Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Grave of the Fireflies - DVD Review

Every now and then a film comes along that’s more than just entertainment and escapism for 90mins. Every now and then a film comes along that envelops you so tightly and completely that you simply can’t escape its grip. Grave of the Fireflies is this type of movie. It’s not a happy film. You won’t want to eat popcorn while watching it and I defy you to not start crying. In fact, I would be willing to bet money on this film making the hardest and coldest of hearts melt.

Read on for a full review.

Grave of the Fireflies is not a new movie. In fact, it was released in 1988 and is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka. Knowing this makes the film all the more gut wrenchingly powerful. It’s just taken me a long time to get round to writing this review perhaps because I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

This film had a profound impact on me when I first saw it years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I was expecting a light & fun anime full of quirky characters and a surreal storyline. But that’s not the experience I had. It was the first film to make me realise the affect of war on ordinary citizens because that’s what this film is about. It’s not about the million dollar explosions. It’s not about the technology or some super-bad kick ass hero who wins the day and gets the girl. This is the story that those films don’t show you. It’s a story about the relationship between two orphaned children, a younger teen Seita and his even younger sister Setsuko. It simply charts the struggles they go through to survive post the Kobe fire bombings in Japan towards the end of World War II. Forget Hurtlocker – this is the ultimate anti-war film ever made. It shows how indifferent people can be to even the needs of desperate children – and this includes their aunt. It is, given that it is based on a semi-autobiography, a damning depiction of the negative consequences of war. This story is probably being experienced right now throughout the world's war zones. And if that isn't a damning indictment on how the world works, then I don't know what is. At the best of times I have a very dim view of society and its sense of false morality and this film, through such a simple and moving portrayal of the experiences of two children, does nothing to make me change my view.

I’m trying really hard not to say too much about the film without giving anything away. All I can say is that if you’re in the ‘right’ frame of mind for an intelligent film that is truly an emotional experience, then this is the film for you.

Treehouse Rating: 5/5

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Thursday, 8 April 2010

I didn't realise I wanted to be a cowboy..

..until now. Why have I previously been so seduced by roaming devastated post apocalyptic dystopia with silly laser guns and radioactive mutants? Or rain slicked city streets, to get on trains and go to bars, in a grotesque mimicry of my tedious real life? Why the hell have I not been yearning a simpler existence? - the open fields, the picturesque creeks, the lonely mountains? The sound of blowing off an outlaws heads with a shotgun, hog-tying a bank robber and a-spitting to-baccer? No, I clearly haven't been paying attention as this, looks, awesome.

Red Dead Redemption just buzzed into my game-dar in a massive way. It had always been a little blip - "oh Rockstar are making a cowboy game" I mused, idly munching on a piece of toast while reading the paper "that will be cool" - but this multiplayer mode is tantamount to a cowboy MMO! You know what that means?! It means I can totally ambush douchebag x-bot posses with my superior l337 skills and infinite, badass patience. The potential is undeniable! A totally free roaming single player world, teeming with players and gangs of xbox parties? I will happily hunt pigs in the hills by some lonely mountain pass, in the mere hope that some bunch of lost douchebags will come by to be picked off with a sniper rifle and the carefully laid explosive I rigged on the bridge. "Oh no" they will shriek into their little headsets, "its Munial, the posse hunter, an he dun shot ma horse!".

Ok so I'm sure there's fun to be had actually forming a posse, but that's just not where the romance is for me. Real cowboys (bearing in mind - I'm English, we don't have cowboys, we have show jumpers, so my concept is limited) are lonely figures; dark tormented souls who find solace for the crimes they done, only in the arms of the forgiving gal he just paid for or at the bottom of a bottle o' redeye. The only good posse was the Young Guns posse and look what happened to them. Well, Billy was ok, but only 'cos he was a loner really.. No, a gang may be the best bet for survival but to really live, a cowboy's got to go his own way. Or at most, find his-self a Sundance Kid. Yeah, actually , that's the cheese. The way I figure it, that's some mighty fine ambushin country up ahead. If I stay here, and you get up on top o' that ridge, we'll see them sumbitch's coming before they even done had their biscuits.

This is going to be so much fun. Ya'll take care now..

Yeah single player looks pretty amazing too...


Treehouse Do-want rating: 6/5

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Monday, 5 April 2010

Out with the old, in with the Who

As I’ve alluded several times, I was no fan of Tennant’s Doctor Who. I consider his time at the helm to be the dark days of Who, masterminded by a no-talent prancing puppet master, who had his banal characterisation dance about onscreen like some incredibly annoying know-it-all office clown. Aside from the odd enjoyable episode here and there, usually written by the now in charge Steven Moffat, Tenant’s time as the Doctor was plagued by poor writing, bad acting, toe curling self congratulatory self indulgence and awful, shameful, raping of beloved character’s memories. Perhaps the most upsetting thing was that I seemed to be the only one who thought so – nearly everyone universally applauded his shenanigans – I felt like I was taking crazy pills! So it was with much baited breath, and hope in my heart that I watched the first episode of the new series, with the shiny new Matt Smith as the Doctor, along with the promise of a shiny new companion and a shiny new Tardis. Surely now these mugs (ahem, that’s you, gentle reader) would now be reminded that Who can be a thing of greatness, not the risible kids show it had transmogriphied into, that used its status as a kid's show as an excuse for mediocrity. And after watching, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself in declaring that Matt Smith is an infinitely better Doctor than Tennant ever was on the strength of a single episode, but I can say with some assuredness and without hyperbole that Matt Smith, is an infinitely better Doctor than Tennant ever was.

Straight away, he’s more interesting to watch. Unlike the nervy, trying-too hard young fella I saw on Jonathon Ross, Smith’s Doctor is refreshingly in-human - weird and oddball, without any of the “wacky zaniness” (idiocy) of Tenant or McCoy. He’s playful, mysterious, knows what’s going on without telling everyone around him that he does, and after a process of learning as opposed to going "aaaahhh its a [insert obnoxious know it all answer here]" . He's funny, he's rude to people. Of course it helps that the writing and directing is much improved. Gone are the shackles of Davies’ tedious baggage; farewell Rose Tyler and her verminous kin, not to mention the total disaster that was Donna “shoot me in the teeth” Noble; don’t come back, your ham was well and truly baked many years ago. Instead say hello to the brilliantly played, and quite easy on the eye, Amy Pond, as played by Karen Gillen.

The first episode, always a tricky one for an incoming incumbent, sees the Doctor crash land immediately after the regeneration in a sequence that worryingly bore the glitzy thrill seeking of Davies’ tenure. A minor aberration, quickly rectified by a tasty new title sequence, and we’re into the episode. A ginger Scottish child is praying to Santa for help. Straight away; great – you wouldn’t get that kind of humour from Davies, he’d probably think people wouldn’t get it, or be worried it might offend someone. The Doctor appears, struggling out of the upturned Tardis, to declare “could I have an apple?” Regeneration has made him hungry it seems, but unsure what he likes, they set about cooking most of the fridge’s contents. It’s been a while since I actually laughed at an episode of Dr Who. This is looking promising.

So the story proper eventually sets in, Amy has a crack in her wall through which she hears voices. It emerges that a rip in space time (again, really?) is in her wall, and on the other side is some kind of alien prison. Prisoner Zero has, it seems, escaped. Just as the investigation is underway, The Doctor is called back to the Tardis which is , post regeneration, about to explode – a minor inconvenience, a quick 5 minute time travel will apparently sort it out. So off he trots to return directly, only by the time he gets back, in an immediately obvious to all but him kind of way (he didn’t have the benefit of the trailer after all) several years, not minutes have passed, and little Amy Pond is now a leggy ginger kissogram who looks rather handsome as a policewoman.

As the realisation that the mysterious Doctor character of her childhood has returned sets in, the mystery of the escaped alien picks up where it left off – having been happily hiding out for years in a room unnoticed by all due to some psychic dampening field or some-such, the toothy snake-like alien has been resident all this time in Amy’s spare bedroom, occasionally venturing out in the guise of patients of the nearby hospital where Amy’s nurse boyfriend works. But now the Doc’s back, the alien is revealed and the pursuing prison wardens, giant floating eyeballs natch, are looking to flush it out by incinerating the whole planet, so now he has but 20 minutes to save the planet, without a Tardis or Sonic Screwdriver which inconveniently exploded moments earlier in another thumb of the nose to Davies’ reliance on the handy gizmo as a solution to all situations.

It was a very promising start. Smith is charming and unusual with his wacky big face and a great ability to deliver lines in odd ways, Pond is (also) charming and believable as the frustrated Scot out of water, with a great range in equally nutty facial expressions. In their scenes together, there was already a nice chemistry, a plausible rapport between them- undoubtedly the benefit of casting decent actors and giving them vaguely sensible dialogue, not to mention an actual story/history together that developed nicely throughout. The new Tardis looks, well it looks okay, didn’t get a great look at it – it looks a bit cluttered to be honest, like its not quite finished yet – maybe it’s not? The aliens were hammy and Doctor Who-ish, but not in an offensively trite way (see; the Slytheen/the Ood/face of Bo/any one of Davies' dumbass brainchildren) – the shape shifting creature mimics groups of people, and gets confused about which mouth to speak out of, leading to man and dog barking furiously, or woman and children sharing one voice – logical, amusing, a bit creepy – hurrah, Dr Who is back!

So what didn’t I like? The bow tie. The hacking the internet to chat to NASA etc to get the "zero" message out was all a bit daft, in a Russel T kind of way, although Patrick Moore is always welcome. And even though Smith ultimately revelled in the victory, it was funny and not obnoxious, as Tennant inevitably was every time he opened his fat know-it-all face. Sorry, its my problem I'll deal with it - anyway, yes that was about all I didn't like, which is a fantastic turnaround from a programme I'd all but given up on - great start, keep it up kids!

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Sunday, 4 April 2010

Review: Perfect Dark

The year 2000 was a splendid time for a happy go-lucky Nintendo fan. For that summer, they were blessed with the long awaited spiritual successor to the legendary Goldeneye, indubitably the finest console FPS of all time. What they got didn’t disappoint; a deep single player campaign with bond-esque objectives and gadgetry as well as a multiplayer mode that once again pushed the envelope and rekindled the sweaty 4-way fisticuffs typical of a marathon Goldeneye session. To revisit it now on its native N64 is an exercise in disappointment. Sure the look, feel and sounds are all present and correct, but the framerate and murky textures are not what you recall. No, back then all was laser sharp, tangy neon and inky blacks and you certainly didn’t have any framerate issues when you set off 20 remote mines at once. So the rebirth of Perfect Dark onto Xbox Live has been even longer awaited by those who know, promising as it did, the genuine article with HD graphics and, well, that’ll do actually. And now it’s finally here, available at a surprisingly restrained 800 points, has it survived the transition from our sepia toned memories..?

argh, she got me..

Short answer, yes. Its back, it’s looking better than ever and it hasn’t been mucked about with. Forget the ropey sequel spawned of a wholly different era and ethos, and look back to this lovingly crafted original which in many ways remains surprisingly advanced and more forward thinking than most fps' churned out these days. Here, mission structures are difficulty level dependent; meaning the difficulty you select from the menu directly affects the tasks and mission content you’ll see in the mission. (why isn't that a more common concept?) The fully worthwhile cooperative mode returns, now playable over Xbox live, as well as the way-ahead of it's time Matrix style "player 2 plays all the bad guys" mode, again reminding us just how much of a progressive title this was. The familiar blocky headed scanned faces of the old Rare team adorning the henchmen and characters have sadly been replaced by more contemporary fizzogs, and the textures updated, but the overal look remains firmly intact, and the synthy soundtrack and terrible voice acting is better than ever.

I- I haven't seen you before..?

The story is pure sci fi hokum- you are agent Dark, the sassy Victoria Beckham-alike protégé of the mysterious Carrington, a fat beardy Scottish bloke with piles of cash and a secret militarised organisation. Set in the not-too distant future of flying cars and blade-runner style city scapes (as much as that was possible in 2000, this is no Mass Effect 2), your mission is to uncover the conspiracy of a shady industrial organisation that may or may not (may) have something to do with aliens, the US president, and the intervention in an intergalactic war between 2 alien races (maybe). What you bring to the table are an assortment of smashing weapons and gadgets that were an improvement on Goldeneye’s Herculean inventory. Pistols, rifles, laser beams, bombs, mines, launchers, knives, crossbows, heat-scoped rail guns (oh yes) they’re all here, and each one featuring a secondary fire mode that often changes their dynamics in unexpected ways. The legendary laptop gun for example transforms your rifle into a deadly turret, gunning down enemies for you on sight, while you flick through the latest copy of FHM, (ok you’re Victoria Beckham, Cosmo then). And yes you can have it in multiplayer.

..my gun!

The levels are sprawling, meandering mazes, difficult to navigate in comparison to today’s subtly signposted worlds. The opening mission sees us join Agent Dark on top of the Datadyne building which we must infiltrate to retrieve a defecting doctor in distress. For part one of the mission, you descend down through the tower taking out security as you go. Part 2 is the infiltration of the secret basement laboratory, while the final section has you working your way back up the tower. This clever approach to the use of space, revisited a couple of times in later levels, never feels like recycling so different is the challenge for the remix sections. They can feel aimless at times however, and it is only due to the careful training veterans had back in 2000 that we can easily find our way – a newbie gamer today might be tempted to cry in frustration on learning the mission has failed because they didn’t plant that bug on a random console back at the start of the map. We've all been there agent.

But.. I cant throw a bug that high..

Where it was neither progressive nor very successful was in it’s enemy AI. These goons are fresh from an Austin Powers super villain lair; spot you and they’ll either start shooting in 4 second bursts (unless you get one of the buggers that just walks at you firing continually) and then they may leap to the side in a bid to dodge where you’re most likely firing. Half the time their gun may jam, much to their astonishment, before uttering a brilliant soundbyte as you finally off them. No there are no flanking tactics here, no retreat and regrouping – they will run at you until they get shot. What they lack in nouse, they make up for in deadliness, certainly on the fiendishly difficult Perfect Dark agent level, where if they sneak in a hit you will find half your health gone.

Any questions? No, good!

For all the leaps and bounds in the FPS genre over the last ten years, you’d be forgiven for assuming Perfect Dark is a pointless addition to your heaving collection, but you’d be sorely mistaken. The little touches remain as brilliant today as they were then. The way Joanna tilts her pistols sideways, gansta style if you get close enough to a bad-guy. The way you can disarm and knock- out every henchman if you so choose, some of them throwing down their guns pleading for you not to kill them. The ever entertaining shooting gallery, the spy-cam, and the spectacular return to what you thought was just a pretty hub world. No, Perfect Dark remains a quite brilliant and relevant shooter; never less than fun and full of invention, and with quibbles only worthy of mention because the overall standard remains so high, this is an essential purchase.

Treehouse Rating: 4/5

Ah, our star agent..

Perfect Dark is available on Xbox Live for 800 of your Earth points

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