Category Archives: Dystopia

“Mute” Movie Review

Chasing your dream project for years on end can typically be a respectable endeavor. But when they result in something like this, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. This poorly conceived cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi drama was released by Netflix on February 23rd, 2018. Although its actual budget remains unknown at the moment, the film received a wave of negative reviews from critics. Written and directed by Duncan Jones, the same man behind Moon, Source Code, and (Unfortunately) Warcraft, the film is purported to be a passion project of his, with the earliest draft being written back in the 2000’s. Jones himself has described it as a spiritual sequel to Moon, and there’s even a scene with Sam Rockwell cameoing in his previous role. Set in a futuristic version of the city of Berlin, Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute Amish bartender named Leo who struggles to stay in touch with the technological world around him. After a fateful night, his girlfriend Naadirah, who works at the same club as him, vanishes without a trace. As she is the only person who truly communicates with him, Leo follows a series of clues in Berlin that ropes him into a world of prostitutes, black market dealers, and two American army surgeons who seem to be the center of it all. To be upfront here, unlike many other critics that have reviewed this film, I have not seen any of Jones’ previous works. I do plan on watching Moon and Source Code soon, but Warcraft is one I’ve been hesitant on. Seeing all the bad press that that video game adaptation received, one would hope that he would be able to bounce back from it. And for a long while, this Netflix Original was one of my most anticipated movies of 2018. Even after reading some of the negative reviews, I figured this movie couldn’t possibly so terrible and unwatchable, right? Well… it’s pretty bad, guys. It’s also a damn tragedy for me to say this because Duncan Jones tried to get it off the ground for several years. The son of the late David Bowie (Who’s given a heartfelt tribute in the end credits) promoted it heavily on social media, sharing set photos and concept art almost daily. And that’s all great and dandy. Anyone who wants to make a lifelong passion project and share it with the world has already got my vote. Moreso than that, I always support anyone who wants to make an original science-fiction movie on a big studio budget. Netflix marketed this as their next big blockbuster, much like last year’s Bright. Also, like Bright, Mute fails at being either compelling or intriguing. Skarsgård has impressed me in past films with his performances, but something with Leo just felt off. I know it’s incredibly hard to act without any words, and he does a good job in some scenes, but most of the time he feels annoying and stupid. And that entire thread of him being an Amish man just feels tacked on. His girlfriend, Seyneb Saleh, isn’t any better and spends her spare moments whining and begging for a man. Ant-Man himself Paul Rudd is by far the best performer in the entire film as Cactus Bill, one of the American surgeons. Though his demeanor is uneven and acts like a conceded jerk, he clearly looks like he’s having the time of his life and is (mostly) able to power through the clunky dialogue. His best friend, played by Justin Theroux… is a pedophile. That’s not an exaggeration; Theroux’s character has a sexual attraction to young children in this movie. Admittedly, he does a fine job at being creepy and uncomfortable but the fact that it is played off like some sort of joke is wrong and honestly gross. As far as the technical aspects go, Mute doesn’t have too much going on that separates it from the cyberpunk noir genre. From the neon-soaked streets of night-time Berlin to the filthy interior buildings, the production designers try really hard to be like Blade Runner, a movie that will, unfortunately, get many comparisons to. The cinematography by Gary Shaw often opts for long wide shots, especially for some of the action sequences. Though it does provide a sense of character for the setting, showing as much of the world as possible without being too disorienting. Surprisingly, there’s a sparse amount of CGI used to create this futuristic setting, mostly relying on practical sets and oddball costumes to bring it to life. It definitely adds up to a grimy, lived-in feeling that it’s unfortunately unable to rise out of. Clint Mansell, one of the most versatile composers in the industry, gives us the musical score for this film. Taken as a whole, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a picture like this. The vast majority of the tracks consist heavily of synthesized beats and melodies, some of which seemingly go on indefinitely. On occasion, a new bit of percussion or strings were come in and reach for sentimentality in the story. Although that aspect failed, the soundtrack itself is actually pretty good to listen to and helps establish the somber tone of this world. But the film overall is wildly uneven in both pacing and tone. The first half is a slog to get through and even though it admittedly goes out on a high note, it would be perfectly reasonable if you turned it off by then. And the film seems unsure of whether it wants to be an all-in sci-fi extravaganza or a contemplative noir drama. Mute is a visually appealing busfire devoid of charm or pleasant characters. I could see why some people actually like Warcraft, but I have a hard time seeing anyone enjoying this Netflix Original. It makes me temper my expectations for all of their future content. And the saddest part of all is that, at the end of the day, Duncan Jones has nobody but himself to blame for this.

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“Annihilation” Movie Review

I almost don’t know what to say. I just… I… Words are escaping me now. Well, I guess structural integrity is the way to go. Here goes nothing. This trippy science-fiction horror marks the second directorial effort of Alex Garland, following his massively acclaimed debut Ex Machina in 2015. Produced on a budget of around $40 million, the film has thus far earned back over $11 million following its stateside release on February 23rd, 2018. I suspect that a large portion of its profit will come from the United States, as international audiences won’t get to see it in a conventional manner. That’s something that I’ll explain more on in a little bit. Though it’s adapted from the first part in a literary trilogy, Alex Garland has said that he approached the source material as its own story, which he took from and morphed freely. Based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer, Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a cellular biologist hired by a mysterious program called the Southern Reach. Following her thought-to-be deceased husband Kane’s sudden reappearance, she learns of a quarantined zone called The Shimmer that has been cut off from the rest of civilization. She then agrees to go out into the Shimmer with four other female experts and hopes to find new evidence of what happened to Kane and just what the heck is going on here. I loved Ex Machina, Garland’s debut feature. In an age where we’re practically surrounded by rip-offs and reboots and sequels that decades late, the screenwriter behind 28 Days Later and Sunshine created an original breath of fresh sci-fi that leaned more on speculative ideas than spectacle. And in anticipation for his new release, I read the VanderMeer novel, and can tell you two things. First, it’s one of the weirdest and boldest stories in recent fiction. Second, the film adaptation took massive liberties with the source material yet found ways to make its ideas still profound and complex. Hands down, either Annihilation will be the best movie I’ll see this year or 2018 is going to be an incredible year for cinema. It’s sad, however, that not everyone in the world will get to experience it in a traditional sense. Apparently, an executive from Paramount Pictures demanded that changes be made both to the ending and the main character, sighting it as “too intellectual” or “too complicated” for a wide audience. In response, producer Scott Rudin, who retains rights to the final cut, took Garland’s side and refused any notes or changes. As a result, while folks in the U.S. and China will get to see it in theaters, international audiences will have a chance to watch it 17 days later… premiering on Netflix. While I’m not necessarily opposed to Netflix picking up distribution rights for a film, this decision makes me really upset. No matter how large you 4K television is and even if you can watch it on the go, nothing will compare to sitting down in a dark theater and soaking it all in. The lengthy discourse I had with a handful of strangers after it finished is proof enough. Over the last few years, Natalie Portman has consistently proven to be one of my favorite actresses working today. Her performance here is a truly versatile one, bouncing between traumatized and tough-as-nails with ease. A damaged soul, some may find her character to be unlikable, but it’s honestly refreshing to watch a sci-fi movie where the female lead isn’t just a damsel in distress or a love interest. And she’s surrounded by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny as her teammates. You get a glimpse of each of their individual personalities and every decision they made in the Shimmer was intelligent and reasonable. Oscar Isaac also does great work as Kane, subverting the traditional idea of a traumatized soldier. He initially gives a very wooden performance, but the reasons for it become clear later on. Meanwhile, on a technical scale, this film is nothing short of astounding. The visual effects inside of The Shimmer are something to behold, rarely have on-screen visuals been so simultaneously beautiful yet also terrifying. I won’t actually describe any of them for you so that you can be as surprised as I was watching it. But Garland managed to pull off a number of creature designs from the book I thought would have been impossible to visualize. The lush green landscapes and unique animals can be noticeably CGI, but the fantastic production design and ethereal lighting make it all the more pleasant to look at. Meanwhile, the cinematography by Rob Hardy feels like something straight out of a John Carpenter film. Wonderful, steady wideshots of both the Southern Reach outpost and the landscapes inside The Shimmer feel lucid and almost dreamlike. The widescreen format and excellent lighting allows for an intense, immersive atmosphere that feels so lacking in other horror films. Composers Ban Salisbury and Geoff Barrow both provide the musical score, which perfectly fits the surreal tone of the film. In some of the more mundane scenes, it just consists of an acoustic guitar getting plucked with some accompanying percussion. But during some of the more fantastical moments, it shifts into an ambient mix of synthesizers and suppressed strings. Interestingly, this dichotomy works perfectly to explore the duality of the characters’ situation and bring out a genuine reaction from the audience. The last 15 minutes of the movie are almost dialogue-free, save for that powerful music. As a result, my jaw just dropped. However, I can appreciate that this movie is not for everyone. Like the novel, this movie is like a modern-day H.P. Lovecraft story. For those unfamiliar, H.P. Lovecraft was one of the fathers of horror fiction, creating the myth of Cthulu. In all of his stories, as well as ones that imitated them, the main theme involved ordinary characters trying (And failing) to make sense of the impossible. If you’re unable to accept that from the beginning, then you’ll just be left behind. For those with the fortitude to wait it out and really soak it all in, Annihilation is a stunning, psychedelic piece of science-fiction cinema. Whether you love it or hate it, this is a movie that is going to stick with you long after the credits start rolling. Luckily for people like me, that’s a feeling that I cherish these days with the current studio system.

“The Discovery” Movie Review

Oh yeah, we’ve got even more reviews of Netflix films are coming to you all this week. Trying to cram in some last minute spots as the year begins to come to a close. Just wish it was a better movie that I started out with. Released on the streaming giant on March 31st, 2017, this dystopian science-fiction romance premiered out of competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival- one of many purchases made by Netflix this year. The film marks the second feature film of writer-director Charlie McDowell, who had previously made the sci-fi thriller The One I Love. With this film, it could be argued that McDowell is creating a sustained filmography of high concept futuristic dystopias-that all goe to video-on-demand, that is. The story is set in the near-future where a scientist named Thomas Harbor, played by Robert Redford, has made a breakthrough that proves the existence of the afterlife. This unintentionally leads to an all-time high rate of suicides around the world, which causes his son Will, played by Jason Segel, to alienate himself from the family. After he meets a mysterious woman named Isla, they both set out to find out more about Harbor’s discovery and the implications it could have for the world. From the description I just gave you, you could go one of two ways. First, one might think that The Discovery is one of the more original and cerebral science-fiction pictures of recent years. But another, then, might retort that it is an unofficial feature-length episode of the British anthology series Black Mirror. (Which itself has feature-length episodes) I’d be willing to entertain both arguments because the premise is quite fascinating. And it opens up on a promising note with a rather brilliant prologue that teases something truly unique and special. But when the movie ends, that’s all it apparently reveals itself as: a 102 minute-long tease. The movie evidently tries to infuse some religious themes into the narrative every now and then. Being about the afterlife, this makes sense. Science vs religion isn’t really a new topic in the genre, but in the case of this movie, they really do try to put in some thought and time to it. “What kind of atheist talks to God?” a cynical Will Harbor says as some characters take part in a group prayer. This is a decently powerful question that doesn’t seem to get much of a payoff. When it comes to the acting department, it’s a really mixed bag. Jason Segel is a very funny and warm actor, but he feels miscast as a severely unhappy man. He spends the majority of his screentime moping around this dreary future just like everyone else seems to be doing. In contrast, Robert Redford and Jesse Plemons do fine work as his father and brother, respectively. They both really feel like a father and son duo with a sense of uncertainty and distrust among them, despite their charismatic outward appearances. Rooney Mara rounds out the main cast as the primary love interest Isla. She’s okay, but her chemistry with Segel falls flat in every scene they’re together. Technically speaking, The Discovery is rather singular. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography evokes something that David Fincher might have directed, with steady shots of characters in almost every scenario. Nearly every shot is dark or toned down to look even bleaker. The color palette, meanwhile, is absolutely grey and cold like it belongs in the winter. Textures are muted, too, all to contribute to a seemingly grim and hopeless future our world will inevitably lead to. The musical score also deserves some commentary. Composed by Danny Bansi and Saunder Juriaans, most of the soundtrack consists of mellow piano melodies and low strings like cellos. They are most prominent in scenes of major emotional pull but are usually put in the background. It helped further enhance the melancholy mood of the overall story, never once over-intensifying for manipulation. The film also ends with the song “Arrival in Nara” by the band alt-J which felt appropriate for the gloomy feeling that permeates throughout. I can’t imagine myself rushing out to iTunes to pick up the soundtrack, but I enjoyed it as it went on in the moment. But where the film falters most is its story. Like I said, the opening prologue is very well-crafted and set up the rest of the movie to be a potentially interesting commentary on desires. Yet it felt like Charlie McDowell and co-writer Justin Lader came up with a really great concept but didn’t quite know where to take it. That’s because the film ends in unsatisfyingly familiar territory that feels like a disservice to what it began as. Maybe that’s because the characters aren’t really worth rooting for. They’re hard to connect with and none of them are really compelling enough to get invested in. All the setup early on seems like their arcs are going somewhere and they just don’t. As the end credits rolled, I sat on my couch feeling unsatisfied by their journey and wished something more could have been done. That’s what The Discovery is. The beautiful aesthetic and concept are bogged down by a meager script and detached character interactions. It starts out promising but ends up becoming a frustration in the lack of interest in its own story. It could have been so much more and wound up being a hollow and uninspired mess. Not necessarily bad. Just a wasted opportunity.

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“Blade Runner 2049” Movie Review

I have been sitting at my desktop for the past two hours trying to come up with the words to describe my feelings toward this film. This sci-fi noir thriller from director Denis Villeneuve opened on October 6th, 2017. Budgeted at about $155 million, the movie has thus far only made back around $82 million in its opening weekend worldwide. Rumors of a sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic original circled around Hollywood as far back as 1999. In 2015, after Scott stepped down from the directing chair to the position of a producer, it was officially announced that Villeneuve was in charge of directing duties with the new cast filled out soon after. So much like the new Star Wars trilogy, a 35-year-old dream has become a reality. Set 30 years after the events of the original film, a new blade runner named LAPD Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling, discovers a secret that could potentially destroy the remains of human and replicant society. His journey takes him on a path that eventually leads to Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, the star of the original film. When this film came out, press screenings received personal notes from Villeneuve himself to keep spoilers out of their reviews. That is so refreshing to hear in a major studio production. Even though there are some characters and plot points I don’t consider to be spoiler-y, out of respect for the director, I will not discuss the story any further. Instead, I will discuss how genuinely excited yet cautious I was with this sequel. I loved the original by Ridley Scott, especially the Final Cut version. But decades-later follow-ups rarely pay off well, especially for a film that’s so beloved as Blade Runner. But Denis Villeneuve delivered us Arrival, my favorite film from last year and one of the best science-fiction films in recent memory. This 2017 film is even better than that. Starting with the performances, Ryan Gosling once again proves his leading man status as a tormented protagonist. Caught in something of a crossfire, his journey is one of self-discovery as he learns more about the world around him and we get to learn more about his past. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks play the primary antagonists this time around and are both great. Leto is a creepy weirdo like he usually is and Hoeks was a downright menacing Terminator-esque hit-woman. Robyn Wright, Lennie James, Ana de Armas, Dave Bautista, Mackenzie Davis, Barkhad Abdi, and Hiam Abbass fill out the supporting cast. The film does a great job at fleshing out everyone who is pertinent to the story, making them all feel like tangible individuals rather than archetypes. Harrison Ford returns to play Rick Deckard after 35 years, and much like his performance in The Force Awakens slips back into the role with ease. A major concern many people had was whether this sequel would ruin the mystery of if he is a human being or not. But thankfully, screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green opt for strong implications rather than overt explanations, allowing us to pick this character back up after decades of absence. Technically speaking, this is the most complete motion picture of the year. Nominated 13 times but never taking home a trophy, the inimitable cinematographer Roger Deakins has crafted his best shot yet at the Oscars. Most of it is taken on-camera and contrasts gorgeous colors with harsh, controlled lighting. Even if it was on a sound stage, it looked incredibly real. And the beautiful, elongated direction of Villeneuve made it all the more compelling, especially with the (sparse) CGI surrounding the sets and characters. I saw this movie in IMAX and I implore you to see this movie on the biggest screen with the loudest speakers possible. The sound design and particularly the musical score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallifisch are glorious to the ears. Replacing Vangelis for the soundtrack, the two of them crafted their own beast while not losing sight of what made the original literally sound great. At least on par with their work on this year’s Dunkirk, the incredible synthesizers mixed with orchestral beats creates an eery, uncertain atmosphere perfect for the world. During some action scenes or moments of intense emotion, the score would practically drown out every other sound. I will definitely be picking this soundtrack up on disc as soon as I can, even for some of the more ambient tracks of introspection. But notice how I said “some” action scenes. Much like the original film, Blade Runner 2049 is much more investigative and concerned with meditating on ideas than putting out scene after scene of nonstop action. That could have been so easy for the studio to do, but this movie takes its time to tell the fascinating story. It’s running at 2 hours and 45 minutes long, and at times, I thought it was something of an epic. The film is definitely slow and deliberate in its pacing, but it’s never once boring. With every frame a painting and such craftsmanship on display, I don’t see how one could hate this movie. And whereas the original had very broad themes to share, this sequel has very specific ideas on its mind. In regards to identity and how prejudice can shape that for you and the consequences of keeping a society in order, it’s all quite relevant with everything happening recently. Wright’s character points out, “The world is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall you bought a war… or a slaughter.” Arguably better than its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is everything that science-fiction should be, with arresting photography and thoughtful introspection. Everything about it reminds me why I love movies and why I want to someday make one. With this film, Denis Villeneuve has become arguably the best living director of this generation. And I’m excited to see more of his work to come.

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“Mother!” Movie Review

Jeez, Daren Aronofsky! You beautiful, creative, courageous, unapologetic, batshit crazy, magnificent bastard. Way to make me feel uncomfortable in a filled auditorium with complete strangers. This controversial psychological horror film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, garnering both boos and a standing ovation. It has received a limited release on September 15th, 2017, and will continue to expand in later weeks, earning over $15 million on a $30 million budget. After the wide emotional response for Noah, Aronofsky initially wanted to make a family film. But the project couldn’t come to light and wrote the screenplay for Mother! instead, which apparently took him five days to complete. I think it’s safe to say that his brain was on fire. What’s this movie about? Well, that’s actually pretty tough. At a surface level, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem played a married couple who live a tranquil life in a secluded house. One day, some uninvited guests, played by Michelle Pfieffer and Ed Harris, arrive at their door asking for some middle-of-the-road help. And from there, some truly insane and unpredictable things happen to our protagonists. I have rarely seen such a divided reaction from people on a new film. Critics, while not entirely positive, have agreed on their pleasure on the movie. Audiences, however, have gone out of their way to trash it, even scoring it an F on the website CinemaScore. But considering that they gave films like Transformers and The Emoji Movie relatively good grades, I don’t really trust it. And I know some people personally who didn’t like the movie at all, which is understandable. I, however, was riveted almost the entire time. From the getgo, I want to make it clear that this is not a movie for everyone. If you go into this movie expecting a straightforward or conventional film based solely on the premise of the trailer, you’re going to be very disappointed. It is extremely metaphorical in the story from beginning to end which I’ll discuss later on. For the first half of the film, it’s relatively normal yet creepy, building the tension and establishing the characters. But- and what I’m about to say is going to sound hyperbolic but I assure you it is not -the last 30-45 minutes of the movie is the most disturbing and disgusting piece of cinema I’ve ever seen in my life. And this is coming from someone who sat through Antichrist, The VVitch, Sicario, and Requiem For a Dream. As much flak as she’s gotten in recent years for phoned-in performances in major franchises, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in the lead role. She’s in almost every single scene of the movie, and she’s not charming or funny. She’s on-edge, unhappy, and could snap at any moment. Almost 20 years her senior, Javier Bardem provides as with another committed role. He’s a poet with an obsession, but different than that of Anton Chigurh or Raoul Silva. His obsession isn’t based on murder or anger, but rather with celebrity. Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer show they haven’t lost their touch after so many years of acting, giving some of their best performances. If I were to judge this film based purely on filmmaking techniques, then Mother! would be the best of the year. This is a Darren Aronofsky film through and through, so you’re going to see a lot of close-up shots of the protagonists’ faces. It does a pretty neat job at making the audience feel uncomfortable. Matthew Libatique keeps the camera steady and focused, very rarely giving in to shaky cam hijinks. It’s only matched with the visceral editing of Andrew Weisblum, who previously worked with the director on Black Swan. It’s chopped together in a frantic yet cohesive manner that never panders to the audience. Some of the most frightening things that happen, we barely any of it. Also worth noting is the complete absence of a musical score in this film. Without the help of collaborator of Clint Mansell, Johann Johannson was apparently onboard to write the soundtrack for the movie. But after watching the synchronized version, they apparently agreed to let the movie play with virtually no music. And in some ways, I feel that it made the film even more effective in creeping out the audience, as it got a few genuine scares out of people with the need for jolts of strings to signify jumpscares. But like I said if you go into this movie expecting a straightforward horror flick like the ads promised, look somewhere else. Like I said, Mother! is not a piece of conventional filmmaking. Inherently, it’s all one big metaphor for something I never thought of. Actually, there are multiple interpretations of what the plot could mean, depending on your viewing. The relationship between God and the Earth, how celebrity affects a person’s needs, environmental abuse, as well as Cain and Abel. If you are at all familiar with the Bible, you are probably going to pick up more than a few references. But I really can’t overstate how truly disturbing and cage-rattling this film is. During the last 45 minutes of the movie, my jaw was dropped in amazement at what happened inside the house. When it was all over, most of the fellow patrons were discussed what they thought. I sat through the credits for about 2 minutes because I was left speechless. Although not for the weak-stomached, faint of heart, or less-than-patient, Mother! is a visceral and unrelenting symphony of madness in marriage. If you approach it with an open mind, it will be something truly unique. You have never seen anything like this before. And considering the current climate of big studio blockbusters, I think it’s a good thing that people are talking about this movie. Paramount, you had some balls.

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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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“Avatar” Movie Review

So, I have been looking for a while now for a time to review this movie. I couldn’t quite figure out when or where exactly to put it. But since Terminator 2: Judgement Day is officially getting a 4K re-release in theaters, I decided it was time to rip myself a new asshole and talk about a movie everyone once loved but now seems to hate. This epic science-fiction adventure from writer-director James Cameron saw an international release date on December 18th, 2009. Despite being one of the most expensive films ever on a budget $237 million, it went onto gross over $2.7 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, mainly because so many people saw it in IMAX 3D instead of conventional cinema. If rumors are to be true, the film was conceived in 1994 and was intended to be produced immediately after Titanic. But due to the lackluster technology, Cameron had to wait a decade before he really started developing the world and the story of Avatar. Set in the mid-22nd century, mankind has colonized a lush habitable moon called Pandora. In order to mine for unobtanium, a highly valuable superconductor, they have started a program allowing human soldiers and experts to helm genetically engineered versions of the Na’vi, the indigenous population of Pandora. One of these subjects is Jake Sully, a paralyzed soldier who starts getting in over his head and questions his loyalty. How do you review a film that has had such an odd reputation? As I said, when it came out in 2009, everyone loved it with every fiber of their being, calling it one of the best movies ever made. Nowadays, it seems the cool thing to do is to hate on it and call it stupid and simple. It’s like U.S. politics: take a side or lose by default. Personally, I do find this movie to be a bit overhyped, but there is still a special place for it in me that I would love to explain. I will never forget the first time I saw it. I was a lot younger and just starting to see more movies in the theater more often. My family was hyped out of our minds to see it in 3D. And I remember, through the lens of those thick glasses, being completely sucked into the beautiful world of Pandora, truly realizing the potential of CGI and motion-capture. And 161 minutes later, I left to my family car in a complete daze. It ended up becoming one of the very first films I ever purchased on Blu-Ray, and I watched that 3-disc set quite a bit. And every time I get a new T.V., this the first disc I put in as a demo and end up getting swept away in its fantasy. Although he has been ridiculed later for his performances in mediocre movies, Sam Worthington is actually good here as Jake Sully. He had apparently been living out of his car at the time, so the movie more or less saved his life. Zoe Saldana is an underrated action star, and her mo-cap turn as Neytiri is proof of that. She’s different enough to appear alien, but sexy and feisty enough to be relatable. Stephen Lang, meanwhile, makes a great villain out of Colonel Miles Quaritch, the military leader of the humans. One of the biggest badasses ever, you understand his character’s motivations fair enough. Michelle Rodriguez and frequent collaborator Sigourney Weaver plays Cameron’s trademark strong female characters, Giovanni Ribisi is morally conflicted as a corporate administrator, Dileep Rao and Joel David Moore are great sympathetic doctors inside the colony, while C.C. Pounder, Laz Alonso, and even Wes Studi appear as the other primary Na’vi characters. But the character I cherish most in this adventure is the score of the late James Horner. Having arguably the hardest job of anyone involved in the production, he successfully captured the feeling of arriving on a wholly different and alien environment with several unique sounds. High-pitched piccolos, a heaven-like choir, and a wide range of percussion instruments such as a deep bass drum do a fantastic job immersing us into this world. Along with the pitch-perfect sound design, every bit of music seems to evoke a whole scope of emotions no matter how reserved you may be. The two main points of derision for Avatar are very much correlated to each other: the story and its themes. The overall plot- a man discovers his true purpose and switches sides in a conflict -is a structure that has been seen dozens, if not hundreds of times before. Specifically, it plays out like a space version of Dances With Wolves crossed with Princess Mononoke. While it is undoubtedly conventional, not everything that happens is predictable. In fac,t the first time I watched it, I almost left the theater because I was so scared about the ending fate. But themes is where some people, like conservative Armond White, were especially pissed off. Criticisms ranged from an oversimplification of imperialism and colonialism to anti-American propaganda to racism towards indigenous peoples. The parallels between the plot and the early days of Native American relationships are undeniable, but I choose to see it a different way. I choose to see it as two civilizations that are doomed from the started to go to war, but search for other possible outcomes. In the end, Avatar may be derivative, but it’s also great escapism at its most imaginative. 8 years since coming out that theater and I haven’t wavered my overall opinion; I love this film. Like critic Scott Anderson once said, “Loving this film is the cinematic equivalent of dating an absurdly gorgeous girl in high school, but your best friend hates everything about her personally.” I guess that means my cinematic equivalent is better than my game ever was in high school for me.

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