Category Archives: Reviews

Buff Review Show has gone off Dragons, is back on Pirates!

I’m a fickle one, see! ;-)

Anyway, just a short post before I go to gym-land. My second game review for Midlife Gamer is now up on their front page, but to go straight to the review click here and it’ll take you right to the page!

Please leave a comment and check out the rest of the site, it’s a great place for everything gaming, so nose around and register yourself if you like!

See you all after my session! Bye!

Buff Review Show: Cesser De Voler Mes Rêves, Vous Naine

Or “Stop stealing my dreams, you dwarf”.

Anyway, preamble first. Unfortunately Bridesmaids was sold by the time I got to the front of the queue, so my sister and I froze our proverbials off in a showing of Transformers 3. A showing which might as well have taken place in Iceland, because it was a tad chilly to say the least. So I have to wait a little while to get to Bridesmaids, but Transformers review will be up for the weekend.

Here is a belated review request for a friend, who suggested I give this a watch and possibly review it!

La cité des enfants perdus (City of Lost Children)

Well where on Earth do I begin with this one? Our film begins with an unfortunate man named Krank, who cannot dream, and thus in his wisdom kidnaps orphans from “The City” to steal their dreams. He lives out in the middle of a mine-riddled, puce-green sea in what can only be described as an oilrig inspired by . With him is his high-pitched dwarf-wife, Mademoiselle Bismuth, his six cloned sons, who seemingly shared one brain at creation, and a talking brain in a tank whom is probably voiced the French Alan Rickman, whom also suffers from chronic headaches. Are you with me so far?

Good. Ron Perlman plays a simple, yet incredibly strong, former whale hunter turned circus performer named One. Krank’s men have taken his younger brother, Denree, who will be put into the dream-deprived scientist’s dream-machines. One must journey, with his sidekick, a young girl by the name of Miette, to the City of Lost Children- Krank’s domain. This is another one of Perlman’s stranger roles, and is a good twist on his old favourite of playing “the big guy”. I mean he is 6’4” and built like an orangutan dressed as a tank, but it is nice for him to vary it up a bit. He also speaks French throughout (what with this being a French film) although he more grunts it than speaks it, which is part of his character more than IANFPerlman’s inability to speak the language. In fact he does incredibly well, as I know he has spoken Spanish in another foreign film whose name has escaped me.

I am a fan of foreign films, so I knew what to expect going into this (somewhat). The settings and characters throughout are wonderfully surrealistic and generally bizarre. Along the way One and Miette come across some evil Siamese Twins (known as The Octopus), some assassin fleas led by an organ grinder, Krank’s army of “Cyclops” (more men who can only see with their strange steam punk monocle device) and a squad of wailing, suave French kids.

As with any film, in particular foreign film, the necessity to concentrate throughout (mostly on the subtitles) is ever present. This isn’t as dialogue-heavy as a lot of foreign films can be; Perlman’s dialogue is stunted and simplistic throughout as is befitting his character. He reminds me a lot of the character Lenny from ‘Of Mice and Men’, but perhaps a handful of brain cells smarter. In fact One is a real ‘Frankenstein’s Creature’. If you crossed Lenny with Terminator with Rupert the Bear I think you’d be in the right ballpark. It’s almost a shame you have to spend the entire film watching the bottom two inches of the screen, because there is a lot to be missed from the characters and the settings. This is a film that requires a second or third viewing. Failing that, viewers should be fluent in French.

The stories of our heroes, One and Miette, as well as the story and goings-on with Krank and co. on the oilrig, blend nicely as we progress through the odd fantasy-meets-steam-punk world created by famous French directing team Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. The camera angles create a different look, compared to a lot of the films out in that era, but the editing is so smooth you barely notice the crossing of stories. I found much of it captivating, and at any opportunity I could get I would try and focus less on the text and more on the scenes set before me. To the film’s benefit, it uses very little CGI, especially during a period when the technology was in it’s very early days, and was being misused left, right and centre by many a film crew.

The true message behind City of Lost Children is this desire for a family. Krank has his scientifically formulated, mismatched family of clones and experiments, but it is not quite right. Then there is the touching story of One searching for his little brother, and the journey he and Miette embark upon. When the film focuses on this theme is when I find it at it’s most poignant. The fantasy thrills and quirky visuals are great, but there is never a case with this film of the style smothering the substance. It is also quite relieving that the film doesn’t turn into a fantasy version of Oliver, although the orphans are much reminiscent of Fagin’s and of kids from the classic book and musical. Every time you feel that there is something familiar about the film, we are treated to another zany location, or some curious piece of dialogue. Again, the balance struck here between the artistic and the necessary is in perfect equilibrium.

This is not a film everybody is likely to love. I had never heard of it until very recently, and am looking into finding a copy of Jean Pierre Jeunet’s debut film ‘Delicatessen’ to watch. It was his debut piece, and has received mixed reaction over the years, with some claiming it is one of the strongest directorial debuts on it’s kind. Now that sounds like something I need to see! But please enjoy ‘City of Lost Children’, as it is another one of those rare gems that crops up every so often. Just not very frequently in 1995!

Buff Review Show Holds on for Dear Life *clings*

One of the handful of DVD’s out this Monday, check out my review for one of my favourite pieces of cinema from this year so far!

Never Le Me Go

Never Let Me Go is a tough film to review, because unlike a lot of films where I can discuss a great deal of the plot without giving too much away, this film is one of those kinds where it twists and turns throughout. So to give anything away would be like revealing the final spoiler to films like Sixth Sense or Shutter Island. So if my review of this film seems brief then please forgive me, but use what I do tell you about the film and the performances given by the young cast, and my overall opinions, to decide whether you should see it or not.

As the prologue rolls across the screen you could be forgiven for thinking this is some sort of sci-fi flick. All it shows are a brief couple of paragraphs outlining that, in the early 1950s and 60s, a way was found to cure thosee incurable diseases of the world, and that people were living more and more into their 100s of years than ever before. And that’s really as far as that idea goes to begin with. You find out more over the course of the film, and a lot of what is going on if left for you to work out. IANFEvery new question you have is answered almost as you have just managed to piece it together in your own head, which really surprised me as I normally like to think that I am a step or two ahead of the average film.

But this film is anything but average. Mark Romanek’s film, scripted by Alex Garland, and adapted from the original novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a beautifully profound insight into life, love and death. The cast and crew behind ‘Never Let Me Go’ truly deliver a piece of cinema that demonstrates the best and very worst of human behaviour, the beauty of a love that, although stunted, lasts the lifetime of the character involved, and the pure heroism of accepting the responsibility of fate.

A lot of people will say the film is morbid and saddening, but despite the melancholy tone and bare, understated feel to the entire production, the story is memorable and almost uplifting when thought about afterwards. It’s a film that you will love or hate, but you won’t necessarily know which until some time after the film has ended. It took me and my friend a good couple of hours, and a bit of thought and discussion, for us to really get a feel for the film. I came out of the film knowing that I liked it. It was the why that baffled me for a little while.

Though the film has been tipped for very few of the higher nominations this awards season, it is quietly brilliant in a way that, the reward for the actors and crew, is probably the enjoyment of the few people out there who will love this film for what it is. I saw this in the premier screen at the cinema, and it was less than two-thirds full, and probably a quarter of those people walked out over the course of the film. Most were complaining that the film was boring or that nothing was happening. And although the film has a slightly uneven pace at times, it is anything but boring.

Insightful is the word. It really delves in to what makes us human, and brings up so many thoughts and conversations and topics that you don’t have every day, and suddenly find yourself discussing, literally, matters of life or death following the film. This is what Hereafter SHOULD have been going for and completely missed the mark on last week, and Never Let Me Go didn’t need a Tsunami or Matt Damon to get the messages across.

Strong, noteworthy performances from the younger cast, who played the pre-teen versions of Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield, not only set up their respective characters nicely, but got the mannerisms and looks for their respective older counterparts down perfectly. Andrew Garfield (form the Social Network, and also the new Spiderman film) standouts out as Tommy, and Keira Knightley is strong as always as Ruth. But I, like many other reviewers have agreed, felt it is Carey Mulligan who steals the show as Kathy. Quietly passionate at every turn, and never once is her part over or under played.

The film does play out slightly differently to the book, which does go for the big reveal at the end of the story, whereas the film lets it slip halfway through, but many fans of the book have been fans of the film. It is almost as if you need to go into the film within the mindset that you are watching a foreign film. ‘Never Let Me Go’ is that different sort of disturbing in modern cinema, and certainly doesn’t try and take a backseat to the emotion and power behind the script, even if the middle third of the film just inch along a little slowly, as mentioned earlier.

Mark Romanek is, my reputation, an outstanding music video director, and ‘Never Let Me Go’ is only his second feature film, although you wouldn’t know it. Romanek shows a maturity and patience behind the camera that is not only rare for young filmmakers but for veteran ones as well. His use of focus leads to one of the most beautifully shot films of the year so far.

And that really is all I can say for ‘Never Let Me Go’. It’ll be a definite DVD purchase for myself (27th June), but some less brave readers out there may want to rent it first. The pace as tone is reminiscent of the relationship scenes in Brokeback Mountain, quiet and slow-paced throughout, but continuously riveting. So if you enjoyed that, or have a fondness for slower paced foreign films, with a twist, than ‘Never Let Me Go’ will be for you.

Buff Review Show: Green Lantern = The Perfect Eerie Glow…

Okay, a little later than expected (forgive me for wanting sustanance after my gym session), but here it is, my review for the umpteenth Superhero movie of the summer.

Green Lantern

Well, another week, another Superhero movie. I feel like I should be getting a card stamped for every one I attend. Maybe after I’ve seen nine of them I can force someone else to go and see the tenth. I will give some credit to Green Lantern for being IANFdifferent to the rest of the Superhero films that we’ve seen so far this year. It is more kid friendly than Thor or X-Men: First Class, and has a far lighter tone than both of those films as well.

Ryan Reynolds is playing Ryan Reynolds doing an impression of someone pretending to be the lead male of the film, Hal Jordan, a test pilot with a penchant for being a womaniser, as well as one of those guys who you would get along with but secretly curse for his good looks and talent and oddly deeper-than-usual voice. Seriously, I don’t know if Reynolds was trying to channel Christian Bale from the newest Batman movies, in which Bale’s voice is so gravelly you could pebbledash a house with it. It sounded unnatural coming from Reynolds, and sometimes it slipped back into his normal, much higher, voice that we are used to from his comedy workings from the past fifteen years or so.

Anyway, the film opens with a big set up for future events, with Hal testing some big fighter jets with female co-star Blake Lively. Her father owns the company that produces these military jets and she is his next in line from all accounts. Blake manages to do better in this film than Natalie Portman does as her character in Thor, if only because at least Blake’s character, Carol Ferris, and Hal Jordan have known each other for some time, and have some chemistry built in already. Portman’s chemistry with Thor was barely one peg above the chemistry exhibited by herself and Hayden Christiensenn in Star Wars Attack of the Clone. But Blake Lively is the absolute antithesis or her ridiculous surname. She may not be useless but by lord is she blander than porridge oats mixed with dishwater.

It is shortly after the unsuccessful test flight, that Hal Jordan is chosen by a fallen and injured purple alien, known as a Green Lantern, to become his successor and protect this neck of the Milky Way with a fabulous suit and tacky ring. My problem is that the alien that crashed, having been attacked by the film’s main baddy-more on that in a moment- sent out his ring to find a successor. It takes barely five minutes to pick up on Hal, having seemed to be bored of searching for someone after the first couple of square miles of wasteland and rivers nearby. Hal’s subsequent training on the digitally created planet Oa, home of the Green Lantern Corps, the place where all the Lanterns from al the races of aliens across the universe live, is equally stunted, but there is no doubt in your mind that those five minutes of training would undoubtedly mean he would save everyone and win the day, despite being faced by space Kraken.

Yes it would appear Kraken are not restricted to pirate films these days. And just about everything is ten times cooler when you place the word “space” in front of it. Parallax, a former guardian for the Green Lanterns, who then turned to the dark side (or in this case, the yellow side) was sealed away many years ago because he wanted to use the bad, yellow power of fear as oppose to the good, green power of will. I wonder if there is some grey power for not giving a toss. Anyway, as it turns out the purple dude who crash landed on Earth was the guy who sealed Parallax away, and, actually, you know what, I can’t say Parallax without thinking it is some sort of rectum paralyzing drug to ease the problems of constipation… But it’s okay because we have another baddie in town…

Well sub-baddie. Parallax Lite, if you will. In fact he may as well have not been there at all. They could easily have done more setting up of the main baddie, more exploratory insights to the world of Oa, or Hal’s relationship with Carol. But this is a film which already feels like 75% set up for this film, and possibly more to come, which then just fizzles out towards the end. Peter Saarsgard gets a mention for his role as Hector Hemmond, a scientist who, it would seem, is meant to be the same age as Hal and Carol, but looks like he should be about 40-something. I don’t whether this lot all went to school together, but Blake Lively character looks ten years younger than Ryan Reynolds’ (as she is in real life), yet they were childhood friends/sweethearts-to-be, so am not entirely sure what’s going on there. Hemmond has some mildly villainous parts, but is soon screwed over by Parallax and just spends most of his time on screen screaming at anyone that so much as mentions the words “daddy issues”.

Finally, the 3D and CGI, as that’s what you obviously all care about in my reviews these days. I would put Oa just a point or two below Asgard from Thor, if purely because we don’t get to see nearly as much of Oa. The CGI Green Lantern suits looked fine and I wish the comic book fans would stop spewing out impossibly low scores for this film just because the costumes aren’t the same as the comics. I did my research (don’t know quite where I found the time) and, yes, Hal Jordan had a green, zip-up jump suit kind of deal, but he eventually had a suit made of the energy from the ring of power. Would we really have wanted to see Hal Jordan get undressed and redressed every time he wanted to get into his green trackie bottoms and top? Okay the mask looked a bit naff, and some of the effects overall seemed outdated, with the childishness of Spiderman 3 and the outdated quality of Spiderman 2. I couldn’t stop watching the back of Ryan Reynolds neck when he was in the suit, as it kept moving around like he was being consumed by a sheet of snot.

So, a recommendation for Green Lantern? Why not? Go for it. I enjoyed it more than Thor, it was a different tone to X-Men and will undoubtedly be forgotten about in a few weeks time when Captain America comes out. Oh, and stay ‘til the end of the credits. I foolishly forgot that no film can end these days without pulling this stunt, so sit tight and wait for the teaser for an inevitable sequel.

Title: Buff Review Show: Well I’ll Be Dammed (additional Beaver puns removed)

At time of writing, it has been approximately fifteen minutes since the end of The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster, whom also made her directorial debut in this film. I needed to get this review written up nice and sharpish, so without further ado, here is the review for one of the oddest, yet most heart-warming, pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year.

The Beaver

Well we might as well get the plot synopsis out of the way with first, as any of you who’ve not seen anything about this film prior to it’s release last Friday, will and are fully entitled to be slightly confused by the trailer and the film’s concept. In fact, if you take out the titular rodent in question (second largest rodent after the capybara no less, thank you Wikipedia for that IANFnugget of information), the film would play out as a very ordinary, incredibly familiar film that is simply acted better than your average 2.4 children destruction of a family affair.

Mel Gibson is Walter Browne, CEO of a failing toy company, the reigns of which were given to him by his dead father in place of anyone with any sort of competency. Walter has lost his way in life, and his already strained relationship with his wife Meredith, played by Foster, as well as a distanced connection with his two sons, Porter and Henry. Walter has severely lost his way in life, and is dealing with severe depression, which leads to a handful of failed suicide attempts within the first few minutes of the film (nothing too graphic, it was almost Laurel and Hardy in style). Prior to the failed attempt on his own life, Walter is dumping some of his personal belongings from the banged up car he is rattling around in, making room for necessities such as whiskey, scotch, bourbon, vodka and so forth. In the dumpster he comes across a (surprisingly clean looking) beaver hand puppet.

Flash-forward to post-shower-rail-related-comedy-moment, and Walter wakes up with the hand puppet attached to his hand (naturally), and finds it talking to him, or finds himself talking to himself through it, or, whatever, complete with a cockney-mockney accent. Actually, I would go as far as to say that the accent wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Eastenders, and gives Shane Richie a run for his money in terms of cheeky chappiness, but with a darker side. Think Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, if every so often Bert would stop humming a tune while sweeping the chimneys and mutter something under his breath, before booting a nearby pigeon off the rooftop and onto unsuspecting children down below.

With the Beaver on-hand (someone find me a snare drum and a cymbal) Walter turns his life around, restoring himself in the eyes of his wife, co-workers and youngest son. Not so much with the eldest son, but he is too busy in a completely different film altogether which only tangentially links to the Mel Gibson side of the movie by proxy of being on the screen at the same time. It isn’t as jarring by the end of the film, and of course the message the film is trying to get across emanates throughout every character, major or minor, but it was almost a depressive teen movie being shown during a depressive adult movie. I guess I have to look at it as the father living through the Beaver, and his son living through other people (he does their homework and assignments and whatnot for good money.

The introduction of the Beaver to Walter’s family is, naturally, tentative at first, but they believe it is part of a psychological process prescribed by a doctor. Why they seem to believe this is beyond me, it’d be like prescribing daily doses of Bert and Ernie to combat the flu. What I fail to believe though is that none of his employees find it odd, and are all very accepting of their CEO existing through what is essentially a brown oven mitt with eyes and teeth. I tried to suspend my belief as best as possible, but in the end I just couldn’t accept that EVERYONE was okay with this, and that no one sent for the men in white coats and the biggest syringe of Valium (or animal tranquilizers) they could carry. I had the same problem with Foster’s character, it seemed she couldn’t grasp exactly what she had to do to try and help his husband through this. There is a scene about halfway through where Meredith and Walter are on an anniversary meal, and the entire film just flips on itself!

The second half of the film soon loses a lot of the light-heartedness that was present early on, and on a pivot goes from light to sinister. Make no mistake: this is a film about depression. This is not a look at family life in general, or the use of puppetry in the media, or a teenager boy-meets-girl flick. The last thirty minutes of The Beaver makes this fact very clear, and manages to overshadow any doubts and issues I had with the earlier parts of the film. Viewing Walter’s rapid decent and escalation through the side effects of depression, and the effect this has on his family and his health in general, was truly powerful and a real shock to me. The scores and plaudits this film has received have ridden, and indeed been amplified, by that third act.

With stunning performances from a varied cast, in age and in experience, ‘The Beaver’ is a real treat, but is a niche film for an incredibly niche market. Very few people will end up seeing this in cinemas, which is a shame, but I hope that this review will convince a few more of you to go and check it out. With it’s unique view on the topic of depression, and great blend of light comedy and dark, thought-provoking drama, this comes with a huge recommendation from me. It’s just such a shame it is being lost amongst Thor, Pirates and the huge selection of other big blockbusters.

Buff Review Show is Definitely A Four, Not a Five, Except On Fridays

One of my colleagues at work has been talking about this film non-stop since it came out. So as the DVD is out on Monday, here is my review for ‘I Am Number Four’, a supernatural “thriller” for the Twilight generation…

I Am Number Four

‘I Am Number Four’ is a strange title on the whole. Considering it is likely there will be sequels to this one, the mind boggles as to what they will call the next one and how they will number or otherwise label it. Both ‘I Am Number Four 2’ and ‘I Am Number Four The Second’ sound strange, IANFand even after watching the film it really seems impossible to work out where they want to go next with the naming and numbering malarkey.

Anyway, mathematical ramblings aside, the ‘Four’ in the title relates to the fourth alien, of nine, sent from a planet far away to Earth when the alien’s home-planet was destroyed many years ago. These nine gifted children, plus their warrior-bodyguards who are lessgifted, are scattered across the globe because… well we’re not really certain why. We know they had to flee their former planet, but what makes Earth so special? The weather is frequently terrible, nobody gets along, and everyone still seems oblivious to the presence of alien life-forms in the universe. However, the voyage to Earth is made and “The Nine” are sent into hiding, until the day they can… do something or other. Again the film really isn’t clear on this matter.

The film kicks off with the demise of number three, whom is attacked by a creature which can only be described as a cross between a grizzly bear and a flying squirrel on steroids. When the great beast isn’t mauling aliens it’s probably an entirely adorable space monster. Number Four, whom is enjoying a swim on the beaches of California, starts glowing and gets a burning sensation on his leg. We see a new scar appear in the shape of the talisman that belonged to Number Three, joining the scars from Numbers One and Two. This unfortunate occurrence forces him and his guardian to move from their beach-bum lifestyle to somewhere soggy and grey looking.

So after a particularly dodgy looking dye job that I cannot stop staring at for the entire film, Number Four and his warrior counterpart, masking as father and son, disappear and head for a new location to start a new life again. The usual rules of “stay hidden and remain inconspicuous” are meant to apply here, but are soon abandoned when he is wooed by the swooning maiden of the film.

The whole film is a little predictably structured: accompanying Number Four on his ventures are the gorgeous girl, the geeky sidekick whose Dad was somehow involved with the aliens and mysteriously disappeared a few years previously, the school jock who ticks every box on the “How To Be A School Jock For Dummies” checklist, and the femme fatale whose accent I cannot fathom out- she is either doing an irritating impression of an Australian accent throughout her time on screen, or she is just Australian.

I briefly mentioned the baddies earlier, and they really should deserve just a brief mention. They have this weird gruff, yet high pitched, voice, like if Joe Pasquale did the voices for the demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. IANF2Not to mention they look like roadies fresh off of the latest Marilyn Manson tour, right down to the big black boots, the weird fetish for facial tattoos and body mutations, and some rather fabulous black leather jackets which would make even the cast of The Matrix blush. None of them are ever particularly menacing, more bumbling at time when they repeatedly fail to capture the kids.

What this film lacks is a “head-baddie”, whom I presume they are saving for the aforementioned likely sequel ‘I am Number Four: 2 :Who is Number 5?’ And with this lack of a main baddie, we just have the goth-brigade and their pet flying bear beasts.

The special effects are well done, but it surprises me that they haven’t either made the film in 3D, or tacked it on in post-production, because this seems to be one of those rare occasions where the 3D would have worked quite well. All those flashing light pulses and laser beam weapons, not to mention the final set piece of the film, would have looked phenomenal in 3D, but alas, film producers will get it right one day.

‘I Am Number Phwoooaar’ is a little underwhelming and “tweeny” for my liking. It adopts the Twilight approach to things, although fortunately isn’t nearly as angsty as that series, all the better for it mind you. It has a somewhat more comic tone, which works much better. It’s far too polished and pristine and put-together, as if it came out a flatpack from Ikea and it is mostly there, but is missing a few nuts and bolts.

Nuts and bolts in this case referring to the missing bad guy, and a sense of purpose for why they are all here. We know that the baddies are here to kill the numbered aliens, but there is no real reason ever mentioned why, that I can remember, other than the fact that they don’t like them. They are mindless goons doing the bidding of some higher power, and in any other film the higher power would let the goons take centre stage for 75% of the film. Then, after a half dozen bumbling attempts at doing their job, the “big boss” will step up to the plate and try and do it himself. And if the “big boss” doesn’t make an appearance in I Am Number -insert-roman-numerals-here I will be highly suspicious of this franchise.

The whole thing comes across as an old Scooby Doo episode when the gang are attacked by measly, bumbling idiots for the first ten minutes, and then they all just go off for malt shakes and sandwich eating contests for the rest of the show.

‘I Am Number 5-6-7-8- My Rootin’-Scootin’ Baby is Driving me Ker-razy…’ just feels like part of something bigger, as oppose to being able to stand as a film on its own. I just hope that it does well enough at the Box Office, and doesn’t go the way of the Alex Rider or Eragon films, because I genuinely would like to see what happens next as it is an interesting premise, if just handled a little bit lazily. I just don’t think it is something I would ever consider to be a real DVD purchase, but I’ll await a sequel for some time in 2013.

Buff Review Show Gets Bored of Dragons, Goes Questing for New Thumbs Instead

Can somebody please loan me their thumbs so I can try and finish this accursed game? Here is a (near) full account of my time spent with the game. I’m going to go ice my metacarpophalangeal joints (lower fingers). Enjoy.

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie/Realms of Revelation

Crikey I’d forgotten how long some RPGs were. I’ve only had FFXIII in the past 18 months, or so, as a true, fully-fledged console RPG worth playing for the subsequent 80+ hours. There have been others filing into the 30-50 hour mark of course. I have to say though; Dragon Quest VI is going to be one of the longest handheld RPGs I’ve played in a long time. The attentive among you may have noticed the word “going” in the previous sentence. At the rate I am “going” it will take me another fortnight at least to complete this game. I went onto on of those handy walkthroughs, just to look through the contents list at the beginning, and found that at nearly 30 hours into the game I’m roughly 1/3 of the way through the main story. So the following is as full a review as possible, neglecting to mention just the ending really, as I seem to have experienced enough of the story, graphics and gameplay elements to give my opinion on.

First things first: DS games, and particularly RPGs, have a good history of using the touch screen to navigate through menus and abilities during battles, making that element of the game easier and more fluid for the player… is really what I SHOULD be saying, but alas, DQVI falls out of it’s starting blocks before anyone has even fired the pistol.

The game has next to no touch screen integration whatsoever. After all the time spent porting it onto the DS it baffles me that the developers didn’t have the decency to allow touch screen controls during battle. Oh, but it’s okay, because there’s a Slime mini-game you can play that uses the touch screen, so it’s almost as if the designers have used some effort and innovation isn’t it? Well no, not really.

Anyway, after my irritation wore off I decided just to get on with things and use good old-fashioned button-presses. I swiftly changed the battle message speed up to full, hoping that might assist me in speeding through the game a bit more. “What’s that?” the game seemed to say, reading my thoughts, “You want to get through this nice and quickly? Well we can’t have that,” it continued, crossing its arms and pouting like a perturbed child. Every single action, battle message, speech message, piece of text, item discovery, learnt ability, gained money, has to go through the RSI-inducing action of pressing the A button to continue on to the next instruction, screen of text, or menu, etc.

After a time I discovered I could mash in the characters’ battle instructions without even looking at the screen, and then mindlessly twiddle the 3DS thumb pad until the animations stopped and I was back at the main battle screen. This gave my thumbs a rest but still seemed to add about 20% more time to anything I did. I could have been halfway through the game if half of the faffing about and needless button mashing had been removed. I’m all for grinding and levelling up in RPGs, but when it takes so long and is so damn arduous that I have to resort to using other appendages just to spice up the monotonous drawl of selecting the next thing I have to do, I’m not really enjoying the game.

Right, I’m two-thirds of the way through this review and I’ve not talked about the characters or the story yet. Well what is there to tell you, really? You’re a nameless blue-haired Hero, who starts the game with two companions on a mission somewhere to defeat the villainous Murdaw (believe me, there are far worse character and place names that crop up later on), only to wake up back home and discover it was a dream. Or maybe it wasn’t. You’re not quite sure and really, the dream-hopping and other-world travelling that ensues soon gets a bit messy. I couldn’t tell initially if I was travelling between different worlds at the same time period, or different universes with different sets of characters and alternate places, similarly named but somewhat different to the “real world”, or whether I was travelling backwards and forwards in time, and OH MY GOD JUST TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON…

There’s a distinct lack of being told what to do in this game. As you gain characters, you can talk to them outside of battles and while walking round towns, but the information they provide so rarely of any help it’s a wonder they added the feature at all. Once this game gets going (about 10-15 hours in) things become much smoother. A clear path and story is set out, and I felt more aware of what I was doing and where/when I was doing it.

The vocation system (job/class system for those familiar to any other RPG) works very well once you finally get it, but it seems like you get it a little too late. You choose a vocation for a character to develop, such as Warrior, Martial Artist, Mage etc., and you must level these up to learn abilities. Once you master them, you can unlock new vocations and combine mastered vocations to attain super rare and more prized vocations later on. You level up vocations by defeating monsters, HOWEVER – you only gain experience points towards your vocations if the monsters you defeat are of a higher level than the character that defeated it. This means you’re constantly on the run trying to find stronger enemies because your characters keep levelling up too quickly, and you can’t make them stronger to continue the game without accessing some different vocations. The first 20% of the game was only there to unlock the ability to gain and change vocations…

On the whole, the characters are nicely varied and there are plenty of sub-quests to flesh things out, but expect to put in a good 80-100 hours into this one, folks. This game is lengthened by the amount of button presses you have to do, but the story, dialogue between the characters and the gameplay as a whole are good, marred only by development choices that I thought would have been bred out of RPGs on the DS by now. We’ve had the DS for some seven years; any developers failing to add smoother and faster touch screen controls, or reducing needless button- mashing ought to be pushed into an oubliette slowly filling with warm lard.

DQVI should have been a neat, snappy little RPG. But it starts off too flabby and slow, and does nothing to lose the excess weight throughout that getting through the damn game is like swimming through the aforementioned tidal wave of hot fat.

Buff Review Show and the Dragon Blood-y Mary

A fantasy-reader’s choice of literary beverage. ‘Natch.

Anyway, just finished the book and wanted to get my thoughts out as soon as possible.

The Dragon Haven

Some things work well in two parts. I can’t imagine trying to condense Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ into one blood-curdling film, nor would you want to split a game of football into three parts, because you’re essentially giving the players more of a breather between running around with a false limp, or rolling on the floor clutching their face when someone has grazed their shins. So when it comes to ‘The Dragon Haven’ by Robin Hobb, part two of a duet of novels, I am understandably left feeling a little confused by the end of the book on how I feel.

I have mentioned previously when reviewing the first book ‘The Dragon Keeper, in what is collectively known with part two as‘The Rain Wild Chronicles’, that Hobb is famed for writing brilliant trilogies and some standalone novels that don’t cross paths with the wThe Dragon Havenorlds and characters of the trilogies. This tale indeed intended to just be a standalone novel, following on directly from the second of Hobb’s trilogies, known as ‘The Liveship Traders’. The manuscript unfortunately became too large and would have been just over one thousand pages in length. The decision was made to split the books, but I am not sure if that aided the tale, or hindered it.

In ‘The Dragon Keeper’ we met our four principle characters. Firstly Sintara, a young girl “tainted” from birth by the traits of those touched by the Rain Wild River that flows through the cities of Trehaug and Cassarick; scales, claws and sharpened teeth all being associated with those who are more touched by the river than other. Captain Leftrin, a man with a ship crafted from Wizardwood, a substance known for it’s special ability to not be chewed up and damaged by the acidic water of the Rain Wild River, is drafted by the council in Trehaug to traverse the river to find a home for the dragons that hatched in the city five years previously, stunted, shameful creatures that can barely look after themselves, a far cry from the creatures of lore once spoken of with high regard. Two passengers aboard his boat from Bingtown, the trading capital of the southern regions in which these novels are set, include Alise Kincarron Finbok, a self professed dragon scholar, and her husband’s secretary Cedric, a strange fop of a man sent to accompany Alise on her journey as punishment for his support to her husband to allow her to make such a trip.

Without obviously spoiling the events of the first book, the second follows almost directly from the first, including the little sub-story at the start of each chapter, in the form of carrier pigeons messages sent from to bird keepers, one in Trehaug and one in Bingtown. Now in the first book it seemed unclear as to the purpose of these little chapter starters, as they didn’t really cross over at all with the main story, and acted more as just a date and time for us to know how much time passed between chapters. This is developed more in ‘The Dragon Haven’ and actually is truly enjoyable to see how things develop, link in a little bit to the main story, and how their story ends. This was strangely more satisfying to read than the ending, or the feel of the ending, to the main story itself.

The problem I think I have is, that, if this were a single novel, and it had been slightly shorter to make such a thing happen, I think the ending would have been more satisfying, or indeed if what ended up being two books had been fleshed out further and made into three books, a full trilogy, again I think I would have felt better after finishing it. However something in me just felt that how the book ended didn’t seem to fit right. The characters who remained with us all got to where they were going, and it was set up that obviously they had done their best to complete whatever objectives they were going for, personal and professional, and it just ended. I don’t know if I was expecting the ending to be more magical, or more fantastical, but the distance travelled and the changes experienced by the characters present just seem to be bigger and far more interesting than how it was all wrapped up in the last few pages.

Imagine the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but instead of getting the third film, we get an extra ten minutes at the end of the second film, in which Frodo and Sam find a way to teleport to Mordor, chuck the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom, and make it back to The Shire in time for a quick pint and a merry jig.

I don’t think I can class it as disappointment. Not at all. I loved the story that was told and the characters added to the Robin Hobb universe are all brilliant in their own right. And upon concluding the novel I decided to check out some fantasy literature forums I belong to scouring down info and other readers opinions. Much of the thoughts were along the same track as my own, loved the characters and the continuation of the previous trilogies works, but not entirely certain on that ending.

And then something else cropped up, much to my surprise at first, and then about five nanoseconds later all sense of surprise fled my body and was replaced with a mixture of knowing and anticipation. There was, upon Hobb’s decision to split the manuscript into two parts, the possibility for her to add a third novel, continuing the story of the voyage of the Liveship Tarman, previously mentioned as the ship captained by Leftrin, following on from the events of ‘The Dragon Haven’. Not two comments later, I found out that this volume of the story was ALSO now to be split into two parts. So what started off as a standalone novel, will now span four books, the third and fourth of which will be released a few months apart in 2012, likely to be sometime in April, and then late summer to early autumn, for what have been titled ‘City of Dragons’ and ‘Dragon Blood’ respectively.

So am I happy in knowing that the story, perhaps, is not entirely over? Yes, absolutely. Knowing that now, this book feels more like the an unfinished part of a whole mass of dragons, Liveships, serpents, love and tragedy, as well as a novel that itself has a start, middle and end. It just so happens that the end of this book is just the beginning of another. I’ve just got the nagging problem that the next part is going to be some ten months away…

Buff Review Show Sneaks the Mutants in through the Backdoor

Sounds like one or two dates I’ve had before now…

Anyway, here is my much-anticipated (I’m sure) X-Men: First Class review! Finally! It’s done! Stop emailing me! =P

X-Men: First Class

It’s reboot of the month time! *waves ceremonial flag*X-Men Okay so you know the formula right? Surely you must? Okay, well those who do go and put the kettle on while I spell things out for anybody else.

When a new franchise of films or games comes along, the following happens 104% of the time:

1st Title- is the new introduction to series/character/franchise, whether old or new.
2nd Title- normally follows on from the first, and can occasionally be the first part of a two-part movie spectacular when linked in with the 3rd title in the franchise. Also tends to be the strongest of the three.
3rd Title- used to tie up all the plot lines and stories of the 2nd title, if it is a direct sequel, or the trilogy as a whole, and otherwise tends to be both the longest and least successful of the three.

And while the “original” X-Men Trilogy (as I guess we now need to refer to them) doesn’t quite stick to the formula, with the proverbial jury being out on whether the third film was a brilliant piece of Superhero cinema or an overlong excuse for Hugh Jackman to flex his bits all over the screen again. The trilogy then lead onto the Wolverine: Origins movie, which was originally though to be the first in a new trilogy of “Origin” titles, but no now that has been buggered up, because despite it being pretty weak sauce anyway (did we not cover enough of Wolverine’s story in the original trilogy anyway?) it sold better than triple-breasted blow-up doll made of chocolate, as thus is likely to get it’s own sequel. So we’re giving a sequel to the spin-off. ‘Kay… Seems to me that’d be like giving “Elektra” a sequel.

So now this is the point in the franchise when the reboot kicks in, or a prequel title to set everything up from the beginning, again. Star Trek, Star Wars and the Prince of Persia games are among a huge list of franchises that have all done this, to relatively wide degrees of success. X-Men: First Class isn’t a reboot as such, although from what I’ve been told by everyone I know who is a fan of the films, the games, the comics, the Beast plushies and the Rogue bed spreads, this film messes around with the timeline of the actual X-Men universe from the films, but there are so many alternate X-Men universes at this point I think this is something we should stop worrying about.

X-Men: First Class is set primarily during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the late 1960s, but sets up the events of the film slightly earlier than that, from the concentration camps in Europe to the halls of Oxford University. The film is definitely a strange blend on the surface; three parts ‘Schindler’s List’ to two parts ‘Austin Powers’ with only a passing resemblance to the X-Me films we’ve come to know. Gone are Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey and most of the other X-Men we’ve ever met. This story, like the Origin movie set around Wolverine, focuses on the dynamic duo of Magneto and Professor X, or as they were known in their younger days, Erik and Charles, played by Fassbender and McAvoy respectively, whom I must say do excellent jobs and really are in keeping with the characters you already know and love. Also returning from the future is Mystique, or as she was once known, Raven, whom we’re introduced to as a child when she mistakenly tries to enter young Charles Xavier’s home to impersonate his dead mother. Whoops. She reverts to her true form, which apparently comes with a rubbery faux blue skin complete with seams and zips and her name written in the label, and the two become inseparable (look at that scene closely when the DVD comes out).

First Class takes us on the journey of how the two became friends, before they became bickering geriatrics in fabulous costumes. I find it strange that although the huge presences of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are clearly missing, they are not missed. The whole atmosphere is more muted than the previous films, but not in a boring way. With all the 60s glamour and music and lingo and bad clothing, the gap in brightly coloured costumes and hair-styles and powers seems to have been filled quite nicely, and no point ever seems to devoid of life, nor to overly exuberant. It is a strange equilibrium, but there is clear thought into how this film was going to look and feel, and the finished product displays this proudly through every scene.

I watched this film, positively enrapt, from start to finish wanting to leave the cinema so I could queue up and watch it again. This is as close to perfection, I feel, that any superhero genre movie has ever gotten, and might ever achieve. And for a reboot, that is no mean feat.

But before I affix a plethora of gold stars to First Class’s blazer, I must point out that his cap is askew and there is a scuff on his left boot. By this I mean there are one or two things that irk me ever so slightly, and both come right near the end of the film. Actually the first of which happens throughout the film a number of times, and this is the witty little jokes and asides the characters have that set up things that have happened (and will happen in their future), such as names, professions, hair styles and generally they’re just there as a no to the audience. Fine. When used in moderation I was okay with this. Then we get a deluge of them right towards the end, and several are repeated that we have already heard from one character or another, and you’re kind of left sitting there thinking “I know he is going to end up being bald as a coot, get on with this scene”.

The only other thing that annoyed me slightly was Charles losing his ability to walk. Oh come on this isn’t a spoiler, he’s been in a wheelchair most of his life, although, depending on your source, exactly when this takes place is up to some sort of roulette demon who picks and chooses paralysis dates like he’d chose the evening’s takeaway. That, however, isn’t my cause for annoyance. In the scene when the incident happens for Charles to become paralysed, in the wide shot, we see James McAvoy’s legs move. Okay, fine, it might have been a small error, but when you have made me lurch out of my seat at every moment, you better get the big details correct in the final scenes, because I was sitting so close to the edge of my seat I was practically perched upon the person two rows in front of me. And if I am willing to clamber over my fellow man to get a better look at a superhero movie, that really is all the review from me that you need folks!

Buff Review Show- Total Eclipse, Not By Half

Thought a Bonnie Tyler reference seemed apt there… Anyway, here’s Journey!

Journey- “Eclipse” Review 

Journey- 'Eclipse' I was quite honestly born in the wrong decade totruly enjoy Journey.As previously stated, the peak of music in my youth was Blue (Dabba Dee Dabba Di) by Eiffel 65, so it is up to those around me to often educate me in the music I missed from “back in the day”. I’ve gone back and listened to the catalogues of some bands that I like from more modern times (Elbow most recently), but Journey would never have crossed my mind to go back at research of my own accord.

So with an impending concert date in Manchester with Journey (and Foreigner, and Styx;by the way what a gig!) I went back and listened to a selection of the vast library of albums, and got a good few listens of new record, ‘Eclipse’, before venturing up North to the MEN Arena.

Okay, I’ll give as brief as history as possible on the current line-up of the band, because going into the history of some Eastern European countries would take less time than this lot. Journey is an American rock band formed in the early 70s, from former members of Santana. To say the band has gone through a few changes in its lifetime is an understatement. There have been some seventeen different members of the band over the years, some coming and going, coming again, going again and so forth. Many have played through all different instruments and vocal levels for the band.

The strongest commercial period was probably from the late 70s through to 1987, when they temporarily disbanded. They later regrouped with a five-a-side football squad of lead singers over the course of the past decade or so, finally settling upon Arnel Pineda in 2008 after discovering the Philippines-born singer on Youtube singing various rock ballads from the greats, including themselves, Foreigner and Survivor.

The album ‘Revelations’ swiftly followed Arnel’s arrival in 2008, a 2-disc album, 10 new tracks (plus a couple of covers) and a Greatest Hits disc with all tracks re-recorded with Arnel at the helm. ‘Revelations’ was widely known, and advertised, as being typically Journey. With a new line-up and new energy, the group had to establish Arnel and his sound first with Journey’s previous, and long-standing, fans, as well as newcomers to the band. Revelations was well received by most, and brought the band back into the fray.

When it came time for their latest album, ‘Eclipse’, to be released, Journey had already had a publicity boost- with ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ being used in Glee and, prior to that, The Sopranos, on top of Family Guy and anybody with a working larynx, the band had the stage set before them to really do what they wanted with the new record, and just create a full-on rock album, something Neal Schon has been threatening/promising to do for about five or six albums now (or at least since “Raised for Radio” was released, way back in 1986). This, however, hasn’t always been so with the end product, returning to the previously occupied Former Republic of Balladland.

Finally, though, it seems they have been able to deliver exactly what they’ve been promising for fifteen years now. Mostly.

‘City of Hope’ is the big rock opener the album needed, full of beautiful melodies and a chorus that sticks in your head, and finishes with a huge guitar solo from Schon, which then leads on to ‘Edge of the Moment’. Two songs into a Journey album and not a sign of cheesy 80’s-ness, a pleasant surprise for fans aplenty. In fact many fans have had, in a positive light, that this is the most un-Journey-esque album the group have released. Not to mention the highly surprising ‘Chain of Love’, a personal favourite of mine from both the album and the concert, a smooth blend of Arnel’s tones (more reminiscent of former lead singer Steve Perry than in any other song I’ve heard), some soft piano tinkling before hitting into some massive riffs on the album. This song went down an absolute storm at the concert and is another early favourite alongside the opener.

A few songs further down the line, and more familiar traits of Journey begin to appear on the record. ‘Tantra’ is a ballad of years past, or it sounds like it should be, but was another song that went down incredibly well live last week at the gig. And with epic ballads comes softer, simpler rock songs, along the likes of ‘Someone’, and ‘Resonate’, which treads a fine line between the heavier and softer sides of Journey’s rock coin, with yet another huge performance from Arnel. Some of the notes this guy can hit are ridiculous, something myself and about twenty thousand other people agreed upon at the live concert. Arnel certainly seems to have had an effect on the lyrics, the content is still that age-old theme of love when it comes to the lyrics for most of ‘Eclipse’, but there are different viewpoints and a uniqueness to parts of the album unfamiliar from post-break-up Journey records.

And as we get closer to the album’s slightly underwhelming climax, the guitar riffs get bigger, the pop-rock fluency from Journey’s past becomes more apparent, and, despite the slightly elongated ending to ‘Human Feel’ which goes from uber-strong drumming to catchy choruses with the flick of a pick, it is almost as if the album just decides it is tired and just wants to curl up in a ball for the final gasps. It isn’t weak, it’s just not living up to the rest of the much-promised ‘Eclipse’ that had come before it. Instrumental finale ‘Venus’ continues on from the end of ‘To Whom it may Concern’ and it’s a shame that these two parts weren’t left as one long nine minute number to end the album on, preceded by ‘Someone’, the most typically Journey song of the whole piece.

This is the first Journey album I have listened to all the way through, and then on repeat, on my iPod. I might not go back and listen to the entire catalogue, but Revelations has been coming onto my playlist a few times, and I am tempted to give ‘Frontiers’ a proper listen to at some point, but what was displayed at the gig and what has been produced on this record can only spell good things for Journey’s futre. They’ve got a lot of touring to do, and maybe we’ll see what other artistic influence Arnel can have on his third album with the band.

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