Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Overview:

The follow up to the cult classic sensation that was the original Blade Runner. Time has passed and a new generation of replicants that are programmed to obey are now being used. Some of these hunt down and retire the older generation models.

Review:

I’m actually going to preface this by pointing out I actually thought this was a pretty good  movie (far better than I expected when a Blade Runner sequel was announced – and far better than many other science fiction films). The reason this preface is necessary is I’m going to pretty much tear it apart for a bit and it might seem like I’m completely against this film.

Unless you have been living completely offline it is more or less impossible to have missed the hype around the return of Blade Runner to the big screen. It has been a long, long time, as evidence by Harrison Ford’s revival of Deckard, but time has passed even in the movie universe so the real question becomes, whether lightning can strike twice for the franchise?

It seems really unfair but this movie is going to be judged against its predecessor. To put it in context, the SAO movie was not a good movie by any objective standard but for fans of SAO it hit the spot nicely and got them excited for the upcoming new series. If I were to compare Blade Runner 2049 to SAO Ordinal Scale there wouldn’t be any contest. Blade Runner is the far superior movie. And yet, I left the cinema with a wrinkle in my brow and counting off points and counterpoints on my fingers and really wondered if I had enjoyed what I had just watched. I said on Twitter my feelings were mixed and even after thinking and rethinking I’m still feeling that I genuinely don’t know about this movie.

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What it comes down to is that Blade Runner 2049 has all the aesthetic sense of Blade Runner but for me failed to raise any issue or idea of note. I don’t finish the movie questioning the nature of my existence or of anything. I finish the movie wondering if Jared Leto’s character actually served any purpose and just how many wall references (both verbal and visual) I’d just been hit with. Because everything in this movie is a blunt weapon with no subtlety in either delivery or meaning and that makes this movie an entirely different beast to the original where any line of dialogue could be taken several ways and the final speech by the antagonist to Deckard could have you lost in thought for hours.

To give a concrete example there’s a holographic girl who plays the lead replicant’s girlfriend and at one point in the movie they decide they have to erase her from the home system and she’s going to be fully portable. However, as K/Joe points out, doing so means if the portable stick gets broken she’ll be gone for good. To which she responds “Just like a real girl.” This is only one of many Pinocchio references mind you and basically less than two scenes later the stick gets shattered (for no narrative purpose other than to prove that bat-shit crazy replicant is in fact crazy and evil) and then hologram girl is never mentioned again or given another instant of thought. Now, possibly her ‘death’ could have been a character catalyst for the protagonist of the story. It could have been a touching moment to have the audience reflect on the ephemeral nature of life or whether hologram girl counts as being alive. Instead, she’s a computer who blips and is gone and forgotten leaving us to wonder if maybe in a director’s cut somewhere she actually served a purpose other than screen time and a sex scene that was vaguely disturbing given it involved two replicants and a hologram.

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The music is also incredibly dense and continuous. Points for the soundtrack reflecting the original film and managing to be oppressive and create a fairly continuous feeling of dread, but essentially your ears will be assailed with atonal drones and whines meanwhile every mechanical object will clunk, groan and bang and the end result is your teeth will clench and you will wonder if you remember what silence sounds like. And then you will get silence. One single scene comes along where all the music stops and we hear almost nothing and the absence is incredibly powerful because of the assault you’ve previously experienced. Once that scene is done, you’ll return to the continuous music and sound and you will miss the silence all the more. It is actually hard to say whether this is a positive point for the movie or not. It is incredibly affective. The immersion this soundtrack creates in the experience of the film is nothing short of brilliant. However, it is also an incredibly uncomfortable experience and afterwards it takes a fair while for your ears to recover from the experience.

From a visual point of view they got what made Blade Runner what it was. Things have changed but time has passed and the changes are really logical (reinforced by the short films released to show the progression of events between the films). It looks every bit as gorgeous and as immersive as the first film (okay, more so because special effects have come a long way) and it also captured the visual feel of the first film which was kind of necessary for this sequel to have any kind of success.

But…

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Like a fan fiction work, this film peppers itself with scenes and moments that add nothing to this narrative and exist either as links to the work it is emulating or to show an understanding of the world which is great but not an understanding of pacing or story telling. The opening shot of the eye is a clear throw back to the first film (as is the water element in the final fight) and yet neither really serve a place in this film. The eye is particularly problematic given it was such an iconic and necessary symbol and idea in the first film and the opening sequence grew out from this shot whereas in this film we see the eye then some power stations and we just kind of move on and never again care about close ups of pupils given in this film they don’t use the same test or technology so the eye and all that it represented (windows to the soul and all) serves no purpose. Likewise the scene of the machines dumping rubbish in the wasteland. Great, the world is filled in and there’s a lot of details, but this adds unnecessary time to an already overly long film and contributes nothing to the movie. It is like the additional scenes in the original Star Wars movies. More there because they can rather than there for any purpose.

I haven’t really gotten into the characters and the story and that is because they work. They fit the world, the story is a fair enough continuation of the world and its events (even if Deckard’s inclusion was more one of pandering to fans than actually necessary for the narrative). What it isn’t, is something exceptional with characters who you will remember well after the film. Sure Deckard comes back but this isn’t the Deckard of the first film who left such a strong impression. And no-one comes close to Rutger Hauer’s impressive and awe-inspiring performance from the first film.

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However, we have ended up with a second Blade Runner movie. It is a pretty good movie and makes some great choices in sound and visuals with a functional story and characters. Could it thematically have been more powerful? Definitely. Could the characters have been more memorable and had more impressive dialogue? Absolutely. Am I nit-picking just because I can? Yes, yes I am.

But here’s the thing. If I go to a Sword Art Online movie I go in expecting it to kind of be rubbish and I get something that is kind of rubbish but fun and I walk out happy. Blade Runner is a title in the science fiction world where love it or hate it, there’s certain expectations built around it. Any sequel was going to be measured against those expectations. For me it fell short, but wasn’t a crushing disappointment. It did well enough but if only it had been better.

Alright, over to you. If you’ve seen the film what are your thoughts?


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John Wick 2 Movie Review: Once Was Enough

Last week I reviewed John Wick and despite some sarcasm in the overview, I actually quite enjoyed that film. Enough that I bothered to watch the sequel so how did it fare?

Review:

Picking up pretty much directly from the end of the first film, John Wick returns home once again with his new dog and there encounters someone from his past that he owes a favour. Apparently refusal isn’t an option because the guy blows up his house. Seems extreme. What follows is another by the numbers walk through some action set pieces as John Wick first finds the target and after paying off his favour then decides to take the asker out. As you do.

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Revenge as the sole plot point stringing a bunch of action sequences together worked in the first film. It was entertaining enough. However, this sequel felt repetitive, uninspired, and mostly unnecessary. We do get more of a glimpse at this underworld society but it isn’t enough to make up for a protagonist that doesn’t even want to kill his target (but will anyway) and villains who probably don’t even belong in a B Grade film.

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By the time Wick goes on his revenge streak you have already checked out and emotionally disconnected. This isn’t aided by the character’s absolute tunnel vision (which he suffered from in the first film but there it was a little more understandable).

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Basically, this film isn’t any fun. Sure there’s still guns and fight sequences but they all either mirror ones we saw in the first film or feel less impressive. Visually, Keanu is still standing in the centre of the shot, a lot, and he’s still using a range of moves to bring down his opponent and is still quite effective, but once again he doesn’t really make us care about his character and this time they aren’t even hammering the wife just died so grief card.

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All and all, this is one to miss unless you watch anything action or anything Keanu. It isn’t that the movie doesnt’ function, it just isn’t anything special.


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Death Note 2017 Movie Review: That Was… Different?

Overview:

So Netflix decided to do a live action adaptation of Death Note and decided in the process to Americanise it. I could write a review where I tear this apart because it is genuinely nothing like the original and they’d have been better off just creating all new character names and just saying this was based on the story of Death Note, but that isn’t actually fair to this movie. Yeah, it is nothing like the original. Character personalities, motivations, relationships are all totally different and most could not be favourable compared to the original characters. The characters are Americans for the most part. The whole story here is told in 100 minutes with sequel bait at the end. Got that out of the way. Now I’m going to review the movie.That said, it will be impossible to review this when I am a fan of the original anime without reference to it.

Review:

I really expected going in that I was going to hate this movie. I hoped I wouldn’t, but kind of knew deep down that no matter what Netflix did, I was not going to see it particularly well. I love the original Death Note. I love the clever play between Light and L and how that builds over half a season. I’ve watched Death Note movies before and the short run time always, always hurts the tension and the story. So imagine my surprise when I actually liked this movie. Admittedly, the first watch through I didn’t. I was too busy declaring that none of it was ‘right’ or the way ‘it should be’ but you know, that isn’t exactly fair. So I chucked my preconceptions out the window and watched it again without any thought of what it was supposedly adapting. And you know, there’s actually an all right kind of story going on here. It just isn’t the story fans were hoping for.

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See, this isn’t a psychological thriller anymore. What this movie focusses on is the horror and fear of being given power, thinking your are in control, and then seeing it all spiral horribly out of control. And from that point of view it works beautifully. Yep, Light isn’t anywhere as smart as the Light most people know and love. This character would definitely have benefitted from just having a totally new name and just be another random guy that Ryuk dropped the note for. That doesn’t make him a bad character. He’s an American teenager who has issues with the notion of justice due to his mother’s death and what he perceives as his father’s failings. He’s also seen injustice in the school system with how bullying is dealt with (or not dealt with). When given a taste of power, he uses it and some of his uses are incredibly reckless and not particularly well thought out because he is impulsive.

What this gives us is a much faster plot line. One that doesn’t set up a slow rise in the popularity of a killer who the public give a name to that he then assumes. Light chooses his own name and promotes it through those he kills. He builds a following and he does so quickly and with efficiency that allows us to move right into the phase of Light being pursued by L.

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However, before I get into that I need to address Mia. Mia is both a blessing and a curse to this movie. She provides a fairly decent plot twist, she drives the story forward when it might otherwise stagnate, she allows Light to not inner-monologue because he has a partner in crime more or less from the beginning. However, her own motives, other than apparently she gets off on killing, are never explored. We know nothing of her back story, her history, or anything about her other than she’s a cheerleader and now she thinks she has found a purpose. Also, she makes Light seem incredibly stupid because he basically reveals the note and all its secrets to her because he literally just wants to impress the girl. It is a cheap plot move and while it works at moving us forward you really don’t feel like that was a satisfying way for the story to get kicked into gear.

Basically, this is Mia and Light’s story and how the power of the Death Note changes the both of them and ultimately changes their relationship throughout. The whole L and the police thing is a secondary concern to what is going on with Mia and Light. So if Mia had just been given some decent development, this movie could even be elevated from just all right to actually quite good and yet it never quite manages that because as much as this story wanted to take Death Note in a new direction, it couldn’t quite commit.

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So here is L. He isn’t L as you know him, anymore than Light is the character you know, but he is L. He is in hot pursuit of Kira and he leaves false trails and ruthlessly uses whoever he has to in order to track down the killer. But this is a far more emotive and unstable L (though I guess L was always a little unhinged) and by the end of the story the L we see has lost any ability to think clearly or logically. He is angry and grieving and his actions take on a rashness that we would never have accepted from the anime version, but here is works well because the story makes one fairly critical change early on.

When L goes on TV to goad Kira, Light doesn’t rise to the bait. Light’s core personality has been changed sufficiently that it makes sense for his character to not want to harm the innocent, even if they are calling him out (something this movie maintains throughout its entire run). Because of that change, there’s never really a cat and mouse game between the two. Sure, L is pursuing Kira and he figures out that Light is Kira, but Light’s issues are all around Ryuk, Mia and the morality of using the note itself. That’s where the story and the conflict are. L is basically side story material that may later get development should this ever get a sequel.

I have to say, while I don’t like any of these characters as much as the original cast, and the story is nowhere near as clever or interesting as the original, for a released on TV horror it works relatively well and can certainly keep you entertained for it’s fairly short run time. The deaths are at times an excessively gory and a few of the set ups will remind you of a Final Destination film, but basically everything comes together and the final confrontation and explanation is satisfying enough.

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When it comes to recommending this though, pretty much I recommend it to non-anime fans who like horror. If you’ve already watched Death Note, it is really likely that all this movie will do is annoy you. However, if you haven’t and you like the idea of guy finds book that can kill people, you’ll probably have an alright time with this. That said, given fans of the anime probably aren’t the best audience for this, the writers really should have just committed to new audience, new story and ditched the unnecessary remnants that just serve to clutter up an otherwise interesting plot. As an adaptation of Death Note, this is pretty terrible if you are after the tone or feel of either than manga or the anime. As an American teen horror movie with a bit of a supernatural edge to it, this isn’t dreadful and actually has some quite entertaining moments.

So, I’m surprisingly okay with this movie and wouldn’t mind a follow up. I just wish they hadn’t called it Death Note.


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John Wick Movie Review: Is Revenge Actually Enough To Carry a Plot?

Overview:

John’s just an ordinary guy who has recently lost his wife and been given an adorable puppy. Too bad about the Russian guys who come in to his house, beat him up, kill his dog, and steal his car. Turns out John wasn’t such an ordinary guy and also turns out he does not appreciate home invaders.

Review:

While it might sound from the overview that I’m being a little bit sarcastic, John Wick is actually exactly what you would think from looking at the cover art. It is a truly interesting action film with some great set pieces, some great fight sequences, and enough of a plot to thread together the main character’s progression through these set pieces and fight sequences. It’s a lot of fun to watch. What John Wick isn’t is a masterful piece of story telling or characterisation. So as long as you go in knowing what you are getting, you should have a really great time with this film (I’ll get to the sequel in a later post).

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To be honest, John Wick is at its weakest when it attempts to humanize the title character. No offense to Keanu Reeves, but he doesn’t carry grief well in this film. Admittedly, he had the added challenge of having to grieve while still portraying a stoic killing machine and to be honest the combination didn’t really work so great. But even the moments where he was reconnecting with old ‘friends’ and was slightly more relaxed were probably the weakest moments in terms of entertainment that this story offered. Basically, it is really hard to see John Wick as anything other than a robotic killing machine. Even though the film starts with him in the role of grieving husband, that role never sits well and is quickly discarded allowing the audience to breathe a sigh of relief that they aren’t having to watch that pained expression on Keanu’s face for any more of the film (I think he was going for grief but he hasn’t quite hit it).

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The fights on the other hand, are excellent. While John Wick is spoken of by others as some underworld bogeyman, the reality is quite refreshingly different. He isn’t flawlessly taking out his opponents while receiving zero damage. He is human and he is fighting. He takes hits but he executes his own moves with efficiency and accuracy. As a result, he comes out on top but it isn’t at zero cost and without the rage of revenge burning through him for most of the film you would have to wonder if he could have continued  in the way he was. Still it means that outside of guns blazing we get rolls, dives, sharp punches, ducking, using the environment and a number of other factors to make each fight seem a little bit different then the last, which is important in a movie that essentially exists to string fights together.

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However, one thing that must be noted is the direction and some of the choices made. Most notably the fact that John Wick spends an enormous amount of time dead centre in the shot. While I kind of get the effect that they are going for and at times it creates a truly imposing view of the character as he walks dramatically down the centre of the carnage, the overuse of this means that visually a lot of the movie becomes repetitive. Which is a shame, because each set does have a unique look and feel and that could have been used to better effect.

I should note the ‘villains’ of the piece, being the Russian mafia and that the ‘boys’ who originally instigate the crime against Wick are pretty pathetic. They are supposed to be, but again it makes it hard to get behind John Wick and his crusade of vengeance. If one of the boys hadn’t been the son of the boss, this would have been a non-event. Which is kind of something the film agrees with after allowing the boy to flee like a rabbit from several confrontations before being shot down in a fairly unremarkable fashion. Of course the movie doesn’t end there and at that stage the cycle of death, killing and vengeance is well and truly moving with a will of its own, but you really do start to wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for John to have been killed in that initial home invasion.

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That said, the setting for the story is pretty cool. There’s an elaborate underworld with its own rules and values. We get a glimpse at the edges of this world but John Wick had ‘retired’ before the film started and really only dips his toes into the water around the edge of the world in the film. For the audience this makes the entire society being constructed far more interesting but at the same time it is kind of frustrating because at times you aren’t sure about how something should work or play out. Basically they give us enough information but there’s a lot of gaps in our understanding of the world.

As I said at the start of the review, this is a really interesting action film and worth watching if you love action. For anything else at all though the movie is not going to really impress. While there are some other subplots, the revenge story is basically all that holds these sequences of mayhem together, and it works well enough but it isn’t doing anything other than what it says on the label.


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The Empire of Corpses Movie Review: Another Case of a Plot Getting Lost Amongst Literary Allusions and Sci-Fi Spectacle

Overview:

Watson, a student doctor, becomes obsessed with the idea of bringing back a human soul after his friend dies. Using his friend’s corpse, he begins experimentation using the work of Victor Frankenstein as a guide. When he is caught, he is sent on a mission to retrieve Frankenstein’s notes and then a whole bunch of other stuff happens.

Review:

I don’t watch anime movies very often but every now and then one comes out that I think I’d really appreciate watching. The Empire of Corpses caught my attention early on being set in the 19th Century and focussing on the idea of Frankenstein’s legacy having become a reality. Building the British Empire literally through the use of an army of corpses and corpse labourers is a fascinating idea and thinking about how that would change the world, and the sheer number of arguments it would cause in terms of morality,  is something that I thought I’d really like to explore. Unfortunately, this movie is interested in introducing those ideas but it isn’t interested in dealing with that reality. While the first half an hour or so sets up what looks like it will be an interesting moralistic tale about the subjective rights of the deceased and empire building, those ideas quickly get swept aside and make way for a convoluted and not entirely realised narrative that exclusively follows Watson’s obsession with death and scientific pursuits.

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Points therefore must be given to Watson’s characterisation. He really does follow the mould laid out in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein perfectly. Pursuit of answers and science at the expense of anything and then the horrible realisation of what his pursuit has wrought but still an attempt to justify the actions and to bring some good from what is in this case a steaming pile of corpses. If the movie was seeking only to bring the tale of Frankenstein to a new era through a story that could almost be seen as a very late entry sequel it may have even been successful as Watson’s links to Frankenstein are incredibly clear and his relationship with Friday, the corpse he has brought to life, is definitely the high light of this film.

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But why stop at just referencing Frankenstein? Why not reference any and every classic work and character from the era, even when it makes zero sense to do so? Also, why restrict the story to just one location and setting when we can trot around the entire globe? Let’s deal with a former American President visiting India, the Russians attacking various groups through the use of exploding corpses, a trek through Afghanistan, skip on over to Japan where we can get some cliché culture before exploring a lab, and then we’ll just jump across to America before getting back to the Tower of London. The whole movie is so incredibly cluttered with unrealised ideas and most of them end up being fairly pointless.

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The entire Russian influence is one of the most pointless aspects of the story. There are Russians attacking our main characters, but they meet with a Russian who is going to guide them to where the notes might be in Afghanistan. We’ll meet another Russian scientist who will point out the horror of the research (and in so doing will turn his actual living friend into a living corpse before having the corpse do the same to him) and then somehow this becomes the point that everyone will remind Watson about later on that they died for something. None of this ends up feeding in to the overall narrative where we end up with The One (Victor’s original creation that could talk), using Frankenstein’s notes to try to create a soul in an android and trying to transfer his own mind into the mind of Friday because apparently Friday’s corpse has been well taken care of. In case you got lost there, don’t worry, it doesn’t actually make any sense while watching it either.

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And this brings me to one of the most maddening points of the entire movie. The final half an hour. Let’s just ignore the fact that they were on a quest to retrieve the notes, which turned into destroy the notes, which turned into Watson’s obsession with copying the notes before destroying the notes, and then they had to retrieve the notes when they got stolen again. Let’s just ignore that. It isn’t relevant. And we’ll ignore that midway through the story we suddenly had characters who could influence corpses by sound, either voice or stamping their foot. Why and how this works is clearly unimportant to anyone writing the story so we’ll just let it go. I’ll even ignore the fact that somehow our main group of two guys, an automaton girl and a shuffling corpse managed to get through a heavily armed military installation in order to get to the final confrontation even if that doesn’t end particularly well for the corpse and the girl as they end up at the centre of the whole thing.

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What I won’t ignore is that until this final part there was an attempt to at least make corpse technology look like a technology. Out of place in the time period technology, but technology. This final sequence forgets all of that and instead we suddenly have green lights floating about and random blue crystals growing over things as organ music plays. It is all visually spectacular and all completely fantastical gobbledygook with no grounding in anything that could be considered reality even within the reality constructed by this movie. It is like they just ripped up their own rule book and went for broke. Including, after one of the character cuts the power, smashing some keys on an organ manages to repower up the device momentarily. I’m really willing to suspend disbelief during a film, particularly one about reanimating corpses in the 19th Century, but there is suspension of disbelief and then there is swallowing bull and this movie crosses the line far too much in the final sequence.

Not to mention, even after it is all done and we get an aftermath, the story only deals with Watson and Friday. We do not get to see how the world has changed after the night the corpses that were relied upon as labourers went crazy and the sheer mass murder of civilians. You would think that there should be some significant social reform going on but why bother letting the audience know about any of that. It’s clearly just background noise.

Anyway, I bought this film on sale and I’m glad of that because full price would have been asking too much. I’m also glad I watched it with someone because the two hours would have felt really long if I didn’t have someone to help me make fun of the sillier moments in the narrative. Not to mention it was nice to know it wasn’t just me losing track of what was going on at the end. It just does not make sense.

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So do I recommend this?

That’s tough because I know I’ll probably rewatch this next year at some point. It is bad, terrible in fact in terms of story, but there’s enough ideas and the like here that I wouldn’t mind another watch. It also looks really good with some great atmosphere. Not to mention, its a zombie anime and I like bad horror stories. So, no, I probably wouldn’t recommend it but it isn’t a completely unwatchable, fling the disc out the window kind of movie. That’s not exactly high praise but its the best I can manage for this one at the moment.


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Pan’s Labyrinth Movie Review: Blurring the Lines Between Fantasy and Reality

Overview:

Directed by Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark story set in Spain during 1944. After her mother marries a savage army officer, a young girl begins to escape into a fantasy world to try to find a way to save herself and her younger sibling.

Review:

Pan’s Labyrinth is one of those dark stories the sits in the weird genre of magic realism. It isn’t a fantasy and it isn’t a real world drama, though you could interpret the movie to simply be a drama about a troubled young girl who uses delusions to escape from the nightmare of her own reality. That interpretation works well enough for the most part but would certainly kind of kill the magic at the core of this movie.

Ofelia is the young girl at the heart of the story, and she really is the beating heart of this film. Her world is a dark and scary place so when confronted by a fantasy world filled with horrific figures, her determination to face at least one monster even if she can’t face the monster in her normal life is easily understood. However, the story does not forget that Ofelia is also a child. She makes mistakes, doesn’t follow through sometimes, and at others she willfully ignores cautions leading to somewhat tragic results (both in the fantasy world she is experiencing and in her real world). These results scar Ofelia but also allow her to grow and by the end of the film, Ofelia is a transformed character. By that I don’t mean she suddenly smites the evil step-father and saves the day, but rather she has made her choices and she has resolve. She isn’t simply waiting in fear and allowing her life to be directed by those around her (even if that leads to also fairly tragic results).

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This isn’t a happy story. It isn’t about finding a happily ever after in reality. Ofelia’s reality is what it is and regardless of her resolve, there are some things she cannot control and cannot change, even if she also cannot accept them. I’d suggest not watching this movie if you are already feeling a little disheartened by your own reality because this movie really drives home how helpless we are at times.

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The fantasy world on the other hand has fairly set rules and achievable goals. Ofelia is regularly given very clear instructions to overcome a hurdle or an obstacle while at others she is left to figure out the steps but still has a clear goal in sight. This clearly contrasts with the hopeless sense of loss and lack of direction found in her reality as well as contrasting with the chaotic whims of her step-father whose expectations are never fully understood until he declares that they have not been met.

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It’s also a truly beautiful movie. Dark to be sure, but the imagery is striking and each scene serves the purpose of the narrative and strikes just the right emotional tone to compliment the overall themes. With a soundtrack that also drives home the overwhelming emotions the main character is going through, tonal cohesion is not a problem that this film faces.

Where the criticism begins though is with the promotional materials for the film. Much like Bridge to Terabithia, the promotional materials chose to focus on the fantasy sequences of the film and this is actually detrimental to the viewing experience. Firstly, the fantasy sections don’t make sense without the context of Ofelia’s real world experiences and the connections the viewers can make between her encounters there and the obstacles she’s seeking to overcome in reality. However the greater issue is that these sequences have amazing dramatic impact when viewed for the first time given their striking imagery but that impact is lessened when the audience is already waiting for the weird creature with the eyes in its hands or other imagery to appear. Lastly, it just misrepresents what the focus of the film is. Certainly there is fantasy in this film but it is a story firmly grounded in a very gritty reality. People looking for a fantasy movie (even a dark fantasy), will be sorely disappointed if they went to this movie expecting a fantastical adventure akin to Alice in Wonderland with a darker tone and some trailers made this movie look like it would be just that.

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Outside of the expectations this film may have built up in an audience before delivering a different experience, the other criticism of the film would be the pacing. Some scenes linger just that little too long; revelations sometimes tumble on top of one another while others seemingly take forever to appear. It’s jarring at times and feels like it dragging at others. While this kind of serves to put you in Ofelia’s fairly overwhelmed shoes, it makes for a viewing experience that is not exactly entertaining. Watching this film, at moments, feels like a chore. For all the wonderful narrative, characterisation, imagery, and beauty, it isn’t fun to watch. While for some people that isn’t going to be an issue, I kind of feel movies should be entertainment, and movies like this, while I appreciate them and fully understand why some people would love this sort of film, I also know that for me while I have watched this film more than once, I won’t put this film of when I just want to watch a movie. I’ll put this film on when I’m wanting something to puzzle over and to search for an answer. It’s the kind of film that leaves me thinking afterwards about all the what ifs and generally leaves me a little wrecked. So, not exactly entertaining but still not a bad experience.

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I would recommend this as a watch but I would also recommend knowing what you are in for. There’s a lot of darkness in this film and it is the kind of darkness most of us can relate to which makes it hit very close to home sometimes. For all the magic and fantasy, this movie is grounded firmly in reality and that makes for a disturbing viewing experience.


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The Matrix Movie Review: What is acting? How do you define acting?

Overview:

Neo believes that Morpheus, an elusive figure considered to be the most dangerous man alive, can answer his question — What is the Matrix? Neo is contacted by Trinity, a beautiful stranger who leads him into an underworld where he meets Morpheus. They fight a brutal battle for their lives against a cadre of viciously intelligent secret agents.

– from unknown.

Review:

In 1999, when The Matrix came out, I was a teenager and I was becoming a fan of Keanu Reaves as I had really enjoyed him in Speed, Point Break, Chain Reaction and a range of other films (though he definitely had some real misses in the 90’s) so The Matrix was more or less designed to appeal to me.

And appeal it did.

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A dark and menacing future where humans had become enslave by machines but for a small group of freedom fighters who would enter The Matrix (which for a very convenient and quickly glossed over reason looked exactly like the modern world) to achieve a range of poorly defined objectives. Okay, my teenage self was not that discerning a viewer and the fight sequences coupled with the glossy leather outfits was pretty much all it took to get me on board with this one.

After the consecutive disappointments of both follow up films though, I kind of moved on and it was only recently when I had the opportunity to see this film again.

Visually, it still works. The designs chosen for the ‘real world’ compared to the simulated spaces the create for training compared to the actual matrix all fill their role and have their own kind of charm. There’s a lot of attention to small details in the sets and the spaces fill lived in (other than the training areas which are obviously supposed to feel a bit void of personality).

I didn’t really notice it as a teenager, but the sound design for this movie is horrible. I get the mix they were going for and the tone they were trying to strike but some of those sound effects just hurt the head and the thought of computers making any of those noises these days is kind of laughable. Though back in the 90’s days of dial-up internet I guess audiences were happy to swallow that because it was hard to imagine any sound more obnoxious than that one.

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However, for all that this is a visual feast and there are still some really interesting ideas being thrown about, the overall storyline is plagued by attempting to be overly complex for what really amounts to a man vs machine conflict and their reasons for actually entering the matrix don’t make a lot of sense when the real conflict is occurring out in the real world (I know they throw around a lot of fast words and fancy rhetoric but ultimately none of the conflict needed to be based in the matrix so Neo’s ability to seemingly control it by the end of this first is more or less a pointless gimmick – and that is yet another reason why I should stop watching sequels).

And of course, I can’t actually avoid the main issue I found with the movie, which of course are the performances. For a film packing some real star power the performances delivered here are about as subtle and nuanced as the woman in red is in the training area. Most characters have at most 3 facial expressions and tend to wear one the majority of the film only changing to one of the other two at minor climactic moments I guess to remind us they can actually emote. While we might excuse Hugo Weaving for this, given he is playing a program, the human characters can’t possibly hope to escape from scrutiny.

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Yet, for all that I’ve just kind of run the film down, the one undeniable point is that it is still fun to watch (providing the volume isn’t too loud). Scenes transition smoothly one from the next, usually with a sense of movement and purpose, and where logical leaps fail the audience a character is usually quick to swoop in with an explainer to sweep away any pesky questions you might have about what the point of something is (even if that explainer doesn’t really hold up under closer scrutiny). The fight sequences are still impressive, even if the special effects, once pretty cutting edge, are now just same old or even dated. And did I mention the number of very cool leather jackets in this film? The wardrobe alone is worth watching this film for.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this film and how you feel it has aged.


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Sword Art Online Ordinal Scale Movie Review

Overview:

Yeah, there’s a new game using augmented reality rather than virtual reality that Asuna and all of Kirito’s friends are into. But like every other game in this series it has just a little bit of a catch.

Review:

As you may have picked up from my series review of Sword Art Online yesterday, I am a fan of SAO. I am not oblivious to some of the faults with the story or the characters, but I genuinely get a lot of joy and fun from watching and rewatching the series. So I was super excited when I found out I’d be in a city with a cinema when SAO was still showing and it was showing in a cinema in the city I was going to be in. Given I only usually get to see a movie in the cinema every six months or so, this year has been pretty good to me in terms of my actually getting to see cinema releases. Still, SAO was my very first anime cinema experience and I’m really glad I had this experience.

That said, and as much as I really had a lot of fun, the movie is not good. Fans of SAO who are still fans despite all the rocks people throw at the series and despite some legitimate complaints about the plot will enjoy this movie but otherwise it just isn’t that good. Mostly this is because it does all the things anime movies tend to do that annoy people.

Firstly, every character of note from the previous four arcs is going to make an appearance. Doesn’t matter if they are relevant or not (or apparently whether they previously died or not), they are showing up. This is stretching run time for the sake of it and some of these characters just kind of pop in and out for no other reason than to say they were there. Realistically, this movie needed Kirito, Asuna, Klein, and maybe one other from the usual crew and the story would have not been altered in the slightest except there would be less clutter and we’d be able to just focus on the story rather than random cameos from characters who were mostly pointless. I get it is an SAO movie and you want all the fans to see their favourite character but are you pandering to fans or making a decent movie?

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Secondly, because they are trying to introduce a new concept and villain and wrap it up in the length of a single movie, what we end up with is a lot of rushed exposition and a really poorly realised conflict. Seriously, none of the villains in this can be taken seriously. They either have the mentality of a six year old or they are simply going through the motions of duplicating the actions of previous characters and they haven’t actually thought through their actions in any realistic way. Not to mention, the final climax really just suddenly upped the stakes for no discernible reason other than the characters said it was suddenly going to be more dangerous (seriously from memory loss to permanent brain damage and no actual reason other than it was going to – they did babble an explanation at us but it boils down to we want a more dramatic climax and why haven’t they just stopped playing the game yet).

My third issue with the movie is just the usual one about characters being needlessly stupid for the sake of plot. Ghost girl is pointing. Gee, I wonder what’s over there. Wait, you seriously didn’t ask until the third time she did it? Great, now you can triangulate but why hadn’t you already asked?

In case that makes it sound dreadful, it isn’t. The final act is almost laugh out loud ironically bad but the build up is good SAO fun with some good fights, characters sassing one another for laughs, the introduction of interesting game concepts that make you think about games and life, and you do get to see all your favourite characters whether you want to or not. That might be detrimental to the plot but for fans it is kind of rewarding.

Not to mention, while the ending is bad from a narrative point of view, from a visual spectacle and awesome boss fight point of view it is a really riveting experience. Okay, there’s about a million holes you can poke in everything that happens in that final stadium fight, but switch your brain off and watch it. That is all kinds of awesome and when you compare the plot holes here to the plot holes left in most big action movies, they are kind of on par (I just expect better from my anime, even SAO, which is probably why I was laughing so hard).

Of course Kirito is still going to save the day because despite everyone else having more experience playing the game, Kirito is the protagonist and severly protected by plot armour at this point. In the first arc of SAO there was always the possibility he might actually die but since then it has become increasingly clear that Kirito is just going to be fine no matter what so let him do his thing. I’m positive he broke traffic laws as well as common sense laws during one sequence of fights where within a ten minute window he participated in multiple fights in multiple locations in the city. But you know, there are worse things that the movie could have thrown at us.

On that note, I did go to see the movie with a friend and after it ended (and we got the tease for yet another SAO story after the credits – this series never intends to just go quiet does it) we went to dinner and talked the movie over. He isn’t as big a fan of SAO as I am but he enjoyed the first arc and has watched the rest. Basically we came to the conclusion that everything else in the movie could be excused except the villain. He was so lame and his motive so ridiculous. Even if he had succeeded it was unclear what he intended to do next. More importantly, why can’t you copy the memories rather than wiping them out of people’s brains. Doesn’t that make more sense if you are digitally stealing memories in the first place?

So recommendation for this film is watch it if you are into SAO. You’ll enjoy it and have a bit of a laugh and you will certainly see some very cool fights and a game that you’ll definitely want in real life right now. Otherwise, this one is an entirely skippable experience. There’s really nothing here for non-fans.


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Blame Movie Review

Overview:

There’s a city with builders that just keeps getting built and humans somehow lost control of it and are now treated as pests to be exterminated by the various safeguards and things. Zuru lives in a village that is protected by a barrier but they are running out of food and so must venture into the city for supplies.

Review:

There’s something very disappointing about a movie that has a really cool setting and premise and then essentially does nothing with world or character building to bring either to life. Blame has everything it needs to be a pretty good sci-fi film and yet it settles for being a mediocre action viewing experience that spends so little time on its characters you’d be lucky to even remember three names by the time you get to the end of the film. Certainly it isn’t working at building any kind of emotional connection to these drone like and interchangeable cast members.

Still, it isn’t bad. Blame’s biggest issue is that it isn’t as good as it could have been and that left a really sour taste in my mouth which made it hard to really focus on what it was doing well. I  said it was mediocre action viewing, but the action is pretty good. From a visual point of view the movement and explosions are all very effective and if you just want to watch desperate people trudge about for most of the first act and then scurry in fear as the few major players duke it out in the second, you’ll actually get a fairly solid viewing experience.

Still, if you are after explanations, character motivations (beyond the obvious), a world that feels like more than a group of set pieces strung together, Blame is going to fall short of the mark. And no where is this truer than in Killy.

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Killy originally rescues Zuru when she has led a group of younger people out of the village in search of food and of course for the sake of narrative convenience they run afoul of the exterminaters. I will point out over half of the party die and other than a few uncomfortable moments when they first get back to the village no one ever mentions these dead characters again. Considering how much fuss is made later over another character dying (and again she wasn’t the only character to die in that scene) it just seems really unnatural. Blame wants the audience to care about this death so the characters will make a fuss. These deaths were just to show you how spectacularly powerful these machines are. Don’t worry about these characters and the other characters won’t either.

Back to Killy. With very little discussion or actual reason, Zuru brings Killy back to the village. Zuru actually seems to have imprinted on Killy because she spends most of the rest of the movie either following him or hovering in his vicinity. They don’t seem to actually interact much and I don’t actually know why she’s hung up on him or if they ever even speak together again because as far as I can recall they don’t. Yet for some reason he has this incredible impact on her and that’s something the closing monologue wants to emphasise but it makes no sense because nothing we saw really warranted that kind of connection to have been forged.

The other characters to just seem to accept Killy. No one actually asks him the questions the audience would like answered. We get a few hints here and there and an antagonist pretty much tells us something we’d mostly figured out by sheer guess work in the end but where did Killy come from? Why was he so fixated on his mission? How did he survive that long? Nothing. Silence.

We know nothing about him. We know what he is seeking and that is the full extent of our knowledge of this character. Seriously, even Arnold as the Terminator had more personality.

There’s some cool technology and ideas floating around in this movie but again, don’t go waiting for any kind of explanation or elaboration. This is a case of cool concept, where’s the detail.

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Basically if you have a couple of hours to kill, you could do worse than watching Blame, but it isn’t exactly something you should prioritize.


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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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