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All reviews - Movies (20) - Games (7)

The Search For Meaning

Posted : 1 month, 2 weeks ago on 10 May 2017 08:39 (A review of The Seventh Seal)

I like The Seventh Seal more every time I see it. This is a movie that had the balls to flip religion the bird in 1957. It's a perfect tale of revelation and redemption, thrusting a mirror in front of the human condition.


A knight has returned from the Crusades, but his faith is shaken and the Bubonic plague spreads across the land. If that weren't crisis enough, death itself stalks him on the shores of his homeland and he finds himself playing chess with the reaper to buy himself a little time. But time for what? Time to do something, ANYTHING, to atone for the chaos and misery he wrought in the middle east; a campaign he now knows to have been arrogant, foolish and utterly without merit.


As the knight, his squire and the rest of our characters tour medieval Sweden, we see them confront every horror that the Dark Ages brought to bear. We see opportunistic theft, attempted rape, mockery and scapegoating out of total ignorance, and a mentally ill woman burned as a witch. Everyone is terrified of the black plague, and their inability to cope with it brings out the worst in humanity. As a troupe of bards attempt to alleviate a small town with songs and dance, a Christian passion play comes crashing through the streets, whipping themselves bloody, wailing and begging the sky for relief and forgiveness that will not come. No doubt they will spread the plague further before they drop their heavy wooden crosses and die in agony. Our main characters look on, wondering where the human race went wrong.


The knight endures all this while delaying his inevitable loss on the chess board and seeking answers to the questions that tear at his faith. In the end, none are satisfactory, and yet he remains stalwart in his quest for redemption. When death comes for him and his companions, the knight's good deeds have been accomplished and the cynical squire stares his mortality down, demonstrating that humanity can still perform at its best in the absolute worst circumstances.


There is virtually no fat in this film. It is clean in its beautiful black and white frames, crisp editing and purposeful dialogue. Although mostly bleak in their humor, there are a few laughs to be had among the 96 minutes of existential dread. We're even given a clarifying moment of hope and joy before the credits appear. This timeless piece is Ingmar Bergman's master work and it's as good as films get.



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In Space, No One Can Hear You Vomit

Posted : 1 month, 2 weeks ago on 5 May 2017 09:02 (A review of Passengers)

Passengers. It's a movie. About dating. In space.


It reminded me of Red Planet, which isn't surprising, since it's the saddest excuse for science fiction that I've sat through since Red Planet.


This movie wanted so badly to be "Moon", but ended up being a poorly scripted soap opera between two conventionally popular actors with no chemistry. It took itself seriously when it really shouldn't have. I like Red Planet slightly better for being self-aware enough to let Val Kilmer say "Fuck this planet!" and end with a Carrie Moss soliloquy about how she's going to spend some time with the space janitor. Either make a real piece of science fiction or be honest about the fact that you're making schlock.


Pros:


Ship design was cool
Bartender was most likely a homage to a much better film (The Shining)
I have a new director to hate (Morten Tyldum)


Cons:


Chris Pratt
Jennifer Lawrence
The plot
Endless melodrama
Shameful use of Laurence Fishburne in a sad, 10 minute supporting role
Hideous credits music
Unlike Red Planet, it made money


If Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence and Morten Tyldum each get hit by a flaming bus tomorrow, and die, I still will not believe in god.



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All Shell, No Ghost

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 6 April 2017 10:10 (A review of Ghost in the Shell)

On the one hand, Ghost in the Shell isn't a disaster. Given the history of videogame and anime movie adaptations, that's a considerable accomplishment. At the very least, it drew a faithful real-life portrait of the cyberpunk world of Ghost in the Shell and hit most of the iconic action beats of the original animated film. On the other hand, it tossed most of the important themes and potent atmosphere (the things that make GitS great) out the window in pursuit of a simplified, easily digestible plot. The dialogue lacked any nuance and the best modern CG and special effects don't look as good or feel as compelling as the hand drawn animation of 22 years ago.


The movie is at its best in the action scenes where thermoptic camouflage comes to life and when the creepy geisha bots and other maliciously hacked technology instill the cold blooded potential of transhumanism in our psyche. Also good are the quieter moments when Batou feeds the neighborhood dogs (including a basset hound, of course) and the Major quietly explores the world, searching for her place in it. The movie loses its way when the driving force of the plot becomes the scandal behind how the Major was created (instead of the much more important philosophical question about what her existence means) and the villain emerges as the most typical of bad guy cliches.


There's also some glaring hypocrisy in the ending (spoiler) since our heroic characters have been going on about justice and not killing people, and in the climax, they summarily execute the villain instead of bringing him to justice. The Major, in fact, explicitly calls for this, even though she was the most vocal opponent of unjust killing and human rights abuse throughout the film. Character motivation? Consistency? Feh. You can certainly argue that the villain deserved to die, but ordering an execution of someone who's surrendered makes every word the Major spoke earlier feel completely hollow.


Despite its flaws, I felt engaged. It was well paced, the casting was solid and the acting was serviceable. It was competently filmed, if not dazzling in its angles. I never once looked at my watch (always a good sign) and there were moments, such as Batou losing his human eyes to cybernetic eyes, that offered something different from the animated films and were genuinely cool to see in live action.


It's definitely worth a watch, but I wouldn't rush to the theater to see it. This movie feels like it was tailor made for streaming services to cure your boredom on a rainy afternoon or quiet evening. If you're a GitS fan, you'll almost definitely enjoy it more if you approach this adaptation with low expectations. As a film, it's only slightly better than mediocre, and yet, I was prepared for so much worse. So, while it's a back-handed compliment, I feel like this is the best GitS adaptation that could have been made by the creatively bankrupt Hollywood of 2017. The brilliance of Mamoru Oshii was never within their reach.



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Square Enix becomes a true Film Maker

Posted : 8 months, 1 week ago on 18 October 2016 06:45 (A review of Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV)

I wasn't expecting much from this film based on Squeenix's track record in film making. Final Fantasy - The Spirits Within was a fine experiment and a revolutionary piece of animation for its time, but it was far from a great film and highlighted how difficult it is to tell a complex and fulfilling story in a 2 hour time frame rather than the dozens of hours a role playing game is allotted. Final Fantasy 7 - Advent Children was another uptick in the advancement of CG and a great action piece, but it was ultimately nostalgia porn for those of us who loved the original game. Kingsglaive - Final Fantasy 15 is a leap in terms of the animation quality, all but eliminating the ability to discern between animation and reality, but it's also a product of experience. Finally, the writers, animators, producers and directors at Square Enix have acquired the experience to harness the advantages of the medium and have delivered a film that I wish I could have seen on the big screen.

Not only does this movie setup Final Fantasy 15 brilliantly, it's a damn good film in its own right. It has just the right mix of suspense, action and drama and was surprisingly well written and voice acted (including an all-star English voice cast.) It's a shame that it didn't get a wide theater release in North America, because I didn't see a preview for a single summer movie in 2016 that could compete with this film.


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The Only Marvel Film That Didn't Bore Me

Posted : 1 year, 4 months ago on 23 February 2016 10:36 (A review of Deadpool)

It seems there truly is a first time for everything. It's borderline painful for me to admit this, but I enjoyed a Marvel movie. I wouldn't have gone to see Deadpool on my own, but I was hanging with a friend for the weekend and he insisted on buying me a ticket. What happened next was extraordinary: I went an hour and a half without looking at my watch or wondering what was piling up in my inbox.

Perhaps that was part of the movie's success: that it didn't push the 2 hour mark and that it wasn't straining, like some perpetually frustrated fanboy, to announce the credibility of comic book story lines to the world. "COMIC BOOKS ARE COOL NOW TOO! SEE?!? THEY'RE MAKING MOVIES WITH BUDGETS OF HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS WHICH MAKES THEM OFFICIALLY ACCEPTED IN THE CULTURAL ZEITGEIST!" No, rather Deadpool was made for less than 60 million, the script was clever and tight, and it focused on one of the strengths of the comic book format: their absurdity and over-the-top nature.

Ultimately, it's another revenge story, but you can get away with following one of the tried and true plot templates as long as you put an original spin on it. Deadpool does this in spades with its buckets of irreverence, a few moments of sincerity to provide contrast, comedy that actually hits and some well filmed action. Also, by shedding the PG-13 shackles, Deadpool remained true to its roots and is another recent example of how film making for adults can still be commercially successful in the 21st century.

My biggest gripe with the movie is its "look", especially the background shots whenever you're outside. Like most modern Hollywood blockbusters the environments have this weird, washed-out gray coloring to them that's about as far from authentic as one can possibly get. That's no doubt a cost cutting measure, relying on CG to fill in for well designed sets and difficult outdoor shots, but the ugliness and laziness of these cheap backgrounds is pervasive in the frame, spoiling what could otherwise be a spectacular looking picture.

It's not an amazing film, but I liked Deadpool. It was well paced, skillfully written, it made me laugh and by being the antithesis of the last 15 years of lackluster super hero movies, it became the first good comic based film since Sin City.


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The Worse Demons Of Our Nature

Posted : 1 year, 4 months ago on 17 February 2016 09:55 (A review of Sicario)

Sicario is more than just an action-thriller about the brutal, pointless drug war in North America. Its graphic depictions and nihilistic tone flip a sizzling pan of heroin into your face over and over again, forcing you to confront the grim realities of wealth, power and addiction.

The cinematography is a treat and the bleak landscapes of the American desert and the gang riddled ghettos of Mexico are themselves a metaphor for the emptiness of the struggle our characters endure. Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin and Emily Blunt all put in excellent performances and the script is clean and efficient, eschewing needless exposition in favor of short, smart dialogue that focuses on pushing the plot forward and not wasting time or insulting the intelligence of its audience. The ominous soundtrack and excellent pacing keep you on the edge of your seat as you move from one barbaric encounter to the next.

The ending is truly climactic and impactful, but it offers the audience a chance to meditate on the events and meaning of the piece before the credits role. It is a complete, coherent, well planned body of work that trusts the intelligence of its viewers, which makes it the rarest kind of film these days.


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Self-Indulgent But Fun

Posted : 1 year, 4 months ago on 1 February 2016 08:28 (A review of The Hateful Eight)

Hateful Eight is an enjoyable film on several levels, but like Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds it's also very self-indulgent on Tarentino's part. It's not QUITE as self-indulgent as those movies, but it definitely tried my patience a couple times. When Tarentino made Django Unchained either he (or the people around him) were able to reign in his more ridiculous impulses which enabled him to craft a movie that told a story brilliantly and was still a lot of fun. That was a return to form and I was hoping Hateful Eight would be more like Django Unchained and less like Inglorious Basterds. In the end, it split the difference.

Kurt Russel and Samuel L Jackson deliver amazing performances and are equal parts menacing and hilarious. Much like his first film, Resevoir Dogs, the story of Hateful Eight is a crime caper with one primary set; only this one takes place in the late 1800s. It's ironic that Tarentino tries to fill his movies with interesting / quirky characters and often focuses on them and their dialogue to a fault, when the best characters in this movie were the set (the "Habberdashery") and the blizzard raging outside. His non-human characters help set the mood perfectly and lend the film a feeling of authenticity while the human characters, however funny and impressive in their own right, often make the film feel ridiculous.

The movie simmers for an hour and change before any real action takes place. I consider myself a pretty patient guy but the older I get and the more great works of film I'm exposed to, the more tired I grow of films that are needlessly wordy. The Hateful Eight contains too much exposition and you could easily cut a half hour from its running time and lose none of its impact. This is the "self indulgence" of Tarentino I mentioned earlier and it was so prominent in Inglorious Basterds that it literally put me to sleep the first time I saw it.

The film is scored by the legendary Ennio Morricone and Tarentino tries to emulate the audio cues of old spaghetti westerns with various degrees of success. He also inserts a narrator a few times which was a bad decision that feels jarring and completely unnecessary.

Despite its flaws, the film is a visual feast and I'm glad I saw it on the big screen. It's a movie with a straight forward plot and obvious themes that doesn't necessitate repeated viewings, so I doubt I'll watch it again unless I want to get another look at those beautiful landscapes and the amazing set. Good, but far from his best.


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The Force is Mediocre with this one

Posted : 1 year, 5 months ago on 27 December 2015 08:58 (A review of Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens)

The Force Awakens... I didn't hate it, but I certainly didn't love it either. It nails a few key elements that make action movies enjoyable, but it has a long list of failings to go with it (see my list of pros and cons below.) I found myself thoroughly enjoying the first 45 minutes only to feel my enthusiasm steadily drop for the next hour and a half as it became clear how paint-by-numbers this movie was turning out. Its biggest problem is that it's instantly the most derivative Star Wars film ever made. The events are almost entirely a retread of things that happened in the original trilogy (OT) and it adds little of interest to the Star Wars mythos. It's the cinematic equivalent of a highly caffeinated soda: tastes good going down and gives you a nice energetic zing, but ultimately its empty calories and will be harmful to the body in the long run.

Pros

1. Most of the new characters are likable, especially BB8 who is a genuinely endearing droid  with lots of personality.
2. The action scenes looked and played out well on a technical level. (Hooray for competence!)
3. It successfully recreates the inherently dangerous but intriguingly exotic feel of the Star Wars universe from the OT.
4. Mostly well paced. (Hooray for competence part 2!)
5. Humor was hit and miss, but when it did hit (mostly BB8) it was good.

Cons

1. Poe / Rey / Finn bond WAY too quickly, almost to the point of incredulity.
2. It re-enacts too many scenes / scenarios from A New Hope (Storm Trooper slaughter on a desert planet, Cantina 2.0, Death Star 3.0 blows up planets, X-wing full scale attack followed by trench run attack, etc.)
3. With a few beautiful exceptions (Jakku, new Cantina, night time light saber battle in the forest) the film's locales really did not look that good.
4. No details about why "The First Order" or "The Resistance" emerged from the old Empire and Republic / Rebellion or how these new incarnations are even different from the original ones.
5. OT characters feel like cheap nostalgia distractions, because they are.
6. Kylo Ren becomes too vulnerable way too quickly, removing all sense of mystery and menace about the character before the first movie is even over.
7. The title of the movie is bullshit: The force does not "awaken" in any general sense. The force may have awakened in ONE character, but it was already awake in other characters, so this is clearly not what the title implied.
8. Rey's "awakening" is completely vague to the point of shit just happening because the plot wants it to happen.
9. An untrained force initiate defeating a trained Sith is ludicrous to the point of breaking my suspension of disbelief. That was a cheap, unearned victory. Luke Skywalker, by contrast, spent three films learning, training and being battered down by the forces of darkness before emerging victorious in Return of the Jedi.
10. Highly derivative: What substance did this movie add to the Star Wars universe? For all the shit the prequels get, at least a lot of new things were tried and an entirely different dynamic (the slow rise of evil instead of the hero's journey to fight evil) was presented to us. This movie showed almost no creative courage.

The Force Awakens will not age well, even in the short term. As the release hype dies and people who engage in thoughtful movie analysis realize how much of the movie was carbon copied, reviews will moderate and scores will drop. Given how much longer my list of cons is than my list of pros, I'm giving The Force Awakens a generous 5/10. It seems "the force" of nostalgia holds some sway over me as well. JJ Abrams and Disney benefit more from that nostalgia than they do from anything they've contributed to the franchise.


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A Stellar Mess

Posted : 2 years ago on 21 June 2015 07:10 (A review of Interstellar)

First hour: Interesting premise, but tainted by hokey mysticism driving the plot.

Second hour: Lots of bad editing cutting back and forth between Earth and the space expedition. These cuts are often extremely rapid and have a terrible affect on pacing. Much of the action is high stakes docking maneuvers. Matt Damon shows up just long enough to inject some clumsy dialogue about human survival instinct, completely tipping his hand that he's about to go batshit.

Third hour: A bad Outer Limits episode. The hokey mysticism is explained (with the Christopher Nolan trademark WAY TOO MUCH FUCKING EXPOSITION SO ALL THE IDIOTS KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON) but it doesn't matter how much they try to make it sound scientific, it's still just a deus ex machina channeled through the power of LOVE. The main character and the human race are saved because... plot says so.

On top of those glaring flaws we get the other Nolan trademark, an overbearing soundtrack that rarely, if ever, lets up. It was also amazing how little he was able to coax out of an all-star cast of actors. There's a reason that great sci-fi films tend to have little-known actors, and it's because the material is strong enough to stand on its own without relying on star power. This was clearly not the case for Interstellar.

There is little to nothing under the hood to analyze here. Like Inception, this movie throws lots of concepts at the audience (only this time it's mostly well understood physics instead of hypothetical dream experiments) and many people mistake this for depth.

I'll say it again Nolan: stick to smaller projects like Memento and The Prestige. Whenever you attempt something grand, you accomplish the exact opposite.


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Edge of Mediocrity

Posted : 2 years ago on 28 May 2015 08:30 (A review of Edge of Tomorrow)

This hot garbage gets a 90% on RT and a 7.9 on IMDB? How much crack are you people smoking?!? I was really hoping this movie would be more than the sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, but that's essentially all it was.

Sure, the human battle-mech suits and the alien combatants were cool to look at it, but beyond that this film offers nothing new or interesting. Forget how incredibly contrived the time-loop logic is, how many more sci-fi movies are we going to watch about a "superior" alien force that is controlled by some kind of hive mind and all you need to do to win is to take out the brain? Hasn't this gotten stale? Didn't they make fun of this concept in Starship Troopers 17 years ago? (WE CAUGHT THE BRAIN BUG!)

Despite its flaws the movie was at least engaging, so I could have potentially given it a 5 or even a 6. But then that goddamn goofy ending... As everyone is cheering, Tom Cruise has to swagger his way back to his new girlfriend (who doesn't even know she's his girlfriend) and put on his stupid smile before they take this turkey out back and shoot it. ANY OTHER ENDING would have been better than that ending! Hey, before we roll the credits, here's a reminder of the standard leading guy / leading girl romance-on-the-quick we wedged into this focus-grouped Hollywood crapfest!

This could have been a good movie. MAYBE it could have even been a good sci-fi movie. But it tried to be too many different things and it relied too much on an old plot device that was used more effectively in a 1993 comedy.


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