Monday, 3 November 2008

In space no one can hear you plagiarise

The seasonal glut of must have games is upon us, leaving many of us with difficult decisions of where to spend our hard earned cash and time. I chose to spend my Halloween in the company of the xenomorphs courtesy of Dead Space, a chilling survival horror from the team that bought you er, The Simpsons Game.

With so much quality gaming almost upon us, should Dead Space divert your attention? Well, yes, yes it should.

It's been a long time coming, a decent sci-fi horror. Possibly not since the last Aliens Vs Predator game have we had a chance for some silent screaming terror. Dead Space is very much in the mould of an Alien spin off, set as it is aboard a monstrous "planet cracker" class spaceship, not called the Nostromo, that you arrive to fix having received the obligatory distress call. You are Isaac Clarke, mute engineer extraordinaire with a snazzy line in exoskeleton work suits and a girlfriend somewhere on the spooky ghost ship, which after crashing on, disabling your ship (natch) you set about fixing up to try and survive. For you see, the ship has gone quiet not due to a blown fuse, but because of a ship wide invasion of murderous abominations, the necromorphs, who have a habit on jumping on the nearest person and chomping them to sloppy gibs. For it emerges that when the miners "cracked the planet" something(s) came out, and now they're in all sorts of bother. Luckily for Isaac, as a trained engineer with a knack for wielding a plasma cutter, these horrible creatures' weakness is not a grenade up the nose. The obligatory "message scrawled in blood on the wall above a grisly corpse in a pool of blood and guts" informs us, "cut off their limbs!" Lop off a leg or an arm and they'll stop coming. Go for the head or body and its a different story.

What follows is a deeply atmospheric and gore laden creep through the bowels of the ship as you are dished out missions by your two surviving team members who boss you about from their safe hideyholes they've found themselves, and set about dismembering the army of ungodly horrors. The ship itself is the star of the show here, as you move through tight corridors that never feel generic or forced, but functional. These connect to key destinations where some feat of engineering is usually required to ensure the ships' and your, continued survival. These areas are some of the most impressive locales of recent memory, on a grand scale unexpected after the claustrophobia of the tunnels and lift shafts. These sections also typically make use of the cleverly implemented use of gravity; zero-g areas feature corpses and junk floating about in a (I imagine) tremendously realistic way. The necromorphs have no problem flying about in this state however, and are just as likely to leap on your head out of nowhere as in normal gravity. Likewise you are able to fly about the place and walk about the place Space Odyssey style, thanks to your magnetic boots. Aim at a distant ceiling and marvel as you fly across the expanse to gracefully touch down the right way up. It's a dizzyingly fun experience.

The mood of the game generally however is resolutely dreadful. That's a good thing remember. Fear pervades these halls, stalking you like a hungry mutant, and Redwood Falls play every trick in the book to make you jump. These are not always entirely successful, it's so easy to miss your cues after all, but generally the scares come thick and fast with rarely the same jump delivered twice. Praise has been showered on the soundtrack in particular, and rightly so. The sound design is brilliantly realised, with naturalistic and unnerving bump in the night effects that caused me to press pause and remove my headphones to listen on several occasions. The Ishimura creaks and groans. Sound in a vacuum is reduced to muffled thumping footsteps and your shrill breath as your oxygen ticks down. The necromorphs shriek and roar as they attack. Excellent stuff.

Your arsenal is similarly correct, being full of tools and slicey things. The saw blade that suspends itself in front of you to allow strategic carving of creatures is a particular favourite, and each gun comes with an alternate firing mode. Each one takes some getting used to to find the best way to use it effectively. Combat is best approached systematically, one limb at a time, and this can become a huge feat of prioritising later on when you're being attacked from all sides. Gunning and running becomes a panic inducing necessity, and when the strobes kick in and creatures are bursting though the walls, it can be hard to keep cool. Luckily your stasis module allows a limited slowdown of creatures (or fast machinery) to buy you some time, but the small energy bar it relies on means just a few burst before you're on your own again. Likewise, ammo is scarce enough to keep you in a perpetual state of dread, so you may want to make use of various exploding tea flasks dotted about the place which you can manipulate with your kinetic module (gravity gun) into the faces of unsuspecting beasties. The interaction of these two add-ons and your expansive arsenal makes for a variety of approaches, but remember, there is a tool for every job. The presentation of your various gubbins is also worth a mention; to keep you in Isaac's shoes there is no HUD - every part of your various menus and gauges are represented in game. Health is displayed as your glowing spine, inventories and video messages are projected in front of you. It's a slick and considered approach that is generally successful, although some camera issues can rear their head when you least need them to.

The creatures themselves are a diverse bunch and come in distinct flavours and classes from fast and lethal to small and swarmy, they can inspire serious shivers. Should they get too close, each has a series of attack animations where you must button mash to prevent dismemberment, but it's often entertaining to marvel at the horrifically inventive ways Isaac meets his demise. I was shocked by the Thing style head on tentacles that leapt onto my shoulders, knocked my own head off only to replace it with itself, pushing its tentacles into my chugging neck and lumbering off with my body, as the screen fades out resident evil style. There are too the occasional boss fights, and a few other pace breakers - and while a somewhat welcome change from the norm, these sections aren't as fun as they imagine, but do keep the gameplay from stagnating nicely.

That Dead Space is so obviously influenced by other games and films isn't an issue. Of course this has all been seen somewhere before. The quality of the execution goes a long way to excuse apparent unoriginality, and only the good stuff has been retained. Add in the interaction of all these diverse elements, and the game never feels unoriginal to play. In truth, only the hammy script lets it down in any real sense, and various revelations that come to light really aren't revelatory, and the plot that emerges is full of cliches of mad scientists and religious cultism and conspiracy.

Despite the ham and cheese, so well polished and tightly orchestrated as an experience, Dead Space asserts itself as one of the finest videogame lessons in horror yet, and while it might not keep you up at night pondering the plot, you may need to keep the light on for a while anyway.

Treehouse Rating



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Monday, 20 October 2008

Lost in Translation?

So, when I was in Italy recently as I mentioned, I went to see the Dark Knight (again). I haven't written a review for it yet, so moved was I by it's brilliance, but I probably will soon, once I've watched it again and again and again. But not, I might add, in Italian. I've always thought it a little strange but Italy gets all its films dubbed. All of them. There's no provision for, because there's simply no interest in, watching a subtitled movie.
That. Is. Mental. Right?

I had this discussion with my Italian flatmate many times, and she said most people just don't want to read a film. But I cried, that means that you don't even know what any of the hollywood greats sound like. You've never heard Pacino rant? You've never swam in McKellen's throaty stew? You've never err, basked in oh I don't know, Meryl Streep's chocolatey fondue? It's insanity! The really odd thing of course, is that there is a version of these actors in every territory. An Italian Christian Bale. A French Michael Caine. And these aural dopplegangers get all the work their Hollywood progenitor instigates. How bizarre. What's worse, because familiarity breeds love before contempt, my flat mate said she, and these mysterious "most people", preferred the Italian versions before she moved to the UK, and now has to put up with these third rate "real" voices. Wrong. While I now know she was generalising horribly concerning her fellow countrymen's cinematic tastes as the video over the break demonstrates, it raises an interesting point..

I personally,wouldn't dream of watching even a Miyazaki film dubbed, and they're just (!) cartoons! Is this just a case of me being some kind of film snob, or is this a real issue? I refuse to believe it's just me. Cinema, if anything is a fusion of vision and sound (so sayeth David Lynch) and words are a fairly integral part of sound I would maintain. And while TDK retained its brooding glory, the Joker amongst others simply didn't work. So much is lost from the performance, I almost felt sorry for Italy. But then would the nuances of the performance truly be retained to the non English speaking ear with the original voice? Am I really getting the whole Dae-Su Oh story in Old Boy just because I'm listening to Min-sik Choi's voice and reading his words? Is this something I just can't comprehend because I'm English and so are most of the movies I watch? Is the following really a better option than dubbing?

I say, yes of course it is, don't be stupid. But I'm conscious there are other people in the world prone to opinions of their own. So tell me, do you people like subtitles in movies or does what you don't know not hurt you?

You heard me.

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Monday, 29 September 2008

Flip Vids propagate internet detritus shocker

Cameras! Everywhere! Living in London, its not unusual, they're a part of life here and go largely unnoticed. We don't really see them as an infringement of our human existence and right to privacy, cos we're simply not doing anything interesting enough to want to watch, and if we are, we should expect to be watched. Except in the cinema, that's wrong. But what is also wrong is the sheer size of the cameras deployed amongst our friends and loved one these days. They're soo tiny wee and dainty, we don't stand a chance. Our friends are supposed to be just that, but nowadays we can't drink 18 pints and be sick at the back of the pub without someone sticking a tiny bond-esque spycam up our noses faster than you can say facebook. Before you know it, all our exes are sitting round together, having amusing picture evenings and laughing gaily while drinking chablis and reminiscing about what a drunken and unphotogenic twerp you really were.

Well it's only going to get worse, so get used to it. Photos are so passe, its all about the vidz now. As the tech continues to improve, we'll get that technicolour yawn in glorious slow-mo hi def, and eventually in 3-D. Now there's something to look forward to.

Anyway, flipvids are a cheap and nasty pocket cam thing that feels like it came out of a cracker, and in no way alludes to the bright futuristic technology we can look forward to years from now. But we did have a play with one and made a stupid vid, so enjoy! Do please comment on the youtube page, I got my first and it warmed my heart with it's youtuberiness.

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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Braid takes you back

Well gosh it's been a while, what a busy time, so much to do so little time. So many films, so many games it's hard to know where to put ones brain. But I also spent some serious downtime by a lake which prohibited any kind of media consumption. Well apart from the ipod and ds, but hey it's not frickin punishment. Oh and I saw the Dark Knight in Italian which will now be forever known as Il Cavaliere Uscomo. Cool. Anyway, more about that later, I'm easing myself back into the chilly blog waters with this little post about Braid, so lets go..!

So Braid is another of these whizzy Xbox live jobs, which I'm getting more and more enthusiastic for these days. Although it may sound like an 80's scrolling shooter, this one is in fact a platform based puzzle game - the platforming you'll quickly discover is purely incidental since you can rewind time a la Prince of Persia (new fangled ones oldies) to undo horrendously timed jumps. The puzzling is compelling and at times downright baffling. I'm not sure I could remember how I solved many of the puzzles if I went back to it now, but the speedrun is calling the achievement whore in me a pussy so I may have to go back soon. While you can rewind time as much as you like, the puzzles are based around your manipulation of it, and the fact that various objects and creatures are affected by time in different ways. In fact, it's more complex than that as each of the new levels brings with it a different temporal conundrum - the one where everything in the level moves forward in time as you move right, and backwards as you move left is a doozie. My brain fell out. So as you manipulate time, and work out how to open the door you opened earlier with the key you used on that other door but can still use again because if you play it back quick enough you still have the key, you collect pieces of jigsaw puzzles that build the pictures adorning the walls of your hub home. So it's Mario meets Portal meets Prince of Persia meets Banjo Kazooie. Kinda. It's closest to Portal in terms of the warm little glow you'll feel when you finally grab that piece of the puzzle that moments earlier you swore blind on your mother's grave god rest her it is absolutely impossible to reach my copy of this shitty game is broken.

The best thing about Braid though iiis the graphics? No. Sorry, they're pretty and all, a forever shifting impressionist landscape for a background upon which crudely drawn sprites gambol and play that works beautifully, but it's the soundtrack the really brings them all to life. Cheery folk music played backwards has a wonderfully melancholy edge to it, an emotion that permeates the world from the heroes glum expression to the appallingly written "plot", which is the only real downpoint to the game - it reads like a goth teenagers angsty diary and is supposed to give some kind of context to the proceedings, but it would have been best left abstract. Imagine the mystery that would have engulfed teh nets if none of that had been present? What does it mean? What do the pictures signify?? We would be hailing the first Lynchian masterpiece of videogaming, a truly artistic and meaningful experience. As it is, you're left thinking seriously dude, man up, no wonder you can't get laid. The (admittedly brilliant) ending makes a lot of sense, she had clearly read your whiny little blog.

The awful writing however cannot ruin what is fundamentally a classy little game. Kinda pricey at 800 points considering how short it ultimately is, but while it lasts it's a joy. The demo is fairly substantial and certainly enough to work out if this is your kind of thing. My guess is it will be.
Update - humm, apparently it turns out its all about nuclear bombs. Whodathunkit? Guess the writing is more abstract than I thought. It's still bad though.

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Sunday, 13 July 2008

..and he saw that it was good.

In between all the great, good and frighteningly bad films I've been watching, I've still found time to play me games. That's all changed now, as I've found something better, but it's not quite a game.. yet. Spore has been a constant presence in gaming culture for aaages, but never really penetrated my consciousness until now. The game itself looks set to be a complex resource management affair, not really my cup of tea so I thought, but an afternoon with the recently released Creature Creator has changed all that. I've been meaning to download it for a while, but had not been busy enough. For it is only when procrastinating fiercely that one can truly waste some serious time doing something so marvelously pointless. A free, and small download, and you are given a beautifully implemented construction kit of life to fashion and shape your animal into whatever you see fit, then have them dance for your amusement. Youtube is of course full of dancing penises. The free trial contains only 25% of the full creator (which is fiver to buy), and in itself provides a dizzying range of possibilities. Mii channel eat your heart out. So come with me now, and behold my menagerie..

This here is Toothy. He has a face where his genitals should be. I agree, not a good start. He is dancing with his similarly freakish offspring. No explanation is given as to how a creature with a face for genitals has an offspring.

Ah this is more like it, Flapdoodle. He's a happy little fellow with tiny wings, huge ears and a permanent look of surprise. He is also bright purple to protect him from predators.

Predators like this fearsome looking chap. This is Creeple. He's quite friendly really, I just took a picture after making him angry by pressing the angry button. He may play American football. See how it looks like he has one of those old helmets on? Never mind.

This is Spryco. I think I was going for a play on Spyro, although I'm not sure why. Anyway, he's a highly generic lizard type, but has a lovingly crafted spine.

Another ugly one, this is Grimball. He is quite grim when he's scuttling about, but I think he needs a better name. Scuttler perhaps? He has a rather nice paintjob.

Not a great picture, but that's probably for the best, this is a Long Haired Ballgrin, so called because of his flowing hair and prominent balls. The hair is flowing from his bottom. My most obscene creation thus far.

This is Phuckeduck. He is a pun. A fairly bad one too. Breaks my heart, cos he's an ugly little fucker, and all the more sad for it. How depressing.

This is Sparky, another poorly named exhibit. Again, It's a shame, cos I think I've really captured the surprise a shark might feel given legs and placed on dry land, and he is almost certainly deserving of a better name. Any ideas?

And finally, my favourite, Plootle. Look at that face! Look at that colour! Did you ever see as handsome a bug as he? So bright eyed and full of wonder. And to see him dance, oh! He's far superior to that fat german in a Bug's Life.

So thats it, if you're still here, thanks for reading, I will probably do a creature update again, possibly not as extensively unless I've got some real wonders to show off. That's if I don't get bored of creating. But it looks like I may have to actually buy the damn game as I need more antennae. Why are you still here anyway, don't you have some life to fashion?

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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

But nothing's happening?

Mindful as I am of this blog becoming a dedicated movie blog, which was never my intention, I must say a few words on M Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" which I was lucky enough to see recently. Luck is of course, a relative notion, but optimistic soul as I am, I do indeed consider myself lucky to have seen it, relative perhaps to someone who has no eyes, or perhaps less politically incorrectly, someone who had to, say, organise the dubbing on the Italian version, who probably had to watch it several times and had to relate every abysmal word of the god awful script into something that made sense in another language. And though mine is but the tiny voice of a humble blogger, I'll add it to the cacophony that wish ill upon SHAMayalan, and cheer that he may be stripped of his fortunes, and chased through the streets like a convicted kitten drowner. No, this isn't a review. This is catharsis.

A lot of people might start their bashing with "Now I'm not a M Night Shyamalan hater but..". Well, let's be clear, I am. I think the man is a joke. The Sixth Sense is a film buoyed only by its exceptional performances and a half decent twist (he's a ghost). The actual story on closer inspection makes little sense. Everything else he's ever made is turd. Signs? Turd. The Village. Boring turd. Unbreakable. Turd sandwich. I haven't even seen Lady in the water which I hear is so turd I can't even bring myself to sit through it. "So why watch something if you're just going to hate it" you cry. Well, because I like films, so if I'm going to have an informed opinion, it helps to watch it. If he were to turn in a good film, I'd report back a good review. This is not opinion, this is fact. In all honesty I watched every frame in disbelief, that such a god awful piece of shit could possibly have been made.

So little actually happens in the Happening that it is truly undeserving of a proper review. People mysteriously start killing themselves en masse when the wind blows. Everyone is a bit spooked and get on trains/in cars. Is it terrorists? Is it the plants? Is it the script? Kill me now. Marky Mark tries to come up with a rational explanation (he's a science teacher stupid), Zooey Deschanel agonises over pudding. Everybody behaves in an unconvincing manner. The one time you'll be praying for a twist, and there isn't one. That's the twist. And then it ends. Some of the scenes, you couldn't call them set pieces, are so laughable, so pathetic, it spills over the heady amusement of car crash film and leaves you actually depressed that this no talent prick gets funding. A particularly terrifying encounter sees our heroes trying to outrun the wind for fucks sake. "stay ahead of the wind!" Marky Mark whimpers, looking over his shoulder. "here it comes!". Fuck off. Then other stuff happens so painfully pointless I really cant be bothered to summarise it. Even Shamayalan cant be bothered to make his egotistical little appearance in person this time around, as if he knew he was actually making a third rate twilight zone knock off and not a film at all. For a rundown of the quality of the writing checkout , who have an abridged and startlingly accurate script for you.

Having dabbled in acting myself I quickly learned, when you, as an actor, do good, its your performance. When you do bad, it the director's. And that's because the director has perspective on what you're doing, he or she can see the big picture, and whether you have achieved the emotional payoff the scene or line requires. Here, Shyamalan has extracted some of the most appalling performances ever committed to celluloid, and it is entirely his fault. We know these people can act, I've seen them do it. At one point I assumed their flat delivery and painful absence of emotion would turn out to be integral to the plot; they're all lobotomized zombie aliens perhaps? They're not. No, their interaction is by turns baffling, awkward and ultimately, entirely fake. Every line is an embarrassment. Every sentiment is broken. Each attempt at humour will puzzle you. Every attempt at horror will make you laugh. Every second of every scene is a waste of your time. Never have I seen such a misguided attempt at film making. Maybe it's all actually an experimental attempt at making a film so bad, people will go to see it just to see if it's true how bad it is?

But no, Shamster simply isn't that smart. The man is a fraud and a charlatan, depriving other talents of badly needed funding and attention, and who actually believes he is making good movies. Click here for a taste of the terror, introduced by the man himself. And yes, you did just hear him compare his turd to the Godfather and the Birds. Is there a petition to forbid him from ever making another film? Sign me up.

Its not a proper review, but here's the score anyway.

Verdict 1/5

He gets 1 for the damage he's done himself. Good show!

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Sunday, 29 June 2008

Wanted: a better script

Another day, another blockbuster. This was another one that wasn't really on my radar until the palm moisteningly exciting trailer which made promise of bullet curving, outrageous driving and mysterious assassin societies operating on the fringes of the normal world. In this sense, the film delivers on its promises as all of these aspects are present and correct. But sadly, as with previous films Nightwatch and Daywatch, while at times visually stunning, Bekmambentov has delivered a movie that ultimately sacrifices content at the altar of style.

Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) is the typical everyman loser. Beaten down by the crushing weight of the world, he lives the regular schnook existence in a tedious office job with an oafish bullying boss, and a girlfriend who is openly shagging his supposed best friend. Maybe he should start a blog? His painfully unrewarding existence is somewhat up-heaved by the arrival of Fox (Jolie), the smirking skinny beauty who informs him that the Dad he had thought dead from his childhood was actually one of the world's greatest assassins and was in fact killed in the opening sequence. After a rescue shootout (Gibson is now it seems the next target of the patricidal maniac) and a ridiculous escape drive, Jolie introduces him to the Fraternity, a troupe of assassins descended from an ancient sect of weavers. That's right. Headed by a paternal Morgan Freeman, Gibson is shown that what he had mistaken for panic attacks are in fact the manifestation of his super human powers of reaction and skill possessed only by a handful of people that allows him to shoot the wings off flies. Which he does.

Gibson is understandably perturbed, but given the chance to replace his old life for this new one of guns, cars and sexy ladies, he takes all of five minutes to dump his bird, give his boss a telling off, and crack his best bud round the face with a keyboard. Finding his bank account full of his dead dad's money helps too. And so he signs up with the fraternity who set about training him up at their top secret textile factory, which consists of getting beaten and sliced up by one of the caricature assassins while Jolie looks on smugly. But its ok, because they also have waxy baths that can heal you up quick smart, and visits to these magical tubs become a regular occurrence. When not being brutalised by the gang, Gibson fill his days swotting up on past assassinations or being taught how to "curve the bullet" the trademark shot of the fraternity that, as well as allowing impossible shots to be made, also looks impossibly cool. Freeman also finds time to introduce him to the "Loom of Fate" a mammothly intricate construction, which it turns out is the one giving out instructions on who the gang whack next via its mystical weavings, and Gibson sets about working towards his target, the father murdering Cross via a number of lesser hits and running about on top of trains. Suddenly an expert on all things assassin, Gibson sets off to track down Terrence Stamp's bullet maker and find Cross in the process, which he duly does, and learns more about his and his father's past than he hoped for.

What follows is typical of Bekmambentov. The action here is impressive, not to mention sadistically violent, and there are some nice moments that show a hint of tongue in cheek, but for the most part it is deadly serious and so achingly self conscious that it detracts from the enjoyment. It so badly wants to capture the effortless cool of films like The Matrix or Blade that it never really shows us anything original, instead rehashing ideas and concepts we've seen a million times before in films and computer games, while the ideas on display that are original are just not up to snuff (exploding rats?). Indeed, without a decent sci-fi or mythology to back it up (the comic book origin is largely ignored), the superhuman actions of the characters, and concepts like healing tanks and looms of fate just sound plain silly. As indeed is the whole plot, with its unwelcome goodie/baddie switcharoo that leads to some uncomfortable swearing from Morgan Freeman. The man should not use the phrase "somebody shoot this mothefucker." Its wrong. The whole premise of said switcharoo and resultant denouement make absolutely no sense if you ponder them closely, and herein lies Wanted's main problem. It's stupid.

As you may know, I'm not one to sneer at a far fetched plot, but I do ask that they are believable according to the terms of their own mythologies, and that their characters behave according to their, well, character. And here Wanted is severely lacking. The script is full of yawning holes that make little or no sense that all builds to a climax that leaves the viewer wholly unsatisfied. The performances are all decent, although McAvoy hasn't quite nailed the accent, but no amount of straining can save such daft shenanigans. Even the "normal" opening scenes don't quite ring true, the bullying boss character for example is such a ham fisted piece of character writing that alarm bells of ludicrousness are ringing before anyone's even done a flip in a sportscar. While many of the set pieces are beautifully executed (sorry), a sequence on a train especially so, much of it is so contrived as to undermine how good it all looks. The final "shot" is a good case in point. Yes its very stylish, the way the bullet slowmos backwards through that forehead and whizzes back to it's point of origin via lots of amusing familiar faces and near misses, but it doesn't make a lot of sense does it? Is the (actual) victim so stupid as to assume he has the right target because it looks a bit like him from behind? How exactly was he lured to that particular"X"? Was it a metaphorical visit the bullet takes to all those other persecutors? Or was it just a cool idea you wanted to re-use in a way you thought would nicely tie up the film even if it didn't really make sense? No, it's just all too daft to be truly enjoyable. If you like your action brainless and pretty Wanted is worth a look, but if you were expecting a coherent super assassin origin story you'll be disappointed. What a shame.

Verdict: 2/5
All mouth no trousers

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Monday, 23 June 2008

Duun Duun dun dun dun, da da da da daa da IR-ON MAN

It took me a while to catch the second of the Marvel Movies that continue to teach Sam Raimi how it's done, but Iron Man is definitely a welcome addition to the menagerie of comic book films that are so thick on the ground these days. I always enjoyed a good origin story, and Favreau has turned in a rollicking introduction to the Iron Man character that's choc full of great action, shameless fun times and rampant German car product placement.

Tony Stark is the mega-rich, decadent playboy genius arms dealer, head of a futuristic mega-corp, supplying uber-weapons to the US military complex, safe in the knowledge he is protecting Americans and the world from the threat of bad guys bent on our destruction. His illusions are quickly blown away by said bad guys when he is captured while on a visit to Nonspecificistan by angry terrorist types, armed to the teeth with (gasp!) his very own weapons, and determined to force Stark to manufacture death rays for them. During the attack he receives a nasty dose of shrapnel and a chest wound a squirrel could live in, but is miraculously saved by a resourceful surgeon who installs a fetching hole cover attached to a car battery that stops the shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him. So far so good. Stephen Hawking-esque boffin that he is, Stark constructs a futuristic power source out of fluff and sticks that frees him of his battery, and inspires in him an escape plan just crazy enough to work. Instead of building a rocket of mass destruction as requested, he sneakily sets about constructing a huge tank-like power suit to allow his escape from the cave dwelling baddies, in an all stomping, fire spewing, rocket powered flight to freedom. Obvious really.

Thus returned to civilisation and his limitless wealth with a new hippy outlook, he upsets his stockholders and partner (an imposingly bald and bearded Jeff Bridges, who is of course the real villain) by declaring weapons are bad, we won't make those anymore. Cue hiding in his bat cave, refining his design of his er, non lethal flying power suit that fires all manner of lasers, energy pulses and rockets. To alleviate his terrible guilt of the violence he has begat, he uses his spiffy new suit to fly around the globe, violently destroying the illicitly sold weapons Bridges has been selling under the table to the bad men. The original bad men from act one meanwhile have been busying themselves reconstructing the remnants of the mark one suit, left for scrap in the desert. After a comic book "no I'm the real villain" switcharoo, the now really very evil and just a bit loopy Bridges pinches the plans, massacres the terrorists and sets about constructing his own monster suit, thus providing a worthy opponent for the final act in which the two go at it hammer and tongs.

If the plot sounds a bit wobbly, it is. But as with Hulk, this doesn't detract from the unabashed fun going on, and the script fits it's players like a well crafted mech suit. Downey Jr is instantly likable as the irreverent Stark, wisecracking his way into the hearts of the audience and most of the on screen ladies, including Paltrow's nicely played, if rather limp, Pepper Potts. Bridges proves that he should always be a villain from now on, even if his transition from suspiciously over friendly baldy to all murdering nut job is just a little jarring - all that stomping about, whatever is he hoping to achieve? Everyone else is fine, although Terence Howard doesn't get much to do but look exasperated. The Iron Man suit itself though, as he points out, is indeed very cool, mechanically forming around Stark like a well executed transformer, and bristling with pyrotechnics. The action on display is hugely satisfying with plenty of flying about, smashing people through walls and blowing up of both stuff and things. The movie manages to stay on the front foot for the duration, never seeming to drag even when it's just Downey chatting to his oddly English computer (Paul Bettany) or chastising his over zealous extinguisher bot, or indeed, falling for Gwyneth's drippy charms.

The overwhelming theme at work here is fun, and this pervades to the credits. Like the suit itself, Favreau has expertly engineered a fabulously entertaining movie around Downey Jr's performance and in so doing has set up what may turn out to be a great franchise. Take Downey out of the suit however, and it may ring hollow. Hopes for the future are suddenly high though- especially given the potential in the apparent cross pollination of the current Marvel heavy weights. Vorsprung durch Technik indeed.

Verdict 4/5

Not rusty

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Tuesday, 10 June 2008

You'll like me when I'm angry..

Seems to me, the films I have low expectations of are doing far more things right than those with high ones. Not to say that this re imagining, for it's no sequel, had nothing to worry about. While Ang Lee's effort certainly wasn't widely loved, it nailed the whole comic book feel, and had some great set pieces, so expectations in many quarter's must have been high, my own for whatever reason simply were not. Stood next to Leterrier's new monster though, Lee's Hulk now looks more like the jolly green giant.

The Incredible Hulk - (Hulk2 in the States?) kicks things off with the famously disastrous gamma experiment, seemingly plucked straight from the TV series. By the time the credit sequence has ended, Norton's Banner is the bright spark in exile, hiding out in a decrepit bottling factory in Brazil, learning anger management techniques while trying to not provoke the locals, ogling supermodel co-workers and secretly working on a cure while teaching himself Portuguese. Good times. A mishap prompts his discovery by the rather cross, and more overtly naughty General (Hurt), who has been pursuing Norton ever since his disappearance during the credit sequence, determined to weaponise his mighty green thighs. Enter Blonsky, Roth's greasy limey royal marine brought in to net the elusive Banner, who is quickly seduced by his close encounter with the Hulk into hastily volunteering for the Generals crunchy spine injections, to make himself strooong, like wood.

Needless to say there ensue breathless foot chases, some bulging fights in the dark, pitch battles on campus and all out downtown brawls set across some beautifully shot backdrops. The favelas of the opening section are mostly stunning, with sweeping aerial shots the order of the day, and later visits to the university campus and New York are similarly pretty. Norton is convincing as the troubled (understatement) Banner, and the supporting cast all turn in great performances. While Liv Tyler's Betty has a few too many whiny lines, she is as always easy on the eye so I can forgive her. Roth and Hurt are typically excellent as the sympathetically drawn villains, and Tim Blake Nelson turns in a nicely manic comic performance with a promising, bulgy headed future.

The Hulk himself is a great creation; looking back at pictures of the old one, you can't help but be struck at how much more grown up this incarnation feels. Infinitely more vulnerable too, this version doesn't just get bigger the more you throw at it, real peril is constantly on the cards as the noose tightens round his bulging throat, he even bleeds at one point. Goodness. He is also sufficiently absent from the proceedings to have real impact when he does show up. The first appearance is particularly awesome, and was reminiscent of Batman's first foray into crimestopping in Batman Begins. He also now refrains from leaping huge distances across the landscape, which while kind of cool, always felt a bit silly. The Abomination, Roth's greasy, limey monstre terrible, is deeply cg (George would be proud) but remains grossly entertaining to the end, and sufficiently nasty that the many Hulk smashes to its ugly mug can't fail to satisfy. If anything, they could have pushed the action even further as after the epic campus based carnage, the New York brawl actually feels a little short.

On the whole though, great stuff. This is a tightly scripted and thoroughly enjoyable retelling that pitches what is after all, an overwhelmingly silly premise, just right, and is a great lesson in what good comic book films should be. There are some lovely comedic moments whenever it appears in danger of taking itself too seriously - Stan Lee's obligatory cameo actually raises a smile for once, as does Ferrigno's, and the "you wouldn't like me when I'm hungry" subtitle is inspired. Leterrier has wisely built on the themes of the tv show, playing on Banner's alienation and loneliness, and crafted around it a solid action romp that is overwhelmingly entertaining, despite the almost complete absence of an actual plot. Just goes to show. The surprise guest at the close inspires great hope for the brave new direction this Marvel comic book insurgence is heading, and indeed Leterrier's future in Hollywood.

Verdict: 4/5
A smash!

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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

"..and with great effort, Ben begins to turn the frozen donkey wheel.."

Lost has ended then, with a spectacular 2 hour finale, bringing to a close a really very satisfying season. My how time flies when you're having fun. This was a particularly pleasing closer, rife as it was with everything a finale should have, from shootouts to tearful reunions, from ghostly visitations to Sayid beating someone up. The standout moment for me though was Ben's frozen donkey wheel moving of the island. What. The. Funk? He blows a hole through the back of the teleport thing you expect him to use, revealing an ancient frozen donkey wheel thing, that when you turn makes the whole island vanish, and you, jump 3 years into the future and to the other side of the world? Okaay. Whatever it was, awesome, loved it. I had fun watching the sequence followed directly by when he awakes in the desert. Seamless.

I have now officially given up reading theories or undertaking in any kind of speculation whatsoever, it's clear my head will asplode if I attempt to take in the closing revelation of the recent activities and demise of Jeremy Bentham. All I really know is that guy is not dead, not by a long shot, he will rise again Lazarus style moments after plopping on the beach, you read it here first.

The big question again is, as ever, where next? We know 2 seasons remain.. will they expend an entire season just trying to get back to the island? Surely Lost can't sustain itself away from the island entirely? So then how can we revisit it without divulging the horrors of what happened/is happening after the 6 left? Ooh nearly started speculating, bad Munial. There's plenty of opportunity for clever flashbacks/forwards for clever writers here, and they continue to prove themselves to be the cleverest writers on their, or any block. No, I'm just going to sit back and let it all wash over me as and when. So uh, when? Next year? Waaaah..

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Indiana Jones and The Dubious Quadrilogy

As you know, much excitement surrounded my anticipation for Indy IV, so what's the verdict having finally seen it? Err, not sure. Very mixed feelings. I went to see it with my bro, and our immediate conversation went something like this:

Him: It wasn't very goood.
Me: No, but it wasn't really baad.
Him: Yeah, but it wasn't very goood.
Me: No, but it still wasn't baaad.

After these ruminations the discussion got downright intellectual. This reaction seems quite typical, as many reviews I've seen are similarly split. While expectation was heavy, there was always an underlying knowing it would disappoint to some degree, and so to be given a film that is almost a good Indy film, it seems something of a relief that it's not as bad as our imagination tell us it could have been.

So, detail. The start was kind of shaky - Ford initially seeming a shadow of himself, even his voice seeming unlike the Jonesey we remember, but he quickly settled in and reemerged as, yes, Indy! The escape from the nuke test site was a great moment, and the gradual emergence of the plot (ah yes the plot, more on that later) was nicely paced. There followed some more great set pieces; the motorbike chase across campus was particularly fun and reminiscent of old Indy, and Shia was a pretty likeable character from the off. More typical indianana ensued, maps with red lines on, charming peruvian villages, spooky crypts, jungle chases, familiar faces, man eating ants, burly ruskies up for a fist fight; it was all here.

And there perhaps was the problem. You can imagine George and Steve standing on set with a list on a clipboard, ticking them off as they went. At least they resisted a swordsman vs gun/no gun/some gun gag. Ultimately though, the actual plot, ie the mystery underlying the story was so wafer thin, and well, stupid, that it rather undermined all the good work. Ok, so the other films were pretty silly too, but the mythology they were based on was always compelling. Here though, the titular relic and its origin was just kind of lame, and as the quest played out, you didn't really feel anyone was solving anything, or that there was any kind of point to what anyone was actually doing. The mystery was decidedly un-mysterious from the off, and every semi perilous situation was escaped by frantically waving said skull about. All the nonsense about psychic warfare was never properly resolved, and come to think of it what the hell was supposed to have actually happened at the end anyway??

All that aside, believe it or not, I did enjoy the film. A good romp, it most certainly was, even with the excessive 50's tv obsession determined to make Shia a latter day Errol Flynn (down Lucas), and the cgi heavy money shot finale was genuinely impressive (good Lucas). I suppose it was naive to think they might best any of the previous films, and the question remains as to whether it really needed to be made at all. My feeling is while it didn't really add anything to the legacy, it didn't really take anything away either. But then again, all those beloved characters riding off in to the sunset at the end of Last Crusade was a much more fitting end for our hero. "Close your eyes Marion, don't look at it" is always an option I suppose.

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Monday, 2 June 2008

Russel T To be Fired From Large Space Cannon

Well not quite, but the news that Russel T Davies is to step down from the helm of Dr Who is surely, surely a welcome one. Fairdo's to the man, he reinvented the series rather well (although my personal feeling is that that was primarily down to the quality of Eccleston in the role) but since then he has commanded some powerful stinkers. His penchant for abysmally naff casting and oh so relevant cultural references has made Dr Who painful to watch lately. And his self indulgent series openers, enders and specials have been mind bogglingly shit. Season finale featuring the Doctor as a dobby-esque monkey, only to be transformed jesus style by the power of thought, I'm looking at you. And for christ sake, the Doctor used to occasionally get his sonic screwdriver out, not every time he did anything.

So it pleases me no end that the reins are being handed to a much more capable writer at least, the most recent episode of his being literally the only one so far this season that has not been a complete waste of time, as were his fine previous efforts. Hopefully, Russel T will limit the inevitable damage he will see fit to wreak upon his successor to an implausible setting to start us off in, as opposed to some irrevocable character change like turning the doctor into, I don't know, saints preserve us, a woman or something.

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Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Quick Czech In

Ok ok so Niko isn't remotely Czech but it was an easy pun and I'm very tired. Since GTA came out I've literally had no time for anything. Also the real world is conspiring against me to do it's darndest to keep me away from Liberty City, so updates and impressions have been impossible. Put it this way, after a mega shit-ton of playing, I'm on about 49%. This thing is huuuge. Hit the jump for a mini adventure..

So then, as time is short, a micro impression if you will, one of the standout moments for me in a game composed of standout moments. I have just unlocked the 2nd island Algonquin, or Manhattan, and after a few errands set about a proper explore. To allow myself full appreciation of the scenery I hail a cab and take it slow down past Middle (Central) Park and through Star Junction (Time Square, really must I explain everything?). As I pass the park it's raining. The sky is dark and threatening, pedestrians are running, umbrellas are up. But the rain eases as I approach the bright lights of the square and the radio starts to play the dramatic Philip Glass track featured in the original trailer. I didn't know it was Philip Glass previously mind, but I call "Zit", the track ID service from my (in game) phone as it had been bothering me what it was. Thus enlightened by the return text, I marvel at the spectacle of the city from the backseat of the cab as it nudges through the busy traffic, sky scrapers dripping neon, towering overhead, and the now dazzling setting sun throws down shafts of orange hazy light between the reaching towers. My (in game) phone starts ringing. It's my pesky cousin, probably wants to go bowling. I press reject, I'm enjoying the moment too much. I'll call him back later. Then it occurs to me. Jaysus what kind of game is this anyway? The existential crisis quickly passes however and I reach my destination, then go and buy a new suit and give a beggar some money. Unfortunately, I also happen to be reading American Psycho at the moment, and what happens next is ugly.

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Monday, 28 April 2008

The Hobbit 2: The Hobbitses?

Mixed feelings on the recent announcement that Guillermo Del Toro is to head up two new Hobbit movies. On the one hand, awesome. He is clearly an excellent choice, a standout talent in the tricky fantastical genre, a proven and worthy facilitator of both small, intimate emotion and huge, ball busting action. Who better to lead us through Mirkwood and Gollum's cave, and up to Smaug's lair and that battle no-one remembers? I think we've all missed Middle Earth, just a little bit. What a happy series of Christmases those were, as we saw our favourite midgets play out their merry English tales of bravery and rambling. So what's the problem, win all round no? Well, the only bone to stick in my gullet, and it's potentially a biggie, is why the two films?

The narrative of the Hobbit is plenty sufficient for one movie alone and much as I love that fair land, and want to visit it as much as I can, is there really any need to "deal with the 60-year period between “The Hobbit” and “The Fellowship of the Ring"? Surely any new addition to the mythology is destined to inferiority and embarrassment? I haven't read the Children of Huatever, in much the same way as I didn't read books from the Star Wars "universe"; they ain't canon buddy, take 'em outside. No, to me this in fact whiffs of corporate greed, and is pretty much up there with the whole Harry Potter split film saga which I thankfully don't care enough about to link to. Damn.

Well I just hope this is not allowed to damage a so far unparallelled cinematic series, and that Del Toro and Jackson can keep the suits in check. At least it's two of cinema's greatest innovators adding their chapter to literature's most celebrated fantasy, and not Michael Bay. And I suppose the broad doings of that period of Middle Earth must be documented somewhere in Tolkien's sprawling writings, and we know that Jackson is nothing if not respectful. For my part, I'll try to keep my mind on the important things to be concerned about, like who they'll get to play Bilbo, and whether they'll resist the urge to have the dragon voiced by Sean Connery.

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Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Super Reinhardt Brother

The above clip sums up one of the many reason why I love video games, and indeed guitars. Assuming you didn't know, would you have guessed in a million years that this is the theme taken from a Nintendo game? Granted, it is beautifully realised in the Gypsy Jazz style (the original was a bit more Disney) and I have just got into that particular genre (although that is due in no small part to another recent game with an awesome soundtrack), but still it never ceases to amaze me how underrated video games are as a medium. A fusion of image, sound and interaction.. and they can make you interested in Django Reinhardt. Mind Boggling.

All that aside though, I just love to see a well played guitar, so hats off to the guitar man who spotted a great dittie and made something even better.

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Sunday, 20 April 2008


Books. Pretty great huh? With all the competing media around these days, my reading habit has been sorely neglected. Sinful for someone who claims to like reading and writing. That aside, I just finished the book, the cover helpfully displayed to the left, and found it so enjoyable it's worth a mention on this predominantly digitally fixated blog. As with many good books I've never heard of, once read you start seeing it everywhere. Every other person on the tube seems to have a copy under their arm, inspiring knowing winks and cheerful smiles and head waggles. Except of course, your copy is hidden from sight so they just think you're a weirdo. It is also I hear, set to become a big budget epic starring Johnny Depp, so not totally out of the playhouse's realm then.

I attempted to summarise the story to a friend. I didn't do well and apparently made it sound boring. Although if you think the story of a man who escapes from an Australian prison to become a doctor in a Bombay slum, gets recruited by the local godfather as a forger and gun-runner, and eventually goes to war in Afghanistan is dull, well, you must lead a very stimulating existence. And that really is bare bones, a hundred little adventures play out between these covers. Perhaps most stunning is that it all happened. This guy is for real and another friend of mine (the one who gave me the book, thank you x) ran into him in Goa. Wowsers. Of course it is a novel - Roberts describes the experiences as real, but the characters as fictional. Fictional or not, I'll freely admit that I wept like a little girl when one of the beloved characters dies, such is the quality of their realisation. I don't think I've ever cried at a book before, and if I have, I certainly can't remember when. If you need a good lengthy, rewarding book for a holiday or whatever, check this out, it is an exceptional, beautifully crafted read. And if you haven't read a book for a while, reading helps build your vocabulary and ability to construct sentences, so you er, really like, should.

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Thursday, 17 April 2008

GTA IV: heads and net to asplode

Its nearly upon us, the time when we should all down tools and Renton cold turkey style stock up on soup and buckets, nail the door shut, and get in there. With April 29th bearing down fast, the net has entered hypermode and is churning out exclusive revelations at an alarming rate. We are all excited, and must find the strength to soldier on in these difficult days, but who can resist these tantalising glimpses of the paradise that will soon be upon us? Look ye, on some of the latest seamy whiffs from behind the curtain, but put some newspaper down first eh?

The rumour of downloadable cities in particular is a buttock clenchingly exciting prospect, if only for the ps3 owner baiting it would facilitate. The fallout over which version is superior might be just as entertaining to watch as the game itself. Lets hope we and teh nets can survive the onslaught.

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Saturday, 29 March 2008

El Orfanato Espantoso (muy)

I hadn't noticed, presumably due to a low key marketing strategy that many good films fall foul of, particularly if they're (gasp) foreign, that The Orphanage has been out for a week. I was lucky enough to see it back in October at the Fright Fest in London, and made a note to keep an eye out for when it got released predicting huge waves of mega hit-dom. Alas that appears to not be the case, I've heard very little buzz around it, despite the few claims of it being "the new Pan's Labyrinth". Which it isn't. Although, it is in Spanish. And Guillermo was, you know, like the teaboy on set or something.

What it is is a deeply creepy ghost story in a very old-school kind of way. Big creaking houses (an old-school in fact - the titular orphanage). Children with unnervingly real imaginary friends. A sinister old lady with milk bottle glasses. It's all here. Throw in some of the most genuinely jumpy moments in recent cinema, and it makes for essential viewing. I seem to remember sleeping with the lights on that night. And that never happens, cos I'm well tuff. It's ghost children. They creep me out.

So why the low profile? Could it be due to recent real world events that disturbingly mirror some of the film's themes? Or is it just cos the kids can't manage films with subtitles? Whatever, if you can find it at your local cinema I urge you to check this out, as it's probably the best horror film I've seen since the Shining.

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Thursday, 13 March 2008

COD4: The new sickness

I used to be a very sick person. I used to have an illness called Counterstrike. I first contracted the disease some 10 years ago shortly before I went to university, through chance and reckless curiosity. It was virulent. I found my whole outlook on life had to change to accommodate my affliction. I couldn't go out. I stopped calling my friends. My worried parents tried everything they could to take my mind off my condition, but nothing worked. Gradually though, over time, its hold on me has abated, letting me live my life again, although right up until this year I have been susceptible to violent relapses.

Now though, just as my convalescence was going so swimmingly, I have a new sickness. It is called COD4. Contracted over christmas, this condition has all the hall marks of counterstrike. Sweating. Violent rages and swearing. Compelling gunplay. Yes its got me good. Especially with a little something called prestige mode, xp is like crack to me now, feeding my illness. Bad (good?) news is, with new strains about to be released, I may continue to be debilitated by this cancer for a lot longer. Won't someone help free me and others from this condition? No don't bother, it's part of me now. I have to live the best I can.

But to the creators of this affliction, for yes, it was created, I say this:

Dear Infinity Ward
Can I please have:
  • 5 new custom slots
  • 10 new maps
  • 20 new guns (including that sweet minigun)
  • 60 new perks
  • 80 new attachments
  • 100,000,000 new challenges. Including ones for pistols.



PS: would it kill you to give people credit when they down a chopper? I mean, seriously, I need more xp.

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

I am Legend: Damn those misguided suits

For I assume it was such a character who put the kibosh on this alternate ending for I am Legend - spoilers ahoy of course. I really quite enjoyed the film, and it was only the ending that spoiled everything for me. I can sympathise with the filmmakers for avoiding the ending of the book, although I'm sure the cinema going public would have accepted a well adapted version of it, but this seems an(almost) happy medium. It ties up a lot of the good work the film had done earlier, like the apparent intelligence of the floppy cgi putty creatures, using dogs and setting traps etc, and just downright makes a lot more sense. You can even nearly see Smith come to some sort of "realisation", as though he were feeling an emotion that was not his.

The suits here may have fallen foul of a "reverse se7en effect", whereby after some test screening some spotty subordinate poring over the comment slips piped up with "Horror fans like a fucked up ending", and everyone nodded in agreement. While this may be true when properly used, having your hero pointlessly blow himself up with a grenade is fucked up for all the wrong reasons. Lets not even mention the cowardly u-turn, "oh its the hippie commune there's still hope crikey will smith is a legend" finale, wisely culled in this new version, which has hope, sure, but not a lot.

It seems to me that these mainstream films, which really have no excuse for being bad because they're mainstream, should be paying more attention to the integrity of the story according to the progression of its themes and characters, and spending less time ruinously changing things because some test audience "didn't get it."

Update - Warner seem to have managed to get the video taken off gametrailers, but you can still see it at First Showing.

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Monday, 3 March 2008

Would you like some salt on that?

Should you have wandered through previously, you'll know I'm less than happy with the nintendo stars for wii points implementation. So it really raises my ire to receive patronising emails pointing me to online "tutorials" explaining how to redeem my points.

"If you ever experienced any problems swapping your Stars for Wii Points in our Wii Points Card Shop, take a look at the new tutorials we implemented."

The only "problems" I ever had are that you chimps see fit to never make any points available for sale. The "tutorials" make no mention of this potential "problem". In fact, "Step 3" as it's known couldn't be simpler: "Select the wii points card you want to purchase".

Is this a wind-up?

Ninty, I love ya, but by crikey I am going to twist your goddamn nuts off in a minute..

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Friday, 29 February 2008

Iron-icly looking good

I must be getting cynical in my old age, I have become very prone to writing off movies without knowing anything about them. Unlike Indy IV though, which I deep down knew would probably be ok (pleease), Iron Man has never been on my radar. Dismissed early on with a curled lip at the prospect of Robert "Downey" Jr as a super hero. Snort! What a ridiculous proposition. Never mind the fact that he plays what? an Iron man? in a futuristic suit of armour fighting bad guys? Double snort! Thankyou no, I'm reading Balzac.

But really, once again my sensibilities prove susceptible to a tight trailer, which is what we see above. Tight I tell ya. Maybe there will be a blockbuster summer worth checking out this year.

Via Myspace

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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

There Will be Blood: Drink it up

The oscars came and went with a little less clamour than usual, despite all the will it/wont it go ahead hulaballoo. No country for old men did well - a fine a film sure, but There will be Blood came away with just a best actor and cinematography. And no best picture. This is strange to me, as I found this to be one of the most impressive films I've seen for a while. Certainly more interesting than the admittedly quite interesting NCFOM.

The latest from PT Anderson, Blood bizarrely shares much in common with previous efforts Boogie Nights and Punch Drunk Love, as we follow Day-Lewis' extraordinary "oil man" Plainview, through the various stages of his career at the turn of the 20th century. I was rather rooting for Viggo for best actor before seeing this, but the gong, it seems has gone the right way. From filthy and tenacious hole scratching silver miner, to batshit insane oil supremo, Day-Lewis puts in an extraordinary performance, chewing scenery and cast members up in a relentless torrent of abuse and well, shouting. The character is incredibly complex, and I thought rather likeable - although most people I've spoken to view him as a monster. Put it this way, I'd want him on my side. This is full of fabulous quotes, as long as you can imitate the voice properly, the milkshake speech is already a full fledged internet meme, and the OTT performances (yes there are others in it) makes for a twistedly funny film.

But should the best film oscar have gone Blood's way too? Hard to say. On No country again, I found to be rather safe and conventional, and seemed a more overtly oscar chasing movie. Blood is far from conventional. The soundtrack is insane (brilliantly) and the plot is quite subtle in its dark deconstruction of the american dream. The impact of the film is so closely tied to the main character that its easy to give him all the credit. At first glance, he is the film. This all may have gone against it, which saddens me a little, as this on repeat viewing may turn out to be a modern classic from a full fat genuine, bona fide, post-Kubrickian auteur. PTA drinks your milkshake.

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Wednesday, 20 February 2008

RIP HD-DVD: we hardly knew ye

We've reached the end of the line for hd dvd then, bringing to a close 2 years of silliness, confusion and flogging of dead horses. This can only be a good thing for all of us, as confusion was the watchword for the whole situation. To walk into HMV and be greeted with two competing HD formats with no ostensible difference must have quite literally blown the minds of those who weren't in the know, leaving them shambling home like dazed zombie extras. What was the point of all that confusion? Nothing. Nada. We all knew in our hearts Blu-ray would best Hd-dvd in the end. How? The name of course. Anything with "ray" and a snappy spelling of Blue was bound to win. Besides, blue is a better colour than mauve.

So we can all rejoice now and rush out to buy a bluray player now right? I think not, for there are as I see it, two problems. Firstly, this whole format shift has come about 5 years too early for me and simply does not represent the quantum leap in quality, as say VHS to dvd did, that I deem necessary to warrant the repurchase of my film collection. Again. Decent dvd players will upscale my existing collection fine, and they'll be dirt cheap by the time I can afford a decent TV (thats the other problem). No I will most likely pick up a PS3 in about 2 or 3 years (assuming some games have come out for it by then - zing) as no doubt that will also be reasonably cheap by then, and I will of course have become generally more affluent and wealthy, natch.

But even without its warring opposite number, will bluray really dominate? Will we all make the leap? Everyone I know who owns one normally buys one bluray disc to "try it out" the retreats back to the shelves of cheap dvds, which "look great" anyway. They may get the players into people's homes, but will the format itself gain momentum? Presumably their extortionate prices will become more pallatable now the war is over, and I'll be forced to eat my doubts. Unless of course, the download model gets popular, as I personally suspect, it will - not with me though, I like to own things.

Anyway, rest ye well HD-DVD, like Artax before you; you gave it your best, but unlike him you probably won't be back. And for all you early adopters, fret not, ebay has gone berserk already, might as well get 'em in. And you can always take comfort in the fact that you own a bona fide piece of technological memorabilia. There, that feels better doesn't it?

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Sunday, 17 February 2008

Indy IV looks sprightly

Omigosh its indy.

I wasn't excited. I'd not permitted myself excitement. "It's bound to be baad" I said. Well hush my lips up and call me a liar, Indy looks fine to me. At the end of the day its Spielberg. If anyone can rein Lucas in, its him.

Go Indy go!

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Friday, 15 February 2008

Nintendo Stars for wii points: Balls.

So I was really pleased when it was finally announced that there was going to be a use for those nintendo star things that come with every game. Since there had consistently been absolutely no purpose to them whatsoever (I dont need a zelda ringtone thanks, I er, have one), it was fantastic to hear that I would be able to trade them in for the entirely more worthwhile wii points.

We all waited patiently and as promised, nearly a year later, nintendo came good. So europe thought. I, as I suspect many others found, that on the day the site was impossible to get into. Everyone was cashing their points in. I smugly hung back. "Whats the rush?" I smirked, "its not like they're going to run out". Right?

Er, no. Ever since that day, on visiting the site I have been greeted with the above screen. All denominations "sold out". This is of course bullplop. How can they sell out of codes randomly generated though an algorithm? I actually saw some available cards once, the smallest 100 point variety, useless in themselves since the minimum useable amount is 500. I bit the bullet and tried to buy a couple. Of course, I was only permitted to buy 1. A day. The next day they were naturally sold out. This means, to get the some 1000 points I am owed, I will have ammassed them by roughly... never. I have no intention of checking the site daily for the privelege of chipping away at the total I'm owed. Wtf nintendo? Give me my goddamn points like you promised! At least a notification that the cards are on sale would be nice.

Free is free, but if you're gonna give stuff away, don't give me a cynical, half arsed attempt. I have earned my stars, now hand over the points.

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Tuesday, 12 February 2008


So, gaming. Pretty well established past-time right? Pretty much well defined itself as a mainstream form of entertainment? NO! A mere 26 years ago, the spectrum was doing its thang, and how different that thang was. Those glorious, halcyon days of yore still bring a bead to the eye, and a tug to the heart. Its sometimes difficult to believe how recently games have come to the place they're in today. GTAIV, Bioshock, Wii Play? How has this happened? What an extraordinary age we live in! Think load time are bad now? You young whippersnappers don't know you're born! Its easy to forget how young gaming is as a medium, so you should pause to reflect on this the next time its getting a bashing from fuckwits on Fox news, no wonder they struggle with the concept. Those old enough to remember the speccy and all its joys may have given up their gaming habits to get mortgages instead, but many of us press on with the new fangled bastardised hobby of ours. Some of us still love it, and even suggest that games are much better now and the old ones are merely ghostly reminders of an age long since improved upon, best viewed through the rose tinted specs glued stubbornly to our eyeballs.

But thats all bollocks of course because we can still play this wondrous heritage here and now, in this age of hd, surround sound, 5.1, 2.non-sense. The retro scene is thankfully alive and well, presumably organised by many of my generation who probably did get mortgages and who firmly refuse to play anything with more than seven colours. Some of these technological refugees saw fit to compile the wholly remarkable World of spectrum and its incredible archive, which I've been meaning to big up for a while. This wonderful resource can plunge you back into the heart of your earliest gaming memories in the time it took you to eat your toast this morning.

And while many of your fond memories may prove to be ruinously pinkified, many are still solid prospects, and the nostalgia of even bad games with amazing music can be enough. Get yourself an emulator, download ALL of your favourites (except Ultimate play the game, or Rare as they call themselves these days, or party pooping gits as I call them) stick your oldest Now album on i-tunes and pretend like its 1982. Now this is living!

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Monday, 11 February 2008

GTA IV : Do Want

GTAIV has a spiffy new website up, with lots of things to fiddle with. While always lurking in the pit of my consciousness, I am now reminded why this game is going to be great. People have shown concern that the move to a more realistic GTA may leave the world shorn of its irreverant humour, but the website just confirms that its as biting as ever. Checkout the section promoting the high fructose corn syrup drink "Sprunk" (Sprunk is definitely down), and the brilliant take on Stomp - "Banging trashcan lids for an hour".

The "Love meet" personality test is also worth a look - apparently my genitals are "ragged from overuse".

Oh there's also lots of character videos and new screenshots, but no one cares about that sort of stuff do they? April 29th needs to get a move on.

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Saturday, 9 February 2008

Rez HD - "Feel the vibraaaaation"

I have up 'til now resisted the lure of microsoft point purchases. Nothing on Live has particularly piqued my interest. At all. I have no desire to play Halo again. I do not particularly wish to pay good money for a weird version of street fighter II. And I positively refuse to pay money for "pictures" of all my favourite gamer heroes. Lameness. This is incidentally in quite a contrast to the virtual console on wii, which I think is fantastic and has pumped my wallet hard over the last year. But now Microsoft's turn has come it seems, with the arrival of Rez HD. I never played Rez on the dreamcast, or Ps2, and have only really heard about it in recent weeks, as the internet got all moist about it's re-emergence. I wasn't even that excited to try it, but the demo popped up in the recently added section on live, and so I shrugged and downloaded the little blighter. This is where the demo service really comes into it's own, take note nintendo.

That said, I've tried other demos, and yet this one unlike them made me get my wallet out to sign up for points right away. Right away meaning after playing it through about 16 times, with my eyes streaming, making it hard to see those credit card numbers and my ears still reverberating with the thumping goa trance. Man that is some toe tapping goodness. The full game though is quite an astonishing experience. The interaction of the visuals and music, the much touted synaesthesia, really is a spectacle, pushing this game to the level of video art, an amzingly creative acheivement. As much as I hate trance per se, I love this stuff, each of the 4 levels tracks building and building to tub thumping crescendos. And then the 5th area, wow, just wow, pure coolness, really very zen. If this is all sounding a bit cryptic, I really can't be bothered to explain what this game actually is - its impossible to convey without making it sound a bit poo, the video above will have to do.

Its not a big game, or a very difficult one, but with lots of unlockables left this is clearly going to have some legs. At £8 who can argue? Its also as addictive as crack coated peanuts. It kind of reminds me of that game that seduces the crew of the enterpise because it gives them all "pleasure". Silly Ryker.

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