2020 Blindspot Pick #10: Primer (2004)

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Time is a string,
A straight line following
Every inch with the next,
And no one expects
That line to turn back
In its infinite track
Or be wrinkled or folded
Or otherwise molded
To anything but
A straight line, never cut,
For if that occurs,
Men are mere amateurs
In the Pandora’s boxes
Of time paradoxes,
And no one is certain
What’s under the curtain,
The dreadful reveal
Of sci-fi-made-real.
_________________________

Rating: PG-13 (though Netflix shows it as R, which is odd since there is nothing objectionable)

I suppose I never appreciated how much free time I possessed when I had just school or just work taking up the bulk of my day. Now that I have both, it seems like everything else has been sliding to a lower priority level, including this blog sadly. Nevertheless, I have not forgotten it! Speaking of time, it’s time now to check another entry from my Blindspot list, a film about time travel that has earned a reputation for being intractably complex. Indeed, Primer is the kind of movie, like last year’s Tenet, that doesn’t just benefit from but needs a diagram or outside explanation to fully grasp it, which makes it a hard sell for people who enjoy understanding what they watch.

Made on an extreme shoestring budget (about $7000), Primer is not your typical time travel flick; there are no flashes of lightning or fancy special effects to adorn its bare-bones tale of accidental scientific discovery. Its two main characters, Abe and Aaron, are a couple of moonlighting engineers who share resources with other small-time inventors; there’s no attempt at making them personable for the audience or even translating the scientific jargon that makes up much of the dialogue. A weight-reduction experiment somehow results in an unusual small-scale time loop, and the two inventors realize they’ve stumbled onto something big when its application for humans becomes clear.

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Many a time travel movie tries to pass itself off as “realistic,” even though the paradoxes involved with the ever-cool concept make it inherently not; Primer attempts this through its low-key, unglamorous style and how it injects actual science into the dialogue. I liked the idea of discovering time travel by accident, similar to the excellent anime/game Steins;Gate, and I was preparing my thinking cap as the characters figured out how to make it work. The concept of entering a box where time is reversed and exiting at a point in the past, keeping yourself isolated beforehand to avoid interacting with your double, made sense for the most part, and I started thinking, “This isn’t so complex.” And then the plot went off the deep end….

I have read the description and rewatched parts of the movie to try to wrap my head around the story, and I can honestly say that I believe I understand most of it (which is more than I can say for Tenet), but not without a good amount of mental effort. I don’t mind films that make you think, but I find it a bit annoying when a film throws a wrench in the plot and doesn’t even care to give the audience a shred of time to decipher its meaning. There’s a running narration, but the language used seems intentionally vague, and certain plot points are dropped without any explanation whatsoever. And this was on purpose, according to Shane Carruth, who served as director, actor (as Aaron), composer, writer, and editor, a true auteur like Jamin Winans. Carruth wanted this sense of bewilderment to stress the confusion of time travel for the characters, and he succeeded, though whether that is a good thing is debatable.

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Primer is a puzzle-box movie if ever there was one. The puzzle is the reason for its existence, with things like character development or eye-catching visuals pushed to the background. I enjoyed that moment of “eureka, I think I get it,” which only happened after the credits rolled a second time, but the intentional opacity of the plot certainly doesn’t equate to entertainment value. Whether the appeal of the former outweighs the latter is entirely subjective and dependent on each person’s capacity for wondering what the heck is going on. I would agree that Primer is a required watch for anyone seeking a comprehensive view of time travel in cinema, but I don’t consider it a positive that the main reason to see it again is to gain a semblance of understanding as to what you just saw.

Best line: (Aaron, to Abe) “Man, are you hungry? I haven’t eaten since later this afternoon.”

Rank:  Dishonorable Mention (That seems harsh, but I doubt I’ll watch it again.)

© 2021 S.G. Liput
716 Followers and Counting

2020 Blindspot Pick #9: Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

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“Honor thy father and mother.”
How simple and subtle a rule!
Our methods may vary
And end up contrary
To what we expected in school.

Our strained obligations
To past generations
Are wholesome but no longer cool.

Our lives take priority
Over seniority
Lest we be labeled a fool.

Good children are rarest
Where they be embarrassed
By wrinkles, dementia, and drool.

A list of excuses
Can equal abuses,
And lack of concern can be cruel.
_______________________

MPA rating:  Approved (easy G, though likely not of interest to kids)

Continuing with my 2020 Blindspots has still been subject to delays, but I’ll finish them one way or another, even if it means keeping my reviews short. It’s time now for the oldest entry on the list, 1937’s Make Way for Tomorrow, which seems to have earned the distinction of being a desperately sad drama long before more modern tearjerkers stained viewers’ cheeks and made this unsung classic fade from cinematic memory. Boasting a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes yet failing to earn a single Oscar nomination, it’s one of those films that leaves you surprised that it’s not more well-known.

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Make Way for Tomorrow qualifies as what I call a Triple A movie, one that is All About the Acting. The performances are nuanced and subtle, a far cry from the histrionics associated with old Hollywood, with stars Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi in top form. The pair, both significantly aged up with makeup made seamless by the black-and-white format, play the elderly Bark and Lucy Cooper, who are forced out of their home by the bank and must rely on the goodwill of their five grown children to board them. No one can take both parents, so they must live apart; as they wear on the nerves of the kids and their families, everyone wishes in vain for some better arrangement.

Based on a play that was based on a novel, the script of Make Way for Tomorrow is notable for its realism and pervasive sense of empathy. It’s the kind of situation that many families have no doubt had to endure, and you can’t entirely blame anyone for their frustration with it. One daughter (Elisabeth Risdon) who takes in Pa Cooper seems needlessly harsh and impatient, but Pa Cooper also acts opinionated and stubborn as he misses his wife. We can all say how we would act in such a situation, but I expect most people would find they have less patience than they think they do.

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Ma Cooper’s motherly idiosyncrasies in the home of her son George (Thomas Mitchell) brought to mind the more humorous aggravation from Doris Roberts’ Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond, and it’s a testament to the authenticity of the characters that such universal circumstances can inspire both comedy and drama. Bondi as Ma Cooper is the real heart of the film, and her last selfless scene with her son is a punch to the heartstrings. (It’s interesting to note that she plays Thomas Mitchell’s mother here, while she would play his sister nine years later in It’s a Wonderful Life.) By the end, I’ll admit the film does seem longer than its relatively short 91-minute runtime, but Moore and Bondi fill their few scenes together with the comfortable chemistry of a couple whose love has persisted through decades, which only makes the pitiable situation sadder. The director, Leo McCarey, actually won the Best Director Academy Award that year for The Awful Truth but said on stage that he thought they “gave it to [him] for the wrong picture”; I haven’t seen The Awful Truth myself, but I tend to think he was right.

Best line: (Lucy Cooper, quoting a poem, the source of which I’m still unsure but it deserves a place on my Poems in Movies list)

A man and a maid stood hand in hand
Bound by a tiny wedding band.
Before them lay the uncertain years
That promised joy and maybe tears.
“Is she afraid?” thought the man of the maid.

“Darling,” he said in a tender voice,
“Tell me. Do you regret your choice?
We know not where the road may wind,
Or what strange byways we may find.
Are you afraid?” said the man to the maid.

She raised her eyes and spoke at last.
“My dear,” she said, “the die is cast.
The vows have been spoken. The rice has been thrown.
Into the future we’ll travel alone.
With you,” said the maid, “I’m not afraid.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2021 S.G. Liput
714 Followers and Counting

2020 Blindspot Pick #8: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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It’s really a shame that mankind at its worst
Is seen more conspicuously than its best,
Like children who cry getting tended and cursed
By those who decide children all are a pest,
While one quiet child can’t hope to reverse
The hostile impressions ingrained by the rest.

There still are some saints that can shine over sin,
Their kindnesses somehow worth more in our eyes.
But how can we drown out the negative din
If so few are willing to re-humanize?
It doesn’t much matter who’ll lose and who’ll win
If basic civility meets its demise.
________________________

MPA rating:  R (for profanity, a couple violent scenes, and a few explicit paintings)

“Better late than never” will be my catchphrase for the next several weeks, since school and life in general have put me so far behind my desired posting schedule. Heck, I’m only ¾ of the way through last year’s Blindspots. But here at last I am continuing the list with Wes Anderson’s most decorated film, the ornately madcap farce The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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I’m still not sure what my opinion of Wes Anderson is in general. I’ve seen Rushmore, Isle of Dogs, and Fantastic Mr. Fox before, and I can’t say I loved or hated any of them. I enjoy his eccentric and fastidious production design to a certain extent but mainly as unique oddities, admiring his work from the outside but never feeling drawn in by the world of the story. The Grand Budapest Hotel probably comes the closest to achieving that, thanks to the well-drawn characters and how Anderson’s ever-present drollery gives way to pathos by the end. It’s an odd set-up, the plot being portrayed as a reading of a recollection of a conversation of a memory, jumping back in time with each story layer, but the way it breeds a sense of bygone nostalgia is rather remarkable.

Although this movie mainly won Oscars in non-acting categories (Best Production Design, Score, Costume Design, Makeup), one area in which Anderson’s films excel is casting. The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock full of recognizable stars, sometimes as mere cameos, including frequent collaborators like Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Willem Dafoe. Foremost in the cast is Ralph Fiennes as the titular hotel’s esteemed concierge Monsieur Gustave H., and his portrayal of the demanding dandy is surprisingly layered as he takes under his wing the hotel’s new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori, a.k.a. Flash Thompson in the MCU Spider-Man films). Revolori gives a marvelous debut performance opposite Fiennes, and their relationship grows sweeter and more poignant with time. What at first seems like an alpine comedy of manners takes turns morphing into a murder mystery, a prison break film, and a black comedy, somehow surviving these tonal shifts due to Anderson’s unmistakable stamp of ownership.

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At times it felt as if Wes Anderson the auteur was tossing in elements he had always wanted to film, such as the extended jailbreak sequence, which goes on too long but seemed like it was fun to implement. At another point, there’s an artfully shot scene of a man being stalked through dark interiors which felt directly inspired by Hitchcock. I do wish that Anderson had excised some of the more mature elements, since they seemed contrary to the film’s overall old-world charm and refreshing eloquence of speech. Yet there is much to enjoy and commend about The Grand Budapest Hotel, from the expansive ensemble to the picturesque locations and cleverly articulate script to Gustave’s gospel of refined gentility and moments of unexpected humor that warrant a chuckle if not a laugh out loud. As with the director’s style in general, the fragmented narrative may not be to everyone’s taste, but I would say The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson at his best.

Best line: (Mr. Moustafa, of Gustave H.) “There are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity… He was one of them. What more is there to say?”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2021 S.G. Liput
711 Followers and Counting

THE LIST (2021 Update)

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As promised, it’s time to post my latest update of THE LIST, my ultimate top 365 film countdown, which is technically more than 365 since I group sequels and similar films together. There aren’t any huge changes this time, with only thirteen films being added, two of which are being grouped with others. Yet we have both low and high rankers, with one even managing to crack the Top 100. And yes, Psycho still somehow remains firmly ensconced at #365.

The new films added are in bold below for easy identification, and there has been a little shuffling for the existing films on the List. I believe the greatest rise belongs to Eddie the Eagle gaining 27 places, while Bridge of Spies suffered the greatest loss, falling from #298 right off the list entirely. Imagine “Taps” playing as I give a special mention to the films I sadly had to remove to make room for the new blood: Serendipity, Time of Eve, Marriage Story,  Lion, The Brave Little Toaster, Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), Have a Little Faith, The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, The Others, and Bridge of Spies. These are all still great films in my book and can wear the label of former List-Worthiness proudly.

As we set out on another year of life and movies and Rhyme and Reason, I want to once again thank everyone who reads and follows this blog of mine and takes any interest in my poetry-movie mash-ups and impulsive list-making. After last year, I don’t know what 2021 has in store, but hopefully it will include lots of great movies to add to this list a year from now, plus easier times all around. May God bless us, every one!

1.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)
2.  Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
3.  Forrest Gump (1994)
4.  It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
5.  The Sound of Music (1965)
6.  Star Wars Trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983)
7.  Finding Nemo (2003) and Finding Dory (2016)
8.  Titanic (1997)
9.  Toy Story Series  (1995, 1999, 2010, 2019)
10.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
11.  The Princess Bride (1987)
12.  Beauty and the Beast (1991)
13.  Groundhog Day (1993)
14.  The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
15.  The Prince of Egypt (1998)
16.  You’ve Got Mail (1998)
17.  The Wizard of Oz (1939)
18.  The Avengers (2012), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Infinity War (2018), and Endgame (2019)
19.  Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
20.  War Horse (2011)
21.  The Incredibles (2004) and The Incredibles 2 (2018)
22.  Cast Away (2000)
23.  Heart and Souls (1993)
24.  Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, 2007) and Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
25.  Tarzan (1999)
26.  Les Miserables (2012)
27.  Ben-Hur (1959)
28.  Star Trek (2009)
29.  The Chronicles of Narnia (2005, 2008, 2010)
30.  The Family Man (2000)
31.  The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001)
32.  Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
33.  Oliver! (1968)
34.  Whisper of the Heart (1995)
35.  Spider-Man Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007)
36.  The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2004)
37.  Elizabethtown (2005)
38.  Doctor Zhivago (1965)
39.  Chariots of Fire (1981)
40.  Babe (1995)
41.  The Blues Brothers (1980)
42.  Jurassic Park (1993)
43.  84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
44.  National Treasure (2004) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
45.  Ratatouille (2007)
46.  The Fugitive (1993)
47.  True Grit (1969, 2010)
48.  Evita (1996)
49.  The Lion King (1994)
50.  Inception (2010)
51.  When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
52.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
53.  Lilies of the Field (1963)
54.  Life of Pi (2012)
55.  Mary Poppins (1964)
56.  Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
57.  Glory (1989)
58.  Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
59.  The Sixth Sense (1999)
60.  Back to the Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)
61.  Aliens (1986)
62.  Life Is Beautiful (1997)
63.  Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
64.  The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
65.  Awakenings (1990)
66.  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
67.  Paulie (1998)
68.  Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
69.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
70.  Big (1988)
71.  Jumanji (1995)
72.  Somewhere in Time (1980)
73.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
74.  A Christmas Story (1983)
75.  Speed (1994)
76.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
77. Little Women (1994, 2019)
78.  1776 (1972)
79.  High School Musical Trilogy (2006, 2007, 2008)
80.  Wit (2001)
81.  Serenity (2005)
82.  Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
83.  Gone with the Wind (1939)
84.  Aladdin (1992)
85.  The Greatest Showman (2017)
86.  Saints and Soldiers (2003)
87.  La La Land (2016)
88.  Fantasia (1940)
89.  Shadowlands (1993)
90.  Hook (1991)
91.  Young Frankenstein (1974)
92.  The Truman Show (1998)
93.  The Ten Commandments (1956)
94.  Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999, 2002, 2005)
95.  October Sky (1999)
96.  Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
97.  Holes (2003)
98.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
99.  The Martian (2015)
100. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
101.  About Time (2013)
102.  Mr. Church (2016)
103.  Taking Chance (2009)
104.  Star Trek into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek Beyond (2016)
105.  Signs (2002)
106.  The Blind Side (2009)
107.  Star Trek: Generations (1994)
108.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
109.  The Santa Clause (1994)
110.  Starman (1984)
111.  My Fair Lady (1964)
112.  The Passion of the Christ (2004)
113.  Train to Busan (2016)
114. 1917 (2019)
115.  On Golden Pond (1981)
116.  Brother Bear (2003)
117.  WALL-E (2008)
118.  The Green Mile (1999)
119.  Air Force One (1997)
120.  Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2013)
121.  Shrek 2 (2004)
122.  Big Hero 6 (2014)
123.  Iron Man Trilogy (2008, 2010, 2013)
124.  To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
125.  The Matrix (1999)
126.  Ghostbusters II (1989)
127.  The Right Stuff (1983)
128.  Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
129.  Shuffle (2011)
130.  The Mask of Zorro (1998) and The Legend of Zorro (2005)
131.  The Color Purple (1985)
132.  Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
133.  Ready Player One (2018)
134.  Shrek (2001)
135.  The King’s Speech (2010)
136.  X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
137.  The Hunger Games series (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
138.  Yentl (1983)
139.  Men in Black Trilogy (1997, 2002, 2012)
140.  Skyfall (2012)
141.  The Music Man (1962)
142.  Ghostbusters (1984)
143.  Regarding Henry (1991)
144.  Alien (1979)
145.  The Polar Express (2004)
146.  Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
147.  Julie and Julia (2009)
148.  Airplane! (1980)
149.  Castle in the Sky (1986)
150.  Darkest Hour (2017)
151.  Secondhand Lions (2003)
152.  A Christmas Carol (any version)
153. Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
154. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
155.  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
156. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
157.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
158.  The Little Mermaid (1989)
159.  Die Hard trilogy (1988, 1990, 1995)
160. Soul (2020)
161.  Source Code (2011)
162.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
163.  Planet of the Apes Trilogy (2011, 2014, 2017)
164.  Inside Out (2015)
165.  Extraordinary Measures (2010)
166.  Overboard (1987)
167.  Cinderella (1950) / Cinderella (2015)
168.  A League of Their Own (1992)
169.  The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971)
170.  Tangled (2010)
171.  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
172.  Zootopia (2016)
173.  The Untouchables (1987)
174.  Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
175.  Ella Enchanted (2004)
176.  Splash (1984)
177.  Monsters, Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013)
178.  Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)
179.  The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)
180.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
181.  Enchanted (2007)
182.  Up (2009)
183.  What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
184.  Ant-Man (2015) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
185.  Wolf Children (2012)
186.  Jojo Rabbit (2019)
187.  Your Name (2016)
188.  Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
189.  Pocahontas (1995)
190.  Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
191.  Rudy (1993)
192.  Mulan (1998)
193.  Hidden Figures (2016)
194.  How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
195.  Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Vol. 2 (2017)
196.  Labyrinth of Lies (2014)
197.  Treasure Planet (2002)
198.  Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018)
199.  Mission: Impossible III (2006), Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation (2015), and Fallout (2018)
200.  Selma (2014)
201. Knives Out (2019)
202.  As Good As It Gets (1997)
203.  King of Thorn (2010)
204.  Les Miserables (1998)
205.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
206.  Spaceballs (1987)
207.  The Way (2010)
208.  The Prestige (2006)
209.  United 93 (2006)
210.  Déjà Vu (2006)
211.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
212.  Doc Hollywood (1991)
213.  Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Far from Home (2019)
214.  Blinded by the Light (2019)
215.  Foul Play (1978)
216.  Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
217.  Saving Private Ryan (1998) / The Longest Day (1962)
218.  Frozen (2013) and Frozen II (2019)
219.  The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012)
220. Harriet (2019)
221.  Woman in Gold (2015)
222.  Twister (1996)
223.  Coco (2017)
224.  Funny Girl (1968)
225.  Rocky (1976), Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), and Creed (2015)
226.  Hello, Dolly! (1969)
227.  Joyeux Noël (2005)
228. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
229.  To Sir, with Love (1967)
230. Weathering with You (2019)
231.  April and the Extraordinary World (2015) / Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
232.  Out of Africa (1985)
233.  Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
234.  The Hobbit Trilogy (2012, 2013, 2014)
235.  Cars (2006) and Cars 3 (2017)
236.  Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
237.  Hoosiers (1986)
238.  Gravity (2013)
239.  The Great Escape (1963)
240.  The Naked Gun (1988)
241.  Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)
242.  Philadelphia (1993)
243.  Raising Arizona (1987)
244. The Jerk (1979)
245.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
246.  Ghost (1990)
247.  Misery (1990)
248.  School of Rock (2003)
249. 42 (2013)
250.  Captain Phillips (2013)
251.  Something the Lord Made (2004)
252.  Vantage Point (2008)
253.  Peter Pan (1953)
254.  The Terminal (2004)
255.  Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980)
256.  Eddie the Eagle (2016)
257.  Soul Man (1986)
258.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
259.  Jane Eyre (1970)
260.  Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension (2011)
261.  The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
262.  The Girl Who Leapt through Time (2006)
263.  Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Waterworld (1995)
264.  Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008)
265. Ride Your Wave (2019)
266.  Cloud Atlas (2012)
267.  Anastasia (1997)
268.  X-Men (2000) and X2: X-Men United (2003)
269.  Green Book (2018)
270.  Surrogates (2009)
271.  Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
272.  WarGames (1983)
273.  My Girl (1991)
274.  Chronesthesia (or Love and Time Travel) (2016)
275.  The Ultimate Gift (2006)
276.  The Way Back (2010)
277.  Memphis Belle (1990)
278.  Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
279.  Dances with Wolves (1990)
280.  The Terminator (1984)
281.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
282.  The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
283.  Casablanca (1942)
284.  Rain Man (1988) and Dominick and Eugene (1988)
285.  Pinocchio (1940)
286.  City Slickers (1991)
287.  The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
288.  Patema Inverted (2013)
289.  Forget Paris (1995)
290.  A Silent Voice (2016) / Hear Me (2009)
291.  Doctor Strange (2016)
292.  Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
293.  Dunkirk (2017)
294.  Murphy’s Romance (1985)
295.  Shenandoah (1965)
296.  The Red Violin (1999)
297.  Arrival (2016)
298.  Hidden (2015) and A Quiet Place (2018)
299.  A View to a Kill (1985) along with most other Bond films I’ve seen, including Spectre (2015)
300.  Wonder Woman (2017)
301.  Con Air (1997)
302.  Shazam! (2019)
303.  Annie (1999)
304.  The Elephant Man (1980)
305.  The River Wild (1994)
306.  A Beautiful Mind (2001)
307.  Finding Forrester (2000)
308.  Unbreakable (2000)
309.  Starter for 10 (2006)
310.  Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)
311.  The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
312.  Wayne’s World (1992)
313.  Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
314.  The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010)
315.  Steel Magnolias (1989)
316. Mean Girls (2004)
317.  Searching (2018)
318.  The Nativity Story (2006)
319.  Dancer in the Dark (2000
320.  Please Stand By (2018)
321. The Big Year (2011)
322.  The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
323.  Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
324.  Music and Lyrics (2007)
325.  Sister Act (1992)
326.  The Abyss (1989)
327.  The Breakfast Club (1985)
328.  Places in the Heart (1984)
329.  Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
330.  Klaus (2019)
331.  Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
332.  In Time (2011)
333.  Thor (2011), Thor: The Dark World (2013), and Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
334.  Galaxy Quest (1999)
335.  Minority Report (2002)
336.  Swiss Family Robinson (1960)337.  Scrooged (1988)
338.  A Monster Calls (2016)
339.  Wuthering Heights (1970)
340.  Coma (1978)
341.  The Peanuts Movie (2015)
342.  Trading Places (1983)
343.  Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
344.  Remember the Titans (2000)
345.  Seven Samurai (1954) / The Magnificent Seven (1960/2016)
346.  Citizen Kane (1941)
347.  The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016)
348.  Sneakers (1992)
349.  Dave (1993)
350. Captain Marvel (2019)
351.  The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
352.  The Majestic (2001)
353.  Joseph: King of Dreams (2000)
354.  Baby Boom (1987)
355.  Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (2003)
356.  The Wind Rises (2013)
357.  Ordinary People (1980) and Rabbit Hole (2010)
358.  A Bug’s Life (1998)
359.  The Last Days (or Los Ultimos Días) (2013)
360.  Chicken Run (2000)
361.  Hercules (1997)
362.  Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
363.  Cloak and Dagger (1984)
364.  The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
365.  Psycho (1960)

My 7th Blogiversary and 2020 List Additions

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Wow, another year gone, one that I’m sure no one wants to repeat. Good riddance, and welcome to 2021! It has now been seven years since I started this blog, compiling my Top 365 movies on a whim and counting them down with a poem, one a day back in 2014. While my pace has grown more relaxed since then, my love of movies and poetry has only grown, and I’ve continued to discover more and more hidden gems and new releases over the years.

While there have been jokes this year about people having nothing to do but watch Netflix, I have had less free time than ever in 2020 due to working from home and attempting to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Thus, I haven’t watched nearly as many films, which has sadly slowed my reviewing schedule as well. Nevertheless, a select few that I have seen deserve a list here at the end of the year as movies worthy to be added to that Top 365 List I mentioned above. It’s the smallest number I’ve added thus far but just enough for my traditional Top Twelve List. Many of them are holdovers from 2019 while a couple are movies I’ve reevaluated and appreciated more with time.

As always, I want to reiterate that these are List-Worthy films I have seen over the past year, not a ranking specific to 2019 or 2020, and solely based on my personal, changeable opinion. I always run behind on movie-watching, which is why so many 2019 films are here, so I’m sure there are plenty of worthwhile 2020 films I’ll need to catch up on, not to mention all the releases delayed to 2021 due to COVID. Also, I wish to give a special shout-out to the Runner-Up movies who came awfully close to securing a place on the list but didn’t quite make the cut: Ford v Ferrari, Parasite, The Upside, Paddington and Paddington 2, Big Trouble in Little China, The Pride of the Yankees, Runaway Bride, Doctor Sleep, Fast and Furious 6 – 8, Don’t Let Go, The Vast of Night, and Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.

So what do you think of my top movies seen this year? I welcome recommendations of all kinds, and hopefully I’ll be able to fit more movie-watching into my schedule this year and have more than a scant twelve additions to ring in 2022. Here’s hoping that it will be a better year all around!

12. Frozen II (2019), joining the original

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Like so many others, I was Frozened out long before the inevitable sequel was announced, but Disney still managed to deliver a mostly satisfying mythic follow-up to its biggest hit of the last decade. Issues with the plot notwithstanding, I enjoyed this second visit to Arendelle almost as much as the first.

11. The Big Year (2011)

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I haven’t gotten a chance to review this film yet and defend its placement, but I will. It may not seem like the kind of movie to earn a spot on a favorites list, but this under-the-radar film about bird watchers was a charmer from start to finish. Like Please Stand By last year, it’s a film I just liked, from its great comedic cast to its soundtrack to its subtext about life and obsession.

10. Mean Girls (2004)

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I’ll be honest: I did not expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did, even while I was watching it. Whenever someone would reference or quote this movie, I got the feeling that I had missed a part of pop culture specific to my generation, and I’m glad to have caught up with this quotable high school satire. Like Heathers, my fondness for the musical version may have something to do with my regard for the film.

9. Ride Your Wave (2019)

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Masaaki Yuasa never struck me as a director whose work would appeal to me, but Ride Your Wave caught me off-guard with its deeply felt story of love, loss, and holding on to the past. Fanciful without getting too weird, its sweet romance yields to a gut punch of emotion, and I love anime that can make such a tonal shift successfully.

8. 42 (2013)

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I had seen 42 before, but it wasn’t till my second watch, after the loss of star Chadwick Boseman, that I truly appreciated it as a top-notch sports biopic. Jackie Robinson’s story is inspiring even without the big-screen treatment, but Boseman and Harrison Ford bring his struggle and success to life wonderfully.

7. The Jerk (1979)

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Again, I saw The Jerk long ago, but a rewatch made me ask (between laughs), “Why isn’t this movie on my list?” The juggling cats scene alone leaves me in stitches every time.

6. Weathering with You (2019)

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Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to the megahit Your Name had a tough act to follow, but Weathering with You came close in replicating its predecessor’s mix of fantasy and youthful romance (and rain, lots of rain). The animation is second to none, and the music perfectly complements the beauty of the story.

5. Harriet (2019)

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Like 42, Harriet finally gives an African-American icon their due. Uplifted by a ferociously compelling performance by Cynthia Erivo, this faith-friendly biopic only deepened my admiration for Harriet Tubman as an American hero.

4. Knives Out (2019)

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Outside of Hallmark Channel, murder mysteries don’t get enough love on screen these days, but writer-director Rian Johnson succeeded in putting a unique stamp on such material with an all-star cast and a gleefully twisty narrative with subtle social themes. More please!

3. Soul (2020)

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Although I only saw Soul yesterday, its status as top-tier Pixar is doubtless. Exploring deep themes of inspiration and the meaning of life in a way more understandable for adults but still accessible to kids is a feat I would expect only from Pixar.

2. 1917 (2019)

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As deserving as Bong Joon-ho was for Parasite, Sam Mendes should have won not just Best Director for 2019 but possibly for the decade. 1917 is a monumental achievement in filmmaking, an artful, immersive war film that seems designed to cater to my love of tracking shots.

1. Little Women (1994 and 2019)

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Just like La La Land a few years ago, I walked away from last year’s Little Women with a rare glow that few films impart. The acting, the scenery, the period detail, the literary message of encouragement that spoke to me personally, the blend of modern and traditional sensibilities – Greta Gerwig brought everything together beautifully. Likewise, I enjoyed the 1994 version with its equally likable leads and more linear storyline, which is why I’m grouping them together. I never thought of Little Women as a story for me, but I love it dearly now.

So ends another year of movie-watching as another one begins. Keeping with tradition, here are some unofficial awards for the List-Worthy movies, including a few Runners-up as well.

Best opening scene:  Furious 7

Best final scene:  1917 (considering it’s the whole last third of the film)

Coolest scene:  Furious 7

Biggest emotional impact:  Ride Your Wave

Oldest film:  The Jerk (1979)

Most recent film:  Soul (2020)

Longest film:  Little Women (135 minutes)

Shortest film:  The Jerk (94 minutes)

Best soundtrack:  The Big Year

Best score:  Soul

Best special effects:  1917

Most mind-bending: Tenet

Most family-friendly:  Paddington

Most mature:  1917

Scariest:  Doctor Sleep

Funniest:  The Jerk

Best VC Pick:  Big Trouble in Little China

Best male performance:  probably Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (even if I didn’t care for the film itself)

Best female performance:  Cynthia Erivo in Harriet

Personal favorite poem written:  Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Most represented year: 2019, with seven films

Tomorrow I plan to post my updated Top 365 Movie List, incorporating the additions listed above. I do want to say a special thanks to all readers, likers, followers, commenters, and anyone who happens upon this humble blog of mine. I have no delusions of influence when it comes to blogging. It’s just a fun way of translating my love of movies and poetry to the digital word, and the fact that anyone cares to read those words always brings a smile to my face. Thank you, and I hope and pray for the best for all of us in the new year!

2020 Blindspot Pick #7: Heathers (1989)

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The more I see in movies
Of a high school student’s woes,
The tricks and cliques and politics,
The mockery of clothes,
The favoritism, criticism,
Narcissism, hedonism,
Overwhelming pessimism
All the films have shown…
I feel more blessed for all the pros
Of being schooled at home.
_____________________

MPA rating:  R (for frequent profanity and occasional violence)

Well, it looks like my Blindspot list for 2020 didn’t go as expected, along with almost everything else about 2020. I may have only gotten to #7 out of the initial 12 Blindspots, but I’ll do my best to knock out the last few ASAP before getting to a new list for 2021. Still, I wanted to get one more Blindspot pick out of the way this year, which has also been the most accessible one all year. (It’s on YouTube in its entirety.) I’ve been hesitant to watch Heathers, though; I’ve listened to and greatly enjoyed the soundtrack to Heathers: The Musical, and I just wasn’t sure if the original film would measure up to my expectations, minus the show tunes. I’d say it did meet them, but I can’t help but have mixed feelings.

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Heathers follows Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), a half-willing member of the feared/admired high school clique known as the Heathers: Heather McNamara (Lisanne Falk), Heather Duke (Shannon Doherty), and the queen of mean-girl stereotypes Heather Chandler (Kim Walker). Bristling under the thumb of Heather Chandler, Veronica grows close to classmate J.D. (Christian Slater), whose ideas of retaliating against the popular kids become more and more psychotic. Repressed teens may often wish their bullies were dead, as Veronica does, but J.D. is willing to grant such wishes.

Being familiar with the musical meant that very little about the plot of Heathers surprised me, though certain characters were combined and events shuffled around as needed for the stage adaptation. I was mainly surprised that the film already began with Veronica as a member of the Heathers, whereas the musical takes a little more time portraying her initiation. However, where both versions excel is black comedy, which is a very touchy genre for me. I can appreciate something like Beetlejuice, which also starred Winona Ryder and Glenn Shadix the previous year, but such films can also just come off as mean-spirited or in bad taste, which I don’t find entertaining. While I knew going in that it’s not exactly High School Musical, Heathers threatens to be in the latter category with its frequent profanity and making light of teenage suicide and homosexuality. Yet the film has some surprising depth to its satire and manages to weave some insightful themes into its droll plot: the stress of not liking your own friends, the eagerness with which the powerless can exploit newfound influence, the sensationalism that dark subjects impart in those with good intentions and no solution, and the difference that empathy or its absence can have on someone. Oh, and of course the signs that your boyfriend might be a psychopath.

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One ingredient I can say I liked was Winona Ryder, on whom I have something of a celebrity crush. She perfectly originates the sarcastic frustration of Veronica and evokes a sense of growth as she seeks to atone for the evil influence of Heather Chandler and J.D. Slater is also an effective bad boy doing his best Jack Nicholson impression, and the rest of the cast excel at their high school clichés, though it’s disturbing that two cast members later died in ways that the film foreshadowed. Another aspect worth commendation is that unique confidence of style that certain ‘80s films had, regardless of director, as if they knew they would become iconic eventually. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Say Anything come to mind, and Heathers likewise feels like the kind of film that knew exactly what it wanted to be, which is rare for high school movies these days that often just try to imitate what came before. Maybe my exposure to the musical accentuated that, as I recognized the origins of songs like “Big Fun” and “Our Love Is God.” So, although my feelings remain mixed on content, I largely enjoyed Heathers as a paragon of dark high school humor, mainly because its ultimate goal is empathy, something that we could use a lot more of nowadays.

Best line: (Veronica) “All we want is to be treated like human beings, not to be experimented on like guinea pigs or patronized like bunny rabbits.”
(Veronica’s dad) “I don’t patronize bunny rabbits.”
(Veronica’s mom) “Treated like human beings? Is that what you said, little Miss Voice-of-a-Generation? Just how do you think adults act with other adults? You think it’s all just a game of doubles tennis? When teenagers complain that they want to be treated like human beings, it’s usually because they are being treated like human beings.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
708 Followers and Counting

Happy New Year, everybody!

2020 Blindspot Pick #6: Moulin Rouge! (2001)

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They say not to judge a book by its cover:
A frontispiece hater could turn to a lover,
If only you got to the end.

You may still despise it a few chapters in,
But stopping too early is almost a sin,
For still you do not know the end.

You may get halfway and still loathe it intensely,
And yet sticking with it could pay off immensely,
If only you got to the end.

Not much more to go, but you’re tempted to quit?
That’s something that nobody wants to admit,
For still you do not know the end.

You finished! I see, and your hatred’s the same?
I thought you would like it, so that is a shame,
At least, though, you now know the end.
________________________

MPA rating:  PG-13 (for much sexual innuendo)

Oh, Baz Luhrmann, I don’t know what to make of you. I take pride in enjoying musicals, and I fully expected to like Moulin Rouge! if only for its status as a jukebox musical. I knew it incorporated more modern songs into its 1900 Parisian setting, so I was prepared for the requisite anachronisms. But my gosh, I haven’t watched a film that was this bipolar in tone since, well, Strictly Ballroom, also by Luhrmann.

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I remember Strictly Ballroom as a wholly unique experience. It started out as an obnoxious mockumentary that I was certain I disliked after the first few minutes, but then it just kept getting better, from the romance to the dancing, until it actually won me over by the end. Moulin Rouge! attempts to do the same thing but not nearly as well. The story follows the tragic love story of young poet Christian (Ewan McGregor), who is hastily initiated into a troupe of Bohemian artists and introduced to the lovely Satine (Nicole Kidman), starlet of the Moulin Rouge cabaret and desire of a jealous duke (Richard Roxburgh). That short plot description sounds normal enough, but the in-your-face style is utterly insufferable for the first thirty minutes, with rushed character introductions, sudden tone shifts, cartoonish sound effects, lowbrow humor, choppy editing, and hard-to-decipher dialogue during the musical numbers. My VC decided to stop watching entirely, and I considered it too, though my Blindspot obligation made me stick with it. I read that Luhrmann was trying to channel the tonal rollercoaster of a Bollywood film he had seen, but all his extravagance does is make it difficult to take anything seriously.

And then, slowly but surely, the romance element grows more intense and more serious, managing to achieve the intended epic tragedy of the star-crossed lovers. Despite partaking in a few of the puerile scenes that made me wonder how this movie snagged eight Oscar nominations, McGregor and Kidman are the film’s greatest strength, sporting palpable chemistry and decent musical chops. Their bravura medley of love-themed songs was the first clue that Moulin Rouge! might have more to offer than the beginning indicated.

Yet even if the core romance works well, so much else does not. The musical numbers and the choice of who sings them are a mixed bag and brought to mind the why-not(?) silliness of Mamma Mia! Just as I didn’t really need to hear Julie Walters sing “Take a Chance on Me,” I could have happily gone through life without hearing Jim Broadbent croon “Like a Virgin.” I admired the sheer number of recognizable songs used, but how they were deployed was often cringe-inducing. And even if the tone gets more serious over time, the film still indulges in occasional sound effects that undermine the pathos.

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Moulin Rouge! is a case where its substance is upstaged by its distracting style. Strictly Ballroom managed to even out its tone and become a serious feel-good romance, and I suppose that’s easier than transitioning from surreal comedy to heartbreaking tragedy. I am aware that some people are able to look past Moulin Rouge’s faults and enjoy its over-the-top stylings, such as the Oscar-winning art direction and costumes, and I’m glad they can. I’ll acknowledge it’s original and took a risk, but this is one style I can affirm is not for me.

Best line: (several characters, quoting the song “Nature Boy”) “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

Rank:  Semi-Dishonorable Mention (a rarely used ranking to reflect my mixed feelings)

© 2020 S.G. Liput
708 Followers and Counting

The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020)

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To all who would rather be elsewhere,
To all who are feeling alone,
To those who wish Christmases long past
Could somehow return when we’re grown,

To all who are missing a loved one,
To all who wish wishes were real,
To all who are hoping that Christmas
Can brighten a year so surreal,

I know well this plaintive nostalgia,
Yet bypassing cynics’ deaf ears,
I still wish you all Merry Christmas.
May smiles replace all your tears.
________________________

MPA rating:  PG

Two years ago, Netflix delivered The Christmas Chronicles, with one of the more fun incarnations of Santa Claus delivered by the incomparable Kurt Russell. In true commercial Christmas fashion, we now have a sequel to the family-friendly romp, but whereas the first film borrowed heavily from Adventures in Babysitting for its plot, the second film leans a bit more on Gremlins and The Santa Clause 3, with mixed but still enjoyable results.

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Teenagers Teddy (Judah Lewis) and Kate Pierce (Darby Camp) are still True Believers two years after their previous adventures with Santa Claus (see first movie), but Kate is now depressed having to spend Christmas in Cancun with her mother’s new boyfriend (Tyrese Gibson) and his young son Jack (Jahzir Bruno). While Teddy was the one with the character arc in the last movie, he’s quickly sidelined in favor of Kate and Jack, who are suddenly whisked away to the North Pole by a mysterious ne’er-do-well (Julian Dennison of Hunt for the Wilderpeople) with designs on Santa’s Village.

The first film was a hodgepodge of admittedly likable ingredients from other movies, and its sequel is much the same, though there are still spurts of inspiration. We get to see more of the North Pole this time, a sprawling collection of specialized toy and candy shops populated by impish elves, which should capture any child’s imagination without the creepy qualities of, say, The Polar Express. And following the first film’s example, this one again includes an exuberant musical number of pure Christmas spirit (featuring Darlene Love) that is worth the price of admission.

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It’s rather predictable and not quite as good as the first movie, feeling even more like a farrago of Christmas-themed elements that don’t always fit naturally. The antagonist Belsnickel is particularly meh for the most part, though Dennison does his best to channel cartoonish malice. I did enjoy the new cast members, such as wide-eyed Jahzir Bruno and the larger role for Goldie Hawn as Mrs. Clause, though it was weird seeing Tyrese Gibson as a family man compared with his swaggering ladies’ man role in the Fast and Furious films. I also liked how the story expanded on the series’ Santa mythos as well, even if it also tosses in time travel for a sweet yet contrived reason. The Christmas Chronicles 2 probably won’t become a holiday staple, though there are rumors of a third film in the works, but it’s a diverting watch to remind the world of what a great Santa Claus Kurt Russell is.

Rank:  Honorable Mention

© 2020 S.G. Liput
708 Followers and Counting

A very Merry Christmas to everyone!

Fast and Furious 6 (2013)

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We all need a code,
For our lives, for the road,
When the plans we prepare
Hit a wall and explode.

However we fare,
And whatever we bear,
Our constant is known,
And it always is there.

It may be your own
Or it may be borrowed,
But when we’re alone,
Every man needs a code.
______________________

MPA rating:  PG-13

Finally, a holiday break! And that means I finally have some extra time to allow for blogging outside of work and school. So we once again return to the Fast and Furious franchise, with the sixth entry that, for lack of a snappier alphanumeric title, is simply Fast and Furious 6. Despite everything I’ve heard about Fast Five being the turning point of the franchise from small-timer to blockbuster, this sixth film feels even more like a watershed entry, transitioning from a series I’ve largely tolerated thus far to a movie I thoroughly enjoyed.

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Fast Five ended with the “shocking” reveal that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Dom’s girlfriend killed offscreen in the fourth film, was still alive, which wasn’t so shocking for me, since I had seen her in the trailers for the last three movies. (One of the perks of waiting to get into a series until late in its popularity.) Now the promise of his lost love, as well as clemency for past crimes, convinces Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew to join Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) in stopping a criminal mastermind named Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), who has recruited the amnesiac Letty into his own team of mercenaries.

Beyond the destructive action, Fast Five’s greatest pleasure was how it brought together so many characters from past films, with Fast and Furious 6 doing the same. The whole team is back, from Paul Walker to Tyrese Gibson to Gal Gadot. Well, those two Spanish guys are absent, but who remembers their names anyway? The main difference, and the one that made me enjoy 6 more than 5, is that Dom and his roadworthy companions finally get to be the good guys. They’re not plotting to steal millions or drag racing illegally; they are pitted against a less moral version of themselves, trying to save the world with redemption and a chance at normalcy on the line. While Walker’s Brian O’Conner was a good cop undercover at the beginning, the truth is that Dom and his buddies were little more than small-time crooks with insane automotive skills, who eventually ended up turning Brian into a wanted man as well. They’ve been the protagonists of this series thus far but rarely unqualified heroes, and that’s what this sixth film finally makes them.

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The amnesia subplot with Letty may seem like a soap opera cliché to retcon the fourth film, but it’s not unwelcome. In fact, Dom’s attempts at convincing Letty of their former life together add much-needed heart to a story where there’s little interest in developing any of the other already established characters. Luke Evans makes a decent baddie, if only because he and his cronies actually prove to be more than a match for Dom’s team, and the action manages to one-up even the safe scene from Fast Five, particularly an outrageous chase involving a tank. By the time of the final set piece, which includes what has to be the world’s longest runway, I could tell this was my favorite film yet in this crazy car-themed series. It’s also the only action franchise I can imagine featuring the main characters saying a genuine prayer together, which again rings truer now that they’re not closet criminals. It even ends with a cliffhanger that both builds hype for the next installment and clears up a bit of confusion surrounding the series timeline, messily but well enough. For the first time, I’m actually looking forward to the next Fast and Furious film.

Best line: (Owen Shaw) “You know, when I was young, my brother always used to say, “Every man has to have a code.” Mine: Precision. A team is nothing but pieces you switch out until you get the job done. It’s efficient. It works. But you? You’re loyal to a fault. Your code is about family. And that’s great in the holidays, but it makes you predictable. And in our line of work, predictable means vulnerable. And that means I can reach out and break you whenever I want.”   (Dom) “At least when I go, I’ll know what it’s for.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
706 Followers and Counting

Tenet (2020)

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If I were to live my life backwards in time,
Would it be hellish or sublime?
I’d walk and babble in reverse
And watch my history recurse.
To see the end before the start
To know both part and counterpart,
Is it a blessing or a curse,
Upstream against the universe?
Is it a blessing or a curse,
To know both part and counterpart,
To see the end before the start
And watch my history recurse.
I’d walk and babble in reverse.
Would it be hellish or sublime
If I were to live my life backwards in time?
_______________________

MPA rating:  PG-13

Tenet was an interesting theater-going experience, mainly because it looks like it will be the only 2020 film I actually get to see in a theater. (I did see Weathering with You and Ride Your Wave pre-pandemic, but those were both from 2019.) I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned that the local theater where I watched Tenet planned to shut down the very next day. The theater was completely empty, so it was like a private screening. There were hopes that Tenet might kick off a resurgence of theater-going, which sadly didn’t happen, but it’s the kind of film that could have under different circumstances. Action films get labelled “dumb” more often than not, but Christopher Nolan once more proves that the genre can reward and require intelligence, sometimes more than the audience wants to spare.

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Nolan specializes in bending time, expanding it across nested dreamscapes, jumping around between different perspectives of Dunkirk, and now reversing it entirely. John David Washington plays a man with no name, labeled the Protagonist but never actually referenced in the film, a CIA agent who sees a bullet seem to move in reverse during a thrilling extraction at an opera house. After proving his loyalty, he is initiated into the organization called Tenet, which seeks to prevent a coming catastrophe evidenced by the existence of objects moving backwards in time, such as the reversing bullet. From there, it’s a globe-hopping spy caper as the Protagonist makes allies to take down a Russian oligarch named Sator (Kenneth Branagh), who has knowledge of the future.

I loved Inception and still think that it is Nolan’s best film; with his latest film’s incoming hype as a mind-bender, I was hoping for lightning to strike again. While I still enjoyed Tenet, it’s more like thunder. Tenet is a puzzle for puzzle-lovers, thriving on unique backwards action and a purposefully constant pace that encourages viewers to accept what’s going on whether they understand it or not. And that’s where Tenet struggles. No matter how much Nolan or the film’s characters believe that the reversed time concept makes sense, I remain unconvinced. It makes for some utterly cool and compelling visuals, but there’s always a nagging feeling of doubt about how items/characters moving backwards in time actually interact with forward-moving items/characters. In that opening opera house scene, an “inverted” bullet goes from a bullet hole in the wall backwards into someone’s gun, but I’m left with the question of how it got into the wall in the first place. The idea is fascinating in short bursts, but over longer stretches of interaction, a disconnect grows between how inverted characters experience time forward (from their perspective) while the non-inverted characters observe them as “reactions.” If that doesn’t make sense, I don’t blame you. I’m sure someone could try to explain these apparent inconsistencies, and it would make some semblance of sense, but the effort to understand dwarfs what Inception required.

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Washington’s Protagonist doesn’t have an abundance of personality, but he has just enough swagger and uber-competence to be an engaging audience surrogate thrust into an even stranger spy life than he led before. The rest of the cast always live up to their talent, from Robert Pattinson’s secretive ally to Branagh’s brutal Russian villain, who might as well be his character from Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. However, Nolan’s best films also have an underlying heart to complement the mind-twisting, typically in the form of parental love for children, like in The Prestige and Inception. Tenet tries similarly with the excellent Elizabeth Debicki as Branagh’s long-suffering hostage/wife, but, with the plot being the real focus, the attempted emotional beats were overshadowed by the cold big-concept narrative.

Ultimately, Tenet revels in its high-minded theories and spy antics punctuated by sci-fi coolness, but casual viewers shouldn’t expect a straightforward James Bond-style story. I appreciate Inception the more I think about it; with Tenet, I get more confused, though I’m sure it will reward repeat viewings. I admire Tenet in many ways, from the audacity of its concept to the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout (look up the Sator square), but maybe turning your brain off for an action movie isn’t such a bad thing.

Best line: (Andrei Sator) “How would you like to die?”   (The Protagonist) “Old.”   (Sator) “You chose the wrong profession.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
705 Followers and Counting