Saturday, June 29, 2013

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Movie Review: World War Z (2013)

Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos in World War Z (2013) based on Max Brooks novel

UN Investigator, Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family, wife Karin Lane (Mireille Enos) and daughters Constance Lane (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel Lane (Abigail Hargrove) are out driving on the streets as zombies are let loose all around them. Being the lead protagonists, they (obviously) survive the odds.

In fact, this happens a number of times in the movie. By the time, Pitt's character escapes from a mid-air flight zombie attack, I knew the movie had lost me. The studio is aiming for a lucrative franchise and killing off Brad Pitt's character is an obvious no-no. That just does not make any sense from a business perspective.

This reminded me of the repeated close shaves for the lead characters from the movie 2012. Of course, the argument can be made that this is what usually happens in a disaster flick. At least with 2012, Columbia Pictures had the decency of not trying to build a movie franchise.

Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos in World War Z (2013) based on Max Brooks novel

Coming back to the movie, the plot involves Pitt's character trying to find a cure for the global epidemic. There are a couple of scenes of massive zombie attacks that are executed competently.

The movie hits all the usual notes - Brad Pitt giving a lot of heroic/reaction shots, lots (and I mean lots) of screaming from Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove as Constance Lane and Rachel Lane respectively, Mireille Enos as the stoic wife, characters thrown in peril and (most significantly) the main protagonist surviving even as supporting characters and tons of extras perish.

Fana Mokoena and Pierfrancesco Favino with Brad Pitt in World War Z (2013) based on Max Brooks novel

Speaking of supporting characters, it is the actors playing them who make the best impression. Fana Mokoena, James Badge Dale, David Morse and Daniella Kertesz breathe some life into this movie, that often embraces the spirit of the undead.

Director Marc Foster and Brad Pitt on the sets of World War Z (2013) based on Max Brooks novel

Marc Foster delivers another workmanlike product. It is no wonder that Quantum of Solace is the only dull entry to feature Daniel Craig's enjoyable turn as James Bond.

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I have not read the book, but by all accounts Max Brooks' book is a smartly written take on global geopolitics against the backdrop of zombie attack. The movie on the other hand, sacrifices such nuances and is content to being a generic summer blockbuster, with hopes of a profitable franchise. Very much like the recent Superman dud, Man of Steel.

Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos fight against zombie attack in World War Z (2013) based on Max Brooks novel

Recommended only to die-hard fans of Brad Pitt and/or zombie genre. For readers looking for enjoyable zombie movies, I would suggest genre master George A. Romero's original movies, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, 28 Days Later and Dead Snow.

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Image Sources: Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions, Plan B Entertainment

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Movie Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Henry Cavill Man of Steel movie review 2013

The movie combines the plots of Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman 2 (1980). The opening prologue of Man of Steel shows Krypton's destruction and Kal-El being sent to Earth. Similar to Superman 2, General Zod travels to Earth. Throw in some parts of Batman Begins and hey presto, you get Man of Steel.

I am not going to the plot details as there is not much to write about there. The plot has a number of holes though, which I will avoid to keep this review spoiler free.

The movie, if nothing else, shows the power of marketing. The marketing campaign for this movie has been nothing short of brilliant. The trailers and TV spots did an amazing job of presenting the movie as a must watch summer movie event. Unfortunately, the movie fails to live up to its hype. And I mean failure on an epic scale.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El on Krypton in Man of Steel (2013)

Kryptonians are supposed to be an advanced civilization but fly on dragon like flying beasts. There are flying spacecrafts too. The movie cannot decide whether it is belongs to the science fiction genre or the fantasy genre. Oh wait, it is a superhero movie, featuring Supes.

The acting is surprisingly weak, considering the star cast. Characterizations are either non-existent or just wrong.

Diane Lane as Martha Kent in Man of Steel (2013)

Take the example of Martha Kent. Diane Lane's performance is limited to her wardrobe and her only effective scene is the one where she gets to counsel a very young Clark (Cooper Timberline) who is terrified after a manifestation of his x-ray vision.

Ditto for Amy Adams' Lois Lane. One of the main appeals of Clark-Lois dynamics is the fact that Lois is unaware of Supes' secret identity. 

Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Laurence Fishburne as Perry White in Man of Steel (2013)

As silly as Supes' secret identity is, it is still one of the benchmarks of the Supes mythology. Man of Steel gets rid of this aspect and this pretty much removes any scope for the classic Supes-Lois romance.

Henry Cavill as Clark Kent Kal-El Supes in Man of Steel (2013)

On the other end of the writing spectrum are the characters of Supes himself and Jor-El. Henry's version of Supes/Clark Kent is a dullard. Moping around like Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne does not a Clark Kent make. Neither does Henry Cavill's school of acting that alternates between 2 expressions: blank faced or constipated.

Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline as a younger Clark Kent in Man of Steel (2013)

To put Henry's performance in perspective, I would say that both Dylan Sprayberry and Cooper Timberline make a better impression as younger versions of Clark, even though they have a fraction of the screen time compared to Cavill.

Henry is quite a handsome looking chap and looks brawny when he goes shirtless. In my humble opinion, his is the most boring version of Supes and possibly the worst as well. Without giving anything away, I will direct the readers to the movie climax to drive home this point.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El in Man of Steel (2013)

Equally nonsensical is Jor-El's characterization. To the best of my knowledge, Jor-El has been a scientist on Krypton. Marlon Brando's version captured that aspect. Russell Crowe plays Jor-El as a scientist version of Maximus Decimus Meridius from Gladiator. Russell's Jor-El kicks, punches, shoots, dives and jumps on the back of flying dragons. Quite an all-rounder indeed. The less said about Jor-El's later appearances the better. Still, Russell delivers a watchable performance.

Michael Shannon as General Zod in Man of Steel (2013)

Michael Shannon is on auto-pilot mode and gives a one-note performance as General Zod. His is a glare-stare-shout performance and nothing else. The actors, especially Michael Shannon and Ayelet Zurer seem to be at line reading sessions. Perhaps, performing going against green screens did not inspire them to do anything beyond simple line reading exercises. Interestingly, Henry Cavill and even Amy Adams resort to such antics in their scenes together and it is quite a stretch to believe their romance subplot.

Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel (2013)

The best performances are by Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent and Antje Traue as Faora Ul. Kevin gives a believable performance as Jonathan Kent, who wants the best for Clark. He consistently advises Clark to hide his powers (another red flag as far as the comics is concerned). Still, Kevin's performance is one of the best ones.

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Antje Traue as Faora-Ul in Man of Steel (2013)

But the true scene stealer is Antje Traue. As Sub-Commander Faora-Ul, Zod's right hand, she exudes arrogance and pure evil. Hers is a fun performance and the movie comes alive when she is onscreen. The casting department definitely made the right choice (atleast) for this role.

The same cannot be said for the special effects department. It is painfully obvious that we are watching a computer generated special effect flying around, when it is supposed to be Henry Cavill as Supes. This happens a number of times in the movie and makes one wonder where did all the (supposedly) 200 million dollar plus budget went into.

I suppose a significant amount was spent on the Krypton sequence. For my money, I would have skipped that sequence and instead spent the budget on getting the Supes flight/fight scenes executed in a believable way. After all, this is the 21st century and Man of Steel should have more believable flight/fight sequences than the Chris Reeve movies. Between a Chris Reeve on wires scene vs weak CGI superman shots, I would gladly choose the former.

Henry Cavill as Superman in Man of Steel (2013)
The special effects in Man of Steel are not always this good
Hans Zimmer's nonstop bombastic score is one of his least effective works in recent times. I could make out only one theme being repeated aloud or quietly, depending on the scene in question.

One way to get through the movie is to play the "Spot the Product placements" game. I spotted Nikon, IHOP, 7-Eleven and Sears. There are some more and I encourage the readers to look out for these.

This is lazy movie-making at its best. Warner Bros. must be desperate for a new franchise (now that The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Harry Potter series are over). Marvel's continuous success probably did not help either.

Marvel Studios did the right thing in getting directors who delivered adaptations with appropriate tone for each comic book character. For a fun character like Iron Man, they brought Jon Favreau on board. For a mythological character like Thor, they hired respected Shakespearean actor/director, Kenneth Branagh.

Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder on Man of Steel (2013)
Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder
Warner Bros does not seem to care about these basic but crucial points. The critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight Trilogy seems to have become the Kryptonite of Man of Steel. The similarities between Man of Steel and Batman Begins are quite obvious. The back and forth narrative structure that worked so well in Batman Begins, results in an uneven tone for Man of Steel. No surprise there, as Zack Snyder is no Chris Nolan. The movie is all about (unimaginative) visual spectacle and (badly executed) special effects.

The horror story is set to continue as Warner Bros. has already signed up Snyder and writer David S. Goyer for the sequel.

DC Comics has been the major player on the animated scene. Its dominance in Hollywood has been eclipsed in the recent past by Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I am sure Warner Bros/DC Comics wanted to challenge Marvel Studios' lucrative MCU movies with a new franchise that was supposed to be kicked off by Man of Steel and presumably lead to a Justice League movie. MCU fans can relax. Man of Steel may be a commercial success, but is no match from a critical perspective. This is just a boring movie with no humor, weak script/characterizations and very poorly executed special effects.

I have been a lifelong fan of Supes and Bats. As surprised I am to write this, I will be lying if I put it in any other way: Skip Man of Steel and watch the classic 
Christopher Reeve movies or Smallville or Superman/Batman: Public Enemies or Superman vs. The Elite or All-Star Superman instead. One of these even features Bats. And of course, there is the always enjoyable and far superior The Dark Knight Trilogy. 

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Image Sources: Warner Bros., Legendary Pictures, Syncopy

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Movie Review: Superman 2 (1980)

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Superman and Lois Lane in Superman 2 (1980)

Interestingly, there are two different versions of the movie available. Richard Donner shot two movies simultaneously with the intention of releasing them one after another. But, once the first movie was released, there was a reported fallout between Donner and the producers. Donner was replaced with Richard Lester, who completed this movie and the inferior sequel, Superman III.

This is a review of the theatrical (Richard Lester) version. The Richard Donner version has also been restored and is available on DVD.

The movie opens with footage we saw briefly in Superman: The Movie. General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his associates, Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) are banished to the Phantom Zone by Jor-El (Marlon Brando). Zod vows to take revenge on his jailor and his future heirs.

Christopher Reeve as Supes in Superman 2 (1980)

Back to the present in Earth, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) is off to Paris on one of her journalistic missions. As fans of DC comics are well aware, Lois and life threatening danger are never far apart, especially when she is away from the Daily Planet in Metropolis.

Some masked men have taken over the Eiffel Tower and are threatening to blow up Paris with a hydrogen bomb, unless they are paid a ransom. Lois, as is her wont, tries to reach these men atop the Tower, presumably to negotiate with them. In comes our saviour of the day, Supes (Christopher Reeve) and it is a good ending for Lois and not so much for the bad guys.

However, there is an unintended side-effect of this rescue. When Supes disposes off the bomb by throwing it off into space, the resulting explosion releases Zod and his fellow criminals from their prison.

Terence Stamp as General Zod with Ursa and Non in Superman 2 (1980)

The 3 Kryptonians head to Moon and start their evil shenanigans right away. After learning about Houston from the human astronauts, Zod starts his mission to take over "Planet Houston".

Clark and Lois, meanwhile are sent together to investigate the recent incidents involving honeymooning couples at Niagara Falls. Lois starts getting suspicious about Clark being Superman and tries her best to force Clark to reveal his identity. Clark proves to be too smart for such antics.

He does slip up later and is forced to disclose his true identity. Supes takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude and consummates their relationship. Supes also undergoes an operation to lose his superpowers and subsequently becomes a mortal to spend his life with Lois.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Superman and Lois Lane in the Fortress of Solitude in Superman 2 (1980)

This proves to be bad timing, as the 3 Kryptonians land on Earth and quickly proceed to take over the White House. Superman is forced to reconsider his earlier decision and returns to the Fortress of Solitude to recover his powers.

Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has escaped from prison and has already trekked to the Fortress of Solitude, along with Eve Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine). He tries to bargain with Zod to acquire Australia by providing about the elusive Man of Steel. Enraged that his jailor's son is still alive, Zod is led by Lex to the Daily Planet. Lex plans to use Lois as a bait to catch Superman.

Christopher Reeve  as Superman Man of Steel vs Terence Stamp as General Zod in Superman 2 (1980)

Supes does not disappoint and a battle royale that takes places in the streets and on air across Metropolis. This is a great fight scene between Supes and 3 equally powerful Kryptonian enemies. Outnumbered, Supes has to use his wits to defeat his opponents.

This movie is as much fun as Superman: The Movie. Having explained Supes' background and powers in the preceding one, this movie focusses on Superman-Lois Lane romance. It also presents a real physical threat to the Man of Steel in the form of Zod and his cohorts.

The actors have comfortably settled in their roles and the newcomers acquit themselves nicely. 

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as the Man of Steel and Lois Lane in the Fortress of Solitude in Superman 2 (1980)

Chris Reeve continues his superlative performance as Supes and his alter ego, Clark Kent. His chemistry with Margot Kidder is palpable. Gene Hackman provides most of the comic relief in the movie and he is an absolute hoot. The script (again) by Mario Puzo gets some nice laughs through the way people on earth react to the Kryptonians' arrival and their costumes.

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Terence Stamp gives a campy but enjoyable turn as General Zod. His "Kneel before Zod" utterance has become part of the pop culture. Sarah Douglas is good as the vamp and Jack O'Halloran is adequate as the brawny but dumb Non.

It will be interesting to see Michael Shannon's take on General Zod. The trailers have indicated that Michael's version will be a more serious one.

Terence Stamp as General Zod and Sarah Douglas as Ursa in Superman 2 (1980) vs Michael Shannon as General Zod and Antje Traue as Faora-Ul in Man of Steel (2013)
 General Zod and Ursa (Superman 2, 1980) vs General Zod and Faora-Ul (Man of Steel, 2013)

Supes and Bats are referred to as "World's Finest" and true to that designation, Superman: The Movie and Superman 2 along with the The Dark Knight Trilogy are at the top of the food chain in the superhero movie genre.

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Image Sources: Warner Bros Pictures, Box Office Mojo, DC Comics, Star Warped, Superhero Shows, SupermanTV.Net, Wikia

Monday, June 10, 2013

Movie Review: Superman (1978)

Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman in Superman The Movie (1978) review

The movie opens on Krypton, Superman's home planet. Jor-El (Marlon Brando) sends General Zod (Terence Stamp) and couple of his cronies Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) to exile in the Phantom Zone. We never know the reasons behind this punishment but Kyrpton is not safe yet. Jor El believes the planet faces imminent destruction and sends his infant son Kal-El away on a spaceship. Destination: Planet Earth.

In Smallville, Jonathan and Martha Kent witness Kal-El's arrival on Earth. Martha persuades Jonathan to keep the youngster and the rest as they say is comic book history. The boy named Clark by his Earth bound parents grows up to be the foremost champion and defender of Earth: Superman.

Jonathan and Martha Kent witness young Kal El's powers in Superman (1978)

We see few more scenes set in Smallville, as Pa Kent instills a strong sense of humility and morality in his adopted son. Soon, Clark learns everything about his background in the newly constructed Fortress of Solitude in the North Pole. Clark finishes his education from the crystals and is off to Metropolis to start his career as a mild mannered reporter at the Daily Planet.

The scenes at the Daily Planet are arguably the best in the movie as Chris Reeve does some superb acting as the bumbling Clark. His interactions with Perry, Lois and Jimmy are spot on and establish Reeve as the definitive Clark Kent.

Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor in Superman (1978)

No superhero movie can be successful without the hero's archenemy. In this instance, it is Lex Luthor, the self-described greatest criminal mastermind of his time, played with a wink and smile by the talented Gene Hackman. This version of Lex is not as serious as his comic book counterpart and he even has couple of hilarious sidekicks to boot - Otis (Ned Beatty) and Eve Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine).

Lex has hatched a plan to sink California and make money through the resulting real estate scam. Lex decides to kill Supes and summons him through a message sent on a specific frequency audible only to Supes and animals.

Supes overcomes Lex's devious plans (with some help from Eve) and saves the day.

Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as Superman and Lois Lane in Superman (1978)

Chris Reeve's soulful and studied performance captures the essence of the Man of Steel.

Rest of the cast gives good performances too. Margot Kidder may not be the beautiful Lois as drawn in the comics, but she is every bit the feisty reporter as her character is intended to be. Jackie Cooper and Mark McClure are good as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen respectively. Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter deserve special mention as Jonathan and Martha Kent.

Gene Hackman makes an entertaining Lex. His Lex is the perfect comic counterpart to the more serious one played by Michael Rosenbaum in the TV series, Smallville.

Marlon Brando and Susannah York as Jor-El and Lara-El in Superman (1978)

The only exception is Marlon Brando, who was paid an extravagant sum for a very limited screen time. It is reported that his contract did not even require him to memorize the lines. Astute viewers will notice a considerable amount of apathy in Brando's performance.

This is the
 movie that inspired Chris Nolan. He has stated that Superman had an excellent casting even for its minor supporting roles and he used the same model for The Dark Knight Trilogy. 

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Mario Puzo's excellent script has clever nods to the Man of Steel's arsenal of powers and his "Big Blue Boy Scout" status. The movie has an epic scope, covering Krypton and Supes' early childhood. I also like the explanation of the "S" symbol as being unique to Jor-El family.

John Williams, music composer of Superman (1978)

John Williams' score is as celebrated as any he went on to compose in his illustrious career. The main theme is one of the most recognized ones and is synonymous with Superman.

Credit is also due to Richard Donner for his amazing job as the director. The movie provides the right mix of humor, action and romance, making it one of the best superhero movies.

Richard Donner, director of Superman (1978)
Like Supes himself, this is the first superhero based movie to attain massive success, both critically and commercially.

In a nutshell: An epic movie with an iconic soundtrack and a classic performance befitting the greatest superhero ever, Superman.

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Image Sources: Warner Bros Pictures, DC Comics, Wikipedia, Wikia

Friday, June 7, 2013

Man of Steel - Latest Trailer

Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe in Man of Steel poster

Check out the Nokia exclusive trailer for Man of Steel:

Hans Zimmer's score seems to be better than the one he did for The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Henry Cavill is becoming more and more impressive as the Man of Steel. Chris Reeve is the definitive Supes to me, but looks like Henry is going to give a serious shot at taking away that title.

Russell Crowe looks to be in top form as Jor-El. His delivery of the lines: "You can save them. You can save all of them" is awe-inspiring.

This is quite possibly the best trailer so far, even better than the previous one.

The movie looks all set to be a blockbuster with epic scope, amazing action sequences, Zimmer's soundtrack and excellent casting. Full credit to David Goyer, Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder for their efforts in making this movie possible.

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Image Sources: Warner Bros Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Syncopy

Monday, June 3, 2013

Movie Review - After Earth (2013)

Will Smith and Jaden Smith in After Earth (2013) movie review

The opening scenes give us a quick overview of the preceding events. Earth has undergone drastic changes and humans are being hunted by monsters called "Ursas" released by aliens.
Ursas are technically blind but hunt humans by smelling the pheromones secreted out of fear. The "Ghosting" technique involves masking one's fear and thus becoming invisible to Ursas, enabing one to kill it. General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), the "Prime Commander" is the first Ghost and is a legend for his Ursa killing skills.

Sophie Okonedo as Faia Rage and Zoë Kravitz as Senshi Raige in After Earth (2013)
Sophie Okonedo as Faia Rage and Zoë Kravitz as Senshi Raige
Cypher's son, Kitai Raige (Jaden Smith) has an artistic temparament and suffers from recurring nightmare of witnessing his sister, Senshi Raige (Zoë Kravitz) being killed by an Ursa. Cypher and Kitai are emotionally distant and at Mrs Faia Raige's (Sophie Okonedo) suggestion, Cypher takes Kitai along on his mission. A generic space mishap makes them crash on Earth and only the father-son duo survive (Surprise, Surprise).
Cypher informs his son that other lifeforms on Earth have "evolved" to hate human beings. In addition, there are wild climate fluctuations that can put one's life in instant jeopardy. Cypher's legs are badly injured and Kitai has to go on an one man trek in the hostile territory in search of a MacGuffin to save the day (Surprise again).
Struck to his seat and left motionless, Cypher starts having flashbacks of his daughter and even shares some anecdotes with his son. Cue a lot of unintentional hilarity.

Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige doing some action hero type things in After Earth (2013)
Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige doing some action hero type things in After Earth
The digitally created creatures on Earth (baboons, tigers) look to be computer generated rather than realistic as they are intended to be and the chase/action scenes are pedestrian.

The scientific aspects of the movie look quite outdated. The displays on Cypher's spaceship are old school and would be right at home in a B movie from the 1980s. If nothing, this movie will serve the purpose of showing the public how tough it is to make a good space movie. I definitely gained a new sense of respect for the recently released Star Trek sequel.
One of the shots of human heads strung on a tree reminded me of a similar shot in the Zack Snyder directed 300.
The initial prologue is one of the weakest I have seen with the extras running around, like in a low budget sci fi TV show.

Will Smith as General Cypher Raige in After Earth (2013)
Will Smith as General Cypher Raige in After Earth
Will Smith's usual charisma and winsome personality is lost in his performance as an emotionless warrior.

Sophie Okonedo as Faia Rage delivers the best performance, despite her limited screen time. Similarly, Zoë Kravitz is good in her role.

Lacking both imagination and humor (of the intentional kind), this is an assembly line product made with the sole purpose of launching Jaden Smith's career as a leading man.

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Unintentional hilarity abounds, thanks to the movie's self serious tone and cliched script - Kitai's artistic nature vs Cypher's emotionless one, a subordinate asking to be raised on his one leg to salute Cypher, the cheap props in the prologue, the name "Cypher" and his designation "Prime Commander". The cliches are just one too many.
Contrast this with Fast & Furious 6, whose lack of self seriousness and the ability to poke fun at the ridiculousness of the premise results in some well-earned laughs.

Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige in After Earth (2013)
Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige wears the same expression throughout the movie
Coming back to After Earth, I actually laughed out loud when Kitai spoke his lines for the first time. The accent used by Jaden as Kitai is hilarious. Jaden Smith delivers a one-note performance, comprised mainly of a continuous look of constipation.
The final encounter reminded me of the Frodo-Shelob encounter in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Ursa itself looks to be inspired from the titular creature in The Alien and the Kraken from Clash of The Titans.

M. Night Shyamalan continues his descent into cinematic abyss. One wonders how come the director of this insipid movie also made The Sixth Sense. Following the director's footsteps, the rest of the crew have also turned out mediocre work.

Jaden Smith as Kitai Raige in After Earth
Funniest line in the movie - Cypher to Kitai: "Take a Knee! Take a Knee, Cadet!"
In a nutshell: A laughably bad movie, that is typical of M. Night Shyamalan but represents a rare misstep for Will Smith.

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