"Wreck-It-Ralph" (2012)

Wreck-It-Ralph (2012)
Directed by: Rich Moore
Running time: 108 minutes

Happy Holidays everybody! Yes, it’s that time of year again when Tom recovers from dealing with the legions of morons who populate retail stores in celebration of  Santa’s birthday and plays catch up on the many movies of the last week that came out. But let us begin with the feel good movie of the season: Wreck-It-Ralph!

Now Showing this week is Wreck-It-Ralph, directed by Rich Moore and made by Disney Animation Studios (but not the Pixar branch!). The film revolves around a person named Ralph, and he is a video game character living inside one of the many game machines in a gaming arcade. Ralph is the villain of a game titled “Fix-It-Felix Jnr.” and for the last thirty years he has had to deal with being defeated by the game’s main character Felix and seeing him be rewarded for his heroism while Ralph must always go back to his home in the dump and wait for the next game to begin. However, Ralph has decided he has had enough of this routine and is determined to prove to the other characters in his game that he can be a good guy for a change, and he sets off into the other video games of the arcade to try and be the winning player. But Ralph meets some other game characters along the way, some whose plight is more severe than his; and what started as a selfish quest then becomes one of good will.

Thematically, Wreck-It-Ralph is a lot like every other kids movie that has been made. The main character is fed up with their life, sets out to change it, is confronted with situations that help them realise who they are and they realise that being who they are isn’t so bad. It is cliched, certainly, but it is a plot and character structure that works and Wreck-It-Ralph really sells it. It is so committed to the cliche that it doesn’t feel like a tired story, but instead a compelling one.

But the real selling point for this film is that the cliched story-line takes place within one of the most original settings that I have seen in recent years: the realm of video games. Wreck-It-Ralph is like Toy Story with video game characters. The characters live within their arcade machines, with even a glass screen in the sky that allows them to see out into the human world. Their lives depend on the human players, for without them they are nothing and should their game machine be unplugged then they are forever doomed to being game-less and alone in Game Central Station. Game Central Station is the interior of the power-board that all the arcade machines are plugged into, and it is the hub through which game characters can leave one game and travel to another. They literally travel through the power cables to all the different machines and enter their game worlds and it is a fantastic setting for an epic adventure such as this one! I commend the filmmakers for finding a way to make blending the worlds and characters of various different classic games (such as “Mario”, “Sonic” and “Street Fighter”) work and that doesn’t for one moment feel silly.

A large part of that success is through the visual style. The film is presented in the amazing CGI that Disney is known for, but it incorporates so many little aspects of retro gaming and that makes it truly spectacular. The film occasionally jumps out of a scene to show you what it looks like from the human’s perspective, with all the characters rendered in old 8-bit graphics. Some of the characters in “Fix-It-Felix Jnr.” move in single frames much like classic character sprites from older games. It all looks wonderful and really makes Wreck-It-Ralph a joy to simply look at.

And lastly, the acting in the film is quite good. I would not go so far as to deem in Oscar worthy, but all the performers have solid commitment to their roles and do a fantastic job at selling the urgency of such strange problems like deletion and being a gaming “glitch”. The relationship that forms between Ralph (played by John C. Reilly) and a cart racer Venelope (Sarah Silverman) becomes genuinely touching, especially towards the latter act of the film. The one complaint I would have from a character perspective (and this isn’t specifically the actor’s fault) is that of the villain of the film, who I shan’t reveal for spoiler reasons. The villain just seemed a little under developed and the twist reveal of their true identity was not as big a shock as I feel it could have been.

Now I know that in this holiday period it will be very tempting to simply rush out to see the biggest movie of the season, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but I do implore you not to pass up Wreck-It-Ralph. This film was a delight and one that should not be missed, especially if you enjoy your video games. It really is the video game movie we’ve all been waiting for.

See you next time!

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"Red Dawn" (2012)

Red Dawn (2012)
Directed by: Dan Bradley
Running time: 93 minutes

Oh Red Dawn. I really wanted to like you. I really wanted to just have a fun time watching some ridiculous action and cliched US patriotism. But sadly, that’s not what you gave me. Alright, you did give me SOME ridiculous action and cliched patriotism; but you also gave me an awful script, a lazy story-line, some average performances and some outright, offensive racism. I mean seriously, wow!

Now Showing this week is Red Dawn, directed by Dan Bradley. A remake of the 1984 film of the same name, Red Dawn tells the story of a group of young Americans turned “freedom fighters” in rural Spokane after a force of North Korean soldiers invade the country. Calling themselves the “Wolverines”, these youths are waging a guerrilla war against the North Koreans with whatever weaponry they can get their hands on, and with no actual game plan to speak of. They’re just fighting because it is better than doing nothing I suppose. And that’s really about it; there is not really whole lot to the story beyond that.

Let me start off by saying that I have never read the original novel, nor have I seen the original film adaptation of “Red Dawn”, so my thoughts and feelings on this story are based solely upon the film presented to me. Perhaps the beefs I have with its logic are better handled or explained in the novel/earlier film but, for all intents and purposes, I don’t care. I am the perfect candidate here to judge the film as an audience member should not have seen or read the original to fully understand a new adaptation. Fact. Alright, now that I have that out of the way, let’s talk!

The first aspect of the film’s story that got to me was the fact that the initial invasion thing made no sense. The main characters just wake up one morning, and North Korean paratroopers and massive bomber planes are flying overhead. My question to the film is this: what the hell happened to the American military? They have boarder defense systems to stop this kind of stuff from happening. There is almost no explanation given for the US military’s lack of a response to the invasion. The video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which has a similar story of Russia successfully getting a full army into the US for an invasion) gives a better explanation as to how it was achieved, and that’s saying something! No actual US military presence is really hinted to in any city in the country, which pretty much says they’re the most inept military in history. Well, they’re almost the most inept in the film. I say almost because it is really the North Korean’s who come across as the most inept army in the film. With giving little to no response when weapons are being discharged in populated areas (that are close to checkpoints staffed by soldiers!), the North Korean’s just seem like complete morons and not only does that reflect poorly on them, it also makes the victories achieved by the protagonists seem a lot less impressive.

But the completely inept portrayal isn’t the most offensive thing about the invading army in Red Dawn, not by a long shot. You see, Red Dawn was actually filmed way back in 2009 and was due for release in 2010. However, MGM (the distributor) had financial difficulties at the time and the release was delayed until very recently. Now, back in 2009/2010, the film had completely different villains: it was the Chinese military invading the US, not the North Koreans. But after the film was delayed, times changed and the filmmakers changed the villains because A. they wanted to keep up with current political fears and B. they wanted the film to still be able to be released in China, which is a huge market. So the filmmakers digitally altered all the uniforms, flags and propaganda posters from the Chinese flag to the North Korean flag. That, and a political history lesson montage at the beginning, is all they changed; so the actors playing the villains were on set and playing (from their perspective) Chinese characters and speaking Chinese, but the filmmakers decided to rely on the idea that no Westerners would be able to tell the difference between the two and just made a flag switch. And in their defense, they were right: I’m not fluent enough in either language to be able to tell the difference at face value; but I came across that little bit of information when I was researching for this review. Now I don’t know about you, but the idea that the filmmakers thought it was OK to pull that kind of swap on the grounds that “eh, Chinese people and Korean people are basically the same” just feels offensive and racist to me.

The script is pretty awful. Lots of crappy one-liners, groan-worthy patriotic sentiment and lots of wasted potential. There was basically no exploration of how actually killing people was affecting these kids, they just went through a montage and they were OK with it! What’s more, there is an interesting parallel to make with this film and things such as the war in the Middle East, what with a nation deciding that another is too much of a danger to them and sending in troops to up-heave their society, but are now in a guerrilla war with a select few of the local population. Except in real life the local guerrilla warriors are called “terrorists” whilst in Red Dawn they are “freedom fighters”. I’m not taking sides here, I just feel that is something the film should have tried to sink its teeth into, but the irony goes unnoticed.

Lastly, as is often the case with a bad script, the performances left a lot to be desired. Chris Hemsworth sells the US marine decently enough, and the other kids do alright I suppose but none of them were actually anyone we came to care about. Most of the dialogue from the supporting players was clunky exposition, merely stepping stones to the next gun battle. The gun battles were handled quite well I must say, they were the most enjoyable aspects in the film. But they don’t make the film really worth it, so yeah, give this one a miss.

See you next time!