All posts by clementssan

Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Movie Review

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Christmas in Japan – what do I know about it?  Well, considering Christianity makes up 2.3% of religious beliefs in the county (that’s still 2.9 million people, roughly the entire population of Jamaica…quite insane, I know) it usually is celebrated as a secular and commercial holiday that’s good for business.  I’m aware that it’s quite traditional for Kids who (sort of) experience it like every other country that allows it.  While for adults and teens, it depends on the individual.  Some go on dates, others are with family and friends, and others are alone or too busy with work and it’s a normal day.  There’s also the known fact that KFC’s business booms around that time of year, to the point that meals have to be ordered a year in advance…and then there’s the strawberry cream cake, which is also, seemingly, a Japan-only Christmas tradition long before Chicken was considered.  However, despite the range of celebrations of the holiday around this time of year – the artistic expression of the season isn’t as evident beyond the Christmas Decorations.  SEGA’s Ryū ga Gotoku (Yakuza) games usually happen in December, so the decorations are up and the music is playing throughout each tale.  Some anime shows would have 1 Christmas episode, usually about the 2 love interests in a Slice-Of-Life anime, and altogether there are only 3 Japanese Christmas Movies that Wikipedia is aware of:  The live action (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, starring David Bowie and featuring Ryuchi Sakamoto’s famous piano piece of the same name), the stop motion animation from 1979 called Nutcracker Fantasy, and of course, the 1 in focus for today; The anime.

Directed by the late great Satoshi Kon (7 years later, the void remains), Tokyo Godfathers is a Christmas movie about 3 homeless people; Gin, a middle aged gambling addict and alcoholic who says he was a bicycle racer.  Hana, a former drag queen who became homeless after the death of a boyfriend.  And finally, Miyuki, a fouled-mouthed 14 year old high school student who ran away from home after a violent argument with her father.  After receiving food from a Christian Outreach via outdoor soup kitchen with Christmas Carols and Sermon, the 3 end up finding a baby in a trash pile, which in turn leads us on an adventure as the 3 unlikely heroes go in search of the baby’s parents.

Now to go into some details:

The Animation, much like Satoshi Kon’s other work, is absolutely top notch.  It’s grounded in reality, and yet it throws in a number of facial expressions and visual quirks that can only be found in animation.  The expressions are realistic with a subtle cartoon hint that isn’t really over the top.

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Actors are awesome, but sometimes you need to turn volumes up to 11 in the facial department for the biggest laugh.

Unlike Satoshi Kon’s other work, which are extremely colourful and like to blend reality and fantasy – Tokyo Godfather’s art style chooses to be grounded in reality, with any blending being created by hunger induced hallucinations.  The backgrounds look like they were rotoscoped from photographs (Some might ask why not just use the photos on their own to save time, well, animated characters need to be in a world that looks like somewhere they belong, and sometimes you’re not going to get completely empty shops and streets).  The the brightest scenes in the movie take place either indoors or where street lights or business signs are in galore.  In the process there is balance and change in scenery.

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Yes, in the name of submerging animated characters their world, you sometimes have to recreate photos as illustrations.

The Music is like the film’s story – Happy, Sad, Funny and Chaotic.  It doesn’t stand out like the rest of the movie, or even from other Kon movies like Perfect Blue and Paprika where music is tied into the stories.  But it’s eclectic and suits the scenes really well, including, obviously, at least 1 Christmas song.

The Voice Acting is excellent with both the weight and the emotion transcending the language barrier (This is the Japanese audio).  Japanese audiences could say otherwise, but to my ear, it worked really well.

The Characters, especially our 3 heroes, are very colourful and at times can come across as more human than most live action shows.  With the exception of the thugs that beat up Gin halfway into the movie, no character comes across as bad…just sad, broken and lonely – a reflection on how some people are around that time of year.  Throughout the movie, these 3 meet all sorts of folk, ranging from troubled couples to Yakuza to immigrants to other people who remind them either of their past or point them towards their possible future if they continue down such a path.  Together they make up a sort of distorted nuclear family with Gin as the drunk good-for-nothing dad, Hana as the protective mother, Mizuki as the oldest child who fights with Dad, and obviously the baby Kiyoko (whose name means pure child, a reference to being found on Christmas Eve)as the newest arrival.  As the story progresses, even for just 92 minutes, you get to know who they really are and even feel for them deeply as they confront their pasts.

The Story and its themes are by far Satoshi Kon’s most straightforward while having all of the twists and turns of an unpredictable but oddly logical story.  It places great emphasis on coincidences and timing.  It shows that even the smallest detail can tie complete strangers to each other for better or worse.  It also has “miracles” woven into the plot, as particular timing seems to not only rescue the 3 homeless grumps (and a baby), but also have them confront their pasts – pasts that made them homeless to begin with, whether through misunderstandings or stupid mistakes and selfishness.  The theme of family plays throughout the film as well.  This thrown together family is highly dysfunctional, and could part ways if they wanted to…and yet they look out for each other.  It challenges not only traditional families, but also the pseudo family.

Would I recommend Tokyo Godfathers?  Absolutely!  It’s not a Christmas movie that gets brought up much, but it’s incredibly funny and entertaining, even if anime is not your cup of tea.  It’s humour (and language) is not for kids, but it has a ton of heart and is probably 1 of the best seemingly-out-of-place Christmas movies out there.

Animation: ****3/4

Art Style: ****3/4

Music: ****

Voice Acting: ****3/4

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Themes: *****

Overall: ****3/4

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Amelie (2001) Movie Review

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20 years ago today, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris that led to much mourning and sadness throughout the world.  On that same day in the same city in a small apartment, a 23 year old waitress, who was born to eccentric parents, drops a plastic perfume stopper out of shock of Diana’s death in the news.  Upon catching her thoughts again, she noticed the perfume lid had actually moved a tile in her bathroom a little bit out of place.  She pulls back the tile to find a small tin box…and inside it is a little tin box containing the toys and memories of a young boy who lived in the same apartment many years before.  Upon this discovery, the waitress decided she would make it her mission to find the boy, and return his treasure to him.  And thus, our quiet, unassuming young woman goes from Amelie Poulain the Waitress of the 2 Windmills to Amelie Poulain the scheming do-gooder who also happens to work as a waitress.

Much like how Perfect Blue got me interested in Anime and Ringu got me interested in Japanese cinema – Amelie got me interested in French Cinema, and I’m all the more thankful for it.  But 16 years after its initial release, does it still hold up today?

Lets break it down, since I’ve already set up the story (before talking about whether it’s good or not).

Set in Paris, the visuals and art style are quite magnificent.  If you love the romanticised version of Paris, you’ll definitely get it here – and the fact that it uses a lot of real locations turns it into 1 more reason to visit Paris to find them – including the cafe known as The 2 Windmills being a real place.  It does have some CGI (such as Blubber the fish and Amelie’s imaginary friends), and while it can be seen as a little dated today, it doesn’t take anything away from the film itself – it was subtle enough.

The Acting in Amelie is less about being realistic and more focused on the fact that nearly everybody in this film is highly eccentric.  Audrey Tautou puts on an awesome performance as the quiet, shy, sly, introverted and surprisingly innocent Amelie.  1 reason she was cast was because of her Bambi-like eyes, but she brought so much more than that to the character, and has been absolutely adorable all the way.  In a film as strange as this, nobody stood out as bad in any way.

Nearly every character in Amelie is a Maverick of some sort, with the general quirkiness being the 1 thing that brings them together.  Despite assuming that Amelie is ‘different’, if you look more into it, you begin to realise that everybody in the film is a loner.  Her father’s a widower, her landlady’s a widow, her boss is a former circus performer who left due to injury, her co-workers are either chased by jealous ex-boyfriends or not seen as a catch, her customers are (sometimes) failures,  the shop keeper’s assistant is an art student who’s oppressed by his brash, bratty middle aged boss, and her neighbour hasn’t left his home in 20 years due to an illness.  We can also mention the love interest, who is just as alone as Amelie is.  When I first saw this movie, I saw the style, the quirk and the dark amusement first, as I was a teenager at the time.  But then I watched it again during a depression, and saw a very different film, and 1 I can say helped me at the time.  Today I saw a different film again, and it was today that I realised how alone all of the characters in the film are, not just Amelie.

The Story (which features 1 of the greatest prologues in the history of cinema) is mostly “the quest” done several times mixed with an unorthodox Romantic comedy and the coming-of-age story.  Amelie’s “other half” does exist, and much like herself, he is an eccentric loner with unusual hobbies (some people collect stamps, but he collects photo booth photos that were ripped up).  The writing is very french.  It’s cheeky, sarcastic, poetic, and full of derogatory descriptions.  What is Amelie’s goal?  It’s to make people happy without anybody knowing that she’s the 1 who set the wheels in motion and brought them to their destination.  However the real challenge is when it comes to her experiencing love and happiness for herself (She’s a shy 1, remember?).  Much like the romantic comedy, you’re pining for her to get with the guy who collects the photo booth pictures, and it’s quite a unique journey in that area.  At the same time, I’m reminded of Terry Gilliam’s Tideland a little bit.  That perhaps what is in this film is what Amelie herself sees.  There’s a lot of tragedy and sadness…and yet there’s an underlying optimism to the whole thing.  Like rose-tinted glasses.

The music was done by french musician Yann Tiersen, who only scored 2 other films after this 1.  What really surprised me is the fact that he brushes off any notion of being a film composer, saying that he’s a Studio and Touring Musician, and that his work just so happened to work with films.  In particular, this 1.  It’s actually amazing when you think about it, because the music is…perfect.  Perfect for this film, and it’s hard to imagine anything else playing.  It’s truly delightful and memorable.

The Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel incorporates a lot of wide angle shots, as well as photo filters that are practically a trademark to the film’s director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.  The filters are warm, giving any highlights a very creamy, yellowy appearance, while at the same time bringing out the other 2 main colours; red and green.  There is very little blue, and even the sky is practically green.  But does it work?  Absolutely!  The dream-like appearance the filters have created (along with being beautifully shot) just make the whole thing a real gem to look at.

Would I recommend Amelie?  Yes, yes, and yes.  I think you can tell from looking at the score that I absolutely adore this film (It’s in my personal top 3), and would recommend it to anybody who is of age (it’s definitely not for Children, just so you know).  It takes what could be seen as a very sad little world within itself and make it seem happy, quirky and interesting.  Possibly suggesting to us that it’s possible to find both humour and the extraordinary within what is very ordinary.  That it’s all in our heads.  If this is the world in Amelie’s head, then surely we can see the world in a similar fashion? … You figure it out, and let me know what you think.

Visuals/Art Style: *****

Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Cinematography: *****

Overall: *****

 

Syberia 3 (2017) Video Game Review

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After 13 years of waiting, this game was finally released and much like Kingdom Hearts fans waiting for number 3, fans rejoiced.  Compared to the original 2, Syberia 3 was eager to give back to fans by not only being available on PC, X-box One, Nintendo Switch, and PS4, but by also selling premium editions which included artwork, an art book, the game’s soundtrack, a 23 page comic book (which is also sold on comixology), a poster and a small figurine of the main character, Kate Walker.  At £100 for the console versions  and £40 for the PC version (which excluded the figurine and had everything else in a digital form) on release date, I chose to get the PC/Mac version, simply because I didn’t have the money.  Anyway.  Lets read about it.

Our story begins sometime after the events of Syberia 2.  Hans Voralberg, the last heir of the Voralberg automaton factory, has finally accomplished his goal by finding Syberia with Kate Walker, and then riding on the back of a large, wooly mammoth into the arctic sunset.  Such an ending then brought up the question – What happened to Kate Walker?  Well, in Syberia 3 we see this;  Kate ends up travelling (by foot) through the vast snowscape, until she collapses .  She is then found by a tribe of Youkols, natives to Syberia who haven’t changed with the times of the world around them.  The Youkols are on a pilgrimage, a long path to a land where their Snow Ostriches can partake in their mating season (or go extinct).  Kate wakes up in a hospital, where she is sharing the  room with Kurk, the young guide of the Youkols, who lost his leg and needs a prosthetic.  After finding out that there are people who are not only trying to stop the Youkol Migration, but also aiding the New York Detective, Nic Cantin, who was sent by Kate’s ex-law firm employers to find her and place her under arrest for various charges – Kate makes it her goal to not only avoid capture, but also to help the Youkols (and their ostriches) finish their pilgrimage.

Now to discuss components:

First of all, this game really nailed the artwork!  Benoit Sokal, a comic artist himself, worked as both author and art director, and contributed in the concept art.  The art itself was mostly done by Amanda Goengrich and Sebastien Bousquet.  I love how everything is presented with tons of quirks, much atmosphere, evident steampunk mixed with 20th century Russian stylisations and a very european charm that’s either found in european cinema or Wes Anderson movies.  The art book was a lovely addition to this also.

The graphics are…almost understandable, since this game was in development hell for so long and visuals in video games have grown so much since then – It’s safe to say the graphics are a mixed bag.  When I first bought the game, I was presented with the option of “beautiful but with fewer frames per second” or less detailed and faster.  I close detailed and slower – and I did rather enjoy the graphics around this time, despite the cinematic lag in framework.  However, about 3/4 of the way in, a patch was created on the PC/Mac version, and when I played the game afterwards, I could no longer choose my presentation.  In the end, the game did play a lot faster, but the textures were evidently worse.

The gameplay animation for this game, much like its previous chapters, is terrible.  It’s made even worse when you consider it’s 2017 when you look at it.  I can compare it to the animations in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes PC game series, which were as stiff as the Tin Man in the middle of a good oiling – but I guess it has become a running trend – that while Sokal gets amazing artists, his renders, animators and possibly his choice in software, leave a lot to be desired.

The cutscene animation is better than the gameplay animation by a long shot – but when compared to its contemporaries, it’s pretty ordinary at best.

The gameplay has an inconsistent quality with a number of curveballs thrown in.  Several puzzles were very easy, others had me wandering around lost for 20 minutes.  But many-a-times you need to think outside the box.  Such as 1 particular puzzle that seemed to require a code, when in actuality, I just needed to smash it with something.  Little things like that which can go over your head.

The voice acting seems to vary in quality, depending on the character.  I played it in english, but when I watched the cutscenes again in French it sounded (and looked) so much better!  Much, much more endearing.  Makes me feel like I’m watching a Jean Pierre Jeunet film in places.  But since my ear to the quality of french voice acting is limited, I can only talk about the english version.  The voice for Kate Walker (Sharon Mann) is by far the best, while many other voices don’t seem to match the characters, especially Mr Steiner the Clockmaker (who sounds like a bank clerk than a grizzled artist) and Olga the evil doctor (who sounds 30 years younger than she looks).  They sound so much more in character in the french voiceover.

The characters are what you would expect from the series.  With the exception of Kate herself, many are there for a short time.  Full of character?  Yes.  But their time in-game doesn’t always last, as the story likes to progress rather quickly (depending on how good you are at this sort of game).  During their short stints, you basically know who they are in their appearance, the environment and their dialogue by the end of it.  Which, to be honest, can take great skill.  Enjoyable, and 1 of the better aspects of the game.

The Story’s actually very good when you’ve been following the rest of the series and manages to maintain a consistency.  It’s like the series has been able to continue without much time gone past.  It’s colourful, funny, and full of twists and turns to the point of finding its 1 problem after another as an amusing wink to the audience.

The music by Inon Zur is 1 of the best parts of the game.  A mixture of Tribal music, chanting, wooden instruments, brass and some strings, it manages to provide an oddly magical sound to the game that would have otherwise suffered without it.  You feel the adventure, the mystery, the danger (in a quirky, theatrical way), the struggle, the sadness, the longing, and the hope, which are just some things I love about it.    Even when the game’s over, I’ll be sticking this on for some ambience or pondering.  Really, really great stuff!

Would I recommend Syberia 3?  Maybe.  It depends.  As a whole, and within context of the times in which it came out, it’s safe to say that Syberia 3 is not as good as its previous chapters.  It struggles to make any impact on the modern market, the attempts to give back to fans have possibly been thrown back at them (with their broken statues in £100 premium editions) and at times it feels like the world has very much moved on without it.  It’s the little fishing boat chasing the large cruise liner containing the Triple-A developers.  As someone who creates things without “going through the system” – I actually feel for this game and its developers.  It’s created by people who tried, and wanted it to succeed.  They had hopes of it doing well and putting the franchise back on the map, and it ended up being disappointing, even when I was willing to accept all of the things that they would have been ashamed of themselves (which was usually in the animation department more than anything else).  Fair play to them, they managed to get the game out there after 13 years with some wonderful qualities to it.  But the whole thing feels bittersweet.  If they release Syberia 4, I’ll be ready for it.  Whether it’s an actual game or a Comic-book-continuation that’s similar to how Buffy, Angel and Firefly are still going in comic form, even when the show has finished or been cancelled.  Either way, as someone who enjoys Sokal’s work, may this story keep going somehow.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **3/4

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ***1/2

Gameplay: **3/4

Voice Acting: **1/2 (**** in French)

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****

Music: *****

Overall: ***1/2

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) Video Game Review

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Right, we’re now on the last game of the Nathan Drake series known as Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End.  What is entailed when it’s called a thief’s end?  So much is left up for interpretation.  But that’s for you to witness.  So here we go.

Our story starts with Nathan Drake on a boat in the middle of the ocean with another man by the name of Sam.  The sea is incredibly rough due to a huge storm, and they are being chased by a huge militia.  Their boat is basically destroyed.  Several flashbacks happen to provide us with some more backstory to Nathan, including his time at the Catholic Orphanage and his time in prison in the late 90s.  We then see where Nate is, several years after the events of Uncharted 3 – He’s now retired from adventure and living an honest life working as a diver for a Marine Salvaging company.  He’s back with Elena, and their life is nice…but a bit boring for them.  However a job offered to Nathan in Malaysia seems to provide him with some excitement…His life then changes when Sam – his older brother, whom he thought dead, has returned with a request. He broke out of jail with the help of a ruthless man, who wants a huge payout from Sam in exchange for his life, through treasure.  The treasure?  Henry Avery’s $400 million fortune from the 1695 gun heist – a huge stash that has allured the brother since they were teenagers.  Reluctant at first, then giving into temptation – Nathan lies to Elena, saying he is taking the job in Malaysia – and with the help of Sully, they head to Italy to retrieve their first clue – the St Dismas Cross (a wooden idol of the thief to whom Jesus Christ said “On this day you’ll be with me in paradise”).

Now to venture into the details:

The graphics…The graphics are absolutely amazing, as it not only surpassed what The Last Of Us had accomplished, but it managed to be easily 1 of the best looking games on the PS4.  Much like the original trilogy was on the PS3 (before it was remastered on the PS4), it flows at the cinematic frame rate of 30 frames per second (The trilogy flows at 60FPS on the PS4) which provides a nice touch…and when you consider the size and detail of the game…maybe it’s for the best at this time, unless the Playstation 5 offered a 60 frames version.

The art style is absolutely inspired!  So much variety in the scenery, so much to look at.  A truly organic looking game.  I really went all out with the game’s Photo Mode.  Adoring everything that was presented to me, and almost wishing it was real.

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This view…

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This inside joke…

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This mood…

The gameplay…if you didn’t think they could have upped the gameplay from Uncharted 2, you’re in for a surprise.  Along with Nate’s melee attacks being improved yet again, We’re also given new ways of attacking and getting around.  You now have the option of driving, whether it be by boat or by jeep (rather than just being the gunman all the time), the ability to take out hordes of soldiers using only stealth (much like Metal Gear games), and of course…the grappling hook.  Which adds more to the puzzle aspects of the exploration.  I had an incredible amount of fun with this, and didn’t feel any boredom from it.

The music for the first time in the series’ history is not done by Greg Edmundson, but rather Henry Jackman, whose CV includes Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Big Hero 6 and both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  To be very clear, this doesn’t stop the game from having a highly memorable score in its own right.  By not having its original theme song, it instantly suggests a change in direction or simply something new…and that something new is from being played on the next generation system.

Uncharted 4 has a bittersweetness to it when you consider that Amy Hennig, the Director and 1 of the 3 writers of the original trilogy, wasn’t involved in this game.  However, despite her absence, the story is excellent.  Really excellent in fact.  If you’ve journeyed with these characters before, then you’ll notice that this is the series’ storytelling at its most advance and well polished.  While The Golden Abyss was full of one-upmanship in dialogue – Uncharted 4 managed to make this game absolutely hilarious.  The banter between all of them, not just Nate, Sully and Sam, is fantastic.  It remembers the importance of fun, but at the same time it manages to avoid some cliches.  This game is also where you see Nate and Elena’s relationship at its most mature, as it is here we see Elena’s greatest acceptance of who Nate is and what he does, as well as Nate’s feeling that he really has something to lose.  The main villains, Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, would in their own right be pretty scary.  Rafe is a smirking, selfish, millionaire psychopath who reminds me of pro wrestler Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, while Nadine, a paramilitary leader, is more or less a South African Melina May – You don’t get into a fist fight with her.

Would I recommend Uncharted 4?  Yes – if you’re a human being.  Uncharted 4 took what made every instalment before it great, and created what is likely the best possible outcome.  It’s refined, yet with more to see and do.  It’s possibly 1 of the funniest games I’ve ever played.  So full of life and intrigue.  If this is the last time we ever play as Nathan Drake, I don’t mind, because it might never be topped.  An absolute pleasure of a video game.

Graphics: *****

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: *****

Overall: *****

Syberia 2 (2004/2015) Video Game Review

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We return to Syberia!  Or lets just say, our journey towards the title land continues.  If you haven’t played Syberia 1 yet, then don’t read this, as I’ll probably be spoiling some of the previous instalment.  To commemorate the recent release of Syberia 3 after 13 years of waiting, here is Syberia 2.

We begin our journey right where we left off in Syberia 1 – After deciding she wanted to help Hans Vorelberg find Syberia Island, rather than give Hans’ signed contract to pass the deed of the automaton factory to another toy company through her bosses in New York – Kate Walker continues her journey at the cost of going home to her family, friends and work.  Meanwhile, Kate’s Law Firm has sent Private Detective Nick Cantin to search for Kate and bring her home.  The Automaton Train makes a last stop in the last piece of civilisation in the area, Romansbourg.  A very small town that’s divided in 2 – On top is the higher level, for those who look down on everyone, and on the ground floor is everybody else.  Those who live in the higher levels include the Station Master and the monks in the monastery.  On the ground floor are civilians trying to get by…even to the point of craftiness and selfishness.  With Hans’ health being an issue and Oscar showing more humanity despite telling everyone he’s only designed for a particular purpose, Kate does all she can to make it to the end of the journey, and not only see if Syberia is real, but if Mammoths actually exist…Because what adventure doesn’t have hiccups?

Now to discuss details:

The art style is as good as ever, and some adjustments have been made here and there.  The grainy but quirky backdrops have been replaced with a smoother, more painterly style.  However there is a lot more snow in this game compared to last time, so that could be easily done.  The character designs and the towns are very interesting and full of life, despite how little time some of them have on screen.

The graphics are roughly the same as before – occasionally better and occasionally worse.  Much like Syberia 1 it’s very rough around the edges and clunky, with fixed backgrounds.  Occasionally it snows and there are more character animations.  But 1 or 2 animations are…not great.  One in particular comes from Kate walking up to the Monastery – There’s a bird that flies away in our direction when Kate comes into scene.  It’s a great idea.  But if Kate is running, she will actually overlap the bird!…It was never destined to look like a Naughty Dog game, even in 2004.  But rather it’s a platform for some great imagination, art and storytelling.

The gameplay animation, believe it or not, is a little worse.  This was never a strong point in the series, but dear goodness it didn’t do well here.

The cutscene animation is an improvement, with some very nicely presented cut scenes, including the Cabaret Scene, the Escape and the screen were Kate basically flies.  For 2004, they were nicely done and occasionally reminding me of Final Fantasy 8 and 9 cutscenes for the PS1 (which were designed as PS2 graphics prototype presentations).

The gameplay is around the same.  Excellent puzzles, much exploration and some tight spots that could occasionally make you feel lost.  My advice is to go everywhere and touch everything..and use your head.

The Voice Acting, depending on whether you’re playing this in english or not, is slightly worse, despite how cartoony they’re meant to be with some characters being particularly annoying.  Kate and Oscar are fine, but the ‘villains’ are a bit weird…as are the Youkol (yes, you finally meet the Youkol mentioned in Syberia 1)

The Characters serve a greater range, and even have a more long-term villain to act as a Maguffin for Kate.  I like that both Kate and Oscar are developed more, with Kate being more sarcastic and annoyed than before, as well as Oscar…I guess everyone gets to that point while on an adventure.

The story maintains the same feel as the original, but it’s also a different story altogether.  Before it was about searching for Hans Voralberg and now it’s about getting Hans to Syberia.  The roles of the train, Ivory Dealers, Bear, the Chasing Detective and Hans’ health also add a nice sense of urgency to the journey.

The music is by a different composer this time – instead of being by Dimitri Bodiansky and Nicolas Varley, it’s by Israeli-American Inon Zur.  It maintains the same charm and character as the previous chapter, but at the same time the influences used make it clear that you’re no longer in Europe and very much in Russia from here on out.  It borrows a bit from traditional Russian music, as well as Eastern Orthodoxy chants and Tribal music.  There is also a part of the game where the theme reminded me of Edward Scissorhands…which was interesting.

Would I recommend Syberia 2?  Yes I would.  It’s roughly as good as the first 1 and is a continuation of the story for those who want to know what happened after last time.  If you became a fan of the series through the first 1, then you’ll be happy to know you’re not going to be disappointed with this 1, all while maintaining its charm and good points.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ****1/4

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ***3/4

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2004)

Ghost In The Shell (2017) Movie Review

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Dear goodness…the amount of crap this film got while it was in production was staggering, and the amount of crap it’s getting now that its been released to the public hasn’t actually subsided.  “They’re whitewashing a Japanese story by casting an American in a Japanese role”  “It’s a hollywood movie – so of course they’re going to mess it up, since it’s something we love and they want to destroy it for profit!”  “How dare you… in general!”  But is it really as bad as they say? – lets find out.  Keeping in mind, I’m a Ghost In The Shell fan who enjoys the movies, TV show and Manga.  So here goes:

Set in the near future (around 2029, since the manga is a product of the late 1980s), our story revolves around Major Mira Killian (Major Motoko Kusanagi in the other stories and played by Scarlett Johansson), who awakens after what seems like the aftermath of a horrible accident involving a refugee boat.  She finds herself lying on a table.  Her body is that of completely augmented cybernetics – a robot body that resembles a human being is nearly every way.  The only ‘old’ thing about her, is her brain, hence her ghost.  Shortly after this, she is flung into working for the anti-terrorist organisation known as Section 9, which includes Chief Daisuke Aramaki (played by Takeshi Kitano from that kooky Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle), ex-ranger Batou (played by Pilou Asbæk, aka Euron Greyloy in Game Of Thrones), full-human detective Togusa (Chin Han), behind-the-scenes guy and tech specialist Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere) and the sniper Saito (Yutaka Izumihara).  When a hacker is using other augmented cybernetic beings to kill off key figures at a Hanka Business Conference, it’s up to Section 9 to find out who this hacker is, and to stop him.

Now to talk about various factors:

First of all, the main 1s that people complained about – the casting, acting and characters.  They complained about whitewashing the film…even though it’s a multinational cast.  You have a Jewish American, American, Japanese, Danish, French, Chinese-Singaporean, British varieties, Fiji-Australian, Romanian and Canadian, among others.  To suggest any racism involved is complete madness!  Consider the possibility of them trying to please the culturally sensitive…and Ladriya?  Ladriya is new!  She’s played by a Kurdish-Pole from London named Danusia Samal, and why is she there?  Because in the source material the Major stands out by being the only female in Section 9.  You want a strong independent woman?  The Major in the anime and manga could beat up the rest of Section 9 with the possible exception of Batou.  They added a 2nd female to the team to avoid accusations of male-dominated workplaces in movies.  It also needs to be considered that there are justifications to such choices throughout the flick.  One of which would be a spoiler.  Another is to recognise a very subtle possibility, which is immigration.  The prospect of Non-Japanese people living and working in Japan.  It’s already happening.  What if some politician decides to open the borders, UK and US style, in Japan in the future?  It’s unlikely.  But consider everything.  It is a seemingly unwritten future doomed to repeat itself after all…then you take the narrative of Ghost In The Shell to thought – The Ghost In The Shell universe saw World War 3 from 2000 to 2015, the second Vietnam war from 2015 to 2024 and the second Korean war which takes place in 2024…That can merit immigration to some.  Was the acting world-class?  No.  But it worked fine and nobody was bad, even though Kaori Momoi would probably have been more comfortable speaking Japanese rather than english…but then again she isn’t speaking to a Japanese character.  They did their jobs pretty well.  Nothing stood out as amazing acting, but nothing fell into Tommy Wiseau territory either.  The characters, when compared to their anime and manga roles, were mostly moved a bit out of the way to focus on the Major and occasionally Batou.  We forget that this mostly happened in the 1995 anime movie as well, but we love that movie and don’t question it, so we continue poking at the flaws of this 1.  Did they tell a different story that isn’t in the source and is different to the 1995 version?  Yes!  How Batou got his eyes is different (in fact, it’s given an origins to those who haven’t seen any other material) and how the Major came to being is different…It is its own film borrowing from excellent sources, like samples for every rap song you ever loved.

The CGI and graphics can be a little hit and miss.  Where it works well, it’s fantastic, and where it doesn’t work as well, it’s pretty obvious…believe it or not, the presentation of traffic is pretty bad.  But the presentation of the Major’s building blocks and action scenes were really good.

The art style and decisions borrow a great deal from Cyberpunk and particularly from the legendary film Bladerunner.  People can argue that it “doesn’t cover much new ground”, but I say it’s a welcome return to some charismatic and likeable settings.  I miss good looking cyberpunk, and I’m happy to see it return in some way.  You’ll notice a lot of interesting choices, from ’90s haircuts to smoking to heroin chics to Hologram advertising to dark passages and night clubs…it has character.

The music is done by Clint Mansell, the english composer who has done every Darren Aronofsky film (and is famous for his composition Lux Aeterna) – he provides an excellent soundtrack that is pure cyberpunk and very 80s (in a good way).  At the same time, he manages to take Kenji Kawai’s score from the 1995 Ghost In The Shell and both faithfully and respectfully reintroduce it to the public with remixed elements.  The music helped make this film feel like a classic cyberpunk film…something I’ve hoped to see in a while.

The Story is easier to digest than its anime original and the manga, and for good reason, 1. It’s Hollywood, and 2. The Manga is chaotic with a lot of fine print about technology and engineering.  You’ll find the movie scattered here and there throughout the pages of what is a very episodic read.  Is it bad?  No, in fact it’s quite a tight film in its own right if you treat it as an interpretation of the series rather than a piece of the puzzle.  “The film was humourless” some people have said – well, the 1995 film was mostly humourless as well.  The manga and the Stand Alone Complex TV series are where you’ll find most of the humour injected into the characters.  Then there are the other films – 1 thing that wasn’t covered in this film that was in the 1995 version was sexuality and gender identity, as the Major’s body is designed as a mechanical replication of a woman, rather than 1 that has everything from before, including being capable of reproduction (If this is the future of the human race or man’s forced attempt at evolution, this factor is to be considered).  Here it was all about Major’s identity and questioning her own humanity, and sometimes that’s fine.

The Cinematography was done by Jess Hall, whose work includes Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz…And he did phenomenal work!  He stated that he wanted to pay homage to the anime through both his choice of camera (wide-angle with no lens distortion) and his choice of perspective.  While it’s a loose interpretation of the 1995 film with many differences, he managed to faithfully remake in live action some of the ’95 film’s most famous scenes, including the Major’s development, the shallow water fight scene, the rooftop scene and the boat scene, to name a few.  The lighting was well chosen, as was the colour grading.

Would I recommend Ghost In The Shell, the 2017 whitewashed hollywood-bastardised monstrosity that deserves to die 1000 deaths film?  Yes.  Yes because I know you’re a much more intelligent person than you’re letting on.  Yes because the madness of crowds is exactly what it is – a big pile of temporary fluff that comes and goes like fog.  Useless.  Boring.  Dying.  It is up to us to decide if we like this or not by seeing it.  While it’s not as good as the Anime film, or even other Ghost In The Shell related outlets…I see it to be a good starting point into the series (some even consider this an old persons series now…like Power Rangers, Transformers and Chips), and after that starting point you’re free to call it the worst of the bunch.  But in my opinion, it didn’t deserve all of the crap it got or the low ratings.  It is what it is, an easy-to-digest sci-fi movie that chose not to be overly complicated.  It’s also porn for a visual artist, especially in its photography, music and design.  I loved looking at it, so even during some of the different story elements, my eyes got a feast.

Graphics: ***3/4 (***** in places and **1/2 in others)

Art: *****

Acting: ***

Characters: *** (**** in ’95 and ***** in Stand Alone Complex and other movies)

Music: ****1/2

Story: ***1/4

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****

Wrestlemania 33 Review (Spoiler Free)

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Movies, Video Games, Theatre…and now wrestling.  Or could it fall into the category of Theatre?  Either way, here’s my spoiler free review of both the Wrestlemania Pre-Show and the main show itself:

1. Neville vs Austin Aries for the WWE Cruiserweight Title:

This was a good match – I would have preferred it on the main card, but chances are, not enough people are watching 205 Live, and I can understand that…but you should, because it’s starting to get better.  They put on a 19 minute match that would have made an excellent TV Main Event, and Austin Aries even pulls out an old favourite from his past repertoire.  ***3/4

2. The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

This was the first chaotic match of the night and is effectively the equivalent of the opening match Battle Royal that New Japan has at Wrestling Kingdom on January 4th, only here there’s a big gold trophy that resembles Fezzik from The Princess Bride at the end.  The match had many wrestlers worthy of their own matches on the card, including the Smackdown Tag Team Champions the Usos, American Alpha, Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn and Luke Harper.  It also features the Wrestlemania debut of the Northern Irish Wrestler Killian Dain, who is currently being built as a monster heel in NXT as part of the stable Sanity, as well as the Wrestlemania debut of the 22 year old Rookie from China, Tian Bing.  The winner made me go “huh?  Really?”  But in general, it exists to get folk on the show and give them a bonus in their pay-checks.  *

3. Dean Ambrose vs Baron Corbin for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Once again this felt like an okay TV Match between the 2, with some good moves executed by both men.  Little stood out, but hey, the IC Belt was defended at Wrestlemania.  **1/4

Now onto the Main Show:

The New Day are hosting.  Last year they came out dressed as Dragonball Z Characters and this year their theme was Final Fantasy (Because they’re nerds and this show is sponsored by Final Fantasy 14) – they did a good job in getting he crowd wakened up again.

4. AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon

What an excellent way to open the show!  And what a great way to show off what Shane has learned from 1 of the newest hobbies; MMA.  This match comes across as AJ Styles showing us why he should have been much further up the card and in the WWE Title match between Orton and Wyatt.  After his lack of direction in his final years in TNA Wrestling and his renaissance in New Japan Pro Wrestling followed by his WWE Debut last year (1 of the best 1st years WWE has had since Kurt Angle), it’s safe to say that Styles has a lot that he still wants to prove, and why not prove it by putting on the match of the night against the son of your boss, who is 46 years old and still a bit mental.  The match was just over 20 minutes, but it deserved each 1.  The spots were excellent, and included some very pleasant surprises.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.  ****1/4

5. Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho for the WWE United States Championship

This is 1 of those matches that doesn’t stand quite as well without its story beforehand.  Throughout 2016 and up to this point, Chris Jericho (who, like Shane McMahon, is also 46) has had an excellent year which includes some good 4-star matches to his already legendary name.  Throughout this time he wrestled more often as part of a tag team. His partner?  The then WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens.  Kevin Owens is 32, and when he was growing up, 1 of his favourite wrestlers was Chris Jericho.  Their duo was easily the most entertaining part of RAW for most of the year.  During which, Jericho captured the US Championship from Roman Reigns with the help of Owens in a Handicap match.  Then Jericho goes too far with the absolutely fabulous segment known as “The Festival Of Friendship”, where Jericho expresses to Owens his undying bromance with his favourite guy in the whole world…Only for Owens to turn on him like a fan who sees his Hero become something he hates (Think “The Incredibles”).  Later on, Jericho interferes with Owens’ match against Goldberg at WWE Fastlane, leading to Owens losing his title in 22 seconds and pressing on to this match.  It was a classic Hero vs Fan story on paper, and while it was a good match in itself, it was like watching a good main event on RAW.  ***1/2

6. Bayley vs Charlotte vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks for the WWE Raw Women’s Title

This match was under Elimination rules and ended up being well told.  You don’t have to guess who the faces and heels are in this match, and in terms of eliminations, much of the booking made a lot of sense.  It also has some pretty pleasant surprises.  Though it was just under 13 minutes long, the match felt short, which is what happens when you remember them wrestling for 20 to 30 minutes on NXT back in 2015.  I enjoyed it, but I felt it could have lasted 5 more minutes to make it that extra bit special.  ***3/4

7. Big Cass and Enzo Amore vs Cesaro and Sheamus vs The Club vs ??? in a Fatal Four Way Ladder Match for the WWE RAW Tag Team Title

New Day came out after everybody entered the ring to announce that this match went from a 3-way tag to a 4 way at the last minute – and oh how excellent that was!  A particular team of legend returned, and the crowd went absolutely nuts!  The match itself was excellent fun, but also about 5-10 minutes too short.  It was an action movie of a match with few pauses and something going on all the time.  The secret team haven’t missed a beat, and the new chants they created on the Indies rang throughout the arena. Really enjoyed this, and definitely woke me up after the last 2 matches didn’t rank with AJ/Shane.  ****

8. John Cena and Nikki Bella vs The Miz and Maryse in a mixed tag match.

The only people who would get anything out of this match are people who watch Total Divas.  However it wasn’t a bad match for what it is.  The Miz was actually very over with the crowd – but within the context that John Cena is used to having “Cena Sucks” chants, while The Miz has actually gotten really, really good over the last year.  You would think he finally hit his prime at 36, that’s how much of a smack it was.  Kind of surreal.  It was all very usual, and the post-match was a very sweet moment.  *1/2

9. Seth Rollins vs Triple H w/Stephanie McMahon in a Non-Sanctioned Match

At Summerslam 2002, Triple H wrestled this style of match against a then uncertain-if-he-wants-to-return-to-wrestling Shawn Michaels in what was a show stealing match that amazed fans who saw it either live or the next day.  However, the circumstances between this match and that 1 are quite different.  While Michaels was contemplating on returning after being out with a back injury from 4 years prior – Seth Rollins was only just about cleared to wrestle this match after an in-ring accident with the then-debuting Samoa Joe accidentally aggravated the very knee that not only put him out of action for 6 months, but also stripped him of the WWE Title, his match at Wrestlemania 32, and put him out for 2 months this year.  Desperate to make it happen, they turned this into a Non-Sanctioned match, and since it was a grunge match involving the Boss of NXT vs the 1st NXT Champion (who he built up to be a star and eventual WWE Champion), it seemingly wrote itself.  It was very story-driven with Rollins relegating his most dangerous moves to spots and even selling the knee during pivotal moments.  While the match went on for 25 minutes (Which, to be fair, could have been shorter and given to the 2 matches before this), it was still well done despite Rollins actually being in questionable condition.  Triple H was in excellent shape for 47 – like a bald, big-bearded version of his 2002 self and slowly turning into the Heihachi Mishima of WWE…or Kratos today.  It’s clear that at 100%, Rollins would have hit this match out of the park and put on at least 4.25 stars- but he did well despite his setbacks.  ***3/4

10. Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt for the WWE Title

10. It’s hard to believe that once again the WWE Title isn’t the last match on the card – but when you consider who’s in the match, you can almost understand.  After 3 years of waiting, Bray Wyatt finally won his first WWE Championship back in February when he defeated 5 other wrestlers in the Elimination Chamber match, including AJ Styles, John Cena and Dean Ambrose.  At the Royal Rumble, Randy Orton defeated 29 other wrestlers to become the number 1 contender for any world title when he eliminated Roman Reigns last.  They had a story of “will he or won’t he” since Orton was part of the Wyatt Family when they were both scheduled to face other at this event.  But eventually they did when Orton burned down the house of Wyatt’s unseen mentor Sister Abigail.  The match was… good…boring, but good, if not a bit short (10 minutes).  There was some gimmick-nonsense involving huge, blown-up videos of maggots, worms and cockroaches appearing on the ring’s mat in order to “psychologically disturb Orton because Bray’s a psycho” – but other than that quite typical, but also quite anti-climatic.  ***

11. Brock Lesnar (w/ Paul Heyman) vs Bill Goldberg for the WWE Universal Title

People were actually scared of this match, or at least they weren’t necessarily looking forward to it…because this is their third match…and anybody who witnessed the other 2 can tell you a lot about what was going through their heads before either man stepped into the ring.  Their 1st match was at Wrestlemania 20 in 2004 – both men were leaving the company, the crowd didn’t get into the match, and it ended up being a 14 minute pile of dull, and more dull.  It was by far the most disappointing match, possibly in Wrestlemania history.  Fast forward to today, and Paul Heyman actually told a fantastic story about this feud.  That Goldberg is the heroic Knight, and Brock Lesnar is the beast he had to slay.  After the Knight beat the monster, he rode off into the sunset.  But the beast didn’t…instead the beast went to UFC and became an even more dangerous wrestler than ever before.  The Knight then returned after 12 years away, and showed the Beast that he “still had it in him”, by beating the Beast just over 1 minute.  Now it’s the third match.  This…is the best possible Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg match.  By far!  It lasted less than 5 minutes…and that’s exactly what it it needed to be.  The 50 year old Goldberg doesn’t do military slams anymore – it’s all about the spear and the Jackhammer.  Brock Lesnar is almost entirely about 2 things – german suplexes and F-5s…and that’s all they did…and it worked!  It was the best match they could have ever had against each other – no real rest holds, just 2 guys trying to get the pin early.  It was the match they should have had 13 years ago, but that’s okay.  They did it.  It’s settled.  We can now say they had a decent match.  Not quite Shibata vs Ishii.  But still good.  ***

12. The WWE Smackdown Women’s Title Six Pack Challenge, featuring Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Carmella, Mickie James, Naomi and Natalya

This was the second chaotic match on the card, and despite to its position, it doesn’t mean it’s as highly ranked as the 2 world titles – instead it’s a bathroom break before the main event.  There was little to no structure in this match when compared to the RAW Women’s title earlier on, and the only memorable thing about it was probably the winner.  DUD

13. Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker.

This didn’t feel like it lasted 23 minutes…or at least I don’t think so, as I was running on yoghurt, bread, cheese and lots of water (forgot to buy energy drinks before the show and kettles are noisy at 5AM in a full house) – but anyway, here we are again, the 3rd Wrestlemania in a row were Roman Reigns is in the main event.  First he challenged for the WWE title, then he challenged for the WWE title again, and now he’s going after the unofficial wrestlemania title – which is to say that you had a match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.  Undertaker looked almost like his old self again with his hair all long and everything dyed black for the evening.  While he’s in vastly better shape compared to 3 years ago, it’s clear that age and injuries caught up on him long ago and it’s all borrowed time from here.  Either way, he managed to have quite a good match against Roman Reigns.  It was nowhere near the calibre of his matches against Triple H, Shawn Michaels or CM Punk – but it was still a fair match, despite its predictability.  The crowd was incredibly hostile towards Roman, and there was even a sign that said “Roman Reigns Is A Holocaust Denier”…I’m guessing some of us are trying to top the Wank-Pheasant sign this year.  The post-match was also incredibly memorable.  If you’re not sure about the match, at least watch what happened afterwards.  ***

In conclusion it was a good show.  The best matches were very good but not absolute classics.  A majority of them were above average and on par with good TV matches.  Some of them really brought my overall score down, whether it’s because they’re too short or boring or pointless or predictable in a bad taste sort of way.  The surprise entrants for the RAW Tag titles was the best part, Shane vs AJ was the best match, and compared to other Wrestlemanias, to say the least there have been much, much worse…more matches than a factory-full here.

Overall: **3/4