Category: movie reviews

Screen Size Matters: Bullitt

I first watched Bullitt probably around . . . fifteen years ago? Give or take. I was on a classic movie kick, and I’d heard a lot of great things about the movie, so I checked it out. As I recall, I watched it on my computer screen. It was . . . just okay. I remember telling people I thought the car chase wasn’t all it was hyped up to be. That it action scenes have come a long way since then.

If it weren’t for Daniela’s list that I made her, I probably wouldn’t have watched Bullitt again. However, it was on there, and so last night we sat down to watch it. (Slight aside for a moment to plug HBO Max. I know there are a lot of movie streaming services out there, but I’ve really been impressed with HBO, mainly because of their Turner Classic Movies hub. There are always a slew of really good movies to be found there. Are they the newest? No, but they’re excellent and well worth your while.)

Watching Bullitt on a 105″ screen was a much different experience than watching it on a 13″ screen. Sure, in theory screen size is all relative. If you put a 13″ screen close to your face, isn’t it about the same size as a 105″ screen further away? Yes, and yet definitely no.

For one thing, I was able to really appreciate the unusual camera angles and creative shots that went into the movie. It won an Oscar for Film Editing. It’s directed by Peter Yates, who actually began as a professional race driver, interestingly enough. The plot is well-written, and the soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin (of Mission Impossible theme fame) was excellent. But most of all, seeing the car chase on the big screen just made it feel much more immediate. It’s filmed in San Francisco, and some of the driving in it is just awesome. It helps that the entire movie takes a very realistic approach to everything, so when the action scenes come, they bring a much bigger punch.

Overall, I gave it an 8/10, which is much better than what I remember it being.

This is also a reminder that seeing movies in actual theaters is even better than seeing them in a home theater. Again, I get the whole “size is relative” argument. But which would be more impressive: seeing a 50 foot colossus from 500 feet away, or seeing a 5 inch action figure from 5 inches away? My proportions might be off, but you get the picture. You can tell your brain “it’s basically the same size” as much as you want, but in the end, you’re not fooling anyone. Maybe if you could watch it in VR, you might be able to create the same sort of effect, but for now, I’m really looking forward to hopefully getting out to the movies again this year.

Marvel movies demand it.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: The Four Feathers (1939)

Daniela and I have been working our way through different movies some more, and the evolution of pacing in movies is an issue that I keep seeing pop up in some of the older movies. Today’s case in point is the 1939 film, The Four Feathers. It’s got a 7.5 on IMDB and is a good movie at heart, but it’s got several issues with pacing that really bring it down in my book, simply because film has gotten better at keeping a story going in the 80 years since this movie came out.

In the film, a man resigns his post in the army right before Britain goes back to war in the Sudan. He gives many sound reasons for wanting to be done, but he eventually admits his main one was that he was scared of going to war. Four of his friends each send him a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. He decides to earn his way back into their good graces by proving he’s courageous after all.

There are some things about the movie I really enjoy. In the course of the film, one of his friends goes blind, and the main character ends up saving his life, but never reveals it was him who saved it. There’s a scene where this is revealed, and it’s really moving and well done. You can also tell that a lot of effort went in to making the film as realistic and engaging as possible (for it’s time.)

But there are a slew of things that drag the film down. Long stretches where they do little other than show riders on horses racing to battle, or people pulling ships up a river. Some of the characters’ actions just aren’t well conveyed, so they do things that don’t make sense, which can make them come across as dense. These days, action movies have learned enough about how to tell a compelling story that they’d be able to show the same things happening in a fraction of the time, leaving more room for real tension and suspense to flourish.

I’ve seen the movie was remade with Heath Ledger in the starring role, and I think I’m going to have to give it a try, just to see what they did with it. I know very often people accuse Hollywood of making pointless remakes, but there are definitely films where a remake can bring a movie to a new audience successfully.

But how do you review a film like this one? To me, I have to stick with using the same metric I use to evaluate any movie. Grading it on a curve doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Yes, it took place much earlier in history, and so it’s at a disadvantage of sorts, but it’s still just plain boring in many parts. (This is the same beef I have with Citizen Kane. I can recognize the huge influence it played on the future of film while at the same time admitting it’s just not very captivating by today’s standards.) In the end, I gave this one a 6.5/10, which was a let down. I’d seen it before years ago, and I remembered it being much better.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Retro Star Wars Movie Review: Caravan of Courage

Look. Things were different when I was growing up. We didn’t have fancy things like a whole Star Wars universe. We had Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and then we finally got Return of the Jedi too. (I was five when it came out.) There were rumors of some kind of Christmas special that had appeared at some point, but other than that, that was the extent of our Star Wars options. If we wanted lightsabers, we could use the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper. And we were happy, dagnabbit.

Later on, other things came out. Things like the Timothy Zahn sequel books to the movies. Prequels. All that jazz. Until we arrive to the present day, where Star Wars is a veritable force in the universe.

But if you’ll come with me back to when I was a kid, I can highlight another Star Wars movies that was a personal favorite. Caravan of Courage. It was all about some kids teaming up with Ewoks to take down a huge monster thing. There was magic. Action. Adventure. No romance. And Ewoks. As a kid, I thought it was great. We had a copy we’d taped off TV on VHS, and I watched it multiple times.

So imagine my excitement when Disney brought Caravan of Courage to Disney+. Finally I’d get a chance to relive the glory days, when anything Star Wars was better than nothing. I gathered the family around a couple of nights ago, and I gave them a disclaimer. I hadn’t seen the movie in decades. It might be terrible, but I remembered really liking it as a kid. They were game, so we watched the movie. (It’s under 90 minutes, which made it a pretty easy sell.)

So . . . how was it?

Well, MC liked it a lot, so it’s got a target audience that it still plays well with. But everyone else (including, sadly, me) saw that it left a whole lot to be desired. The acting is bad. The special effects are . . . not great, even by made-for-TV-in-the-80s standards. (A few times it was just all too clear the Ewoks were people dressed up in teddy bear costumes. Once you stop being able to view them as real creatures, it turns the whole thing into a comedy.) The pacing was glacial. The writing was really bad. (Though it did introduce a few Ewok terms back into my vocabulary. “Feech” and “Lurdo” being my two favorites.)

It still had a bit of the nostalgia factor going for me, but I was amazed at just how much of the movie I had forgotten. I think all I remembered of it was “kids and Ewoks teaming up against a monster.” And that definitely is what happens in the movie. But it’s all really episodic, with the kids constantly making really, really stupid decisions without any other justification than “kids do stupid things.” As a writer for children and young adults, that was perhaps the biggest let down. The kids weren’t really allowed to make any good decisions and solve problems on their own. Instead, they were the source of most of the problems.

So should you watch this movie? It depends. If there’s literally any other new Star Wars thing to watch, or the hope of watching, in the next five years, I would wait and watch that instead. But if all you’ve got is Caravan of Courage, then . . . beggars can’t be choosers? Don’t look a gift womp rat in the mouth?

I gave it a 4/10, and it probably deserved worse.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: My Neighbor Totoro

We’re still (slowly) making our way through the movie list I made for Daniela back in the early days of the pandemic. (Though come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen the actual piece of paper kicking around anywhere. I wonder if she’s still got it.) MC noticed that some of them were cartoons, and so she’s been campaigning to watch those for the last while. We watched Howl’s Moving Castle, followed by Spirited Away, and last night we finally watched My Neighbor Totoro. This is my first time watching these Miyazaki movies, and it’s been an interesting experience.

First of all, it’s been fun to see what fantasy looks like from a foreign perspective. I am not well-versed in Japanese culture and lore, so it’s certainly possible Miyazaki is drawing on well-known tropes for his films, but I’ve found them all to be unique and interesting. Totoro is no exception. Even describing the plot comes across as different and foreign. Two sisters move into a mysterious new house with their father. They meed the neighbors, both human and fantastical. Adventures ensue.

What I mean is the plot doesn’t really follow any pattern you’d find in a typical American-made movie. That’s not a complaint, mind you, but it does mean you need to watch the film with an open mind and not get impatient. The pacing is different. The approach to conflict is different. To me, that all adds to the appeal of the movie. The way it portrays a culture and worldview so different to what I’m used to. It’s especially good for fantasy, since it made me realize how often I assume the tropes I’m familiar with are the ones other cultures would use. Fantasy supposedly lets us see what other place and peoples are like, but almost all of those places and peoples and creatures and whatnot end up coincidentally following the same tropes Americans have been using for years.

(Case in point that’s more immediate to me: back when I was researching Vodnik, I was surprised how often Denisa would describe what things were like in her folktales in Slovakia, and they just made no sense to me at all. Vodniks are water spirits that are friendly, but they also will drown you and store your soul in a teacup. It feels like a dissonance to me, simply because I didn’t grow up with that story baked into my upbringing, if that makes sense.)

My Neighbor Totoro is a beautiful movie. The animation is fantastic, as with all of Miyazaki’s films. The soundtrack is a blast. What was not so good was the dubbing. We were watching this on HBO Max, and I didn’t realize until after we’d already finished the movie that it was possible to watch it in the original Japanese, so we saw the whole thing with the 2006 Disney dubbing version. It left a whole lot to be desired for me. The song lyrics felt really clunky, the dialogue stilted, and I think that all added up to the whole film feeling off. When I went back and turned on the original Japanese and watched some scenes, they worked much, much better. The voices fit the characters more completely. It was as if someone was over-describing the movie to me the whole time, filling in every little blank for me. I like it more when I can fill my own blanks in instead, thanks very much. Lesson most definitely learned.

(For example, there’s a scene in the movie where the sisters are at their new house. The father tells them to go inside, and then adds “don’t forget to take off your shoes.” The sisters leave their shoes on, but walk through the house on their knees instead, never letting their feet touch the floor. In the non-dubbed version, the father doesn’t say anything about taking off their shoes. They just know that’s what they’re supposed to do, and so they use their knee-walking as a natural way to get around it. The dubbed in extra line explains things for people who need everything spoon fed to them, but do that again and again over the whole movie, and it can mess the entire thing up.)

Overall, the whole family enjoyed the movie. It’s rated G, and it was intriguing from beginning to end. I imagine it would be better on a second or third viewing, once the unfamiliar storytelling conventions are more expected. Overall, I gave it an 8/10, which is probably lower than it deserves, and also likely lower than I would have given it had I watched the whole thing in Japanese. Those translation issues can really throw a wrench in the works . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Movie Review: Wolfwalkers

A while ago, I’d heard good things about Wolfwalkers, an animated movie on Apple TV+. I filed that away, since at the time we had plenty of other things to watch. When I got my new iPad, it came with a year’s subscription to Apple TV+. Thus far, I’d only used it to watch the Tom Hanks battleship movie (Greyhound), so I was excited to be able to put the freebie toward another something in the future.

We watched Wolfwalkers as a family a few nights ago, and we really enjoyed it. It’s a story set in Ireland, about a city that’s plagued with an infestation of wolves outside its walls. The people are scared, and they’re doing their best to kill all the wolves, but they’re failing. It turns out the wolves are being led by a Wolf Walker–a woman who’s a wolf when she sleeps and a human when she’s awake. Except she’s disappeared, and her ten year old daughter is running things in her absence.

I won’t give away more than that. The story echoed Brave in many ways, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, it had a few things that really impressed me. First off, it’s a gorgeous movie, with a hand drawn animation flair that draws attention to the sketch quality of the art. The style was fantastic throughout, and I really enjoyed just looking at how beautiful it all was. The music was also a standout. The story itself was good. Though it dipped into predictable waters at times, it also had some solid developments.

Honestly, one of the things I liked most about it was that it wasn’t done by Disney or Pixar. We watched Soul a while ago as well. I really loved the movie, but at the same time, it feels like Pixar has got its formula down and really just keeps spinning off variations of the same. Of course, if you like chocolate ice cream, and someone makes your favorite chocolate ice cream, it seems kind of petty to complain that they keep making it, but what if there’s a flavor out there that you don’t even know you love yet? If all you do is keep eating the same chocolate ice cream, you’ll never find it. And worse yet, too much chocolate ice cream can make that lovely deliciousness get kind of boring. Variety is a good thing. Soul was very much more chocolate ice cream. Wolfwalkers . . . was more like rocky road. In many ways it could have been another Pixar movie. It’s definitely working in the same basic flavor. But it had enough significant differences to make it a new experience.

I feel like there’s so much room in animation, but these days the films seem to be dominated by the Pixar or the Dreamworks approaches. You’ve either got heartwarming movies with a Message, or farting ogres and neurotic squirrels. True, you’ve got princess movies thrown into the mix, but I would love to see more flat out adventure movies, or mysteries, or even dramas. But maybe that’s just me . . .

In any case, if you’re looking for a good family movie, and you’ve got Apple TV+, I heartily recommend this one. 8.5/10.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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