Pee Mak (2013)

With a certain holiday (if we can call it that this year) around the corner, let’s do a ghost story. And in this case, let’s talk about a ghost story that made so much money in Thailand that it became their highest grossing film, by being made on a budget of $1,800,000 and leaving the cinema with $33,000,000. The Ghost under the big bright headlight is Lady Nak – an intricate part of Thai local folklore from the time of King Rama IV (1851-1868). This is Pee Mak, available as of this review on Netflix.

As mentioned, set in mid 1800s Siam (during a time when King Mongkut was in power and when the whole area was plagued by wars), our story revolves around a husband, wife, and four soldiers who accompanied the husband home. The husband is Mak (played by Mario Maurer), his wife is Nak (played by Davika Hoorne), and Mak’s fantastic four are Aey (Moustache), Ter (Glasses), Shin (Top Knot) and Puak (horned curtains). The Men were all involved in the war and end up becoming best friends after Mak saves their lives in a battle. Meanwhile, Nak is alone and experiencing a difficult birth, and shortly afterwards rumours went around town that she died during labor and had become a very powerful ghost. The fear was to the point that when the five men arrive in Mak’s village in the evening, there is nobody around. Upon arriving home, Mak then introduces them to his wife, and because it was too dark to continue travelling, they all decide to stay…However the four friends start to become suspicious. Believing that Nak is actually a ghost and Mak is completely oblivious to this fact.

Now to talk about what’s real and what isn’t:

The Acting is comedic for the most part while also applying elements of horror and romance, depending on which scene is happening. Many-a-times I found myself watching this as if is the equivalent of a spoof to another film telling this story. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the horror aspect is less scary and more grotesque anyway Classical. A part of me feels that you have to have family members or friends that remind you of these characters in order to get the fullest enjoyment of their performance, because otherwise they could potentially fit the credentials of any variation of the Stand By Me kids that also includes someone out to get them.

The Characters consists of 2 leads, 4 supporting, and quite a few extras. The extras are the soldiers and the villagers, with the villagers mostly there to advance the plot a little, in particular the town drunk and her son. Like I said about the acting, I’d say the characters are more like everyday people and designed to remind you of folk you know. The only character who stands out as being evidently different is obviously Nak, who plays a great straight-role while everyone else is more on the funny side. Mario Maurer’s Mak is pleasantly dim in his own way while Davika Hoorne’s Nak is very good at switching between possibly alive and possibly a ghost.

The Story is based on the local legend, while at the same time this is very much a comedic take on it. Rather than being told from Nak’s point of View, which is what many tellings of the story do – it is told from Mak’s perspective instead, hence why the film is called Pee Mak (or Brother Mak). Humour prevails throughout the film as Mak’s friends try to tell him the truth while doing their best to not be killed by Nak by being blatantly obvious, or possibly slanderous in the accusation. It is a matter of them seeing her as a ghost while Mak appears to be either under a spell or illusion or he might actually be foolish. We are then given a small mystery element, causing us to ask ourselves “what is real and what isn’t”. A part of me also considers possible themes of control. Along the lines of a wife telling her husband that he can’t go out with his friends. Other times it’s about the themes of truth vs gossip, privacy vs public knowledge and love regardless of circumstance.

The Music, and especially how it was used or edited is…a matter of preference. If you have ever seen trailers for American Movies and how they cut the music in order to tell a joke or punchline that is meant to cause the audience to laugh somehow…Well, that technique is used a fair amount here. We’re presented with something dramatic or spooky, and then the music cuts as a line of dialogue is being used as a foil. However, the music that’s played during the scenes between Mak and Nak on their own (at home, the fair and so on), such as Want To Stop The Time by Palmy are really lovely.

The CGI/Special Effects go back and forth in quality with the practical effects being better than the CGI. As far as I can see, the CGI is minimal. Such as the bees coming out of the hive, that one was evident. On other occasions some cinematography choices allowed a by-pass on certain effects, and at other times, some effects are all that’s needed – such as the presentation of extended limbs. Then you have other special effects such as the presentation of cadavers, which were actually well done, though pretty graphic in their own right…even though it’s a comedy, it is also horror after all.

The Art style is great. Excellent sets and a good use of neutral colours and lighting, especially for the ghost scenes. The tree houses by the river are a nice setting. Nothing feels like a set, and everything feels organic. Even the practically effects are very earthy.

The Cinematography is quite good. Parts of the film were shot in such a way that less CGI was needed, and the lighting of Mak’s home along with the river was nicely done. Pleasantly atmospheric, even though it is technically a horror setting.

Would I recommend Pee Mak? Yes I would, because I think it’s a film that should be seen at least once regardless of your background. In my opinion it is a film that is best experienced by anybody who lives in Thailand or visit very regularly. Anybody who knows the language, the customs (Such as why everyone in this film has black teeth), the mannerisms, the folklore, the humour and the characters that could be met along the way. It can be argued that it’s a Thai film for a Thai audience and I can respect that. At that same time, I did find it amusing and thought it was pretty well made.

Acting: ***1/2

Character: ****

Story: ****1/2

Music: ***1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ***1/4

Art: ****1/2

Cinematography: ***3/4

Overall: ***3/4

Knives Out (2019)

Whodunits; the foundation (and go-to staple) of detective fiction fantasy. Set in manors or mansions or luxurious trains, a detective arrives to a murder and tries to find the culprit from within a small group of people. Red Herrings, revisions of clues, new perceptions, motives and a potentially guilty butler. It is a genre that can be done well or done badly, and yet still maintain a fun-factor within itself, depending on the game being played. Not-so ironically, we’ve even made a board game out of it (Clue/Cluedo). However the genre is for the most part quite exhausted, and many-a-times we either rehash what worked before or experiment on new ideas based on current events and culture in an attempt to bring in new audiences and spawn new generations of authors…Enter Rian Johnson’s Detective comedy Knives Out.

Set in the modern day (2019), our story revolves primarily around the Thrombey Mansion in Massachusetts, a home owned by the Thrombey family, or more specifically an acclaimed mystery novelist name Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). We begin with Fran the housekeeper (Edi Patterson), bringing Harlan his breakfast, which included a mug of coffee that read “My House, My Rules, My Coffee”. After not finding him in bed, she goes to find him in his study…dead. With a medium-sized knife clearly used as a weapon against his own jugular. We then find out that Harlan’s 85th Birthday Party happened the night before, which included Harlan’s Mother, Wanetta, (or “Great Nana” as the family calls her, played by K Callan) his children, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Walt (Michael Shannon), their spouses, Richard (Don Johnson) and Donna (Riki Lindhome), as well as Toni, the widow of Harlan’s middle son Neil, and Harlan’s grandchildren, Ransom (Chris Evans), Meg (Katherine Langford) and Jacob (Jaeden Martell). In a Rashomon fashion, the family, housekeeper and Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas) are questioned Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Laketh Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) about what happened, then in walks, or specifically, already seated, the world famous detective Benoit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig). So we have an elderly man (and a mystery writer at that), who made a mass fortune, and nearly everybody (with exceptions) is convinced that it was suicide…everybody but Benoit Blanc. Obviously Harlan’s Will is due for an audience, but Blanc wants to prove to everyone…that this was a murder.

Now to see whodunit well in the building process:

The acting for the most part is excellent, with some of it at times being a real head-scratcher – in particular Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Benoit Blanc – French name, Southern American Accent…and I don’t mean Brazil, I mean Texan. It is a fine example of actors playing roles that are a far cry from what they’re known best for. In Craig’s case, James Bond, and in Chris Evans’ case…Captain America. Then we have other actors who could come as a surprise, considering their roles in both detective and horror fiction over the years. You have Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween, Don Johnson from Miami Vice, Jaeden Martell from Stephen King’s IT, Toni Collette from The Sixth Sense, Katherine Langford for 13 Reasons Why…then of course, the Star Wars cast: Frank Oz (voice of Yoda) as Harlan’s Lawyer, Noah Segan (from The Last Jedi) as a secondary detective, and the fact that Rian Johnson directed The Last Jedi (for better or worse). I thought everybody played their roles well, from the most to the least of on-screen presence, and Ana de Armas was excellent as a main protagonist.

The Characters and Story are…fantastic. It was advertised as a Whodunit for a modern audience, and it very much delivers. Benoit Blanc It’s one of the most unique characters that I’ve seen, and enjoyable when you get past the potential mixture that lead to him – I see him as part Sherlock, part Columbo, part Maigret, and part Senator Claghorn (It’s the accent). Out of all the characters, Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera, is by far the most loveable, and for good reason. One of the themes of the film is the passive discrimination within the United States of Latin-American residents…In fact this film is, in its own right, a political commentary holding up a mirror. In particular a commentary of today’s American (and possibly Western in general) politics or political or life views. The Thrombey Family, among other suspects, each represent a different side of American or western life: You have Money, Bounty and Opportunity (Harlan), the self-made (Linda), the hypocritical (Richard), the privileged but ungrateful (Ransom), the hard working underachiever (Walt), the non-confrontational good girl (Donna), the know-it-all imposer of one’s lifestyle (Toni), the Social Justice Warrior (Meg), The Alt-Right internet troll (Jacob), the seemingly oblivious (Great Nana) and of course the third party victims of circumstance (Fran, the housekeeper) and the immigrants trying to get on with their lives, which includes just being very good at their work (Marta). What brings all of the characters into the fire is Harlan…Because Harlan is money…he’s life…He’s the life-source for his children…and it’s making them all very screwed up, regardless of where they stand or what they think is correct…because they love money. They say “I love you” or “We love you” because when money is at stake, so are their lives, even Toni and Meg.

The music by Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin) is great! Especially in how it’s used in the film’s open shot with the dogs running away from the house in slow motion. It might be 1 of my favourite openings to a film now, and yet in sets the audience up for how they’re going to feel for the rest of the film – that this is going to be a quirky, kooky and darkly humorous experience. Then you have the music that isn’t Johnson’s. The film ends with Sweet Virginia by The Rolling Stones

The artistic decisions and cinematography reminded me of Wes Anderson, and when I saw the trailer, I assumed that Anderson was involved somehow, and was surprised by his absence. Every shot is well placed, and the presence of all the dolls/puppets/marionettes, as well as the colours of the walls and the lighting…you can smell the wood interior of the house without actually being there.

Would I recommend Knives Out? Yes! I loved this, and yes the experience of going into the film without knowing whodunit is gone. But I could return to this film easily because of how well produced the journey was, along with great dialogue, quirky characters, some likeable and others a detestable mirror of the world around us while they engage in arguments that are riddled with humorous hypocrisy.

Acting: ****1/2

Character: ****3/4

Story: *****

Music: ****1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ****

Art: ****1/2

Cinematography: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/2

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories (2013)

To continue the focus on J-Horror for the time being, we’re now going to have a look at a show that has, well…possibly everything to do with this sub-genre. You can find it on Crunchyroll, and as of 2020 is still going, and now has a live action version of itself available. You could watch a whole season in less than an hour, and yet every episode has real intrigue and suspense. This is Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories.

So what is it about? Well, in the intro of every episode, at 5pm in-show, the sound of a small drum would be beaten, and all of the children in a playground would stop what they’re doing, and turn their attention towards a man wearing a yellow mask who appears to have an elaborate box or cabinet with doors on display. The man is not a pied piper or weirdo spying them (thankfully), but rather he is a special kind of Sweet Vendor known as a Kamishibai Narrator, with Kamishibai being translated as “Paper Play”, “Paper Drama” or “Paper Theatre”. But here it’s a Yami Shibai, which instead means “Dark Play”. We are then given a short story with a start, middle and end, followed by a catchy little theme tune that changes from season to season.

Now to discuss the intricacies of this contraption:

The Art Style and Animation is far from new, but how it is platformed is, to a degree. It provides us with possibly the most minimalist anime you will ever see (Nearly as minimalist as some anime in the 1960s and 70s), as there is emphasis on animating with either the camera or by moving still images on screen to create the impression of animation. It could also be argued that this is like a motion comic, in which we witness individual stills in a slow paced and kinetic presentation. If you to compare this to, let’s say Makoto Shinkai’s ‘Your Name’ or Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, it’s like comparing fire and water, if I’m honest. Very different to each other. Either you hate the style, or it’s fantastic. The Art Style includes realistic anime character designs with drained colours and dark backgrounds, even during some daytime scenes. Much of what we see is a little dreary…setting the mood rather perfectly.

The Voice Acting, as far as I’m concerned, is very spot on and solid. There’s no english voiceover for this – and I have no problem with that because it may take away from the authentic nature of the story presentations. There’s subtitles, and when it comes to frightening vocals…you don’t need a dub to be scared of what you’re hearing.

The Stories, Themes and Characters are all stand alone from episode to episode, the only character who appears in all of them is the Narrator introducing the story. The characters themselves are very much normal people you would find anywhere, but particularly in Japan; Curious Children discussing Urban Legends, People moving into strange new places that might be haunted, High Schoolers witnessing their fears manifested in a nightmarish fashion… There are no bad characters, just vague and underdeveloped ones that anybody could slot themselves into the role of, which is why I’m giving them a three, no more, no less. The Stories and themes borrows from many aspects of Japanese Horror, Urban Legends, morality tales and Folklore, including the Lifts that go to dark and disclosed floors, Ghost Neighbours, Children hearing or seeing Demons that would see them locked in a room and told not to leave until morning…while a bowl of salt burns when the demon is near to protect them. At times the visuals can delve into HP Lovecraft’s cosmic horror territory, including the episode of the Salaryman who is so tired that he’s seeing a moving, talking pile of meat trying to get him to look at it…kinda grim. But in general, I love how this is done, even if the animation style is not to everyone’s liking.

The Music is very creepy, creating the kind of squirm that would be associated with watching Ju-On and The Ring…only it’s quick and easily taken in, with the end themes bringing you back to reality.

Would I Recommend Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories? Yes I would! I thoroughly enjoy these bitesize horror stories that make me think I’m watching a Japanese version of The Twilight Zone, while also witnessing a preservation of an old art form for a newer audience. It continues the theme of Old and New going in the same direction, and in this case, the New is giving the Old a new lease of life by being an anime on TV, phones or internet in general. Considering Kamishibai was once a primary form of escapism before the “Electric Kamishibai” (now known as the Television) took its place, it was the equivalent of a Comic Book with voiceovers, background noises and suspense to create an audio-visual experience. In its own right – it was more advanced than Radio…And now the art form is given both a revival of interest and a more international audience. So if you like Horror, do check it out. It’s well done.

Art Style: ****1/2

Animation: ** (When compared to other animations, but ***** for the fact that this is a very deliberate style of storytelling)

Voice Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ***

Story: ****

Music: ****3/4

Themes: ****1/2

Overall: **** or ****1/4, depending on how you feel about the animation

Ring (1998)

Ever since I started writing on this website, this film was going to eventually pop up on it. And though I missed what would have been a good time to release it (mid September), anything horror related is usually a perfect choice in October anyway. We’ll add to the fact that one of the actresses in this film (Yūko Takeuchi) passed away on September 27th this year. Making this a little more bittersweet than intended. Anyway, without holding back much longer, here is the first live-action Japanese film I ever saw (demonstrating, occasionally, the power of remakes). This is Ring.

Set in September, 1997, our story revolves around Reiko Asakawa (played by Nanako Matsushima), a beautiful young journalist and divorced Single Mum who works for a TV Company. She has one son, Yōichi (played by Rikiya Otaka), who is in primary school, and her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), is a college professor who has a hint of a sixth sense. Reiko decides to investigate an urban legend for work that was being passed around by High Schoolers. The urban legend in question is a haunted TV Channel or VHS tape that kills its audience a week after being watched. Due to how up-in-the-air the whole thing is, Her story goes cold…but then quickly it is reignited in a tragic fashion…through the death of her niece, Tomoko. At the funeral, She finds out that Tomoko’s passing was a strange one. There was no suggestion of foul play, and yet she received both an autopsy and a closed casket ceremony. Tomoko’s classmates were outside during the funeral, and through them Reiko finds out that Tomoko had possibly seen this tape or channel. Reason? She died at the same time as a group of other teenagers, with whom she went to stay in a rental cabin in the Izu Region (as one last fun weekend before going back to school). After finding a receipt for Photographs in Tomoko’s room, Reiko got the photos, and finds out where the teens stayed…to which, she decided to spend the night in the same Cabin…She finds a tape…and from here Reiko, with the help of her ex-husband Ryūji (Who, because he has this sixth sense, doesn’t treat her like she’s crazy), tries to find out how to break the curse before the end of what could be Reiko’s last 7 days on earth.

Now to look at the components:

The Acting is very good for the most part, & Nanako Matsushima is excellent as someone trying to keep a level head when it’s a race against the clock to save her own life and anybody who comes in contact with the tape’s contents. Rie Inō is fantastic as Sadako, even if her appearances were brief. She’s excellent at presenting herself in a creepy fashion. Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance as Ryuji Takayama (Reiko’s ex) is highly underrated, I feel, considering the characteristics that he chooses not to flaunt. He doesn’t put on a kooky clairvoyant performance, but he does reveal small details of his gift in his eyes and head movement. Everybody else is memorable to a degree, especially the two high schoolers at the start of the film as they give the audience the exposition that sets up the rest of the story.

The Characters are mostly memorable, especially within the context of their roles. Reiko is likeable as a single Mum trying to make ends meet and just so happening to get herself into a lethal predicament. We see how the situation puts her under intense stress without making her go completely bananas, and it’s a much more natural performance when you consider the stoic tenacity that’s usually learned in Japan from a young age when in public. This same stoic tenacity is with Ryuji throughout this investigation, and when it comes to Sadako…well…I don’t want to spoil anything.

The Story is very much a Japanese Ghost Tale that borrows from several sources, including the use of Yūrei (wandering, earthbound ghosts of Japanese Folklore), and the story of Chizuko Mifune – a young woman who claimed to be a clairvoyant. It also includes several underlying things that would go unnoticed outside of Japan – including the rise of technology and how modernity was potentially consuming tradition (which remains a high topic in Japan to this day, as the practice of letting the past and the present run parallel isn’t always in smooth agreement). On top of that, Reiko’s situation was rather unconventional for the time, as there would have been a general expectation for her to still be married to Ryuji, and staying home to look after Yoichi (Who she has occasionally left alone in their home while she works). I also like how Reiko chooses to calmly get her affairs in check without disturbing either her investigation or her normal life. For instance…she has a few days left to find out how to be free, and She uses some of it to take Yoichi to his Grandfather’s house, and even stay over. To have a day together as a family, even if it’s the last.

The music is by the legendary Kenji Kawai (Who created the score for the 1995 Anime film Ghost In The Shell) and while there is only twenty minutes of music In this ninety minute film, it really stand out within the minimalist approach. The opening theme is still 1 of the ominous that I’ve ever heard, and much like the Ju-On movies that came after it, emphasis is placed on silence as a means to brings out little noises that instantly unsettle you. The score can be divided into 2 styles; creepy, and sad. Creepy when investigating, and sad when reflecting. However, much like Ju-On: The Curse, the end credit theme by HIIH (which is called ‘Feels Like “HEAVEN”‘) could seem out of place, and is potentially the most dated aspect of the film.

The CGI and special effects are minimalist as well, with only one scene in particular that could qualify as CGI…One scene, and for its day, it was very good! It’s 1 of the most memorable moments in the film. There is also the major practical effect near the end that worked really well, that I don’t plan to spoil it.

The Artistic approach and cinematography are really well done with emphasis on natural lighting (mostly from lamps and ceiling lights), and I like how even a movement from the camera just changes the mood or communicates the presence of what is unseen. Also there is a time capsule quality to the film that being set so much in what was the here and now. The end of the summer of 1997 – those were the clothes, that was the technology, those were the cars (Those beautiful late ’80s to mid 90s Japanese cars and 1 Mercedes Benz), and also the way we solved problems…and there’s something nice about that, I think. It was the right time in which you could make VHS static and polaroid photos scary – something that DVDs and digital cameras took away altogether, even with this current boom of music videos trying to look like they were made in the ’90s.

Would I recommend Ring? Yes I would. At this point it’s a classic horror movie, and even now it’s still holds up well in the creep factor. It influenced a whole generation of Horror, and also revived the genre within its home country. Is it the best horror movie of all time? Probably not. Is it better than the 2002 American version? Personally, I think so. Yes, it’s dated at this point, and the use of VCRs and video tapes could go over the heads of many people born in this century. But it is still 1 of my favourite movies, and for me, it was the beginning of my love for Japanese cinema.

Acting: ****1/4

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****

CGI: ****

Art: ****1/4

Cinematography: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/4

Sherlock Holmes Vs Arsène Lupin (2007/2010)

Right, this will be my first covering of a Sherlock Holmes story, I believe, and in all likeliness it’s the first one by Frogwares that I’ve covered. Is there anything special to say about Frogwares? Yes – despite being a smaller video game company with a significantly smaller budget compared to the likes of Rock Star, EA and Ubisoft – Frogwares manages to have a niche that is both charming and exciting, and caters towards it with a passion, despite parent companies not always being good to them. What is the niche? It’s the taking of classic fiction from within the public domain and creating new stories, with three in particular being the standouts: Sherlock Holmes, Dracula and HP Lovecraft. Their most prolific series by far is their Sherlock Holmes series with at least eight games to their name as of 2020. And with Sherlock Homes: Chapter One coming out next year for both the PS4 and PS5 (and others), I think I should start to potentially revisit some of these previous instalments, beginning with the 1 that’s plunk right in the middle. This is Sherlock Holmes vs Arsène Lupin, also known as Sherlock Holmes Nemesis in the UK.

Set within a few days in the middle of July, 1895 – our story begins in the morning at 221B Baker Street. Holmes is playing the Violin while Dr Watson is reading the Newspaper, where the deeds of the Parisian Gentlemen Thief known as Arsène Lupin is making the rounds. Shortly after this, Holmes receives a letter…from Lupin. Inside the letter it’s very clear – Lupin is challenging Holmes to a game of wits. After an investigation into the contents of the letter, which included a small poem as a clue to Lupin’s next cat-burglary, we end up in the National Art Gallery, where the game truly begins.

Now to deduce the details:

The art style and graphics, when you consider what else was released during this time, were good in 2007 (the original) and okay in 2010 (the remaster), as 2006/7 was the beginning of a transition of pique generations from Playstation 2 to Playstation 3 and X-Box to X-Box 360. The biggest difference between the two versions of the game was the addition of a third person perspective, some slightly crisper visuals, and some extra animations (internet lore will tell you with amusement about what is now known as “Creepy Watson”, which occurred in the original release because Dr Watson was not given a walking animation, and therefore appeared behind you wherever you go). The graphics themselves flowed at a nice fifty to sixty frames per second and the visual details were aesthetically pleasing, even with the hints of blockiness that remained prevalent in some PC games at the time. The art style is clearly inspired, as they managed to create some very attractive interpretations of real places, including the National Gallery Of Painting and the Tower Of London. After also playing previous instalments of the series, I can tell you that there were some clever shortcuts in the design. For one thing, the Character sprites in this game are exactly the same as the ones in Sherlock Holmes Awakened (which was released in early 2007, while this was out in October that year), they were making the 2 games at the same time with the same tools, clearly). In general, it was all charming to look at.

The level design and gameplay, much like every other game in the series, are all about the cross-referencing and puzzles, as well as some thinking outside the box. It’s also the first Sherlock game that I’ve played were I was recommended to have a notebook at hand…and no, I didn’t take that advice…too much. However, much of the game’s length comes from the puzzles, especially when solving them for the first time, and then sometimes you actually have to type in an answer, and even if you say the right thing, it’s not always ‘right’, it can be quite strict in its lettering. You’ll also get a lot of “I have no reason to go there”, and, I’ll be honest, the British Museum puzzles will have you visiting every room and exhibits about a dozen times each. It’s not a very flexible game, simply because while you’re controlling Holmes (and occasionally Watson) you don’t know what they’re thinking unless they talk to themselves.

The characters and story were…well, Holmes & Watson, with Inspector Lestrade thrown into the mix. Although this was the first Sherlock Holmes game to have a chase in it. We see how sharp Lupin can be throughout the ordeal, and it becomes a question of whether Sherlock can win the war of wits, let alone any of the ‘battles’. One thing I will say, the story doesn’t mind being a little bit silly. There was a scene that involved Queen Victoria that gave me a little chuckle, and then we see others, such as the musical librarian, the drunk who sees himself as being undercover and the journalist who plays Watson like a Fiddle. If there’s 1 bit of distinct continuity from Sherlock Holmes Awakened…it’s Barnes, the Bookshop Owner. The poor man has clearly fallen off the edge.

The music comprises mostly of classical music with a different piece representing a different location, and it already gets five stars in the process. Tchaikovsky’s Melodiè Op 42 No 3 is more or less the main theme of the Frogwares Sherlock Holmes games, or at least it is the main theme for Baker Street. Then you have Edvard Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 2, Op. 13: II (Allegretto Tranquilo) as the Main Menu theme, Franz Sherbert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat, D. 929, Op. 100: Andante con moto for the Museum, & Kalinnikov’s Symphony no.1 mov.2 for the Tower Of London…among others…personally I love it…and it’s free!

Would I recommend Sherlock Holmes vs Arsène Lupin? If you’re looking to introduce this series to a younger audience, this would be the best 1, as it has by far the lightest story in the series (That I’ve played). It is the only 1 that doesn’t have a murder in it, and it is also the only 1 that doesn’t delve into either frightening confusion on Watson’s part, or into the realms of either the Supernatural or Lovecraftian Horror. Instead it focuses on simply catching a thief. I would also say it’s possibly a good game for a parent and child to experience together. So, if you have Steam or GOG on a PC, have a look.

Graphics: ***

Art Style: ****1/2

Level Design: ***1/2

Gameplay: ***1/2

Characters: ****

Story: ***1/2

Music: *****

Overall: ***3/4

Coffee Talk (2020)

Screenshot 2020-08-31 at 12.03.53

I will say 1 thing about this game…It came out in January this year and is set in this Autumn coming…and even though it’s technically set in an alternate reality, I doubt the creators knew that 2020 would turn out the way it did.  Making it even more of a fantasy that they possibly anticipated.  With that out of the way, let us talk about Coffee Talk.

Set in an alternative version of Seattle, Washington USA, in the Autumn of 2020 (Beginning on September 22nd.  Tomorrow, as of posting this), our story revolves around the owner and Barista of a small cafe and his or her regular customers (We don’t know what the Barita looks like.  We can only make assumptions).  In this reality, mythical literary creatures are not only real but have integrated into human society and are all treated the same (more or less.  But there are still prejudices, via old family feuds and so on..It’s a little like ‘Once Upon A Time’ or ‘Grimm’ I guess).  Our main character (you) are more or less the biggest enigma of the story, leaving the player room to get to know his customers and hearing their various stories.

Now to have a Characteristic Talk:

The Graphics and Art Style are nothing new, but they’re well done here.  On one side you have the minimalist pixel art style that makes the game look like it belongs on an older computer or games console, and on the other side you have the anime art style that borrows heavily from anime that came out in the 1980s and ’90s.  You can see how anime such as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Cowboy Bebop influence both the fashion sense and the colour scheme.

The Level Design and Gameplay are very simple – they are split up into days, and it progresses in 2 ways; pressing a button to advance the character dialogue, and of course the main aspect of the game, which is creating the drinks.  As different customers come in, you start to receive new orders.  Part of the fun is the guessing and experimentation of these drinks, as it’s possible to get them wrong and you’re not always given clues as to what goes into them or in what order.  It’s a very simple game to play, but it doesn’t stand out as anything special – the game’s best qualities can be found elsewhere.

The Story is very much character driven than plot driven; There is the main, consistent story, which revolves around Freya, the pixie green-haired journalist who is trying to write her first novel.  She appears more or less every day while the other characters nip in and out, and her story progresses, even when other stories are happening.  Other characters and their problems include Baileys and Lua (an Elf and a Succubus in a Romeo and Juliet style relationship), Myrtle and Aqua (an Orc and a Mermaid who meet in the Cafe and become friends over their love for their jobs, which is in video game development), a Vampire model and a War-veteran Werewolf who used to be his bodyguard (Hyde and Gala), A Pop Singer Cat-girl (a cat who can transform into a human) and the fights she has with her over-protective Dad (Rachel and Hendry), A father-of-three-daughters Cop who is everybody’s Uncle (Jorji), and an Alien who is trying to learn about dating and human reproduction (Neil).  Due to minimalist actions, the game is also very dialogue heavy (and is skippable if you’re just looking to collect trophies for getting the drinks right), and it’s clear that despite being set in a fantasy version of Seattle…each story is very human and you grow to know these characters quite well.  The developers said that despite having fantasy races present, the stories were made as realistic as possible.  It’s a nice touch.

The Music is in the style of Lo-Fi; samples of lounge piano or guitar, bass or other instruments mixed with hip-hop beats.  I personally love it, and it’s a style that has a cult following on youtube for being tremendous background or ‘homework’ music.  It creates the game’s scene perfectly, and I will even listen to it from time to time when I’m having my own coffee and staring out the window.

Would I recommend Coffee Talk?  Yes.  It’s not a challenging game (outside of, perhaps, the mixing of the drinks) but it’s a very relaxing experience that sucks you into its world, even if you don’t technically leave the cafe, never mind not look anywhere but the bar table.  It’s a good, strong, interactive visual novel that’s easy to pick up (control-wise) but a challenge to get 100% in.  I found myself absorbed in the conversations, and even though the game seemed to lack a major goal, I keep in mind that there is a mode you can play were the game can go on for as long as you want.  Even people who don’t play video games might have a pleasant time with this 1.  Definitely check it out.

Graphics: ***

Art Style: ****1/2

Level Design: ***1/2

Gameplay: ***1/2

Story: ****

Characters: ****1/2

Music: ****3/4

Overall: ****

The Shack (2017)

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Today we’re going to be talking about what could arguably be 1 of the most polarising films to come out in a number of years.  We’ll mention first of all that it’s (technically) a Christian movie, then we’ll mention how Christians hate this movie – not necessarily because it was a bad movie in design, but because it’s difficult to decide if it fits into a particular theology and whether it leaves room for metaphor or artistic license.  In the process, I’ll be reviewing this in two ways – one as a movie goer, the other as a Christian.  Today, we’re talking about The Shack.

I’ll also add that I have not read the book, and I am unaware of the theology of the book’s author, Paul Young, outside of what some of his critics said after I watched the film.  So this will not compare the film with the book – but it will include some theological observation of the movie. So let’s continue.

Our story revolves around a man named Mackenzie “Mac” Phillips.  Mac had a rough childhood, as he was brought up by an abusive, alcoholic father who also had a significant position in their church.  After humiliating his father one Sunday morning by telling a church elder of the abuse, it gets worse from there.  So to stop his father from beating him and his mother, he went on to poisoned the booze in the house.  Whether or not Mac is charged with his father’s murder is never addressed.  But considering he was a boy and made the elder an audible witness, and it could be taken as self defence, perhaps he was relieved.  Who knows.

Fast forward about 30 years later, Mac is married and with three children, Kate, Josh and Missy.  While on a Camping trip, Kate and Josh accidentally tip their boat over in the lake, and after rescuing them; Mac notices that Missy has gone missing (no pun intended).  He then discovered that she had been murdered by a Serial killer and her body was found in a hut in the woods.

Months pass, it’s now winter.  The family was torn apart by the tragedy, with at least three family members blaming themselves for it.  After slipping on some ice, Mac notices an anonymous letter with no stamp or return address in his mail box, which was signed by “Papa”, his wife’s nickname for God.  The letter tells him to go to “The Shack”.  Mac then goes to the shack with a gun, and after meeting nobody there, was about to end it all…Soon, a man appears in the woods, and brings Mac to an area that was more Spring than winter – to a cosy looking house run by a familiar face – The African American woman who lived across the road from him when he was a kid, and who once gave him a slice of Pie to eat when he needed to get away from the house.  She reveals herself to be God The Father.  The man who Mac followed reveals himself to be Jesus.  While the young Japanese woman nearby is named Sarayu, and is the Holy Spirit.  Here, Mac asks the Trinity all of the questions he needs answers for…as a Man who lost his daughter, and is angry at God for it.

Now to discuss the details, both creation-wise and theology-wise:

We’ll start with the acting.  Here a lot of it is solid, with the main exception being Sam Worthington as Mac, who has a habit of going back and forth between Oregon, USA and Sydney, Australia within his accent.  He shows some range, but he didn’t convince me too much.  I remember him from James Cameron’s 2009 film ‘Avatar’, where he played Jake Sully, the main character…i.e. The worst main character in action and sci-fi film history.  Some could say my perception of him is tainted by Avatar, but nope, he’s just not very good – plus he has little to no screen presence.

The characters, as some of us know, are one thing that gives this film a lot of bad reviews.  You have God the father being presented as an African American Woman, Jesus being played by an Israeli man (For those who haven’t seen the 2004 film ‘Saved!’, there’s a dialogue exchange where 2 characters argue over whether Jesus was white.  It’s meant to be a joke aimed at some sections of the American Bible Belt, even though every Bible clearly states that Jesus is Jewish), and the Holy Spirit being played by a Japanese Woman and is named Sarayu.  The reason for “Papa” being an African American woman is because, according to her, Mac wasn’t ready to be presented with the image of a Father Figure, since his experience with a “father” is far from a pleasant one.  Jesus is presented as an Israeli, and believe it or not, this is the first time an Israeli has ever played Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush from Karmiel), and plays the role very well.  There’s a real friendliness to his interpretation.  Sayayu’s name comes from Sanskrit, a language that’s holy within Hinduism, and the name means “Wind”.  I assumed some Christians would complain about this – but they complained more about the fact that the Holy Spirit is presented as Female…even though the name of the Holy Spirit in both Hebrew and Aramaic is Ruach Ha Kodesh, which is female.

The Story of The Shack could be described by some as Unorthodox, and I’m not making reference to a denomination or suggesting it’s incomplete – I’m suggesting that it goes at a different pace.  A different kind of film.  In terms of a threat or a hero’s struggle – the film is gentle, and many will point out that there is no chase or thrill in the third act.  The most difficult things to watch take place before Mac arrives at The Shack for the first time, which is a bad idea when plotting a story, but we keep in mind, this is for an audience that is looking for spiritual edification rather than exciting twists and turns when they’re watching it.

The music features a number of Christian Artists such as Dan + Shay, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Lady Antebellum, Hillsong UNITED (whose music is often covered in various Pentecostal churches) and Franesca Battistelli.  It’s all very nice, gentle and feel-good, and has its place.

The CGI was pretty good, and roughly on par, if not better, than plenty of CGI on TV shows edging towards the water mark.  It’s not (good) Marvel Cinematic Universe quality, but it’s pretty well done, and did a nice job creating this beautiful garden that appears out of winter.

The cinematography is strong, but not spectacular.  Everyone was framed well, the aerial shots are beautifully done, especially of the garden, and every key shot works as a great narrative-driven photograph.

The art style has very good presentation, very much like an advertisement of small town and rural America with great colours and locations.  Nature never goes out of style, so it’s a good aspect.

Would I recommend The Shack?…Yes, and probably a lot more than most, depending on who you are.  It’s seen as a film that only preaches to the choir, and could be the subject of debate to everyone who watches it for many more years to come.  But in terms of how to present the character of God to men – there are few that could match this in demonstration.  Are there flaws?  Absolutely.  Does it use creative license?  No doubt, and there’s a lot of it.  Is it correct in all aspects?  Nope!  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get something good out from it.  Asking God why he lets bad things happen is an excellent question that needs answers, and this film answers it better than most.

Acting: ***1/4 (*1/2 for Sam Worthington)

Characters: *** (**** for the Trinity)

Story: **1/2

Music: ***1/4

CGI: ***3/4

Art: ****

Cinematography: ***3/4

Overall: ***1/4

Firewatch (2016)

When a gamer’s evenings are overwhelmed with large, long games, from the Grand Theft Autos to the Assassins Creeds to the Final Fantasies, from time to time it’s good to take a step back and look at what else is out there – and that is 1 of the major blessings of Indie video games. Back then, smaller studios would be given the opportunity to experiment and create what can be seen as cult classics at this point and paved the way for others. Many of those studios are no longer around, however the technology is more readily available than ever before and a D.I.Y. gaming industry has risen from it for those who are ready to experience the steep learning curve. From this, a studio called Campo Santo came, and with the production of 1 painting by Olly Moss, we are led to a project that would bring them into the cult-forefront. That project was Firewatch.

Set in 1989 in Shoshone National Park in the State of Wyoming, USA, our story revolves around 2 characters; Henry and Delilah. We play as Henry, and he interacts with Delilah through a walkie-talkie as she gently educates him in the ways of the Fire Lookout. After Henry’s wife, Julia, was diagnosed with dementia and she was moved to live with her family in Australia, Henry took the job on a whim, and also as a way to escape from the ‘reality at home’. To clear his head. However as he finds out, there is more to his time in Shosane than meets the eye.

Now to talk about the different areas of this metaphorical park:

The Graphics and Art Style are not Triple-A game level, but where it lacks in detail it more than makes up for in stylisation. The colours are very vivid and we’re presented with an excellent balance; as the distance has a vector style while the mid ground reveals more details and the foreground more texture and colours (as this approach can be seen as a way to save space). When we are looking at how the people are meant to look in the photographs, I’m also reminded of the art books that Disney like to put out for their animated films. It’s a wonderful touch.

The Level Design and Gameplay, for me anyway, are the least impressive building-blocks. The level design is like a loose diary, some in-game days could last many dozens of minutes (depending on how well you follow the map and interact with stuff), while other days are just over within a minute (such as the 1 day when Henry goes to get supplies for the tower). At the same time, if you’re new to the game, you will need the map and compass to get around. Rather than have the map in the corner of the screen like a lot of games, Henry will actually have to hold the map out in front of him, as well as the compass, and read them both like a normal person. In the process, you’re constantly looking at them, and then putting them away as you try to navigate yourself around the park and coming across a lot more misleads and dead ends than you might realise, because the map actually blocks your view when it’s out. Also Henry can only climb what he can interact with. You will not rush up the mountainside – the game does not allow it. You can however eat granola bars and apple slices if Henry finds them. Yay…!

The Story and characters are…wow, but particularly the characters. They are not only the best aspects of the game, but they are better than a lot of games already out there with bigger budgets. The interactions between Henry and Delilah are that of 2 people in their late 30s/early 40s being lovingly sarcastic and snarky towards each other…and I absolutely love that. It is all very funny and brings me back to TV shows that I grew up watching (and still enjoy). We see how these 2 characters get to know each other, and at the same time the story can be taken in so many different ways. By the end of the game, we’re still asking questions. Still pondering as to what really happened in that park. A mystery that can be taken at face value or explored with layers upon layers of backtracking and treasure hunting. In the end, our dialogue choices put us in the shoes of Henry, as he seems to know about as much of what’s going on as we do. He is the new fish in the pond, as are we.

The Music is minimal, but plays its role very well and comes in at the right time. It was made by Chris Remo, who is also 1 of the designers and writers of the game, and he also did the music for another little indie game called Gone Home. It’s very atmospheric, and it knows how to create tension, especially when the game kicks into thriller-mode (which was enough to keep me hungry to get to the end).

Would I recommend Firewatch? Yes I would, especially if you want a change of pace, enjoy well written characters and a great mystery story, and, if you like long games, don’t mind that this game can be completed is about 4 or 5 hours. This is a game that could be talked about over drinks or coffee, and I’m happy to have experienced it.

Graphics: ****

Art Style: ****1/2

Level Design: ***1/2

Gameplay: ***1/2

Characters: *****

Story: ****3/4

Music: ***3/4

Overall: ****1/4

My Dad Is A Heel Wrestler (2018)

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Well, this will be different.  Because if there’s 1 thing I haven’t covered on this site before, it’s wrestling movies.  I may have covered 1 Wrestlemania before, but that wasn’t a movie.  This on the other hand will be different, because it’s not WWE, but is following a formula that they’ve done as far back as the 1980s, which is to star their wrestlers in movies as a means to promote the company without actually being the company – in this case, it is New Japan Pro Wrestling presenting us with a story that’s set within an alternative universe version of itself.  As the title suggests, it is a kids movie that includes a pile of wrestlers who were working for New Japan (NJPW) at the time.  I didn’t know if I would ever see it.  But to my surprise, NJPW decided to release it internationally on their Subscription-based streaming service, NJPW World.  So here it is, the film that made Hiroshi Tanahashi lose his trademark hairstyle for a whole season.  This is My Dad Is A Heel Wrestler.

Set in an alternative reality where New Japan Pro Wrestling is called Lion Pro Wrestling and several stars of the 2017 NJPW product are wrestling under different names, wearing different outfits and playing different characters, our story revolves around Takashi Omura (played by NJPW legend Hiroshi Tanahashi) and his son Shota (played by child actor Kokoro Terada).  10 years before our story begins, we see Omura win “The Z-1 Climax” (based on the G1 Climax but structured as an elimination tournament rather than a round-robin style league), which was meant to propel him to superstardom…then he got injured.  Fast forward to the present day and Omura has been a joke ever since, as he now wrestles as the comical heel known as “Cockroach Mask” along with his tag team partner Blue Bottle Mask (played by former IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion Ryuichi Taguchi), and as you can guess, they’re wearing masks.  When Shota’s class is told to do a project on their Dads and what they do, Shota gave vague answers, as he didn’t know what his Dad actually did.  When the other kids suggested that his Dad is in the Yakuza, he decides to follow his Dad to work, which leads him to an Arena…which leads to him discovering that his Dad, who he looks up to, is actually a low level villain in Pro Wrestling.  Despite this, Cockroach Mask ends up being selected for the Z-1 Climax, and to Shota’s embarrassment, he leads everyone to believe that his Dad is Lion Pro Wrestling’s top guy, Dragon George (played by Kazuchika Okada).

Now to break down the joints and look at the details:

The acting is a mixed bag.  The kids very much act as you would expect from kids and are more like the children from Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo than Stephen King’s IT.  The wrestlers mostly played themselves I would say (within the context that Tanahashi himself is a Dad, and probably didn’t need to work too hard on his interactions with Shota).  Some of the adult characters (in particular Riisa Naka as Michiko Oba, the nerdy journalist who is a Cockroach Mask fan) were a little over the top, but that’s usually quite common in Japanese comedies.

The characters were good but not great.  Many-a-times they were to advance the plot, and I get it – Shota’s quite a shy kid, and clearly the smallest boy in his class – it makes sense, he’s not going to show a huge range outside of embarrassment and apprehension.  Tanahashi did a very good “likeable but troubled dad” character.  He knows what he has and is content with it all, but he at the same time he loves his son to the point that he would aim for the top when he realises that his reveal as Cockroach Mask is making Shota’s life difficult.

Story-wise there are 2 intertwining tales; we’ll start with Takashi Omura’s story by letting everyone know that this film is more or less the opposite of Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 film The Wrestler.  Because rather than seeing a failure who is unable to quit and has lost everything, we see a wrestler who, despite not being the top guy, has achieved the dream; wrestling 200 times a year, enjoying the work, making decent money, has a beautiful wife, a kid, and a home.  What’s interesting is how the character of Omura shows parallels with Tanahashi himself (and forgive me if I go full-on “Smart-Mark Wrestling Fan” in this 1).  For those who don’t know, Hiroshi Tanahashi ended up having an absolutely tremendous year in 2018, despite a history of neck injuries, knee injuries, being very literally stabbed in the back, and, at the time, a partially torn bicep.  At 42 and having nothing left to prove (he was NJPW’s top guy for 10 years), fans wondered if he was already past his prime, but then he ended up having some of the matches of his entire career.  Then you have Shota’s story, as he finds out the hard way that his Dad is a villain rather than a Hero, and ends up snowballing the lie that his Dad is actually Dragon George in order to impress the girl he likes (who is a fan of the Dragon).  What I like about this film is how it maintains the perfect balance between Kayfabe and reality – in other words, we are presented with the wrestlers playing characters similar to their own characters in NJPW, while at the same time it manages to respect the theatre side of pro wrestling by suggesting the importance of Villains in order to make Heroes interesting.  Yes, they pretend that the matches don’t have pre-determined endings, but that’s fine…because we’re watching it like a fan who is invested in what’s presented before them, and not a know-it-all…not a smart mark…However I also like how Riisa Naka’s character Michiko Oba is effectively a Smart Mark because she knows that Cockroach Mask and Takashi Omura are the same guy, and is a fan of his because of that.

The design direction is that of being set in real life, while alternating various aspects in order to get past any copyright violations.  The “Lion Pro Wrestling” logo may have had the same colour scheme as the NJPW logo, but it is different enough to be get by.  Everything else here is pure Japan so to speak.

The music was quite unremarkable, but not bad.  Scenes were set with it, but nothing really stood out about it for me.  Wrestling themes were obviously changed because the wrestlers were playing different characters, and for some scenes, it works, but perhaps wouldn’t survive as a stand alone item.

The special effects and cinematography were well done and can be compared to other wrestling movies as Fight With My Family and The Wrestler (it could be argued that there is a way to shoot wrestling in a movie).

Would I recommend My Dad Is A Heel Wrestler?  If you’re a wrestling fan, I say yes.  If you’re not a wrestling fan, but have children who don’t mind reading subtitles, it’s actually a good, light-hearted and cute little film.  It’s a lighter watch when compared to Fight With My Family, and it’s definitely lighter than The Wrestler.  For some, it might even be their introduction to pro wrestling, and as a fan of the sports-themed-theatre show that it is, I wouldn’t say that it’s a bad thing.

Acting: ***1/2

Characters: ***1/2

Story: ***3/4

Art/Design: ****

Music: ***

CGI/Special Effects: ***

Cinematography: ***1/2

Overall: ***1/2

 

Night On Earth (1991)

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As a Tom Waits fan and someone who liked Jim Jarmusch’s enjoyable avant garde western known as Dead Man (starring Johnny Depp), finding something like this film just feels like it’s up my street.  A few simple set-ups where the story is more or less the same, and yet it’s not.  Because characters, dialogue, music and settings are what make everything different every time.  A sameness that brings everybody together in the highs and lows of life, no matter the country, language or time difference.  This is Night On Earth.

Set in the present day (1991), our movie is an anthology series that has been divided up into 5 separate stories.  All of the stories happen at roughly the same time, and follow the same formula; they are about a taxi driver picking up a passenger or passengers and then dropping them off at their destinations.  That’s it…and then we dress each story up based on the location, the drivers and the passengers.

Our first Story begins in Los Angeles, USA and stars a 20 year old Winona Ryder as the Taxi Driver, ‘Corky’, and Gena Rowlands as Victoria Snelling, her passenger and a Talent Agent.  Out of all of the tales, this is the weakest 1, not only in humour, characters and story but also acting.  While Corky is an interesting and lively character, I would consider this a lesser performance from Ryder, who had done Edward Scissorhands just the year before.  The story’s themes revolve around how a book shouldn’t be judged at first glance, as Corky’s dream is different to what might be expected of her.

The second Story is set in New York and stars Armin Mullier-Stahl as Helmut Grokenberger, the Taxi Driver, and Giancario Esposito as Yoyo, his passenger.  This chapter takes a different pace; our passenger, Yoyo, is a Latino-African-American man trying to get a taxi to Brooklyn.  For those wondering, there are several reasons for cabs refusing to go to Brooklyn from Manhattan; Cab drivers in Manhattan make less money if they go to Brooklyn, the neighbourhood wasn’t very safe in 1991 (Keeping in mind, this was the neighbourhood that shaped Mike Tyson before he got into boxing), and chances of not getting your fare were a possibility.  Racism would only be 1 possible reason to not take a black man to Brooklyn.  After several attempts, he is then picked up by the Cab driver named Helmut.  Helmut is from East Germany (1 year after the whole country was united again), is still learning english, and doesn’t know how to drive an automatic car.  Yoyo then volunteers to drive himself to his destination, while having an interesting conversation with Helmut…He then picks up his fiery sister-in-law Angela, which is where things really get noisy in the car.  It’s a very funny and very touching story about 2 very different men sharing a cab.  One knows all about where he’s from – while the other is still coming to terms with this new culture he has stepped into.

The Third Story is set in Paris, France and stars Isaach De Bankole as the unnamed Ivory Coast-born Taxi Driver, and Beatrice Dalle as the passenger, who happens to be a Blind Woman.  It could be seen as a step down from the New York 1, but at the same time it was still a fascinating and funny story.  One thing you notice at the beginning of this story is how much crap Africans can take from each other, let alone racists.  Much like how the English would have mocked the Irish (and vice vera), our Ivory Coast driver is being heckled by 2 men from Cameroon, who mock his nationality by making a french pun that I won’t spoil…then of course he picks up the blind woman after abruptly dropping the 2 men off…and forgetting to get his fare from them.  The Blind woman is incredibly bright, and refuses to be treated any differently from someone who can see.  Leading to an interesting journey that’s…very french.

The Fourth Story is set in Rome, Italy, and stars Life Is Beautiful actor Roberto Benigni as the unnamed driver, and Paolo Bonacelli as a priest who becomes his passenger.  It’s about 3 or 4 in the morning, and the driver finds out that his passenger is a priest, who he then teases with his car before picking him up.  Afterwards, he decides to smoke in the car (despite the sign) and then proceeds to use this trip to confess his sins to the priest.  It’s not as touching as the New York 1, but it is by far 1 of the funniest pieces of cinema I have ever witnessed!  Roberto was literally on fire in this role, and I couldn’t stop laughing!  You would think it was written by Martin McDonagh, it’s just so black humoured.

Finally, the Fifth Story is set in Helsinki, Finland and stars the late Finnish actor and musician Matti Pellonpaa as Mika the Taxi Driver, and here he has 3 very drunk men enter his cab at 4AM.  This 1 is by far the most serious and also the saddest story on the list with little hints of humour here and there – but very humane in tone.

The music is by Tom Waits, and it can be argued that I just witnessed a version of “Tom Waits: The Movie”.  Not so much on the man himself, but rather the people he writes about.  It brings an extra layer of depth, especially in any scenes where you aren’t listening to the characters talking, and are just watching the world go by from inside the cab.  There is almost like a time-capsule element to what was shown.  A familiar, yet unfamiliar world.  There today, but also gone yesterday.

The cinematography is excellent and likely done without a studio ($2 million budget in 1991).  Every scene was perfectly shot without being too over the top or silly.

The locations are beautifully chosen, providing a sight-seeing aspect that doesn’t get experienced too much in cinema.  It also provides us with the variety that the world offers, even at night time.  For instance; in 1991, Rome had hardly any street lamps, with the exception of some corners.  Helsinki on the other hand is lit up like a white christmas tree in the early hours of the morning.  It could be seen from a long way away if you were out of town, and maybe that’s the point…especially in winter.

Would I recommend Night On Earth?  Yes, if you’re at least 18 and looking to expand your outlook on both cinema and the world around you without moving too far from your chair.  Personally I love this movie and hope it gets more recognition as we enter the 30th year of its creation.

Acting: ***3/4 (Los Angeles) ****1/2 (New York) **** (Paris) ****3/4 (Rome) ***** (Helsinki) – Overall:

Characters: ***3/4 (Los Angeles) ***** (New York) ****1/2 (Paris) ***** (Rome) ***** (Helsinki) – Overall:

Music: *****

Story: ***1/4 (Los Angeles) ***** (New York) **** (Paris) ***** (Rome) ****3/4 (Helsinki) – Overall:

Cinematography: *****

Locations: *****

Overall/s:

Los Angeles: ****1/4

New York: *****

Paris: ****1/2

Rome: *****

Helsinki: *****

Overall: ****1/2