Rampage (2018), (♦♦♦): A company named Energyne has invested billions of dollars in a space base where genetic editing of animal cells has been conducted. The experiment goes wrong, the base explodes, but the last surviving scientist on site is able to secure the genetic samples in an escape pod that ignites on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. Nevertheless, the samples survive, and fall, scattered, in several parts of the U.S. territory, where three different animals (a gorilla, an alligator, and a wolf) come into contact with the samples, become contaminated, and their DNAs supercharged as result. They become super-monsters responding to a high-frequency pitch emitted from the tower on top of the Energyne building in Chicago.
Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson, See Snapshots - #38 for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle review), a Primatologist who rescued the albino gorilla from illegal poachers who killed its mother, has bonded with said gorilla—its name is George— at the San Diego Wildlife Sanctuary. Unfortunately, George is one of the animals infected, and Davis—aided by a rogue government agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Danny of Grey’s Anatomy fame), and the doctor (Naomie Harris, of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Skyfall, and Moonlight fame) who conceived the genetic enhancements— must race against time to save a city’s population, and his animal friend, from a terrible fate.
Nothing screams summer at the box office like an over-the-top monster extravaganza. In Rampage, the monsters are multiplied by three. Add to that them breaking havoc in the heart of a mega-city, factor in the military’s big guns, and you get what this movie is about.Just because it has been done to death doesn’t mean it is not thrilling to watch. Rampage is entertaining, occasionally funny, and there is a cautionary tale hidden somewhere in its cheesy plot about animal cruelty, illicit poaching, and science misused and gone wrong. It is not ultimately for those messages that we watch movies like this. It is, after all, for the gorilla with a sad backstory and its marshmallow heart, for the enduring bond and partnership that forms between the animal and its kick-butt caretaker, and for the destruction...for that too.
Spring (2014), (♦♦♦♦): Evan Russell lost his father to a heart attack two years ago. He has recently lost his mother to cancer. He has lost his job too, a post as sous-chef, something he had worked hard to attain. In a spur of the moment decision, he books a trip to Italy. Maybe he can start over. He backpacks his way to a coastal Italian town. He gets a job as a farmer in exchange for room and board. Then he meets the beautiful and elusive Louise. He is instantly besotted, but Louise harbors a primordial secret. Will they be able to overcome that pesky detail? And if so, will they ever be the same?
Written by Justin Benson, directed and produced by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead—the creative duo behind The Endless (See Snapshots - #46)—, with a running time of 109 minutes, Spring stars Lou Taylor Pucci (Evan Russell), Nadia Hilker (Louise), and Francesco Carnelutti (Angelo).
If The Endless saw us watching two brothers returning to the cult community they had left it behind ten years ago, in whose camp strange events took place, Spring is a genre-bending love story, with a touch of darkness (a mix of science and the supernatural), but with a light touch of humor and charm that makes the weird story endearingly unique. Spring unfolds in a quaint, very picturesque, coastal Italian town. A handsome boy meets a beautiful girl who harbors a primordial secret. Simple, yet far from it. Saying more than that is spoiling a plot that is better approached as blind as possible, for the journey to discovery is very rewarding; one wouldn’t be as surprised or as wrapped in the intricacies of the story and the choices that Evan and Louise make at the end.
There are clues as Spring unfolds that things are going to be far from ordinary: close-up shots of insects, dead animals that appear at dawn, a tree that bears two different kinds of fruits, rotten roots in the farm where Evan works, a flower that shrivels when Louise passes by, or flowers that bloom when they first kiss...There are other clues to, not so subtle, which I won’t mention here, but have to do with her body.
While Evan is sightseeing in Rome there is melancholy music. After he arrives at the coast, the sound is an eclectic mix of sea waves, bird calls, occasionally piercing notes to clue mystery, and music too. The camera work is different than most films out there; it is fuzzy at times, not giving a clear view of what is happening to Louise, while at other times it evokes immediacy by the deliberate use of moving camera shots of cobblestoned, arch streets illuminated by indirect sun rays. Aerial views of the town are shown on a few occasions too...And the sea, the ever-present raging sea. The filmmakers make ample use of the beautiful coastal views with stunning success.
What The Endless gained in unsettling storytelling, Spring has in excess in beauty and meaning. It addresses transcendent love, eternal life, and the things we do for love. Not bad for such an understated production.
Avatar (2009), (♦♦♦♦): Humanity has launched a conquest of other planets with economic gain in mind. One of such conquered alien planets is Pandora, a place as hostile as it is beautiful. Right at the heart of Pandora live the Na'vi, an indigenous population of humanoids, a warrior race that relies on nature for sustenance and survival.
The humans in Pandora are part of three groups: a scientific team that as objective to study as much as they can about the planet, its exotic biology, and its alien inhabitants; the mining team, whose purpose is to extract Pandora's most valuable mineral; and the Marine force, hired as protection.
The team of scientists has developed a sophisticated system of alien bodies that pair up with the DNA of the host to form an 'Avatar'. One of those avatars belongs to Tom Sully, a scientist that got killed. Tom's brother, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former Marine, now disabled, is the scientists' best option to avoid wasting precious resources on a body that no one else can use. Thus, Jake, without knowing any field observation techniques or the Na'vi language, becomes part of the team.
As an 'Avatar', Jake is a natural. He gets lost in the Pandoran jungle and is saved by a young Na'vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). She brings Jake to her community, and very gradually, while he is being instructed on their customs and rituals, almost all of them begin to accept him and trust him as one of their own. However, each time Jake leaves his Avatar behind, he gives the Marines' Colonel and the mining team information about the Na'vi. Little does Jake know that there will come a time when he will have to choose which race he belongs to.Written, directed, and partly produced by James Cameron, Avatar is the movie that pioneered the 3D filmmaking. It is a visually lush film with insane special effects such as the glowy vegetation, motion-captured Avatars, as well as the vibrantly colorful Ikran (dragon-like creatures) that seem to pop out of the screen.
It must have been quite an unusual experience having watched it on the big screen back when it was released. I watched it months later when it came out on rental and I wasn't all that impressed with the story. Back then I used to focus too much on the plots, and to be honest, this one's is not that original: a militarily advanced civilization overpowering a Nature-loving one whose weapons consist mostly of bows and arrows. Hmm...That's human history right there, so I rejected this premise as well as whatever else this movie had to offer. This time I was awed, not by the plot, but by the 3D elements that I mentioned, which can be appreciated even when one watches on SD and 2D, like I did.
What can I say besides? While Avatar is not great cinema, it is entertaining, its plot is engaging, and it has an impressive world-building. I can't even fathom the level of detail that the screenplay must have had—because more than anything this movie is purely visual—, and how short or large the leash must have been on the creative team, assuming they had any leeway at all.
Don't expect to be thrilled by the plot. Watch Avatar for its entertainment value and because it is a feast for the eyes.