JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Violence, Sequences of Sci-Fi Action, some Suggestive Content and partial Nudity

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Directed by: Lana Wachowski & Andrew Wachowski

Written by: Lana Wachowski & Andrew Wachowski

Starring: Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton, & Terry Gilliam

Ever since the MATRIX sequels, it seems like people are quick to rip apart the Wachowski siblings. While I don’t necessarily find RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS to as all out terrible as many do, I can fully admit that they’re nowhere near the level of the original MATRIX. The siblings quickly moved on from their newly carved science fiction trilogy to work on other interesting (if not financially successful) titles. V FOR VENDETTA is one of my favorite movies. I didn’t bother watching SPEED RACER (it doesn’t really appeal to me), but it looked like it was visually stunning. CLOUD ATLAS wound up being one of my favorite films of 2012 and I consider it criminally underrated. This all being said, JUPITER ASCENDING is the Wachowskis taking on aliens and winds up as an enjoyable (though flawed) space opera.

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Jupiter Jones is an illegal immigrant making her living through cleaning houses. She lives a fairly boring and mundane life. However, her world is far bigger than she imagined. For some unforeseen reason, Jupiter has become marked for death by an evil intergalactic ruler. Rescued by a splice (half-man, half-wolf) named Caine Wise, Jupiter discovers the true origins of Earth and her ultimate destiny. This also puts her in the path of the powerful Abrasax dynasty (three heirs with different motives). Jupiter is put on an adventure that will decide not only her fate, but the fate of mankind.

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JUPITER ASCENDING is a fun, goofy science-fiction adventure. The scale is highly ambitious and so are most of the ideas at work, although some plot points are familiar. The Wachowskis incorporate a concept used in their MATRIX trilogy through a not-so-subtle way (complete with long-winded speech from a villain). Even so, there’s a lot of creativity to be seen which include little winks at alien mythology (e.g. crop circles, conspiracy theorists, etc.). Some of the ideas don’t necessarily work though. Creatures called splices (half-man, half-animal) play a big part in the proceedings. While some of them look cool (Channing Tatum, a rat-like henchman), others look downright ridiculous (an owl guy and an elephant pilot). The sillier looking creatures kept me from being fully immersed in the story, which essentially boils down to a dysfunctional family feud over who owns the Earth.

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Performances range from good to awful. Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum are enjoyable in their roles, but they don’t necessarily seem to make these characters their own. Sean Bean is a welcome presence as a disgraced splice (half-man, half-bee) and there aren’t any other real heroes of note. The Abrasax dynasty reminded me a lot of the Henry VIII and his violent children. I kept thinking that their characters resembled the Tudors in space. Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton are solid in their roles as two powerful heirs, but Eddie Redmayne is awful. He uses a misguided soft-spoken, weirdly accented delivery that becomes unintentionally hilarious at points. Redmayne is supposed to be the menacing big bad villain, but comes off instead like a spoiled brat.

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Mixed bag acting and somewhat derivative story aside, JUPTER ASCENDING has great action sequences and lots of them. The design of some of the aliens (aforementioned splices, little green men, and winged reptiles) can be a tad distracting, but there’s still much excitement to be had in these long scenes. This being said, there are some downright painful moments of comic relief involving Jupiter’s family back on Earth. It’s a bit jarring to go from an intense space battle to a family dinner of people yelling at each other. These latter scenes feel like they’re from a completely different film. However, they’re mercifully short-lived compared to all the aliens, spaceships, and intergalactic politics.

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Though it’s far from great or arguably good, JUPITER ASCENDING is a decent flick. The film has its share of problems (silly creatures, brief tonal shifts, and Eddie Redmayne’s annoying villain), but has more strengths (beautiful visuals, huge ambition that pays off in areas, cool plot points, and exciting action scenes). I was entertained from start to finish and that’s really what I hope for in a space opera. There are definitely flaws in the film, but it’s nowhere near the disaster that many are calling it. You might be surprised by how much you actually like JUPITER ASCENDING.

Grade: B-

THE IMITATION GAME (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Sexual References, Mature Thematic Material and Historical Smoking

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Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Written by: Graham Moore

(based on the book ALAN TURING: THE ENIGMA by Andrew Hodges)

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Allen Leech & Matthew Beard

When one usually thinks of World War II movies, they picture battlefields full of dead bodies and soldiers engaged in bloody combat. THE IMITATION GAME offers neither of these and that’s part of the reason it stands out so much from hundreds of other historical dramas made about this time period. Instead, this non-linear drama focuses on Alan Turing, a mathematician who secretly helped end the war by cracking an seemingly impossible Nazi code. Seeing as this film combines a biopic and a WWII drama, it seems like the ideal candidate for Academy Award attention (whether it wound up being good or not). The film is more than just good because IMITATION GAME is an emotionally engaging and compelling story through and through.

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The UK has declared war on Germany and it’s the outcome doesn’t look good. This is partially because the Nazis use an unbreakable code known as Enigma. Alan Turing is a brilliant mathematician hired to help decode Enigma. While his fellow staff members scramble through various unreadable messages on a daily basis, Alan is working on a machine that could very well help win the war. His complicated invention (the basis for computers) is constantly bombarded by an inability to connect to those around him in a normal way and his commanding officers hassling him as a waste of time. The film follows Turing from childhood to his amazing contribution to the war and his eventual fate at the hands of government regulations. It’s a true, tragic, and wholly emotional life brilliantly brought to film.

THE IMITATION GAME, seated: Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing; standing from left: Keira

THE IMITATION GAME is told in a non-linear fashion. We flash through Turing’s later years (as he’s being investigated by a police officer), his long process in breaking Enigma, and his childhood years at a boarding school. This style of story-telling works extremely well given this context. If it were told in a purely linear way from his childhood to his death, IMITATION GAME might come off as boring as opposed to the interesting and fresh film that it really is. Benedict Cumberbatch fully disappears into his role as Alan Turing. He was undoubtedly a genius, but was also a secret homosexual (which was illegal in England at the time) and clearly autistic. The former contributes more tension being built up around his hidden identity and the latter is not focused in too much detail but is obvious. Cumberbatch makes this unique hero into someone who the viewer can fully relate to, regardless of their own sexuality or mental state.

THE IMITATION GAME, Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (second from left), 2014. ph: Jack

Supporting cast members deliver in their roles too. Keira Knightley might have delivered her best performance yet as Joan Clarke. Matthew Goode and Allen Leech are equally fantastic as Turing’s co-workers. Mark Strong and Charles Dance aren’t given much screen time as higher-ups with polar opposite personalities, but make the most of the scenes they have. The biggest compliment that can be given to IMITATION GAME is making a story about a group of people stuck in a hut trying to crack a code feel like they are on a battlefield with gunfire and explosions. While the movie cuts to shots of war-torn landscapes to illustrate battles are being fought as this group struggles to crack secret messages, there’s a solid amount of tension built between these characters. The suspense becomes even more intense as suspicions of a Soviet spy hiding among them heighten.

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If there any complaints are to be leveled at this film, they come in a couple of scenes becoming the tiniest bit cheesy. Maybe, this is especially demonstrated in an epilogue that throws one or two title cards too many at the viewer. This is a minor flaw that I had with an otherwise fantastic film. The movie is remarkably well shot and written. It seems to have done justice to the life of a dedicated hero whose work lay in secrecy for 50 years and hammers home just how upsetting the tragedy was in Turing’s fate.

THE IMITATION GAME, Benedict Cumberbatch, 2014. ph: Jack English/

THE IMITATION GAME is a war story unlike any that I’ve seen before. Most WWII films center around battles, the Holocaust or POW camps, but this movie reminds the viewer that those working in an office to fight against the Nazis had just as much of an important role in winning the Big War. Benefitting from a brilliantly constructed script, a fascinating true story, and stunning performances, THE IMITATION GAME is absolutely worth your time!

Grade: A

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