NaPoWriMo 2017 Recap

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Well, 2017’s National/Global Poetry Writing Month has finally come to an end, and I’m both proud and relieved to have made it through with thirty poems and reviews to show for it. Some are better than others, but at least I got through a backlog of films I wasn’t sure I’d get around to reviewing. A big thank you to everyone who liked, followed, commented, and supported me through the busy month of April, as well as the NaPoWriMo website for all the thought-provoking prompts for each day.

Here is a list of the films I reviewed, each with its own poem, in case you missed a day:

 

April 1 – Catch Me If You Can (2002) – List Runner-Up

April 2 – A View to a Kill (1985) – List-Worthy

April 3 – Rabbit Hole (2010) – List-Worthy

April 4 – The Imitation Game (2014) – List Runner-Up

April 5 – The Wall (Die Wand) (2012) – Honorable Mention

April 6 – The Visit (2015) – Honorable Mention

April 7 – The Lego Movie (2014) – List Runner-Up

April 8 – Con Air (1997) – List-Worthy

April 9 – Deathtrap (1982) – List Runner-Up

April 10 – Love and Mercy (2014) – List Runner-Up

April 11 – The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972) – Honorable Mention

April 12 – Big Eyes (2014) – List Runner-Up

April 13 – They Were Eleven (1986) – List Runner-Up

April 14 – 12 Years a Slave (2013) – List Runner-Up

April 15 – Empire of the Sun (1987) – List Runner-Up

April 16 – Risen (2016) – List Runner-Up

April 17 – Bright Star (2009) – List Runner-Up

April 18 – Blast from the Past (1999) – List Runner-Up

April 19 – They Live (1988) – Honorable Mention

April 20 – Queen of Katwe (2016) – List Runner-Up

April 21 – The Help (2011) – List Runner-Up (my Blindspot pick of the month)

April 22 – The Good Dinosaur (2015) – List Runner-Up

April 23 – Passengers (2016) – List Runner-Up  (My most popular post and my first to get 20 likes!)

April 24 – The Boy and the Beast (2015) – List Runner-Up

April 25 – In Time (2011) – List-Worthy  (My personal favorite poem of the month)

April 26 – Ghostbusters (2016) – Honorable Mention

April 27 – Chocolat (2000) – Dishonorable Mention

April 28 – Starter for 10 (2006) – List-Worthy

April 29 – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – List Runner-Up

April 30 – About Time (2013) – List-Worthy  (My favorite film reviewed this month)

 

Now that NaPoWriMo is over with, I’ll be writing at a much more relaxed pace, back to the two or three a week that I averaged before, but I’m already looking forward to the same challenge next year!

 

About Time (2013)

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(Today’s final NaPoWriMo prompt of the month was for a poem about something that happens over and over. Following the theme of this time-travel charmer, I applied that to the hypothetical potential of living life repeatedly.)

 

Days and weeks and months repeat,
The same in name but each one new,
But wouldn’t it be quite the treat
To start them over and redo?

When in the mood for favorite foods,
Just think back to your grandest meal,
And when your second course concludes,
You’re free for thirds whene’er you feel.

When life becomes mundane or glum,
Just jump back to your fondest thrill,
A theme park ride or concert’s thrum
Or Wordsworth-worthy daffodil.

And how sought-after to rewind
To change regrets to words unsaid,
Slips untripped and frauds declined,
And dominoes unplummeted!

The twists and weaves of life one-way
Are seldom smooth to navigate,
But wouldn’t life, upon replay,
Have less distress to complicate?
___________________

MPAA rating: R (except for 5 F-words, there’s little reason this couldn’t be PG-13)

Rachel McAdams must have a thing for time travelers. Only four years after playing the titular Time Traveler’s Wife opposite Eric Bana, she again fell in love with a man possessing inherent time-traveling abilities, this time Domhnall Gleeson, in 2013’s About Time. Whereas the first film was bittersweet drama, About Time takes its subject in a lighter rom-com direction; for instance, the time-jumping ability that was random and uncontrollable in The Time Traveler’s Wife is little more than a super-powered perk in About Time, an inherited trait for only the men in the Lake family.

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When Tim Lake (Gleeson) is called into his father’s study on his twenty-first birthday to be told a family secret, I can think of many worse revelations than being told you can now travel back along your own lifetime. Being rather awkward, one of Tim’s first thoughts is to win himself a girlfriend with his newfound ability, and after a less than successful attempt with the lovely Margot Robbie, he moves to London and seeks out his soul mate. All of this is done with a delightful comedic touch that makes Tim and his eccentric family feel real and lovable, and when Mary (McAdams) comes on the scene via a winsomely literal “blind date,” it’s clear from the first moments that love is inevitable…as long as time travel doesn’t get in the way.

I can’t remember the last time I was so thoroughly charmed by a movie. Well, maybe I do; it was probably La La Land, which is a more prestigious film all around, but both of them left me smiling and touched in a way most modern films don’t anymore. The repartee and chemistry between Tim and Mary put them up there with my favorite screen couples, even apart from the time travel aspect, which often adds some comedic wish fulfillment, undoing those little gaffes we all want to live over. In addition to Gleeson and McAdams, Bill Nighy delivers both warmth and pathos as Tim’s more experienced father, and his fellow Pirates of the Caribbean bad guy, Tom Hollander (almost unrecognizable with a beard), is likably sardonic as Tim’s first London friend.

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As much as I loved it, I won’t claim that About Time is without flaws, such as a poorly explained revision that Tim performs when one of his time-altering good intentions goes awry. Likewise, I’ve heard a common complaint that the film doesn’t follow its own time travel rules and pays less attention than others of its genre to continuity and the butterfly effect. Yet, even these issues that would normally annoy me (like in The Lake House) couldn’t detract from a highly enjoyable romance or its bittersweet denouement. It’s a smartly written and delightful story worth going back in time to watch all over again.

Best line: (Tim) “There’s a song by Baz Luhrmann called ‘Sunscreen.’ He says worrying about the future is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life will always be things that never crossed your worried mind.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
477 Followers and Counting

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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(For today’s NaPoWriMo prompt, we were to take a specific noun from a favorite poem and write a new poem inspired by it. I decided on Bliss Carman’s autumnal “A Vagabond Song,” specifically the word vagabond in the final line.)

 

We vagabonds sadly are rarer these days,
And nature’s beseeching has grown ever thinner.
She prays the same plea that once clouded men’s gaze,
But now only coaxes the set-in-their-ways
And the restless, romantic, unruly beginner.

The vagabonds dare where the rest stay at home,
For all the wide world is their chosen abode.
In life, let their hearth be wherever they roam;
In death, let the sea be their vast catacomb,
For no destination is end to the road.

The world calls us fools from their stolid safe spot,
But valleys and hills are the best way to cope
With life’s many miseries. I hear them not
When a waterfall’s all that’s within my earshot.
They may mock our style, but envy our scope.

Heed not the vain whispers of schedule and stress
When catching the call of the wilds beyond.
The creeks and cascades, while awaiting a yes,
Will yet preserve peace for the wide wilderness,
For the lucky old fool and the young vagabond.
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress, Hunt for the Wilderpeople from New Zealand director Taika Waititi is an excellent example of one of those hidden gem movies that you might only learn about from a movie blogger singing its praises. It’s a quirky little film that more often than not allows “quirk” to equal absurd charm rather than mere weirdness, and not since Up has the kid/old man dynamic worked so well. (There’s even a scene where a boy calls “ca-caw” to an old man on a porch. Coincidence?)

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The film starts out suspiciously like an obscure Irish film I saw a while back called A Shine of Rainbows. Like the orphan boy in that movie, young troublemaker Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is taken in by a remote couple made up of a doting “Auntie” (Rima Te Wiata) and her surly and distant husband Hec (Sam Neill). After his new mother helps him feel at home, she sadly dies, leaving Ricky to form a grudging relationship with “Uncle” Hec instead. Beyond this point, though, the film goes in a wholly different direction from A Shine of Rainbows, sending Ricky and Hec out into the wooded wild, where a misunderstanding makes them fugitives and subjects of a national manhunt.

It’s a fine line between Ricky being obnoxious or just a normal kid rebelling against an unforgiving world, but Julian Dennison treads it quite well, especially with someone of Sam Neill’s caliber to rebel with. Neill elevates the whole movie, despite having undergone a Jeff Bridges-style transformation into a grizzled mountain man, and the development of the mismatched pair from tolerating each other to respecting and even loving each other is entirely natural and endearing (and uses haiku). Rima Te Wiata is also a great presence early on as Ricky’s foster “Auntie,” whose forced attempts at making him feel comfortable pay off with time.

The film’s offbeat sensibilities extend to its cinematography and music as well. The soundtrack blends folk, electronic, and even some kind of strange opera, and the camerawork is exceptional, as when a time-lapse is replaced by a spinning continuous shot that seamlessly switches from scene to scene while musically backed by Leonard Cohen. As we all know from The Lord of the Rings, New Zealand also boasts some truly spectacular scenery, which the film flaunts in glorious fashion. I was reminded too of Babe in how events were labeled like storybook chapters. Its unique style certainly made me wonder how Waititi will shake up the MCU by directing Thor: Ragnarok later this year.

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With the sweet satisfaction that this film left me, I struggled on how exactly to rank Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Ultimately, it does have its downsides, mainly in its quirkiness not always working to its advantage. Several scenes meant to be funny just come off as odd, such as a man’s obsession with selfies or a priest’s rambling sermon, and I can see its style not being for every taste. Yet much of the humor did make me laugh, such as the Terminator references and Rhys Darby’s backwoods nutcase Psycho Sam, and I still found Hunt for the Wilderpeople to be a rewarding experience and very close to being List-Worthy, a hidden gem that deserves to be found.

Best line: (Ricky, reading his uncle’s wanted poster) “’Faulkner is Cauc-asian.’ Well, they got that wrong because you’re obviously white.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
477 Followers and Counting

 

Starter for 10 (2006)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to employ Skeltonic verse, or short lines with rapid-fire, tumbling rhymes, which are always fun.)

 

A know-it-all
With quick recall
Will stand tall
Next to egos small
Because he knows
The stuff that goes
Toward beating those
On trivia shows,
Like sporting pros
And ratios,
Obscure logos
Of studios,
And poems and prose
And names of clothes
And things that few
Would say they knew
Unless they too
Enjoyed a clue
Or fact review
Like me and you;
At least I do.
__________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Every now and then, there’s a movie that just appeals to your interests specifically, and Starter for 10 appealed to mine. I had heard this British film starring James McAvoy had something to do with trivia, in this case the University Challenge TV show of the 1980s, and within the first few minutes, I felt this was a film for me, thanks to my personal love for shows like Jeopardy! Now I just had to hope the rest didn’t ruin it, and despite some inconsistencies along the way, it was an enjoyable little film all the way through.

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Many people have fond memories of those ‘80s films full of stars before they were famous, you know, Stand By Me, The Outsiders, Taps, Red Dawn, and the like. But it makes sense that other generations would have the same kind of films, and Starter for 10 is one for the 21st century, even if it’s set in the 1980s. As McAvoy’s trivia-crazed freshman Brian goes off to college for the first time, I was surprised at how many actors I recognized. His two mates at home are Dominic Cooper and James Corden, while his two potential love interests at college are Alice Eve and Rebecca Hall, not to mention Benedict Cumberbatch as the uptight captain of the University Challenge team, again playing someone who believes himself to be the smartest person in the room. I was actually chuckling at their very presence together after seeing them all in the franchise films that have since earned them greater recognition (Eve and Cumberbatch in Star Trek into Darkness, Cooper and Hall and Cumberbatch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cumberbatch and Mark Gatiss in Sherlock). I never expected to see a fight between Howard Stark and Doctor Strange, much less for Stark to win while Professor X watches in horror. It’s like a huge retroactive crossover! Or not.

Aside from the pleasure of seeing these young stars in their early roles, there are a lot of worthwhile themes here, ranging from infatuation and responsibility to academic honesty and learning from personal mistakes. Brian’s experience at college felt very realistic, both for good and ill, such as how he suddenly absorbs all manner of liberal causes and how the drama of college itself can often get in the way of one’s education.  The humor can be hit-and-miss at times (one “meet-the-parents” scene was very awkward), but it made me laugh more than most comedies these days, further helped by a strong ‘80s soundtrack, most of which I’d never heard before. (I’m not too familiar with The Cure; sorry, Britain!)

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I suppose I especially identified with Brian himself, and along with Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, he’s probably the movie character in which I most see myself. He’s committed to being as clever as he can, learning things like literature, history, and why people like jazz. (Just watch La La Land for that answer.) He finds more excitement in the mental stimulation of a trivia challenge than a pointless drinking party, and through his interactions with his mother, friends, and girlfriends, he’s still trying to figure himself out and overcome his mistakes. McAvoy is a great fit for him, even if he desperately needs a haircut, and the rest of the cast help give potentially shallow characters more depth than expected and match the early talent that would eventually make many of them household names. Similar to 2015’s Paper Towns, Starter for 10 has its imperfections and clumsy moments, but it’s a charming film that I connected with and which left me smiling by the end.

Best line: (Brian’s mom) “The people who really care about you don’t mind if you make mistakes. It’s what you do next that matters.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

2017 S.G. Liput
477 Followers and Counting

 

Chocolat (2000)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to focus on the sense of taste, so I had to go with one of the greatest foods known to man.)

 

Dear Chocolate, Chocolate, friend of mine,
How sweetly do you intertwine
With fruit or nuts, desire or fear,
A comfort in my worries drear,
A flavorful apotheosis
Of the highest form of sweet!

From pickiness when I was young,
I never spurned you from my tongue.
At holidays made consummate
And in between, dear Chocolate,
Your need’s my daily diagnosis,
My closest friend that I can eat.
_____________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

By all accounts, Chocolat is a film I should love. I am an admitted chocolate addict, and I love lighthearted romances with its kind of charm, especially when they have the added emotional depth this one retains. Yet for all its strengths and five Oscar nominations, I was more annoyed than charmed by Chocolat.

The story centers on a wandering chocolatier named Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her young daughter, who move to a quiet and staunchly religious French village to open a chocolate shop. The problem is that they do so just as Lent begins, and Vianne’s atheist disregard for this traditional season of self-denial inevitably draws the ire of the town’s mayor Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Yet nothing can halt the power of chocolate, and Vianne’s natural charisma slowly wins over many of the town’s residents, as well as a member of a visiting gypsy band (Johnny Depp).

Image result for chocolat filmThere’s much to enjoy about Chocolat, not least its whimsical tone and Rachel Portman score, and the full appeal of a mostly excellent cast. Binoche is infectious with her passion for chocolate and catering to others’ unacknowledged needs, while Depp displays a sweet and romantic allure he doesn’t usually get to show off in his weirder roles. Best of all is Oscar-nominated Judi Dench as Vianne’s landlady and first chocolate convert, whose cynicism and desire to reconnect with her grandson make this among her best roles and certainly worthier of an Oscar than her short appearance in Shakespeare in Love. Chocolate itself is also very much a star, and Vianne’s creations should make any chocoholic’s mouth water, which is why it placed #7 on my Candy in Movies list.

Yet all these positives only make the film’s religious vilification more frustrating. Perhaps it’s because I do fast for Lent every year, but I couldn’t root for Vianne’s campaign to make the townspeople yield to their temptations. I was hoping instead her business could survive until Lent was over, but no, Lent and fasting are seen as obstacles to be overcome, repression to be vanquished. The film’s characters, writers, and probably Joanne Harris, on whose novel the film is based, clearly misunderstand sin and the meaning of Lent, that personal abstinence is meant to bring its adherents closer to God by their sacrifice. There should be no conflict here if Vianne had not come during Lent, but instead, the people of the village seem to view any and all pleasure as a sin, whether it’s during Lent or not. Their indulgent awakening would have been more heartening if Lent and the Church weren’t scapegoats to spoil everyone’s fun. Molina’s Reynaud is the embodiment of the town’s religious stricture, even if he does have a rare humanizing moment or two. The turning point of his own surrender to “temptation” is a wholly ridiculous scene that most reminded me of a SpongeBob SquarePants episode called “Just One Bite,” where Squidward yields to his craving for Krabby Patties, a scene which (now that I think about it) was probably inspired by Chocolat. Yet what’s funny in a cartoon just felt strange and absurd in a film like this.

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Chocolat would have been better as simply a Mary Poppins-ish tale of Vianne helping the town, such as how she inspires an abused wife to escape from actual oppression, but its antagonism was misplaced. Every time I started enjoying Chocolat, it kept reminding me that “chocolate good, religious oppression bad,” and while I wholeheartedly embrace the former point, the latter kept spoiling it for me. The fine acting and passion for one of the best foods ever invented are clearly key to Chocolat‘s appeal, but it could have been so much better if religion and tradition weren’t depicted as such finger-wagging killjoys.

Best line: (the village priest, giving a sermon) “I’d rather talk about [our Lord’s] humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance… Listen, here’s what I think. I think that we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think… we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create… and who we include.”

 

Rank: Dishonorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
475 Followers and Counting

 

Ghostbusters (2016)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to suggest how future archaeologists would look back on us today.  I applied my movie theme to the concept and even worked in a little of the biology class I’m taking right now.)

 

Welcome to my lecturing on modern archaeology:
Today the ancient world before the 22nd century,
A cruder, ruder, desk-computer chapter in our history.

Just recently, our diggers found a reddish box interred in rock
And found within it simple disks that once were sold and kept in stock,
A kind of visual entertainment certain players could unlock.

Some were future sci-fi stories, which weren’t right on anything;
Some were labeled “Oscar winners,” which we’re still deciphering;
And one about pursuing ghosts was worth the price of tunneling.

As some may know, an older fossil from the Reagan-lithic zone
Had a concept similar and yet was not a perfect clone.
This proves the theory that some artists used ideas that weren’t their own.

It seems some stories were remade in efforts to indulge consumers,
Many of which found them lacking, but just why is up to rumors.
Though we can’t be sure since men evolved and lost our sense of humors.
___________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

When the latest all-female version of Ghostbusters was announced, I was never among the crowd that condemned and ranted against it. I was more in the eye-rolling crowd because remakes of classic movies always turn out well, right? Still, I decided to check it out with an open mind, and my opinion seems to match the general consensus:  it’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.

Instead of a sequel, this Ghostbusters is a reboot, treating the profession of paranormal poaching as an unexplored field, as if the original never happened. After an initial haunting that’s actually much scarier than the library beginning of the first film, Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is asked to look into it, even though she has tried to distance herself from her ghost-studying past. Soon, however, she’s back into the paranormal game with her old colleague Abby (Melissa McCarthy) and the Egon-esque Jillian (Kate McKinnon). Along with a street-savvy subway worker (Leslie Jones), they team up just as an occult weirdo (Neil Casey) tries to cause the apocalypse. Good timing, eh?

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I’ll start out by saying that this Ghostbusters wasn’t entirely “meh.” There were even ways I thought it offered an improved story, mainly in providing a reason for all the ghost sightings rather than the original’s relative lack of explanation. The villain is fairly forgettable, but his actions indirectly bring about the Ghostbusters themselves, who rise to the occasion to stop him. I also liked the two-faced response from the governor’s office, secretly supporting the Ghostbusters while publicly denouncing them, which I found funnier and more believable than the initial outright denial of the government in the first two films.

The biggest problem with this Ghostbusters is a problem I have with the majority of modern comedies: it simply didn’t make me laugh very much. Oh, I chuckled in spots, snickered at the occasional clever joke or recognizable reference, but shouldn’t a comedy elicit more of a reaction than that? Far too often were moments I could tell were meant to be funny but just weren’t, and part of it may stem from my natural indifference to Wiig and McCarthy. McKinnon and Jones had stronger humor than the other two, but the film’s best surprise was Chris Hemsworth’s gender-swapped role as the ditzy receptionist Kevin. While the women were focused on the ghost-hunting plot, Hemsworth provided some needed laughs and was clearly enjoying himself, even without his hammer.

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Ghostbusters didn’t deserve the instant hate it got and knowingly cracks a few jokes aimed at those nasty comment sections, but I would have hoped for a stronger return for the classic franchise. Perhaps the most wasted element was the cameos of the original cast members, all of which depend solely on “hey-it’s-that-person” appeal rather than being funny or important to the plot. (Dan Aykroyd’s was probably the best, but they couldn’t come up with something better for Bill Murray?) Whereas the original two are classics, this one settles for mere entertainment and so-so CGI, though the big battle at the end has its fun moments. It may yet get a sequel itself, but if not for the original’s reputation, I doubt this film would have fostered the same fondly regarded franchise.

Best line: (Patty, when a ghost escapes on a subway train) “I guess he’s going to Queens. He’s going to be the third scariest thing on that train.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
475 Followers and Counting

 

In Time (2011)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to explore a small, defined space, so I chose the inescapable meaning of the inside of a clock.)

 

Consider the crevices closed in a clock,
Where gears in their constant cacophony grind,
So sealed in their space,
Yet they turn the clock’s face,
As all the world runs, lest it be left behind
While the gears click the future away.

A tiny black hole occupies every clock,
To suck in the seconds and minutes and years.
Mankind put it there
In that pocket of air
And lives with the ticking of time in his ears,
While the gears we encased
And the fears of life’s waste
Even now click the future away.
_________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Oh, I do love science fiction! I love how it creates worlds that take social or technological change to a futuristic extreme that would be very unlikely to happen but is still fascinating to think about. I love how it makes absurd what-if scenarios believable and relatable. And lastly, I love the fact that I seem predisposed to like it, even if critics were not so kind. A prime example of all these points is In Time, a dystopian thriller about a world where time has become currency and everyone above twenty-five years old has stopped aging but also has a clock on their arm counting down their remaining lifetime.

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Proving again that he’s not just a singer, Justin Timberlake plays Will Salas, a worker in the poorest “time zone” called Dayton, who may eke by with less than 24 hours on his clock each day but has a natural inclination toward helping others. (Like The Hunger Games, there are twelve zones or districts, with 12 being the poorest.) When a chance encounter with a rich 105-year-old from New Greenwich leaves Will with over a century on his arm, Will sets out for both some enrichment and revenge, later joined by a wealthy magnate’s rebellious daughter Sylvia (Amanda Seyfried).

The film is conceptually cool from the start, literalizing throwaway phrases like “living paycheck to paycheck,” “don’t waste my time,” and of course “time is money,” but the idea is also well executed, such as the visual oddity of everyone looking twenty-five, even mothers and grandmothers. The ever-present arm clocks are always counting down, lending an urgency to quite a few last-second close calls, and time-stealing gangsters and Cillian Murphy as a Javert-like devoted policeman keep the plot unpredictable, even as it leans from straight sci-fi to a sort of heist film. Will and Sylvia also remain sympathetic in their Bonnie-and-Clyde style stick-ups by becoming time-reclaiming Robin Hoods against the none-too-subtle big bad elites.

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I can’t speak to the alleged copyright infringement on a certain Harlan Ellison story or the supposed similarities with director/writer Andrew Niccol’s past work Gattaca (which I’ve yet to see), but In Time is yet another sci-fi film that I seem to have enjoyed far more than its Rotten Tomatoes score of 36% would indicate. One touchstone I can point to is 2009’s Surrogates, another critical failure with a brilliant premise about a massive social evolution that is left in doubt by the end. Neither film is perfect, but both were disparaged by critics for reasons that I simply don’t understand. It can be easily read as a rebellion dream against the one-percenters, but with ideas aplenty, good performances, and some memorably thrilling scenes, In Time is an underrated sci-fi that may one day get the notice it deserves as a cult classic.

Best line: (rich man Philippe Weis) “In the end, nothing will change, because everyone wants to live forever. They all think they have a chance at immortality, even though all the evidence is against it. They all think they will be the exception. But the truth is: For a few to be immortal, many must die.”   (Will) “No one should be immortal, if even one person has to die.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
474 Followers and Counting

 

The Boy and the Beast (2015)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a poem inspired by the art in the margins of medieval manuscripts, which, if you look it up, can be pretty darn bizarre. One popular subject I noticed was anthropomorphic animals standing up like humans, and this film immediately came to mind.)

 

What wonder-filled world have I wandered into,
So foreign to me and yet home to this zoo?
What strange sort of people inhabit this land,
Where hopefully eating the tourists is banned?

I’ve never seen animals walking like men,
Except for a viral show-off now and then,
But I, as a visitor, now must take care
To not let the seven-foot pig see me stare.

They fight and converse, like us humans, I guess;
Some threaten and hate, and some hate a bit less.
Now new cartoon worlds don’t appear every day.
The strangeness is fading; I think I may stay.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

I don’t know why it took me so long to finally see The Boy and the Beast, considering how much I love director Mamoru Hosoda’s previous film Wolf Children. It feels both very similar to and very different from that film, but it carries the same creative touch that sets Hosoda’s films apart from Studio Ghibli or other anime.

The director seems to alternate the gender of his protagonists (a girl in The Girl Who Leapt through Time, a boy in Summer Wars, a young woman in Wolf Children), and The Boy and the Beast is much more of a male-centric story, as the name implies. After an introduction explaining how two fighting masters are preparing to face off for the rule of a parallel world of beasts, we’re introduced to Ren, a nine-year-old human who has run away from home and become deeply bitter after the death of his mother. A chance encounter with a hooded and gruff bear-faced stranger captures his curiosity, and he follows him through an alleyway portal to the beast world, a disorienting scene reminiscent of the spirit world’s emergence in Spirited Away. Though mocked, feared, and bullied in this land of walking, talking animals, Ren becomes the grudging apprentice of Kumatetsu, a warrior preparing to fight for his world’s lordship who also happens to be a juvenile ruffian. The two learn from each other, Karate Kid-style, and the mutual chips on their shoulders help them form a uniquely short-tempered bond.

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Among the similarities to Wolf Children (aside from the appearance of wolf-headed background characters) is the theme of choosing where one belongs. While the earlier film made Ame and Yuki choose between life as wolves or as humans, The Boy and the Beast presents Ren with an analogous decision between the rough-and-tumble warrior life among beasts or the more scholarly and even romantic pursuits among his own kind. One of my favorite sequences is when Ren is older and connects with a female student who tutors him, a very sweet montage recalling the touching beginning of Wolf Children. Yet this film also faces the dark consequences fostered by bitterness and feelings of not belonging, which can threaten to swallow up their owner, here literalized as a soul-corrupting monster to be confronted.

Where The Boy and the Beast falters is oddly enough its key dynamic, the relationship between Ren and Kumatetsu. The way their antagonism belies deeper respect and affection is well-developed, but the constant yelling at each other becomes tiring after a while, making me wish for the far quieter tone of Wolf Children. In addition, the mythological world of the beasts remains a bit alienating at times, not helped by the long Japanese names many of them possess; the story runs a bit too long; and the big, action-packed, touching, meaningful finale may look impressive, but it only makes sense because the story says it does.

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The Boy and the Beast has a lot to appreciate. I was particularly impressed by certain fluidly crafted shots, such as first-person perspectives that zoom through a scene or tracking shots that slowly extend to reveal something off-screen. The detail of the animation is beautiful, especially in that finale I mentioned, and, if you can get past the frequent yelling (which isn’t uncommon in anime), there’s an engaging tale of finding unconventional family at its core. It didn’t speak to me personally like Wolf Children did, but I can see someone else being equally as fond of it.

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
473 Followers and Counting

 

Passengers (2016)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a double elevenie, a pair of five-line, eleven-word poems with a particular form.)

 

Loneliness
Becomes bearable
When in pairs.
There’s no need for
Crowds.

Togetherness
Becomes suspect
When trust dissolves.
Love’s no place for
Doubts.
___________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

I must be more forgiving than most when it comes to science fiction (or more critical, considering I hate 2001), but Passengers seems to have gotten an unfair amount of criticism, even if the complaints aren’t necessarily wrong. It’s simply a case where one flaw is considered by many to ruin the film as a whole, when there are really far more positives than negatives.

While hurtling through space on a 120-year journey to a distant colony, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is awakened from hibernation by a malfunction and is understandably distraught when he learns that there are 90 years ahead of him. After a year of loneliness with only an android bartender (Michael Sheen), his nightmare becomes an Adam-and-Eve dream come true when Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) is also awakened to keep him company. The pairing of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence was a main selling point for the film, and their chemistry doesn’t disappoint, pooling the natural appeal that both actors have earned from their past roles. Also laudable are the futuristic set design and magnificent space-faring effects, which may bring to mind Interstellar or Gravity but are no less impressive. Add in an Oscar-nominated score from Thomas Newman (who still has never won, for some reason), and there’s an eye-popping sci-fi romance worth enjoying.

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But wait…there’s something wrong here, and I suppose I should issue a SPOILER WARNING to discuss it further. It’s surprising that Aurora never suspects this on her own, but Jim in his desperation woke her from stasis himself! It doesn’t matter how conflicted he was about it or how understandable his hopelessness was; to her mind and to many a viewer’s, what he did was tantamount to murder, condemning Aurora to an unfulfilled life, which she’s not quick to forgive.

My VC went so far as to not understand why Aurora stayed so angry, thinking that a life alone with Chris Pratt wouldn’t be so bad, right? As for me, I don’t deny the gravity of Jim’s crime, but I didn’t have a problem with how it was resolved. He’s punished and shunned for what he did, but did anyone think that two lonely people could stay mad for ninety years? The eventual forgiveness seems inevitable, but I’m sorry that some found that to be manipulative on the filmmakers’ part. The reconciliation would have surely been more gradual and painful if things had stayed as they were after Aurora discovered the truth, but the way things play out stresses just how much the two need each other, reigniting the romance that had thankfully already been established before the reveal.

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I understand and even somewhat share the objections I’ve heard from others about the potentially creepy implications of Jim’s actions, but they don’t ruin the film for me. I actually took more issue with the rather prosaic and unproductive way it ends than with anything that came before. As a fan of science fiction and of Pratt and Lawrence, I found this combination of the three to be an engaging genre romance, flaws and all.

Best line: (Aurora) “You can’t get so hung up on where you’d rather be, that you forget to make the most of where you are.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
473 Followers and Counting

 

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a georgic, which I may have confused with a pastoral, but both have to do with agriculture or country life. It may have only a thin connection to the film reviewed, but this is what came to mind.)

 

It’s easy to forget the joy
Of life dependent on my touch,
Of plants that never would have grown,
Sprouts that might have bent to stone,
Animals safe in their zone,
Pride in lifetimes all my own,
Though they don’t know it much.

So many want adventurous
And thrilling lives at large,
For every sight to be unseen,
Nothing staid or too serene,
Changed before it feels routine,
Nothing but a glowing screen
To be within my charge.

Adventure, danger have their place,
But when the thrill is gone,
They too will wish for their homestead,
Fruitful loam and flower bed,
Trust in what yet lies ahead,
Smaller lives now comforted
By one to rely upon.
________________

MPAA rating: PG

The Good Dinosaur is quite the mixed bag for Pixar. If DreamWorks or Blue Sky had made it, I might rank it among their best work, but for Pixar, it’s a weak entry in a filmography full of instant classics. There’s nothing especially wrong with this story of a timid young Apatosaurus named Arlo who is separated from his mountain farm and forced to survive and eventually bond with a human “pet” he names Spot, but like Brave, it’s Pixar at its most unoriginal. The plot borrows heavily from the likes of The Land Before Time, The Lion King, and Ice Age, and yet it still has moments of wonder, pathos, and heartwarmth (that’s a word now) that are staples of Pixar’s brand of storytelling.

I suppose my biggest beef with the film is the creative choices of its animators. On the one hand, the scenery clearly modeled off Wyoming’s Grand Tetons and Yellowstone is absolutely stunning, perhaps some of the most gorgeous animated landscapes ever; and on the other, the dinosaurs themselves are as cartoonish and unrealistic as possible. Nothing’s wrong with the animation quality, and a closer look at the dinos reveals more detail than is seen at first glance; but their general design looks like Play-Doh next to the realism of the backgrounds. It looked suspect in the trailers, and as good as Pixar’s animation is, I feel it was just a bad creative decision, making me miss the realism of Disney’s Dinosaur.

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On top of that, The Good Dinosaur really is a missed opportunity. The stated premise is that the meteor never wiped out the dinosaurs, so millions of years later, it’s dinos that have risen to the point of an agrarian/herding society. I suppose their presence is meant to explain why humans never got past the caveman stage, but is that really the best that the creative minds at Pixar could come up with? Based on the description, I was imagining a modern-day world with humans and dinosaurs living side by side in some kind of fusion civilization, but there’s nothing here that couldn’t have feasibly happened millions of years ago. I feel like the “millions of years later” aspect was included just so that Pixar could put a dinosaur and a human together without drawing the ire of evolutionist date critics. A movie can suspend the disbelief of a dinosaur family farming, so isn’t the human-dinosaur pairing within the realm of credibility for a cartoon? For the world to be like this millions of years later is kind of a letdown.

Wow, two whole paragraphs of gripes might make you think I hated this movie, but I did enjoy it. The overall story may be simple and unoriginal, but Arlo’s journey to gain courage fosters a familiar kind of inspiration. The comedy is hit-and-miss, but there are a few dramatic moments that resoundingly hit home, whether it be the beyond-words stick-figure bonding between Arlo and Spot or the ghostly dream Arlo has at a crucial juncture. I also loved some magical scenes with fireflies and Sam Elliott’s role as a T. Rex cowboy, even if the dynamics of this dino-world remain underdeveloped. By the end, The Good Dinosaur may be disappointing by Pixar’s standards, but by anyone else’s, it’s a decent animated coming-of-age story that, like Arlo, proves stronger than its failings.

Best line: (Poppa) “Sometimes you got to get through your fear to see the beauty on the other side.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
473 Followers and Counting