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