How Big is Space? Take a Look for Yourself


Since the world is still reeling from the return of Cosmos hosted by the ineffable Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I figured it would be a good idea to a space related post (mainly because I’m shameless want more hits). If you haven’t seen Cosmos, then go watch it…after you finish reading and telling your friends about my post.

The almost always awesome BBC has put together a fantastic  interactive that allows you pilot a tiny rocket to the edge of our Solar System. That’s over 20 BILLION KM away! That would take you 20 hours to complete if you were on the Starship Enterprise travelling at Warp 1.

Suit up and buckle in for your journey here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbc.com/future/bespoke/20140304-how-big-is-space-interactive/index.html

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Oscars 2104 Predictions


It’s that time of the year again! The Oscars will be happening this Sunday on March 2.

For the most part, I don’t care about the OScars, but tying to predict the winners is always fun. Unfortunately, I tend to get sucked into a maelstrom of anger when my choices don’t take home the gold.

I’ve compiled the top categories below. This year I have decided to do it a little differently. As usual, I predict my overall winner. However, to make things more interesting I have also included my “upset winner” and “wtf winner”. The latter really relates to the Academy’s tendency to, sometimes, go against the grain and pick a totally unexpected winner. That doesn’t mean it’s not deserved, but rather that I didn’t see it coming. Though in Jonah Hill’s case it is totally fucking undeserved!

Without further ado, here are your winners:

Best Actor:

Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Winner: Matthew McConaughey       Upset:Leonardo DiCaprio     WTF: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Nothing can stop the veteran of our beloved Rom-Coms. Leo might take it for his body of work, since he hasn’t won in forever. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a distant third, but the movie and his acting has been praised. Plus it’s based on a true story and the Academy has a hard-on for those.

Best Actress

Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
Judi Dench (Philomena)
Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Winner: Cate Blanchett           Upset: Amy Adams       WTF: Judi Dench

I went with Cate Blanchett because Meryll Streep has too many awards, but she was amazing in Osage County. Amy Adams for the upset because she chose not wear bras in American Hustle. Judi Dench because she  has way too many nominations, she can’t see or walk anymore and has a lot of praise for her role in Philomena. This is a tough one.

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club

Winner: Jared Leto     Upset: Michael Fassbender     WTF: Jonah Hill 

Jared Leto will walkaway with this while looking all pretty. Any rockers ever won an acting Oscar? Fassbender did a masterful job and was downright evil, but there is no contest with Leto. Jonah Hill….just don’t do it Oscars. Please just don’t even think about it.

Best Supporting Actress

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
June Squibb (Nebraska)

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence      Upset: Lupita Nyong’o     WTF:June Squibb

Jennifer Lawrence is the darling of the awards. She could come in a trucker cap, ripped jeans while smoking a doobie and it would be the next “in” thing. But I think it’s too obvious. Newcomer (?) Lupita Nyong’o has a lot of love going into this and is my favorite to win. June Squibb might sneak in a winner for her body of work.

Best Director

American Hustle (David O. Russell)
Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen)
The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Winner: Alfonso Cuaron   Upset: Steve Mcqueen   WTF: David O Russell

I hate to admit it but Alfonso Cuaron will likely win this. He doesn’t deserve it for such a shit film. My money is really on Steve McQueen to take this and it would rectify the Academy’s mistake with Argo and Affleck last year. There really is no WTF here, but I put in a name for heck of it.

Best Picture

American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street

Winner: 12 Years a Slave    Upset: Gravity     WTF:Philomena

I swear I will lose my shit if Gravity wins! This better go to 12 Years a Slave. I would love to see Philomena win, but I don’t think it will happen.

There you have it. Sound off in the comments below and let me know your choices 🙂

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Movie Review: ELYSIUM


Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

LIKES

  • I enjoyed witnessing Matt Damon’s character Max’s journey. We’re introduced to him as an innocent child full of dreams of wanting to escape his downtrodden existence and move to Elysium with his best friend Frey. Of course, dreams are seldom what they seem. We next see Max as a world beaten adult who has let go of his dreams. He stops looking to the sky for the faint glimmer of Elysium as it borders on the edge of the world. Somewhere along the way the realities of the dystopian nightmare have eroded away his dreams and left behind nothing but scars and tattoos. Max is just trying to get by but circumstance and destiny collide  to once again waken his childhood dream. Unfortunately, that dream has been severely distorted. Max is a desperate man of few words. Matt Damon lend a softness to this character that makes you sympathize with him and everyone else caught up in the hellish version of Earth in 2154. As a result, you are drawn into the world because you are personally affected. Eventually we see Max become the reluctant hero who embraces his destiny because he understands that his dream doesn’t solely belong to him. In terms of character development, this is similar to how the character of Wikus in District 9 grows over the course of that film.
  • Matt Damon is not alone in the acting department. Everyone brings their A-game to this. Jodie Foster is deliciously menacing with her words and heartlessness. William Fichtner delights in a small role as a capitalist pig. The supporting cast is also on point, but they don’t linger around too much. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura also stands out as the handicapped black market kingpin Spider. He certainly has some bats in the belfry, but he is an intelligent opportunist. However, the man who steals the show is Sharlto Copley. His portrayal of Kruger is the epitome of evil. This man is deranged and a true sadist. He has no morals, respect, loyalty, fear or tolerance. He’s clearly been driven mad from having been stuck on Earth while his employers lived the high life on Elysium. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants and I was genuinely impressed, and sometimes scared, by the sheer brutality of his words and actions. Moreover, I loved the look of the character and how he presented a formidable enemy for Max. Kruger is an animal bred to be a warrior with his multiple augmentations, scavenger-like mentality and willingness to destroy anything that stands in the way of a good pay day.
  • In my opinion, I think the visual effects in Elysium are by far the best of the year. Painstaking attention to detail is afforded to every component of this world. If Oblivion was clinical and clean, then this is downright dirty like a back alley surgery. From the warning labels on the droids to the graffiti staining the walls, everything is designed to sell you Neil Blomkamp’s vision of an Earth that is a garbage dump. This is in stark contrast to the scenes on Elysium which looks like Beverly Hills recreated in space. That’s not a bad thing because it is deliberate and meant to draw your eye to the divide that has contributed to Elysium’s dystopia. The visuals are powerful and every details serves a purpose as nothing is superfluous.
  • Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film for me was that it treated me like an intelligent viewer. Yes, I was there looking for entertainment, but Neil Blomkamp goes one step further by giving me something to ponder about. I appreciated that there was a lack of hand holding and brow beating about the world and the message. If you’re informed about the social, political and economic paradigms that govern and institutionalize inequalities and injustices, then you will appreciate that this is a plausible future. At that moment , the film becomes the very definition of great sci-fi. There might be people who are turned off by the depiction of Earth in the movie. However, I would contend that if we as a species took every wrong step, then the Earth of 2154 in Elysium  is one of many outcomes. Great science fiction does not play it safe. It seeks to challenge you by giving you an escape that  makes you question and re-evaluate your place within your present. It scares or inspires us to be and do better. In essence, Elysium is a movie filled with big action and even bigger ideas.
  • Another significant thing I enjoyed was the technology on display in the movie. The Stanford Torus that houses Elysium is a thing of beauty. Uber-nerds will recognize the design from the Mass Effect videogames. I also loved the inclusion of bio-technology (brain uploads), augmentations (Kruger and Max’s exoskeletons) and all the medical marvels (med-bays!). The fact that the film is set in 2154 helps to sell the plausibility of these technologies. However, all this tech is already available or being researched right now. The best part about this technological indulgence is how it deepens the divide between the rich and poor. For the denizens of Elysium, the elimination of death, pain and suffering creates a stringent detachment which makes them a little less human.  Hell, even their appearance has altered as their skin shows evidence of underlying physiological changes. This detachment is evident in the way they run away screaming from interloping “immigrants” and how William Fichtner’s character deals with his workers (“Cover your mouth! Don’t breathe on me!”). It’s saddening  and affected me personally. I am a proponent of human evolution through technology, but at what cost? This promise of evil that accompanies technological advancement was something Blomkamp touched upon in District 9 as well, and I’m glad to see he has taken it to the next level.
  • I was happy to see that there wasn’t a forced romance in this movie. It really helped the characters develop and be more believable. I wanted this to be a bleak story and I’m glad there was barely a smile in the entire movie. Also, thankfully it didn’t turn into a robot kill-fest. Blomkamp could have gone overboard with Matt Damon punching robots left and right, but I’m glad he didn’t and that the action was necessary rather than gratuitous. Of course, the gore is over the top (face grenade!), but I can forgive that because some of those weapons look like they could tear a man in half. The music is also enjoyable and helps drive the action and the story along.

DISLIKES

  • I wanted more Jodie Foster because I really enjoyed her performance. I think a confrontational scene with Matt Damon’s character would have really added a little more to the movie.
  • The dialogue in the movie is good but not great. It’s not bad by any means, but I was hoping for a little more commentary from the characters about the world they live in. There’s always the risk that something like that could fall flat and sound unconvincing, but it might have helped define the convictions of the characters a little more.
  • Exploring more of the world of Elysium and EArth would have helped the story develop a little more. We see very little of each and I was invested in the movie enough to want more. While that is a good thing, it also feels like something has been incomplete.
  • The camera work is really strong, but I wanted to see more shots that were pulled out a little. There are instance of too much motion blur in the close ups shots. However, I’m nitpicking because I was enjoying the fights so much that I wanted to see a little more of the actors moving around in their exoskeletons and using their whole body. Oh! watch the film in IMAX!

As you can see there wasn’t a whole lot I disliked about this movie. This is rarely the case because I tend to be really picky. Maybe I’ll notice more things I dislike in subsequent viewings. For now, Elysium is by far the best movie of this summer. Depth and vision collide in furious form in Elysium to create an evocative and stylish science fiction film.

FINAL SCORE: 9/10

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Movie Review: Man of Steel


***BEWARE OF SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT***

The Likes

  • I tend to think that Hugh Jackman was born to play Wolverine. Similarly, Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect actor to play Tony Stark, not counting rubbish Iron Man scripts. Now, I can add Henry Cavill’s name to this list. This guy embodies every aspect of Superman perfectly to become one with the suit. He certainly looks the part with his endearing smile and chiseled muscularity, but he manages to expand on older iterations of the character as well. Cavill is emotive and expressive, which shows how human he is despite being Kryptonian. Critics have complained that the new Superman is too “dark” and “serious”. Well, they must not be well acquainted with Superman because he has plenty of “dark” moments within his history. It’s important to let go of any idealized 1950s version of the hero because this is a new hero for a new generation. Furthermore, this is a more, dare I say it, realistic take on Superman. Yes he is the Man of Steel, but he still struggles to come to terms with his identity and destiny. Thus, I think the strength of the character lies in the fact that Superman is much more relateable than before as we get to see him become the Man of Tomorrow.  You will smile as he shares a tender moment with this mother; you will be agonized as he watches his father die; and you will believe that a man can fly. A lot of this can be attribute to good writing, but Henry Cavill pulls all this off with aplomb and does the character justice.

  • Save for a few performances, every other actor was on point. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are perfect as the Kents and bring heart and humility to Clark’s life. Michael Shannon’s General Zod goes beyond Terence Stamp and delivers a rousing, malevolent, and scary performance as Zod. I particularly liked that he went toe-to-toe against Superman. Their scenes together, especially the sea of skulls scene, are some of the best of the movie. The standout performance of the film belongs to Russel Crowe who was absolutely brilliant as Jor-El. His performance  carries heart as he is the only honest connection that Clark has left to his heritage.   Also, I don’t think I have seen Crowe kick so much butt since Gladiator as he fights to secure his son’s and Krypton’s future. The entire opening section on Krypton was done so spectacularly well that I thought I was watching a Russell Crowe science fiction epic and not Man of Steel. All I know is  I want to see him in every damn sequel.
  • Hans Zimmer proves yet again why he sits atop the mountain when it comes to composing film scores. The music is loud and boisterous, but it also knows when to yield and allow room for the softer harmonies to take center stage. Overall, it is an impactful score which significantly enhances the movie. It’s also a pleasure to listen to through a decent pair of headphones. One minute you’ll be lost in your thoughts and the next you’ll feel like flying or fighting in a battle. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any single theme that sands out as “Superman’s Theme”. I suspect this might become more fleshed out over the course of later movies. My personal favorite is the track entitled “Flight” which plays when Clark first takes to the sky.
  • The visual spectacle of the film has to be seen to be believed. I would hate to be one of the visual effects artists working on this film. It makes Transformers look like a cartoon drawing. This is never more apparent than when you’re on Krypton. Getting to see that world and its culture, at least the end of it, come to life was mesmerizing. Additionally, the fight scenes with Superman feel like they popped out of the comic book and onto the screen. It’s very cool stuff to witness Zod and Kal-El battling it out over the city. Still, it’s not all great (more on that later).
  • Some people are taking issue with what Kal-EL does at the end of the movie. I thought it was handled splendidly and creates a mountain of conflict for the hero to deal with.
  • Special mention goes to Faora. Zod’s right hand woman is EVIL to the core and HOT as hell. Her fight scenes manage to even trump Superman’s. Hell, she kicks his butt all over the place and tosses him around like a rag doll. Also, there was a bit of blink and you miss it fan service: a LEXCORP logo on a truck and a WAYNE INDUSTRIES logo on a satellite. Also, I wonder what else escaped from the Phantom Zone.  I would have enjoyed something more substantial (e.g. post credits scene), but this is a good sign of things to come.

The Dislikes

  • Lois Lane. I have no issue with Amy Adams’ portrayal of the character, but it is a horribly written character that drags down the plot. One minute she is an intrepid and gutsy reporter (makes sense) and the next she’s a damsel in distress shouting “Clark! Clark!” all over the place. I felt the progression of the character was completely wrong. Within the first hour of the movie she figures out who Superman is and becomes his best friend/lover within the next hour. In fact, what could have been one of the best scenes in the movie (i.e. Clark meeting Jor-El and becoming Superman) is ruined because in between that Clark has to go save Lois from apparent death. Yes, we get that Lois and Clark are meant to be together, but it doesn’t have to happen in the first movie. I think it would have worked a lot better had their paths not crossed in this movie at all. In fact, Clark should have had Lana Lang as his confidant and friend (she’s in the movie) in Smallville and saved the Lois romance for the next movie.
  • The Clark and Lois dynamic also suffers because this film’s pacing is rush rush rush to get to the action. It is style over substance. After saving Lois from falling for the second/third time, the two of them share an amorous kiss. Wait! Why are they kissing? Why are they together now? There’s little to no development to justify them getting together. Their romance just seems shoehorned into the plot and only serves to damage it. The problem of pacing makes also means a lot of characters are left underdeveloped or only exist to move the story along. For example, the doctor from DARPA only exists to define terraforming and slot a key into a hole. Another example would be Laurence Fishburne and his gang of the Daily Planet Ineptitudes. They are only present to get into trouble and create pointless drama when one of them gets pinned under rubble. Seriously, if you decide to stand and watch a building in front of you collapsing , then you deserve to have it fall on you. The worst example is Lara-El who has a tiny role and she doesn’t really get a chance to lend emotion  to the role of a mother sending her child away.
  • The visual effects are great but it’s all so messy and starts to look ugly fast (e.g. Transformers). There’s just too much of it all over the place, especially once the World Engines come into play. I’m particularly tired of watching New York getting pummeled in every other movie. Are there not any other locations on Earth?  It also looks silly because Superman only seems to be adding to the destruction. I don’t have an issue with big explosions and set pieces, but it should be directed inventively and intelligently (e.g. The Dark Knight, Avengers). This is a personal annoyance but I also didn’t like the design philosophy of the Kryptonians. Everything just looks bulky and industrious as opposed to sleek and functional. I mean they are a spacefaring race lightyears beyond anything else. Also, the 3D in the movie adds NOTHING to the movie. It’s all post production 3D and the movie looks much better in the regular screen format.
  • I hated the stupid ending about Superman being American. What a load of crock. He is supposed to be a citizen of Earth and protector of all. This really hurt the image of the hero for me. Also, why does Clark go to a church to get guidance? He has Jor-El, his mother and Lois to talk to, but he goes to some random priest who gives him the most hollow and cliched advice about trust and faith.
  • Clark putting on his glasses and joining the Daily Planet just doesn’t work for me in this version. First, Lois and Clark just shared a long kiss in front of everyone who matters at the Daily Planet but somehow they don’t remember his face when they hire him? The army stood face to face with him and they can’t track him down at the paper or, as Clark tells them, Kansas? Hell, Lois found him out with nothing but old fashioned reporter skills and met his mother! Clark has saved countless lives around the world before becoming Superman, so I’m sure they know his identity. This is the inherent issue with making Lois such a focal point of this story because working at The Daily Planet just seems like fan service with no thought behind it. Imagine how cool it would have been to have Clark working under Lois without her figuring it out until later on. It would have meant amusing character interactions and development, but more importantly the romance would have made sense. Also, what’s the trend with superhero identities not being secret anymore in movies?

Is it perfect? Nope. Is it better than a lot of other superhero movies? Yes. The best? Hell no! If you’re a Superman fan, then this a great new version to be excited about and it is a lot of fun. It has its flaws, but all films do. The first half of the movie is really strong with superb performances. The second half is a slight let down (mainly as soon as New York is attacked) but it doesn’t deter too much from the overall epic scale of the story and brutal action.

FINAL VERDICT 7/10

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Movie Review: The Great Gatsby


“All the bright precious things fade so fast…and they don’t come back”

What I Liked:

  •  I read the book a few years ago as I grabbed a tattered copy off of my sister’s bookshelf. Unfortunately, the language and style felt anachronistic to me, so I couldn’t invest myself in the world and the characters. This is not an issue with the movie. This meant that I was free from comparing the movie to the book. As a result, the DiCaprio version stands on its own merits and raises a story, which I initially didn’t care for, to a whole new level. In other words, the movie helped me appreciate the source material and pushed me to revisit it.
  • The words quoted above are uttered by Daisy towards the start of The Great Gatsby and percolate throughout the remainder of the movie. The words set the tone for the time period and sum up the individual character journeys eloquently. These words also teach a harsh lesson because this is a story of heartbreak. There are no heroes and villains, instead there are only flawed people. The New York of The Great Gatsby affords its denizens dreams of glitz and glamour, but dreams have a habit of not coming true. The movie takes this thread and unravels it delightfully. In a nutshell,  it is the story of a man trapped by purpose and consumed by august pretensions  in a microcosm of rapturous congregations. It is all merely a ruse to attract a distant glimmer of a hope he let go of years ago. Sadly, he becomes a victim of his own identity and malevolence as he drags the lives of others into tragedy and leaves them in disarray. I won’t call it selfish, but it is powerful, haunting, dark, sad, hurtful, and beautiful in its pain.
  • Fitzgerald’s writing speaks to you through  Baz Luhrmann’s imagery. Sometimes it even comes right at you. However, this movie is sold through its characters and their commanding presence. You will love them, you will hate them, but at all times you will be enthralled by them. It is initially jarring as everything appears unconventional, but you settle into the groove quickly as you acclimatize to the decadence and the pace of the epoch. Leonardo DiCaprio continues to prove he is the best actor of his generation and that he was born to play this role. He is a roller coaster of emotions, charming one second and ready to kill a man the next. Edgerton and Mulligan are equally evocative. Secretly, I adored Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Nick Carraway. I started off not enjoying his voiceover and his recounting of the story. But over the course of the film you start to notice how his voice grows weary from the chaos unfolding around him. From Wall Street upstart to doting friend, his journey is a treat to watch as  his world crumbles around him and he is ultimately relegated to the role of a spectator entrenched in other people’s tensions. “Within and Without,” as Nick would say.
  • The highly ambitious visuals and effects in this film add to the splendor of the story.  One could argue that it is all superfluous and adds nothing of value to the proceedings. A mere distraction to take attention away from an otherwise mediocre film. I would contend that without the visuals the story of The Great Gatsby would not be so endearing and enchanting. They imbibe the movie with all the extravagances and sorrows of a classical fairy tale. Moreover  the visuals are metaphors strewn all over the place, but they bring the subtleties of Fitzgerald’s writing to the forefront. Lavish parties represent decadence and loneliness; a green light beckons forlorn desires; and the disparity of wealth is covered in thick black smog and the sweat of those less fortunate. The film,unlike the book, isn’t a commentary on the times, but it still manages to register on multiple levels while taking your breath away.
  • I have to give a special mention to the ending. It was meticulous, sombre and poignant. More importantly, it was silent but, just as Gatsby hoped for his own life, it has a sempiternal impact.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • I thought that the soundtrack was a mess. Who thought Jay-Z was a good depiction of the era? I enjoyed Baz Luhrmann’s crazy mash-ups in Moulin Rouge, but the same audaciousness doesn’t work here. I’m surprised that they couldn’t come up with a surreal remix of more iconic songs from that era. Also, the orchestral score wasn’t that striking either. A few hymns and measures stood out, particularly the lament of Young and Beautiful, but on the whole I felt that the soundtrack was underwhelming.
  • There is a lot of fast editing as the film weaves in and out of scenes. This is mostly noticeable at the start of the film and settles down as the movie finds its legs. It’s not major gripe, but it wasn’t handled seamlessly and felt a little disorienting, especially with the 3D.
  • Some interesting characters are sacrificed to keep the focus of the story on the main stars. For example, the excellent Amitabh Bachchan  makes his Hollywood debut here but only appears for about 5 minutes. This usually wouldn’t be a problem, but he is very good in those five minutes and is, quite explicitly, a big part of Gatsby’s current manifestation. The same goes for Jordan Baker, who is much more fleshed out in the book.
  • I fucking hate 3D. This movie made me like it. I don’t like that. There are some scenes which are just beautifully rendered where you actually feel like you are a part of that world and that you’re in the room with these characters as they tear their lives apart. So, I guess this should actually be in the list above.

Overall, this is one director’s vision of a story that has only become more loved through the ages. You will be taken to a different realm and you will be engaged. This is how films should be made. It invokes your imagination and pulls you into the depths of the anguish carried by each of the characters. Visually powerful, expertly designed, thematically refreshing and incredibly well acted.

OVERALL: 8/10

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