Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Clockwork Man 2: The Hidden World

For those of you who have [Frodo voice] BEEN HERE BEFORE (we're going in circles!!) [/Frodo voice], you might remember how much I griped about The Clockwork Man. (If you don't and you, for whatever reason, need a dose of over-critical assessment, it's right here.) Well. Let's just say there'll be a lot less griping this time around. The Clockwork Man 2: The Hidden World was much, much better than its predecessor in many respects.

To start with, the puzzles actually had some merit to them. Not only were they more numerous, they required more thought, intuition, and data gathering to complete. In fact, they were so much more involved that the structure of the game changed. Our heroine, Miranda Calomy, still with her sidekick Sprocket, keeps a journal a la Myst in this installment of her story. She records not only the plot we as gameplayers move through in greater detail, she sketches things out and takes note of handy dandy items, codes, and various other miscellany which become useful as the game progresses. In addition, she keeps a "task list" of goals to keep the player on track, as there is much greater freedom to move about the map in this game. Both were excellent additions.

Just to give it a passing mention before returning to the good news, there are a few things which, apparently, never change. The representations of the characters still look a bit like they are out of an online doll generator and the voice acting is still pretty ridiculous to put it lightly (the word 'horrendous' also comes to mind). The voices and treatment of "native" characters in the game was borderline offensive. (A noble try, though, as I honestly believe there is really no good way to portray a tribal culture, even a fictionalized one, without stepping on someone's toes.) On the other hand, the cutscenes seem to have improved. While on some level I missed the charcoal-on-parchment feel of the first game's cutscenes, I appreciated the move towards fully animated scenes that Clockwork Man 2 took. It was a baby step, but one in the right direction.

Another thing that didn't change - but for the better - was the background and item art. Both were executed even more gracefully than before: the scenes looked less cluttered, unless they had cause dictated by the plot to be so - who would have thought?! And one last thing which didn't change was the quality of the game which held me to it. I could not stop playing it. And when absolutely I had to set it aside in order to get some actual sleep (this game took more than one sitting to finish!) I had dreams of steampunk submarines and curious puzzles.

Now I'm just hoping that they'll come out with a third one.

So go, steamy explorers! Get thee to Amazon, download it here or hit up your nearest electronics store and discover The Hidden World!

Steam on!

Saturday, December 25, 2010


I've been trying to conjure up a phrase evocative enough to describe my reaction to this movie, but the only fitting one I arrive at over and over again is: Holy S***.

Honestly. My brain is swiss cheese. Or a colander.

Inception, courtesy of 2010's charming film lineup, is a psychological wonderland that, I think, filmmakers will be unable to trump for decades. Possibly even the duration of my lifetime. Directed and written by Christopher Nolan, the master behind the script and direction for 2000's addition to the mindf*ck list Memento, which by comparison is charming, outdid himself thoroughly. I think the respect in which he excelled the most is in the conclusions department. For, twisted and strange as it is, Memento has a definite end, an origin: a wellspring, if you would. To rephrase, Memento has a defined beginning, middle, and end: it's just that they're out of order.

Inception is a different beast entirely. Epiphany: that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Inception is the kind of film which, above all else, makes you think. It is a nonstop rollercoaster which keeps you wondering and when at last you think you understand, the world is once more turned on its head. Somehow, I am possessed to say that this is the best kind of storytelling. It's messy. Everyone who views it is going to have a different take on what everything means and on what precisely happened at every turn of the story. It will be debated. In short: uncertain, but uncertain in a tailored way, in a way that makes me step back and, hands on hips, say "isn't it beautiful?"

But I get ahead of myself. For those of you who haven't seen this film, it has a lot to do with layers and layers and layers of un-reality and the single layer of what, we must assume, based on what we are given, really is reality. But there's a problem with this setup. Like in House of Leaves , we may have an unreliable narrator on our hands as an audience. Or we may not.

What I am ultimately trying to get to, I think, is that this film is (arguably) entirely an exercise in authorial intent taking the back seat to individual interpretation. It doesn't matter what Nolen wanted us to see, because we make the choices as to what it is we do see. Every audience member is going to have their own interpretation of this film because, ultimately, each audience member is, independently of every other viewer, calling the shots.

When my parents received this as a Christmas gift, a friend of the family nodded with a knowing smile and said "I' interested to hear your take." And that's just it. This film is less a film and more a puzzle, the ultimate brain teaser, and the ultimate conversation starter. (Perhaps also the ultimate argument-starter.) And it is so because there are so many parts of it which can be interpreted in so many different ways. Perhaps even an infinite number of ways. In one of my English classes we discussed as a group how each individual viewer of any piece of art inevitably projects their knowledge, their past experiences, and their biases onto that piece when they perceive it. If that's so, every viewing is going to be different somehow, even if it's only slight, because ultimately no two people are exactly the same.

I'm tempted to take the evil route here. The evil route is when I start referencing my fledgling understanding of quantum physics and alternate universes, ultimately asserting that under these parameters an infinite number of interpretations is absolutely possible, but that's beside the point. The point is thus: I can't remember the last time I watched a movie that was so ultimately baffling, inconclusive, and simultaneously so masterful. Ambiguous storytelling is so difficult to execute in a way which is even mildly convincing. Inception does so with grace.

I would definitely recommend this film. The music (Hans Zimmer) is superb, the cast is stunning, the visuals breathtaking, the story worth it (I think so anyway - I ended up forming conclusions, it's just that if I were to discuss them here this review would be an entirely different monster!) I only have a few pieces of advice: be plenty awake, sit back, buckle in, and be ready when the kick comes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

I cannot believe I forgot to review this, especially in light of how much I love it.
How to Train Your Dragon is most definitely in my top ten movies of the year. If I actually made a study of "top" lists, it'd probably be in the top five. Directed by Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders, this film is based upon the book of the same title by Cressida Cowell. (It can be got here; check it out.)

I think the thing that attracts me to this movie the most is the animation. The motion is simply superb. The way in which Toothless moves, especially, is wonderful, from the way he flies to when he's trying to learn to smile. There's a fluidity there which does the animators a huge amount of credit. The music - composed by John Powell - is excellent and deserves more than the passing mention I'm providing here. And while the film is reputedly very loosely based upon its literary origin, the writing for the script in and of itself is fantastic and its strength is only bolstered by the star-studded cast: my personal favorite parts will always be Jay Baruchel as Hiccup's narration. I mean really. What could be better than the following monologue with a hint of hesitation and a dash of sarcasm?

"This is Berk. It's twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It's located solidly on the Meridian of Misery. My village. In a word? Sturdy, and it's been here for seven generations, but every single building is new. We have fishing, hunting, and a charming view of the sunset. The only problems are the pests. You see, most places have mice or mosquitoes. We have Dragons."
[I prefer the closing narration, but I don't want to spoil it here.]

Oh, and did I mention that this is DreamWorks Animation's fifth most successful film? Yeah.
So go out there and catch yourself some Dragons.

How to Train Your Dragon Links!
Trailer Addict


in his newest incarnation, from the British Broadcasting Corporation!

It's basically excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are my heroes.

I have done far too much writing tonight: go see for yourself on Netflix instant watch or any other preferred medium.

Sherlock on IMDb!

Sherlock's Interactive Blog, The Science of Deduction!
Watson's Interactive and Eponymously titled Blog!

Friday, December 3, 2010


This review is so late I almost wonder at the point of writing it anymore. However, I have such incredible, undying loyalty to this film that I simply can't not.

Tangled is one of the best movies I've seen all year. Not just in the animated or musical category, out of all of them. I went to see it in theaters three times. I bought it on DVD the day it came out. It is WONDERFUL.

A confession: I didn't actually realize that it was a musical until I saw it for the first time. In classic Disney style, of course, it was. Perhaps I didn't expect the combination of musical with the newer computer animation.

This is hardly a review, really a blurb, but it will have to do for now. Tangled is heartfelt, funny, and intelligent, a la Disney style. Also, who could resist Flynn Ryder? I mean really.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Le Pacte des Loups

Better known on this side of the pond as The Brotherhood of the Wolf.

Released in 2001 and directed and adapted for the screen by Christophe Gans, it stars talents such as Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos and Monica Bellucci. If that didn't make such painfully obvious, the acting is superb.

If I were to recommend and/or caution potential viewers about this film, I would mention its gratuitous violence. In retrospect (having seen this movie twice now) it has gratuitous everything. Gratuitous violence, gore, nakedness, sex, incest, wit, intrigue, convolution of the plot, and wine. A relative of mine refers to this quality as having "something of everything," but more often he refers to this quality as "the best movie ever." And I have to say, there are a great many beautiful things about this film, the imagery and cinematography not the least. The costumes are exquisite, the locations are beautiful, even the transitions are artfully done. The entire atmosphere is complete in a way which puts this film, in my eyes, on the level of my other personal classics, like Le Violon Rouge and The Last of the Mohicans (the Daniel Day-Lewis one, of course).

The writing is also particularly praiseworthy, but IF AND ONLY IF it is viewed in its original French. Not only does the language lend a sense of overall completeness and fluidity, it's just nice to listen to. There are so many historical films which are voiced in American accents - or other accents which are equally wrong - and the English dubbing of this film takes a heavy toll on its quality.

A supernatural thriller set in the French countryside, it is narrated in retrospect by a nobleman who witnessed it all with the expectation that his world is about to convulse a second time with the advent of the French Revolution. Despite the film's location and alleged historical-fiction background, the main storyline contains a substantial amount of martial arts - quite good martial arts, might I add.

The story itself centers around the Beast of GĂ©vaudan and the many plots which surround it. To avoid spoilers, and possibly to watch it again, I will cut this review short.

Curious? Watch a trailer!