Movie Review – The Wind Rises (2013)

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Stars: Hideaki Anno, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Miori Takimoto,

Jiro Horikoshi (Anno) was an airplane designer inspired by the famed Italian Caprioni. The Wind Rises follows his life, including such events as a volcano and World War II. As he progresses in his career he has to deal with the struggle of his inventions being used for war, meanwhile he falls in love with a woman who is marred by tragedy.

This is different from other Studio Ghibli films as it’s not as imaginative or fantastical. It’s based on a true story, but it still retains the usual heart and warmth that Miyazaki weaves into his pictures. I love it when I see a film that educates me about something or something I previously knew nothing about, and after this film I did feel like I truly knew Horikoshi. The film encapsulates a great many things, it’s a love story, parts lean towards a spy thriller, and the flying scenes are filled with drama and excitement.

I particularly enjoyed how Horikoshi merely wanted to follow his dream and design beautiful planes, but how this kind of got perverted into war machines. Yet he continued to stay true to his ideals and design the most efficient planes he could. Touching moments were shown in dreams where he met his idol. I liked how Caproni’s influence didn’t just extend to the character but to the film as a whole, as early on the music had a distinct Italian flair.

The love story takes over about halfway through, and while the shifting between the wider implications of the war and the intimate nature of the love story can be jarring I felt they complemented each other well. It almost goes without saying that it’s beautifully animated, and it’s a film that I enjoyed a great deal. I do tend to prefer the more fantastical Studio Ghibli films but The Wind Rises is a strong addition to the pantheon.

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Movie Review – Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014)

Director: Rob Minkoff

Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter

Mr. Peabody (Burrell) is a genius and all-round amazing dog, and he adopts Sherman (Charles). However, when Sherman starts getting into a feud at school with Penny (Winter), Mr. Peabody’s parenting skills come under scrutiny and he’s in danger of losing his son. As part of Sherman’s education, Mr. Peabody had invented a time machine and to try and prove Penny wrong, Sherman shows her. The two of them, along with Mr. Peabody, end up going on an adventure through time.

I don’t remember ever seeing the series this was based on so I can’t speak to how it compares, or whether it retains the essence of the original. I was hoping to enjoy it a lot but I found my attention wandering and it didn’t quite engross me, so as far as I’m concerned it’s not up there with the best animated movies, but it’s decent fare.

The relationship between Mr. Peabody and Sherman is the driving force and it’s the main emotional point of the movie. This is strong, and the resolution is satisfying. The plot itself is not very involving, although it is good to see all the different time periods and various people from different eras. In this sense it’s actually a good movie to show kids because it should get them curious about different cultures through history. The humour was, well, okay…I love puns but even I was cringing at some of them. But it’s a better sensibility than, say, the Chipmunk films at least.

Overall I think if you have young kids it’s worth putting on and then following it up with showing them more about any of the eras that interested them.

D&D 5E Campaign Update – Enter the Owl Bear

Our initial hope for a regular biweekly routine was quickly abandoned so this was the first time we had played in about a month, due to various circumstances. We’re at a part now where we’re completing a few side quests and exploring the surrounding world, and the main thing we were doing this session was taking on some Orcs.

But there was something different about this session, it didn’t have the same spark as usual, and people didn’t seem as excited. I’m not sure why exactly, maybe it was just the moods of people on the day; one of my friends recently went through a break-up and is going through a bit of an emotional tornado so he was drinking (which is technically in character as he’s playing a sailor), but it meant he was distracted and he ended up toying with a guitar for most of the session. Another player was on his phone constantly, and a third had his tablet out and was watching the football.

Given this I wasn’t feeling particularly ‘into’ it and I was getting frustrated with some things the other players were doing in-game as well. The DM was suffering from a bit of a cold, but he still did a good job but overall it felt like we were going through the motions. The encounter with the Owl Bear was fun and something we didn’t expect, and it actually dealt quite a bit of damage, but when we onto the Orcs, that battle fell flat. Only one of us was in danger, the rest only took 3 hit points between us. By this point the DM was getting annoyed and wasn’t putting as much flavour into the battle, so it became a case of, “I move here, I hit him for x,” “Okay, he’s looking worse for wear now,” until the battle was over. This was the first one that we really steamrolled, as usually in combat a few of us go down.

So maybe it was too easy? I’m not sure. Part of the problem I think is that usually the combat is broken up by some role-playing, but there wasn’t much opportunity so we had three combats in total, and by the end it felt a little repetitive. That’s not to knock the DM because I think he’s doing a great job, and I think if the other players had all been into it the combat would have been more fun. I’m anticipating some much harder encounters in the future (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

All in all the session wasn’t quite what I had hoped, and I’m hoping it was just a blip. But I am wondering if anyone else out there has experienced something similar and if so what did you do to rectify it?

Movie Review – Hercules (2014)

Director: Brett Ratner

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Tobias Santelmann, Reece Ritchie, Peter Mullan

Based on a graphic novel, Hercules aims to put a twist on the tale of the legend. Hercules (Johnson) is now a mercenary and gets commissioned to forge an army out of farmers, but as an evil scheme gets revealed he has to discover the hero within.

I love Greek mythology and I’m a big fan of The Rock, and he’s pretty much the best thing about this movie. The film wastes no time in getting through the labours, and then seeks to put a new twist by saying that Hercules had help, and he mostly uses his reputation as armour and a way to intimidate his enemies. I like this concept as it shows how powerful a story can be, and I particularly enjoyed the storyteller Iolaus (Ritchie), as even though he wasn’t taking part in combat he actually had an integral role.

But the main conceit of the film is that the truth is more compelling than the legend, and this simply isn’t the case. The plot is generic and predictable. Character beats are obvious. There are battle scenes where our heroes mow down a bunch of bland enemies and it’s just all rather flat. It hints at a greater meaning to the myth but doesn’t do anything with that, and all in all I think seeing the labours would have been for more exciting. I’d even have preferred if the story was the story of Hercules’ labours but with the aid of the characters in this film instead of the boring story they came up with.

A pass on this one I think. There’s really not much here. Johnson’s charisma is wasted in this lifeless film.

Movie Review – Journey to Dinosaur Island (2014)

Director: Matt Drummond

Stars: Darius Williams, Kate Rasmussen

Lucas (Williams) is eager for adventure and soon finds himself stranded on a mysterious island with Kathryn (Rasmussen), who claims she’s from the 1950s. As they explore they discover all manner of strange creatures and objects from different time periods, including dinosaurs.

This film has a mighty rating of 3.5 on IMDB from 259 users and honestly I think it’s a little harsh on Journey to Dinosaur Island. As you may know I love dinosaurs and one thing I enjoyed about this one is that because it was made in 2014 it has dinosaurs with feathers, and there were a range of dinosaurs on display. I thought the effects were fairly well done, and there were cool plants and other animals on show as well. The acting was horrible, like, really painful and it’s a shame that the two actors had to carry the film on their own because I think it placed too much pressure on them and they simply weren’t up to the job. The plot was okay it’s nothing spectacular, and as a movie in its own right, and judging it against other movies it’s quite terrible in all honesty. I wouldn’t recommend watching this just for a pure enjoyment factor because it’s not good at all.

But I would recommend this to some people. I think for young people around 8-12 it’s actually a decent film because it is made with an educational bent, as there are lingering shots on the different animals and plants. It also has a lot of things from different eras to spark curiosity, and there’s a good moral at the heart of the story in that things need proof and we can’t accept things on blind faith. It’s dedicated to the scientific method and promotes critical thinking and using intelligence to find a way out of problems, so in that regard it does what it sets out to do. It’s quite colorful and the cheesy acting probably won’t be as much of a problem for people in that age group.

So I don’t think it deserves such a low rating because if its used in the right way it could actually do some good.

Board Game First Impressions – Love Letter

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First Impressions is where I’ve played a game but haven’t played it enough to give a full review, and also won’t have the opportunity to play it more any time soon. Love Letter is an extremely popular game that has a lot of hype around it. It only consists of a deck of cards, so on first appearances there doesn’t seem much to it. The general theme of the game is that you’re trying to get your letter to the princess. Each type of card has a different numerical value, for example the Princess is 8 while the Guards are 1, and you win by either having the highest card, ridding your opponent of all their cards, or guessing the card they hold.

The theme is pretty loose, as evidenced by the fact that there are a number of versions of the game, and a Batman version is coming soon, but the gameplay itself is actually really fun. Now, I’ve only played it with two players and I’ve only played it once, but I enjoyed it a lot. I like how the different cards work together and how you want to get the high-value cards but at the same time guards can be handy. There’s some meta-gaming that goes on as well, like in the game I played with my friend I had the Countess about four rounds in a row so there were times when he just blindly guessed that I had her, and I did! But there is deduction as well, there were points when I thought, ‘okay, he played that card, so he’s probably trying to figure out what I have so on his next turn he can do that, so if I do this then I can pull off a victory just before he does’.

I imagine it would be more fun with more players, so I’m eager to try it again but even with two players it was still a lot of fun and it’s good to pull out for a quick game. I’m definitely going to add this to my collection at some point, although I think I might wait for the Batman version.

Movie Review – Project Almanac (2015)

Director: Dean Israelite

Stars: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Virginia Gardner

While searching around his father’s old things, David (Weston) finds a camcorder and sees something eerie – his present day self at his own seventh birthday party. As he, his sister, and his friends try to figure out what happened they come across some old files, and end up making a time machine. At first they have fun and try to make things in their lives better, but it quickly spirals out of control and some changes happen that they never could have foreseen.

Okay, so if you don’t like the whole idea of found footage movies then you should just ignore this one straight away. I’m not a huge fan of them but I don’t mind when they’re done well (example – Chronicle). In Project Almanac I was distracted because there were many shots that no-one would have filmed. However, the plot and characters were intriguing enough to keep me involved…at first.

While they’re learning how to use the time machine it’s a tad slow and repetitive, and I don’t think it does a good job of setting up exactly which theory of time travel they’re going to do. They seem to be able to remember the original version of events, but also go back and change things so their future selves would have different memories. Also, when they went back to the same point there weren’t multiple versions of themselves running about, so the mechanics don’t bear scrutiny.

But whenever you deal with time travel there are usually these things, and it doesn’t mean the film is bad. I mean, Primer probably has the most well-thought out mechanics of time travel but the movie was boring. Project Almanac is actually quite exciting for the most part, and there are some ethical questions introduced, although they weren’t explored to the extent that I would have liked.

At one point the film stops being fun and just falls flat towards the end. I liked the group dynamic but it gradually becomes more and more about David and thus more and more predictable. It also kinda forgets about the main reason they discovered the time machine in the first place – Dave’s application to college. That central plot point remains unresolved by the end. So yes, although I mostly enjoyed the act of watching it, it left a sour taste in my mouth.

Movie Review – The Machine (2013)

Director: Caradog W. James

Stars: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson

Vincent (Stephens) and Ava (Lotz) are two artificial intelligence engineers who work together to develop the next stage in AI. However, it means working for the Ministry of Defence. Ava is worried that it means creating weapons, but Vincent is only doing it so he can find a way to help his daughter, who suffers from a brain-damaging illness. Meanwhile, the world seems to be at war and Thomson (Lawson) wants to teach the AI to kill.

Interesting premise and I’m always intrigued by films that delve into the nature of artificial intelligence, and Ex Machina is a stand out exploration of that this year (coincidentally it also features a character call Ava). However, The Machine is not nearly as tight as that film and it suffers from being muddled. As presented the world is at war with China, and the MoD seem to be creating an army but this wide scope is quickly abandoned for the more intimate story of Vincent trying to save his daughter, and it feels like the backstory of the war was just there to give an excuse to have the MoD develop the AI, which is fine but I don’t understand why the director spent so much time developing that as a storyline.

There’s also some hints of people with scars being ominous, but they talk in an incomprehensible language so instead of building up suspense it left me confused and unaware of what importance it had to the plot. The soundtrack was corny and felt like it was free stock music or something. The lighting was dark and always dim, and I wonder how anyone in that place could have done any work since it was continually gloomy.

But I at least admire the film for trying to be a character study rather than a generic action movie, it just didn’t totally succeed. I mean, the whole thing about Vincent saving his daughter is undercut but him admitting that even if he managed to port her brain waves into the AI framework it would create a new person, so his daughter would still be dead.

Still, there are some positives to take. I liked Caity Lotz on Arrow and she shows more range here than she did on the tv show, so fellow Arrow fans would probably enjoy it more than the average viewer, but I certainly wouldn’t be rushing it out to watch it.

Upcoming reviews

I’ve taken a little trip this week so no new blog from me today but I thought I’d give a little taste of what’s to come.  This week I watched Project Almanac for a new release as well as The Machine, a film starring Arrow ‘ s Caity Lotz and the version of Hercules starring the rock.

I’m also hoping to get some posts about Smash Up done and the train ride home will let me move through another big chunk of the Robert Mitchum biography I’m reading. 

Movie Review – Byzantium (2012)

Director: Neil Jordan

Stars: Gemma Arterton, Saoirse Ronan, Sam Riley, Johnny Lee Miller, Daniel Mays

Clara (Arterton) and Eleanor (Ronan) are vampires and they end up in a seaside town. When they secret starts slipping out, their past catches up with them and their relationship is strained. The film consists of flashback sequences which tell how they became vampires.

Byzantium feels fresh and by that I mean vampires are one of the most used concepts, and a lot of vampire films can feel repetitive. I found this one to be engaging however. The society of vampires that spans the centuries is interesting, and I liked how the film bounces between the different timeframes. The two protagonists were flawed and each had their own issues. Clara was trying to do all she could to protect Eleanor, but Eleanor just wanted a normal life. She finds this in Noel (Mays), and despite the fact that she’s 200 years old their relationship encapsulates the struggles of young love and what it’s like to open up to someone, only to have them betray that trust.

I felt genuine sympathy for them. Even the villains had good characterisation and weren’t downright evil. The action was cool and there were some brutal killings. The flashbacks also gave the film an opportunity to feature different locations. There were some striking visuals, most notably the cascading waterfalls of blood.

It manages to take vampires and make them feel dangerous and unique again, which is no mean feat given the wealth of material out there. The script is sharp with a lot of memorable moments and my only complaint is that the ending felt predictable. Other than that it’s a cool film and if you like vampires you should check Byzantium out.