Project Almanac Fails

 

 

 

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Project Almanac is a sci-fi film done in the quasi documentary/lost footage/shaky camera style made popular by much better films such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Chronicle. It is directed by Dean Israelite and stars Jeremy Weston as David Raskin, Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie Pierce, Sam Lerner as Quinn Goldberg , Allen Evangelista as Adam Le and Amy Landecker as Kathy Raskin. This is the first full length film to be directed by Mr. Israelite and although his intentions are good, the result  is a film that travels down familiar roads, doesn’t add anything new or different to time travel tropes and has significant problems with its pacing.

David Raskin is a brilliant high school senior that hopes to get admitted to MIT. His project proposal,while impressive, gains him admission but not a high enough scholarship to make his dream affordable. David prowls around in the attic, looking for inspiration from his father’s notes and projects. (It’s not really made clear if David’s dad is missing or dead.) He discovers an old video recorder and starts looking at footage of his birthday party when he turned 7. David discovers his reflection in a mirror at the party.

David continues searching through his dad’s things and discovers plans for the construction of a time machine (Ta-da!). Naturally, he starts building  the machine and enlists the aid of his closest friends and his sister. Along the way David meets Jessie and develops a crush on her and thereby hangs the conflict that drives the last 1/3 of the film.

Naturally, the time machine works (who knew all you needed was a few car batteries and some hydrogen from the high school locker room to power a time machine!) The time machine works and with a few modifications, our fantastic five are ready to make some history! 

Wackiness ensues in the form of getting payback on a bully, winning the lottery, retaking a test ad nauseum and the longest sequence involves the gang spending the day at Lollapalooza. It is during this scene that David blows a chance to develop a relationship with Jessie but he solves it by going back in time by himself and responding differently so that they become a couple.

Eventually the gang discovers the ripple effect of their actions and decide that they need to undo the things that they have done so that things are put back, yada yada yada. However, David doesn’t want to do this because he doesn’t want to undo his relationship with Jessie (the guy is actually having sex now, so what do you think is more important to a teenager?)  David tries to undo some things and leave others alone, but each action makes things worse, until he finally decides that he must travel back to his 7th birthday party and talk his dad into destroying the machine and its plans so that it is never built. 

Don’t worry there’s a little epilogue that give David and Jessie a happy ending (hooray for teenage love!).

This film suffers from several problems. The manner it which it was filmed is not logical. Supposedly David’s sister is the one who records and chronicles everything. However, there are plenty of scenes filmed in the same manner that don’t fall into this premise. We also have plenty of quick shots to give the (presumably) male members of the audience a gander at cleavage, legs or just a lingering look of the female form. And why would you cut your footage into a long musical montage????

The script suffers from similar lapses in logic. There is a scene where all 5 friends travel back to the same point in time to allow one of them to retake a test. However, there is no explanation as to why they don’t run into their previous past selves who were doing the same thing. Things occur for the sake of convenience and with the hope that the viewer won’t ask questions.

The actors are all quite serviceable in their roles and do the best they can with this stuff. I hope they are able to move onto to better projects in the future. 

Project Almanac is one of the worst films I’ve seen in quite some time. If you want to watch a good time travel movie, watch Looper or 12 Monkeys. If you want a good lost footage film then watch one of the 3 I referenced at the beginning of this article. Just don’t watch Project Almanac.

 

I give Project Almanac a grade of D.

 

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American Sniper is an important film

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American Sniper is the film directed by Clint Eastwood about the life of Navy Seal Sniper, Chris Kyle. It stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle and Sienna Miller as Kyle’s wife, Taya. The film is based on the book of the same name by Chris Kyle.

American Sniper is not so much a biography as it is a character study of the pressures and trials that members of our military face on the battlefield as well as the challenges they face when they return home to their families. There are certainly events in the film that actually occurred to Kyle, but there are also scenes and characters that are amalgams of  other incidents. Some are factual and some are not. Some have criticized the film as an oversimplification of war and a glorification of Kyle. I don’t think that was the goal of the film. I took it as a film with 2 purposes: 1. to show the life and times of the ones who were the “boots on the ground” and 2. to show how their return home could be a crippling experience for both the soldier and his family.

The film follows Kyle as he decides to enlist, through his 4 tours of Iraq and the difficulties he had in reintegrating into his family when home. It opens with a scene that effectively shows the essence of his mission and the mental stress that could occur. Chris is perched on a roof, scoping out the path of a convoy through his rifle. He spots a man talking on a cell phone and reports him on his headset. He’s given the green light to use his discretion, but is unsure. His backup suggests that maybe he’s just talking to a girlfriend. The man leaves, but a few moments later a woman and a young boy appear in a doorway and walk toward the convoy. Kyle reports the duo and sees that the woman hands the boy something. No one can confirm his observation. He watches the woman and realizes it’s a grenade. He again gets the green light, but his backup warns him that he will be sent to prison for shooting a child if he is wrong. At this point the film cuts to a scene of Chris as a little boy on his first deer hunt with his father. Through several scenes we see how Chris’ upbringing has instilled a black and white morality  and has given him a strong sense of being willing to do what is necessary to protect others.

This is the crux of the film. The members of the military that Chris represents were given great latitude to make their own decisions about whether to act….or not. Either way, people died. The correct decision would save American lives. The incorrect decision could result in being sent to prison as a murderer. Regardless of what Chris Kyle decides to do, how does he live with the ramifications of that decision and then go out and do it again and again? 

We see Chris go through 4 tours of Iraq and how his reputation grows with each mission. He is referred to as “The Legend” among his peers and has the most kills of any sniper in American Military History. The film creates an adversary in the guise of Mustafa. He is supposedly a Syrian sniper who was an Olympic medalist and now works for the terrorists. (In fact, Mustafa is only mentioned in one paragraph of Kyle’s book and Kyle says that he believes he was killed by another unit). 

Chris goes through difficult times when he returns home on leave and after his eventual discharge. He can’t enjoy ordinary life and is unable to verbalize his feelings to his family. He grows increasingly distant and may have the beginnings of tendency towards violence. It affects his relationships and is on the verge of threatening his marriage. Eventually Chris receives some counseling that helps him channels his need to protect and save people by talking with soldiers  through a VA hospital. (In fact, Kyle was quoted as saying that he never had any bad feelings about what he did in the service. However, this does not diminish the need to bring awareness to a very tragic problem for many military personnel.)

Bradley Cooper does an incredible job in the role of Chris Kyle. He disappears in the role and his Oscar nomination is well deserved. The scenes between he and Sienna Miller as Taya are both touching and often heartbreaking as well. The battle scenes in Iraq are realistically constructed. The danger is palpable and the violence is shocking.

American Sniper is not a perfect film but it is an important one. It highlights the dangers to both our military and their families in these complicated times and helps to show why we can have conflicting feelings of pride and sadness in today’s world.

My rating for American Sniper: A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fantastic 4 Teaser trailer 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the 5 Armies

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The Battle of the 5 Armies is the final installment in Peter Jackson‘s adaption of The Hobbit, a beloved fantasy novel (perhaps THE beloved fantasy novel) by JRR Tolkien. It is also the culmination of a 13 year journey for Jackson, who has painstakingly and reverently brought The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings trilogy to life.

Every film that Jackson has made in the series has been nominated for Best Picture. The Return of the King actually won the Best Picture award in 2004 and was one of the most decorated films of that year. As each film was released, audiences expectations rose accordingly. Jackson and his team were truly innovators, developing cutting edge techniques in all aspects of film making, up to and including the development of higher film speed ratios to deliver some of the most beautiful, fully immersive cinematic experiences of all time. High standards indeed.

The Battle of the 5 Armies stars Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly. Benedict Cumberbatch provides the voice over work for Smaug.

The Hobbit film trilogy has generally been regarded as a let down after the triumph of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Jackson has conceded that filming the Hobbit was more problematic simply because it is a relatively shorter story and is tonally different from LOTR. Portions of the novel are shifted in the film to form a better bridge to the tone of the LOTR movies. Evangeline Lilly’s character , Tauriel, was created by Jackson as a way to expand material introduced in the book. Such moves have caused discomfort among some of the novel’s most ardent fans.

If one sets aside those considerations and just watches the film for its own sake, we are still left with a film that succeeds more than it fails.

The film opens with the dragon, Smaug, unleashing his fiery wrath upon the people of Lake-Town. The scenes of Smaug’s attack and his subsequent death by Bard the Bowman of Esgaroth are outstanding and do much to create the atmosphere of despair and inevitability that permeates this film. Once Smaug is dispatched and the dwarves reclaim their treasure, we begin to see the downward tailspin that comes from the curse of greed and power as the armies of Dwarves, Men, Elves, Orcs and Eagles converge.

While the entire cast is topnotch, I feel it is important to note that Richard Armitage gives an Oscar worthy performance as Thorin Oakenshield. You can see and hear how one of the most important protagonists of the 1st two films is gradually corrupted and leads his people into an unnecessary war. A truly landmark performance.

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Martin Freeman does a great job as Bilbo Baggins, the little Hobbit that serves as the moral conscience of the tale (yet with his own, Precious, secret) and helps inject the need to persevere agains all odds that gives us hope in this film.

Ian McKellan once again triumphs as Gandalf and it is an amazing feat to consider that he has played this character in every film since 2001.

Howard Shore has done another great job of building on his already iconic work on these film scores.

I think I’m going against the general consensus when I say that I believe this was my favorite of the 3 Hobbit movies. I felt it was successful in drawing this story to a satisfying conclusion and serving as a bridge to The Fellowship of the Ring. I feel like the biggest weakness of the film lies in 2 points.  The unrequited love story between Tauriel and one of the dwarves feels contrived and unnecessary. The other thing that bothered me (and boy, is this a small quibble) is that in the battle scenes we see different types of giants and monsters used as WMD’s. Every time they wind up being comic relief. I think they went to that well too often as well as making me wonder why would any self respecting army commander put a giant idiot at the front of the attack?

 

My grade for The Hobbit: The Battle of the 5 Armies is A-.

 

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