Arrival: Movie Man Jackson

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We come in peace? In peace we come? Peace we come in? They all mean different things! Out of nowhere, large opaque oblong spacecrafts come out of the sky, hovering over 12 cities across the world. They look threatening, so they had to have come to bring destruction to Earth. But, they just hover there, idly…

But idle cannot be assumed to completely mean peaceful. The fact of the matter is, someone needs to figure out what the point is of these extraterrestrials’ Arrival. That task primarily falls to linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). As both soon figure out, these beings operate with a higher sense of knowledge and communication than we do. Perhaps it isn’t them they should be concerned about, but rather, whether all parties across the world can collaborate with each other to figure out the meaning of their arrival.

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Few directors have had the critical success that Denis Villeneuve has experienced. Not counting Incendies (a film I so desperately need to see), he has helmed some of the best films of this decade in a relatively short time period with Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario. He’s hit must-see status…even with a weaker offering in Arrival. 

Don’t take that opener as disdain for Arrival. This is still a good movie, one in which Denis Villeneuve has firmly cemented himself as appointment viewing, up there with the likes of Christopher Nolan , David Fincher, and Quentin Tarantino. After delving into abduction, surrealism, and the cartels, the director tackles humanity and cooperation this time around. This is actually the first surprise—rather, misdirect—of Arrival. 

Despite having obvious elements of the science-fiction genre, it can be easily argued that Arrival isn’t much of one as a whole. Which is perfectly OK. The study of linguistics and how each and every culture can interpret meaning differently is fascinating, and it is an idea that is rendered wonderfully from a visual and auditory sense. If one ever wanted to see what a Rorschach test looked like on the silver screen, Arrival is probably the closest movie to capturing that. Arrival isn’t as striking as Sicario or as bizarre as Enemy, but even being more minimalist, there’s a tension (Villeneuve truly knows how to wield a camera to show this) that exists from the jump to the end of the second act. It only helps that the wonderful Johann Johannson provides moody musical cues that get at the extraterrestrial aspect of the story.

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So Arrival, script source material taken from the novella Story of Your Life, is undoubtedly cerebral. Where it falters, for yours truly at least, is tugging at the heartstrings. The rest of this paragraph can essentially be summed up as the super basic statement “It just didn’t do it for me,” but I’ll try to elaborate without spoiling. Perhaps I have no one else to blame but myself for expecting something that wasn’t there. It just feels that, however, something else could have, should have, been there. For all of the tension that is generated in the the initial acts of the movie, the reveal has sort of a flat feeling tied to it. It’s at this point when Arrival moves into full on heartfelt drama. Drama that, while structurally sound when held under a microscope, is a little uninteresting.

There are three performers billed on the movie’s poster, but one that gets all of the good material. That one being Amy Adams, who is always a captivating presence. The biggest reason why the cast works is that they are easy to buy into as their roles. All of Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker possess roles moreso than meaty characters (though Adams figuratively gets a full character circle, if you will), but this is a feature that requires actor and actress to be believable in delivering theories, calculating math, and delivering orders. When the three or some combination of the two are on screen together, they all work well with each other and the dialogue is worth listening to.

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At the very least, Arrival is worth a watch, not just for the impressive direction, but because it is unique, and films like this should be supported regardless of genre. Even with yours truly ultimately feeling a tad underwhelmed with the story aspects and endgame of this film, if it wasn’t clear before, it’s crystal clear now that Denis Villeneuve has arrived as a top-level filmmaker.

B-

Photo credits go to vox.com, nerdreactor.com, and rollingstone.com.

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Morgan: Movie Man Jackson

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No, not a movie about the USA women’s soccer team’s most attractive female player. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a scientific byproduct of a team of scientists. These scientists have been working for years on Morgan, their efforts to create an engineered human encompassing the best of humanity in intellect, feeling, decision making, and the works. Or so we think.

A violent incident, though, leaves Morgan’s future up in the air. This incident forces risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) into the foray. She must decide whether this creation is worth keeping around, or terminating. But like anyone who invests a lot of time into something for a long time, it can be tough to let go, and these scientists will not stand idly by and let another person make this big decision.

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The sci-fi genre has long been one of yours truly’s favorites. It is a genre that can be so inventive, much of its inventiveness often predicated on what is currently going on in the world. I think there are new science fiction stories to be told, but they’ll be dependent on what advancements are in the future pipeline of science and technology. As such, there have been a few notable sci-fi movies that delve into humanity lately. The latest in the genre, Morgan, takes one of the central themes of sci-fi, that of “what determines being human and can you create that synthetically?”, and creates a movie in which one could care less whether that question is answered or not.

More likely, I don’t know if Morgan, directed by Ridley Scott’s son, Luke, is itself interested in answering the question or even exploring it. Again, it is a question, albeit well-worn, that many films have made intriguing. At least for the first half or so of the film, Scott appears like he wants to get into the question, but man oh man, his full-length directorial debut has pacing problems. It’s one thing to be slow-burn, another thing to be flat out slow. Wouldn’t be so bad if more was found out about the characters, but little is and I struggle to remember all of their names and reasons for being in the story.

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Not until the oft-entertaining and memorable Paul Giamatti rolls in that Morgan begins to pick up the proceedings. The scene with Paul is easily the entire highlight of the movie and his character does the best job of addressing the question of being human. After that, Morgan gets reduced to a killing machine eviscerating most of the characters in the compound, not unlike a certain Friday the 13th character. But even the kills are pretty tame and drab, falling in line with much of the rest of the runtime. If you’re gonna get slasherific, might as well go bold with it.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Morgan is that there’s little reason to care about anything or anyone. As stated, most of the characters fail to make any lasting imprint. But even the story, as science-fiction as it is, doesn’t feel fully realized for a sci-fi movie. Compare this to, say, Ex-Machina, where in 15 minutes a good deal is found out about Ava, the program, the brilliant billionaire jerk genius, and the test subject. The audience is more or less dropped into this world with a brief debriefing over phone to the main character that does nothing for world-building.

Will be worthless to talk about the bulk of the cast, aside from Toby Jones whose recent work in Wayward Pines, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and now this seem to indicate he may be typecast as an unethical scientist. Focus is on the two main actresses who are responsible for the bulk of the film. Anya Taylor-Joy is a star is the making. She isn’t really the villain but gets tasked with obvious villainous actions, yet is still vulnerable with those striking eyes and a little heartfelt in some moments. Her opposition is Kate Mara, playing the heroine. She’s functional, nothing impressive. All for strong heroine leads, but she suffers from a lack of believability in her particular role. Not going to give anything away (feel like a dunce for not seeing the reveal sooner), but there are numerous actresses who carry hardened personas better than Mara.

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Morgan attempts to carry itself with the sophistication and intellect of sci-fi classics, but really, like a five year-old child, it doesn’t fully know what it wants.

D

Photo credits go to ew.com, teaser-trailer.com, and collider.com

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Star Trek (2009): Movie Man Jackson

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The future begins in the remnants of the past. In space, a Romulan, Nero (Eric Bana) is seeking vengeance across the galaxy. His home world has been destroyed seemingly by the Federation, an organization that seeks to keep the peace between worlds.

Nero is from the future, which obviously complicates matters in ways no one is sure of. Receiving a distress signal from the Vulcan planet, the Federation deploys the USS Enterprise to investigate. On the ship, James Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) find difficulty in working together due to their conflicting personalities and worldviews. But, the two must come to respect each other in order to save lives.

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Franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek don’t just have casual fans, they have diehards of worldwide fans who know every detail and minutiae of franchise lore. Diehards who don’t take kindly to even the slightest bit of change or a reimaging. You can’t please everyone, and the 2009 reboot of Star Trek might not cater itself to the hardcore Trekkie. But, it does pay respect to the iterations before it, while being highly accessible and most importantly, fun.

The director in the captain’s seat of the USS Enterprise is JJ Abrams, who earned his stripes writing and directing the beloved Lost and Fringe TV shows, and blockbusters Mission Impossible III and Cloverfield. Star Trek, like most reboots, is an origins story, and really, it is an origins story of two characters: Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. JJ Abrams does a ton right in his version, but one of the strongest aspects of his storytelling in this movie is that nothing feels wasted, or elongated for no particular reason. While juggling two stories in about 20 minutes, Abrams tells the audience exactly who these two iconic characters are, and why the audience should care about them.

One could argue, though, that some aspects of the story are a wee bit fuzzy, or a little underdeveloped. Time travel, for whatever reason, always seems to give yours truly a tough time to wrap his head around. The villain Nero is as generic as they come. And Trekkies may not like the lack of meaty themes, something that the original series often included. Even the effective humor could be much for some (this is a very light movie). But, origin stories need not to be complex, just entertaining.

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Additionally, Abrams uses his CGI to stage pretty special action sequences, one in particular being a space jump followed by hand-to-hand and ending with a space free-fall that is one of the best blockbuster action sequences of the last 10 years. It’s not just the action, though, its the fully realized environment of space, but also, the fully realized interior of the Enterprise. The ship is a marvel to look at, feels “alive,” and, even if just aesthetically, as important to Star Trek as its characters.

Even with all of the previously mentioned good things, the reintroduction to Starfleet wouldn’t be as well-received if the casting wasn’t up to snuff. Not considering the foil, I do not believe there is a weak link in the crew. Karl Urban is consistently entertaining playing Bones, Zoe Saldana a presence as one of the only females Uhura, John Cho showing he can do more besides being Harold as Sulu, Anton Yelchin being memorable as Chekov, and Simon Pegg as funny as ever portraying Scotty.

But of course, the lynchpins are Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, respectively. Pine put himself on the map playing the captain, showing off his character’s brashness yet steeliness in the face of peril. It’s a really fun role to watch, even if it can be a little too amped up once or twice. It is made better by Quinto’s precise performance. The two play off of each other well, and are both likable in their own ways, and seeing both characters coming full circle and accepting one another is a feel-good moment.

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Abrams’ initial foray into the Star Trek pays tribute to what came before it, but not to the point where it is too foreign to the uninitiated. All aboard the Enterprise, because this Star Trek prospers in more ways than one.

A-

Photo credits go to startrek.com, movieposter.com, http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org, and hautemacabre.com

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Chappie: Movie Man Jackson

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“How was I supposed to know that you would become you?”

The mind is, or can be, the strongest muscle in one’s body. It is also the most impressionable muscle as well. In a near-futuristic Johannesburg, South Africa, crime has curtailed thanks to the deployment of robots on the police force. Created by Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) and distributed through weapons manufacturer Tetravaal, Wilson is hailed as a genius. Like many great geniuses however, he’s thinking about the next innovation, the next augment. He wants these robots to think and feel for themselves.

But he’s missing one thing: The clearance from his boss Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver). Still, after successfully building the artificial consciousness, Deon decides to test it on a robot previously left to the scrap heap. The implementation doesn’t go how he envisioned though, as he becomes kidnapped by Ninja (Ninja), Yo-landi (Yolandi), and Yankie (Jose Pablo Cantillo), a gang looking to utilize a mechanized bot to complete a high-importance heist. Forced to comply or die, Deon reluctantly uploads the program to the bot, and gives not just new life to it, but sentience. Chappie (voice of Sharlto Copley) becomes the name. He is alive, and can be molded into anything a person desires, good and/or bad.

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Just in case it wasn’t known, Chappie is directed by the man who did District 9, Neill Blomkamp. Sure, he also did Elysium which was entertaining, but his full-length directorial debut in D9 is held in high regard as not just one of the best science-fictions in recent memory, but even of all time. That amazing height he reached in that debut may be just as much of a curse as it is a gift, similar to Nas’ Illmatic and the trouble he’s had with following that classic. This isn’t to disparage Chappie, which to yours truly is still a fairly solid sci-fi, if somewhat misleading.

With this being the another sci-fi, it is clear that Blomkamp has a comfort within the genre and an appreciation for it. But, the feeling cannot be shook that the world here feels awfully reminiscent to that other film that took place in South Africa, right down to the initial moments and to the explosive finale packed to the brim with a little too much slow-motion. Still, this familiar world and what occurs within it is not irritating to the eyes, or the ears for that matter. The production is of high quality, with the score being a high point done by the legendary Hans Zimmer. Occasionally, the sound mixing and levels are more overpowering than they should be, but it isn’t a consistent occurrence.

Blomkamp is a director full of ideas, some more subtle than others. Chappie is no different, with the only difference with this one being that the themes of autonomy and especially parenting are not as “grand” as health care or racism to name a few. While his examination on child rearing and exactly how parents/environment can shape their offspring is interesting, riveting, and touching in places, the autonomy and what it truly means to be human is underdeveloped, especially when held up to movies such as RoboCop and A Clockwork Orange. It is still a pretty fascinating story for the entirety of the two hour runtime, but saddening also as the trailers (first one, at least) appeared to be going a slightly different direction.

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Where there’s Neill Blomkamp there’s Sharlto Copley, this time providing not only the voice but the motion capture work for the titular robot.  Much praise has to given to the filmmaker to making Chappie seamlessly integrated into the world, and not an obviously-looking CGI entity. As for actually injecting it with real emotion and child-like wonder, that is all Copley with his movement and verbal delivery. If the plan was to care for Chappie himself throughout, Copley certainly did his job in making yours truly do so.

As essentially Chappie’s father, Dev Patel gives a great performance to a somewhat compelling but still lacking character. There may be a missed opportunity to say more about his usage of technology, his background, and more, but the movie does make the viewer question if Wilson’s aspirations for Chappie, though noble, are really any better than the aspirations had by Ninja and Yo-landi in a vacuum.

But of course, life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and even if it did, the characters played by the members of rap group Die Antwoord (characters with their actual rap names!) would still be terrible people. Perhaps it isn’t the fact that they are so grating and irritating, but the fact that Blomkamp decides to feature them, mainly Ninja, to the extent that he does only serves to exacerbate the problem. Yo-landi isn’t too bad, but I still get the sneaky feeling that this will likely be the “biggest” movie they both do.

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Having Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver usually mean good things in a film, as long as they are used correctly and flat out used at all. Jackman plays Vincent Moore, an engineer who works at the same place that Patel’s character does. These two are on a collision course with opposing viewpoints on technology, which has the makings of something awesome since they are both attempting to achieve the same thing.

However, Moore is eventually turned into a stock antagonist with little motivation, with the turning point occurring at a moment in the film that completely renders his character as a monster with no build towards it, and not to mention any repercussions. For what he is given, Jackman still does well, and it is a nice refresher to see him as the villain. Sigourney Weaver seems to only be here to give a level of star power, as she does nothing more than take space. The role could have easily been removed, or filled with anyone.

Chappie is not a new step in evolution for the genre, but it isn’t utterly riddled with defects either. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of the genre should make use of autonomy and make it a point to view at some point down the line.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to galacticnewsone.com, vanyaland.com, and nydailynews.com.

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Elysium: Movie Man Jackson

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“We’re not gonna f*****g dying here.”

Is 2154 so much different than 2015? Los Angeles (and what can be assumed the whole Earth) in the year 2154 is no man’s land. The City of Angels is dilapidated, grime-infested, crime-infested, and overpopulated beyond capacity. Its inhabitants are on one end of the spectrum, while the extremely wealthy are on the opposite end. They live on a man-made, not exactly secure but hard-to-get-to station in space called Elysium, where all of society’s physical, mental, and environmental ills are not to be found.

Max da Costa (Matt Damon) is on the low end of the spectrum, a guy who has desired his whole life to “get up there.” However, when he becomes exposed to a life-altering event, his desire becomes a need. Getting to Elysium will not be a smooth flight though, with Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and sleeper agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) doing everything in their power and outside of it to keep the unwanted out of their haven. If successful, Max will not only improve his live, but unbeknownst to him, the lives of others.

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To director Neill Blomkamp, Elysium isn’t a foreshadowing of the future like some science fictions are. As stated by the man behind District 9, “This [Elysium] is today. This is now.” And it really is evident from the get-go that Blomkamp has much to say about health care, immigration, class warfare, and other current hot-topics. It is nice to see a filmmaker with pronounced opinions not be afraid to place them in this films. Now, whether his opinions are overly heavy-handed or not will be up to the viewer.

It may be best to look at Blomkamp’s second offering, similar in many places from a plot perspective as his first feature, as more of a hybrid action sci-fi than a truly cerebral one. Not to discredit the commentary here because things are being said and inspire thought, but if compared to D9, and yours truly hates doing this (but the movies are in the same genre), the societal aspects found here are not handled as deftly.

With all of that said, this is still an very entertaining flick, and it starts with the world that is featured in it. Blomkamp knows how to craft a setting to the intended effect. Earth in particular is introduced in the first five seconds as a cratered, miserable, and overall unhealthy place to reside on. Contrast that, also established within seconds, to the Elysium space station, which is so beautiful and eye-popping in a synthetic way. With the movie named Elysium however, it is disappointing that little is examined as to how everyday life is on it, how it operates, etc. It is one of those movies that easily could have used an extra 10-20 minutes to expound upon this intriguing focal point.

Matt Damon stars in TriStar Pictures' ELYSIUM.

While it may have somewhat of a slower initial pace in a mostly successful attempt to build its setting and characters, the action rises to the forefront when the time calls, and Blomkamp seems to relish in it, from Halo-like force fields to high-powered exoskeletons. None of the set pieces are truly large scale in nature, but they all carry a high level of importance. And, it doesn’t hurt that they look splendid in their presentation. The unstable, shaky, sometimes slo-mo camera effects are slightly disorienting early on in “normal” scenes, but actually add to the action and gives it a pronounced flair as the movie goes on.

Having good-looking action is one things, but the right people are needed to make it look cool and believable. Matt Damon has proven his badass hero capabilities before, and does so again here. The role is basically the antihero in it for himself first and foremost, but his plight is one to see through towards the end. In a smaller role, William Fichtner is effective as businessman John Carlyle, snarky and overt in his disdain for Earth and its residents.

But the real standout is Sharlto Copley as the completely unhinged and remorseless Agent Kruger, in a complete 180 from his character of Wikus from D9. From the moment he reveals his face cloaked under a grungy brown hoodie, you just know that this individual does not need to be around people. For some, he may be a little over-the-top, but for yours truly Copley brings a load of menace and unpredictability along with some occasional laughs.

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Not all is solid on the acting front. In a true shocker, Jodie Foster turns in a downright shockingly odd performance, putting it nicely. It is just hard to get a feel for what she is going for here as Secretary Delacourt, and the apparent audio dubbing and comically stiff delivery only make things worse. At least she makes a mark on this, which cannot be said for Alice Braga, playing Max’s friend/love interest as Frey. The “/” is intentional; while it can be inferred that the two maybe had something romantic at some point in the past, their relationship isn’t clear and ends up dulling the intended emotional moments. Whatever status is had between the pair, little chemistry exists between Damon and Braga. For as little time as he is on screen, Diego Luna character possesses a stronger bond with Max than Frey does.

Elysium may lack the touch and “bite” found in classic science fictions, but there still lies a world and a story here that is worth spending time with. And in Blomkamp’s eyes, we are already doing so.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to ign.com, rottentomatoes.com, aceshowbiz.com, and wearemoviegeeks.com.

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District 9: Movie Man Jackson

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“He was an honest man, and he didn’t deserve any of what happened to him.”

The aliens have landed. Well, hovered is more like it. 20 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa, aliens arrive in a ship and do little more than hover over the city. However, fear of the unknown spurs the humans to cut into the hovercraft where they find that these foreign beings are malnourished and living in trash. Feeling pressure to do the right thing for them, Johannesburg sets up a living space known as District 9.

20 years later, District 9 is nothing more than a ghetto slum housing 1.8 of these “prawns.” They cannot be contained though, which prompts a massive private company to go forward with a plan to move the aliens to concentration camp-like District 10, led by a snide field operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). During this forced removal, Wikus comes in contact with a strange black substance that immediately begins to transform him into one of them. Valued as nothing more than a science experiment, Wikus now is a branded fugitive in his own land.

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It definitely isn’t required, but good science fictions often seem to reflect or touch upon society—past, present, and/or future—in some way. Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 makes its intended focus evident. For decades, South Africa was known for Apartheid, racial segregation somewhat akin to what the United States experienced. Maybe to some it can be argued that it is really heavy handed, but it is clear within the first 10 minutes what the film’s message is. And it makes District 9 no less captivating.

The documentary-style approach, sometimes rightly attributed to cheap filmmaking, is an asset here. Utilized early on and through a solid chunk of the film, it really places the viewer into an alternate universe that truly feels like the real thing. That is to say, that even with the inclusion of aliens, yours truly never found this world odd or hard to buy into. This literally feels like it happened and is a part of actual history.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the movie looks impressive. Whether it be a prolonged horrific transformation sequence (still chilling), or the simple way the aliens look and exist here, the attention to detail is impressive and is on par with many, more expensive blockbusters. District 9 goes down as one of the better movies that integrates visual effects and digitally created entities into a realistic world at an extremely high level.

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Blomkamp makes quite the debut as a full-length director with this one. Not only does he craft an wonderful allegory touching upon xenophobia, segregation, private corporations, and more, he allows it to play out and build with efficient pacing. Nothing ever comes off as rushed or stilted. With that said, there is a noticeable shift in the third and final act. The story is still dedicated to its preexisting themes, but the abundance of ultraviolence is undeniable. It does look impressive and serves as a solid climax, but some of it only appears to exist for cool purposes. How many exploding heads are enough?

Part of the charm and effectiveness of D9 is in large part to the people who appear in it. Sharlto Copley isn’t a recognizable star, maybe even a “mild” star at that. But that unfamiliarity works wonders, and adds another element of realism as he is featured heavily in the confessional moments of the documentary. His metamorphosis, both physically and mentally, is something to behold, especially when you consider that Wikus is a hard guy to sympathize with. He is very unlikable, and yet Blomkamp and Copley do just enough to make the viewer care about his reclamation. Despite being digital, the sadness, fear, and emotion of the aliens is on full display, and it becomes very easy to side with the group’s struggles and hardships.

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There may be a lot of secrets in District 9, but being a first-rate film isn’t one of them. Featuring a brilliant plot, proficient directing, and visceral action, it still stands as one of the better science fictions in recent memory.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, marucarrion.com, dvdactive.com, and screenrant.com. 

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Limitless: Movie Man Jackson

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“Why is it that the moment your life exceeds your wildest dreams, the knife appears in your back?”

Just how much of our brains do we actually use? In Limitless, we as humans are only capable of accessing 20% of it, and for writer Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper) it may be less. He is essentially at rock bottom with a severe case of writer’s block, low motivation, and the victim of a recent dumping by Lindy (Abbie Cornish), his now ex-girlfriend. Through a random occurrence on the streets of the Big Apple, he reunites with an old acquaintance, a shady character who gives Eddie a new not-yet-administered-by-the-FDA drug called NZT. This pill is a wonder, hitting the bloodstream and unlocking every doormat crevice in the mind.

Eddie is immediately transformed and hooked on the effects after an initial usage. A loser before, he now is a suave, confident, and erudite individual. Forget writing, the possibilities are truly limitless for the man. But with bigger opportunities come bigger people, and with bigger people come bigger problems. Mr. Mora has no idea as to the depths of this rabbit hole.

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Limitless brings an original and really intriguing premise to the table. It is not a flawless piece of science fiction, but it does more right than wrong. There is sort of a noteworthy message here, in that having the power to do meaningful things for yourself and others doesn’t exactly mean you will. The narrative of Eddie becoming a new man through artificial means is loaded with potential different avenues that it could have went down, but actually devolves into something that is just OK. Furthermore, there are some events within the narrative that are overly coincidental and/or hard to see occur in the way they do. As a result, so much that goes down evokes the feeling of only happening because there would be no movie without it occurring. Make sense?

While the general plot may be disappointing from a potential standpoint, what isn’t disappointing in Limitless is the cinematography. Without a doubt, it ends up being the greatest thing about the film. If I could best describe the style in two words, I would say vivid and frenzied. Director Neil Burger makes use of various camera techniques to really embody what the main character is experiencing while under the effects of NZT.

Going one step further, the movie is clear in its visual palette as well. In places, it carries a feel of a comic book coming to life on screen. NZT-infused moments are defined by precise, warm, and a razor sharp popping color. Alternatively, “normal” moments are evidenced by extremely cool/blue-gray color tones and hues. Not only does it look visually pleasing, but it paints an obvious distinction that almost gives the audience a feel as to how the drug would be.

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The film does have ready and able supporting stars, but Limitless is Bradley Cooper’s to own. Aside from The Midnight Meat Train when he was still sort of an unknown thespian, this is his first starring role post-Hangover fame. And, he really brings all of his skills on display in this one. Whether selling shock and fear, or confidence and charisma, he switches quite effortlessly through the gamut of emotions. Through the course of the movie, I went from cheering for the guy to badly wanting to see his comeuppance.

He also is tasked with giving narration to the film. Sometimes this is an unnecessary addition, but here it adds more depth and understanding to not just the drug but of his character Eddie without feeling too expository. From the moment he appears on screen, Cooper has a sort of magnetism (audibly and physically) that seizes your attention and doesn’t let go, in spite of the sometimes tired plot.

Also of note are co-stars Abbie Cornish and Robert De Niro. Both of their characters are not anything amazing, but they make do with what they have. Cornish’s chemistry with Cooper is very believable, and she is definitely the most grounded and realistic character in the entire movie. De Niro plays of the big figureheads on Wall Street, and he does good as the cold and calculating businessman. His square-offs with Cooper are some of the better scenes. Not one of his best roles simply because it lacks in what he is presented with, but still enjoyable. Everyone else is pretty standard, either playing yes-man tycoons or thug & gangster types, though there is one Russian character that injects some humor and danger into the movie.

Limitless (2011)

Thanks to the performance of Bradley Cooper and overall directorial wizardry, Limitless is a fun enough watch, even if the compelling premise does fall short of its promise. The entire brain may not be unlocked when watching, but it will keep it engaged.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, thebuzzmedia.com, blu-ray.com, & gonemovies.com.

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RoboCop: Movie Man Jackson

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“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!

Comparison is a way of life. Surely, some of us do it more than others but the fact remains. This practice carries over to film as well; especially remakes of beloved films from yesteryear. The 2014 iteration of RoboCop attempts to capture the vibe of its 1987 predecessor. In the new edition, the year is 2028 and OmniCorp, a subsidiary of OmniConsumerProducts (OCP), is the forerunner, innovator, and sole distributor of robot soldier technology. Limited to military usage, CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) wants to implement these in the police force, particularly Detroit, but public sentiment as well as public policy is less than willing to hand over safety protection duties to machines.

But what if man and machine were melded? Sellars believes public sentiment would be more accepting of this, so enter Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman). After a failed sting operation, his car is planted with a bomb by the targeted syndicate while visiting his wounded partner. While at home with his wife and son (Abbie Cornish, John Paul Ruttan), the alarm on his car sounds and while attempting to stop it, the bomb triggers and he is utterly blasted. Unfortunate, but now Sellars has his prospect, and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is tasked with rebuilding Murphy in OmniCorp’s image. After all is said and done, Murphy will be the future of law enforcement.

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What isn’t the future is a sequel, as this is simply an average film. There are some positives though. I admire the fact that the writers attempted to make some changes and tweaks to the original. While the original was superb storytelling, personally I am OK with a remake trying to do different things. It was better than sitting through a shot-for-shot remake, a la The Omen (2006) and Psycho (1998), which is incredibly lazy. However, these changes and tweaks seem to miss more often than hit. The remake tries to incorporate a family element, but it often fails, resulting in moments that are clearly designed to invoke feeling from the audience but come off as forced. It is also more political than the 1987 movie; seen with the in-movie news show of “The Novak Element,” which showcases Samuel L Jackson as Pat Novak, an obviously biased host who is crafted in the mold of Fox News/CNN anchors. I assume this was the movie’s satire/parody attempt at modern culture, but it too is uninspiring, though the end is classic Samuel L. Going to be YouTubing that scene for a while.

If you are looking for satirical elements or even a bit of humor, look elsewhere. Aside from the sort of political attempts, none exist. As for directing, crime-ridden Detroit looks pretty tame visual wise, and it never truly feels like it is a hell-hole. This makes RoboCop seem like a luxury, not a necessity. I kind of hated the suit, the first one shown should have been kept. News flash: Black does not make everything look cool. The suit appeared to me made out of plastic, and neither looked nor sounded appropriate. And the running scene? Ugh.

The action scenes were rather uninspiring. Occasionally a few parts looked nice, but it really suffers from terrible editing and cutting. There are a lot of bullets, but half of the time you can hardly tell if they hit the target, and it is probably to blame on the PG-13 rating. I feel that the PG-13/R rating debate is overblown at times, but this film could benefit from a R. It might not have made a huge difference as far as writing goes because it probably still would have been weak in places, but I am fairly confident that the action would have been praised more, which would have caused people to look past the other flaws. Apparently, director Jose Padilha and lead Joel Kinnaman fought hard for an R but lost the battle as the movie’s inflating budget forced it to PG-13 in an effort by studio executives to get something back.

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The film was not devoid of excitement. There was a 15-20 minute span where I was really engaged in it, but it was fleeting. Keaton and Oldman are the bright spots of the film. They really did everything they could to bring intrigue, and I liked their roles.

I have been been pretty critical of the film by this point, but the biggest criticism of all, in my view, is RoboCop himself, or rather, the actor playing the part. Joel Kinnaman is so wooden and unconvincing. Within the first 5 minutes when he is talking with the police chief at the station, I was unimpressed. He felt robotic before he even became a robot! He looked unsure of himself in the titular role, and by result I was unable to get behind him. Jackie Earle Haley was useless. Completely unneeded role, and I was so glad when he left the screen. Abbie Cornish, Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, and everyone else is OK, but they suffer from a lack of screen-time (Williams), or underwritten and unnecessary roles (Cornish, Baruchel).

Lastly, the film suffers from a defined villain, or villains. The original RoboCop did feature two baddies, but they were extremely fleshed out and despicable. Here, we are asked to keep up with three: Antoine Vallon, Sellars, and Norton. Vallon never makes his presence felt and is absent for most of the film, and I never felt that Keaton and Oldman were truly bad guys, aside from the end in the former’s case.

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Despite all of this, I am not ready to say this was a bad film. Again, I had fun in some parts and it looked cool occasionally. But by and large this was unnecessary. Perhaps if it didn’t have RoboCop as its name, it would be better received, and maybe if we stop comparing the two, it would get better. But c’mon! It has RoboCop as its title. I would watch again if family or friends wanted to check it out, but not one I’ll revisit personally, nor buy it for a dollar.

Grade: C-

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