Category Archives: Fantasy

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” Movie Review

Watching this movie as a grown man in a theater full of young boys and girls is roughly equivalent to my inner child fighting my older self for dominant opinion mindset. And trust me, that is a sight I would not like to visualize for my readers. This sci-fi actioner was released worldwide on June 22nd, 2018, almost exactly 3 years after the first Jurassic World. Despite dropping nearly 60% at the box office in its second weekend, the sequel has already accumulated north of $935 million worldwide. After massive success with the first film, Collin Trevorrow decided not to return for the second go-around, and instead developing his doomed vision for Star Wars Episode IX. Juan Antonio Bayona, director of acclaimed movies such as A Monster Calls and The Impossible, stepped into the director’s chair in his place. Interestingly, Bayona was executive producer Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the original film in the new series but declined. Trevorrow and Derek Connolly are still involved as co-writers, though. Set 3 years after the catastrophic events of the first Jurassic World, the world governments have all elected to let the cloned dinosaurs on Isla Nubar die on their own. When a massive volcanic eruption is imminent, Owen Grady and Claire Dearing team up with Benjamin Lockwood, John Hammond’s former partner, to try and save as many species as possible. From there, it becomes a race against time as the dinosaurs reach their second extinction, and it becomes a mystery who’s meeting whose ends. The first Jurassic Park, released back in 1993, is one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. No matter how many times I watch it, nothing will ever be able to wash out the awe, terror, and magic of that Spielberg classic. 25 years later, and it’s kind of hard for me to believe it’s become such a big franchise. The first three attempts at following it up were fun in parts but felt uninspired and unnecessary. When I read that they were trying to approach this sequel as more or a horror movie or thriller, I got a little more excited as that was the foundation of the original film. And while Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is arguably the closest in spirit to the first one, there’s still almost no justification to keep this thing going. However, I will grant that there was one particular scene that showed there’s still a bit of power left in the gas tank. I don’t really consider it to be a spoiler, so take it as you will. But when the human characters are leaving Isla Nubar, there’s a lone Brachiosaurus standing on the pier watching them. And we watch helplessly as this creature succumbs to the volcanic fumes and lava, hearing its horrible cries of agony and dying loneliness. That moment was unexpectedly dark, haunting, and brilliantly directed, showing a small ounce of human empathy in a series primarily focused on animals long gone. Aside from that though, what’s left are thinly-veiled, underdeveloped threads about the ethics of cloning, animal rights, and the right to die. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return from the first movie, and they’re still mostly charming. Although it feels like phoning it in, they do share some nice chemistry in a few moments. The new characters were an incredibly mixed bag for me. Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, Rafe Spall, and Ted Levine never evolve out of there archetypes: a thankless nerd, an attractive doctor, a scheming businessman, and a grizzled mercenary, respectively. I’ll give credit to James Cromwell as the old, dying Benjamin Lockwood and newcomer Isabella Sermon as his granddaughter Maisie. Both did their best to contribute something new to the series, even if it didn’t always work out. And don’t get excited about Jeff Goldblum returning as Dr. Ian Malcolm; he only appears in 2 scenes, max. Meanwhile, the technical aspects are perhaps the only thing about this franchise that has consistently evolved or improved. While this film is heavy on using CGI, with somewhere over 2000 VFX shots total, the cinematography by Bayona’s regular collaborator Óscar Faura provides some lowkey backlighting in practical shots. These are directly contrasted by epic, swooping shots when we’re on the island, successfully capturing the scope and scale of the chaos. Combined with Bernat Vilaplana’s frantic but mostly smooth editing, there are a handful of entertaining action or chase scenes. The moment when our characters are running side-by-side with the dinosaurs to the shoreline utilizes both of the aforementioned tools to great effect. It is easily the most thrilling moment and second-best in the whole movie. To his credit, Bayona actually does show some skill behind the camera, ultimately feeling like his own style. Michael Giacchino, one of the most prolific and in-demand composers in Hollywood, returns to write and conduct the musical score for this sequel. Like its predecessor, he inverts many of John Williams’ classic themes from Jurassic Park to some success. Stirring strings and rousing low horns are often undercut by a large vocal chorus, giving a grand feeling to this adventure. And yet, he’s still somehow able to find a bit of the magic from that original by doing his damnedest to inspire awe in the ears. Outside of the soundtrack and fun effects, though, there’s little to no reason to watch this movie. Despite the promise of a new director at the helm, this comes off as a neutered, cold sequel that studios push out of the gate with zero motivation except for profit. There are kernels of good ideas in here; with recent advancements in cloning science, the ethics of bringing back an extinct species feels ripe with potential. But sadly, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom serves as a reminder why this series should have died long ago. Just come to terms with why it should have never become a franchise and give J.A. Bayona a project worth spending money to see. The humans in charge of this should have quit while they were ahead, 65 million years ago. Ironically, Universal Pictures has become to this franchise what John Hammond was like with the attraction in Jurassic Park. Quoth Jeff Goldblum in the original movie, “You were so busy thinking about if you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.”

Image result for jurassic world 2 poster

Advertisements

“Paddington 2” Movie Review

I feel like I’m a little late on this one, but I’m glad I got to check it out. Because, quite frankly, I really needed this movie today. And hopefully, everyone else feels the exact same way. This family adventure film was released in the U.K. on November 10th, 2017, before hitting the United States on January 12th, 2018. It grossed over $226 million, only slightly less than its predecessor, but went on to become the highest-rated film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. (I’m not even making that up) Following the massive success of the first film in 2015, the sequel was set up for release at the Weinstein Company. Following the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, however, both producer David Heyman and British distributor Studio Canal looked for another American studio to handle a movie intended for children and families. Thankfully, Warner Bros. Pictures picked it up for $32 million and the film was officially saved. About a year after the previous installment, Paddington Bear, a kind-hearted anthropomorphic bear from Darkest Peru, has settled with the human Brown family in London. Approaching his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, he desires to get her an old and expensive pop-up book of London. However, the book is stolen by Phoenix Buchanan, a washed-up actor, and Paddington is subsequently framed and wrongfully thrown in prison for it. Now the Browns, Paddington, and his fellow inmates must find the book and clear the bear’s name in time for Aunt Lucy’s birthday. I only watched the first Paddington movie back in December, and I loved it. It was not only one of the biggest cinematic surprises I had in a long while but I genuine regretted missing it in theaters. Even though I wasn’t entirely familiar with the late Michael Bond’s hand-drawn children’s books, it wasn’t hard at all for me to connect with the raincoat-wearing bear who loves his marmalade. Yet again, I missed the opportunity to catch the sequel in January, only getting the opportunity to finally watch it on an international plane. And, hand to God, I totally feel bad about it. Because Paddington 2 is one of the best family films I have ever seen in my life. I’m being completely serious here. And maybe a lot of that has to do with the fantastic timing of this movie’s release. Under normal circumstances, a studio movie about a talking bear acting extremely British would have been simply seen as “cute” and “fun” before being indefinitely put to the cinematic sidelines. But because the last 18 months under a new leader of the free world have made so many ordinary people feel so miserable on the daily, (This critic included) director and co-writer Paul King could not have put this out into the world at a better point in time. We needed a piece of accessible media, cinema, to remind everyone that “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Granted, they couldn’t have known all of the horrible things that would have been done or said under the Trump administration, but that’s beside the point. It acts as a superpowered antidote to actions such as Brexit and the travel ban, as well as the xenophobia that inspired both. Administering said antidote is Ben Whishaw as the voice of Paddington Bear, whose charm will immediately win viewers over. Think of him like a British version of Mr. Rogers; he’s kind, well-behaved, gives everyone compliments, and never forgets to use his manners. While the two children of the Brown family aren’t particularly memorable, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville do great work as the parents. Both have their own insecurities but are still caring and try to help guide Paddington through the real world at every turn. Peter Capaldi, Julia Walters, and Jim Broadbent all turn in fun supporting roles that give more perspective to the silly plot. But to me, the true scene-stealers are both Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty and Hugh Grant as Phoenix Buchanan, respectively. While Gleeson is a rough prison cook with a heart of gold, Grant gives arguably the best performance of his career as a selfish, washed up actor trying to respark his fame. You can tell he’s having an absolute blast hamming it up as the villain, and there’s chatter that he could break into Best Supporting Actor. That’s no joke. And from a pure filmmaking point of view, Paul King is inspired with the way he tells this story. The steady, fluid camerawork by Erik Wilson does excellent work following the ever-moving plot. In fact, some scenes are planted with unique symmetry to highlight what’s important for the moment. Combined with the vibrant and dynamic color scheme, and you’d easily be forgiven for thinking that Wes Anderson made this movie instead. It sure feels like one of his more tame, fast-paced comedies except much more family-friendly. Plus the editing by Mark Everson and Edgar Wright collaborator Jonathan Amos is frenetic but never disorienting. Each cut feels appropriately planned and some shots are even cut together to create a sort of long-take montage. It also helps that the CGI work brings Paddington to life so convincingly. Having been highly prolific yet underrated the last few years, Dario Marinelli comes in as the replacement for composing the musical score. His score is a diverse one, with several tracks that contrast each other nicely yet still retain the innocence of the tone. Case in point, the opening track, when we’re introduced to Windsor Garden, is jolly and filled with life. The composition has upbeat percussion such as xylophones and high-hats running well alongside the strings. Then, another theme is a more serene piano melody that’s calming and nice to listen to but feels less fun or jovial than other tracks. In keeping with the happy spirits of the film, the filmmakers decide to end the film creatively. While a wonderful hand-drawn animation plays over onscreen, Harry Belafonte’s song “Jump in the Line” can be heard and acts as a cute dance number. So yeah, all of that is one long way of saying that we needed this movie now more than ever. In a world where so many awful things are seen happening on the national news on a regular basis, here’s a little bubble of escapism and happiness that reminds everyone to look for the goodness in them. And somehow, it encourages us to find it. Knowing exactly what it needs to do and how to do it, Paddington 2 is a warm slice of feel-good, life-affirming cinema that all families must watch. In essence, this movie is a ginormous bear hug both for our bodies and our souls. We may not deserve it, but it’s what we all require right now, to let us know that it’s not the end of the world.

Related image

“Avengers: Infinity War” Movie Review

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen. The ultimate all-around culmination. The payoff of 10 years and 18 movies worth of franchise-building and superhero spectacle, all wrapped in one 2-and-a-half-hour movie. Will it really live up to the ridiculous hype or be crushed by fan expectations? This epic superhero ensemble film was released worldwide on April 27th, 2018, a week earlier than its previously announced date. One of the most expensive films ever made on a budget of $320 million, the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe broke records for the highest-grossing opening of all time. Having already earned over $1.16 billion worldwide, it is expected to hit the $2 billion mark by the end of its theatrical run. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers behind the two previous Captain America movies, the film was originally announced as the first of two parts, the other one being released next year. Anticipation for this film was so incredibly high that the cast were all initially given fake scripts to avoid spoilers getting leaked. Inspired primarily by Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet from 1991, the sprawling story follows the all-powerful being Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, as he travels across the universe looking for items called Infinity Stones. Seeking them for his gauntlet, it would grant him the strength to wipe out half the universe with just the snap of a finger and restoring balance to the known universe. Grabbing wind of his intentions, space-friendly team the Guardians of the Galaxy and the fractured but earth-bound Avengers begin following his trail and start looking for ways to defeat him. With time running out and clues few and far-between our Marvel heroes hope to confront Thanos before its too late. To say that I and several other fans have been looking forward to Avengers: Infinity War would be quite an understatement. As someone who has continuously followed and written about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being a particular fan of Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and the first Avengers, the biggest crossover of all time wasn’t just another MCU film to me. This was a landmark cinematic event in the making, finally bringing together every little detail and strand that the franchise has built thus far. As a result, some of the individual films suffer in quality in favor of bringing in more Easter Eggs or hints. But it was all part of the lead-up to the endgame. I was actually scared that Infinity War wouldn’t be able to deliver the pay-off, but for the most part, it’s really satisfying. Indeed, the whole idea of wrangling almost every existing Marvel character into one major movie would prove daunting to anyone. And Joss Whedon, writer and director of the first two Avengers films, famously walked away from the MCU entirely a few years ago in anger. So it makes sense that Anthony and Joe Russo were brought on board as the two did a pretty great job at juggling and balancing multiple heroes in Captain America: Civil War. Make no mistake, there are a handful of characters who feel under-utilized and it often feels like the film is straining to carry all of the exposition present. But hopefully, they’ll all have a balance on everything for the sequel next year. At this point, the primary actors have become so comfortable with playing their heroes that they seem extremely natural. Big props especially go to Paul Bettany as The Vision and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, who are given more substantial character arcs than almost anyone else in the film. Both of them separately contemplate the cosmic dangers impending and even show a little sadness at the possibilities. But the obvious scene-stealer here is Josh Brolin’s motion-capture performance as Thanos. With a menacing voice and huge physical presence, it becomes quite clear that this being will obliterate anything and everyone in his path with just gripping his fist. But he’s not completely detached from reality or intelligence, telling one Avenger, “You have my respect. When I’m done, half of humanity will still be alive. I hope they remember you.” The whole film is really his own hero’s journey, as we see his own motivations for why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s changed from the comics, and while it attempts to provide an emotional arc for him, it doesn’t quite land as expected. As is always expected with Marvel, the technical aspects are (mostly) hit right out of the park. For better and for worse, the film is loaded with a seemingly endless amount of CGI that helps bring to life the various worlds our heroes and villains travel to. Each one is given distinct coloring styles, but overall feel somewhat muted to match the more somber tone of the story. the motion-capture work for Thanos and his Black Order were particularly impressive and realistic, so much so that they very nearly looked like regular makeup. There are a number of swooping camera shots by cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who also shot the two previous Captain America films. This is contrasted with shaky action moments, meant to feel more gritty and grounded. And while they were very much in the vein of grand epics, it felt somewhat hampered by the editing from Matthew Schmidt and Jeffrey Ford. Having cut together 6 MCU films prior, they put a number of impressive action sequences through multiple cuts and it’s almost disorienting. Fresh off his excellent work in Ready Player One, Alan Silvestri returns to compose and conduct his 4th feature for Marvel. While not as memorable as Spielberg’s film, it still works when compared to the soundtracks of several other MCU pictures. On a handful of occasions, Silvestri will reprise his theme song introduced in The Avengers as a way of getting the crowd riled up. A vast majority of the tracks consist of big rousing horns and sustained percussion, as is expected for superhero epics. Interestingly, however, he also includes samples from other characters’ films, such as buoyant African drums for when we arrive in Wakanda or synths for Thor and the Guardians. There’s a good number of tracks that also used mellow strings as a way to hit home the emotional devastation of the story. And for the most part, it worked; especially in regards to the ending. And that’s where I’m going to stop. I hate to be the jerk who spoils a highly anticipated to anyone looking forward to it. We could argue back and forth about the temperament of expectations, but I have a code and I plan on standing by it. Avengers: Infinity War is a messy yet supreme example of modern popcorn entertainment. While it fell just short of my lofty hopes, there was still enough here that I loved to count it among the better entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s been 10 years worth of hype and build-up and now the game has totally changed. And we’re all here to witness it.

Avengers_ Infinity War

 

“A Quiet Place” Movie Review

Watching this movie in a packed theater at the Alamo Drafthouse was a truly surreal experience. Seriously, even with their strict etiquette of behavior, that auditorium was ridiculously silent. That added to the experience. This near-silent horror thriller premiered as the opening night picture at the 2018 South By Southwest Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation and rave reviews. Internationally released on April 6th, 2018, the film had a huge opening at the box office, raking in over $71 million against a $17 million budget. Directed by John Krasinski, the spec script by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods was inspired by various silent films they watched in college and was tossed around Hollywood for a number of years. According to the two of them, many studios were scared by the prospect of something so different and unique. When producer Michael Bay got a hold of it, the project finally got traction at Paramount, thus giving these Iowa boys their dream some life. The story is set in an unspecified future where society as we know it has broken down following a mysterious invasion. Krasinski also stars opposite his real-life wife Emily Blunt as two parents trying to keep their children alive in an extremely survivalist manner. They are constantly living in complete silence in order to avoid a set of violent creatures that are hypersensitive to sound. And for the next 95 minutes, we watch them deal with this peril as the monsters slowly start creeping in on their secluded farm home. If I’m being totally honest, I didn’t really have much initial interest in this film. Jim from The Office directing a straight-up horror flick? Seemed doomed from the start, but I became more enticed upon hearing the driving concept. It’s always nice to see filmmakers, and especially major studios these days, trying something new that we haven’t seen before. I had just barely missed its premiere here in my hometown but was encouraged by the positive response coming out the gate. Thankfully, A Quiet Place is exactly what I had been hoping for. Better yet, Krasinski is able to fully flesh out Beck and Woods’ screenplay to the max with uncommon originality and pulp. With a couple of exceptions, it’s pretty clear that everyone on board knew exactly how to “Show, don’t tell” the story and build the world. Although there is some dialogue present, the characters mostly interact through American Sign Language. Everything feels so lived-in and confident and thought-out that it resonates directly with the audience. It may be only his third feature, and his first one for a major studio, but he shows a considerable grasp on the plot and structure throughout most of the runtime. It’s lean and mean, gets right to the point, and doesn’t waste any time with narration or on-screen text. The man is also really good in the lead role as the survivalist father. He is willing to go to some pretty extreme lengths to keep his family safe, but never loses sight of his humanity with some moments of genuine heart-to-heart. Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds play his son and daughter, respectively. While both offer up great performances in their roles, Simmonds steals the spotlight frequently for her strength and determination. Not to mention the fact that she’s actually deaf in real life, which adds another layer of realism to this world. Emily Blunt, meanwhile, is fantastic as the mother of the family, who’s never content to just lay low at home. This may be a horror film released in late Spring, but her work here is honestly Oscar-worthy, especially a scene where she has to climb into a bathtub. Late in the picture, defeated and tired, she softly inquires, “Who are we if we can’t protect them?” Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, Krasinski & Co. have put together a handsomely-produced film. Charlotte Bruus Christensen uses the widescreen format to her full advantage with numerously well-planned shots. Virtually everything seen in a frame can be used to help advance the story (Occasionally to a silly degree) and almost nothing is handheld. The practical sets, such as the cornfield littered with noise-reducing grain, are all caught on camera and make it feel like we’re actually there. Moreso is the pitch-perfect sound design by Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Vyn. With the minimal amount of spoken dialogue, so many diegetic background noises are allowed to be heard in increased volume. If you see this film in theaters, it’s a special treat; little details like the snapping of a twig make it all the more immersive. But also, the editing by Christopher Tellefsen is very clever. Like how it cuts to complete silence when the perspective shifts to Simmonds or amplifies when a creature comes on-screen. Horror veteran Marco Beltrami composes and conducts the evocative musical score for this film, which may be my favorite that he’s done. There are a handful of tracks that are meant as jolting violins for jumpscares, though they’re surprisingly effective. But the best ones are low-key bits of plucked electric guitars and subtle yet repetitive piano melodies. Also worth mentioning are a handful of low strings that either delve deeper into the intensity of the thrills or the emotions. Either way, it works to get to the emotional core of the family drama. While it was a truly visceral theatrical experience, the film, unfortunately, gets a little hampered by the end. One of the most annoying things in horror movies is watching main characters make really dumb decisions solely to keep the plot going. While this film is mostly successful in avoiding that, the last act came fairly close to dropping some of the logic- such as how much sound the family is allowed to make. Also worth noting is that the creatures themselves felt like they were scarier offscreen. While their overall design is pretty cool, it definitely felt heavy on CGI. You can’t help but feel it would have been better with something a little more practical to witness. But taken as a whole, for a first-timer in the horror genre, John Krasinski shows a knack for telling a tight, resonant story that is sure to please crowds. A Quiet Place is a tautly accomplished thriller that truly lives up to its title. It’s films like these that give me hope for the future of mainstream horror cinema. Good PG-13 flicks in this genre are a rare breed, but this might be an exception to the rule. I would definitely encourage seeing this in a packed theater, especially something like the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema like I did. No one will make a sound.

Related image

 

 

“2001: A Space Odyssey” Movie Review

Oh boy. It’s that time, ladies and gentlemen. This moment is one I’ve dreaded ever since starting my Blog on WordPress. The so-called “Sacred Cow” conversation of cinema simply cannot be avoided any further. And what better way to embrace it than in its 50th(!) anniversary? Stanley Kubrick’s epic science-fiction drama was originally released in the United States on April 3rd, 1968. While it turned out to be extremely profitable with a box office take of $190 million against a budget of $10.5 million, critics and audiences were entirely split on what to make of the film. While Roger Ebert hailed it as one of the greatest films of our time, others like Pauline Kael threw words such as “pretentious” and “boring” at it. Today, the consensus has generally fallen over to the positive side of reception. Co-written by the acclaimed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, the movie was written in tandem with his titular novel. Kubrick was supposedly less interested in the book itself and instead drew from 6 other short stories by Clarke for inspiration. This is a commonality in his oeuvre,  as he really just wanted to explore the concept of extraterrestrial life and our relationship with the stars. The plot is very hard to explain without delving into speculation. On a literal level, the setting is the year 2001 where human beings have mastered both artificial intelligence and space travel. (Note: None of this came to life) After a mysterious black monolith is discovered buried on the Moon, two astronauts, Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, are tasked with tracing its origins all the way to Jupiter. They are assisted by HAL 9000, the world’s most advanced computer, and unexpectedly embark on a journey concerning evolution and what it means to be human. I think. As said before, even trying to discuss this film is bound to be controversial. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, “Sacred Cow” is an idiom usually referring to a piece of art that is held above criticism, sometimes to a ridiculously unreasonable level. There are many people who will likely murder me if I even dare to say anything negative about the film. In fact, I’m going to put something forth that may anger them even more- I’ve been somewhat lukewarm to most of Kubrick’s features. While I do “get” a lot of things he’s trying to say and absolutely understand his importance to cinema, most of his pictures are ones that I respect and appreciate more than I actually love. There are two exceptions to that rule, and the best one is 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the boldest films ever put on the silver screen. This is not going to be a review in which I try to analyze every frame of this movie trying to search for the hidden meaning. There are already plenty of essays, dissertations, and YouTube videos covering that area. Rather, I just wanted to break down the fact that this movie is so beloved for that exact reason. A whole lot of movies, whether they be effects-heavy blockbusters or ambitious indies, almost always try to relay information to the audience and leave little breathing room. It’s certainly common among today’s cinema but also prevalent in several films from years ago. The beauty about someone like Stanley Kubrick is that while his narratives are well-told and satisfying, it’s the themes that make him a true auteur. There are only a handful of living filmmakers that can reach that level of profundity and ambiguity. One thing a lot of people don’t really talk about when reviewing this film is the acting. Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood both do fine work in the roles of human doctors, Bowman and Poole. While the film is famously minimal on dialogue, the two of them are able to deliver the technobabble with a surprising sense of naturalism. But both of them are outdone by Douglas Rain, the voice of HAL 9000. Even with such a monotone voice, this robot is able to convey more emotion than either of his human colleagues during the entirety of their cosmic journey. Late in the plot, when he decides to defend himself against deactivation, he menacingly tells his creator, “I’m sorry, Dave; I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Aside from them, Daniel Richter is also notable as the chief of the man-apes in a surprisingly haunting prologue. Using nothing but a suit, primate vocal sounds, and a large bone at his disposal, he leaves a lasting impression for the remainder of the film. Meanwhile, on a purely technical scale, 2001: A Space Odyssey is an unprecedented achievement even now. Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography does some incredible shots of both the African landscape in the prologue and of space itself. Kubrick’s signature tracking shots and static wides are all present here, and looks especially impressive if you can see it on 70 mm film. What’s really impressive is how scientifically accurate much of the film is, especially the scene set on a lunar base. The director spent months consulting with NASA to ensure that everything would be plausible, including his use of silence and slow movement in space travel. The sets and costume designs are all entirely practical, built with hands and shot with pure celluloid. Compare the effects, spaceships, and costumes with any sci-fi movie going into the early 2000’s- it really holds up. In fact, a lot of CGI fluff we’re getting today pales in comparison. Similar to most of Kubrick’s other works, this is not a film meant for everyone. While several film fans will be completely immersed in the glorious spectacle of it all, just as many will proclaim it to be the most boring motion picture of all time. There are no concrete answers to everything on-screen and moves at an unusually slow pace. Plus, it contains one of the most ambiguous, head-scratching, straight-up WTF endings in the history of cinema- even to this day. I totally get why I lot of people don’t like this movie, and it actually took a rewatch for me to truly appreciate it. But for those with the patience to go on the journey, those who will dare to keep an open mind to all that comes forth, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a peerless cinematic embodiment of sheer visual poetry. Every science-fiction film in the last 50 years has been influenced by it in one way or another. And hopefully, it will do so for at least 50 more.

Related image

 

“Ready Player One” Movie Review

Y’all are talking about all of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references abound in this movie, but NONE of them made me feel more warm or nostalgic than seeing the Amblin Entertainment logo at the beginning. Only a true follower of 80’s pop culture like Halliday would probably get that same feeling. This dystopian sci-fi adventure from director Steven Spielberg held a surprise premiere at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival, where it debuted to positive critical response. Originally scheduled release in theaters on March 30th, the producers saw the potential of the Good Friday weekend and it arrived a day early. Raking in over $109 million worldwide in the first few days, it is now projected to become the director’s highest-grossing film in years. Based on Ernest Cline’s book of the same name, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the adaptation wallowed in development hell for a few years primarily due to securing rights to all of the references in the book. After Spielberg came aboard, it was only a matter of how many they could actually keep, with his public proclamation that many of his own movies would be avoided- with a few exceptions. The 2-hour and 20 minute-long story takes place in the dystopian future of 2045 when reality has become such a resource-depleted place that most of them retreat to a virtual reality called The OASIS. One of those people is Wade Watts, played by Tye Sheridan, whose avatar Parzival is something of a loser obsessed with pop culture from the 1980’s. When the creator James Halliday dies with no heirs, he creates a contest: Whoever can find an Easter Egg in his game first will inherit his entire fortune and control of The OASIS. Soon, Parzival grabs the first clue and finds himself thrust into a situation rife with allies and players who are literally willing to kill to get the Egg, all while learning the difference between the real world and the virtual one. Full disclosure before going on further: I’ve read the book by Ernest Cline numerous times before they even announced the cast. While the plot sometimes felt overwhelmed by the nostalgia and references, I was constantly wowed by the epic adventure. Hearing that Steven Spielberg, the man behind many of the book’s influences, would be directing the adaptation felt like a cinephile’s wet dream, especially after the epic first trailer. While news that the movie deviated heavily from the source material created great skepticism among many, I still remained the optimist. That optimism paid off dearly because Ready Player One was a blast for me to watch. I can see, however, that a lot of people are going to be turned off by the wave of pop culture references. In fact, the amount that can be found in the movie is practically exhausting. To me, this wasn’t really window-dressing so much as a look into someone like Wade, whose fanboyism has almost divorced him from the real world. Honestly, it could have gone a little more in-depth about the subject, but for the most part, the movie is able to walk the line. It’s not really about condemning or advocating fandoms of any kind, but rather asking what they do for the individual and where they lead to. The cast is well-aware that they’re in a Spielbergian adventure and are reveling in every moment of it. Tye Sheridan plays the part of Wade Watts like a classic hero as if he were convinced that he was a lovechild between a superhero and a John Hughes protagonist. While some of the dialogue is corny and exposition-heavy, he convincingly plays a kid struggling with identity. Opposite him are Lena Waithe and Olivia Cooke as Aech and Artemis. They both elevate beyond the archetypes of “best friend” or “love interest” and are given full personalities and concerns. Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg play James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, the two creators of The OASIS. While their screentime is limited, we get to see both ends of the VR argument; Morrow is concerned about the substitute for reality while Halliday just never fits in anywhere else. Other supporters like Philip Zhao, Hannah John-Kamen, Win Morisaki, and T.J. Miller add interesting extras to the package but aren’t given a whole lot of room to develop into full, interesting characters. Biggest surprise goes to Ben Mendohlson as Nolan Sorrento, head of the nefarious corporation I.O.I. While he initially seems like a generic big-suit bad guy, we later get to see how little value he sees in The OASIS beyond money. The fact that his avatar is completely uninspired is a rich rip on his lack of imagination in a world full of it. And the director proves once again that even 32 feature films into his career, he’s still got it behind the camera. Most of his regular collaborators return with him. Janus Kaminski’s fluid camera movements? Check. Michael Kahn’s clever editing between both reality and The OASIS? Check. Adam Stockhausen’s brilliant, grungy production design of the Stacks and other places? Check. The big winner here, though, is Industrial Lights & Magic with their glorious visual effects. Even with nearly 317 movies under their belt, the motion capture work done to bring The OASIS to life is magnificent, some of the best done in the movies yet. Each avatar and location is crafted with care and craft. The climactic battle sequence is one of the largest-in-scale I’ve ever seen in a movie theater, but nothing felt hard to follow in the slightest. The amount of references they were able to pack in here warrants a rewatch alone. This is one of the only Spielberg films in which John Williams did not compose the musical score, instead taken care of by Alan Silvestri. And he does a fantastic job, giving us a soundtrack worthy of the films that it wants to pay homage to. The main theme is like a clever homage to several “heroic” musical themes of the past such as Indiana Jones, employing all sorts of different classic styles. You’ve got your Williams with piercing horns, James Horner with epic accompanying vocals, a bit of dynamic percussion like Jerry Goldsmith, and beautiful swelling strings like Silvestri himself. They all come together to create an eclectic and genuinely original soundtrack, on top of some of the most recognizable songs from 1980’s played just for keeps. At this point in his career, I don’t think it’s possible for the director to make a terrible movie. Not even if he tried. There are definitely quite a few people who aren’t going to be won over by this one, either because of its overwhelming nostalgia, strong deviations from the book, or clear messages. Though its character development leaves something to be desired, for me, Ready Player One is a really fun adventure with loving homages to its influences. It’s certainly no masterpiece, but beyond anything, it shows that the 71-year-old still knows how to craft an enthralling adventure, even if it feels like cruise-control sometimes. Doubting Steven Spielberg’s ability to entertain audiences always makes you look like an idiot, even if the results aren’t always amazing.

“Back to the Future” Movie Review

Time to get back on track with my New Year’s resolution. So how about we continue with a blast from… the future? Okay, that came out wrong. Whatever. This now-classic sci-fi dramedy from director Robert Zemeckis was originally released on July 3rd,, 1985. The film surpassed all expectations and went on to earn over $381 million worldwide along with an ecstatic critical response. Co-written by Zemeckis and producer Bob Gale, the Oscar-nominated screenplay was conceived from Gale’s wondering about how his parents actually met. They initially had a tumultuous experience trying to get major studios to fund the project, which was considered “too tame” for many of them. Thankfully, Steven Spielberg got his production company Amblin Entertainment to back it and through the use of his magical Hollywood powers, it finally saw the light of day. By now, most of you probably know the premise: Marty McFly, a delinquent teenager in 1985, is friends with an oddball scientist named Doc Brown. Brown has recently created a time-traveling machine out of a DMC DeLorean, which goes to any desired point in history once it speeds up to 88 miles per hour. During the night of their first test run, Marty is accidentally sent back 30 years to 1955 and inadvertently breaks up his parents’ first meeting. To save his own existence, he tracks down Doc Brown from 1955 in an attempt to restart the DeLorean to go home… while simultaneously rekindling his parents’ romance. Here, I find myself in a situation similar to that of my review for The Shawshank Redemption. No, I have definitely seen Back to the Future many times prior to my resolution, but it’s essentially the same scenario. It’s extremely hard for me to review it objectively, and I’m almost positive that there’s nothing I can add that hasn’t been said before. But similarly, I just can’t resist the urge to write about it. So yeah, Back to the Future is a classic that is essential, required viewing for all film fans out there. Considering everything that happened during production, though, it’s a miracle we’re talking about it in such high praise. Although Fox is completely distinguished as McFly, a full month’s worth of filming was done with Eric Stoltz in the original role. Then, he was abruptly dropped and the producers had to work around the schedule for the sitcom Family Ties in order for Fox to make it work. (He was the original choice of Zemeckis) Even more baffling than that, though, is that the DeLorean wasn’t even the first design for the time machine. Instead, a regular refrigerator would have been the one converted and an atomic explosion would have been needed to send Marty back home. Who knows what history would have been like if the plot of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had been adapted 20-plus years beforehand? Luckily, we don’t and I’m happier for it. As mentioned before, it’s impossible to imagine anyone playing Marty McFly other than Michael J. Fox. He manages to capture all of the anxieties, charisma, and reactions of a teenager rarely found in most coming-of-age stories… at least when it comes to time travel. Opposite him, Christopher Lloyd is hilarious and buoyant as Doc Brown, helping create one of the most memorable lead duos in cinematic history. He’s somehow able to make some of the most tech-heavy dialogue sound completely normal, informing his young comrade, “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” Meanwhile, James Tolkan plays one of the meanest teachers ever to grace the silver screen and Thomas F. Wilson hams it up as Biff Tannen, an iconic bully if ever there was one. The absolute scene-stealer here is Crispin Glover as Marty’s dad George. An eccentric nerd to end all others, the amount of quirkiness and believable traits the actor attributes is uncomfortably realistic. Also realistic in this film is the special effects, a hallmark of almost any Zemeckis picture. The ethereal folks over at Industrial Lights and Magic managed to craft a tight, local-based time travel movie using only 32 VFX shots, which is significantly smaller than most live-action blockbusters released in the modern era. Because of this, virtually every visual effect has aged incredibly well over the years… with a single brief exception. Another trademark of the director are long-take dolly shots, carried out here by cinematographer Dean Cundey. It never feels distracting in the least and adds more personality with some imagery it lingers on. But just as important is the editing job by Arthur Schmidt and Harry Keramidas, who both manage to keep the tension palpable. Relatively early, we see a well-shot scale model that not only delivers necessary exposition but also sets up the final act. And when the climax comes, the way they cut between shots makes my palms sweat and my fingernails shorten every time. Some movies are only as good as their music, and Alan Silvestri’s musical score is one for the ages. With piercing horns that would make John Williams blush and fast-paced percussion, the main theme fits perfectly into the relatively small-scale story even though it sounds as though it belongs in a massive epic. It helps to boost the momentum and remind the audience of Marty’s limited time left in 1955. Some themes you just remember the movie that it’s from, others you can’t possibly imagine the world without. And Silvestri’s work, my readers, falls into the latter category. Even all these years later and after so many re-watches, I really don’t have any problems or complaints about this movie. For all intents and purposes, this has everything that I want when it comes to movies and pure entertainment. Extremely likable characters, fantastic visuals, an unforgettable score, quotable dialogue, a simple yet effective story, and passionate commitment from all parties involved. Back to the Future is a carefully crafted, breathtaking cinematic extravaganza for all ages. I usually hate the old saying, “They don’t make them like this anymore.” But in the case of Robert Zemeckis’ classic film, it’s true; they really don’t. And hopefully, they’ll never remake it.

Related image