Archive for March, 2010

Moar Links

Posted: March 31, 2010 in Musings
Tags: , , ,

Sorry about this current cycle where I vanish for two weeks, reappear, post loads, then vanish again. As always, I’m playing catch-up with a bizarre workload I’ve managed to produce from nothing. Here are some links until more things appear without warning:

The Cleveland Show: Episode Ten
Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll
The Cleveland Show: Episode Nine
The Nerd Zone: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (Act 3)
The Nerd Zone: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (Act 2)
The Nerd Zone: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (Act 1)
The Cleveland Show: Episode Eight

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Shutter Island Review

A film directed by Martin Scorsese, the World’s Greatest Living Director (™), is always cause for celebration, and this is something entirely new – Scorsese’s first proper attempt at making a true horror film (not including Cape Fear).

US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to the remote mental asylum facility of Shutter Island to figure out how child murderer Rachel Solonda managed to escape from a locked cell. Unfortunately for them, all they meet are brick walls in the guise of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). The Marshals are very quickly forced to ask questions of what is really going on behind the scenes. Where is the missing patient? Why are the patients afraid of the lighthouse? Why is a Nazi scientist present at the institution? The answers are extremely troubling.

If that plot summary didn’t sound like anything like a horror, then that’s because it isn’t. in fact, Shutter Island isn’t remotely frightening, terrifying or psychological. Whether this is because of the source material, the director’s relative inexperience with the genre or simple mis-marketing, it’s not clear. The truth of the matter is that Shutter Island is a mystery film with horror framing – merely used for decorative purposes, instead of the focus.

The film still packs a mighty punch, expertly layering mystery upon mystery, clue upon clue, weaving a delicate pattern of intrigue designed to keep the viewer guessing for the duration. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as clever as it thinks it is and thus most – but not all – of the mystery can be unravelled well in advance of the climax.

As you’d expect from a film carrying the Scorsese (™) brand, the film is often visually stunning and breathtakingly beautiful. Daniels’ many terrible flashbacks and haunting dreams are given incredible power via the director’s eye for detail. Indeed, after some of the scenes featured here, it might be wise for Scorsese to consider a World War Two picture as his next film.

The acting, too, is exemplary throughout, with every scene, every question, ever nuance and mystery completely depending on the earnestness of the actors. As always, Leonardo DiCaprio is nothing less superb while Mark Ruffalo provides equally stellar support. Ben Kingsley manages to claw back a huge amount of respect after Thunderbirds, Bloodrayne and The Love Guru. Jackie Earl Hayley makes the most of a single scene as a chance to prove why he’s one of the fastest-rising names in film at the moment.

But despite the wealth of incredible talent on offer, the film is missing something crucial: emotional investment. There’s a strange sense of detachment that pervades most of the film and seeps through every frame, distancing the audience from the characters. Even though Daniels has seen unimaginable horrors – all of which are handled with expert precision – it still feels weirdly unreal an inaccessible.

Overall, not a bad experience, but not a scary one. As good as the names in it, but not as deep as it should be.

3 stars

Escape

The rain begins to come down harder, the skies a dull grey. The sound of the rain slashing down all around fills our ears, making it impossible to hear anything other than the water pounding on the ground and the foliage with an angry thumping.
We’re moving quickly but cautiously, unable to see or hear any creatures that might be laying in wait. We’re following the route to Canalave City, but keeping off the road itself, hoping there are no sentries posted anywhere. So far, we haven’t seen a single monster since we escaped from the swamp.
Dawn follows me, that same cloudy look in her eyes. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever snap her out of this. She’s barely said two words in the past four hours, even though I’ve tried to talk to her. I don’t blame her. There’s nothing really to talk about. We didn’t know each other before this and I doubt anything will change that. We’ll both spend the rest of our goddamn lives in therapy, assuming we get to a boat and leave here alive. I just want her to know that I don’t hate her for what she did to me. If things were the other way around, I don’t think I would have had it in me to save her life.
‘I’m thirsty.’
I barely hear Dawn’s plea over the pounding of the rain. I stop and duck down beneath the line of sight of the road.
I hand Dawn the backpack and she hunts through it for one of the bottles of water we scavenged. She takes a few gulps and puts it back in the bag, then looks at me blankly.
‘You feeling okay?’ I ask; frightened by how pale and out of it she looks.
She nods and stands back up. ‘We need to get out of here.’
I try to place a hand on her shoulder, to calm her down, assure her that everything will be okay, but the arm I extend to her is missing its hand. She looks away from, her face unreadable.
I reshoulder the pack and start walking again, pushing through the overhanging branches and the foot-long grass.
I can see something on the horizon, but I’m not entirely sure what. It’s mixing with the grey sky and the rain-
‘Smoke!’ Dawn’s voice rises above the thunderous downpour this time and I hear her clearly, my own heart stopping in sheer terror in my chest.
We start running, the branches and leaves whipping viciously at us, leaping over the fallen stumps of trees and the pools of water that threaten to suck our feet in and trip us up.
The world blurs past in a green flash, the rain falling on our faces in a stinging dance. I wipe them from my eyes before the water blinds me completely.
Dawn’s footsteps crash down behind me and we’re drawing closer to the column of smoke-
Oh, please don’t let it be-
Don’t let it be coming from-
Canalave-
We come to the top of a hill and gaze down at what was once the port town of Canalave City.
Fire burns in the destroyed Pokémon Centre, unimpeded by the harsh rain. The buildings are crumbling, surrounded by dozens of vicious monsters that repeatedly batter them. People run wildly, trying desperately to escape the carnage, but are easily caught. I can see people being torn apart by the monsters, trampled, eaten alive, crushed, burned, shocked and beaten. There’s so much violence and carnage it’s hard to take it all in.
People are running for a boat, a ship, the last vessel out of Saigon. The ship has already left the harbour, people clinging to the sides, the decks are rammed solid, the anchor being hauled up with people holding on to the chain for dear life.
‘No,’ Dawn whispers, her voice breaking.
I grab her hand and hold it tightly in mine, afraid that she might suddenly run down there for whatever reason. It’s pointless, though. She’s frozen to the spot too, knowing that the horror unfolding bellow will continue regardless.
The ship starts powering up its engines, pushing itself further away from the carnage on the shore when a huge wave erupts from the water.
The enormous head of a Wailord lifts above the waves, its whale song sounding louder than all the chaos. It slowly looks at the fleeing ship. It brings its tail above the sea, water cascading off its rubbery skin.
The tail comes down on the bow of the ship with the force of a meteor. Water launches into the air as though a bomb has detonated underneath it. The ripple sends torrents of water crashing towards the shores, the waves swallowing up all the people standing on the edge. Hundreds of people are sucked from the shore, becoming small, thrashing black dots in the water. If I could hear over the rain, I know I’d hear screams of terror.
The ship tilts lazily in the water, the bow crushed into oblivion, the hull slipping rapidly below the waves. As it glides beneath the water, the dark shape of the steel vanishes in the inky darkness of the sea.
Red pools begin to spread out across the waves, the dots sinking below the surface.
There are hundreds of people in the sea. I try to think about all the different sea creatures that might be swimming towards them. Carvanha. Sharpedo. Walimer. Wailord. Barboach. Whiscash. Feebas. Milotic. Spheal. Sealeo. Walrein. Clamperl. Huntail. Gorebyss. All those teeth and poisonous edges.
I turn my back on the destruction, hoping that Dawn won’t see me cry.
She still stares out at the carnage, unmoving, unblinking, unreadable.
She lets go of my hand and turns away.
We are trapped here.

418 – Brave New World

Eighteen episodes have led to this point, the climax, the crutch, the single hour where Heroes must fight for survival and remind its viewers why they bothered watching it up all until this moment.

And it’s… about as disappointing and unsatisfying as the rest of this horrible story arc has been. Claire and Bennett manage to escape from their impossible situation (entombed in a caravan some thirty feet under the ground in the middle of nowhere) because Lauren called Tracey. The water woman helps them escape somehow and then vanishes from both the story and our minds, proving once and for all there was no reason to ever bring her back to life.

Hiro, at least, manages some closure to his pathetic story, somehow coming across an aged Charlie at the hospital after his brain tumour operation. Seeing that she’s had a wonderful life and has raised a whole family, Hiro decides to do the decent thing and leave her there to die. Charming.

Peter and Sylar escape from Parkman’s basement, only to find that Multiple Man Eli has taken control of the house. What could have been an interesting fight is then cut short by both a scene change and a cop-out. Parkman then invades Sylar’s head and makes him want to be good (only the third time Sylar’s wanted to switch sides, mind) and the mass murderer and Peter head off to the carnival. Parkman then invades Eli’s unconscious mind and then disappears from the story altogether.

But that’s not what the episode is about, no. This episode is where we finally discover what it is that Samuel has been up to and what his real intentions are. Well, we can finally reveal them to you, once and for all:

He’s going to kill people.

Eighteen episodes and that’s the best the writers can come up with. The carnival appears in Central Park in New York, where Doyle forces Emma to play her siren song and draw as many people and television cameras to them as possible. Bennett, Claire, Edgar, Peter, Sylar, Hiro and Ando all converge on the carnival to end mean old Samuel’s rotten schemes and, hilariously, the situation is defused with a conversation.

Six superheroes are up against an army of carnies and they solve all their problems with conversation. Yeah. Underwhelming doesn’t quite get it right. Punch in the balls is a more accurate way of describing it.

Hiro teleports all the superheroes away and Samuel is left powerless, making the viewers wonder why his brother Joseph ever surrounded him with Specials to begin with. Samuel is arrested and that’s that done.

The ending is so flat and boring it feels like it was done deliberately to enrage all those who wasted their time watching this pile of crap fester. Even the lead in to the next Volume is awful, managing to completely destroy the original idea behind the show.

The best thing to do is to put all this behind us and move along. Let’s choose to remember the greatness of Heroes. Before everything went wrong, before turgid romances and silly plot strands and unnecessary characters, back when it was great. Let’s remember it as a classic show that never got a second chance to prove what it could really do.

Goodbye, Heroes.

1 star

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

The Ace Attorney series is notable for two things – firstly, it made the jump from being an obscure Japanese Game Boy Advance game to a global DS phenomenon. Secondly, after four games in the franchise, it hasn’t updated its core gameplay mechanics at all. Well, that’s all about to change now for the fifth game in the franchise, as you finally get to take control of one of the series’ most likeable personalities: prosecutor Miles Edgeworth.

This time the action centres around five cases, all of which have a hidden thread tying them all together, as you jump back and forth in time to unravel a complex mystery that haunts both Edgeworth and his new assistant, Kay Faraday. Along the way, some familiar faces crop up, including Detective Gumshoe and Franziska Von Karma. As the body count rises and the killers get more devious, both the player and Edgeworth are going to need all their combined mental prowess to crack the cases.

Of course, ‘mental prowess’ refers to one of the many changes to the usual formula in this new instalment. Instead of just blundering through an accusation like a certain defence attorney, Edgeworth has ‘Logic’, the ability to collect certain bits of information and pair them up to open new trains of thought. Unfortunately, this never gets any more complex than matching ‘there’s a key on the hook’ with ‘there’s a locked door’.

In addition to this is the new third-person perspective on the unfolding case. Instead of the normal first person lawyering (FPL?), you can now walk Edgeworth around a crime scene and gather evidence. It is, admittedly, very jarring to see legs for the first time in the series and some characters look downright weird in the new animation angle (the judge, in particular). It does add just enough onto the game to be classed as a new feature, but only just – while you will have a lot of time to investigate, you’ll spend several hours more watching the animations as they chatter away in the series’ trademark brilliantly scripted puzzles.

The game is as lovingly crafted as all the others have been, with the right mixture of humour, character and contradictions laced into the reams of text as well as any other title in the series. In fact, this might be the best scripted game of the lot so far. What does make it disappointing is that, for every new feature added, something else has been taken out.

While exploring the crime scene in more detail is a great new idea, all the touch screen and microphone features established in the last game have been discarded, as well as the crime scene recreations and video introductions. Testimonies and cross-examinations are now ‘arguments’ and ‘rebuttals’ – not that it makes a jot of difference to the gameplay – and the character animations are the same as the old GBA versions. Even the music is original series’ bleeps and blorks instead of the silky DS remixes. In addition, the murderer never makes it to court, meaning that you spend all your time at the crime scene, looking at things and pointing fingers. While it makes for a refreshing change of pace, there is still the overwhelming sensation that it feels less like justice and more like a witch hunt.

Perhaps what’s most disappointing about the prosecuting experience is that it doesn’t actually feel any different. As a prosecutor, your job is to accuse people of crimes and prove it was them, but before that, someone else will be arrested and you end up trying to clear them. For a prosecutor, you do a suspicious amount of defending.

As for finally controlling Edgeworth himself, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice were both underdogs, Edgeworth is somehow too perfect, with his own train of thought only sometimes meshing with the player’s own. You’ll either be three steps behind him or one in front – the bond between player and protagonist seems slightly off.

That isn’t to say that it’s not a good game, because it really is. Like the rest of the entries in the Ace Attorney series, Investigations is chock full of stunning revelations, incredible plot twists and jaw-dropping conclusions. It even manages to ditch its longest-running gameplay flaw – this time around, it’s actually very difficult to get helplessly stuck, thanks to a crafty script and intelligent puzzles.

Investigations, like the previous four games, isn’t going to be for everyone. In fact, if you’re not already a fan of the series, this side story instalment is probably going to be the most difficult to get into of the lot. It’s perfectly enjoyable, deliciously humorous, mentally taxing and beautifully written, which makes it all the more disappointing that it isn’t the series evolution we were promised.

78 %

417 – The Wall

Two equally interesting storylines battle it out for supremacy this week. In the blue corner, Peter Petrelli steps inside Sylar’s damaged mind to find that he can’t get them both back out. While Sylar has only been in his comatose state for three hours, inside his mind three years have passed.

In the red corner, Samuel gets his magic voodoo man Damien to make yet another head intrusion, this time on Bennett, exposing all his deepest, darkest secrets in front of Claire.

It’s a two-tier episode, with one part focussing on arch enemies putting aside their differences in order to work together to escape the hell they’ve been confined to. Unfortunately, just as it seems like dramatic sparks are going to fly (mortal enemies confined to the same space! Tension! Drama! Action!) Peter decides to just get along with Sylar and figure out their escape route, which involves a metaphysical wall like the one in Parkman’s basement.

The second part of the episode is yet another series of flashbacks into Bennett’s past, exploring his character and how he got to be the man he became. Samuel reveals all of Bennett’s former horrors to Claire, seemingly in the hope that she’ll finally turn on him for good. Sadly, it backfires (duuur!), forcing Samuel to bury them both in a tiny caravan underneath the earth.

Both parts of the story are reasonably interesting, but the real problem is that they are just padding before the final showdown. Samuel could have unleashed his plan at any point this series, seeing as how he hasn’t actually needed Claire, Sylar or Hiro for any part of this.

Overall, it’s average, but not unwatchable. Here’s hoping the ending is what they’ve been saving the budget for, because it’s not gone into the rest of the show.

3 stars

I make no excuses…

Posted: March 9, 2010 in Musings
Tags: , , , , ,

…but my laptop died. I blame Vista wholeheartedly. Some new things to browse if you feel like it:

The Cleveland Show: Episode Seven
The Cleveland Show: Episode Six
The Cleveland Show: Episode Five
The Cleveland Show: Episode Four
Bioshock 2
The Cleveland Show: Episode Three
The Cleveland Show: Episode Two
The Cleveland Show: Episode One

Things are coming, but I can’t say when. Still debating the future of any potential comics, as I’d rather just get stuck into some writing. Eat your greens.