New Poster of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent (Updated)

Maleficent

Image courtesy of Gotcha Movies

Disney has released a new poster for their upcoming movie, Maleficent, and I honestly don’t like it. It’s too cartoon-y!

Update:

This is a fan-made poster from Chris Christodoulou. Thanks for clearing it up! Here is Chris’s DeviantArt page with the poster.

You can check out more of his work at his website.

 

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A Wild Cersei Lannister Appears: Trailer for 300 Rise of an Empire

The international trailer for 300: Rise of an Empire is out.

The movie will be out summer next year and will feature naval warfare. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, ‘Xerxes’, the movie is a highly-stylized action flick with lots of gore and abdominal muscles. This time, Greek general, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), is out to face the advancing Persian army of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Artemisia (Eva Green). Lena Headey also reprises her role as Queen Gorgo.

The film is directed by Noam Murro (Smart People) while Snyder remains as producer and writer.

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The Choice of Survival: A Review of The Pianist

Amidst pain and suffering, man’s grip for his life endures with unrelenting thirst for survival. The world is filled with death yet even death cannot corrupt the indomitable strength of the human spirit—that longing and hope for something better; the motivation to put one foot ahead of the other in the never-ending struggle to continue on living. Such is what The Pianist tells and such is what Polanski wants to convey: to hold on to life and to the realization that one’s survival is solely on the care of oneself.

The Pianist

Szpilman in the Warsaw Ghetto
(Image courtesy of Masters of Cinema)

The Pianist tells the story of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish pianist. The film is told against the backdrop of the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the anti-Semitic war of Germany. After Poland’s defeat, Nazi Germany quickly starts their “cleansing” by first prohibiting Jews from employment and forcing them to wear an armband with the Star of David. Eventually, the Szpilman family, along with hundreds of other Jews, are placed in the Warsaw Ghetto where life swiftly turns for the worse. There they constantly struggle to survive against starvation and maltreatment. By 1942, the family are transferred to one of Nazi Germany’s extermination camps but Władysław survives after the intervention of his friend from the Jewish Ghetto Police. From there, Szpilman manages to linger on: working in hard labor, and escaping and hiding with the aid of a succession of non-Jewish friends. After hiding for quite some time, Szpilman carries on in a building among the ruined city, and there meets Wilm Hosenfeld, who, after hearing him play, feeds him and ensconces him in the attic. The Germans retreat from Poland in 1945 after the initiative of the Russians. Szpilman is once again free.

The film is an adaptation of the autobiography of Władysław Szpilman with the same title. The most striking feature of The Pianist is that it is also a narrative of the director’s struggles during the Second Word War. Polanski is also a Holocaust survivor, and The Pianist gives him a platform to tell the story of Szpilman with a high degree of authenticity. This provides the film with a palpable atmosphere that is impressively visceral. It is visceral due to its unapologetic display of starvation, hopelessness, and cruelty. It takes the audience to the core of the plight of the Jews during the Second Word War by showing inhumanity through streets lined with dead bodies, physical and emotional torments by the Nazi guards, and imageries of desperation. This is further emphasized by Polanski’s use of fades to highlight the subtle contrast between life and death.

Szpilman experiences great adversity, and the film expertly depicts his descent from cool to tortured with seamless successions of false hopes and continued essays. First, he is separated from his family only to fall victim to slave labor. Second, he escapes from the Warsaw Ghetto with the help of his friend and hides in a German-occupied apartment. Third, after absconding, he beseeches the aid of another non-Jew connection who conceals and locks him in a room. He suffers from jaundice while in hiding, and eventually is forced to flee after Germans bomb his place of refuge. Finally, he holes himself up in an abandoned building among the ruins of the city only to be discovered by a German officer. His misfortune seems to end when Hosenfeld keeps him in the attic and feeds him regularly. Unfortunately, Hosenfeld leaves him with a coat, which places him in peril against the Red Army. In the end, Szpilman succeeds in triumphing over his many terrible ordeals.

Szpilman’s endurance and constant hold to life signify the personal nature of survival. That is, despite the help of others, one’s quest for continuation ultimately lies on oneself. It also suggests a choice: keep on moving or accept defeat. Szpilman need not survive. The terrible loss of his family is enough for him to end future suffering. That loss cannot be recovered—it is as lasting as his waltz with death is fleeting. The room with the piano that he cannot touch mirrors this loss. There the piano rests within his reach but he cannot play it. He can choose to but that would risk being discovered and possibly killed. He could have stroke those keys but he chooses to move on and assert his own survival.

In the end, the film conveys a message that there are indeed two choices in life: live or die. It does not need a special circumstance to force oneself to choose. In Szpilman’s and Polanski’s case, the choice requires utmost urgency. For the rest of us, at least, the choice is as compelling as selecting which foot to move forward ahead of the other.

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This is Beorn

Beorn

Image courtesy of TheOneRing.net

The first (terribly low-quality) still of Beorn from the Desolation of Smaug was leaked. It’s real since Warner asked the original source to take down the photo. I was hoping for them not to cut out Beorn from the film and my wish came true! However, unless Beorn morphs into a porcupine, I am not feeling that haircape. 

A bit of background: Gandalf said that Beorn is “very strong” and he is a “skin-changer.” In fact, Beorn transforms into a bear, along with others like him. Also, he likes stories and lives with giant bees.

And no folks, this is not Ron Perlman’s seminal television series, Beauty and the Beast. Although that point is still moot.

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5 Figures That Should Have a Hollywood Treatment

I’ve been lately sucked into the abyss of Listverse, spending hours reading lists which contained anything from creepy serial killers to useless facts about hamburgers. So in the spirit of lists, I thought of creating one myself. Here are five people whose life in my opinion should grace the silver screen.

5. John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

Image courtesy of the New York Times

Not only because I love Economics but also that John Maynard Keynes is an interesting figure whose work changed the landscape of economic policymaking during the Second World War. His contributions to modern macroeconomic theory helped put to light the importance of the combined market activities of every economic player in shaping long-term economic well-being. His life, though might put some snores into some, will bring a good view of how the global market was during the Great Depression and how governments tackled the issue of the catastrophic recession by adopting a completely radical approach in policymaking.

4. Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace

Image courtesy of IBN Live

There is something endearing about period films but it could be even more interesting if the heroine is some badass mathematician and programming progenitor. Ada Lovelace is certainly a fit for any computer science aficionado. Her work on the Analytical Engine provided the world with the first algorithm intended for a machine. I’m imagining fabulous nightly balls sprinkled with furious note-taking à la John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. Just throw in the Keira Knightly and Joe Wright tandem and we’re done!

3. Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus

Image courtesy of Times of Ummah

Another entry for Economics, Muhammad Yunus is a Nobel-Prize-winning banker whose landmark work on alleviating poverty in Bangladesh created the very existence of microfinancing. Yunus established the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to help those who cannot qualify for a conventional loan borrow money virtually free from collateral. He has helped motivate productivity in impoverished towns by simply believing in an individual’s human potential. And his contribution to women’s welfare could also create an excellent nuance to a movie adaptation of his life.

2. Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin

Image courtesy of CWP at UCLA

Who doesn’t know Watson and Crick, the Nobel-Prize-winning duo who introduced the double helix structure of the DNA to the world? Yet a better question would be: Who knows Rosalind Franklin? Unfortunately, it would only be a handful. The woman is practically unknown save for those whose career is built on genetics and the like. Rosalind Franklin dedicated her life to her work on understanding the structure of the DNA. The data she gathered throughout her work were used by Watson and Crick to formally understand the DNA structure. It’s high time for some people to recognize just how much Rosalind Franklin contributed to the understanding of the basic component of life.

1. Alan Turing

Alan Turing

Image courtesy of Hylbom

Finally, the second Computer Science entry to this list, Alan Turing should absolutely have the Hollywood treatment. He was an all-around genius, helping break German codes using the Bombe during the Second World War. He envisioned the first stored-program computer before the computer (as we modern folks know it) was even invented. His work on artificial intelligence paved the way for further research on the field and established the Turing Test as the baseline for determining whether a machine could be considered “intelligent” or not. There is no better time than now to introduce Alan Turing as our society becomes more and more technologically integrated.

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Desolation of Smaug

Where have I been?

Apparently, the trailer for the second part of The Hobbit have been out since June. For something which I have been eagerly anticipating, it’s astounding how much I’ve forgotten about this one. Nevertheless, here it is and I’m excited! This part of the book is, in my humble opinion, the best part. Mirkwood, Lake-town, Ungoliant’s spawn, Wood elves, Thranduil! Did I mention Thranduil? I just hope they don’t cut out Beorn.

The trilogy is slowly building up, so it’s safe to say that this one would probably end just before the Battle of the Five Armies.

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Morality in Outer Space: A Review of Star Wars IV

Star Wars

Luke (left), Leia (center), and Han (right) inside the Death Star (Image courtesy of The Guardian UK)

Many science-fiction films these days rely heavily on computer-generated imagery or more popularly abbreviated as CGI. We have certainly gained tremendous strides in technological advancement and a considerable amount of the effort was harnessed in creating films that defy the laws of physics and reality to the full extent. It is understandable, therefore, that an audience coming from the recent millennium, having been exposed to the dazzle of modern cinematic wizardry, would appreciate a film such as Star Wars less than that of, say, Avatar what with all of the latter’s cutting-edge technological prowess. But as film analyses go—or any form of art criticisms, for that matter—one should not take the movie out of the context of its time.

Star Wars was groundbreaking. Released in 1977, the movie from George Lucas was one of the trailblazers in movie special effects, utilizing miniatures and clever camera work to create a milieu that traversed galaxies and compressed the universe within the confines of the silver screen.

The story is set amidst a background of galactic civil war: The Rebel Alliance is gathering its might to rise up against the oppressive Galactic Empire. It opens with the abduction of a ship, which is revealed later to carry Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), a rebel leader, and two robots: C-3P0 and R2-D2. The Empire, along with the main antagonist Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), is out to crush the Rebel Alliance and, having caught Leia, are determined to find their base. They plan to accomplish the task using their weapon Death Star, a massive moon-like ship that is capable of obliterating an entire planet. The main hero is then introduced to be Luke Skywalker, a desert farmer and floating-vehicle enthusiast, who happen to come across C-3PO and R2-D2 after the two robots were jettisoned from the abducted ship and subsequently captured by Jawa traders, a race of small, cloaked scavengers and tinkerers. Leia cleverly hid a distress hologram message, along with crucial information about the Death Star, in the memory of R2-D2, which must be delivered to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), probably the last remaining Jedi Knight, the order of lightsaber-wielding and Force-using defenders of galactic peace. The message beseeches Obi-Wan to help and to deliver the information in Alderaan, Leia’s home planet, which is later on used as the subject for the demonstration of Death Star’s destructive power. The adventure officially begins after Luke and Obi-Wan departed for Alderaan. Obi-Wan later hires smuggler Han Solo and Wookie, Chewbaca. The colorful team, on board Millennium Falcon, sets forth to Alderaan only to find it destroyed. They then are afterward captured by the Death Star and action ensues: laser-beams against laser-beams; Stormtroopers falling one by one; and finally rescuing Princess Leia and going to Yavin IV to hatch a plan to destroy the Death Star, which they managed to accomplish after exploiting its weakness.

The movie plays on the significant theme of good-versus-evil, morality and the inevitable triumph of the human spirit. The Force is very symbolic of human moral dichotomy. The Jedi Knights use the Force for good, manipulating its power to help the weak and to preserve peace. Darth Vader (as the term Sith was not introduced until the Phantom Menace) utilizes it for his selfish goals and acquires it from jealousy, fear and basically everything else consensually considered bad. Star Wars makes use of this rivalry to set the tone for the narrative and to provide a clear delineation between the antagonists and the protagonists, at least for the majority of the characters. The entire story revolves and maneuvers around this theme but the movie is also nuanced by adding moral uncertainty. Indeed, real life is not black and white; there is a subtle gradation, even on the issue of morality. And despite being larger than life and tackling themes on a galactic scale, the film’s use of Han Solo as a morally abstruse smuggler makes all the difference. Solo is the movie’s subtle grey area. In the midst of the battle between good and evil, there still exists one person whose loyalty remains nebulous—at least during the final moment when Solo decides to place his bets on the Alliance. Throughout the second half of the movie, Solo is portrayed as a lone wolf, someone who plays by his own rules. Yet even in real life, there will come a time when everyone must choose their side, and he resolves to side on the forces of good, eventually taking victory against the evil Empire.

It is clear that Star Wars is focused on expounding its theme using the overall story. The film fails on the area of character three-dimensionality. Save for Han Solo, the development of other characters are less emphasized. Leia, for instance, falls flat on giving a worthy emotion of distress and alarm when her planet was destroyed. The only fault of the movie is indeed on its reluctance to explore the facets of human character and to veer away from the dangers of one-dimensionality.

It is worth noting, however, that Star Wars is a space opera. As such, its story is told using characters, themes and settings on a large scale. Like soaps, the movie’s narrative is also open-ended; there is potential for exploring the characters more and the ending is intentionally obscured to give way to possibilities. The latter is evidenced by the escape of Darth Vader during the film’s denouement, which provides an opportunity for further storytelling (again demonstrated by several sequels and prequels). Lucas, in addition, openly admitted to being influenced by Kurosawa. Having also exposed myself to many of Kurosawa’s film (Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Sanjuro still remain on top of my list), the influence is noticeable. Yojimbo, for instance, centers on a character caught in the middle of a dangerous rift between rival crime families. Han Solo is the movie’s ronin only less fleshed out to give way to the overall narrative. Also, the film’s use of C-3PO and R2-D2 as comic relief mirrors Kurosawa’s Tahei and Matashichi in Hidden Fortress. Yet despite these influences, Star Wars manages to stand on its own and to make a mark in movie history as one of the most timeless pieces of science-fiction cinema.

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