Monday, December 30, 2013

After Earth (2013) Review

After Earth poster
Jaden and Will Smith in After Earth
Will Smith in After Earth
Jaden Smith in After Earth
Purchase from Amazon: DVD - Blu-Ray - Stream

Other films by M. Night Shyamalan: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, The Happening

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Jaden Smith, Will Smith
Genre: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, Adventure

It's really not as bad as so many might lead you to believe.

Yes, the science is completely ridiculous and unbelievable, the story and universe are riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies, it's completely predictable, the special effects are at times lacking visually (they do look nice at other times though), the action could have been more exciting, the film comes off as a bit too serious at times to the point where certain scenes are sort of cheesy, and the whole thing with the birds is the goddamn silliest thing I've ever seen in my life.

I never said this was a good film. It's just not an awful one. Mediocre, really. I did like the premise, though. It's essentially a plane crash survival flick set on a post-apocalyptic Earth. But this was a very ideal set-up to display what the story is really about: a father and his son.

The son, Kitai, lives under the scrutiny of his hero-father, Cypher Raige (it's assumed that in the future we will all have names equivalent to Xbox LIVE gamertags). Not only does Kitai have high expectations to live up to, he also senses that his father blames him for letting his sister get killed by an alien creature called an Ursa many years before.

So when the ship that Kitai and his father are on crash lands on an abandoned Earth, Kitai must go and retrieve a rescue beacon from the other half of the ship which landed some ways away (his father, the badass war hero, can't do it because his legs were conveniently broken). Kitai does however have his father to guide and support him via a control room from the ship, from which his father can communicate with him and watch him through various cameras (the scrutinizing eye of dad is always watching!). During his adventure, Kitai stumbles upon some prehistoric cave drawings which would usually take an archaeologist a lifetime to find, and he meets a very kind and caring bird who also happens to be a deus ex machina. But it isn't until Kitai's cameras break and he loses contact with his father (he was already dozing off in the control room anyway) that he really gets to prove himself. Kitai must prove that he can do the right thing without being ordered to do it and in a final showdown he alone faces the inner demon of his past that was haunting him: an Ursa, like the one that killed his sister, which he must overcome.

Yeah, it's cheesy and predictable but I sort of liked the premise and thought parts of it were executed pretty well. A nice little father-son drama / inner discovery story. I also liked the whole fear aspect as well, especially how it functioned in relation to the aliens: they can smell your fear, ergo if you overcome your fear you become invisible to them (yeah, I know it's biologically implausible).

Where I think a lot of people are wrong is in their criticism of Will Smith's performance as the father. He plays the role perfectly in my opinion. Claims that Smith was disinterested are absurd (he produced the film and wrote the story, plus his own son is in it! He was most certainly involved! There's even rumors that he secretly directed the film). He's playing a father who was hardened by war and can't quite find the right way to connect with his son. A character so obsessed with eliminating fear that he often forgets how to express his other emotions as well. Will Smith fucking nailed the character. He's very strict, uptight, and stern but also knows how to sprinkle little hints of emotion and feeling in there at just the right times.

The problem is that Will Smith is only in a supporting role. His son, Jaden Smith, really plays the lead. He does an okay job (sometimes a little hammy) but I think he may not yet be a strong enough actor to carry a film on his own.

After Earth is not a great film but it's competent in a lot of areas. At times awful, at times decent, but mostly mediocre.

2/5 stars

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

TV: Spaced (1999-2001) Review

Spaced DVD poster
Spaced cast
Spaced Mike, Daisy, Tim
Spaced paintball
Spaced Daisy Pulp Fiction reference
Spaced Daisy Tekken
Spaced Tim playing Resident Evil
Spaced Tim Evil Dead 2 poster
Purchase from Amazon: DVD

Films by Edgar Wright: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World's End
Similar shows: The Office (UK), Black Books, The IT Crowd

Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, Mike Heap
Genre: Sitcom

is a British sitcom consisting of 14 episodes split into 2 seasons that originally aired in the late 90s and early 2000s. The show follows pseudo-couple Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Stevenson), who lied about being a couple in order to rent a "Couples Only" apartment, and their neighbors Marsha the alcoholic landlady (Deakin), Brian the slightly crazy painter (Heap), Mike the military nut (Frost), and Twist the self-obsessed bitch (Carmichael).

The heart of Spaced is its characters. The characters are all fairly common stereotypes, but the show brings these stereotypes to life. It shows that stereotypes are not just seen on TV, but in real life also, and it somehow does that through a TV show. They're not the type of characters that make you think they're "just another television archetype" but rather the type that make you think "I know someone just like that, it's so spot on."

Spaced, like its characters, is the sort of show that will grow on you. You may not be that into it after only an episode or so, but well before the first season is over you'll likely feel as much a part of the world as the characters, who'll surely feel like your best friends.

The stars of the show, Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, also write each episode, with Edgar Wright directing. Fans of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, or The World's End will surely be familiar with the Wright-Pegg-Frost trio and much of their signature humor.

The show, to be frank, is hilarious. But not hilarious in a way you're probably used to. No, this is a completely unique brand of humor. Wright's creative, involving, never pretentious directing combined with some wonderfully unconventional editing blend with the actual jokes so well that everything seems, and indeed is, well executed. The jokes themselves are a mix of vocal, visual, and stylistic references to things from Scooby-Doo to The Shining to Pulp Fiction, a sort of absurdist surreal humor, unpredictability, juxtaposition, and of course the characters and situations themselves are more often than not jokes.

The show never at any point becomes dull or formulaic. The punchline to a joke may be in a line of dialogue, or it may be visual--in a camera movement, a character action, or a cut to another scene altogether. For example, in one scene where Tim and Daisy are talking, Daisy tells Tim to not talk so loudly as "you never know who's listening." Tim replies confidently "no one's listening," and then there's a cut away from the scene and we see a brief clip of a man sitting in a room with a tape recorder, listening to the conversation that just happened.

There's plenty of scenes done in this nature, and plenty done in different ways as well. One of my favorite scenes has the video game Tekken mirroring an argument between Tim and Daisy, only to end in the reflection seeping into one with reality. Or another episode where nearly the whole episode revolves around Tim playing Resident Evil 2.

Spaced will transport you to a world of slackers with big dreams, a world of Playstation and The Phantom Menace and absurd occurrences. A world that, as it shows the surreal that hides under the mundane, will likely turn out to be very similar to your own life. With tons of references to films, television, comic books, and video games, it is a world created by its influences and references but also one that uses just that to craft something entirely new. Originally pitched as "a cross between The Simpsons, The X-Files, and Northern Exposure," Spaced certainly lives up to the task and as a result is one of the greatest sitcoms ever made.

With only 14 episodes adding up to less than 6 hours, the show can be watched in a single day and it's good enough that you'll probably want to watch it in a single day, and rewatch it again the next. A must-see for fans of Pegg, Frost, and Wright, and for anyone who may consider themselves a geek, whether it be a fan of sci-fi films, comic books, or video games, or even just for people who can relate to the slacker lifestyle of early twenty year olds.

4/5 stars
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