Tag Archives: Movies

On Gears of War 2

I finished Gears of War 2 the other day. It took me far longer than it should have done because of a slightly doughy patch in its middle that I needed a push through, but overall it was a better game than the first in every way. Crude and brainless, yes, but is that a bad thing?

There are a lot of gamers who will hold up games like Gears 2 as the worst thing to ever happen to gaming, somehow responsible for denying the medium its rightful place among the ‘respected’ entertainment media, but I think that there’s always a place for this kind of thing. Besides the point that no one except gamers takes it that seriously, you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think that games aren’t respected enough because of testosterone-fuelled action games.

Gears of War 2 - The Hollow

Aliens, Terminator 2, Die Hard, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Matrix… All of these movies are, to various extents, considered to be classics, if not in general then certainly of their genre. They might have some cod philosophy to please the chin-stroking crowd, but at the end of the day you watch them to see people with guns doing cool shit.

Gears is the same as that. It’s as subtle as a brick, but it looks amazing – see the above shot – the tight action is second to none when it’s on a roll and, on the whole, I just had a brilliant time with it. Is it art? Who cares? I’d prefer movie posters and comic book artwork on my walls to Monet, and I’d prefer Gears to a game that’s trying to be clever for the sake of it. At least Gears of War is honest about the fact that it’s a game, and the point of them is to be fun.

If you’re looking to Gears to bring you closer to enlightenment you’re barking up the wrong tree – hell, it’s barely even a tree in that case – and I won’t come away from it as a better person, but I got to ride a fucking Brumak!

Bond and the Evil Shaky Cam

I saw Quantum of Solace last night, and as someone who wasn’t wild about Casino Royale – good but overrated – I enjoyed it a surprising amount. Craig’s Bond is still an unbelievable badass and Quantum is set up as a cool Illuminati-cum-terrorist group that could become an awesome adversary over the next couple of films.

But, as the title of this post suggests, my biggest problem was how the bane of the modern action movie has infiltrated Bond. The last two Bourne films in particular were horrible for it, and Casino Royale, despite cribbing an awful lot from that series, thankfully managed to resist it, ending up looking classy and old-school for it. Bourne is rough around the edges, but despite the new rugged look Bond is supposed to be like that; Bourne wouldn’t look right in a dinner jacket and bow tie just like Bond wouldn’t look right with the cameraman having a seizure.

Quantum of Solace, though, has a new director who apparently couldn’t resist. There’s a fight early on between Bond and someone else in a suit, and because the brief for the cinematography apparently consisted of “point the camera at them and wave it around”, I literally couldn’t tell who was hitting who for most of it. Yes, it might look ‘kinetic’ and be more down with the kids, but I like to enjoy the excellent stunt work and fight choreography more than MTV music video editing. The sooner this rubbish goes out of fashion and they remember how to use a steadicam the better.

Unsurprisingly, the only time the camera stayed still in this one was when it was showing off another Sony phone.

Still, I enjoyed it and will be seeing it again this week. I want one of those tables that MI6 has more than anything, and when you see it I’m sure you’ll be the same.

Feature-Length Cut-Scenes?

OK, so the Metal Gear Solid series is hardly known for its subtlety and brevity in storytelling, what with several 20-minute scenes in MGS3 and… well… the whole of MGS2, but the reviews of MGS4 are blowing my mind. Some of the reviews, notably Edge, are claiming that the game has two extremely long cut-scenes.

That’s a bit like saying that Metal Gear has a big robot in it, of course, but word is that these sequences are pushing the 90-minute mark. And Konami doesn’t want reviewers to mention it.

In the interest of fairness, GamePro is saying that it’s an exaggeration. We’ll find out for ourselves in less than a fortnight anyway, but I’ve always had respect for Edge and can’t imagine that such a prestigious magazine – possibly the only gaming publication that I’d use that word to describe – would make a claim like this about such an important game without there being some truth to it. And would Konami really care if reviews mentioned that the cinemas were no different to the other multimillion-selling games in the series?

True or not, it brings up an interesting question about storytelling in games. Would having 90-minute cut-scenes actually help games as a storytelling medium, or does it undermine it and defer the job to the conventions of film? Half-Life tells a story within a game and BioShock does it even better, and the irony is that the part of BioShock’s story that attracted the most criticism was the least game-like part: the ending. Continue reading Feature-Length Cut-Scenes?

Indy IV Impressions

Indy IV Poster22 May 2008 had the potential to be a very, very good day. Still on a high from United being champions of Europe and double winners (again), I had a free trip to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I wasn’t expecting Raiders, but anywhere from Temple of Doom upwards would have been considered a success in my book. Frankly I just didn’t trust Spielberg’s ability (and George Lucas’s influence) to avoid schmaltz and constant age jokes. Yes, Harrison Ford is old; I’ve noticed.

I was following my usual policy of slight pessimism that I take to anything with ‘George Lucas’ in the credits, with the logic being that you can’t be disappointed when you have low expectations (unless it’s Star Wars Episode III). In this case, keep your expectations realistic and you’ll probably have a good time. Just don’t expect Raiders.

Firstly I’ll address the elephant in the room and say that yes, Ford is old. Apart from one point near the end when I noticed how grey his hair was, though, it was never an issue. He’s still the man and the action is split well between him and Shia LaBeouf, to the point where you never feel like it’s being held back. It feels much more like another Indy film than other recent ‘comeback’ movies – Die Hard 4.0, Terminator 3, Rocky Balboa – ever did for their respective series.

I felt like I was right to be worried about the Lucas/Spielberg effect, though, with a few too many moments where you can picture them talking about how awesome this would be on screen – skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re avoiding spoilers – like that painful Tarzan-swinging sequence, getting off a cliff in a truck via a conveniently placed tree that just happens to drop them gently into the water (straight out of a live action Wile E Coyote cartoon), the swordfight between cars and, most bafflingly, Indy being thrown miles in a fridge without receiving a scratch, the unexplained native tribesmen who are just there (see the graveyard and the end sequence).

The CG animals everywhere had Lucas written all over them, because he was doing the same stuff in the Star Wars prequels. Similarly, everything looked like it was shot on a soundstage with CG coming out of its arse. So much for the back-to-basics stunts and practical effects.

Anyway, you should really skip the next paragraph if you haven’t seen it. While I won’t be specific, I’m about to talk about the ending and the nature of the quest in this film.

The MacGuffin in the Indiana Jones series has always had a supernatural element and this is no different, but it just seemed a bit too ‘out there’ to me. Whereas Raiders and Last Crusade got heavily into theological legends, those could be explained away with something simple like “the wrath of God” or “the cup of Christ”. This one doesn’t have anything that elegant, and there’s a reason why this stuff usually has to be drowned in technobabble to make it work in film. I won’t even start on trying to reconcile it with the religious revelations (the Judeo-Christian god clearly exists in the Indy universe) of the those previous films, because they don’t seem compatible to me.

Overall, I think it’s a good summer action film, made much better by Harrison Ford back in form and the fact that it’s still Indiana Jones. Just know that “swinging with the monkeys” is the new “jumping the shark”.


CloverfieldThere’s little that I like more as a guilty pleasure than an invasion movie. For all its willful ridiculousness, Independence Day remains a film that I can watch on repeat and never tire of (my recent purchase of the Blu-ray means I’ve now seen it in the cinema – my first 12 rating! – and bought it three times on various formats), and I must admit to deriving a little bit of enjoyment out of the Hollywood interpretation of Godzilla. Stick on something from the 50’s with a bloke in an unconvincing rubber suit and I’m in heaven.

Alas, I never got around to seeing Cloverfield in the cinema, even as involved as I was with picking apart the untitled trailer – I subscribed to the hypothesis that it was a Cthulhu movie at first, which now is only topped by the rumour that it was Voltron (someone heard “it’s alive” from the trailer as “it’s a lion”, you see) in being wide of the mark – and viral campaign. Regardless, I’ve seen it now and want to weigh in with my impressions.

For all its flaws, which I’ll get onto in a bit, I thought it was one of the best, most original monster movies I’ve ever seen. Blair Witch did the shaky camera and discovered footage thing first – not to mention the teasing, Internet-led marketing – but that never struck a chord with me. Jaws taught us that the moments when you see the creature are most effective when they’re fleeting and don’t happen until the end, and Blair Witch’s conceit of showing nothing at all didn’t work for me. I’m not saying it was wrong, because it was their stylistic choice; just that I like to know what my on-screen companions are so shit-scared about. Shallow? Maybe, but it would piss me off if we never saw a monster here as well.

OK, so maybe Cloverfield wasn’t that original. We’ve established that it’s the result of a fling between Jaws and Godzilla and a tryst between their offspring and The Blair Witch Project. It has the spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster married to the home-made aesthetic that we’ll be seeing a lot of in these years following the emergence of YouTube as a cultural force (see also: Diary of the Dead).

Special mention has to go to the visual effects in this film, though. How convincing everything looks is impressive enough – at no moment was I thinking about it as CGI – but to do it without a steadicam, often with the camera waving wildly? Some poor CG artists must have a few grey hairs after this one. Hopefully their sacrifices won’t be forgotten when awards season rolls around.

Credit should also be given to the film for not overstaying its welcome, being as it is a slender 85 minutes, but then again it does take rather a long time to get going. The party scenes weren’t half bad (I didn’t find the characters as annoying as some people have said), but the monster doesn’t even turn up until a good 25 minutes in, nearly a third of the film. Once we’re past that, though, it never lets up. Some cinemas had warnings for people who suffer from motion sickness that compared the effect to a rollercoaster, which is actually very apt.

The motion didn’t bother me, but what did was the same problem I have when watching someone else play an FPS: they never look where I want them to look. There’s one moment in particular when the monster is just there, and rather than filming it we get fleeting glimpses and a lingering shot of the soldiers shooting at it. Realistic? Yeah, I’d hide behind a car, too, but it’s a movie about a bloody great monster woken up by a falling satellite. Complaining about a bit of Hollywood drama in this is like complaining that an alien language in Star Wars has no appreciable sentence structure.

Although, to fall into my own trap, what kind of camera can fit 85 minutes of HD video onto an SD card? It’s not like they’re using a Mac to interface with an alien computer, but it seemed weird to me. Didn’t stop Cloverfield from being a must-see, but I’m just saying…

The Orphanage

The Orphanage.I’ve been interested to see The Orphanage ever since I saw it advertised with the Pan’s Labyrinth HD DVD as something presented by Guillermo del Toro. I’m quite wary of these endorsements, given that Tarantino’s name has given us such classics as Hostel, but I don’t think that del Toro has made a bad film yet, Pan was ridiculously good (to continue a theme from my last post, I own four copies of that film), and it’s looking like he’s going to direct The Hobbit. The man’s a legend, and the reviews of The Orphanage have justified his interest.

I had the opportunity to see The Orphanage ahead of my Blu-ray order arriving in a couple of weeks, and I was impressed. It’s not as terrifying as some critics (Mark Kermode, I’m looking at you) made out – I only had one good jump out of it – and it doesn’t even have a particularly unsettling atmosphere, a few scenes aside, but it still stands out as a bloody good film.

It’s not that often that you can say that about a horror film. Nowadays they tend to fall into the two categories of blood-drenched ‘torture porn’ (Hostel, Saw), or something from a director whose idea of horror is to jam on the piano keys every time another cat is inexplicably released from a cupboard. That or a remake of one of the seminal 70’s horror films. Both may be scary or entertaining in their own ways, but they’re usually used to prop up a crepe-paper story that really isn’t worth watching between the wanton bloodshed and cat jumping.

For one thing, it’s not like every post-Sixth Sense supernatural thriller, in that it’s not reliant on being turned on its head in the final few minutes to make it worthwhile and really doesn’t have all that much supernatural stuff going on. There are ghosts, sure, but no “they were dead all along” revelation. Just a story of past trauma that hits close to home (the following link is a spoiler) at this time and that I really should have seen coming in retrospect, and an explanation of how the events of the past 90 minutes have come to pass.

Cinemas that show non-English language films are like hen’s teeth around here – the nearest one to me that’s showing The Orphanage is 30 miles away – but if you have one (or the ability to import the BD or DVD), this one comes recommended.