Snapshots - #48: Rampage, Spring, Avatar


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.

Comments

  1. Hmm... one word title movies - I like it! Rampage sounds like good, clean summer fun and I do like The Rock. Spring sounds lovely and interesting. I never saw Avatar and always intended to. Maybe late summer is the time to do it.

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    1. Yes, Rampage does entertain; it is a good popcorn blockbuster. I like The Rock too, particularly after the Jumanji remake; he was fun to watch in that one. Spring is different for sure; I loved the love angle. I recommend Avatar. It is a beautiful movie, as you can see from the stills, and it doesn't fail to entertain if you don't think too hard on its corny premise.

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  2. Eclectic group of films and great reviewing Carmen. I will most likely skip Rampage. I had never heard of Spring but I want to watch it. I saw Avatar in 3D in a famous LA theater. I loved it. I did not even have one complaint-:)

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    1. Thanks, Judy. I know Rampage is not your kind of film, thus I don't blame you for skipping it. I think you would like Spring. Lucky you having watched Avatar in 3D. My eyes wouldn't have helped me with that.

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    2. I just watched Spring. (I put it in my Netflix queue as soon as I read your review.) At first I did not know what I was watching and I was afraid it was about zombies, which I don't like. But by the end, I could see why you thought it was so good. Some scenes were hard to watch for sure, but Evan truly manned up and made his love for Louise go to work and made it work. Many interesting concepts and I liked it very much. Thanks!

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    3. I'm glad you liked it so, Judy! Yes, some scenes were confounding, particularly while what was happening to her was not at all clear. So glad you gave this movie a chance and liked it! :-) This made my day. ;-)

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  3. I went to see Avatar in 3D at an Imax Theatre when it first came out... Simply wow! But I have never re-watched and I don't have the urge to either, because it is all about the visuals which I think would never come across in 2D on the small screen.

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    1. I can imagine it must have been an amazing experience. I enjoyed what came across in 2D, but I know there is no match. Still, it is very beautiful even without the fancy glasses.

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  4. Rampage - I'll probably watch but won't rush to do so. I imagine it's just a total popcorn fest which is sometimes just what you want. Spring sounds unusual - I've not heard of it before so will keep an eye out for it. Avatar. well, the plot isn't the most unusual but visually it's a feast for the eyes isn't it. Definitely a film that you should watch at least once.
    Lynn :D

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    1. I agree with you on all counts. I recommend you watch Spring since you are into sci-fi/fantasy. It is visually beautiful and its premise is rather unique.

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    2. I'd like to see Spring. I hadn't heard of it before, but the script sounds beguiling. I'd like to see shots of the Italian coastal town too. Sounds picturesque .... and transcendent love? why not!

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    3. I hadn't heard of Spring either, but it is by the same creative duo behind The Endless, which I reviewed in the previous 'Snapshot' feature. That's how I came to know of it. There is another one by the duo, Resolution, which I would like to watch towards the R.I.P. XIII Challenge.

      Spring is a beautiful movie; it's not all love though, but that's what makes it unique. It surprised me how much I liked it. It's not your kind of movie, but I hope you like it if you get to see it.

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