Sunday, 26 February 2017

John Wick Chapter 2- Spoiler Free Review







Hey everyone, sorry about the delay but I’m coming back at you with another movie review. This time we’re talking about John Wick Chapter 2, the follow-up to the explosive 2014 original. I had been interested in seeing the first one but hadn’t gotten around to it until I’d mentioned it one time and my mum, of all people, immediately lent us her copy so that we could watch it (it’s also on Netflix).  I loved the first one, so my expectations for the sequel were pretty high. So what did I think of Chapter 2?


My reaction? It’s fan-freaking-tastic. I will of course elaborate on that, even though I barely took any notes for it at all. In fact, when I was in the theater I had to remind myself to actually start writing something down so I’d have something to work with after. That’s a testament to the film that I was so engrossed that I forgot about the pen in my hand and the notepad in my lap (I took a few more at Lego Batman, but not by much).

 There is an idea with sequels that they always need on one-up their predecessor; bigger, louder, explodey…er. And, predictably, this doesn’t always work. I’m a big sucker for action, but I also like when you expand on the story and build the world further as well. A nice balance of the two works best, and I’d say that’s what we got here. There is a lot more to the movie here that was only teased at the first time around. And by more, I mean more to everything. In the first film, John is basically a rage monster out for revenge. While he’s brutally effective at this, in the sequel you see more of the man that made him this legend. You get to see him plan and execute a mission and just how absolute and meticulous he is; you get a glimpse as to why he’s regarded the way he is by the underground assassin society. Speaking of that society, you definitely get an expansion of this as well. It really develops how this culture functions and does it in the best way possible. It is absolutely ‘show and not tell’ and you completely understand how all of this works without big chunks of exposition. I love that we got this deeper look into the intricacies, the details, and the aesthetic that runs parallel and yet removed from our world. In comparison, it does still seem a little bit slower than the last time in parts, but you get the satisfying end to the plot of the first film and a whole new arc that takes us through this one.
And look who else is back!
As I said in the previous paragraph, there is the idea of making a sequel bigger. I talked about the story already, but the meat and bones of a movie like this is action. And the action was definitely bigger. What I appreciated the most about it was even though there were these big set pieces, the action was still on-the-ground and visceral. It wasn’t superhero action where everything is beyond the realms of reality and prettied up in post. Not saying I don’t like that too, but the action of John Wick (both films) is down-and-dirty realistic action that you can see (or at least sense) is done on-camera as you see it. There isn’t five hundred cuts in every fight switching angles every time until you’re disoriented, this is sleek and choreographed beautifully. Director Chad Stahelski comes from a long background of stunt work, stunt coordination, and choreography and he has such a phenomenal eye for making these sequences gorgeous and individual. Even considering just how many action/fight scenes there are, they never run together or feel like they’re rehashing themselves.

Finally, I just want to round out this discussion by quickly talking about the cast. Keanu Reeves once again just brings it as John Wick. There’s such an intensity about him and I really don’t think anyone else could have done with this character what he does. And as anyone who’s seen the video of him training for the role can attest, he’s bringing it in every aspect. Ian McShane is back again as one of our main threads into the underground assassin culture and I love the mystery around his character. I always get the sense there’s more to him than appears.
A hunch only, but I felt this way during the first movie, too

Riccardo Scamarcio provides an antagonist that is very different from the ones we got in the first movie, and that’s all I’ll say. Ruby Rose was actually a big surprise for me. I really liked what they did with her character, it’s something you don’t see often enough in movies and when you do it’s usually a gimmick. Not so here, and it made her character a lot more interesting. She was also completely badass as well. And, even though I’m not really familiar with his work, as the two films I’ve seen him in I don’t really remember him from, I quite enjoyed Common’s character, Cassian. He and John actually share a bit of screen time and one scene in particular is an absolute standout, not just between them but in the overall film itself. The whole cast is really, really solid.

So, in conclusion, this movie rocked. About the only negative I could give it, and it isn’t really a negative, is that it does move a bit slower than the first movie. I’ve already highlighted as to why that happens, and that ultimately it gives us a positive even if it means it isn’t quite as relentlessly paced as the first film. Bottom line, if you liked the first movie, you’ll like this one. If you like action movies, you’ll like this one. What else can I say? Go see it, it’s definitely worth your time.  

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Lego Batman Movie Spoiler-Free Review




Hey everyone, today we’re going to be talking Lego. Lego Batman, specifically, as we saw him first in The Lego Movie. He was a side character there, but now he’s front and center in his very own film. So let’s see how he did. As always, this review is spoiler-free, so read on without fear!

Now movies that spin off or give the focus to a side character can work out really well. I really enjoyed The Scorpion King for what it was, not to say anything of films like The Wolverine and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in terms of quality. Then again, you also get things like Minions, Elektra, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which are the complete opposite of the spectrum. Everything I’d seen for this movie had made me really excited for it, and with a character the caliber of Batman, I’d hoped this would be one of those good spin off films. I was not disappointed. 

Sometimes everything IS awesome!

 Batman has a hugely rich history, especially cinematically, and they take full advantage of this. This movie is not afraid, and in fact takes a particular glee, in referencing and poking fun at other incarnations of the characters. It’s almost Deadpool-esque in it’s self-awareness and referential humor. They aren’t as blatant as the way Deadpool does it, but there are even a couple of instances where they break the fourth wall. There were some great laughs from this, and many, many Easter eggs for fans. I honestly don’t know how the packed so much in and still had room for an actual movie. That and the soundtrack was awesome, with a few songs showing up I didn’t not expect at all, but really worked. 

surprisingly similar


The animation follows the same format as The Lego Movie, in that absolutely everything is made from Lego that you see in the film. It’s once again extremely well done and they do a really good job in giving Lego Gotham the dark vibe the city is famous for. It’s not overwhelmingly so, but it is quite the contrast from bright, sunny Bricksburg of the first film. I also like that the animation works within the limitations of the Lego medium. The Lego games (my son is playing Lego Batman 2 as I write this), and some of the shows and shorts allow the characters great flexibility of movement that an actual Lego figure can’t do. I like the extra authenticity that it gives to keep it consistent to what is actually possible. 

But what about the story? The Lego Movie was such a revelatory surprise in that it had a story with an incredible amount of depth, emotion, and heart. I’m not sure anyone expected a movie that, on the outset, could be seen as a cash grab film based on a beloved toy, to be so friggin’ good. Lego Batman is a worthy follow up in that respect as well. In between the near-constant jokes is a very real story about these characters and their lives. The characters actually have arcs that they go through over the course of the movie, and you actually see how that impacts them. I of course don’t want to go into specifics, but they are done a justice that many, more ‘serious’ endeavors haven’t done them. For example, I really liked how the relationship between Batman and Joker was done. It was familiar but done in a different way than we’ve really seen before, playing on ideas that we’ve seen in things like The Dark Knight but giving it a bit of a twist. 

"I think you and I are destined to do this forever. "


The cast of the film is also on point. Will Arnett is back as Batman, and while he’s the same broody jerk we’ve seen before, you actually get some moments where you really see through the fa├žade to the damaged guy underneath in a way that other Batmans (Batmen?) aren’t often able to convey. You actually start to feel for, or at least understand him. I wasn’t sure how Michael Cera’s Robin was going to play out, but rather than being the annoying sidekick we see so often, you really feel for him too and he really does contribute a lot to the story and the movie overall. Rosario Dawson is a kick-ass Barbara Gordon and Ralph Fiennes has the perfect dry, almost-snark for Alfred. The whole cast is really excellent, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed Zach Galifianakis as the Joker. He was really good, and he did the voice in a way that was distinct from the other versions we’ve seen; not too Hamill, not too Ledger, not too Nicholson. It was really nice to see him do something fresh that really worked. 

So, in conclusion, Lego Batman is a really fun, fairly frenetic ride that’s going to appeal to both kids and adults without talking down to either. There’s a ton of stuff for both sides to enjoy and overall is not just a good Lego movie, but a really, really good Batman movie. I honestly got more emotional heft out of it as an actual Batman story than the Snyder film and Nolan trilogy. I’d venture to say that in that respect, as a Batman movie, ignoring the rest, it’s the best since The Dark Knight. Overall, I absolutely recommend it and I think it’s a film that everyone can enjoy, from a kid seeing Batman on screen for the first time to the cynical veteran fan who’s seen it all. Go check it out.  

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Super Bowl Trailer Recap

So my Facebook and Twitter feeds tell me that there was some manner of large sporting event this past weekend.





I kid, of course. But, as far as the Super Bowl goes, this is kind of my attitude toward it:


So with that being said, let’s have a look at all the goodies we got this year!



John Wick 2


Remember how I said in my Movies of 2017 that I hadn’t actually watched the first one and I needed to remedy that? Well, remedy that I have and I’m kicking myself for not seeing it sooner. I haven’t had this much fun with a straight-up, unapologetically badass action film in a long time. It was insanely awesome and I am definitely catching the sequel in theatres (it actually opens this Friday). But let’s get back to the trailer. Thirty seconds it may be, but it just makes me want to see it all the more. Notice even the subtle jab at the competition also opening this weekend (although I’m not sure how much overlap there is between the two fanbase-wise). My reaction to this was hardly PG, mainly consisting of a word beginning with ‘F’, followed by ‘YES’. I think this one is going to be a good time.


Ghost In the Shell


There’s not really anything new in this one, only really one quick snippet of a scene that stands out as different from the longer official trailer. I hate the use of that loud, static noise, though. That’s not just limited to this trailer either, it’s always annoying. I would have preferred if they’d stuck with the remixed Enjoy the Silence from the first trailer. This one isn’t top of my to-watch list, but I’d like to give it a chance at some point.


Transformers: The Last Knight


This… well this looks like Transformers. At least the footage is new, I guess. Still not much information as to what’s actually going on. Which, while good in a way, it’s not really making me want to rush out and see it. This is the fifth movie in, deciding to go all Force Awakens with your marketing isn’t going to work when what we do see just looks like more of that same. I watched the trailer three times and I literally felt nothing after. Not excited or disgusted, just nothing. Probably not rushing out to see this one.


Life


Now this trailer is making use of it’s thirty seconds. There’s a definite Alien-ish vibe here that’s really cool. The longer trailer gave it a more science-like feel, but this one is playing up what I assume will be the other side of the story. I was already interested in this movie, but this trailer has certainly piqued my interest again in it. I love a hard, science-heavy sci-fi and I hope this delivers on that.


A Cure for Wellness 


This movie looks dark. That may be an understatement. If it’s anything like these trailers paint it out to be then this is going to be a twisted, suspenseful and beautiful-looking film. It’s one of those movies where there’s way more going on and it won’t be till the end (or multiple viewings) that we see the whole picture. At least I hope so. I’m interested to see how it all comes together, or comes apart, when all is said and done. The trailer has a wonderful atmosphere to it, very horror and also very old-fashioned and refined.


Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


Well that was an abrupt shift in tone from the entry above. First off, can I say I love the music choice here and in everything Guardians related? There is literally nothing else I can say about this movie. There’s only so many times I can say I’m super excited and can’t wait to see it.


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales 


I don’t know guys. I mean, once again, I approve 100% of the song choice here but you can’t just slap a Johnny Cash song over your trailer and expect me to fall for it. It’s kind of like the Transformers trailer, it doesn’t really feel new or fresh or like they’re trying to do something different with it. Undead pirates looking for Jack Sparrow? Wasn’t that the plot of the first movie? And those undead pirates looks pretty janky and badly animated (I’m sure it’ll be fine in the final cut. Right?) It’s been six years since the last Pirates movie, but I can’t help but wonder if it’ll pull a Jurassic World with little callbacks and Easter eggs to the first one and how good it was. If we see it, this one will be a rental. Best-case scenario, this one might be fun.


Logan


This is yet another movie I’ve already spoken about multiple times. I’ve been on board from the get-go and that’s unlikely to change. I’ve stuck by the X-Men and by Wolverine since the first film back in 2000 and I intend to see this one to its end.


The Fate of the Furious


This looks like more from what I expect a Fast and Furious movie entails, lots of fast cars, explosions, etc. I’m still wondering about that story, though, and how that comes about. Is it enough to get me to see it? Not really, much as I’d love to watch Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham trade barbs and blows back and forth. This is a rental, at best, for me but I bet it’s got fans of the series buzzing pretty good.


Baywatch


Okay, this one looks like it could be a lot of fun. I’m willing to give it a shot, probably as a rental. A few new bits in this trailer that wasn’t in the other one mixed in with some of the same. This one definitely plays up the humor whereas the first trailer was about split with action. Can I just point out that awful greenscreen at the end there? Ouch. Luckily Dwayne Johnson’s charisma looks like it’s going to be what saves the day here, and I’m interested to see his rapport with Zac Efron (who’s not a bad actor, but he’s in some pretty atrocious movies). This’ll be a fun movie night one time after the kiddos go to bed, most likely.


Anyways, that’s the Super Bowl Trailer report. I know Lego Batman and John Wick 2 open this weekend, but due to work I’ll probably being seeing them the following weekend. So you can expect reviews of those then. Until next time!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

A Winner Is Not Us: Adapting Video Games Into Film


Hey, everyone. Today I wanted to talk about something a little different. I know there was both a new Power Rangers and a new Logan trailer last week that I probably should be discussing, but thinking about those and other, upcoming movies has made me think a lot about movie adaptations. Now I’m not here to say that there is some sort of epidemic of movies adapted from other material, because this has quite literally been happening since the beginning of film. And adaptations run a long gamut in quality as well, it’s not all either good or bad. But there is one particular genre of film adaptation that just never seems to quite… get there. I refer, of course, to the much-maligned video game movie. So, in honor of the release of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter this past weekend, let’s see what if we can make some sense of this.

I have formulated a few theories as where the problem may lie. Feel free to add your own in the comments!
  1. Aspects of gaming don’t translate well onto screen:
Characters- Characters that look really good and as though they fit into their gaming universe may look completely ridiculous when put into live action. This goes for both human and non-human characters. For human characters, it is often the costume that is the problem, and there becomes the issue of making it work in the film without losing too much of the distinctiveness of the characters’ look. This is especially true of female characters, as they often have to make their costumes more practical in the sense that they can actually be worn in real life (see all female characters- Mortal Kombat, Cammy- Street Fighter). Except Lara Croft, at least in the first movie.





For non-human characters this is even more difficult in that they need to be realistic-looking enough that you can actually buy that they are even there. Mortal Kombat, Doom, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, and Silent Hill achieved this through practical effects and actors in suits for their larger monsters.



Warcraft used motion capture to great effect to bring its non-human races to the big screen.


However, even within these franchises, and films themselves, there is examples of the opposite. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation’s Sheeva and Baraka, Mortal Kombat’s Reptile, and Super Mario Bros.’ King Koopa and Goombas.
The less said about these guys, the better. Although Yoshi was pretty darn cute

Game Mechanics- I’ll be touching on this one in my next point as well, but how a video game works play-wise is difficult to bring to screen as well. A movie-goer isn’t interested in the minutia of looting and upgrades, base building, fetch quests, resource gathering, etc. These are best left as glossed over at best. There some mechanics and game play styles that have been incorporated into movies, and the results aren’t great. DOOM and Hardcore Henry both featured game style ‘first-person’ perspective. While DOOM utilizes this as a gimmick near the end of the film to pay homage to the games that inspired it, Hardcore Henry plays through its entire runtime this way. It uses parkour and straight-up platforming at times as well, despite not actually being a video game movie (just looking like one). As gimmicks go, the first person perspective, while an interesting concept, doesn’t maintain that interest for the whole movie and gets tired, especially with the shakiness of the camera.

  1. Interactive Engagement vs. Passive Engagement :
This builds off of my above point about game mechanics. The first person perspective in Hardcore Henry wears out its welcome not just due to the shaky, first person view, but because it is hard to invest in the story, especially when it uses another video game mechanic: the silent protagonist. If the movie had been a game in which you could interact with it and feel invested in progressing the story, then the lack of dialogue from Henry wouldn’t matter. It would be one of a thousand first person shooters out there and probably would have been pretty fun. But the way you engage with a game and a movie are very different, a movie is about watching, but a game is about doing. If you attempt to make a movie feel less cinematic and more game-like, then you can lose the audience because they won’t be invested in your story.

  1. Picking a story and characters to use.
This is where things can be very tricky. Some games, especially those in the fighting genre are often quite thin on plot and abundant on characters. This seems like a pretty perfect opportunity for a movie: lots of pre-existing characters and freedom to build a lot of plot around fairly basic premise. The first Mortal Kombat movie did quite a good job of balancing the characters but the sequel completely goes off the rails. The same problem arises with Street Fighter, as it tried to jam in absolutely every character on the roster into the film no matter what.
Pictured: not even the full main cast

There needs to be a balance, just the same as non-game movies. That's one complaint about Suicide Squad, that there were too many characters with not enough time spent establishing them for you to care about them. An RPG-type game would be even harder, as they are often in densely lore-packed worlds that even in-game are supplemented with codices for the player. In addition to this, characters are often player-made in terms of look, race, etc. Warcraft found itself with this problem, too much story to tell and not enough time to tell it (pre-editing, the film was 2 hours 40 minutes). Side-stories are usually the way to go on this, such as Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker and the Resident Evil series. However, that is a risk in itself, as many audiences for these don’t want the side characters and stories, they want the big story and characters. As it was, Dawn of the Seeker only had a limited theatrical run in Japan, not worldwide, and a lot of complaining is made in Resident Evil that Jill, Chris, Claire, Leon, et al., are cameo characters rather than the mains. People, especially game fans, just aren’t that interested in Alice.
Alice! Who the... you know what, never mind.


  1. Faithfulness to the story vs. Creativity
Ah, the bane of adaptations everywhere. How closely do you adhere to the source material? How much creative liberty do you take? How much of each demographic do you alienate by changing/adhering? This is not solely a game-movie problem, don’t get me wrong, but it is as important for this genre as for any other adaptation. Warcraft was, to a tee, faithful in its story and look to its source, but was hard to follow for those not familiar with the dense lore it brought to the table. DOOM took the opposite approach, taking only the ‘fighting creatures on Mars with big guns’ part and changing most of the rest. Most of the rest of fall somewhere in between in terms of what they keep and what they change. Again, this is a balancing act that is walked by many different kinds of media, not just game-based films.

  1. Casting
Again, this is not merely a problem in video game movies, but one for many other kinds of films as well. Who do you cast in these roles? This also follows from what story and characters to go with. If you do a movie based on the Mass Effect franchise, for example, who do you cast as Shepard? Do you go with male or female Shepard? We’ve all seen the casting announcements for movies, and the vitriol that can follow if some character doesn’t ‘seem’ like they were cast properly, and it being a character that you have played as or alongside can lead to some pretty strong feelings. Imagine, will you, if they ever really did make a Legend of Zelda movie, or something of that prestige. Can you imagine the level of scrutiny that would follow the casting of that? And a movie can suffer for its casting, there’s no question. I thought Max Payne was a pretty decent adaptation, but Mark Wahlberg was not the best choice for Max (that’s not even mentioning the fact it should've been R rated, even if there is an unrated DVD version).
Bless his heart, he tried, but he just doesn't have that noir vibe.

On the other side to that, despite the fact that it isn’t a great, or probably even good movie (but I love it), the casting of Raul Julia as M. Bison vastly improved Street Fighter and helped alleviate some of the miscasts in that film.
There is also the point that games have become so cinematic as technology has improved to the point where a lot of times, they are more like movies anyway. Between cut scenes and cinematics,
Diablo III cinematic

improved graphics,
Dragon Age: Inquisition. This is an in-game screenshot I took on the XBox One version
.
Fallout 4. Another screenshot I took in-game.

more voiced protagonists, etc., it almost begs the question of why we are making movies of games in the first place. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be done, but more like they’re almost becoming redundant. Unless they are expanding on the world and lore, but we’ve already talked about how that goes.

  1. Budget doesn’t seem to matter.
Common sense would tell you that the reason that so many video game movies fail because they are niche, low-budget films that lack the production value to attract a wide audience. That, we have discovered, is not true. Just because many game-films are those things (even the most expensive of the blockbuster Resident Evil films only had a budget of $65 million), more money does not equal a better movie, or at least a more well-received movie. Just ask Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. The latter can’t even seem to catch a break despite an Oscar-caliber cast as well. In fact, one of the best/most faithful video game movies is the first Mortal Kombat film, with a budget of only $20 million dollars. Many times, even if the film is a box office success, such as Mortal Kombat or Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it fares very badly critically. Is there inherent dismissal of video game movies by critics? I wouldn’t rule it out but I wouldn’t pin it solely on that. As a gamer and a lover of bad movies, I can let a lot slide in terms of goofiness and other flaws in plot and execution (whether intentional or not), but even I can admit that a lot of these films are just bad. Some are fun bad, but some are just outright atrocious.
So what do we do? Do we stop making video game adaptations? I wouldn’t go that far, despite the fact that making a good one seems to be as likely as finding a unicorn in your backyard.
I typed that as 'Unicron' the first time. Point stands either way.

It may be an almost impossible feat, but I still hold out that faint hope that one day someone will hit upon that balance and we will finally get that good, well-received, successful video game movie. Failing that, I’d still love to see the full version of Warcraft, even though that probably won’t happen because it didn’t do well enough for a director’s cut. But, a girl can still dream, and maybe one day I’ll be right.