Archive for June, 2012

ENSLAVED – An Odyssey and a half

Posted in Game Tirades with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2012 by helenparker1212

Ever woken up with a bad headache and a vague memory of the night before, while plummeting towards the earth onboard a galactic slave-ship with only moments to escape before you meet a fiery doom? This is how our protagonist Monkey’s odyssey begins, and things don’t get much easier for our limber hero (voiced and motion-captured by Andy Serkis) as we follow him and his companion Trip through a post-apocalyptic landscape littered with murderous robots, and into their world’s heart of darkness.

 

 

Written by Alex Garland and based on a five-hundred-year-old Chinese novel by Wu Cheng’en, Enslaved is at its core a tactical platform game, but with all the benefits of sweeping panoramic views that make the linear stages appear expansive. Though you are not in an open world, there is enough climbing, swinging, shimmying, jumping and exploration of space to make you think that you are.

 

 

Action and cutscenes are of an equal, excellent visual quality, giving the impression that player is watching and participating in an extended feature film. The characters of Monkey, Trip, and later Pigsy, are rounded and witty, and their interactions bleed into the gameplay, adding to the cinematic effect.

 

 

While exploration is generally on-rails, however, the satisfyingly smash-and-grab combat requires a degree of strategy, giving the player the opportunity to alternate between avoidance tactics or full-on frontal assaults. You can either be sneaky and agile, or leap into the fray to wreak havoc upon enemies that grow ever more menacing both in technique and in scale. (The moment when you are confronted with a giant mechanised dog-bot is particularly terrifying.)

 

 

If only the game escalated to a more satisfying conclusion. After all the time and effort spent building story, characters and world, to be met with such a clichéd and tacked-on denouement will feel like a real kick in the teeth to players that have invested so much and expected so much more. Endings are a perennial problem in this industry, however, if the old saying is true and it’s the journey that matters, not the destination, you could hardly hope for a better travel companion.

CHRONICLE – X-teens and angst.

Posted in Film Tirades with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2012 by helenparker1212

So what do you do when you’re drunk and/or stoned in the woods, and you find a mysterious hole in the ground? Why, you jump right into it – what’s the worst that could happen? Well, like a Dr Pepper ad directed by Bryan Singer, turns out the worst that could happen is three feckless teenagers acquiring a bundle of superpowers that would put most of the X-Men to shame. It sounds like a dream come true; unfortunately, one of these souped-up adolescents is the bullied and hostile loner Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a kid with a serious axe to grind.

Director Josh Trank’s first feature is a found-footage story about a trio of X-Teens struggling with the moral implications of their newfound gifts. It plays out as a winning combination of Stephen King’s Carrie and an episode of Jackass, with a finale only King Kong can rival. The result is an original and revitalising addition to a genre many had already written off. With the subtlest use of special effects – the high-school talent show sequence is a joy to behold – and a compassionately observed relationship between its three key characters, the film begins disarmingly as a buddy movie.

Foisted together by their shared secret, a symbiotic relationship forms between Andrew, his philosophy-spouting cousin Matt (Alex Russell), and future class president Steve (Michael B. Jordan). But their budding friendship sours as Andrew’s behaviour begins to deteriorate, and Matt and Steve find themselves having to contain and control the renegade before it’s too late.

As with most films in this genre the conceit that every relevant plot point just happens to be caught on camera can stretch paper-thin at times, and Chronicle has its fair share of tenuous moments. (Look out for the scene where a girl films herself in the mirror for no apparent reason.) Thankfully, these slip-ups are few and far between, only surfacing on the rare occasions when the camera is held by someone other than Andrew.

At other times, however, the found-footage technique is used with true poignancy.  Where other shakycam movies reference Cloverfield or Blair Witch, Chronicle, via DeHaan’s accomplished and unsettling performance, evokes any number of recent high school massacres – tragedies that invariably seem to be accompanied by found footage of their own. The relevance of this film, which documents an embittered individual’s build-up to a mass atrocity, shouldn’t be diminished because of its science fiction label.

PROMETHEUS – A Heroic Effort

Posted in Film Tirades with tags , , , on June 26, 2012 by helenparker1212

As far back as 2002, ideas for an Alien origin movie were bouncing around Hollywood like a split bag of ping-pong balls. It was clear from the off that Ridley Scott was the man the bigwigs wanted to spearhead the project, with James Cameron coming a close second. However, the direction Scott wanted to take the franchise in was one that baffled and intrigued money-men and fans alike. An Alien film whose focus is on God, creation and science, rather than on chest-bursting, face-hugging killing machines? But no one uttered the words ‘it’ll never work’ with any real intent, because everyone wanted this film to work.

 

 

And to a certain extent Prometheus does, both as a faithful and reinvigorating addition to the Alien canon, and as a sci-fi movie in its own right. It is, however, light-years behind its predecessors in terms of directorial competence. Forget plot holes, the fundamental flaws of Prometheus are far more rudimentary, and can only be blamed on Scott himself.

There are entire sequences of the film where actors in shot are blatantly unsure of what they are supposed to be doing. Key moments of action are spoilt by unpolished performances – for example, the whole ‘walking into a flamethrower’ sequence comes off as awkward and even ridiculous, as does the ‘squashed by a spaceship’ and ‘decapitated by an angry alien’ scenes.

 

 

Much of this film feels under-rehearsed and underdeveloped, with several actors seeming confused as to what their characters are even supposed to be. We are offered stereotypes that we all thought serious cinema had grown out of by now, one of whom is the surly-but-good-hearted token black captain, played by Idris Elbah with aplomb. Another is a shaved, tattooed, gun-wielding Sean Harris, whose character is built up to be the next Hudson or Vasquez, but who in fact turns out to be a simple cowardly geologist who’s “only interested in rocks”.

 

 

However, it’s not just the actors who are suffering from a lack of direction, it’s also the cinematography. In a key scene towards the end of the film, Shaw – our main protagonist – has just stumbled away from a self-administered alien caesarean and into a room containing the very people who have attempted to kill her. The audience is on tenterhooks as to what will happen next. Will Shaw erupt in a Ripley-esque spree of justified ultra-violence? Will she attack her enemies with a verbal tirade against their monstrous scheme? Will she run away? These people are murderous psychopaths, after all.

 

 

Whatever the audience thinks Shaw is going to do at this point, they are not expecting for her to be relegated into the background by the director. Scott even has the nerve to place the protagonist out of focus, leaving her loitering in a doorway while the bad guys waffle on about the meaning of life. She then meekly follows these people – who have murdered her lover and used her as an incubator – into the heart of darkness without so much as a word of protest. This isn’t the only moment of unrealistic character behaviour in the film. In the case of Rafe Spall’s biologist Millburn, any astronaut who treats an alien tentacle like it’s a curious puppy deserves to meet a sticky end, even if it is an end we all saw coming a mile off.

 

 

In fact there is little in this film that comes as a surprise. From the convenient lifeboat which also doubles up as a self-administered surgery machine, to the revelation of Weyland and his relationship to Vickers, every big reveal has already been guessed. Yes the CGI is impressive, yes the ideas and mythologies behind the film are engrossing, yes Michael Fassbender is hypnotic to watch as the devious android David, and yes, as a stand-alone sci-fi in its own right, Prometheus is genuinely entertaining. However, as a Ridley Scott film, from a director of 33 years experience and more, Prometheus is yet another disappointment.