Sunday, 30 May 2010

God Of War 3

One of the most popular and critically acclaimed series comes to a climatic end as Kratos continues on his path to kill Zeus ...

Each God Of War has always been a benchmark of gaming since it's first release in 2005 and with it's unique hack'n'slash gameplay mixed with button-press timing, it has paved the way for other titles to try and copy the format but alas they have never been able to fully capture God Of War's sheer ingenuity and originality.

For those who don't know, you play Kratos,a Spartan, who after offering his soul to Aries for victory was tricked into killing his own family and became a servant to the Gods of Olympus. But since then, he has rebelled and taken it upon himself to get revenge by killing Zeus and anyone who stands in his way.

This game was created by Sony and therefore is a PS3 only title. It also means that they have been able to push the console to it's limit and it looks stunning. Graphics are lush, the gameplay is smooth and it looks and plays like a dream. As always, God Of War remains epic - the huge backdrops, the incredible enemies, the amazing score and a story that doesn't let up.

As you travel your way up to Zeus through all kinds of scenarios, you benefit from a great array of weapons. If you've played a God Of War before, you'll be used to many of these already but you do get some cool little extras like wings to fly (or rather glide), the Head of Helios - literally a head ripped off someone that exudes light, and more. The fighting doesn't ever grate, even though it's essentially the same thing, and the puzzles are original and satisfying. The voice acting is inspiring and the entire experience makes for an outstanding game.

But then, I wouldn't say it was perfect. For one, even though it does summarise it's history as it goes along in quite a cool animation style, you do seem to have to have a knowledge of sorts of the first two games, but then this would be expected at the end of any trilogy. Also, there is some rather annoying aspects of the game that I found infuriating. Firstly, the 'flying' scenarios that occur are enough to make me throw the controller at the screen. Why they added this is a mystery, it goes back to 80's gaming where up, down, left, right and memorising the sequence as you die each time doesn't make for a satisfying experience. It wouldn't be so bad if you could potentially do it after a couple of go's, but by the end of the game, they get so ridiculous that you feel like relying on chance would be a better idea. There was also a sequence inside a cube where you had to hang onto a flying thing otherwise you get impaled on a spike. However, it all got a bit hectic and you had to wait to the last minute to do it successfully three times in a row, or you'd have to go back to the beginning which made for a lot of retries.

Apart from these few problems it makes for a terrific game and one that ends the series well. However, I couldn't help but feel I'd done all this before and it wasn't quite as varied as I would have liked. You cannot fault it for it's looks, style, story and gameplay but I just felt that as epic as it was, it would be the same thing but in a different backdrop and as varied as the weapons and enemies are, it is ultimately a hack'n'slash that compared to the more contemporary games coming out these days, feels slightly outdated. This might be a controversial statement, but it is by far the best of it's kind and perhaps the best-looking games on the PS3, but I can't get blinded by it's beauty as, at it's core, it's the same game as it was back in 2005.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Red Dead Redemption

One of the most highly anticipated games of 2010 has reached such a fever that there has become a shortage of copies! But is it all it's cracked up to be?

A loose sequel on PS2's "Red Dead Revolver", this game follows the same 'spaghetti western' concept that it's predecessor laid out. Except this time, they've blown it wide open.

If you haven't already heard of this game, it's an open sandbox game (which means you can go anywhere at any time and do anything) that takes place in the wild west of 1911. You play John who was left for dead by his old gang and has been asked by the government to hunt down his old compadres.

What you immediately notice about this game is the incredible graphics. Rolling landscapes, wildlife, the weather, the cities and the bustling people look incredible. You are literally stepping into a fully interactive Western. Not only that, but the acting, the straightforward plot (unlike GTA's often confusing storyline) and pretty much everything about this game is near perfect.

But that's the problem, it's NEAR perfect. A lot of review sites have been going crazy over this game calling it one of the greatest games ever, and I'd agree if it wasn't for some niggling bits. Seeing as most of the people reading this review would perhaps have already read about or bought this game, then let me go through the bad points first, because I'm sorry to say that even though it lives up to the hype, I do have some issues with it.

Firstly, the horse riding. It works much in the same way as Shadow Of The Colossus, tapping the button to go faster, but yet because of your horse's stamina, you can't do it for too long. Which is fine except, there's a lot of it. At first you'll love taking in the scenery and travelling about (the world here is HUGE)but after a while you just want to get from A to B, which is lucky that they have stagecoaches or you could use your campsite, but I felt it relied somewhat on you wanting to spend the next ten minutes or so just riding around. Which at first is amazing, but after 20 or so hours, you just want to get things going. Also when you are shooting and riding, your horse will slow down or end up going somewhere else, I felt they should have left it so your horse keeps going onwards if you're aiming instead of pushing buttons and trying to aim and fire at the same time.

Also I found many a glitch, at some points having to re-load a previous save because I couldn't do anything the glitch was so bad. This is understandable for a game as complex as this, but still, it shouldn't happen. I also had a problem with some of the side games, firstly the bounty hunter which I got stuck into straight away but couldn't figure out how to take them alive, that was until further down the line I found out that you get given a lassoo. But then, unless you have a blood fetish, it's so easy to take the bounties alive that it becomes a chore. In fact, that's an overall issue I had with the whole game. It's almost way too easy. The covering system helps, but along with your auto-lock-on and Dead Eye which slows down time - you're pretty much sorted from the off. I rarely died in a gun battle but annoyingly would perhaps die by chasing a bounty, and then getting mauled by an animal to death which is SO annoying I can't tell you. Especially since half the time you can't even hear them!

Many people have also dubbed this GTA in the West, which essentially is what it is, but there's a lot GTA offers that Red Dead doesn't. Firstly, this might sound strange but, I can't sleep with prostitutes. Why not?! If I beat someone up or kill them, I'm almost automatically hunted down, very different from GTA. But then, I chose the way of the light, and it is possible to go the evil way, though I'd say this time round the good way is probably more interesting than the evil. I don't think I'll quite go the way of the outlaw because you get rated in Fame and Honour and since you work on getting it up, you don't wanna bring it back down, so it feels like you choose either one way or the other from the off, which I found irritating.

Another annoying aspect is the Master Shooter/Hunter/Survivalist etc. where you have to kill, collect, and ... pick flowers. This is fine but you have to do it in a certain order and you might have killed a whole bunch of animals, skinned them etc., but none of it counts because you didn't kill those 2 rabbits to get you up to Level 3. So when I was left after doing the main game missions to do these extra bits, I had to keep travelling around and re-doing things I'd already done at some point. Couldn't they have them listed out separately like in other games? Not have it all in an order?

There was also the case of the weapons. I had so many weapons, I couldn't begin tell you. To be frank, it was more than what was needed; although it is better to have them than to not, they could have made them slightly more different perhaps, one rifle seemed as good as the next. Then there's the money side. At the beginning money is hard to come by, as is always the case, but soon enough you're rolling in it. I never had an issue with money ever and this is for the following reasons: if you kill and skin enough animals, you can make a huge amount, especially with animals like bears and horses. If you're any good at poker at all, you can clear up (the poker game is fantastic) but the five finger knife thing you can really make some money at. After winning against a couple of people you can make a $100 bet, which is a lot in the game, and the button sequence is the same. So if I ever needed money, I'd just do that - it's too easy. The Liar's Dice and Blackjack aren't quite so guaranteed but good fun nonetheless.

Also, once you think you've finished the game, you start doing more mundane things like herding cattle etc. until a final battle. But it all shattered the dream for me, I wanted John to kind of waltz in and waltz out, that he was from somewhere else in the big wild west when actually, sorry if this might ruin it for you, he lives just down the road. Then once all that's done and you've finished the main game, you're left to do all the stuff you wanted to do except something's different ... hmm ... I won't ruin it for you, but I would have preferred to do it all before completing the game. You'll see what I mean ...

There's a bit of variety in the game, but not as much as I'd prefer. Whether it's breaking horses, nightwatch duty, the confusing arm wrestling game, or duelling with other gunslingers there's enough to keep you busy but just falls short of the amount that GTA has. But then this is the main problem, it's not GTA and I just feel as open as this game is, they could have made it even bigger. Not in size, but in scope. The world in there is so incredibly thought out and well-made that it stuns people into submission but, in fact, this game is ever-so-slightly flawed and I feel, though this is an amazing game, I think Rockstar will come out with a new Red Dead that will truly advance on this game at some point in the future.

The multiplayer aspect of this looks incredible too. Whether riding in your posse or doing certain missions, you'll be hard pressed to get bored. There has even been talk of downloadable co-op content on the horizon and for that I cannot wait.

Overall, all the side quests, plots and shootouts are great and feel like they have come right out of a true spaghetti western. The graphics incredible, the gameplay smooth and everything about it makes other sandbox games feel like dirt on your shoe. I played this game thinking nothing could ever beat it, but after the 22 hours of gameplay I've already invested into it, I can see room for improvement and that's why it can't get 10/10. It's a game that you'll always find yourself coming back to and anyone who has ever loved Western films, whether you're into games or not, should pick up and play this game. You'll be hooked whoever you might be, I guarantee it mister.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, 24 May 2010

I'm Totally Lost

Right, so am I the only one who was totally pissed off with Lost? (Warning given when spoilers about to come up)

Instead of answering questions it just continued with the storyline it had been pursuing for this 6th season of the 'alternative reality' and I thought, for 2 and a half hours, there would at least be some kind of result, that for over 125 odd episodes I have sat through that it would leave me somewhat satisfied, but alas no.

The trouble is, I haven't enjoyed the last few series. I felt the writers were making everything so convoluted that they were sacrificing style over substance. I'm all for the symbolism, the metaphors and the damn right strange (check out my Twin Peaks review) but this was creating chatter and confusion for the sake of it. It is a show that even til the end relied on it's own propaganda, for stirring things up and creating nonsense. Questions answered with more questions.

I enjoyed the first series where there was a monster in the forest, a tribe of indigenous people and a hatch. That led me to consider all kinds of possibilities but you cannot set a prime time drama in a JG Ballard world without cause. This took the viewer's faith in it's writers and exploited it completely to keep people talking and though it might be a 'character' piece, I now have trouble knowing exactly what the characters even were. Did they change? Did they learn
anything? What motivated them? Did they even exist? If you're going to let the audience presume this is based somewhat in reality then don't keep throwing them into the unknown, along with the 'human' characters, and expect them to keep coming back.

So for those who have watched the ending read on, but if you haven't turn away now.

The problem with the ending is that, for something that relied on the fan's devotion, it needs to intermittently reward them and for the ending to a series such as this, it would need a big one. I'm all for controversial open-ended closers, in fact I favour them more than the tying up of loose ends (I loved The Sopranos ending for instance) but for something to have no explanation, symbolic or otherwise, it is either due to lazy writing or inconsiderate rating boosters, because
the viewer will always want to be kept guessing. So for those millions who left the series shortly after the second series then good for you, stay clear of it and leave what you enjoyed about it to remain pure in your heads but for those who stuck with it like me, let us commiserate

I would love to hear from someone who enjoyed the ending and would care to explain to me the whole saga as there must be a lot of you out there, or if, like me, you are totally lost then you might sympathise with these reasons why.

Firstly, what the hell is that statue? Why did the devil guy turn to black smoke in the first place and why did this not happen to Jack or Desmond? In fact when Jacob threw him down there wouldn't he have just landed on that rocky floor below? Why were kids being tested on and
what made Walt so special? Why was he always appearing in visions if he wasn't dead? What was 'the list'? If they all died, then when exactly did they die? What happened with the hydrogen bomb blast then? Do you remember when the smoke was mechanical? Why did it reflect peoples
faces? Why were The Others so supernaturally strong? What about Mr Eko? So did Desmond step into the afterlife and the future and the past? Was Desmond's future ghost then trying to get them to heaven? What was that temple at the beginning of the season 6 and who was that Japanese guy and John Lennon wannabe? What was this 'sickness' that Frenchie was talking about in the first season? What was so dangerous about Claire's baby that the psychic she went to went crazy? So what about the numbers? Why are they bad luck? What about the guy in the asylum that told Hurley? Why were they on a transmission? So Desmond was supposed to put in the numbers late so the Oceanic flight crashed all via fate/Jacob? Why did it have to be entered every 108 minutes or however long? Also Desmond isn't the only one to survive the electro-magnetism, Locke, Mr Eko and Charlie all survived it at the end of the second series! Why would the smoke kill Eko then? Why is Desmond so special in the first place? Is it because he's spent so long dealing with electro-magnetism? What really is that light? How did Jack get out of the
cave at the end? Which island is which as there isn't just one island is there? Why was Penny there at the end? Did she even meet Jack? So her boat and her fathers boat got to the island at the same time a couple of seasons back? Who was Sayid killing people for Ben when they got off the island? What happened with that swinging pendulum? Wasn't Locke being visited by Richard to be the 'candidate'? Why did Sayid die and come back to life 'evil' when he saved everyone in the sub? Did this happen to Ben when he was a kid then when he came back to life? Why can Miles talk to the dead? Why would Daniel's mum not want them to move on? Is that really the end of the Widmore story? What were these 'rules' he set up with Ben? What of these visions of
the 'horse' and stuff? Didn't the man in black want to get off the island before he went 'evil'? Why couldn't he go? Why would Jacob/Richard/Ben want to kill all of the Dharma Initiative? What was the bloody island? Did they all die in the plane crash? How did Locke's Dad really end up there? Why could Jacob and more just up and leave whenever if man in black couldn't? What about moving the island through time? What was that about? What was the point? So who was that woman before Jacob and why did she have to kill their mum? Why was Jacob such a vicious brat? Why would the devil guy suddenly become mortal if the light left? Why was Sayid's General also the other guy pushing the button with Desmond? Why those numbers in the first place? What happened to the other people on the plane in the end? What was on that wall when Locke got trapped in the hatch when Ben was escaping? Why could no-one get pregnant and the mum's all died? Is Hurley really the new Jacob? Really?! Etc etc etc.

Any more people care to add on? I found watching Lost more of a chore and though it was enjoyable somewhat, I feel it was a series that had so much potential but got so twisted
along the way it decided to just hack it all off, rather than masterfully unwind it. I initially heard Lost was only meant to be two series and that the network wanted more, so they threw as much as they could at it to see what would stick and in the end, it was so preoccupied with
it's less than inspiring narrative derived from the illusions conjured up in the first couple of series that it lost that sense of childlike wonder and turned into a strange soap. After all, people have described the ending as an 'emotional' ending about the characters and the structure meant nothing. That doesn't sit right with me. What's the point of having characters if they are set in a world that doesn't make sense?

I'm not saying the entire series was without credit as there were some great moments, but I truly can't believe it when people say how incredible it is. If it's a story that makes itself up as it goes along, which the cop out ending clearly shows is true, then don't come out saying you know where it is going. You clearly don't. There are better, more well-formed dramas out there and what made Lost great was the initial concept and vast array of characters, all of which had
legs, that spawned into a self-glorifying, patronising, arrogant, unfaithful monster that kept the money rolling in. Leaning so far out of absurd and into the ridiculous I have trouble remaining positive but we all know that it will, again, be talked about forever and that is exactly what the broadcasters want. We were totally sold out and, by even writing this blog entry, I have only succumbed to what the beast wanted. I would like to say Lost has had a positive impact on
television, but I'm scared it will throw up more power to the broadcaster and less to the writers and, in the end, we will see another loved show such as Lost get squeezed dry for every penny it
can make. It took a chance, but not necessarily a constructive one. After all, "The End" is going to be released on DVD with an extra 20 minutes of footage. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Eyes Wide Open

Being touted as the Jewish 'Brokeback Mountain', this film takes a homophobic society and places two men in love within it's midst. But does this alternative look at Jerusalem make you rather keep your eyes tightly shut than left wide open?

If you walk into this film thinking you might see Nicole Kidman nude again, then this will be a huge disappointment. Instead this takes place within Jerusalem's Orthodox Jewish society as the main character Aaron reopens a butcher shop after his father's death. It's not long until young, handsome Ezri enters and starts working there, then things start going a bit ... gay.

This film is well thought out and looks gorgeous, you can almost taste the life within the city. The direction and cinematography are beautiful and for something that is essentially at a slower pace, you are never once left bored, something only a gifted director could do. For a film that relies more on what is not being said, than what is, it successfully draws the audience into the building tension, the awkward situations and the difficult experiences these two have to go through.

Aaron is a family man who clearly adores his wife, but the main problem I had was that he 'turned' way too quickly. This could be argued that he had always been a homosexual and could resist the temptations of the flesh, until now. It might also be argued that the grief of losing his father has caused this, or on another note, his anger at God. Aaron states that the love is in the pain, that God tests us and that everything is not supposed to be easy, that the struggle is what makes life enjoyable and this is testament to the rest of the film. By giving in to his desire, he makes the struggle even worse. As soon as the gossip begins, he continues to carry on with Ezri without the slightest hesitation, he is in fact walking onwards with eyes wide open, and does not care what anyone else thinks, to the point of selfishness. Although what makes this different from other films about closet homosexuals, is Ezri.

Ezri enters the film having been seemingly kicked out by his boyfriend at the time. He still clearly loves this man and pursues him even near the end of the movie, which makes Aaron almost a rebound figure. Aaron argues with the local Rabbi that Ezri is full of life, that he should not have to leave and might as well just say he loves him, but looking back at the film, I don't think ever once was love mentioned. Instead, this was about the temptations of the flesh. Ezri, it seems, has built up a reputation for tempting good men and so it offers up the idea that Ezri is more out for what he can get, rather than being in love with Aaron. After all, staying with him he gets somewhere free to live, a job, food and regular sex. Ezri also seems to enjoy stirring up trouble, going to the synagogue when he knows he's not wanted, approaching his ex-boyfriend, swimming in the nude and even going to Aaron's family house to eat.

Once Ezri leaves, Aaron returns to the lake where it all started and bathes himself, almost as if ridding himself of the 'impurities' he has suffered, or creating some kind of circle as if to isolate the events. But, either way, he knows that he cannot stay and, like the relationship commented on by the Rabbi between a local girl and boy, it's a love that will never be but, in Aaron's case, I question whether it was love at all. Whereas Brokeback Mountain there was a strong romance, Eyes Wide Open is perhaps more controversial as, not only is it set in a religious society, it is more about the flesh, to the point where they both work in a butchers. It would be too easy to make comparisons because there are two men who fall for each other, because in fact, they are two completely different films and to be honest, I enjoyed Brokeback more.

The reasons why are because it almost becomes arrogant to not let the audience in to where their homosexual desires have come about, never once does the audience get too close to Aaron and really, we don't get close to Ezri at all. I also felt any parallel storylines should have been given more attention as it felt like we spent way too much time at the butchers or at Aaron's house. I would have liked to have spent more time with his wife for example, rather than watching them cut up meat. Even though it deals with such a fiery subject matter, the whole film felt rather tired as if the frenzy of love that is going on between them is almost non-existent, for something that is supposed to be passionate, I didn't feel the passion at all.

Overall, this film is a good lesson on the understated, on how to use the camera to convey emotion rather than script but rather than knocking me down it instead left me feeling a little cheated. Wait until it comes on Film4 then see it then, but if you're not a fan of slow-burning foreign films or not too bothered about beautiful camerawork, you could easily give it a miss.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Twin Peaks

Still one of the most talked about TV series that ever graced our screens, David Lynch and Mark Frost's brainchild still influences culture today and still stands up to the test of time as we remember it 20 years on.

I remember running through the first season of Twin Peaks and loved it, but once I was finished I realised that the second series was a bit harder to get hold of. I only got about halfway through the second series and I lost interest. Now returning to it years later with the release of the Gold box set I started it again in the hope of watching the series in it's brief entirety.

When pitched, the expectations for this were low but the Twin Peaks pilot did better than anyone expected when it was finally aired and the first series was soon commissioned. Lynch had never done TV before and him and Frost decided that the murder of Laura Palmer would be a McGuffin that would introduce the rest of the town to us gradually, and the dark horror that lies beneath all of us would be slowly uncovered. The parallel storylines were intriguing as well as mesmerising but the real treat is the mainstream look into Lynch's mind, something that people find too hard to enter when it comes to films such as Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire or even Blue Velvet but it is clear that the man is nothing short of a genius and for those who doubt it, they need to watch this series.

The series introduced a lot of well-known actors into the spotlight including David Duchovny, Heather Graham, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kyle MacLachlan and Billy Zane to name but a few but had more than a few hiccups along the way. Namely, after the first series did so well, the second series soon started to see a dip in the audience and the TV network told them to reveal Laura's killer. This reveal caused a lot of friction as Lynch didn't want the audience to ever find out the killer as it was inconsequential for one and secondly, it was the overall reason that people kept watching, however Frost wanted the killer to be known at some point but not when the network wanted it, but as is always the case, the artist loses. Lynch and Frost left the show and once the killer was revealed, the series' ratings were abysmal and soon the series was cancelled. Lynch started to enter again near the end and was in charge of the final episode but apart from that, he felt that what had once been something he was proud of turned into a monster - and he was right.

Everything about the first season was perfect, it was a great balance of a soap opera and an arthouse film. The storylines were intriguing, the characters well thought out and the imagery was fantastic. Classic Lynch style is spread all over it, the suburban American 50's-esque culture, the zany fish-out-of-water element and the fucking weird shit that we're used to when we watch his work. Anyone who has ever watched it will remember The Red Room - a dream that Agent Cooper has that stars a midget talking backwards and more, and the evil that lurks in the forest called simply Bob. It's suffice to say that a lot of these storylines and revelations were caused by accident or simply making it up as they went along, but this spontaneity works remarkably well (unlike some series that try to replicate Twin Peaks like Lost).

The running story is that we are all trying to find out what happened to Laura Palmer and we see that the girl next door is actually quite a dark character. But soon, there's so many interesting things going on, you get hooked and then it's got you by the balls as you are led deeper into the forests surrounding the small town. The brothel 'One Eyed Jacks', the visions Sarah Palmer is having, the recluse and his secret diary of Laura's, what happened in that train car, Big Ed's affair, Ben Horne and Leo Johnson's business, and the Log Lady. This is just the tip of the iceberg in a series that keeps you guessing and, instead of something like Lost which you want to know answers for, in Twin Peaks you're afraid what the answers will bring. There will also be no other show that will spend more than ten minutes of near silence as a man serves some milk to a man recently shot. It took risks, it thought outside of the box and it's something that, especially in this economy, will never happen again in a TV drama.

However, the second series completely ruins this idyllic dream and soon, as Lynch and Frost abandon the audience, you are left with a soap opera as cheesy as any other daytime serial (James Hurley's storyline of the open road is cringeworthy at best). The characters end up in places that are sheer stupid, and all those big things you held out for end up in huge disappointment. For instance, Nadine has an eyepatch, is completely crazy but yet remarkably strong - you are left to wonder why she has a patch and why she is so strong, that it will reveal itself in a huge way or even better not at all, that it might do with something in this strange town and play a part later on; but instead it is simply revealed and brushed aside during this second series. It starts well enough but you can almost pinpoint the exact moment of where it is going wrong, and all the characters change for the worse. Audrey goes from loony sexy teen to career woman, Lara Flynn Boyle looks like she can't be bothered anymore and goes from rebel girl to dancing queen, Ben Horne goes from entrepreneur with a strange brother to a loony civil war nut, and don't get me started on the whole Jocelyn and the mill storyline. It is clear they are trying to tie up loose ends Lynch left unanswered and trying to re-create a more standard series, which not only disappoints the audience who have stayed with it, but will fail to bring anyone on board to the same old tripe they could see anywhere. Any weird stuff is just a rehash of what Lynch introduced first time round and it all becomes a big mess. They try to reason everything and in doing so take all the fun out of the series.

Fortunately, the final episode where Cooper enters The Red Room again is a masterpiece that is more fitting to the first season than ever. It's half an hour or so of some very strange stuff and thank God it left the series on an absolute high, for had it been left to the writers beforehand, it would have been ruined in my mind forever. For those yet to watch it, I would watch the entire first season, about 5 or 6 episodes of the second season and then return to the final episode because all that stuff in-between will ruin it all. If you see it and think differently let me know, but I guarantee you won't. Regardless, this is one piece of television history that people will remember fondly and if you think all this TV on now is revolutionary, you should see what Lynch was doing two decades ago.

First Series - 10/10
Second Series - 5/10

Overall - 9/10

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Bad Lieutenant:: Port Of Call - New Orleans

Cage opens up and releases a new kind of psycho. But can he outperform Keitel's cult favourite or is this another remake that's just plain ... bad?

Nicolas Cage is one of those rare entities in Hollywood. Not only has he secured his name for being completely mad, buying all kinds of crazy stuff, not paying his taxes and pretty much doing anything for a quick buck, even turning on the Christmas lights in Bath last year, but the list of characters he has portrayed is rather strange. Whether it's a beefed up action hero in Con Air, a reflective writer in Adaptation, a comic hero in Ghost Rider, or a heart-throb in City of Angels he's never been shoved into a box and Herzog joins the long list of acclaimed directors Cage has had the pleasure of working with, but seeing as Cage has hit a bit of a bad run recently, is this a renaissance for the man? Well, almost.

Cage's character Terence is so completely over-the-top that you'd think Cage's zany personality would compliment it perfectly, except for the fact that Cage has also gone completely over-the-top making it a bit awkward to watch. You can't help but think it's too try-hard and that it's not near dark or gritty enough to be taken seriously. But that's just it, it borders on the absurd and downright hilarious, which isn't really what it should be aiming for. There are some great pieces such as screwing a girl while making her boyfriend watch, and smoking crack with a terrible Xzibit, but this whole film seems to be a sequence of events that all fall into place at the end. It also seems that by doing the right thing initially and paying the price for it (though the reason why he injured his back is hardly mentioned), he will spend the rest of his days not caring for anyone else. Except that he does care for other people, his father and his girlfriend Mendes to name a couple. Val Kilmer seems to even be more cut-throat than he and hardly gets a mention.

There's no point going over the story because it's basically about a bad cop trying to play one side against the other and that's all you need to know. It's narrative is simple yet enjoyable and, much like The Shield that I've finished recently, it's always good fun watching dirty cops. Mendes does well with her prostitute character but the femme fatale role is something she is used to by now and they have as much electricity between them as they did in Ghost Rider - aka none.

The directing is okay, but hit-and-miss at the best of times. Herzog relates Terence to the animals surrounding him, by showing the world through their eyes, much like we are seeing New Orleans through Terence's - but why set it in New Orleans in the first place? This raised a number of issues for me. We all know about the government letting the survivors down, so perhaps Cage represents this or maybe it's the idea of a broken city, a man literally broken by Hurricane Katrina and left to fend for himself in it's wake with a pain that will be with him forever. Though these might all be credible, it is more to do with the idea that no matter how low you sink, you can always pull it back and that there's a faint glimmer of hope that shines throughout the whole thing, a hope for New Orleans, a hope for humanity - or maybe it's just because it was a nice place to film in.

Roger Ebert names this as one of his films of the last decade but then anyone with half a brain wouldn't listen to what he says anyway. Don't get me wrong, this isn't shit, but it's not great either. This isn't better than the dirty New York cop films coming out even in the 70s, and after coming out of The Shield recently, it all seems a bit lame in comparison and Nicolas Cage is far from scary, or even intimidating. Its a great way to kill a couple of hours but this won't be more than that. For anyone who thought this film was amazing, they should try watching something with a bit more meat and that doesn't rely on a character who is more pathetic than anything. Also, that's one hell of a long title!

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Human Centipede

The film that I've been waiting for since I heard about it has finally got released. But is it a huge let-down or does it stand up as one of the most disturbing horror films out there?

In case you don't know about this already, The Human Centipede is exactly that, three humans linked up arsehole to mouth and forced to crawl around on all fours by a psychotic surgeon and looks like, well, a centipede of sorts.

The story is very, very simple. Two young American girls are lost in the woods of Germany and stumble upon a house where they are soon drugged and forced to be part of a doctor's sick game. Seeing as you know, inevitably, it will happen that they end up 'together', you still can't but help rooting for the main girl to survive and soon, start hoping they might die to save them this torture.

Strangely enough, first reviews I had read described this as a comedy and, for the people who read the same, I want to assure you it isn't supposed to be but sometimes it does come across as funny. The doctors love for his 'sweet 3 dog' which was his first experiment is quite funny, and the acting, particularly in the beginning is atrocious. But this works perfectly well as a sick horror film that makes for a tough watch at times.

What I like about this film is that despite it's obstacles, you can tell it has been made with great passion. Seeing as most of the action takes place in a house, you imagine the budget is very small and that they have tried to appeal to as global a market as possible. Most of it is in English, it's set in Germany so there's some German in it and a Japanese guy who speaks neither which caters for the J-Horror fans. There's so many holes in the plot that it looks like Swiss cheese but I was able to let these brush off for the most part, but some did get stupid. As they try to crawl up the stairs they are starting to painfully break apart but you think, how the hell was the doctor getting them up and down there then in the first place? When one of them escapes, why had she not done it before? Why do they stay quiet when the doctor is on the phone? A lot of editing tries to patch over the problems but you end up shouting at the screen a lot in classic horror style, which I think is a good thing.

The house is also very reflective of the doctor himself. Clean, medical, white and the only colour of the place is coming from horrific artwork of foetus's or blood. The doctor is tall, skinny and looks like a walking corpse already - the perfect strange looking German you could hope for in such a film. His sociopathic hatred of people would probably have got in the way of helping people as a surgeon and his obsession with his work has clearly driven him insane. The way he explains through a shit slideshow of what is about to happen to his guests is remarkable and the way he seems to be quite careless about leaving his guests unattended is irritating but these are script problems more than anything. He tries to excuse his actions by way of experimentation, a God complex of creating a new being, but really it's through sexual gratification. At one point, he even wears boots and whips his new creature, he likes them being obedient and eating shit and, when he notices blood on the stairs, you wonder if he is actually ejaculating as he licks it up.

The process of creating his new being is horrific, they have stuff taken out of their knees so they can never stand and have flesh grafted on to their cheeks linking them to the arse of the one in front and with all their teeth pulled out, they are sewn literally into the asshole of the person in front. When you see the first shit take place, it's enough to make you sick. A lot of the film plays on the pure idea of this form of torture and so should it. It doesn't confuse itself with trying to be more than it is, and for that I'm thankful. The last 10 minutes is excruciating to watch and the final scene leaves you hanging, thinking of how horrible their situation now is.

This film takes a simple idea, albeit a disgusting one, and runs with it. The acting of everyone but the doctor is diabolical, the set-up is ridiculous, the script is full of flaws but it does the job. It's not as hard to watch, or as good as, Martyrs which I can't help but compare it to, but I did think it was a great idea to horrify audiences in this way and it worked well. Anything that shocks is always a good thing, but as a film, it fails. The sickest film out there? Probably not, but it's up there with some of them and definitely sticks in your head for a while. Worth a watch but nothing more, and if you really want to fuck your mind up, go out and get Martyrs.

Rating: 5/10

Prince Of Persia

Disney's big hit for 2010 isn't based on a theme park ride, but instead on a popular video games series. But will it be as cursed as other game adaptations or will Bruckheimer give Disney another cash cow to milk?

Prince of Persia is a very strange choice for Disney to undertake, it definitely ticks all the right boxes for an action/adventure film along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean, but the game series has gradually become less and less popular as they have continued. This is mainly because it's essentially the same thing again and again, and what with another game to coincide with the film's release, it will inevitably be the same again. So for something that has proven to be less popular over time, Disney's new franchise which will inevitably spawn sequel after sequel seems to be a bit of a risk. But then, this film is full of risks. Namely because it is directed by Mike Newell, who fair enough did make Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but has a very strange list of films attached to his name including Donnie Brasco, Four Weddings and a Funeral , Mona Lisa Smile and a huge UK TV background before that. He's not exactly first choice for something as delicate as this, but then Prince of Persia is, almost, a British film. It was filmed on location in Morocco but most of it was filmed at Pinewood and has, apart from Gyllenhaal, an entirely British cast.

Gyllenhaal himself is a strange choice, not necessarily known for his action roles, he is pretty much the sole bankable name and definitely a whole lot better than the other names being bantered about for this role including Orlando Bloom and Zac Efron. However, even though it's got Kingsley and Arteton in it, it's solely dependent on that Jake will be putting bums on seats and is he necessarily such a huge box office draw? I imagine we will soon find out.

If you're not familiar with the games there's no need to worry, the only thing that remains the same is the setting and the idea of the 'sands of time' - but that's it. This is actually quite a shame as the games have a lot of twists, turns and plays with the idea of time travel in innovative, unique ways. But Disney have decided against this and settled on a bog-standard tale of a man on the run trying to clear his name and looks more like a live-action adaptation of Aladdin than Prince of Persia.

The initial action sequence is exciting and epic, but I'm afraid it's downhill from there. After a confusing mishap, Gyllenhaal's Dastan is on the run with Arteton's Tamina in tow and he soon learns about a dagger that controls time. Seeing as the time travel element is the most exciting thing about the film, you'd think they'd use it a lot especially during battle, but in fact, throughout the entire film it gets used about three or four times. Not even close to the amount of times you'd like to see it, baring in mind that in the games you are time travelling pretty much constantly, this was an extremely disappointing result, but if it was sacrificed to make for a better story then I could understand but I'm sorry to say this wasn't the case.

Soon, the clear-as-day twist is discovered and Dastan runs into Alfred Molina and his 'hilarious' rogues. Meanwhile, his two brothers - the great Toby Kebbell and 'that guy from Coupling' Richard Coyle are also trying to chase him down. Then the evil hassassins are soon following Dastan to get back the dagger and you can guess the rest. By the end, the climax is actually rather insulting and you're left feeling completely unsatisfied.

For a story that at it's heart is very simple, it's unnecessarily complicated. The underground time sandcastle, the history of the dagger and other characters try and distract you from realising that this is actually quite boring. It's not engaging enough and the action was the only saving grace, but even then I'd imagine this was done by a second unit and in fact, I doubt Newell had much say over the action set-pieces at all. Unfortunately, the action isn't grandiose enough and is entirely forgettable once it is over. Even little issues such as the geography of it all drove me mad, I never knew exactly where they were going and why people seemed to catch up to them, or lag behind and in the last sequence where an entire chamber dissolves into sand, how they all managed to end up in the same place. This might not matter to the kids who this is clearly designed for, but for adults it jars horrifically and Disney has to remember that Pirates did so well because adults were able to enjoy it at the same time, something I thought they had considered seeing as Prince of Persia was a PG13, the second Disney film to do so after Curse of the Black Pearl. But instead it's more style over substance, and not much style at that either. This film has been so long in the making that it has totally missed a crucial selling point of the last year, and that is 3D. Something like this could have benefited hugely from being in 3D instead of relying on it's 2D action and unsubtle script and you'd have thought Disney wouldn't miss such a money-making trick, but in fact it has.

Gyllenhaal does make a good action hero, not only does he look buff but his English accent is near passable and he can definitely work the part; but you feel he is wasted in a character as 2D as it's image. Arteton makes the most out of her annoying Princess, but she did impress me seeing as I hadn't thought much of her before this and the two of them together works quite well, even though it sometimes feels as screwball as It Happened One Night in parts, and not in a good way. Molina doesn't exactly inspire as the comic relief but fares well as someone who seems to think they are working at a market stall in Eastenders and Kingsley (looking like Ming the Merciless) is clearly laughing all the way to the bank. Another strange and almost racist (Disney racist? Surely not!) fact I noticed was that all the Persians were white. Heavily made up with orange make-up and eyeliner, all the main parts were Caucasian while everyone else in the background, wasn't. Looking into this Rey-Phillip Santos was supposed to play Garsiv and Golshifteh Farahani was supposed to play Tamina and you would have thought putting some ethnicity into the cast would have helped, especially since Arteton seemed to be the only white woman in her kingdom.

Overall, this is a kid's film and should be treated as such. It could be shorter but has enough going on to keep the little ones interested although as an adult, I wouldn't go see it unless I had to. If you're expecting another Pirates of the Caribbean, then expect more At World's End rather than Curse of the Black Pearl or better yet, just buy the new Prince of Persia game when it comes out because I'm sure that you and your kids will enjoy it more than this.

Rating: 4/10

Monday, 3 May 2010

Iron Man 2

Tagged as the sequel of the year - is Iron Man 2 a shinier new model or ready to be scrapped? The Wild Bore finds out.

To fans of the first film, this must be one of the most anticipated films of the year. Not only is War Machine in it, but Mickey Rourke as the bad guy and Scarlett Johannsen as the new sexy seductress as well as some Samuel L Jackson fun is surely nothing to be sniffed at.

The problem is, I never really enjoyed the first one that much, and this one isn't really as good as the first. That might be enough to satisfy your curiosity but let me tell you why. There are a number of issues with this, namely Stark's character who was a charming charismatic charlatan before isn't a revelation when presented to us in the same light once again, in fact it makes you slightly annoyed that so much seems to be hanging on Downey's shoulders.

Rourke almost lazily drifts through his performance in a character you can tell he's not that fussed about - and rightly so as it is not fleshed out at all and merely revolves around a tale of revenge, nothing new here. Sam Rockwell was probably the brightest spark, but again not used nearly enough as Downey hogs all the limelight constantly; I mean I like the guy but, come on. Even Don Cheadle as War Machine doesn't get half as much attention as he should. Scarlett might as well be a talking doll and Jackson's brief appearances feel so forced that it might as well start blending into the Avengers film by the end just to make sense. But the main annoyance is with the director Jon Favreau, not for his directing (which actually was quite good) but instead that his cameo in the first film has now turned into a full-on character. In fact he seems to be Stark's best mate, it's cringeworthy to watch; and Paltrow? Who cares, she just looks like some old biddy now.

Not a good start then, and the plot is even worse. Stark is trying to fend off the military for taking his suit and that thing in his chest is slowly poisoning him. Meanwhile, Rourke is a bit pissed off and decides to get some payback - in the weirdest way possible. There's so many holes in the plot it might as well be something ... with a lot of holes in. For example, Stark spontaneously decides to get in an F1 car where Rourke awaits, how the hell could he predict that? Also, Rourke is some kind of genius without real explanation apart from he's a physicist (?) and his dad was really clever and he seems to be able to take a fair punch from Iron Man who you would think, could crush an entire face in one go. This parallel father/son story could have been really fleshed out but instead it uses dodgy old film footage to bring the point home for Stark and nothing but the first 10 seconds of the film for Rourke. There's also little annoyances like how Cheadle seems to know all Stark's security and does in fact take a costume for no real reason but to end a party. Yes you heard right. Johansson might as well not be in it and the SHIELD thing just takes away from the flow of the narrative.

Well okay then, so much for the plot, what about the action?

The action when it's done is good, but my God it does drag halfway through. It completely loses the pace of the first film and the final fight with Rourke is brief to say the least and even references Ghostbusters (you'll see what I mean). But generally, it was entertaining and you could see a lot of money on the screen, even if Iron Man looks like he's flown out of a computer game for most of it.

Overall, if you liked the first one you will no doubt enjoy this as well, but it's lost the original flair that people enjoyed first time round and by the next day you would probably have forgotten all about it. See it for spectacle - not for substance.
Also, stick around in the cinema for after the credits to see a bit of footage about another forthcoming Marvel film!

Rating: 6/10