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 Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018 
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A documentary (NERD ALERT): Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension

When I was a sophomore in college, a friend and I got permission to audit a high-level seminar on Fractals and Chaos Theory. The class was at 8am, and my friend spent much of the seminar sleeping. I, however, thought it was super cool. The idea that you could have a line less than an inch long that is also infinite, the intricacy that you get after just a few iterations, etc.

This Nova documentary gives a very basic introduction to fractals and some fun examples of how fractal theory can be applied to physics, biology, medicine, etc. It was interesting to see the way that different fields are using fractal theory to explore different questions (such as how to use capillary distribution to predict the location of tumors even before the tumors are big enough to see). The mathematical explanations were designed for a general audience, so I didn't really learn anything new there, but I really enjoyed the practical applications. It's also neat that Benoit Mandelbrot is still around, since sometimes the perception is that every important mathematical discovery was made ages and ages ago.

I do think that the film makes a good point about the way that visual mathematics are sometimes dismissed as just being about pretty things, even though it can have some very powerful real-world implications.


Tue Jan 16, 2018 1:30 am
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Stu wrote:
Big, big fan of Thief, both the poster and the movie! Haha? But seriously, it's a great movie (you hear that, Scurezles?), despite its various cliches; I actually feel it did a good job of not making Leo's eventual character turn be too obvious early on, even though I always knew in the back of my head that he wasn't just going to let Frank go, and I loved how unapologetically proud Frank was of being a thief, since he, as Hans Gruber would later say, "is an exceptional thief":

"What the hell do you think that I do? Come on. Come on, every morning I walk in for five months, say hi - what the hell do you think that I do?
-You sell little fucking cars, that's what you do!
-I wear $150 slacks, I wear silk shirts, I wear $800 suits, I wear a gold watch, I wear a perfect, D-flawless three carat ring. I change cars like other guys change their fucking shoes. I'm a thief."

Just pure awesome.



Awww, I like you too, Stu...

Image

But yeah, despite what might be seen as clichés, Mann and Caan keep it honest and fresh.

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Tue Jan 16, 2018 4:19 am
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A classic you've never seen: The Thing from Another World

Most people (especially most horror fans) have seen Carpenter's The Thing. The 1950s original (based on a short story) is something that's been on my radar for a while.

I would say that while the 80s version of the story is most memorable for its ending, the 50s version has a very strong first act. There is an image in the first 20 minutes that I think is maybe one of my favorite things I've seen in a horror film (it's the shot of the men
trying to figure out the shape of the object under water, slowly assembling themselves into a circle, then slowly realizing what shape they've made
). There's a fun sense of banter and camaraderie among the soldiers and scientists at the outpost. There's also a romantic subplot between an army captain and a secretary at the outpost. The gender politics are dated, of course, but not nearly as cringe-y as other films of the same era. The character of Nikki is mostly one of the crew, and there's an early reference to her having out-drunk the captain when he was trying to seduce her. Similarly there is a very cliched portrayal of the scientist who values science above all else. Having just watched Life I have very little patience right now for stupid science, and the portrayal of the lead scientist is pretty broadly drawn. The film does offer him some sympathy (and so do the other characters), but the film could have really benefited from a more nuanced approach to the knowledge vs safety debate.

The biggest let-down of the film (which is strong on atmosphere and character dynamics), is the look of the actual Thing. It is incredibly evocative of Frankenstein's monster. This is the one area where the 50s version can't help but feel like it's coming up against the 80s version and falling way, way short. The movie is incredibly successful when it works with implication (such as the scene on the ice and later when someone is describing a scene in a greenhouse).

Overall I'm glad I finally checked it out. It was a lot more interesting and fun than I expected.


Tue Jan 16, 2018 10:16 am
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That's another one I've been curious about. I love the remake, but I have to check that one. Thanks for the review!

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Tue Jan 16, 2018 10:22 am
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Thief wrote:
That's another one I've been curious about. I love the remake, but I have to check that one. Thanks for the review!


I think it's definitely a case where the classic would be slightly better regarded if it weren't for the remake. I mean, you cannot beat the ending to the 80s film. And the 50s version has its own very memorable last moments, but just not quite the same. It's a really good classic coming up against an amazing remake. It's also very short (~1 hour 25 minutes).

It's also full of amazing 50s slang. "The lieutenant's having kittens in there!". And my favorite exclamation: "Holy cat!".


Tue Jan 16, 2018 10:54 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
I think it's definitely a case where the classic would be slightly better regarded if it weren't for the remake. I mean, you cannot beat the ending to the 80s film. And the 50s version has its own very memorable last moments, but just not quite the same. It's a really good classic coming up against an amazing remake. It's also very short (~1 hour 25 minutes).

It's also full of amazing 50s slang. "The lieutenant's having kittens in there!". And my favorite exclamation: "Holy cat!".


On a related note, have you seen the original The Fly? I saw it a couple of years ago and found it to be a pretty solid film. The remake is better, but both still make for a pretty cool double-header.

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Tue Jan 16, 2018 11:14 am
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Thief wrote:
On a related note, have you seen the original The Fly? I saw it a couple of years ago and found it to be a pretty solid film. The remake is better, but both still make for a pretty cool double-header.


The Fly is another long-overdue classic for me. I LOVE the 80s version, and in a weird way that's kept me away from the original. I have heard pretty much only good things about it.

A drama film: Locke

I'm very partial to movies that have small casts, and you can't get much smaller than one guy in a car. The movie is a real-time portrayal of a man driving to an important event (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers) the night before he is meant to supervise a multi-million dollar construction project. The movie reveals very early on that Ivan
is headed to a hospital where a woman he slept with once is having his baby
, and the movie is not so much a thriller about what choices he will make so much as coming to understand why he makes the choices he does. In both his personal and professional dealings the movie is working with themes of loyalty, betrayal, responsibility, and legacy.

The entire film consists of conversations on the phone and some monologues between Ivan and the imagined ghost (not visible) of his father. The monologues are well-acted, but didn't do much for me. They crossed a little too far into stage-play territory for my taste. The actors doing the voices of the other characters all do a pretty great job--especially Andrew Scott (Moriarty!) as Ivan's co-worker who has maybe had a bit too much to drink to deal with the sudden responsibilities being placed on his shoulders.

Hardy did a really good job of portraying a man who has his own internal logic about what qualifies as decent behavior and slowly revealing how that logic developed.


Tue Jan 16, 2018 11:44 am
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Thief wrote:

On a related note, have you seen the original The Fly? I saw it a couple of years ago and found it to be a pretty solid film. The remake is better, but both still make for a pretty cool double-header.


I guess it's like comparing the old The Thing to the remake. The remake is much better IMO. Same with The Fly. Both are good though.


Tue Jan 16, 2018 11:52 am
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ski petrol wrote:

I guess it's like comparing the old The Thing to the remake. The remake is much better IMO. Same with The Fly. Both are good though.


Exactly. That's why I brought it up. Classic 50's creature film, with a superior remake made in the 80's. Anyway, I thought The Fly had a very effective eerie and haunting aura over it.

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Wed Jan 17, 2018 5:39 am
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A film from the 1980s
A film based on a myth or legend



Clash of the Titans (1981)

Quote:
"The gods of Olympus are mysterious, and their motives are erratic"


The idea behind most religions involves the belief in a supernatural, all-controlling being(s). Most people that practice said religions, have faith that their god(s) will treat them fairly and seek their well-being. But we learn quite early in this film that that's not necessarily the case. Clash of the Titans opens in Olympus with a gathering of Greek gods, led by Zeus (Laurence Olivier). In it, fates are decided, punishments are passed, and lives are transformed, all because of mere jealousy, pure whim, and vendettas between the gods themselves.

The film follows Perseus (Harry Hamlin), a demi-god, son of Zeus, as he finds himself banished to a far away island by the jealousy and anger of Thetis (Maggie Smith), one of Zeus' wives. As he tries to return, Perseus befriends Ammon (Burgess Meredith) and falls in love with Andromeda (Judi Bowker). But to win her hand, he must complete a series of quests which include figuring out a riddle, beating Andromeda's former fiancee Calibos, defeating Medusa, and destroying the Kraken that threatens Andromeda's hometown.

Clash of the Titans is for the most part, a fun and entertaining film. There is good action, likable characters, and the special effects are impressive for the time. Few of the performances excel, with Meredith, perhaps being the best of the bunch. Hamlin is not the best of actors, but he is serviceable and is effective in portraying Perseus' awe and naivete to his surroundings. Plus, I think he had good chemistry with Bowker, who portrays Andromeda not as the typical damsel-in-distress, but as a rather confident and strong princess.

However, maybe it's the cynical in me, or my internal existential conflicts, but I would've liked if the film had ventured more into the philosophical and moral implications of the behavior of the gods. How humanity stands helpless at what the gods decide, sometimes not knowing why they are being favored or punished. The film makes a point of portraying how arbitrarily they decide the fates of men like Perseus or Calibos, or entire cities like Argos or Joppa, but fails to explore further choosing instead the juvenile thrill of the adventure, presented with all the necessary ham and cheese.

And ham and cheese isn't bad. Like I said, the film is fun and entertaining, and the characters are likable. It drags a bit towards the middle, but picks up with the encounter with Medusa, which is very tense and well executed even though you know the outcome. Despite its slightly erratic turns, I cast thee a solid B.

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Wed Jan 17, 2018 9:54 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
A classic you've never seen: The Thing from Another World There's a fun sense of banter and camaraderie among the soldiers and scientists at the outpost. There's also a romantic subplot between an army captain and a secretary at the outpost. The gender politics are dated, of course, but not nearly as cringe-y as other films of the same era. The character of Nikki is mostly one of the crew, and there's an early reference to her having out-drunk the captain when he was trying to seduce her.

Were you aware of Howard Hawks' involvement? He's listed as uncredited writer and director. I've never heard the full story as to his contribution, but since "fun banter" is pretty much his thing (His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby), it makes sense.

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Wed Jan 17, 2018 11:26 pm
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Captain Terror wrote:
Were you aware of Howard Hawks' involvement? He's listed as uncredited writer and director. I've never heard the full story as to his contribution, but since "fun banter" is pretty much his thing (His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby), it makes sense.


I was really surprised to see his name in the opening credits--until then I hadn't realized he was involved at all. The banter among the cast/characters is one of the film's strongest elements.


Thu Jan 18, 2018 7:30 am
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Charles Lederer is credited as the writer and Ben Hecht did uncredited rewrites on The Thing Another World, too, if I remember correctly, which would explain why the dialogue is so similar to other Hawks films, since I think they wrote more than a dozen of his movies between the two of them. The movie was made by Hawks' production company, so I think he had free reign over the picture, and it's always been suggested that it was something of a Spielberg-on-Poltergeist situation. For what it's worth, Hawks collected the lions' share of the director's fee for himself when RKO picked it up for distribution.

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Thu Jan 18, 2018 7:47 am
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I decided to approach some categories on the list that would not normally appeal to me. Hence:

A film that won a Best Picture MTV Award: Beauty and the Beast

I picked this one off of the list because it seemed like the best of a "meh" bunch.

I'd expected a decent film, but even with those tepid expectations I was disappointed.

The good: the original songs are good songs and they were well-performed in the film. Emma Watson is an engaging lead, and Luke Evans is wonderfully hateable as Gaston. There were some fun moments of seeing parts of the original reimagined in live action.

The bad: This movie is LONG. Technically the run time is a little over two hours, but it felt more like, say, five and a half. It just kept going. And the inclusion of new songs is largely to blame. I couldn't even hum half a bar of any of the new songs. They were bland and forgettable and only made to look worse being put between classics like "Be Our Guest" and "Tale as Old as Time".

There's some toothless "progressive" pandering: low-key "feminism" (women should totally be allowed to read!) and some tepid pro-gay nods (men are humiliated by being dressed as women, but one man likes it and sassily flounces away!). The look of the beast is horrible. We usually talk about the uncanny effect in relation to real people, but the CGI mess of the beast creates this odd realization that the cartoon version felt far more real because it actually belonged to its universe. The beast never felt real to me. Some googling tells me that Dan Stevens actually sung his part, but the singing voice and the speaking voice sounded so different that it was jarring. The scenes that are played for emotion are both totally manipulative (I didn't like the movie, but you show a dog die with a whimper and, yeah, good job, now I feel sad) and overly long (an endless montage of the staff 'dying' as they turn to real furniture). Despite the runtime of INFINITY MINUTES, the conclusion feels rushed and flat. The only voice performance I really enjoyed was Ian McKellan's, and that's largely due to the fact that his voice is just do delightful.

Really disappointing and not the semi-enjoyable fluff I was hoping for.


Sat Jan 20, 2018 11:43 am
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I really have no interest in checking that one out, and your review cemented that.

Anyway, that's a category I might seek some advice, since I've really seen most of them. The ones I haven't seen are...

Menace II Society (I'm pretty sure I saw this back in the day, but I don't remember anything)
Wedding Crashers
Twilight
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1
The Avengers
The Fault in Our Stars
Beauty and the Beast


So, which one should I see? And don't say any of the Twilight's, cause there's no way in hell I'm seeing that shit. I'd rather see Manos again.

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Sat Jan 20, 2018 12:26 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:
I decided to approach some categories on the list that would not normally appeal to me. Hence:

A film that won a Best Picture MTV Award: Beauty and the Beast

I picked this one off of the list because it seemed like the best of a "meh" bunch.

I'd expected a decent film, but even with those tepid expectations I was disappointed.

The good: the original songs are good songs and they were well-performed in the film. Emma Watson is an engaging lead, and Luke Evans is wonderfully hateable as Gaston. There were some fun moments of seeing parts of the original reimagined in live action.

The bad: This movie is LONG. Technically the run time is a little over two hours, but it felt more like, say, five and a half. It just kept going. And the inclusion of new songs is largely to blame. I couldn't even hum half a bar of any of the new songs. They were bland and forgettable and only made to look worse being put between classics like "Be Our Guest" and "Tale as Old as Time".

There's some toothless "progressive" pandering: low-key "feminism" (women should totally be allowed to read!) and some tepid pro-gay nods (men are humiliated by being dressed as women, but one man likes it and sassily flounces away!). The look of the beast is horrible. We usually talk about the uncanny effect in relation to real people, but the CGI mess of the beast creates this odd realization that the cartoon version felt far more real because it actually belonged to its universe. The beast never felt real to me. Some googling tells me that Dan Stevens actually sung his part, but the singing voice and the speaking voice sounded so different that it was jarring. The scenes that are played for emotion are both totally manipulative (I didn't like the movie, but you show a dog die with a whimper and, yeah, good job, now I feel sad) and overly long (an endless montage of the staff 'dying' as they turn to real furniture). Despite the runtime of INFINITY MINUTES, the conclusion feels rushed and flat. The only voice performance I really enjoyed was Ian McKellan's, and that's largely due to the fact that his voice is just do delightful.

Really disappointing and not the semi-enjoyable fluff I was hoping for.

Also, Gaston was oversimplified.
In the first couple acts or so, he seemed like a slightly obsessive and slightly annoying lover. In another scene, however, he suddenly turned into a sadistic, attempted murderer. The film didn't provide him with a character arc, so his change seemed sudden and completely random.

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Sat Jan 20, 2018 12:52 pm
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Thief wrote:
I really have no interest in checking that one out, and your review cemented that.

Anyway, that's a category I might seek some advice, since I've really seen most of them. The ones I haven't seen are...

Menace II Society (I'm pretty sure I saw this back in the day, but I don't remember anything)
Wedding Crashers
Twilight
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1
The Avengers
The Fault in Our Stars
Beauty and the Beast


So, which one should I see? And don't say any of the Twilight's, cause there's no way in hell I'm seeing that shit. I'd rather see Manos again.


Well, Twilight Eclipse is pretty clearly the best movie of that lot, but if that's a firm no I'm seeing, Menace II Society is alright. Everything else is shit.


Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:06 pm
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A film about man versus nature
A road trip film



Into the Wild (2007)

Quote:
"You're wrong if you think that the joy of life comes principally from human relationships. God's placed it all around us. It's in everything. It's in anything we can experience."


The above quote is is part of the mantra that Christopher McCandless lived by. That we must strive to live different experiences, regardless of who we share them with, or if we share them with someone. But can we truly have joy and be happy on our own? or is happiness really tied to the experience of human interaction?

Into the Wild follows McCandless (Emile Hirsch), an idealistic and pragmatic young man that upon graduating from college, decides to donate his savings and live "off the grid". Without telling his parents, he embarks on a cross-country trip around North America. His ultimate goal? to get to Alaska and live on his own in the wilderness for a while. On the road, he finds and befriends a diverse group of people that would shape his journey. To add weight to the film, we get bits and pieces where we see how Chris' parents and sister (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, and Jena Malone) are dealing with his disappearance.

To many, the enjoyment or acceptance of this film might hang on whether or not you agree with McCandless' view of life. Some people embrace his freestyle approach, while others consider it "misguided" and a "death wish". I happen to fall somewhere in between. I respect and even share some of McCandless' attitude, particularly towards material possessions and the so-called "establishment"; but I do think that his approach to his journey was a bit too careless. As you see the flashbacks of his family, we understand that Chris' journey is partly fueled by anger and a desire to break ties with his secretively dysfunctional parents.

A grand part of the enjoyment of the film relies on Hirsch's performance. I don't think he is a great actor, but he delivered. To me, his biggest success was in conveying a combination of naivete with confidence. His chemistry with most of the other characters is pretty good, and almost all of them are endearing and likable (Kudos to Hal Holbrook, who almost brought me to tears once or twice). This helps ease the road for a film that clocks in at 2 hours, 20+ minutes. Still, I found it a tad too long. I would've cut 20 or so minutes, and I think the result would've been the same.

At one point of the film, Chris - who happens to be an avid reader - cites a quote of writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi which says:

"The sea's only gifts are harsh blows, and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong. Now, I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head."

I think this quote encapsulates what Chris was looking for, in my opinion. Ultimately, it wasn't about getting to Alaska, or being in the wild. It was about having a chance to "feel strong", to break away from the mold and "measure" himself against the odds. See what he was made of on his own terms, alone, while living different experiences he might not have experienced otherwise. In the process, he realizes that there is indeed joy in seeking those experiences, that he can truly find joy anywhere. But what he realizes later in the film and life, and what I think was the ultimate message is that there's also joy in the people we meet, the friendships we forge; and when we have the chance to share that joy with others, we are really happy.

Grade: B+

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Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:13 pm
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Thief wrote:
I really have no interest in checking that one out, and your review cemented that.

Anyway, that's a category I might seek some advice, since I've really seen most of them. The ones I haven't seen are...

Menace II Society (I'm pretty sure I saw this back in the day, but I don't remember anything)
Wedding Crashers
Twilight
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1
The Avengers
The Fault in Our Stars
Beauty and the Beast


So, which one should I see? And don't say any of the Twilight's, cause there's no way in hell I'm seeing that shit. I'd rather see Manos again.


I enjoyed The Avengers. Like all of the rest of its genre it's bloated and the humor is overly jokey. But the cast chemistry is decent and most of the action sequences are enjoyable enough.

Popcorn Reviews wrote:
Also, Gaston was oversimplified.
In the first couple acts or so, he seemed like a slightly obsessive and slightly annoying lover. In another scene, however, he suddenly turned into a sadistic, attempted murderer. The film didn't provide him with a character arc, so his change seemed sudden and completely random.


Oh, I don't know. I think that his plot arc makes just as much sense as it did in the original cartoon. Gaston sees Belle as a challenge and so he pursues her because she's hot and he's clearly into "the chase." Then he totally blows it with the dad. Then he realizes that Belle likes someone else. He goes into "if I can't have her nobody can" mode and turns his anger on the woman who has rejected him and on the man/beast who has "stolen" his woman.

I mean, when you come down to it, no one in the movie has a great character arc. I would say that Le Fou (who comes to understand the cruelty and selfishness behind Gaston's charming boisterous version of "manliness") is the only person in the film who evolves or displays real empathy in any meaningful way. The scene where the Beast releases Belle to go back to her father is played as a grand romantic gesture, but in reality . . . it's a kidnapper allowing his hostage to go free. That's not romantic. That's ceasing to be the person holding someone captive. Despite its long runtime, the story never develops into anything other than basic action-reaction plot points. Very early in her captivity the Beast reveals that he has a library and Belle is like *bemused, gentle chuckle*. As if the literacy of the person holding you prisoner is the real issue at hand.


Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:16 pm
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I saw Into the Wild a while ago, and I remember liking it quite a bit.

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Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:17 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:

I enjoyed The Avengers. Like all of the rest of its genre it's bloated and the humor is overly jokey. But the cast chemistry is decent and most of the action sequences are enjoyable enough.



Oh, I don't know. I think that his plot arc makes just as much sense as it did in the original cartoon. Gaston sees Belle as a challenge and so he pursues her because she's hot and he's clearly into "the chase." Then he totally blows it with the dad. Then he realizes that Belle likes someone else. He goes into "if I can't have her nobody can" mode and turns his anger on the woman who has rejected him and on the man/beast who has "stolen" his woman.

I mean, when you come down to it, no one in the movie has a great character arc. I would say that Le Fou (who comes to understand the cruelty and selfishness behind Gaston's charming boisterous version of "manliness") is the only person in the film who evolves or displays real empathy in any meaningful way. The scene where the Beast releases Belle to go back to her father is played as a grand romantic gesture, but in reality . . . it's a kidnapper allowing his hostage to go free. That's not romantic. That's ceasing to be the person holding someone captive. Despite its long runtime, the story never develops into anything other than basic action-reaction plot points. Very early in her captivity the Beast reveals that he has a library and Belle is like *bemused, gentle chuckle*. As if the literacy of the person holding you prisoner is the real issue at hand.

I don't think it made much sense. His personality was toned down quite a bit in the cartoon since the attempted murder plot he did with Belle's father wasn't present. The worst he did to them was lock them in the basement to prevent them from stopping him. Since his personality was much more extreme in the 2017 version, this made it feel random.

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Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:29 pm
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Popcorn Reviews wrote:
this made it feel random.


It was certainly more intense, but I didn't think it was random. It was just an escalation as the movie went on.

Either way, it was an unimpressive character arc, despite Evans doing his best in the role.

The fact that Gaston
just falls wordlessly to his death is what felt random to me. Not even a scream or a last exchange with Belle or the Beast. Completely anticlimactic.


Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:44 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:

It was certainly more intense, but I didn't think it was random. It was just an escalation as the movie went on.

Either way, it was an unimpressive character arc, despite Evans doing his best in the role.

The fact that Gaston
just falls wordlessly to his death is what felt random to me. Not even a scream or a last exchange with Belle or the Beast. Completely anticlimactic.

I don't think there was a great enough escalation between Gaston and Belle/Maurice which made the attempted murder make sense though. It didn't seem like Gaston despised Maurice enough to attempt to kill him in the runtime leading up to that scene. His arc didn't appear to continuously build to it. That's why I think Gaston was oversimplified.

Well, Gaston actually did scream as he fell to his death, but yeah, that scene was pretty anti-climatic.

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Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:58 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:
I enjoyed The Avengers. Like all of the rest of its genre it's bloated and the humor is overly jokey. But the cast chemistry is decent and most of the action sequences are enjoyable enough.
I would only recommend The Avengers to Thief for its inherent cultural importance as being the first team-up of Marvel's premiere team of superheroes (and the moment when the MCU, the biggest film franchise of all time, first became a true "universe"), because just judged on its own as a film, I felt it was pretty meh; not bad or anything, just disappointingly generic. It's as if Marvel felt that they only way they could make all these disparate characters work together in the same film was to squeeze almost all the personality out of it, and make the safest possible superhero team-up they could've. Even Age Of Ultron, flaws and all, was the more colorful effort than this fairly large pile of meh, if you ask me.

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Thief wrote:
A film from the 1980s
A film based on a myth or legend



Clash of the Titans (1981)

"The gods of Olympus are mysterious, and their motives are erratic"

The idea behind most religions involves the belief in a supernatural, all-controlling being(s). Most people that practice said religions, have faith that their god(s) will treat them fairly and seek their well-being. But we learn quite early in this film that that's not necessarily the case. Clash of the Titans opens in Olympus with a gathering of Greek gods, led by Zeus (Laurence Olivier). In it, fates are decided, punishments are passed, and lives are transformed, all because of mere jealousy, pure whim, and vendettas between the gods themselves.

The film follows Perseus (Harry Hamlin), a demi-god, son of Zeus, as he finds himself banished to a far away island by the jealousy and anger of Thetis (Maggie Smith), one of Zeus' wives. As he tries to return, Perseus befriends Ammon (Burgess Meredith) and falls in love with Andromeda (Judi Bowker). But to win her hand, he must complete a series of quests which include figuring out a riddle, beating Andromeda's former fiancee Calibos, defeating Medusa, and destroying the Kraken that threatens Andromeda's hometown.

Clash of the Titans is for the most part, a fun and entertaining film. There is good action, likable characters, and the special effects are impressive for the time. Few of the performances excel, with Meredith, perhaps being the best of the bunch. Hamlin is not the best of actors, but he is serviceable and is effective in portraying Perseus' awe and naivete to his surroundings. Plus, I think he had good chemistry with Bowker, who portrays Andromeda not as the typical damsel-in-distress, but as a rather confident and strong princess.

However, maybe it's the cynical in me, or my internal existential conflicts, but I would've liked if the film had ventured more into the philosophical and moral implications of the behavior of the gods. How humanity stands helpless at what the gods decide, sometimes not knowing why they are being favored or punished. The film makes a point of portraying how arbitrarily they decide the fates of men like Perseus or Calibos, or entire cities like Argos or Joppa, but fails to explore further choosing instead the juvenile thrill of the adventure, presented with all the necessary ham and cheese.

And ham and cheese isn't bad. Like I said, the film is fun and entertaining, and the characters are likable. It drags a bit towards the middle, but picks up with the encounter with Medusa, which is very tense and well executed even though you know the outcome. Despite its slightly erratic turns, I cast thee a solid B.



Harryhausen's masterpiece.

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Sat Jan 20, 2018 11:10 pm
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Popcorn Reviews wrote:
.[/spoiler]

I don't think there was a great enough escalation between Gaston and Belle/Maurice which made the attempted murder make sense though. It didn't seem like Gaston despised Maurice enough to attempt to kill him in the runtime leading up to that scene.
[/quote]

But Gaston doesn't have to
despise Maurice. Gaston is a sociopath and a narcissist. Killing Maurice (and killing the Beast) is "justified" because they stand in the way of what he wants. He doesn't leave Maurice to die out of hatred, he does it out of convenience. He is completely self-centered and people are either allies or obstacles. He leaves LeFou to die because "it's hero time".


Stu wrote:
I would only recommend The Avengers to Thief for its inherent cultural importance as being the first team-up of Marvel's premiere team of superheroes (and the moment when the MCU, the biggest film franchise of all time, first became a true "universe"), because just judged on its own as a film, I felt it was pretty meh; not bad or anything, just disappointingly generic.


I was recommending it as the film I enjoyed the most (aside from Menace 2 Society) on the list of MTV Award winners. I agree that it's pretty meh, but I also thought it had its moments. I did watch it on an airplane during a very stressful time, so its escapism may have played a little better to me in that moment.


Sun Jan 21, 2018 12:06 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
But Gaston doesn't have to
despise Maurice. Gaston is a sociopath and a narcissist. Killing Maurice (and killing the Beast) is "justified" because they stand in the way of what he wants. He doesn't leave Maurice to die out of hatred, he does it out of convenience. He is completely self-centered and people are either allies or obstacles. He leaves LeFou to die because "it's hero time".

Okay, point taken. I still don't care for the movie though.

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Sun Jan 21, 2018 12:27 am
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Popcorn Reviews wrote:
Okay, point taken. I still don't care for the movie though.


Neither do I. But just for a ton of reasons other than Gaston's personality development. :D


Sun Jan 21, 2018 8:02 am
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ski petrol wrote:

Clearly you haven't seen Manos: Hand of Fate. It's truly the worst movie ever made. It eats Garbage Pail Kids for dinner.


Although clearly incompetently shot and made (just check out how LAME the slaps are), at least I'll always would rather watch a film that's interesting and bad than boring and bad.

Plus, that ending alone gets Manos a pass in my book.


Sun Jan 21, 2018 9:10 am
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Thief wrote:
I really have no interest in checking that one out, and your review cemented that.

Anyway, that's a category I might seek some advice, since I've really seen most of them. The ones I haven't seen are...

Menace II Society (I'm pretty sure I saw this back in the day, but I don't remember anything)
Wedding Crashers
Twilight
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1
The Avengers
The Fault in Our Stars
Beauty and the Beast


So, which one should I see? And don't say any of the Twilight's, cause there's no way in hell I'm seeing that shit. I'd rather see Manos again.


You're right to avoid Twilight. That one put me to sleep. At 3 PM in the afternoon on a night when I got a full 8 hours sleep.

Will vouch for Wedding Crashers. Tis a fairly fun comedy with Wilson and Vaughn being a fine pairing.

Outside of that, maybe Fault in Our Stars (which also passes the digitally shot portion test) or Menace 2 Society (which looks interesting, but I've yet to have the guts to watch it).


Sun Jan 21, 2018 9:14 am
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A film from the 1940s


Spellbound (1945)

Quote:
"It's rather like embracing a textbook."


That's how Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingmar Bergman) is described by one of her flirting colleagues. Emotionally distant and clinically accurate is how she prefers to handle herself. It's as if she didn't remember how to show her emotions, love or be loved. "The greatest harm done to the human race has been done by the poets" she says at dinner as she tells of how poets fill people's heads with false expectations of love, kisses, embraces, etc.

That's until she meets her new boss (Gregory Peck), a young doctor, who ends up being not her boss, but rather a victim of amnesia who has taken up the place of a Dr. Edwardes for some reason. Going by the initials "J.B.", the young man doesn't seem to remember anything about his past, what he did, whether he was married or single, but more importantly, how he ended up taking Dr. Edwardes identity, and what happened to the real one.

In a way, both Constance and J.B. are victims of a similar spell. They're both trapped by different circumstances, the former by her career and the latter by guilt. Because of this, they both find themselves unable to show or feel emotions or love. But as they meet each other, kisses become "lyrical poems" and embraces become "Shakespearean dramas".

Sure, there's a murder in the background and a quest to find out what happened, but the real focus of the story is how Constance and J.B. interact with each other, helping each other break away the cages that have held them captive for so long, even though they try to convince themselves that it can't be real. Watching Bergman and Peck interact is a real treat, particularly the former who I thought was quite good in this.

The murder subplot is paper-thin, sorta similar to other late 30's Hitchcock films, but it is well executed. I also give props to Hitchcock and the writers for trying to instill the script with a loose thread of real psychology, even if its application feels convoluted, or too convenient for the story. Much is said about the Dalí-inspired dream sequence, but I was a bit underwhelmed at how brief it was. Still, I thought the film was pretty good and entertaining with some solid moments of tension, Hitchcock's direction was almost flawless, and most of the performances were good.

Grade: B

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Wed Jan 24, 2018 9:54 am
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A film shot on digital video
A film made for under $5,000,000 made after 1990



Upstream Color (2013)

Quote:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."


The above quote is not directly from Upstream Color, but rather from Henry David Thoreau's book Walden, which is featured somewhat prominently in the film. I haven't read the book, but as I read that quote and reflect upon the film, I can't help but see parallelisms in its themes. According to Thoreau, Walden was his attempt to gain an understanding of society, while also championing simple living and self-efficiency, through a narrative structured into the four seasons of the calendar. After his two year project, he returned to "civilization".

Describing Upstream Color is not an easy feat. Director Shane Carruth (who also wrote and produced the film) uses a very abstract style, presenting a series of seemingly disconnected scenes one after the other, as we see multiple characters engage in various activities. Still, the basic premise follows two people: Kris and Jeff (Amy Seimetz and Carruth) who have been unwittingly exposed to a parasite which forces them to abandon the life they knew and reluctantly start living from scratch. Unlike Thoreau, Kris and Jeff "metamorphosis", their metaphorical trip "to the woods", was not by choice. Their journey from apparently successful citizens to penniless outcasts was forced unto them, but it would require the same drive and will to walk out of.

As Kris and Jeff meet each other and develop a bond, their cycle of life is paralleled to a litter of piglets that have somehow been infected with the same parasites and are monitored by a mysterious man called "The Sampler", and to that of the parasite itself as we see how it is created and harvested. We see them go from "nothing" into "something". From being pushed down to the "lowest terms" of life, to leading a deliberate and conscious effort to take control of their lives and take back what was taken from them, "publish its meanness to the world".

Upstream Color is a unique film; one that has to be absorbed, and not necessarily understood. In all fairness, the basic plot outline is not that complex, but Carruth's style makes it more abstract and peculiar, which in my opinion, is what sets it apart. Its the kind of film that sits in the back of your head, tapping at your brain, forcing you to think about it. I had read things about it before and was a bit wary to check it out. But like Thoreau, I had to go into the woods myself, know "by experience", and if it was "sublime... be able to give a true account of it".

Grade: A-

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Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:27 am
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Thief wrote:
A film shot on digital video
A film made for under $5,000,000 made after 1990



Upstream Color (2013)

Grade: A-



Squeee! Yay! I'm so glad you liked it. I have such a depth of feeling for this movie. I think that more than any other film I've ever seen it captures that feeling of having
experienced something intense/traumatic but not being able to articulate it to anyone else.


It makes me so happy when people enjoy Upstream Color


Thu Jan 25, 2018 6:54 am
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Takoma1 wrote:


Squeee! Yay! I'm so glad you liked it. I have such a depth of feeling for this movie. I think that more than any other film I've ever seen it captures that feeling of having
experienced something intense/traumatic but not being able to articulate it to anyone else.


It makes me so happy when people enjoy Upstream Color


To be honest, up until this morning, I still wasn't sure how I felt about it, but I can say that my feelings about it have increased the more I think about it. I think that this morning, as I wrote the review, and gave more thought to everything, is when it really sunk deeper.

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Thu Jan 25, 2018 8:15 am
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Now that you've seen Upstream Color you should watch Shane Carruth's first film Primer about a couple of guys who build a time machine. It gets pretty crazy towards the last third of the film and I guarantee your mind will be tossed like a salad but it's well worth it.


Thu Jan 25, 2018 8:59 am
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Thief wrote:

To be honest, up until this morning, I still wasn't sure how I felt about it, but I can say that my feelings about it have increased the more I think about it. I think that this morning, as I wrote the review, and gave more thought to everything, is when it really sunk deeper.


I had different expectations for it when I first watched it, especially coming off of Primer (same director/lead) which, while emotional in its own way, is more classically si-fi. Time-travel. Rules about causality. Intellectually trying to make sense of an order of events.

There is a twisty-turny logic to Upstream Color, but it bows down to the emotional richness of the story. The story never hides the "what" of the relationships between the different elements (the pigs, the worms, the flowers, the people, the thief, the farmer, etc), and I found myself not wanting to dig too hard for the "why". The characters (and their effort to find some sort of meaning from an incomprehensible injury) are so compelling in their struggle that their wellbeing stayed my primary interest throughout the entire film.

There are four scenes/sequences from the movie that I think about over and over (and sometimes go back and watch just on their own)

1. The scene where
the thief first kidnaps Kris from the club/restaurant. So many bad thriller/horror movies begin with women being kidnapped and the scene is really striking for the way that it both evokes and departs from stereotypical portrayals of sexual assault/hostage scenarios with women. The scene of him making her sit on the floor and stare at the wall, or bringing her clothes to put on. It has really uncomfortable echoes with kidnap/rape scenarios, and yet it is something completely different.


2. I will never, ever forget the way that the actor playing one of the doctors delivers the line
"Well, someone's been in there" while looking at the imaging of Kris's internal organs (and specifically her uterus). He says it with zero sympathy or even curiosity. Instead it sounds like he's angry at Kris for insisting she's never been pregnant or had surgery and has already decided to dismiss her as crazy. When you go through a horrible, disorienting experience, you'd like to think that a medical professional would be an ally, but in just a few short minutes we see that Kris will find no empathy or help from the medical establishment.


3. The scene where they are
doing all of the tests to find the right sensations--like sliding the rock inside the metal pipe. I think that when people are trying to find their own peace and make sense of something beyond understanding, they can look pretty crazy. The sequence is a mixture of whimsy, mania, and melancholy.


4. The scene where the farmer is
rounding up the piglets and it sends Kris and Jeff into a panic that they don't understand. While I have never struggled with a serious mental illness, from time to time (thanks to the wonder of hormonal cycles!) I will be suddenly thrust into a deep melancholy and there's this disorienting combination of a sudden, sad feeling, but also this confusion like "Why am I feeling this feeling?!". I think that this scene (which ends with the poster image of the two of them curled up in the bathtub) captures the helplessness, rage, and confusion of such an experience.


It's a movie that I think builds in meaning the more that you watch and/or think about it. I stalk Carruth's IMDb page waiting to see another film pop up.


Thu Jan 25, 2018 9:49 am
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ski petrol wrote:
Now that you've seen Upstream Color you should watch Shane Carruth's first film Primer about a couple of guys who build a time machine. It gets pretty crazy towards the last third of the film and I guarantee your mind will be tossed like a salad but it's well worth it.


I had that one on schedule for January 2017 when I did debuts, but couldn't get to it. It's on my radar. Thanks!

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Thu Jan 25, 2018 9:54 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

I had different expectations for it when I first watched it, especially coming off of Primer (same director/lead) which, while emotional in its own way, is more classically si-fi. Time-travel. Rules about causality. Intellectually trying to make sense of an order of events.

There is a twisty-turny logic to Upstream Color, but it bows down to the emotional richness of the story. The story never hides the "what" of the relationships between the different elements (the pigs, the worms, the flowers, the people, the thief, the farmer, etc), and I found myself not wanting to dig too hard for the "why". The characters (and their effort to find some sort of meaning from an incomprehensible injury) are so compelling in their struggle that their wellbeing stayed my primary interest throughout the entire film.

There are four scenes/sequences from the movie that I think about over and over (and sometimes go back and watch just on their own)

1. The scene where
the thief first kidnaps Kris from the club/restaurant. So many bad thriller/horror movies begin with women being kidnapped and the scene is really striking for the way that it both evokes and departs from stereotypical portrayals of sexual assault/hostage scenarios with women. The scene of him making her sit on the floor and stare at the wall, or bringing her clothes to put on. It has really uncomfortable echoes with kidnap/rape scenarios, and yet it is something completely different.


2. I will never, ever forget the way that the actor playing one of the doctors delivers the line
"Well, someone's been in there" while looking at the imaging of Kris's internal organs (and specifically her uterus). He says it with zero sympathy or even curiosity. Instead it sounds like he's angry at Kris for insisting she's never been pregnant or had surgery and has already decided to dismiss her as crazy. When you go through a horrible, disorienting experience, you'd like to think that a medical professional would be an ally, but in just a few short minutes we see that Kris will find no empathy or help from the medical establishment.


3. The scene where they are
doing all of the tests to find the right sensations--like sliding the rock inside the metal pipe. I think that when people are trying to find their own peace and make sense of something beyond understanding, they can look pretty crazy. The sequence is a mixture of whimsy, mania, and melancholy.


4. The scene where the farmer is
rounding up the piglets and it sends Kris and Jeff into a panic that they don't understand. While I have never struggled with a serious mental illness, from time to time (thanks to the wonder of hormonal cycles!) I will be suddenly thrust into a deep melancholy and there's this disorienting combination of a sudden, sad feeling, but also this confusion like "Why am I feeling this feeling?!". I think that this scene (which ends with the poster image of the two of them curled up in the bathtub) captures the helplessness, rage, and confusion of such an experience.


It's a movie that I think builds in meaning the more that you watch and/or think about it. I stalk Carruth's IMDb page waiting to see another film pop up.


Those are all pretty strong scenes. I think all the first act scenes with the Thief are the most emotionally infuriating, mostly because you see the helplessness and vulnerability in Kris juxtaposed with the lack of morals on the guy. There is no emotion in him, and a certain casualness which brings up the familiar term of the "banality of evil". This is no evil mastermind, at least in the traditional definition of the term, but he really is a despicable, evil person.

Aside of the scenes with the doctors, there's also the scene with her boss, then at the supermarket and then the bank, when she realizes her money is gone. There is little to no empathy on anyone, and on the other hand, how can they feel empathy considering she's unable to articulate or even understand what happened. It's all a metaphoric devolution of her self, as she is being stripped of everything, from her mind to her job to her money.

I think the last one you mention is the film's peak or climax. Having a wife that suffers from panic attacks combined with other conditions that we are still trying to learn to understand and cope with, I can definitely see the parallelism with the helplessness and confusion you mention.

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Thu Jan 25, 2018 10:08 am
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Thief wrote:
Aside of the scenes with the doctors, there's also the scene with her boss, then at the supermarket and then the bank, when she realizes her money is gone. There is little to no empathy on anyone, and on the other hand, how can they feel empathy considering she's unable to articulate or even understand what happened. It's all a metaphoric devolution of her self, as she is being stripped of everything, from her mind to her job to her money.

I think the last one you mention is the film's peak or climax. Having a wife that suffers from panic attacks


Exactly.

I think that the best thing about the movie is that it takes many kinds of violence/trauma (kidnapping, assault, violation, theft, drugging, etc) and merges them into a unique experience that the characters themselves can't articulate and even we as the viewer can't' entirely understand. Sometimes characters in a movie are frustrated and you want to shake them and say "Just say ___________!!!" But in this movie, what advice could you possibly give the victims? Even if they did remember what happened, their story is "I was hypnotized into hanging out at my house and taking all my money out of the bank."

I'm really sorry about what your wife is dealing with. I've only ever had one experience that I'd classify as a panic attack, but I personally know someone who suffered from severe ones and what I experienced was certainly on the mild side. The person I know got a lot of help from someone who specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and very sparse, strategic use of Xanax, but panic attacks aren't just something you can fix and I'm sorry you're both going through that.

You should be stoked to see Primer when you get around to it. While I prefer Upstream Color, Primer more than earns its reputation as a contemporary sci-fi classic.


Thu Jan 25, 2018 10:58 am
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Popcorn Reviews wrote:
I don't think it made much sense. His personality was toned down quite a bit in the cartoon since the attempted murder plot he did with Belle's father wasn't present. The worst he did to them was lock them in the basement to prevent them from stopping him. Since his personality was much more extreme in the 2017 version, this made it feel random.


Will agree with Takoma's first paragraph. As for the releasing of Belle, that was in the cartoon as well. I think it was meant to be less a romantic gesture and more of him showing that the Beast was softening up. And so was the library segment in the 1991 film, although that was done way better there. It was a culmination of things that started when the Beast started to soften. Considering she read all the books in the town library, it came across as an aha moment as well as further evidence that the Beast was not the evil we were needing to fear...it was Gaston.


Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:51 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

The Fly is another long-overdue classic for me. I LOVE the 80s version, and in a weird way that's kept me away from the original. I have heard pretty much only good things about it.

A drama film: Locke

I'm very partial to movies that have small casts, and you can't get much smaller than one guy in a car. The movie is a real-time portrayal of a man driving to an important event (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers) the night before he is meant to supervise a multi-million dollar construction project. The movie reveals very early on that Ivan
is headed to a hospital where a woman he slept with once is having his baby
, and the movie is not so much a thriller about what choices he will make so much as coming to understand why he makes the choices he does. In both his personal and professional dealings the movie is working with themes of loyalty, betrayal, responsibility, and legacy.

The entire film consists of conversations on the phone and some monologues between Ivan and the imagined ghost (not visible) of his father. The monologues are well-acted, but didn't do much for me. They crossed a little too far into stage-play territory for my taste. The actors doing the voices of the other characters all do a pretty great job--especially Andrew Scott (Moriarty!) as Ivan's co-worker who has maybe had a bit too much to drink to deal with the sudden responsibilities being placed on his shoulders.

Hardy did a really good job of portraying a man who has his own internal logic about what qualifies as decent behavior and slowly revealing how that logic developed.


I will send another vote for Locke. As a character study/showcase for Tom Hardy, it's pretty good. It does sound stagy, but avoids that for the most part.


Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:55 am
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A war film


Paths of Glory (1957)

Quote:
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th'inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."


The above quote comes from the Thomas Gray poem that gives name to Stanley Kubrick's fourth film. The basic idea is that regardless of our rank, heritage, power, or wealth, we will all die eventually. At one point in the film, two soldiers are discussing how they would prefer to die (or not die) and one of them says "you know you've got to go someday, anyday." But death does come sooner to some, and the truth is that people in positions of prestige usually have the power to decide who will walk that path and who won't.

Set in the middle of World War I, Paths of Glory follows Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), commanding officer of an infantry regiment in the French Army. When one of his superiors, General Mireau (George Macready) hands him a near impossible mission, Dax reluctantly complies. He knows that he will march his men to certain death, but he obeys anyway. As was expected, the mission is a failure with lots of casualties, and Mireau decides to put the blame on Dax' men accusing them of cowardice. When three men are chosen at random to be executed as an example, Dax decides to defend them in the court martial.

I've been meaning to watch this for a long, long time, so I approached it last night with high expectations. And boy, it didn't disappoint one bit. Paths of Glory is a neatly directed, finely acted war film with a powerful message. It's incredible to think that this was only Kubrick's fourth film because he handles the camera like a true professional. The continuous shots inside the trenches, the soldiers' advance towards the enemy, they are all examples of Kubrick's masterful control of the camera. The way he juxtaposes the carnage of war versus the lavishness in which the generals live was perfect, and the most ideal way to push the premise of how the fate of the foot soldiers is ultimately decided by men sitting in thrones and comfy offices.

But aside of the direction, nearly all the performances are top-notch. I continue to be impressed by Kirk Douglas, who I've seen in two films within the last two years (Out of the Past and this one). His performance is commanding and emotional as we see a man torn between his duty and his men, and ultimately disappointed with a system he just can't fight against. Macready plays the antagonist well enough not to veer into comical territory. The only performance I found a bit distracting was Timothy Carey, who played one of the soldiers sentenced to death. His anguished performance felt forced, fake, and over the top. I wasn't surprised to read that he was fired during production.

With only two Kubrick films yet to see (Killer's Kiss and Lolita), he has cemented his place within my Top 3 favorite directors. Paths of Glory was a neatly executed, powerful and thought-provoking film.

Grade: A

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Sat Jan 27, 2018 8:56 am
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There is one shot that really blew my mind, and it was early in the film when the three soldiers go scouting the territory. They sit at the bottom of a hill, when a flare goes up only to let the light of the flare reveal that the hill is covered with dead bodies; that was a stroke of genius.

Also, please, what are other Kirk Douglas essential films?

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Sat Jan 27, 2018 9:09 am
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Thief wrote:
There is one shot that really blew my mind, and it was early in the film when the three soldiers go scouting the territory. They sit at the bottom of a hill, when a flare goes up only to let the light of the flare reveal that the hill is covered with dead bodies; that was a stroke of genius.

Also, please, what are other Kirk Douglas essential films?


The Final Countdown - awesome time travel movie

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Sat Jan 27, 2018 9:43 am
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Ace in the Hole is a fantastic movie, also.


Sat Jan 27, 2018 4:31 pm
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A superhero one-two punch...

A film from the 2010s


Iron Man 2 (2010)

"Aren't you Iron Man?"
"Sometimes"

I'm not that big on recent superhero/comic book films. Other than Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, none of the recent films have piqued my interest; neither Marvel nor DC. I remember giving both Iron Man and Thor a chance back in the day, what with the glowing reviews they both got and feeling pretty "meh" afterwards. Both were mildly fun yet forgettable fluff. I pretty much gave up with it, until last year I decided to check out Captain America, which most people seem to hold as the best of the bunch, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. Fast forward to 2018, and I have the option to watch The Avengers with this little montly project. But being the completist that I am, I decided to finish off Phase I properly and watch Iron Man 2 first.

Tony Stark's second adventure follows his rise to stardom after confirming his identity as Iron Man. But with the rising fame comes the declining health, as he is getting dangerously ill as a result of the reactor on his chest. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of a disgraced, former employee of Tony's father, starts building a similar reactor on his attempt to seek revenge. Also in the mix is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a rival defense contractor, who ends up helping Vanko on his vendetta.

Iron Man 2 has good and bad things. I'll start with the bad ones. From the get-go, Downey portrays Stark as such an insufferable asshole that I just wanted to punch him. His egotistical and narcissistic persona really rubbed me the wrong way and made it harder for me to side with him, something I don't remember feeling during the first Iron Man (but then again, there's not much I remember from that one). Also, his riff with Rhodes (Don Cheadle) felt forced and more like a plot device to have two Iron Men bashing each other, and Rhodes handing the suit to Hammer. Also, some of the crossovers from other Avengers films felt also forced, tacked on, or too wink-wink for my tastes ("Look, Captain America's shield!" "Oh, it's Coulson! But he has to leave for New Mexico!"). Another thing is that Stark's miraculous cure and the new element felt too convenient and deus ex machina. Finally, I give kudos to Rourke for a good performance as Vanko, but he's not really a very interesting villain.

Now for the good things. I absolutely loved everything about Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and not necessarily for THAT reason (although, yeah). Good performance, great fight choreographies, hints of an interesting backstory... she was great. On a similar note, Rockwell was great as Justin Hammer. Really funny performance, without being too clown-ish. I think it offered a nice juxtaposition against Stark as someone who's trying too hard to be like someone else. I also liked the chemistry between Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), which helped soften Stark to me. They really played well off each other and created a believable relationship. That said, I'm not sure the events of the film led directly to having them kiss in the end. It sorta felt like a box they wanted to check, but no big deal. Finally, the direction was solid, even though the film was a bit overlong and sometimes too messy.

In the end, I can say I enjoyed the film despite its issues. I might not remember it a few weeks from now, but I don't regret watching it. Now that I've seen all of Phase I films, if someone asks me "Are you a fan of superhero films?", I can answer "Sometimes".

Grade: A high C+

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A film that won a Best Picture MTV Award
A film from the 2010s



The Avengers (2012)

"Let's do a head count here: your brother the demi-god; a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and YOU, big fella, you've managed to piss off every single one of them."

What Tony Stark tells demi-god Loki pretty much encapsulates the diversity of this superhero team that's trying to learn to work together. And that's the basic premise of the culmination of Marvel's Phase I, to put all this distinct superheroes with wildly different powers, personalities, and backgrounds on the same team; which is probably the challenge of producer Kevin Feige, and writer/director Joss Whedon; to put all this different characters with different stories on the same film in a way that feels "organic" and "believable". I can say they succeeded.

The Avengers follows closely the events that have been occurring in the five preceding films (credit to Feige and Marvel for having the patience to build this universe, unlike DC, who's just trying to rush things). Here Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is building an alien army and using the Tesseract to open a portal into Earth for an invasion. One of his key strategies is taking control of the minds of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and astrophysicist Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) to help him. In order to stop Loki, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his right-hand Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) recruit Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). The thing is that the group has to learn to work together first, before they can stop a Norse demi-god and an alien invasion.

The Avengers has similar issues to Iron Man 2, but the execution and the end result ends up being superior. First, the plot doesn't make much sense, particularly regarding Loki's plan. Second, the conflicts and differences between the group feel forced. The scene where they all end up arguing in Bruce Banner's lab was a bit cringe-inducing, and the way they eventually end up teaming up, didn't feel completely organic. However, the overall execution in the action scenes was so good that you can't help but forgive some of the plot contrivances. Both big fights, the one towards the middle of the film in the carrier, and the final fight in New York, had their good share of fist-pumping, hoorah moments, while also having good doses of humor. I have to add that, like in Iron Man 2, I thought Johansson was the best part. Again, her performance is solid, her fight choreographies are among the best, and the slight expansion of her backstory was a good addition. It's a character I'd like to see more of. Also, you have to love Hiddleston's scenery-chewing as Loki.

I have to give props to Marvel because, even though I haven't been entirely sold into the universe, I can say I've enjoyed most of the films. One can see the care and meticulousness they've taken in building this universe, and I suppose comic book fans appreciate that. The Avengers is not perfect, but I can say is a perfect culmination of that build-up, a spectacle of action and special effects that leaves you with a smile on your face. I'm not sure if I'll continue with Phase 2, but at least I don't regret the ride so far. We'll see.

Grade: B

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Sun Jan 28, 2018 9:46 am
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Post Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Good Timing. I've seen both of those and they are good. Just finished Thor: Ragnarok and I gave it a B.


Sun Jan 28, 2018 9:51 am
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Post Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Thief wrote:
Paths of Glory (1957)

Yay; a great, anti-war drama, Kubrick's first great film, and a primary inspiration for David Simon when he was making The Wire, if you can believe it.

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Sun Jan 28, 2018 3:36 pm
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Stu wrote:
Yay; a great, anti-war drama, Kubrick's first great film, and a primary inspiration for David Simon when he was making The Wire, if you can believe it.


Yeah, I read that. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Both feature the middle and lower men being crushed by the institutions that are sworn to protect them.

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Mon Jan 29, 2018 3:06 am
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Post Re: Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018

Stu wrote:
Kubrick's first great film

The Killing is also great.


Mon Jan 29, 2018 3:15 am
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