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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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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