Tag: adventure

After Earth


After Earth (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Having sensed that he and his son are drifting apart, Cypher Raige (Will Smith), a renowned general who is often away on intergalactic missions, invites Kitai (Jaden Smith) to come with him to work so that they can spend more time together. What should have been a relatively safe trip goes horribly awry when their ship encounters a field of asteroids. Their ship heavily damaged, they have no choice but to crash land on Earth, once the home of mankind but is now a haven for creatures that have evolved to kill humans.

A part of me feels bad for M. Night Shyamalan because it seems as though each time his name is associated with a movie, the majority expect or wish for the project to fail. With work like “Lady in the Water” and, to some degree, “The Happening” (I liked parts of it), casual moviegoers have reason to think this way. But “After Earth” is not as bad as the aforementioned pictures; it is mediocre, certainly, but some sections of the film are entertaining.

The script might have benefited from a bit of polishing. While understandable that the heart of the story touches upon a strained relationship between father and son, and to some degree we know exactly where it is going, it need not have been so corny. Some lines sound too forced that at times we are reminded that we are watching a movie rather than being a part of an adventure.

For example, as Raige and Kitai get into a disagreement about the criteria of aborting a mission, out of the blue one of them begins to talk about something else entirely–a recollection of an event that is supposed to be sad or tragic. Instead, I found myself detached and noticing the strings of the puppet show. This approach would have worked only if the screenplay had a tight grip on the human drama of the story. It fails to move us because the moment is not earned.

The film is visually arresting at times. I marveled at the appearance of the abandoned Earth. Admittedly, it is not at all a challenge to discern which parts are CGI (most of them are) but I am somewhat forgiving when it comes to the visuals as long as they are not too showy as to overpower the material. I liked that the dangers on Earth involve animals that many of us are likely to be familiar with but are given slight alteration in size or function.

A standout sequence involves Kitai having to skydive and as a giant eagle-looking creature pursuits him. Shyamalan makes good decisions when it comes to balancing wide shots and close-ups in order to highlight the urgency of the action. The director is not without talent and I wish that more people were more open to giving credit when it is deserved–even if they think that the movie does not work as a whole.

Based on the story by Will Smith and screenplay by Gary Whitta and Shyamalan, “After Earth” is one that I consider to be a “background movie,” appropriate to play in the background during a party or gathering. The slower, less exciting parts give people a chance to catch up and trade gossip. When the action reaches a peak, however, people’s attention is captured until the thrills die down again.

Never Cry Wolf


Never Cry Wolf (1983)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The population of the caribou in the Arctic, once in the millions, has experienced a steep decrease over time so the government needs a scientific justification to exterminate the element that is responsible. It is believed that the wolves, Canis lupus, are to blame. Tyler (Charles Martin Smith), a biologist, is chosen to travel to the Arctic, track the pack, and make careful observations of their behavior.

“Never Cry Wolf,” based on Farley Mowat’s autobiography, is a rousing adventure in the most unexpected ways because, for the most part, the protagonist is by himself. Because human interaction is minimized, the screenplay by Curtis Handson, Sam Hamm, and Richard Kletter, is forced to find the wonder in nature through eye-opening images, alien sounds, and the human experience of a scientist trying to survive in a milieu that is way out of his comfort zone.

The film is almost shot like a documentary. By minimizing the use of score, we get a sense that all of what is happening is real, from Tyler getting ready to board a rickety plane to him watching how wolves interact with their environment and each other. The way in which the camera zooms in on what is ought to be seen commands attention, very direct, but never distracting. There is very little distraction from the experience.

Because conversation is rare, Tyler’s narration is helpful and necessary. While we get a sense of how his scientific mind works and a taste of some of his philosophy, I especially enjoyed that the script allows him to go on a tangent at times. For instance, I liked hearing about the extra cases of beer he ordered while slightly out of it the night before, how he felt about being chosen to lead Project Lupine, and his thoughts of reluctance prior to getting on the plane and being dropped off three hundred miles into the wilderness. The extra information enhances what he goes through because we get a chance to know him as a person rather than just a robotic scientist with a mission from the government.

The land is like another character. The snowy mountains, largely untouched by man, evokes an air of majesty. The pride of the mountains in contrast with Tyler’s humility as a person about to become a part of it has poetry and lyricism. The environment is a constant challenge. In one scene, we can see for miles. In the next scene, everything is enveloped by fog, so white that I wondered for a second if the actor was standing on a white screen. But then you look a little closer and see the white creeping along. It is so surreal, almost like looking into a dream.

It dares to straddle the lines between amusement and fear, suspense and disgust, curiosity and thrill. A question: what is for dinner when you run out of food out there in the tundra? The answer made me cover my eyes, squirm in my seat, and squeal out of revulsion. I yelled out, “You’re not going to eat that! No!” Unless I am watching a horror film, it is rare that I feel the pressure to voice something out and direct it to the screen. But this is not an isolated, gross-out scene. It actually becomes relevant to the plot.

I can sit here and easily give plenty more praise on the technical elements of “Never Cry Wolf,” wonderfully directed by Carroll Ballard. It truly is that rich. But I will not because its magic should be experienced rather than be read about. Instead, I will say this:

I think it is exactly the movie that I needed to see because soon I will be going on my own foray into research. It moved me because it touches upon fear, the fear of the unknown. Like the protagonist, I will have to move to a new place, acclimatize to the climate and culture, and perhaps learn through trial-and-error first before hitting my stride. Though the film is not afraid to peek at dark corners, its message is largely hopeful: the pursuit of contributing to science can lead to personal growth and rewards that many will never get a chance to dream about let alone possess. It made me feel like I am ready.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back


Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Death Star was destroyed but the war between the Empire and the rebels was far from over. The rebels aggregated in Hoth, a planet covered in ice, and Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) had just found them. There was a full-on attack on our heroes and they lost. Upon their retreat, they were divided into two groups. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) traveled to Dagobah to find a master Jedi called Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) upon the request the ghostly Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Meanwhile, their ship unable to go into hyperdrive, with some amusing consequences, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) attempted navigate their way through an asteroid field in order to evade Vader and his pesky minions. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” directed by Irvin Kershner and from the original mind of George Lucas, was a quintessential sequel: it proved that just because the special and visual effects were grander and the action-sequences were more heart-pounding, the story and character need not be sacrificed. Although the picture didn’t mention how many months or years had passed since we last saw our beloved characters, we didn’t need to. Luke was more mature and more confident in the way he approached problems, the robots were more useful and wise-cracking, Chewbacca was more lovable, and the arguments between Han Solo and Princess Leia felt more like necessary friendly bantering/flirtation instead a hindrance to the story’s mood and momentum. The sequel challenged itself by constantly offering us something new. Let’s take the environment. In its predecessor, the characters spent a third of its time navigating their way through a barren desert. In here, we were immersed in a chilly tundra. Instead of going straight to the action of Vader’s troops demolishing the rebel base, it wasn’t afraid to take some risks like Luke being kidnapped by the Abominable Snowman-looking creature. It had a sense of fun. We never truly believed that Luke was in real danger. However, it was a necessary scene because it reminded us of Luke’s increasing connection to The Force, a key element in eventually defeating the evil Empire, and that he was no longer just a farmer trying too hard to be a Jedi. There was also an interesting contrast between scenes of the swampy Dagobah where Luke trained and the futuristic floating city where Han Solo and company took refuge. Despite the differences in images, the alternating scenes didn’t feel forced because the characters were consistently working toward a common goal. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” unafraid to explore its darker themes regarding loyalty and betrayal, unexpectedly romantic and chock full of surprises, was an adventure in the highest order.

The Goonies


The Goonies (1985)
★★ / ★★★★

In Richard Donner’s “The Goonies,” a group of kids found a map containing the location of a pirate treasure. Brothers Mikey (Sean Astin) and Brand (Josh Brolin) had a week before their family were forced to move because their parents could no longer afford their home. But when Data (Jonathan Ke Quan), Mouth (Corey Feldman) and Chunk (Jeff Cohen) agreed with Mikey to search for the mythical treasure for one last adventure, they stumbled upon the hiding place of three Italian criminals (Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano, Robert David) on the run from the cops. Their hiding place contained a secret passageway that led to an underground cave that housed the legendary pirate ship. “The Goonies” would appeal to kids because they would most likely be able relate to the characters’ silliness and quirkiness, the soundtrack was energetic, and it played upon the universal idea of children’s penchant for treasure hunting. Despite being a kid at heart, I wasn’t that entertained. There were far too many people in the cave. The two girls, Andy (Kerri Green) and Stef (Martha Plimpton), were completely unnecessary. The romance between Andy and Brand dragged the picture’s momentum. How could we root for their romance if they weren’t fully realized characters? The fact that the picture kept suggesting that there could be something between Andy, around sixteen years old, and Mikey, who was still in elementary school, was more awkward than funny, creepy than cute. I felt like the girls in the movie were added simply to appeal to the same sex. I wish they made their exit when they stumbled upon a well where three guys above could have taken them home. I grew tired of their whining. I enjoyed the film most when the guys accidentally triggered booby traps. It was like watching a light version of Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” exciting but we never truly felt that the characters were in any real danger. We were simply curious to see how the protagonists would adapt to the quickly changing environment. I did wish, however, that the criminals were more dangerous. Most of the time, they acted more like cartoon characters. I didn’t buy for one second that they were smart enough to pull off breaking someone out of jail as they did in the first scene. “The Goonies” wasn’t rich with subtlety. The child actors’ lines often felt forced and it was obvious when some of their lines were dubbed. They probably ran out of takes. Still, the movie was entertaining and charming in its own way. Based on Spielberg’s story, I couldn’t help but wonder how sharper and stronger it might have been under his direction.

The Adventures of Tintin


The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), a journalist with an appetite for adventure, recently purchased a model of The Unicorn, an ill-destined 17th century ship built during the reign of Charles II, for a meager price. It was believed to have been carrying a secret cargo when the ship, led by Sir Francis Haddock, was ambushed by greedy pirates. Unaware that there was a scroll hidden in its mast, Tintin left the model unattended and was purloined by the henchmen of Sakharine (Daniel Craig), a mysterious gentleman convinced that the piece of paper held a clue to the location of great treasures. Based on the comic books by Hergé, the film embraced a high-octane energy similar to the “Indiana Jones” series. The way one action sequence led up to another, guided by John Williams’ uplifting and suspenseful score, felt natural and I was impressed to have been lured each time. I was particularly drawn to the Wire Fox Terrier, Tintin’s best companion named Snowy, and the way the camera glided with him when he was compelled to rescue his master from dangerous situations. The comedy entered the equation when, like most dogs, Snowy was tempted by food instead of focusing on the mission at hand. The style of animation was quite astonishing. Battles occurred on land, air, and sea and each offered something unique relative to the challenges presented depending on the environment, our protagonists’ level of fatigue, and the bad guys’ aptitude for violence. Moreover, it was surprisingly confident in presenting certain realities. At one point, a man who knocked on Tintin’s door to warn him of the danger he was about to be thrusted into was bombarded by about a dozen bullets. For an animated film targeted for kids, I felt somewhat uneasy when it showed the man’s ravaged body hitting the floor, leaving clues using his blood, and gasping for his last breath. I admired that the screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish made room for some darkness. It elevated the material from what could have been a silly treasure hunt to something with history and gravity. But unlike the “Indiana Jones” series, the picture, directed by Steven Spielberg, did not have great emotional payoffs. While there were emotional peaks like when Tintin and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the last descendant of The Unicorn’s captain, struggled to find a way to survive a plane crash, the treasure was exactly as we envisioned. It was too literal and bereft of implications, uncharacteristic of Spielberg’s work. I wanted to be more surprised about the content of the treasure and what it meant not only to acquire it but to keep it. Perchance there was a reason why it remained hidden for so long. After it was revealed, I didn’t feel as though evading bullets, being lost at sea, and almost getting decapitated was worth it. The final scene “The Adventures of Tintin” left more to be desired in a negative way. The journey didn’t feel complete due to a lack of closure. I felt as though the screenwriters wanted to end the story, but they couldn’t find a way to capture the essence in turning the last page of a great adventure.

The Grey


The Grey (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Ottway (Liam Neeson) was considering to commit suicide the night before he and a group of oil rig workers were scheduled to take a flight to visit home, but he decided against it after hearing a wolf howl from a distance. When their plane crashed in Alaska, miles from the nearest town or city, Ottway and seven survivors (Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie, James Badge Dale, and Ben Bray) were systematically hunted and killed by ravenous wolves. As the men dwindled in number, Ottway’s insistence to live became clearer. Conversely, the possibility of Ottway finding refuge turned dimmer. Written by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers and Joe Carnahan, “The Grey” was a cut above us being reduced to passively watching men trying to survive against the cruelty of nature. It forced us to consider difficult questions by immersing us in images that ranged from the grizzly wolf attacks to the chilly landscapes of barren hope. Even though it was difficult to remember the men’s names, the majority of them serving as fodder for the canines, more was revealed about them in the second half of the picture. So when a character, for instance, decided that others should leave him behind because his will to live reached the bottom of the barrel, we felt bad for the character yet we understood where he was coming from. There was no melodrama. The aforementioned scene was especially well-executed. There was no music that served to signal that we should feel a certain way. There was only silence and peace, an acquisition of mental freedom through the act of surrendering. I found beauty in its attitude about death, how it shouldn’t be feared as long as it’s our choice. Notice the contrast between a sweet surrender and a wolf suddenly jumping from behind while the men kept warm around a fire. The title went beyond the color of the wolves that growled from a distance. The adventure was ultimately convincing because the film was essentially about the grey area of life and death. By watching the men march for a seemingly interminable distance, the picture dared us to question how far we think we would be willing to go if we were forced to be in their place. The men were supposed to be “tough” because they were hardened by their time and experiences in prison. Despite their histories and intrepid comportments, we could relate to them because the screenplay gave them a chance to open up and reveal reasons why they wanted to survive. Like them, the majority of us value our families most: we fight for them, to be with them, even if it meant making the ultimate sacrifice. That’s what separates us from other animals like the wolves in the film. They may be able to remember a person who harmed them in some way but they are incapable of loyalty or being connected to their conscience. “The Grey,” directed by Joe Carnahan, also benefited from Neeson’s versatile performance. He was able to keep an interesting balance between being animalistic and humanistic, a requisite for a movie driven by implications about our place in nature. But it wasn’t without a sense of humor. I wondered at some point if barbecued wolf meat was a delicacy somewhere out there.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) snuck onto a restricted mountain where so-called seismic researchers, some Americans, were assigned to excavate something mysterious deep within the ice. The two boys overheard that what was embedded inside was going to redefine the world’s notion of Santa Claus and Christmas. When Pietari got home, he began to research about Old St. Nick and his origins. It turned out that the legendary figure was far from nice and jolly. According to the books, every Christmas, he kidnapped naughty kids, put them in a cauldron, and ate them. Pietari was determined not to get taken. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, “Rare Exports” brimmed with scintillating originality, enough to inject kids with increasing unease and force the adults to watch with fascination. It was fun to watch Pietari run around and put pieces together because there was something innocent and bold about him. Since he wasn’t taken seriously by adults and fellow children, he felt he had something to prove. His determination and thirst for adventure was similar to the beloved kids from Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” Richard Donner’s “The Goonies,” and J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” But like the aforementioned flicks, the film worked as a family drama. Pietari and his dad (Jorma Tommila) lived by themselves where interaction with others required a vehicle due to distance and safety issues. There was a moving scene during Christmas Eve when the two sat on the table and ate gingerbread cookies. Nothing else was prepared. The absence of the key woman in their lives was palpable. Even though it wasn’t fully discussed, we were able to infer that Pietari and his dad were still mourning from the death of his mother and wife, respectively. The son asked his dad whether it would make a difference to him whether he, too, would “disappear” and if he had been good this year. The father deflected the questions with a loud command of sending his son to bed. Sometimes it’s easier to circumvent the truth. On Christmas day, Pietari found that the bait for the wolf trap his father had set the day before was gone. Instead of finding a wolf in the pit, there was a skinny man with a beard. The film played with our expectations some more and threw around very strange red herrings like a kid opening presents with delirium. Our lack of knowledge involving the origins of Santa Claus in their part of the world served as a wonderful, magical, creepy source of tension. The man that the father and son found was critically injured and seemingly unable to understand language. He only responded, with extreme alarm, when Pietari was around. Pietari thought it was Santa Claus and he just had to tell his friends given what he knew. But none of them were to be found. Toward the end of the film, CGI was used profusely, but it was utilized to enhance the experience. “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” was unafraid to tackle darker material yet it was quite satirical. Its brazenness and creativity in putting our little protagonist in the face of danger without coming off as exploitative was admirable.