Jupiter Ascending – Review


For months, trailers for Jupiter Ascending have built up my expectations for this new movie from the Wachowskis (The Matrix, Vendetta, Cloud Atlas…). Finally, last Tuesday I had the opportunity to see a preview showing of “Jupiter Ascending” in 3D, and was not disappointed!

I should start by admitting that I am life-long fan of spectacular special effects, cutting-edge CGI, and fancy artistic design in films. A film’s plot can be a total dud and I will still enjoy watching it if it has enough eye candy. On that “eye candy” scale, this film gets a 9.9/10 in my book (the lizard aliens’ mouth and facial movements didn’t quite convince me, or else it would be a 10/10).  I totally agree that if an advanced, age-old spacefaring civilization exists, it should use a form of Gothic, Art Deco, and/or Renaissance-style architecture! Really, I’m not being sarcastic here.  The effect is breathtaking. When I become a fabulously wealthy space aristocrat, I am hiring this art team to design my cities and spaceships. If you want a taste of what the visuals are like, and a look behind the scenes at the artistic ideas that made it happen, check out the official on-line “Look Book”.

Then, there is the action. A lot of it! One of the best action sequences happens towards the beginning of the story – an incredible chase scene that also involves major damage to Chicago landmarks – but there are exciting sequences throughout the film. Seat-clenching, hold-your-breath sequences.  However, the film isn’t action from start to finish. There are some slower interludes for political machinations and humor.

As far as the plot goes, it isn’t the most original story in the world, but it isn’t a remake or a rip-off either. It incorporates familiar “archetypal” fairytale and sci-fi elements with which we are mostly familiar, and that’s fine with me; there are basic stories and characters that resonate with us and that we like to hear over and over again in different forms.  The story isn’t preachy but does send some good messages about things like the value of each person being rooted in the human individual as such, regardless of social status, and the fact that who we are depends more on our decisions than on our genes or wealth. And I enjoyed all the references to UFO conspiracy theories and subculture. (I only recently learned that there are supposedly several recognized and categorized alien species that have visited earth; this film includes two or three of these “traditional” species.)

The acting is pretty good; despite some criticism from reviewers, I think Eddie Redmayne does a good “snobby insane megalomaniacal quiet but explosive villain.” A bit over-the-top, perhaps, but in the context, it works.

Certainly, the film isn’t perfect.  Some of the dialogue isn’t great.  There isn’t time to get explanations for everything, nor for all the characters to be fully developed. As one critic said, this movie might have benefitted from being a mini-series instead of just one film. There is one comic interlude that seems almost out of place with it’s change of tone compared to the rest of the film, but I feel it is still worth including because of the point it makes.  There are also one or two cuts that seem abrupt – like last-ditch efforts to get the running time down closer to two hours; I would willingly watch an extended version to see what was missing.

Most critics didn’t like it, but I loved it.  Flashy and full of CGI? Overstimulating? Sometimes absurd or bizarre? Sock it to me!


The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies – Review

10467040_10152521102786558_6318007250642602741_oTwo days ago I had the pleasure of going to a pre-showing of the new (and last) movie in Peter Jackson’s trilogy adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic book for the big screen.

The movie is more or less what you expect: it is visually spectacular, and brings to a conclusion the well-known story, including of course a few additions and innovations taken from other Tolkien sources and from the imagination of Jackson and his scriptwriters. You better like battle scenes, because as the name implies, a great part of the film deals with the great battle involving dwarves, elves, men, goblins, Beorn and his friends the eagles, and orcs. Wait, that’s six armies, and I’m not sure they are all exactly the same ones as in the book. Well, you get the point.

Overall, I really liked it. There were a few moments that I found a bit overdone, less authentic or even almost cheesy (one in particular, involving Galadriel – you will probably know it when you see it), but those are the exceptions. There were many other parts that I though were very well done and faithful to the spirit (if not always the letter) of the book.  The film is made (unsurprisingly) to tie in perfectly with the first of the Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.

In conclusion, I enjoyed it, and plan on seeing it at least once more in the theater – and already long-term I am planning a marathon of watching all six movies of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, in chronological order (according to the story, not production), in the extended, HD versions. I better start popping corn…

Movie review: Interstellar

I have the good fortune of knowing someone who works in the publicity side of the movie industry, and who from time to time invites me to early showings to see the movie and share my impressions.  That’s how I got to see Interstellar last night, at the theaters in Valle Oriente! Here’s a brief review.

interstellar4This sci-fi epic clocks in at nearly 3 hours, so I should have had more to drink before going in – feeling thirsty made me notice the length of the film. Besides that, it was interesting enough that in the whole three hours I didn’t want to leave my seat to buy a beverage!

When I say it is an “epic”, I mean it in the proper sense. Matthew McConaughey plays a Nasa pilot-turned-farmer who has to return to space travel in order to find a new home for humanity, and somehow overcome obstacles from nature, fellow man, and unseen forces, in order to return to his family. It’s very much in the tradition of the Odyssey or the Aeneid, but scientists, politicians, laws of nature and physics, stars and planets, and other unseen forces replace the kings, gods, oceans, islands and monsters.

It is more a drama than an action movie, although it has moments of action and suspense. It has very good special effects without being dominated by them – it is truly driven by plot and character. The actors do a very good job as well.

While the visuals aren’t the central element, they are well worth seeing on the large screen. I saw it in IMAX, and I recommend the big screen experience.

In short: I liked it and recommend it to fans of serious science fiction who don’t need lots of explosions and giant robots (although there are explosions and pretty cool man-sized robots). Just be sure to take care of any bodily needs (refreshments or restrooms) before the show starts, because you are in for a long story and you probably won’t want to leave!

New Home, New Blog

It’s been almost exactly a year since I first came to Monterrey, Mexico, and eight months since I officially became a “temporary resident”.  I have found little to nothing on the web for American expats living in Monterrey, so I have decided to start a new blog to share my American expat perspective on places and events here in Monterrey and in Mexico in general, plus any practical advice that might be useful to other expats coming to live in this wonderful country.

That’s me hamming it up last November before crossing the border into Mexico.