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My favourite genre is science fiction. I love films with mysteries, puzzles, non-linear timelines, time travel, visual imagination and anything that makes me think. I'm open-minded to watch all sorts of films though - I also love exploring new things!
My top three films are:
1) Minority Report (2002)
2) The Lion King (1994)
3) The Prestige (2006)
It has been my dream to contribute to the film industry. I also have a degree in Software Engineering and I have been pursuing the intersection of creativity and technology. Previously, I worked at the multi-national company Vista Entertainment Solutions that makes the software that runs most of the world's cinemas. My most recent success was developing part of Living Ticket, a worldwide cloud service that delivers digital contactless movie tickets to millions of cinemagoers every day.
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Questions for discussion: (not every question will be applicable to every film)
- How accurate or inaccurate is this film?
- What is it like to live as this character in a personal sense? Consider lifestyle, goals, society, emotions, etc.
- What would you do if you were their doctor?
- What does this say about the medical/pharmaceutical/psychiatric system?
- Comment on ethical issues, tough choices, social attitudes, patient-doctor conflicts.
Promising Young Woman (2020)
There was room for improvement
I get that this film isn't made for me, and based on the reception of others, it more than satisfied the target audience. As a revenge fantasy, I'll defer my judgement and accept that it succeeded on that level.
But as a film that covers a serious topic, I don't think it succeeded. My main problem is that the film is a mess of caricatures. Every character is not a real human being, just a contrived role. There's "the predator", "the clueless administrator", "the cowardly bystander", etc. And of course, Cassandra as the near-infallible "tough teacher" (it's even in her name!). Every second line is a standard clichéd excuse, as if the screenwriters had a checklist and tried to fit in every single one, no matter how clunky it seemed. Sure, people unfortunately say such attitudes, but they don't spout endless streams of them during every conversation.
I was initially glad about the Ryan character because it showed that normal men and normal lives are possible, and Cassandra might be able to heal. The revelation that he's yet another predator connected to the original crime was very disappointing. It's like there's a whole conspiracy that every single person around Cassandra must be a terrible person who needs to be taught a lesson. It felt too convenient for the script. When dealing with such a serious topic, the audience should feel like they can understand and sympathise with the scenario to some degree, so they can connect it to their own lives. But if the characters in the scenario are too overtly villainous, it creates a disconnect.
Then there's the problem of Cassandra herself. Some commentators have complained that the film portrays men too negatively, like they're all predators (I partially agree, but the women aren't off the hook either). What about Cassandra? She's not exactly a flattering portrayal of a feminist herself! She's obsessive, hateful and hurtful, trying to fix the original problem by revisiting the very same thing onto other women. At times, she almost felt like a stereotype written by an anti-feminist. Some say that she's mentally unhinged on purpose, because she's a victim of the system and it has broken her. But to that I would counter that she's simultaneously supposed to be a hero pursuing her own will, and we're supposed to cheer for her plans. So is she forced by circumstances to punish herself and others in unhealthy ways, or is she the sober one bringing justice? There's no clear answer. This paradox undermines the very premise of the revenge thriller and muddles its message, even though it should have been quite clear from the start.
Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)
What a mess
I'm amazed at how so much happens in this film and yet nothing really happens at all. There's a decent if pointed set-up where LeBron James wants his son to pursue basketball but his real talents lie in video game development. The execution of this story is a strangely contrived adventure where the antagonist traps both LeBron and his son in a virtual world for very thinly defined reasons. That's the main problem of this film - the character motivations and plot conflicts seem very thin, as if the screenplay were unfinished. For example, the backstory of the Looney Tunes characters leaving their world for other movie worlds was badly explained and I was still wondering why they were scattered and why they decided to come back. The skits on the other movie worlds were neat individually, but they didn't add up to much. The thin plotting and aimless animated sketches are a flaw shared by this film's predecessor, despite what the nostalgists may claim, but this time it's too chaotic to be fun and the plot was muddled up.
George Lucas in Love (1999)
Does nobody understand that this is a parody of Shakespeare in Love? Even I got it, and I never watch those films. The overuse of Star Wars references in a university context is deliberate. It's supposed to be obnoxious! And it succeeds at that goal quite admirably. The brisk pace and over the top comedic acting serve the goals of this short film very well, as the rapid-fire exaggerated comedy never stops. This feels like a very early version of the YouTube parodies that are now ubiquitous online.
Black Widow (2021)
A mixed bag
Black Widow can't make up its mind about what kind of film it's trying to be. It shifts quite abruptly from a family-friendly Jason Bourne knock-off to a parodic spy family comedy to a nonsensical cartoon plot. The beginning promises a generic and intense action movie which fails as soon as the protagonists display completely invincible durability, negating any tension. The second act is by far the best part of the film and brings together the family members back together. Great scenes like the prison escape sequence, Yelena's distraught longings for a family and the ramblings of Red Guardian really deepen the emotional core and relationships of the characters. The third act is mind-numbingly absurd as it escapes its grounded spy movie feel and transcends into traditional Marvel territory. Any pretense of hard-hitting action and emotion give way to overly obvious green-screening, unnecessary monologues, inexplicable sky fortresses, freefall fights and legions of girl drones controlling current events around the world. I'll take the sisterly banter and skip the mind-controlled pigs, please.
Impressive character development and creativity
This is the creative swerve I've been long awaiting from Marvel. The characters of Wanda and Vision, in the past relegated ta a bizarre and obligated romance, are given the time and room to be developed into fully relatable characters. The mystery plot blends together many different styles of television within a reality bending Truman Show style conspiracy. The mind bending revelations and confusing episodes all relate to an emotional core that extends the inner life of Wanda beyond the cardboard cutout character she is in the movies. The main flaw, as far as I am concerned, is the cartoonish SWORD antagonist that seems to exist just to be evil and introduce far too many characters. Once we got to Hayward, White Vision and Agatha all threatening the family, the sense of intimate grief is lost and the series devolves into a thinly plotted blockbuster yet again.
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (2021)
Improvement on the original
This film takes the elements from the original film and improves on it in every way. It's incredibly self-aware about the reception and flaws of its predecessor, toning down the slapstick, exposing how irresponsible the mischief is, and focusing on the family dynamic. This is even lampshaded directly with the publishers of the book trying to make it more marketable, which ends up being a paradox. The characters realise that the changes are ruining the core heart of the story, yet the film itself actually incorporates the changes suggested by its villains. While clever and funny, this conflict would probably go over the heads of its child audience and it takes up too much screentime, as the other plot is very slow to start off. In a more compelling side story, Peter feels scrutinised and ostracised for his mayhem and ends up falling into even worse company. This has an emotional core that would appeal to more of the audience.
The 39 Steps (1935)
Questionable setup but decent from then on
The beginning of this film feels like a student project. There's an amateurish sense of slow pacing, no music or character chemistry and purely expository dialogue. Annabelle just spurts out everything she knows to the Canadian and he decides to get involved in the spy plot, against all sense. Okay, that's odd, but what follows is a decent prototypical Hitchcock thriller. He gets wrapped up in a constant chase which he always escapes, both in clever ways and coincidental ways. The plot ends up back where it began, which nicely rounds up the events of the film. Along the way, there are lots of memorable characters and the tension between the "couple" adds to the adventure.
What If...? (2021)
Great scenarios, but varies between episode
Now that the first season is over, I can confidently say that this series has exceeded my expectations. It uses witty scripts and detailed animation to bring the fans the service they've been wanting and more. Each episode is quite varied so there are many different scenarios and you never know how it will turn out or which characters will show up. The series wastes no time explaining any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and just gets to the point of the scenarios, and also starts to merge the scenarios without warning. This is for the fans, not casual viewers! However, the variety of episodes also means that the quality and tone also vary quite drastically. The short runtime means that many events and battles are cut short. There was a good amount of care to make everything canon and consistent, but there are still some shortcomings and the power/ability of each character seemed to be contrived based on the needs of the plot.
This film is definitely not the sum of its parts. The emotional core of the story can't really be identified among its messy composition - is it the bond between Vivo and Andrés? The tension between Gabi and her "friends", or between her and her mother? The prior relationship between the singer and Andrés? The swamp animals? The new relationship between Vivo and Gabi? The plot bounced between these so much that none of them fulfilled their full potential, even if the individual moments were enjoyable to watch and punctuated with lively musical sequences (brash, but lively). Gabi is quite loud and seems like an annoying comedic relief sidekick elevated to the status of main character, which makes it much harder to watch. This ultimately felt like a series of talented skits barely stitched together. By the end, I was wondering "what was that really about?"
This is not Hitchcock's best work. It contains little nuggets and details of brilliance like the dream sequence and the suspenseful train escape, but these were done better in other films. Instead, Spellbound wallows in outdated and sensationalist notions of psychology that have more to do with plot contrivances and cliches than any real dynamics of mental illness or treatment. Most of the film involves solving a mystery that is hard to get invested in, as the details revealed to the audience and characters are so scant that it feels bland until the dream sequence. The ultimate explanation is something that has almost no relevance to what happened before, so it seems tacked on. The actors don't have much to work with in terms of characterisation. Gregory Peck in particular is just a statue who sometimes faints in anguish and sometimes engages in a bizarre and contrived romance with Ingmar Bergman's character.
While Tartovsky is well known for his slow pacing and poetic cinematographic lingering, this film takes his style to an unnecessary extreme. I appreciated Solaris but it wasn't done very well here. For sure, there are moments of reflection and deep visual symbolism but most of the time I was just watching pensive faces reacting to nothing at all, or repeated pleas from the stalker to listen to his instructions. There was a decent attempt at expressing some deep messages but these could have been done in a much more succinct runtime without any loss of meaning or effect: We all need some magic in the world, we don't always know what we truly want or need, we will never truly be satisfied with our searching, and so on. The uniquely spooky cinematographic and aural atmosphere deserve commendation but this didn't make up for the truly dreadful pace.
For a small scale drama taking place on a restricted lifeboat setting, this film does quite well. With a large cast of characters, it gives them all defining traits and a role to play. All the actors give a wonderfully pointed performance and really sell the pointed personalities that come into conflict within a few minutes, from fear to paranoia to determination to insanity. The prima donna played by Tallulah Bankhead is the true star as her prissy ways and role as interpreter make her the constant focus of the group. The desperation of the situation seems to fluctuate based on the progression of the plot, as their hunger and thirst aren't as obvious as they claim, and they still have time for contrived romantic drama. The special effects near the end are quite well done for the era.
Epic but drags on too long
One of Kurosawa's later films shows his mastery of the samurai film. As he demonstrates across his career, the direction of epic battle scenes is definitely his strength. This time, instead of instilling a sense of heroism or justice, it feels like senseless bloodshed, with important characters killed off unceremoniously or stumbling around in a daze. The character drama that underlies this sad, showing the futility of conflict when driven only by personal ambition. The real standout here is the portrayal of Lady Kaede who really is a demon, instigating all the chaos around her for personal revenge. However, the film does drag on at times, involving too many characters. At least the jester was funny.
It Runs in the Family (2003)
This film goes nowhere
There are lots of little things to like about this film. The problem is, the filmmakers do absolutely nothing with them. Each character has their own quirks and problems that make for funny little moments. However, there are so many characters that the time gets shredded up between them and we never see anything beyond the surface. Not only that, but the narrative tension that drives the plot is contrived to the point of precluding any dramatic impact. The grandfather is a rather bitter old man who is critical towards his son. However, these reasons and backstories are never actually explored. This goes nowhere. The father is a dissatisfied middle-aged man who wants to find his calling in life and is dealing with an affair. However, this all came about with no build-up or chemistry and gets triggered suddenly in the middle of a public kitchen. This goes nowhere. The older son is doing terribly at school and is romantically pursuing a more responsible student. However, this only happens because she does a complete 180 degree flip on her previous repulsion towards him, for no reason. This goes nowhere. The younger son finds his parents overbearing and is infatuated with another student who had run away. The backstory is, yet again, not actually explored in any real depth. This goes nowhere. You get the pattern. The actors do their best with the meagre material they get, and these little moments are sometimes quite entertaining, but overall it feels like watching a lot of first acts of a lot of characters.
Bizarre excuse for a troubled parent
Aamir Khan is known for being involved in films with a clear social message. After the insightful Taare Zameen Par (2007) and 3 Idiots (2009) declared that society is ruining children by pitting them against each other in mindless competition, Dangal (2016) does a 180 degree flip and celebrates ruining children by pitting them against each other in mindless competition. The father deals with his own personal insecurities by living vicariously through his daughters, denying them any of their own development or agency and reducing them to actors in his own personal fantasy that is under his control. In doing so, he shreds whatever is left of their education, social standing and health and dismisses these side effects as not "real" problems. His ambitions go far beyond instilling a normal type of achievement and goal-setting in his children. In any sane world, his parenting style would be recognised as toxic and he would be the villain of his story. Yet he's supposedly doing them a favour because the only other life alternative for women was forced marriage and domestic work. You heard it right, he liberated his daughters from having their fate imposed on them... by having their fate imposed on them. The only reason I rated this film so highly is that it's actually very well made, with relatable actors, exciting action scenes and a clear sense of progressing energy.
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (1988)
Touching nostalgic film but gets too fantastical
This film is one of the most touching works of nostalgia out there. It starts off showing the life of a young boy in an Italian town who befriends the projectionist of the local cinema. This part of the film is very sweet and is full of little moments like the town bonding, the boy sneaking into the projection room, the projectionist talking about his life and more. This all gives a well-rounded view of the boy's life and environment, which feels warm and true to life. The acting of the boy and the projectionist must be commended for a sense of genuine warmth. After a time skip, the young boy becomes a young man who takes over the projection booth. By this point, the repetition of the extended director's cut really starts to show badly. His desperate attempts at romance come across as annoying to watch. This really leads to confusion by the next time skip when she happily reunites with him. It seems that not only the past is presented as a fantastical fairytale, but also the "present". No amount of nostalgic rose-tinted glasses can resolve this incongruity.
Taare Zameen Par (2007)
Touching and genuine
The stand out feature of this film is just how genuinely it portrays the world of a child's life. The main character is portrayed wonderfully by the precocious young actor, showing a range of emotions and bubbly energy that permeates a child's life. His oppressive environment is also shown in a relatable way, as the harsh teachers, laughing students and "perfect" brother seem to develop their reactions naturally and not through contrived exaggerations like in Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995). The art teacher follows the same progression as he is a realistically cheery fellow who we really believe could lift this boy out of his funk. This sort of character runs the risk of seeming like a perfect saint who exists just to be perfect and solve everyone's problems, but Aamir Khan portrays him as simply someone with concerns who can bring out the best in people. All the little imaginative moments showing Ishaan's perspective were a joy to watch. The runtime and musical sequences needed heavy trimming, but other than that, this is one of the best children's films I've seen.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Overly padded and distorted WWII film
As far as historical WWII films go, this one is oddly distorted in its presentation. The sanitisation of the prison conditions means that forced labour can be reduced to a minor squabble between civilised men. This part of the film was overly padded and extremely tedious to watch. I couldn't care less for the ramblings of an unrealistically spirited pedant bargaining his social capital in an unrealistically lenient prisoner of war camp. The second half of the film with the mission to detonate the bridge was much more interesting to watch, as it moves along with a fast pace, has sufficient tension and has more of a real relationship to history.
I fell asleep
This is Epic Rap Battles of History writ large, which might work for a short video but wears off after a while. So the writing, singing and dancing is very talented, I won't deny that. However, the "plot" is chopped up into so many disparate episodes and tracking so many characters that it becomes a mess to keep track of. Most of the time, I barely had any idea of who was who, and who they were talking about.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Slow burner but pays off
This film starts off slow, with a rather ill-defined plot centred around a disheveled man stumbling around the desert who is picked up by his brother. Like the brother, we find ourselves quickly frustrated by the mystery surrounding the man's past, but it eventually gets revealed when he integrates into society again. The subtle friction he causes with his son and brother accentuates just how out of touch he is. The acting of this depiction is superb - there is little overt melodrama and it is all quite subtle, a sense of discomfort that yearns to be resolved. This resolution comes in the form of an almost therapeutic third act where the mother finally returns to the picture, asking just how much we deserve redemption. The ending is truly touching but does raise questions of just how far we can offer forgiveness and whether we are actually better off leaving the past in the past.
Extremely slow and empty
This tedious plodder of a film attempts to express some touching and philosophical truths about the meaning of one's life, told through the story of an old bureaucrat who is dying of stomach cancer. However, the result is very thin and feels empty. There are a few moments that hint at something deeper, like the episodes with the man at the bar, the young woman and his own son. The reminiscence of the song from his youth is definitely a memorable scene. However, these get repetitive and don't add up to much. By the end, we've been served a trite idea that life is short, fleeting pleasures aren't the way to live and true service to others can give us meaning. If only it didn't take two and a half hours to get there (especially the incessant praise from his drunken colleagues which padded the runtime to no effect).
Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Fast-paced con-man thriller
This film is a classic Steven Spielberg film, with fast pacing that never lets down, exciting scenes that take the audience for a ride and family related drama where an estranged father and son try to make amends. Catch Me If You Can really hits the ground running with a dynamic faux-retro animated title sequence followed by an introduction to the father's con-man ways. Christopher Walken does well in his own awkward way, but it's Leonardo Dicaprio who really exudes the boyish charisma needed to bamboozle everyone. His improvised schemes combined with his immaturity lead to an endless series of ever-escalating moments where he twists his plans on the fly to escape the FBI, surprising the audience constantly. Lesson learned: It's amazing what he can get away with just by wearing the right kind of uniform and keeping his head high.
All About Eve (1950)
Sly film with pacing issues
This isn't quite Sunset Boulevard, but this contemporaneous drama hits the same notes. The film is as sly as the eponymous Eve Harrington, seeming straightforward and innocent on the surface but hiding some repulsive Machiavellianism that reveals itself once it has achieved domination. The acting of the two main characters was tragically compelling, with one being an innocent little girl and the other being an insecure has-been. This dynamic fuels most of the film as Eve hijacks Margo's fame to surpass her role, triggering all the futile outrage that Margo can muster. The other characters are pawns in her game but show their own schemes later on, demonstrating the wit of the script. The main problem with the film is the pacing, as it really drags at times and the amount of characters and talking seemed excessive (why did Marilyn Monroe really need to be there?).
Intelligent but tiresome
This film's entire conceit lies in the plots between the protagonist's family and the corrupt police force. The sneaky cat-and-mouse game stretches them to their limits as they attempt to outmaneuver each other in more and more daring ways. The schemes are intelligent and demand close viewing, as more is revealed gradually throughout the film, culminating in surprising plot twists near the end. However, the film relies too much on revealing the family's scheme and it gets tiresome to watch the same thing over and over - how many times can I see someone buying "pav bhaji" to get receipts? The characters seem to fulfil only the most basic archetypes - stoic family man, brutally corrupt cop, weeping wife, evil stalker (who, by the way, was too dumb to live) and so on. Although the film had good points, its runtime leaned too heavily on the same clever schemes at the expense of character development and other necessities.
North by Northwest (1959)
Hitchcock does James Bond
As trite as the comparison is, this really is a prototypical James Bond with an Alfred Hitchcock flair. I wouldn't be surprised if the early James Bond films were in fact based on North by Northwest. The protagonist is a sharp advertising executive who has been thrust into the world of espionage. Played wonderfully by Cary Grant, he is at first reluctant and frustrated but later has his fun with the scenario, offering suave one-liners and exciting action scenes. The film takes its time to set up the scenario and the characters, offering a richer experience than modern action movies. The sneaky escapes, character interactions and subterfuge make the film very rewarding to watch as there is so much hidden meaning to everything. One star off for obvious plot holes though.