The Assassin, Chinese Movie (2015)

I am a great admirer of Asian culture. For some reason I have always held an interest in it, and I truly have the utmost respect for it. As such I am also an enormous lover of Asian cinema. And I don’t mean only Martial Arts movies, (which I ofcourse also like), but also art house movies. Last year I saw the incredibly moving Chinese movie Coming Home, a film that told a truly heartbreaking tale, and almost left me in tears at the end. It contained little to no action, but just had some very powerful acting, and  was a delight to watch from start to finish. A movie that showed that you don’t always need explosions, gunfights or other things like that, to capture the attention of the audience. However, not every picture can pull off something like that, and unfortunately the Assassin is painful proof of that.

The Assassin takes place in seventh century China. A young girl, only 10 years of age called Nie Yinniang is taken by a nun, who trains her to become a deadly assassin. After disappearing for 13 years, Yinniang returns to her homeland to execute a dangerous mission. She is presented with an incredibly difficult choice: kill the man for which she has soms very deep feelings, or break forever with the ways of the assassins. Whatever choice she eventually will make, both roads lead to heartache….

Having seen the trailer for this movie last year I was expecting a very powerful epic, in the style of movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers. This movie however is something completely different. It is slow….so incredibly slow. I don’t mind slow movies at all, but this takes things to a new level. The story is very hard to follow, and there are things happening that just don’t make any sense. Yinniang, for instance is confronted by a mysterious swordswoman in a forest, and after a few blows with their swords and about 10 seconds, both women just walk away. Why ? No explanation whatsoever is given. And the movie is full of things like this.

One thing that does deserve mention is the way the movie is shot. The cinematography is absolutely fantastic, and at times you are wondering if you are looking at something straight out of a dream. The costumes are also spectacular, especially the black outfit of Yinniang. I had been looking forward to this movie ever since I had first seen the trailer. I truly tried to like it and after it ended I found myself wandering what I had missed. The critics were full of praise for this movie, but I have no clue as to why. Yes the movie is beautiful to look at, but that is really all there is to it. I am sad to say this movie has been one of the biggest disappointments of this year. If you have trouble going to sleep, you might find that this movie can help you.

I give the Assassin a 3 out of 10 score.

Legendary Big Trouble in Little China, a Boardgame for 1-5 players, by Upper Deck (2016)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the cult classic Big Trouble in Little China. This movie directed by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russel, has easily become one of my favorite B-horror movie/comedies. With some alltime great one-liners (“Son of a bitch must pay “), I have some very fond memories of this fantastic movie. When Upper Deck announced last year that they would be releasing a game in the Legendary series based upon the movie, I at first thought it was a joke. To my delight though it wasn’t, and yesterday I managed to procure my copy and play my first few games. Was it worth the wait?

Components

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As with every Legendary stand alone set, the box provides a new gameboard. The boards feel like a mousepad, and are very sturdy. The box is smaller than a regular Legendary stand alone set, and because of this the board is folded up in the box. This caused it to have a few noticeable folds. This is a minor issue, but still I wish they could have found a better way to include the board. As this is ofcourse a deckbuilding game, there are a lot of cards in this box, though also not as much as previous stand alone sets. Included are 400 cards all with original artwork of varying quality. As I currently own every Legendary set to date, I have gotten quite used to the differences in artwork between the cards themselves. All in all though the cards look great, and manage to recreate the spirit of the movie. The last thing included is ofcourse the rulebook which does a pretty good job in learning the rules for both veteran players, and players new to deckbuilders.

Game overview

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The Legendary series by Upper deck has now two different game variants. You have the Legendary Encounters sets, which include games based on Aliens, Predator and more recently Firefly. And then there are the normal Legendary sets, which so far have only included games and expansions based on Marvel superhero’s. Big Trouble can now be added to the last list. The big difference between the two gameplay variants is that in Encounters you basically replay the movies on which the games are based on. Completing a number of objectives, you play through some well known scenes of the movie. The normal Legendary series puts you against a villain, who is trying to complete some nefarious plot. Recruiting hero’s you try to stop the villain before he completes his objective.

As Big Trouble in Little China is only one movie, I understand why they decided to go with the normal Legendary treatment. Legendary is a deckbuilder, which means that starting off with a basic set of cards, you try and purchase new and more powerful cards with the basic ones, to enhance your deck. During the game your deck will grow stronger, making it more able to deal with all the enemies that are thrown against you. The hero’s you recruit in this game are ofcourse all familiar characters of the movie including Jack Burton himself. There are a total of 12 schemes, or evil plots if you will, to provide more than enough variety.

Difficulty

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If you already played any other set in the Legendary series, you will have absolutely no trouble in playing this game. It closely resembles the Marvel Legendary series, and as such contains mostly rules that you will already be familiar with. For new players it will at probably be a little bit more difficult in getting into the game at first, but eventually you will get the hang of it. The best way to learn it is by letting a player who already knows the game teach it to you, or just look at the enormous amount of YouTube video’s already out there. Legendary isn’t a difficult game to learn though, and after you have played a couple of rounds, you will have no big trouble (pun intended) with it  whatsoever.

The verdict

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I have been looking forward to this game since it was announced last year, and obviously my expectations for it ran high. Being a huge fan of the movie, I at least hoped the game would do it justice. And I am very glad to say that it does. It is a delight to play with the characters from the movie, and see some great lines of the film return on the cards. The schemes are pretty tough, the villains are great, and the enemies you have to fight are also not a walk in the park. This provides for some very challenging gameplay. A thing worthy of note is that there are no official solorules included with this game, which is a first for Legendary. The rulebook does mention that you can play the game solo using any of the rules from previous sets. I played the game solo by just playing with two hands, and treating it as a two player game.

If you are a fan of the movie, than I think you should check this game out. But even if you are not, or might never have even heard of it, you will probably still enjoy playing it. It provides enough challenge and replay value to keep you playing for a long time. Whether or not you will be able to beat all the schemes, well to use another Jack Burton quote : “It’s all in the reflexes…..”.

I give Legendary Big Trouble in Little China a 9 out of 10 score.

Homeland Season 4, American tv series (2015)

When Homeland season 3 ended, I thought that was it. The story was told, the ending was pretty devastating but very powerful as well, and it just felt like a series finale. To my big surprise the fourth season was announced. At first I was pretty sceptical. I just thought that with one of the main cast members not returning, and the story having reached a conclusion, that this was just an attempt to keep milking a very succesful series. However, having just finished this season I can honestly say that my fears have been put to rest. Season 4 just happens to be the best season to date, except for one thing, which I will adress shortly.

Season 4 finds Carrie Mathison returning in her new role as station chief in Kabul. When she receives high level intelligence from her counterpart in Islamabad, she orders a drone strike. It turns out that the drone hits a wedding party, and that the high level target, the terrorist known as Haqqani, may not even have been eliminated by the strike. As tensions begin to run very high in Pakistan, Carrie finds herself in the middle of it. When enlisting the help of former friends, Carrie is being undermined by both her new colleagues and the Pakistani government. Lines begin to blur, and the question becomes who to trust? Meanwhile, danger lurks at every corner, and soon this danger becomes very, very personal indeed…..

What to say about this season? As always the acting was absolutely superb. Claire Danes just is simply amazing in her role, and she seems to grow with every season. But both Mandy Patinkin and Rupert Friend as Saul and Quinn respectively, also do a fantastic job. This season truly contains some nervewracking episodes, most notably episodes 8, 9 and 10. This season was just an absolute amazing experience from start to episode 11. You must have noticed how I do not say “from start to finish”. I wish I could have done this, but the last episode of this season was just an absolute letdown. The series finale of season 4, just felt like I was watching an entirely different show. After the incredible tension filled episodes that came before, we are treated to an almost soaplike end to an otherwise fantastic season. This was a bit of a disappointment, but despite the finale, I still think that this has been the best season of Homeland to date. It almost felt like a complete renewal of the show, and I am looking forward to what is going to happen next.

I give season 4 of Homeland a 8 out of 10 score. The score would have been higher, but I could not justify it because of the final episode.

Point Break, American Movie (2015)

The original Point Break dating back to 1991, is kind of a cult classic. It starred a young Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze and was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who years later would receive an Oscar for best director for The Hurt Locker. Unfortunately I have not yet seen the original movie, but from what I heard and read about it, it seems to be quite an underrated movie. (And yes I already am ashamed that I managed to miss this one, so don’t rub it in, okay?). As seems to be the trent these days, last year the remake, reboot or whatever you wish to call it saw the light of day. Is it any good? Let us find out, shall we?

Point Break follows the young FBI agent Johny Utah, who used to be an extreme sports athlete. Across the world a series of crimes are being committed by a group of individuals, who perform incredible stunts to achieve these crimes. Johny goes undercover and tries to infiltrate this group, led by the charismatic Bodhy. When he does, he grows ever closer to these people, and soon finds himself questioning his loyalties. At a certain point though, he will have to make a choice, but will it be the right one?

Now there are two reasons that make this movie at least worthy of your time. One of these is the breathtaking scenery. Travelling across the world, we find ourselves at truly incredible spots of nature on Earth. Captured on camera, it is sometimes amazing that there are such beautiful places left in the world. The other reason are the incredible stunts being performed. Some of the extreme sports scenes filmed are absolutely amazing, and amongst the best action scenes I have ever seen on film. Unfortunately those are the only two selling points for this film. The story is almost nonexistent, but that honestly is almost always the case in movies like these. The characters themselves though, are pretty much cardboard. And the actors performing them, are also not going to find themselves with Oscar nominations any time soon. The only actor worthy of note is Ray Winstone, who is always a pleasure to watch.

Whether or not you are going to enjoy this movie pretty much comes down to your tastes. If you like action movies, and don’t care much for story or well thought out characters, you will enjoy this film. If it is the other way around, you would do well to pass on this one. As for me, I am kind of in the middle. I definitely enjoy action movies, and this one wasn’t half bad. The stunts made it worth it for me, but I did not care much for the characters, and that cost the movie some points.

I give this film a 7 out of 10 score.

Pandemic, American Movie (2016)

I used to be a very fanatic gamer. My favorite game genre was definitely the first person shooter. For those not familiair with the term, a first person shooter is a game that is played from the point of view from the player. It usually shows the arms and weapon you are carrying on screen, as if you yourself were the gaming character. It has been years ago since I last played a videogame, but I do often think back on those days with some fond memories. Now why am I bringing this up in a movie review you might ask? Well, because the movie Pandemic is mostly shot from a first person perspective, and at times closely resembles the games I just described.

In Pandemic the world is on the brink of annihilation. Most of humanity has been infected by a very deadly virus and is close to extinction. The sole hope for a cure lies with doctor Lauren, played by Rachel Nichols. Her mission is simple: take a team and find survivors on the streets of Los Angeles, who have not yet been infected by the virus. However once she and her team arrive, they find a city on the brink of chaos, and the hope of finding anyone alive and uninfected becomes very slim at best…

Yes people, it is that time again: the end of the world and the Zombie Apocalypse is here. Empty and deserted streets? Check. Buildings on fire? Check. Hordes of Flesh eating zombies? Check. Since the succes of the Walking Dead, there have been an enormous amount of movies featuring zombies. Now, some of these are pretty good, and truly offer a nice experience if you like these type of movies. However, because of the incredible amount of zombie movies on offer these days, it is hard to find one that is original. Pandemic praises itself for that, because of the unique first person perspective that most scenes are shot from. That might be true, but because of this, the movie at times becomes impossible to watch as the shaky cam is hard to follow. And honestly, this just isn’t a very good movie.I think you might achieve the same experience by putting in a video game, and you would probably have more fun.

The story is almost non-existent and the characters are so incredibly dull, that you almost don’t care what happens to them either way. I really like Rachel Nichols, who was absolutely fantastic in the tv show Continuum. Here though, she is completely out of place, but that is not really her fault. The blame must be put on the people who wrote the script for the movie. I truly like watching zombie movies, but this one was just a waste of time.

I give Pandemic a 4 out of 10 score.

 

Spooks:The Greater Good, UK movie (2015)

One thing the British are very good at, is making good old fashioned spy movies. And why not, because the most famous spy in the world, James Bond is ofcourse also a Brit. The television show Spooks is a British spy show, that concentrates on the British Intelligence Service, MI-5. It has run for 10 seasons during which multiple characters either joined the show or left it. This movie is a continuation of the tv show, but if you have never seen it, you can still watch it, as it stands pretty much on it’s own.

Spooks: The Greater Good, starts of in the middle of a prisoner transport, escorted by MI-5 Agents. When the convoy gets ambushed, the dangerous terrorist known as Qasim is freed in the process. As the escape is almost too easy, suspicion begins to rise that there is a traitor inside MI-5. When the head of the Counter-Terrorism Division of MI-5, Harry Pearce, disappears soon after, he becomes the main suspect. A disgraced agent and former protégé of Harry, is then brought in to help track Harry down. The agent, Will Holloway, finds himself right in the middle of a conspiracy. And with the terrorist Qasim planning an attack, the stakes become very high indeed.

Honestly, when I bough this movie on dvd, I did not know that this movie was a follow up to the Spooks tv show. It just said MI-5 on the cover, it starred Kit “you know nothing John Snow” Harrington, and I found myself liking the story on the back cover. I have only seen the first two seasons of Spooks, and what I remember of it was that it was a pretty decent and exciting tv series. This movie is pretty good too. As far as the acting is concerned, both Kit Harington and Peter Firth play very good roles and because of them the movie rises to above average. There are a couple of action scenes, but I would not classify this as an action movie. The story has a few nice twists and turns, and from what I have read in other reviews some pretty cool easter eggs for fans of the Spooks tv series. As I said in the beginning, you can watch this movie without ever having seen the tv series. But this movie has sparked my interest to now continue with the other 8 seasons of Spooks, that I have yet to watch. All in all this is just a small but nice and decent spy movie, and worth the watch.

I give Spooks: The Greater Good a 7 out of 10 score.

The Shallows, American Movie (2016)

Ever since Jaws graced the cinema screens way back in 1975, there have been so many movies featuring killer sharks, that I think I have lost count. But I honestly have to say that I always enjoy watching them, despite a few truly awful movies like for instance Shark Attack 3. Occasionally though there are some that are surprisingly good, for instance Deep Blue Sea and Open Water. Not one of them has ever managed to reach the same level as the classic movie Jaws however. This year a new attempt has been made with the release of the movie The Shallows. And I do have to say, that it comes pretty close.

In the Shallows we follow the surfer Nancy, played by actress Blake Lively. After a personal trauma in her life, she tries to find solace at a secluded beach. The solace she finds is very shortlived however, for when she enters the water with her surfboard, she gets attacked by a killershark. Trapped on a small reef, wounded and without food, the situation becomes very desperate for Nancy. A battle of wills begins between her and the shark. But as time passes, and Nancy becomes more weak by the minute, this battle might be over, before it even starts……

The Shallows is one of those movies that pretty much stays in one location and has it’s focus on only one person, in this case Nancy. As such, the actor portraying that character has a very hard role, and the movie stands or falls with him or her doing it right. Blake Lively luckily does a very good job at making the audience care about what happens to Nancy. The movie starts of a bit slowly, and there came a certain point where I began thinking: ” I want something to happen now”. After that point, enough exciting things do happen, to make you forget the slow start. The shark itself, even though it was created by CGI, is very convincing. There are a couple of very tense scenes, that will truly have you sitting on the edge of your seat. Is it as good as the classic Jaws? No….but it does come very close. I think it is one of the best shark movies since that 1975 blockbuster, and if you like a tense, at times terrifying thriller, this movie is definitely for you.

I give the Shallows a 8 out of 10 score.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, American movie (2015)

The original Maze Runner was a very pleasant surprise in the Young Adult novel movie adaptations. With so many of those books being made into movies for the big screen, the genre became stale and tiresome. The Maze Runner definitely stood out amongst those movies. It had a very interesting story, fantastic visual effects, and instead of a female lead, it featured a male who played the hero. (Not that I am complaining when there is a female lead mind you). As the movie was a great succes, the sequel called the Scorch Trials, was given the green light. Adapted from the second novel of the trilogy of books these movies are based on, I hoped the movie would be at least as good as the first one.

In the Scorch Trials we pick up the story of Thomas and his friends right after their exit from the Maze. After having been rescued they are taken to a mysterious compound, where they soon find out they were not the only ones who underwent the Trials. Believing themselves safe for the time being, they begin to relax. However, as people begin to disappear Thomas becomes increasingly doubtful of the true intentions of their would-be rescuers. It is not soon after, that Thomas and his friends are on the run again. Escaping into a scorching landscape, infested with people who have been infected by the Flare virus, they find themselves in a very harrowing predicament. With WCKD on the hunt, Thomas will have to think of something fast, or it will mean the end of all their lives…

Now as I said, I had hoped this movie would be as good as the original. It comes close, but honestly this movie does not reach that same level. One of the things missing in this movie is a good story. Basically this is just a chase movie, with Thomas, Minho, and all the others constantly being on the run. The actionscenes are definitely worth watching though. At times I did wonder if I might have accidentally put on the latest episode of the Walking Dead. The zombies featured in this movie are however downright creepy, and unique enough to stand out from the enormous amount of zombie offerings out there these days. I was not bored throughout this movie for one moment, and despite it not being as good as the original, there is still enough to enjoy and make it worth your time. As for the third entry in the trilogy, that movie has unfortunately been postponed until 2018. Dylan O’Brien, who plays Thomas, was seriously hurt on set during the filming of the third installment. As his recovery has taken longer than expected, the movie had to be put on hold for a while. Hopefully, the extra time gained will mean that they can take more effort into ensuring that the 3rd movie will be a worthy conclusion to this franchise.

I give the Scorch Trials a 7 out of 10 score.

Homeland Season 3, American tv series (2013/2014)

Homeland is just one of those tv series that I have a kind of love/hate relationship with. There are episodes that are completely briljant, but there also episodes that are quite boring, and at which I at times struggle to stay awake. For those of you unfamiliair with the show, Homeland tells the story of the American marine Nicholas Brody who is rescued from an Al Qaeda prison after having been tortured for 8 years. Upon returning home, and being reunited with his family, he begins to behave more and more strangely. The question becomes if he may have been compromised, and the CIA operative Carrie Mathison is convinced he has been, and may be planning an attack on America. Well, at least that was the story in season 1, but from there the story progressed, and in my opinion became an even better show.

Season 3 picks up where season 2 ended. Brody is on the run and the suspect of one of the biggest attacks on American soil. The only one who is not convinced of his guilt is Carrie. But she has her own problems at the agency, as an upcoming shift of leadership, makes it more and more difficult for her to do her job. And with a new threat on the horizon, the currently acting director for the CIA, Saul Berenson, has a briljant plan. But will he be able to execute it, as he too has increasingly more difficulty to do his job, under the upcoming director. With lines being drawn, the security of America and peace and stability in the Middle East hangs in the balance…

What a season this has been. I have heard it said that there were a lot of people that did not really like this season. They felt it was slowpaced, and that not much of anything really happened. For me though, this was the best season to date. In part that was because of the briljant acting of the three leads: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. Already impressive in the previous seasons, they really outdid themselves in this season. Some of the scenes between them were so incredibly powerful, that at times I forgot I was watching a television series. Another thing that will definitely haunt me forever is one of the final scenes of the last episodes of this season. Now without giving away spoilers, I think for me this will go down as one of the most emotional scenes ever seen in a tv show. I felt like I had been punched in the gut after seeing this for the first time. This season has been a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. I truly wonder now though, where the story will go next, as season 3 felt like the closing of a chapter, or even could have served as a series finale. I will let you know soon enough, as season 4 is next on my “to watch ” list.

As for season 3, I give this a 9 out of 10 score.

In the Heart of the Sea, American Movie (2015)

The classic novel Moby Dick, written by Herman Melville, is just one of those stories that nearly everyone knows. It has been brought to both the big and small screen many times, and of all of these the 1956 version starring Gregory Peck in the role of captain Ahab, is the one that springs to mind the most. It has always been a tale that was fascinating to watch, but having seen so many versions of it, one can say that enough is enough. When I first saw the trailer for the Ron Howard film in the Heart of the Sea, I thought exactly that. But this movie is not another version of Moby Dick, but rather tells a completely different story.

The movie is based on a real story and follows writer Herman Melville, and how he came by the inspiration for his beloved novel. Herman meets up with the last living survivor of the whaling vessel Essex. Having heard rumors that this vessel got attacked by a giant whale, he thinks it to be the perfect background from which he can write his new novel. The last survivor, Tom Nickerson, is at first reluctant to tell his tale. Eventually though he does, and the tale that Tom shares is one of many hardships. Nickerson was just a boy when he set sail on the Essex. The captain of the ship, George Pollack and his first mate Owen Chase, were not the best of friends. When the vessel eventually reaches the territory of the whales, both men will be put to the test. For what they encounter is something they have both never witnessed before. The quest for survival is on, and in order to survive, the entire crew might have to do things that they never thought themselves capable of.

Ron Howard nearly always impresses me with his films, and In the Heart of the Sea is no exception. The real life story of the fate that doomed the Essex is brought to life in a very good way. The tale is being told in series of flash backs, as the older Tom Nickerson, a role played by the wonderful actor Brendan Gleeson, recounts his story. It does not lay the focus on how the whale eventually attacks the Essex, but rather what ordinary men do to survive in the most extreme of circumstances. Both Benjamin Walker, playing Pollack, and Chris Hemsworth in the role of Chase, do a very good job in portraying their characters and what motivates them. One minor thing that costs the movie some points is the use of CGI. At times, especially when the men are rowing in longboats chasing the whales, it becomes very clear that is the work of a computer. Above all however, this is a classic adventure movie, and one that I highly enjoyed.

I give this movie a 8 out of 10 score.