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The Martian

There is nothing more crippling than loneliness. It’s one thing in the existential sense, but imagine being the only person on an entire planet – a planet that doesn’t even want you there. After believed to be dead and abandoned on a desolate planet, Mark Watney (Matt Damon), is forced to survive by any means necessary, namely by “sciencing the shit out of it.”

Pictured: Science

Pictured: Science

Speaking of which, I know that this film has been debated in terms of scientific accuracy – often when compared to Gravity and Interstellar (though I think the latter is solely based on rescuing Matt Damon…in space) – but I really don’t know much about that. Granted, there is a lot of technobabble, but somehow it’s not overwhelmingly boring in any way – in fact, most of the film is overshadowed with more humor than doubt.

What makes The Martian unique amongst other survival films, is the odd beauty that even in absolute loneliness, you are never truly alone. Throughout Watney’s ordeal, his friends and crew never stopped thinking about him. Sure, sure Watney didn’t know, but I guess I’m feeling sentimental. Also, against all odds, he never gave up – especially when that was the easiest choice. It’s also important that there’s no real “bad guy” in this movie – it’s all just rotten luck and circumstance.

In all I found The Martian to be a truly memorable experience. It was absolutely harrowing without being overtly terrifying – the use of humor keep the whole ordeal grounded, and more importantly, human.

Final Grade: A 

I really need to read more books.

I really need to read more books.

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Netfix: Escape from Tomorrow

Escape_From_Tomorrow_poster

I wish the movie was as good as this poster, tell you hwat.

When news broke of this cinematic venture, it was hard not to be curious – a whole film secretly shot in Disneyland? A sci-fi horror film? This had my creepypasta meeter just spinning. After much controversy, this little number finally made it’s way onto Netflix. So how’d it fare? Hush now, synopsis first.

On the last day of the White family’s Disney vacation, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) is told that he’s been fired. Despite this news, he does his best to keep a happy face for his family. Little did he know that this day would get much, much weirder: what began as a wholesome family trip became a torrent of sex, lies and possessed animatronics. The White family’s facade comes tumbling down in a venture that is not only the end of innocence, but the dissolution of sanity.

This was a movie was really just a hot mess of ideas: sci-fi, infidelity, loss of innocence – it all sounds good on paper, especially with a background as wholesome as Disney World. Personally, I love this kind of stuff. And there’s a definite appeal of something that’s gone through this amount of red tape and altercation.

I think that what first put me off was how incredibly unlikeable the protagonist was. Granted there are two sides to every relationship (and the portrayal of the wife really wasn’t helping), but the way he was ogling the jailbait (and every other woman) to the point of neglecting his children really wasn’t making me care if this man lives or dies by whatever horrible means.

Though this does happen, which is pretty cool.

Though this does happen, which is pretty cool. More of this.

The ending was also, er, problematic. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it, but it left something to be desired. Or maybe the last bit just went over my head.

The Good
As mentioned, I love the idea of Disney world as a horror backdrop, especially because they didn’t take the zombie route. Not to mention the concept of false memories crossed with temptation – it’s perfect! The sci-fi tangent was without a doubt my favorite. Really, I kind of wish the movie was more like it’s inspiration.

The Bad
Though I was left with a lingering unease (good thing), that does not help the incoherent cluster that we’re left with. Maybe if they only stuck with the science fiction and developed that more, the story would flow a little easier. Or if they did a Pleasure Island route, that would be pretty cool too. But that’s just, like my opinion, or whatever.

The Impressive
Maybe I’m just whining too much. Escape from Tomorrow definitely sticks with you, and there’s a certain charm to the guerrilla aesthetic. In the end, it comes off as a moderately-budgeted student film, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If anything, I say it’s worth checking out.

Chappie

From my first glance at the trailer, I was skeptical.

Here we have an aggressive government entity, a gentle scientist, and a wacky gentile robot who is threatening national security – because robots can’t LEARN, they can’t be SENTIENT, what is this MADNESS!? IT’S TOO DIFFERENT – KILL IT, KILL IT DEAD. And then we learn everything we’ve heard before about nature vs. nurture and BOOM you’ve got yourself a remake of Short Circuit starring my favorite zef hoodlums, Die Antwoord, as well as Dev Patel trying to shake off The Last Airbender, and Hugh Jackman’s rage-inducing mullet.

Well gee, it’s a good thing that I don’t religiously follow trailers, or else I’d be incredibly disappointed pretty much all the time. And it turns out, I wasn’t totally right. Let’s first straighten out that synopsis:

That hair really is sin incarnate.

That hair really is sin incarnate. And his khaki shorts. Pure evil.

Due to a correlating rise of crime and police mortality rate in Johannesburg, the South African government has decided to invest in a weapons corporation called Tetravaal, fronted by CEO Michelle Bradley (yay Sigourney Weaver!).

Tetravaal’s key contribution to the police force are semi-AI “scouts,” developed by Deon Wilson (Patel). Wilson has aspirations of greater uses for technology, in his spare time developing an AI that can learn and create – you know, no big deal.

After some gangland shenanigans, Chappie (impressively played by Sharlto Copely) is born. Chappie must be taught as a child would, and thanks to his gangster parents, Yolandi and Ninja, he learns quickly the good and evils of the world, while establishing his own consciousness and existence.

Meanwhile, Wilson’s über-machismo co-worker Vincent Moore (Jackman) is becoming increasingly obsessed with getting his war machine off the ground, vexed by Wilson’s success.

MOOSE really just looks like a tiny Metal Gear Rex.

The MOOSE really just looks like a tiny Metal Gear Rex.

As mentioned, I was concerned that this was going to be another one of Blomkamp’s “big mean government” deals – and I wasn’t entirely wrong, but it didn’t rub me the wrong way like Elysium did – and even Neill Blomkamp admits he messed up with that oneChappie is really more akin to District 9: It begins with a documentary style, it’s set in Johannesburg, has Sharlto Copley as a vulnerable creature, and even ends in a slum. It’s like if you took District 9Short Circuit, and Die Antwoord and tossed everything into a blender.

Speaking of our duo, I think they did alright – I mean, it’s not the first time they’ve acted. And really, they were kind of what I expected, considering that Blomkamp made a point to use their personas as a springboard. Though I would have rather seen Yolandi a bit more of a badass: after Chappie arrives, she just seemed to either coddle or lay around, smoking and waiting. Huh. Maybe I should call my mom.

I do love her pink uzi though.

I do love her pink uzi though.

On the note of characterizations, I’m amazed that Moore wasn’t written as an American (or maybe he originally was?). Here we have a man who brandishes a handgun in an office while telling coworkers to join him at church, and builds a robot that is just dripping with excess – do you really need a claw that can tear a human body in half? Okay, maybe that doubles as a jaws of life – but the cluster bombs?

Maybe making him an American would seem too obvious – like if a Hispanic man would have been cast as the lead in Elysium. Okay, I’ll quit ragging on Elysium. On the other hand, I’m not that familiar with other countries’ conservative stereotypes, so maybe keeping Moore an Australian makes sense?

AUUUUGH I WANT ONE

AUUUUGH I WANT ONE

Even though Chappie felt a bit like a re-hashed District 9 at times, I think Sharlto Copley’s performance really brings some much-needed heart into this story. Granted, he was designed with curious eyes and ears to better recognize as some sort of relatable creature (Red Letter Media talks about this sort of thing in Plinkett’s fantastic Avatar review), but the physical and vocal performance really shines through.

UH OH SPOILERS

Though technobabble was kept to a minimum (though now I know anything can be accomplished with a suped-up Roomba and enough Redbull), I still find myself wanting to know more about the construct of consciousness as data. I mean, does it get saved like a save state in that moment, like all the memories? Like in Yolandi’s case, that was a while until she was booted up again. …How would her robot walk out of the Tetravaal plant anyway? Also, wasn’t that the plot to Transcendence? (I still haven’t seen it.)

And was it established as to whether or not Chappie feels pain? I figured he didn’t (because that would have to be learned somehow), but the sniveling theatre-goers aside me seemed to believe otherwise. And if consciousness is stored, is it like you’re dreaming? Can it get infected with malware? What happens if it gets deleted? How much memory does a person take up? Maybe that would make the better movie. Or maybe I should just watch Transcendence to make sure this wasn’t already answered, but I doubt it.

YOU CAN COME BACK NOW

On the whole, I really dug this movie. It was heavy when it needed to be, but still kept things playful. In retrospect, I think that Neill Blomkamp is better at writing characters (and general scenarios) than actual stories, because it did feel more pieced together and predictable than it should have, especially given the amount of material one could work with. A tad misguided, yes, but I think Copley’s gentle take on an overused trope is worth the watch.

Final Grade: B

Her

The future is a strange, mysterious place, where letters are artificially hand-written and men wear high-waisted pants. In this version of tomorrow, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a introverted-sweetheart-writer-soon-to-be-divorcee with a penchant for video games and nighttime sexychats. After buying himself an AI-based OS who calls herself “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), Theodore becomes fascinated with her love of discovery, and through her finds the means to enjoy life again. Sorry, but there are some spoilers.

Sad face

First I was all –

Originally I was thrown off by the OS-angle, only because I felt it’s been done so many times before. We as people are absolutely obsessed with technology, and this is not the first, last or only time this commentary has been made. In fact, there’s a whole genre of anime that is based on the concept of an other-worldly women changing the lives of their men, while simultaneously criticizing technological reliance.

Additionally, I found Samantha’s adaptive ability to be a little ridiculous – for instance, how does she understand humor so quickly? Or how does she experience the equivalent to a female orgasm? Not that she says that’s what was going on there, but how did she know to replicate that kind of sensation, audibly? (Great call blacking out the screen on that one – very immersive.) How does she “feel” exactly? Does she just pull from a massive database of reaction videos, or is the concept of feeling programmed? Why not make a movie on programming subjective behavior – I think that would be a more fascinating analysis.

Sorry about the digression. I need to stop myself from picking at these technical things – I realize that really these nuances don’t really matter in the context of the story (until it has to be an inevitable plot point or two), so I’ll get on to the heart of the matter – the complexity of human relationships and emotion, as well as the cruciality of communication.

But then I was all -

But then I was like –

Despite my gripes of technological fabrication, I really to have to commend Spike Jonze’s ability to blend the lines between artificiality and organicism. For instance, the opening piece of music blends from electric distortion to recognizable acoustics. More so, whenever we hear Samantha or any other OS speak to Theodore, there is no distinct separation between voices, which is to say that that the artificial voices are closer to viewers than the humans’ – it’s as if we are in Theodore’s mind with Samantha. Suddenly in a world where people are just perverse, characteristic shells, we get a glimpse that there still is a soul in there.

By allowing us a taste of such closeness, we are granted a look at the fact that people are flawed and are forever trying to figure themselves out. We turn away when we are most hurt, we desire connections but fear the intimacy of a conversation. Fortunately Theodore isn’t the only human in this film with these problems. With the help of a mediator, Theodore finds that he can be comfortable with another “being” again, and more importantly, with himself.

I know I didn't talk about them much, but Adams and Phoenix once again work  wonderfully together.

I know I didn’t talk about them much, but Adams and Phoenix once again work wonderfully together.

I think it’s fair to say that Her is one of those movies that I like more and more as I think about it. I’m still not sure where I stand when it came to the self-aware AI character, more so Theodore’s expectations of her. Is it weird that I found his possessiveness creepy? I mean, he does technically own her after all – did that conversation ever come up? Isn’t Samantha really just a hired therapist/personal assistant/sexbuddy? Sorry, sorry, I’m thinking too much about this again.

Technobabble aside, this film does a great job externalizing otherwise internal emotions… which Jonze unfortunately beats to death with his use of shapes and color schemes, but beautifully juxtaposed through Phoenix’s and Amy Adam’s performances. Though I harp on about the questionability of the technology in this film, I still find solace within the portrayal of the message that we’re all in this together. There may be ups or downs, but there’s always a forward.

Final Grade: B+