“Death Note” Movie Review

Full discretion before we begin: I have never read a page of the manga nor watched an episode of the anime series from which this Netflix feature was adapted. I’m going to review this with completely objective eyes. If there’s something I don’t understand in this post that you would like to correct or shed light on, feel free to comment below. This psychological dark fantasy was produced on a relatively small budget of $40 million. Though Netflix doesn’t release their viewership figures, it did attract a large crowd at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con before being released on August 25th. According to several sources, at least 10 studios were bidding for the rights to the Death Note franchise as early as 2009. In 2016, after Adam Wingard signed on as the director, there were outrages and accusations of whitewashing in the cast. Basically, it’s suffering the same fate as any Hollywood adaptation of a beloved anime. Nat Wolff stars as Light Turner, a lonely high school student who receives a mysterious notebook out of the sky. When he meets the death god Ryuk, he is told that anyone can die if he simply writes their name and cause of death in the book. He uses the book to start ridding the world of known criminals under the guise of a god “Kira,” and attracts the attention of an enigmatic detective named L. Now as I said, I have no familiarity with the franchise. Only in recent years have I started getting into anime, particularly ones by Hayao Miyazaki. And for those of you asking about my opinion on this year’s Ghost in the Shell… I bought a ticket to see Power Rangers instead. But just hearing the whole concept of Death Note intrigued me, as any anime usually does. And from what I heard, the original creators gave their official stamp of approval for the American version. So I actually was somewhat looking forward to watching this movie on Netflix. Honestly… I feel underwhelmed. Is it as terrible as some people are touting it to be? No, it’s not. But there are a lot of problems. Starting with Nat Wolff as Light Turner, who may just be one of the most uninteresting actors in recent years. He gives an absolutely lifeless and dull performance for this character who can actually be pretty compelling. Willem Dafoe voices Ryuk, and he really sounds like the Green Goblin from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man all over again. Except now, he sounds way more demonized and menacing than before, especially with the character’s sweet design. Though, it sometimes feels like he’s just waiting for his paycheck to clear. Margaret Qualley, who gave a brilliant role in The Nice Guys, is Light’s love interest and accomplice. She isn’t given much to say or do aside from encouraging our hero to give in to his darker instincts. But the best actor here, by far, is Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield as L. Having impressed me with his small part in Get Out, I feel like this could be one of the quirkiest and nerdiest actors around. His mannerisms and style of wardrobe are really relatable and badass, even if he feels underutilized. The visual style is rather unique, easily the most consistent aspect of the entire movie. The film uses bright neon lights to illuminate the characters in stark red and light blue. The way the David Tattersall uses the camera to focus in on characters or a scene feels odd, but it sells the idea that this is an (adaptation of) anime. There have certainly been worse Dutch angles used in cinema. The editing was sometimes awkward, choosing to use multiple cross-fades interjected into a single scene. I don’t really understand why, other than trying to add more and more style to the film. Atticus and Leopold Ross work together on the score and feels eerily similar to Atticus’ work on The Social Network. Mostly 80’s synthesizers, it helps build an atmosphere worthy of a psychological thriller. But there aren’t really any memorable or standout tracks. It also includes several real-life songs, particularly some bits of late 90’s soft rock. A friend of mine, who is familiar with the source material, told me a while back that they always think of anime when late 90’s or early 2000’s soft rock is laying. I couldn’t tell if they were joking or not. Let’s get right to the last act of the movie. It wasn’t very good, to begin with, but the last 15 or so minutes of Death Note kind of just bury it. In case you actually want to watch this movie, I won’t spoil it here at all, but my God. It might as well be the cinematic epitome of the word “convenience.” Because right when the end happens, it reveals an extensive contingency plan that our protagonist came up with on the fly on a public desktop. Also, a quick rant: Why would you have Ryuk built up as a third-act villain if the Rules he establishes can be easily broken, leaving to just loom large a lot of the scenes? I take one of two interpretations out of this: Either Ryuk is a useless character altogether or they’re setting him up for a potential sequel. I really doubt that this will be the one that causes Netflix to release a full-length follow-up to one of their originals. While its visual style is compelling enough, Death Note wastes a promising plot on bad actors and confused writing. If you want to watch it, go ahead. If you want to watch a good thriller, watch Adam Wingard’s other film The Guest instead. In all honesty, L is the saving grace of this picture. And this is coming from someone who, again, has never been affiliated with the source material. I can only imagine what real fans must have thought of.

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“IT” Movie Review

In the universe of this story, Pennywise makes a reappearance every 27 years. This new big-screen adaptation comes to us exactly 27 years after the original T.V. miniseries. Is that purely an incredible coincidence? Or is something larger at play happening? Who knows. This coming-of-age horror thriller from Mama director Andy Muschietti released worldwide on September 8th, 2017. Following a record-breaking Thursday night preview proceeds for an R-rated film, the film has grossed over $117 million and was the most pre-ordered horror movie ticket of all time according to Fandango. Originally announced in 2009, Beasts of No Nation helmer Cary Fukanaga was all set to take on this new adaptation. But something happened, the deal fell through and they pretty much had to start over from scratch. Adapted from the first half of Stephen King’s novel, the story takes place in the fictional town of Derry, Maine. A group of friendly outsiders known as the Losers Club starts noticing that children are disappearing all over town. They soon realize that it has something to do with a demonic entity known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. With no help from the adults, they must take down Pennywise and face their own demons in the process. Confession time: I don’t like the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry. He is great, but it never scared me and the second half of the series was downright awful. And having read the massive book by King prior to this film’s release, I was very skeptical. Especially with the film’s troubled history, which included the swap of directors and stars. But I became more optimistic as the trailers started appearing. And not only is IT far better than I expected, it may also be one of the author’s best adaptations to date. The reason why Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite authors is that he never forgets to emphasize the human element inhabiting the characters and story. Whether it’s psychological torment or physical growth, he knows how to develop people. Thankfully, Muschietti understands this important trait and gives each of the Losers a distinct personality. In the first 30 minutes, we learn everything we need to know about them and the struggles they deal with on a day-to-day basis. In a way, you can emphasize with everyone as you see their lives unfold. Even the school bully, played terrifically by Nicholas Hamilton, is given depths as we see his emotionally troubling home life. And the cherry on top? All the kids here talk and curse like actual kids. It’s not squeaky clean and sometimes leads to some really funny moments. As the stuttering leader of the Club, Jaeden Lieberher is quickly becoming one of the top child actors of his generation. In the same vein as his performance last year in the vastly overlooked Midnight Special, he is much smarter and more capable than his meager outlook would suggest. Continuing his string of horror roles for children, Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard is perfect as the comic relief. He delivers, hands down, the funniest lines in the entire movie; a couple of times, the whole theater was roaring at the things he said. Newcomers Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Jeremy Ray Taylor portray the rest of the Losers and each stand out for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the lone girl is Beverly Marsh, played by Sophia Lillis, who evokes both the looks and chops of a teenage Amy Adams. When we’re shown glimpses of her terrible home life, it becomes apparent that she isn’t the whore her classmates make her out to be. As someone who has met girls like that, I understood her struggles. One of the many things that set IT apart from most other modern horror films is just how well-produced everything is from a technical standpoint. Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography makes the film lovely to look at. At once, he tributes classics with several sequences of Steadicam. At other times, the camera is following the characters handheld but never gets shaky and hard-to-follow. This is especially thanks to the outstanding editing by Jason Ballantine, who did similar work on 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. There are just enough cuts in each scene so that you can get the horror present while leaving some things to the imagination. Benjamin Wallfisch composes the musical score, his 4th one for a horror in just over a year. While yes, there are many tracks with strings, it doesn’t just consist of manipulative jolts saved for a cheap jump scare. He mixes strings with subtle percussion and low-voiced choirs, evoking something out of Danny Elfman or the Harry Potter films. It often trades intense orchestrations with softer melodies for the character-driven moments. It’s not overly sentimental music and earns an emotional response from the audience just through small guitars and wind instruments. And as for Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the new IT? No taking this back, but he completely blows Tim Curry out of the water. His eyes are often glowing and look askew, giving him this otherworldly presence. They were going to use CGI for that, but Skarsgard could actually separate his eyes. He also supposedly worked with a contortionist to perfect some of the character’s crazy movements. His voice is playful at first but soon drops to a menacing monotone. Some of the CGI edited around his body, especially near the end, was a little weird. But for the most part, the makeup and CGI were seamlessly blended, coming together to create one of the greatest villains in the history of horror fiction. Another thing of note: Stephen King isn’t afraid to kill children, and the movie never holds back its R-rating. Some have complained about the film not being as scary as advertised, and in a way, I agree. But it’s similar to this year’s Get Out. It’s a hilarious commentary on timely themes, told in the vein of a horror movie. IT isn’t just a great horror movie, it’s a great and inspiring coming-of-age story. Stop complaining about The Dark Tower and go support this film. It’s already breaking records, so please help it break a few more in the coming weeks. Otherwise, you’ll float too.

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“Wind River” Movie Review

I would say something about the premise involving Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch reuniting to solve a murder mystery on a Native American reservation. But trust me when I say that to make that comparison would do the movie a huge disservice on my part. This crime thriller made a splash at the 2017 Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals earlier this year, winning an award for directing in the latter. Receiving a wide release on August 18th, it went on to earn critical acclaim and has doubled its modest $11 million budget. The directorial debut of screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, scribe of both Hell or High Water and Sicario, the film was said to be based on his own experiences on a reservation. He reportedly spent over a year building trust from the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone Tribal Councils (The tribes situated on the titular reservation) and even secured funding from the Tunica-Biloxi Tribes in Louisiana. So to say that everyone involved was careful about the finished product would be a correct assumption. Jeremy Renner stars as Cory Lambert, a local member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services that helps hunt down whatever creatures are killing indigenous livestock. Out on a hunt, he finds a young Native woman named Natalie Hanson frozen to death without any winter gear, miles away from the Wind River Indian Reservation. Suspecting foul play, young FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, is brought on the scene completely unprepared for the winter. Now Lambert, Banner, and the tribal police have to solve this case as the harsh blizzard of Wyoming comes rolling through. I’m always interested when a movie’s being made these days involving Native Americans. Not just because I love Smoke Signals, Dances With Wolves, and The Last of the Mohicans, but also because they are so underrepresented in today’s culture. And I also loved Sheridan’s writing in Sicario and Hell or High Water, being two of my favorite films from the past two years. So naturally, as soon as the buzz came rolling out of its premiere at Sundance this year, I was immediately looking forward to Wind River. And I left the theater 1 hour and 51 minutes later feeling bitten hard and cold but in the best way possible. What impressed me most about the film was the brilliant and almost humanistic screenplay. It’s very much a whodunit murder mystery but the presentation and concept behind it all feel so fresh and invigorating. It’s more of a drama examining how our government has failed to recognize and protect the indigenous peoples of America for so many years. I myself have visited several reservations in relief efforts to rebuild homes and playgrounds for young Native children, and I have witnessed the ugly nature of the poverty and isolation these groups face on a daily basis. How can these people, especially the women, blossom in the world when there’s nothing at “home?” There is some end movie text that comes onscreen that, without spoilers, completely knocked me down. My companion and I sat in our seats for a solid minute of silence before walking out and leaving. Jeremy Renner impresses me with every single movie he’s been a part of, from The Avengers to last year’s Arrival. But he gives easily the best performance of his career here as a complicated man with a seriously troubled past. Elizabeth Olsen was a bit of a mixed bag for me. At first, she came off as a typical “fish-out-of-water” a la Clarice Starling, soon transitioning into a sort of know-it-all. But she later proves her worth when she defuses a tense conflict between the characters. As for the Native actors, everyone present brings their A-game and feels completely natural. Smaller character performers like Julia Jones, Martin Sensmeier, Tantoo Cardinal, and Apesanahkwat all give subtle work as members of this harshly contained environment. First Nations actor Graham Greene provides some chuckle-worthy lines that are really the only moments of levity in this film. As the pragmatic chief of the tribal police, we can see quite a bit through his eyes. But the real winner here is Comanche actor Gil Birmingham as the victim’s grieving father. A haunting role that will most likely receive recognition from the Academy, (Just wishful thinking, really) he is so restrained and quiet in his anguish of a lost daughter. And when he finally lets it all loose, he is amazing. In fact, I think he gives one of my favorite performances of the entire year. The camerawork by Ben Richardson provides some stark shots of the desolate landscape in Wyoming. Be it wide swooping shots of the comparatively puny reservation or intense (And I mean, SUPERINTENSE) handheld close-ups of the ensuing conflicts, it rarely loses its visual luster. This, along with the minimalist score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, helped the town become a character in and of itself. The mixture of sad western violins and guitars makes it feel like a land of lost opportunity. As for flaws with the movie, there were moments where I felt like it was a tad overwritten. I appreciate the effort to bring such a taboo topic to the big screen, and Taylor Sheridan is famously allergic to conventional filmmaking. But sometimes the characters would go on monologues about their problems for quite a while. Occasionally, it felt a little in-your-face and unsubtle, as if it could have been delivered through context. And I’m not sure how rewatchable it is. That’s it. The rest of this movie, I loved. Wind River is a sobering look at the troubles of a deserving group of people. As someone who has seen these issues first hand, I highly recommend my readers to go see this movie and support those involved. Especially since the summer movie season has officially ended and the box office has pretty much been sucked dry. We’re just beginning the awards season, and we have our first leader.

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“Logan Lucky” Movie Review

Never thought I’d see the day that NASCAR would actually become fun. I mean, I knew it was patriotic and all, but I had no idea that I would actually be enjoying a movie that centered entirely on it. I guess the world can still surprise me. Produced on a budget of $29 million, this heist comedy from director Steven Soderbergh was released on August 18th, 2017. But due to the official end of the summer movie season, it only made $7 million in its opening weekend, although producers said that they don’t need it to be a huge success. After his 2013 film Behind the Candelabra, Soderbergh swore that he was going to retire from filmmaking. But he apparently enjoyed reading Rebecca Blunt’s script so much (more on that later) that he decided to take on the project personally. Channing Tatum produces and stars as Jimmy Logan, a recently laid-off construction worker in the Appalachian country. Wanting to spend more time with his daughter, he recruits his two siblings, played by Riley Keough and Adam Driver, to help him rob the upcoming Coca-Cola 600. Along the way, he also gets the help of some petty criminals. Now many people have been calling this film one of two alternative titles: Ocean’s 7-11 or The Redneck’s Ocean’s Eleven. Being a big fan of the George Clooney-led ensemble heist film, I was very interested to see if Soderbergh would be retreading old ground with this film or come out with something completely fresh. We can discuss the semantics of that later on, but first and foremost, for what it is, is Logan Lucky a good movie? Well, yes. I can say without any doubt that this is the most “commercial” film out of Soderbergh’s versatile career. I mean aside from the obvious product placement for NASCAR and the overall patriotic feeling to the story, it also features a large ensemble cast filled with some big names. Tatum has proven his comedic worth in the Jump Street series and the slightly somber Magic Mike. Here, his timing and chemistry with a dimwitted Adam Driver is downright masterful at times. His daughter also deserves some mention. A young girl named Farrah Mackenzie plays her and is just really plucky and adorable. She is nowhere near as annoying as most child actors tend to be, and a talent show performance late in the movie had me going “Aww.” But the fact is that none of them steal the show; Daniel Craig does. Even in a film that features small parts from *deep breath* Hilary Swank, Macon Blair, Dwight Yoakam, Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterson, Joey Lagano, Brian Gleeson, Jack Quaid, David Denman, and Jim O’Heir, Craig is the real star of the movie. A complete departure from his brooding in the James Bond franchise, the English man dons a bleach-blonde haircut and a thick Appalachian accent to become Joe Bang. The most obvious name for a demolitions expert this side of Explosive Bobby, he has a razor sharp comedic timing and delivers some of the best lines in the movie. I hope he considers more comedic roles after this one. Speaking of dialogue and writing, there’s been much debate about who actually wrote the screenplay for Logan Lucky. It’s credited as Rebecca Blunt, whom Steven Soderbergh swears is a real person. But this person has no other writing credits to their name, and none of the cast members have ever actually met them. In other words, until proven otherwise, “Rebecca Blunt” probably doesn’t exist. Some believe that it could have been his wife, who has screenwriting experience. Odds are, though, Soderbergh pulled a Soderbergh and just wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym. He has done it before when he frames the cinematography under the pseudonym Pete Andrews, which he continues in this film. The camera work is really well-done and there are often long, static takes of the characters’ conversations. It allows these shots to be drawn out and sometimes highlights the protagonist’s real stupidity. And from what I could tell, they used at least some natural lighting in the scenes, which gave it this grainy beauty of the Carolinas that was nice. But ultimately, I feel that there was not enough done here to completely distinguish it from Ocean’s Eleven. For every scene of a prison riot where the prisoners demand the newest Game of Thrones book from George R.R. Martin, (Easily the funniest scene in the entire movie) we cut back to a familiar setup of crooks funneling money from a corporation. Like I said in my intro, it does surprisingly make NASCAR fun to watch; I’ve always been in the minority who might watch it just for the car crashes. But, there’s also not a lot of emotional involvement with the protagonists. Sure, Jimmy lost his job and wants to spend more time with his daughter, but other than that everyone else in his crew I could care less about. Still, Logan Lucky is a formulaic but hilarious heist film with lots of energy and confidence. If you like a good old-fashioned crime movie, or just want some good laughs, look no further. It doesn’t try to be anything more or less than it needs to be: fun escapism.

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“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” Movie Review

According to the mythology of this movie, Judgement Day happened on August 29th, 1997. That happened exactly 20 years ago. And if you are reading this, that can only mean one thing: we have survived James Cameron’s prediction and can most certainly survive whatever happens with Donald Trump and North Korea. This science-fiction actioner was released in July of 1991 earned back over 5 times its $102 million budget. With the success of the first Terminator film, Cameron was able to produce a film and a world that he wanted to explore more of. It’s completely apparent because this film is ultimately bigger and more ambitious and more complicated than its predecessor. Approximately 10 years after the original concluded, a new Terminator, the T-1000, has been sent back to the past to kill a teenage John Connor in Los Angeles. However, in the future, the resistance has reprogrammed the T-800, the villainous robot from the last movie, and sent him this time to protect Connor from all danger. As the cat-and-mouse chase ensues, they uncover more about the bleak, impending future and comes to many realizations. I have a confession to make before going any further in this review: I had never seen Terminator 2: Judgement Day until earlier this year, around the end of May. Of all the films on my list of shame (Which also includes The Shawshank Redemption, Seven Samurai, Drive, and The Godfather Part II) I was most hungry to see this particular film. For one reason: One of my best friends consistently called it the greatest action movie ever made. And now, after purchasing the Blu-Ray and sitting down on my couch to watch it… I understand why. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton reprise their roles as the T-800 and Sarah Connor, respectively. Schwarzenegger is given so much more to say and do this time around due to being a good guy, though most of his “dialogue” is reserved for either technical exposition or cheesy one-liners like “Hasta la vista, baby.” His deadpan delivery is an embodiment of everything that the body-builder turned-actor could do when given the right material. Hamilton is a little nuts in this follow-up. She has transitioned from a timid, plucky waitress to a badass warrior ready for the impending doom of man. But thankfully, it’s completely convincing, giving us arguably Cameron’s best character aside Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Edward Furlong plays a teenage John Connor who, despite being consistently annoying and whiny, is able to hold his own when the action is going down. It isn’t until the last act of the film that he really starts blossoming into the savior that humanity needs years from now. Robert Patrick, meanwhile, plays the role of the T-1000, a liquid-based assassin sent from the future. His cold delivery and unassuming stare make him one of the best and most menacing villains in cinematic history. Even more so than his counterpart in the original, it becomes apparent that this is an enemy that cannot be simply beaten. He can adapt to any environment and can take as many punches or bullets that come his way. As far as technical attributes go, this is one of the finest accomplishments of the last few decades in cinema. The sound design is one to really be appreciated on a 5.1 audio system, and I can only imagine what it would be like in the theater. It matches the beautiful editing job of Mark Goldblatt, Richard A. Harris, and Conrad Buff IV. Each scene flows seamlessly with the next one and never allows the pacing to let up. But the visual effects are what truly made this film then- and still to this day -an eyepopper. Provided by the legends at Industrial Lights and Magic, the effects in Terminator 2 were way ahead of their time and in some respects still look better than some of the CGI we’re getting today. The scene in which the T-1000 passes through a metal gate with ease is one of the most enduring images of 1990’s cinema. It also netted one of the film’s 4 Academy Award wins, which gives it the distinction of being the only sequel to win such an honor when its predecessor wasn’t even nominated. Brad Fiedel returns to compose the musical score, and what a soundtrack it is. With pulsated electronic drum beats punctuated by sharp strings elevate the intense action scenes. But it’s also the franchise’s main theme on the synthesizer that gives the film some emotional levity in its characters, who inherently are the focus of the 137 minute-long picture. But unlike most other sci-fi action films, (And arguably its own sequels/reboots) Terminator 2: Judgement Day understands the intelligence of its audience. Because of that, it is able to convey real themes about human nature and our destiny as a species. The T-800, as well as Sarah Connor, is trying to gain an understanding of the value of human life since all they see are bags of sentient meat waiting for their inevitable deaths. Similarly, the Connors are wrestling with the idea that no matter how hard they fight, the future depicted is already set. If you drop a stone into a rushing river, will the current simply course around as if the obstruction were never there? Or will it completely block the flow of water out, forcing it to find another path? These are the questions the film forces us to ask. As one character puts it, “There’s no fate but what we make.” There are admittedly some pacing issues in the middle act when it simmers down. Not a lot happens aside from world building, but it’s still pretty fascinating. Aside from that, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the quintessential marriage between science-fiction and action, and one hell of a ride. I’m glad I got it off of my list of shame because it is now one of my all-time favorites. And don’t worry; I’ll be back.

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“Cloud Atlas” Movie Review

“Epic.” It’s a word that has been tossed around by writers, scholars, and illiterates for several decades. What’s it actually mean? A long story, one typically derived from ancient oral tradition, narrating the deeds and adventures of heroic and legendary figures or in the history of a nation. In the days of yore, authors would create grand masterpieces that fit that description, from the iconic poem Beowulf to the big daddy of them all War and Peace. They were hard to get through but still superb. Nowadays, if you simply typed up the word “epic” into the search bar on YouTube, you’d get somewhere in the neighborhood of 98 million results. Most of them are just stupid comedy videos such as “Most Epic Nerf War in History” or “Epic Battle Music.” I, myself, am guilty of watching those and can safely say that none of them really live up to their titles. It’s completely apparent that many have forgotten in this day and age what the word actually means. On a similar level, they are very few movies that can be appropriately called an epic. To reach that achievement would be to go beyond the boundaries of convention and time. To make one would be to inhabit the modern spirit of David Lean, who made such films as Lawrence of Arabia. To immerse the audience in a world as vast and lush as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To have an experience on the scale of epics like Titanic just doesn’t seem possible anymore. Along come Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings, who absolutely endeavor to create an epic together called Cloud Atlas. It is based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell, which may be one of the most impressive pieces of modern literature I’ve read. That’s right. I read the book a film was based upon before actually sitting down to watch the film. I rarely do that, but I was so fascinated by the division to a film like this that I was curious. And I sit here at my desktop stunned. Cloud Atlas recounts six separate stories spanning many centuries and many genres. Starting with a dying American lawyer on a 19th century vessel, followed by a forbidden love story with a penniless English composer, cut in the middle with an intense detective conspiracy, making us laugh in the present with an editor on the run from the mob, a neon-soaked future with clones and rebels, and a crazy post-apocalyptic society that has a strange dialect. Whereas in the book each individual story is cut in half and shown in chronological order, the movie edits the stories together seamlessly, scene-to-scene. And despite its mammoth running time of 2 hours and 51 minutes, there’s not a minute wasted or rushed here. It flies by and time becomes nonexistent. And while I could whiff on and rave about its fantastic editing, the point isn’t the stories per-say. In fact, none of them are really given any priority over the other. The point of this film, as well as the novel, is to show us that everything in life and death is connected. As one character puts it, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of cinema or literature that tackles topics as ambitious as that more brilliantly than Cloud Atlas. By the final 30 minutes of the picture, it brings everything to a head in a very emotionally satisfying way. I acknowledge that this isn’t a perfect movie. There are some editing choices that I would have cleaned up, and I’m pretty sure at least one character was useless. But isn’t it human to be flawed? All of the characters here are flawed individuals. And when a movie takes on such a big task of tackling a massive story, it can be forgiven for a few mistakes. And thankfully, there are only a few. I’m sure if I saw it again, I’d hardly notice any flaws at all the second time. Not to mention its beautiful and sometimes moving soundtrack by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, and Reinhold Heil. Arguably the biggest thread tying everything together is the piece “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” which also exists in the book. It’s a gorgeous piano melody that inspires upon first listen. The whole rest of the orchestral score is stunning, but it baffles me that this didn’t get a nomination from the Academy. In fact, the film wasn’t nominated for anything, which either blames tough competition or lack of diverse tastes on part of the voters. I’m usually the kind of guy that likes to get his opinion of a movie out there immediately. But with this particular picture, I had to let it marinate for two straight days and nights. Let every little detail get soaked in and think about the themes of it all. I have rarely seen a movie that forces me to wait overnight to form an official opinion on it. Even more unique is a film that can also be the basic definition of the word “epic.” And I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Cloud Atlas is, indeed, that rare movie. It is as brilliant as it is gorgeous and proves the potential of modern filmmaking. Those who once thought that this novel was “unfilmable” have been proven wrong. While not perfect, it has been on my mind way too much for me to give it any less than high praise. For now, until I decide otherwise, I’ll say this: Cloud Atlas is one of the best movies I have ever seen and one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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“The Terminator” Movie Review

Yeah, that’s right. Avatar isn’t the only Cameron flick we’re talking about in preparation for the re-release of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I’m going to be reviewing both of the first two Terminator movies (The only ones that matter), as well as possibly Titanic and Aliens. But for now, let’s talk about the movie that put this man on the cinematic map. This groundbreaking sci-fi action thriller from future Academy Award-winner James Cameron was released on October 26th, 1984, grossing over 11 times its small $7 million budget. Following his disastrous debut with Piranha II: The Spawning, Cameron apparently came up with the brilliant idea for this film in a dream. It’s also said that he sold the rights to producer and co-writer Gale Anne Hurd for just a single U.S. dollar, which included rights to a potential sequel. The now-iconic plot centers on a humanoid cyborg called a Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is sent from the bleak future of 2029. In that future, a man named John Connor is poised to save humanity from slavery or annihilation by the machines. The Terminator is sent to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, in the 1980’s. However, John Connor also sent his soldier Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, to stop this from happening, resulting in a tense cat-and-mouse chase. To say that The Terminator had a big impact on the film industry would be a severe understatement. Before it came out, lines of dialogue like, “I’ll be back” weren’t catchphrases, and Hollywood blockbusters were just burgeoning into existence. It also managed to launch the careers of every single person involved in the production and created many iconic images, not the least of which is the iconic design of the titular robotic exoskeleton. It began a trend of darker tones in science-fiction stories, not just limited to movies. Sure, not all of it has aged that well, but there’s still so much to like about this classic. Arnold Schwarzenegger may receive flak for his acting abilities, but the role that made him famous is quite impressive and brilliant. Speaking only 16 lines of dialogue total, his sheer physique and imposing relentlessness create one hell of a menacing villain. At least, for the first movie. Linda Hamilton, Cameron’s future wife, admittedly feels like she doesn’t have enough to say and do, but is still awesome as Sarah Connor. She comes with a very 80’s hairstyle and shows a pluckiness and resilience that wasn’t commonly found in female characters at the time, with the exception of Ellen Ripley. But she still shows that she is still susceptible to fear and terror as the titular threat is never more than a few hours behind. Michael Biehn may be there mostly just to give us the exposition on the future, but damn if it isn’t fascinating stuff. You get the idea that Kyle Reese has seen some dark days, especially in a flashforward (not flashback since it takes place in 2029) that shows what some Terminators did to his fellow soldiers. Other recognizable players include early performances from Lance Henriksen and the late Bill Paxton. On the technical side of things, even with a limited budget, it’s a pretty impressive movie. Adam Greenberg’s cinematography uses great examples of Steadicam with highly detailed close-up shots. This mixes beautifully with Mark Goldblatt’s careful editing job, contrasting with wider shots of the scene. This makes things easy to follow and creates an aurora of slow-building tension common in James Cameron’s films. But some of the stop-motion effects show the film’s age. Meanwhile, Brad Fiedel’s powerful musical score is perfectly symbolic of the pacing. It is heavily synthesized and often trades in with pulsating electric drums. This is truly evocative of the metallic killer’s presence no matter where our heroes are going. You may not agree with me here, but I firmly believe that The Terminator is a horror film. I mean, why not? It came out at the peak of the slasher genre’s popularity, and like some of those most popular films, this one was produced on a small budget. Plus, it has an unstoppable villain who, no matter how bullets hit him, refuses to die. He’s got Kyle Reese spooked, for sure. In a car after a getaway, Reese hastily tells a frightened Sarah Connor, “It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t know pity or remorse or fear. And it absolutely will not stop.” Oh yeah, and the cherry on top? An explicit sex scene between our heroes late in the picture that felt completely out of place. Although it does make sense for the plot later on, for now, it just felt odd with the way the rest of the movie was playing out. But thankfully, the movie itself, overall, is such an original, thrilling film with 100 minutes not wasted once, that I can easily overlook this issue as trite and petty. Although it wasn’t quite as entertaining or game-changing as its sequel, The Terminator is a relentless piece of high concept thrills and an iconic premise. Watching it again recently, I found much more to appreciate about it than I did my first time. I feel like most people, at first glance, will dismiss it as another simple action film of its era. I urge you to give it a try at least once.

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