Thursday, March 31, 2016

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Sword Of Destiny

IMDB Link

Director: Woo-Ping Yuen

Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Harry Shum Jr., Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jason Scott Lee, Eugenia Yuan, Roger Yuan, Juju Chan, Chris Pang, Woon Young Park, Darryl Quon, Veronica Ngo.

Plot Summary: A martial arts master reunites with her lost love and a group of warriors of virtue to stop a warlord bent on acquiring a sword that will give him the power to rule all the lands.

This movie takes place in ancient China and mixes early martial arts mysticism with a plot centered around the protection of a powerful sword and her sworn duty. Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as Yu Shu Lien, master of the Iron way. When the sword comes under threat a group assembles to help her protect it.

Michelle remains true to her character from the first movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The two movies bear little resemblance in art direction and this second trip around benefits from a beautiful palette and equally great camera work. The martial arts choreography is top notch and Michelle (a martial arts master herself who has worked alongside Jackie Chan keeping his pace in acrobatic stunts) is in top form. Donnie Yen as Meng Sizhao is equally so and their chemistry is great as the aged masters who oversee a group of younger martial artists and students.

The warriors who show up to help them too are a fun bunch providing some of the comic relief and lightening up the serious tenure just enough so as not to lose the investment in tension set up by the leading roles. Jason Scott Lee shows up as the merciless Hades Dai. It felt odd watching him in such a role but he plays the part perfectly.

The plot arc carries the film on a collision course while visiting the each of the cast for their part in the sub plots, which include a student who falls for the wiles of a prisoner and the romantic tension rekindled by Yeoh and Yen. If you're a fan of martial arts films then you're in for a treat. Even if you aren't, you'll surely love this one as it lures you into the plot and building conflict.

Great movie. Two thumbs up!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Gravity

IMDB Link

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Orto Ignaiussen, Phaldut Sharma, Amy Warren, Basher Savage

Plot Summary: During an EVA exercise (Extra Vehicular Activity) a pair of astronauts are stranded in orbit around the Earth when catastrophe strikes.

I'd heard about this movie and it's reviews during its theatrical run. I'd noted that it was one of the movies I'd want to see. After all it has Sandra Bullock. One of the inspirations for the character Mila in my book A Lady's Prerogative via the movie Practical Magic which I only saw after I'd written A Lady's Prerogative. Natually I've always had a great admiration for Sandra and Gravity is another of her many defining roles and underlines the strength and perseverance of not only Women, but people as a whole. That said she is a credit to us all and especially so in Gravity.

Upon watching this movie you may have an understanding of the kind of risks that astronauts have faced every single day of their missions since the start of every space program around the globe. There are no borders in space and none to be scene (pun intended) there from upon the face of the Earth. Gravity is an incredible allegory at its core and is more about the endeavor to survive even in the worst of situations and the situation in which Ryan (Bullock's character) finds herself is beyond our worst imaginings. Sandra plays this role with incredible tenacity. Her performance takes us to the very core of our mortality and her direct confrontation with her own within the dire circumstances depicted.

George Clooney is there as the anchor of safety. The point to which we tether ourselves when everything is awry. His performance too is brilliant and charismatic and thanks to the directors insight, Clooney is used to stabilize the situation before the carpet is pulled from under your feet at which point you can only see the hundred and twenty eight miles beneath your feet as you roll in orbit above the Earth.

The writer and director of this movie were in sync and plays us like a fine instrument through the director of photography's depiction of catastrophe with incredible but believable effects. You might feel as if you're watching footage from the archives of NASA, the ESA (European Space Agency) and the CNSA (Chinese National Space Administration). In space there are no borders and this movie reminds us of that wonderfully. I expect that anyone who watches this movie might never again complain of Chinese manufacturing for when we endeavor to achieve great heights together despite our culture of origin and the borders there defined, we are as one. In this sense it is Bullock who carries the flag for astronauts and who in turn in real life carry the flags for us all. This movie is a grim reminder of the fragility of our endeavors in space and the risks the astronauts face each and every day.

Beyond comprehension! Two thumbs up!

Brian Joseph Johns

Ex Machina

IMDB Link

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Corey Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Clair Selby, Symara A. Templeman, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani, Elina Alminas

Plot Summary: A computer programmer wins a contest whose reward is a stay with Jay, the rich, eccentric and rigid innovator of an internet search engine company. The programmer soon learns that he is the human component of a Turing test, to measure the validity of an artifically intelligent Woman who is a product of the contest holder.

As a coder and programmer and writer myself, this movie caught my eye since its release however it was far removed from my expectations and in the end once again left me astounded. It tells the story of a Caleb, a company programmer who wins a contest in which he is selected to take part in evaluating the AI of an artificial Woman, created by the wealthy company owner. Caleb is played with subtle demeanor and modest acumen against the overbearing and imposing persona of Jay. Between them are two Women, Kyoko who is the multirole hired help to Jay and Ava who is the artificially constructed Woman Jay has designed. Caleb's and Jay's relationship slowly transforms from one which finds Caleb in complete awe of his inspiration to one of distrust and deceit. Watching this movie was an incredible experience and it definitely denotes one of the more tech savvy offerings offered in film. More over, it hits right on target the real life questions concerning the concept of artificially intelligent beings, their rights as conscious beings and the concept of when a thing becomes a being.

Upon watching this movie I continually had to keep reminding myself that Stanley Kubrick was not alive to direct it, despite the fact the director and crew brought the feel of Stanley's best work. It is apparent that the director and performers did this as a nod to the accomplished director though they carried it to a level beyond that which Kubrick himself might have been capable. Naturally most will associate with Caleb but as the movie plays out, you may find yourself questioning who is actually right and more importantly, what is right in such a situation and how it relates to the rights and survival of ourselves versus our creations.

The performances are all top notch and I never found myself guessing what would come next because the movie is woven together into a narrative masterpiece thanks to its honesty with regard to human nature and the likelihood of our application of that concept of our own nature that we'd embody in our creations. Almost as if through our anthropomorphic aspirations we step far beyond what we create. This movie should be required watching for computer science students and especially those involved in artificial intelligence research. When our creations are conscious, are they really ours or their own? What responsibility and morale framework is their in place that we must uphold for the rights of such beings? Surely their must be some as there are for our organic offspring and our observation of this idea may in the future be the key to human survival.

Incredible movie. Two thumbs up!

Brian Joseph Johns



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

IMDB Link

Director: Bryan Singer

Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Omar Sy, Evan Peters

Plot summary: Charles Xavier's X-Men work together to overcome what could be the end of civilization and the extinction of both mutants and humans.

Marking the fifth time the X-Men have returned to the silver screen (not including X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine) and combining both the original cast with the new cast, this outing is the bridge between the generations and it is a great movie. For Bryan Singer this movie is a return to form from the likes of the first two outings.

It involves time travel to avert the destruction of humanity much like the Terminator film franchise, however the mutants have a chance to save the world. It involves sending one of the original X-Men back in time to prevent certain events from occurring that eventually lead to our extinction.

Hugh Jackman is in form as Wolverine and plays wonderfully with the new cast. James McAvoy is charismatic as Charles Xavier of the past. Together with Hank McCoy (Beast) and Quick Silver they aspire to reunite with Magneto to prevent the impending doom of all. Jennifer Lawrence has proven that she is the perfect heir for the role of Mystique which was defined by the incredible performance set out by Rebecca Romjin Stamos in the first three movies yet Jennifer has managed to add to it.

One of the great roles in this movie however short is that of Quick Silver. Evan Peters makes the character a center piece and scene stealer during their first meeting and a daring rescue operation. Michael Fassbender as Magneto is the counterpoint to McAvoy's Xavier with the two friends in a love and hate relationship from their first meeting. Ellen Page returns as Kitty Pryde for the few scenes of which she's part she does a wonderful job.

All in all this movie was a shock in the fact that I was expecting a formulaic cookie cutter superhero flick however what I got completely caught me off guard. 

Great movie! Two thumbs up.

Brian Joseph Johns