Movie Review – The Assassination (2008)

Director: Brett Simon

Stars: Mischa Barton, Reece Thompson, Bruce Willis, Michael Rapaport, Kathryn Morris, Melonie Diaz, Josh Pais, Luke Grimes, Patrick Taylor

At a high school SAT exams are stolen, so the popular girl and the newspaper reporter are tasked with finding out who did it. This leads to a bigger conspiracy that involves trying to undermine the current school president.

The Assassination is a homage to film noir set in a high school. It’s a black comedy that plays with some high school stereotypes as well. The lead character is a hapless reporter who gets in way over his head, and this leads to some entertaining situations. The supporting characters are played by good actors, meaning that even small roles have some depth and it makes the little community feel organic.

It’s not going to be for everyone though, as its not an outright comedy and if you’re not familiar with the genre conventions of film noir it’s going to lose a lot of its appeal. So it’s kind of a difficult one to recommend. Personally, I enjoyed it but it might be one where you have to watch a trailer or a clip from the movie to see if it’s something for you.

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Movie Review – When Worlds Collide (1951)

Director: Rudolph Maté

Stars: Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, Peter Hanson, John Hoyt, Larry Keating, Rachel Ames, Stephen Chase, Frank Cady, Hayden Rorke, Sandro Giglio

When scientist discover that two planets are going to pass by Earth and destroy the planet, a race begins to build a rocket that will take a select number of survivors to one of the new planets, where the world can continue.

I’m usually a sucker for classic sci-fi movies, and while When Worlds Collide has an interesting concept it surprisingly lacks drama. There’s some tension as a group of people work on the rocket, knowing that the odds are slim that they’ll actually get to travel. I liked how this was discussed, and how the astronomers and scientists were in control rather than the government. However, a few opportunities for drama were missed. There was an opportunity for a love triangle that could have added to the tension, but instead one of the suitors simply gives up, draining that subplot of any excitement.

The ending is a little strange as well, shifting to an animated scene. There’s also a major plot hole in that I don’t see how they could survive on a planet that’s hurtling through space, how is there going to be any atmosphere? And there’s going to be no heat without a sun.

So it’s a shame really because it begins as quite a suspenseful movie; a pilot has been ordered to deliver a black box, and when the contents are revealed it’s a big deal. But there wasn’t anything to set it apart from other films unfortunately.

Movie Review – The Accidental Spy (2001)

Director: Teddy Chan

Stars: Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, Min Kim, Hsing-kuo Wu, Lillian Ho, Vivian Hsu

An ordinary salesman dreams of big adventures, so when he learns that he’s the orphaned son of a rich businessman he gets involved in a hunt for drugs.

So The Accidental Spy is an American cut of the original film and apparently it cut a little over twenty minutes of the original film. It’s also been dubbed in English. I’m not a fan of dubbing and would much rather have subtitles. The dubbing leaves the characters feeling flat and lifeless, and it’s hard to get invested in the already-messy story. The cutting is particularly obvious at the end, as the climax comes out of nowhere. Also, Jackie Chan’s character is called…Jackie Chan, which just struck me as bizarre. At first I thought it was a semi-spoof where Chan was playing himself.

But perhaps you’re not watching Jackie Chan films for the plot. The fight scenes are decent but nothing mindblowing, and the one I most enjoyed was set in a Turkish bathhouse, but this didn’t last long. However, it did lead to a fun streak through a marketplace. The finale was dramatic as well, but given the nature of the film it didn’t have any real impact.

This is going to be one for people who need to see every Jackie Chan film. I would avoid this one if I were you.

Movie Review – Pixels (2015)

Director: Chris Columbus

Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James,Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Brian Cox, Donkey Kong, Q-Bert,  Pac-Man

In 1982 the world video game championships were recorded and sent into space. Sam Brenner (Sandler) was the runner-up, and it’s haunted him ever since. 30 years later, he feels like he’s wasted his potential, and while his best friend is president of the United States, he installs technology for a living. But when Earth starts getting attacked by pixelated alien beings, and receives strange messages, Brenner and his companions find out that the skills they developed as kids might now be the key to saving the world.

I was rather looking forward to Pixels. I grew up in the 90s, so I remember that arcades were still a thing, although they weren’t as much a part of my life as they were in the 80s (and I think the cultural significance of them is more American anyway) but the games featured do hold some nostalgia for me and it’s fun to see them brought to life. The effects are cool and there’s a couple of good 3D moments, although I feel more could have been done to fully embrace the pixelated nature, especially after seeing the sequence in Inside Out where the characters become 2D abstract forms.

Pixels suffers from the problem of being predictable. The subplots are generic and the overall film is formulaic. Everyone is going to know the climax of the film after watching the opening sequence. The dialogue isn’t particularly sharp and while there are some funny gags there’s not a constant stream of laughter. Probably the best sequence in the film is the Pac-Man chase, but if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen most of the highlights of that. Speaking of the trailer, one interesting thing is that they changed a scene in it from the final film and gave the line to another character. Go see if you can spot it.

This is one of those films where I think if you grew up playing these games you’ll probably get a kick out of it. It’s not a bad film and it’s a decent, entertaining watch, there’s just not much there to set it apart from the crowd other than the fact that it features classic video games. It’s not one that I’d be rushing out to see, and if you weren’t impressed by the trailers then that’s quite indicative that you won’t like the film.

Movie Review – Coherence (2013)

Director: James Ward Byrkit

Stars: Nicholas Brendon, Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Lorene Scafaria, Elizabeth Gracen, Hugo Armstrong, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher

While having a dinner party, eight friends witness a comet passing overhead. Then, there’s a powercut, but one house still has lights…when they go to investigate reality starts to bend and they question who they are.

I studied Philosophy and I like films that play with the mind. Coherence does this by introducing alternate realities, parallel timelines etc, and at times it is hard to keep track of everything that’s going on. It takes a little while for the film to get going as the characters need to be introduced, but the mystery is drip fed until the truth gets revealed, and as that happens it’s a dramatic scene.

However, I feel that the length of the film is too short to develop the concept fully. I wasn’t a fan of the ending as it felt like it wanted to be punchy, but it had little impact for me. In some ways this isn’t so much as a movie as a thought experiment put to film, and in that respect it’s interesting if you like that sort of thing. I’m not sure it’s so good as a film though. The acting is okay, but the characters didn’t leap off the screen at me, and the dialogue was fairly average.

It’s worth watching if you like films that explore philosophical concepts, and it’s not a huge time investment, but I think a lot of people would feel bored and rather nonplussed about the whole thing, kinda like Primer. I think it’s a film for a very select audience.

Movie Review – Inside Out (2015)

Directors: Pete Docter, Ronaldo del Carmen

Stars: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Ever thought they were voices in your head? Inside Out gives us a look inside Riley’s head. She’s an 11 year old girl who has just been uprooted from her home in Minnesota to go to San Francisco where she knows no-one and the pizza has broccoli on it. Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger try to help Riley through the transition but when Joy and Sadness get lost in the recesses of Riley’s mind, the young girl starts having a crisis.

Okay, so obviously Inside Out does simplify the working of the mind but I liked how it showed how things work, and it was interesting to get a window into Riley’s head. Most of the film takes place there and it’s strange because the main characters are Riley’s emotions, so although we don’t really spend much time with Riley per se, we actually know her intimately well through her emotions. I also liked how the emotions are the same in everyone, yet some are more dominant than others.

The story is actually fairly dark, and yes, there were moments that I found extremely emotional. Many people automatically give Pixar films a great rating but I don’t think they hit it out of the park as much as some people seem to think, and I still think that Up is so overrated, but Inside Out is a gem. It’s helped by a score from Michael Giacchino that will swell the heart, but it’s a clever look at the balance of emotions, and how even ones that seem negative can serve their purpose.

The visuals are incredible and there’s one sequence in particular which struck me as amazing, and the animation is superb. There’s a lot of in-jokes that only adults will get, and some nice visual gags. This is definitely up there with the upper echelon of Pixar films. I laughed,  I cried, and I enjoyed this one a lot.

Movie Review – Arena (1989)

Director: Peter Manoogian

Stars: Paul Satterfield, Hamilton Camp, Marc Alaimo, Armin Shimerman, Claudia Christian, Shari Shattuck, Michael Deak, William Butler

It’s been decades since a human has won the intergalactic fighting championship. But when chef Steve Armstrong (Satterfield) gets fired, he’s forced into the arena to pay off his debts. As he tries to show the world that humans can last in the ring, machinations behind the scenes threaten to derail his challenge. Will he manage to overcome impossible odds? Only time in the arena will tell.

Arena definitely falls into the category of ‘so bad it’s good’. There’s so much wrong with the film and yet I loved it (my flatmate did not share this opinion). There were a couple of things I genuinely liked. The fact that humans are seen as a bit rubbish is rare in films, and in this one they’re just another race of aliens. There are some nice external shots of the station on which the arena is located, and most of the make-up on the aliens is good. The actors also seem to give their best, even though the script is weak. Speaking of the make-up it must have eaten up a large chunk of the painfully low budget, and there’s a prevalence of fish and lizard heads.

The film is striving for a vibe like Rocky but never has the depth of emotional intelligence to be anything other than a cheesy flick. The fight scenes, which should be the foundation of the film, lack dynamism and are repetitive. Satterfield, while bearing a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve in facial structure and in his earnestness, plays a character who it’s hard to feel any sympathy for and when he wins it feels like a hollow triumph. The less said about his costume, which looks like an adult nappy, the better.

However, as a Trekkie it was cool to see a couple of Deep Space Nine actors share the screen together, and Alaimo added some menace. This is the kind of film that I think would benefit strongly from a remake because the core concept is fine but the story structure needs a lot of tweaking. So it’s a fun movie to watch if you want something that’s bad without being a waste of time. I can affectionately trash this movie but I don’t hate it at all.

Movie Review – Boy Meets Girl (2014)

Director: Eric Schaeffer

Stars: Michelle Hendley, Michael Welch, Michael Galante, Alexandra Tushen, Joseph Ricci

You know, I watch a lot of movies and I review most of them on my blog. This can mean sometimes I feel obligated to watch movies rather than simply watch them for the sheer enjoyment factor, and occasionally I have to watch a run of bad and boring movies, and while it can be fun to trash them in reviews it does get a little old. But then I come across films that blow me away on every level, and it reminds me why I fell in love with movies in the first place.

Boy Meets Girl is one such film. Ricky (Hendley) is a transgender girl who begins flirting with Francesca, and the two of them start exploring their sexuality. But all the while there’s a simmering attraction between Ricky and her lifelong best friend Robby. It’s a film that is all about love, acceptance, hope, and the struggles we all face. It’s about having courage when things are difficult and trusting in those around you for support and love.

The film is often funny and heartfelt, but there are moments when it ramps up the drama and shakes you from the comfortable level you’ve reached. I really liked how Ricky isn’t just a token transgender character, but a real person, and it’s hopefully a landmark role because transgender people haven’t been represented that well in films. The characters are warm and witty, and I found myself quickly engrossed in the developments of these people. It’s superbly acted and there’s a subplot running through the film that brought me to tears in the end.

In some ways it feels like we’re entering the dawn of a new era where hopefully, as a society, we can be more accepting of people who are different than ourselves (which I think we should be anyway since we’re all different in one way or another but we all have one thing in common – we’re human, but that’s another discussion for another time). This film is very relevant and it has a universal message that people can identify with, and hopefully it will lead to some more understanding.  This is an outstanding film and you have to watch it, it’s as simple as that.

Movie Review – Where the Heart Is (2000)

Director: Matt Williams

Stars: Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack, James Frain, Dylan Bruno, Keith David

After being abandoned by her boyfriend at Walmart, Novalee (Portman) ends up staying there and tries to rebuild her life in the small town.

When I read the synopsis of this movie I thought that it was going to be like The Terminal but just set in Walmart. However, the movie is much more than that. It’s a touching, emotional story that envelops so much of the human spectrum of emotion it’s astounding. While the film centres around Portman, the supporting characters have as much involvement and some of the most powerful moments in the film comes from Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing.

It does draw out emotions, but at times the film does feel cloying and like it’s trying it’s best to generate these emotions, so it can feel a little saccharine, but I don’t mind that necessarily. There are a few jarring time jumps, and the film follows the ex-boyfriend through his life as well, but this didn’t have a satisfying resolution for me and it felt like an unnecessary story thread.

It’s one of those films that follow a long period of a life, with all the ups and downs that can happen. It’s not going to be for everyone but if you like simmering emotional stories then Where The Heart Is is probably going to be a film for you.

Book Review – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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Ready Player One takes place in a world where a games designer had designed a program called OASIS. It’s a virtual reality world where people can go on adventures, level up their avatar and…go to school. After this game designer died it was revealed that he had hidden an easter egg in the game, and should anyone find it they would inherit the designer’s estate, along with control of OASIS. Parvizal is a young man determined to succeed on the quest, but he becomes embroiled in a vicious war, as well as experiencing the painful yearning of teenage love.

I’d just finished reading You by Austrin Grossman, and if you like you can check out my review of that here. That book was said to be the first literary product of gamer culture, and one of the story threads was creating the ultimate game. I felt that got the technical aspects of game design right, but it was lacking some heart, which Ready Player One has in abundance. And in many ways OASIS is the ultimate game. It’s a virtual reality built by a man who just wanted to share his passions with the world, and allows people to escape the drudgery of the dystopia in which they find themselves.

The story is filled with pop culture references and I was wary of this at first because in many stories and movies the references can get tiresome, and it feels like the story was written just so people could make a load of references, and when you look beyond them there isn’t much substance. However, in this book the references feel organic and although there are a load of them they’re woven into the story in such a way that I don’t think the book would work without them. Having these references can be a double edged sword as well, because if people don’t get them the author risks alienating their audience but there were many references that even I didn’t get (much of the book talks about early Atari and Commodore 64 text-based adventures) and yet even though I didn’t have experience of them first hand I didn’t feel left out of the story.

And there’s a good story here beyond the references. It’s all about working out what’s important in the world. Increasingly we’re getting to a point where online and offline lives are blurring, and occasionally we have to ask ourselves if there’s even a distinction between the two. Are friendships any less genuine if you only talk on message boards and text rather than hanging out? Is love any less true without the physical component? These concepts and more all fall under the umbrella of the story.

I found it to be an addictive book. Every adventure was interesting and although I don’t play many video games anymore, I do play Dungeons & Dragons so the quest aspect to the game interested me a great deal. I completely loved it and it’s super entertaining. If you consider yourself a gamer or a geek at all this is a must-buy for sure.