Friday, November 28, 2014

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens: First Teaser Trailer

A long time ago, when I was but a child, The Force was present. It changed the way special effects were made, and had a huge social and cultural impact on the world. Then, not too long ago, when my children were young and impressionable, they too felt the force. Now the force has awoken and producer, director, writer, and all-around bad-ass  J.J. Abrams have released the first teaser trailer for the recently named seventh installment of George Lucas' epic mythology that captured the minds and hearts of audiences back in 1977. 

When  George Lucas wrote and directed "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope." he drew on all the archetypes basic pattern is found in many narratives from around the world called the "Hero's Journey." Episodes 4 - 6 were, in mind the best of the six. However, say what you will about the prequels, my kids love them.

There isn't an official synopsis yet, as Abrams is a pretty secretive guy. However, you can glean what you can from the trailer. 

In the trailer below, the scene fades from black to the arid desert of what we all presume to be Tatooine. A voice says, "There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?" Actor John Boyega pops up wearing a Stormtrooper's uniform sans helmet. He is looking panicked and confused. Boyega turns his back to the camera. Still in the desert, but I guess closer to 

civilization, a droid that looks like a ball with an R2-D2 like semi-spherical top comes rolling past the camera. A platoon of Stormtroopers prepares to disembark into the night. Actress Daisy Ridley mounts a box-like speeder and dashes away. Cut to an X-Wing pilot sitting in the cockpit as several X-Wings skim over a lake. A robed person, presumably a Jedi or a Sith, walks away into a dark forest. He draws his lightsaber -- it is red, but with a handle guard. The voice once again speaks, "The dark side, and the light." John Williams' classic Star Wars theme blasts as the Millenium Falcon screams through the sky banking and rolling as it comes to skim the desert floor as two TIE fighters scream by blasting away. Then the familiar logo that launched a franchise appears on the screen. 

I find the whole clip both interesting and disturbing at the same time. Interesting in that like in "Star Trek" we saw some pretty interesting places that he placed the Enterprise. Here we some X-Wings doing more within the atmosphere. We see some new speeders and droid designs. I find it disturbing in that the Empire still exists or was the Republic was never restored after "Return of the Jedi?"  Lawrence Kasdan, who contributed his writing skills to "Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back" and "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi" is listed along with Abrams as writers for this installment.

Overall, I am happy to return to that galaxy far, far away and a long time ago.

December 18, 2015 is a long time to wait.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Year:  2015
Staring:  Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley
Director: J.J. Abrams
Producer(s): J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Kathleen Kennedy
Writer: J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas (characters)
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 
Release Date: 12/18/2015

Thursday, November 20, 2014

John Wick: Just When I Thought I Was Out...

John Wick: Keanu Reeves stars in Derek Kolstad's story - directed by Chad Stahelski's | A Constantly Racing Mind
L ast year Keanu Reeves ("The Matrix," "Speed") made "47 Ronin." The film was a critical and box office disappointment. The story was one of revenge based on a historic event from Japanese history. Sadly, the film was effects heavy but a narrative that lacked a certain amount of coherence as the producers tried to shoehorn Reeves into the story as a half-breed hero. This year Reeves is back with another revenge flick, and this time he doesn't disappoint. It's been a while since we have seen an action film that features some real decent Gun Fu. Perhaps we could count some scenes from Tarantino's "Django Unchained," or perhaps going back to 2010's "Kick Ass." In "John Wick" close quarter combat hasn't looked so good since Christian Bale's Gun Kata scenes in "Equilibrium." "John Wick" is an hour and forty minutes filled with action, a straightforward and compelling story, and some beautiful choreography and a decent body count.

John Wick is a former Hit Man for the Russian Mob. He miraculously left the business and got married. Five years later, his wife Helen (Bridget Moynahan – “Battle LA”) dies from cancer. The best years of John’s life are gone; however, knowing that she was dying, Helen buys her husband a small beagle puppy by the name of Daisy. The dog is delivered to John the evening after her funeral. At first, the two are guarded, but John eventually warms up to the gift from his wife. The next day while out getting supplies for his new friend, he stops and gets gas. While filling up his 69 Mustang, a young thug named Iosef played by "Game of Thrones’" Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), hits John up about buying his car. John, of course, tells him that it's not for sale. Iosef tells John in Russian "everything has a price." John tells him that he doesn't have a price, and he says it in Russian. Later that night, Daisy has to go to the bathroom, and John follows her downstairs. In the dark, five guys in hoodies ambush John. They beat John with a baseball bat and Iosef steals the key to his car. Oh yeah, they also kill his dog. Iosef is the son of Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist - "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") a Russian Mafia boss who quietly runs a good portion of the city. When Viggo finds out his son has stolen John's car, he punches his son and tells him that he just made the biggest mistake of his life. John Wick is the Boogeyman. He isn't an assassin per say, as Viggo explains; he is the man that he would send to kill the assassins. John can do the impossible when it comes to killing. 

A man who has lost everything has nothing left to lose and has no problem losing himself in the single-mindedness necessary to fight an all-out war on the mob. Keanu Reeves is back in action hero form as Wick. Derek Kolstad's ("The Package") script introduces some interesting characters. Kolstad only fleshes out Wick's character leaving the rest thinly defined relying on archetypes instead. Willem Dafoe ("Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant") plays Marcus, an assassin and a potential ally or a potential foe. We meet Marcus after Helen's funeral. He comes to the cemetery in the rain to see how John is doing. The thing with the characters that Willem Dafoe plays is that there is always some ambiguity as to what side he is on. After declaring war on his former boss, he knows that Viggo will send men to kill him -- and he does. Later that night, the hit men arrive at John's home, all ninja style. John waits for them in the dark and in a ballet of bullets with John spinning and throwing his targets he claims a quick victory. Afterwards, John calls a cleanup crew as he makes dinner reservations for 12.

John Wick: Keanu Reeves as John Wick and Daisy | A Constantly Racing Mind

The stunt work is incredible in this film and there is a reason for it. First time director Chad Stahelski was Keanu's stunt double in "The Matrix," "The Matrix Reloaded," and "Constantine." Stahelski started in the film industry doing stunts in the early nineties. In fact, he was Keanu Reeves stunt double in "Point Break." Other interesting characters that Kolstad and Stahelski introduce are Ms. Perkins (Adrianne Palicki - "Legion") as a female assassin who doesn't mind breaking the rules, and Charon, the manager of a hotel that caters exclusively to assassins. The Continental Hotel is owned by Winston and played by the charismatic Ian McShane ("Hercules"). He warns John that conducting business on the premises will incur heavy fines. The manager of the hotel, played by Lance Reddick ("Fringe") is both ominous and mystical. Named after the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the rivers Styx and Acheron in Greek Mythology, Reddick is accommodating to Wick yet retains an aura of otherworldliness. The Continental is in a sense a limbo of sorts.

Much of the action takes place in a nightclub not far from the hotel. As mentioned before, the gunfights are a wonder to behold. Throughout the close quarter battles, John uses a form of the center axis relock system of firearms handling that provides the character with greater stability and maneuverability as he takes on each of Iosef's bodyguards.

As far as the story goes, Wick's motivation for going to war on the Tarasov crime organization is not because of the death of John's dog. Like the 1999 revenge flick "Payback" starring Mel Gibson, the motive is not so much vengeance, but principle. In that film, Gibson's character Porter takes on the Chicago mob because they have $70,000 of his money -- half of what he and his double crossing partner stole from him and gave to the mob. Here the dog is an extension of the emotions and love that he had for his wife, and his wife's love for him. Although John's dead wife is a total cliché, Kolstad twists it slightly to give John a slightly different reason for rage. You could say that "John Wick" is cliché ridden would be an understatement. But that doesn't detract from the entertainment value. Filled with foul language, gore, and violent scenes, "John Wick" is popcorn munching good time. If you aren't able to catch Keanu at the theater, make sure you check him out on Blu-ray or DVD.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Thriller
Year:  2014
Staring:  Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Ian McShane
Director: Chad Stahelski
Producer(s): Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Chad Stahelski, Mike Witherill, Keanu Reeves (executive producer)
Writer: Derek Kolstad
Rating: R
Running Time: 101 minutes
Release Date: 10/24/2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Interstellar: Christopher Nolan's Wrinkle In Time

Interstellar - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
W atching Christopher Nolan's new time twister, "Interstellar," one will find themselves engulfed in a cacophony of ideas, images, and concepts that within the first half-hour begins to form into a symphony of beauty and wonder. In this Science Fiction-Adventure film, Nolan takes, scientific concepts, and stunning visual effects, intertwining them with a compelling character story about love for humanity that transcends both space and time. Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey (“Contact,” “Dallas Buyer’s Club”) stars as a former test pilot who must leave his family in order to find hope for humankind. Anne Hathaway (“The Dark Knight Rises”) joins McConaughey and two other scientists as they travel through a space-time anomaly that magically appears orbiting Saturn. They must search for a new planet that will sustain the human species as life on Earth is ending. John Lithgow, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain ("Take Shelter," "The Debt," "Mama"), and Michael Caine, co-star in a film where Christopher Nolan pushes cinematic ideas of time and space further, rather than looking into the subconscious, this time he looks farther out into the reaches of space. Be prepared for an almost three-hour cinematic event that kids over 13 and adults will enjoy.
"We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt." ~ Cooper
Although no one mentions the timeframe for "Interstellar," one can probably surmise that the opening of the film is taking place somewhere in the second half or near the end of this century. In a sense, this is a post-apocalyptic film where the horrors of worldwide famine have ravaged the population to a more manageable number. War is no longer an issue, and the United States government no longer has a standing army. The screenplay by Jonathon and Christopher Nolan introduce us to the former test pilot, and now a reluctant, and failed farmer played by McConaughey who only goes by his last name, either Coop or Cooper. Perhaps Nolan named him after Gordon Cooper, one of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury. Coop is the father of two children, a 15-year-old boy by the name of Tom (Timothée Chalamet), and a 10-year-old daughter named Murphy or Murph (Mackenzie Foy). Perhaps Christopher Nolan is referencing Capt. Ed Murphy of Edwards Air Force Base in California’s the Mojave Desert. As some allege that, the adage is named for him.

Interstellar - Timothée Chalamet, Mackenzie Foy), and Matthew McConaughey | A Constantly Racing Mind

The kid's mother is dead, and they live with Cooper's father-in-law Donald, played by John Lithgow. In the first thirty minutes, Christopher Nolan works to establish the family dynamic and the world they live in. We find that a benevolent “ghost” haunts Murph by knocking books off her shelves. Books in this film are the key to the knowledge of the universe. Cooper is a scientist and only accepts facts and not superstition. We learn quickly that in this world, in order to quash any hope or the funding of exploring space, society denies that the Apollo moon missions ever took place and was just a grand hoax. At Murph’s school, they have corrected books that explain that the United States never went to the moon, but faked it in order to, "cause the Soviet Union to bankrupt their economy and waste it on building rockets." I believe Nolan added this as one of his many tributes to the famed director Stanley Kubrick. Conspiracy theorist contends that Kubrick shot the Apollo 11 moon landing while filming his space epic. Also, that Kubrick's reason for not following Stephen King's original script for "The Shining," was that he filled it instead with Easter eggs crying out his complicity in the sham. In this world, the government shut down NASA about 10 years prior. The people of Earth are now a “caretaker” society. They focus on finding crops that resist blight, like wheat and rice, and now okra is gone. Corn is the last crop left, and that too is dying. Blight is a term that the Nolans, use to describe a world that is out of balance and nature has turned against humans. 
"We're not meant to save the world. We're meant to leave it," ~ Prof. Brand
The ever-present dust and frequent storms remind me of "The Grapes of Wrath," and for a few minutes, I was sure I was watching the Ken Burns documentary "The Dust Storm" with interviews of elderly survivors of the new depression caused by famine and drought. The film is, however, about how some unseemly interference by an otherworldly presence, allow Murph and her dad to discover that humanity hasn't given up on saving the world. After following some clues left in the dust, they start on an adventure that reunites Cooper with his former mentor, Professor Brand (Caine). Cooper and Murph discover that deep in the former home of NORAD, NASA survives. We also meet his lovely daughter, Amelia (Hathaway) who and a group of scientist who has been training to explore space for a world to colonize. Like the use of Cooper, as the name of the main character, the Nolan brothers prefer to stay with aerospace pioneers they refer to Amelia Earhart. Prof. Brand convinces Cooper to join a group of scientists including his daughter, who will follow in the footsteps of 12 astronauts who entered a space-time anomaly (wormhole) and exited on the other side to a new galaxy. The Lazarus mission identified three habitable planets. All his life, Cooper feels that he has a greater purpose beyond what he does now. The mission is to enter the wormhole orbiting Saturn, locate the planets where Lazarus mission astronauts, Miller, Mann, and Edmunds have sent positive feedback for sustainable life, check out the planets and report back to Earth.

Interstellar - The Black Hole Gargantua | A Constantly Racing Mind
“Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” ~ Prof. Brand
Both Nolans explore the emotions of separation and abandonment. Cooper must make a decision to lead the mission and leave his children behind in order to save humanity or to stay and die and fight for survival with his family. As Brand tells Cooper, "We must confront the reality that nothing in our solar system can help us." He further ups the ante and tells him to, “...get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel." Brand has two plans to save humanity. Neither of them is an effort to save Earth. Plan A is to build a gigantic Torus that the refugees from Earth can travel in and follow through the wormhole. Plan B is the reseeding of a new planet with the fertilized embryos that they hope will multiply exponentially. The acting of the major characters in this film is exceptional. McConaughey, Hathaway, and Caine lead the cast in an emotional and visceral experience. The ones they love motivates each one of these three. Throughout the film, Caine’s character, Brand, recites a Dylan Thomas poem, like a mantra, or a litany in hopes that someone can forge forward where he can’t. It is during the first half of the film where Mackenzie Foy ("The Conjuring") shines as the young Murph. She embodies the wonder and the hope that children have, and when Cooper leaves for space, almost at a moment's notice, Foy displays a range of emotions on the opposite side of the spectrum – those of hurt, abandonment, and despair.  
"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." ~ Murphy’s Law
Space is fraught with danger, but as Amelia Brand says, "there is no evil." Nature isn’t evil, but humans are. We will see the truth of this philosophy later. Disaster is what the four humans and two robots find out there. Two of the four humans are Red Shirts, there is no other way to put it. Nolan, for the most part, keeps to the no sound in space rule. Instead, Han Zimmer's epic score at times sweeps into strains akin to György Ligeti's version of "Lux Aeterna." Throughout the film, Zimmer's score resonates with emotion that accentuates but doesn't overpower the narrative. Astronauts Romilly (David Gyasi - "Cloud Atlas") and Doyle (Wes Bentley - "The Hunger Games") join Cooper and Amelia as they launch into orbit to rendezvous with the spaceship Endurance. Adding to the cast in a most spectacular way are the two robots TAR and CASE voiced by Bill Irwin ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit") and Josh Stewart ("The Collector"), respectively. If the homage to Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey " isn't apparent to you, then the monolithic structure of these two robotic life forms should make it apparent. In addition, they also capture the essence of HAL but in a more cheerful and happier type of Artificial Intelligence. Programmable with truth and humor spectrums, both TAR and CASE are essential to the plot. 

Interstellar - Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey | A Constantly Racing Mind

For me, the big surprise was Matt Damon as Dr. Mann. Amelia proclaims that he is "the best of us." I don't want to spoil the film so I will say no more about him and the planet he is on. I will say that both of the planets that our explorers visit are amazing cinematically. Nolan displays many of his influences throughout the film, like having Matthew McConaughey play a man of science whose story arc moves him closer towards a more spiritual outlook. We remember McConaughey, as Jodie Foster’s love interest and a man of faith in the 1997 film “Contact,” telling Foster’s character that science can’t prove everything, like the concept of love. As in "Inception" Nolan plays with the relativity of time. Because, as we know, the closer one gets to a black hole, the time has a tendency to stretch. For example, as our group of intrepid explorers travel closer to the first planet, for every seven years spent on the Endurance as it orbits around the planet, the people down below spend only an hour. So for some of our characters, they age differently than others. Jessica Chastain plays the older Murphy, who takes on the weight of saving humanity after Brand dies. Like Meg in “The Wrinkle in Time,” she becomes the hero of this story as she searches for her missing father.

This is a big movie filled with grand concepts of ecology, cosmology, metaphysics, humanism, and sacrifice, but ultimately this is a love story. The love of a parent for their children, the love between a man and a woman, and a man’s love for all humanity. Christopher Nolan knows that it is ambitious to reach for galaxies far, far, away, but to not do so, sells himself, and his viewers short as well. Behind the camera in place of Nolan regular Wally Pfister, is the Dutch cinematographer Hoyt Van Hotelman ("Let the Right One In," "The Fighter," "Her"). Nolan is a proponent of using real film, rather than a high definition video in his work, and it shows. The camera work is more utilitarian rather than sweeping and grandiose as in the works of David Lean. However, Nolan’s visual effects crew did more than an outstanding job in creating the black hole. California Institute of Technology’s (Caltech), Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist and the inspiration for “Interstellar” had a direct hand with the mathematical models that Nolan’s effects team used to render “Gargantua.” 

The effects are more in line cinematically with Stanley Kubrick, but perhaps a bit more comprehensible. There is a lot of exposition in "Interstellar" as the characters talk about the loss of hope, loss of family, loss of courage, and plans for humanity's future. But don't worry; if you want action, there is plenty of it. From visiting a world covered in water, to an icy frigid planet, to the boundlessness of space, Christopher Nolan keeps the pace moving, he even adds a disaster on the Endurance, to up the drama and heightens the tension. Unlike Alphonso Curon's "Gravity,” we only have a few minutes in space with intimate contact with our main character as he tumbles through the void. For the socially conscious, Nolan features an ecological disaster that prompts visions of the apocalypse for the metaphysically inclined. I would be lying if I said that "Interstellar" is perfect, it isn’t. Nevertheless, those minor imperfections uplift this story of death and renewal to stand as one of Christopher Nolan's masterpieces.


Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery, Sci-Fi 
Year:  2014
Starring:  Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Mackenzie Foy 
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producer(s): Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst, Emma Thomas
Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 169 minutes
Release Date: 11/7/2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Theory of Everything: Stephan Hawking Unwinding Trailer

The Theory of Everything: The incredible story of Jane and Stephen Hawking | A Constantly Racing Mind

One of the greatest minds of the 20th and 21st Century, after Albert Einstein, is theoretical physicist, Stephan Hawking. For many, the only image we have of Mr. Hawking is him sitting in his wheelchair. Now we have a look at the man who wrote the book "A Brief History of Time" and came up with the theoretical prediction that black holes emit radiation, which is now known as Hawking radiation. He is internationally renown in both the world of science and pop culture as well.  The film is based on a book that Hawking's first wife Jane. Her memoir, "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen"  tells of her time with her ex-husband, beginning their time at Cambridge in the 1960's, their courtship, Stephan's initial stages of motor neuron disease (A.L.S.), the couple's marriage, his work as a physicist, and how Jane's love for him  kept the stubborn Hawking going as he became increasingly crippled. In essence, Jane's memoir is about the evolution of the ultimate nerd.

So, here is the synopsis:
Starring Eddie Redmayne (“Les Misérables”) and Felicity Jones (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), this is the extraordinary story of one of the world’s greatest living minds, the renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who falls deeply in love with fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. Once a healthy, active young man, Hawking received an earth-shattering diagnosis at 21 years of age. With Jane fighting tirelessly by his side, Stephen embarks on his most ambitious scientific work, studying the very thing he now has precious little of – time. Together, they defy impossible odds, breaking new ground in medicine and science, and achieving more than they could ever have dreamed. The film is based on the memoir "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen," by Jane Hawking, and is directed by Academy Award winner James Marsh (“Man on Wire”).
In 2004

The trailer, above shows Stephan discussing with Jane that if Einstein's Theory of General Relativity is correct, that theoretically, he can "wind back the clock," and theorize what happened at the beginning of time.  Jane, on the other hand, turns the moment into a cute, romantic moment culminating in a kiss. It also goes on to show Hawking under the tutelage of Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) to develop the mathematics behind the theory of Black Holes.. Finally, we see as Hawking's disease becomes more pronounced, and he no longer can hide it as he takes a fall on the campus.

"The Theory of Everything" is due out in limited release on November 7, 2014, in the United States. In a way, this film ties in with Christopher Nolan's blockbuster "Interstellar" that opens this weekend as well. While living in California in the early 1970s and as a visiting professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), he worked with faculty member Kip Thorne and debated the subject of Black Holes. Kip Thorne collaborated on Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" providing the mathematical models that Nolan's effects team used to create the singularity images on the screen, making as realistic as possible. 


Movie Data
Genre: Biography, Drama
Year:  2014
Starring:  Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Maxine Peake, Tom Prior, Sophie Perry 
Director: James Marsh
Producer(s): Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten
Writer: Anthony McCarten, Jane Hawking (book "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen")
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date: 11/7/2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chappie: First Look At Neill Blomkamp's New Sci-Fi Film

Director of "District 9" and "Elysium," Neill Blomkamp, has a new trailer out for his latest film "Chappie." 

  Only a few details are out about "Chappie,"   however, we can glean from the trailer above is that Chappie is an artificial being developed by Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel") , and like a child,  Chappie becomes aware of the world around him gradually, "I pulled you into this world -- a machine that can think and feel."  Patel's character, Deon, goes on to say, "Like a child, it has to learn. Any thing you want to do in your life you can do. Like write poetry, [or] have original ideas." A robot that ins some ways seems like a child in a metal rabbit suit, Chappie is in a world not unlike our own with our prejudices, "p[eople are always fearful of what they don't understand." Hugh Jackman's ("Wolverine," "Prisoners") character, Vincent, says, "The problem with Artificial Intelligence is it’s way too unpredictable."  

Click Here!

Neill Blomkamp tends to write and film stories that have a social relevance to today's society. "Chappie" seems to be an attempt to challenge us into thinking about ourselves and our fears. In the trailer, Yolandi Visser, played by Yo-Landi Visser of the South African rap-rave group Die Antwoord, asks Chappie, "Do you know what a black sheep is?" Chappie, "No." "It's like when you are different than anyone else."  

The questions unfold about artificial-intelligence as the technology to create something akin to what we call consciousness looms on the horizon. Chappie declares, "I am alive. I am Chappie." as Chris Clark's haunting, but triumphant melody plays in the background. The real question that Blomkamp is asking, of course, "Is it a child, or the next step in evolution."

The star of "District 9," and co=-star of "Elysium," is Neill's childhood friend actor Sharlto Copley in a motion capture suit playing Chappie the robot. Also along from the Blomkamp retinue of talent is Trent Opaloch as director of photography. Opaloch's credits include "District, 9" "Elysium," for Blomkamp and  "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" for directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. 

Here is the synopsis I grabbed off of IMDB:

"After being kidnapped by two criminals during birth, Chappie becomes the adopted son in a strange and dysfunctional family. Chappie is preternaturally gifted, one of a kind, a prodigy. He also happens to be a robot."
Look for "Chappie" hits theaters March 6, 2013


Movie Data

Genre:  Sci-Fi, Thriller
Year:  2015
Staring: Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Yo-Landi Visser
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Producer(s): Simon Kinberg
Writer: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Rating: R
Running Time: Unkown
Release Date: 3/8/2015

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nightcrawler: Ethically Challenged Journalism At Its Best

Nightcrawler: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
S ubmitted for your approval, or at least for your inspection. a mister Luis Bloom, a man who’s down on his luck, and has been bouncing from one job to another in search of greener pastures. Luis is hoping that his drive and ambition will get him the fame and recognition that he craves. However, Luis has a problem; he lacks a sense of ethical standards. Is it a flaw in his character, or perhaps a boon? You decide. Jake Gyllenhaal ("Prisoners," "The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time", "Source Code") plays a thin gaunt silver-tongued bull-shitter who spends much of his time on the internet learning how to get ahead in life. From reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People," He is a fountain of self-help literature. He repeats much of this information only to show off to others, or to gain the advantage over his "friends" or competitors. I say friends in quotations because Luis doesn’t really have any friends. "Nightcrawler." is an intense ride with the freelance video-journalist who chase ambulances and listen to police scanners looking for the next breaking story that they can sell to competing for television stations. 

"If it leads, it bleeds." - Joe Loder

Don Henley had a big hit in 1982 with a song he co-wrote with Danny Kortchmar that deals with the sensationalizing of the TV news. The song, "Dirty Laundry" discusses how television deals with death and disasters and how it affects TV ratings with little regard to the human element. Writer ("The Bourne Legacy," "Real Steel") and director Dan Gilroy, takes this concept, a step further and personalizes the experience for us. Luis Bloom is desperate for work and is willing to steel chain-link fence and manhole covers to resell. Luis has the gift of articulation, however, it comes off as creepy. Jake reportedly lost 30 pounds for this film to appear haunted, dark-eyed, and hungry. While on his way home on the L.A. freeway after failing to get a job with a construction company he comes upon an accident. Without any regard for safety, or interfering with the rescue workers, he watches as freelance news-stringer Joe Loder (Bill Paxton - "Edge of Tomorrow") films the rescue. Without the reservations or the social acumen that a reasonable person would display, Louis starts asking Joe about if the film will end up on the news, and if so, how much money will it sell for – information that one doesn't typically ask strangers. Luis is also a thief. During the chain-link fence robbery, Luis beats up a security guard so he takes and pawns the security guard’s watch. Luis is calculating and asks direct questions, all with a smile on his face. Street smart and unafraid to negotiate, he "sells" the pawnbroker on the watch and the bike he stole. With the money, he buys a camcorder and a police scanner. After attempting to make his first big break into video-journalism, he gets in the way of paramedics trying to save a gunshot victim and gets all of the freelancers kicked out of the area. He takes in the video to local TV stations whose ratings are at the bottom with the promise that his images are better and closer. Meeting with the older but still striking Rene Russo ("Thor: The Dark World," "Ransom") as Nina Romina the vampire shift news chief. She likes Luis's footage and decides to buy his shots and reneging on Joe Loder's video. Rene is director Dan Gilroy's wife.

Nightcrawler:Rene Russo | A Constantly Racing Mind
Taking Joe's advice, Luis invests his first check on a better camera with a directional microphone. He also meets and hires Rick (Riz Ahmed - "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"). At this point, we realize that Luis represents corporate America. He is uncaring, self-righteous, and politically correct in his pontificating on why Rick should work for him for free as an intern before he tells him what the job is. Gyllenhaal is a convincing prick who, as the owner of his own independent business, is willing to take advantage of those at a financial disadvantage and make his fortune off their labor. Rick begs Luis to pay him something, as he has no place to live and is starving. Luis agrees to pay him $30 dollars a night. His job is to navigate Luis to the news locations with his phone's GPS and to watch the car and other jobs as required. One has to take note of how Jake's character handles mistakes that his new employee makes. He explains the mistake, praises Rick for what he has done well, and then tells him clearly if he makes the same mistake again, he will fire him. This is the opposite of the standard sandwich technique of praise, disappointment in behavior, then more praise with a dollop of encouragement that the employee will do better next time. 

"Screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." Nina Romina

Around the turn of the last century, the state of journalism in the United States was what we would call now tabloid, but back then, it was called yellow. Luis isn't trained in ethical journalism but learns online and by observing what the newscasters and by default what draws viewers to watch one news program over another. Nina is willing to push the limits in order to chase ratings. The capitalistic media runs on advertising and advertisers spend their dollars where they know that there are more eyes on that medium and their message is heard. Living in the 21st century, viewers, in general, have become more desensitized by violence since the time when a family would watch the war in Vietnam while they eat their dinner. Luis operates as the industrialist during the late 19th century and early 20th century, persistent and unscrupulous. Luis is also an old school in how he conducts his business focusing on building rapport with the people he sells videos to and he does it in person. Bill Paxton's character Joe represents the technological change in the news industry. He tells Luis that he doesn't have to actually come to the station to deliver his videos, but can upload them to an FTP site and sell them to the highest bidder from there. Luis, on the other hand, rejects Joe and his business model for his own direct and personal ladder-climbing style that has a Machiavellian twist to it. "Nightcrawler" features Los Angeles newscasters playing themselves that give the film that added a sense of realism.

Nightcrawler:Jake Gyllenhaal | A Constantly Racing Mind

This is not the first time that we see Jake Gyllenhaal obsessed with chasing crime and the need for the spotlight that comes with it. In 2007, Gyllenhaal starred in "Zodiac.” He played the determined cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle whose penchant for libraries and codes drives him to search independently for the Zodiac killer that plagued California in the late '60s and '70s. Following leads that the police either have eliminated or don't have the evidence to follow, doggedly track witnesses while losing his second wife and children to his obsession. In both films, Gyllenhaal's character's personality is ferocious readers and socially awkward. Both are driven to an end, as, Robert Graysmith, in "Zodiac," the end was writing a book in order to quiet those gears in the head that drive you mad when you have ideas that the world should hear. Luis, on the other hand, his goal is to become the leading freelance TV news company in Los Angeles. Both seem to get what they want.

"Crime happens everywhere but it is news when it happens in the suburbs." Nina Romina

From the moment we see Jake Gyllenhaal on the screen to the point where he sells his first story to Nina's station; we see the development of a character that on one level is in some ways a parody of the American work ethic. Instead, that parody has depicted the terms that you can become an expert on any subject with the help of the Internet. However, that sentiment changes as he manipulates Nina into a position of sexual as well as professional subservience. Gilroy shows a world of journalism versus sensationalism is the norm with the latter winning out. "Nightcrawler" is a mirror into the American psyche that reflects the fascination of the minds of the average viewer who slow down to see the accident on the side of the road. For Luis, people and relationships are a means to an end, which in many ways reflects how businesses operate in general. 

The news events are also just a means to an end and invading a crime scene and possibly moving or destroying evidence for the sake of the shot is business as usual for Luis and his budding TV News Production company. His interactions with Rick are deplorable, but best described by Robert Elswit's ("There Will Be Blood") cinematography as they careen through the streets of L.A. you can see that Gilroy and Gyllenhaal mean this to be a visceral film with the dislike for Luis's methods coming from within. The dislike for Luis is summed up when he lies to the police (Michael Hyatt), withholding evidence, and obstructing justice. James Newton Howard's score provides a backdrop for the emotions that emanate from the screen as Gyllenhaal's intensity rages with each scene. "Nightcrawler" is an excellent film that is not only entertaining but will leave the socially conscious individual with a sense of self-awareness the next time you watch your local news. “Nightcrawler" runs just shy of two hours and the MPAA rates it a solid R for graphic images, and language. 

Movie Data

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller 
Year:  2014
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Michael Hyatt 
Director: Dan Gilroy
Producer(s): Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Rating: R
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: 10/31/2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Taking of Deborah Logan: A Paranormal Murder Mystery

The Taking of Deborah Logan: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind I don't usually care much for found footage films, but there are exceptions. "The Taking of Deborah Logan" is one of them. With a strong cast, excellent direction and a unique look at the paranormal horror genre, director and co-writer Adam Robitel brings a different perspective to the genre. A documentary crew intent on following a woman diagnosed with the Alzheimer's. As the film crew gets deeper into the ravages of the disease, it becomes apparent that there is more going on than what we believe. In my book, a horror film isn't worth its salt if it isn't rated R and this one is. Produced by Bryan Singer's "Bad Hat Harry Productions," this film went directly to Netflix and so far, is getting above average user reviews and here’s why.

Similar in tone of "The Blair Witch Project," Mia (Michelle Ang), the female leader of the documentary crew is working on this project for her medical PhD thesis and focusing specifically on the effects on the caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. She brings along Gavin (Brett Gentile) as editor, and Luis (Jeremy DeCarlos),as the rarely seen but essential cameraman. We meet the crew as they drive up to the Logan's property just outside of the town of Exuma. Set in the historic woods of Virginia, steeped in old legend of the Indians that lived there before the white man's arrival. The Logan's property is out in the woods and secluded. We are greeted jubilantly by Sarah Logan played by Anne Ramsay ("Dexter"), her mother Deborah (Jill Larson) is in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s and due to financial reasons, Deborah is seeking a portion of the film crew's grant money in exchange for the interview and allowing them to document her mother's disease, for science. Deborah, who lives in Richmond with her female life partner, has come home to help with her mother. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan:  Jill Larson and Anne Ramsay| A Constantly Racing MindAs Sarah brings the group around back to meet her mother, she tells the crew that, her mom is so excited and that she has been cleaning and dusting the house as if "the president" was coming. Sarah also says that her mom comes off as, "a little salty, but it's just an act." She also tells the crew to say, "Please and thank you; kiss her ass." We find Deborah out in the back woody area with Harris (Ryan Cutrona), an old friend of the family. Almost immediately, as Deborah and Mia meet, Deborah's attitude changes and she decides she doesn't want to do the interview after all. The crew continues to film as Sarah and Deborah argue from inside the house. It is needless to say that the persistent group gets their way and a week later Deborah is welcoming and the weirdness begins. What helps in making this film believable is the interaction between Deborah and Sarah. As Deborah's mental condition gets worse, Sarah's concern and helplessness grows. Although the viewer knows that this is a film about demonic possession, you can't help but feel empathy for Sarah and the toll her mom is taking on her.

Co-writers Adam Robitel and Gavin Heffernan play off some of the conventional paranormal horror tropes. Which include American - Indian folklore ("The Amityville Horror," "Poltergeist"), the use of planted cameras ("Paranormal Activity"), security camera footage ("The Bay"), the disbelief in the paranormal ("The Last Exorcism"), creepy drawings that children usually draw of the ghosts or demons that they see ("Sinister," "Mama"), and the creepy shot with a character's back to the camera from the ending of "The Blair Witch Project." Also included is a dark secret that was once buried returns to life to haunt the living like in “Nightmare on Elm Street.” However, as a director, Robitel changes up some of these tropes and creates a new archetype utilizing instead, an older woman who has a mental illness. In Shamanistic societies, the mentally ill were regarded as sacred and speak words that come from the spirit realm. Heffernan and Robitel work into their story Monacan religion, a serial killer from the 1970's and a blood oath made by conspirators. Add to that the strong acting by both Larson and Ramsay, we watch as the scenes turn wi as each moment goes by. The film is intercut with Mia's medical school animations showing an Alzheimer's patient's brain, and interviews with Dir. Nazir (Anne Bedian) at the hospital up the level of realism a degree or two. 

The Taking of Deborah Logan: Brett Gentile and Jill Larson | A Constantly Racing Mind As the film progresses,  Ang's character Mia, becomes more determined to get to the bottom of the strange events than actually completing her thesis. Brett Gentile as Gavin does an excellent job of developing the sense of the paranormal as he brings out EVP voices interspersed in Deborah's demonic voices. Usually in films like this, the cameraman, gets the short end of the deal but not in this case. My other issue with found footage films is that the ending is abrupt and doesn't bring the viewer to a conclusion or some sort of catharsis. For example, "The Devil Inside," clocking in at around only 83 minutes leaves the audience unfulfilled and feeling that they paid for more than what they got. However, Robitel does a fine job of wrapping this one up.

In spite of the usual bad photography and shaky-cam in places where the characters are running around, the characters, strong acting, and the a different kind of story transcend the level of mediocrity that most horror films of this type fall into. For Halloween this year, or any year, I would heartily recommend “The Taking of Deborah Logan” for your paranormal thrill fix available now on Netflix.

Movie Data

Genre: Horror, Thriller
Year:  2014
Staring: Jill Larson, Anne Ramsay, Michelle Ang, Brett Gentile, Jeremy DeCarlos, Ryan Cutrona, Anne Bedian 
Director: Adam Robitel
Producer(s): Jeff Rice, Bryan Singer
Writer: Adam Robitel, Gavin Heffernan 
Rating: R
Running Time: 89 minutes
Release Date: 10/21/2014