Ready Player One


Viewed – 11 April 2018  Cinema

I went into this not knowing much.  However, for as long as I can recall I’ve been a huge fan of much celebrated director Steven Spielberg, and usually seek out his movies when they land.  Yet this particular effort seemed like something different whilst at the same time an accuse for Spielberg to throw his hat back into a field he’d pretty much pioneered.  Did he still have it to deliver blockbuster spectacle once again?

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Set in 2046, a society lives in the slums governed by rich corporations who run everything whilst the general public turn to a virtual world for escape.  One such player, Wade Watts (Ty Sheridan)  finds escape from his real world problems by entering the ‘oasis’ a vast online game where the only limitations are one’s imagination, where all your favourite pop-culture, video-game and movie obsessions run wild.  Following the death of the world’s creator, the reclusive, eccentric James Halliday (Mark Rylance) it transpires he has left an ‘easter egg’ and if a player can find it, he will own it all, worth trillions.  Of course a shady government organization lust for such power also, and so a race to unlock the game world’s secrets is on.

Art3misThis was an interesting cinema experience.  The theatre I was in was fairly bare considering the movie had not long been released, and it got me thinking well, this isn’t a sequel, a remake or a comic book movie.  That’s a shame that cinema going has become that marginalized, but I guess it’s inevitable and probably why Valerian bombed at the box office.  I predict a similar fate for this, which would be disappointing because this was refreshing, imaginative and most importantly – a barrel load of fun.  At it’s core it’s kind of a cross between Wreck It Ralph and The Matrix, with a sprinkling of Tron for good measure.  The writer of the book it’s based on clearly had many influences, and the wealth of references, cameos and nods to movies, games and music is exhausting.  Initially I had trouble getting into the movie – it’s a bit of an avalanche of information and visual excess … but once I adjusted I was along for the ride.  The rag-tag team of ‘resistance’ who team up to beat the game are a likable bunch especially Bates Motels’ Olivia CookeBen Mendelsohn also makes for a suitable boo-hiss villain and I got a kick out of each character’s video-game alter egos (think avatars from games like World of Warcraft or Destiny).  This is a movie that plays to the geek in us, it seemed to work for me as a gamer and a movie geek but I can see it possibly dividing audiences as a result – and well, all that recognisable imagery doesn’t exactly serve the story.  However with amazing sequences like a section in the Overlook Hotel from The Shining and lots of spectacle and fun characters, I had a great time with this.

Tired of superhero movies?  See this.  Want something different?  See this.  Love geek culture?  See this.  Simple as that.

Verdict:  4 /5

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Once Were Warriors


Viewed – 03 April 2018  Blu-ray

I remember really liking this gritty drama back when I watched it in the mid nineties.  It made a bit of a name of actor Temeura Morrison, who went on to play Jango Fet in the Star Wars prequels amongst other movies.  This tells the story of a New Zealand Maori family headed by Jake, a charismatic tough guy prone to violent outbursts and a liking for alcohol.  However it’s his wife who keeps the family together whilst he gets drunk with his friends at the local bar, and it’s her we follow as this brittle family try to stick together during increasing hardships.

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An authentic look at suburban Maori life and the society they inhabit, with local gangs and homelessness and the constant threat of violence.  It’s gripping and has a resemblance to movies like Boyz N The Hood and Menace to Society whilst at the same time having it’s own aesthetic and sense of time and place.  The good times are portrayed with more than a little cheese however with characters breaking into singing to portray happiness, but it’s the hard times the movie excels at and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of domestic abuse.  This is unflinching stuff, elevated by some decent performances especially from Rena Owen and an electrifying, career defining turn from Morrison.  However support actors come off as rather amateurish and you get the impression, perhaps for realism the director may have cast one or two non-actors.

This remains a tough watch even today and makes for a engrossing and thought-provoking experience.  Another gem from the 90s that you may not be that familiar with but is well worth you time.

The Blu-ray, to my knowledge the first time the movie has been given the HD treatment, is pleasing but underwhelming.  I found the image, whilst clean seemed overly soft, and the rather drab colour palette used doesn’t help.  However it’s still the best the movie has probably ever looked.  The soundtrack is in both uncompressed 2.0 stereo or DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and delivers clear dialogue and impactful music when used.  Extras consist of a detailed ‘where are they now’ documentary, an interview with director Lee Tamahori and a trailer.  Not too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

The Villainess


Viewed – 18 February 2018  online-rental

I was first exposed to the wonders of Korean cinema quite like many were I presume with Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy.  From that starting point firstly, that director became a firm favourite, and I also was treated to some real gems; including last year’s personal top ten entry Train to Busan.  So we come to this somewhat under-hyped action thriller.  Sook-hee has been trained from a young girl to become a deadly, highly skilled assassin.  However upon the death of her mentor, she vows revenge which ultimately lands her in the custody of a government organisation that would like to put her skills to work.

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This starts brilliantly with a no-holds-barred visceral action sequence filmed mostly in first person that well, has to be seen to be believed.  This immediately hooked me, and once again it seems I was in for a top level Korean movie that I’d be recommending to anyone willing to listen.  There’s clear echoes of French classic La Femme Nikita here, as well as Lady Vengeance.  Also the direction, with rapid-fire editing and impossible camera work certainly makes this an experience.  It’s sad to report then, that this is all held together with a rather generic and muddled plot with a myriad of flashbacks that only help to confuse matters.  Performances are largely decent, especially from Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee and there’s some fun characters and interesting twists.  It also doesn’t take any prisoners and is at times very bloody and violent.  I also found myself caring for the central protagonist’s plight and affected by the shitty things that happen to her … but with a villain who’s motives seem simply ‘because I’m evil’ this ended up not being the full package.

See it for it’s action and impeccable style.  Not so much for it’s plot.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Foreigner


Viewed – 02 January 2018  Netflix

I used to be, and probably still am a big fan of Jackie Chan, and have at one time or another seen a great deal of his back catalogue.  In subsequent years I’ll admit he’s gone off my radar even though I realise he still makes movies.  Yet this latest caught my eye as it had been granted a cinema release at one stage and good word of mouth.  Chan plays Quan, a local Chinese restaurant owner living in London who unfortunately witnesses a bombing outside a shop where his daughter goes, leading to her death.  Vowing to track down those responsible, he soon latches onto Liam Hennessey (Pierce Brosnan) who’s former links to the IRA may prove invaluable.

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You could call it Chan’s version of all those copy-cat Liam Neeson thrillers we’ve seen of late and has echoes of Taken.  Chan may not be the most compelling of actors and his grasp of English is still hit and miss … but he’s a likeable presence and well, can still kick ass and defy gravity even in his sixties.  Pierce Brosnan however steals the show as a not so subtle take of former Sin Fein leader Gerry Adams, and his spot-on Northern Ireland accent brings a level of authenticity to proceedings.  Also it was interesting having the backdrop of the IRA troubles and director Martin Campbell (Golden Eye) delivers a realistic and thrilling movie with plenty of action and intrigue.

I’s a shame then that really, it hasn’t much going for it we haven’t seen dozens of times before.  It’s engaging and mostly well acted especially from Brosnan, but it’s sense of deja-vu mares what is otherwise a solid thriller, and one certainly more convincing and gritty that I’d normally expect from Chan.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Hounds of Love


Viewed – 01 January 2018  online-rental

I consider abduction / kidnap as one of the most disturbing crimes anyone can do to another person, so sat down to this Australian thriller with a mixture of trepidation and intrigue.  This tells the story of a teenage schoolgirl who falls victim one night to a sexually depraved couple, who abduct and then imprison girls in their suburban house, using them for their sexual needs before discarding them once they’re bored … usually leading to a shallow grave in the woods.

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Inspired by real life crimes of a similar type, this pulls no punches.  It’s shot in a very realistic and voyeuristic style, that makes for very uncomfortable viewing, although I found myself absorbed thanks to strong performances, especially from Ashleigh Cummings as Vicki in a harrowing turn.  Director Ben Young doesn’t linger too much on the more violent or sexual aspects, instead choosing to cut away and leave a lot to the imagination … whilst keeping enough in to hammer home the full extent of the couple’s depravity.  I should also point out the atmospheric score, subtle but well judged to increase the intensity.  The exploration of the couple’s brittle relationship was also well observed, along with how Vicki attempts to drive a wedge between them.

I felt support characters like the boyfriend and father were under-developed and Police are as usual portrayed as incompetent idiots.  It also gets a bit predictable in the final act.  That being said I came away rather affected by this, and therefore give it a firm recommendation.

Verdict:  4 /5