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Rating History

Interstellar (2014)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The earth is dying. Dusts are flying, crops are failing, technology's extinct, space travel is dead and moon landing is considered a hoax. That is the world of Interstellar, in which life on earth getting bleaker and bleaker everyday. That is also the world of Cooper (Matthew Mcconaughey), formerly a NASA test pilot and presently a farmer with a son and a daughter. After getting a mysterious message, he finds out that NASA still exists and they're looking for a new planet for humans to live in through a (somewhat) newly-discovered wormhole around Saturn. Cooper, being one of the last remaining NASA pilot, is asked and choose to get on the mission, knowingly leaving his children behind in the hopes of finding a place for future generations.

When I heard people say Nolan is not an emotive filmmaker, I didn't fully understand it until now. The thing is, in previous films, he never needed to convey human emotions. He loves high-concept ideas and twists-and-tricks because those are the things that he excels in. In Interstellar, although both tricks still exist, humanity and human emotions is front and center and it was quickly apparent that he lacked deft hands at portraying them. Interstellar tried to do a lot of things, and whether he succeeded or not depends on the viewers. Interstellar tried to combine the grandeur of space adventure and human drama in the same way it tried to combine science and metaphysics. It failed on both accounts. Nolan likes to portray things in a matter-of-fact way (that's why he succeeded so well with Batman), but for me in Interstellar it fell almost clinical and documentary-like. Which might work in a tighter movie, but it ultimately failed in a movie that wanted to place itself as a sweeping drama. While I love the bleak earth that the character inhabits (what a great worldbuilding), I think the movie suffered some beats from it. While we're at it, the movie also didn't know what to do with its notions of science and metaphysics (or love, as the movie says). Newsflash for movies: (unless if handled with the greatest care) you usually can't have the best of both worlds, because you'll end up dismissing one for the other, or you'll just look confused. ("Because love" is also an overused trope that I hate because it's an easy and unprofound way to appear profound.) For what it's worth, I'll give the movie a little break because at least it appeared like "love" is the explanation that some of the characters chose to believe in instead of making it like "this is definitely what happened". Desperate people wanting to believe in love? That I can get behind, but still it seemed jarring in a movie that spouts scientific jargons in the most matter-of-fact way.

But do I love the movie? I do. Was it a great viewing experience? It was, definitely. Don't get me wrong, Interstellar could benefit from little tweaks here and there for the reasons I mentioned above, but that does not hide the fact that Christopher Nolan's storytelling still inspires boundless awe (and few movies are perfect anyway). And the visual. The movie was shot very beautifully, especially when we see the spacehips zooming calmly and quietly in the space vista. And the exoplanets. And basically everything. But what is a Nolan movie without Hanz Zimmer score? In the case of Interstellar, half as good I'd say. The score, haunting and beautiful as it is, infuses grace and emotion that the movie's weeping for.

But in the end, the resulting outcome is more than good, and more than enough. A must see in the cinemas.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (or "Dawn" for simplicity) is that rare smart summer blockbuster, but I won't talk much about the the actual movie other than it is a great and satisfying experience and you should go see it. What I'm gonna talk about is what I think "Dawn" represents to Hollywood. It's an interesting movie, but it also brings out A LOT of interesting points about modern blockbuster landscape in general. Which is, I might say, a sign of an even better--and possibly transformative--movie.

Being both a sequel (to "Rise of the Planet of the Apes") and a prequel (to the general franchise), "Dawn" lands itself in a very weird and difficult spot. Sequels too frequently feel like a "been there done that" exercise, especially if the sequel refuses to stray away from whatever formula that succeeded in the first installment. And prequels, by definition, are predestined journeys and generally don't leave enough room for surprises. Matt Reeves smartly chose to set "Dawn" 10 years after the events of "Rise", which means: skipping the viral outbreak entirely, making the apes the main characters instead of the humans, and shying as far away from previous movie's James Franco's character as possible. In other words, a completely different movie than "Rise".

He, however, could not set "Dawn" completely free from the trappings of a prequel. We know that apes would eventually rule the world. Intelligently, we (and Reeves) knew. In fact, plotwise, "Dawn" is not much of a surprise. Some humans want peace, some want war. Some apes want peace, some want war. Several confusions, betrayals, and bad timings later, war ensues. But "Dawn" made itself not necessarily about what happens, but how it happens. It is a journey of emotions, and boy, did "Dawn" pack up some real emotions. The moment we see Caesar's son's eyes stared blankly at the person who killed his friend is the exact moment we weep. We've long reconciled with the fact that humans are hateful and unsalvageable, but now we see a brand new species pick up on that hatred and ran with it with apparent ease. It is shocking, it is jarring, and it is exactly how it should make us feel.

All of that emotion is conveyed largely by CGI and motion capture, which is an incredible feat in itself. All praises should go to Weta that worked on the effect, and also Andy Serkis and all the motion capture actors. Yep, I mentioned them as actors, which is what they should be recognized as. Say what you will about "but they're painted on with CGI!", CGI is to motion captors like a make-up to actors. Their performance as actors are what CGI used as base, and what made the characters so emotional believable. Don't try to pretend that we could create that much emotion and complexity from scratch.

Tangentially, internet listed "Dawn"'s budget as $120 mill which is not at all surprising or that big (or even downright cheap) for a summer blockbuster with heavy effects. Hmm, I'll just let that sink in for future reference. The good news is, "Dawn" is a success critics-wise and box-office-wise. It gained an impressive $70 mill in the first weekend (overperforming previous predictions and knocking out Transformers 4 from first place), which means that audience are ready for and apparently like a nontraditional, smart movie.

Why, nontraditional, you might ask? The general preconception of Hollywood blockbuster (especially for the more fantastical stories) is that general audience need a surrogate. Like Alice in Wonderland, we just need Alice as that normal character that acts as a filtering window to the strange world. That's why we have Jake Sully of Avatar, Neo of The Matrix, Bella of Twilight, heck, even Frodo of The Lord of The Rings (who is considerably more normal than wizards and elves). That's why, in almost every fantastical or alienesque world, there's always a human (or at least human-like) character. There's a human character in "Dawn", alright, but if there's any surrogate it's not Malcolm. It's Caesar. He is first character we saw, and it is through him we view and feel the ape community. Granted, he is the most human-like of them all (being the one ape who lived so long with a human. But one could argue that Koba is also human-like in a different fashion), but the preconception that audience couldn't relate with what isn't human? Gone with this movie. Also, maybe half of the movie is practically mute. Granted, there are sign languages and subtitles but Hollywood execs thought that audience hate subtitles too. Who would've thought that wild moves like these ones would pay off and audience would relate to the characters no problem? Filmmakers who don't underestimate the audience and refuse to bow down to the lowest common denominator, that's who. Hopefully future filmmakers will learn from this movie and succeed even more.

To sum up, "Dawn" is not only a good movie but also a breath of fresh air, and you can do more than well to support it.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I tried to think of a proper review that encapsulates the event that was Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I couldn't. I just thought of a few buzzwords and empty words that are in no way representative of the excitement. It was just really Marvel (I really think they've reached a point in which they become an adjective with capital M), in the best way. The fights are amazing: they've really reached a pinnacle of showing hand-to-hand combat. They nailed Steve Roger's portrayal dead on, they nailed it with the supporting cast (the addition of Anthony Mackie is a delight), and they nailed the political stuff. The movie has heart, action, and weight. Loved the production design. Loved Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier. In the end, CATWS is a good Marvel movie, a good blockbuster movie, and a good movie, period.

Assorted musing no. 1: There's a Wargames reference. I loved that out of all the things in the world Steve Rogers needed to catch up on, he'd already seen War Games.
Assorted musing no. 2: Abed cameo.
Assorted musing no. 3: For the ones who watch Agents of Shield, CATWS was a pretty exciting experience.

Godzilla (2014)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Anyone who loves Godzilla and remembers 1998's bastardized Hollywood take on it probably remembers it with dissent (while others choose to forget it). And here comes Gareth Edwards, director of indie's Monsters, wanting to do it right.

Really, it's tough to make a blockbuster Godzilla movie because he is not human--a monster, even. But as talkless as he is, he still needs to be the star. Sadly, as awesome-looking as he is in this flick, he is still relegated to the background, doing the fights for flimsy humans.

Actually, there's plenty to like in Godzilla's story. The humans, for once in a blockbuster movie, make smart and sensible decisions. It is also refreshing to have a protagonist that is not somehow the "only one that can stop this". Ford (Aaron Johnson) is just a soldier in the right place and the right time, doing his best. It actually leads to some kind of attachment problem, because the audience feel even less agency with his already thin story. The problem can be somewhat alleviated if only the lead actor is a tad more charismatic, which sadly Aaron Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen lacks. David Strathairn also plays a generic military admiral, while Ken Watanabe is sort of a non-entity exist only to give exposition on the what and why of Godzilla (although why his character believes so in Godzilla's intentions other than pure guess/wishful thinking is a mystery). I'd actually prefer if there is no exposition, and Godzilla is made to be just is like a force of nature.

The primary crime of this movie is, while the human drama is engineered to be a b-plot (and feel like one), they actually take most of the screentime. I understand Gareth Edwards' sentiment, he wanted to make Godzilla the star and humans as embelishments. The story reflects that, but time we spent on both sides feel inverted. The humans are side characters disguised as a main one and the movie suffer from it.

Godzilla is well, Godzilla. He wrecks, and he's awesome. But is he a protector? Is he an alpha predator? The movie does not bother to answer it, but it also does not have the courage to leave him simply is. As for MUTO, an interesting comparison can be made to Pacific Rim's Kaijus. Although the Kaijus are basically C-characters of Pacific Rim, its Kaijus for me feel more characterized, purely on the basis that they were given proper names (Knifehead, Leatherback, Otachi, etc. instead of generic MUTO 1 & 2). Godzilla's MUTO is also stripped down to its most animalistic quality and that is, while invitingly simple, is not whollly interesting.

In summary, Godzilla is not bad, but rather a lackluster flick filled with good intention.

Like Someone in Love
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Like Someone in Love follows the story of Akiko, a cute, seemingly innocent student who doubles as a call girl.

The directing seemed deliberately opaque: a lot of times we just heard voices from outside the frame, other times we saw a fight happening from afar. It made an apt metaphor, really, because likewise we'd never know the whole story of Akiko's life. Yes, her current client, the elderly Takashi, just wanted someone to talk to but who knows what other kinds of work Akiko had to do for her other clients? What kind of lies she had to tell to her boyfriend and her grandmother? Who knows what happened in the end after the glass shattered? Basically, this movie is the quite side of Akiko's life--a calm eye inside a storm, if you will. Unfortunately, sometimes the directing feels a little bit cold-handed for my taste (although an early scene in the car is one of the most heartwrenching scene I've ever seen). Kiarostami told the story with such a quite and distant voice that sometimes it feels like seeing things behind a veil. He seemed to be fond of stretching our heartbeats, and it worked unnervingly well for some scenes and was frustrating on some others.