Movie Review: Furious 7

Note: This is your spoiler warning. I’m probably not going to hold anything back, so if you haven’t seen the movie and want to remain spoiler-free, stop reading now.
Furious 7

I’ve written previously about my love of the Fast and Furious franchise of movies and, with few reservations, the latest offering lives up to my expectations. Actually, it kind of exceeded them. I talked a bit about this on Episode 21 of Pale Blue Geek, but I want to go into a bit more depth.

I read a spoiler-free discussion of Furious 7 before I saw the movie and was aware, maybe to my detriment, that the cinematography was going to be a bit different than the other movies. Unfortunately, this was correct and my only real complaint about the movie was that some of the scenes, especially early on and during a later fight between Vin Diesel and Jason Statham, made me feel a bit ill. Not that they were gross or anything, but the camera work was a bit too much for me. I think that when I watch it again on a TV screen, it will have less of an impact. I am not a fan of the shaky cam at all and while it wasn’t really shaking all that much, there was so much movement that I had to look away a few times. But it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film, which was nice.

I do have one other complaint, which Amanda mentioned on the podcast. It is, to me, very minor and not even really a complaint. A lot of the dialogue was really cheesy, obviously some of it was cheesy on purpose and this was fine. Some of it was cheesy, possibly not on purpose and this was, well, also okay. I don’t mind giving the dialogue a pass — I do wish it could’ve been better (it should’ve been better, but the dialogue in Tokyo Drift was also very bad, so you know, it could’ve been worse), but I’m willing to forgive the movie it’s dialogue because, come on, it’s a F&F movie and all the important elements were still there.

Which leads us into the meat of this review. Honestly, I only have a few expectations for F&F movies — fast cars, things that make me laugh, explosions and family — lots of family. Furious 7 gave me all of these things — and then some awesomeness on top of that. The plot of the movie is simple enough — at the end of Furious 6 we find out who killed Han in Tokyo Drift, which is how Furious 7 starts. Jason Statham’s character, Deckard Shaw, is seeking revenge for the almost-killing of his little brother (the baddie from Furious 6). He shows up in Hobb’s office (Hobb is played by Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock) and there’s a really nice fight, but what Shaw discovers is Dom (Vin Diesel’s character) and his team. This starts him on a witchhunt to take down the F&F crew.

Bad things happen, Dom goes to Tokyo to bring Han home, we have cameos by the main Tokyo Drift kiddies (now adults, but still looking like the teenagers they were in Tokyo Drift. And then, somewhere along the way, Brian (the late Paul Walker) and Dom end up working for (and with) the government — the agent they work with isn’t Hobbs, he’s laid up in the hospital with his adorable daughter (we also have a nice cameo by Elsa Pataky’s Elena, who is still awesome and I wish she was in the movie more), instead it’s Kurt Russell, who is amusing and his own share of terrible lines.

There are handful of really good scenes between Dom and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) which culminates in her leaving Dom, but Kurt Russell brings her back — because the team has to go being a heist movie. Their goal? To rescue a hacker, known only by the name Ramsey, and the computer program (think the Machine from Person of Interest), the hacker designed. The heist is pretty awesome and I won’t spoil that for you — but I will spoil the hacker for you. You see, when we (and Roman) think of hackers, we think of pasty white guys with nerdy glasses. But if there’s one thing you can trust about F&F it’s that they love to subvert stereotypes. Our hacker? IS A GIRL. SHE IS A GIRL and it is AMAZING. She’s snarky and brave and badass in her own hackery ways and she is SUPER fantastic. She’s played by British actress Nathalie Emmanuel and I love her SO MUCH.

So,they get Ramsey, but they don’t have the device she created and so they have to go to Abu Dhabi because of course they do. Stuff happens, fights happen (Letty gets to be awesome fighting other ladies YET AGAIN) and cars happen, because this is F&F of course. They get the device, they try to take down Shaw and fail (because of course he’s prepared, he’s not dumb). And it turns out that he’s teamed up with Tony Jaa* (Kiet) and Djimon Hounsou (Mose Jakande) who were Ramsey’s original kidnappers.

So now all the baddies are working together and so the crew decides to go back to the States and fight them on home turf. Drama happens. Things blow up. The good guys win and The Rock has a giant gun and I really wanted him to punch the drone, but he didn’t. And those are all the spoilers for the end of the movie because I have to leave something to the imagination.

That brings us to the very end of the film. Throughout the movie, you almost felt like Paul Walker’s Brian was going to die. That didn’t happen, some people think it would’ve been crass, I wouldn’t have minded. But what does happen is that Mia (Dom’s sister and Brian’s wife) is pregnant with the couple’s second child and they decide to give up racing/etc in favor of raising their family away from the violence of street racing/catching bad guys/etc. Obviously this isn’t the last of the F&F movies to be made, but it is the last for Paul Walker. So, after the lovely beach scene where the three is watching Brian, Mia and little Jack, we get a nice, long look at the faces of the crew. Everyone is really, really sad — because we’re leading into the tribute to the late Paul Walker.

Obviously I was already crying as soon as the beach scene started. It was heartbreaking (I was really upset when Paul Walker died in 2013, I can’t believe it’s been that long). So, at the end of the movie they had Dom drive off and then Brian catches up to him and is like, are you really going to leave without saying goodbye? And I’m sobbing so hard now, because of course I am. And then they drive off and we fade into clips of Brian in the previous movies and MY HEART HURTS, Y’ALL. It hurts. I cry too loud and I don’t care.

If you want to see gifs from the final scene, check out this link sent to me by my lovely dad.

For more on the new director of the movie, check out this link:

  • From Evil to Diesel: “Furious 7” Director James Wan on bringing insidious skills to an action franchise. (Fast Company/Co.Create)

So, what’s my verdict? Even if you haven’t seen any other F&F movies (which you should, if you haven’t), you can go see and totally enjoy Furious 7. It’s a fun ride (ha ha) and while the acting/etc isn’t the best, it’s hard to care about that. The end probably won’t impact you as much as those of us who’ve been watching from the beginning, but that’s okay, too. So, yes, GO SEE IT. What are you waiting for?

Furious 7

Furious 7

*Note about Tony Jaa. He’s Thai martial artist and while the rest of the fight scenes in F&F were enjoyable, his were magnificent. I really need to go watch more stuff with him in it because I really, REALLY loved watching him fight — especially since he spent most of his time fighting Brian (Paul Walker, a student double and/or his brother) who is not nearly as experienced. Imagine me swooning a tiny bit, okay?

The Wednesday Four (04/08/15)

Trying again to do links posts. Maybe this time it’ll work! Hopefully, every week, I’ll share four of the most interesting links I’ve run across. We’ll see how long it lasts. Also, keep your eyes on this blog, I’m going to try to use it more and more. Onto today’s links:

A note about the fourth link. I’m a huge fan of Bong Joon Ho’s flims (the only one most of you might’ve watched is Snowpiercer) but I would recommend any of the films he’s directed (except for Barking Dogs Never Bite, because I haven’t seen it). The Host is (or was) on Netflix, I think Mother might be on it, too. But if you can, I would highly, highly recommend Memories of Murder, it is excellent in every way.

The Fast and The Furious Franchise (or why Sarah loves these movies)

The Fast and The FuriousOver Easter/Passover weekend this year, my dad and I watched four of the seven F&F movies. Why? Well, because we could! Okay, that’s not entirely true. I can’t remember how the topic came up, but what I do know is that I read this link to my dad. It’s basically a girl who (like me) is trying to get her dad to give the F&F franchise a chance, which makes it even more fun that I read it to my dad. It must’ve worked, because on Thursday night (April 2) we sat down and watched The Fast and The Furious aka the first movie.It was really enjoyable, actually! And it’s been so long since I’ve watched all these movies, it was pretty great. But what made it even more fun was that I got to watch them with my dad, who’d never seen them before.

I made the executive decision that we would skip 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift (I’ll return to that one, though) in favor of all the Vin Diesel + Paul Walker movies. Which means we watched 1 and 4-6 and it was GLORIOUS. No, really. IT WAS. I cannot wait for Furious 7 (maybe sometime this week! hopefully!). But, the point at hand is why do I love these movies? You could go read that link above and that would explain a lot of it (most of it), but I want to add something.

You know, a lot of people grew up with the Harry Potter movies, they watched the kids grow up as they themselves did. And, in a way, that’s a tiny bit of how I feel about the F&F movies. Why? Well, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because back in 2001 I was living at home, I’d graduated from undergrad the previous year and didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. And I basically saw all of these movies, most of them in the theater, as they came out. A friend of mine and I have gone to see a bunch of them, too. And every time they mention there’s going to be a new one, I get a little thrill.

When Paul Walker died, it was heartbreaking for me, as a fan (let’s not talk about how hard it hit the cast of the F&F movies), because I’d fallen in love with the found family of the F&F franchise. I liked these characters and their ridiculous and totally unrealistic antics. But at the same time the thing that binds them together — that makes these movies work even though they aren’t grounded in reality, is the whole theme of family — found family as the movies (and that link) explicit show us. The main characters of F&F are diverse in every way and they are all amazing and work together in such a fantastic way that they just make you root for them, even when they’re stealing cars and getting into fights.

Note: Spoilers for all the movies (except 7) in this paragraph. You can skip to the next one.

And so when we lose Letty in four (ignoring that she’s not really dead), it SUCKS. We lose Han in 3, but it doesn’t hurt as much as it will. Why? Because Han’s in 4-6. He’s THERE. He’s alive and he’s amazing. But in six he loses Gisele and that is awful and then we get that scene in the credits, which is “from” Tokyo Drift where we find out who and why Han was killed, it is equally terrible. Because we’ve grown to care for both Han and Gisele. Hey, at least Gisele wasn’t fridged, so we can be thankful of that fact. But it still sucks.

Note: End of spoilers.

I don’t know how they’re going to deal with Paul Walker’s death — I heard that they do a good job (there’s a link in next week’s post that talks a bit about it and maybe I’ll review the movie after I see it) and that’s all I can ask. It’s going to be hard — it was hard watching the first movie, to be honest, knowing that he’s dead. Actually, it was hard watching all of them know that Brian’s not going to be around for the ones after 7. That being said, if 7 is as enjoyable as people seem to think (at least so far) then I want more of them. Fast and Furious 6/Furious 6

I love the F&F franchise and why not? It’s big on everything I love (in an odd way, similar to all those John Woo movies I love: bromance, hijinks and two gun action, with the added bonus of totally awesome ladies). If you think the F&F movies are just dumb, bro-y, car movies, you’re wrong. Sure, they’ve got the scantily clad ladies and the big cars. But they also have ladies who are awesome, a SUPER diverse cast (who are also awesome) and a focus on what’s important — family. What’s not to love?

Go see the movies. Don’t be ashamed. You should love them as much as I do. They’ve got something for everyone. I promise. Also, where else can you see Vin Diesel and The Rock sharing the same screen and being bromancey? No where else. It’s worth it, just for the two of them (The Rock shows up in Fast Five). Go forth and enjoy!

Links: 7/25 – 8/01

Sometimes the real world isn’t a very nice place to be. But there are some nicer things in here, like the costumes of Wong Kar Wai movies, tiny corporate logos and a Godzilla sequel in the works.

In my entire career, I’ve never seen a worse week of international violence: It’s been a week from hell. +  In 15 years of covering conflict around the world, I can’t recall another seven-day period when there were as many acts of war and terrorism, in as many places, as we’ve seen this week. (Quartz)

When It’s Bad to Have Good Choices: It may not surprise you to learn that healthy, well-fed people in affluent countries are often unhappy and anxious. But it did startle Zbigniew Lipowski when he came to a full realization of this fact. He had emigrated to North America from Dublin, in 1955, and, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, was put in charge of the psychiatry practices at two Montreal hospitals, Royal Victoria and Montreal Neurological. Why, he thought, as he worked there, would so many people living in such good conditions have so much anxiety? (The New Yorker) Note: As someone with lots of anxiety and problems making decisions/choices, this is one of my favorite articles this week.

Would we be happier if we all vacationed at once? Yes, research says: But what if taking vacation not only made you healthier and happier, as a number of studies have shown, but everyone around you? And what if everybody took vacation at the same time? Would life be better, not just for you, but for the entire society?  Yes, argues Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden. Yes, indeed. (Washington Post)

After Ebola: But as the world’s worst Ebola epidemic yet spreads through western Africa, it is important to remember that we won’t always see something. “The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on this planet is the virus,” the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Joshua Lederberg once wrote. Few epidemiologists would disagree. There is no bomb, no poison, no plan of attack with the potential to do as much damage. (The New Yorker)

Anti-Surveillance Camouflage for Your Face: In a world of increasingly sophisticated facial-recognition technology, a drastic technique can throw the machines off your trail. (The Atlantic)

The Peerless Style of Chinese Director Wong Kar-wai: Renowned Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai has long been synonymous with style, but usually only cinematically—he’s such a virtuoso that every image he commits to film looks painterly. But one of Wong’s less remarked upon virtues is chiefly sartorial: he’s a director whose impeccable sense of style extends to every outfit that graces his screen, and consequently his movies offer some of the best-dressed characters in modern cinema history. (Esquire) Note: I’ve seen 4 of the 5 movies listed (I have not seen My Blueberry Nights) and cannot recommend them more — especially Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love. Of course, I’m biased as Tony Leung Chiu Wai is my favorite actor.

Photos From Above That Show The Insane Divide Between Rich And Poor:  In Mexico City, boundaries between poverty and affluence are very stark. (Fast Company/Co.Exist)

A Plan To Untangle Our Digital Lives After We’re Gone: Ancient peoples sent their dead to the grave with their prized possessions — precious stones, gilded weapons and terracotta armies. But unlike these treasures, our digital property won’t get buried with us. Our archived Facebook messages, old email chains and even Tinder exchanges will hover untouched in the online cloud when we die.  Or maybe not. (NPR) Note: My sister could probably figure out what to do with my stuff and how to access it — maybe.

10 Rare Color Photographs From World War I:  A new book presents hundreds of autochrome color photographs of The Great War, many of them in print for the first time. (Fast Company/Co.Design)

What Corporate Logos Would Look Like If You Shrank Them: Responsive web design is all the rage. What if logo design were handled the same way? Would you still recognize that Levi’s sign? (Fast Company/Co.Design)

How to Kneecap the Thug in the Kremlin: It’s time to treat Vladimir Putin like the crime boss he is: Go after his money. (Foreign Policy)

Comcast Employees Spill How Hellish Life Is on Their End of the Phone: Last week, the Comcast call heard ’round the world struck a major chord with nearly everyone. We’ve all had that maddening phone call with a sales rep who just won’t quit. What you might not realize is that as we’re slamming our heads against our phones, they are too. It’s not they won’t stop, but that they can’t stop—and they hate it just as much. Here’s what life is like on the other end of the line. (Gizmodo)

The App I Used to Break Into My Neighbor’s Home: When I broke into my neighbor’s home earlier this week, I didn’t use any cat burglar skills. I don’t know how to pick locks. I’m not even sure how to use a crowbar. It turns out all anyone needs to invade a friend’s apartment is an off switch for their conscience and an iPhone. (Wired)

How cat photos can reveal privacy issues with what you share online: Posting pictures of your cat to the internet may seem like one of the most innocuous (and fun) things to do. But did you know that doing so can give away the location of your feline and, by extension, you too? (The Next Web)

The Future of Robot Caregivers: Each time I make a house call, I stay much longer than I should. I can’t leave because my patient is holding my hand, or because she’s telling me, not for the first time, about when Aunt Mabel cut off all her hair and they called her a boy at school, or how her daddy lost his job and the lights went out and her mother lit pine cones and danced and made everyone laugh. Sometimes I can’t leave because she just has to show me one thing, but getting to that thing requires that she rise unsteadily from her chair, negotiate her walker through the narrow hallway, and find whatever it is in the dim light of her bedroom. (New York Times) Note: Here’s a rebuttal article which I didn’t like, as I agree more with the NYT article: Failing the Third Machine Age: When Robots Come for Grandma (Medium)

The Sixth Extinction Is Here — And It’s Our Fault: The Earth appears to be in the early stages of the Sixth Extinction, the latest in a series of mass biodiversity losses that have punctuated the history of life on the planet, according to a paper published in Science this week. (Re/code) Note: Very short article, references Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, Sixth Extinction, which I haven’t read yet, though want to.

Inevitable Godzilla Sequel Confirmed, Will Feature Rodan, Mothra, and Ghidorah: According to sources at the Legendary panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year, the movie studio has confirmed a second movie for the newly awoken franchise, which will once again by directed by Gareth Edwards. (The Mary Sue)  Note: YAY!!!! Haters gonna hate, but I loved the 2014 remake, as though of you who know me will attest.

Scarlett Johansson’s Subversive Vanishing Act: Lucy, Under the Skin, and Her seem like strange choices for the star. But maybe there’s a reason she keeps picking roles in which she makes part of herself disappear. (The Atlantic)

No Time to Think: And if there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device. So it’s worth noting a study published last month in the journal Science, which shows how far people will go to avoid introspection. (NYT)

Fear of Ebola Breeds a Terror of Physicians: Eight youths, some armed with slingshots and machetes, stood warily alongside a rutted dirt road at an opening in the high reeds, the path to the village of Kolo Bengou. The deadly Ebola virus is believed to have infected several people in the village, and the youths were blocking the path to prevent health workers from entering. (NYT)

The New Face of Richard Norris: For fifteen years, Richard Norris had a face too hideous to show. Then, one day, a maverick doctor gave him a miracle too fantastic to believe. Richard got a face transplant, a new life, and a new set of burdens too strange to predict. What’s it like to live with a face that wasn’t yours—and that may never quite be? (GQ)

14 Portraits Of College Grads Living At Home: It used to be shameful to move back home after college–a sign of personal failure. Now, because of rising student debts and a sub-stellar economy, it’s a common reality. That doesn’t make it any less weird for a liberated young adult to move back home and experience the childhood delights of family dinners and curfews all over again. Photographer Damon Casarez captures this odd spectacle in Boomerang Kids, a photographic collection of college grads who moved home. (Fast Company/Co.Design)

The NFL doesn’t care about women: In light of our growing awareness of the link between the game and traumatic brain injury, some Americans have started to rethink the morality of watching football. A group of players’ families recently sued the NFL for concealing the dangers of multiple concussions. We now know how devastating football can be when a player is injured — for the player and his family. Another thing we know by now is how the culture of pro football justifies, perpetuates and excuses violence against women.  (Al Jazeera America)

.@HiddenCash Revealed: Making Generosity Go Viral: Give away a dollar, and you’ll make someone’s day. Teach someone to give, and they’ll make a difference for a lifetime.The anonymous duo behind the @HiddenCash Twitter account didn’t quite realize that was the point when they started hiding envelopes of money and tweeting clues to their locations. (Techcrunch)

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

Warning: vague spoilers for the movie, though the links at the end have far more spoilers than my mini-review.

A few weekends ago, H and I went to see a movie I’d been waiting to see for a long time (as in, the earliest mention of it in my email was April of 2013, so I’ve been waiting over a year): Snowpiercer. I love science fiction films and I’d watched director Bong Joon Ho’s classic Memories of Murder (highly recommended, by the way) and loved it. Plus, a dystopian movie starring Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and Tilda Swinton? I needed this movie. Little did I know that it would be a year and three months before I could see it.

I suffered through the battle between the director and Harvey Weinstein. He wanted to cut 20 minutes out of the film (as he did with The Grandmaster, which didn’t suffer as much as it could’ve, though I still knew what was cut). And when you see the movie, you wonder what he could’ve cut and what kind of movie that would’ve been. And then you’re grateful that we’ll never know. Eventually Weinstein relented, doing the film a disservice by giving it a limited release (NY and LA) and then a wider release (larger cities/art houses) before allowing it to be VOD and in 300+ theaters. I’m just happy it made it here at all, to be frank.

Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

Yes, I could’ve downloaded it illegally. And, on numerous occasions, I debated buying it on DVD (either the Hong Kong or Korean editions, but came with the needed English subtitles). But I really just wanted it to come out on DVD. Then I saw it was coming out the weekend H and I were going to Chicago — perfect! Except it wasn’t playing in Chicago. And then I found out it was going to be at The State in Ann Arbor (where H and I had previously seen A Touch of Sin, another amazing movie and also highly recommended). I asked and she agreed to go. But then, lo and behold, Snowpiercer got a wider release.

Instead of driving an hour (give or take) to sit in uncomfortable seats, we got to see it in a theater in the mall between our homes. It was worth the wait (I shouldn’t’ve have had to wait, but that’s a different story). Snowpiercer is loosely based on a French graphic novel (two volumes, one of which I own and haven’t read yet — on purpose) of the same name (Le Transperceneige in French). It’s the story of a train. In a post-apocalyptic world (of our own making), the train must circle the globe in order to keep the people on board alive. At least that’s what we’re meant to believe.

Bong Joon Ho makes us believe a lot of things and that’s part of what makes Snowpiercer so good. It’s what he doesn’t tell us that makes Snowpiercer a great movie. I’ve heard it been called a lot of things, many negative: overly violent, unsettling, disturbing, upsetting and akin to a horror film. It was none of these things to me (or H, really). Perhaps it’s because we’ve seen so many movies that are all of those things. Or maybe it’s because I’ve read so much dystopia that I forgot other genres exist. Or maybe we just went into the movie knowing what we were getting into. Regardless, the movie is those things to other people, just not to me (or H).

Our story follows Chris Evans’ character as our reluctant hero. He has secrets, all of our characters have secrets — hell, the train itself has secrets. This movie is about secrets — but it’s more than that. It is, of course, a movie about class, an examination of our society (the 99% at the back of the train and the 1% at the front of the train). And it’s not without flaws, but even the best movies are flawed.

Yes, there is violence. This is not a fluffly dystopia or a kids movie. Yes, it’s scary if you’re not used to this type of thing (which I’m assuming most of the US movie going public isn’t). There are upsetting, unsettling and disturbing things in the movie. But it’s all worth it because Snowpiercer is the kind of action movie Hollywood thinks we don’t deserve. They want us to believe that it’s too good for us, too smart for us. But it’s not. We’re all smart enough to understand the movie; on one or all of the many levels. And that’s why you need to go see it. It’s okay to cover your eyes if it gets bad (though it’s got nothing on The Raid and The Raid 2, which are two of the most violent movies I’ve ever seen, but really good, though I can only recommend them with caveats). But you should see it, even if it’s only on the small screen (though, like the new Godzilla movie, Snowpiercer is best seen in the theater).

And now that I’ve said my piece, here are a ton of links about the movie.

“Snowpiercer” Should Have Been The Breakout Blockbuster Of The Summer:  Bong Joon-ho’s dystopian masterpiece ought to be the film that everyone’s talking about this summer, just like Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975. So what went wrong? Warning: Spoilers for Snowpiercer ahead. (Buzzfeed)

26 Reasons “Snowpiercer” Is The Best Movie You’ve Never Seen: In pictures/gifts and with some spoilers. (Buzzfeed)

The Snowpiercearound: The Grantland staff is currently a little obsessed with Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer, a should-be U.S. blockbuster currently relegated to VOD and a handful of theaters across the country. (It’s already made more than $80 million internationally, so no need to worry about it.) It’s a weird, thoroughly entertaining piece of sci-fi action, that left us with more to chew on than a freshly milled batch of protein blocks.  WARNING: BIG SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t seen the movie, go watch it right now, then come back here and climb aboard our hurtling apocalypse train. (Grantland)

Snowpiercer review: Train ride through Bong Joon-Ho’s icy apocalypse is one ticket worth buying  (Sydney Morning Herald)

In ‘Snowpiercer,’ A Never-Ending Train Ride And A Society Badly Off Track: The movie itself is uniquely international: Snowpiercer is based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. It’s directed by a Korean auteur and stars Hollywood A-listers including Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris. The movie opened in South Korea last summer. Since then it has played all over the world, and certain Americans have been wildly impatient for Snowpiercer to open here. (NPR)

The Satisfying Chill Of The Audacious ‘Snowpiercer‘: Idea-heavy science fiction hasn’t exactly been burning up the box office lately with films like Edge of Tomorrow and Transcendence. Snowpiercer‘s limited release isn’t going to do much to change that, but this is exactly the sort of ambitious, audacious and uncompromising filmmaking that deserves to be seen. (NPR)

Sci-fi movie Snowpiercer is one of the most political films of the year: So long as the system exists as it is, those who seek to change it are doomed to become chewed up by it. You can say you want to do something about income inequality, but the only thing that will really change it, in Bong’s view, is exploding the order as it exists and embarking upon something new entirely, even if that something new leads to certain death.  (VOX)

Snowpiercer: Snowpiercer succeeds where last year’s Elysium fell short. Projecting the problems of today into a science-fiction tomorrow, it also ties them to a compelling story that keeps shifting under its characters’ feet. (The Dissolve)

Snowpiercer: A Bleak Allegory About Climate Change and Income Inequality—Set on a Train!: Snowpiercer is its own strange, special thing, a movie that seems to have been sent back to us from some distant alternate future where grandiose summer action movies can also be lovingly crafted, thematically ambitious works of art. Let’s keep pushing ahead, one train car at a time, until we get there. (Slate)

 SNOWPIERCER Movie Review: An Incendiary Masterpiece: Bong Joon-Ho’s English-language debut is an exciting, inventive and brilliant masterwork of agitprop scifi. (Badass Digest)

In ‘Snowpiercer,’ bureaucracy is the real monster: But while Bong Joon-ho’s movie is certainly political, in that it is concerned with policy decisions and their outcomes as well as power and bureaucracy, I am not sure that it is in any way straightforwardly progressive. Rather, it draws ideas from many traditions and current controversies. If there is a real enemy here, it is the mindless worship of a preexisting order. (Washington Post)

 Train in Vain: How ‘Snowpiercer’ Became the Summer’s Coolest Movie: South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s sci-fi epic fought its way to American screens — and beats Hollywood blockbusters at their own adrenaline-rush game  (Rolling Stone)

Hurtling along in Bong Joon-ho’s train movie ‘Snowpiercer’: But the real engineer is Bong, and though there are bumps along the way, he knows how to drive this train. (LA Times)

‘Snowpiercer’ director Bong Joon-ho conducts the sci-fi train his way: With “Snowpiercer” Bong has continued his genre cross-pollinations, making a politically minded action movie that deals with real-world issues in a fantastic setting on a scale that is both personal and epic. (LA Times)

Why “Snowpiercer” Director Bong Joon-Ho Should Be Your New Favorite Filmmaker: Chris Evans’ new movie is the English-language debut of Korean director Bong Joon-ho. But it’s worth braving subtitles for the the filmmaker’s earlier work too. (Buzzfeed)

Chris Evans Proves He’s More Than Captain America In “Snowpiercer”:  The superhero franchise star shows off his dramatic chops in a dystopian story about humanity’s desperate attempts to survive a sudden ice age. (Buzzfeed) Note: Less about Evans than I expected, but an interesting read.

Go see the movie. Please go see the movie. We need more films like it.

Staff Review: The Grandmaster

Originally posted on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

Directed by Wong Kar Wai
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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

grandmaster01If you like kung fu movies, then you’ve probably heard of Bruce Lee – you might even have watched some of Lee’s movies. But you may not have heard about the man who taught Bruce Lee, Ip Man (often written as Yip Man). His rank was that of grandmaster and while he’s most famous in the west for being Bruce Lee’s teacher, he has quite a legacy in China.

Wong Kar Wai (known for movies such as In the Mood For Love, Chungking Express and Happy Together) finally released his long awaited Ip Man movie. The Grandmaster is a mixture of fact and fiction. Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays Ip Man, but there are a number of other characters, notably Zhang Ziyi as Gong Er, who are not real. Instead of a biopic of Ip Man, Wong Kar Wai does what he’s known for, creating a movie that is about the mood and feel of a specific time in history (1930s China) and a rather moving character study.

The Grandmaster features plenty of kung fu, but it’s less about the fighting itself than the art of fighting. The movie, while giving us some history of Ip Man, is more focused on showing us how people survived in 1930s China. We follow Ip Man as he must leave his wife and child and eventually go to Hong Kong. And while Tony Leung Chiu Wai acts superbly, the heat of the story belongs to Zhang Ziyi’s character. Gong Er is the daughter of another martial artist, a rival of Ip Man’s.

Her story is central and we flit in and out of it throughout the movie. Gong Er is beautiful, strong and a martial artist in her own right. But she is also a woman and thus she’s forced into sacrificing her life, basically. The scenes between Gong Er and Ip Man are full of emotional and sexual tension. Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi play well off of each other and Wong Kar Wai did an excellent job matching them up.

grandmaster02There are several fights, but the highly is Zhang Ziyi’s improbably battle next to a train. I will not spoil this scene, though. It’s best enjoyed within the context of the film. The secondary characters (Ip Man and Gong Er being our main characters) play out their own stories. My biggest complaint is that Wong Kar Wai made a new cut of the film, before it was ever released and Chang Chen’s character, “The Razor” Yixiantian, is barely in the movie (for a great Chang Chen film, also starring Tony Leung, check out John Woo’s four hour masterpiece, Red Cliff) .

Fan of Wong Kar Wai won’t be disappointed with The Grandmaster. But if you’re looking for something that focuses more on Ip Man and has a lot of kung fu, you might want to check out Donnie Yen’s Ip Man movie. But if you’re looking for something a little deeper, a little darker (in all senses of the word) and much more surreal, The Grandmaster is the right movie for you. Wong Kar Wai’s focus on the art of kung fu is what gives The Grandmaster it’s life, while Ip Man moves the story forward and Gong Er gives it heart. Check it out, it’s a beautiful movie, if nothing else.

grandmaster03

Staff Review: Elementary (S1)

Originally posted on Saturday, 10 May 2014 at ROPL.org.

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Reviewed by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Everyone’s familiar with the BBC show, Sherlock, now into its third season. But I’m guessing you probably don’t know Elementary, CBS’ Sherlock Holmes show. You should! It is amazing.

I know what you’re thinking, this can’t be any good – how can there be an American Sherlock? Well, technically we’ve already had an American Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock films, which are fantastic) and CBS’ Sherlock Holmes is definitely English.

English actor Johnny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes, recovering drug addict/alcoholic and consultant to both Scotland Yard (in the past) and the NYC Police (present). He lives in New York City and although there’s an occasional foray to England, most of the shows take place stateside. Holmes’ Watson is one of the things that makes Elementary an extraordinary show. Yes, Dr. Watson is a former doctor, but she’s not the bumbling idiot of yesteryear Watsons. Elementary’s Dr. Watson remains, as all Watsons do, a foil for Sherlock, but she’s more than just a foil.

Lucy Liu plays Dr. Watson as fully as Martin Freeman’s in Sherlock. But she does what Freeman can’t. She brings diversity to a very British institution and she creates her Watson, not as a side kick or a love interest, but as a fully developed character whose personality isn’t dependent on Sherlock Holmes. Liu’s Watson had quit being a doctor long before she met Sherlock. They meet because Sherlock’s father asked her to be a sober companion for Sherlock.

Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu have excellent chemistry and their scenes together are always brilliant. Miller’s Sherlock is quirky and more akin to Downey Jr. than Cumberbatch’s. Lucy Liu’s Watson is smart, clever and brilliant in her own right, making her a better Watson (in my opinion) than any previous incarnation. Together, they match wits with two NYC cops, Aidan Quinn’s Captain Gregson and Jon Michael Hill’s Detective Bell. Together, the four of them make a fantastic team.

CBS mixes Conan Doyle’s world with that of our own, bring us familiar characters (Mycroft Holmes, Mrs. Hudson and Moriarty, to name a few). But they do so with a twist, a much appreciated modern take on Sherlock Holmes that reflects our world today.

Elementary is much more of an investment than Sherlock. Unlike the 3-episode format of the BBC series, CBS’ show is a network show, netting 23 episodes per season. It’s worth the investment, though. The long-running nature of network shows means that we get more depth to our characters are more involved story arcs that are both personal and work-related. It also means that our side characters often become more than that. I do concede that it’s not quite as clever as the BBC version, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Instead, it’s more alive, more heartfelt and much more real than other versions. Even if you strip away the fact that it is, in fact, Sherlock Holmes, what you’re left with is still an excellent hour of crime television. It’s well worth your time.

Staff Review: Pacific Rim

Originally posted on March 15, 2014 at ROPL.org.

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Review by Sarah Nagelbush, Adult Librarian

Do you love (or just like) movies? Are you a fan of those old school monster films like Godzilla and Mothra? If so, then I have the perfect movie for you: Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.

You may have heard that the movie is stupid and/or not very good. I’m going to tell you, straight up, that is pretty much true. Most of the acting (Idris Ilba and Rinko Kikuchi aside) is passable, the plot is somewhat iffy and the story has lots of holes. But none of that matters. That’s right, that stuff just doesn’t matter. Why? Because Pacific Rim is a whole lot of fun.

It’s not a normal monster movie — the special affects are pretty high quality (if utterly ridiculous). Instead, it’s a love letter to those monster movies of yore. As I said in the previous paragraph, it’s fun. You can’t take it seriously (but you can most certainly get caught up in it, even with the iffy story/plot) and you most certainly shouldn’t take it seriously. If you do, you’re missing half the fun.

Pacific Rim has monsters, it has men in giant monster-like metal robots controlled by men and women (these are often referred to by gamers/science fiction fans/etc as mechas) and it has heroes. From the always inspiring (and totally handsome) Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba) to the most kick ass woman you’ll ever meet, Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi) to the clean-cut stereotype, Raleigh Becket (played by Charlie Hunnam, you know, the guy who was almost in the 50 Shades of Grey movie). These characters (along with a father-son duo, a husband and wife team and a set of triplets) make up a good portion of the story.

And, of course, there are your science geeks (played by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day and Torchwood‘s Burn Gorman). They are ridiculous, equal parts annoying and endearing and the smartest people in the room. And, just because he’s fun, we also have  Ron Perlman as the rather flamboyant Hannibal Chau.

The plot of Pacific Rim, for what it’s worth, is about the humans fighting monsters. Our main characters get in their mechas, called Jaegers. Their main goals are to protect the people of Earth by fighting the monsters, known as Kaijus (kaiju is Japanese for strange creature, but Western culture translates it to monster). There’s a lot of action, lots of violence (it’s all pretty PG-13, though) and a whole lot of comedy.

So, if you want something entertaining, fun and full of monsters, Pacific Rim is for you. Just remember not to take it seriously and you’ll have a really great time.

Movie Review: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

I’ve been watching a lot of anime recently, though I’m not sure what brought this on. I used to only watch the work of Hayao Miyazki (Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, etc) with only occasionally deviations. After all, Spirited Away is my favorite anime, why would I look beyond Miyazki. But if you spend enough time on tumblr, people will reblog pictures and gifs and I’ve run across enough pictures from really fantastic looking anime films that I decided I would start watching more. One of the movies I’ve watched was The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

2011_JMAF_Hosoda_TheGirlWhoLeaptThroughTime_Artwork_800pxThis movie is loosely based on novel (of the same name and which I haven’t read) by Yasutaka Tsutsui. There have been a lot of adaptations, including a live action movie (which is currently available to watch on Netflix Instant and is in my queue), though I haven’t watched it yet. I’d heard a little about the anime and I think I might’ve checked it out of the library in the past, though without watching it. But this time, I did end up watching it and I’m glad I did.

It’s the story of Makoto, a teenager who discovers something that allows her to, well, leap through time. At first she uses it for fun (in the beginning of the film, her little sister eats her pudding and she uses the device to go back and get the pudding). But, as time goes on, Makoto ends up using the device for less trivial reasons. But that’s not really the root of the story. At it’s heart, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is (not unexpectedly) a coming of age story.

There are two other, important, characters in the anime. They are Makoto’s two best friends, two boys named Kōsuke and Chiaki. After school, Makoto meets up with both boys and they play baseball. I really love their friendship as shown in the film, because it’s rare to have female characters who are just friends with boys. The three of them grow up, in different ways, throughout the film. There is, of course, a love interest or two (but I won’t spoil that) and Makoto’s friendship with Chiaki ends up giving us one of the more poignant moments in the film.

While the scenery isn’t throughout the film isn’t as nice as some I’ve seen, the movie is still extremely pretty. The story is strong enough to

Chiaki and Makoto (and some beautiful scenery in the background)

Chiaki and Makoto (and some beautiful scenery in the background)

carry the film, of course, but the art that makes up the movie is what brings it to life.  What I didn’t expect, though, was how extremely hearbreaking the end of the movie was. Most of the film is a lighthearted story about Makoto and the people in her life, but toward the end, there’s a little darkness thrown in that surprised me. And, you know, the fact that I cried through the last 10 or so minutes was also a surprise.

As an aside, I did listen to the English dub. I know, that’s not the cool thing to do, but I’ve discovered that it’s more enjoyable for me, personally, to listen to the dub than subs when it comes to anime. Although it’s not always possible (I’ve been watching Captain Harlock on Hulu and that’s subbed, not dubbed) and I do enjoy watching shows and movies in Japanese, I just prefer dubs for anime.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. And if you like anime, and don’t mind being choked up at the end, I recommend it. It’s mostly lighthearted, though the ending isn’t really happy, it’s oddly satisfying (though it shouldn’t be).

Back after a long absence.

Mao-The-Real-StoryI know, it’s been a while, but I’m back. I’ve scheduled a few posts that I’d written, but not posted, so keep an eye out for those over the next week or so. I do want to try to keep posting here regularly, so here’s my attempt at trying this again. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep this up.

Currently reading: Mao: The Real Story by Alexander Pantsov and Steven I. Levine

I’m not very far into it, maybe 30 pages or so, but it’s pretty good. I photoed copied the pronunciation guide from the beginning of the book because I kept flipping back as I was reading. This’ll save both time and the book itself (I also, of course, made a copy for H, who is reading the book as well).

Music I’ve been listening to: Big Bang, 乔任梁 (Kimi Qiao), Céu, 方大同 (Khalil Fong), 周定緯 (Judy Chou), 許仁杰 (Stanly Hsu) and 潘裕文 (Pan Yu Wen).

It’s mostly Mandopop, with a couple others stuck in there. I’m awfully predictable.

What I’m watching: Time Between Dog and Wolf (kdama), Nice Guy (kdrama) and rewatching Story of a Man/A Man’s Story (kdrama). I’ve also watched The Hobbit (it was okay and yes, it was just okay).

And now, some links of note:

Happy Holidays, everyone!