Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is written and directed by Joss Whedon.

Avengers Age of Ultron.jpg

Plot

Right at the start of the movie, the Avengers infiltrate Baron Strucker’s (Thomas Kretschmann) base in Sokovia in an attempt to retrieve Loki’s scepter from the first Avengers movie. Along the way, they encounter two “enhanced humans” (because the term “mutant” is still owned by FOX in the context of superhero movies). They are twins, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olson, respectively), though they are more commonly known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. After a mental warning from Scarlet Witch, Tony Stark manages to retrieve the scepter and reverse engineers it with Bruce Banner to create the Ultron program without the knowledge of the other Avengers. The intention of the Ultron program is to create an A.I. capable of enforcing world peace by deterring unusual behavior. The Avengers celebrate a job-well-done in retrieving the scepter by hosting a party with several returning members of previous movies such as Col. Rhodes and Maria Hill. The mood immediately shifts when Ultron gains control of Stark’s Iron Legion to eradicate humans, whose inability to change is slowing the process of peace.

UTR-Ultron1

8/10

Characters

While the movie relies on the character development established by the previous 10 films of the MCU, the movie still makes an effort to show the personal relationships between characters instead of their duties as a team. With the characters that are new or never had a back story (such as Black Widow), their past is also mentioned in their own scenes to help get a better understanding of them.

8/10

Language

There’s a fair amount of technology-based dialogue to show off Stark’s and Banner’s intelligence. For the location scenes, the speaking actor’s have distinct accents significant to the area. Wanda and Pietro consistently have strong Eastern European accents.

9/10

Theme

Interestingly enough, there’s a lot of religious context in the movie. There’s a particular plot point that takes place in a church and Ultron, with his god complex, removes any subtlety to that fact. Something else, as mentioned earlier, is relationship that each of the Avengers share with each other as opposed to being forced together for a single cause. Ultron also makes it a point that not being tethered to limitations or being “held by strings” allows him to adapt (evolve) much more quickly than his human opponents.

8/10

Music

Unfortunately, the “No Strings on Me” music is almost non-existent in this movie. While it was blasted in several of the trailers and made to be a big point, the song itself is only in one brief scene. Other licensed music is used in the movie, but the most obvious is the Avengers theme introduced in the previous movie.

6/10

Spectacle

Everything is bigger in this movie, whether it be the villain, scope of destruction, or team synergy. Particular moments are Hulk vs. Hulkbuster (called V.E.R.O.N.I.C.A. in the movie) and Maximoffs vs. The Avengers.

10/10

Star Power

There’s a big celebrity list previously established with the other Marvel movies. The newest faces are Elizabeth Olson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, both of whom starred in another large-scale movie a year ago.

Of course it’s more monster than machine.

James Spader also joins the fray as Ultron, a large performance for a great Marvel villain. Finally, Paul Bettany reprises his role as J.A.R.V.I.S. and also as a new character to the MCU, The Vision.

10/10

Who to Watch With

If anyone has watched any of the previous MCU movies, they will already have an inclination to watch this movie. On the other end, movie goers without any prior knowledge of the movies or the characters they are based off of will have a hard time following the movie. It hinges a great deal on the character establishment of the other movies.

7/10

Post-movie Thought

This is more or less then end of the second phase of the MCU, and while the movie was overall more enjoyable than the previous Avengers, the future of the franchise relies on the audience’s complete obedience to keeping up with the rest of the MCU with movie releases, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, and other soon to be released series. It’s a lot to keep up with and may turn off some people from getting too invested in it.

7/10

Source Material

The Marvel story arc Age of Ultron is much different from the movie due to the screenplay being written alongside the release of the comic, leaving very little overlap. Also, Ultron was originally created by Hank Pym, a character that will be introduced in the MCU later this year. Instead, Ultron is a program made by Tony Stark as seen in the Heroes of Tomorrow story. As the MCU drives forward, I sense it will drift further away from the Marvel comics they are based off of. This is more or less forced due to the movie rights being owned by separate companies (FOX and Sony). Of course with several different stories to choose from, it may be in the best interest for the directors to take their stories in a different direction to make something unique, much like the different writers for the same Marvel characters.

8/10

Overall: 81/100

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Movie Review: Exodus Gods and Kings

Exodus Gods and Kings is a biblically-inspired epic based on The Book of Exodus. The film is directed by Ridley Scott.

Exodus2014Poster

The movie takes place in 1300 BCE (Before Current Era, instead of the more biblically-based Before Christ), in the 400th year of the Hebrew enslavement in Egypt. Despite their oppression, the introduction insists that the Hebrews have not abandoned their God and God had not forgotten them.

Plot

Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) gather in Pharaoh Seti’s (John Turturro) palace in preparation of an attack on the Hittite army. A seer declares a prophecy of a leader emerging following the battle, which is met with skepticism from Moses. Seti gifts swords to Ramesses and Moses as a symbol of their fraternity. Following the battle, Moses offers to visit Pithom in Ramesses’s place and interrogate the Hebrew elders. Along the way, he comes across a defiant slave by the name of Joshua (Aaron Paul) who claims to feel no pain under Egyptian whips. Among the Hebrew elders is Nun (Ben Kingsley), who privately tells Moses of his past and lineage. Moses is ultimately confronted by Ramesses and his mother Tuya (Sigourney Weaver) and exiled. Moses finds a village outside of Canaan and lives peacefully with Zipporah (Maria Valverde), whom he eventually marries and has a child. Many years later, Moses climbs a mountain to gather some sheep when he gets hurt in a rockslide. He witnesses a burning bush and a young boy tells him of his destiny to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt.

7/10

Characters

With the characters being based on the famous Bible story, there’s a lot to draw from and there are a lot of spaces where character development can come up. While the characters are for the most part distinct, the development seems arbitrary to appease a secular or skeptical audience. Right away Moses is skeptical for the sake of being skeptical, despite being raised in an environment where seers and prayers to gods are commonplace. It’s brought up later in the film and seems just as unnecessary. Ramesses seems very confusing, wanting the power of the Pharaoh but having no interest in the responsibility. Then when the movie returns to Egypt, he’s accepting every part of the role of Pharaoh without any personal conflict.

Something that’s been brought up on social networks and news media is the idea of race in the movie. It stands to reason that the entire movie taking place in Egypt would have people of very similar skin color. While the extras range from tan to dark skin, a majority of the main cast are played by Caucasian actors (except Ben Kingsley, who’s Indian). At times, you can’t tell because everyone is covered in sand or in a dark atmosphere. The official reason, given by director Ridley Scott, was in regard to attracting an audience with recognizable actors.

Finally, there’s a problem with the female characters in this movie. There’s less than half a dozen women with significant roles in the movie, and collectively only have like 20 lines of dialogue. Miriam, Moses’s biological sister, has two scenes in the movie that wouldn’t have been lost on the audience if they were cut out completely. Queen Tuya is seen but barely heard, having Ramesses relaying messages on her behalf for most of the scenes involving her. With an actor like Sigourney Weaver, it’s almost insulting to have her lines spoken by someone else. These female characters have importance, but were set aside to focus on the relationship between Moses and Ramesses.

Exodus Tuya

“I’m too busy fighting aliens to take command of this scene.”

6/10

Language

For the sake of audience convenience, the entire movie is in English and not Egyptian or Hebrew. I don’t have a problem with that. In a few instances, Hebrew is seen in written form. However, for the sake of authenticity, accents are used for the setting. It seems that the accent is predominantly English, with occasional slips into a more Middle-Eastern accent. The accent didn’t bother me so much as the inconsistency. If an actor makes a choice, the least they could do is stick with it. The only one who seemed to stick to their accent choice was Christian Bale, and many of those time he was shouting too loud to pick up on anything.

Exodus Moses

“Swear to me!”

5/10

Theme

Oh hey, it’s a Bible story. So all of the elements of belief in God, faith, and doubt are all present. On a human level, the relationship between Moses and Ramesses has the most importance at the start of the movie and deconstructs upon Moses’s return. There doesn’t seem to be any allegory because it’s all much more blatant, like the previous Bible epic Noah, from earlier this year. They are still enjoyable, but the problems that stem from the biblical elements is trying to put them into a more realistic spin on the miraculous events of the Exodus story. In an attempt to reach out to the faithful as well as the secular, it instead alienates both.

6/10

Music

There’s no licensed music tied to this movie. The entirety of the movie soundtrack is scored by Alberto Iglesias. The music features something to the effect of Gregorian chants and sweeping orchestral pieces. It’s most apparent in the battle scenes and the flight from Egypt, but almost unnoticeable in the small dialogue scenes.

6/10

Spectacle

I had a lot of high hopes with this movie, considering the multitude of plagues that I know would happen in the back half of the plot. With such a big budget, the effects were enjoyable, but not overwhelming. A majority of the effects were wide shots, ruining any suspension of disbelief. The close shots of some of the plagues (frogs, in particular) seemed the most realistic as well as the practical effects of hail.

7/10

Star Power

Exodus Cast

Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton were the pulls for the movie, having the most screen time and spoken lines. Ben Kingsley acts as a catalyzing force as the Hebrew elder telling Moses of his destiny. Aaron Paul, coming off his huge success in Breaking Bad, plays the role of Joshua, an important role in the context of the Exodus book but much less so in the movie. Sigourney Weaver, perhaps most famous for a different Ridley Scott film (you know which one, don’t play that game), has a role so small she may as well have not been in the movie, which is a shame. The man on the far left of the photo is Ben Mendelsohn, a minor player in films as A Place Beyond the Pines and The Dark Knight Rises. He plays the viceroy tending to matters of the Hebrew slaves.

7/10

Target Audience

In an interesting attempt to attract the faithful and skeptical, the film rationalizes some of the miracles found in the original story. To me, it felt as though the rationalization denies the faithful of the majesty God is capable of, and the fact that some things are left without explanation gives the audience (or perhaps just myself) a lingering thought of why some of the plagues needed to be rationalized in the first place.

In it’s attempt to reach a wider audience, it pulls the necessary elements to maintain the attention of one or the other.

6/10

Post-movie thought

I’ve already said my piece about the movie in the previous segments, so I’ll make this part brief. It was a well-intentioned and expensive attempt to revitalize the story of Moses. But honestly, you’d get a much more concise story in the animated movie The Prince of Egypt made by Dreamworks almost 20 years ago.

Prince of egypt ver2.jpg

5/10

Source Material

Much like previous adaptations of the story of Moses, most of the exchanges between Moses and Ramesses were cut out. Each plague was brought about when the latter refused to let the Hebrews leave Egypt. It cuts out a lot of unnecessary scenes in the context of a movie, since most people remember the story of the plagues coming one after the other after a single denial anyway. A majority of the movie takes several licences with what happened in between major events of the story as well as developing Moses in a different manner than the biblical story.

SPOILER WARNING, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

*Moses is presented as a military general with a natural ability to lead people.

*God manifests as a young boy in Moses’s vision instead of a disembodied voice in the presence of a burning bush, though the bush is still present on their first meeting.

*Many of the first plagues are rationalized, such as the river being tainted by an overflow of blood caused by a crocodile attack.

*Aaron, biological brother of Moses, is nowhere to be seen in the film. In the original, Aaron serves as a successor after Moses dies.

*Moses trains dozens of Hebrews how to handle weapons before God unleashes his plagues.

*Moses is portrayed as skeptical of not only God, but the Egyptian religion he grew up with.

*…And I’m sure there are more that I can’t remember.

END SPOILERS

Much like Noah before it, the movie’s artistic license makes the story much more interesting at the cost of it being “inauthentic” to its source.

5/10

Overall: 60/100

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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

 

 

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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

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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

 

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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!

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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

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