I treated myself to a double-feature at the cinema this weekend. On Sunday, I finally got out to see The Martian, which I've been wanting to see for a whole month. But on Saturday, I also went to see a newer release: the latest 007 James Bond film Spectre. Casino Royale still stands proud and tall as my favorite Bond film. Spectre did little to change that. The movie is entertaining, but its attempts to retroactively tie together the previous Daniel Craig films felt very forced and unnatural. Christopher Waltz worked fine as a re-imagined Blofeld, but the ham-fisted half-brother back story seemed silly and unnecessary. I was tolerant of the Bond backstory from Skyfall (which I very much enjoyed), but Spectre goes a bit too far.
I admit that I found the first half of the movie a bit hard to follow. I didn't think to re-watch the other Bond movies prior to going into this one, so when names and references from the past movies start getting dropped left and right, I had trouble remembering who was who, what was what, and why I should care. Was the guy in the white suit in Mexico a recurring character? How did old M know about him, and why did she think Bond should bother attending his funeral? Heck, I wasn't even sure it was his funeral, as I half thought it was supposed to be M's funeral. Who were the Spectre leaders trying to replace? Was it the guy killed at the beginning of the film, or somebody from one of the previous movies? Who was Mr. White, again, and why does Bond meet up with him? I'm almost ashamed to admit that I had so much trouble following this movie's script. The first half just moves so fast, glances over certain important details, and pushes forward.
Spectre is basically just another version of Quantum of Solace, with a similar "Bond gone rogue for revenge" kind of set-up. The writers just replaced Quantum with the original Spectre, and made Spectre a parent organization of Quantum. The film's attempts to tie the villains of all the previous films to this single Spectre organization just completely fell flat for me, and in hindsight Quantum of Solace might even have been a better movie (but don't quote me on that until I've had a chance to re-watch it).
Spectre plays up many references to old Bond films and their primary antagonist.
The highlights of this film were probably the encounters with Mr. Hinx (Blofeld's henchman played by Dave Bautista). In a movie that leaned very heavily on the classic Bond films, Mr. Hinx worked very well as an amalgam of classic Bond villains Jaws and Oddball...
I dropped the ball on this one. I often criticize Hollywood for not being willing to make genuine, hard science fiction movies anymore, and I begroan the continued bastardization of my beloved Star Trek and the dumbed down action flicks that Hollywood dared to put the "Star Trek" title on. The studios say that science fiction don't make enough money. Apologists say that casual audiences are too dumb and impatient to sit through any kind of slow-developing, cerebral movie. Ironically enough (despite my own frequent cynicism) I think both these apologetics are too cynical and don't give audiences enough credit. I firmly believe that if the studios make a good movie, the audiences will go see it, especially if it's properly marketed.
So when a thoughtful, science fiction movie like The Martian comes out, I try to make a point of spending my money to see it in order to show my support for the continued development of the genre. I made a point of seeing Gravity, despite that movie appearing to be little more than space destruction porn and iMax eye candy. I also made sure that I saw last year's Interstellar. And both of the Planet of the Apes reboots have been surprisingly excellent. Unfortunately, I lost track of the release date of The Martian and missed seeing it on opening weekend (one of Hollywood's biggest metrics of a movie's success). I also wasn't able to see it the week after, or the week after that due to my weekends being consistently busy. It was over a month before I finally put my foot down and said "I'm seeing this movie now! No more delay!".
Fortunately, the rest of the country vindicated me by heaping dump trucks full of praise on the movie and putting their butts in the theater seats to keep The Martian at the number 1 spot in the box office for almost the entire month of October (only briefly falling to number 2 for one week behind Goosebumps - really?). It finally took an upteenth sequel to a beloved franchise to topple The Martian when Spectre (which I also saw this weekend) held the top spot for two weeks in a row. The movie itself is earning Oscar buzz, and Matt Damon seems to be the current favorite for "Best Actor". So there you have it, Hollywood: make a good sci-fi movie, and they will come, and they will love it.
Matt Damon's character is charming and easily has the audience rooting for him against all odds.
And the movie is absolutely fantastic! It's ambitions are closer to Apollo 13 than to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's a very believable, down-to-earth, science fiction film, the events of which feel like they could happen tomorrow. Matt Damon's performance is absolutely charming as a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars and presumed dead when his team is forced to evac due to a violent sandstorm... [More]
Jurassic Park is one of my earliest and strongest movie memories. I think I saw it at least four times in theaters when I was a kid. Even at that age, I rarely ever saw a movie more than once in a theater. Probably because I couldn't convince my parents to take me more than once, so if I wanted to go again, I'd have to go with a friend or a cousin. But that movie was good enough that I think even my mom and dad went multiple times.
I had a bunch of the Jurassic Park toys, including the character action figures, the large dinosaurs, the jeep, and even the compound playset with the fence and the gate. It was a very monumental movie in my youth that also shaped my perception of movies going forward, as well as helping to spark my interest in science. The awe and wonder of it captured my imagination and held very tightly for a very long time. Its scenes, images, dialogue, and music have all stuck with me to this day.
Perhaps because of this, my favorite parts of the newly-released Jurassic World were the brief scenes of the kids exploring the theme park. I enjoyed the brief clips of the petting zoo where kids fed the baby dinosaurs and rode on the backs of baby triceratops. I especially liked the little playground set where the kids would pretend to dig up dinosaur fossils. Seeing the kids on screen enjoying the awe and wonder of the animals sent me on a nostalgia trip to 20 years ago. The idea of people interacting with these animals is still just as captivating as it was then. There was a very addictive, light-hearted sense of joy and energy throughout these short-lived segments.
I had many Jurassic Park toys when I was a kid.
Even a more depressing mid-movie scene in which Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard try to comfort a dying dinosaur was a touching moment that I really liked. It reminded me of the triceratops scene from the first movie, and the dinosaur was surprisingly expressive.
I did think it was weird that the director chose to play John Williams' trademark Jurassic Park theme as fanfare for what was effectively just a scenic helicopter landing. I get that it was an homage to the first movie, but I feel that the first movie built up to the arrival in the park, and paid off the fanfare with the classic money shot of the brachiosaur grazing in the open field. In Jurassic World, it just kind of felt like going through the motions. Imitation for imitation's sake.
In any case, these fun scenes with the dinosaurs is definitely not the point of the movie, and these sorts of scenes and moments get shoved to the side in order to make room for the film's main plot.
My favorite scenes were the ones of people enjoying the park.
I was skeptical about Jurassic World from the very first trailers. I worried that it would surely miss the point.
Michael Crichton's novels and the first movie weren't about "science gone amok"; it wasn't a Frankenstein story about mad scientists creating monsters. It was about well-intentioned scientists who underestimated the complexities of nature... [More]
I recently wrote an analysis of Game Of Thrones' fifth season. I had originally planned to include some speculation about the sixth season, but it wasn't really relevant to the point of the article, which was to describe the themes present in the season. So for the sake of brevity, I moved that speculation to a new post.
What season five does very effectively is to blur the lines between heroes and villains and establish a series of new external threats to entrenched powers and factions. And the self-implosion of the Lannisters, Stannis, Boltons, and the crossing of the Wildlings leaves the Seven Kingdoms vulnerable to the internal strife that made the first few seasons so compelling. In addition, we may finally see a genuine power stuggle across the Narrow Sea.
The stage has been set for power stuggles to take place - not just in King's Landing - but throughout the entire world.
The Lannisters' authority in King's Landing is now being threatened by multiple sources,
including the High Sparrow's cult witch hunts [PICTURED] and the Tyrells and Littlefinger.
CAUTION: THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIFTH SEASON [More]
I've been seeing a lot of mixed reaction to the most recent season of HBO's Game Of Thrones (season five). Many sources on the internet have referred to it as the slowest and most boring season of the series so far. And episode six (Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken) has been reviled as one of the worst episodes of the series due to the sexual assault of poor Sansa. Anecdotally, the people who I know who watch it (including my girlfriend, who got me into the show to begin with) have been disappointed by the apparent uneventfullness of this season. Another friend even said he was likely going to give up on the show completely because he's sick of the show dragging on and then suddenly doing things apparently only for shock value. I think his reaction is a bit extreme.
On the other hand, this season's eighth episode, Hardhome has been received as the best episode of the series so far.
But now that the season is over, and the shocks have been given, it puts the entirety of the season into perspective - at least for me.
The whole of Game of Thrones' fifth season has an over-arching theme of fatalism and futility. And the final episode shifted both of those themes to full-blown self-implosion. Every major character in every theater of operations made very self-destructive choices. And they all suffered for it, and those that survived will continue to suffer into season six. This season also may have shifted long-standing opinions on who are the favored characters and factions, which could be a deliberate attempt to ramp up the tension for a more conflict-filled sixth season.
Season five started with numerous characters and factions at the height of their power. Daenerys, Stannis, Ramsey, and John Snow all had enormous successes at the end of season four and start of season five. The Lannisters may have suffered a severe blow at the end of last season, but their grip on King's Landing was still firm at the start of season five. They all manage to blunder these successes into utter failures by the end of season five.
Probably the most immediately obvious case of self-destruction is Stannis. While most of the season looked as though he was putting himself in a position of strength and was primed to recapture Winterfell, he was also falling victim to the classic Napoleon / Hitler mistake: he tried to invade a tundra empire at the onset of winter. As successful as his actions were in the first half of the season, there was always a feeling of impending dread and desperation hanging over him and his army.
Even those of us who were won over by Stannis' actions at the wall, and his hearftful defense and expression of love for his deformed daughter, must've recognized that he seemed fated to fail.
How could anyone follow a man who would do what Stannis has chosen to done?
Stannis cements his doom with quite possibly the worst, and most heartless decision that any character has made in the show to date...
CAUTION: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD [More]
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