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The Gamers: Hands of Fate (2013)
A great movie about fantasy gaming with heart
Though initially dismissive of customizable card games and its player base, when the abrasive Cass meets beautiful gamer girl Natalie he enters a tournament for the CCG Romance of the Nine Empires in order to wrangle a date from her. In an alternate reality, the heroic princess Myriad searches for a way to protect the kingdom of Holden from the wars that rage across the world of Countermay. She begins to suspect, however, that her fate is controlled by something altogether outside of her reality. Will Cass get the girl? Will the land of Holden survive the coming war? The fate of the land of Countermay depends on the outcome of Cass's CCG tournament...or is it the other way around?
For viewers unfamiliar with the previous movies The Gamers and The Gamers:Dorkness Rising (the original movie was more of stand-alone, extended sketch comedy skit than a full-fledged movie, and featured few of the same characters from its two sequels) , the story should be pretty easy to follow, though a few elements may leave some people scratching their heads, and some of the humor might fall a little flat with those who aren't familiar with the gaming community and its tropes. Also, it should be noted that this is a low budget, Kickstarter-funded production, so the production values might be lower than what most viewers are used to which could be a turn-off.
For returning fans, while Dorkness Rising focused on nice guy Lodge and his frustrations with both his dysfunctional role-playing group and a case of writer's block, Hands of Fate shifts its focus to the ultimately good-hearted jerk Cass. There's also a larger focus on the real world plot than there was in the last movie. I think Cass is an entertaining lead protagonist, so these aren't problems so much as things to be aware of.
If you're hoping for a continuation of the story-within-a-story that was the focus of Dorkness Rising, you'll be disappointed, as one of the sub-plots of Hands of Fate is the fact that the gaming group can't seem to get together to play. Instead, we get to see into the world of Romance of the Nine Empires, a fictional CCG, and its inhabitants are their own entities rather than the extension of their players in the real world. This is a negative, in my opinion. It's not that the CCG world is any less engaging than the RPG world was, it's just that the fantasy storyline was never the point in the first place--it was the dynamic of seeing the characters switching back and forth between their real and fantasy personas that made the whole thing fun. Unfortunately that's mostly absent here.
As far as the acting is concerned, I thought the the main cast was pretty good. Brian Lewis as main character Cass did a great job, and takes a character that was originally designed as kind of an antagonist in Dorkness Rising and turns him into a relatable protagonist. One of my favorite performances is actually Scott C. Brown as Leo--while Leo was new to RPGs, he's actually experienced in CCGs, so his character gets to transform from fumbling newb to wise master, and I thought he was able to pull it off without it seeming like we were looking at a new character with the same face.
Some of the less prominent acting can be a little hit or miss around the edges which is to be expected since the cast seems to be fleshed out a bit with amateur actors. What might be a problem to some viewers though is understanding when the acting is bad on purpose, such as when a character in the movie is himself playing a character and is meant to be bad at it. For instance, there's a sequence where a number of people are Live Action Role Playing, a sequence filled with bad deliveries and cheesy speeches--but they're supposed to be that way. I can see how some people might not get it if they're not really understanding what they're looking at.
I do have a few nitpicks, mostly it just seems like a little more finesse could have been used. Sometimes Checkov's gun is set on the mantle a little too obviously, or points where I feel an emotional payoff for a storyline seemed a little too calculated. The one major problem I had was with the plot for the Gary character--it starts off amusingly silly but then goes off into a really darkly absurd place that's out of sync with the rest of the movie--while still being treated as just slightly kooky.
In all, don't let the low budget or the niche genre nature of the material turn you off to the movie--it's a funny, smart movie about gamers. Sometimes they antagonize each other, sometimes they have different ideas on how things should be played, but at the end of the day they are there because they love gaming.
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)
This should have been awesome...
Have you ever been in a situation where you didn't laugh at someone's joke and they decided you didn't 'get it,' and you were too polite to say "Oh, I got it, I just didn't think it was funny"? Well, for me, this movie is like that joke.
The idea sound right up my alley. It's got everything to fuel my geekish cravings. A dystopian, alternate future? Check. Highly stylized, psychedelic imagery? Check. A detailed world with a huge backstory? Check. Hot, scantily clad chicks? Tons of gore? That guy from those old coffee commercials and Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Check, check, and check. Taking all this together and then having the absurdity (and to clear things up, saying something of this nature is absurd is not necessarily a negative thing to me) of making it all a musical to boot? My goodness, with all this I should have reached a state of nerdvana.
When I heard about this movie I thought it would be the best thing since sliced bread. So, yes, I got it. Unfortunately I just didn't think it was funny.
It's all just so blah. While the story background is great and well-detailed, the plot itself is boring. The acting ranges from bad to abysmal, with a few exceptions of course. The music is very generic, with not a single thing standing out about it. The singing is all over the place, ranging from horrible to fantastic--sometimes from the same actor--but mostly plain bad. Let me put it this way: Paris Hilton is in it and she's neither the worst actor nor the worst singer. Yeah you read that right.
There were a few bright spots. Anthony Stewart Head was very entertaining--when he was in his repo man persona at least. Additionally, I have to grudgingly admit I quite enjoyed Alexa Vega's singing.
Overall, I have to give it an A+ for effort but an F for execution. Keep in mind, though, that this is the kind of movie that people either really love or really hate. I just happen to hate it. There's a lot of people who really love the movie, so if you're like me and think that the premise sounds great, maybe you should give it a try.
Best of the best
Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars exemplifies Farscape and science fiction in general at its best. Filled with everything you'd expect from a big budget science fiction movie--the aliens, the gadgets, the stunning visuals, and thrilling special effects--it nevertheless remembers that none of this matters unless you have a story and characters that you can actually care about. The miniseries, as the series before it, is filled with colorful and yet organic characters that live and grow, and a story that evolves around the characters that drive it. It is the story of John Crichton, a human astronaut caught in the center of an interstellar war, and what he must do to protect those that he loves. It is the story of Aeryn Sun, raised to be a warrior, coping with her fear of allowing love into her life, and something even more frightening: motherhood. It's filled with all the drama, action, adventure, and silly little comedic moments that fans would expect (not to mention Crichton's rapid fire pop culture references). That being said, those not familiar with the history of the show might have a hard time catching up, as the story builds on all four seasons of the show, but anyone who takes the time to watch will be greatly rewarded.
Impressive visually, otherwise good (but not great)
Visually, Final Fantasy: The spirits Within is a wonderful piece of animation. While they wouldn't pass for human exactly, the characters are about as close as anyone will see for quite a while, and the fluidity of motion is done very well (though showing of emotion on the human faces still needs some work). For those of you who ask "why make photo-realistic human characters at all when you can just use real humans," I say this--do you ask a painter why he paints a portrait of a person when he can just take a photograph? The level of artistry involved in making this movie was amazing, the look is truly outstanding.
That, of course, leads to the second part of my review, the not-so-shining aspects of the movie. Let me set this straight--I think this is a good, solid movie. There is nothing wrong with it, however, outside of the quality of the visual artistry, nothing truly stands out about the movie.
The storyline is interesting, but at times predictable and at other times hard to understand. Most of the characters seem to be there as space fillers, including the villain character General Hein who, with the creepy-surreal look given to him (what's with his eyes?) and voice work by James Woods, could have been much more interesting. The voice work is good, but no one performance especially stands out. It's hard to really feel any empathy for any of the characters. The chemistry between the main character, Aki, and her love interest Grey really isn't there. As for the soundtrack, though I find it enjoyable as background music, it has no real emotion to it, and any underlying theme is hard to discern.
The final part of my review is the movie through the eyes of a long-time Final Fantasy fan. In that respect, the movie failed horribly. Except for the name and the inclusion of Doctor Sid (note: not "Cid"), there are no ties to the game series whatsoever. The movie is pure science fiction, there are no fantasy aspects anywhere in sight. Even in Final Fantasy VII and VIII (under the helm of Hironobu Sakaguchi, the writer/head honcho for the film) had heavy fantasy elements mixed in with their sci-fi elements. None of the recurring elements (again, except the occurance of Cid and I'm told a couple pictures of chocobos supposedly hidden here and there that I didn't see) of the game series appear. Magic, summoned monster companions, airships, the underlying theme of good vs evil (even the villains in the movie aren't really 'evil') -- all are unfortunately absent. It seems as if Square wanted to completely distance themselves from the fans and everything that made the series so great. The final blow for me was not to have Nobuo Uematsu as the composer of the music. The Final Fantasy music has always been well-known for being incredible, and while I like the music, as I said, it just pales in comparison to the music from the games, especially arranged versions that have been produced.
So, to sum it all up: It's a good movie, but don't expect greatness from it except for the visuals. And if you're only going to see it because you're a Final Fantasy fan, don't bother.
Dracula 2000 (2000)
Worth seeing, not your typical slasher horror
I was happily surprised when I saw this movie. I was expecting a stylish but badly-acted slasher horror movie where body count is more important than plot but in all things the movie held its own. The plot was as original as a vampire movie can be (Dracula's on the lose and only one person can stop him!) but enough thought was put into the movie to ensure that there were new twists on the old story. The movie re-examines the origins of Dracula and Van Helsing's involvement in his story in a way that reminds me a lot of The 7th Sign with Demi Moore (if you've seen both movies you'll understand what I mean but I won't go into detail due to spoilers in the case of both movies). The acting was generally well-done, the dialogue was good, and the special effects fit the movie, neither poorly done nor overblown. The only problem I had was with them throwing Jeri Ryan (of Star Trek: Voyager fame) into the movie as one of the 3 vampires in Dracula's new harem. The other 2 such vampires were related (plot-wise, not blood-wise) to the main characters in some way while her character just seemed to be thrown in for her cleavage (funnily enough her character pretty much acknowledges as the extent of her talent as a news reporter). That is not to say that the other two didn't serve that purpose as well but at least they were somehow related to plot--Jeri Ryan's character could have been completely removed with no problem whatsoever. Makes me wonder if she was added in after test screenings indicated that the movie needed more T&A.