Did I miss new year?

Apparently so!

Well, as far as koffdrop.com is concerned, I’ve never been known for my punctuality.

I hope 2011 finds you healthy and happy and that you hangover has cleared up by now. I’ve been consuming a chunk of media this year and it goes a little like this:

Movies

Tron: Legacy

This is everything you’d expect of a commercial sequel. Cue folks on the internet talking of their childhood memories being raped (presumably these folks weren’t raped during their childhood otherwise that’d leading to quite the conundrum in comprehension).

I was invited to see this at an IMAX cinema with some friends and family. I’d never been to an IMAX screen before and was looking forward to the experience. I don’t know what I should have expected but went away feeling that it was nothing more than a really big screen. Is that it or did I miss something?

The movie itself was quite forgettable but looked very pretty (assuming black and neon is your thing). Young Jeff Bridges almost made it out of the uncanny valley but there was still something a little off with him. I guess there’s an artistic excuse in that it can be argued that the representation is of a character that isn’t strictly human anyway. Still, we’ve come a long way since the original Tron – as indicated by Bruce Boxleitner’s silver hair and improved eyewear.

One for the fans.

The Social Network

Whilst I may have been blogging since before it was trendy I really am happy to let Facebook and Twitter pass me by. I realise I’ve advanced from convincing the older generation to get excited about this cool new things you can do with a computer and have now become that disinterested older generation that just doesn’t get what the fascination is with all this new jiggery pokery and don’t see how it will benefit me.

As such, a movie about Facebook held little interest to me. That was until I heard that it was directed by David Fincher, who was responsible for one of my favourite films. The overwhelmingly positive reviews of the movie didn’t hurt either.

The movie was captivating from the outset and the character of Mark Zuckerberg was compelling stuff. The story arc was predictable enough though whether this was creative licence or actual events was unclear – something that doesn’t bother me too greatly. Without question, many things were played up for the entertainment factor. The hacking-drinking game, watching grads hack a system, downing shots in order to earn their right to work for Facebook whilst being cheered on by a crowd of youths seemed a little too social to be real.

With a Fincher movie you can be certain of a solid, well put together piece of work. There is always the easter egg to look out for – that understated but original and eyecatching moment where the ordinary is filmed to look extraordinary. Look out for the Taxi scene in Zodiac, the break-in scene in The Panic Room or nearly any scene in Fight Club. It’s here in The Social Network too, giving moments of a boat race the feeling of being little more than toys in water.

Overall, the movie was enjoyable but lacking much meaning. Few of the characters, to me, had any appeal and the product that made them famous has no more appeal to me than it did a couple of hours earlier. If there’s a moral to it all it is: don’t go into business with your mates.

Anvil: The Story of Anvil

Perhaps a subtitle of This is not Spinal Tap would be more appropriate as you can’t help asking yourself if this is a documentary or a mockumentary throughout the running time of this movie.

I’m still undecided. With a drummer called Robb Reiner, a visit to Stonehenge and a shot of an amp that, yes, goes to eleven it’s a tough call.

Anvil, a metal band that have repeatedly managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, are still thrashing and moshing at 50 and refuse to give up the search for their big break. This movie follows the principle members of the band as they tour europe on public transport (assuming they can get a ticket for their next train) and record their thirteenth album.

Utterly watchable and equally heartbreaking and hilarious.

Games

Barely a week into the year and a few games crumble before my awesome gaming might! (The easy ones, that is)

Dead Nation (PSN / PS3)

A twin-stick shooter from the makers of one of my favourite PS3 games (Super Stardust HD). I was looking forward to this based on the developer’s pedigree despite it being zombie-based. Zombies seem to do it for a lot of people. I’m not one of those people.

What do you need to know? Besides the premise, not much. The game is split into large scrolling levels with checkpoints in each. Each checkpoint houses a weapon shop where you can spend the money that felled zombies inexplicably reward you with on buying and upgrading new guns and secondary weapons. Armour upgrades are found in the level and have different qualities – allowing you to forsake speed for durability, for example.

The core of the game, like Super Stardust before it, is the score multiplier. Every zombie you kill (besides the skinless peon types) releases a pair of dots that float towards you. The yellow is cash, the red is multiplier. As you stack up your multiplier, your score inflate accordingly. For the first third of the game I hovered around a 500x multiplier value. As the challenge ramped up and I took damage, both my character’s energy and multiplier suffered. It’s tough to say which hurts more. Multiplier carries over between levels. Should you die or quit mid-level then you forfeit your multiplier.

Visually, the game looks great. Being zombie-based, it all happens at night and exploits a number of good scenes such as a trainyard, hospital grounds and, of course, a graveyard. Hordes and hordes of the undead flood towards the player at various times, often lit up only by the muzzle-flare of the weapon you’re firing at them and the torchlight that serves to light up some of the environment near to you and act as I direction indicator.

The environments are littered with, er, litter and distractions as you find yourself constantly scanning for incoming threats. This small pieces of debris often do their job of convincing you something is coming when it’s not – only to take a few steps and find something is coming, but from a direction you’re not prepared for.

The lighting in the game is great, as is the music – gearing up during those moments of intensity to add more pressure onto the player. Slain zombies don’t fade away so, before long, you’ll find the screen piled with bloody pools of zombie-flesh as yet more of the undead rush towards you, hungry for your brains and your multiplier.

Some environmental elements are available too. Soda dispensers can offer you health or, if you shoot them, spill heaps of soda cans and serve to distract zombies. Likewise, civilian cars have boots you can ransack for money or you can shoot them to set of their alarms and have the baddies rush to the vehicle and attack it. Doing so will ultimately cause the car to explode and rip apart any zombies in its blast radius – their flesh comically flying toward the camera before raining back down onto the bloody floor.

Co-op mode is yet to be explored but, given that this was a key feature of the game, I’m looking forward to trying this out in the near future.

All in all, great trashy fun and another fine release from Housemarque.

Pixeljunk Shooter (PSN / PS3)

This is another PSN game that I nabbed during the Xmas sale.

It’s uncomplicated fun and has you traversing a planet’s cave structure with your twin-stick controlled ship in search of scientists to rescue. Hazard’s are present in the form of indigenous lifeforms and elements.

Whilst the initial appearance my remind people of games like Thrust, the game isn’t intended to be an echo of that genre. Control of your ship is simple and direct. You can shoot with one button and fire a grapple with another. Grappling is used to quickly haul scientists to your ship and also to pick up goodies like diamonds.

The game comes into its own with the introduction of fluids. In the first chapter you typically find yourself facing pools of water and flows of lava. When the two mix, these form a solid but destructible part of landscape. This type of landscape is peppered around the levels anyway so you’ll be familiar with its properties before you find yourself creating it yourself.

In spite of being called a shooter, the game is more of an environmental puzzler. Though, admittedly, most of your interaction is conducted by shooting. You’ll often see a scientist behind a brittle wall with a pool of lava on the other side. You can’t survive lava yourself and shooting the wall will surely result in death the the scientist. Invariably, there’ll be some water nearby and you’ll want to get the two fluids to meet in order to make the lava pool solid, shootable and safe. Then you just need to carve a path to the scientist and.. oh bugger. One fire too many and I zapped the poor bugger.

More fluids and elements come to play later in the game with different properties and threats. The depiction of these substances is great, moving and flowing convincingly. Your ship will also be given the chance to change properties which can have the effect of reversing environmental threats – making water deadly, for example.

I really enjoyed this game and intend to go back to it to replay levels and get my 100% rankings on each.

Righty, that’s it for now. I’m off to play some Nier which is both trashy and fun!

District 9 asks..

Amongst other movies, I saw District 9 recently and really really enjoyed it. It was nice to see this sort of movie not be centered around America or Americans for a change and it added an air of legitimacy to the documentary style delivery at the start of the film. It’s an interesting film that, rather obviously, serves as an allegory for racism and apartheid. What I particularly liked about the film was the way it had you change your feelings about the characters in it. Wikus, the central character, is initially presented as a bit of a nerdy scapegoat, later on he’s an uncaring jobsworth. Fate intervenes and we see compassionate and courageous sides of his personality come to the fore. Similiarly, the audience’s feelings towards the alien race are also likely to change over the film’s running time.

And, for those of us not wanting to get too cerebral, District 9 most certainly delivers some thumping good action and spectacle with an identity all of its own.

So, there’s questions being fired across the internet regarding its portrayal of race and even if the film itself is racist. To the latter, I’d side with those saying that depictions of racism are not the same as acts of racism.

A blog post on movie-site Empire poses a rather different question:

With low budget, highly acclaimed sci-fi movies such as 2009’s Moon and District 9 ($8m and $30m respectively) making such a resounding impact are massive-budgets really necessary for a solid sci-fi flick?

It’s a good question – particularly if you’ve seen both those sci-fi movies and enjoyed them.

Do you have a receipt for all those mp3s on your iPod, sir?

Do you have a receipt for all those mp3s on your iPod, sir?

For me, 2009’s summer blockbusters were all quite unsatisfying. My most anticipated movie was Watchmen and that was released in March and I’d like to think I had realistic expectations of it. Since then, the big names haven’t really entertained as much as they promised. I came away from District 9 and Moon feeling great. By contrast, Terminator Salvation and Transformers 2 were very ho-hum affairs. I’m very wary of my own sense of expectation when seeing (or playing) something as this has such an important bearing on how satisfying I find the item in question to be. I kept expectation levels for Watchmen reigned in (not for lack of faith in the movie, but because I enjoy the original material so much and have heard how impossible it was meant to be to consider taking it to the big screen). With that said, I wasn’t particularly hyped about Terminator or Transformers so the feeling of being let down can’t be attribtuted to¬† my own expectations.

Moon isn’t presented as a sci-fi spectacle so a huge effects budget is understandably absent (though there’s some deft work in there and what’s on screen works as intended). District 9 on the other hand boldy has CG aliens throughout and a considerable amount of bombastic action to be witnessed and enjoyed.

Mega-budgets don’t necessarily equate to an entertaining film. Some huge budget movies are notorious flops whilst others are record-breaking successes. I’m thinking of Waterworld and Titanic here.

The latter is now Hollywood legend and has earned its maker, James Cameron, a licence to do his opus project. A dream, mega-budget, sci-fi, effects-laden spectacular. Whether it’s more Terminator (oh, the irony) or District 9 is something we’ll find out when it opens at the end of the year.

This post is in 3D!

The last time I wore any sort of viewing aid it was in London’s Trocadero Sega World arcade to try out the new and exciting VR Headsets. The results were disappointing, even for a skeptic. So it was with low expectations and reserved excitement that I headed off to see Monsters vs Aliens in 3D at the cinema in town.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect to be honest. Initially I was underwhelmed and questioned whether the RealD glasses I was given were arguing with my regular glasses and dampening the 3D effect as I found myself straining to spot differences between what I was seeing and what a regular viewing might be. For the most part the benefit of the 3D presentation seemed to be that foreground and background in scenes were that much more boldly defined. Whilst pleasing this was hardly a stunning or memorable enhancement.

So I was delighted when, barely five seconds into the movie, I found myself instinctively flinching to avoid a seemingly massive object hurtling out of the screen towards me! Clearly the technology works and it is up to the film-makers to exploit it by creating scenes that can accomodate events that lend themselves to making the most of it. Some of these are gloriously contrived but still great fun whilst others seemed to be a great marriage of enjoyable exposition enhanced by this special effect.

One such scene depicts the giant Susan being shown around a secret miliatary complex by a jetpack-endowed General. He seemingly flits about in to and out of the screen to great and enjoyable effect.

All in all, I really ended up enjoying the experience. It certainly helped that the movie it was attached to was entertaining and funny. I would definitely favour seeing a movie in a 3D presentation over a traditional 2D one when the option is available.

I never thought I’d see it..

Colour me stupendously excited!

Aparrently, the latest 5 minute trailer of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 has a secret image embedded at that 1:52 point.

The image is of Zack Snyder’s next project, the cancelled-so-many-times-it-may-still-never-come-out Watchmen. Now, I’ve got to tell you, I’m a Watchmen fanboy. I think it’s awesome and I think Rorschach is a kick-ass character. So I’m practically dizzy with excitement. I really want this movie to happen and to be good.

300 opens in the UK at the end of March.

Here’s the pic – click for the massive version.

Breakfast on Pluto

The other week it was cowboys in love, this week it’s transvestite orphan irishmen!

Cillian Murphy makes the most of his cheekbones and does drag astonishingly well without making it seem ridiculous. The story is about this square-peg-in-society’s-round-hole character growing up an orphan, searching for his mother, surviving on wits and optimism set against a background of Ireland, London and the increasing presence of the troubles and conflict in both areas. The film is split into 33 titled vignettes which makes the whole thing very digestable and the through-the-years theme allows for a great soundtrack. Bittersweet without being too bitter or too sweet. Recommended.

Sorry for the snappy review – this is what happens when you leave it too long between seeing a film and writing about it.

A Cock and Bull Story

Ryan, this one’s for you..

ACABS is a film about making a film based on a book about making a book. I knew nothing of the original work other than it was being made into a movie and that such an endeavour had often been regarded as impossible.

As a fan of both Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan and quirky English movies in general I was looking forward to this. Both leads delivered what I wanted from them – Brydon playing the likeable, affable harmless chap and Coogan playing a more unlikeable character in the lead role. I’m really not sure about Coogan sometimes. Whilst his highest profile exploits seem to be based around anti-hero type characters (Paul Calf, Tony Ferrino, Alan Partridge etc) his own image isn’t that great either. He’s certainly no show-biz luvvie and perhaps this side of his character is taken further with his portrayal of himself in the movie. Coogan plays himself as a pretty unlikeable and vain character. This was either no effort at all for him or a brave acting challenge and a demonstration of a good sense of humour. As a mere viewer, I’m not sure which one it is.

The film definitely falls into the ‘quirky’ category. After the period-drama facade falls away and the fly-on-the-wall documentary style narrative picks up it’s hard to say, specifically, what happens. There’s little in the way of plot other than bits of conversation and a study of one man’s vanity and indiscretion. Perhaps this is a key factor of the original material and the film does a fantastic job of emulating it. I can’t say, I’m ignorant in that regard.

The film is pleasant enough, challenging only in the fact it doesn’t really have a typical narrative structure and generally inoffensive. If you enjoy playing “where have I seen that British actor before?” then this will entertain you. There are moments of dialogue in the movie that show some verbal sparring between Coogan and Brydon which definitely come out as the highlights of the movie.

All in all, I enjoyed this movie but I can only recommend it if you’re willing to take a bit of a risk with your viewing. A hit as a ‘proper’ film, a narrow miss as genuine entertainment.

Brokeback Mountain

This is my first cinema-going experience of 2006 and I figured it might be entertaining for me to keep track of such stuff at koffdrop.com. With the “all-you-can-eat” style cinema pass my wife and I have subscribed to I’m expecting to see a lot of stuff on the big screen that I might otherwise have dismissed.

I’d heard plenty regarding Brokeback Mountain but wasn’t particularly bothered about seeing the movie. If anything, all the critical acclaim being gushed over it around Hollywood’s Oscar season made me suspect that the praise was more political than anything else. After all, what about that year when the best actor and actress awards when to black actors (Denzel Washington and Halle Berry) ? I’m not saying they were undeserved but, come on Hollywood, you could try to make things a little less obvious huh?

I’m glad I saw the movie and recommend it without hesitation.

Visually, the scenes of the plains, moutains and other frontier vistas are as eyecatching and impressive as you would expect from a director of Ang Lee’s pedigree. To be honest, outside of those scenes there wasn’t much directorial flair on show but there certainly weren’t any gaffes or areas where things didn’t work.

The story of two 1960’s ranchers that fall in love with each other is unconventional to say the least. It’s an idea that you may have needed to be told twice before it sunk in. It’s a huge credit to the movie that, despite the unorthodox theme and unforgiving social context for it to be set in that it’s delivered in such a believable manner. There is absolutely nothing alarmist and exploitative in the pivotal scene where the two main characters realise their feelings – although it may make some folk feel mildly uncomfortable. The film has better things to do than pander to any viewers lascivious tastes however. It moves on dealing with the emotions of these two seperate characters (one quiet and withdrawn, the other more free-spirited) and how their lives proceed over the next twenty years.

Like much of the initial scenery, there are vast expanses of open, empty space in the film’s dialogue and it succeeds in telling it’s story and conveying the growth, frustrations and sadness of it’s two main characters as much as in what isn’t said as in what is. There’s always plenty to concentrate on behind the eyes of the protagonists and much of it is sad and melancholy.

This is not to say that this is a depressing film. It certainly isn’t a happy one but it is weighed down with the burdens of responsibiliy and conforming to what is expected in a society at the expense of personal gratification.

I was genuinely moved by the film and the story it told and would encourage anybody looking for a serious, mature but less mainstream movie to see it sooner rather than later.

Oscars? Nominations – certainly, but I suspect with some more political movies floating around such as Munich and Good Night and Good Luck the Academy may indulge their political and historical leanings again when it comes to making a final decision.