Video Games: The Movie

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Average documentary offers nothing new.

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I am not a massive gamer so I was expecting to discover lots of interesting stuff about video game history in this documentary but unfortunately narrator Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee) presents the very basics of the history of video games. Interviews with various video game God’s (creators of Nintendo and Atari included) are a little enlightening but again nothing I didn’t already know. More interesting are interviews with Zach Braff and Wil Wheaton who speak passionately about their love for video games.

The best part of this documentary was revisiting some of the classic SNES, Sega Mega Drive and PS1 games from my youth with lots of archive game footage but it doesn’t take a great deal of talent or hard work to put together a selection of clips.

There is a genuine debate to be had about violence in games and while this is touched upon Video Games: The Movie feels more like a propaganda piece than an attempt to dissect what has become a major issue in the gamer world.

If you are looking for a video game documentary King of Kong and Indie Game: The Movie are much better than this.

GAME OVER

How To Train Your Dragon – 8.5/10.

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Dreamworks jewel in the crown.

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Despite enjoying huge commercial success with the Shrek and Madagascar franchises plus box office hits like Monsters vs. Aliens, Dreamworks animation still has to hide their envious glances towards Pixar as they have have tied massive profits with universal critical acclaim and adoration.

While Shrek is a decent film and there have been a couple of others on the Dreamworks roster that I have enjoyed, How To Train Your Dragon is the first film that I have loved as much as some of Pixar’s output. In Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig and Christopher ‘McLovin’ Mintz-Plasse director Dean DeBlois has assembled some of the finest comic actors currently working today with Gerard Butler adding his gruff, more dramatic voice to sweeten the pot.

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The beauty of Pixar is the emotional attachment they make you feel about futuristic robots or lost clownfish and I can safely say I was with Toothless the dragon all the way through this movie and it’s hard not to root for any character played by Baruchel.

Dreamworks output before and after How To Train Your Dragon has been patchy and inconsistent but this is a film to rival anything that either Disney or Pixar have released. Don’t wait five years to see it like I did.

IMDB TOP 250 #150

The Warriors – 7/10.

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A Clockwork Orange meets Escape from New York.

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The Warriors is one of those great films from the 70’s and 80’s that showed how Hollywood had no idea how to portray inner city gangs. Director Walter Hill opts for gangs consisting of mostly effeminate men prancing around in preposterous costumes and behaving like they have walked off the set of a musical. This is about as menacing as it sounds. Having said that though the premise that minor gang The Warriors are wrongly believed to have assassinated the leader of all the gangs in NYC resulting in a man hunt is pretty good and it makes for an entertaining spectacle. It has a video game feel to it as The Warriors have to keep getting on different trains and encountering different gangs, each one dressed more bizarrely than the next.

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It is difficult for the actors to shine with such a campy script and all the characters can be pigeon holed into familiar character tropes such as ‘tough guy with a heart of gold’, ‘arrogant tough guy’ and ‘silent tough guy’ but the acting is relatively decent across the board.

I have to say that I was invested in The Warriors though. I wanted them to make it home and there are some genuinely good fight scenes along the way. A fun and entertaining flick.

Velvet Goldmine – 4/10.

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Sex, Drugs and Shit Music.

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On paper a film based on the life of David Bowie complete with an amalgamation of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop played by Ewan Mcgregor sounds fucking brilliant, unfortunately the reality is more Smurfs Go Pop than Dylan Goes Electric.

The problem with Velvet Goldmine is the Thin White Duke himself David Bowie refused to get on board with the project when he learned it was mostly based on his ex wife’s memoirs. So instead of Bowie we have Brian Slade – a kind of shit Bowie pastiche played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a forgettable X Factor contestant rather than a seminal artist who reinvented music at least twice. The other great tragedy is this also means no Bowie in the soundtrack either so instead there is some wishy washy general glam rock rubbish, loads of obvious choices we have all heard a million times, a fucking Gary Glitter song (!) and a couple of average if spirited covers from Placebo and Teenage Fanclub (20th Century Boy by T.Rex and Personality Crisis by New York Dolls respectively.)

Another bone of contention with Velvet Goldmine is when you have Christian Bale, Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys fucking Meyers heading up your cast you don’t choose Meyers as your lead. Having said that McGregor is awful in this, speaking in a thousand accents and having no distinguishable character – on a side note he does look strikingly like Kurt Cobain.

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Bale fares a little better and has most of the best scenes but you wouldn’t guess from this performance that he was only two years away from his astonishing turn in American Psycho. In support Toni Collette does her best with a one dimensional character and Eddie Izzard is probably the best thing about the entire flick as the sleazy manager as he at least seems to be having a bit of fun.

It is difficult to place a fictional musical artist in the real music world in film but we have seen it is possible in Almost Famous and Spinal Tap. Velvet Goldmine is just a fucking mess from start to finish. Rock ‘n’ Roll with the volume turned down.

Sharknado – 3/10.

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Nowhere near as much fun as it should be.

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I love Snakes on a Plane and I also really love Troll 2 so I am not against ‘bad’ films as a rule. Snakes is just pure no brain entertainment and the beauty of Troll 2 is that everyone involved believes they are making a real movie rather than the utterly bizarre and truly terrible film they actually made. Sharknado falls annoyingly somewhere in between the two without being anywhere near as fun.

There is far too much ‘we know this is rubbish – wink wink’ stuff going on here. Anybody can make a knowingly crap film, luckily the concept of sharks being swept up in a tornado is just fucking brilliant enough to make Sharknado worth watching.

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The dialogue is unbearable, the acting is terrible (it is actually kind of sad to see Tara Reid and John Heard reduced to this) but one great thing about Sharknado is the CGI. Obviously the reason the CGI is fantastic is because it is so abysmal – I pretty much laughed out loud every time one of the ‘sharks’ showed up. If you were expecting sharks that look like Jaws than you will be disappointed but if you were more in the market for sharks that are about the size of a large dog that shatter as if made of glass when hitting the floor then you are in for a massive treat.

Sharknado is in nearly every way a worthless piece of cinema but it made me laugh and it is definitely memorable and I was never actually bored – I have seen many films rated far higher that I enjoyed far less. I look forward to Sharknado 2: The Second One.

Fin.

Wish I Was Here – 7.5/10.

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Zach Braff makes the most Zach Braff film ever.

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Back in 2004 Scrubs star Zach Braff wrote and directed sleeper hit Garden State to much critical acclaim. Garden State captured not only the timeless concepts of alienation and loneliness but also the zeitgeist at the time with the unassuming but brilliant indie soundtrack and also the rallying against drugs, legal or otherwise, as a way to solve the heartache and ennui that a generation of young men and women found themselves engulfed in. It was both beautiful and an instant cult classic…

…So when Braff marketed Wish I Was Here as a ‘sequel’ (albeit not directly) to Garden State he immediately raised expectations to fever pitch. I can see why Braff chose to go down this road – a huge chunk of the films budget was raised by fans on Kickstarter – but this method was was always going to invite comparison to his previous masterpiece.

There is absolutely no denying that Wish I Was Here is a heartfelt film, perhaps even more so than Garden State, but it feels like Braff has less to say here. Garden State may be low key but there is a fury behind the writing, a desire to change, in Wish I Was Here the writing seems a little tired – jaded even. From an artistic point of view however it is clear that Garden State resonated with so many people because they identified with Braff and how he felt, Wish I Was Here is also a reflection of where Braff is in his own life. More grown up, a little older but still wearing his heart on his sleeve.

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As with Garden State though this is not just a vehicle for Braff. Mandy Patinkin (enjoying a pleasing renaissance of late after the success of Homeland) is superb as Braff’s father (father son relationships are again a strong motif as with in Garden State), and it is nice to see Kate Hudson putting in a solid turn as Braff’s wife.

I have spent this entire review talking about a different film so in conclusion Wish I Was Here is not an original story, the soundtrack (So crucial in… oh yeah focus on this film sorry) is forgettable and the direction is nothing to write home about BUT Zach Braff makes it work because this is a snapshot of where he is in his life and it is impossible not to get swept along in such a heart felt piece of work.

I would love to see Braff write/direct a third feature film but I hope he doesn’t leave it ten years next time!

Lake of Fire – 8/10

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Harrowing and extremely graphic abortion documentary from the director of American History X

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Notoriously difficult British director Tony Kaye spent 18 years putting this astonishing documentary together so it is no surprise it is a compelling and polarizing piece of work. Both sides of the abortion debate would probably claim this mammoth two and a half hour documentary is biased against them but in truth Lake of Fire is as impartial as a film could be on a subject that inspires such strong feeling. Fundamentalist pro lifers may claim it portrays them in a bad light with extensive coverage of the death and destruction these people have caused to others working in abortion clinics but at the other end of the scale the pro choice campaigners would no doubt call the graphic images and videos of the abortion procedure and aborted foetuses gratuitous and unnecessary. The truth is the only way to try and put forward an unbiased view is to present all the information – no matter how inflammatory and gruesome – so people can make up their own minds.

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I went into this film staunchly pro choice and whilst I totally stand by that view point, I can now emphasize with the pro life crowd a lot more than before I saw this film and if a piece of art can make you question something you care deeply about then it is definitely doing its job. On that subject this is a very arty documentary. There is no narration, it is filmed in striking black and white and constantly scored with dramatic strings and with such a long running time it might be a bit much for some people.
Enjoyed is the wrong word but I thought this was a really well put together and thought provoking documentary and I would say if this is a subject you already feel strongly about you should watch Lake of Fire.