Tag Archives: 2013

Extracted (2012)

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Extracted is director Nir Paniry’s feature film debut. The science fiction flick takes place in the near future where a scientist named Tom (Sasha Roiz) has created a machine that is able to read and display the thoughts and memories of another person. When a test demo goes wrong, Tom is trapped inside the mind of Anthony (Dominic Bogart), a prisoner convicted of murder. There’s much more to the plot than this but saying anything else would ruin the surprise.

For a feature film debut, this film is excellent. The writing is really well done and the story stays pretty well grounded within its own rules.so the resolution of the movie doesn’t feel like a cop out. The film seems to draw a heavy inspiration from other science fiction film, The Cell (2000) is one that instantly comes to mind. Having a fairly low budget, the director/writer focused on making a film that was heavily centered on story rather than on a visual spectacle and he delivered.

Being the heart of the film, the actors didn’t shy away from the spotlight. Both lead actors Sasha and Dominic gave excellent performances that helped the movie deliver its emotional core. Dominic Bogart’s performance as Anthony was particularly noteworthy because of how crucial his character was to the plot of the film. Even side characters like Martino (Frank Ashmore), Anthony’s estranged father, seemed excellent and pretty genuine for the most part.

Nir Paniry’s feature debut is a solid film and there is really not a lot of negative things that I could find in this movie. Extracted is an excellent example of what a good science fiction movie could look like without having to rely on flashy visual imagery. This film is far from winning any major awards but it is a movie that keeps the audience hooked with excellent storytelling. If you are tired of seeing the same type of big budget Hollywood movies, Extracted might just be the film for you.

TL;DR: Small budget science fiction movie that relies on story telling rather than special effects. A good movie to watch if you’re in the mood to see something on Netflix.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: n/a

Metacritic: 61%

IMDB: 6.5/10

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Papers, Please (2013)

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Papers, Please is an indie game created by Lucas Pope. The game is about an immigration officer as he operates a border checkpoint. At first glance it sounds like a very dull game and its hard to imagine it was actually nominated for various awards. After playing it for a few minutes I started to understand what all the hype was about. There’s a lot more depth to Papers, Please than what initially meets the eye.

The game play is simple enough. You’re put in charge of a border checkpoint to enter the fictional country of Arstotzka. Once the day begins, people will begin to come forward and as the immigration officer, you are in charge of making sure that all the people trying to get into the country have legitimate documents. Interestingly enough, the player not only has to deal with missing documents but also with detaining terrorists and wanted criminals. If you fail to do so, the government issues you a citation and docks your pay. At first this may seem like nothing but that sort of has to do with why this game did as well as it did. At the end of the day, you get payed and have to distribute your pay between rent, food, and medicine for your family. This little detail adds a great deal of stress and complexity of the game. The extra objective to take care of your family forces the player to think twice before denying a bribe or helping out terrorist who plan on rewarding you. There are pros and cons to every choice you take as you accept or deny people entrance to the country. As the game progresses, the criteria to let people into the country gets tougher and tougher making it harder to get through people.

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There are not many things that are wrong with the game. Being an indie video game makes certain things more acceptable such as its 16-bit style. A problem that struck me right away is the fact that there are not many prompts as to how you’re supposed to play until you realize that there is a rule book that you are supposed to follow. Thankfully, the game gives you enough margin for error that allows the player to make mistakes and learn from them. The absence of a full soundtrack was also strange but fits in with the tone that the game is trying to make. Another thing that bothered me was that the color pallet seemed a little dull but once again, this only reinforced the bleak setting of the game.

Papers, Please is a surprisingly entertaining game. For fans of the indie game scene, this is a game that is worth looking into. Its resource management combined with its timed puzzle elements are pretty refreshing to see and provide a good challenge for anyone. Not only do the simple visuals deliver a good tone for the game, the story that’s woven throughout will keep you hooked and have you questioning your morality as you decide what benefits the country and what benefits your family.

TL;DR:  Surprisingly engaging game with a pretty good replay value. The $9.99 price tag seems a little steep but it’s not a bad investment.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.8/10

MetaCritic: 85/100

GameRankings: 81.95%

IGN: 8.7/10

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American Hustle (2013)

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American Hustle follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two work as con artists until they are caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso makes a deal with Irving and Sydney that involves them helping him arrest corrupt politicians and possibly members of the mafia.

David O. Russell’s film features an impressive amount of talent which is not limited to Bale, Cooper, and Adams. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Peña, and even Louis C.K. make an appearance. Being a very character driven movie, input to each actor’s role was necessary. Having gained about 40 pounds,  Christian Bale once again surprised the audience with one of his famous body transformations. The performances that Russell managed to get from each actor were good for the most part and some of them are going to be memorable for a while. Who is seriously going to forget seeing Jennifer Lawrence as a Jersey housewife or Michael Peña as Mexican playing an Arab? One of the things about the film that did end up bothering me was that there was more than one scene in the movie that seemed to drag on too long. I understand that some scenes were completely improvised which in turn showcased each actor but there were times when characters were on screen long after they had played their part in the story.

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Christian Bale gained weight for the role as Irving

The movie is definitely a character driven movie. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with the story which is solid and even gives the audience a few surprises and pieces of comedy here and there. Russell also gives us a clear look at styles and cultures in the 70’s and constantly reminds the audience of this.

Despite the showcase of talent from the cast of American Hustle, there are lots of things that I found wrong with it. The main culprit is the pacing of the film. Russell had a decent plot to start off with and talented actors but overindulging them with improv seemed to slow down and kill some of the story. Despite the problems that the characters got themselves into, there seemed to be very little suspense within the film itself. The other thing about Hustle was the fact that there were more than a few characters that seemed one dimensional and the fact that they got a lot of screen time made it seem as if the director was forcing the audience to like them.

American Hustle is by no means a bad movie but it did lose my attention multiple times throughout. By the time I finished watching it, it felt like the movie had no real pay off. David O. Russell certainly made the movie seem interesting but at the end of the day, it seemed to lack substance.  The best way to describe this movie would be to compare it to a bag of chips. Everything about the packaging seems as if it’ll be a good buy but once you open it you realize that there’s more air inside than actual food. Slow pacing and scenes that dragged on robbed the story of the potential suspense that every crime movie should have. American Hustle has its moments of brilliance but without the actors attached, it might have been just another bust.

TL;DR: Unless you’re a fan of an “actor’s” movie, just wait for the DVD release to watch it.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

IMDB: 7.7/10

Metascore: 90/100

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Philomena (2013)

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Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) is a woman who’s been keeping a secret for about 50 years. When she was younger she had a child out of wedlock, something that was looked down upon by her catholic community. She was forced by the church to put up her son for adoption and was never able to see him again. Years later Philomena is introduced to political journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who is not too eager to find out what happened to Philomena’s son. Despite his reluctance, Sixsmith agrees to help Philomena because he needs to find a job.

This movie was packed full of charm and enough tragedy to make it a solid movie. Philomena never shows bitterness or resentment toward the nuns that mistreated her and I think that this triumph over evil is something that makes the movie unique. All too often we see the tale of the wronged punishing the person that wronged them but Philomena chooses to forgive. The fact that this movie didn’t tell the woman’s life story is a thing that I appreciated. This film stuck to the point and mainly stayed in the present to show us Phil’s reactions as she discovered more and more about her lost son. Of course I don’t think this was one of the most moving stories I’ve seen but it truly is a memorable one due to how endearing Philomena is.

Judi Dench’s performance as the lovable Philomena combined with Coogan’s portrayal of the relunctant (and weary) Sixsmith made them one of the most likeable onscreen duos in recent years. Strangely enough, I was surprised to find that this film was a lot funnier than I initially thought it would be. This is, I think, has to do with the excellent chemistry between Dench and Coogan. Of course, the audience would not have felt as bad for Philomena if it weren’t for Sophie Kennedy Clark who did a superb job as a younger version of Phil. All of this excellent acting was of course complemented by a superb soundtrack from Alexandre Desplat.

The only thing that really bothered me about this movie was that there was a couple times were product placement was blatantly obvious. To the credit of the director, Stephen Frears, or whoever was responsible, this actually tied into the story pretty well. Other than that there wasn’t any glaring mistakes or plot holes that would ruin this movie for anyone.

Philomena is an extremely enjoyable movie. Judi Dench’s performance will instantly draw you in while the sporadic comedy and story development will keep you interested. Having said this, the comedy in this movie isn’t completely overwhelming because this is still a story of discovery, not only for Philomena but also for Sixsmith.

TL;DR: Great movie with a great performance by both Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

IMDB: 7.9/10

Metascore: 76/100

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The Wind Rises (2013)

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Hayao Miyazaki’s final movie before his dreaded retirement is none other than The Wind Rises. The film takes us into the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man responsible for designing Japanese Fighter planes during World War II. Amazingly enough, Miyazaki finds a way to dance all over the subject of war without being too obvious. Jiro’s story begins when he was a young boy, his obsession: aircraft. He gets his hands on the latest aviation magazines and goes through them no matter what language its in. This fascination with aircraft follows him into adulthood where he finally achieves his dream of designing aircraft but at a cost.

The animation in this movie is almost impeccable which has been customary of Miyazaki but the heart of the story doesn’t rely on the character’s surroundings like it does in some of his other works. Apart from a few dream sequences that Miyazaki uses to transition through Jiro’s life, the bulk of the story takes place in an ordinary Japan. Jiro and the company he works with are presented as normal people with no ill intentions which is something refreshing to see when it comes to WW II stories. Throughout the film, the audience not only gets to experience Jiro’s struggle, they also get a glimpse at Japan’s work ethic during the time. This isn’t just the story of a aircraft designer, it’s the story of an artist who is bound to meet the demands of his government.

The Wind Rises is a great conclusion for an artist like Miyazaki. It is not one of his most imaginative stories, but it’s definitely one of his most emotional ones. Joe Hisaishi’s score was a little familiar but had a special place in this movie. All of the characters were memorable and despite not understanding Japanese, the voice acting was moving enough to stir the audience’s emotions. The only thing that bothered me about this particular film was the fact that Miyazaki would jump from one scene to a dream sequence too often in the beginning. I know this was done to move the story forward (since it’s a chronicle of Jiro’s entire life), but it felt jarring at times. Hayao Miyazaki has left a legacy of stories for everyone to watch and despite his retirement from films, I feel as this isn’t the last story we’ll hear from this talented artisan.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 83% (as of Nov. 30, 2013)

IMDB: 8.0/10

Metascore: 84/100

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The Green Inferno (2013)

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The Green Inferno is Eli Roth’s return to the director’s chair after Hostel: Part Two (2007). Before its screening in the AFI Film Festival of Los Angeles, Roth requested something of the crowd. He asked the audience to keep an open mind and dispel any preconceived notions or expectations of the film. I felt obliged to set aside my expectations of the movie. This review is the fruit of my observations as I tried my best to set aside any biased opinions.

The movie follows a group of teenagers who want to stop a rainforest from being cut down. They fly over to Peru in order to chain themselves to trees and stop the crew from continuing to destroy the forest. The plan succeeds despite a small situation that develops.  On their flight back to civilization, their plane crashes in the middle of the forest. There, half of the teenagers die while the rest are captured by a group of cannibals.

To start off, I will say that there were some well crafted scenes in the movie and one major villain of the film is extremely well written. There was also one scene where the dialogue seemed to go deeper than just your average horror film. Despite this, most of the movie seems to fall flat. Characters are very bland for the most part, you have a stoner, a chubby guy, jock, and the innocent girl among others. This description alone seems to be sufficient grounds in which to describe most of the characters. Right from the start, the dialogue seemed clunky and the actors seemed robotic. Thankfully, this seemed to disappear only to be replaced by insane amounts of blood and gore.

It’s very clear that this movie is a tribute to all the cannibal films before it but it just seemed unnecessary. Eli Roth once again plays into his trademark use of carnage to make the audience feel queasy. I found myself laughing more often than feeling horrified at the actions on screen and this speaks to the root of the problem I have with this movie. This flick wasn’t funny in a clever way but in more of a this-is-incredibly-unbelievable type of way.

It’s always tough to write about a horror movie because everyone has a different sense of what scary is or what is essential to horror. Overall I thought that the movie was dying to make a political statement that never came. The characters felt tough to sympathize with and the “horror” seemed more laughable than scary (which I recognize is a trend with most horror flicks).  To add insult to injury, the one time the audience is meant to feel pity for the native cannibals falls flat. Instead of feeling sorry for them, I questioned why anyone would try to save them. Roth seemed to be trying to push the standard of a cannibal film which is not bad, it just simply didn’t seem to work this time around.

TL;DR: Typical Eli Roth movie. Other than being a tribute to cannibal films, a very generic B-movie.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 70% (as of Nov. 10, 2013)

IMDB: 6.5/10

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Blue Ruin (2013)

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A revenge story that follows Dwight (Macon Blair), as he returns to his hometown and proceeds to become a very inept assassin. At first glance, this may seem like a very dull and predictable  film but the synopsis is a vague look at the content in the movie. For the most part, movies tend to end when the protagonist defeats the villain of the story. In Blue Ruin, the bulk of the story happens once the antagonist is killed. After the man that murdered both of his parents is released from prison, Dwight, a beach bum, goes out to murder the ex convict. This is where the majority of the story takes place. Throughout the rest of the film, Dwight has to deal with the repercussions that come with murder. The movie features a lone protagonist and scarce dialogue between characters much like Drive (2011).

Having a good amount of experience being a cinematographer, Jeremy Saulnier does a great job at making all the scenes of his movie look beautiful. Saulnier heavily uses open areas, beaches, and forests in his film. The limited dialogue in Blue Ruin also force the viewer to appreciate the cinematography and have a more intimate understanding of Dwight’s world. There are few instances where blood and gore were used in this movie but when it is used, it is extremely gruesome and intense. A very intentional and interesting choice for a movie of this genre. Revenge stories like this thrive off of a lot of action and gore but because the protagonist that we follow is such a regular guy, the amount of gore illustrates how foreign this type of violence is to Dwight.

What is even more impressive about Blue Ruin is the fact that despite being low budget, the movie does not fail to deliver. Having a budget of about $35,000 that was collected from a Kickstarter project, it does not feel as if the film is lacking much. Macon Blair’s portrayal of Dwight is perfect, a man who resorts to violence but is human enough to react in disgust or horror when he sees  the blood that he has spilled. Saulnier has only directed one other feature film before Blue Ruin but the way he was able to build tension throughout the 90 minutes of the movie show that he has years of experience doing this. There was hardly a moment where I was not at the literal edge of my seat.

As if it was not enough to have great cinematography to accompany a well made film, Jeremy throws in an amazing twist at the end of the movie. Blue Ruin will inevitably be one of those amazing movies that only a few people will see because of the director’s lack of hierarchy and star power. It would be imprudent to say that Jeremy Saulnier will be a household name in the future but I will say that he has certainly demonstrated that he has the talent to be among Hollywood’s A-listers.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 100% (as of Nov. 11, 2013)

IMDB: 7.2/10

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