Westworld – 3D printing human emotions

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HBO recently premiered Westworld, a sci-fi thriller series based on the 1973 film by Michael Crichton. Just two episodes in and I am already hooked!

In this series, the mouse house (Disney) no longer rule the theme park business. Instead, the wealthy spend their time in a western-themed park, Westworld, populated by fully synthetic gunslingers, bandits, sheriff and prostitutes (yes – it is HBO). The selling point of Westworld is that the synthetic populace (dubbed “Hosts”) believe they are real – complete with human emotions. The guests (dubbed “Newcomers”) are given free reign to toy with those emotions without consequences. Whether it is becoming a glorious hero, a caring lover, a murderous bandit or even a psychotic rapist – all are allowed as the hosts, by design, cannot harm the guests. Or can they?

I am intrigued by this series and here is why.

The theme and the world building. Created by the husband and wife pair, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the first two episodes cleverly sets up the premise of the series while dropping plenty of surprises. By hitting the audience with thought provoking questions – e.g. “If you can’t tell, does it matter?”, the pair asks the audience to examination the boundary of artificial intelligence and human consciousness. By presenting scenarios where innocent artificial creations become corrupted by the worst of humanity, the pair prompts the audience to examine their own morality. Personally, I don’t know if there are right or wrong answers to these questions. I am hooked because I want to know how Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy tackle these themes through a riveting story.

Populating Westworld is the most talented cast ever on network TV. You have veterans such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright accompanied by Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton and Tessa Thompson – just to name a few. Surprisingly, Sir Anthony Hopkins didn’t steal the show. For me, it was Evan Rachel Wood. She had the impossible task of conveying the subtleties of an A.I. that believes herself to be human – and she nailed it. Her performance in the pilot episode was hauntingly realistic and reminded me of Alicia Vikander’s performance in Ex Machina. I would extend similar praises to Thandie Newton for her portrayal of a troubled synthetic prostitute in episode two. I suspect, given time, I would likely praise the remaining cast.

As HBO looks for a Game of Thrones replacement (set to end in two seasons). Many critics are hailing Westworld as the one. Personally, I am not sure if that will be the case as these two shows attract very different audiences. An audience that wants to be immersed in the world of Westeros and an audience that is intrigued by the concept of A.I. Regardless, Westworld has been planned for five seasons, so we will find out soon enough if Westworld is a money maker. For me, I am in it for the long haul!

Rating: If the concept of A.I. intrigues you, definitely get your hands on the first episode!

By: Edward

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Our Most Anticipated Films for Fall 2016

There are still a number of exciting films coming up in 2016.

We are here to breakdown our most anticipated films from September to December!


Vy’s Most Anticipated List

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I like the Star Wars series (although I’m not a big Star Wars nut like Edward is) and after the Force Awakens it was obvious Disney were committed to starting up this franchise again. Rogue One precedes the events of Episode IV: A New Hope and will tell the story of how the Death Star plans were stolen. From the brief storyline, you can foresee lots of action and adventure in a galaxy far far away. Because Episode 8 will be released in 2017, Rogue One is a great way to get my Star Wars fix until then.

Doctor Strange – Out of all the Marvel films we’ve seen, I really gelled with the films that are least “superhero”-like, e.g. Guardians of the Galaxy is more similar to the space opera genre and Ant Man plays out like a heist film. So Doctor Strange to me has a more magical/fantastical feel and as I have a soft spot for fantasy, it’s one of the films on my most anticipated list. I’m also a huge fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, so I’m all for supporting his work.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – I really enjoyed the Harry Potter films and admit that I had reservations about Fantastic Beasts. Once the trailer dropped, I changed my mind. It steers clear of the Harry Potter/Voldemort storyline, which means this film is based on new original content. The fact that it’s set in the 1920s didn’t deter me at all and if anything made me want to want to see it more (think Midnight in Paris). The Fantastic Beasts film is definitely not Harry Potter but it still has the magical touch that leaves you immersed in their wizard world, which is why I’m keen to see it at the end of the year.

Assassin’s Creed – Video game film adaptations have taken a bad wrap and still struggle to break through – though I didn’t mind the cheese factor of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter (with Jean Claude Van Damme at his peak!). Despite this and the somewhat disappointing reviews of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed might be the one to silence the critics as the game has plenty of material and story to play with. The film stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, both of which are amazing actors and always give stellar performances. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed can debunk the stigma behind video game adaptations.


Edward’s Most Anticipated List

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – It’s the Death Star. It’s Darth Vader. And it’s a war film about the rebels stealing the Death Star plan – I certainly don’t need anymore convincing. Will definitely be lining up at the biggest screen!

Doctor Strange – I echo Vy’s sentiment. Dr. Strange is Marvel’s key to the magical realm. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sorcerer’s Supreme looks exactly like his comic book counterpart!

Arrival – The trailer for this film came out of nowhere and instantly grabbed my attention – much like this film’s premise. When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team – lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – is brought together to investigate. This film is directed by Denis Villeneuve – the genius behind the crime-thriller, Sicario. He is also tasked with the Blade Runner sequel planned for 2017. It will be interesting to see what he has to offer in his first entry into sci-fi.

Godzilla Resurgence – Despite the mediocre reception, I really enjoyed the 2014 remake of Godzilla by Gareth Edwards. Thanks to that film, Toho decides to comeback with Godzilla Resurgence. I loved Toho’s Godzilla as a kid, so when I heard that Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) is involved – I just can’t wait to see the end product.


A few more that interests us in the coming months – A Monster Calls, The Magnificent Seven, La La Land, The Accountant, The Founder, Hacksaw Ridge and Passengers.

How does it compare to your list?

By: Edward and Vy

Best and Worse of Hollywood Summer 2016

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If you are from the northern hemisphere, sadly for you, summer has passed. If you are from the southern part of the globe, luckily for you, the coldest months are over!

Regardless of where you are from, here is our list of the best and the most disappointing films from May to August of 2016.

We don’t pretend to have seen all the films during this period. Some just weren’t worth the money (e.g. Nine Lives: Catvin Spacey and Ice Age: another sequel), while others are still on the “To watch list” (e.g. The Nice Guys, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The BFG).

This list is purely based on what we have seen!


Our Favorites

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Captain America: Civil War – For a film that was dubbed “Avengers 2.5”, Captain America: Civil War did a tremendous job of differentiating itself from the rest of the Marvel franchise. The Russo brothers once again proved that they know how to tell a grounded story with superheros. They delivered on the promise of Civil War – unlike Batman v Superman which failed to establish a compelling conflict. Definitely a must watch for all superhero/comic book fans.

Kubo and the Two Strings – As previously reviewed on this blog, Kubo blew our mind with its stop-motion animation. To top it off, it has fun and engaging characters and a thrilling story that appeals to both young and old. Simply put, it is a piece of art created by the brilliant crew at LAIKA. I believe this film should be nominated, if not win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature! I would encourage everyone to watch this film.

Star Trek Beyond – As the third installment in the rebooted Star Trek franchise, Beyond struck a great balance between the action and the thinking man’s Star Trek. The devastation of the USS Enterprise crew and their triumphant comeback were enhanced with the glorious soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. Beastie Boys’ Sabotage was also fittingly used in the climax – which sent chills down my spine. Personally I loved the rebooted franchise and this film only served to enhance it. If you enjoyed 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, this is the film for you.

The Lobster – “If you do not find a matching mate within forty-five days you will be transformed into an animal. So, have you thought of what animal you’d like to be if you end up alone?” Pitched as an unconventional love story, one man, David (Colin Farrell) sets out to find love before being turned into a lobster. In all honesty, this was one of the most quirky films I have ever seen – in a good way. We had a blast, but this film isn’t for everyone. If the premise of an unconventional love story interests you – give it a shot. You will be pleasantly surprised.


Biggest Disappointments

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Independence Day: Resurgence – Back in 1996, Independence Day revolutionized the alien invasion genre. It had Will Smith’s charm, Jeff Goldblum’s quirkiness and Bill Pullman’s classic address to mankind. Twenty years later with Resurgence, none of that returned. Will Smith was gone and his fictional son along with Thor’s younger brother was boring to watch. Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman returned but they weren’t given enough screen time to show off their charisma. Ultimately Resurgence was a paint-by-numbers alien invasion film with little heart. If you loved the original, I would recommend lowering your expectation before watching it on TV or Netflix.

Jason Bourne – Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon are back again. This time joined by Tommy Lee Jones and Alicia Vikander. I enjoyed the Bourne franchise so far, especially the action set pieces. This film had that in spades. However, after three films, Jason Bourne needs to learn new tricks. Unfortunately this latest installment couldn’t reinvent itself and was predictable from start to finish. If you need this to complete your Jason Bourne Blu-ray collection, go ahead and get it. If not, just rent it.

Do you agree with our list? Let us know!

By: Edward and Vy

Best binge watching material – Stranger Things

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Netflix is the new showground for original content with series like House of Cards and Marvel’s Daredevil. Now with Stranger Things, they have stepped into my favorite genre, science fiction, in a big way.

I binge watched this show and here is why.

Set in Hawkins Indiana in the ’80s, Stranger Things instantly hooked me with the first episode: The Vanishing of Will Byers. As the name of the episode suggests, Will Byers, a 12-year-old boy mysteriously vanishes while riding his bicycle home from playing Dungeons and Dragons with his friends: Mike, Dustin and Lucas. Even at this early stage, the homage to ’80s Spielberg films was clear. The nostalgia of watching E.T. and Close Encounter of the Third Kind came rushing back. Not to mention, just prior to its July 15th release, I devoured “Ready Player One“, a book that thrived on ’80s pop culture references.

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Pictured: Lucas, Dustin, Mike and Will

At this point, I was hooked, but I wasn’t ready to put down the remote. Great binge watching material needs to have more than nostalgic factors. What ultimately made me toss away the remote was the mystery and government conspiracy that was woven into the eight episode series – X-Files style. The creators, the Duffer Brothers hinted early on that a sinister creature (the Demogorgon) was lurking in the shadows and was responsible for Will’s disappearance. In Jaws-like fashion, the Demogorgon was seldom seen, and it was the primeval fear of the unknown that kept me on the edge of my seat.

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Hunter became the hunted as soldiers fell victim to the Demogorgon

By the end of the first episode, Will’s trio of friends was joined by “Eleven”, a peculiar girl with psychic abilities. Relentlessly pursued by a rogue government organisation, Eleven’s origin was yet another mystery waiting to be untangled. By episode four, I had already formulated a dozen theories linking Will’s disappearance with Eleven’s origin. The ending turned out to be an amalgamation of those theories, but that is the sign of expert story telling. It kept me guessing.

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Eleven demonstrating her psychokinetic ability

The cast of Stranger Things did an outstanding job for the most part. For me, Millie Bobby Brown’s portrayal of Eleven, a powerful yet emotionally vulnerable psychic, was by far the most compelling. Her friendship with Mike was well fleshed out, and provided justification for her decision in the finale (no spoilers here!). Winona Ryder was fitting as Will’s distraught mother, although her overacting took me out of the show on a few occasions. As a minor gripe, there is one character in the series I dreaded – Steve the Travolta wannabe. Joe Keery did a decent job as Steve, but his relationship with Nancy, Mike’s sister did little to bolster the story. For a series that did so many things right, this was something I could easily overlook.

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Cast of Stranger Things: Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown, Mattew Modine and Gaten Matarazzo.

Like all good things, before I realized, episode eight ended and alas the season was over. Although the finale had a satisfying conclusion, many questions were left unanswered (Interview with the Duffer Brothers).

Luckily for us, Season 2 has been green-lit by Netflix!

To wrap up, Netflix’s Stranger Things was an unexpected delight for a sci-fi fan like myself. It was a trip down memory lane, with elements from some of my favorite films. Coupled with compelling story lines and characters, the Duffer Brothers may have concocted the perfect recipe for a sci-fi show on Netflix.

Rating: Time to jump on the Netflix bandwagon and start binge watching!

By: Edward

Fitting first review – Kubo and the Two Strings

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Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic stop-motion animation set in a beautifully realized ancient Japan. It follows the journey of Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), a kindhearted boy whose quiet and tranquil existence is disturbed when his haunted past catches up to him. On the run from ancient spirits seeking revenge, Kubo is joined by his protectors – Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey). Together, they set out on a thrilling quest to find the samurai sword and armor that can defeat the vengeful spirit, and reunite Kubo with his family.

So, why is Kubo a fitting first review?

First, Kubo is a mesmerizing stop-motion animation from LAIKA, the studio that created Coraline and ParaNorman. Those two films showed glimpses of the creativity that is synonymous with Studio Ghibli, but it is Kubo, for me, that cemented LAIKA as a potential replacement for Studio Ghibli during their hiatus. It is unfortunate that studios such as LAIKIA and Ghibli, whose dedication to creating movie magic is often not recognized by the general movie goer. On the “FilmisNOW” youtube channel there is a 15 mins behind the scenes (click here) showing the technical marvel behind this film. It is clear that Kubo only exists due to the passion and dedication of the team at LAIKA. Bravo.

Second, Kubo does a brilliant job of telling a heartfelt family story that is wrapped up in an exciting action-adventure tale. The story has something to offer audiences of all ages – not just kids. Kids will love the wonderfully choreographed action scenes, but it is the adults among the audience that will appreciate the deeper meaning behind the emotion and action of our protagonists. The bond between Kubo, Monkey and Beetle felt real and tangible. Art Parkinson did a solid job of voicing Kubo, but for me, it is Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey that brought the character of Monkey and Beetle to life. Monkey was full of gravitas while Beetle was non-stop entertainment. The back and forth between Monkey and Beetle was gold. They can easily fit into an episode of Friends and I would consume it in an instant.

Kubo and the Two Strings is a fantastic film on many levels. It has fun and engaging characters and a thrilling story that appeals to both young and old. To top it off, it is a stop-motion animation. The fact that this film was shot frame by frame still blows my mind!

LAIKA – BE BOLD. BE BRAVE. BE EPIC. And be sure to make more films like this!

Rating: Drop everything and watch Kubo and the Two Strings in the cinema.

By: Edward