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AlexEdge

AlexEdge
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    • Robocop (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 22 Readings / 21 Ratings
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      26.08.2012 20:15
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      A fascinating dystopic character driven action film

      In the not-too-distant future, a newly transfered Detroit police officer is remade into an indestructible cybernetic cop after being dismembered by a gang of thugs in an abandoned warehouse. Reborn as RoboCop he is programmed to serve and protect the citizens of Detroit and eliminate the rampant crime in the city streets so that a massive city-wide reconstruction project can get under way. But once he has completed his task, he sets his sights on the corruption inside Security Concepts - the corporation that created him.


      RoboCop Blu-ray, Video Quality

      This Orion Picture production is presented in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p. The picture quality is a mixed bag: some scenes look reasonably sharp, and others are marred by excessive film grain. Despite the amount of grain, this is the best I have seen Robocop look in all of its renditions: the 20th anniversary DVD, the Trilogy set issued by MGM, or the excellent laserdisc released by Criterion. The transfer itself is quite sharp. I was able to detect objects not previously seen on the DVD or laserdisc releases, like the detail in Robocop's uniform and headgear. Colors are reasonably saturated, and skin tones ranged from natural, to a little on the pink-reddish side. Blood is vividly red, but occasionally colors became subdued. Some scenes appear too dark obstructing shadow detail, and occasionally blacks look a little muddy. The graininess previously mentioned is most objectionable in dark colors, and could appear more like digital noise than grain. In spite of its flaws, this is the definitive Robocop in terms of picture quality.


      RoboCop Blu-ray, Audio Quality

      The audio is presented in Dts HD MA lossless, but the original stems are the weakness of this soundtrack. The surrounds are not particularly prominent, however there is the occasional split channel effect that is quite effective. Overall the audio is band limited as compared to the mixes of current, but none the less quite pleasing for an 80's mix. My RTA's show no output below 40hz in the LFE or mains, and not much output above 15khz as well. The sound is occasionally peaky, especially in the dialog that makes it sound a bit unnatural. Gunshots and explosions sound just a bit anemic, lacking body and weight. The score by Basil Poledouris wraps pleasantly into the surrounds creating an enveloping quality. Overall the score fares better than the dialog and sound effects. This is a decent, but not great mix. Also included is an English 4.0 soundtrack, French and Spanish 5.1 soundtrack.

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        26.08.2012 20:10
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        as engrossing as a movie can be

        Uma Thurman is back as the Bride, the sexy Ninja assassin hell-bent on killing Bill, her former employer.

        Kill Bill 2 grabbed my attention, and did not let go. It is fantastic to look at. The movie looks great, and this gives it its authenticity and credibility.

        Uma Thurman has real star power, here more than ever before. We see her constantly up-close, her beauty, and her intensity. But I wish she appeared in a vehicle that tested her dramatic range better. She seems seduced by the avant-garde glamour of appearing as Tarantino's star.

        David Carradine has presence as Bill. He is wise and formidable, a worthy villain. There is something tragic about the situation: an accidental pregnancy, and Beatrix Kiddo (the Bride's unlikely name) only wants to quit the ninja assassin business so as to raise her child in a normal environment. For Bill, this is a waste of Kiddo's "gift" to be an assassin. In a vivid monologue, Bill compares Kiddo to Superman and other superheroes. He cannot believe that Kiddo could have been content with a normal life, working in a small-town Texas record shop. Carradine frames Kill Bill for us: Beatrix is a superhero, so we should sit back and enjoy the ride, and not think about it too much, because Kill Bill is really just a comic book set to the screen.

        Their climactic scene with their daughter echoes the opening scene from volume 1, when Vernita Green and Beatrix also confront each other in the presence of a child and postpone violence for the child's sake. But the atmosphere remains charged with violence. We watch Bill preparing their daughter a bologna sandwich, using a large French knife to cut it, and we are aware that Beatrix's hair-trigger nerves are on alert.

        Tarantino again works in a few non-chronological scenes to good effect. In the opening scene (probably added after the decision to release Kill Bill in two parts), we see Beatrix driving toward Bill's, thereby revealing that she has already dispatched the other enemies on her list. So we know that she will survive everyone between her and Bill. This actually makes it more enjoyable for us to watch the scenes where she is buried alive, or has to fight Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah).

        Tarantino wisely spares us certain scenes, especially the El Paso wedding massacre itself. But he still pushes new ground in traumatizing his audiences. The buried alive scene is well done, as is Beatrix tearing out Elle's eyeballs.

        Darryl Hannah shines as a villain. We are glad to learn why she wears an eye patch. She commits the greatest crimes of honor, killing both Pai Mei and Budd (Bill's brother, an expert swordsmen, now gone to seed). However inspired of a casting choice, it again reveals Tarantino's essential plasticity. Why is she so evil to insult Pai Mei and also to kill Budd (Michael Madsen)?

        I found Kill Bill 2 to be as engrossing as a movie can be, but I cannot treat it like other movies. Here we have a talented director, working with full license and at the peak of his powers, but he can only deliver a riveting comic book. It is more pulp fiction. Granted, a director who is aware that he is making pulp fiction, and can do so with such relish and flair is worth more than most directors, but will Tarantino ever shoot for more, for film, for art? Watching his movies is like watching a precocious child perform the same trick over and over. You wish he could learn new things.

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        26.08.2012 20:07
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        The problems come when the story isn't at the forefront.

        "Extinction" is a good subtitle to give to the final entry of this terribly shabby "Zombie" trilogy - and thank goodness the Resident Evil movie franchise is finally dead. Or is it?!! I don't know 'cause I fell asleep before the end.

        Making absolutely no attempt to pick up where Resident Evil 2 left off, Resident Evil: Extinction instead drops our favorite zombie-slaying heroine, Alice, into the now-familiar Umbrella Corporation laboratory, but fails to give her any clothing (this Zombiephile always approves of Milla Jovovich not having any clothing). Unfortunately, Resident Evil 3 - Extinction basically falls off after that point, quickly descending into a parody of a good horror / apocalypse movie, and barely involving any actual zombies at all.

        Never mind the fact that the Resident Evil franchise has always taken great liberties with the concept of zombieness - We've had zombie dogs, super zombie cyborg soldiers, badass kung-fu knowing zombie heroines that actually aren't zombies...it's been a long, strange trip for RE fans. Based on the popular video game franchise of the same title, the Resident Evil trilogy has always held itself back by trying to be too much like the videogame - and the third movie just takes this to it's impossibly ridiculous conclusion.

        The Apocalyse has occurred between the last Resident Evil movie and this one - and Alice explains in a cheesy voice-over at the beginning of the movie, explaining how the "T-Virus," the virus that causes zombieness, has somehow spread to the entire ecosystem, drying up rivers and crap like that. Never mind the blatant, patent impossibility of such an occurrance - Viruses are viruses, which means they require a biological host, not a river. But alas, this is one of the movie's more believable elements, as it turns out.

        No longer content just to be able to do nasty Kung-Fu, Alice has somehow developed semi-godlike powers since Resident Evil 2, making her telekinetic, pyrokinetic, and generally even less believable than before. Little attempt is made to explain these powers, and she conveniently can't use them when action sequences are coming up - total Deus Ex Machina kind of writing. Of course, the Umbrella Corporation, somehow still sitting on massive amounts of capital and resources despite the entire annihilation of the planet, is still messing around with her - not content to destroy the entire world, they still somehow think they've got something with Milla Jovovich, despite her repeatedly kicking their asses.

        Once Alice conveniently ends up right where her friends from Resident Evil 2 happen to be fighting a giant swarm of zombie birds - that's right, zombie birds, it's like Hitchcock, except the birds are zombies - well, after that it's pretty much just a Resident Evil movie. This Zombiephile is embarrassed to admit that he completely slept through the end of Resident Evil: Extinction, but he can imagine somehow that the trilogy probably didn't tie up its loose ends - being as that loose ends are all that Resident Evil ever really had.

        Final verdict? Skip Resident Evil 3 - Extinction and, instead, get yourself a next-gen console so you can play Resident Evil 5, which will doubtlessly by a better videogame than Resident Evil 3 - Extinction was a movie. But you're probably still going to have to fight zombie dogs - let's just hope there aren't any zombie rivers.

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        • Solomon Kane (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 5 Readings / 5 Ratings
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          26.08.2012 18:30
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          Life's a bitch when your soul is owed to the devil.

          Life's a bitch when your soul is owed to the devil. It's even more of a bitch when you're not even the guy who sold it off. But such is the sad state of affairs for Solomon Kane, the one-time bloodthirsty, amoral, treasure hunting sea captain prone to gunning down his own men for disobedience while spouting off inspirational lines about how he's the only devil his men have to fear when they quake in fright at the evil forces he keeps sending them against in the quest for more riches. But Solomon's a reformed man now, a man who has taken up residence in a monastery and pledged himself to a peaceful life in a desperate bid to atone for his past wrongs in the hope that God will take mercy upon him and restore his soul. It's a plan that may even have worked if not for the evil sorcerer ravaging the land, a potent force that only goes to prove that sometimes the forces of good need to have a little blood lust if they are to prevail. They need to be a little vicious. They need Solomon to pick up his sword.

          Yes, boys and girls, Solomon Kane is the creation of Robert E Howard, best known as the creator of Conan The Barbarian. Yes, Kane is the subject of a new screen adventure helmed by Michael Bassett. And, yes, 80's style sword and sorcery adventure is back in a big way with Bassett's thoroughly entertaining screen adaptation.

          James Purefoy stars as the title character, a man as prone to violence and evil as any who may walk the earth when we first meet him. Kane has no fear, no morals. There is only the lust for wealth and power and there is no length that Kane will not go to achieve what he wants. He lives in fear of no man and no creature and continues living because he has the physical skills to overcome any sort of creature that he has ever encountered until the fateful day that he encounter's one of Satan's own Reapers and learns that somehow, somewhere, Solomon Kane's soul has been sold and that the time has now come for the Devil to collect. He barely escapes but is there really any point? How long can you hide from the Devil himself? A monastery provides sanctuary for a time but when a horde of magically enhanced thugs and killers begins swarming the land under the control of a hulking, masked warrior under the control of a foul sorcerer Kane is forced back out into the world by the monastery's abbot in the hopes that Kane may seek redemption not in hiding himself away but in protecting the weak and powerless.

          Loaded with swordplay, evil creatures and adventure, all of it anchored by the classic antiheroic Kane himself, Solomon Kane is a throwback to the pulpy fantasy adventure genre that creator Robert E Howard once ruled. It is the sort of film that Van Helsing should have been only bigger, bloodier and burlier. James Purefoy has long been touted as the next big leading man and his natural charisma shines through int he title role, while supporting players such as Jason Flemyng, Max Von Sydow and Pete Postlethwaite provide solid work in support. The effects are solid, the action plentiful, and while the swordplay has obviously been planned with a PG-13 audience in mind it pushes as hard against that limit as it can with more than one limb severed and head removed.

          Despite a loyal fan following, sword and sorcery fantasy has always been a difficult genre to pull off convincingly and, as such, has largely been neglected in recent years. But with Kane we get a different sort of sword and sorcery hero, one dropped into the puritan era rather than the middle ages, and that simple change breathes new life into a tired beast. Though not a perfect film by any stretch - some of the fighting is shot too close and edited too fast while a couple of the digital effects land only just on the acceptable side of the spectrum - but it is a hugely entertaining one, one loaded with rich characters and strong players and stacks of quality set pieces. I can only hope that the producers of the soon-to-be-revived Conan franchise are paying attention to this one because Solomon Kane is one excellent primer on how to tackle Howard and make him work for today's audiences. No theatrical release has been announced yet but seek it out when the time comes. This is a good one.

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          26.08.2012 18:13
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          Every time you think the movie can't become any more savage and crazy... it does.

          Sometimes, being insane in your filmmaking isn't enough. To make something special, a filmmaker requires a spark of creativity to light the flames of a madness explosion. Hobo with a Shotgun is a Hiroshima of creative insanity. Director Jason Eisener has not only paid homage to 70s exploitation films, he's made a film that could easily have stood amongst it ranks. Every time you think the movie can't become any more crazy, any more grotesque, or any more disgusting, it takes out its penis and starts masturbating in public while raving about how vampire pandas are running an underground rap scene in Philadelphia as a pre-text to shut down naked human bullfighting.

          The film is based off a fake trailer Eisener made for the 2007 Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodrigues flick Grindhouse. Expanded in to a feature film, the story centers on a hobo (Rutger Hauer) who has rode the rails to Hope Fuck Town, the unhappiest place on Earth if you're anyone but the sadistic freaks who run it. Running the show is Drake (Brian Downey), a gangster with the attitude of a game show host, and his two sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). The murder-happy brothers make Uday and Qusay Hussein look like Goofus and Gallant. As the Drake and his family murder anyone they want in the most disgusting-yet-imaginative ways possible, the hobo, with the help of a gold-hearted hooker (Molly Dunsworth), decides justice needs to come to the city and that the best delivery method for said justice is with a shotgun.

          I don't want to spoil a single thing about this movie. So much of it rests on shock value, but the film is surprisingly quotable in its awful dialogue. Almost everyone but Hauer is giving exaggerated performances so they can match the tone of the movie. Hauer wisely keeps his character low-key and lets his shotgun do the talking. It's a smart move because Eisener wants to show that the hobo is a mad man, but not necessarily a madman.

          But when the hobo who makes rambling speeches about bears is your calm center of the universe, you begin to have an idea of how demented this movie is. Fuck Town never met an over-saturated color it didn't like. The camera dips and zooms and tilts around the psychotic brothers and the scenes of bizarre bloodshed. The movie not only copies the look of grindhouse movies, but understands how to best capture the story it's trying to tell.

          It's not enough to be sick and twisted to make a movie like Hobo with a Shotgun. You need to be creative. It's not enough to simply have a guy run around a shoot people with a shotgun. You need to surprise the audience and tap into their darkest sense of humor and keep the tone goofy enough so that the horrific acts won't send you out of the theater in disgust. Eisener pulls it off brilliantly and every time you think the film can't shock you any more, it tops itself. My only worry about the movie is how it will play on repeat viewings when so much of the humor and horror is reliant on shock value.

          If I have one problem with the movie, it's that early on, the bad guys have an opportunity to kill the hobo and they decide not to even though it's been established that they'll kill anyone for no reason whatsoever. I don't mind that it's a stupid plot development. The movie is nothing if not gleefully stupid. I mind that Eisener doesn't bother to come up with a stupid reason to support the bad guys' decision. For a movie where stupidity is given a great big hug and all the ice cream it wants, that small hiccup is a bit off-putting.

          But other than that minor misstep, Hobo with a Shotgun is the most fun I've had at a Sundance screening so far and one of the most fun movies I've seen in years. It reminds me of one of my other favorite campy, gruesome exploitation films, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. In its craziest fever dreams, the bloated, star-packed Machete couldn't hope to touch the madness of Eisener's debut feature. Enjoy the insanity.

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          25.08.2012 22:57
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          Stanley Kubrick at his best

          By 1968, Stanley Kubrick had already taken conventional cinematic language to its limits. "Dr. Strangelove " perfected the black comedy; "Lolita " told an impossible story to film; and "Spartacus " redefined the action epic. Finally, Kubrick wanted to change cinematic language.
          The first 20 minutes of "2001: A Space Odyssey " are still revolutionary. There's no dialog, human or real plot. Kubrick introduces the broad concepts of science, nature and evolution through a variety of opening images. A sunrise, a barren desert and prehistoric apes lounging around. While this may seem unnecessary, the vague ending can be partially understood by these opening concepts. It's a simple and brutal life till the apes find the "Monolith" in the middle of their territory. The Monolith is a large black object almost like blank domino that towers over everything. This Monolith somehow helps the apes evolve: they learn how to use tools and weapons.

          That was the first step of a long journey that is segued by the now legendary quick cut from a flying bone to a spaceship. The patient viewer is now treated with a montage of Beethoven's music and flying spacecraft, whose models still look impressive. Eventually, the main characters are introduced: astronauts Dave (Keir Dullea ), Frank (Gary Lockwood ) and their supercomputer mission leader, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain ). Interestingly, Kubrick gives more character depth and motivation to HAL throughout the film than any human shows. HAL has an obvious sense of self-actualization and arrogance computers shouldn't have. HAL asks probing questions about the astronauts, lies about mission details and seems to have jealousy streak. When the the ship begins malfunctioning and the astronauts realize HAL isn't wholly honest, it's a life and death race for control over the ship.

          But that's only the surface story. The real substance lies in the themes of man's reliance on technology, human evolution and what really makes a human. I pondered a variety of weighty subjects during my recent viewing: Is a murderous computer made by man "evil," "human" or both? How can humankind evolve further? Was the Monolith sent by aliens, God or is it just a metaphor with no explanation?

          Without spoiling anything, part of the ending contains what could be called an "acid trip." A vivid display of colors, random images and mind bending concepts. Even after seeing the sequence numerous times and reading theories about it, I'm still perplexed by some parts. Some viewers grow frustrated and view the sequence as dribble disguising as art. I think its the final hurdle viewers must complete, and appreciate, to evolve with the film.

          In fact, if "2001: A Space Odyssey" had to summed up in one word, it would "evolution." Its about man's biological evolution, technological evolution and cinematic evolution. What other film in history can come close to reaching such complexity?

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          • Identity (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 4 Readings / 4 Ratings
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            25.08.2012 22:52
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            Murder at a Desert Motel Points a Finger at All Ten Travelers

            The movie Identity is a psychological thriller whose plot was inspired by Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None. Ten people seek shelter from a powerful rain storm in a desert motel. When a few of the motel patrons have untimely deaths, Ed (John Cusack) and Rhodes (Ray Liotta) take charge to protect the others. Each death is marked by the presence of a room key near the corpse.
            We are then introduced to a subplot far afield of the multiple homicides we have just witnessed. A panel of lawyers and psychiatrists are debating the fate of a serial killer who is scheduled for execution in a very short time. His defense lawyers attempt to prove that his multiple personality syndrome is an illness that would confine him to a psychiatric hospital rather than face the death penalty for his crimes.

            Meanwhile, as the number of deaths at the motel increase, the remaining occupants at the motel become suspicious of each other as well as quarrelsome. In a more calm conversation, the subject of birth dates arises. Each of the ten people are found to have the same birth date - May 10th. Another coincidence is that each has the last name of a state, such as Washington, Dakota, York, Maine, Rhodes, to name a few.

            As the plot at the motel moves on, all of the characters give the viewer a reason to suspect their guilt. No one escapes suspicion. The subplot concerning the serial killer is also a distraction which sheds no light on the homicides happening miles away.

            It would be grossly unfair to give away the ending of Identity. My first thought was that Ray Liotta is always cast as the bad guy. Secondly, John Cusack is usually the hero in his films. In Identity, we have to throw away the mold. The ending is both surprising and frightening, logical and far out. You will have to see the movie to believe it; I will not give you a clue.

            I have not given much detail concerning the other motel visitors. A young boy is left orphaned when both his parents are killed. Amanda Peat's character, Paris, is a call girl determined to turn her life around. The night manager is actually a patron who stumbled on the murdered owner and quickly took on the role of manager when other customers showed up.

            Suffice it to say that the serial killer's multiple personalities have much to do with the main plot of the film. You will enjoy trying to unravel the clues and red herrings that are rampant in this movie.

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          • Vacancy (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 10 Readings / 8 Ratings
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            24.08.2012 12:35
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            The best, big-budget, glitzy Hollywood horror movie I've seen in years.

            The big difference between Vacancy and all the torture-porn movies Hollywood has been flooding the horror market with lately is that this one doesn't expect its audience to get off on violence. Where movies like Hostel are constructed to glorify the next sick, twisted kill Vacancy is a flashback to a time (three years ago?) when you were actually supposed to root for the film's protagonist to survive. After spending the past few years wallowing in horror movie perversion, frankly, it's kind of a relief.

            The movie follows David (Luke Wilson) and Amy (Kate Beckinsale) Fox, an unhappy, soon to be divorced couple who breaks down in the middle of nowhere and ends up forced to spend the night in a grungy little roadside motel miles from any sign of civilization. Unless of course you count the creepy little clerk behind the check-in desk. He gives them a key to the honeymoon suite and the couple locks themselves in for the night as David decides to watch a TV. There's no television reception, but there is a VCR and an unlabeled VHS tape. The tape seems to be a low budget horror movie filmed right in their room. Suddenly David realizes he's not watching a movie, he's watching people actually being killed. The air vents above their bed are stuffed with cameras, and it's only a matter of time before masked miscreants break into their room to torture and murder David and Amy on camera, the way they've done with so many others.

            The premise isn't exactly original, motels have long been creepy cinematic locals. But the way Nimrod Antal shoots it makes the whole thing feel fresh and thrilling. The story is actually pretty bare-bones, leaving plenty of room for Antal to get creative with how he handles what happens to David and Amy. It builds slowly, but even the buildup is pretty scary. The movie is littered with little hints about what's going to happen to the Fox's, the clues are everywhere for them to pick up on, but they react the way all of us would in that situation. When they hear blood-curdling screams coming from the back of the motel manager's office for instance, they assume (as we all would) that he's just watching a movie. But there's something off about those screams. They're too real, and even though you probably know where the movie is headed, little buildup moments like that put a chill down your spine.

            I really loved how stripped down and raw the whole movie feels. Once things get going there's never a moment's pause and Vacancy races along building on moment after moment of genuine terror. The whole thing clocks in at around 80 minutes, but it's a satisfying 80. Vacancy knows not to hang around too long begging for attention; it gets on the screen, gets to the point, and gets off without any neatly wrapped up posturing. When it ends, it just ends.

            It's also great how aware David and Amy are of how much trouble they're in. So often horror movies seem to contain characters who have never seen horror movies or watched the local news. Vacancy presents people who have enough sense to instantly recognize their situation, panic, and then try to use their brains to get out of it. They don't fall for any of the usual horror movie clichés, and Antal avoids the use of cheap camera tricks to get scares the movie hasn't earned. Our terror stems directly from David and Amy's awareness of how desperate their situation is, and they're likable and real enough that rooting for them to survive is fun.

            Vacancy looks good and feels good. The script isn't especially creative, but the way Antal handles it is. The film is flat out pretty without being fake and glossy. It's a wash of bright colors, dark shadows, and grimy atmosphere. The film is a thriller in every sense of the word, and one you don't have to feel guilty about enjoying. It's the best, big-budget, glitzy Hollywood horror movie I've seen in years.

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          • Safe (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 5 Readings / 4 Ratings
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            24.08.2012 12:29
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            An action-packed, B-movie experience.

            In Safe, Jason Statham stars as Luke Wright, a former NYPD cop turned cage fighter, whose world is shattered when a Russian mob kills his family and places him under (a very strange) mandate of living exile: the mob will watch Wright's every step, and kill anyone he gets close to. The imposed purgatory transforms Wright into an alcoholic vagabond, wandering the streets of NYC in misery and isolation.

            Things change for the disgraced cop when he runs across a brilliant young girl named Mei (Catherine Chan), who is being pursued by the same Russian mob that killed Luke's family - and also a Chinese Triad and squad of corrupt cops that Wright disgraced once upon a time. Luke decides to flip the script on all his foes by getting his hands on Mei first, thereby uncovering the secret that has so many bad men chasing the same little girl. But what Luke doesn't know is that the mystery locked away inside Mei's genius mind is not only valuable to the crooks, but high-ranking city officials and other shadowy figures - some of whom are tied to Luke's sordid past.

            Safe is the epitome of a "throwback action film." The movie plays like some over-the-top, all-in-one-night heist flick resurrected from the late '80s/early '90s heyday of testosterone-fueled dude movies. It was both written and directed by Boaz Yakin, the filmmaker best known for the feel-good sports drama, Remember the Titans. Yakin's filmography is filled with evidence that his directorial skills (see: Titans, Fresh, A Price Above Rubies) are better than his writing skills (From Dusk Till Dawn 2, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Prince of Persia), and Safe only serves as further evidence of this disparity.

            In terms of direction, Safe is a thrilling and well-choreographed mix of old school and new era action movie making - and Statham pulls off the bone-crunching, face-cracking, martial arts sequences with a swagger that makes one nostalgic for the days of Van Damme and Seagal at their best. Statham is also one of the only leading men of today who can spit cringe-worthy one-liners in a somewhat catchy and funny way - a trademark ability of action veterans like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In all honesty, without Statham and all the charisma he brings to the table, Safe wouldn't even be worthy of a theater screen.

            ...This is largely because the movie is an absolute mess, as far as story and character go. The premise is straightforward (catch the little girl), but Luke Wright, as a protagonist, is so full of holes that even a brief second of time spent analyzing him will yield questions raised, but never answered; contradictions never set straight; choices that are hard to understand, and a backstory that is so convoluted by the time the final twists and so-called "reveals" come around, it thwarts any ability to make sense of this character at all. (Luckily(?), the break-neck pace of the film offers almost no time at all to ponder such matters.)

            Equally implausible is the general level of mayhem and destruction that is inflicted upon the face of New York City. In a post-911 era, it becomes impossible not to notice that the same people are running through the streets from high-speed chases to gunfights - causing murders and mass chaos - without being swiftly identified and curtailed by the hand of martial law. Of course, an action movie is supposed to stretch reality in this sense - but Safe manages to over-stretch things, thereby snapping us right back into reality as we question the plausibility of what is occurring on screen.

            As far as acting goes Statham carries the show, but gets help from Catherine Chan, who shows definite skill as a young lead - with wit and timing that far exceeds her years. She's a great foil for Luke - not so much a weepy child in distress, more a cunningly shrewd player in a very dangerous game. Between the two of them, Luke and Mei make for solid protagonists, with a charming odd-pair rapport.


            Recognizable faces fill out the supporting cast, including famous character actors like James Hong (Kung Fu Panda) as the menacing leader of the Triad; Reggie Lee (Fast and the Furious) as his ruthless and relentless enforcer; Robert John Burke (Robocop 3) as a corrupt police captain; Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride) as the seedy mayor of NYC, and Hell on Wheels star Anson Mount as the mayor's shady bag man, who knows Luke from way back. In fact, Safe plays like a who's who of 'seen him somewhere' faces that come, go and leave little impression beyond the moment in which Statham's character dispatches them.

            In the end, Safe is probably a safer bet as a rental - but for fans of Statham-brand action flicks (The Transporter, Death Race, The Mechanic, Crank) this movie is pretty much in line with the actor's other work. It ain't too smart, it ain't too sophisticated, but it does have its charm and is entertaining enough for what it is: an action-packed, B-movie experience.

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            24.08.2012 12:22
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            Chillingly efficient in exacting thrills from its audience time and time again.

            When James Cameron started shopping around his Terminator script in the early 80s studio enthusiasm was, to put it mildly, muted. Why should it have been otherwise? Cameron, after all, was then a relatively unknown quantity whose first and only movie (Piranha II: Flying Killers) hardly ranked alongside Citizen Kane in the pantheon of great Hollywood debuts. Nor did the collective studio pulse quicken at the idea of D-list character actor Lance Henriksen playing the film's eponymous death machine.

            Finally, Cameron decided that merely running through a bog standard pitch wasn't quite getting the message across and, before a meeting with the independent production company Hemdale, persuaded Henriksen that the executive responsible needed to be shown the power of what he intended. "I went in decked out like The Terminator," recalls the actor. "With gold foil from a cigarette packet over my teeth and a cut on my head. I kicked the door open and the poor secretary just about swallowed her typewriter. I sat in the room with (the executive) and wouldn't talk to him. I just kept looking at him. After a few minutes of that he was ready to jump out the window."

            Hemdale agreed to back Cameron and, once Henriksen nobly stepped aside in favour of the then hot-ish Arnold Schwarzenegger, put up a sizeable chunk of the film's $6m budget. It proved to be an investment that would be paid back many times with The Terminator racking up a box office gross of around $60m. Indeed, Schwarzenegger's shades-sporting time-travelling cyborg would become nothing less than a cinematic icon as he laid waste to Los Angeles in an attempt to kill Linda Hamilton and hence irrevocably change the future to humanity's detriment.

            Yet, even after being given the greenlight by Hemdale, there is no doubt that the fortunes of the film itself could have gone either way. Certainly, back in the mid-80s, having Arnold Schwarzenegger in your film was no guarantee of success. The Austrian Oak's previous movie, Conan The Destroyer, had performed disappointingly while his next, the Brigitte Nielsen-staring Red Sonja, would pretty much sink without trace. To mainstream cinemagoers Schwarzenegger was little more than a joke, a mumbling behemoth whose grasp of both acting and the English language, appeared minimal at best. Moreover, The Terminator's budget, while sizeable compared to Piranha II, appeared disastrously small given the amount of Stan Winston-assisted special effects that the director had in mind. Finally, there was the problem of how much of the film Cameron had half-inched from other sources. Certainly fans of Michael Crichton's Westworld couldn't help but notice the similarity between the Terminator and Yul Bryner's invincible robo-cowboy while the film's premise of a sentient all-controlling computer that would wage war against humanity was similar to a short story by sci-fi author Harlan Ellison.

            "I loved the movie" says Ellison. "Was just blown away by it. I walked out of the cinema, went home and called my lawyer." (Ellison would eventually receive a credit after threatening legal action.) Indeed, the fact that Cameron's film would become one of cinema history's headline-grabbers rather than a shoddy footnote is largely due to the obsessive, if not downright maniacal, determination of its director. A college drop out, the Canadian-born Cameron honed his technical skills, like so many others, at Roger Corman's New World company before graduating to fully-fledged director on Piranha II. Unfortunately the filmmaker fell out with the movie's Italian producer who informed Cameron that the dailies were "shit" and locked him out of the editing room -- forcing the director to break in at night and secretly splice together his own movie.

            On The Terminator, Cameron decided, the movie would be done his way or not at all. And if that meant personally demonstrating stunts or even having to tell Schwarzenegger exactly where to put each of his limbs at any given time then so be it. "Jim would say, 'I want you to lay there Arnold,'" recalls Henricksen who played LA cop Sergeant Vukovich. "'Then, when I tell you, I want you to start lifting up with your head. Then your shoulders, Then I want you to sit up. Then I want you to look straight up.' He had to give up any ego at all."

            Schwarzenegger threw himself into the part, enduring hours in the make-up chair and training in the use of guns so as to demonstrate a robotic lack of emotion despite the mayhem going on around him. It was a commitment, like that of the financiers, which would be handsomely rewarded. Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn may have been the film's nominal heroes but it was Schwarzenegger who would indeed "be back". "No matter what I did after that," says Schwarzenegger. "People always come up to me and ask, 'When are you going to do another Terminator?'"

            Cameron, meanwhile, would find himself back on the sequel treadmill for his next project, Aliens -- although this time no one would have the nerve to lock him out of anywhere.

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          • Suspiria (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 3 Readings / 3 Ratings
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            24.08.2012 12:14
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            Well worth your time

            After the mostly international success of Deep Red, Dario Argento grew tired of making giallos. 1977's Suspiria, the first part of the director's unfinished Three Mothers trilogy, marked his first foray into the realm of the supernatural. Argento's deliriously artificial horror film owes as much to Georges Méliès and German Expressionism (specifically The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) as it does to Jean Cocteau and Grimm fairy tales. Having traveled through many European capitals (including the geographical "magic" point where Switzerland, France, and Germany meet), Argento became entranced with the Austrian-born Rudolf Steiner, whose controversial Waldorf schools had been attacked for teaching occult practices in the guise of arts-based education. Less real-world influences came from Argento's partner Daria Nicolodi, who had become attracted to various fairy-tale sources, from Alice in Wonderland and Bluebeard to Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Argento's visuals actively evoke a fairy-tale fantastique, engaging and toying with the Technicolor glory of Disney's cartoon version of Snow White, a film the director had been obsessed with since youth. Additional elements were filtered into the project from Suspiria de Profundis (Sighs from the Depths), a collection of essays written by Thomas De Quincey (Confessions of an Opium Eater), and Fritz Lang's little-seen The Secret Beyond the Door, a Freudian interpretation of the Bluebeard story from which the Argento film borrows considerably more than the fabulous Joan Bennett.


            The delirious Goblin composition that accompanies the film's opening scene brings to mind the sounds of a little girl's ballerina music box. A narrator's voice is barely audible over the soundtrack, which plays atop the standard white-on-black credits: "Suzy Banyon decided to perfect her ballet studies in the most famous school of dance in Europe. She chose the celebrated Tanzakademie of Freiburg. One day at 9am, she left Kennedy airport, New York, and arrived in Germany at 10:40 local time." While there are few signifiers here to suggest the tale takes place in Germany, Argento subtly focuses the spectator's gaze on a poster of the Black Forest taped to one of the airport terminal's walls. Suspiria may be Argento's silliest work, but while its plot is scarcely sensible, the film rightfully earns its notoriety via Argento's fabulous and detailed engagement and reworking of fairy-tale motifs. The film's opening "once upon a time" giddily anticipates the nasty folktale that follows.


            Suzy (Jessica Harper) arrives at the German airport. Like a ballerina leaving the safety of her music box, she passes through the airport's automatic doors and hails a taxi in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. The lights from the taxicab chillingly illuminate the crevices between the forest trees; a flash of lightning reveals a shadowy image (perhaps a scythe or a knife) reflected on a large tree stump. All the while, Suzy is innocently bathed in the warm blue tones of Luciano Tovoli's glorious cinematography. Blink and you'll miss a subliminal superimposition--reflected on the cab's security divider is the still image of a screaming face (possibly that of Argento's). Arriving at the Tanzakademie, a drenched Suzy witnesses a terrified Pat (Eva Axen) screaming up to someone inside the school. Pat runs off and Suzy is told to leave the school by a girl talking into an intercom. Suzy is too frazzled to pay much attention to Pat's cries, purposefully muted by Argento so as to leave both Suzy and the spectator in the dark. By film's end, Suzy comes to discover that her recollection of Pat's exact words (she can only remember the words "secret" and "irises") will lead to her salvation.


            Riding back into the city, Suzy watches a frightened Pat running through the Black Forest. (Compare the jaw-dropping lighting and disorienting pacing of this scene to a similar moment from Secret Beyond the Door when Bennett's character runs into a forest and believes she's being chased by her husband, played by Michael Redgrave.) Pat stays the night with a friend, whose apartment building's architecture is outrageously garish but nowhere near as unnerving as the wallpaper in Pat's bedroom. Modeled after M.C. Escher's "Sky and Water," the walls evoke Argento's signature obsession with sight and sightlessness. Birds and fish are the composite elements, uniting to form an ornate visual landscape. Separately, though, each animal forms a point of departure. The pictorial elements interlock at various points while becoming independent from each other as the wallpaper nears the room's window. Paired concepts such as dark/light and mobility/immobility come to mind as the trapped Pat is seemingly lulled to the window. Pat is hung from a telephone wire and violently thrust through the stained glass ceiling of the apartment complex; the falling glass, in turn, slices Pat's friend to death. The shattered glass, Pat's dangling corpse and her dribbling blood become glorious elements of the apartment building's already phenomenal artificiality.


            An even more impressive manipulation of mise-en-scène lies in the film's door handles, another possible shout-out to Secret Beyond the Door: In their higher than usual positions, the handles emphasize the youth and stature of the film's characters in relation to their grotesquely imposing doll house. Suzy returns to the school, meeting the faculty and her fellow students. With the exception of Sara (Stefania Casini), all the girls are petty and cruel. The administrators--the miserly Madame Blanc (Bennett) and the firm Miss Tanner (Alida Valli)--are cold and suspiciously secretive. Just as Madame Blanc and Miss Tanner are the picture-perfect renditions of evil stepmothers, the school's attendees bring to mind Cinderella's bitchy stepsisters. Madame Blanc, like Snow White's jealous stepmother, is instantly aware (and wary) of Suzy's beauty: "You're pretty, very pretty indeed." More importantly, though, is the element of distance from family--Suzy's journey is similar to that of Snow White's in that both heroines left the comfort of home for the misleading solace of a dwelling in the woods. Suzy is forced to stay at the Academy after a mysterious fainting spell; like Snow White's poisoned apple, wine has been used to keep Suzy close to the enemy. Argento wallows in all sorts of weird behavior when the gossipy Olga goes on about the snake-like nature of girls whose names begin with the letter "S" while another student poetically pontificates about school procedures: "Squawk, squawk, squawk. Mata Hari is gong to make her daily report." Even the words in the film are like seductions.


            The wallpaper in Pat's bedroom is also Argento's first allusion to flying in the film. Supernatural behavior in Suspiria is pervasive and inescapable, commanded by a coven of witches. Even a simple swim is seemingly chaperoned by a faceless evil. It is this otherworldly presence that perhaps explains why the rationale for death in the film remains so inexplicable: the school's blind piano instructor, Daniel (Flavio Bucci), is mauled to death by his own guide dog; and earlier in the film, Daniel is unceremoniously fired from the school after his dog is accused of taking a bite out of Madame Blanc's young, blond-haired nephew. Whether the dog intentionally attacked the child is beside the point, the animal is clearly commanded by a supernatural being when it lunges for his own master. In this, the film's signature set piece, Tovoli's camera takes on the point of view of a flying monster. Walking through a desolate Munich plaza, the helpless blind man senses evil. Shadowy figures hovering above the plaza's main building become the sole means by which the spectator can gauge the shape of this evil. Later in the film, a bat attacks Suzy in her bathroom. The animal seems to function as bait, convincing Suzy to explore the cavernous hallways of the schoolhouse.


            The safety of the Freiburg airport gives way to the psychedelic terror of the Academy, where Suzy has been propelled into Alice's terrifyingly colorful rabbit hole. The film's visual palette is suggestive of a hierarchical journey through the Academy. Hallways are bathed in reds, yellows, and blues, and, in effect, different rooms in the school begin to take on a meaning all their own. Suzy meets the administrators in the garish Blue Room, where a grandiose staircase comes with a handrail made of golden snakes; Miss Tanner conducts her classes in the Red Room, where Suzy defends her right to live outside the school; and in the Yellow Room, her fainting spell gives way to a ravishing nosebleed. Journeying through the school's hallways, a poisoned Suzy seems frozen in time; she's overwhelmed by air-born dust particles and blinded by the light reflected off a star-shaped object being cleaned off by the school's kitchen woman. Every single image is ravishingly beautiful, like watching Secret Beyond the Door in Technicolor!


            Traps have been set for those who should near or stumble upon the school's hidden passages--a nosy Sara meets her Grimm demise inside a room inundated with barbed wire. After her friend's demise, Suzy is forced to crack the code of the "secret/irises," imprinted on the walls of Madame Blanc's flowery chamber room and readily available to Suzy (not to mention the careful spectator) for deciphering. Once Suzy has destroyed the coven of witches, walls begin to crumble and crack. Indeed, the intricacies of Argento's mise-en-scène are as beautiful to behold as they are devastating to see falling apart. Suzy fights for balance, walking through the jewel-toned hallways of the academy so carefree she resembles a skittish, liberated diva seeking refuge from the deep recesses of her own subconscious. Once skeptical, she is now the master of Argento's magical domain. Snow White has left the building.

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          • The Sitter (Blu-ray) / Blu-Ray Movie / 10 Readings / 8 Ratings
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            24.08.2012 02:52
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            In the end, The Sitter is simply boring.

            Watching The Sitter threw up some sort of weird space time paradox black hole. Jonah Hill is really very chubby, well, very large. But it was released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK this week and if you went to the cinema to watch 21 Jump Street recently, he has lost a huge amount of weight. So, you see, I watched the following films in said order. Get Him To The Greek, fat. Moneyball, fat. 21 Jump Street, very slim. The Sitter, really fat again. He must have some really serious dietary problems or the ability to jump around through time. That, or in the space of a couple of months between filming The Sitter and 21 Jump Street, Jonah went on a diet. That's most likely, but for now, a time travelling comedic actor is much more interesting.


            As you can see, I'm clearly padding for words and there is a very good reason for this. The Sitter is rubbish. I was just trying to persuade you into reading this review by clearly writing the thoughts of a crazed fake film critic. But here's the thing. While you are a reader of Screen Demon, that clearly makes you a connoisseur of films and so are looking to read about the latest and the greatest. The Sitter is most certainly not going to win any awards, neither is it going to set any sort of sales records. But, watching a film like this and reading a review about it makes you appreciate the very best even more.

            Think of this as a service to you, the discerning movie fan. If there were to be a constant stream of good films to review then things may become a little boring. How could we possibly appreciate the good if there were no bad. So what makes this in particular something to make you love The Artist, or Headhunters, or The Devil Inside (no, wait, that's not right..) even more?

            Noah is a layabout who has no job and zero aspirations. As a favour to his mum (or should that be mom), he babysits a large posh family in the same neighbourhood. There are three kids and as we are introduced to each one, they are all handily outlandish characters, bordering on stereotypical. We have the geek who is not sociable and watches tennis on the television. Then there is the 4 year old lady, who is a bit of a bitch and a hip hop fan. Lastly, the immigrant Mexican who the family has fostered and is a trouble maker.

            But, Noah wants to go to a party and buy drugs for his girlfriend, so he loads the children in a minivan and they go on an adventure. Along the way, we see the Hispanic kid plant a bomb and who is then later referred to as Bin Laden. Most jokes revolve around children saying unlikely things or swearing when at a young age. Until the overly gay drug den (surprisingly featuring Sam Rockwell) and then the jokes center around over the top gay men. Everything is unbelievable or distasteful or mostly both.

            To cap it all off there is a scene whereby one one the characters finally realises he is gay and it is so over the top emotional. American comedies seemingly always have one of these life lessons in them at some point these days, but this is one the cheesiest.

            In the end, The Sitter is simply boring. None the the jokes really pack a punch (a fat guy falling to the ground is nothing new) yet the film lacks any form of interesting narrative. It finds itself in no mans land, in between cringe worthy comedy and subtle laughs. The Sitter is not bad, but offering something this average and devoid of character means it slips into the bargain bin as opposed to the DVD shelf.

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          • The Hunger Games (DVD) / DVD / 17 Readings / 16 Ratings
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            23.08.2012 11:32
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            A fascinating dystopic character driven drama

            Following the conclusion of the Harry Potter and Twilight book series, which wrapped-up in 2007 and 2008 respectively, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games became the next "big thing" for young adult fiction readers. However, much like the darker themes presented in the later Harry Potter installments, The Hunger Games explores some especially heavy material - making it a go-to book series for not just young adults, but plenty of readers who also enjoy deeper literary offerings. As a result, it's no surprise that The Hunger Games film adaptation has, for some time, been one of the most anticipated movie events of 2012 - setting records for pre-release ticket sales and opening weekend sold-out shows.

            That said, does writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit and Pleasantville - not to mention writing credits on Big, Dave, and Mr. Baseball) ultimately deliver a Hunger Games film adaptation that accurately transports fan-favorite characters and events onto the big screen - as well as offering up an entertaining movie experience for audience members who haven't bothered with the books?

            Despite a few hiccups that come with distilling a 350 page book (told in first person) into a two hour and twenty minute film, The Hunger Games is not only a solid adaptation of the source material - it succeeds at covering a copious amount of backstory, while at the same time delivering some genuinely entertaining (and at times, thrilling) moments, even for those who are still unfamiliar with the book series. The Hungers Games books are jam-packed with supporting characters and in-depth mythos - and so is the film adaptation (at times to a fault).

            The basic story takes place in a dystopian future where the Capitol rules over the country of Panem (in what used to be North America) - and uses "The Hunger Games" to suppress the surrounding districts. Each year, the Capitol randomly selects one girl and boy from each of the twelve districts to participate in the Hunger Games - where the 24 "tribute" children fight to the death until only one remains.

            When young Primrose Everdeen is chosen as tribute at the District 12 "reaping," her big sister, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), volunteers to fight in her place. Katniss is joined by fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a strong but insecure baker's son, and the two embark on a (one way?) trip to the Capitol to face off against the other district tributes (as well as one another). However, with guidance from District 12 resident (and previous Hunger Games winner) Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta quickly discover that to survive the games they'll need more than just fast feet and good aim.

            The central storyline from the books remains intact for the film adaptation, as Katniss attempts to make sense of her situation - both in terms of attempting to survive the Hunger Games (inside and outside of the arena), as well as the difference between illustrious Capitol life and the stark poverty she experienced back home in District 12. Katniss requires a lot from Lawrence (both physically and emotionally) and, as usual, the actress delivers a good, nuanced performance. While the role isn't likely to get her another "Best Actress" nomination at the Oscars, she does more with this genre piece than most of her peers might have attempted (just as she did with Mystique in X-Men: First Class).

            There's little doubt that some moviegoers will dismiss The Hunger Games as the next Twilight saga - in terms of the quality of the acting and production values. However, as we addressed in our article detailing "5 Facts About 'The Hunger Games' Movie for Those Who Haven't Read the Books," Ross actually lined up a lot of top-tier acting talent (up-and-comers as well as Hollywood veterans) to ground the horrific events depicted in The Hunger Games with believable (and meaningful) performances. Hutcherson (as fellow tribute Peeta) also succeeds in keeping up with Lawrence - presenting one of the more interesting characters in the film (even with a pink-haired Elizabeth Banks and drunk Woody Harrelson running around); Hutcherson also delivers during a pair of especially contemplative moments.

            Unfortunately, even Peeta isn't safe from the book-to-film adaptation process - as many side characters are left entirely undeveloped or presented with somewhat muddled motivations. The scope of the film leaves some character actions and motivations a bit vague, which will cause non-fans to leave the theater with a mixed impression of who they are. In the case of Peeta, despite a full character arc that works on the surface level, his in-arena motivations aren't nearly as cohesive (or as interesting) as they are in the source material. In addition, the "Mockingjay," which has major thematic importance (not to mention practical application) in the book series goes almost entirely undeveloped in the film, and despite a lot of onscreen time that's spent on the subject, doesn't ever come full-circle. These aren't just "adaptation" nitpicks, in terms of what is shown on screen - the film leaves plotholes that could be confusing for general audiences (given the time that was spent setting them up).

            Similarly, with one or two exceptions, the non-District 12 tributes are mostly just blank caricatures that leave next-to-no emotional impact as either victims or villains. Obviously, with 24 tributes, not to mention a number of non-Games side characters, it would be hard to get to know everyone (a lot of the kids are throwaways in the book); however, as a film (as opposed to a book - where Katniss is limited to first person), the experience could have benefited from a bit more time spent with a few other tributes - so that as they attempt to slaughter (or help) Katniss, they'd have more impact than just the immediate onscreen action. It's a tricky balance, and though the director succeeds overall, there are times when The Hunger Games seems more concerned with building up the larger world in preparation for a sequel, than fully serving some of the moments and characters featured in the current installment. That said, Ross does succeed in utilizing the film medium for the better, such as when he makes up for the lack of Katniss' internal thoughts by smartly implementing external sources for much needed exposition (via the game announcers and production team).

            It needs to be said that some moviegoers - those expecting an epic action movie experience - may also find that the film drags (especially in Act 2), given the lengthy run time. Anyone interested in the series mythos will be sated by seeing book characters re-imagined on the big screen, but prior to the actual Hunger Games, there are very few (read: zero) large-scale action pieces to break up all the world-building and exposition. Patient moviegoers will enjoy plenty of intriguing character drama, but there's no doubt that the film (like the books) relies heavily on the back end to hit its action quota. Ultimately, action fans may still be underwhelmed by the actual Games themselves.

            Quick, frantic cuts probably helped the film maintain a PG-13 rating, given all the teenagers that die on camera, but as a result, the film is short on captivating battle choreography or epic one-on-one confrontations. Instead of large-scale action set pieces, The Hunger Games movie presents a story about Katniss surviving (and often hiding) - not outright hunting down her fellow tributes - and because of that, the Games portion (despite loads of tense moments) could prove to be underwhelming. In the end, the film is better off for the restraint that Ross employs - since it keeps the focus on Katniss and her plight (not over-the-top CGI explosions) - but it will limit the entertainment value of the onscreen action for some moviegoers.

            As the first installment in what will be a four-part film series (based on a three-part book series), Ross has done a solid job establishing the series' major players, as well as the ins and outs of Panem society. Ultimately the director crams a lot of quality content into the film's two-hour twenty-minute runtime - though some plot threads, scenes, and characters are underserved by the movie's conclusion. While The Hunger Games is not a non-stop fight-to-the-death action film, it succeeds at being something even more interesting - a fascinating and disturbing (not to mention tense) character drama that successfully captures the core themes of the book.

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            • Max Payne 3 (PC) / PC Game / 9 Readings / 9 Ratings
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              22.08.2012 22:12
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              There's life in this old dog yet (MAX PAYNE 3 IS A SOLID RETURN FROM OUR FAVORITED NOIRE AVENGER)

              There have been some horrifyingly twisted serial killers over the course of history. Colombia does a good line in them, for example, but even its most prolific murderer has a list of suspected victims that's 'only' in the hundreds. That pales in comparison to Max Payne 3's stratospheric body count. By the end of this game, you'll have snuffed out well over a thousand virtual souls, all of whom practically line up to put their heads in front of your crosshairs.

              In a game based on shooting, that's ostensibly a good thing. You certainly won't be left wanting for people on which to practice your slow motion 'shoot dodges'. By the end of the 12-15 hour running time you'll be terrifyingly efficient - activating bullet time, sweeping into a room, puncturing three skulls and then finishing off with an acrobatic dive to flamboyantly empty your clip into the fourth. We can imagine John Woo nodding his head in silent appreciation.

              The problem is, do anything - no matter how much fun - 1,000 times and it begins to become a mite repetitive. Max Payne 3's only regular concessions to variety are the odd mounted gun sections, which don't really change the formula beyond temporarily removing the use of your legs. There are armoured flavours of enemy, who require a headshot or two before they acquiesce and fall over, but you'll have been prioritising the cranium for efficiency's sake anyway.
              In a way it's old school. Max Payne 3's biggest triumph is that, in a similar fashion to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the new development team has captured the style and feel of the original game perfectly. Max might have put on a few pounds since the early noughties, but the first time you dive into a room, swivelling in mid-air to plug multiple enemies, it'll all come flooding back. Like the original games, it's the narrative and the locations that keep you from switching your brain off and reverting to murderous muscle memory.

              The plot's engaging, complex and beautifully delivered. It's also a unique take on the videogame 'hero' - Max is an alcoholic wreck at the beginning of the game and things don't improve a great deal throughout. Somehow, it makes it easier to root for Payne as he's shambling from one disastrous encounter to another, desperately trying to do the right thing. The now infamous point where Max shaves his head represents a noticeable gear-shift for the plot - it's not quite two different games, what with the ceaseless murdering, but it's definitely a dramatic evolution of the character himself. His motivation is your motivation after all, and it's that renewed sense of purpose that powers you through the second half of the game.

              That and the opportunity for some sightseeing. The Favela in Sao Paulo is the standout location - delicately decorated with the same care and attention you'd expect from a Hollywood set - but it's just one of the locations you'll visit on a global tour. Fans of the series will relish the flashbacks to New Jersey, which both tweak the nostalgia neurons and help tie Rockstar Vancouver's Max with Remedy's original article. While the game is traditionally linear, these environments do encourage some gentle exploration. There are non-essential clues scattered around that flesh out the plot and collectible golden gun parts for completists. Proper single-player replay value comes from a series of leaderboard-enabled 'Arcade' run-throughs that are vaguely reminiscent of Bizarre Creations' forgotten score-chaser The Club.

              More surprising is a multiplayer that manages to include bullet time without turning into a confusing treacly mess. The line of sight system makes clear whether you're seeing the benefit of the effect or not and there are only rare occasions where you'll suffer brief snatches of momentum-sapping slowdown. Maps expand and contract sensibly based on the gametype and the number of players, which mitigates the fact that there's only a handful of environments available. It's best played in Gang Wars mode, which uses a light narrative to stitch together five different team-based rounds in a single location. Genuinely interesting perks and unlocks should keep the disc spinning in your Xbox for longer than you'd expect from a game that sells itself on its single player.

              Like its hero, Max Payne 3 has its flaws. The repetitive action might be reminiscent of the original games, but it's still repetition, and ultimately that causes things to drag. Fortunately just like Max himself it's also difficult to dislike - the plot isn't something you'll be able to leave alone for long, bullet time still has the capacity to thrill and the multiplayer provides the variety and unpredictability required for genuine longevity. This new spin on familiar action is proof, if proof were needed, that there's life in the old dog yet.

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            • Nail'd (PS3) / Playstation 3 Game / 6 Readings / 6 Ratings
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              22.08.2012 21:12
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              Nail'd gets tedious fast and stays there.

              Nail'd is an arcade-style off-road racer with a focus on speed and chaos over realistic physics. Straight away, Nail'd seems a little dated. From the name to its style, it screams "X-Games circa 2003," when dudes were screaming about sick air while "DOING THE DEW BRO." But in reality, Nail'd actually goes further back from a design perspective, calling on memories of games like Off-road Thunder and other arcade rally racers in the late '80s and '90s. Those games eschewed complication in favor of immediate, in-your-face gratification because they had to; they were competing for your quarters 90 seconds at a time. However, it's 2010. Arcades are dead, consoles are king, depth is expected, and Nail'd just can't keep up with the pack.

              The setup is simple enough. The meat of the game is in its career mode, where you can race an ATV or MX bike through several leagues and courses in a quest to win the Nail'd championship. Most races require you to finish three laps around a course, though occasionally, Nail'd mixes things up, whether it's by adding "mutators" to races (which add quirks such as infinite boost or no collision with other drivers), or through stunt challenges, where you're judged on your completion time and the "tricks" you pull off. I put tricks in quotes because there isn't much in the way of finesse here. Something as simple as landing successfully from a jump can be a trick, as is passing through flaming gates or running other racers off the track. There's also multiplayer racing for up to 12 players online.

              Nail'd isn't about tight turn ratios or drifting or any other piece of racer jargon you've heard this year. The challenge in Nail'd is intended to come from finding the most insane, fastest route possible by boosting through busy courses while avoiding getting, well, nailed by other racers on ATVs or dirtbikes. There are times when it almost comes together too -- running off a ramp in the air at about a thousand miles an hour and weaving in between hot air balloons, or threading through giant wind turbines is admittedly cool. The physics in Nail'd aren't realistic, at all. Instead, you always have more or less complete control of your bike or ATV, leading to the aforementioned turbine-dodging and other crazy moments of in-air maneuvering and taking turns without slowing down at all.

              Unfortunately, my desire to experiment and find routes and really push the courses was knocked out of me by the wreck and respawn system, which would be a player friendly feature, if it worked. As intended, respawning will keep you going instead of stranding you if you take a wrong turn. Instead, I'd often find myself in mid-air, positioning myself to land on a spot marked as the course below, only to explode when the game decided I wasn't in an approved area and killed me. There's no indication of what's cool or what isn't here. It's all learned the hard way, and it kills the game's momentum.

              There are also strange forces at play that will cause wrecks with seemingly little provocation or reason, and times when the respawn mechanic won't kick in when it seems like it should. If I'm driving with all four wheels on the ground toward a ramp, why did I explode as my tires left the mud and hit the metal? If the slightest deviation from the course into the brush on the sides will cause my vehicle to explode, why will the game let me get stuck on a random piece of geometry and force me to sit in place, motionless, for precious seconds? Why go off the beaten path if the game is going to kill me for it?

              Nail'd's main failing is that its primary idea just doesn't work that well. The physics that lend themselves to mid-air adjustment are far too lenient on the ground. There's an initial rush to take every course at maximum speed all the time, but it drains the need for strategy or much skill during races. Weird as it sounds, the fun in a racing game comes from dealing with a vehicle's physical limitations -- knowing what they are, testing them, etc. None of that's the case in Nail'd, and races usually end up feeling lifeless as a result. Even Nail'd's multiplayer lacks much excitement. I was winning most of my races and still didn't feel any real accomplishment. The courses did more to beat my competitors than I did.

              Polish developer Techland's previous games (both Call of Juarez titles, for example) have been marked by a distinctive sense of personality that's helped to compensate for the otherwise rough edges of their presentation, but Nail'd comes up short. Instead of an appreciable identity, Nail'd instead thrusts forward with extreme sports clichés that would seem old years ago, which goes double for the soundtrack. Some fairly generic jock metal is joined by licensed tracks that have been making the rounds for longer than this game has likely been in development. I love Queens of the Stone Age, but can we please get a song other than "3's and 7's" for a change? And why is there a six-year-old Slipknot song here?

              You can see some fun poking out here and there in Nail'd. The in-air physics work largely as advertised and add some excitement, but the game still feels surprisingly boring most of the time. Without the benefit of exploration for new routes or any meaningful challenge to vehicle handling though, Nail'd gets tedious fast and stays there.

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