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The Moaning of Life: Death (2013)
Karl With Madame Comfort; Karl Comfortable With Death?
Karl meanders through Africa and Asia, visiting in on funerals, grave-sites, cemeteries and mausoleums. How do these different cultures deal with and treat the dead? And how will Karl reflect on their rites and ceremonies? Karl's primary 'moan' in this episode is that the dead are taking up precious land - land that the living could be making good use of. From this point, we see Karl get his hands dirty with the deceased almost immediately. He tends to the preparation of a one-month long deceased Ghana woman; making her up, maneuvering the corpse to new positions, and presenting her to the mourners in a life-like pose. This latter part, Karl notes, is like moving a mattress.
He visits Taiwan (where false mourners are employed to shriek down the funeral hall), then the Philippines (where the living reside alongside the dead in close quarters). Here, Karl is particularly impressed, for those living among the colorful graves and sepulchers make use of the mausoleums as pseudo-homes. The stone and marble structures are put to real-world use, addressing Karl's initial gripe with the departed. Or at least beating out some sort of compromise. In this cemetery, Karl attends an exhumation. The five year long buried woman is dug with no ceremony or pause, sorted into clumps and shoveled into a single plastic bag.
Karl then assists villagers with the construction of a coffin, and the subsequent trawl of this heavy box through a jungle track. We now find that this sub-culture places coffins upon a cliff-face. Hauled up by hand, kept 'closer to god' and most strikingly, out of the reach of wild dogs, these coffins stick to the cliff-side like bizarre, wild furniture. The height here worries Karl, for he notes that he gets dizzy hanging curtains.
Finally, Karl returns to England, and proudly displays a custom-made coffin ordered earlier in the episode. There is a twisted gravity to the unveiling of this confectionery-themed coffin, and when Karl lays within the narrow container it is equal parts absurd and sobering.
Finally, Karl presents a memorial to the Ghana woman from the same episode. It is a weird take on the memorials seen upon park furniture ("This bench is dedicated to so-and-so"), and we close the loop on this death-inspired sojourn. There's more meaning here than you might expect, and Karl has a fractured take on the memory of the dead, yet it is considered and thoughtful in its way.
A Fat Fairy And A Fly Fisherman
Ren's bout of sociopathic behavior manifests itself in a run of prank calls and practical jokes. His anti-social actions need curbing, and so we are introduced to Jiminy Lummox. This guardian over Ren's actions is a play on Jiminy Cricket (duh), but instead of the cute, green insect companion, we are shown a massive, floating, dim-witted ukulele-playing goon.
Ren must control his temper, or the violent consequences will become suddenly apparent. This episode makes a few good gags (the bizarre advice the lummox gives after each whack), but there isn't much development with the idea, and the animation has looked better on the reaction shots of Ren, I must note. But, have yo9u ever wanted to see how an oven-ready chicken would react to a joke call? This episode can probably help you.
Bass Masters sees Ren as a master fly-fisherman, with Stimpy as his frustratingly (to Ren) talented assistant. The real stars of this episode are the fish themselves. They aren't mindless drones to be plucked from the water at leisure, they are talkative and curious. Watch as they snack on chum and cracker-jacks, and as they join Stimpy for a rub-down.
Wilbur Cobb joins the pair after an unexplained jail-break. As to why he is featured in this episode I have not yet determined, but he's harmless enough, and his inane rants are strangely absent(?). In the end, this episode gives a few good laughs (the traveling salesman bass is great) but the direction of the plot is lost once they hit the water. Fishing becomes secondary, and pleasing the local head fish seems to be the sudden priority. Role reversal (the hunter becomes the hunted) finishes off this aquatic animation pretty neatly too.
Fat Fauna Fight for Female Fancy
The real star of this episode is the phenomenal character drawing of the lummoxs - the massive, squat, neck-less land-monsters. These characters are representative of the stupid oafs and ignorant morons that have been the friend of cartoonists and comic artists since the dawn of illustration.
Studied as another piece of fauna in Ren's 'Untamed World' series, he and his stupid assistant observe the rituals and behaviors from behind camouflage, providing commentary on the joyfully animated proceedings of these hairy, smelly and idiotic lummoxs. They pick their nose, play with their gut, and beat their chests like when in their mammalian rituals, all while the two presenters get ever so closer to interact with the rare and usually shy beasts.
As we watch, two lummoxs compete for the attention of a female (a grotesque, hook-nosed whale) in typically bizarre fashion (it involves their soiled, Y-front underpants); this is the climax of the episode, and it has the best laughs. Again, the animation and background art (reportedly recycled from a previous episode) are top-notch.
In John K.'s unmissable style, we are also treated to another fractured take on 50's-era advertisement. This time it's the melding of an unlikely mascot and an unlikely product: 'Chalky Cheesfist'. This cute little guy saves the inevitable dinner party by supply cheese from his enormous, chalky fist (made of said cheese, of course). This mini-episode is brilliantly designed and animated - I can't help but think that this character had enough charm to make it into regular rotation. But it was never to be - for by the first time we saw this character, John K. had already been excused from the proceedings.
Mouldy Cheese? Check. Irritable Scotsman? Check.
If the title of this cartoon doesn't interest you, you might be in an induced coma. Magical Singing Golden Cheeses are just as they are described, and it is Stimpy's job to attain them for the starving pair, (called Stimpington and Renwaldo in this episode). Originally intended as one of the few 'Stimpy's Storybook Land' episodes, this medieval tale is pretty bizarre; featuring a sado/masochistic village idiot (just how Stimpy 'outwits' him is a great sequence), a slumbering, subterranean giant, and some decaying, transforming(stinky) cheese. The gross humor (watch Stimpy ram a crow bar under a toe nail the size of a dinner plate) and ironic fairy-tale ending make this episode memorable and pretty special.
'A Hard Day's Luck' features (to the best of my knowledge) the secondary character of Haggis McHaggis. This maniacal, neck-less and miniature Scotsman has a temper that makes Ren look like Ghandi, and it is a true test of his fuse's length when he discovers a leprechaun ready to grant his wish. Irritated in concert by the leprechaun and his dribbling, lumbering manservant, McHaggis finds his emotional scale zips from 0 to 10 in milliseconds, only noticing his failings when it's too late. This episode features some excellent sight gags and reactions from McHaggis (his swollen, reddened, twitching eyeball is hilarious) as well as some great voice-acting.
Frontline: Kill/Capture (2011)
A Question of 'Intelligence'.
This documentary picks up directly after the death of Usama bin Laden, and puts that successful operation in the context of the Afghanistan conflict as a whole. Here, we are introduced to a program initiated by the US forces: the Kill/Capture program. The question is posed, and is examined fairly evenly: will this program play a decisive part in ending the Afghan conflict? We are told that with this initiative, there have been more than 12,000 militants captured (or killed). Targeted in these night raids are Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders, and with this program's success, we are told that mid-level commanders in the Taliban now make up the majority of targets; so extensive are the Kill/Capture operations that night raids have condescended to taking out these lower-level insurgents.
Frontline takes us to the Khost province, at this time thought to hold a moderate count of bunkered or hidden insurgents. Embedded in a US Marine unit, the journalist shows the effects of a day-time raid gone wrong; the address was incorrect! Here, a tribal leader supportive of the Government (as far as we know) is subjected to a search of his compound regardless. Now the documentary changes its course as we are taken on a critical inspection of the US Intelligence machine.
Third-party journalists (The New Yorker) and Pentagon advisers provide some insight to the US stratagem; mostly they are critical and convincing, but they give no clear alternative anyway. Sure, the current policy employed by Petreaus / McChrsytal may be imperfect, but we're never shown where their errors were, if any. Here, the film is annoyingly silent on alternatives.
These JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) operations undertaken to 'keep the Taliban on the run' are revealed as effective in the short term, but potentially at odds with the overall US strategy and therefore the Afghan peoples' interests. By creating an atmosphere of aggression and suspicion, the worry is that the population will sympathize with the Taliban. This questionable reasoning is reinforced when we are shown defectors and threatening language from some disillusioned villagers.
The films most confronting moments are with the journalist's interviews with current Taliban commanders. These figures come across as true absolutists, fanatics and worst of all, ruthless. The threatening language they use ("Jihad cannot be stopped", "We will attack US citizens in other nations" etc.) is textbook Jihadist 101, and is subject to the law of diminishing returns, not to mention exposing the Taliban philosophy as a truly one-dimensional cause. This twenty-year-old commander seems to be reciting these tag-lines by rote, and I can't help but ask "what else was he ever going to say anyway?" The most astounding figure thrown at the viewer is the embarrassing count of voters at a recent regional election, (we're never told for whom the election was for). A paltry 3 citizens voted out of a population of 100 000 or more. This number displays just how disconnected the strategy can be at its worst. But it is never said if this election would have been even offered had the region been under Taliban rule to begin with
The Crystal Method
We control Layle, a young all-American type teenager with telekinesis powers provided to him by crystal power. What is crystal power? It's something that crystal bearers (which there are several of in the game) have within them. It is an innate power that varies from character to character – some can shoot fire, some can crystallize people and objects and so on. Layle's power is quite modest, and by the end of the game we will surely have mastered his limited move set (if the Wii control allows that). The action is real-time, so the 'Final Fantasy' of the title is at best a misleading, at worst a grab at an established name. I suppose the subtitle and sub-subtitle are the qualifiers here, and are surely intended to make a clear distinction from the main series (although why the 'Final Fantasy' lettering outweighs the others is not hard to ascertain).
This title has more in common with Zelda: Twilight Princess than any Final Fantasy title this player has experienced, and although on the surface it may seem like a cheaper, less sophisticated homage, it is soon apparent that the game adds its own flavours and ideas - for better or worse. Although the cut-scenes use the in-game graphical engine (with an applied filter I'm guessing) and seem a little underwhelming, it is the in-game graphics that are the true peak of the artistic merit in this game. Throughout the kingdom we visit many varied, colourful, imaginative and memorable areas. I call them areas because they rarely span beyond the visible horizon, but they are remarkable nonetheless. This is the second game that I have deliberately stopped to admire the scenery more than once (the other title being 'Okami'), and it is no accident that the developers included an in-game screenshot tool. I'm yet to import then into a PC, but I must add that these 'shots look strangely blurred (over compressed?) when viewed in the Photo Channel.
Aside from Layle's lack of flexibility in his attacks, the single method that he does have is pretty satisfying to use. Battles are all set-pieces in that groups of monsters appear in designated areas all at once, signified by an ominous and sudden audible countdown. There's no free roaming baddies whatsoever, and if you want to 'grind' your character for Gil (currency) or items (used for forging accessories) you'll need to find one of these areas and complete it within a given time limit. There may be ten or fifteen goons to dispatch and they're sometimes spread out across a pretty large area. Luckily, the only navigational tool the game provides (a small, on screen radar) is useful for tracking down the straggling foes. The game offers variation in how you defeat enemies by allowing Layle to pick up various items strewn about the battlefield and launching them at enemies. What will a jar of water do to a half-man/half-cactus creature, what will a jar of oil do to a floating, flaming eyeball, and so on? After any of these clumsy battles, it's then a matter of closing the game's portals called 'miasma streams', which are long, thin vertically aligned mini tornado-type deals. Yes, the game is pretty odd.
This game continues the tradition of Final Fantasy's high standard of musical material – the soundtrack in this game is excellently composed and memorable. There have been criticisms that the musical styles do not suit the in-game content (for example, battle music that kicks in some of the areas resembles country n' western rodeo music. As strange as this is at first, the rollicking, slapstick mood it provides is something to remember). Other areas such as the intricately detailed coastal area, encrusted with brightly-coloured shells and corals, are accompanied by a Caribbean style steel drum motif that gives Layle's costume change of shorts and flip-flops a real beach holiday feel that even the most weathered of city-dwellers can't help but feel envious of. On the whole, the soundtrack gives each area an identity that is both complimentary and listenable.
For those looking for a simplified Final Fantasy experience, I can think of no better alternative. Fans of Zelda may find something here also, but do not expect tricky problem solving or multi-levelled, hostile dungeons. Layle's problem solving skills are not yet up to Link's (although his 'hookshot' skills seem to be). Layle cannot level up all that much either, with his base stats being reliant on the equipping of up to three accessory items. Each bit of equipment needs to be fused together with items that can be laughably easy or mind-shatteringly difficult to obtain.
Colourful, bright, surprising and simple are the main gifts this game provides; while getting lost, getting confused and cringing at voice-work are some of the lumps of coal it heaps onto your lap. This player though, admits that after completing the entire game for the first time, held no hesitations in restarting the quest from the beginning. The feeling was that there were still areas, items and 'reactions' (battle achievements) to uncover. As well as some stray miasma streams to seal up. I'm sure they're out there somewhere, but can I get past those detracting elements mentioned above to bother finding them? We'll have to see...
Gory Gun Game Gives Grief
House of the Dead: Overkill attempts to continue the tradition of SEGA's gory gun games. Typically, players take on the role of a plainclothes agent in an attempt to stop the mega-lo-maniac intentions of a global corporations CEO. But what makes this title the bastard-child in the series is that unlike every other House' title, there was no arcade machine released to build an audience. A small consolation may be that previously featured on the Wii were the 'classic' House' games numbers 2 and 3. Released on a single disc with various adjustments, this title had already found a natural home and a somewhat successful reception. Could 'Overkill add to the series constructively, or was it an unnecessary addition to the now decade old (or more) canon? With its speckled and dust-scratched appearance and muddy, warbled audio, 'Overkill – in its entirety – is a complete homage to B or even C grade 'Grindhouse' films of the seventies and eighties. This has a refreshing and kitsch flavour, and shows that the developer has put some thought into making the title unique where possible. The choice of stylisation gives the game an identity, and artistically it conveys the dirty, underground world of shock cinema well. Obviously, this feature of the game is purely aesthetic, and it's apparent pretty quickly that although the detail is there, it has absolutely no direct effect on the game play itself. In essence, the 'Grindhouse' flavour is really just a skin to a horror-themed light-gun game.
The filmic flavour extends to the presentation of the games levels, as each chapter is presented as a possible movie in itself: "Papa's Palace of Pain" (clever alliteration and the only 'house' level in the game), "Ballistic Trauma" (a goofy mix of mutants, firepower and a hospital. Here, the reference to Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" is more than subtle). The given scenarios range well, and we're given trains, carnivals, prisons and other video game staples, yet unlike every other entry in the House of the Dead series, the range of enemies in the game is stunningly limited. Mutants (not Zombies, as the game itself stresses through its voice-over dialogue) are overwhelming the most common of enemies. These are represented by a handful of character models and are re-used throughout the entire game. Granted, they are fairly well modelled, but I can't help but think how much more interesting things may have been with some more location-specific mutant creatures.
Unlike other titles in the House of the Dead series, 'Overkill asks little of the players' dexterity. Enemy after enemy stagger towards the player from the centre of the screen – while this may be more realistic behaviour, it makes little challenge for the player. Ninety percent of enemies are shot at close-to-mid range, and their behaviours vary little. Occasionally, one or two of them get creative and (gasp!) throw a bottle or knife, but these are easily dismissed with a single shot. In other words, the game has a limited variety of action. I find this baffling, as the game is 'on-rails' (no free-movement), and so particular creativity and care is required to hold interest in what could otherwise be classified as a very repetitive game play premise: (aim, shoot, reload ad infinitum). Titles such as Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and even the House of the Dead release mentioned earlier make efforts to challenge aiming, speed, pattern recognition, timing. 'Overkill only grazes past these concepts, rather going for a higher-body count and bigger calibres together. This approach is fine for the short-term, but modern gamers often require more than this.
There's talk of 'Overkill having issues with its frame-rate and responsiveness. I want to confirm that these problems certainly do exist. Again, I find this baffling, and can only chalk it up to lack of experience on part of the development team. Of course, it does not ruin the experience, but it certainly undermines it, especially when much simpler and less ambitious titles have perfected frame rate issues. Hell, even a launch title "Rayman Raving Rabbids" had smooth and responsive on-rails first-person-shooter sections. I'm not sure what could have caused this stuttering effect that the game suffers from, but it certainly harms the experience.
Musically, the title is both varied and confusing. A lot of effort has gone into providing a soundtrack to the experience, and for the most part it is suitable. Other times, you find yourself distracted, as if the developers wanted you to feel simultaneously frightened and amused – a near impossibility. Killing mutants in grotesque, half-dark environments could be scary, but doing it to an absurd funk song is confusing. It elevates the experience almost to a parody and seems to land the game somewhere between a nerve-wracking scare-fest and a silly shooting gallery mini-game. Audio effects are good for the most part, with loud shot-gun blasts and mutant screams. Strangely, the voice-overs from the two protagonists are mixed unevenly. Washington (the detective based lazily on characters such as Shaft and Jules Winnfield) spouts his garbage loudly and clearly, whereas Agent G's conversed rational and sensible comments are often mixed under the music, resulting in a poor, mumbled reproduction. On another note, it is never explained why these two are put together, and even more ludicrously, it is never shown or explained which of these two men you play as! I find particularly irritating for some reason.
I could go on about the games goofy monetary and reward system, it's depressingly easy level bosses, and it's amazingly shallow mini-game set, but I don't think it's that necessary. For those looking for a major body harvest, this is the game for you. Just be warned that the kills are inversely proportion to the games variety and replay ability.
Nights: Journey of Dreams (2007)
Do You Dream in Colour?
Beautifully rendered cut-scenes welcome players to this game. Through them, we are introduced to a modern London-type city as well as the two protagonists of the game: a boy named Will, and a girl named Helen. They are both symbols of innocence, yet each has their own personal problems with which to deal with. Will has a major (and unhealthy?) attachment to his father, while Helen has a conflict between spending time with friends or her violinist mother. There is an attempt to weave these personal conflicts into the story and game-play, and we are taken on a journey the long-way-'round to resolve them. Does it sound odd? Well wait, it gets stranger still.
Disappointingly, a silly and decidedly poorly rendered owl character is the voice of reason in this title. He greats your selected character and attempts to give you a run-down on the dream-world in which you have found yourself, (even though his knowledge is far from complete). I am always let-down when these sorts of characters are used because they too are a convention, all the way down to the silly round glasses and dry, pompous English characterisation. I wonder what a bumbling, foolish and reckless owl character would come across like! Besides, after playing quality titles such as Super Mario Galaxy, you notice how inexpertly this owl has been constructed. But enough about the damn bird Once you've become NiGHTS, you can fly about the place by either aiming with the Wii remote on-screen, or by using the stick on the nunchuk controller. Most people seem to prefer the latter method due to the non-responsiveness of the former, (this seems to be the current trend for Wii titles!). It is shown side-on and it is the player's job to line it up with the inexhaustible supply of "rings" and "blue chips" that are thrown at you. Flying thorough and collecting these things quickly allows you to gain combo scores or "links" as they're called in this game. And that's about the size of the game-play – you are either flying cleverly, speedily or accurately in order to fulfill whatever goal it is that they've given you at the moment. Once this goal is met, you are given grading – this is on a scale between an E, (the lowest) to an A, (the highest). This gives the game some replay value, and also a kind of grading reminiscent of school reports marked by an authoritative teacher.
The difference in quality between the cut-scenes and the in-game presentation is vast. The cut-scenes are some of the best I've seen in terms of their fluidity, colour and movement. The in-game graphics are really unmemorable – with disturbing amounts of bright colours and unclear scale and perspective. Sure, you're not required to perform anything too tricky when playing as NiGHTS, but it seems unfair when you come to a complete stop before you're even given a chance to react. Luckily, it achieves its high speed fairly quickly, and most interruptions can be overcome reasonably. We visit forests, ruins, cities, a Broadway district and others, but you're always doing similar things it seems. Sure, you have a few sojourns as a white-water raft (don't ask) or as Will or Helen themselves, but it somehow feels like it's missing something to me – as if the level design wants you to rush past in case you notice that the world itself is a sham.
NiGHTS: Journey Into Dreams requires players to defeat bosses throughout the adventure as well. These things are (again) very unusual characterisations, and are usually brought down with a particular technique that NiGHTS allows. They range from magical chameleons to strange stems bearing evil cat-heads. NiGHTS is fairly defenseless, yet it still manages to take these guys down with the "paraloop" technique (a loop-to-loop), or a strange method where it grabs with both hands and then boosts into whatever it may be you're holding. I suppose the bosses themselves are imaginative, but they really just appear at the end of a line of missions, as if the developers themselves had given up on giving them context or meaning. Where did they come from, why are they here now, what do they want? Much of this title is inexplicable.
About halfway through this title that sense of "I've seen this before" occurred to me. I then realised that this game is the Peter Pan story/myth in disguise (in this case it's louder clothing). We have a mystical, youthful character with the ability to fly who captures the hearts and hopes of neglected children. NiGHTS gives them hope, responsibility and self-esteem in order to resolve their personal problems. It is a rite-of-passage story, decorated with magical décor in order to charm and enchant its protagonists.
But apart from that, it is only a so-so experience for a gamer. Sure, it can be satisfying linking up all of those rings and chips, but I couldn't help but feel that it was a little pointless, and I found NiGHTS the character fairly shallow and one-dimensional. I expected her to be more mischievous and reckless, rather than the clean-cut responsible figure it turned out to be. The bright pink jester outfit with a twist is a misrepresentation – I think NiGHTS should be dressed like a school-teacher or librarian!
Disaster: Day of Crisis (2008)
This game is ambitious in that it attempts to tie together many different video game styles. Typically, this turns out to be a problem. You often find that when this idea is put in to practice, rather than the sum of the parts making something great, you normally get many average additions that total to mediocrity at best - as if all the ingredients must be watered-down
Thankfully, "D: DoC" mostly avoids this phenomenon. It manages to do this by putting an attention to detail on the controls and tasks presented to you that give both reason and context. Further to this, the control schemes (and there are quite a few) are successfully put together and (for the most part), avoid that feeling that they're there out of obligation.
As Raymond, it's not long before you're asked to perform some unusual commands. Sure, the old alternating shake up-and-down in order to sprint with both controllers isn't new, (in fact the launch title Rayman Raving Rabbids was the first to abuse this), but there are some other unique and admittedly clever Wii motions that I thought actually added to the game. When you discover an NPC in need of rescuing or reviving from the many natural disasters this game throws at you, you're asked to perform CPR (jolt the remote downwards in time to an ECG display), reach across chasms to link hands with stranded citizens (time a long arc with the remote perfectly) or lift rubble and debris from trapped people (fill a bar by tapping A, then lift with both controllers in time). On paper, controls never seem that exciting (just take a look at a graphic of some of the combos in the Tekken series for example!) but this game makes use of them nicely because you are constantly asked to perform something new, and you're never sure when you approach something just what you'll need to pull-off. And, unlike some other titles that make use of flamboyant air-waving controls, this game doesn't make you do things that feel redundant. And any annoyingly large movements you make are never for very long.
One thing that I really like about this game is when you come up against some armed enemies. This is where things really get exciting. You turn a corner, or jump out of your car or something similar, and suddenly the screen streaks excitedly and you're thrown into Ghost Squad or Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles type action. The reticule is the pointer, and the Z button makes Raymond duck into cover. Cunningly, the C button concentrates the aim and power of the gun to enable devastating head-shots or accurate "trick shots". Gun nuts shouldn't be disappointed as there is a respectable enough choice of weapons and upgrades. Pistols, Shotguns, Assault-rifles, Bow-casters and Rocket Launchers are the main firearms available. And, as you'd expect, some are better for close, mid and long-range attacks. Interestingly enough, the gun firing sound effects are routed through the remote speaker. The scratchy sound of this speaker has a mixed effect: sure, the virtual trigger you pull has a nearby and realistic location for its gunshots, but the tiny speaker gives them the sound of a toy! The speaker does get taken advantage of when news bulletins from the radio are piped out of it. The AM-band noise and bad reception actually makes the thing sound like a portable radio for a minute or two.
Raymond, a true multi-talent, jumps behind the wheel of a car more than a couple of times. This is usually to escape some sort of impending doom (which I won't spoil), however there are some chase scenarios. Control of the vehicle is like Excite Truck: hold the remote flat and tip and end up or down to turn left or right. These brief sojourns in the vehicle again, are pretty refreshing, but they do lack any depth to the game play, and are usually just a matter of steering sensibly and keeping out of the way of some monster pot-holes. Even though these parts are a little bland, I must admit the controls themselves are sufficient.
The interesting thing this game offers is in its onslaught of different emergency situations. Volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods and hurricanes are all guest-stars in the game – it's a meteorologists wet dream. The events themselves feel realistic and genuinely threatening – the time frame in which they occur is ridiculous, but it is a game after all. My personal favourite was a volcanic eruption. This featured river-like lava streams, eerie falling ash and poison gas and a lahar (landslide/mudflow). Raymond is faced with these things relentlessly. Its fun, and you do feel like you survived just by the skin of your teeth.
There aren't many games out there that "D: DoC" can be compared to. That's not because of its exceptional quality, graphics or any other single component. It's because most developers seem to avoid the mixing-up of genres to this extent – as if the individual styles are somehow diluted when combined, and can result in the best of nothing and the average of everything. But I think "D: DoC" walked this line quite well, and in the end I believe most players with an open mind will be happy with what it achieves.
Not Quite What I THORt
'Thor' makes an excellent start as pseudo-historical action adventure, but its misguided focus on redundant elements within the script mean that the film falls short of the promise it makes early on. We begin at Asgard: it is portrayed artistically, magically, and convincingly - a golden, sacred, Romanesque kingdom ruled by the father-figure of the film: Odin.
Sir A. Hopkins plays this character spot-on; he expresses wrath, pathos and vulnerability interchangeably. Under-used throughout the script, he is given only a moderate chance to flex his divine will and power, and he is put away fairly annoyingly to make way for the less convincing and single-sided character of Loki (portrayed unevenly by T. Hiddleston).
Like all modern comic-to-film adventures, the fish-out-of-water mechanism is employed in what seems to be an ever shortening delay from the film's outset. Read: Thor is banished to Earth. Here he we see a cast of supporting players (N. Portman et al) who give Thor the vast majority of his admittedly explanatory dialog. There are a few tries at comic relief here (just how *would* a man-god react to a modern hospital, restaurant and so on...?), but they are fleeting.
Action sequences are just as sparse, and even more baffling is that they are really rather small-scale. Lack of scope is what the film suffers from - and what seemed like the beginning of the end sequence was revealed to be *the* end sequence. Choreography is mixed too; there are some satisfying big hits, but they have to make their way through scrambling, scuffling brawls. Thor's most interesting enemy is dispatched late in the film, but this sequence seems to have arrived too late to have any sway on the plot for this viewer.
3D effects are well executed, and the typical cheap shots of pointy things for the sake of pointy things is tastefully avoided. When it *does* happen, it is with purpose and sound timing. Visuals are smartly married to excellent sound design, the technical aspects are what carry this film through its slumbering second-reel.
Cinematography is victim to repeated tilting of the frame. There is hardly a square shot in the film, and all mid-to-close shots are tilted up to 45-degrees or less. Even establishing shots are annoyingly angled, disfiguring the space of the sets and disorientating the viewer from the physicality of the character movements and local spaces of scenes.
Performances are apt all round - it is a testament to the performers to see them break through some of the stilted characterizations. Thor himself is well played, though most of the performance is carried by physical presence, not emotive expression or dialog. His goofy costume is accurate but plasticy, his comrades literally look like sci-fi convention-goers. I exaggerate not.
The film is worthwhile overall, but suffers from a small-minded script. At least Odin, blessed with divine knowledge, managed to take a nap through the dullest areas of the film. For this, I envied the Gods.
The Secret War on Terror (2011)
Taylor Asks: "Is The War on Terror Winnable?"
A step-by-step catalog of all the major terrorist attacks since (and including) 9/11. The documentary mixes its time-line-style account with personal interviews with state officials and commentators. A decade has passed since the Twin Tower and Pentagon attacks, and P. Taylor brings us up to date through recounts of each significant event, its purpose, the perpetrators, and its implications.
P. Taylor poses some fairly challenging questions to the British government (the former MI5 director in particular), but he goes no further than others have before on the matters of torture, state-sponsored assassinations and targeting non-battlefield targets in non-combatant territories. Did the British government allow Pakistan to a license to torture, were the London bombings preventable, was the government responsive enough? These are some of the challenges the journalist poses.
The primary comment made is that the response of governments is often just as criminal or hypocritical as the forces they try to oppose - thus breeding more of the same ad infinitum. This particular argument is not as compelling to me as it seems to some of the interviewees - if the reactions are equally criminal, at least they're not instigative initially, and there are no alternate propositions provided to counter that notion either.
Overall the film is the best up-to-date recount of the terrorist threat (in its most mainstream set) that I've yet to see, and for that I think it is an excellent place to start an examination of the jihadist or bin Ladinist extremist threat.
Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)
Waiting For the Ad Break...
This documentary with it's (deliberately?) misleading title, gives viewers a brief overview of the Filipino cult cinema of the sixties, seventies and eighties. In a seemingly endless string of fragmented interviews (some of the edits so short that the subject's title is flashed for a fleeting moment), the film tries to draw an overview of this period of American/Filipino co-productions. Archival footage is interspersed here and there, and occasionally we are given context.
Is it interesting? Yes, but as much as it is frustrating. For you will certainly find that the film never settles down from its opening moments. The pace of the film is that of one tempo, as if the editor was worried that we might lose interest, or as if the visual information was paramount and the factual information (something I'm more interested in than anecdotal) was a mere triviality. You will be bombarded with cuts and clips and cues for the duration of the film - it's an editing style borne from the free-to-air TV realm that transposes to the cinema with a terrible effect.
Also, the relentless funk soundtrack (the staple to the C-Grade Grindhouse films) undermined the interviewees' comments, robbing them of any memorable moment and washing them altogether with the same colour. I can't help but relate the style of this documentary with American style 20-to-1 type shows, where the interviewees are there to provide colour to a proposed topic, not to provide any real insight. This is the films worst crime, for Filipino film-makers we are shown are outnumbered five-to-one by the Americans, yet the tiny grabs we are given with these eccentric characters were far more interesting and exotic.
This film belongs on a commercial or pay TV network, but the limited audience and scope of the film will probably condemn it to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's schedule sometime in the near future. Wait for it then, for the cinema gives little to this difficult documentary.
Please, Remember the Performers.
This footage is little more than a filmed rehearsal in a corner of a warehouse. Warhol demonstrates the 'less is more' mantra to an unplumbed basement of embarrassment. This vision of Warhol's really has nothing to do with the medium of film, and all that is learned is that he was very spoiled to have the resources in order to make this, for there are bound to be more important artists and concepts (and even adaptations) that went un-filmed in this era of early experimentation.
Warhol fills a stage with the cast, and we can only sympathize with them, for their talents are criminally obstructed by the moronic limitations imposed upon them. With presumably only the source text (a novel) to go by (for who would argue that any useful screenplay was written?), the actors go about filling out the bare guidelines of the inappropriately treated material. Warhol, like a spoiled child, asks so much of his cast while giving so little; and beyond that, he almost seems to obstruct or minimize the source material.
Given this, the performers do what they can when they can, and without them, this film would have nothing to give. Warhol's demonstrated contempt for cinema acts as a saboteur; the performers at the mercy of his nonconstructive (mark it, not 'de-constructive') approach, and we are forced to watch them feel for cues, lines and staging directions. Shamefully, it is left for them to stick their necks out. Warhol, like a selfish undergraduate, seems to hide childishly behind the camera – the very last place any true artist would escape to.
Carillo, Latrae and particularly Malanga are victorious even with these enormous obstructions (not, I argue, because of them). Their lines are delivered fairly robotic-like and sporadically; a rhythm is established because of this, but it abandoned well into the 'second-reel'. Here we are treated to some off-camera sadism, while even the most hardened of extras (E. Sedgewick for example) remain distant, unmoved and as bored as anyone else involved: actors and audience alike. When the cast display indifference and the director promotes his carelessness, we are only left with spectacle. Even there, 'Vinyl' has little to give. The highlight of the film (or at least the most memorable set piece) is that of Malanga dancing to 'Nowhere to Run'.
Following this there is a smattering of whipping, strapping, beating and struggling. The film then descends into further unscripted stumbling and ramblings. Most of it stays in frame.
I can't see what Warhol gave us with this film. The narrative is lost, the actors are maltreated, and the production values do more harm than good. Warhol fails on virtually all grounds here – the real kudos needs to go to the performers. This film is a very selfish one, spawned from a selfish, lazy director.
Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
Cars, Culture and Crime.
Those looking for a revolution of the Grand Theft Auto tradition, GTAIV may not be quite for you. But for those that who crave the logical extension from GTAIII (Vice City and San Andreas included), this title is bound to satisfy. More guns, more cars, more areas, more missions, more items, more jumps and more polygons all mean more fun; and for the modern gamer, these now mean more choices, (but I'll explain those shortly).
Does all this content really qualify the 'IV' of the title, (proudly stamped across advertisements like an ominous religious relic), or would a mere subtitle after GTAIII describe the game more accurately? Well, for the most part, the 'IV is warranted. We see a new playable character, a contemporary time setting, and a set of new interactions and dealings for the player to involve himself with. The level of detail has been upped dramatically, and the city is full of a minutia of content that really does worry players like me: "What am I missing, should I stop driving here, and what can I do at this place?" These are the questions that constantly challenge my sense of direction. The distractibility of the city is phenomenal. It is a study in level-design intricacy, as well as a phenomenal example of virtual town-planning.
The missions take a 'choose-your-own-adventure' style structure in that certain jobs are optional, impact on future events, and often ask the player to choose a particular story-branch. Sadly, some missions are painfully trivial, and can force the player into virtual dates, nights-out drinking or at a vaudevillian show (the latter being the most impressive). As to how your choices affect the end result is a mystery to this player, but the idea that the game may have to be played through multiple times is a staggering thought. The replay potential may be through the roof.
Camera control is an issue for me - the price of such a living, breathing world seems to be questionable collision detection and a spasmodic, inconsistent camera. 'Fishin' Lakitu' would be quite disappointed I'm sure. But new to this iteration is the physics engine that gives not only the inanimate objects a respectable realism, but also for the carbon-based biped population (people) of Liberty City. Tossing a grenade into a traffic jam has the convincing effect of what it may do in real life (although this writer has yet to make any bench-tests on this occurrence, I suspect Rockstar have made suitable inquiries) - metal and flesh will rain upon the pavement alike.
Furthermore, arming yourself with a truly devastating selection of assault paraphernalia has never been more satisfying in the series than in 'IV. The current trend to portray a line-of-sight from behind the protagonists shoulder (3rd-person view) finds it's way into IV, and a street battle with the (strangely psychotic) LCPD feels like something from a certain Michael Mann film, (or more respectfully to this author, the battle scenes of 'Dr. Strangelove'). While the aiming system is certainly improved, it has not yet reached the standards of the other staple over-the-shoulder shooters. Arguably, this is not the focus of the game, but rather a sub-scheme of the games control. That is true, but I found myself having to reacclimatise myself to merely holding the left-trigger half-way down to 'free-aim'. Holding it down completely engages an auto lock-on scheme which admittedly, is quite handing for those far-off targets.
The 'Auto' of the title certainly makes sense in 'IV. We have a smorgasbord of four-wheeled machines, not to mention more novelty rides than you would ever care to bother to program (amazingly, Rockstar did). Gratefully, each model has its own feel and nature. Plucking a car from Liberty City's inexhaustible vine is like a lucky dip of larceny. Chryslers, Fords, Toyotas, Nissans are all absent. Yet eerily reminiscent simulacrums populate the heavily worn roads of Liberty City. That's right – auto companies are not represented in this game. I guess the licensing is either too complicated, or the prestigious mobile makers have an aversion to seeing their products involved in manslaughter on a mega-scale. So be it.
Nevertheless, the game has so much to offer that any of these side issues are really quite negligible. GTAIV is a breath-taking accomplishment, and at least a great, playful and dramatic video game experience. Certainly, the game poses all sorts of moral issues at the player, and it is often staggering how easy it is to slip into the lifestyle of a true sociopath scumbag. It's funny that the immigrant (Niko) alleviates his culture shock with such barbaric and criminal impulses, but it's even more staggering that this is vital to his assimilation.
A "Spot-on" Episode.
Homeless, purposeless and desperate (yet again!), Ren and Stimpy notice an ad for the local fire-station - a vacancy for Fire Dogs! So, what's the catch? Well, as Ren states so brilliantly in his heavy accent: "Oh, dalmatians only..." But, in true Looney Tunes style, a bucket of "Dalmation paint" soon fixes this! This episode, like many from season one, has such a great mood about it, and the attention to detail (although the drawings are a little sketchy at times) is second to none. The accentuated facial expressions synced wonderfully with the comical sound-effects are a great touch, and something that people may take for granted. (These were something that were sadly lost in the future episodes when it was moved from Spumco to Games Animation.) Of course, Ren and Stimpy in their typical goofy manner, fight an inferno inside a massive, looming skyscraper. Using the fire-fighters standard equipment proves difficult, dangerous and pretty hilarious too. The act of saving a huge housewife and her "housepets" is a great gag, and has the wonderful slapstick appeal that these early episodes really nailed.
However, the next half fails to uphold this great standard, most probably because of the questionable premise. Stimpy as a giant (well, a small giant) might sound promising on paper, but doesn't really pull great laughs in execution. An out-casted giant Stimpy wonders the countryside looking for purpose and a new life - the "real" giants have disowned him, you see.
Ren, a simple dairy farmer (and of regular Ren size, by the way) finds a symbiotic relationship with the lost and lonely beast. Sure, it's a happy ending and all, but the trademark sickening humour is sadly absent here.
A Zoo, A Prison and a Picnic.
Starving and desperate (yet again!), the two come up with a scheme with which to get some eats. Ren, the "thinker", notices that the en-caged animals in the zoo, particularly the monkeys, have it made. After an idiotic interview with the Keeper, the two are now considered Monkeys, and go about adjusting to the habitat. Sure, performing for the crowd gets rewards for some of the apes, but Ren and Stimpy, far less impressive in their monkey behaviors, end up with garbage.
Of course, their are some pretty good gross-out gags (the grooming etiquette and social hierarchy feed these), but overall, this episode lacks a final direction. After all, they were only ever after a feed - there's not a lot of dramatic potential there, and the resident ape (drawn superbly, by the way) is a character that sort of steals the show, and to my knowledge, never appeared again.
Next we have "Fake Dad", a funny take on the "Big Brother" organizations. Ren finds himself surrogate father of a huge, mono-syllable uttering, hairy criminal named Kowalsky. This guy, who resembles the Lummox characters we've grown to love, is delivered in a police van! Of course, there are some teething problems here for Ren, who goes on to discover that Kowalsky, in his infantile manner, has no regard for his household possessions as he goes about crushing his "favourite" items. The idea of "tough love" is touched upon here, as Ren takes a spoon with which to discipline his "child". The notion/morality of child abuse is pretty heaving-going for Saturday morning, but that's why this cartoon still lives on, right? There's some good gags about Kowalsky's diet ("meat-on-meat sandwich") and a distressingly emotional scene towards the end when Kowalsky, torn from Ren's care, is taken back to prison. Of course, Stimpy in his old-world sentimentality is only too happy to soothe Ren's tears...
Irreverent (and Irrelevant?)
"Greetings" sees a trio of awkward young men acting, well... pretty damn strangely in 1960s New York City actually! These guys are really at odds with their environment and culture. Their eccentricities begin as a source of humor, (even if they might represent the citizen who has "too much freedom"), but eventually, these habits become eccentric, obsessive and finally disturbing. This escalation of behavior might run parallel to Government and society at the time, what with the Vietnamese conflict and the unsettled political climate. Or, it might not! The "episodic" nature of the film, the way it presents scenes like flipping through a scrapbook, is an uneven method in which to present it's satirical comments. In other words: some work and some don't. Sure, I'm sure a lot of the scenes FELT right at the time, (and there is some nice energy to many of them), but unfortunately some of them lack a direction and fall a flat, (but it IS forty years old!).
De Niro has his moments too. A draft-dodging scheme he has is probably the best laugh in the film. His comedic skill is drawn upon fairly well in a number of scenes, (after all, he is the pervert of the group!). His friends are not as gripping though. A JFK conspiracy theory nut, (who is probably the most obsessive of all), lacks depth, and is really just there for a repetitive gag that didn't seem that clever to begin with. Likewise the "computer-date" enthusiast, who goes from nut-case to nut-case. He doesn't come across all that well either, and again, the same gag is dragged along for several evenly-spaced scenes.
One of the things this film does well is show you New York City unflinchingly. 1968 has been captured very well, and it's astounding to see how unpopulated and thoroughly modern it looked, even then. We see these three shabbily-dressed, purposeless, bumblers haunting the bottoms of skyscrapers and climbing across architecture, all while engaging in some stream-of-consciousness-type strange banter. Weird stuff.
The best things are the visuals, followed closely by some comedic flare from De Niro. But overall, it may only be those who have direct connections to this era or this city that may find a whole film out of "Greetings".
A Great Travelogue, A Bad Investigation.
We follow Morgan, a fairly average American guy, as he sets out to find bin Laden, (who, incidentally, has a US$25,000,000 bounty on his head!). So what's Morgan's motivation? Well, it's a fairly weak one, but it's valid to him (or his producers) at least. It is an anxiety he has about bringing a new-born into the world. Yes, that's right. He's a father-to-be when this film was shot.
Of course, finding Osama (as he is referred to so familiarly throughout the film) is no easy task - we are told several times that the F.B.I. itself has so far failed in this task. So, I guess you never really have high hopes about Morgan's chances. But we'll go along with him anyway right? What this documentary does well is that it takes you to the very ground-level of some very interesting and volatile places. Morgan divides the film up into (five?) segments, and presents the entire search as if it were a video-game - selecting "stages" that turn out to be Egypt, Afghanistan, Morroco and so on... In each and everyone of these places (with the exception of Pakistan), Morgan makes efforts to speak with everyday citizens, and quiz them on some fairly confronting topics.
This is the films best gift - we get to hear and see exactly what the West seems fairly deprived of: the common opinions of the common people. It's very enthralling, and towards the end, you cannot help but sympathise - and I suppose this is the films most powerful effect.
What the film does poorly is what the title alludes to - a search. Morgan never really searches for Osama (one point where he mockingly calls into a cave undermines any hope!), rather, he more or less sniffs around various markets, businesses, houses, slums and coffee-houses finding opinions.
And, the further annoyance is that the very motivation so heavily played upon at the beginning of the film (his baby), turns out to be a huge de-motivator for his search. He is constantly distracted, worrying and missing his wife, and we are all subjected to their personal "you-hang-up-first" "no you hang-up-first" smooshy phone calls. I can't help but think what a great film this would of been if the guy searching actually intended to find Osama! Rather, Morgan seems to want to make a travelogue, casually name-dropping the OBL when ever the moment strikes him to do so.
Granted, Morgan does visit some hot zones, such as the Gaza Strip, Tora Bora and Taliban territory, but we all know that Osama ain't there, and it's more about adding colour to the film then advancing his search.
It's a good watch for the conversation and the inside-stories, but a bad watch for those who actually want to see just how close can one man get to OBL. I am not convinced that Morgan really set out to find him, and really, I can't see that he added anything to others who may share that goal.
Ma hei siu chi (1994)
This is a film that almost makes it, but falls short due to some faults in direction and screenplay. Firstly, it must be said that the film starts off a little strangely, and has a mixed introduction between some brilliant, well, circus-routines, and almost hurried character introductions. It was a little hard to keep up with things to begin with. But, once the film settles, it goes about taking us along with a misfit group of circus performers, who, outside of the circus, fail to fit in smoothly with the rest of the population. These difficulties are compounded by the Japanese bombings during the second world war.
Yuen Biao, a trapeze artist within this group, is also an accomplished martial artist, and through various underworld dealings, he is forced to indulge in thee skills quite often. Unfortunately for him, Donnie Yen (the police superintendent) is quite often there to stop him. There are some nice mini action scenes between these two practitioners - you just need to be a little more patient than usual.
Wu Ma is the father figure, the ringleader of both the circus and the family group. His values are quite old-world, and he refuses to trade honour for pure survival - a scene where he forces the children to return stolen food is pivotal.
Although the film has a certain charm, there is a problem somewhere. I'm not sure if it's in the pacing of the scenes, or the attempt at resolving the many character ambitions, but, towards the end, a most of the detail has been lost, and we are faced with a pretty respectable string of action sequences. Yuen Biao is more of a brawler in this film, and his crisp clean kicks and flips are absent. In their place, there is more of a scrambling urgent style, (I think of some of the Dragonlord fighting when I remember this film). Donnie Yen seems criminally underused, and Bey Logan, the British writer/actor has a few scenes to show his physicality, and, he's not too bad.
The balance between the dramatic and action elements is a little uneven, and it seems that maybe too much was aimed for, the price being a drop in quality in all areas. However, do not think that this film is forgettable as it does do some things well. The set design, cinematography and performances are pretty solid. It's just a shame that there was less of a coherent culmination of the elements.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Incredible. As In "Not Credible".
This rendition of the Hulk story sees Edward Norton as "Bruce Banner". He is a man in hiding in South America, living an anonymous life as a factory worker. Why? Well, the government (or rather a particular Army General) want to find him at any cost. Really, what we're looking at in this film, is the story of a victim. Banner was created by the government, and now, the government want him for their own ends. It's a little of the Frankenstein-complex yet again in American cinema, (see "Robocop", "Universal Soldier" for other takes on this premise.) It begins, and rather than sit through twenty-minutes plus of back-story, the decision was made to show all relevant explanatory scenes in an opening montage sequence. These scenes (although quite clumsy in their direction) were an inclusion I was grateful for. I thought this would help the film find some momentum. But, I was only half-right. We skip ahead to Bruce's anonymous existence in Brazil, and we are itching to see signs of the hulk within him. Only hints in some of his unusual behaviour would ever suggest that he has any more than an anti-social problem.
When a clash between the government forces finally erupts, it is fairly underwhelming; a competently shot chase-scene plays out (Edward Norton runs like a girl!) and a poor "fight" scene to conclude it. When the animal of the title is finally revealed, it is a shadowy, confusing environment, and we only see a glimpse. Here, the direction delays the unveiling of it's draw-card as long as it can. Also, like so many movies of late, I found myself enjoying the scenery more than the performances - Brazil has never looked like more colourful and fascinating in it's maze of slums and shanty-towns.
Banner's nemesis "General Ross", uses "Blonksy" as his right-hand man. This role (play by Tim Roth) starts well enough (the David vs. Goliath notion is a nice touch), then gets a little over-the-top, then hits the outright ludicrous. He seems to have a major grudge over a special operation in Brazil that doesn't go his way. Just WHY this is such a problem for this guy is never made clear - he takes "failure" (although he has several other attempts at the same mission) way too personally for a spec-ops soldier. This brooding resentment is amplified by General Ross' tampering, and we are promised a showdown between two Goliaths.
The problem this films has is that it tries to make an underdog out of a superior character. A victim, a persecuted monster, the hulk is meant to draw sympathy AND be the unbeatable character. Sure, he takes his hits, but you're never worried that he won't succeed. The only way this film can raise the stakes is from turning things up from ten to eleven on the dial. And I'm not convinced that going to eleven makes the viewing experience that much better - rather, it overshadows everything else you've just sat through and invested in.
The climax, although well done in isolation, is ridiculous in it's seriousness. The love interest is just an excuse to give Bruce someone to talk to - to explain his Jekyll and Hyde complex, (one scene in a cave is particularly stupid. Watch the continuously changing size of his body). The father/daughter relationship has a particularly bitter taste to it, and Roth's evolving psychosis happens much too suddenly - we see HIS transformation as a despicable "abomination", but is it really that different from Banner's? Why is one worthy of sympathy, when another is demon that should be exterminated? Because it's "uglier"?
Comic book to film movies are never going to work for me in this format. Imposing the super-human character over today's society will always come across awkwardly for me. They seem to want it both ways: an unstoppable physical giant, worthy of the armed-forces complete attention, and an anonymous weak-bodied victim, who is cursed with the power others will kill for. This contrast, although interesting on paper, is increasingly hard to convey believably.
From Yugoslavia to Yourtown, USA.
A brilliant installment in what I think captures John K.'s themes and style the best out of all the second season episodes. The self-referencing and parody is rich in this episode (which is a full twenty-two or so minutes), as is the demented and overtly disturbing nineteen-fifties undertones; there is a definite Lynchian feel to this one.
R & S leave Hollywood (in Yugoslavia, of course) to meet and stay with one of their human fans. Anthony, an only child, in sort of a "Leave It To Beaver" household, is ecstatic about the two visiting. His enthusiasm however, is what causes some problems. He's a weak, asthmatic boy who's prone to hyper-ventilating. This is a cause for total babying from his mom, and complete (pyschotic) defensiveness from his dad.
After a kind of pep-talk (rich with violent innuendo) from the dad on how to treat Anthony, the two cartoon characters now know their place among the human family. Of course, this causes problems when R & S come into conflict with Victor, the local bully. A scene in which Anthony is threatened by this guy, while his dad idles his ridiculously large fifties style saloon is hilarious.
Anthony's in trouble. So, who's to blame here? Why, the "Hollywood Big Shots" of course! This episode is expertly drawn, with literally hundreds of twisted facial expressions and mood changes on the part of the dad, as well as brilliant contrast between the heavyset top-heavy man with the frail and runt-like child. Once the dad removes his shirt, the masculine dominance and idea of the alpha male protecting his territory brings the cartoon down to an almost primitive and animalistic level; again, the Lynchian echoes ring true here. Further to this, the notion of the working man being victimised by rich Hollywood types is drawn clear in a bizarre comparison of each characters palm of the hand. It's paced really well, and the musical cues are brilliant too. Highly recommended.
Troll 2 (1990)
I Wish These "Trolls" Were A Myth...
Awkward and clumsy film about an American family who uproot from their "city" life in order to live in the country. As to exactly why they do this is never really made that clear, (I doubt anyone cares anyway). Anywhow, after some painful drawn-out scenes, including a disturbing dialog exchange between Mom and Dad, the family eventually set off for their new home - a town called "Nilbog".
Like a teen-novel, we see things from the youngest kid's unheard and somewhat ignored point-of-view. His performance is as good as it was ever going to be, but nevertheless it is very trying and more than occasionally annoying. Being the only member of the family with the ability to see his grandfather's ghost, he is viewed as unbelievable and hysterical by his naive and idiotic family.
The film forces us to wade through the messy plot and inexcusable deus ex machinas as they are lumped on to one another. By the end, the whole plot has become unglued, the characters unwelcome, and worst of all the good and evil voices of the film are watered-down - nothing is suspenseful, frightening or even remotely original, (again like a poor teen-novel).
The worst crime this film commits is that it undermines it's own invention. The trolls of the title, I suppose, are the goblins in the film. They are never dangerous or threatening. In fact, their powers seem to weaken throughout the film (I suppose this was one lazy and easy way of giving the "good-guys" their strength). For example, towards the end of the film, there is a siege-type situation in the family are trapped in their own house, surrounded by the goblin/townspeople. Exactly why the townspeople (who vastly outnumber the family) don't just enter the house and kill them all is illogical, incredible and frustrating.
Regular viewers should ignore this film, while C or D grade enthusiasts will only give mixed responses at best.
Loose Change: Second Edition (2005)
Can This Film "Change" Your Mind?
This documentary takes a look back at the attacks on September 11, 2001. It takes a skeptical attitude towards the official story of the events, and goes about presenting arguments and evidence to dispute the idea that terrorism was the culprit.
Using various media (film, transcripts, stills), the film presents a disturbing case in which the U.S. government is heavily implicated in the execution of the these attacks. We are taken through each argument the film makes through the use of narration.
The film seems to make use of already publicised information, but the researchers seem to have taken their own further investigations (including new interviews) since the events. The results that they have achieved are highly confronting, and just as controversial.
To further it's premise, this documentary makes a few leaps of faith. I don't want to outline any here, but this film and the makers themselves, were never bound to have any credibility - the issue is too sensitive. And, as likely as the film-makers might make it seem that there was some sort of conspiracy, it's hard to imagine that anything other than animosity was due for them. It's almost a futile exercise, not matter how compelling the film itself may be, it's always going to be secondary to the film-maker's intents and character.
I doubt that many will be swayed too far from their initial beliefs after viewing this film, but nevertheless, it is a fairly provocative, interesting and occasionally professional look at those attacks in 2001.
Lung siu yeh (1982)
A Pyramid, A Golden Egg, Poetry, & Antiques.
"Dragonlord" sees Chan returning to his role of "Dragon" from "The Young Master". Not much has carried over from the first film though. "Tiger", his older brother, is nowhere to be seen; neither is the Marshall, his daughter or his son played superbly by Yuen Biao in the original film. Dragon does have the same master though - presumably all the other students have moved on to other things. (Dragon's laziness at training is portrayed heavily in this film, so maybe he's still studying!)
Originally titled "Young Master In Love", this film sees Dragon (for the first sixty minutes at least) pursuing a villager girl in various idiotic and slapstick ways. His rival for her affection is his friend (inappropriately named "Cowboy") played comically by the longtime Chan Stunt-team member Mars. We see various scenes where their silly schemes backfire. It is one of these scenes that we (thankfully) find "Dragon" in over his head.
This film is notorious in that it failed expectations at the box office. That said, I'm sure the expectations were pretty high, and I feel that this film has never had a fair judgment based on it's own merits. But even when I try to do this, I still feel that there is a problem with the film. It seems quite unfocused, sometimes rushed, and I think the action is too sporadic and not as brilliant as Chan's other work from this period.
The thing that really saves the film is the ending sequence. As in "The Young Master", there is a fantastic final reel that it full of incredibly exhausting action - you really feel every blow. And again, Chan goes up against the same rival from "The Young Master" (is it the same character?), and the timing and energy here is brilliant. Chan's style of using every last bit of his environment to help defeat his opponent - not just relying on pure physical ability - is as apparent here as anywhere else. The barn they fight in is full of clever little prop gags and improvisations. This is an absolute highlight of the film and one of Chan's incredible career.
It's not necessary to see the prequel before seeing "Dragonlord", in fact, it might even raise more questions than what it hopes to answer. But it must be said that the original film is the superior film, and "Dragonlord", with it's focus on girl-chasing and team-sports does seem baffling. Luckily, the few fight scenes it offers (plus a fantastic shuttle-cock scene) push it over the line as a must-see film in this genre.
Yong zhe wu ju (1981)
A Mouse Versus A Tiger.
Dreadnaught features Yuen Woo Ping's extreme talent for choreography and action direction. Fan's of any of his other work will no doubt be very pleased to sit through this oddly titled film. Also, fans of Yuen Biao (that's me), will also be very happy to pick this one up, (although, like "Circus Kids" his role in the film could be argued as criminally underused).
Again, set in Ming Dynasty China, this film sees the plight of Mousy (Biao), who happens to be a very shy, in-confident, and even cowardly laundry worker. His nature is revealed when we witness him trying to collect laundry debts from various townspeople - they push him around and give him nothing.
All the while, an evil and eccentric killer "White Tiger" takes pleasure in terrorising anyone who happens to be around, and, unfortunately for Mousy, he seems to be high on Tiger's list. But, again, like most Kung Fu films, it's not so much what is done, but rather how they do it. Thankfully, Dreadnaught does well in it's direction and choreography, but it does not excel.
Credits list Biao as the star, but I believe Leung Ka-Yan (who is Mousy's older brother in the film) deserves equal billing - they certainly have equal screen-time. "Foon", played by Ka-Yan, is a more well-rounded martial artist, and a student of the legendary Wong Fei Hung (played brilliantly and hilariously by Kwan Tak-Hing a la "Magnificent Butcher). The scene involving a rather violent tailor is worth the sitting alone.
Dreadnaught seems more of an unfocused film as compared to Woo Ping's other work(s). "Drunken Master" for example had a clear, snappy and balanced screenplay. We knew where we were supposed to be at in terms of all the plot elements. Dreadnaught fails on these grounds, and it's action sequences do not mesh pleasurably with the dialog as they do in Drunken Master.
I was expecting a "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow" for Yuen Biao, but rather, I see this film as three main action sequences starring various cast, tied together with the broad characterisation of Mr. White Tiger. It is by far one of the better Kung Fu films out there, but I'm afraid Yuen Woo Ping's other works do the same thing but better.