30 04 2008

Still experimenting with my Unlimited card, I’ve been off to see Happy-Go-Lucky tonight. Having never seen a Mike Leigh film before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this movie. I’ve heard that his previous films have been darker and more rebellious than his latest offering which may have left some out in the dark, however from my position this film stands out as a piece of great realist cinema.

Relying on the actors to flesh out the characters, as Leigh has done here, really allows some well developed personalities to show through. Particular kudos needs to go to Sally Hawkins as the main character, someone who undergoes one of the most believable character development’s I’ve seen, and also to Eddie Marsan who has managed to create a believable yet terrifyingly off-base driving instructor.

At times I felt conscious that scenes went on a bit too long, sometimes verging on voyeurism and I was hoping for a climactic scene for one of the main characters, but on reflection that seems to add to the odd style of uncensored cinema that Leigh creates.

Enjoyable yet slightly hard work, Happy-Go-Lucky should be watched by everyone, save possibly your summer blockbuster acquaintances.


Son of Rambow

28 04 2008

Just got back from watching Son of Rambow, courtesy of my new fancy-dan Cineworld Unlimited card, and I’m thoroughly impressed.

Coming from the same stable as Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a film which aimed high but just fell short, Son of Rambow pulls the quirkiness of the Guide into a context where it strangely finds a home; childhood in the 80s. I can’t help but identify with the kids in this film, I grew up mucking around in our local river and recording radio shows with my friends, but this certainly doesn’t make this a kid’s film. True, you could take the family to see it, but I don’t think that Junior would appreciate the story that much, in fact marketing this film to kids seems to miss the point. Son of Rambow is a pure nostalgia trip, plugging the highs and lows of growing up, but never labouring a point and steering well clear of any emotional hand-holding. Spielberg could learn a lot by watching this film.

Essentially a film about film, Son of Rambow won’t please people looking for a new Napoleon Dynamite, but anyone who loves movies should at least enjoy it if not love it. All said and done I enjoyed it, leaving the cinema with a grin on my face and a happy feeling that there are still more excellent movies to come this year. Four out of five.

Can I play with madness?

8 01 2007

Being the closted shut-in that I am, I have risen to the challenge and completed Psychonauts over the space of a weekend.

Yea unfaithful, know thee that it still managed to put up about 13 hours of solid fun. The simple fighting and puzzle-light nature of the game may be off putting at first, but that’s not the point of this Tim Schafer designed gem.

I play games for character, and this title has it in spades. You take on the role of Raz (voiced by Richard Horowitz a la Invader Zim,) who sneaks into a summer training camp for psychic kids. On your quest to become some ninja psychic scret agent and save the girl you dip into people’s brains and attempt to iron out their mental problems, and this is where the strength of the game lies. Each level is played out within the confines of a characters psyche, and each one is markedly different. Stand out examples are the Godzilla pastiche played out in a giant lungfish’s mind, and helping a descendant of Napolen beat his ancestor in a game of Stratego (played out from a pieces perspective).

Production values are high, character models are charming and surprising, whilst the texture artists produce some great work. Music and voice talent are of a consistantly high quality, even boasting some well known actors in bit parts; notably Tara Strong (Bubbles from the Powerpuff Girls) and Armin Shimerman (Quark from Deep Space 9) who give a nice surprise to the VA astute.

It’s not all sunshine in the spotless mind though, the fighting is lacklustre and even though your repertoire of offensive psychic powers increases through the game, you’ll probably only find yourself using one or two at most. The final levels also suffer from a horrendous difficulty spike, with a few sections where you may feel like you’re being cheated by the game.

On the whole Psychonauts has the verisimilitude and polish to make it great. It’s a real shame that uptake of the title was so low, more than one thing it has in common with it’s spiritual stablemate Beyond Good and Evil. In precis Psychonauts is cheap, solid and thouroughly worth the time you invest in it.

Point, click, repeat

4 01 2007

Hooray for me! I’ve just finished going through Grim Fandango for the first time. This last huzzah to the classic Lucasarts adventure games was pretty good. Not great, mind you, but good. I picked up a copy for a wallet friendly £2 in the Blockbuster sale.

Tim Shafer the luminary behind the Manic Mansion and Monkey Island games, penned the story to revolve around the post-life beliefs of some Southern American countries. Playing out like a cross between a film noir thriller and a comedy, the characters really work, although plot exposition leaves a little to be desired.

The game takes place over the period of four years (although I only counted 3), taking you back to some locations from earlier in you afterlife later in the game. While this is a nice touch, some of the locations just don’t feel like anything jas changed, even though you’ve been away for the best part of two years. Maybe I’m asking too much from a nine year old game, but can it have been that hard to generate a few new art assets?

My last gripe is the controls. You’ll spend a lot of time navigating through pseudo-3D game screens using your keyboard, most puzzles require you to cross significant distances to solve them. Sadly this can start to feel like a chore after you’ve been spun 180 degrees on invisible walls, or become stuck in the scenery. I’d have prefered an old school point and click interface, but what do I know?

So Grim Fandango: with a little perseverance (and CPU Killer for the conveyor belt segment, if you’re playing on a new PC) you can have a lot of fun with this game. I now have copies of all the Monkey Island games to plow through and Mr. Schafer’s newest game Psychonauts is on order. It’s on the 360 backwards compatability list now, and on the 4 for £20 deal at Gamestation. Expect opinions shortly.