Archive for the 'Movie Reviews' Category

Dark Star – H.R. Giger’s World

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

movie reviewIn my early days of playing with Photoshop and trying to be creative and productive with it, there was a very good friend who had this gift for me. It was one of the first artbooks I ever had. It was about HR Giger, his life and his work. I always was a big fan of the movie Alien and fascinated by the creature design. I knew the name behind it but never really checked on background info. Every now and then I stumbled across an image that immediately made me say “that must be a Giger!”. Time moved on and to my surprise (even today) I made something off of my early Photoshop fun days and became more serious and professional. Which resulted in the fact that one of my artworks is featured in a book (Ballistic Publishing’s Expose 8) that also had a big feature about HR Giger in it. That’s a tiny bit mindblowing.

This new documentary is about Giger as a person and how his art influenced him, his friends and his life in general. Since Giger passed away not long ago, this documentary is a nice, quiet and calm sort of goodbye to, what seems like, one of the nicest guys ever. And we can be lucky and thankful to director Belinda Sallin to have this film. For me it wasn’t an easy watch to be honest. While filming, Giger wasn’t in the best condition and you could see that it’s going to end soon. While he himself does not speak too much, it’s his friends, family and colleagues who speak for him. And who else would be able to say better what kind of person he was, right? And from what is said in the film he was a very fantastic person. Not perfect of course… but kind, friendly and helpful. A very good person.

I like the title of this documentary since it’s stressing that it’s not entirely about Giger’s life itself… instead it’s more about what surrounds him and made him the artist he became/was. The film starts in his house. And you immediately feel like in some kind of labyrinth. It’s dark. Full of books and pictures. It’s neither clean or tidy… but it isn’t dirty either. It’s more of a controlled chaos. It feels organic. It’s a world in its own. And that’s what the documentary does very well. It’s no documentary with fancy graphics and design elements… it’s all film and presented in an organic fashion. Well suited for Giger and his work. We learn a lot about the people who followed him over the years. There is not a single person who said anything negative about him. Everyone who is talking about him, spoke with a certain warmth, respect and passion. Giger left a fingerprint on these people and it’s not because of his work. It’s because of what kind of person he was. He was not able to see the final film but I can imagine that he would have been very happy about everything his friends had to say about him.

In the middle of the film we get some more insight into his work life. How he’s inspired and where his ideas come from. Along with some fascinating speculations by his colleagues and friends. Although that’s all very vague. Giger himself doesn’t really know how and why he comes up with these images. Images that are so strange and yet familiar. Images that could be so frightening but are so much more fascinating. We get to see some rare footage from the production of Alien in the late 1970s. Back then he was full of energy and at his creative peak. He moved on winning the Oscar for his design work on Alien. We see that Oscar in his house. A little dusty… but still shining. Then we go on and learn about his parents that were mighty proud of their son. You can see it in their eyes. And isn’t it that what every child wants? To see that glimpse of pride in the eyes of their parents when they talk about their kids? And as the viewer of this documentary you’re constantly wondering how such a great and likeable person could come up with these strange paintings.

But Giger’s work is not limited to paintings alone. He also made a lot of sculptures that look equaly strange and yet familiar like his paintings. We see the Bar he designed and his personal Museum. So much amazing work in there. All these paintings in their original size just look great.

At the end of the film Giger is wandering around in his museum and it really feels like a goodbye. It turned out that it really was the last time he was there. It’s kind of sad. But on the other hand it’s amazing work he created, that definitely made him immortal and something he will be remembered for. Beside that moment there are a lot of touching sequences in this film. He left his mark on a lot of people. Not just friends and relatives. Later in the film we hear him say that he’s happy with his life and how it turned out. Which makes the fact that he’s no longer with us less sad.

Ultimately this is a must see movie for anyone who has a slightest interest in art or even movies. A perfect double feature with Jodorowsky’s Dune. It’s a very quiet and respectful portrait of one of the most fascinating and original artists in recent history.

The guys over at The Projection Booth have a nice talk about this documentary as well: Check it here


Dark Star: HR Gigers Welt on IMDb

French Connection – Movie Review

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

movie reviewI’m a William Friedkin fan. He’s certainly one of the best directors of 1970s and 80s. His ‘The Exorcist’ is timeless and ‘Sorcerer’ is thrilling to no end. I recently watched two of his movies in a row and that was ‘To Live And Die In L.A.’ and ‘French Connection’. Both are cop movies. While ‘French Connection’ is a true classic, ‘To Live…’ oozes 80s all over the place. But here I want to talk ‘French Connection’ from 1971.

It’s about some french sorta kinda business men who want to smuggle some dope into the USA. They have it all planned, ready to carry it out and do so. In the mean time we are introduced to Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman) and his partner Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider). Both are cops in New York and are really eager to do the job as efficient and best as possible. These guys are fantastic and the Scheider/Hackman duo does work great. I think the film does portray the police work in new york back in the day very accurate. It’s very dirty, sleazy and rough. I really liked that element. And our two cops are willing to put in the extra hours to do the job right. You can see how the fatigue strikes them both almost down while they investigate the leads they got in regards to that coup the french guys are trying to pull off. There are some really great cat and mouse plays between Popeye and the french leading man. While the investigation of it all runs into some empty corners, every now and then we see how Popeye is almost fanatically trying to catch the bad guys. No matter what. Forces and drags his partners with him.

If you want to get a good impression of a 70s New York in Winter then this is the go to movie. You can almost feel the chilling cold when Popeye and friends observate the french guys. Also a big nod to Roy Scheider here. I didn’t even know he’s in this movie but it was a welcome surprise since I really like to see him. While Gene Hackman surely is the main guy, Roy Scheider does a nice job with his character in balancing out the ruthless determination of Hackman’s character. Really good work from both of them.

On a technical note the movie feels very very modern and almost uptodate to styles that are common and used today. The camera is always in motion and very dynamic. It has a handheld feel that reminds very much of the Bourne movie series. And this movie is 30 years before the first Bourne movie! But that’s sort of a trademark in Friedkin’s work. It’s all very visceral in its presentation and feels very realistic. The camera work makes the viewer feel as if he’s right there. Loved that approach. And the good thing… it’s never crossing the line into shaky cam territory that drives me crazy. Nowadays it’s used to cover up shitty vfx or bad skills. Back then it was used to bring the viewer a little closer to what’s going on.

Friedkin also likes to work with subtitles. Which makes it all much more authentic. So the french guys are actually speaking french in the movie. This helps to give the whole story and presentation a very specific international vibe and ups the scope. Also the presentation of New York as this greasy gritty shithole that it probably was around the time, really pushes the atmosphere as a whole. It sometimes feels like a Labyrinth that you can get lost in far too easy.

I should have seen this film earlier but that’s how it is sometimes. Now that I saw it I must say that it’s one of the best cop movies I ever saw. The movie won 5 well deserved oscars (Best Movie, Best Actor, Best Writing and Best Director) and that pretty much says it all. Now I suggest you rush out, go see this film and learn where all the modern cinematography started! Hush!


French Connection on IMDb

Captain Phillips – Movie Review

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

movie reviewThere are two reasons to watch that movie. For one it’s a rather unique hostage scenario. And secondly it’s about how true piracy works these days and you want to know the background stuff to what truly happened in the events that this movie is trying to portrait. For me personally it was the latter point.

The movie is about a Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), Captain of a container ship that carries food and other smaller goods. Early April 2009 he and his crew start a shipment from Oman to Mombasa. The route they had to take is constantly under attack by pirates from the near Somali coast. Nonetheless it’s relatively safe if you stay on a specific route that’s protected by military. We learn that the crew seems to be new and not too happy with the new captain. That is at least the vibe I got from the movie. Phillips isn’t necessarily a bad captain but he seems a little ‘cold’. He also orders the crew to check the ship’s security measures a second time to avoid problems. We later learn that these measures didn’t do much to stop anyone or anything though. While on track to Mombasa they suddenly discover two fast approaching small ships on the radar. Soon enough they know that it’s pirates. They try a couple of tricks to get away and manage to do so for one day. The next day the pirates attack again and make it onto the ship. Phillips and his crew are doing their best to get them off the ship again. They manage to get the advantage and ultimately force the pirates off the ship, along with the captain. Since Phillips was in the hands of the pirates all the time, he is held hostage and has to follow the pirates off the container ship in a lifeboat. And that’s the point where the movie actually begins. Or let’s say… a second movie begins.

The movie does a lot of things very good and a lot of things very bad. The action sequences and the tension that’s created with the music and the editing works pretty flawless. The director Paul Greengrass is known for his rather dull, almost documentary approach. I can truly recommend his movie ‘Bloody Sunday’ from 2002, about the Irish civil rights protest march that ended in a tragedy in January 1972. You can see where his style comes from. Nonetheless Greengrass is able to produce some striking images especially when he’s working with good actors. Tom Hanks delivers a respectable one man show in this movie. BUt I have to say that his Somali counterparts do leave an impression as well. Once again it’s safe to say that Hanks is certainly one of the best we currently have. Even though I have to say that Phillips as portrayed in this movie didn’t bring up much sympathy. Like I said earlier… his outside appearance felt pretty cold. And I don’t want to mix that up with bad acting. No, this cold’ish feel was acted on purpose I think. Then right at the end when Phillips is rescued Hanks managed to bring his A-game playing a character that’s close to falling apart. That then was the only time I had a ping of sympathy for him. He did go through hell with what he experienced.

The movie generally has a sympathy problem since I have my problem with the pirates as well. Now the movie is over 2 hours long but maybe an additional 10 minutes, to explain the exact motivation of the pirates, would have helped a lot. Instead we get some hints and throwaway lines throughout the movie. If you are a kinda intelligent human being then you know that these poor people aren’t pirates for fun. The western world ruined their livelihood as fishermen and ultimately forced them to become pirates just to survive somehow. But instead of explaining this through a couple of extra minutes they glance over it without bigger explanations. This could have been solved in a quiet moment on the lifeboat when Phillips had enough chances to talk to the pirates. And I don’t care if the actual Phillips didn’t do that in reality. There was a chance to educate some people out there. It would have been also a chance to let the characters shine for a couple of minutes aside from all the screaming and craziness, since the guys who played the pirates did a damn fine job. A group of fairly unknown faces that delivered a threatening and frightening performance.

In the end of the movie Phillips is rescued by a military operation that ends it all pretty ruthless and very bloody. The movie still managed to create some tense moments in the later parts of the film. Now you could argue if Phillips is a hero for saving his crew. I would say no, he’s not. He did a Captain’s job. And the crew was also competent enough to use the situations right to overtake one of the pirates which lead to the retreat to the lifeboat. There has also been controversy that Phillips tried to save fuel via a shortcut that lead too close to the Somali coast. And there is a radar image in the movie that suggests exactly that. But verbally there has been no statement about that in the movie. Which again makes it hard for me to build up some sympathy for Phillips.

Ultimately it’s a fairly good movie. It has some incredibly tense moments that have you on the edge of your seat. The camera work is a mixed bag. While Greengrass is the sorta inventor of the shaky-cam style… it’s overused in the movie. You know folks… I miss the movies where steady shots made you appreciate what’s actually on screen. Unfortunately the movie fails to deliver a worthful message other than “don’t fuck with the western world or we’ll send in our SEAL teams!”. The four pirate characters were interesting enough to explore a little bit more. But it seems they willingly let that one go.

It’s worth a watch but don’t look for a deeper meaning or a bigger message. Greengrass managed to put in some hints here and there but the general public/movie goers won’t read that from the movie at all.


Captain Phillips on IMDb

The Hobbit: TBOTFA – Movie Review

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

movie reviewThe third installment of a series that did not need to be three movies. Like so many of these artificially lengthened movie series (Hunger Games, Twilight) these days. I went into it without any expectations since the first movie was just kind of there and the second movie had some neat fun moments. Now this third movie felt like an unlimited amount of padding followed by an overlong battle sequence. Was it a bad movie? No, surely not. It was well enough made and had its moments. But I’m really starting to question now if I didn’t enjoy these 3 movies because of the 48 frames per second or the 3d. Because all this useless 48fps (HFR) does is to show me how weak the monster makeup fx were and when and where greenscreen was used. It took me out of the movie everytime. Don’t get me wrong, I was looking at the gorgeous matte paintings more than the actual story because it almost felt as if the movie wants it to be that way. While the 3d is there to give you depth… the HFR works counterproductive and removes depth. It’s so weird to look at and distracts from all the parts that you actually should look at to get immersed in the story.

I want to spare you with story details since there is hardly a story in this movie. Thorin Oakenshield got what he wanted, except some crystal stone (I don’t remember the name anymore and I saw that film 3 hrs ago!) that would make himself as the new dwarf king complete. Now Bilbo has it and smuggles it out of town to the elves who rallied an army to attack Thorin because the dwarfs still own some strange jewelry from them. The elves want it back and side with the humans who just had to flee the city of Laketown, which is now devastated by the dragon Smaug. The bad guys know about the killing of the dragon as well and want to take their shot conquering the Erebor because it’s a strategically valuable fortress.

I’m not sure why I didn’t enjoy this movie more. There is a lot of stuff going on that should have worked. Return Of The King did have almost the same structure, with a giant battle in the second half of the film. On the other hand there was also a complete book to back the story up. The three Hobbit films were made from ONE book. And it was a childrens book. Imagine how much padding was necessary to get this into 3 movies with more than 2hrs runtime each. Too many overlong action sequences that made you numb after a while. And again I ask myself if it’s because of the 3d and HFR. I still have to see the movies in 2d and maybe they’re much better that way. I’m almost sure they’re better that way.

What I did enjoy were the references to the LOTR trilogy. Saurons appearance and how Galadriel kicked his butt. The movie also had some neat humour going on. Even though that one greedy comic relief character did get a little too much attention for my taste. The battle scenes worked fine except for the fact that it all didn’t look dirty enough. Some of the CG work felt odd too. Especially when someone fell off a cliff or down a hill… the animation just doesn’t look right and believable. But that’s not just this movie. But here you have a ton of scenes showing it. The matte painting backgrounds looked fantastic and will not get a complaint out of me. Overall the technical side of the movie left me with mixed feelings. While the LOTR was still rooted in reality and on location shoots… The Hobbit looked more fake than real. Very oversaturated colours and by far not dirty enough. Kind of the Star Wars prequel syndrome. Just not dirty and believable enough.

Acting wise it was fine. Even though there were some schmaltzy moments in it. Richard Armitage sold his Thorin well. Especially in the beginning when he’s corrupted by all the treasury and gold. Martin Freeman does a solid Bilbo again by just being Martin Freeman. The romance between Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) works fine too. Even though I found that part very unsatisfying. Yeah I say it… I do enjoy a good romance! I do have a soft spot! But what I find useless is a love triangle for the sake of having a love triangle. Which brings me to Legolas (Orlando Bloom) who is having a thing for Tauriel as well (and who wouldn’t?). Legolas has some of his “look I can fly!” moments in this movie too. In fact… multiple of these moments. I found that cheesy and unnecessary in the LOTR movies and so I do in the Hobbit movies. Elrond (Hugo Weaving) made a short appearance as well and my hopes were up. But as soon as he leaves the movie he’s not coming back. Last but not least we have Gandalf. When we left the theater someone I was with seeing the film mentioned that Gandalf never really used his magic. He’s basically just there to ruin everybody’s day by demanding you to do stuff to save the world. If I would live in Middle-Earth I would try to get as far away from these magic people as possible. They’re bad news everytime they show up and don’t even bother to use their skills to help you.

My ultimate thoughts are that the three movies altogether surely work fine. It’s by far not as epic as the LOTR trilogy but it’s solid entertainment. It will be interesting if there will be a fan-cut out there soon. One that cuts out all the padding and condenses the 3 movies into 2 and much more coherent viewing experience. I’ll keep my eyes open for sure. It would be interesting to talk to an Editor about this new trend in movies. Not long ago the Editor was there to tighten the storytelling and remove unnecessary parts. Nowadays it seems like the rules are turned upside down. Right now I can only say that I enjoyed the second movie most with the first and the third on the same kind of level.

A 7.4/10 for me.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on IMDb

Interstellar – Movie Review

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

movie reviewThis movie got a lot of Internet hype. First and foremost for director Christopher Nolan sticking to producing the movie with actual Film instead of Digital Cameras. And the fact that he filmed on 35 and 70mm for IMAX presentation. And from what I heard the IMAX 70mm version really is worth your money. Other than that the audience seems a bit divided when it comes to liking the movie. I certainly noticed that a lot of my online contacts seem to love this movie. I share a lot of interests with them especially art wise. So I was very interested how I would feel after seeing the film. Beware: This review contains spoilers.

It is a very complex film with a lot of themes and stuff going on. To run down the story would just be too much for this short little review. Let’s just say that Earth isn’t what it used to be anymore. I don’t think they mention an exact year but it’s not too far away in the future from our current present time. Things got bad and humanity isn’t doing well. The production of food went down to a rudimentary state and to be a farmer is kind of a dream job in that world. We meet Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former Testpilot. He lives on a dusty farm with his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy, Jessica Chastain), son Tom (Timothee Chalamet, Casey Affleck) and his father Donald (John Lithgow). By a series of strange events Cooper finds out that NASA still exists and looks for a pilot. The mission is to travel through a wormhole and find a new home for mankind. This spawns some problems with his family of course. Cooper is probably never coming back and especially his daughter doesn’t want him to leave. Cooper decides to go on the trip but promises to come back. There is so much more to the story but I want to leave it there and talk about the movie itself.

It is great to see a movie like this. Especially one that touches on so many scientific questions. It’s not necessarily trying to answer the questions it’s asking but it throws them out there. I’m a scifi fan so I’m familiar with most of the topics in this movie. But I can really honestly imagine that this movie probably widened some of its audience’s scientific horizon quite a bit. Which is fantastic and a superb thing to have nowadays. And that’s the part of the movie that works fantastically.

Then we have the emotional component. And yeah, the word ‘component’ describes it best. There is a lot of heartbreaking stuff going on but it often feels very constructed and not really organic. For his past movies Nolan often got criticized that they have a rather cold and technical feeling. And I tend to agree. Did it make his movies bad or less enjoyable? No, they were fantastic. So with Interstellar it felt like he desperately wanted to prove the critics wrong. There are emotional scenes in the movie that work. Especially the one when Cooper says goodbye to Murph. That’s a hard scene and really well acted. But then jump to the end when he finally sees his daughter again… this scene is so desperately trying to be emotional but it feels cold and rushed. If I were Cooper in that situation, seeing my now over 100 year old daughter again, I wouldn’t be able to stay on my feet. The flood of emotion in that moment would bring me to my knees and make me cry. Not even a close reaction from Cooper there. Not a single tear. Instead his daughter (in the movie it feels almost immediately) sends him out to search for Brand (Anne Hathaway) who’s now stuck on an alien planet.

This movie has so many parts I have problems with. In the movie we just left Earth and got through the wormhole and already the main objective is to get back home as soon as possible. The mission didn’t even start really at this point in the film. In the last 5 minutes of the movie Cooper makes the impression as if he’s starting to think that he doesn’t belong into this (for him) future world anymore. Which is, to a degree, relatable. A lot of things changed since he left. So he steals a small spacecraft to fly back into the wormhole to look for Brand on the other side. Why does he need to steal it? Why not setting up a complete new mission? I don’t see a reason why future Earth wouldn’t agree to that. And to go back to the beginning of the film. Even after three days of thinking about the movie I don’t understand the logic of Earth in this movie. We are told that Earth isn’t in good shape. Duststorms and the whole climate changed. Energy is low. And they say that in a couple of generations mankind will either starve or suffocate because there aren’t enough plants left to produce oxygen. But when Cooper is looking for NASA and drives into the mountains… there are forests… lakes… it all looks like it’s supposed to look. Which again is so inconsistent that it just stuck out for me.

For the space part I think what it ultimately comes down to is Exploration. The only moment that feel of ‘adventure’ comes up is when they land on the first planet. There is some freaky tense stuff going on that shows some great concepts and the audience is exploring something new along with the characters on screen. But that sequence were 15 minutes out of a 168 minute movie. I wanted more of that exploration stuff happening. I didn’t get that and I guess that also plays into my mixed feelings about this movie. Show me stuff that will stun me. Amazing vistas in space and on alien planets. And while there are some really great scenes in space that create a lot of scope/scale… I completely missed that when they were on the planets. Yeah there was that giant wave but hey… seen that before. The frozen clouds thing was cool. But I feel that they haven’t done a lot with that idea. That place just looked grey. A really stunning vista view landscape matte painting is what I would have loved to see there. I was literally waiting for something like that. But it never happened. You tell me about realism all you want but I need that in a movie like this one. A visual element of wonder.

Now you could argue that ‘suspension of disbelief’ is crucial for this movie. And I would almost say no to that. I couldn’t get to that point. The movie didn’t let me get there. The movie tries so hard to be sort of accurate/realistic when it comes to its science but it lacks consistency in all the other departments. That’s frustrating because I really wanted to love that movie. Instead it’s just a ‘good’ movie.

So ultimately there are two movies in Interstellar. A scientific movie that manages to play with some really interesting ideas and portayed these very well. And a movie that’s about emotions, love, leaving stuff behind and the struggle to get it back. So when I left the theater I felt that I needed more from both of these movies to fully embrace Interstellar. There are so many ideas and concepts in this movie that it felt like none of it was explored enough to satisfy me. It rarely happens that I leave the theater and immediately am able to pinpoint what’s wrong with a movie. In this one I immediately knew. Which is really really weird for me.

It is a GOOD movie. But it has some problems the movie is not able to make me overlook. And normally I’m the first one going “yeah you know it’s because… blah”. I just can’t do it here. =)

Go out and see it. It will deliver some ideas and concepts that may blow your mind. It’s well acted and technically very well executed. And not 3d… thank god.

A solid 7.8/10 for me.

Interstellar on IMDb

Alien: Isolation – Review

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

movie reviewThis game was a lot of fun (PC Version)! How can something that scares you and keeps you constantly on edge be fun you ask? Well, that’s the key with these survival games. You have to be a fan and you have to approach this kind of game in a special way. Of course I’m a huge Alien fan and love the universe that Ridley Scott’s Classic introduced in 1979 and was continued by James Cameron in his more action oriented ‘Aliens’. Why I mention the two movies? Because they’re very radically different movies, handling the same subject.

The games industry would of course focus on the action aspect of the Alien franchise and most prominently use the Colonial Marines side of things, we get to see in James Cameron’s film. I must admit that I missed the console and arcade game era and the first Alien game I played was ‘Alien Versus Predator’ that came out in the late 90s for PC. This game was tough. If you didn’t move forward it would keep on throwing hordes of Aliens at you. Something ‘Call Of Duty’ even does today. It’s a cheap mechanic but hey, it was an Alien game… AWESOME! Was it fun? Well… more frustrating. Was it scary? Not so much. A couple of years later came AvP 2. That one was fantastic. I had a good time with that game. Then, nothing for a long time. Two or three years ago then came AvP 3. I bought it expecting to have a good time with it. But it wasn’t. After reading all the bad reviews of the 2013 released ‘Colonial Marines’ game I pretty much gave up. How can these people NOT create an awesome Alien game? Something that solely focusses on the Alien universe, without the Predator aspect. And why does it always have to be the god damn Marines? Why not try something different? Why not focus on what the films made so special and the first movie a classic? The ALIEN!

Well, now in 2014 I would say we finally got the Alien game a lot of die hard fans waited for. It’s not focussing on the Marines and their insane weaponry. No game that wants us to beat the crap out of some Xenomorphs. Absolutely not. Instead you are a young woman who’s an experienced engineer, in an extremely vulnerable situation, just trying to survive. You are the prey of some strange creature from space. And you are not able to kill it. The creature is superior in almost every aspect. All you can do is to avoid it at all costs. If you can’t, there is not much you can do.

Alien: Isolation is set between Ridley Scott’s 1979 ‘Alien’ and James Cameron’s 1986 ‘Aliens’. It tells the story of Amanda Ripley. She’s the daughter of Ellen Ripley who is played by Sigourney Weaver in all the Alien movies. After the events in ‘Alien’ the flight recorder of the Nostromo is found. So Amanda gets contacted by Weyland Yutani (the company that owned the Nostromo) and invited for a trip to a deep space station called Sevastopol. That is where the flight recorder has been brought by a crew of scavengers. Weyland Yutani is a mega-corporation that seems to have a very special interest in everything extra-terrestrial. Amanda of course wants to find out what happened to her mother 15 years ago. So she and a small team want to find out what’s up and are in for a surprise when they arrive at the space station.

The station is owned by a company called ‘Seegson’. Throughout the game we find out more about the history of the station, the company and also about how they wanted to compete with companies like Weyland Yutani. The station was on its way to be decommissioned and so the crew on station is already very reduced when Amanda arrives there. The station immediately has a graveyard vibe to it. Plus the fact that the station has this Alien problem to deal with. For quite some time in the beginning there actually happens nothing in the game. All that’s done there is building atmosphere and kind of tutorial you into the game. Immediately you have a chance to explore the environment and enjoy the fantastic lighting and design. Since the game is pretty much limited to interiors the designers had a lot of resources to use for creating complex lighting and atmospheric effects. It completely pays off. I read one review saying that the game needs a ‘Visitor’ mode… so you can stroll through the station and enjoy the sight. Especially since you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy the environments when the Alien is hunting you.

On your journey through Sevastopol you not only have to deal with the Alien. There are also humans, scared shitless and shooting at everything that moves. We also have the ‘Working Joe’ Android that’s kind of a maintenance bot for the station. These are controlled by APOLLO which is some sort of Operating System for the station. Much like MOTHER for the Nostromo from the Alien movie. These Androids more often than not see you as hostile and try to kill you. Now while you’re able to kill humans rather quickly… the Androids are a different thing. It gets really tricky when you have to deal with the Androids and the Alien at the same time. While other humans can be a welcome distraction to buy you some time when the Alien attacks them… it doesn’t care much for the Androids. Then you need really good timing or an item that helps you to lure the enemy away.

Said items can be crafted. Molotovs, Noisemakers, Pipebombs and Healthpacks can be crafted with materials you find throughout the station. But be careful not to waste them! Other items like ammunition for your Revolver or Flamethrower cannot be crafted of course. There is also an Electroshocker that helps to disable Androids for a few seconds. That allows you to violently beat them down. That’s a pretty intense scene. You could also shoot them but you need a lot of ammo and that would be wasted. Overall it can be said that it’s best to avoid contact with the bad guys at all. Often enough that’s not always possible. And that’s what creates these stressy scary moments that make your heart-rate explode.

Something this game also does is reinventing ‘how to open doors’ in games. I don’t know exactly how many doors I opened in my playthrough but it were a lot. It didn’t bother me much since it’s probably a realistic thing for a station like the one we’re on. It also shows that Amanda is an engineer that knows how to use her skills. Which brings me to a game mechanic that also creates a lot of tension. Actions need time. When you open a door, pull a lever or even save your game… it takes its time. It’s often only a couple of seconds. But when you’re at a savepoint and you hear that sound of the Alien appearing behind you, that creates quite a thrill. Or when you’re looking around in a room trying to find resources and a quick peek on your motion tracker tells you the Alien is about to show up… that sprint to hide in a nearby locker at the very last splitsecond… very thrilling. Then sitting in that locker and watching how that creature is trying to find you and how it (almost paranoid) looks around in that room. That are the moments I always wanted from an Alien game. It’s that cat and mouse game with something that will eventually catch and kill you. Luckily it’s just a game!

Since I liked what Creative Assembly did with this game I looked around watching and reading a lot of reviews. When the game is criticized then it’s very harsh. AI problems, GFX problems, unfairly placed savepoints and the Alien being too predictable. At this point I would have to ask: what version of the game these critics actually played? I encountered none, really NONE, of these problems. Especially the Alien AI is remarkable and only in very rare cases predictable at all. The game can be unfair if you don’t play by its rules and have a good amount of patience. And I guess patience is something that becomes lost more and more? Looking at today’s media… I guess so. And unfair savepoints? I had no problems. This game simply wouldn’t work if you were able to save at all times.

The game does have flaws. Human characters in the game aren’t very fluidly animated. As if they wanted to save some cash by not investing it into some solid motion capture. Civilians you sometimes encounter don’t feel like persons and are nothing more than placeholders. A wasted opportunity to create some emotions for the survivors on station. Also, while I personally didn’t mind it much, I have to admit that it uses a lot of backtracking. Some locations have to be visited multiple times to do something or to get something. There were two or three times where even I thought that it’s a little too much. On the other hand it’s a nice way to let you see and explore more of the station. I wished they also would have had a little more interaction with the station personell in general. There is a passage at the beginning with an NPC that was actually nicely done. Maybe it’s an idea for a sequel to implement a mission where you have to find a person and try to protect them. That would be a nice chance to bring in a character (other than Amanda) you actually really care about.

Ultimately, yes it’s not a perfect game. But when it comes to the Alien material it’s the best we ever got so far. Creative Assembly took some risks with creating a game that’s so different in its game mechanics than any triple A title that’s out there right now. Even with the difficulty on Easy it’s not a sleepwalk through the game. There are a couple of passages that can be quite tricky. When you find the right flow though and use everything you have to distract enemies… you have good chances to make it. It’s also important to use your map and really check out the environment for escape routes or places to hide. The game gives you enough to understand when to be quiet and hide or when to go out and look around. It’s a game that believes in its audience and I think it already found its audience. And that specific audience loves the game. I do love it!

There is a lot to like in that game. It’s not flawless and some might call it repetitive. But I still enjoyed the hell out it. For me it’s the perfect connection between the movies Alien and Aliens.

Snowpiercer – Movie Review

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

movie reviewHere we have a movie that first got my attention through some internet buzz it received throughout the year. A movie that didn’t get a wide release and only made it into selected theaters. It turned into a sort of ‘insider tip’ and I placed it on my radar. Now that radar made ‘blip’ and I had a chance to see it. I even watched it twice. It’s a very solid production that certainly would have made its budget back in no time. It even did (world wide) with just its limited release. Studio interference held it back. Which is a shame.

The movie is about a train that carries the last small portion of humanity that’s left on Earth. Due to an experimental try to reverse global warming, Earth turned into a refridgerator. In said train it’s a strict hirarchy that separates poor from rich people. After 17 years and lots of attempts to overthrow the rules it’s time for another uprising. The poor people, living in the back of the train, forged a plan to break through to the next part of the train. Of course the more privileged population of the train wants to keep the less privileged in check. With passion and some luck the orgainzed attack is a success, they make a first step and break through the first line of defence. But it’s a long way to the front. We follow a small group and learn a lot of things about what the train is about and how it all works. Which is a good thing, as we learn this new stuff step by step along with the characters we follow. Every now and then a new secret is revealed and moves the story smoothly from beginning to end.

I think it is a movie with some high ambitions. It wants to make a point about the current state of humanity or civilization. How a civilization works. What a civilization has to do, to be successful. There are sacrifices to make. And do these sacrifices define humanity? And ultimately… (and maybe I’m reading too much into it) are we worth it to be saved? All these ambitious questions crammed into a scifi action movie. Does it manage to get it right? Well, I would say ‘almost’. For movies this ambitious there are higher standards than for just an action movie. There are a couple of things in the movie that fall apart if you think too much about. The movie does explain a lot of things and tries to justify why things are how they are. And depending on how much you’re willing to think about it, these explanations work or don’t. I think the term “Suspense of Disbelief” is appropriate here. If you’re able to suspend your disbelief then this movie will be a fun ride, along with some challenging topics. Topics that couldn’t be more current if you’re willing the check the news and how our civilization is also more and more separated between poor and rich.

Beside these serious topics it’s also an entertaining movie that gets a lot of things right. A lot of nice fight sequences with good action. Very creative play with the idea that we’re on a train. Given the fact that there was only very limited space to organize the shots, the camera work is nicely done. There definitely is some good filmmaking on the screen. Also on the screen are some nice VFX shots of a frozen outside world. Mountains, landscapes and cities that once were full of life now lie dead in a white sheet of snow. The execution of the VFX shots is ok and completely sufficient to the needs of the movie. So from a technical point of view it’s a pretty well done film.

There are also a lot of big names in this movie. Ed Harris, John Hurt, Tilda Swinton and Chris Evans. I like all of them and I have to say that everybody did a very fine job in this movie. Chris Evans, who’s the main protagonist, has a chance to show that he got some range as an actor. He did that in earlier films like “Sunshine” (which I love) but I feel that since then he did not have a real chance to do more emotionally enganging parts. I want to see more of that Chris Evans. The other names aren’t just there for one scene either. No ‘stunt casting’ so to say. All of them play important characters and are significant to the plot of the movie. It’s a strange and great combination of actors that does indeed work well.

So all in all it’s a movie I would recommend to everyone. Yes, there are details in this movie that don’t make 100% sense but why should it? It brings up valid topics that are worth some discussion. And if it manages to invoke these discussions amongst people that normally don’t talk about topics like in the movie… job successful. GO see it if you have a chance!


Snowpiercer on IMDb

Guardians Of The Galaxy – Movie Review

Monday, September 8th, 2014

movie reviewAs usual with Marvel movies I have to start this one with saying that I’m not too familiar with the comics and have no specific idea how much of the comics went into this movie. That said… this movie pretty much rocks. Quite literally. I was following the development of this movie from early on. Once first details came out I really liked what they were going for. I hoped for some really creative stuff that hopefully does not involve Earth and shows us some places we haven’t seen yet. I wanted this movie to give the whole Marvel universe a new twist and perspective. Since it (yes it does) takes place in the same universe as The Avengers. Who knows if there will ever be a specific crossover but just the idea is pretty cool. It’s like a completely different world within the Marvel universe.

I don’t want to go into specific plot details since you should really go and see this film. Let’s just say that we mostly follow Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) from Earth, who got abducted as a young kid and grew up to be some sort of scavenger/bounty hunter in space. He’s looking for the ‘Orb’. An artifact a lot of people are looking for apparently. Once he found it, he’s not exactly making friends and ends up with a bounty on his head. A Racoon (Voice: Bradley Cooper) and his Tree-creature like friend (Voice: Vin Diesel) capture Quill, but not without bumping into Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who is trying to get the artifact. They all end up in a space prison where they meet Drax. All of them come together and manage to escape with the help of some great teamwork. When they find out how much the Orb is worth they decide to split the cash. Of course things do not work out as expected and once they discover the power the Orb holds, everything goes against them.

When it comes to the story you could almost say “have you seen one Marvel movie, you have seen them all”. It’s a weak spot in this otherwise great picture. Another thing that’s business as usual is the fact that the villain was pretty weak again. He’s not fleshed out enough to really care about his motivations. He’s just there to be the bad guy. And one scene in space that, for my taste, did go a little too far into “who cares about science” territory. After a kinda hoaky flashback at the start of the movie it soon finds its path and starts to get intertaining. Along with so many other big action summer blocbuster productions this movie is also falling into the trap of lining up one action sequence after another. Over the span of this movie there were enough things to counter these negative impressions though. Especially the way the film establishes its characters. It’s all done bit by bit throughout the movie and no single big exposition dump where everything is explained at once. So the characters stay fresh throughout the film and at the end still have some secrets left for a, highly possible, sequel. As successful as the movie is now, it’s a great statement for visual and character originality. Marvel risked something with this movie. They took fairly unknown comic characters and picked James Gunn, a director that doesn’t have much experience with science fiction fantasy. But what he’s great with is interaction between characters and especially the humor that can be found within these characters. Much like Joss Whedon who did a fairly good job with the Avengers movie.

Now to some technical things. The direction by James Gunn works really well and shows in the more quiet moments when we have some witty character interaction and conversations. Especially the funny stuff! The overall acting is pretty much flawless and enjoyable. The interaction between CG and live action characters is pretty amazing. The motion capture, 3d, design and voice work is fantastic and does a good job bringing us closer to the CG characters. What I’m talking about? Rocket and Groot of course. These two have a great relationship going on and couldn’t be more different on the outside. Together they are almost unstoppable. Aside from the characters this movie lives from the places it shows. We get to see some fantastic environments and planets. Probably some of the most creative stuff to see in a film right now. It’s obvious that the concept artists had fun with this movie and it definitely shows in the result. We also have one of the most beautiful colour palettes going on there. Every place has a different feel, lighting and colour mood. Everything well balanced and thought through from an artistic standpoint. Just gorgeous to look at and a lot of fun.


Guardians Of The Galaxy on IMDb

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes – Movie Review

Monday, August 25th, 2014

movie reviewI bought the first part of this movie on Bluray. The reason why? Well, it came with the 1968 Charlton Heston original. Fantastic! But no, I didn’t hate the first one. I actually liked it for what it wanted to be. Solid characters, some impressive VFX work and a small hint on what’s in store for the sequel.

Now that certain hint is maybe something you don’t remember too vividly since the first movie glanced over it a bit. Don’t worry though, it’s explained in the opening sequence of this second part. Some nice animation graphics and compositing work there. After that short introduction we find ourselfes a couple of decades in the future. Due to a virus, originating from the laboratory that kind of gave Caesar his intellect, mankind went almost extinct and struggles to get back on its feet.

It’s a post-apocalypse setting placed in and around San Francisco. While the humans stood in the city and built a kind of colony, the apes found a place in the Redwoods and built a nice home there as well. In order to maintain electricity for the small human colony they send out a small team to secure a dam that’s located somewhere near the woods. Man and Ape co-existed rather peacefully up until that point and barely took notice from each other. Now our team, on the search for the dam, has to cross Ape territory. That’s potential for conflict. The fact that one of the humans shoots one of the apes doesn’t help the cause.

Caesar spares the humans and allows them to explain themselfes. Both come to an agreement and the humans get safe passage to the dam. Of course there is this one human character that manages it to destroy all trust between the team and the apes. From here on out it’s a little back and forth between our small team (a father (Jason Clarke), his girlfriend (Keri Russell), his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and three helpers) and Caesar. This is the part where the movie dragged a little for me. The end of the first act basically. Even though there are some good moments in there. Especially when it pulls on your heart strings a bit.

Caesar doesn’t have the best position since he’s getting some criticism about how he’s handling the situation with the humans. Some of them argue that he’s too soft with them and would do better to send them away or kill them. Especially Koba, one of Caesars closest friends and ally. Koba is with Caesar since the beginning and was one of the apes that had a really rough time in the laboratory. So his motivation is unterstandable. He’s only seen the worst of humanity. Caesar on the other hand knows both sides of humanity. And that’s why he’s helping the team to even repair the dam.

From that point on the movie shifts gear and things start to move a little faster, without losing the emotion that it built up to this point. Koba decides that he’s not happy with the situation and discoveres that the human colony is preparing weapons. What he doesn’t know is that these weapons were not prepared for an attack. They were thought for defence. Koba starts to manipulate the apes around him and sabotages Caesar and his try to build a bridge between the humans and apes. Koba manages to get the upper hand and soon enough the ape society turned into a dictatorship of sorts. Koba leads them straight to war and attacks the human colony in San Francisco.

Like I said, I had some problems in the first act. The movie establishes a lot of things, goings ons and I didn’t know where it was going. I also didn’t know who to root for. This changed later in the movie. But to get there took a while. It’s certainly very fascinating how the movie portraits the ape society and how things are done there. They communicate via sign-language (with subtitles) and sometimes even speak. I found it very interesting that they chose to go for subtitles. It’s a point that potentially would have made the movie rather goofy. Speaking apes… you know? But they found the right solution and balance. They do speak in certain situations but it’s very animalistic and sometimes even hard to understand. The ape characters are done so extremely well that it was pretty much impossible to tell them apart from the real live footage. The CG work was exceptional. Some matte paintings looked a little rushed but that’s a nitpick. The facial expressions and the way the apes moved looked great and Andy Serkis, who made himself a name for playing CG characters like Gollum, King Kong surely did a fantastic job as Caesar here. There was a little controversy about him saying that the CG work to create the characters is far less important than his performance in the motion capturing process. I have to disagree with him wholeheartedly. While I absolutely give him credit for some outstanding work and acting, it’s maybe a 60/40 between the work of the CG department and his motion capturing. 60% of the success of his characters definitely belongs to the people who created the creatures he’s playing. Especially when looking at how insanely detailed Caesar looks in this movie. The fur, textures, lighting and so many other things (that even I have no idea of and I do kind of work in that CG field) that have to come together to make Serkis’s performance to work in the first place. Nonetheless I would applaud if Serkis would at least get an Oscar nomination. Also the fact that it were not the “stupid humans” that started the war was very welcome. Yes they started the aggression but tried to make it all good and helped the apes with some issues they had. The apes turned it into a war. I liked that. The humans and apes represented a nice mirror of how things normally work out in our world. No matter how intelligent a species may be.

This movies doesn’t need to be over 2 hourse long. There was room for trimming, especially in the first act. The main protagonists are clearly the apes. The humans felt a little flat. I also wished that Gary Oldman (playing the leader of the human colony) had more space. His character has to face some difficult decisions and there was potential for some drama. The ending part with Gary Oldman felt a little forced though. Almost out of character. I did not expect him to go that route. He seemed more intelligent than that. But anyway… the movie is worth a watch for sure.

A 7.5 for this one.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes on IMDb

Jodorowsky’s Dune – Movie Review

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

movie reviewIt’s safe to say that this was probably the most influential movie that was never made. If you are a film fan and remotely interested in filmmaking history then this documentary by Frank Pavich will be right on your alley. It’s about Alejandro Jodorowsky (also called Jodo and now in his 80s) and his attempt to film his version of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” in 1975. I admit I have never seen his movies (like El Topo or The Holy Mountain) or any other of his art projects. From what I knew he is known for his very unique style and abstract imagery in film.

This documentary knows very well that there are more Scifi and Dune fans out there than hardcore movie fans that know the name Jodorowsky. So the trip starts with an introduction to who Jodorowsky is and what he’s mostly known for. It explains his unique approach to art and movie making very well and introduces the viewer to the character that is Jodorowsky. I would say he’s ‘the living passion’. As soon as we see him and hear him, we learn that this man is full of emotion, drive and… passion. Especially of course when it’s about his work.

He says he never read Frank Herbert’s classic and all he knows about it was told to him by friends who loved the book. Immediately a vision began to take shape in Jodorowsky’s head. His friend Michel Seydoux, who previously worked as Producer on projects with Jodorowsky, gave Jodo free hand on what to do next. Jodorowsky just said “Dune!” and Seydoux said “Sure, why not!” and both embarked on the journey to realize the vision.

When you hear Jodorowsky talk about how they started pre-production with writing the screenplay, doing concept art and creating a shot for shot storyboard, you don’t have a choice than just to think that this movie was meant to be. Especially when Jodo is talking about how he met all the people who were involved in the pre-production process or planned to get involved with filming this monster project. It really all sounds like destiny wanted this movie to happen. There are storys about Mick Jagger, Pink Floyd and even Salvador Dali! It’s crazy hearing all this but in context of Jodo’s vision it all makes sense for some strange reason.

Jodo managed to bring together a group of people that were able to artistically bring their absolute best for the project. People like Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, Chris Foss and H.R. Giger managed to change the look of how Scifi had to be shown in movies. Their talent defines Scifi even today. And it all started with Jodorowsky trying to realize his vision of Frank Herbert’s Dune. At the time in the early to mid 70s they shared a very special common idea. They wanted to show something completely new. They wanted to break barriers when it came to design, feel and the technical execution of visual effects. All that, of course, comes for a price.

A too high price for the studios. Jodorowsky and his team had a finished and fleshed out idea that they brought from one studio to another. They had this amazing book that contained a scene for scene storyboard, the full script, several pages of concept art and all that on really high quality paper. A true treasure. And still, all of the studios said “thanks for the effort but no”. And it was either because the ideas in the script were to far out there and weird or they wouldn’t simply finance it because the visuals necessary for this movie demanded a really huge budget. No one wanted to risk it. And from my point of view, I couldn’t blame them. Jodo’s vision was weird, brutal and visually strange. Yet… fascinating on so many levels. So ultimately the project failed because no one wanted to finance it. Jodo admits that it was a very hard time for him. His heart was broken.

So the rights for Dune then went to Dino De Lautentis who then produced the David Lynch version of Dune. Jodorowsky’s first thought was very positive. If someone was able to create a similar movie, close to Jodo’s ideas, it was David Lynch. When the movie came out in 1984 Jodo refused to see it. I would have probably reacted the same. Later then he saw it. A funny reaction by Jodo in the documentary because he smiled and was happy because Lynch’s movie was a failure on almost every level. Not just to him but also in the box office, to the critics and fans. And again… it’s a human reaction and I would have probably reacted the same. I personally enjoy Lynch’s Dune and think it definitely has its place. It’s sturcture is completely nuts but it contains enough ideas and weird concepts to stay fresh and interesting.

At the end of this documentary you can come to only one single conclusion. And that would be that Jodorowsky’s Dune is probably the best thing that ‘could have’ happened. By that I mean the fact that this movie was never fully made. Keeping in mind that something like Star Wars most likely never would have happened if Jodorowsky’s Dune were made. And they cover that fact in the documentary. But it also made movies like Alien, Blade Runner and so many other scifi classics possible. I mean, Giger’s design of the Alien alone is a timeless thing, that will look creepy, strange and frightening even to people that aren’t even born yet. And the atmospheric dystopia feel and look of Blade Runner wouldn’t have been possible without Moebius. So we may have lost one crazy Scifi version of Dune but won so many more Scifi movies that contain the ideas of Jodorowsky’s Dune and kinda sorta immortalize his project in a very special way.

Check out this documentary if you’re either a Movie fan, Scifi fan or simply interested in Art. It’s be worth your while!


Jodorowsky’s Dune on IMDb