My thoughts on: The Merchant of Venice (2004)

When you hear about Shakespeare being adapted to film, you generally think of three plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth. And to be fair, there have been several outstanding film adaptations of all three plays over the years. But allow me to draw your attention to one of Shakespeare’s comedies that was brought to the big screen in 2004: The Merchant of Venice.

The story is lesser known today compared to some of the other plays (this is the first time the play has ever been adapted specifically for film) but the story is no less powerful. Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) is an impoverished nobleman in love with the wealthy Portia (Lynn Collins). Portia is bound by her late father’s will to marry whoever chooses which of three caskets contains her picture. To get the money necessary to woo her, Bassanio uses the credit of his friend Antonio (Jeremy Irons) to borrow money from the Jewish moneylender Shylock (Al Pacino). Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s great villains and in this film he is played to perfection by Pacino as not only a villain, but also a tragic figure.

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The first part of the film revolves around Bassanio as he plans to woo Portia and several suitors who attempt to win the heiress for themselves only to choose the wrong casket. As this is a comedy, naturally when Bassanio arrives he chooses the correctly and Portia is his. It all seems too easy, but I think it’s meant to be that way to provide the audience with some happy, romantic moments before the drama unfolds. The latter part of the film deals with Antonio’s trial before the Duke of Venice. When Shylock lent the money to Bassanio, it was under the condition that, if Antonio could not pay it back, he would have to give up a pound of his flesh in recompense (hence the phrase “He took his pound of flesh.”) I don’t think Shylock actually intended to follow through…at first. But after his daughter Jessica (Zuleikha Robinson) runs away to elope with Lorenzo (Charlie Cox), the moneylender has turned very bitter and is determined to have revenge on Antonio no matter the cost.

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Al Pacino really brings his acting skills to bear in the trial scene, where he (as Shylock) persists in demanding the letter of the law be fulfilled, even when Bassanio returns with twice the money necessary to repay the loan. Shylock firmly believes that the law is on his side (even if his actions are morally reprehensible). Underneath his bitterness however, you can see that Shylock is deeply hurt that his daughter has left him. Unable to accept that his daughter is happy with a Christian man, Shylock firmly sticks to his demand of a pound of flesh from Antonio (I have to point out that Jeremy Irons delivers an excellent performance in this scene as a man who is trying very hard to steel himself for the inevitable but who deep down is terrified of the painful manner in which he will die).

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As this is a comedy, the story ends well for everyone except Shylock. Due to a careful reading of the law, not only does he not get his pound of flesh, but he also loses his wealth and his place in the Jewish community. Despite being the nominal villain of the story, you can’t help but feel bad for Shylock at the end. He pursued vengeance and lost everything in the process.

The film uses Shakespeare’s flowery language but please don’t let that put you off. The play contains two of the best monologues ever written (“The quality of mercy” during the trial scene and “Hath not a Jew eyes?”) and if you give the story a chance I believe you’ll fall in love with the story as I have. I also want to highlight the music of the film, there are several examples of late Renaissance music throughout the film, with lutes, guitars and singing. I really hope you give this film a try, you won’t regret it.

And those are my thoughts on The Merchant of Venice. If you’ve seen it, what did you think of the film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Sailor Moon Super S: The Movie (1995)

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This weekend I got to see the third and final Sailor Moon movie, Sailor Moon Super S along with the animated short “Ami’s First Love.” This…slightly strange short follows Ami/Sailor Mercury as she studies for her high school entrance examinations. Ami becomes obsessed when another student (known only as “Mercurius”) consistently earns the same score as her. It’s mostly cute, but it turns weird when a spirit decides to possess Ami and she thinks the spirit is Mercurius. Still, it’s cool to see a new Sailor Moon short.

Sailor Moon Super S focuses slightly more on Chibi-usa than the other two films. The relationship between Chibi-usa and Usage has always intrigued me; Chibi-usa is Usagi’s daughter from the distant future yet they behave more like siblings when they’re together (I know Usagi is only a teenager right now, but if I knew I was with my future daughter I’m pretty sure it would affect my behavior). At any rate…the plot of Super S reveals that children all over the world are disappearing. In fact they’re being lured away by flute-playing fairies onto large airships that bear them away to parts unknown. Meanwhile, Chibi-usa meets a strange boy named Pearl (who is also a fairy) and the two bond.

When the mysterious fairies come to Tokyo, Chibi-usa is one of the children lured away, drawing the attention of Usagi and the other sailor guardians. A fight ensues, but Chibi-usa is forcibly taken away and the rest of the story is devoted to rescuing her from Marzipan Castle (where the other children have been taken).

I enjoyed this film, but not quite as much as the first two. I’m not sure if it was because of the candy-themed villains or something else, but I couldn’t get into the story as much (though it’s always fun to watch the guardians transform and do their attacks). There’s still plenty of humor to be found, including a moment where Sailor Moon and Sailor Chibi Moon both awkwardly fall to Earth after the magic of the Legendary Silver Crystal wears off. I’d also like to think that Pearl and Chibi-usa meet again in the future (they’re clearly quite taken with each other).

And those are my thoughts on Sailor Moon Super S. What did you think of this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great evening!

See also:

Thoughts on Sailor Moon R: The Movie

My thoughts on: Sailor Moon S

Animated Film Reviews

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My thoughts on: Sailor Moon S: The Movie (1994)

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Last weekend was a lot of fun because I got to spend part of Saturday afternoon watching a Sailor Moon double feature (something I never thought I’d get to say if I’m honest). The theater was showing Sailor Moon R and Sailor Moon S back to back (with Sailor Moon Super S coming this weekend). While I got to see Sailor Moon R for the first time last winter, this was my first time watching Sailor Moon S and I really enjoyed it.

Sailor Moon S is set during the winter break when Usagi and all of her friends are on vacation from school. But…as normally happens with Sailor Moon stories, something evil is approaching from outer space. Princess Snow Kaguya, an ice creature, is determined to freeze the Earth solid and rule as its queen. However first she has to find a special crystal that broke off and fell to Earth ahead of her.

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If you love Sailor Moon you will easily love this film, it features plenty of action from all of the sailor guardians including Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. It also features Sailor Moon transforming into Super Sailor Moon with the power of the Holy Grail. That being said, there’s one moment in the film that I thought was absolutely corny. Just as Sailor Moon and Chibiusa engage Kaguya’s snow henchman for the first time, Santa Claus appears to come out of nowhere. It’s actually Tuxedo Mask in disguise, but the way he comes out with the line “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year” just had me shaking my head. I get that Tuxedo Mask can literally appear from anywhere but…seriously?

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The sub-plot of Luna falling in love with a human scientist honestly made me cry. Having experienced heartache multiple times, I can identify all too well with how Luna feels, knowing that she can never truly be with Kakeru. And when Usagi grants Luna’s wish to be human for one night so she can spend time with the scientist, it made me cry even more!

I really enjoyed Sailor Moon S because it helped me feel like a kid again (when life was a lot simpler) and it helped me forget how messed up the world is right now. I highly recommend going to see it if you get the chance.

If you’ve seen Sailor Moon S, what did you think about it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Thoughts on Sailor Moon R: The Movie

Animated Film Reviews

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My thoughts on: The Death of Stalin (2018)

I’m currently on a mission to catch up on films I wanted to see earlier this year but for whatever reason was unable to. First on this list was The Death of Stalin, a political satire comedy directed by Armando Iannucci (Veep). As the title implies, the film is about the death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953 and the power struggle that took place in the aftermath.

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The bulk of the film consists of a struggle for power between three men: Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). There are plots, struggles to win the trust of Stalin’s children Svetlana and Vasili and political hoop-jumping that boggles the mind if you try to follow the character’s logic. While I can’t say the film bored me, I also didn’t find it particularly funny. Perhaps I approached the film in the wrong state of mind, but the humor just didn’t come across to me. To be sure, I could tell when they were going for a humorous moment (such as the scene where everyone’s carrying Stalin’s body to his bedroom), but I never really felt the urge to laugh. There’s one exception: at the very beginning of the film is a hysterical moment when, just after a concert has concluded, Stalin calls and asks for a recording to be brought to his residence. There’s just one problem, the concert wasn’t recorded! So the panicked head of the radio station makes the audience sit back down and has the orchestra play the concert all over again just to satisfy Stalin (and to make sure he isn’t shot).

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It also felt really strange to watch a film set in Russia with no one speaking in a Russian accent. According to the trivia, this is because the director didn’t want the actors to have to worry about forgetting to maintain an accent, especially if/when they ad-libbed. While I understand the reasoning, it still served as a big distraction for me.

In the end, I don’ regret watching The Death of Stalin, but I also have no desire to watch it again.

What did you think of The Death of Stalin? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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My thoughts on: Arrival (2016)

I have to give a big thank you to one of my awesome Patreon patrons, @AlienPizzareia for requesting a review of Arrival. I’ve wanted to see the film since it came out and this gave me the chance to finally see it. On to the review!

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I knew from its reputation that Arrival had some mind-tripping elements in it, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. At first, Arrival appears to be a typical science fiction film: during a perfectly normal day, 12 alien spaceships suddenly appear out of nowhere on various points around the globe. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a noted linguist, is recruited, along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to make contact with the aliens that have landed in Montana. So far, so straightforward. But once we reach the alien ship, things begin to get weird. There are clear homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey in the scene where the scientists approach the aliens for the first time. In particular I’m thinking of the scene where the scientists (in 2001) visit the monolith on the Moon.

The military (as in most science fiction films of this type) is incredibly anxious about why the aliens have come to Earth, with military tensions at an all time high. Louise is pressured from the start to discover why the aliens are there, but its not that simple. First they must learn how to communicate and this takes up the bulk of the story. The aliens (called “Heptapods” due to having seven tentacles) language is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. They appear as circles with strange designs on and around them, but in each circle is a world of meaning. Arrival probably has one of the most realistic “learning to communicate with the aliens” montages that I’ve ever seen.

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It’s during this time that more “weird” things begin to happen to Louise. She begins having visions of her daughter at various times in her life (actually the film even starts with a montage of life moments, culminating with a premature death due to an unknown illness). The more Louise studies the language, the more of these “visions” she has. They’re more than a little jarring and by the end of the film I was finding it difficult to keep track of when the story was actually in the present.

What really blew my mind though, came at the end of the film when Louise figures out what the aliens have been trying to tell them: they want to give the humans their language which, when properly understood, allows one to look ahead in time. Essentially, one could see the future and change their actions accordingly. It’s a mind-blowing revelation, especially when you realize that Louise is seeing visions of a daughter who hasn’t even been born yet. I’m still not sure how I feel about that part to be honest: if I knew I was going to have a daughter who would die young and there was nothing I could do about it, I honestly can’t say if I would be able to go through with it. But I think that’s partly what Arrival wants us to do: it wants us to think about time and our relation to it. While the pain of losing a child is horrendous, the happy memories remain forever.

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There are some beautiful shots in this film: I particularly want to highlight the first full-body shot of the alien spacecraft in Montana. Seeing it in this huge field with a bank of fog next to it, it was simple and yet profound at the same time, just seeing it there. The climactic scene where Louise is face to face with one of the Heptapods is also wonderfully done. I deeply appreciated that the aliens language was given subtitles for this conversation.

I also need to talk about Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for this film. It’s simple but very effective and very strongly reminded me both of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Annihilation. It’s easily one of the best science fiction film scores I’ve heard in the last few years.

Final thoughts: I’m stunned that Arrival did not win Best Picture (no offense to Moonlight), it deserved to win so many more Oscars than it did. If you haven’t seen Arrival, I highly recommend it, it will be an experience you will not soon forget.

What did you think of Arrival? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day! Thanks again to @AlienPizzareia for requesting this film.

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My thoughts on: Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

Where to even begin on a film like this? Let’s start with something simple: Mission Impossible: Fallout definitely lives up to the hype surrounding it. While it is the sixth installment in the Mission Impossible franchise, it feels as fresh as the first, with twists and turns around every corner and a climax that left me wide-eyed until the very end.

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Fallout is a direct sequel to Rogue Nation and sees Ethan Hunts dealing with the consequences of capturing Solomon Lane alive at the end of that film. Similar to Ghost Protocol (the fourth film), Ethan must again stop nuclear weapons from being unleashed on the world, but this time the enemy is everywhere. One thing I really loved about this film is how it keeps you guessing as to what’s really going on. Most of the characters seem to have their own hidden agendas and just when you think you understand the status quo, the story gets turned on its head (in fact this happens several times throughout the story, my favorite instance coming just before the final act of the film).

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Due to commitments to the MCU, Jeremy Renner’s character Will Brandt is absent from the story, but is hardly missed due to the awesome work done by Henry Cavill playing August Walker (more on him in a minute), a CIA agent assigned to work with Hunt. Simon Pegg returns as Benji Dunn and I think this is the most we’ve seen of Luther (Ving Rhames) since MI:2 but I could be wrong. Rebecca Ferguson also returns as Ilsa Faust and she is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in the series. Sean Harris returns as Solomon Lane and is brilliant throughout. He actually doesn’t say that much compared to his appearance in Rogue Nation, but his words are never wasted.

*WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FROM THIS POINT*

As I mentioned, the story is full of twists, one of the biggest involves the true identity of a rogue agent known only as “John Lark.” The moment August Walker begins convincing his CIA boss that Ethan is this rogue agent, something in me just knew that it was actually Walker the entire time. It’s an old trope, but a good one: the true villain sets up the hero by ascribing his own actions to someone else. The scary thing is, while I knew Ethan was innocent, there was a still a small voice in the back of my head that whispered “but it really could be him.” And that voice is right, Ethan could have easily done these things, as Walker says, he’s been disavowed and betrayed so many times, it’s a wonder he hasn’t snapped yet. And that makes me wonder if the dialogue was meant to serve as a set up for a future film where Ethan finally does go completely rogue. He’s almost crossed the line several times and it would be interesting to see what would push him over the line.

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Another scene that I loved was Ethan (posing as Lark) meeting an arms dealer known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). She was holding a gala in honor of her mother and I bolted upright when she referred to her mother as “Max.” If you don’t know, Max was the name given to an arms dealer/terrorist that Ethan worked with all the way back in the first Mission Impossible film in 1996. According to the trivia, it is indeed the same Max being referred to, making this one giant Easter Egg (and you don’t see that many that reference the first film). It’s also slightly mind-boggling that we’ve now gotten to working with the grown children of characters introduced in earlier films (sometimes it’s easy to forget that this franchise is 22 years old). Assuming the series continues, I have a feeling the White Widow will be returning; she was set up as one of those enigmatic figures that can pop in and out when necessary to the plot.

As for the ending…I won’t spell it out but for a split second, when the screen went white, I really thought the filmmakers had pulled an Infinity War on us. Luckily it turned out to be a colossal fake-out but for a minute I was completely wide-eyed thinking they’d actually gone and done the unthinkable. And speaking of the climax, once it gets going, you will not be able to look away until its over.

The score for Fallout was composed by Lorne Balfe (Penguins of Madagascar; Pacific Rim: Uprising), who does an excellent job with creating and maintaining tension throughout the film. There’s an especially powerful moment that comes at the conclusion of a long chase through London when Ethan is standing on top of a tower.

So in conclusion, where does Fallout fall in the ranking of Mission Impossible films? Well, based on what I saw, the new ranking is as follows:

  1. Mission Impossible: Fallout
  2. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  3. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
  4. Mission Impossible
  5. MI:3
  6. MI:2

What do you think of my new ranking? What do you think of Mission Impossible: Fallout? Did it live up to the hype? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

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Moana “Shiny” (2016)

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Moana “Shiny” (2016)

While I love Moana very much, there is one section that threatens to derail the film (it doesn’t, but it comes very close) and that is when Moana and Maui visit Lalotai, the realm of monsters, in order to retrieve Maui’s magic fish hook. The hook is currently held by Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a gigantic coconut crab with a love for all things shiny (he also hates Maui with a passion). Moana is sent out as bait to distract Tamatoa while Maui grabs the hook, but as this IS a Disney film, the plan quickly turns sideways when the demi-god discovers he can’t change shape like he used to, leaving both our heroes in the clutches of Tamatoa who, at Moana’s previous urging, sings a song about why he’s so fabulous. Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics:

Well, well, well
Little Maui’s having trouble with his look
You little semi-demi-mini-god
Ouch! What a terrible performance
Get the hook! (Get it?)
You don’t swing it like you used to, man

Yet I have to give you credit for my start
And your tattoos on the outside
For just like you I made myself a work of art
I’ll never hide, I can’t, I’m too

Shiny
Watch me dazzle like a diamond in the rough
Strut my stuff, my stuff is so
Shiny
Send your armies but they’ll never be enough
My shell’s too tough, Maui man

For a Disney song, “Shiny” is definitely out there. According to all the trivia I’ve read, David Bowie served as inspiration for Tamatoa’s performance and vocals, though personally I don’t see the resemblance (if you do please let me know in the comments below!). Like most Disney villains, Tamatoa has a very inflated opinion of himself and has covered most of his shell in glittering treasures (including Maui’s hook). But he’s also shiny in another way: just as he prepares to eat Maui, Tamatoa reveals he’s also bio-luminescent (picture the way certain colors glow under a blacklight) and can appear quite scary when he chooses.

“Shiny” also lets a big secret slip out: Maui didn’t start out as a demi-god. He was actually born a human to mortal parents who, for whatever reason, abandoned him at birth by throwing him into the sea (pretty dark but this IS Disney we’re talking about, they’re masters at slipping in ultra-dark moments).

Far from the ones who abandoned you
Chasing the love of
These humans who made you feel wanted
You tried to be tough
But your armor’s just not hard enough

The gods took pity on baby Maui and made him a demi-god. Ever since Maui has sought the favor of humans in the misguided belief that if he just does enough, they’ll love him forever.

The song also has a number of Easter Eggs that refer back to earlier Disney films. The one’s I’ve found so far include:

  • Did your granny say listen to your heart? (Pocahontas)
  • Be who you are on the inside? (Beauty and the Beast and arguably Frozen also)
  • Like a treasure from a sunken pirate wreck (The Little Mermaid, Ariel used to get treasures from shipwrecks)
  • Watch me dazzle like a diamond in the rough (Aladdin)

I said earlier that “Shiny” almost derails the story because the segment is so….out there…compared to the rest of the film. It feels and sounds so different that it nearly takes me out of the film. That being said, I do like “Shiny,” it’s an interesting song that provides some backstory on Maui and also shows off Moana’s ingenuity (she tricks Tamatoa in beautiful fashion by appealing to his greed with a fake Heart of Te Fiti). What do you think of “Shiny”? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day 🙂

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See also:

Moana “Where You Are” (2016)

Moana “How Far I’ll Go” (2016)

Moana “How Far I’ll Go (reprise)” (2016)

Moana “We Know the Way” (2016)

Moana “You’re Welcome” (2016)