New Website at SkylerNewman.com

April 18, 2014

Today I have officially moved to a new address, skylernewman.com. This site will now serve as an archive of my old work, and will no longer be updated.

Film Review: Ender’s Game (2013)

November 11, 2013

As a fan of Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel (click here for story summary), I was very much looking forward to the film adaptation of Ender’s Game, and while I am glad to say that it stays relatively faithful to the source material, it is but a shadow of the masterpiece that is the book. The plot speeds forward extremely quickly, condensing the rigorous training and development of the characters into short sequences or even just lines of dialogue that ultimately squanders the grand scale of the story and leaves you wondering just how much of the movie was left on the cutting room floor.

Obviously, a two-hour movie cannot include every detail, and it is expected for there to be changes, but in this case it seemed that the creative team simply did not include the proper selection of scenes to communicate the stakes of the story and intensity of the situation. For example, in the book, the child soldiers are trained until they are broken, run into the ground by the adult commanders, while in the movie it looks like they’re all just off on an adventure having a bunch of fun at space camp.

Anyway, for what it is, the film looks great, the casting is suitable enough, and it tells the same general story of the book well enough to be recognizable as Ender’s Game. I suppose viewers who haven’t read the book will probably enjoy it a lot more since they will be ignorant of how much of the story was skimmed over, but if you’re a fan of the book, you will probably just enjoy it for the nostalgia of seeing the characters and settings from the book realized on the screen, nothing more.

In the end, this is a decent start for creating adaptations of the material, but I truly hope it is given another shot in the future with more care, and perhaps in a different format that better suits it, like an animated series or television series akin to Battlestar Galactica.

Film Review: How I Live Now (2013)

November 9, 2013

How I Live Now (based on the novel of the same name by Meg Rosoff) is a thriller in the same vein as other British apocalyptic films, such as 28 Days Later and Children of Men, that follows the plight of ordinary British citizens as they fight to survive through the chaos of war.

How I Live Now focuses on a teenage girl named Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) who is sent from New York City to live with her young cousins in England. Daisy starts off apprehensive to the situation but quickly settles in with the group and begins a romantic relationship with her oldest cousin, Eddie (George MacKay). And of course, just as everything is going so well, a nuke goes off in England, and the army invades to whisk them all off to work camps, separating the family in the process. The rest of the movie tells the story of Daisy and her youngest cousin Piper as they fight to survive and make their way back home, hopefully along with cousins Eddie and Isaac, whose stories aren’t shown.

If the aforementioned 28 Days Later and Children of the Men represent the best of the apocalyptic thriller genre, How I Live Now doesn’t score as high and exists on a much smaller scale, but it succeeds in its tone of intensity and gritty realism, keeping your attention for the majority of the film. It does have some pacing issues, some of the love story scenes between Daisy and Eddie seem a bit forced, and the narration during the ending was a bit heavy-handed, but overall these are small issues that can be forgiven, as the whole of the film is better than the sum of its parts.

Saoirse Ronan’s portrayal of Daisy can be a bit grating at times, as her character was written to be angsty, but throughout the film she grows on you, and it becomes easy to root for her survival. The other young actors do a fine job, with Tom Holland as Daisy’s cousin Isaac being the stand out once again like in The Impossible.

The film has an excellent score, mixing both pop songs and ambient tracks, and is visually very gorgeous, showcasing the rolling hills and large open fields of the English countryside, deeming it worth a watch for its production values alone. It’s not a perfect film, but I found it to be emotionally riveting, beautiful, and entertaining, and for those aspects I recommend it, especially for those who can’t get enough of this genre.

Film Review: This is the End (2013)

July 2, 2013

This is the End pits Seth Rogen and crew in another witty dark comedy, this time performing parodies of themselves under the premise of an apocalyptic horror scenario complete with attacks from demons and other tropes of the genre. The pacing is bumpy in some areas, but the chemistry between the leads is strong enough to provide lots of laughs and entertainment. You know exactly what you’re getting from the trailer, and the story holds up well enough to be worth a watch if you like the crew’s other projects.

Film Review: Iron Man 3 (2013)

June 29, 2013

Iron Man 3 has a distinctively different style than the previous two films in the Robert Downey Jr. starring series. Written and directed by Shane Black, who previously directed RDJ in the off-beat dark comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Black presents a story that feels more like a spin-off or side quest for Tony Stark, rather than a climactic bookend to a trilogy.

I suppose Marvel’s intention, unlike Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, is to extend the current Iron Man series further, although I find it difficult to see how much more RDJ can take performing this role, especially after The Avengers 2 is finished. While RDJ is as entertaining as ever with his usual witty charm and manic brilliance, he seems tired in this movie, as if he just wants to get it over with so he can move on to another project.

Unlike the previous films in the series, Iron Man 3 focuses more on Tony Stark rather than Iron Man, and this decision provides a much different tone more akin to a detective story than a superhero story. The pacing felt very similar to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Tony Stark is even very similar to RDJ’s character from Kiss Kiss, Harry Lockhart, as he finds himself in a place of mental instability (PTSD), unable to sleep and having panic attacks after his recent battle with Loki and his alien army that took place in The Avengers.

There is a lot more off-beat humor and downtime in Iron Man 3, which I found to be a nice change, although fans who are expecting Iron Man 3 to simply be the next chapter in continuation of the series will probably find the change of pace to be undesirable, as has been the case with several negative reviews that I’ve seen online.

The bottom line is, if you enjoy watching RDJ do his thing, you will enjoy Iron Man 3, and if you can allow yourself to separate it from the previous two films in the series, you will be able to appreciate it more as a sidestep than a misfire.

Film Review: The Great Gatsby (2013)

June 28, 2013

When I first heard Baz Luhrmann would be doing a remake of the classic American novel, The Great Gatsby, I was intrigued by the casting decisions, although I was a bit afraid Luhrmann’s over-the-top style would produce a similar result to his previous film, Australia, which I did not end up seeing after hearing a lot of negative feedback about it.

While Gatsby was certainly an extravagant production, I was pleasantly surprised by the film’s depth and artistry, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s take on the enigmatic Jay Gatsby was superb, along with great supporting performances by Tobey Maquire, Joel Edgerton, and Carey Mulligan.

My only complaint about the film was that some parts of the soundtrack, featuring hip-hop music by Jay-Z, did not fit the time period of the story, which broke the immersion for me. The majority of the soundtrack was excellent, though, and the visual effects and cinematography were intoxicating.

Regardless if you’re a fan of the classic novel, I guarantee you will have a great time watching this larger-than-life adaptation of The Great Gatsby. While it’s not a perfect film, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once.

Film Review: Side Effects (2013)

June 26, 2013

One thing I’ve always liked about Steven Soderbergh is that he is always trying something new. Throughout his filmography, there is an eclectic mix of projects, ranging from heist films (the Ocean’s series), to sci-fi (Solaris, Contagion), to explorations into sexuality (The Girlfriend Experience, Magic Mike), to his supposed final feature film, Side Effects, a psychological thriller. Although Soderbergh’s films tended to be hit or miss, I’ve always felt he had a distinct style that, regardless of the premise, was always uniquely his own. I sincerely hope Soderbergh finds a way to work in the film industry again, but at least he is not gone from cinema for good quite yet, as he is still working in television.

Side Effects features Jude Law and Rooney Mara in a complicated doctor-patient relationship that ultimately leads to a much greater conspiracy after a tragic incident occurs while Emily (Mara) is under the influence of a new pharmaceutical drug that her psychiatrist, Dr. Banks (Law), prescribed to her. Like most thrillers, the story reveals each layer of the plot gradually, and there are many twists and turns along the way that lead to an ultimate revealing at the end. While you may figure out some pieces of the puzzle on your own, the script is well-written enough to keep you guessing, and the production values and performances are enjoyable enough to make the ride worthwhile.

Overall, I enjoyed Side Effects, but I would really only recommend this film to those who are, in particular, fans of Soderbergh or one of the stars (I became a Rooney Mara fan after her turn as Lisbeth Salander). It is good enough on its own even if you don’t have a preference toward any of the major players involved, although I don’t see why anyone would watch this film if they weren’t—it just doesn’t present that type of mainstream appeal.

Film Review: Man of Steel (2013)

June 24, 2013

I’ve never been a big Superman fan (I haven’t seen any of the recent movies or Smallville), although my interest in Man of Steel, the new reboot helmed by Zack Snyder starring Henry Cavill, Amy AdamsMichael Shannon, and Russell Crowe was piqued after I saw the talent involved, and the serious, realistic direction the studio was taking with it.

While the movie was rather disjointed at times, it held my attention all the way through, and the metaphysical concepts behind the story were well portrayed. I found Superman’s backstory of escaping the doomed Krypton to Earth as an infant to be reflective of the fall of Atlantis, and as a star seed I found Superman’s situation growing up as an extraterrestrial on Earth to be relatable.

Overall, I would recommend Man of Steel to anyone who’s interested in Superman or sci-fi movies, but I especially recommend it to fellow star seeds—I think it will help you remember more about who you are and why you’re here.

Film Review: The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

June 18, 2013

Derek Cianfrance’s crime drama, The Place Beyond the Pines, chronicles the lives of two fathers, one a cop named Avery (Bradley Cooper), the other a criminal named Luke (Ryan Gosling), and the effect their combined actions have on their two sons in the future.

The film is segmented into three parts, the first telling Luke’s story, the second Avery’s, and the third their 17-year-old sons’. Naturally, there is an incident that interconnects all the lead characters, and although the trajectory of the film is pretty predictable, the film is gripping and poignant from beginning to end. Luke’s segment of the film is by far the most riveting, followed by Avery’s, but the last one drags on for a bit too long and loses its focus.

If you’re looking for a serious crime drama with great acting and quality production values, The Place Beyond the Pines is a worthy choice, just make sure you’re prepared for over two hours of gloominess.

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

June 14, 2013

Just like J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie back in 2009, Into Darkness is another film that has a lot of flashy action sequences, funny quips, and epic explosions, but not too much depth or clarity. While Wrath of Khan was mainly a philosophical drama with very little action sequences beyond the mental chess game between Khan and Kirk, Into Darkness keeps the iconic characters always on the run, and never with any time to stop and think about what they’re doing.

Overall, I had a lot of fun watching Benedict Cumberbatch steal every scene he was in as the new Khan, and the constant verbal dueling between Kirk and Spock, but in the end I was left empty and tired with the plot. Just like the characters in the movie, I never had any time to let anything sink in and be processed. It was a constant jump from action scene to action scene without any real conviction of the effects caused by the character’s choices, which dampened the overall impact of the dramatic elements and made it difficult to care too much about the fate of the characters or the world they live in.

If you’re really into Star Trek or are looking for a fun and flashy sci-fi action movie, you’ll enjoy Into Darkness, but if you’re looking for more depth and focus on good writing and acting it would be better to look elsewhere, perhaps at one of these other great Star Trek classics.


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