Review: “How To Rob A Bank” (Film)

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a film. So, I thought that I’d check out a comedic heist movie from 2007 called “How To Rob A Bank (…And Tips To Actually Get Away With It)“.

This was mostly because I was in the mood for something a bit more light-hearted after spending a while playing “Silent Hill 3“. And, after looking for second-hand DVDs online, I ended up finding this one.

So, let’s take a look at “How To Rob A Bank”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

I don’t know why the cover art shows Nick Stahl holding a pistol. He’s completely unarmed for the whole film!

This film begins with a guy called Jinx (played by Nick Stahl) who is inside a locked bank vault with a hostage called Jessica (played by Erika Christensen). However, as soon as they begin talking, it quickly becomes apparent that Jessica is actually one of the bank robbers and Jinx is just a guy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yes, surprisingly, the sketchy-looking guy is actually the innocent bystander here.

Outside the vault, an armed bank robber called Simon (played by Gavin Rossdale) is absolutely furious about the fact that he can’t get into the vault. So, he calls Jessica… but Jinx picks up the phone instead. Needless to say, the two have quite a laugh about this bizarre misunderstanding and quickly become the best of friends:

Did I say “the best of friends”? I meant to say “bitter enemies”.

Of course, whilst all of this is going on, the police have finally shown up – led by Officer DeGepse (played by Terry Crews) who ends up talking to Jinx via mobile phone. Whilst all of this is going on, Jessica manages to trick DeGepse into thinking that she’s another hostage.

Reluctantly, Jinx goes along with it, before giving DeGepse Simon’s phone number. Simon is understandably annoyed that the cops have got his phone number, but DeGepse refuses to disclose who gave it to him (despite Simon guessing correctly rather quickly). But, then Jinx accidentally starts a conference call…

And, even more amusingly, Jinx tricks Simon into apologising to DeGepse, then tricks DeGepse into accepting the apology.

Needless to say, they’re all in a bit of a pickle….

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it isn’t really your typical Hollywood movie. In fact, it’s actually a low-mid budget independent film… and it is all the better for it!

Instead of flashy action sequences, the film focuses a lot more on dialogue, humour and clever plotting. Seriously, a good portion of the film is set within just one room and quite a bit of the film consists of people phoning each other… and it still manages to be a really interesting, and funny, film.

Unlike many heist movies, this one doesn’t focus that much on the elaborate (and mildly confusing) plot behind the heist but, instead, it begins “in medias res” and focuses more on Jinx and Jessica trying to figure out a sneaky way to get past both the other bank robbers and the cops. Although this film certainly contains a bit of suspense, it’s more of a clever comedy film than a thriller movie.

Most of the film consists of scenes like this… and it’s still a surprisingly good film!

And, yes, this film is funny. Although there are only a few “laugh out loud” moments, a lot of this film is filled with subtle humour, ironic humour and irreverent humour.

The bulk of the film’s humour comes from the surprisingly well-written dialogue (and the interactions between the characters in general) and the farcical premise of the film. There’s also a little bit of social satire, some amusing cutaway/flashback moments, some random 80s pop music references and a bit of slapstick comedy in order to keep the humour slightly varied.

For example, one of Simon’s henchmen has a malfunctioning pistol that keeps jamming throughout the film.

Although the film is a comedy, it still tries to squeeze in some endearingly cynical “Fight Club“-esque anti-corporation politics too. The most notable example of this being that the events of the film are set into motion because Jinx’s greedy bank has placed a surcharge on all ATM transactions, which means that he has to enter the bank to withdraw his last $20. And, yes, there are a couple of amusingly cynical speeches about this in the film.

One thing that helps to keep this film focused and interesting is the lean and efficient 78 minute running time. Unlike many Hollywood films, this film actually seems to have an editor and it is all the better for it. Although the film’s pacing sags a little during a couple of scenes, the compact running time helps to ensure that the story keeps moving and the audience remains interested.

Another cool thing about this film is that it was made in the pre-smartphone era. So, all of the mobile phones in this film are good old-fashioned flip phones (which used to be really cool 10-20 years ago) and they’re actually used as phones too. There’s no mobile internet, no “apps” or any of that nonsense. Seriously, there isn’t even any texting. There’s just three groups of people talking to each other on the phone. This helps to keep the film compellingly focused. Seriously, this film just wouldn’t work if the characters were using modern smartphones.

Surprisingly, the film’s flip-phones are also camera phones, but this feature thankfully isn’t used (mostly since some of the clever ruses in the film rely on the absence of cameras).

Another interesting thing about this film is how it handles moral ambiguity. Jinx is originally an innocent bystander, but he soon realises that joining in with the heist might help him get out of the bank. Likewise, although Jessica is initially a rather bitter and villainous character, she ends up being something of a “good criminal” after she realises that she’s in the same situation as Jinx.

So, yes, there’s actual character development in this film.

Likewise, Jessica’s mysterious boss – Nick – also seems to be something of a reluctantly “good” criminal as the film progresses.

Amusingly both DeGepse and Simon are both weary and cynical characters. In a way, they are literally polar opposites of each other, yet also have a lot in common in their amusingly frustrated attitudes towards the situation.

Seriously, I cannot praise the characters in this film enough! Although there isn’t a huge amount of deep characterisation, the characters come across as being somewhat more “realistic” than the characters in an average Hollywood movie. Likewise, a lot of what makes this film so good is the dynamics and interactions between the characters.

Of course, most of those interactions take place over a phone line – but they’re still amusing and/or compelling.

In terms of lighting, set design and special effects, this film is a little on the minimalist side. The bank vault is a fairly featureless white room and the bank just looks like an old American bank. Although, I noticed something eerily surprising about one of the film’s props…

OMG! I’ve just realised that the computer monitor for the bank’s CCTV is exactly the same type of monitor as the monitor on the computer I’m typing this review on!

The film has very few special effects and, aside from some clunky CGI renderings of the vault door mechanism, the film’s few practical effects work reasonably well. Likewise, although the lighting in this film is mostly fairly “ordinary”, there are a couple of moments of beautifully gloomy lighting here.

Amusingly, some cheaper mobile phones that were around in the mid-late 2000s actually had a LED torch feature – so, you didn’t have to use the screen as a torch.

Musically speaking, most of the film’s soundtrack isn’t very memorable. However, the ending credits are graced with a Duran Duran song which, when you’ve seen the film, will make a lot more sense.

All in all, this is a funny heist movie which relies more on well-written dialogue, well-written characters and clever plotting than on fast-paced action in order to remain compelling. It’s very different from the average Hollywood movie and is really interesting as a result.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Zombie Shooter” (Computer Game)

2017-artwork-zombie-shooter-review-sketch

Well, it’s been way too long since I last played a zombie game! So, when I saw that a game called “Zombie Shooter” was on special offer on GOG (it had been reduced from Β£4.99 to 79p) a few days before I originally wrote this review, I just had to check it out.

Plus, since this is a review of a zombie game, it almost goes without saying but I should probably warn you that this review will contain (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES / BLOODY IMAGES.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Shooter”:

zombie-shooter-logo

“Zombie Shooter” is a low budget third-person perspective shooting game from 2007. It takes a fairly old-school approach to both the graphics and the gameplay, and is the kind of timeless 2D game that could easily have been released any time from the mid-late 1990s onwards.

Seriously, the minimum processor you need for this game is a Pentium III (unlike some modern 2D games that can require a dual-core!) and the download is only a slender 56mb in size (again, why are modern 2D games sometimes over 1gb in size?). Modern indie developers take note, this is how “retro-style” games should be made!

In many ways, the gameplay in “Zombie Shooter” is a little bit like a cross between “Serious Sam” and modern-style “Doom II” WADs. In other words, it’s the kind of game where you will be faced with ludicrously large hordes of monsters on a regular basis. Yes, there are also some mild RPG-like elements, but these never get in the way of the gameplay.

These RPG elements take the form of a limited character selection option at the beginning of the game, and the ability to use bonus items you find in the game (there’s none of this modern “pay to win” rubbish here πŸ™‚ ) to buy new weapons , buy more ammo, upgrade your weapons, buy extra lives and/or upgrade your character’s stats between levels.

Yes, this screen matters a LOT more than you might think. And, unlike in modern games, it ISN'T trying to swindle you out of real life cash either :)

Yes, this screen matters a LOT more than you might think. And, unlike in some modern games, it ISN’T trying to swindle you out of real life cash either πŸ™‚

Often, the best option isn’t to buy a shiny new gun, but to upgrade a few key weapons (pistols, rocket launcher and flamethrower) repeatedly. Likewise, max out your health stats first- you’ll need all the extra health points you can get!

For example, there’s a disc gun that can slice through lines of zombies. But, you’re still better off focusing on a few weapons rather than trying out novelty weapons like this one.

Since this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving (albeit with a lives system), this also means that if you fail a level then you can try again using a different combination of weapons and/or upgrades. This helps to introduce an extra level of strategy to what would otherwise be a fairly standard action game.

And, yes, you'll be failing levels quite a bit. This isn't one of those ultra-easy modern games!

And, yes, you’ll be failing levels quite a bit. This isn’t one of those ultra-easy modern games!

This, of course, brings me on to the gameplay. One of the first things that I will say is that the controls take a bit of getting used to. Although the game uses modern-style keyboard/mouse controls, the character movement isn’t always as predictable as it might initially seem – due to the isometric perspective that the game uses. Plus, the mouse aiming can take a while to get used to too.

This isometric perspective can also mean that your view is occasionally blocked by walls too. So, expect a bit of frustration during about the first hour or so of gameplay whilst you get used to the perspective. It would have been better if this game had used a top-down perspective, but I can see why they went with the isometric perspective, since it allows the graphics to contain a lot more detail.

Not only can your character be obscured by walls, so can the zombies!

Not only can your character be obscured by walls, so can the zombies!

Likewise, due to the high number of monsters and the game’s zoomed-out perspective, it’s possible to lose track of where your character is during gameplay. Some kind of glowing outline would have really helped to make certain parts of the game a lot less confusing. Still, like with the controls, this is something that you’ll probably get used to after a while.

Problems aside, this game is fun! It’s fast, action-packed and thrilling. It’s kind of like a third-person version of all the great classic FPS games. You can find secret areas, you have to explore levels that are at least slightly non-linear (though much more linear than old FPS games) and you’ll need to use strategy sometimes.

As you would expect from a 1990s-style zombie game, this game is gruesome! In fact, this is probably one of the goriest games that I’ve ever played – with the levels literally being awash with blood at various points in the game. Seriously, it’s up there with “Brutal Doom” and “Left 4 Dead 2”! But, if you’re squeamish, then you can apparently change the blood colour in the options menu.

Although the gameplay can get slightly repetitive sometimes, the game helps to keep things interesting by introducing multiple monster types. The most inventive of these is probably a type of enemy who looks like a soldier at first glance but, when killed, will transform into a fast-moving mutant creature that resembles the “Tyrant” bosses from the old “Resident Evil” games. Although this game isn’t particularly scary, this certainly caught me by surprise the first time I saw it…

Yes, there's actual CREATIVITY with some of the monster designs!

Yes, there’s actual CREATIVITY with some of the monster designs!

The game’s difficulty curve is a little bit inconsistent too. The early levels will be surprisingly challenging, due to your character’s weak weapons. However, when you’ve upgraded the pistols to the point where they’re basically dual uzis, the game gets easier for a while….

Yes, the upgraded pistols are actually BETTER than the shotgun! Heresy!!!

Yes, the upgraded pistols are actually BETTER than the shotgun! Heresy!!!

And, just when you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, you’ll find yourself playing a level which would be considered “excessive”, even by the standards of the modern “Doom II” modding community. But, like a challenging “Doom II” WAD, the game isn’t quite “unfair” though (eg: the levels are hard, but winnable).

Despite it’s relatively short length (it took me about 4-6 hours, spread over two days, to beat the main campaign), “Zombie Shooter” makes up for this by giving you an enjoyable, but occasionally frustrating, challenge on a regular basis. This also means that it never really feels like a “short” game either.

Yes, even THIS level can be beaten with enough perseverence.

Yes, even THIS level can be beaten with enough perseverence.

In addition to this, the game also includes a few cool set-pieces, like allowing you to control an automated gun turret in a nearby room.

Although this might seem a little bit boring at first, this segment is made more interesting by the fact that – if you don’t protect two doors near the turret’s controls, the monsters can actually attack you. If you stop using the turret to fight them, then the number of monsters surging towards the doors will began to increase…

Yes, this part is a bit more complex than it initially seems.

Yes, this part is a bit more complex than it initially seems.

The game’s final boss battle is worth a mention too. It’s as punishingly difficult as you might think (a fully-upgraded flamethrower is a must!) but, like in old-school FPS games, the boss can also be damaged by parts of the environment too.

In other words, if you turn on two generators and then lure the boss between two large tesla coils, then you can demolish about a fifth of his health bar in a few seconds.

Yes! This is gloriously retro :)

Yes! This is gloriously retro πŸ™‚

However, every time you do this, the game spawns in another horde of low-mid level monsters. So, as I said, make sure that your flamethrower is fully upgraded before you start playing this level.

From what I gather from the menus, this game also includes a couple of other gameplay modes (“Survive” and “Gun Stand”). I haven’t really checked these out at the time of writing – but, given the game’s short length, I guess that they add some replay value to the game.

In terms of stability, this game can be a little bit unstable. Basically, if you hit the “Windows” key whilst playing, then (on older PCs like mine at least) there’s a chance that you’ll need to restart your computer. But, apart from this (and a couple of temporary sound problems when I started the game for the very first time), it seems to be fairly stable and reliable. Even on my computer, which is a little over a decade old, the game only ever slowed down very briefly during the most intense sections.

In terms of music, the best track in the game is probably the main menu theme (which is suitably dramatic). However, the rest of the music isn’t really that memorable.

All in all, this game isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a low-budget action game which is resolutely old-school, and it is a joy to play. Yes, the controls and perspective can be awkward. Yes, it’s a little bit short (but it never really feels “short” when you’re playing). And, yes, you’re likely to ragequit a few times whilst playing. But, if you can get this game when it is on special offer, then you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Plus, it’s one of those games that “does what it says on the tin” too.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would probably get somewhere between three and four. It’s really fun, if somewhat imperfect.

Today’s Art (17th September 2014)

Well, I’m still looking at some of my old drawings from 2007 and re-making better modern versions of them.

So, today’s (digitally-edited) watercolour painting is based on one of my first attempts at sketching from life – back when I was a student in Aberystwyth in 2007, I used to hang out in this cafe in the Arts Centre between lectures. And, one day in November, I decided to try to sketch the view from the window (I’ll include this sketch here as well).

Today’s painting is also another addition to my “Aberystwyth Series” of paintings – although I don’t plan to go back to making these regularly.

As usual, both pictures in this post are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Aberystwyth - Heart In The Dark" By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Heart In The Dark” By C. A. Brown

And here’s my original sketch from 2007:

"Arts Centre Steps Sketch" Drawn by C. A. Brown in November 2007

“Arts Centre Steps Sketch” Drawn by C. A. Brown in November 2007

Today’s Art (16th September 2014)

Sorry for the long introduction but, I recently rediscovered some old drawings I made back in 2007 and I thought that I’d re-make at least one of them in my current art style.

Today’s painting is based on an illustration I made to a ( badly-written and thankfully unpublished) “Richs and Coates” story I wrote called “The Case Of The Sandown Gamblers” – which involved Richs and Coates solving a very contrived mystery on the Isle Of Wight.

The illustration is from this part of the story (complete with the original tense and grammar errors) where Coates strikes it rich:

“My next memory is of waking up behind the sand mound in the afternoon, unsure as to whether I’d fallen asleep or fainted from sheer exhaustion. As I opened my eyes, I saw Coates standing over me. Instead of his usual jeans and dark t-shirt, he was wearing a rather impressive suit. A cigarillo extended from one corner of his mouth and he puffed on it while talking to me in relaxed tones:
β€œLarry, you look terrible, glad to see that you survived last night’s ordeal though.”
β€œMore importantly, did the police get Ebenezer?”
Coates shook his head as he helped me to my feet, I brushed the sand from my jacket and stared again at his smart clothes. Chuckling, he continued:
β€œOh, these? Let’s just say that I was one of the casino’s first customer’s this morning after the police left.”

Like with all of these redrawings, I’ll include the original badly-drawn illustration from 2007 for comparison too.

As usual, both of these pictures are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"The Sandown Gamblers" By C. A. Brown

“The Sandown Gamblers” By C. A. Brown

And here’s the hilariously terrible original drawing from 2007 (Wow! The perspective is terrible!):

"Richs And Coates in 'The Sandown Gamblers'" Original illustration from 2007 by C. A. Brown

“Richs And Coates in ‘The Sandown Gamblers'” Original illustration from 2007 by C. A. Brown