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Review Dreamland (2016): I really liked it a lot!

genre: comedy, drama, music

When I saw the trailer of the film I was sold. Mostly because of the soundtrack. But also it's themes appealed to me. A young man (named Monty Fagan) getting tangled up in an affair with a hot older woman surely was going to be interesting.  The same Monty Fagan also was determined to make his dream happen. I am a sucker for that kind of thing. The film gave me a vibe it was going to be a thoughtful and sincere exploration. Now after having watched it I think I wasn't far of with my expectations. 

Before I get into it I need to share some trivia with you. Director Robert Schwartzman is the son of Talia Shire (who plays Monty's mother). Talia Shire as you know is the sister of Francis Ford Coppola. So that makes Robert his nephew. Jason Schwartzman is Robert's brother and also has a part in this film as a banker. It is clear that film making must be in their genes I mean a lot of members in the Coppola family (including Sofia Coppola and Nicolas Cage) are active in the film industry.  That is quite remarkable if you ask me. Anyway Robert Schwartzman who wrote and directed this film also composed and performed the majority of the soundtrack. Although there are also songs on there from other artists. This soundtrack is incredibly important in the film and without it the film simply would not have been good as it is now. A lot of the tracks really added to the emotional impact of certain scenes. They have to since the film lacks explosive dialogues and interactions. While I fully dug the soundtrack and the ambiance of the film I can imagine that some people might not get it. For those people Schwartzman could have at least added one or two heavier scenes. However I do need to point out that a lot of the drama is there but underneath. There are more than enough subjects touched upon and I wished some of them would have been explored a little deeper. I guess Schwartzman wanted to leave it up to the viewer to form their own thoughts about the topics raised. This could be seen as strength or a major weakness. If you think the latter it is also important to note that Robert Schwartzman was inspired by Eighties (sex) comedies like Loverboy, Risky Business, Better off Dead and John Hugh movies (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club). 

Actually Dreamland feels very much like a contemporary John Hughes film. Main character Monty played by Johnny Simmons is very much the socially awkward type who is awakened from his slumber. And that is basically it. If you think about it John Hughes films also addressed a lot of issues but very rarely did they give solutions to those problems. Usually the films showed you how to deal with them appropriately. That alone resonated with me at the time as it did now. Amy Landecker as Olivia was a revelation to me. She truly played her part well as the sexy older woman who seduces Monty into an affair. Not once did it feel crude. All was done with taste and thought. Yet she managed to do so much with very little. However a real pity that she is not given the chance to give her character more depth. She is just there to be the sexy seducer, the one who awakens Monty and nothing else. Although there are moments where more could have happened. And maybe they did but Schwartzman leaves it up to the viewer.

For me Dreamland is a nice little film I undoubtedly will watch more times since I really liked it a lot. But I am aware that this film is not for everyone. It's not a real crowd pleaser so to say. If you like good music though you really have to check it out since it's easily one of the best soundtracks compiled for films.

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Review 2 Guns (2013):: Buddy movie? Shoot 'em up? Whatever it is, it's terrible!

genre: crime, action, comedy

A couple of years ago I tried to watch and enjoy this film and failed. There was nothing about this film that grabbed me. Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington did not have any chemistry whatsoever. Sure they have some banter between them that could be considered funny if you are a ten year old but for me that just doesn't cut it. So I decided to quit watching and didn't pick it up until now. I felt like I had to give this film another chance especially since some people praise this film like it's the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Surely there must be something good about this film no?

Unfortunately 2 Guns is even worse than I remember. The plot is pretentious and messy. It's not clever or witty. But worse is the fact that it's not compelling one bit. Now I could have overlooked this if 2 Guns at least had some action or comedy that was enjoyable. Or something else that could redeem it all. But I kept waiting and waiting for that part to kick in and apart from some quick and brief action sequences there wasn't a single scene that was worth my attention. If director Baltasar Kormákur was going for a Quentin Tarantino type film he should have worked on the story and the dialogue. But let's say that he wasn't pretentious or ambitious and he just wanted to make a decent buddy movie. Why not put the focus on the comradery or animosity between the two main characters. They are pretty much good friends from the start who have a little quarrel for a short while but nothing energetic or explosive. The whole idea of a buddy movie is to put two characters together who are so different from each other that they clash. Then because of events or plot get to bond and become the best friends. You need to show this development as detailed as possible since that is what makes those kinds of films interesting. 2 Guns never does this. I am aware that I have very little in common with current generation but to praise a film this bad is idiocracy.

In short 2 Guns is incredibly boring and long winded. Put simply it's a giant waste of your time. So don't even bother. I tried two times and the second time the viewing experience was considerably worse.

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Review Cast a Deadly Spell (1991): Absolute gem!

genre: fantasy, film noir, comedy, crime

Cast a Deadly Spell is a unique blend of film noir and fantasy set in a Lovecraftian universe. In this alternate universe gremlins, werewolves, vampires, gargoyles are roaming the world out in the open and everybody uses magic except our main character called H. Phillip Lovecraft. He has his reasons but it's never explained why.

Lovecraft (played by Fred Ward) is a private investigator and is hired to track down and return a book that is stolen. This book is called the Necronomicon and seems to be very important to owner Amos Hackshaw (David Warner). Obviously if you are familiar with Lovecraft and Evil Dead you will have a pretty good idea what the book entails. But like Lovecraft not explaining why he doesn't want to use magic the film doesn't tell us what the book is about. Many elements that are taken out of H.P. Lovecraft's work are left unexplained but have to be accepted as part of the world. This adds a fun factor for the fan since there is a lot packed in to recognize and get happy about. For people who aren't familiar with Lovecraft the whole viewing experience could be very thrilling and suspenseful as the film is filled with surprises for them. In case you don't care for Lovecraft or the fantasy elements there are the film noir characteristics to focus on. Surprisingly it remains very faithful to that genre as well. Julianne Moore for example is the perfect femme fatale. And once you have witnessed Fred Ward as the gumshoe you don't want anybody else.

All of the performances are top notch. The whole cast take the material seriously and help you believe the world they live in is real. Pretty hard to do considering some of the special effects might not always be high grade. But again it's proven that practical effects are superior to CGI since it looks better and adds to the charm of the film. Considering this movie is made for TV the production values must have been quite high. Because the film overall is visually very pleasing. 

There is a very good chance you haven't even heard of this movie which is a real shame since Cast a Deadly Spell is a must watch for sure. 

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Review Devil Hunters a.k.a. Lie mo qun ying a.k.a. Megaforce 2 a.k.a. Ultra Force 2 a.k.a. Red Force 3 (1989)

genre: girls with guns, action, martial arts, gun fu

Like with a lot of titles in the girls with guns genre the distributors of this film found it necessary to change the original title for marketing purposes. Only in some occasions I could kind of understand why they did this since it did connect films that originally aren't connected. However most of the time it's preposterous and confusing. They probably are trying to trick the fans of the genre to make it seem like it's a new or good title why it's not. Devil Hunters unfortunately is one of the lesser titles.

Just so you know there are no devil's in this film nor are they hunting for them. If I can trust the English dubbing it's the code name for the special police force Sibelle Hu and Alex Man are part of. It would make sense if the film was about them. But they are merely one party of many the plot evolves around. The plot is simple. Main villain played by Francis Ng wants to get a hold of a large quantity of diamonds stolen by his boss. But instead of just doing it the easy way he comes up with this elaborate plan to confuse the hell out of everyone and make his boss the target without anyone knowing exactly why they are after him. They eventually find out but it is of very little consequence since none of it is particularly compelling. For the most part it's used to start up the action. And usually I am fine with that except they forgot to make the characters more interesting. You barely get to know any of them and whatever dialogue they have is minimal and obvious. 

Now most of you won't even care since these films are all about the action so what is the action like? Here is where I am really torn. There are many times where a lot of action scenes don't flow right. Just when the action is about to get engaging they cut to a non action scene and then start up a new action sequence that is over before you know it. Apart from the last 15 minutes all of the action sequences are edited like that. The action itself is pretty solid but you aren't really given the time and chance to enjoy it fully because of all those weird cuts. Only in the finale the action seems to flow much better but like the other action sequences was over before you knew it. They easily could have extended it since there were at least three opportunities that had potential for real dramatic impact. Instead director Tony Liu Chun-Ku opted to put all the emphasis on the final scene. In this scene the two of the three main characters are caught on fire while jumping out of the window to avoid the impact of an explosion. Because of a mistake (bad timing) both Moon Lee and Sibelle Hu were engulfed in flames and were badly injured because of this. Just when you thought these actresses couldn't be more badass. Eat your heart out Charlize Theron! The director expresses his admiration and gratitude for this and surely makes you appreciate the stunt however it would have been a far better pay off if the finale wasn't rushed through as it did. With the proper build up and better exploitation of those three moments in the finale the climax would have had bigger impact.

Even for fans Devil Hunters doesn't quite deliver the action goodness you want from these movies. (I prefer quality over quantity.) But it's the perfect film to watch late at night to wind down and fall asleep to.

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Review Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017): Adequate but not as good as the original!

genre: comedy, sports, feel good

Goon was a brilliant sports comedy. And it was just a matter of time they would make this sequel. The trailer looked real promising and I was incredibly psyched about it. Now after having seen it I am a little underwhelmed. It still is a decent comedy but somehow more crude and less sharp.

And who can be blamed for this? Jay Baruchel. He was tied to Goon as writer, producer and actor. This time around he also came on as director. It is exactly this fact that has made Goon: Last of the Enforcers somewhat of a mess. Problem is that Baruchel wants to do too many things. He wants to address the issue some people are facing which is life after a sports career. When do change your priorities? When do you quit? When you are ready for it or will you go on until your body gives up on you? For Doug it was all this and with added anxiety towards family life. While it is admirable and quite ambitious this exploration didn't work well in the film. It detracted from the comedic antics and the action considerably. Let's face it that was one of the main attractions the original had to offer. But it didn't stop there. Baruchel also injected a troubled father son relationship that never went anywhere and again detracted from the main story. Then Baruchel is preaching about friendship and comradery which was essential in the original as well but was done better since it did not allow itself to be distracted by other topics too much. Goon was more subtle about certain themes but never forgot what it should focus on. Jay Baruchel loses focus too many times and injects too much juvenile nonsense in this flick that made me want to look away. Not that Goon wasn't crude but it was far more balanced. 

Sean William Scott as Doug and Liev Schreiber as Ross again had very good chemistry. Only it's underused. Even Doug who is the main character seems to have a much more passive role in this sequel. It was Sean who rocked Goon big time and Jay Baruchel seems to have forgotten that. Not using actors like these to their full potential is also bad directing.

I still managed to enjoy myself but if you were hoping for bigger and better than you will be disappointed. Especially since all the ingredients were right there to be used. Unfortunately they weren't blended properly. Shame on you Jay Baruchel. To be fair you will feel good at the end but not as strongly as with the original.

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Review Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure (PC): Happy that I got to play it but also a little disappointed!

genre: adventure
year: 2014

The Tex Murphy adventures are easily one of my most favourite games have played in my lifetime. For me it started with a demo of Martian Memorandum and got me so hyped I purchased a copy of Under a Killing Moon. I loved it. Then when The Pandora Directive came along I did not hesitate to purchase it and I was blown away. It was bigger, better and so much fun that I have replayed it many times. Overseer was the first game that gave me some trouble when installing it since at this time it was obvious my PC was in dire need of an update. Despite this and some slow down issues it never got into the way of enjoyment. In fact a lot of moments in the game got to me emotionally. That scene with Michael York was one I played over and over again. The beautiful soundtrack in combination with the bitter sweet victory was very dramatic and effective. Same goes for the scene with Henry Darrow. They took Tex Murphy to the next level. It was clear that Tex Murphy had evolved. When this game ended on a cliffhanger I could not imagine that they never would follow up on it. As far as I was concerned Tex Murphy  getting a sequel was a given. When I got word that a sequel would not be coming I was devastated. Took me some time to accept this but eventually I got over it and moved on. Then many years later a friend told me a sequel was in the works. Before that I didn't quite know what to make of kickstarter projects but that made me appreciate the hell out of them. I would finally get my closure. And more importantly I would get to play a proper adventure game again.

So what are my thoughts about Tesla Effect? I liked it a lot. But I can't deny that I am a little disappointed. Mind you I am not saying the game is bad. As adventures go this is easily among the best. But compared to the previous parts in the franchise it was coming a bit short. Especially story wise. In The Pandora Directive the decisions you made had real impact and changed the outcomes significantly. The Pandora Directive and Overseer did a better job of drawing you into the mystery and events. Tesla Effect never quite grabbed me since for some reason I did not feel as invested as in previous games. Now I am very willing to admit that this could be a personal issue. And that I myself probably have become more critical of the genre or worse even outgrown it. But I know myself very well and I can assure you this is not the case. My fondness and passion for good storytelling has never diminished. I would even dare to say that I am longing for good stories now more than ever. And Tex Murphy used to provide that. Still that does not negate the facts that I finally gotten my closure and that I appreciate some of the plot elements. Tex Murphy literally being an old soul is something I liked very much and would like to see that explored in the later parts (like Poisoned Pawn) that are coming.   

But it's not the story itself that has disappointed me. I also thought that some of the gameplay elements were rather annoying. Up until the Sesen Cathedral I found myself thoroughly enjoying the game and then suddenly Tex Murphy becomes a stealth game. I am aware that the older games had this element too but I never disliked them as much as I did here. And that is saying something because I love stealth. It is also at this point that the game overwhelms you with so many puzzles that I had to force myself to keep playing and not lose interest. The Pandora Directive also was filled with puzzles but it was stretched out over the entire game and far more balanced than in this game. The lack of interaction with other characters or FMV scenes made it a real chore to get through these later sections that never let up on the puzzles and other dangers. I mean getting killed by a random bee is one thing but the huge ass spider not even triggering an eek or death scene was underwhelming. The puzzle sections clearly were put in to replace the storytelling and not to give significance to events. I personally would have laughed hard if Tex accidentally gotten eaten by the spider. Or a scene where the spider admits to Tex not feeling like eating him since he already is quite full and then show us some half eaten body parts. Because for a moment I was genuinely freaked out by the sounds it made. It would have been a nice way to rekindle that typical Tex Murphy humour that is missing at this point.

I know that some of you might think I am overly harsh and critical but trust me I am just being honest here. I am very grateful and happy that I got to play a Tex Murphy again but I am not going to ignore the flaws and issues this game has. It's a good game no doubt but not as good as the previous parts in the franchise. That being said I am looking forward to a continuation of the franchise since Tex Murphy himself (Chris Jones) hasn't lost his charm one bit. 

Also check out my list of the best FMV adventure games I have played (by clicking on this link).

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Review Bullet for Hire a.k.a. Zi dan chu zu (1990): Decent action!

genre: bullet ballet, action, crime

Bullet for Hire is not a film you watch for it's story or characterization. The people who made this film were very aware of this and therefore did not even attempt. Whatever there is story wise it's a downright mess. First it is asked of you to sympathize with main character Han (Simon Yam) and his friend Ngok (Lieh Lo) who are assassins for hire. They are absolutely ruthless and have very little to no conscience at all. All they care is about themselves and each other. At least that is what it seems like the majority of the film until a plot twist later in the film puts a spin on that. But before that they don't have qualms about killing people or showing mercy to women and children. There isn't a single trade about Han that is likeable. It is pure the charisma of Simon Yam alone that make you accept that despicable character. 

For some reason Jacky Cheung is thrown into the mix as the rookie Shan who is entrusted as Han's pupil by big boss Dick Wei. Naturally Shan fumbles and stumbles at first but becomes as good and efficient as Han. Shan is more fleshed out character and has more likeable characteristics but despite these I hardly cared about him. There are two scenes with him that stood out for me. One that is a blatant rip off from Scarface. The other is a scene where Shan and his girlfriend are having dinner in a restaurant. They are sitting at a very large table where a big vase of flowers is put in the middle blocking Shan's view. He tries to communicate with her but obviously that is hard to do with that big vase in the way. I am not sure but it reminded me of the dinner scene in Batman. But it could very well be that it's lifted from another film. This last scene is one of the many comedic scenes in the film that don't mix well with the action and the brutal violence. 

Tonally the film is all over the place and it's best to shut of your brain since it is rather pointless to make sense of it. A lot of the events in the film are illogical and don't flow right. Could be that scenes were cut or they simply didn't care that much to make work of it. I guess it's the latter. The main focus is the action and while not that stylish it was decent and enjoyable. Most of the choreography was done well. The action is fast and exciting while it lasts. Typical bullet ballet shootouts and some fighting. 

Bullet for Hire is one of those dime in a dozen films that can be very enjoyable late at night and in quiet weekends. Other than that is has very little to offer. 

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