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.

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Movie Review – Man Up (2015)

Director: Justin Chon

Stars: Justin Chon, Kevin Wu, Galadriel Stineman

An immature nineteen year old is forced to grow up over a summer when he finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant.

Man Up could have been a heartfelt look at the transition from adolescence to adulthood in the face of a pregnancy, where a young man is forced to grow up and take responsibility. Instead it’s a weak film with bad acting, awful characters, and a lack of focus. It has the ingredients to be a good film but it’s just not enjoyable at all. This is the kind of film that should give hope to all young directors because if this can get made than anything can.

I mean, maybe I’ve just gotten too old to appreciate the humour in this film but I didn’t laugh at all and there’s just no heart to it. At no point did I care about any of the characters or the troubles they were in. It’s a bad film and there’s no way I’m going to recommend it.

Movie Review – In My Dreams (2014)

Director: Kenny Leon

Stars: Katharine McPhee, Mike Vogel

Two people, frustrated with their romantic luck, toss coins into a fountain and subsequently dream about each other. However, according to the legend of the fountain they only have a week to find each other…

From In Your Eyes to In My Dreams, this film shares a similar idea to the film I reviewed yesterday in that the two protagonists fall for each other in their own headspace. It’s a pretty standard romantic comedy with the usual mismatched love interests, the near-misses etc, but I did enjoy the performances of the leads. It doesn’t quite have the dramatic bite of In Your Eyes and I felt that the dream sequences could have had more of a surreal feeling, and the two characters don’t really seem to question whether the person in their dreams is a figment of their imagination or if they are actually real. And, really, there wasn’t much stopping them from finding each other. They could have just told each other their names in the dream and then looked each other up so I don’t know why they didn’t just do that.

But it’s a pretty sweet film and it doesn’t disappoint on the romance front so if that’s your thing, like it is mine, then it’s worth checking out.

Movie Review – In Your Eyes (2014)

Director: Brin Hill

Stars: Zoe Kazan, Michael Stahl-David, Mark Feuerstein, Jennifer Grey, Nikki Reed, Steve Howey, Steve Harris

Two strangers across the country discover that they have a telepathic bond. They share everything they can sense, think, and feel, which leads to an unbreakable bond.

After I watched the film I discovered it was written by Joss Whedon, so the quality of the script should have been no surprise. It’s basically a fantasy film, and In Your Eyes requires a suspension of disbelief to accept the conceit that two people can have a telepathic connection. There’s no reason other than it just happens. I’m willing to be taken along for the ride in a story, but others may not be so that’s something to take into consideration.

The difference between the two people is reflected in their environment. Rebecca (Kazan) is in the chilly state of New Hampshire, and she’s a vulnerable woman with a husband who cares for her in more of a protective way than a loving way, while Dylan (Stahl-David) is in the arid desert. He’s a convict on parole with a life that’s basically a shadow, and through their connection they find some strength and self-belief. It’s a testament to the script, the actors, and the director that the chemistry between them is so strong because the film manages to generate a strong romance without the people meeting.

There are some really interesting scenes, like when they first see themselves through each other’s eyes, and it brings up the discussions about how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. The film makes good use of the senses and the sizzling sensations are palpable. It gives equal focus to the various problems in their lives, although I have to admit that sometimes they are rather brazen; talking to themselves (each other) in broad daylight when it’s clear they aren’t wearing bluetooth headsets or anything. It symbolizes the feeling of when you’re in love and you simply can’t resist speaking to them and get wrapped up in your own world, but it was somewhat irresponsible.

Overall I’m a sucker for this type of romantic story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a bit unconventional but it’s a really strong romance and the film explores the idea of a telepathic connection well. It also ends at a point that I think is perfect, so definitely check this one out if you’re looking for a heartfelt romantic story.

Movie Review – CHAPPiE (2015)

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Stars: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel,, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver, Ninja, Yo-Landi Visser, Jose Pablo Cantillo

Set in South Africa, crime is now controlled by robot police officers (or robocops). However, the lead programmer is searching for something more than simply providing law enforcement and weapons, so when he finds a way to program a true artificial intelligence into a broken droid he goes against the wishes of his superiors. The result is Chappie (Copley), who ends up being raised by gangsters. Meanwhile another programmer is looking to sabotage the droid program so he can get his own project off the ground.

CHAPPiE is a pastiche of other sci-fi movies so if you’re well-versed in the genre there probably isn’t that much new ground covered here. But the themes are becoming more relevant and there seems to have been a string of movies about artificial intelligences released over the last six months or so. I generally like the concepts it explores and I felt it accomplished its goal at looking at the nature of consciousness and what makes a person a person. It also touched on nature vs nurture and delved a bit into the psychology of human development, as Chappie served as a microcosm for the journey from childhood to adulthood.

I felt the human presences were good contrasts. Deon (Patel) was the well-meaning ideological ‘maker’, but the main influences to Chappie’s development were Ninja (Ninja) and Yolandi (Visser). The mother-son relationship was touching and the father-son was dramatic bordering on abusive. Blomkamp didn’t shy away from creating some visceral scenes, and even though Chappie is ‘only’ a robot I found myself wincing and cringing in horror at some of the things he had to endure.

Jackman’s storyline was okay although I felt his motivations were still a little unclear. I was unsure if he was purely motivated by greed and jealously or if there was something deeper going in, because at points he seemed to be coming at it from a religious angle too but I didn’t think it was made explicit enough.

I felt the humour wasn’t handled as well as it could have been. Chappie learning how to talk and act like a gangster grew old fast so some of the film felt repetitive and it does drag in places. That said, the climax was immensely satisfying, heartfelt, and touching and I’m not sure it could have ended any more perfectly. If you like films that explore the nature of artificial intelligence as well as our own consciousness then I think you’ll like CHAPPiE.

Movie Review – The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006)

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Stars: Riisa Naka, Takuya Ishida, Mitsutaka Itakura, Ayami Kakiuchi

Makoto (Naka) is a teenage girl who finds that she can leap through time. At first she tries to use it to her advantage but soon discovers that what she changes can have unforeseen consequences.

Time travel is a well-worn path in fiction so at times it can seem tired. I don’t know what it is, but The Girl Who Leapt Through Time feels fresh. Perhaps it’s just because it’s animated, but it was a pleasant story with some good humour thrown in. I liked the protagonist and felt invested in her as she tried to change certain things. I also liked how even though she goes through time she’s not all-knowing, and there are still things that take her by surprise. Many of the situations are funny and whimsical while others have serious consequences and I liked the balance struck between the two.

The plot was structured well and I enjoyed the resolution, which seemed fitting and heartfelt. I also liked how the source of the time travel was revealed and explained. The visuals were gorgeous and I absolutely loved the animation when Makoto time travelled. I really enjoyed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time so it’s one that I definitely recommend.