The Myth that Graphics = Quality. A review of N+.

February 22, 2011

I’ve played ‘computer games’, as the general public know them for years. I’m 28, so I’m a member of the generation that grew up with games; the generation that started out playing a Spectrum and now plays the Xbox 360.

Of course, graphics have changed a hell of a lot since Treasure Island was the game to buy on the ‘Speccy’ back in the day, and – with the possible exception of the Nintendo Wii – the main selling point of every subsequent generation of gaming system has been the improvement in graphics.

Here is little known Platformer star Bubsy the Bobcat in 2d in 1994...

Some people wrongly subscribe to the belief that Better Graphics = Better Game. That’s why the infamous but amazing looking Dragons Lair is one of the most successful arcade games of all time, despite costing double to play than any other and being  absolutely terrible.

Things seemed to get a little bit out of control in the late 90s and early 2000s when every game had to be 3d. Graphics were often considered at the expense of gameplay and yet the irony is because these systems weren’t equipped to deal with 3D like the current generation, their games often look even more dated than the ones released on consoles like the SNES, Megadrive or Atari Jaguar. Look at the pictures for the perfect example.

Thankfully, the quest for the continual improvement of graphics has slowed down with systems like the Xbox 360 and PS3. The 3d graphics are as good as they can realistically get without making gaming too expensive for the masses to purchase, and crucially, with

...and here he is in glorious 3d in 1996. And yet at the time, people thought 3d was the better option.

 the aid of the internet, 2D games have been able to make a comeback under the banner of Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network, where graphics aren’t everything.

Only seven or eight years ago, the notion of Pac Man or Space Invaders making a comeback outside of some sort of Classic Games Collection would have been scoffed at, and yet they have found a new lease of life on XBLA. Some of the best and most innovative games to be released in the last few years have been on these platforms. If it wasn’t for XBLA and PSN, they wouldn’t have been produced.

And the ultimate example of that is – in my opinion – N+.

Ok, despite what I’ve written above, even I will admit when I first saw N+ I thought “That looks a little bit basic!” And I didn’t mean that in a good way.

But then I played it.

Premise

The point of the game is simple. You control a Ninja (which is what the N stands for) and your aim is to jump, dodge climb and rebound from walls to escape a room without dying or without the time running out.

Of course, it’s not that simple in its execution. The timer applies for the entire level (or ‘floor’ as is it called in the game) which amounts to 5 different rooms. So if you manage to beat the 3rd of the 5 rooms with only 10 seconds left on the timer, you’re pretty much screwed. To increase the amount of time available to you, you can collect gold – because as we all know, if there’s one thing that Ninjas live for, it’s financial compensation.

Also, there are many obstacles in the Ninja’s path though and anything that is dangerous to the Ninja will kill him instantly. These dangers include Droids of varying abilities (seeking missiles, flying droids, ground-based droids, chasing droids, laser droids and rapid fire droids), proximity & timed mines, laser & missile turrets, one-way walls that can trap players, falling blocks and even gravity itself (if you try and jump from too great a height to reach your target, or fall off a high ledge, the Ninja will die).

And there is a puzzle element as well. Often-times the exit door is locked or blocked by walls, so you have to flick the necessary switches to clear the way for your exit.

It looks simple, but it really is amazing

Controls

The controls fall in line with the simple look of the game. You move with the Left Stick, Jump with the A Button and if you are stuck, kill yourself with the X button.

But be aware; the direction and pressure you apply to the control stick as well as your timing pressing the A button determines how fast you run and how quickly you climb, so there is a lot of skill involved.

Difficulty

The game gets harder as it goes along. At first – and almost to lull you into a false sense of security – escaping the rooms is very easy. But as you progress through the levels, things begin to get tougher. It no longer becomes simply a case of moving from A to B, but rather you have to think about the best route to take, when it’s worth collecting gold, how to avoid the most dangers, whether or not you can make a jump without killing yourself. It certainly becomes a very challenging – and at times frustrating – game.

Thankfully, this game just manages to avoid being ‘too’ difficult. Yes, it will have you tearing your hair out, but as you have unlimited lives you will find yourself thinking ‘Ah, so I know what I can do to avoid that happening next time’, and as such success is achievable. And when you do manage to beat that level that has been troubling you for the last 3 hours, it’s a great feeling!

Multiplayer

The game has a multiplayer element as well. You can play Co-Op levels locally or online where you and up to 3 partners have to join forces to find an escape route to the room. As I found to my chagrin though, in this case you are limited by the ability of your partner(s), so if they keep getting killed by a rocket before managing to unlock the door have made your way to for the 50th time it can get a little frustrating.

Alternatively there competitive multiplayer modes like ‘Race’ (where you have to get to the exit before your opponents) and ‘Survival’ (where you have to consume enough gold to outlast your opponent’s timer)

Lasting Appeal

In an age where there are less and less ‘Local’ multiplayer games (as in games you can play with people sitting in the same room as you), N+ is a game you can come back to time and time again. Similarly, the single player brings with it long lasting appeal. Sometimes you’ll get annoyed at being unable to beat a level, but you’ll come back to it. And you’ll want to replay some of the harder ones just to prove that beating it wasn’t a fluke the first time.

The game comes with a generous amount of levels as well, so it’s not as if finishing the single player game will happen in a few hours, and beyond that, there are plenty of levels you can download and even the ability to create your own levels to play through.

Put it this way, I bought this game in 2008 and I still regularly play it. I don’t think there is any other game I bought that year that I can say the same about.

Summing Up

To sum up, N+ is a game worth signing up to Xbox Live for. It is what gaming should be about. No, the graphics aren’t great, but they don’t need to be. You can sit back and enjoy the wonderful visuals in the cut scenes and general play of Halo: Reach or Mass Effect 2 but the chances are you won’t come back to these games more than once after your initial playthrough – if that! N+ isn’t a game where you sit back and think ‘Wow, that looks spectacular’, but the chances are you’ll be sitting there thinking ‘Just one more go before bed’ a few hours after you have finished off the 8 hour campaign mode of your latest big budget First Person Shooter. And whatsmore, because it’s on XBLA it only costs £7.50

Thankfully, you don’t even have to take my word for how good this game is because – as with all Xbox Live Arcade titles – you can download a free trial version of the game.

So go on and give it a try!


Showbiz Midgets: High Pain Thresholds or Low Dignity?

February 16, 2011

Well that title isn’t politically correct in the slightest, I know, but it’s a valid point and is relevant to this particular review.

For today’s review I’m looking at the 2011 version of the classic Western, True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt “I’m currently starring in every film in the world” Damon and little known child actress Hailee Steinfield.

So why am I talking about midgets? Well there’s a particular scene where a couple of extras who are credited as being ‘Indian Youth’ get violently kicked around by Bridges’ character, Rooster Cogburn. I thought “Wow, they are actually having violence against children. That’s realistic for the time, but a bit taboo to actually film these days”. Then we briefly saw a close up of their faces and the realisation dawned upon me “Ah, they’re midgets”.

And it made me think – how often do you see midgets (I actually don’t think its PC to call them midgets actually, but hey-ho…or should I say ‘Heigh Ho’. HA!) – treated as anything other than diminutive figures of fun? Apart from Kenny Baker. Certainly as someone who watches wrestling, it’s not uncommon to see midgets (especially in Mexico) getting thrown around like rag-dolls – look at the GIF below as an example – and the same applies in films like True Grit. And that stuff must really hurt. It’s as if to say ‘Oh they don’t feel pain like the rest of us’. The current standard-bearer for midgets in popular culture – Hornswoggle in WWE – is portrayed as a animalistic mute who lives under the ring and exists purely to act like a child and yet also sleaze onto women. We’re conditioned not to take people with dwarfism seriously.

Where is the dignity in this?

Hell, even the way some showbiz midgets die is often done with a sort of macabre comedy to it, such as the old British wrestling midget who died falling off the kerb while paralytically drunk, or the two Mexican midget wrestlers who were accidentally murdered by a pair of prostitutes who spiked their drinks with enough ‘medicine’ to put a normal sized man to sleep long enough to be robbed. Sadly the little men’s constitutions couldn’t take an adult sized dose and they died. It feels wrong, but you can’t help but chuckle.

Actually, I don’t want to offend anyone here, and I mean that seriously. Inevitably people will see the last few paragraphs as me making fun of midgets, but I’m just explaining how they are portayed. Moreover, I know that people who are afflicted with dwarfism prefer to be called ‘little people’, or at least that’s what a ‘little person’ on Yahoo Answers says, because the word ‘midget’ has connotations of being in the circus. And I suppose that’s the problem. In the main, popular culture has always used ‘little people’ in a way that you aren’t to take them at all seriously. And therefore I suppose, you just don’t. And really, those who take offense to the term midget are actually being let down by people in the same boat as them allowing themselves to be treated like that. It’s a vicious circle.

But enough about them…let’s get back to the matter at hand.

The Plot

It’s a very simple plot. A wise-bey0nd-her-years 14 year old girl called Mattie Ross (played by Steinfeld) is looking for some Western-style justice for her father’s killer, Tom Chaney (played by Josh Brolin). To do this, she enlists the services of the famous US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) to hunt him down and bring him to justice, whether that be shooting him on the spot or bringing him back to face trial and hang. Meanwhile a Texas Ranger called LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also on his trail and feels he has more right to see him brought to justice than Ross.

So the three of them go off together and though both LaBouef and Cogburn are initially sceptical of having a 14 year old girl travelling with them, they soon come to respect her.

Anyway, they establish that Chaney is travelling with the infamous Ned Pepper Gang – who Cogburn has previous with – and it leads to a showdown, as you would expect.

And that’s it. That’s the basic plot of the film. Doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

Thoughts

Before I saw the film I was told “Oh, that’s meant to be quite slow”, so I was mildly cautious going in. It turns out I had nothing to worry about.

True Grit isn’t about twists & turns or thrills & spills. It’s character driven, rather than plot driven. The writers give time to the development of each character, and the interactions between the leads. Sure, there is more to it than I explain in the plot section. The characters fall out with each other of course, and the tension between LaBouef and Cogburn leads to them going their separate ways for a while, but that’s not done as a way to make a thin plot stretch further or anything like that.

The first half hour of the film is devoted to Steinfeld’s character, and for someone who doesn’t have a massive amount of acting roles to her credit, she really does do a good job. Often American child actors come across as brats. But she doesn’t in my opinion. I actually thought she must have been something like 22-years-old playing the part of a 14 year old, especially since she gets given a ‘good old fashioned spanking’ by LeBouef, but it turns out she’s actually the same age as her character – a rarity in Hollywood. So yeah, I was impressed. Of course, the casting directors let themselves down a little bit, because the character is often bluntly referred to as being particularly ugly, and of course they couldn’t bring themselves to cast someone who was actually really ugly. I feel very wrong commenting on the looks of a 14 year old, but I’m sure you get what I’m trying to say.  I suppose if they had cast a particularly unfortunate looking girl in the part (like Heather off Eastenders for example) then that girl’s self confidence would forever be damaged.

As for Matt Damon, I know a lot of people dislike him and criticise his acting, but I suspect that has something to do with just not liking the Hollywood leading man. Damon isn’t spectacular, but he’s not a bad actor. In fact, he’s good in this, and does a believable job of portraying a man who has bitten his tongue badly and is having trouble speaking (which is what happens at one point). My only complaint is that in amongst a load of actors who got into the role in terms of their appearance, Damon looks a bit too well groomed and certainly has far too white teeth for the era. But you can’t have everything.

What a lovely movie poster

Star of the show is undoubtedly Jeff Bridges. As I think I may have said before, my definition of a good actor is someone who can realistically portray a wide range of characters, but at the same time makes it look natural. Portraying a wide range of characters obviously involves changing body language, the way you talk (which doesn’t necessarily mean the sound/accent of your voice) and the overall believability of the role. I’ve seen a few films with Bridges in it, and he’s been different in each one. And as Cogburn he’s great. You don’t detect that he’s ‘ACTING’, like you do every time you see Al Pacino. As a character, Rooster Cogburn is exceptionally well realised.

Another thing I liked about the film was the character of Chaney. From the way he’s built up, you expect Chaney to be the big bad Western Villain like Liberty Valance. But he’s not. He’s a bit simple and not exactly fearsome. It was a nice and unexpected touch

Of course, there are other important factors to consider when judging a film like this. The direction and production of the film appears to be of an authentic and generally high standard. Apart from Matt Damon’s Hollywood smile, the actors all look the part, the sets and settings are well realised. Similarly, it has the right amount of violence for a film of this type and does it in a gruesome – but still acceptable – way. The scene where one character gets his fingers chopped off looks ultra realistic.

Overall, it’s very well done.

This film passed the ‘Checking the time’ test. The 110 minutes went by quickly and kept my attention throughout.

Should You Go And See True Grit?

Yes. I can’t imagine many people would dislike this film. Great acting, great writing, great casting, great direction, great production values. It’s…well…great.

Westerns haven’t been that common on the cinema lately, but I would say this…If you liked Red Dead Redemption on the 360/PS3 last year then you’ll like this. It’s basically Red Dead come to life.

This is the best film I’ve seen so far this year and I would highly recommend you see it.


The Holy Terror

February 11, 2011

Since 2005 it’s been socially acceptable to like Doctor Who again. Yeah, there are probably people reading this saying “No it haznt m8. Lolz”.  Well it has. So there. It’s the BBC’s jewel in the crown. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Back in the late 1980s, the quality of Dr Who nosedived. Social commentators point towards the ‘wobbly sets’ and the lack of budget compared to American alternatives & big budget science fiction films of the time as the catalyst for the decline, but that’s not really true. The budget was never great. Yes, it constrained what they could do, but that didn’t hinder it in the 1960s or 70s. It’s just a myth that people have accepted as a truth.

Who in the 80s was a mixed bag. You had the best story ever...

What caused the decline was a combination of scheduling, terrible writing, the inclusion of ‘Guest stars’ ahead of proper casting, a lesser standard of acting and the fact that the controllers at the BBC hated it.

Ironically, what a lot of people point to as the real ‘nadir’ of Dr Who – i.e. the Sylvester McCoy era – probably isn’t. In truth it started towards the end of the Peter Davison era and really hit rock bottom during Colin Baker’s initial run. Don’t get me wrong, this era produced the best ever Dr Who story (that being the brilliant Caves of

...immediately followed by the worst.

Androzani – Davison’s final story), but it was followed by what is commonly believed to be the worst (Colin Baker’s opener, The Twin Dilemma).

How could this happen? How can you go from a genuinely brilliant script to something not fit for toilet paper?

Sadly this has a lot to do with how Colin Baker’s Doctor was written. The Script Editor of the time – Eric Saward – has covered himself by trying to blame it on Baker. He says Baker wasn’t a leading man.

Well if you’ve only ever seen Colin Baker’s TV stories you might be inclined to agree. His Doctor is quite frankly annoying. He wears a stupid coat and spends his time involved in panto-style arguments with his companion. It doesn’t make for good TV. The easy thing is to blame it on Baker. The damage was done and it was his fault. Dr Who never recovered and it was cancelled in 1985 and again in 1989.

So getting back to my original point, Dr Who wasn’t cool in the 1990s. Society had rejected it. I could go on at length about how this was due to ‘Super Fans’ like the infamous Ian Levine and the desperately uncool Jeremy Bentham (no, not the guy from Lost) who represented the public persona of ‘The Dr Who Fan’ of the time, but Levine would probably find out (he has eyes and ears everywhere) and get his ‘very litigious lawyer’ onto me.

And so it wasn’t on TV. And it didn’t look like it would be coming back any time soon.

So in the late 1990s, an Audio Production company called Big Finish Productions, acquired the license to produce Dr Who audio dramas, starring 4 of the 5 living Doctors.

Jeremy Bentham - An example of what people assume Dr Who fans to be

What happened then was that people who had a decade to dream up ideas for Dr Who stories had an outlet for their creativity. And because it was in the medium of audio then they didn’t have to worry about sets or special effects, or the fact that the actors had aged. And it allowed them to be creative with casting as well. The Sixth Doctor got an old woman for a companion. Now, we’ve all seen what a terrific job Bernard Cribbins did with David Tennant, but generally speaking the formula has been ‘The Doctor and the 20-something girl’ since 1970.

Some of the Big Finish Audios are among the best Dr Who stories ever written, and the scripts have been ‘borrowed’ by the TV series since it was brought back (The Eccleston story ‘Dalek’ is based on the 6th Dr Audio ‘Jubilee’, while the reason the Cybermen used in modern day Dr Who have been from a parallel dimension is because they wanted to borrow heavily from the critically acclaimed – and mildly overrated in my opinion – 5th Dr Audio ‘Spare Parts’)

Most of all, what the Big Finish Audios did and have continued to do, is prove Eric Saward wrong. When given the right scripts, Colin Baker is excellent as the Doctor.

Anyway, that’s the back-story over and done with. As you know, this is a blog about reviewing stuff, but this review takes a different format. Rather than being a review of something I’ve just watched, I’m reviewing this with the aim of hopefully getting you to listen to it;  it being arguably one of the finest Doctor Who stories you’ll never see – The Holy Terror

Written by Robert Shearman (he who wrote the previously mentioned ‘Jubilee’ and ‘Dalek’) The Holy Terror stars Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, and Robert Jezek as his companion, Frobisher.

Who?

Well sadly this is the reason that despite the story being brilliant, it hasn’t sold particularly well compared to other Big Finishes. Frobisher is a penguin. Well, he’s actually a shape-shifting private detective alien with a New York accent who happens to have taken the form of a penguin. He’s actually a companion from the Dr Who comic strips in the 1980s. I’m fairly sure I got a small comic book free inside a packet of crisps in 1986. Yes, a packet of crisps…

Anyway, because it has Frobisher in it, people probably thought it wasn’t to be taken seriously, so the sales for this story were not high, and so this is one of only two appearances that Frobisher ever makes. And that is a shame.

The Plot

With audio plays, the plot is everything, so I really don’t want to give much away should anyone decide to track this down. And what I’ve found is that unlike watching films, it’s quite difficult to actually review an audio drama without ruining the plot, so bear with me as I try my best.

The TARDIS lands in a mysterious castle inhabited by what appears to be a normal, medievil style society. But as with most things, everything is not as it seems.

An Artist's Impression of The Holy Terror

The society worships the Emperor Peppin VI, who they see as a Living God. Sadly that Living God has just died from falling asleep in the bath and drowning, so his wife Berengaria (well cast as Roberta Taylor, ex of Eastenders and The Bill) is sentenced to death and her son Peppin VII (played by Stefan Atkinson, a man so famous that he doesn’t have his own Wikipedia page) is due to be made Emperor in his place. But Peppin VII is a wimp of a man who is scared of becoming Emperor, mainly because he doesn’t believe he is a God. His nasty wife Livilla doesn’t believe he’s a God either. Livilla, much like Berengaria before her, was chosen as the wife for the royal lineage not for her personality but for her looks. Ergo, despite being attractive (or maybe because of it), she’s a total bitch. I’m sure most men (and woman) have known at least 4 or 5 people like that in their lifetime.

Meanwhile there is intrigue in court as the other main players in this story, his ugly and rotten-to-the-core half-brother Childeric (played by Peter Guinness who is actually Roberta Taylor’s wife [yay, jobs for the boys]) and the High Priest, Clovis (played by the wonderfully named Peter Sowerbutts) plan on usurping Peppin and taking power for themselves.

While this sounds pretty run of the mill, the interesting part is that everyone knows this is going to happen. Because the society in which they live is based around (unwitting) self-determinacy and the observation of rather stupid customs.

As Berengaria explains…

“Throughout history the Empress has given birth to two sons. One good, virtuous, heroic – the rightful heir to the throne. The other – a bastard. Twisted abhorrent. It’s practically mythical”

The people of this society don’t know why this always happens – it just always does. The son of the father will always take his place, whether it’s as the Emperor, the High Priest or the Captain of the Castle Guard. They just accept it.

The main supporting character in this story is Eugene Tacitus, who is portrayed wonderfully by Sam Kelly (best known for appearing in sitcoms like ‘Allo ‘Allo, On The Up and Black Books). Tacitus is Scribe to the Emperor and his job is to take note of the Emperors movements. Essentially, he is writing the Bible.

Of course, by landing in this world, the Doctor and Frobisher become embroiled in events. By materialising at the time of the coronation of the new Emperor, they are hailed as messengers from heaven, and immediately become vital to the opposing factions in their struggle for power.

Frobisher spends most of his time with Peppin, while The Doctor focuses his interests towards the whole nature of the self-determinacy of the society. For example, he is intrigued to find that every bible written by the palace scribes of times gone by is written in a book that just so happens to be exactly the right size to outline the Emperors reign from beginning to end, with no wasted pages.

While all this is going on, evil is growing deep within the palace crypt. Both the Doctor and Frobisher soon realise that they will be lucky to escape with their lives…

And that’s where I have to stop. I don’t want to ruin the plot by telling you what happens next.

Thoughts

Of course, without ruining the plot any further, I can enthuse over how good the script is.

At first the story appears as though it’s being played for laughs. The initial scenes where Tacitus is given a choice between being executed as a heretic for worshipping Peppin VI or claiming allegiance to Peppin VII and being free to go are performed in such a way that you really aren’t supposed to take them seriously.

Similarly, during Peppin’s coronation the ‘miracle’ they use to show he is a God is a card trick. 

But slowly and without you really noticing a deliberate change of gears, things take a more macabre turn. Card tricks and silly ways for a supposed God to die are replaced by people being tortured, guards being knifed through the heart for the sake of tradition, a man having his tongue remove and then – in what is possibly one of the most disturbing and taboo things I’ve ever seen or heard in Doctor Who – a baby being murdered by having its neck snapped.

What has started off as appearing to be a light hearted romp becomes a clever and intriguing piece of writing and then becomes possibly one of the grimmest and dark things you’ve ever heard.

And because it’s all in audio and certain things (like the death of the baby) are not explicitly shown or indeed spoken about, and instead rely upon sounds and the imagination of the listener, Shearman can get away with it. With audio, Dr Who can become for more ‘Terrible’ than it ever could on a Saturday teatime.

And yet, what also works here is that it doesn’t try and be ‘grand’ like some of the new Doctor Who on TV does. From watching it all recently, Russell T Davies made a rod for his own back with having more and more alien invasions getting progressively bigger in scale, until it got to the point that his successor – Steven Moffat  – ended up having to reset the universe to stop it. It’s a story about a threat to a small, self contained society. That allows the writer far more flexibility with the outcome.

So the script is terrific. But the acting is equally good.

Colin Baker shows that given the right script, he is well suited to the role. Maybe he’s got better with age, I don’t know. But what I do know is that comparing his performance in this to his pantomime Doctor of 1984-6 its night and day.

In actual fact, having regularly finished last in the ‘Favourite Doctor’ category in the Dr Who Magazine’s annual fan survey, Baker made an incredible leap to the top of the poll in the early 2000s. Of course, David Tennant has taken that title from him since then, but it shows what the power of good script writing can do to a man’s reputation.

Star of the show though is Sam Kelly as Eugene Tacitus. Some actors maybe are better suited for the radio because of their terrific voice range rather than their actual acting ability, and I guess Kelly is one of them. Being that this was performed in the late 90s, Kelly can’t have been that old, but he plays the role of Tacitus as a forgetful and fussy old man with the aged-voice and mannerisms to match. His performance is a major aspect of what makes the story work. And that’s what audio dramas have to do. If it had been Jimmy Nail or Alan Carr playing the part you wouldn’t be able to take it seriously.

The lines he is given to speak are at times brilliant as well. His description of the Doctor and Frobisher’s arrival for his bible as “And lo, a blue box appeared out of thin air, and out stepped a big monochromatic bird, and by contrast a man dressed in every colour that can be conceived” is just one of those lines where you think ‘That’s just fantastic writing’.

Should You Listen to The Holy Terror?

Well I wouldn’t have bothered to write this if it wasn’t worth it. I guess you would have to have an interest in Dr Who to listen to it though, which will immediately rule out a few people I know. Having said that though, you wouldn’t play a good game if you didn’t like games and you wouldn’t watch a Superhero film if you don’t like Superhero films, so that’s obvious.

But the two things that will put off people who DO like Doctor Who – i.e. that it doesn’t have a ‘real’ companion in it, and also it’s an audio rather than a TV show – really shouldn’t put you off it.

So yes, listen to it.

Getting hold of the Holy Terror might not be that easy (legally, that is), but if you know me and are interested in hearing it, I’m happy to lend you my copy.


Get Me One of the McGanns, I Don’t Care Which One!

February 3, 2011

Get Me One of the McGanns, I Don’t Care Which One!.


Get Me One of the McGanns, I Don’t Care Which One!

February 3, 2011

I like Superhero films.

Sure, they very rarely have award winning plots, and film-snobs often look down on them as the light relief of the proletariat (unless of course the main Supporting Actor happens to die just before its release, in which case it becomes ‘A Triumph, Darling!’), but I like them nontheless. In fact, the only two films of the genre that I’ve seen that I can genuinely say I didn’t enjoy were the two Incredible Hulk films – and that was probably because the Incredible Hulk’s story is a bit dull.

Hell, I even liked Spiderman 3 (I can sense you all spitting on the floor in disgust).

Anyway, 2011 looks to be a good year for Superhero films. We’ve got Thor, an X-Men prequal, The Green Lantern and Captain America yet to come. But first up is The Green Hornet In 3D.

Plot

Once again, the spoiler rule is enforced as the film is still on the cinema. I have to explain the premise of the film a bit, but I probably spoil it less than the trailer would…

So to give you a basic rundown of the story, Britt Reid (played by Fozzy Bear-made-flesh, Seth Rogan) is the care-free playboy son of an extremely wealthy newspaper mogul. As a side note, the film is already off to a rather anachronistic start with that one. Are there any mega-rich newspaper moguls in 2011? I guess we can forgive that to keep the plot within the spirit of a story made in 1936…

Seth Rogan

Anyway, back on track, and Fozzy Bear’s life gets turned upside down when his father dies of a bee sting, leaving him in charge of the Reid Empire. He doesn’t really care about the newspaper at first, and decides to leave it in the hands of Commander Adama from Battlestar Galactica (Edward James Olmos), who manages to make running a newspaper look like an even greater burden than leading the last remnants of the human race to safety from the Cylons.

But an ‘incident’ with a cup of coffee changes all that and he meets Kato (played by a Taiwanese bloke who appears to have just wondered accidentally onto the set, because he’s certainly not an actor), who was under his father’s employ and just so happens to be the most talented person to have ever lived. Not only is Kato hard as nails, but he’s also an amazing cook and an inventor that would put Trevor Baylis to shame.

Kato shows some of his inventions to Reid, including a car with a force field and Ben Hur-esque wheel-spokes and a coffee machine (which doesn’t seem all that exciting, but again, maybe it’s a carry-over from 1936). The two of them then bond over their shared dislike for Reid’s dad.

So off they go to cut the head off the statue made in his father’s honour. While doing that, they stumble upon a gang of hoodlums mugging a couple out for a walk. They beat them up and then escape. But what they find the next day is that the news is only running a story about how the statue was beheaded, and nothing about how they beat up the muggers.

I can’t really remember why, but they decide from this that the best way to clean up the town is to be superheroes pretending to be super villains. That didn’t make much sense in the film and probably makes less sense reading it now, but there you go.

Reid decides the best way to get the word out about their antics is to use the newspaper. So he takes over that, with Kato as his executive assistant and a criminology expert called Lenore Case (seemingly played by Cameron Diaz’s mum) as his secretary.

Unbeknownst to Case, by suggesting what she thinks The Green Hornet will do next, she is orchestrating the Hornet’s moves, because Reid and Kato are clueless.

Meanwhile, the real villain of the piece is a guy called Chudnofsky (played by a guy called Christoph Waltz, who I personally hadn’t heard according to IMDB he hasn’t appeared in many English films. I can’t say I’m surprised) who is the Crime Lord of Los Angeles. He struggles with people seemingly not taking him too seriously, so to remedy that he keeps killing people. One such example was at the start where he kills a nightclub owner played by James Franco. Now I only bring Franco up because he’s unaccredited in the film, yet delivers more lines in a 3 minute scene than in the whole 127 Hours. Do Not Go And See 127 Hours!!!!

Chudnofsky doesn’t appreciate the Green Hornet invading his turf, and as you can imagine, it all leads towards a showdown at the end.

So that’s the basic outline of the plot. I’ve missed bits out obviously because I don’t want to ruin the (admittedly shallow) twists and turns.

Thoughts

Well I’ll start by saying that it that it passed the ‘Is it over yet’ test. I sat through it without checking the time once and therefore was mostly entertained throughout.

But that’s not to say it’s not without its faults, because there are loads of them!

Firstly, the concept of 3D…

 I didn’t see Avatar, so I’m yet to see a movie that was actually filmed in 3D, but from looking at the trailers of stuff like Thor and Sanctum, they look very impressive. The 3D in this was a gimmick. It didn’t help the film in any way other than to do a couple of 3D party tricks that didn’t enhance the plot in any way. So save yourself the extra expense and see this in 2d if you can.

Secondly, the comedy…

The Green Hornet is played mostly as a comedy, and sadly, a lot of the comedy misfires badly. Earlier I likened Seth Rogan to Fozzy Bear, and really, that comparison goes beyond how he looks. You could really see him finish off his crap jokes (like “If there’s two things I like women to have, its balls” – AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!111111 one one) by saying “Wacka Wacka”.

They also flog the same jokes to beyond the point of death. There are at least 4 scenes with an extended joke about how people can’t pronounce Chudnofsky’s name correctly. Then there are 4 more where Chudnofsky wants people to start calling him ‘Bloodnofsky’ because he wants a gimmick like the Green Hornet.

Thirdly, the acting.

When Cameron Diaz is the best of the lead actors, you have a problem.

Rogan isn’t that good (He just repeats the terms ‘Shit’, ‘Wow’ and ‘Cool’ ad nauseum) but I think you know what you’re getting if you hire him. Although, since he wrote it, I suspect he casted himself.

Christoph Waltz might be a star in his native country, but he was about as menacing as gang of Morris Dancers, and plays the part with no conviction whatsoever. I actually thought he was an American actor badly trying to be Eastern European, because every so often he slipped into an American drawl, but seeing that he’s actually from that part of the world, maybe it was the other way around. Put it this way, he was no Joker from The Dark Knight. In fact, I think the film would have been far far better if the part of Chudnofsky was played by Stephen Lewis (Blakey from ‘On the Buses’).

This Man Would Have Made a Better Villain

As for Kato (Jay Chou)…Jesus Christ. If any Dundee United fans are reading this, you might remember Jennison Myrie-Williams being sent off because he was black (for those who don’t know, the referee sent a black United player off because he thought he was a different black United player. To be blunt, the ref clearly subscribed to the belief that ‘They all look the same’).

Well on that note, I think the casting directors thought they were hiring John Cho (I actually typed that as a joke before looking at the similarity of the names, and now I genuinely think that may have happened), because he just cannot act. He is the Walter Rojas of the acting world.

Now I might be doing him a disservice, because English clearly isn’t his first language, but I don’t think I am. He only looks comfortable when doing fight scenes, but since they are few and far between, and the character of Kato has a hell of a lot of dialogue, then that’s a problem.

In truth, the Casting Directors probably said ‘Get me an oriental martial arts expert. It doesn’t matter if he can’t act’ when casting him, so it’s not really his fault. But casting directors can be like that – lest we forget the famous story where a casting director declaired “Get Me One of the McGann Brothers, I Don’t Care Which One”

Fourthly, there are issues with realism.

Issues with realism in a Superhero film you say? That’s to be expected. Well yes, I know that, but hear me out. We all know Kato is a talented and handy guy. You can accept him beating people up with great skill and you put his abilities down to being exceptional. But disbelief gets stretched when – with no explanation – he seems to be able to pause life, like in Fallout 3 or Mass Effect 2, isolate weaknesses in enemies, highlighting his plan of attack for maximum effectiveness before going through with it. And then, later in the film, the bumbling Reid does the same.

Also, when a policeman crashes his car into a parked car and then flips his car through a shop window, you think ‘Well that’s him dead’. You don’t expect to hear say ‘Damn It’ upon landing because he was angry the guy he was chasing got away.

My final issue – and to be fair it’s not really an issue, but an observation – is that Cameron Diaz is too old to be parading around in her underwear these days. It just seemed a bit sad. I read an article in the paper today where she said that she’s happy to be growing older and realises that that means changes to her life. Maybe watching this film back made her realise that. I’m sure the prospect of Cameron Diaz in her underwear will appeal to blokes in their 30s and 40s who went to see The Mask or There’s Something About Mary, but equally I’m sure there are blokes in their 60s and 70s who would get excited at the prospect of seeing Rula Lenska in her underwear. Need I say more…

Should You Go and See The Green Hornet

Despite all these criticisms, I still enjoyed it. Some of the comedy was actually quite funny. There’s a scene involving knock-out gas that raised genuine laughter from most of the people in attendance.

The special effects (not the 3d) were impressive, the general plot was entertaining, despite the anachronisms and the interactions between Reid, Kato and Case had their moments (in spite of Choi).

I think as long as you don’t take films like this seriously and know what you’re going in to see, you’ll enjoy it. If it wasn’t a superhero film and was actually classified as a comedy, I wouldn’t recommend it because there are not enough laughs in it for that.

But for a light hearted superhero action film, I would say it’s worth seeing.

Then again though, I did like Spiderman 3…