Category Archives: Sci-fi

“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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“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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“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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“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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“Okja” Movie Review

Here we are, folks. We have yet another Netflix original movie that I am super late on reviewing. But hey, as a wise Wizard once said, “We have work to do.” This unorthodox science-fiction film by writer-director Bong Joon-ho competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It later was added on the streaming giant Netflix on June 28th, garnering positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. It also gained unwanted attention at Cannes for causing a few technical glitches during its runtime, prompting debate if streaming services should be allowed to compete at festivals at all. The real concern people should have with this movie is whether it will convince audiences to become vegetarians as a result. In the not-too-distant future, mankind has started creating GMO animals to feed the population. One of these is a massive “super-pig” named Okja, who attracts the attention of a powerful food corporation and the radical Animal Liberation Front. And Okja’s friend, a young Korean girl named Mija, does her best to protect her from all these forces just so she can live a happy, quiet life in her mountainous home. Joon-ho’s previous film, Snowpiercer from 2014, was a great and underrated film not nearly enough people saw. In fact, I would say that it was the film that made me want to start sharing my opinions on film on my blog because I had quite a bit to share about that picture. And so ever since I saw it in theaters, I’ve been salivating to see whatever the singular South Korean filmmaker could conjure up, even if it wasn’t technically released theatrically. Still, after absorbing 2 hours and 2 minutes of his new vision in 2017, I feel content with what he has given us. Mija is played by a complete newcomer named Ahn Seo-hyun, and this is a name that we should keep an eye on in the future. Despite only being 13 years old, she demonstrates a strong will and commitment to compassion most young girls may aspire to. It’s also believed that she performed some of her own stunts, which makes it all the more obvious how awesome she is. By her side is a big English-speaking supporting cast, all of whom offer some unique flavor to the experience. Tilda Swinton especially impresses in her dual role as sisters who own a massive corporation. One’s an eccentric but mostly likable woman, while the other is a heartless corporate magnate, reminiscent of her role as Mason in Snowpiercer. Her incredible range is on full display here and proves that she can basically kill any role that she takes. Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Devon Bostwick, Daniel Henshall, and The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun appear as members of the ALF, while Giancarlo Esposito felt as though he were simply waiting for his paycheck to clear. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a washed up and drunk T.V. personality who is so clearly out of touch with his current state of popularity. His performance is totally out-there and provides a Segway for many shifts in tone. Piggybacking off of that, the primary point of criticism people have had with Okja is that it juggles its tone around too often. These complaints are valid. Sometimes, a scene that is very serious will become hilarious through the insertion of a moment that is just so absurd. Or vice versa. Also, a number of times, it shifts from being a fun action scene to an intense moment of torture or violence. To be fair, Joon-ho has done this in his previous films. If you watch his monster flick, The Host, it’s clear that he likes to shift the viewers’ mood on the snap of a finger. It can be jarring, but I’m willing to forgive him on account of sheer ballsiness. The film is also technically brilliant. Darrius Khondji is a vastly underrated cinematographer who continuously proves his worth, with his work on recent Woody Allen films as visual proof. Following in the footsteps of his stunning work on The Lost City of Z earlier this year, the mountains of Korea look green and gorgeous, which contrasts nicely with the condensed atmosphere of the city of Manhattan. It, along with Yang Jin-mo’s excellent off-kilter editing job, gives this film a feeling so foreign and different than what we are used to. Extreme close-ups of characters followed by big sweeping shots of the parading streets of Seoul or New York allows for the personality to come into play. The visual effects also deserve some praise-worthy commentary. The design for the “super pigs” that Mirando is using is really unique and appealing. The titular character is nothing short of adorable and likable. Even though we don’t know her whole history, we’re immediately on her side and want her to spend peaceful time with Mija. But the film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the processed food industry. A scene two-thirds of the way through shows a rather disturbing and graphic mating scene between Okja and another “super pig.” But it’s later in the last 20 minutes of Okja that it transitions from a fun sci-fi adventure into a twisted look at the American slaughterhouse. It creates a bit of moral ambiguity as Mirando’s true intention is revealed, but it’s not evil or far-fetched. They just want to feed the world, no matter how many animals have to be killed for it. There have been reports of people who have given up eating meat and become vegetarians/vegans as a result of watching this movie. I’m still fine, but I can’t say the same for you. Okja balances a tricky tonal juggling act with a plucky hero and great characters. Bong Joon-ho is a brilliant director and deserves more recognition after this film’s release. It also proves that Netflix movies can be just as big and enjoyable as anything getting a theatrical release. It all just depends on the talent behind everything.

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