Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Four: Balance] (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 13, 2015

TheByteDaily

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Book Four: Balance] (TheByteScene Review)

4 Spectacular-seasons-of-Television out of 4

I’d like to begin my review for the final season of The Legend of Korra by stating precisely how much I’ve enjoyed this series’ writing, characters, plot, animation, music, and direction. After two years, four seasons, and 52 episodes, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to be a part of Michael Dante DiMartino’s and Bryan Konietzko’s vision of their world. Thanks to the talented work of Janet Varney, David Faustino, P.J. Byrne, Sychelle Gabriel, J.K. Simmons, and Mindy Sterling, characters like Korra, Mako, Bolin, Asami, Tenzin, and Lin not only came to life onscreen, they felt like real people. The efforts of Jeremy Zuckerman to give the world of Avatar a musical voice was not only successful, but it sets the standard for success, and I hope that future showrunners give their composers the kind of freedom that Konietzko and DiMartino gave Zuckerman.

In Book Four: Balance, Konietzko and DiMartino bring their story of Korra to a stunning, moving, and deeply human conclusion. Their character writing – as well as their decision to out Korra as a bisexual woman – will surely resonate in the annals of television history. When I say that there hasn’t been a show like The Legend of Korra in a long time, I also mean to say that I hope the future of animated television will look to Korra as a benchmark of subtlety, grace, and animated splendour.

However, my swelling praise comes with a single rejoinder: for as much as history will study The Legend of Korra as an example of television-done-right, historians will also study Nickelodeon as an example of television-networking done wrong.

When Nickelodeon announced The Legend of Korra‘s third season, they did so with the least pomp and circumstance that comes to recent memory. Ignoring the fact that four episodes were leaked online well before Nickelodeon had even announced an air-date for the third season, Nickelodeon’s announcing of a 13-episode season merely one week before it was to air was simultaneously beguiling and astonishing.

I failed to mention my extreme disappointment in Nickelodeon during my review of Korra‘s third season for the simple reason that I believed the series’ troubles to be over. Not content with forcing the show online after choosing to air two episodes weekly, Nickelodeon set up further barriers for Konietzko and DiMartino by slashing their fourth season budget. As a result of Nickelodeon’s actions, Balance – a 13-episode season – really featured 12 episodes and a clip-show.

Nickelodeon has, for reasons that grasp comprehension, obstructed, impeded, held back, and disadvantaged one of the finest offerings of children’s entertainment and animation. I will say this, however: I do not review The Legend of Korra as a great show despite its disadvantages – nor do I believe that it is a great show in spite of its disadvantages. Even with its enormous mishandling on the part of its studio, this is a show that has repeatedly surpassed and subverted expectations time and time again.

The notion of subverting expectations is key to deconstructing exactly why The Legend of Korra is such a spectacular work of art.

The distinctions between television and cinema are so obvious and so vast that it is often difficult to realize that the only real difference between the big and small screens is the fact that TV has more time to tell a story. Ignoring marketing, securing an audience, financing a budget, and even attracting talented artists, the simple difference between television and film is a difference in runtime.

Moviegoers have two – possibly three – hours to grow close to characters, actions, plots, and situations. In comparison, fans of television have weeks – often literal seasons – to analyze, discuss, nitpick, and watch their favourite televised moments over and over again. TV creators – more so than filmmakers – are tasked with creating individual stories that grasp their audiences’ attentions, while simultaneously combining into a logical, cohesive, and comprehensible whole.

When I first watched The Legend of Korra‘s first season, I did so with a group of Avatar-fascinated friends who made an active point of discussing theories and speculating about where the show will go next. We came up with ideas and possibilities, we used our almost encyclopedic knowledge of Avatar lore to interact with our viewing of Korra’s story. In short, we tried to figure out what would happen next.

Time and again, Konietzko and DiMartino subverted our expectations. Not only did they do things we never thought of, they took the paths of least and most resistance almost simultaneously. Their narrative choices forced us to reconsider our original theories to the point that it’s safe to say that I was completely wrong about Amon’s identity.

Balance takes place three years after the conclusion of Korra’s story with Zaheer and The Red Lotus. It’s been three long years since she’s seen her friends – and since Mako, Bolin, Asami, and Tenzin have interacted with their Avatar. The world has changed, kingdoms have fallen, and new enemies lie on the horizon. What remains, however, is the single, undeniable conclusion that this is a story about a girl coming to terms with her identity and place in the world.

The Legend of Korra is a story about a girl, whereas The Last Airbender was a story about a universe. What Balance emphasizes, more so than any other season of Korra, is that this is a story about Korra first and the Avatar second.

When we first see Korra, almost a full 20 minutes into Balance‘s first episode, we see her battered, bruised, and broken. Her emotional journey – though filled with experience – is far from complete and certainly far from over. First, we spend time with the rest of Team Avatar, and then we meet our Avatar in a state of complete incoherence. Through episodes like Korra Alone and The Calling, we learn about Korra’s struggles in a way the series has never truly addressed. Instead of seeing her as an omnipotent leader – or a foolhardy, arrogant showoff – we see her as a person struggling with understanding her notion of herself.

Korra’s story has always been about identity – about coming to terms with the past and using it to inform the present – but the show has often focused on other characters precisely because Korra’s chosen identity is often unlikeable. Balance brings Korra’s emotional journey to an end by reconnecting the audience with the character. Simply put, Balance makes us like Korra again. We see her humanized, de-powered, unable to act, emotionally vulnerable, and damaged, and this allows us to see her as a single, imperfect person.

Balance further introduces the perfect foil to Korra in the metalbending, would-be conqueror Kuvira. Through no large amount of subtlety, Konietzko and DiMartino paint Kuvira as the perfect antithesis to Korra. Whereas Korra is uncertain of her fate, Kuvira commands her future. Whereas Korra is unable to lay claim to her sense of self, Kuvira is determined in her purpose and person. Whereas Korra is now humble, Kuvira stands as a deity to her people. The Yin-Yang dynamic that has always informed the Avatar world’s heroes and villains continues through Korra and Kuvira in an obvious – yet never overdone – way.

In a way, Balance is The Legend of Korra‘s least ambitious season yet. When compared to the loud, proud, and bombastic third season, Change, Balance stands as an almost quiet, laid-back epilogue to Korra’s story. In fact, the epilogue-like nature of Balance speaks to an interpretation of this season not as the end of Korra’s story, but the beginning of unseen adventures in the world of Avatar as a whole.

Make no mistake, Balance features dynamic animation, big action scenes, and loud moments – the two part finale, Day of the Colossus and The Last Stand feature a giant made of platinum – but it is a character-driven, emotionally-tense season of television. More so than any other season of Avatar, Balance is about people instead of actions. The notion that television has a longer time to tell story comes into play, and the idea that Balance serves as an epilogue gives its audience plenty of time to say goodbye to the characters and world that they have spent almost nine years with.

I’ve attempted to put off writing this review simply because I don’t want it to be over, but I realize that all great things do not come to an end once we finish experiencing them. Surely, the only thing more powerful than experiencing something great is remembering something great.

I will take a moment to address the series’ final scene.

A relationship between Korra and Asami has officially been confirmed by both Konietzko and DiMartino, and I have few opinions on the matter. I will say this, however: there are people who care very much about the notion that two women can not only love one another romantically, but that they can do so while also feeling romantically attracted to men. Accepting bisexuality is the next great sexual hurdle that our culture will need to overcome, and The Legend of Korra‘s decision to acknowledge even a remote possibility that heteronormativity and homonormativity are not humanity’s only options for sexual preference is bold.

Then again, no one should really be surprised that The Legend of Korra is sensational after all these years.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

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The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (TheByteScene Review)

Date: December 26, 2014

TheByteDaily

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

1.5 Unnecessary-Sequels out of 4

Peter Jackson’s third Hobbit film, and his final entry into Tolkien’s Middle-earth universe, is nothing if not consistent. At a lean 144 minutes, the film is the shortest Jackson-produced, Tolkien-based feature; it is beautifully constructed, with stunning visuals, colours, and sounds. However, its plot is almost nonexistent, its characters quickly grow stale and boring, and its stunted pacing leaves much to be desired. As the final film to a 13-year franchise that has produced some of film’s greatest scenes, strongest writing, and most compelling moments, The Battle of Five Armies is a disappointing feature that plays more like a two-hour-long video-game cut-scene than a film with any real cinematic heft.

Picking up mere moments after The Desolation of Smaug‘s breath-taking cliffhanger, The Battle of Five Armies signals the end of its first half hour – and the Smaug story arc – by delivering the conclusion to last year’s Hobbit film. Infuriating is the manner in which Smaug’s highly anticipated destruction of Laketown – featured in much of the film’s promotional material – feels like an afterthought in this film. Instead, Jackson and his creative team seem more interested in staging the film’s eponymous battle. Undeniably beautiful as the battle truly is, the large chunk of screen-time afforded to the conflict between the Elves, Dwarves, Men, and two armies of Orcs is completely wasted on what amounts to nothing more than theconcludingsetpiece to an otherwise unnecessarily lengthy franchise.

On the topic of endings, The Battle of Five Armies is not the satisfying cinematic conclusion that Jackson and the film’s marketing team would lead audiences to believe. Arrows wiz by, Dwarves violently bludgeon Orcs, and alliances are forged, torn apart, and reforged, but the entire affair plays out as if screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro had planned out setpieces first, and literature last. Delivering the film’s emotional heft is left to Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield – the Dwarf prince who has spent the entire Hobbit franchise struggling to reunite with his ancestral home. In this film, the Dwarves summarily reclaim the Lonely Mountain, and audiences are left wondering what the point of it all was – if there is a point at all.

Armitage’s Thorin spends most of this film suffering from dragon sickness – a psyche-altering affliction that results from overexposure to gold and wealth. Thorin becomes greedy to an unmitigated degree, and while this examination of greed is brief, it’s presence infuriatingly hints at a stronger, more compelling film lurking beneath a surface blanketed by violence and too much CGI. As the Dwarf king stumbles and skulks about his castle – starving for the Arkenstone that solidifies his leadership as Dwarf king – we’re painted a portrait of a damaged man searching for purpose. Thorin has spent his entire life fighting for his home – now that he has it all, his body and mind begin craving desires that he can’t possibly nourish.

A particularly powerful scene, in which Thorin’s psychological well-being is mirrored in his setting, is skillfully captured by Jackson’s camera, which twists and turns as Thorin sinks into a golden floor. Another moving scene occurs at the film’s climax: cold, snowy wind blows atop an Orc-infested hill as a stealthy team of Dwarves climb to begin their assault. As the wind blows, the audience feels a mix of dread and excitement. We know that this is the final battleground for many of the characters we’ve connected with over the past three films, and Jackson deftly reminds us of the great stakes in play with a simple windy preface.

Peter Jackson has always been a director capable of delivering moving, powerful, and human moments. Though his films are largely characterized by their grand staging and awesome battles, his real skill as a director – as an artist – is in conveying great emotional depth in small, simple scenes. The Battle of Five Armies, however, is not a movie concerned with emotional weight. It is, quite literally, nothing more than the final, epic battle found at the conclusion of every great action film – fantasy or otherwise.

Some fans of Jackson’s Tolkien films might find solace in the occasional brief mentions of the rest of the series. As Lord of the Rings veteran Billy Boyd plays out the credits with “The Last Goodbye,” we’re reminded that The Hobbit serves as the literary precursor to The Lord of the Rings. However, fans of cinema – and fans of Tolkien’s work – will be greatly disappointed in what is a spectacularly mediocre conclusion to an otherwise enjoyable trilogy of films.

If it at all appears that my true disappointment lies in the fact The Hobbit was split up into three movies – instead of the more logical two – allow me to dispel any uncertainty. The Hobbit should have been split up into two movies, instead of three. There is simply not nearly enough material for three films and, as Jackson showed in An Unexpected Journey, including every minor detail from the source material is not only blatant pandering, it stretches and bloats a film to the point of boredom. There’s a reason that almost every adaptation of Tolkien’s novel is split into two parts – An Unexpected Journey and There, and Back Again. Tolkien’s novel is not a lengthy literary legend; it’s a satisfying children’s book that touches on themes of home, family, compassion, and charity. If not children’s fiction, Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a succinct introduction to the world of Middle-earth.

Watching The Battle of Five Armies, I considered a possible universe in which The Hobbit was shortened to two films – or even to a single, cohesive, compact movie. Perhaps Thorin says it best: “If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.”

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (TheByteScene Review)

Date: August 22, 2014

TheByteDaily

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

2 Rather-Mediocre-Spider-Men out of 4

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is by no means a good movie. Tonally unaware, lacking in appropriate definitions of pacing, featuring a convoluted plot, and clearly created to set up future films in the franchise, director Marc Webb’s latest feature plods along in a heavily populated sea of better comic-book movies.

Interesting is that Marc Webb has failed at learning from the mistakes made by Sam Raimi in his take on the character in Spider-Man 3. Raimi’s film was criticized for an unnecessarily lengthy run-time, a cast of poorly developed characters, and a convoluted plot that fails at telling a compelling story. There are parallels to be drawn between the two films, and there are lessons to be learned for future filmmakers. What upsets me, as is common with these kinds of movies, is that beneath the mess of overproduced CGI and a soundtrack loaded with blaring dubstep lies something good, perhaps even something great.

In the sequel to Marc Webb’s original The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker is still trying to juggle his life between normalcy and crime-fighting. Returning to the role is Andrew Garfield, whose Parker is less maladjusted chemistry-geek and more average-everyday-teenager. His nemeses in this film are a cavalry led by Paul Giamatti, Jamie Foxx, and Dane DeHaan as classic villains Rhino, Electro, and Green Goblin. Also returning are Emma Stone, as love-interest Gwen Stacy, and Sally Field, as aunt and maternal-figure May Parker. The cast is talented, and it’s clear that every actor tries as hard as humanly possible to inject relevance and emotion into otherwise one-dimensional characters.

However, despite herculean efforts, there is nothing any of these respected and compelling actors can do to save an excessive script. Worst of all is Giamatti’s role as Russian mobster-turned supervillain Aleksei Sytsevich. So gloriously over-the-top is the performance that Giamatti constantly seems to be one linguistic step away from asking Spider-Man if he ordered a plate of pirozhki.

Penned by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, and Jeff Pinker, the film’s script is tonally unaware to an almost comical degree. The truth is, there are three stories being told here.

The first is of a couple struggling to stay together despite being torn apart by uncontrollable circumstances. Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and he has a duty to protect the people of New York; Gwen Stacy is a scientific genius fresh out of high-school being recruited as an Oxford Scholar. Their lives are destined for separate futures.

The second is of a lonely electrical engineer whose desire to be recognized drives him to insanity. Max Dillon (played by Jamie Foxx) works for leading corporate empire OsCorp, and while his superiors recognize his skills, they fail to give him credit for his work. One day saved by Spider-Man, Dillon develops an obsession with the hero, and goes mad once he is transformed into the blue-skinned living battery Electro.

The third, and arguably most interesting story, is that of two boys angry at their fathers for deserting them during their youth. Harry Osborn (played by Dane DeHaan) is the son of dying corporate emperor Norman, and heir to the OsCorp throne. Norman’s illness is hereditary, and in an attempt to save himself (and his son), he sends Harry to boarding school while he attempts to find a cure. Peter Parker is the son of former OsCorp researcher Richard. Richard discovered OsCorp’s dirty secrets, and in an attempt to save his son, he vanishes, leaving the boy with Aunt May and Uncle Ben.

Disappointing is the film’s decision to try to expand and tell each of these stories simultaneously. Alone, there is material enough for three or four separate movies. Together, the multiple plots take away from each other, leaving the audience unable to focus on any individual conflict. It’s not that Marc Webb is a bad director – the fact that individual scenes draw in the audience and stimulate us is proof of Webb’s talent. The problem is that the film is unable to successfully unify its themes of loss, love, hope, and redemption.

Between Peter, Harry, Gwen, and Max is a venerable who’s who of troubled geniuses, but because they exist in a script unable to figure itself out, their stories are unsubstantial.

A glaring tonal imbalance is equally evident in the film’s score. With music scored by Hans Zimmer, Marc Webb, Pharrel Williams, Johnny Marr, Michael Einziger, and David A. Steward, it appears that the only unity The Amazing Spider-Man 2 can muster is in disharmony. The movie sometimes feels like a comicbook movie, sometimes feels like a romantic-comedy, and sometimes feels like a Skrillex-music video.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 made a lot of mistakes and Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 repeats almost every single one of those inconsistencies. Important to recognize is that Marc Webb has not created a bad movie. What he has created is an incoherent mess that is often entertaining and always infuriating. I mentioned earlier that the film clearly sets up future movies in the franchise. Sony has already announced that there are scripts in the works to expand on characters from the Spider-Man universe. I genuinely hope that the filmmakers attached with those projects learn from the mistakes made by The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

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Guardians of the Galaxy (TheByteScene Review)

Date: August 9th, 2014

TheByteDaily

Guardians of the Galaxy

3 True-Sci-Fi-Epics out of 4

At this point in cinematic history, it should come as absolutely no surprise that the latest addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a hit. In fact, there was little doubt that director James Gunn would succeed at translating the cosmic comic book team to the cinema screen. Certainly, any doubt that Guardians of the Galaxy would succeed only truly came from the cinema elite and nervous fans worried that Marvel’s string of successes would somehow end with this latest feature.

Interesting is that, unlike the remainder of the MCU’s source material, this iteration of the Guardians of the Galaxy is only 6 years old. While the original Guardians were first introduced in 1969, the team containing the characters Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, Groot, and Gamora (including a rotating selection of other characters) was first introduced in 2008 as a reboot of the original 1969 team. Make no mistake, however, the idea that Marvel was interested in introducing a cinematic iteration of the team was never a sign of studio arrogance. As new and obscure as the characters may be, I find it very difficult to believe that Marvel would allow one of their properties under their direct control to perform poorly.

Whereas Sony and Fox have been fighting their hardest to maintain some control over their respective franchises with varying results, Marvel Studios has yet to truly produce what anyone can call a bad movie. Even their lowest rated and poorest earning films have still been at par with almost all of the best produced cinematic superhero offerings. What I’ve come to realize about the so-called “Marvel Method,” and what I hope other studios like DC hope to learn, is that the best superhero movies aren’t truly superhero movies. Instead, they’re genre films that simply happen to feature superheros at their core. Utilizing a more recent example, Captain American: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World succeeded because they worked within the confines of their respective genres (a spy-thriller and a fantasy film respectively) while also featuring an already popular series of characters.

Keeping in mind that the best comic books have been stories that just so happen to feature an already established cast of characters, Marvel Studios seems to have realized that making a good movie is all about focusing on the importance of writing, characterization, editing, and cinematography. There was a time when superhero movies were, at best, attempts to satisfy fans who wanted to see their favourite characters on film and were, at worst, cash grabs made by studios trying to push comic books. In today’s cinematic age, thanks largely in part to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superhero movies are nothing more than well-made genre films.

In this same vein of cinematic purity, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy succeeds because of its adherence to the qualities of great science fiction and its decision to subvert the boring tropes that bog down weak sci-fi features. Characters whiz about in deep space amid a gorgeous landscape of stars and galaxies and planetary conflict set to an epic score undercut by hilariously anachronistic pop music. Characters are diverse and well-written with their own unique quirks and idiosyncrasies. There are multiple spaceship battles utilizing a variety of cool advanced technology. Most importantly, there’s a clear distinction between traditional effects, make-up, and CGI that makes even the most impossible visuals seem possible and real.

The main cast of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel as the voice of a talking tree, share a cohesive and familiar chemistry. Furthermore, the underlying themes of their friendship – wanting to do more with their unimportant lives – is surprisingly mature given the fact that Bradley Cooper voices a genetically enhanced raccoon and Vin Diesel’s only line is “I am Groot.” Cameos by Benicio del Toro (as Taneleer Tivan The Collector), Josh Brolin (as intergalactic warlord Thanos), and Glen Close further appease fans of the original source material.

Heroes aside, however, I was disappointed by the film’s cast of villains. Lee Pace stars as the film’s main antagonist, Ronan the Accuser – a warhammer wielding radical hellbent on the destruction of an entire galaxy – and I was left underwhelmed by the character. Compared to the broad scope portrayed by the film’s cast of heroes, Ronan is relatively flat and one-note. Secondary antagonists like Nebula (played by Karen Gillan) and Korath (played by Djimon Hounsou) are equally dull.

Cinematography by Ben Davis allows the film’s more poignant moments to shine, whereas action and grandiose scale are perfectly encapsulated in every subsequent scene. Director James Gunn has his tongue placed firmly in his cheek as the film finds the perfect balance between earnestness and not taking itself seriously in any capacity. Each sequence feels like Gunn is inviting the audience into his absurd, surreal vision of a very real galaxy.

Impossible to avoid mentioning are the film’s stunning colour palette – which should be used as a recruitment effort by NASA to convince people that space is awesome – and the film’s song selection – a collection of songs that score every scene with humour and emotion. Praise must be given to Tyler Bates, whose musical efforts deserve to be studied.

My only real complaints with the film are its forced efforts to tie-in the already established Marvel Cinematic Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy is undoubtedly part of the expansive MCU, and because of this fact, Thanos, the Infinity Stones, and the Nova Corps are introduced simply because future Marvel films require the set-up. Allow me to speak as a fan for a brief moment. Thanos was introduced as the man-behind-the-curtain in 2012’s The Avengers. It’s been two years, and moviegoers and fans alike have been waiting for the culmination of his grand plan, yet his reveal in this film is nothing more than an uninspired cameo. What should have been a grand reveal is admittedly rather weak.

Ignoring my complaints, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantasticsci-fi feature that stars a talented cast clearly in tune with each other and their director. It’s well written, well shot, well edited, and contains an absolutely amazing soundtrack.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subcribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

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The Hobbit (TheByteScene Review)

Date: January 12th, 2014

TheByteDaily

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

3 Vast-Improvements-Over-The-Original out of 4

Peter Jackson’s first foray with The Hobbitwas an awkward mess of a film. From a purely technical point of view, the movie was fantastic, but it was spectacularly boring with much of the main plot dragging on for far too long. Ironically, the film suffered specifically because of Jackson’s refusal to veer away from J.R.R. Tolkien’s original story. Even some of the most mindless and inane details that were present in Tolkien’s novel managed to find themselves in Jackson’s film, and the production was weaker for it.

Ironically, a feature that so closely followed its source material was the exact argument against perfect book-to-movie adaptations. Jackson proved that a film that follows its source material’s story to the last letter will not only run for an unnecessary amount of time, it will also be boring enough that it’s nearly three hour run time will feel like far more.

Thankfully, viewers and critics alike will be happy to know that The Desolation of Smaug is a fun production and a great movie. The visuals are beautiful, the action is plentiful and well choreographed, the acting is a mix between scene-chewingly absurd and succinctly minimalistic, and Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography yet again brings a fantastic Tolkien feel to New Zealand.

Jackson and his cast of artists let their world speak for itself, succeeding in carrying on the tradition of excellence that the original Lord of the Ringsfilms helped pioneer. Simply put, The Desolation of Smaugis the movie that An Unexpected Journeycould have been if much of the fat was trimmed off.

Picking up a short time after the conclusion of its predecessor, the hobbit Bilbo, the wizard Gandalf, and Thorin Okenshield and his team of dwarves are attempting to outrun the vengeful Azog the Orc, who served as the first film’s primary antagonist. Continuing their journey to reclaim The Lonely Mountain, the heroes split up into two groups, with Gandalf leaving to search for a reemerging evil in Middle Earth.

As with many long-existing franchises with a consistent track record of success, The Hobbitfilms are no longer exercises in film-making. Instead, they represent a shift to a wider universe with more characters, more locations, and new stories to entertain diehard fans and newcomers alike.

I suppose at this point, it’s unsurprising that Peter Jackson is going to make a great movie based on Tolkien’s work.

That The Desolation of Smaugfeatures strong performances by Richard Armitage, Martin Freeman, Evangeline Lily, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s low baritone (who voices the eponymous fire-breathing dragon Smaug) is just icing on the cake. Additional praise should be given to Stephen Fry who cameos as the Master of Laketown – a fat landlord who rules his city with a tyrannical and well-fed fist. Stephen Fry’s talent should never be called into question, and watching him saunter on screen to act out anything is always a treat.

The much touted 48 frames-per-second visual quality is yet again on display, and the movie is a stunning piece of art to behold. Colours are bolder, and scenes look like paintings, with CG characters and backgrounds almost seamlessly blending in with the rest of the production. Again, it should come as no surprise that special effects created by Weta Digital under the supervision of Jackson and his crew are beautiful.

The truth is that Peter Jackson is clearly a talented filmmaker with a keen eye for fixing his mistakes in order to strengthen his work. My largest concern with An Unexpected Journeywas its monotonously slow pacing, and The Desolation of Smaugliterally fixes this problem with the opening credits. Gone is a long, heavily narrated opening sequence that serves to recap the previous film’s events. Instead, Jackson presents a short cold open, flashes the film’s title, and continues with the story.

Ultimately, all that matters with universe building is the story. As long as the story is interesting and well-paced, everything else simply falls into place. The Desolation of Smaugfulfils this criteria with an effortlessly unfolding story that does away with any concern for plodding exposition. Audiences are treated to an entertaining production that benefits from a strong script, and a cast of artists who care.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

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Byzantium (TheByteScene Review)

Date: November 9th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Byzantium

3 Refreshingly-Different-Vampire-Stories out of 4

Our monsters define every aspect of our existence. Countries, and civilizations fall and rise, they may disagree on their approach to conquest and culture, but our monsters will always define our existence as a species. Vampires, goblins, ghouls, ghosts, and werewolves permeate our stories and feature in our darkest nightmares because these horrific creatures each represent a universal part of our collective psyches. What I’m saying is that I’m not surprised that vampires are so popular in western culture right now because they happen to represent a general fear that features in the hearts of many: Sexual freedom.

Neil Jordan’s Byzantium takes this conversation and combines it with the hypermasculine fear of powerful women. What he creates is a complex, interweaving story about two women clinging together against a world of men attempting to seduce, and slaughter them.

Narrated by and starring Gemma Arterton and Saorise Ronan, Byzantium slowly reveals the stories of Clara and Eleanor Webb, a mother-daughter vampire duo on the run from mysterious men in fashionable suits. Having been transformed over two centuries prior, Arterton’s Clara has only ever known one profession; immortality being what it is, Clara’s forced to use the only skills she has to provide for her daughter whose quest for her own freedom makes up the bulk of the film’s premise.

It’s the classic story about a child ready to leave home and an overprotective parent who knows better except death is far more imminent. That Eleanor falls for a dying boy living along the English country-side is blissfully romantic; that Clara rejects the notion of their “Young” love is more motherly than it is tyrannical.

Sean Bobbit’s cinematography allows for a fluid mix between perverse intimacy and obsessive distance. Scenes between Clara, Eleanor, and The Men They Meet are shot to highlight the bullet points in the conversation on smart people who are very good at selling their bodies. One wonders why savvy men and women of the night don’t apply their marketing skills to other aspects of sales. For Clara, the fact is that she’s very good at convincing men to sleep with her, very good at convincing other women to work for her, and has been practising for over 200 years.

Eleanor serves as Clara’s oft ignored compass; Ronan’s knowing, introspective gaze hides centuries-old wisdom behind her innocent demeanour. She’s a storyteller – rewriting and editing her life’s adventures every time she’s forced to move – and we learn about her past through her literature.

For all of the intense action that’s featured in the film, this is a character driven affair. Make no mistake, this isn’t a vampire movie as much as it is a story about a mother and daughter that happen to be vampires. A sweet film that’s intelligently shot, with random instances of violence that shouldn’t turn off viewers as much as make them question aspects of their species. It’s a film about our monsters and why they make us human. That both vampires and humans are portrayed as equally monstrous is a refreshing alternative.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC(EK)

A Temporally Impossible Space in Canada; Thanksgiving at the Farm (TheByteWeek Issue 17)

Date: October 25th, 2013

 

TheByteDaily

 

A Temporally Impossible Space in Canada; Thanksgiving at the Farm (TheByteWeek Issue 17)

 

It’s 8:00 in the morning and I’m awake. As I remember that it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I realize that I’ve spent the majority of my weekend alternating between studying physics and playing Pokemon. I smile to myself, wondering which avenue was better spent pursuing, before the gravity of time pushes down on me. I shower, and get myself ready for the day, keeping in mind that I need to be done by 9:00; if I’m late I’ll never hear the end of it. I fell asleep on a long drive before – once – and I’ve learned the importance of an awake, if not alert, front-seat passenger.

 

Clean, and barely awake, I eat my breakfast.

 

The drive from the city to the country is a commentary on the state of developed nations. Every piece of road is divided between modern design sensibilities and rustic throwbacks to a bygone era. The highway is new but the forest is old; the trees are looked after by various municipalities but the ground has been here for countless generations, through impossible lifetimes, and infinitely changing histories echoing sentiments of the natural past.

 

Roadsigns are meant to better the road but the drivers remain as reckless as when Ford first introduced his Model-T. There’s something to be said about the consistency in which vehicles throttling at over 27.8 m/s (100 km/h) manage to avoid total disaster.

 

As we drive out of the city, I introspect on the subtle shifts in architecture. Office buildings that belong to large multinational corporations staking claim to foreign and local markets turn into large suburban homes filled with similarly happy and differently unhappy families turn into farmland and enough agriculture to feed the majority of the country. Fourth largest out of 13 doesn’t mean very much until I remember that the fourth largest province in the second largest country in the world is still significantly larger than many countries in total. Ontario is large – large enough that it’s distinctions are noticeable and land is able to retain its architecture without giving into modernity.

 

I’m going to the farm today.

 

It’s not just any farm, of course, and it’s not my farm. It’s belonged to a Canadian family for over 40 years and it’s a reflection on the nature of change and the nature of change in Canada. We perceive time as linear when it’s really more like a series of random shifts in particle movement that somehow collides into something coherent that we categorize as forward motion. Time doesn’t move at the farm; it’s always a sunny Sunday morning even if it’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

 

The farm shouldn’t technically be possible; it’s a perfect amalgamation of pre-World War 1 agricultural Canada and post-Information Revolution 2013.

 

It’s Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables if those two things had the same setting but took place in modern times. The farmhouse is old, and it creaks and gives way like every good childhood memory, but it’s strong and reinforced with a tensile strength found only in machined titanium. The sink is old, but the bathtub is new; there’s a modern washer and dryer powered through modern AC/DC electrical technology in a bathroom that’s decorated with larges splashes of pioneer dreams. The kitchen is filled with toys that once belonged to the now fully-grown children still doing the dishes after dinner; the kids aren’t just alright – they never left to begin with. They got an education, live their own lives, have their own families, but once they’re back home time ceases to exist for them too.

 

There were also actual pies and tarts cooling in a window sill next to an espresso machine out of Star Trek, which I thought was charmingly anachronistic.

 

We’re completely out of the city now. I’m awake – against my desire to not be – and the sun has decided to acquaint itself with the forest. It’s autumn, of course, and the natural cellular respiration cycles of any non-Boreal tree is coming to an end, and they do so love putting on a grand show. I imagine directors would enjoy working with trees if trees had the capacity to act out Shakespeare; trees have bit roles in a large planetary drama, yet they enter and exit each scene with such panache. On-stage, they only attempt to better the scene, never trying to take away from what any other actor does. Now it’s time to bow out, but they’re leaving in style, and we’re the ones who will clean up after them thank you very much.

 

Driving through another small town, there’s a nonsensical welcome sign – as we leave we’re told to “Please call again.” Paved road soon becomes gravel which quickly becomes dirt. Farms are on all sides. There’s a bridge overlooking a creek, and enough passing-by pick-up trucks to shoot a Jason Aldean music video. Things seem familiar even though I don’t entirely remember them, but that’s only because of how familiar everything always seems when you’re seeing it for one of the first times.

 

Finally, we get to the farm. At least, we get off the main road that leads to an inroad that leads to the farm. We get to the farm and it looks the same as I remember it, except this time it isn’t winter so there’s corn growing. I know how I’m going to spend Thanksgiving weekend. I’m going to do exactly what you’re supposed to do on the second Monday of every October. I’m going to be with family, and though I can’t possibly lay claim to any members of the families I’ll meet, I’m going to be treated like family. I’m reminded of Marc Cohn’s trip to Memphis as I step through the front door and greet the men who I’ll call uncles, the women who I’ll call aunts, the children who I’ll call nieces and nephews, and the elders who I’ll call grandparents.

 

The farm isn’t mine. Neither is the hammock in the backyard, nor the shed filled with supplies. The kitchen, dining room, bathrooms, living rooms, solarium, bedrooms, and piano will never be mine.

 

I’m not a Christian child either, but man I am tonight.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-SC(EK)

Pacific Rim (TheByteScene Review)

Date: September 9th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Pacific Rim

3 Giant-Robots-Fighting-Giant-Monsters out of 4

It’s a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters from a different universe. No, really, Guillermo del Toro, the famed director behind Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, The Devil’s Backbone, and a wide array of other films has returned to create a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters from a different universe. And it’s awesome. No, seriously.

The movie’s premise is simple, succinct, and straightforward: Giant monsters from another dimension named Kaiju attack Earth from a breach in the Pacific Ocean and the world’s governments work together to create giant robots named Jaegers to fight the unearthly threat. Taking place days after the Jaeger programmed is decommissioned, four remaining Jaegers set up a final resistance against the Kaiju menace in an all-or-nothing gambit for the fate of the world. Again, the movie’s premise is straightforward, and little time is spent on meaningless exposition; despite, or perhaps due to, the film’s ambitious nature, the plot is streamlined and all character interactions are limited by purpose.

What is the point of the conversation, what purpose does it serve to have these characters meet, how is the plot affected by this piece of dialogue? Once a scene answers these questions, the movie quite literally returns to the action, drawing in the audience with visuals, CGI, graphics, robots, monsters, and set pieces that are operatically epic. The film’s pace carries the audience from set piece to set piece choosing to spend time on creating a world where the Jaegers and Kaiju reign supreme.

Above all else, Pacific Rim is an exercise in visual mastery.

Created by artists whose love for the Mecha and Kaiju genres, and tokusatsu is abundant and evident, the movie radiates in subtle homages, references, and pastiches to the works of masters such as Ishiro Honda, Hideaki Anno, Go Nagai, Akira Kurosawa, Yutaka Izubuchi, and Yoshiyuki Tomino.

To those unversed in the staples that these creators and their works pioneered, the movie is loud, beautiful, epic, and awesome. A score by Ramin Djawadi creates a powerful atmosphere that the movie relishes in exploring, and though blockbuster action is present, watching Jaegers pummel, and get pummeled by, Kaiju is akin to watching master warriors dance around a large apocalyptic canvas. The fight choreography is akin to watching violent ballet; Jaegers and Kaiju match one another’s moves like dancers who have spent years learning each other’s intricacies and idiosyncrasies, and discovering new ways to adapt and conform to them.

Yes, the film’s plot is thin. Yes, the characters are fleshed out just enough to explain their motivations. Yes, the action is loud, bombastic, frequent, and worthy of the “Summer Blockbuster” distinction. Beyond these criticisms, Pacific Rim is beautiful, expertly choreographed, beautifully directed, and spectacularly scored.

As always, this has been your Admin, the Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

– SC(EK)

Understanding Film Critics; Yet Another Frivolous Article on the Importance of Argument

Date: September 7th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Understanding Film Critics; Yet Another Frivolous Article on the Importance of Argument

I fear becoming a movie critic.

To anyone who claims that fear isn’t real, and that it’s nothing more than a metaphysical extension of danger, I say this: Start writing movie reviews. There’s something about criticizing movies – compared to criticizing music, books, or even theatre – that somehow manages to enrage entire populations of the educated world. Truthfully, there’s something about criticizing movies that makes me fear writing too many movie reviews without producing a completely unrelated article. Even if I consider writing an opinion piece about movies instead of an actual movie review, I still manage to send nervous chills down my spine. Interestingly enough, for anyone who pays attention to my frequent absenteeism, it can be noted that most of the articles I write before a major hiatus are about movies.

There’s no need to be needlessly ambiguous with my critical fears; my worries have nothing to do with the enormous public backlash my reviews conjure within society. Quite the contrary, I absolutely love it when I start a needlessly detailed and incredibly laid out argument about the current trappings of the silver screen. Putting it delicately, I’m afraid of writing too much about movies because of the small percentage of the population that doesn’t understand the need for criticism, critique, reviews, or opinion pieces on the current state of art, media, life, the universe, and everything.

Putting it indelicately, there are people who don’t understand why it’s important to criticize everything, and these people scare me. Granted, previous articles have approached the ridiculous notion of “Questioning Everything” with the necessary quizzical-questioning glare that Socrates himself would surely embolden. Still, I find it’s far easier to tackle a single sample rather than the entire population, so I’ll continue discussing my fears nonetheless. Back to my point, I’m scared of becoming a movie critic because of the people who unironically argue the need to criticize.

I hope my point is made clear even at a perfunctory glance: I’m scared of becoming a movie critic because of the people who argue that we don’t need to argue about movies. I’m scared of writing too much – too often – about movies because of the people who attempt to dismiss, dismantle, and destroy the idea of criticism while simultaneously exercising, employing, and engaging their very rational desires to criticize and argue. Despite what a poorly educated pacifist might say, the universe runs on the intrinsic idea that there are positives and negatives, and these positives and negatives always interact even on microcosmic scales.

I admit that my explanation of quantum theory distracts from my argument regarding criticism, so I’ll be brief in my digression.

Why is it so important for me, or anyone, to criticize anything? Because that’s the whole point; without criticism, without argument, and without debate, things have a tendency to fall towards calculated tyranny and an eventual acceptance of blatant complacency.

Certainly, for all of my criticism of Transformers: Dark of the Moon not a single penny was withheld by the people who helped produce its billion dollar profit margin.

That is a very strong argument against film criticism.

For all the time invested into pointing out cinematic flaws, people still watch “Bad” movies, and for all the work done pointing out cinematic ingenuity, people will still avoid “Good” movies like I imagine medieval Europeans avoided the bubonic plague.

This is a strong argument regarding all forms of criticism.

Eventually, regardless of the work one might put into criticizing anything, one’s effort will be an exercise in futility. Presidents won’t be impeached – they’ll be re elected; governments won’t fall – they’ll simply become more intent on inconspicuously brutalizing their people; and Michael Bay won’t be driven out of Hollywood by a crowd carrying pitchforks and torches – he’ll go on to direct another Transformers sequel and Pain and Gain (which, admittedly, wasn’t absolutely terrible).

I argue that results are only one part of the overall structure, and that meaning and knowledge are equally important derivatives.

Why is it so important for me, or anyone, to criticize anything? It’s so we can learn something instead of sheltering ourselves in a cocoon of safety and self indulgence. Why is it so important for me to call a movie bad? It’s so I can start an argument and try to understand why I might be wrong, and why someone else might be right.

I’m still scared of becoming a movie critic, but thanks to this article I’ve learned that I’m only scared of being called one. I might never pursue cinema in any way after this article, but at least now I know that my fears are less physical and more entirely immaterial.

In any form, criticism is an extension of self-examination, and I argue that there are few things less frivolous in this universe than attempting to understand this universe.

This has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-SC (EK)

Man of Steel (TheByteScene Review)

Date: June 16th, 2013

 

TheByteDaily

 

Man of Steel

 

4 Superpowered-deity-figures out of 4

 

The world isn’t ready for a superman.

 

For the duration of Man of Steel’s 143 minute running time, that is the single most discussed question the film attempts to tackle. Ignoring the multitude of philosophical questions that arise at the existence of a superman, none is more pertinent than the issue of how we as a planet will react to their existence. In my conclusion, the world isn’t ready for a superman.

 

The planet Krypton’s core is about to collapse on itself from an accumulated waste of resources over countless generations. The Kryptonian scientist Jor-El alerts the high council of this information, only to have the elders scoff at his insubordination and arrogance. The Kryptonian general Dru-Zod enters the council chamber announcing a coup d’etat, claiming that the high council has reigned for too long producing too little for the people of Krypton. Zod agrees with Jor-El’s sentiments, but differs in the application of his beliefs.

 

Played with little effort by Michael Shannon, General Zod lacks the gravitas one would attribute to a military general, or a villain of any kind. Instead, he serves as a man forced to play his hand at the announcement of the genocide of both his people, and his planet. Under different circumstances, Zod would be less of a terrorist, and more of a revolutionary. Played masterfully by Russel Crowe, Jor-El has given up on his planet’s salvation, and has placed his faith and his hope in his newborn son, Kal-El. Sending Kal-El to Earth in a ship marked with the House of El’s seal, the Kryptonian scientist knowingly changes the fate of both Earth and Krypton.

 

Believing that the day will come when Kal-El will be able to lead the people of Earth into the sun, Jor-El assumes that we will be ready for the arrival of a saviour.

 

This son of the house of El grows up on a farm, raised by two Kansas farmers in the town of Smallville, USA. Their names are Jonathan and Martha Kent, played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. The boy is raised as their own; naming him Clark, Jonathan urges his alien son to hide his powers to avoid exposing himself to the horrors and condemnation of the human world. Struggling to find a balance between helping and hiding, Clark’s eventual journey is chronicled in flashback sequences edited to near perfection with the events unfolding on-screen. If there’s anything wrong with the movie, it’s the herculean task Jonathan asks of his adopted son. The idea that a hero must hide himself away for the right moment, hiding his powers, and forcing himself to avoid being an instrument of salvation is almost incomprehensible. Regardless of the audience’s own beliefs, it’s impossible to deny the truth in the elder Kent’s words; the world is not ready for a superman.

 

Henry Cavill plays a different kind of hero than Christopher Reeve; Cavill’s is more stoic, more real, with fewer lines of witty banter or snappy dialogue. What can be said in a paragraph of monologuing is delivered through a single glance, half a minute’s worth of dialogue is resolved in a conflicted stare. Cavill is able to portray a character bogged down with the notion that he must wait for the right moment, while never knowing when that moment will reveal itself. His acts of heroics are carried out in the shadows, and when his moment finally reveals itself, the burden of truth weighs heavy on his shoulders.

 

This is a Superman in an age where supermen no longer belong. This is a superman struggling to come to terms with both his humanity, and his alien heritage. That he falls for the human Lois Lane, played well by Amy Adams, and is forced to battle his own people to protect his adopted home is only the tip of Superman’s existential crisis.

 

Interestingly, action carries the majority of the film; the movie opens with the destruction of Krypton, and only takes breaks to let Clark Kent grow up and General Zod to distance himself from humanity. Whatever exposition exists in quiet, solitary moments, but philosophy, symbolism, and imagery permeate the entire movie. For a summer blockbuster so full of action and movement, and a hero so impossible to connect with, David S. Goyer writes a script begging to be challenged and analyzed, and a character begging to be related to. The film grows with the character, allowing the audience to grow in turn. The soundtrack is deep, eclectic, and visceral, giving a conflicted character varying levels of resolve. Hans Zimmer manages to perfectly convey the Superman that Zack Snyder has directed.

 

The film concludes that the world needs a superman. I argue that this is true; we need a superman. However, I genuinely believe that the world is not yet ready for one. Man of Steel is one of the greatest representations of the Superman character, and should be congratulated on finally bringing the essence of the character to mainstream audiences. By focussing on the man, and using the super as a plot hook, the film manages to convey a universe larger than our own, inhabited by beings beyond our comprehension.

 

I end with a final word regarding the movie’s critical and popular reception. This movie, and every aspect of it’s release including its soundtrack, has divided audiences.

 

It should.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the avid blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK