Thursday, December 30, 2010

Despicable Me (2010)

Important information here.

The Plot. This is a story about a villain, Gru, who starts to get worried about being old and that he is being replaced by younger villains who can do worse things as one of his rivals steals one of the Giza pyramids. He then comes up with a plan to use a shrinker to shrink and steal the moon, which would grant him the name of the ultimate super-villain. While stealing the shrinker his rival, Vector, steals the shrinker instead. Gru is trying to get into Vector's fortress, but it would seem that the only people who get in are three little orphan girls who sell cookies. Gru then decides to adopt the three girls to get access to the shrinker.

General thoughts. This is a funny and sweet family animation. While having quite a predictable plot, it focuses on the emotions and humor and it does a great job on the humor part.
Gru has a group of little yellow minions to help him with his evil deeds and also an old genius Dr. Nefario. The minions are the main thing that make this animation worth the time. They are purposely made very cute and funny, they speak funny and some of them have some weird additional features, like for example, one of them functions as a glow-stick at one point. It's unclear as to if the minions are created by Dr. Nefario or Gru or hired to work for them. Since they seem to be quite willing in taking part in experiments and such, it'd make much more sense if they were built or bred, but at one point Gru discusses payment with the minions and at many instances they appear to have money of their own. Quite confusing.
A thing I wasn't too happy about was the voice-actor casting. Steve Carell played the part of Gru. While Gru was a large, villany fellow, he should have had a deeper, meaner voice, but Steve Carell's voice of Gru was more like an annoying skinny dude with a slight Russian accent. I get it, Russian sounds evil, but not when it's whiny like Carell's. The other larger role was Vector, voiced by Jason Segel. Now, Segel has a very recognizable voice, but for some reason I couldn't sense any of that. Almost as if it's been modified for the part. Since Vector is a skinny geeky kid and Segel's voice is the voice of a larger adult man, the modification does make sense. Anyway, I think they could have found more suitable voice actors for both parts.
All in all, I enjoyed this very much. Would I see it again? Unlikely, since while very funny and entertaining, it wasn't exactly special or noteworthy in any way. Except for the minions, I loved the minions.

I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys a funny and cute children's animation. Pretty standard, but good enough. Watch it for the minions.

6/10 Flogs
(1 extra Flog for minions)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

Important information here.

The Plot. This is a true story about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. The story goes about how the site was created and revolves around two lawsuits, one against the twin brothers who had the original idea of such a site, on which Zuckerberg based Facebook and the other against his original business partner and CFO of Facebook, Eduardo Saverin. As the story develops following the two lawsuits at the same time, the story of Zuckerberg and Facebook unfolds.

General thoughts. This movie makes Zuckerberg look like a naive child working with evil grown-ups who use him for their own gain. It felt like Zuckerberg was suddenly thrown into the real world and didn't know how to cope with all the complicated business and relationships. This is a sad story about why you shouldn't do business with your friends.
The thing that makes this movie somewhat interesting is the way it was written. The plot is divided into two parts, each a law-suit in the present, while the descriptive sub-plot is the same for both of them and the actual plot runs in the background of these two lawsuits.
Being a Facebook addict myself it is really interesting to see the history and the evolution of it. While I'm also somewhat involved in the software industry I liked how they didn't over-simplify the programming part, leaving it pretty much what it really is - a lot of boring-looking text that can do wonders when used in a correct combination. Some movies tend to make programmers and hackers more interesting by either having the heroes type really fast and do really cool stuff with just a few lines of code or make the whole process look pretty and graphical, when in reality it's not as adventurous. It was nice that they tried to make the hacking part at the beginning realistic. What Zuckerberg explained as 'hacking' really is not too difficult to accomplish, given that the information is not protected properly.
Also, as somewhat of a surprise, Justin Timberlake had a major role in this movie, playing Sean Parker, the founder of Napster. While I'm not a fan of the man, I think he handled himself quite nicely. An unlikable slick character sortof suits him.

I'd recommend this movie to anyone who is interested in the people behind Facebook. Otherwise, it's an okay movie, but nothing spectacular. And yes, I will post this on Facebook.

6/10 Flogs

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ninja Assassin (2009)

Important information here.

The Plot. The story tells about a young ninja, Raizo, who is an orphan raised by the Ozunu ninja clan, but ends up turning on his clan at one point. He is then hunted by his clan, while he tries to come up with a way to gain access to and kill the head of the Ozunu clan. The main story arc is about a young ambitious Europol investigator Mika who discoveres that ninjas still exist and operate in the modern world and are linked to many high-grade assassinations. While Mika is about to be executed by a ninja, Raizo steps in and rescues Mika in order to use her to get to Ozunu.

General thoughts. Well, it was about time they made a proper ninja movie.  This wasn't much anything above an average Hollywood action flick, but it it is quite a nice ninja movie. A lot of special ninja equipment, a lot of ninja tricks and a LOT of blood.
I think the amount of gore deserves a special mention. At one point the protagonist kills a man, but doesn't succeed to do so right away and ends up stabbing the poor bastard a lot of times, every time producing a bucket of blood. He ends up covered in the stuff. While really nice and atmospheric, the amount of blood just makes this movie a tad silly.
Since this movie was built on action rather than the plot, the effects are usually quite nice. There are a lot of slow-motion shots to show off all sorts of extreme martial art stunts. And to balance it all out, there was a whole lot of ninja philosophy involved, with lifestyle tips and everything.
The story, while pretty standard, was nice. It had a romantic arc to show the morally nicer point of view to being a ninja. Nothing unexpected there - boy falls in love with girl, girl is killed, boy wants revenge. But I did mention that this is a pretty standard plot when it comes to Hollywood action flicks.
The part that bothered me was that while being all Japanese with their gang of merry nin, they didn't mutter but a few Japanese words during the whole movie. A little bit disappointed there.
Also, chilling on a nail-pillow isn't ninja, it's just basic weight distribution, where your body weight distributes equally, not leaving a whole lot of weight for any single nail.

I would recommend this one to any ninja fans out there. For anybody else this would just seem like a waste of time. This is a nice action flick with a lot of martial arts and ninja tricks, but not much of a masterpiece when it comes to cinematography or writing. They even used hand-signs for some brief moments. A lot of shurikens flying around, try not to get hit.

6/10 Flogs

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Death Note (2006-2007)

Important information here.

This is a short (37 episodes) anime series.

The Plot. The story goes about a very bright student, Light Yagami, who comes across a strange notebook titled "Death Note". In the note, Light discovers a set of rules for the usage of the note and that the note can be used to kill people. The rules state that Light has to envision a person's face and write down their name in the note. There is also a way to specify how a victim dies. If the way and the time of death is not specified, the victim dies of a heart-attack 40 seconds after the name has been written in the note. When the way of death is written, there is an additional 6 minutes and 40 seconds to specify the way the person dies.
Light, being a very smart youngster, decides to use the note for good. He starts eliminating criminals to make the world a better place. A few days after Light begins using the note, he is visited by a strange monster which apparently only he can see. The monster presents himself as Ryuuk, a shinigami (death god, grim reaper) and also the original owner of the note Light now has. He explains that when a Death Note is dropped in the human world, the human who picks it up becomes the owner of the death note until death. The shinigami will follow the owner and can give out information about the death note, but not help the owner to know peoples names and information. There is a possibility where an owner of a death note can exchange half of their remaining life time for the power to use the eyes of a shinigami, which give the person a power to see any person's remaining life time and the real name.
After a while, the police becomes suspicious of continuous and systematic deaths of criminals and a team is put together to investigate. As this case becomes increasingly difficult, an outside expert, who presents himself as L, is hired to assist with the case. L doesn't reveal any information about himself, which makes it impossible for Light to kill him.
Meanwhile the public becomes aware of criminals dying and also comes to the conclusion that a mysterious person is behind the killings. The public names the hero Kira (Killer), since the real identity is unknown. Since Kira is doing a good thing for the public, the majority of people side with him and support his actions.

General thoughts. This is anime series is really awesome. The main reason for this is the excellent writing. While the main idea seems uninteresting, once you sit down and watch a few episodes, it starts getting really interesting. The thing that makes Death Note so awesome is the battle between excellent minds. At a very early point in the series it becomes clear for L, that Light is Kira, but there is no way to actually prove it, since Light is very smart and doesn't make any mistakes. The whole series actually revolves around the characters outsmarting each-other and trying to gain information on the real identity of the other person. For L, it is important to prove that Light is Kira, for Light, to eliminate L, he needs to find out his real name.

A very interesting touch in the L vs Light is the actual difference between the two characters. Light is portrayed as a handsome young man, popular with the ladies, outgoing and social, as L is portrayed as a geeky, sad and lonely youngster. The writers went even as far as Light using a PC and L using a mac.
A thing that made this series especially wonderful was the sheer amount of plot-twists. Most episodes had 2-3 plot twists and the episodes themselves were the standard 20 minutes long. This makes Death Note the most unpredictable series I've ever encountered. Every episode is full of exciting moments, where you just need to know what do they think of next. There aren't many logical aspects that the writers might have over-looked. Everything is very thoroughly thought through.

In a way, this series shows how power corrupts even the most powerful minds. The power to decide if a person lives or dies made Light believe that he was a god. Step by step you could see how the power got hold of him, messing with his power to reason. But Light doesn't give up. There are a lot of moments, where you would think that now Light gets caught and given the unpredictable nature of the series, it wouldn't even be too unexpected.
Also, it is very difficult to write a lot about Death Note without spoiling it. A great deal of things change over the duration of the series. The writers weren't planning for this series to last, so a lot of characters can end up dead at any moment.

This series is awesome. I recommend this one to all anime fans and any people who like the trillerish style of writing. Even if you don't like anime, the only anime-style silly-looking things are the shinigami and there are only a few of them. A fair warning, though, this series needs some attention and isn't suitable for people who don't like to concentrate too much on something or just don't have the attention span. I myself enjoy watching things that need a lot of concentration and where you need to pay attention to the little things.

9/10 Flogs

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bleach (2004 - )

Some information here.

This is a running anime series. I figured that since it reached it's 300th episode, this would be a good time to write something about it.

The Plot. The story goes about Ichigo Kurosaki, a high-schooler who has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. He has always seen them and is used to them being around. One day some strange things start happening in the city. Ichigo witnesses what appears to be a huge monster chasing a soul. He rescues the soul and sees a young girl in a black robe wielding a sword. Next night the same girl appears behind Ichigo's window and states that she is indeed a shinigami - a death god whose job is to take care of the souls of the living. Her name is Rukia. It is revealed that the monster Ichigo saw earlier that day was a Hollow - a soul that hasn't moved on turned into a monster hunting for other souls. It is a shinigami's job to eliminate these monsters. Soon after, the monster attacks Ichigo's home and when Rukia is injured in the battle, she offers Ichigo to take over for her. Rukia gives Ichigo her powers and accidentally gives all of her powers and is left powerless. Ichigo then proceeds to take over the duties of a shinigami.

A bit about the world of Bleach. The world consists of the real world, where humans live, the soul society, where souls go after death and Hueco Mundo, where Hollows live. The three worlds need special gateways to be traveled between. The soul society is also a home for the Shinigami. It is a headquarters for the Gotei, or the 13 protection squads, each led by a captain, with the Captain-Commander leading the first main squad and the whole of soul society. The occupants of the Hueco Mundo fall into three main categories - the standard Hollow, the Menos Grande and the Vasto Lorde or Arrancar. These are all different levels a hollow is able to reach.

The main power source of a shinigami is their Zanpakuto, typically katana-type weapons that have actual souls as a power source. When a shinigami learns the name of their Zanpakuto, they are able to call out it's power to aid in battle. This is called a Shikai or Initial Release. At one point the most powerful of shinigami learn to release the next level of their Zanpakuto, the Bankai or Final Release. When a shinigami gains the ability to Bankai, they have a chance to become a captain of the 13 Protection Squads. High-level hollow also gain the ability to use a Zanpakuto which when released becomes a part of their body, giving armor and additional powers.

A bit about the characters. The main protagonist is Ichigo Kurosaki. He starts out with the basic shinigami powers given by Rukia, but since Ichigo's power, or spirit pressure, is really high for a human, his Zanpakuto takes a much larger form than usual. Later on, Ichigo is joined by his classmates Sado Yasutora, who gains a powerful arm to use in battle, Ishida Uryu, who is the last of the spirit-bow wielding Quincy, and Inoue Orihime, who can manipulate time on certain objects, thus having the ability to heal serious injuries and also use the same power to shield herself and others from harm.

General thoughts. I've seen all the 300 episodes and all 3 movies released and I must say, this is quite entertaining. In the anime tradition it has a lot of silly anime moments with silly anime background music but I guess that's just what you'd expect from an anime.
There are a lot of different story lines which are often difficult to place in the timeline, considering the powers the characters have developed and there's a single central storyline about a power-hungry shinigami wishing to take over the world.
A thing that makes Bleach stand out from so many other anime series is the excellent writing. There are genuinely some moments where the plot goes a totally unexpected way and this is what makes it so interesting to watch. Almost like a 'what'll they think of next' type of experience. Also, the characters are constantly evolving and at some point I saw that the writers don't have many ways to evolve the characters to beating stronger opponents, so they just think of something totally unreasonable and silly.
This show also, like so many other anime series, puts a lot of emphasis on strategies in different situations, to rather beat their opponents with more than mere power. Of course, there are characters who rely only on them being extremely powerful, but there are only a few of those.
There is no doubt in my mind that this series will continue for quite some time. While the previous story-line is coming to a conclusion (as it seems at this point, could go some other way also), a new direction is already emerging.
I do enjoy the flow of this show. There are only a couple of filler episodes in the whole series, but to extend the main story, they tend to stick a season with a totally different story-line in the middle of it.

Anyway, I'd recommend this series to anyone who wants to make a first move towards the anime world. This show has all the anime characteristics while they don't actually over-do it too much. A great show.

8/10 Flogs

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tim Minchin - Ready For This? (2010)

Information on Tim Minchin here.

Tim Minchin is a very peculiar comedian, born and raised in Australia, doing shows all over the world. This show was filmed in the UK, at the hmv Hammersmith Apollo in London. At the time Minchin was 34 years old and since his birthday is on the 7th October 1975, the show was probably filmed somewhere around September 2010.

So what makes Tim Minchin so special, you ask? His trademark characteristics are eye-makeup, awesome skill on the piano and sortof an awkward feel. His hair is always messy and for this show he was bare-foot most of the time. I think his awkwardness is the thing that makes him so special. That and awesome lyrics. He can start singing about something very serious and suddenly change the subject and the whole song becomes something funny and happy.
He is also very known for his 9-minute beat poem titled "Storm", where he describes meeting a hippie girl at a party and how he argues with her. This is a really special act, even for him, since most of his other acts are songs played on a piano or a few of them with a band in the background. Since he is a very down-to-earth person, he doesn't like anything related to religion, spirituality or anything else some people tend to believe without evidence. This reflects in a lot of his lyrics and is a big part of "Storm". He discusses atheism and religion like so many comedians do, but he seems to be more bold with it than others have been. He himself described how the reactions to the anti-religious parts were not as positive in the more religious communities.
The whole show was really funny and Minchin's shady personality and hints to all sorts of taboo subjects, like pedophilia and ice-cream vans, really make the show something different. The way how Minchin mixes musical comedy with speech makes the whole show structured.
If you've heard of and seen some shows by Minchin in the past via Youtube or even live, rest assured, many of the crowd favorites are also preformed. And of course, a lot of funny moments, both in song and speech.

I loved this show. I recommend it to anyone who is into musical comedy and singing and is not particularly religious or spiritual, otherwise you might be offended by some of the material. He tends to get quite verbal about these things. Great show. I want to see more.

8/10 Flogs

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Oscar (1991)

Important information here.

The Plot. The story is about a gangster, Angelo 'Snaps' Provolone (Sylvester Stallone), who promises on the death bed of his father to go straight. The whole thing is happening a month later, on a single morning, when a young man comes with an urgent message. Right away the man reveals that he wishes to marry his daughter and that's where the whole confusion begins.

General thoughts. I love this movie. The first time I saw it was a few years back on TV and this must have been the third time I see it. This is a very simple situational comedy. It all takes place in one house and around it (with the exception of the very beginning). While the movie itself is quite simple, the plot gets mixed up a lot of times and the plot twists are quite unexpected at times. This movie really is a pearl that is not considered anything very special, but in it's own right is simply marvelous.
The thing that makes this movie so good and funny is the cast. From the classic Italian mobster turned butler to a shy linguistics doctor played by none other than Tim Curry. Every character is special and even the little guys make this movie something truly unique.
Another thing I really liked about this one is the soundtrack, which is pretty much the same song played a lot of times. The song itself is "Largo al Factotum", probably the most famous song from Gioachino Rossini's "The Barber of Seville". I'm not a big fan of opera, but because of this movie, I really like this particular song. This song is also very rhythmical, so it gives the whole movie a sense of urgency, a sort of a fast pace. This is necessary, since there is a whole lot going on in this movie.
A very interesting thing about this movie is that it shows a completely different side to an action-based actor like Sylvester Stallone. Another movie of his that has this side, for example, is "Stop! Or my mom will shoot".

I love this movie. This is a great example of what a sit-com should really be like. Just using a single house and the space around it for all the confusion. This is also based on a Claude Magnier stage play, which probably explains the use of a small space for everything. This really plays out like a theater comedy.
I would recommend this to any sit-com lovers. This truly is a gem you shouldn't miss.

8/10 Flogs

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mr. Nobody (2009)

Important information here.

The Plot. The story is about Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto), a dying man at the age of 118 in the year 2092. He is the last mortal alive and his demise is apparently a big media event. He would appear to have lost most of his memory and with the help of hypnosis starts telling the story of his life. It's hard to say when and where is the story actually set since parts of the story jump around between his childhood, adult years and the future.

General thoughts. First of all, I totally and utterly loved this movie. It has everything - romance, sci-fi, actual science and the good old mess of a plot which starts making sense closer to the ending.
This movie is one of the weirdest I've seen in a while. Most of it is because most of the movie you just don't understand what's going on. The movie opens with the main character dying. Many times, all different ways. After that, the main character gets married. Three times. There is no way to tell if the plot is happening in the future, in the past or in the present and it's all very confusing. In fact, it reminded Inception a little bit, in the parts where the protagonist wakes up after something happens, as if it was a dream.

A thing that makes this movie very special is that it was made by collaboration of German, French, Canadian and Belgian filmmakers. Don't worry, the whole thing is still in English, but this strange collaboration means that this is in no way a mainstream Hollywood flick and it shows. There are a lot of interesting shots and camera angles, a lot of weird things that make this movie something very different and interesting. Some of the ideas they came up with, you have to have a really surrealistic imagination to come up with things like building an ocean out of blocks of water brought by helicopters.
A very noteworthy thing about this plot is the romantic angle it had. For some reason, the main romantic storyline was really heartwarming and touching. It was just some teenager love, but it had a really interesting effect on the whole movie. This movie has a lot of emotions. All kinds of emotions, all mixed together.
Also, it was a very philosophical movie. About thoughts, memories, time and emotions. Things like a smoking cigarette or a decaying mouse had a lot more to them than appears at first. It's really quite difficult to delve into the philosophy of it without spoiling the movie, so I'll skip ahead.
There is also a scientific side to the movie. At moments, it will stop and the main character will narrate some information, followed by explaining visuals. This information, for most part, is quite true, actually. Being moderately interested in the subject I didn't agree with all of it, but it mostly represented what the common belief in science is right now.
This is one of those movies where it is better to concentrate to better get all the nuances. In fact, it was so interesting, I didn't want to be interrupted in fear of missing some important point. Actually it's not that difficult to watch, since most of the things happening are explained enough to make perfect sense at the end.

This is a movie I would recommend to any romance fans, for the awesome romantic angle, to anyone who enjoys a movie with a complicated plot, any sci-fi fans, for the scientific angle, and just about anyone who doesn't go to the movies for cheap thrills. An awesome piece of film.

9/10 Flogs

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mirror's Edge (2009)

Important info here.

The Plot. The story takes place in the near future, in a city called New Eden, which is mostly controlled by corporations and everyone who doesn't like it is considered a criminal. In this harsh world any traditional means of communication is not usable because of surveillance, so the messaging business is handled by a group of messengers called Runners. They use rooftops, evasive techniques and fast feet to keep out of sight and deliver the packages. The story is about a runner, Faith, whose sister is framed for the murder of a mayor candidate and Faith sets out to clear her sisters name.

General thoughts. First of all, this is probably my most favorite game in a long while. This is the only game I've finished with all difficulties and I think more than 5 times over the last two years since it came out in January 2009. I honestly don't know how many times I've played through this one. I love almost every aspect about it. The other reason for me playing through it so many times is the game being short. In fact, it's one of the shortest games of this type I've ever played. The total storyline is about 2-3 hours long, but I figure you could stretch it out to about 4-5 hours if you search for every hidden package along the way or keep failing at some key points for too long.

This game is very different from any type of first person shooters ever created and I'm really happy that EA is experimenting with this type of gameplay. Mirror's Edge is more of a parkour-type of game. There is some shooting, but there's not a lot of that and in most parts can be avoided completely. Faith is much more comfortable without a gun. Since the game is about Runners, all you will be doing is running around rooftops and climbing all sorts of things. Mostly you have to figure out how to get past the countless obstacles and that's what makes this game interesting. At some parts you don't even have much time to think about which way to go because of people shooting at you.
My favorite part about this game is the pace. This is a very fast game, because all the moves, jumps and slides are designed to keep you going. The longer you run, the faster you get and the less chance of being shot. You have to do all sorts of daring jumps and dangerous moves in order to get forward. There are some places where you manage to lose your tail, stop and think about how to move forward.

The level design is something quite different from anything seen before. The plot is set in a futuristic world and this is seen only by the way the world looks and feels. Most of the areas you go through are very bright. The rooftops are white. This gives you the feeling of cleanliness and freedom and I think this could be connected to the plot. After all, this is a world controlled by money and the corporations are trying to keep things looking bright to make people feel free in a clean environment. I think it's very likely that large cities could look something like that in the future.
Another thing the developer included to make the gameplay smoother is using subtle hints to lead you in the right direction. Some of the elements on your path are red and turn back to the original color when you're past them. According to the plot, it's called Runner Vision and is sortof like a hunch that Faith gets while running. This is subtle enough to not feel like the player is lead towards the goal, but helps the gameplay a lot. This is turned off if you play using High difficulty. It really feels different if the runner vision is turned off.

All the loading screens are replaces with story-related cut-scenes, so there isn't a time when the game appears to have stopped. There are in-game action sequences where you can't control your character, but they mostly fit with the flow and don't feel too fake. The loading cut-scenes are designed as a cartoon, separate from the game engine. The animation looks weird, but in a way, it helps remind you that this is the point where the story goes on and a new mission is about to start.
The story itself is quite interesting and has some unexpected twists along the way. It's difficult to tell much about the plot without spoiling it, so I'll just leave it at that.

This is also a very interesting example of a game that has done better on PC than on consoles. I've heard bad things about this from console users because console controls don't feel right with the fast pace of the game. Looking around for another ledge while hanging from one is supposedly really slow on analogue sticks. So this is certainly a game to play on PC instead of a console.

All in all, this is an awesome game and I'm sure I'll play it again at one point. If you're tired of conventional shooters, this is something you should try out. Actually, I'd recommend this to any fan of first person shooters. A lot of adrenaline in this. And a fair amount of frustration. Sometimes Faith simply refuses to grab on to a ledge. This game would get a 10 if it wasn't so damn short.
I love this game.

9/10 Flogs

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Going The Distance (2010)

Important information here.

The Plot. The movie tells a story about a couple on a long-distance relationship. Garrett (Justin Long) meets Erin (Drew Barrymore) at a bar and they hit it off right away. At some point Erin tells Garrett that she is just an intern at a New York newspaper and will return to San Fransisco in 6 weeks. Both agree that this could be a nice no-strings-attached relationship, but as always, one thing leads to another and 6 weeks later, when Erin leaves New York, they decide that they will try a long-distance relationship.

General thoughts. I am a sucker for a good romantic comedy and this is one of the best I've seen in a while. The movie is about showing all the ups and downs, all the temptations and perils of a long-distance relationship. There are many kinds of long-distance relationships, where the difference could be a few hundred miles to a few thousand miles. This movie is about the extreme case, where Erin is in San Fransisco and Garrett is in New York, which means that the distance couldn't be much larger within the compounds of the US borders. This movie made me want to have a long-distance relationship but at the same time not want it. I'm really confused on this one.
This movie also had a lot of funny moments. As a pleasant surprise, Jim Gaffigan played the brother-in-law of Erin. Gaffigan is a really strange and at the same time an extremely funny comedian that I saw in a Comedy Central special some years ago. While Justin Long isn't the funniest person imaginable, he is really good for the part of Garrett for that exact reason and the same goes for Drew Barrymore. It's a common thing for romantic comedies that the two main characters are more of the serious type, whereas the supporting characters make it all funny.
I would consider this to be an excellent date movie. The main characters aren't anything too special, so watching this wouldn't probably set any expectations on the couple watching this. There are a lot of "aww" moments, but also a lot of educational value, when it comes to the dynamics of not just the long-distance relationship, but any kind of relationship.
It gains some points for not being totally predictable. I know that it's really hard to come up with a plot that wouldn't be predictable, but would have a happy ending anyway.
So yes, I recommend this to anyone who, like me, is a sucker for a proper romantic comedy or someone on a date wanting to watch something. I know watching romantic comedies on dates is always a risk, but this one should be relatively safe.
An excellent movie.

8/10 Flogs

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

Important info here.

The Plot. This is a story about a young boy who wanders into a magic shop and encounters a weird man who gives him a little dragon. This dragon turns into a ring, which means that this boy will inherit the magical powers of Merlin. The man in the shop is actually one of three apprentice of Merlin, Balthazar (Nicolas Cage). There is another apprentice who was sealed away with an evil witch, Morgana, into some sort of a doll and the third one, Horvath, who is trying to release Morgana. When the young boy receives the ring, he accidentally releases Horvath who proceeds to get into a fight with Balthazar and they end up locked in an urn for the next ten years. Ten years later, the boy has become a physicist (Jay Brauchel) and is now to train with Balthazar to destroy Morgana.

General thoughts. This movie has a really interesting view on magic in the modern world. The way they try to explain this is that there are some people who can use the unused 90% of their brains to manipulate energy. These people are called magicians. They wear fancy shoes, to help with the grounding, and huge rings, to channel the energy. They also manipulate the energy using really big and colorful CGI effects and use the same energy to give different objects life. Makes perfect sense.
It's nice and all that they tried to find some sort of an explanation to all the magic stuff, but this wasn't really necessary, since it just made this whole thing feel fake and lame. There is no way to manipulate energy enough to give life to a metal hawk and have it save you from a huge metal bull who Wants to kill you. Then again, never say never, right?
This movie is pretty much what you'd expect it to be if you know what's it generally about. There aren't many ways a Hollywood movie has to go. The plot is standard, there is a girl involved and the ending is predictable. Hollywood is about entertainment and this is something this movie has done perfectly well. I myself am a fan of magic and mystery and this movie delivered quite nicely on that. There were a lot of pretty effects, there was a goofy main character who is funny and awkward, there is an angry mentor who occasionally shows that he has a heart, there were funny moments and sad moments and lame one-liners. This review feels like so many others just like it. Change the plot part and you're set. I miss plot twists.

All in all, this is a movie to see if you're into magic, want to see something easy and entertaining or if you like Nick Cage. I'm not a big fan of his, but in this one it didn't bother me.
To be honest, I expected this to be a bit more. It's a decent block-buster, but nothing special.

6/10 Flogs

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)

Important info here.

The Plot. This game follows the memories of a member of a special operations team. Five years before the time of the game, you, Mason, were imprisoned in Vorkuta, a soviet prison camp. At present you are in an interrogation room and someone is asking you a lot of questions about your past and some weird numbers that you hear in your head. Basically every game level is a memory of Mason, some of them as seen by his CIA handler Hudson.

General thoughts. This is the third installment in the Call of Duty series not made by Infinity Ward. Treyarch has previously developed Call of Duty 3, which was a complete failure, and Call of Duty: World at War, which was not a complete failure, but was quite bad. This installment left me confused. I'm not sure if this game is good or bad. It did have problems, but it also had a lot of really interesting approaches to the way the story is told.

First of all, this is a cinematic shooter and as with all shooters of this kind, the most important thing for the game is to keep the player interested in everything that is going on around them. This is the part which Treyarch doesn't do very well. There were times when I felt boredom from the continuous slaughter of enemy forces with nothing much going on besides that and that never happens with the Call of Duty installments done by Infinity Ward. This, however, is not that big of a deal, since Black Ops had a lot of really cool cinematic spots.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is set in the cold war era, around the '60-s. The US is in a conflict with the soviet and there are also some problems in Cuba. True, there are not a lot of games from that era. Not as much as from the World War Two, at least. Although, Treyarch still managed to sneak some WWII into the game. It would seem that Treyarch doesn't know how sick we, gamers, are of WWII games, all of them about killing Germans with their high-pitch identical voices. Infinity Ward has understood this, hence Modern Warfare. It's time to move on. I myself enjoy modern weaponry and tactics.

One of the things that Treyarch did really well is the main menu. I have not seen a main menu this interactive for a long time. You basically sit, tied to a chair with screens all around you, with some dude asking weird questions and one of the screens has the menu choices, which can be controlled using your keyboard. At the same time you can look around the room. This is also the place where the story starts. At that very same chair. You don't know why you're there or who are the people who are interrogating you.

This game, as every proper cinematic game should have, has a lot of cinematic elements. You get to fly a helicopter, ride a motorcycle, drive a boat and even Almost fly a really cool military airplane. There is some skydiving, some rappelling down a mountain. I like how instead of just sitting in a chopper and letting your pilot do all the flying you actually get to take control and fly around the place. This is made very easy and arcade-like so you don't have to worry about the height of your chopper while you're mid-battle with an enemy chopper. This is a good thing. After all, this is not a flight sim and is supposed to be fun, which it is. There are also loads of little quick-time events of which none are actually difficult, but let you feel that you're really in the plot doing things and stuff depends on you somewhat.

A very serious place where this game is lacking is the gameflow. Not all the time, but at some points it could be a lot better. Sometimes you are given a task of some sort, you start doing it, but since nobody actually tells you how to do this, you end up dead. You get it the second time around, but then the flow will already be broken. For example, there was this bit where you had to climb a wing of a wrecked airplane. You are told to be really careful, but at one point the wing shifts a little bit and if you're on the wrong side of the wing, you slip off and die. This would have been a cool quick-time event instead, if the character would cling to the wing and somebody came to rescue him.

A thing that Treyarch did completely different in this game from all the previous Call of Duty games was that the first person character never actually spoke himself. If you're the main character and you're suddenly really chatty, it sortof loosens the grip on the credibility of the situation. This is the reason why Ramirez never talked back to the commanding officer that was ordering him to do unreal things in Modern Warfare 2. It was credible. The only person whining about it was the player in front of the screen. This brings me to another point. Black Ops didn't have much of the 'Player Do This-and-That While Everybody Else Stands Around Waiting For You To Loot The Place'. Sure you were told to shoot down a couple of choppers or tanks every once in a while, but there were a lot of things the AI could handle on it's own. Alas, fighting is not one of these things. The AI in Call of Duty: Black Ops, while very chatty, is not exactly useful in battle. Most of the time they're just hiding behind cover waiting for you to push on. Taking point is nice, but shooting all of the enemies on your own without any cover from your pals is not.

This installment, if compared to previous ones, seemed to be a lot longer. I'm not sure if I just got tired of it faster, but it felt like it was a lot longer. I'd say instead of the usual 5-6, Black Ops went on for about 7-8 hours. This is good, because this type of games are usually shamefully short. I understand, that every level involves a tremendous amount of work because of the cinematics, but 5-6 hours is not enough.

While most of the game reminds of all previous Call of Duty games, when it comes to style, this one had a weird feel about it. I can't really put my finger on it, but something didn't feel right. The main thing that was bothering me was the way the controls felt. I don't know why and I don't know if this might have been caused by my local settings, but this has never been a problem with previous CoD games. The aiming and shooting just felt very bulky and inaccurate. There are games where it's best to use iron sights and there are some where optics have the best feel, usually depending on the distance of the enemies, but this game didn't seem to be playable using optics. It wasn't too bad with snipers, but the ACOG sights just didn't feel right.

Another thing that seriously bothered me was the loading screen. It had flashes of information of all sorts and as Call of Duty games always have, the mission information is played out on the loading screen. However, Treyarch decided that it was a good idea to remove the loading bar from the loading screen. What this means is that if your system isn't top-notch, you'll end up looking at a blank screen for a while after the loading screen runs out of information to show you and until the mission begins. There is no way of telling if your system crashed or is it still loading.

The other thing I need to whine about is the saving system. At one point I had to leave and did a save&exit in the middle of the mission. When I came back, instead of resuming the mission where I left it, I had to start the mission over from the start. The autosave-resume thing seems to be a bug, because it worked a couple of times. Hopefully they'll fix it.

All in all, this installment of Call of Duty is much better than the two previously made by Treyarch, but it still doesn't measure up to Infinity Ward's thoroughness when it comes to cinematic shooters. I don't know, maybe more beta-testing with a lot of player feedback would help. In any case, this was not a bad game. It had a lot of really cool moments and it was generally a fun game.
The game had some really cool touches, like playing CCR's Fortunate Son in a Vietnam mission, which felt excellent, or Sympathy For The Devil by the Rolling Stones in the middle of a boating mission. Playing music that comes from that era worked really well with the atmosphere and I wish this type of thing will be used again. It also had Ice Cube as a very surprising voice actor. The character looked like him, too.

I would recommend trying this installment for every Call of Duty fan. This one really shows that Treyarch is getting better at this. This should also be played by any shooter fan, since it's on it's own a good shooter. I didn't like it in the beginning, since the storyline was weird and confusing (it even had a memory in a memory, Inception, anybody?), but towards the end, it grew on me. I don't feel sorry about trying this.

7/10 Flogs

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Important info here.

The Plot. The story is about Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 22 year old unemployed youngster who dates a young Asian girl and plays in a band. Scott meets a girl named Ramona Flowers and in an attempt to date her finds that he has to defeat her seven evil exes in a fight to the death.

General thoughts. Not much to tell about the plot, but that is not the most important part of this movie. I totally and completely loved this movie. Why? Because while the plot itself is not so special, the whole thing is presented in a completely unique way.
All of the movie is in a quirky over-the-top comic-book action styling. Many of the sound effects had comic-book style visual sound effects and everything was just unreal. There were a lot of 8-bit references, like the Universal logo at the very beginning, which was an excellent touch, and the whole fighting part was played out like an epic clash of awesome powers. The world around them is quite normal, but all the people around don't find something like a person exploding into a bunch of coins at all strange or unusual. Oh, and keep a look-out for an 8-bit light-saber, which is really awesome.
Another thing that makes me like this movie a lot is all the awkward tension the characters display when communicating. This is mainly due to the really unique acting style of Michael Cera. The ability to make any simple conversation funny and awkward at the same time makes this actor something to look forward to. And yes, this movie is funny. In many ways, it's a lot funnier if you can relate to geeky stuff, like 8-bit and video-game and comic-book style action.
Truly an epic tale. I recommend it to anyone who is in a good relationship with their inner geek and likes a romantic comedy every once in a while. I sure was positively surprised.

9/10 Flogs

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Inception (2010)

Important information here.

The plot. The story is about people who use a device for entering other people's dreams. This is mainly used for espionage. It's used to get information of all sorts that the person would otherwise not release. The story tells about a man who specializes in extraction or information from people's minds. He gets an assignment to plant an idea into another persons mind, which is called inception, hence the name. Since inception is a lot more difficult than extraction, he and his team have to enter many different levels of subconsciousness of the subject.

General thoughts. This is quite a difficult movie to follow. Not too difficult, so any person with the ability to think logically should be able to follow it without problems. So this is basically a movie that you have to concentrate on to understand what's going on. I enjoy movies that make you think and this one certainly does.
On the other hand, I think this could have been a bit better. There were some moments, where a plot twist would have spiced things up a whole lot. I'm not exactly happy with the ending, because I was expecting more to happen. The plot left the ending open for a lot of development. I hope they are planning to do a sequel to expand it some more.
A thing I like about this type of Hollywood block-busters is the eye-candy and Inception did not disappoint. There's the part where this girl bends half of the city upside down (as seen in the trailer and on the poster) and another one where the gravity either shifts around or disappears completely for a while.
The whole concept of controlling dreams is actually very real. It's called Lucid Dreaming and I think this is another thing that would be nice to include in the sequel, if there ever is one. A person that could control what happens in the dream and can attack any extractors that enter his dream.

This movie is for anybody who likes a movie that makes you think. If you like this one, you will like Memento.

8/10 Flogs

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fallout: New Vegas (2010)

Important info here.

The plot. The general story of Fallout, for those who don't know, tells about the life of people in a post-nuclear world. Most of the old world is reduced to rubble and only people who hid in huge vaults survived. The original Fallout (of the new series, or Fallout 3) is about a kid who grows up in one of these vaults and has to leave it.
Fallout: New Vegas is roughly 3 years after Fallout 3 and tells a story about a courier who is on a task of delivering a strange platinum chip to what's left of Las Vegas, but is intercepted by a gang of thugs and some sort of a businessman-looking person. The courier is shot and buried, but gets dug up by a robot and finds himself in a small town outside of New Vegas. He then starts gathering information about this mysterious man, why he was shot and tries to get the package back. At the same time, the region is in a conflict of power, where two organized military forces, the New California Republic and the Legion try to get hold of the Hoover Dam and the HELIOS One solar power plant.

General thoughts. I like a proper sandbox-type rpg with lots of things to do and places to explore. Fallout is a little bit different from other rpgs, by the way of having firearms and energy weapons instead of swords and bows. The rest is pretty much standard. You kill stuff and do quests, you gain experience, you level up, you get more skills and health points. The skill set is quite similar to Fallout 3. You can still blow your opponent to bits using the Bloody Mess perk and get assistance from a Mysterious Stranger, if you're lucky. So in every way, if you've played the Fallout 3, you'll know your way around this one also. There are some new guns and you can even craft your own ammo, if you have the necessary parts. The crafting part is mostly useless, since there is an abundance of ammo of different types and even some rechargeable weapons later on in the game. And yes, with some serious effort, you can even get the ability to wear power armor. For this you need to find and contact the Brotherhood of Steel, familiar from Fallout 3. They also have some awesome weapons, so it's totally worth the time and the effort.

A very special thing about the Fallout series in general is the story arc, which can really go every possible way with multiple different outcomes. In New Vegas, you can side with one of the large military forces in the region and help them win the conflict or conquer it yourself. There are multiple ways of doing all of these things. There are also numerous sub-plots, like the Brotherhood of Steel mentioned earlier.

Since the world in this game is huge, although a bit smaller than Fallout 3, it's really helpful that you can fast-travel between different points of interests. This helps to speed up the game and keeps the game interesting. There are a whole lot of these points. At one point, you can get a special perk that shows all of the interest points on the map and since every smaller encampment or landmark is considered a point of interest, you can easily fast-travel during quests. It's a shame that you can't fast-travel from in-doors and that the Vegas Strip doesn't have any fast travel points at all. You have to travel to the gate and walk all the way through the strip every time you want to report in.

An interesting addition to the game was the chance to have group members, who could carry around equipment and help you out in a fight. I found an NCR sniper in Novak and he proved to be a very useful ally. This makes the alliance with the Legion impossible, but he is very handy in a fight and helps you spot enemies. You can also find allies elsewhere, but I stuck with the sniper all the way through. You can have just one human follower, but there is another interesting fellow to help. A little floating eyebot with a laser as a weapon. In addition to being an extra hand in battle, he also has a sensor that spots friends and enemies from far away, usually even before they come into the field of view. This helps to gain an upper hand on a fight, makes using sniper weapons really handy and helps you avoid a serious confrontation altogether, if you can sneak up to an enemy and shoot them down using the sneak attack critical bonus.

A big problem that Fallout: New Vegas has is the amount of bugs. The game seems too rushed and some of the important things have gone unnoticed. I installed the game with the first patch right away and still ran into a serious crash bug at the very beginning of the game. After I installed the second patch, the game was actually playable. Every once in a while, after fast traveling or moving to a different area, your companions would pop in a weird place, which could cause the game to crash. I experienced about 4-5 crashes during the 20-30 hour gameplay. Sometimes radscorpions would have nothing but their tails above the ground. You could still kill them, but after that, the body would fall through the ground and disappear. I also read that some people got stuck in some places, but that didn't happen to me. In some places I thought I would get stuck, but I somehow managed to get out. The companions sometimes fall a little bit behind, but if you change areas, they usually pop right next to you anyway.

Since this game and Fallout 3 were both built on the same engine, they have a few of the same problems, like V.A.T.S., for one. This is a system designed to automatically fire at an opponent and also gives you an idea of how big is the chance to actually hit a body part you're aiming for. All the V.A.T.S. did for me is convince me that I can't aim properly. It's quite difficult to hit someone with manual aim, because the movement logic of both the point of view and the AI is not very good. Enemies make sudden and unexpected moves which cause you to miss a lot and since the aiming itself feels somewhat uncomfortable for some reason, shooting manually is really difficult. Another place where the mouse movement could use some improvement is the menu area. I had some issues with the mouse accelerating, so for precision, I had to move the mouse slowly to hit buttons. This made some quests quite difficult to complete. I tried looking around the menus, but didn't manage to find any way to make it normal. You get used to it eventually, but this shouldn't be something you have to get used to.

The other thing that was very uncomfortable was that enemies in the next area don't care about what happens in the previous one. This means that if you clear an area and move on to the next, you may face an ambush of guards on the other side of the door. This happened to me when I went to kill the Legion leader. Caesar's tent is a separate area filled with the worst kind of enemies with really powerful melee weaponry. It took me a lot of time and many tries to kill them all and I ended up running from the pack of elite legionaries backwards and shooting them with everything I had. My companions didn't share my views on running around the camp trying to not get hit by the angry mob that was chasing me. Instead they rushed into battle head-on and got knocked out in an instant. Fortunately, they don't die and recover quite quickly when the fighting stops.

Another interesting thing that I didn't try but possibly will at one point of boredom is the Hardcore mode. Playing this in hardcore mode will mean that healing yourself using stimpacks takes time, you can die of thirst, hunger or exhaustion and you need to use doctor bags to heal your crippled limbs. Playing in hardcore mode makes you more aware of your surroundings and you have to really think before rushing into battle.

I liked this game. It had the atmosphere, it had loads of things to do, many interesting places to see and you could make the plot go whichever way you wanted it to go. I would suggest this game to anyone who liked Fallout 3, enjoys a good RPG and has a lot of spare time. This game is quite long. If you go through all the sub-plots, you could squeeze 40-50 hours of game out of this one, no problem. A bit too buggy, but playable after installing a load of updates.

7/10 Flogs

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Medal of Honor (2010)

Important info here.

The Plot. There is no plot to speak of, but nevertheless, this game tells a story of three different teams, of which two are elite "Tier 1" units and the third is a ranger unit, apparently also considered elite. You play a part of those teams and also get to fly an Apache as a fourth character.

General thoughts. This is a cinematic First Person Shooter (or FPS). Lots of shooting, lots of action and explosions and you get to tag along with some cool warrior people. Sometimes you get to kick in a door, call in an airstrike in the middle of a fight, shoot some baddies using a really big sniper rifle (The Barrett M82 .50 cal !). You even get to ride around an ATV for a little while.
I am a big fan of all kinds of cinematic shooters, since they make you feel like these things just happen and are not scripted in any way. Normal everyday war-stuff, like someone dislocating a shoulder while taking a dive off a roof after a danger-close air support or a Taliban fighter shooting a chopper out of the sky with an RPG. I especially like the sneaking missions, where you sneak around with a teammate who tells you when to run, when to crawl, when to stop and when to shoot at something. It feels really dangerous and interesting.
The best example of the beginning of cinematic style shooters would probably be Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, which was made by the people who shortly after the release left EA and made their own company which in turn produced the Call of Duty series, which is absolutely the best example of how a cinematic shooter should be like. When the people who made Allied Assault left, the Medal of Honor series suddenly got worse and never regained it's former glory.

With that said, this game delivered in heaps when it comes to cinematic joy. Things like airstrikes, sneaky-missions, even radio chatter during a fight. I think some of the things could have been a bit better, like when a teammate takes out a bad guy using a knife, it could have been a bit more cinematic than him just appearing next to a baddie and sticking a knife in his side.
But pretty and interesting aren't everything. When compared to the Call of Duty series, which is the main rival of the Medal of Honor series, Call of Duty always has really elaborate and interesting story lines, while this Medal of Honor installment doesn't really have a story. Just some special ops messing about on a mountain side, some choppers dropping and some other unrelated stuff. At the very beginning of the game, there was promise of something more than just a story-less shooter. There was something reminding of a plot until the point where you get to take an airfield and make it your base of operations. That's it. From there it's just about some soldiers fighting somewhere in the mountains and constantly whining about how intel was wrong and there are too many bad guys. True. I think I killed about a thousand of them with my teams.

I love how in every in-game cut scene in Call of Duty you get to look around and really get a feeling of being in control of the character. This is something I seriously missed in Medal of Honor. There were a few scenes where the main hero was in a car with a bunch of other people and I couldn't look where I wanted, instead I had to look at what was shown to me.
I liked the part where we got to roll around on ATV-s. It handled like a go-kart, but the idea of that I liked very much. At one point we came up to a ridge and without getting off of the ATV, the character takes out a sniper and starts shooting. That was fun.
The idea of different character episodes being connected in some way was really interesting. Usually different characters in this type of games are separately running around and doing things. In Medal of Honor, there's a sequence, where you desperately try to fight off a bunch of bad guys coming down a hill and just when you're about to run out of ammo and die, two apaches join the fight and get rid of the baddies. The next moment you're in one of the Apaches as a different character and the Apache mission starts. That was also quite interesting. In almost all cinematic shooters, at one point you get to mess around with heavy equipment, like drive a tank, fly a chopper or even be part of a bombing squad on the way to a target. There was even one where you got to fly a fighter plane, but that didn't work very well, since the controls are for shooting and don't work too well flying.

The graphics of Medal of Honor could have been a lot better. It's a bit of a disappointment even. While most of the game looked fine, if not a little bit cramped (mainly due to the lack of a better monitor, me still using a 4:3), the explosions were downright ugly. A lot of dust that didn't look like dust, but more like a thick wall of.. dusty glass and all the explosions looked very two-dimensional.
The last thing I'd like to say about this is that I didn't like the ending. I know, it's supposed to show that there's a sequel coming, but I don't like endings that leave me hanging and wanting for something more out of the story. It just suddenly ended.

In general, if you like cinematic shooters, go ahead, this is worth a shot. It's not long, only about 5-6 hours of gameplay, so you should have plenty of time to play proper games after this is done. But then again, most cinematic shooters are short these days. If you like the Medal of Honor series, you will like this. If you like Call of Duty, give this a shot but don't expect too much.

6/10 Flogs

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Arcania: Gothic 4 (2010)

This is my first game review. I'm not planning on this to become just a movie review blog, but include everything I see, play or maybe at one point experience. In a way, everything I want to review.

Some important info here.

The Plot. The story is about an unnamed hero who grows up on an island called Feshyr while there is a great war going on in Myrtana. One day, while the hero is on an adventure, the island is attacked and everyone in his home village is killed, including his soon-to-be wife, Ivy. With the help of an old friend, Diego, he travels to the island Argaan, to find king Rhobar III and avenge his fiancée's murder. He then proceeds to make his way through the huge island only to slowly realize that there is more to the whole situation than just revenge.

General thoughts. I am a big fan of the Gothic series, so this was something I was really looking forward to. Sadly, it was very disappointing. While the stories are connected, where king Rhobar III was the hero from the three previous episodes of the Gothic series, he was but a footnote in the whole story. In the very beginning, as a tutorial part, you get to run around in king Rhobar's body and kill a bunch of dudes, but that's it. Every now and then you run into some people anybody familiar with the series knows very well, like Diego with his peaceful philosophy, Gorn with his humongous axe, Lester with his swampweed and facial tattoos, Milten the fire mage and a few more. Yes, Xardas will make an appearance. Every Gothic game has this weird dark magician called Xardas, who always ends up quite important to the plot at the end. He always lives in a very specific looking tower and always has a skeleton servant, who cleans the place. I'm glad Arcania didn't disappoint on that.
The story somewhat resembles the old series, but otherwise it's pretty much stand-alone. I get it, they had to make it in a way so it'd appeal to console-americans, since the previous episodes were never released on the american market. That's too bad. Arcania was developed by a new company, Spellbound, instead of the usual Piranha Bytes, so there were less bugs in the game, but the whole game is actually different. The whole game has been dumbed down a lot.

First of all, the skills. The thing I loved the most about the old Gothic series were the skills. It was very realistic to expect to learn a skill only by finding someone who is a master of the skill and Willing to even teach you. In all previous Gothic series, if you pissed off a master of a craft you really needed, you just ended up not getting it. If you survived. Some of them were real assholes about it and preferred to kill you instead of just knocking your teeth out and taking all your money. So, masters. You had to look for them and you had to have skill points available and also money to pay for the lessons. Some lessons even included a commentary, like how to skin a wild animal or how to take out their teeth. In Arcania, the skill tree was just a menu you opened by pushing 'K' and selecting where you wanted to put the three points you just gained by reaching another level.
It's the same with crafting, cooking and mining or digging. In the old series you needed to find a bench to do alchemy, a set of three things to craft a sword (the fire, the anvil and a barrel of water and preferably a whetstone to sharpen the thing for +10 extra damage) and even a fire to cook a piece of meat. This gave the game a whole new realistic aspect that most games don't have. I mean, you had to strike the ore deposit at least three times before you got a few pieces of ore. In Arcania, you pushed 'C' for the crafting menu and you could craft anything you've learned from a scroll.
In the old series, just like any other average RPG, you needed to have a necessary amount of strength, dexterity, magic or whatever else to wield a weapon. They actually lost All the stats and just have skills and not a lot of them. You have three melee skills, a bow skill, a stealth skill and three types of magic skills. They're all the spells you get to use against your enemies. Fire, Frost and Lightning. That's it. There are a few levels to it, but that's about it. So in Arcania, if you would get your hands on a 65 damage two-handed sword, "Wrath of Innos" (the highest damage weapon in the game), you could just wield it in the beginning and get to the end of the game using just that. This was actually meant as a special weapon which was to be forged in the ancient temple. The old Gothic would've required you to get a stick of metal, stick it in the heat, hit it with a special magical smith hammer (yes, there was one) and then quench it in the magical spring. It was all there, you just didn't need it. Just pick up a bunch of scrolls that teach you to do this, get your ingredients, press 'C' and press 'Craft'. So in a way, you could've done that on your way to the boss fight.
I think they actually planned to make it like the old Gothic, with the Roleplay crafting, but at one point just decided that it was too difficult for console-americans and dropped it. There is an option in the menu, where you can turn on and off all the roleplay elements of the game. You could sit by the fire, move the ladle around a big bowl of.. some food, you could pray to a god at an altar, you could go through all the crafting steps and you could even use the saw on a huge log (this didn't actually do anything in any other Gothic games, just a thing you could do). They also lost the sleeping part, which was really necessary in the old games, where at night you really couldn't see much and it was a good idea to sleep until morning before moving on. You can still lie down on a bed if you want to, but that's just as pointless as sitting on a throne or sharpening your sword on a whetstone. Instead of sleeping, the nights are brighter with the American lighting option. Spellbound decided that it europeans and americans like their games in different color and made two different lighting options. I played the American version, since you couldn't sleep during the night and just sitting in the darkness waiting to get light is just stupid. Wielding a magical weapon to light up the place was a nice touch, though. You could light up a cave by drawing your flaming sword. That was nice.

With all the bad and non-Gothic parts of the game, Arcania has some nice things, too. For example the graphics are really nice. The weather changes from bright and sunny to dark and rainy and the winds can even get quite strong and throw the trees around a bit. I wish it had some sort of an effect on the gameplay, like the possibility of slipping and falling down when it's wet or not being able to shoot an arrow straight during a strong wind. Or maybe, I don't know, fire not working with rain? Come on!
The rain effect was really nice. Probably the coolest thing in the whole game. When it rains, the ground gets gradually wet (maybe a bit too quickly) and dries up when the sun comes out (again, a little bit too quickly). The part with the dripping water that I saw in the dev demo, I didn't see in the game, but that's ok. Still, when it rained, some places with a lower ground filled up with water and formed puddles. That was really cool. When the ground is wet, the hero is also wet and it all looks really wet. The light reflecting off wet surfaces makes it look really nice. I just wish they put this much effort in the rest of the game as they did in the rain.
The NPC reacts to the environment, like the weather and all, but is usually useless and stupid. I didn't see one fighting NPC (other than with the hero) during the whole game. In the old Gothic series, every time a fight broke out or the village or town was attacked, people rushed in to assist either you or whoever you were fighting against, depending on the situation. I didn't try, but I hear that you couldn't even attack any NPC character who wasn't supposed to be fighting with you.

The next thing I want to bitch about is the sandbox-ness of Arcania. The game's dev, during the first look presentation, spoke about a vast world to explore and run around in, but in reality, the game turned out to be Very linear. It's ok for the story to be linear, but the rest of the world should be accessible while the main story goes toward a certain direction. Arcania is the same type of linear, as for example Mafia 2, where you had an open world, but all you could do was still related to the main storyline. Maybe that's not the best example, but in Arcania, you found yourself in an area with not much of a size. You had a few quests to do in that area, most of them get-me-this and kill-those type and the combination of the two and then you do the main storyline quests and move on without the chance of turning back. There were a few points in the game where you could go back to the previous areas, but there was nothing to do there.
The dev presentation also spoke about being able to join different factions, just like the old Gothic games. I was able to join just one faction, just because that was necessary to move on in the main storyline and not because I made a choice to join that particular one. Let me give you an example. The first Gothic game had three big faction, each faction had a separate city, each city had a separate storyline which ended up in the same place. You could chill with the hippies in the swamp, join the rebels in a remote cave or go the most obvious way and join the lawful group in a big fortress and try to get close to the ruler. In all the previous Gothic games you had a lot of choices, whereas in Arcania, you just had a direction to follow. Also, the dev promised 30 to 50 hours of gameplay, but since the game was really linear, I finished it in about 15-20 hours, which is pathetic for any RPG, but a total failure for a Gothic game.

The bugs. All the old Gothic games had a lot of problems with players complaining about the big amount of bugs in the games, the worst of them being Gothic 3. I think this was one of the reasons why JoWood decided to use Spellbound instead. Sure, there were a lot of smaller bugs, but nothing that would affect the gameplay as greatly as the bug I ran into in Arcania. This problem presented itself about halfway through the game. I didn't notice it right away, so I can't tell what caused it, but restarting the game didn't have an effect. The bug itself was that I could walk through all my opponents during a fight. This was really annoying since the fights have a Lot of movement and that meant that I would end up being on the same spot with my opponent, when, let's say, the opponent backs into a wall. While being inside of an opponent, I couldn't land a strike. Luckily the same goes for the opponent, so sometimes it was a good idea to hide in a bad guy for a little bit. I'm glad Arcania had a tumble system, where by pressing a direction button and the right mouse button, the hero would roll himself in the direction. This meant that when I found myself "in" an opponent, I would just roll back and attack again.

Even with that issue, I still finished the game. I'm satisfied with the story in general. There were some interesting parts and even though with lots things to whine about, the world was quite nicely done.
As an RPG, this game is average at best. It had the story, but the RPG elements were weak and boring. This game would have scored a lot more in my book, had it not been a Gothic series game, but a separate game.
If you are a fan of the Gothic series, you can take a look at this, but expect to be disappointed. If you are new to the Gothic series, who knows, maybe you'll like it. If you do, you won't like the previous games.
Gothic has always been a love-hate kind of series. Many people hate it, especially the third one, but I loved the third. I loved it a whole damn lot. With Arcania, I think people will be indifferent towards it and I consider it a lot worse than love-hate.

I'd recommend Arcania: Gothic 4 to everyone who don't know much about the series and as an experience, for die-hard Gothic fans like myself.
Otherwise, if you like Gothic, play Risen instead of this. Risen was developed by Piranha Bytes and they did exactly what we love about Gothic only to a different story. I can't say the story is better than Gothic, but Risen is Most Definitely better than Arcania: Gothic 4.

4/10 Flogs

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jisatsu sâkuru (2001)

Also known as Suicide Circle and Suicide Club. Important info here.

The Plot. One day in Tokyo, Japan, 54 young school girls throw themselves in front of a train at a subway station. All at the same time. Shortly after that, people start committing suicides in very strange ways. The story is about police officers investigating the suicides and a girl who loses her boyfriend in the same way, starting her own investigation. Also, a popular children's j-pop group called Dessert is involved.

General thoughts. This movie is weird. Really really weird. It opens with 54 girls jumping in front of a train at the same time, fake watery movie-blood and rubber limbs all over the place. Every violent death in the movie involves a large splash of red paint and some bloody people. So yes, this is a very graphic movie. I can't say it's very gory, but it has it's share of blood, skin, flesh and.. an ear. All this is accompanied by a modern view of Japan, with it's usual weirdness with some extra freaky weirdness to spice it up some more.
With that said, I must say, I rather enjoyed it. There were some slower moments, but in general it had a decent pace. It also tried desperately to include some words of wisdom, but I didn't see much sense in it all. Actually, a whole lot of the movie didn't make any sense and that just adds to the general weirdness of it all. There are some really special weird scenes, which don't have much to do with the plot, but are just there to add to the weird. The movie also ends quite suddenly. A lot of things are left unexplained and that is a thing I seriously dislike about movies. I understand loose ends when there's a sequel planned, but this is a stand-alone thing and loose ends just leave you wondering too much. They never really explain why all this madness is going on.
All in all, I liked this movie. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys just really weird movies, alternative Japanese movies or over-the-top gore style.

7/10 Flogs

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Last Airbender (2010)

Info here.

The Plot. The movie tells a story about a world of spirits and elements (the good old air, water, earth and fire). In this world, some people are born with the ability to bend an element to their will and there is one who is called the Avatar who can bend all four elements. The Avatar goes missing about a hundred years before the plot takes place and the land is ruled by the power-hungry Fire people. The story itself is about a young boy, who is found enclosed in an ice sphere in the middle of the frozen water country by a water bender and her brother. Soon after, it is discovered that the boy is a reincarnation of the Avatar and has been in the sphere for a hundred years.

General thoughts. This movie is based on a cartoon called Avatar: The Last Airbender and I'm sure the movie would've been called this way too, if it weren't for the other popular picture with a similar name. So, this one was just called The Last Airbender.
I must admit, I haven't seen the cartoon, but from what I hear, the movie is a really bad adaptation of the cartoon. I don't care about that. I went into this movie without knowledge about the cartoon or any previous thoughts and I must say, I really enjoyed this movie.
This movie was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, but it's really different from the rest of his movies. The classic Shyamalan style is a long and slow-paced movie with a really shocking ending. I really like the thriller-ish style of Shyamalan, so this was sort of a disappointment in that part. This movie was more like something James Cameron-ish, with really lavish special effects and not much of a special story line to speak of. The setting is nice, but it was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the people who created the original cartoon series, not by Shyamalan. That is probably also the reason why it couldn't have worked out as something Shyamalan would do. He just couldn't drift too far off the original plot.
As I've already mentioned, the special effects in this one are really cool. I love a blockbuster with lots of eye-candy.
The plot also left room for a sequel and I must say, I would want to see that one. Although, sticking the name of Shyamalan on this project made me expect some really elaborate plot twist, I'm not sorry I saw this. Great entertainment.
Also, this movie has no mainstream famous actors, so that was a nice touch. The most famous was the banished prince, who was played by Dev Patel, made famous by Slumdog Millionaire. Overall, there were a lot of actors of Indian descent, probably because Shyamalan himself was born in India.
I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a pretty fairy-tale.

7/10 Flogs

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Machete (2010)

The important stuff here.

The Plot. The story is about a federale (Machete, Danny Trejo) on a run from Mexico after he is betrayed by his boss. A drug lord (Steven Seagal) kills his family and Machete flees to the United States, where border control is run by vigilantes and a ruthless anti-immigrant senator is trying to be re-elected. Machete is hired by the senator's aide to assassinate the senator, but instead of killing the senator, Machete is framed for the attempt, after which the senator's people go after Machete to dispose of the witness. Machete contacts the local underground immigration network for assistance.

General thoughts. I really enjoyed this movie. It's got fast-paced action with a Robert Rodriguez twist to it, which means that some of the elements in action sequences are so bizarre, unreal and outrageous, that it's funny. Like, when some interesting fact is mentioned about something or some item is shown that would seem irrelevant at the time, you just know that this will be used to do something nasty. The one-liners are another thing that really adds to the weird atmosphere of the action sequences. They are tacky and stupid at times, but that just adds to the funny action. Also, Rodriguez likes blood, guts and dismemberment to somewhat of an alarming extent. I'm not saying it's bad,  after all it adds to the realism. The bloody bits are also made to look as over the top as possible. Even the sound effects are to the extreme, when it comes to all kinds of bloody deaths.
Another great thing about this movie is the cast. It has Danny Trejo as the main character and I really can't think of anybody who would be better for the role of a big mean Mexican with the lust for sharp objects with inhuman length. Also, Michelle Rodriguez was awesome as a sexy, but tough sidekick. She played the role of the head of the immigrant resistance and I think she was spot on.
Jessica Alba played a sweeter sidekick who was also able to take care of herself, when needed, but was more into cuddling and settling things peacefully. She does have some Mexican blood, but I don't think she was the best choice for the role. I'd have gone with Penelope Cruz or even Salma Hayek, but the truth is, they probably wouldn't have been as cute as Jessica Alba.
The one role I didn't like was Steven Seagal as the Mexican drug lord. The man is Irish-American and Jewish, but not Mexican. He was so wrong for the role, that it was painful to watch. Luckily he wasn't shown enough for it to ruin the movie. Come to think of it, Steven Seagal is painful to watch in most roles because he can play whoever he wants to play, but he'll always be Steven Seagal and not the person he's portraying. Although, it was sort of funny to see Seagal in a movie like this.
Danny Trejo's son, Gilbert also had an interesting little role in this movie. He was one of the few non-violent characters. He was the one who was drawing in the middle of the battle.

All in all, I would recommend this movie to anybody who would enjoy an action movie with a comic twist and doesn't mind an above average amount of human-sauce every once in a while. A great movie. Thank you, mr Rodriguez, for once again proving, that Hollywood has more ways to go than just down.
Next hope - Sin City 2.

9/10 Flogs

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Knight and Day (2010)

"We have a long way to go, Roy. To Gay Porn." [Cape Horn]

Important info here.

The Plot. The story is about a woman, June (Cameron Diaz), who meets, by random, a man, Roy (Tom Cruise), who turns out to be a secret agent. He is protecting a new special kind of battery, that's supposed to be an endless energy source, and the creator of said battery. This battery is sought after by a government agency and a Spanish arms dealer. The two get into all sorts of trouble and in the middle of the action, some romance breaks out for a few moments.

General thoughts. I'm not a big fan of Tom Cruise, let's start off with that. I don't like the man, so I was really biased going into the movie. It didn't actually turn out half bad. It had a lot of action and a lot of general entertainment. This was the sort of a mindless action flick you would want to watch when you've been doing a lot of thinking and want to relax and not think about things much.
Like, the concept of the battery, or Zephyr. This is supposed to be a battery that could power a small city and not run out of juice. First of all, it's the size of a matchbox. If it's so new and radical, how can it be so tiny? OK, maybe the guy who made it really was a total genius, since he managed to create and build alone, at a young age, something, that has been impossible for a long long time. In fact, it still is. Energy needs to come from something. You'd have to have supernatural powers to create something from nothing.
So yeah, for someone who knows more than 9th grade worth of physics, this movie is a bit weird.
It was good entertainment, but nothing I'd want to watch again. It didn't get boring, but it wasn't special in any way. It just wasn't anything but another Hollywood action flick.

5/10 Flogs

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Important info here.

The Plot. If you have seen the original Karate Kid, this is the same, only the kid is black, 12 years old and the whole thing is set in China.
If you have not seen the 1984 version - The story is of a kid who gets bullied at school by some martial art wielding bullies and is saved by an asian maintenance guy. The guy ends up training the kid for a big marital arts tournament in order to win the respect of the bullies.

General thoughts. As I said, the movie is set in China. Beijing mostly, but for some reason they did some training in the Great Wall of China. I don't know why, the thing is quite far from Beijing. I guess one point of the movie was to show the world that China is not that bad of a place. They showed the Forbidden City, some kind of a fancy temple on top of a mountain and some other stuff.
I don't know why they named the movie Karate kid. They don't do much of Karate in China. The whole movie is build around Kung Fu instead. Pretty much the same thing, but the name sort of makes a difference. Why call it the Karate Kid, if it didn't have Karate in it?
I think one of the reasons for this to be set in China, not in Japan, is because they just had to get Jackie Chan to do this, but he's Chinese. Come to think of it, how many car factory workers moved to China once the production was moved there? Was it really cheaper to move to China then find another job? I guess it is. That's how little Dre got there.
I wish they at least would've come up with a separate story for this movie. The final tournament is exactly the same, with the leg injury by the half finalist, who Happens to be in the same team as the main bad guy, who is supposed to meet the hero in the final round. The tournament was the same, but luckily the moves were a bit different. I swear, if I would've seen him do the Crow technique, I'd have stopped watching it.
I also noticed some cut-backs. The master taught the student using only one 'weird exercise' instead of the three different ones used in the original. There was the car connection with the master, but instead of having 4 antique cars laying around in the back yard, he had only one, in the middle of his living room and not even an antique. And of course, the movie was shot in China, which must be a lot cheaper than doing it in, let's say, Japan or the US.
On the bright side, the first big role for Jaden Smith was a real good one. I think the lad did a really great job. Maybe a little too much showing off, but the parts that matter were good. Also, he is really his father's child when it comes to his facial characteristics. And attitude. Let's just hope that his career won't end where it started, like for Ralph Macchio, with Karate Kid.
All in all, this movie would be great for someone who has not seen or heard about the first movie. For anybody else, this just feels like a complete and utter rip-off. It's great entertainment and a nice family movie with a happy ending. Just what you'd expect from this type of movie.

5/10 Flogs

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010)

Any necessary info on the movie is here.

This one is of a particular interest to me simply because I've had the chance to have a go at both the original Prince of Persia game (yes, the 1989 version) and the first of the modernized series, The Sands of Time (2003). The latter conveniently bares the same name as the movie in question.
I didn't plan on seeing this right away, but figured it was worth a look, since I really liked the concept of the 2003 version of the game.

The Plot. The main character Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) isn't born a prince, but is found by a Persian king, who takes Dastan in and raises him as his son along with his own two sons. Dastan grows up to be respectable and wise and both of his brothers trust his opinions as does their father.
When the Persians conquer the city of Alamut on the suspicion of them selling weapons to the enemies of Persia, Dastan comes across a weird dagger. Soon after, the king is murdered and Dastan is framed for it. He escapes with the princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and goes on a quest to restore his name.

General thoughts. There aren't many game-to-movie ports that actually work and I am happy to say this is one of them. I really liked that they incorporated the whole running, climbing and jumping around into the movie. The movement dynamics were possibly the greatest part of the 2003 game and at that time were also quite innovative. In the movie, this got a little bit unreal at times, but it didn't get too bad. They did change the story a whole lot on this one. In fact, the only things left from the original Sands of Time plot were the dagger (even the general shape and the functionality of it), the idea of a great sandstorm, the big hourglass (which looked very different) and the fact that there's a princess involved. They did make the movie a little bit more realistic. The game was all about hacking through loads of sand monsters, while the movie was about betrayal, parental and brotherly love and a whole lot of light wisdom. Just like any average Hollywood flick, the ending is predictable with the better part of the whole plot and the whole movie is built around eye-candy, likable characters and the chemistry between the main hero and his sidekick (typically female). As an average Hollywood flick, this was great. It was entertaining, pretty and interesting.
Jake Gyllenhaal did a great job as Dastan. He was really believable. The one that seemed sort of weird was Ben Kingsley as Nizam, the brother of the king. He did a great job, but I don't think he was a very good choice for the role.
All in all, a really entertaining movie, but nothing more than that. I probably wouldn't watch it again, but it was good entertainment. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes eye-candy, fast-paced action, beautiful women and.. well.. sand.

6/10 Flogs