The Last Post

I know, right? Super tragic!

Actually, not really. This has been a fun four years of writing these posts, and I’ve learned a lot. But I’ve reached a point where this feels too much like busywork. I want to focus on my fiction writing more and maybe step out into professional writing if I can.

This blog was a way to battle depression, and it definitely kept me going for a lot longer than I would have managed without it. But things have changed and I am in a much better place, now. So on to bigger and better things!

If you just can’t stand to see me go you can always follow my completely trash Tumblr that I love wherein I gush endlessly about sci-fi TV. It’s the worst, but you should totally follow me.

To my readers, I say fare thee well! It’s been fun!

ET

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In a Galaxy Far Far Away – Solo

Hopefully enough time has passed to avoid spoilers. But still, if you haven’t seen it yet, be warned that there will be spoilers!

Let’s do this.

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Episode Number: X – Released: 2018 – Production Number: 10

“Hey, it’s me!”

To be honest, I wasn’t super enthused about a Solo movie, since we already had A.C. Crispin’s AMAZING Han Solo trilogy, and the character himself always had a sort of inexplicable quality to it, kind of like Shane or James Bond. He just was. Plus, all of his exploits had a mythic quality to them. The Kessel Run, the abandoning of Jabba’s cargo shipment, the life debt that Chewie swears to Han, they all happened, but I wasn’t sure how much of it we needed to see.

Now Star Wars started out as a very Homeric type of story with larger-than life characters and sweeping events. The sequel trilogy as well as the standalone films have been taking a different approach, tearing down the walls of untouchable myth and injecting some humanization into the whole thing. Rogue One wasn’t about mythic heroes we’ve heard so much about. It’s about normal, desperate people. The Last Jedi gave force powers to a poor stable boy and featured the heroic acts of everyday people trying to stay alive. So, in THAT vein, I think it was time to add some human dimensions to Han Solo, and I think this film does that very well.

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Plus, hats off to Alden Ehrenreich for a fantastic performance. I like how Ron Howard didn’t get him to copy Harrison Ford completely. Instead, he took aspects of the character and was able to create a new take on the character, one who’s younger, more naive, less confident, and more willing to trust others. I hope he sticks around for future films.

The Dark Times

I also like that we get more of a look at what life under the Empire was. Rogue One did a good job of showing things from a street level. Solo shows us a look at what it was like inside the ranks of the soldiers fighting the Empire’s campaign of conquest. They’re not stormtroopers. They’re normal grimy soldiers. And I like how we see the tenuous hold the Empire has on their own people. There’s dissent and there’s corruption, and it’s easy to see how, once the Emperor was defeated, the Empire itself didn’t last long after that.

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Plus, I appreciate how we saw some likable Imperials, especially the guy who gave Solo his name. It gives a sense of scale to the Empire we didn’t get before. The farther we get away from the Emperor (and Vader), the less of a stranglehold (literally) they have on their people. In past movies, we were always on the Imperial flagship or the Death Star, places where everyone died immediately if they didn’t obey. Solo gives us a look at the disenchanted fringes of the Empire, which makes the whole thing feel much more real.

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Plus, I like how the Empire isn’t central to the plot, but they’re always there. When that massive star destroyer shows up near the end (accompanied by John Williams’ original Imperial fanfare from A New Hope nonetheless!) we don’t get a view into the workings of the bridge. It’s just part of this pervasive presence, something our main characters would always be living in fear of.

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One thing I am surprised wasn’t mentioned in the film was Chewie’s life debt to Han. We see Han save his life multiple times, kicking it all off by liberating him from an Imperial pit, but we never get a formal declaration of said debt. I find myself wondering if the life debt is strictly an EU thing. We always figured it was there, and the expanded universe formalized it, but it’s never brought up in any of the films. We know that Jar-Jar swears a life debt to Qui-Gon, but we never hear Han mention it in any of his appearances.

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I wonder if Lucasfilm decided to veer away from the life debt thing. Either that, or it will be mentioned in later films (there have been hints that there will be more Solo films). Either way, it was great to see Chewie get the limelight for once.

I really appreciated how Chewie almost eclipsed Han at first. When they’re hired, it’s because Chewie is an impressive ally (and Han is the unpredictable tag along), so we get to see some amazing action scenes with Chewie beating everyone up and being generally heroic and incredible, which he deserves! Chewie’s the best, and I’m glad this film shows that off, and not just in one scene or so. The bond that develops between Chewie and Han is believable and well-written, but it’s nice to see the reversal of the dynamic we’re used to, with Chewie being the one more or less in charge, and Han’s the goofy sidekick (not that Chewie is ever goofy, per se, but you know what I mean).

A More Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

The supporting cast in this one is great, though I think Rogue One still wins for “Best Ragtag Group Ever.” But this is still a great bunch of characters. I like how Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra comes back with a lot more weighing on her soul (as we find out later, said weight comes from getting involved in ex-Sith crime boss Maul, which makes sense why she has become so corrupt) from the rather flat person we meet in the beginning.

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First off, I’ll say that Donald Glover’s Lando is PERFECT. He feels very much like a young Billy Dee Williams. He captures Lando’s feel perfectly, and I like how he’s still a bit of a dandy here, but by the time we meet him in Cloud City, he’s graduated to self-assured bamf. This movie makes his whole redemption arc so much more powerful because we see the sort of antagonistic relationship he and Han had, and then when Solo is able to forgive his betrayal in between Empire and Jedi, it shows just how far they’ve gone. Lando is a HUGE favorite of mine, and I was happy to see his character done justice.

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Woody Harrelson’s Beckett is a charming rogue whose ultimate betrayal unfortunately is pretty easy to call, hearkening back to Donovan in The Last Crusade from another Lucasfilm tentpole who tells Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones not to trust anyone in the beginning, only to reveal himself as a Nazi later on.

A major shout-out goes to L3, the social justice droid who casually creates a droid rebellion, all because she wants to get to a single console. She’s a sassy delight, and easily one of the film’s best characters, though I think Lucasfilm should dial back the sassy droid characters for the time being, lest they fall into a repetitive trend.

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I wish Jon Favreau’s Rio and Thandie Newton’s Val had more to do rather than being expendable characters early on. They were both fantastic.

A Score to Settle

I also want to give a shout out to John Powell’s score. He composes slick, catchy modern music. His “Assassin’s Tango” from Mr. and Mrs. Smith is one of my favorite movie music moments. I wasn’t sure how that sort of aesthetic would work with the Wagnerian complexity of John Williams’ Star Wars musical palette. Michael Giacchino did an amazing job with Rogue One, but he did so by following Williams’ style very closely and respecfully. Powell’s score has the benefit of a special Han Solo theme composed for the film specially by Williams to give him a sort of musical anchor in the Star Wars world, but I think he does a beautiful job of branching out and giving Star Wars a bit of modern slickness that fits the Solo character without damaging the integrity of the Star Wars feel.

His score has more digital flourishes than Williams or Giacchino used, but they fit, giving the whole thing a Mission Impossible feel, which is great, since a great deal of the film is a caper. I’m actually really excited to see the Star Wars musical landscape open up to other composers, each bringing something a little new to the beautiful musical tapestry that Williams created. I like how each new composer is very respectful of Williams’ library of themes (the chase scene in the maw was filled with classic Williams musical cues) but they’re also not afraid to push things in new directions. I look forward to seeing how new composers are able to expand the horizons of the Star Wars universe.

Conclusions

My one gripe about the film is that a lot of things don’t carry a lot of heft because we know that Han, Lando, Chewie, and the Falcon will 100% survive. We know Han will complete the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (a journey that is originally a much zig-zaggier 20 parsecs of travel), and we know that as soon as we see Han dropped into a pit with a muddy angry Wookiee, he’s not in any real danger because that’s OBVIOUSLY Chewie.

But it is great to see Han’s journey from roguish optimist to the roguish cynic we meet in A New Hope. I love how it expands the Star Wars universe in general, and I love how it sets up some fantastic future storylines (perhaps in another Solo movie or maybe in an animated Solo series) featuring Maul who’s easily one of the greatest parts of the Star Wars animated canon.

I look forward to the future! Now, it’s on to Episode IX!

Spielberg By Numbers – Ready Player One

This is a weird one. But it’s fun!

Ready Player One (2018)

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The Plot: (Based on the book by Ernest Cline) In a dystopian future where everyone escapes into a virtual world called the Oasis, one player, Wade Watts, is part of a group of people trying to win a competition so as to inherit the program’s eccentric creator’s control over it.

Seen it Before?: Well it just came out and I saw it during its opening weekend, so…

Writing (5): This is a hard story to adapt because it’s almost all exposition and then a rip-roaring quest story. The amount of exposition in the book often leaps into overload (especially one ponderous sequence where the narrator lists all of the greatest sci-fi fantasy movie series ever made), and so it’s good that the movie slashes all of that out, but the downside is that it’s so eager to get into the story that we don’t get much set up for the characters. It’s just, “Here’s the Oasis, OK, on to the first challenge!”

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There’s no getting to know what this character is like before the challenge. He’s not limited in any way, like in the book where he couldn’t do anything except go to school because he didn’t have any money. There’s no real sense of need. The Oasis is basically just a hobby for everyone.

Then once the challenges start, things zoom along so quickly that there’s no time to get to know the characters. It’s all just action set pieces and lots of wandering focus, and there’s no character stuff at all.

There’s also not really any sense of danger, even with the threat of losing everything one has gained if you “die.” The script is so thin that all you can really do is enjoy the pretty pictures and just forget that the characters should be complex people.

the plot is basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and both the Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp version found time to establish how sad Charlie’s life was before he gets invited to the factory, and both have a sense of triumph that accompanies their winning the competition at the end. This one just sort of ends and you don’t really ever want to cheer for Wade since all that changes is he gets a nice apartment and a girlfriend. He becomes the 1% and doesn’t really help anyone, which goes against the whole inequality thing the book focuses on.

Acting (7): There are some really great performances, despite the shaky script. Mark Rylance is a huge favorite of mine, and I’m glad that he’s developed such a great working friendship with Spielberg. I LOVED him in Bridge of Spies, and he added a lot of quirk to The BFG. His character in this is so wonderful. He’s painfully shy and incredibly socially awkward, and you really get a sense of that, but he never comes across as a stereotype. I love Halliday.

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I’m also a huge fan of Olivia Cooke’s Art3mis. She works the motion capture technology so beautifully that her personality comes to life in a way that the book fails to convey (since she’s more of a minor character in the book). Then once we finally meet her in person, she is very different, but that personality is still there.

The rest of the cast comes across as a bit flat. Wade is very much an avatar for the audience. And Aech is written as too much of a comedic relief character to really allow for that deep friendship that Parzival and Aech have to come through. Unfortunately, there’s such a focus on racing through the story that the actors don’t often have time to create character depth.

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Visual Style (9): The Oasis looks crazy fun, and the final battle at the end is a visual delight. Regardless of the film’s flaws, the visuals are what make it worth watching. The visual Easter eggs are what make this film rewatchable, because you’ll pick out different things each time you watch it.

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I will state for the record that Mechagodzilla was AMAZING and made me squeal like a little kid, especially since they started playing the old Toho Godzilla theme. I’m a massive Godzilla fan and, regardless of my frustrations that I felt while watching the movie, that scene brushed it all away momentarily and I got to just enjoy myself.

I did kind of wish that we got more of the Oasis in the sense that I wanted to see normal daily life before the challenges. I know that would have extended the run time way too much, but I wanted to see all these crazy avatars going to school and chatting outside of normal game stuff.

I also liked the grimy design of the real world, though the message of “get out and experience the real world” felt silly because the real world is such a horrible place.

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But one of the greatest moments is when they go into The Shining. The visual look was spot on, and I thought that was just really cleverly handled, even though I was sad when they abandoned the Shining in favor of the dancing zombie ballroom (as cool as that was). I REALLY REALLY wanted a Jack Nicholson cameo, but I understand why that would have been too expensive to pull off… But still…

Visually, this film works really well.

Music (7): A Spielberg film without John Williams!??!!??! There have only been two others (The Color Purple and Bridge of Spies). Alan Silvestri is a long-time Robert Zemeckis collaborator. I love his score for Back to the Future. The thing with this score is that the only time it is recognizable is when it’s quoting other works, such as when Wade activates the Zemeckis Cube and a phrase from Back to the Future plays. I might need to see it again, but the music just didn’t have the same presence as it does in other films that Silvestri has done (such as The Mummy Returns, Captain America: The First Avenger, or Forrest Gump).

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I did like the use of popular music (which Spielberg doesn’t often do), and there are some great moments, such as one disco moment featuring the Bee Gees. I know it would have been horribly expensive to get the rights to everything, but I think the score should have been used the way the pop songs were used, incorporating a patchwork of film themes and phrases from other films.

Genre (7): To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that this particular genre suits Spielberg very well. His sci-fi films are either emotional fairy tales (E.T.) or brainy thrillers (Minority Report). When it comes to pop culture mashups using advanced filmmaking technology, I think of Robert Zemeckis, probably my second favorite director ever. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is filled with in jokes and movie and TV references (I quite like Donald and Daffy Duck in their insane dueling pianos moment) and it never sacrifices character for plot, even though it throws in gags which have nothing to do with the story all the time. It’s a brilliant script. Also, he’s used motion capture technology in The Polar Express and Beowulf, films which convey the heightened reality suited to the Oasis far better than Spielberg’s Tintin, which used motion capture to recreate a very specific comic book aesthetic.

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I’m also really sad that Spielberg didn’t include references to his own stuff. I think nods to Indiana Jones, Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, and Hook would have helped cement the genre a bit better as a celebration of pop culture as opposed to a grab bag of random references. If Zemeckis did direct this, I think he would have been more willing to celebrate the massive contributions that Spielberg made to the pop culture world of the 80’s and 90’s. He also wouldn’t have been afraid to include more Star Wars references.

I think this film should have taken more cues from The Lego Movie, Wreck-it Ralph, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in creating its pop-culture mashup atmosphere. It might have also allowed for more heart and depth in its depiction of its characters.

Overall Thoughts: It’s a really pretty movie, but there’s just not a whole lot going on underneath the surface.

Total Score: 35/50

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. Bridge of Spies (46)
  5. E.T. (45)
  6. Jurassic Park (44)
  7. The Color Purple (44)
  8. The Adventures of Tintin (44)
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  11. Jaws (42)
  12. War Horse (42)
  13. Empire of the Sun (42)
  14. Minority Report (41)
  15. Munich (41)
  16. Amistad (41)
  17. Lincoln (40)
  18. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  19. War of the Worlds (39)
  20. The Terminal (39)
  21. Hook (39)
  22. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  23. The BFG (38)
  24. The Post (37)
  25. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  26. The Sugarland Express (35)
  27. Ready Player One (35)
  28. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  29. Always (34)
  30. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  31. 1941 (27)

Wow, so we’ve caught up, finally! After this, there’s talk of Spielberg doing a new take on West Side Story, which I am ALL THE WAY DOWN FOR since he’s needed to go Full Musical since, like, the seventies. So now we wait for the next one! This has been a crazy fun journey.

 

Spielberg By Numbers – The Post

Yay government conspiracies!

The Post (2017)

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The Plot: (inspired by true events) the story of how the Washington Post, then a small struggling paper, becomes embroiled in a government scandal involving leaked documents pertaining to America’s involvement in Vietnam.

Seen it Before?: Nope.

Writing (7):  You know, the plot moves along at a great pace and features some wonderful characters with some snappy dialogue, but it just doesn’t give anything new and surprising in terms of the plot. The instant things moved to the Supreme Court, even if you aren’t super familiar with the historical events that inspired the story, you know they’re going to win the case. The David vs. Goliath story has been done to death, and so this one doesn’t add a lot to that tradition of similar films.

Now, I love how the characters are written, and the actors give a lot to them (we’ll talk about them later) but the overall story just hits a number of very familiar beats. Now, I fell into the film very easily, and enjoyed the triumphant beats like I was supposed to. It’s all handled well.

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But this movie didn’t blow me away the way Bridge of Spies did. Both deal with historical moments, but Bridge of Spies found a unique plot that didn’t feel quite so familiar. This one is more of a character study wrapped up in a very familiar framework.

Acting (8): Meryl Streep is, as always, fantastic. I love how much she infuses into her character. Her arc is genuinely satisfying because of how much vulnerability and doubt that she expresses in her performance. Streep is so good at the moments in between dialogue where she’s pondering/considering what to say next. That’s where she finds her characters, and Spielberg is able to give her all the space she needs to create her character.

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Tom Hanks is wonderful, though I feel like this character isn’t quite as memorable as his character in Bridge of Spies. He’s not as crucial to the story as Streep’s character is, so he becomes more of a background character. He exists as a means to provide conflict, an ally to Streep’s character, Kay, but I didn’t see much in his performance that broke away dramatically from what we’ve seen before.

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I also quite liked Bruce Greenwood’s take on Robert McNamara. He’s not ever portrayed as a villain, and I think we do get a good look into his mindset as well as his failings. He feels like a real person, which I appreciated.

I also want to give a shoutout to Sarah Paulson’s Tony Bradlee. She doesn’t get many scenes, but the one scene where she tells her husband that she finds Kay’s actions heroic because she understands where she’s coming from as a woman in a world dominated by men. I adore Sarah Paulson in American Horror Story, and it’s really nice to see her flexing her serious acting chops in a more “normal” setting.

The rest of the cast does an adequate job, but there weren’t really any characters who jumped out at me. There are a lot of “types” that we’ve seen before. The scenes in the newsroom with everyone trying to figure out what to do next reminded me a lot of Apollo 13 where we see the NASA technicians trying to figure out how to get the crew home. They are all there to express opinions, but nobody is really a unique individual. They’re a body of people.

This is very much Streep’s film.

Visual Style (7): There wasn’t really anything new or surprising about the visual style of this one. The opening scene in Vietnam hearkens back to the washed out gritty feel of Saving Private Ryan, and the rest of the film has a mix of the bleached colors of the newsroom and the golden warmth of Kay’s home. It’s visually pretty, but it’s not anything we haven’t seen before.

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One thing I liked that isn’t quite visual, but did add to the style of the film, was the use of actual recordings of Richard Nixon in place of an actor voicing the character. We only see Nixon in the distance, through the windows of the White House, but the recordings of his voice that are overlayed over the scenes adds an element of verisimilitude that I liked.

Music (8): There wasn’t a lot of music in this one, but when it was used, John Williams’ score adds a lot of drama. Especially in the scenes where we see them operating the printing press, which is super cool. It’s not a sentimental score, but when it does make itself known, it finds a dramatic voice that adds a lot to the visuals.

Genre (7): The David vs. Goliath drama is interesting, and the courtroom drama moment, though a bit tacked on, has some impact. I feel like the film’s biggest failing is that it’s so conventional. I feel like it could have been bolder and more hard-hitting.

The character stuff was genuinely compelling, and I feel like if this had been brave enough to push the limits a bit more, the cast would have been able to shine more. The script plays things very safe, and we know how things are going to play out.

Streep and Hanks do their best to add depth to the story that the script glosses over, but overall, this doesn’t add much to the genre as a whole.

Overview: A conventional plot that features some terrific performance.

Total Score: 37/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. Bridge of Spies (46)
  5. E.T. (45)
  6. Jurassic Park (44)
  7. The Color Purple (44)
  8. The Adventures of Tintin (44)
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  11. Jaws (42)
  12. War Horse (42)
  13. Empire of the Sun (42)
  14. Minority Report (41)
  15. Munich (41)
  16. Amistad (41)
  17. Lincoln (40)
  18. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  19. War of the Worlds (39)
  20. The Terminal (39)
  21. Hook (39)
  22. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  23. The BFG (38)
  24. The Post (37) I feel kind of bad that this film fell for far down the list, but that’s how this goes! RT liked it 2% more than Temple of Doom.
  25. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  26. The Sugarland Express (35)
  27. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  28. Always (34)
  29. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  30. 1941 (27)

Alright, next up, things so sci-fi! Let’s get ready to jump into the OASIS.

Spielberg By Numbers – The BFG

Spielberg meets Roald Dahl meets Disney. Let’s do this!

The BFG (2016)

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The Plot: (based on the book by Roald Dahl) A little girl befriends a giant and helps him come up with a way to get rid of his human-eating kin.

Seen It Before?: Just saw it today for the first time. Well not TODAY today since by the time this will post, it will be next month… But you get the idea.

Writing (7): Roald Dahl is a fantastic writer (I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the kid-approved drug trip that is Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator to shreds as a kid) but his stuff is VERY hard to bring to the screen well since so many of his stories are very episodic. Matilda (1996) and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) are probably the best, and both of them had to adjust the source material here and there to make them work.

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With that said, there are marvelous episodes throughout the film, but they don’t come together to form a very cohesive whole. It moves from Tim-Burton-esque dark fantasy to Into-The-Woods-esque fairy tale satire to Paddington-esque children’s comedy. Now, there’s no doubt kids will enjoy parts of this a great deal, but I can see parts where the parents’ ears will perk up and the kids will start to get bored. and vice versa.

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The dialogue is fun and captures Dahl’s whimsy well, especially the unique vocabulary of the BFG himself, and there are moments of comedy that are universally funny to both kids and adults (The sequence that introduces the Queen is silly, but feels like a Monty Python sketch at times).

I also noticed that the pacing was uneven. The beginning is very slow and kind of dull until we first meet the BFG and then it’s marvelous and brilliantly paced until things slow down later on.

Acting (10): Mark Rylance is a treasure and I hope we see him in MANY MORE films because I am just a massive fan of his. Even through motion capture, he’s able to make you weep every time he smiles. I just love him. His unique characterization of the BFG is the high point of the film. He doesn’t feel like an animated character. He feels real, someone you really want you meet in real life and just have strange conversations with him forever.

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I’m also super impressed with Ruby Barnhill who plays Sophie. She has enough oomph to keep the audience’s attention when she has scenes with the BFG.

Also, I have to give a shout out to Penelope Wilton who plays the Queen. Aside from one scene of excessive silliness, this movie really allows her to show off the understated comedic genius that she used to such brilliant effect in Downton Abbey. She’s HILARIOUS even without saying anything. She’s got the big polite smile, but you know she’s panicking inside because there’s a giant in Buckingham Palace, but she is DETERMINED to be cordial and not freak out, and this inner conflict plays out in her facial expressions in a way that few others would have been able to pull off. I just love her as an actress.

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Visual Style (7): This is a pretty movie, no doubt, but it just isn’t able to hold up to Disney’s other live-action fairy tale adaptations such as Maleficent and Beauty and the Beast. I loved the sequence where we first meet the BFG and he’s hiding as he moves through town. The atmosphere is beautiful and you really become invested in it even though it’s basically a silent pantomime type of thing.

The dreamy tree is of course beautiful, but nothing about the land of the giants really sticks with you as especially memorable and new. I think the land of giants could have had more to set it apart in terms of its look and feel.

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Now, I will say, the design of the giants themselves is wonderfully done. The motion-capture gives them so much more realistic heft and expressiveness than purely animated characters would have been able to convey. The animation is so good, they don’t feel plastic-y or fake looking. They’re one step away from being photorealistic, so kudos to the animators.

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Music (7): John Williams’ score has plenty of magic to it, and there are some truly beautiful moments that I really liked, but it didn’t have the sort of iconic thematic quality that something like Hook has, where you immediately start humming the “Flight to Neverland” theme from memory (or maybe that’s just me).

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It is a beautiful score, though, and it matches the environment well. Williams adds a great deal of emotion to the final scene which makes you want to tear up from sheer warm fuzzies.

Genre (7): I don’t think this film really knows who its primary audience is. There are movies aimed at children that have a second layer that appeals to adults and the two seamlessly coexist. This one seems to switch back and forth with scenes that appeal to very young children, others for older children, and then some for adults, so that the film feels like its reining itself in too much. It can’t be TOO adventurous because it might scare little kids, and it can’t be TOO goofy because you don’t want older children to get bored. And so it plays it safe.

The final confrontation, I felt could have been darker or more nuanced. The scene with the giants being captured and hauled off (after being faced with the guilt of what they had done) felt needlessly cruel and I kept waiting for the giants to all agree to be nice or gang up on the big burly leader who didn’t get a dose of the nightmare, but I guess that doesn’t match the book.

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It felt like it wanted to be another movie but couldn’t. And so as a result, it just kind of floated about the middle ground.

Overall Thoughts: An OK movie featuring some fantastic motion capture and live action performances from a wonderful cast of actors and animators.

Total Score: 38/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. Bridge of Spies (46)
  5. E.T. (45)
  6. Jurassic Park (44)
  7. The Color Purple (44)
  8. The Adventures of Tintin (44)
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  11. Jaws (42)
  12. War Horse (42)
  13. Empire of the Sun (42)
  14. Minority Report (41)
  15. Munich (41)
  16. Amistad (41)
  17. Lincoln (40)
  18. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  19. War of the Worlds (39)
  20. The Terminal (39)
  21. Hook (39)
  22. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  23. The BFG (38) RT liked Close Encounters a lot more, and I’m inclined to agree.
  24. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  25. The Sugarland Express (35)
  26. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  27. Always (34)
  28. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  29. 1941 (27)

Next up is The Post which like JUST came out.

 

 

Spielberg By Numbers – Bridge of Spies

I looove this one!

Bridge of Spies (2015)

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The Plot: (inspired by true events) The story of American lawyer Jim Donovan who is assigned to defend a suspected Russian spy and then becomes instrumental in engineering a tense prisoner exchange when an American soldier is captured by Russia and an American student is captured by Germany, and the only bargaining chip Donovan has is an alleged spy that both sides want.

Seen It Before?: Yep, saw this when it first came out and loved it.

Writing (9): The Cohen Brothers are responsible for a lot of the script’s tightness and rich characterization. It’s a gently paced film, but it never feels slow. The character drama is at the center of the story, and that keeps things moving along nicely. The dialogue feels natural, and the plot beautifully creates tension and uncertainty without it ever feeling overbearing.

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My only issue is that so often things are telegraphed well in advance. Someone will tell a character to avoid groups of ruffians in Germany…and then said character encounters such a group who steals his coat. Or someone will say, “what if this happened?” and then that exact thing happens later on. No script will ever be free of convenient coincidences, but this one makes those coincidences just a bit too obvious at times.

Acting (10): Mark Rylance absolutely deserved that Best Supporting Actor Oscar. His performance is part of what gives this movie its depth and re-watch-ability. He uses subtle hand gestures and facial tics to make his character come alive in such a way that you rarely see in movies. He doesn’t feel like a larger-than-life guy or an ideal in any way, but you care deeply what happens to him, and you can’t stop watching him, even if he’s not really doing anything. I’m glad he works with Spielberg twice more (we’ll get there) because the two of them work VERY well together.

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I’m also a massive fan of Tom Hanks’ character. Now, unlike Abel, Donovan IS an idealized character. He’s the All-American good guy, and perhaps a bit more noble than your average human being, but you can’t help but root for him because Hanks infuses him with so much genuine warmth. What could have been an ordinarily flat character (anyone else would have played him as a Living Constitution) becomes a genuine likable hero that we want to see succeed.

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There are tons of other great performances in here, including Alan Alda (as Watters), Dakin Matthews (as Judge Byers), Austin Stowell (Bowers), and Scott Shepherd (Hoffman).

Visual Style (9): This one uses the washed out colors that we saw in Lincoln and Saving Private Ryan, but it works, giving the film a vintage look that fits VERY well with the 1960s setting. Unlike with Lincoln, this film isn’t quite as shadowy, so the performances of the actors are well-highlighted. The whole thing suggests film noir as well as black and white newscasts, which makes for some fantastic visual moments.

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East Germany is suitably gritty and filled with paranoia while the scenes back in America have the quality of a faded postcard. By this point, Spielberg and cinematographer Janisz Kaminski are basically sharing a brain, and it’s evident.

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Also the scene where the plane crashes is INCREDIBLY shot. It’s completely harrowing and feels new and fresh in ways that many similar scenes in other movies don’t manage.

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Music (9): Now, John Williams didn’t do this one, which is sad, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well Thomas Newman (whose style is very different) works with Spielberg’s visuals. Newman has an ethereal quality to his music, and that does a great job of conveying the tenuous nature of the situation.

One thing that surprised me is how much of the film has no score whatsoever. Newman’s score (which was nominated for an Oscar) is used very sparingly, which keeps the focus on the characters. The music in this case doesn’t tell the story the way it does in War Horse or Schindler’s List. It shows up when it’s needed, but it doesn’t ever take center stage, except for in the end when it closes out the film.

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It’s a beautiful score that brings out different elements of the characters’ stories than Williams does, so it’s nice to hear a different musical palette than we usually do (the last time this happened was with The Color Purple). Still, it’s nice Williams comes back for Spielberg’s next film.

Genre (9): It blends genres, combining John Le Carre-esque espionage with elements of courtroom drama and historical commentary, all of which Spielberg is very good at.

Blending genres is sometimes a risky bet with Spielberg, as we saw in the past, but this one does it very well. I think that’s the result of the amazing script. The shift to James-Bond-esque action with the plane crash feels logical and necessary. Then we find ourselves out of the courtroom and into Germany where there are armed soldiers everywhere and every conversation has an uncertain outcome, and it all fits together nicely.

I think the sense of cohesion and fluid movement is part of why I love this movie so much. It has a confidence to it, but not the brash boldness of a superhero flick. It knows exactly what it’s doing and was obviously well planned out in advance.

Overall Thoughts: An immensely satisfying character drama featuring some fantastic performances.

Total Score: 46/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. Saving Private Ryan (48)
  3. Catch Me If You Can (46)
  4. Bridge of Spies (46) This was close, but RT liked Catch Me If You Can a little bit more. But still! Top 5! Whooo!
  5. E.T. (45)
  6. Jurassic Park (44)
  7. The Color Purple (44)
  8. The Adventures of Tintin (44)
  9. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  11. Jaws (42)
  12. War Horse (42)
  13. Empire of the Sun (42)
  14. Minority Report (41)
  15. Munich (41)
  16. Amistad (41)
  17. Lincoln (40)
  18. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (40)
  19. War of the Worlds (39)
  20. The Terminal (39)
  21. Hook (39)
  22. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  23. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  24. The Sugarland Express (35)
  25. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (35)
  26. Always (34)
  27. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  28. 1941 (27)

Next up, things get Disneyfied!

Marvel By Numbers – Avengers: Infinity War

Hoo Boy. let’s do this. BEWARE SPOILERS!

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Overview: Thanos rampages across the galaxy collecting the Infinity stones, and Earth’s greatest heroes must set aside their differences and come together to stop him and his army before he assembles all five of the gems and gains the power to control reality.

Writing: 8/10

Seeing as how this movie’s main cast stretches into the double digits, I’m really impressed that they managed to balance all the characters fairly evenly. Some characters get more action than others, but everyone gets good moments.

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There’s a great blend of humor and drama, though I will say that the film’s very nature keeps the ending from hitting as hard as it should. We know there’s going to be a part two, and we know that there are planned films featuring characters who die down the road, so the really emotional beats at the end feel more like a, “Come back next time to learn how this all gets fixed” rather than a shocking, “What? They died!?” moment.

The cliffhanger is genuinely a really good one, probably one of the best cliffhangers to show up in a long time. Kudos to the producers for taking such a bold approach.

I’m also really impressed with how the script balances all the threads it’s juggling. It never really drowns the audience in exposition, assuming that they’ve all seen the films that lead up to it.

Style: 10/10

Up until this point, the MCU has operated in two separate worlds, the technologically enhanced version of Earth where holograms and transparent cell phones are the norm, and the technicolor world of space where wacky aliens and big bads in enormous ships do their thing.

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The Guardians of the Galaxy films and Thor: Ragnarok had a much goofier and more colorful aesthetic than grittier earth-based films like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Black Panther, but Infinity War does a great job of bringing those two worlds together in a way that make sense.  We get plenty of sweeping alien vistas as well as lots of Earth locales, but nothing feels rehashed or familiar. We visit Wakanda again, which is always fantastic, but I like how this film takes the action into a more open natural setting rather than the urban destruction we’ve seen so much of already. It feels fresh and visually interesting.

Also, the score is one of the best in the series. The themes all come and go, signalling each hero or group, but the new Thanos themes have all kinds of impact, especially in the end. The end credits (which against form, are played as simple white words against a black background rather than a visual spectacle of iconography and animation) feature very little in the way of heroic fanfare. It’s a funeral dirge, and it just slaps the audience in the face with the inevitability of what just happened. I love how the music is used.

The Villain: 9/10

Thanos is a legitimately well-written villain, and I like how the script devotes a great deal to his arc, to the point where he feels more like the main character and everyone else are supporting players.

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There are a few beats to his character that feel either poorly developed or dependent on more information that we don’t yet have. The main one is his relationship with Gamora. I just can’t believe that he truly loved her to the point where her sacrifice meant anything at all to him. Perhaps she reminds him of someone he lost long ago, and his love for that person is transferred to Gamora to the point where his killing of her is enough to merit getting the soul stone.

Either way, it’s not clear why he felt so drawn to her as a child and why she became so meaningful to her when her sister Nebula holds so little meaning to him that he would violently torture her to convince Gamora to tell him what she knows. A man who is willing to torture his daughters and then kill one to feed his own ambition would have a hard time feeling any real remorse, but he acts as though he’s given up something meaningful to him. I feel like there’s another part of his character we’re not seeing yet. I haven’t read the comics, so I’m not sure where this is heading, but I’m curious to see how Endgame (the rumored title of the next Avengers film) deepens his character.

Explosions: 10/10

There are plenty of spectacular explosions, and they are all absolutely essential to the story.

Favorite Explosion: Not really an explosion per se, but the reignition of the dead star so Thor could forge his new weapon was AWESOME.

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I literally cheered (quietly) when Thor made his heroic return to Earth armed with his new axe.

The Hero’s Journey: 7/10

*takes a deep breath*

Let’s start with the characters who grow or change.

Thor’s redemption arc is wonderful. He gets his weapon back (after his hammer was destroyed) and he finds himself the last member of a rabidly dwindling race. He is motivated and optimistic, but he still addresses the great tragedy that he’s faced. His conversation about how everyone in his family is dead with Rocket is perfect. It’s emotional, but he keeps trying to brush it all off.

Dr. Strange has probably the hardest decision to make. He knows how they can defeat Thanos (it was only one out of 14 billion possibilities) but in doing so, he has to give the time stone to him. I totally believed him when he said that he would let Tony or Peter die to protect the stone, so his giving up the stone to save Tony means that Iron Man is an essential part of defeating Thanos down the road.

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Tony Stark is very much still the conscience of the group, so I like how most of his inner conflict comes from his desire to fix things on his own, coming to realize after the fact that he can’t do anything without others. His acceptance of his death up until Strange trades his life for the time stone is a really powerful moment because I expected him to not survive that at all. He doesn’t have much of an arc, per se, but his characterization si strong and we’re given a lot of insight into his mindset.

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I like how, after being trapped in permanent Hulk mode for so long, Bruce Banner has a hard time getting Hulk to come back. He’s no longer an uncontrolled aspect of his personality, he’s a true alter ego who can choose when to manifest. This means that Bruce is much more in control of his own emotions, but he’s weaker in times of crisis. So we get to see Bruce solving problems with his mind rather than surrendering to the Hulk when he needs something smashed.

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This is definitely Peter Parker’s greatest challenge. He finds himself completely out-classed, and he keeps turning to Tony as a father figure, but Tony ultimately isn’t able to save Peter, which leads to one of the film’s most heart-wrenching scenes where a dissolving Peter is clutching at Tony, begging him to save him even though Tony has no idea how to do anything useful.

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Vision also has a great arc since his entire existence stems from an infinity stone, so his life is in danger moreso than anyone else. I like how he is probably one of the most powerful Avengers, but he is the most vulnerable of the bunch. His ultimate death (both of them) is harrowing.

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The rest of the cast isn’t given a whole lot to do, sadly.

Captain America does make his homecoming, but there’s no real consequences to his doing so aside from his call with Ross. It’s not like he would choose not to help if there was a need, so there’s not a whole lot of conflict with him. Though I will say that the dark hair/beard combo is a VERY good look for Steve.

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Black Panther is TRAGICALLY underused. He has a great entrance when they go to Wakanda, obviously, but I’m super mad that he’s sidelined a much as he is during the fighting. Sure he fights, but he’s always in the background like Falcon in Civil War. His movie is still in theaters making tons of money, and I wish he was a more integral part of the script. I know the script couldn’t give equal time to everyone, but he DESERVES  to be an essential part of the story.

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The Guardians of the Galaxy are mostly comic relief except for Rocket, who has that great scene with Thor, and Gamora, who is essential to the plot as Thanos’ daughter. Gamora and Thanos’ interactions and relationship are given a lot of time, even though I feel like there’s an element missing from it, as I said. Groot is strictly a background character aside from one moment where he contributes (an arm) to the plot. Peter Quill is pretty much only there to be a foil for Tony, but he isn’t given much of an arc at all. Drax is…well Drax. Mantis has a cool moment where she tries to subdue Thanos, but that’s about all she has to do.

Black Widow, War Machine, Falcon, and Winter Soldier are basically just there in the background with maybe a few lines each. Sigh.

And…*lip quivers* I don’t want to talk about Loki…

But I know it will be OK eventually. It has to be.

Part 2 is on its way!

Score and Rank

  1. Black Panther (50/50)
  2. Captain America: Civil War (49/50)
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (46/50)
  4. The Avengers (45/50)
  5. Avengers: Infinity War (44/50)  A top 5 contender! Nicely done. Hopefully part two will eventually fill this spot.
  6. Iron Man (43/50)
  7. Thor: Ragnarok (43/50)
  8. Spider-Man: Homecoming (43/50)
  9. Doctor Strange (42/50)
  10. Iron Man 3 (42/50)
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy (41/50)
  12. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (41/50)
  13. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50)
  14. Thor (39/50)
  15. Avengers: Age of Ultron (39/50)
  16. Ant-Man (38/50)
  17. Thor: The Dark World (36/50)
  18. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
  19. Iron Man 2 (33/50)

Next up, we’ll be returning to Spielberg By Numbers with The Post