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.

“Elementary” Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot” – Addiction, Loss and Joan Watson’s Agency

Pilot Elementary

    CBS did a good job when they created “Elementary.” The only way it is in any way like BBC’s “Sherlock” is the fact that it takes place in the present…everything else is different. From Watson having agency and actually facing her past and helping Sherlock deal with his addiction, to us being given a show that tries to have individual mysteries that stand on their own. There is no arc as of the pilot, no villain is established…(unlike Moriarty established at the end of “Sherlock’s” Pilot and we see that the main people our characters are facing are one another and themselves. This is what truly makes it great.

    The “Pilot” was directed by Michael Cuesta and written by Robert Doherty.

      The story involves Joan Watson being assigned as the sober companion to Sherlock Holmes, per his father. Together they must deal with another and reach an understanding while solving a home invasion and disappearance.

The Pros: The Writing – The writing is awesome! Actions have consequences and we see Watson and Sherlock change over the course of the episode as they face issues within themselves and how they relate to one another.

The Soundtrack – Sean Callery created a beautiful soundtrack that captures the mystery of the show and also the stress of Holmes’s addiction. It’s a wonderful score and one I plan to use for writing later.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is amazing, just like in “Sherlock.” We get slow shots of action that show objects breaking as well as glimpses of scenes giving us a picture that is slowly put together over the course of the episode.

The Characters – Whether they are minor characters or major, all the characters in the pilot feel fleshed out.

Dr. Richard Mantlo – This guy is a great antagonist! He manipulates one his patients who has a sociopathic desire to kill red headed women and makes his wife change to fit the type…all of this so he can keep the money from the fortune. The man is just as disconnected as Sherlock which leads to a great contrast in how they relate to and treat others where Mantlo doesn’t care and Sherlock makes an effort.

Captain Thomas Gregson – Gregson is the American detective who helps them with the case and brings Holmes in as a consulting detective. He is a source of stability for both Joan and Sherlock as he is always laid back and is a calming present for both their anxieties. Aidan Quinn does a great job.

Joan Watson – Lucy Liu owns this role! In her we see that she is working through trauma too as she failed as a surgeon and that is what lead her to become a sober companion. Unlike other Watson’s she does’t put up with Holmes’s abuse and calls him out or leaves him which forces him to grow and change how he interacts with people so he doesn’t take them for granted. Holmes also helps her find confidence as she helps him solve cases through their conversing and she gives empathy to others that he only really gives to her.

Sherlock Holmes – Jonny Lee Miller plays a very intense Holmes. His Holmes took addiction to the fullest and is recovering from that. This makes him intense and rebellious (a very different but fun take) and leads to him having to relate to people as he doesn’t want to be alone after how he was burned in the past. To this end we see him learn to talk to others, specifically Joan Watson who he grows to respect over the course of the episode.

    This is a show that really did everything right. It took the essence of the source material and grew beyond it…it also remembered the core art of writing and the fact that actions have consequences and characters must change. There is no real problem with this episode but there is a greater problem I had with the series…after the Finale I tried watching Season 2 but I couldn’t get into the disconnected format, the lack of arc and with it the eventual filler that came is what turned me off from the show. In the future I will give the show a full watch and assessment, but for now I stopped watching it for a reason and I have no idea if Season 3 was able to become more solid and do less side quests.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10. Only reason it isn’t higher is because it’s not really attached to the rest of the show, showing this series would have worked better as a mini-series not a 24 episode format.

“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” Pilot – Episode 1 – “A Scandal in Bohemia” – Respect for Irene Adler

A Scandal in Bohemia

     Having read all of the “Sherlock Holmes” stories, Jeremy Brett and the different adaptations of said stories or how I imagine them to be (except for how they present Moriarty). Watson looks like Watson, Holmes looks and acts like Holmes and the mysteries are very much of their eras and haven’t been adapted or embellished in anyway. Granada did a masterful job on this series and the pilot “A Scandal in Bohemia” though there are limitations in regards to the filming and a few other things that I’ll get into further into the review.

      The episode was directed by Paul Annett and written by John Hawkesworth.

       The story involves the King of Bohemia trying to steal back a questionable picture of him and Irene Adler so he hires Sherlock Holmes in order to do so. They soon realize that tricking Irene will not be so easy though.

The Pros: The Setting – I like Victorian England. It’s beautiful and the carriages and dark create an heir of mystery that helps offset the poor pacing and filming of the film.

Irene Adler – Gayle Hunnicutt plays a very honorable Irene Adler who doesn’t play those around her, she is genuine in her love and affection and a woman trying to take care of herself in a world where she has very little power. She only holds onto the picture because she wants to marry the man she is set too and it is a way to make sure she is left alone. She shows great admiration and respect for Sherlock too and realizes it’s him (sees behind his disguise) before he realizes she has…she also leaves him a photo, showing how much she enjoyed the battle of wills. What an awesome version of the character and shows the Adler of the books who beat Sherlock and forced Sherlock to change his sexist views.

Watson’s Narration – Watson’s narration is great as it shows just how great the adaptation is and capturing the fact that it was adapted from stories within a book, that in universe were written from Watson’s point of view.

Sherlock Holmes – Brett is Sherlock Holmes. He captures it more than any of the others as he is master of disguise, a gentlemen, an addict who needs stimulation as his greatest threat is boredom and one who is all about the case when he’s on it and the stimulation he gets from it. Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes.

Okay: Dr. Watson – Watson’s performance isn’t memorable but David Burke looks the part and he isn’t bad…but there is nothing that sets him apart or truly memorable in the role.

The Minor Characters – Much like how the minor characters in Sherlock Holmes usually didn’t get much exploration as the focus is mostly on Sherlock, the same goes here. They were just kind of present to be part of Sherlock’s plan.

The Cons; The King of Bohemia – The King is just a King and there is nothing memorable in the actor’s performance. He could have been played by anyone, which is a shame as there is a lot that could have been done as a King pretending to be someone else and dealing with his own hypocrisy when he hurt Irene.

Pacing – Part of this is how it is filmed, where there aren’t any unique shots but it drives down the pacing of the episode, which is a shame as Jeremy Brett and Gayle Hunnicutt are so on their roles that they shine in the dull pacing and filming.

    This was a good adaptation, though there were things that kept it from being great. These things were pacing issues, an unimaginative Watson and the very bland cinematography. These were the things that kept it from being great, ,though it was still good due to Gayle’s performance as Adler and Brett’s performance as Holmes. If you enjoy the books, check out the Granada series.

Final Score: 8 / 10

First “Sherlock Holmes” Week

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   Sherlock Holmes is a fascinating character and one of the few characters in literature to have so numerous adaptations that initially I didn’t really know here to start in going about tackling the different versions of him.

      This is a character who connects to the way we are the “Other” and also is more than human in how he is able to put things together and solve difficult puzzles that are placed before him. It is little wonder why Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s books have inspired so many versions and adaptations.

      The versions of Sherlock Holmes I will be covering will be Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock from “Sherlock”  and his pilot episode “A Study in Pink.”

        Jeremy Brett’s version (who to me has always captured the character best) in his pilot episode of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

        Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock from “Elementary” and his pilot episode simply labeled “Pilot.”

     Peter Cushing and his introduction as the character in the Hammer Films in “The Hound of the Baskervilles” for one of the said films and his first appearance as Sherlock.

      Finally, Sir Ian McKellan in “Mr. Holmes” the new film that is out to end it.

    Sherlock Holmes is one of my favorite characters in fiction and what he has brought to the cinematic world can never be fully comprehended as so many greats (only a few named here) got their chance to play the great detective.

The “Jurassic Park” Franchise – From Worst to Best

 Jurassic Park Series

     As someone who has always been interested and fascinated in dinosaurs, since I was a kid these are films that I’m grateful have been such high of quality as they as they are. At the core these are B Films with Dinosaurs in the place of monsters with our heroes put into survival situations where they must escape the bigger threat and in the process maybe learn some larger moral point.

      Steven Spielberg’s directing of the first 2 films and John Williams’s score cannot be overstated as well. These two are masters of their work and you can feel their influence (direct or otherwise) in all of these films.

      Besides dinosaurs this is a film where scientists are the heroes of the story. So often scientists are the villains of stories like this and there is nothing to define them outside of madness and maybe some misguided idealism. In this the scientists are the heroes who must rescue the future generations (the kids who are in these films to show us awe of dinosaurs and to be rescued) and to give warning to whatever idiot believes they can control nature/dinosaurs. This is the basic structure of these films, and honestly all of the work. So without further here are my thoughts on the films of the Franchise, starting from the worst and working my way up to the one I believe to be the best.

Jurassic World

4th – Jurassic World (2015)

      “Jurassic World” is a film that isn’t bad. The sad thing there are quite a few things I like about this film, such as the owner of the park and B.D. Wong’s scientist. Where it fell apart was the kids never struck me as afraid because they were dealing with CGI and not models and our heroes (Claire and Owen) were archetypes and never grew beyond that. The big fight at the end was way to fanservicey as well. I did come for the dinosaurs, but even I don’t believe that 3 competing hunters would team up against a larger threat, nature doesn’t tend to work that way and it struck me as only servicing the plot. As a side note, the raptors in this are wonderful though and what would have put this film higher on the list would have been more time with them and the dinosaurs. Humans were the weak link in this film.

Final Score: 7 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/jurassic-world-2015-best-characters-wasted-and-not-enough-time-with-dinosaurs/

Jurassic Park 3

3rd – Jurassic Park III (2001)

      This is a film that is very aware it is a B Film so should be treated as such. It captures the essence of “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park” well too as our characters are simply trying to survive and the raptors never stop being a threat. The mercenary leader feels like an actual character too, as does the couple with the failing marriage and even the survivor kid…which is more than I can say for “Jurassic World.” Also, Spinosaurus should not have been the main threat and the talking Raptor in Dr. Alan Grant’s dream was a really stupid idea and this film rightly gets criticism for that. If you are looking for an enjoyable B Dinosaur flick though, I’d give this film another chance.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/jurassic-park-iii-2001-a-fun-shlocky-b-movie-that-captures-the-spirit-of-jurassic-park/

rThe Lost World Jurassic Park

2nd – The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

    Lightning struck twice for Spielberg as both the films he directed in this Franchise are favorites of mine. When I was a kid “The Lost World” was my favorite because the Raptors were taking out everyone and it was wonderful seeing the Dinosaurs stay actual threats throughout the entire film, and I liked the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm. In hindsight it isn’t as strong as the original though and here is why…the villain who is Hammond’s nephew is completely one-dimensional evil businessman and is just stupid and Kelly, Ian’s daughter never grows beyond berating her dad. She is static and that is a shame. She also had a stupid scene where she kicks a raptor doing gymnastics…so all these factors put it below the Original even though it is still a favorite film of mine.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/the-lost-world-jurassic-park-1997-humanitys-conflict-with-nature-and-finding-balance/

jurassic-park-movie-poster-1992-1020141477

1st – Jurassic Park (1993)

This film is a classic for a reason. You have a great cast of characters (Dr. Ellie, Ian and Alan), Hammond is our flawed dreamer who build the engine of his own destruction through the park and refusing to pay his employees well and this is this is the film that truly captured the awe and terror of the Raptors and the Tyrannosaurus Rex. This is a film that truly shows how cool it would be if there was a park where dinosaurs existed and has the best tension building of any of these films. We meet the characters, establish the world and slowly but surely watch as the dinosaurs kill off so many of the surrounding characters, forcing our heroes to truly choose what matters as they realize they are on the bottom of the food chain. This is a Kaiju/Monster film done right and still stands as the greatest film of the Franchise.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/jurassic-park-1993-the-power-and-wonder-of-nature-and-finding-what-matters/

Arguably this is a Franchise that works. I didn’t hate any of the films, and even the films that had things that didn’t work had other redeemable qualities to them (mostly in the form of the Dinosaurs) and that is why I think this Franchise is so well beloved. If you haven’t seen any of these films, I’d say give them a shot. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the films as well and which ones you consider the best and the worst.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – Humanity’s Conflict With Nature and Finding Balance

The Lost World Jurassic Park

     “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” is a great sequel. It is a good thing Spielberg was in charge of it since he is a good director at creating complex characters and giving situations where actual stakes are involved, while still managing to give the film a heart. He is one of the greats for a reason and him directing the follow-up to the original was the right decision.

  The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by David Koepp, produced by Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson and based off The Lost World by Michael Crichton.

    The story involves Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) going to Site B, the Island of Isla Sorna to rescue his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) who has gone there in order to record Dinosaurs in their natural state for a documentary so that humans won’t exploit them. They are too late and things get complicated when Hammond’s nephew Ludlow (Arliss Howard) arrives with a team to capture the Dinosaurs and take them to a park in San Diego as well as the arrival of Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), which complicates things further.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Janusz Kaminski did a wonderful job and as expected Spielberg has a good eye for how to cast a scene. The character scenes as well as the action scenes mean something and we get the chance to get to know the minor characters by how the action is presented.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is one of the greats for a reason and in this his soundtrack is great at creating tension and rising action. Each action scene felt big because of his soaring score.

The Action – This is one of the better action movies I have seen. There are so many moments that I remember and will remember. I’ll record the ones that stand out the most as they deserve recognition.

Hanging By a Rope – Van Owen and Harding rescue the trapped Tyrannosaurus baby and after they fix it’s leg the parents destroy the van, eventually this leads to it falling over the edge and it is only from the actions of Eddie Car releasing a rope through the van that they are able to get to rescue. Eddie dies in the process though.

The Raptor Hunt – At one point the hunters are running and the Raptors methodically take nearly every single one of them out. It is only the few that survive through luck and quick thinking showing just how dangerous they are.

The Tyrannosaurus Hunt – The T. Rex proceeds to cause chaos in the camp for the capture of it’s child. One of them is captured by Roland while the other slaughters the hunters the Raptors don’t get too.

the Tyrannosaurus in San Diego – This is quintessential Monster Movie here as we see a T. Rex escape from it’s cage and proceed to decimate San Diego. It is really well done and a lot of the destruction caused is simply from people afraid that it exists. It was very well cast and showed once again just how dangerous this creature is. I liked it.

The Characters – There are quite a few great characters in this! From Dr. Harding and Dr. Malcolm and the hunter Roland as well as the Earth First activist. Each of them are more complicated than any archetype, which leads to some great interaction and character growth over the course of the film.

Eddie Carr – This minor character dies to the T. Rex’s but not before he saves his friends. He idealizes Dr. Harding but we see he is good at his job too as it is his creativity that saves our heroes in the first place. Richard Schiff did a great job and his death meant something.

John Hammond – Hammond has changed from the industrialist to the conservationist and it is a really good arc the events at “Jurassic Park” changed him. He is wonderful as the wise wizard who has learned from his mistakes while still being wily and reckless.

Nick Van Owen – I don’t like Vince Vaughn, he tends to be a dick in real life and his characters he plays. This character wasn’t as bad and him being a dick worked as he was an extreme activist who put others at risk to rescue animals. He is never presented as the good guy but you get why he is doing it too, especially since these dinosaurs are endangered by their very existence and he wants to safeguard that.

Roland Tembo – Peter Postlewaite does an awesome job in this role! He is the hunter who lives for the thrill of it and has respect for the animals he hunts as he sees himself as fulfilling his greater purpose. When his friend is killed on the Island though he decides he is done after he captures the T. Rex and has had enough of death. I don’t think he’ll stop hunting but he won’t work with people like Ludlow anymore…folks who don’t value human life.

Dr. Sarah Harding – Julianne Moore plays the naive idealist who learns to not be reckless around dinosaurs while still fulfilling her mission of saving the ones on the Island. She saves Malcolm a few times which makes up for times he had to save her in the beginning. She is a strong character who does what she wants.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the nervous scientist played by Jeff Goldblume who carries on the lessons of “Jurassic Park” about keeping dinosaurs away from human beings. He is the Spock to Sarah’s Kirk and his arc is learning how to feel for others better as we see him have to put himself out there to protect Sarah his girlfriend and to protect his daughter and support her beyond words. It is a great arc and it is him coming into his own as a person who can look beyond himself.

Respect for the Natural World – The message is through Hammond’s action. He was a man who wanted people to feel wonder and live the vision he created, on his death bed though he only wants the creatures he created to be respected as he realized he didn’t before by keeping them in cages. It is to this end that he sent them on a mission to protect his creations. It is a good arc since the Dinosaurs aren’t idealized, they are animals like anything else and deserve the chance to flourish. This basis of respect while still not forgetting humans creativity in development is part of what makes this film so great.

A T.Rex is still a T.Rex (even if you save it’s baby) – I really like that part of respect is respecting the space of hunters, be it humanity or the T. Rex. The heroes save the baby T. Rex but there van is destroyed by the T. Rexes. The nature of a T. Rex does not change and the saving of their baby doesn’t change the fact that T. Rexs eat smaller animals which include humans. I’m glad that in the conversation talk it was still smart. A tiger will still try and kill you, even if you return it’s cub back.

Okay: Peter Ludlow – Hammond’s nephew is all about making InGen profitable again but he does nearly have a change of heart when the T. Rex is reeking havoc, he only changes his mind when he realizes that the T. Rex baby could be his only out from facing major consequences for his stupidity. He was alright as an antagonist.

Kelly – Child actors have a difficult time and Vanessa Chester does alright as Kelly. She is a daughter ignored by both her parents so she acts out for attention while still trying to be successful to impress her folks. Her arc is finding confidence and building a relationship with her dad. I did think it was stupid she kicked a raptor using gymnastics, but besides that she wasn’t a bad character, just not a great character.

I remembered liking this more than “Jurassic Park” as the Dinosaurs felt like actual animals and T. Rex’s won’t save the day against Raptors since they want to eat you too…this is part of the reason I’m curious if it will still be the case when I get to “Jurassic Park.” Which will be better to me, the original or the sequel “The Lost World?” Well, well see when I get there.  Suffice to say I enjoyed this film greatly and would watch it again. It is definitely a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10. Solidly great film.

Jurassic World (2015): Best Characters Wasted and Not Enough Time With Dinosaurs

Jurassic World

      I’m glad I’m looking back at this Franchise with new eyes because the big special effects and somewhat all star cast could not made this film a good one for me. It is an enjoyable film to say the least, but as far as Monster Films or Action Films go, there wasn’t enough time with a lot of the characters and creatures to be fully invested in it. It had some great moments of action to be sure, and anytime the raptors were present the film soured, but the human characters were not enough to carry this film beyond anything more than a forgettable summer flick.

     The film was directed by Colin Trevorrow who was one of the co-writers along with Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Derek Connolly. Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver wrote the original story and the world was based off the series by Michael Crichton. The Producers were Frank Marshall and Patrick Crowley.

   The story takes place 22 years after the original with the Jurassic World as a now flourishing attraction. This has lead to creating more Dinosaurs and the creation of Indominus Rex, a Hybrid made to bring money. When Idominus escapes it is up to Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) the raptor handler, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to stop it and save her nephews who have gone off road as the Park is shutting down and going into lockdown due to Indominus’s breakout.

The Pros: Simon Masrani – I wish the movie had been all about this guy. Masrani is the owner of the Jurassic World and does everything himself. He feels like a fully fleshed out character as he seeks to carry on Hammond’s legacy of teaching people humility and feeling them with wonder. In the end his trying to keep the breakout secret leads to him getting killed though when Indominus releases the dinosaurs from the aviary. There was not enough time with this guy. I would have watched the film of how he came to own the park.

Dr. Henry Wu – This scientist who makes a deal with the military is a pretty interesting guy. He is almost mad scientist like but is honest about what he is doing and the fact that all the dinosaurs in the park are hybrids in one degree or another…they aren’t direct Clones so they don’t even look how they would have looked originally. He is the practical to Masrani’s idealism and if the film had been between these two men it would have been great. B.D. Wong does a great job in the role, and he is reprising his role from “Jurassic Park” where he was one of Hammond’s scientists.

The Velociraptors – The Velociraptors are awesome! Especially Blue who has a lot of personality and is rebelling against Pratt’s control the entire time, though he does come through in the end to protect the humans when Indominus loses control over them briefly, but not before he and his pack kill a lot of soldiers.

Indominus Rex – Indominus feels like a Kaiju or Monster out of any classic monster film. It reeks havoc and is only defeated after a big battle and where it has already one. It is cool we get the psychology of it too as it is isolated and alone for it’s entire life so it is only reactive as all it has known is a cage. It was a great enemy too and it takes a pack of raptors, a tyrannosaurs Rex and all our heroes to finally defeat with some help from an aquatic Mosasauras.

Okay: The Tyrannosaurs Rex – It appears briefly at the end to fight when it released from it’s cage but that is about it. It never felt like a threat the way it usually has in film and turning it into a protector just didn’t work as it had no reason to fight Indominus. It was cool seeing it in action with it’s tiny arms though, it just should have been made relevant much earlier. It felt like fan service.

Okay/Con: Claire and Owen – These two are just archetypes and don’t feel like fully fleshed out characters. They are both jerks who come to see people outside themselves though. So they have something of an arc, but they were not enough to carry the film and even the amazing actors who played them couldn’t save the script.

The Cons: The Kids – The kids are annoying. They are meant to be Spielbergian but the older kid is just crushing on girls when he is away from his girlfriend and the little kid mostly cries and quotes facts. They feel realer than some kids in film but they still feel like a plot device so that Claire and Owen have to save the day, and not characters.

The Military – They are just there to take advantage of the dinosaurs and to make them weaponized. They are wasted and we don’t have any good military characters, which is a shame as they play such a prominent role in the film.

   This was an alright film. I was bored in a few places largely due to the human characters and how they were written, but most scenes with the dinosaurs…especially the Raptors and Indominus were great action. If we’d gotten that sooner and focused on Dr. Wu and the CEO Masrani it could have been great as they posed moral questions and perspectives that never fully got explored. If you are looking for a fun summer blockbuster you will probably enjoy this, though in my personal opinion you’d be better with “Fury Road” or “Inside Out” if you want something much greater than this forgettable enjoyable flick.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Seventh Son (2014): Bland Leads and Would Have Worked Better as a Mini-Series or Videogame

Seventh Son

    “Seventh Son” was okay. For what it is worth it did get me interested on the book it is based on and the side characters are far more interesting and compelling than the leads (Jeff Bridges, Kit Harrington and Julianne Moore) are characters so there is that, but so much of the world feels unfully fleshed out and the story does feel rushed, like it was trying to take advantage of the fantasy in cinema interest going on right now. I’ll get into more of that in the assessment though. This is a decent rental but the limitations of film don’t serve this film justice and the presentation would have worked better as a really good videogame.

    The film was directed by Sergei Bodrov, written by Charles Leavitt and Steven Knight and produced by Basil Iwanyk, Thomas Tull and Lionel Wigram, and based off the story The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney.

    The story involves Gregory (Jeff Bridges) searching for the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son since they are gifted at fighting Witches and the Queen of Witches Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore) escaped and killed his last apprentice Bradley (Kit Harrington). This leads him to Tom Ward (Ben Barnes) who is the last Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and also has magic in his blood as his mother is a Witch. He must train Tom before the Blood Moon when Mother Malkin will be at full power and impossible to stop.

The Pros: The World – The world is interesting as there are Witches who are shapeshifters and aren’t all bad as well as their being many other creatures and beasts like Bogarts, Wights, etc. Some of whom aren’t bad. This isn’t fully explored though as so much of the plot is focused on Tom and his romance that the plot didn’t need.

Bradley – Kit Harrington does a great job and would have been great in the role of Tom as his character has a lot of personality and is the happy go lucky one to the bitterness of Bridges’s Gregory. He sadly dies pretty early on to Mother Malkin in his Spook Apprenticeship to Gregory.

Gregory – Jeff Bridges is wonderful and I like how you get why he is bitter as Malkin was his lover before he got married and after she killed his family and his apprentices he carries nothing but hate and anger. He makes a great character though and Bridges makes him sympathetic. His relationship with Bradley and Malkin would have made this a great story, but sadly we get boring leads instead.

Mother Malkin – Julianne Moore hams this role up and does a great job of reveling in being evil for the sake of power. She is a good threat and far more interesting than those who follow her. He backstory being Gregory’s lover gives her depth too and motivation for what she does, she wants to get back for being trapped and wronged.

The Cons: Story Execution – The story execution is bad, largely due to the focus on our uninteresting leads of Tom and Alice who are blank slates and contrived love. The actors and script can’t carry those characters and it brings down the dynamic between Malkin and Gregory.

The Lieutenants – We don’t know anything about them though they have cool designs, from an army of stone, a shape-shifter and a multi-armed killer though we never get their motivations and they would have been much funner in a videogame, not a film.

The Other Witches – The other witches are plot devices. Alice and Tom’s mothers dies to show that not all witches are bad and to motivate the characters to change. They don’t ever feel like characters, they are there to drive plot and that is it.

Alice – She is the spy for Malkin but changes sides because she loves Tom. She has no motivation outside of love for Tom which was contrived since all she had was his saving her life. The actress is also really bland.

Tom Ward – Ben Barnes was horrible in this role. He wore one expression the entire time and he was written as a Mary Sue/Gary Stu. He’s half witch and a Seventh Son so he can do anything and has all the magic powers! This felt super contrived and plot armor kept him alive when he should have died on a few occasions. Super weak writing and terrible acting.

 This is a movie that would be fun to watch and mock with friends or if you want something that you don’t have to think deeply about. It’s a throwaway film and not my kind of movie though I do want to read the book now, so there is that. It isn’t good though, it’s okay at best and again, it’s a film that would be most enjoyable mocking with friends and having in the background.

Final Score: 6 / 10

K-PAX (2001): The Power of an Outsider

K-Pax

  “K-PAX” is a good film. It’s not a favorite film as at times it was a little confusing and it could sometimes be slow, but it has some great character development, fascinating situations and the acting is really good. It is definitely a sci. fi. worth watching and the premise itself is very intriguing.

     The film was directed by Iain Softley, written by Charles Leavitt and produced by Robert Colesberry, Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin and is based off the book of the same name by Gene Brewer.

     The story involves a man named Prot (Kevin Spacey) who believes himself to be an alien from the world of K-Pax. The story unfolds as he is taken into an asylum where he is treated by Dr. Mark Powell (Jeff Bridges). Prot changes the people in the asylum and Mark has he provides insights some of which he would only know if he was alien as Mark seeks to discover the traumatic event that Prot refuses to speak about that drives the story forward.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Edward Shearmur did a fantastic job giving the soundtrack a sci. fi. and introspective feel. I liked how it helped us see the world through Prot’s eyes and showed us just how alien the world felt to him.

The Cinematography – John Mathieson did a wonderful job on the cinematography. Everything feels like it is a surreal dream, which I think is purposeful since so much of the film is from Prot’s perspective and how he makes others change their perspective. There are lots of moments of stark contrast but also soft scenes that contrast the use of dark and light.

The Members of the Asylum – The Asylum is a fascinating place as the people there aren’t bad. Mental illness is not presented in a negative light which was great as it humanized the flawed people. There is Bess who leaves at the end, a man who thinks everything stinks, the man who is afraid of things that can kill him and the one who Prot puts in charge and gives tasks too. All of them have a humanity to them and a stark way of expressing themselves contrasted with the Doctors and Prot who are all very reserved.

Prot – Prot is a great character. He is an alien from K-PAX (the film establishes this based on people’s reaction to when he is Robert Porter again) and we get the story of how he came to Earth. It was to save Robert’s life as Robert was his friend whose family was murdered by a killer. All of this we learn over time through the eyes of Mark Powell who is the Doctor treating Prot. It’s a sad story and we see how kind Prot is in how he wants everyone to heal and to live. All the actions he does at the Asylum help the inmates to feel joy and to get out of their routine. When he leaves it is felt by all and Kevin Spacey does a masterful job in the role.

Mark Powell – Jeff Bridges is the Doctor who ends up believing Prot while at the same time seeking out the story of his host. He learns about the tragedy of Robert Porter and takes care of Porter after. He is also alienated from his family and obsessed with his work until Prot reminds him that he only has so long to live so should make the choices in life that build relationships with those you care about, not destroy or alienate them. At the end we see he understands this as he cares for the catatonic Robert Porter.

The Message – The message is to remember to connect with others and to make choices that bring about healing in yourself and those around you. Everything Prot does is to this end and we see that his saving Robert’s life has given him happiness even if he can’t express it at the end. We only have so much time alive, so make the most of all relationships.

The Ending  – Prot leaves at the end in a ray of light leaving Robert Porter’s body who is alive now and catatonic. The inmates whisper about it and it is very mysterious and reminded me a lot of “The Green Mile.” I enjoyed the ending too as Mark’s last act is reestablishing his relationship once more with his son.

The Cons: The Other Doctors – The other Doctors are pretty bland don’t feel all that fleshed out. They don’t really have much power as agents either as everything they do is a reaction to Prot or Mark which I disliked since there quite a few of them that appeared throughout the film consistently…but we learned nothing about them or their motivations.

Mark’s Family – Mark’s family has the same problem as the Doctors. I had no idea what they wanted besides time with Mark and they felt like they were needed so that Prot’s point would be stronger about relationships mattering, but I didn’t care about them. I knew and cared about Robert’s family than I did them since Robert’s backstory of working at a slaughterhouse and the dreams he shared with Prot were much more compelling.

Pacing – The pacing was very slow which at times was good for the introspective moments but there were many times I had to make sure I knew what was going on as it was too slow to fully register a sequence of events that had just occurred. This film could have been much faster, had more character actions and it would have been better for it. The only really fast moment were when the members of the Asylum reacted and when Prot panics when Mark’s kids are playing in the water and he thinks they’re going to drown.

“K-PAX” is a movie worth seeing. The ideas are good, the main characters are great and Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are truly phenomenal. Just know that the minor characters who aren’t inmates in the Asylum are really bland and that the pacing doesn’t help. These are the reasons why that even though I liked the film, I cannot consider it a favorite or great overall. It is a good film though and there is a lot of like in it, even with the problems it has.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

The Imitation Game (2014): The Dilemmas of War and the Life and Legacy of Alan Turing

The Imitation Game

       “The Imitation Game,” deserves all the hype and rewards it recieved. This is a film that manages to cover the dilemmas of war and the choices those in power are given in regards to how a war is handled to save the most lives, it deals with equality and prejudice as we see how Turing difference in personality leads to his isolation and also the homophobia of the government that leads to his tragic end even though it was his mind and actions that helped bring about a sooner end to World War 2. More on all of this though, later on.

     The film was directed by Morten Tyldum, written by Graham Moore and produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman and based off the story Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

      The story is that of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the story of how he broke the German Enigma Code during World War 2. It follows from when he is first taken on by Commander Dennisten (Charles Dance) to break the code and unfolds from there as he tries to construct a machine and connect with the members of his Team. When he becomes leader of his Team he takes on Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) whose abilities are doubted because she is a woman by society and the military. In the present Turing is telling his story to a detective on how the events of the war unfolded.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. Every shot looks like a stark photograph and captures Turing’s alienation and isolation from those around him and from there the times he is connected to others, like his friend and most likely first love Christopher. Oscar Faura did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – This is one of my favorite soundtracks, and I soon learned why. Alexandre Desplat who also did the soundtrack for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” the two “Deathly Hallows” films and countless other great soundtracks did this one too. In this he also captures the internal isolation or pressure that Turing is under as well as capturing his soaring moments too and the claustrophobia of the War.

The Script – The script is great at showing and only telling when it needs to. We learn about Turing being gay during his wedding when one of his friends on the Team tells him he’s figured it out and that he doesn’t feel romantic attraction towards his fiance Joan. The dialogue is also quick, and when Turing and Joan have their sarcastic or quippy moments it is quite enjoyable, it also captures Turing’s very literal mind and his trouble reading expressions and figures of speech.

The Characters – For the most part every character gets fleshed out. We get to see the two sides of every person or at least get a better idea of why a character does whatever they do and what their motivations are.

Commander Denniston – Charles Dance is great in this role. He is the general who cares about his men and has fought in wars before. He distrusts Turing since Turing is agnostic on War and the need for it but accepts him when he figures out they’re trying break Enigma. He later tries to get him kicked out though but is stopped when Turing goes to Churchill and becomes leader of the Team, though he nearly loses everything again when Denniston tries to shut the machine down when it is running but not giving any information. His character is a lot like Tywin, practical and invested in the big picture who doesn’t deal well with things and people he doesn’t understand.

Hugh Alexander – Matthew Goode is great in this role. Hugh is the one person comparably smart to Turing and sticks to the old ways until Turing wins him over by finally including them all in trying to make the machine work. He threatens resignation when Denniston comes to shut down the machine and from that he and Turing become friends. He is a bit of a womanizer but a good guy.

John Cairncross – Cairncross is the kindest of the Team at first but we soon see this is two-faced when he threatens to reveal Turing as Gay when Turing finds out he’s a spy. He still works with them all though and shows that agenda a double agent might have, in this case the Soviets are the allies of the U.K. so why not get them information? MI-6 knows this and supports it we learn as Churchill has been too paranoid to get the Soviets information that would help them win the war against Nazi Germany.

General Menzies – The head of MI-6 and the one person who appreciates Turing besides Joan. I don’t know if he’s good since he’s making decisions that by their very nature are grey. He lies about the existence of Turing’s machine so no one will know they have a weapon in conflict and he has everyone burn the information tied the machine at the end of the film. He is all business but appreciates those who can keep secrets, which is my he makes Alan Turing a spy, knowing that he holds more secrets than many of his agents. Mark Strong is great in this role.

Joan Clarke – Knightley plays the other outsider who gives us the feminist perspective in all of this. She points out she can’t afford to be a jerk because she isn’t a man so no one will listen to her if she is one, where they are listening to Turing even though he can insufferable sometimes. She loves his mind and when he admits he’s gay she stands by him knowing they are only together as friends. It’s a touching scene and you get the idea they are both outcasts who have trouble connecting to anyone besides one another, Turing because of the loss of his friend and love Christopher and Clarke because she is not her expected role in the sexist British society.

Alan Turing – Cumberbatch deserved a nomination for this role. In the beginning he sounds like Sherlock but soon we get the distinct voice of Turing a very literal minded person who sees himself as smarter than everyone (which in most cases he is) and has to learn empathy for others (which Joan helps him with) when he experienced none from others minus Christopher growing up. He is all about solving puzzles, agnostic on the issue of violence and in the end helps end the war 2 years earlier. Sadly all he has is his work in the end as the Government chemically castrates him and this further isolation and alienation leads to his suicide. Turing story is that of a tragedy as he is a strange and brilliant man who did nothing wrong and was castrated only because he loved men. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those throughout history and modern day like him.

The Dilemmas of War – There are a few situations where dilemmas are presented. One of Turing’s Team Members discovers that Germans will be attacking an area where his brother is and if they warn the military they can be saved. Turing points out that if the Germans learn they solved Enigma it won’t matter, more men will die and they could still lose the war. Another dilemma was in constructing “Christopher” the Machine. The old way was saving lives using people and the more energy that was put into the machine the less time to try and break the daily changing code. Continuing the machine or going the old way and saving some lives was another issue presented of conflict during wartime.

The Message – The message is that of equality and how important is to be accepting of differences and that it is our differences that define us. It is powerful and you see the horrors that LGBTQ folks still face in the United States and areas of the world. They may not have been chemically castrated in the U.S. anymore but in many places it is still a death sentence and it is the prejudice that Turing faces that most likely lead to his suicide. R.I.P. Alan Turing and all those who took their life because they could not find acceptance in love in this world because of prejudice and homophobia. So many great minds gone so early, just like Turing who was only 41 years old.

Okay: Christopher – Christopher is such an important character, Turing names his machine after him…but we never get to know him fully and he’s never fully fleshed out. This is one of the few issues that I really have with this film. I wish we could have gotten to know Christopher better beyond his brilliance and kindness to Alan.

The Cons: Historical Accuracy – The film takes some major liberties with Turing’s life which this article expresses beautifully. This is an issue for me in any historical biopic and is always a con…if your pouring a lot of money into a film, at least try to make it as accurate as possible since the story was great enough to be told in the first place.: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/12/03/the_imitation_game_fact_vs_fiction_how_true_the_new_movie_is_to_alan_turing.html

    This is a favorite film and deserves all the awards and praise it has received. Cumberbatch and Knightley are fantastic and the story has a message that rings true to this day. The ways we love, especially between consenting adults should be celebrated and not punished. This core message, the dilemma’s of war and Turing’s Life expressed, along with an unforgettable soundtrack, great cinematography and message make this a film that will be remembered for a long time to come.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10.