Opinion Battles Round 14 Favourite Tom Hanks Role

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Tom Hanks role in Round 14 of Opinion Battles! There are so many great ones to choose from, and while a certain cowboy doll seems favored, I had to side with the one and only Forrest Gump. Which role do you think is his best?

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Round 14

Favourite Tom Hanks Role

Tom Hanks is one of the iconic actors of the modern era, two Oscar wins to his name as well as coming off as one of the nicest men in Hollywood. He has grown up too soon, fallen in love with Meg Ryan three times, gone into space, been left on an island and even saved a plane for of people after saving Matt Damon. The question is what the role we enjoy watching the most from him.

If you want to join the next round of Opinion Battles we will be take on Favourite Christopher Nolan Movie, to enter email your choice to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.ukby Saturday 21st July 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Michael Sullivan – Road to Perdition

Michael is a hitman for the mob, when he turned on by his boss he must go on the run…

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Split (2017)

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Here I sit and calmly wait
As others take the stage for now,
The normal ones who dominate
And cast their glares of fear and hate
Because they know my time will come,
No matter what they may allow.

Within our host, I wait my turn,
For others must prepare my way.
I’m just a rumor, no concern,
Until too late, the normals learn
That darkness kept beneath their thumb
Will be set free, and they will pay.
______________

MPAA rating: PG-13

After reaching an atrocious low with The Last Airbender, it seems M. Night Shyamalan has enacted a comeback, a return to the well-crafted psychological thrillers that first made him a household name. Found-footage horror The Visit was an improvement, wringing tension from a low budget, even if the story had holes and strange parts to criticize. And now, Split is another step in the right direction, boasting elements that are deserving of genuine praise, even if it’s not at the same level as Shyamalan’s early work, like Unbreakable.

The captivity thriller seems to be a popular subgenre of late, including 10 Cloverfield Lane, Pet, Berlin Syndrome, and of course, Split (or, as I call it, Sybil meets Psycho). Right from the start, outcast highschooler Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) is abducted with two of her more popular classmates, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), and they awake in a small locked room. Their kidnapper Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) acts like different people whenever he interacts with them, and sessions with his understanding psychologist (Betty Buckley) reveal that he actually has 23 separate identities. We only get to see eight at the most, but three in particular have taken control of Kevin and, by kidnapping the girls, are preparing for the arrival of a much more dangerous personality called the Beast.

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The best thing about Split is James McAvoy simply because, without his phenomenal acting, the film could collapse under a weaker performance. Whether he’s an OCD-ridden pervert, a threateningly proper matron, or a mischievous little boy named Hedwig, his acting, accent, and body language really sell Kevin’s divided character. He even manages to act as one personality pretending to be another personality. Betty Buckley and Anya Taylor-Joy do fine work as well, with the former convincingly laying out exposition and the latter capturing the fear of trying to keep her wits about her.

Unfortunately, Split’s sad and disturbing narrative makes it a film I’m not likely to see often. Aside from the claustrophobic captivity aspect and tension, which were also well-done in 10 Cloverfield Lane, there were moments that could have benefited from a rewrite or better editing, like the protracted kidnapping scene, which had me thinking “Why doesn’t she dart out the door?” rather than holding me on the edge of my seat. One bizarre dance scene with the Hedwig personality reminded me that, as with The Visit, I don’t think Shyamalan’s attempts at comic relief work as he intends; it’s just a very strange scene, even if it were done by the 9-year-old boy Kevin thinks he is.

My biggest complaint comes toward the end, where the already disturbing storyline turns murderous and goes a bit too far for me and my VC, even if there’s restraint in what is actually shown. I appreciated the semi-twist that made sense for the traumas shared by Kevin and Casey, but the ending doesn’t provide much closure to anyone’s story. Perhaps I’ll appreciate Split more with the arrival of the announced sequel it’s clearly leading into, and I’ll admit I’m more excited for that follow-up than I was about Split.

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Even with my objections, Split is a definite step up for Shyamalan, well-acted and taut, and promises even more intriguing things to come. It’s perhaps best thought of as the birth of a supervillain, and while it succeeds in creating a dangerous and conflicted character, I’m more interested in the hero he’ll oppose.

Best line: (9-year-old Hedwig, after awkwardly kissing Casey) “You might be pregnant now.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
497 Followers and Counting

 

Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)

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Between one parent and one child,
Their love is uncomplicated,
Even if they’re not related
Or may feel somehow exiled.

Will it change, their love compiled,
If a parent is located
From which they were separated
And the two are reconciled?

Some may fear they’ll be reviled
At reunions long-awaited,
Yet how can love be ever faded
Between a parent and their child?
________________

MPAA rating: PG

It may have seemed that DreamWorks was just planning to milk its past success with minimum effort when it released a third Kung Fu Panda in the usually lackluster month of January last year. However, Kung Fu Panda 3 managed to exceed expectations and end the franchise on a surprisingly solid note, building on its prequels with a satisfying conclusion.

After the final scene of Kung Fu Panda 2, where Po’s real not-dead father Li Shang (Bryan Cranston) realizes his son is alive, we get to see father and son reunite early on, only to be threatened by a new adversary named Kai (J.K. Simmons), a yak from the Spirit World who drains others’ chi energy. While Kai builds an army by turning kung fu masters into jade zombies (yes, jombies), Po (Jack Black) follows his father to his home in a distant village of pandas, where Po hopes to train but ends up enjoying the life among his own kind that he never knew.

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Kung Fu Panda 3 continues the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessors, including some stellar fight choreography and animation, as well as a lack of character development for Poe’s comrades, the Furious Five, except for Tigress (Angelina Jolie). Where it excels in the character department is Po and his two fathers, adoptive goose father Mr. Ping (James Hong) and his biological father Li. I love how Mr. Ping has grown from an eyebrow-raising gag in the first film to a real source of heart for these movies. Here, he finds himself jealous of Po’s excitement at finding his father and wrestles with how to react to this new monopolizer of Po’s attention. Meanwhile, Li may seem selfish or unwise at times, but it’s easy to sympathize with both fathers. In addition, the fact that Li seeks out Po after realizing he’s alive makes his absence a whole lot more understandable than, say, the willing separation of Hiccup’s mom in How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Kung Fu Panda 3 does a lot to bring the franchise full circle, particularly in the return of the deceased Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim). True, it sidelines formerly major characters like Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) and bears similarities to the first film, but Po’s family dynamic and the Spirit World villain help it stand apart. The village full of Po’s fellow lazy pandas was also cute and endearing for the most part, where I expected it to be lame and silly. Aside from the action sequences, I especially admired one underplayed sacrifice that was easily Poe’s most heroic moment of the series.

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All in all, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a worthy and funny finale for a series I didn’t expect to like when the first film was released back in 2008. DreamWorks has maintained its quality in both animation and story, creating a trilogy where it’s hard to say which of the three is the best, though I’m partial to the second movie. Why it was released in January, I don’t know, but Kung Fu Panda 3 is one of DreamWorks Animation’s stronger sequels.

Best line: (Shifu) “If you only do what you can do, you’ll never be better than what you are.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining the other two)

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
497 Followers and Counting

 

VC Pick: Over the Top (1987)

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If I had rippling muscles
And a huge right arm to lend,
I’d enter contests proving
What a beast I am at moving
Other people’s arms at angles
That they were not meant to bend.

I suppose my strength would let me
Find more meaningful success,
But when limbs become this hefty,
Whether right-handed or lefty,
There are few things quite as tempting
As to prove one’s manliness.
__________________

MPAA rating: PG

Many of Sylvester Stallone’s films are designed to reinforce his manliness, the kind of machismo that automatically raises the ambient testosterone level. If there’s any doubt about who the toughest guy in the room is, just wait, and he’ll prove his muscular superiority.

That’s the kind of movie I assumed Over the Top would be based on the fact that it’s about an armwrestling competition, and that’s what it is, but not all it is. It’s also, surprisingly, a family film, in contrast to Stallone’s many R-rated actioners. He plays Lincoln Hawk (now that’s a cool ‘80s name if I ever heard one), a trucker who attempts to bond with his estranged son Michael (David Mendenhall) via a road trip, much to the chagrin of the boy’s rich, Hawk-hating grandfather Jason Cutler (Robert Loggia). As Michael’s chilly treatment of his absentee father melts in the wake of cross-country bonding, we get to see Stallone show off his armwrestling expertise. Can he use that underdog prowess to earn back his son from the intrusive grandfather? Can he defeat all the trash-talking he-men at the World Armwrestling Championship? Can he? Can he?!

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You probably know the answer so, yes, Over the Top is entirely predictable, but it still manages to be enjoyably so. The first half especially engenders the same tough-guy sympathy that Stallone had in Rocky, as he tries to break down Michael’s walls and prove he’s more than the irresponsible Neanderthal Cutler considers him, with some stunning western scenery to back their father-son journey. The latter half is more typical sports stuff, with Hawk’s future, fatherhood, and everything else depending on his strong right arm. As he trains hard and progresses through the championship with accompanying encouragement and theme music, it’s hard not to feel like you’re watching an obvious variant of Rocky and The Karate Kid, but it’s still aggressively macho fun. I just didn’t understand how winning the championship would legally get Hawk’s son back or why Cutler was intent on stopping him, when I thought Hawk had already signed over his parental rights.

Even if the details are left vague, Over the Top is decent fun backed by rousing rock songs, and it’s not nearly as bad as its reputation as a bomb would indicate. By the way, the title refers to conquering the middle arm position during an armwrestling match, though I suppose it also applies to the bravado of the championship itself. Over the Top may not stand out next to most of its ‘80s brethren, but it’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood for macho.

Best line: (Hawk) “The world meets nobody halfway. When you want something, you gotta take it.”

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
497 Followers and Counting

 

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

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(Can be sung to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”)

The waves lapped the pipes, the sea’s unavailed gripes,
At the feet of Deepwater Horizon,
And no one on board thought this rig of reward
Would be one to have a surprise on.

The oil down below had had nowhere to go
Till a tube tapped the well of the ocean.
And well it had stayed under instruments made
To ensure there was no upward motion.

Till caution was dropped, and the great bubble popped
And laid waste to Deepwater Horizon,
Where before the rig’s throb, busy men on the job
Never thought they would meet their demise on.

Like ink swiftly bled, the well’s sable soul spread
On the waves of the ocean surrounding,
Although the crew tried as eleven men died
And the fire and spill were confounding.

When the morning sun’s light showed the gulf dark as night
Stretching out from Deepwater Horizon,
No worse oil spill from the maw of man’s drill
Had anyone ever laid eyes on.
_______________________

MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intensity and frequent obscenities)

From The Day After Tomorrow to 2012 to Geostorm later this year, so many disaster movies focus on wildly improbable worldwide catastrophes that it’s easy to forget how visceral a real-life disaster can be. Deepwater Horizon may follow the trend of making a movie about any recent event of media significance (like Patriot’s Day, also from director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg), but it’s far from a cash-grab and uses that genuine intensity to remind audiences of just how bad the 2010 BP oil spill was at its start.

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The first half has the workaday detail of a documentary, with much resemblance to the docudrama credibility of Captain Phillips. I can’t speak to how close the film is to the actual events, but the re-creation of the Deepwater Horizon rig is entirely convincing and never once had me doubting the truth of what was shown. There’s not an abundance of character development, but it’s easy to identify with the everyman likes of Wahlberg, Gina Rodriguez, and Kurt Russell as the supervisor fondly called “Mr. Jimmy.” True, the beginning threatens to get dull with all the technical jargon, but there’s the constant threat of what we know will happen. And that culmination doesn’t disappoint.

When the actual disaster starts, the explosions rarely let up, and it’s a thrilling and incendiary experience, of course from the comfort of one’s living room. It never was tainted by easily recognizable CGI, and it well deserved its Oscar nominations for Visual Effects and Sound Editing. Even if most of the casualties don’t have the emotional impact of similar films, the loss of life is stressed by the end, with a rare focus on each and every victim before the credits. After the intensity of the accident itself, I also welcomed the relieved prayer that followed the survivors’ escape; it was a believable religious aspect often lacking from other disaster flicks.

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Deepwater Horizon offers a cinematic thrill while also making you dislike BP executives more than you thought you did, personified by the smarmy, corner-cutting manager played by John Malkovich, who’s good as usual but a bit overly snide. Like Wahlberg’s character, I wondered if he was on medication. Thanks to its potent realism before, during, and after the calamity, well-executed from start to finish, I’d say Deepwater Horizon is one of the best disaster films of recent years.

 

Rank: List Runner-Up

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
496 Followers and Counting

 

Opinion Battles Round 13 Which Animated Film would you NEVER like to see made into a live Action Film?

Don’t forget to vote in Round 13 of Opinion Battles and pick which animated film you never want to see given a live-action makeover. I chose The Lion King, even though it’s being remade as we speak, because how can any CGI match Disney’s original? Which potential travesty do you dread most?

Movie Reviews 101

Opinion Battles Round 13

Which Animated Film would you NEVER like to see made into a live Action Film?

Hollywood has gotten into a habit of remake animated movies into live action twists of the much-loved tales, be it Cinderella, Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast or Maleficent. Every time we hear of the next played adaptation we react the same with Aladdin, Mulan and The Lion King planned, we need to get our rants out with the ones we don’t want to see.

If you want to join the next round of Opinion Battles we will be take on Favourite Tom Hanks Role, to enter email your choice to moviereviews101@yahoo.co.ukby 7th July 2017.

Darren – Movie Reviews 101

Up

I must go with Up, thee adventure the young boy scout Russell and elderly man Carl Fredricksen as Carl wants to go on the adventure that he failed…

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

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The galaxy sure has its share
Of foes waging cosmic warfare.
It’s a good thing that you
On the earth have no clue
That extinction is not all that rare.
It’s also a plus
Heroes do fight for us,
Though we earthlings are still unaware.
_______________

MPAA rating: PG-13

My regard for the first Guardians of the Galaxy makes me feel like I’m in the minority. I missed its theatrical run, and the hype was so positive that, when I finally got around to seeing it, it didn’t hit me the same as everyone else. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed it, but not like everyone who immediately fell in love with this offbeat surprise among Marvel’s roster. Seeing it again has helped me warm up to it more, but I still don’t quite think it’s one of the best Marvel movies ever like so many others out there do. So I approached Volume 2 from the viewpoint of a fan but not a zealous one, and I don’t think my expectations were too high. Given that opinion, I can say that I think I enjoyed Volume 2 more, at least on my first watch.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has much of the appeal of the first film, first and foremost its diverse cast of misfits: roguish leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), skilled former assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), muscle-bound comic relief Drax (Dave Bautista), ornery tech genius Rocket the Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and lovable tree Groot (voice-lightened Vin Diesel), who after being “destroyed” in the last movie has regrown as the cutest piece of dancing wood you’ll ever see. Their very first scene together is like a snapshot of their group appeal, combining action, humor, and a toe-tapping ‘70s song into one of the most fun opening credits scenes I can think of. From that high point, the film delves into further universe-building as the team manages to anger an alien empire, become a bounty target, and meet Peter’s absentee father Ego, a godlike entity who’s eager to reconnect with his son and looks a lot like Kurt Russell.

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Between Volumes 1 and 2, I’m still not decided on which Guardians film is better, but I do recognize one advantage of Volume 2, which is directly owed to its status as a sequel. Even with all the praise you can throw at the first one, you must admit it’s a heavily stuffed caper. People criticize Spider-Man 3 and Batman v. Superman for being overstuffed with plot and characters, but Guardians of the Galaxy does the same thing, throwing together five completely unknown characters and multiple exotic alien locations, with the sole reference point for the rest of the MCU being the barely seen uber-villain Thanos. Guardians blithely sidestepped the usual issues of being so jam-packed with its highly entertaining music and sense of humor, but it’s still a lot to take in, or was upon a single viewing.

Volume 2 has the benefit of building on everything the first film introduced without the potential confusion, like the discussion of getting the stone back from Ronin to save Xandar to give to Yondu while Colonel Mustard uses the wrench in the library. (It’s the same principle that makes me favor Marvel’s tactic of assembling the Avengers from heroes who already had stand-alone movies, as opposed to DC’s throwing together its Justice League characters and then giving them their own stories.) Here, we already know the main five, and they’re broken into two groups, which allows different relationships to develop and the secondary characters to get the much-needed development the first film couldn’t afford. Peter’s lawless adoptive father Yondu is given much more depth and backstory than his first appearance (as well as a stylish action centerpiece) and grows as both a captain among the Ravagers and in his relationship with Peter. Likewise, we get a telling look into the motivations of Gamora’s rival sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who had little impact at all in the first movie but now actually seems relevant to the team. I also rather liked the naïve newest member, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who gets some strange bonding moments with Drax. Kurt Russell does well too as Ego, and the uncertainty of his intentions is made clear with what I found to be a shocking reveal.

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One common semi-complaint I’ve seen for Guardians 2 is that it’s a little too eager to please, coming on the heels of its surprisingly successful predecessor. I suppose that’s the case, but I felt the same way about the first film, which had several jokes that I thought were trying too hard to be funny.  Volume 2 has the same ribald sense of humor, which is still hilarious more often than not. Rocket’s sense of humor is still a little off, but Baby Groot is an adorable improvement over his adult version, and Drax in particular is a reliable hoot every time he bursts into raucous laughter, even if his original misunderstanding of metaphor has been replaced by wildly inappropriate honesty.

As a follow-up to the original lark that caught everyone off-guard, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is great fun and a winning example of a summer blockbuster, complete with laughs, awe-inspiring visuals, a surprisingly emotional conclusion, and some healthy doses of ELO and Cat Stevens, though I’ll admit I didn’t recognize most of the soundtrack. (It’s still great, but maybe not quite as memorable as the first film’s.) There are still things I would do differently, especially with some of the more off-color jokes, and I am a little bothered by the huge body count of what was meant to be one of the best scenes and by the fact that Rocket, who with Groot has his own Disney XD cartoon for kids, has to be the most sociopathic and foul-mouthed of the group. Even so, I was thoroughly entertained from the awesome opening to the tearful denouement, plus the mid-credits scenes which only the most well-versed comic fans will completely understand (I didn’t). I may be the only one who enjoyed Volume 2 more, but I think most would agree that the Guardians are better developed for their inevitable meeting with the Avengers in Infinity War. That will really be something to see!

Best line: (Drax) “There are two types of beings in the universe: those who dance, and those who do not.”   (Peter) “I get it, yes. I am a dancer, Gamora is not.”   (Drax) “You need to find a woman who’s pathetic, like you.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy (joining the first film)

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
495 Followers and Counting

 

Harvey (1950)

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Imaginary friends are such
That we don’t miss them very much
And so forget the joy that comes
From pals we cannot see or touch.

The fanciful are easy to mock.
We question sanity and gawk,
But everyone needs someone else
With whom to drink and laugh and talk.

And what the “sane” perhaps don’t see
In what we call imaginary
Is something we too often miss
In our mundane reality.
__________________

MPAA rating: Not Rated (easily G)

I watched Harvey for two main reasons: (1) It’s one of those universally liked classics that all fans of film should or feel like they should see, and (2) I love Jimmy Stewart, who earned an Oscar nomination for the kind of role that doesn’t initially seem worthy of an Oscar. As Elwood P. Dowd, he’s a genial, soft-spoken alcoholic happy to while away the hours visiting the bar and inviting strangers home for dinner. The trouble is that he’s utterly sincere in his friendship with a six-foot-plus invisible rabbit by the obvious name of Harvey.

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While I have been familiar with the basic concept of Harvey for years, I didn’t know what to expect from the actual storyline. My VC had seen it long ago and remembered it as vaguely weird, and that was largely my opinion through the first half, or the first two-thirds really. Dowd obliviously walks around introducing acquaintances to his large unseen pal, while his sister Veta (Oscar-winning Josephine Hull) and his niece (Victoria Horne) bemoan the damage this does to their social reputation and vow to lock him away in a sanitarium. There are plenty of comical misadventures for secondary characters that drive the plot, most of which Dowd remains heedless of, and I found myself more annoyed than amused that much of the humor relied on misunderstandings that could easily be solved by a simple turn of the head or a more careful choice of words.

Yet, the latter third of the film places Dowd’s potential “mental illness” into a wider context of fantasy vs. reality and dull normalcy vs. eccentric kindness. Whereas what came before was simply Dowd’s peculiar routine, which seemed deranged to the outside eye, Stewart gives him more depth with some simple but keenly heartfelt conversations that make the prospect of an invisible pooka more enviable than pitiable. While Hull’s busybody panic and Stewart’s sincerity make the most of a rather uninvolving beginning/middle, the end helped me see Harvey’s classic appeal. It will never be among my favorites, but, like Dowd himself, it had a gentle charm and was, above all, “pleasant.”

Best line: (Aunt Veta, to her niece) “Myrtle Mae, you have a lot to learn, and I hope you never learn it.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
494 Followers and Counting

 

Alien: Covenant (2017)

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When choosing to visit a faraway planet,
Some strange world never examined by man,
Those who can claim to be smarter than granite
May favor caution as part of the plan.

Instead of just landing and waltzing around,
Content to breathe air you know nothing about,
Perhaps wearing helmets would seem rather sound
Or keep parties small, if you have any doubt.

If common sense fails and you go out exposed,
With most of your redshirt crew ready to fall,
You’ll wish you’d seen all that this movie proposed,
Though you may have feared then to leave Earth at all.
___________________

MPAA rating: R

Earlier this year, I made up a Top Twelve list of 2017 movies I hoped would be good, and this is the first of the twelve I’ve gotten to see. I hesitated to give it a watch after hearing of the increased violence and mixed reviews, but my curiosity and loyalty to the Alien franchise won out. So, is it good? Well, sort of and no. It’s a thoroughly mixed bag of a follow-up to 2012’s Prometheus and the first chance Ridley Scott has gotten to directly sequelize one of his own films (since Prometheus was a prequel).

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Unlike many, I quite liked Prometheus, especially upon a rewatch. It’s a different animal than the first Alien, more concerned with thought-provoking philosophical questions than extraterrestrial jump scares, though there are still enough of those for me. Alien: Covenant does indeed return to the dominant horror of Scott’s original film, but it feels more indebted to its predecessors, even if it does spice up some of the familiar beats. For one thing, it’s as if the story of Prometheus has started over, just instead of scientists seeking out humanity’s origins, we have a ship full of colonists headed for a distant new world, again all in stasis and again monitored by a Michael Fassbender android, this time the American-accented Walter. When a Passengers-style space wave damages the ship and kills the captain (James Franco, barely), the remaining crew who awaken pick up a signal from a closer planet and investigate its source as a new potential colony site. As you might imagine, the planet’s infection of alien DNA is out to get them from the start, and there’s a good deal of death and dismemberment, as well as the return of David, the other synthetic Fassbender from Prometheus.

If you liked Alien and Aliens, you’ll enjoy all the scary survival stuff that reminds you of those two, but Scott is still bent on explaining his alien mythos, with David as the creative force behind the biological set-up for the aliens we all know. In doing so, Scott’s bound to divide opinions on what David does and why. In fact, he’s far more interested with David than with the human characters, who are all couples for this colony mission and at least earn token sympathy when their spouses inevitably bite the dust. Katherine Waterston is the prominent Ripley of the group and does a reasonably good job at remaining sane while others make poor decisions out of panic. The acting is secondary, though; where the film excels most is in the dark visual wonder of the planet and the frightening intensity of the action. The double climax at the end may be suspiciously similar to that of Aliens, but it’s ratcheted up to even more thrilling levels. Those two scenes alone were worth seeing on the big screen.

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Yet, two awesome scenes don’t quite make up for the fact that the rest adds up to an unsatisfying mess. (Moderate spoilers in this paragraph!) I had really hoped for more, considering the open questions at the end of Prometheus, where Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw took off with David to search for the Engineers. Shaw is sadly only a memory here, with David’s actions toward her only slightly clearer than his intentions, and unless a future film provides another perspective, it’s a frustrating letdown for a character who deserved more. Likewise, casting David as a sort of Frankenstein figure obsessed with creation at all costs is more than a bit perplexing. Fassbender plays him well with a coldly self-righteous zeal, but I wish I knew why David is so enamored with these grotesque alien spawn. He clearly admires human art and music, so why does he see creative humans as unworthy next to these mindless killing machines? And then there’s the end, the twist I easily saw coming which follows a trend in horror movies I dislike where the villain gains the upper hand. It’s chilling but not a way to end a movie, especially when these Alien films aren’t reliable in picking up the plot threads and characters of what came before. It’s like the beginning of Alien 3 tacked on to the end of Aliens; if Aliens had ended like that, it wouldn’t nearly have the same respect it does.

On top of all the disappointing plot developments, Alien: Covenant has far more profanity and gore than its predecessors, which might please fans of those things but are inevitably a turnoff for me. The first two Alien movies may have had their notorious shock scenes, but the rest of the film usually thrived on the terror of what you didn’t see (Dallas in the tunnels, Burke opening that door), which is the kind of tension I prefer over the gruesome sort. I’m also not sure what to make of the film’s religious overtones. Billy Crudup as Oram, the insecure first officer who takes command after the captain’s death, is “a man of faith” and is intent on proving himself reliable and clear-minded, even if it also makes him cruel and unpopular. The trouble is that this early character point goes nowhere. I liked the simple but sincere and unbroken faith of Shaw in Prometheus, but considering what happens to her and Oram, I’m not sure why the subject of faith is even broached.

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Thus, despite my high hopes, Alien: Covenant was a disappointment, even with its high-quality production, a few truly awesome scenes, and some perceptive literary references. Yet I had a similar initial reaction to Prometheus too, so maybe a rewatch will help, though I doubt it. Scott has stated that he’s willing to keep making Alien movies as long as fans want them, a prospect that doesn’t hold much hope for me anymore since, as much as I want more of this franchise’s strengths, its weaknesses are becoming more and more plain.

Best line: (Walter, with a naïve sentiment the film doesn’t support) “I think if we are kind, it will be a kind world.”

 

Rank: Honorable Mention

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
491 Followers and Counting

 

2017 Blindspot Pick #6: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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They ran up the hills and across hostile plains.
They learned from their drills and embarked on campaigns.
They slogged through the mud and up bullet-chewed shores.
They spilled others’ blood while they dropped by the scores.

These teachers and writers and miners supplied
Their service as fighters for duty or pride.
They risked life and limb, often lost one or both,
And faced dangers grim that weren’t part of the oath.

They left homes and holes to attack assumed foes.
They charged foolish goals they were told to oppose.
They braved likely death where the angels don’t tread
And gave their last breath with both courage and dread.

Some died on the field, and some died in the tent,
And some made survival their cause to repent.
And most dwell, years past their first sojourn to war,
In graveyards amassed for the ones they fought for.

They stormed into hell, not for heaven’s demand,
But blistered and fell for their nation to stand.
And though you and I fathom not their nightmares,
How deep our thanks lie for the gift that is theirs.
_____________________

MPAA rating: R

Of all my Blindspot Picks this year (I know this one for June is a couple days late), Saving Private Ryan was the one I was most nervous about watching. There’s a reason I hadn’t yet watched this widely acclaimed classic from Steven Spielberg, namely its reputation as one of the more graphic war movies, which as a rule, I usually try to avoid. Yet after enduring the harsh battle scenes of Hacksaw Ridge and still loving it, as well as the current patriotic timing between the D-Day anniversary (June 6) and July 4, now seemed like the right time to finally give Saving Private Ryan a chance. I’m glad I did.

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Most of what I’d heard of Saving Private Ryan centered on the first thirty minutes, the brutal re-creation of the Normandy invasion. Indeed it’s an impressively intense experience to sit through, even if it’s still only a fraction of what the soldiers involved actually had to endure, among them my own paternal grandfather. It also feels fiercely comprehensive in its depiction of the battlefield, following Tom Hanks’s Captain John Miller from the assault boats up the bullet-riddled beaches under constant enemy fire. The men’s reactions to the nightmarish setting range from terrified and dazed to angry and vengeful, particularly as the repeated attempts to save the wounded prove horrifically futile. There are no cuts away to generals talking or planning or anything to take the viewer out of the moment, and it’s epic and immersive. As for the notorious violence, it’s comparable to the battle scenes of Hacksaw Ridge, though perhaps a bit less constant in its bloodshed than the worst Hacksaw Ridge scenes.

Yet, even beyond the intense opening, the rest of the film has plenty of strengths as well, the strongest of which has to be Tom Hanks. Hanks has always been good in everything I’ve seen of his, and he gives an outstanding performance here, easily worthy of an Oscar, for which he was only nominated. As Captain Miller, he’s a competent leader willing to fulfill his duty, even when his superiors send him on a foolhardy mission into enemy territory to retrieve the titular Private Ryan (Matt Damon), whose loss of his three brothers in battle has earned him a sympathy ticket home. Yet Miller isn’t as tough as nails as he tries to act, sometimes amused at hearing his men guess at his mysterious past, sometimes letting his desperation and grief amidst all the violence show through. Hanks is the touchstone for the whole film, which is important when the rest of the men under him aren’t as distinguishable, at least at first. The film’s long runtime of 2 hours and 49 minutes helps the other men under him stand out a bit, such as Barry Pepper’s praying sniper or Edward Burns’ hothead who rebels at risking lives for the sake of one man. (Until the end credits, I really thought Burns was Ben Affleck for some reason.) Even if I couldn’t keep up with most of their names, all the actors do an excellent job, including Damon, Burns, Tom Sizemore, Giovanni Ribisi, and Vin Diesel. Speaking of characters, I was especially delighted to see a very young Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly) as a different Private Ryan and (major Lost alert!) Jeremy Davies as timid interpreter Upham, which is such a strong role for him that I’m surprised this film didn’t make him a more sought-after star.

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Along the cross-country search for Private James Francis Ryan are individual encounters that convey so much of the horror, callousness, and sacrifice. At one point, Miller’s men rummage through dog tags of the deceased, joking and bantering as if they’re playing cards, only to be reminded that they’re essentially sorting through men’s stolen lives. Later, Upham defends a German prisoner whom the others want to kill, only for his naively righteous motivations to be starkly challenged by the ruthlessness of war. (The way this subplot plays out is like the opposite of a similar aspect of the 2003 film Saints and Soldiers.)  And through it all is the question of whether Private Ryan is worth all the trouble of saving. Does offering Ryan’s mother a little comfort in her grief warrant putting other men’s mothers through the same? How can one man live up to the sacrifices made to rescue him?

Saving Private Ryan is undoubtedly one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest achievements, yet oddly enough, while the film runs through a range of emotions, one of the strongest for me was anger. Why? Because how on God’s blue marble did Shakespeare in Love beat this for Best Picture?!?!?! I mean, really, there is no contest as to which film is grander, better told, and all-around more significant. In my opinion, that has to be the worst Best Picture decision the Academy has ever made, worse even than the La La Land debacle from this past year. I’m sorry, but Saving Private Ryan is clearly the true Best Picture of 1998. At least, Spielberg won Best Director, alongside Oscars for Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Film Editing, and Sound Effects Editing.

Despite all this praise for Saving Private Ryan, I’m left divided on how exactly to rank it on my Top 365 List at the end of the year. As with Hacksaw Ridge, I loved the story, acting, script, patriotic message, and production values, but the violence is a big drawback for me, mainly in diminishing its watchability. While the violence is important for effectively re-creating the savagery of battle, I still feel that sprays of blood and severed limbs are unnecessarily gruesome tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal. At one point, someone is literally blown apart by a bomb they don’t throw away for some reason; I couldn’t tell who it was or why they didn’t chuck the explosive, making the scene unnecessary except for shock value. I just feel that this would have been a slightly more accessible film if it had been edited to avoid some of the gore; I know my aversion to violence puts me in the movie-watching minority, but there must be others who avoid films like this for the same reasons I did (like my VC, who still refuses to see it). Ultimately, though, its strengths far outweigh that personal negative, so I’ll have to figure out later where exactly on my list such a film deserves to be.

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I have no hesitation in confirming that Saving Private Ryan really is among the best war films ever made. The cinematography and explosive battles augment its epic storytelling while never ignoring the human cost and casualties, and it captures the complicated mess of war, such as casting a disapproving eye at the vengeful cruelty done by Americans while reminding us that self-righteousness is rarely rewarded in battle. The strongest performances by Hanks and Davies should have earned them both Oscars. I can’t say I’d watch Saving Private Ryan often, due to its length and intensity, but few films are better suited for July 4 viewing.

Best line: (Captain Miller, to Private Reiben, who wants to kill a prisoner) “You want to leave? You want to go off and fight the war? All right. All right. I won’t stop you. I’ll even put in the paperwork. I just know that every man I kill, the farther away from home I feel.”

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2017 S.G. Liput
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