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What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

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How do vampires really work in the real world? Do they truly sparkle in the sunlight? Do older vampires adapt to the fast paced life of the modern life? Documentary film makers, Jemain Clement and Taiki Waititi, bring us a glimpse at the life of four vampires who share a home and struggle to keep up with the fast pace of modern times. Running at a length of 86 minutes, this mockumentary manages to be one of the most memorable vampire movies in the last few years.

From a visual standpoint, What We Do In The Shadows is not the most eye pleasing film. Often times the movie will look like it was done over several weekends instead of being a feature but it actually helps authenticate the feel of watching a documentary. The actors, or subjects, also do a great way of portraying the different quirks and irritations that each of these vampires has with each other whilst sharing the same home. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is the roommate who used to be the terror of Europe until “the monster” humiliated him ages ago. He’s lost his touch and a good portion of power since then. Viago (Taiki Waititi) is the roommate who moved to New Zealand in search of his beloved. He does his best to keep harmony and cleanliness throughout the household with various degrees of success. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the irresponsible peasant turned vampire. His transformation was through the hands of Petyr (Ben Fransham) the eldest of the four flatmates.

The comedy in this movie is unlike anything I have seen recently. What We Do In the Shadows revives old vampire lores and uses them to poke fun at the more recent renditions of vampires. The way each characters dresses denotes what time period they are from while at the same time providing humor at how absurdly they are dressed. The addition of other characters throughout the movie are never dull and offer a good amount of laughs. Even the camera men are not safe as they are often targeted by other dark entities throughout the course of their filming. What would it be like for a meeting between vampires and werewolves on the street really be like? The movie explores these things and even more.

The “best” two documentary film makers (try and name two others) of New Zealand bring a brilliant new glimpse at what the life of a vampire is truly like. Solid performances and a plethora of humorous situations make it seem like the footage of this movie is just too short. Any fan of Flight of the Conchords or Monty Python’s Flying Circus will absolutely enjoy What We Do In the Shadows. With any luck, we might even get a documentary about the werewolves.

TL;DR: Classic Formula, fresh result. What We Do In The Shadows takes the classic vampire lore and brings us a hilarious spin on what it’s like to live in the shadows.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 95%

IMDB: 8.0/10

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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With Marvel and DC comics competing with movie renditions of graphic novels, it’s easy to forget that there are more than two publishers. Dark Horse is responsible for bringing Frank Miller’s Sin City series into print and in 2005, the a few of the stories were brought to the big screen. The movie was received well enough to merit a sequel almost 9 years later. A Dame to Kill For brought back several familiar faces such as Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke to reprise their roles but also brought in new actors. The nice thing about Sin City 2 was that Frank Miller was able to write new stories exclusively for the movie so fans of the graphic novel would be able to watch something fresh.

Just like the first Sin City, A Dame to Kill for was split into a few segments with the main story in the middle. The visual black and white style from the first movie was kept for the sequel although there was a lot more use of “highlighted” colors in this one. For the most part, the movie stayed true to its printed origins. Although it was a nice touch for those that had actually read the stories and recognized the panels from the graphic novels, it turned into a problem in some instances.

Because the movie is split into segments that contain distinct and sometimes exclusive characters, the following overview will also be split into segments.

JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT

The opening segment of A Dame to Kill For and presumable a small setup to show moviegoers what they were in for. In this story Marv (Mickey Rourke) wakes from a car crash to find the bodies of several young men around him. Due to a certain condition that he has, he isn’t able to recall what events led to him and he begins to retrace his steps.

Just like in the first Sin City movie Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller don’t skimp out on the violence of this segment. The fights that ensue as Marv tries to recall his memory are done fairly well although a little confusing. It’s a nice taste of what A Dame to Kill For is going to bring but it’s far from being engaging. Mickey Rourke, just like in the first movie, does an excellent job at playing Marv throughout the entirety of the movie. The real problem that arises from this segment is the whole “recalling” portion of the movie. Marv spends a nice chunk of time remembering what happened through the use of voice over narration and despite the nice little effects used to sort of ease the viewer, it was pretty boring to watch.

A DAME TO KILL FOR

The main story in this movie was dedicated to this one. Personally, when I read this graphic novel I wasn’t to impressed with the story. Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) is a private detective who gets an unexpected plea from help from his ex lover Ava Lord (Eva Green). She coaxes Dwight to help her escape from her crazy husband Damian Lord (Marton Csokas) but before he can help he also has to get through Damian’s monstrous chauffeur Manute (Dennis Haysbert) as well as some police officers that are caught by Ava Lord’s seduction.

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Clive Owen (left) and Josh Brolin (right) next to the novel’s rendition of Dwight

Due to the nature of the timeline of Dwight’s character, Josh Brolin was brought on board to replace Clive Owen.¬† In the graphic novel it is explained that McCarthy had to go through some reconstructive facial surgeries so it makes sense as to why Brolin was cast instead. His performance as Dwight wasn’t bad at all although it still bothers me that they didn’t bring in Clive Owen to play as McCarthy after the surgeries. Without that little detail it’s tough to even relate the characters from both movies let alone realize that they’re the same exact character. Eva Green also had a wonderful performance although her costume designs also helped sell the sleazy and manipulative Ava Lord. Despite this Eva Green might not have been the best actress for the role. She was certainly eye catching but there are several other actresses that might have fit the character a lot better. Manute is another major character in the Sin City universe and due to the death of Michael Clarke Duncan, Dennis Haysbert was brought on board to replace him. His acting was a little flat but Manute is a character that is better off being seen than heard and Haysbert didn’t do too bad.

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Manute: Michael Clarke Duncan (left), Dennis Haysbert (right)

Overall, A Dame to Kill For followed the graphic novel almost perfectly and that’s part of the why it wasn’t as interesting as it ought to have been. In comic book panels there are certain things that an author can get away with, one of these is when a character talks or thinks to himself. In this portion of the movie there was a lot of voice over narration that considerably slowed down the movie. Sure it was in the comic books but these voice over narrations were long enough to drag the viewer at out of the story. At one point it felt like I was just watching an audio book. The action that eventually took place on screen ended up being pretty campy (good for some people, bad for others). For a story line that was supposed to be the largest chunk of the movie, A Dame to Kill For was surprisingly underwhelming.

THE LONG BAD NIGHT

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The Long Bad Night is about a Johnny, a cocky and extremely lucky gambler, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who walks into the infamous Basin City in order to beat Senator Roark (Powers Booth) at a game of cards. When the Johnny humiliates Roark in front of his colleagues, he doesn’t take to kindly toward the young gambler and teaches him that trying to beat a Roark at his own game is dangerous.

Having seen Gordon-Levitt in movies like (500) Days of Summer or comedies such as That 70’s Show, its tough to picture him in a movie like Sin City but he pulls it off extremely well. Roles like this one make me believe that Gordon-Levitt is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood as of now. Powers Booth who reprises his role as Senator Roark also does a terrific job at portraying one of the most feared and respected men in Basin City. The tense moments that these two have on screen coupled with the peculiar story easily make this the best part of Sin City 2 despite the fact that there’s very limited violence in comparison with the rest of the film. If that wasn’t enough it was also entertaining to see Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Roger Rabbit) have a small part as well as a surprisingly well executed cameo from Lady Gaga.

NANCY’S LAST DANCE

Yet another original story by Frank Miller that gives some closure to the story of Nancy Callahan. Years after the suicide of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), Nancy (Jessica Alba) tries her best to get over his death and deal with her depression. She decides that her best bet to get over Hartigan’s death is to kill Senator Roark (Powers Booth).

Nancy’s Last Dance might just be the second strongest story in the whole film. As a fan of the graphic novel, I was excited to finally get an ending to Nancy’s story in Sin City. I haven’t seen all of Jessica Alba’s movies but from what I can gather, this might have been one of her better acting performances. Her desperation and depression come across clearly and the build up to a showdown with Roark is engaging enough to keep the viewer’s attention. There were some strange things in this segment such as the whole ghost thing (Sixth Sense anyone?) but overall it was decent enough of a story that included minimal voice over narration.

Nancy Callahan and Marv

Nancy Callahan and Marv

One of the first rules of screenwriting that are taught is to never use voice over narration. Many successful movies have ignored this rule without much backlash but unfortunately Sin City 2 is not one of those examples. The movie overall is passable. Fans of the graphic novel may appreciate the new stories but the VO narration seems like overkill throughout many parts of the movie and frankly, it makes it a chore to watch. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller did a great job with the first Sin City but the sequel seemed to be missing a lot of the gruesome story and brutal action that made the first one so good. Every actor did a good job at playing their role but it still felt like the casting of the new characters left a lot to be desired.

TL;DR: There are very few reasons to watch this on the big screen (i.e. Jessica Alba, The Long Bad Night). With the side stories being a lot more entertaining than the main one, its hard to imagine that we’ll be getting another Sin City movie any time soon.

Rock-It Raccoon Rating: 5.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 45%

IMDB: 7.2/10

MetaCritic: 45/100

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Thomas Was Alone (2012)

 

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Thomas Was Alone is an interesting game but it’s not the type of game that one would go out of their way to play. The game starts off introducing you to Thomas, an AI represented as a small red block. After a few simple platforming levels, the game begins introducing you to more AIs that aid Thomas with their unique properties. Claire, a giant blue AI, has the ability to float on water and considers herself a superhero. Laura is a flat pink rectangle that has the ability to make others bounce higher when they jump on her. Unlike the other AIs, she is hesitant to join the group because she thinks they will just use her and leave her like others had done in the past. All of the characters in Thomas Was Alone have their own personalities that are described to the player by an omniscient narrator (Danny Wallace).

The game play is very straightforward, one button controls the jump ability while the other button allows you to switch between characters. Different abilities presented by AIs keep each level from feeling too redundant despite the difficulty being relatively low. Levels tend to be minimalistic, the bright colors of the AIs make them pop against the darker pallet of the background. The end goal of each level is to direct the Artificial Intelligence to an outline that is usually located on the other side of the map. Another thing that helps this game is how finely tuned the jumping mechanics are, it almost reminds me of the classic Megaman games.

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As I said before this is not a game that immediately catches your attention but if you can spare the money and time, it is worth having a look at. Danny Wallace’s performance as the narrator is fun to listen to and the small story of AIs lost in a computer mainframe is enough to keep anyone engrossed. Although it may be a really simple game, Thomas Was Alone is able to craft a good emotional connection to its protagonists using very little narration. A real lesson of how much can be done with limited resources and clever writing.

TL;DR: Extremely simple game that showcases how simple a game can be while still creating likeable characters.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

MetaCritic: 77/100

GameSpot: 7.5/10

IGN: 8/10

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

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In the future, an alien race has made a devastating invasion on Earth. To combat the extraterrestrials, the military forces have developed exoskeletons in order to make their soldiers even more devastating. Despite all of this, the invaders decisively win almost every battle. William Cage (Tom Cruise), an army Major that has never been in combat, is assigned to be on the first wave of Allies that land in the next battle. Cage does his best to get out combat but ultimately dies in the front lines after a few minutes. After his death he wakes up to find himself out of combat back in boot camp. After a while, he realizes that he is stuck in a time loop that forces him to relieve his life from a certain point. After numerous attempts, Cage becomes increasingly more skilled at defeating the “mimics” and teams up with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) in order to find a way to defeat the invading alien race.

Director Doug Liman (Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) does a really good job for the most part. One of the scenes that caught my attention the most is when Cage is being dropped off into battle for the first time. Liman makes sure to make the audience feel the anxiety and stress that Cruise’s character feels during his first time being in the heat of action. As Cage repeats the same scenarios over and over the action begins to flow smoother as the character becomes more experienced with battle. Overall, Liman made the Groundhog Day-esque premise work really well with Edge of Tomorrow. The action was fast and enthralling and the comedy sprinkled throughout made the film feel fresh despite it being a repeat of a scene that had been seen before.

Funny, cowardly, determined are all words that can describe several scenes that Tom Cruise’s character is in. Edge of Tomorrow is proof that Mr. Cruise still has what it takes to be a lead actor in a Summer blockbuster film. After playing the damsel in distress in several movies, Emily Blunt shows that she has what it takes to play the bad-ass hero. Both actors played their roles brilliantly and although there were a few scenes that seemed a bit forced, they were quickly forgotten as the movie continued to increase the suspense.

Although a solid film, there were some things that I wish could have been explored more in depth such as the actual aliens. Despite spending most of the movie fighting the creatures, nobody seems to know much about them other than the broad facts. Then there’s the matter of how exactly the time loop is supposed to work or how far back he’s supposed to go after dying. These questions were all little things that bothered me but after taking everything into account, it doesn’t really change the fact that Edge of Tomorrow was simply a fun, action packed movie to watch.

TL;DR: Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt put on some solid performances in a very fun and clever  Summer movie.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

IMDB: 8.1/10

MetaCritic: 7.1/10

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Taxi Driver (1976)

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Taxi Driver tells the story of Travis Bickle(Robert De Niro), a Vietnam War veteran who is trying to live his life in the city. When he gets a job as a cab driver in New York he begins to form the idea that there needs to be someone who will rid the streets of malicious people. As he continues to isolate himself from others, he begins to make a plan to do something about the criminals on the streets. His main concern is freeing 12-year old Iris (Jodie Foster) from prostitution.

The story has a slow pacing but it is not without its purpose. Throughout the entire film, Martin Scorsese does an excellent job at portraying what Bickle’s life is like. In the beginning of the movie, Travis is shown to be very introverted and a seemingly nice guy. As the story continues to show his life, it becomes more and more obvious that this is a man who is alone in the world with only his dark thoughts to keep him company. Taxi Driver explores the gray areas of morals and the fine lines that exists between hero and criminal. This is not a story of a hero rising up to the challenge of fighting crime, it’s a snapshot of a man’s struggle with loneliness and descent into insanity.

A taxi cab, wandering eyes, and people walking around in the street. This is how the director decides to open his film. Everything about this small opening, music included, tells the audience right away that the main character is a lone wanderer. One of the things that makes this movie so great is how the movie is able to tell the story of the protagonist without the help of dialogue. The slow music, the shots of Travis Bickle walking on the street alone in New York City, or even just the way his one room apartment is shown as he sits down to write in his journal. All of these things convey the sense that the person we are seeing on screen is a lonely individual.

Scorsese’s directing plays a big part in telling the story of Travis but it simply would not be the same without De Niro’s performance as the ex-marine. De Niro’s portrayal of the lone Travis Bickle is flawless. It is a challenge for anyone to try and show what a character is feeling with limited dialogue and De Niro makes it look easy. The way he tells his jokes and carries himself makes the audience grow a genuine like for his character. The likeable persona that De Niro portrays makes his on screen transformation into a vigilante even more shocking. Two other actors that also play an important part of this movie are Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel. At only 12 years old, Jodie Foster plays the role of a underage prostitute and manages to reinforce the tone of the film. Harvey Keitel on the other hand puts on the role of the smooth talking pimp. Along with the rest of the cast, these 3 actors put on the memorable performance that make Taxi Driver such a unique film.

Taxi Driver is a phenomenal film that showcases Martin Scorsese’s phenomenal directing as well as Robert De Niro’s acting talent. The film itself may just be the best cross section of a character that has ever been done on screen. Little things such as the camera movements or small pieces of dialogue serve to show the viewer how everything looks through Travis’ eyes. The character development is not the only thing that makes Taxi Driver unique. It’s not often that a movie shows the rough side of a city like New York. The film does an excellent job of showing how dangerous the city can be during the night. This view of the city along with the violence of the film is one of the reasons crime movies became so popular in the United States. Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is not only one of the best movies of the 70’s it is an important part of American Cinema.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

IMDB: 8.4/10

MetaCritic: 93%

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Burial At Sea: Part 2 (2014)

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March of 2014 saw the second part of Bioshock Infinite’s downloadable content finally released. Burial At Sea part 2 marks Irrational’s final project and quite possibly, Ken Levine’s farewell to the Bioshock series. Prior to its release, Levine had announced that this installment would feature a more stealth oriented game style instead of the more run and gun gameplay of the main game. Fans eagerly awaited the continuation of the story and hoped that the new style of play would be able to live up to the hype after the disappointingly short campaign of BaS part 1.

The reason the gameplay in this episode of BaS was designed to be different is because the main character you’re playing is Elizabeth. In accordance with this, the team at Irrational made sure that it would be harder for this female lead to blast her way through the level as opposed to Booker. Instead of focusing on running into a room and shooting everyone, the focus of the game shifted to sneaking past enemies. To emphasize this, the sound of footsteps suddenly became an important part of the game. Stepping on things like puddles of water or pieces of glass would alert enemies to your presence while carpets and rugs would muffle the sound. Furthermore, Elizabeth is not able to damage enemies with melee attacks so if she gets spotted by an enemy she is forced to hide instead of trying to go head to head. A mini game for picking locks was also added which made opening doors or deactivating turrets a lot more entertaining.

A great part of what has made the Bioshock so successful is the story. True to its legacy, Burial at Sea part 2 delivers an amazing narrative that gives a satisfying ending to the series as a whole. Despite the massive cliffhanger that the previous chapter left off on, part 2 has the audacity to begin in Paris. The unrealistically happy environment gives the player a sense of dread knowing that things are only going to get worse from here on out. The voice acting talents of Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) and Troy Baker (Booker) were joined by a lot of the voice actors from the original Bioshock game.

The game was not without its flaws however. There were a few more weapons as well as vigors/plasmids that made the game a lot easier to play. The main offender for this was the Peeping Tom plasmid that allowed the player to go invisible and also gave vision of where enemies were located. If this plasmid is upgraded, it can be used infinitely as long as the character doesn’t move. It seems fair enough but can easily be exploited by alerting enemies to your presence (while cloaked) and knocking them out as soon as they get close. Another little thing that bothered me was that there did not seem to be many sound hazards like broken glass and when these things appeared, they could easily be avoided by going a separate route or jumping onto a ledge.

Burial at Sea part 2 offers a new way to play a Bioshock game but its gameplay is far from amazing. The new mechanics are not too spectacular and the plasmids offer easy ways to be exploited. Despite all of this, the shining brilliance of this DLC comes not only from the narrative but also in exploring some new areas of Rapture as well as getting a glimpse of its history. The Burial at Sea series isn’t a piece of downloadable content that fans of the series would want to have, it’s something they have to have. Not only is this the last piece of content that Irrational will create, it is the conclusive chapter of the Bioshock saga.

TL;DR: Gameplay isn’t too radical but it is a must have for fans of the series.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8/10

Game Rankings: 84%

Megacritic: 84/100

 

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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With a mega cast that includes Oscar nominated actors like Adrien Brody and Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly promised an entertaining time. The movie is small chronicle of Gustave M. (Ralph Fiennes), a concierge at one of the most renown hotels in the world. Although it follows Gustave, the story is told by Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who worked as a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) in his youth and became the concierge’s apprentice. When Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), a hotel regular, is murdered, a series of events unfolds that has Gustave and his lobby boy on the run.

The Grand Budapest Hotel has a little sprinkle of everything placed throughout its story. Moments of humor, suspense, and romance are all carefully laid out and spread out enough to keep the movie fresh. Unlike other directors, Wes Anderson stayed focused on the story of the Grand Budapest and did not spend too much time giving screen time to the large amount of A-List actors that are in the film. Not only did this make the story run smoother, it kept the movie from feeling like it was dragging on too long. One of the more interesting choices that I noticed was giving Willem Dafoe’s character, Jopling, very little lines in the movie. As a villain, this limited dialogue helped emphasize the danger that the character represented to everyone else and worked wonderfully. The cast for this movie did not disappoint and no matter how small the role, it seemed as if every actor fit in perfectly into their roles.

Wes Anderson is a director known for his unique style of portraying characters and locations and Grand Budapest is not an exception. Just about every scene in the film looks as unique and interesting as the last. Everything from the hotel to the train that the characters are in have their own unique feel. This feel is not only because of the way the movie is shot but also because of the great score that Alexandre Desplat composed for the film. Every character, location, and event in the film has a certain charm that is not present in a lot of other movies.

It’s hard to watch a film by a director like Wes Anderson and not compare the Grand Budapest to the rest of his films but this might be his best movie. Of course, choosing his best movie comes down to preference but it is hard to deny that the Grand Budapest Hotel is some of his best work. With a moving story and his trademark look, Wes Anderson has created a story that is memorable and enjoyable to watch. Nothing feels out of place and for its running time of 100 minutes, it packs quite an array of thrills, laughs, and even a little heartbreak.

TL;DR: Some of Wes Anderson’s best work. Worth the price of admission.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

IMDB: 8.4/10

MetaScore: 87/100

 

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