Movie Review – Alter Egos (2012)

Director: Jordan Galland

Stars: Kris Lemeche, Brooke Nevin, Joey Kern, Danny Masterson, John Ventimiglia, Christine Evangelista 

Alter Egos is set in a world where superheroes have been given government funding, but since there are no supervillains anymore their budget is being cut. Meanwhile, Fridge (Lemeche) is dealing with a relationship crisis because his girlfriend (Evangelista) is cheating on him…with his alter ego. He’s summoned on a mission by C-Thru (Kern) and as he tries to work through his emotional problems he meets Claudel (Nevin), who he instantly connects with and he feels that she can help him work through his problems. 

I was pretty impressed by Alter Egos. It’s very low-budget, and unfortunately this shows in the effects and the costumes (my biggest gripe with the film is the costumes, they’re way too cartoonish and I can’t believe anyone would have taken superheroes seriously in this world). But given it’s low-budget, small cast and isolated location it actually managed to create quite a large world with a good back story. I like the idea of superheroes being funded by the government and then being subject to budget cuts, and there’s a thread of mystery running through the film while Fridge is dealing with his emotional problems. I also liked how it dealt with some of the little problems that superheroes must face, that we don’t really get in the bigger-budget films. 

The cast worked well together and there are a couple of emotional beats that give the film some weight and substance. It’s a tight script that manages to accomplish everything it set out to do and achieves a good balance between the wider plot and the personal struggles of Fridge. I do like superhero movies that are outside the Marvel and DC universes because it’s nice to get a different angle on things, and while Alter Egos isn’t groundbreaking I found it entertaining and I think fans of comic books will enjoy it too. It’s a shame that the budget was so low because I do think the effects and costumes could have used an upgrade, but it did a lot with what it had to work with and it’s a nice little film. 

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Movie Review – Lucy (2014)

Director: Luc Besson

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Analeigh Tipton

After getting forced into delivering a case to a businessman, Lucy (Johansson) finds herself being used as a drug mule. While she’s being held in a small cell she suffers from a beating and the drugs get released into her system, causing her *takes a deep breath* use of her brain capacity to increase rapidly *facepalms*. She’s able to manipulate matter and energy waves and has other abilities, but Mr. Chang (Choi) is still after her.

Going into this I was ready to hate it. The trailer seemed to be filled with illogical abilities and the whole, ‘we only use 10%’ of our brains’ statement is a myth that really needs to be put to rest as it’s overused enough as it is. But I actually ended up enjoying it, although it is a deeply flawed film, so there’s a fair bit to talk about.

Let’s start with the central premise – that Lucy can access more of her brain and becomes this super-powerful being. It does require a huge suspension of disbelief and there were a lot of points during the film that had me shaking my head, but I figure in my years of reading comic books and watching Star Trek I’ve suspended my belief many times so I decided to just go with them film. However, it does spend an inordinate amount of time hammering home the point of the brain’s capacity and the potential. It would have been better had they not spent so much time repeating what’s happening because it just reinforces the stupidity and illogical nature of it all. It’s almost as if the film doesn’t want you to suspend your disbelief.

Morgan Freeman’s character is basically Professor Exposition and he has no other function than to talk about the technical terms, so this feels forced and it just feels like the movie is trying too hard to put forward its premise, almost as if it knows that it’s ridiculous and it’s trying to say, ‘no really, it could actually happen like this! Honestly!’. It should have spent more time focusing on the transformation of Lucy as she went beyond humanity. That would have been far more interesting, and as it is the transformation happens too quickly. Basically, almost as soon as the drugs take effect she begins to lose her humanity and since we’ve only just been introduced to her it doesn’t have as much dramatic impact as it would have had it been slowly drawn out. It also means that the rest of the increase in capacity doesn’t really matter, as we don’t see a great change in her demeanour or character.

The visual effects are mostly stunning with a few interesting things that don’t quite work. At the beginning the director inserts shots of animals, some of these worked but most didn’t, for example the ones that showed prey being hunted. Yes, we get it, Lucy is the prey. It wasn’t something that needed to be spelled out so explicitly. There were lots of space vistas, which I always love, and one really gruesome scene in which Lucy almost, well, melts. However, it does miss the mark in other ways. At one point Lucy is faced with a row of bad guys and all she does is levitate them to the ceiling. I thought, given her abilities, that there could have been a more interesting way to deal with them, like have them fight each other or something.

I quite like that this film is fast-paced, but I do think it spends too long on explaining the origin and this doesn’t leave room to explore the extent of her abilities properly.

There are also a couple of flaws. Just after Lucy develops her abilities she gets a taxi and ends up shooting a guy in the leg to force the other taxi driver to take her. But as they drive off there’s a subtitle of the guy screaming, ‘My leg!’, to show that she didn’t kill him and keep the morality of the hero intact. This was odd, because we hadn’t seen any subtitles in the film previous to that, and shortly after she kills a patient on an operating table, citing the fact that he has a brain tumour so wouldn’t have survived anyway, so it seems odd that they would make the point of emphasising that she only shot the taxi driver in the leg. There’s also a point where a certain character is not killed just so they can show up later in the film, and there’s no reason given for him not to be killed.

On a purely logical level the film is deeply flawed. Yet there are some philosophical threads that I actually really enjoyed. There are a few issues raised, such as the purpose of life, and there’s a point made that in stable climates cells focus on reproduction, but in dangerous climates they focus on passing on knowledge, so it raises the issue of which one we tend to favour. It also deals with the power of a God, and whether humans are ready for that and what the responsibility is when we do get that power (it’s obviously going to be a great one). I also liked the point that humans tend to impose a measurement on the universe that brings it down to our level of understanding, rather than trying to break through our own perceptions and see the true nature of the universe. Some of the symbolism is nice too, like towards the end there’s a big shoot-out while Lucy is in another room, and this alludes to how humanity often loses itself in wars when great discoveries are so close to us. One quote I loved was, ‘Ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge’.

Scarlett Johansson was very good too, and helped sell the film to me. I liked her portrayal and she is definitely the best thing about it. Most of the action is good. I especially liked the scene when the drugs get released into her body, it’s visceral and painful and Johansson sells it perfectly.

Overall though it is a flawed film. I don’t think some things were explored as fully as they could be and there were many missteps in the script. But I did enjoy it and I think it’s going to be a film that people either enjoy or hate with a passion. If you go in and think about it logically it isn’t going to please you, but if you’re like me and you ponder the philosophical issues it raises then you might just like it. It’s certainly not one that I’m going to definitely recommend because there are many problems with the story, but I like that it aspires to be something different and tries to introduce a bit of a viewpoint that’s different from the usual, ‘humanity is sacred’. In Lucy humans are shown to be a part of the ecosystem, equal with other animals and just basically another rung on the ladder of evolution, as in we’re not as special as we may think we are sometimes. So yes, if you want a straightforward action movie then it’s probably one to avoid, otherwise you might want to think about checking it out.

It also gets bonus points for having a dinosaur.

 

 

Movie Review – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

Directors: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gorden-Levitt, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Jamie Chung, Jaime King, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Rosario Dawson, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple

After ten years Sin City is back with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. It functions as prequel and a sequel, with three of the four stories taking place before stories in the original film. Characters like Marv (Rourke), Nancy (Alba), Dwight (Brolin) return and are joined by Ava (Green), Johnny (Gordon-Levitt) and a few others. As in the first, the film is made up of a number of different stories taking place over the city at different points. We get glimpses into Dwight’s past as well as seeing how Nancy is faring after the events of the first film. 

Now, I saw this at a double screening along with Sin City and it’s fair to say that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is more of the same. Endless narration, over-the-top violence, splattering blood, and seemingly indestructible characters. If you don’t like the first you won’t like this. I thought it was okay, but then I’m not a massive fan of the original either. I like it just fine, and I think they’re both interesting films visually, but I do believe if they were shot normally then they wouldn’t have as much of a following as they do. The stories themselves aren’t really anything special. It’s difficult to get invested in the characters and most of the characters are one-note. The men all talk the same and have similar goals, the women are either manipulative or there just to motivate the men. It’s very stylish but also vacuous and there doesn’t really seem to be a point to it all, perfectly summed up in the Johnny segment that ends abruptly with a bang and you wonder why you even cared in the first place. 

The chronology is also strange. Parts are prequels, parts are sequels. I will say that seeing them back-to-back helped me patch them together but a few things still don’t make sense, mostly because Marv is shoe-horned into every story and you have to try and figure out how they fit in with the timeline from the first film. It just gives you a headache that you don’t need. These films aren’t supposed to be complex, they’re very flashy without much depth so there should have been more care taken to make sure everything fits neatly. 

There are a few characters that have been re-cast, and as I understand it this is mostly due to scheduling issues, which is a shame, but I think this is less of a problem when you don’t watch the films straight after each other. The 3-D is cool and really works well with the style of the film. There were a few neat tricks early on, like one scene where Marv is trying to remember what just happened in his life and he’s the pivot upon which the images revolve around, and it looks great, but for some reason things like this are abandoned. 

While I think the fact that it’s a prequel and a sequel in one is interesting it does lend itself to a couple of problems, one of which is that aforementioned chronology. The other is that sometimes a character will live because they appeared in the first film, and it feels false. For example, there’s one bit where a character gets riddled with bullets but not a head shot because then they would die, but there’s no reason in the film that the people shooting at him wouldn’t shoot him in the head. 

I think, sadly, they waited too long to come out with a sequel for this. While people remember Sin City fondly I think it is slightly overrated. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is shorter, more confusing and the stories just aren’t as interesting. It feels repetitive and aside from the cool visual style there’s not much that’s compelling about it. If you like the first one then you’ll probably like this, and in truth there’s nothing else that’s visually the same so it’s unique in that respect, but it’s not something you must rush out and see, and given how much time has passed between the two films I can’t imagine that a third will be made. 

Movie Review – American Movie (1999)

Director: Chris Smith

Stars: Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, Tom Schimmels, Monica Borchardt, Bill Borchardt, Cliff Borchardt, Matt Weisman, Ken Keen, Robert Richard Jorge

American Movie is a documentary that chronicles the efforts of a horror-obsessed film fan as he ropes in his family and friends to help him make a movie. It spans a few years and shows the problems he comes across as well as the thoughts of his co-workers, actors, friends, family about his dedication to this dream of making a feature film.

The dream of making a film is something to which most of us can empathise. I think a lot of people always have at least one moment where they think, ‘If ever got a chance to make a film…’ and this is especially true when you talk to creative people who go on these foolish endeavours. Mark is a man who actually turns the idea into a possibility and for that there’s something to admire, but this film is funny and tragic in equal parts. You have to admire the man’s determination but at the same time it becomes something of an obsession, and perhaps it’s a warning to us to step back a bit from whatever we are pouring our hearts and souls into and try to see how it is actually affecting our lives.

Mark is a charismatic, persuasive individual who manages to convince his friends and family to help him. Yet he’s also his own worst enemy. It’s revealed that he dropped out of high school because he didn’t think he was learning anything, and he has unrealistic expectations of the film. It’s as though he imagines that if he actually gets it made it will catch people’s attentions and be a success to pay off all his debts (in one scene he lists a lot of the debts he has and it’s eye-opening). So all the while you’re rooting for him to succeed there’s a part where you really sympathise with his family. I felt sorry for his mother the most, and it was telling that when his father and brother were interviewed they were fairly dismissive of his dreams. His brother was actually incredibly hostile, suggesting that Mark could easily have turned out to be a stalker or a serial killer. It’s also noteworthy that we never actually see Mark and his brother interact on camera.

The other people are all interesting but the two other main ‘stars’ are Mike and Bill. Mike is Mark’s best friend, and he’s clearly been addled with drugs over the years. He’s affable and likeable but you get a sense that he’s in a daze all the time. One of his quotes is –

The thing with the lottery is that you either win or lose, but it’s better than alcohol or drugs because with them, especially alcohol, you always lose.”

It’s almost profound in it’s simplicity. Bill is also a tragic figure as well. Mark gets him to finance the picture and Bill really doesn’t seem to have anything to live for, and he continually repeats this fact. Yet Mark comes bounding in and tries to get him excited for the film, even when production stalls for three years. Their relationship (uncle and nephew) is quite sweet and it leads to some funny interactions, like trying to record the opening line of the film 30 times.

 

The film has many funny moments like this but they’re interspersed with more poignant moments of introspection as Mark battles his own demons and faces his own doubts. This film, I think, perfectly captures how alluring and seductive a dream like this can be, and it doesn’t shy away from showing the negative consequences it can have on your own sanity and on the people around you. And while there are qualities that are admirable about Mark there are also deplorable things he does, like the way he treats his kids, so by the end you’re left with a lot to think about and it’s hard to gauge whether it’s inspiring or depressing. But what it does suggest is that a dream isn’t enough, you need the hard work and the dedication as well.

 

Book Review – Saga Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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Saga is the story of Marko and Alana, two warriors from opposite sides of a galactic conflict that fell in love and deserted the war. Now they’re on the run as both armies are trying to capture them.

Written by Brian K. Vaughan and artwork by Fiona Staples, this is a really crazy story that knows no limits. I’ve read some background about it and it seems that Vaughan is using this to put as many weird ideas as possible, things that are only possible in comic books. The result is a lot of things that have you shaking your head in astonishment, but it’s all grounded in one of the oldest stories of humanity’s history.

I really enjoyed it, and you can actually pick it up pretty cheaply. So far there have been three volumes released, I’m not sure how many are intended to be in the series as from what I’ve read it seems to be a labour of love from Vaughan, so it will probably last for as long as he wants to keep writing it. The strength of this books is that while the characters appear bizarre they are actually grounded in the familiar, so we can easily understand them, but there’s plenty of cool things, most of which I’m not going to spoil here, but one of my favourite characters is Prince Robot IV, a member of a race of….I guess they’re cyborgs. They have humanoid bodies but tv monitors for heads. That’s just an example of what you can expect when you pick this up.

This volume is used to introduce us to the world and the characters that inhabit it, but it’s very fast-paced and there’s not a lot of worldbuilding going on. It’s one of the advantages of comics that the images can be used to show us the state of things without having to resort to characters narrating big chunks of exposition. Everything looks cool and unique, and some of the reveals had me either laughing at the weirdness of it all or gasping in shock, as Vaughan weaves in dark moments along with the wackiness of it all.

It’s hard to describe Saga because it doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever read, but it does feel like things I’ve read before. And this isn’t a criticism, because the story it’s presenting is compelling and I definitely want to know more about the world and how things develop from where the first volume let off, but it does make it an very interesting experience as you’re confronted with so much but it all somehow makes sense. At certain points I was questioning my own sanity; ‘Should I be understanding this?

But I think it’s great. The artwork is smooth and there are so many different visuals it makes for a continually surprising experience, especially when coupled with the writing, and it makes for a read where you don’t know what is going to happen when you turn the page. Great start to a series and I recommend that you check it out, I don’t think it’ll be for everybody because some people might find some of the images and concepts distasteful, but it never feels like it’s done purely for the shock value. I like what Vaughan and Staples have started here and I’m looking forward to read on!

Board Game Review – Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

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Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is published by Ystari games. It is designed by Gary Grady, Suzanne Goldberg and Raymond Edwards. It plays from 1-8 players (although it can have more) and takes as much time as you need to solve the case!

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it too much on this blog but over the last couple of years I’ve become quite the fan of Mr. Holmes. I read through all of the Conan Doyle stories, watched Sherlock, the recent films with Robert Downey Jr., Elementary, the old films with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, a number of other films, some with Christopher Plummer, there’s another good film called They Might Be Giants, which is about a man who believes he is Sherlock Holmes, and at the moment I’m working my way through the Jeremy Brett tv series and telemovies. This game is currently in print, although it was originally published in the 80s I believe. In this game you are not in face Sherlock Holmes, rather you are one of the Baker Street Irregulars given leeway by Holmes to investigate various crimes and test your powers of deduction.

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These are the contents of the game. The rulebook is in the top right-hand corner. To the left are the ten cases you will be working on, next to that is the London Directory that has the names of people and businesses and places you can go to pursue leads. There are also newspapers, one for every case, and a map of London. And that’s it!

The game is very simple. You open up the casebook and read the preamble, and don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything in this review because the joy of the game is discovering all this for yourself. But after you find out what’s wrong you are sent off with the freedom to go and question whoever you want. Each person in the Directory has a reference, which corresponds to a passage in the Casebook. You will go to that (they’re divided up into NE, SE, NW, SW, although because it’s translated from French some of them are WC and EC, but its not terribly difficult to figure out what the references mean). Then, if there’s a passage you read that, if there isn’t you know that the lead is a dead end. You’ll make a note of how many leads you visit, and at the end the booklet will tell you how many it took Holmes. After answering a few questions about the case you’ll take away points when you compare how many more leads you took than Holmes and then compare your score with the master detective (or, more likely, you’ll end up realizing that you made a huge error in judgment).

So the game gives you a huge amount of freedom as the whole of London is at your disposal. If you get stuck there are a number of people you can always turn to, like Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade, or even Holmes himself, although I’d hate to be the recipient of his withering disappointment.

So far I’ve played through the first two cases and they’ve been such fun experiences, although I have only played them with one other person so I can’t comment on how they’d play with groups. The game does give rules for competitive play but for me I automatically went co-operative because it’s so much fun discussing theories with other people and debating which leads to follow next or whether you think something is a red herring or not. It’s so fascinating and soon after the case begins you’re completely engaged and before you know it two or three hours have passed.

These are all original cases as well (as far as I know) so even if you are a Sherlock fanatic and know all the cases off by heart this will still give you plenty of surprises. Now, I’m sure I’m not the only one that, after watching anything Sherlock-related instantly wants to go out and solve crimes, this game gives you the opportunity to do so but it quickly shows you why you are nowhere near as good as Sherlock. I played the first case with my friend Jason and we ended up with -60 points! That’s not a typo, we really did get minus, and we got the actual solution wrong as well. We were so convinced and confident that we had it all worked out, and then we realized we had missed so much, and yet being so utterly wrong was so much fun! I played the second case with my friend Ayla and we actually managed to crack it, which made me so happy. I attribute that to the fact that she was more organized at taking notes than either I or Jason were. In all of the games I’ve played since I’ve gotten into the modern board gaming hobby there has been nothing that has compared to the excitement when I developed a theory and had it confirmed by a lead we visited. It’s so utterly, utterly engrossing that you forget it’s a game and you’re on the edge of your seat trying to work out who did what and why they did it.

I love this game so, so much. As a fan of Sherlock I love the flavour it brings out. There’s so much that’s been poured into this game, the casebooks are lovely to look at and read. The passages are well-written, the map is interesting to look at, especially when you get a location and realize how close it is to something else. And then there are the newspapers that all have articles, some of which pertain to the case, some don’t, and some even have references to things down the line, so in every subsequent case you have to refer back to all the newspapers so far, just in case there’s anything there. The Directory is superb as well, with so many names and establishments that it really does give you the feeling you’re going around asking all these people questions.

It’s easy to learn, but I think the free-form nature of the game may be jarring for some people. It does stutter a bit at the beginning after you’ve been introduced to the case and you have to just start. There’s no turn order or first-player markers, no board to track your progression, it’s all up to you, but once you understand that you can do anything you quickly submerge yourself in this murky sea of murder and crime.

So, it’s pretty obvious that I love this game and I recommend it highly, without question. However, let’s talk about a few negative things.

Since it’s been translated from French there are a few typos and these can be jarring. However, given how much text is in the game it’s kinda forgivable and you can always tell what the word was supposed to be. I’m generally forgiving with these anyway, but it’s not like they’re in every paragraphs.

Sometimes it can seem like the game is a bit unfair to the players, as there’s no way that you’ve ever going to beat Holmes. But, you know, he is the master detective and I don’t think you should really be aiming to beat Holmes, you should just aim to figure out what’s going on. However, sometimes it’s difficult because you can’t actually tell whether someone is lying or not, but the technology doesn’t exist for such a game yet.

The other big complaint, and it’s kind of a double-edged complaint really, is that there are only ten cases. Now, that sounds overly harsh because this game is amazing and if there are only ten cases then so be it, they still give ten (well I hope the other eight are as good as the first two) memorable experiences that last for 2,3,4 hours. But once you’re done with the cases you can’t do them again, unless you suffer from memory loss or manage to get your hands on a mind-wiping device. So there’s a temptation to let it linger until ‘the right moment’. I’m trying to savour them and not go through them too quickly, but I’ve still got eight left and the first two have been so good it’s much better to play them than to let the game wallow in anticipation. Plus, once I’m done I think I may lend it to friends or family and spread the love!

There have been a couple of expansions but since they were released in the 80s they haven’t been reprinted, and are very hard to track down. I think they’ve only been published in the original French as well. But I’d love to see more cases from this game because it’s such a good experience. I mean, me and Ayla spent at least three hours playing and then another hour or so talking about it. Sometimes you’ll realize how stupid you are and you’ll laugh at yourself, but other times you’ll hit on a solid theory and you’ll actually work it out, and it genuinely feels like you’ve accomplished something. It’s a special game and there’s not really anything else out there like it. I love it, and I think if you get it you’ll love it too.

Book Review – Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

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Alex Lomax is the only private detective on Mars. The small town is populated by biologicals and transfers, people who have transferred their consciousness into artificial bodies so they can live forever. A fossil deposit has been found which has caught the interest of a number of parties, but when dead bodies begin to show up Alex starts to get involved in a mystery that spans decades. 

Red Planet Blues is actually a continuation of a novella, and this takes up the first ten chapters. Unfortunately, this is noticeable and it’s fairly jarring when you reach the end of the chapter. It also creates a bit of a strange pacing issue because it feels like a new story is starting but it’s still a continuation of the one you just read and a lot of it is connected but some new things have to be introduced, so that bit doesn’t flow as well as I might have liked. 

But overall the narrative is quite fast-paced and the writing style is easy to read. I liked the archeological focus of the story and it feels like a classic adventure but with futuristic elements. The environment of Mars was almost a character itself and I loved the concept of transfers and how they were presented. The mystery itself, well, I can’t help thinking there were a few twists too many with many characters having different agendas. At certain points it was a bit difficult to keep track of it all, although when it came down to it it wasn’t actually that complicated. I do feel as though it ended with a whimper instead of a bang as well. 

My other big problem is all the references to old movies. Now, I love pop culture references in things I watch and read but there were so many here and they felt so forced they took me out of the story completely. Some of the more subtle ones did make me smile, like when he mentioned fal-tor-pan, but otherwise they were pretty cringeworthy and harmed my enjoyment of the story. I don’t really blame Sawyer because it’s his book and one of the great things about being a writer is that you get to be self-indulgent if you want to, but I would have preferred it had they been toned down. 

Other than the transfers there were another couple of concepts that I liked. One of them was the fact that Mars is kind of like a prison, and that due to the difference in gravity between Earth and Mars, the longer you spent on the red planet the less likely it was that you would be able to adjust to Earth’s environment. So going to Mars was actually a risk in and of itself, and it was interesting to see why each character chose to do so. The other thing I liked was the little subplot that happened between the previous explorers, the ones who first discovered the fossil deposits and this gave a nice bit of history to the world presented in the book. 

I wouldn’t put Red Planet Blues high on my list of priorities but I did enjoy it. Despite its failings it was still a fun read although I’m not sure that it’s a book that will stay with me.

Movie Review – What If (2014)

Director: Michael Dowse

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall

Wallace (Radcliffe) is a bitter young man who has given up all hope of love when he meets Chantry (Kazan) at a party. The two of them hit it off, she gives him her number and he starts to hope that something good could come of it…when he finds out that she has a boyfriend. Oh. Still, she proposes that they be friends and he accepts, yet they get on so well that it’s hard to keep his feelings in check, especially when she starts to show signs that she feels the same. 

What If is a fairly standard rom-com that doesn’t stray too far from the formula. As a result it is predictable but this doesn’t prevent it from being charming, sweet, smart and funny. The chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan sizzles, the script is sharp with some cutting wit, and the situations are completely relatable. I also liked the animation that was woven throughout the film. 

One thing I particularly liked is that nobody was the bad guy, it was just how circumstances worked out. This is true to life and the tension came from seeing how each person dealt with the changes that were happening. Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (Spall) was cast in an antagonistic role but I don’t think he was a douchebag for the sake of being a douchebag, and there were a few moments when you could see that he and Chantry had good chemistry themselves, so it wasn’t a case of her being in a worthless relationship. 

But the joy is in Wallace and Chantry’s interactions. The two of them click and they go back and forth covering a wide range of topics that happens all too rarely in real life. It’s electric and the fact that they won’t acknowledge the attraction between each other is strung out for as long as possible and released at the perfect time, providing a whip-cracking sensation when it all comes to a head. The other characters are fun too and add to the proceedings in entertaining ways. I had a great time watching and I can’t recommend it highly enough but I did have a couple of problems, one that was actually sorted quickly but the other still bothers me. 

The first is that at the end I felt some things were being left unresolved, however, stay behind to watch the cute animation and it ties up the loose ends in quite a clever way, because it’s not something that could have been included in the film without feeling clunky and trite. The other though…well, a plot point hinges on a character coming across some information via a screwed up piece of paper in a waste paper bin. There’s absolutely no reason why they should have been going through this bin, it’s not full so it doesn’t need to be emptied, it was screwed up in a ball so it’s not as though they glimpsed a word that caught their attention, it’s just a completely ridiculous device used to bring out a conflict and it’s lazy screenwriting at its best. I wouldn’t have minded it as much if there had been a reason for them to go rooting around in the bin.

However, that is not enough to harm my enjoyment of the film. I liked it a lot and was completely engaged throughout, so much so that I didn’t really think of anything else apart from the film. It doesn’t defy any of the conventions of the genre but it does feel fresh, and this is testament to Radcliffe and Kazan who are superb together. I’m really enthusiastic about this one so I’m definitely recommending it. 

Movie Review – The Expendables 3 (2014)

Director: Patrick Hughes

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Kelsey Grammer, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz, Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz and Arnold Schwarzenegger 

I’m pretty sure that’s everyone. 

In The Expendables 3 Barney is having a bit of an existential crisis. After running into an old partner who he thought was dead (Gibson) Barney fires the rest of the team and brings in some younger recruits to take down Stonebanks. However, after that mission goes awry he has to rely on the old guard to rescue the new team, take down Stonebanks and live to see another day. 

While I love that all these actions stars have been assembled for these films, I thought the first two lacked some of the earnestness that came with the classic 80s movies. Instead of revelling in the glory of their heyday they became almost a parody of themselves and the mugging to the camera was especially painful in The Expendables 2. I mean, the exchange between Schwarzenegger and Willis in the airport was just painful. “I’ll be back.” “You’re been back enough, I’ll be back.” Who talks like that?! It felt forced and tired, so I went into Expendables 3 with a bit of wariness but actually I really, really enjoyed it. I think it’s definitely the best one out of the three. There’s good action, less of the forced humour, and it feels like they want to replicate the kinds of movies they used to make rather than simply make fun of themselves. 

It’s not a perfect film though, and I think the cast is really bloated. A big deal was made of Snipes’ appearance but aside from an explosive introduction he doesn’t have much to do. However, his presence does inject some much-needed energy and combined with Banderas (who steals the show), they inject new life, which is kind of ironic that it’s these two who do that rather than the young Expendables. Speaking of which, they’re okay and they have some nice interactions with the rest of the cast and most of them have their own thing to do. I love the idea of legacy and it reminded me of the X-Men issue where Professor X had to assemble a new team to rescue the original line-up, although it’s inverted here as the original team has to save the new ones. 

Anyway, yes, I thought the idea of legacy was done well and I liked how Barney had to realize that they were basically each other’s family. There were some poignant moments, especially towards the end as Barney noticed how much the new team resembled the old crew. 

The action set-pieces were great and some were astounding. I did think there was a lack of hand-to-hand combat, and the end fight was anti-climactic (although Stallone did growl out a classic action-movie one-liner). A few other cute nods came in as well, like Arnie bellowing “Get to the CHOPPA!”, which was awesome, and didn’t feel jarring like the ones in the previous films. There were a few digs at Bruce Willis as well, and Harrison Ford seemed to be having fun, it was a shame they couldn’t find a way to give more things for Jet Li to do though, and I’m still annoyed that Van Damme wasn’t brought back as a good twin, but hopefully there’s still a chance for that if another is made. 

I liked most of the new additions and hope that at least Banderas and Snipes stick around. The action was good, and this one feels like what The Expendables should have been from the start. I liked the personal connection that Stonebanks had with Barney. Even if you were disappointed with the other films I’d recommend going to see this. It’s not perfect but it’s entertaining, but it is a shame that it’s so male-dominated because with the new team they did have a chance to include some more women, but I suppose we’ll have to wait for The Expendabelles for that! 

An Incomplete Collection…Such a Sad Thing

I usually just use this blog for reviews of various things but I wanted to post about something that I’m sure many of you can sympathise with. Let me show you a picture first. 

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Look at that, nice shiny, thick books with vibrant, colourful covers oh boy. What you’re looking at are three volumes of Age of Apocalypse: The Complete Epic. The Age of Apocalypse was a sprawling event in Marvel comics that showed a world where Professor X died and Magneto led the X-Men against the vile tyranny of Apocalypse. The thing is, the collection is four volumes. What you are seeing in this picture are volumes 1, 2, and….4. Yes, I am missing number 3, much to my dismay. 

So a couple of years ago I was looking through Amazon and I put these on my Christmas list, figuring that they were a little expensive so if I could get them bought for me it’d free me up to buy cheaper things myself. I got volume 1, and since I was in no hurry to get the others I thought I’d wait until the next Christmas. Well, I didn’t receive any then. Then along comes X-Men: Days of Future Past and the tease for the sequel, X-Men Apocalypse. This got me in the mood to read it again but I wanted the whole thing. They were still fairly expensive on Amazon (at least for a struggling writer like me) and were only available from third-party sellers. But no matter, I could at least still get them. So I put in orders and while I waited I re-read volume 1. Then 2 arrived, and I eagerly re-read that. 4 came as well but there was a problem, 3 still wasn’t here yet. I checked my e-mail from Amazon. Oh no, the wait was a month! Quite long but I thought okay, I can wait that long, as long as it’s coming it’s not a big deal. I read a few other things in the meantime, always being taunted by 4 sitting on my shelf. 

The dispatch date came and went. I received an e-mail. Amazon are having trouble with the seller and want to delay it by another few weeks, or I can cancel the transaction. Well, it’s only a few more weeks, and there aren’t many other sources so I may as well wait. 

A few weeks go by. Nothing again and they don’t hold out any hope. I cancel the transaction. I check on Amazon to see if I can buy it from someone else, but now the cheapest it’s going for is about £30, with the rest closed to £40 and £50. I’ve checked on other sites but it appears out of stock. 

It seems as though I have to wait far longer than the initial month I was prepared for. I can only assume that a reprint is in progress, especially as Apocalypse will be featured in the new movie, although who knows how long it will take to get the comics back out into the marketplace. It looks as though these three will have to move from my to-read pile to live in the cupboard until 3 is released, and 4 will have to remain a mystery for now. 

I’d love to hear other people’s collection stories. Have you been in the midst of collecting something only to find that one part of is out of stock or print? Do you have a holy grail of something you’re searching for to complete a collection? Let me know in the comments!