Tag Archives: video game

Review: ‘Tetris,’ Video-Game Cold-War Thriller

Taron Egerton stars in a nostalgic film that gradually becomes a thriller. 

Who knew falling blocks can be so much fun? And serve as building blocks for a retro cold-war thriller? 

The opening scene establishes Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) in a high-rise office building, making a sales pitch to a Japanese bank executive (Rick Yune) who looks bored as Henk tells what sounds like a slight variation on his usual sales pitch. The difference is that Henk is genuinely enthusiastic about the true potential of what he’s selling. 

As Henk makes his pitch, his globe-hopping is dramatized as he narrates his introduction to an instantly-addictive video game at a trade show, followed by his relentless pursuit of the sales rights. Frankly, even though the narrated sequences are handsomely produced and propulsively sown together —  Colin Goudie, Ben Mills, and Martin Walsh are credited as film editors —  the ceaseless globe-hopping of what appeared to be a video-game origin movie was starting to wear out my patience. 

Then, as Henk arrives in Russia, sometime around 1988, director Jon S. Baird slows the pace down. Written by Nick Pink, the opening portion of the film is merely a prelude to what happens to Henk when he seeks the sales rights from the game’s creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov), stumbling into a hornet’s nest, where Communist Party security officials, the Russian beauracracy, Japanese interests, a software salesman, and Nintendo all compete against each other to acquire the rights to publish a video-game that would become a worldwide smash. 

After one viewing, I could not decipher the many layers of legitimate business dealings, as opposed to those cloaked in duplicitiy and criminality. How much of this “inspired by a true story” movie is, in fact, true, and how much is pumped-up artifice?

By the end of the movie, I did not care. 

Taron Egerton is very convincing as a good-hearted family man, married to a loving and supportive wife (Ayane Nagabuchi), with multiple adorable children, and doing his very best to pull off a deal to ensure their financial future. He’s the owner of a small software copmany in Japan, where he met his wife, has a working knowledge of the language, and also wants to keep his company viable for the sake of his devoted employees. 

Multiple other colorful supporting characters populate the film, which moves at a pace that slowly picks up speed and resembles a video game. 

But it’s a good video game, and one that is irresistible. 

The film opens Friday, March 24, in select theaters nationwide. In Dallas, it opens at Alamo Drafthouse Lake Highlands. It will be available to stream March 31 on Apple TV+. For more information about the film, visit the official site. 

Review: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ Wins With Cool Graphics, Warm Hearts

'Wreck-It Ralph' (Disney)
‘Wreck-It Ralph’ (Disney)
Super happy fun-time joy joy! At first blush, Wreck-It Ralph swims in a pool of video game goodness, threatening to drown anyone who doesn’t share its nostalgia for the golden era of the early 80s, a time in which arcades, quarters, and pixels ruled the minds and wallets of young people. Yet even if you’ve never been tempted to pick up a game controller, the movie turns out to be built around a very sweet father-daughter relationship that reaches far beyond the constraints of its environment.

Setting aside my own personal connection to the video gaming setting that is celebrated uncritically, it’s the characters who emerge with winning personalities, despite their two-dimensional nature. Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by basso profundo John C. Reilly) is the villain in an arcade game called Fix-It Felix, (the reedy-voiced Jack McBrayer) a Donkey Kong knock-off whose 8-bit graphics fit perfectly with that period. The movie imagines that all the characters in video games are “real,” living lives that are restricted to a degree by their pixellated nature, yet still able to leave their particular environment and visit other games and characters via electrical wiring and gathering in their version of Grand Central Station.

Well, Ralph is tired of being the bad guy, spurned by all the other characters in his game, who party like it’s 1999 and make clear that they don’t want to be friends with Ralph, who has giant hands and an oafish nature. He attends a support group for video game villains, but it’s not helping him deal with his continuing sadness. One night, a misunderstood remark leads him to believe that he he can only win a medal, the other characters will be nice to him and he won’t be so lonely.

So Ralph goes renegade, sneaking into another game, an ultra-modern military fighting game, where he encounters Calhoun (Jane Lynch), and is pursued by Felix, who wants him to come back to the game. (Without Ralph, the other characters suddenly realize, the game is considered defective, and they run the risk of being unplugged and hauled away to oblivion.) Eventually they all end up in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game, where Ralph becomes friends with young Vanellope (the scratchy-voiced Sarah Silverman), who has been ostracized much like Ralph, and tries to stay positive, even though she is lonely too. Meanwhile, she harbors a not-so-secret desire to qualify for The Big Race.

All of this set-up may sound a bit laborious, but the movie slides effortlessly from one story point to the next, driven by the sad-sack antics of Ralph and the chirpy enthusiasm of Vanellope, and enlivened by the performances of actors well-chosen for their vocal talents. Alan Tudyk practically steals the show as King Candy, who rules Sugar Rush with an iron fist big candy cane.

Director Rich Moore got his feet wet with 17 episodes of The Simpsons back in its golden era of the early 90s, before moving onto other shows, most notably Futurama, so he’s well-versed in making every frame count, stuffing the film with visual jokes as well as more video game character namechecks and product placement than would fit in a normal-sized grocery store. The witty dialogue and story supplied by writers Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids, in which Reilly played a starring role) — with additional story material credited to Reilly — keeps the jokes flying, though time is also carved out to develop a most atypical, and unexpectedly touching, father-daughter relationship between Ralph and Vanellope.

Granted, Wreck-It Ralph hits many of my personal sweet spots, over and over again, and frequently threatened to overwhelm my system with pleasure, so it’s difficult for me to be entirely objective, but I think the movie is a rare treat, one that works its magic on both children and adults.

Wreck-It Ralph opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, November 2.