Tag Archives: 2009

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

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Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009) Movie Review

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Before we begin, if you haven’t seen Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, you might want to see those first before reading this.  Even though this is a prequel, I’ll explain why.  So, there will be some spoilers here and there.  You’ve been warned.

Here we are; after Underworld: Evolution ended on what I would call “The Terminator 2 ending”, in other words it was solid enough that the series could have ended there, a prequel to the series was created.  So what’s the story?  Well, first of all, there is no Selene.  So there is no appearance from Kate Beckinsale outside of a voiceover and some archive footage.  Instead, our protagonist is Lucian (Michael Sheen), the first and the leader of the Lycans (Half-Werewolf/Half-Human, within the series’ theme on evolution, Lucian was the next step up from William Corvinus’ Werewolf archetype by being son of a Werewolf and a human).  Lucian, along with other Lycans, are the slaves and guardians of the Vampire Clan, who are ruled with an iron fist by the elder vampire, Viktor (Bill Nighy).  By day they guard the Vampires while they sleep, and at night they get on with keeping the place tidy and (In Lucian’s case) Blacksmithing their werewolf-killing weapons.  Many of the Vampires treat the Lycans like dogs (no pun intended), with the small exception of Sonja, Viktor’s daughter, who has fallen for Lucian in a (once again) Shakepearian fashion.

Now to discuss some features

The Acting, once again, is either average or above average, and it’s evident that Michael Sheen is a very good actor who shows off a good range.  At the same time, some continuity has been lost, due to the actress who plays Viktor’s daughter Sonja.  In Underworld 1, Sonja is blonde and played by hungarian model Jazmin Dammak – Here she’s brunette and played by english model Rhona Mitra, who is best known for being the live-action model of Lara Croft from the video game Tomb Raider.  If it’s because Dammak couldn’t act, I could understand.  But at the same time, Rhona does have a (slight) resemblance to Kate Beckinsale, which plays into an important piece of reference from Underworld 1.  All-in-all, it’s all okay.

The Characters are good – we see how some characters develop, as well as the difficult decisions they feel they have to make.  The lack of Kate Beckinsale could be seen as a small turnoff, but it does quite well without her.  It was nice seeing more of Lucian after the impact he had on Underworld 1, and it’s interesting seeing more of Viktor, who shows a lot more of his ruthlessness and antagonising decisions coming to play.  What is demonstrated is a fear of change among those capable of living long.

The story…My issue with the story is its predictability.  If you’ve watched Underworld 1, you know what happens to Lucian and Sonja, making this story a combination between a remake of a scene, a play out of Underworld’s exposition, and a few new details, such as how Lucian meets Raze, his second-in-command.  It’s within a particular time period, after the Head Vampires started using the “1 rules, the other 2 sleep” approach, focusing on how the Vampire/Lycan war began, and not in other areas of the Story arch’s history.

The Music features a returning Paul Haslinger and creates an atmospheric score that does add to the movie, but not as much as it did in Underworld 1, unfortunately.  Nothing from it had me looking for “this tune” or “that tune” this time.

The cinematography is designed in such a way that the film could be presented in Black and White, and after giving it a go, you know what?  It’s the best thing about the whole film.  Really good lighting went into it.

The Special effects are good, especially with the use of lighting throughout the film to cover up the flaws.  The same goes for the CGI.  Both are very good, even with the new generation of graphics that spawned that year (James Cameron’s Avatar).

Woud I recommend Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans?  For curiosity’s sake, it’s not a bad film.  But its main problem stems from the fact that if you have seen Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, then you already know the story before watching it.  The most relevant part of the film was already shown in Underworld, and the exposition was already provided as a means to take the series forward, rather than have us go back.  It’s not a necessary viewing, but it’s not bad viewing either.  Much like Batman: Arkham Origins in the Arkham franchise.

The Acting: ***1/2

The Characters: ***1/2

The story: ***1/4

Music: ***

The cinematography: ****

Special effects: ***3/4

CGI: ***3/4

Overall: ***1/2

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009/2015) Video Game Review

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2 years after the beautiful-looking, beautiful-sounding, fun-full playing, but slightly shallow-in-story introduction known as Drake’s Fortune came Among Thieves, a follow-up in story, and an opportunity to give us more of our favourite characters.  So…Among Thieves

Our story begi- best opening to a video game ever!!…or at least 1 of them.  It literally starts off with a bang, to the point that I’m not even going to mention it.  Play it and see what I mean.  So anyway, our story revolves around our hero, Nathan Drake, being given a new project to work on from old associate, Harry Flynn (Wise-cracking Australian thief), and his driver/girlfriend Chloe Frazier (Basically a naughty raven-haired Lara Croft with Lauren Bacall speaking in an Australian accent and goods that are very hot to handle).  What is the Project?  To steal a Mongolian Oil Lamp (which was once in possession of Marco Polo) from a Turkish museum, which contains information on the whereabouts of Shambhala, the legendary city mentioned in Tibetian Buddhist and Hindu texts.  After retrieving the lamp and finding the secret, in an obvious fashion, Nathan experiences a swerve, not by both of his partners, just Flynn.  After spending months in a turkish prison, Sully makes his return to the game to bail him out, and along with Chloe, go on an adventure to Borneo, to look for Marco Polo’s fleet and therefore get back on the road to finding Shambhala before Flynn does with his boss, the terrifying (and presumed dead) Serbian War Criminal known as Zoran Lazarević.

The Graphics, even today, look beautiful.  The scenes that feature the Tibet landscapes are legendary, and the chapters in the game where Drake was on a train…You would almost forget about fighting because you begin to realise “They have actually animated a train journey into a game’s level, and it’s unlike any approach that’s ever been done before!”  In the past,train levels would have been presented at certain angles with some movement in the background to save space on the disc, usually from a side-scrolling point of view…but this…this game took that to a whole new dimension!  The most detailed aspects of Final Fantasy VIII’s train scene was a cut scene, but this was in the actual gameplay!  That’s how amazing this was.

The Art Design direction took what Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune did well, and blew it out of the water…then it expanded further than that again, by providing scenarios that go beyond the Jungle, including cities, rural villages and the mountains in Tibet.

The Voice Acting sees the protagonists return to full form from where they left off, as well as feature a lot of new voices that perfectly match their respective character designs.

The Characters are awesome.  The protagonists are even better now than they were  in Drake’s Fortune, as they’ve developed a lot since then and the voice actors bounce dialogue off each other like they were some cinematic superhero clique.  The addition of Chloe Frazier to the protagonists added a little extra flavour to the dialogue, and the villains…compared to the villains in Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves is so much better!  Unlike Gabriel Roman, Atoq Navarro and Eddy Raja, who are simply doing it for the money and without a care for the consequences of El Dorado’s power – Zoran Lazarević’s heroes include Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot…so you know what this guy’s like already (Plus, you wouldn’t want to meet him in real life in any situation.  Even watching him play tea party with a daughter would be unnerving).  Also, Harry Flynn’s a funny guy – you might hate him, but at least he’s actually charismatic in a snaky way.

The Story…oh the story.  If you thought the opening to Drake’s Fortune was good, then wait until you see the opening of Among Thieves.  Then wait until you see the journey you’re taken on.  By the time you’re finished, you’ll have done so much and seen so much, that a 2nd play through feels oddly fresh, as it becomes like returning to a faraway place for a holiday.

The Music is once again done by Firefly composer Greg Edmondson.  Five stars.  Next.

The Gameplay of Uncharted 2 not only does everything that made its prequel great, but they’ve also added even more depth to it (Think Arkham City to Arkham Asylum).  At times, I experienced a small jump glitch, but they were very rare and not an inconvience.  At the same time, even on easier difficulties, the Enemy AI is oddly quite intelligent, which adds a lot to the game. Also, there is no lives feature, so feel free, much like in Drake’s Fortune, to try and try again until you get it right.

The camera work is perfect, and the cinematic choices used in the cutscenes were perfect.

Would I recommend Uncharted 2: Among Thieves?  YES!  Absolutely!  Even though it’s a sequel, the story is strong enough and written in such a way that it is capable of being a standalone game.  The story is a vast improvement over Drake’s Fortune, the villains (a problem in Drake’s Fortune) are ten times better and more interesting, the locations are not only of a greater variety, but their presentation is just awe-inspiring, the gameplay is a step-up in quality yet again, the music and atmosphere are perfect, the voice acting is perfect and the camera work is also perfect.  They didn’t call this the tied 3rd best game on the Playstation 3 (along with Batman: Arkham City and below GTA 4 and 5) for nothing, and even today, it deserves its place as a masterpiece in media, let alone video games.

Graphics: ****1/2 (***** in 2009)

Art Design: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: ****3/4

Camera: *****

Overall: *****

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) Video Game Review

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“The Summer Of Batman” continues with this review, which involves spending the summer (and possibly the autumn) watching, playing and reading all things Batman.  To begin the project, I read a Batman comic called The Black Mirror, watched Batman Begins, and played this game.

So…Arkham Asylum, what’s the story?  One night, in the middle of February, in Bruce Wayne’s 7th year as the caped crusader, Batman captures and personally brings the Joker to Gotham’s most famous and haunting mental hospital, Arkham Asylum, a place for the criminally insane.  Shortly after arriving, and going with Arkham protocol (despite Batman saying he should be with them at all times), The Joker escapes, and almost instantly takes over the whole Asylum with a little help from his friends and a large number of prisoners who were mysteriously transferred to Arkham from Gotham’s state prison, Blackgate, shortly before this happens.  The game then focuses on Batman stopping The Joker and placing him, once again, under arrest.  And that’s it!  That’s the story.  It can be summed up into a sentence or short paragraph.  But what makes this game so special…is the decoration of this story.  Written by Paul Dini (Who wrote a lot of Batman stories before this, and created Joker’s sidekick, Harley Quinn), we’re presented with a simple, but purposeful story written by somebody who really knows these characters well.

To within a certain degree on continuity and familiarity, Rockready (the developers) approached Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (possibly best known as Luke Skywalker).  Why were these 2 approached?  Because back in the ’90s, they were the voices of Batman and Joker in a really good saturday morning cartoon known as Batman:The Animated Series (Which Paul Dini worked on).  They were an awesome choice to say the least, and I consider Hamill’s Joker to be roughly as good as Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson, which says a lot about his performance.

Graphics-wise, at the time, this was by far the best looking Batman game.  But in general, it wasn’t the best looking video game, even for 2009.  When compared to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which came out that same year, they look great, and yet not world-class.  But the style, artwork and other visual design more than make up for this.  It’s still a beautiful looking game that oozes with personality.

Gameplay-wise, especially at the time, Rocksteady chose to be insane.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to create a Batman game with various gaming genres mixed together?  Well, in this game you find that out rather quickly.  You’re provided with exploration, main mission and side mission aspects that appear to be borrowed from the likes of Assassins Creed and Uncharted.  The fighting controls are that of a 3-D beat-em up without a time limit or not having health afterwards.  Every time you fight or break or collect something, you’re rewarded, either with concept art, 3-D trophies, or, of course, a level-up, which is used to either give Batman more health, upgrade a skill or gadget or his fighting style, or acquire a new gadget.

Music-wise, Nick Ardunel and Ron Fish captured the scenario perfectly.  It’s dark, brooding, dangerous (think Jaws-dangerous), and in general, it “sounds like Batman”.  The main theme gets you in the mood for the rest of the game, and even gets you excited when you replay it.

Is there any downsides to Arkham Asylum?  Yes, and I’ll mention the main 1: The Boss Battles.  The selection of bosses for this game are great, and within context, the battles were quite excellent in their variation and design…but flawed too.  How flawed you say?  2 reasons…1. There are too many boss battles that are alike; consisting primarily of giant henchmen who have been injected with the glowing green steroid known as TITAN.  Several henchmen have taken it.  Bane took it, and others took it as well.  These giant bosses all more or less require the same strategy, of waiting for them to charge and then using a Batarang, and obviously keeping out of their way when they’re focused.  The 2nd problem is…Most of them are too easy, with some that wouldn’t really qualify as boss battles, such as Victor Zsasz and Harley Quinn.  The 3-part boss battle with Scarecrow however, was fantastic!  No matter the difficulty of that level, it was brilliantly designed and presented.  Definitely a stand-out in the series overall.  Killer Croc’s boss battle also proved to be quite well made, and even scary.  They promoted the fight along the way in a movie fashion, with Croc talking trash to Batman when they cross paths before the fight.  I also like how they present Croc as being a character who would be impossible to defeat in hand-to-hand combat, and in a sewer.  Poison Ivy was also 1 of the better fights.  Is there a worst 1?  Just the TITAN fights mostly.

Would I recommend Batman: Arkahm Asylum?  Definitely!  At the time when it came out, it was by far the best looking, most fun, easily playable, and most innovative Batman game that had ever been made.  And today it still holds up incredibly well, even with the PS4 now out.  It wasn’t too long and it wasn’t too short.  There was plenty to see and do.  It was dripping with atmosphere and gothic edge, and definitely a game that needs to be played by both Batman fans and gamers alike.

Graphics: ****

Art/Design: *****

Music: *****

Voice-acting: *****

Story: *****

Characters: ****3/4

Gameplay: *****

Overall Rating: ****3/4