Henry V (1989)

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It seems the English language is intent on, over time,
Discarding excess letters, which are just an uphill climb.
In Milton’s and in Shakespeare’s era, words were often longer,
So literarians believe their eloquence was stronger.
Yet, slowly we have shed the eths and ests that ended verbs
And kicked the gifts of diction to their metaphoric curbs.
Not “dost” but “do,” not “thou” but “you,” not “wherefore,” no, but “why,”
And going back in time to read can make you want to die.

Yet, even now the language still is mutating in place,
With idioms and acronyms it can’t help but embrace.
The letter-shedding carries on with “YOLO”, “app,” and “ref”
And “LOL, JK, IDK WTF.”
Abbreviations have their place; archaic words as well;
For me, too much of either one is glossolalic hell.
So savor language while you can, for generations hence
May not know what the heck we’re saying when it’s in past tense.
________________________

MPA rating: PG-13 (for battlefield violence)

Since it’s been hard fitting this blog into my busy schedule of work and college, I’ve decided to try to shorten my reviews so I don’t end up posting only twice a month. Let’s start the compressed reviews with Shakespeare, shall we? I am not a fan of William Shakespeare. I’ve read Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and a few sonnets, and that’s quite enough for me. Even so, I feel I need to be familiar with his work, if only to be prepared for when I some day get on Jeopardy. So surely watching Henry V is better than reading it, right? I think so, at least, especially when brought to life by the accomplished Kenneth Branagh, who both directed this 1989 epic and played the title character.

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Knowing nothing of the original play, I was intrigued by the framing device of a one-man Chorus (Derek Jacobi) providing an introduction and occasional commentary throughout. Branagh is intense and committed as the young King Henry, who sets out on a supposedly justified war to claim kingship of France, and he delivers the big speeches with enough stirring authority that you can believe the patriotism he inspires in his men. I recognize that Shakespeare’s poetry-flecked prose is eloquence epitomized, but the simple fact is that it was a constant effort to understand what was being said, which would have been even harder without captions. The action on-screen made it clearer at least, so perhaps it would be easier to read the play now that I know what happens. Plus, the presence of seasoned thespians elevated the production even more, such as Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Paul Scofield, and even early roles for Christian Bale and Emma Thompson (who married Branagh the same year).

Henry V might well be one of the finest faithful Shakespeare adaptations; I just haven’t seen many others to give it due comparison. Branagh’s treatment, though, is certainly praiseworthy, and one climactic tracking shot after the Battle of Agincourt was awe-inspiring to behold. You can’t do that on any stage, after all. With its nearly three-hour runtime, I was tempted to give up, but I typically try to finish any movie I start, and I’m glad I did. (Still not a Shakespeare fan, though.)

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Best line: (Henry, addressing the troops) “And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, for he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves acursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day!”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

Frozen II (2019)

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I wish life were more like the movies that end with a swift fade to black,
Where characters make their departures while still in their glory and prime,
Where stories have definite endings and rarely, if ever, come back.
(Unless they accumulate money; then it’s only a matter of time.)

I wonder sometimes where my own life would warrant a “Cut!” and a “Print!”
I’m working my way to a climax, that’s hopefully not when I die.
I wonder if I’m stuck in filler and wish God would give me a hint.
I trust that I’ll know when I see it and hope that it will satisfy.
_______________________

MPA rating: PG

I liked Frozen when it came out in 2013. It’s on my Top 365 movie list. I watched it in the theater and still think “Let It Go” is one of the best movie songs from the last decade. Yet I did put it on my Top Twelve List of Overrated Movies, not because it was bad but because it was overexposed. Disney milked the merchandise so much that it was hard to tell whether the Frozen products ever really went away before the Frozen 2 merch took their place. So it’s easy to believe that Frozen 2 was made solely with profit in mind, but even if that’s the case, it deserves a fair shake and appraisal on its own merits. And I must say I enjoyed this sequel about as much as the first. Like its predecessor, it’s not above criticism, but it’s an enjoyable return to the franchise.

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Peace has returned to Arendelle with Elsa (Idina Menzel) as queen, but a strange voice reaches out to her, drawing her to the enchanted forest to the north. And, of course, sister Anna (Kristen Bell), her boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Sven the reindeer, and Olaf the snowman (Josh Gad) are right at her side. The plot of Frozen 2 seems to be the aspect most criticized, and indeed it is rather convoluted with flashbacks, mysteries, and vague explanations that can boil down to a single line of dialogue and thus aren’t answered as clearly as they could have been. Even so, cheap cash-ins don’t usually have this kind of laudable ambition, so I still appreciated how the world and lore of Frozen were expanded, even if its parallels to real-world issues are a bit half-baked. Oh, and did anyone else think the ending is suspiciously similar to Ralph Breaks the Internet? Just sayin’.

But come now, who watched Frozen for the plot? “Let It Go” was clearly the biggest draw, so how does the soundtrack compare? The songs of Frozen 2 may not seem as good at first, but I’ve found they get better with repetition. (Yes, I’ve listened to the soundtrack at work.) “Into the Unknown” is the most “Let It Go”-ish belter for Menzel and the only one nominated for the Best Song Academy Award, and I think it was robbed at the Oscars. But “Show Yourself” has even greater power, especially in the context of the film, while “Some Things Never Change” and “The Next Right Thing” are underappreciated gems, especially the latter for its surprisingly deep and relatable lyrics. The animation at least is one aspect that is clearly on par or better than the original; from the horse spirit made of water to the gorgeous fall foliage, the animation is as lovely as any Disney movie yet. I mean, look at this art!

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Frozen 2 may not have been able to replicate the original’s awards, not even being nominated for Best Animated Feature (but neither was Weathering with You, so it’s in good company), but it did become the highest-grossing animated film ever, assuming you don’t count that Lion King remake. I still consider Elsa a bit too lacking in personality, but both films are a welcome return to the classic princess genre that so defined the Disney Renaissance of the ‘90s, with their strong female leads and lovable sidekicks. (Olaf once again gets the funniest scenes.) Plus, as a big fan of Norwegian singer Aurora, I was thrilled that she got such high-profile exposure being featured as “The Voice” in the film and “Into the Unknown,” even if her role is just four notes. Time will tell if Frozen 2 has the same kind of staying power that its predecessor had, but it’s a good way to end Disney Animation’s resurgence in the 2010s. Let’s hope it will continue into the next decade.

Best line: (Olaf; the irony is strong with this one) “Tell me, you’re older, and thus all-knowing; do you ever worry about the notion that nothing is permanent?”   (Anna) “Uh, no.”   (Olaf) “Really? Wow, I can’t wait until I’ve aged just like you, so I don’t have to worry about important things.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining the first Frozen)

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
697 Followers and Counting

Knives Out (2019)

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I don’t quite believe that the truth is subjective,
A trite protocol
That changes and varies
‘Twixt contemporaries,
From person to person.
Such thoughts only worsen
The idea that truth isn’t out there at all.

No, no, there is truth, even-handed, objective,
But often concealed
In worry and caring,
Fake news and red herring.
It leads us on chases
To unpleasant places.
The few who keep up get to see it revealed.
__________________________

MPA rating: PG-13 (a bit heavy on language, as much as they could fit in while retaining its rating)

I still have Blindspots to catch up on, but it seemed past time to watch a movie that I’ve been wanting to see since it came out last year (until a certain virus kept me from the second-run theater I was planning to visit). The murder mystery genre has fallen by the wayside in recent years, but if any film can revitalize it, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is the one to do it. Being a fan of Johnson’s contentious The Last Jedi, I was eager to see what he’d do next, and Knives Out did not disappoint.

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Named after the Radiohead song of the same name, the film doesn’t waste time getting to the murder, as the first scene involves the morning discovery of mystery writer Harlan Thrombey’s body (Christopher Plummer) after he apparently cut his throat in his study sometime during the night. Like so many other classic mysteries, the large ensemble cast is full of splashy characters, most of whom have a potential motive for the Thrombey patriarch’s death. At first, there doesn’t seem to be a main character as detectives (Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segan) interview Harlan’s discordant family: his arrogant daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband (Don Johnson), his insecure son (Michael Shannon), and his self-absorbed daughter-in-law (Toni Collette), among others. Gradually, though, famed Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, handily covering his British accent with a Southern drawl) takes the stage, as does Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s personal nurse who physically cannot tell a lie.

Replete with flashbacks to the night of Thrombey’s death, Knives Out is artfully organized to show only what Rian Johnson wants to show, which is often more than you’d expect. In fact, the story seems to show its cards much earlier than you’d expect from a film over two hours long, seeming to go from a mystery to a cover-up, but it still has plenty of twists to trigger second-guessing and culminates in true murder mystery form with some climactic revelations. And through it all, the story’s convolutions and colorful characters played by actors in peak form (including Chris Evans) make for prime entertainment.

Craig is likably hammy as his Benoit Blanc doesn’t always seem as self-aware as a master sleuth should, though he proves his deductive abilities by the end; and Ana de Armas is a special stand-out in what is likely a star-making role, considering she was singled out for a Golden Globe nomination, as was Craig. Considering the overwhelmingly positive reception Knives Out has received, including being named one of AFI’s Top Ten Films of the Year, I’m actually a bit surprised it didn’t get more attention at the Oscars beyond a Best Original Screenplay nod; with all the flashbacks in the Thrombey mansion, I would think it deserved some attention for editing or production design.

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The murder mystery genre has been so oversaturated over the years, from cozy Hallmark mysteries to decades of primetime series, that it’s a noteworthy exception when one can warrant this kind of all-star cast and big-screen appeal, subverting and embracing clichés in equal measure. Boasting a sly political subtext that paints both sides negatively and lauding compassion over selfishness, Knives Out proves that, in the right hands, any genre can be resurrected. Rian Johnson hit gold here, and I can’t wait to see if he can hit it again with the inevitable sequels to which Benoit Blanc lends himself.

Best line: (Blanc) “The complexity and the gray lie not in the truth but what you do with the truth once you have it.”

 

Ranking: List-Worthy

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
695 Followers and Counting

2020 Blindspot Pick #3: Annie Hall (1977)

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Love is hard to pin down –
What it is, where it’s from,
Why it makes you a clown
Or remarkably dumb,
Why it strokes you one minute with gentle caress
And pounds you the next with a cold callousness,
Why it fills you with joy at a memory made
That turns bittersweet as the joyful times fade,
Why it brings you to tears
At the thought of a laugh,
Why the grain is so worth
The abundance of chaff.
No, I can’t explain it, doubt anyone could.
You’ll know when you feel it, the bad and the good.
________________________

MPA rating: PG (should be PG-13 nowadays)

Have you ever watched a movie that you can appreciate for everything it does well but still just not connect with it? That was my reaction to Annie Hall. This Best Picture-winning rom com is among Woody Allen’s most iconic films, and I can see why. From innovative storytelling to an insightful script, it deserved acclaim, but I can only offer it so much.

Allen himself plays Alvy Singer, a neurotic Jewish comedian, who after a couple failed marriages, falls for the offbeat beauty Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), with whom he shares a rollercoaster of a romance. The longer I watched Annie Hall, the more a thought continued to grow in my mind: “This is just like (500) Days of Summer!” Sure, Alvy has little in common with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in that much later film, but there were so many parallels: the non-linear storyline, the quirky girlfriend, the occasional use of split-screen, the digressions with unconventional styles (an animated sidebar here vs the musical number in the other), the ultimate depression as a once happy romance peters out. The 2009 film is practically a remake, though not exactly, sort of how I felt about the plot similarities between Hidden and A Quiet Place.

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Annie Hall has so many creative choices that just feel unique and revolutionary even, such as Alvy repeatedly breaking the fourth wall, the visual representation of how a lover feels distant, characters’ inner thoughts being shown as subtitles to contrast with what they’re saying, or his discussions with random people on the street as if they were parts of his subconscious. And then there were the plethora of cameos, from Paul Simon and Carol Kane in larger roles to Christopher Walken used for a one-off gag, not to mention certain stars who had yet to become famous, like Jeff Goldblum, John Glover, and Sigourney Weaver.

And yet, for all those strengths that I enjoyed, I was left feeling oddly cold. For the film being considered the 4th greatest comedy by AFI, I recall a chuckle here and there but no big laughs; it was full of lines where I didn’t laugh but instead thought, “That’s humorous,” which doesn’t seem like what a comedy should do. Perhaps it was the presence of Woody Allen himself. His overly neurotic Alvy, obsessed with death and Jewish discrimination, is quite a character, but I couldn’t stand to be around someone like him in real life. Plus, there’s the mental baggage of the real-life Allen and the scandalous allegations surrounding him. My VC says he makes her skin crawl and didn’t enjoy the film because of him; the only film with him she rather liked was The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, in which he’s constantly disparaged.

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So, I guess I can count Annie Hall with so many other classics that just didn’t quite live up to expectations, right alongside the likes of The Third Man and The Philadelphia Story. I can appreciate it for its groundbreaking eccentricities, but when I consider that it won Best Picture over Star Wars, I just have to shake my head. Considering all the things I liked in Annie Hall, I just thought I would like the whole package more.

Best line: (Alvy Singer’s Therapist) “How often do you sleep together?”
(Annie Hall’s Therapist) “Do you have sex often?”
(Alvy, lamenting) “Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.”
(Annie, annoyed) “Constantly. I’d say three times a week.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
692 Followers and Counting

 

2020 Blindspot Pick #2: Double Indemnity (1944)

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A murderer for money never thinks that he or she
Will be found out like all the rest who murdered foolishly.
“Those others never thought it through; they never planned it out;
They just weren’t careful to remove the slightest shred of doubt.
They acted on an impulse, failed to hide the fatal flaw,
But we would know exactly how to circumvent the law.
We’re smarter, right? More clever, right? When one of us commits,
No justice could contend in this, the coldest war of wits.”

Deep down within the killer’s mind, unconsciously or not,
They soothe themselves with thoughts like these to justify their plot.
And always they delude themselves, for justice, soon or late,
Will find out every criminal and lead them to their fate.
________________________

Rating: Passed/Approved (an easy PG)

Darn, I did not expect to post only one review in the whole month of May, but college is as college does. Nevertheless, I’m back to continue my long-delayed Blindspot series. (Now I’m only four behind this year!) I’ve heard of Double Indemnity for years, noticing its high placement on lists by AFI and other film organizations, yet I never really knew what the name even meant, not being versed in insurance terminology. As it turns out, I’ve seen versions of this plot plenty of times on true crime shows, but this influential film noir treatment brought it to a national audience way back in 1944.

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Based on a James M. Cain novella, the script for Double Indemnity was the result of a tenuous collaboration between director Billy Wilder and famed detective novelist Raymond Chandler. As such, it utilizes a clever tool for narration; right from the beginning, insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred McMurray) admits into a dictaphone his role in the death of a man named Dietrichson, beginning an extended flashback of his plot. After meeting the man’s alluring wife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), Neff allows her to talk him into a murder conspiracy to get rid of her distant husband and collect on some ill-gotten life insurance, with Neff using his insurance experience to sweeten the pot with a double indemnity clause (which doubles the payment in the case of certain unlikely causes of death, such as a train accident). Yet, their “perfect crime” slowly unravels as Neff’s boss (Edward G. Robinson) becomes more and more suspicious during the investigation.

I haven’t seen many films of the film noir genre, but Double Indemnity certainly fits the bill with its shadowy angles and conspiratorial tension and indeed predates the widespread use of the term by a couple years. Plus, Barbara Stanwyck is a quintessential femme fatale figure, manipulating McMurray’s everyman character into taking charge of the plot she initiates. The film was apparently controversial for its portrayal of murder, which is tame by today’s standards, but the characters’ growing anxiety after the deed is done translates well to the audience. As Neff is forced to “assist” Robinson’s skeptical insurance man in following a trail that leads back to him, I happened to think of other similar plots that must have taken some inspiration from this one, such as 1987’s No Way Out.

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Double Indemnity is a Grade-A film noir, but I can’t say it’s a new favorite since film noir is far from my favorite genre. Neff and Stanwyck do a fine job as the conspirators, but their cynically flowery dialogue, sometimes clever, is also sometimes a bit much, carrying on metaphors in ways people just don’t talk, though that’s mainly at the beginning. Robinson, though, is in top form here, stealing his scenes with a vocal panache that can’t be taught. I don’t always have to love a film to recognize it as a classic, and Double Indemnity is, another cinematic testament to the lesson “crime does not pay.”

Best line: (Neff) “Do I laugh now, or wait till it gets funny?”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
689 Followers and Counting

Harriet (2019)

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Harriet, oh Harriet,
What daring feats you managed!
Your life was like a chariot
To bear the disadvantaged.

You fled the yoke of slavery
To Northern sanctuary,
And yet displayed your bravery
By seeking more to carry.

You earned the trade name “Moses” and
Freed slaves without the pleading.
You knew what God opposes and
Agreed to do the leading.

Harriet, oh Harriet,
What lives you liberated!
The weight, you knew to carry it,
And free whom God created.
_____________________

MPA rating: PG-13

My apologies for the long delay. After getting through NaPoWriMo, I didn’t anticipate taking a two-week break, but school, work, and adopting a new cat kept me busy. Anyway, it’s time to get back into movie mode, starting with a wonderful biopic from last year. The story of famed abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman has been long overdue for the big-screen treatment, and Harriet does her tale justice.

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Making a name for herself on the stage, including the Broadway production of The Color Purple, Cynthia Erivo may only have three films to her name, but this (her third) is undoubtedly a star-making role. The film follows Harriet’s life from her time as a Maryland slave named Minty, captive to the Ross family, to her daring escape northward to her repeated journeys back to help other fugitive slaves reach freedom. Harriet’s indomitable courage and faith in God carried her through heartache and danger, and although she suffers from fainting spells, they turn out to be visions from God. She manages both the ferocity of the big moments, like a face-off with her former master (Joe Alwyn), and the sensitivity of small ones, as when she hops over the Pennsylvania border into sunlit freedom.

Harriet is notable for me because, for the first time, I actually know someone who was an extra in it, and I was able to spot her on a few occasions after she described which scenes she was in. It might not be like knowing a movie star, but it certainly felt cool to me being able to point at the screen and say “I know her!” Beyond the title role and the extras, the secondary cast does good work as well, including Leslie Odom Jr. of Hamilton and Janelle Monáe of Hidden Figures. And while the horrors of slavery could have warranted an R rating, like 12 Years a Slave, Harriet manages enough restraint to be more accessible as a history lesson suitable for older kids as well.

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Common complaints I’ve read include that Harriet is too formulaic or that it treats her fainting spells as a superpower, granting her warnings and visions from God. The latter has a basis in history, and as for the former, I don’t mind a “predictable” story if it’s well told. Not being familiar with all the details of Tubman’s life, there were still moments that surprised me and kept me invested. It was also fascinating to watch elements of history I hadn’t thought of, such as how the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 affected the efforts of Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

Although I’m not black, the story of the Underground Railroad, freeing souls in bondage, resonates strongly with me; it’s why I think Operation Underground Railroad today is such a laudable charity, since slavery is still very much alive today. So many biopics leave me with a lowered opinion of a figure I’d thought I liked (The Theory of Everything, Ray), but Harriet made me admire her even more as an American hero. From the period detail to the stirring Oscar-nominated credits song “Stand Up” (partly written and sung by Erivo herself), Harriet is exactly the kind of biopic I most enjoy.

Best line: (Harriet, to her former master) “God don’t mean people to own people, Gideon! Our time is near!”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
685 Followers and Counting

NaPoWriMo 2020 Recap

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It’s hard to believe that National/Global Poetry Writing Month is already over. It’s always been a great opportunity for creativity and to catch up on my backlog of films to review, but it’s a relief to finish. It’s been a struggle sometimes fitting in time to write amid work and school obligations. (I actually started a college class this month, so that maybe wasn’t the best timing.) Nevertheless, as with past years, I feel an immense sense of satisfaction, having kept up with a poem and movie review a day.

Thank you to the NaPoWriMo website for the daily prompts and to everyone who read, liked, followed, and commented along the way, which helped encourage me to keep going. For anyone who missed a day, here’s a full recap of April’s NaPoWriMo posts:

 

April 1 – Ride Your Wave (2019) – List-Worthy

April 2 – Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase (2019) – Honorable Mention

April 3 – Crawl (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 4 – Avatar (2009) – List Runner-Up

April 5 – Us (2019) – Dishonorable Mention

April 6 – The Secret Life of Pets 2 (2019) – Honorable Mention

April 7 – American Woman (2018) – Honorable Mention

April 8 – The Naked Spur (1953) – List Runner-Up

April 9 – Time Trap (2017) – List Runner-Up

April 10 – The Christ Slayer (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 11 – Little Women (1994) – List-Worthy

April 12 – The Intouchables (2011) / The Upside (2017) – both List Runners-Up

April 13 – Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) – List Runner-Up (my most liked post at 18 and my personal favorite of my poems this month)

April 14 – Blinded by the Light (2019) – List-Worthy (my favorite film reviewed this month)

April 15 – Sing (2016) – List Runner-Up

April 16 – Top Gun (1986) – List Runner-Up

April 17 – The Emoji Movie (2017) – Honorable Mention

April 18 – Paddington (2014) – List Runner-Up

April 19 – The Wandering Earth (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 20 – What a Way to Go! (1964) – List Runner-Up

April 21 – Riddick (2013) – List Runner-Up

April 22 – Guarding Tess (1994) – Honorable Mention

April 23 – What Happened to Monday (2017) – List Runner-Up

April 24 – Abominable (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 25 – Big Trouble in Little China (1986) – List Runner-Up

April 26 – The Jerk (1979) – List-Worthy

April 27 – The Aeronauts (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 28 – Ben Is Back (2018) – Honorable Mention

April 29 – How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – List Runner-Up

April 30 – Paddington 2 (2017) – List Runner-Up

 

I’ll continue posting my poem/reviews, of course, but on a much more relaxed schedule. And NaPoWriMo 2021 is only eleven months away now! Here’s hoping the world will be in a better place the next time it rolls around. Thank you again to all readers; stay safe!

Paddington 2 (2017)

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(The final NaPoWriMo prompt for the month is to write a poem about something that returns, so I went a bit cynical for a lovably uncynical film.)

A ubiquitous rule of the filmmaking sphere
Is “That which makes money returns.”
Before all the interest and buzz disappear,
They’ll double whatever it earns.

Who cares if the second is not the first’s equal?
(It could be, but most tend to doubt.)
The crowds will turn out nonetheless for the sequel;
That’s why they keep churning them out.
___________________

MPA rating: PG

Paddington 2 is what got me to finally watch these movies. The first Paddington‘s 97% on Rotten Tomatoes is nothing to sniff at, but when its sequel earns a rare 100% and becomes the highest-rated film in Rotten Tomatoes history, it’s time to take a look. And indeed Paddington 2 is the kind of sequel other sequels wish they could be, building on the first with even more genuine sweetness and gently clever humor.

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Paddington Bear (Ben Whishaw) is still living happily with the Brown family in London and searching for the perfect birthday present for his distant Aunt Lucy, finding it in an antique pop-up book. In place of Nicole Kidman’s vengeful taxidermist, the new villain on the block is Hugh Grant’s arrogant but washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan, who has his own designs on the pop-up book and manages to frame Paddington for its theft. With Paddington in prison, the Browns seek to clear their ursine family member’s name.

Ignoring a few predictable elements toward the end, Paddington 2 is an all-around joy of a family film. Paddington himself remains a refreshingly genteel and lovable protagonist, and I loved how he gradually wins over the hardened criminals in the jail through, you know, friendship and marmalade. Many scenes are made wondrous through their handsome visual playfulness, whether by unique sets or seamless effects, and I had to admire how well-structured the gags and side characters’ sub-stories were, each one getting some kind of payoff during the climax. With Hugh Grant being so highly praised for his flamboyant villain, I was expecting a bit more from him, but he still provided a theatrical hamminess that fit perfectly into the plot. And it’s a cold heart that won’t want to shed a tear at the ending.

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I’m torn on the ranking I should give Paddington 2. I did love it, but I feel like I’d love it more if I’d seen it as a child, with the same nostalgic fondness I have for something like Stuart Little. Of course, my affection for it could very well grow the more I see it. I don’t know that it deserves to be the highest-rated film ever, but I can certainly agree it’s as close to a modern classic as any recent family film has gotten. It’s a heartwarming reminder that, every now and then, a sequel can validate its existence on its own merits.

Best line: (Mr. Curry, glad that Paddington is gone) “We don’t want him here.”   (Mr. Brown) “No, of course you don’t. YOU never have! As soon as you set eyes on that bear, you made up your mind about him. Well, Paddington’s not like that. He looks for the good in all of us, and somehow he finds it! It’s why he makes friends wherever he goes. And it’s why Windsor Gardens is a happier place whenever he’s around. He wouldn’t hesitate if any of us needed help! So stand aside, Mr. Curry, ’cause we’re coming through.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
684 Followers and Counting

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem praising pets, so I went a bit mythological to extol a dragon as a pet.)

Cats are cute and dogs are dear,
And yet the pet without a peer
Is easily the rarest kind,
The least beloved and most maligned,
The lizards born of myth and lore
That few have ever seen before,
Who ride the winds and skim the waves
And send the bravest to their graves,
Who’ve earned renown as hoarders, wyrms,
Monsters, fiends, and harsher terms
Yet are perhaps misunderstood
And might spice up the neighborhood.
For, given love, like any beast,
A dragon can be tamed, at least.

So Mom and Dad, you have to let
Me get a dragon as a pet.
I’ll take him out on flights each day
And teach him how to roar and slay.
He’ll never singe the rugs, I swear.
Oh, please, let’s have a dragon lair!
______________________

MPA rating: PG

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the third installment in the How to Train Your Dragon series. I loved the first film, while the second left me rather cold, and angry honestly at the way Hiccup’s father was torn from his family. I still consider myself a fan of the series, so I was hopeful The Hidden World would end the trilogy on a better note. Thankfully, it managed to deliver both an entertaining adventure and a satisfying conclusion to the story of Hiccup the Viking and Toothless the Night Fury.

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Like many a DreamWorks film, The Hidden World does feel a tad recycled. Expanding the first film’s culture of dragon-hunting, the new villain is the famous and feared dragon hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham), who, like Drago in the second film, employs his own dragons for his purposes. And since the first film’s dragon nest and the second film’s dragon sanctuary weren’t impressive enough, we learn that Hiccup’s father was also searching for an even bigger “Hidden World,” the original home of the dragons. When Grimmel threatens the village of Berk and the peace between Vikings and dragons, Hiccup and his friends evacuate everyone to search for a new safe haven in this Hidden World.

Thanks to ever-improving technology, The Hidden World is probably the best looking of the three films, with lighting, shading, and fire and water effects adding greatly to the atmosphere and the thrilling action scenes. Abraham’s voice also makes Grimmel a dignified but menacing antagonist. The dire threat reinforces the slightly darker epic tone of the second film, while some well-played running gags successfully lighten the mood with doses of humor.

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As I watched The Hidden World, I was trying to figure out what was lacking between this (one of DreamWorks’ best franchises) and the likes of Disney or Pixar. In addition to a few mixed messages (like calling dragons pets in the first film yet treating them as equals here), I think a main issue is the side characters; Astrid (America Ferrera) and Hiccup’s mother (Cate Blanchett) fare well, but Hiccup’s other friends are hastily introduced in an opening action set piece yet never make much of an impression beyond a few gags. Despite this, Hiccup and Toothless are a lovable pair to make up for other faults, and it’s genuinely sad as they start to drift apart when Toothless becomes enamored of a female “Light Fury.” Like Ash and Butterfree in Pokemon, it’s clear right away where the story is going with the relationship between dragon and rider, but, even if it didn’t bring a tear to my eye like it might well have when I was ten years old, it was still a touching and beautiful conclusion to an inconsistent but ultimately satisfying trilogy.

Best line: (Stoick, in a flashback) “But with love comes loss, son. It’s part of the deal. Sometimes it hurts, but in the end, it’s all worth it. There’s no greater gift than love.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
684 Followers and Counting

Ben Is Back (2018)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to describe a notable bedroom from the past. I went a less comfy direction and explored a bedroom’s significance in the life of a drug addict.)

I’d like to pack
And hurry back
To the room in which I grew,
That room I hoarded toys within,
Where I’d retreat from nosy kin,
Where I first tried my blackest sin
That trails me still today.

I’d count to ten
And come again
To the room in which I grew.
And if I could, myself I’d see
And slap the needle far from me
And ruin reckless privacy
That made me easy prey.

No more to roam,
I’ll go back home
To the room in which I grew.
Because they never would disown,
To Mom and God, I must atone.
And yet my body starts to groan
To make my will give way.

Although I burn,
I can’t return
To the room in which I grew.
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MPA rating: R (for mainly language)

As part of last year’s NaPoWriMo, I reviewed Beautiful Boy, a memoir-based tale of a man struggling to help his son, who struggles with drug addiction. In another case of similarly themed films being released at the same time, Ben Is Back covers the same kind of story, though fictitious in this case. Instead of a father-son dynamic spanning years, it focuses on a single Christmas night, during which a mother named Holly (Julia Roberts) copes with the sudden return of her son Ben (Lucas Hedges) from rehab.

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I personally have never been drawn to drugs of any kind, yet the numbers affected by the opioid epidemic clearly show how widespread and devastating addiction can be. Like Beautiful Boy, Ben Is Back personalizes the statistics by showing that every addict has someone mourning their self-destructive decisions and rooting for their bumpy road to recovery. The first half of Ben Is Back is a deeply poignant portrait of a broken family, with Ben earning immediate distrust from his mother, sister (Kathryn Newton), and stepfather (Courtney B. Vance). While Ben himself seems penitent and likable, his own history and self-doubt make both his mother and the audience wonder how sincere he really is. Although it was spurned, the acting of all involved is Oscar-quality, and one scene where Ben breaks down to a church performance of “O Holy Night” is especially affecting, as is a sober visit to a graveyard.

Unfortunately, the film’s second half loses some of its emotional heft by trying to inject some thriller elements where Ben and Holly drive around town after the family dog is stolen by a drug dealer Ben knows. And the ending, while harrowing, is strangely abrupt, providing no closure to the story, which is perhaps the point since the cycles of addiction are rarely tied up with a clean bow. Beautiful Boy was easily a better film overall, but Ben Is Back had its fair share of powerful scenes; together, they are a sad testament to the victims of America’s drug crisis and reinforced my decision to never go down that dark road.

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Best line: (Holly, to Ben) “Just tell me, son, where you want me to bury you.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2020 S.G. Liput
684 Followers and Counting