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TIFF Review: The Martian (2015)

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The Martian (2015)

 

 

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I Origins (2014)

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The cleverness of Mike Cahill’s latest, “I Origins” stretches way beyond the title itself, but it’s as good a place to start as any. Presenting the fairly new prospect of cataloging the entire human race through iris recognition, “I Origins” takes a fantastical twist into much more profound philosophical territory. An arduous trek for validation to all that we consider hallow and priceless. A search for individual definition and a unanimous understanding of our universe, both spiritually and scientifically.

Looking through a lens of such broad, unfathomable depth, it feels down-right irresponsible to define “I Origins” by the placement of this witty, otherwise utterly precise homophone, but if the contact fits… Regardless, I’m sure this relative synopsis of “I Origins” will only further discourage those intimidated by the sheer magnitude of what Cahill proposed with “Another Earth,” from ever seeing it. You know, alternate universes, tears in the very fabric of space and what not. If these topics flabbergast and frighten you, what’s beyond will surely send you into fits of cardiac-arrest, as I assure you the scale of “I Origins'” grasp couldn’t possibly reach any further.

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It’s difficult to break-down what Cahill is proposing with “I Origins” into manageable portions while trying simultaneously not to get caught up in their scope. I mean, we’re literally left to decipher the direction of our compass as a conscious being. That being said, one can’t help but become transfixed by what’s on display here. The science of it all is enough on its own to discombobulate and overwhelm, like a virus. And that’s a mere superficial blemish compared to where “I Origins” delves. A place where belief and fact collide like charged particles in an acceloator. Leaving us aware of our predetermined doom, scattered about desperately searching for answers to unanswerable questions. Yet, perhaps what’s most engaging, conversely infuriating about “I Origins” is that it doesn’t exactly provide a formidable solution. However, much like the things we cling to for meaningless solace during our brief existence, it does act as a sedative, a distraction, a numbing agent.

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This war between religion and science is nothing new and as a result, predictably so, “I Origins” offers nothing imperative to its resolution. “I Origins” simply explores where either road will lead you. That said, one must invest genuinely to reap its benefits. If there’s been one thing consistent about Mike Cahill’s body of work it’s that the viewer must be willing, at any given moment, to entrust their experience entirely to Cahill and his vision. We might be asked to skip a few steps along the way, forgive the occasional absence of slight details or the probability of suspect coincidences. In the end however, our reward outweighs the risk.

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The performances aren’t imperative to a successful experience here. One can’t help but feel that “I Origins” would’ve been better off as a documentary rather than a romantic drama infused with frequently incomprehensible elements of sci-fi. But, each character does come off as believable, creating the right amount of sympathy and intrigue. Michael Pitt keeps getting stronger, Brit Marling is as entrancing as ever, Steven Yeun will have to settle for ‘Walking Dead’ fame at the moment, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey is surprisingly memorable. Most importantly though, it’s clear that each cast member understood the insignificance and subtlety that defined their respective characters. Yes, they’re to represent humanity, but buy and large, they’re a progressing agent.

Without question, “I Origins” is Mike Cahill’s most visually impressive picture to date. Where his previous efforts, such as “Another Earth” tackled the macro universe, “I Origins” is a veritable microscope. Cahill has really solidified his delicate touch and flaunts it. Some might find the visual contrasts too dissonant, ranging from cringe-worthy dismemberment to angelic symbolism, but there’s no denying the stimulation that accompanies it. Yet, perhaps the biggest surprise of Cahill’s latest is the musical accompaniment composed by Will Bates and Phil Mossman. A film that can barely keep grounded is lifted to even dizzier heights by a soundtrack of such epic proportions.

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I choose to believe that too much ambition is never a bad thing. I applaud Mike Cahill endlessly for the leaps of faith and fact he took to arrive at his fully formed vision and will never condemn him for exercising it. It’s a cloudy, often beautiful, yet oddly empty vision, but something to marvel nonetheless. Unfortunately, we live within the bounds of reality, so at its core, “I Origins” is mere assumptions and hypothesis. There’s a lot of material to digest split by merit and belief. Coincidentally, what this concoction of opposites accomplishes is a hollow victory. Easy on the eyes rather than thought-provoking fodder. However, it’s occasional spurts of brilliance rooted in research and passion makes “I Origins” noteworthy, watchable. Nevertheless, tackling the human eye’s ‘Irreducible Complexity’ head on is admirable no matter which way you slice it.

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I ORIGINS: 8 OUT OF 10

Her (2013)

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As most of you should know, at the moment in the most general sense, we as a species are not headed in a good direction. Somewhere along the path, we lost our way. Our priorities and morals are misshapen and failing, the technological and political advances we make are cancelled out by our abuse of our planet and each other, and we’re struggling to co-exist, to keep our progression afloat. All in all, our future does not look bright. That being said, the ship is being righted somewhat, you know…we are getting there, even if it is just one maladjusted step at a time. We’re beginning to consider the consequences and outcomes of our actions and creations just as heavily and frequently as we marvel at them. And it looks as if our continued existence, harmony, and evolution is significantly greater in importance, well…at least mow more than it has ever been.

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Sadly however, despite this new growth and consciousness of how important our cohesiveness is, we continue to conjure up new ways of interacting with one another…quicker, inhuman, artificial ways. Devices, methods, and intelligence that instead of drawing us together, instead of doing what we intended them to do, is distancing us, alienating communication, both physical and verbal. It’s becoming a bit excessive and ridiculous, at least to me anyway. I get that with these tools we are also bringing the world together, but, I mean, at what cost? And where do we draw the line? We’re losing what makes our very presence in this universe so extraordinary. It feels as if these easier ways of connecting are hampering our intellectual ascension, creating an inability to converse face-to-face, and leaving us unable to read one another. “I fear the day technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

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That’s an Albert Einstein quote, by the way, just thought I’d let you know so I don’t get tagged with plagiarism, but I digress. The quote, along with the personal rant before it was ignited by Spike Jonze’s transcendent film “Her.” I feel it’s important to convey what exactly a film evokes in me and the end result is often something like the rant above. Just so you know, “Her” centres around Theodore (Phoenix), a lonely, romantic writer who winds up falling in love with his new operating system (Johansson). I figured I’d let you in on the plot so you could know the reason behind my rambling. So, now that you understand where my blurb stems from, I bet it makes a lot more sense. To be honest though, there’s a hell of a lot more to this film than just singling out our mistakes and how we are going to pay dearly for them. So enough of my blabbering on, let’s get into the film.

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Unlike any love story you’ve ever experienced. “Her,” written and directed by the aforementioned Spike Jonze, is a bizarre concoction of comedy, science-fiction, and of course, romance. Its premise is a bit obscure and might take a little time to settle in. However once it does, the confusion and hilarity of what you are actually watching will will wear off and the film’s immersive, heartbreaking, foreshadowing nature will haunt you, make you ache. The script is genuine, disheartening, and completely captures the lyricism and poetic inconsistencies of the language we use everyday. It’s extremely difficult to recreate such instinctive, calculated emotions and dialogue, but Jonze does a superlative job in doing so. The soundtrack for this lovely film, which I am currently listening to, was composed by none other than Arcade Fire, amongst others. It’s one that’ll stick with you and you’ll be listening to it consistently long after the film is over.

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Jonze, whom you might know as the director of such masterpieces as “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich,” brings exactly what you’d expect to the table. His form is as impeccable as ever. The camerawork is really an achievement all its own. Shifting from the close, emotionally strong, driven performances to endless skylines and scenery. He displays this ambient, smart, poignant, vulgar, atmospheric, sexy, unflinching yarn flawlessly. The story moves swiftly and effortlessly. Transitioning from a simple tale of a lonely writer into an intricate, veritable look at our expanding knowledge and existence. Jonze does this while eventually, occasionally simultaneously, providing the reason why this growth will be our downfall…unless we come to terms with the truth. That being, no matter how we break our bounds and overcome obstacles, our structure, our very make-up will always bring us back to one another.

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Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have one of the strongest ensembles 2013 has to offer keeping your footing. “Her” features Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson in the lead roles with Amy Adams, Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, and Chris Pratt running support. We all know that Adams has the chops, so her magnificence shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Nevertheless, somehow, she still manages to bewilder and her performance here is nothing short of perfection. Wilde, who I feel finally won her critics over with one of my favourites this year, “Drinking Buddies” continues to move forward with another strong effort. Pratt plays the quirky, visceral, long-time friend infallibly, something he’s done for a long time. As for Mara, who still remains on the periphery of the mainstream for some odd reason, gives another powerful effort here. She’s that odd, house-hold name that everyone seems to push to the back burner.

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Phoenix and Johansson, our star-crossed lovers, search endlessly for a way to make their unconventional romance work despite all the restrictions. And I must say, they look…and sound I should say, quite striking doing so. It’s utterly remarkable how the two play off one another. Johansson might not be able to garner an Oscar nomination due to some idiotic stipulation, but in my books, she’s got the award wrapped up. As for Phoenix, there’s no doubt in my mind he’ll grab a nod himself, possibly take it home all together. I know it’s simple fiction, a movie, but the chemistry, the sparks these two create is something of such authenticity, it has to be seen to be believed.

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Spike Jonze’s “Her” is beautiful, smart, disconcerting, and depressingly emotional. “Her” will be fighting for nominations this award season, there’s no doubt, the only question is, how many will it win?

Her: 9.5 out of 10.

The Last Days On Mars (2013)

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Ruairi Robinson’s “The Last Days On Mars” sure picked one hell of a time to unveil. With sci-fi stunners like “Europa Report” and Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar heavyweight “Gravity” already lighting up the screen so far this year, it appears this horrific space adventure is a tad too late to the party. That being said, although it certainly doesn’t measure up to its brethren’s immense successes, this little tale about a group of astronauts fighting off their colleagues turned space-zombies offers up a few moments of pure brilliance and one heck of a soundtrack. Make no mistake, this flick is only related to the previously mentioned gems by label only. Their content, premises, and aspirations are in no way alike. While all three are technically science-fiction, their sub-genres greatly differ. “Gravity” is more of a thriller, “Europa Report” a mix between mockumentary and drama, and our current subject “The Last Days On Mars,” is without question, a horror. So one must critique accordingly.

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Reading through some of the more harsh reviews out there, I noticed terms like “over-saturation” and “generic” getting tossed around, not to mention the opinion floating about that another perfectly sublime sci-fi epic was ruined by falling back to convention and common ploys. Then you have those claiming that “The Last Days On Mars” failed when compared to the genre’s efforts this year, and to their credit, they’re idiotically accurate. Of course it crumbles when lining it up alongside films like “Gravity,” the two aren’t even in the same league! All this criticism does is make it easy for those on the fence to get caught up in the negativity surrounding “The Last Days On Mars” and disparage it all together. When in actuality, it’s anything but your run-of-the-mill space horror. The acting is strong, the visuals breathtaking, and the soundtrack rivals those of past, great sci-fi epics. There is value here, one just needs to look beyond the mistakes.

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“The Last Days On Mars” is a lot like a plate of food you receive at a fancy banquet hall or that someone has ordered for you…instead of throwing it away, just pick around what you don’t like. Sure, you could be a baby about it and toss the whole meal out all together and miss out on something spectacular, or you can live a little and swallow the occasional bitterness just to say you had. This film, this plate, this smorgasbord of space, spectacle, sensation, and slaughter might be chaotic, inconceivable, and tired, but it’s also beautiful, stimulating, and rewarding. I can tell you in confidence that there is a hell of a lot things I genuinely loved about “The Last Days On Mars,” and yeah, a few that didn’t sit well with me. Yet, I’m not going to throw something away just because I don’t particularly like or agree with all of it, which is what a lot of viewers seem to be doing with this polarizing look at exploration and discovery.

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Director Ruairi Robinson makes his full-length feature debut with “The Last Days On  Mars,” and for the most part, it’s a reassuring, impressive one at that. He’s a little shaky from time to time, but doesn’t get too comfortable in his mistakes. At times, his quick movements and jumping around will nauseate you a tad, but other than a few questionable scenes, it’s a successful outing. There’s moments he captures of such beauty and atmosphere that they’ll leave you shaking your head in disbelief. If there is a weak spot in the film, it’s the screenplay. Scribed by Clive Dawson, the structure can seem nonexistent at times and the story a little worn out. That being said, there are some lines of dialogue that blew me away and moments of excellent substance that make up for any wrong doings.

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Max Richter, who’s probably best known for his musical contributions to Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” composes the original score for this flick…and what a score it is. I mean, What can I say? After I finished watching “The Last Days On Mars” I went and bought the soundtrack…that’s probably the best summary I can give. Go and give it a listen, you won’t be disappointed. As for the cast, led by Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Romola Garai, I felt they really grounded the film, gave it that human element is desperately needed. They frequently executed Dawson’s dialogue to heartbreaking effectiveness and melded into a dysfunctional, occasionally funny family on the edge of collapse and death in the middle of nowhere. Granted, things could have been a little stronger and consistent on the acting front, but for what they’re given, this cast does a respectable job.

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Look, this ain’t Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” Duncan Jones “Moon,” or Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.” It has similar themes, motivations…you know, some fragments of those films, but not to the same extent, nor is it as thoroughly executed. Odds are if zombies in space isn’t a flavour you prefer, this film isn’t for you. That being said, its stunning visuals, transcendent score, and powerful characters make “The Last Days On Mars” a notch above the genre’s drivel, enough anyway to make it recommended viewing.

The Last Days On Mars: 7.5 out of 10.

 

TIFF 2013: Under the Skin (2013)

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It’s essentially a foregone conclusion that everyone on this planet has a fear of something or someone. Anyone who tells you different or that they are fearless is down-right idiotic, lying, or inhuman. To fear is to live. Now, you’ve got your typical fears of sensible, common, physical things, for example: spiders, ghosts, storms, clowns, etc… Then, there are psychological trepidations such as: social anxiety, heights, being alone…things that are a little bit harder to understand and empathize with. Regardless however, for the most part, the things that draw the ire of our dread can be avoided, accepted, tolerated. And for the most part we can continue living day-to-day without our fears ruling over our existence. That being said, the majority of us have a fear that exceeds all bounds of comprehension, rationality, and common sense. They leave us inconsolable, paralyzed…just a complete wreck. Not everyone has despair this extreme, but the ones who do know what a nightmare it can be.

Now, you’re all probably wondering to yourselves, “what does this have to do with the review?” Well, it just so happens that my unbearable fear, I’d even go as far as to call it a phobia, happens to be aliens. You know, the kind that travel amongst the stars, searching for habitable planets or resources and settle into Earth to begin exterminating us. It’s quite ironic actually, I’m an avid stargazer and enjoy being an amateur astronomer, cosmologist if you will. So I’m rather knowledgable when it comes to the cosmos, therefore completely convinced that extraterrestrial life exists and have come to peace with it. I am aware that the way these foreign creatures are depicted in films, novels, and media is inaccurate and for the most part is just science fiction being science fiction. Yet somehow, it still manages to make my skin crawl. So you can imagine how conflicted I was being a cinephile aching to see “Under the Skin.” While the film doesn’t portray alien life to the same negative extreme as sci-fi epics such as “War of the Worlds.” It still consists of a foreign life form consuming and ending human lives…so I was a little weary.

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Nonetheless, we are here. I watched the film at TIFF and survived the experience. To be honest, it wasn’t even as bad as I originally anticipated. I concluded it to be because the alien was cloaked in Scarlett Johansson’s skin. And if I was to be murdered, then digested by an extraterrestrial, I’d prefer it to be at the hands of one who looks exactly like Scarlett Johansson. Not to mention, I’d manage to find a way to come to peace with the fact that the last thing I saw was Mrs. Johansson completely naked…but that’s besides the point. The film is, in my opinion, quite remarkable. It’s a highly visual, highly artistic exploration into this typically high-budgeted, explosion-filled science-fiction trope. It is, without question the most unique film I experienced at this years festivities and I officially dub it my sleeper hit of the festival…if that means anything to anyone at all.

Based on the novel of the same title by Michel Faber, “Under the Skin” tells the tale of an alien sent by a massive corporation from her home planet to capture unimportant, family-less, lonely hitchhikers. She is then to return them for fattening and sale as human meat is a delicacy on her planet. But believe me, it offers so much more than this disturbing premise in the sense of underlying themes and content. The story is one of the more intriguing, intelligible aspects of the film. Touching upon several significant, socio-political, and controversial topics: humanity, mercy, farming, sex, and business morals being the most prominent. Although, in my opinion, the film could have better explored and expanded these themes, much the same as Faber’s novel did. Jonathan Glazer, the director of “Under the Skin” does a sublime job packing in all the lyricism, relevance, and symbolism from its source into the hour and forty minute runtime.

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Set in the Scottish countryside, “Under the Skin” has no shortage of serene, stunning scenery. It is immaculately captured by Glazer, who superlatively masks the vibrancy and naturally enthralling element of northern Scotland and drenches it with the dreary, shadowed nature of the film. Visually, it might appear all doom and gloom, but there is something uplifting, chilling about its epic atmosphere. Alongside, Glazer accompanies his complex, hypnotic story and dark setting with an entrancing, terrifying score composed by Mica Levi. The soundtrack really completes the film’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” feel with its ominous tones and horrifyingly abrupt shifts. No doubt, if you prefer the lack of emotion and drama in  “2001: A Space Odyssey,” it’s subtle intellect and deceptiveness. “Under the Skin” will serve as an excellent update to a sub-genre that’s recently lost its way.

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For the most part “Under the Skin” relies on the beauty and seductiveness of its female lead, played by the aforementioned Scarlett Johansson. Who, I forgot to mention is unfathomably stunning here, both physically and in her portrayal. She elegantly captures the dark, at times satirical humour of the film drawn on by awkward encounters and familiarizing herself with our planet’s customs, not to mention her own body. However, as impressive and memorable as her physical and socially inept performance may be. Watching her stoic, cold-blooded alien transform into an emotionally conscious and understanding being is the highlight of the film without question. Apart from Johansson, “Under the Skin” is practically void of a cast, which makes her portrayal all the more amazing. Nevertheless, the supporting ensemble, despite not being on screen for more than 5 minutes individual, do a fantastic job selling the premise and evoking strong reactions.

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Deeply intelligent, highly visual, and featuring an outstanding performance from Scarlett Johansson. Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin” is one of the films to watch out for in 2014 and is sure to be a cult smash. I recommend it be infused into the science fiction canon.

Under the Skin: 9 out of 10.

TIFF 2013: Gravity (2013)

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Visually striking, unfathomably straining, and performed to near perfection. In space, no one may be able to hear you scream, but the Oscar buzz surrounding Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” travels infinitely and is completely deafening. It’s consistently destructive, awe-inspiring, and unbearably tense. The flick’s climactic nature makes for a non-stop thrill-ride that will leave you craving the solidarity and silence of the void, when or if you are able to survive. Undoubtedly, this will be the most physically and mentally draining 90 minutes you’ll ever spend in a cinema. If you’ve never felt the insignificance of your own life, you’ll surely feel microscopic against the staggering backdrop that is our universe. Cuaron’s visual effects and relentless action are tremendously enthralling, but are a mere bonus to “Gravity’s” true brilliance… Which is the inevitable, disconcerting truth that no matter how far we stretch from the bounds of Earth, we will never truly leave the atmosphere.

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PLOT:

Engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first space shuttle mission. Accompanying her is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) who is on his final expedition. During a routine spacewalk to issue some repairs to the Hubble telescope, debris from a satellite collides with the space shuttle Explorer. The impact delivers catastrophic damage to the ship, kills the other astronauts on board the ship, and leaves Stone spinning alone in space. Now, with no means of communication to Earth, Kowalsky must retrieve Stone and the two must figure out a way to return to Earth.

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Listen, I’m a sucker when it comes to specific sub-genres, and none more so than sci-fi driven by actual science, space, and drama. Granted, there isn’t exactly a name for this particular tangent, but we all know the films that fall into the category. They are astonishing feats of cinema that reach out and connect with our humanity, leave us in awe of the universe and marvelling at our technological advances. Films such as Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine,” Duncan Jones’ “Moon,” and more recently Sebastian Cordero’s “Europa Report.” These films capture the very essence of science-fiction while never forgetting our benevolence, flaws, and irrelevance. The visuals are unprecedented and leave the audience winded. It’s nearly impossible to find a cinematic experience that rivals this strand’s immaculacy and for good reason. I can tell you with pure confidence that “Gravity” is the newest and possible best member of my favourite genre.

Now, you might think that my passion for this very precise sub-genre hampers my ability to distinguish the truly brilliant from the utterly lacking. When in actuality, it’s quite the contrary. If anything, my fascination has made me even more skeptical and critical of new entries. I respect the art too much to compromise it with childish crushes. So when I tell you that Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is resplendent, heart-stopping, and impassioned…you better believe I am telling you the truth. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever witnessed on the big screen. Which is why I can deem it the best film I saw at TIFF 2013 without hesitation. And the argument could be made that I attended a majority of the screenings for Oscar favourites at the festival, such as “12 Years a Slave,” “The Fifth Estate,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “August: Osage County,” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” So it’s not like I’m comparing it to mediocrity. There’s no doubt in my mind that you will not see a better film than “Gravity” released so far this year. As for November and December releases, only time will tell, but I can’t see it being trumped.

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The film itself literally has no weaknesses. From the soundtrack, the story, its graphics and performances. “Gravity” is as completely and structurally sound as they come. Even more astonishing is the scientific, visual, and technological authenticity. And of course with astronaut Chris Hadfield on hand to verify the film’s successes at the screening, I rendered it pointless to argue. The story is not overly complex, but it is real and believable. Which is why I feel it is so effective and relatable. With “Gravity,” Cuaron definitely understands that less is more. Once you’ve settled in for the ride, there is no escaping. You might as well strap yourself into a spacesuit, buckle up, and prepare for the physically and mentally draining journey that is “Gravity.”

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From the get go, two things hit you, the music and the imagery. And there’s this beautiful dissonance between the two that you have to experience to believe. The original score shifts, swiftly I might add from a sweet, atmospheric hum to a terrifying, exploding, tense onslaught that wreaks havoc on your nerves. It’s similar to an ascending, ear-piercing rumble that, at a point becomes impossible to withstand. It is undeniably one of the most definitive, creative soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Alongside the score in this intoxicating concoction is Cuaron’s stunning, panoramic imagery that’ll leave you breathless and in disbelief. All I can say is that it’s sure to resonate with you long after the closing credits. Above all however, is the genuine interpretation of the space just outside our planet. All the beauty that the universe has to offer present in “Gravity” is no substitute for the authenticity on display here.

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As revolutionary, engaging, and stunning as Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller is, the fact of the matter is that “Gravity” would be totally lost without its two phenomenal stars. Leads George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are thoroughly outstanding and remind us all of their deep talent and why they are so revered in the first place. The truth is that it’s been a while since either have tastefully and fully wowed cinephiles, but no longer. Even more remarkable is what makes their performances so compelling and down-right impressive. It’s not merely the conventional dramatic element, although they do provide that abundantly. The duo’s physical maneuvers and delicate mannerisms in the vacuum is what really stupefies. It is immensely strenuous and difficult to make it look like your floating and working in space. Yet Clooney and Bullock pull it off with sheer immaculacy and make it look so easy. Their performances are just another facet  in “Gravity’s” long line of sublime accomplishments.

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As totally immersive of an experience that you’ll likely ever be apart of in a cinema. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” is performed flawlessly, visually impeccable, and as a whole, matchless.

Gravity: 10 out of 10.

The World’s End (2013)

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The “Cornetto” trilogy has always been about humour, heart, and homage. And even though it’s been six long years since we last visited a quirky, enthralling, and action-packed world created by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright…”The World’s End” was well worth the wait. That being said, the fact that Pegg, Wright, and company were able to pull it off is no surprise at all. It’s simply a rarity for a trilogy to be so evenly brilliant, so skepticism is understandable. Nevertheless, “The World’s End” is a fitting conclusion to such a fantastical series. Undoubtedly, it’s sad to see one of the most critically and all-around successful trilogies come to a close…but much like our way of life, nothing lasts forever. “The World’s End” is a superlative finale to a near-perfect trilogy and while not as strong as “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” it isn’t far off…

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Gary King (Pegg) is somewhat of a low-life and a borderline alcoholic. One day, having been reminded of his youth and happier times. Gary sets out to track down his old friends in order to convince them to complete a pub crawl they all failed to accomplish when they were younger. Upon successfully persuading Peter (Marsen), O-Man (Freeman), Steven (Considine), and Andy (Frost) to accompany him on this idiotic journey, the crew head back to their hometown of Newton Haven. After the group finishes up the first few pints, they begin to realize that something is amiss. However, deciding to carry on, Gary and his pals soon come to terms that this night will not go as originally planned.

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For all of it’s playful hilarity and jaw-dropping action, I don’t think the public expected “The World’s End” to be so decidedly earnest, disheartening, and tragic. Without question, it’s the most serious and honest chapter of the trilogy. After removing layer upon layer of relatable fears and experiences, such as dissipating youth and failed relationships, not to mention the triviality and flaws of the human race. It’s quite upsetting to realize how deep and truthful this satirical, bittersweet rabbit hole is. No matter how disingenuous and unfazed this group of pub-crawlers appears to be facing down their impending doom, they reek of mortality, mistakes, vulnerability, and imperfection. That being said, the final confrontation, themes, and the film as a whole is funny and unforgettable. Yet resonates a harsh, inevitable wake-up call.

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Perhaps the most important thing about “The World’s End” is that it didn’t let the previous entries down. Granted, it is somewhat a blend of the first two entries, brandishing similar plot points and themes. In addition, the premises and specific style of the “Cornetto” trilogy is becoming a bit stale and a tad bit predictable. That being said, “The World’s End’s” candidness, fresh comedy, and fast-paced violence is enough to differentiate it from the others. Each entry carries its own merit and traits that make them like no other. It feels like the right time for Wright and company to move on and bring to fruition their bright, limitless futures. With the “Cornetto” trilogy, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Edgar Wright have created something that is truly invaluable, priceless… They should take unmeasurable pride in what they have accomplished.

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Without question, Edgar Wright is the most responsible for the triumph of not only “The World’s End,” but the “Cornetto” trilogy as a whole. His refusal to make pictures inside the norm is easily the most promising aspect of his career thus far and is what makes this trilogy so utterly brilliant. Wright continues to employ a Guy Ritchie-esque style melded with his unwavering, youthful wonder and cinephile heart. Essentially, this is what makes Wright’s films so intoxicating and enjoyable. But more importantly, what sets him apart as a filmmaker is the passion and humbleness in which he derives vision and creativity. He conjures up films that he, as a cinephile would cherish, which is the reason he is so respected and relevant to movie lovers every where. Sure, things might get a little hectic here and there, especially when your filming a battle to save all mankind, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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One thing that no one will ever accuse the “Cornetto” trilogy of having is shallow ensembles. And with “The World’s End,” we are treated to much of the same. Starring the exuberant, trustworthy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, a wonderful supporting cast that features Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsen, in addition to a plethora of brief cameos. “The World’s End” arguably contains the strongest cast in the trilogy. Freeman is sort of the unsung star of the group, having landed the role of Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy. He continues to provide evidence as to why he earned the job in the first place and apart from his reprising role on “Sherlock,” Freeman has never been better. Marsen and Considine, both severely underused in the business today, have an undeniable comedic charisma that is on full display in “The World’s End” and will hopefully garner them the attention they deserve.

As predicted, it’s Pegg and Frost who take the reigns of this fantastic adventure, with one significant change. Nick Frost is the responsible, sensible wet blanket, well, for as long as he can muster it anyhow and Simon Pegg is the  idiotic, chaotic friend, who isn’t really much of a pal at all. Now, aside from the closing of the trilogy, the biggest tragedy here is the disconcerting underuse and lack of acknowledgement from filmmakers everywhere towards Frost. Who, continues to be an under-appreciated talent and arguably gives the performance of his career in “The World’s End.” As for Pegg, who’s chagrin, heedless, and selfish performance is unfathomably effective. Pegg, who has gone on to star in several big-budget blockbusters, makes a fortuitous return to his humble beginnings and certainly adds another invaluable notch to his already stellar repertoire.

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Just a brief shout-out to Alice Lowe, Reece Shearsmith, Michael Smiley, Bill Nighly, and Steve Oram for their brief, but memorable roles in “The World’s End.” It’s nice to see Wright give a little extra screen time to the great, up-and-coming filmmakers for, his homeland.

Funny, heartfelt, and all-around awesome. “The World’s End” is the closing chapter die-hard “Cornetto” fans and cinephiles were hoping for and so much more.

The World’s End: 9 out of 10.

Elysium (2013)

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Following up a revolutionary blockbuster such as “District 9” is no easy task. One that the director and writer of said film Neill Blomkamp was charged with completing. While his follow up “Elysium” might not be as avant-garde as its predecessor, it certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Granted, the story’s themes might feel a tad worn and the plot is occasionally dotted with structural and character cliches. Nonetheless, Blomkamp continues to dream big and it is this very trait which makes him so well respected and important in the filmmaking industry. Even though he still might need time to perfect capturing his immense ideals. The fact that he has continued the trend is a great sign for cinephiles. “Elysium” offers enough sci-fi thrills and ingenuity, in addition to a smart, albeit familiar socio-political message to blow summer audiences away.

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In the year 2154, the wealthy have fled Earth to live on a space station orbiting our planet called Elysium. The rest of the population is left to inhabit what remains of our desolate, disease-ridden planet. Max Da Costa (Damon), an ex-con, lives in the ruins of Los Angeles working for a manufacturing company. After being exposed to a lethal amount of radiation, Max seeks the help of a fellow criminal who is dead-set on transferring Earth’s population to Elysium using any means necessary.  Upon being melded with an exoskeletal device, Max, with the help of a small team sets out to infiltrate Elysium, and hopefully be completely healed by a med-pod.

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Definitely the fortuitous recipient of a keen eye for stunning imagery. Whether it be natural or CGI. Neill Blomkamp exudes both effortlessly and utilizes this seemingly inherited gift to maximum effectiveness in “Elysium.” Although this tremendous talent is miraculous all on its own. The fact that he does not, like most big-budget blockbuster directors, get bogged down in the process of large-scale fabrication is perhaps more respectable and to an even further extent, more remarkable than the skill itself.

Now, this goes without saying, Blomkamp’s logical and moderate use of computer generated images by no means hampers or discredits “Elysium,” or “District 9” for that matter. Not getting caught up in the over-falsification of visuals is a testament to Blomkamp’s direction and unwavering motivation to keep the viewer just as focused on the story and its characters. Between Elysium itself, the droids, and his futuristic flying machines. Blomkamp clearly hasn’t lost his imagination or his capability to transpose his ideals to reality, regardless of how minutely imperfect the adaptation might be. Not to mention the facial reconstruction scene, which is easily the most breathtaking sequence in the film. With “Elysium,” he might not be able to hypnotize the audience as well as he did with “District 9,” but it isn’t that much of a drop off either.

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Speaking of “Elysium’s” story, it might be one you’re familiar with. I mean, a dystopian future where only the rich and powerful thrive isn’t exactly a plot unheard of in cinema. However, make no mistake, Blomkamp has made this common yarn his own with some clever additions, but more importantly, with unflinching violence and pure content.

“Elysium” is what I like to call an adult blockbuster. While many high-budget summer flicks, more specifically the superhero sub-genre dull down their content and violence in order to appeal to a wider audience and simply make more revenue. There is a tradeoff and it is usually a weaker pull to more mature audiences or it is not received well by the general consensus. This is not the case with Blomkamp’s “Elysium.” There is some instances of brutal carnage, gore, and magnified violence, but it is tasteful and relevant to the story. Nor does Blomkamp dilute the more challenging aspects of the story. Now, “Elysium”  might not be the mind-bender we all thought it’d be, but it’s still more intelligent than half of the films released during this season. Nothing in Blomkamp’s fictitious world exists for the sake of excess. Essentially, what you see is what you get, Blomkamp gives the audience credit and respect and receives it in return.

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Perhaps the most consistent and unforgettable aspect of “Elysium” is its tremendous performances. Featuring actors of brilliance such as Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, and Alice Braga. It quickly becomes clear that no matter how typical and cliched “Elysium’s” story and script might be. The cast is undoubtedly capable of carrying a majority of the load. As far as tragically underused actors go, Alice Braga and William Fichtner continue to add fuel to the fire. Both do phenomenal jobs in supporting roles and are a beautiful contrast to one another. I must admit that I’m not a big Jodie Foster fan, but she took me by surprise. She gives an excellent performance as some form of anti-hero and truly teases the audience.

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It has been proven time and time again, whether it be through box office numbers or critical acclaim. That Matt Damon is, without question, able to play the hero. So, with “Elysium,” Damon might not be challenging himself the way we might have hoped. Nonetheless, he does prove that the well hasn’t dried up. He might not be as effectively used as he was in the “Bourne” trilogy. Regardless, he exudes everything that compiles a summer action-hero. As much as I love Sharlto Copley as the protagonist in “District 9” and “Europa Report.” His antagonist portrayal is oozing with villainy. Mixing in comedic elements, sufficient hand-to-hand combat, and an unprecedented ruthlessness. Copley easily gives the best performance of the entire ensemble.

Superbly acted, mesmerizingly directed, and visually amazing. Neill Blomkamp and cast create another mildly-budgeted summer triumph that will kick you off your feet.

Elysium: 7.5 out of 10.

District 9 (2009)

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A disheartening, realistic, and utterly original take on humanity’s first encounter with an extraterrestrial species. “District 9” is riveting cinema at its finest and packs quite the emotional wallop. Combining fast-paced action, morality, and a brilliant socio-political influence. This sci-fi drama stings, lingers, and is by no means easy to watch. It is an endless serenade of stunning visuals and superb performances, which brilliantly compliments the endearing story at its core. It is the first full-length feature directed by up-and-comer Neill Blomkamp and is also the cinematic debut for lead actor Sharlto Copley. Both of whom do an absolutely superlative job in their respective roles. While it may not have the traditional large-scale destruction or typical villainous twist. “District 9” is gut-wrenching, cosmically astounding, and incredibly satisfying.

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An alien mothership floats gently above Johannesburg in South Africa. An investigation team enters the ship and discovers a population of sick and malnourished extraterrestrials, soon refereed to as Prawns. This species is confined to District 9 which is a government camp just outside of the city. Not long after, the city grows uneasy with their new neighbours and protests are not far behind. Eventually, the South African government decides to move the Prawns to a new internment camp using the MNU (Multinational United). However, during the routine transfer, things slowly begin to go awry.

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Although “Avatar” may have demolished “District 9” at the box office, predictably. In the long run, the shadow James Cameron’s epic cast over Blomkamp’s modestly-budgeted sci-fi experiment was more of a high-priced mirage. Granted, Cameron’s CGI is striking, atmospheric, and haunting. That being said, for the price, Blomkamp’s achievement is much more impressive, essentially a cinematic stroke of genius. Throw in a more compelling, plausible story, thoroughly outstanding performances, and action sequences that get the viewers heart-racing viewing after viewing. Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” is entirely more entertaining and a much more diverse and rewarding film experience. Which deservedly earns it staying power that will long outlive “Avatar’s” temporarily topnotch graphics. By no means am I discrediting Cameron as a filmmaker, I respect, appreciate, and enjoy all of his films. However, simply put, Blomkamp’s work here is truly mesmerizing and faultless.

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What utterly sets Blomkamp’s “District 9” apart from the bottomless cesspool  of haphazard, drivel sci-fi flicks that do nothing but dilute the genre to a point of irretrievable inaneness is its ability to strike at the viewers jugular. There are many points in which deplorable, inhuman behaviour and acts really make the audience cringe. Yet, Blomkamp is able to simultaneously retain the viewers attention with pure intentions, awe, and merciful innocence. It’s as serious and dark as it is playful and bright. Blomkamp is able to subject his audience to both sides of the coin, making it an unprecedented movie experience. And for this, Blomkamp was rewarded. Garnering 4 Oscar nominations on a mere 30 million dollar budget, compared to Avatar’s 237 million (roughly). “District 9” is truly a triumph and all comparisons aside, is a prime example of what cinema should be: imaginative, emotive , smart, and visually stellar.

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Not to be overlooked in this modern day masterpiece is the performances of its relatively unknown cast, especially Sharlto Copley. While “District 9” is thoroughly appealing to all the cinematic senses and it does owe the majority of its success to creator Neill Blomkamp. Who, by the way, does a magnificent job with control of the camera for a first timer. The cast of this miraculous sci-fi drama does deserve a significant portion of recognition as is it what completes the story and brings it to life.

Amongst the deserving recipients are the scientists, tv crews, etc… In the  faux-documentary aspect of the film, they do a marvellous job authentically creating the hype, fear, and human aspect of the invasion. Not to be left out are the government officials, war criminals, and supporting cast members to the main protagonist. Although occasionally portrayed as heartless, conceded, and villainous, these cast members do convey what we hope doesn’t happen behind closed doors. Nonetheless, no matter how evil, they do a lovely job making the viewer hate them. Finally, Sharlto Copley, who is flawless in the lead role, should earn the most kudos. Never have I witnessed a first-time performer steal the show as Copely did completely throughout “District 9.” If sci-fi thrillers aren’t you’re preference, at least view this film simply for Copely’s performance.

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Original, captivating, and occasionally disturbing. Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” will hopefully kick-start the genre and continue to be irrefutable prof that you don’t need a big budget to make an instant classic.

District 9: 9 out of 10.

Pacific Rim (2013)

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Although it may ask the viewer to acquiesce a fair amount of inconsistencies and genre cliches. “Pacific Rim” ultimately rewards its audience with jaw-dropping visuals, bone-shattering action, and evoking genuine childlike wonder. It is somewhat of a let down that we are treated to only a small taste of what makes Guillermo Del Toro the revered visionary he is today. Nonetheless, without the aforementioned creator working behind the scenes. “Pacific Rim” would have undoubtedly fallen victim to the bombastic, over-driven destruction that has plagued and doomed countless others in the genre. While I didn’t expect the catchy slogan “Go big or go extinct” to be the film’s structural criteria. Luckily for Del Toro and crew, you can’t get much bigger than 250 foot robot assassins piloted by humans duking it out with genetically-engineered alien war-machines in an intergalactic battle. Powered by Del Toro’s youthful inspiration and wide-eyed ambition, “Pacific Rim” is literally a summer smash.

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In the near future, extraterrestrials dubbed “Kaiju” enter through a portal in a crevasse deep beneath the Pacific Ocean and begin destroying Earth’s major cities. To combat these monsters, humans create massive weapons known as “Jaegers” which are humanoid fighting machines that stand roughly 250 feet tall. These “Jaegers” are controlled by two pilots simultaneously through a neural link that allows each co-pilot access to inner thoughts, memories, and reactions. Soon, the human race begin to take the upper-hand, but are quickly knocked back down by bigger, more complex “Kaiju” and must find a way to close the portal between worlds.

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Similar to J.J Abrams “Super 8,” Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim” was conceived upon childhood nostalgia and a yearning to rebirth the creature feature. Having rekindled a long-dormant fascination with classical foreign monster films. Del Toro and crew set out to instill that feeling of childish giddiness into a generation who’ve been rotted with endless pedestrian and vapid blockbusters. And as far as big-budget action-thrillers go, you’ll find none better than “Pacific Rim.” Establishing new heroes with timeless qualities that get the job done or die trying, a slew of immense, godly fighting robots equipped with inventive, resourceful weapons, and a plethora of monstrous, grotesque extraterrestrials. It might be a tad predictable, even stereotypical. Yet, “Pacific Rim” is a breath of fresh, rejuvenating air into a faltering genre that was failing to inspire and bewilder.

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It’s easy to see that in any other filmmakers hands, at least a majority of them, “Pacific Rim” would have faced a rather swift extinction so to speak. That being said, it would have been nice to see Del Toro infuse a bit more of what makes his previous releases so compelling. While there are tiny bits of his repertoire sprinkled throughout “Pacific Rim’s” rather modest (roughly) two-hour runtime (only when stacked up against the films scale). One can’t help but feel that it lacked his ambience and atmosphere, the unwavering human element. Undoubtedly, we are subjected to the brilliant diversity and growth of Del Toro as a filmmaker and it is astounding to say the least. I just can’t help but conclude that “Pacific Rim” would have been infinitely better if Del Toro took an extra half-hour, added his usual artistic detail and firmly grounded this flick. However, it’s still one hell of a ride.

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Now, inevitably, more than a few will draw comparisons between “Pacific Rim” and the “Transformers” franchise, amongst other big-budget action blunders. But don’t mistake my clamouring for typical Del Toro as a sign of skeletal, visual, and sympathetic weakness. It’s actually quite the opposite. What sets “Pacific Rim” apart from these brain-dead blockbusters is its strength in the aforementioned categories. I’m simply stating that Del Toro could have done it better, it’s still phenomenal in every sense of the word. The visuals are stunning, Oscar worthy and the story’s progressive form, formidable characters, and connectivity is sturdy enough to stand on its own. “Pacific Rim” is essentially pleasing to all cinematic senses. If you find yourself unable to enjoy it, odds are your inner-child suffocated under your pretentiousness a while ago.

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As for the film itself, you’ll find no shortage of witty humour, deceptively charismatic and humanized characters, and of course gargantuan battle weapons built by two rival races deconstructing one another using any means necessary. Still, what makes “Pacific Rim” so utterly admirable and atypical is its ability to separate from what is slowly becoming a modern convention. Amongst the abundance of comic book films that depict superheroes struggling with their own mortality and moral obligation. “Pacific Rim” reinstates the solidified, courageous, head-held-high heroes who live and feed off of the battle, albeit somewhat cockily. Not to mention, Del Toro and crew make excellent use of the underdog premise and play it out flawlessly. However, most importantly, “Pacific Rim” portrays belief in humanity, something cinema has gotten away from.

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Now, not just anyone can control these immense Jaegers or understand the Kaiju and that’s why “Pacific Rim” has such a diverse, talented, and somewhat obscure cast. Starring Idris Elba, Charlie Day, Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam, and Rinko Kikuchi, this crew of tenacious, at times ruthless individuals is not to be trifled with.

Out of everyone cast in this film, Charlie Day struck me as an odd, risky choice. Having only seen the actor in various comedies, a high-profile role in a serious action-flick seemed like the last place he’d be effective. Well, I was wrong. He does a fantastic job providing some much-needed comic relief and even surprised me with his capabilities a few times. Idris Elba is as intimidating as ever and continues to be one of the most underrated actors currently in cinema. Adding his usual style, suave, and dramatic flare to a rather limiting role. Ron Perlman, although sparsely used, still manages to steal every scene he’s in and he’s as hypnotic as ever. Carlie Hunnam definitely stole the show, for me anyway, and that’s due in large part to his chemistry with Rinko Kikuchi. The two really know how to give and take, while remaining independent enough to stand-out on their own.

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One of the most decedent pieces of eye-candy I’ve ever witnessed, “Pacific Rim” is exactly what you thought it’d be…loads of fun.

Pacific Rim: 8 out of 10.