A Street Cat Named Bob (2016) Movie Review

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Homeward Bound, Beethoven, Lassie, Old Yeller, Alaska, Air Bud, Free Willy, Wishbone, MVP: Most Valuable Primate, Dunston Checks In…these are among the many films and shows we can point out when it comes to Animals being lead or supporting actors in films.  Whether they are remembered fondly, or renowned for derailing acting careers and making parents question the night they had too much to drink – I don’t recall very many of these sorts of films being aimed at adults…Until I saw this…and Jaws…forgot about Jaws…whoops.

Set in London in the late 2000s, our story revolves around James Bowen (played by SKY Atlantic’s ‘Solitude’ actor Luke Treadaway, the twin brother of Harry Treadaway, who played Dr Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful), a Homeless Busker and recovering heroin addict who was rejected by his family and had trouble making enough money to feed himself.  After Overdosing in a car with a fellow addict, he wakes up in Hospital, where he is given 1 last chance from his support worker, Val (Joanne Frogatt), to turn his life around.  He is given his own flat – and in return, he has to attend meetings with Val and take Methadone frequently.  One night in his flat – he hears what sounds like a burglar in his kitchen.  He enters, and it is here he meets a ginger cat eating corn flakes.  After trying to find the cat’s owner the next day, and then finding the cat later with a leg injury, it became clear that the two lives would be very, very important to each other.

Now to go down the usual street of these reviews, and with the exception of Bob’s wound, there are little or no special effects or CGI in this film.  It’s just a straightforward film design:

The acting is very good.  It’s not the usual oscar bait that is possibly suggested by some on the surface, but it does more than enough to tell a story without looking like they’re trying too hard to impress us.  It features some excellent “animal direction”, and probably providing a clear indication that Bob is in fact “Smarter than your average Cat, Boo Boo”.  In general, it was well done.

The characters, though tight-knit, were well put together but not overly detailed.  By far the most likeable character is Bob (for good reason, he’s adorable), and seeing James Bowen’s transformation and struggle to stay clean and feed both himself and Bob is clear throughout the narrative.  As for the villains…there aren’t any.  Yes, plenty of people are rude to James (and it is London – not exactly the rest of England), but sometimes it is expected – Although, the scene in the Indian Takeaway…I don’t know why the cashier/chef didn’t ask for the £3 from James before he made the meal for him (then throwing the meal in the dirty sink and telling James to get lost because he was 9p short and trying to busk for it inside the takeaway itself).  Maybe the business is struggling?  Maybe this was 1 reason for it?  I know it was designed to show how much people shunned James, but that in itself was…not a good business decision for a takeaway…Unless it’s common in some parts were there is a communal trust.  James’ Father, though cold towards his son, does want the best for him…But he feels that James is too far out of reach, and that he needs to get on with his life, keep James’ Step-mother happy, and give his daughters a decent childhood without a druggy near them.  I mentioned there aren’t any villains…but that’s because the villains aren’t really people.  Yes, there are some scumbags here and there…but “hurt people hurt people” as they say.  Poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, rejection, a lack of compassion, “the rules”…these are the real villains of the film.

The music is a combination of film score and Luke Treadaway actually busking (The fact that he can play guitar and sing is 1 of the main reasons he got the role) – the songs themselves are very good, and though they might not cater to everybody’s tastes, I do think there is an appeal to having a cat present at a live performance.

Even though the end result of the story is very apparent – the Story is not a child-friendly journey, as it tackles a lot of issues that would be touched upon in Primary School, but not fully realised, unless you experience these things in your own home.  At the same time, it sends out various messages.  “Don’t do drugs” is a main 1, because as the real James Bowen remarked “Having Bob is like raising a baby, so I had to sort myself out”, having a cat might help turn one’s life around, but it doesn’t make the journey easier.  Then we have the theme of homelessness and its horrors.  The rejection, name-calling and labelling from others are far from the nicest things to happen to anybody.  It either shows us that people can change or show us a reflection of ourselves, whether it be in James or those who don’t want him or those who want him to fall, fail or suffer.  At the same time, there is a wonderful light-heartedness in the mix of the horror and grit, because while the scenes were James and Bob are happy together only make up a small (but important) amount of the film, they made the darker times a lot more bearable.  Is there any humour in this film?  Yes – but it’s more associated with cat humour than people humour – if you love cats, and see elements of your own cat in Bob, you’ll get a wee laugh out of it.

The cinematography is very good, and even provides us with Bob’s point of view from time to time.  Though Bob himself appears in the film frequently, he did have some extras (5-6 other red tabby cats) helping out, and the choice of cinematography helped cover any differences up.

Would I recommend A Street Cat Named Bob?  Yes…but maybe not so much for kids on Christmas day (Yes, there are Christmas scenes in this film), unless you see something there that might scare them into taking a better path.  But at the same time, to encourage compassion when there isn’t any.  James Bowen and his cat Bob now have their legacy in Pop Culture, which helped get them both out of their worst case scenario and brought them to a place were they could help others, and to say the least, the product itself is pretty good.

Acting: ****

Characters ***3/4 (*****) for Bob)

Music: ****

Story:****1/4

Cinematography: ****1/4

Overall: ****

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011/2015) Video Game Review

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Now for the second or last stretch before we tackle the most recent instalment…and The Golden Abyss.  Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

Our story begins in London, England (1 were the Victorian Architecture has survived and is occupied by Guy Ritchie’s Usual Suspects and the Chavs in Kingsmen: The Secret Service).  Drake and Sully come to do business with a man named Talbot, who gives them a pile of money for Drake’s ring.  When Drake and Sully notice the money’s fake, a huge brawl ensues before they get into trouble.  We are then thrown into Drake’s past, as a 15 year old thief running around Columbia meeting Sully for the 1st time, as well as Sully’s client that day – Katherine Marlowe, the main antagonist.  We then return to the present, which has Drake, Sully, Chloe (from ‘2) and Charlie Cutter (tough cockney englishman with a knowledge for history and a fear of tight spaces) go looking for what was stolen from them, and to stop it if it’s too dangerous.

Now to the chart through the characteristics:

The Graphics, up to that point, were the best looking in the series.  It was fantastic in 2011, and in the remaster it’s just as mesmerising as before.

The Art Style is…wow.  Among Thieves has a glorious presentation, and Drake’s Deception is no different in quality.  Instead of the Jungles in ‘1 and the Snowy Mountains in ‘2, our star landscape is the Arabian Desert – and without spoiling it (we’ll call it the “hard times level”), the presentation of the desert is…amazing!  Really amazing.  It was insane in 2011, and it’s still awe-inspiring today.  Excellent!  Great job!  I was taking screenshot after screenshot on my PS4 and sending it to my Facebook.  It’s 1 of my favourite things to look at in a video game, along with various other levels such as how London, the ship, the French Castle (my favourite) and the underground museum are presented.

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Hard times Bay Bay!

The Voice Acting is once again top notch.  Nobody was bad.

The Characters in Uncharted 3 are as good, sometimes even better than ‘2 and obviously better than ‘1.  I’ve found myself greatly disliking Marlowe and Talbot to the point of true hatred (something about English villains can do that in ways that Russians and Pirates can’t)…and I’ll get to another reason why their henchmen were particularly dislikable.

The Story is once again excellent – The premise is the same (Find an ancient civilisation or relic before the baddies), but she’s obviously wearing a different dress and hairstyle.  Moving on from South American treasure thieves and military-trained russians, we now take on the last Great American foe that isn’t German – the English.

The Music is, for the 3rd time, composed by Greg Edmondson, who did the music for Mike Judge’s King Of The Hill and Joss Whedon’s Firefly.  5 stars.  Moving on.

Gameplay-wise, Uncharted 3 is roughly as good as ‘2, but at the same time some of its extra features actually disturb its flow – primarily in the form of quick-time event fisticuff battles that Drake has.  It’s featured in the game’s opening since Drake and Sully walked in without guns.  But later on in the game it doesn’t have the same relevance.  Does it look good?  Yes.  But it does break it up when it didn’t need to be.  On top of this, some battles become so difficult that they reach a “troll” level (or if you’re into classic anime – think of the gun battles in Trigun), the amount of guns blazing in your direction, non-stop, and then the fact that they throw grenades at you within 30 seconds of you hiding in cover (while guns are blazing), surrounding you with gunfire when you least expect it, and of course the amount of terminator-endurance soldiers…It really makes you want to get your hands on the villains.  Some would call this an acceptable challenge to overcome – But these battles literally feel like they’re cheating as they appear to come out of the metaphorical clown car, are hard to kill, and your bullets run out faster than you would like them to (which is never).

Would I recommend Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception?  Much like Uncharted 2, definitely!  It’s not as good as Among Thieves, but it’s still a good bit better than Drake’s Fortune.  The gameplay is more inconsistent than ‘2, doesn’t flow quite as well, and is capable of being a troll in some battles.  The same goes for the story which doesn’t have as strong a flow as ‘2.  It’s a 5 star game…but it’s a lesser 5 star than Among Thieves.  Not quite as good in secondary characters, story and gameplay, but made up for with its slightly better graphics.

Graphics: ****3/4 (***** in 2011)

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: ****3/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: *****

Gameplay: ****1/2

Overall: *****

Doctor Strange (2016) Movie Review

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Riddle Me This – what happens when a horror movie director (Scott Derrickson), a writer of both Prometheus and Passengers (Jon Spaihts) and a film critic-turned script writer (C. Robert Cargill),  take 2 well received Christopher Nolan projects and The Matrix, fill it with Brits, Canadians, Europeans, 2 Americans and a Buddhist and Big City coat of paint, and then slam it all together like an end-of-the-world prediction?

Set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our story revolves around Stephen Strange – a highly acclaimed Surgeon who would give the manga character Black Jack (The Surgeon with the hands of God) a run for his money.  He’s highly successful to the point of riches, and much like Tony Stark, he drives a nice car, has a nice home, and thinks very highly of himself…Then the car accident happened.  Stephen survives, but is left with intense nerve damage in his hands and effectively ending the career of a man who put everything into his job.  Desperate, Stephen goes by a hearsay to Nepal after hearing of a man who should be in a wheelchair is walking about like nothing happened.  Here he meets The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), a Celtic mystic who teaches Stephen that there is more to the world around him, and himself, than meets the eye.

Now for the strange things about this film:

The Acting is great throughout the film, despite accusations of its casting.  The Ancient One, who in the comics is an old Tibetian Monk, is played by a tall, middle-aged (and very young looking) white woman (Tilda Swindon), and this led to accusations that the film was being white-washed…Even though a Transylvanian character is played by a Nigerian-englishman (Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo), a blonde-haired-blue-eyed doctor is played by a Jewish American (Michael Stuhlberg as Doctor Nicodemus West), the former paraplegic is played by an American or Peruvian and European descent (Benjamin Bratt as Jonathan Panghorn) and Chinese-British actor Benedict Wong plays Master Wong (Unsure if pun was intended).  It’s hardly fair to call it a whitewashed cast.  Everyone played their roles very well, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange is…perfect.  Much like Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, Cumberbatch has slotted himself perfectly into the role (and it makes me look forward to Stark and Strange meeting for the first time in Avengers 3).  And of course you can’t forget the performances by Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer (Strange’s former lover, fellow surgeon and good friend), and the TV Doctor Hannibal Lecter himself, Mads Mikkelsen, plays antagonist and former student to The Ancient One, Kaecillus.

The Characters are very good, in particular Doctor Strange himself in the role of Neo and The Ancient One effectively in the role of Morpheus. Doctor Strange is a likeable but evidently flawed hero, both physically (his nerve-damaged hands) and mentally (his over-inflated ego), who realises what he is capable of, and goes after those trying to destroy the world through their own interpretation of a piece of script that The Ancient One had forbidden from them.  What I also like most about Strange is the new dimension he will add to The Avengers by bringing Magic into what has been more or less associated with the sci-fi genre.  An interesting twist.

The Story, much like Ant Man, Iron Man 1 and Guardians Of The Galaxy, is an origin story, and in itself can stand alone from the universe (But it’s more fun with the universe included).  On its simplest form, it’s a very well made “Overcoming The Monster” story, and eventually it leads to what can be best described as the most original, awe-inspiring, and downright hilarious final battles in recent memory.  No spoilers – just see it!

The Art Style evidently shows some influences and ideas from the likes of The Matrix and Inception, along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe presentation.  The chosen locations were brilliantly presented and incorporated, and proves they either chose great locations to shoot or had excellent green screen effects.

The Music is by Michael Giacchino (New Star Trek Trilogy and numerous Pixar Films) and he does an awesome job for this.  What makes this score stand out from the other Marvel movies is its use of the delightful instrument known as the Harpsichord (and early version of the piano).  A lovely touch.  While at the same time, providing very effective music for every high and low in the film.  Subtle and memorable when it needs to be.

The CGI and Special Effects were…no pun intended – out of this world!  It feels like the CGI in the MCU is getting better, and this is a definitive example of the trend.

The Cinematography, much like the special effects, are also a bit insane and ingenious at the same time.

Would I recommend Doctor Strange?  Absolutely!  It was great fun with a lot of humour, great action scenes and a very solid story with plenty to add upon.  If you were hoping for a return in presenting The Matrix in some shape or form, whether it be in presentation or parallel narrative, you’ll find something to like here.

Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Art/Design: *****

Music: ****3/4

CGI/Special Effects: *****

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****3/4

Costume Quest 2 (2014) Video Game Review

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For some people, they waited 4 years for this game to come out.  For me, I bought 1 and 2 together in 2015 – but after Halloween ended and the “Christmas add-on” was completed,  I decided to leave the sequel alone until this month.  Why?  Because some games are best played at certain times of the year, much like holiday specials.  So.  Costume Quest 2.

Set exactly after the events of the Costume Quest DLC Story “Grubbins On Ice”, twins Reynold and Wren return to Auburn Pines through a time hole, to find themselves back home on Halloween night…rather than near Christmas time.  While exploring their neighbourhood, they notice an evil looking dentist named Dr Orel White scouting the scene.  Soon after this, Auburn Pines is once again invaded by Grubbins (The troll things who stole the candy and your sibling in the last story) when Orel White opens a portal with the help of a time-wizard to release them into the Human world.  2 adults then tell Wren and Reynold to “come this way”, leading them into a different portal that takes them into a house.  The house belongs to Everett and Lucy (battle partners in the original Costume Quest), who are now married and grown up.  In Everett and Lucy’s future, Orel White has become King of the world, and has turned Auburn Pines into a futuristic dystopia were candy and costumes are outlawed, which might remind some of us of Back To The Future 2 and Brazil mixed with Blade Runner (BBB!) .  It then becomes up to Reynold and Wren to save Halloween by jumping through time between the Auburn Pines of Orel White’s childhood and the terrible future he creates, in order to stop him from accomplishing his goal and to go home to an Auburn Pines that still has Halloween.

Now to discuss the building blocks, while also comparing it to its prequel:

The Graphics in this are almost exactly the same as Costume Quest 1, only they’re a little more crisp with some extra texture and weather effects.  I guess Double Fine Productions figured that it would be better if they kept consistency, even with the 4 year gap.

The Art/Design, like the graphics, are the same, and maintain consistency with new visuals and levels.  All remains well in this area, as they remain very pleasing to the eyes and adorable.

The Music maintains the child-like, playful essence of its older brother.  But it also has a greater variety this time, ranging from futuristic sci-fi to…Well, we now know that Costume Quest is set in Louisiana, because of the Bayou and The French Quarter in Orel’s childhood, which are very much based on New Orleans, which includes its own New Orleans Jazz-inspired tune that suits the scenery and game perfectly.  Some tunes from ‘1 also made a comeback – in particular the better ones, and the battle theme is much easier on the ears from multiple listens…although it’s missing the Camp Theme from Psychonauts this time.

The Gameplay, especially on the PC version, is vastly improved!  Especially in the battle mode.  In Costume Quest 1, it was easy to press the wrong button and miss the critical attack that required good timing.  This time, your attacks are based on the numbers 1, 2 and 3, and using W.S.A.D. to select actions and targets.  They’ve managed to make it simple for the fingers, giving you much more secure controls, and therefore a much better experience for an RPG that plays with timing.  It still uses the Power Ranger/Megazord battle presentation, but the fact that the controls are better really helps.  The enemies also respawn after a while throughout the world, making grinding a little easier, as you’re not stuck with a limited set of enemies to find, fight and gain experience from.

The Story, in my opinion, is better this time as well, even though to my surprise, Tim Schafer didn’t write it!  The locations are more colourful, varied and interesting, and the fact that you’re now playing as the twins full time means it’s already a very different story (while also being about saving Halloween), and I love the direction it went as you progressed. It’s also even funnier than ‘1 and Grubbins On Ice – which is plus when you consider a sense of humour to be a Double Fine Productions trademark.

The characters, in my opinion, are stronger in this 1, and I do think Orel White is a better villain than Drusilla in ‘1.  Monty and Hayley might not be as well developed as supporting fighters when compared to Everett and Lucy, but they still had plenty to offer in the story.

Would I recommend Costume Quest 2?  Yes!  Especially if you’ve played Costume Quest 1 and its DLC Grubbins On Ice, because altogether it’s a complete story.  In my opinion, they’ve managed to save the best instalment for last in story, visuals and gameplay.  Worth a look if you’ve played the prequels!

Graphics: ***1/2

Art/Design: ****

Music: ****1/4

Gameplay: ***3/4

Story: ****1/2

Characters: ****1/4

Overall: ****

The Crow (1994) Movie Review

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This review is dedicated to Jon Polito (Gideon) and Michael Massee (Fun-Boy) who appeared in prominent roles in this film, and have both passed away within the last 2 months.

Once upon a time a teenage Art student nicknamed “Big Cheese” by several classmates and a teenage fart-loving metalhead named Jon shared a classroom for 2 years and became friends.  One day, Jon introduced Big Cheese to what was known at the time as “The Crow Trilogy”, which Big Cheese took home and watched every night for 3 nights.  The second 2 sucked.  When their time in school finished, Big Cheese and Jon remained friends for several years, bumping into each other in the street and talking like that final day was yesterday.  Until disagreements became galore, distance was created, and lastly, a Facebook page was deactivated.  It’s a strange world.  But it happens to all in one way or another.  Big Cheese took the opportunity to revisit this film, and now the question is asked:  Does 1 of the most memorable gifts that Jon ever gave Big Cheese still live up to its hype?  I guess I’ll have to discuss that.

Set on October 30th (Mexico’s Day Of The Dead) in Detroit, Michigan on what’s known in the film as “Devil’s Night”, our story begins with a crime scene.  The lead guitarist of the rock band Hangman’s Joke, Eric Draven, and his fiancé, Shelly Webster, are attacked in their dilapidated apartment by T-bird and his gang of misfits, Skank, Fun Boy and Tin Tin.  Eric was killed instantly, after being brutally shot and then thrown out of a 6 storey window.  Shelly survived her rape and beatings, but died later that night in hospital.  Due to how great the tragedy was, and the fact that nobody was caught, Eric’s soul was unable to rest.  And exactly a year later, a Crow brings him back to life in order for him to find the people who killed him and Shelly, hunt them down, kill them, and then he himself can rest in peace.

This plot was rehashed/remade/retold in the sequels.  But this was well and by far the best adaption…and the most tragic.  Overshadowing this film is the fact that its main star, Brandon Lee (son of legendary martial arts movie star Bruce Lee) was accidentally killed during its production on March 31st 1993 due to a shard from a previous blank in a gun being dislodged.  He was 8 days away from finishing all of his scenes, and it left everybody involved badly shaken, even to this day.  Thankfully, the cast and crew decided to be creative, and with several rewrites, stunt doubles and the CGI available at the time, they finished it.  To add even more tragedy again – Lee was engaged in real life to his girlfriend Eliza, creating a parallel between real and fiction.

Now to look at the parts that make the whole:

The Acting is over the top and at times cartoony on different of levels, like some comic book movies should be, pre-marvel cinematic universe.  Some could argue that you need to be in the mood for this sort of “’89 Batman” performance, but that doesn’t make it bad.  Ernie Hudson from the Ghostbusters movies is in it, and he’s great as Sergeant Albrecht (who is white and plays a small role in the comic, but is so much better presented and useful for the story here).  David Patrick Kelly as T-Bird practically reprises a role he had in 1979 in a film called The Warriors, where he plays Luther, the leader of a gang called The Rogues (Warriors!  Come out and plaeeeeay!  That’s him…) – so imagine that he’s playing an older version of that character who survived, moved state and changed his identity.  Michael Wincott as Top Dollar is a great Villain, and provides a combination of twisted humour, a deep, gravelly voice and wonderful looking long hair (wig!).  In terms of performances, this film would have been what made Brandon Lee a star.  He strikes a lot of poses and pulls some relatively cheesy facial expressions and movements here and there.  But he also delivers some very memorable lines (in fact, at least half of his dialogue is quotable as pop culture references for better or worse), excellent action scenes for their day (doing his own action), and was very touching in the quieter scenes of the film.  But overall it’s definitely his best performance.  The villains are very well done within context, and I’ll get to that soon.

The Characters in this film could be best described as “pretty faithful to its source material”.  Not necessarily in its narrative (for instance, Top Dollar is the main villain in this film, but in the comic it’s T-Bird and Top Dollar’s very much secondary), but rather in how James O’ Barr presented them in his comics.  When O’ Barr created The Crow, it was a project to help him cope with real life tragedy, as his fiancé was killed by a drunk driver when he was only 18 (He grew up an Orphan) and he was inspired by a Detroit news report about a young couple who were killed over a $20 engagement ring.  His rage can be seen in every page of the comic book, as he provided his villains with no redeeming qualities and presented them simply as evil, savage beasts who live for the moment, enjoy the chaos and do anything to get high.  Such a presentation and evil is perfectly replicated in the film, and within this context, it’s an excellent translation.  On top of this, you feel the great pain, anger and tragedy that Eric Draven went through, and despite his occasional playfulness (as someone who can’t be killed by those he’s hunting down), it’s simply sweet revenge to him, and an opportunity to make the world he left behind a better place.

The Story is not a direct-to-screen version of the comic book, as both are very differently paced with the ending of the comic being happy, but a little anti-climatic and abrupt for cinema.  What James had on pages was better taken apart, edited and put back together for the movie.  Are there plot holes?  Yes, some.  But not too many.  It’s action-packed when it needs to be and slow when it needs to be as well.  As I’ve said before, the story is basically the same in every Crow sequel, and this 1 is very much the best written and best paced of the bunch.  It even has some great one-liners in it – which on their own would have been enough to inspire the pro wrestler Steve Borden when he was changing his gimmick.

The Music in The Crow is…awesome.  A thoroughly inspired collection of scores by Graeme Revell and original music by a range of musicians, including Nine Inch Nails covering Joy Division’s “Dead Souls”, Henry Rollins covering Suicide’s “Ghostrider”, Pantera covering The Badge by Poison Idea.  Lesser known bands like Medicine and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult received in-movie performances like it was an episode of Buffy or The Young Ones.  The Cure, 1 of the bands James O’Barr listened to when he was making the comic, do an original track for the film (called “Burn”).  Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Helmet – it was a bit of a who’s who in Alternative American music.  And then of course there’s the end-credits theme “It Can’t Rain All The Time” by Jane Siberry.  A very fitting end in numerous ways that might make you teary eyed the first time you hear it.  Graeme Revell does an amazing job with the film’s score with a combination of electric lead guitar, brass, light vocals, synthesisers, an orchestra and some middle eastern sounding scales mixed into haunting ambience and dark tones.  On its own, the music can tell its own story.  It’s phenomenal.  Absolutely phenomenal…and beautiful.  I own both CDs, so I can vouch on that.

The Cinematography and special effects are like watching numerous music videos put together to create a story – which can be expected, because director Alex Proyas directed a number of music videos for MTV.  Everything is very stylised, and while it’s clear that they were showing a miniature city, in certain resolutions other than HD, it blended in pretty well.  Much of the film is presented with quick, flashy editing and some awesome use of green screen effects for its day such as Eric Draven on top of the miniature city

The Art Style is delightfully gothic, dirty, dark, grungy and wet, just like the alternative music scene of its day.  Everything is so delightfully alternative ’90s, it’s difficult to get enough of it in this film.  The architecture, the decay, the dark shadows – so much stuff worked well, particularly in its day, and even today some of it holds up very well, despite the evident “set-piece” appearance that HD TVs gladly bring up in Batman Returns and other fantasy films that used creative ways of presenting itself without necessarily having a life-size set or a real life filming location.  For a film that’s shot entirely indoors, it looks great.

The CGI has become dated overtime as television quality got better and mistakes in design and execution became more and more clear in the visuals.  But this doesn’t stop the film from doing what it set out to do (including in the new challenges created after Lee’s death) and doing it incredibly well for the time period.

Would I recommend The Crow?  Definitely!  While comic book movies have come a long way and the technology to present them has become absolutely amazing – The Crow deserves its place in history as 1 of the few really good comic book movies made in the 1990s, along with Batman Returns, Blade and Men In Black, because the ’90s was a very dark time for comic book fans at the movies.  Has the film changed on Big Cheese?  No – Big Cheese is simply a different person to what he was.  But he hasn’t forgotten the impact this movie had on him during a certain time in his life.  As for Jon – maybe we’ll find out what’s he’s up to later.

Acting: ***3/4

Characters: ****

Story: ****

Music: *****

Cinematography: *****

Art Style: *****

CGI: **1/2 (Today) ****1/2 (in 1994)

Overall: ****1/2

Coraline (2009) Movie Review

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I saw this movie several years ago, and then I found out that the book it was based on was written by Comic Book Writer (Sandman) and dark storyteller Neil Gaiman, who decided 1 day he wanted to write a Children’s novel.  Through curiosity, I read the book, which…had an interesting dilemma.  The language was very clear and it was a very easy read.  But at the same time, Neil Gaiman managed to write a story that was terrifying.  So you have a book that was too simple to challenge adults in the literary department, while at the same time it was far too scary for its intended demographic.  Awesome.  Today I re-watched the film, having read the book (Whether or not it was intended for me…keep in mind, I might refer to it for myself as a creative), and now we can talk about it while referring to its source material.  So.  Coraline…not Caroline.

Set in the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon.  Our story centres around an 11 year old girl from  Michigan named Coraline, who has just moved into a new apartment in The Pink Palace Apartments, a 150 year old Mansion that was renovated into different homes.  Along with Coraline and her parents, residents include retired burlesque dancers named Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (and their many Scottish Terrier dogs), and an eccentric Russian Acrobat named Mr Bobinsky (known as Mr Bobo in the book) who runs a mouse circus.  Coraline is bored out of her mind, but she takes the time to explore her new environment – which leads her meeting a boy named Wybourne (Whose first impressions are instantly shot down), a Black cat with a secret, finding a well, and finding a secret door that was wallpapered over.  After asking her mother to open it, they find that the door has been bricked up.  However, that night, a mouse appears and scurries downstairs.  Coraline follows it, leading her to the little door, which is no longer bricked up and has become a little tunnel.  She goes through the tunnel to find a duplicate of her new home…only it was different.  The colours were brighter, the pictures happier, and her parents were there, playing music and making amazing meals in the middle of the night…or rather, these are her “other” parents.  Parents from a parallel universe with buttons instead of eyes (like the doll Wybourne reveals to Coraline which looks like…Coraline).  The world seems perfect in this universe, as her parents and the surrounding world seem to give her everything she ever wanted.  But is it all too good to be true?

Now to discuss the bricks in the wall:

The Voice Acting is awesome, with some wonderful choices and even some star quality that suits it down to the ground.  Miss Spink and Miss Forcible are voiced by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (very well known comedy duo in the UK), Teri Hatcher (Susan Mayer from Desperate Housewives) voices Mel Jones, Coraline’s mother, as well as her “other mother”, Humorist John Hodgman voices both Charlie, Coraline’s Dad and her other Dad.  Ian McShane (Al Swearengen in Deadwood, Ray the community leader in that Season 6 episode of Game Of Thrones) voices Mr Bobinski, Keith David (“Childs” in John Carpenter’s The Thing & “The Shadow Man” in The Princess And The Frog) voices the black cat, and a 15 year old Dakota Fanning voices Coraline.  Some performances, you couldn’t tell it was the voice actors because they were very much in character – and in the process, you see their talent shine through as performers.

The Characters are brilliant, and some of them are even better in the movie than they are in the book.  Especially Coraline’s parents, Mel and Charlie.  In the book, we’re not given much of a reason as to why Coraline’s parents seem to neglect her.  But in the film we’re given a reason.  They’ve just moved into a new house, which is 1 of the 2 most stressful things a person can experience in everyday life.  The other is marriage.  On top of this, they both work at home, and have a closing deadline to meet, a gardening catalog, where Charlie writes the articles and Mel edits them.  They meet their deadline halfway into the film, and this is when they seem to lighten up and start to come around as parents, even when Coraline doesn’t notice.  For the first half of the film, they’re stressed and exhausted, so they can’t give everything their daughter wants right away.  They do the most they can, and telling their daughter to explore their new home is at least a decent way to give her something to do.  The neighbours are delightfully mad, as are the other parents, and much like a protagonist should, Coraline grows as a person.

The Story in the film is a little different to the book – and in its own way, that’s grand.  The inclusion of the character Wybourne Lovat (the grandson of the landlady) was a good idea from a creative standpoint and makes the film more universal.  In the book, Coraline talks to herself, which is fine in a Japanese anime, manga and a novel, but perhaps not a family film.  So, include a boy who is the same age as Coraline for her to interact with.  Good choice.  Also the emphasis on doll eyes is both creepy and oddly symbolic.  Many would compare this film/story to Alice In Wonderland, and it definitely falls into that archetype.  But they’re not the same story.  Some could also argue that there are a lot of symbolic aspects of sin, slavery, thievery and selfishness mixed in.  Coraline is presented with scenarios that are too good to be true, only to be told “If you want more, you’ll have to do this”, which then puts her at a crossroads – These things are enjoyable and wonderful, but can she really give up what she has for it?  Even during the trying time that her ‘has’ is going through?

The Music was composed by Bruno Coulais, who has been nicknamed “The French Danny Elfman”, due to his slightly similar but evidently different melodies.  A number of the tunes include light singing from children’s choirs (in french), and other songs such as the song that French and Saunders do in their play (in the other world) are great in the film, but they might not be pleasant to listen to on a train.  The soundtrack in general is excellent, and really captures the essence of both childhood and dark adventure.

The Art Style…oh the art style!  The film’s director, Henry Selick, might ring a bell to some.  While The Nightmare Before Christmas has Tim Burton’s name attached to it, he was the producer.  Henry Selick made that film a reality as director, due to this experience in puppets and stop motion animation.  His other work includes the stop motion version of James and The Giant Peach in 1996 (also produced by Burton) and the quirky visual effects in Wes Anderon’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.  So you know you’re in for on a treat on a visual level, and he doesn’t disappoint here.  This film also has a distinction, because it’s the first stop-motion animated movie to be shot for 3D cinemas and Blu-Rays.  I saw it on 3D Blu-Ray, and it looks great!  I could look at this movie all day and get ideas from it.

The Animation is amazing in this 1.  Some could argue about a slight choppiness here and there, but you can say that about most Japanese anime.  Everything flows wonderfully, and the fact that it’s done with stop-motion puppets makes it all the more amazing, as there is constantly something going on, even in the little things.

Would I recommend Coraline?  Absolutely!  I really liked the film the first time I watched it, and the second viewing, oddly enough, is even better!  Yes, I might know the story, but I love looking at this film and seeing it play out.  Are there plot-holes?  Yes a few.  But it’s still a very tight, solid and gripping experience.  Even the slower moments catch your attention.

Voice Acting: ****3/4

Characters: ****3/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Animation: *****

Overall: ****3/4

The Monster Squad (1987) Movie Review

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Folks, if you have NOW TV Movies, you can watch this now, and if not, consider their free trials.  I didn’t know about this movie until recently, and to be fair, I feel the same way as most people who found it as well.  As a bit of a cheapskate and occasional scrooge, this film is quite hard to get outside of a Region-A Blu-Ray player.  But now that I’ve seen it, I can say a lot.  This is Monster Squad.

So what’s the story?  Well it starts off with Van Helsing unsuccessful in defeating Dracula by getting sucked into Limbo via Portal (Intended for Dracula).  Fast forward to 1987, it’s about a group of kids, Sean (Leader), Patrick (Best friend with cute older sister), Eugene (Youngest, naive 1, with Doggy Mascot), Horace (Fat Kid…literally, that’s what they call him) and Rudy (a 16 year old Greaser and basically The Cool Kid) who run their own clubhouse known as the Monster Club, where they basically just hang around to talk about Monsters (More specifically, classic movie monsters).  When Dracula decides to come to their hometown with Frankentstein’s Monster, The Mummy, The Wolfman and be joined by Gill-Man (The Creature Of The Black Lagoon) in order to find the amulet of concentrated good (to destroy it and prevent the Limbo portal from opening ever again) and Van Helsing’s Diary, it’s up to the boys (and some of their family members and friends) to stop them…Because guess who has Van Helsing’s Diary?  That’s right!  Sean, whose Mum bought it in a garage sale for him.

Now for the stereotypical parts of my review:

The Acting is actually really good, within context.  A majority of actors in this film are kids, and while they might not be as “up there” with the Goonies or Stand By Me, the kids all still did a great job…think 1993’s Dennis The Menace.  They actually behave like kids and none of them are boring.  Then there’s the adults, who were all really good and even broke the mould a little bit with a light-heartedness, even within some of the more adult themes.  Such as Sean’s parents having marriage troubles due to the nature of his father’s job as a Detective.  The Monsters either put on good performances or amusing, Shatner-eque performances that gladly turned up the cheese.  To put it simply, there were no “Oscar-winning performances”, but everybody appeared to have fun, and it was.  It really was.

The Characters are all, or at least most of them, stereotypes.  But they’re stereotypes done well.  You have the Monster Squad kids who I’ve described already, you have Sean’s younger sister Phoebe who wants to join the club (despite “No Girls Allowed” on the treehouse door), Patrick’s older sister who “encourages” Rudy to join, via view of her bedroom window, Sean’s parents Del and Emily, who actually come across as great parents despite their marriage troubles.  They both encourage the hobbies of their children, and even take part in them from time to time – Especially Del when it comes to Monster movies, eating Burger King and drinking Pepsi (You can tell who was sponsoring this film by its product placement).  Then you have the Scary German Guy who lives in the creepy house (There’s more to him, and it’s a great twist, and he does help the boys), Del’s partner Detective Rick Sapir (played by Stan Shaw)

The Story is written by Shane Black – and if that name doesn’t ring a bell, I’ll provide you with this; He’s 1 of the funniest writers in Hollywood.  Predator, Lethal Weapon 1 and 2, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 (He also directed the last 2) – Even when he’s not writing a pure comedy, his humour shines through, and Monster Squad is no different.  Despite being presented as a kid-empowering story, it’s very much a borderline family film beating the crap out of the (at the time) truly heavy weighing PG rating.  None of the kids are squeaky-clean outside of Eugene.  They all swear, and as an older kid, Rudy both smokes and expresses his interest in Patrick’s sister in a teen fashion.  Also the Monster battles are very creative, and it’s full of cheesy ’80s one-liners.  However, 1 thing I will say.  Throw all logic and reality out the window, because it’s incredibly silly, incredibly ’80s…and awesome.

The Music is incredibly ’80s and suits the film, but no song or tune particularly stands out. No Huey Lewis or Gerard McMann in this 1.

Cinematography-wise, it’s very well shot and lit.

The Special Effects are hit and miss with some great explosions and strong make-up effects (especially Monster make-up).  However you’ll notice a rubber bat and its string at the beginning.

Even though it was made in 1987, to the disbelief of some folk, there is some CGI in this film.  It’s about as good as a Terribly Good Syfy film, but in its day it would have looked awesome, so it’s no big deal.

Would I recommend The Monster Squad?  Yes!  It’s 1 of the most messed up, overly violent, bad-message-sending, stuck-in-1987, films ever made…and yet the fun factor is through the roof.  And with both director Fred Dekker and Shane Black reuniting to create the new Predator instalment scheduled in 2018, I look forward to see how much they’ve grown since this.

Acting: ***3/4

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: ***

Cinematography: ****1/4

Special Effects: ****1/4

CGI: ** (Now) **** (In its day)

Overall: ****