Tideland (2005) Movie Review

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When you mention Terry Gilliam to movie fans, chances are he will be known for something by them.  In particular, he might be best known for being the American member of Monty Python, as well as being, more or less, the glue that held them together during the movie trilogy that was produced between 1975 and 1983.  But Terry Gilliam has his own legacy, beyond Monty Python.  In particular, when it comes to his fantasy films.  The Fisher King, Time Bandits, Brazil, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas; If they weren’t box office successes, they were cult classics.  Which brings me to a film that Gilliam made in 2005, which was the 1 year when he released 2 movies within a few months of each other (rather than every 3-7 years).  One made a $17,000,000 profit at the Box Office, which was The Brothers Grimm.  The other spent $12 million and only made back about half a million.  An absolute flop.  Today, we’re talking about the flop, and whether it deserved all of the hate.  This is Tideland.

Based on the novel by Mitch Cullin of the same name, our story revolves around a young girl named Jeliza-Rose (played by Jodelle Ferland) who has quite a unique outlook on the world around her.  An outlook of pure innocence and blissful ignorance.  Born and “raised” by 2 heroin addicted parents; washed-up rock star Noah (played by Jeff Bridges via a page out of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski), and “Queen Gunhida” (played by Jennifer Tilly), Jeliza-Rose has absolutely no idea what “normal” is.  Her role in the home is to prepare the heroin, while her parents for the most part neglect or ignore her.  But rather than live in fear in this terrible world, she instead lives in fantasy.  Her favourite book is Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland; which she incorporates into her own life, adding a light-hearted adventure where there is genuine trouble and concern.  A short while after the movie begins, Queen Gunhida has an overdose, leading to Noah taking Jeliza-Rose on an adventure to Grandma’s house, where they would be safe (from both the cops and social services).  They arrive to find the house uninhabited and vandalised.  But this doesn’t stop the adventure for Jeliza-Rose.  Then, her father dies, and as she has no true concept of death (He’s on vacation, as he would say, when he has taken heroin), the real story begins as she goes on an expedition with her friends (who are all doll heads she puts on her fingers) and have run-ins with ghosts, monsters, sea captains, sharks and evil squirrels.  All of which are expanded and exaggerated interpretations of an otherwise alien world that would rival the anything inspired by Ed Gein.

Now to break down the fantasy and get to the reality:

Visually, the film is very impressive, but also interesting in the sense that about 95% of it is set in the real world with the occasional fantasy scene thrown in.  It is also visually repulsive, as the symbolism in Jeliza-Rose’s head is quite horrible in reality (such as how she sees a ghost leeching someone’s life force and sucking it out, when it reality it’s the kooky neighbour banging the delivery boy).  In terms of presentation, the colours are well chosen with even the dullest, grittiest looking scenes having plenty to attract the eye’s attention.

The acting is for the most part very good, and Jodelle Ferland’s portrayal of Jeliza-Rose is very colourful, multilayered and fascinating.  In a world where most child actors can be a bit dull and lifeless (kids in horror movies outside of Stephen King’s It and The Visit, am I right?!), this is a very refreshing performance.  Jeff Bridges basically plays an alternate version of The Dude – 1 who is a drug addicted, washed out rock star and is fascinated by Denmark and scandinavian burials.  The roles of the neighbours Dell and Dickens (Janet McVeer and Brendan Fletcher) were also fantastic, with both actors portraying what are practically extras at the Madhouse in another Gilliam film known as 12 Monkeys.  If Brad Pitt’s character Jeffery Goines was among them, it would turn the madness up to 11.

The characters stand out in a way, because in some fashion, everybody in this film is mentally ill or delusional or simply mad.  Nobody is boring.  That’s all you need to know.

The story is not to everybody’s taste, but the reason for this is because what you hear and what you see can be completely different stories.  On a visual storytelling level you have a young and neglected girl who is surrounded by dangerous people who would or could burst the bubble that she has incased herself in.  But on an audio storytelling level, you have this great adventure, and as you listen and watch, you need to use your imagination.  You need to envision the adventure, rather than see the harsh reality.  It is the mentality of sticks becoming swords, tree houses being secret lairs and whistling of windows being the sound of ghosts.  It is a story of a child playing when many would be panicking and afraid.  At the same time, I see this film as having an interesting message about life… that despite how things look, about 90% of your life is in your head.  How you perceive the world around you is what creates it for you.  Now, if you’re in grave danger, obviously, try to survive.  But much of this film is more a matter on adding colour to dullness or adventure and intrigue in moments of great trial.  I am even reminded of how Roberto Benigni’s character in Life Is Beautiful got his son through the holocaust by turning it into a game.  The encouragement of positivity and hope and a hint of escapism when everyone else has lost hope.

The music is beautiful, mysterious, fantastical, dark and child-like.  Never boring, always wandering but meaningful and structured.  At times reminding me of why I love the use of the accordion in Fantasy films.

The cinematography is as you would expect from a Terry Gilliam movie; surreal but structured and beautiful.  With many scenes that could be framed and put on a wall.

Would I recommend Tideland?  Personally I would, but not everybody would agree with me.  It needs to be watched a certain way, and sometimes you might even need to be in the mood for it.  In my opinion, if you watch Terry Gilliam’s introduction where he talks about the film (and even says that some of us will hate it and some of us will love it) it will provide a cushion and perhaps lead to a better understanding while viewing it.

Visuals: ****3/4

Acting: ****1/2

Character: ****1/2

Story: ****3/4

Music: ****1/2

Cinematography: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/2


The Tenant (1976) Movie Review

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Aww boy, this is a real patch of thin ice.  Especially when you consider the times in which it happened and the slightly more recent events.  About 8 weeks from the time I write this review, Charles Manson, the cult leader and mastermind of the Manson Family murders (which led to the murder of director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, and their unborn child) had died from cancer.  Fly backwards to 1976, the year this movie was made.  This was the last film by Roman Polanski before his reputation was tainted by the underage sex scandal that has kept him from going to the USA since 1978.  Tweets about Charles Manson did include Roman Polanski, but with Polanski’s name, came the accusations.  So in this process, I will be discussing this film within the context of Roman Polanski as an artist, director and actor who survived the holocaust and lost his family, rather than the man that a number of people want to see brought to justice.  Anyway, this is the Tenant.

The movie is set in the modern day (1976) and is about a Polish Immigrant named Treikovsky (played by Roman Polanski) who is renting an apartment in Paris during a time when there were more people than places to stay in the city.  Treikovsky receives 2 rooms; a kitchen in 1, and a bedroom/living room hybrid in the other, with the building’s main toilet (which has a big window beside it) in full view of the apartment.  He is also shown where the previous tenant tried to commit suicide, by jumping out the window of said bedroom and going through the glass ceiling below.  But there’s a catch – the young woman, an egyptologist named Simone Choule, wasn’t dead.  Dreikovsky pays Choule a visit in Hospital, where he meets Choule’s friend Stella (played by Isabelle Adjani), who he becomes friends with, out of comforting each other.  But life starts to get weird for Dreikovsky when his choices seem to start resembling the previous tenant, or more specifically, everybody is trying to fit him into her role in their lives, and everybody in his building seem to start blaming him for noise and mess, with the threat of eviction.  As paranoia builds, the film descends into…madness.

Now to go into more details

The Acting for the most part was consistent.  There were no show stealers, but everybody was either a 7 or 8 out of 10.  Even Polanski himself is a pretty good lead actor (within the personality of his on-screen character).  One thing that does intrigue me though, is the one thing that put me off the film Memoirs Of A Geisha, but I’m surprisingly okay with in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy: English dubbing.  Though Polanski is french, and his cast is either French or American (including screen legend Shelley Winters), and the film was shot in Paris – Polanski chose to make the film more international friendly by dubbing over the french actors who weren’t comfortable acting in english (and it can be quite clear which 1s were which).  I would see it as a difficult situation, as I would have preferred to have watched the film in french.  But it was solid with its english voiceovers.  Roughly on par with a good anime dubbing.

The Characters were pretty quirky and at times amusing (It’s basically a french movie, after all), with many of them ether reflecting Treikovsky or amplifying his fears.   The character of Treikovsky is that of a man who is quiet, unassuming and desires a comfortable and peaceful life – where he can work in peace, enjoy friends, and have a nice girl in his life.  On the surface, he appears to have all of these things – but what the film shows us is how he sees the world around him.  That despite his efforts to give everyone what they want, it’s not enough.  Paranoia kicks in as demands and threats pile down, with a feeling of being watched creeping in, and a seeming desire from everybody to see Dreikovsky fall or leave.  Which in time makes him angry, and even bitter.  In reality, many of the characters want what he wants, including peace and quiet.  And everything wrong with them, or seem to have against Dreikovsky, has all been blown out of proportion by Dreikovsky himself.  It is an example of how the scariest things in our lives fit into the fear of the unknown.  The unknown intentions.  The unknown standings.  The unknown opinions.  This is what drives everything in the narrative.

Speaking of the narrative: The Story was originally a novel by Roland Topor, an artistic renaissance man of Polish-Jewish descent who survived World War 2 when he hid in the region of Savoy with his family.  He wrote the book with themes on Alienation and Identity-crisis, which Polanski does explore throughout the film with a certain understanding, as Polanski himself came from a Polish Jewish family, as does his character Dreikovsky, and they all grew up and lived in France.  Today, the novel has become quite hard to find at a good price.  But the movie could be seen as here to remind us that it’s out there.  The story itself is very good, but in the film’s execution it can be compared to a lot of other things.  It has all of the qualities of an episode of the Twilight Zone or the Night Gallery, but instead of lasting 20-40 minutes it lasts 2 hours.  When the film is suspenseful, it’s very good.  But much of the film is slow, at times even boring.  Much of it is necessary.  But there’s a lot to sit through until it becomes really interesting.  The funeral scene would have sent a lot of chills upon release, and it was pretty intimidating when I saw it first time.

The Music is by Philippe Sarde, who developed a unique score that’s incredibly beautiful, continental-sounding, and absolutely unnerving for the most part.  To the point that hearing it makes up a better half of the horror.  There is a foreboding doom to it.  A sinister eye.  A fearful chill.  Then at times it will lighten up with some yiddish style wood harmony that humanises the monster.  Much like how Dreikovsky creates monsters out of human beings.  It’s most impressive, and 1 of the highlights of the film.

The Cinematography is excellent in general.  Most of the time, it’s simple – but then you get the stranger moments that really stand out.  It is also an opportunity to see a version of Paris that still gets talked about and doesn’t really exist anymore.  Perhaps it was dirty and cracked here and there, and now it’s clean.  Perhaps this was a neighbourhood or a field and now it’s a field or a neighbourhood.  Perhaps it was this shop then, but this shop now.  It has a time-capsule quality to it.  A vision of what once was.  A beautiful city full of human beings with a lot of similar desires.

Would I recommend The Tenant?  Yes, but maybe not to the same extent as Chinatown or The Pianist.  Within context, the second view could be a little game of pointing out what was real and what was fantasy beyond the most obvious fantastical scenes.  Compared to other films by Polanski that I’ve seen, this was a little disappointing.  Like I said, it has a lot of good qualities, but much of the film is slow and a bit boring, and the english dubbing doesn’t always walk, even if the acting’s pretty good.  Still worth a watch, but it is flawed in its attempts to stay interesting during quieter moments.

Acting: ****

Characters: ***3/4

Story: ****

Music: ****3/4

Cinematography: ****1/2

Overall: ****1/4

8 Crazy Nights (2002) Movie Review

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Christmas Movies.  There are hundreds of them.  Hanukkah movies?  I’d say less than 10, and most of them are more like TV episodes than full blown movies.  However, there are 2 movies that are definitely for the season;  An American Tail…and this.

Set in the modern day (2002) our animated feature stars Adam Sandler in 1 of 5 movies he was involved in that year, including the rare drama where he showed off his acting skills called Punch Drunk Love.  In this film, he plays Davey Stone, a 33 year old angry and depressed alcoholic and former basketball prodigy who hates the holiday season and has a habit of ruining it for everyone else.  On the first night of Hanukkah, Davey drank 5 Scorpion Bowls in 5 minutes, carried out a Dine and Dash, ended up on the run from the police, engaged in the ruining of walks and activities for civilians as he passed through, and destroyed both the Christmas Ice Sculpture and the Hanukkah Ice Sculpture…both at the same time.  All while singing a song about how much he hates the holidays.  While in court, the Judge then gives us part of Davey’s backstory about how he was an awesome 13 year old, before coming close to giving Davey a sentence.  From the spectators in the court emerged Whitey, a tiny 70 year old man who looks 111 and goes way back with Davey.  The judge agrees to let Whitey train Davey to be a referee for the youth basketball league, and if Davey misbehaved, he’ll go to jail for 10 years.  Obviously some shenanigans ensue.

Now to go into details

The Animation in this film is really good, and I mean really, really good.  It flows really well, it accents, and while it presents itself as closer to reality, it takes a great number of good quality liberties that Davey (and Whitey) would not have been able to accomplish in real life…let alone find somebody like Whitey and his sister in real life who could act.  It’s so good in fact, that much like the 2016 movie Sausage Party, it looks the part of a Disney animated feature before letting us know that this isn’t for kids at all.

The Art Style’s very good too, very colourful and reminding me of animated cartoons that looked like they were made by Disney, but weren’t (Don Bluth comes to mind).  It’s visually pleasing, even in its weirdly ugly moments.

The Music is mostly that of an unorthodox musical, which includes Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” (3rd edition) in the credits and a lot of exposition songs that are worthy of being sung again, believe it or not.  I’m not into musicals outside of some Disney movies and the Blues Brothers, but to a degree, I did enjoy the songs here.

The Characters are good, not too well developed, but also enough to not call it “plot over character”.  Adam Sandler’s Davey Stone character is basically the equivalent of Scrooge, if Scrooge was young, broke, alcoholic and Jewish (depending on your interpretation of the Christmas Carol or Charles Dickens’ personal character).  The most striking dynamic is both the relationship and contrast between Davey and Whitey.  Davey had everything going for him, until ” the incident” that changed his life.  His ideal existence and path went down the toilet, leaving him bitter, angry and depressed about what could have been.  Meanwhile, Whitey is cut from a different cloth altogether.  From the start, Whitey was disadvantaged due to his foot condition, his height, his unusual hairiness, his susceptibility to fits when confronted with too many disagreements, his lack of education and opportunities, and being rejected by every woman he tried to have a relationship with.  Despite this, he’s a competent basketball referee, an excellent ice skater and is well liked by those who actually know him, including the deer in the woods.  In his hardships, Whitey learned how to be focused, happy and grateful for the simple things, while having a goal in mind – something that Davey, who is still very young by comparison, still hasn’t figured out or embraced.  Within this context, the movie is capable of taking on a new layer of expression that goes beyond the toilet humour that sticks in the minds of those who watched this for the first time.

The Voice Acting consists mostly of Adam Sandler playing both Davey and Whitey (for better or worse).  We’re also given the Adam Sandler movie staple of Rob Schneider getting work.  Here Schneider voices 2 roles; the narrator (which is pretty decent) and Mr Chang, the waiter of the Chinese Restaurant who is as stereotypical as it gets.  Jon Lovitz also appears, and ends up telling the 2 best jokes in the movie.  In general, it’s all well done, and even the singing parts are well done.

The Story and Themes of the film are a mixed bag, as in the common emphasis is crap, but the deeper aspects are…actually not too bad.  On 1 side, you have a big pile of gross out humour, a rude and bitter main character, and an annoying support character.  The amount of product placement in this film is the equivalent of the creators walking into every shop in a mall and asking them for sponsorship (and since it’s Adam Sandler in 2002, they probably thought “Hey it’s Adam Sandler!  Kids like him, so they might come to us if we appear in his flick).  Was the film actually funny?  It depends on the person.  Around the time this film came out, not only was Adam Sandler quite popular, but so was MTV’s Jackass, and this film has a lot of Jackass style humour.  However, this doesn’t mean the film’s all about that.  In terms of its presentation of bereavement, depression, alcoholism and nostalgia; it’s pretty watchable if you’re not looking for a laugh.  Not too watchable though – the toilet humour and sex jokes will place themselves front and centre with this film almost every time.

Would I recommend 8 Crazy Nights?  It depends.  It’s only 76 minutes long (same length as The Nightmare Before Christmas), which is a plus if you hate the humour that’s littered throughout.  But in its own, weird way – there’s a timelessness to it.  All of the film’s product placement was done in a very tongue and cheek manner to get it out of the way, and when you look past the gross-out humour, you’ll actually find quite an old-school looking fable.  Davey Stone is about as developed as Scrooge, and the depression and bitterness he presents on screen is actually pretty accurate of someone who experiences the same symptoms in real life.  It’s a horrifying, saddening presentation that’s all too true for some people around the holiday season.  If anything, the film says “If you meet a Davey during the holiday season, be a Whitey”…How you choose to interpret the word Whitey is up to you.

Animation: ****3/4

Art Style: ****1/2

Music: ****

Voice Acting: ****

Characters: ***

Story: *1/2

Themes: ***

Overall: ***1/2

Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Movie Review

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Christmas in Japan – what do I know about it?  Well, considering Christianity makes up 2.3% of religious beliefs in the county (that’s still 2.9 million people, roughly the entire population of Jamaica…quite insane, I know) it usually is celebrated as a secular and commercial holiday that’s good for business.  I’m aware that it’s quite traditional for Kids who (sort of) experience it like every other country that allows it.  While for adults and teens, it depends on the individual.  Some go on dates, others are with family and friends, and others are alone or too busy with work and it’s a normal day.  There’s also the known fact that KFC’s business booms around that time of year, to the point that meals have to be ordered a year in advance…and then there’s the strawberry cream cake, which is also, seemingly, a Japan-only Christmas tradition long before Chicken was considered.  However, despite the range of celebrations of the holiday around this time of year – the artistic expression of the season isn’t as evident beyond the Christmas Decorations.  SEGA’s Ryū ga Gotoku (Yakuza) games usually happen in December, so the decorations are up and the music is playing throughout each tale.  Some anime shows would have 1 Christmas episode, usually about the 2 love interests in a Slice-Of-Life anime, and altogether there are only 3 Japanese Christmas Movies that Wikipedia is aware of:  The live action (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie and featuring Ryuchi Sakamoto’s famous piano piece of the same name), the stop motion animation from 1979 called Nutcracker Fantasy, and of course, the 1 in focus for today; The anime.

Directed by the late great Satoshi Kon (7 years later, the void remains), Tokyo Godfathers is a Christmas movie about 3 homeless people; Gin, a middle aged gambling addict and alcoholic who says he was a bicycle racer.  Hana, a former drag queen who became homeless after the death of a boyfriend.  And finally, Miyuki, a fouled-mouthed 14 year old high school student who ran away from home after a violent argument with her father.  After receiving food from a Christian Outreach via outdoor soup kitchen with Christmas Carols and Sermon, the 3 end up finding a baby in a trash pile, which in turn leads us on an adventure as the 3 unlikely heroes go in search of the baby’s parents.

Now to go into some details:

The Animation, much like Satoshi Kon’s other work, is absolutely top notch.  It’s grounded in reality, and yet it throws in a number of facial expressions and visual quirks that can only be found in animation.  The expressions are realistic with a subtle cartoon hint that isn’t really over the top.

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Actors are awesome, but sometimes you need to turn volumes up to 11 in the facial department for the biggest laugh.

Unlike Satoshi Kon’s other work, which are extremely colourful and like to blend reality and fantasy – Tokyo Godfather’s art style chooses to be grounded in reality, with any blending being created by hunger induced hallucinations.  The backgrounds look like they were rotoscoped from photographs (Some might ask why not just use the photos on their own to save time, well, animated characters need to be in a world that looks like somewhere they belong, and sometimes you’re not going to get completely empty shops and streets).  The the brightest scenes in the movie take place either indoors or where street lights or business signs are in galore.  In the process there is balance and change in scenery.

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Yes, in the name of submerging animated characters their world, you sometimes have to recreate photos as illustrations.

The Music is like the film’s story – Happy, Sad, Funny and Chaotic.  It doesn’t stand out like the rest of the movie, or even from other Kon movies like Perfect Blue and Paprika where music is tied into the stories.  But it’s eclectic and suits the scenes really well, including, obviously, at least 1 Christmas song.

The Voice Acting is excellent with both the weight and the emotion transcending the language barrier (This is the Japanese audio).  Japanese audiences could say otherwise, but to my ear, it worked really well.

The Characters, especially our 3 heroes, are very colourful and at times can come across as more human than most live action shows.  With the exception of the thugs that beat up Gin halfway into the movie, no character comes across as bad…just sad, broken and lonely – a reflection on how some people are around that time of year.  Throughout the movie, these 3 meet all sorts of folk, ranging from troubled couples to Yakuza to immigrants to other people who remind them either of their past or point them towards their possible future if they continue down such a path.  Together they make up a sort of distorted nuclear family with Gin as the drunk good-for-nothing dad, Hana as the protective mother, Mizuki as the oldest child who fights with Dad, and obviously the baby Kiyoko (whose name means pure child, a reference to being found on Christmas Eve)as the newest arrival.  As the story progresses, even for just 92 minutes, you get to know who they really are and even feel for them deeply as they confront their pasts.

The Story and its themes are by far Satoshi Kon’s most straightforward while having all of the twists and turns of an unpredictable but oddly logical story.  It places great emphasis on coincidences and timing.  It shows that even the smallest detail can tie complete strangers to each other for better or worse.  It also has “miracles” woven into the plot, as particular timing seems to not only rescue the 3 homeless grumps (and a baby), but also have them confront their pasts – pasts that made them homeless to begin with, whether through misunderstandings or stupid mistakes and selfishness.  The theme of family plays throughout the film as well.  This thrown together family is highly dysfunctional, and could part ways if they wanted to…and yet they look out for each other.  It challenges not only traditional families, but also the pseudo family.

Would I recommend Tokyo Godfathers?  Absolutely!  It’s not a Christmas movie that gets brought up much, but it’s incredibly funny and entertaining, even if anime is not your cup of tea.  It’s humour (and language) is not for kids, but it has a ton of heart and is probably 1 of the best seemingly-out-of-place Christmas movies out there.

Animation: ****3/4

Art Style: ****3/4

Music: ****

Voice Acting: ****3/4

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Themes: *****

Overall: ****3/4

Amelie (2001) Movie Review

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20 years ago today, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris that led to much mourning and sadness throughout the world.  On that same day in the same city in a small apartment, a 23 year old waitress, who was born to eccentric parents, drops a plastic perfume stopper out of shock of Diana’s death in the news.  Upon catching her thoughts again, she noticed the perfume lid had actually moved a tile in her bathroom a little bit out of place.  She pulls back the tile to find a small tin box…and inside it is a little tin box containing the toys and memories of a young boy who lived in the same apartment many years before.  Upon this discovery, the waitress decided she would make it her mission to find the boy, and return his treasure to him.  And thus, our quiet, unassuming young woman goes from Amelie Poulain the Waitress of the 2 Windmills to Amelie Poulain the scheming do-gooder who also happens to work as a waitress.

Much like how Perfect Blue got me interested in Anime and Ringu got me interested in Japanese cinema – Amelie got me interested in French Cinema, and I’m all the more thankful for it.  But 16 years after its initial release, does it still hold up today?

Lets break it down, since I’ve already set up the story (before talking about whether it’s good or not).

Set in Paris, the visuals and art style are quite magnificent.  If you love the romanticised version of Paris, you’ll definitely get it here – and the fact that it uses a lot of real locations turns it into 1 more reason to visit Paris to find them – including the cafe known as The 2 Windmills being a real place.  It does have some CGI (such as Blubber the fish and Amelie’s imaginary friends), and while it can be seen as a little dated today, it doesn’t take anything away from the film itself – it was subtle enough.

The Acting in Amelie is less about being realistic and more focused on the fact that nearly everybody in this film is highly eccentric.  Audrey Tautou puts on an awesome performance as the quiet, shy, sly, introverted and surprisingly innocent Amelie.  1 reason she was cast was because of her Bambi-like eyes, but she brought so much more than that to the character, and has been absolutely adorable all the way.  In a film as strange as this, nobody stood out as bad in any way.

Nearly every character in Amelie is a Maverick of some sort, with the general quirkiness being the 1 thing that brings them together.  Despite assuming that Amelie is ‘different’, if you look more into it, you begin to realise that everybody in the film is a loner.  Her father’s a widower, her landlady’s a widow, her boss is a former circus performer who left due to injury, her co-workers are either chased by jealous ex-boyfriends or not seen as a catch, her customers are (sometimes) failures,  the shop keeper’s assistant is an art student who’s oppressed by his brash, bratty middle aged boss, and her neighbour hasn’t left his home in 20 years due to an illness.  We can also mention the love interest, who is just as alone as Amelie is.  When I first saw this movie, I saw the style, the quirk and the dark amusement first, as I was a teenager at the time.  But then I watched it again during a depression, and saw a very different film, and 1 I can say helped me at the time.  Today I saw a different film again, and it was today that I realised how alone all of the characters in the film are, not just Amelie.

The Story (which features 1 of the greatest prologues in the history of cinema) is mostly “the quest” done several times mixed with an unorthodox Romantic comedy and the coming-of-age story.  Amelie’s “other half” does exist, and much like herself, he is an eccentric loner with unusual hobbies (some people collect stamps, but he collects photo booth photos that were ripped up).  The writing is very french.  It’s cheeky, sarcastic, poetic, and full of derogatory descriptions.  What is Amelie’s goal?  It’s to make people happy without anybody knowing that she’s the 1 who set the wheels in motion and brought them to their destination.  However the real challenge is when it comes to her experiencing love and happiness for herself (She’s a shy 1, remember?).  Much like the romantic comedy, you’re pining for her to get with the guy who collects the photo booth pictures, and it’s quite a unique journey in that area.  At the same time, I’m reminded of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland a little bit.  That perhaps what is in this film is what Amelie herself sees.  There’s a lot of tragedy and sadness…and yet there’s an underlying optimism to the whole thing.  Like rose-tinted glasses.

The music was done by french musician Yann Tiersen, who only scored 2 other films after this 1.  What really surprised me is the fact that he brushes off any notion of being a film composer, saying that he’s a Studio and Touring Musician, and that his work just so happened to work with films.  In particular, this 1.  It’s actually amazing when you think about it, because the music is…perfect.  Perfect for this film, and it’s hard to imagine anything else playing.  It’s truly delightful and memorable.

The Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel incorporates a lot of wide angle shots, as well as photo filters that are practically a trademark to the film’s director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  The filters are warm, giving any highlights a very creamy, yellowy appearance, while at the same time bringing out the other 2 main colours; red and green.  There is very little blue, and even the sky is practically green.  But does it work?  Absolutely!  The dream-like appearance the filters have created (along with being beautifully shot) just make the whole thing a real gem to look at.

Would I recommend Amelie?  Yes, yes, and yes.  I think you can tell from looking at the score that I absolutely adore this film (It’s in my personal top 3), and would recommend it to anybody who is of age (it’s definitely not for Children, just so you know).  It takes what could be seen as a very sad little world within itself and make it seem happy, quirky and interesting.  Possibly suggesting to us that it’s possible to find both humour and the extraordinary within what is very ordinary.  That it’s all in our heads.  If this is the world in Amelie’s head, then surely we can see the world in a similar fashion? … You figure it out, and let me know what you think.

Visuals/Art Style: *****

Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Cinematography: *****

Overall: *****


Syberia 3 (2017) Video Game Review

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After 13 years of waiting, this game was finally released and much like Kingdom Hearts fans waiting for number 3, fans rejoiced.  Compared to the original 2, Syberia 3 was eager to give back to fans by not only being available on PC, X-box One, Nintendo Switch, and PS4, but by also selling premium editions which included artwork, an art book, the game’s soundtrack, a 23 page comic book (which is also sold on comixology), a poster and a small figurine of the main character, Kate Walker.  At £100 for the console versions  and £40 for the PC version (which excluded the figurine and had everything else in a digital form) on release date, I chose to get the PC/Mac version, simply because I didn’t have the money.  Anyway.  Lets read about it.

Our story begins sometime after the events of Syberia 2.  Hans Voralberg, the last heir of the Voralberg automaton factory, has finally accomplished his goal by finding Syberia with Kate Walker, and then riding on the back of a large, wooly mammoth into the arctic sunset.  Such an ending then brought up the question – What happened to Kate Walker?  Well, in Syberia 3 we see this;  Kate ends up travelling (by foot) through the vast snowscape, until she collapses .  She is then found by a tribe of Youkols, natives to Syberia who haven’t changed with the times of the world around them.  The Youkols are on a pilgrimage, a long path to a land where their Snow Ostriches can partake in their mating season (or go extinct).  Kate wakes up in a hospital, where she is sharing the  room with Kurk, the young guide of the Youkols, who lost his leg and needs a prosthetic.  After finding out that there are people who are not only trying to stop the Youkol Migration, but also aiding the New York Detective, Nic Cantin, who was sent by Kate’s ex-law firm employers to find her and place her under arrest for various charges – Kate makes it her goal to not only avoid capture, but also to help the Youkols (and their ostriches) finish their pilgrimage.

Now to discuss components:

First of all, this game really nailed the artwork!  Benoit Sokal, a comic artist himself, worked as both author and art director, and contributed in the concept art.  The art itself was mostly done by Amanda Goengrich and Sebastien Bousquet.  I love how everything is presented with tons of quirks, much atmosphere, evident steampunk mixed with 20th century Russian stylisations and a very european charm that’s either found in european cinema or Wes Anderson movies.  The art book was a lovely addition to this also.

The graphics are…almost understandable, since this game was in development hell for so long and visuals in video games have grown so much since then – It’s safe to say the graphics are a mixed bag.  When I first bought the game, I was presented with the option of “beautiful but with fewer frames per second” or less detailed and faster.  I close detailed and slower – and I did rather enjoy the graphics around this time, despite the cinematic lag in framework.  However, about 3/4 of the way in, a patch was created on the PC/Mac version, and when I played the game afterwards, I could no longer choose my presentation.  In the end, the game did play a lot faster, but the textures were evidently worse.

The gameplay animation for this game, much like its previous chapters, is terrible.  It’s made even worse when you consider it’s 2017 when you look at it.  I can compare it to the animations in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes PC game series, which were as stiff as the Tin Man in the middle of a good oiling – but I guess it has become a running trend – that while Sokal gets amazing artists, his renders, animators and possibly his choice in software, leave a lot to be desired.

The cutscene animation is better than the gameplay animation by a long shot – but when compared to its contemporaries, it’s pretty ordinary at best.

The gameplay has an inconsistent quality with a number of curveballs thrown in.  Several puzzles were very easy, others had me wandering around lost for 20 minutes.  But many-a-times you need to think outside the box.  Such as 1 particular puzzle that seemed to require a code, when in actuality, I just needed to smash it with something.  Little things like that which can go over your head.

The voice acting seems to vary in quality, depending on the character.  I played it in english, but when I watched the cutscenes again in French it sounded (and looked) so much better!  Much, much more endearing.  Makes me feel like I’m watching a Jean Pierre Jeunet film in places.  But since my ear to the quality of french voice acting is limited, I can only talk about the english version.  The voice for Kate Walker (Sharon Mann) is by far the best, while many other voices don’t seem to match the characters, especially Mr Steiner the Clockmaker (who sounds like a bank clerk than a grizzled artist) and Olga the evil doctor (who sounds 30 years younger than she looks).  They sound so much more in character in the french voiceover.

The characters are what you would expect from the series.  With the exception of Kate herself, many are there for a short time.  Full of character?  Yes.  But their time in-game doesn’t always last, as the story likes to progress rather quickly (depending on how good you are at this sort of game).  During their short stints, you basically know who they are in their appearance, the environment and their dialogue by the end of it.  Which, to be honest, can take great skill.  Enjoyable, and 1 of the better aspects of the game.

The Story’s actually very good when you’ve been following the rest of the series and manages to maintain a consistency.  It’s like the series has been able to continue without much time gone past.  It’s colourful, funny, and full of twists and turns to the point of finding its 1 problem after another as an amusing wink to the audience.

The music by Inon Zur is 1 of the best parts of the game.  A mixture of Tribal music, chanting, wooden instruments, brass and some strings, it manages to provide an oddly magical sound to the game that would have otherwise suffered without it.  You feel the adventure, the mystery, the danger (in a quirky, theatrical way), the struggle, the sadness, the longing, and the hope, which are just some things I love about it.    Even when the game’s over, I’ll be sticking this on for some ambience or pondering.  Really, really great stuff!

Would I recommend Syberia 3?  Maybe.  It depends.  As a whole, and within context of the times in which it came out, it’s safe to say that Syberia 3 is not as good as its previous chapters.  It struggles to make any impact on the modern market, the attempts to give back to fans have possibly been thrown back at them (with their broken statues in £100 premium editions) and at times it feels like the world has very much moved on without it.  It’s the little fishing boat chasing the large cruise liner containing the Triple-A developers.  As someone who creates things without “going through the system” – I actually feel for this game and its developers.  It’s created by people who tried, and wanted it to succeed.  They had hopes of it doing well and putting the franchise back on the map, and it ended up being disappointing, even when I was willing to accept all of the things that they would have been ashamed of themselves (which was usually in the animation department more than anything else).  Fair play to them, they managed to get the game out there after 13 years with some wonderful qualities to it.  But the whole thing feels bittersweet.  If they release Syberia 4, I’ll be ready for it.  Whether it’s an actual game or a Comic-book-continuation that’s similar to how Buffy, Angel and Firefly are still going in comic form, even when the show has finished or been cancelled.  Either way, as someone who enjoys Sokal’s work, may this story keep going somehow.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **3/4

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ***1/2

Gameplay: **3/4

Voice Acting: **1/2 (**** in French)

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****

Music: *****

Overall: ***1/2

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) Video Game Review

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Right, we’re now on the last game of the Nathan Drake series known as Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End.  What is entailed when it’s called a thief’s end?  So much is left up for interpretation.  But that’s for you to witness.  So here we go.

Our story starts with Nathan Drake on a boat in the middle of the ocean with another man by the name of Sam.  The sea is incredibly rough due to a huge storm, and they are being chased by a huge militia.  Their boat is basically destroyed.  Several flashbacks happen to provide us with some more backstory to Nathan, including his time at the Catholic Orphanage and his time in prison in the late 90s.  We then see where Nate is, several years after the events of Uncharted 3 – He’s now retired from adventure and living an honest life working as a diver for a Marine Salvaging company.  He’s back with Elena, and their life is nice…but a bit boring for them.  However a job offered to Nathan in Malaysia seems to provide him with some excitement…His life then changes when Sam – his older brother, whom he thought dead, has returned with a request. He broke out of jail with the help of a ruthless man, who wants a huge payout from Sam in exchange for his life, through treasure.  The treasure?  Henry Avery’s $400 million fortune from the 1695 gun heist – a huge stash that has allured the brother since they were teenagers.  Reluctant at first, then giving into temptation – Nathan lies to Elena, saying he is taking the job in Malaysia – and with the help of Sully, they head to Italy to retrieve their first clue – the St Dismas Cross (a wooden idol of the thief to whom Jesus Christ said “On this day you’ll be with me in paradise”).

Now to venture into the details:

The graphics…The graphics are absolutely amazing, as it not only surpassed what The Last Of Us had accomplished, but it managed to be easily 1 of the best looking games on the PS4.  Much like the original trilogy was on the PS3 (before it was remastered on the PS4), it flows at the cinematic frame rate of 30 frames per second (The trilogy flows at 60FPS on the PS4) which provides a nice touch…and when you consider the size and detail of the game…maybe it’s for the best at this time, unless the Playstation 5 offered a 60 frames version.

The art style is absolutely inspired!  So much variety in the scenery, so much to look at.  A truly organic looking game.  I really went all out with the game’s Photo Mode.  Adoring everything that was presented to me, and almost wishing it was real.

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This view…

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This inside joke…

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This mood…

The gameplay…if you didn’t think they could have upped the gameplay from Uncharted 2, you’re in for a surprise.  Along with Nate’s melee attacks being improved yet again, We’re also given new ways of attacking and getting around.  You now have the option of driving, whether it be by boat or by jeep (rather than just being the gunman all the time), the ability to take out hordes of soldiers using only stealth (much like Metal Gear games), and of course…the grappling hook.  Which adds more to the puzzle aspects of the exploration.  I had an incredible amount of fun with this, and didn’t feel any boredom from it.

The music for the first time in the series’ history is not done by Greg Edmundson, but rather Henry Jackman, whose CV includes Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Big Hero 6 and both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  To be very clear, this doesn’t stop the game from having a highly memorable score in its own right.  By not having its original theme song, it instantly suggests a change in direction or simply something new…and that something new is from being played on the next generation system.

Uncharted 4 has a bittersweetness to it when you consider that Amy Hennig, the Director and 1 of the 3 writers of the original trilogy, wasn’t involved in this game.  However, despite her absence, the story is excellent.  Really excellent in fact.  If you’ve journeyed with these characters before, then you’ll notice that this is the series’ storytelling at its most advance and well polished.  While The Golden Abyss was full of one-upmanship in dialogue – Uncharted 4 managed to make this game absolutely hilarious.  The banter between all of them, not just Nate, Sully and Sam, is fantastic.  It remembers the importance of fun, but at the same time it manages to avoid some cliches.  This game is also where you see Nate and Elena’s relationship at its most mature, as it is here we see Elena’s greatest acceptance of who Nate is and what he does, as well as Nate’s feeling that he really has something to lose.  The main villains, Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, would in their own right be pretty scary.  Rafe is a smirking, selfish, millionaire psychopath who reminds me of pro wrestler Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, while Nadine, a paramilitary leader, is more or less a South African Melina May – You don’t get into a fist fight with her.

Would I recommend Uncharted 4?  Yes – if you’re a human being.  Uncharted 4 took what made every instalment before it great, and created what is likely the best possible outcome.  It’s refined, yet with more to see and do.  It’s possibly 1 of the funniest games I’ve ever played.  So full of life and intrigue.  If this is the last time we ever play as Nathan Drake, I don’t mind, because it might never be topped.  An absolute pleasure of a video game.

Graphics: *****

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: *****

Overall: *****