Double Reviews: The Tomorrow War (2021)

Because of the pandemic, Paramount Pictures has pulled some of their big films from theatrical releases. Two were sold to Amazon, Without Remorse and a new sci-fi action/adventure called THE TOMORROW WAR. It’s understandable why they’ve decided to do that, these were already expensive films to produced and selling them to a big company, they can make a little profit. Had they decided to release these films in theaters, they would have to spend more money on promoting them and none of these films are guaranteed box office hits.

As we both saw the movie over the weekend, I thought I’d post a double review of the movie:

Reviewby_Ted

In 2022, an ex-military man named Dan (Chris Pratt) is living a mundane life as a science middle school teacher. He has wife named Emmy (Betty Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong). Keeping a distance from his estranged father named James (JK Simmons). Dan is not happy with his current life since he believes he’s meant to do something special and not just a regular dad living a normal life in the burbs. One day, soldiers from the year 2051 arrive and warned that world is about end because in the future, aliens creatures known as White Spikes are killing everyone on earth at a high-speed rate. With only about half a million-population left in the future, the soldiers are asking people in the present day to travel to the future and fight the aliens.

Soon governments from all over the world implemented a draft where everyday people would get drafted and sent to the future to fight the nasty creatures. When Dan was selected to go, his wife begged him to find his father so he can help them escape from the government. But things didn’t turn out well when Dan met up with his father and he decided to go and fight aliens in the year 2051. Along the way, he met a scientist named Charlie (Sam Richardson) and a veteran who’s been sent to the war a few times named Dorian (Edwin Hodge). 

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When the new selected soldiers arrived in the downtown Miami of 2051, they were met with the nasty alien creatures. Dan who’s experience with military became the team’s leader and was connected with a commander named Forester (Yvonne Strahovski), who’s working on a special toxin capable of decimating the White Spikes. Dan and Forester has a special connection that I won’t divulge here and the faith of the world depends on them.

The script is written by Zack Dean and the theme of parental abandonment is pretty obvious, while I thought it’s a little bit hammy at times, I was caught up in the drama. As for as the alien invasion scenario, there’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. He borrowed a lot of elements from the Alien franchise, John Carpenter’s THE THING and EDGE OF TOMORROW. Heck even the root of the aliens was something out of the two Alien prequels, PROMETHEUS and ALIEN COVENANT.

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I’ve never seen any work of director Chris McKay, apparently this is his first live action film and I thought he did a great job with the visual side. He and DP Larry Fong shot an epic looking film that would’ve been great to have seen on a big screen like Dolby Cinema or IMAX. McKay moved things along nicely by incorporating family drama and intense action sequences that were well staged and some were very exciting to watch. I thought the alien creatures design were top notch, those things looked nasty and scary. I wish they made it into a hard R-rated sci-fi pictures like STARSHIP TROOPERS or THE THING. I would’ve liked to see blood and gore in a picture like this.

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Performances were good all around, I typically don’t see Pratt as an action hero. But he’s did a decent job as the macho type here and also softy regular Joe. I really enjoyed Strahovski’s intense performance here even though she wasn’t on the screen as much. I also enjoyed Richardson’s as the comic relief, fans of VEEP should be happy to see him here too. Simmons has a pretty small role but he’s good as usual.

I didn’t expect anything much from this film, but I was fully entertained, and I thought it has some epic action sequences that should satisfied fans of the genre. I would’ve been more than happy to have seen this on the big screen.

4/5 stars


Reviewby_Ruth

I echoed Ted that I also didn’t expect much from this movie. In fact, as I read a few terrible reviews on Twitter last week, I set my expectations quite low. I had just been talking about Independence Day which a huge box office hit 25 years ago. It seems it wouldn’t have been a proper Fourth of July viewing without an alien invasion of some sort. 

Well, this time the aliens are trying to take over earth 30 years into the future, so there’s time travel involved. As with many sci-fi movies involving time traveling, it always raises more questions than answers and such is the case with this one. On December 2022, soldiers from the future suddenly show up in right in the middle of a World Cup match that our protagonist Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) and his family + friends happen to be watching LIVE during a Christmas party. It reminds me of The Dark Knight Rises when Bane destroyed the football stadium during a game. It’s basically an urgent call to arms for people living in the current timeline to help save the people of the future from a horrific alien invasion. It’s not clear right away just what kind of enemy they’re up against, apart from the fact that earth is losing–fast! 

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Given the desperate times they find themselves in, the drafting process itself is a pretty crude process. When Dan report to the military base when he’s called, he’s barely given any time to figure out what’s going on before they place some sort of tracking device on his arm (a pretty painful process) and he’s got only 24 hours to bid adieu to his family before reporting for duty. The recruits aren’t shown any photo nor video of the aliens during training as the military think that if they saw what they look like, nobody would’ve ever agreed to be drafted at all! Well, they have a good point there. These creatures are grotesque and really scary looking, huge mouth with sharp teeth with ashy complexion that reminds me of Immortan Joe in Mad Max: Fury Road. Plus they’ve got long tentacles that can shoot spikey bullets, hence they’re called the White Spikes.

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There’s genuine suspense the first time the alien creature was introduced. Before they even face these threatening creatures though, the people would first have to survive the Jump Link technology itself, which is still in beta mode. One character said they’d still be testing it out on lab animals if they had more time, yikes!  When the large number of recruits are transported to the future for 7 days at a time,  most of them don’t even make it once they’re dropped in. They’re falling from the skies like rain drops, so if you fall on concrete or worse, then you’re basically dead or heavily injured. We’re also supposed to think the smartest scientists/engineers in the world are all so focused on beaming people to the future they have zero time to build better weapons to kill the aliens. I kept wishing these poor recruits would be given something more lethal than the automatic AR-type rifles. It’s only after we meet Yvonne Strahovski’s character, a military leader who’s also a brilliant scientist who comes up with a scientific solution that provides a smidgen of hope of actually wiping out the enemy.

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It’s best not to overthink things though it was tough for me as I kept wondering why the future military don’t have higher tech weaponry, how people could even come back in 7 days time and how the whole time travel paradox works, etc. What is clear in this movie is the strong familial theme at its core. At first we see he’s got an estranged father James (a jacked-up J.K. Simmons), which thankfully isn’t just a hackneyed, throwaway plot but later on carries an emotional resonance. As is the case with the father/daughter relationship between Pratt and his daughter Muri that’s the heart and soul of the movie. The environmental commentary about climate change + global warming isn’t exactly subtle either, but at least it’s interwoven in the story in a non-preachy way. 

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Acting-wise, the one I’m impressed with the most is Strahovski and her character is integral in the story, far from being a damsel in distress. I’ve only seen her in Chuck as I haven’t seen The Handmaid’s Tale, and she really sells the emotional scenes, which almost all of them involves her. Edwin Hodge is pretty memorable as well as a bad-ass war vet who’s already on his third deployment to the future (again, it’s unclear how he managed to do that). Simmons doesn’t have much screen time but he’s always fun to watch. I also enjoy Sam Richardson as Charlie who’s got a few funny moments throughout. As for Pratt, though he’s been in plenty of blockbusters, I still don’t really see him as a strong actor and this movie doesn’t change my mind. What he does have is that ‘aw-shucks’ likable charm and that earnest ‘everyman’ persona, kind of like Tom Hanks to a lesser degree.

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The action sequences are pretty good with plenty of gripping moments along the way and the special effects are convincing enough which is to be expected given the $200 million budget. Unfortunately there are a good number of dumb and eye-roll inducing moments along with all the questionable ‘science.’ One of them is the way the protagonists always have time to bid long goodbyes as the entire world are exploding around them always gets on my nerves! Plus in this way they’re literally surrounded by those horrifying monsters clamoring to eat them alive. Unlike Ted though, I’m actually glad the filmmakers spare us from gratuitous bloody and gory scenes. One take away from the movie that I kept thinking about is how time travel is a privilege for some people. ‘Second chances are really hard to come by,’ Pratt’s character says a couple of times. It’s a clichéd line yet also a thought provoking one. 

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Director Chris McKay and writer Zach Dean didn’t exactly create an iconic alien disaster blockbuster, but it’s fun enough for a one-time watch. Like its protagonist, it’s a big, bombastic action flick that’s not afraid to be earnest and heartfelt. The tone might be uneven and doesn’t always transition smoothly between the drama and high-octane action, but at least its pacing makes the 2h 20min running time seems shorter than that. Overall it’s a decent popcorn Summer sci-fi adventure that ends on a hopeful note. I think given that the world’s just come out of a bleak pandemic, a great deal of cinematic optimism isn’t such a bad thing.

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Have you seen THE TOMORROW WAR? Well, what did YOU think?

FlixChatter Review: La La Land (2016)

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Written/Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Runtime: 128 minutes

Rarely did I respond so strongly to a film’s tagline. In fact, I mostly barely notice them. Here’s to the fools who dream… well, La La Land‘s tagline speaks to me in a profound way, as essentially, I am one of those fools. Unabashedly.

Emma Stone plays Mia, an aspiring actress who works at Warner Brothers lot, serving lattes to movie stars with googly eyes. Any free time she gets she spends it on auditions. And like many other aspiring actresses like her, she gets constant rejections, and treated like dirt by casting directors. Meanwhile, there’s Ryan Gosling‘s Sebastian, a jazz musician who scrapes by playing gigs at dingy bars and Hollywood pool parties. Whilst Mia dreams of movie star greatness, Sebastian dreams of opening his own jazz club that celebrates the kind of jazz music he thinks is a dying music genre. These *fools* meet serendipitously, during a rousing opening number that harkens back to classic musicals where the actors burst into song and start singing and dancing in the midst of L.A.’s traffic jam.

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With a title like La La Land, this musical dramedy is unabashedly dreamy and stylish. It’s hard not to smile during these energetic musical numbers, though I have to admit at times my mind did wander off and my heart craved for something meaty to hold on to. Well, Damien Chazelle did give us some moments with deep emotional resonance, but it’s not necessarily from the romance. Despite the dreamy-ness of the Mia/Sebastian love story, I think the musical numbers actually take place of the emotional weight. I just didn’t quite feel the oomph of their romance, that intense longing to be together a la Romeo & Juliet or Jack & Rose (hmmm, I just realized these two stars Leo DiCaprio, I guess the guy can really sell romance!) In any case, the moment that truly got me is the audition scene where Mia sang ‘fools who dream.’ I will definitely do a Music Break of this film, though the only song I remember most is this one. I was practically sobbing watching that scene, and Emma Stone deserves all the kudos for her performance just on this scene alone. Perhaps because she identified so well with Mia’s journey, having moved to L.A. at 15 to pursue acting, that her emotion in the film feels authentic.

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As for Gosling, I think many of my blog regulars know I’m not fond of the guy. This film doesn’t exactly change my mind about him. I do think he’s good, though not nearly as strong as Stone as his co-star. I just think Gosling’s face isn’t the least bit expressive and devoid of emotion, and so to this day I still don’t get what the fuss is about him. This is the third time Emma/Ryan are paired together as lovers, and I suppose they do have chemistry, though not quite the Bogey/Bacall variety.

The movie consist of pretty much the two of them from start to finish, J.K. Simmons and singer John Legend both had small roles that are basically cameos. The talented Rosemarie DeWitt is grossly underused as well as Sebastian’s sister. Some critics point out the lack of Black characters in the movie, which as a non-White person I think it’s not always fair to expect every race is represented in every film.

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As for that ending…  SPOILER ALERT (highlight to read) It’s clever for Chazelle to have his cake and eat it too. The last 20 minute or so of the movie happens about 5 years after Mia and Sebastian parted ways. Essentially they achieved their dreams, at the cost of their romance. But it ends with a dreamy sequence of the two getting together and living happily ever after, which is what the audience would hope to happen. But for me, I’m glad they didn’t end up together, just like Roman Holiday, sometimes a bittersweet ending is one you remember most.

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The critics went wild for this movie, and I agree with some who thinks this film is way overrated. I’ve had people ask me what I think of it, as I have the poster hanging outside my office at work. I’d say it’s a frothy romance with a moving story about chasing your dreams. Emotionally speaking, it’s not exactly profound and it doesn’t quite reach the poignancy of Moonlight, but there are plenty of things Chazelle did here that deserve praise. It’s stylish and beautifully-shot, with a dreamy-like quality to it that sweeps your feet away.

The music by Justin Hurwitz is certainly one of the strongest aspects of the film, one I’d remember for years to come. Some sequences, especially that opening number, is truly lovely. I also love the creative use of props for locations such as Paris, which enhances the fantastical nature of the story. It’s also nice to see such a gorgeous film that is not just style over substance.

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Have you seen La La Land? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Jobs

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The main draw for me about this film is not the talents involved, but the subject matter of one of the most revered innovator of the 20th century. As a huge fan of Apple products, naturally both my hubby and I knew quite a bit about Steve Jobs’ life. My hubby more so than I am as he’s read a lot more stuff on him, including the Walter Isaacson’s official biography that’s published shortly before his death. There is another biopic in the works that’s going to be based on that book, currently in the development stage with Aaron Sorkin as the writer. Now, THAT is the biopic I’m looking forward to, which I read recently has gotten the blessings from Steve Wozniak. THIS film on the other hand, was made with no involvement from Apple whatsoever, Steve Wozniak himself would not recommend the film, saying he was ‘turned off’ by Jobs’ script (posted in the comment section of Gizmodo.com review the film.

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This film focuses on the early years of Apple, how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first came up with the first personal computer. It began with one of Job’s famous keynotes (or Stevenotes) in 2001 when he unveiled one of Apple’s masterpiece iPod, which forever changed the way people listen to music, and the music industry itself. Then it wind back about 30 years with Steve sleeping on a sofa at Reed College, Portland, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. It was shot in a whirlwind of vignettes with the Hippy-looking Jobs getting high with his friends, a trip to India to find ‘enlightenment’, working at Atari where his insolent work ethic clashes with his co-workers. All of this happens relatively fast, but I felt like the movie sort of got off in the wrong foot for me as even 10 minutes in, I already found it to be tedious, even grating. To be honest, despite their physical resemblance, I’m not exactly fond of Ashton Kutcher‘s casting. He just gets on my nerves and seeing him portraying Jobs behaving badly just accentuates that.

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To be fair, as the film went on, I found that Kutcher’s portrayal isn’t the worst part of the film. I actually think he did his best with imitating Jobs’ gestures, the way he walked, etc., trying earnestly to shed the image of the dimwitted Kelso from That 70s Show. Unfortunately, there’s more to a compelling portrayal of a real-life persona that mere physicality. On top of that, the superficial, ‘episodic’ script from first timer Matt Whiteley doesn’t do him any favor. Once in flashback mode, the film pretty much tread along in a linear fashion.

Still, it was amusing to see how he and Wozniak ended up building Apple computers out of Jobs’ parents’ garage. Seeing what Wozniak (Josh Gad) came up with, which he didn’t seem to think much of, Jobs was inspired to combine a typewriter with a TV, and that’s how Apple II was born. Then came Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney – who’s good here though he looks nothing like the real guy!), a former Intel engineer who came on board to fund their business. Apple II ended up being a hit at the San Francisco’s West Coast Computer Faire (Jobs was only 21 years old at the time) and the rest is well, history.

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I think people who are familiar with the story of Apple would recognize right away the supporting characters in the film: Matthew Modine as CEO John Scully (which Jobs personally recruited from Pepsi), J.K. Simmons as Apple Board leader Arthur Rock, as well Kevin Dunn as CEO Gil Amelio which Jobs ousted in 1997 in a boardroom coup as Apple stocks continued its downward slump.

Yet the dramatization just isn’t all that compelling. In fact, for a biopic about one of the most creative brains of this century, the way his story is told lacks creativity. Director Joshua Michael Stern often tries to hard to be imaginative with his camera angles and whatnot, i.e. blurry effect before a scene comes into focus, but it feels too gimmicky to me. All the details about Jobs’ quirks (being a fruitarian, lack of physical hygiene, his temper tantrums, etc.) are well-covered here, but the film never really captured the ‘essence’ nor the ‘heart’ of the character. It seems that the film is far more concerned about portraying the ‘genius’ aspect of Jobs, completely glossing over his personal life. It’s never explored how he went from being a complete jerk to his pregnant girlfriend to being a family man with Laurene Powell up until the day of his death. Not sure how he got around to naming the first Apple computer after his first daughter after he vehemently rejected the idea that he was the father.

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In the finale, when Jobs recited his most famous quote for his Think Different campaign, I didn’t feel that this film earned it. I remember being so moved when I first heard that quote years ago that ends with “… because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Yet hearing it at the end of this film didn’t quite have the same impact. Perhaps because the Steve Jobs as portrayed in this film failed to connect with me. If anything, it makes me long for the other biopic that I mentioned above.

Final Thoughts: Subpar script, lackluster direction and that Kutcher’s lack of dramatic chops contribute to something that looks more like a TV movie. Heck, even the decidedly made-for-TV Pirates of Silicon Valley that focused on the parallel lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got a much better critical reviews. I really think the people involved in this film tried to bite more things than they can chew, perhaps it might’ve been better if they had narrowed the scope of the film and focused on a certain period of Jobs life instead. So yeah, this one certainly would NOT end up in my list of favorite Biopics.

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Well, what do you think of this film and/or Ashton Kutcher in general?