Category Archives: Spoilers Below The Fold

Reviews that talk freely about the plot and may spoil surprising twists. The initial sections of the posts do not contain spoilers, however.

Heathers (1988)

I’ve heard Mean Girls (2004) referred to as a watered-down Heathers in the past, though I hadn’t seen the latter film until now. I can kind of understand the comparison. For example, both movies take place in the milieu of a bullying-infested high school, include a lot of made-up slang still quoted by people who’ve seen the films, and feature a school assembly that attempts to bring the pupils closer together and become more empathetic. In Mean Girls, the initiative comes from a well-meaning authority figure whose idea ultimately proves cathartic, even if the scene is played for laughs a little bit. Its counterpart in Heathers stems from a deceptive teacher out to aggrandise herself (or at least her philosophy), and it’s completely ineffective. This is symptomatic of the different approaches the two movies take.

Despite its broad comedy overall, Mean Girls is sincere in its depiction of the lead character falling in with a bad crowd and trying to redeem herself, and the titular clique is shown more as misguided and a product of their environment than as evil. The audience and maybe the characters may want the queen bee dead on occasion, but in the end she is more to be pitied than to be murdered. The 1988 version of Regina George, Heather Chandler (one of three Heathers forming a clique), is more openly malicious, less shaded… and actually dead after a few scenes, killed by protagonist Veronica (Winona Ryder) and her psychopathic boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater). Continue reading

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

“Through readiness and discipline,
we are masters of our fate.”

The exposition for this film (which is more prominently labelled Live. Die. Repeat. on the Blu-ray cover, the tagline from the posters, but retains the Edge of Tomorrow title in the credits), starts even before studio logos have cycled through, with tiny clips of TV coverage explaining that tentacly and clairvoyant aliens have overrun much of Europe and that only the development of new battlesuits has stopped them from crossing over to Britain (and, ultimately, the rest of the world).

Tom Cruise plays William Cage, a US military officer whose job is not to fight, but to disseminate propaganda about the war effort on television talk shows. When a general orders him to cover a large-scale invasion of France from the front, Cage reveals his cowardice and lack of compassion for regular soldiers. All his attempts to weasel out of the assignment achieve, though, is a deployment to the very tip of the charge. Without his rank or job protecting him, and because the enemy somehow knows of the surprise attack in advance, Cage promptly… dies. Horribly. Within minutes of touching down.

And then he wakes up again, a day earlier, with the memories leading up to his death intact. The reason: he came in contact with one of the aliens’ blood during his death. But nobody believes him, so on to battle he goes… to die again. And again. He knows what’s coming, to a degree, but no matter how he changes his ever-renewing present, he still always winds up dead. Continue reading

M (1931)

M announces from the get-go what the film is going to be about. Before we even see a moving image, we hear a child counting out a playmate with a gruesome rhyme about a bogeyman who will soon come grinding down those present. A woman who overhears the kids cusses them out, but that only stops them until she’s out of sight, upon which they resume their game. To them, it’s abstract entertainment with no connection to real life, a naivety that carries through the rest of the film. To her, it’s a reminder of the very real threat of a serial child murderer (played to great effect by Peter Lorre) on the loose in Berlin, then one of the largest cities in the world.

This beginning also signals the importance of sound to the internal structure of the film, one of Germany’s first using the new technology. There is no non-diegetic music, something that would have been weird for a silent movie, much less one that could finally play back the same background music in synch in every cinema showing it. In fact, there are even stretches of the film that are fully devoid of any sound: no music, no speech, no effects. Those are quite eerie, certainly for a modern viewer not used to complete silence in films, especially when briefly broken by individual sound effects. The lack of non-diegetic music also accentuates every moment in which music is being heard, mainly in the form of whistling. Most prominently and famously, Hans Beckert, the killer, whistles a portion from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt (1876) when in pursuit of his compulsion; while not heard in its entirety, only in broken segments, the full piece is played ever faster and more chaotic until its conclusion, a fitting melody for a man forced to kill by his inner demons. Continue reading

She’s All That (1999)

Zack (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the most popular guy in a California high school, is dumped by Taylor, his shallower, female equivalent, shortly before graduation. Eager to prove both that he’s over her and that he still has a way with the ladies, he agrees to a bet: he is to turn a girl on the lower social rungs of school into the prom queen within a few weeks. The young lady picked is Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook), daughter of a single-dad pool cleaner, aspiring artist and standoffish loner with few friends except for a romantically non-threatening heavyset boy who would probably be depicted as gay in a modern film (cf. Mean Girls).

With a little bit of squinting, this premise is recognizable as a take on Pygmalion (both the Greek myth and George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play, which itself formed the basis for My Fair Lady). But it’s quite remarkable that, despite the supposed march of progress since then, Shaw’s circa-turn-of-the-century Eliza Doolittle remains the most feminist of the popular Galateas (the figurative statue turned into a real woman by Pygmalion). Continue reading

Elf (2003)

According to a (relatively) recent article on the AV Club, Elf is one of the few Christmas classics of the last decade. I hadn’t seen it before, so I decided to remedy that. It says a lot about how little spare time I’ve recently had that, when I finally sat down to watch the film, winter’s last snow had long melted away, and the proper review based on my notes wasn’t written until mid-summer. Maybe I shouldn’t have waited that long. Seasonally-appropriate temperatures might have made me appreciate this rote holiday film more than I actually did.

The plot revolves around Buddy, a human who grows up with elves at the North Pole after crawling into Santa’s bag as a baby. When it is, at some point, no longer deniable that he’s not actually an uncommonly tall and clumsy elf, he travels to Earth to find his biological father. That man, played by James Caan (who for some reason is tied to Buddy’s adoptive elf father, played by Bob Newhart with a completely different temperament, by a similar vocal affectation), works at children’s book publisher, but seems unsuited for the job. He comes across as profit-obsessed to the point of cutting corners because children wouldn’t notice anyway. He’s also a workaholic, though with nothing to show for it, leading to tensions both at home and at work. Initially, he doesn’t want anything to do with Buddy, whom he disbelieves and whom he has removed from his office by security. The audience is clearly meant to root against him here, but really, that’s a reasonable reaction to a crazy story by an apparent crazy person. Continue reading

The Pride and the Passion (1957)

Prior to viewing this movie, I didn’t really know anything about it other than, vaguely, its genre (war film), its director (Stanley Kramer) and its star (Frank Sinatra, since the film had been part of a Sinatra box set). Partly, I wanted to watch it for the rush of experiencing something I knew so little about, but also because I was curious what attracted Kramer, a director more famous for his socially-conscious issue dramas, to an historical war epic. He was his own, independent producer, so it can’t have been a desire to prove to others that he could direct large-scale combat (of which there aren’t many scenes in the film, anyway, unless you count a handful of extras dying of not even to close to being hit by cannon balls) or set-ups more complicated than those needed for an intimate character drama (which doesn’t succeed all that well either, with numerous continuity issues and noticeable mismatched cuts). It’s possible he wanted to prove it to himself (Pride and the Passion earned him only his second credit as director, after many years of being a hands-on producer). Or maybe he just liked the book the movie was based on.

Whatever the case, this is the film Kramer made: Its lead character is a British officer sent to Spain to prevent a one-of-a-kind, gigantic cannon from falling into the hands of dastardly French soldiers acting as proxies to the unseen Napoleon. Anthony Trumbull, the Englishman, doesn’t have any backup at all in his quest, which means he has to rely solely on his apparently flawless command of Spanish, which we never hear, the considerable charms of the actor who plays him, Cary Grant, and the whims of a local militia leader Miguel, played by Sinatra. The Spaniard is willing to help Trumbull get the cannon to a port where it can be picked up by a British ship, but only if he’s allowed to use the weapon in a mostly symbolic gesture, bombing the walls of a city occupied by the French. Said city is far too inland for Trumbull’s comfort, but he has no choice but to tag along and take Miguel at his word. The war during which this all takes place was a real one, if somewhat obscure (it’s the one that popularised the term ‘guerilla’, describing irregular units like the one commanded by Miguel), but both the broad strokes and the details of the story are basically pure fiction. The film’s pretend-Iberian geography is similarly mangled, and that was obvious even to me, who has never been to Spain, unlike the production team.


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Lost at Sea (2003)

I bought this graphic novel solely on the strength of the creator’s name (well, that, and I needed a book to get over the free-shipping threshold, I think). I haven’t actually read any of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s other works, nor have I watched the Scott Pilgrim movie adaptation (2010). But I’ve been interested in both for a while, so I figured I’d dip my toe into O’Malley’s oeuvre with his cheapest available book first before blind-buying the 50$ Pilgrim box.

Lost at Sea tells a modest story befitting its slim size (about 150 pages). Set over a period of a couple of days and nights, it revolves around Raleigh, a teenager on her way back from a trip to California to her first year of college in Canada. She shares a car with three mostly-strangers, acquaintances from her high school who had also spent the holidays in America and more or less accidentally offered her a ride home.

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