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The Half of It (2020)
Retooling of a classic
An intelligent update of "Cyrano de Bergerac." Set in a real hole of an Eastern U.S. burg called Squahamish (a losersville where the community has been inured to a high school home football team that hasn't scored any points in fifteen years, yet which plays on), Ellie Chu is the updated Cyrano character, but rather than a nose that doesn't conform, she bears an ethnicity that doesn't conform, a Chinese immigrant in an all-white town, who's either socially bullied by habit or used by her classmates for her high intellect (writing their class assignments for them). Her teacher recognizes this talent but, stuck in a hole as well, allows it to continue rather than hold back the insufferably dumbass senior classmates for another year.
Among her classmates is Aster Flores (in the Roxane role) - a beautiful and intelligent object of desire among her style-over-substance peers, a girl of buried artist interests and abilities with whom everybody wants to rub shoulders but whom no one bothers to get to now, an un-blossomed bohemian within a straight-laced, unchallenged (and unchallenging) community - not so much a girl as an ornament. Her attraction to Ellie is slight, a sense of possible nutrition to feed her starved intellect. Ellie's attraction to Aster is also present, not just because Ellie is lesbian but because Aster is socially appreciated without question and free from bullying, an appeal both understandable and strong.
From out the surrounding social pool of dim-wits steps Paul Munsky (in the Christian de Neuvillette role), a socially awkward, simple-minded, "dumb jock" Christian football player with a crush on Aster (a girl far above his intellectual station), who hires Ellie (at a steep price) to write a love letter for him that'll get him a date. Ellie accepts only because her poor, single-parent family needs the money. Fortunately, there's more to Paul than first appears, and Ellie's efforts to upgrade his social skills is reciprocated by his keen eye (due to having a sister) into upgrading her fashion sense, taking Ellie from drab to acceptable (and not the cliche caterpillar-to-butterfly seen far too often in many popular entertainments).
There a very fresh touch with a ping pong game used as a teaching tool, and transforming the classic balcony scene into texting is a brilliant update into current times (after all, how common is a balcony nowadays?).
There are many contrasts to savor, such as the home-lives of Ellie's against Paul's (single child Ellie enwrapped in the dour and drab shadow of her father's continuing grief, and fourth-son Paul overlooked among volatilely loud and highly argumentative multiple family members. Each sits on the ignored child spectrum but for opposite reasons. The film also manages to marry three-dimensional and one-dimensional characters together without much jarring. (That is indeed a trick to pull off, and indeed it is.) Trig, another dumb jock football player, is the handsomest guy in school and (among the many who pay Ellie to write their English class reports) the dumbest, most arrogant and conceited single dimension of the lot, with no apparent redemption. (SPOILER: It's almost a shame that he doesn't grow as well, but that should be a another story for another time.)
The most surprising word to apply to the film is economy. The film pretty much gets right to the heart of the matter without much waste, without so much excessive expositional fat. Some may disagree with this as the tale begins with philosophic talk (detailing Ellie's thinking process as she writes out a homework assignment), but it's just enough to set up Ellie as an intellectual AK-47 among peashooter peers. The rest of the story gets right to the meat of the matter, and away we go.
On a personally note, I enjoyed elements that brought to mind favorite moments from other films - "Roxanne," "Running on Empty" and "Shakespeare in Love" among them. This will likely not be the same for others, not these films anyway, but it could indicate a pleasant reaction some (if not many) will find in this film - a trigger for wistful recollections.
Among other Under Reviews, I most enjoyed and recommend "Alice Wu does not disappoint" by abbigailohuynh (2 May 2020).
Why Can't Women Think Like Men?
SPOILER: Against the plethora of dramas and documentaries on crime (particularly those that deal in rape and murder), Good Witch presents the perfect respite and counter balance with its attractive characters and small town values, much akin to Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show (but with just an accent on the supernatural). Somewhat dim-witted for the most part? Yes, but overseen by an insightful woman who gently steers the townspeople around her toward pleasant resolves. The veer toward all things good, however, can feel a bit sugary as it misses hitting "obstacles" of logic and practicality, as in this episode where business woman do not think in business terms. Stephanie argues with clients over a flavor combination that they want but she doesn't like. Discovery of a large sealed-off room should provoke thoughts of taxation (paying extra or having paid too much) or new business opportunities (expansion or extra storage), but don't. Of concern is that this encourages the stereotype of men having heads for business more so than women. And to further this gender slight, one woman is caught dating three men at once. If the genders were reversed, the women would get together to teach the man a lesson, putting him through some kind of emotional ringer for revenge and comeuppance. Here, the duped men are so thoughtful and soft about it that they merely lose interest in the woman at once and walk away, which puts this series strongly in the classification of a "women's show." Still, the show works very well as a fine reprieve from some of the harshness and tension of other TV series.
Liar, Liar, Vampire (2015)
The big lesson? Kids are stupid!
Sometimes, for whatever reasons, a movie comes along so dumbed down that it bares no resemblance to any kind of reality. Such is the case for "Liar, Liar, Vampire," in which a bunch of stupid high school girls (and I do mean low intelligence, lack of common sense, self-centered, short-sighted and vapid vixens - all enamored of the "Twilight" book and film series) purport themselves as a bunch of necrophiliac wannabes when they mistake new-kid-in-town Davis Pell ("pelvis?") for a vampire. Smarter-than-others neighbor girl Vi - a malcontent and potential anarchist - decides to help Davis feed into the student body mass insanity by giving him vampire lessons to continue duping their shallow classmates and (somehow) disrupt the current social order by Davis becoming popular. Stereotypical dumb-as-bricks football jocks (cliches all around) retaliate by hiring a clearly pretentious nincompoop vampire hunter to kill Davis. As Davis' ruse becomes known, he turns from school celebrity to pariah, with the lead vapid girl developing a cyber bullying campaign against him to boost her own Internet popularity. A side character named Ashton suddenly develops a bit of a brain (for no reason other than needs of the plot) to support Davis in bringing down the school's queen bee via a public humiliation. (Supposedly, public humiliations are what kids do and respect.)
With the statement that teenagers don't KNOW themselves in order to BE themselves, the film presents a lead character operating at the whims of other, with no functioning moral or ethical compass of his own - wearing an embarrassingly ugly and far undersized sweater at his mom's insistence, following the student body's hunger for a vampire in their midst, blindly becoming a willing tool of a neighbor for social disorder (who remains untouched by the consequences), then following directives from a known enemy classmate to bring about a public humiliation.
For a film whose best aim seems to be in simply presenting something to mesmerize toddlers, the only lesson to be gleaned from all this is that teenagers (or fans of the Twilight series) are stupid, grossly stupid, stupid to the core, only capable of a collective mentality and, yes again, stupid. (As a possible only other lesson would be that having a fantasy life can give you mad martial art skills, as demonstrated by the lead character's nearly schizophrenic imaginary ninja battles, which by the film's end appear to grant him fully developed martial art skills.)
Cast doesn't look bad but would like to judge their abilities on working from a script that has SOME meat on its bones.
Garuda di Dadaku (2009)
Endearing Family Entertainment
For an Indonesian film, this sport story of a passionate twelve-year-old soccer player seems entirely tooled for American tastes, so much so that it looks Disneyesque in the best sense (even down to the Disney detail of a dead parent). The craftsmanship in story, direction, writing, editing, camerawork, etc. is most certainly evident - spot on - with the presentation's only weakness in the story element of a soccer coach dealing with an angry stage-father who thinks his son the be-all/end-all of youth players. Not enough detail comes out beforehand to explain why the tale suddenly shifts to this coach late in the film, but then it's back on track with the kid winding up his dealings with his loving grandfather's deep bias against soccer. In that the boy's best friend is a cheerful, joyous, optimistic, paraplegic soccer enthusiast is an unexpected but wonderful touch - with the film so nicely and inclusively incorporating this character of physical limitations without milking it for sympathy or lapsing into self-pity. It's hard to imagine this character without a strong, fully-integrated future in society.
The Phenom (2016)
Requires the Services of a Good Editor
As my first experience with a film from writer/director Noah Buschel, I worry that his five earlier efforts also exhibit a sore lack of editing. Did not spot any editor credit (other than that of an assistant or something) and believe Noah Buschel handled it himself. He seems unable to discard anything he films (a lesson all great directors learn to do). Cast is fine, but scenes don't join together for a unified whole and often reach points of stagnation as well as present conflicts of information.
Shikshanachya Aaicha Gho (2010)
Child abuse comedy that lacks focus.
SPOILER: Summaries make it sound as if this film is an inditement against modern spirit-crushing public education systems (such as exists in South Korea). Instead it's about an abusive father who puts his large teenage son in a coma then, rather than accept blame for it, scapegoats the incident by publicly ridiculing the existing educational system. The school, in fact, puts no noticeable pressure on anyone; however, everyone - and that is EVERYONE - tells the father he should appreciate the sports-excellent son of average-intelligence that he has rather than the scholarly son he wants. Normally friendly and giving to others, the dad turns evermore and relentlessly nasty towards his son, ending in a violent family argument.
As the son never leaves his coma, the father takes him home, wheeling him about in a wheelchair, which gets distracting for several reason: (1) After two months in a coma, the hospital determines that sending the kid home would be better because it's less of a financial burden on the father. All agree to this, even though it would seem a comatose boy would need round-the-clock care, and that moving him about in a wheelchair while always unconscious could cause more physical harm. (2) The kid never eats nor drinks, never pees nor poops, never needs nor gets a sponge bath, never requires a care-giver nor changes condition in any notable way. He's moved around with an I.V. bottle that's never shown how it's attached. (As far as the audience knows, the kid just sits on the other end of the tube.) (3) During the father's public rants, spouting unconfirmed "facts" out of thin air, he stumbles into the awareness of an actual corrupt minister of education (proving the father's diatribes correct - who knew?) and is subsequently beaten by hired thugs for it. This story point then disappears without resolve. (4) A visiting surgeon from the capitalist United States appears and gives the son a free operation. The kid revives, smiles at his father (apparently with no memory of his dad nearly killing him), plays cricket (with muscles that apparently didn't atrophy in six months of inactivity), and continues along an apparent destiny to become India's next cricket superstar amidst a deliriously happy ending enjoyed by all towards a bright and untroubled future - thereby pulling off a pointless story.
David and Goliath (2015)
a 1026 BC comedy classic
Never knew the story of David and Goliath was a comedy classic till I came across this film. From the muffled microphones when guys embrace, to fast-motion death stabs accompanied by chopsocky sound swipes, to skies rumbling almost every time David speaks (not quite as timed out as saying "Frau Blücher" around horses in Young Frankenstein, but close enough), to shameless soldiers correcting their leaders' perceptual errors, to Baldrick from Blackadder as a Greek poet, to inexpert CGI work that creates several unintentional giants among the Philistines besides Goliath, I don't think I ever laughed and smiled as much through a biblical story as I did here. I will not be surprised -- and kind of look forward -- to someday seeing a musical or dark comedy version of this story. 4 out of 10 if a serious effort; 8 out of 10 for the unintentional comedy. Made me a fan of the entire, mixed ethnicity cast, too (including the one or two wooden actors among them).
Spooksville: Flowers of Evil (2014)
The story has its roots
SPOILER: This story has its roots (if you will) in episodes of Star Trek and Lost in Space, though in no one episode directly. It hearkens in the main to Star Trek: This Side of Paradise (#1.24) in having plants infect humans and mind-controlling them in order to spread out and infect others. (This might also come across as similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers.) It then can be considered to include a nod to Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Naked Now (#1.2) (a retread of Star Trek: The Naked Time (#1.4)), where the infection carries out through the sense of smell. (Sally herself uses the word "naked" a few times.) Those infected walk about with placid smiles on their faces, like in Star Trek: The Return of the Archons (#1.21). Adam's statements about his willingness to sacrifice self to the superiority of plants hearkens to Dr. Smith's far more flowery speech in Lost in Space: The Great Vegetable Rebellion (#3.23).
The action and acting are quite good here. Not so much the usual discernible efforts at enunciating diction, either. Sally takes the lead for a change and is very effective. Adam, smiling benignly, has never looked more the description of adorable (mentioned in a few previous episodes) as he does here. The flowery take-over also has a slight sense of cultishness about it — an adult leader and his flower children followers meeting in a circle in the woods.
Brilliant PC satire
Did no one else see this episode for what it is — a brilliant satire of our overly politically correct society, where short people become "altitude challenged," ugly people suffer "severe appearance deficits," and soldiers come down with "operational exhaustion" rather than shell shock? Mentally enhanced by his NZT pills, Brian's subconscious comes to the forefront in the form of a prehistoric host (Josh-O-Saurus Josh) of a defunct children's show that Brian watched as a child. As Brian's team temporarily joins an elite FBI division that tracks down pedophiles and serial killers, Josh rears his late Cretaceous triceratops head to replace the unpleasant investigation language with nice words "to make the world a better place." Thus, through Brian, we see the world revised toward family-friendliness, where a woman's soft-drink spillage (blood splatter) reveals her playing an air guitar (clawing at her attacker) before being hugged (killed) while engaged in a game of Cowboys and Indians (getting raped). It's well-meant semantic foolishness taken to the point of crassness, ultimately offensive in itself, whose appropriate chief spokesman is that of an ugly, creepy, over-the-hill and past-his-time dinosaur-man. Josh does, however, make one thought-worthy suggestion: Stop giving cool names to serial killers. His solution: Name them something they'd hate, something innocuous like ice cream flavors; thus, the Marrying Man (who collects women's ring fingers as trophies of his kills) becomes Mr. Pralines and Cream. As the series progressed, Brian became increasingly more boyish, connecting far more solidly with his inner child than what initially drew viewers to the series. This episode drives the matter full-speed ahead rather than curtail it, addressing his growing, little boy attitude through the emergence of an antiquated dinosaur personality that'd be better left extinct (yet fondly remembered) while on his road to maturity.
Babysitter from Hell
Possibly the single most inappropriate episode in the entire Power Rangers franchise. It means to match the tone and general story line of 1979's Alien (all but for an alien being shoved down a spaceman's throat), where a nearly indestructible alien biped picks off humans within the claustrophobic confines of a spaceship.
This is not your typical Power Ranger monster, an exaggerated bad guy that can, at times, be downright silly. (Think Elgar in Power Rangers Turbo.) This is a terrifying predator (looking, in fact, a bit similar to the alien predator in 1987's Predator). It strikes from darkness. It strikes without warning. Blast guns don't seem to hurt it, and its victims get wrapped in cocoons like that of spiders, stored for later consumption.
If TV is sometimes a babysitter just to keep youngsters distracted for a while, then this episode is a babysitter from Hell, with every potential for giving some of its younger viewers nightmares or night terrors.
The episode basically fails its target audience by striking too close to home to its Alien source material.