that’ll keep the robots out.”
(Dad) “Hey, you don’t know. Maybe locks are the robots’ weakness.”
(Mom) “Guys, can’t we all just be terrified together as a family?”

and

(Dr. Mark Bowman, the Steve Jobs-ish creator of the AI) “I’m sorry about causing the whole machine uprising. It’s almost like stealing people’s data and giving it to a hyper-intelligent AI as part of an unregulated tech monopoly was a bad thing.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

© 2021 S.G. Liput
731 Followers and Counting

Infinity Chamber (2017)

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(For Day 29 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was to write about a scene seen through a window, so I went a bit philosophical based on this movie.)

My weak eyes caught the window
And peered into the glass
And saw my own reflection,
That transparent underclass,
Plus the view that lay behind it,
Mountains standing granite-nosed
With a forest in its orbit
And myself superimposed.
Nothing moved but my reflection,
And I wondered if I stared
Through a picture frame or window,
Something live or long since aired.
__________________________

MPA rating:  Not Rated (should be PG-13, for sporadic language)

Do you ever just pick a random movie you know nothing about from the TV on-demand list based on only its name? Such independent films typically have a 50-50 shot of being either a hidden gem or a pretentious stinker, and this was one case where the former option won out, thankfully. Infinity Chamber hasn’t received much fanfare, but it’s a top-notch reality-questioning sci-fi that deserves better than obscurity.

Apparent amnesiac Frank (Christopher Soren Kelly) wakes up in a futuristic cell, and his unseen caretaker Howard (Jesse D. Arrow) informs him that he will take care of him for the foreseeable future while providing no details on why Frank is there or even where he is. I’ll throw out a spoiler warning, but it was clear right away to me that Howard was a HAL-like AI designed to sound personable, and I feared that it would take the whole film for Frank to realize that too. Yet he figures it out fairly quickly, and the real mystery instead involves the visions of Frank’s past that the room induces as a sort of lucid dream, where he repeatedly meets a barista named Gabby (Cassandra Clark) and must deduce how he came to be in his predicament and how to escape it.

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If I had to compare Infinity Chamber to another film, I would perhaps point to other minimalist human-robot pairings like Moon, I Am Mother, or Archive, but Infinity Chamber tends to leave itself open to different interpretations while still delivering a mostly satisfying end, which is not easy to pull off. The performances are good across the board, the low-budget effects are surprisingly realistic, and its themes of automated prisons and questionable memories provoke thought as all good sci-fi should. If you’re looking for something to randomly play one night, I would highly recommend it for any sci-fi fan.

Best line: (Frank, ruminating on Howard’s role for him) “My father died of heart disease. When he got sick, they put him on this machine. Kept him alive four years. Four years longer than he was supposed to live. You think that’s a gift? The man had made his peace; he was ready to go. A machine took that away from him. It trapped him in a life that wasn’t even living. Everybody’s so d*** excited: “Look what it can do!” No one stops to think, “Look what it doesn’t do.” He was the strongest man I ever met. And I’d never seen him broken. Sometimes life’s just supposed to be what it is.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2021 S.G. Liput
731 Followers and Counting

Yellow Rose (2019)

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(For Day 28 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was to write a poem of questions, so mine asks you to compare your struggles with those of the past.)

Did the people I admire
Throw their hands up and retire
When the world was just as rotten
As the world has been to me?

Did the heroes and the dreamers
Yield to censurers and screamers
And abandon their ambitions
To accept reality?

Was their journey less demanding
Or the road more understanding
Than the one that lays before me,
Which no protest will improve?

Did the Greats not show that hoping
Is a fruitful way of coping
And each forward step you take is one
The world cannot remove?
___________________________

MPA rating:  PG-13 (for language)

Yellow Rose didn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar back in 2019, but it falls into the hidden gem category for me. Set in Texas, the film details the struggles of Filipina teenager Rose Garcia (Eva Noblezada of Broadway’s Hadestown) as she realizes she is an illegal immigrant when her mother (Princess Punzalan) is arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Suddenly without a home or a guardian, she turns to the kindness of strangers and her love of country music to give her a chance at a better life.

With immigration being very much in the news lately, Yellow Rose is both timely and heartfelt, calling out the process of immigration crackdowns while retaining empathy for all affected by it. While one might expect the story to include more anti-immigrant sentiment, the people Rose encounters are nearly all compassionate and helpful, from the kind boy she grows to like (Liam Booth) to the aging country star who recognizes her songwriting talent (Dale Watson, playing himself). On a side note, it’s interesting that both Noblezada and Lea Salonga, who plays her aunt, have played the lead in Miss Saigon on Broadway.

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The drama is uniformly genuine, and both Punzalan and Noblezada give award-worthy performances as the mother and daughter who are separated by both walls and plans for the future. Plus, Noblezada (looking and playing much younger than she is) can really sing, and her music being an outlet for her woes goes back to the blues that classic country has voiced in years past. While the film goes a bit too long in the last act and oddly never fully addresses Rose’s most pressing concern of citizenship, it’s a warm-hearted tale that bemoans the system while never losing sight of the people in it.

Best line: (Rose, to Dale, turning her strong emotions into inspiration) “I’ve got some s*** to write.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2021 S.G. Liput
731 Followers and Counting

News of the World (2020)

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(For Day 27 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was for a poem inspired by an entry in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, so I chose the term occhiolism, defined as “the awareness of the smallness of your perspective.”)

We feel very small when we listen to news,
To stories of others who lead separate lives
That warrant inclusion in public archives
While we muddle on to keep paying our dues.

This occhiolism that weakens our worth
Is no different now than in centuries past.
To hear them months later or by simulcast,
The tales are aloof from our spot on the earth.

The world has its leaders, deciders, and threats
That play on a stage we can’t hope to possess.
Our stage may be smaller, but it is not less,
No different than what any everyman gets.

The play is unscripted; the actor must choose
What happens, what follows, and who can partake.
Minute it may be, but a life is at stake,
A personal struggle that dwarfs global news.
_____________________________

MPA rating:  PG-13

I have a confession: unlike a few past years where I’ve watched all the Best Picture nominees leading up to the Oscars, I haven’t seen a single 2020 nominee. I’ll get to those eventually, but I have seen at least two snubbed but deserving films in Soul and this one. News of the World pairs Tom Hanks once again with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass in a change of pace for both of them, an understated western based on a 2016 novel.

Honestly, I would watch Tom Hanks in almost anything, so I was probably predisposed to like News of the World, but it’s a high-quality reminder that the western genre need not be dead. Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former Confederate soldier who now makes a living traveling from town to town in Texas and reading newspapers to anyone willing to listen for a dime. During his travels, he stumbles upon a young girl named Johanna (Helena Zengel) who was kidnapped and raised by the Kiowa tribe and now must be taken to her surviving relatives further south. Their journey becomes a dirt road trip of personal growth and bonding between the two, which is perhaps predictably old-fashioned but no less affecting, especially with such strong acting from the two leads.

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News of the World did at least earn Oscar nominations for its Cinematography, Score, Production Design, and Sound, none of which it won, but I’m a bit flummoxed by how little Hanks was honored throughout the awards season. His young costar Zengel at least got a Golden Globe nod, but I can’t help but feel that Hanks and the film as a whole was largely overlooked. Its deliberately low-key pace may bore some viewers, but it has its moments of action to show the Old West’s cutthroat side and explores elements of the time period that haven’t been depicted much on film, such as Kidd’s unusual news-reading vocation and the Southern resentment of the Reconstruction era, not to mention the sight of Tom Hanks riding a horse.

I’m a bit torn on how to rank News of the World, but it ultimately left me with a satisfied warmth that few films have given me recently, so I’ll bite the bullet and give it my highest rating. It might get knocked down by the end of the year, but News of the World is a showcase of both Hanks’ established talent and Zengel’s newcomer promise, an undoubtedly newsworthy pair.

Best line: (Johanna) “To move forward, you must remember first.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

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2021 Blindspot Pick #1: Total Recall (1990)

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(It seems I’m too busy to consider midnight as a deadline, so I’ll simply take part in this home stretch of NaPoWriMo as I can. For Day 26, the prompt was to write a parody poem, so I decided to imitate “Paul Revere’s Ride,” one of my favorite poems and meters, and merge it with this movie’s plot.)

Listen, dear viewers, and you shall be played
The bewildering story of Douglas Quaid.
‘Twas some future date in Two Thousand Eight Four,
(This isn’t the remake that many abhor
But Verhoeven’s version that Ahnold portrayed).

He said to his wife, “It would awesome be
If you and I could go visit Mars.”
But because she responded with apathy,
He sought out the next best way to the stars.
No one would care if he were to deign
To have memories planted into his brain,
Maybe to match his curious dreams
Of mystery women and Martian extremes.
But life, he soon found, is not quite what it seems.

When he left Rekall, he recalled very little,
Yet he soon found he was right in the middle
Of murderous Martian Machiavels
And mutants revolting beneath glass shells,
Which most would agree were far too brittle.
Was all this real, or another dream?
Was Quaid a player, and for which team?
I would tell you more, but you must agree
That reviews are best when they’re spoiler-free.
____________________________________

MPA rating:  R (strong violence, language, and nudity)

Like 2020, I’m finally getting started on my Blindspot list for the year in April, so I’ll have to double up a few times in the coming months to finish before the end of 2021. Kicking off the list is 1990’s Total Recall, a sci-fi mind-bender featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his popularity, along with Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, and Ronny Cox. It certainly represents a niche of its era that Hollywood is unlikely to resurrect successfully now that CGI is so prevalent: the hyper-violent, futuristic thriller with cheesy dialogue and effects that were amazing (and Oscar-winning) for the time and now have almost a quaint, unpolished roughness to them that somehow doesn’t detract from their quality. I’m thinking of movies like Outland, The Running Man, and director Paul Verhoeven’s own Robocop, and Total Recall is a prime example that I had somehow missed until now.

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My opinion of Total Recall is split. On the one hand, I love science fiction, and being based on a Philip K. Dick short story, the film is able to delve into a lot of fascinating subjects: questions about the nature of memories and reality, the dirty populism of a future Mars settlement, even the dependency of one’s identity on one’s memories. Plus, there are concepts that were clearly borrowed by later films, such as a red pill being offered to wake Quaid back to “reality,” not unlike The Matrix. Yet for all its impressive themes and gleefully convoluted plotline, ultra-violence has never been my cup of tea, and this movie definitely earns its R rating. Beyond the space brothels and headshots, it also gets very weird with its psychic mutants and whatnot, all of which I suppose should be no surprise considering the time period and Verhoeven’s involvement.

So Total Recall is a mixed bag for me, an unabashed sci-fi thrill ride that finds a balance between philosophizing and tearing bad guys’ arms off. It’s the kind of film I think is dragged down by its R-rated content even as I know that’s part of the appeal for its fans. I’m glad still to have watched it, even if I’d prefer to see it on a cut TV channel in the future. Take the grain and leave the chaff, as they say.

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Best line: (Kuato the mutant) “You are what you do. A man is defined by his actions, not his memory.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

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Cloverfield (2008)

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(Late again, I know, but for Day 25 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was to write a poem celebrating an occasion. Thus, the occasion is the end of the world, with the monster responsible speaking.)

Hello, all you humans and lovely to meet you,
And what an enchanting doomsday!
I hope you don’t mind it too much if I eat you,
The whole giant monster cliché.
I see you down there;
You can’t help but stare,
And I cannot blame you,
For I’m come to claim you
And wipe your whole species away.

You’ve had a good run for a few thousand years.
You’ve come a long way from the caves.
But civilization is fragile with fears
When nature no longer behaves.
Don’t cry since it’s done;
You’re wiser to run.
It won’t do much good,
But you did what you could.
I’ll be sure to dance on your graves.
_________________________

MPA rating:  PG-13

Considering I have already seen and reviewed 10 Cloverfield Lane, an in-universe sequel with no direct connection to this film, I figured I ought to actually watch the original Cloverfield. Yet while the later film was presented in typical movie style, Cloverfield is a prime example of the found footage genre, with all the first-person interactions and disorienting shaky cam that goes along with it. The plot is paper thin as five New Yorkers (among them T.J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, and Lizzy Caplan) are interrupted from their party-going and relationship drama by the sudden appearance of a giant rampaging monster.

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Cloverfield doesn’t reinvent its genre, but it’s still serviceably entertaining, with the best moments involving the horrifying beasts tearing through the city, shrewdly keeping them off-screen as much as possible to tap into that monster-you-barely-see tension. Yet its chosen format also comes off as hard-to-believe, as Miller’s character Hud continues to film every little thing long after any sane person would have put the camera down. For comparison, I thought The Dinosaur Project handled that well by making the cameras small and wearable rather than the eye-level camcorder here. I can appreciate Cloverfield’s best moments, such as the iconic Statue of Liberty head, but its repetitive, dizzying camerawork and grim ending make it less appealing than 10 Cloverfield Lane, which is a better film on every level.

Rank:  Honorable Mention

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Mean Girls (2004)

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(Yes, I sadly missed Day 23, but I didn’t want to skip another day. For Day 24 of NaPoWriMo, the prompt was to describe an animal but replace its name with something else, which I thought worked well with this movie.)

The teenage girl in her habitat
Is not unlike any other big cat.
Observe how some convene to brood
While others prize their solitude.
Observe how weaker species cringe
And keep their distance at the fringe.

Observe how, at their queen’s behest,
Girls choose a target from the rest
And so proceed to bite and claw,
Exploiting every errant flaw.
They show no mercy to their prey
And, satisfied, sashay away.
___________________________

MPA rating:  PG

Perhaps because I thought I would not enjoy a movie about, well, mean girls, I never watched Mean Girls when I was actually in high school, and being home-schooled, perhaps I wouldn’t have related to it much back then. But with every mention of “Fetch” and the Plastics in the years since, I began to feel that there was a hole in my pop culture knowledge that had to be rectified. Furthermore, I began listening to the soundtrack of Mean Girls the Broadway musical, confirming that I had to see the original movie, which is pretty much exactly what happened with Heathers too.

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Written by and co-starring Tina Fey, the story follows Cady Heron (teenage Lindsay Lohan) as her zoologist parents move her from Africa back to the U.S., where she must contend with the new reality of high school cliques. The most powerful group is the Plastics, made up of dumb Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried), gossipy Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert), and ruthless Regina George (Rachel McAdams), and the trio takes a liking to Cady. After bringing her into the fold, Cady’s misfit friends (Lizzy Caplan, Daniel Franzese) urge her to bring George down from within, and the transfer student struggles with who she wants to be.

As I watched Mean Girls, I chuckled at the jokes and nodded at the many lines borrowed by the musical, but I sort of held it at arm’s length. I don’t exactly enjoy watching girls acting mean to each other, so I wasn’t sure where the film would end up in my appraisal. Yet by the end, as empathy is extolled and everyone gets their resolution and Orbital’s soothing “Halcyon + On + On” plays over the credits, I had to admit that I liked it. The more I listened to the musical and explored how popular and quotable the film has become, I liked it even more, until it finally ended up on my end-of-2020 Top Twelve list. My VC was not as positive, feeling the high school cruelty hit a bit too close to home in her memories, so perhaps my being home-schooled helped me enjoy it more than I would have otherwise.

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Despite its outstanding script, the plot of Mean Girls feels derivative, with its trio of wannabe Heathers and the theme of high school cliques that has been used from Grease to High School Musical, yet there’s something fun and definitive about it, embracing the clichés to the point of epitomizing them. It also has had its own influence, like how Dora and the Lost City of Gold basically has the exact same plot set-up, and Lost imitated a certain bus scene just a couple years later. Regardless of why it has had such staying power, it was great fun seeing early roles for actresses that have gone on to much bigger success, as well as several SNL alumni, and I couldn’t help but notice the absence of now-ubiquitous smartphones, marking the film as a distinct product of the early 2000s. With the news that a film adaptation of the musical is in the works, I’m actually excited for more Mean Girls, surprisingly enough. It’s downright fetch.

Best line: (Cady, having an epiphany) “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

© 2021 S.G. Liput
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