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 – Standby (2014)

Directors: Rob Burke and Ronan Burke

Stars: Brian Gleeson, Jessica Paré

Alan (Gleeson) is down on his luck. He’s been stood up at the altar and works as a part-time tourist aid at Dublin airport, and the only outlet for his passion is gigging in pubs with his friends. Then, unexpectedly, he meets an old American flame at the airport, a woman he had a romance with eight years ago when he studied in America. He promised to return to America but never did, and they haven’t spoken since then.

Do you ever watch a film and think that it’s made specifically for you, or that somehow the writers have tapped into your experiences and put them up on the screen? Standby is such a movie for me. Like Alan, I had a romance while I was in America and afterwards I was unable to get back there, and although we still talk it’s not with the same frequency as we used to, and people move on. I’m glad to say that my life is in a better position than Alan’s as well, although I do have a year on him, so when this was made we were probably in a similar situation. I’ve often longed for a chance to see my American ex again and I can imagine seeing her randomly at an airport would end up much the same as it does in the film.

There’s an awkward familiarity between them both, and while they’ve changed in their time apart they rekindle their attraction and start to rediscover each other, and slowly become the people they used to be once again. The leads have good chemistry and there’s some humourous moments with background characters. Another thing seems to be written for me is that Hank Williams is referenced a few times.

So in some ways this might be an odd review because the film mirrors certain aspects of my life so much that it’s difficult for me to see it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been through the same things I have. I will say that there’s a part of the plot that revolves around a lie that I didn’t like, and I don’t think the film makes good use of Dublin as a character. I didn’t feel much of a sense of exploration and the city didn’t feel like it played as big a part in the film as cities do in some other ‘lets wander around the city all night’ films.

But if you like romance and you like the idea of lovers meeting after some time apart then this is a good film to watch. I think it gets better as it moves along, and the couple feel like they’re real rather than some manufactured Hollywood couple.

Movie Review – Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015)

Director: Brad Bird

Stars: George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw

Casey (Robertson) is a frustrated teenager who dislikes the general attitude of the world. After being bailed out of jail she finds a strange badge, and when she touches it she finds herself in another world. This leads her on an adventure to save the world itself!

I used to work at Disneyworld and there’s a section of the Magic Kingdom called Tomorrowland, and the film features the attraction ‘It’s a Small World,’ which gets unfair criticism I think. I actually really enjoyed the ride. Anyway, I appreciated these nods and I think overall the film holds up well to the central philosophy of Disney. The message is to look forward and try to find solutions to problems rather than resign yourself to defeat. It’s about hope, dreams, and inspiration, and these are ideas that I can get behind because I do agree with the sentiment of the film. We’re bombarded with so much negativity that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the world is a beautiful, wondrous place (and it’s the reason why I don’t watch the news, because they only report the disasters and tragedies).

This is also reflected in movies as well, and while I was watching the first part of the film I was thinking that Brad Bird would be perfect to direct a Superman film because the way he shot the entrance to Tomorrowland showed that he’s capable of conveying a sense of wonder and awe. The main thrust of the film shows Casey allying with Frank (Clooney) to try and fix the world because people have basically given up hope, and apparently Casey is the one person in the world who hasn’t given up.

The film had some good set-pieces and I liked the concepts introduced in Tomorrowland itself, but the ending fizzled out completely. The build-up to the climax was done well but the ending didn’t satisfy me at all and the way the message was presented was incredibly heavy-handed and it felt like I was being lectured to. At one point one of the characters turns to the screen and, breaking the fourth wall, yells at us for making a mess of the planet. I don’t mind a message in movies but this felt like it was preaching to the audience and trying to lecture rather than entertain.

There also wasn’t enough depth given to Tomorrowland. There was so much potential for exploration here, and we’re told that there are a lot of people in Tomorrowland, and yet it seems as though there’s only one person. There’s also lip service given to the fact that other people have been recruited before Casey, but it’s never said why they failed, and Casey comes off as a Mary-Sue in some aspects. The story tells us that she’s special and unique but the only reason given is because she hasn’t given up, and I can’t see that she’s the only person in the whole world to hope.

But Robertson is good in the role and I predict big things for her. She has a good screen presence and was probably the most watchable thing about the film. Clooney was his usual affable self, and Hugh Laurie was okay, although his role was basically one-note.

And I feel really bad now because I don’t want to be a part of this negative cycle that the film is battling against because I do think it’s worthwhile that this film was made and I think it promotes a positive outlook on the world that people should take with them and carry out of the movie theatre. It follows the tenets of Disney, and I liked how it showed that anyone can have a positive impact no matter age, race, creed, location. I genuinely like the message behind it but I don’t think it completely succeeded in the execution, and as a film I found the climax lacking.

Movie Review – Wonder Woman (2009)

Director: Lauren Montgomery

Stars: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt, Virginia Madsen, Vicki Lewis

The Amazons, led by Hippolyta, are held on the hidden island of Themyscria when pilot Steve Trevor inadvertently crash lands. He meets Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, and the two of them return to America, with Diana given the object of capturing Ares who escaped in the confusion. The Amazon and the human must work together and try to overcome their mutual prejudice as the looming threat grows, not only endangering humanity but also the gods of Olympus.

Continuing my journey through the DC animated movies brings me to Wonder Woman. I’ve never read a Wonder Woman comic nor have I ever seen the classic tv series. I’ve only been exposed to her in the wider popular culture and in group stories, so I know the broad outlines. I found this movie to be very entertaining. I’m a big fan of Greek mythology so I enjoyed the culture being shown here. The relationship between Diana and Steve was entertaining and I felt the film made a good point in saying that communication is something that both parties have to work on in coming to a better understanding.

The cultural differences between the Amazons and humans made for some fun laughs, as did the lasso of truth. The action was cool, especially in the early battle. There was a great joke near the end as well regarding the invisible jet. I enjoyed the supporting characters too, especially Artemis, as well as the appearance by a gluttonous Hades.

I feel Wonder Woman does a good job at introducing the character as well as giving her a strong personality. The story and villains are good, and it makes a wider point about communicating with one another to understand each other, which is a common point made in fiction but sadly it’s one that bears repeating for humanity sometimes seems intent on sticking rigidly to preconceived notions about things.

Movie Review – Run All Night (2015)

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Stars: Liam Neeson, Ed Harris, Joel Kinnaman, Boyd Holbrook, Vincent D’Onofrio

An old-time hitman Jimmy (Neeson) has nothing left in the world apart from guilt and regrets, but a turbulent turn of events leads his estranged son to be under suspicion for murder. In an attempt to do right by his family Jimmy runs all night in an effort to protect his son and make up for some of the mistakes he made during his life.

Liam Neeson has done a lot of actions films after Taken. Some have been rehashes of the film but others have had some depth, like last year’s A Walk Among the Tombstones. Run All Night is definitely in that vein. At the beginning Neeson isn’t the hardened badass we’ve come to know and love, instead he’s a drunk no-hoper that’s kept around as little more than a mascot. It somewhat mirrors the journey of William Munney in Unforgiven, although is nowhere near as poetic or powerful. Sadly the flaw with Run All Night is that Jimmy is shown to be such a loser that the turnaround to badass is somewhat jarring and comes more as a result of needs of the plot.

But I like the commentary on father-son relationships and Kinnaman gives a solid supporting performance. I got a kick out of seeing them trying to survive together. The friendship between Jimmy and Shawn (Harris) is great as well, and the two actors give a great deal of pathos in their interactions. It’s not a film that’s given to overt, haughty melodrama, instead the revelations are blunt and unwieldy, but they fit perfectly into the world that Serra presents.

Speaking of Serra, he gave the film some stylistic touches which help to elevate it from standard action fare. The sweeping city shots were sometimes astounding and there were some amazing action sequences, the apartment block being a particular standout.

I was impressed with Run All Night and highly recommend it.