The Italian Job Review

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The Italian Job is one of those movies that you are unlikely to have heard of despite being familiar with the heist genre. It even has some big actors but I still don’t remember it making any headlines. I guess it probably just came out at a tough year. Still, it’s a pretty solid film that may not be amazing but manages to avoid making any really serious mistakes which is important.

The film starts with a group of burgers pulling off a pretty big heist where they had to race the cops in a boat and got to walk away with millions. Unfortunately just as one of the characters was finally going to retire, the group was betrayed by Steve who decided to keep the money for himself. He shots the best crook, drowns the others, and then runs off. Years have passed and now the burglars want their revenge and also hope to secure the money in the process. They managed to survive with their wit and have stayed under the radar for a long time. It has all been for this one moment but to make sure that this mission is a success they will need to bring in a secret weapon, the daughter of the dead burglar.

You will have to turn your suspension of disbelief on full blast right away here as the plans are so detailed and convoluted that you probably won’t be able to accept what is happening with a straight face otherwise. In the climax of the film the villain gets a helicopter and even a private militia as he drives through town but the main character, Charlie is able to hold his own on a quick motorcycle. His team of quirky hackers seem more than capable of taking any villain down after this film.

Where the film really did a good job was with the fast moving plot. A lot of things were always happening. The talking scenes are pretty engaging and I do tend to enjoy the planning. The execution is also on point and it’s just a solid film from start to finish. The ending was also really good. One thing that tends to happen in a film like this is that the heroes will win it, but the villains end up destroying all of the informants along the way thereby preventing anyone else from ever replicating the feat. I was worried for “Tiny” or “Slim” (I forgot which one was his name) when the villains showed up at his door. Fortunately it turned out all right for the guy and in the end everything worked out. It’s also rare for a villain to not get away with murdering random Jim #34 but in this case it’s one of the main things that comes back to bite him. Turns out that this guy was friends with the mafia and you don’t mess with those guys.

The cast of characters was also surprisingly good which is always important. Charlie is a great tactician which is shown from the start. He may not be infallible but is able to adjust his plan at a second’s notice to fix any oversights. Even by the end he was one step ahead of Steve and never found himself at the back. Steve is also pretty solid as he always talks with a lot of confidence and has a smug air about him. Definitely not a guy who gives up easy and even if he isn’t as smart as the main character he isn’t half bad at making plans. Against someone else he may have stood a chance. Of course, he definitely should have sold the gold by the time the heroes found him though and shooting the merchant just delayed this even further. Not the smartest villain around even if he is fun.

Stella is solid as well. Initially I forgot about her first appearance and for a second thought that the film was bringing in a new character. The opening does certainly make more sense in light of this. Unfortunately, her character is used for fanservice quite a bit as we have the unfortunate trope of someone walking into her room while she is still getting changed. Likewise, Stella’s entire first scene seems to be focused on her attire more than the actual dialogue. Once we get past these moments this fortunately stops happening. Stella is a solid locksmith even if she is not quite at the same level as her father yet. She can also drive with the best of them. I think her character could have been handled better but overall she was a good character.

Another one of the thieves was the Napster. This guy spends most of his time complaining about how Steve stole his inventions. He takes this the least seriously compared to the rest of the team and nearly blows there cover several times by pulling pranks on the cops and the government. So much for being discreet right? I suppose he has his own priorities so you can’t really argue with that. He’s definitely a pretty bad character though. There is also Gilligan who does his best to mess up everyone’s chances as well. When it comes time to broker a deal with someone who has the supplies they need, he can’t help but stare at the guy constantly even when he is told not too. Actually, as far as the great character cast maybe I should be more specific. Steve, Charlie, Stella, and the father from the very beginning are solid characters. Everyone else definitely has a lot of room for improvement if you ask me. Still, since the characters with the most screen time are at the top that’s what counts.

We also get a long car chase scene that I referenced earlier and works well as the climax. Who doesn’t like a good car chase right? After a while they may all start to seem like the same race if you watch enough films, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they work quite well as a satisfying way to end the film. It’s not as if we could have had a real hand to hand fight at the end as you would have then had to ask where they learned how to fight. A battle of two self taught fighters could be fun, but I don’t believe Steve ever would have bothered learning how to fight while Charlie showed earlier that he could throw a good punch.

Overall, The Italian Job is a pretty fun heist film. The pacing is always on point and the characters make for some pretty enjoyable banter. Some of the plans may seem like a stretch at times but that goes hand in hand with the genre. If you like watching a game of mental chess going on with plans and counter plans then I’d recommend checking this film out. It’ll keep you entertained the whole way through and never really make any mistake big enough to get you out of the action. It’s satisfied with just being an entertaining film and that’s a pretty solid approach if you ask me.

Overall 7/10

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Cars Review

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It’s time to look at one of the more well known Pixar films. This film got a bunch of comics, games, several movies, spinoffs, etc. It just got really big and that’s definitely cool for the series since this film is pretty good. It’s a fun adventure with some nice racing scenes and is essentially Barakamon’s plot, but with cars. I can’t say that I’ve really seen a whole lot of car racing films, but I’d definitely put this one very high on the list. I can also admit that I did not miss the humans.

The film starts with Lightning McQueen in the biggest race of his life. He is a rookie, but has ascended through the ranks thanks to his legendary speed. While he doesn’t win the big Grand Prix, he makes it into a 3 way tie for first place. A tiebreaker race is announced, but on the way there Lightning gets lost and lands in an old, abandoned town. Only a few cars live here now, but their businesses are dying thanks to corporate interference. A new highway has been built now and so nobody actually uses this one anymore. I feel bad for them, but if you can save 10 minutes then there really isn’t much of a reason to stop there. Will Lightning learn a few lessons about humility and not always taking the fast track through life or will he escape this town at the first opportunity?

Lightning is essentially like Tony Stark. He starts out the film as a very arrogant guy who only cares about himself. He wants to win at all costs and believes that he can do everything by himself. During the course of the film he learns that teamwork is important and that helping people out can be fun. Naturally I liked his more arrogant self quite a bit, but he’s a well developed character and nice Lightning is still a good character as well. He’s still as fast as ever and now he has a real team behind him. I do think this will make it tough on the sequels since I really wouldn’t want his character to regress. We really shouldn’t have too much drama with him because now he’s learned to be a team player and gets along with everybody. Well, it’ll be interesting to see how they handle this in the future installments.

The town is also fairly nice. I do like the fact that they have a court room with lawyers and everything. The court room scene is one of the better parts of the film as Lightning almost gets out instantly but then his plans get ruined by the main heroine of the film. Sally. She convinces the judge that Lightning should pay for the damage that he did to the roads and so the main character is stuck fr a while. He does have the good idea of trying to get out by quickly dashing off, but the town is too clever for this and makes sure not to give him enough gasoline so he runs out in the middle of the desert. These cars turned out to be a lot more clever than Lightning gave them credit for.

There are quite a few characters in the town, but lets talk about the main ones. Sally naturally gets a pretty big role. She has the biggest impact on turning Lightning into a nicer person and gives him a chance. She can race fairly well and apparently is good in the courtroom so she’s a very balanced character. Doc is the judge and an ex racer. He’s a decent character although I do have to question his backstory. He claims that after he was injured people didn’t care about him and it was hard to get back on the track, but couldn’t he simply win his way to the top again? If nobody thought he could do it then it was on him to prove them wrong. As a result I really couldn’t sympathize with this guy. Still, he wasn’t a bad character.

Mater is Lightning’s comic relief sidekick. He is falling apart, but he means well and is a nice guy. There’s nothing really negative about him, but he doesn’t add anything to any of the scenes. He’s really just here to be here. I preferred the truck that drove Lightning around. He seemed like a nice guy and so I’m glad that Lightning stuck with that crew. They may not be rich or anything, but they do seem to care about Lightning and are a group of fun cars to be around. They should get along with the townsfolk based on their personalities.

Of course, Lightning had the two meaner rivals to deal with as well. The King seemed like an all right guy though and his skills are pretty good. He stays at the front of the pack for about 90% of the race and always plays fair. Unfortunately, I guess he expects everyone else to play fair as well since he seemed unprepared for the others to crash into him. He’ll have to improve his skills, but since he’s retired I guess he won’t really need too. The other rival is essentially like Lightning, but a little more extreme and he never got converted. He’s definitely the most serious threat to Lightning and gets a lot of burns in. The film definitely did a good job with the two rivals. It makes the races a lot more fun for sure. Lightning’s visions were also correct since his rival really made the most of the head start while Lightning was busy at the village.

The animation looks pretty solid. I’d say that the movie probably put most of the budget into the first race as it definitely is the most impressive part of the film. The character designs are on point throughout and the final race also looks pretty good. I would have liked more than two races, but I suppose it would have been tough to squeeze more in. As it stands, the two races definitely gave us a good bit of action. Pixar is definitely known for their quality and this film is no exception.

I would have liked to have seen more of Harv though. He never actually appears, but still ends up being one of the most influential characters in the film. The guy knows what he is doing so it’s easy to see why he became an agent. Lightning could learn a thing or two from him since I wasn’t thrilled with the ending. Everything about the ending was good except for one part. In a moment of kindness, Lightning decides not to cross the goal line and instead pushes a crushed car to the end himself. That’s nice of him, but Lightning was right outside the goal line so he should have quickly touched it and then saved the guy. It wouldn’t have even taken a full second and so it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Why let the rival win when you don’t need too? It’s supposed to be a powerful scene of Lightning finally realizing that winning isn’t everything, but when you’re that close you’ve really just got to grab the win.

Overall, Cars is a very fun film. It’s a very peaceful movie despite the quick car scenes. Fortunately the dialogue is strong and the cast of characters are interesting. It’s a film that is carried along by the quality of writing. This transforms what could have been a mildly interesting film about a bunch of cars talking into a really enjoyable experience. When you think about it, not much happens for the majority of the film since it’s just Lightning hanging around the town, but the film never ends up dragging on. It just keeps on going slow and steady to the finish line. That’s when you know that a film is good. A good film needs action scenes to keep it on top. A great one can be good with dialogue alone. It’s not as if I’m calling this a great movie, but it’s a very good one. It has a lot of replay value and gets a good mix of action and comedy. The humor here isn’t too forced or out of place. It’s given in nice, small doses that work well. If you haven’t seen this film yet, then I’d definitely recommend checking it out. Hopefully the sequels can be as good.

Overall 7/10

Need For Speed Underground Review

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This is a game that I’ve owned for maybe 5-6 years at this point. It’s certainly been a very long time and I had played it off and on for a few years. Finally, I decided to crack down on it and complete the game once and for all about a month ago. After many races, I finally did manage to take the game down. I can safely say that it’s not perfect and some areas do hurt it, but as a racing game, it is very good.

The plot involves a new racer in town. This is the guy that you play as and he’s ready to move up the ranks. One of the ladies involved in the scene helps to get you ready and gives you intel about the other racers as you move up the ranks. You must become the best racer in every type of race to get to the end. After a lot of races, you are ready to fight the big boss. The main villain is someone who has plagued you for some time so you’ve been waiting for this. There is actually a secret final boss where a mysterious racer shows up and challenges you. The twist of who is inside it is slightly expected as there weren’t many characters in the game, but it’s still pretty neat. It’ll remind you of the final F Zero GX level.

First off, I have to criticize Story Mode. There are 118 levels in the game. That’s a whole lot of levels and while it is always good for a game not to be too short, this is simply overdone. It took me a grand total of 609 races to complete the 118 levels. If they were 118 original levels, that’s one thing, but most of the time you will be racing on the exact same tracks. Over and over again. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were only about 20 tracks given how often it would be the same ones. Sometimes they would be mirrored to try and trick you, but I count that as the same stage.

118 levels is definitely too much if you ask me. The levels are also decently challenging so just around 40-50 would have still made for a decently long game. Again, it took 609 tries for 118 levels, which shows you just how tricky these levels can be. Sometimes I would have to try a level about 30 times and would only end up winning because my opponent would crash and I would take the chance to leap to victory. I did enjoy that part though as a lot of racing games just make the A.I. completely perfect so they never crash into anything. It’s safe to say that this is more realistic as nobody should be able to navigate these levels without crashing or at least banging into the side rails.

Finally, my other negative would be the soundtrack and it’s actually significant enough to take away an entire star. It’s just downright terrible and they’re going for an underground feel. As such, most of the music isn’t enjoyable to listen too and I’m pretty sure that they’re not very appropriate. That being said, the lyrics are hard to hear since the singers are fairly bad and I ended up just turning the music off for most of the races so I would just hear the sound effects. Trust me, it’s not nearly as fun and it’s sad that I had to go that far.

Otherwise, the game is great as a racing title. The actual gameplay is a lot of fun and while there is a slight nitro boost, you’re essentially playing a normal racing game for the most part. That was a lot of fun and the controls are much smoother than Hot Pursuit 2’s. I can see the gameplay getting even better with the newer additions and this is the main reason as to how I could stick with the game throughout so many races. They would get tough as times and I would have to replay levels, but the gameplay was fun enough that I didn’t mind as much as I could have. I only learned about the power braking towards the end though, which is too bad since it would have been very helpful in a lot of the drift levels.

There is a lot of customizing to be done here and it’s typically required to upgrade your car every 20 levels or so. By the time that you are done, your car will be maxed out in just about everything and you’ll be moving at really high speeds. It’s a double edged sword of course as it can be easy to crash and instead of going with the best car, you may want to consider a slower model. I tried that for a while, but then I remembered that I love to go fast so I used the fastest car for the final levels. I’d say that it’s worth it unless the level has a lot of sharp turns.

The graphics are decently good. I definitely like how the levels look as well as the cars. The human designs are the ones that do tend to look a little iffy as they are pretty undetailed, but I suppose that most of the time working on this game was spent on the environments and cars. That would make a lot of sense so it’s all right that the humans don’t look great. The graphics aren’t perfect, but they get the job done and you can typically see the levels clearly although the overall game is pretty dark so you may need to increase the lighting.

This game was quite the adventure and I’ll definitely be enjoying a nice break from it. Once I’m ready to get back in the saddle again, I’ll buy Underground 2. The only problem is that I’ve heard that it has over 200 levels this time. That sounds even more extreme and I can’t say that I’m too enthusiastic about that, but I want to make it to the newer games already so I shall power through it.

Overall, Need For Speed Underground has improved from Hot Pursuit 2. The gameplay is great and that would have usually been enough to have given the game an 8 star rating. The soundtrack held it back along with the tedious story mode. Seriously, no game should take you over 600 races to complete. That’s simply overdone. The difficulty level was good as it was tough to complete the game, but not overly difficult where you will be wondering how the A.I. can move so fast. Some of the levels were a tad long though and I think that they should all be 3 laps at the most instead of 5-6. Let me tell you, replaying a 6 lap race more than once is no picnic. I definitely recommend getting this game if you are looking for a good racing experience, just have your MP3 player by your side during the races. There are some brief cutscenes which is cool, but there aren’t many of them.

Overall 7/10