All posts by Nick McAfee

Of Aliens and Ethics, the Quandaries of Childhood’s End

Can an externally enforced definition of morality really lead to a lasting utopia?  And is that truly the end goal?  These are the questions that the new SyFy miniseries endeavors to explore in a thoughtfully updated adaptation of Arthur Clarke’s 1950s novel Childhood’s End.  Although Clarke’s novel has been the target of film adaptation before (Stanley Kubrick was interested, but eventually settled with collaborating with Clarke on 2001: A Space Odyssey), this is the first time that we see it realized on the screen.  The three-part novel now exists as three two-hour episodes – six hours of television that you won’t want to miss.

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Seventy Thousand Blows to the Head. All Denied.

“God did not want us to play football,” says Bennet Omalu as played by Will Smith in the new film Concussion. The problem of concussions in American football clearly deserves more attention and this film about the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) aims to provide it. Although a forensic pathologist discovering brain damage in former football players doesn’t make for the most riveting plot, Concussion keeps the viewer engaged with this important issue through the telling of Dr. Omalu’s compelling life story.

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Of Race and Justice, the Strengths of The Hateful Eight

“A Weinstein Company Production. The 8th Movie by Quentin Tarantino” begins The Hateful Eight, introducing the film and its legendary director in the same moment. We are not just seeing a movie called The Hateful Eight or even a Western; we came to the theater to see Tarantino’s latest masterpiece. And this film does not disappoint.

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In Beasts of No Nation, the Nightmare is Bearing Witness

The overarching plot of Beasts of No Nation is fairly formulaic, even sadly predictable. War comes to a small African village; a child’s family is killed; the child survives, but only to become the soldier and the murderer he once hated.

But oversimplifying the story completely minimizes the humanity at the heart of the movie’s details. The movie centers around a young boy name Agu (played by Abraham Attah), the son of a teacher in a small West African village. Since war has not yet actively found its way to where he lives, Agu is first introduced running around his village, earning money wherever he can, and generally being a good kid. But then, war finally arrives. Agu stays behind with the men of his village to protect their home, along with his father, older brother, and grandfather, and after being discovered by government troops, they are accused of being rebel spies, and lined up to be executed. Agu and his brother escape while his father pleads for their lives, but three short bursts from Kalashnikovs later, Agu is left fleeing for his life, alone.

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Defying Convention: a Curvy Comedienne Becomes the Spy

Spy isn’t your typical espionage spoof. While the trailer for the film might suggest it is a movie in the vain of Get Smart, what actually transpires is a lot more engaging, since it offers a great critique on both the espionage action/thriller genre as well as biting commentary on social norms, and expectations. We don’t normally think of great spies as being overweight or socially awkward, but Melissa McCarthy shows that there is a lot more to being a spy than having the looks and debonair sophistication of a James Bond.

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The Big Short, or Banking on Exceptional Acting

I was determined not to like The Big Short.  I felt the subject – the 2008 financial crisis – was both overdone and no longer interesting.  And from the trailers, I felt this movie would be nothing but a more PG version of The Wolf of Wall Street with an annoying self-righteous tone only an Oscar hopeful film can muster.  But I was wrong.  The Big Short is a brilliantly filmed movie which explains the economic collapse in a manner that is both didactic and engaging.  Documentary, mockumentary, drama, thriller . . . whatever genre you want to call this film, it is money.

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Of Trilogies and Old Friends, a New Era for Star Wars

I am an unabashed Star Wars fan.  When I first started watching movies as a teenager, I was introduced to the universe of Star Wars by my cousin.  And when I say the universe, I mean everything.  The movies, the making of documentaries, the books, the games, and even the Legos.  I fell in love with the worlds and characters and spent many hours reading in the extended universe and debating all aspects of the experience of Star Wars.  Needless to say I awaited JJ Abrams’s Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens with the giddy excitement of a puppy and the apprehension of a fan who had been let down by the story and execution of the prequels.  Under JJ’s expert direction and the unlimited resources and power of Disney, I really needn’t have been concerned.

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R.I.P. Agent X: Where Everything Was Secret, Except What Came Next

The basic conceit of Agent X was interesting enough: it followed the story of a secret agent at the vice-president’s disposal who quietly dealt with matters of great importance, crises both foreign and domestic. This rich premise provided ample room for exploring a myriad of settings and storylines, as well as for defeating an unlimited number of adversaries. The American version of James Bond, Agent X could have worked well as a slick TV adaptation of cinema’s iconic 007. But alas, it turned out that James Bond’s American cousin was predictable to the point of boredom and was quickly and unceremoniously cancelled.

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Of Epics and Earthers, Lost in The Expanse

Every year there are two or three promising new sci-fi series that sputter out before finishing their first season. Thanks to some notable failures such as Almost Human, Caprica and even longer lasting shows like Defiance which didn’t maintain the necessary viewership to be successful, television currently lacks a new large-scale science fiction drama that delivers. SyFy’s new show The Expanse, based on the acclaimed novels by James A. Corey, hopes to become the experience we have all been waiting for. Epic worlds, the vastness of space, a compelling story of humanity: The Expanse may succeed in creating and exploring all of these things. Yet although this new show offers an intriguing variety of characters in uniquely detailed worlds, it’s difficult to tell from an uneven and at times confusing pilot if they will combine effectively to create an epic saga.

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Independence Day: Resurgence…because one wasn’t enough

I’ll admit it; when I was younger I loved the first Independence Day movie for what it was.  A good old America hoo-ha action flick that I have watched on many Fourth of Julys.  Was it a great film? Not exactly, but it was memorable for the special effects, the one liners, and the spirit.  Twenty years from the release of the first film, there is now going to be a sequel: Resurgence.  Set in 2016 (and slated for a summer 2016 release date), this movie continues down the alternate timeline in which we were invaded by aliens in 1996.  And what a timeline that is.  The trailer shows how we adapted alien tech to empower our defenses while waiting for the second wave of alien invasion, because like anyone who has ever played Space Invaders knows, there is always another wave coming.

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A Dystopian Future Realized in Blood

Sword fights, intrigue, superpowers, and opium. These are the cornerstones of Into the Badlands, the new and intriguing dystopian martial arts drama on AMC, which is very loosely based on the classic Chinese tale Journey to the West. For a network that has produced such hit shows as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead, a foray into the martial arts genre is an interesting choice. Into the Badlands is a story of a man and his charge journeying, against all odds, in search of both escape from their pasts and enlightenment into the true nature of what surrounds them. And that is a tale I very much want to watch unfold in this grim, ruthless expanse of a possible future.

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