Sphere (1998)

Sphere (1998)

sphere

What is it you fear? Do you fear your nightmares? Do you fear alien life? Michael Crichton is a terrific author. He has treated readers worldwide with stories that provoke the mind with thrilling entertainment. Stories such as Jurassic Park, Timeline, and Andromeda Strain shows us Crichton has quite a knack for storytelling. However I myself have not read a few of these including Sphere itself. I understand it was a mind bending thriller, no doubt, but did the movie live up to the expectations of Michael Crichton’s handy writing? I’m afraid not. Sphere starts out really well, then somehow rolls down hill. Then up again, then levels out, then down again. It’s a twirl down from a great hook then all is left is pressurized frustration on what is going on and where the story has gone.

This review would be more knowledgeable if I had read the book myself, one day I will. Because after this, I felt my time was wasted. Everything that lead up to it’s end point fizzled flat. I give huge credit to start, though. About the first half its a perfect popcorn flick. You are laughing at the jokes, asking same questions as the main characters were asking, and feeling drawn in on the suspenseful moments. It’s a perfect set up because you have a mix of The Abyss and Alien where a team is assembled and they must venture somewhere into the unknown, facing something foreign; alien. Sphere, for a moment, even feels like a horror. But the weird begins to happen and you start having withdrawals. What am I getting myself into? I certainly was not expecting that to happen. One action leaves to another. Questions seem to skip the answers and you forget totally about them. This creates plot holes galore.Like key subjects that I believed were crucial to the story manifesting a truly thought provoking thriller. Including loop holes that don’t make sense despite the bizarre circumstances. Instead, Sphere dives deep into the weird leaving nothing but vast pockets of nothingness floating abundantly. I think the movie could have made a 90 degree turn, perhaps even a 180, creating something special.

This was something truly unique. It had potential to be an underrated masterpiece or a down right classic reminiscent of Jurassic Park’s success. I’ll give it that, Sphere will keep you totally engaged. Something was always happening. The dialogue was never dumb, I actually paid attention to each characters’ contribution. I thoroughly enjoyed some of the discussions the main protagonists were having and fit the movie perfectly. Acting was even decent to say the least. The budget is there to support the film giving a glipse of a scientist’s expedition underwater would be like. 

The movie moves so fast forward though to the next event, you almost forget some key plot points that previously happened. I love movies that make me think and even ones that are open ended for discussion among the viewers, but this my friends, is no table talk. You will be as baffled as the next person. Scratching your head, trying to undo the knot in your mind that’s bent three quarters to nowhere. Leaving you at the end with no value, as if you have wasted your time. With a perfect set up and cast we hope all the chaotic wierdness will come together in the end. Too bad we’re not gifted with an imagination to forget the potential here that has gone awry. 

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Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Lucas, Lucas, Lucas, what have ye done? Taken your beloved franchise and downgraded it you have. This child-like installment had a positive force surrounding it’s premier showing, bringing back humanity’s favorite universe. Phantom Menace takes us to the beginning, to when there was balance in the force, to where we meet a young pod-racing slave, Anakin Skywalker, who contains too much “midichlorian” for his own good. Qui-Gon Jinn, a jedi master, informs young Annie the power he holds, that he is to be taught in the ways of the Jedi and is, in fact, the chosen one. This starts an epic journey across the galaxy of hardship and a dark personage with a sinister agenda.

We don’t just follow Skywalker’s first steps to becoming a Jedi, but we witness the start of a secretly planned, and I must say it is cleverly planned, that shadows this first trilogy. The Trade Federation becomes greedy, taxing resources higher, fueling a war with Naboo. The Republic’s army is weak and rumors of a Sith Lord has spread throughout the galaxy. This starts an unforeseen chain reaction throughout Episodes I, II, and III that only the unsaid mastermind himself could stop if only it didn’t benefit him in the future. The over arching story is subtle in its manifestation where it’s aftermath, the second trilogy, is more straight forward, which all can be described into one word: EPIC.

Another pro for this installment is some of the characters that were created. Like Qui-Gon Jinn who is Obi-Won Kenobi’s master during his young apprenticeship. Qui-Gon, played by Liam Neeson, as one of the best Jedi Knights and masters in Star Wars history. Most notable mention is Darth Maul, possibly the scariest, most badass, and most underused character in the whole universe! This, needlessly to say, ticked me off. Darth Maul has the awesome double sided lightsaber and horns erupting from his black, fire-like face. Oh, and really bad teeth. He had an onscreen presence that would soak up more light than Darth Vader. Although I wouldn’t go as far to say he was more powerful than Vader but definitely had the moves. Now an additional character I thought was rather sloppy and gave a childish aura was Jar-Jar Binks. As a child, myself, I thought he was funny, but now i don’t find him quite amusing as I did before. After recently watching this, I would have preferred his friend, who’s name escapes me, but you can spot him helping Jar-Jar in the Naboo scenes rocking a Fu Man Chu mustache. I would’ve liked to see him have more screen time and Jar-Jar, not erased, but less time so his comedic effort isn’t so overwhelming. And finally the wonderfully played Anakin *cough*. Again, on my first viewing i was about his age and everything was fine. But dear me, his acting would’ve been better in a Disney Channel original. However, let’s not piss this guy off, alright? He’s got enough emotions to deal with…

When Phantom Menace was released in 1999, it was during an era where almost every movie was trying out this wondrous thing that got rid of prosthetics and do this impressive thing called CGI. The CGI usage is strong with this one, and lemme tell you it’s not that impressive. This first edition to the beloved saga could have used a bit more authentic special effects. Although the pod racing scene is definitely one to check out.

I remember my dad purchasing this movie on a double VHS special edition. It had an intro before the film by George Lucas and had a Making of featurette. Good memories. Watching this movie years later and understanding the backstory and noticing the subtleties has given a whole new outlook and understanding on the second renowned trilogy. Although flawed and cringe worthy dialogue moments, this and it’s two sequels are worth watching for it’s in depth story and amazing fight scenes that range from duels to epic battles among the stars.

Bargain Bin 2

Many times a movie can slip underneath your nose and you may never have caught a whiff. Bargain Bin is an accumulative set of movies I found underrated or hidden gems. Movies I’d like to bring attention to. You may have seen one, or a few, before but I’d like to dig inside the bin and discuss what we find. Perhaps, you may have found your next ‘Movie Night’ entertainment.

Today, I have a selected list of Animated features that may fancy your itch for something light and fun. And at the same time, being captivated by the artistic worlds the stories are surrounded by.

Watership Down (1978)

The movie opens beautifully with a tell-tale backstory of the Watership Down‘s folklore, then transitions to our main characters Hazel (John Hurt) and Fiver. After a vision, the rabbits decide to move away from their warren to escape the evil humans tearing down their land. What follows is a perilous journey, testing each other’s strengths and wits. Beautifully told and masterfully hand drawn. The film can be quite gruesome at times, with images of blood and flesh tearing; it is said this is the most violent PG film ever made. But it’s balanced by the serene landscape and a fateful bird “[perfectly] landing” some dorky comic relief (if only there was more of it). Watership Down became an instant favorite of mine.

PS: The locations you see are actually based off the map the author, Richard Adams, put in his book. Also is based on some real locations in Hampshire, England.

Song of the Sea (2014)

A film i recently watched and had to tell the world about. This is a movie that could rival Ghibli Studios. The animation and the music was just captivating. Literally. When not much was happening and I got up to get a snack, my eyes were still on the screen. Song of the Sea serenades us a bedtime story inducing lucid dreams. This is one of those moments when a family will look back on and say “remember when we watched-“. A magical movie that reminded me similarities that strung to Spirited Away. I knew nothing of this movie, and i suggest you keep it that way and let yourself become enchanted.

PS: Nominated for best Animated movie of the year. I’d like to also point out the backstory of Irish folklore is very interesting. And a selkie is my spirit animal.

Pom Poko (1994)

Three of my childhood years was spent in Japan, this was when i was exposed to the wonderful world of Ghibli. Since then I have grown up watching these films and I have to say, Pom Poko is one of THE most underrated films i have ever seen. Written by legendary Hayao Miyazaki, tells a story of raccoons trying to save their land from the humans who continue to deforest their home. They’re no ordinary raccoons though, these are shapeshifting raccoons. And they will fight to survive; whether that means they put on a psychadelic, full-on trip-out show to strike fear, or simply blend in. I found myself laughing at some of the going ons because it’s actually quite funny. Yes, Pom Poko took me by full surprise.

PS: Hayao Miyazaki is no stranger to telling stories about ‘humans and their deforestation for their industrial greater good’, Princess Mononoke anyone? Pom Poko is just a little more comical.

Ernest and Celestine (2012)

Another animated feature that became an instant favorite of mine. Ernest and Celestine is a French film, in English, delivering the laughs and, i must say, is quite cute. When Celestine befriends the bear, Ernest, which is taboo, they must depart from the city life, but not without the marshmallows. The authority says other wise hence they have unfinished debts to be repaid. I truly cared for what happened between the newly found friendship as they found they are not that different at all. This movie had me laughing at the expressions being made and other situations, all making me fall in love with the genius behind this creative animation. Simply one anyone will enjoy.

PS: Anyone get a flashback to Totoro when the mouse started poking the bear?

Mary and Max (2009)

Mary and Max is a sweet story about long distance friendship. Based on a true story, Mary lives in Australia and writes to her friend, who she has never met, Max, who is living in a New York apartment and is diagnosed with asberger’s syndrome. They send each other letters about their private lives and sometimes a box of local goodies. The stop motion animation is fun and the different color schemes when bouncing back and forth between Australia and New York really adds to the whole experience; giving each other separate moods. Sometimes the subject matter can be dark or unexpected but it’s hard not to care for their friendship and hoping that they one day meet. I enjoyed this movie, lending me a good few chuckles which lead to a near tearjerking end.

Jurassic Park (1993) – IMDb

via Jurassic Park (1993) – IMDb.


I remember owning this movie on VHS and had my name written on it so people knew whose it was. Jurassic Park had a tremendous influence on me, as it did a whole generation and many to come; it was one of the reasons I fell in love with practical effects and creature features. Steven Spielberg didn’t intend for this movie to be a monster movie but more about what would happen if engineers brought dinosaurs to life and we walked side by side? Universal Studios bought the rights to Jurassic Park before it was even published, confident it would be a box office hit. Right they were. The movie was sold out for consecutive days. David Koepp, the writer, said: “I’m no expert, but I think this is a good movie.” We’re still under the shadow of this colossal movie, having the fourth installment arriving just days away, exactly 22 years after the first was released. It is much anticipated by fans and new comers to sink their teeth into but I feel it won’t have as much a bite as the first initially did. It is epic, beautiful, thought provoking, and a harrowing adventure that friends and families will remember for a lifetime to come.

We all know Steven Spielberg can handle any project he comes into contact with, he has an act for directing with a sense of warmth, suspense and adventure in his pictures. Jurassic Park is clearly a masterpiece. From the special effects to the subtle wit to the dramatic ferociousness and back to the overwhelming, spectacular effects. Stan Winston (Aliens) and his team out did themselves here, the effects are top notch and even subtle. Like when Lex shines a light into the T-Rex’s eye, it dilates; or when the raptor’s eyelids move or nostrils flare. The dinosaurs have so much life, you can see the weight and even their breath on glass. They seem so realistic it’s extraordinary to this day, and the CGI is better than a lot of movies today. The special effects won an award for their hard earned effort and same for the incredible sound. Without the sound, or music, Jurassic Park would have a big difference. The score is beautiful and adventurous and will stay in your head, I even whistle it randomly. The music and sound together adds to it’s over all atmosphere giving it a distinctive feeling, it’s a whole another universe to experience and yet it’s familiar.

In the first hour it’s all character development. The slow burning attribute helps the viewer become aware of what you’re watching and it makes you feel more. It draws you in with the sense of control Spielberg has on the development of the story. You are introduced to an engaging and varied sorts of characters. You have the creator of the amusement park John Hammond, played by Richard Attenborough who was good friends with Spielberg and fits his role. Hammond comes and invites two paleontologists, Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr. Grant (Sam Niell), to visit his monstrous park. Sattler is ready to move forward in a relationship with Grant and have kids but he simply does not like them, must be the smell. Grant is also old fashioned and loves his work but sees technology is making his field more advanced. Although it helps with new discoveries, it takes away the whole experience of digging. Flying over seas via helicopter to an island 150 miles away from Costa Rica you meet Jeff Goldblum’s best fitting character Ian Malcolm, otherwise known as Dr. Chaos. There’s also the blood sucking lawyer, Genarro, who is greedy for money and only cares about convincing his investors; Hammond’s two grand kids who are stellar actors here, and the veteran hunter, Muldoon, who has a close eye on the velociraptors.

From the landing pad to becoming a dinosaur’s next meal is a fun experience on par with a theme park. Exactly one hour in is when the movie kicks in gear and you are treated to the infamous T-Rex scene breaking out of his paddock. Spielberg presents the terrifying creature with precision and horror, taking enough time to invoke this unstoppable fear that will cause chaos.
During filming, when it would rain, the T-Rex would malfunction and come to life and scared some of the crew. Shoot, I would, too, seeing it was a life size man-eater! The crew would give out warning when the monstrous king would step out onto the set since a sweep of it’s head flying by you felt like a bus passing by. Put that into perspective…

Jurassic Park will feed you some scary sequences. John Hammond, the theme park creator, takes his guests to the velociraptor’s paddock just in time to see it fed. You don’t see it, only it’s small area of confinement that’s covered with plant life. A cattle is lowered into the thick. And then the crunching and mauling sound of it being torn to shreds and the plant life shaking and swaying, reacting violently. The feeding scene is excruciatingly terrifying cause your imagination goes to work like the raptor does on the cattle. You also learn these animals have intelligence. What’s more terrifying than intelligence? Intelligence with memory, even more so when you find out it has escaped.

Man and dinosaurs were not meant to walk side by side. There are discussions and themes about it through out the movie. One of my favorite scenes, one that seems to be overlooked (and as a child I found boring) is after the raptor’s snacking when the group gather in a room to discuss the park and have a bite to eat. Although, no one touches their food. In fact Hammond is bewildered that the scientists don’t like the idea of free will to create this life that has been separated from humankind for 65 million years. Especially Ian Malcolm (who has the best lines), who has a morbid sense of humor but is also deep in thought; he is dressed in all black, contrary to John Hammond who is dressed in white. This is symbolic for the two characters. Hammond is a God-like figure. He has been present for every birth on the island and, like birds, they imprint the first face they come into contact with which helps them to trust him. Hammond has the power to create the illusion of life out of free will but failed to have the discipline and responsibility to gain this power therefore not fore seeing the actions he has put into play. Moving up from his flea circus, he wanted something tangible for people to see and touch. But he wants to control the uncontrollable; life finds a way, as Malcolm tries to convey to him the chaos theory. Malcolm has a dark approach but it’s reality. Telling Hammond that life breaks boundaries, painfully and even dangerously. You can not simply control something that wants to be free. It was natural selection that killed the dinosaurs and they were “[raping] the natural world” bringing them back. Hammond’s ignorance and Malcolm’s arrogance are the best of both worlds, providing us deep conversation with intrigue. 

Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park because of his fear of advancing bio-engineering technology and that one day dinosaurs will be back possibly for the sake of entertainment and profit. Something to think about of our future. Also, Crichton compared himself to Malcolm because of his outlook on life and Spielberg to Hammond. If that’s so, than I’m Grant cause I’m not really good with technology either.

We can’t even handle each other, what makes you think we can handle dinosaurs? Steven Spielberg has directed a genuinely smart, timeless epic that inspires me to read the book and will be loved by everyone to come into contact with. This magical movie leaves a message for us and after an unlikely hero saves the day, the ending moments leaves a sweet, melancholy filling. No words are spoken, just the beautiful score to help sink in our survivors’ weekend adventure.

Extra: I’d like to think Wayne Knight’s character Nedry, changed his name from Newman (Sienfeld) who was having financial problems but found a way to fix that. He left his apartment in New York and his post man job to do a gig for a company who wanted dinosaur specimens. His mission: to infiltrate the lab on Site A and acquire dinosaur embryos and return them for large amounts of cash. But when you combine money and greed, you become blinded by a toxic, gooey venom of evil.