La La Land (2016)

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[Can be sung to “Audition (Fools Who Dream)”]

Many will scoff at
The goals that are not yet fulfilled.
Dreams without backers
Are subject to slackers
And thoughts that they’re too hard to build.

“No” to the doubts that press,
Weathered by hopefulness.
Those that will roll their eyes
Are in for a grand surprise.

A lone aspiration
Is ripe for frustration,
As all true successes know.
The chances we fumble
May help keep us humble
With more than one right way to go.

Hard is the road our dreams set,
Bumpy and lined with regret.
Still, where they lead we must go,
Only one outcome to know.
_______________

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for a lone F-word, that’s it)

In the past, I’ve never given Oscar nominees the attention many bloggers do (I still haven’t seen half the nominees from 2015), but this year I had the unique pleasure of watching all but one of the Best Picture nominees in the theater, thanks to a great special with Regal. You can’t beat nine movies for $35! Thus, with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll be reviewing all of them in the days ahead, except for Moonlight, which I skipped only for it to end up winning, and I’ve already posted my thoughts on Arrival and Hidden Figures.

For my first post-Oscars review, I’ll cover the very last film I watched, which was actually during the Oscar ceremony. La La Land rose so quickly as a critical darling that many have pushed back or at least rolled their eyes at it, and reading so many such opinions, I had already given in to the consensus that it’s overrated. And yet…I loved it. I enjoyed all of the nominees this year, but rarely have I walked out of the theater as satisfied as I did with La La Land. Unfortunately, as soon as I came to the decision that it deserved Best Picture, that infamous mix-up gave the honor to Moonlight, for what could have been politically motivated reasons (I do still have yet to see it). While I was angry at the time and had to remind myself it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, I’m glad at least that La La Land won other awards it deserved and that I got to enjoy it on the big screen.

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I should state that I love musicals. While many were trashing Les Misérables, I was singing its praises, and La La Land hearkens back to the classic MGM musicals for which I recently found greater appreciation from the documentary That’s Entertainment! It’s true that La La Land isn’t a Broadway musical with constant showstoppers, though the very first scene should impress any music lover and I enjoyed the modern style of a concert headlined by John Legend. Even if it’s not a typical musical toward the end, Justin Hurwitz’s Oscar-winning music, the jazz in particular, is a constant presence and almost a character unto itself. Often, it’s without words, like the classic dance numbers of yesteryear.

The story itself centers on two aspiring creatives: Emma Stone’s Mia came to Hollywood to be an actress but endures a barista job on the studio lot, while Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian is obsessed with classic jazz, wishing to preserve its purity in his own nightclub one day. Their initially cold run-ins with each other melt into romance as they both share their unique passions and encourage each other toward their dreams. The plot may seem familiar, owing much to the likes of A Star Is Born and Roman Holiday, but it’s made vibrant by the charm and chemistry of the two leads and the nostalgia they wear on their sleeves. The screenplay is actually rather self-aware of its Hollywood setting (“They worship everything, and they value nothing”), and themes that apply to creative types abound: How far should one go in sacrificing what they love in service of present needs? How much rejection are we willing to take before throwing in the towel? Is a dying art worth saving if even one devout advocate remains? As Mia insists, “People love what other people are passionate about,” and there’s passion here to spare, even if you don’t think you’re a fan of jazz or musicals in general.

Damien Chazelle’s Oscar-winning direction and camerawork are truly phenomenal as well. I’m a sucker for long, uninterrupted shots, and the fluidity of the camera helps one feel in the moment, whether it’s singers cavorting on a freeway or a disgruntled couple tap-dancing together on an L.A. overlook. Ryan Gosling and the ever-lovely Emma Stone may not be professional singers or dancers, but they show great commitment to their roles. Stone’s emotional scenes leave no doubt as to her Best Actress win, and the fact that Gosling learned how to play jazz piano for this film is astounding, considering how often and skillfully he tickles the ivories.

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As corny or clichéd as it sounds, La La Land is a true reminder of the magic of movies. Several scenes left me awed and enchanted, especially Mia’s one-take audition song, which deserved the Best Song Oscar much more than “City of Stars.” (I no longer blame La La Land for keeping Sing Street from a song nomination. That’s on “The Empty Chair.”) Yet it’s not all joy and magic; there’s struggle too and, like Arrival, that beautiful emotion called bittersweet. La La Land is honest enough to admit that life is rarely like a movie, but wouldn’t it be grand if it were?

In my opinion, 2016 bore one of the strongest batches of Oscar nominees in recent memory, and there was no single film that was clearly best. Some extolled the deep sci-fi of Arrival; others disliked it but preferred the power of Hacksaw Ridge; still others loved the sad realism of Manchester By the Sea or the emotion of Moonlight or Lion. In my case, I loved La La Land, and while I may be temporarily flying high only for my initial admiration to lapse eventually, I suspect it will continue to be a fond favorite of mine. As Mia’s audition song states, this film is for “the ones who dream,” and I’m one of them.

Best line: (Sebastian, explaining his lack of progress) “I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back.”

 

Rank: Top 100-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
451 Followers and Counting

 

Version Variations / VC Pick: A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976)

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For every star to glory born
And lifted from obscurity,
Another sinks to dark and scorn,
An endless cycle now well-worn
But no less pitifully.

Some seek, some flee the weight of fame,
For which so many mourn.
They love the players, hate the game,
Who lose the lights around their name
That more stars may be born.
_________________

MPAA rating for 1937 version: Not Rated (should be PG)
MPAA rating for 1954 version: PG
MPAA rating for 1976 version: R (mainly for language)

My VC has been urging me to review the 1976 version of A Star Is Born, one of her favorites with Barbra Streisand, and I saw it as an opportunity to compare all three movies of the same name in a long overdue Version Variation review. It’s a Hollywood story that has become well-known through repetition, earning a remake every twenty years or so. The original was in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March; the second retooled the tale as an epic musical with Judy Garland and James Mason; and the third is my VC’s favorite, another musical with Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. Ironically, I believe I was exposed to each of them in backwards order and enjoyed the story more the further back I went. And to anyone who thinks this story is too old to be relevant over forty years after the last version, there is yet another remake in the works for next year, starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Time will tell how that compares with the others, but let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the past versions.

What every incarnation of A Star Is Born has in common is the central story of an ambitious female newcomer who catches the eye and support of a celebrity with a reputation for being difficult, and as her star rises, his fades with heartbreaking results. While the necessity for the existence of a remake is always questioned, A Star Is Born is one case where every new version updated it for the times in completely understandable ways. The 1937 film had Hollywood as its setting, with Janet Gaynor’s Esther Blodgett dreaming of rising from a country girl to a starlet of its Golden Age. Judy Garland’s version is also about Hollywood but at the height of its musical phase; Garland’s Blodgett is already an established singer, and it’s her voice that prompts Mason’s Norman Maine to help her to shoot for something bigger through the studio system. By 1976, Streisand’s version ignores Hollywood in favor of the rock-and-roll scene of the ‘70s; the voice of her renamed Esther Hoffman catches the ear of not a movie star but rock star John Norman Howard (Kristofferson). All three films see Esther and her self-destructive benefactor share wedded bliss that is sadly short-lived, and the final scenes, while handled in different ways, are essentially the same.

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Let’s start with the original 1937 film. It was the last one I saw, and knowing how unimpressed I usually am with dated movies of its era, I watched it more for the sake of comparison than for personal interest. Yet, surprisingly, I found it to be the best version of them all, which I suppose should be expected of the original work. The first A Star Is Born has no music like the other two, and thus the story is more boiled down to the basics of its plot, without the often unnecessary window-dressing of a musical number. In doing so, it also includes important details left out in the 1954 version, such as the origin of Esther’s screen name Vicki Lester.

Above all, the original’s greatest asset that the other two can’t match is its script, pointed and eloquent in just the right measure. While it received seven Oscar nominations, including the honor of being the first color film to be nominated for Best Picture, it’s no surprise that its one win was for Best Writing (plus an honorary award for its color photography). One important character that is totally absent from later versions is Esther’s Grandmother Lettie, played with witty spunk by May Robson. It’s her grandmother that gives Esther the initial encouragement to become a star, and her shrewd counsel at both the movie’s beginning and end may be my favorite bit of grandmotherly wisdom on film. All of the other performances are outstanding, with not one devolving into overacting, and Gaynor and March deserved their acting nominations, even if they didn’t win. (On a side note, I thought it interesting that Lionel Stander, who plays the studio’s unsympathetic publicity manager, sounded exactly like Harvey Fierstein’s raspy voice. I doubt there’s any relation, but it would be funny if Fierstein played the same role in the next remake.) Dated or not, the original A Star Is Born is the best, as its 100% Rotten Tomatoes score attests, and it has somewhat changed my views on prejudging a film based on its age.

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As for the 1954 version with Judy Garland, Esther is presented not as an aspiring nobody but as the lead singer of a musical ensemble, whose performance at a gala is interrupted by Norman Maine’s drunken antics. (Danny McGuire, her friend from the original, becomes her bandmate in this version.) Won over by her voice, Norman invites her to stay in Hollywood for a screen test, and after some bumps in the road, she becomes a star of musical cinema. Many scenes, especially in the second half, are recreated from the first film, often word for word, such as the studio head’s visit to Maine in a sanitarium or Esther’s intervention when her husband is about to be sent to jail. What the remake adds is a surfeit of musical numbers, ranging from small personal songs to lavish song-and-dance routines. One sketch detailing Esther’s supposed rise to stardom plays out like Judy Garland’s version of Gene Kelly’s “Broadway Melody” number in Singin’ in the Rain.

All the additional music helps the remake stand apart from its predecessor, but with essentially the same story, it’s hard not to feel that the extended scenes of choreography are merely padding to warrant its somewhat tiresome three-hour runtime. Like Janet Gaynor before her, Judy Garland was nominated for Best Actress but lost to Grace Kelly that year, a snub that was widely criticized, but I can understand. As marvelous as she was as a singer, Garland never struck me as a great actress, and I found her most emotional scenes rather forced, the kind of dated acting that Gaynor actually avoided in the earlier version. Another odd discrepancy is that the original film is still intact, but portions of the 1954 film have been lost and recreated with still photographs. Even if Garland’s incarnation has some drawbacks, it’s still entertaining in the musical department, and, nailing the suave but broken sides of the character, James Mason plays probably the best Norman Maine role of all three films.

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And now the moment my VC has been waiting for, Barbra Streisand and the oh so handsome Kris Kristofferson in the 1976 retelling of A Star Is Born! Since this is the greatest departure from the original film, I’ll start with what my VC loves about it, particularly the music. She’s always loved Streisand’s voice, if not her personally, and like Judy Garland before her, Streisand was the premier singer/actress of the time. (Whether Lady Gaga is for our generation has yet to be seen.) The whole soundtrack is updated to excellent classic rock standards, and unlike the previous version, Streisand’s film won an Oscar for Best Song, the theme “Evergreen,” which rather pales in comparison with the more dynamic showstoppers, like “The Woman in the Moon.” Both she and Kristofferson are also quite good in their acting roles, though not in any award-worthy way, an opinion on which my VC vehemently disagrees with me.

I do wish I could like this version as much as she does, but it has even more problems than the ’54 film. For one, the great script of the original is nowhere to be found, despite clear echoes of the earlier films’ events, like Norman interrupting Esther’s award ceremony (here the Grammys rather than the Oscars). Perhaps the most frustrating aspect for me is Kristofferson’s character of John Norman Howard. Like the previous Norman Maines, he’s a drunken, self-destructive jerk at times, whose behavior is harder to understand here. He frequently makes terrible decisions, even when not drunk; for instance, this is the only version where he cheats on Esther, and while my VC insists there’s a deep motive behind it of self-resentment on his part, I’m afraid I just don’t see it. His final act of the film is also perplexing; in the other versions, it is because Norman fears Esther will throw everything away on him, while here, he has a chance at a comeback but refuses to take it for supposedly the same reason.

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All three versions of A Star Is Born have their strengths: the shrewd dialogue of the original, the sprawling musical numbers of Garland’s incarnation, the bittersweet and passionate ending of Streisand’s (the only one to actually end with a performance). While my VC’s favorite is not mine, it did give me a reason to check out the others, the first of which is now among my favorite films from the 1930s. This story of Hollywood success, love, and loss has proven its staying power, and although I’m always dubious about remakes, this is one tale that can support further retellings.

Best serious line (from the 1937 version): (Grandmother Lettie) “Tragedy is a test of courage. If you can meet it bravely, it will leave you bigger than it found you. If not, then you will have to live all your life as a coward, because no matter where you may run, you can never run away from yourself.”

Best funny line (from the 1937 version): (Esther’s aunt) “Of course, no one ever listens to me!”   (Grandmother Lettie) “They do if they’re within ten miles of ya.”

 

Rank for the 1937 version: List-Worthy
Rank for the 1954 version: List Runner-Up
Rank for the 1976 version: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
451 Followers and Counting

 

Opinion Battles Year 3 Round 2 Favourite Oscar Winning Performance from an Actor in Leading or Supporting Role

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Oscar-winning actor performance in Round 2 of Opinion Battles! There’s plenty of classic roles to choose from, like my favorite, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, for example.

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Opinion Battles Year 3 Round 2new-logo

Favourite Oscar Winning Performance from an Actor in Leading or Supporting Role

The Oscars are around the corner and we all know that people either love or hate the Oscars committee decisions. We have had the best or the best winning Oscars but today we are looking at what we think is the favourite Oscar Winning performance.

If you want to take part in the next round of Opinion Battles we are going to be answer the question of What is your Favourite Film from 2015? To enter send your choices to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.ukby 5th February 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Christopher Waltz – Col Hans Landa – Inglorious Basterdswaltz

Col Hans Landa is one of the best characters ever created by Quentin Tarantino, he is pure evil known as the ‘Jew Killer’ for his ruthless ability to track down any Jews…

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2017 Blindspot Pick #2: Imitation of Life (1934)

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Minorities of different skin
Have often dreamed of fitting in,
And none should stand opposed.
But in attempts of reaching par,
One should not give up who they are.
The hope of changing what has been
Means not the past should be disposed.

To shed yourself to fit the crowd
Will leave foundations disavowed,
And such will lead to shame.
It should be easy fitting in,
Regardless of one’s origin,
But in your act of standing proud,
The rest of us can do the same.
______________

MPAA rating: Approved (should be G)

I picked Imitation of Life as one of my Blindspot picks because I had started to see it a while ago, and for whatever reason never got past the first scene. It wasn’t for lack of interest, though, and in honor of Black History Month, I’m glad I finally returned to this unique tale of a friendship between a white businesswoman and her black maid-turned-business-partner. It’s based on a Fannie Hurst novel released just a year before and had a remake with Lana Turner in 1959.

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One interesting aspect of both the 1934 and 1959 version is the downplaying of African Americans in the marketing. Claudette Colbert as the ambitious Bea Pullman gets top billing, but based on the poster above, you may not be able to tell that the story deals with issues of race and identity. Opposite Colbert is Louise Beavers as Delilah, a sincere black mother in search of work to support herself and her uncommonly light-skinned daughter Peola. After Bea agrees to hire her as a housekeeper, Delilah’s recipe for pancakes (waffles in the book) gives Bea the idea to open a pancake restaurant in Delilah’s name, taking some plucky financial risks to do so.

First off, I know how hard it is to open a business; I once owned a hot dog cart that was sadly short-lived. Seeing Bea’s seemingly easy success with her pancake restaurant was strangely both satisfying and sickening. Was it really that easy back then? If so, why does it have to be so hard nowadays?! I tried to enjoy Bea’s booming business vicariously, especially since she then goes on to sell the pancakes as a mix, making millions, with the logo of “Aunt” Delilah’s smiling face clearly echoing the Aunt Jemima brand. Oh, man, do you know how long my mom has wanted to package her chili as a mix? Sigh… Sorry, I’ve got to stop being jealous of a movie.

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Considering Delilah’s servile attitude (volunteering to rub Bea’s feet, for instance), it might be easy to knock her as a stereotype and to criticize Bea for milking Delilah for her own benefit without even asking, but Delilah is working and profiting with her all along the way and has the fame of the brand’s name and logo honoring her. Delilah remains loyal to Bea, wishing to live with her even after she has enough money for her own home, and though the arrangements reflect the social norms of the day (Bea’s bedroom upstairs, Delilah’s downstairs), it’s clear that the two women are good friends, regardless of race.

Beyond the initial restaurant storyline are two subplots dealing with Peola’s shame at her black heritage and Bea’s blossoming romance that is complicated by her own daughter. Peola’s story is what makes Imitation of Life unique. Because her father was also light-skinned, Peola can pass as white, but Delilah’s presence instantly labels her black and causes Peola to resent her own mother. At times, Delilah seems rather dense, embarrassing Peola when she should know by then how her daughter feels, yet it’s understandable for Delilah to want Peola to accept who she is and where she came from. Delilah’s earnest counsel that being black is nothing to be ashamed of feels like the heart of the film’s message, one that seemed ahead of its time in the ‘30s and was likely an encouragement for African Americans at the time. The other subplot with Bea’s daughter (Rochelle Hudson) and gentleman caller (Warren William) is less interesting but also carries somewhat the theme of someone being fixated on their feelings and needing to accept reality.

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The trailers that did highlight the black actors featured reviews stating that Louise Beavers delivers the best performance by a black actress up to that time, and I don’t doubt that to be true. In her emotional scenes, Beavers is just as good or better than Colbert, and it’s unfortunate that her race was the probable reason she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. (Colbert won Best Actress that year but for It Happened One Night.) Fredi Washington is also excellent as the 19-year-old Peola, a role that fit her perfectly since Washington was also a light-skinned African American who had trouble finding work due to her conflicting race and appearance.

Boasting a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, Imitation of Life has some powerful scenes pertaining to racial identity and a good story and characters besides, but the resolution felt lacking, again mainly in relation to the plot about Bea’s boyfriend. A few moments are also dragged down by the acting conventions of the time, such as the very fake child acting of the first scene. It may not be a repeatably watchable classic, but for its treatment of interracial friendship and personal identity, it’s an important film nonetheless.

Best line: (Delilah, to Peola) “Ain’t nothing to be ashamed of, daughter dear. Meet your cross halfway. It won’t be near so heavy. Go amongst your own. Quit battlin’. Your little head’s sore now from buttin’ against stone walls. Open up and say, ‘Lord, I bows my head.’ He made you black, honey. Don’t be tellin’ Him His business. Accept it. Do that for your mammy, for your mother, dear.”

Rank: Honorable Mention

© 2017 S.G. Liput
451 Followers and Counting

 

My Top Twelve 2017 Films I Hope Are Good

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Now that the year’s first two months of typically unimpressive movies are about over, I thought I’d compile a list of the films I’m most looking forward to in 2017, as long as they’re good. I will be quite disappointed if any of these turn out to be stinkers, but I certainly hope that my expectations are justified. These are all films set for release in 2017, but there are even some long-expected 2018 films that have great potential if done right, such as Spielberg’s Ready Player One (I’m planning on reading the book closer to its release), an adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, and a sequel to Mary Poppins, believe it or not. Here then are the films I sincerely hope will be worth waiting for.

  1. The Dark Tower

While I haven’t read the Stephen King series it’s based on (it’s apparently meant to be a sequel), the concept of an apocalyptic gunslinger (Idris Elba) and interdimensional travel certainly has me intrigued.

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  1. Hirune Hime

Around the time the live-action Ghost in the Shell hits the theater, the director of the original film’s sister series Stand Alone Complex will be releasing this fantastical-looking film in Japan. Featuring what appear to be a robotic flying motorcar, a giant monster, and a magic tablet, it has the potential to be this year’s standout anime.

  1. My Little Pony: The Movie

I’ll admit that I’m a casual fan of the Friendship Is Magic series, so I know that if this movie is done right, it could be really good. It could also be terrible, but with big-name stars like Emily Blunt, Liev Schreiber, and Zoe Saldana, there’s a chance the movie could gain wider appeal.

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  1. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan directing a war movie about one of the largest and most daring rescues in military history? Can’t wait. I do hope Nolan keeps the violence controlled to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

  1. 2:22

I love a good time loop story, and ever since I heard of this Source Code-sounding thriller in the works, I’ve been eager to see how well it compares with the others of its genre.

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  1. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Not many trailers get me hyped just from the visuals alone, but this time-and-space-traveling sci-fi based on a comic looks like a special effects extravaganza and just plain cool. Luc Besson can direct some weird movies, but I hope this one will be more accessible.

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I still enjoy the second and third Pirates sequels, flawed as the third one is, but the fourth undoubtedly missed the mark. With this fifth tale of Captain Jack Sparrow versus ghost pirates, I’m crossing my fingers that it’s a fun and worthwhile story and not just another cash grab.

  1. The Current War

I was thinking of doing a list of films I wish would get made, and the history of Edison and Tesla would have been near the top. Lo and behold, it’s due out this year! Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, and Nicholas Hoult as Tesla, this looks like a likely Oscar candidate for the end of the year, and I hope they do the true story justice.

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  1. Alien: Covenant

I’ll be honest, the trailers for the next Alien installment don’t thrill me. It looks like everything we’ve seen before from the franchise, but I’m hopeful that this sequel to Prometheus has more than meets the eye. They haven’t even shown Noomi Rapace from Prometheus, so the advertising is likely holding something good back.

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  1. Death Note

Forget the live-action version of Ghost in the Shell; I’m much more interested in an American adaptation of Death Note, the acclaimed manga and anime about a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. If done right, the battle of wits between a megalomaniacal student (Nat Wolff) and the eccentric detective (Keith Stanfield) tracking him down could be amazing. I’m a bit concerned that Adam Wingard is directing and might lean it more toward the horror genre, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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  1. Anything Marvel

This encompasses all three Marvel movies for the year ahead, including Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and especially Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. There’s a lot to hope for. Can Marvel’s treatment of Spider-Man live up to the original? Will a team-up between Thor and Doctor Strange be as awesome as it sounds? Will Guardians still have the nostalgic sense of fun that the first had? The trailers are promising, and Marvel still appears to be going strong.

  1. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

I liked The Force Awakens, but compared with how everyone else loved it, I was disappointed with its over-reliance on nostalgia and familiar plot points. Rogue One had a different tone, but it felt original. If Episode 8 can combine the feel of Force Awakens with a more original storyline, it could be the best Star Wars movie yet, as long as they stop killing off main characters. Due to Carrie Fisher’s passing, I know what to expect for Leia, but if they kill off Luke too, I will NOT be happy. Please be awesome!

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Here are some other films you may or may not be expecting that I hope will be good, in order of how eager I am. How’s that for subjective? What other upcoming films have captured your interest?

The Mummy – Can’t be as good as the Brendan Fraser version, but I’m keeping an open mind.

Murder on the Orient Express – Strong ensemble and Kenneth Branagh as director have my interest.

Cars 3 – It looks more serious than the silly Cars 2, and I hope it redeems the franchise.

Logan – Why does it have to be R-rated? Will Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart leave their X-Men roles with a bang?

God Particle – This follow-up to 10 Cloverfield Lane will be set in space but takes place in the same universe.

The Zookeeper’s Wife – Based on a true story, a zoo-keeping couple hide Jews in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.

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Pitch Perfect 3 – I enjoyed the second film more than the first, so hopefully part three won’t disappoint.

Life – A smaller-scale version of Alien set much closer to home.

Kong: Skull Island – Another remake seems unnecessary, but the action looks cool.

Coco – Another animated take on Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Pixar, don’t fail me now.

Wonder Woman – I thought Suicide Squad would do it, but this is DC’s last chance to convince me they can make a good superhero movie.

Jumanji – I love the original, so this remake with the Rock better not ruin it.

Downsizing – The incredible shrinking Matt Damon! Sounds interesting enough.

Godzilla – This anime version has potential since the man behind Madoka Magica is its screenwriter.

The Breadwinner – The animation studio behind Song of the Sea looks like it’s tackling a more realistic subject about a girl in Afghanistan who must pretend to be a boy to support her family.

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Tulip Fever – This romance with Dane DeHaan and Alicia Vikander has possibilities, since the tulip-mania of the Netherlands is an interesting slice of history.

Brain on Fire – Technically from last year, but Chloe Grace Moretz stars as a real-life journalist with an unexplained brain disorder.

Wonder – Looks like an updated version of 1985’s Mask but with Jacob Tremblay as a boy with a facial deformity.

Tommy’s Honour – When was the last inspiring golf movie? Long enough ago for another, I’d say.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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I don’t know what dangers wait
Within the dark beyond the door.
Since entering in safety’s gate,
I’ve heard that horrors populate
The world outside and nothing more.

I feel the urge of tempting fate
And venturing where none explore,
But such is not up for debate.
I’m told the danger is too great,
And no one’s looking anymore.

The threats without intimidate,
But those within are growing sore.
And if I realize it too late,
I fear my safety will stagnate
Within the dark inside the door.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG-13

Who could have foreseen a follow-up to J.J. Abrams’ 2008 monster movie Cloverfield eight years later, especially when the first trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane was released just two months before its release? I actually haven’t seen Cloverfield yet, but this not-quite-sequel is its own animal, following neither the first’s found-footage style nor apparently any of its characters. Instead, it’s a tense and claustrophobic thriller with only three main characters locked in an apocalyptic bunker.

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While many have lauded 10 Cloverfield Lane as an outstandingly pleasant surprise from last year, my praise will be a bit more muted, but I don’t mean to write it off completely. It was indeed a pleasant surprise if for no other reason that no one expected it, and when an unexpected film is as effective as this one, there’s nothing wrong with giving due acclaim to the film and its debuting director Dan Trachtenberg. Particularly praiseworthy are the three central performances. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Michelle, a woman who awakes from a car wreck to find herself trapped underground by a creepily benevolent John Goodman. This Howard gradually explains that some disaster has occurred on the surface, and after rescuing her, he has graciously allowed Michelle and another local named Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.) to stay in the confined comfort of his well-furnished safe space. The simple but menacing setup is reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan in his heyday, and we’re never quite sure what to believe. Is Howard prudent or just crazy with his conspiracy theories, and are Michelle and Emmett better off staying inside, placating his demands, or trying to escape? Goodman is brilliantly unpredictable here, and even if there’s not a lot of development for the other two, having to deal with him is enough to spark concern for his captives.

For all its strengths, one thing that 10 Cloverfield Lane does not have is much in the way of originality. Many times I was reminded of two similar films: Misery, with John Goodman taking the place of Annie Wilkes’ possessive caretaker, and 2015’s underrated Hidden, where a family resides in an underground bunker in uncertain fear of what lies above. Putting these two concepts together essentially gives you 10 Cloverfield Lane, and even when it breaks free of the bunker for a slam-bang awesome finale, it still had echoes of War of the Worlds and The Terminator. Another point of comparison is Trachtenberg’s 2011 short film Portal: No Escape, which begins very similarly with a woman awaking in an austere cell with no memory of how she got there. It was that short that helped get Trachtenberg enough notice to earn him the director’s chair, so the parallels there aren’t surprising. (The short also proves he’d be a great choice to direct a feature-length Portal movie, and I, for one, hope it’s soon. You can check it out here.)

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It’s unfortunate that 10 Cloverfield Lane lacks the originality of Misery or the emotional resonance of Hidden, but even as an amalgamation of prior ideas, it’s an impressively constructed nerve-jangler that balances shock and restraint and turned its world into a viable franchise overnight. With a third Cloverfield-universe film called God Particle slated for this October, there’s no denying the success of 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Best line: (Howard) “People are strange creatures. You can’t always convince them that safety is in their best interest.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
451 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: The Goodbye Girl (1977)

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It’s easy come and easy go,
As every broken heart will know,
And broken hearts are loath to feel
While all the cracks attempt to heal.

If every stranger you befriend
Becomes a stranger by the end,

You might treat love with some dismay
And be surprised by those who stay.
____________________

MPAA rating: PG (should be PG-13 for language)

Coming on the heels of Valentine’s Day, the next film chosen by my trusty Viewing Companion (VC) is one of her favorite romances, the kind I wasn’t really looking forward to seeing but ended up liking all the same. As much as I wish Richard Dreyfuss had won an Oscar for Mr. Holland’s Opus, at least he had already received one (the youngest actor ever at that point) for his role in this adaptation of a Neil Simon play, a classic hate/love story between conflicting personalities that inevitably leans toward the satisfying love side.

Dreyfuss plays Elliot Garfield, a struggling actor who subleases an apartment from an old friend, only to find that friend’s former girlfriend Paula (Marsha Mason) and her precocious daughter (Quinn Cummings) already living there, having been abandoned when her ex skipped town. Despite Elliot having every right to force them out and Paula having “nine tenths of the law,” he allows them to stay under strict conditions, and the three grudgingly share the apartment. It’s easy to feel sorry for both Paula and Elliot at different times, and both have their quirks and character flaws. Paula is a wreck trying to get by as a single mother and find work as a dancer after ten years out of practice, while Elliot’s hopes for theatrical glory are dashed by a director who wants him playing Richard III as a flaming homosexual stereotype. Their trials are equal parts funny and pitiful, enlivened by an outstanding script full of eloquent barbs, as one can expect from a Neil Simon production.

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The fact that Paula and Elliot can both be sympathetic and abrasive fleshes out their characters and helps them feel real. Paula’s demanding anxiety and Elliot’s neurotic tendencies may grate on each other at first, but the longer they’re together, the better their personalities mesh. Where that relationship goes is an understandable source of worry for Paula, whose affairs with actors never end well, but The Goodbye Girl lends hope that one can always find that person who won’t let you down. Seeing The Goodbye Girl again, I can certainly see why my VC is so fond of it, and while I prefer some other hostility-melting-into-romance rom-coms (You’ve Got Mail, for instance), its clever banter and developed characters make it the classic it is.

Best line: (Elliot, to Paula) “If you were a Broadway musical, people would be humming your face.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2017 S.G. Liput
451 Followers and Counting

 

Hidden Figures (2016)

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The chronicles of history are filled with famous names,
Who’ve earned our generation’s praise or bear their age’s shames.
We think we know the few worthwhile players of the past,
And yet the world was shaped by more than names we learned in class.

Behind each role we’re tested on and public figure known
Were men and women, making crucial impacts of their own.
Perhaps they knew obscurity would be their likely end,
But history’s more hidden tales are those to recommend.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG

I’m honestly amazed that I did not already know the story of Katherine Johnson and her fellow black female compatriots at NASA. I remember noticing a theater display for Hidden Figures on my way out of watching Rogue One and thinking, “Oh, NASA—that might be interesting.” The same day I saw an episode of Timeless that featured Katherine Johnson as the historical figure of the week. That’s when I did some research and knew this was a film I had to see, which I finally did with my mom.

She used to work at Kennedy Space Center during the early Space Shuttle launches, and my grandfather was involved at a relatively high level in the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle missions, so the space program means a lot to our family. Which makes it all the more astonishing that neither I nor my mom had ever heard of these “hidden figures,” who calculated trajectories and landing coordinates even better than their white, male coworkers. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Goble (eventually Johnson), whose knack for algebra earns her the role of “computer” for the Space Task Group, a thankless job of number-crunching with more than a little prejudice aimed her way. Also working at Virginia’s Langley Research Center are Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who strives for the right to be an engineer, and Dorothy Vaughn (Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer), who seeks the elusive title of supervisor over her team of black female computers. In addition to the talented cast of African Americans, including Mahershala Ali as well, Kevin Costner delivers an excellent supporting role as Katherine’s no-nonsense boss who refuses to let bigotry impede the mission at hand. (I rather wish Costner had gotten a Supporting Actor nomination; Ed Harris did for Apollo 13, and there’s nothing Harris did that Costner doesn’t do just as well.)

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I expected to love Hidden Figures going in, with its inspiring role models and old-fashioned enlightenment of unsung history, and I did, perhaps not quite as much as I expected but not in any disappointing way. I felt that the racism early on was a bit heavy-handed, with entire rooms of white men staring at Katherine as if she had two heads, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if that was indeed how it was. Likewise, there are many historical liberties taken for the sake of the story, whether it be composite characters created to get points across or details streamlined to simplify the story. For instance, Costner is made to look like he’s running Mission Control, but he’s at Langley, not Houston. Yet, for the most part, I didn’t mind the license taken, since it served the story to no historical detriment. (There are some interesting true-to-life details thrown in, though, such as the flooring material that snags Mary Jackson’s high heel; my mom can attest to that annoyance.) I also don’t agree with the few complaints I’ve heard about the film’s predictable underdog conventions; when it’s done right, it makes for a great movie, and it’s never been done with these characters and this particular slice of history. For the record, my mom absolutely loved it, except maybe for some of the semi-repetitive soundtrack from Pharrell Williams.

Hidden Figures is a film I believe all African Americans, all women, and everyone else for that matter ought to see. Beyond being an entertaining true story, it’s a film rife with positive messages, both obvious and subtle. Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan may be bitter about their superiors’ scorn, but they don’t take it lying down. Dorothy herself tells Mary not to complain but to do something about it. It’s a court plea in Mary’s case, while Dorothy shows incredible foresight in noticing the incoming IBM meant to replace her human computers and becoming an expert in computer coding to make herself and her team valuable. Her visit to the library is backdropped by a street protest, and while the protest clearly got more attention at the time, it’s her attempts at personal betterment that are more laudable.

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While Hidden Figures may follow familiar story beats, it’s a marvelously acted feel-good film that ennobles intelligence and mathematics and casts a long overdue spotlight on the unrecognized heroines of NASA. Even if the initial reactions of their biased coworkers can be frustrating, the talent and intellect they displayed are undeniable, as is the satisfaction of seeing it vindicated. They served their nation well, and there was no color-coding to the worry and interest directed at sending Americans into space, evident from black and white families both anxiously watching John Glenn’s historic flight. At our present point in history, what could be more inspiring?

Best line: (Katherine, responding to being underestimated) “I will have you know, I was the first Negro female student at West Virginia University Graduate School. On any given day, I analyze the binomial levels of air displacement, friction, and velocity. And compute over ten thousand calculations by cosine, square root, and lately analytic geometry. By hand. There are twenty bright, highly capable Negro women in the West Computing Group, and we’re proud to be doing our part for the country. So yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson. And it’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses. Have a good day.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
451 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: The Lake House (2006)

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A house is not a home, it seems,
Until it houses someone’s dreams,
And even if its tenant leaves,
Some part remains beneath the eaves.

Although no new dreams now reside
Within a home unoccupied,
The traces of its owners past
Remain in spirit, left to last.

These ghosts, perhaps, I’d like to meet.
Perhaps I have upon the street.
We both have shared a home, almost,
And when I move, I’ll be the ghost.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG

In honor of Valentine’s Day and her upcoming birthday, I’ll be reviewing a VC pick each week for the next month, and The Lake House is the first in her honor. As my VC well knows, I do love a good supernatural romance, especially when its otherworldly elements set it apart from the typical romantic clichés. I found The Lake House to be one of the better members of the genre, pairing Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock again twelve years after Speed.

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Based on the 2000 Korean film Il Mare, The Lake House follows Dr. Kate Forster (Bullock) and architect Alex Wyler (Reeves) as the former moves out of the titular glass home and the latter moves in. The hook is that they’re doing so two years apart, with Alex in 2004 and Kate in 2006. A mail-forwarding note that Kate leaves behind somehow ends up in Alex’s mailbox two years earlier, and the two discover that they can communicate with each other through their time-traveling letters. I personally love the idea of a pen-pal relationship spanning time itself, and even if the mailbox’s mysterious powers are never explained, the chemistry between Bullock and Reeves is just as evident here as it was in Speed, despite the fact they’re separated from each other much of the time. Also in fine form are Shohreh Aghdashloo as Kate’s doctor friend and Christopher Plummer as Alex’s father and architectural teacher who actually built the lake house.

Oddly enough, the film that kept coming to mind as I watched The Lake House was last year’s anime hit Your Name, another film where two likable characters are separated by time and tragedy and rarely get to meet face to face. Going into the similarities would require too many spoilers, but while Your Name was a better film overall, it’s worth noting the parallels to this earlier movie and the still earlier Il Mare.

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While some might consider The Lake House maudlin, I thought its emotional scenes were highly effective, whether it be the inner longing of Alex’s visit to Kate before she knows of their relationship or the retrospective of Alex’s rocky bond with his father.  As for the ending, I saw the “twist” coming a mile away, but the film kept me in doubt as to whether its separation romance would go the way of City of Angels (did NOT like) or Sleepless in Seattle (DID like). As my VC pointed out to me, the chemistry and anticipation of love between the two leads kept us invested in the outcome, and while it toyed with my expectations, the end at least provided the kind of old-fashioned satisfaction that too many modern romances try to avoid for some reason.

The only explanation I have that The Lake House isn’t List-Worthy stemmed from a review I read after seeing it, which pointed out the holes in its time-travel aspects. As much as I want to disregard them, I must admit it’s true; even the most basic laws of time travel are pretty much ignored. For instance, Alex plants a tree outside Kate’s apartment to surprise her, and in her time, it suddenly appears. While it’s a neat visual and a sweet gesture, that tree planted two years earlier should have always been there, such that Kate would never know it hadn’t been there before. Though my VC doesn’t mind, for reasons like this, The Lake House has gone down a tiny bit in my estimation, but it’s still a lovely and poignant romance, just one that shouldn’t really be thought of any deeper than a Shyamalan movie.

Best line: (Alex, of the lake house) “Dad knew how to build a house, not a home.”

VC’s best line: (Alex, after glimpsing Kate in 2004) “I don’t know if you remember, but we saw each other. That is, I saw you. You never told me… how beautiful you were.”   (Kate) “Well, maybe you saw someone else. That was a bad hair year for me.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
451 Followers and Counting

 

The Mystery Blogger Award, Courtesy of Drew

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A very big thanks to Drew of Drew’s Movie Reviews for nominating me for the Mystery Blogger Award, which has been gifted around quite a bit since its creation by Okoto Enigma. Since this is a new award for me, here are the rules for accepting it:

 

1.  Put the award logo/image on your blog.

2.  List the rules.

3.  Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

4.  Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.

5.  Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.

6.  You have to nominate 10 – 20 people.

7.  Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.

8.  Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)

9.  Share a link to your best post(s)

 

So, three things about yours truly, other than my obvious pastimes of movies, poetry, and lists. Well, why don’t I answer in poem form, just because it’s what I do.

 

Since trivia’s my specialty,
One day I fully plan to be
A candidate on Jeopardy!
I’ve taken online tests, it’s true,
And once did get an interview,
But still must wait for my debut.
(Though I’m afraid that when I do,
I might lose what I thought I knew.)

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My favorite sport is bowling.
It’s comfy, indoor fun.
I’m inconsistent with my score,
But so’s ‘most everyone.

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How ‘bout a mini-list as well?
My top five poets, here to tell:
For number five, no buts or “ifs”
With Rudyard Kipling’s lyric gifts.
The fourth is Robert Service, known
For Yukon ballads all his own.
I’d love to see his verse become
A gold rush musical to hum.
And third is Dr. Seuss; don’t mock.
My love of poems he helped unlock.
The second’s Alfred Tennyson,
A lord with talent third to none.
My favorite poet, so you know,
Is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
His life deserves a biopic,
So someone go and make one, quick!

 

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And here are the questions to answer from Drew himself:

1.  What is your favorite place you have visited?

Probably Helen in the north Georgia mountains, a favorite family vacation spot which is also where my parents honeymooned. The surrounding Appalachians are beautiful and peaceful, especially at the nearby Anna Ruby Falls. The Unicoi Lodge there is a fantastic place to stay, and there’s a restaurant a few towns over called the Smith House, which has the best family-style buffet you can imagine.

2.  What would you do if you had a time machine and didn’t have to worry about the ill effects of time travel?

I would gather up artifacts I knew would be valuable one day, like ancient currency or original comic books, and meet as many historically famous people as possible to collect their autographs.

3.  What was your favorite film released last year?

For sheer entertainment value, Captain America: Civil War

4.  Why did you start blogging?

I had already compiled my Top 365 movie list just because I love making lists, and after a certain business venture crashed and burned and left me asking “Now what?”, my mom suggested that list as a potential countdown to write about. Adding poetry for each movie just seemed natural to set myself apart and keep me in practice with my writing.

5.  If you could live in any fictional universe, which would you choose?

There are so many I would love to visit (Middle-earth, Narnia, Prydain, Amestris, Remnant, the Star Wars universe), but I wouldn’t want to actually live in any of those death-and-danger-prone lands. No, the most ideal fictional world seems to be that of Star Trek. Even though interstellar relationships aren’t ideal, it’s a whole lot better than most potential futures. Mankind is at least at peace with itself, and our advanced technology is such that exploration is our main goal. With holodecks and replicators close at hand, I would gladly live in that version of the 24th century.

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For the mention of my best post, I’m personally proud of the poem I wrote for The Raven, an old horror-comedy that provided me an opportunity to rewrite Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem from a different perspective but still the same meter. While that’s one of my favorites, I’ve noticed that my most viewed posts seem to be my list of Top Poems in Movies, my list of Na Na Na songs, and my rant about Urban Cowboy.

And as for my five questions for the nominees below, and anyone else who feels like answering…

  1. What film(s) do you love that others seem to ignore or not even know about?
  2. If you had to eat one food (or kind of food) for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  3. If technology allowed us to live in an ideal virtual Matrix-world, would you choose that over reality?
  4. What one film do you think is vastly overrated?
  5. For a fun question, you have three paradox-free wishes that won’t come back to bite you (says a genie). What would they be?

 

And then my 10-20 nominees, who might very well have already been nominated before, but hey, what’s one more award, right? *drumroll please*

 

A Fistful of Films

AniB Productions

dbmoviesblog

Dell on Movies

100 Films in a Year

Film Music Central

Emmakwall (explains it all)

Cindy Bruchman

Abbi Osbiston

Movie Reviews 101

Violet’s Veg*n e-Comics

Rachel from Reviewing All 56 Disney Animated Films and More!

The Vern’s Video Vortex

Curry N Code

Frank Solanki

 

Thanks again to Drew for this award, and to all who take part!