The Lost City of Z

Imagine a time where the idea of a lost city of gold was still a possibility. Places like Atlantis, El Dorado, Libertalia, Shambala, Iram of the Pillars… ok, at this point I’m listing the lost cities featured in the Uncharted video game. Still, the idea is quite enticing. The pull for most explorers are the ideas of vast wealth, unlimited power, immortality, etc. Spanish explorers scoured the Florida peninsula(before it was the U.S. of course) in hope of finding the fabled Fountain of Youth. Stories and myths from explorers and conquistadors has inspired countless stories that still sparks the imagination of people today.

At the dawn of the 20th century, a British explorer, Percy Fawcett discovers evidence of a previously unknown civilization and returns again and again in hopes of actually finding this lost city. This is the premise of The Lost City of Z.
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This movie is not your typical adventure story. This is nothing like Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, etc. I wouldn’t even classify it as an adventure. Not that it is boring, since it’s anything but. It’s the drama that unfolds giving us insights to the mind and the heart of Percy Fawcett.

We find early on that his father has tainted his family name through drunkiness and gambling. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) has been presented with an opportunity to redeem the family name by undertaking an expedition to explore unknown territories of the Amazons. Leaving his wife (Sienna Miller) and children (Tom Holland plays his oldest) behind, Fawcett joins his army friend Henry Costin (an unrecognizable Robert Pattinson), a native guide, and additional men from a rubber plantation and journeys up an unexplored river in the jungle. After what seems to be a peaceful journey, the group is encounters hostile natives but before being forced to return Fawcett stumbles upon shards of pottery indicating the possibility of a highly developed ancient civilization, a place he refers to as Z.

Fawcett returns to home to present his findings only to come against ridicule from the scientific community who regarded the the indigenous people as savages. With the support of his wife and his companions, he is able to make more returns to the Amazon in hopes to be able to dig deeper into the Jungle and prove his naysayers wrong. The real Fawcett actually went on 7 expeditions whereas the movie only shows 3.

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The focal point of this movie is the drama that unfolds between each exploration. The separation of family and personal ambition. Percy is driven almost to the point of madness to find Z, but he leaves behind his growing family. By being gone for extended periods of time(years). He even leaves again because of a short stint of serving in the first World War. All this culminates the tension he feels between being with his family and discovering Z.

The movie is well shot and well acted. Not a single talent is wasted and that is refreshing. I’m expecting big things from Tom Holland. He continues to impress me with his emotional range. With a compelling script and an unhurried pace, Writer/director James Grey takes us on journey of curiosity and obsession.

I can’t imagine most people enjoying this at the theater. There was one moment where my mind drifted off. However by the end, I wanted to see more. I do have to iterate that this isn’t Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stones. Despites a couple intense moments, there’s no major action set pieces. Except for the few intense momentd there’s no adventurous thrills. Nobody is swinging from vines. No hidden traps triggering shooting poison darts. Just the dramatic indepth look at Percy Fawcett.

13 Reasons Why

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It became clear to me several weeks ago that there were going to be times I would need to choose to watch a show because it needed to be reviewed rather than just for the sake of my own entertainment. 13 Reasons Why is my first example of such a decision. I usually stay away from shows about teenage drama because, well honestly, I just don’t care about it. Usually it’s bad acting about problems I can’t relate to set to terrible music, and not just because I’m a crabby old person.

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Salty Sue, my inner old lady

I didn’t like teenage dramas when I was a teenager either. I knew this has been a book, which always garners a little more respect from me, and then Googling revealed that it was a show about suicide. My decision was made. It was too important to not watch.

Television is just like any other art form; some pieces are flippant and fun, some are interesting and mind bending, and a very few are important. They aren’t necessarily made to be enjoyed, they are made to educate, to shed light in an area overcome with darkness, to jar us out of our ignorance and expose us to truth. Make no mistake, I didn’t enjoy watching 13 Reasons Why, but I needed to see it.

We have two main characters to follow in this story: first is Hannah, played by Katherine Langford, the character who throws everyone’s life into chaos when she leaves behind tapes for 13 people to listen to, listing their actions that have lead her to debilitating hopelessness and ultimately suicide. Then we have Clay, played beautifully by Dylan Minnette, the usually sweet, quiet, social nobody that loved her. We follow Clay on his journey through Hannah’s story and through his grief-stricken responses to each tape.

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I don’t want to give away much about what happens, because I think that just about everyone should watch this at some point. I mean, I think it might even need to be played in schools. Just be prepared: there is something, at least one thing, in this story to which you will react viscerally. The rest of it you’ll watch and think, “That’s so terrible! This poor girl!” or maybe, “Okay, that sucks, but it will pass, just hang in there.” But then it will hit you, a scene that hits fairly close to home for you or that you can relate to with stunning clarity and you will cry. It will be messy. You will not feel better afterwards.

For me, it was the scene where her mother finds her dead in her bathtub. I didn’t realize they would show her actually committing suicide, so it took me a little off guard, then to watch her mother walk in on it was just… Pain. I’ve never lost a child, but I’ve lost both parents and several close family members and I know the initial feeling of helplessness when you realize you can’t try to make anything better for them ever again.

The dialog can be a little stilted and unbelievable at times, there are a couple of characters who’s existence I don’t understand (which could honestly be blamed on the transition from book to show) and there’s not a lot of character development except for Clay, the transition of Hannah from decently happy to angst-ridden-to-the-point-of-suicide is a little glossed over. These are very small complaints, honestly. I’m just a critiquer. Watch it anyway. It’s important. To borrow a line from the show, make sure you’re in the right head space for it and if you have some fairly sensitive triggers, maybe don’t watch it alone. Once you do, you will, hopefully, be reminded of the importance to love better, learn faster and connect fully.

Fate of the Furious

Has summer blockbuster season begun or is this a tease of what’s to come?

I’ll admit that the Fast and Furious franchise is not really the kind movies I’m super excited about. I’m not a car guy for one thing, nor do I get a kick out of (illegal) street races. However, as the series went on, it evolved into a more ridiculous “what kind of crazy stunts can we do with cars” sort of film surrounding Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker and their ragtag crew. Add in Dwayne the Rock Johnson and Jason Statham then you have an action franchise that is basically pure adrenaline or nitrous I should say. Just leave your brain at the door and enjoy the ride. What makes this franchise work is that the films know how ridiculous they are and uses that as their platform.

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8 movies later, after Vin and crew promised this story will continue on after the passing of Paul Walker. If anything, they do it for him.

The primary theme of the FF franchise is built around the idea of family. With constant reminder from Dominic Toretto (Vin) that you don’t turn against family. Fate of the Furious has him breaking the very rule that pretty much kept him alive. Of course, it’s far deeper than that and for spoilers sake, you’ll have to watch the movie to know why.

Let’s briefly talk about the real reason why people come to these movies, the crazy stunts and the wise cracks between the leads. Last movie had them flying out of an airplane and jumping between skyscrapers. Let me just put, briefly, 3 of the insane ideas that they have put into this movie. A monstrous wrecking ball, a big ass submarine controlled by a ghost plane, and zombie cars. Yes, zombie cars. Trust me. It’s pretty insane and a pretty cool action set. Definitely kept me engaged through the whole movie.

 

Amidst all the insanity that the FF series bring to the big screen, it’s the returning cast plus a few new additions, as well as the antagonist(s) that keeps the franchise going. Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez continue their drama as Dominic Toretto and Letty carrying the emotional weight of the movie as newlyweds. Dom has gone rogue leaving Letty and his family behind, drama ensues.

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It seems you can’t have these movies now without Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and his wisecracks. Roman, I feel, is the one character who brings a little sense of reality. The idea of being chased down by a submarine is pretty ridiculous, and Roman lets us know over and over with each ludicrous stunt they find themselves performing.

Speaking of ludicrous, Ludacris returns as wise crackin’ techie. Usually paired up with Roman cracking jokes with each other and admiring the ladies. It’s interesting to see his character evolve from 2 Fast 2 Furious as an illegal street race aficionado and tech geek, especially when it pertains to cars, to full on tech genius/hacker with tech skills good enough to rival Anonymous. However, he has Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel) who takes up most of the hacking job.

The villain of this movie is Cipher (Charlize Theron) who you can probably guess by the typical name is the world best hacker with a bone to pick. She recruits Dominic and turns him against his family. Her character here runs in the same vein of her evil witch queen, Ravenna in both The Huntsman: Winter’s War and Snow White and the Huntsman. Instead of magic, she hacks computers.

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The real scene stealer in F8 belongs to both Dwayne The Rock Johnson and Jason Statham. Hobbs, the Rock, is the ultimate muscle of the group. He takes on a superhuman persona wiping out anyone who stands in his way by a simple punch. And when I say punch, I don’t mean like a boxer’s jab. I mean, a punch to the chest will send you flying through the walls. With him paired with Statham, it makes for great eye candy. They talk smack to each other while performing their stunts. Without getting into spoilery details, Deckard (Statham) is brought back this time to help the team take out Cipher and Dom. I will say that it’s doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to have the main bad guy of the previous movie who caused quite a bit of mayhem and even kills Han to being accepted, sort of, as part of the team. But like I said earlier, just leave your brain at the door. I will say, Statham has what is probably my favorite scene out of the whole movie.

Seriously though, if you’re looking for a good time? Go see Fate of the Furious. It’s exactly the kind of action comedy to see on the big screen. Plenty of laughs and thrills to be had. That’s my Noble Opinion.

Big Little Lies

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I wasn’t going to review this originally because HBO kept saying it was a miniseries and those aren’t really my review bag. I like to try to get people interested in shows that are still going and will be back for another season, rather than limited engagement TV. It’s just who I am, I’m not a love ’em and leave’ em kind of girl. In a world of baby daddies, I’m the guy that gets you pregnant and then marries you.

Recently, however, Liane Moriarty, the author of the book Big Little Lies, confirmed that she was in talks with HBO about a possible season 2. Which… I am INCREDIBLY excited about! HBO has a helluva reputation when it comes to TV. I mean, Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos? These aren’t great shows, these are iconic! I can’t say that Little Big Lies is necessarily on par with those shows, it’s only been one season after all, but it has a lot of promise.

The first thing that stuck out to me, and honestly the best thing about the show, was how wonderfully developed the female characters are. So often I watch shows, shows that I even enjoy, where so much is put into developing the male characters and making them different while the female characters are more like decoration. They generally fall into one of three categories: uptight, rule-following worrier, damsel in distress that likes to feign independence or bad-ass loner and they get NO development beyond their archetypes. In BLL, there are no categories with the female characters. They could be actual women that you know and are maybe even friends with. I feel like I got to know each of them on an intimate level, every strength and weakness, every mistake and motivation. It was… Refreshing!

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Madelyn, played by Reese Witherspoon, could very easily just be cast as the shows resident mean girl, and she definitely makes some mean girl type decisions, but her character doesn’t stop at that. Instead, we’re shown a woman who would do anything for her friends, who is loyal and open and artistic. Who is conflicted and pulled between love of her husband and family and her need for excitement.

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Nicer Face

Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman, is more than just your average abused woman character. She is a strong, independent, highly educated woman who just has her eyes shut very tightly to her circumstances. You see the pattern of abuse displayed, it’s clear that she is a victim, it’s just as clear that she sees her husband’s actions as wrong but thinks he just needs a little help. I specifically enjoyed Celeste because of her several dissonant characteristics.

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Wine Face

Renata, played by Laura Dern, doesn’t get quite as much development as the others since she isn’t a central character and is more used as an opposing force for Madelyn. Even this woman, however, isn’t just a run-of-the-mill character. She is the working mom of the ensemble, a CEO of a large company that feels constantly judged for choosing to work and have a family and is so concerned that her daughter may be missing out on something or being mistreated because of it.

The other female characters are just as well developed and intriguing, though the male characters are sort of your standard, go to male character types. It’s very clear that they are the minor characters on this show. I would say that I’d like to see some more character development from the male characters next season, but I won’t be extremely disappointed if that doesn’t happen. This is definitely the best new show this year I’ve seen so far. I would highly recommend this show, especially to anyone that is an avid reader. The attention to detail and reality of the characters are two things that I love about well written books, and those things abound in this series.

The drama is intense, the story is compelling, the acting is, obviously, incredible, and the perspectives of the different characters are gripping. If you’re a fan of dramatic shows, you’re GOING to like this and, honestly, you may still like it even if you’re not.

Life

In space where no one can hear you scream. Wait. No… Wrong movie.

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Life is a team of scientists aboard the ISS who studies samples from Mars and discover the first signs of life beyond Earth. Only to find this life-form is far dangerous to bring home to Earth. The crew must find a way to kill it before it kills them and find its way to Earth.

The crew consists of the generic combination which I assume is needed when you have a space mission. You need a doctor, a disease control specialist, an engineer, a biologist of some sort, some form of security, and the pilot/captain. One of the positive thing I’ve noticed was the movie doesn’t follow one central lead. The characters that shine more are the ones that survives longer. To avoid any major spoilers, each actors given their time frames do extremely well, particularly Jake Gyllenhaal. His capabilities to bring real honest human emotions given the circumstances is a testament of his acting credibility. And of course, Reynolds is given his wisecrack schtick.

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The alien is a force to be reckoned with. Once developed, there’s a sense of dread and fear that harkens back to Ridley Scott’s Alien. The influence of the Alien franchise is definitely evident but despite what several professional critics have expressed, the movies do have their differences. The creature of Life is definitely creepy, and like Alien, you can’t help but wonder where it’s going to be next. There’s a few nail-biting scenes that makes it worth the watch if you’re into these kind of movies.

The film’s pace moves along quickly and it doesn’t lose its narrative structure. Despite the intensity of the suspense, it does fall into a little bit of predictability.

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The special effects and the set designs are done really well. We are given some of the gnarliest death scenes I’ve seen on film in a while. Kudos, to the sfx team on that one.

If you’re into these kind of movies, Life could be worth the watch. Might be more fun for a watch at home with the lights off. That’s my honest Noble opinion. But hey, Alien: Covenant comes out soon so at least Life will whet your appetite until then.