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 (2002) Video Game Review


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In April 2017 (as of this review), after 13 years of waiting and 8 years of development hell, fans of the series finally get the third chapter to this story, and to celebrate 15 years since the release of the first chapter of the series on PC, I’ll be reviewing Syberia.

Created by Belgian comic book artist Benoit Sokal, Our story is set in the early months of 2002 and revolves around a young woman named Kate Walker.  Kate is a Lawyer from New York who is on a business trip to Valadilene, a remote village in the French Alps that’s best known for its Spring-Automaton Factory (as well as the frequent use of Automatons in the everyday life of the residents).  On the day that Kate arrives, the funeral of Anna Voralberg, the owner of the Automaton factory, was taking place.  As of her demise, a Toy Factory in America wants to buy the Voralberg business, which is why Kate is there – to try and get a signature, go home to her fiancé, Dan, and get a good pay day out of it.  However…not all is as it seemed.  It is then revealed in one of Anna’s last confessions that her younger brother, Hans Voralberg, who supposedly died decades ago, is in fact alive, well and far away, and is officially the sole heir of the factory.  Now the goal has gotten enormous – Kate must find Hans – a man whose father was ashamed of because of mental disability (from a fall that gave him a permanent mental outlook of a 12 year old)…but is also the man who invented incredible automatons everywhere he went and expressed his fetish for Mammoths on top of that.  This leads to Kate boarding what was Anna’s Automaton train (which Hans invented), and along with the Automaton Train Engineer, Oscar (Also a Hans invention), she travels east, possibly in the direction of Siberia, and stops along the way when she has to wind the train up again and gather clues of his whereabouts.

Now to discuss the various bits and pieces:

First of all, the Art Style of Syberia, and the imagination that went into it, is by far the show stealer of the entire game!  I absolutely adore this game’s world and its visuals.  Consider this; Steam Punk mixed with Art Nouveau!  It’s like a match made in heaven, and I love it!  I love the fancy, curved building styles, I love the University that has Dinosaur and Ice Age displays in their halls and a full blown Botanic garden as part of the train station.  I love the creepiness of the antagonist figure’s lair, as you can sense both the madness and loneliness of this individual.  I love the Spa Resort and its intense isolation…There isn’t a visually dull moment in this entire game

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Look at that office!

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And this entrance!

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And these houses!

The Graphics were good for their day, with Kate and Oscar being the best looking character sprites.  But today we see just how rough around the edges it is.  The characters still have their visual quirks present, but at time you’ll be reminded of Sprites that came out during the later PS1 period, more specifically, Final Fantasy VIII comes to mind in terms of occasional visual quality.  When compared to Deadly Premonition, at times, you might even suggest that they are on par in places…and those are 2 games that came out 8 years apart.

The Animation can be divided into 2 parts, the cutscenes and the in-game; the cutscene animation was really good for what was possible in 2002, and while it looks like a PS1 cutscene today, the actual visuals it presents are still mesmerising.  The gameplay animation on the other hand left a lot to be desired and is incredibly clunky, especially on the console version.  I wouldn’t call it laziness, it’s simply a lesser emphasis or a buffering transition, much like the charming but choppy Sherlock Holmes games that frogware are still making.

The Gameplay follows the formula of the Broken Sword series, and its quality sometimes depends on what platform you’re using.  As a point and click adventure game on the PC/Mac, it’s a pleasure.  But on a console level, you’ll find yourself running into a lot of invisible walls and tread-milling against furniture.  On top of this, I’ve experienced an interesting difficulty spike – 1 were out of the 4 areas you explore, the second 1 is by far the most difficult because the area comes across as so vast and you’re backtracking so much between different parts of the level.  But at the same time, it’s possible that by levels 3 and 4, the learning curve levels out a bit as you get good at the game and the unusual demands of some characters become a normal part of progress.

The Voice Acting is 2 or 3 parts good and 1 part bad.  Kate Walker, Oscar, the phone call characters, and some of the more memorable characters were well done.  The only complaint that could be made was the transitioning of the dialogue.  Other than that, it was great.  The worst voice acting?  Definitely the NPCs in the Barrockstadt.  The best is Kate herself.

The Characters could come straight out of a Jean Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam or Wes Anderson film.  They’re incredibly quirky and “delightfully french”…or maybe delightfully Belgian if we’re treating Sokal like he’s Hercule Poirot.  Kate herself is a likeable character, and as the story progresses she becomes more and more sarcastic and accepting of the absurdity of her adventure.  Oscar has his C3PO moments, and part of the humour between him and Kate comes from him indicating that he isn’t designed for anything other than what he’s designed to do..and has moments of double standards.  Their relationship is very like Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek, which adds a nice touch.  It’s also intriguing how Kate grows while so far away from home.  Just by the phone calls from her fiancé, her co-worker, her boss and her mother, you learn a lot about her – and as it all progresses, you notice the dilemma she’s experiencing.  This 1 job is costing her home life, her relationships, and she might get fired, and at the same time she is experiencing an adventure that she didn’t think would be possible when she arrived in France…it’s pretty well executed.

The Story is that of the quest – Kate is searching for Hans after finding out that he’s alive, and is doing everything she can to finish her job (her skills as a lawyer make her a strong persuader and negotiator), which also leads her on a journey of personal discovery and development.  Throughout the trip, she experiences sacrifice – mostly in the form of her home life back in New York.  It brings up the question of whether you should take the personal decisions and accept the risks, or go through the motions of what others expect you to do (in this case, all the time).

The Music is wonderful, and memorable, and capable of setting the scene while having a whimsical aura about it.  I’m even listening to it now as I write this.

Would I recommend Syberia?…Yup!  It has its flaws, and it has aged in several different areas.  But there are other areas that make for a timeless experience, and since it’s set in 2002, we can argue that it’s more of a period piece that mixes realism with surrealism.  Highly recommended if you want something different, and also recommended if you want a very good adventure game.  Syberia 2 is proving to be as interesting and fun, so you’ll hear more about that soon.  So, if you have a PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox, Mac or Nintendo DS…consider a look.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/2

Cutscene animation: ****

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ****

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2002)

Rififi (1955) Movie Review

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Up until the time when I found this film on Netflix, I never heard of it, and now that I’ve seen it, there is a lot to say.

Before we begin, what is “Rififi”?  It sounds like the name of a Poodle, I know.  But it’s actually a french word that means “Brawling” or “Fisticuffs”…not so cute now.  Rififi, or Du rififi chez les hommes (A Fight Between Men) is a 1955 french movie that falls into both French New Wave and Film Noir in its style.  It was directed by Jules Dassin, an American film director who was blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950s due to “possible communist sympathies”, and moved to France in order to continue (and revive) his career.  The film itself is also quite fascinating, because of various factors; it had a very low budget, the production crew received low wages, and the main cast of actors were all “nobodies”…and yet…well, lets discuss it.

Our film centres around a group of Gangsters from different countries, who come together to perform a high risk but highly rewarding jewel heist.  First we have french gangster Tony “le Stéphanois” (played by Belgian actor Jean Servais), the oldest member of the heist, who was just released after serving 5 years in prison for a previous heist.  Then we have Jo “le Suédois” (played by Austrian actor Carl Möhner) a young swedish gangster who escaped prison time because Tony took the fall.  Mario Ferrati (played by french actor Robert Manuel) a happy-go-lucky Italian gangster who came up with the idea for the Jewel Heist, and lastly, César “le Milanais” (played by the film’s director Jules Dassin under the pseudonym Perlo Vita), an Italian Safecracker who helps them by getting the safe open.  Together, they hatch a plan to rob a Jewellery Shop in the first act, and it is the perfect crime.  And afterwards, in the second act, we get to see the flaws of humanity catch up with them.

Lets break down the film now.  Since the film was made in the ’50s, and it’s very straightforward in it’s approach, there will be no talk about CGI or anything like that.  The acting in Rififi is excellent, especially within the style of acting that everybody was doing at the time.  Nobody was bad, it was all rather low-key, but everybody played their part really well.  It’s proof that you don’t need a star actor to help make a good film, you just need someone who looks, sounds and acts the part they’re given.  The characters are quite an engaging bunch, and everybody, but especially Tony, have an aura about them.  Jean Servais as Tony has a bit of a Humphrey Bogart/Robert Mitchum feel to him.

The story in Rififi, though simple, is absolutely fantastic, and the scene where they are actually robbing the Jewellery is 1 of the best scenes in cinema history.  There is no music, and barely any dialogue.  It is all action.  You witness how these 4 men rob the place, and it was so well done, that even though it’s fictional, it ended up being used by real life bank robbers, in real heists for a number of years afterwards (it wouldn’t work today, unless your local bank doesn’t have security cameras and infra red burglar alarms.)  The aftermath was also really well done, and perfectly fits this film into the film noir genre.  The film itself is pretty dark, with some very dark subject matter, such as greed, drugs, the breaking of trust, broken promises, broken bonds, and bad decision making.  It also contains some pretty sarcastic dialogue, especially from Tony (it’s french, what do you expect?).

The cinematography is also well done, with the heist perfectly presented, as well as some very good action scenes (for their day).

Would I recommend Rififi?  Absolutely!  Despite having so many things that would put most cinema-going folk off before even giving it a chance (It’s black and white, french-speaking , old, with no blood, heavy but cleanly edited violence, sex (though it is at times kinky), or stars) it’s just so well made, so watchable and so interesting.  I really enjoyed it.  If you have Netflix, I would highly suggest looking for this gem.

Acting: ****3/4

Characters: ****1/4

Story: *****

Presentation: *****

Cinematography: ****3/4

Overall: ****3/4



Contrast (2013) Video Game Review

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As someone who has/had a Playstation Plus membership, I was able to get 70% off this game, and I remember it catching my eye, so here’s a review on it.

How to describe Contrast…consider it like a maths equation (once again)…Aspects of Bioshock Infinite (floating world and surprisingly similar character models/designs/choices)…plus Owen Wilson in Midnight In Paris’ favourite era, 1920s Paris…plus a slight Tim Burtoneque visual design approach…equals Contrast.  It is the first game to be developed by Compulsion Games (an 11 person company from Montreal) and in terms of its choice of visual design, hopefully not their last.

So what’s the story?  It’s about a little girl named Didi Malenkaya, who wants her dad to come home, even though her Cabaret Singing Mother Kat tells her he might come back someday, but not until he straightens himself out.  Life isn’t rosy for this mother/daughter relationship, as social services have threatened to take Didi away at least once, and Kat has been provided with 2 options – find a steadier job, or return to her husband Johnny, Didi’s father.  On top of this, Didi has been called mentally disturbed, and often ‘acts out’ by sneaking out of her room at night.  So…do you play as Didi?  No, you play as Dawn, Didi’s so-called Imaginary friend, who is visible in a different dimension.  To put it loosely, the story is about Didi trying to get her parents back together…while also sneaking out and being a bit of a nuisance.

What’s great about Contrast is evident, as is the definite flaws.  I fell in love with the game’s art design, style, atmosphere and choices, as well as its use of french orchestral and lounge music.  I also think it has a very good, if not very short story, and the puzzles are quite well done.  I also like how Dawn can get around by switching from 3-D to 2-D gameplay.  In 2-D gameplay, Dawn enters the dimension of “the real world” (which looks like the shadow world to us), where she can reach areas that can’t be reached simply in the 3-D world, and to progress in this area often involves moving objects around against a backdrop of light in the 3-D world to create shadows that can be used as platforms.  It is also this shadow world that Didi’s family story takes place, as Kat struggles with her relationship with Johnny, who happens to be taking an enormous risk and might owe money to some bad men.

Now onto what’s bad about Contrast – the primary problem with the game is the polish.  It’s a very rough, tatty game, full of evident glitches in the background and the occasional weird moment within gameplay.  The animations can be a bit choppy and textures appear to load while you’re in the middle of playing.  If the budget was bigger and there was a more experienced team working in this department, it really would have helped in this area…also if it came out in 2007 rather than 2013, it would have been more excusable due to all developers getting used to the new technology at the time, but this isn’t the case.  On top of this, as mentioned, the game is very short (perhaps a 3 hour play through) and there isn’t really enough in the gameplay department that would encourage players to return (Other than trophy and achievement hunters)…But if you like the art style and story, there is a reason to return, of course.  Another problem is some aspects of the sound.  I’m not talking about the music (which I think is great) or the voice acting (which is mostly pretty good), but rather the audio quality.  There’s a fair bit of noticeable reverb in Didi’s voice, similar to recording it in a garage rather than a studio.  It does it’s job, but the quality isn’t particularly high.  In terms of gameplay, it is definitely inspired and with great ideas that can be built upon, but the controls leave a lot to be desired, as there have been numerous occasions when moving boxes were a problem, jumping gaps was by chance, and jumping from 3-D to 2-D was a split second button push.  Like the graphics, the controls are clunky and unpolished, but simple enough to not make the game unplayable.

Would I recommend Contrast?  Yes, but only for a handful of reasons.  One reason is if you’re an art student, and want to check out something that might inspire you (It’s a visually beautiful game, even if the graphics are very rough).  Another is if you like anything french, because it’s a nice, dream-like, romanticised interpretation of 1920s Paris.  Also if you can find it in a sale, because it may be worth £3, but not £10.  I saw and played through its flaws, but I still found it to be a very charming and original game and I’m intrigued to see what Compulsion will do next.

Art/Design: *****

Concept: *****

Graphics: -*1/2

Music: ****

Gameplay/Puzzles: ***3/4

Control Polish: *

Voice Acting: ***

Sound quality (Voice acting): 1/2*

Story: ***1/2

Characters: ***1/4

Overall: **3/4

Valiant Hearts: The Great War Video Game Review

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After playing this game, my opinion on this matter is now officially laminated.  Video Games are not only fun, but they can be classy and they can be art.  This is one game that truly seals that fate.

Created by UbiArt Framework (who also created Rayman Origins, Rayman Legends and Child Of Light), Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a 2-D side-scrolling puzzle-adventure game that follows the stories (inspired by letters written during this time) of 4 fictional characters, who, 100 years ago this year, would have fought and lived through 1 of the biggest bloodbaths in world history – The 1st World War.  We follow Emile, a French grandfather who is drafted to fight in the French Army.  Karl, a young German father, and Emille’s son in law, who is forcibly separated from his wife and baby son, sent back to Germany, and made to fight in their Army.  Freddie, an African American who joins the French Army after his wife was killed during a German Raid led by the fictional antagonist Baron Von Dorf, who is also Karl’s Superior Officer.  And lastly Anna, a Belgian student who is also a battlefield nurse living in Paris, and whose father is kidnapped by Von Dorf in order to create advanced weapons.  Along each journey, they are all accompanied at some point by a dog named Walt, who helps greatly in all of the puzzles he appears in.

If you assume that this game will follow the trend of first person shooters like Call Of Duty or Medal Of Honor where 1 side is good and the other is evil, you’re dead wrong.  This game has a lot more class than that.  It’s made clear that there were good and bad on both sides, and much like films such as Paths Of Glory, the most blood-thirsty men were often the 1s who sent others to their doom while they ate and drank like kings in greater safety.  Along the way, you can find collectables littered throughout the levels, with each item providing a descriptive insight about what it was, how it was used, and what role it would have had in the war.  Items such as helmets, postcards and letters.  All of which really added depth to the horror and the humanity.  On top of this, each level has different “Historical Facts”, which includes coloured photographs, describing the scenario of each level you take part in (with each level more or less representing a different side and time of the war, such as the underground wars and the trenches).  We also get diary entries from our main characters, describing different points in the story.  To see these, you have to pause the game in every level, otherwise you’ll miss it.

Now lets talk about the characteristics in its make up:  The game’s visual style and graphics are that of a cartoon, and it looks really well, complimenting the horror with a cute and humorous presentation (much like how Barefoot Gen, a cute-looking manga/anime, told a terrifying and graphic testimony on Hiroshima when the atomic bomb landed).  Outside of the narrative between levels, there is no dialogue, just pictures in speech bubbles, which makes the puzzle-solving a little easier and gives a better idea of what you’re looking for in order to move forward.

The music was composed by Peter McConnell, who also did the music for the Monkey Island games, Sly Cooper games, many Star Wars games and Psychonauts.  He did a phenomenal job, doing everything either on piano or with an orchestra.  Everything he did just fit perfectly.  However, his music isn’t the only stand-out.  There are also car-chase levels that incorporate classical music into them, and require excellent memory and rhythm.  So you’ll be dodging bombs, bullets, fences, other cars and tanks to the likes of Bhram’s Hungarian Dance and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight Of The Bumblebee.  This part of the game always made me smile.

Despite its amazing presentation, story, characters and music, I’m sad to say that the game does seem to hold itself back when it comes to the gameplay.  The gameplay and level design choices themselves are not a problem, in fact I would say they’re very good, yet simple at the same time.  The biggest problem for this game, particularly for long-time gamers, is the difficulty.  A majority of the puzzles are quite easy, some too easy, and they don’t become that much more difficult as the game progresses.  It doesn’t mean you’ll breeze through it with great ease.  In fact, I died in the game a number of times, due mostly to poor timing and trial and error.  At times, I will decide to look at a hint for help if I’m completely oblivious on how this can go forward.  But if you explore your entire play area, you’ll start to see connections, and then it’s all about doing certain actions in the right order.

Overall: If the puzzles provided a stronger challenge, I would classify this as a perfect game (5 stars), but everything else about it is fantastic.  The game was obviously created with a lot of care and consideration, and it is a fantastic tribute to humanity during a time and place that was far from humane.  100 years have now passed since those days began.  May they be remembered for another 100 years to come.

Rating: ****3/4 out of 5