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Brave New World of Science Fiction

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Science fiction is not what it used to be. Aficionados of the genre today have certainly heard this statement before: “Science fiction is less about humanity now than it was twenty years ago. It is more about the dry, inhuman technology and science.” While the statement has some truth to it, it doesn’t even come close to describing the true state of science fiction today.

I remember a genre that sought to encapsulate both the mortality of humanity and the limitlessness of imagination. I remember reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and thinking to myself, “By God, this is powerful stuff.” Good works totally draw the reader into the world. Sure, the flashy tech and the fancy new gadgets always end up on the cover page, but the substance inside was a story about humans, written by humans, narrated by humans. If the author liked posing philosophical conundrums, like Isaac Asimov did, that story would have those very conundrums It was like the Sartre in space, Jane Austen at Jupiter, and Machiavelli on Mars. And it really made me something of a philosopher, physicist, and political scientist. A Nexialist, if you will.

Good science fiction took that stuff of the ether, vague philosophies and human stories, and added it to a touch of realism. It made you wonder about possibilities and dream. I was too young to have been there when it happened, but I know when Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” took to the screen, Joe Schmo would say to Jane Dough: “That’ll be us in ten years.” Maybe ten years was too optimistic of a prediction, but it was the sentiment that prevailed. Nobody was interested what kind of smart-watch would be around in 2010, but everybody was curious how Joe would raise his family on the Mars colony. It seems like we’ve taken a step back: there’s no colony, and Joe seems to cares more about his smart-watch than his family.

Taking all of this into account, you can imagine my surprise when legendary director Christopher Nolan of the “Inception” fame announced a milestone film project about the future of space. I won’t deny that I had high hopes for the film when I walked in the theater. Did I expect a masterpiece? Maybe, given Nolan’s reputation. Did I expect to find some bit of Frank Herbert or Ray Bradbury? Definitely. That was what all the hype was about after all, wasn’t it?

I was disappointed with “Interstellar.” Sure, it had that human element that everyone likes to talk about. But it didn’t really feel grounded in reality. Engineering majors left and right will constantly try to prove to me the realism in “Interstellar.” (Please stop trying to convince me that time dilution is real. I know it’s real.) I get that Nolan hired astronomers and physicists to put a black hole on screen. The talking robot marine is a great touch that’s reminiscent of SAL 9000 (HAL’s unfortunately less-known twin). But what “Interstellar” failed to do was to inspire something in me. It’s difficult to emotionally connect with Matthew McConaughey’s acid trip through time and space. Then the film just becomes more about the sci-fi jet and Tidal Wave Planet.

That’s why I think Ridley Scott’s most recent work, “The Martian,” is so magnificent. At its core, it’s a survival story of man versus nature—Robinson Crusoe set on Mars. It’s a story about camaraderie and determination, collaboration and innovation. The first thing “The Martian” did was revitalize Ridley Scott after a few recent setbacks like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “Prometheus.” The second thing it did was advertise engineering. There’s nothing like the full splendor of rocket launches and space missions being captured on camera to inspire the brilliant minds of tomorrow. No expense was spared—the cinematography and sound effects are chilling and majestic. I almost expected to see NASA credited as a producer when the credits rolled.

If you think you know the story because you saw the trailer, you’re in for a ride. If you think the scope of the film isn’t as grand as “Interstellar,” you’re mistaken: it’s one of the most gut-wrenching, visceral depictions of human resilience that I’ve ever seen on screen. Matt Damon seems to be very prone to being stranded on faraway planets these days in Hollywood, but his latest performance in “The Martian” was his best yet. If you think the film is formulaic, you’re right. It was adapted from a novel by Andy Weir, who wisely chose to use a formulaic survival story set in space. You don’t need to share the experience of being marooned to feel the connection. The formula works; it’s just human.

Finally, I can think of maybe one or two plot holes in the film. By plot hole, I don’t mean something that’s left unexplained. Yeah, you need radiation shielding to survive the long trip to Mars. Yeah, using human fecal waste to fertilize potatoes isn’t a thing yet. But they aren’t plot holes—they don’t take away from the film itself. Overall, the film is scientifically sound—it is grounded in reality. In fact, other than the high-tech touch-screen cockpits, “The Martian” is well within the realm of possibility that if only it wasn’t for Congress… but that’s another story. This film can be a journey into the near future for many people, just as it was a journey back to the Golden Age of science fiction for me.

“The Martian” was a blast from the past in terms of reminding me about good science fiction. It was also a look into the near future. As a victim of AP Physics, I felt that watching Matt Damon calculate orbital velocity was traumatic. So I mean it when I say that the film inspired me to think about the future of space exploration like no other film has, and I’m certain it will do the same for you.

Annual assembly of Avengers arrives with a whimper

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The screen darts between the trees, revealing glimpses of the worlds’ most popular masked—and caped—superheroes. Through a flurry of bullets, our heroes storm through the enemy, arriving finally at what appears to be an abandoned medieval castle. But something is wrong—they can’t pass through the gates, forcing the Iron Man to swoop down, and… thus begins the second installment of the wildly popular Avengers series. Not missing a beat from its earlier successes, Marvel released the film in Seoul on April 23, packing theaters full of fans of the superhero-action genre. Yet, despite its critical acclaim and mostly unchallenged applause, the film is a disappointment that hopefully doesn’t precede the downfall of Marvel.

The film is set in the chronological continuation of the most recent film, “Iron Man 3.” The story follows the main cast of Avengers: the Hulk (Mark Rufallo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). No doubt an impressive cast, the film takes no half-measures in ensuring that the audience recognizes these recognizable faces. With origin stories out of the way, the characters are more fleshed out, more facetious. And, of course, the quality of acting has not deteriorated at all.

The problem comes with the plot. As an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name, the film attempts to stay true to this storyline while taking dramatic liberties. Indeed, the story may have been an intriguing exploration of certain themes: artificial intelligence, surveillance, and humanity. Yet what ends up happening is that these themes are diluted, and made incongruous to the average viewer. True, the character faces a dilemma regarding artificial intelligence. True, the other guy finds out that there is a network of surveillance that peeks into the windows of the entire nation. But these aren’t explored in depth; that is to say, the titular artificial intelligence Ultron may very well have been a green alien from Mars, and nothing would have been drastically changed in the plot. “Winter Soldier” had encapsulated the mix between superhero-action and a debate on national security. Age of Ultron shattered this (probably) unrealistic expectation of Marvel.

That isn’t to say that the plot is the only cause for concern in the film. Character design seems to be an issue as well. True, it’s hard to deviate from the iconic red-white-and-blue stripes of Captain America. And Iron Man’s golden-red suit seems to be a trademark design now. Those designs don’t really need change. But what needs change is the design of the villains. Last film, the Avengers fought hordes of grey-metallic enemies. This film, it seems their grey-metallic buddies are back. True, it is hard to make many iconic enemies when the cast of heroes is already so large. But it has to be better than what it is right now—a seemingly cloned army of grey-metallic cannon fodder.

Marvel and director Joss Whedon clearly put some thought into the film, trying to make it as popular as possible. But issues with plot and character design make it a mild failure—not quite a spectacular disaster, but not necessarily a stunning success as well. Marvel has many more films in store, and there is yet hope for the future. But Age of Ultron doesn’t strike me as the brilliant sequel many tout it to be now.

Fast and Furious races onto the spotlight

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The Fast and Furious franchise took theaters by surprise when films began to attract more and more fans to what was previously a cult-hit. Yet, now the film has taken in much support because of its adherence to popular tropes and a willingness to move away from common clichés in film today. As of April 6 the new film Furious 7 has grossed $161.2 million in North America and $245.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $406.3 million, against a budget of $250 million. Universally, Furious 7 was released across 810 IMAX theaters – the largest worldwide rollout for any movie in IMAX’s history and the largest for Universal.

The film could have been an explosive failure, further diluting the public perception of action films. However, the casting and over-the-top action may have contributed to taking the film to greater heights. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, and other big-name Hollywood action film actors, the film has received commendation for its impressive casting choices.

The plot blasts off as if a race not finished from the previous film. After defeating Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) and his crew and securing their amnesties in Furious 6, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), and the rest of the crew are able to return to the United States and live normal lives again. Brian begins to accustom himself to life as a father, while Dominic tries to help Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) regain her memories by taking her back to Race Wars and to her old grave. Having started off as a sequel, it soon reaches its fast pace once again. Overall, the pacing of the film was one of the most impressive ones considering the genre, which would otherwise have been expected to be confusing.

Undoubtedly, the film score and the visual effects are well made but not overused, as some Michael Bay films have been. Explosions, car chases and gunfights are so subtly included that the action seems like a supplement, not the focus. It is for this reason that the Fast and Furious seems a less blatantly obnoxious film than did other action films. While Transformers took on a too-serious tone, Fast and Furious takes on a comedic tone. Indeed, self-awareness of ridiculous action seems like a beneficial thread in modern action films, and films like Fast and Furious have excelled at this, while films like Transformers have utterly failed at creating this tone.

And it seems that fans are not unaware of this quality: the sequel, Furious 6, took in $780 million worldwide, making it the 49th highest grossing film of all time. This year, Furious 7, the recent film, now seeks to reach that record by grossing over $500 million in the box-office making it the second highest-grossing film of 2015 as of April. Released in theaters on April 4 in Seoul, Furious 7 is set to be an interesting watch for lovers of the action genre.

Royally amusing film majestic success

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The British secret agent is quite obviously no longer a secret these days. His shadowy figure materialized first with Ian Fleming’s James Bond, corporealized with the vast literature of espionage that followed John Le Carré, and coalesced with the various film adaptations of the literature. The matter of espionage is indeed one of the most intensely followed subjects today, quite deservedly—who does not find intrigue with the idea of a secretive, faceless protector of the state? Once again, the trope has evolved. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” took to theaters on March 5, impressing audiences with a fresh look at the trope, as well as shocking some with vulgarity.

On the whole, “Kingsman” is a well-constructed film. It employs comedic effect but does not take such humor to a great length, making it less forced than other films may be. Indeed, “Kingsman” is a film that is novel yet not contrived. But it does lack in certain areas. For example, it is incredibly crass at times. Some have even called it vulgar in regards. This reaction is warranted, however, because some of the allusions the film makes are borderline insensitive. For example, common character tropes of race are overused, making the it contrived.

The casting is superior, however. The film stars Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Taron Egerton and Michael Caine, which should speak for itself in terms of the casting choice. As a film about the British secret agent, these choices do a lot to improve the film. Yet it seems a bit unnecessary at times, because of the tone of the film. One would have expected a more serious performance from these renowned actors, and this expectation takes away from the cohesion of the film as a whole.

The special effects are highly commendable. The film follows the Hollywood trend of combining flashy explosive effects with clever lighting to provide a very impressive set of visuals. Yet these are not overused, as Michael Bay’s films have, which gives it a better look overall.

In the end, “Kingsman” is a good film that should go in history as a fresh take on the secret agent trope. Yet it could have been improved by removing some of the vulgarity and adding some more professionalism. The film is well intended, and the idea is an original and fresh one. Yet the film itself is not exactly an appealing film, given its crass nature.

Film passes Turing test for brilliance

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When “The Imitation Game” was released in theaters Feb. 17, critics jumped on the hype train and started to praise the film even before it premiered. The historical thriller genre only added to the rumor—recent historical thrillers have been highly successful, citing “Argo” among many. Yet, “The Imitation Game” surpassed even these expectations and rose to the forefront of filmdom. What inherent qualities does it have that give it such prominence? Why has Alan Turing been romanticized in the media only recently? Some of these questions are better answered by reading the novel that inspired the film: “Alan Turing: The Enigma,” which was reviewed by fellow columnist Jungho Daniel Choi. However, the film is truly a masterpiece that reaches new heights independently of its source material.

“The Imitation Game” encompasses the life and work of Turing, genius mathematician and the inventor of an electromechanical machine that cracked the Enigma code used by the Nazis. It examines his personal life: the conflict between his homosexuality and the contemporary austere laws punishing such proclivities with chemical castration. It also shows the immense trust the British government put into him by giving him free reign to plan and devise a plan to effectively use the code breaker. In short, the film takes every measure to ensure that the audience can grasp the massive influence of Turing on the war effort during World War II.

Yet the film does not slack when it comes to dramatic measure. Some scenes are highly reminiscent of the World War II period, featuring machinery and settings that are very British in taste. No anachronisms exist in the film: it is a carefully crafted masterpiece that meticulously takes into account history. Turing’s private residence following the war? Beautifully adorned and accurately portrayed. Bletchley Park? Reconstructed brick by brick on the film screen. The German Luftwaffe? Realistically portrayed and thrilling. Indeed, “The Imitation Game” is a heart-racing combination of slow, dramatic scenes and action-packed thrillers.

When it comes to the acting, nothing short of extreme commendation can be made of the film. Director Morten Tyldum must have planned the casting of the film for some time before the production, because his choices seem to be on point and undisputable. Benedict Cumberbatch manages to pull off the “irascible genius” routine for Turing perfectly, and his partner Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, Turing’s wife, almost as well. Not much data exists on the relationship between the two, but it seems the pair researched their roles extensively nonetheless. Though the rest of the cast is rather one-dimensional, it is to be expected: it is a film concerning Alan Turing himself, after all.

Rather than focus on the overt drama in the film, or its deviations from the source material, it is necessary to view this film in the light in which it was released. “The Imitation Game” is not just a thriller or a historical film. It is a documentary that exposes the public to the work of Turing, one of the greatest war heroes of the last century. It is an attempt to portray some of the repressed and hidden sides of history that were clouded by the British government following the war, such as its persecution of homosexuals and the personal struggle of Turing. There is nothing left to the imagination with this film, as nothing is left out. For a more detailed explanation of the man behind the film, and his work, peruse Daniel’s review.

Film is taken to new heights

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Stirring interest as a freshly original film, “Taken 3” entered cinemas Jan. 1. The wholly standalone film marks a part of Hollywood that is not repetitive but rather highly innovative. While some criticize “Taken 3” for being an all-too-predictable carbon copy of its predecessors “Taken” and “Taken 2,” “Taken 3” represents a new side of Hollywood—the willingness to make a sequel for any movie. “Taken 3” was undoubtedly a brilliant idea—who would have thought of having two sequels following the same idea—and is one of the few totally unwarranted film in the history of cinema.

“Taken 3” is the story of a Liam Neeson, a man who has had things taken from him twice previously. After his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) is murdered, Bryan Mills, Neeson’s character, goes on a rampage to take back his daughter. Director Olivier Megaton manages to take a slightly original angle, but the plot fundamentally remains the same as those of “Taken 2” and “Taken.” Needless to say, Neeson took his role seriously, but the highly original nature of the plot really highlights the interaction between Neeson and his fellow cast, which is innovative, revolutionary, and unprecedented.

While “Taken 3” deviates slightly from its prequels, it has the same general plotline: a rogue ex-CIA agent kills people in his mission to achieve his goals. But this isn’t just the plot of the previous films in this particular series; this appears to be a recurring trope in modern films. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a film about the CIA without this trope in some degree, citing “Equalizer” as a recent example. The soundtrack and special effects are no doubt top-quality, as many Hollywood films’ effects are.

“Taken 3” is a breath of fresh air in the midst of overwhelmingly repetitive franchises. When analyzing the ways Megaton managed to make the film highly similar to its predecessors, one cannot help but marvel at the creativity involved. It is hard to see why any film critic would find issues with the film—other boring films like “Imitation Game” deserve the undue criticism that “Taken 3” is receiving right now.

“Taken 3” no doubt features a stunning performance from the cast. It is similar to its siblings, making it novel and exciting. It bolsters the already-pervasive action trope in Hollywood. Given that this style of sequel creation is highly original, it is advisable, Hollywood, to continue releasing films that are very state-of-the-art. Lest action movies lose all cinematic value forever, directors must look to these character tropes and continue to reuse the same ideas—again and again and again.

Military autobiography’s adaption to film on point

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The scope darts furtively across the desolate city, finally coming to rest on a woman her child. The radio sputters to life, blasting out panicked queries—to shoot or not to shoot? The sniper holds his fire, holding his breath. Then, a glimpse of an explosive. He takes aim, then shoots, then the screen goes out to darkness. “American Sniper” is not the first film of the 20th century depicting modern wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it certainly is gripping. Released in December 2014, “American Sniper” is a film adaptation that isn’t all guts and glory.

Not many films nowadays can boast the same level of thrill as “American Sniper.” In Hollywood, war is typically filtered, even glorified. The protagonist is the hero, streaked in dirt and sweat and valiantly saving American lives. His comrades are rank-and-file soldiers who seem to be expendable. Anyone else… well, anyone else is a faceless enemy who fights for everything democracy and capitalism stands for. The autobiography Chris Kyle wrote, however, took the complete opposite approach, instead portraying American soldiers as nothing more than ordinary men—men with families and girlfriends and homes. The escapades of American soldiers were imprinted in the pages of Kyle’s book, making it a magnificently thrilling read.

Some critics expected “American Sniper” to be corrupted by Hollywood and distorted from its original scope. But the film exceeded expectations by delivering some of the more compelling moments in the story: moments describing Kyle’s hesitation for committing some of the morally questionable deeds. That was war, according to the autobiography, and some of that thought-provoking dilemma was transferred to the film. Bradley Cooper does an exceptionally brilliant job of portraying Kyle in this regard—he impressively mimics every facial expressions of confusion, shock, and determination. In fact, it’s so good that Cooper’s voice in the film is undistinguishable when compared to that of the real American sniper in his interviews. Even the exact smile fits.

The film isn’t without its faults, of course. Just as there was criticism of Kyle’s autobiography when it was published, there was criticism of the film. Specifically, critics took offense at some of the blunt comments Kyle made in his story. It doesn’t sound like the words of an American hero, and it doesn’t sound at all like the words of a man tentative of his actions and haunted by a guilty conscience. This, coupled with the fact that Kyle is now being accused of unwarranted violence against civilians and aggressive mannerisms, leaves a dent in an otherwise well-constructed story.

Was Chris Kyle a boastful man reveling in the glory of war? Was he actually a violent, unreasonable man on the home front? Unfortunately, these questions will never be answered, as Kyle was killed in 2013 by a fellow war veteran. Ironically, Kyle’s offered hand of assistance was met with violence possibly resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder. The film ends with simple text outlining the basics—Chris Kyle was killed helping a fellow soldier. As such, the moral value of the film and autobiography is now in question. If anything, however, “American Sniper” was an excellent portrayal of the gritty, unpleasant nature of war.

Yet it doesn’t help that “American Sniper” was directed by Clint Eastwood, a well-known Republican and proponent of American military might. The words “jingoistic” and “conservative” may be understatements in describing this director. And, naturally, the controversy of “American Sniper” has made it a political point of contention. Such judgment may be too hasty, though, because I for one do not see the military propaganda supposedly present in “American Sniper.” It isn’t propaganda: the movie didn’t make me want to pick up a rifle and head out to defend liberty and democracy from the forces of evil. It’s just realistic.

Robotic physicist made human in biographical thriller

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Stephen Hawking is this century’s resident genius. His work with theoretical physics inspires legions of scientists to put down their medical school applications and work on solving the mysteries of the universe, and yet most know him solely for his robotic, artificial voice. Featured in The Simpsons, popularized by the media, and even portrayed in the sitcom The Big Bang Theory, Stephen Hawking’s robotic element is now an iconic symbol of his disability and genius. Interestingly enough, Hawking’s affliction with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has rarely been viewed in the context of his early life. The brilliance of the man, his awkward romance with Jane Wilde Hawking, and the struggle to find his purpose for life—these are the all-encompassing elements that drive “The Theory of Everything,” a biographical dramatic thriller releasing in theaters on Dec. 10.

“The Theory of Everything” initially comes across as a rather simplistic film about Hawking’s work with physics and his degeneration due to motor neuron disease, but it proves to be much more than that in the end. Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is initially portrayed as a man on a quest to discover a single unifying theory to explain the universe. He then meets Jane (Felicity Jones) who becomes his love interest and suddenly finds out that he has only two years to live because of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Soon afterwards, Hawking’s struggle to maintain his romance with Jane while working on his black hole theory becomes the focus of the film. However, “The Theory of Everything” does not come across as a romantic film because the focus is, remarkably, not on Hawking’s love for Jane, but rather on the scientific drive that gives Hawking the strength to continue on living despite his disease.

Director James Marsh does an excellent job of using contemporary settings to give the film a feeling of authenticity. Some parts of the film are similar to “A Beautiful Mind,” which also features the point of view of a reclusive genius with schizophrenia in search of a breakthrough; the audience is also able to see the world of “The Theory of Everything” through the glasses of Stephen Hawking. The moving musical compositions that accompany every major turning point in Hawking’s life make even the seemingly bland moments colorful and vibrant. Indeed, a soundtrack that blends so perfectly with the acting is rare, and Jóhann Jóhannsson must be commended for his work on the music.

“The Theory of Everything” takes the audiences’ expectations of Hawking’s life and virtually overturns them. Unlike the several attempts to chronicle Hawking’s life in the past, it seems that “The Theory of Everything” took them and blended them in a curiously picturesque depiction of Hawking’s ascetic life at Cambridge in the 1960s. Although questionable in validity, it is claimed that upon a screening of the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, a nurse had wiped a tear from Hawking’s cheek. Indeed, this representation, as well as the support from Hawking’s family, gives “The Theory of Everything,” a certain reputation—if not prestige—that other attempts to biography Hawking’s life do not have.

“The Theory of Everything” will certainly be a grand display of biographical work and storytelling in the decades to come. Hawking is portrayed magnificently by Redmayne in his most human form, and even the mind-boggling concept of a “theory of everything” is astutely described in the film. First a cosmologist, second a husband and third a man—Hawking is so brilliantly and boldly presented by Marsh that “The Theory of Everything” will undoubtedly be a critical success. Whether you wish to witness the formative years of Stephen Hawking while feeling the same frustration Hawking did when he learned of the time he had left to live, or simply wind back the clock to see life at Cambridge in the 1960s, “The Theory of Everything” is a perfect film to experience Hawking’s life. For those of you unacquainted with the genius of Stephen Hawking, I encourage you to, at this point in time and space, observe this masterpiece.

“Interstellar” surprises audience with computer graphics, well-developed characters

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Christopher Nolan’s ingenious mind and brilliance coupled with the casting of renowned actors have come together to produce “Interstellar.” Released in US theaters on Oct. 26 and in Korean theaters on Nov. 6, “Interstellar” is predicted to earn 55 million dollars after its initial release, slightly behind “Behind Hero 6,” a Disney movie that was released the same weekend with projected earnings of 60 million dollars.

Nolan became a big name in Hollywood after having produced many successful blockbusters including “Inception” and “The Dark Night Rises.” Recognized for his ability to imbue complex storylines with an artistic touch through his filming techniques, Nolan has once again done the trick with his most recent film “Interstellar.” With clever marketing tactics such as collaborating with Google to create a virtual space playground, “Interstellar” appealed to viewers prior to its release.

The movie, however, falls short of expectations. During the three-hour running time of “Interstellar”, Nolan spends too much time setting the scene. The first third of the film is dedicated to showing viewers what planet Earth has become: a desolate wasteland with the only living creatures, humans, abandoning their jobs and turning to corn farming. Although Nolan characterizes the farmers as optimistic and persistent, it is obvious that humans will be wiped out if they continue to live on Earth. Humans living on Earth are the only remnants of life and all people have abandoned their jobs and turning to corn farming. All try to make the most of their livelihoods and retain a small sense of optimism; however, it is an undeniable fact that one day all humans will be wiped out.

In search of a hospitable planet, a team of astronauts consisting of Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) and others enter a wormhole. From this point on, the movie carries an unexpected twist.

While Cooper explores the space for two years, he realizes that he has left his children on Earth for 23 years. When he arrives on Earth, he finds that his children are all grown-up. The videos that his children sent him while he was in space are watched in silence and this scene is that one that resonates with viewers. McConaughey should be extolled for his efforts to deliver such a believable and successful character portrayal. He plays the role of a loving father and strong leader. McConaughey is on a roll with his successful films including the recent “Dallas Buyers Club,” and “Interstellar” is another film that marks his acting success.

Furthermore, the use of computer graphics in “Interstellar” made the science-fiction movie even more intriguing. Producers invested 165 million dollars in total into the film to Warner Bros for production and filming purposes. The background of these space scenes, which was filmed primarily in Alberta, Canada, added to the realness of the movie. The use of IMAX cameras enhanced the movie-watching experience and made each scene more suspenseful and realistic.

Though the movie is drawn out and the plot can get slightly repetitive, the movie is overall a must-watch for those looking for a movie based on science fiction with a touch of Nolan’s creativity and filming genius.

Latest thriller admixes vampire trope with historical roots

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Count Dracula has been featured by the film industry no fewer than eighty times, with most, if not all, of those portrayals using the typical vampire trope first created by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel Dracula. Some films have broken this trope, however, and have attempted to qualify the myths that surround the character, Dracula. Released on Oct. 9 in South Korea at a film premiere and only recently available in theaters, “Dracula Untold” ameliorates the frustration caused by the repetitive nature of vampire films.

“Dracula Untold” sets the story with Dracula’s son as the narrator. The audience discovers that, despite his infamy, Dracula was a title bestowed to the Transylvanian prince, Vlad III. Here is where the history begins: Vlad III was a real ruler of Transylvania, whose legend now tells of a vampire. Dracula’s son explains that Vlad III was no monster, but rather a benign ruler of his people. This is where the history ends, and the fantasy begins: Vlad III single-handedly massacred entire armies, or so the story goes in “Dracula Untold.”

Vlad III, portrayed by Luke Evans, strikes the audience initially as a reliable character, but becomes so unrealistic that it is impossible to view the film in any light other than as a fantasy. While the director, Gary Shore, could have intentionally created such an ironic dichotomy, this is highly unlikely, as the film’s mood does not fit this purpose. In this sense, though the character portrayal is remarkable, the character development is insufficient.

“Dracula Untold” has similar aspects to several novels that have successfully incorporated the fantastical aspect of vampirism with the historical aspects of 15th century Romania. For example, the novel The Historian comes across as a work that artistically retrofits a vampire thriller with all the details that make a novel historical in nature. In The Historian, the author Elizabeth Kostova writes of an aspiring historian who attempts to uncover the mystery of Vlad III and is met with horror and surprise. The Historian includes the supernatural and the fantastical and is written from the narrative standpoint of a bystander, much like “Dracula Untold.” Yet “Dracula Untold” ultimately fails to deliver the same level of entertainment as The Historian. Unrealistic expectations may have deadened the film, but it still falls short of its potential.

Finally, given that “Dracula Untold” sought to approach the vampire trope through a historical perspective, the visuals and soundtrack are rather unremarkable. That is not to say that they fail to suffice the optimal standard, however. In fact, the soundtrack and visual effects actually served to shadow the poor writing and insufficient plot development. High standards for historical incorporation into film may be at work, but “Dracula Untold” was horrifying due to its appalling lack of thought-provoking elements. Indeed, any film effects of lower quality would have only exacerbated the issues with the film.

All in all, “Dracula Untold” proves a film enjoyable in the moment of viewing. It has everything a thriller needs: gore, violence, and horror. Yet it is decidedly disappointing and deserves the low public rating it has earned so far. Those interested in works that incorporate the fantastical aspect of vampirism and the historical aspects of fifteenth century Romania should turn to The Historian instead.


Photo Source: Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Downey “suits” up for “The Judge”

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Most popular for his role as the Marvel superhero, Robert Downey Jr. has now been molded into our brains as the one and only Iron Man. This sarcastic yet heart-warming superhero will forever be etched into the minds of his audience and fans. But this time, instead of wearing his red Iron Man gear, Downey goes for the look of a rich, white-collar prosecutor. With the release of “The Judge” in Korea on, Downey returns to theaters with a more realistic and relatable movie that makes his viewers laugh, smile and even cry.

Downey, playing the role of Hank Palmer, a cocky and successful prosecutor in Chicago with a grand house and family is only well packaged. Inside, Palmer’s marriage is on the rocks as he withdraws himself from his family and friends. Palmer is forced to confront his childhood home in Indiana after hearing about the death of his mother, only to face his father not as “dad,” but as “Judge.” A cold wind steps in as the father and son meet. Even though both attempt to ignore each other, viewers know that both were scarred but are willing to mend the relationship.

The movie progresses as Palmer’s father, Joseph (Robert Duvall), is accused of intentionally killing a man.

From here, Duvall’s acting skills begin to shine. The 83-year old actor proves to the audience that age does not matter in Hollywood as he delivers a stellar performance that clearly illustrates Judge Palmer’s stoic yet caring soul. He does an excellent job in portraying the emotionless yet warm and patient father who has trouble expressing his love toward his children. The rocky father-son relationship is one that most viewers can relate to and the progression of this relationship is what teaches the audience about family.

Furthermore, Downey proved to his young teen fans that he was capable of more than his Marvel superhero persona. He was confident in speech and certain that the jury would come to favor his side of the story. But a sense of depression and deprivation is always evident in Downey’s straight facial expressions. Basically, the way Downey and Duvall interact with one another in front of the camera is unforgettable and touching moments in the movie.

According to Downey, he needs movies that invite him to laugh at the fragility of the human condition and push the emotional buttons that he needs to protect and control. With his role in “the Judge,” he surely satisfied those requirements – not only was it funny, but it was also moving. There was no dull part to the movie – it flowed nicely and there was an appropriate balance of humor and emotion. It was a movie that people need once in a while to have a little laugh or cry.

Labyrinthine film convolutes source novel

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Audiences saw the rise of films featuring teenage protagonists since the publishing of novels that put the spotlight on teenagers. Indeed, teenage post-apocalyptical films are still in vogue, given the plethora of such movies being filmed, like “The Hunger Games” series and “Divergent.” Following the trend, “The Maze Runner,” based on a 2009 novel by James Dashner, was released in South Korean theaters on Sept. 18. While the novel’s premise seemed promising, the film’s direction was nowhere near the potential Dashner provided.

“The Maze Runner” starts with protagonist Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) finding himself in a post-apocalyptic setting comprised of an immense labyrinth in a desolate place known as the Glade (where he settles). Fellow teenage boys, known as the Gladers, join him in trying to discover the mystery of the maze. In the process of acquainting himself with his peers, Thomas realizes that he cannot remember his past, or even his name.

With this setting, director Wes Ball contrives a story that rather successfully incorporates the elements of thriller into a post-apocalyptic film. The visual and auditory effects are undoubtedly up to high standards, and the film was realistic with its integration of audial cues included in the novel. In addition, Ball’s use of dark lighting and contrasting shots clearly displays quality filming.

However, the movie falls short of the novel when it comes to the pacing of Dashner’s Maze Runner trilogy. Through the novel, Dashner created a well-structured plot with a series of revelations that spring from the end of the book. Yet, the film does not do much justice to its original source material, for it attempts to tantalize the audience with material from the sequel as well. Such a deficiency in pacing makes the theatrical rendering of “The Maze Runner” perplexing, yet does not resolve the questions it poses.

Furthermore, the cast of “The Maze Runner” is not very noteworthy, for the dialogue itself is not very impressive. In contrast to the production of the film, the writing of the screenplay seems extremely simplistic; in fact, there is not enough thought required to comprehend the events of the plot, and the way the characters convey the dialogue written in the novel seems rather trite. This may be a result of how tired we, as audiences, are of post-apocalyptic films, but the fact remains that the film lacks a thought-provoking film dialogue that resonates after watching the film.

For avid fans of post-apocalyptic teenage films, “The Maze Runner” may be a delightful watch that uses mystery and intrigue to propel an interesting story. For more critical viewers, it may come across as unoriginal and banal. “The Maze Runner” can’t, however, be taken just in these terms, for it is, in the end, simply a blockbuster thriller to be enjoyed for mindless entertainment.

For more information about the plot and the various elements of story that Dashner uses in the source material that function to greater effect than the film, refer to “Daniel’s Books in a Nutshell,” a review column written by my fellow writer Jungho Daniel Choi!


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“My Life is Beating” tells poignant tale with renowned actors

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When we think of childhood, we imagine laughing, being carefree and smiling. In fact, we often look back at our early years and yearn to bring back that happiness and bliss. But “My Life is Beating,” a recently released movie featuring popular actors, Dong-won Kang and Hye-gyo Song, shows how childhood may not be the ideal state for all. Based on a novel that sold more than 14 million copies in 2003, “My Life is Beating” has topped the weekly box office, with almost 300,000 tickets sold in five days after its release on Sept. 3. The film, labeled the “Chuseok heartthrob” by viewers, attracting another one million viewers during the long weekend.

“My Life is Beating” traces the life of a 16-year old teen diagnosed with Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that causes rapid aging in children. The child, Ah-reum Han, played by actor Sung-mok Han, has an innocent heart of a 16-year old but the physique of an 80-year old. To add onto such problems, the boy’s parents are only in their early twenties, working multiple jobs in attempt to pay off their child’s expensive hospital bills. Because Hye-gyo works at the dry cleaner shop and Dong-won works as a bodyguard, Sung-mok is oftentimes left alone at the hospital. Even though the family runs into financial debacles throughout the film, the fact that everyone continues to smile and stay optimistic truly inspires viewers and reminds them of the importance of family, a lesson that suits Chuseok.

Furthermore, Hye-gyo’s stellar acting in this film deserves praise. Though Korean movie fans are more accustomed to seeing this actress come to life in romantic comedy films, Hye-gyo’s acting in “My Life is Beating” made the movie more touching and meaningful. Putting aside her usual bubbly and feminine persona, she fully embodied her caring and motherly character, evoking tears of sadness and joy in viewers. While Hye-gyo was involved in various scandals prior to the movie’s release, her acting should be extolled regardless of such news. Actor Sung-mok Han was also able to break into the Korean acting sphere as a young actor and is now expected to appear in numerous upcoming films.

The acting of minor actors also made this film shine. Grandpa Jang, played by Il-Seob Baek, was an important character in the film, serving as one of Ah-reum’s main mentors and companions. Grandpa Jang and Ah-reum both looked like they were in their eighties, making both characters naturally connect and interact like true friends. The kindness and concern that Ah-reum’s doctor greeted him with was also very touching. Despite mutual knowledge that Ah-reum would soon pass away, the doctor is genuinely proud of his patient’s attempt to live the life of a normal teenager.

The overall plot of this movie can be slow for some viewers. The movie seems to be dragging on slowly, only using up time. Also, the plot somewhat resembles the story of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a popular fantasy movie from 2008 that tracks the life of Benjamin Button, the main character who ages backwards, making “My Life is Beating” very repetitive. However, the meaning that can be derived from this film is important and especially fitting to this time of year. Thoughtful and sensitive acting as well as a well-developed, meaningful story gave way to an important lesson about family and optimism, making this movie one of the leading films during the Chuseok weekend.

New Marvel film enjoys galactic success

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Since its Korean theatrical release on July 31, “Guardians of the Galaxy” has enjoyed wide support and recognition from audiences. Of the superhero genre, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was slated to be akin to previous Marvel films. Yet it has defied expectations for insipidness and has even been called the saving grace for Marvel as of late. It has even taken the spotlight intended for the “Avengers” series, which is a relieving break from plethora of Avengers-related filmography being produced recently.

The film features human protagonist Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as he travels with a band of intergalactic rogues: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vid Diesel). Though the countenances of certain characters are generated through graphics, an incredible number of facial movements are delivered through motion tracking. Furthermore, the voice acting in the movie has been so powerful that a petition has been made by Voices.com to include an award in the Oscars for it. This hype is justified, though, since it’s a marvel so much acting prowess was relayed through a limited medium that is CG.

The ingenious plot and the immensely creative graphics complement the incredible casting. As expected of a Marvel film, the visual effects are stunning, seamlessly fitting with the science-fiction genre while drawing attention to the characters themselves. Too often, science-fiction films rely on computer-generated graphics to relieve the focus on the plot. Yet, “Guardians of the Galaxy” did not fail to deliver both a captivating and immersive experience, delivering a riveting production that relied less on flashy visuals than the interaction of the characters with their surroundings.

As of Aug. 29, “Guardians of the Galaxy” has taken in over $490 million in box office sales, drastically overtaking its budget of $130 million. Expectations are that it will take in box office sales to reach the highest selling Marvel film of the year. It is this development that convinces some fans of Marvel that the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series is the new front of the Marvel industry, not the “Avengers” stories.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is one of a few films that deserve the unchecked praise it receives. Indeed, one can even see signs of improvement with Marvel’s integration with its original source material in the form of comics. It is undoubtedly a must-watch for fans of the science-fiction genre and appreciators of the comic-book sub-type. It setting a precedent of quality would clearly be a boon to the action-film industry, one that has been lacking in depth in recent releases.

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