Movie Review: Interstellar

Interstellar is a science-fiction adventure film directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan. The film stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Michael Caine.

Interstellar_film_poster

Plot

In a documentary style, several older citizens discuss the state of the world. A group of sandstorms and a crop epidemic called The Blight tear through the farm belt of America (the rest of the world is not portrayed, but assumed to be in a similar position). Engineer and former NASA pilot Cooper (McConaughey) now works as a farmer to maintain crops for his family and community. He lives with his two kids, son Tom and daughter “Murph,” as well as his father in law Donald (John Lithgow). He laments that few technological steps are being taken to address the Blight to the point of denying past technological advances. He spends his days programming combines to be operational while unmanned and reappropriating other technologies to do some good.

Murph, experiencing strange phenomena in her bedroom, claims that ghosts are haunting her. Cooper does his best to be supportive while realistic by telling her to approach the topic scientifically, taking notes on her observations. On a strange occurrence after a sandstorm, Cooper investigates some coordinates left in a pattern in the sand. It leads him (and Murph, who hid in the truck) to the new secret base of NASA, operated by Dr. Brand (Hathaway) and her father (Caine). NASA proposes a plan to leave Earth rather than attempt to save it. Two plans are proposed upon finding a hospitable planet: gather the remaining citizens of Earth and take them to the new planet (the overwhelmingly preferred outcome) or taking a large cache of frozen, fertilized eggs and effectively restart the human race. Murph is infuriated that her father take on the long-term trip despite the potential benefits. He promises he’ll come back and gives her a watch synchronized to his, intended to compare the passage of time on his return.

Interstellar1

Cooper, Dr. Brand, and a handful of other scientists/astronauts approach an anomalous black hole close to Saturn, taking them to an unfamiliar galaxy.

8/10

Characters

Cooper is the focal character of the movie. Presented as an every-man, he represents several facets that should resonate with members of the audience. Dr. Brand is the female lead and has a great deal of screen time, but her rooting interests are not as clear as Cooper’s. She believes very much in the cause on an analytical level as opposed to an emotional level. A.I. helpers TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart) are programmed with a level of personality to make them interesting.

A majority of other characters have a typical sense of optimism if they are in the know about the habitable planet program, and pessimism if they aren’t involved.

Interestingly enough, characters are introduced throughout the movie. Each of them has a level of conflict and closure with the space mission.

7/10

Language

Unfamiliar concepts involving complex ideas such as black holes, quantum mechanics, and agriculture are all explained to an understandable level. During Murph’s investigation of the Ghosts, she learns and makes use of Morse Code, and to a lesser extent, binary.

8/10

Theme

There are a lot of thematic elements in Interstellar. The most obvious are the ideas of adventure and sense of advancement, but the more subtle elements pop up from time to time. Bravery contrasting with cowardice are introduced at the end of the first act of the movie and reintroduced at the start of the third act, portrayed through the astronauts risking their lives for a future not guaranteed to them or the ones they care for. At several moments a poem is recited; “Do Not Go Gentle Into the Night,” expressing the power of conviction for something you believe in.

10/10

Music

Hans Zimmer returns to orchestrate the score for the film. The music is still dramatic and sweeping, but it strays away from the repetitive two-note “the hero is here” sound bites used throughout The Dark Knight Trilogy. I won’t go back and retroactively regrade my review for The Dark Knight Rises, but the more I’ve watched it the more I’ve realized that Zimmer seemed to be phoning in his performance. But in this film, the music complements the action on the screen instead of driving it.

8/10

Spectacle

This film is visually stunning to the point of inspiring awe. The locations were well-chosen for the search of hospitable planets in-film. The imagery of a black hole used prominently throughout the film was actually studied and theorized by Nolan in collaboration with NASA and the SpaceX program to ensure the most authentic representation possible. The A.I. programs were also very imaginative, appearing as moving monoliths not unlike the structure in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

10/10

Star Power

Interstellar cast

To say that this film is star-studded is a significant understatement. Almost all of the actors in this movie are recognized with Golden Globe awards or Oscars. Matthew McConaughey is at the forefront, being in almost every scene. Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain get their fair share of screen time in the second and third acts of the movie. Michael Caine is a regular for Christopher Nolan, starring in six out of Nolan’s nine feature films. Several other great actors will also be on the screen, but for the sake of preserving the surprise I won’t divulge it here.

10/10

Audience Demographic

People who enjoy fantastical movies will initially be drawn to this movie. Nolan has made a name for himself by placing deep, thought-provoking messages into his movies. This will turn off some people who much prefer to use film to escape for a bit instead of critical analysis. I can say for certain that if science-fiction is of any interest, Interstellar is worth a watch.

8/10

Post Movie Thought

Oh man, where to start? The movie is pretty well paced for how long it is, clocking in at 2 hours and 49 minutes. There’s a lot of stuff to take in, both visually and intellectually. There are a handful of twists, turns, and interrupted speeches. The antagonist of the film isn’t as clear cut as a typical movie. Admittedly, there is one moment that is touched on in the first act that isn’t addressed in the next, in relation to traveling though the black hole. The moment may not even be recognized or acknowledged to an escapist movie-goer, but for others it’s likely to catch a train of thought. Looking past it, though, the film is mostly consistent and beautiful.

8/10

Shown His Work

It’s been noted that Christopher Nolan went to great lengths to understand astrophysics and the study of black holes. He went so far as to collaborate with one or more astrophysicists on what a black hole would look like, creating the visual template for the movie.  While not exactly an original idea, the film is not an adaptation of a short novel and that’s a breath of fresh air in my book. With no adaptation, the work is allowed to be more flexible, and it was brilliantly pulled off.

9/10

Overall: 78/100

 

 

Posted in Movie Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a mystery thriller based off the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn. The movie is directed by David Fincher and stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Carrie Coon.

Gone Girl Poster.jpg

Plot

The opening narration is a graphic description of a husband wanting to find out what his wife thinks. The husband is Nick Dunne (Affleck) and the wife is Amy Elliot-Dunne (Rosamund Pike).

Nick steps outside his house in the early hours of the morning and arrives at The Bar (the actual name of the bar) to talk to his sister Margo (Connie Coon). He mentions their fifth anniversary, the “Wood Anniversary,” and tells his sister he has no idea what he should give Amy as a present. Nick returns home after a neighbor calls that his cat is roaming out in the front yard. He finds signs of a struggle and his wife nowhere to be found. He calls the police and starts an investigation.

Flashback to a party in 2005, Amy recalls in her diary that she first meets Nick at a party. On their first date, they both admit to being writers; Nick writes how-to a men’s magazine, Amy writes quizzes for women’s magazines. They kiss in a “sugar storm” and get very friendly afterward.

Cutting back to the investigation, Nick’s behavior makes the detectives working the case uneasy; not knowing basic information including social life or blood type. At the initial press conference, Nick gives a low-toned plea for anyone with information to come forward and ends the conference with a picture of the “Missing” poster with Amy’s face on it. For a brief moment, his social awkwardness causes him to smile at the flashing cameras.

Gone Girl1

The rest of the first act of the film bounces back and forth between the investigation of Amy’s disappearance and Amy’s journal entries documenting major life events and marital struggles.

9/10

Characters

Nick and Amy are at the forefront of the movie and characterization. Nick’s defining moments are apparent almost right away, while Amy’s is given in small bits, mostly through her diary. Margo, referred to as Go for a majority of the movie, is portrayed as supportive as well as very critical of Nick. Both ends of that spectrum become very important during the film’s second act. Other characters include Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris), Amy’s overly attached ex-boyfriend, Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry), a defense attorney known for defending sleazy husbands, Detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gilpen (Patrick Fugit), and Ellen Abbot (Missi Pyle), a not-so-subtle expy of Nancy Grace.

While the above characters are developed in their own right, there are still others that only make brief but significant appearances without the satisfaction of having a conclusion. Nick’s father is revealed to have Alzheimer’s disease and put into an assisted living home. He has a home close to the town that Nick, Amy, and Go live. After the initial appearance, he is mentioned twice but never in enough detail to examine his character. In the realm of the movie, I wanted to know what made him so important or not important to Nick. Other once-off characters include Amy’s former classmate Tommy and Nick and Go’s mother Maureen.

8/10

Language

I was expecting a good portion of forensic jargon to go along with the investigation, but surprisingly it was hardly there. The most biting use of language was the way that some women (not saying who to avoid spoilers) were addressed. It was so angry it could almost be identified as misogynistic. More on that below.

6/10

Theme

There were a lot of messages that could be pulled from this movie. The primary is a deconstruction of a marriage and what it entails. Misogyny is also briefly brought up, being the only dialogue that Nick’s father ever says in the movie, calling a female officer a bitch several times. Later in the movie, Nick is accused of being like his father and he gets very defensive, saying he doesn’t treat women that way.

Outside of the marriage deconstruction is the sort of “jury by media” that occurs in spurts throughout the film. Ellen Abbot, a character largely based on real TV show host Nancy Grace, goes for the throat in tearing down Nick’s character while the investigation was still ongoing. As a result, most people coming into contact with Nick hate him. Much like Nancy Grace, it practically becomes a science.

9/10

Music

As with David Fincher’s other films, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Atticus Ross scored the movie. Licensed music can be heard in small bits, but the defining music is the instrumental score. It gives the atmosphere a sense of uneasiness and hostility.

9/10

Spectacle

The framing of the movie is the only thing to focus on in terms of spectacle. Without fantastical science fiction or fantasy, dramatic movies have only performances and structure to rely on. The back and forth of the first act of the movie sets the stage for who Nick and Amy are as characters, and how things fall apart as time goes on in the second act. Keeping everything well-rooted in the real world, it does a great job for the narrative. Also, somewhere in the third act, an awkward scene comes about that simultaneously ends in a bang and a whimper.

8/10

Star Power

gone-girl-cast-1

In my mind, Ben Affleck and Neil Patrick Harris were the two most noticeable names on the cast list. Tyler Perry was also on my radar, but moreso for African-American comedies with varying forms of success. Rosamund Pike started her film career as a Bond girl, which is pretty cool, and has several award nominations throughout her career. Carrie Coon is a relatively new actress.

7/10

Audience Demographic

My initial impression for this movie’s audience was female-centric, particularly those who watched the Lifetime channel regularly (perhaps that’s sexist, sorry if you’re offended). This also stems from the fact that several of the reviews I’ve read about the book were written by other women. Surprisingly, the showing that I went to had a large majority of male viewers, some curious about Ben Affleck’s role in a mystery movie. Considering the marketing and TV spots, it’s possible that the movie could be directed toward men because of the limited female presence during commercials.

7/10

Post-movie Thought

My biggest concern or unresolved issue came with the minor characters, such as Bill Dunne, father of Nick and Go. Initial interviews said that there would have to be intentional deviations from the novel to help structure the plot from page to screen. I was happily relieved that not too much had changed, but rather edited out or condensed for time.

8/10

Source Material

Gone Girl was released in 2012 by Gillian Flynn. When she was revealed to also be the script writer for the film, I was concerned about how the book would translate on screen. A handful of movies have had the author of a novel go about writing the script for the movie version with varied success. Ranging from keeping the core elements at the cost of important subplots (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) to almost being an “adaptation in name only” (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), author’s screenwriting skills may not be the best transition from one writing medium to another. Happily, Flynn did an excellent job of melding the fragmented structure of the novel to make for an easy-flowing movie.

9/10

Overall: 80/100

Posted in Movie Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie Review: The Giver

The Giver is a social science-fiction movie based off of the novel by Lois Lowry. It stars Jeff Bridges as the title role, Meryl Streep as the Chief Elder, Brenton Thwaites as Jonas, and Odeya Rush as Fiona.

Official poster

Plot:

Following an event known as The Ruin, society banded together and took drastic steps to rid its citizens of the pain of suffering, loss, and other emotions. So a utopia was constructed, slowly getting rid of diversity for the convenience and stability of sameness. All memories of the past have been given to a sole repository as the Receiver of Memories.

Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) gets together with his friends Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) to prepare for their Graduation ceremony, where they will cease their formal schooling and instead train for their life careers. They make a brief visit to the Nurturing Center, where Jonas’s father (Alexander Skarsgard) works and Fiona occasionally volunteers. Jonas briefly glimpses Fiona’s hair color while taking care of an infant unofficially named Gabriel. That night, the entire Community gathers for the year-end ceremony. The Community’s Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) starts the ceremony with a celebration of The Old where they are given applause for their service to the Community before they are “Released to Elsewhere.” Then is the celebration of the newborn, where they are given names. Next is the celebration of “Nines,” where children of that age are recognized for reaching the halfway point of their childhood and receive bicycles. Finally comes the Graduation, where life careers are assigned. All are given a variety of careers (pilot, nurturer, birth-mother) except for Jonas. He has been recognized for his capability to “see beyond” and has been personally selected to be the new Receiver of Memories. The Community recognizes the importance of this position, especially following the failed attempt to train a Receiver ten years prior.

While Jonas is given specific instruction on being the new Receiver, he and his family get an unexpected visit from one of the nurturers dropping off Gabriel (who still hasn’t officially been named). The father assures that he can get the baby to adjust. The following morning Jonas starts his first day with the current Receiver of Memory (Jeff Bridges) and is given the memory of snow, sleds, and Home. The Receiver gives context to why things are different now than they were then, stability over quality, peace over chaos, and similarity over difference. Jonas, upon concluding his first day in training, asks how he should address his teacher, with Jonas becoming the new Receiver. His teacher simply responds that he should be called “The Giver.”

Unfortunately, the original line “I’m the Dude” couldn’t be accepted.

7/10

Characters

Normally, characterization comes from an analysis of a character’s ambitions, backstory, and attitude. Due to the nature of the environment, a majority of characters lack some or all of these qualities. Jonas acquires hopes and ambitions after learning about the qualities of the world before Communities. Asher is the resident trouble-maker who gets his personality stomped out as soon as he’s assigned to be a pilot. The Giver is very open about things and could be easily understood as soon as he’s introduced, and only becomes more interesting as the plot continues (especially regarding the previous Receiver). The Chief Elder’s primary concern involves making sure the Community remains stable and that significant discrepancies be corrected. In my mind, she appears to be less of an ambitious villain and more of a villain who refuses to let things change. The inability of these characters understanding what environment they are in, or rather how they live in it, makes them interesting, while they themselves may not be so interesting.

7/10

Language

Right from the opening narration, the importance of language is made clear. Imprecise or over-exaggerated language is not appreciated and is implied to be a punishable offense (though this isn’t shown in the movie). When asked about Graduation, Jonas claims he is terrified but is later corrected by his mother (Katie Holmes) to mean anxious. Jonas’s inquisitive nature following his time with the Giver presses his mother to be more insistent on precision of language. Jonas, despite the rules telling him not to do so, also tries to express these newly learned words to his friends, which catches the attention of the Chief Elder. The language itself is nothing new to viewers, but the manner in which it is used make it seem like some sort of 1984 doublethink: specific words are expected but certain words with a universal understanding are antiquated and meaningless.

7/10

Theme

The glaringly obvious theme of the movie is the idea of a utopia; a peaceful existence brought about by the suppression of certain ideas. However, instead of getting rid of it completely, it is secured with a Receiver of Memory, whose main purpose is to offer guidance to the rest of the Community Elders when faced with a dilemma that hasn’t happened before (it is mentioned in the movie, but unlike the novel an example is not given).  Family is also an important element in the story. Only two families are ever given screen time, one as a vehicle to introduce the protagonist and his living environment, and the other as a way to raise the stakes of the plot. Finally, a symbol throughout the film is an apple, which sparks Jonas’s knowledge and his understanding of how he can “see beyond.” My immediate association of the apple was the downfall of Eden when Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis from the Holy Bible. It’s present throughout the movie but not in a fashion when it’s rubbed in your face.

8/10

Music

There is very little in this movie, though it could just be attributed to the context of the Community. In the second act, music is briefly introduced and is used throughout the rest of the film. The music is not well-developed, but has significance for the Giver. While Jonas has the ability to “see beyond,” Giver instead was given his position for his ability to “hear beyond.” Outside the movie environment, there is a bit of chase music and one licensed song released for the movie.

5/10

Spectacle

A majority of the film is presented in monochrome and slowly moves to more colored images as Jonas receives memories of the past. The futuristic environment of an isolated city surrounded by clouds is detailed when it needs to be, but a majority of the wide shots are not that interesting, especially in the final act of the film. Finally, the footage of the past given to Jonas is a nice break from the lack of color the rest of the atmosphere brings. The images don’t flash by the screen as fast as the trailers imply, giving a more comfortable viewing experience when they come along.

8/10

Star Power

The three most recognizable stars in the film are Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, and Katie Holmes. All others are newer, younger actors that haven’t been in enough roles to be easily identified. Taylor Swift also makes a very brief appearance in the movie as Rosemary, long enough to have presence but not long enough to determine how good of an actor she is. The Chief Elder only makes small, brief appearances in the book but has a lot more scenes in the movie. Meryl’s involvement in the movie is likely the cause of this, allowing her to give the character a lot more development and involvement in the plot. Katie Holmes as Jonas’s mother also added to the character in comparison to the book, being involved with Community Security and Grammar police. I feel Jeff Bridges hits every beat of The Giver well, giving the character humor, solemnity, and fear.

7/10

Audience Demographic

As with most films adapted from other forms of media, the immediate audience grab would be those who read the source material. The stars in the movie are also a potential pull to the adults who haven’t read the film. From personal experience, I’ve heard several fans polarized about the movie. Some fans of the novel are very excited to watch and others were very skeptical for it to extend in the film industry in the first place. Wherever they land on the spectrum, I’m sure many are curious enough to watch the film.

6/10

Post-movie Thought

Many ideas are brought about in the film, but not all of them are further explained or resolved. It can leave a lot to be desired for those who don’t want to fill in the blanks for themselves. However, the book has an ambiguous plot point that is addressed and concluded in the film.

7/10

Source Material

I was not assigned to read the book in school, as I’m sure many others have. For reference, I read the book before the movie came out. As I’m sure many of the moviegoers who plan to watch this movie to see one of their favorite young adult novels come to life, it should be noted that necessary changes had to be made. Some of them make sense and others are minute enough to not be considered a problem. I’ll list some of them below, but it should be prefaced that the list may contain SPOILERS

*Age of Graduation is changed from 12 to 16
*There are about 150 children for the Graduation ceremony instead of 50
*Jonas is #52 instead of #20
*Stirrings are introduced in the second act instead of the first, and Jonas is not shown getting treatment for it
*Receiving of memories happens at a much faster pace
*Lilly’s never told that her comfort animal will be recycled, instead it’s just given to Gabriel
*Jonas’s preparation in the final act is changed, removing him gathering supplies but adding materials from The Giver
 

END SPOILERS

I feel the cut material could have easily been put into the movie and extended to a 2-hour movie instead of having it end at under 100 minutes.

6/10

Overall: 68/100

 

Posted in Movie Review | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a science-fiction comedy action film based off of the comic book series of the same name. It is directed by Jonathan Liebesman. The turtles are played by Pete Ploszeck (L), Alan Ritchson (R), Jeremy Howard (D), and Noel Fisher (M).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film July 2014 poster.jpg

Ambitious News 6 reporter April O’Neill (Megan Fox) desperately tries to gather information regarding an organization of armed criminals known as the Foot Clan, despite the fluff pieces her news station asks her to cover and the skepticism of her cameraman Verne Fenwick (Will Arnett). Late at night, while riding home on her bike, April comes across a theft on a shipyard by the Foot Clan led by Karai (Minae Noji). The attempt is ultimately thwarted by a large vigilante. News 6′s supervisor Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) refuses to acknowledge April’s story until she has substantial evidence. April later attends a benefit dinner hosted by the city to honor Erik Sacks (William Fitchner), CEO of Sacks Industries, for his scientific breakthroughs and construction companies curbing the damage of Foot Clan attacks. As it turns out, April’s father worked with Sacks before the building was attacked and destroyed along with their research. 

Presumably when the Joker attacked.

Following the botched attempt, the Foot Clan leader Shredder insists that the vigilante is not an excuse for a failed mission. He proposes that taking hostages will flush out the vigilante and so the Clan can kill him. Karai goes to the subway and does just that. April is also threatened when she investigates. The lights go out and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dispatch the Foot Clan without harming any of the civilians, while April secretly gets the footage on her camera phone. When she is discovered by them after the attack, they insist that the footage be removed and she not tell anyone. She learns of the Turtles’ names and immediately finds her late father’s files from Sacks Industries, specifically a genetics experiment known as The Renaissance Project.

An immediate concern for this movie was Michael Bay’s involvement. Initially, he announced that he would direct the film a year or two ago. People thought that the franchise would go the same way as the Transformers series.

An absurdly successful money-maker despite having a terrible plot?

Then the immediate concern was Bay’s portrayal of said Turtles. Specifically, that they wouldn’t be teenagers, ninjas, nor turtles, but instead a group of fighting alien life-forms. The response was so negative, fans threatened to blow up Michael Bay’s house in a way that he blows up half a city in his movies. The attempted change is lampshaded in the movie and made fun of for the sake of the audience. As time went on and the trailer was released, Michael Bay ended up not being the director. He is instead a producer, but a majority couldn’t tell based off of the name drop in the first few trailers.

Other concerns for long-time fans involved the character design for the Ninja Turtles. The head shape is drastically different from the other live action depictions of the Turtles and more closely depicts the Turtles in the most recent CGI-animated series. 

Although I don’t know if I’m comfortable with them being big enough to smash a military-grade vehicle.

These are all legitimate concerns, but it should be noted that between the five comic book series, four TV series, and 4 previous movies, there has been little continuity between all of them. Many would be surprised to know that Splinter raised the TMNT to kill Shredder. Not bring him to justice, nor make him pay for some personal transgression. Straight up murder him in his chrome-plated face. So with all of these changes, it’s actually more par for the course for the franchise as a whole.

To be honest, I enjoyed this movie almost solely for the action sequences. The Turtles’ and Splinter’s scenes were all motion-capture in the same vein as a movie with Andy Serkis. The movie lacks in several other levels. The main villain’s plans aren’t very clear and the secondary villain’s motivations are incredibly shallow considering the consequences and how much has to be done in order to accomplish it.

Character development is very limited to the point of being one-dimensional. Along with the aforementioned villain plots, Verne’s characterization extends to driving the news van and hitting on April O’Neill. The character is played by Will Arnett, but couldn’t manage to get as many zippy one-liners as one would expect. April O’Neill, on the other hand, has a different problem. Her incarnation in this movie is an attempt to mix two different forms, specifically her as an adult reporter and her indirect involvement with the origin of the Turtles. It seemed a bit of a forced fit to the point of plot convenience. As for the Turtles, they have distinct personalities and a similar origin story (them being raised together, and all) but makes it painfully clear that they don’t -always- get along, like any other fraternal relationship. This stems mainly from clashing egos, while occasionally comes from Michelangelo’s head-in-the-clouds personality or Donatello’s technological to a fault vocabulary.

This movie made great strides to advertise right in this movie. While some movies are subtle about the products used, this movie made it clear that everyone used Windows laptops, Windows phones, Orange Crush soda, and the pizza that the Turtles love so much is provided by Pizza Hut. Blatant advertising in a movie is very off-putting, worthy of complaint even if it’s subtle (Armond White famously gave Toy Story 3 its first negative review for its apparent branding of toys).

Plot: 5/10 (Foot Clan leader Shredder makes effort to capture the Ninja Turtles)

Characters: 5/10 (Shallow development for villains and forced relationship issues for the Turtles)

Language: 6/10 (Painfully simple vocabulary with the exception of Donatello’s analyses)

Theme: 5/10 (Motivation to action, brotherhood, finding your niche in the world)

Music: 7/10 (Little licensed music, the best is the elevator scene in the third act)

Spectacle: 8/10 (Visually stunning, though a little outlandish for teenagers to be tank-busters)

Star Power: 7/10 (Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and William Fitchner star as the primary humans)

Who to watch with: 5/10 (Fans of the franchise are very polarized about this movie, otherwise a movie for 7 year old fans of the current TV series)

Post-movie thought: 5/10 (Enjoyable, but its attempts at seriousness falls hard)

Source material: 5/10 (With an ever-changing continuity, it’s hard to nitpick what’s objectively wrong with this movie in relation to the franchise as a whole)

Overall: 58/100

Before you go, please check out this video by the guys at Epic Rap Battles of History. It’s relevant, I promise!

Posted in Movie Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is the most recent superhero movie from Marvel. It features a large cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, WWE Superstar Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel.

The five Guardians, sporting various weapons, arrayed in front of a backdrop of a planet in space.

After witnessing the death of his mother and being abducted by an alien ship, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) makes a living stealing artifacts and turning them for a profit. After an encounter with Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a head officer of Ronan (Lee Pace), Quill manages to get away with a metallic orb with the intent to sell to a merchant on the planet Xandar. Quill’s boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) places a bounty for Quill’s insubordination, while Korath reports to Ronan about the botched extraction. Ronan in turn sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to capture Quill instead of his other assassin, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Two bounty hunters, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) find Quill and notice the bounty on him. Quill is unsuccessful in selling the orb and fights off Gamora and the two bounty hunters until all four of them are arrested by the Nova Corps. In prison, they meet Drax, a warrior whose family was murdered by Ronan. Drax immediately threatens to kill Gamora to quell his vengeance, but Gamora makes it clear she intends to betray Ronan for his atrocities in the past. The five of them escape the prison to learn more about the stolen orb and to eventually confront Ronan.

The music in the movie ties in with Quill as a character. Quill’s mother mixed him a tape of her favorite music before she passed away, and he uses it to remember his mother. The music itself is very upbeat and plays to hype the scene and the characters. Other backing music composed by Tyler Bates gives the theme for each visited planet.

Character development was not what I expected in this film. Quill’s backstory is brought up right from the get-go. The other Guardians have a brief scene explaining who the are and why they do what they do. They are addressed at least one more time before getting back to the main story. Most surprising of the film is the Collector’s (Benicio del Toro) aide, Carina (Ophelia Lovibond). Carina only has a few minutes on screen, but manages to establish a conflict, character defining moment, and resolution in the moments she’s on screen.

“Don’t forget, I was also in the stinger for Thor: The Dark World.”

Language is also important here. The movie as a whole is a bit more vulgar than any other Marvel movie in the past, which is one of the ways this series doesn’t take itself as seriously as other comic books. Most are familiar with the “What a bunch of A-holes” in the various trailers for the movie, as well as Quill flipping off his captors. Most importantly when it comes to language is Groot, who manages to put a lot of emotion or intent into his spoken words.

and am and Groot. Exclusively in that order.”

Finally, in addressing the plot, some will argue that many of the plot points are very familiar, and not just in the sense of it being based off of the comic book series.

Guardians of The Galaxy Seems Similar To Something

Quill stealing the orb at the beginning of the movie is very reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The lineup in the trailers (which doesn’t appear in the movie) is akin to The Usual Suspects. Many will cry out that entertainment isn’t original anymore. Well, you know what? Consumers don’t want anything new or original. This is why the WiiU isn’t doing well in the video game market and that imaginative movies get panned by critics.

Screw you guys, this movie was good.

Anyway, the familiarity is there for a reason. Unless your story is the epic of Gilgamesh, all things are borrowed and adapted from something else. Guardians recognizes this and makes it available to all demographics, not just those who’ve read the comics. This includes references to real-world people and things, like the movie Footloose and John Stamos.

Plot: 9/10 (5 outlaws band together for a mutual cause and a common enemy)

Characters: 10/10 (Lots of characters with developed stories and brief establishing moments)

Language: 9/10 (I am Groot)

Theme: 8/10 (Revenge, Friendship, Remembering family, Lust for power)

Music: 10/10 (Very enjoyable soundtrack of 70s and 80s music)

Spectacle: 10/10 (Fantastic visuals, make-up, and action scenes)

Star Power: 8/10 (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, and several other recognizable actors)

Who to watch with: 8/10 (Not quite as family friendly, but more accommodating for people who don’t read comic books)

Post-movie thought: 9/10 (With the sequel already announced, I’m very excited to see what’s in store for the next movie, and the MCU universe in general)

Source material: 10/10 (Much more laid back than the other comic-book adapted movies, like the Guardians comics in relation to the Marvel comics)

Overall: 91/100

Posted in Movie Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie Review: Lucy

Lucy is a science-fiction action film directed by Luc Besson. It stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character and Morgan Freeman as Prof. Norman.

Lucy (2014 film) poster.jpg

The film opens with starring credits of the movie mixed with images of cells dividing. It then switches to a narration of the development of intelligence with the image of a neanderthal (it eventually makes sense in context) and cuts to Thailand. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) and her recently acquired boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbaek) meet in front of a hotel building. Richard desperately tries to convince Lucy to go inside the building and drop off a locked suitcase since he’s not allowed in the building. Lucy is eventually forced to drop off the suitcase when Richard handcuffs it to her wrist. Upon entering the building and announcing the drop-off, Richard gets shot outside the hotel and Lucy is picked up and taken to a suite in the hotel. A frightened Lucy goes through the motions of a hostile interrogation and eventually opens the suitcase to find plastic pouches filled with drugs in the form of a blue powder. Her captor, Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi) calmly offers her a job which she fearfully refuses. She is then knocked out.

“Note to self: no more partying in Taiwan.”

Interspersed through the next scene, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) is holding a lecture at a college hall regarding the capacity of the brain. Organisms have had thought for hundreds of thousands of years, and that intelligence is either sustained through immortality or reproduction. He explains that the brain caps off at about 5% of thought capacity for non-human animals (more on this later) and humans working off of 10% capacity. He goes on to theorize that when the brain operates at 20% capacity, information can be learned and utilized almost instantaneously as well as enhanced perceptive abilities, such as advanced hearing or a natural sense of sonar. Further super-human abilities are theorized at 40% capacity, 50%, and so on. When asked what would happen at peak thought capacity, the professor admits he hasn’t any idea.

We’d expect you to know, guy-who’s-played-God.

Lucy wakes up a quarter-dressed with a bandage over her belly. She is taken back to Mr. Jang’s suite and a Limey (Julian Rhind-Tutt, and yes, that’s his movie credit) tells her she’s been employed to be a drug mule for a new drug to be sold to British teens. She and a few other mules are given passports and tickets to various locations. After a moment of resistance, Lucy gets kicked in the stomach and the drug leaks into her system. She gains superhuman abilities from her brain gets stimulated from the drug leaking into her bloodstream. She gets information from a hospital that the drug is a synthetic version of a hormone produced by pregnant women that kickstarts brain development. She learns to focus her abilities, establishing memories from her early development and further improvements to her perception.

The film’s entire premise is the idea that humans are only able to tap into 10% of their brain’s cognitive capacity. This has been proven false numerous times. That doesn’t stop movies and other forms of entertainment to perpetuate this myth. For everyone who already knows this, you have to separate yourself from the fact if you hope to enjoy the movie. Director Luc Besson acknowledges that the premise is flawed and continues with the film anyway, citing it as a “What If?” scenario.

Spoiler alert: Gets killed and eyeballs stolen.

The film clocks in at just under an hour and a half, and I can tell you that there are bits and pieces of scenes and entire characters that pad the film to get to that time stamp. The first act of the film will occasionally splice scenes of animals in various situations to reflect the current scene. For example, Richard trying to coerce Lucy to deliver the suitcase has a moment of a mouse examining a mouse trap with a piece of cheese on the trigger. In the context of animal brain capacity compared to a human, this could make sense. I saw it as being incredibly on the nose and a lousy attempt for a movie that already has a somewhat philosophical message. As for superfluous characters, at least Richard sets up a reason for Lucy to get kidnapped, although it was a shoddy attempt to do so. The Limey briefly appears after Lucy’s “surgery” and only serves as an exposition for the drug she’s carrying, then leaves without any rhyme or reason. He’s not the drug’s distributor (Jang is implied to put the drugs in the mules himself) nor collector when the mules are supposed to arrive at their destination. He just tells Lucy (and by extension, the audience) what the drug is. Finally, we have Lucy’s roommate (Analeigh Tipton) who provides no new information pertinent to the plot or to Lucy’s development. She only mentions a guy she met at a party (that never appears onscreen), the fact that they haven’t been in Taiwan for very long (which is implied, Lucy didn’t understand the native language at the start of the movie), and that Lucy has been dating Richard for a short time (which is implied from the exchange between Lucy and Richard).

This next part may contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Lucy’s point of no return becomes apparent when she’s on the plane to see Professor Norman. She making good use of her abilities, altering her appearance and operating two different laptops at incredible speed, presumably gathering information. Her body goes through a degradation during the plane’s descent. She locks herself in the plane lavatory and consumes a large amount of the drug that caused her transformation. I thought at this point she stops being the hero and becomes more of an anti-hero protagonist. This ends up not directly being the case. Her rapid acceleration of intellect leaves her devoid of emotion and pain, but her intention is still for the progression of human intellect.

End spoilers.

Plot: 6/10 (A woman develops superhuman abilities after an experimental drug is absorbed into her system)

Characters: 5/10 (Only a handful of characters are fully developed, while a few others could be left out entirely)

Language: 10/10 (Smart-sounding language pertinent to cognitive study, and a bilingual bonus for Taiwanese and French)

Theme: 7/10 (Advancement of the human, the philosophy of being, human-animal similarity)

Music: 7/10 (Mostly music to tense the audience for chases and dramatic moments, as well as a handful of licensed music)

Spectacle: 7/10 (Interesting visuals, though the final manifestation of Lucy’s intellect is poorly done)

Star Power: 6/10 (Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman at the forefront, Min-sik Choi as the antagonist and resident, “it’s that guy” in the film)

Who to watch with: 6/10 (Fans of an Action Scarlett will like this, minus a few points for those familiar with the 10% brain function as a myth)

Post-movie thought: 5/10 (Much of the first act’s animal-spliced scenes were unnecessary and on the nose to the point of being insulting)

Humans only use 10% of their brains: 5/10 (Untrue in real-life, but executed well enough in-universe to make the movie work)

Overall: 64/100

Posted in Movie Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is a time-travel action movie starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. The film is directed by Doug Liman.

A man and a woman, wearing battle exosuits and looking battle-worn, stand against an urban background devastated by war.

The movie begins with an interface screw of the production logos, interspersed with footage of an alien attacks called “Mimics,” with an uncanny ability to predict and counter any military action. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) goes through the media circuit and tells the public of the first successful fight back with the Mimics, praising the efforts of an exo-skeleton clad Rita Vrataski, dubbed “The Angel of Verdun” for killing over 100 Mimics. The joined efforts of several countries’ military mass produce the armor exo-skeletons in an attempt to wipe out the Mimics once and for all. Major Cage was summoned to London to meet General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). Brigham wants to put Cage on the front line for media attention and to produce more military support. Cage insists that his expertise is in media relations, having almost no experience in combat. After other attempts to get out of combat, Cage is arrested and tased.

Cage wakes up at the Heathrow Airport, his rank effectively stripped from him. He is escorted by Master Sergeant Farrel Bartolome (Bill Paxton) to his new squad, where he is demoted to Private and promptly hazed for his lack of experience. The following day, everyone is shipped out to the beach for the intended surprise attack, including the Angel of Verdun (dubbed something less flattering by the other servicemen). Cage’s drop ship explodes and lots of people die in front of him, including the Angel. Using a bomb from a fallen comrade, Cage kills a large blue Mimic, its blood getting all over him. The Mimic’s blood is acidic and burns through his flesh.

Cage wakes up screaming, again at Heathrow Airport. Realizing he had been transported back to the previous day, he attempts to change things and warn others, but to no avail. What follows is a comedic montage of various kinds of death for Private Cage until he saves Vrataski from several Mimic attacks. She has a moment of clarity and recognizes what’s going on, telling him to find her when he wakes again. She’s been through a similar circumstance.

Movies involving time loops have always been interesting. Most people will know Bill Murray’s comedy Groundhog Day and Jake Gyllenhaal’s more recent Source Code. This movie has a bit of an advantage on both of those movies, effectively explaining how Tom Cruise’s character can travel through time (Groundhog Day didn’t express how this happened in the film, though it was present in the script), as well as not having a glaring plot hole of replacing the consciousness of an already dead person to change the past (an unaddressed issue in Source Code), as Cage has control of his own body throughout the movie.

I didn’t know this until the credits of the movie, but this film is an adaptation of a Japanese light novel called All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. I tend to pride myself to at least have a working knowledge of a movie that was adapted from a novel, comic book character, or video game. This usually means picking up the book, game, or comic book about a month before the movie comes out. It’s really hard to do that if the title is changed for the movie or if the work isn’t in English. But I digress. I can’t grade how close this works off the source material.

I’ve noticed was Tom Cruise’s character not literally running from a dangerous situation, something he’s done so often in his movies it’s almost cliche. Bill Paxton’s role is mostly comedic, delivering a lot of punch-lines while he’s on screen. In an interview, Paxton thought he was asked to be on the film because of his role in another sci-fi movie involving a robotic exoskeleton. Emily Blunt was a surprise in this film. In the previous films I’ve seen her in, she doesn’t take much of an active role, rather just being the main female character running in the direction of the male protagonist. Here, she has the bulk of the battle expertise that she has to pass on to Cruise’s character. She effectively serves as both the Mentor and the Love Interest, which is uncommon traits to have in a single character.

Comparisons to RPG heroes notwithstanding.

 

Plot: 8/10 (An inexperienced serviceman time travels to stop an alien invasion with the help of a war hero)

Characters: 9/10 (Main characters heavily developed, with the supporting cast having enough characterization to keep the movie going)

Language: 8/10 (Time travel jargon and explaining the alien Mimics)

Theme: 8/10 (Changing the past, Regret in hindsight, Mastering fate)

Music: 6/10 (Dramatic swells, but very little licensed music to make the soundtrack noticeable)

Spectacle: 8/10 (Stunning visuals and effects, but Big Bad is hardly developed)

Star Power: 8/10 (Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton)

Who to watch with: 7/10 (Time travel explanations may confuse some people, and also attracts big-budget movie fans)

Post-movie thought: 7/10 (A minor unaddressed issue regarding just how long Cage spent in the time loop)

Tom Cruise Summer Blockbuster: 8/10 (I was much more interested in watching this movie than Cruise’s previous film Oblivion)

Overall: 77/100

Posted in Movie Review | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment