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Marco Polo (2014)
In All Honesty, Why So Much Hatred?
Marco Polo is the new Netflix original series that's big-budgeted (for a TV show) and boasts an epic scope and scale to rival shows like "Game of Thrones" and "Da Vinci's Demons" by taking us to a pre-modern world. Here, we're shown the world explorer Marco Polo visited in Asia during his travels with his father and uncle. It's when he's left in Kublai Khan's court that Marco's 'real' adventure begins, filled with political intrigue and warfare.
Honestly, i don't know what the fuss is about with the negativity. I can understand why it wouldn't have the highest reviews or praise (it starts off well enough with decent acting, a well thought-out script and brilliant visuals), but to have such low rated reviews? Honestly, this show is much more impressive than David S. Goyer's "Da Vinci's Demons" which has extremely high ratings compared to this. I also see many comparisons with "Game of Thrones," and it's reasonable. But this show deserves better. It has good directing, acting that improves as the show moves forward (especially with the lead, Lorenzo Richelmy, a true Italian), impressive cinematography that deserves numerous awards, a captivating musical score and a good script that i constantly see critics bashing for having too many grunts and sounds. What? It just doesn't make much sense.
Marco Polo is highly entertaining, well-balanced with its pacing, and shows that if a show is given a chance to fully develop, it can succeed! We need more shows like this, or anything sci-fi themed to air on Netflix like "Almost Human," so networks like FOX won't cancel them due to low ratings. That's why i will stay with Netflix; they don't look at ratings for their shows because they mean nothing; if people like it, keep it coming. I for one want to see Marco Polo for another season and see it develop into something far greater.
Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
Extremely Bold and Epic, But Devoid of Power
Exodus: Gods and Kings is Ridley Scott's most ambitious film yet, and his boldest (but not biggest). Another biblical epic after the recent releases of Darren Aronofsky's Noah and the television series- inspired film Son of God, Exodus tells the story of the exodus led by Moses from the Book of Exodus in the Bible. In the film, Moses (portrayed by Christian Bale) defies Ramesses (Joel Edgerton) and stages an uprising to escape Egypt before God's wrath is brought down upon them.
Like Aronofsky's Noah, this is simply one man's (significantly) different view of the story. Except in this film, instead of adding to the mystical elements of the story, Ridley Scott instead makes the plagues out to be natural occurrences, including the parting of the Red Sea. While some will find this absurd, i find it intriguing. It must be said i am deeply spiritual, but remember, this is a movie, and movies are an art form. With that aside, now down to film details.
Ridley Scott's direction here is eerily similar to what he did with Kingdom of Heaven, and i have a feeling the theatrical cut is not what Scott had in mind, as the script seems to be lacking in nearly every aspect, especially when trying to have us care for the characters and their struggle. It's not that the film is bland, but seems to be focused on the scope and scale, not what happens within said scale. The visual effects are top-notch, though, and well- deserving of the Oscar nomination (Interstellar is still the best by far). The acting is spectacular, with the two leads (Edgerton and Bale) shining bright. Even Aaron Paul as Joshua was good, who added more emotion to the film than one would expect. Sadly, though, Ben Kingsley is under-utilized in a very short performance that i feel we would see more in a director's cut. The production values are astonishing, the musical score helps to solidify that 'epic' atmosphere, and the cinematography is gorgeous, as one would expect from a Ridley Scott film.
In the end, Exodus: Gods and Kings is a stunning epic that lacks the power its story is supposed to bring, but like Kingdom of Heaven, will probably surface in an even more epic director's cut (hopefully). Is Exodus one to be seen on the big screen? Yes, but should you pay top dollar? Depends. Happily, the film isn't a bad movie, unlike most blockbusters. Just don't expect a captivating, full-blown epic but instead a more visually gripping and valiant effort that falls short.
An Emotional, Beautiful Journey into the Unknown
(This is both a review of the film, and an assertion of Christopher Nolan's filmmaking style)
There have been many reviewers and critics alike that have high praise for the film (the visual effects, the acting, the music), but say how it's not Christopher Nolan's best directed film. This is where i personally would have to disagree. Before i get into it, though, i'll talk about Interstellar a bit.
Interstellar is truly a sci-fi epic like no other. To compare said film to '2001: A Space Odyssey' isn't just a disservice, but unnecessary. The films are almost nothing alike, simply sharing small plot elements. Also, Stanley Kubrick's vision of Arthur C. Clarke's sci-fi epic wasn't to ponder the philosophical questions that accompanied the story, but to make art, and art is was, and is. With Interstellar, Mr. Nolan set out to make his most personal and emotional film to date about love and time (time being a recurring theme throughout all of Nolan's films). But it's so much more than that too. There are no words to express the epic journey Nolan takes us on in the film, but needless to say, it's tear-jerking and emotional throughout. The acting is top-notch, especially McConaughey, who gives (I would say) his most emotional performance yet. But the actor who stole the show in a few scenes (one in particular, when they're on an alien planet) was David Gyasi as Romilly, one of the astronauts aboard the Endurance, their spacecraft. The musical score from Hans Zimmer is, without a doubt, his best and most influential work to date, helping drive the film's bold and breath-taking vision (the church organ helped significantly). The visual effects are easily the best to date as well, and of the year. To see a black hole created through visual effects in such a way, with pages theoretical equations provided by Kip Thorne (theoretical physicist, of whom's work inspired the film's genesis); what you see in the film is the most realistic depiction of a black hole, and even offered new insight to accretion discs surrounding the anomalies. But even everything else, from the alien planets to the Endurance, the visuals always look real. Then, there's the writing. I would definitely have to say this has some of the best dialogue i've ever heard in a sci-fi movie, and the script continually pours or oozes emotion, keeping the audience tethered to the film.
Now, about Mr. Nolan. Don't just look at Nolan, but look at his films. Some say Inception would be his masterpiece, while others would say it's The Dark Knight, or Memento. But honestly, every single film Christopher Nolan has directed is a masterpiece not of its genre, but of Nolan. Following is his quiet masterpiece, not the film that put Mr. Nolan on the map as a phenomenal director, but one people visited or revisited after becoming accustomed to Nolan, after seeing Memento, what could be called his breakout masterpiece. Then, right after, he directed the remake of the Norwegian thriller, Insomnia. This, too, could be considered a masterpiece, even if a remake. Then, we were given his take on the Batman universe, starting with Batman Begins, the origin masterpiece. Then, there's The Prestige, adapted from the novel of the same name, which can be called his dark masterpiece. The Dark Knight, his bold masterpiece; Inception, his complex masterpiece, and The Dark Knight Rises, his flawed masterpiece. Now, we have Interstellar, his emotional or personal masterpiece.
This is just my looking at Nolan and his films, but whatever your thoughts are, you can't deny Interstellar is one hell of a journey. He certainly is one of the best filmmakers of our time, and of all time. I can't wait to see what he does next, but i'm not sure it will be as emotionally powerful as Interstellar.
Dracula Untold (2014)
An Intense but Sadly Underdeveloped Epic
Dracula Untold is the re-imagining of the classic Hollywood vampire, from Universal Pictures. Vlad III (Luke Evans) learns of Mehmed II and his plans to "recruit" young men into his thousand-strong army, including Vlad's son Ingeras. Searching for a way to protect his family and his kingdom, Vlad encounters the Master Vampire (Charles Dance), who imbues Vlad with the powers and weaknesses of a vampire, giving him the chance to save all he knows and loves. But, he has only three days to either use the power and watch it fade away, or become a vampire for eternity if he gives in to the thirst.
Dracula Untold was and is a surprisingly sleek and fast-paced tale of love and courage, but because of its pace, it seems like the big themes and moments of the film rush by all too quickly. That's not to say the film is bad; Luke Evans is perfect as Dracula, who is charismatic, brooding and commanding when on-screen (the supporting cast is fantastic as well), the visual effects are dazzling, the music is perfect and Gary Shore's direction isn't spot-on, but gives the film a wonderfully sleek and gorgeous look. It's the script (as usual) that needed some hefty work. It's not that there was an overabundance of cheesiness or clichés (although there were a few of those), everything just seemed 'mashed' together. If someone like Frank Darabont or even Alex Garland added to the script, giving it say fifteen to twenty minutes more, the movie could have been great. But alas, it's simply good at best.
Boasting its visual prowess and grit over story-telling, Dracula Untold is neither bad nor great. If you want a fun, intense ride, see Dracula Untold (preferably in IMAX). Just lower your expectations for the film as a whole, while Luke Evans certainly deserves great attention.
The Godzilla Remake No One Saw Coming
The original Godzilla is a classic, and is still an extremely entertaining movie to this day, but it lacks a certain relevance and heart seen today in other big (and small) movies. So when i heard there was a Godzilla remake happening, i couldn't not think of the disaster that was Roland Emmerich's Godzilla. Then, i saw the previews, and i was blown away. In this re-imagining, Godzilla is a terrifying force of nature that fights to defeat the MUTOs, Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms. But what really makes this Godzilla remake stand out is the "human element," present in the lead human characters portrayed by Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Ken Wantanabe, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen and David Strathairn.
Honestly, I think this Godzilla is better than the original, and for multiple reasons. Firstly, Gareth Edward's direction. The movie feels like a Batman Begins-esque version of a Godzilla franchise, where we don't see the titular character for most of the first third of the film, but more and more as the film progresses, and it works extremely well. And the way Edwards grounds the film in reality and with the times is just amazing, and disturbing. The acting is absolutely incredible, and surprisingly enough, it's not Bryan Cranston that steals the show; Taylor-Johnson does it with his "everyman" character, Ford Brody. The visual effects were easily the best part of the film, and some of the best visual effects of all time. There wasn't a single moment that had me thinking, "That's definitely CG there." I was completely glued to my seat in awe, like most of the other people in the theater and didn't think twice about what I was seeing. Even the musical score by Alexandre Desplat was haunting and epic, with the main theme being extremely memorable (I was humming it on my way out of the theater). The script was great, but there were moments where, they were fantastic and all, but felt like filler-moments; you didn't need them, but they worked.
Godzilla was a superb and epic monster movie that i think is a masterpiece in filmmaking, and could be hailed as a classic further down the line. I agree with some critics in that the marketing campaign was a bit lousy in that they showed off Godzilla a little too much (since he isn't seen constantly throughout the film), but to lower the score of the film because of giant lizard's absence in the first act isn't right; it isn't.
Odd Thomas (2013)
A Heart-Felt and Intense Supernatural Thriller
Odd Thomas is the film based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name about Odd Thomas (portrayed by Anton Yelchin), a 21-year old short-order cook who has "abilities" that allow him to see the dead, and other strange phenomena. When a strange man Odd eventually calls "Fungus Bob" comes into town, followed by Bodachs, creatures that feed on pain and fear in times of great catastrophe, Odd believes Hell-on-Earth is about to arrive in their town of Pico Mundo. So, with the help of his girlfriend Stormy (Addison Timlin) and Sheriff Wyatt Porter (Willem Dafoe), Odd does whatever he can to prevent a slaughter the world would never forget.
Odd Thomas is the most surprisingly entertaining and incredible thriller i have ever seen. I did read the book before i saw the film, but that did not prepare me for how accurate the film would be. Sure, there are some truly fantastic book-to-film adaptations, and there are bad ones, but even with the changes from book to movie, Odd Thomas was everything i hoped it would be, and more. Stephen Sommers, who wrote and directed Odd, was in his A-game here, beating out his previous blockbusters The Mummy, Mummy Returns and Van Helsing, all of which were fun and enjoyable, but not as thought-provoking or emotional as Odd was. Anton Yelchin was just incredible as Odd Thomas, a guy who knows how dangerous the world is and how precious his ability is, and knows he is truly odd. Addison Timlin was actually very good as Stormy Llewellyn, Odd's girlfriend. The character really added to the character development and emotional investment the audience had towards Odd, and Stormy herself. Willem Dafoe was great as Wyatt Porter, even having a bit of witty comedy attached to his character. The visual effects were astounding, especially for a low-budget, limited theater film. The cinematography was good, the music was fitting, and the script was just fantastic; it didn't insult your intelligence, it was fresh, and it didn't feel familiar. It had its own pacing (which was odd, no pun intended, really) and the camera work was just incredible; Sommers knows how to put slow- motion to good use.
Odd Thomas is a strange, dark and somewhat comical thriller that does what some big Hollywood blockbusters can't; take a story that literally reaches apocalyptic heights, with supernatural elements thrown in, and ground it in reality. I really hope Stephen Sommers and Anton Yelchin get to make the sequel because this movie was a truly spectacular thriller that everyone should at least check out.
47 Ronin (2013)
An Entertaining Samurai Epic That Falls Short
47 Ronin is a highly fictionalized take on the story of the 47 ronin who took revenge on a court official who had the 47's leader commit seppuku. In the film, Keanu Reeves portrays Kai, a half-British Half-Japanese outcast who is called upon by Oishi, the leader of the 47. The 47 seek revenge on Lord Kira, who also has an evil witch (Rinko Kikuchi) serving under him, who killed their master.
The movie itself looks absolutely phenomenal, with amazing visual effects, an emotional and gripping musical score, and strong performances from Keanu and Hiroyuki Sanada, who portrays Oishi. The major problem that i saw with the movie was that, it was over way too fast. They left out important character development for the witch and a few other characters, which really could have added more emotional flame to the film. Plus, the movie overall could have easily been twenty, thirty minutes longer. If it were, i would say it can rank alongside 13 Assassins and The Last Samurai. The script was well-written in terms of dialogue (some cheesy lines), but the overall script was devoid of real depth and thought. Then, Carl Erik Rinsch's directing was actually pretty good, but had a few too many cut-aways.
47 Ronin is an extremely action-packed samurai/fantasy epic that is something you don't want to miss on the big-screen (for a cheap price). Though, if you want to see something award-worthy in terms of writing and directing, hope for a Director's/Extended cut on disc, for you won't find it here. But great performances, visual effects and emotion really help make this movie stand out, even with The Desolation of Smaug as competition.
A Decent-Good, Demonic Thriller
11-11-11 is based on a supposed phenomenon that was to occur on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year. No one knew what was to happen, but there were theories. In the film 11-11-11, the theory used is that a door will open, but to where? Heaven or hell? A disillusioned author (Timothy Gibbs) who lost his wife and son in a fire goes to Spain, where his father is dying and his estranged brother, Samuel, believes demons are walking the Earth, ready for hell to be unleashed.
This film is not great, but only because it was a rushed production. The writing was sloppy, but far from absolute crap like the Twilight films or M. Night's The Last Airbender, or every Syfy Channel Original Movie. The acting was just decent, with a couple scenes that were really good, some that were just unnecessary, but overall kept the movie going. Darren Lynn Bousman's directing was good, though the script nor acting helped it. The visuals, though, were actually refreshing, having some CG work and a lot of practical in an age of big blockbusters with CG-battles and epic action (CG isn't bad, just the bad directors who utilize it, ex. Michael Bay). The best thing about the film, though, is Joseph Bishara's score. Known for his work on Insidious, Dark Skies and the upcoming The Conjuring, here he melds the creepy, off-putting atmosphere of a strange thriller with horror elements, creating a moody masterpiece.
Overall, 11-11-11 is a highly underrated thriller that doesn't get the attention it deserves. If only they were given more time to work on it, they could have had a magnificent script to cover for the decent and bearable acting.
World War Z (2013)
Highly Entertaining, Globe-trotting Epic
World War Z, while based off the Max Brooks novel of the same name, is in no way a direct adaptation, and happily, this works for the film's benefit. When Gerry Lane, a former UN worker is tasked to help a scientist travel across the planet to discover a cure for the rapidly growing zombie infection, he also is troubled by leaving his family behind while the world around him collapses into chaos.
Directed by Marc Forster, WWZ is easily one of the most entertaining and epic zombie films ever made. Now this being said, many zombie fanatics will disagree, I know this, as some think you need bloody/gory violence and flesh-tearing. This movie proves otherwise, and the zombies here are among the most frightening zombies I've ever seen, being very reminiscent of the "rage-infused" zombies of 28 Days Later. Brad Pitt is at his A-Game here, being both believable as a father and an unsung hero. Mireille Enos was great as Karin Lane, being the very sensitive, but careful mother who knows how to deal with the situation instead of screaming her head off when zombies are at her back. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and breath-taking, especially after the incredible plane crash sequence. The music by Marco Beltrami is award-worthy, capturing both the horrific atmosphere of a collapsing world and human drama of what we're capable of in such disastrous times. The script, though, while well-written, went from being Oscar-material, to a normal blockbuster script that (happily) doesn't insult your intelligence, or become stupid. But there is plenty of room to make a sequel or two because the story here is much to grand for one film.
Overall, World War Z is one of the best blockbusters of the year, with good acting, directing, and polished visuals that have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. I would have to say, this is one of Brad Pitt's best films
A Fantastic and Note-worthy Experience of Good SF
In the world of science fiction, there have been many stories that have been adapted to the point where we've just grown tired of the same old stuff, but sometimes, someone comes along and re-creates that story with great vision and excellence. Oblivion is one of these movies, offering different and unique plot points, fantastic acting, phenomenal visuals and directing that is pitch-perfect. Following an alien invasion, 60 years have passed, and Earth is now a wasteland. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a member of team 49, goes around repairing drones, which canvas the planet and eliminate the aliens still there. But when Jack is captured by a human resistance leader on Earth (Morgan Freeman), he is told that everything he knows is a lie, and that something is very, very wrong. He sides with these mysterious rebels, and begins to fight for not just love, but for his home.
Joseph Kosinski, the director and co-writer, as well as writer of the graphic novel the film is based on, creates a truly fantastically frightening world with Oblivion. His direction in many scenes is so smooth and crisp that you forget, this is only is second film. The acting is superb, with Tom Cruise being at the height of his game after doing the well-made thriller Jack Reacher, based off of Lee Child's novel. I can understand why people were upset with Morgan Freeman's short screen time, but at least he was in it. I still came to love his character because he was an important one; he made Jack see reality. Olga Kurylenko was great in her role as the mysterious woman who knows Jack from his past. The visual effects, once again, were stunning, with the post-apocalyptic Earth being truly remarkable and extremely detailed. But the aliens were a true treat in the film, being very unique and different. Now, while I see many people trying to find ways of lowering the rating for the film, like movie connections, I can say, the connections are incredibly vague and little. Those who claim this is too close to "The Matrix", it's not. Humans were enslaved, and used as batteries by machines. In Oblivion, we are nearly extinct, and aliens have come and gone. Jack Harper is a curious individual, while Neo was content with "his" reality. Malcolm Beech was a leader, but had limits, while Morpheus had zero. I could keep going, but that just takes away from the review. The music by M83 was just spectacular; a must-listen and own for anyone who appreciates musical soundtracks and scores.
Overall, Oblivion is a great addition to a constantly growing sci-fi universe that has had great additions in the past five years alone, and more to come. This is not a film for everyone, being a straight-up science fiction film, but for anyone who loves action, sci-fi or good filmmaking. Now, I do see a few award-worthy things about Oblivion, including Tom Cruise's acting, M83's musical score and the visual effects, but mainly this is just one to be seen and acknowledged for its greatness for expanding the genre, and adding a fresh and creative vision to the mix, but not a contender for Best Picture, sadly, falling just short of that, but still a better film of the year.