Archive for the ‘ Tech ’ Category

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!

-SC(EK)

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!

-SC(EK)

Avatar: The Legend of Korra [Season Two] (TheByteScene Review)

Date: July 1st, 2014

TheByteDaily

The Legend of Korra (Book Two: Spirits)

3 Dichotomous-Comparisons-Of-Good-And-Evil out of 4

Within the universe of Nickelodeon’s Avatar, everything is about maintaining balance. For every action, there’s an opposite reaction, and for every success there’s an accompanying failure. With the end of Book One, Korra had brought balance to the world, having completed her story arc while simultaneously connecting with her spiritual side and learning how to airbend.

The problem with the conclusion of Book One, however, is that Korra’s story was, for all intents and purposes, complete. The great evil had been vanquished, the great personal struggle had been overcome, and all was right in the world. To top it all off, series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko even wrapped up Korra’s romantic tribulations by bringing her together with Republic City firebender Mako.

Book One was never intended to be the beginning of a grand story. Quite the contrary, with The Legend of Korra‘s now first season, Michael and Bryan’s original intentions were to create a 12-episode miniseries for fans of their original show. It was a chance to tell a quick story about the next avatar and expand their creation’s universe, certainly not a chance to extend the franchise with four new seasons. With the revelation that Nickelodeon had picked up the series for three more seasons, all of the personal struggle Korra overcame with Amon and the Equalists had to be erased to make room for more character growth and more obstacles to bypass.

Spirits therefore, is troublesome as a season specifically because it serves as a character and partial series reboot, tying in Book One’s accomplishments while wiping Korra’s personality slate clean. At the conclusion of Book One, Korra had gained insight and maturity. At the beginning of Book Two, however, Korra is back to her snarky, arrogant self. She ignores Tenzin’s advice, clashes with Mako, abuses her avatar powers, and proves to be a general annoyance to audiences who have already witnessed her evolution.

By all accounts, Korra is now a full-fledged avatar, having mastered all four elements and gaining control over the omnipotent Avatar State. As far as anyone is concerned, her journey is complete, and any other adventures are merely extensions of her responsibilities as the avatar.

The first half of Book Two, therefore, attempts to present audiences with a compelling reason to continue watching Korra’s journeys as avatar. To do so, the show uses spirits and the spirit world as one more lesson Korra must master in order to truly call her journey complete, introducing the character of Unalaq (Korra’s uncle) and the concept of dark spirits.

I prefer to look at Book Two as consisting of two halves. The first half, comprised of the first six episodes, is the weaker portion of the season. The animation is weaker, the plot struggles to find a meaningful foothold, characters are all but rebooted to their Book One selves, and the lack of a compelling villain makes watching the show feel like a bother.

Many of my major complaints with the first half of Book Two have to do with the weak animation. For visual mediums, two components are paramount: Visuals and Writing. Weak writing can be forgiven in favour of marvelous visuals, and weak visuals can be forgiven if the writing is entertaining and compelling. Sadly, the writing and animation of the first six episodes in Book Two are mediocre at best.

The decision to switch from Korean Studio Mir to Japanese Studio Pierot proved to be a major misstep on the part of the showrunners. Though the series’ painting-like backgrounds remained, characters are static and lifeless. Furthermore, action sequences driven by kinetic movement are boring and lacking in vitality.

Issues with the first half of Book Two extend beyond visual quality. In terms of writing, because Michael and Bryan were busy setting up mythology and plot-threads for the second half of Book Two (and by extension, the rest of the series) the first six episodes are all posturing and no payoff.

Episodes like Rebel Spirit and both Civil Wars are heavy on build-up with little delivery, and feel tedious to sit through. It goes without saying that episodes one through six are better when watched a second time, but the expectation that audiences will sit through boring television the first time around is a dangerous risk to take.

Perhaps Book Two’s greatest failing is the lack of a compelling villain in Unalaq. Certainly, he does bad things and hurts people, but his reasons for doing so are difficult to ascertain. I don’t mean that I don’t understand why he does what he does, I mean that I don’t really care that he does anything in the first place. Unalaq is introduced as the spiritual leader of the Northern Water Tribe intent on unifying the Southern Tribe into his control. He’s disappointed with the world’s lack of spirituality, but because spirits and spirituality have always been secondary concepts in the Avatar universe, it’s difficult to truly identify with his concerns. Unalaq becomes one more villain acting simply because he’s evil.

Starting with the masterful Beginnings episodes, both Studio Mir and writing the Avatar series is famous for make a return. Telling the story of the first person to gain the title of Avatar, Beginnings describes how Aladdin-like street rat Wan goes from stealing bread to saving the world. Answering long-standing series questions about the nature of bending, the origins of the Avatar spirit, and the role of Spirits, Beginnings is the best part of Book Two, and perhaps a highlight for the entire Korra series.

Choosing to animate the pair of episodes with an East Asian ink wash painting and woodblock motif, Studio Mir’s returned involvement with Korra serves as a series return to form. Following Beginnings, the remaining episodes in Book Two (and the rest of the series) are animated by Studio Mir. With the Korean studio return dynamic facial expressions, a camera that shakes and stutters with every punch, and characters who don’t feel like static images on a page.

Most importantly, Beginnings serves as the long-awaited explanation for the actions of season villain Unalaq. He plans on opening the gates between the spirit and mortal planes using the power of the ancient dark spirit Vaatu. Once Unalaq’s motivations are made evident, he becomes more than just another bad guy. Yes, it’s the standard fantasy fair of light versus dark, but for a season composed of tedious and seemingly disconnected plot threads, it’s good to know that there is method to the maddening first-half chaos.

Despite my grumblings, the first half of Book Two isn’t without highlights. Howard Hughes-like inventor and businessman extraordinaire Varrick helps keep things interesting even though his involvement in the main plot is minor at most. That being said, Varrick is the secondary plot’s driving force, working with Asami and Bolin to create propaganda against Unalaq. There’s a satisfying undercurrent of duplicity with Varrick, and much of Book Two’s first half is more interesting because of the scenes where characters (and the audience) struggle to identify his alignment.

Also part of the secondary plot, Tenzin’s relationship with his immediate and extended family serve to raise questions of legacy and family in compelling ways. Tenzin’s arguments with his siblings Kya and Bumi bring years of tension and difficulty to the surface while also adding an extra dimension to the character of original series lead Aang. It turns out that Aang wasn’t the greatest father to his three children, and they all blame each other and themselves for not being able to live up to his expectations.

Interesting is how the series tackles the issue of brotherly love. Disregarding the Tenzin family drama, every major villain introduced in the Avatar universe – Ozai from The Last Airbender, Amon from Book One, and now Unalaq – is somehow bound to a brother.

The idea that two brothers could walk down wildly separate paths is at the heart of the balance dichotomy inherent to the Avatar franchise.

Without a doubt, Book Two’s most compelling storylines have very little to do with Korra, whose childlike insistence on barrelling through obstacles instead of rationally thinking about them cause trouble in-world and with the audience. My real gripe with Korra’s character has little to do with the way she was written and everything to do with the reboot Michael and Bryan felt was necessary for the series. Korra’s decision to abandon her airbending and spiritual mentor Tenzin in favour of spiritual guidance from Unalaq, for example, doesn’t make sense within the context of her Book One self.

Indeed, most of Korra’s decisions seem contradictory to the growth she achieved in Book One. I look forward to seeing how Korra’s character will continue to evolve following the conclusion of Spirits, as I have no doubt that her character will bear closer resemblance to the Korra at the conclusion of Book One now that Book Two has ended.

Ironically, despite Book Two’s conclusion bringing on great change for the Korra series, there is now a satisfying return to normalcy in the Avatar world. In a cathartic way, The Legend of Korra has shrugged off the burden associated with being a descendant of The Last Airbender, and with a firm understanding that Korra is not its predecessor, the show has a chance to truly achieve the greatness it deserves. Truthfully, along with the return of Studio Mir, Korra accepting that it will never be The Last Airbender makes me the most excited for Book Three.

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)

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!

-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)

Star Trek Into Darkness (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 17th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Star Trek Into Darkness

3.5 Ignored-Federation-Directives out of 4

 

The last time J.J. Abrams had his name attached to a Star Trek movie, he managed to reboot the entire film franchise while finding a way to introduce new viewers to the original series that captivated and entertained audiences for years. He was able to craft a well-written movie that focused on its characters and their relationships to each other, while insuring that cinematography, special effects, sound direction, and editing were all treated with respect and admiration. Utilizing the original series as a framework, Abrams insured that the rebooted film would have its roots planted firmly in the original franchise, meaning that though the film would be exist in its own universe, it still treated its source material with respect, admiration, and honour.

 

This time, with the ironically named Star Trek Into Darkness, he managed to do all of that again, recreating what was amazing about the original series in a fresh, interesting way tying characters, plot, and the original mythos into a single comprehensible and incredibly comprehensive beast of a movie.

 

With Klingons too!

 

The Enterprise crew is tasked with finding and eliminating John Harrison, a man at the heart of a terror attack on a Federation records facility in London who ends up killing Kirk’s mentor and the man who encouraged him to join Starfleet. The plot concerns itself with revenge, and thanks to the presence of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, there’s quite a bit of discussion regarding the moral and ethical virtues of revenge.

 

What made the original Star Trek series so amazing was the way each character fulfilled a role on the Enterprise, all while existing beyond their titles. Each character received fair treatment, and their characterization did not begin and end with their positions onboard the travelling vessel. The importance of the entire crew of both the Enterprise and the actors starring in the show tied the show’s plot together with the overarching themes of exploration, adventure, and science.

 

In order to insure the new franchise succeeds, Abrams expertly tackles the disjointed unity the crew shares in their infancy by having them constantly bicker, banter, and crack jokes with one another in a realistic and human way. Kirk is Captain of the Federation vessel, but he is still young and naive despite his experiences. Spock, the analytical, logical Vulcan mind shows his humanity with his friendship with Kirk, romance with the ship’s communications officer Uhura, and the relationship he shares with the rest of the crew. The loss of even a single central character marks the loss of a family member in the mind of both the remaining crew, and the audience. This familial importance is central to the second Abrams helmed Star Trek film, with the movie actually beginning in media res with Kirk almost losing Spock at the risk of violating the Federation’s infernal Prime Directive.

 

This mention of the Prime Directive marks the beginning of an onslaught of nods, references, hat tips, homages, and callbacks to the original series and the original films. Which is to say nothing of Leonard Nimoy’s brief cameo as Spock Prime.

 

A common criticism of the original Abrams Star Trek movie was that the film spent too much time stopping mid action to quote the original series in a self-referential way. As a way to insure the audience realizes it’s watching a Star Trek movie, many believed the script was interrupted to bring back a kind of nostalgia. The detractors who felt the first film’s script was weaker because of the Original Series nods will not enjoy this Star Trek movie. The only critical solace I can provide for those detractors is insisting that Abrams does a masterful job of uniting new and old in a single interesting package.

 

I realize that my defence may fall on deaf ears.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness features remarkable performances from each member of its crew, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the rogue Federation officer turned terrorist John Harrison is brutal, terrifying, and, quite simply, fascinating. He plays a character at odds with the Federation (just like literally every Star Trek villain ever) who embodies everything Starfleet stands against. His horrific brutality is fascinating because it invokes a performance that is both the antithesis and a parallel to that of Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk.

 

Suffice it to say, Cumberbatch’s soft spoken terror is played to great effect, and he is a worthy adversary to Kirk, the Enterprise’s crew, and the entire Federation as a whole.

 

Fascinatingly, the latest Star Trek film is everything that a good episode of Star Trek should be. It focuses on the characters, the villain, the Federation, and on the USS Enterprise’s evolving nature as both a peacekeeping vessel and the unifying force that brings together the assortment of personalities that form its crew. Abrams has crafted a sequel that is equal to its original film and the franchise from which it deviates. There’s a kind of consistency that isn’t always afforded to sequels – which many feel should bigger and bolder than the originals. Abrams takes this notion and spins it on its head, creating a sequel that is neither bigger nor bolder, but is, instead, simply amazing Star Trek.

 

As far as Star Trek movies go, that’s an accomplishment all unto itself. As far as movies go, that’s a compliment of the highest magnitude.

 

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

 

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 16th, 2013

TheByteDaily

The Great Gatsby

3.0 Pink-suits-and-yellow-cars out of 4

 

Let it never be said that Baz Luhrmann’s directing lacks in style, or subtlety. Certainly, a few odd choices, and perhaps a few unnecessary slips and tumbles, but let it never be said that Baz Luhrmann cannot produce an entertaining, enthralling, and enchanting film that captivates and connects with its audience on an intrinsically emotional level.

 

For all the modern film techniques that Luhrmann utilizes to great effect, for all the modern, edited, remastered, and remixed tracks that make up the bulk of the film’s soundtrack and score, and for all the special effects and CGI the film splashes on screen, the heart of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic burns on with a passion that only rivals Gatsby’s. Surrounded by no small amounts of pomp and pageantry, the film’s core characters exist in a vivaciously raucous stage that stands to parallel everything Fitzgerald intended to stand for in his criticisms of the decade, its decadence, and its people.

 

For those unfamiliar with the story of the eponymous Great Gatsby: kind, trustworthy, and considerate Yale graduate Nick Carraway realizes that there’s money to be had in bonds and Wall Street, throws away his aspirations to be a writer, moves into a home in Nouveau-Riche West Egg, befriends the mysterious bachelor Jay Gatsby, and finds himself being the confidant of a parade of characters each subsequently more wealthy and extravagant. All over the course of a single summer.

 

Written into an almost soap-operatic love story, Gatsby is hopefully in love with Nick’s cousin, old money Daisy Buchanan, who is married to old money Yale graduate – and former polo player – Tom Buchanan. Nick finds himself involved in their lives through a series of hushed whispers and quiet voices, eventually becoming a part of a magnificent tapestry of lies, deceit, and infidelity. All over the course of a single summer.

 

For those unfamiliar with the story, Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic rendition serves as a perfect entry point to understand the plot’s underlying themes, and to enjoy the characters in a slightly more abridged version than would be expected. For those familiar with the story, the latest revisioning of the classic plot is a reminder of why the book is so highly regarded, and before I continue, praise must be paid to Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Joel Edgerton for their respective portrayals of Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, and Tom Buchanan. Each actor, through some subtle and some not-so-subtle reveals, portrays minute details of their character in an almost spiritual way. Suffice it to say, DiCaprio is the Great Gatsby, as much he is a great choice for the role of Gatsby.

 

The film’s special effects, CGI, and cinematography must be equally lauded for producing a genuine portrayal of the parties that Gatsby throws. Onscreen, the parties are a regal mess, muddy and chaotic in a calm, serene, and methodical fashion. Music, lighting, fashion, people, and effects create a blissfully tormenting view of the parties that are described as being wildly extravagant and sublimely gauche. It’s impossible to view the chaos on screen with anything less than a yearning desire to be a part of the rambunctious display of excess that make up the mystery surrounding Gatsby.

 

Remarkable that the windows are intact, let alone the house not caving in on itself after the first hour.

 

Despite the ceremony and fanfare awarded to the party sequences, The Great Gatsby was in no need of the post 3D conversion. While quite pretty to look at in the added dimension, this is not a film that demands to be viewed with the depth spectacles. It’s evident that certain sequences were edited specifically so someone would have an excuse to demand the conversion (and the added price tag that goes along with it), but viewing the film in the original 2 dimensional format is more than satisfactory to enjoy the entire experience. In summation: This time, 3D literally adds nothing to the experience.

 

The soundtrack, an eclectic combination and remastering of current hip hop, rock, jazz, and R&B tracks, edited and produced by Baz Luhrmann, Anton Monsted, and Jay-Z add a modern twist to the film’s Roaring Twenties backdrop. It’s fascinating watching characters do the Charleston to a will.i.am produced and performed beat, if only to realize that music is timeless. All it really takes is the careful application of imagination for the arts to work harmoniously coalesce, and it’s unnecessary to say that the soundtrack is the perfect anachronistic juxtaposition for the film’s 1920’s framework. Some will leave dissatisfied with the musical selections, others will marvel at the fusion jazz that infuses the film with charm.

 

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a film that doesn’t lack charm, panache, flamboyance, or subtlety and is made better for it. The acting, directing, cinematography, editing, plot, effects, and parties are all a reminder of what talent can produce. They’re also a steady reminder of what achievement can be found if just the right amount of hard work mixes with talent.

 

Gatsby would be proud.

 

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

 

The Student’s Dilemma; A Discussion of Intellectual Understimulation, Workaholism, and Boredom

Date: May 14th, 2013

TheByteDaily

The Student’s Dilemma; A Discussion of Intellectual Understimulation, Workaholism, and Boredom

 

The average undergraduate school year in the province of Ontario lasts eight months, with the remaining four months dedicated specifically towards “Summer holidays.” Two semesters divided between eight months, produce four grueling months of education, filled to the brim with tests, assignments, projects, papers, and lectures. Understandably, the summer months come as a quiet respite, though students will find themselves either continuing their educations by taking summer courses, or finding some form of work or internship to occupy their time by beginning a career and entering the workforce. Finally, how a school determines their credit count is arbitrary and irrelevant, with schools requiring varying amounts of “Credits” to graduate a degree program.

 

The provincial government determines a single university school year as containing 10 classes; engineering, and certain other programs require more classes, but the consensus is that no degree program requires less than 5 courses between two semesters.

 

Comparatively, the average high school year in the province of Ontario last ten months, with two months specifically dedicated towards “Summer holidays.” Depending on the school, and excluding the Catholic school boards (of which I have absolutely no knowledge), ten months are divided between two semesters, with a total of five months per semester dedicated to a yearly total of eight classes. One can immediately notice that the most obvious difference between University and High School isn’t just the length, but the two extra classes that University students are expected to take.

 

From a purely academic point-of-view, high school students are afforded more time to work on fewer classes, which is normally why the hardest transitional change for first-year university students is getting used to having less time to work on more subjects. “Normally,” because the hardest transition isn’t something that is tangibly there, but something that all but disappears into a narrow void.

 

Two months of schooling and education are eradicated in the transition between university and high school.

 

For many students these extra two months provide momentary peace and respite to prepare one’s self for the inevitable onslaught that a return to university entails. For many students, the total four months allow an individual time to relax and enjoy time as something more than a frail reminder of how much work is left, how little work has been done, and how much more work it’s going to take to finish.

 

For many students however, these four months serve as a form of intellectual understimulation, and for those unlucky to not have any plans, unlucky enough to be unable to find work, and unlucky enough to not have the advantage of travelling, these four months serve as an intellectual prison-sentence where boredom is one’s jailer, and apathetic complacency is one’s cellmate. I find that therein lies a paradoxical dilemma with being a full time student and having so long a break to relax in. Working – the mere act of doing something with an end result or an ultimate goal in mind – becomes the norm, and while I’m not arrogant enough to claim that the stress of activity becomes an addiction, even minor amounts of inactivity are agonizing.

 

A four month intellectual alienation is an all-consuming, harrowing, almost torturous test of sanity.

 

For a final comparison, the average Ontario work year provides approximately three to six weeks of paid vacation, with certain civic holidays providing additional time off. Certain Christian holy days also produce time off, with Christmas and Easter being two notable dates. Though the average work day is from 9-5 for full time wages, the Ontario government requires a mandatory 48 hours of work a week, with everything else being regarded as overtime. Those who work more than the government mandated 48 hours – for whatever reason – do so to accomplish certain goals and make sacrifices to achieve them.

 

Compared to the average student, even the least productive worker is an unabashed workaholic.

 

I suppose the truth is that the experience is universal, and it transcends all individuals who take pride in work, in action, and in doing. The mere act of not doing or not working, the mere notion of not accomplishing a task – regardless of how simple it may be – is daunting and, quite simply, mind numbing. The term workaholic is a colloquial concept and refers to someone who is enamored in their work; one’s life revolves around their work, and the term hints at the numerous personal sacrifices one has to make in order to accomplish their goals.

 

Perhaps it’s merely a colloquial paradigm, or perhaps it’s a human need to do better, to create more, to accomplish greater things. Perhaps the idea is something far more simple than the human need to advance; perhaps boredom and intellectual ennui are so harrowing, that the mere thought of inactivity is terrifying enough to elicit action. I can’t be so bold as to state that I know how people can stand to throw their time away by doing nothing and remaining complacent, but I do know that the urgency produced by complacency is often enough motivation for action.

 

The issue then becomes finding something to fill one’s time. In an understandable twist of events, I’ve noticed that it’s difficult to determine whether the colloquialism is meant to be an insult or a great compliment.

 

Though I’m lucky this summer; I actually have something to do.

 

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

 

Superman; If Only We Could Be so Human

Date: April 28th, 2012

TheByteDaily

Superman; If Only We Could Be so Human

 

I have always bared a heavy bias towards the Dark Knight. In what can only be described as the most pervasive form of artistic negligence, I entered the Batman v. Superman case having already decided that my allegiances lay against the Last Son of Krypton. Considering this is a mere extension of the decades old fan-debate over who is better than whom, it’s understandable that I didn’t place great penalty on the infraction; I’m a bigger fan of Batman than I am of Superman, I think that Batman is a better hero than Superman, and that really is the end of that.

 

Regardless, having read more stories that feature the big blue boyscout, I’ve come to the disastrous conclusion that I was, ultimately, wrong about Superman. My original article about the debate, for anyone who wants a fair understanding of what makes Batman a remarkable example of human fortitude and perseverance.

 

However, I was wrong about Superman, which is why I feel the need to approach the subject yet again, with a more equivocal and understanding view of the immigrant from the stars who taught us all how to be heroes.

 

It’s helpful that a superhero’s name is a how-to guide to understanding what makes them so special (The Flash being a disappointing example of the evolution of language, and his name notwithstanding), because Superman’s identity is entirely encapsulated in his nom de plume. To avoid the redundancy that I’m sure will arise from this article, Superman will hitherto be referred to by one of his numerous noms populaires. Kal-El’s entire existence can be summed up in his chosen hero name; simply put, he is a super man. Certainly, it helps that his kryptonian physiology becomes supercharged once it is in the presence of a yellow sun, which makes him a living solar battery capable of storing an unlimited amount of varying forms of solar radiation, but beyond the powers that grant him the ability to be more than human, he is simply nothing more than a super man.

 

Before writing this article, I considered what this could mean – I attempted to distinguish traits that result in an individual being more than human, and I found that I almost immediately drew a blank. Continuing my original train of thought, I decided to ignore the greater-than-human-traits, and simply focus on the great human traits. I happen to bare a strong genetic bias towards my own species, and though the human population does not possess the greatest list of genetic advantages, it’s undeniable that we seem to possess an astounding ability to propagate and survive. A further obstacle arose when I was forced to admit that the many great human qualities are only labeled because humans themselves have been in possession of the Dymo.

 

Compassion, a desire to help family, generosity, hope, and benevolence are biological necessities, and deeming certain traits “Great” simply because humans found a good word to describe various acts of charity is not only arrogant, but also immature and pedantic.

 

Perhaps it is in this way that Clark Kent encompasses the best of humanity’s many qualities. Beyond the physical feats that he can accomplish, beyond the ability to understand the cosmos on an infinitesimal level, and beyond the philosophy that he basks in, Superman allows us to question ourselves and to examine our own existences in self-reflection. An insightful TED talk compared the Superman character to the messianic one of Jesus, craftily drawing parallels between God sending Jesus to Earth as humanity’s savior, and Jor-El sending his son Kal-El in a desperate attempt to make meaning of his son’s life. Both sons not knowing of their true destinies, but both facing very human struggles to aspire beyond the greatness that their fates would have of them.

 

Superman is not a god.

 

He is merely a man – perhaps not a human, but a man nonetheless – who aspired to be more than himself. What makes the man super is not his ability to be great, but his desire to be a defender of the ideals that make humanity and the planet, more than just simple cosmic existences floating in a dark and deeply misunderstood universe. What’s interesting is that Superman’s greatest adversary has always been Lex Luthor – a very human man with abilities and skills equivalent to the highest echelons of our evolution. The alien’s greatest adversary has always been a terrestrial trying to prove to all of his peers that in the face of the divine, we are all capable of approaching divinity.

 

The skills we are born with do not necessitate the people we become.

 

A human, trying to prove to his fellow humans, that we do not need to be born special to become special. A human standing in the face of what can only be perceived as a god, trying and succeeding in proving his equality, Lex Luthor – though a glorious caricature of humanity’s greatest misgivings – proves that though all creatures are not born equal, but despite our handicaps, we are all capable of achieving greatness. The implications of this analysis being that the Man of Steel is not a super man because of his skills, but because he strives to be greater than his post.

 

I was wrong about Superman.

 

I always assumed he was an omnipotent blue boyscout. It turns out Superman is more human the any member of the species, and simply does what everyone dreams of doing: Being more than who he was born to be.

 

As always, this has been you Admin, the not so Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

Three Days Left; An Ode to the City of New York and A Brief Summary of My Time So Far (TheByteWeek Issue 15)

It’s a city that wakes up at night, assuming that it ever really does sleep. It’s a city of people who love where they live, and who love that they’re a part of it. It’s a city of opinions that celebrates expression, and dedicates itself to promoting ideas and possibilities. It’s a city that’s almost definitely filled with problems and troubles, but it’s a city filled with new ways to try to solve them. From what I can tell, it’s a city that people actually enjoy living in.

Honestly, New York has been leaving me absolutely fascinated; the people I’ve met have been nothing short of extraordinary, the things I’ve seen have both startled and intrigued me, and the places I’ve visited have done absolutely everything in their power to avoid boring me. I’m not even talking about the historic places, or the museums, or the even restaurants, shops, and bars, I’m referring specifically to the ordinary stuff. The people on the street who I would never get a chance to talk to, much less get to know on a personal level. I’m talking about the day to day events, and the ordinary people who don’t show up on television, online, or in most forms of mass media. The people who pay their taxes, go to work, have trouble staying in touch with friends; the people who enjoy their Saturdays and Sundays, and the people who don’t always have something happening – the regular crowd, as it were.

I’ve spent everyday of my vacation, except for last Friday and today (another Friday), going out and exploring the “Famous” parts of the city – I’ve been to the places that tourists are always instructed to go, I’ve been to the smaller places that the guidebooks claim are “A genuine slice of New York,” I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge just to see what it’s like, and I’ve been at Times Square caught in the rain twice (so I’ve already done two things romantic comedies set in this city force their protagonists to do). I’ve been to the Museum of Modern Art, FAO Schwarz, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I’ve seen the Apple Store on 5th Ave., and the flagship store for Toy “R” Us (only because they bought out FAO Schwarz sometime back), and I’ve been to Staten Island too (I barely spent anytime there, of course, because I went so I could ride the ferry and see the other islands by boat). I’ve seen Wall St., Washington Square Park, I’ve gone to Columbia University in the City of New York, and New York University, not to mention the time I spent admiring part of The New School’s campus in the Union Square Area.

I’ve spent everyday on a subway train watching as people have asked for help, money, and support, been ignored by the people around them, given us all a dirty looks, and climbed a train on the neighbouring track to spin their tales once again. I’ve even had two homeless people ask me to buy them pizza on Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard, which I genuinely thought would never happen in my lifetime. I’ve witnessed some of the most formidable people say some of the craziest things in some of the most random places – I say seen because I’ve tried to avoid those conversations, for obvious reasons. I’ve been to three press screenings, toured The Village’s segment of Hudson River Park, I’ve spent an hour lost looking for a Train, and I’ve had some of the best Indian food and some of the worst shawarma ever.

My point is, in nine days in New York City I’ve done a significant amount, and yet, territorially, I’ve accomplished absolutely nothing. I’ve walked more in these past few days than I’ve done in a significant amount of time, and yet I’ve gotten absolutely nowhere in this city. Everyone I talk to brings up another place I should visit, another sight I should see, another bakery I should enjoy, and more restaurants whose stocks need to be thoroughly reduced by unsatisfiable appetite. This city doesn’t end, and I suppose my only point is that it’s daunting, and strangely exciting, knowing that there’s still so much more to do with so little time left.

So far, I’ve spent time in the company of everyone from writers to economists to critics to homeless people, and the consensus is that New York City is one of the best places in the world; suffice it to say, I do agree, and I’m excited, if only a bit disappointed, for my next three days.

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