“Inferno” movie review

infernoFamed symbologist Robert Langdon is back in a fiery installment in the franchise that bears his name. Sony Pictures and Imagine Entertainment’s Inferno is a non-stop rollercoaster of an adventure film that combines art, history, literature, bio-medical science, and weapons of mass destruction in a heart-pounding thriller that makes academia and public health look sexy. As expected, Tom Hanks delivers an outstanding performance as the Indiana Jones of symbols and puzzles and the visual storytelling is excellent. From the moment the film opens with incoherent subjective flashes through the eyes of Langdon suffering from amnesia, shaky camera movements, and glimpses of disturbing apocalyptic imagery to the final showdown beneath Instanbul’s Hagia Sophia, Inferno will command your attention for the two-hour runtime. Unlike the two previous installments in the Langdon franchise, there is a conspicuous lack of commentary on organized religion by deciphering puzzles and revealing coverups and more of a focus on art history and rhetoric. This focus provides a far more believable plot than found in The Da Vinci Code and lesser so in Angels and Demons. With bio-medical warfare being at the center of this film, the movie paints a realistic portrait of how a Dante-spouting sociopath might try to fix the world’s problems by wiping out half the population with a destructive plague.

Waking up in a state of incoherency and amnesia in an Italian hospital in Florence, Robert Langdon (Hanks) is thrust into running–or hobbling, rather–for his life. Under the guidance and protection of a beautiful ER doctor (Felicity Jones), Langdon barely escapes with his life. Dazed and confused, Langdon must concentrate on piecing together a puzzle–no surprise there–but this time, the puzzle begins with how he got to Italy and why he is carrying a bio-medical tube. From puzzle to mystery, Langdon and Dr. Brooks (Jones) are forced into an adventure that blind-sided them. After discovering a connection between a dead sociopathic billionaire madman and the Italian poet Dante (The Divine Comedy), Langdon and Brooks race across Europe to stop a devastating plague from killing off more than half of the world’s population. Between stopping the plague and constantly under siege by the WHO (World Health Organization) and a private security firm, Langdon is truly racing against the clock to piece together his own life while making the connections in the puzzle left by the deceased sociopath to save the world.

Although in previous installments in the Langdon franchise have the symbologist traversing across Europe and even the world, this film’s plot is mostly concentrated in Florence. Home to some of the most notable works of art in the world, Inferno might work as an unconventional travel guide for the tourism industry in Italy. Far less cerebral than The Da Vinci Code and to a lesser extent Angels and DemonsInferno is far more visceral, exciting, and thrilling. The lack of religious/historic irony will definitely stick out to those who either read the books and/or watch the movies (I am the latte); however, that does not hinder the film’s delivery of an action-adventure taking place within the worlds of the arts and medical science. With the previous installment Angels and Demons being released in 2009, the high-impact feeling of Inferno is incredibly important because there has been such a long gap between the films. Still, the plot of Inferno does not have the finesse that both previous films have. Although this installment is incredibly enjoyable and entertaining, it lacks the opportunity to question, think, and analyze the mystery at hand.

Another contrast between this present installment and the previous two is the character-heavy plot. Occasionally, the film felt overrun with characters. Albeit, most of the characters are interesting and also possess brilliant minds, at times the plot is overcrowded. Perhaps that was intentional since the billionaire madman claims that the population should be reduced because of overcrowding the earth; however, it’s more likely that writer David Koepp and director Ron Howard were attempting to get as much of the novel on screen as possible. Not having read the novel, I am unable to comment on the translation from page to screen beyond inference. Despite the character-heavy plot, the film is not without the trademark art, history, literature, and enigmas that are synonymous with the Langdon series of books/films. Beginning with a reimagined map of Hell based on the one described by Dante in The Divine Comedy and illustrated by Botticelli, the film’s plot does come back to the puzzles but most of the time is spent being chased by nearly everyone.

The best part about this film is just how exciting it is. If you are even remotely interested in it, you won’t be disappointed. As this is a franchise, and franchises tend to have intentional or unintentional patterns of behavior within the cast of characters or similarly functioning plot devices, there are definitely elements in this installment that are found in the previous two. There is one plot twist that bares a striking resemblance to one in The Da Vinci Code. The non-stop action will likely kindle an interest in pursuing a career as an academic or official with the WHO. Perhaps, the study of symbols, numbers, and taxonomy, will be of greater interest to current students. There are just enough loose ends and unanswered questions that keep the film from being too predictable.

Looking for an exciting cinematic adventure for the weekend? That is, when you are not either at or recovering from a Halloween party. Check out Inferno! Not Halloween-themed at all, but it is a fun adventure full of excitement and you’ll learn a thing or two about art, history, and literature.

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Lights, Camera, MotionGate! A Look into Dubai’s Newest Theme Park

Dubai_Parks_mapWhile the themed entertainment industry continues to explode with new lands and attractions at the US’ biggest players, the luxury destination Dubai, UAE is throwing its hat into the ring. MotionGate may just be the competition that Disney and Universal were not expecting. Primarily including intellectual property (IP) from Sony Pictures, LionsGate, and DreamWorks Animation (now owned by Comcast), MotionGate will boast some of the most advanced attractions in the world. Starting out the gate with 27 attractions and shows based on some of the most well-known IP from the worlds of cinema and television, this brings the total attraction numbers to more than 100 when added to the existing offerings at Dubai Parks and Resorts (a government owned themed entertainment holdings company).

motiongate_image.fw_Unlike the public-private partnership of the parks in China, the government of UAE is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the wealth of the nation. That allure and wealth has driven millions of tourists from around the world to their nation as it is; factor in a world-class leading theme park, and those numbers will increase exponentially. This influx of revenue may actually pave the way for the non-wealthy classes of people to be able to enjoy the Dubai Parks and Resorts as additional flights, hotels, and transportation methods will be added. One of the biggest advantages that MotionGate has over its Disney and Universal competitors (Fox will soon be added to that as well) is that it is being constructed amidst digital, wireless, and multimedia technologies. Whereas the big boys have to modify existing technologies in attractions as they change, these parks are built with the latest technology which directly impacts efficiency of operation.  This same idea of being late to the game but a quickly asserted leader can be seen in nations like South Korea who only recently, relatively speaking, have had access to wireless internet technologies. As they did not have to adapt or modify existing legacy infrastructure, they built on current communications technologies and have a much faster, reliable, cheaper, and efficient ‘internet of things’ than the United States.

MotionGate_DubaiIn the vein of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, Dubai Parks and Resorts is a themed entertainment complex featuring separately themed parks. Specifically, MotionGate bares a striking design modeled after Magic Kingdom in that it is ONE theme park that contains five distinctly different themed lands that all center in and around the concept of motion pictures, filmmaking, and live entertainment. Each land, much like the ones at Magic Kingdom, has its own gateway, themed rides, restaurants, shows, and landmarks. Also, keeping with the Magic Kingdom layout, MotionGate contains the hub and spoke system. Unlike Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, SeaWorld, or Busch Gardens, MotionGate employs the hub-and-spoke system in order to make maneuvering the park user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. This provides opportunities for centralized entertainment offerings and landmarks. Prepare for the glitz, glamour, nostalgia, and excitement of the lands: Studio Central, LionsGate, DreamWorks, Sony Pictures, and the Smurfs’ Village. What makes this concept additionally interesting is the fact that MotionGate includes IP from different studios that are self-contained. Instead of taking the IP from the different companies and integrating them in more generically themed lands, each IP is contained within its respective land.

sony-motiongateOne cannot help but notice that the concept of Dubai Parks and Resort’s flagship theme park MotionGate resembles the original Universal Studios Florida or to a lesser extent Disney-MGM Studios. How so? If you are not familiar, both Universal Studios Florida and then Disney-MGM Studios were theme parks inspired by the idea of “what lies beyond the fifth dimension” (Tower of Terror, Disney); moreover, the story that exists outside of the frame–beyond mise en scene. In addition to attractions and shows inspired by filmmaking or theatre, both parks were also east coast counterparts to the Hollywood stages. Universal/Nickelodeon and Disney produced major motion pictures and television shows in the sound stages that are all but gone (or turn into conventional  attractions) in the 1980s and mid to late 90s. By 2000, most filmmaking and television production operations ceased because it was cheaper to move operations back to Hollywood and to other places like North Carolina and now Georgia. MotionGate goes back to the drawing board to resurrect a dying idea of turning filmmaking into an attraction. It truly holds up Geoff King’s studies and theories of “the cinema of attractions.” Universal founder Carl Leammle knew there was more to filmmaking than making movies. That’s why he opened his movie making ranch outside of Los Angeles to day guests to be entertained by special effects and stunt shows as well as watching the magic behind the camera.

20thCenFoxWorldIt is an exciting time for the themed entertainment and motion picture industries. For the longest time, Disney and Universal (Comcast) were the kings of cinema and TV based theme parks. Now, Dubai is becoming a heavy hitter and once MotionGate opens in October, the landscape has the potential to shift drastically. Now, the parks in the US will not only be competing against each other, but against heavy competition on the other side of the world in an area with much deeper pockets. All the while the word is focussed on the Word of Pandora, The Reign of Kong, Cobra’s Curse, Mako, Star Wars Land, Toy Story Land, and the unnamed new theme park under construction for Universal’s third park (not counting the forthcoming water park), MotionGate will open and create a whole new atmosphere of innovation amongst the chief players. In addition to the parks in Dubai, Fox is also entering into the game with their 20th Century Fox World opening in Malaysia in 2017. Also on the books is the 20th Century Fox World expansion to Zoo Miami AND another indoor Sony theme park in Wisconsin. With all these parks opening, there are more and more opportunities for careers in either cinema or themed entertainment. Or, a career that spans both (which is what yours truly is trying to do). I just love all the new completion because it will drive continued innovation. However, it’s also nice to see that we have a new park that is getting back to the roots of what started it all: motion pictures.

“On Cinema and Theme Parks” part 4

My Book

Continued from Part 3

One medium being the extension of, or exhibiting a direct connection to, another medium is not a new concept. In fact, this concept of media convergence has been around for as long as multiple mediums have existed. In order to better understand the convergence or synergy that exists between cinema, in particular horror film, and theme parks, it is crucial to understand how we arrived at this point. One thing that film and themed entertainment both have in common is that each tells a story—in a different manner. But, the narrative is often quite similar. Prior to theme parks and cinema (film), there were plays, novels, and oral stories/traditions. The novel is an extension of the oral story, the play is an extension of the novel, cinema is an extension of the play, and the theme park is an extension of cinema. According to Dr. Henry Jenkins, “there has been an alarming concentration of the ownership of mainstream commercial media, with a small handful of multinational media conglomerates dominating all sectors of the entertainment industry” (2004, p1). This is clearly seen in the acquisition, exhibition, and development of theme park attractions based upon movies and, to a lesser extent, television shows.

The first cinemas were setup more like attractions than actual theatres. Perhaps more than coincidentally, theatres began springing up at the same time Coney Island opened its turnstiles around the beginning of the twentieth century; and at this time, cinema itself was still very much viewed as an attraction (Gunning, 1986). According to Tom Gunning (1986), “it was precisely the exhibitionist quality of turn-of-the-century popular art that made it attractive to the avant-garde” (1986, p66). So this concept of the convergence of cinema and theme park (or attraction) is one that dates all the way back to the early 1900s. Since some of the earliest films were of a surreal or horror nature, it is of no surprise that horror played a large role in the development of the cinema attraction. Much in the same way that early cinema was essentially a variety show, in essence, lacked a continuous diegesis, or narrative, the convergence of cinema and theme parks offers a variety of cinema-based attractions that are, indirectly at best, connected to each other. However, instead of the film, itself, being the attraction, cinema-based theme parks and attractions use the narrative provided by a work of cinema and uses elements of that film that can be translated into a real-world experience.

But as with any media convergence, there are also pitfalls to such a synergy between two powerful media. In order to best understand the pitfalls and promises in such a meeting, it is imperative to discuss convergence of two media in and of itself. Understanding the concept of convergence will better prepare filmmakers and themed entertainment designers to select the best elements of films to translate into themed attractions based on movies, in particular horror or action. According to the leader of research into the area of media convergence Henry Jenkins (2004), “media convergence is more than simply a technological shift. Convergence alters the relationship between existing technologies, industries, markets, genres, and audiences. Convergence refers to a process, but not an endpoint” (P1). Over the years, the relationship between cinema and theme parks has shifted. Before, cinema was the attraction; and now, the attraction is infused with cinema. And the handful of multinational media conglomerates own both methods of the exhibition of creativity. With the exception of the Walt Disney Company, many of the other media conglomerates have prominent interests in theme parks and film and television studios; and some also have interests in Broadway productions (i.e. Universal Studios’ Wicked and Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man).

Crossing over into new arenas of revenue requires access to vast media libraries, and that is what many of media conglomerates have at their disposal. This ability to converge areas of media interest in order to generate more revenue is something that contrasts with old Hollywood. Jenkins (2004) remarks that “old Hollywood focused on cinema, [and] the new media conglomerates have controlling interests across the entire entertainment industry” (P34). This convergence greatly influences the way society consumes media and entertainment (everything from movies to theme parks to music to toys and games). More than a cross-promotion of entertainment and media products, the convergence of cinema and theme parks is “a reconfiguration of media power and a reshaping of media aesthetics and economics” (Jenkins, 2004, P35). This reconfiguration comes in many shapes and forms. And, the horror film has found a place within the new configuration of entertainment media synergy. Specifically, the horror film has been used instrumentally in this reconfiguration; evidence of this can be seen in the prolific number of television shows (most popularly zombie shows), movies, and horror/Halloween themed events at theme parks (e.g. Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream and Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights). In these events, horror films provide a vast heritage from which theme parks can draw characters and plots to create temporary attractions to generate more income for the media company. Looking at many of the opening day attractions at movie-based theme parks, horror films were the first films to be translated into themed entertainment.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

“Risen” movie review

RisenThe Gospel–detective movie style! For more than 100 years, stories of Jesus have been the topic of movies. Many early works of cinema featured not only Jesus, but Moses, Sampson, David, etc, but this film is quite different in that it carries a much lighter tone than most faith-based productions. Sticking to the basics of what is known from the Bible and other Jewish and Roman historical accounts of the event, Risen lacks the pious and pretentious nature many of the films in this same sub-genre contain. Not quite cinematic per se or traditionally action-packed, the film has relatively slow pacing but keeps it interesting by supplying well-developed characters and simply the thrill of the original man-hunt. Although the message of the Gospel is clearly stated and shown in the movie, it does not come off as proselytizing. In many ways, the central character is an everyman because it is fairly easy to place yourself in his shoes–or sandals in this case–and imagine what it must have been like to have been in charge of guarding Christ’s tomb and then having to answer for the disappearance. One thing puzzles me; and that is Columbia Pictures’ timing of this release. Honestly, it makes more sense to have released it the weekend prior to Easter. Anyway, I digress.

Risen is about the most famous and controversial man-hunt in the history of the world–and no, I’m talking Jimmy Hoffa–but for the Jesus of Nazareth. You may have heard the Gospel before, but not like this. Follow Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) as he is personally commissioned by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to supervise the burial and subsequent Roman guard of the famed tomb. Assisted by Lucius (Tom Felton), Clavius closely manages the burial of Jesus’ body and instructs the guards to keep watch to make sure the body is not stolen so Jesus’ disciples can claim resurrection. As we know from history, the tomb is discovered to have been blown open and thus begins Rome’s search for the body of Jesus in order to snuff out any uprising or violent radical upheaval. Clovis’ search for the body of the proclaimed messiah will force him to question his own beliefs as he encounters appearances and fervent faith that we cannot reconcile against the world he knows.

A history and mystery in one! From either objective or subjective points of view, this is my pick for the best “Jesus” film ever. And yes, I am including the box office smash Passion of the Christ in that assessment. But what makes this particular movie more receptive and less controversial and other faith-based films in the past? Answer: lack of pretense. Whether talking God’s Not Dead or Passion of the Christ, both films do not attempt to appeal to a broad audience. They play on the court with the rest of the faith-based movies both good and bad. Risen plays to the audience differently because it concentrates on developing the realistic historic characters by pairing what is known by way of Biblical or Jewish/Roman historic texts with logical conclusions or using context clues to fill in the gaps. The writers did an excellent job in developing the character of Clavius as someone with whom many in the audience could identify because whether believers int he resurrection or not, we have all questioned our various and respective beliefs at one point or another and often look for answers very much in the same way a detective solves a mystery.

Unlike other films where the focus is either directly or indirectly on Jesus, the focus of this film is primarily on the delicate political landscape between the Jews and Romans and of course our protagonist Clavius. However, this film uses the indirect approach to discover why Jesus’ was so special to his followers (and it still to this day). This indirect approach is far more effective for speeding the Gospel message than typical “Christian” films. Although this film is clearly about the mystery surrounding the resurrection of Jesus in the background, the foreground is a personal journey thus making it more of a historic film than a “Christian” one, so to speak. Therefore, most anyone who enjoys Roman or Jewish history will find something of interest in this film. The relationship between the Romans and Jewish leadership is handled very well. It shows the game the Romans had to play with the Jews in order to keep peace in Jerusalem–especially because Caesar is arriving soon and Pilate needs to show him that he has the Jews under control.

The person of Jesus is also handled better than any other film I have seen. He comes off as an average Joe–that is, an average Joe who can heal lepers. But, he connects well with the audience and is very much down to earth in his appearance and mannerisms. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why his disciples then and followers to this day would choose to follow such a man, but this film makes it clear why. He embodies love. On a lighter note, I’ve always found it funny that in most historic/Biblical films, such as this one, most of the characters speak with a British or transatlantic accent. Pretty sure that was not the case back then. But, at the same time, it does not hinder the story in any way. Although the film is a little slow and the pacing isn’t always executed well, over all, it keeps in line with the traditional three-act plot structure and sufficiently supplies the audience with the proper turning points. Risen also handles character development very well. I really appreciate the development of not only Clavius but also Pilate and Lucius as well. To an extent, we also see some development in some of Jesus’ disciples as well. At the end of the movie, the characters in the story felt like real people, and that is a remarkable achievement in this movie.

Ordinarily, we don’t see movies like this until Easter time. Even though we are a month out from it, I feel that if you enjoy Biblical or simply historic movies that are down-to-earth, written, acted, and developed well that you will enjoy this movie. Traditionally, I am not a fan of most faith-base movies because they are cheesy, pious, over the top, or just executed poorly; however, I very much enjoyed this film and hope you do too.

“The 5th Wave” movie review

FifthWaveAnother cliche wave of ‘only attractive young people can save the world because they are special’ movies. Really??? Do we really need another one of these films with an overly used and tired plot? I suppose so–or at least that is what Sony Pictures is hoping for. Once again, the world is at the brink of destruction by an alien race that has taken over most adults. It is up to a small band of rebel young people to save the world by overcoming the impossible. Only this time, the dialog and plot are so incredibly blasé that you may likely find yourself often glancing at your watch to see when this painful movie will be over. Can we survive the fifth wave??? That question is all too apropos. From the unimpressive digital effects to the crazy quilt consisting of pieces and patches from every other  YA fantasy action thriller, hopefully this movie signifies the last wave of boring and predictable franchises that try to compete with The Hunger Games but fail miserably.

I normally summarize the plot here, but I am pretty well sure that you already know all that you need to know, given the repetition of such films in this sub-genre of young adult movies.

If you simply enjoy mild, mindless, cliche young adult (trying so hard to appeal to teens and adults) entertainment, then this film is for you. On the other hand, if you are tired of this same vapid plot that we have been accosted with for the last several years, then this is not the way to spend the weekend. Haha. I wanted to see The Boy instead last night; but unfortunately, it was not getting a Thursday night release. I think distribution companies and theatre chains should have released it instead last night, and saved this travesty for today.