My first impression of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil questioned how much of the magical side of the river was animated. I wondered where did the performers end and the CGI teams jump in? At first, I felt that the movie used too much green screen.
However, there weren’t seams where a character didn’t mesh with their surroundings. They were all successfully placed in the fantasy world of the story. I needed to get over wondering “how?” so that I could enjoy the spectacle.
As I started to write this review, I realized that the synthesis was successful. I never thought of the fairies and the others in the magical world as actors and actresses. The seamlessness extended beyond perfectly aligned lighting. The movie made the Fey characters seem real.
Early in the film, there was some creative use of the camera. It flew playfully through the enchanted moor. All of the Fey characters were bouncy and energetic and full of life. The humans were plodding drudges in comparison. As the film progressed, the playfulness was lost. However, that matched the increasing danger of the climactic battle.
The castle was a weak spot to the illusion. The practical effects of the ramparts being crushed were incompatible with the magic of the continuing battle. It was jarring. The lacy castle seemed rooted in mangled physics rather than magic and imagination like the land across the river.
I was grateful that the film corrected my pronunciation of Maleficent. It is one of those words where changes at the end of a word affect how you say the beginning. I was thinking that the word started “MAL-e-.” That makes the rest of the word awkward and I wanted to add an extra vowel. However, the stress is on the second syllable “ma-LE-fi-cent” so that the name ends up easy to say.
In the credits, I noticed at least a dozen people labeled as apprentice or trainee. I liked that. That helps add to the talent pool of professionals who can present a story as magical and energetic as Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
In Gemini Man, we meet a 50-year-old assassin who is retiring. Henry Brogan (Will Smith) starts the movie carrying out an astounding assassination on a train. After his retirement, strike teams attack him to “tie up loose ends.” The Gemini company attempts to kill Brogan, but he foils their plans. Brogan has an almost mystical level of vigilance that lets him escape. His gun acts with unbelievable precision. Without Brogan’s perfection as an assassin, the secret agencies would have been able to kill him.
On a fantasy/realism scale, Gemini Man takes a different turn than many movies. Commonly, a film tries to have realistic people who have physical fights that don’t injure the film’s heroes. In contrast, Gemini Man has heroes rooted in fantasy, possessing amazing skills and sketchbook characters. This film aspires to realism by showing real injuries after its knock-down fights. Smith and his allies undergo sutures and clean their wounds after the fights.
After the strike team fails, a mysterious figure comes to kill Brogan. That man is quickly revealed to be a clone of Brogan, 25 years younger. After their initial gunfight and chase, Brogan learns that the attacker is genetically identical to himself. Gemini had created the clone, Junior, to build a perfect soldier.
Gemini Man has successfully simulated a younger Will Smith with computer modeling. Junior is indistinguishable from a 25 years younger Will Smith. It’s commonplace to make an actor look older, but Gemini Man’s filmmakers worked hard at renewing the youth that Smith once had.
One conceit in the movie is that the genetic duplication of the character leads to identical struggles, weaknesses and attitudes. It works ok for making the plot flow, but it is another way the film is filled with caricatures.
Gemini Man was an average quality action movie. I went mainly to see the cloned Will Smith. It was an entertaining movie and left me with a positive feeling as I was leaving the cinema.
In Passengers, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) has an impossible problem. He’s on a 120-year trip to colonize the planet Homestead II. He’s supposed to be in suspended animation for the trip but wakes up 90 years too early. Not good. He can’t be suspended again. Even less good.
He searches for help but finds none. He spends over a year solo on the Avalon. He tries to keep himself occupied, but eventually reaches his limit. He falls in love with a suspended woman and wakes her up, condemning her to never start the life she had planned.
After traveling for 30 years, the Avalon is moving at half the speed of light. It has a shield in front of it, but it isn’t impenetrable. Unbeknownst to Preston, the ship was critically damaged before he wakes up. It’s up to Preston and his victim, Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), to fix it.
The Avalon is really beautiful. Graceful, delicate and vast. It is a good backdrop to this lonely love story.
In the year 2092, we meet Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto). He is the last mortal left after humans have been engineered to be immortal. He is dying and the doctors have put him in a reality show to learn his story. Although they are demanding a source of entertainment, he playfully compromises their understanding of history.
As a child, Nemo (Thomas Byrne) smiles at three girls sitting on a bench waiting for school. He is averse to making decisions and these girls fill three different stories as Nemo and the three of them mature. He develops parallel biographies as he gets married to each of them. Visually, they leave the church through different doors. Nemo’s lives go awry and we get lost within his tangled path through time.
In one life, he is passionately in love with a woman he cannot find. In another, he has a devoted wife that he doesn’t care about. In the third life, he has a wife who is desperately depressed and never available to receive his love. These lives start to fracture and crack when Nemo (Toby Regbo) is a teenager.
Nemo’s world is beautiful as he narrates the different lives. Mr. Nobody is happy to show the viewer a kaleidoscope of love and tragedy. The future interviewer of Nemo tries hypnosis to bring back Nemo’s real story, but each time the hypnotist says “remember,” the kaleidoscope shifts and the story changes. The cinematography uses colors to anchor the story to different paths through time.
For the proponents of linear time, Mr. Nobody is infuriating. Time loops and swerves as if it were a leaf in the breeze. The story unfolds as a labyrinth with stories inside of stories.
Perhaps there is no truth and the 118 year old man is playing the audience. Perhaps he revealed nothing important. He is the topic of a reality show that morbidly votes that he should be allowed to die. Mr. Nobody’s story leaves the observer puzzled and he ends up laughing at us all.
Last week I went with my parents to watch Abominable. It’s an animated film about a Yeti that is trying to get home to Mount Everest from a city in China. It’s a nice story and fun to watch.
I had one scene that sticks with me. After escaping the villains in an extraordinary way, Yi (Chloe Bennet) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) wander into a bamboo forest. They have a deep conversation about grief and superficiality. It helps strengthen their relationships by sharing an intimate moment.
The imagery of that scene stood out to me. The calming shadows of the bamboo and the clean landscape around Yi and Jin was hopeful. It produced a classic image that centers the film in a reality beyond the animated excitement that occurs before and after.
I really enjoyed the film. It was a simple story but not simplistic. The characters were fun as they went on a cool adventure. Yi has postcards from her father who had died shortly before the story began. The postcards have a special meaning through the story. We don’t learn much about the father, but Yi loves him and was inspired by her father’s violin lullabies.
The traffic light is green for Go!
The Goldfinch is a film inspired by the Pulitzer Prize winning novel with the same title by Donna Tartt. The title refers to a painting by Carel Fabritius, a Dutch painter from the 17th century. The painting has an unusual history because it is one of the few paintings by that artist that survived an explosion in the Dutch city of Delft. Fabritius, who was a talented student of Rembrandt, was killed by that blast.
Flash forward to modern times and the painting is witness to another explosion and more deaths. Theo Decker’s mother is killed during a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City after admiring The Goldfinch. Theo is shell-shocked by the loss and steals the painting in the chaotic aftermath of the explosion.
Oakes Fegley plays the young Theo and the adult is played by Ansel Elgort. The actors showed clearly how Theo carried the pain of his mother’s death. Theo blames himself for her loss. Theo is quiet and introverted with thoughts that are full of regret. He comments that he is wearing a disguise that also might disguises himself from himself. As an adult, Theo’s disguise shows him impeccably dressed and always stoic and hard to read.
In Theo’s journey, he meets Boris who is a wild and anti-social boy that was a neighbor of Theo’s father. Boris is played by Finn Wolfhard as a youth and Aneurin Barnard as an adult. Theo’s loneliness and regret force him to find ways to escape. Boris’s wild irreverence and worldly-wise nature help him find that release. Alcohol plays a key role in the life of the adults around Theo’s life and Boris introduces him to pain killers and other drugs.
The film has a pattern of switching from young Theo to older Theo and back. The transitions are never confusing and help give the film some artistic merit. Theo reports that he is sad for being the cause of so much loss. He feels guilty and ashamed for the things he did. After failing to right those wrongs, he attempts suicide.
The tragedy of Theo’s life begins with his mother’s death in the explosion. While the stolen painting is a talisman against his loss, he doesn’t realize the irony of the Goldfinch’s prior experience with catastrophe. He suffers because he doesn’t ask for help to resolve his dilemma. However, he has had to be self-reliant because all of his important relationships blow up. Boris rejoins Theo as an adult and helps repatriate the painting to the world so that Theo has the possibility of being freed of its power.
Ad Astra, (To the Stars), is a space epic that often features Brad Pitt’s face. Unfortunately, he isn’t asked to smile much.
Two ongoing motifs are remarks about the exceptionally low heart rate of Pitt’s character and agency-required monologue psychological evaluations. Roy McBride’s remarks are used as a cue to the audience into his mental state. After all, there is little dialog to allow his character to be built up more naturally. No other character is important enough for that.
Central to the story is a classified “Lima” project. Despite the secrecy surrounding it, many people that McBride meets have more information for him. The project was led by Roy McBride’s missing father, the hero H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones. This connection provides an evolving emotional impetus for the story.
Ad Astra has a dystopian projection of how terrestrial nations deal with the resources of space. On the moon, each nation has staked out a claim that leaves a dangerous no-mans-land between their territories. Space travel has become a commercial venture, but SpaceCom seems to consider it secondary to their secret intrigues.
Since it’s a Hollywood movie, I didn’t expect the science to be very hard or precise, so I was willing to suspend disbelief for a lot. Yet, one horribly weak plot point struck me. Landing on the near side of the moon and driving to a base on the far side is hard to defend. However, the situation gave some action to a story that is heavy on cerebral pursuits. (See the psychological evaluations.)
The story is straightforward to describe. It’s hard to say much about the story without dropping spoilers. With a few nodes of action with slower stretches between them, the story would need expansion to make a novel.
I’m glad I saw the film on IMAX so that I could feast my eyes on the beautiful set development. I really appreciated the sonic environment that the movie possesses as well.