Tag: Chris Pratt

Avengers: Infinity War (Movie) Review 1

Avengers: Infinity War (Movie) Review

After the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios moved into Phase Three of their ever-expanding cinematic universe, fragmenting the relationships between Earth’s mightiest heroes all while growing its roster of powerful and relatable characters in the process. However, developing in the background for nearly a decade’s worth of heroic adventures lies the reveal and location of the six Infinity Stones. No matter how brief or lengthy their appearance, each of these stones has impacted this fictional universe in numerous ways. Now true believers worldwide finally get to see this lengthy quest for power conclude in the catastrophic showdown known as Avengers: Infinity War.

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The Magnificent Seven 2016 Review

The Magnificent Seven 2016 Review

Apparently Hollywood was overrun by demands that someone remake The Magnificent Seven. I’m not 100% sure who these people were or if they even exist, but I am certain that it was an odd choice to remake a movie that was already a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. However, I’m not consulted about these decisions. Someone at Sony worth far more money and with far more influence than me insisted that it happen, so now we have a new Magnificent Seven for a new generation and it’s pretty “meh” all around.

The Magnificent Seven start off darkly with Peter Sarsgaard’s super evil villain killing random members of a small community and letting them know that he now owns the town and the riches therein. One plucky young local (Haley Bennett) decides she’s not going to stand for that, so she takes collection from every willing member of the town and sets out to find a group of killers-for-hire to stop Sarsgaard in his tracks.

The Magnificent Seven (Movie) Review 4First, she finds Denzel Washington’s bitter gunslinger-for-hire and he decides to sign up as one of the few noble acts in his life. The pair then spot Chris Pratt’s wiseass cowboy and decide he should definitely come aboard to provide one-liners and a killer shooting-eye. The next guy they seek out is Ethan Hawke’s wary old outlaw (and a former partner of Washington both fictionally and in Training Day). He signs on and brings his new partner (Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee) with him. They then find a Mexican outlaw (Manuel Garcia Rulfo) and a vengeful Native American (Martin Sensmeier) in an attempt to break genre-based racial stereotypes that feels half-hearted since they are the least developed characters in The Magnificent Seven. Finally, Vincent D’Onofrio comes on board and since he has so much competition to steal scenes, he adopts a ridiculous squeaky voice to stand out in the crowd.

The set up is easily the best part of this newfangled Magnificent Seven. For the first hour director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen) creates a nice gritty Western vibe and delights in introducing his eccentric gang of antihero misfits. Unfortunately the flick spends too much time luxuriating in set up, so everything else in the flick feels overly rushed. The three biggest stars are the only actors who get much screen time after the team is assembled, with everyone else falling into the background. Granted, Washington, Pratt, and Hawke are all strong screen presences, but the movie feels more like The Magnificent Three after a while and you start to wonder why they even bothered assembling such a large cast beyond fulfilling the requirements of the famous title.
The Magnificent Seven (Movie) Review 5Eventually, the whole thing builds to a massive shoot out that essentially comprises the entire third act of The Magnificent Seven. Fuqua has grown into quite a strong action director over his last few movies like Olympus Has Fallen and The Equalizer, so the sequence packs a punch and it’s nice to see so much physical action with pyrotechnics and explosions in a big ol’ blockbuster again. However, John Woo he ain’t, so after a while the whole thing becomes a bit repetitive and exhausting. There’s only so much shoot-out the brain can take before a movie enters into sensory overload and unfortunately, Fuqua crosses that line and never returns. It gets a bit dull eventually and you’ll find yourself wishing that the movie would just end (Not exactly a thought that should enter your mind during an action-centric climax. There should be no thoughts at that point.).

The Magnificent Seven (Movie) Review 2There’s no denying that the new Magnificent Seven is disappointing. However, it’s impossible to say that the movie is bad. This premise is damn strong, that’s why the remake exists in the first place. Denzel and Pratt replace Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen surprisingly well. The tone is gritty, yet fun. Entertainment value runs high. The cast is great even though many talents feel wasted. Even the overblown finale works for the most part. As far as empty-headed entertainment goes, The Magnificent Seven works just fine. It’s a perfectly entertaining contemporary Western. It’s a shame that this same cast and crew couldn’t have made their own original story, but that’s just the sad reality of contemporary blockbusters. The movie needed the brand to justify its existence and at least the reputation of a Hollywood classic isn’t sullied. In fact, it may even lead some viewers back to the original and then back again to Seven Samurai. Not many folks will do that, yet if even a few kids dip into film history thanks to this decidedly decent Western, then maybe this whole thing was worthwhile.

Jurassic World (Movie) Review 1

Jurassic World (Movie) Review

Not many movies get to have a sequel a full 22 years after the release of the original, but such is the appeal of Jurassic Park. Times may change, but children will always love watching dinosaurs rip humans and theme parks into smithereens. This 4quel has been in the works for what feels like forever. Jurassic Park III might not be fondly remembered, but it made enough money for Universal to crave another trip back to the park for quite some time. After endless debate and development, unexpected action star Chris Pratt was brought on to make this puppy a reality and the results are…well, not that bad actually. Make no mistake, it’s not that good either. Certainly all of the wonderment and enchantment that Steven Spielberg infused into the original is long gone. However, those who crave big stupid CGI monster movie entertainment with a hint of humor at least suggesting that the filmmakers are aware how deeply dumb it all is, then it’s worth the price of a ticket.

jurassicworldinsert3As with all oft-delayed sequels Jurassic World has a variety of plot threads competing for attention left over from the many previous drafts of the script. First there are the kids (this won’t take long), a teen (Nick Robinson) and a tyke (Ty Simpkins) who are sent off to the park by the parents and whom the movie seems to be about initially until they get their big dino attack sequence and they are essentially shoved into the background of the rest of the movie whenever the filmmakers remember themselves, “Oh right! Those kids!” Their aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard) runs the park and in a cheeky bit of in-jokery (there’s lots of that here) she laments the fact that people just aren’t as impressed by the concept of seeing dinosaurs as they were 20 years ago, so she’s got to seek bigger and better ways of pulling interest out of the masses. Her latest project is a genetically spliced up dino called the Indominus Rex, a self-camouflaging mixture of a T-rex and anything else the screenwriters need to get the monster out of jams. The new creature is particularly dangerous, so hopefully it doesn’t escape. That would be awful! (Spoiler: it does).

Howard also has to contend with Vincent D’Onofrio, a jerky secretive dink from corporate office who is working on all sorts of nefarious projects involving weaponizing dinosaurs for the government or something (truthfully, it’s hard to even tell what he’s up to and the filmmakers have some fun mocking that). D’Onofrio has Chris Pratt on the ground helping with the project and Pratt has managed to train velociraptors, which is only mildly less stupid than when Sam Neil learned how to talk to them last time. Pratt also once took Howard out on a disastrous date, so oh boy do they ever hate each other! You know, the kind of hate that could turn to love if they were required to depend on each other to survive in some sort of horrible dinosaur outbreak. Wouldn’t ya know it? That’s exactly what happens! It’s trouble time in dino town again, with dinosaurs causing havoc all over the place. Tons of tourists, scientists, and security officers die in the carnage, but thankfully we’re only required to care about the central semi-family, so it doesn’t matter. Plus to make it even harder to take all of the death seriously, Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus pop up as a pair of geeks monitoring park security between rounds of ratatat banter. As part of the film’s massive nostalgic streak for the original JP, Johnson even wears a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt from ebay and laments how the original park didn’t need genetically modified dinosaurs to sell their thrills (you know, just like the geeky audiences members in his age range feel about this movie!).

jurassicworldinsert4It definitely seemed odd when Jurassic World ended up assigned to director Colin Trevorrow, a man with only the gentle sci-fi indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed to his name. But once that parade of in-jokes starts, it’s clear he was the man for the job. It’s easy to imagine a po-faced version of this movie that’s infinitely worse, but Trevorrow wisely has characters make mocking comments about all of this sequel’s idiocies and excesses before the audience has a chance. It might not fix those problems, but it certainly makes them easier to swallow. He’s also got a knack for crafting dino-set pieces. Sadly all of it is CGI and some of CGI that looks worse that the animation in the original flick. However, Trevorrow makes up for that lack of quality with heaping loads of quantity. The last hour of the film essentially rockets from one dinosaur action scene to the next, culminating in a massive multi-species battle royale that feels ripped straight from a Godzilla movie. It might get a little tiresome after a while through sheer dino-overload, but there’s no denying that when this movie is cooking, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

jurassicworldinsert1However, like most ginormous summer blockbusters, it’s also as empty and disposable as fast food. Sure, the original Jurassic Park might have made it’s bones off of serving up astounding dino images that audiences didn’t even dream were possible at the time. However, it also served up compelling characters worth following along that journey, a few nuggets of ideas worth thinking about, and a narrative that actually featured pace and rhythm rather than endless sensory assault. Jurassic World offers none of these things, so while it’s fun in the moment, it’s as instantly forgettable after as that The Rock Vs. An Earthquake movie from a couple weeks ago called…um…you know. Even Pratt and Howard (who are genuinely compelling actors) do little beyond sell the scares, stuck in characters with no personality beyond what’s necessary to get to the next action sequence. For all the expensive CG dino action and wink-nudge humor, the flick is ultimately a completely disposable summer time waster with nothing to offer beyond dino-bang-bang. Thankfully, that’s all most people should want from a fourth Jurassic Park movie arriving 22 years after the start of the franchise. So it’ll do just fine.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (Movie) Review 3

Guardians Of The Galaxy (Movie) Review

Marvel Studios has been busy making billions of dollars out of their B-line of classic heroes over the last six years and their track record has been consistent enough to qualify as historic. Their latest effort is, at least theoretically, their biggest risk to date. The comic series Guardians Of The Galaxy has been around off and on in various forms since the 60s, but was always more of a niche title amongst the niche of Marvel fans. For the most part, general audiences might not have known much about Iron Man or Thor’s backstories before their blockbusters came along, but at least their names and costumes were iconic enough that everyone recognized them. These rag-tag collections of space-adventuring outcasts on the other hand aren’t even well known by comic book fans, beyond being dismissed as “that book with the talking raccoon,” which isn’t exactly high praise. Yet, pretty much from the moment the film kicks off, it’s clear this project wasn’t such a big risk after all. The film is a goofy and action packed space adventure that will feel instantly familiar to anyone who grew up amidst a swell of Star Wars knock offs in the 70s and 80s. It’s like watching a sci-fi adventure about a space ship full of various Han Solos and Chewbaccas and just as gloriously entertaining as that sounds.

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After a little tragic backstory prologue set on earth in 1988, we’re thrust into a creepy and barren alien landscape. A lone masked space traveler wanders into frame, starts exploring an ominous, and gorgeously designed rotted out alien temple. It’s filled with details that suggest designers spent weeks figuring out its origin and purpose. It seems like we’re about to watch a dark sci-fi epic. Then the masked character pulls out a Walkman and hits play on “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” so that he can groove to “Come And Get Your Love” while looking for an artifact. That scene pretty much sums up Guardians Of The Galaxy as a whole. It’s a film that flip-flops between being a genuine action sci-fi epic and a campy piss-take on the genre. That masked hero is Peter Quill aka Starlord aka Chris Pratt, an earthling slacker who was abducted as a child after fleeing from his mother’s cancer bed and now lives in the far reaches of the galaxy where he flies around, steals stuff for profit, and beds lovely alien ladies. The item he’s looking for on the planet is a mysterious orb containing one of the Infinity Gems that the dark lord Thanos (Josh Brolin) seeks to bring pain and torment to the universe. Once Starlord has the orb in his hands, he’s suddenly pursued by the warlord Ronan (Lee Pace), Thanos’ not-so-evil daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a talking raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Rocket’s single-sentence-speaking-walking-tree-sidekick Groot.

[pullquote align=”right” class=”blue”]“It’s space fantasy in the Star Wars or Firefly mode, not serious science fiction. It works. It works damn well.”[/pullquote]A series of mishaps and fight scenes land Starlord, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot in a prison together where they soon meet up with the hilariously literal minded Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista). After going through some space jail growing pains, the gang decides to team up to break out of prison and steal back the orb for profit. In the process, this antihero gang of ragamuffins turns into a new team of heroes. They blow stuff up real good, and interact with a variety of eccentric space characters played by eccentric character actors like John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker, and Glenn Close. It might not be a superhero tale, but it sure plays like a Marvel movie. The humor is cranked to eleven, the characters are all delightfully flawed, the action explodes loudly and consistently, the actors are all ideally cast, and most importantly it’s one big giddy sugar rush of entertainment from start to finish. It’s space fantasy in the Star Wars or Firefly mode, not serious science fiction. It works. It works damn well.

The key was bringing in writer/director James Gunn who started at Troma (he even gave Lloyd Kaufman a cameo here!), then moved on to the weirdo cult flicks Slither and Super. Gunn has a very distinct voice. He loves outcasts, he loves to honor genres while gently mocking them, he loves to cast bizarre character actors, and he always finds ways of sneaking a little subversion into pop entertainment. Gunn’s voice fits perfectly into the Marvel movie machine and helps distinguish Guardians Of The Galaxy as a slightly wilder and sillier wing of the Marvel cinematic universe. His cast is wonderful with Chris Pratt adding slacker wit to his sarcastic hero, Saldana nailing her cold-as-ice fighter through layers of green make up, Cooper turning a ludicrous raccoon cartoon into a genuine sci-fi badass, and Diesel repeating his Iron Giant of being a far better actor as a barely articulate vocal performer. Yet, it’s weirdly WWE star Dave Bautista who steals the movie away as a hilariously numb-skulled muscle man who can’t understand non-literal thinking (ex: “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.”). Around the edges Gunn’s favorite actor Michael Rooker sleazes his way into a highly memorable villain role, Benicio Del Toro delivers easily one of his strangest performances, and John C. Reilly gets his usual laughs doing his thing. It’s a big movie with a lot of moving parts and despite never having worked on a project close to this scale before, Gunn nimbly juggles a massive cast and mixes tones between dark n’ moving and bright n’ funny with ease.

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There’s no denying it, Guardians Of The Galaxy is an absolute blast. It’s nearly impossible to watch the movie without a big stupid grin on you. James Gunn was an unexpected but wise addition to the Marvel family who will hopefully be in their directing and writing rotation for years to come. Yet, it has to be said that the movie has faults and most worryingly, they all come from over-familiarity in the Marvel formula. Seeing snarky heroes go through origin stories is starting to get a little dull as is the studio’s tendency to deliver villains that are little more than one note snarls in masks (hopefully Thanos will curb this trend). Worst of all, after the movie peaks with an astounding team-building prison-break sequence, it’s just a dry run to yet another climax in which giant objects fall from the sky and destroy an innocent city. Now, none of these things derail the movie in a significant way, it’s just a troubling trend to see Marvel movies getting so familiar. I suppose that was inevitable, but it would be a shame for such an inventive studio to start spinning their wheels now. That said, it’s far too early to start the countdown to a Marvel Studios meltdown. With Guardians Of The Galaxy, they just turned a D-List books filled with also-ran characters into one of the most satisfying blockbusters of the summer. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of Marvel mojo left, let’s just hope they’re wise enough to start changing up their winning formula for the sake of variety.

The Lego Movie (Movie) Review 1

The Lego Movie (Movie) Review

When you sit down and really think about it, Lego shouldn’t be popular anymore. The Danish building blocks were groundbreaking playthings in 1949, but in days when toddlers are picking up iPads, they should be passé. Yet, Lego’s probably more popular than ever. There are a number of reasons why: nostalgia, simplicity, cross-marketing in videogames/playsets, and most importantly the fact that those little plastic cubes that you constantly step on at the worst possible moment open up a child’s imagination through building like few other toys. As Lego continues its age-bridging, cross-cultural assault through videogames and Star Wars/Batman/Marvel/everything themed playsets, it was inevitable that someday a Lego movie would exist. It’s just too easy to sell to family audiences, amateur stop-motion Lego movies have been made for decades now, and Lego’s multiplatform franchise is made for merchandising.

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Here’s the thing though: how do you make a feature-length movie about little plastic blocks. Break it down to that level and it’s an idea that shouldn’t work. Thankfully, Warner Brothers assigned the task to the two-heading filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who specialize in ideas that shouldn’t work. They’ve already made a cult TV show about a high school populated with clones of historical figures (Clone High), a CGI hit with one of the worst titles of all time (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs), and a feature film version of an 80s TV show few people liked in the first place (21 Jump Street). None of those projects should have worked but in the hands of Lord/Miller, they were brilliant. The Lego Movie is the closest thing the duo have had to a sensible starting point and unsurprisingly it’s not only the best thing they’ve ever done, but also the best animated film to come out of Hollywood since Pixar started phoning it in with sequels.

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[pullquote align=”right” class=”blue”]It’s a gorgeous movie to behold, filled with visual invention and Lord/Miller’s patented pop culture humor[/pullquote]

The plot can be cynically broken down to a cross between Toy Story and The Matrix. It’s all about Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a Lego construction worker who has posters for “A Popular Band On His Wall,” spends his days constructing buildings based on instruction books, and constantly sings the theme song of Legoland: “Everything Is Awesome.” Then one day he spots a beautiful (well, by Lego figure standards) gal named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and inadvertently ends up fulfilling an ancient prophecy made by a Morgan Freeman-voiced Lego figure to become “The Special.” Emmet has been chosen to be the Lego drone who will take down the evil President Business’ (Will Ferrell) plot to confine Legoland to the confines of banal conformity. Emmet must bridge the gap between all the segregated Lego worlds (including a Western land and Lego Gotham City) and bring back the open building-block creation of the age of master builders. It’s all much sillier and easier to follow than it sounds, eventually building towards a big twist that most viewers will see coming, but still offers a touching ode to the imaginative power of Lego nonetheless.

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Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the Lego movie is that it is even more blatantly a commercial for the toy at the center than Transformers or Battleship and yet is an infinitely more moving and creative film than any of the toy movies that proceeded it. A big part of that is just the joy of Lego itself, a brain-building toy that has inspired generations of children to create to the point that many adults now have a full time job creating Lego pop culture replicas for the legendary toy company. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller fully understand Lego’s appeal and create a film about that subject without ever losing track of the fact that their film must first and foremost be a comedic adventure. The CGI animation brilliantly creates a low-fi feel of a stop motion Lego fan film, filled with jerky motions, blocky designs, and creative faux-stop motion effects like creating flames out of crudely animated Lego fire pieces. It’s a gorgeous movie to behold, filled with visual invention and Lord/Miller’s patented pop culture humor. With Lego tie-ins to everything from Batman to Star Wars now part of the legacy, Lord/Miller let loose their reverential and referential humor onto a world that has those qualities built into it. No one else should have made this movie and no one could have done it better.

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As per usual in these blockbuster animated films the voice cast is stacked with stars like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Charlie Day, Will Arnett, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Morgan Freeman, and Will Forte. However, unlike many of these projects, Lord/Miller actually give each famous voice a character suited to their talents and not a single cameo passes by without a major laugh. Thankfully, Lord/Miller never take the easy route to cynically mock their subject matter either, filling the screen with a love for all things Lego including a character who is one of the 80s Lego astronauts that every child of a certain generation owned and even the chin strap is broken in the perfect place. This is a big Hollywood blockbuster made by people who care about the subject matter and know just how to treat it. It’s big, adventurous, hilarious, touching, and makes you want to race out of the theater to buy as many Lego playsets as you can fit in your arms. Balancing all those elements is nearly impossible, but Lord/Miller did it with such ease that they should have a massive hit on their hands and might finally be recognized as two of the most brilliant comedic minds of their generation. Warner already has a Lego Movie sequel in the works, but hopefully Lord and Miller find another project to work on instead. It’s hard to imagine a better Lego movie being made than this, and I’m anxious to see what the next seemingly ridiculous idea that they want to turn into a brilliant comedy is instead.

Her (Movie) Review 2

Her (Movie) Review

Like all of the best speculative science fiction, Spike Jonze’s latest flick her is set in the future, but it’s really about right now. The film is one of those “what if” sci-fi tales and one feels a mere software update away from being a reality. Then, of course, with the project being a Spike Jonze joint, it’s also a strange, creepy, funny, beautiful and human story wrapped within an “out there” concept that shouldn’t lend itself to personal filmmaking. It is above all else a striking piece of work filled with concepts that only Jonze could dream up and expand in this specific way. It’s the first time the filmmaker has written a script entirely on his own and based on the results, it hopefully won’t be the last. Charlie Kaufman is going to have to get himself a new collaborator and thankfully, that’s not a bad thing.

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So this concept I keep speaking about in reverential terms… It is a good one, hopefully worthy of my self-indulgent critical drooling. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a man as sad and lonely as the mustache he sports on the poster suggests. His job is writing beautiful personalized notes for people incapable of expressing their own emotions. Of course, while Phoenix has no problem cranking those puppies out for others, he’s equally disconnected from his surroundings. He lives in a world where everyone is so hypnotized by their personal computer devices that they find it impossible to tear their eyes away from their screens long enough to make a real human connection (sound familiar?). Then a new product arrives: a sentient operating system that thinks, grows, and cares about its user. Phoenix picks it up immediately and soon the smoky, sexy sounds of Scarlett Johansson are ringing in his ear. She quickly cleans up his hard drive and sets him up on a blind date. But that doesn’t really work out, and as his computer starts to feel for his interpersonal dilemma, they fall in love. That’s right, it’s that old “boy meets computer” chestnut. The weird thing is that everyone in Phoenix’s life (well, his only two friends played by Chris Pratt and Amy Adams anyways) seem ok with this and even stranger, it seems as though human/operating system love is becoming common. The only person freaked out by the whole thing is Phoenix’s recently ex-wife Rooney Mara. She’s disgusted by Phoenix’s inability to connect, the same thing that made her grow out of their relationship. Then Johansson’s operating system starts to evolve at an exponential rate and… well… that’s never a good thing for a relationship, is it?

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As speculative fiction, Her is an undeniably fascinating work. The depiction of technologically hypnotized humans hits chillingly close to home (as it should, for anyone writing or reading a magazine dedicated to videogames, right?). Jonze’s world is carefully designed speak directly to contemporary viewers, and his story could not be more timely. As usual, Jonze never lets the project settle comfortably into any particular genre formula either. It’s always touching, funny, and creepy simultaneously, leaving viewers mesmerized and unsure of where the tale will turn next. Then somewhere about two thirds of the way through, the film stops feeling like a sci-fi think piece and becomes a straight up tragic love story. That Jonze could do that is both a testament to the Phoenix’s heartbreaking performance done almost as a solo and Johansson’s impressive vocal performance that creates a vivid character without a body, as well as the filmmaker’s gifts as an emotional storyteller. Somehow you feel fully for this digital relationship, and as things wrap up the film proves not only to be about the perils of love in the digital age, but also the challenges of opening yourself up to the emotional vulnerability of a relationship and learning how to let go. It’s an incredibly heartfelt and personal, yet flippant piece of work. I suppose you could say that about everything Jonze has done since Being John Malkovich.

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The music video directing veteran of course complements it all with some stunning visuals, especially the clever combination of Los Angeles and Shanghai skylines to create a gorgeously impersonal near future Metropolis. As I’ve made clear through gushing, it’s a wonderful movie, but not a perfect one. The film is too long and weighed down by endless solo dating montages in its saggy middle. It also feels like a story that deserved a harsher and more ironic ending rather that the fuzzy butterflies Jonze chose to wrap things up with. However, these are minor annoyances at worst and don’t detract from the fact that Jonze has created a truly magical movie of the moment that should fill any tech-loving viewer with food for thought as they watch it on their personal device of choice while avoiding contact with the outside world. Between this and Gravity, it’s been a hell of a year for sci-fi fans, providing two contemporary genre classics that could only have emerged from this specific moment in time. It’ll be a while before that happens again, so savor it people.