Arrival: Movie Man Jackson


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.


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.


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.


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.


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Morgan: Movie Man Jackson


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.


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.


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.


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.


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Midnight Special: Movie Man Jackson


No, this Midnight Special isn’t something you can get at IHOP. In San Angelo, Texas, an Amber Alert has been launched for eight year old Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher). He’s been abducted by two males, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), and the abduction quickly makes national news. Are these guys dangerous, or are they saints rescuing Alton from a terrible fate?

It’s quickly seen that these two fellows are not the only people who are after Alton. Other entities, such as the government, and a fanatical cult, are trying to harness for their own gain. What gain? Well, he’s got tremendous powers, and would be an asset for these entities in many fashions.


As other reviewers have noted, it’s hard to pin down exactly what Midnight Special is. It doesn’t fit neatly into a specific genre, as the fact of the matter is, it is a thriller, science fiction, drama, fantasy, even a family film. For many films, being stretched across multiple categories spells would spell nothing but a trouble in focus, but Jeff Nichols’ (Mud) feature quite easily manages to meld all into something worthwhile.

Sometimes, it’s more about the journey than the actual final destination. Nichols really takes that sentiment to heart in Midnight Special. The screenplay, penned by Nichols itself, revels in giving little, or even nothing at all in some cases. For yours truly, the latter can be a little frustrating in its steadfastness in refusing to reveal any concrete ideas. This lack of finality only impacts the ending, though, in my opinion, As it stands, the ending is fine, and does tie in ultimately with the core of the story. For me, at least, it is a little disappointing if only because I felt like there was one trick up Nichols’ sleeve to use. Extremely vague thoughts, I know, but only because it isn’t right to go too deep into the plot.


Still, the production quality that Nichols wrings out of an 18 million budget is nothing short of extraordinary, like its main character. Obviously, it is very early to say, but it is hard seeing any other fairly small budget movie looking as big-budget-esque as Midnight Special does. Seriously, the effects are of high quality, adding more to the mysteries and slow reveal of the plot when they are used. They are so good, one wishes that more of the why and how could be explored to them. Outside of effects, the movie just features excellent cinematography, both in the daytime, nighttime, out in the open of nowhere, or in the confines of a white-light enclosed space.

The cast hits all of the right notes as well, starting with the young Jaeden Lieberher as Aldon. His role isn’t that talkative, but it does require a huge presence for a child actor that Lieberher brings to the role. It’s very cool, calm, and collected work. Supporting actors Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton are supporting, in the truest sense, which is to say they’re doing their jobs and doing them well. Adam Driver’s character is really the audience in a nutshell, gradually getting more information to the scenario at hand and reacting appropriately.

But Michael Shannon’s character is a chameleon as it pertains to how we as the audience are supposed to feel to him. Though surely his role in the story is made known in many summaries, I was pleasantly surprised at his involvement, and feel it wrong to reveal it here. Just know that his involvement to the story is touching, and relatable to many.


Full of intrigue and mystery from the get-go, Midnight Special is a fun journey, akin to a road trip to nowhere. The final stop may not be worth remembering, but the drive to it is.

Grade: B

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The Martian: Movie Man Jackson


“Hi, I’m Mark Watney and I’m still alive… obviously.”

Space…never…cooperates. On a routine manned mission to the Red Planet, a violent storm forces a NASA crew to evacuate quickly. During the evacuation, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is separated from the rest of his crew as a result of a large piece of flying debris. The impact with which it strikes him with is believed to be fatal, and despite Commander Lewis’ (Jessica Chastain) desire to find Watney, her crew convinces her to come back to the evacuating ship.

Back on Earth, NASA is certain Watney is dead, and even announce so in a press conference. But back on Mars, he’s not exactly well, but alive. He’s becoming The Martian, using any and all of his brainpower to last long enough for the next manned mission to come to Mars. Will it work? Is it even worth the effort on NASA’s part? Can someone just find a wormhole to make things easier?


Who says all movies in space have to be completely doom-ey and gloomy and overly heavy? Certainly not Ridley Scott. Look at The Martian and it is darn near impossible not to think about that other movie directed by Christopher Nolan. But, the two don’t really share much in common aside from NASA. Hell, The Martian hardly ever spends that much time in the actual entity of space! Whereas something like Interstellar was more rooted in the fear, resignation, and depressing aspects of the galaxy on more of a macro level, The Martian’s focus is micro, focusing on the individual and finding resolve and optimism in a trying scenario.

By no means does that mean that the movie is all happy-go-lucky. Space is still shown to be a dangerous place. But, it is also a place in where a person with a positive attitude can navigate through. By that analysis, The Martian should satisfy people who like science fiction with a little less pronounced focus on the science. The best phrase to describe it would be “audience friendly,” as stated in Mark Hobin’s review. In my opinion, it lacks a little bit of the unpredictable and thematic drama that some space exploration movies possess. Perhaps this is something that exists in the novel, but lost in translation on the silver screen.


But, the real reason why Ridley Scott’s big screen adaptation of the novel works so well is the fact that there is so much fun to be had in simply watching Watney make due with anything and everything to make it another day, week, year, and years. Yours truly may be a prisoner of the recent moment, but it is hard to remember when was the last time a film had a character not only incredibly smart, but incredibly resourceful and heady.

Matt Damon does a great job of, while still being an amazingly intelligent guy, playing a man who really feel likes an everyman. He’s not brooding, but instead upbeat and hopeful. He experiences worry, but is never consumed by it. When he talks science, it is put in a way that the audience can understand, which makes him an easier guy to connect with. Though easy to see where his tale ultimately ends, it is the journey in getting there that is the real story.

Damon is clearly the sole focus and does most of the heavy lifting, but due to the mega-starpower cast assembled around him, he isn’t as alone as Watney is. Chiwetel Ejiofor can pretty much blend into any role at this point and make it notable, which he does here. Jeff Daniels starts out as a character who looks to be the basic “guy-in-a-suit” stock character, and in many respects he is, but his character is revealed to be pretty realistic and not as antagonistic as to be believed. Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Aksel Hennie, Sean Bean, and Donald Glover are all notable names that may have small parts, but add to the Watney story one way or another.


Always one to be known for some directorial flair, Scott makes his imprint here once again. The first shots on Mars are extremely photorealistic, with lighting that looks as if it were shot on the Red Planet itself. Particularly, the climax is as dizzying (in a good way) as anything in recent memory. He gets a nice assist from composer Harry Gregson-Williams, whose score snaps perfectly into the movie during comedic moments and more serious moments, never being more than it needs to be.

The genre of science fiction almost in some ways feels a little like a misnomer for The Martian. There appears to be nothing too fictional about the science, as NASA had involvement on both the novel and the film. Strip away the setting, and this story is one that could be told across many genres, and it has. But that isn’t a negative by any means. In a genre that can be so devoid of hope  and optimism, it’s a pleasant welcome for this galaxy to have it.

Grade: B+

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Self/less: Movie Man Jackson

selflless stub

“Do you feel immortal?”

You can shed the body, but you can’t shed the mind. In Self/Less, rich businessman Damian Hale (Sir Ben Kingsley) has built a New York empire in the real estate/architecture arena. Money is no problem, but health certainly is as Damian battles cancer, and the most optimistic timeframe only gives him a few more months to live. With this realization, he begins to wonder if what he has built will leave a lasting legacy.

Eager to ensure his work will, Damian researches and eventually undergoes a medical procedure called “shedding,” created by a company called Phoenix and its founder, Albright (Matthew Goode). Shedding means moving one’s consciousness to another body, usually a younger and healthier one. Damian’s old body, and life for that matter, is no more, but his consciousness remains in a new body where he is now known as “Eddie” (Ryan Reynolds). Everything seems perfect in the new vessel until “hallucinations” of a past life start to become stronger and stronger. Are they only a weird side effect? Or is this vessel really as empty and hollow as Albright claims it to be?


Is it wrong that I thought of Limitless when watching Self/less? Getting away from the topic at hand here, but it is sort of cool how that totally-not-perfect-but-very entertaining-to-watch 2011 movie has made its stamp on 21st century transhumanist movies such as Lucy and now this. So, is this as fun as those others, either intentionally or unintentionally? In a word, no.

Self/less does possess a fairly unique premise (even if a film called Seconds from 1966 apparently ran with it first), but maybe not as intriguing as other similar films, if that makes sense. There is a real rush in getting into the meat of the story, which ends up dulling the questions the film asks about immortality. It is almost as if the writers decided that simply getting to the moment where the main character becomes immortal in record time is enough to assume that it is important, instead of showing more of why immortality is so important to this character, what he really stands to lose if he dies, etc.


As it stands though, director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, Immortals) gets away from the science fiction set-up and opts for the more standard and unoriginal action thriller that looks no different than the average spy production. Really, it doesn’t look bad as the action is more than visible and shot well enough, but it is shocking and somewhat comical (wait for the flamethrower) how quickly this becomes a run-of-the-mill thriller. Once a character pulls out a handgun, the movie charts itself on a irreversible and mundane path that makes the second half of the 116 minute runtime awfully long. At least it has some catchy music that takes advantage of the New Orleans setting.

With a few tweaks and more time for the ideas to simmer, it is possible that the movie could have registered more both emotionally and thought-provoking. Saying that, however, yours truly is a little pessimistic if that would have definitely worked to a higher degree. Unlike Limitless, where almost everyone could relate to and even desire to be a laser-efficient person who used every single nook of their brain, I’m not sure how many people really relate to the idea of living forever. There’s enough out there that points to the belief that even if it were possible, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea. As stupid as it sounds to pick on an idea from that viewpoint, there may be something to it.


The actors give it their all, certainly. In what may be a surprise to some, Ryan Reynolds has some good moments, and he’s strong in scenes where he reacts to the side effects of the procedure. However, he’s just not the type of guy, as Grantland’s Wesley Morris  states, that can raise the fortunes of a flawed film. Ben Kingsley looks only to have been casted to have a big name attached to the project.

As the clear-cut foil, Matthew Goode is a good presence, even in the most basic sketch of a villain. In either a wink to the audience or just a coincidence playing a character with the name of Anton, Derek Luke makes an appearance. As a driver of the DL bandwagon, it is always cool to see him in anything. His character is sort of crucial, and considering that I was unaware of his appearance in this, one of the few positives to give with this is the fact that he was hidden from the trailers, which actually made for a nice first twist.

Still, even with notable cast effort, Self/less is largely uninteresting and overlong, which is a shame as the summer could use a respectable sci-fi right about now. It’s completely fine to be selfish and save some money sitting out this one.

Grade: D-

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Ex Machina: Movie Man Jackson


“Can consciousness exist without interaction?”

Cogito ergo sum. Or in English, I think, therefore I am. That famous phrase proposed by philosopher Rene Descartes applies to Ex Machina pretty nicely. Programmer Caleb (Domhall Gleeson), works for one of the world’s largest, if not the largest, Internet company. On a seemingly routine day on the job, on his computer, Caleb gets the golden ticket.

He is selected to be a participant in an experiment by his company’s CEO, Nathan (Oscar Issac), a brilliant but self-removed member of society. In this isolated location houses Nathan’s vision, his latest version of an artificial intelligence known by the name of Ava (Alicia Vikander). She’s convincing in both shapely physical appearance and intellect, but she has to be tested. For seven days, Caleb will interact with Ava, and he will be the judge as to just how far along artificial intelligence has come.


Rookie director Alex Garland’s (writer of 28 Days Later, Dredd, and The BeachEx Machina really is not a trailblazing piece of science fiction. Artificial intelligence is, and will always be, a common theme that sci-fi directors tackle. Probably because, as the movie alludes to, it is just the next step in the evolutionary process, and while our world isn’t completely there yet, we are not far away. It remains intriguing to analyze and discuss, and for the most part, Ex Machina and Garland present a very tight and tale.

For a first-timer behind the camera, Garland experiences little growing pains. As a smaller film, the technical aspects are extremely convincing. In yours truly’s opinion, however, much praise has to go to the wonderful constructing of the film’s setting. The unnamed locale (think upper California or the Pacific Northwest) adds immensely to the story and creates a cool polarity between the futuristic themes and the older, woodsy environment. There’s more substance than true style here, but style does exist in the way of an occasionally vibrant color palate. All of this, combined with a score that gets under the viewer’s skin in a few scenes, all adds up to a technically great presentation.


The only area where Garland is uneven and mediocre in his debut directorial feature is the pacing. The beginning does its job in setting up the plot and the environment, and it would be wrong to say that Ex Machina wastes time in establishing these. But, to yours truly at least, at times it is so deliberate and plodding that the movie does bog down in spots. Still, this super methodical pace allows the ideas to simmer and stew on the viewer, even if one can likely see where some strands are going. As mentioned previously, these ideas may not be revolutionary (though an awesome examination of internet search history is very profound), but they will always be important and worth talking about.

There are 10 credited actors and actresses that appear here, but all that truly matter are three: Oscar Issac, Domhall Gleeson, and Alicia Vikander. Issac is on a roll now, and ends up making a character in Nathan who is equal parts eccentric, humorous, brilliant, and a little disturbing. It is refreshing to see the old template of a geeky, skinny, maybe socially awkward computer mastermind eschewed for something more in line perhaps with what a mastermind could, and does, look like today. He is never completely painted as a villain or a hero when it is all said and done, just a man who is a genius that uses his intellect on something that is simply the next step in the human process.

Gleeson is more of the stereotypical programmer, and not as dynamic as Issac in a performance sense or a character sense, but his reactions and motivations are convincing. Seeing the two interact and talk with each other is comparable to an immovable force versus an immovable object, from a mental standpoint at least. These two men are undoubtedly human, but the person who gives the movie a soul in my opinion is the android Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. The work she turns in is very Peter Weller-ish, which is to say that so much is conveyed only the eyes. It is a difficult thing, and Vikander succeeds effortlessly in doing so, with once scene in particular near the middle involving clothing standing out above all others. It is hard to believe this is the same actress who appears in the nothingness that is Seventh Son.


With extremely solid performances, sound execution, and sharp presentation, Ex Machina is a science fiction that absolutely is required viewing for anyone semi-interested in the genre. The fibers and ideas are nothing new, but it sure is stimulating to watch and think about. 

Grade: B+

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The Faculty: Movie Man Jackson


“I don’t think a person should run unless they’re being chased.”

And people thought homework was frightening. Harrington High School is your average Midwestern high school, and really just your average high school. Stereotypical teens fill the halls, like the pipsqueak geek Casey (Elijah Wood), popularity queen Delilah (Jordana Brewster), star quarterback Stan (Shawn Hatosy), goth outcast Stokely (Clea DuVall), held back lowkey-genius and drug dealer Zeke (Josh Hartnett), and new southern belle MaryBeth Louise (Laura Harris).

Of course, there is The Faculty; the average authority figures from the nurses and teachers to the football coach and principal. After something truly alien is found on the school football field, the student body begins to see that the faculty are starting to act very strange. Is it stress? School budget problems? Or has Harrington High been chosen as the site for an invasion by unearthly beings?


The Faculty sounds like a Goosebumps title from the 90’s, and it is fitting that it released in 1998, just a year after the original series ended. While it would be right at home as a title in that series, this movie and its director take much inspiration from other preexisting cinema works. Take a small dash of The Breakfast Club, mix in a teaspoon of Men in Black and The Outer Limits, and roughly a pound of The Thing, and the finished product is The Faculty.

For about a solid third, the movie seems to make an attempt to be its own movie. There is some time spent on the characters early one and who they are, along with some half-hearted attempts to show that these characters aren’t the average stereotypes. Doesn’t work, because they still are. This plays into the slow start found here. There’s a lot of down time between the attention-grabbing opening and the next intriguing scene.


There comes a point in the movie though when Rodriguez decides to stop trying to even give this a shred of originality and chooses to fully steer The Faculty into territory that films that came before it locked down. As terrible and as negative that may sound, it actually is a positive for the most part. Just do not expect this to be full of frights. A few jump scares exist, but if the movie’s scares were put in the context of a pepper on a heat scale, they would essentially be a bell pepper, the weakest of all peppers. Whether it be from a lack of truly horrific atmosphere or something else, little will make the heart beat.

Consider this more of a campy flick with plenty of tongue-in-cheek references, along with special effects that are extremely dated now and probably dated when this was first released. Anyone who is a fan or familiar with John Carpenter’s extraterrestrial horror will know specifically what Rodriguez is paying homage to during two scenes in particular. Even the ending, which wraps things up way too nicely with still shots over accompanying 90’s music (It’s Over Now), is so bad it’s good, reminiscent of those coming-of-age films that always seemed to end with some type of soft, pop/alt rock where the film freezes on one scene.


A cast may not make a movie, but yours truly would be remiss if I didn’t mention that one of the key reasons why The Faculty is passable is because there is so much fun to be had in seeing a huge, name-filled cast now in the same movie. Of course, this didn’t have the benefit of the “this is where he/she got their start” back in ’98 like it does now, but time shapes things. None of these actors may be truly A-list these days, and some like Hartnett and Hatosy didn’t reach the stardom that seemed certain, but many have made more than respectable acting careers from this, including Jordana Brewster, Famke Janssen, Salma Hayek, Clea DuVall, and Elijah Wood. Hell, Usher and Jon Stewart, who are big-time stars in this world, make notable appearances here. The acting can be shoddy and inconsistent, but casting-wise, no one looks out of place as a teacher or student, and everyone looks happy to be there.

Unoriginal, scare-lacking, yet respectably enjoyable, The Faculty ultimately isn’t a bad trip down memory lane. It’s a nice and light way to get an 80’s, but especially 90’s nostalgia kick.

Grade: C+

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Europa Report: Movie Man Jackson


“Who are we? Why are we here? Where do we come from? And, are we alone?”

The question may get old, but it will always be asked (albeit worded differently): Is there life on other planets? Perhaps on Jupiter, there may be. In the Europa Report, six astronauts are brought together to investigate one of Jupiter’s moons known as Europa. This moon has been discovered to contain water, and along with the heat readings emitting from this moon, the existence of life appears to be more of a certainty than a possibility.

Any astronaut is aware of the inherent risk that comes with space exploration. Still, none of them can be prepared for what lies on Europa. Eventually, a mission of exploration turns into a struggle for survival. Does the possibility of finding new life mean anything if you lose yours?


Can there ever be too much science in a science fiction? Personal preference is the determining factor, but Europa Report seems to firmly have its feet more in the science realm compared to the fiction realm. Despite its space exploration similarities, those looking for an experience comparable to Gravity or Interstellar may end up disappointed.

Europa Report and its director Sebastian Cordero have no such problem with not just featuring science, but actually talking about it and all of its particulars. As for the environment and visuals, everything looks and sounds scientifically accurate…because it legitimately is. Bona fide footage from many past space feats is utilized, and to ensure that the moon of Europa is as accurate to the real thing as possible, the production crew compiled data from NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) to be put to use.

From time to time, all of the science talk and jargon can become tedious. This is coming from yours truly, by no means an astrophysicist, but one who generally likes hearing and learning about the laws of the universe. By that extent, this feels less like a film and more like something seen on CBS such as Nova, which is great in its own right but not something I necessarily want to see in a flick. When it isn’t like a documentary, it bears some resemblance to a video game (take a look at that first still again), with its HUD-like display and first person point-of-view.


Making a movie for roughly $10 million, which happens to be Europa Report’s estimated budget, is pretty cheap. Not dirt cheap, but cheap. As mentioned earlier, though, the money looks to be spent in the right places. With that said, Europa Report does rely on a filmmaking approach all too familiar and often derided for being cheap: found footage. It may not be as annoying in comparison to how it is used in other works, but its presence makes for a somewhat disjointed plot, with the constant shifting between what has happened on the ship and the analysis found in the Nova-style documentary. One can only begin to think about whether the exploration tale would have been more effective and entertaining if a standard way of storytelling would have been deployed.

But, that isn’t to say there are no positives with the story. For starters, it doesn’t last too long, though a case can probably be made for an extra 15-20 minutes, which could have made for a stronger resonance on an emotional level that the movie tries to jam in at the very end. Impressively, Europa Report does a good job at creating real tension and unease; the less you know about this, the better. Great tension demands a great payoff however, and the payoff that is found here is average to yours truly, at best. It is the type of ending that will work better for some and not others, depending on whether one is able to connect with the characters.

Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu, Anamaria Marinca, and Sharlto Copley, along with others, appear here. Their roles as exploring astronauts don’t require a ton of flair, but simple realism. With that being the case, all do what is needed to sell the viewer on this mission, which the movie treats as more important than its characters until about right near the end. Aside from Copley’s character, so little is known about the crew that when stuff begins to go down, it barely registers emotionally.


The final report on this one? Europa Report is a sharp-looking, smaller-budgeted, tension-filled, science fiction that probably will not inspire much thought-provoking or even a truly fulfilling conclusion, but does serve as a fairly interesting direction taken on intergalactic exploration.

Grade: B-

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Chappie: Movie Man Jackson


“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.


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.


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.


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-

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Elysium: Movie Man Jackson


“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.


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.


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

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