Tag: Sci-fi

Snowpiercer review

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson

Cast: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, Tilda Swinton, Jaime Bell, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Go Ah-sung

Released: August 1, 2013

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Holy crap this movie is great! Why doesn’t this get more attention? Why didn’t this get a wide theatrical release? It’s awesome!

As you could probably tell, I think Snowpiercer is good. Actually I think it’s freaking brilliant. Snowpiercer is a Korean film directed by the same man who did last year’s Netflix film Okja. It takes place during an apocalyptic ice age that has rendered the Earth uninhabitable, like Metro 2033. The only place where people can live is on a massive, self-sustaining train called the “Snowpiercer”. The train is divided by class, where the rich live at the front in luxury, and the poor live at the back in squalor. One day, they’ve had enough and Chris Evans’s character decides to lead a revolution to take the front of the train by force and hopefully lead to better conditions and more fair treatment for the poorest passengers.

Snowpiercer is a movie that unlike other, lesser movies, has intentions beyond being a brainless action movie. This is a movie that has something to say about society, class inequality and struggle, violent revolution, and how delicate our eco system is. The whole train can be seen as a metaphor for the world we live in. The pacing of the plot is near flawless, with no act going on for too short or too long, and each character getting the proper amount of screen time they deserve so the audience can learn about them and their motives. There are twists, horrifying revelations, emotional gut punches, and an ending that will leave your jaw on the floor. With that, and some seamless and interesting worldbuilding, this isn’t your usual Hollywood action film, this is one that is more concerned with getting you to think instead of just entertaining you for 90 minutes then moving on. The characters are also all interesting and complex. Curtis Everett seems like your standard, idealistic revolutionary leader at first, but as the movie goes on we see darker dimensions to his character that reach downright chilling levels. Even the villains have their own complexity and understandable reasons for their actions, to the extent that by the end even I saw where they were coming from.

That isn’t to say Snowpiercer as an action movie fails, in fact it excels in this category. While the beginning had more shaky cam than I expected or wanted, it only last for a moment and the rest of the action is tightly choreographed and directed. Taking place on a confined, claustrophobic train, the violence is brutal, bloody, and unforgiving. Screw your PG-13, pull your punches action movies, this is R-rated, close quarters combat that does not shy away from showing how short and blunt violence can be. The standout action sequence is one that happens in a tunnel. I have no intention of spoiling it. Watch the movie, because it’s one of the most tense, nail-biting sequences filmed in years.

On technical merits Snowpiercer also gets high marks. The film’s cinematography makes you feel like you are in this claustrophobic environment, with each section of the train feeling like a lived in, authentic place. If there was CGI involved in anything, I could barely tell if it all, except for the outside environments. The cast all do a great job as well. Chris Evans completely disappears into his role, and Tilda Swinton is practically unrecognizable as one of the most repugnant film characters I can remember seeing recently. John Hurt and Ed Harris do a great job as well as among the most interesting and spoilery characters of the movie.

It’s a struggle to come up with any real faults that Snowpiercer has. It’s not entirely a smooth watch however. One of the characters is a teenage drug addict with psychic powers that totally felt out of place in the otherwise mostly believable world of the movie, to the extent that she sort of took me out of the experience. That and…well I can’t say I remember the music that much. That’s really it though, but they still do hold this movie back from getting my first ever 10/10 rating by an inch. This is a movie that deserves more attention and I think will be remembered one day as a classic.

Score: 9/10

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The End of Evangelion review

Director: Hideaki Anno

Writer: Hideaki Anno

Studio: Production I.G.

Released: July 19, 1997

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Warning: spoilers for Neon Genesis Evangelion since this movie is the finale meant to finish the original series

While I think they’re pretty good, the final episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion left many people feeling cold and disappointed. So many questions and plot threads were left unresolved, and the fanbase was demanding a proper finale. The movie The End of Evangelion was intended to be the definitive finale to the series, a “final draft” if you will of the concepts and events introduced in the last two episodes, and boy it did not disappoint.

The End of Evangelion begins with the immediate psychological aftermath of Shinji killing Kaworu. He’s in a predictably awful state, and its implied he tried to commit suicide via drowning but failed. He then follows this up by accidently exposing a comatose Asuka’s breasts and…does something absolutely despicable (watch the movie). That is the state of our “hero” throughout the majority of the movie: a self-loathing, wallowing in self-pity, selfish and despairing wreck who cares barely about himself and even less for the people around him. It gets better: the shadow organization SEELE decides to make their move and begin the apocalyptic event of Third Impact that will assimilate all of humanity into one consciousness, consent be damned. What follows are a series of events that bring our characters to their lowest, to self-realization, death, and not even necessarily in that order. Have fun!

In all seriousness, The End of Evangelion is phenomenal. Both as a finale to the original series, and as a movie in its own right. Having the budget and resources of a movie elevates the animation to new heights that still looks great to this day. Those awesome fight scenes in the original? They’ve got nothing on the mecha battle that happens in the first half of the film, which is easily one of the best animated fight scenes of all time, with an outcome that will leave your jaw on the floor. And the visual delights don’t end there, because The End of Evangelion boasts some of the most creative and memorable visuals not just in the series but in anime and cinema in general. Love or hate the plot and characters, but you can’t deny the imagination and creativity on display here.
Speaking of plot and characters, it wouldn’t be Evangelion without an…interesting resolution to the series. It’s not as confusing as the original series’ was, and it leaves off on an overall satisfying ending, but it will still leave you scratching your head as to exactly what happened. Shinji once again is confronted by the inner depths of his subconscious and must finally come to terms with his character flaws, stop running away from people in order to avoid getting hurt, and is given a choice regarding the fate of the entire human race.

One gripe I had with the original was barring a few exceptions, I didn’t think its music was anything special. Well this movie totally fixes that! The music for The End of Evangelion is nothing short of fantastic, and is without a doubt one of the best in anime history. Komm Susser Tod (Come Sweet Death), Hajimari He No Touhi (Escape to the Beginning), and Yume no Sukima (Opening of a Dream) are my three favorite musical scores of the entire movie. The first playing during the most surreal, horrifying, and memorable part of the movie that viewers will never forget, the second featuring the most epic chanting ever, and the third being one of the most melancholic piano pieces I’ve ever heard.

The two flaws of The End of Evangelion are that it cannot be viewed without watching the original series. If you do, you will be hopelessly lost. Now I can give it a bit of a pass because it was never meant to be viewed as a standalone work, but it still was released as a full length feature film that requires knowledge of the original’s characters and plot. Lastly, regarding the ending, while I love it and think it gives great closure for the original, did leave me confused on one aspect of it. It’s on one hand arguably a plot hole, but to this day provokes discussion and debate. I have mixed feelings about it overall. Other than those two things however, I have no major issues with it.

The End of Evangelion is the grand finale that the original series deserved. It’s thought provoking, daring, and beautiful. While it fails as a standalone movie, it never was meant to be one, and serves to elevate the original Neon Genesis Evangelion. If you did not like the original, this will not change your mind. If you did however, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.

Score: 9/10

Neon Genesis Evangelion review

Director: Hideaki Anno

Writer: Hideaki Anno

Studio: Gainax

Episodes: 26

Aired: October 4, 1995-March 27, 1996

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I’ve had Neon Genesis Evangelion on my watch list for a long time, and it’s about damn time that I decided to check it off my list. It’s one of the most debated anime of all time, some calling it a masterpiece, others calling it overrated, pretentious tripe. My opinion? It’s a classic that deserves just about all the praise it gets.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is the confusing, surreal mecha deconstruction anime from the mind of Hideaki Anno and the talent at Studio Gainax. Set in Tokyo years after an apocalyptic event known as Second Impact changed the face of world, three young teenagers named Shinji Ikari, Asuka Langley Soryu, and Rei Ayanami are chosen to pilot giant synthetic mechs known as Evangelions to fight giant monsters known as Angels to prevent Third Impact, an even greater apocalyptic event that would result in the complete extinction of all of humanity. As the series goes on, the inner motives and psychological torments of the pilots get taken under the microscope and Evangelion goes from merely an anime about robots fighting giant monsters to a dark, psychological character study about the inner boundaries between people and the collective human desire for acceptance.

The aspect of Evangelion most worthy of praise then and now is the characters and their development. It might seem unremarkable now but at the time, a cast with such deep, crippling flaws like these hadn’t been seen before in anime. Shinji Ikari is no badass, escapist protagonist. He’s whiny, self-critical to a fault, and arguably a coward at times. He’s a character whose very human flaws make him sympathetic, but not necessarily likable. Asuka Soryu is an examination of the tsundere character archetype, and what kind of trauma a person would have had to suffer to turn out like that, and what effect it would have on them and the people they care for deep down, but have trouble showing. Rei Ayanami is…well that would be going into spoiler territory that I don’t want to go into, but Rei’s character is mysterious, struggles with her identity, mortality, emotions, and feelings regarding the two most important people in her life, and her past is tied intricately to the overarching plot of the series. Those are just the three main characters. The side characters are just as well developed and psychologically complex. Shinji’s commanding officer and guardian, Misato Katsuragi, is on the surface a confident woman with issues keeping a tidy house, but is just as damaged on the inside as Shinji is. No character is overlooked, and the show takes the time to show you what they’re like on and off the job, and the events that made them the people you see in the anime.

Complementing Evangelion’s great characters is an extremely well written and intriguing plot. The first half of the series is an entertaining and well directed but overall played straight mecha anime, but the second half is where things really get interesting. The series takes a much darker shift in tone, and the focus shifts from giant robots fighting monsters to examining the psychology and motivations of the characters, and dealing with themes examining depression, suicide, identity, love. At the same time we slowly learn the truth about the Evas, NERV, Second Impact, and the goals of the secretive organization SEELE. All of these elements make for what is quite frankly one of the most memorable stories in anime.

I had heard that Evangelion had problems with its animation budget and that Gainax had to cut corners and get creative to compensate for this. After having watched the series, I think there is at least some truth to this, but it’s been exaggerated. The mecha battles in Evangelion look awesome the majority of the time, and still hold up today. The non battle scenes with the characters just talking and doing their daily activities have some clunky animation once or twice, but nothing seriously detrimental. Even in the scenes featuring limited animation, the stellar direction by Anno keeps them engaging visually.

The battle scenes in Evangelion are never repetitive. There is always a unique solution that the pilots have to figure out in order to win, and even when they do, victory will sometimes come at a great sacrifice and leave them scarred mentally and physically. The second half of the series increases the tension and stakes of them with the Angels invading the pilots’ minds and forcing them to confront their deepest insecurities. They never feel stale and are always coming up with new ideas to remain exciting.

Watching the series in English was an interesting experience. While the first couple of episodes can be grating, to the point I was considering switching to the Japanese audio, but by the time Asuka shows up in episode 7, they begin to grow on you. I can’t imagine anyone other than Spike Spencer being the voice of Shinji Ikari, or Tiffany Grant and Amanda Win-Lee as Asuka and Rei respectively. The standout performance of the cast, in my opinion, would have to go to Tristan MacAvery as Gendo Ikari, perfectly capturing the character’s cunning and mysterious nature and his cold, yet still human personality.

Other worthy editions of note are the unique visual designs of the Evas and Angels, and the opening and ending themes being extremely memorable and catchy. Unfortunately, I can’t really recall the rest of the soundtrack being particularly memorable except for some great usage of Hallelujah in episode 22.

The final two episodes

I won’t go into spoilers here but I am going to devote a whole section of this review try to justify the most divisive aspect of Evangelion: the last two episodes of the original series. Episodes 25 and 26 are what can be considered a rough draft of The End of Evangelion movie, which I view to be the definitive finale of the series. They both deal with the same events, serve to wrap up the plot, and spend a large deal of time psychoanalyzing Shinji, but the final two episodes do so with leftover animation, still frames, and monologues from the characters.

The result wasn’t perfect but they still managed to give the episodes a surreal atmosphere and finish Shinji’s character arc. The episodes also still take time to fully psychoanalyze the other characters, and 26 features a charming sequence of what their lives might have been like if they did not have to pilot the Evas. Not great, but not terrible either and you’ll remain transfixed by what you are watching. I recommend you watch these episodes, then move on to The End of Evangelion movie so you can have a better appreciation for them.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is flawed but still a masterpiece. Whatever flaws it has can’t take away from all that it does so well and even after all these years, it still holds up. Any fan of anime, or just a fan of well written and compelling fiction should watch this series.

Score: 9/10

Alien Series review

So for this October I decided to watch every single movie in the Alien franchise. What began as a sci-fi horror movie in 1979 directed by Ridley Scott has now become a massive franchise with sequels, prequels, video games, crossovers across various media, and comic books. I did not watch the Alien vs Predator movies because they are just non-canon fanservice for fans of both properties and I have not seen the Predator movies anyway.

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Alien
It’s been decades since it was first released in theaters and is still one of the best horror films ever made. The story and characters are nothing special but they’re well carried by the actors’ performances and the plot’s pacing. A crew of a commercial spaceship called the Nostromo discover a derelict alien spaceship that ends up housing a dangerous threat unlike anything ever seen. It looks better than most movies in general today thanks to excellent set design, practical effects, and Ridley Scott’s superb direction and cinematography. The eponymous Alien (Xenomorph) is still one of the most menacing horror antagonists ever because of its design (RIP H.R. Giger), and of how there is no complex explanation or backstory for its actions. It’s a predator and the crew is the prey, simple as that. Like the best horror movies, it relies on subtlety and nail-biting tension rather than jump scares and gore. A sci-fi slasher movie where the slasher is a Lovecraftian-esque monster with origins unknown to us. The only negative that drags it down is the characters not being memorable outside of our main lead Ellen Ripley, but other than that it’s still a great movie.

Aliens
This movie is awesome. The sequel that surpassed the original and then some. Ripley wakes up after over fifty years of hyper sleep to discover her daughter Amanda has passed away years ago from cancer, and no one believes her story about how her crew was killed. A Xenomorph outbreak on the colony Hadley’s Hope causes her to team up with the Colonial Marines to take on her old enemy. Directed by James Cameron instead of Ridley Scott, Cameron wisely decided to take the film in an action oriented direction instead of trying to one up the original, thus creating one of the best sci-fi action movies of all time. The universe set up in the original is expanded upon more, the characters are much more memorable, Ellen Ripley cements her status as one of the best female action heroes in history, and it has the best action scenes ever. Like the first movie the story itself is nothing really special, but the characters are vastly better in this one and with Ripley becoming a surrogate mother to the child character Newt in this movie, it’s much more emotionally engaging since it’s genuinely sad to see characters get brutally killed, and extremely happy to see others make it out alive. Hicks, Newt, Hudson, Vasquez, Bishop and then some all make up the best set of characters the series has ever seen. It also has messages about the arrogance of a technologically superior force fighting a seemingly weaker enemy, which was inspired by the U.S.’s bungling of the Vietnam War, so it’s a much smarter movie than it appears to be at first glance. The lines are iconic (“Game over man! Game over!” “Get away from her you bitch!”), the special effects still look great today, it still manages to keep the nail biting tension the original movie had, and the ending has one of the best final battles in action movies ever with the Xenomorph Queen and it wraps up Ripley’s character arc perfectly. You can make other movies in the series but here is where Ripley’s character should’ve been left. Easily now in my favorite movies list, one of the best sequels ever, and the best movie in the franchise. There’s a small but vocal minority of people who hate this movie for moving away from first movie’s horror. Well be careful what you wish for because you get a new Alien movie with an emphasis on horror in the next one…

Alien 3
This is the exact opposite of Aliens. It’s one of the worst sequels ever made because instead of being exciting it’s boring, it’s a slog to get through, the characters are mostly dull and unlikable, has an bad ending and pisses on Ripley’s character. Remember Hicks and Newt? They get killed in the beginning of Alien 3, retroactively ruining the completely wonderful ending of the previous movie! I’m not against movies set after Aliens, but they should have little to do with Ellen Ripley. There are other stories you can tell, as shown with the now non-canon Dark Horse Alien comics and Alien: Isolation video game. There can be a movie about Newt grown up kicking Xenomorph ass, or another movie about the Colonial Marines, but leave Ripley alone. This movie had a notoriously troubled production and was David Fincher’s directorial debut, but not even he can salvage this boring turd. It’s the kind of horror movie that relies on shock value deaths and gore to scare its audience, which gets boring after it happens once or twice. The special effects aren’t even that good thanks to some poorly used and aged CGI, and that’s not even getting into the new prison setting being visually uninteresting with only the colors being grey and yellowish brown. Lastly, Ripley goes from being a badass who kicked Xeno ass to being terrified of the Xenomorph again, then they kill her off at the end of the movie via heroic sacrifice to end the threat once and for all. Some people say the Assembly Cut is a genuinely good movie. It’s not, so don’t watch it for your own sake.

Alien: Resurrection
Accomplishes the impressive goal of being even worse than the third movie. It takes place 200 years after Alien 3 and a new company studying the Xenomorphs clones Ripley. Yep, they didn’t even have the guts to stick with 3’s ending of her character. Even the opening credits are inferior to 3’s, and the worst of the entire series! This is the Batman and Robin of the Alien movies, with terrible acting, special effects, and a campy tone that is disrespectful to its own series. The only good things I can say about it is that its visual style is more interesting than 3’s and Ron Perlman is a blast in it, but everything else is worse. The story I hear is Joss Whedon wrote this script to try to get fired from his job, but studio executives actually took it seriously. If that’s true, then every stereotype of movie executives is pretty much justified. Another Xenomorph outbreak occurs because of corporate incompetence, but this time it’s really inexcusable. The movie takes place 200 years after Alien 3, so they should know the Xenos have acid blood, but their cages aren’t even acid proof! It’s like they wanted an accident to happen! It’s constantly pulling stuff out of its ass as the plot keeps moving that make no sense. Fuck this movie.

Prometheus
This is a prequel to the original movies with Ridley Scott back at the director’s helm. I don’t find it to be the masterpiece it tried to be or the ultimate betrayal of the other movies fans found it to be (Did they forget the last two movies exist?). I’m glad they finally moved on from Ripley’s character so as not to butcher it any further, so that was an automatic plus in my book. I think it has some interesting ideas but the execution left a lot to be desired. It wants to explore the origins of the Xenomorphs and of humanity in general, with an advanced race of aliens called the “Engineers” being the overall antagonists. The problem with this is that it feels torn between being a prequel and wanting to be its own movie, so none of the ideas it wants to explore feel fleshed out. Ridley Scott is still a great visual director that very few can match, and that combined with the much better CGI and special effects for this movie make it utterly beautiful at times. Everything else though, there’s a lot left to be desired. The biggest problems by far are the characters and their stupidity. These people are the dumbest group of researchers that have ever lived. The plot wouldn’t move if it weren’t for their idiotic mistakes, like a biologist approaching a strange alien creature or one of the crew members not telling the others he noticed a parasite in his eye while looking at his face in the mirror. Also, the technology is more advanced despite being a prequel to the other movies, but that’s kind of a nitpick that can be explained by the crew having a higher budget compared to the crew of the first movie who were basically truckers in space. Michael Fassbender’s android character David is pretty interesting, however he’s the only one I liked. Not even the main character Shaw was memorable. I wouldn’t call it good, but exploring the origins of the Xenomorphs with other characters is an interesting premise that a sequel could have built upon. Key phrase being could have.

Alien: Covenant
Whatever potential the ideas from Prometheus had to be fleshed out has gone unfulfilled. It has the same problems as Prometheus but with some new ones too. The characters are uninteresting and make dumb decisions but even more so. David returns from Prometheus and is turned into some cartoonish super villain who created the Xenomorphs just because he could, killed Shaw off screen, and committed genocide on the Engineers between the two movies. The Xenomorphs and facehuggers make their return to pacify the fans who were disappointed that Prometheus had very little to do overall with the actual origins of the Xenomorphs. The best aspect is the good direction from Ridley Scott again, but it’s a very hollow movie overall and at this point I have no doubt he barely cares. The script went through some pretty heavy rewrites, and all the ideas it had before sound way more interesting than the glorified half sequel to Prometheus, half remake of Alien we got.

Overall
This is how I rank the Alien movies from best to worst:
1. Aliens
2. Alien
3. Prometheus
4. Alien: Covenant
5. Alien 3
6. Alien: Resurrection
The first two movies are amazing while the rest aren’t worth watching. Prometheus has its moments but its issues drag it down too much. After the mess that was Covenant, I have no interest in seeing any other movie made in this franchise. They should have called it quits after Aliens, at least in regards to Ellen Ripley’s story. Just watch the first two, then play the video game Alien: Isolation. It’s about Amanda Ripley, Ellen’s biological daughter who died in between the first two movies as she tries to discover the truth of her mother’s disappearance. It’s a pretty good game that actually tells a much better story than the other movies of the series.