The Moment You Fall in Love Review

Overview:

Hina’s fallen in love with an upper classman but then he graduates and goes to highschool. She follows along a couple of years later but still can’t approach him. Meanwhile, her childhood friend and neighbour only has eyes for her and has also enrolled at the same school. And just about everyone else in the show has a crush on everyone else.

Review:

In case you were thinking from the overview that this does not sound like my kind of thing, you’d be right. But every now and then I am in the mood for a sappy romance and this seemed like it would be a good use of my Sunday evening. I wasn’t exactly wrong but I wasn’t exactly right either.

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For sixty minutes, this is going to feel longer. Much, much longer depending on your taste in music. I’ll get this complaint out of the way first because it is the biggest one. You get around five minutes of story and then the music starts and you get a montage. There’s a study montage, a pining over the girl next door montage, a working together montage, a anything that my vaguely be a development in the story montage. While these musical interludes are all interrupted for a few lines of dialogue, mostly you’ll just listen to the music and watch characters go through the motions of telling a story. Whether this charms you or bores you silly will depend on whether this soft rock poppy music does anything for you or not. I was kind of on the fence. It wasn’t hideous enough for me to mute it but neither was I enthralled and the visuals were okay but not rich enough to make up for the long periods of time these scenes took up.

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However, if that isn’t going to be an issue and if you happen to like love stories told through music, you will probably enjoy the rest this has to offer. The characters are all pretty standard as are the developments. It is pretty obvious from the start who Hina is going to end up with in the end but watching her work through her emotions is still enjoyable enough. She cries a lot though. And part of me kept wondering if I was supposed to care more about her sadness but it was more just kind of another step on a fairly predictable journey so I didn’t really feel that emotionally invested in it.

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I didn’t mind child-hood friend and neighbour. He’s also pretty stock standard in terms of a character but of all the characters in the story he’s probably the one I’ll actually remember next week from this story. That said, he needs to ditch his friends. What is it with anime boys having that sleazy friend that they get embarrassed by but they never seem to tell them where to go? Do these characters actually hang around people who deliberately make them uncomfortable for a reason?

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I was also pretty happy with how the classmate developed. At first she seemed the typical rival/troublemaker existing only to throw a spanner in the works. While she doesn’t get a lot of development (sixty minutes and most of it taken up by montages), she actually has a nice turn around in her character arc and its kind of sweet. Part of me wanted her to get a happy ending out of this as well.

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Basically, this isn’t doing much more than a lot of other romances and while it is doing it okay, it isn’t great or mind blowing. Certainly not a terrible way to spend an evening by neither is it something I’m going to really think about in the future.

If you’ve had a chance to watch it I’d love to know your thoughts.

The Moment You Fall in Love is available on Crunchyroll.


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Ghost in the Shell 2017 Movie Review

Overview:

Live action, Hollywood version of Ghost in the Shell. Like most anime adaptations, expect fans to be annoyed regardless of what they do. In this case the white-washing argument dominated early reviews of the movie. Ignoring all of that, its a movie about a girl who is given an artifical body but finds out her memories are also artificial and then seeks out the truth.

Review:

A while ago, and I do mean a while ago given it was a few months now, I had the chance to spend a few days in a town with a cinema and took full advantage of it by pretty much spending each evening trying a different movie (its usually about six months in between cinema visits so yes, I over indulge when given the opportunity). One of the movies I watched last time was the Ghost in the Shell live action movie with Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. I’m going to be clear in that while I have watched some of the anime franchise releases I am not a fan of the Ghost in the Shell anime. Mostly I found it to be a bit dull (and I just lost every fan of the anime right then and there). With that said, I actually wanted to see what Hollywood would do with this movie because the basic concept in the anime was kind of cool.

What this means is I didn’t go in wanting a faithful re-enactment of a source or a true Ghost in the Shell experience. I wanted to see a futuristic story play out in an interesting manner. From that point of view I actually wasn’t too disappointed even if some of the film leaves itself open for criticism. I also viewed this with someone who never watches anime. When I said I was interested in seeing the film they said they thought the trailer looked interesting. I pointed out it was based on an anime and they looked stunned. They showed me the trailer they had watched and yeah, no mention of the fact it was based on an anime. So I had the interesting experience of watching it with someone with no knowledge of the previous franchise and the discussion after about what was good or not about the film was fairly entertaining.

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Anyway, the reason for all of that is a lot of the reviews I read of this film prior to getting to see it were comparison based. They looked at the scenes that were essentially re-enactments of anime sequences and they looked at Johansson’s performance as the Major. Some gave it a nod, a lot tore it to pieces, and occasionally you even got to read a review that actually reviewed the movie as a stand alone piece of entertainment.

Let’s start with the positives about this film.

It has a great setting. Visually it is fun to look at and fairly reminiscent of Blade Runner or the Fifth Element, but mostly it just looks and feels like a real futuristic place. It looks lived in and used and feels like something that might eventuate for our cities the way things are going. As the characters move around in this setting there’s a lot of rich background detail which just adds to the overall feel of immersion in the world they are trying to create. Where the setting starts to fall down is when we spend time in the slums and the more isolated locations. That feeling of being a real location kind of falls apart once the characters are on their own in places that look more like set pieces. They needed to stick to the more populated areas because that is where the setting came alive.

The story itself of the Major finding out who she is/was/will be, whatever. Her identity crisis is handled pretty well. It isn’t earth shattering or something we haven’t seen done in sci-fi before but it is a story that works and the writing is good enough that it holds together well. Johansson also gives a decent enough performance as she becomes more who she is rather than who she is programmed to be.

Lastly, the action works in this film. If you want a sci-fi action this one will do the job. There’s some decent fight sequences and some decent gun play/explosions. Certainly this is watchable just from that point of view.

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What works less well in this film is the pacing, the support cast, the villain and the final fight sequence. That’s a lot of issues for it to overcome. Admittedly, none of these are deal breakers and you will have seen worse if you have spent any time watching Hollywood science fiction or action movies, but they do interrupt the enjoyment of the viewing and make this good enough but not good.

The pacing is hampered by a desire to throw those bones to the fans. The forced re-enactment of some scenes really does hinder the flow of this story. Admittedly, these aren’t the only pacing issues. The show goes from fast paced action to slow introspections and back and forth as the current scene demands and the end result is going from feeling slightly bored to over stimulated. The person I was viewing with wondered why some scenes existed at all and I pointed out it was a scene from the original and then she just wondered why they bothered to include it. Maybe fans received these moments better but for the casual viewer it really did just mess with the pacing and cohesion of this movie.

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Then there’s the support cast with their very hit and miss performances. Conversations go from zero to over the top drama school level anger in seconds and seemingly with little trigger. There’s a few of the support cast that just had me shaking my head as they delivered their lines with as much forced enthusiasm as you usually see in a children’s play. On the other hand, some of the support cast actually did a stellar job with the material they were given and their performances really help hold the reality of the story together.

When it comes to the actual villain of the story, he suffers from an incredibly shallow motivation and almost zero actual plan. When he calls for the spider tank at the end you just know that this guy exists only to be a jerk and he wouldn’t go astray as the villain in an early batman film.

Which leads us on to the final fight sequence against the spider tank. What? Why? We have a thoughtful and interesting science fiction concept about the human consciousness and blending with machines and the best you can do for a final fight sequence is send a tank that does not look like it is obeying the laws of physics to shoot at the main character? Really?

Okay, I actually did enjoy watching this movie. Then again, it was pretty much average Hollywood. Nothing really surprising about it and perfectly watchable with no understanding of the franchise. Would I recommend it? Only if you are pretty much up for anything sci-fi or action and aren’t too picky about the acting.


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Life Movie Review

Overview:

The international space station has just received a sample of a life form from Mars and decide to try to wake it up under strict containment protocols. Of course something goes wrong and an angry life form must be contained and prevented from making it to Earth.

Review:

I don’t get to see movies at the cinema very often so I was really happy that this was out during my last trip to a city. I actually saw a few movies over a couple of days including Ghost in the Shell so I’ll have to get around to writing up reviews of the others that I watched while I had the opportunity. That said, of the movies I watched, Life was probably the one that had the greatest impact on me in terms of emotional response while viewing. It doesn’t really do anything that similar movies haven’t done before, but just because it isn’t treading new ground doesn’t mean it isn’t affective at what it attempts.

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The posters would have you believe that this is space horror, close quarters claustrophobic inducing tension. In fairness, there is a little bit of that but the problem is this movie goes through three distinct phases and they don’t quite manage to make an overall cohesive viewing experience. By far the weakest phase is the last one, which is unfortunate given that is what you are left with when the movie ends.

Phase 1 is the discovery phase. We meet the members of the team, suitably international in their representation for an American film and when there is a fairly small cast. Each member has different skills and backgrounds which we learn about through interactions, reports, and communications. The issue with phase 1, is that it is pretty dull. Sure, if you want to know about life living on a space station this is a nice tour (in fact they give a tour on camera to people on Earth) but unless you have watched the trailers and you know how it is going to all go wrong, there’s nothing really interesting going on.

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Fortunately, I had watched the trailer, so literally every time anyone was near the later named Calvin I was tense just wondering if this was when things would get started. This movie really highlights the importance of the audiences’ expectations and how that will affect their viewing. There is nothing sinister about any of the early scenes with the life form and yet you begin looking for it and feeling tension that really isn’t there because of your expectations of where things are going to go. In this case, the trailer showing future scenes actually adds to the viewing experience.

Then we enter Phase 2. Originally there’s an accident that makes the life form seem dormant and when the guy in charge attempts to prompt it back into life, it takes that as an attack (which is fair enough but the reaction is a little extreme). Phase 2 is arguably the best phase of the movie. It is that space horror you were expecting where you are constantly on the edge of your seat and every sound effect and pause makes your heart pound. It works because Calvin is small but deadly. Highly mobile, hard to see, smart, and he can force his way inside a human and tear them apart from the inside (gross and effective given once he got in there wasn’t anything that could be done).

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During this phase they are struggling to track him, reacting without thinking through consequences (which leads to some interesting issues later), and highly emotional. One of the best scenes was when the Captain was outside the space station and Calvin had latched on to the outside of her suit. I really wished she hadn’t just stayed outside but had actively pushed off at that point. Then again, there was always a chance she’d re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and they were never entirely sure if that would kill Calvin or not.

Which actually brings me to an issue I have with a lot of ‘alien’ life forms in science fiction. I get that space and other environments are a little more hostile than Earth, but what is with all these super creatures that can handle hot, cold, poison, lack of atmosphere, etc, etc. I could understand a creature being stronger against one or two of these things, but being practically invulnerable is kind of crazy. Admittedly, I’ve not met any aliens that I’m aware of so maybe these incredible creatures do exist but really Calvin was just a little too unkillable for my liking. It made the ending more or less inevitable from the beginning.

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Phase 3 of the film really begins when we are down to the final two crew members. At this point, the space station is literally falling apart and they make the decision to use the escape pods. One will return to earth, the other will lure Calvin into the pod and then manually override the controls to point themselves into space. Nothing could go wrong with this plan.

For me, phase 3 was the most pointless. During phase 1 I had anticipation of what was coming to keep my emotions running high. Phase 2 genuinely had me hooked with the tension and fear for the crew. By phase 3, Calvin is now large and standard monster size so a lot of the tension had evaporated as we went into more standard monster fare. More importantly, given everything else that had happened, the pitfalls with the plan were pretty obvious so all their fancy cinematography to try to confuse you as to which pod was which was ultimately just making me dizzy rather than tense.

Despite the ending which was okay but not amazing, I really had a lot of fun with Life. While there were a couple of brutal deaths, it didn’t go overboard on the gross out factor and kept the horror to the mostly psychological rather than visual. For me this is more affective because generally speaking gross out horror with buckets of blood just makes me laugh (yes, I am strange). The actors all sell their characters. None of them are startling performances, but they are all solid enough and you can believe them for the duration.

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Mostly, if you tend to like science fiction or creepy horror, this movie will work really well for at least two-thirds and even the ending isn’t too much of a let down.

If you’ve seen Life, let me know what you thought.


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Independence Day Movie Review

Overview:

It’s almost July 4 and as Americans prepare for their Independence Day massive spaceships take positions about cities around the world beginning a fight not for independence, but survival. Also, let us all pretend the sequel never happened.

Review:

There’s something highly enjoyable about these movies that do things on a grandiose scale. Massive space ships, big air fight sequences, whole city destruction, global conflict; it’s all just so large in scale and by its very nature kind of gets you caught up in the events. Okay, this movie suffers from the same issue as every other of its ilk. The only parts of countries you see are the ones with iconic buildings and settings so the key to survival is clearly living anywhere but that one city from your country that always gets shown. It is a minor detraction from what is otherwise a fairly global phenomena and not as significant as the basing the entire thing around an American holiday, but given its an American movie and Americans get to the heroes lets just roll with this and understand that everyone else does the same thing when they make a movie.

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From a story point of view this is pretty standard. The scale of the conflict is large but the story focusses in on three groups (all conveniently representing different ethnicities and types of families just to tick off as many demographics as we can). The enemy is easily identifiable and at no point made to appear in anyway sympathetic. Other than the President’s one attempt at communication almost zero effort is ever made to understand or to negotiate (admittedly, it wasn’t like the aliens were open to it either). So pretty much aliens vs humans and the audience connects to the conflict via the different groups. The family in the trailer looking for shelter, the air force pilot, and the computer geek who somehow hacked an alien signal and apparently that skill allows you to hack anything alien related (moving on).

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Probably the weakest part of the plot is that it is so very clearly written formulaically and with focus groups in mind. There are so many nods to this group or that group, or scenes that exist only to hit particular emotional cues. It all feels scripted (and yes, it’s a movie) but it doesn’t feel like it reflects life. It feels like it reflects the movie world’s view of relationships and life. Does that ruin the experience? Well, if you sit and deconstruct it, yes. Everything is chosen with such precision and included for such loaded reasons its impossible to see the film as anything than exercise in Hollywood marketing. If you just stop thinking about that and watch the movie, no. It’s well paced, comedic moments happen bang on mark, emotional moments linger just long enough but don’t intrude, and the action is great fun (unless you watch the director’s cut, then some of the emotional moments linger far beyond their welcome – there’s a reason these got cut initially from the theatrical release).

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And yes, there are all sorts of plot holes that spring up. Lets be honest, they are fighting aliens who can cross galaxies and destroy entire cities with a single blast. We should not be able to fight back in any meaningful way. So pretty much everything that happens to resolve this issue can be questioned if you want to play that game.

What helps pull this a little bit above a Hollywood fluff action movie to something with rewatch value are the characters. Again, they are very much selected from focus group discussions and there isn’t anything surprising or new here. Nor is the acting off the charts incredible. However, the actors deliver their lines in ways that make the characters seem authentic. You can actually believe that line of dialogue coming out of the mouth of that character at that time. You can genuinely accept the interactions between the characters. By the half-way point you are even reasonably invested in characters that really shouldn’t be more than a forgettable sound bite. They also get some great moments.

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Will Smith as the fighter pilot definitely steals the majority of these moments and one liners, but he does that in a lot of his films. And his character is incredibly likable if a little ordinary in terms of protagonist characters in action movies. The rest of the cast though each shine in small ways and bring some real heart to a movie that could otherwise just feel like a by the numbers science fiction/ action film (and this is something the sequel should have realised).

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Ultimately your enjoyment of this movie will depend on what you want from a film. If you want to see burning cities and survivors come together to hear an inspiring speech from the President before turning the tide on technologically advanced aliens, you’ll have a great time. If you want anything resembling depth this one isn’t for you. It is superficially shiny and it holds up very well on the surface but there’s just nothing underneath.

Deep Blue Sea Movie Review

Overview (Spoilers):

Medical research into a treatment for Alzheimer’s is underway in a science station out in the middle of the ocean. Of course, the scientists have genetically modified sharks to increase the size of their brains in order to harvest enough material of a particular protein to succeed. As one of the characters puts it: “As a result, the sharks got smarter”.

Amazingly enough, smart sharks don’t really want to hang around a scientific research lab where they are the guinea pigs and so embark on a ridiculous scheme to sink the facility and escape into the “Deep Blue Sea”.

Review:

Deep Blue Sea is one of those movies you know you shouldn’t like. It’s riddled with clichés and is kind of self-aware that it is a poorer imitation of other movies that have done sharks and ocean horror better. There’s a few moments when you might actually believe this is supposed to be a parody rather than a horror/thriller in its own right, however there are insufficient of these moments to accept that it was ever intended to be viewed in that light. So what you end up with is a mish-mash of moments that might have been tense if handled better, a few genuine jump scares, the occasionally well delivered character moment, interconnected with some really cheesy dialogue, lame special effects, and a plot that essentially makes you wonder if you haven’t seen this movie a thousand times before.

With all that said, I’ll be honest and point out I love this movie. I love terrible horror and this ticks all my boxes for a fun-filled weekend of bad horror watching. While the story is incredibly predictable and very little of the horror sticks, there’s something comforting and entertaining about formulaic cinema delivered tolerably well. And while none of the character performances are going to be nominated for any kind of award (except Samuel L Jackson who you have to wonder why he was in the movie, and the only award I’m nominating him for is most inappropriate place for delivering a monologue), none of the performances are so bad as to be painful.

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Probably the weakest part of the story is the plot itself. While they try to set it up that the sharks are thinking and planning their way through this ‘escape’ very little of what they do seems sufficiently reasoned to justify this and a lot of the sharks’ ‘success’ is entirely dependent on the actions the humans take to escape and relies far too much on coincidence.

From the very beginning we see that one of the sharks has escaped and been retrieved. The shark wrangler worries about the height of the fences and so they are raised preventing further escapes. Okay, the sharks have motive. However what follows is incredibly reliant on narrative convenience. First there’s an ‘inspection’ by an investor about the progress being made. Also, it’s the weekend so almost all the staff are leaving and there won’t be another way out until after the weekend, plus a storm is coming in making rescue extremely difficult. Why is this inspection happening on the weekend? Wouldn’t he want to see the facility actually doing what it normally does?

Anyway, convenient storm and character who knows nothing allowing other characters to explain how various things around the facility works aside, we then have the demonstration of the experiment where the apparently sedated shark does this:

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Apparently part of its master plan to get the humans to call for a rescue in a storm which then leads to a winch malfunctioning, dropping this guy while strapped to a gurney into the shark tank, allowing the sharks to use him to bludgeon the glass of the underwater facility and begin the process of sinking the facility. Excuse me? Run that one by me again because no matter what else happens in this plot, I am not buying this as a master plan.

Still, it wouldn’t have been a problem if the shark wrangler had shot the shark here and now, except that the crazy obsessed researcher saves the shark dropping it back into the tank. You wouldn’t want all that research to go to waste.

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Oh the irony given later that is exactly what happens later when the data gets fried. Yeah, the plot is rubbish so if you are looking for a compelling storyline, pass right now. There’s no way I can recommend this story on plot.

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Which is why the characters are so important. Each character in this story serves a purpose (and yes most of them serve the ultimate purpose of dying tragically or amusingly to inject some emotion into the story and to remind us it is a horror) but while they are alive they play an important role. The interactions between the characters are fairly formulaic and the dialogue is nothing revolutionary, but it moves quickly and the exchanges are entertaining. There’s some highly entertaining one-liners as well as some more forgettable moments of reflection, but all and all the characters work. The performances are decent enough with the material given to be delivered. While it is pretty obvious which characters will make it through to the final confrontation and which will survive, the timing of some of the deaths will still make for a reasonable jump scare even if you see it coming.

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All that aside, it can’t be helped that a movie about killer sharks will be compared to Jaws yet there is really no point. Jaws has a slow build up and goes for sheer human drama of man vs beast. This story is really reaping what you sow and from the very beginning they bring gore and shock. Plus, they really want you to get a good look at these sharks as regularly as possible. There are few moments where they actually play with the idea of them being hidden under the water.  So other than the shark thing, there’s genuinely very little similarity in the way these stories present.

My recommendation on this is pretty basic. If you like bad horror movies where the plot is obvious, character deaths will involve more blood than is necessary and will usually occur on screen in front of other characters so we can see those extremely over the top reaction shots from teh survivors, and you are in the mood for something that doesn’t seem ot be taking itself too seriously but isn’t a tongue in cheek parody, you will probably have fun with this film. I personally recommend watching it at the same time as Anaconda and Lake Placid and then you can wonder why your brain has turned to mush but you’ll have probably had a fun afternoon.


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Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Movie Review

Overview:

Based on the games, Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft as she raids tombs? Not really. She finds a device hidden inside a clock that apparently is some big deal and some ancient cult have been trying to track down forever. What follows are a bunch of action set pieces before she kind of joins forces with them to find out what will happen when they get the fancy triangle all assembled and then some more action set pieces.

Review:

I love action films and I particularly love action films that don’t have the only female character being a damsel in distress. I also was a massive fan of the Tomb Raider games growing up (though I was not great at playing them because half the time I couldn’t figure out the difference between walls I could climb, rocks I could pull, or holes in the ground that I was about to fall down – the graphics, while awesome for the time, left much to be desired). So when this film came out in 2001 I really wanted it to be amazing.

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What I got was a reasonably decent if generic action movie, a product of its time, and while there were enough stylistic nods to the character designs of the game, the actual plot left a little bit to be desired. I did enjoy watching Tomb Raider but part of me always laments the ‘what could have been’ part of this film.

The list of concerns starts with Angelina Jolie as the titular Lara Croft. I was so excited when I saw she was going to take on this role. After seeing her performance in Girl Interrupted I was sold on the idea that Angelina could breathe life into a video game character who might be memorable but not so much for her personality (though she does deliver some good one-liners). Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened. Instead we see Angelina working very hard at looking tough or pouty and that is more or less the extent of Lara’s emotional range in this film. I get she’s meant to be a strong female character who is capable of taking on the guys but some more nuanced expressions might be nice. The closest we got was Lara laughing during a fight sequence in a way that I guess was supposed to show us just how tough she was because she could laugh while bullets flew everywhere.

Even if we accept that Angelina actually played Lara pretty much the way Lara is presented in most of the games we have the script itself. While some lines hit their mark such as Lara’s, “I’ve always found your ignorance quite amusing” others just land flat on the floor and then sit there while the characters kind of wait for the next thing to happen. “It’s a clock. It ticks. It’s wrong.” Thanks for pointing that out.

Then we have the action itself. Sometime in the late 1990’s, somehow people got it into their head that an action movie is made by coming up with a number of action scenarios with major set pieces and cool choreography, throw in some quick cuts and quirky camera angles, and then you can just kind of run them all together with some generic dialogue and call it a plot.

I’d point back to Terminator and Die Hard. These films got action right. They had an excellent core to their stories that was simple and yet drove every event that followed. Terminator, was simply “kill Sara Connor”. Right from the start, that’s what we were aiming for. Every action sequence had something to do with either achieving that goal or preventing it. Die Hard had terrorists in a building. “Stop the terrorists from killing the hostages.” It’s simple and yet gives meaning to every action scene in the film.

Tomb Raider starts with a massively over the top action sequence against a robotic adversary that is revealed at the end of the sequence to be just part of Lara’s training regime. It is a cool sequence, don’t get me wrong. But what do we learn? Do we know what the story is? Is Lara’s ability to hang upside down going to be useful later? Hey, I would even accept that somehow this film is going to be about the robot running amok. But, no. That isn’t the case.

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Instead, we go from this action sequence to some exposition about a planetary alignment (ooh) and then Lara has weird dreams which somehow lead her to find the ticking clock in her mansion (through some property destruction that seems to only exist to show how little regard Lara has for her own wealth). Follow this with a motorbike sequence (she’s awesome, she motorbikes) and so on. Admittedly, she does ride the motorbike in her mansion later for some reason. Blast out a massively overblown soundtrack and presto action movie of the early 2000’s here we are.

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Again, this doesn’t take away from any one of the action set pieces. There are some incredibly interesting enemies (if slightly unbelievable) and the setting changes so regularly you can’t possibly complain about the variety. It just makes it difficult to care about the outcome of any particular sequence when as an audience we’ve really been given no reason to care.

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Before I wrap up, I do want to touch on the ‘villain’ of the piece. While he has the right amount of slime going on with his dialogue delivery and his lines are about as good as you could expect given the rest of the dialogue, I just don’t think he ever presents enough of a threat to actually make this seem like anything more than Lara goes on a fetch quest while things get shot.

That said, I did enjoy this film. It is great like so many generic action movies for sitting back with some snacks and switching off. You’ll get a few laughs and the fight sequences are worth watching. Will you get anything more than that? Probably not.

If you watched Tomb Raider what did you think?


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Die Hard Movie Review

Oh look, another non-anime review. Actually, this was holiday viewing because it is about the only movie everyone in my family agreed on that had a Christmas theme so here we go.

Overview:

John McClane has been invited to a Christmas party at the company his wife works at. While there, a group of armed terrorists take over the building and take the party goers hostage. Now, John, a cop from New York is trapped in the building and has to face the terrorists to try to free the hostages.

Review:

Okay, if you watch action movies you have already seen Die Hard. It is a classic and a staple of the genre. Bruce Willis, when he still had hair, making sarcastic quips on the radio while limping around the building carrying a gun and wearing the signature white singlet (ignore the part in the movie where it obviously changes colour and then returns to being a dirty-white singlet, nobody likes you pointing out too many continuity errors) and the police outside being totally useless. It is a classic for a reason and while most of what happens is now considered cliche and Die Hard didn’t do it first, it definitely did it well.

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Breaking it down, probably the best thing the movie did was cast Bruce Willis. I am not a massive Bruce Willis fan, I find his movies hit and miss, but Bruce Willis is John McClane. I can’t imagine another actor delivering those lines and giving a performance as believable as Bruce Willis did and to be honest when the terrorists were having hissy fits and his wife pointed out that nobody can drive someone crazy like John I totally believed it. This casting is so important to everything in this movie as it is the glue that holds all the other parts together.

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As for the remaining cast members, they are a bit hit and miss. More of less anyone could have been the wife and most of the minor terrorists are only there to add to the body count. The cops outside are all kind of cookie-cutter characters with various levels of incompetence and the limo-driver serves pretty much no purpose. But, Alan Rickman, as Hans and the leader of the terrorists, is perfect. He delivers a great performance as a villain and the play between Hans and John has some great chemistry which just adds to the experience and you genuinely want to see these two face off. The other character of note is Sgt. Powell, one of the only cops outside who seems to have a functioning brain and the one John spends a lot of time on the radio with. Though these characters don’t actually meet until the end, they build a fairly solid relationship over the course of the movie.

As a narrative there are no surprises. You have your hero of the story who goes through a series of trials and set backs on his way to accomplishing a single, established goal.  The only real surprise you will have is the wonder of how John McClane has not died at least six times before we get to the end of the film.

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But, what it gives us in exchange for a very by the numbers plot are some truly memorable set pieces and lines. Yeah, the hero takes out each of the baddies, working his way up to the leader with the stakes getting higher as he runs out of weapons, and blood given how many wounds he accumulates, but what really makes this film memorable is that each scene is crafted to be memorable. There’s the C4 in the elevator shaft moment, the jumping off the roof with the fire hose moment, the glass shooting scene, the dead man in the elevator in the santa hat, etc, etc. Each action set up works and is striking in how it plays out so you aren’t getting bored by the same sneak up, shoot and kill over and over, or just guns blazing and shouting every single scene. Too many modern action movies go for repetitive action while changing settings rather than changing up the actual action itself. And, that carries over to all the Die Hard sequels (though some of those are pretty terrible). The action sequences are diverse even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

So, if you haven’t yet seen this movie and you were looking for a ‘Christmas’ movie that has a touching resolution but doesn’t get so sweet it makes you roll your eyes, Die Hard is probably a good choice. There’s definitely blood, violence and a little bit of swearing, but by today’s standards it’s a pretty tame movie visually but it is good mindless fun.

The Cabin in the Woods Movie Review

My very first movie review (yes, even I take a break from anime occasionally).

Overview:

Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Then things go strange. And really, that’s all you can say about this without giving anything away. The review below is completely full of major plot points so please feel free to know the movie is awesome and go watch it before reading. I am also going to put a warning on some of the images below containing fairly gore filled images so if it isn’t your thing maybe pass.

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Review:

One thing about watching a lot of genre fiction is you learn early on that at least 70% of what you are watching is either formulaic, derivative, or just plain dribble. 20% of what remains is genuinely well written genre fiction and the final 10% is varying degrees of incredible depending on your mood and tastes. But, it also means that we get used to certain archetypes and set-ups and The Cabin in the Woods fully embraces this. In point of fact, without the entire body of horror stories sitting behind it, The Cabin in the Woods would fail terribly as a film. It takes your expectations and uses them as the basis for the entire narrative and it does it in a way that doesn’t seem smugly self-aware, even though the film clearly is.

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So why did I watch The Cabin in the Woods? There are plenty of other self-aware horror stories out there. Plenty of other gore-fests in isolated locations. Plenty of other conspiracy stories if that is what you are looking for. My honest answer would be Joss Whedon. Joss Whedon is the closest thing to a living legend in terms of the stories he has been a part of crafting and while not everything he touches turns to gold I find a real appeal in both his subject matter and delivery. Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Doll House, these stories all take fairly common and basic ideas and yet made them feel fresh, new and interesting while just telling a solid and simple narrative. You can sum up each of the plots of these stories in a single sentence and yet you can’t convey how deep the lore and characters are without spending about a month pulling everything apart. So yes, I am a fan and The Cabin in the Woods certainly reinforced my admiration for Joss Whedon as a story teller (though certainly this is not a one man effort and while there are distinct traces of Whedon in this story it is distinctly different from some of his other works).

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Back to reviewing the actual movie rather than the people who worked on the movie. From the opening scenes we have a parallel narrative being established. On the one side we have the corporate or government workers who are worried about those upstairs and a project that literally has to be successful. These characters are very human in that they have friendships and history with one another that comes across clearly even while they are the faceless corporation and government workers who carry out whatever jobs they need to because it is their job. The building they work in is cold and sterile and this setting kind of works to distance the viewer. It actually reminded me a lot of the offices in Burn After Reading (and the reuse of an actor from that film just kind of reinforced that impression).

The other side of the coin are the college students. Two girls and three guys each fitting the standard archetype of characters in horror movies who are going to visit one of the guy’s cousins cabin in the woods. They don’t really know much about it and don’t seem to care because they are planning on a fun weekend. Our introduction to these characters is as cliché as it comes but we already know from the conversations in the other storyline that there is more going on which makes us pay more attention and we start picking up small details early on that are going to become very important to the story.

And that is where The Cabin in the Woods shines. It truly takes on the rule of Chekov’s Gun. There is nothing in this story that is introduced without purpose. The more assertive girl recently dyed her hair and this is commented on (in a perfectly natural way) when she meets with her friend before they meet the guys. The fact that this makes her the ‘blonde’ of the group plays on a cliché of horror movies and that would be enough to make it work but then we have the parallel story. Yep, that project they are all working on is to get these guys to the cabin (though why is still not revealed but heavily implied). We learn later that there’s been a lot of prep work for this trip and that included doctoring the dye used on the girl’s hair and that blonde die is literally making her act dumb (or at least not think clearly through her actions). Why would they do that? Well, other than embracing another horror cliche there’s actually a really good reason.

Seriously stop now if you don’t like spoilers.

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Turns out these guys have been selected to be sacrificed and you know, old gods/demons/whatevers really do have preferences. The whore or the modern dumb blonde cliché is about as typical as they come in terms of preferences for sacrifices in old legends. But what if the reason we see so many of these types of characters in horror movies is because these sacrifices are literal rather than legendary and our entire horror genre is built on an actual fear of a reality that is being orchestrated by our government?

So it all ties back in together. We embrace the cliché of horror because that stereotype is actually build on a reality that this movie is establishing as the basis of its entire plot. It makes you rethink every horror movie you have ever seen in the context of what if we only write these stories because we fear they are true.

Back to Chekov’s Gun the van they drive has a motorbike attached to the back which we get many lingering shots of as they drive toward the cabin. Okay, they are young and there are three guys so it makes sense. Except no one mentions it or even seems particularly like they are even aware of it. Then the van goes through a tunnel and we see that the road curves back on itself. Without going through the tunnel there’s a gap between the two roads with a steep drop. Okay, starting to put things together. And then an eagle that has been following the van hits an invisible force field that runs through that gap and the eagle explodes. Right… I see where this is going. Some people would argue that such obvious foreshadowing is a flaw but I really find it enhances this kind of viewing. You know what is coming and all that is left is how they manage to orchestrate the situation and deliver. So by the time one of the students attempts to go for help by jumping the gap on the motor bike you are on the edge of your seat and just waiting for the punch line and you are rewarded in truly spectacular fashion. The reaction of the other two characters is pretty priceless as well.

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We also get glimpses of the results of other countries attempts to orchestrate a sacrifice. The Japan one is pretty funny even while it is truly heart wrenching to think of young girls in that kind of situation. The resolution of that will make you laugh out loud even though by the time we get to the end of the film it turns out that it won’t make any difference.

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The passive way that the workers view the plight of the friends (and in point of fact orchestrate worst case scenarios for the friends) is disturbing. You wonder how humans can become so detached and carry out their duties in such a manner when they can see the results on the screen right in front of them. But they are detached, when they aren’t placing bets and celebrating their success at setting up a violent death. And while the motives of those who work in this corporation are clear by the end you still can’t help but wonder about the morality of taking on such a job or how you would feel if you were the one given such a responsibility. Not to mention, it is hard to know how you feel about the absolute massacre of workers at the end. Part of you wants to rejoice because of what they did to the students and part of you just feels horrible that you feel good about them getting killed without remorse.

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Before I wrap this up (because this is getting long) I do want to address the end of the movie. Amazing and twisted. Amazingly awesome and twisted. It’s fantastic. This is the perfect mix of satire on human condition, embracing horror stereotypes, and modern corporate culture, with a whole lot of supernatural violence overlaying the entire thing and a bit of comedy. Okay, it is a gore fest and visually there are some real cringe worthy moments, but it also has a lot to say while sitting back and happy just to be horror film. So you can watch and enjoy without thinking about anything because it is a survival horror. Or you can question everything and pull all the ideas apart and still end up with something pretty fantastic.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I kind of loved this film. It is exactly to my tastes in terms of subject matter, characterisation, and delivery. While part of me really wished the group had chosen something else in the basement (I love how we get hints about how different the story could have gone) going with the cliché further reinforces the overall narrative structure and it works. Plus, at least they don’t have to spend half the movie explaining the rules about the zombies. There’s an assumption that the audience already know the story because we’ve seen that element before).

If you love any kind of horror, you have to check out this movie. If you’ve watched it, I’d love to know your thoughts.