Arrival (2016): A Great High Concept Sci. Fi. Film That Just Needed More Heart

arrival

   “Arrival” is a film I really enjoyed but could have been better and more. Non-spoiler thoughts up front…at times it drags and there just isn’t enough heart as there are two characters we don’t really get to know which gives the film the detached feeling of an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” I’d still recommend it though.

   The film was directed by Denis Velleneuve, written by Eric Heisserer and produced by Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder and David Linde while being based off the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

   The story involves linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) being called onto the scene of First Contact as strange alien pods have touched down all over the world and humanity is attempting to communicate before other countries decide to attack them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is fantastic! Countries act with fear but also with openness too as their societies crumble from the masses unable to take first contact, but they go forward anyway. This universe is full of stakes that make the importance of first contact all the greater. The aliens also have a cool squid like design.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, especially in how it presents the inside of the UFOs and the outside as they float above different areas of the world. It keeps the mystery and suspense up just seeing them as the music plays. Bradford Young did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – Johann Johannsson did a wonderful job of creating a soundtrack that reminded of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and with it power and mystery as the aliens aren’t so much a threat as a great unknown. The soundtrack captures this beautifully in how limited it is.

Louise – Amy Adams is the best part of the film as it is her relationship with her daughter and those in the future that help her solve the problem of first contact in the present. She is really cool and I liked how human she was. She was anxious and nervous but went forward anyway because she wanted to and she knew what was at stake. The only thing that felt tacked on was her romance with Ian.

Cyclical Time – In this time is cyclical and it is events in the future that prep Louise to solve the problems in the past. From General Chang telling her what they talked about that made him call off his attack on the aliens, to her daughter and her marriage to Ian. This changes her as she now perceives time as the aliens do.

Okay: Ian – Ian is just kind of there. Renner does a good job with him but he is mostly a support character and he isn’t given the chance to really make his own decisions outside of how they relate to Louise, so more could have been done with him.

Colonel Weber – Whitaker does a good job with what he’s given but Weber’s motivations are never fully explored. He is supportive and antagonistic at different points but we never get why. He just represents the U.S. governments reaction to the project at the end of the day.

Okay/Con: The Ending’s Length – The ending goes on way too long and could have just ended with Ian and Louise starting their romance and it would have been fine, instead we see the future with them talking about having a kid (who we know will die of cancer later). It could have been cut down and been the more powerful for it.

The Cons: Pacing – Segments of the film drag, especially after first contact is made and they are figuring out how to ask the aliens for their motivation. The switch from understanding one another from not is really quick too which made the pacing all strange and didn’t help the film.

Detachment – The film is a bit too detached at times. For example we don’t learn anything about Ian until the very end when his romance with Louise is a major part of the film. He is still great and is given chances to shine but we never really get his motivation at first beyond Scientist Stereotype (loves science to science!). I think if there had been more of a core and less detachment the script would have explored that better.

   This is a film well worth your time. I wouldn’t consider it in my Top 5 of 2016, but it is still a film I’d highly recommend. The detachment of the narrative didn’t change the fact that I cared about Amy Adams’s character and was rooting for first contact to be successful. In that way it as a successful “Twilight Zone” episode as even though it was detached I found myself still really enjoying the story, even if at times it dragged. I you are a fan of sci. fi. like I am, this film is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.1 / 10

The Mist (2007): Fantastic Exploration of Human Desperation but Writing and Acting Bring it Down

the-mist

     I am a fan of Stephen King. He has created some of my favorite books and adaptations, from “The Stand” to Kubrick’s “The Shining.” King is a writer who knows how to write what makes people go crazy and what it would take to bring out the worst in people. “The Mist” does that beautifully, while also sadly catching some of his more hokey dialogue and overused tropes. I’ll explain more of what I mean deeper in the review.

     “The Mist” was directed, produced and written by Frank Darabont, with the other producers being Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer.

   The story involves David (Thomas Jane) and his son trapped in a convenience store after a strange storm cuts off all communication and a mysterious mist moves in. From here he must try to keep the survivors from destroying themselves and figuring out what happened.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of a bunch of characters trapped in a small town convenience store is pretty cool. You have food, but limited resources, people want to get to those outside of the store and usual human personalities clashing since a store is still a confined space.

The World – The idea of another dimension coming into our own is pretty neat as well as the fear that would come with that from the populace as another world or dimension in ours is a complete unknown.

The Idea of the Characters – We have the artist father, the religious fanatic, the single mother, the old cynical man…these are all great ideas but they never feel fully realized. I do like the character ideas though.

Humans Under Fear – King excels at showing people going mad from a feeling of being trapped or attacked. We see this here as they all distrust one another, a fanatic rises from strange situations she manages to survive, people hang themselves and the main character does a mercy killing on his party so they won’t be killed by the monster that had already killed a few from the town already. People get angry, anxious and act irrational under fear…power plays happen and victims are chosen so there is someone to blame. All that is on display in this film.

The Ending – David kills the members of his party who manage to leave the store with him in his truck. He does this with their consent when they see the big monster and realize everyone they know is dead. What David realizes is after he tries to kill himself and fails since he is out of bullets is the army was only minutes away and all the pain and death could have been avoided with more patience, leaving him a broken man.

Okay: The Characters – The characters are all tropes and never get beyond it. We don’t know why the religious lady is crazy or religious, we don’t know why the old man is cynical, we don’t know why David became an artist or why any of the soldiers were serving on the base where the experiment happened. They exist only as tropes because of this.

The Monsters – The monsters are neat looking and look like Lovercraftian Dinousaurs as most have tentacles and wings. They were never scary though which is why I’m putting them at okay. The mist is scarier than the creatures.

The Cons: The Dialogue – Everyone tells rather than shows…it is part of why the characters only exist as tropes. They tell us their obvious motivation and we never get the why.

The Religious Extremist – Religious extremists in fiction are hard to write…as an agnostic who is pretty atheistic it is easy to make someone you disagree with a strawman and this film never gets beyond that. The extremist is never humanized and is the crazy from the get go. This was a disservice to the plot as she became an antagonist whose motivations were never fully explored.

  This was a decent movie. It wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination even though I really liked some of the situations the characters were put in. The problem is the characters never managed to get beyond the tropes they existed as. Not a single character was given more depth, they just were and reacted, which was safe but it didn’t contribute to the story in any way and just made some of the awkward dialogue even more obvious. If you are a fan of King, check out this film though. It does do a good job of showing what humans will do when they feel trapped and out of options and that is really where the film excels and manages to be a decent horror film and great contribution to “Horror Month.”

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Star Trek Beyond (2016): The Reboot Series Finally Captures Classic “Star Trek”

Star Trek Beyond

    “Star Trek Beyond,” is a film that best captures the spirit of the Star Trek Franchise than probably “The Undiscovered Country.” That film has a better story and is one of my all time favorite Star Trek Films but this film is still really good and I enjoyed it a lot more than “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which at the end of the day depended way too much on conspiracy and fan service rather than showing the spirit and cost of adventure the way this film does. Non-spoiler thoughts…this film has great action, comedy and characters and is well worth your time to see it on the big screen.

    “Star Trek Beyond” was directed by Justin Lin, written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung and produced by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Bryan Burk.

     The story takes place 3 years into the 5 year mission and Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself at a crossroads with the possibility of promotion and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is pulled back into Vulcan after a major death.  They and the crew are put to the test though when they are lead into a trap and must face Krall (Idris Elba) who destroys their ship, forcing them to adapt to the planet and keep him from getting the superweapon he seeks.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – This movie captures the wonder of the World of Star Trek. We get the Utopia of Yorktown, the horrors of war via Krall and tons of alien species and first contact opportunities.

Yorktown – Yorktown is a like a giant snowglobe in space and looks like how I always imagined a advanced space station actually looking (in the tv shows they never were able to capture it like it is on film, they are just stations, this is a city). I loved this area and I like that we spent time here to humanize our crew and see how the Federation has achieved Utopia.

The Writing – Minus the writing of Krall, the writing is a major pro. Every character is given things to do, characters change and aren’t just rehashing the same story (Kirk, Spock and Uhura had the same story twice in the last two reboot films). Simon Pegg being a Trekkie and one of the writers is one reason I think why this worked so much.

Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and stunning and captures the old look of the show while modernizing it for the screen. It feels dreamlike and from it the adventure of this great series.

The Comedy – The comedy is gold, especially anything with Jaylah and Scotty and McCoy and Spock. The dialogue is quick and witty and always moves the action forward.

Use of Ensemble Cast – The cast all has things to do and it keeps the story strong! Uhura and Sulu are protecting the hostages and the device, Chekov is with Kirk, McCoy is Spock and Scotty is with Jaylah. Each of them are working to find one another and defeat Krall and it leads to great comedic and dramatic moments.

The Cast – The cast is the strongest part of this film, these actors have come to inhabit these characters.

Chekov – R. I. P. Anton Yelchin…you really inhabited this role. This is a film where Chekov is with Kirk for a lot of it and later teams up with Scotty since he knows tech. almost as well. We see him be the hero and the problem solver and his relationship with Kirk is pretty great. You’ll be missed Anton…

Sulu – John Cho is fantastic as Sulu and in this we get to meet his husband and daughter at Yorktown and from there see the reason why he is fighting so hard to defend it. In this he get to see him fly the Franklin, fight with the Enterprise until Krall’s drones destroy it. It is great seeing him and Uhura team up.

Uhura – Uhura is the primary protector of the hostages and the device that Krall is trying to get. She only loses when Krall threatens a crew member forcing the crewman to reveal her hand and where she’s kid the device. Uhura is ready to die to protect it though. We also see that her and Spock still have a great relationship even though they may or may not have broken up. Zoe Saldana is fantastic.

Scotty – Simon Pegg is really great in the role of Scotty and in this we see him as the major problem solver, whether it is fixing the Franklin, finding the crew and Krall or working with Jaylah on traps.

McCoy – Karl Urban really owns the role of McCoy and in this we get to see his friendship with Spock grow as they are stuck together for most of the film. It is great seeing their dynamic as McCoy’s cynical optimism is contrasted beautifully with Spock’s cold clear logic and duty driven decisions. This eventually leads to them taking on Krall by kidnapping one of the drone ships since Spock needs someone to monitor his injury he received when the Enterprise was destroyed and McCoy is the only one who knows about it.

Spock – Spock is faced with a decision in this…to stay with the crew or to return to Vulcan to help create more Vulcans. Ambassador Spock has died and no Vulcan is once more lacking limited leaders and there still aren’t very many of them. Over the course of the film he decides to stay for the crew though, not because of future Spock and I really like that. He discovers that it is out on the frontier he can protect Vulcan best and the realization that the entire crew is his family now and will be (he sees a picture of the crew when they are older that Ambassador Spock was keeping).

Kirk – Kirk like Spock is faced with a decision to stay or get a promotion and go as when we first meet him his life on the ship has become mundane and he expresses how trapped everyone feels out in space for so long. It is powerful as he is really talking about himself. Krall reminds him of why he is out there too and even though he loses the Enterprise he decides to stay to Captain and because the Captain of the newly built Enterprise-A we see being built at the end of the film.

Jaylah -Sofia Boutella is awesome as Jaylah and I hope she becomes part of the main crew. She is the one who helps them all team up as her home is Krall’s old Federation ship the Franklin. It is thanks to her and Scotty that they get it running and are able to use it as a base to free the hostages and to confront Krall and his drone forces. She also has a somewhat romantic thing with Scotty and is an orphan whose been fighting Krall all her life. Suffice to say she is awesome.

The Idea of Krall – The idea of Krall as a former Space Marine turned alien warlord is cool. Peace doesn’t work for everyone, especially those who gain honor from combat and live from it (one reason the Federation fights the Klingons every generation even after the treaties). There was so much more that could have been done with this idea if he had just been fleshed out more as a character.

Remembering the Dead – R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Both of them were given time to be remembered as Spock remembered Ambassador Spock and the final scene was fade to black with “For Anton” in memory of Anton Yelchin. The two of them were amazing and have left a legacy on this universe and the world.

Okay: Krall/Balthazar Edison – Idris Elba is good at humanizing this ex-marine turned alien Warlord and his acting is great, it is just the writing for Krall is only so-so so I’m putting him at okay. We never get explanations of why he turned into an alien or how using people turned him back into a person.

The Cons: Villain plan – The villain plan is to destroy Yorktown, which if Krall want the Federation at war, that isn’t going to help…since there is no way could escape, it was do the most damage and die…which I expected more from a man who had lived hundreds of years. He should have had a better plan.

How did Balthazar become Krall and Revert Back? – Balthazar was a M.A.C.O. (Pre-Federation Marine) who is maid captain after the Xindi and Romulan wars and finds himself abandoned on the planet. Something happens that causes him to become the alien Krall and he is using people to turn back into a person. This is never explained.

Pacing – The pacing can be a bit jarring at times. Sometimes everything is going too fast and we have no time to really soak in what our characters are going through, and other times we linger too long. This is most true at the beginning but by about a third of the way through the film this isn’t as much of an issue.

   The villain isn’t bad but he is where most of the holes in the plot are. Sometimes the pacing can be a little jarring, and I was bored at one point because of it…but the payoff when they arrive on Krall’s world is fantastic and almost everything after that works. This is a film that reminded me why I’m a Trekkie and I can’t wait to go back and review the other films so I can rate them all against one another. This a film well deserving of it’s place in the Franchise and some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): A Nearly Perfect Thriller That Chokes at the End

10 Cloverfield Lane

   “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a nearly perfect “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” type movie as so much of what makes it work is subverting expectations of a reality and telling a personal story through the eyes of a single person. This story would have been a 10 / 10 if not for what it does at the very end. Also, this is not a sequel to “Cloverfield.” This is a story that stands individually and isn’t connected to the other film at all, “Cloverfield” is more of a marketing way of connecting an anthology of these type of films from what I understand…though if they choose to do a sequel they could keep going the anthology route or make them all connected within the universe as a whole. Non-spoiler thoughts before my review. You should see this film, even though the problem I have in the 3rd act brought it down from perfect to merely great.

   The film was directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken and Damien Chazelle and produced by J.J. Abrams and Lindsey Weber.

      The story involves Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is running away from her fiance when she is ran off the road and wakes up chained in a bunker. From here she must figure out what happened to the outside world and why Howard (John Goodman), the owner of the bunker and Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), someone who fought to enter the bunker that he helped make.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros: Tone and Tension – The tone is dark and there is an aura of threat throughout the film, from the cramped nature of the bunker…to the threat of Howard and his constant entitlement on those around him as he sees them as only existing for him. You never feel safe with the character and the outside world is threat too…making it a lose lose situation for the characters we follow.

Cinematography – Jeff Cutter is great at cinematography…this is a film that focuses on the individual and personal, the trapped and wanting to be free from that cramped space. The use of dark and light capture that wonderfully and the bunker and outside world never stop feeling like a cage until the very end.

Soundtrack – Bear McCreary is one of my favorite directors and he is a master at using music to create tension. From his work in “The Walking Dead,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” this is a guy who owns the darker soundtrack, and this film captures that brilliantly.

The Bunker – The bunker is awesome. It shows us Howard’s humanity and the threat of this person too, as we see his collection of DVDs and VHSs and how the family room looks like a family room. We also see how it is a prison too as Michelle’s room looks like an actual prison and Emmett doesn’t even have a room. This is Howard’s playground and he is the Warden of their prison.

The Mystery – The mystery is two-fold. Who is Howard and why did he knock Michelle off the road? What happened to the outside world? What was the event? Over the course of the film we learn Howard is most likely a pedophile murder, definitely a murder as he kills Emmett when Emmett says he tried to steal his gun to impress Michelle and aliens are invading the outside world, proving one of Howard’s conspiracy theories true. The reveals are handled so well and it built slowly over time.

Emmett – Emmett built the bunker and had to fight to get into it as he built it for Howard. This was a free living guy and we learn that he is full of regrets but is capable of being present with  people and living for more than himself. He is the one who tries to help Michelle escape and gives his life to help her escape. John Gallagher Jr. really did a great job.

Howard – Howard is the antagonist and is creepy and human. He is most likely a pedophile murder as Michelle discovers “HELP” written from the inside of one of the escape hatches and he sees Emmett and Michelle as entitled to him. He is toxic, even though he is given human moments too as we see him connect to Michelle at a few points as he describes her as his daughter, though we never know if he’s telling the truth and that works. This is a character who is broken and it is hard to pin down the full reasons why. Him creating the Bunker makes complete sense, and it takes a lot for Michelle to beat him and escape. John Goodman better get a nomination for this. He deserves it.

Michelle – Michelle is our hero and who begins the story running away from her relationship but over the course of the film chooses to stop running and stand…from making a gas mask and suit to protect from radiation on the outside and her fighting Howard and using all her skills to get out and finally making the choice to join the human Resistance in rebellion against the aliens. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an amazing job. I felt for everything she was going through and seeing her growth through the film is handled so well.

The Cons: The Alien Fight – This was stupid. The aliens have a boring look, where they are a mouth and that is it and they have bioships. The fight goes on way too long and happens right after she escapes the house. Seriously, there was no reason for this fight to happen. Michelle had gained control of her life already when she rebelled against Howard’s control and made her own escape. The fight serves no purpose, she already fought Howard, let her reward be that she chooses to fight on without having to deal with the aliens the moment she escapes the Bunker.

 This was a film that would have made the Top 5 I think, if not for that alien fight at the end. She was out of the house. Her being free should have been the point, as she could have learned about the Resistance in the Bunker and it would have set things up better so she still drives to Houston. Instead we get a pointless fight versus the fight against Howard, which was the one that mattered. I would still recommend this film, it truly is great…but it chokes at the end and that is why I will only score it as a solid great. This is a film that could have been perfect, but falls merely to great.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Galaxy Quest (1999): A Comedy that Celebrates Sci. Fi. and Nerd Culture

Galaxy Quest poster

   “Galaxy Quest” is one of the greatest honoring of sci. fi. and nerd culture to come out of cinema. It works because it’s characters are mostly fully fleshed out and the situations are comedic without doing away with tension, and the main cast is a lot of fun. As someone who is a huge Trekkie you can see the inspiration drawn from “Star Trek” in the characters and situations the characters are in, as well as the sci. fi. convention where a lot of the story takes place. These are just some of the elements I really enjoyed about the film, I’ll get into more depth later.

    The film was directed by Dean Parisot and written by David Howard and Robert Gordon while being produced by Mark Johnson and Charles Newirth.

     The story is about a cast of a once famous sci. fi. television show called “Galaxy Quest.” They soon find themselves in over their head when Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) the Commander on the show makes a deal that they will help a group of aliens called the Thermians who are being hunted to an extinction by an evil alien warlord called Sarris.

The Pros: The Convention – The convention felt like many of the ones I’d been to as a child and do hope to visit again. There is an excitement and celebration of characters and story that make a great convention great. The ending entrance into the largest convention was awesome too.

Brandon – Is the convention goer who cosplays being a captain in the “Galaxy Quest” universe. He and his friends know the ins and outs of all the missions and episodes which leads to him helping the Commander through the situations he is under.

The Missions – Take place after the crew have been taken in by the Thermians. From getting another Sphere, to repairing the ship and using the mines in the minefield against Sarris. Most of the crew get to use their skills to their greatest ability.

The Thermians – The Thermians are a naive octopus like people who can give themselves the illusion of human form. They have

Mathesar – Mathesar is the Thermian leader and is a kind and good officer. He rises to the challenge and defends himself (his species is a peaceful one) showing how they’ve grown beyond that and can defend themselves when they need to.

The Crew – The crew is largely fantastic and has arcs that are greater than themselves. Alan Rickman (R.I.P.) as Dr. Lazarus is my favorite of them.

Guy Fleegman – Sam Rocwell is great as the character was a redshirt (side crew who dies on an away mission, there are many throughout “Star Trek” and other sci. fi. shows). Luckily he is able to subvert this trope and his awareness helps save them and he ends up becoming the security chief on the rebooted show. His story is awesome.

Tommy Webber / Lt. Laredo – Mitchell plays the Wesley Crusher wiz kid who didn’t get scarred by being on the show. He’s pretty down to Earth as a character and we see him get involved with helping where he can as well as learning how to actually fly the ship properly so that they can defeat Sarris.

Fred Kwan / Tech. St. Chen -Tony Shalhoub is awesome! He is the only character who is fine when meeting the Thermians and ends up hooking up with one of them. For him the strange is normal and it leads to some great interactions as he takes over as Engineer on the ship without a second thought while the rest of the crew is panicking and torn between their roles as actors versus those on the show.

Jason Nesmith / Commander Taggart – Nesmith is a Shatner type narcissist whose arc involves him getting pride in his work and not looking down on himself as well as appreciating his crew. He goes from only caring about being the star to knowing that they only survived because of the roles all his crewmembers played. Allen does alright.

Alexander Dane / Dr. Lazarus – Rickman does amazing as the actor who was into drama before his role as Dr. Lazarus ruined his career. His arc is making peace with the fact that people see him this way (as Nimoy had to do with Spock) and when he sees his famous quote bring hope to people fights for them and helps the Thermians rise up against their enemies. He mellows out a lot by the end too as before he is really wound up and anxious at the conventions and when he’s with the cast.

Celebrating Science Fiction – This film celebrates sci. fi. from beginning to end. From “Galaxy Quest” having a rich lore and people who celebrate it’s fandom…the the actual lore of the Thermians taking inspiration from the show.

Celebrating the Fans – The film also celebrates the fans. Brandon saves the crew with his friends as it is their knowledge of past episodes that helps them rescue the Thermians and stop Sarris. At the end Nesmith thanks them all as well and in the end they what they wanted…a rebooted “Galaxy Quest.”

Okay: Gwen DeMarco / Lt. Madison – She is sadly sidelined and her arc is her love story with Nesmith. On the show she just says what the computer says and is sexed up and it’s done even more-so in the reboot. This is an issue with television that could have been addressed but never is. Everything she does is in Nesmith’s shadow versus the other crewmembers who each get their own individual chance to shine.

Cons: Sarris – He’s a one-dimensional baddy who tortures for the sake of torture and doesn’t even seem to conquer since he only has one ship. This character had no motivations and even though he had a cool insect like design, that does not make a compelling villain.

    This is a solidly good comedy outing that pays tribute to science fiction while celebrating some of the best aspects of it and the passion that has come to surround the shows. It also is one of Alan Rickman’s greatest performances and my friends and I watched this show to honor him. This is a show that manages to work both as a comedy, a sci. fi. show and even on some level a drama with the only cons being the villain and how Sigourney Weaver’s character. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Escape from L.A. (1996): Tearing Down the Machines

Escape From L.A.

    John Carpenter is easily one of my favorite directors at this point. “The Thing” is one of my favorite films as are both his “Escape” films. “Escape from L.A.” is better from “Escape from New York” in my opinion because the characters are more memorable and everyone has more agency, it also is much more of a protest too as we see Snake do much more than troll the President to finally end this film. All of these things make it the stronger film with the only thing being less being the cinematography.

     “Escape from L.A.” was directed by John Carpenter who co-wrote it along with Kurt Russell and Debra Hill with Debra Hill and Kurt Russell also being the producers behind the film.

     The story is in 2000 after a huge Earthquake has turned L.A. into an island. A theocratic President blames L.A.’s sins for this and turns it into a prison Island to put all the “undesirables” from the United States. Things come to a head when Cuervo Jones, the leader of the Shining Path seduces the President’s daughter Utopia in order for her to steal a Super Weapon which is transported to L.A. as Cuervo Jones plans the conquest of the United States. Snake is brought in again to stop him as he is infected with a super-virus giving him only 10 hours to complete the mission.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of the Earthquake making things worse since the last film makes sense, as is the rise of theocracy in the United States as people would be seeking stability and blaming of “the Other.” We’re already seeing that blaming of the other right now with how the Syrian refugees are being seen here in the States as fear takes over rationality. In that way what brings about the premise hits very close to home.

The World – The World is factionalized with the Third World on one side fighting for revolution with Cuervo as their leader and the President on the other seeking to uphold the status quo of inequality. Both are dictators though as they each silence dissent in the same way.

The Themes – The themes are about getting back to the base of what it means to be human. Are ways of escaping that base humanity and seeking to control others (the President and Cuervo) or ourselves (the Plastic Surgeon and mutants) runs throughout the film as it is only when Utopia and Eddie work with Snake that there is any chance for things to change as either side winning is the loss of freedom for all.

The Action – The action is once again solid as we see Eddie, Hershe and Snake to an air assault on gliders against Cuervo and Cuervo taking out Snake when Snake is taking out his men in the first car chase is really good too.

The Soundtrack – Shirley Walker and John Carpenter do a great job of keeping the sci. fi. feel from the last film in the soundtrack while adding a much more apocalyptic feel as well as everything is bigger and more desolate than before.

The Characters – The characters are all compelling, whether they are antagonistic or not and I anytime any of them appeared I wanted to see what choices and decisions they would make.

Taslima – Is a small role but shows Snake the fearful on the Island. She speaks for the vulnerable and is super trusting too. At one point her and Snake escape from the Surgeon and his plastic surgeon mutants before she is eventually killed. Valeria Golina did a great job as this minor character.

Brazen – Michelle Forbes (Ro Laren from “Star Trek: TNG”) is awesome as Mallory’s second-in-command as we see someone who is calm and collected and is always looking towards the bigger picture.

Commander Mallory – Mallory is a true believer unlike is predecessor and at one point tries to kill Snake until he realizes he was played out he had played Snake with Snake only appearing as a hologram before taking away all power from the world. He felt threatening too and we see him force the President to stay and face the consequences of making the weapon. He isn’t a coward. Stacy Keach does a great job.

Utopia – Utopia starts out as one dimensional but becomes a full character over the course of the film as we see her realize that Cuervo is just as corrupt as her father, leading her to helping Snake fight back and escaping along with him, only to be sent to the electric chair by her father. She is a character who is trapped and is only freed when all the power around the world is shut down for good by the Super Weapon when Snake activates it.

Map to the Stars Eddie – Eddie is a double crosser who in the end chooses Snake after he sees that Cuervo cares nothing about him. Steve Buscemi did a great job as the quick talking salesman whose tape about L.A. is used to mock the President when it is played at the end. He is comedic but is a schemer who you end up taking seriously. He doesn’t make it out of L.A. as he shoots Cuervo but Cuervo fires the rocket before dying forcing Eddie to jump out of the helicopter.

Cuervo Jones – Cuervo is a great enemy. He is the dictator of L.A. and is connected to the oppressed as a symbol around the world. He is brutal though and cannot see past himself. He doesn’t dehumanize his enemies like the President but he is just as brutal and corrupt as he even turns on his allies. Georges Corraface did great.

The President – The President is the worst of the Religious Right as all racial, religious and political minorities are sent to L.A. He is brutal and clearly is a functioning dictator in the United States, though he was elected as the timeline doesn’t tell us anything different. He is a true believer like Cuervo as we see him willing to sacrifice his daughter to death for having been with the enemy. Seeing him literally lose power and get mocked at the end was rewarding. The guy was a great antagonist. Cliff Robinson was awesome.

Hershe – Is a transgender heroine and also Snake’s ex-partner. It is she who gives Snake the air support he needs to stop Cuervo and get the weapon. She thankfully manages to escape to the mainland and is off the copter before the troops arrive to take Snake. She is a great leader and the only faction standing against Cuervo and his corruption. Pam Grier played my favorite character in this film.

Snake Plissken – Snake is back and is a much better person in this! He doesn’t threaten people nearly as often and we see him go from setting out to kill Utopia to protecting her pretty quickly. He also does more than just troll and chooses to take away power from both Cuervos Revolutionaries and the President, both who are fighting with the same mentality of silencing all opposition and using murder as the way to enforce will upon the world. Snake isn’t a hero but he does the action that changes everything before he disappears once again.

Okay: The Cinematography – There are a few moments where green screen use is obvious and took me out of the film a little bit, the most glaring example being when Snake is surfing the largest wave. It’s an odd statement to say but this film is much more cartoony than it’s predecessor but it works and fits the tone.

    This was a great film with only certain cartoony moments in regards to cinematography as the only real downside. The characters are much more colorful than in “Escape from New York,” and Snake is more sympathetic as we see him act for more than just himself on multiple occasions. The antagonists are good too with the Socialist Dictator Cuervo on one side and the religious theocratic President on the other. Both are extreme sides of fanaticism that are rejected by Snake in the end when he makes the decision to take away their abilities to control and destroys the machine that’s been using him during this film and the last one. John Carpenter did an amazing job creating these two film and I can see how they inspired the character of Solid Snake and the world of the “Metal Gear” series. I highly recommend both the films.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Upcoming Reviews – The “Star Wars” Films

Star Wars Films

    With “The Force Awakens,” coming out in 6 Weeks I am going to begin reviewing the “Star Wars” Film series. I am only r reviewing Original Theatrical Releases as I’d rather not see them marred by what George Lucas did to them later in regards to the Original Trilogy until I can dedicate some to just describing everything he changed. This also I think gives the fairest comparison between the different films as I will be watching the Theatrical release of “The Force Awakens” not the “Special” or “Extended” Edition of “The Force Awakens.”

     It has been a while since I’ve watched these films though “The Empire Strikes Back” and “A New Hope” are two of my all time favorite films and I’m curious to see how they compare now that there is so much distance from when I originally saw them, as well as the Prequels.

      My approach is going to be like the reviews I’ve done in the past, listing the pros, cons and what was okay. I know humor isn’t my strong suit and if you want to see some comedic takedowns of the prequels there is always Redlettermedia or if you want to see a defense of Episode 1 there is Moviebob’s look back. These films are such a part of our cultural mindset and have already been creatively taken down in so many ways that I just want to talk about them with my own voice and perspective given how long it has been since I’ve watched them and fully explore the pros and cons of each of the films.

     I’ll be starting with “The Phantom Menace” and working my way up to “Return of the Jedi.” So here we go. I’ll be reviewing around a film a week with “Return of the Jedi” being reviewed the week before opening week of “The Force Awakens.”

Alien (1979): A Brilliant Horror Classic and Introduction to an Amazing World

Alien 1979 poster

      I think I like “Aliens” more than “Alien,” but “Alien” is a really good at establishing Ridley Scott’s world and has some of the best tension building in any horror movie, even if the alien itself really isn’t that scary. It’s now what it looks like, but what it does that makes it such a great threat that leaves our heroes always on the run. It is certainly one of Ridley Scott’s classics for a reason.

    The film was directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett and produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill.

     The story involves the crew of the Nostromo taking on an unknown life form and dealing with the consequences of it as reveals about the Corporation they are working for come to the forefront and the alien threat is revealed to be far greater than expected.

The Pros: Tone – The tone is wonderful and has some of the best tension building in any film! We get to see an unknown world and confining ship where no one fully trusts one another as they are a crew of mercenaries serving a corporation. Over the course of the film they have to depend on one another but are so outgunned by the Xenomorph that they never stood a chance, and terror begins.

The World – The world is really cool! I wanted to know more about the Corporation as we learned so much about how Xenomorphs grow and develop and how dangerous they are we see a large dead alien around where all the eggs are. There is a sense of terror and mystery from the very beginning and the human ships are designed to be advanced but still look very raw.

The Xenomorph – The Xenomorph is awesome! It grows quickly, has acid blood and is a full fledged predator, hunting from the shadows and using other humans as bate. It clearly is the perfect hunter and that is what makes it’s hunt of our crew so fun to watch.

Dallas – Dallas is the character who would be the hero in a standard sci. fi. action film as he is the bearded hero and the captain of the ship. In this he isn’t though, though we see that he is smart though he is a moment of idiocy when lets an infected crewmember on the ship which makes everything go sideways and to his eventual death by the Xenomorph. Tom Skerritt does a great job.

Ash – Ash is the android who at the end of the day serves the Corporation. His mission is to bring back the Xenomorph so the corporation can turn it into a weapon they can use and therefore the crew is expendable. Ian Holm does great job as the character who isn’t fully human but human enough that we see him have a relationship with the crew even if in the end they are just means to an end for him.

Ripley – This is one of Sigourney Weaver’s best roles. Ripley is a character who is rough and has been doing her mercenary work for a long time but still has a connection to home via the cat and her daughter. These things humanize her and give her motivation and a reason to survive and get home when things start going south as the Xenomorph kills the crew and hunts her.

The Cons: The Other Characters – Lambert just screams and cries the entire time and the other crewmembers including John Hurt are forgettable. They all feel disposable because we don’t get to know them or their motivations.

The Corporation – The Corporation is just evil and I wish we got to know it more. The motivations don’t feel fleshed out and getting a Xenomorph is on par with Umbrella in “Resident Evil,” and all their bio-weapons where all the scientists end up dead.

   This was an amazing horror and sci. fi. film and one of my favorites. This is a classic of cinema for a lot of reasons not the least of which are the wonderful, haunting designs of H.R. Giger and the beautiful directing by Ridley Scott. The film has wonderful build up and payoff and the only things that really bring it down are a lot of the minor characters are forgettable and the Corporation doesn’t make much sense in it’s motivation.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

The Martian (2015): A Masterpiece Celebrating the Wonder of Science, Discovery and Survival

The Martian

    “The Martian” is a film that truly captures the terror and wonder of space travel as well as giving us very real and complex characters who are worth rooting for. Ridley Scott has done it again (though I haven’t watched some of his more recent films so I understand there was a drop in quality at one point). Suffice to say though, I really hope this film will kick in the love of exploring space again in the populace.

     The film was directed by Ridley Scott who was also one of the producers, written by Drew Goddard and produced by Michael Schaefer, Aditya Sood, Mark Huffam and Simon Kinberg. It is also based on the book of the same name (that I want to read now) by Andy Weir.

    The film involves astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally being left behind on the first mission to Mars called the Ares III mission and him having to survive and make contact with NASA in order to mount a rescue before he dies.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Dariusz Wolski captures beautiful scenes in this that show the desolation and danger of space but also the beauty and wonder of space and Mars.

The Soundtrack – Harry Gregson-Williams gives the soundtrack a very “2001: Space Odyssey” feel giving us both classic instruments, synth and even a mixture of 70’s and 80’s music intermixed throughout the score.

The Writing – Drew Goddard did a good job on this script! It all show rather than tell and the times where it gets you information you need (how Watney sciences) it is done a comedic or interesting way that drives the action forward. This alone puts it above “Interstellar.” I really want to read the novel after this.

The Characters – The characters are compelling with only two characters not really getting too much exploration but still have arcs! This is a show where even the minor characters make choices that have consequences.

Teddy Sanders – Jeff Daniels does an amazing job as the Director of NASA who has to make difficult choices throughout the course of the film as Mark surviving makes things more complex as far as getting funding and at one point he has to decide sending the Ares III crew back and risking them all or just sending the probe with supplies. He choose the latter and you get the reasons for that too. His arc involves him being willing to take risks to save Mark, even it means losing his job.

Mitch Henderson – Sean Bean is the man in charge of the astronauts and he is a great guy who is willing to go behind Sanders back to protect his men and he sends them the data they need and the plan that Purnell created. He stands by it the entire time and for him space travel being about people is key as if people are forgotten, than what is the point of sending them out there in the first place? I really liked his character and he was one of my favorites. There is also a point where he explains the Council of Elrond where Purnell’s idea is first discussed…which is a great “Lord of the Rings” callback.

Vincent Kapoor – Chiwetel Ejiofor is truly a master of his craft as he plays a guy who isn’t much of a people person but truly becomes invested in people beyond just the idea of travel and missions over the course of the film. He is very much the Vulcan Spock to Sanders being Kirk and he is there supporting Mark through the course of his isolation on Mars.

Rich Purnell – Donald Glover plays the man who comes up with the idea of using the Ares III to save Mark and is not a people person at all as he doesn’t even register his non-communication with his boss or the director of NASA. He is a lot of fun and was my favorite character in the film as he was fully in to finding a way to bring Mark home and was a put of an eclectic scientist.

Ares III crew – Two of the crew fall in love and we see it slowly grow over the course of the film and when is a funny dad. These characters don’t receive the same level of development as Ramirez the pilot and Lewis the leader though.

Rick Martinez – Michael Pena is wonderful as Martinez who is the pilot as well as Mark’s best friend. He is a guy who jokes around, is ex-military and loves what he does. He is the one who helps the others realize what it means to go back and he is willing to leave his wife and son behind longer to bring back Mark as he knows Mark would do the same to him. He has a strong moral code and is the glue that holds the crew together. He is also the clown and Pena’s wonderful sense of humor has a chance to come out.

Melissa Lewis – Jessica Chastain plays the most serious character in the film besides Jeff Daniels’s Sanders. She carries guilt over leaving Mark behind and this drives her to action and risking herself in the end to save Mark as she won’t risk her crew. She is a great commander for this reason and we get to see her tender side with her husband as well as her closeness to Mark who is her closest friend on the mission too. Her arc is moving past her guilt to help save Mark.

Mark Watney – Watney is a sarcastic botanist and Damon truly carries this film. In this we see him have to survive in impossible conditions using only the resources NASA left behind and that Mars has. He does a great job too as we see him use Botany to grow potatoes using his own crap and the Mars soil and we later see him “Science the shit” out of everything around him in order to survive. In the end he survives and he truly owns it too as we see it is his willingness to take risks that brought him out there in the first place. Him swearing at NASA for not telling his crew he was alive was brilliant too as on multiple occasions we see he isn’t a fan of authority at all and enjoys having a good time being “the best.” His arc is facing death and moving past it to find a solution each time.

Space Travel is Wondrous, Dangerous and Worth It – This is the core message of the film as at the end Mark is teaching new astronauts in training and tells them that message. He also has no regrets as he loves what he does and what he did and is a huge promoter of more missions as he knows it is the future.

The Strength of the Human Will – There are a lot times characters want to give up, but it is when they face the challenges and rise above them that they are able to find ways to solve each of the crises they face.

This is easily one of the greatest films of the year and one I’d highly recommend. I plan to add the book to my reading list and I will be eventually buying and seeing this film again as it truly captures so much of what I love about this galaxy, space travel, adventure and science fiction and all the possibilities of the future that come with it. I’m rooting for us eventually colonizing Mars and I hope this movie will ignite the interest in space travel and colonization again.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10. A nearly perfect film.

Chappie (2015): A Great Premise Ruined by Poor Villains

Chappie_poster

    I’ll start out by saying I like “Chappie” more than “Elysium” but it doesn’t come close to “District 9,” in regards to projects that Neill Blompkin has done. Having the South African rappers Die Antwood in this film also took me out of it besides the Blompkin villain problem where he seems to overly focus on evil capitalists who have no real depth or motivation to what they do…but I’ll get into that more further into the review. This film was fun and there was the potential to be good and great in it.

SPOILERS ahead

     “Chappie” was directed by Neill Blompkin who also wrote the original story, co-wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers. The other screenwriter was Teri Tatchell and the other producer was Simon Kinberg.

    The story takes place in 2016 as Tetravaal (a weapons company) has created Scouts that are Robotic Cops that enforce the laws in the city. When one of them is injured and the creator decides to use it to see if he can create consciousnesses things unfold for the worst as he is captured by gangsters and one of his competitors seeks to undo him so his Robotic A.I. called the Moose can be the main security force in the city as the injured Scout becomes a new being called Chappie.

The Pros: The World – The world is really cool. The A.I. looks great and you have a world where in reaction to complete police control, what gangs there are have a lot of power and money so there is competition between them.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and Trent Opalach did a great job on it. He is able to show the gritty world of the slums as well as the industrial corporate feel of the factory and business really well.

The Different Robots – The robots were the best part, humans were the weakest part of the story and if we’d had more time developing the robots and Deon’s relationship to them. Any scene with robots was great…and was the few times the horrible human characters (outside of Deon) were actually interesting.

The Moose – The Moose looks like something out of “Robocop” and is a pretty awesome threat! It also has limitations too since it is completely controlled by a human on the other side (like a drone) so it can’t adapt to tactics or use it’s own body. Still, it has a great design and a ton of weapons. It took a lot to take it down.

The Scouts – The Scouts are really cool. They are all business and actually make good cops since they do no harm and have to obey the laws. It was a nice twist to how robocops are usually played in sci. fi. outside of Asimov.

Chappie – Chappie is wonderful. The A.I. is a child but in learning what he is as A.I. he is able to save his maker and his Mommy as he uses the tech around them them to put his Maker into a Scout body and to build a new body for him as he saves their mind onto a flash or transfers it using the neural helmet. Chappie is impossible to hate and is complex as it makes complicated choices for survival and protecting the people he cared about. Sharlto Copley did a great job voicing him.

The Maker/Deon – Deon didn’t expect Chappie to become alive so his arc is dealing with this reality and laying down his life Chappie, which Chappie prevents by giving him immortality and in turn keeping his family. He is a great character as he is the idealistic scientist trapped in a corporate job. He was the only human character I liked so it was good seeing him become A.I.

Mommy – Yolandi from Die Antwood is one of the few kind characters to Chappie and though she can be annoying, when she’s in Mommy mode to Chappie she’s great. She dies protecting him but Chappie makes her another body at the end.

The Cons: Die Antwood – Ninja was just annoying and Yolandi was most of the time…also they weren’t even acting they were just playing themselves…really Blompkin? That’s a super lack of creativity.

The Gangs – The gangs are violent and there is no depth to them. We don’t get there motivations beyond money and they are just as empty as the suits at the corporation.

The Corporate Villains – Bradley played by Sigourney Weaver is an empty suit stopping Deon and Jackman just plays a violent religious competitor. They were seriously uninteresting and really brought down the script showing just how much of a problem writing humans was in this film. Seriously…Deon is the only sympathetic human character.

To Easy of a Victory – Everyone gets to be immortal and the human cops are shown to be inept so the new world Chappie is creating won’t have any threat against it…”Elysium” was better with the bittersweet and “District 9” was super realistic…sadly this film tries to be a fairy tale which just causes a clash in tone from everything we went through in the film prior. There isn’t any cost.

  This is a film I’d recommend renting but not buying, not unless you are a huge fan of Robot Films, in which case there is a great Robot Film in this film but it is brought down by the one-dimensionality of all the human characters. If you want a great film about Robots and A.I., check out “Ex Machina”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/ex-machina-2015-sentience-and-the-path-to-liberation/. It is a film that will probably be in my Top 5 films of the year. This one was an enjoyable ride but never reached the point of great for me.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10