The Empire of Corpses (2015)


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When I am dead, my soul no longer here,
What happens to my body is unknown.
‘Tis but a shell, an empty souvenir
Of my time in a world from which I’ve flown.
Most likely, it will end up in the ground,
A monument for time to chip away,
But if some more productive use were found,
Its former owner would not have a say.
If man no longer buried his remains
And flouted promises of “rest in peace,”
His conscience would be numb as it disdains
What once deserved respect upon decease.
What world of Frankensteins I’d leave behind
If man were to defile his own kind!

MPAA rating: should be PG-13 or maybe older

The Empire of Corpses looks like an incredible, action-packed, thought-provoking movie, but it’s not. It just looks like one. Based on a novel by a Japanese author dubbed Project Itoh, who died of cancer before the book’s completion, this anime zombie film sets up an alternative steampunk version of Victorian England, where technology has allowed mankind to reanimate the dead as essentially robotic slaves, programming them to perform menial labor as a growing workforce in the world economy. These walking corpses can be recognized by their pale gray skin and passive expressions, but though they seem to understand and follow orders, they are without a soul. Into this hypothetical world is placed an amalgamation of historic and literary figures, a la The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. John Watson is the hero, a corpse scientist who has resurrected a dead friend he renames Friday and now searches for a way to return his soul. Blackmailed by M of the James Bond franchise, he sets out in search of the fabled research of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, aided and impeded by the likes of Ulysses Grant, Thomas Edison, and characters from The Brothers Karamazov and The Future Eve.

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While that description sounds rather awesome, especially when paired with a world full of brainwashed zombies, The Empire of Corpses seems eager to spoil a good thing. After the adventure begins on a thrilling note, it quickly descends into opaque philosophical pondering and inscrutable character motivations. After watching it all the way through, I recognize a worthwhile, imaginative story, full of food for thought, but actually watching it scene by scene can easily frustrate and confuse. By the end, the villain’s revealed plot (the second villain since one wasn’t enough) is baffling and poorly explained, making it clear just how vaguely defined the laws of this corpse technology are.

I hate to be so negative, especially when The Empire of Corpses looks so amazing. The animation is crisp and atmospheric and brings this theoretical world to life in ways that far surpass the deficient script. I’m glad I saw it, if only for the visual flair, such as the thrill of seeing a woman on the back of a galloping stagecoach mowing down zombies with a flamethrower. The action scenes are exceptional, but it makes it that much more disappointing that the rest of the film couldn’t measure up.

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The Empire of Corpses is not without its virtues; I would just like it much more if it made more sense. It does feature some intriguing themes about life and death and manages to create a unique entry in the zombie genre, complete with zombie suicide bombers. The English dub is actually quite good, but the animation is the main attraction for fans of the medium, though certain scenes can get bloody (begging the question of why a dead corpse would bleed). This film is one of three anime movies based on Project Itoh’s novels (the others being last year’s Harmony and this year’s Genocidal Organ), and I certainly hope the other two have more than visual merit alone.


Rank: Honorable Mention


© 2016 S.G. Liput
444 Followers and Counting


The Goonies (1985)


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The story of One-Eyed Willy’s hoard
Has haunted the dreams of the greedy and bored,
But, though men have suffered both peril and pain,
Their seeking and sneaking have all been in vain.

Until the momentous event heaven-sent
When a map was discovered by mere accident,
And a cluster of kids, their homes soon to be sold,
Endeavored to find Willy’s ill-gotten gold.

Through tunnels and traps only pirates would build,
The friends followed through, some alarmed and some thrilled.
While saving their home, all the Goonies, now grown,
Sought out golden legends and so wrote their own.

MPAA rating: PG (maybe PG-13)

The Goonies is a film I really wish I had seen when I was younger. I remember seeing it on the shelf at Blockbuster when I was a kid and never having enough interest to rent it, but I’ve been meaning to ever since. In fact, it probably would have been one of my Blindspot picks if I hadn’t caught it on TV at the end of 2016. Despite my late introduction to this beloved ‘80s flick, I still enjoyed it a lot, much in the way I enjoy YA books or cartoons that are clearly juvenile but still entertaining.

Of course, the biggest claim to fame that this Steven Spielberg/Chris Columbus story has is the talented cast of young stars-to-be, like The Outsiders, Stand By Me, or Red Dawn. Jonathan Ke Huy Quan may be otherwise known only as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but it’s a little surreal to see so many other well-known actors at the start of their careers, from Joe Pantoliano and Josh Brolin to Corey Feldman and cute little Sean Astin as Mikey Walsh. Little did they know at the time….

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The film starts out in fun fashion as a jailbreak orchestrated by the criminal Fratelli family triggers a car chase across town, whizzing past the main characters and introducing us one by one to the club of young Goonies and their individual quirks. To their dismay, their neighborhood is soon to be destroyed by an encroaching country club, and no one wants to see it saved as much as Mikey. When they find a hidden map in his attic that may lead to a lost pirate treasure, he convinces his pals to follow him. Joined later by Mikey’s brother Brand (Brolin) and his female friends (Kerri Green and Martha Plimpton), they discover more adventure and danger than they imagined, both from booby traps along the way and from the Fratellis hot on their trail.

I can imagine everyone having a favorite Goonie. Maybe someone loves Data (Quan) and his anti-bully inventions or poor chubby Chunk (Jeff Cohen) and his klutzy anxiety. I thought Corey Feldman as Mouth stole his scenes, and I especially loved his hilarious “translations” to the Walsh’s Spanish-speaking maid. Astin makes for a wholly likable leader of the bunch, and despite their eccentricities, it was neat how each of them got a moment to shine by using their unique skills. The traps they encounter are actually quite inventive and nail-biting in a Scooby-Doo sort of way, and though I’m not the first to notice this, the family dynamic of the Fratelli family reminded me of the air pirates in Castle in the Sky, headed by a mean and cantankerous mother (although Mama Fratelli is much meaner than Dola).

It did seem that the filmmakers were aiming for different age demographics depending on the scene. In some cases, the language and menace seem a bit much for young kids, and until the end, the Fratellis are more threatening than the cartoonish villains I expected. Other times, the danger devolves into juvenile panic, possibly stretching one’s patience for kids screaming at each other. I wasn’t much of a fan of Sloth, the deformed and simple-minded Fratelli brother whose presence seems pointless until needed by the plot, and the final confrontation with the Fratellis seemed rather poorly planned. I mean, one minute, the kids are being forced to walk the plank as if it’s some great peril, and the next, everyone’s jumping off as if it’s no big deal. Even so, the very end was heartwarming, despite the fact that no one seems eager to recover what’s disappearing in the distance.

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All in all, I’m glad I finally got to enjoy The Goonies, even without the nostalgia goggles with which all those children of the ‘80s view it. I can certainly understand it being a childhood favorite, and I suspect it would have been for me too, had I chanced to rent it from Blockbuster all those years ago. (Boy, I’m making myself sound old.) The Goonies may be a bit puerile at times, but its lovable cast of youngsters and adventurous spirit still make it a classic.

Best line: (Andy, trying to play a piano booby trap) “I can’t tell… if it’s an A sharp or if it’s a B flat!”   (Mikey) “Heh, if you hit the wrong note, we’ll all ‘B flat!’”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2017 S.G. Liput
443 Followers and Counting


Opinion Battles Year Three Round One Favourite Nicolas Cage Role

It’s a new year for Opinion Battles over at Movie Reviews 101! Be sure to vote in Round 1 for your favorite Nicolas Cage role, which range from quirky to crazy and everywhere in between. My favorite had to be treasure hunter Ben Gates in the ever watchable National Treasure films, but there are quite a few different roles to choose from.

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Opinion Battles Year Three Round Onenew-logo

Favourite Nicolas Cage Role

Nicolas Cage has had one of the most fascinating careers in Hollywood today with one Oscar win to his name. his career started in 1981 has seen him take the strange roles, the brilliant roles, become the action hero of the 90s before tackling those bees in The Wicker Man remake before becoming somewhat of a parody of himself in recent years. It will be fair to say everyone will be remember Cage as an actor for a range of different reasons but today we are going to pick our favourite character of his career.

If you want to take part in the next round we are going to be picking our Favourite Oscar Winning Actor Performance in a Leading or Supporting Role, if you want to join email 22nd January 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

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Arrival (2016)


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Each day, I passed an ancient wall,
And, written on its face,
Were symbols of an arcane scrawl
Seen only in that place.
They sometimes gave me déjà vu,
But what they meant nobody knew.

One day, I met a stranger there,
Mysterious and odd,
Who offered me the talent rare
To read the wall’s façade.
I hesitated at the gift,
But curiosity is swift.

Although I can decipher now
The words upon the wall,
I wonder if not knowing how
Would change my life at all.
For knowledge is both curse and grace,
Yet neither one would I erase.

MPAA rating: PG-13

I went into Arrival expecting a great sci-fi movie, based on all the praise it has received from critics and bloggers alike, but I must admit that it caught me off-guard. After the film ended, I had to sit there in the theater a while to process my thoughts, walked back to my car, and broke down crying. It’s hard for me to determine why this movie more than similar ones had such an effect on me, but that’s proof to me that it is indeed one of the best films of 2016.

I’ve seen Arrival compared more favorably to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and while I recognize some thematic similarities, it improved upon a different alien film I disliked, Robert Zemeckis’s Contact. I was irritated by how Contact constantly pitted faith and science against each other, but in Arrival’s case, language and science collaborate instead in the persons of linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). While the idea of pairing Lois Lane and Hawkeye in the same movie has appeal in itself, both actors display utter commitment to their respective fields as their characters are recruited to attempt communication with alien visitors that have (almost) landed twelve lenticular ships at various spots around the globe. Before we even see the extraterrestrials, there’s an epic wonder to their inexplicable arrival, facilitated by momentous cinematography and a striking gravitational doorway.

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What Louise and Ian find when they encounter the tentacled aliens is a linguistic challenge that seems unconquerable to most, a written language that is circular with a conceptual density lacking letters, syllables, or anything recognizable. With frazzled militaries urging them to find out the aliens’ purpose, the two experts attempt to unravel this strange form of communication, sparking some deep questions along the way. Even beyond the stated debates, like whether immersing oneself in another language changes how one thinks, I was struck by how much we take language for granted. If I were confronted by someone without any relatable language skills, I don’t know how I would explain the basics, much less abstract concepts I can’t point to and call a name. I can’t say Arrival provided any practical pointers if I were in that position, but it’s fascinating in a logical, over-my-head sort of way.

There’s also the natural distrust of a human race exposed to far more War of the Worlds than E.T.s, and further themes of how one wrongly understood word can ruin a tentative peace. It was hard for me to understand some people’s panic, since the aliens’ giant watermelon-seed ships show no signs of hostility, but I suppose we have Independence Day to thank for whatever paranoia would come from such a situation. Plus, there’s the added tension of other nations reacting in more belligerent ways and the potential fallout of humanity’s own lack of unity.

Thus, Arrival clearly has the intellectual side of science fiction down, but as the translation attempts wore on, I was hoping something more would come. I was not disappointed. For the first half, it was basically what I expected based on the trailers, yet there comes a moment past the half-way point that something becomes clear and lands a gut punch to both the intellect and emotions. The ramifications of a certain decision are laced with value and regret, and I found the results to be a profoundly pro-life sentiment, in sharp contrast to the pro-death sympathy of the film I last reviewed, Me Before You. At the time, I felt that Arrival was holding back a bit on the emotion, similar to The Wind Rises; if certain scenes and themes were pressed further, I would have been a blubbering mess right then and there. But instead, the filmmakers present what they want to, and the web of sci-fi ideas and emotional threads were left for me to unravel, with tearful results.

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I’ve often said that Grave of the Fireflies is the only film that can still make me cry, but that’s not altogether true. It may make me cry the hardest, but what do other past personal tearjerkers like Somewhere in Time, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Inside Out, and now Arrival have in common? For me, it seems to be the complex merging of sorrow and joy, events that may end sadly but are not without a worthwhile silver lining. At its heart, Arrival endowed me with an intense and unexpected bittersweetness. Even if its immediate resolutions seem to be wrapped up a bit too easily, its long-term story and life-affirming subtext made it a very special experience for me.

Best line: It would be a spoiler to include the best quote, but it’s one of Louise’s final lines.


Rank: List-Worthy


© 2017 S.G. Liput
441 Followers and Counting


Me Before You (2016)



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If I were trapped within a chair,
My body useless, simply there,
I think I’d grieve in my despair,
And call my lot in life unfair,
And lift up many a desperate prayer,
And doubt in ways I’d never share,
My life too broken to repair.

And what I’d do once rage had waned
Cannot be sure or preordained,
But I believe my life restrained
Could still hold joy since life remained,
Not merely to be entertained,
But be fulfilled. Though life be pained,
Does that mean it should be disdained?

MPAA rating: PG-13

Me Before You has all the potential you could want for a summer romance flick—a touching and emotional story, two appealing leads with chemistry, a difficult and tragic subtext. But there are two ways that a film like this can go, and sadly this one takes the worst possible route. Just a warning: spoilers are unavoidable in discussing the film’s great stumble so I won’t be dancing around it.

I suppose I should say up front that I really enjoyed most of Me Before You. The first two thirds of it make for a highly engaging romance, one that develops where neither lover would have expected. After losing her job, young Brit Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) ends up applying as a home caregiver for wealthy quadriplegic Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), who is confined to wheelchair and bed at all times. His bitterness keeps her at a distance at first as someone his mother hired against his will, but Louisa’s natural charm and hesitant spunk slowly win him over, as well as some bonding over movies (including the excellent French film Of Gods and Men). I kind of fell in love with Emilia Clarke in this movie; she wears her awkward emotions on her sleeve with the mere expression of her eyebrows, and she’s such a winsome lead that it’s no surprise that Will falls for her too.

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But then Me Before You delves into the controversial area of doctor-assisted suicide, a subject too complex for a teary romance to address properly. Jojo Moyes, the author of the book on which it is based, wrote it after hearing of a paralyzed athlete choosing suicide at a Swiss clinic, so with that as her inspiration, both Will and the film march to that inevitably unsatisfying conclusion with grim resolve.

There’s so much wrong with how it is handled, it’s hard to know where to begin. For one, there’s the fact that it didn’t have to be this way. After learning of Will’s suicide plans, Louisa tries to give him every reason she can muster to want to live and expects to change his mind until he proves her hopes to be in vain. If she had been successful, the story could have been a lovely and life-affirming tale, but that’s not what the storyteller intended at all.

In addition, Will’s response to Louisa spoils the most basic of romantic rules, loving the other more. By gently rebuffing Louisa’s efforts, Will is essentially saying, “You’re not good enough to live for.” Is it any wonder that Louisa reacts with anger and grief? It’s as if Will is given someone to make his life worth living, and he rejects her, supposedly for her own good. Because of the film’s predestined goal, it’s all about Louisa loving Will enough to accept his choice rather than Will loving her enough to stay. Then again, doesn’t the title Me Before You suggest that? I thought it had a strangely selfish ring to it, and now I see why. Not that Will sees it as selfishness; he believes he’s freeing Louisa and his family from his burden, but he ignores their pleas and the fact that it’s not as if they’re struggling financially.  The film does try to bring other points of view in, such as Will’s mother’s objections and Louisa’s mother declaring his choice to be “no better than murder,” but again, the end result was decided from the beginning.

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I don’t pretend to understand the agony that many with quadriplegia or other debilitating conditions endure, but I have to believe that life is better than death. Will comments that he loved his life before his accident and that it could never be the same. While that’s true, just because his life is not the same doesn’t mean it isn’t worth living. Success stories like Helen Keller, Stephen Hawking, and Joni Eareckson Tada have proven that life need not be made void by handicaps, and many happy lives have risen from considerations of suicide, considerations that might have killed them early had they had access to the means, as Will does by the end. It’s a matter of hope and life, not dignity, and Will’s final words of encouragement to Louisa to “just live” are hollow next to his actions.

Me Before You could have been a lovely romance, and most of it is, with delightful early performances from Clarke and Claflin that are more crowd-pleasing than Oscar-winning. Yet the film’s stab at bittersweet euthanasia as an ending just ruins everything that came before, revealing its sympathy for the culture of death in a wholly unsatisfying way.

Best line: (Louisa, with the kind of touching line that is sadly ignored by Will) “You make me happy, even when you’re awful. I would rather be with you—even the you that you seem to think is diminished—than with anyone else in the world.”


Rank: Dishonorable Mention


© 2017 S.G. Liput
441 Followers and Counting


Wayne’s World (1992)


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When people get nostalgic for their young and stupid days,
I cannot help but wonder just how stupid was that phase.
Were they taking risks they’d now oppose
And banging heads to radios
And hosting public access shows
That talked about God-only-knows?

If so, I see the reason for the fondness for their prime,
Though most, I think, now wonder where their brain was at the time.
I think I skipped, for good or ill,
My foolish phase of chill and thrill,
But maybe years from now, I will
Admit that I am in it still.

MPAA rating: PG-13

For years now, I’ve known of Wayne’s World and its main characters’ similarity to the other dim-witted best friends in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but I’d only seen the time travel tale of Bill and Ted and just got to see the hijinks of Wayne and Garth for the first time recently. I’m not sure which came first, since even though Wayne’s World the movie came out after Bill and Ted, the characters of Wayne and Garth originated as a Saturday Night Live skit the same year Bill and Ted was released. Regardless of who first proclaimed the immortal interjection “Excellent!”, the appeal of both is about the same. I went into Wayne’s World expecting entertaining stupidity, and that’s what it delivered in spades.

Since Wayne’s World was a series of SNL skits, it’s not surprising that the movie is like a series of hilarious moments strung together with the loosest of plots. Early on, we’re introduced to the public access show that metal-loving best friends Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) host from Wayne’s basement, but they both make time for their preferred habits of hanging out at the local donut shop and rocking out in the car or the nearest party with a decent metal band. When a smarmy TV producer (Rob Lowe) offers them a chance at a wider network audience, they jump at the financial incentive, but will it change who Wayne and Garth are? Not!

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As moronic as they are, Wayne and Garth are still relatable in their nerdy sincerity, particularly for me since I actually have a friend who reminded me a lot of a combination of the two dudes (in their idiosyncrasies, not their stupidity). Honestly, though, the actual plot that places stress on Wayne and Garth’s friendship is secondary to individual scenes that just stick out with random geeky joy, exemplified in the early car scene that illustrates how “Bohemian Rhapsody” gave a generation brain damage. There are too many hilarious scenes to list; for instance, there’s the fourth-wall breaking, or the repeated love-song halos that Wayne and Garth see around their crushes, or the ridiculous subtitles when Wayne speaks Chinese with his girlfriend Cassandra (beautiful Tia Carrere), or some truly random moments of intelligence coming from unexpected places. (Alice Cooper’s cameo has to be one of the best I’ve seen.) In addition, the soundtrack is rich with classic rock, much of it actually sung with screaming gusto by Tia Carrere, not least of which is her awesome performance of The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”

By the end, even the movie itself knowingly ignores plot conventions for the sake of the humor, letting the audience choose what kind of ending we’d prefer. Like Bill and Ted, it’s strange to say, but this kind of highly quotable dumb humor is somehow brilliant in its idiocy, which I’ve come to appreciate more with time. I still prefer Bill and Ted for its wilder plot, but Wayne’s World is its own kind of “excellent.”

Best lines: (ex-girlfriend Stacy) “Well, don’t you want to open your present?”   (Wayne) “If it’s a severed head, I’m going to be very upset.”

(Wayne) “I once thought I had mono for an entire year. It turned out I was just really bored.”

(Wayne) “Good call. It’s like [Benjamin] wants us to be liked by everyone. I mean, Led Zeppelin didn’t write tunes everybody liked. They left that to the Bee Gees.”


Rank: List-Worthy


© 2017 S.G. Liput
439 Followers and Counting


My 2017 Blindspot Picks


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One feature that I’ve never tried but have seen lots of bloggers announcing recently is the Blindspot series, where you get to choose twelve films that you’ve been meaning to see and commit to reviewing one a month over the next year. There are so many movies on my to-watch list that it was tough whittling it down to twelve, but these are all films that have peaked my curiosity over the years but have somehow fallen through the cracks. Some are recommendations from fellow bloggers, while others are classics that have eluded me…until now. I think I have a good mix of years and genres too, so hopefully I’ll have some new favorites to add by the end of the year. In alphabetical order then, here are my Blindspot picks for 2017!


An American in Paris (1951)

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Blade Runner (1982)

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Cinema Paradiso (1988)

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Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)

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Donnie Darko (2001)

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Giovanni’s Island (2014)

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Hear Me (2009)

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The Help (2011)

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Imitation of Life (1934)

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In Your Eyes (2014)

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Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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Shuffle (2011)

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Midnight Special (2016)


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The glaring lights of other cars assault the driver’s eyes,
A father’s eyes that have not slept a wink.
His son is sleeping in the back or reasonably tries,
As far behind, the passing headlights shrink.

Their own light slices through the dark to blindly find the road,
Its end concealed by more than just the night.
Throughout their drive, the father’s pace has hardly ever slowed,
Lest thoughts of past or future cloud his sight.

The worries of a father’s love cannot be put to rest,
No matter where the son may chance to go.
Not even when they reach the destination of their quest
Will bonds of son and father cease to glow.

MPAA rating: PG-13

I haven’t seen any other films from director Jeff Nichols, but based on his reputation and the high expectations for his foray into science fiction, I anticipated something special, especially since Midnight Special was meant as a homage to classic ‘80s sci-fi. In fact, it has more than a passing resemblance to one of my favorite ‘80s sci-fi films, John Carpenter’s Starman, sharing a road trip to an important destination, a hunted protagonist with mysterious powers, and government agents hot on his trail.

In place of the romantic angle of Starman is a devoted father-son dynamic between Roy Tomlin (Michael Shannon) and his son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who has strange seizures during which his eyes glow and he picks up radio signals. There’s little set-up as we immediately join Roy’s odyssey, having already rescued Alton, with the help of his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), from a Texas cult that views the boy as a messianic savior. Alarmed to learn that the cult learned sensitive information through Alton, the government is eager to find him, as are the enforcers sent by the cult to retrieve him.

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As much as I was looking forward to Midnight Special, this is one case where the description sounds better than the finished product. It’s certainly not a bad film, but much of the runtime seemed to hover on the edge of being dull. After the initial curiosity of what’s going on wears off, the tension and wonder are only felt in short bursts that aren’t always as compelling as they try to be. One stylistic choice that annoyed me with its frequency was how the characters are sometimes plunged into darkness where it’s hard to see what’s happening; naturally, these scenes are meant to accentuate the light that eventually appears, such as during a momentous sunrise, but the technique got old quickly.

What often kept the film from tipping into boredom was the performances, which are excellent across the board. Michael Shannon is a conflicted protagonist as he seeks the best for his son while never knowing where that may lead, and the extent of his ruthlessness is cleverly kept in doubt. Edgerton also excels in the role of a hesitant believer, as do Kirsten Dunst as Alton’s mother and Adam Driver as the NSA agent who ends up sympathizing with the boy’s quest (not unlike Charles Martin Smith in Starman). It’s the performances that save Midnight Special, along with some spurts of action that are exceptionally well-timed.

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Midnight Special had plenty of potential from the start, but by the end, it’s hard not to feel that something is missing. It’s not that I need my sci-fi to be non-stop action; heck, I’ve heard people complain that Starman is boring. Yet whereas Starman wasn’t afraid to have a bit of fun with its hammy concept, Midnight Special is almost one-note in its seriousness and might have benefited from a less sober tone and a less ambiguous resolution. It undoubtedly has moments of brilliance, but such moments can only help a film so much.

Best line: (Alton) “You don’t have to worry about me.”
(Roy) “I like worrying about you.”
(Alton) “You don’t have to anymore.”
(Roy) “I’ll always worry about you, Alton. That’s the deal.”


Rank: Honorable Mention


© 2017 S.G. Liput
438 Followers and Counting


That’s Entertainment! (1974) and That’s Entertainment, Part II (1976)


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For centuries, great entertainers
Wowed the crowds and made them cheer,
With song and dance, speech, and romance,
Their famous names known far and near.

Yet soon they died, their plays and songs
Preserved in libraries and hearts;
We saved the page, but those on stage
Were soon forgotten from the arts.

Not till the novelty of film
Could actors prove their artistry
And ply their skill to awe and thrill
With hope of immortality.

MPAA rating for both: G

It’s hard enough trying to keep up with all the new releases that pass through the cinemas week after week, but what about the plethora of old classics stretching back to the 1920s? What about the hundreds of musicals that MGM churned out back in the days when contracted actors were assigned roles rather than offered them? Where does one start? Well, That’s Entertainment! is an excellent reference point, a star-studded documentary that also serves as a highlight reel of old musicals, famous and obscure.

Older musicals often seem to have just a thin plot meant solely to string together spectacular song-and-dance numbers, and That’s Entertainment! gets rid of the connective tissue to provide a musical tour of MGM’s forgotten pageantry. The early days of 1929’s The Broadway Melody may not be all that impressive, but within a few years, MGM had the musical extravaganzas down to a science. I’m well familiar with favorites like Singin’ in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz or famous scenes from On the Town (the three sailors singing “New York! New York!”) and Royal Wedding (Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling), but there are boatloads more that I’d never even heard of, such as the series of suspiciously similar small-town romances starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Most of the clips are worth watching just as highlights, but a few have made me curious to check out the films themselves, such as the navy grandeur of Hit the Deck (1955) or the High School Musical forerunner Good News (1947).

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Sprinkled throughout the singing and dancing are introductions filmed by a variety of stars in 1974 as they wander the decaying MGM backlot where these musicals were filmed decades earlier. (The sets were torn down shortly after filming.) The star power is incredible, including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, and the late Debbie Reynolds. Each screen legend introduces the work of one of their friends and costars, passing the baton as the film progresses. Old film buffs are sure to recognize the less widely known stars from the old film clips more than casual viewers like myself, but seeing some of these stars in action helped me appreciate the talents of performers whose reputations have waned over the decades. I wasn’t familiar with the incredible tap dancing of Ann Miller, the water-fountain displays of Esther Williams, or the impressive voice of Kathryn Grayson, but I’m glad I am now.

The film also features a few familiar faces in unexpected musical roles. Mainstream musicals may be anomalies these days, but back in the day, they were everywhere, and stars didn’t always have a choice of whether to sing or not. I never thought to see Jimmy Stewart trying to carry a tune, much less Clark Gable dancing to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in 1939’s Idiot’s Delight. Let’s just say, there’s a reason they eventually left the dancing to Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.

Speaking of Kelly and Astaire, they actually teamed up to host That’s Entertainment, Part II, proving that there was far too much material in MGM’s vault to fill only one documentary. (There’s also a Part III from 1994, but I didn’t get to see that one.) While it features the same retrospective montage of film clips, Part II feels even less like a documentary, thanks to the more sensational production values and the entertaining interludes of Kelly and Astaire as the sole hosts. In the first That’s Entertainment, Astaire admitted that his favorite dance partner was actually Gene Kelly, whom he had danced with only once in 1946’s Ziegfeld Follies. In Part II, the two reunite to dance together again, which was actually Astaire’s last dance on film, and they reportedly did so just to prove that they hadn’t lost their mojo, even in their sixties and seventies.

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As with the first film, the musical moments are plentiful and dazzling, again with a few stunning dance numbers that are undoubtedly the centerpieces of their films. I won’t soon forget the operatic rebellion of New Moon, the athleticism of Kiss Me, Kate, or the amazing extended shot of a young Bobby Van literally hopping across town in Small Town Girl. Plus, the almost disturbing sight of Fred Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan singing on their knees dressed as babies in The Band Wagon. Plus, I did get to recognize a few familiar scenes, including one for Cabin in the Sky, an all-black older musical I happened to randomly watch last year. In addition, there are more than just musical scenes. Part II also has tributes to screen greats like Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn and comedians like the Marx Brothers, including the famous packed stateroom scene from A Night at the Opera.

That’s Entertainment! and its sequel reveal just how much fabulous musical cinema is on the verge of being forgotten, and I’m quite glad that MGM kindly boiled down its heyday into these affectionately repackaged collections. I only knew of these films from my mom, who talks about how they opened her eyes to the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, and in some ways, it did the same for me. The tunes are both new and familiar (I had no idea that the music to “Make ‘Em Laugh” predated Singin’ in the Rain and was used in The Pirate), the choreography and star power are staggering, and the whole package is, well, entertaining. I doubt I’ll ever get around to seeing all the films featured, but at least I know I’ve seen all the best parts.

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Best line: (Liza Minnelli) “Thank God for film. It can capture a performance and hold it right there forever. And if anyone says to you, ‘Who was he?’ or ‘Who was she?’ or ‘What made them so good?’ I think a piece of film answers that question better than any words I know of.”


Since documentaries are ineligible for my List, it’s the return of the five-star system.
Rank for both: Five Stars out of Five


© 2017 S.G. Liput
437 Followers and Counting


My Top Twelve Songs of 2016


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Okay, just one more list to close out 2016; then it’s on to the new year. I don’t frequent the cinema nearly as much as many bloggers out there, so I rarely feel confident enough to make an end-of-year best-of list when there’s so much I have yet to see. But while a movie could run up to two hours or longer, songs are much faster and easier to digest, and we hear them on the radio or online throughout the year often without even trying.

So here are the musical highlights of the year for me. When I first thought to compile this list, I expected it to look quite different until I found out that many of the best songs I heard this year were actually released in 2015. So I didn’t’ feel I should include favorites like Adele’s “Hello,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Lukas Graham’s “7 Years,” or Mark Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” even though some of them were nominated for Grammies this year. I don’t know all the nomination rules there, but I drew solely from songs released as singles in 2016. My musical tastes may not be everyone’s, since they so clearly diverge from most of the recently announced Grammy nominees. I’m not a fan of rap, hip hop, or much mainstream pop so you won’t find any Twenty One Pilots, Beyoncé, or Drake here.

Several of these were also included in films of the past year so at least there’s the movie connection I always try to work into these lists. I’m sure I’ll hear more winners from last year in the months ahead, but right now, here are my favorite songs of 2016.


  1. “How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

I still have yet to see Disney’s Moana, but as with Frozen’s “Let It Go,” I got to hear its music even before I watch the film itself. This Golden Globe-nominated tune sung by Auli’i Cravalho as Moana and by Alessia Cara during the end credits is a beautiful ballad of longing for the unknown.


  1. “Handclap” – Fitz and the Tantrums

I first heard this song when Fitz and the Tantrums appeared on a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and while it gets off to a so-so start, it’s pretty darn catchy by the end, even if it’s not quite as good as “The Walker” from their previous album.


  1. “Make You Mine” – High Valley

While I used to be a more devoted listener, I only listen to country music occasionally these days, and luckily I had the radio on a country channel at the right time to hear the feel-good romance of “Make You Mine.” This may be a cheat since High Valley first released the song in Canada in 2014, but it had its first American release this year.


  1. “Gunned Down” – Nicco & Solid&Sound

I discovered this obscure electronic tune more or less by accident, as part of a compilation music video, and it stuck in my mind as worthy of much more attention. The more I hear it, the more I like it.


  1. “Birds” – Coldplay

Again, “Birds” may be from Coldplay’s 2015 album A Head Full of Dreams, but it just barely made the cut by being released on January 2, 2016. It’s less widely played than the singles on the album, but its subdued high-speed energy is infectious, despite the sudden ending.


  1. “Happy Birthday” – Kygo, featuring John Legend

This might be considered a cooler alternative to the more traditional birthday song. I love the prominent piano riff, and with John Legend’s vocals, it’s an underrated gem of a song.


  1. “Good Grief” – Bastille

Bastille improved on their earlier hit “Pompeii” with this outstanding single with a much more serious undertone than its catchy tune and risqué video would suggest. And for movie buffs, see if you can identify the movie line embedded in the bridge.


  1. “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” – Justin Timberlake (from Trolls)

For pop music stations and sales, this was the #1 song of the year. Also nominated for a Grammy and Golden Globe, this upbeat dance hit from DreamWorks’s Trolls sounds a lot like a Michael Jackson song and may be Timberlake’s best work.


  1. “Something Wild” – Lindsey Stirling, featuring Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (from Pete’s Dragon)

The musical high point for me last year was attending a Lindsey Stirling concert in the summer. Not only did she play all my favorite songs of hers, but included a few from her new album Brave Enough, particularly this Celtic-sounding addition to the soundtrack of Pete’s Dragon.


  1. “Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street

This also made #3 for my list of 2016 movie scenes. Sing Street was made special by its nostalgic soundtrack of original tunes that actually sounded like they could have been unreleased hits from the 1980s, and “Drive It Like You Stole It” is the best and most toe-tapping of the bunch.


  1. “Too Much Is Never Enough” – Florence and the Machine

If this song had been in a movie, it would have the Best Song Oscar written all over it. Instead, it was written for the game Final Fantasy XV, as was the song “I Will Be,” and while I’m not a gamer, this song is exceptional. 2016 was the year that introduced me to Florence and the Machine, now one of my favorite bands by their sound alone, and after the fantastic album released in 2015, even the smaller singles from 2016 carry on the uniquely majestic style.


  1. “Wherever I Go” – OneRepublic

While it hasn’t gotten nearly the airplay of their other hits, “Wherever I Go” is OneRepublic at their catchiest. I may have been a little obsessed with this song after first hearing it on the radio, but I’d say its frenetic, funky rhythm warrants it. I doubt it will win any awards, but I love it nonetheless. This is one song during which I just can’t stay still.


And here are other great songs of 2016, loosely ranked from best to least, ending with four radio hits that aren’t really my cup of tea but there’s something I like about them anyway.


“Riddle of the Model” – Sing Street

“It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To” – Billy Currington

“Work This Body” – Walk the Moon

“The Arena” and the rest of the Brave Enough album – Lindsey Stirling

“She Sets the City on Fire” – Gavin DeGraw

“Up&Up” and “Hymn for the Weekend” – Coldplay

“Scars” – Tove Lo (from The Divergent Series: Allegiant)

“It’s Nothing” and “Sparkle” – Radwimps (from Your Name.)

“Water under the Bridge” – Adele

“Try Everything” – Sia and Stargate, sung by Shakira (from Zootopia)

“Quicksand” – Feenixpawl with APEK

“In the Blink of an Eye” – Paul McCartney (from Ethel and Ernest)

“My Wonder” – Dan Winter and Ryan T., featuring Damae

“Scars to Your Beautiful” – Alessia Cara

“In the Name of Love” (Syzz remix) – Martin Garrix and Bebe Rexha

“Cold Water” – Major Lazer

“Rockabye” – Clean Bandit, featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie

“What About the Love” – Sam Feldt

“Send My Love” – Adele

“Closer” – The Chainsmokers, featuring Halsey

“Treat You Better” – Shawn Mendes

“My House” – Flo Rida

“Starving” – Hailee Steinfeld and Grey, featuring Zedd


What songs did I miss this year? I’m sure there are quite a few so feel free to tell me your favorites!

My VC also suggested I end this music post with a mournful mention of the musical greats lost in 2016 as well. Rest in peace, David Bowie, Maurice White, Keith Emerson, Merle Haggard, Prince, Christina Grimmie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and Debbie Reynolds, alongside many others. Let’s remember them at their best, like George Michael in one of my VC’s favorite songs of his.