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Reviews and articles on movies, music, video games, and more

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

“Trance” – Danny Boyle’s Follow-Up to the Opening Ceremony

If you were a movie director who just spent the last four years creating the opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics, what would you make your next project after the Games? Danny Boyle decided to change directions away from the large scales and bombast of the Olympics opening ceremony and take a trip back to his roots with “Trance”. Boyle’s first film was crime thriller “Shallow Grave”, and it seems he is looking to come full circle with his upcoming release focusing on an art thief who has lost his memory. The cast, including James McAvoy and Rosario Dawson among others, is talented and should make the film’s story keep you on the edge of your seat. Boyle’s directing talent is immense and many of his usual techniques should fit nicely with the genre. I just hope “Trance” doesn’t fall into the territory of some of his recent work, such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” (while Boyle’s directing is great, the films were not that interesting to me). Can “Trance” recapture Danny Boyle’s earlier magic?

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“Jackie Brown” (1997) Movie Review

Jackie Brown Movie Poster

As I mentioned previously in my review of “Django Unchained”, I am a Quentin Tarantino fan. He is an extremely talented director, with many of his films having spots in my personal film collection. Yet, for some reason, I had never known about or heard of “Jackie Brown”. Releasing between “Pulp Fiction” and the “Kill Bill” films, “Jackie Brown” is an easily overlooked, under-the-radar Tarantino film about an airline flight attendant, a gun-runner, a recently released convict, drugs, guns, cash, and some members of law enforcement. Classic set-up for a Tarantino film right? Then why is this film always overlooked when it comes to discussions on Tarantino’s works? I don’t have an answer to that, but I can tell you about my viewing experience.

To begin, “Jackie Brown” is classic Tarantino. It fits perfectly right next to “Pulp Fiction” and before “Kill Bill” as you have a similar style to the former, with a female protagonist like the latter. Within that framework, and with the aforementioned characters and items, Tarantino crafts a slick crime thriller whose plot is constantly engaging. The twists and turns that the film takes over its 2.5 hour running time are entertaining to the point that you don’t always quite know what to expect from this group of characters. Further, the film moves at a fairly steady pace, never really getting bogged down, nor moving too quickly. Sure, there are some scenes that run a little long, but Tarantino loves his dialogue, and that makes some of those scenes.

Speaking of which, the film is just as well-written as any other Tarantino film is. He has always been lauded for his clever and quality scripts, and this one is no exception. Sure, some characters are a little eccentric, which Samuel L. Jackson always does right with his character having a dialogue that consists of 40% f-bombs, 30% racial slurs, and 30% of everything else. This is where Tarantino always succeeds – crafting humorous dialogue across serious scenes that still manages to make the viewer attached to each character’s fate, and “Jackie Brown” is a perfect example.

As always, Tarantino puts together a phenomenal cast, with Pam Grier putting in a great performance in the lead role.

As always, Tarantino puts together a phenomenal cast, with Pam Grier putting in a great performance in the lead role.

In mentioning characters, I will again give credit to Tarantino for bringing together an immensely talented cast. From Samuel L. Jackson, to Robert De Niro, to Robert Forester, there is a star-filled cast that performs to a high level (even down to its minor characters – Chris Tucker makes a nice comedic appearance). Still, I have to give a special mention to Pam Grier, who delivers a perfect performance as “Jackie Brown” and really revitalized her career (she was in “Mars Attacks” the year before). With such a great cast, the film really feels authentic in its execution.

Lastly, I just need to quickly mention the soundtrack for the film. Once again, Tarantino is often noted for his soundtrack choices and implementation. Here, “Jackie Brown” has become one of my favorites amongst all of Tarantino’s works. The soundtrack is exceptional in its selection and use throughout the film, and adds another layer of style to the film.

Overall, “Jackie Brown” is a great film. It doesn’t quite top the like of “Pulp Fiction” or “Inglorious Basterds” (my two Tarantino favorites), but it should easily be in the conversation next to any other Tarantino film. I am still amazed at how I was unaware of this film, and how unknown it is compared to Tarantino’s other works. I know I, for one, will be recommending it to anyone who enjoys Tarantino, or to any crime thriller fan (or even just a general film fan). Has anyone else seen “Jackie Brown” – what did you think? Where does is rank among Tarantino’s film library for you?

Final Score – 9.0/10

“Hop” (2011) Guest Movie Review

Hop Movie Poster

Every now and then, I love to watch an animated movie that’s just silly and fun. “Hop” was definitely a treat of a movie. I can’t say that it ranks up with some of the classic animation movies in the last decade such as “Finding Nemo” or “Monsters, Inc.”, but I can say that it was a light, feel good movie that is perfect for young kids, and even adults who just want to feel like a kid once and a while (like me!).

The computer-generated animations were wonderful. Technology has really come a long way, especially for these animated movies. The colors and visuals of all the candies of Easter Island were brilliant and made you want to swim among the masses of jellybeans and marshmallow peeps. The soundtrack was a bit odd with some very dated songs that brought back memories for me, but would have no effect on young children who weren’t alive for such bands. The rock songs related well, because obviously E.B. was dreaming of becoming a drummer in a rock band, but I still think they could have chosen some better songs, or guests artists – Like who the heck are the Blind Boys of Alabama?!?

Carlos and Phil were two of the many characters who brought some dimensions and additional storyline to the film. Phil is also one of my favorite characters, he’ll definitely at least make you crack a smile with his antics!

Carlos and Phil were two of the many characters who brought some dimensions and additional storyline to the film. Phil is also one of my favorite characters, he’ll definitely at least make you crack a smile with his antics!

Anyway, despite my musical ignorance, I still thought the movie was fun. The storyline was nothing too deep, but still enough to be heartwarming and have deeper meaning for young children and kids. It presents a number of wonderful messages to kids, such as do what you love, respect your elders (even when you don’t want to) and to always believe in yourself.  Though I found it cute, Will did make a point as we were watching that the movie has many stereotypes in it. The worker chicks were Latino or Hispanic while the Easter Bunny or boss was British, along with a few others throughout the movie. On another note, the acting was mediocre, which is expected in an animated film. It wasn’t the best, but nothing that your kids are going to complain about.

It was the perfect movie for a relaxing night with the kids and to help excite the children for Easter. I really enjoyed the movie even as an adult, but there are definitely a number of other animated movies that I would prefer to this one. Have a few laughs with your family or loved ones and check “Hop” out for yourself, especially with Easter just around the corner and let me know what you think!

Final Score: 7.0/10

New “Final Fantasy X HD” Announcement

Credit for image: IGN.com

Credit for image: IGN.com

If you’re a Final Fantasy fan like me, I’m sure you remember Square-Enix’s big announcement that they would be releasing “Final Fantasy X” for the Vita, fully remastered in HD. I’m sure you also remember never hearing much about it after that, and wondering what is going on with the release. Recent news from Square will make you happy, then. Reports are out that Square has announced that “Final Fantasy X HD” will be releasing for both PS3 and the Vita. To further make your day, the PS3 version of the HD update will be released on disc and include its sequel “Final Fantasy X-2” fully remastered as well. The Vita versions of the titles will be sold separately. With this news, I know I will be looking forward to revisiting Spira when Square finally releases these updates (hoping that the next bit of news will actually be a solid release date). Look for the official announcement on Monday, March 25th, and join me in hoping it contains more info. Is anyone else looking forward to the updated release? IS FFX your favorite Final Fantasy?

The Bipolar Bears – Self-Titled Album Review

The Bipolar Bears Album Cover

Every now and then, I am made aware of a random band, and after hearing some samples, I decide to take a chance on them. Just recently, I read another blog post reviewing the self-titled album by the Austin, Texas-based band, The Bipolar Bears. Soon after, I took that chance – and I am glad I did.

The Bipolar Bears offer an angsty, alt-pop that sits on the border between raw and refined. Sitting comfortably within their genre, the album feels full of confidence for the group, and offers its listeners a solid mix of tracks. As the album moves from track to track, it becomes apparent that there is a wide variety of influences in the group’s music. This makes each track have a unique feel – partially due to varying members of the group writing and performing vocals on different tracks – yet, in the end, there is still a nice consistency to the album as a whole.

Check out the video below for a taste of The Bipolar Bears:

Looking at individual tracks, “The Siren” quickly stands out as my personal favorite. A nice mix of keys, chunky guitar, and solid rhythm make the track an easy recommendation. Tracks like “Half Cigarette” and “I Want You” also stand out for some infectious melodies and pattern changes. There are even some nice brass sections as the album’s latter pieces.

On all the tracks, though, there is solid performances by every group member. It may not be highly technical, but that is not the point – the whole means more than the individual parts. In that respect, The Bipolar Bears have crafted a solid album that manages to have fun, yet feel mature in its execution. Take a chance, and you will likely be pleasantly surprised as I was with this up-and-coming group.

Final Score: 7.8/10

Revisiting the Metro – Why “Metro: Last Light” Should Be On Your Radar

How many of you have heard of or played “Metro 2033”? If you have, you know how engrossing its world was – the nice lighting, the fascinating story, the unique commerce/ammo system. I can still remember operating my handheld charger to breathe life into my flashlight, or quickly putting on my gas mask to avoid death from the air outside the metro. There were so many little touches that drew the player into the experience and earned “Metro 2033” the #10 spot on my favorite games list. Now, the crew at 4A games is back at the helm, and seems to be crafting another interesting experience. Ever since I finished “Metro 2033”, I have been hoping and waiting for a sequel – and now it is set for release in May. Does anyone else have this game on their radar?

“Suspect Zero” (2004) Review

Suspect Zero poster

What can I say about “Suspect Zero”? The film is both intriguing and frustrating at the same time, never seeming to realize its true potential. There is so much here that could make for a classic crime thriller, yet the film stumbles to maintain even a slight sense of tension. With a great cast present to bring to life this serial killer hunt, how enjoyable is “Suspect Zero” for its audience?

As I just mentioned, “Suspect Zero” has a solid cast that really suit their characters. Aaron Eckhart tries to keep things tense as FBI detective, Thomas Mackelway. Ben Kingsley, though, delivers a wonderful performance as Benjamin O’Ryan. Kingsley is able to capture a wide range of emotions and helps make O’Ryan a deeply affecting character. The two do well in working together in this chase, while Carrie-Anne Moss just felt so-so in her role.

With its two main characters in capable hands, it’s a shame the plot is such a mess. Yes, there is a basic story that is pretty cohesive (full of typical crime thriller stereotypes), for the most part, but there are so many different ideas introduced without enough development that the overall story feels rushed and undeveloped. I’ll give it to the film that it takes some interesting turns during its course, but it just feels that someone tried to stuff too many story threads in here. It’s a shame that given more development many of them have great potential and would likely make the plot a really great experience – too many plot points are pulled from nowhere and never expanded upon that the story ends up feeling like a writer/director through a bunch of ideas down on a paper and tried to connect them as loosely as possible just to get them to all fit in. Still, despite its shortcomings, the plot works and remains fairly interesting throughout the film.

One thing that "Suspect Zero" benefits from is its acting. Between Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley, the film is certainly stacked with talent.

One thing that “Suspect Zero” benefits from is its acting. Between Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley, the film is certainly stacked with talent.

Unfortunately, E. Elias Merhige fails to create any real sense of tension – a glaring negative for a crime thriller. Any tension that arises is solely to the credit of Kingsley’s talent. Despite this lack of tension in the film, I actually enjoyed the cutting and camera work that gave the film an interesting style. This style really worked for the story and would’ve really benefitted from more of the aforementioned tension.

“Suspect Zero” is not a bad film. Nor is it a great one. It manages to mix many positives and negative, never seeming to transcend its poorly developed plot background and stereotypes. Still, it is worth a watch for fans of crime dramas and thrillers, or those just looking for a decent bit of enjoyment.

Final Score: 5.6/10

Get Caught Up in the Tide – “Dead Island: Riptide” Just One Month from Release

Most gamers are familiar with the original “Dead Island” trailer. It captivated many with its presentation during its first release and word of the game quickly spread. Despite developer Techland having a shaky track record, “Dead Island” turned out pretty well. Its mix of brutal melee combat and gun-wielding in an open-world zombie island may have received some mixed reviews, but everyone recognized its potential. I was instantly caught up in the co-op piece (with the game allowing users drop-in/drop-out co-op across the whole island and mission list that was identical and linked to the single-player experience) and its great crafting system. Sure, the game could have used some improvements, but there’s no denying that it was a hell of a lot of fun. With the release of “Dead Island: Riptide” just one month away, I have noticed this sequel receiving little hype (outside of a story about the uproar over its original collector’s edition package design). The company began its announcement with another excellent CGI trailer and, assuming they tightened up some loose nuts and bolts from the first game, should be releasing another excellent open-world adventure. I know I’ll be crafting electrified sickles on April 23rd, how about you?

“The Abyss” (1989) Review

The Abyss cover

James Cameron is considered to be a visionary director. He received praise for many of his works, from “Titanic” to “Avatar”, and is a huge name in the film industry. Personally, I am not a big fan of his. None of his films have really impressed me enough to make me agree with the praise they’ve gotten. “The Abyss” is another of Cameron’s films, though prior to the closing credits, I went in blind to his role in the film’s creation. Yet, when I did see those closing credits with Cameron’s name appearing as director, I wasn’t the least bit shocked. It felt like a Cameron film the whole way through.

“The Abyss” tells the tale of a deep-sea, industrial rig crew who happen to be utilized by the government to search for a sunken US submarine that is located close to their base of operations. Due to a fast-approaching hurricane, and urgency in the mission, a group of Navy Seals are sent to help with the crew’s efforts, as the US cannot get a full salvage crew together before the storm approaches. In classic sci-fi fashion, there is a startling discovery made during their salvage attempt, and a familiar story of conflict between crew and unknown and amongst crew plays out. It is easy to say a story is clichéd (and “The Abyss” is), but another thing entirely to say a film is entirely predictable. Throughtout the story, any sci-fi fan would note that it is easy to see exactly what will happen. All of the major conflicts and plot points are quickly discerned and never a surprise. Further, the plot itself isn’t really all that exciting. Sure, there are some decent moments, but overall, the plot is simply average – not to mention the ending, which manages to avoid the most intriguing question/conflict in the film and ends this story abruptly.

The same cannot be said for the visuals, however. In typical Cameron fashion, “The Abyss” has a great visual presentation. For a film that was made over 20 years ago, the underwater scenes are quite a show. I mean, sure, the film’s effects are dated in many repspects, but its visuals still manage to do a great job of bringing the viewer into the experience. That being said, visuals cannot make up for a mediocre plot (see “Avatar”).

Many of the visuals in "The Abyss" are impressive, especially when taking into account the fact that the film is more than 20 years old.

Many of the visuals in “The Abyss” are impressive, especially when taking into account the fact that the film is more than 20 years old.

Outside of the story and visuals, there are two other notes worth making with regards to “The Abyss”. First, the acting varies widely. On the whole, it is decent and gets the job done. Still, I wish some of the supporting cast had done a better job to make their characters more natural (some of the scenes just feel too stiff) and better complement the performance Ed Harris puts forth. Second, the soundtrack is your typical brass-infused “epic” soundtrack. At times, it is too pronounced, at others it is fitting, but nothing special.

“The Abyss” is certainly an entertaining journey, albeit one that feels very familiar. Its visual greatness may have been dated by time, but the film still looks great. The plot for this sci-fi adventure is average at best, however, with some poor/unrealistic science and a disappointing ending. In the end, “The Abyss” manages to be nothing more than an average-at-best sci-fi film. Major sci-fi fans may get some enjoyment out of it, while more casual movie fans should be able to overlook its more glaring flaws. For me, it just feels like another James Cameron film – heavy on striking visuals and clichéd story elements. Feel free to share your thoughts on the film and/or James Cameron in the comments.

Final Score: 5.0/10

“Drakengard 3” Announced as Playstation 3 Exclusive

Drakengard 3 screenshot

News has surfaced that the third installment in the “Draknegard” series is in development for the Playstation 3. The studio responsible for development is Access Games, a studio containing some of the original “Drakengard” crew members, and creators of the recent cult hit, “Deadly Premonition”. For fans of the series, or its original developers, Cavia (who also developed “Nier”, one of my 10 favorite games), this is an unexpected, but exciting announcement. Those unfamiliar with the series should be prepared for intense ground and air combat involving dragons, combined with a pretty crazy, entertaining story. Knowing that some of the major staff involved in creation of the series are returning for this game should make expectations high that it will do the series justice. Let’s just hope there isn’t any story-affecting censorship in this one.

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