I finally got Apple TV Plus.
And by “got” it, I mean I realized my new television comes with a free three month trial, so depending on how infatuated my wife gets with shows like Ted Lasso, Severance, and Servant, I may have it for three months, or I may have it indefinitely.
But me? I’m here for the movies, as always. TV shows are too big of a commitment for me (unless I am watching them for the first time to poke fun at). And while Apple TV Plus doesn’t have the world’s best cinematic content, there is enough on there to keep me busy for a little while. Like, say… three months.
First off the line was CODA, the 2022 Academy Award winner for Best Picture. And you know what? That was a well deserved win. Not that I saw a single other flick nominated in 2022, but I can at least attest to having really fallen for CODA, scoring it a 9/10. The character dynamics, performances, and grounded, relatable stakes all made it a watch that really resonated with me.
Next up was Selena Gomez: My Mind And Me because… well, because Selena Gomez is beautiful, so I figured it would be an easy enough watch. It’s the story of her struggles with lupus (hey, my cat and none of Dr. House’s patients also have that!) and mental illness. Celebrity documentaries always feel a bit overpolished, sanitary, and not-as-open-as-they-claim-to-be. That said, her story did make me feel more for her struggles, and I hope she continues to rise above them!
I didn’t really have anything lined up for a third Apple TV Plus movie to check out, but I’d heard people say that the recently released Tetris was a pretty worthwhile watch, so… sure, why not Tetris? Why not this little flick that is NOT about giant blocks coming to crush us all, but is instead about the massive effort multiple people and companies (and at least one government!) went through to release a video game.
And so this two hour movie, that wastes NO time getting started, relays a fictionalized portrayal of the espionage, backstabbing, deceit, and corruption around the struggle of getting what would be one of the most popular and accessible video games ever made out to the free world.
The story pinballs across the globe, with segments taking place in Tokyo, Seattle, and London. But the meat of it is centered in Moscow, with Henk Rogers–the most whitebread part-Indonesian you ever will see–finding out that the Tetris licensing rights he purchased are a sham. As he fights to secure the rights to Handheld Tetris in time for the release of the Gameboy (and it genuinely blew my mind that the various forms of Tetris–arcade, computer, video game, handheld, etc–were up for grabs separately across several companies), the Russian government, the company he used to work with, and other game licensers are all competing for the same prize.
Along the way, we get a car chase, a mad dash through an airport, a KGB officer turning on his country’s best interests, and a bunch of other things that probably didn’t happen in real life! Exciting! But that’s fine. The actual Tetris story is interesting, but maybe not Mainstream Feature Film level interesting. So they basically turned it into The Bourne Tetris. And that works!
Two Ups And Two Downs
+The entire concept is a lot of fun. Just… what if the securing of Tetris rights was a spy thriller? There are double-crosses, sexual tension, high stakes, evil assassins. It’s everything that would feel at home in a Bond movie, but it’s about companies competing for the rights to sell a game about oddly shaped bricks.
Two of the real men that the movie is based on (and I’m sure it’s a complete coincidence that they are both shown in the movie as totally altruistic) were on hand to advise the story and help with details, though they have apparently admitted that the studio Hollywood’ed it all up for the sake of filmmaking. And that’s fine. We all know that “based on a true story” can mean anything from “lightly embellished for entertainment’s sake” to “almost kind of tangentially sort of in the realm of barely like something that happened-ish once”.
+Taryn Egerton remains one of our brightest young actors, as he is at times unrecognizable in this movie. I actually had no idea that was him on the movie poster. He’s not ethnically accurate to the real Henk Rogers and I can’t really speak on that… but as an actor playing the role of this man who has everything to lose if he doesn’t get these rights, he gives a strong performance. I’m not sure I’ve seen him do any less than “pretty darn good” in anything yet, and he carries that through Tetris.
-The previously mentioned car chase scene gets a little off the rails when the vehicles are presented in 8-bit graphics and shown taking, like, video game damage when they wreck or hit walls or the like. It’s not entirely out of nowhere–the movies uses 8 bit graphics and music for transition scenes to show air travel and locations–but it’s the only part of the movie where game graphics are part of the action. It’s a bit gimmicky. And not wholly thematic; the movie isn’t about video games as a whole; it’s about ONE game: Tetris. And Tetris isn’t about 8-bit speeding cars running into walls. So for a few moments, you have this espionage thriller that suddenly feels like it is taking cues from Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. It doesn’t really work with everything else going on.
-The story moves along at a good clip for most of its duration, and everything seems exaggerated but plausible. Then, in the third act, Mikhail Gorbachev himself becomes a character in the film, and that feels a bit too wild for me. I don’t mean to make it sound like he is heavily involved or anything, but he’s in more than one scene, and his specter kind of looms over the finale. For a film that’s already fictionalizing real life events, this feels like an overreach.
And it’s not wholly relevant, either. You could leave Gorby out of the movie and not have to change much to make everything still fall into place (curses; I almost got through a Tetris review without saying that).
Engrossing and exciting, Tetris plays with the truth a bit to make a more exciting movie. But it’s far closer to the real story than a lot of other “Based On A…” stories are. Some of the actual people involved are turned into caricatures to make it easy to root for or against them, but again… that happens. The end product is a fun ride!